Sunday, August 26, 2012

'I enjoy making money but I don't obsess over it'

Straits Times: Sun, Aug 26

Former banker Crystal Lim Leahy considers stock trading her hobby and it is one she takes seriously.

That means no outside help. "Because I take such an active interest in investing and financial planning, I tend not to rely on private bankers who, by and large, just push products," says Ms Leahy, 32, who trades Asian equities in the day and US equities as well as VIX futures at night. These are futures contracts that track the volatility of S&P 500 stocks.

She reads financial news, discusses views with her network of friends and experts in the financial industry and takes courses on financial planning.

"My relatives always ask me for tips but I have learnt not to give them advice for their own sakes.

"The problem is that even if I am able to tell them when and what to buy, the most important thing is when to sell. And I cannot be monitoring other people's positions for them," she says.

"Most investors would do well to just pick index tracker funds which are less risky, tend to outperform the majority of managed portfolios and have lower fees."

Money, says Ms Leahy, allows her to do what she is passionate about. "I enjoy making it, spending it and, most of all, giving it to good causes but I don't obsess over it."

She is well aware of possible criticisms of her view.

"You could argue that it's because I'm relatively well-off... but I also know many people wealthier than I am who are racked with anxiety over money issues and the question of 'how much is enough'.

"They get their self worth mixed up with their net worth," says Ms Leahy, who recently founded The Legacy Retreat, which runs holistic retreats.

"I think it's also important to have faith, not necessarily religious faith, but some kind of belief in your place in this universe, that you are meaningful and that you will be held and supported by the world."

Married to banker Mark Leahy, 44, she has a stepson, Sean, 13, a five-year-old son, Finn, and a three-year-old daughter, Dylan. They split their time between Singapore and Australia.

Q: Are you a spender or saver?

I think of myself as an investor. But if pressed to choose between the two, I'm more of a spender.

I'm not very good at saving but I've been blessed with a husband who is as tight as a squirrel with a nut in winter.

I spend the most on housing as we pay a monthly rental of $24,000 for a bungalow in the Holland area. If you add running costs, we are paying more like $30,000 a month.

We have no debt. My husband, despite being regarded as an expert in the Asian debt capital markets, is completely allergic to personal debt.

We paid upfront in full for our house in Australia and our cars.

We have also given away about 10 per cent of our income over the past year to various charitable causes in Singapore and Australia.

Q: How much do you charge to your credit cards every month?

The normal expenditure on our personal and business expenses can range from $25,000 to $50,000. It is paid off in full every month.

Q: What financial planning have you done for yourself?

Mark and I have joint bank accounts. He trusts me completely to manage the money.

As we are bearish on the markets, half of what we have is in cash. The rest includes the 25 per cent that we have set aside for property investments, as we are looking to invest in Irish and European commercial real estate, the 15 per cent in equities and the 10 per cent in commodities, bonds and other products.

Mark is a veteran fixed income banker while I have a background in investment banking and equities, so we make a well-hedged team.

Generally, we discuss our macro-economic views by geography and asset class. Once we agree on the big picture, it is up to me to decide what and when to buy and sell.

I have a much higher risk appetite and am good at making quick decisions while he provides balance with his conservative outlook and aversity to debt.

I love investing over many different asset classes. Our portfolio size varies a lot. It has ranged from almost nothing to $750,000 in the past year but most of our assets are still in cash - Singdollars, Australian dollars and yuan (through a bond fund).

In Asia, people have traditionally viewed real estate as a sure-fire way to get rich and I have bought and sold three properties at significant profit in the past, but I've also seen lots of people get scalded by bad property investments.

We sold our bungalow in the Holland Road area for $8.88 million when we moved to Australia in 2009. We bought it in early 2006 for $5.1 million, after we sold our terrace house near Sixth Avenue.

The only property we invested in was a new development - Balmoral Hills. We bought a unit in 2006 and sold it in 2007 for a $1 million profit.

I also have a UOB precious metals saving account for gold and silver.

I always keep some gold bars in the safe deposit so that if the world has a systemic crisis or some sort of massive technology breakdown, I will have a contingency plan.

Q: Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

I was raised in very modest HDB flats, first in Owen Road and then Telok Blangah.

My father was training as a doctor while my mother was training as a teacher and earning $380 a month, of which $360 went to my babysitter.

As my father was a spendthrift, we didn't have much cash to spare. My mum once saved for a month to buy me a $20 Fisher-Price pull-toy.

I am the eldest in my family, with two brothers.

Mum taught me the importance of a strong work ethic and persistence. She insisted on having her financial independence and slogged long hours at work, then rushed to eat her lunch at the wheel while driving me and my brother to our after-school activities, and somehow managed to cook dinner every day.

My father, now a consultant anaesthetist in private practice, influenced my attitude towards money and I get my shopaholic tendencies from him. He taught me that money and life are to be enjoyed.

He's a Zouk icon and still goes clubbing there. He doesn't care about what people think of him and that's what I've learnt from him.

He has always told us that there's not going to be a penny left for us to inherit to spur us to make our own money in life.

I tell my kids the same thing - that I'll donate most of what we have to charity - so that they will learn independence and not get complacent.

Q: How did you get interested in investing?

I started investing when I was 21. As I didn't have a trading account then, I asked my mother to help me buy NOL shares at 60 cents a share.

I sold them a few months later at 88 cents a share and thought I was a blooming star. I was hooked.

I love trading equities so much that when I talk about my trading ideas, my eyes light up and I go into a rapid-fire patter. A friend who runs a bond hedge fund suggested that I could be addicted to trading.

Q: What's the most extravagant thing you have bought?

To me, extravagant does not necessarily mean expensive. My diamonds and jewellery have appreciated considerably in tandem with precious stones and gold prices and could be considered as investments in their own right.

In contrast, I view expensive wine as the ultimate extravagance as you enjoy it only once. My husband has often in the past ordered wine upwards of $1,000 a bottle.

Q: What's your retirement plan?

We are all living longer, thanks to modern health care, and the old idea of playing golf and mahjong from your 60s onwards is no longer feasible or even desirable.

My plan is to keep working on meaningful causes until the day I die.

Q: Home is now...

Singapore, where we rent a 10,000 sq ft bungalow and Australia, where we own a 10-acre vineyard and farm. We choose to rent for the time being as we took a view that housing prices would soften due to worsening economic conditions.

It may be $300,000 a year on rental, but that's much better than the alternative of being down $1 million to $2 million in negative equity if we had bought then.

Q: I drive...

In Australia, I drive a champagne-coloured BMW 3 series diesel hardtop convertible.

Here, I'm chauffeured in one of those standard Mercedes cars which we bought because it would hold up its value relatively well.

Martin Koh | 86666 944 | R020968Z
Sherry Tang | 9844 4400 | R020241C
Senior Sales Director
DTZ Debenham Tie Leung (SEA) Pte Ltd (L3006301G)

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