Amazon Price Shopping

I’ve been meaning to get the Lord of the Rings Blu-Ray Extended version for a while and the steep price has always deterred me from pulling the trigger. I’m used to compare pricing between Amazon France and UK quite a lot but it occurred to me the discs my be “all zone” and buying in North America could be a bit cheaper. Turns out there’s quite a bit of price fluctuation for what is basically the same box-set (albeit with different set of language tracks & subtitles): (all prices are without sale tax)

  1. Amazon France (where I usually shop, because language) had it for about 60.70 €. It seems to be no longer sold by Amazon and the cheapest seller has it for almost a 100 €!
  2. Amazon UK has it for about 90 €.
  3. Amazon US has it for about 49 €.
  4. Amazon Canada has it for about 31 €! And as a bonus, it has the French track I was hoping to have.

Shipping to Singapore is about the same cost for all of them, so the choice was easily made.

How to get your French withholding tax refund

So you have received dividends (or interest) from France, are not a French tax resident, were withheld the default rate (ie: 30% on dividends) even though your tax treaty entitles you to a lower rate? (as is often the case, ie 15% for Singapore)

There’s much paperwork ahead but you can get your money back. The process seems designed to discourage people from claiming their tax refund, but it’s not as arduous as it looks at first:

  1. At the beginning of the year, collect your French dividend and/or interest income you received the year before. Put this into a spreadsheet and compute how much withholding tax you paid, how much you should have paid, and how much you’ll be claiming back.
  2. Download the form 5000 ; and either the 5001 (for dividends) or 5002 (for interests). For this, go to the tax portal form search and look for forms with CERFA number 12816*01, which will list all available forms 5000, 5001 and 5002 in multiple languages (the code EN, FR, ES, etc. are language codes for English, French and Spanish)
  3. Fill out the forms. If you are going to do this every year, I suggest pre-filling them as PDF files that you can keep around for the following years and save time. Each form will be made in 3 versions: one to be kept by you, one to be kept by your local tax authorities and one for the French administration.
  4. Submit those forms to your local tax authorities, which will have to complete their part that certifies you are a local tax resident. For Singapore you’ll need to also submit the form to apply for a Certificate of Residence, to be included along with the rest.
  5. Once you get the forms properly stamped, you need to send them to the bank or financial company that collected the taxed dividends/interests.

Tower REIT announces sale of Menara ING

I have been a unit-holder of Tower REIT, a small Malaysian office REIT, for a while. This morning I was pleasantly surprised to see the stock sharply up (+4.13%), after weeks of decline. Turns out there’s big news.

What’s happening?

Tower REIT owns (only) 3 office towers and is selling one of them, Menara ING. The sale is done significantly above the Net book value: about MYR 132 Million vs 101 as of the end of last year. As is usual with REITs selling assets, the disposal is said to enable the trust to “repay bank borrowings” and to “pursue acquisition opportunities”.

What I think

This looks like a smart move on paper. The NAV will increase immediately as a result (by 5% per unit according to the press release) ; and this feels even more positive given that the trust is currently trading at a significant discount. The big question is of course how that money can be put to good use: the trust already had less than 20% leverage before the sale, so with the extra cash one or two acquisitions are possible, hopefully some accretive ones.

The issue however is that until some acquisition is made, the trust will be going with one third of its portfolio gone. This is seriously going to hurt the income. I had invested in this trust as I felt it offered a good yield with a safe, simple and boring profile. It’s turning out to be less boring than expected.

Disclosure: long Tower REIT

Lazy cooking: New-York Cheesecake

One of my pastime is cooking, but I’m more of a eater than a baker, so I like easy, quick and straightforward recipes. I’ve developed over the years a few of them that I think are quite nice that I thought I would write down here for my own sake as well as other lazy cooks around.

New-York Cheesecake

This takes about to prepare and will make about enough for 12 slices. Cheesecake is rich and filling: about 6000 kcal for the whole cake or 500 per slice. With a bit of shopping around I can manage to gather the ingredients for about S$24.00, about a third of what it would cost at your local coffee shop!

  1. For the crust, throw about 250 gr of Speculoos biscuits (or alternatively, any sort of shortbread with do) into a airtight bag. Crush those f* with whichever heavy thing you have (fist works too) until it’s a fine blend. Spread it at the bottom of the mold (which I recommend to cover with a baking sheet)
  2. Throw into a large bowl:
    • 4 eggs
    • 1 kg of cream cheese
    • 2 table spoon of vanilla flavor
    • 1/4 cup of flour
    • 1.5 cup of sugar
    • 3/4 cup of milk
    • Use an electric beater to blend everything together until smooth
  3. Pour the filling over the crust, throw into a pre-heated oven at about 160°C for . The top should be slightly brown and the filling thick and creamy.

This can easily be stored in the freezer: I usually cut it and freezes into quarters that I can just take out 12-24h ahead of serving time when the need arise.

Why a property for sale is not for sale

And so I’m house-hunting again, this time very determined to buy a place for myself. This is the second time I’m trying to buy something here: I visited a few properties to invest back in 2009, but dropped my investigation when the market started to rebound in the most brutal way. Unlike locals I’m mostly looking at the secondary market as I want something now, not in 3 years. And once again I’m facing one of the worst plague of Singapore’s real-estate market: fake sellers.
Continue reading Why a property for sale is not for sale

My Phone Is Bigger Than Yours

Funny how things go: the first hand-phones were massive brick-like devices, that manufacturers have been striving to shrink as much as possible. This resulted in phones like the skinny Motorola Razr (the old one, not the new!), which I still have lying around in a cupboard somewhere. Now, in an attempt to offer more screen area, phones are growing bigger again, now spearheaded by the Samsung Galaxy Note and its 5,3″ inches screen (in the photo next to my old HTC Desire and it’s 3,7″ screen).

I hesitated a long time to go for such a large phone (or is that a small tablet?). Went back to the store twice to play with it, trying to see how ridiculous I looked trying to make a call with what is almost a tablet. But now that I took the plunge I’m pretty much in love with my Note: the screen is huge, super detailed (1280×800 pixels, as much as a laptop), contrasted and bright. It’s so good it makes using any smaller phone painful! The rest of the phone is pretty much an oversized Galaxy S II, in other words there’s not much to complain about. I can’t say much about the stylus: it’s a good device but scribbling on the screen doesn’t feel natural to me.

It’s a real joy to browse the Web, use applications, read long articles (crisp text!) or play games on this screen. Typing with the virtual keyboard also becomes easier thanks to the much larger keys. So I do not know if I look ridiculous making calls with it, but I’m definitely not caring any more!

Real-estate as an alternative to gold?

Inflation is back on the radar, and the world economy is still a bit wobbly with quantitative easing here and sovereign debt crisis there, so it’s no wonder some investors worry about not loosing their shirt and turn to gold as not just a new bubble to ride but as a form of wealth protection. Being a “hard asset”, real-estate can also be seen as a form of wealth protection: after all, no matter how bad the economy gets, a house remains a house (well, assuming property laws are still enforced, which historically hasn’t always been the case). It has often been argued that the Chinese real-estate bubble is caused by local investors trying to preserve their capital from high inflation and who lack other investment alternatives, could it be the case in other countries as well ? Continue reading Real-estate as an alternative to gold?

Q3 Singapore’s Real Estate Update

As URA has released definitive Q3 prices for Singapore’s real estate market, I’m posting a quick updated graphic. This is interesting as it will show the effect (or lack of) the governement’s latest cooling measures.

A few notable things:

  • Non-Landed prices are loosing steam, although still growing
  • Landed prices are shooting to the moon and breaking new records
  • Office and commercial seem to follow a very regular cyclical pattern (yawn!)