Global Value Hunter

Was it luck? Or was it deliberate choice and sensible planning?

A man on mac screen

In 2009 I started working from home full-time, at first in The Philippines, then in Hong Kong.

In 2016 I moved to a remote hillside villa in southern Bali, where I have been living most of the time since, in relative isolation with my immediate family.

Unless traveling for business or hosting visitors, I rarely meet or socialize with anyone.

While it’s useful to personally visit the companies that I’m thinking of investing in, and to attend conferences and events with like-minded people for networking opportunities, as well as to compare notes in person with my peers, it’s not absolutely essential.

The reality is, I can do my job from anywhere, on my own, so long as I have a decent internet connection to do my research and to reach out to my extensive global network.

In other words, while many other people may be finding it hard to adjust to having to stay at home, and, for some, not being able to work, I was completely prepared for the sort of world we now find ourselves in.

Was I prescient? Lucky? Or a bit of both?

I don’t know; probably a bit of both.

But I tell you what. Ever since I gave up the daily commute, the boring, pointless meetings, and the office politics, I have not missed any of them one bit.

Looking ahead, I’d be surprised if a lot of other people don’t also realize, like I did more than 10 years ago, that they can actually work just as effectively, or even more effectively, from home.

Of course, not everyone has that luxury. If you’re a hairdresser, chef, plumber, nurse, or barista, you likely still need to go to where your clients, customers or patients are.

But even then, there are opportunities to change the timeworn patterns of work. My grandmother was a physiotherapist. In her later working years, I remember her patients coming to see her in her house. The lower floor, next to the garage, had been converted into a treatment room.

Chefs can set up catering businesses. Hairdressers might have a home salon. Plumbers might make instructional videos for do-it-yourself home plumbing repairs and put them on YouTube. The possibilities are endless.

Think about your own situation. Do you have to be at your place of work? Now, we’re all different. You may actually enjoy going to a daily 9-5 job, and the idea of working from home may not be particularly appealing.

But, as the current climate of lockdowns has amply demonstrated, there is a great benefit in at least knowing some way to generate income remotely and passively. It doesn’t matter whether it’s investing in stocks, trading currencies, or starting a YouTube channel, I think everyone should have a “Plan B,” so that if something happens to your regular job, you’re prepared, and can cope.

The point is, the current upheaval to work and social patterns caused by the coronavirus are almost certainly going to usher in a great deal of societal change.

It’s conceivable to me, for instance, that large, densely-populated cities, such as New York City, could begin to hollow out and see their populations decline.

International travel will almost certainly drop… at least for a number of years. People will reconsider whether they really need to be physically present at international business meetings or conferences. Holidays in one’s home country will hold more appeal.

Maybe hardcore travelers will temporarily want to do more travelling after being stuck at home for months, but the practicalities of it will make travel a burden, and I think most will opt out. Wearing masks in airports and on planes. Being tested for coronavirus at airports. Having to quarantine upon landing. Maybe having to carry vaccination cards (if one becomes available), or “coronavirus free” cards will not appeal to the majority of people — me included.

The long, just-in-time international supply chains we have come to rely on for everything from the food we eat to the gadgets we buy will also be rethought and reengineered. Relying on a cheap foreign supplier for critical goods and medicines has been shown not to be too smart.

That’s going to prove an interesting change. Will it be inflationary? Will companies be forced to hold much larger inventories on hand, thus lowering their capital efficiency, and forcing them to employ more working capital? I’d say almost certainly that’s going to be the case.

People may also spend less time messing about with their smartphones and other electronic gadgets and engage directly with their close family, now they’ve become (re)-acquainted. Though, that remains to be seen.

Another thing I long suspected, but have now seen with my own eyes, is that the school curriculum can be absorbed in a much shorter time by a reasonably intelligent and dedicated student. (My oldest daughter is killing it. Mainly thanks to her own initiative and enthusiasm, and her mother’s guidance. I can only take a small credit for English reading practice).

Could it be that home-schooling, and faster, deeper learning by some students, at a younger age, becomes more common, and more actively encouraged?

Maybe we will see the establishment of online schools where teachers teach via video conferencing software?

Teachers are now realizing they can teach a whole class without the need of being physically together, for example. For most, that’s also much less stressful, as they don’t have to deal with 20 or 30 children together in a classroom, where behavioral issues may interfere with their learning.

Anecdotally I am hearing that, at first, some teachers didn’t really like the idea of teaching online. But now they’re actually doing it, they love it.

But the social aspect of education, and interacting with your classmates and peers outside of the classroom is also a huge part of the educational experience.

At colleges in the USA for example, there is understandably a lot of backlash currently from students who are paying high fees for the “experience” and the networking opportunities outside the classroom that the whole package of going to college entails. It’s not only about attending classes.

But, if you think about it, the entire education system is designed for a bygone era, where parents had to be physically present in their place of work, outside the home, and there was thus no one to supervise the children. The children were shipped off to schools, which are effectively a child-minding facility, just as much as they are a learning institution.

Nowadays, the technology certainly exists for kids to learn remotely. And with many parents at home, and able to keep an eye on their children, there’s much less of a need for a child-minding facility.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m fortunate to have help in the house, so it’s not just my wife and I that are looking after and engaging with the kids. And I bet there are plenty of stressed out parents wishing things would hurry up and go back to normal, so they can send the kids back to school.

Nevertheless, I think there will also be some people who may now question whether they have been doing the right thing by going to work for long hours in an office, while leaving their children in the care of strangers all day.

There are many new long-term trends that could emerge as a result of this pandemic and the policies that were forced upon us to try to deal with it.

Some will be for the worse. For example, as already mentioned, I can imagine international travel is going to be a nightmare for years to come – even more so than it already was because of the events of September 11, 2001.

But some changes will hopefully be for the good. Closer, more caring families, and parents more closely engaged in their children’s up-bringing and education might be one of them.

Less stressful, wasteful, carbon-emitting commuting could be another? For example, my “commute” consists of a 50-meter walk from the lower pavilion in my villa compound to the upper pavilion.

Demand for larger homes, where one doesn’t feel confined or trapped in a small space will also increase, among those fortunate to have the means to afford them – I think.

I have been super fortunate in that regard, with a big garden, pool, and lots of space to rattle around in our villa, over these long weeks of “isolation.” 

“Oh, you’re so lucky,” people sometimes say to me. Well, again, is it luck? Or deliberate choice and sensible planning?

When choosing where to live, again my Global Value Hunter instinct came into play. What bigger decision is there in life, after all? Other than whom to marry, or go out with maybe…

Our place in Bali is 30 minutes from the international airport (which ordinarily allows me to be anywhere in the world with 1 or 2 connections, within 24 hours). It is 5 minutes from the nearest beach, and 5 minutes from one of the world’s most famous surf breaks, at Uluwatu (though, ironically, I don’t surf).

There are dozens of five-star luxury resorts with world-class restaurants within 15 to 20 minutes’ drive. As an aside, if you are ever in Bali, try the Italian restaurant at the Intercontinental Resort in Jimbaran. It is sensational.

For something cheaper, and local, the Menega Café for fresh seafood on Jimbaran beach is a regular haunt of my family’s (in normal times). For less than US$80 a group of 5 or 6 can feast on fresh grilled fish, prawns, squid, clams and local vegetables, washed down with Bintang Beer (PT Multi Bintang is a stock that’s always on my watchlist, and nearly back in the BUY zone, by the way.)

There are also modern shopping malls, cinemas, three golf courses, several hospitals, kindergartens, schools, and a university, all within 20 to 30 minutes’ drive.

For a property of comparable standard and convenience in Australia or any other western country, I think I would have paid at least 3 times as much as I paid here. So, you tell me; am I “lucky,” or did I really do my homework and find the most bang for my real estate dollar?

I guess I am “lucky” to be open minded and flexible, and willing to live anywhere in the world. But if you have that trait as well, the rest comes down to your own choices, and making sensible decisions, not luck.

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