2021 Reassessment of Portfolio

Every two or three years, I evaluate and analyze my current financial portfolio. I take a deep dive into my credit cards, checking accounts, savings account, and even retirement accounts as well too. This analysis helps me understand my current portfolio but also helps me decide if I need to make any changes. The last time I did this (late 2019), I discovered that my online savings account was *only* giving me an interest rate of 1% whereas other similar online savings accounts was offering 2.2%! I transferred the majority of the principal to this new online bank and the interest income was worth the switch.

There’s not much I can do with savings account. Across the board, the interest rate for savings accounts have gone down to 1% or less due to COVID-19. Even CD rates are dismal.

For the checking account, I do see cash back incentives at various banking institutions in order to “get new customers.” In fact, I already have two checking accounts. Having more accounts provide no added value. And why do I have two? Apparently, opening a mortgage with this bank also required me to also open a checking account. If you Google enough, you’ll find out how a particular bank forced customers to open unwanted accounts in order to hit internal goals.

With credit cards, I’ve been pretty happy with what I currently have. I have three cards… one Visa, one MasterCard (MC) and one American Express (AMEX). I think everyone should have at least one card from each financial services (Visa, MC, AMEX) and that these cards provide some value. Also, everyone should pay off the card in full every month. Since I believe cards need to provide value, the card I use helps me with my goal of aspirational travel. If you look on YouTube, you’ll see many suggestions on “best (travel/rewards/cash back) credit card” videos. I listen to these every so often because they do a good job summarizing the benefits of the latest cards and how it compares to existing cards. Some people enjoy earning rewards benefits by maximizing credit card trifecta systems. Other people (like me) find that maximizing benefits is a chore and are content in just using one card that works towards a goal. In my case, my goal is still aspirational travel and I’m content that my current credit card earns me travel points that I can redeem later. Looking at other travel rewards programs that I am involved in, I’ve apparently also been unintentionally building up hotel rewards from a major brand too. To be honest, I was surprised I had so much (6 digits worth) that had not expired yet and my current membership level too. Because I had so much, I decided to apply for this hotel brand’s credit card and was approved. Let’s see where and what this card can do for me in the future.

This year I did a deep dive into my retirement accounts. I have a company 401K, Roth IRA and stock accounts that hold the employee stock purchase program (ESPP). I contribute the max amount to my 401K every year. My Roth IRA contributions vary mainly because of income limitations. Looking more closely at all my current funds that I hold, I realized that I failed to really consider the benefits between funds categorized as “growth, value, and blend.” Most of these selections were from quick Google searches of the best type of mutual funds and then cross referencing the recommended mutual fund against what was available to me. I am overall quite surprised at the selections that I made given the lack of information. I don’t think any of the decisions are bad but just surprising. I spent some time learning about the 401K funds available to me and then adjusted my portfolio and future contributions. With my Roth IRA, it’s a Vanguard account and have a lot more funds available to me. Since Buffet won the bet by using Vanguard S&P 500 Admiral Shares (VFIAX) as the tool to demonstrate the differences between active vs passive investing, I’ve been pretty intrigued at the concept of selecting funds that mirror the S&P 500. Going into a deep dive, I found that Vanguard more of these funds as growth, value and blend. In addition, there’s also ETF versions (VOO) of the funds. In addition, I also considered the expense ratio and tried to look for funds with lower ratios within my portfolio. Ultimately, I opted to adjust the retirement holdings to predominantly contain large cap value and large cap blend mutual funds.

If people are looking for a “set it and forget it” type of mutual fund, I recommend to evaluate three factors. 1) the type of fund… growth, value, or blend. 2) the market capitalization… large-cap, mid-cap, small-cap… as a proxy for risk and volatility factors. 3) the expense ratio. I think the large cap value like (VVIAX) or (VFIAX) with low expense ratios are worth the investment and should be a guaranteed buy in your retirement portfolio. However, each company’s 401K plan offer different funds but evaluating on the three factors should at least lead to a solid portfolio.

This turned out to be a really long post. I hope some of this helps you in the future.

Brio Coffee Works

January’s Angels Cup comes from Brio Coffee Works. The beans are from Ethiopia’s Sidama region. From the previous experience of these Sidama based beans, the latte should be solidly delicious.

Opening the bag, I’m greeted this earthy, jasmine tea aroma. I think the smell of roasted coffee is the most addictive smell in the world that immediately calms the mind. Making my latte, the first sip was amazing. I taste berries and peach flavors first. As that sip lingers on the tongue, it morphs into this pleasant chocolate flavor. There’s something else I’m tasting that I can’t quite put my taste buds on. Perhaps the black tea that’s listed on the bag? Hmm…

Angels Cup Geisha Black Box

In late 2020, I was fortunate to able to pre-order the Angels Cup 2020 Holiday Black Box. The black box normally is a blind tasting box. However, the holiday version contains the geisha (gesha) beans roasted by different roasters. The box comes in four small bags with just enough for me to make 3 cups of latte per bag.

Bag A – This bag was had subtle florals mingling with strong earthy and berry aromas. Making the latte, I taste subtle citrus flavor with the first stip. A floral aftertaste lingers after each sip.

Bag B – Similar to Bag A but the floral and fruity aromas were much stronger. Making the latte, I get a strong nutty and chocolate taste. There’s also a slight yogurt like, fermentation flavor and aroma immediately with each sip. This flavor quickly dissipates though.

Bag C – This bag had more of a floral aroma. With the first sip of my latte, I taste sweet floral flavor. The sweetness lingers on my tongue with each sip. There is also a slight nutty after taste.

Bag D – Bag D had much more fruity aromas. My latte was an explosion of fruit flavors. The fruitiness gave way to this nice floral after taste. I wish I had more opportunities to drink from bag D.

A Modern Day Insurrection

Wednesday 06JAN2021 is a day to remember. Trump supporters took over the US Capitol Building disrupting the certification of the 2020 Presidential election. This is but just one outcome of Trump’s rhetoric for the past 6 years. The constant lies, the abuse of power, the grandstanding, the putdowns of opponents and general desire to constantly show power helped to incite the Trump followers to march down to the US Capitol building. If the march was supposed to be a peaceful protest, once at the steps of Congress, these protestors started to force their way and eventually overpower the Capitol police in charge of keeping the peace.

There are so many observations to note

  • The clear double standard between policing white protestors vs black/brown protestors. White protestors were touching and pushing the police with the “Blue Lives Matter” banner in the back. And… what is even more amazing is that the police did not use force to push back the protestors but actually retreated as they advanced. That is white privilege at work.
  • Trump’s Facebook and Twitter social media were finally suspended for violating policy of prohibiting incitement of violence. This makes me wonder… why can’t social media companies implement a common set of rules that determine what kind of speech is appropriate? Speech that incites violence or speech with specific negative law-breaking consequences should be regulated. Consistently false claims that being made (ie rigged election) should also be regulated. Perhaps a set of simple questions like:
    1. Did this speech promote people to do something violent?
    2. Did a large amount of people (10+) actually commit acts of violence?
    3. Did this speech that claimed “X” turn out to be false?
    4. Has this speech that claimed “X” been continued to be spread by the account?
    5. The workflow to flag should be a simple yes/no matrix. A “yes” for 1 and 2 should lead to a ban. A “yes” for 3 and 4 should also lead to a ban. The punishment for continually violating the rules should be temporary suspensions of 1 day > 1 week > 1 month > and finally permanently. Free speech does not mean a person should be able to spread false information or incite violence.
  • The Democratically controlled House of Representatives is starting to talk about a second impeachment of Trump for his actions if invoking the 25th amendment does not happen. I have mixed feelings about this. I think the only message an impeachment will send is that the transfer of power must be civil and peaceful and that future attempts will never be tolerated. Republicans (like Minority Leader McCarthy) are only now offering peace to Biden stating impeachment would further divide the country. I think that’s a bit too late. Biden should let Congress do what Congress does. The Republicans dug themselves into this hole by sticking with Trump all the way to insurrection and should not expect that a white flag will instantly calm things over.
  • What Congress should be doing is looking for ways to censure/reprimand all the Republicans who humored Trump and his false “rigged election/stolen election” rhetoric EVEN AFTER the insurrection attempt by objecting to the certification results. Those like McConnell or Graham who conceded should be spared as they eventually conceded that Biden won. Congress should also be looking to clamp down on speech that has been already proven to be fake/false. Part of the reason why Trump was able to get to where he is was because he was able to continually peddle falsehoods about people and processes that if repeated over many times becomes “Fake Truths.”
  • In the initial breach of the Capitol Building, credit needs to be given to the understaffed/undermanned Capitol police for not escalating through the use of force. Although video shows them being engulfed by the crowd, the fact that only 5 people died after a 4 hour scuffle is pretty amazing.

These insurrectionists are being identified and arrested. How ironic that the “Law and Order” Republican party disrupted the law and order in Washington DC.

Humans

I stumbled upon an interesting TV series called Humans on Amazon Prime Video. It’s set in a future where AI and android robots called Synthetics (synths) are common place in society. These synths aid humans in every day tasks like cooking, cleaning, and laundry as well as more strenuous activities like elder care and disability care. The premise of this three season show deals with how human society attempts to find acceptance of synths that have gained “human consciousness.” The story follows the paths of 5 synths, a human implanted with an artificial brain, a family helping the 5 synths and the synth pursuers. Their quest to survive capture and to understand purpose lead to discovering a hidden code to AI consciousness within each individual synth. This leads to understanding the significance behind the hidden code and initiating a world wide consciousness “Day Zero” awakening of the synthetics and then facing the societal impacts from the awakening.

The series explores various philosophical views including the acceptance, discrimination, and legal rights of synths. These discussions remind me of the current fear of illegal immigrants and the unfounded rhetoric behind the fears. Other discourses include the ugliness of how society uses intimidation, violence and legal actions to control what is feared and unknown. Through various plot points the show explores both sides of the issues looking at the “synth views and feelings” as well as human society as a whole. Is this commentary of what civilizations need to overcome in order to progress further as a society?

What’s clear to me is that society will always express fear of the unknown. However, the concern should be how that fear is expressed. Devolving into hatred and violence as a means of expression ultimately is a form of fight. There needs to be ways for society to identify and shift to a constructive and non-violent expression. Unfortunately, society has not reached this level of cognizance. What could be that first step for society? Perhaps teaching of empathy. Certainly understanding how others think and feel would be important to bring together disparate views. What other qualities are needed? The ability to calmly discussing views is also important too. Understanding conflict management as a tool is helpful as well. Teaching to society is the first challenge. Implementing and practicing what was taught is the second challenge. Until then… the cycle continues.