Monday, 26 December 2011

It won’t cease soon

Some people say if you don’t have a profile on facebook or another social networking website, you simply don’t exist. I’m not in favour of this theory, but there is a grain of truth in it. Over the week when I was offline, my high-school classmates organised a Christmas meet-up and notified me via facebook. I learnt about the gathering the day after it was held. I wouldn’t have turned up anyway, as it was held at the same time as Christmas party of my company, but no one considered any other way of getting in touch with me…

The other thing I spotted on facebook last Saturday after logging in was a message from my middle-school classmate. Let’s name him Marek (name deliberately changed, again, I’m sure he at least once visited my blog and is aware of its existence). He asked me to give him my phone number and tell when he could call me, implying the sooner the better. I’m generally sensitised to all requests when I feel I can lend somebody a helping hand and felt a bit guilty, as his message was dated 14 December and I read it three days later. I went for a walk, grabbed my mobile and dialled his number (how come I had his number, he didn’t have mine?).

Marek was more than happy to hear my voice in the receiver. Without even exchanging pleasantries, he cut to the chase and asked if I had lent any money to our classmate, Karol. He left me a bit speechless for a moment, but instead of telling him I had done this mistake, my reply was: “has your money also gone down the drain?” (też utopiłeś pieniądze?).

Marek and I have known each other since we were six. He lived with his mother and sister in a neighbouring block of flats in Piaseczno, we went to the same group in the nursery school and then attended the same class and primary and middle school. We even chose the same high school, I surmise his choice was a bit influenced by mine. Marek’s life has always been uphill. He grew up without father and most of time without any financial aid from him. He has never been really talented (truth be told, even if it’s bitter), but as long as he could, he has made up for his by hard work and consistency. He has always aimed high and never liked to give up on his plans.

Despite financial hardship, Marek managed to put aside some money. In August 2010 he lent a large chunk of it, i.e. 8,000 PLN to our ex-friend, Karol. Unlike me, he secured his interests by signing a loan agreement with the hapless debtor. Until now Karol and his mother have paid him back 5,000 PLN, while 3,000 PLN remains outstanding and odds of getting it back are dwindling. As it turns out, precedence of creditors depends on their capacity to claim their money back. My loan to Karol was backed by gentleman’s agreement; Karol’s mother claims she respects it, yet when others threaten to take steps to recover their money, it’s not hard to guess who’ll be paid off first. Marek is not even better-off, just because his recovery ratio is 62.5%, while mine is 0%. For me 1,000 PLN is not a big sum, compared to my savings and earnings, for Marek 3,000 is much, much more and currently he desperately needs that money.

[insertion: it just occurred to me I could help Marek out and lend him 3,000 PLN, but I won’t…]

With the legally binding obligation to return the money, Marek is going to take the case to the court. Some law students who provide other students with legal advice free of charge have helped him write a claim and in the new year he intends to file a lawsuit against Karol. The case was if I would testify. Without much hesitation I agreed to appear before court. After all I’ll be telling the truth, but maybe I’ll help the guy who’s had it uphill all his life and doesn’t deserve to lose much of his savings. Testifying will not fray my nerves, as I’ve got over the lost money long ago and I won’t forget the story of a guy who used to my good friend, who was an up-and-coming talent and who squandered all opportunities life had offered to him, anyway.

On 9 December I sent to Karol’s family a Christmas card. I packed in an envelope and didn’t sign sender’s name at the back of it, just to give it a chance of not landing in a rubbish bin before being opened.

Just after finished the call with Marek I rang Karol’s mother, immensely curious to find out how the family are doing. What I heard from her has not impressed nor touched me, actually nothing I would hear about Karol would surprise me. Apart from what I listened about misery of Karol’s father who had undergone a surgery and Karol’s senile grandparents (all their ailments are somehow related to Karol having fallen into troubles), I have been informed that Karol is doing a sentence for unpaid debts and since his mother and I last talked, he tried to take away his life three times and is determined to try it again.

The shock came after hanging up. It sank in to me that this woman was at the end of her tether. She’s so tired of what she’s gone through that she doesn’t even appear to be moved by the fact his son wanted to commit suicide it even seems she has already come to terms with the inexorable eventuality of Karol’s suicidal departure.

Maybe the story is not apposite for the Christmas tide, but this the time, when apart from rejoicing, we should think about fellow people’s misery. Remember Band Aid’s “Do they know it’s Christmas”, peaked with Bono’s verse “Well tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you”? Cherish what you have, if you can read this post, I bet most people have it worse than you and your problems are laughably small, compared to theirs.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

X-mas wishes

Dear readers, wish you all, peaceful and joyful Christmas. may it be a stress-free time of rejoice, spent with your family and friends. Recharge your batteries, as you never know what the future holds and the only thing we can be sure of is that the coming year, at least for economists and so called "financial markets" won't be boring.

Sunday, 18 December 2011


Went through an involuntary Internet-rehab over the last week. The extent of the therapy wasn’t actually full, as I had access to most websites at work, but access to private e-mail, blogs, bank and brokerage accounts, allegro or facebook is blocked there, hence I was devoid of some entertainments offered by the Web. Truth be told I didn’t miss surfing the Net much, so it seems I’m not addicted to it(yet), but having no access to the Internet is inconvenient. I couldn’t read nor comment on any blogs, I couldn’t speculate in stocks, paying bills on-line was impossible, I didn’t know how my friends were keeping. Maybe the reason why I didn’t miss it much was that I had to work overtime over the week and back at home I wouldn’t have found much time to turn the computer on anyway. In fact my notebook was switched off for five days (antivirus software warnings of outdated protection popped up immediately), for the first time since September 2009

The reason for being cut off the rest of the world was a defective Huawei (pron. ch**owy) modem delivered by Cyfrowy Polsat (hereinafter: CP). Buying their services was a memorable rough ride, but using it was all downhill since then. Until it worked…

The Chinese modem (piece of sh*t) began to spin out of control in November. It developed a despicable habit of disconnecting and reconnecting whenever it felt like doing so. This was a bit annoying, but I put up with this, as it didn’t impede much using the Internet. On 5 December it also began to transfer data at its discretion. Over the previous week most of time it didn’t upload nor download any data, but at times it roused up and did its job, until it went into a stand-by mode again. Last Saturday I went with it to several shops of CP, but none had any other modem to lend to us for the time of the repair. Finally an assistant recommended us to skip the intermediation of CP’s customer service and turn directly to Huawei repair centre, located in Piaseczno, who should check the modem off-hand and fix it overnight.

On Sunday, just after publishing the post on the blog, my modem gave up the ghost for good. My father took the modem to the repair centre on Monday. They promised to check it overnight and get in touch as soon as possible. They hung back on contacting us, so my father called them on Tuesday. They replied the modem was broken down beyond repair and under warranty would be replaced for a new one, free of charge. Unfortunately they had just run out of the devices and waited for the delivery of new ones. We called them for a few consecutive days and asked them when they expected the delivery. Finally on Friday they blatantly declared Christmas was coming and the new supply wouldn’t come in by the end of the year. The sods there didn’t give a shit about the fact that their customer would have to stay offline for some four weeks and pay the monthly fee for the Internet connection as usual. Shocked by the insolence of the repair centre I demanded my modem back, but it turned out it wasn’t an easy task for the sods to reverse the order which was being effected. I saw red, but despite having my blood pressure sent rising, I quickly realised they couldn’t do it to me. I was the owner of the modem and the sods could not seize my belongings, so I threatened to sue them for stealing my stuff. It worked. I called my father and he picked it up, together with the repair report, in the meantime I arranged borrowing another modem from CP shop in Piaseczno. My father did me a favour, handled the complaint procedure again and brought the lent modem home.

On Friday evening (or night) I returned home late from a corporate X-mas booze-up, additionally I looked like a drowned rat, as the pouring down rain left me totally sodden. Sodden and moderately befuddled, I didn’t feel capable of operating technical devices, so I decided to plug in the borrowed modem on Saturday. On Saturday I made an attempt to use the device, but it also turned out defective. The modem from CP shop lacked drivers and software and my computer couldn’t detect the content of its internal disk. I drove (no hangover so I assumed alcohol level in my blood was negligibly low) to CP’s shop and asked there to transfer modem drivers and CP software to my pendrive. I had to go there twice because for the first time they had given me the wrong software (from a different modem) and at last I needed to call CP customer service helpline to get the support in installing it…

Now it works, but things haven’t straightened out yet. I don’t how long my modem will be under repair, I don’t know if the opinion of the repair centre will be the same and if the new one will work properly. Right now I’m thinking how to get back on CP for the quality of their customer service. I’m not vindictive towards people, but powerful corporations that mistreat their customers must not go unpunished and their sins won’t be absolved. What sort of compensation should I demand? I don’t need apologies, they’re duty bound to provide me with a new modem under warranty, but how about claiming exemption from monthly Internet connection charges? Am I entitled?

Two readers marked my previous post as “well-argued / clear”, so a quick follow up – I’m still emotionally unstable and the magnitude of instability is very volatile.

Maybe due to what I described last week I’ve become disturbingly indifferent to current political and economic issues. I wasn’t focused the outcomes of EU summit held on 8 and 9 December, sovereignty marches staged on 30th anniversary of declaring martial law haven’t impressed me (my take on the martial law hasn’t changed since two years), nor did the end of Polish presidency to the EU. Yesterday in the evening, back online I found out stock markets are poised for a very bearish Christmas period (technical analysis and macro factors back this scenario) and may hit this year’s new low by the end of the year. Cesaria Evora and Vaclav Havel passed away - happens

I let things drift, every destiny should be fulfilled.

What no man can own, no man can take.
(U2, Yahweh)

You miss too much these days if you stop to think
(U2, Until the end of the world)

The two quotations reverberate in my mind and emerge from an enormous tangle occupying my head and giving way to clear thinking only when I concentrate at work or drive a car.

I let things drift, let the destiny fulfil itself.

Next week – another follow up to the story of my ex-classmate.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

When children grow rebellious...

Time goes by, entourages change. Gone is the period of formal education when every day I used to meet my peers who look at the world from roughly the same perspective as I do. People I am surrounded by these days, at least a few years older than me, have different problems, grew up in different times, spend their leisure time differently. What we usually have in common is a certain part of our background – we are almost all graduates of Warsaw School of Economics. And despite this we are all “normal”, I mean we do not fit the image of a stereotypical rat-racer. This is what probably marks the boundary between slightly “backward” Polish commercial banking and Anglo-Saxon overgrown financial sector which favours alpha-males with specific set of traits and predispositions

All (except one, single girl aged 28) my colleagues have spouses and most have children. Their offspring are usually in pre-school or early-school age, only one colleague’s children are in their teenage years. He sometimes talks over his observations of his daughter (aged 16) and son (aged 14) with a woman from the other department whose son is also adolescent. While listening to their conversations, I finally realised what sort of problems I will have to tackle in several years, when my currently unborn children grow to the age of defiance. From what I observed, my colleagues strike a good balance between strictness and leniency in upbringing their children. They are aware it is natural that teenagers begin to have their own opinions, often totally opposite, as a matter of principle, to their parents’ views, want to dress the way they want, spend the time the way they want, meet with who they want and arrange their lives in their own way. They talk a lot to their children and forgive some misbehaviours (one-off occurrences of returning home inebriated or nasty behaviour at schools).

I sometimes butt in to their talks and present them my point of view, but more often they make me look back on over past ten years, from the moment I came into age of adolescence, until my 24th birthday. Much can be said about me, but I was anyone, but a problem child / problem teenager. For some reason, maybe because my parents would talk with me a lot, I did not have inclination stir up troubles. I always did good at school; in good and bad times, for 12 years of primary, middle and high school I passed with flying colours. I did not have to retake a single exam during four and a half years of my studies and unlike fellow students I finished my studies in time. There were some incidences of inappropriate behaviour at school, but they have never been really inexcusable and never sullied my good reputation. There were some disputes between my parents and I, there was a time when I was 16 and in a relationship with two years older girl, when we argued a lot. They told me she was not good for me, after a few months time and my ex-girlfriend proved them right. I have never experimented with drugs, never had a cigarette in my mouth (I owe it to my parents, until November 2003 chain smokers, whose addiction filled me with abiding disgust for smoking), I would hit the bottle from time to time, I used to come back home tipsy, yet in my lifetime I have not got hammered more than five times and never I had I drunk so much that I could not remember what I had been doing; I have never let the alcohol turn my stomach. Plus I was a “frugal” child – I did not need private tuition (korepetycje), I did not demand from my parents that they bought me some stuff others had.

Yet my colleagues, who patiently put up with their children, point out it is better if teenagers get through a period a defiance before they grow adult, because this has to come sooner or later, and the later it comes, the higher the magnitude of cheekiness is and the more severe outcomes of stupid decisions might be. I suppose the belated adolescence crisis has hit me recently. I am putting it down to changes that have taken place over the last year around me. The transition from school-oriented to work-oriented life, drifting apart with my schoolmates and hitting it off with older, more mature people, gaining the long-awaited financial independence; all these factors have been a source of joy and excitement, but to some extent they turned my life upside down, I am not a man I used to be a year ago. To put if briefly – I sometimes feel as if I was living someone else’s life… Some changes are positive – at work I can spread my wings. I left behind the unpleasant experience of being one of hundreds of anonymous students, which used to hurt during the years spent at SGH. I realise this might be an illusion, but where I work at least I am recognised and my accomplishments are appreciated (one day someone might recall my name and put it on a redundancy list – would it pay off not to stand out and keep a low profile?). Some changes, i.e. aforementioned tangle in my head, are a bit disturbing. When making up for the time wasted on being an obedient child, I hold off on taking stupid, emotion-rather-than-consideration-driven decision and wait. I believe by the 25th birthday it should pass…

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The meek and the outraged

Once upon a time there was a prosperity...

In one country in which several years ago one could rise from rags to riches, everyone, including drunkards having no jobs, no assets and no income, could get a mortgage without having to prove their creditworthiness. They could buy dreamt-up houses they had never afforded to buy and everyone was happy.

In another, once poor country, government, trade unions and employers entered into a social partnership, which gave rise to over a decade of fast, yet sustainable growth. When natural growth ran out of steam, economy was boosted by construction boom that did not last long, as everything what is credit-fuelled and based on low-efficiency sectors. They government would run budget surpluses thanks to rising property taxes and people could afford to buy houses despite prohobitive prices, thanks to easy credit conditions. Everyone was happy...

Once a country, which was facing bankruptcy in 1998, got up off its knees and rose to prosperity thanks to huge revenues from export of gas and oil... Only tycoon were happy... The rest were only proud of their new empire.

Another country, which joined the European Communities in 198,1 could rig statistics, wheedle out subsidies from the EU and live off the backs of German taxpayers. But actually eveyone was happy.

Once the biggest CEE economy was run by reckless politicians who at the same time cut taxes, raised government spending and despite this had a nearly balanced budget. But people weren't happy and in early election kicked out those magicians.

The times of living beyond one's means are gone. Good times will roll in sometime, but I suppose not before long. Come to terms with it, there's no such option as 'ship out' now.

Then the house of cards fell apart and Mr Crisis knocked on our doors. Believers of American Dream were evicted from their over-mortgaged houses and complex securities engineered by brainy quants from investment banks turned out to be a load of junk scattered all over the financial system. The government rushed to help out the troubled, but those bailed out were financial institutions. The case was that someone had been arranging the world in such way that banks had grown too big to fail and their collapse could trigger a knock-on effect, i.e. their bankruptcies would wipe out the 'real economy'. Thus the bankers were helped out and got away with the punishment and things went on.

At that time voices of people outraged at policies focused on big players, rather than ordinary people, were heard. But nothing, virtually nothing has changed.

As part of tacking the crisis, zillions of money wer pumped into financial system and some money was even injected into real economy. Economies somehow revived, but did not thrive as good as the financial system did. Drip of newly printed dollars flowed into banks' balance sheets and the banks did not, as the decision-makers had intended, turn them into loans for firms and individuals, but put them on financial markets. Between late winter of 2009 and mid-spring of 2011 stock prices doubled and commodity price tripled, not really reflecting economic recovery (often, like oil prices, threatening to hamper it).

In the meantime countries using fiscal stimuluses to prop up their economic, nations living beyond their means and those whose growth prior to the crisis had been totally unsustainable (these were the countries that had experienced property booms) fell into trouble. In 2011 banks are solvent (unless they have bought up too much "risk-free" Greek bonds), in 2011 the governments are about to go bust.

Poland got off the first wave of the crisis lightly. In early 2009 it was the only economy in Europe that did not contract. Neither the current (PO-led), nor previous (PiS-led) government could take credit for it. Accolades go to resilient Poles and their remarkable consumer confidence (in fact verging on profligacy), sound monetary policy pursued by the Polish central bank, wise financial supervision that curbed lending and resilience of Polish entrepreneurs. But lower budget proceeds and higher expenditures and inevitable in economic slowdown and so Poland as well has to tighten the belt...

But not only us. People feel it and someone roused up and discerned that ordinary people are paying for the crisis, while bankers, still untouched, are doing well. In 2008 Barack Obama won by promising the 'change'. The matter (or rather lobbyist) proved too resistant, and the change has not been brought about, leaving more and more people livid. They gathered in one New York district and dubbed themselves Wall Street Occupiers. The movement gained popularity in many countries, but I didn't think it would fell on a fertile fround in Poland. Yet for a moment it did. On 15 October hundreds of protesters marched through Warsaw's streets, but who were they? As right-wing journalists claimed, those were children of wealthy parents who thought it would be fun / trendy to protest again cruel capitalism and spent afternoon in such way. They even received support from a prominent leftist politician who came to the demonstration in his brand-new Jaguar...

In all countries they protested against the palpable distortions of capitalism, yet did not come up with any counter-ideas. Some of their postulates are even self-contradictory - how can you raise public spending and cut public debt at the same time? I don't feel affinity with those people. We are simply worlds apart, and not because we have different descents, but because our mindsets are worlds apart. I have a job that gives me a lot of satisfaction and offers me financial independence (limited, as without ruining my personal finances I cannot afford to move out from my parents' house) and... I'm afraid of losing the job, for reasons other than my performance. They are often jobless and with bleak future prospects. But where we are now is a result of how we got there and this in turn is a testimony of effort or lack of it over the past years.

And no, you are no longer entitled!

While others are outraged, I stay disturbingly meek. VAT increased by one percentrage point - other fulminate against the government, I say it is essential to bring extra revenues to the state budget. Raising the retirement age - my colleagues say they won't make it until they hit 67, I declare to toil away even longer without murmur to make budget'e ends meet. Scrapping tax deductible expenses - others are livid as they will not be allowed to claw back some money from the state, I happily commend the idea which simplifies tax system. I was even asked by my colleaugue, with a big tinge of malice, how I would be fixed for shortening paid holidays by some five days each year, cutting sick leave benefit, raising social sickness benefit contributions and restoring tax rates and brackets effective until 2008 (19% / 30% / 40%). Without much hesitation I said I would approve this, if only the money collected thus was spent wisely, i.e. on investments in infrastructure, education or, above all, contributed to reduction of public debt.

All in all, I have all makings of a ruthless technocrat who could turn an almost bankrupt country around and leave the office after four years, hated by 95% of the society. Or am I simply a naive sucker?

PS. This post written without effort. Was it read without pleasure?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

So whose speech Mr Sikorski delivered?

Being rather short of time over the working week, I was not aware Mr Sikorski was going to put in an appearance in Berlin. I found out about his comment-provoking speech from Charles Crawford's (former British ambassador to Poland) blog, to which W-wa Jeziorki links, on Monday late evening. I went through the post quickly and recalled Janusz Korwin-Mikke's (Polish ultra-rightist politician) words that if your enemies (for many wacky politicians almost every politician from abroad, except our beloved allies from the United States, who incidentally not only do not know where Poland lies, but also do not give a shit about our well-being) praise you, you might be in trouble. Then I put myself to bed and simply forgot about the speech. The next day the row over the content of Mr Sikorski's speech, verging on accusations of high treason, broke out. Along with politicians of ruling coalition and leftist and liberal opposition, I would (silently) stand up to Mr Sikorski's efforts to mark our presidency. Today, while sipping tea after lunch I popped by TVN24 website to learn that Mr Crawford could have authored the outstanding speech.

Bearing in mind that Mr Sikorski, despite having studied and spending over ten years in the UK, is not a native speaker of English, it surely was a wise step to hire a skillful native to have the speech polished up by a professional speechwriter. I do not believe it was Mr Crawford who wrote the speech himself. Polish foreign office, Mr Sikorski and Mr Crawford claim in unison Mr Sikorski took Mr Crawford's advice regarding content and style of the speech and it seems to be a fair account of former British ambassador's contribution.

What I find appalling anyway is the glowing praise coming from Mr Crawford. If he really contributed to the speech, he should have dissociated himself from dissecting and extolling it. Blowing one's own trumpet in such a coarse way somehow does not befit a renowned diplomat...

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The last bike ride this autumn and the first snow (?) this winter (?)

I rightly presumed the first weekend of November was the last opportunity to enjoy warmth this autumn. On Saturday, 5 November day-time high topped almost +15C, while on Sunday it hit less than +10C, but only then I found time to take my bike out of the garage and set off for the last, short trip this autumn. I covered less than ten kilometres, yet the trip brought about many thoughts. To the right – a commuter Radom-bound, almost empty train. How long since I last travelled by train? Didn’t I get too used to carrying my arse in a car? And who the hell cut down on number of Warsaw-bound trains in the morning in the new timetable, effective from 11 December?

I cycled along the tracks towards Jeziorki up a dirt track that according to some maps is a street. Burrows and traces of tyres indicate some desperate drivers might have ventures here, but these were probably only local farmers in their tractors, on their way to plough their fields. How long before a civilised road is built here? Which expressways and motorways scheduled to be opened before Euro 2012 will indeed be opened? Would it be possible to finish the construction of S2/S79 roads before next winter? Will the southern bypass of Warsaw be completed by 2020. Will we have decent roads out of capital by the end of decade? Will the construction of S7 expressway linking Warsaw with Kraków be put back by more than two years?

Fallen leaves rustle beneath the wheels. Instead of cycling at the side of actual road, I decide to ride on the bumpy roadside. This option is safer for me and for drivers. Why so many people, totally unaware of traffic regulations and dangers they might cause, often physically incapable of cycling on a busy road, get on their bikes and ride? Why so many do not have front, nor rear lights on their bicycles? Why so many do not have any flashy stripes on their clothing? Why must there be so many accident involving cyclists and pedestrians in the period of year when days are shorter?

The riot of colours on the trees. Trees have shed their leaves quite late this year, as September and first days of October were very warm. Then the weather has taken a turn for worse and warmth has become a scarce commodity. What will the coming winter be like? Prophets of doom would predict the harshest winter in this millennium (incidentally the third in a row), but early attack of snows and frosts in November has not been brought off for some reason…

Lukoil (Russian brand, watch out, invaders coming over!) petrol station. Unleaded 95 petrol cost three weeks ago 5.20 PLN. Last Sunday I was lucky to fill up my car for 5.28 PLN per litre. How long before high fuel prices begin to be a drag on Polish economy. Remember February 2009. USD/PLN rate hit then 3.90, but price of crude oil hovered between 30 and 40 USD per barrel. Petrol cost then some 3.20 PLN per litre. Now USD/PLN is some 0.50 PLN short of reaching the same rate and amid the current turmoil it is conceivable to that it even hits 4.00, but prices of crude oil remain absurdly high. If you assume costs of commodity makes up half of petrol retail price, it means that if USD/PLN rate is the same as in early 2009 and crude oil price in USD is three times higher, retail price of petrol should reach some 6.40 PLN. Imagine this… No room for interest rate cuts, inflation pressure may even send them rising and increase cost of borrowing. We have the nail to the coffin, now where’s the hammer?

I don’t even know if I can sincerely say we’ve had the first snow this winter, but just for the record some photos taken on Thursday, 17 November. Temperature in the morning ten days ago dropped to –4C, air was humid and as a result I beheld a considerably thick layer of hoar-frost on my car (to the right – a good examples of the bogey that winds up drivers who don’t keep their vehicles in garages). I left earlier to bring the car to a roadworthy condition. Instead of some ten minutes, the whole operation took my car and me only three minutes (I scraped the ice off side windows, while the car defrosted its windscreen, rear screen and side mirrors – accolades to the wise scientist who invented defrosting devices).

Traffic on ul. Puławska was quite sparse (I noticed on colder mornings number of old, rickety cars is lower), so I reached P&R Wilanowska much earlier and decide to walk from Metro Centrum to my office - mere 3 kilometres on a brisk, frosty morning give a decent dose of oxygen for the brain. As I walked out of the underground station it seemed to me the world looked a but whiter. As I sauntered some three hundred metres west, surfaces of all objects looked much whiter and it didn’t look like hoar frost, hard rime or ice.

As I wandered on west, the layer of white powder was more and more visible and… treacherously slippery. To the right – around five millimetres of flurry or something like this on what used to be ul. Prosta and now is the construction site of second underground line. Later I read on TVN Meteo this kind of precipitation is called snow grains. Whatever it was, it disappeared by midday and I don’t call it first snow in winter 2011/2012. It was observed only in some parts of Warsaw (my parents told me nothing had fallen in the southern suburbs) and had this happened on Saturday or Sunday, these photos would not be put up here.

Believe it or not, I don’t wait for the snows, sub-zero temperatures, or any other signs of winter. Currently North Atlantic Oscillation is very active and draws in warm air and rainfalls from the west. Upsides – high temperatures (today at 19:00 weather station on Warsaw airport reports +8C!) and no risk of snow. Downsides – gales and risk of havoc wreaked by gusty wind, plus low air pressure. Despite the downsides, I’m glad we have this kind of weather, may it stay like this possibly long. Current long-term forecasts show no intimations of winter on the horizon, really bothersome winter is unlikely to come before Christmas. Good news, given that I’m still in for two business trips in the first half of December. Chaos caused by attack of winter and inability of Poles to tackle it when it hits for the first time in a season, wouldn’t rather make the journey enjoyable.

But frosty mornings, despite nuisances, have their charm – to the right – construction site of Rondo Daszynskiego underground station, in the distance, skyline of Warsaw with its new element – Złota 44 skyscraper and two cranes surrounding it. Snapped on 23 November, the coldest morning this autumn (-6C).

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The power of one man’s word

This blog, just like many other in the blogosphere, seems to have seen better days. Once in a blue moon I happen to post more than once a week. Writing on the spur of the moment (usual method of running PES) is now the thing of the past; these days over the whole busy week I try to plan what to write, then change my mind, when I get down to writing.

I was going to give a coverage of my last bike trip this year and upload photos of first snow (actually I am told those were snow grains, not the proper snow) in Warsaw this year, but there is no such word as ‘weather’ in the title of the blog, hence politics from the time to time has to come into the foreground…

Friday saw the second inaugural address of prime minister Donald Tusk, who will go down in history as the first head of government to have stayed on for the second term in office. Unlike his speech four years ago, this one was not filled with visions of land of milk and honey. This time the speech, apart from leaving out many realms such as foreign relations, culture, education and health service, focused on painful economic reforms this government is going to press ahead, to at least try to turn around the Poland’s public finances.

The inaugural address went down astonishingly well with my friends, colleagues at work and my family (truth be told with my parents, as the rest of them, both at my mother’s and my father’s side vote for PiS and worship the would-be saviour JarKacz). Short, yet up-to-the point, with quite specific promises and time frame set for achieving the goals, makes it easier for voters and opposition to bring Mr Tusk for going back on his promises. I have no idea how many of them will be brought off, how many will lead to social unrest and for how many resistance of matter will be insurmountable. I do not find myself capable of assessing whether bitter promises of retrenchments and curbing public debt were just hollow words, but the speech of the prime minister did not smack of ‘mercenary PR’, so characteristic for PO and its leader.

This time Mr Tusk made us come back to earth and face the bitter truth. As a nation we have not lived beyond our means to such extent as many other did, but to save the country from falling apart we finally need to swallow a bitter pill. Let’s just face it – there are far too many untouchable privileged groups in this country that live off other taxpayers’ money – policemen entitled to pension off after 15 years in services, farmers who do not have to pay social security contributions, prosecutors and judges with pension privileges, clergy paying very low lump-sum taxes with pension contributions paid by the state. Plus thousands of other people who retire much earlier than in Western Europe, despite being still in good health. Whenever you get more than you deserve, in overall account it is not for free, just if you do not pay for it, someone else has to fork out money for your privilege. This is called redistribution of wealth. The questions remains, to what extent redistribution is fair? I am of the opinion a well-developed society cannot go without redistribution, as there are disadvantaged people who really need help and who are not culpable of their predicament, there is a need to provide equal chances to children from poor families and help those gifted young people break away from poverty, finally there are forms of getting income that have to be taxed, owing to putting no or little effort in earning – therefore I will probably never approve of lifting capital gains tax or will not be fully convinced to advantages of scrapping inheritance and donation tax.

Done with general assessment of the address, let’s drill down into details. Around twenty minutes past midday Mr Tusk said: Chcemy po pierwsze wyraźnie zwiększyć i unowocześnić daninę, którą w tej chwili pobieramy w niewystarczającym stopniu od wydobywanych bogactw naturalnych przede wszystkim miedź i srebro. (Firstly, we want to raise and revamp the tax levied on extraction of natural resources, particularly copper and silver.)

KGHM is a partly state-owned company dealing with extraction and processing of copper. In terms of market capitalisation it is the biggest company listed on Warsaw Stock Exchange. Now get the load of this… The chart shows quotations of KGHM on Friday.

Red circle marks the abrupt reaction to Mr Tusk’s declaration – price of KGHM shares plummeted by roughly 5% within less than five minutes. Number of transactions was twenty times higher than before the words of new tax. Then we saw a double-dip formation (blue circle) that portended a rebound that did not last long. Around half past four market saw the second wave of sell-off (green circle), just after five KGHM stock fell by more than 10% and trading was suspended (violet circle). Friday close price was 13.83% lower than Thursday one… Note also the volume (blue bars at the bottom). Turnover was low until the announcements and than it escalated in moment when price was going down – this shows the strength of the downward trend…

The sell-off soon prompted the questions about beneficiaries and victims of the turmoil. Government members avow that information about the content of prime minister’s speech did not leak out, Polish Financial Watchdog, for sake of good order, should carry out an investigation. In such situation, investors with inside knowledge could have sold their shares in advance, before the price plunged and speculators could have shorted them and rake in profits very quickly. I hope this will all straighten out and politicians will think twice before the say something that would swing the market…

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Daleko od Wawelu - book review

Spent the last two days of the shorter working week (i.e. Wednesday and Thursday) on a sick leave. I had been fighting the illness since late October, but surrounded all the time either by sneezing and coughing parents at home or by sneezing and coughing colleagues at work, I finally gave up and came down with some sort of cold. Unfortunately for my employer, I was not the only one to be absent at work at this time, but if they wanted an open plan, they should have taken into account that they would create excellent conditions for germs to fly around. And so they did…

Actually feeling a bit off-colour and staying in bed for three days has even done me good. The first day, when I had a fever did not actually bring the coveted chill-out, but then I finally found time to read books and watch films I had planned to read or watch since months.

One of them was the book written by Michał Majewski and Paweł Reszka - Daleko od Wawelu (“Far from Wawel”, where Poland’s late president Lech Kaczyński was buried). I first heard of the book in October 2010, just upon its publishing, as it was mentioned in “Polityka” as a good account of Lech Kaczyński’s term in office. As the book was reviewed mostly in liberal media, I thought it would focus on presenting the demerits of late president, yet, to my surprise, the picture of the Lech Kaczyński is anything, but one-sided.

As the authors declare, the book, compiled over many months was set to be given some finishing touches in April 2010. Before final editing, authors were appointed to talk it over with Mr Kaczyński himself, yet the final meeting was postponed until mid-April 2010 in the run-up to visit in Smolensk. Needless to say, it has never been held. Shock brought about by the Smolensk disaster put the publishing plans on hold, but a few months later authors decided to make a few technical amendments (e.g. putting past tense instead of present, for “technical” reasons) and print in the book in its pre-Smolensk shape and under a different title.

Mr Majewski and Reszka have aptly drawn a picture of Lech Kaczynski as an ordinary man, as many of us having feet of clay. They carried out several interviews with people who knew the late president well and put their accounts together. The profile of the late head of state is delineated in an unbiased way, giving credit when it was due, and pointing at weaknesses, when necessary. The picture of Lech Kaczynski which emerges from the book shows a man full of contradictions, driven most by emotions. As someone claimed, you could tell about Mr Kaczynski that he was a kind-hearted, affable interlocutor, great speaker who could deliver a speech ad hoc, meet people in a provincial town and talk to them spontaneously, or you could call him hot-tempered, dogged, disorganised, suspicious or indecisive and in both cases you would not depart from the truth. Lech Kaczynski changed moods very quickly, shouted at people and fired them, just to forget about such brawls after two days…

The biggest problem of Mr Kaczynski was, from what I inferred from the book, the fact he was extremely pliable. It is commonly known that he was steered by his brother, who had laid out their plans in politics, and wife, who toned him down, yet this was not the real case. The late president was surrounded by droves of people working in his office who competed with one another at work and used their positions to pursue their own goals. Mr Kaczynski apparently could not tell a sincere man from a mercenary bastard and often trusted too much those who did not deserve it.

Mr Kaczynski seems to appear as a victim of bad people. Not just of his brother, who made him a meaningful figure in politics or the lousy entourage from his office. As everyone realises, late president fell victim of black PR campaigns run by PO politicians masterfully since their victory in 2007 parliamentary election. The purport of PO’s depiction of the president was to present him as a stumbling block that prevents the country from moving forward and an excuse for government’s idleness. The book also sheds some light on the dark side of PO and its leader, Donald Tusk, who have rarely held back from punching below the belt. Recently, the author published a new book, titled Daleko od miłości (“Far from love”), being a similar profile of prime minister Donald Tusk. As soon as I get hold of it and read it from cover to cover, you can expect a review here.

Mr Lech Kaczynski was derided not only in Poland. Foreign diplomats took the trouble to work him out and find his soft spots. In a psychological profile they noticed he felt badly in official situations and was ill at ease during less official meeting owing to his lack of command of foreign languages. They did not hesitate to make use of that knowledge to pound at him. No wonder his ability to pursue foreign policy in a way many Poles wanted (similar to his predecessor, Mr Kwaśniewski) was largely limited.

I was deeply appalled by the overwhelming disorganisation of Mr Kaczynski’s office (kancelaria) workings. The late president could not enforce discipline, the office was run by competing cliques, decisions, due to president’s inherent indecisiveness were taken at hour eleventh, meetings were arranged much too late. Many decisions were taken on the spur of the moment and inspired by bouts of emotions. The book provides a coverage of incident of the ‘Georgian flight’, when the pilot refused to touch down in Tbilisi, slightly different than presented in Gazeta Wyborcza and gives good insight into the president foray into provincial Georgia in November 2008 when someone could have tried to shoot the president. This case, when plans were rapidly changed only due to president Saakashvili’s whim and without providing proper security to the head of state sheds light not only on bad organisation of president’s administration but also is a big question mark for alleged big friendship between the two presidents.

After reading the book, Lech Kaczynski is in my mind more like a tragic character than a mediocre president. I still claim he did not deserve to be buried in Wawel, but the time will not be turned back. The late president was actually a good man, but had no makings for a president. He did not feel comfortable holding the office and it probably would have been better if he had stayed on as professor, instead of stepping back into politics.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Shame on you if you fool me once...

…but shame on me if you fool me twice. Sometimes sayings that refer to ordinary life apply to politics and economy as well.

Have you ever wondered how many times have Greeks double-crossed their breadwinners from the EU? Greece joined the European Economic Community in 1981. I have to plead I know little about the backstage of entrance to European Communities at that time, but from what I remember at that time a country which applied for a membership did not have to meet any quantitative criteria. From that point being a member of EEC has helped Greece make a big stride, yet not in terms of development, but in terms of standard of living.

Things have changed after the Maastricht Treaty was signed and took effect. It laid foundation for single currency area and set requirements a country which wanted to join it had to meet. Two of them referred to soundness of public finances – each applicant had to keep general government deficit below 3% of GDP and the whole public debt could not account for more than 60% of GDP. These are figures, and whenever statistics are in use, room for tampering can be found. Here’s the rub – when calculating the public debt a country was allowed to legally subtract some of its liabilities. The main method of concealing some of debts was using complex financial instruments, mainly cross-currency swaps that allowed the Greek government to issue bonds in other currencies at “arranged rates” and with deferred maturity. The operation that helped Greeks dupe the EU was brought off in liaison with Goldman Sachs (the bank that rules the world, there is more than just a grain of truth in this assertion). Thus in official statistics the debt was curbed, in fact it morphed into time bomb that would blow up Greece’s public finances in a few years.

For many years Greek sovereign bonds were treated as safe investment. When banking crisis in 2008 reached its zenith, many banks in Europe, including Dexia lost millions on toxic US mortgage-market-related assets, but then received capital injections. This money was parked in safe havens. One of them were Greek bonds. Collapse of Greece’s public finances came to the light in September 2009. From then on, Greece has faced insolvency many times. For the first time it received a bailout package in May 2010. Over 100 billion Euros let the country avoid bankruptcy then, but this was just the first injection of never-ending drip of money. To borrow money on preferential terms from the EU and the IMF, Greece had to implement painful austerity measures. Greeks, pampered by overgrown welfare system, went to the streets to protest against dreadful retrenchment programme. The country repeatedly came to a standstill, strikes exacerbated economic contraction and debt-to-GDP ratio soared.

In most European countries the crisis was sparked by excessive expansion of deregulated banking industry, mainly consisting in reckless mortgage lending. In Greece banking sector stayed relatively healthy. The overgrown welfare state and lack of competitiveness of Greek economy were the nails used to close the coffin of Greece. Many privileges, despite social unrest, can be scrapped, but structural changes are will not be easily brought in, given the mentality of Greek society. Big grey economy and widespread claimant stance (postawa roszczeniowa) will be a stumble block. Greece must not only cut ridiculous expenses, but also take steps to boost its tax revenue base. Tax evasion must finally be severely punished, wages must finally be linked to efficiency. It sounds simply, but Greece has to get to grips with bigger challenges. In needs to carry out structural reforms to make its products and services sellable on global markets. It would be easier if they could be sold at lower prices, but as long as Greece is a member of the Eurozone, devaluation of currency does not come into play.

Solidarity is a glue that stick together the European Union. Poland is also a big beneficiary of this. As a poorer country we receive lots of money to modernise the country. A big leap being made in infrastructure development can be put down the inflow of EU funds, but life is not only about taking, but also about giving. One country should not sponge on other, as Greece has done. And if other countries bail one country out, it should not come up with ideas such as the one to call a referendum whether to accept another tranche of bailout package, subject to another dose of painful reforms.

Someone finally should bite the bullet and pull the plug on Greece. I would simply let it go bust, let banks write down or write off value of Greek bonds (most creditors of Greece are capable to absorb such losses, although it would be a blow to their shareholders). I would even let it start from scratch. But even in such scenario, I seriously doubt if Greeks would learn from their mistakes. They would rather be taught that if creditors let them get away with not meeting their obligations, that they can carry on living off other countries’ backs.

The Euro, as a currency, as well as the Eurozone, are political, not economic undertakings and for that reason no one will have the courage to kick out Greece from the eurozone. Admitting one’s defeat is a bitter pill to swallow, but in my view, this painful solution would in long-term turn out to be best, and less costly than pumping next billions into a bankrupt country.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

All Saints' Day

Year by year, I dare to claim the first day of November is called ‘All Saints’ Day’ because it takes patience of a Saint to survive it. Having spent almost 24 years in this world I still can’t grasp the concept of rounding up all people on cemeteries around one day. Maybe the incongruity is no bigger than distributing visits over the whole year, but these visits result in throng, throng and once again throng. Jammed roads near cemeteries, crowds of people walking from one grave to another, hundreds of candle- and flower-sellers putting up their stalls outside cemeteries, drivers struggling to park their vehicles – these are main types of entertainment on that lovely day.

Visits to cemeteries make an opportunity to ponder upon the place of death in contemporary culture. Remembrance is being pushed aside – just take a look – everyone suddenly remembers about the departed around 1 November and as soon as they come back from cemeteries, they forget, until the next year. Just a week ago when my mother and I drove to Piaseczno to tidy up my grandparents’ grave, they were hardly any cars outside cemetery gate. Today cars were parked everywhere, within the distance of one kilometre from the cemetery. Oddly enough, traffic away from cemeteries is quite sparse, but beware…

Long weekend around All Saints’ Day is a time when too many people depart this world. From Saturday until today’s afternoon death toll has hit 47, 476 people were injured in traffic accidents. This weekend will go down as one of the most tragic of all. Everyone says weather is to blame. In most parts of Poland the day is warm, visibility is reasonably good, it doesn’t rain nor snow, so drivers tend to put their foot down. The higher the speed, the more tragic accidents are. When the weather gets bad, drivers slow down, there are more prangs, but far fewer people die or are injured. Today I saw one smash-up, typical rear-ending, quite hard to understand for me, but from what I’ve observed over the past weekend, drivers’ behaviour this year is even up to the mark, the biggest dangers are posed by reckless pedestrians. Such thoughtlessness, recklessness and inattention have I never seen. Walking in the middle of a road, trespassing onto the road just in front of an oncoming car, swerving, standing on a road and staring at God knows what, staggering. No wonder pedestrians account for about 50% of this weekend’s fatalities. If my observations are right, in many cases they also caused accidents. Another plague are of course cyclists, usually elderly people riding their bikes loaded with kilograms of stuff they carry to a cemetery. The wobble, don’t see what’s going on behind them. So beware of them as well.

Not breaking the old tradition, my family visit the graves earlier. We went to Bródno in mid-October, a week later to Piaseczno, as our visit coincided with my grandfather’s death anniversary and on Sunday we went to Prażmów and again to Piaseczno. As yesterday my father was busy and I was at work, last visits were put back to today. In the morning we visited cemetery in Konstancin where my father’s family rest and then went again to Piaseczno. Fortunately, the tour was ticked off by midday and in the afternoon I could enjoy a walk on a lovely autumnal afternoon (temperature of +13C, four degrees cooler than a year ago, yet still balmy).

To the right – a symbolic grave of three boys, aged 20 – 21, killed in an accident on 15 September 2011. The inebriated driver of BMW 735 drove at almost 200 kmph, so as it lost control over the car and it went into a skid, the Burak Ma Wózek shattered into pieces. One of the passengers, who hadn’t fastened safety belts was shot out of the car and miraculously survived. Three other ones died at the scene. The accident was the local “issue of the day”, but later the coverage of it ceased. As my mother’s friend learnt, the driver was a son of a local policeman so no wonder the case was covered up. Maybe I am insensitive, but I don’t understand why so many people feel sorry for the drunk idiots who killed themselves. I feel sorry for their families and feel a big relief that they didn’t kill anyone else. And I can’t see the point in making an altar out of rear lamp and parts of bumper of the written-off car. So many people cry after three sods, while many valuable people die in loneliness…

Then I strolled west to Stara Iwiczna, to visit a small, cosy cemetery, with beginnings traced back to first half of nineteenth century. I noticed the local society has put up a symbolic grave for priest Andrzej Kwaśnik who used to be a rector of the parish in Stara Iwiczna for 12 years. He died tragically in near Smolensk on 10 April 2010.

Heading back home, I snap another nightmare outside cemetery gate. This is just a small cemetery and cars are parked everywhere. The worst thing is that everyone MUST take their cars, normally kept in a barn unused and go to a cemetery by car, even if they live within a walking distance from it. My neighbours came there by their clapped-out car and thus covered almost one kilometre in a car, rather than as they should – on foot.

Around that day, I came to think about Karol, whom I had lent 1,000 PLN in May 2010. Needless to say I still haven’t recovered the money. I decided to call his mother to find out how he was doing. I called her on her mobile, from mine, without withholding the number. There was no reply. Yesterday I dialled their landline number and in case they had caller ID detection on, withheld my number. The one who picked up the phone was Karol. Now I know he stays at home and is alive. It finally sank in to me that I’ve long got over the loss of money, but I can’t get over being duped…

And finally yesterday, while being on a loose end at work, I browsed profiles of famous people who passed away over the last year. And… the read was a bit shocking. Out of 24 people, two were hated by millions and killed (Osama Ibn Laden, Muammar Gaddafi), two committed suicides (Andrzej Lepper, Edward Żentara) and one was a drug- and alcohol-addict (Amy Winehouse). The list is lightly dejecting, but uplifting is the news that over 200 lives were saved today

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Let go - the best way to check out...

If you love somebody, let them go. If they come back, they'll always be yours; if they don't, they've never been.

Years go by and some adages will never go outdated. I heard that quote for the first time some nine years when I fell in love seriously for the first time, but from time to time it resounda in my head.

Letting go is actually about giving up on somebody and seems to be an act of surrender, but giving the loved one freedom to pursue their happiness is, in each case of unreciprocated love, the best possible choice.

Life doesn't always turn out the way we expect, but life musn't rest on compelling and killing other people with kindness. Floating in a realm of lies and delusions is in the long run even more crippling than loneliness. Attempts to pursue one's own happiness heedless of other people's emotions and feeling can lead only nowhere.

We should mind other people's emotions but shouldn't be constrained by them. However, we have right to pursue our own happiness, sometimes we can't do it without hurting other people, but no matter how absurdly it sounds, we should hurt them with care, gently.

Heartaches are never pleasant, but in a way they develop our emotions. Every wound one day heals. But some wounds cease to ache but leave scars that bring back painful memories.

Love's not only about being together with the loved one. True love consists in craving for someone else's happiness.

No, no, nothing bad's happened. Written for posterity, in case I forget it...

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A new member to Polish - English blogosphere

Slightly taken aback by the news that my high school class-mate from high school (VI LO im. Reytana) has just set up a bilingual blog on fashion. I can't sincerely declare I share Kasia's, interest in fashion trends, but whenever a young person takes up blogging, it's commendable. When the writer is not male and when she, as a Pole, decides to write in both Polish and English, the venture deserves even more glowing praise. Oddly enough, Kasia is the only person I know from the "real world" (i.e. except those I've got to know via Internet) to run a blog. Either blogging is not a popular hobby, or some people, like me, hide it from the rest of the world (although I made a progress, I showed the blog to my parents).

On the day she starts her "Fashion Corner" I wish Kasia thousands of bright ideas to commit to the blog and I hope she won't run out of energy and inspiration to keep on writing.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Me, the sluggish blogger

Again I buggered up. Faced with scarcity of time over the week and manifold activities piling up for the weekend, I set myself a routine of writing once a week. This time I almost didn't manage. I planned to write about "the outraged", Polish movement which rose up as a response to Occupy Wall Street and similar itiviatives across the world. Maybe the next weekend will be more merciful. Over the week, unlike "the outraged" I burnt the midnight oil at work and from Monday to Wednesday could not even find time and energy to turn the computer on. Over the weekend on top of being burdened with family duties and household chores I had the choice either to indulge in physical (swimming pool, walk) or social activity or to stare at computer screen, and eventually opted for the former. Obviously if I had chosen to stay in and conjure up a mind-blowing post about capitalist societies rousing up, but striking a balance between economics, banking and down-to-earth issues seems more important than satisfying my readers. So... Apologies.

Maybe over the weekend I'll finally follow out my plan.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The guilt

Student SGH? Me? I chose that nickname as I was setting up this blog in February 2009, because being a student was one of main social roles I would perform then and the easiest to put clearly into words. As someone rightly noticed, some time ago I graduated and no longer can call myself a student. Unlike many of my peers I have not struggled to find a job after I finished the studies, I do not work on "junk contract" (umowa śmieciowa), I have a permanent job. Someone said I am a banker. I think this sound misleading. I do not deal in high amounts of money, I just analyse credit risk, my job is to assure a company should be able to pay back the money it wants to borrow. I have worked too short to get it wrong at least once. I earn relatively well, though I was recently told my salary accounts for only 60% of average salary on my position in the whole industry. Unlike most of my compatriots, I have savings, given my age they are quite ample. I try to make even more money by speculating on stock exchange; sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. Plus the only asset I have is a car - a gift from my parents on occasion of graduating from SGH. And last Sunday I voted for Platforma Obywatelska because I was convinced, as almost 40% of voters, that things were quite alright.

Should I have remorse?

I something amiss in the short confession above? Let's dissect it.

Unlike many of my peers I have not struggled to find a job after I finished the studies - The whole debate can boil down to one question - is it true that a man's key to success lies in his own hands. Who are those young people who cannot get a job? Can anyone put together a profile of an unemployed graduate? What did they study? When choosing what to study, did they assess job prospects for graduates? During their studies did they engage in any student organizations? Did they do internships during summer holidays? What did they do to raise their qualifications? What earnings do they expect when entering the labour market?

It was a twist of fate that I work where I work. I partly owe it to luck. On Easter Monday last year I put in my application to Grasz o Staż contest. I cracked a three-page long case study and sent it, not holding out much hopes to be qualified to the next stage. Then out of the blue came a horribly tough interview at a bank. I was given ten minutes to prepare financial analysis of a company on a verge of bankruptcy. There was no space for luck, I had to prove my knowledge. I got in, what I later achieved was thanks to sheer hard work. And I never complained about my salary, employer's requirements, etc.

I do not work under a "junk contract" (umowa śmieciowa) - I cannot see the point in the fuss about junk contracts. For young people who still study they are excellent - no need to pay social security contributions, effective tax rate for such contracts for students is below 15%. Plus they offer more flexibility to both parties to such contracts...

I have a permanent job - now a different story. Despite having some job security (not only in contractual terms, but also at work, where I feel no one is going to lay me off), I am not creditworthy for banks. I do not plan to take out a mortgage, but if I wanted I would not get more than 140,000 PLN. This is... great news. The fewer people deserve, in banks' view, to be granted a loan, the more property prices fall and the sooner I can buy something for cash.

Someone said I am a banker. I think this sound misleading. I do not deal in high amounts of money, I just analyse credit risk, my job is to assure a company should be able to pay back the money it wants to borrow - maybe the case is that English does not distinguish between bankier and bankowiec (not to mention examples of rencista and rentier). I am a bankowiec - someone who works at a bank, but not someone who earns zillions and not, as many people tend to think, foist loans upon helpless clients. My job is to foster the bank's interests. In very simple words, my role is to check and analyse, which company will have capacity to repay a loan, which not, and to justify why. I do not rip anyone off and if a company does not get financing, it is not because I have it in for it. My employer pays me for taking care of quality of its portfolio, so I simply do my bit as good as I can.

I have worked too short to get it wrong at least once. But the economic slowdown is nearing and we are taking steps to prepare for it. One day I'll make a mistake, and I think this will be a valuable experience. One best learns from one's own mistakes...

I earn relatively well, though I was recently told my salary accounts for only 60% of average salary on my position in the whole industry. Many of my peers have inflated expectations regarding their starting salary. This one of main reasons why young people have problems on the labour market. My take on this is that they should, as I did, accept low salary at the beginning, and with time, through aforementioned sheer hard work, prove they deserve more. During the internship I had in summer last year I got paid peanuts, in February I started a three-month probation period over which I was paid more, than I got another pay raise and now I have no reasons to complain. I believe with time, provided the crisis does not spark off for good, my salary should go up again.

Unlike most of my compatriots, I have savings, given my age they are quite ample. - I do not understand why in this country people who are thrifty are at best scowled at. Being good at managing one's own finances is a virtue. Being able to amass some wealth, instead of squandering money does reflect well upon a man. Why those who save are punished, while those who borrow and live beyond their means are taken care of, helped out, etc.?

I try to make even more money by speculating on stock exchange; sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. - and those who buy and sell risk are now assaulted as well. Speculators are to blame for potential sovereign defaults? I know market participants are often insane, their decisions are driven by emotions, herd instinct, irrational, but after all many speculations are based on fundamentals (betting if Greece, Italy or Spain go bust is not unfounded) and on every speculation someone loses. Every speculator is sooner or later beaten in their own game. The only rule in that game that has to be obeyed is that no one should be bailed out. Once you take a risk, you should lose all hopes that anyone will give you helpind hand if things go wrong.

Plus the only assets I have is a car - a gift from my parents on occasion of graduating from SGH.. Yes, I do have remorse, when I pass by people tinned like sardines in a bus. Now I feel like shutting up.

And last Sunday I voted for Platforma Obywatelska because I was convinced, as almost 40% of voters, that things were quite alright. - and I voted for 'evildoers', 'traitors', I opted for the 'further downfall of Poland'. But for over a year I many times glanced at political decisions taken in Hungary and I am grateful to Jarosław Kaczyński for reminding me why I did not vote for his party...

Waiting for some waspich comments to crop up. Feel free to bash me!

Maybe next week about Wall Street occupiers...

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Peace, rather than PiS

We got the preliminary results, based on exit polls. Figures are still very approximate and may vary, but they clearly indicate PO is the party in the history of Poland to win the parliamentary election for the second time in a row. The same figures show is also will be able to keep on wielding power in coalition with PSL.

The victory of PO means no big change is in the offing, Poland is in for four years of predictable and pragmatic, yet sometimes mediocre and feckless rule.

Am I elated? I don't think there's a reason. Poles, including me, voted for PO, because there is no alternative, no better option. We have to make do with what we have. I wish they make wise decisions in the coming economic crisis. May they overhaul Polish public finances, as they have failed to do hitherto, may they utilise prudently EU funds, may they push this country forward.

I think Mr Kaczynski's speaking, not in the same manner as he did in 2007. I wonder how long before the first squabble breaks out...

Update, Monday 10 October
Winning PO scored over 39% of votes, runner-up - PiS, gained slightly less than 30%. The biggest winner is Palikot's movement that scored roughly every tenth vote. The election has brought about a considerable reshuffle in Polish politics...

In the meantime no one turned out to be well-brought-up enough to congratulate the winners. Soon after exit polles came to the light Jarosław Kaczyński threatened one day he would take the path of Hungary where Victor Orban's party won majority of seats in the parliament last year. I hope Poland will be faring well amid the economic slowdown and sovereign debt crisis. Politicians from the opposition already make a wish that the crisis wipes out Donald Tusk's government. Envy and hubris again take over. Those who want the crisis to overturn the prime minister want it to take its toll on Poles as well.

As long as they run Poland, may they do it prudently and mind the outcome.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Home straight

If there is anything I can appeal for three days before the election, it is the presence. Not only the presence of mind when casting a ballot, but presence in the polling stations. When Sunday comes, please, go to the polls, exercise your right to choose your representatives, to choose the shape of Poland in years to come. I do not conceal my political preferences, I will vote for the "servile party of evildoers who have driven Poland to ultimate downfall", but I am not going to exhort to vote for any party. I am calling for high turnout. And please do not scratch beneath the surface. I am not going to prove the rule that the more people go to the polls, the lower the percentage of votes scored by wacky candidates is. Higher turnout gives a stronger mandate to rule the country. Whoever wins, should be authorised by the nation to wield power.

Last days of the lacklustre campaign to my surprise abounded in twists of action. On Monday Tomasz Lis in his evening TV show attempted to drag down Jarosław Kaczyński, but inadvertently dragged himself down by assaulting the leader of PiS in way far cry from objectivity that befits a journalist. Then came the inept pronouncemnt of Mr Kaczynski concerning means by which chancellor Angela Merker rose to power.

In the last days of September it was quite clear to me that PiS would win the election; today this scenario is setting aside. There was a time when PiS had caught up with PO, but then it made one overriding mistake - it switched uncontrollably from deceptive image of peaceful party to its old good style marked by invoking resentments and hostility. I have also observed that so called "young, edcuated, from big cities" who had seemed so indifferent of politics somehow realised what was amiss and roused up. They simply realised PiS would win. Lots of people in Warsaw are so strongly convinced PiS will win this election. Discussions about politics, officially forbidden in my corporation are run every day in the office... Conclusion? If mishaps strike out of the blue... Will people take precautions?

And if PiS wins? Their victory itself will not be a disaster. It does not really matter who wins, what matters is how they rule. If PiS wins, they must get a chance to form a government and Mr Komorowski is duty bound to entrust this mission to Mr Kaczynski. I promise not to see red if Mr Kaczynski's party wins. I will wait for their first moves. And at the end of the day level of adrenaline in my body fell after cutting down on speculating on the stock market, so a reshuffle in politics might send it back up. And last but not least, I am sticking to my promise of setting up a political blog in Polish if PiS wins. That would be a challenge, but could it give pleasure?

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Beautiful late summer

A shame I haven’t illustrated this post with some photos. An egregious error…

The summer of 2011 did not pamper Poland with beautiful weather. It wasn’t actually cold, as average temperature of July was around long-term average and August was slightly warmer than average, but both months gave a rough ride to holidaymakers as both were much wetter than normally. For me, as I didn’t go on holiday, it was great – I was exempted from duty of watering the garden, plus the water bill was lower.

But September did a good job and made up for wet and moderately warm summer months. It was much drier and sunnier and even the typical September’s nuisance – big daily temperature amplitudes weren’t as bothersome as usually. In a word – weather was perfect.

Average temperature: +15.1C – 3 degrees warmer than last year, 0.4 degrees cooler than in 2009 and some 1.5 above long-term average.

Month-time high: 5 September, +26.5C

Month-time low: 17 September, +2.7C (I don’t recall it…)

The warmest day: 12 September – average temperature of +19.4C (typical for July)

The coolest day: 17 September – average temperature of +11.1C.

Two more facts bear out that this September was pleasantly warm: firstly on no single day I had to wear more than two layers of clothing in the morning, I always could do with a shirt and a jacket and quite often got sweat on my way to work (too hot in the underground trains) and this year until today we haven’t turned the heating on. In 2008, 2009 and 2010 we were forced to do it respectively on 16 September, 1 October and 29 September.

Two first days of October also brought a whiff of warm air, yet it wasn’t as warm as forecasters had predicted – yesterday day-time high hit +21C, in line with meteorologists’ forecasts, today it was no warmer than +16C, two degrees colder than what weather forecasts had said. Over the whole weekend the gloss of the sunshine was taken off by northerly winds and one had to find shelter to bask in the sun. Actually despite some chill the weather’s been up to the mark. I mown my lawn today in the afternoon and then cycled in a T-shirt only and during both activities I broke sweat it means it wasn’t cool. The bike ride was perfect, but again, shame on me, I didn’t take the camera and couldn’t take pictures of all the stuff I was taking delight in. But comes another warm and sunny Saturday or Sunday, shall I go there again and snap, snap, snap…

Such warmth is not really unusual for this time of year. On 8 October 2009 temperature in Poland’s capital hit +24C and Poland’s October heat record of +28.6C was set on 14 October 1966. The coming two days should be warmer, with temperatures in Warsaw up to +22C and sunshine (how lovely), then Wednesday is going to be cooler, Thursday again warmer, and true Autumn is predicted to hit on Friday and stay over the election weekend. Weather in the second decade of October is rather unforeseeable, I saw forecasts of both dull days with temperatures between +10C and +15C, as well as return of gold autumn with temperatures up to +20C. Hope the latter proves true. The later gloomy autumn comes, the longer will people be able to save on heating (how practical).

I hope the coming winter will be milder than two previous ones. Long-term forecasts, hardly ever reliable, say winter will come early and go early as well. The current predictions for the coming months are as follows:

October: chilly and windy, what anyway means is will be warmer than in 2010, the worst will be the last decade, when temperatures will be often dropping below +5C.

November: cold and wet, the author of the forecasts adds “just like last year”. Doesn’t she / he remember the beautiful warm and sunny long weekend in mid-November 2010?

December: frosty and dry, with white Christmas. This to some extent resembles December 2010. I’m alright with white Christmas. Afterwards the winter may go to Russia.

January: frosty, dry, with changeable weather.

February: should bring above-average temperatures and early spring.

March: spring in overdrive.

I personally hope the forecast proves true for February and March, the rest doesn’t fill me with optimism. I would prefer a warm winter for three reasons:
1. the aforementioned heating bill,
2. I’ll keeping the car outside the warm garage for the first time. I have to replace the battery, and with a new one I shouldn’t be afraid of temperatures above –20C as long as the car will be used every day and the battery will be charged up, but heavy snowfalls accompanied by low temperatures can play havoc with the battery and other sensitive elements of the car. But wait, so many people keep their cars in open air, so maybe I’m seeking out problems. But on the other hand I saw so many people having troubles with their cars kept in open air in winter…
3. I wish the builders of roads for Euro 2012: Niech im zima lekką będzie. If the weather allows them to press on with works, then there will be a chance that roads will be completed by the end of 2012 (the odds that they’ll be passable in June 2012 are negligibly low).

When trying to predict weather for the winter on my own, I tried to find correlation between politics, economy and weather. Take a look:

2005/2006 – winter is harsh and snowy. Polish economy enters the period of boom, power is wielded by Kaczynski brothers (some say it is a punishment for voting for PiS).

2006/2007 – until 24 January there is no snow, heat records are beaten in mid-January, then ensues a short, yet typical winter that ends for good in the last week of February. Polish economy still grows rapidly, Poles are sick of twin brothers wielding power.

2007/2008 – the warmest winter of the last decade. Snow lingers for less than ten days, on the coldest day the temperature drops to mere –14C. Polish economy is still doing well, but the power is taken over by PO.

2008/2009 – typical Polish winter, with frosts hitting –22C in Warsaw, periods of thaw and snowstorms. Nothing new in politics, but Poland is hit by world-wide economic crisis. Funnily enough, Warsaw is paralysed by a snowstorm exactly the day bear market on Warsaw stock exchange and zloty against other currencies hit their troughs.

2009/2010 – harsh and snowy winter. PO still wields power, economy is rebounding. When stock markets go up in the second half of January, Poland suffers in the fetters of winter. When in first week of February winter eases off, bringing sunshine and temperatures slightly above zero, stock market in Warsaw plummets by 4% for two days in a row.

2010/2011 – cold and snowy December, normal January, cold, but dry February. PO is still ruling, yet the party is falling into pieces, economy still grows, albeit the peak of the business cycle is near.

To recap, I couldn’t observe any significant correlation. If you see any linkages, feel free to share them with other readers and me.

And regardless of what future holds, expect another Winter timeline in March 2012.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Let's twist again

We sang it at work on Thursday morning. As most analysts anticipated, The Federal Reserve did not decide to launch QE3. We have already had two round of quantitative easing programmes, consisting in buying government bonds by the central bank to boost liquidity in the financial system. This operation boils down to printing money (in civilised countries it is illegal, so maybe the United States no longer deserve being called "civilised"). The first two rounds carried out between late 2008 and early 2011 resulted in nothing more than bull market on stock and commodity markets. The beneficiaries of the programmes were speculators, so again, Wall Street was better off, Main Street had to stay in the doldrums.

Funnily enough, the old adage that you should not play against the Fed proved true again. Okay, buying up lots of government bonds from the banks gave them a lot of free money that had to be utilised somehow, so cash created extra demand on financial markets But hang on. Was it not the mechanism of self-fulfilling prophecy that worked again? If everyone believed stock prices would go up if the Fed began to print money, would eveyone not buy stocks which would be about to go up in prices?

Unfortunately for some of the speculators, the Fed has run out of space for another operation, as inflationary pressures began to heighten and more and more members of the governing committee were against the easing. The alternative plan will now be followed out - the US central bank will be determined to change the shape of yield curve, to be precise to flatten it. To follow out this plan, Mr Bernanke will order to sell short-term bonds and from proceeds he will buy long-term bonds. This should help the economy revive and is mostly aimed at kick-starting the housing market, as interests on mortgage loans are benchmarked to long-term interest rates. Time will tell if the real economy benefits from this operation, probably the action was arranged in collaboration with the government which will find it easier to sell its long-term bonds and thus the Fed will put back the moment when the United States default, which is just a matter of time. Of course they may not default, but only thanks to high inflation which would reduce the real value of US public debt.

Markets' reaction was more or less predictable and more or less apposite. Scatts, sick of hearing about stock swinging up and down ranted about "moronic stock markets". His piece is an excellent observation from a down-to-earth participant, yet not an economist and not someone who has an in-depth insight into the psychology of usually irrational market participants. In a comment I promised to refer to some of his points.

Scatts goes on about higher volatility. It has become the order of the day that one day stocks soar, the other plunge, sometimes there are a few days in a row when prices move in one direction, than the tide turns abruptly. Firstly, it proves we are in a bear market. It is not only the trend that tells you if a market goes up or down, it is also the volatility. The more nervous market participants are, the more likely it is 'bears' prevail.

But in such days volatility can be a friend. If you are a long-term investor, skip this paragraph... My prescription for successful trading when the markets are wobbly is to swim against the tide. If stocks skyrocket, I sell, if they plumment, I buy. The other part of my strategy is not buying and selling in one chunk but splitting orders into tranches and placing them and different prices. The goal is to lower as much as possible the average purchase price. The task is not easy, requires patience and intuition and brings out some adrenaline...

Communication - markets today buy and sell rumours, declarations, reckless pronouncements, unfounded theories. One politician says there is a plan to stave off Greek default - stocks go up. One economist says bankrupcty of Greece is inexorable and the sooner - the better - stocks go down. Someone says a French bank has troubles borrowing money on inter-bank markets - shares of that bank nosedive... On and on... Markets, if they acted more rationally, would respond to facts.

And facts are that nothing is going to save Greece, economies in Europe and across the world are slowing down, banks will need to write down Greek bonds. I cannot see any point in putting this hapless moment back. Let it happen, ride out the tsunami, what is brittle has to fall down before it grows too big (it has already grown, too late), economies need to be healed from all imperfections that cuased the crisis. Putting some countries and instututions out of misery would make the best way. But most people want to avoid chaos, maybe cherishing stability is a commendable strategy, but at all cost?

Just like in late 2008 and early 2009 Polish currency was recently hit by speculators. Short-sellers are throwing more and more PLN on the market and zloty has depreciated notably in September, by roughly 15% against EUR and USD. Last Friday the Polish central bank and state-owned BGK sold some foreign currencies to prop up PLN. They managed to bring down EUR/PLN and USD/PLN by some 0.10 PLN within half and hour. But is any central bank capable of fighting speculators trying to decrease the value of a specific currency? Of course buying PLN in bulk can activate some stop-loss orders and deter some speculators, but only in the short run. I would sooner desist from any actions. After all Polish companies are not hit by toxic currency option as they were in early 2009. Weaker PLN will boost our exports and competitiveness and increase Poland's chance to get off the second wave of the crisis lightly.

The main condition we have to fulfil to avert dire consequences of the second wave of crisis is wise management of our public finances, as private sector appears to be prepared quite well for a slowdown. And here reality fills me with dread for two reasons...
In two weeks the parliament election will be held. I do not dare to predict who wins it, but...
PiS, currently in the opposition wants to bring public finances into order, but at the same time promises the moon. Its declarations are self-contradictory - you cannot have a cake and eat it, you cannot give something to somebody without taking something away from someone else, you cannot increase budget expenditures anc cut budget deficit... It is not said in their agenda how they are going to raise money for all the giveaways...
PO, currently in power rather leans towards realpolitik and holds back from making big promises, but on the other hand the PO-led government has inclination for tweaking with figures, so they will bend over backwards to avoid exceeding the 55% public debt / GDP threshold (possible, if EUR/PLN rises on 31 December 2011 to some 4.70), which would force the government to pass a balance budget for 2012. That would not be possible without painful retrenchment and tax hikes, yet this scenatio is much better than sweeping the problem under the carpet and lifting the threshold and consequent obligations to curb deficit and implement turn-around plans. I hope no matter who wins the election, the people in power will be judicious. I know, Poles deserve more, but more important is what Poles can afford than what Poles deserve. And if we do not want to end up like Greece, we should be guided be the former.