Sunday, 28 December 2014


I generally hold a view if somebody takes decisions, they are not entitled to gripe about the fate these decisions bring. This year-end post will likely be inconsistent with my overall stance. I also realise this note might exude egocentricity. Every human is more or less self-centred and I presume the very self-focus itself is not disturbing, only an excessive degree of is a reason for concern. Some of you may perceive this piece as over-exposing my mindset. Your right. While mine is to decide what to save for posterity and for myself on the blog and thus I’m exercising it, heedless of doubts and inhibitions.

Chaos creeping in…

Twenty past five. I don’t need an alarm clock to wake up precisely on that hour on a working day. Oddly enough my bio-clock has learnt to recognise days of a week. On Saturdays it brings me awake half an hour later and on Sundays around seven. I’m drowsy anyway. After suffering from insomnia last summer, I swing into another extreme. I’m comatose and a perfect dosage of sleep is nine to ten hours, some two hours more than an average adult needs. During the day I happen to be sleepy, but never take a nap. Since early childhood I’ve never been capable of sleeping during the day. Any attempts to fall asleep during the day ended up with either staying awake or a quarter-long snooze leaving me fallen apart, rather than perked up… Maybe it’s because of the weather. Never hurts to find an exogenous (watch out, a difficult word, try to replace it with shorter “external”) factor to put a blame on. Short, dark, gloomy days rarely lift spirits. Oddly enough, this year I don’t feel the end-year blues so characteristic to the period of studying…

Then breakfast and morning toiletry and time to set off to work…

The first stage of my commute is journey by car to park and ride Ursynów. Driving calms me down. This may seem odd to you, as many find this activity stressful. I find the harmony between movements of my limbs and the way the car moves. Behind the wheel I continually strive to strike a balance between dynamic and economical driving. Each move of legs needs to be carefully planned and smoothly made and properly synchronised. No lurching is self-allowed, no abrupt braking (unless warranted by situation on the road) or accelerating as well. Such style of driving greatly increases the comfort of driving and reduces the car’s wear and tear. The car, despite its age, well reciprocates with reliability the way I look after it (no smallest repair since May 2013). I slightly fear the moment it begins to call for cash injections might draw nearer due to frequent longer distances recently covered. Motorway driving wears out a vehicle much less than city driving, but each such trip adds several hundred kilometres to a mileage (still very low, given the age of the car). I actually like taking longer journeys by car, and if someone from the team needs to take it, I come forward. They calm me down…

Work. Five months into the job with the New Factory is I guess too short for authoritative summary. I will write up a comprehensive rundown after one year (i.e. in late July 2015). For the time being I can confine to a conclusion the shake-off period is over and although it’s still uphill, the slope is less steep, and to a conclusion the biggest downside of the change are people and interpersonal relationships at the New Factory. For sure, it’s not a black-and-white world, there are several shades of grey in between and exceptions that prove a rule. In terms of people I have to work with, I miss folks from the Employer. With hindsight however, given the fact the Employer has been put up for sale, the decision to change the job looks at least rational and was the best I could do in those circumstances. Disposal of the Employer by the Wicked Corporation may have twofold consequences. Either the Watchdog will give consent to another market player to take it over and merge with its current business. This will mean much part of the Employer would most likely be wiped out. Alternatively, the Employer will be acquired by a foreign investor willing to get a foothold on the Polish market. If such investor was reasonable (i.e. came from country other than Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Greece, Russia, United States or from Asia), it could create an interesting opportunity for a comeback… For months to come this will be a daydream and I will have to stick to what I’ve chosen for myself…

Home… Later than most peers I’ve grown up to a stage when I happen to clash with parents. All of us are getting older, tend to do things our own way. My inner call for autonomy gets more audible, hence it is high time I moved out. For some reasons for some parents the moment when a child flies the nest is a shock, for others it’s totally natural. Mine fall into the first category, therefore I’m preparing them for that moment, due in the second half of next year…

If I broach the topic of the family, theme of grandparents naturally crops up. They’d been capable of managing on their own until late July 2014. On 29 July 2014 granny (aged then 88, currently 89) fell over and a small injury has left has almost bed-ridden (fortunately she is capable of walking to the bathroom and back). The aftermath of minor tripping over wouldn’t have been so acute, had it not been for neglected (granny is quite stubborn) for many years osteoporosis. The grandparents still somehow complement one another; granny is mentally still sound (although there are short moments when she drifts away); grandpa (aged 88) is physically quite fit, but dementia seems to be progressing (he has no problem walking to a marketplace to buy food produces, but when he arrives there despite having a list of stuff to buy, he might have problems expressing himself to ask for what he wants to buy). When grandma’s health suddenly deteriorated I thought the end was near, now I see grandparents may carry on like this for years, which does not imply bright prospects. Reaching grand old age brings out joy when it is accompanied by good health, something may grandparents enjoyed mere half a year ago. The main burden of taking care of them falls to my father and his brother. As the only child I thereby appreciate the advantage of having siblings…

Revisiting the topic of work, one of my fears before going there has not materialised, namely one doesn’t have to do overtime as a rule. As in every company operating in competitive environment, there are incidences of keeping late hours, but those are exceptions that prove the rule. This means if I knock on around eight a.m., I’m usually back home around six p.m.

The essential part of evenings during the working week is learning. Back when preparing for Levels I and II, I had a habit of taking the study materials to the office, coming to work before eight and studying until half past eight (in the morning). At the New Factory work kicks off an hour earlier than in most companies in the industry, as a result of which I have no choice but to learn in the evenings. Between 7 and 8 p.m., when I usually sit down and pore over Readings, I’m not as brisk as in the morning, but there’s no alternative. Learning during weekends only is not enough. After passing Level II, there was absolutely no point in putting back taking Level III until precisely non-defined point in future, since such move would diminish my odds of seeing the back of it. The most reasonable course of action was to go ahead and strive to complete the Program in 2015. If I pass and then I earn the Charter, I’ll probably be immensely proud of myself. Before it happens there will be many days when I’ll be swearing like a trooper. I estimate I spent some 330 hours before taking Level I, around 370 before taking Level II and given intricacy of Level III, I will need to commit more than 400 hours to stand a chance to pass Level III. The Program is a genuine time-consumer and requires some sacrifices. Hats down to people who have children and pass consecutive exams. If I don’t pass in June 2015 (not inconceivable), I’ll need to rethink whether value added of retaking the exam would surpass sacrifices…

The (mostly) sedentary lifestyle has began to take its toll on me. Relapsing pains in bottom section of my spine prompted me to get my act together. I took up daily exercising in mid-October and carry on until now, gradually stepping up intensity and load. Saturday’s 40 minutes of swimming and Sunday’s long walks proved insufficient. But a daily dose of physical exercise does well to my body. Has not worked a miracle, but I feel brisker, fitter and pains down my spine have gone away.

In terms of friendships. I foster them and broadly I feel genuinely surrounded by people, but… There are two buts. The first is that more than 90% of my friends either have got married or have partners who can be dubbed would-be spouses. The second but is that all of us spend a lot of time at work and then focus on down-to-earth duties, either objective or self-imposed, meaning it takes some effort to set a time and date suitable for everyone to meet up. As a result the friendships are kept up mostly by the phone and by computer. Not the most preferable way, but better than none.

When it comes to personal life. I confess not to have sought a girlfriend since that plea. It’s not about utterly giving up or losing heart. Desperate lookout is a dead-end street. Besides, before I write it, I know, it’s an idiotically lame excuse, but squeezing a woman into the world in which I don’t feel entirely comfortable, yet I don’t find time to feel emptiness, is a challenge. It’s a lame excuse, because if not now, then when? With time it will only get worse… Fortunately, at least I have a friend with who I can go to cinema or somewhere else, if any of us feels like. She’s two years older, also single. You’d ask why she’s not my girlfriend then. The reason is simple – no chemistry between us. A silly explanation? When I’m beside her I’m not tempted to hug her, hold her hand or kiss her, let alone going to bed. It’s not about her being unattractive. Sometimes the two don’t fit together. That simple and that complicated.

If you’ve had the patience to keep on reading until the last paragraph, most probably you expect a sensible bottom line. No such luck. I won’t turn my life upside down without rhyme and reason. To do so, I’d need a profound rationale… Until 6 June 2015 I don’t expect any revolutionary changes and plan to get by as I do now. By definition this approach is imperfect, yet optimal. By taking some steps rashly I’d risk tearing apart what seems to make sense. And then… Time will tell… Several times I considered finding a job abroad and moving there. I would definitely get by, maybe I would get ahead, but the only problem is that whenever I am abroad, I strongly feel it’s not home (probably nothing unusual). Plus I’d have to start everything from scratch, totally on my own, which on one hand means opened up opportunities, on the other is a stressful experience…

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Christmas time...

When it comes to Christmas, I…

Firstly, keep a cool head and don’t indulge in pre-Christmas spending spree. In the consumerist world Christmas means an opportunity to lash out money for gifts. The gift-giving craze is an excellent way to make up for too little time spent with the nearest and dearest over the passing year.

Secondly, I’m not fond pre-Christmas rush. Psychologists in unison list Christmas among ten most stressful events in human lives. Manifold stressful situations, although in their nature dissimilar to one another, have one common feature, namely they put an individual under pressure. The less pressure, the lower the bar raised, the more peaceful your Christmas will be. Sometimes disasters strike out of the blue. Yesterday the kitchen tap in my house simply disintegrated. Before I rushed to the garage to switch off the water valve, there was a huge dirty puddle behind the sink and the oven. Cleaning it up, taking a trip to the DIY shop to buy a new tap and installing it meant four hours unexpectedly wiped out off the weekend. The timing could not have been more imperfect.

Thirdly, I take the opportunity to slow down. Unlike many people I hardly ever take any day off during the Christmas Tide as affairs at work almost come to a standstill. I prefer to take holidays in hectic periods (never during school holidays) than when I can loaf about for most of some seven hours spent in the office. This year the “ticking-over phase” will commence on Christmas Eve. Tomorrow I am about to keep late hours at a client’s, on Tuesday the subsequent job will have to be done. In 2015 business will begin to spin at full steam in February, since after Epiphany everyone will be waiting for winter school holidays, in 2015 scheduled for last two weeks of January. More on slowing down and rethinking some stuff next week…

Fourthly, I’m particularly sensitive to hypocrisy. I loathe when somebody who hates me guts temporarily is nice to me just because Christmas is coming, if I know they will not change their attitude towards me when Yule is gone.

Because of the yesterday’s breakdown, I am slightly short of time, I had to choose either to write a longer note, or to take a lonely evening walk and contemplate Christmas decorations in NI (I spotted surprisingly few Christmas lightings both in- and outdoors). I chose the latter, much healthier way of spending spare time. Predictably, weather for Christmas will be anything, but winter-like. Forecasters foresee temperatures well above zero and blustery autumnal gloom. Snow and frost were last witnessed in Warsaw during Christmas in abundance in 2002. In 2003 there was some little snow and little frost and since then there was either melting snow during thaw (2009, 2010, 2012) or frost, yet without lying snow (2007). The weather pattern of Christmas thaw makes me even more fed up with kitschy Christmas adverts showing winter scenery…

I wish you all, your families and friends a peaceful and joyful Christmas. May these shortest days in the year purposefully lit up by colourful lights abound in rejoice and serenity and be the time you recharge batteries for the next weeks.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Oil price crash

The black gold, or to be precise, fluctuations of its prices, have had a substantial impact of world’s economic history in recent decades. Surges in crude oil prices plunged economies into recessions or exacerbated economic downturns which were about to come to a pass, yet on the other hand helped the resource-rich grow their fortunes. Oddly enough, the price of crude oil was very volatile in its history, implying quotations of the commodity have been prone to overreact to variations in fundamental factors driving oil prices.

Brent crude oil quotations over the last decade saw period of both stability and volatility. The rapid increase set off in 2007 and then price soared in the first half of 2008. The underlying of the 2008 rally still remains puzzling to me. In early- and mid-2008 the banking crisis began to unfold and monetary policy in most economist was already tight, in response to partly oil-driven inflation. Bear markets took over on almost all stock exchanges in the world, as equities already anticipated the imminent economic misery (but not its scale). The only asset classes to have stayed immune to the turmoil were emerging markets currencies (upshot of carry trade) and… commodities. The collapse of Lehman Brothers Bank in September 2008 spilt over to both financial markets and real economies and incited speculators to unwind their long positions in emerging market currencies and commodities. Both assets classes saw their valuations plummeting. As a consequence, Brent oil price fell from 148 USD per barrel in July 2008 to less than 40 USD in late December 2008. Over the next months, in the wake of unprecedented monetary easing, financial markets were flooded with hollow money and oil quotations rebounded. Since late 2010 until September 2014 Brent crude oil traded in a fairly stable range between 100 and 120 USD per barrel… The was no bubble in sight, so no bubble could burst.

In mid-September 2014 one still had to pay almost 100 USD per barrel, but in the second half of the ninth month quotations started to decline. At first drop in oil price was offset by appreciation of the US dollar. Since the correlation between the two assets is highly negative, the first explanation for drop in oil price was the strengthening of the American currency, buoyed up by the relative out-performance of the US economy. Then the scale of the plunge only got deeper. Currently, the 3-month rate of return reached –37%, justifying even the use of word ‘crash’ to describe this downward price movement.

There are several theories and factors which are said to be have contributed to the sell-off of the black gold. One could mention:
(1) increasing supply and inventories,
(2) lower dependence of the US economy on imported oil,
(3) discord between OPEC members, unwilling to cut extraction,
(4) a “conspiracy” aimed at enfeebling countries reliant on oil exports,
(5) unwinding speculative positions and taking opposite ones.
The last cause cannot be played down when analysing the recent panic-driven continuous slide.

A sudden drop in oil prices is a classic example of positive supply shock; an external factor which, holding everything else unchanged, should boost the economy. Price of crude oil is a component of price of virtually any other good, so a drop in Producer Price Inflation should result in drop in Consumer Price Inflation and in current macro environment in intensified deflation. Because producers will definitely try to seize some of the decline, their profits should rise, increasing investment spending, consumption, but remain neutral for government proceeds (higher corporate income tax inflows to be offset by lower VAT inflows). Lower oil prices will also be passed on to customers whose discretionary income will rise; they in turn will be able to spend or save more.

A place where decrease in oil prices is most visible are petrol stations. Back in mid-2012, one had to fork out almost 5.90 PLN for a litre of unleaded-95 petrol. The price of the same petrol crossed the barrier of 5.00 PLN in the third decade of October (my benchmark is the local petrol station by Auchan hypermarket) and descended to 4.39 PLN this weekend (down from 4.61 PLN last Tuesday). The decline grew apace when USD/PLN quotations levelled off between 3.30 and 3.40 and after the last week’s 8% plunge there is still room for petrol prices to go down and nearing the 4.00 PLN barrier is conceivable, albeit it would take a further sell-off in London, where Brent is traded.

Oil producers profit and loss accounts will suffer a one-off shot of downward inventory revaluation (reported as cost of goods sold under IFRS), however their long-term profitability should not be undermined, since it hinges upon different factors (margins earned on refining and differentials between types of oil, for Polish oil behemoths, PKN Orlen and Lotos, spread between Russian Ural oil and Brent oil) and those parameters have been enormously favourable for the oil industry in the recent weeks.

Disinflation or deflation spurred by fall in oil prices is an external factor and as such should be cautiously taken into account by central banks in their decisions on pursuit of monetary policy. Drop in oil price must not give rise to monetary easing, since the very decline in oil prices already bolsters economies and seeking excuse in prolonged deflation to further cut interest rates is adding fuel to the fire rather than fostering economic growth. Nevertheless, plunge in oil prices may prompt the Federal Reserve to put back monetary tightening. For no apparent reason, stock markets’ reaction to oil crash was underperformance (although only the oil and gas industry might be actually aggrieved) and since unsurprisingly the US Central Bank has recently targeted financial markets more than real economy, policy of near-zero interest rates might be kept up in a horizon of more than a few months.

One of not implausible explanations for the oil price collapse is the US-steered conspiracy to afflict Russia. It somehow takes my fancy, although I will not dare to guess how much truth is in it. Economic sanctions imposed on Russia, by nature ludicrous since they hit more the West, only uncover a free-market failure. Had the sanctions not been in place, trade between Russia and Western entrepreneurs would have thrived, heedless of Crimea invasion and war in Eastern Ukraine. But when Russia suffers on account of balancing supply and demand and free market mechanism lays bare Russian economy’s reliance on resource exports, I judge matters fall into place. I personally favour more sophisticated economic weapons than simple trade restrictions.

And having said all that, I confess plead I am not particularly delighted to observe Russia being knocked down by low oil prices (the scale of disaster is offset by unmatched depreciation of Russian Rouble). Russia faring well was less perilous to the world than Russia economically kneeling. The less Mr Putin has to lose, the more unpredictable political bets he will be inclined to make to shield his rule and underline supremacy of Russia in world politics might be.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

A farewell to old, good Nokia :(

1 December 2014 will go down in the history (of this blog) as the day when my Nokia 3110 Classic gave up the ghost. I bought the handset on 25 March 2008 and for six years and eights months it had served me almost beyond reproach. Much more reliable and much more durable than mobile phones produced these days, the Nokia would keep me company and had not been spared endurance tests. Over those years the Nokia survived being dropped several times (and went unharmed), withstood lying exposed to strong sunlight in temperatures exceeding +40C and unlike other phones remained totally indifferent when used in below –20C frost.

In the last two months the phone began to give first warning signs of the forthcoming end of its service. It crashed after being switched on and I had to wait some ten minutes before the phone returned to life, from time to time it also tended to lose network coverage and I had to shake it to help aerial catch the signal again. Despite those flaws I admit to have been too attached to the phone to think of replacing it with a less obsolete one. I am not fond of gadgets and the Nokia offered me everything I expect from a phone…

Then the fateful day came. On Monday evening I hooked in the phone to charge it up and after two hours I noticed it did not draw electricity from the charger. I grabbed the phone, but it did not react when I pressed any button. I called my number from the company phone, but it turned out my number was unavailable. I took off and put in the battery and turned it on again, waited until ten minutes when the phone is not responsive elapsed. The phone reacted only to numerical keys and had its menu accessible via navigation keys. I took the opportunity to recover all the notes I kept in it. Pressing menu and dialling keys resulted in the phone crashing for good. I tried to work out whether it was not the SIM card and sought many causes of the breakdown, but eventually gave up. Life of the phone naturally came to an end. Unexpectedly and swiftly, the Nokia let me down once, but properly.

Corpo smartphone unfortunately does not offer dual-SIM functionality, so I had to resort to the only unused handset I have in my drawer, namely Sony CMD-J70, “vintage” 2001. In 2007 I urged my friend not to throw out the phone his just then departed mother had used for six years and for seven years it has served as substitute phone when my parents’ phones (both low-end Nokias) were under warranty repairs or to me as a second phone, before I moved my number to Play. Sony had been idle for many months, so the battery perked up after some ten minutes since being plugged in to the charger. I have used the phone for six days and although the handset offers excellent quality of calls, writing messages on it (it traces back to times when T9 dictionaries were unknown) is a veritable nuisance and the phone does not read messages sent from newer traditional phones (oddly enough those sent from smartphones come through).

My first choice on what to buy was Sony Xperia E Black. At first glance it was not the newest model (it premiered in March 2013), but reasonably priced, seemingly durable and with lots of functionalities. The other day in the office it turned out my team-mate has that model and he complains about it. He handed me the handset and allowed to play with it for a while. When I took it into hand and saw how crappy devices it indeed was and then ran a thorough search on its quality on forums, I cancelled my order placed in the Internet shop I use to buy consumer electronics. I always choose cash payment when I pick up ordered stuff in collection point, so the resignation did not involve claiming back money, yet it has left me without a decent, normal phone (it lacks keypad locking feature which means it can initiate a call while kept in a pocket!) before a three-day business trip.

Actually reading Internet forums on handsets (one should make allowances for their contents, since many of the grumbles are written by people with exorbitant expectations) prompted me to revise my needs and expectations towards the new phone. I use the corpo smartphone, but actually am not fond of it, nor impressed by it. The corpo-phone has some limitations in scope of usage (restrictions on multimedia messages, downloading applications, private e-mails and social media), but apart from it I can have 1GB monthly data transfer to use up when I need to check something or to read some news or article and has built-in, though slow, GPS. I will gladly make do without a touchscreen and prefer a traditional QWERTY keyboard. I will appreciate reliable and durable, decently assembled phone with solid battery. It does not have to be fancy, I do not need it to swank about, it has to serve me well and meet my modest needs.

Finally I have made up my mind for Nokia Asha 302. The model was released in February 2012 and for this reason is not readily available in every bigger shop with consumer electronics, but garners excellent opinions from its users. Nokia Asha 302 was also the main company phone back at the Employer (I did not have one on account of not being eligible for company phone) and my colleagues, counting out those who expected too much, were satisfied with it. The only problem with it is that it takes some trouble to purchase it. I learnt it was available in Nokia shop in Żoliborz, but yesterday I could not afford to spend two hours to drive there to pick it up in person. Tomorrow I will check out whether any of the other two Nokia shops, in Śródmieście and in Ursynów, has any Asha 302 in stock. I sincerely hope they have some and price does not diverge from 248 PLN (superb price-quality trade-off) I was quoted by the Żoliborz outpost.

The thoughts on the phone could be put into broader perspective of critical assessment of unbridled consumerism and how most people relish on fancy stuff. Hard to deny, pursuit of only newer and more swanky goods also underlies economic growth and gives jobs to people, but when staring into the screen of the posh smartphone, it is important not to lose sight of other people…