Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Keep Focus

If you want to see a surge of Patriotism, look for a bunch of ex-pats at a sports event. Ex-pats aren't really immigrants. They take their country with them. I have been surrounded by more Springbok rugby jerseys at braais in Bermuda, than at any in South Africa. South African shops cater to various groups of the diaspora in a way you don't see in SA. Shops in SA have stuff from all over the world. Global Saffa Shops distil the differences - the vetkoek, rotties, bunny chows, biltong, breyani, umqombothi etc. Check out the magic handiwork of the Amawele sisters in the Rincon centre in San Francisco if you ever get the chance. Have a chat with them too. These ladies are spicey.


I left South Africa for the first time when I was 18. I returned for the first time at the same time as the English cricket team a year later. This time it was my home turf and I lent into the opportunity for some banter. Decked with crazy hair and face paint, I tried to meet the Barmy Army on their terms. The Army follow their team singing songs and turning pink in the sun.  

English Cricketers Don't Have Pollocks

One of their songs took on the exchange rate. At the time it was edging up toward R10 to the pound. As they reached that part of the song, they would stand up with both hands in the air. Their 10 fingers held aloft. Before clapping them together singing 'We're so rich it's unbelievable'. Fast forward to 2016 and they didn't have the 23 fingers needed to sing. They had the lungs.


Exchange Rates are a complicated beast. In theory, they should equalise things. 'The Law of One Price' means that over time, the same thing should cost the same everywhere. This assumes that if something is cheaper, people will make a plan to buy it there. There are a bunch of obstacles that stop this from working. If you have the 'Four Freedoms' of movement of Goods, People, Services and Capital - then over time wealth and good fortune should spread out.

In reality, there is often a big disconnect between what exchange rates do and the fundamental drivers of what they 'should' do. Freedom of movement can be incredibly rocky. If you don't have your sea legs, you can get thrown around.

Brunson and Buffett

As a Soutie, I think in various currencies because the people I care about are scattered over the globe. I have had to learn not to think about the GBP ZAR exchange rate too much. Money isn't actually a thing. It is a placeholder or a catalyst. I have seen incredibly smart people try to 'time' swapping between the currencies to get a good deal. Smart isn't enough. Knowledgeable isn't even enough.  The ones who do well tend to be more like Brunson (the poker player), than Buffett (the investor). In the last five years the ZAR GBP exchange rate has been anywhere between R12.35 and R24.53, per pound. As with poker, you don't want to be the fish at the table by 'playing the currency market'.


The reason I get to largely ignore the exchange rate is because I keep as little money as possible in cash, and as much as possible in productive assets. Things that are actually doing something valuable. The waves still impact me, but it becomes about shifting my stuff up the beach to stop it getting wet, rather than being tossed around in the storm.

There is a bucket load of noise out there. What we can, and should, focus on is the things that actually get done.
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