Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Bitcoin's rise

So much opinionating about Bitcoin at the moment, I figure I might as well throw in my 0.02 BTC.

I don't want to get into questions of what Bitcoin is, what it might be worth in the future, the pros and cons or ethics. I just want to focus on explaining its recent explosive rise.

What we have is a simple mismatch between supply and demand.

The demand is coming because of media attention and, yes, in part because of the Cyprus "bailout."

But what's really interesting is that there's not much supply.

There are many Bitcoin "whales" out there (no I am not one) who invested early, have thousands of Bitcoins, and would love to sell some 'coin at current prices _ but aren't.

The reasons why they would love to sell are:

1) They know it's not "worth" this much yet (even if they remain long-term believers).
2) Volatility is BAD for the long-term health of the Bitcoin market. People who get burned in a Bitcoin bust are not going to come back quickly. Also, it's impossible to conduct much trade in Bitcoin with prices this volatile.

So why aren't the "whales" selling some Bitcoin to stabilize prices?

Answer: Because the early adopters were almost by definition people interested in privacy. They don't want the world to know that they have a lot of Bitcoin, and they certainly don't want to open themselves up to scrutiny by tax authorities by selling on Mt. Gox.

So, any big Bitcoin sales still have to be done on the black market, and that's a daunting prospect for both buyers and sellers.

That is all.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Summa pulchritudo mea donum mundi est

Latin lessons at the Efteling.

Visiting the fairy tale display on "The Emperor's New Clothes," (De nieuwe kleren van de keiser) and I'm confronted with the inscription below. Of course my wife looks to me for translation and I'm baffled. My Latin was never very good in the first place and it's getting to be 20 years ago, after all.

Summa pulchritudo mea donum mundi est 

-Caesar Narcissus

This is a situation where the overriding meaning is clear ('My incredible good looks are god's gift to the world'), but I can't get make the words in front of me say that and remain true to what I honestly suspect are the individual word meanings and cases.

Anyhow. In the cold light of afterward, I find pulchritudo is a 3rd declention noun (feminine), so pulchritudo is the presumptive subject, which is good, and most of the rest falls in place.

"Summa pulchritudo mea" all group together, "My most-high beauty,"

The "est" could have been left off, but there it is: "is."

"Donum," gift, is also nominative, (2nd declention), not accusative as I dimly feared, and I'm almost home:

"My great beaty is a gift".

But there's the "mundi," which I would really have liked to see in the dative, "mundo," = "to the world," or "for the world."

But what we have is "mundi," genitive. Doesn't make much sense intuitively. Gift belonging to the world?

After some refresher Latin grammar Googling, I'm reluctantly calling this "mundi" either a "subjective genetive" or "objective genitive," because a gift raises the idea of a receiver.

I can't find any examples of this _ on the contrary I see donum taking a dative everywhere _ but I'm assuming whoever they let make humorous signs at the country's biggest tourist trap attraction knows more than I do.


"My incomparable beauty is the world's gift." (Subjective genitive, leading candidate for correct translation)
"My incomparable beauty is the gift of the world."(Objective genitive)

Either way, I still think it would make more sense with "mundo," given the story.

"My incomparable beauty is a gift to the world."

Latinists? Another use of the genitive I'm not considering? Other possibilities/errors?

Friday, February 1, 2013

SNS - what a difference an external auditor makes !

So, banks balance sheets are often said to be opaque. In the Dutch ministry of finance's discussion of its decision to nationalize SNS Reaal I came across the following (translation of text in bold at bottom below).

The takeaway is that SNS had written down EUR700 million of a EUR9 billion property loans portfolio, but (quietly?) expected to take additional losses of EUR1.4 billion.

But an external auditor said the *base case* was actually additional writedowns of EUR2.7 billion.

That means starting from a loan portfolio worth EUR8.3 billion, SNS and the auditors had a difference of opinion of EUR1.3 billion as to its actual worth.

If I'm reading right, SNS hadn't taken at least EUR1.4 billion in write-downs it KNEW it should have and in the external auditor's opinion EUR2.7 billion _ ie. in the auditor's opinion, SNS should have been writing down about A THIRD of the value of this loan portfolio.

That's not even the worst case scenario.

That's my interpretation of the below. Implications for other European banks with real estate loans?

Page 4 (bullet point 14), my translation:

SNS Property Finance itself estimated the losses it expected on the basis of the information that was available as of the middle of 2012. The Real Estate Portfolio then had a net size of about EUR8.3 billion (gross size of about EUR9.0 billion minus EUR0.7 billion provisions). SNS Property Finance estimated these additional expected losses in a base scenario would amount to about EUR1.4 billion, and in a negative scenario about EUR2.1 billion. The ministry hired Cushman & Wakefield in October 2012 to make an independent valuation of the real estate portfolio of SNS Property Finance. The result of the measurement of the actual economic value on the basis of information available from mid 2012 _ the correctness of which the Ministry then presumed afterward _ was for the real estate loans [to be worth] around EUR5.6 billion in a base scenario and EUR4.9 billion in a negative scenario.
In addition, Cushman & Wakefield indicated that SNS Property Finance's real estate [i.e. actual property, not loans] has a current actual economic worth of between EUR185 million and EUR265 million.
All this can be translated into an expected loss beyond the provisions taken by SNS Property Finance on its real estate loan portfolio of between EUR2.4 billion in a base scenario and about EUR3.2 billion in a negative scenario. These losses are substantially higher than the additional expectable losses estimated by SNS Property Finance. A recently updated overview by Cushman & Wakefield doesn't materially change the picture.

Link to actual report:

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dutch consumers shafted on mortgages? Say it ain't so

I've always thought it was clear that Dutch mortgage rates were being set artificially high due to overconcentration in the  banking sector: ABN, ING, and Rabobank dominate.

Exhibit "A" was friends I knew of _ with perfectly healthy finances _ having to pay around 6 percent interest rates for their mortgages while retail depositors were being offered 2 percent on their savings accounts. I figured, with a 4 percent margin, even I could run a profitable bank. And of course banks had the option to get funding even more cheaply than 2 percent from the ECB.

But amazingly, the Dutch antitrust regulator NMa did a study and concluded (my summary): "nothing to see here, move along." (Dutch language).
Key quote:
"A focused investigation into possible coordination did not deliver any evidence of price-fixing between mortgage brokers or other violations of antitrust law" -NMa, May 2011.

Anyhow, today, a Dutch politician, Stef Blok, has woken up and come to the realization that perhaps there is a problem here after all:

From the Volkskrant today:

"The mortgage market in the Netherlands is primarily the battleground of the big Dutch banks: ING, ABN Amro and Rabobank. But because the first two _ due to the crisis _ received state support, they were obliged to charge a higher mortgage rate than competitors who made it through the crisis without support. That was one of the conditions of Dutch state aid.  ING was released from this condition in November, but for a long time, the Rabobank could set rates by itself. So there could be no question of much competition, as minister Blok observed, and therefore the intererest rates are possibly higher than necessary."

The coffee, NMa. Wake up and smell it. Please.

The sad thing is that if all the consumers who are now * still * paying a percent or more too much interest on their mortgages were to successfully sue over this, what good would it do? Due to other financial woes, the banks are all undercapitalized to the point where probably none of them could survive having to give up this ill-gotten 1 percent advantage they have on a sizeable chunk of mortgages, much less pay back the years of income they've gotten from it.

And if they were forced to pay up, they'd go bankrupt. And then, the state would have to intervene to bail the banks out and prevent armageddon; and a state bailout means taxpayers would foot the bill. Net result: a new subsidy from non-home-owners to homeowners.

Justice is hard to find in the banking world.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Queen Beatrix's Abdication Speech In English

(any translation mistakes are mine. Original text at bottom)

28 Januari 2013
As you all know, I hope to celebrate my 75th birthday in several days. I am thankful that it has been granted me to see this day come in good health. At the end of this year we will commemmorate that 200 years ago our country became a kingdom, which ushered in a new era in our history. The coincidence of these two occassions has prompted me to decide to retire from my position this year. It seems to me a good moment to actually take this step, which I have considered for some years now.
I've always considered it an exceptional privilege to commit a large part of my life to the service of our country, and, in concert,  to be able to give form to my duty to the monarchy. Prince Claus was a great support to me in that for many years.
Right up until today this fine role has granted me great satisfaction. It is inspiring to feel oneself involved with people, to sympathize with sadness and to share in times of joy and national pride. I have been able to experience that as well in the Carribean parts of our kingdom, where I have always also found much warmth and friendliness. Therefore I am not abdicating because the job is too burdensome, but from conviction that the responsibility for our country should now be in the hands of a new generation. It is with the greatest faith that I will transfer the monarchy on April 30 of this year to my son, the Prince of Orange. He and Princess Maxima are completely prepared for their future role. They will serve our country with dedication, faithfully preserve the constitution, and with all their talents, impress their own mark upon the kingship.
I feel myself strengthened by the thought that making room for my successor does not mean that I say goodbye to you. I hope that I can meet many of you, upon a time. I am deeply thankful to you for the trust that you have given me in the many fine years in which I was privileged to be your queen.

28 januari 2013
Zoals u allen weet, hoop ik over enkele dagen mijn 75ste verjaardag te vieren. Ik ben dankbaar dat het mij gegund is deze dag in goede gezondheid tegemoet te gaan. Aan het éinde van dit jaar zullen wij herdenken dat ons land tweehonderd jaar geleden een koninkrijk werd, waarmee in onze geschiedenis een nieuw tijdperk aanbrak. Het samenvallen van deze twee bijzondere gebeurtenissen is voor mij de aanleiding geweest te besluiten dit jaar uit mijn ambt terug te treden. Het lijkt mij een goed moment om deze stap, die ik al enige jaren overweeg, nu daadwerkelijk te nemen. 
Ik heb het altijd als een uitzonderlijk voorrecht beschouwd een groot deel van mijn leven in dienst van ons land te kunnen stellen en overeenkomstig mijn opdracht invulling te mogen geven aan het koningschap. Daarbij was Prins Claus mij vele jaren tot grote steun.
Tot op de dag van vandaag heeft deze mooie taak mij veel voldoening geschonken. Het is inspirerend zich bij mensen betrokken te voelen, mee te leven met verdriet en te delen in tijden van vreugde en nationale trots. Dat heb ik eveneens mogen ervaren in de Caraïbische delen van ons koninkrijk, waar ik ook altijd veel warmte en hartelijkheid heb ondervonden.  Ik treed dan ook niet terug omdat het ambt mij te zwaar zou vallen, maar vanuit de overtuiging dat de verantwoordelijkheid voor ons land nu in handen van een nieuwe generatie moet liggen. Het is met het grootste vertrouwen dat ik op 30 april van dit jaar het koningschap zal overdragen aan mijn zoon, de Prins van Oranje. Hij en Prinses Máxima zijn ten volle op hun toekomstige taak voorbereid. Zij zullen ons land met toewijding dienen, getrouw de grondwet onderhouden en met al hun talenten een eigen invulling geven aan het koningschap. 
Gesterkt voel ik mij door de gedachte dat het plaats maken voor mijn opvolger niet betekent dat ik afscheid neem van ú. Ik hoop dat ik velen van u nog dikwijls kan ontmoeten. Ik ben u diep dankbaar voor het vertrouwen dat u mij heeft gegeven in de vele mooie jaren waarin ik uw koningin mocht zijn.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Does S/M fall within Staphorst's zoning plan?

Saw this on a friend's Facebook page (h/t R.V.)

There's more going on in the quaint little vacation bungalows of Holland than one might imagine...


Vacation home owners complain about S/M cottages.

Multiple owners of vacation homes in the recreation park "t Veldhuijs" in Ijhorst are suffering disturbance from little S/M houses in the park, and they've brought this to the attention of the municipality of Staphorst. The city confirmed this yesterday.
The S and M activities have been going on for three years already in a chalet in the park. Last year other homeowners protested that. However, then the complaints concerned only one cottage. The city of Staphorst is investigating whether sadomasochism falls within its zoning code.


I think the highlight reel from that meeting could be quite amusing.


I use this space as a brain dump, almost a note pad.
Lots of English translations of Dutch information, especially if I think something could also be useful for others. For speed I start with Google translate and then put on finishing touches myself.
*Use at your own risk.*