Milan, our Italian journey begins!

We decided to fly from London Stansted to Bergamo airport in Italy on the budget airline Ryanair.  Although inexpensive, you get almost nothing on these flights except a seat and seatbelt (which doesn’t cost extra!).  To avoid incurring any additional fees at the airport which has happened in the past, we checked in from our hotel and also decided to pay the extra 7£ fee per person for priority boarding and two cabin bags.  It should be noted that this fee jumps to 50£ at the airport if you do not select it ahead of time.  Once on the plane we sat there, and sat there, and sat there until finally the pilot came onto the overhead speakers.  In an Irish accent he said something along the lines of, “due to the English not being able to schedule anything properly, they haven’t finished the flight plan and we also have no ground crew, they probably went for lunch.”  He said it could be a while and would keep us posted.  We had been on the plane over an hour already.  About 15 mins later the pilot said they had approved the flight plan and were sending a ground crew which appeared shortly after holding sandwiches and coffees.  They had indeed gone for lunch!  So after an hour and a half we were finally on our way to Italy!  Our flight took us over France, Germany, Switzerland, and eventually over northern Italy.

Flying over Britain with Standsted airport visible on the left of the wingtip.

It was unfortunate, if we had been there just a few days later we would have seen Donald Trump and Airforce One touch down.

Some of the Swiss Alps from the air.

Lake Como

Once we touched down and cleared customs (which involved a boarder guard distracted on his phone while stamping passports) we found a bus to go to Milan and arrived at the central train station.

The bus into Milan.

From there we walked to our Airbnb and got settled in.  We were pretty tired at this point so we went to the local grocery store and bought and assortment of meats and cheeses and some focaccia and sat down to watch the World Cup in our Airbnb.

The wine prices at the corner store. (1€~$1.17 USD).

The next day we continued to explore Milan including the Sforzesco Castle and the 3rd biggest cathedral in the world the Duomo di Milano.  Unfortunately we didn’t make it into the Duomo but the craftsmanship outside was still amazing!

One of several city fountains.

The gardens in front of the castle during dusk.

The Duomo di Milano

A sculpture of Jesus in the manger on the main doors of the Duomo. My assumption is that baby Jesus is polished from the many hands that touch him.

Milan is more of an industrial city so the amount of foreign tourists that we noticed was less compared to London and New York.  We also had our first opportunity to try the popular Italian cocktail the Negroni.  When we ordered two Negornis the waiter asked, “Alchohol?” to which we replied yes.  To this day we are both convinced that it had almost 500mL of alchohol and nothing else, all for just 6€.

The Negroni!

Once we had finished we slowly made our way over to “Pescaria” for a delicious seafood sandwich in a turtle shaped toasted bun.

A local bakery that provided us with Focaccia and sweet treats each morning!

Gelato from “Il Massimo del Gelato” located just around the corner from our Airbnb. These flavours are coffee and mango!

Our last few days contained more signseeing as well as a ride on their tram network on a ATM series 1500 tram from the 1930’s which was a big hit!

Streetcar #1935 built sometime in the early 1930’s (number has no bearing on year built).

We also enjoyed several cocktails at a popular spot “Rita” in the Naviglio Grande canal region where the apperitivo of chips, carrots, and bread bites comes standard with every drink.

Naviglio Grande region

Lastly we dined at 100 Montaditos, a popular spot for the seasoned traveler.  Tomorrow we move onto the next area, Florence!

…then we take London???

Well maybe it’s not exactly how the Leonard Cohen song goes, but close enough!

After a long flight we finally made it to London’s Gatwick airport at 11 am local time (6 am EST).  We funneled of the plane and made our way to customs where an absolute zoo of people were already in line for the border force customs checkpoint.  It took us about an hour to get through and then we were off into the airport.  Unfortunately the main Gatwick Express train was out of commission so we used google maps to make use of the commuter rail instead.  It was a quick ride but by the time we arrived at London’s London Bridge Station it was already almost 2 in the afternoon.  Eventually we made it to our hotel and were able to throw our packs down for the next leg.  With only one of us having been to London before, the other was eager to see the sights and sounds of the big city!  We ventured over to a local pub for a beer and then made our way to another spot for dinner.  I enjoyed a lasagna while the other had some beef stew with greens and mash.  Both were enjoyed.

 

After, we made our way towards the newer financial district known as “The City” and saw many of the famous buildings in London.

 

The Shard and Tower Bridge

The Gherkin

That was all for day one, we walked back to our hotel and slept well that night!  Day two promised more sightseeing and good food!

 

DAY TWO

When we woke, we realized that our hotel was right next to a ready mix concrete plant.  Who would have thought that there would be a ready-mix plant in the middle of the city?  Needless to say I thought it was pretty neat!

The Ready-mix plant

We made our way over to Buckingham palace for the changing of the guard ceremony and later walked through Hyde park.  After a quick stop at Pret a Mange for lunch we saw the British Parliament, Big Ben (completely covered in scaffolding) and made our way across the Thames and into the shard area of downtown.

Trafalger Square

Liverpool St. Station

Old vs. New

A view of “The City” from across the Thames, Millenium bridge in the foreground.

Here we found a sports bar and sat down to watch France beat Uruguay in the World Cup.  We enjoyed a few pints before leaving to make our dinner reservations at 6.  We enjoyed a nice steak dinner at the Hawksmoor Burrough location.  We started off with a cocktail and several oysters.  Among the regular oysters we also enjoyed oysters with bone marrow and breadcrumbs on that were finished under the broiler.  Unfortunately they neglected to tell us where the oysters where from, a fact that usually adds to the experience.  We also enjoyed some steaks, Caesar salad, and triple cooked chips that tasted like regular chips.  All in all a nice meal!  After we walked over to the Shard and were amazed by its height.  The shard is the tallest building in the UK and is 95% owned by the state of Quatar.  We pondered over the idea of using foreign investment to construct national landmarks many times over the next few days.  As the night came to a close we enjoyed the breeze off the Thames and the city lights all around us.  Tomorrow is another travel day, onto our main destination of Italy!

 

Answering Readers Questions on HISA cash deposits

Responding to my HISA Rates page, a reader recently asked me about three interest bearing investments:

Purpose ETF

The Purpose High Interest Savings ETF is an Exchange Traded Fund listed on the TSX which is composed of deposits held at various Canadian deposit taking banks, trust companies, and credit unions. According to their website, the fund currently holds deposits with the following institutions: National Bank of Canada, Manulife Bank of Canada, First West Credit Union, First Calgary Credit Union, Coast Capital SavingsProspera Credit UnionVancouver City Savings Credit Union, BlueShore Credit Union, Westminster Savings.

Any Canadian investor with a brokerage account able to trade on the TSX can invest in this ETF. Your rate of return will be linked to the interest received by the fund from these deposit taking institutions. Their rates will be similar (and sometimes higher) to the rates offered by the large(er) institutions offering High Interest Savings Account mutual funds. Investors can buy and sell the Purpose High Interest Savings ETF just like they would shares of stocks on the TSX, and I assume there is also a market maker working to ensure liquidity of this ETF.  I’m not sure about the advantages of using this ETF other than potentially receiving a modestly higher interest rate, but with today’s low interest rates, we’re talking about fractions of a percent.

For most individual investors, since they are usually under the insured limit ($100,000 for CDIC deposits) it doesn’t help to diversify their cash deposits. As long as your cash deposits are less than $100,000, my recommendation is to use a single HISA with the highest rate and switch only when a better rate becomes available.

The two USD money market funds

The CIBC and RBC US$ money market funds mentioned by a reader are US dollar Canadian money market mutual funds. Each of these funds invests in US dollar denominated money market investments such as commercial paper and various types of trusts and asset backed notes. These mutual funds should be considered low risk, but are not risk free. These mutual funds also are slightly higher risk than High Interest Savings Accounts because the creditworthiness of the securities in these mutual funds is slightly lower than the CDIC insured deposits found of HISAs. In the grand scheme of risk though, these two US dollar money market mutual funds are still low risk. If you are a Canadian based investor with a US dollar cash portion of your portfolio, these two mutual funds are probably a good place to park your cash, if you are willing to understand the risks, you will receive a higher rate of interest compared to straight insured cash deposits, and you’ll also receive a higher rate of interest compared to what you’ll get if you just leave the US dollars sitting in your account.

Lending Loop

Investing in P2P lending sites such as Lending Loop is probably on the higher risk side of the risk spectrum. As an investor, participating in a P2P site like Lending Loop means you will be making syndicated business loans. A small business might use Lending Loop to get a loan at a rate and terms that are better than what they could get from their bank, and your loan to them will make up a portion of the total amount they borrow. A common strategy for P2P lending is to take your investment and build a portfolio of loans to various borrowers over a range of credits and timeframes that suit your investment objectives. Since the market for P2P loans is still a lot less developed than other forms of lending in Canada, as an investor, you should understand that you’re taking more risk and accepting a potentially higher reward.

P2P lending is not a substitute for a cash deposit, but it can make up a portion of fixed income portfolio, with a risk profile closer to high yield bonds than to cash.

First me take Manhattan…

Our first stop on our multi leg journey brought us to beautiful New York City!  The trip got off to a little bit of a slow start with one of our flights being two hours delayed and mine being cancelled all together.  Luckily I was able to find shelter for the night with a good friend and the other had a night to himself in NYC.  He hit up a couple local bars including one of NYC’s oldest Irish bars McSorley’s Old Ale House which first opened in the mid 19th century.

A slow start to the trip as both of us were ready to get going.

The next morning I woke up at 4:30 in order to catch my early rebooked flight.  With minimal delay and short boarder lines in Newark I was in the city by 10 o’clock and met with my travelling partner at the hotel.  Finally!  After a quick nap we started our time in NYC.

Our first stop on our informal pizza crawl was Joe’s Pizza on Carmine, an establishment and staple for locals in the West Village since 1975.

The interior of Joe’s pizza

We both got a cheese slice and enjoyed how they finished it again in the oven before service.  Our second stop brought us to Prince St. Pizza just a few blocks away where the pizza although still tasty was a little more sloppy and lacked the crunch we had enjoyed from Joe’s.

With the temperatures before in the 30’s with ‘feels like’ in the low 40’s we felt it best to head back to the hotel for a short refresher and break from the heat.  After we had regained our strength we ventured across the Williamsburg bridge and into Brooklyn which for one of us was a first.  We had the goal of finding a sports bar to watch the World Cup and immediately realized that we were not the only ones.  Every bar we passed was packed with people with standing room at a premium.  Eventually we landed on a joint where we could watch England defeat Columbia from the street.

Once the game was over we managed to find a spot for a quick beer and then we were off to meet an old friend.  Once introductions had been made I was given a choice and decided that we should head towards Roberta’s pizza in Brooklyn.  All three of us thoroughly enjoyed the two pies we ordered.  The first titled “Freak on a Leash” contained ricotta, caciocavallo, speck, pea leaf, and a cilantro garnish and the second was the “Famous Original” which has the usual mozzarella, parmesan, chili oil, and oregano.  Both were delicious!

Our last day in NYC was again very warm but at least there was not the threat of any rain.  We started the day a little later by going to Katz’s deli for a pastrami sandwich and then off into the city again!

A Katz’s Sandwich

We made our way over to the Staten Island ferry and enjoyed the free shuttle to the island and back.

Our view while on the ferry

We enjoyed a quick beer at a patio near Wall st. and then moved on to JFK airport.  After making it through the madness that is JFK and the TSA, we found our gate and waited for our double decker 747 straight out of the 90’s.  It was comfortable flight but the length made us quite stiff.  Our time in NYC was done and we were off to the next adventure!

What is PokerShares?

PokerShares is a website where users can bet on poker players. The site also offers odds on poker related events and poker props. I noticed recently PokerShares being mentioned by a bunch of people in the poker community including Daniel Negreanu, so below is an initial review of the PokerShares.

It seems like PokerShares offers users the ability to bet using fixed odds on a large variety of poker players in a number of tournaments. It also seems like this is not a marketplace of odds, so users are betting against the house (in this case PokerShares) instead of each other.

I signed up for the site, and new users are required to submit a bunch of personal information such as their name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. This seems like a lot of information to give to some site I’m just learning about, but I submitted the signup forms, and received a confirmation e-mail. After I confirmed my e-mail and logged into the site, a message was displayed asking me to confirm my identity by sending PokerShares a copy of my passport. They warn that if I do not confirm my identity in 14 days, that my account will become inactive.

After logging in, I scroll over to the 2018 WSOP main event page and I can see a long list of players offered. I notice some big names such as Phil Ivey are listed, but they don’t have other players such as Justin Bonomo listed for the WSOP main event.  There are four columns listed in the table of players that users can bet on: their name, markup, price/1%, and % available. Using the price of Adrian Mateos as a guide, he is priced at a markup of 4.3 so his price per 1% is $430, and the book seems to be taking up to $20,000 worth of bets on him. A $10 bet on Adrian Mateos will pay $1,895.35 if he wins. This makes his implied odds = 10 / 1,895.35 = 189.50.  These odds are implying an 0.527% chance that Adrian Mateos wins the main event.

If we assume the 2018 WSOP main event gets 7,000 entrants, then the raw likelihood of Adrian Mateos winning is 7,000. So with odds of 190, it seems pretty expensive to bet on Adrian Mateos?  Is Adrian Mateos that much better than the average player in the field?  Maybe, I don’t know enough about WSOP main event odds to say.

At first glance, the way prices are set on PokerShares seems a bit convoluted, but I can see what they are going for. In poker, its common to invest and trade shares in players (and yourself) as a way to spread risk and raising money, so by presenting the betting as a way of “investing” in shares of poker players builds off this culture. On the other hand, the pricing format kinda obscures the information and makes it a bit more difficult to determine the odds.

If anyone has further comments on PokerShares, please post your comments below in the comments section, I would love to learn more about how this market works.

Microsoft Buying GitHub?

Microsoft may announce this week they are purchasing GitHub for $2 billion. This seems like a good deal for Microsoft. The financial problems for GitHub are related to expense control, but their service is becoming increasingly indispensable for developers. I think Microsoft could also find revenue synergies as well.

Toronto Short Term Rentals Airbnb New Rules

Residents and property owners are renting out rooms or entire units for short periods (less than 28 days) in growing numbers across the city, facilitated by the rise of online platforms such as AirBnB, VRBO, etc. Currently, short-term rentals are not permitted in Toronto.

On December 7, 2017, and January 31, 2018, City Council approved the regulation of short-term rentals in Toronto. The new rules, which require short-term rental companies to obtain a licence and short-term rental operators to register with the City and pay a Municipal Accommodation Tax of 4% were set to come into effect on June 1, 2018.

However, the City’s zoning bylaw amendments to permit short-term rentals as a use have been appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). They are therefore not in force. The OMB has scheduled a two-day hearing on August 30 and 31, 2018.  The City does not expect to receive a decision from the OMB for at least eight weeks after the hearing.

Therefore, the regulations for short-term rentals will not come into force on June 1, 2018.

If the City receives a positive decision at the OMB, the short-term rental regulations will come into effect. Individuals will be given a period of time to submit applications for a licence or registration and the 4% tax will be implemented. More information on what is required to collect and remit the tax will be available at that time.

If you would like to receive updates about the short-term rental registry and licensing program, contact mlsfeedback@toronto.ca to be added the mailing list.

For more information, see the decisions made by City Council to adopt a new zoning bylaw permitting short-term rentals and a registration and licensing program for short-term rentals.

CME Ethereum Price Index

CME Group and Crypto Facilities (CF) have reteamed to bring enhanced pricing information to one of the top five global cryptocurrencies.

Introducing CME CF Ether-Dollar Reference Rate and CME CF Ether-Dollar Real-Time Index, both available on the CME Group website.

The new pricing indicators are designed to: 

  • Offer price transparency, real-time replicability and reliable benchmark sources for price discovery
  • Accelerate the professionalization of Ether trading
  • Complement our Bitcoin Reference Rate (BRR) and Bitcoin Real-Time Index (BRTI)
  • Draw on our experience developing global pricing benchmarks

Three Ways to Access Streaming and Historical Data: 

  • CME Group website
  • CME DataMine
  • Market Data Platform (MDP)