Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Summer Travel, 2016

The London Shard...
Travel Gremlin here.  Its been about a month since I went on vacation, and all I can say is that it stinks that all of us don't get more time for stuff like this.  Such is the world.  Anyways, I've been busy since I got home, with a job transition currently underway and all the usual stuff on top of that.  So for starters, my plan for upcoming months will be to have three (3) posts each month.  I used to aim for four (4), but with new responsibilities and the course of life it is clear that will not remain nominally feasible.  Still, this is a post that I am extremely excited to write because it is about the fun stuff in life.  Do not worry though, I will begin with a little financial recap.

Our Journey:

We (my wife, I, and a friend) ventured to sunny - sorta - England to visit some friends.  We stayed in the UK for a week seeing parts of England and Wales.  Afterwards, the three of us hopped a flight to Italy, then met back up with our friends in Pisa and scooted around that part of Italy.  Our total time in Italy was around 7 days, for a total journey of around two weeks, and now my wife is staying she wants to travel again.  Traveling once makes you want to go again (having perfect weather helps too).

My favorite part about this journey is that we were able to go at all.  Our flights cost (my wife and I) $360 round trip.  That included flying to the UK from the US, to Italy from the UK, and back.  This was done using points transferred from my Chase Sapphire credit card to my United Frequent Flyer number.  Had we just purchased tickets it would have been over $3k.

When we went to Wales, I used hotel points through Hilton to acquire us three rooms in a hotel for three nights, with the final cost being $20 - just taxes.  Plus we stayed with our friends in England.  In Italy, we used AirBnB and found some real steals in the heart of a bunch of cities.  I am not promoting those products, but merely stating if you look hard enough (not that hard), you can find these deals are rampant.  The point here is most people can travel, if they are willing to listen and learn from pros online or in person who do this all the time.  I am far, far from an expert - so don't just take my word for it.

The United Kingdom:

Well for now it is anyway.  We went to two parts, England and Wales.  Also we benefited from a deep monetary discount, thanks to the Brexit.  30 year low in the Pound to USD.  Simply stunning.

England:

Tower Bridge.
It is hard to describe any place, when you only see fractions of it.  Those parts we saw were really fun.  We spent most of our time in London and Cambridge, both gave a very unique cosmopolitan feel.  In some ways it reminded me of the USA (not just cause of the language), but the demeanor of the people.  They were hard working, but matched that with a hard play attitude.  That is right up my alley.  In addition, we saw some of the old towns in the Cotswolds  that sometimes show up in movies.  Among those was a town featuring the oldest 'inn' in England, and yes we got a beer there.  Favorite drink: Speckled Hen - cask. 












Wales:

The view from Pen-y-Fan, Southern Wales' highest peak.
If the UK has a West Virginia, I've been told its Wales.  Of all the places in the UK I saw, I liked Wales the most.  Why?  Mountains.  We only saw the southern range, but those views and the effort to get there are some of the things that I enjoy the most.  We also sampled Cardiff, which is a nice small urban contrast to the mountains nearby.  Of extreme note, amazing Indian food was had in Wales - by far the best I've ever had.  Honestly it might have been my favorite food from the whole trip.  Favorite drink: Brains Amber cask (I don't remember the full name).












Italy:

We arrived in Venice, made our way to Pisa, saw the Cinque Terre, and ended in Florence.  So many wows, oohs, and ahhs.  Places I likely will never see againMy favorite drink was red wine: specifically any house wine and definitely those 'Supertuscan' wines.  Though there was a microbrewery in Pisa that was excellent, so look for that if you are ever there.

A view of Venice from the Tower of San Marco.
Venice: This city has intrigued me for a long time.  As a person who thinks a lot about engineering, science, and urban planning - this city is a model in so many ways.  It is south of mountains and on the sea (near to the Adriatic), which are my two favorite types of places.  The streets are small and old, but it is a feel that cannot be replicated.  Of all the places in Italy we visited, this is the one I feel I need more time to see (not to belittle other places).












The Dolomites
One tour we did in Venice that I would recommend heavily, is to see the Dolomites.  Or if you are in Slovenia their mountains count too.  The Alps in general are gorgeous, and the Dolomites and the towns among them have their own outstanding charm. 


















The Tuscan Countryside.
Tuscany: After Venice we went to Tuscany, and some neighboring areas.  We started in Pisa, went to Cinque Terre, and ended in Florence.  Of those three places I thought Pisa had the best nightlife for hanging out and mingling with locals.  Cinque Terre is well and beyond the most scenic.  Florence reigns in architecture.  The best food went to a few small places in both bigger cities, a fried seafood place in Cinque Terre, and to the Tuscan countryside where we went on a wine tour.  If you could only see one of the three, the answer is Cinque Terre its so unique and despite the crowds it feels more open than Florence.  In Cinque Terre you must hike the trails, but they are not easy.  The second one to see is Florence, which despite its architectural works, is just so crowded during the day.  I have no desire to be surrounded by 100 person tour groups, fair warning.
  








Manarola, part of the Cinque Terre.
Overlooking Florence.





Wrap up: The biggest mistake of this trip is that we are no longer on it, am I right?  Truly, all of these places hold their own unique charm.  I would gladly venture to any of them, just to get a fuller experience. 

I hope everyone has had or is having a great summer!
- Gremlin
- Long all beers and wines drank
- Sadly Short Pasta Carbonara right now.
*All pictures taken by me or someone riding shotgun.

Friday, July 29, 2016

July Review / August Preview, 2016

Back from vacation Gremlin here to talk about July and the next few months.   So vacation was great, I went to the UK and Italy and saw a lot of cool stuff.  I will put together a post on that soon, just been lazy of late.  I watched the end of the Euros over there and was happy to see CR7 and Portugal win (why? because he is a good player, and its nice to see a new team win, especially from a smaller nation).  Though, Iceland winning would have been cooler.

Now the focus is on my new job, which starts in less than two weeks.  In the mean time I will be wrapping up my current position.  One thing I will note is that my pay schedule will change from once every two weeks to monthly, which sucks.  This will mean cash is tight for a brief period, however my salary increase will really start to fit in quickly, and debts will be punished.

July:

I was able to put $90 and purchased a new share of YUM stock.  It was a small purchase, and I did not feel like it warranted any posting.

Last month I brought in a total of $84.98 in dividends ($65.47 taxable, $19.51 Roth).  This is an increase from last year ($77.69 total) by 9.4%.  Not a bad increase, but it could have been higher had I held onto Chubb stock, but I am happy with my decisions concerning that situation earlier this year.  Those transactions have given my DFS and AMP stock.

In terms of dividend increases, I realized two this month from from Realty Income (O) and CIBC (CM).  The raises ranged from 0.5% to 2.5% (local currency). 

Next month I will realize no dividend increases. Thus far for 2016, I have realized 20 dividend increases.  Boom.

August:

Our only long term debts are our cars and my wife's student loans, and her loan won't last the year.  With my new job rapidly approaching there will be a brief hiatus on putting extra cash towards debts, until I start getting paid.  Once that happens, all bets are off and I will be crushing debts with this extra cash.

Next month should produce around $91 in dividends, which is a 35% YOY increase.  Investing wise this will be a bare bones month or two.  Once my pay period becomes more regular, watch out debt, watch out.

My portfolio page is currently up to date.

Hope everyone has a great August!
- Dividend Gremlin
- Long all stock tickers mentioned

Friday, July 1, 2016

June Review / July Preview, 2016

Summer Gremlin here to talk about June and July.   In less than a week I will be traveling to Europe, and I am very excited.  I have also accepted a new job offer.  Things are really starting to pick up steam in my day to day life.  The goal for the second half of the year is to really annihilate some debt and begin grooming my financial situation towards a house or kids or both.  Such is life.

June:

I was able to put $275 to work in Loyal3 over the course of last month.  I added no new Loyal3 positions this month. I did add a new position in Abbott Labs (ABT) in my Roth account using a free buy to seize the day as much as possible on the Brexit news.

Last month I brought in a total of $116.44 in dividends ($77.13 taxable, $39.31 Roth).  This is an increase from last year ($67.80 total) by 71.7%.  These amounts and the increase is as expected.  This is officially now my biggest month ever, which is really cool.

In terms of dividend increases, I realized four this month from Pepsi Co (PEP), Unilever (UL), Johnson and Johnson (JNJ), and Exxon Mobile (XOM).  The raises ranged from 2.4% to 15%.  Overall this is fairly successful growth.  Those are my favorite kind of raises.

Next month I will realize two dividend increases: CIBC (CM) and Realty Income (O).  The increases range from 0.5% 2.3%.

Thus far for 2016, I have realized 18 dividend increases, and after July it will be 20 total.  Boom.

July:

Our only long term debts are our cars and my wife's student loans, and her loan won't last the year.  I will continue next month to throw some extra money at her student loans and my car.  If we paid her student loans at the minimum rate it would take around 1 year to finish otherwise.  I have already gotten ahead on my monthly payments on my car and that will not stop as well.  Her student loan should be finished around September or October, if everything else remains constant.

Next month should produce around $85 in dividends, which is a 10% YOY increase.  On the Loyal3 front I will probably invest $200 on existing positions.  I am trying to pump up our safety net savings a little bit on the side as well, which is the reason for the slight edging down of Loyal3 investing, especially as we head into summer.

My portfolio page is currently up to date.

Hope everyone has a great July!
- Dividend Gremlin
- Long all stock tickers mentioned

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Recent Buy, June 2016

I <3 Travel Gremlin here to talk about a recent buy.  In about a week from now I leave for Europe, which will be great.  In between now and then a month will end and another will start; I will update my holdings and income in that time frame.  In the meantime things are really busy both at work and elsewhere in preparation for July 4th.  Plus I accepted a new job, which will start in August.  Needless to say, there are loads and loads of things going on so I'm going to make this one short.

Recently the "Brexit" gave a lot investors and banks some serious headaches, and people withdrew their money in a fury.  A bunch of people probably lost money and some folks are probably still running around like the proverbial headless chickens.  Long term investors, I hope you all got the memo and a little more of that pie.

Yesterday I added shares of Abbott Laboratories (ABT), which is a new position in my Roth account.  I bought 13.9 shares at $37.41 / share, with no commission.  The current yield is 2.74% (on current cost).

I am not going to dive to heavily into ABT's history, but suffice to know if you had held them and their spinoffs (like ABBV) since the 1980s, you'd be doing great.  I like their current valuation, which momentarily was made sweeter thanks to the voters in the UK, cheers on that.  ABT also is a healthcare stock, and I am really looking to increase my holdings in that sector

This was a rather small purchase, most of my money is currently busy wiping out debt, planning for Europe, or in my taxable investment account.  That account is going through a name transition due to my marriage stuff, so I decided to do what I could in my Roth at the time being.  So, expect at some point this position to be expanded upon.

What do you think of ABT?

I will update my portfolio page at the end of the month.

- Gremlin
- Long ABT

Friday, June 24, 2016

Loyal3 Buys, June 2016

Summer Heat Wave Gremlin here to talk about how I've been improving my portfolio via Loyal3.  It's an interesting time in the world right now, with all of the turmoil and the Brexit among other things.  One thing that I am fairly confident of, regardless of political situations, is that people and markets will continue to grow and expand in the long run.  For that reason I am not in a state of fear like the market was this Friday.  Rather I see it as an opportunity to invest - sadly my Loyal3 investments were done prior to this market upheaval.  Still I plan on putting some capital into the market as soon as possible to take advantage, but that is not what we are talking about here is it?  So let's get to it, what did I do?

I bought 3.2803 shares of YUM for $275, down from $360 or a 23% decrease.  This will add $6.04 to my forward annual income.  Definitely not my biggest investment month recently, but there is a lot going on right now in my life.  Summer is here, things are happening, life is being lived, and so it goes.  I am at moment less than 3 weeks out from a killer vacation and my wife has finished her school year.  On top of that I am looking at switching jobs, which should increase my (our) annual income significantly.  It will be great; debt will be crushed, money will be saved, and investments will be grown.  You heard it here first, really you read it and no one cares, except me.

Now a quick note on the Brexit.  This will effect the economy of the world - in some ways powerfully and others through just tiny ripples, though my advisement is to not trust the 'experts' on this.  Specifically experts advertising gloom and doom on either side of the issue.  Why?  Simple, we are in completely uncharted territory.  As a student of history, all I can say is that an event of this magnitude has not happened in recent history, at least a peacefully.  Truly it is so much more than that.  Sure plenty of times mirror this even in recent memory (S. Sudan, the break up of Yugoslavia, and even the dissolution of the League of Nations).  If you went back further than that to the dissolution of old empires after WWI, the fracturing of empires through the world in India, China, etc.  However, none of those were as all encompassing as the member states' relationship with the EU.

That being said, I would be remiss if I did not mention I still understand the move.  While I think it is shortsighted in terms of economics, it should remind USA folks that it was what we did.  As the phrase goes "don't tell me how to live."  That being said, economics may heal, but I do doubt they will ever be as strong as they were.

Either way, have a great weekend and regardless of wear you stand on that issue do get outside and enjoy the summer!

- Gremlin
- Long YUM

Friday, June 10, 2016

2016 Euro Call

Sports Gremlin here (I agree, poker is not really a sport, but its the closest thing there is next to Streaker Gremlin...).  Anyways, today begins my favorite sports tournament, the UEFA's European Football (Soccer) Championship.  Yes, despite the fact that the USA is hosting and in the Copa America right now, this is my preferred tournament.  Two reasons for that; one the Copa America will have no future impact on other tournaments, and two there is a special amount of history and drama in the Euros.  It is a tournament that can elicit rivalries that are centuries old, played out by guys who might even be paid by the same clubs all of a sudden against each other.  So below I have included a graphic showing the groups.


France in green represent the host nation, and the others in yellow are picks to move on to the next round (that does include France). 

I'd be lying if I did not think France has a huge advantage in this tournament, they do.  They are home, and they are really good.  The other usual suspects that have a chance at a deep run are England, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Italy, and Portugal.  All of those teams have strong talent pools.  The question is will teams like England, Belgium, Italy, and Portugal be able to turn their players' abilities and successes at the club level into something at the national level?  Germany has done it recently, and their progression should be noted for turning a team of individuals into cogs in the machine.  In fact Germany is probably the scariest team on this list; they lose any player and just call up their proverbial clone.  That's a nightmare to play against.

Also there a bunch of teams that are not at the same levels of the big fish, but are very dangerous squads in their own right.  In no particular order I would state these are Switzerland, Wales, Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic, Croatia, Austria, and Iceland.  To be fair, all of the teams in this tournament are good, which makes it a much higher quality field than the World Cup.  There are no slouches here.

So what is my prediction?  Well here it is:
1st / Winner - England.  This is a huge limb I am going out on, because they as a team are always a ticking time bomb of implosion. However, I do believe their early pool play versus Wales will put them in the right might set to conquer Europe once and for all. There qualifying campaign was also a gem.
2nd - France.  Home field advantage is huge, but I don't think it will be enough.
3rd - Poland. I think this is their year for a deep run, with a good team.
4th - Germany. Consistency is their thing, though I don't see a repeat this year of the World Cup.

Teams that will surprise with deep runs (dark horses):
Austria - This is a squad that can easily destroy the ambitions of a more seasoned squad.
Iceland - Its their first major tournament ever, they have nothing to lose.
Czech Republic - A quick look at their qualifying campaign and you will see this is not a fun team to play against.
Slovakia - Ditto of the Czechs.  If I were Russia and Wales, I would be really concerned in this field, the experts at ESPN and other places be damned.
Belgium - If they win their pool, I feel really bad for whoever gets the unhappy privilege of playing them.

What do you watch in the summertime?  Personally, I will be outside doing stuff for most of the games, but recording games using a DVR so I can enjoy them at night.

- Soccer Gremlin Out

Monday, June 6, 2016

Brewery Reviews for May 2016

Party Gremlin here to talk about some breweries.  This past May I was fortunate enough to make a trek out to Colorado, as part of that trek I got to sample some of work the locals are putting into their product.  Those in the know may appreciate this because Colorado is one of the best areas for micro / nano / whatever kind you want of brewing in the country - possibly only outstripped only by the Portland, Oregon in the USA.  In this post I will be reviewing two beer-hubs for the record.  That being said I am going to focus on the quality of the tour and the drinks, but I will attempt to stray too much into detail over specific beers.  The reason for that is twofold; first I cannot remember all of the names of the beers themselves and two because I want to try to discuss the breathe as well as depth (and there is only so much time).

Wynkoop, Denver, Colorado:

This was our first stop and coincidentally it was the first micro-brewery in the Denver area.  They do their work in the basement of their restaurant / pub, and do can and bottle their products for sale in the local area.  In my time sampling suds, I've been on a few tours of facilities.  This tour was one of the better tours as it gave a lot of history to the local area and ingredients that they use.  The importance here is everywhere you go the essential process is the same, but discussion of the history and ingredient list should and will be different.  On top of that a good tour should always provide samples, and guess what it does!

Now to the real business, now was their product?  I sampled approximately 6 different types.  Three beers really stuck out to me as being excellent.  The first is their imperial red ale; very strong in terms of taste and percentage.  Second is the milk stout; very smooth like a chocolate milk shake that would go down very well even on a hot summer day.  The third and final is their flagship IPA; it was not over hopped and the bitterness did jive very well with the other flavors of the beer.  These three represent the best of what I tried there.  I like a lot of different styles of beer, and its hard to find a place that does several well even if its a small sized operation.  I would recommend visiting here and give them a 4 out of 5 ranking.

http://www.wynkoop.com/

New Belgium, Fort Collins, Colorado:

From time to time, people come across gems, they take them out of the ground polish them and they become either very valuable or priceless.  I can honestly say that the city of Fort Collins and their New Belgium Brewery (NBB) are one of those rare gems.  To start, the tour was excellent.  Their equipment is also not entirely regular equipment.  NBB has a very strongly automated process, allowing them to effectively make a lot of different types of beer and then age them for long periods of time.  The backbone of this clearly comes from ownership that is very science oriented, which as a person with a science and engineering background is great to see.

I've never been to a major macro-brewing facility, in fact this and Sam Adams in Boston years ago are the closest I've ever been.  However, the process at NBB is such that it will allow for them to create a whole lot of different though in smaller batches. This is because the initial stages of brewing for almost all beers is very similar.  As we speak they are aging and conditioning dozens of different types of beer in all sorts of containers.

Now onto the important parts.  The tour does have beer on it, making it good - but the tour itself is great.  I've never said that before, I usually just listen for histories, ingredients, and then wait for samples.  This was not that tour.  The beer here is also great.  I've had plenty of NBB before, and some of the bigger ones are just good (even the best place may make something that does not click with me, it happens), but their special seasonal, limited release, and aged beers are phenomenal.  My two favorites I tried were one of their sour beers and a blackberry barley-wine.  All of what they had was good, and I also must add this is one of the first places I've been where I noticed a difference in how the beer tastes due to its freshness when being served.

All in all, 5/5.  If you're in the area, it'd be a mistake to not head here.

http://www.newbelgium.com/Beer/home

Have you tried any new flavors recently?
- Gremlin