x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Unsolicited internet advice offers little help

Offers of financial help abound on the internet

Aren't people nice? I suppose it's because my amateurishness and poverty of financial acuity is so transparent, but since I started this column back in June I have had a steady stream of e-mails offering me all kinds of help and advice. Some have even offered me cash, although I am cautioned by my more worldly colleagues that my win of US$750,000 (Dh2.75 million) in the 2010 "Euro-Afro Asian Sweepstakes Lottery International Program" might not be all it seems.

Personally, I prefer to take people at face value, but to be on the safe side I have e-mailed Ameen Mustafa Wazir in Malaysia for more details and confirmation that his programme is, as he insists, "promoted and sponsored by eminent personalities" including the Sultan of Brunei and Bill Gates of Microsoft. In fact, three quarters of a million dollars, or thereabouts, seems to be the going rate for the generosity of strangers. Imagine my surprise this week when I was contacted by "the Management of Halifax Bank London Office ... to congratulate and inform you that after the thorough review of your Inheritance/Contract Funds Transfer release documents in conjunction with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund Assessment Report, your file was forwarded to us for immediate transfer of a part-payment [of] $800,000 to your designated bank account".

Well, what tremendous good luck! I have, of course, taken the precaution of e-mailing for further details, though I was a little surprised to see that Dr Peterson Watts, the Head of International Transfer Dept at the Halifax, seems not to have a Halifax e-mail address. I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation; perhaps he is new to the company and the IT chaps haven't got round to setting him up yet. After all, if this really was an attempt at fraud, how utterly stupid and moronic would the fraudster have to be to hope to get away with kylgh_hrrs@yahoo.co.uk as a valid address for an international bank?

Far more practical and genuine help has been offered by an organisation calling itself the Private Equity Finance Institute - not, as you might think, PEFI, for short, but PEFIN. Why? Who knows. Perhaps they felt PEFI sounded a little too like the sort of onomatopoeiac word that René Goscinny, the creator of the Asterix books, might have used to represent a poorly repressed expulsion of flatulence by Gallic heavyweight Obelix after a particularly gut-testing feast of wild boar.

But I digress. PEFIN is concerned that I might lack "the hard skills needed in order to succeed in the highly competitive world of principal investing and investment banking". How very perceptive. Their solution - an 80-hour training programme - is, however, beyond me. It's not the price - $2,495 actually seems quite reasonable, and for only twice that I could have one-on-one tuition - and neither is it the location; night classes in Manhattan are clearly out of the question, but then the course can also be taken on the internet.

No, I fear the programme itself really is beyond me. The clue lies in the free gift dangled to tempt prospective students. If I had registered before Thursday, I would have become the proud though baffled owner of a "Hewlett Packard 12-C Platinum 25th Anniversary Edition Reverse Polish Notation Calculator, with a retail value of $104.99". What? I mean, I really have no idea what any of that means. And who knew there were calculators out there whose 25th anniversary was worthy of celebration?

And is that "Reverse Polish" as in nails, or as in the country and sour cabbage soup? If the latter, then it sounds like something for which a figure skater might get good marks: "Oh, I say, a masterful Biellmann Spin followed by a Lutz Jump, a Besti Squat and a Reverse Polish. The judges are going to like that!" Clearly, I am too financially challenged even to undergo remedial training - which is a shame, because I so obviously need it.

Which brings me, shuffling reluctantly like a naughty schoolboy called to the headmaster's study to account for his abysmal performance in his latest maths test, to developments in my portfolio. I knew walking out on Old Mutual, my single sure-fire stock, was a mistake; I also know that having a peek to see how it was doing without me would also be inadvisable. When I sold up last week, Old Mutual shares were at 138 pence each, which freed more than £16,450 (Dh95,360) for me to reinvest in the market. This week, I see, they have crept up to 139p, with the majority of brokers still voting them a buy.

Of my four new picks in the insurance sector - which, at the time, seemed like a sure thing - two have retreated into the red, and further than the other two have edged into the green, with the net result that my total holding is now down almost exactly £100, to a whisper over £16,000. It's not the end of the world, but it also isn't the dependable weekly rise to which I have become accustomed. What it does do, however, is give me an opportunity to play with one of the other toys in the Share Centre play box: the automatic stop-loss function. This pretty much does what it says - it gives you the ability to prevent a minor bleed becoming a traumatic haemorrhage while your back is turned. The variables are the price at which the system will sell out on your behalf and the number of days you want the order to remain in place.

Avia has been my worst performer, dropping 6 per cent from 423.9p a share to 398.6p, and so I have opted to bail out if the price drops to 380p a share any time over the next six days. The cool thing is I don't have to be there when it happens. In fact, I could be in Manhattan, buffing up my Reverse Polish. It could certainly do with a shine. jgornall@thenational.ae