Assessing the Risk of a Municipal Bond

September 2, 2015 by  
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By Phineas Upham

Municipal bonds offer a huge financial incentive to investors willing to pour money into their cities and states, but these bonds carry risk the same as any other loan. If investors want to profit from these loans, they need to assess the risk properly. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to do so outside of talking to a financial advisor.

Each bond comes with an agreement for repayment that is dependent on the type of bond it is.

General obligation bonds are widely considered the lowest risk bonds, and their repayment structure is based on good faith and credit from the borrower. Somewhat riskier are revenue bonds, which promise repayment based on future sources of income. If those projects don’t work out, or are never completed, that money is lost.

Assessment bonds also offer moderate risk because they are based on the values of properties located within the area, but those boundaries and tax rates can change.

Before an issuer can borrow, it needs to receive a credit rating. That requires an independent agency to rate that borrower. Currently, there are three agencies that do so in the United States:

  • Standard and Poor’s – A division of McGraw Hill Financial, which publishes research on stocks and bonds.
  • Moody’s – the bond/credit rating arm of Moody’s Corporation, which provides international investment services.
  • Fitch – With headquarters in New York and London, Fitch Ratings is considered one of the “Big Three” agencies in the space.

Traditionally, these bonds have extremely low rates of default because governments have the power to tax, and because of revenue from utility companies.

Phineas Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phineas Upham website or LinkedIn page.

Should You Buy A House With Just Cash?

August 24, 2015 by  
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Should You Buy A House With Just CashAccording to data supplier, RealtyTrac, the first quarter of 2014 yielded a 23.6% increase of all-cash deals pertaining to residential property sales compared to the prior year. There was a time when many people struggled to even afford a down payment. It looks as if the financial tides have turned, and a new trend has emerged.

The Pros of Buying With Cash

There are several pros to purchasing a home with cash. For one, you are a way more attractive buyer. If they know that you won’t have to go through applying for a mortgage, a deal could be finalized a lot quicker than normal.


Bargaining can be advantageous to you as the buyer. You are automatically put in a better position because the seller knows that as soon as they receive the money, they can put it to use right away towards damage control. Using this as leverage, many prospective homebuyers test the seller’s willingness to bargain.

No Mortgage Hassle

One of the reasons why you are paying with cash is to avoid the hassle of a mortgage. Not only will avoiding a mortgage give you peace of mind, but there will be no monthly fees, no closing costs, no lender interviews, etc. You avoid one of the single-highest bills that a homeowner faces in their lifetime.

If you are in a good financial position, it’s well worth taking a look at purchasing your home with cash.

Bio: Kuba Jewgieniew, CEO of Realty ONE Group, leads a real estate brokerage firm committed to providing agents the tools that they need to become more effective and build better client-agent relationships.


The Duties of Construction & Turnaround Services

August 4, 2015 by  
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Written by: Lyle Charles Consulting

Refineries schedule upgrades for years in advance, and they must be done under extremely tight time constraints. A plant manager must coordinate with construction & turnaround services to make sure every aspect of the project is completed in a timely fashion so work can resume. Every day the plant remains offline is a massive financial burden to the entire company. In order to minimize those potential losses, crews that specialize in certain kinds of construction are utilized.

How a Turnaround Works

Just like a structural steel expert is used to analyze the strength of materials before construction can begin, there are certain jobs that average crews just aren’t suited for. Revamping a refinery is a good example, typically because of the hazards involved in the process. Turnaround services have a background in responding to circumstances that require handling of hazardous materials or heavy equipment. These services are crucial in setting up certain workspaces, like lab clean rooms or refineries.

Special care must be taken in setting up ventilation systems or clean rooms that the average crew isn’t equipped to handle. In addition, certain testing or inspection might be required before a plant can become fully operational.

Other Needs

When a refinery undergoes a turnaround process, the aim is to complete the project as quickly as possible. It’s therefore possible that construction might happen independent of a turnaround at a nearby location. If an oil refinery has administrative offices near the plant, both buildings could receive a retrofitting at the same time.

Bio: Lyle Charles is an expert in the construction industry with more than 40 years of experience in commercial construction projects, including refinery turnaround services.

Phin Upham on Whether Regulation is Helping or Hurting Innovation

June 4, 2015 by  
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By Phin Upham

The concept of “FinTech” includes the word “tech” or technology. In order to have technology, you need innovation. Phin Upham eloquently summed up the challenge of regulation as a question of interpretation. Regulation is often well-meaning, and may have a positive effect. Banks today hold more cash in reserve than in the past, which better protects against a meltdown. However, consumers lose when banks refuse to lend to entrepreneurs and individuals with poorer credit.

So is the solution to cut regulation entirely?

How Much is Too Much

If one considers the payday loan industry of Russia, where data collection is part and parcel with the transaction, it’s easy to see where no regulation could go horribly wrong. Without regulation, what’s stopping a lender from selling your information to anyone? That information would go public, which could affect someone’s chances at getting a job or a place to live. In order to keep your lender from becoming a data broker, safeguards should be put into place that dictate what the lender can and cannot do with the details of your transaction.

Too much regulation, however, cripples innovation. Is this truly a bad thing? That’s left up to debate. Citi bank acknowledges that regulation has turned it into a slow-moving beast trying to catch up. However, the company also acknowledges that it invests in FinTech startups that are more agile and better equipped to deal with the changes coming to the world of finance. As long as smaller firms have a safe space to experiment and grow, innovation is still possible under heavy regulation but there will come a point where too much is too much.

About the Author: Phin Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or Twitter page.

Common Misconceptions Behind Wealth

February 5, 2015 by  
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By Phineas Upham

The wealthy are not lazy, nor are they greedy. Although some wealthy people do encompass those qualities, the vast majority strive to do good things with their wealth. Almost every major corporation on the Fortune 500 List is involved in giving back to its community in some form or another. Greed is one of many misconceptions about wealth that society must learn to overcome. Wealth is not to be feared, nor is it to be chastised. It’s something everyone can attain and all of us can do great things with.

There is Never Enough

One common belief for why people appear to be greedy is the presumption that there is never enough money one can earn. Otherwise, why would companies like BP strive to reduce losses and bring in higher profits year over year, even at the expense of workers?

The answer has to do with growth and fostering something. People can be stewards of money, or of organizations that produce money like corporations. How we use that money and wealth has huge effects across the social sphere. The accumulation of wealth is not done for the purposes of elevating the self, although individuals do benefit, it has to do with serving a community or a market.

Money Requires No Effort

It’s another misconception that the accumulation of wealth requires no real effort on the part of the wealthy. It actually requires great dedication to manage one’s wealth, and extreme discipline to spend it responsibly.

Phineas Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phineas Upham website or LinkedIn page.

Aristotle’s Thoughts on Money Lending

January 22, 2015 by  
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By Samuel Phineas Upham

The practice of money lending has a long history of hostility and unpopularity. The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about the subject of lending money, which he considered to be “unnatural,” throughout the first book of Politics. To Aristotle, moneylenders were not unlike parasites that leached from the people borrowing from their assets.

In Politics, Aristotle called usury the most hated form of moneymaking. He argued that money was intended to be used as a method of exchange, and that money that grew by itself from that exchange was a non-productive gain.

To understand what he meant by “non-productive,” we must delve into what the Greeks considered to be productive. For Aristotle, an orchard seemed a simple comparison to make. When someone lets someone else use an orchard, that orchard bears fruit. The orchard is productive, because the people responsible for it put the effort and time into growing the product to bear fruit. Money is not like an orchard, according to Aristotle, because it does not grow naturally of its own accord.

To further contextualize this belief, Aristotle also believed that there were no selfless acts. Every act, according to his teacher Plato, had some value to the user itself. Thus, money lending could not be considered philanthropic because the lender would invariably get a return. That return represented a selfish act.

Within this definition of usury, Aristotle leaves no room for money lending to be considered a noble practice. It is impractical, not producing assets on its own, and it is therefore morally imperceptible.

About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media & Technology group. You may contact Phin on his Samuel Phineas Upham website or Facebook.

Why Spending Money will Raise the Price of Your Home

September 26, 2014 by  
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Written by: Financial Haze

The old saying “spend money to make money” applies to real estate too. Any home owner will tell you that it’s a money pit, but the money you put into the home doesn’t just go into the ether. If you’re careful about how you spend, and what you do with your money, your investments into improving the home can have huge payouts later on.

Where You Spend Money Matters

You can’t avoid paying to repair water spots in a guest bedroom. Failure to do so could lead to mold and catastrophic problems with your respiratory system, but you can focus more money on rooms that do matter. Buyers tend to be wooed by kitchens, master bedrooms and bathrooms, so sellers would do well to focus improvements on these areas. What helps sell the look are new fixtures, reduced clutter, and an attractive space full of neutral colors. There are other improvements you can make specific to your property, but these are some general rules to keep in mind as you think about what to improve upon.

Set a Budget for Repairs

If you set an overall budget for your home, you’re likely to see a larger increase. There are two reasons this is likely to happen: you avoid over spending and you tend to make more intelligent purchases. If you have a ceiling of $15,000 to improve a property, you start isolating what you can do yourself and what requires a professional.

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Choosing to do some of this work yourself will save money, and allow you to tackle a greater range of improvements around the home.

Low Down Payment Properties

July 1, 2014 by  
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Many would-be homeowners don’t buy homes because they lack down payment funds. In some circumstances, the buyer can purchase a property with a lower down payment. It’s essential for the prospective homeowner to have good credit to make this strategy work.

Identification of these opportunities can require patience, but the rewards are substantial. Owning a home offers many financial rewards, including the opportunity to grow equity capital over time and mortgage interest deductions. Here are some thoughts about how to identify a low down payment opportunity:

Consult a Mortgage Broker

The low down payment buyer should evaluate a variety of loan programs offered by different lenders. A loan broker can assist the buyer by identifying good opportunities to buy real estate with a low down payment. Bring employment records, such as W-2 forms, bank statements, and credit reports from the three major credit reporting organizations (CROs). The buyer should have a good or better credit score, or a FICO score between 700 and 750.

Credit Errors and Resolution

Avoid starting the mortgage lender application process through a mortgage broker or with a lender if credit errors exist. Dispute any errors and present documentation to clear these problems from each or any of the CROs. Once the buyer’s credit profile(s) are accurate, meet with the mortgage broker or lender(s) to start the application process.

Mortgage Insurance

A low down payment of three to five percent requires the buyer to purchase mortgage insurance. This is an extra cost assessed to the homeowner each month. The lender asks a separate mortgage insurance company to underwrite this insurance to ensure that regular monthly mortgage payments are made.


Home sellers may offer to hold the buyer’s mortgage and offer beneficial down payment terms. Although these deals are rare, they do exist!

Kuba Jewgieniew is a data-driven professional who founded Realty ONE Group. Today, Realty ONE Group is one of the top ten brokerages in the USA.

All About Short Sales

May 15, 2014 by  
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Written by Phin Upham

Short sales are fairly common in the landscape of real estate today. A short sale property can be a great deal for a home buyer, but they require some patience to find just the right property. Investors love short sales because they can get the property at a slight discount. Here is how short sales work and why people use them.

Short Sales Defined

Short sales occur when the property sells for a price that is lower than what the home owner owes on the loan. A short sale is like a last chance for the buyer to avoid foreclosure. The lender needs to approve the sale, often selling the property at a loss.

Lender Approval

The reason for lender approval has to do with the loan amount. The lender is expected to sell the home at a substantial loss, which usually requires verification that the buyer can’t actually make the monthly payments on the property. Usually, this occurs when the owner has lost a job or suffered a pay cut. So the lender needs to determine if it makes financial sense to sell the property at a loss, as opposed to holding onto it in foreclosure.

When to Short Sale

When a home owner can no longer pay his mortgage, he has two choices. He can attempt to renegotiate the loan with adjusted payments, or he can attempt a short sale on the home. The borrower stands to take a hit to his credit report on a foreclosure, which incentivizes the short sale. Put another way, it’s often better for both the lender and the borrower to get rid of the property as quickly as possible. A short sale is a good method for doing this.

Phin Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham

The History of Chevron

May 2, 2014 by  
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Written by Phin Upham

Chevron is the fifth largest energy supplier in the world. Its operations include oil and gas production, prospecting, marketing and refining. It also manufactures chemicals, and it is the largest supplier of geothermal energy currently in existence.

Standard Oil was an American oil company co-founded by John D. Rockefeller. By the time it became an established corporation in 1870, it was America’s largest oil corporation. However, Standard Oil was dissolved as an illegal monopoly in 1911. At the time, it was called one of the “Seven Sisters” of oil production.

Chevron’s history has been successful since a 1938 agreement in Saudi Arabia that allowed the company to prospect there. They ended up finding the world’s largest oil fields, which forced them to open a subsidiary. The company was American owned until 1988, when Saudis purchased shares in the subsidiary and transferred ownership.

But Chevron was already growing larger by then. In 1984, the company merged with Gulf Oil. The deal was so big that Gulf Oil had to sell off all of its subsidiaries and an entire refinery based in the United States. Once it had met the US antitrust requirements to complete the deal, they formed the largest corporate merger of the time.

The company grew again when it merged with Texaco, creating a new entity called ChevronTexaco. The name changed back to Chevron shortly after the merger, to try and represent unity in the company’s values.

Phin Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham

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