Money Making Scheme #1- Selling used books on Amazon

Canny believe it is ten years since I began trawling local charity shops for rare books.

I’d like to claim that I dreamt up the idea of flipping books. Instead it was picked up from a fellow offshore colleague. The premise is simple arbitrage- Seek out low costs books, check the prices online, list and sell them via Amazon or eBay.

What began on a wet and windy Sunday afternoon in the Roman walled city of Chester’s would grown into a profitable operation.

The back bedroom

In the years before smartphones became common place I had to take down the ISBN numbere, note the condition of the book and then key this manually into Amazon’s SellerCentral. It was a time consuming process and was liable to errors and mistakes.

The Lockup

After a few months at it my collection had outgrown my room and I went in search of premises. I found a garage belonging to a window who was advertising it for rent for £50/month. I signed up on a rolling lease and began attending library sales at Manchester University. Here I struck the goldmine of used textbooks which still to this day continue to sell well.

As my inventory grew so did my vision. I purchased a pallet load of 1,000 books unfortunately many were penny fiction. In the Amazon book world- basically worthless.

The biggest score in this era was unearthing a collection of rare first edition martial art books including several Alistair Crowley’s. Despite reeking of cigarettes they sold well and it was all profit as they were sourced via Freecycle.

Powering down

Like most side hustles the 9-5 can get in the way and I shuttered the garage and let my Amazon account go dormant. Once in Aberdeen I got the smartphone scanner humming again. However many charity shops had got wise to the game and scan their books before they hit the shelves the same shops also sell online.

Game over

So despite a decade on the platform. My account was closed at the back end of 2019. A run of poor feedback shut it meaning my days as an Amazon seller are over. Several appeals later to SellerCentral have all fallen on deaf ears.

This is a timely reminder of not to have all your Easter eggs in one basket !

Money Making Scheme #4- Matched Betting

As followers of black gold will know- the oil and gas industry has a tendency to (every decade or so) shit the proverbial bed.

Whilst going through the formalities of a 2016 redundancy round. (oil at 25 USD/bbl) I came across Matched Betting…

They say necessity is the mother of invention and after applying for work at the local cycle shop, Lidl, Aldi and the Royal Mail sorting office. I was down to something like a last resort.

I’m not going to run through all the nuances of rules and tips. It’s been covered here. Feel free to head over to Profit Accumulator when you get serious.

Let’s break it down. Essentially, the matched bit comes from covering your bet over at the exchange-this to the initiated is know as laying.

Say you bet on Manchester United to beat Manchester City in the local derby at Coral. Over at Betfair you would pay the bet staking on a draw or defeat for the reds. You make your bank from the sign up offers which bookies us to entice suckers/ punters onto their platform.

Once you get your spreadsheet game in order its as simple as rinse and repeat. BetFred, Coral, PaddyPower, SkyBet the list goes on…

Word to the wise prepare to be on the bookies email list and likely GCHQ’s until the next Millennium.

Pro tip – setup a separate email address for your Matched Betting antics. This form of compartmentalisation also works for bank accounts ..to funnel your ill gotten gains into…(!)

Tldr:

Matched better us just another form of arbitrage.

My experience was to finish up a couple of grand. A squeaky bum moment when a wager with Bet365 went array. I ended up having £300 in the wind until Galatasary scored in the dying seconds against Anderlecht.

Who knew gambling could be so much fun. 😅

Click here for more moneymaking schemes.

Money Making Scheme #2- (Energy) Stock Investing

Generic nodding donkey image.

I

Stock picking has mushroomed in popularity during the lockdown. Many of the major trading platforms have reported a spike in signups.

My own journey with active investing began in 2010 when I inherited 50 Rolls-Royce shared.  The beleagued company faced bankruptcy back in ’73 and as recently as 2015 saw its share price beaten down.

In November of that year I took the opportunity to sink £1000 into 200 or so shares. With Captain Warren East newly installed at the helm I was confident in a turnaround.

Over the ensuing years I watched the share price tick up to the heady heights of £10. Heinsight is always 20-20 and this is where I should have bailed out of the engine maker. I held- in part due to nostalgia and being clouded by the passive investing philosophy of buy and hold forever.

Nevertheless, when the pandemic hit Rolls-Royce has remained by only stock holding. The others Apache, Rockhopper, BAE systems had all fallen by the wayside in the intervening yeas as I refocused on the passive approach.

II

”You never go broke taking a profit”

Work in oil and gas? Here’s why you should avoid taking a punt on industry shares.

I’ve been trying to figure out why investing in oil stocks is so attractive to DIY investors. I have three theories-

1)They see the industry as sexy. Popular portrayals in Dallas and more recently the BBC adaption of the giant Ekofisk discovery have caused this admiration in our collective psyche.

2) Exploration companies tell a compelling narrative. We can all understand a big oil strike if not on a technical level then on an emotional one. The well life cycle from shooting seismic to spudding the well. All can be put in plain language and makes great reading in the Sunday Papers.

3) This one holds a grain of truth. Oilers are more likely than Amazon, DuPont and IBM to be a ten bagger. Explorers are often minnows in comparison and a big well coming in can been explosions in prices leading to a tidy profit. e.g Gulf Keystone, Premier Oil and Faroe Petroleum to name a few…

What is your edge?

Often life and in investing the truth is close to the source. Hurricane Energy contractors had an edge when they watched production flow from the fractured basement.

No doubt some made off like bandits. The chaps who put £30k into Premier Oil on a mates trip. Not so much.

Looking back

When I started in Aberdeen as a still wet behind the ears mudlogger. I pumped all my employer pension contributions into JPMorgan’s Natural Resources fund…. The performance was for want of a better word….Shit.

Thankfully I eventually saw the passive investing light. By stumbling across Barney the escape artist. JLCollins and Mr Mm. I was able to course correct

In retrospect my thinking was off from the get go. Although it often makes sense to follow the adage invest in what you know. This was a case of not shitting where you eat.

Final rules:

1) Don’t believe the hype from the explorers. They often give themselves sexy names (remember the cigarette companies.)

2) Always run the numbers. Why not talk to your friendly neighbourhood hood geologist. 👇

3) Use 1% of your portfolio for these moon shot speculative bets. As Rico Ferri says ‘when the fun money is gone- stop’

The reality is your pension is already weighted to oil and gas majors -BP and Shell. Why take extra risk?

Did you ride any oil stocks to the moon? Or any deepwater disaster stories? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Two Decades Later: On Writing / Stephen King/ Book Review

Writing and the pleasure I take in it has contributed to the stability of my health and home life

It’s 20 years since King released On Writing.

I have to say I slept on it until it was mentioned in a recent Joe Rogan interview with Jack Carr.

I began with some trepidation could King cast the same spell with non-fiction? The answer A resounding- Yes!

On Writing is part autobiography, grammar lessons and above all inspiration for the budding writer. We follow King through the little league magazines all the way to Hodder + Stoughton. He builds real empathy and we gain rare insight into the creative process which brought the world- The Stand, Misery and The Shining.

For those new to King there are some plot spoilers littered throughout the narrative. These can be safety skimmed over.

The book can be boiled down to three key ideas-

1) Writing is a joyful process.

2) Good writers can with application can become great. On the flip side poor writers struggle to become good.

3) To get published you need to nurture a network.

The takeaway which will stick with me is building a little red truck. King uses this as an analogy for a safe space where you can escape- free from distraction to produce your best work.

The idea is you use this sacred space to take out your toolbox. Which contains various layers of equipment- grammar, narrative, characters and to a lesser extent plot. A degree of isolation is required here…the first draft should be with the door closed…the latter open to the world.

So what’s all this about joy? Slogging away at the SEO recommended 2800 words…fun?

It’s not the…

a) the several thousand dollar advances b) the fan-mail or hate mail or c) the blockbuster movies.

The joy for King and I suspect many writers is going on a journey with a character. The endgame is far from certain almost as if you were staring at a foggy AA Atlas without Google Maps to take you to the final destination.

“Never tell us a thing if you can show it.”

The tale of his infamous accident features in the 3rd part lived up to all my expectations. It is chilling to read how close the great man came to death which would have denied us – the Shawshank Redemption, IT and Salem’s Lot.

For those looking for quick hints and tips the book delivers-

1) Make sure you have an Ideal Reader (IR) to sense check your first draft.

2) Get 1,000 words down every day.

3) Read, read and read some more. Chances are you will pick up ideas for your own”slow cooker” and notice a few clangers which you can sidestep.

So are great writers born or can they be fashioned from college or the online seminar meat grinder? In Kings view it is very difficult to go from awful to good…but there is a path from good to great.

The narrative highlights the importance of a strong network. What good is penning the latest Ulysses if there is not publisher at the end of the line with a red pen in hand?

On Writing is quite simply a joy to read. It will inspire and leave you wanting to delve further into King’s delightful back catalogue.

“Writing is like fossil hunting…a process of uncovering the truth”

Next up The Stand !

Blowout Book Review

‘It is easier to deal with one family, one man, one dictator’ – industry saying.

Rachel Maddox’s foray into the murkey world of oil and gas is a tour de-force- bringing together the fracking, Russian geopolitics and big finance.

The familiar drum beat of poisened water wells, boom and bust and catastrophic spills going back decades. This is the first time I’ve seen it brought together in a compelling narrative which is accessible to the general public.

Much of the material here will be familiar to industry insiders. The history of Fracking is dealt with deftly. The damage it has wrought to the environment is writ large alongside the fortunes made and lost.

The lengths the American governments went to ensure energy security through nuclear explosions will shock and alarm many. 40 or so years later the vision has been realised -energy independence has been achieved.

Big personalities bring the narrative to life. From the fabled rise of Mitchell energy through the pioneering work of Nick Steknsberger to horizontal drilling. Maddox manages to sprinkle a little bit of oil and gases manifest destiny across the pages.

We come to understand the innate gambles that explorers on each technology, project and well take. There are no guarantees, no promises that oil will be found. The risk of implosion both economic and personal comes across in the truly tragic life of Chesapeake founder Aubery McClendon.

Our journey begins on an unassuming forecourt in New Jersey. At what could have been a new dawn for Russian-American relations. Amid the gleaming pumps and newly pressed uniforms the diminutive figure of Vladimir Putin enters the stage.

The reader can almost taste the brugening sense of possibility and the chance to finally bury the proverbial cold war hatchet. Putin quickly becomes the master of background deals, expropriation of of assets across his empire, all the while cementing himself as dictator in perpetuity. (reference Julius Ceaser)

One of the main strengths in Maddox’s approach is how quickly she moves between topics. The narrative never gets bogged down on one character or theme keeping the reader on their toes and building momentum.

It’s clear how black gold keeps the Russian economy running. Putin is acutely aware of this reliance a vulnerability he shares with the leaders in so called ‘banana republics’ abroad.

Rewinding to the early chapters John D’s rise as the preeminent robber Barron’s of the era is drawn in large brushstrokes. For further reading Chernow’s Titan is well worth seeking out.

I love how Maddox weaves the dissaperate strands into a rich tapestry. Nothing is hammered home, no point overly laboured. She gives the reader room to make connections between the powers at play.

British readers will also enjoy the discussion on Oklahoma a city which will forever be connected to the 1996 bombing. There are parallels here with the recovery and resurgence after the Manchester Arndale bombing.

Residents in Aberdeen will also be familiar with the story of broken promises, mothballed projects and an overriding sense of lost /squandered opportunity.

The sector has always been and remains the stomping ground of many a big personality. Aubrey McLendon, Mitchell and lesser knoe Yukos found all feature heavily. Again there are books which delve deeper The Frackers by Greg Zuckerman is a great example.

Howard Hamm is another who bet the farm and made it all the way to the top of the capatalism mountain. All the larger than life characters share a little magic- the ability take risk- posseses with boundless energy to succeed.

In the final analysis McClendon comes off worst. He throws good money after bad in a vain attempt to recapture the heady heights of market cap/ share price dominance.

ExxonMobil doesn’t exactly come out of the book smelling of roses. The oil and gas beamoth carved out of Standard Oil prefers to deal with tin pot dictatorships. In some ways who can blame them. With paypackets linked inextricably to the quarters results: why would you care or invest in smaller nations half a world away?

As ever the small details- McClendons penchance for fine wine and an the equatorial guineas Playboy’s Jacko memorabilia add light relief. The western reader may be shocked but not suprised to learn of the growing infant mortality.

The curse of oil flows through Blowout and leaders today would do well to learn the lessons.