Back in his schooldays, Mr Henry Leong Him Woh was unable to master mathematics to the satisfaction of his teacher.
How things have changed. As a self-taught stock investor, he is all about data, numbers and charts, remembering some of his investments down to the tiniest detail years after the stock was sold.
A night-shift worker in the security industry, Mr Leong, 55, spends all his waking hours studying the stock market and catching the slightest movements in share prices.
In the old days, he would visit the National Library to go through volumes of data, or monitor stock movements on tickers in banks. Now he uses his iPhone and laptop.
"The Internet has made it so much easier," he said, smiling.
Life has not always been easy for Mr Leong, who has come a long way from his days as an asthmatic child who woke up at 4am every day of the year to help his mother at her hawker stall before school, and again after school. At the end of the day, he slept on a cardboard sheet in the corridor outside the family's crowded one-room rental home.
As a young man, he did odd jobs to make ends meet, but his fortunes changed after he was offered a job as a printing press technician at Singapore Press Holdings.
The salary during his two-year tenure gave him enough money to buy his first HDB apartment and get married.
About the same time, he was introduced to the stock market where he found his calling. There has been no looking back for the father of two boys since.
Q Moneywise, how were your growing up years?
A Life was tough. My father died when I was a little boy.
We were a large family crammed into a one-room rental flat in Mattar Road.
Money was tight. Every day, I would wake up early to help my mother at the hawker stall before going to school. I would get daily meals and sometimes $2 or $3 as pocket money. After my O levels, I started working odd jobs, while completing my technical education. I worked at bicycle repair shops or hawker centres for a daily wage, and in hotels for the tips.
Q How did you get interested in investing?
A It was back in 1990, when a friend introduced me to the stock exchange. He took me to meet a remisier, who helped me open a trading account. I bought my first shares with the money I had saved up from my bonus and overtime pay.
The first stock I bought was a high-end equity of a famous firm. But I soon realised that big names do not always give big returns. I started reading up on the stock market and improved on my basics.
Within two years, I quit my job and plunged into stock trading full time. I made tens of thousands in the next six years.
I also invested in property by buying and selling property to make small profits, and reinvesting.
Q Describe your investing strategy?
A I usually invest in undervalued stocks - buy below the value and sell high. Small-cap investments are preferable because of the low capital outlay. I usually put less than 8 per cent of my capital in a single counter at any one time.
I read the annual reports first to go through a company's five-year data before I buy the stock. Stock markets are cyclical by nature, and over time, one can gauge their movements fairly well.
While homework is a must, knowing when to sell is key.
I have also devised my own methods, after reading the investment strategies of great investors like Warren Buffett and so on, to study stock movements and decide when to buy and sell.
I am not the quick-buy-quick-sell type of trader; it causes a lot of stress. I would rather study the stock's basics, go through its history, the company's health and then trust my instincts.
Analysing charts also gives me an idea of whether a stock will move higher than its present price. I do not go for dividends; there is not much money in them.
I regularly go to annual general meetings and extraordinary general meetings to find out the quality of the management and discuss various ways to enhance shareholder value with them.
There is a lot to learn and share by asking questions.
Q What is in your portfolio?
A My portfolio currently has a mix of stocks and property worth around $400,000.
Most of my money is in property stocks, in companies like Perennial Holdings. Property stocks form 50 per cent of my investments.
Besides this, I have invested nearly 35 per cent in the technology sector and another 10 per cent in companies in the manufacturing sector.
I have a background in technical education and have dabbled in property transactions, which give me an added advantage to understand the market for such companies.
I also have stocks in companies like Singapore eDevelopment, Sunlight Holdings, Soon Lian, Lorenzo International and so on. Currently the market is down, so my portfolio has dropped a bit, and I am cautious with the investments.
Q What does money mean to you?
A The value of money is decided by the way we use it. It is good when we use it to start a family, educate our children and donate to charity, but it is bad when it is used to gamble, smoke and drink.
So just having money is not enough - how you use it is more important.
Q What is the most extravagant thing you have done?
A I would say the most extravagant spending was a fortnight-long holiday in 10 European countries in 1992. I travelled all by myself and spent around $7,000. It was a huge amount back then, but it was worth it for the experience.
Q How are you planning for your retirement?
A I don't think the word "retirement" applies to me. I have always been an investor and I consider that my full-time job.
I work only because I have daily expenses to meet - with a family and two school-going kids to look after - but the bulk of my income is generated from stock trading.
I spend my free time learning about stocks and studying charts, which is something I will do all my life. So, the question of retiring does not arise.
When my children grow up and start working, I will be a full-time investor. Of course, in future, I could move in with my children and rent out my current house. But that will not stop me from investing.
I will never retire from the stock market.
Q Home is...
A A three-room HDB flat in Upper Boon Keng.
Q I drive...
A I do not own a car. I could not pass the driving test even after multiple attempts.
Worst and best bets
Q What has been your biggest investment mistake?
A My biggest mistake was in 1997, when I lost over $100,000 after I leveraged heavily to make quick money. I wanted to get married and needed to buy a house first. So I threw caution to the wind and bought a lot of equity, which did not perform according to my expectations. The losses got me into debt.
But, by 1998, I saw the buy signal again. I put my money in stocks and warrants when the market had bottomed out. Fortunately, the market recovered and I got back a substantial part of my losses. I paid up my debts and bought that house.
Q What has been your best investment move?
A Some of my best investments were in companies like Acer, Giken Sakata and Low Keng Huat, to name a few. They were the ones I traded in quite a lot because of the quality of their management teams. Some gave me a few hundred per cent return on my investment.
The Acer stock I bought in 1997 gave me the best returns. I bought Acer for 4.5 US cents, and sold for 85.5 US cents. Within seven months, I made 19 times the money I had invested.
This article was first published on Oct 16, 2016.
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