Holyland Trip Report – Israel –Nazareth, Cana, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and Bethlehem (Day 3)

Nazareth, a major cultural center with a population of 60,000 is the largest Arab city with a sizable Christian population. Plaza Hotel (4-star) in Nazareth lived up to its rating with a pleasant view overlooking the historical old city of Nazareth. The buffet spread was sumptuous with choices in beef, chicken, fish, salads, and desserts. The tour groups are served dinner together at a given time-slot. The breakfast buffet the following morning also had variety with yogurt, cheese, cereal, milk, rolls, and coffee – for the entire trip, theirs was the best coffee.

Jesus spent his boyhood days in Nazareth. Our first stop was at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation (announcement of the incarnation by the angel Gabriel to Virgin Mary). In Nazareth there are 18 churches of the Annunciation. Eastern Orthodox believes this particular church is located over the spring where Mary first heard Gabriel’s voice. The church rebuilt in the 18th century has an underground chapel from the medieval era containing the spring. Mary’s well, done in 2000 and located 150 yards away, fed by the waters of this spring is a symbolic reconstruction of this. Located adjacent (650 m) is the Roman Catholic’s Church of the Annunciation which according to them is established at the site of the Annunciation. This large and impressive modern church referred to as the Basilica of the Annunciation designed by Italian architect Giovanni Musio and raised between 1959 and 1969 is over earlier Byzantine and Crusader-era churches. Its imposing dome dominates the Nazareth skyline and sports stained-glass windows throughout the bare stone walls. Inside its lower level is the Grotto of the Annunciation which the faithful believe as the remnant of the childhood home of Mary. The few dozen pictures donated by Christian communities around the world is definitely a joy to behold. Bordering the Basilica of the Annunciation and connected by a courtyard is St. Joseph’s Church, aka Joseph’s workshop. This church built in 1914 on the foundations of a Crusader church has a cavern in the basement believed to have been Joseph’s carpentry shop.

Twenty minutes north-east of Nazareth is the Church of Cana (Kafr Kanna also Khirbet Cana) where it is believed Jesus performed his first miracle – turning water into wine at a wedding. The location is disputed with Kafr Kanna being revered as the time-honored probable site as indicated by ancient graffiti. However, recent excavations have uncovered ruins of a Jewish village from the time of Jesus about a km away fueling speculation the biblical Cana location could be there. The present church built over an older church between 1879 and 1883 has two levels – the upper chapel has a beautiful dome and the lower chapel has ancient artifacts from the site including an old jar believed to be one among the six jars used for the miracle. A popular gift for folks back home is the wedding wine sold in souvenir bottles in the shop there – 200 ml bottles travel-packed in four for $10 along with bigger bottles and packs were available. Our tour group had thoughtfully arranged a “wedding vow renewal ceremony” at the courtyard of this church. About 30 minutes south of Cana is the approach road to Mount Tabor, the location of the Church of Transfiguration. The place also has the Eastern Orthodox monastery and offers breathtaking views of Jezreel Valley. Visit there can take more than half a day.

About 120 km (less than 2 hours) south-west of Cana on the Mediterranean Coast is Tel Aviv, an excellent modern city on par with European cities. Not being a religious city, it is natural to catch action during Sabbath. Our tour-bus rolled past Tel Aviv (beautiful beaches) into the old city of Jaffa and parked by a hill near the shore. Jaffa is one of the oldest port cities of the world known to have been inhabited from around 7,500 BC era. The promenade is wonderful with sweeping views of the Mediterranean and Tel Aviv. Jaffa is referenced multiple times in the Bible including St. Peter’s resurrection of the widow Tabitha in the New Testament (Acts of the Apostles 9:36-43). St. Peter’s Church of Jaffa (Japho also Joppa) is located there. The current church was built between 1888 and 1894 over a church first built in 1654 as dedication to St. Peter. The church with the bell tower positioned for seafarers serve as a beacon to locate the Holy Land. Jaffa also has importance because of the following four references in the Hebrew Bible:
  • One of the cities given to the Hebrew tribe of Dan (Book of Joshua 19:46),
  • Port of entry for the cedars of Lebanon for Solomon’s temple (2 Chronicles 2:15),
  • Jonah left for Tarshish from the port of Jaffa (Book of Jonah 1:3), and
  • Port of entry for the cedars of Lebanon for the second temple of Jerusalem (Book of Erza 3:7)
Bethlehem is around an hour south-east of Jaffa past Palestinian check-points in the Jerusalem border – giant separation walls dot the landscape around the area. Lunch in Bethlehem was at a buffet restaurant with a view and a respectable spread. The first stop in Bethlehem was at the Church of Nativity, one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world, believed to have been built over the cave that was the birthplace of Jesus. The first basilica was built by Queen Helena (mother of Emperor Constantine) around 327 AD but was burnt down in the Samaritan Revolt of 529 AD. The present structure built in 565 AD by the Emperor Justinian I is currently administered by three groups – Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolic authorities. The basilica is entered through the “Door of Humility”, an especially low door and features a striking variety of different lamps throughout. The grotto is approached through winding stairs and leads to the original place of birth beneath the altar – a silver star marks the spot believed to be the birthplace of Jesus. The star has 14 points; a symbolical representing 14 generations from creation to Abraham, Abraham to David, and from David to Jesus and to the left is a manger. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem celebrating the midnight mass on Christmas Eve at the adjacent Church of St. Catherine is broadcast all over the world.

A few minutes walk from Manger Square is the Milk Grotto. It is believed a drop of milk fell on the stone while Mary was nursing Jesus and turned it white. Christians and Muslims both trust scrapings from the stones in the grotto enhance fertility. It is also supposed to be the burial site of Herod’s slaughter of male children. Next to Bethlehem is the Palestinian village of Beit Sahour where the Roman Catholics and the Greek Orthodox have their own Shepherds’ Fields. The modern Franciscan church is designed to resemble a shepherds’ tent while the Greek Orthodox site is a 5th century church built over a cave. The Greek Orthodox site has a total of five churches. The natural cave church dates back to the 4th century and is the earliest Christian structure on the site. 

The day wound up with some shopping time at a Christian store in Bethlehem. Pricing at the store was not exceptional. Better pricing can be found at the many curio factories around Bethlehem and for those savvy at bargaining, the street vendors are the best bet – case in point, the street vendors have menorahs priced from $5 to $10 depending on size compared to upwards of $30 for a good quality version at the store. Our stay for the next three nights was at the 7-Arches hotel located at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem – excellent location with a great view of the city – it is an older 3-star hotel. The dinner buffet menu was decent with good quality desserts and the coffee was average.




 Related Posts:

  1. Holyland Trip Report - Jordan - Mount Nebo, Madaba - Day 1.
  2. Holyland Trip Report – Israel - Yardenit, Tiberias, Tabgha, Cappernaum, Ginosar, Sea of Galilee (Day 2).
  3. Holyland Trip Report - Israel - Nazareth, Cana, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and Bethlehem (Day 3).
  4. Holyland Trip Report - Israel - Jerusalem (Day 4).
  5. Holyland Trip Report – Israel – Jerusalem, Jericho, Dead Sea (Day 5).
  6. Holyland Trip Report – Egypt – Red Sea, Sinai (Day 6).
  7. Holyland Trip Report – Suez Canal, Cairo - Day 7.
  8. Holyland Trip Report - Old Cairo - Day 8.
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  10. Holyland Trip - Jordan - Other Sites
Last Updated: 12/2012.

Alaouites - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile

Alaouites (Alawite State) was a League of Nations mandated French Territory from September 2, 1920 to September 22, 1930. It was renamed as the Sanjak of Latakia in 1930. It is located in present-day western Syrian coast. The area had a total land area of 2500 square miles and a population of around 278,000 in 1930. France occupied Syria following World War I (WWI) and the Alawite Territory was autonomous at the time. On July 1, 1922, it was incorporated into French Syria. The territory became an independent state administered under the French Mandate in 1923.

Philatelic Profile:

Alaouites started issuing stamps in 1925 and stamps were issued until the territory was renamed Latakia. Latakia in turn was disestablished on December 5, 1936 and the area was fully incorporated into Syria. Syrian stamps superseded Latakia stamps in the area from 1937 onwards. Alaouites did not issue any stamps in original design. All the stamps were overprints on original issues of France or Syria.

The first stamps of Alaouites were a set of fifteen stamps issued in 1925 that ‘Alaouites’ overprints on issues from several long running French sets from the turn of the century till around 1937.  The designs from the sets that were used for the overprints include two Sower designs, the Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity allegory, and the Liberty and Peace allegory. The set (Scott #1 to #15) of fifteen stamps catalogs for around $70 MNH and slightly more for Used. A sister set of six stamps on the Louis Pasteur set (Scott #185 to #196) of twelve stamps of France that ran between 1923 and 1936 were also released. That set (Scott #16 to #21) catalogs for around $15 MNH and a little more for Used. Used covers featuring the first issues catalog upwards of $50.

The first overprints on Syrian stamps were a set of thirteen stamps issued on March 1, 1925 that were ‘Alouites’ overprints on stamps from the Syrian Local Scenes set (Scott #173 to #185). The set (Scott #25 to #37) catalogs for around $25 MNH and around $30 Used. The designs show Mosque at Hama, View of Merkab, View of Alexandretta, View of Hama, Omayyad Mosque of Damascus, Latakia Harbor, View of Damascus, View of Palmyra, View of Kalat Yamoun, Bridge of Daphne, View of Aleppo, and Columns of Palmyra. A few other surcharge overprints of 1926 and 1928 complete the entire stamp issues of Alouites. A complete set of stamps can be relatively easily acquired. Varieties that include inverted and double overprints are a good collectible option although valuations for those items are upwards of $10 each. Color varieties on the overprints (Red, Black, or Blue) are another option. Here again, certain color overprints fetch a premium in the $10 range while others catalog for only a very slight premium over the common overprint colors.

Last Updated: 12/2015.

Rovi Corporation (ROVI) - Stock Analysis

Rovi Corporation (ROVI) was founded in 1983 as Macrovision Corporation. Its co-founder John O. Ryan was the inventor of analog copy-protection (ACP) technology for video, which along with derivative versions were extensively used in commercial VHS videos, including by major Hollywood releases. Read more at Seeking Alpha...


Holyland Trip Report – Israel - Yardenit, Tiberias, Tabgha, Cappernaum, Ginosar, Sea of Galilee (Day 2)

Israel, a land bridge between Asia, Europe, and Africa, is a small country with land area slightly less than 8000 square miles (263 miles north to south and 9 to 71 miles west to east). Its diverse geography can be partitioned into four:
  • Western Mediterranean Coast which includes the Sharon Plain and the Philistine Plain,
  • Middle range mountains hugging the Lebanese border which consists of areas of upper Galilee, lower Galilee, Nazareth, etc.,
  • Jordan rift valley comprising of the Dead Sea, Jordan River, and parts of the Sea of Galilee mostly below sea level (Dead Sea at 420 m below sea level is the lowest point in the world), and
  • Negev Desert covering 4,633 sq miles in the south.
Mountains climb 200 m above sea level in the lowland Mediterranean, up to 600 m in the middle and lower Galilee, 1200 m in the upper Galilee, and 2500 m around Mount Hermon (Israeli controlled Golan Heights).

We entered Israel crossing Jordan River through the Sheikh Hussein Bridge between Irbid, Jordan and Beit She’an, Israel. Beit She’an is located between the Jordan River valley and Jezreel valley. The Jezreel and Beit She’an valleys are the farming strongholds of Israel. Our route to Yardenit, the baptismal site on the Jordan River, was through the Jordan River Valley (Yarden stands for Jordan or Jordan River in Hebrew). As the original site is a military zone, this is an alternate location with a fully commercialized tourist facility built and maintained by the Kibbutz Kinneret in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism (established 1981). Originally a collective community based on agriculture, Kibbutz has since branched out to other economic areas including tourism, industry, and high-tech enterprises. Architect Danny Bar Kama designed the main facility as a nave of a church. The approach is gorgeous with a limestone pathway flanked by olive trees and date palms, complete with a barrel vault arch and a wall with water and three fountains representing the three main tributaries of the Jordan River. The wall on the right border of the pathway, “The Wall of New Life” designed by Armenian artist Hagop Antreassian, is inscripted with verses Mark 1:9-11 from the Bible in several languages -

"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove, and a voice came from heaven; "Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased."

“The Wall of New Life” moniker is based on the belief that with baptism, one becomes a new person as stated in the verse Cor 5:17 -

"Therefore, If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."

The welcome center at Yardenit houses a gift shop, a mini baptismal site and a restaurant which serves among other things the traditional St. Peter’s fish. Past the welcome center are the baptismal pools and changing rooms. Barring the religious holiday of Yom Kippur (the day of atonement), the site is open all days from 8AM - 5PM (Mar - Nov) and from 8AM - 6PM (Dec – Feb), with shortened hours on Fridays (4 PM), and on the eve of certain holidays (1 PM) for Passover,  Jewish New Year, and Independence Day. We found the gift shop at the site more expensive than those at Bethlehem and Jerusalem, although Yardenit branded items were readily available in this store.

Lunch was at the Tiberias seaside restaurant, around 20 minutes north of Yardenit along the Sea of Galilee coast – quality par excellence for setting, food and service – St. Peter’s Fish, rice and pita bread, accompanied with a variety of salads, and dates for dessert. “St. Peter’s Fish” (tilapia) gets its name from the biblical passage of Mathew 17:24-27 –

When Jesus and his disciples came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax (two-drachma) came to Apostle Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?". "Of course", Peter answered. When Peter went into the house, Jesus spoke first, "Simon, What is your opinion? Who pays duties or taxes to the kings of this world? The citizens of the country or the foreigners?". "The foreigners" answered Peter. "Well, then" replied Jesus. "That means that the citizens don't have to pay. But we don't want to offend these people. So, go to the lake and drop in a line. Pull up the first fish you hook, and in its mouth you will find a coin (four-drachma) worth enough for my temple tax and yours. Take it and pay them our taxes."

First stop after lunch was at the Church of Multiplication in Tabgha, about 15 minutes north of Tiberias by the Sea of Galilee. The church features several 5th century original mosaics. A mosaic in front of the altar depicts two fish flanking a basket containing loaves of bread. It is the traditional site of the miracle of multiplication of the loaves and fishes per the verses of Mark 6:30-46. The church is built on the foundation of earlier churches and this can be observed through a glass panel. The current church was built to the same floor plan as the 5th century Byzantine church which in turn was built at the site of a smaller 4th century chapel.


Located 5 minutes North of Tabgha in the town of Capernaum is the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter. Capernaum is also known as the Town of Jesus as it was Jesus’s main base during his ministry. There are several references of Capernaum in the Bible including Mathew 4:13 – “And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum …”. The Gospel of Luke also references Capernaum as the home of the apostles Peter, Andrew, James, and John who were fisherman, and Matthew, a tax collector. The site has a beautiful hexagonal shaped church built in 1990 by the Franciscan Church. It is elevated on pillars and the interior has a see-through glass floor - below the church stood St. Peter’s House discovered in 1968 – the site had several churches, the earliest being from around 4th century AD. An adjacent site has the ruins of a synagogue which dates back to the 5th century. The “white synagogue” has a layer of black basalt foundation which is believed to be the remnants of an earlier synagogue where Jesus taught and healed a man who had the spirit of the devil, as referenced in Luke 4:31-44. Other miracles attributed to the site include – healing of the servant of a Roman Centurion (Luke 7:1-10) and  the healing of the paralytic lowered through the roof to reach Jesus (Mark 2:1).

The third stop was at the Church of the Beatitudes, the traditional site of Jesus’ delivery of the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus gave this sermon of moral teachings to his disciples and to a large crowd according to the Canonical Gospel of Matthew (chapters 5-7). The current church was built in 1936 near the site of the 4th century Byzantine ruins. Each side of this octagonal church represents one of the eight beatitudes. The church has a striking garden and the setting is a natural amphitheater - any sound produced is clearly audible for people within 200 yards.

The last item in the itinerary for the day was a boat ride in the Sea of Galilee from Ginosar to Tiberias. It is a very relaxing experience (about an hour) with the staff participating in a couple of dances to Hebrew Music – Shalom Aleichem and such ($1-$2 tip recommended). For those traveling outside of a tour group, the best bet would be to check with the captain for seat availability, as boats may be tied up with tour groups – usually around $10. Ginosar also has the “Boat of Jesus” on display at the Yigal Allon Museum, a fisherman boat dating back to the 1st century AD, and uncovered in 1986 when a drought caused the waters of the Galilee to recede – apparently the mud helped preserve the hull. A full-size reproduction of the boat is also on display on the grounds of Kubbutz Ginosar. The tour bus collected us at Tiberias and we proceeded for overnight stay at the Plaza Hotel in Nazareth, about 45-minutes South-East. As Sabbath was starting the roads were relatively empty allowing us to reach the hotel in no time.

 Related Posts:

  1. Holyland Trip Report - Jordan - Mount Nebo, Madaba - Day 1.
  2. Holyland Trip Report – Israel - Yardenit, Tiberias, Tabgha, Cappernaum, Ginosar, Sea of Galilee (Day 2).
  3. Holyland Trip Report - Israel - Nazareth, Cana, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and Bethlehem (Day 3).
  4. Holyland Trip Report - Israel - Jerusalem (Day 4).
  5. Holyland Trip Report – Israel – Jerusalem, Jericho, Dead Sea (Day 5).
  6. Holyland Trip Report – Egypt – Red Sea, Sinai (Day 6).
  7. Holyland Trip Report – Suez Canal, Cairo - Day 7.
  8. Holyland Trip Report - Old Cairo - Day 8.
  9. Holyland Trip - Gotchas to avoid.  
  10. Holyland Trip - Jordan - Other Sites
Last Updated: 12/2012.

Ajman - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile

Ajman was a Persian Gulf Sheikdom under British Protection from 1820 until the treaty expired in 1966. Ajman was part of what was called Trucial States, so named because of a truce signed between Great Britain and the Sheikdoms primarily aimed at stopping piracy, which was a huge threat to British Indian ships. The area has a total land area of just 100 square miles and a population of over 360,000. Population grew rapidly from a base of only around 6,000 in the 1960s. On December 2, 1971 Ajman became one of the six original members of the United Arab Emirates. Following the success of Dubai, Ajman was the second emirate to offer freehold property and it experienced a boom-and-bust cycle of huge proportion in the 2000s.


Philatelic Profile:

Ajman issued a number of stamps during the period from 1964 to 1972. The first issue was a set of eighteen stamps released in 1964. The set (Scott #1 to #18) catalogs for around $10 MNH and around $8 for Used. The designs show a portrait of Rashid bin Humaid al Naimi along with Arab Stallion, Regal Angelfish, Camel, Angelfish, Green Turtle, Jewelfish, White Storks, Wite-eyed gulls, and Lanner falcon and is denominated from 1np to 10r (1 Rupee = 100 Naye Paise). A set of eight stamps in memory of John F. Kennedy along with a Souvenir sheet of the highest four denominations followed on December 15, 1964. That set (Scott #19 to #26) catalogs for around $8 MNH and around $5 Used.  A couple of other issues from the 1964 to 1965 timeframe where issued before the Indian Rupee devaluation and subsequent adoption of Dirhams.

The stamp issues of Ajman of the period from 1965 to 1972 were targeted primarily at the philatelic market and it includes overprints (new currency) on some of the first issues. Stamps of the Trucial States including Ajman earned a bad rapport among collectors as the area produced a large number of stamps and sold them at vast discounts to stamp dealers, thereby making the issues virtually worthless. Such issues include the April 20, 1967 Transportation Set of 9 stamps, the June 12 1967 50th Anniversary of the birth of President John F. Kennedy set of 9 stamps and a couple of miniature sheets, the July 10, 1967 Arab Paintings set of 6 stamps, the August 5, 1967 Arabian Tales set of 7 stamps, the September 1, 1967 Asian Paintings set of 5 stamps and a miniature sheet, the October 23 1967 World Boy Scout Jamboree set of three stamps and a miniature sheet, the November 15 1967 Summer Olympics in Mexico set of 4 stamps and a miniature sheet,  the December 5, 1967 Winter Olympics set of 4 stamps and a miniature sheet, etc. A number of Airmail sets and Miniature Sheets in varied themes were also “produced” for sale to dealers during the period till 1972.

Numismatic Profile:

The first coin of Ajman was a Silver Riyal issued in 1969. The coin (KM#1.1) catalogs for around $10 in BU. It had low mintage (20K) and was issued as a non-circulating legal tender coin. A proof version with very low mintage (1200) also exists and that catalogs in the $45 range. The design shows Value in Circle in Obverse and a National Arms design in Reverse. The Reverse design and certain variations are used in most of the issues till 1970. A number of Silver proofs with the common reverse design and Great Men portraits in Obverse were issued with Mintage of 1175 were issued and they generally catalog in the $75 range. A number of Essais and Patterns were also issued during the period till 1971.

Last Updated: 12/2015.

La Aguera - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile

La Aguera was an administrative district in southern Rio de Oro under Spanish colonial possession from 1920 to 1924. The area is at the southern tip of Western Sahara in the Atlantic coast, south of the Moroccan wall. Spain established an air base on the western side of the peninsula for use as a landing strip for trans-Atlantic flights. As of 2002, the area is almost abandoned and partially overblown with sand – a few fishermen are the only inhabitants. Presently, it is claimed by Morocco although their forces has abandoned it - there is however a guarded Mauritanian military outpost.

Philatelic Profile:

The first stamps of La Aguera were a set of thirteen stamps issued in June 1920 that were ‘La Aguera’ overprints on issues of the Spanish possession of Rio de Oro. The set (Scott #1 to #13) catalogs for around $250 MNH and around $160 Used. Genuine used examples are hard to find, especially on cover, and they command a huge premium. The lower denominations of the set catalog for around two dollars each while the highest four denominations fetch progressively higher premiums for either Mint or Used.

La Aguera issued an original design set of thirteen stamps in June 1922 showing a portrait of King Alfonso XIII. That set (Scott #14 to #26) catalogs for around $125 MNH and around $85 Used. Here again, the lower denominations can be had for just a dollar each while the higher denominations command progressively increasing premiums. 

The twenty stamps represent the complete stamp issues of La Aguera and as such it should be relatively easy to put together a complete collection of the area. For higher denominations, stamps with some flaws and/or off-centered versions that are affordably priced do come up at auction occasionally.

Last Updated: 12/2015.

R2I Housing - Handing over to key transfrer - a never-ending story.

The shell of a house that the builders handed over (2009) was fraught with problems. From the following list of problems that we referred to the builder some were rectified by them and the rest we handled.

  1. Bubbling of plastering in the ground floor – Turns out that this is a widespread problem with new houses built on landfill in Kerala. A majority  of the houses in our community sits atop leveled out paddy fields. By capillary action during the monsoon season moisture seeps up the wall. The builder’s (Heera Constructions) solution was to scrap off the bulging layers, inject water-proofing compound through random incisions, and reapply the plastering. The problems with this approach are: a) these incision spots are not scientifically chosen – we have several spots where the bubbling has reappeared, and b) it is a very messy process as it generates a lot of dust.
  2. Termite problem – Per the builders’ specification, termite treatment was to have been performed during construction. However, we noticed severe termite infested areas when we moved in - the termites were even starting to appear on the first floor! It was indeed double whammy to notice pest proofing was not done either. We got these completed by a branded service company. This process is also messy – for termite treatment, holes are drilled throughout the ground floor for injecting the chemicals – the holes are then corked with chalk before replastering. Pest proofing too involves a lot of chemicals and it is best to be not around during this time.
  3. First-floor bathrooms had no water connection – The builder flat-out missed connecting the water pipes and so there was no water in the first-floor bathrooms. Also, they failed to incorporate hot water pipes to facilitate a solar heater. These were fixed by the builder, but it took a number of calls to convince them that there really was a problem.
  4. Water Leakage near the sunshades and certain other spots – Correct sloping was not done for some of the parapets resulting in water retaining and leaking through. Water-proofing of these areas were not done either. We got this done as part of our complete paint-job.
  5. Unfinished outside bathroom – During the construction phase the builders had problems with people lifting fixtures and similar items. To counter this, they locked the outside bathroom doors  and the side-effect was forgetting to finish those bathrooms. The builder did eventually get around to doing this, although it was quite a hassle.
  6. Cracks on the compound wall – the compound walls were a hoot with visible cracks and gaps. Apparently, the compound wall was built on minimal foundation and given the soil condition, the walls sank unevenly. Our builder patched up the walls, although it would have been fairer to rebuild it, given the condition – ultimately, we got them to agree to rebuild, should the wall collapse on its own in the next few years.
The following issues were fixed on our own without contacting the builder.
  1. Most of the tiles in the restrooms sported a number of paint and rust-spots.
  2. Inside and outside walls were painted with low-quality distemper that by the time we moved in, it was ready for a repaint. Also, no weather-coating was done for the red roof tiles and so they were fast turning black (with mold).
  3. Fuses on the outside panels used low quality material that had rusted through.
  4. The fuse panel inside needed rework as 6, 8, 15, and 20A fuses were used in random to connect different switches. Also, several of the fittings needed rework as they were not properly wired. The most bizarre item was the builder choosing to install an exhaust in the store room instead of the work area.
  5. Several of the faucets leaked.
It was unacceptable to us that a new house handed-over in good faith had these many problems. Actually, this is greatly the norm unless you are dealing with the very best builders. While our problems were many and the process of fixing them challenging, the surprising reality is that there were more than a few houses with far more serious problems than ours:
  1. Problems with piling giving away (resulting in the house sinking).
  2. Parts of the ground floor caving in.
  3. Issues with the title involving unauthorized land made part of the community.
  4. Location of undesirable things in the common area placed in close proximity to houses.
Then there is the on-going saga in resolving issues with what the builder promised for the common-areas and what was actually transferred over to the HOA. In summary, if we ever have to repeat this process, we will definitely stick with one of the best builders. Also, we would prefer a "ready-to-occupy" option, even if that involves a premium. The time and effort needed to get our house livable condition was way more than what we anticipated. We did know about the lax service practices in Kerala, but the reality was worse that what we had imagined.


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Valuing Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) Stock

In Warren Buffett’s 2010 annual letter to shareholders, the section “On Reporting and Misreporting: The Numbers That Count and Those That Don’t” emphasizes against using net income to value Berkshire Hathaway. This is primarily because the company has the flexibility to allow net income to be any number, as it can realize gains by liquidating investments with large unrealized gains. Read More at Seeking Alpha...

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Tracking Berkshire Hathaway's Investment Portfolio - Part 3

Per the latest 13F report, the Top-10 holdings of Berkshire Hathaway’s 27 stocks account for a whopping 95% of the total portfolio value. Although the remaining 17 stocks contribute only towards a 5% stake, they can signify a bullish or bearish bias of the company, depending on the sector allocation and the acquisition/disposal pattern. Read More at Seeking Alpha.

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Afars and Issas - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile

Afars and the Issas was a French Territory between 1967 and 1977. Prior to this the area was know as French Somaliland (Côte française des Somalis) and after 1977 as Djibouti. It had a total land area of around 9,000 square miles and had a population of around 200,000 as of 1974. The area is in the Horn of Africa bordered by Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden. French Administration was first established in the area in the city of Djibouti in 1894 following various treaties with the Sultans between 1883 and 1887.

Philatelic Profile:

The first stamps of the French Territory of Afars and Issas were a set of five stamps issued on 1967 showing Fauna. The set (Scott #310 to #314) catalogs for around $50 MNH and around $50 Used. The designs show Grey-headed Kingfisher, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Common Greenshank, Abyssinian Roller, and Unstriped Ground Squirrel. An Air Post stamp in the same theme issued on August 21, 1967 (Scott #C50) showing Tawny Eagle completes the set. That stamp is sought after and catalogs for around $20 MNH and around $15 Used.

Other issues of Afars and Issas enjoying good philatelic interest include:

  1. A set of four stamps issued on May 17, 1967 showing Buildings. The set (Scott #318 to #321) catalogs for around $6 MNH and around $4 Used. The designs show Damerdjog Fortress, and Administrative Buildings at Ali Adde, Dorra, and Assamo. A sister-set of ten stamps was also released in the 1968 to 1970 timeframe. That set (Scott #324 to #333) catalogs for around $25 MNH and around $17 Used. The designs show significant buildings in Djibouti: Justice Building , Camber of Deputies, Great Mosque, Monument of Free French Forces, Djibouti Post Office, High Commission Palace, Residence of Gov. Leonce Lagarde at Obock, Djibouti Harbor-master’s building, and the Control Tower at Djibouti Airport.
  2. A set of three stamps issued on February 22, 1974 showing a pictorial of Flamingos with Lake Abbe in the background. The multicolored set catalogs for around $12 MNH and around one-fourth that for Used.
  3. A few sets released between 1975 and 1977 showing Fauna. The sets include the Sea Shells Set (Scott #382 to #391) that catalogs for around $40 MNH and around $15 Used, the Butterflies Set (Scott #392 to #399) that catalogs for around $50 MNH and around half that for Used, and the Fauna Set (Scott #400 to #407) that catalogs for around $30 MNH and around one-third that for Used. Another set of Sea Shells stamps released in 1977 (Scott #433 to #436) is also sought after, cataloging in the $20 range for MNH and around $5 for Used.
Numismatic Profile:

The first coins of Afars and Issas were French Colony Decimal Coinage (100 Centimes = 1 Franc) Aluminum Francs issued in 1969. The coin (KM# 16) has a mintage of 100,000 and catalogs for around $6 in UNC. A few other issues in denominations from One Franc to a Hundred Francs using Aluminum-Bronze, Copper-Nickel, etc alloys were also issued during the period till 1975. The higher denominations catalog in the $15 range in UNC. The issues have mintages well into the 100,000s. Essais from the 1968 to 1970 timeframe (KM #E1 to #E7) have low mintage (1700) but remarkably catalogs only for a slight premium over regular issues.

Last Updated: 12/2015.

R2I Housing - Shopping to Reacquire Appliances etc in India

As part of our R2I preparation, we did away with almost all of our electrical appliances, much of our electronic equipment, and a sizable portion of our household items over the last few months leading to R2I. Even so, when we shipped, to our embarrassment we still filled a 20’ container to the brim that too after disposing off our 2nd bedroom furniture set! As frugal consumers, this meant we had amassed more than we needed. Further, a lot of the big-ticket items we had such as the Roomba 530, golf sets, ski sets, lawn mower, GPS, exercise equipment, bikes, etc were either not needed or were not practical in our new locale. With that in mind, rather than replacing every single item that we disposed off, our game plan was to acquire things on an as needed basis. Besides, it is not as easy to pass-on used items in India, the used market is not as developed compared to the US.

We started living in our new home in India the first week of our move despite the fact it was just a shell barely livable by modern standards. Our immediate needs were for appliances and we spent the second day purchasing just that. Pricing for appliances are all over the map: a basic top-loading washing machine can be had for around Rs 10K (~$225) while high-end front-loading models are available at Rs 50K (~$1125) or so. Refrigerators start around Rs 10K (~$225) and go well into the Rs 1L (~$2250) for side-by-side premium versions. In general, we felt selection was wider in Indian stores compared to its counterparts in the US such as Sears, Home Depot, etc. Pricing stretched differently though – the good news is that no-brand low-end items can generally be obtained at a 30% discount compared to low-end pricing in the US. The bad news though was that the high-end commanded a premium upwards of 50% compared to US pricing – our best guess is that some kind of additional taxes (levied indirectly) is at work here. Below is a list of appliances we purchased during our first week:



As detailed in the spreadsheet, we chose branded items in the medium-high range with good Energy Star rating for the most part. For bigger appliances, purchase includes delivery, installation, and demo. The delivery crew can sometimes be different from the installation and demo crew which can imply a delay – that should not deter one from starting to use it, provided you know the ropes. The experience so far with our new appliances have been positive – we had to call warranty service only for the refrigerator when we detected a manufacturing defect in the magnetic lining on the door a few weeks after delivery – they replaced the door eventually, it took about six weeks and several calls.

2011 Update: In August 2011, the Prestige Induction Cooker stopped working and the bummer was that it was fresh out of warranty. Reviews on that product online are at best average. In our experience, it is a great time saver, although energy consumption is high compared to cooking gas – it is 100% efficient compared to 70% of regular gas cooktop. The service center pleasantly surprised us by repairing it free of cost. In December 2011, the emergency lamp stopped holding charge. The battery was replaced under warranty using a nearby service center - the process was relatively smooth although it took a couple of weeks.

2012 Update: The inverter broke and had to be replaced. Click for details. The main PCB board in the Samsung TV and the Sundirect HD receiver both broke apparently due to power fluctuations in the space of two months in September and November. They were replaced by the respective service reps at ~$2.5K each. Service levels were pretty good - the replacement happened within a few days. With the Sun Direct HD receiver, I had the option of repairing it but the rep could not provide an ETA as he was not sure whether the part is available. So, we went with a new receiver - that also meant we had to forgo the balance in the old receiver - something to keep in mind - never keep a high balance on set-top box accounts as they are tied to the receiver.

2013 Update: In February 2013, the washing machine developed an issue: burned rubber smell with smoke and the display showing Error Code 5D (some noise when working as well). The Samsung rep came by and diagnosed it: Needs to replace drum - the problem happens if incorrect detergent or water with more saline content is used. They replaced it although it took 3 weeks for a total of Rs 4.3K. 

2014 Update: In January 2014, the washing machine broke again: the main PCB was toast, apparently due to voltage fluctuations. The rep came by and replaced it within a few days for a total of Rs 4.2K. The rep had a very interesting comment: apparently, the parts for this machine is very expensive. It is a higher end product (front-load, fully auto, with premium features) and as such the volume is low and that is the reason for the parts to be so expensive. Also, some parts can become unavailable after a while. His suggestion was to go with a semi-automatic top-load machine when buying washing machines: they are far less expensive and as they are the most popular product category, the parts are always available and are relatively less expensive - something to keep in mind.

2015 Update: The Exide inverter battery capacity went down drastically and had to be replaced.   Click for details


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Introduction to fair value estimates for our stock reviews

Based on reader feedback, we are incorporating fair value estimates for our future stock reviews. This is an introductory article to help readers understand the models involved.
The popular models of estimating fair value of a stock include:
  1. PEG Based Model,
  2. Benjamin Graham Model, 
  3. Graham Number Based Model, 
  4. Discounted Cash Flow Based Model, and
  5. Dividend Discount Model.
We introduce the models and calculate the fair value of a stock from our watch-list, Darden’s Restaurants (DRI). The spreadsheet below shows some key data points required for the models with the figures for DRI incorporated:




DRI valuation using PEG Based Model:

PEG (Price to Earnings to Growth) ratio is a metric introduced by Peter Lynch in his 1989 book One Up on Wall Street. A stock is stated to be fairly valued if that ratio is equal to 1. The ratio as introduced in the book has many limitations:
  • The formula does not make clear what earnings number to use – projected or trailing.
  • The formula does not make clear what growth rate to use – expected 1-year, projected 5-year average, etc.
  • Dividends are not accounted for.
A fair value equation derived from the PEG ratio that addresses some of the limitations of the original formula is below:

FV = (GR + (2*DY)) * EPS
FV – Fair Value.
EPS – Earnings per Share (Trailing Twelve Month).
CGR – Current Growth Rate.
DY –Dividend Yield (current year).

Applying the formula to DRI, we get:
FV = (8.77 + (2 * 3.52)) * 3.39 = $53.59

The stock trades at $48.84 which is ~10% below the fair value estimated and so is a Buy.

DRI valuation using Benjamin Graham Model:

This model uses a formula that was first presented in the seminal book on stock investment, “The Intelligent Investor” in 1962 and revised in 1974. It calculates the intrinsic value of a stock using market-related and company specific variables but without using an interest rate factor. As such, the formula is very simple:

FV = (EPS * (8.5 + (2*GR10)) *4.4)/CBY
FV – Fair Value.
EPS – Earnings per Share (Trailing Twelve Month).
GR10 – Projected 7-10 year earnings growth rate.
CBY – Corporate Bond Yield (current yield of AAA corporate bonds).

Applying the formula to DRI, we get:
FV = (3.39 * (8.5 + (2*7))*4.4)/3.99 = $84.11
 
The stock trades at $48.84 which is well below the fair value estimated and so is a Buy.
One limitation of the model is the dependency on the seven to ten year projected earnings growth rate, which can be hard to accurately predict. In our example, DRI grew earnings at an 8.77% rate in the last 5-years and so we conservatively used a slightly lower rate – as a mid-cap stock, the company has room to grow and there is scope for international expansion as well - so, our estimate is fairly conservative.

DRI valuation using Graham Number Based Model:

 Graham Number Based Model is an estimate that indicates the maximum price that a value investor should pay for a particular investment. It is a good general test to identify investments that are selling for a good price. The formula is:

EPS = Earnings Per Share
BVPS = Book Value Per Share
MFV = Maximum Fair Value

MFV = SQRT(22.5 * EPS * BVPS)

Applying the formula to DRI, we get:

MFV = SQRT(22.5 * 3.39 * 13.38) = $32.53.

The stock is trading well above this number and so is a Sell. Although, the formula looks random, there is a method to the madness: the 22.5 comes from the belief that PE ratio should not be over 15 and the price to book ratio should not be over 1.5 (15 * 1.5 = 22.5). The main limitation of the model is that it gives no weightage at all for such fundamentally important characteristics of an investment such as the growth rates.

DRI valuation using Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) Based Model:

DCF model uses estimated future income projections and discounts them to arrive at a fair present value for an investment. For stocks, the income projections can be the free cash flow, earnings per share, or the dividends paid. Discounting requires using a rate that can be earned on an investment in the financial markets with similar risk – weighted average cost of capital (WACC) is a good measure for this rate. The formula is:

FV = FE*(1+GR5)^1/(1+DR)^1 + FE*(1+GR5)^2/(1+DR)^2 +…+ FE*(1+GR5)^n/(1+DR)^n
FV = Fair Value.
FE = Forward Earnings per Share (Next Twelve Months).
GR5 = Projected 5-year earnings growth rate.
DR = Discount Rate (Weighted Average Cost of Capital – WACC).

For most stocks, n is an unknown and so a terminal value is used after the first 5-years of discounting. The most common method to estimate terminal value of stocks is to use the Gordon Growth Model that uses a long-term growth rate for perpetuity. The formula is:

TV = FE*(1+GR5)^5*(1+LGR)/(DR - LGR)
PTV = TV/(1+DR)^5
TV = Terminal Value.
PTV = Present Value of Terminal Value
LGR = Long-term growth rate (perpetuity).
The altered formula is:
FV = FE*(1+GR5)^1/(1+DR)^1 +…+ FE*(1+GR5)^5/(1+DR)^5+ FE*(1+GR5)^5*(1+LGR)/(DR - LGR)*1/(1+GR5)^5
= PV1+PV2+PV3+PV4+PV5+PTV
PV1..5 = Present value of income projections from year 1 through 5.

Applying the formula to DRI, we get:

FV = PV1+PV2+PV3+PV4+PV5+PTV
= 3.88+3.88+3.89+3.89+3.90+67.80
= $87.23
 
The stock trades at $48.84 which is almost 50% below the fair value estimated and so is a Buy.

DRI valuation using the Dividend Discount Model:

Dividend Discount Model is a conservative variation of the DCF model that is based on the idea that a stock is worth the discounted sum of all its future dividend payments. Discounting requires using a rate that can be earned on an investment in the financial markets with similar risk – weighted average cost of capital (WACC) is a good measure for this rate. Also, the calculation requires a value for the long-term dividend growth rate. As such, the model is suitable for steady dividend paying stocks. The basic formula applicable to dividend paying stocks is:

FV = D/(DR-LGDR)

FV - Fair Value
D - Dividend
DR - Discount Rate
LGDR - Long-term Dividend Growth Rate

Applying the formula to DRI, we get:
FV = 1.72/(0.0786-0.04) = $44.56

The stock trades at $44.56 which is above the fair value estimated and so is not a Buy.

For stocks that pay no dividends, additional assumptions about when a dividend will be initiated, growth rate of such dividends, and discounting back to a present value is required to get a value. A variation of the Dividend Discount Model Formula can be used for the purpose (click for details on applying dividend discount model to growth stocks).

As one would notice, the four models can give very different figures. So, it is important to understand the assumptions made and the likelihood for the assumptions to become reality. The difference between the fair value estimate and the current stock price represents a margin of safety. When making a decision to Buy or Sell a security, these numbers do not give exact answers but can act as data points to consider.

Last Updated: 03/2012.

Tracking Berkshire Hathaway's Investment Portfolio - Part 2

Berkshire Hathaway’s (BRK.A) habit of nibbling bite-sized stakes only to dispose them off later was mentioned in passing in our previous article. This approach very often trips up investors who attempt to front run future Warren Buffet purchases – by the time they get long on the stocks concerned, Buffett has already liquidated the positions. This article examines the finer points of such trades. Read More at Seeking Alpha...


Related Articles:

  1. Tracking Berkshire Hathaway's Investment Portfolio - Part 1.
  2. Tracking Berkshire Hathaway's Investment Portfolio - Part 2.
  3. Tracking Berkshire Hathaway's Investment Portfolio - Part 3.
  4. Valuing Berkshire Hathaway Stock

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