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26 / £675,000 / Frugal
Hello, Backstory: I'm 26 and made 675,000 pounds post-tax over the past 2-3 years "investing" and I use that term lightly in crypto currencies and just got lucky considering I missed the boat on Bitcoin all those years ago. Made my final sell off of ChainLink when it hit the ATH and cashed out another 260k and owe roughly around 45-50k taxes which is sitting in a instant saver which I will leave there tbh. So the final 675k is in 2 places at the moment, I put 300k into a 40/60 Vanguard LS fund (40k of it is in an ISA) and I am not sure what to do with the other 375k, I will go for a lightly higher risk fund but need some suggestions... I also have around 10k in another account which I already set aside for travelling / emergency fund. I currently work a crappy retail job part-time barely earning 10k a year since I don't do hardly any OT and my rent is around 400 quid a month plus another 200 on bills since I rent a room in a mates 2 bed flat. I have zero career prospects since I didn't go University nor did I do well in college but have a desire to travel for a while frugally. About myself, I am ultra frugal but not because I am tight it's just I am a minimalist person, I hate having too much stuff lying around and don't care for being materialistic etc. TL'DR what funds should I invest in with 375k, should I move the 300k in the LS 40/60 after 6 months to a diff one or is it fine?
Looking for advice on how to restructure my investments and savings (I have a H2B ISA, S&S ISA, Pension, IFISA, BTC, ETH)
I'm a 26yo freelance filmmaker (sole trader) who tries to save as much as I can. Average income before tax averages £45-55k. With COVID wiping my business out, my profits will be lower this tax year, I assume probably around £12-20k. I share a bedroom in London with my partner £590pcm total, and my outgoings are generally quite low. My savings so far:
Halifax Help to Buy ISA - £13k saved, and reached the maximum bonus of £3k - earning 1.7% interest
WealthSimple S&S ISA - £40.5k invested in a 'Balanced' portfolio (60% equities, 40% bonds), currently earns between 2-6% return
WealthSimple SIPP - £4k invested in a 'Balanced' portfolio (60% equities, 40% bonds), currently earns between negative 3-2%
RateSetter IFISA - £8k invested in the 1 year market (originally at 5.2%, due to COVID these rates have been cut to 2.1%)
RateSetter IFISA - £9k uninvested and in a holding account as cash, I plan on transferring this out to another ISA
Bitcoin - 1.3btc or £11k - bought a couple BTC a long time ago for a couple hundred quid, not sure when/if I should cash this out, it stands to be the best 'right place right time' unintentional investment I've made.
Ethereum - 9.1eth or £2.5k - again, bought for £12-90 a coin, more likely to cash this out
Cash in bank earning no interest: £15k
I still have £7650 left to put into the tax free ISA wrapper this financial year
Total: £103k - £24k of which uninvested COVID and lockdown spooked me (and all my clients), and although I'm starting to see work pickup again, it feels like I'm unlikely to see a return to normal levels for at least 8-12 months, hence having £24k uninvested - a huge emergency fund that can cover my living costs for at least 2-3 years. Questions:
I have £21,000 of fee free investment with WealthSimple as part of a promotion, but this will be ending soon. I'm still paying around £12 per month in fees. Once this benefit ceases, should I move to another S&S ISA? Perhaps: AJ Bell Youinvest ISA? I also see Vanguard mentioned here a lot. What do you think?
What is the general consensus on WealthSimple, should I move to a different pension provider as well?
If I stay with them, should I rebalance my investments with WealthSimple (perhaps more risk in the pension pot as it'll be there for a while?) or does 60 equities / 40 bonds sound fine for both pension & ISA?
I'm not likely to buy a house for another 12 months (and with Brexit looming, I feel like prices will go down), should I move my Help to Buy ISA into a LISA? If so, which one would you recommend?
I am (occasionally) a higher rate taxpayer (not this or last year however), presumably I should up my SIPP contributions during this time?
As a freelancer, I don't benefit from any 'salary sacrifice' or 'matched contributions', is there a freelancers alternative for this?
I have £7650 left of my tax free ISA wrapper, and £15k in a bank account earning no interest, how should I invest this, or should I place it into an easy access savings account and wait for the next ISA tax year?
Apologies this is a lot, I would appreciate any help at all! :) Edit: updated earnings and business clarification
Hi all, I'm a long-time lurker and fan of this sub-reddit and Bogleheads in general. I write this post with my copy of The Little Book of Common Sense Investing (10th anniversary edition, 2017) open on page 230. Here, Bogle lists four decisions "you must make... about your asset allocation program:"
A strategic choice in allocating assets between stocks and bonds. A 60/40 split is a commonly touted ratio. On the preceding page he writes, "[his] highest recommended general target allocation for stocks would be 80 percent for younger investors accumulating assets over a long time frame." Ergo, bonds would be at the least 20%. The popular ETF VGRO follows this allocation.
The decision to maintain either a fixed [asset allocation] ratio or a ratio that varies with market returns. Bogle notes that the former is a prudent choice that "may well be the better choice for most investors" (as rebalancing mitigates behavioural tendencies to sell high and buy low).
The decision as to whether to introduce an element of tactical allocation, varying the ratio as market conditions change. Bogle is skeptical of such approaches, "for they imply a certain prescience that few, if any, of us possess." Whenever an investor considers timing the market, they are considering making a tactical allocation (and vice-versa). Bogle make it clear: "In general, investors should not engage in tactical allocation."
The decision (which, along with the first on this list, are both called the "most important" decision in the text) as to whether to focus on actively managed mutual funds or traditional index funds. A pithy line sums it up: "Clear and convincing evidence points to the index fund strategy."
Pardon the summary—I wanted to make sure we're all on the same page for what's next. On my investor education journey, I rarely come across tenets so crisp. Here, many people can do far worse than the setup Bogle is effectively prescribing: A portfolio that sticks with a fixed asset allocation of 80/20, rebalanced without regard for market fluctuations, and comprised of low-cost index fund(s) is the benchmark—so, literally VGRO (cue the memes). As a testament to Bogle and Vanguard's philosophy, it doesn't get simpler than this. Here is the point of this post: assuming that this portfolio is the most reasonable starting point for the majority of investors (keeping in mind the investor is young and/or has a long time frame), what is the source(s) of deviation in your portfolio? Note that this thread is not meant to be accusatory ("deviation" in the last line as in standard deviation, not social deviance). Indeed, I want to gain insight into your rationales because we often see posts that propose an approach or a certain allocation... which in their very asking implies an awareness that they differ from the benchmark, however minor or major. Anything goes here. Invest in real estate? Gold? Bitcoin? Tech? Underweight or overweight in international? More bonds? Less? Instead of the common "Is this an acceptable plan?" post, let's see what we get when we frame discussion around "Here is why my plan is acceptable." And if you do adhere to the benchmark portfolio and go all in on VGRO, I'd love to hear additional reasons beyond the above for your conviction. Thanks for your time—I hope to continue learning more from this community.
Wandering From the Path? | Monthly Portfolio Update - August 2020
Midway along the journey of our lifeI woke to find myself in a dark wood,for I had wandered off from the straight path. Dante, The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Canto I This is my forty-fifth portfolio update. I complete this update monthly to check my progress against my goal. Portfolio goal My objective is to reach a portfolio of $2 180 000 by 1 July 2021. This would produce a real annual income of about $87 000 (in 2020 dollars). This portfolio objective is based on an expected average real return of 3.99 per cent, or a nominal return of 6.49 per cent. Portfolio summary
Vanguard Lifestrategy High Growth Fund $733 769
Vanguard Lifestrategy Growth Fund $41 794
Vanguard Lifestrategy Balanced Fund $78 533
Vanguard Diversified Bonds Fund $110 771
Vanguard Australian Shares ETF (VAS) $216 758
Vanguard International Shares ETF (VGS) $64 542
Betashares Australia 200 ETF (A200) $237 138
Telstra shares (TLS) $1 540
Insurance Australia Group shares (IAG) $6 043
NIB Holdings shares (NHF) $5 532
Gold ETF (GOLD.ASX) $121 976
Secured physical gold $19 535
Ratesetter (P2P lending) $8 998
Bitcoin $177 310
Raiz app (Aggressive portfolio) $17 421
Spaceship Voyager app (Index portfolio) $2 759
BrickX (P2P rental real estate) $4 477
Total portfolio value $1 848 896 (+$48 777 or 2.7%) Asset allocation
Australian shares 41.5%
Global shares 22.6%
Emerging market shares 2.2%
International small companies 2.8%
Total international shares 27.6%
Total shares 69.2% (5.8% under)
Total property securities 0.2% (0.2% over)
Australian bonds 4.4%
International bonds 8.9%
Total bonds 13.3% (1.7% under)
Gold and alternatives 17.2% (7.2% over)
Presented visually, below is a high-level view of the current asset allocation of the portfolio. [Chart] Comments The portfolio has increased in value for the fifth consecutive month, and is starting to approach the monthly value last reached in January. The portfolio has grown over $48 000, or 2.7 per cent this month, reflecting the strong market recovery since late March [Chart] The growth in the portfolio was broadly-based across global and Australian equities, with an increase of around 3.8 per cent. Following strong previous rises, gold holdings decreased by around 2.2 per cent, while Bitcoin continued to increase in value (by 2.5 per cent). Combined, the value of gold and Bitcoin holdings remain at a new peak, while total equity holdings are still below their late January peak to the tune of around $50 000. The fixed income holdings of the portfolio continue to fall below the target allocation. [Chart] The expanding value of gold and Bitcoin holdings since January last year have actually had the practical effect of driving new investments into equities, since effectively for each dollar of appreciation, for example, my target allocation to equities rises by seven dollars. New investments this month have been in the Vanguard international shares exchange-traded fund (VGS) and the Australian shares equivalent (VAS). These have been directed to bring my actual asset allocation more closely in line with the target split between Australian and global shares set out in the portfolio plan. As the exchange traded funds such as VGS, VAS and Betashares A200 now make up nearly 30 per cent of the overall portfolio, the quarterly payments they provide have increased in magnitude and importance. Early in the journey, third quarter distributions were essentially immaterial events. Using the same 'median per unit' forecast approach as recently used for half yearly forecasts would suggest a third quarter payout due at the end of September of around $6000. Due to significant announced dividend reductions across this year I am, however, currently assuming this is likely to be significantly lower, and perhaps in the vicinity of $4000 or less. Finding true north: approach to achieving a set asset allocation One of the choices facing all investors with a preferred asset allocation is how strictly the target is applied over time, and what variability is acceptable around that. There is a significant body of financial literature around that issue. My own approach has been to seek to target the preferred asset allocation dynamically, through buying the asset class that is furthest from its target, with new portfolio contributions, and re-investment of paid out distributions. As part of monitoring asset allocation, I also track a measure of 'absolute' variance, to understand at a whole of portfolio level how far it is from the desired allocation. This is the sum of the absolute value of variances (e.g. so that being 3 per cent under target in shares, and 7 per cent over target in fixed interest will equal an absolute variance of 10 per cent under this measure). This measure is currently sitting near its highest level in around 2 years, at 15.0 per cent, as can be seen in the chart below. [Chart] The dominant reason for this higher level of variance from target is significant appreciation in the price of gold and Bitcoin holdings. Mapping the sources of portfolio variances Changes in target allocations in the past makes direct comparisons problematic, but previous peaks of the variance measure matches almost perfectly past Bitcoin price movements. For a brief period in January 2018, gold and Bitcoin combined constituted 20 per cent, or 1 in 5 dollars of the entire portfolio. Due to the growth in other equity components of the portfolio since this level has not been subsequently exceeded. Nonetheless, it is instructive to understand that the dollar value of combined gold and Bitcoin holdings is actually up around $40 000 from that brief peak. With the larger portfolio, this now means they together make up 17.2 per cent of the total portfolio value. Tacking into the wind of portfolio movements? The logical question to fall out from this situation is: to what extent should this drive an active choice to sell down gold and Bitcoin until they resume their 10 per cent target allocation? This would currently imply selling around $130 000 of gold or Bitcoin, and generating a capital gains tax liability of potentially up to $27 000. Needless to say this is not an attractive proposition. Several other considerations lead me to not make this choice:
The problem may solve itself as portfolio grows - Growth and continued investments in the portfolio will tend to reduce the variance caused by gold and Bitcoin. The asset allocation targeting approach I adopt has seen continued contributions to equities, reducing the ability of these alternative assets to add to future variance.
Falls in Bitcoin or gold values will also solve the problem - Conversely, price falls in Bitcoin or gold will tend to reduce the variance issue, and such price falls have significant precedents, with for example Bitcoin holdings falling to a value of around $50 000 as recently as January 2019.
If neither of these happen, there may be bigger issues to solve - The only scenario where neither of these alleviating factors occur is should gold and Bitcoin continue to rapidly appreciate compared to other assets, in which case it is difficult to see the value of reducing exposure now.
Does Bitcoin even fit the asset allocation model? - Bitcoin in particular is not a well established or accepted asset class as yet, so it may not be appropriate to apply traditional allocation rules to it - it may be functioning more as a hedge or option against extreme states of the world. Linked to this is the high degree of volatility in Bitcoin. Adopting too tight a target on Bitcoin holdings would potentially see a need to buy and sell Bitcoin frequently, where my intention is to actually never purchase any more.
This approach is a departure from a mechanistic implementation of an asset allocation rule. Rather, the approach I take is pragmatic. Tracking course drift in the portfolio components As an example, I regularly review whether a significant fall in Bitcoin prices to its recent lows would alter my monthly decision on where to direct new investments. So far it does not, and the 'signal' continues to be to buy new equities. Another tool I use is a monthly measurement of the absolute dollar variance of Australian and global shares, as well as fixed interest, from their ideal target allocations. The chart below sets this out for the period since January 2019. A positive value effectively represents an over-allocation to a sector, a negative value, an under-allocation compared to target. [Chart] This reinforces the overall story that, as gold and Bitcoin have grown in value, there emerges a larger 'deficit' to the target. Falls in equities markets across February and March also produce visibly larger 'dollar gaps' to the target allocation. This graph enables a tracking of the impact of portfolio gains or losses, and volatility, and a better understanding of the practical task of returning to target allocations. Runaway lines in either direction would be evidence that current approaches for returning to targets were unworkable, but so far this does not appear to be the case. A crossing over: a credit card FI milestone This month has seen a long awaited milestone reached. Calculated on a past three year average, portfolio distributions now entirely meet monthly credit card expenses. This means that every credit card purchase - each shopping trip or online purchase - is effectively paid for by average portfolio distributions. At the start of this journey, distributions were only equivalent to around 40 per cent of credit card expenses. As time has progressed distributions have increased to cover a larger and larger proportion of card expenses. [Chart] Most recently, with COVID-19 related restrictions having pushed card expenditure down further, the remaining gap to this 'Credit Card FI' target has closed. Looked at on an un-smoothed basis, expenditures on the credit card have continued to be slightly lower than average across the past month. The below chart details the extent to which portfolio distributions (red) cover estimated total expenses (green), measured month to month. [Chart] Credit card expenditure makes up around 80 per cent of total spending, so this is not a milestone that makes paid work irrelevant or optional. Similarly, if spending rises as various travel and other restrictions ease, it is possible that this position could be temporary. Equally, should distributions fall dramatically below long term averages in the year ahead, this could result in average distributions falling faster than average monthly card expenditure. Even without this, on a three year average basis, monthly distributions will decline as high distributions received in the second half of 2017 slowly fall out of the estimation sample. For the moment, however, a slim margin exists. Distributions are $13 per month above average monthly credit card bills. This feels like a substantial achievement to note, as one unlooked for at the outset of the journey. Progress Progress against the objective, and the additional measures I have reached is set out below. Measure Portfolio All Assets Portfolio objective – $2 180 000 (or $87 000 pa) 84.8% 114.6% Credit card purchases – $71 000 pa 103.5% 139.9% Total expenses – $89 000 pa 82.9% 112.1% Summary What feels like a long winter is just passed. The cold days and weeks have felt repetitive and dominated by a pervasive sense of uncertainty. Yet through this time, this wandering off, the portfolio has moved quite steadily back towards it previous highs. That it is even approaching them in the course of just a few months is unexpected. What this obscures is the different components of growth driving this outcome. The portfolio that is recovering, like the index it follows, is changing in its underlying composition. This can be seen most starkly in the high levels of variance from the target portfolio sought discussed above. It is equally true, however, of individual components such as international equity holdings. In the case of the United States the overall index performance has been driven by share price growth in just a few information technology giants. Gold and Bitcoin have emerged from the shadows of the portfolio to an unintended leading role in portfolio growth since early 2019. This month I have enjoyed reading the Chapter by Chapter release of the Aussie FIRE e-book coordinated by Pearler. I've also been reading posts from some newer Australian financial independence bloggers, Two to Fire, FIRE Down Under, and Chasing FIRE Down Under. In podcasts, I have enjoyed the Mad Fientist's update on his fourth year of financial freedom, and Pat and Dave's FIRE and Chill episodes, including an excellent one on market timing fallacies. The ASX Australian Investor Study 2020 has also been released - setting out some broader trends in recent Australian investment markets, and containing a snapshot of the holdings, approaches and views of everyday investors. This contained many intriguing findings, such as the median investment portfolio ($130 000), its most frequent components (direct Australian shares), and how frequently portfolios are usually checked - with 61 per cent of investors checking their portfolios at least once a month. This is my own approach also. Monthly assessments allow me to gauge and reflect on how I or elements of the portfolio may have wandered off the straight way in the middle of the journey. Without this, the risk is that dark woods and bent pathways beckon. The post, links and full charts can be seen here.
I have been looking through the different brokerages to invest into. I already have a Robinhood account with the current value being around 8k. Most of these are individual stocks that I researched and bought. I also tried out WeBull... Day trading doesn't sound too appealing to me. So the past month I have been wanting to invest more in ETFs and Index Funds for the long term. As well as open a ROTH IRA account. I have a few ETFs through Robinhood, but I feel like there is a better way. Afterall, Robinhood still pays expense ratios to the brokerages so there is no real benefit. (I think that is how it works) So my main question is what should I use? It seems like Fidelity and Vanguard would be the two most suitable for me. Here are the reasons why: 1. I'm 19 and looking to invest long term. I can use Robinhood for short term trading. 2. I have a decent amount of money in my savings that isn't being invested right now, but I do not want to invest all of it through individual stocks on Robinhood. 3. Let's say I have about 20k extra dollars. If 6k max(and correct me if I'm wrong) could go into the ROTH IRA each year that would leave me with about 14k to invest this year. Keep in mind my last day of work is 2 weeks from now because I am going back to school. I won't have time to work the next 9-10 months. 4. I already have 2 IRA account that I inherited from my grandpa and father 3 years ago, but I am looking to open up a ROTH IRA(I am not sure if this is a good idea or not if I already have 2 regular IRA accounts) 5. I have researched many brokers so for my personal needs I do not know what would be the best for me. And if I do get ETFs/index funds I would likely hold onto them for a long time. For the amount of money I can invest this next year is there one brokerage that would be suitable more then the other? Thanks for reading this. I appreciate all advice! Edit: Also if there are other suggestions on what to invest in please let me know. I hold a little bit of Bitcoin too so I already know that spiel
A little background on me, I'm in my mid 20s and have a full-time job. Have no debt, no credit card, no wife and no kid. I've managed to save 20K as a cash reserve in a ~0.5%-interest savings account and 2k as an emergency fund. I am am trying to budget my income every week and save $650. $250 of that is gonna go to Investnow and $400 to another savings account till I can decide what I am gonna do with it. So my main questions are: 1- I've chosen these 4 funds in Investnow, where every week, 1/4 of $250 is gonna be invested in each. I considered diversity, last year's performance and management fees. Do you think I could have picked better or more?
Smartshares Global Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG)
Smartshares S&P/NZX 50 ETF (NZG)
Smartshares US Large Growth ETF (USG)
Vanguard International Shares Select Exclusions Index Fund
2- I am considering investing a little money in crypto (more precisely, Bitcoin) every month as well. considering about $50 per week as an auto buy (through Vimba or EasyCrypto) and just let it sit there till a time when it might reach the moon. I know how volatile it could be as I also tried to get into the train last time when it almost hit 30K but almost made no money since I sold at low. However since I like it's tech and I see a minor possibility that it could actually get to the moon, I don't wanna miss out on a possible shoot. What do you think? 3- I've opened an account with Stake and trying to play around for now. Obviously I'm no way a trader right now but I like to play around with it and learn it along the way, and who knows, maybe I could shorten the pathway to retirement! So I'm considering pledging $50 every week to Stake (or any other trading broker) account to do some trading as well. What do you think? 4- Presuming I invest $50 in BTC, and $50 in trading, I will still have around $300 each week which I don't know what to do with. I don't wanna invest in P2P lending providers. All I can think of is either adding it to the $250 going to Investnow every week OR putting it in another saving account so that I have some liquid wealth and wait for the Covid storm to pass. What do you think I should do with that remaining $300? Thank you for the read and help. Feel free to criticise this plan if you don't find it right :)
Best source of credit, int'l student, prospective entrepreneur
I am about to graduate with my PhD in computer science by the end of this fall semester. I am a U.S. Citizen studying in Canada at the University of Waterloo. My current net worth is about:
$5,000 in bitcoin and ethereum
$2,500 not currently invested on Vanguard
Essentially $0.0 in U.S. and Canadian bank accounts counting current funds minus credit cards (I pay them off every statement)
-$13,500 in undergraduate student loans
$17,000 in a 401(k)
I've gotten as much funding as I can through my adviser and the school. I am not eligible for federal student loans in Canada and it looks like the timeline is too tight to try to get anything out of the U.S. federal government (see https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/types/international). I will have to sell investments to make ends meet this term (I need to buy a new computer soon as well) and I am planning on, for some time, trying to start my own company after I graduate (probably a little before official term end). I live incredibly cheap, but at some point, I will need access to credit. I have little worries about paying it off, because my earning potential is quite high; other graduates with PhDs in computer science have gotten Google jobs with a financial package of about $200,000 USD a year. I previously worked at Google and Microsoft and the door is open for me in both places. I am basically wondering what my best options are to finance the next 4-12 months or so of my intended career path. My U.S. credit score is ~800, so I should have access to whatever is available. Here are some options I've considered:
Try to get a private student loan while I am still in school
Open a business line of credit, likely after selling investments (not the 401(k))
Get some other private loan
Make my brother loan me $10,000 on agreeable terms ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
What do we think will offer me the lowest interest rate/makes the most sense?
Testing the Tide | Monthly FIRE Portfolio Update - June 2020
We would rather be ruined than changed. -W H Auden, The Age of Anxiety This is my forty-third portfolio update. I complete this update monthly to check my progress against my goal. Portfolio goal My objective is to reach a portfolio of $2 180 000 by 1 July 2021. This would produce a real annual income of about $87 000 (in 2020 dollars). This portfolio objective is based on an expected average real return of 3.99 per cent, or a nominal return of 6.49 per cent. Portfolio summary Vanguard Lifestrategy High Growth Fund – $726 306 Vanguard Lifestrategy Growth Fund – $42 118 Vanguard Lifestrategy Balanced Fund – $78 730 Vanguard Diversified Bonds Fund – $111 691 Vanguard Australian Shares ETF (VAS) – $201 745 Vanguard International Shares ETF (VGS) – $39 357 Betashares Australia 200 ETF (A200) – $231 269 Telstra shares (TLS) – $1 668 Insurance Australia Group shares (IAG) – $7 310 NIB Holdings shares (NHF) – $5 532 Gold ETF (GOLD.ASX) – $117 757 Secured physical gold – $18 913 Ratesetter (P2P lending) – $10 479 Bitcoin – $148 990 Raiz app (Aggressive portfolio) – $16 841 Spaceship Voyager app (Index portfolio) – $2 553 BrickX (P2P rental real estate) – $4 484 Total portfolio value: $1 765 743 (+$8 485 or 0.5%) Asset allocation Australian shares – 42.2% (2.8% under) Global shares – 22.0% Emerging markets shares – 2.3% International small companies – 3.0% Total international shares – 27.3% (2.7% under) Total shares – 69.5% (5.5% under) Total property securities – 0.3% (0.3% over) Australian bonds – 4.7% International bonds – 9.4% Total bonds – 14.0% (1.0% under) Gold – 7.7% Bitcoin – 8.4% Gold and alternatives – 16.2% (6.2% over) Presented visually, below is a high-level view of the current asset allocation of the portfolio. [Chart] Comments The overall portfolio increased slightly over the month. This has continued to move the portfolio beyond the lows seen in late March. The modest portfolio growth of $8 000, or 0.5 per cent, maintains its value at around that achieved at the beginning of the year. [Chart] The limited growth this month largely reflects an increase in the value of my current equity holdings, in VAS and A200 and the Vanguard retail funds. This has outweighed a small decline in the value of Bitcoin and global shares. The value of the bond holdings also increased modestly, pushing them to their highest value since around early 2017. [Chart] There still appears to be an air of unreality around recent asset price increases and the broader economic context. Britain's Bank of England has on some indicators shown that the aftermath of the pandemic and lockdown represent the most challenging financial crisis in around 300 years. What is clear is that investor perceptions and fear around the coronavirus pandemic are a substantial ongoing force driving volatility in equity markets (pdf). A somewhat optimistic view is provided here that the recovery could look more like the recovery from a natural disaster, rather than a traditional recession. Yet there are few certainties on offer. Negative oil prices, and effective offers by US equity investors to bail out Hertz creditors at no cost appear to be signs of a financial system under significant strains. As this Reserve Bank article highlights, while some Australian households are well-placed to weather the storm ahead, the timing and severity of what lays ahead is an important unknown that will itself feed into changes in household wealth from here. Investments this month have been exclusively in the Australian shares exchange-traded fund (VAS) using Selfwealth.* This has been to bring my actual asset allocation more closely in line with the target split between Australian and global shares. A moving azimuth: falling spending continues Monthly expenses on the credit card have continued their downward trajectory across the past month. [Chart] The rolling average of monthly credit card spending is now at its lowest point over the period of the journey. This is despite the end of lockdown, and a slow resumption of some more normal aspects of spending. This has continued the brief period since April of the achievement of a notional and contingent kind of financial independence. The below chart illustrates this temporary state, setting out the degree to which portfolio distributions cover estimated total expenses, measured month to month. [Chart] There are two sources of volatility underlying its movement. The first is the level of expenses, which can vary, and the second is the fact that it is based on financial year distributions, which are themselves volatile. Importantly, the distributions over the last twelve months of this chart is only an estimate - and hence the next few weeks will affect the precision of this analysis across its last 12 observations. Estimating 2019-20 financial year portfolio distributions Since the beginning of the journey, this time of year usually has sense of waiting for events to unfold - in particular, finding out the level of half-year distributions to June. These represent the bulk of distributions, usually averaging 60-65 per cent of total distributions received. They are an important and tangible signpost of progress on the financial independence journey. This is no simple task, as distributions have varied in size considerably. A part of this variation has been the important role of sometimes large and lumpy capital distributions - which have made up between 30 to 48 per cent of total distributions in recent years, and an average of around 15 per cent across the last two decades. I have experimented with many different approaches, most of which have relied on averaging over multi-year periods to even out the 'peaks and troughs' of how market movements may have affected distributions. The main approaches have been:
An 'adjusted income' approach - stripping out the capital gains components of Vanguard funds to reach an estimate of underlying income generation, both across the entire investment period, and during the sharpest low of the Global Financial Crisis
A long-term asset class approach - relying on long-term historical data on averages of the income produced by various asset classes
A 'tax method' approach - this derives an income estimate as a percentage of the portfolio by drawing on taxable investment income totals from tax return records
Simple historical rolling average - this is a rolling three-year measure, based on the actual distributions record of the portfolio
Average distribution rate approach - this method uses a long-term average of annual distributions received as a percentage of the total portfolio since 1999
Each of these have their particular simplifications, advantages and drawbacks. Developing new navigation tools Over the past month I have also developed more fully an alternate 'model' for estimating returns. This simply derives a median value across a set of historical 'cents per unit' distribution data for June and December payouts for the Vanguard funds and exchange traded funds. These make up over 96 per cent of income producing portfolio assets. In other words, this model essentially assumes that each Vanguard fund and ETF owned pays out the 'average' level of distributions this half-year, with the average being based on distribution records that typically go back between 5 to 10 years. Mapping the distribution estimates The chart below sets out the estimate produced by each approach for the June distributions that are to come. [Chart] Some observations on these findings can be made. The lowest estimate is the 'adjusted GFC income' observation, which essentially assumes that the income for this period is as low as experienced by the equity and bond portfolio during the Global Financial Crisis. Just due to timing differences of the period observed, this seems to be a 'worst case' lower bound estimate, which I do not currently place significant weight on. Similarly, at the highest end, the 'average distribution rate' approach simply assumes June distributions deliver a distribution equal to the median that the entire portfolio has delivered since 1999. With higher interest rates, and larger fixed income holdings across much of that time, this seems an objectively unlikely outcome. Similarly, the delivery of exactly the income suggested by long-term averages measured across decades and even centuries would be a matter of chance, rather than the basis for rational expectations. Central estimates of the line of position This leaves the estimates towards the centre of the chart - estimates of between around $28 000 to $43 000 as representing the more likely range. I attach less weight to the historical three-year average due to the high contribution of distributed capital gains over that period of growth, where at least across equities some capital losses are likely to be in greater presence. My preferred central estimate is the model estimate (green) , as it is based in historical data directly from the investment vehicles rather than my own evolving portfolio. The data it is based on in some cases goes back to the Global Financial Crisis. This estimate is also quite close to the raw average of all the alternative approaches (red). It sits a little above the 'adjusted income' measure. None of these estimates, it should be noted, contain any explicit adjustment for the earnings and dividend reductions or delays arising from COVID-19. They may, therefore represent a modest over-estimate for likely June distributions, to the extent that these effects are more negative than those experienced on average across the period of the underlying data. These are difficult to estimate, but dividend reductions could easily be in the order of 20-30 per cent, plausibly lowering distributions to the $23 000 to $27 000 range. The recently announced forecast dividend for the Vanguard Australian Shares ETF (VAS) is, for example, the lowest in four years. As seen from chart above, there is a wide band of estimates, which grow wider still should capital gains be unexpectedly distributed from the Vanguard retail funds. These have represented a source of considerable volatility. Given this, it may seem fruitless to seek to estimate these forthcoming distributions, compared to just waiting for them to arrive. Yet this exercise helps by setting out reasoning and positions, before hindsight bias urgently arrives to inform me that I knew the right answer all along. It also potentially helps clearly 'reject' some models over time, if the predictions they make prove to be systematically incorrect. Progress Progress against the objective, and the additional measures I have reached is set out below. Measure Portfolio All Assets Portfolio objective – $2 180 000 (or $87 000 pa) 81.0% 109.4% Credit card purchases – $71 000 pa 98.8% 133.5% Total expenses – $89 000 pa 79.2% 106.9% Summary The current coronavirus conditions are affecting all aspects of the journey to financial independence - changing spending habits, leading to volatility in equity markets and sequencing risks, and perhaps dramatically altering the expected pattern of portfolio distributions. Although history can provide some guidance, there is simply no definitive way to know whether any or all of these changes will be fundamental and permanent alterations, or simply data points on a post-natural disaster path to a different post-pandemic set of conditions. There is the temptation to fit past crises imperfectly into the modern picture, as this Of Dollars and Data post illustrates well. Taking a longer 100 year view, this piece 'The Allegory of the Hawk and Serpent' is a reminder that our entire set of received truths about constructing a portfolio to survive for the long-term can be a product of a sample size of one - actual past history - and subject to recency bias. This month has felt like one of quiet routines, muted events compared to the past few months, and waiting to understand more fully the shape of the new. Nonetheless, with each new investment, or week of lower expenditure than implied in my FI target, the nature of the journey is incrementally changing - beneath the surface. Small milestones are being passed - such as over 40 per cent of my equity holdings being outside of the the Vanguard retail funds. Or these these retail funds - which once formed over 95 per cent of the portfolio - now making up less than half. With a significant part of the financial independence journey being about repeated small actions producing outsized results with time, the issue of maintaining good routines while exploring beneficial changes is real. Adding to the complexity is that embarking on the financial journey itself is likely to change who one is. This idea, of the difficulty or impossibility of knowing the preferences of a future self, is explored in a fascinating way in this Econtalk podcast episode with a philosophical thought experiment about vampires. It poses the question: perhaps we can never know ourselves at the destination? And yet, who would rationally choose ruin over any change? The post, links and full charts can be seen here.
Critique my portfolio / asset allocation / investment strategy
I'm in my early thirties, England-based, naturally frugal / minimalist while not giving anything up. Never had debt and am about to purchase my first real estate property. I don't have a well-defined financial goal other than living comfortably, retiring wealthy (whatever the word "wealthy" will mean in years from now!) and conducting an existence in which money is not an issue. I'd like to receive some honest feedback on how I'm managing my £.
Regular account with just what I need on a monthly basis.
Marcus, 3-month expenses.
Cash ISA with money for property (deposit & expenses).
Fun account for hobbies and opportunities, which I top up whenever I want/can.
Investment + retirement
Aviva - company's pension.
Vanguard - SIPP with old jobs pensions, and S&S ISA.
Trading 212 - individual equities.
60%, Balanced equities: Vanguard FTSE Global All Cap + 80% of my retirement accounts.
5%, High-yield: Vanguard VHYL + a few very established companies I like to invest in individually.
20%, Growth stocks: basically FAANG + Tesla.
15%, Bonds: Vanguard Global Bond (part of this, in my mind, is another 3-months expenses, completing a full 6-month emergency fund) + 20% of my retirement accounts.
Some negligible amount in Bitcoin.
Around 100% of my income comes from my salary. Bad news, I know. I've got a gazillion side hustle ideas but never really taken any to the next level. The good news is, I feel fairly safe in my position (high performer in prestigious company). Company pays 13% from gross salary to pension (4% is my cut). As soon as I get my monthly salary, I send 20% + whatever was left from previous month to Vanguard. At the moment I'm splitting this across Global All Cap (60%), VHYL (20%), and Global Bond (20%). I think in 10-day cycles, so I mentally split the part of my monthly salary allocated to discretionary spending in 3. At the end of each 10-day cycle I clear my credit card bill and anything left from the discretionary spending pot for that 10-day cycle goes to either Vanguard or Trading 212 or the fun cash account, together with 100% of the little I occasionally generate with side gigs.
Long term allocation strategy
For now (at least as long as I'm in my 30s!) I think percentages are kind of right, although I'd love to see what you think. The Growth section is growing nicely but because I top up the Balanced section way more regularly I've yet to found myself in the situation where I feel uncomfortable at the point of rebalancing by selling some and re-investing in the Balanced section, if that makes sense. Ideally over time I think I should slowly rebalance Growth and Balanced towards High-Yield and Bonds. Looking forward to reading what your thoughts are!
edit - I came up with a far better title: Why I YOLO on LLOY I have held my Vanguard for three years and since then had read a few books (albeit badly) that inspired me to take some risks: Armchair economist, Freakonomics, Thinking Fast Thinking Slow, 80/20 Principle, Algebra of Happiness, Smarter Investing, somewhat through Intelligent Investor but it's a slow read. I had never experienced picking individuals and foolishly it was something which I wanted badly enough to open with AJBell this FY. Tbh I regret it so if you're already happy with your Vanguard offerings then I can't say I'm happy to own individual picks now. Hopefully I'll get onto the psychology of why later. So why did I pick LLOY? I'm not going to say that I'm ecstatic about it. It was painful to push the button on it. I am extremely bearish (in life not just investing!), this comes from being a millennial, and I am certain that there is a government/company waiting just around the corner to overcharge me for goods and services. I did do some quick maths from the tiny fraction my pea brain gleamed from Intelligent Investor: Assets - 1065.871bn Liabilities - 1000.070bn Long Term Debt - 143.312bn 1065.871 - (1000.070 + 143.312) = 1065.871 - 1143.382 = -77.511 Lloyds really doesn’t appear to be a good buy. But I did so anyway… Somewhat probably from thing's I've not fully understood from Intelligent Investor! Banks are out of favour. They have been out of fashion as long as I can remember.
The financial crisis. The government bailout, which when you look at it now has Barclays comment of 'never took a Govt. bailout' isn't as good after learning that LLOY bought HBOS after being strong-armed by the Govt. for them to learn that there was some weird accounting going on.
PPI Scandal - no idea how this got so out of control. It was an amazingly American style campaign that went on as far as reclaiming it went. It very much reminded me of when I was a child and would forever see compo ads on the telly.
The FinTech new banks. I have nothing bad to say about this bunch I love them, they are doing the lords work. The industry definitely needs shaking up, I remember the days where my banking app mandated a different keyboard from my Android phone for security purposes, fantastic way to 1. freak people out and 2. ruin the usability of your application. The innovation of usability and access which these FinTech's bring is fantastic. But I'm not going to take a loan out with them, my parents aren't going to be able to take a mortgage out with them, and my parents definitely won't get an account over and above their brick banks. When switching becomes even more effortless nobody will probably be with the same bank for more than a year.
Go on why did you buy it despite all this then? Intelligent Investors advice when looking for value is to find companies which are out of fashion but still adequately ran (probably a better word there for adequately). This isn't the 2008 financial crisis - we aren't in this mess because the Banks released a deadly virus. But that doesn’t mean that LLOY wasn't heading for failure before this. The stock was performing badly before this storm. The profits we're lower than expected but they had the PPI bill to pay. The bank is led by António Horta-Osório - he has led the bank since 2011, nearly 10 years of service. He even took time off for his mental health before it was cool to do so! They're even reducing their emissions by 50% by 2020. Forget Elon, this guy is as fellow kids as they come. I'm not worried about the FinTech's yet. I have a few fintech accounts and they're great. I rolled out my joint account in a few clicks. I use it for all my spending. One thing which I think the FinTechs will do better with is getting extremely rich data on their customers spending habits and will therefore be able to sell this to aggregators for a higher price. LLOY have a £3bn digital transformation project which should be completing next year, we'll have to see what they have come up with. (you can tell I started to give up here) LLOY is the leader in the Mortgage market. They even have the Tesco portfolio! Should the country not be able to afford their mortgage bill, I just can't see the government letting it all go. They helped fund this BTL nation through their mortgage interest write offs at the time when rental yields were far higher and so were interest rates! There won't be anyone around to buy the repossessions, all the elderly are dead from Corona, and the youth don’t have any money to buy the houses. I don't think prices can go down to the point at which GenX/Mil can pay for them regardless. The next Govt. handout I can see is an enforced mortgage readjustment by the Govt. to the lenders for as long as borrowers need. There is probably far more which might back this up, but that doesn’t matter because the answer is that this was a risky buy, I have no doubt there is 10 fold more rationale behind not buying this. Just look at the guy the other day who was selling his WH, 200% what a lucky sole, their website was absolute garbage in a time when everyone is betting online! Anyway finally, the psychology behind why I should have stayed with VG. There are no purchase fees! When I buy through AJ and I see that there is a £10 dealing fee I feel a loss. This is mentioned heavily in investment books but I want to talk about the psychology behind it. In Thinking Fast Thinking Slow there is lots of talk about how we as humans react to loss, there are lots of studies mentioned in the book and it is fascinating. The essential take-home point here is that we as humans see loss completely different to gains. You can feel ecstatic finding £5 on the floor but feel a huge sense of dread when a scooter taxi rips you off by £5 in Vietnam and you think about it for the rest of your life! If you can gleam one thing from the Bitcoin culture its HODL!
I have 700k cash sitting in my money market account. I have been sitting on cash since 2016 waiting for that recession so I can perfectly time the market. And in the process I have lost ...not sure how much but a LOT. So I have the following in mind.
33% - golden butterfly allocation
33% - dividend growth investing
33% - high savings account (wealthfront)
Let me know if this would protect me from the downside while giving me a decent amount of returns. EDIT 02/20 Here is a summary of all the nuggets that came out from this thread. Love it. Will updated when I plan my portfolio. -VGRO for the win. ( probably VUG) -three-fund portfolio Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSAX) Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund (VTIAX) Vanguard Total Bond Market Fund (VBTLX) -I personally like some international exposure so have 20% of my portfolio in VTIAX. Great article in international investing https://www.fidelity.com/viewpoints/investing-ideas/international-investing-myths -SPCE. Bet it all on $40 June calls. -You might consider a bogleheads portfolio. Here is my set it and forget it allocation: 70% VTSAX (ETF equivalent is VTI) 20% VTIAX (ETF equivalent is VXUS) 10% VBTLX (ETF equivalent is BND) -A very general rule of thumb is that your bond allocation should equal your age minus 10 (i.e., a 40-year old investor would own approximately 30% bonds, 70% stocks). -I plan to dollar cost average into simple investments like the S&P, dividend growth fund DGRO (which I just love), and some bonds for safety. It’s very similar to VIG -Everything into SPCE calls. Literally no risk ( are you serious?) -if you want to mess with things, i would say swap the small cap value for dividend growth in the golden butterfly. ( Makes sense) having 33% of your 750k in high savings is DUMB. (thanks) -Dollar cost average into the market. Select an appropriate asset allocation for your goals. ( Yes!!!) -Be aware that the average return (say 6-7%) is not the same as as what you can realistically draw as an income.First, for a consistent income stream you need to inflation proof the principle. -Also the portfolios that have been analyzed to death that can reliably support that are basically 50 to 70 percent broadly diverse equities and the difference in broadly diverse bonds (index funds with essentially no fees or loads of course). 6-12mo DTE AAPL/MSFT CALLS. LEHGO (Nah!) -I would invest a small PORTION, into a mix of dividend stocks/etf, a mix of growth stocks/etf, and a mix of gold and gold miners. I wouldn’t do bonds personally, but I would consider high yield saving account if it is liquid and they payout interest often (daily) and I can transfer money quickly to take advantage of market opportunities. ( Dividend stocks and Growth stocks makes sense) -I wouldn’t put everything in the market all at once. Start very small and add to your positions slowly until you get more comfortable and understand the market more. Always have some cash on the sideline to take advantage of potential opportunities. ( Will follow this advice) -If it were my 700k I would invest in Dividend Kings and Aristocrats and let the yield on cost grow over the next decade or two. ( Thanks for letting me know, i will look into it more) -My recommendation would be to DCA into a growth fund like VUG over the next 12-24 months. That will protect you from a sudden correction. Personally, I wouldn't invest in dividend/value tickers, especially if you're under 40. (I’d definitely do this, Thanks. I will do Dividend growth for the passive income) -If I suddenly got $700K, I'd put it all in high-growth tech funds. (If this was 2015 and I were to d it again, I’d do it. FAANGU stocks might be at peak) However, there's still value to be found in this expensive market. For example, the banking sector still looks undervalued relative to the S&P. So you can probably divide your allocation between growth, value, and money market funds. -bitcoin (Will run away from any crypto) -Everything else which isn't that defensive cushion is a highly diversified portfolio of stocks which produce an average dividend of 1.7%. Having more cash or bonds than you need is typically going to underperform. VGRO for the win. Set it and forget it! (Probably not, I’d probably do a US growth fund) -If you were to try to diy look up some ways to invest in non correlated asset classes that offer a higher rate of return while limiting down side. If you want dividends, I'm a fan on the high yield bond fund. Make sure you do your research as to what's actually in it, though, and balance your portfolio accordingly. Understand the risks involved in bonds, and the risks involved in bonds that pay 8%, before investing. ( I think VWINX is a good one) -I'll throw out the two rock solid fundsI always recommend: Vwelx/vwinx. The divvy alone will at least keep your assets in the game, and if you look at '08 vwinx only took a 27% hit from previous highs. ( I like the VWINX more) -Simply put your money into VTWAX. total world stock index. Maximum diversification. Low cost. Low risk as possible. (not too optimistic about the emerging market and frontier markets) -30 houses in a cheap metro. (Too much work, I have a demanding full time job and collecting rents is no fun when you have difficult clients)
Two Roads Diverge | Monthly FIRE Portfolio Update - May 2020
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken This is my forty-second portfolio update. I complete this update monthly to check my progress against my goal. Portfolio goal My objective is to reach a portfolio of $2 180 000 by 1 July 2021. This would produce a real annual income of about $87 000 (in 2020 dollars). This portfolio objective is based on an expected average real return of 3.99 per cent, or a nominal return of 6.49 per cent. Portfolio summary Vanguard Lifestrategy High Growth Fund – $727 917 Vanguard Lifestrategy Growth Fund – $42 128 Vanguard Lifestrategy Balanced Fund – $78 569 Vanguard Diversified Bonds Fund – $110 009 Vanguard Australian Shares ETF (VAS) – $187 003 Vanguard International Shares ETF (VGS) – $39 987 Betashares Australia 200 ETF (A200) – $225 540 Telstra shares (TLS) – $1 726 Insurance Australia Group shares (IAG) – $7 741 NIB Holdings shares (NHF) – $5 652 Gold ETF (GOLD.ASX) – $117 714 Secured physical gold – $18 982 Ratesetter (P2P lending) – $11 395 Bitcoin – $159 470 Raiz app (Aggressive portfolio) – $16 357 Spaceship Voyager app (Index portfolio) – $2 492 BrickX (P2P rental real estate) – $4 477 Total portfolio value: $1 757 159 (+$62 325 or 3.7%) Asset allocation Australian shares – 41.4% (3.6% under) Global shares – 22.2% Emerging markets shares – 2.3% International small companies – 3.0% Total international shares – 27.4% (2.6% under) Total shares – 68.8% (6.2% under) Total property securities – 0.3% (0.3% over) Australian bonds – 4.4% International bonds – 9.7% Total bonds – 14.1% (0.9% under) Gold – 7.8% Bitcoin – 9.1% Gold and alternatives – 16.9% (6.9% over) Presented visually, below is a high-level view of the current asset allocation of the portfolio. [Chart] Comments This month featured a further recovery in the overall portfolio, continuing to effectively reduce the size of the large losses across the first quarter. The portfolio has increased by around $62 000, leading to a portfolio growth of 3.7 per cent. This means that around half of the large recent falls have been made up, and the portfolio sits around levels last reached in October of last year. [Chart] Leading the portfolio growth has been increases in Australian shares - particularly those held through the Betashares A200 and Vanguard VAS exchange traded funds, with both gaining over four per cent. Most other holdings remained steady, or fell slightly. Markets appear to be almost entirely disconnected from the daily announcements of the sharp effects of the global coronavirus pandemic and the resulting restrictions. Bond and equity markets seem to have different and competing expectations for the future, and equity markets - at best - are apparently intent on looking through the immediate recovery phase to a new period of strong expansion. [Chart] On some metrics, both major global and Australian equity markets can be viewed as quite expensive, especially as reduced dividends announced have largely yet to be delivered. Yet if historically low bond yields are considered, it can be argued that some heightening compared to historical equity market valuations may be sustainable. Reflecting this moment of markets holding their breath before one of two possible futures plays out, gold and Bitcoin remain elevated, and consequently above their target weightings. Perhaps the same contending forces are in evidence in a recent Australian Securities and Investment Commission study (pdf) which has found that average Australian retail investors have reacted to uncertainty by activating old brokerage accounts, trading more frequently, and holding securities for shorter periods. My own market activity has been limited to purchases of Vanguard Australian shares ETF (VAS) and the international share ETF (VGS), to bring the portfolio closer to its target allocations. Will Australia continue to be lucky through global slow downs? Despite this burst of market activity in the retail market, it is unclear how Australian markets and equities will perform against the background of a global economic slowdown. A frequently heard argument is that a small open trade exposed commodities provider such as Australia, with a more narrowly-based economy, may perform poorly in a phase of heightened risk. This recent Bank of England paper (pdf) makes the intriguing suggestion that this argument is not borne out by the historical record. In fact, the paper finds that industrial production in Australia, China and a mere handful of other economies has tended to increase following global risk shocks. A question remaining, however, is whether the recovery from this 'risk shock' may have different characteristics and impacts than similar past events. One key question may be the exact form of government fiscal and monetary responses adopted. Another is whether inflation or deflation is the likely pathway - an unknown which itself may rely on whether long-term trends in the velocity of money supply continue, or are broken. Facing all uncertainties, attention should be on tail risks - and minimising the odds of extreme negative scenarios. The case for this is laid out in this moving reflection by Morgan Housel. For this reason, I am satisfied that my Ratesetter Peer-to-Peer loans have been gradually maturing, reducing some 'tail risk' credit exposures in what could be a testing phase for borrowers through new non-bank lending channels in Australia. With accrued interest of over $13 000, at rates of around 9 per cent on average, over the five years of the investment, the loans have performed relatively well. A temporary sheltering port - spending continues to decline This month spending has continued to fall even as lockdown and other restrictions have slowly begun to ease. These extraordinary events have pushed even the smoothed average of three year expenditure down. [Chart] On a monthly basis credit card spending and total expenses have hit the lowest levels in more than six years. Apparently, average savings rates are up across many economies, though obviously individual experiences and starting points can differ dramatically. Total estimated monthly expenditure has also fallen below current estimates of distributions for the first time since a period of exceptionally high distributions across financial year 2017-18. The result of this is that I am briefly and surprisingly, for this month, notionally financially independent based on assumed distributions from the FIRE portfolio alone - at least until more normal patterns of expenditure are resumed. Following the lines of drift - a longer view on progress made Yet taking a longer view - and accounting for the final portfolio goal set - gives a different perspective. This is of a journey reaching toward, but not at, an end. The chart below traces in purely nominal dollar terms the progress of the total portfolio value as a percentage of the current portfolio goal of $2.18 million over the last 13 years. It also shows three labels, with the percentage progress at the inception of detailed portfolio data in 2007, at the start of this written record in January 2017, and as at January 1 of this year. [Chart] Two trend lines are shown - one a polynomial and the other exponential function - and they are extended to include a projection of future progress out to around 18 months. The line of fit is close for the early part of the journey, but larger divergences from both trend lines are evident in the past two years as the impact of variable investment returns on a larger portfolio takes hold. There are some modest inaccuracies introduced by the nominal methodology adopted - such as somewhat discounting early progress. A 2007 dollar had greater 'real' value and significance than is assigned to it by this representation. The chart does demonstrate, however, the approximate shape and length of the early journey - with it taking around 5 years to reach 20 per cent of the target, and 10 years to reach around half way. Progress Progress against the objective, and the additional measures I have reached is set out below. Measure Portfolio All Assets Portfolio objective – $2 180 000 (or $87 000 pa) 80.6% 108.4% Credit card purchases – $71 000 pa 98.3% 132.3% Total expenses – $89 000 pa 78.8% 106.0% Summary With aspects of daily life slowly and incrementally adjusting to a 'new normal', the longer-term question for the portfolio remains around how markets and government actions interact in a recovery phase. The progress of the portfolio over the past 13 years has seemed, when viewed from afar as in chart above, predictable, and almost inevitable. Through the years it has felt anything but so smoothly linear. Rather, tides and waves have pushed and pulled, in turn stalling progress, or pushing it further ahead than hopes have dared. It is possible that what lays ahead is a simple 'return leg', or more of the same. That through simple extrapolation around 80 per cent of the challenges already lay behind. Yet that is not the set of mind that I approach the remainder of the journey with. Rather, the shortness of the distance to travel has lent an extra focus on those larger, lower probability, events that could delay the journey or push it off-course. Those 'third' risks types of tail risks which Morgan Housel points out. In one sense the portfolio allocation aims to deal - in a probabilistic way - with the multiple futures that could occur. Viewed in this way, a gold allocation (and also Bitcoin) represents a long option on an extreme state of the economic world arising - as it did in the early 1980s. The 75 per cent target allocation to equities can be viewed as a high level of assurance around a 'base case' that human ingenuity and innovation will continue to create value over the long term. The bond portfolio, similarly, can be seen as assigning a 15 per cent probability that both of these hypotheses are incorrect, and that further market falls and possible deflation are ahead. That perhaps even an experience akin to the lengthy, socially dislocating, post-bubble phase in Japan presided over by its central bank lays in store. In other interesting media consumed this month, 'Fire and Chill', the brand new podcast collaboration between Pat the Shuffler and Strong Money Australia got off to an enjoyable start, tackling 'Why Bother with FIRE' and other topics. Additionally, investment company Incrementum has just published the latest In Gold We Trust report, which gives an arrestingly different perspective on potential market and policy directions from traditional financial sources. The detailed report questions the role and effectiveness of traditionally 'risk-free' assets like government bonds in the types of futures that could emerge. On first reading, the scenarios it contains appear atypical and beyond the reasonable contemplation of many investors - until it is recalled that up to a few years ago no mainstream economics textbook would have entertained the potential for persistent negative interest rates. As the paths to different futures diverge, drawing on the wisdom of others to help look as far as possible into the bends in the undergrowth ahead becomes the safest choice. The post, links and full charts can be seen here.
Hi everyone, Ive recently been doing a lot of research in the hopes of making my money work for me instead of becoming a slave to the useless things I buy with it. Ive probably learned more in the last month than over my entire life about investing. Which is kind of Ironic because ive worked as a financial advisor (which was mostly selling credit cards and opening bank accounts) before and I have also done my mutual funds certification. With that being said, I still feel completely overwhelmed and I still have tons of questions. So please dont belittle me or tell me "well if you dont know that, you shouldnt be investing". Thats why I am here today, to learn. So Ill just list the questions I have. And please answer with the notion that I am using Wealthsimple trade to invest. 1) How can I tell if a particular ETF or stock pays out dividends?And if they do, will it automatically be reinvested for me in that same stock/ETF? 2) Ive been researching alot about Vanguard products such as their ETFs. How do I make sense of it all? I am on their website and although it seems straight forward and pretty simple I can't really grasp my head around which product is good for me. 3) I have dabbled in bitcoin before with coinbase and one of the first notions of bitcoin is DO NOT let your bitcoin sit on an exchange. Following this logic, should I feel comfortable having one day 50k, 100k or even 500k sitting in my wealthsimple app? 4) What's the difference between wealthsimple trade and wealth simple invest. I guess the trade app is geared more towards trading stocks on a regular basis where as invest is more to invest longterm? In that case, should I open an invest account instead because I dont want to be trading at all, I just want to buy and sit on it for the next 15-20 years. 5) Ive seen several people mention the VGRO ETF, why isnt this particular ETF listed on the Vanguard Website? Thank you so much to whoever can help me these questions, I'd buy you a beer if I could! cheers.
I have invested my money in stocks, funds, IRA, savings account, CDs etc etc. I've believed in the idea of investing in the long run and buy now and hopefully profit in the future. But with the recent news that the fiat dollar MAY crumble and that it MAY fail. What should I start doing, in your opinion to rebalance my investment into Bitcoin. I really don't have that much money to purchase Bitcoin since I put it all on these investment platform (vanguard, Robinhood, Bank of America), but I will love to transfer some of those funds to Bitcoin. Is it possible without paying any penalities or would you advise I do because of a potential downfall of the dollar?
New Lands, or New Eyes? | Monthly FIRE Portfolio Update - April 2020
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. - Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past This is my forty-first portfolio update. I complete this update monthly to check my progress against my goal. Portfolio goal My objective is to reach a portfolio of $2 180 000 by 1 July 2021. This would produce a real annual income of about $87 000 (in 2020 dollars). This portfolio objective is based on an expected average real return of 3.99 per cent, or a nominal return of 6.49 per cent. Portfolio summary Vanguard Lifestrategy High Growth Fund – $697 582 Vanguard Lifestrategy Growth Fund – $40 709 Vanguard Lifestrategy Balanced Fund – $76 583 Vanguard Diversified Bonds Fund – $110 563 Vanguard Australian Shares ETF (VAS) – $174 864 Vanguard International Shares ETF (VGS) – $31 505 Betashares Australia 200 ETF (A200) – $215 805 Telstra shares (TLS) – $1 625 Insurance Australia Group shares (IAG) – $7 323 NIB Holdings shares (NHF) – $5 904 Gold ETF (GOLD.ASX) – $119 458 Secured physical gold – $19 269 Ratesetter (P2P lending) – $12 234 Bitcoin – $158 360 Raiz app (Aggressive portfolio) – $16 144 Spaceship Voyager app (Index portfolio) – $2 435 BrickX (P2P rental real estate) – $4 471 Total portfolio value: $1 694 834 (+$127 888 or 8.2%) Asset allocation Australian shares – 40.9% (4.1% under) Global shares – 21.7% Emerging markets shares – 2.2% International small companies – 3.0% Total international shares – 26.9% (3.1% under) Total shares – 67.8% (7.2% under) Total property securities – 0.3% (0.3% over) Australian bonds – 4.5% International bonds – 9.9% Total bonds – 14.4% (0.6% under) Gold – 8.2% Bitcoin – 9.3% Gold and alternatives – 17.5% (7.5% over) Presented visually, below is a high-level view of the current asset allocation of the portfolio. Comments This month featured a sharp recovery in the overall portfolio, reducing the size of the large losses experienced over the previous month. The portfolio increased by over $127 000, representing a growth of 8.2 per cent, which is the largest month-on-month growth on record. This now puts the portfolio value significantly above the levels of a year ago. [Chart] The expansion in the value of the portfolio has occurred due to an increase in Australian and global equities markets, as well as substantial increases the price of Bitcoin. This is effectively the mirror image of the simultaneous negative movements last month. From a nadir of initial pessimism in late March, markets have generally moved upwards as debate continues about the path of a likely economic recession and recovery from Coronavirus impacts over the coming year. [Chart] First quarter distributions from the Australian and Global Shares ETFs (A200, VAS and VGS) were received this month. These were too early to fully reflect the sharp economic activity impacts of the Coronavirus and lockdown period on company earnings. Despite this, they were significantly down on a cents per unit basis on the equivalent distributions last year. Totalling around $2700, these distributions formed part of new contributions to Vanguard's Australian shares ETF (VAS). The rapid falls in equity have many participants looking forward to a return to normalcy, or at least more open to the pleasing ideas that nerves have been held in a market fall comparable to 2000 or 2008-09, and that markets now represent clear value. As discussed last month, there should be caution and some humility about these questions, if some historical perspective is taken. As an example, the largest global equity market in the world - the United States - remains at valuation levels well above those experienced in previous market lows. Portfolio alternatives - tracking changes under the surface A striking feature of the past year or so has been the expansion of the non-traditional or 'alternatives' components of gold and Bitcoin as a proportion of the overall portfolio. Currently, when combined these alternative assets form a greater part of the portfolio than at any point over the past two years. The chart below shows that since January 2019 the gold and Bitcoin component of the portfolio has lifted from around its long term target level of 10 per cent, to now make up over 17 per cent of the portfolio. In the space of the last four months alone, it has lifted from 13 per cent. [Chart] With no purchases of either gold or Bitcoin over the period, the growth in the chart is the result of two reinforcing factors: A substantial fall in the value of the equity portfolio - reaching nearly $200 000 since the recent February market peak has naturally and mathematically led to a commensurate increase the proportion of other assets. Increases in the value of gold and Bitcoin - have also played a role with a total appreciation of around $150 000 across the two assets over the past 16 months. In fact, the value gold holdings alone have increased by over 40 per cent since January last year. Further appreciation of either gold or Bitcoin prices, particularly if any further falls in equity markets occur, could easily place the portfolio in the same position as experienced in January 2018. At that time these alternative assets made up 1 in every 5 dollars of the portfolio, an unusual, and in that case temporary phenomenon. This represents a different portfolio and risk exposure than that envisaged in my portfolio investment plan. Yet, equally it is critical to recall what the circumstances would likely be for this to arise. Simultaneously high gold and Bitcoin prices are more likely to occur in a situation of severe capital market dislocation, or falling confidence. On the other hand, should confidence and equity market growth be restored, both of these portfolio components could fall back to lower levels. It is difficult to tell which state of the world will eventuate, a key reason for diversification across asset types. United States government debt is already at record levels - equivalent in real terms to levels last seen when it emerged out of the Second World War - despite no similar national effort having being undertaken. Future inflation can potentially partly manage this burden, however, the last sustained episode of persistently high inflation rates during the decade of the 1970s spelt negative real returns. Where investors expect future inflation or financially 'repressive' policies of inflation exceeding interest rates, the economic growth required to 'grow out' of debt can be affected. At this point, my inclination is to address this circumstance gradually through time by re-balancing of distributions and new contributions, rather than to realise capital gains by selling assets at one, or several, points in time. Chasing down the lines - falling average spending in lockdown Since the implementation of lockdown restrictions, average credit card expenditure has fallen by nearly 30 per cent. This has taken credit card expenditure to lower than any similar period in the past six years. Partly as a result of this - as the chart below shows - a new development is occurring. The previously fairly steady card expenses line (red) is now starting to bend down towards, or 'chase', the rolling average distributions line (in blue). [Chart] The declining distributions line is a result of some previous high distributions gradually falling outside of the data 'window' for the rolling three-year comparison of distributions and expenditure. This intriguing picture will probably change before a cross-over occurs, as lockdown restrictions ease, and as the data feeding into the three year average slowly changes over time. Progress Progress against the objective, and the additional measures I have reached is set out below. Measure Portfolio All Assets Portfolio objective – $2 180 000 (or $87 000 pa) 77.7% 104.6% Credit card purchases – $71 000 pa 94.8% 127.6% Total expenses – $89 000 pa 76.0% 102.3% Summary Last month market volatility theoretically took progress down to below most of my financial independence benchmarks on an 'All Assets' (i.e. portfolio and superannuation assets) basis. This position has reversed this month. As markets have recovered and with additional spare time in the lockdown period, I have continued to seek out and think about different perspectives on the history and future of markets. Yet it must be recognised that there is a natural limit to the utility of these ponderings. The shape of the future is always uncertain, and in this world, confident comparisons and analogies with past events can be perilous. Comparisons with past periods of financial market crises miss the centrality of government action as a causal influence on the path of virus affected economies and markets. A virus and recovery is not the same as a global financial crisis originating in housing finance markets addressed through monetary and fiscal stimulus. Most developed country governments have quickly applied the same, if not larger versions of responses as applied in the global financial crisis, a distinguishing step that also makes analogies with the great depression era problematic. Similarly, a pandemic is not hitting and interacting with the shattered economic and health systems of the 1918-19 Spanish flu. Overlaying all of this is the imperfect and partially disconnected relationship between the economy today, and equity markets that discount and focus on the future. This makes all history's lessons more than usually caveated and conditional. One avenue for managing through these times is to focus on what does not change - the psychological difficulty of accepting alterations in financial circumstances and the capacity of markets movements to cruelly surprise us in both timing and direction. One of the best texts to read to get a sense of both of these in such times is Benjamin Roth's A Great Depression Diary. This tells of the day-by-day changes observed in everyday urban life and investment markets, from the point of view of an American small retail investor living through the times. This month also saw the exciting news that Pat the Shuffler and Strong Money Australia are combining efforts to produce a new podcast. Speaking of which, Big ERN's reflections on the current implications of sharemarket market movements for seekers of financial independence have been filled with insight and wisdom. This interesting piece (video) - the latest in a 'virus' market series - from New York University's Professor of Finance Aswath Damodaran on asset performances through the past few months - is a more technical and detailed discussion of how markets have re-priced businesses and profits. Finally, the recently released Hmmminar interview series provides a more heterodox set of speakers and ideas on current markets, presented by Grant Williams. Unlike predicting the future, seeking out different perspectives on it is perhaps the easiest it has ever been in history. While it is not always possible to change the course taken, it is possible to look at the same horizon with new eyes. The post, links and full charts can be seen here.
Murmurs of the Sea | Monthly Portfolio Update - March 2020
Only the sea, murmurous behind the dingy checkerboard of houses, told of the unrest, the precariousness, of all things in this world. -Albert Camus, The Plague This is my fortieth portfolio update. I complete this update monthly to check my progress against my goal. Portfolio goal My objective is to reach a portfolio of $2 180 000 by 1 July 2021. This would produce a real annual income of about $87 000 (in 2020 dollars). This portfolio objective is based on an expected average real return of 3.99 per cent, or a nominal return of 6.49 per cent. Portfolio summary Vanguard Lifestrategy High Growth Fund – $662 776 Vanguard Lifestrategy Growth Fund – $39 044 Vanguard Lifestrategy Balanced Fund – $74 099 Vanguard Diversified Bonds Fund – $109 500 Vanguard Australian Shares ETF (VAS) – $150 095 Vanguard International Shares ETF (VGS) – $29 852 Betashares Australia 200 ETF (A200) – $197 149 Telstra shares (TLS) – $1 630 Insurance Australia Group shares (IAG) – $7 855 NIB Holdings shares (NHF) – $6 156 Gold ETF (GOLD.ASX) – $119 254 Secured physical gold – $19 211 Ratesetter (P2P lending) – $13 106 Bitcoin – $115 330 Raiz* app (Aggressive portfolio) – $15 094 Spaceship Voyager* app (Index portfolio) – $2 303 BrickX (P2P rental real estate) – $4 492 Total portfolio value: $1 566 946 (-$236 479 or -13.1%) Asset allocation Australian shares – 40.6% (4.4% under) Global shares – 22.3% Emerging markets shares – 2.3% International small companies – 3.0% Total international shares – 27.6% (2.4% under) Total shares – 68.3% (6.7% under) Total property securities – 0.2% (0.2% over) Australian bonds – 4.8% International bonds – 10.4% Total bonds – 15.2% (0.2% over) Gold – 8.8% Bitcoin – 7.4% Gold and alternatives – 16.2% (6.2% over) Presented visually, below is a high-level view of the current asset allocation of the portfolio. Comments This month saw an extremely rapid collapse in market prices for a broad range of assets across the world, driven by the acceleration of the Coronavirus pandemic. Broad and simultaneous market falls have resulted in the single largest monthly fall in portfolio value to date of around $236 000. This represents a fall of 13 per cent across the month, and an overall reduction of more the 16 per cent since the portfolio peak of January. [Chart] The monthly fall is over three times more severe than any other fall experienced to date on the journey. Sharpest losses have occurred in Australian equities, however, international shares and bonds have also fallen. A substantial fall in the Australia dollar has provided some buffer to international equity losses - limiting these to around 8 per cent. Bitcoin has also fallen by 23 per cent. In short, in the period of acute market adjustment - as often occurs - the benefits of diversification have been temporarily muted. [Chart] The last monthly update reported results of some initial simplified modelling on the impact of a hypothetical large fall in equity markets on the portfolio. Currently, the actual asset price falls look to register in between the normal 'bear market', and the more extreme 'Global Financial Crisis Mark II' scenarios modelled. Absent, at least for the immediate phase, is a significant diversification offset - outside of a small (4 per cent) increase in the value of gold. The continued sharp equity market losses have left the portfolio below its target Australian equity weighting, so contributions this month have been made to Vanguard's Australian shares ETF (VAS). This coming month will see quarterly distributions paid for the A200, VGS and VAS exchange traded funds - totalling around $2700 - meaning a further small opportunity to reinvest following sizeable market falls. Reviewing the evidence on the history of stock market falls Vladimir Lenin once remarked that there are decades where nothing happen, and then there are weeks in which decades happen. This month has been four such weeks in a row, from initial market responses to the coronavirus pandemic, to unprecedented fiscal and monetary policy responses aimed at lessening the impact. Given this, it would be foolish to rule out the potential for other extreme steps that governments have undertaken on multiple occasions before. These could include underwriting of banks and other debt liabilities, effective nationalisation or rescues of critical industries or providers, or even temporary closure of some financial or equity markets. There is a strong appeal for comforting narratives in this highly fluid investment environment, including concepts such as buying while distress selling appears to be occurring, or delaying investing until issues become 'more clear'. Nobody can guarantee that investments made now will not be made into cruel short-lived bear market rallies, and no formulas exist that will safely and certainly minimise either further losses, or opportunities forgone. Much financial independence focused advice in the early stages of recent market falls focused on investment commonplaces, with a strong flavour of enthusiasm at the potential for 'buying the dip'. Yet such commonly repeated truths turn out to be imperfect and conditional in practice. One of the most influential studies of a large sample of historical market falls turns out to provide mixed evidence that buying following a fall reliably pays off. This study (pdf) examines 101 stock market declines across four centuries of data, and finds that:
Large falls can lead to strong rebounds - After large falls of up to 50 per cent, the probability of a large rebound is higher.
Future returns after large market falls are generally positive - Returns following such a severe crash are systematically higher than otherwise.
Smaller market falls, however, may accurately signal poor future returns - Smaller declines (10-20 per cent) are more likely to be followed by further declines, although the strength of the relationship is weaker and less consistent.
Even these findings should be viewed as simply indicative. Each crisis and economic phase has its unique character, usually only discernible in retrospect. History, in these cases, should inform around the potential outlines of events that can be considered possible. As the saying goes, risk is what remains after you believe you have thought of everything. Position fixing - alternative perspectives of progress In challenging times it can help to keep a steady view of progress from a range of perspectives. Extreme market volatility and large falls can be disquieting for both recent investors and those closer to the end of the journey. One perspective on what has occurred is that the portfolio has effectively been pushed backwards in time. That is, the portfolio now sits at levels it last occupied in April 2019. Even this perspective has some benefit, highlighting that by this metric all that has been lost is the strong forward progress made in a relatively short time. Yet each perspective can hide and distort key underlying truths. As an example, while the overall portfolio is currently valued at around the same dollar value as a year ago, it is not the same portfolio. Through new purchases and reinvestments in this period, many more actual securities (mostly units in ETFs) have been purchased. The chart below sets out the growth in total units held from January 2019 to this month, across the three major exchange trade funds holdings in the portfolio. [Chart] From this it can be seen that the number of securities held - effectively, individual claims on the future earnings of the firms in these indexes - has more than doubled over the past fifteen months. Through this perspective, the accumulation of valuable assets shows a far more constant path. Though this can help illuminate progress, as a measure it also has limitations. The realities of falls in market values cannot be elided by such devices, and some proportion of those market falls represent initial reassessments of the likely course of future earnings, and therefore the fundamental value of each of those ETF units. With significant uncertainty over the course of global lock-downs, trade and growth, the basis of these reassessments may provide accurate, or not. For anyone to discount all of these reassessments as wholly the temporary result of irrational panic is to show a remarkable confidence in one's own analytical capacities. Similarly, it would be equally wrong to extrapolate from market falls to a permanent constraining of the impulse of humanity to innovate, adjust to changed conditions, seek out opportunities and serve others for profit. Lines of position - Trends in expenditure A further longer-term perspective regularly reviewed is monthly expenses compared to average distributions. Monthly expenditure continues to be below average, and is likely to fall further next month as a natural result of a virus-induced reduction of shopping trips, events and outings. [Chart] As occurred last month, as a function some previous high distributions gradually falling outside of the data 'window' for the rolling three-year comparison of distributions and expenditure, a downward slope in distributions continues. Progress Progress against the objective, and the additional measures I have reached is set out below. Measure Portfolio All Assets Portfolio objective – $2 180 000 (or $87 000 pa) 71.9% 97.7% Credit card purchases – $71 000 pa 87.7% 119.2% Total expenses – $89 000 pa 70.2% 95.5% Summary This month has been one of the most surprising and volatile of the entire journey, with significant daily movements in portfolio value and historic market developments. There has been more to watch and observe than at any time in living memory. The dominant sensation has been that of travelling backwards through time, and revisiting a stage of the journey already passed. The progress of the last few months has actually been so rapid, that this backwards travel has felt less like a set back, but rather more like a temporary revisitation of days past. It is unclear how temporary a revisitation current conditions will enforce, or exactly how this will affect the rest of the journey. In early January I estimated that if equity market fell by 33 per cent through early 2020 with no offsetting gains in other portfolio elements, this could push out the achievement of the target to January 2023. Even so, experiencing these markets and with more volatility likely, I don't feel there is much value in seeking to rapidly recalculate the path from here, or immediately alter the targeted timeframe. Moving past the portfolio target from here in around a year looks almost impossibly challenging, but time exists to allow this fact to settle. Too many other, more important, human and historical events are still playing out. In such times, taking diverse perspectives on the same facts is important. This Next Life recently produced this interesting meditation on the future of FIRE during this phase of economic hardship. In addition, the Animal Spirits podcast also provided a thoughtful perspective on current market falls compared to 2008, as does this article by Early Retirement Now. Such analysis, and each passing day, highlights that the murmurs of the sea are louder than ever before, reminding us of the precariousness of all things. The post, links and full charts can be seen here.
Your heresy shall stay your feet – why you shouldn’t just invest in equities
The most popular approach to reaching FIRE here in Australia seems to be investing solely in equities, either Australian only or with some international shares as well. It’s a strategy expounded by some of the more prominent bloggers and any questions on Reddit or the like about how to invest to reach FIRE usually get a bunch of responses talking about various equities only portfolios. Given the great returns that shares have had historically and especially over the last 10 years or so, it’s easy to see why this is a popular strategy. Which is why I wanted to write about how it’s probably not actually going to be the best idea for most people. Quick disclaimer: As is always the case you should not plan your finances around what some random person on the internet says. Everything which is written here is of a general nature at most and is certainly not specific professional advice for you and you should not be relying on it when making decisions. Whilst every endeavour is made to provide accurate information at the time of writing you should be talking to a licensed professional about any specific areas of your finances, taxes etc. Also, it’s going to be really embarrassing if it all goes pear shaped and you have to explain that it did so because you read about something from a random blogger. Moving on! I live in Australia, why do I need to invest in equities in other countries? There are certainly some very good reasons to invest in Australian shares. You don’t have to worry about currency movements as much, there aren’t any annoying forms to have to fill out so that other countries don’t tax you more than they should, you’re supporting Australian companies and workers etc. There are also a lot of problems with this though. One of the problems that is frequently brought up is that in Australia the 10 biggest companies make up about 40% of the index. The below is from Vanguard’s factsheet for VAS and it shows that the top ten companies make up 42.0% of the ASX 300 as of 31st August. Which is obviously a pretty big percentage, but isn’t actually that unusual globally as per the below chart. Australia is really around the middle of the pack, although a lot of the countries where the top 10 make up smaller percentages of the index have much bigger markets. What is more of a problem to my mind at least is that so much of the Australian market is focussed on just two sectors, Financials and Materials. The Financials sector makes up 31% of the index, and in fact the big 4 banks are about 21% of the entire index. Given that they’re almost entirely domestically focussed with few growth opportunities here and with a very large amount of their earnings coming from residential mortgages in what seems to me to be a very highly valued property market, I’m not super keen on having my money invested only in Australia. Similarly with Materials making up about 17.5% and most of this being companies that dig stuff out of the ground and export it and are largely reliant on continued good relations with China, it doesn’t strike me as being a great growth sector either. I could be wrong on all of this of course (and have been wrong about all sorts of investment ideas in the past) but personally I would prefer a bit more in the way of diversification and growth prospects because otherwise you’re essentially taking a bet on housing staying strong and China continuing to buy our resources. If I look at MSCI World ex-Australia (VGS), Financials and Materials are a much smaller part of the index so by buying international equities I have a lot more diversification and I get exposure to industries which have lower representations in Australia like IT, Health Care and the like and which are probably likely to see more growth in my opinion. Again, I could be wrong about all of this but that’s part of my thinking here. There is also some diversification benefit from investing in global equities, in that although the Australian sharemarket is likely to closely follow what global markets are doing ie if they go up or down so will the Australian market but the reverse doesn’t necessarily hold true. So if the Australian share market has a fall due to overinflated property prices for example, stockmarkets areoudn the globe are unlikely to get hit on the back of this. So to me it makes a lot of sense to invest not just in Australian equities but International ones as well. Why should people invest in anything other than equities? I mentioned in my post explaining bonds that I actually have about 21% in investments other than equities. That’s a mix of cash, fixed income, REITs, and infrastructure investments. I also talked about one of my favourite FIRE bloggers the FI Explorer having about 30% of his investments in assets like bonds, gold, and bitcoin as of his last update. The idea of investing in those other asset classes is that hopefully when equities fall or aren’t doing much, these other assets will go up in value. Historically speaking bonds tend to go up in value when equities are falling significantly. Likewise gold tends to rise when stocks go down. I’m less convinced about Bitcoin as an investment but it’s worked as a hedge so far is my understanding, and it’s not as though it’s me who is invested in it. As someone who has spent a lot of time studying finance for both formal qualifications and my own enjoyment (yes really) I’m very aware of the fact that equities are a pretty volatile asset class. I’m not talking about the stupid stuff on the news about billions being wiped off or added on to the value of the sharemarket that the media loves to talk about, that’s irrelevant because what it actually means is the Australian share market went down or up 0.1% or something similar that I don’t care about. What I do care about are the big falls in the value of the market, and thus my investments. It doesn’t actually make much of a difference to me mathematically at this point in time because I’m still a long way from hitting my FIRE number, in fact it’s actually a net benefit because I can invest at a lower price. Psychologically though it can make a difference. I talk a lot about the math behind FIRE, but in a lot of ways the behavioural aspects are more important. I can tell you from experience that it’s not a lot of fun seeing your net worth drop by $100k or more when the market decides to go down by double digit percentages as it did for the last quarter of 2018. As much as you might assume it’s only temporary it doesn’t feel like that at the time and you start wondering if this time is going to be different. I would say that I’m actually far more relaxed about this stuff than most people because after 20 plus years in finance (mostly in equities/equity linked products) which includes the dot com crash, the GFC, the Greek debt crisis, the taper tantrum and all the other moves up and down over that time period I’ve got a fair idea what it feels like to see my net worth drop and be nervous about the state of the markets and my investments. Certainly from the number of conversations I’ve had with people who freak out about a 2% drop it seems like I’m a lot calmer about the volatility of shares. Despite that I still want to reduce the chance of big falls in the overall value of my portfolio as much as possible, to have some investments which zig when equities zag so to speak. Investments like treasury bonds are great for this, because they tend to appreciate in value when the market falls as shown in the graph below taken from this excellent post showing what bonds have done when stocks crashed over the last 30 years or so. The numbers are for the US but would likely be very similar for Oz. The chart below from this post by one of my favourite finance bloggers (Ben Carlson at a Wealth of Common Sense) shows the performance of stocks and bonds during bear markets over the last 70 years or so, again this is for the US rather than Australia. The same author wrote this amusing post after Bank of America declared the 60/40 (stocks/bonds) portfolio dead. 60/40 is the rule of thumb asset allocation for US investors, here in Australia your super fund will tell you they’re more like 70/30 even though they’re probably more like 90/10. Again, that’s a post for another time. In any case, as he says in the post a 60/40 portfolio gave you an 8.1% return vs 9.5% for stocks, but had 40% less volatility. I’m happy to trade some return for a lot less volatility. My point is that although having some money in bonds is not going to be enough to stop the value of my portfolio falling a bit especially given that most of my portfolio is still made up of equities, it will hopefully be enough to stop it from being cut in half as would have been the case for equity only portfolios in the GFC. So bonds to me are a safety net, both emotionally and financially. Having that safety net in place means that I’m more likely to be able to stay the course. However depending on the timing of any stock (or bond) market crashes they may actually help me reach my goal faster. If there is a big stock market crash right before I would have hit FIRE and bonds haven’t been too much of a drag in performance along the way, then bonds will reduce my losses and help me get to my FIRE number faster than an equity only portfolio will. What else can you invest in to diversify? As I mentioned above another asset which can serve well as a diversifier is gold, although personally I don’t like it because even though it has worked historically there is no real reason why it should do so. Warren Buffett has this great quote about gold. “[Gold] gets dug out of the ground in Africa, or someplace. Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no utility. Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head.” So I don’t invest in gold personally, but if others want to I can see how it makes sense based off what has happened historically. Similary with Bitcoin which I think of as being even sillier, yes it has worked as a diversifier in the short time it has been around but it has even less utility than gold and basically is worth something only because there are a bunch of people who are willing to keep believing it is worth something. Maybe it’ll keep on working, maybe it won’t, I’m not planning on buying any either way. As I said above I do have some other investments like property (REITs) and infrastructure as well, I don’t think these are necessarily great for helping me out if the stock market crashes but they may help a little, and in the meantime in years when the stock market goes up but not by much these may well do better for me. In fact over the last 20 years for the US, both bonds and REITs have outperformed stocks. So maybe I should actually have more money in bonds and REITs than what I currently do! Does diversification help when you retire? Dan at Ordinary Dollar has done some great work on optimal asset allocation and longer retirement lengths looking at a mix of Australian and US stocks and bonds. Combining the findings of the two posts, if you have an 80/20 portfolio you get pretty close to the same probability of a succesful retirement as 100% equities but with a lot less volatility. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me! It also shows that a 100% allocation to Australian equities (or to US equities for that matter) is not as effective as a more diversfied portfolio, particularly over longer time frames. The benefits of diversification What I’m aiming for in my portfolio is a mix of assets that will go well in most circumstances without too much volatilty, and when stock markets crash won’t fall by as much. This will help me out psychologically by having smaller falls in net worth along the way so I don’t panic when markets are falling, and as I’ve said above might well get me to FIRE faster than an all equities portfolio anyway. It will also help me when I have retired because as it turns out having some diversification actually gives me a higher likelihood of a successful retirement! Are you all in on equities, or do you have other assets to diversify your portfolio? Has this post changed your mind? Original post with pretty pictures and graphs here.
Do Crypto Currencies belong in your investment portfolio? If so, what percentage?
I’m 23 years old and want to becoming financially independent by the age of 35. I’ve been investing in the stock market for 5 years now, primarily in the Vanguard VFIAX index fund, but also in individual stocks. I became interested in bitcoin in mid 2017 when everyone and their mother was talking about it. With that said, I’m curious — do you think crypto belongs in a good diversified investment portfolio? If so, what percentage of your investment portfolio should it hold? If not, why? Thanks!
The below is the text from my latest blog post about bonds, if you want to see the original with pretty pictures, charts, graphs etc then click on this link. Ok, the title is an obvious dad joke, but as it happens it still fits in with my naming convention for posts so happy days! On to more serious stuff. The most common proposed asset allocation for people pursuing FIRE seems to involve having absolutely as much invested in equities (or to a lesser extent property) as possible, and reducing every other asset class to as little as possible. Which is certainly one way of doing things, and given the great performance of shares and property over the last 20 years or more there is an argument to be made for doing things this way. It’s certainly not the only way of doing things though, and I will be trying to show why there is a case to be made for investing some money in other asset classes, in particular Fixed Income aka Bonds. So what are bonds? Bonds are a type of debt that is issued by governments, semi-government organisations, and corporations, so basically you’re lending them money. In Australia we also have what are called hybrid securities, but they’ve got some big enough differences that I’ll talk about them in a future post (probably). Bonds are also one of those fun areas where there is an exception to every rule, so although what I’ve written below is broadly accurate there is always going to be some type of bond or a specific issue that breaks one of the rules. So please don’t be an internet hero and “well ackshually” me about premium redemption/issue bonds, soft calls, hard calls, investor puts, floaters, PIK notes and all the rest of it because broadly speaking it isn’t going to make much difference for the purposes of explaining bonds. Basically play nice readers! Talk numbers to me… Bonds are all about math. As I’m sure regular readers of this blog can imagine this makes me very happy, and probably explains in part why I spent a large part of my career working in an area where understanding bonds was crucial, although to make things more interesting we added on a bunch of other stuff like equity options, credit derivatives, FX etc. The main numbers to think about are the price you paid for the bond, the coupon on the bond, the yield on the bond, the time to maturity, and the maturity value of the bond. From those main numbers we also derive a bunch of other numbers I’ll talk about later. Bonds are normally issued at a price of 100, with a fixed coupon (interest payment based on the maturity value of the bond) and a fixed maturity value at a known maturity date. So that’s 4 of the numbers covered already, happy days! A lot of the time though you’re not going to be buying that bond when it is issued, you’ve buying it when it’s already trading in which case chances are pretty good you didn’t pay 100 for the bond. Buying it along the way doesn’t affect the coupon or the redemption amount at maturity or when it matures. What it does affect though is the yield. There are a bunch of different yield measures but I’m going to go with yield to maturity, ie what yield (return) will you get if you hold the bond to maturity. It’s not a perfect analogy, but one way to think about bonds is that they’re like a term deposit where the amount that you can buy it for moves around. If you buy a bond for $10,000 that is going to mature in a year and it has a 2% coupon and redeems for $10,200 (redemption price plus coupon payment), then your yield (2%) is the same as your coupon (2%). But if interest rates have changed and so the price of the bond has changed and you buy that bond for $9,900 or $10,100, then your yield will be different from your coupon, either 3% or 1% respectively. Hopefully that makes sense? BTW I’ve rounded the numbers here to try and keep it nice and simple. Most bonds pay interest on a semi annual basis (I used an annual payment in the example above to make things easier) so to figure out how much interest you get when it gets paid it’ll be the coupon divided by two. Hopefully all of that makes sense, if not let me know in the comments. Issuers of Bonds As I said above the main issuers of bonds are governments, semi government organisations, and corporations. Debt issued by governments is generally the safest type, because so long as they control the printing press then they can always print more money to pay you back. The Eurozone is a bit of an exception to this (understatement of the year) but in most of the other major sovereign bond markets like the US, Australian, the UK etc it’s true. Emerging markets are a bit different because they often issue debt in USD, which means that if things go pear shaped then they can’t just print more money to pay off bondholders. There can also be issues with getting your money back from sovereigns if they have too much debt, such as when they either don’t control the printing press (Greece) or the bond is issued in a different currency (Argentina) but for the most part if you lend money to a developed country in their own currency then you can pretty reliably count on getting your money back. There are also bonds issued by semi government organisations like the World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development etc, these are slightly less safe for the most part but you’re still not taking on much risk of not getting your money back. Debt issued by corporations is riskier, partly because businesses obviously can’t just print more money to pay you back, and because corporations can and do go bust. Sure it doesn’t seem likely that Telstra or Woolworths or the big banks are going to blow up any time soon, but there are plenty of other bond issuers out there with much more fragile finances. As you would expect the more risk you are taking on the more return you want in order to be compensation for doing so. This is because unlike a term deposit the value of your capital isn’t protected. If you put $10,000 into a term deposit for a year with an interest rate of 2%, then you know that in a year’s time you will get back that $10,000 plus $200 in interest. If for some reason the bank you invested that money through goes bust, the government will make you whole (up to the value of $250,000 per entity per approved deposit institution. If you invest in a corporate bond and the company goes bust, well you’re probably not going to get all or maybe any of your money back. The good news is that you’re more likely to get money back than equity holders, but if the debts of the company are a lot more than the assets then you’re going to be in trouble. There’s a clear framework for what happens if a company goes bust and who gets paid first and in how much etc, the short version of this is that equity holders are absolutely last in line but depending on what type of bonds you own you may not be a meaningful better position either. And unlike a stock, when you own a bond you don’t own a piece of the issuer of the bond, you just own part of their devt. So if the company does great and starts making a fortune, you as a bondholder don’t get paid any more than what the terms of the bond state. Basically you can get a fair chunk of the downside and none of the upside beyond the terms of the bond. On the plus side this doesn’t happen particularly often, most of the time you’ll get what you were promised Bond ratings Now obviously some companies are more secure and stable than others. If you take a bond from the biggest company in the ASX200 which is CBA, then it’s more likely to fulfil the terms of the bond than whatever the 200th company is. That’s not to say the 200th company won’t, just that there is more risk. The actual degree of this risk is quantified in a couple of different ways. First of all there are ratings agencies out there who will assign a rating from anywhere to super safe (AAA) to D (in default) with a bunch of graduations in between. Anything rated from AAA to BBB- is what is called Investment Grade (IG), everything below that is called High Yield (HY) or less politely Junk. Just because a bond is IG doesn’t guarantee it will pay off, likewise something which is HY isn’t guaranteed or even likely to fail. For the most part though the different ratings given tend to play out that way in the real world, with far less defaults for bonds rated AAA vs bonds rated BB for example. The big three ratings agencies are Standard & Poors (S&P), Moodys, and Fitch, and between them they’ll rate most of the bonds and/or issuers. They tend to be fairly backward looking in my opinion, and they were hugely and obviously wrong on rating mortgage backed securities back in the GFC. Still, they will generally give you a reasonable idea of the creditworthiness of the bond issuer. Because bonds are also traded in the marketplace you can take the yield offered on a bond with a particular maturity, compare it to an equivalent government bond, and using some fun math (yeah baby!) back out a credit spread which that bond trades over treasuries (or swaps but I’m not going to get into that). The higher the spread, the higher the perceived risk of the bond, and vice versa of course. Are bonds safe? Well it kinda depends on what you mean by safe. If you mean are the bonds likely to deliver what the issuer of the bonds promised, then generally yes. As I said with government and semi government bonds you will almost certainly get all your coupons and the maturity value of the bonds delivered on time. Yeah, there are some exceptions to this but you’re unlikely to run into trouble with Australia, the US, the UK, the more economically sensible members of the Eurozone etc. Similarly with corporates the vaast majority of the time you will get your money back on investment grade bonds, and it’s pretty rare to not get your money back on high yield bonds as well. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but it doesn’t happen much. If you mean am I going to get back what I put into the bond, well no they’re not necessarily safe, particularly if you sell before maturity. Remember when I said bonds are kinda like term deposits that can trade? Well when they trade those prices move around, and they can move around a lot! Why do bond prices move? There are a bunch of reasons why bond prices move around, the main ones are changes in the interest rate environment, changes in economic conditions, and changes specific to the issuer of the bond. We’ll talk about interest rates first. Bond prices have an inverse relationship with bond yields, which is a fancy way of saying if interest rates (yields) go down then bond prices go up. How much do they go up? Well that depends on the magnitude of the change in rates, and a bunch of factors involving the bond. Basically the longer till maturity on the bond, and the lower the coupon on the bond, the more sensitive it will be to changes in interest rates. This is measured using modified duration and convexity. Modified duration takes into account the timing of the cashflows of the bond (so coupons and maturity) and gives you a number which is typically a little less than that number of years to maturity, the higher the coupon the more it decreases the modified duration. If you multiply that modified duration by the change in interest rates in percentage terms, it will tell you how much the bond price will move by (in theory at least). So if you have a modified duration of say 7.117, then for every 1 percent move in interest rates the bond price will change by 7.117 points. So if your bond price was previously 100 and rates moved down by 1%, then your bond should now be worth 107.117. Happy days! Conversely if rates moved up, well your bond is now worth 92.883. Not so happy days. I’ve used the [ASX bond calculator](http://%20https//www.asx.com.au/asx/research/bondCalculator.do) to give a couple of examples using the current Aussie 10 year bond. You can hopefully see below that by changing the yield on the bond from 1.5% to 1% the market price has gone from 116.87 to 121.83, roughly a 4.25% change in price for a 0.5% change in rates, so presumably the modified duration on the bond is about 8.5. To make things slightly more complex, that relationship isn’t fixed due to something called convexity. Instead of being a linear relationship, it’s actually a changing one (a curve rather than a line). Basically the more bonds prices move away from where they were issued the more that relationship will change. Then there are things like GDP numbers, employment numbers, consumer sentiment surveys, PMI surverys, and all sorts of other economic news which will potentially move bond yields around, generally pretty slightly but it really depends on how important that economic number is and how much of a change from expectations it is. On top of that for corporations changes in their own situations will have an effect on what their credit rating/spread is which will affect prices as well. If a company goes from being loss making to suddenly making a profit, then that’s going to be good for their credit and the bond price is likely to go up. Bad news like a profit warning will potentially mean a higher credit spread and lower price for the bond. There is also general investor appetite for risk, so if investors are happy to take on more risk in their asset allocation (risk on) then they will likely sell off lower risk assets like bonds and buy higher risk assets like equities and to a lesser extent property. If things change and they want to go risk off, then the reverse happens and money tends to come out of equities and into bonds. What happens to bonds if the stock market crashes or we have another GFC? A stock market crash is actually one of the more compelling reasons to invest in bonds. This is because when stock markets crash investors tend to put their money into asset classes where they feel a lot safer ie, bonds. The rationale is that getting your money back is now hugely important, and even more important is not losing all your money as you will in those horrible equities which you knew you should never have invested in but that horrible financial adviser talked you into. People. Are. Not. Rational. People panic. People sell assets which are going down in value even though they know they should be holding on for the long term. This applies not just to retail investors, but also to professionals who should know better. In the GFC I spent plenty of time talking to institutional investors with a long term time horizon (ie 5 or 10 years etc) who suddenly decided they had to get out because of bad one month performance. People will bail out if the proverbial is hitting the fan. I wrote a bit about my experiences with the GFC here, and believe me there are a lot of people who are not going to be as cool calm and collected as they think they will be. It’s very very very very (extra very for emphasis) important to note here that at this point in time investors will not be thinking that all bonds are much the same. When they are looking for somewhere to put their money that they now have after panic selling out of equities, they will park it in the safest place they can find, ie government bonds (aka treasuries). This will cause the price of those bonds to rise because of supply and demand. If they still want to take on some amount of risk then they might put some into investment grade bonds, again this will push the price up a bit. They will almost certainly not put money into high yield bonds, because those are risky and in a crisis will behave pretty similarly to equities, ie they will fall in value. If anything they will more than likely try to pull money out of HY bonds, pushing the price down. This excellent post really shows this in the below graph which shows the average performance of different types of bonds for a 10% or greater fall in the stock market (all of this is for the US but the same principle applies to Australia). It doesn’t work in every case, as shown below (same source), but in almost all cases of a big crash in equities, treasury and to a lesser extent IG bonds gave you a big positive return to help out. HY, not so much and in some cases actually gave you a worse performance than equities themselves. Please believe me when I say it is a huge help psychologically to have some of your investments going up when the others are going down, which to me at least is a great reason to have some money invested in bonds. You’ve convinced me, how much should I have in bonds? Ok so I’m probably being slightly optimistic here given the number of posts I see on reddit about how VDHG would be so much better if Vanguard got rid of that terrible 10% that’s invested in bonds and put it all in equities instead. It would be nice to think though that some people are now realising that come the next crash they too might not behave entirely rationally, and it sure would be nice to own some assets that are going to zig when the stock market zags, so to speak. On the off chance that I have actually convinced people, well it really comes down to your particular risk profile. This is going to be hard to believe for some people, but in the US the default portfolio for most investors is 60% stocks and 40% bonds. Looking at Oz , the default balanced investment option for most super funds over here are supposed to have something like a 70:30 split between growth assets (shares and property) and defensive assets (bonds and cash) although the reality is a long long way from that if you actually look into how they invest (that’s a discussion for another time though). So that maybe provides a useful starting point. I know that the average FIRE portfolio that gets talked about particularly from younger bloggers (who have likely never experienced a sustained down market) is pretty much 100% equities and property, maybe even leveraged up. Which is fine if you can hold on through the downturns, but not everyone can do this because it is extremely difficult to do psychologically. I wish them all the best of luck, but I am pretty sure that at least some of them will decide that it’s all too much and sell whenever we have the next crash. There are exceptions to the rule though. One of my favourite bloggers, and someone who I know thinks deeply about this sort of stuff, is the FI Explorer who has about 15% in bonds and 15% in defensive alternatives (gold and bitcoin) as per his latest portfolio update. Whilst I don’t like Bitcoin myself, or gold for that matter, he writes a good explanation about why he holds both here. I still don’t like either asset myself, but I recognise that I am not infallible, I could well be wrong about this, and certainly historically they have worked well as hedges. In any case the more important point here is that there is basically a 30% allocation to what would be regarded as defensive type assets. This is actually a bit over his actual target of 25% in defensive assets, but he probably sleeps just fine at night. I’m a little more aggressive in only having about 21% of my assets (excluding PPoR) in cash and bonds, but it’s not a huge difference. Both of us have been invested through stock market crashes and hopefully have come to realise that we are not the hyper rational investors that economists believe we are, and therefore it’s best to have a bit invested in stuff that will go up or at least hold it’s value when everything else is crashing. How do I buy bonds? You can buy bonds individually, but you tend to need to have a fair amount of money to do so and you can run into a lot of problems with liquidity, big bid/ask spreads etc, it’s hard to build up a diversified portfolio etc. I buy bonds the same way I buy stocks, ie via an ETF. Most of the major ETF providers have some variety of index ETFs tracking Treasury only or Treasury plus Investment Grade bonds, or you can buy HY stuff if you want. Personally I just use one ETF which has about 75% in treasuries and the rest in IG. There are also some actively managed bond funds out there, either as ETFs or managed funds. For the reasons I outlined above about bonds being a psychological safe harbour I personally would (and do) only invest in bonds which are likely to up in a crisis, but different strokes for different folks applies as always. Any more questions? I’ve only really scratched the surface here of talking about bonds, but at the same time I feel like it’s an overwhelming amount of information. If you have more questions then as always I’m happy to answer them in the comments! Do you invest in bonds? If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more like it then please subscribe!
Upon the Fortune of this Present Year | Monthly FIRE Portfolio Update - November 2019
My ventures are not in one bottom trusted, Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate Upon the fortune of this present year Therefore my merchandise makes me not sad Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice (1596) This is my thirty-sixth portfolio update. I complete this update monthly to check my progress against my goals. Portfolio goals My objectives are to reach a portfolio of:
$1 598 000 by 31 December 2020. This should produce a passive income of about $67 000 (Objective #1) - Achieved
$1 980 000 by 31 July 2023, to produce a passive income equivalent to $83 000 (Objective #2)
Both of these are based on an expected average real return of 4.19 per cent, or a nominal return of 7.19 per cent, and are expressed in 2018 dollars. Portfolio summary Vanguard Lifestrategy High Growth Fund – $797 618 Vanguard Lifestrategy Growth Fund – $45 218 Vanguard Lifestrategy Balanced Fund – $81 294 Vanguard Diversified Bonds Fund – $109 367 Vanguard Australian Shares ETF (VAS) – $158 769 Vanguard International Shares ETF (VGS) – $28 471 Betashares Australia 200 ETF (A200) – $268 114 Telstra shares (TLS) – $2 057 Insurance Australia Group shares (IAG) – $9 996 NIB Holdings shares (NHF) – $8 100 Gold ETF (GOLD.ASX) – $98 376 Secured physical gold – $15 868 Ratesetter (P2P lending) – $16 915 Bitcoin – $128 630 Raiz app (Aggressive portfolio) – $17 535 Spaceship Voyager app (Index portfolio) – $2 377 BrickX (P2P rental real estate) – $4 418 Total portfolio value: $1 793 753 (+$33 713) Asset allocation Australian shares – 43.2% (1.8% under) Global shares – 22.9% Emerging markets shares – 2.4% International small companies – 3.2% Total international shares – 28.4% (1.6% under) Total shares – 71.6% (3.4% under) Total property securities – 0.2% (0.2% over) Australian bonds – 4.8% International bonds – 9.8% Total bonds – 14.6% (0.4% under) Gold – 6.4% Bitcoin – 7.2% Gold and alternatives – 13.5% (3.5% over) Presented visually, below is a high-level view of the current asset allocation of the portfolio. [Chart] Comments This month the value of the portfolio increased again by around $33 000 in total, building on the previous two months of growth. [Chart] The equity part of the portfolio has grown by around $50 000 to now reach over $1.25 million for the first time. This increase includes new contributions and the last part of the previous June distributions being 'averaged into' equity markets. The equity component of the portfolio has increased by around 40 per cent this calendar year. The only other major movement in the monthly value of the portfolio has been a sharp downward movement in the price of Bitcoin, and a small increase in the value of bond holdings. [Chart] The contributions this month went entirely into the Vanguard Australian shares ETF (VAS.ASX), to reduce the gap to both the overall target equity allocation, and to achieve the target split between Australian and global shares. From this month onwards I expect more regular variations in whether new contributions go to either Australian or global shares, based on keeping this target allocation constant. Charting errors and wrong bearings - the nature of long-term returns Over the last month, as the end destination starts to appear a little clearer in the distance, the issue of the nature of long-term returns has been front of mind. There is a strong literature and body of academic work around long-term equity return expectations. Much of this has informed my thinking, and has over time found its way into the corners of financial independence movement through the avenues of the so-called Trinity and Bengen '4 per cent' studies (pdf), and a range of calculators that use historical data to help guide investors expectations around feasible future returns. Yet, as I have noted before, future states of the world are not drawn from the same distribution as the past - or as the British writer G K Chesterton evocatively put it - 'wildness lies in wait'. Most often this issue is glided over neatly (including by myself) with assured sounding phrases such as 'based on history'. The works of Nassim Taleb, most particularly Fooled by Randomness, and The Black Swan, provide a fuller perspective on these issues. Recently though, reading a 2017 paper Stock Market Charts You Never Saw provided a unique and arresting view of their application to long-term return projections. The paper is long and detailed, but makes some fundamental points for consideration. It provides a challenging perspective on investment returns that falls almost completely out of mainstream discussions of the topic in the financial independence arena. To summarise, the paper highlights that:
Long-term average equity returns are just mean averages - While they have a stable property over the long-term, this is an inherent statistical property of these values being long-term averages of diverse sets of returns. They are not a reliable forward-looking promise of likely returns. In the words of the paper: 'history documents, but does not constrain'.
Time (in the market) does not always heal all wounds - Investors who spend their dividends and avoid market timing - in other words an average FI investor - can reasonably expect to encounter 30 year periods of low real returns, with US investors facing three such periods in the twentieth century alone.
Typical charts of long-term equity returns can be misleading - Through behavioural finance findings it is clear that presented with a chart showing a seemingly inevitable rising line of equity returns over a long-time frame, an impression of safety and inevitability can be created. The paper highlights a range of ways in which standard charts on equity returns can obscure important facets of investors actual experiences.
No investor actually experiences the longest set of historical returns - While it is comforting to know that equity returns have averaged (for example) six per cent over a century, or two, this information is not as relevant for an investor who is more likely to be invested in a discrete 30-50 year period in which deviations from historical averages can be significant.
One-off events should not be dismissed - While the temptation is continuously present to believe that events like the Great Depression could never happen again, careful review of equity returns yields some distinctly similar periods of sustained low or negative real returns.
Comparisons of bond and equity returns are often oversimplified - It is not an immutable truth that equities outperform bonds, at least when the US historical record is considered. Rather, a more complicated picture emerges of returns over long periods. Sometimes, equities have outperformed bonds, but at other times, bonds have out-performed equites.
As the paper notes: "When investment advisors counsel that stocks are the best bet for a long investment horizon, they should append the acknowledgement: “if my market timing is good.” When advisors argue for stocks over bonds, they should append the caveat “as long as you are not French, or Italian, or Japanese, or Swiss, and provided that the 20th century is a better guide to the future than the 19th century.” For real investors with their limited time horizons, who may reside anywhere in the world, there have been times when both stock recommendations were bad." The issue of the primacy of total returns, compared to income returns is also bracingly challenged with reference to the drawdown phase: Once portfolio accumulation ceases with retirement, portfolio income must be spent to live. Under those circumstances real price return, over short periods lasting two or three decades, becomes an important metric. By that measure, an investment in stocks has been dicey indeed. Usefully, the paper sets out (at the end) both conventional charts, and alternative representations of the same returns data, aimed at illustrating the hidden biases and properties of standard charts of market returns. In short, the paper poses challenges to many conventional investment tenets assumed to be true and widely repeated within financial independence discussions. Often these tenets are promoted with the sound and well-meaning goal of reducing new or existing investors caution or level of worry around possible falls in equity markets. The question this work implicitly poses is, in the process, are distorted expectations unintentionally being promoted? Drawing out the lessons - understanding and responding to risks What are the practical implications of this? The most obvious is to look closely at how data is presented and to think carefully about how the assumptions implicit in that presentation line up against ones own situation. Some other implications include:
Projections based on earning stable and uniform returns should be undertaken with caution - Multi-decade periods of low returns can happen, and mathematical models of compounding smooth returns don't capture their impacts.
By taking an equity position an investor is simply undertaking a probabilistic bet, with no guarantees - That is, equity investment over the long-term usually pays offs, but some risk is inescapable.
Diversification across markets and time represents a workable response to risk - Investing regularly and across geographic markets can help current investors capture some of the positive 'survivorship' bias that was denied to individual investors in many countries across the twentieth century.
In other words - to paraphrase Shakespeare's Antonio - not trusting ones ventures to one ship, place, or a fortune upon the present year. Progress Progress against the objectives, and the additional measures I have reached is set out below. Measure Portfolio All Assets Objective #1 – $1 598 000 (or $67 000 pa) 112.2% 153.0% Objective #2 – $1 980 000 (or $83 000 pa) 90.6% 123.5% Credit card purchases - $73 000 pa 103.0% 140.4% Total expenses - $89 000 pa 84.5% 115.1% Summary As the year begins to draw to a close, a restlessness to see its final outcomes, in dividends and portfolio growth presses itself forward. It is in fact a small echo of one of the strong temptations of the middle of the FI journey - a desire to wish away time itself. Some potential upcoming changes and uncertainties in work situation have added force to this temptation, forcing some thoughts about different potential balances between work and other elements of daily life could be. By distance, the intended journey is around ninety per cent over. At times this introduces both an elegiac quality to, and a premature desire to mark, possible 'lasts' along the journey. Yet the extraordinary current state of financial markets gives pause. Policy makers and advisors casually discuss negative rates and their implications, even as Australian and US equity markets hit new highs. In a sense, it feels a more psychologically testing time to be closer to my higher target allocation for equities than any time before. The diversification in the portfolio can be thought of as a series of small hedges against different potential futures playing out. By far, the largest probability (or potential future) at 75 per cent, is that the historical dominance of equity as a generator of real returns continues to function. The remainder of the portfolio can be seen in some ways as a offsetting hedge against large equity market falls, or some other disturbance in financial markets with negative implications for equity. At base, however, I remain comfortable with the 'balance of probabilities' implied in the target asset allocation. This month saw a new (v)blogger Mx Lauren join the Australian FI scene, as well as the suggestion by Money Magazine of a new 'simplified' retirement rule of thumb to consider. A further piece of fascinating reading was this piece by Ben Carlson in Fortune Magazine, explaining the key role of earnings growth in recent US market return. It posits that the recent strong performance of US equities is attributable to fundamental earnings growth, rather than simply an unjustified expansion in the price investors are willing to pay for that growth. This - in addition to Shakespeare's pre-modern enjoinment to diversify - is potentially another reason to not confine considerations to one market, and one place, as December distributions slowly drift into sight. The post, links and full charts can be seen here.
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