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The Curse of Longevity

in Asset classes, Financial Advisory, Retirement funding Leave a comment
longevity
What if your money disappears before you do?

It is wonderful that modern medicine not only saves many young lives that even 50 years ago would have been lost, but it is extending our life expectancy out into the nineties. Many of us can expect to see not our grandchildren grow, but our great-grandchildren too (unless the continued postponement of birth into the late thirties continues of course). For years financial planners assumed that most people would only live twenty years past retirement at age 65, but that is no longer true, and this assumption is now out by a good ten, if not 15 or 20 years (for people who are currently in their forties). This radical change in our reality needs a complete rethink when it comes to investing for retirement and how we plan for an income in retirement.

Let’s look at some of the implications of living longer:

  • Governments and companies are already pushing out the pensionable age to take the burden off the State. If you’ve been winding down in anticipation of retirement, suddenly having to push that out another couple of years is not fun.
  • The income purchasing power for your retirement funds has to be maintained through the whole of life after retirement. This isn’t a simple matter of keeping up with inflation, because some key expenses that are vital as you get older, like health care, have been increasing faster than inflation for the last two decades, so it is reasonable to assume it will continue to do so. The cost of energy is also increasing above inflation.
  • Past age 80, one often needs additional care and that can double the monthly income requirement. There is more than one way to plan for this but it is going to expensive and needs to be considered.
  • The older you get, the greater the chance that you will get a severe illness that will require expenses over and above medical aid, who lamentably decrease in benefits every year. This requires additional capital/income or payments toward a risk premium to cover those expenses, and the foresight to get into those products while we are still healthy.
  • Your capital in your retirement fund may have to last double the time that was assumed when you started your planning, and if you’re closing into retirement accumulating more may just not be possible. If you work for a company that has a pensionable age, you could be forced out whether you like it or not. Starting a new career as a ‘pensioner’ is difficult.
  • If you get close to retirement and it becomes clear that your pension pot is just not big enough you have a few options:- You can keep on working longer, put away more of your current income, take less at retirement and use smart asset allocation to ensure your capital is going to yield an income for the whole of your life.

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Hedging your Investments

in Asset classes, Investment Leave a comment
hedge
Taking some hedging tips from nature

Volatility has returned to markets, globally, with whipsaw movements that would make even the most seasoned investor queasy. Unless you’re a hardened gambler, you probably don’t enjoy this much, and if you look for advice and reassurance out there you’re going to get wildly contradictory opinions. Is it possible to take advantage of the pockets of investment opportunity, preserve your capital and keep sane?

We plant hedges around our property to protect our privacy and assets, sometimes encroaching on our light and annoying your neighbours – and therein lies one of the secrets of hedging your wealth portfolio. You can overdo it. If you plant a 12-foot macrocarpa hedge, you’re going to crowd out all the light, destroy your flower beds and be the neighbourhood pariah. A dainty fuschia or abelia hedge, however, can be enough for your privacy, pretty to look at and enhance your asset. So, how do you work out the ‘goldilocks’ level of hedging you need in your investments? When you’ve determined that, you can look at choosing the asset classes (or plant species) to use.
In investment terms, hedging is used to flatten out or stop volatility. You can do this in a single asset class like stocks by having ‘stop-loss’ levels where a stock is sold when it hits a predetermined level, either to cash-out your gains or prevent further losses. For the average investor though who don’t have the skills or inclination to play with stocks, the same hedging can come from a balance of asset classes, including currency hedging with an offshore component (or offshore heavy local stocks).
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Getting the most out of Investments

in Asset classes, Financial Plan, Investment Leave a comment
squeeze
Squeeze them until the pips squeak

In uncertain times it is a natural reaction to make sure your investments are working as hard as you are – so how do you go about that?

  • Get yourself organized. Get up-to-date statements on all your investments, summarise them on one sheet, and find out how they have performed since inception. This might sound like common sense, but if your life gets busy you may just give the annual statement a glance, even file it, but when did you last give them a good look?
  • Find out the fees you’re paying on your investments. On savings (money market) that is fairly straightforward, but in Unit Trusts etc it is a little more complicated. Get your financial planner to help (if you have one). If you have an investment on an insurance platform, it might be difficult to tease out the fees but one way to do it is to get the fund fact sheets and performance of the underlying unit trusts (or use a resource like sharenet.co.za) and plot these against your statements. The difference is the fees you can’t find. While you’re at it, if you have insurance platform investments, find out if you’ve still got ‘early termination fees’. These are the remnants of the commission the broker was paid (up front for the full term of the policy) when you took out the policy. There are platform /admin fees, asset manager fees and advisor fees. What range of fees are reasonable? (LISP) Platform/Admin fees should run less than 0.5%. Brokers are permitted to charge up to 3.5% as an upfront fee, and 1.5% as an ongoing fee. The ‘new norm’ is zero upfront fee and 1% ongoing annual fee (decreasing as the sum gets over R5m). The asset manager fee is where you have wriggle room. For similar performing funds the asset manager fees can range from 0.5% to 2.5% (and performance fees tacked on that too). Be careful if you have ‘fund of funds (FOF)’ in your portfolio, these are unit trusts made up of other unit trusts and so have costs on costs and might be difficult to determine exactly what you’re paying. Even an unnecessary 1% on a R1m investment amounts to R10,000 a year, R100,000 over ten (without considering any growth on that investment).
  • Temper both your greed and fear. We all know the sinking feeling when an investment we didn’t buy soars and makes their investors a pile of cash (Bitcoin?). The worst thing that you can do is give in to your greed and join the stampede, the chances are you’ll get in near the top and watch paralyzed and mortified as it sinks, probably getting out when you’ve lost a chunk of your original investment. If you enjoy the rush of speculating, make sure it’s excess funds that you won’t miss if it all disappears. If you have a solid plan, then don’t give in to your fear either. If you switch in and out of different investments every time there is a little wobble, you’ll end up putting a hole in your investment.
  • Your investment cannot work miracles, are your expectations realistic? The law of abundance is all well and good, but you have to get off your derriere and actually take action and make the income to add to your wealth in order for it to grow meaningfully.
  • Put a plan in place and stick to it, reviewing it at least annually. Your Financial Planner can give you the structure, you have to provide the discipline. If you’re battling to focus on a plan, try a financial bullet journal. Make the progress toward your goals visual and tactile. Each bucket of investment should have a clear objective, time-line and asset allocation. It is obviously easier to get your financial planner to help you do this – but with research and if you have a passion for investment, it is possible to do this yourself. Getting rid of broker/advisor planner fees are low hanging fruit when you’re cutting costs – do they add value to your wealth? Some research done in the States indicate that have a financial advisor planner can make a 3.5% annual difference to your wealth portfolio, increasing the longer they are involved. I am a planner so of course I’d say that but you can read about it HERE: and follow the links to the original research. Read more

10 Ways to Beat the Budget

in Economy, Income, Investment, Tax Leave a comment
[/frame}budget 2018
The 2018 Budget will impact your disposable income – what can you do?

The Budget 2018 might have looked tame on the surface– a one percentage point increase in VAT, wealth tax for the fat cats, no increase in personal tax and a bit of a fuel levy increase. This is an illusion, the people most affected by this budget are the ordinary middle class – the working class. There are about 1,9m taxpayers who earn more than R350k pa, contributing 80% of the tax. (https://africacheck.org/reports/1-7-million-people-pay-80-sas-income-tax/). If we’re lucky this will just be temporary, and when the economy picks up (and the stolen funds are recouped) the VAT increase will come down again and the real tax rates decreased – but we all know that never happens, so what can you do to survive – or even thrive?

  1. Take a bit of time to understand your tax, and what allowances and deductions you can be taking advantage of to get a rebate or bring down your average tax rate. You can email me for the 2018 SARS tax booklet (also available on their website) and look at retirement investment allowances, interest and CGT allowances, car allowance, medical aid tax credits. It’s one thing to get help to file your taxes, it is quite another to abdicate the responsibility to someone else. I encourage everyone to at least try and do their own eFiling.
  2. You cannot build wealth if you consume everything that you produce (and then borrow to consume even more). This gives you two options, produce more income, or consume less – you choose. Cutting back on expenditure will have an immediate positive effect, increasing your income is not so quick or easy – but still possible.
  3. Investments and savings without defined objectives are almost meaningless. These objectives will dictate timelines and the asset allocation that should be used. Wealth is built slowly over decades, and if you don’t have a strategy from the start then that is time you’re never going to get back. Having an advisor to help is the best option, but if you’re just starting out you may not be able to get a qualified advisor to help you (because you just can’t remunerate them for their time, whether directly by paying for a plan, or indirectly via fees or commissions). Regulations in the financial advisory profession are becoming increasingly onerous, so this is going to become more of a problem, not less. The internet has made it much easier to upskill yourself (following my blogs for instance).
  4. Because the tax brackets have not increased in line with inflation, if you get a salary increase you are going to lose more to tax, and your take-home pay will be less in real terms. (real is the actual increase minus inflation). If you’re offered an increase or promotion with an increase, use the tax tables and your payslip to do the math. Perhaps you could negotiate more leave instead (there are 260 working days in the year, about 10 of which are public holidays, perhaps another 15 are annual leave.) This is a real problem on income above R555,601pa (R46,300 a month – guess what – if you’re in this tax bracket you’re considered a wealthy by SARS.) This tax bracket increased a whopping 1%, so any salary increase above this is going to be taxed at 39%. Even if you’re in the R423k range (R35k pm) the shift was only 3%. Inflation is currently at 4.5% – roughly equivalent to one day’s extra leave. These are the current tax brackets:brackets Read more

Retirement Annuities – the demon revisited

in Retirement funding Leave a comment
Monet's garden, Giverney

Monet’s garden, Giverney

Should you top up your RA before the tax season ends?

It is ‘retirement annuity (RA) season’, any contributions you can get into your RA before the end of the month can count toward your tax deduction for this financial year. If you have been ignoring all that advice, advertising and appeals from your broker like the plague, I don’t blame you. I have been around long enough to be tainted by some of the appalling business practices around insurance company RAs (and company pensions) myself, some of which still hang around today. With all the investment options available now, is there a place for retirement annuities today?

With the exception of a tax-free savings account which is capped at R33,000 pa, there are very few tax-efficient investment vehicles out there. Endowments are not ‘tax-free’, they are taxed within the fund at 30%, so unless your average tax rate is well above this, and you have maxed out on your annual interest and CGT allowances, they aren’t going to give you much real tax relief (except of course being out of sight so out of mind). They do however work really well for investments in a Trust.

Before looking at how tax effective an RA can be, let me just put some caveats in place: In my opinion, never use an insurance platform, nor add to an existing RA you already have on an insurance platform (beyond that which you are contracted to do so). Why? There are still nasty things called ‘early termination penalties’ that they can impose on your investment when life happens and you dare to want to reduce or stop the contribution. These penalties are levied because insurance companies pay brokers all the commission on the policies, for years into the future, at the start of the policy. Use a LISP platform.

The government have started to limit the amount of contributions you can deduct off tax – now at 27.5% of your taxable income or R350k pa, whichever is the lower. Taxable income can include interest on investments, rental income or income from other sources like commission (but allowable expenses related to these, like home-office or rental expenses, must be deducted first). At least these days all retirement savings – pension, provident fund and RAs are all lumped together for this allowance – in the past, if you had a company pension, irrespective of how much or little it was, you could only claim a minuscule additional portion of your RA.
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Passive investment – time for accountability?

in Asset classes, Investment, Passive investing, Passive Investing Leave a comment
[/frame}passive
Look Ma! No hands!

Passive investment has gained enormous popularity in the last few years, with over 50% of new investment flows in the US going to ETFs. Until now this has worked very well for investors, they have benefited from the third longest Bull Run in US history at very little cost. As you probably know, an ETF is ‘proudly average’ and follows an index or basket of assets, usually buying and selling the underlying asset in the fund at the end of the day without fear or favour. They don’t ask questions, they just buy what the market did on the day. ‘They’ in this case is usually a computer algorithm or program. This is how the costs are brought down from the pre-2007 norm of 1-2.5% asset manager fees to less than 0.5%, in the case of the US, way below 0.5%. Millions of investors have taken the hands off the wheel of their investors and ridden the bull-run up. The proof in the pudding is how those investors are going to react when the bull run does what they always do eventually – correct themselves. It just isn’t human nature to allow anything to run at great speed down, and if they do they could land in an ugly mess at the bottom of the hill. The computer algos will just adjust to the drop in stocks, and if the drop is in specific stocks or sectors, this dumping could well exacerbate the downswing purely because of the sheer volume of money in ETFs in the West. Much of the upside US bull market has come from the FANGs – Facebook/ Amazon-Alphabet-Apple/Google/Netflix – if they take a hammering then those tech stocks held by ETFs so that they can mimic the index have to be dumped – you can see how the tail now wags the dog.

There is definitely a role for ETFs, and for the average Jo they are a good way to get diversified exposure to the Stockmarket at a very low cost – but stocks are only one asset class. In South Africa (where ETFs are not as low cost as overseas) the stock market is very tightly held in the top 20 stocks, Naspers specifically. In other words, it is not very well diversified because so much (80%) ‘market capitalisation’ is found in 40 of the about 400 shares. In fact, 166 companies make up almost 100% of the market capitalization, and this is what the JSE All-share index is based on.

Designing a wealth portfolio that is resilient to harsh market movement means getting exposure to all the asset classes (shares, property, cash, bonds and perhaps some commodities like gold) – so how do you do that? The first thing to do is to divide the portfolio, on paper, into the objectives – time frame and necessity to preserve capital. There should be an emergency fund (liquid, capital preserved and short-term) and retirement investment (not liquid, capital growth, long-term) but there could be a dozen of other objectives including a college fund, saving for a house deposit, legacy, future medical expenses, provision for parents etc. That’s the easy part. Next, those buckets of investments need to have an asset allocation that takes the objective and time-frame into consideration and adjusts according to the performance of the different asset classes as they change over time.

The really smart ‘active’ managers today are not just stock pickers – they may well, in fact, use the ETFs to form the core of the ‘equity’ portion of their client’s investments. The good active asset managers have a ‘flexible mandate’ and can buy and sell out of the different asset classes according to the underlying objective. What is a ‘flexible mandate’? When a unit trust (a mutual fund in the US) is conceived and registered, it has to lodge a mandate with the financial regulators. A fixed mandate might dictate that the fund has 95% in Property REITs for example – That means that irrespective of the potential for a meltdown in the market, the asset manager can only buy REITs, with a 5% wriggle room, usually held in cash or near-cash. ETFs are not much different – if they are mandated to track the top 40 stocks, in proportion to their market cap (for example), they can’t sell out – that becomes your job. This ‘asset allocation’ has become the secret sauce of asset managers – and requires way more skill than stock picking. ‘Balanced’ unit trusts do this adjustment of asset classes, with mixed effect. They develop their ‘house view’ and buy and sell accordingly.
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