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Investing Offshore – First Ask Why

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offshore

Offshore Investing – First ask why -(then where and how).

Whenever SA Inc has a wobble, South Africans worry that we are going the same way as our neighbours to the north and look to moving some of their nest egg offshore (or moving themselves out altogether). It’s all very well to dismiss this as a kneejerk reaction, but those fears and doubts are very real and personal, so let’s take a look at the pros, cons and possible pitfalls.

Whenever you make a new investment, and an offshore investment is no exception, it is very important to determine the end-use objective of the investment – that will be the primary determinant of how it should be invested. To put it very simply, the objective will determine the timeframe and the need to protect or grow capital – and the asset classes that should be used to achieve this. Short-term investments usually need to be liquid and preserve capital, so cash and bonds are used. Long term investments, on the other hand, can have less liquidity, and ride out the cycles in the stock market to optimise the growth of that capital over a decade or more.

Before we look at the different investment objectives, let’s look at some of the realities of offshore investing. In all investing (local or offshore) there are 4 basic asset classes: Cash, Bonds, Property and Equity. Currency mixes everything up! Basically, it acts as a ’multiplier’. Think of it like this:

  • Rand depreciates and your offshore investment grows at about the same rate – effectively (in Rand terms) your investment has ‘doubled’.
  • Rand depreciates but your investment shrinks – these counteract each other and your growth is flat.
  • Rand appreciates and your investment shrinks – you will get a double downward whammy.

 

Another factor that will impact your offshore investment is inflation. In the West, inflation is so low that disinflation is a very real threat. Interest rates are used to keep inflation under control (the ‘monetary policy’ of central/reserve banks), and these have been in the low single digits for over a decade (and in some instances have actually gone negative). The UK has seen a ‘welcome’ bump up in their inflation, but that is thanks to GBP depreciation as a result of Brexit. Cash and Bond returns of your offshore investments will probably be minuscule, and after bank or investment fees could well be negative. This puts you in a quandary if you want to preserve your capital and get it to grow even at just inflation without risk.  Although the Western stock exchanges have been doing quite well (especially in the last 6 months) the days of double-digit stock growth are rare post-2008.

Currency values do not move rationally, they are the playground for day traders, and the Rand volatility makes our currency one of the favourites for these gamblers. Having said that, the gradual depreciation of the Rand over decades is largely due to the large inflation disparity between us and the West. Even at our 6% inflation, we are consistently 4% above developed nations, so it is can be expected that we will continue to depreciate by this difference over the long term.

Let’s look at the different ‘objectives’, and how to structure your investment accordingly:

Emigrating: If you have made this decision, then partner with someone who knows the Reserve Bank regulations so you can start moving your money out – the sooner you start it the better. If you formally emigrate (as opposed to leave and live or work outside the country for a while) then this is considered a Capital Gains Tax event on all your assets, even if you leave them here. This tax will be due on investments, and property (especially property that is not your primary residence). If you are not formally emigrating but want to top up your retirement bucket by working in a tax-free/friendly country, beware of the changes in regulations that are on the cards which will bring you back into the SA tax regime and will be a game changer.

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The absolute basics of managing your wealth

in Asset classes, Financial Coaching, Financial Plan Leave a comment
10 points

Never abdicate your responsibility

Personal finance can be overwhelming and complex, but if you want to partner with an advisor to help you protect and grow your wealth there is a bare minimum you need to know so you can assess whether your wealth is invested properly and you have the factors you can control on your radar. There is nothing more dangerous than being ‘unconsciously incompetent’ – not knowing what you don’t know.

Here are the handful of numbers you must know (in order of priority):

  • The “repo” (repurchase) rate (currently 7%), prime interest rate (usually 3.5% above repo rate, now at 10.5%) and the interest rates of all the loans, mortgages (usually close to prime), credit cards ( as high as 18-24% at the moment), car loans etc. that you have. Why? This will illustrate which debt must be paid off first. Read HERE for more on ‘Smart debt’. This will also give you a benchmark that you can rate your investments against.
  • The inflation rate (currently 6.3%, the top end of the target range is 6%.) If you know this number then you can do a simple calculation on how well your investments are doing. If your investments don’t keep up with inflation then the ‘purchasing power’ of your investment erodes. The actual rate of return, minus inflation, gives you the ‘real’ rate of return which is what you should focus on, not the bottom line.
  • The difference between “Interest” (money market), “Yield” (bonds but taxed as interest), “Dividends” (from shares) and “Capital growth” (shares and property). These all grow your wealth but are very different, have different risks and are taxed differently.
  • The very basics of your annual budget. Your net income, fixed expenses, investments, variable expenses (groceries, entertainment, clothes, fuel, cell phones etc) and ‘disposable income’ (what is left over.) If you ever apply for a loan or mortgage you’re going to need these numbers anyway. Disposable income should never be zero. If money burns a hole in your pocket, put it out of the way on payday, say into a call account. Living within your means and continually saving is the key to long-term wealth.
  • The age at which you (realistically) want to retire. This is the line in the sand where you essentially stop investing and start drawing down on your income.
  • What your annual budget will look like at retirement. Once you have your present day budget, this is easy. You take out things you won’t be doing at retirement – mortgages, school fees, debt and add back things you will – travelling more perhaps. You or your advisor will now be able to project how much you will need in investments to retire and live on your income until at least 95 or 100 years old.
  • The monthly contributions you need to go into your investments to retire on your due date, at your desired income. Knowing the actual capital amount you need (above) is useful 10 years out from retirement, longer than that it is pretty meaningless, focus on eating the elephant one month at a time.

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Financial Worry

in Asset classes, Behavioural finance, Investment Leave a comment
<worry
Worry – paying for an outcome now that may never happen.

In uncertain times, like now, it is very natural to worry about the future, specifically to worry about your future financial security. Worrying is highly stressful and pretty useless, but one of the best ways to counter it is through action and knowledge.

One of the most useful things you can do is to understand what you can control and what you can’t. You can’t control the economy, interest rates, exchange rates and political climate. Sure, you can chafe against it, write letters, sign petitions or protest, but the bulk of your energy should be focussed toward things you can do to protect your wealth and your lifestyle.

Knowledge is power, I am not saying you need to know everything, but there is a certain amount of knowledge you need have so that you aren’t ‘unconsciously incompetent’ – when you don’t know what you don’t know. That is the most dangerous place to be. We all know that being unaware of a law is not going to save you when you get to court, and when it comes to wealth it is just as important. You don’t want to get 5 years out from retirement and realise that you’re going to have to keep on working into your 70s and 80s. Never abdicate the full responsibility for your wealth to anyone – not a spouse, financial institution, broker or advisor.

Always invest in yourself, not just by saving and investing what you earn, but in your knowledge and skills too. To have longevity in the economy, whether you work for yourself or someone else, you need to build the brand “You”. Don’t be sucked into by superficial things though – expensive clothes, cars and houses only impress the shallow and wanna-bes – and why do you care what they think?

Know your limitations. Even if you’re a knowledge accumulating machine, there is going to come a time where you are going to need help – or go the whole hog and become that professional. There is always going to be a medical condition that needs a specialist, a legal situation that needs a lawyer or a sabotaging behaviour that needs a coach/shrink. Sure, knowing the basics is a huge help and can save you a lot of money, but it is not a weakness to seek help, it is just smart. When it comes to managing your wealth, the days of ‘free’ advice from your broker is dying fast. Just like you can get accounting help that varies from a bookkeeper to a CA, the same applies to the management of your wealth, the Chartered Accountant equivalent in Financial Advisory being a ‘CFP®” (Certified Financial Planner)- a professional, internationally recognised designation.

While we cannot control the economy or politics, we can control most of our personal wealth and earnings potential – even in the most trying times. Being a Chicken Little (“Oh! Oh! The sky is falling on my head, I must go and see the King”) is negative, destructive and unhelpful. It might make you feel better to pull others into your perception of drama, but there are more useful ways to divert that energy. Quite frankly, if you have a Chicken Little contaminating your inner circle, sideline them, especially at times like these where there is so much uncertainty. Now is not the time to make knee-jerk decisions like selling all your investments or emigrating. You need to ‘keep your head when those about you are losing theirs,’ (with apologies to Rudyard Kipling).

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A jobless world?

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< jobless world
New normal?

We’re all brought up to believe that you cannot have your cake and eat it. You can’t have both loads of family time and a stellar career; you can’t be wealthy unless you work for yourself; both parents have to work – or their children won’t be given the best education. In the past, this has often been true, but just maybe things are changing.

Change happens around us all the time, most of the time we hardly notice it, and only when we compare life to ten years ago to today do we actually realise just how radical that change has been. There are times though that change happens uncomfortably fast, and we try with all our might to stop it, usually only postponing the inevitable. This rapid change too will pass, and our lives go back to a new normal, in the interim though it may leave mayhem in its tracks.

The Credit Crisis precipitated a new normal in economic cycles, and now ten years down the line (it started in the second half of 2007) very few people have changed their expectations and adjusting to this new normal of low growth, low-interest rates and very low inflation. As a financial advisor, one of my biggest challenges is managing those expectations, especially if asset allocation and the fund mix has to be changed to protect a long-term investment.

The rise of populism in politics around the world is an idea that has been dying to break through for a long time now. Ironically it has been nurtured by the low growth era in the last decade, and the growing disparity between the ‘one percent’ and the ‘others’. The ‘others’ are sick to death of politicians pandering to that one percent, or even worse, using politics to leapfrog into that one percent. Unfortunately for those wanting the ‘good’ change in politics and politicians, they have had to hold their noses and accept the ‘bad’. To get that political change you may have to swallow nasties like right-wing fascism, rampant and confiscatory socialism, racism and xenophobia. It makes my hair curl even to write that sentence. The Americans held their noses on some (most?) of the above to get the populism Trump promised (whether or not he will deliver remains to be seen). The Dutch, however, came out in droves to make sure the right wing did not prevail. There was a substantial element of xenophobia in Brexit and very little change in the bureaucracy. The EFF is another ‘hold your nose’ populist (and make no mistake, the ANC will try and woo them back into their ranks.) The low economic growth is feeding into this desire for change.

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The Money-Go-Round

in Asset classes, Economy Leave a comment
tale

A tale of some money

Most of us don’t think twice about opening our wallet and handing over cash or plastic. Perhaps we think this is just a form of barter, you give me something and I will give you something back of equal value – and money is just one of those ‘things’ we can barter with. I suspect we think that all that money is backed by investments in the bank in one shape or form. Not so. In effect banks ‘create’ the money but it is ‘leveraged’ – in other words they don’t lend out R1 for every R1 they have in investment but much more than this. The degree to which they can leverage themselves (lend more than they hold) is controlled by their ‘capital requirements’ – an amount that has increased over recent years following the credit crisis fall-out. You’ve probably heard of QE or quantitative easing. This a monetary policy governments use when ‘normal’ monetary policy (interest rates) fail. Basically, with QE governments buy bonds from financial institutions to increase their liquidity in the hope they will lend out the money and get the ‘Money-Go-Round’ going again. In other words pushing it out of it’s inertia and give it some momentum so it can go around by itself. Unfortunately this has had limited success, mostly because the banks aren’t getting enough of a ‘margin’ (aka profit) because of historically low interest rates. Banks have also been inefficient and are now having to use technology to become more competitive – and have been haemorrhaging jobs as a result.
Let’s illustrate this “Money-Go-Round” with a short tale:
In a small dorp in Limpopo, a German tourist walks into the local B&B and puts R500 on the desk. “I want to look at your room upstairs and maybe I will stay here, Ja?”
“Sure,” answered the owner, Jacob, handing the tourist the key to the room.
The tourist heads upstairs and Jacob looks at the money on the desk. “What if he doesn’t stay?” he thought to himself – fleetingly – before picking up the money and heading to the liquor store next door and settling his long overdue account so his supply would start to flow again.
The Liquor store owner looked at Jacob and the money in surprise, but smiled his thanks and placed it in his pocket. Once Jacob was out of the door the liquor store owner walked across the street to pay the hairdresser’s account that his wife had clocked up on her last visit. She, in turn, closed up the shop, flicked the ‘back in 5’ sign and went to the petrol station and paid her account there.

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Wealth Lessons to be learned from the US elections.

in Asset classes, Behavioural finance, Economy, Financial Coach Leave a comment
confused

Expect the unexpected: The polls in the USA got it seriously wrong – why? It is only a sample of the population and people lie! Few (sane?) people will publicly admit to endorsing the racism, bigotry and misogyny espoused by Trump but when it comes to the secrecy of the ballot box, it became obvious that there were millions of closet Trump supporters. This has ushered in a whole new world of uncertainty, just like the Brexit vote did, and just like Nenegate did here. It has taken us nearly a year to recover from Nenegate, and the UK is still shuddering. When it comes to your wealth – protect your risks, diversify every aspect of your wealth.
Populism is here to stay. The protest vote against the status quo in government is turning the tide everywhere, including here. Brexit is a good example (trust the Americans to one-up the Brits! This result is Brexit to the power 10). This outcome is a result of emotion and not reason. “We, the people” are sick to death of lobbyists, special interest groups, bloated government payrolls, erosion of real purchasing power and having to reskill into new jobs. The only voice that growing ‘disaffected’ group has, is to vote for something different, however nauseating that might be. The major threats? If you work for, or supply to, government- diversify and seriously reduce your risk exposure. Opportunities – Small business, the Health industry, Service industries, On Demand, Customisation.
It’s not cool to be clueless: Hillary’s email fiasco hit her hard and should be one of the biggest lessons anyone, of any age, needs to learn. If you refuse to climb on the technology bandwagon, and keep up with it you’re going to get hurt. As a retiree your banking costs will climb, but more onerous than that – you will open yourself up to being conned and taken advantage of. In your working life you will not be able to be as productive as someone who embraces technology – forced early retirement is calling! Most of the growing jobs and professions require a good understanding of technology. This is even more true of ‘passive’ income opportunities. Keep your work and home social media presence separate.

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