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What is your Investment Style?

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Harmony is not an accident

Harmony is not an accident

Abdicate, Delegate or Micromanage – what is your investment style?

There is a good reason Richard Thayler won the Nobel prize for Economics, the academics have woken up to the fact that the only sane explanation for the messed up financial markets is that humans are driven by something called emotion, and until you understand that, you’ll never understand what makes markets tick. (Personally I found Thayer’s book ‘Misbehaving’ boring and indulgent, but those are key ingredients for an academic best seller. ‘Nudge’ was an easier read, but a single (excellent) concept fluffed out into a full book.)

So, how do you manage your wealth, assuming of course that you’ve managed to consume less than you earn so that there is actually something to invest? If all your disposable income is going into debt servicing then I suggest you need to take a step back and address that first. There is no point in investing at CPI plus 3-5% when the interest you’re paying on credit cards or personal loans is running at CPI plus 11-25%. The only ‘good debit’ out there is at prime, or less (10.25% and below) – like your bond. We can look at your investment style three ways, abdication, delegation and micromanagement.

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Portfolio chaos

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chaos
Sorting out your messy investment garden

I am a keen gardener and love having colour and diversity all year round, but because there are plants that hide in summer (the spring flowering bulbs) and others that hide in winter (like my awesome voodoo lilies) it is often a mission to know where everything is and why I put them there – and far too often I used to dig a hole for something new, only to destroy a hibernating bulb. Mercifully, this doesn’t happen anymore since I put a low tech and high tech organizational system in place.

Investments are no different. If you don’t know where all your investments are, the objective of each investment and how they’re doing at least once a year, it’s unrealistic to expect them to flourish. Having said that, just like you don’t have to watch your plants every day, fund changes or portfolio changes don’t have to happen all the time, but only when macroeconomic changes dictate it or there is a significant change in your finances.

Having an ‘objective’ for your different buckets of investment is key. That objective will tell you what asset classes to use, how long the investment is going to run, what portion should be offshore, what tax vehicle is most efficient and what sort of return you can expect. With no objective, it is like buying a plant at a nursery blindfolded and just sticking it anywhere in the garden and hoping it grows into a fabulous strawberry patch – meanwhile it is a slow-growing baobab and is going to be killed off in the first frost.
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Spring Clean Your Wealth Portfolio

in Asset classes, Wealth Ecology Leave a comment
rose hips

Declutter

Over time overgrown plants and dead wood will accumulate in your garden, and if ignored can kill off everything around it. It doesn’t matter how carefully things were planned at the start unless that plan is revisited and maintained, you can end up with a weed filled jungle that is almost impossible to get back into shape. Spring cleaning is not about throwing everything out, it’s about pruning, splitting, composting so that it will look better in the future. So… Using this botanical analogy, what can you do about your wealth portfolio?

Pruning: This is the cutting back of plants so that you get a better flush in the next year. Just like you should prune roses and fruit trees every year, so should your wealth portfolio be examined and trimmed every year to maximise its potential. Wealth is what is left when you have consumed your income – the simple Wealth Equation. The Consumption side of the Wealth Equation is where you need to prune. Use your banking software or a free app like 22seven to see where you need to prune. Everyone is going to be different so it is difficult for me to say what is important or not. If you’re not sure, list all your expenses for a month then put a priority rating of 1 to 5 next to them, the order that you’d drop them if you absolutely had to, with 1 being the most important. Put everything there including your mortgage, car payment, medical aid. Some people would rather eat baked beans for a month than drop their DSTV subscription for example.

Pinching out. This is the mini-pruning of shoots so that the plant will bush out and produce many more flowers or fruit – increasing your ‘harvest’. Fuchsias are an excellent example of this. Pinching out effectively delays the flowering or fruiting of the plant – delayed gratification for the greater good. Take a topiary for example, getting a pleasing shape depends on knowing what you want it to eventually look like (an objective), and having the patience to keep controlling it until you get there. If you want to increase your harvest you need to have as many points of diversity as possible, so that if one branch dies, the other branches can pick up the slack. All portfolios should have an objective : What are you going to use the investment for and when? This timeline will dictate how you should treat the investment, and how important it is to preserve the capital. Probably the biggest capital accumulation you’re going to need to make is for your retirement, but how big this pot needs to be will depend on what you want your retirement to look like (in present value terms). This calculation is far too important to ‘wing it’, get professional help.

Compost and Fertilise: Over the year plants deplete nutrients out of the soil to produce leaves, flowers and fruit, if you want them to keep on producing you need to compost and fertilise. Your wealth portfolio is no different. You can compost it ‘organically’ with interest and dividends that are ploughed back into the portfolio – or inorganically by adding to the portfolio with new, man-made (you-made) contributions. Most of you probably already contribute to some sort of investment every month, but what do you do with your bonuses? Why not commit to putting 50% of that bonus into investment. You could also do this with other little windfalls like Insure cash payments or other loyalty program paybacks. The free app Stash# will also make it easy for you to get that money out of your pocket before it burns a hole.

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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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