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5 easy ways to sabotage your investments

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Hard truths

After the very nice bull run since 2008 that should have seen a doubling or tripling of an investment, you’d be forgiven for thinking it is going to last forever. The debt crises of 2008 left deep scars on the emotions of most investors who saw 30% or more of the capital in their investments evaporate. Just prior to the crash of 2008 there was a feeding frenzy on the stock exchange – a lot of that from individual investors. The smart investors were already starting to sell out of stock portfolios in Nov 2007. What I am seeing now is much of the same sort of behaviour, especially from individual investors, and it is time to take a step back and make sure you’re not putting those hard-earned investments at risk.

Buy high, sell low : This phenomenon can be explained by the new acronym, FOMO. Fear of missing out. The stock market breathes in and out, that is just in it’s nature. Sometimes it hiccups, jumping up and down by a few percentage points for no reason. Occasionally, just like us, it heaves a heavy sigh and sheds some 10, 20, 30%. It’s going to come sooner or later and the longer the bull-run continues, the probability grows. When individuals wake up to the fact that everyone in the stock market has doubled or tripled their money, FOMO kicks in. More often than not these ‘inexperienced’ investors will buy shares online, get involved in day-trading or (more sensibly) buy ETFs or other trackers – Of course prudently saving stockbroker or advisory fees of 1%. Winning! Those financial ‘nannies’ (like me) might have been as silly as to try and tell you that stocks are a long term (8 yr plus) investment and try and get you to make your investment less ‘aggressive. What! And leave all that money on the table! Then the market turns, and those investors hang on and hang on hoping for a turn around, until they can take it no more and bail.

Allowing greed or fear to rule your decisions: Many people will get to the later years in their life and wake-up to the fact that they have not made enough provisions for retirement and fear kicks in. There are a number of ways to remedy this. You could start saving more – slow and painful but effective. You could lower your expectations for retirement – again painful but hopefully far enough in the future for you to ‘get used to it’. Finally, you could tweak your asset allocation (cash, bonds, property, stocks – read more HERE) so that you get more growth. Painless! Yay! Of course there are limits, both to its effectiveness and prudence. Can you afford to put a 30% hole in your capital in the short to medium term? If you’re 10-15 years from retirement then yes, you can probably afford to make your investment much more aggressive. Less than that? Not so much. Given the choice between a painful and an easy choice, easy is going to win – unless you step in and recognise the actions of the greedy demon whispering in your ear.
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Alternative Retirement funding

in Asset classes, Retirement, Retirement funding, Saving, Tax Exempt Savings Accounts Leave a comment

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Not just a one trick pony

Back in the days, (I am not sure how ‘good’ they were, really), most people knew they would have a ‘pension’ to retire from, usually determined by the number of years they worked at an organisation. Those ‘defined benefit’ pensions are almost all extinct – along with lifetime jobs. Employees now change jobs as quickly as every 3 years (research has shown that 4 years is optimal unless you’re being promoted). Sometimes the companies have retirement savings (pension or provident funds) sometimes not. On resigning from a company 95% of those employees are cashing in their retirement funds, and 5 years down the line rarely have anything to show from it. Entrepreneurs that start their own company rarely have retirement savings – they hope to work forever or find a buyer for the company. That isn’t a retirement plan it’s a vague hope. Moving in with the kids isn’t a retirement plan.

There is a massive retirement funding gap looming. As a proportion of the total working population, relatively few have active retirement annuities (RAs). Why? If you took out a retirement annuity on an insurance platform, because you were being sensible and in a job that didn’t have a retirement fund, only to change jobs and have a compulsory fund – you were stuck with your head between a rock and a hard place. Either continue to pay the premiums, even if necessities had to suffer, or take a 30% (or 15% post 2007) penalty snot-klap. That only has to happen once for someone to lose all faith in the system. In other words there is zero flexibility! It is a product designed for the 1950’s when you were in a lifetime job. Quite frankly insurance company RAs should come with a surgeon general’s warning in 50 font on the cover. “Warning. This product can cause an allergic reaction to insurance companies.”

RAs, structured properly and on a flexible platform with no penalties, are a first rate investment. I am not going to go into that here, if you want to read more about them you can do so HERE. Modern retirement funding shouldn’t start and stop with traditional savings ( RAs, pension and provident funds and preservers). We are living in an ever changing environment and our funds need to be more flexible.

Because we are living longer than when RAs were first conceived, we are not going to just need a ‘fixed income’ but lump sums as well. In the past people were expected to live 10-15 years post retirement. Max. Today living 25-30 more years is expected to be commonplace. Not only are we living longer, but we are fully functional, active and independent longer – driving cars, going on holiday, working longer etc. A car could be expected to last say 10 years post retirement – but what happens after that? A retiree is not going to get finance, they have to have the lumpsum. Similarly when downsizing a house. The duties, fees and commission in moving a house can run into hundreds of thousands. Gaps in medical aid widen every year, and the 4 digit above inflation increases can devastate a fixed income. Have a look below:

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Smart Investor or Clever Dick?

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DIYer beware

When it comes to being an investor, especially if you prefer to DIY, there is a fine line between being smart and being an idiot. If you stuff up the tiling in your bathroom because you were basically clueless, you can dig it up and redo it in less than a week. You don’t have that luxury with investments – you’ll never get that precious time back. There is a fine line between being smart and silly; where is that line?

You need to understand the difference between investing and gambling. Believe me there are plenty so-called investments that should require a gambling license. Anything that smacks of a ‘get rich quick’ scheme, irrespective of the number of testimonials, is likely to be a ‘get poor quick’ scheme. Anything that is ‘leveraged’ – in other words you only have to put up a small proportion of the investment, but if the trend goes against you, you have to pony up the full amount. Day trading, options, derivatives and all those other fancy products are prime, but probably obvious examples. The odds on those sort of schemes are worse, way worse, than a casino.
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Just one page – Consolidated Wealth

in Asset classes, Financial Advisory, Investment, Risk profile, Wealth Ecology Leave a comment
Keep it simple but not stupid

For the average person, investment can be confusing and stressful, usually resulting in a number of unhelpful scenarios – from a multitude of investments all over the place (under the guise of ‘diversification’) to none at all. In a number of blogs I have recommended a single page summary of all investments, with all the important information, this can become the cover page for your Red File (the one ‘go to’ financial file – look under ‘Organise’). The ‘one sheet’ for investment summaries I have used for my clients has evolved over time, and the latest iteration is now being rolled out, and am letting those of you that aren’t lucky enough to be a client to have a look behind the scenes if you want/can DIY.

Ideally all your investments should be on one page, not just the ones your financial advisor looks after for you – in other words your savings accounts, unit trusts and stock portfolios should be there too. Why? It’s important to look at the entire investment portfolio holistically, and to determine the ‘asset allocation’ – this is the split between the big 4 asset classes – Equity, Property, Cash and Bonds. The blend of ‘asset classes’ is going to affect the riskiness of the investments (the chances that you could lose chunks of capital in the short or medium term) as well was the potential ‘returns’. The ‘asset class split’ can be got from the fund fact sheets, and these need to be checked once a quarter. My excel sheet ‘looks up’ these splits from a master fund fact sheet I have and change every quarter. one sheet

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What the ETF!

in Asset classes, Investment, Tax Exempt Savings Accounts, Wealth Ecology Leave a comment
The passive aggressive investor

Exchange-Traded funds (ETFs) have been around for about 20 years, and are becoming increasingly popular not just with individuals, but with institutional and retirement funds too. In a nutshell, an ETF will passively ‘track’ and index by buying and selling shares in the same ratios that are found in that Index on the stock exchange (South African ETFs, some offshore ETFs do not physically have to hold those shares). The ETFs are quoted on the exchange and move in price during the day, just like a stock. These indices are ‘groups’ of shares, for example the AllShare index (all the shares on the JSE) or the Resource index (the resource funds). More and more ETFs, using increasingly specialised indices, are being added all the time.

The allure of an ETF is that it gives you the same return as that index, without having to buy the underlying shares (which would be prohibitively expensive). While there are collective investments that might mimic the index, the ‘active’ manager will usually change the allocations to try and beat the ‘average’ – and justify his fee. ETFs are passive. There isn’t an asset manager fiddling with the allocation. Its role is to be average. Because these are true ‘trackers’ and the asset manager doesn’t have to think, just follow, the costs are significantly reduced – and that is where the benefit is. Ironically, because the costs are so much lower than Collective investments, this ’average’ is usually way above ‘average’ for the sector in real terms.

In some respects the asset managers in the South African market are lucky because the (usually) double digit growth makes the odd one or two percent they charge less noticeable than their American or European counterparts where single digit growth is more common. If you’ve only made 5% in a good year, you’re not going to be impressed with a 2-3% fee being taken off it! These fee concerns have resulted in the massive popularity of ETFs offshore, and my recommendation to anyone investing offshore is that they use ETFs and not funds. Interestingly Discovery’s Dollar fund investments (which like the life cover will pay offshore, and uses the R1m annual allowance to pay for the premiums) uses ETFs for the investment portion.
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‘Tax-free’ isn’t a magic word

in Asset classes, Investment, Tax Exempt Savings Accounts Leave a comment
Look before you leap

With the addition of the new category of ‘tax-free savings’ and some of the advertising from the major providers, it’s time to throw in a bit of caution and underline what they are not saying.
There are a number of so-called ‘tax-free’ investments out there, the truth is it’s mostly tax that is deferred or paid without you noticing, not really tax-free.

The best place to start an understanding of what is tax-free is to look at your tax allowances on your income tax return every year:

  • Interest: The annual allowance this year is R23,800 per annum. In other words the first R23,800 you pay in interest isn’t tax, thereafter it is taxed. Doesn’t sound like a lot does it? At 6% interest (which is generous and usually only comes with notice period handcuffs), your investment would have to be R396,666. This is fine but perhaps a little on the high side as a ‘safety net’ equal to at least 3 months after tax expenses.
  • Capital gain from growth on investment: Capital gains tax (CGT) is worked out at 33.3% of the gain multiplied by your marginal tax rate. Capital gains from traditional investments occur when units of a collective investment (unit trust) or stocks from your stock portfolio ( or underlying your collective investment) are sold. The annual allowance is R30,000.


Savings accounts: Either as cash (available immediately) or call accounts (varying notice periods) will produce interest payments, which can be tax free up to the limit above. Endowments, probably my least favourite type of investment, are ‘tax-free’ when they mature – only because they are taxed at 30% within the fund. This doesn’t allow you to use your annual CGT or interest rate allowance. If your marginal tax rate is below 30%, then this makes even more sense. The only people who benefit from endowment structures are individuals that have maxed out their interest and CGT annual allowances and have a marginal tax rate over 30%. They also make sense for trusts that have a 40% tax rate.

Retirement annuities (RA): These have fairly complicated taxed and tax-free components. Within limits, you can claim back your premiums from tax, giving you a refund of up to 40% of those premiums. This is really significant! On retirement however tax will be imposed. The first R500,000 of the one third is tax free, thereafter it is tax at increments up to a maximum of 36%. The compulsory annuity that you have to take with the rest is taxed at income – and the impact of that is going to depend on just what that income is at retirement. There is one other little ‘tax-free’ component that you may not know about. Within the investment there is no tax levied, and even the dividend withholding tax is rebated back. This means that if you have the same amount of money, invested in identical funds – one in a and the other in a ‘Discretionary investment’ ( just a normal collective investment not an endowment) then the retirement fund is going to do better.
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