Category: Dimensional

Bear Market Coming? Stick with Your Strategy

Following a multi-year rally, 2015 wasn’t particularly successful in the global markets and, so far, the start of the new year hasn’t been any good either. The UK’s FTSE 100 index is below 6,000, lowest in more than three years. It’s times like this when various doomsday predictions start to appear, warning against events “worse than 2008”, using words such as “crash” and “meltdown”, and pointing to factors such as rising interest rates, growing political tensions, China, rising commodity prices, falling commodity prices and many others.
The truth is that no one really knows what is going to happen. Not the TV pundits, not the highly paid bank strategists and stock analysts, not even the Prime Minister or the Bank of England Governor.
That said, when you have significant part of your retirement pot invested, it is natural to feel uneasy when you hear such predictions, especially if they come from an analyst who got it right last time and correctly predicted some previous market event (he was lucky).
When the markets actually decline and you see your portfolio shrinking in real time, the concerns may become unbearable. Fear and greed get in charge, both at the same time. It is tempting to think about selling here and buying the stocks back when they are 20% lower a few months from now. Easy money, so it would seem. Nevertheless, that would be speculating, not investing. The problem with the financial industry (and the media) is that these two are confused all the time.
Time in the Market, Not Timing the Market
While some people have made money speculating, academic research as well as experiences of millions of investors have shown that it is a poor way to save for retirement. When a large number of people take different actions in the markets, some of them will be lucky and get it right purely due to statistics (luck). However, it is extremely difficult to repeat such success and consistently predict the market’s direction with any accuracy.
In the long run, the single thing which has the greatest effect on your return is time, not your ability to pick tops and bottoms. The longer you stay invested in the market, the more your wealth will grow. You just need the patience and ability to withstand the periods when markets fall, because eventually they will recover and exceed their previous highs.
Time Horizon and Risk Tolerance
The key decision to make is your risk tolerance – how volatile you allow your portfolio to be, which will determine your asset allocation. While personality and other personal specifics come into play, the main factor to determine your risk tolerance is your investment horizon. The longer it is, the more risk you can afford and the more volatility your portfolio can sustain. If you are in your 40’s and unlikely to need the money in the next 20 years, you should have most of your retirement pot in equities. If you are older and closer to retirement, your portfolio should probably be more conservative, because you might not have the time to wait until the markets recover from a possible crash. It is important to get the risk tolerance and the asset allocation right (an adviser can help with that) and stick with it.
How to Protect Your Portfolio from Yourself
Because the above is easier said than done, here are a few practical tips how to protect your retirement pot from your emotions and trading temptations:
1. Have a written, long-term investment plan. It is human nature to consider written rules somehow harder to break than those you just keep in your head. It is even better if you involve your adviser to help you create the plan. Not only is an adviser better qualified and more experienced in the investment process, but another person knowing your rules makes them even harder to break.
2. Do not check fund prices and the value of your portfolio every day. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t review your investments regularly. But the key is to make these revisions planned and controlled, rather than emotion-based. You will be less likely to make impulsive decisions, which more often than not are losing decisions.
3. Maintain an adequate cash reserve. This should be enough to meet any planned short-term expenditure and also provide a reserve for unexpected expenses. It will help you avoid the need to encash investments at a time when investment values are low.

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Top 10 Investment Guidelines

The media would have you believe that a successful investment experience comes from picking stocks, timing your entry and exit points, making accurate predictions and outguessing the market. Is there a better way?

It’s true that some people do get lucky by making bets on certain stocks and sectors or getting in or out at the right time or correctly guessing movements in interest rates or currencies. But depending on luck is simply not a sustainable strategy.

The alternative approach to investment may not sound as exciting, but is also a lot less work. It essentially means reducing as far as possible the influence of fortune, taking a long-term view and starting with your own needs and risk appetite.

Of course, risk can never be completely eliminated and there are no guarantees about anything in life. But you can increase your chances of a successful investment experience if you keep these 10 guidelines in mind:

Let the market work for you. Prices of securities in competitive financial markets represent the collective judgment of millions of investors based on current information. So, instead of second guessing the market, work with it.

Investment is not speculation. What is promoted in the media as investment is often just speculation. It’s about making short-term and concentrated bets. Few people succeed this way, particularly after you take fees into account.

Take a long-term view. Over time, capital markets provide a positive rate of return. As an investor risking your capital, you have a right to the share of that wealth. But keep in mind, the return is not there every day, month or year.

Consider the drivers of returns. Differences in returns are explained by certain dimensions identified by academic research as pervasive, persistent and robust. So it makes sense to build portfolios around these.

Practise smart diversification. A sound portfolio doesn’t just capture reliable sources of expected return. It reduces unnecessary risks like holding too few stocks, sectors or countries. Diversification helps to overcome that.

Avoid market timing. You never know which markets will be the best performers from year to year. Being well diversified means you’re positioned to capture the returns whenever and wherever they appear.

Manage your emotions. People who let their emotions dictate their decisions can end up buying at the top when greed is dominant and selling at the bottom when fear takes over. The alternative is to remain realistic.

Look beyond the headlines. The media is by necessity focused on the short term. This can give you a distorted impression of the market. Keep up with the news by all means, but you don’t have to act on it.

Keep costs low. Day to day moves in the market are temporary, but costs are permanent. Over time, they can put a real dent in your wealth plans. That’s why it makes sense to be mindful of fees and expenses.

Focus on what you can control. You have no control over the markets, but in consultation with advisor acting in your interests you can create a low-cost, diversified portfolio that matches your needs and risk tolerance.

That’s the whole story in a nutshell. Investment is really not that complicated. In fact, the more complicated that people make it sound the more you should be sceptical.

The truth is markets are so competitive that you can save yourself much time, trouble and expense by letting them work for you. That means structuring a portfolio across the broad dimensions of return, being mindful of cost and focusing on your own needs and circumstances, not what the media is trying to sell you.

ISA inheritability makes ‘allowance’ for your spouse

Details have begun to emerge on how the new inheritable ISA rules will operate. And the good news is that it will be achieved by an increased ISA allowance for the surviving spouse rather than the actual ISA assets themselves. This means clients won’t have to revisit their wills.

How the rules will work.

If an ISA holder dies after 3 December, their spouse or civil partner will be allowed to invest an amount equivalent to the deceased’s ISA into their own ISA via an additional allowance. This is in addition to their normal annual ISA limit for the tax year and will be claimable from 6 April 2015. This means the surviving spouse can continue to enjoy tax free investment returns on savings equal to the deceased ISA fund. But it doesn’t have to be the same assets which came from the deceased’s ISA which are paid into their spouses new or existing ISA. The surviving spouse can make contributions up to their increased allowance from any assets.

What it means for estate planning

By not linking the transferability to the actual ISA assets, it provides greater flexibility and doesn’t have an adverse impact on estate planning that your client may have already put in place. For example, had it been the ISA itself which had to pass to the spouse to benefit from the continued tax privileged status, it could have meant many thousands of ISA holders having to amend their existing Wills. Where the spouse was not the intended beneficiary under the Will or where assets would have been held on trust for the spouse – a common scenario – the spouse would miss out on the tax savings on offer. Instead it’s the allowance which is inherited, not the asset. This means that, even in the scenarios described above, the spouse can benefit by paying her own assets into her ISA and claiming the higher allowance. And the deceased’s assets can be distributed in accordance with their wishes, as set out in their Will.

The tax implications

The tax benefits of an ISA are well documented. Funds remain free of income tax and capital gains when held within the ISA wrapper. And it’s the continuity of this tax free growth for the surviving spouse where the new benefit lies. It’s an opportunity to keep savings in a tax free environment. But the new rules don’t provide any additional inheritance tax benefits. The rules just entitle the survivor to an increased ISA allowance for a limited period after death. The actual ISA assets will be distributed in line with the terms of the Will (or the intestacy rules) and remain within the estate for IHT. Where they pass to the spouse or civil partner, they’ll be covered by the spousal exemption. Even then, ultimately the combined ISA funds may be subject to 40% IHT on the second death.

With ISA rules and pension rules getting ever closer, it may be worth some clients even considering whether to take up their increased ISA allowance if the same amount could be paid into their SIPP. This would achieve the same tax free investment returns as the ISA and the same access for client’s over 55. But the benefit would be that the SIPP will be free of IHT and potentially tax free in the hands of the beneficiaries if death is before 75.

What’s next?

The new allowance will be available from 6 April 2015 for deaths on or after 3 December. Draft legislation is expected before the end of the year and the final position will become clear after a short period of consultation. The new inherited allowance will complement the new pension death rules – a welcome addition to the whole new world of tax planning opportunities for advisers and their clients from next April.

Who would predict the price of oil?

The price of crude oil has fallen around 40 per cent since a recent peak in June this year. This has a profound effect on economies and markets around the world as the cost of manufacturing and transporting goods falls along with oil producers’ income and the currencies of oil-rich countries.
The theory goes that consumer spending will rise because people have more disposable income; that inflation will fall as the price of goods eases; and that companies with high energy bills will become more profitable. If lower prices hold, the effect might become political and environmental as the balance of world power shifts from oil exporters to oil importers, and the impetus to develop cheaper clean energy wanes. Oil seeps so deep into the global economy you might think that to be a successful investor you need to have an accurate view on its price and its impact on asset prices. But you would be wrong.

No-one with an opinion about oil knows whether their view is right or wrong, and only the changing price will confirm which they are. Market prices are a fair reflection of the balance of opinion because they are created by many buyers and sellers agreeing on individual transactions. As an investor you can take a view of whether that balance – that price – is right but, like all other people with an opinion, you have no way of knowing whether you are right or wrong until the price moves.

Knowing this, it seems irrational to take a view (or a risk) on something so random as the direction of the oil price. In fact, why would one take a view on anything related to the changing price of oil; the US economy, for example; or the price of Shell; or Deutsche Post; or anything else?
The rational approach is to let capital markets run their course and to have a sufficiently diversified portfolio that allows you to relax in the knowledge that, over time, you will benefit from the wealth-generating power of your investments as a whole; without risking your wealth on a prediction that might go one way or the other.

What price for Brazil to win?

Every four years, in the build-up to the World Cup, lots of people attempt to predict the results of the competition.

Economists at Goldman Sachs, one of the world’s biggest investment banks, suggest that Brazil is the overwhelming favourite with Argentina trailing a distant second. England has a 1.4 per cent chance of winning, according to the bank.

Stephen Hawking has used a scientific method to calculate that England’s best chances lie in a 4-3-3 formation, playing in temperate conditions, with a European referee, kicking off at 3pm. Even so, he also backs Brazil to win.

And who can forget Paul, the captive German octopus, who correctly predicted the results of all of Germany’s matches in the 2010 World Cup?

People go to great lengths to make credible predictions but it is rarely worth the effort because seldom are they accurate. A more meaningful alternative to making individual predictions is to use the aggregate of all the analysis expressed in book-makers odds. Brazil are currently 11/4 favourites.

We use this idea as the root of our investment philosophy. We do not believe it is possible to reliably predict future events and think it is a waste of money to attempt to do so. We assume that all the relevant information has been taken account of by other people and we trust the aggregate of all analysis.

That aggregate is expressed as the price of a security and is the most reliable expression of the company’s prospects and expected returns.

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Read between the (head) lines

Too often, money gets a bad press. Just in the past few weeks headlines have reported that “Yes, the stock market is rigged”[1] and “City watchdog to probe 30m financial products”[2]. At the same time, investigators are still looking into the alleged manipulation of foreign exchange rates and the rate that underpins most savings and mortgages.

It is hardly surprising that people are put off saving and investing when there are so many scandals. But it’s not all bad news: in fact, there are some very good news stories about money that will never make the headlines.
One of them is that many investors have doubled their investments in the past five years. They didn’t go to great lengths to pick the right funds, or devise a complex investment strategy. They could have spent more time digging a new flower border than poring over stock prices. All they did to achieve this great return was to hold a diverse and low-cost portfolio of global shares and stick with it.

These people have benefited from one of the most powerful wealth-generating machines in the world; the stock market. They ignored the Eurozone crisis and they ignored the lumpiness of the global economic recovery. Instead, they just sat back and watched the steady climb of their investments, while taking care not to give up any returns to bad timing or paying too much in fees and costs.

It might not sound exciting, and there are very few reporters in the world that would be interested in writing about it, but right now, all around us, are people easing their way to their financial goals.

1 http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/yes-the-stock-market-rigged
2 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-26780863

Hidden Fund Costs could damage your investment performance

Most investors are aware that their funds levy annual charges against their funds. These comprise the Annual Management Charge which ranges from 0.1% to around 1.8% or more for UK mutual funds. In addition the funds are required to publish certain additional fund charges such as custody and legal costs. These two items make up the Total Expense Ratio (TER).

Many investors are unaware of the fact that, in addition to the TER, funds incur costs in two other ways. One of these, the Portfolio Turnover Rate (PTR), is caused by the costs which fund managers incur when the buy and sell stocks. The more they do this, the greater the PTR. In the UK the estimated cost of a sale and purchase is around 1.8%, when Stamp Duty is taken into account. The average UK fund turns over its portfolio by around 100% a year, thus adding around 1.8% onto investors’ costs. Many funds have PTRs of twice or more this level.

A further area in which investors can incur costs is the price at which funds are able to deal in their shares. Generally shares are offered for sale or purchase by market makers in batches of say, £250,000 or £1Million. On dealers’ screens the best priced batches are generally shown at the top of the list with prices getting worse further down the list. A fund needing to offload £10Million of a particular stock could therefore find its self selling via a number of market makers and not all at the best price available on the market. This can be a substantial hidden drag on fund performance, especially for very large funds or those which trade actively.

So what can be done about this? Bearing in mind that the method of access to the market (fund selction) is very much a secondary decision, well behind Asset Allocation, the optimum way to keep fund costs down is to invest in passive or tracker funds. These can be expected to provide returns in line with the performance of the market at low cost. In addition certain passive funds engage in dealing strategies designed to optimise the price at which deals are carried out.

Acts of Commission make you feel worse than Acts of Omission

Take a look at this 5 min video about Dollar Cost Averaging by Professor Kenneth French.

Dollar (UK investors should read Pound) Cost Averaging, in this case refers to lump sums available for  investment which, instead of  immediately being fully invested in the markets, are allocated over a series of months. The objective is to avoid being caught out by sudden market falls shortly after making the investment. In the UK we call this ‘Phased Investment’.

Interestingly, Prof French  reinforces the academically accepted view that Dollar Cost Averaging does not optimise returns, given the level of risk that an investor wishes to take. When considered purely from a finance perspective, if the right thing to do, in order to deliver a set of goals, is to invest in an equity portfolio, then it should be implemented in full, immediately. Market timing has been shown to contribute very little to returns and as a consequence there is no good reason to delay.

But, is this always right? Well ,Prof French observed that, from a behavioural finance point of view, it may be a good thing. People apparently feel worse about the negative outcomes from acts of comission (things they did) than they do about acts of ommission (things they didn’t do). Hence an investor feels a lot worse about the fact that his portfolio plummeted shortly after investing the money that he does about the returns which he failed to make because he didn’t invest the money.

On balance, Prof French concludes that, even with his finance professor’s hat on, the damage to prospective returns caused by Dollar Cost Averaging is very little, so it makes little difference whether investors use it or not. However, he observed that it may give them an experience that they feel better about.

Ultimately as investment professionals and, especially as financial planners, we do need to step outside of the theoretical world of optimised portfolios and look at things more closely from our client’s point of view. If doing things that are theoretically sub-optimal but not actually damaging makes our clients feel better about what they are doing then there is no good reason not to facilitate this. After all we are not on some kind of Evangelical mission to convert the pagan unwashed. Oh, and it is their money…. not ours.

Interesting huh!

Active Fund Management is a Zero Sum Game

In this video, Professor Kenneth French explains about why active fund management is always doomed to under-perform the market.

Chris Wicks CFP
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