The Hayne Royal Commission Could be Taking Things too Far. Here’s Why.

When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.

– Thomas Sowell

As the royal commission on financial advice continues to crucify the banks and their executive teams, I’ve been watching with great interest and can’t argue with the revelations to date. Late last week I came across this article, which irritated me a little to say the least.

Source: AFR

As grandfathered commissions are all but dead – and I would argue they should never have been grandfathered to begin with, the Hayne royal commission seems to now be moving its shiny bazooka toward ongoing fees charged by financial advisers.

The financial industry has evolved from not charging clients anything at all and being remunerated via product commissions, to percentage of assets under management (AUM), to no commissions whatsoever and simply charging their clients a flat dollar monthly/annual retainer (with some charging a combination of percentage of AUM and flat dollar).

At my firm we charge a flat dollar monthly retainer as we think it removes most if not all conflicts of interest. It means we remain outcome focused rather than product focused. It also removes the vested interest to gather as much ‘AUM as we can. We’re free to advise clients across all asset classes instead of guiding them toward assets we would otherwise control/manage (and charge a fee on).

The commission is exploring the idea of overhauling ongoing advice fees, so financial advisers, like accountants and lawyers, must provide the service before they can invoice their customers.

When NAB chief executive Andrew Thorburn tried to defend ongoing fees as a “transparent upfront fee” of $12,000 a year that is paid $1,000 monthly, Mr Hodge challenged the need for such expensive financial advice.

“How many Australians do you think really need to be paying a thousand dollars a month for financial advice?”

Here’s the transcript:

Source: AFR

Mr Hodge, my neighbour thinks paying $13.99 per month to Netflix for unlimited streaming of movies, documentaries, and shows from all around the world is expensive and unnecessary. He also thinks paying Spotify $9.99 per month for unlimited streaming of music from all around the world is expensive and unnecessary. In fact, he even thinks paying $100 per month for a gym membership that will help him get back into shape is expensive and unnecessary. You see Mr Hodge, regardless of the cost of a service, the customer or client must see value in the service. There’s an old saying, “price is an issue in the absence of value”. This also applies to financial advice.

Charging a fee for service via a retainer promotes engagement, it encourages dialogue, and it incentivises clients to pick up the phone and ask questions without the fear of being invoiced and charged for a phone call (or meeting). It’s the basis of a true partnership.

What’s interesting to me is the number of accounting firms we speak with who are moving to the financial advisers’ fee model – a monthly retainer. The concept of charging clients after the work is done is great for one off transactions, and if that’s the business you’re in – good for you. This, however, is not the business we’re in. We’re in the business of ongoing advice, ongoing oversight, ongoing discussions, ongoing dialogue, ongoing debate. Our clients’ financial lives are not a one-off transaction Mr Hodge. Global financial markets, economics conditions, and the ever changing legal landscape are not a one-off transaction.

Mr Hodge, more Australian’s need to and should be paying $1,000 per month (if not more) to a good quality financial adviser. To help them make good decisions with their money. To help them avoid speculation and grow their wealth the slow way. To help them avoid buying and selling at the wrong time and chasing investment returns.  To act as their sounding board when they are faced with options and confusion. To help guide them toward their financial goals. And to save them time, energy, and anxiety with managing their money and financial affairs.

Show me the incentive and I’ll show you the behaviour.

– Charlie Munger

Finally, some of the responsibility needs to fall on the consumer. If you are engaging a professional to help you with your financial matters, and you are paying them a fee to do so, yet you are not receiving a service, it’s up to you to call it out. Here are 16 questions you need to ask your financial adviser.

Despite all the negative press aimed at financial advisers, it’s not that hard to find a good quality, ethical adviser. Here are just a few of them:

Chronos Private

Marasea Partners

Your Family CFO

Rasiah Private Wealth

ICG Financial Planning

There are many of us that pride ourselves on our ethics, transparency, drive, and our purpose. And we won’t allow uneducated and misinformed points of view dictate the great work we do for our clients.

Next time I turn on Netflix or Spotify, and I’m not receiving the service I am paying for, I will not be waiting for a royal commission on the cloud streaming industry, as a consumer I will be on the phone to find out what’s going on. You need to do this same. You deserve better.

Visualising The Damage on The Stock Market

Bed goes up, bed goes down, bed goes up, bed goes down.

– Homer Simpson

Since the GFC stocks have been the perfect place to hide. In fact, there has been no safer bet with stock markets around the world trading at multiples of their GFC lows. Here’s how major stock markets around the world performed (total return) since the bottom of the GFC:

(orange line – Australia, purple line – Asia, green line – Europe, blue line – US, red – Emerging Markets)

Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.

– Warren Buffett

Financial markets however, have no regard for what you want or what you need, and will turn on you like the Melbourne weather leaving you perplexed as to which season it is.

The recent spasm of news coverage on the stock market correction prompted me to assess the damage done on stocks. For the last two months, these were the headlines investors have been reading – how exciting!

I’m not sure who defined a market correction being a decline of 10% or more, but it’s the widely accepted definition. What good is it for investors to know that the correction has begun based on some meaningless threshold someone fabricated? Why is the threshold not 12%, or 15%? Why should a manufactured definition trigger investors to revisit their investment strategy? To me, this threshold seems illogical, and to base investment decisions on these definitions seems foolish.

Let’s take a look at what all the fuss is about. Here’s a chart showing the total return of the above indices since 8 October (when the decline began) to Friday, 23 November 2018:

Within two months, the US stock market is down 10.69%, Europe is down 9.05%, Asia down 7.97%, Australia down 5.92%, and Emerging Markets down 5.25%. Having said this, if we were to look at peak to trough using 52 week highs, the chart above would look different again. In fact, Emerging Markets would look a lot worse if we pulled the start date back to earlier on in the year. It doesn’t matter where you were invested your money, there really was nowhere to hide.

If you think that’s bad, just spare a moment for the tech investors. Here are the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) against the S&P500 (orange line) and Nasdaq (grey line):

(purple line – Facebook, green line – Amazon, blue line – Apple, yellow line – Google)

Hey, what do you expect after a run up like this:

Netflix’s market cap is currently sitting at US$112 billion. To put that into perspective, Citigroup is currently valued at US$150 billion. Number of employees at each company: Citigroup – 209,000, Netflix – 5,400. Revenue (2018 est): Citigroup – US$216,000,000, Netflix – US$16 billion. Net income (2018 est): Citigroup – US$18 billion, Netflix US$671 million.

Markets can remain irrational for a lot longer than you and I can remain solvent.

– John Maynard Keynes

Most money managers will highlight and emphasize performance for a select period of time (I’ll let you decide why), so it’s very useful to me (and investors) to look at things through a wider lens. So here it goes – the recent market declines since the GFC for stock markets around the world:

It comes as no surprise that the asset class that has performed the best over the last 10 years is the one that has fallen the most when things are seem a little uncertain.

Even following a market “correction”, the US stock market is still up 265%, the Australian market up 144%, and Asia, Europe, and Emerging Markets up 123%, 80%, and 59% respectively.

There are several narratives that are making headlines justifying the recent market decline. The general theme goes something like this: This bull market has been running hot for almost 10 years. Interest rates are rising, and cost pressures are rising, which will cause inflation. Whatever narrative you decide makes most sense to you, the reality is that the news that is floating around is not new and is probably priced into current market valuations anyway.

At the end of the day, the more you pay for an asset, the less the future expected return. The less you pay for an asset, the greater the future expected return. In life, and in financial markets, things sometimes just don’t make any sense – although they eventually do. Don’t try and keep up with the Jones’ or get caught up in the market and media hype – it takes guts, discipline, patience and time to make money.

When you decide to embark on the journey of investing, remember the wise words of Homer Simpson – bed goes up, bed goes down.

Source:

  • Charts and headlines – Thomson Reuters
  • Returns are denominated in AUD for all charts except the FAANGs

31 Reasons Why You Need A Financial Adviser

Someone once asked me that if I was any good as a financial adviser, why was I working as one and not simply making my money by managing my own investments? I thought to myself, that’s an interesting yet naive question.

So I decided to list 31 things good financial advisers will do for their clients, and why you need one. Here it goes:

  1. Takes as much time as necessary to genuinely understand where you are now, where you want to go, what help you need/want, and most most importantly, why.
  2. Helps define your goals, aspirations, desires, and fears.
  3. Understands what ‘truly wealthy’ means to you (because money is simply a means to an end).
  4. Thoroughly reviews your current position, then studies and analyses multiple scenarios/strategies to help enhance your current and future position.
  5. Will create an initial plan, which is simply a starting point, and make adjustments along the way to help support your goals.
  6. Helps makes wise choices about cash flow, management of debt, education funding, tax efficiency, personal insurance, estate planning, and investments.
  7. Puts in place strategy and structure to help achieve your future goals.
  8. Will explore all asset classes to help achieve your goals.
  9. Not only manages investments, but also manages investors.
  10. Helps you decide how, where, and when to invest.
  11. Helps match your balance sheet to your life.
  12. Will measure your performance not to an index, rather, to your personal goals.
  13. Helps you make better decisions with your money in the face of uncertainty and fear.
  14. Arms you with information to help you make better decisions.
  15. Helps reduce the uncertainty and anxiety that comes from making important financial decisions with your money.
  16. Stays on top of economic, market, and legislative changes so you don’t have to.
  17. Proactively keeps in touch with you.
  18. Liaises with your other professionals, and co-ordinates your banking, personal insurance, and estate planning with specialists.
  19. Gives you back time so that you can spend it on more important things in your life.
  20. Advises on the optimal mix of investments for you so that you can maximise your rate of return for a given level of risk.
  21. Monitors and oversees your investments.
  22. Maintains financial records on your behalf, such as tax reports, cost basis information, wills, and legal documents (basically your financial life).
  23. Acts as your sounding board.
  24. Is the ‘middleman’ between you and stupid.
  25. Provides as unemotional and unbiased point of view.
  26. Has your back.
  27. Is honest with you – they’ll tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.
  28. Introduces you to the right people.
  29. Helps consolidate and streamline your affairs.
  30. Shares experiences of many other clients who have faced or are facing circumstances similar to yours.
  31. Get’s shit done (because you probably won’t).

It’s always simpler to do nothing. Chasing something you want is hard work – I guess that’s why not everyone gets what they want in the end. Personal finances are easy, right? Wrong. On our own, most of us lack clarity and objectivity, we get stuck in our own heads, we make emotional and careless decisions. We’re most likely busy doing other things in our lives, and we don’t have the information, resources, or time to sit down and dedicate thought, energy, and focus that personal finances take to make great decisions over the long-term.

Engaging an experienced and professional adviser to help you create your own personal financial blue print and game plan will help you understand your current position – your status quo, and more importantly what you need to do to get to where you want to go.

Asking others who are strong in areas where you are weak to help you is a great skill that you should develop no matter what, as it will help you develop guardrails that will prevent you from doing what you shouldn’t be doing.

– Ray Dalio

I’m curious. If money is the vehicle, what’s the destination?

The 6 Biggest Mistakes You Will Make as an Investor

Most of us want to achieve success, whether that may be at work, in our relationships, or our health. In the pursuit of success, we all experience moments of self-loathing and frustration that stems from nowhere other than from our own hands – we are, our own worst enemies. Success in personal finance is no exception.

Have you ever wondered, what is the biggest risk to achieving your financial goals? Is it geopolitics, inflation, the rise of crypto-currency, a property bubble? No. It’s your own mind.

You can invest is all the right things, minimise all your fees and taxes, and diversify most risks away, but if you fail to master your own psychology, it is still possible to fall victim of financial self-sabotage.

Our brain’s natural instincts, to avoid pain and seek pleasure, may be very useful to Fred Flintstone, but can be very harmful when making financial decisions. So how do investors overcome these biases? The concept is simple, yet will test even the most seasoned of investors.

Our ideas are so simple that people keep asking us for mysteries when all we have are the most elementary ideas. – Charlie Munger

Put in place a system, rules, and a set of procedures that will protect you from yourself.

Mistake #1 – Seeking confirmation of your own beliefs

Our brains are wired to seek and believe information that validates our own existing beliefs. We love proving to ourselves how smart and right we are.

The solution

Ask questions and actively seek the opinions of well respected people that disagree with your own.

The power of thoughtful disagreement is a great thing – Ray Dalio

Mistake #2 – Extrapolating recent events

One of the most common and most dangerous, recency bias – to believe the current market trend will continue into the future. Investors end up buying more of something that has recently increased in price, ultimately paying more for the investment.

The solution

The best way to avoid this impulse of buying high (aka FOMO), rebalance your portfolio. You effectively sell assets at higher prices and buying assets at lower prices – when one investment performs well, you sell some of it, and top up the investment that hasn’t done so well.

Mistake #3 – Overconfidence

Ask a room full of people to raise their hands if they are a better than average driver, and you’ll have 93% of the room raise their hand. As human beings we overestimate our own knowledge and abilities, which can lead to disastrous financial outcomes.

The solution

By admitting you don’t have an edge, you’ll end up with an edge..

If you can’t predict the future, the most important thing is to admit it. It its true that you can’t make forecasts and yet you try anyway, then that’s really suicide. – Howard Marks

Mistake #4 – Swinging for the fences

As tempting as it is to go for the big winners to fast track your financial wealth, the more likely you are to be bowled out, which also means it’s going to take you even longer to get back on track.

The solution

The best way to win the game of investing, is to achieve sustainable long-term returns that compound over time. Short-term noise is simply a distraction from Wall Street.

The stock market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to to the patient. – Warren Buffett

Mistake #5 – Home bias

We have a tendency to invest in markets we are most familiar with creating a ‘home bias’. For example, we invest in the stock market of the country we live in, we invest in the stock of our employer, or we invest in the industry we work in. This bias leaves us overweight in “what we know”, which can destroy our hard earned wealth in some circumstances.

The solution

Diversify across asset classes, regions, and industries. From January 2010 to October 2018, Australian shares returned 7.50% pa. International shares returned 12% pa, and US shares returned 16% pa.

Mistake #6 – Negativity

Our brains are wired to bombard us with memories of negative experiences. The amygdala – the fight of flight system in our brain, floods our bodies with fear signals when we are losing money. Think GFC – markets were plunging, investors panicked, selling down their investments to cash. The US market has tripled n value since the GFC, making up all the losses plus more.

The solution

1) Be clear on why you made a certain investment.

2) Invest today for the long-term but assume the market will collapse tomorrow.

3) Partner with the right financial adviser to act as your sounding board.

By failing to prepare, you prepare for fail. – Benjamin Franklin

These aren’t guarantees that you will be successful during your investing journey, but it will damn sure put the odds in your favor.

Godspeed.

Source: Visual Capitalist, Wikipedia, Vanguard

You’re Being Fooled Into Overpaying For Underperformance – Here’s How

When people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m in the business of helping people make money. The business we’re really in though, is helping improve the lives of our clients. It comes from the belief that life is about more than money. I believe money is an enabler – it provides us with options, choice, and flexibility. So if we can help our clients preserve and build their financial wealth, we can help them live a more meaningful and fulfilled life – a life that is truly rich.

Sadly, most people never achieve a life that is truly meaningful and fulfilling – true wealth. Why? Because they’re focused on the scoreboard, and not the process. They’re focused on chasing the money.

Enter the world of investments, stock brokers, financial advisers, fund managers, and high flying financial institutions. If you’re not careful, you might be sailing toward financial freedom with a hole in the bottom of your boat. That hole, is in fact lining the pockets of those purporting to be helping you sail toward the sunset.

When was the last time you looked at your superannuation or investment portfolio statement? Your portfolio has probably grown, especially over the last ten years, so you haven’t taken too much notice. The real question is, how much have you left on the table?

Australians have around $2 trillion sitting in superannuation, which has attracted fund managers like bees around a honey pot. And Australian are paying some of the highest fees for the management and oversight of this money. In fact, last year, Australian’s paid $31 billion in superannuation fees – totaling around $230 billion in the last decade.

So what can you do about it? Here are three things to consider:

1. Fund Fees

When it comes to truly understanding the cost of your investments, it’s hard enough for the professionals to do, let alone the general public. There are many hidden costs that lie beneath the surface – here they are (average):

1. Expense ratio – 0.90% pa

This covers marketing and distribution cost, as well as the management of the portfolio. Typically, this is the only fee investors are aware of.

2. Transaction costs – 1.44% pa

Typically investment managers buy and sell frequently. And with these transactions comes transaction fees. There are three types of transaction costs: 1) brokerage, 2) market impact, and 3) spread.

3. Cash drag – 0.83% pa

This is the portion of your portfolio that is invested in cash. It hurts your return over the long-term because of the missed opportunities in the market.

5. Taxes – 1.00% pa

When you by into a fund, sometimes you’re being taxed for other investors’ gains.

The total of these fees can be as high as 4.17% pa. Although on face value these fees don’t seem high at all, when you compound these costs over long periods of time, it will blow your mind. The above list didn’t even include performance fees!

Here’s what happens when you invest $100,000 into the market with a 7% pa return. The compounding value over 50 years is almost $3,000,000! Let’s start deducting some fees from this return – here’s what you’re left with when you take 1% and 2% in fees:

Even a small number like 2%, compounded over a long period of time, can lead to financial ruin. Jack Bogle, the founder of Vanguard once said:

You put up 100% of the capital, you took 100% of the risk, and you got 33% of the return!

2. Chasing Performance

Forget fees. Just invest in the top performing funds, or sell before the market falls and buy before the market rises (market timing). Easier said that done.

A) Chasing the top performers

Over the last 15 years, almost 80% of all Australian fund managers have failed to beat the broad Australian share index. And after 15 years, only 56% of Australian find managers survived.

Over the last 15 years, almost 90% of all international fund managers failed to beat the broad international share index. And after 15 years, only 46% of international fund managers survived.

B) Timing the market

Researchers Richard Bauer and Julie Dahlquist examined more than a million market-timing sequences from 1926 to 1999. Their research concluded that by just holding the broad market index outperformed more than 80% of market-timing strategies.

Clearly, neither of these strategies put the odds firmly in your favour. In fact, they’re akin to gambling more than anything. Making money in the markets is tough. So if you can’t beat the market by hiring the best, what to the the real experts recommend you do?

3. The Advice

Making money in the markets is tough. The brilliant trader and investor Bernard Baruch put it well when he said:

If you are ready to give up everything else and study the whole industry and background of the market and all principal companies whose stocks are on the board as carefully as a medical student studies anatomy – if you can do all that and in addition you have the cool nerves of a gambler, the sixth sense of a clairvoyant and the courage of a lion, you have a ghost of a chance.

Jack Bogle says understand that what appears to be success in financial markets could just be dumb luck:

If you pack 1,024 gorillas in a gymnasium and teach them each to flip a coin, one of them will flip heads ten times in a row. Most would call that luck, but when it happens in the fund business, we call him a genius!

Warren Buffett wrote this in his 2013 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders:

My advice to the trustee could not be more simple: Put 10% of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund. (I suggest Vanguard’s.) I believe the trust’s long-term results from this policy will be superior to those attained by most investors – whether pension funds, institutions or individuals – who employ high-fee managers

He even made a bet in 2008 and put his money where his mouth was. You can read my note about it here.

It’s super important to know that not all costs are bad. The right financial adviser can help you make better decisions over the long-term to save you money. Vanguard recently published a study to help quantify the value of a good adviser.

1. Suitable asset allocation – 0.75% pa

2. Cost effective implementation – 0.70% pa

3. Rebalancing portfolio – 0.37% pa

4. Behavioural coaching – 1.50% pa

Total – 3.32% pa of value added

This does not include any other benefits or value of a good financial adviser, such as strategic and structural advice. Compound that and see what your portfolio looks like.

Next time you pick up your investment portfolio statement, think twice about what you’re doing. Are you 100% sure the financial odds are firmly in your favour? Fees are the silent killer in your portfolio, and only a handful of funds beat the market consistently and over the long-term, and much of this can be attributed to randomness.

Being in the market, while minimising costs, can empower you to getting the real financial freedom you deserve.

Source: Forbes – The real cost of owning a mutual fund 2011, Visual Capitalist, Vanguard, SPIVA, Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter 2013

Time or Money: Which is More Important?

It was only after having kids I realised how much time I really did have on my hands – I mean, what on earth did I do with it all!? Any spare time I now find myself with, I ask myself three questions:

  1. What needs to be done, and what would I like to do – Mowing the lawn, washing the car, or taking the kids to the park?
  2. What’s really important – time with my kids.
  3. Can I outsource the rest – yes.

For me, my family and kids are the most important thing in my life (after my health, because without it I can’t enjoy and provide for my family). More often than not I find that I somehow convince myself that I’ll get around to doing the other two things, such as mowing the lawn and washing the car because this time it’s different! Time and time again however, the grass gets longer, and the car get’s dirtier. Without exception, I give in. I’ll arrange for Victor the lawn guy to come over and do the lawn, and the car will be dropped off at the car wash whilst we’re at Westfield Shoppingtown. Inevitably, the cost of mowing the lawn and cleaning the car is always more expensive because I left it for so long and it got so bad. No brownie points even though I had good intentions.

Our time is so valuable, yet I think many of us don’t realise this. Realise it not intellectually, because I think most people understand the concept of finite time, but understand it emotionally.

We all have 10,080 minutes each week. Let’s say we sleep for 7 hours each day (2,940 minutes each week), we’re left with 7,140 minutes each week to do the things that are most meaningful and fulfilling. In one of his talks, Peter Attia poses the question:

I will be willing to bet that not one of you, if you were offered every dollar of his (Warren Buffett’s) fortune would trade places with him right now.

He goes on to say:

And you would all intuitively say no, I think, because you realise that time matters more than money. And I would also bet by the way, that he would be willing to be 20 years old again if he was broke.

The question Attia asks is incredibly thought provoking. Sure, I could have all the money and fame in the world. I could travel to anywhere I like, I could meet anyone I wanted to meet, and I could buy anything I wanted to have. Notwithstanding Warren Buffett’s fortune, there is no way I would be willing to trade places with him – would you?

Researchers at Harvard published a paper after studying the spending habits of more than 6,000 people around the world. Here’s what they found:

Despite rising incomes, people around the world are feeling increasingly pressed for time, undermining well-being. We show that the time famine of modern life can be reduced by using money to buy time. Surveys of large, diverse samples from four countries reveal that spending money on time-saving services is linked to greater life satisfaction. To establish causality, we show that working adults report greater happiness after spending money on a time-saving purchase than on a material purchase. This research reveals a previously unexamined route from wealth to well-being: spending money to buy free time.

In our everyday lives we outsource and spend money on so many time-saving purchases. From Friday night take-away, buying fruit and veggies from the market, to having our cars serviced. Not only do these purchases save us time, some of them require more skill and expertise than others – and we’re happy to pay a premium for it.

In the world of money management, the amount of time, focus, attention, and expertise that is required is enormous. Not only are the above factors required, the most underrated factor, I believe, that is required is having the ability to control human emotions.

Here’s how I think about time and money:

  1. Trade money for anything that is below your hourly wage.
  2. Trade money for anything that allows you to spend more time on things you find more meaningful and fulfilling.
  3. Trade money for memories.
  4. Trade money for anything you’re not an expert at – you’re likely to have no idea what and how to do it, if you do know how, you’re likely to take twice as long, make a mistake, or not optimise the outcome.

Never discount the concept of time and how a precious commodity it is.

Today’s The Day – Half a Billion Dollars, 16 Years in The Making

They say dreams are born during childhood and suffocate during adulthood.

It was July 20, 1985, at 1:05 pm, the marine radio crackled to life in Mel Fisher’s Florida Keys office, “Unit 1, this is Unit 11. Put away the chart’s, we’ve got the Mother Lode!”

Sunken treasure. Pirate gold. Long John Silver. Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest — Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! Mel Fisher was a treasure hunter. Inspired after having read Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Treasure Island as a boy, his heart was eventually set on the search of the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha – a royal galleon with 40 tons of gold and silver aboard which sank in a devastating hurricane in 1622 and was never found.

For 16 years, Mel Fisher searched the sea bed for the lost galleon. In the process, he lost a son and daughter-in-law, when the boat they were on capsized in 1975.

This man went out on search every single day for 16 years. Can you imagine coming home to your wife each day, who asks you, did you find anything today dear? To which you reply, not today honey. For 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, every day, for 16 years! Can you imagine if he stopped searching after 12 months, 18 months, or 2 years!?

Why didn’t Mel stop searching? I mean, so many people set goals but never quite achieve them. Setting goals are easy. Just think back to how many time you set yourself new goals each new year’s day? How long did it last? Maybe your goal wasn’t compelling or inspiring enough? Maybe the goal you set for yourself wasn’t even exciting enough for you?

What made Mel chase his goal for 16 years without any bit of evidence he was anywhere near achieving it along the way? It’s that leap out of bed in the morning feeling. It’s when you don’t think about work as being work. Anyone that’s working towards something knows what I’m talking about. The vision, the excitement, the growth, absolutely loving the journey.

Do you think Mel Fisher would have given up on his dream if he didn’t find the Atocha after 16 years? What about after 17 years? 18 years? I’m a massive believer in purpose – why do you want what you want? What will it bring you? Once you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you’ll always find ways to make it happen. Reasons come first, the answers follow.

The Atocha was added to the Guinness Book of World Records for being the most valuable shipwreck to be recovered (estimated at $400,000,000). Mel Fisher’s mantra each and every day during the years-long search for the Atocha, “Today’s the day.”

The Most Expensive Game of Golf You’ve Ever Played

Last week I wrote an article on investing following a speeding infringement. I received quite a number of positive responses to this note – thank you. I also received a number of questions on the concept I talked about in my blog, that is, compound interest and market timing. I touched on this topic a little while back, but let me give it another go.

Have you ever played golf and placed a bet on each hole? You know, everyone places a small amount of money on each hole, and the winner on each hole takes the lot? Pretty simple, and a bit of fun. Have you ever played this game whilst doubling the amount of money you bet on each hole? Not a big deal…start with 10 cents a hole, and double this amount for 18 holes. Any idea what the number is on the 18th hole? Before reading any further, just take a guess, quickly, don’t take too long!

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

$13,107.20! Ridiculous, right!?

How on earth does this happen I hear you ask? Here’s the above table in a chart.

Notice how nothing happens for a long time, the all of a sudden, BOOM, the amount explodes. This my friends is compound investing – the eighth wonder of the world.

If you think that all you need to know is which way the stock market is going in order to make money, think again. Talk to any successful business owner or investor, it’s more about being disciplined, having a game plan, and taking the long view.

Meet John – he’s the world’s greatest stock picker. He only buys when the stock market index is trading at 52-week lows, and assuming they are 17% below his last purchase. Meet Jane – she’s the world’s worst stock picker. She invests $2,000 only at market peaks beginning in 1970, when she’s 22 years of age. She increases her investment by $2,000 per decade – $4,000 per year during the 80’s, $6,000 a year during the 90’s etc. She retires at age 65.

The results? Hands down winner is John, right? The results of this experiment (thanks to Ben Carlson) may surprise you. John does quite well, as you would expect. But the results are very similar. You’d think John’s portfolio would be multiples of Jane’s as he was buying at market lows, and Jane at market highs, however this is not the case. Why? Compound interest.

Jump on any online calculator and calculate the capitalised interest on a 30 year loan. It’s okay, I’ve done for you. A $500,000 loan, with an interest rate of 5%, accumulates interest of $966,279.60. Think about that for a second – that’s only the interest. Imagine compounding capital and interest on your stock investment! The reason John misses out on the benefit of compounding, is because he’s out of the market for long periods of time. Carlson clearly states in his analysis, “Short-term moves in and out of the market don’t matter nearly as much if you have a long-time horizon. Thinking long-term increases your probability for success in the stock market while the day-to-day noise gets drowned out by discipline and compound interest.”

The strategy is so simple, requires no insight into the future, yet it is so powerful, and actually exists – unlike the perfect market timer. The catch? It takes a long time, and it’s b-o-r-i-n-g! The irony is however, that the group of people who have the greatest capacity to absorb the market’s volatility, are the same group of people who seem to be the least interested in it.

Here’s What Vikings And Investing Have in Common

On Saturday afternoon I visited the Vikings exhibition at Melbourne Museum. Over 450 artefacts were on display, making it the largest collection of it’s kind in Melbourne, and boy was it packed! Two things I learned from the exhibition:

1) Vikings’ swords weren’t that heavy, and

2) The importance of silver during trade.

This precious metal became such an important component of trade during the Viking period. Silver coins and ingots were used to balance transactions. Vikings would carry around their own set of small scales to ensure each transaction they entered into was measured accurately and precisely, and the transaction was completed fairly and that they weren’t being cheated.

When I look through the funds that have been used to construct a portfolio for individuals, families, and/or superannuation funds, I am always stumped by the high fees that are being paid by investors.

In business, there’s an old saying, you need to spend money to make money. When it comes to investing however, the more money you pay, history tells us that it has an adverse effect on what you have left in your pocket. Don’t get me wrong, every investment has a cost, even though it may seem as though you’re not paying anything. I recall being told by one “wealth management” firm, their fee to trade international shares for their clients was nil…NIL!? (I wasn’t aware you were a charity). After we did some digging around, we uncovered the firm would take a large clip from the foreign currency exchange. Sure, the brokerage was nil, but unless you understand how these things work, on face value it may seem as though you’re not paying anything.

Most people don’t evaluate the expenses incurred in managing their investments within their portfolio. When you understand how investment fees can dramatically reduce your returns, and when you understand how fees are a strong predictor of future returns, investors should spend more time in evaluating their investment fee.

Why costs matter 1

Sure, 0.50% here, 0.25% there, it doesn’t sound like much over the course of a year, but when you compound this number over long periods of time, it could mean the difference between retiring at age 65 instead of 69.

The impact of fees is two fold. Not only do you lose the annual fees you pay each year, you also lose the growth that money may have had for future years into the future.

To illustrate the significance of fees on an investment, I plotted the below chart, which shows 4 portfolios. Each earning 6% pa, and each invested over a 30 year period. Each portfolio has an internal fee of 1%, 2%, 3%, and 4% respectively.

As you can see, over long periods of time, the net result to the investor is significant. And if for one second you think a 4% pa fee on an investment is unrealistic, just think hedge fund.

Why costs matter 2

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the higher the fee, the higher the quality of the manager. This could not be further from the truth. Research on managed investments has shown that higher costing funds generally under perform lower costing funds. The more one charges, the more difficult it becomes to add enough value to overcome the additional expense.

Research by Vanguard illustrates funds with lower costs have outperformed more expensive ones.:

 

Nobel Laureate William Sharpe once said:

 

 

“the smaller a fund’s expense ration (cost), the better the results obtained by it’s stock holders”

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) in 2017 made changes to Regulatory Guide 97 which forced funds to disclose more information about their fees. Now, disclosure documents issued by investment managers should provide greater transparency to investors in order to help them make a more informed decision.

In my personal and professional opinion, your portfolios’ investment fees should not exceed 0.50% pa, in fact, you could probably get it down to as low as 0.30% pa for a properly diversified portfolio.

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says, If the river is too clean, you will catch no fish.” Meaning, by being too transparent you will not win new business. There are many different kinds of costs when it comes to the world if investments, but they all have one thing in common: If the money is going somewhere else, it’s not going to you.

Like the Vikings, maybe investors should be carrying around their own set of scales.

We’re Headed For Another Recession & You Have No Idea What Will Happen

Daniel Kahneman once said,

“The idea that the future is unpredictable is undermined every day by the ease with which the past is explained.”

As investors, in fact as human beings, we’re constantly fighting the last war. In other words, we overweight recent events when we make judgment on the probability of an uncertain future event. We simply extrapolate the most recent event indefinitely into the future.

Think about the most recent economic decline, investors we’re running for the exits with the view that the ‘things we’re going to get worse’. The financial crisis of 2007/2008 was one of the most painful experiences in almost a century, yet it only lasted 18 months. I know plenty of investors who retreated at possibly the worst time, and were left hanging out to dry after the market bounced off the bottom, waiting for ‘the right time to get back in’.

Contrast this to how the market has been performing since the bottom of the GFC (March 2009), we have witnessed one of the longest recoveries in history, as illustrated in the chart below. This is probably one of my favourite charts – Bull markets since 1950 in measure in both duration and magnitude.

I know plenty of investors who have either bought back in after they had sold out at the worst time, or have been redeploying cash because they believe the market will continue it’s stellar performance.

Source: Yahoo Finance

Investor’s not only extrapolate the most recent events, but also try to plan ahead for the next GFC and how they’re going to deal with it, and it causes investors to shift their tolerance for risk at precisely the wrong time. If  you’re worried about a 10% correction in the stock market, stocks are not a place for you. Unfortunately for investors, no two market cycles are ever quite the same, so studying the last crisis is unlikely to prepare you for the next. Studying how you behaved during the last crisis on the other hand, may be quite beneficial.

Financial markets never follow the exact same route more than once, yet human behaviour follows precisely the same route, each and every time. Here’s a great, simple 30 minute animated video by Ray Dalio, on how the economy works. It’s probably one of the best videos on the economy I’ve seen.

The timing, the impact, and the duration of recessions are all different. Here is every US recession going back to the Great Depression along with the corresponding stock market performance.

 

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research, Ben Carlson

Even if you knew when the next recession was going to hit, the duration, and the impact it would have on the economy, it’s unlikely you would be able to profit from it. The stock market’s performance during each of these recessions would surprise most investors. This is one of the reasons why you can’t ‘wait for things to get better’ before investing – the stock market is a forward looking machine, not backward.

On average the stock market:

  • Has been up during a recession
  • Has been up 6 months prior to a recession
  • Has returned over 20%, 12 months after a recession has ended
  • Has returned over 52%, 3 years after a recession has ended
  • Has returned over 85%, 5 years after a recession has ended

By the way, we don’t need a crisis or a recession to see the stock market go down. Here’s 13 instances where the stock market has fallen 10% or more without a recession:

Source: Stocks for the Long Run, Ben Carlson

Paul Samuelson once said,

“The stock market has predicted nine out of the last five recessions.”

Next time you find yourself captivated by the alarming predictions made by the guy or gal on the television, in the paper or on Twitter, please remember this: More money is lost in trying to anticipate a collapse in the stock market than the collapse itself.