Euphoria … and April 2021 – End of Month Update

People, Football, Footballers, Group, Team Sport

“Bull markets are born on pessimism, grow on skepticism, mature on optimism and die on euphoria.”

Sir John Templeton

John Templeton (1912 – 2008) was a great investor, fund manager and philanthropist. He is best known for setting up the Templeton Growth Fund which averaged returns of over 15% per year for 38 years. Slack Investor salutes this kind of behaviour and listens when great investors say something. If Mr Templeton is right, this game should be pretty easy and we wait till the “Euphoria” sets in and the we sell … Right?

Well, according to the CitiGroup Panic and Euphoria Index , which looks at sentiment in the market back to 1950. The section from 1987 through to the start of 2021 is shown below – Euphoria is already well and truly established by December 2020. However, most markets have gone up considerably further since then!

Source: Haver Analytics, Pinnacle Data, and Citi Research – diamondportfolio.com.au – Click image for better resolution

This is a bit of a complex chart, and the grey solid columns represent the return from the US Stock market for the next 12 months (forward return) and the Magenta line is the Citibank Euphoria Index which tracks market sentiment.

Visually, it looks like whenever the Euphoria Index (LHS – Magenta) goes to a high value, there is a downturn in the next 12-month return (RHS – Grey). Citibank have defined a range (Blue Lines) where the market is operating “normally” and outline areas of Euphoria and Panic when the market is beyond that range. According to Citibank, we are in a period of Euphoria and the prospect of good returns in the next 12 months looks bleak. The Chief Economist from Citigroup, Tobias Lekovich, suggests that there is a “100% historical probability of down markets in the next 12 months at current levels.” – that proclamation was made 5 months ago.

Another Slack Investor hero, Warren Buffet, talks about the ratio of total United States stock market valuation to US Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is now known as the “Buffet Indicator” – and, although he admits to its limitations, it still is “the best single measure of where valuations stand at any given moment. At April 22, 2021 the Buffett Indicator is calculated to be 234% – the highest value since 1950. In contrast, the Australian market using this indicator is either “fair valued” or “modestly overvalued”

From Current Market Valuation – The Buffett Indicator is the ratio of total US stock market valuation to GDP – Click image for better resolution

By our calculation (the US Stock Market) that is currently 88% (or about 2.9 standard deviations) above the historical average, suggesting that the market is Strongly Overvalued

Current Market Valuation

There are a lot of current examples of “investor exuberance” in the stock markets – particularly in the US. There is no doubt that the pricing of some companies has got well out of hand. The earnings of a company are critical when I look at my investments.

Another risk is that pockets of the market at the moment appear to be speculative bubbles. You can easily tally about US$5 trillion of assets, from cryptocurrencies to Tesla, that are not underpinned by any fundamental earnings. They’re speculation. And if these bubbles were to pop, that could drag down a wider range of investments.

Hamish Douglas, Magellan Financial Group – Livewire Interview

There are a group of companies that I like that I have no intention of selling – because they have a good track record of increasing earnings and there future prospects look good – no matter what the market does in the short term. There is also about 40% my portfolio in stocks where I am not so sure of their long term prospects. It is these stocks that I will be watching closely at the end of every week and have set stop losses that will indicate to me that I should sell if the price falls below the stop loss.

Slack Investor is happy to go along for the ride and has no real faith in his prediction ability. Sure, stocks are at extreme valuations but these are very unusual times. Interest rates are very low and there has been an unprecedented amount of government spending to keep economies going along.

Still on the couch, I don’t feel euphoria … but I feel OK … I have a plan.

April 2021 – End of Month Update

Despite the “exuberance”, Slack Investor is still on the wave and remains IN for Australian index shares, the US Index S&P 500 and the FTSE 100. All Slack Investor followed markets this month had strong rises (ASX 200 +3.5%; FTSE 100 +3.8%; S&P 500 +5.3%).

In these uncertain times, especially with the high prices on the US market, I am monitoring my index funds weekly and if, at the end of the week my Index funds are below the stop loss, then I will put a post on the blog and sell at the next opportunity. All Stop Losses are Live.

All Index pages and charts  have been updated to reflect the monthly changes – (ASX IndexUK IndexUS Index).

Two Very Important Numbers

There are many numbers to note in finance world – Fees, Investment returns, etc. However, there are two extremely important numbers when it comes to financial independence. Both are percentages and the first one is the 4% “rule of thumb” and the second is your savings rate.

The 4% Rule

All followers of finance blogs would have heard of this often quoted “rule” Slack Investor acknowledges that this magic number is arguable and depends on individual circumstances but, it is an excellent way to estimate how much you will need to retire. The 4% rule is a way to “roughly” link assets with income. For example, as an estimate, if you would like to generate a $40 000 yearly income, you would need to have investments assets of $1 000 000 to earn this income using the 4% rule (4% of $1 000 000 = $40 000).

Another way of looking at this 4% rule is that you need to save 25 x your annual spending for your retirement fund so it can generate an income to cover your spending. So, if you spend $30 000 a year, you need a portfolio of $750 000 (25 x $30 000). To get an idea about what your expenses are it is important that you track them over a year using a spreadsheet or finance software. If necessary, this investment income can always be supplemented by a government pension or a part-time job.

Bill Bengen originally came up with this “4% safe withdrawal rate” in 1994. He developed it by backtesting a conservative US portfolio with data dating back to 1920 and tried to get a safe withdrawal rate that would generate an income for at least 30 years. He is the first to admit that the 4% number was always treated too simplistically and has since updated the rate to be closer to 4.5%.

Slack Investor is a bit old fashioned in liking to hold on to most of the capital that is earning the money and has a flexible approach to how much to extract from investments each year. I regard all dividends and distributions to be mine to spend – even when the market performs poorly. Most of the Slack fund is in Australian Investments and in 2021, the Australian Index has a 12-month forward dividend yield of 3.5% . Hopefully, the shares will also increase in value over time. Over the past 10 years, Australian shares had a total return of almost 7% – with growth shares you can aim higher, but prepare for volatility. In the good years, I will also take out a bit of capital gain for extra spending. All of this is in addition to the stable income component of my investments.

Your Savings Rate

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions but in having few wants.”

Epicetus

Using the 4% rule we estimate how much will give us a sustainable retirement. But there is another number to add to our arsenal.

Just as in Lord of the Rings there is ” one ring to rule them all…”, there is also one “percentage” to rule them all in the Financial Independence world – and that is the Savings Rate percentage.

The annual expenses is critical here as this is the figure you are trying to generate out of investment income. Lets have a look at the effect that savings rate has on the number of years that you have to work until you can sustainably generate your expenses from your investments. The table below is from the great financial blogger Mr Money Mustache. There are a few assumptions used to generate this table

Here’s how many years you will have to work for a range of possible savings rates, starting from a net worth of zero:

At a saving rate of 10% you will have to work for over 50 years – we have to do better than that! There are some pretty heroic savings rates amongst financial bloggers e.g Aussie Firebug 61%; Dividends Down Under 61%; I have admiration for these savings rates and note that these bloggers are in a hurry to get to financial independence – and retire early. At 60% savings you can retire after 12.5 years of working and saving – but that sounds pretty hard.

Slack Investor was on a much slower train and lucky that he quite enjoyed his job – and didn’t mind spending 30 years saving for his retirement. I have always been a good saver but, when looking at my past savings rates, it was usually around the 30-40% level and, some years had dropped down to 20%. Raising a family and holidays are a delightful interference with savings and you just have to find a balance. In Australia, we have compulsory superannuation which currently adds a welcome 9.5 % to your savings rate.

A beautifully presented calculator at Networthify shows how the savings rate works and gives a yearly breakdown. It also shows some interesting OECD statistics for average National savings rates (e.g. The US 6%, and India 32%). The aim is to eventually save enough money to invest in a way that you average (at least) 5% return on your investments after infation. If you withdraw from this retirement pool at the rate of 4% and have enough to cover 100% of your expenses – you become financially independent – the retirement pool keeps on giving!

Automate your savings

One of the best financial habits that I formed was to take the thinking out of saving and set up automatic recurring transfers from my work money to my savings or investment accounts – Pay Yourself First. I also took full advantage of “concessional contributions” to my super account which were taxed at 15% rather than my then marginal rate of 37%.

So, automate your savings. Investment returns are important and we hope that we can exceed the 5% after inflation returns that the above table and 4% rule are based on. However, the number you have most control over is your savings rate – and that is most important.

Household Comfort … and March 2021 – End of Month Update

The couch seems to be looking good for some, but not for others. ME Bank have updated the annual Household Financial Comfort Index that surveys 1,500 Australians every year to get an idea of how Australia is travelling in a money sense. Slack Investor was surprised at the research results which revealed that over the past six months, to December 2020, the “financial comfort” of Australian households has reached a record high of 5.89 out of 10. This index is 5% higher than before COVID-19! However, it is full-time workers that report the highest financial comfort across the workforce.

The changes in the Household Financial Comfort Index since 2012 (Scores out of 10) – ME Household Financial Comfort Report 2020

The high financial comfort can probably be linked with some households going into “savings mode” as the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 on the economy, and the very high levels of government support.

Although, not everyone feels the same after a year of COVID-19. About 30% of households said that their financial situation has worsened. Clubs, pubs, gyms, air transport, restaurants, education, and the creative arts were hit particularly hard – with the cohorts of casual workers and adults under 24 shouldering the burden of Coronavirus disproportionally.

Household Response to the Pandemic

The main method that households used to ease the financial burden during COVID 19 (Columns %) and the line showing level of financial comfort associated with each method – ME Household Financial Comfort Report 2020

The main ways that households chose to ease the effects of the pandemic were 1. Dipping into savings (14%); 2. JobKeeper payments (Govt. wage subsidy) (11%); 3. Superannuation withdrawal (9%); 4. Delaying bills (7%). With JobKeeper payments having now ended, the raid on super halted, and the other main methods likely exhausted, it looks like a tipping point is approaching.

“And, at $90 billion, (JobKeeper) it’s the single largest economic support program that any Australia government has ever undertaken.”

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg – ABC News

The Australian government’s massive JobKeeper program ending is likely to cause a big rupture in the economy with many small businesses who have, till now, been just “hanging on “. Many of these businesses are likely to cease trading. For employees, Treasury estimates that up to 150,000 workers will move from JobKeeper into unemployment.

Financial Cushion

With tough times ahead, there will be many who would wish for a financial cushion. Slack Investor has often banged on about the need for an emergency fund of cash that will help when one of life’s inevitable bits of bad new turns up. In December 2020, about one in five households reported virtually no, or very low, amounts of cash savings (<$1000).

How much in cash savings does your household currently hold – including savings accounts, term deposits and offset accounts? – ME Household Financial Comfort Report 2020

As for the pandemic effect on retirement savings, the reality of individual super balances is starting to bite with the report revealing that only around 18% of households expect to fund retirement with their own superannuation and 42% expecting to use both private savings and the government pension.

“Financial comfort levels are up for now, but many households
are on the cliff’s edge. They’ve lost income, their jobs and entire
livelihoods, their wafer-thin savings buffer is dwindling, and government support is the main action stopping them from falling over.”

Household Financial Comfort Report – 2020 ME Bank survey

March 2021 – End of Month Update

Slack Investor remains IN for Australian index shares, the US Index S&P 500 and the FTSE 100. All Slack Investor followed markets this month had solid rises (ASX 200 +1.8%; FTSE 100 +3.5%; S&P 500 +4.2%).

In these uncertain times, especially with the high prices on the US market, I am monitoring my index funds weekly and if, at the end of the week my Index funds are below the stop loss, then I will put a post on the blog and sell at the next opportunity. All Stop Losses are Live.

All Index pages and charts  have been updated to reflect the monthly changes – (ASX IndexUK IndexUS Index). The quarterly updates to the Slack Portfolio have also been completed.

R&B? … No, R&D!

James Brown Performing At The Apollo by New York Daily News Archive
Mr James Brown (1933 – 2006) – an R&B, funk, and soul music legend – “The hardest thing about being James Brown is I have to live. I don’t have no down time” – Image from Rolling Stone

Slack Investor might be showing his age here … but when I think of R&B (Rhythm & Blues), it’s not Drake or The Weeknd that I think of, its “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” that comes to mind. James Brown had a bit of a trouble in his life but there is no denying his talent and influence – 4 minutes of his genius can be seen here.

The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing

James Brown

But I digress, when the dancing is finished, R&D (Research and Development) is another thing that gets Slack Investor attention – especially when it comes to finding a company to invest in. Lets have a look at the world top ten spenders on Research and Development. This quality list of companies is peppered with representation from the tech, pharmaceutical and (electric) car sectors. One of the ways that a company can keep growing is to develop an upstream pipeline of products through research, patenting, and testing. It may take many years before they are released so the companies must be patient and long sighted – not all products in the pipeline will be a success.

Ranking of the 20 companies with the highest spending on R & D in 2018 (in billion U.S. dollars) – From Statista.com

I don’t often read company annual reports as I lack forensic accounting skills and they are usually thick and masterpieces of obfuscation. But, I am usually very impressed when, in the overview, a decent slab of profits are going back into R&D. Slack Investor would rather invest in companies that are constantly innovating, and investing in future products. Only some of these products will yield fruit, but you would hope that these high spending R&D companies would generate bigger profits than those that don’t. Although, this is not always the case! In some cases, the world of R&D can be full of questionable spending, uncertain results.

Even though R&D spending does not guarantee profitability and ever increasing stock prices, there is a correlation- future earnings are positively associated with current R&D.

Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL)

Despite a 20% price fall in the CSL share price in the past 6 months, there is no thought of Slack investor selling this great company. It is one of my “Long Run” stocks. I have often written about share prices fluctuating above and below a “fair value” for a stock . This is just a characteristic of share investing – depending on the mood of the market.

A weekly chart of the CSL share price showing a 20% fall in the last 6 mth -From incrediblecharts.com

CSL is not in the world R&D big spending league in dollar terms. But, in Australia, it is one of our best R&D spenders with almost a billion dollars (US) per year. This amount is very high as a percentage of its revenue, in an environment where a typical manufacturer will spend 1-2%, CSL spending on Research and Development is between 10 to 11 per cent of turnover. Slack Investor thinks this is a good thing and is happy that CSL is occupying a big chunk of his portfolio.

CSL have many products in the R&D pipeline and have a good track record of converting at least some of these products into successful earners. Some other analysts agree and have a target price of $310 on the stock. With current pricing at $253.26 (12 Mar 21) – this smells good!

I taught them everything they know, but not everything I know

James Brown

That’s right James … “Hit it”

Colin Nicholson – A Great Australian Investor … and February 2021 – End of Month Update

I have a few people that have greatly influenced my investing life – One such figure is Colin Nicholson. I have never met him, but he has taught me a vast amount through his long running website “Building Wealth Through Shares” (bwts.com.au).

This great Australian investor Colin Nicholson, has been investing for over 50 years and documenting his adventures with shares since 2001 on his site. Colin has only stopped actively contributing at the end of 2019. Fortunately, this website is still running and his knowledge and experience keeps on giving. As well as education material on technical and fundamental analysis, he often discusses the psychology necessary to be a successful investor.

We tend to have an impulse to snatch profits quickly and to let losses run, hoping things will come good if we hold on. This natural impulse is the exact opposite to what a successful investor must do.

Colin Nicholson

Colin started bwts.com.au when financial blogs were in their infancy and Australian contributors were rare. Colin is a private investor, an author, and educator. He has been contributing to his site for over 20 years and answered hundreds of questions from other investors. His site is an incredibly detailed knowledge base covering all aspects of owning a share portfolio. His Investing – Twelve Key Lessons is essential reading to anyone thinking of entering this fascinating world. His results over a 20-yr period are very impressive. Colin has retired from active contributions to his website but has hinted that he would maintain his website for the education of future investors.

There are countless bits of wisdom as Colin relentlessly tackles investment according to a defined, well-tested, and logical plan. No matter what the investing subject, search his site, and Colin Nicholson will offer some useful and reasoned discussion.

The source of most frustration in investors is that they are expecting the impossible. They want to sell at the top. I repeat that it simply cannot be done except by sheer luck.

Colin Nicholson – Take Profits or Wait for the Stop-Loss?

My first introduction to his site was through his meticulous documentation on how he calculated his end of financial year performance returns. Year after year he would list his portfolio and investment returns.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ColNichReturn.png
Colin Nicholson’s documented returns over 20 years comparing his returns(red) and the ASX 200 accumulation index (green). A 12.01% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) is very impressive over a 20-yr period and has enabled Colin to have a hopefully financially carefree retirement.

… I do not wish to advise people or to manage their money. Rather, my focus is on my own investments and passing on what I have learned to others.

Colin Nicholson

In addition to his website and public speaking, Colin has also authored Building Wealth in the Stock Market and Think Like the Great Investors. Like another of Slack Investor heroes, Warren Buffet, Colin has a plan for “retirement mode” and intends to become more passive with his investments and half of his portfolio is now in LICs and index funds.

I am not retired – I am a full-time investor

Colin Nicholson

Colin Nicholson, Slack Investor salutes you for your enormous contribution to my investment life and for helping countless others with your education materials and your disciplined and methodical approach to investing in shares. Dive deep and long into bwts.com.au and you will be a better investor.

February 2021 – End of Month Update

Slack Investor remains IN for Australian index shares, the US Index S&P 500 and the FTSE 100.

When having a look at the end of month charts, I noticed that all index trackers were well above their stop losses (>16%). My Mum (and Kath and Kim) would say that she could “feel it in her waters” when she had a premonition about something. My index rules allow the end of month stock price to be up to 20% above the stop loss. However, in a tip of the hat to Mr Nicholson, who is far more disciplined than Slack Investor in the investing arts, some action this month. As “new highs” have been established, I decided that now wouldn’t be a bad time to adjust the stop loss levels upwards.

I place my stops below the low of the last trough in the uptrend and move it up to just under the next trough every time a new high is made for the trend.

Colin Nicholson
Weekly Chart of the ASX 200 Index – incrediblecharts.com

For February 2021, there were falls in the growth oriented Slack Portfolio due to rising long-term bond yields. But stock prices have always fluctuated above or below a “fair price” – for one reason or another. Slack Investor is still on the couch.

Tech stocks are susceptible to rising yields because their value rests most heavily on future earnings, which get discounted more negatively when bond yields go up.

From The Bull

Despite the end of month sell off, there were modest rises in all followed index funds (ASX 200 +1. 0%, S&P 500 +2.6%, and the FTSE 100 +1.2%). All Index pages and charts  have been updated to reflect the monthly changes – (ASX IndexUK IndexUS Index).

Three Pile Theory

– Adapted from  ‘Three Mounds’ by Yoko Ono is displayed at the Serpentine Gallery on June 18, 2012 in London, England – From Getty Images.

With apologies to Yoko for interfering with her art, but Slack Investor first thought of his own “Three Pile Theory” back in 1989 when I had got myself a “Proper Job” and enough stability in my life to make the big plunge into Real Estate. At that time, I owned a few grains of dirt in my House pile (the Bank owned the rest), My income was OK, and my investments (which would later morph into the Slack Fund) contained a few thousand dollars in shares.

Now, 32 years later, Slack Investor still has these three financial pillars to keep himself steady.

  • House – Home ownership gives me great security and pleasure. The bank owned most of this 30 years ago – but now I have the upper hand! (~30% of Net Worth)
  • Stable Income – This used to be my job, but in retirement I have some stable income annuity style investment (~20% of Net Worth) that would pay my bills and maintain a basic Slack Lifestyle should Armageddon befall the stock markets for a few years. This income is supplemented by income from the Slack Portfolio.
  • Slack Portfolio Investments – (~50% of Net Worth) – Now currently in my Self Managed Super fund (SMSF) which is almost exclusively invested in growth companies. These are great businesses to be invested in if you have a long term horizon – however, stock prices can be volatile in these high Return on Equity (ROE) companies. I am currently retired and do not rely on the Slack Portfolio for stable income. Because of the stability of my other two pillars, I can be quite aggressive in the allocation of my investments in the Slack Portfolio – as I know I will not have to panic sell (for income) during any downturn.

Slack Investor didn’t really invent “Pile theory” – it has been around for a while in various guises – Three Buckets is a tried and true way to manage your retirement expenses by dividing your retirement stash into buckets of cash, conservative investments and more risky, growth investments.

House

My home may not feel like a palace to you, but to me, it is a whole Kingdom.

Prerona Chatterjee

There are some who argue that you are financially better off by renting over a 10-year period rather than buying. But for Slack Investor, the tax advantages – no capital gains tax on your own home in Australia; the leverage – banks are usually willing to lend at least 80% of the house value; the forced saving – your mortgage payment is a big monthly portion of your income which you set aside for a long period; and, the stability provided by home ownership make this a clear winner for me. “The Serenity” is just a bonus.

Stable Income

To cover living expenses and to give yourself “peace of mind” it is so important to have a slab of money that is not subject to the vagaries of the sharemarket. In Australia, if you haven’t enough super to go independently, you might qualify for a full or part pension.

If going the fully self-funded route, many advisors recommend your stable income should be in two parts. You should work out your living expenses for a year and then keep between 2 and 5 years worth of expenses in stable cash deposits – Let’s start with 3 years of expenses in accessible cash. The rest of you stable income pile can be in longer term cash deposits, bonds or REITS. Because the investments pile (Slack Portfolio) is in growth shares that can be very volatile, my stable income must be something that is not highly correlated to to the sharemarket.

Term Deposits– although interest rates are woefully low now on bank term deposits, it is still possible to get ~1% p.a. from some of the minor banks that still have the Government Guarantee for the first $250 000.

Vanguard Australian Fixed Interest Index ETF (VAF)

MER (0.20%) – Annual performance over 1/5 years – (3.81%/4.41%)

Vanguard Australian Government Bond Index ETF (VGB)

MER (0.20%) – Annual performance over 1/5 years – (4.08%/4.49%)

Challenger Fixed Term Annuity – Rates are pretty low at the moment, locking away a deposit for 5 years will earn a measly 1.65%.

Real Estate or Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT) – these are a bit higher up the risk curve but as they produce income (rent) and can be associated with longer term leases – are usually less volatile than the share market. For example, Vanguard Australian Property Securities Index ETF (VAP) – MER (0.23%) – Annual performance over 1/5 years – (-13.3%/6.23%)

Investments – The Slack Fund

Because the Slack Portfolio is mostly in growth shares, I have steeled myself that this particular pile is volatile and changes value every day. I am prepared for a few low performing (or even negative) years in a row for this pile. Even great investors that have much more knowledge than Slack Investor have the occasional bad year – during some periods, share investments just perform poorly. I am accepting of this truth.

Because this Investment pile is mostly in my Self Managed Super Fund (SMSF), I am usually obliged to withdraw 4% of its total value each year – this percentage increases with age – but this payment is currently tax free for those over 60. I can use this income in a discretionary way. My living expenses should be covered by income from the Stable Income pile – and any other income is gravy.

Pile Rebalancing

Once you are in a house that you are happy in and hopefully will be near paying off any outstanding loans as you get into retirement – other than maintenance, you can leave this pile alone.

The Stable Income cash pile might occasionally need a bit of topping up from the longer term stable Income or Investments fund. Any dividend or interest income from your investments is fair game. The investment Slack Fund usually produces 2 -3% income.

Hopefully, with 3-years worth of living expenses in the stable income pile, you can ride out a few bad years in the share market and only sell shares to top up the stable income pile when the share market has had a good run. Ideally, you would only sell share assets out of this pile when the share market is above the long term trend line. However, realistically, from the chart below (in red) there are long periods when the market is below trend. Have no fear, your basic expenses are always covered by a mixture of stable income, interest and dividends.

The long term chart of the US S&P 500 with the dotted inflation-adjusted long term trend line – from seeitmarket.com

There are other piles worthy of attention such as Health and Relationships but the finance stuff is necessary too. So get the shovel out … and start working on those piles!

SMSF is it a superpower OR Kryptonite? … and January 2021 – End of Month Update

Image from Finfit Wealth Solutions

Slack Investor hasn’t written much about Self Managed Super Funds (SMSF’s) despite his love affair with his own fund. SMSF’s are only found in Australia and represent a “hands on” way to accumulate, nurture, and eventually release your super funds as a pension or lump sum. They have the same status as a normal retail or industry super fund (e.g. Australian Super) but they are “self managed” and give the trustees (members of the fund) power over where the fund is invested. This control is a double edged sword, as it is also possible to destroy your super wealth with a SMSF by making unwise investments.

SMSF’s offer

  • Control
  • Flexibility in investments – But this can be dangerous!
  • Estate Planning and Taxation advantages

There are nearly 600,000 SMSFs in Australia with over a million member (March 2020). Although this represents less than 5% of Australia’s population, about 25% of the $2.7 trillion invested in superannuation is invested in SMSF’s. The average member balance for an SMSF was a whopping $678,621 (ATO Data 2018).

It is possible to structure an SMSF so that the investment fees are very low. A surprising finding from a SuperConcepts study was that the average annual expense ratio for SMSF’s was 2.8% for the  over 20000 funds surveyed. This seems particularly high when compared to the Slack Investor SMSF portfolio expense ratio of 0.12%  through a “no advice” online SMSF services provider like e-superfund. This suggests that most of the funds surveyed used the relatively high cost route of engaging an accountant to administer the fund. There are many SMSF providers – Slack Investor uses e-superfund which provides the legal structure and web-based audits and education. The yearly operating expenses are an amazingly low $999. The SMSF is so integral to Slack Investor’s strategy that I have set aside an SMSF page on the Slack Investor site – Alas, there is not much on there yet … but it will come!

Rainmaker are producing monthly comparisons of SMSF’s with the larger low cost My Super products offered by Industry and Retail Super Funds. The analysis can be found on their Superguard360 site.

SG360Jun17_2
A comparison of the Asset mix of SMSF funds (left column) with MySuper funds – From Superguard360

SMSF funds (above left) traditionally hold more cash, property and less international shares than the larger Industry/Retail funds (My Super – above right). SMSF’s have outperformed MySuper since the GFC (see below, SMSF’s Blue line, My Super Red block). However, with the recovery of equities, the MySuper funds have been catching up and as at June 2017, 10-year returns from both types of funds are near identical at 4.2%. Under current asset allocations, the more diversified Industry and retail funds should overtake SMSF performance – on average.

SG360Jun17_1
Comparison of how SMSF’s (Blue Line) have done , on average, against the default My Super Fund Index (Red Block) – From Superguard360

Self Managed Super is NOT for Everyone

“… That a little knowledge is apt to puff up, and make men giddy, but a greater share of it will set them right, and bring them to low and humble thoughts of themselves.”

From an anonymous author, published in 1698 as The Mystery of Phanaticism

Running a SMSF takes time and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone that doesn’t want to be fully engaged with their financial future. Luckily, Slack Investor finds the whole finance and ATO compliance scene most interesting. Trustees of SMSF’s are held responsible for compliance with super and tax laws and there are many other risks in running a SMSF fund. A long term study of SMSF data by SuperConcepts, “When Size Matters” found that that SMSF’s below $200000 in total funds generally underperformed. However, the larger SMSF’s were comparable in performance with industry funds.

Over 10 years, there’s hardly any difference between the performance of not-for-profit funds, such as industry funds, and DIY (SMSF) funds.

SMH article (2017) summarising Rainmaker data from the ATO

Despite how well an SMSF style really suits Slack Investor – The large majority of people should not get into an SMSF – but stick with a good performing Industry Fund. Unless you are justifiably confident in your investing abilities, most people will be better of with a well diversified industry fund for long-term Super performance. It is always better to “have low and humble thoughts of ourselves” – it is too easy to destroy the value of your hard earned super.

January 2021 – End of Month Update

Slack Investor remains IN for Australian index shares, the US Index S&P 500 and the FTSE 100.

Some tested COVID-19 vaccinations have started to be rolled out internationally – but uncertainty prevails. Slack Investor followed markets all fluctuated but, overall, remained pretty flat this month. For January 2021, the Australian ASX 200 rose 0.3%, the S&P 500 fell 1.1%, and the FTSE 100 down 0.8%.

All Index pages and charts  have been updated to reflect the monthly changes – (ASX IndexUK IndexUS Index).

2021 Lets talk about the planet – ESG Sustainable investing

Oooh … this planet is hot!

The difference in mean (average) temperature for the year 2020 and the 30-year average temperature between 1981 and2010 – Sourced from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

This is just last year … and the red colours show where planet Earth has been hotter than the long term average temperature. Clearly, for most of the world, 2020 was between 1°C and 5°C warmer than would be expected from the long term average. The reason this is happening is almost certainly due to increases in greenhouse gases since the industrial revolution.

… there’s a more than 95 percent probability that human activities over the past 50 years have warmed our planet.

From climate.nasa.gov based upon the Fifth Assessment Report Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Another way to visualize the warming is to have a look at the past 110 years in Australia. The last decade was the hottest on record with temperatures almost 1 °C above average and one third of a degree warmer than the previous decade.

110 years of Australian Temperatures with warmer tempearatures represented by the yellow, orange and reds. These maps show the anomaly of mean temperature for each calendar year, compared to the average over the standard reference period of 1961–1990. From the Bureau of Meteorology. The full beauty of this chart can be found in the pdf form of the image.

This is not a political view – but is just science. The world is getting warmer and more and more people and governments think we should do something about it.

The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only 10 years for us to act if global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5°C. If temperatures go beyond this by even even half a degree, this will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

Slack Investor has tried to do his little bit in reducing his CO2 emission- but admittedly, I could do more. In addition to his puny personal efforts, by marshalling the the power of his investments, this might have greater consequences. He is not alone in this thinking.

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) principles

ESG has become a bit of a buzz acronym in corporate and investing circles and is linked with a set of factors associated with “responsible” or “sustainable” company behaviour. Global Warming (or Climate Change) is just one of these ESG issues – but Climate Change is the highest priority ESG issue facing investors.

Examples of ESG Issues – From Principles for Responsible Investment

To invest according to ESG principles is to undertake to exclude companies in their portfolios considered to be doing harm to the world, and often positively skew their portfolio weightings in favour of companies deemed to be doing good.

From the Sydney Morning Herald

A recent investment development has been the collection of environmental, social, and governance data. There are agencies such as Ethisphere and MCSI that rate publicly listed companies on their resilience to long-term ESG risks. But, most people just select a “Sustainable” or “Ethical” or ESG fund and let the fund manager do the company selecting.

Ethical Investing … its a murky world … but worth it!

While getting into an ethical investing fund or ETF is straightforward. Behind the door of each fund, picking which company gets into the fund sets up all kinds of dilemmas. The company selection process seems to be a bit of a “dark” art and can be done by positive screening (e.g, High ESG scores); or, negative screening with the exclusion of industries such as armaments, tobacco, gambling or thermal coal production. Screening might also be done at the company level, for instance, to exclude a mining company might have a dodgy environmental history. Each fund seems to have a different methodology. We hope that the fund managers get it mostly right. The sustainable/ESG funds that I looked at seemed to be dominated by Technology, Financial and Healthcare companies – these are the type of companies that Slack Investor invests in already. But mining companies should not be dismissed in this sustainable search as they will help enable the transition to the low carbon economy – but they too must rethink many of their practices and decarbonize production and reduce water usage.

… renewables power sources are built from non-renewable materials produced by businesses that tend to have larger carbon footprints and low ESG ratings. Mining firms produce many of the critical materials necessary to transition to a low carbon economy.

From Massif Capital – Failure to Impact (PDF):

For example, Massif Capital cite that to build a 400 kg lithium-Ion battery that might be found in most electric vehicles requires roughly 10 kg of lithium, 12 kg of cobalt, 24 kg of nickel, 36 kg of copper, 44 kg of graphite, and 160 kg of steel, aluminium, and various plastic components.

Sustainable Funds are Taking Off

It is not just the recent extreme weather related events such as the 2019 heat wave in Europe, or the recent fire events in Australia and California. There seems to be a surge in the amount of money coming into sustainable funds as investors are starting to think about climate change and sustainability and how this affects their investments.

sustainable funds estimated quarterly inflows
Quarterly fund inflows into sustainable funds. There has been a fourfold increase in assets that flowed into sustainable funds in the US last year – From Morningstar … A Tipping Point

A move towards sustainable investing can be done through your super fund. Each super fund will have some sort of sustainable option for your superannuation money. Or, you could invest directly through a managed fund or an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF).

If you don’t want to buy individual companies and research how sustainable/ethical each company is, I like the ETF approach and would look at ETF’s like Vanguard Ethically Conscious International Shares Index ETF (VESG) for International ethical exposure. It has a spankingly good low management fee of 0.18%. For local products, I couldn’t go past the SPDR S&P/ASX 200 ESG Fund ETF (E200). This ETF has only been going 5 months and has been doing well. It also has a low management fee of 0.13%

Move towards sustainable – and feel good about yourself – and we might just save this planet.

Golden Triangle of Happiness … and December 2020 – End of Month Update

After just going through a Christmas period where, in these COVID-19 times, I was lucky enough to spend time with some family – I was struck with an unusual contentment. It is easy to get bogged down with the day to day challenges of life, but Slack Investor occasionally gets self reflective and has long realised that he is a happy bloke. This state is much sought after and it often doesn’t naturally happen. A recent publication that has lodged in my tiny brain is the Australian Wellbeing Index. This research has been conducted twice a year over the last 15 years and involves more than 60,000 participants.

Personal wellbeing appears to increase with age, with some of the happiest Australians aged 65 and over.

Australian Wellbeing Index – 2019 Joint Research between Deakin University and Australian Unity.

The latest instalment of one of Australia’s largest wellbeing surveys has found that, besides genetics, there are three simple indicators of a happy life. Financial security, a sense of purpose in life, and good personal relationships make up the “golden triangle” of happiness. The full report can be found here.

well-being2
Source: thenewdaily.com.au

Financial Security

This is really what this blog posts mostly about – so I wont expand too much here. But if you feel that you are in control of your money then you can avoid many of the financial stresses. While having money does not make you happy, if you don’t have any, it can make you miserable. Not surprisingly, the survey found that the feeling of wellbeing gradually rises for household earnings up to about $100,000 a year. Surprisingly, earnings over this point found the relationship between happiness and wealth drops off dramatically.

Relationships

… the people who fared the best were the people who leaned into relationships, with family, with friends, with community,”

Dr. Robert Waldinger , Harvard University

We are humans and (mostly) social creatures – a sharing of your life and having someone who cares about you makes you feel better about yourself. A Harvard study that has been going for 80 years found that people who are more socially connected to family, friends, or community are “happier, they’re physically healthier and they live longer than people who are less well connected,” 

“It doesn’t need to be a sexual relationship, but it needs to be an emotionally intimate relationship where you can share troubles and sorrows and joys,”

Prof Bob Cummins, Deakin University

Sense of Purpose

Something to do … your get up in the morning and you have a project, part time job, volunteering, exercise, a hobby – but it is something! People are happier when they are active.

But, beyond the “golden triangle” of happiness, there are other approaches – Rather than take on each corner of the triangle, just try to just make little micro changes to your life – Perhaps a little more exercise, or contact an old friend …

An older friend once pointed out to me that we were lucky enough to have choices with our lives. He stressed our limited life span and suggested I make a list of the things that I really liked doing – and then try to engineer my life to maximise these good things and then minimise the other, less enjoyable. but necessary stuff. When you collect all the moments that make you happy … you might just … be happy!

Spend more time with people you like, get outdoors a bit more, listen to some music, have some new experiences, help other people …

“Happiness thinker” Professor Paul Dolan

December 2020 – End of Month Update

Slack Investor remains IN for Australian index shares, the US Index S&P 500 and the FTSE 100. All Slack Investor followed overseas markets this month had rises (ASX 200 +1.1%; FTSE 100 +3.1%; S&P 500 +3.7%).

I still remain nervous about the US market with its high valuations. The closing value of the S&P 500 (3756) is now 18% above the current stop loss at 3200. If the margin gets to 20% (UPR LIMIT 3840)), then I will find a place to move my stop loss upward. In these uncertain times, I will monitor my index funds weekly and if, at the end of the week my Index funds are below the stop loss, then I will put a post on the blog and sell at the next opportunity. All Stop Losses are Live.

S&P 500 Monthly chart December31 2020- From incrediblecharts.com

All Index pages and charts  have been updated to reflect the monthly changes – (ASX IndexUK IndexUS Index). The quarterly updates to the Slack Portfolio have also been completed.

Retirement sweet spot – a place to live is a good start!

From Pixabay

Slack Investor has thought a lot about retirement – a lot!

Even though I liked most aspects of my jobs, the thought of doing what I want each day was most appealing. I read quite a few blogs on financial independence and they seem to fall into two main types. The “retire at 30” types and the “building of financial skills to gradually gain financial independence” types. Slack Investor is definitely in the latter camp and, without outside help, or big slabs of luck, I can’t really see a way of avoiding the 25-35 years of work to build up your funds before you then launch your retirement.

This post sets out with two of the building blocks to retirement – a home and some superannuation. You might be just starting your working life, or be in your forties and thinking … “Well, how do I get to my retirement from here?”

The recent Australian government Retirement Income Review emphasised that if your are renting in retirement then things are tough.

In retirement, renters have higher levels of financial stress. A significant proportion of retiree households that rent are in income poverty …”

The Australian Treasury Retirement income Review (2019)

Get a Roof

So take the advice of Flo Rida and Slack Investor and make it a big priority in your life to own a place to live. I know this seems like an impossibility to many as the cost of houses in Australia is eye -watering in the big cities. However, the place you want to own might be an apartment or, it doesn’t have to be in a capital city – it can be in one of the many fantastic regional towns!

From Australia’s most liveable regional cities. Not sure why “Distance to Alcohol” is a criteria – or what it means … might be good … might be bad!- but this is a nice selection of great Australian towns.

When you have found a place that you could retire to, the next step is to get yourself into the property market by saving for a deposit and buying a place. There will now be 30 years of pain … and then you own it! But, at least you have borrowed money for a “hopefully” appreciating asset. Make sure that any property you buy makes good sense – Schools, Transport, Parks, Shops, etc.

Another way to do this is “rentvesting”. This an option where you rent your place to live near your work while your are buying a place that you might want to retire to one day. Rentvesting makes sense when the costs to rent a place is cheaper than the buying costs (Loan Interest/Rates/Stamp Duty, etc). While you are renting in a share house or apartment the extra rental income from the property you own, and tax incentives, will allow you to use any surplus funds to invest in a share portfolio. Rentvesting can also increase your borrowing power and hopefully get a better property – Just don’t over extend yourself.

Get some Super

According to Investblue, in 2018, as boomers are retiring, the average retirement super balance in Australia for men is $270,710, and for women $157,049. This is not really enough, but an “average couple” would have over $400000. Things should get better as compulsory super has only been with us since 1991 . Boomers have had many advantages during a period of rapidly increasing asset prices – but compulsory superannuation over their whole working life was not one of them.

If you are relatively healthy and own your home outright, the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) have estimated the annual retirement income required for a modest and comfortable lifestyle.

The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) retirement standards for 2018

Using the average figures, there is a big gap between existing super saved and a comfortable lifestyle

80% of retirees fund their retirement years with a combination of superannuation and the age pension

Money Magazine June 2018

It is worth some study into how the pension and superannuation systems interact. The bare minimum to aim for is the “sweet spot” where under current rules, home owning couples can have $400000 in superannuation (singles $300000) and still qualify for the full government pension. Using this mix of super and the pension, when reaching the pension qualifying age of 67, a modest to comfortable retirement is possible under current rules.

SituationSuperannuationDrawdown from Super @ 5%Age PensionTotal Income
Single Home-owner$300,000$15,000$19,210$34,212
Couple Home-owner$400,000$20,000$33,272$53,272
Table from Realize Your Dream and based upon 2018 values

This “sweet spot” is our first “port of call” in super terms, and meant to demonstrate that if you own your own home and have a good chunk of super … then you are going to be OK in retirement.

Slack Investor hopes that you have got onto the idea of financial independence a bit earlier than aged 40. By starting to plan in your twenties or early thirties, you can aim to fund your own retirement … and, perhaps not wait until you are 67.