Topic: Investment

What is Normal?

The sketch above from Carl Richards reminds us of the fact that the calm serene rise of markets year on year does not exist.

Carl explains his sketch as follows: –

“Imagine being in a boat in the ocean on a very still day. No wind. No swell. The water is as flat as a mirror. The calm goes on for a just long enough for you start to feel like it’s normal. Then when a small wave comes, it feels huge, and regular waves feel enormous. As scary as it might feel…remember waves are normal. Occasional storms are normal. And the last thing you want to do when you get into one is abandon ship.”

I know I am probably going over similar ground to last weeks blog but it is important to remember Volatility is the price you pay for participation in equity markets and for the potential for higher returns than cash.

As always, we are bound to see the media and industry commentators put forward lots of very plausible reasons for this sudden spike in market volatility.  No doubt many will point to fears of rising interest rates due to Trump’s tax cuts ‘turbo-charging’ the economy…however, we should regard this purely as white noise and ‘sit tight’

Market corrections are a normal part of the market cycle and happen from time to time.  It’s nothing to fear, just a part of how equity markets operate.

Our clients with money exposed to global equity markets all share many important attributes:

  1. They are long-term investors.  This attribute makes short-term market volatility less important.  Rather than looking at how an equity market performs during the course of an hour, day, week, month or even year, we’re interested in multi-year investment returns.
  2. We ensure that our clients remain suitably diversified.  This means that equities are not the only element within their investment portfolios.    This diversification is important because different investment types tend to behave differently at different times.    Having a well-diversified portfolio softens the blow of any short-term volatility in equity markets, as you are never fully exposed to UK, US or global stock price movements.
  3. We take careful steps to assess attitude towards investment risk, your risk capacity and your need to take investment risk in order to achieve your financial goals…including determining the degree of short-term falls that can be tolerated in pursuit of longer term gains.

This deep understanding of investment risks means that the volatility we are witnessing should be tolerable in terms of your emotional response to the event and your financial ability to withstand falls within your portfolio.

Despite these three very important attributes, it’s only natural that market volatility prompts some nervousness.

If you’re feeling at all unsettled, we want you to call us and chat about it…. that’s what we are here for.

In fact, as we have said on many occasions, our job as Financial Planners is less challenging during periods of rising markets, it is when markets experience falls that we work harder and really earn our fees by promoting investment discipline, explaining what is happening, and demonstrating how this fits into your overall financial planning.

 

The above information is provided for information only. It does not constitute investment advice, recommendation or an offer of any services and is not intended to provide a sufficient basis on which to make an investment decision.

 

Testing Time in the Markets and Testing Market Timing

The falls in Global markets overnight and this morning emphasise the fact that equity markets do have periods of volatility. Positive periods are followed by negative periods, which are then followed by positive periods. Because of this, it is common when markets are falling to ask whether it is possible to time investment decisions to sell at the peaks and buy back at the troughs.

One way to do this might be to analyse forward-looking information such as economic and corporate data and make predictions about the direction of the markets. But it is hard to make predictions, especially about the future.

Another approach might be to look back at data from previous cycles and identify patterns that could be repeated going forward. Researchers at Dimensional Fund Advisors did exactly this, running almost 800 tests on data from 15 world equity markets to identify signals that might point to a change of market cycle and simulating the trading activity that might improve investment returns.

Most of the 800 tests failed and resulted in worse performance than would have been achieved by just going with the flow of the market. But some of the tests worked and produced positive performance results.

You might think this is good news for investors—that they can replicate the trading patterns suggested by the positive tests. Unfortunately, the number of positive results was no greater than one might expect with such a large number of tests.

As the researchers explain, the odds of one-person coin flipping 10 heads in a row are small. But if you asked 100 people to try, you would expect around five of them to be successful. The same proportion of the 800 market tests were positive and the research was unable to determine if any of them were more than just a sequence of lucky coin tosses.

The conclusion of the research is that, on average, investors are better off sticking to their long-term investment goals and riding out short-term market volatility, rather than trying to time their trading to coincide with the peaks and troughs of the market. This is also the approach we advocate at volatile times such as these.

The main defensive assets within our portfolios are short term, high quality bonds, these bonds are less volatile than long term bonds and their prices will be less effected by any rise in interest rates. High quality bonds tend to be where money flows to at times of equity market trauma and this has indeed been reflected today.

It is easy to become concerned about the present and life as an investor will involve many of these days making life less comfortable unless you view them in context so remember:

  • The value of your portfolio simply tells you how much money you would have if you liquidated everything immediately which you do not intend to do. Losses are only made if you sell assets but if you don’t do this they remain in your portfolio to generate future returns.
  • Your portfolio has a well thought out structure and is designed to provide you with the best chance of a long term favourable return.
  • Some assets will be doing well at times and others not so well and nobody can predict which assets will be doing what at any given time.
  • Your adviser cannot control what markets do and neither can fund managers.

In a nutshell, try not to worry about the short-term impact on your portfolio and instead, focus on your longer term financial plan.

To Bit or not to Bit?

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are receiving intense media coverage, prompting many investors to wonder whether these new types of electronic money deserve a place in their portfolios.

Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin emerged only in the past decade. Unlike traditional money, no paper notes or metal coins are involved. No central bank issues the currency, and no regulator or nation state stands behind it.

Instead, cryptocurrencies are a form of code made by computers and stored in a digital wallet. In the case of bitcoin, there is a finite supply of 21 million,[1] of which more than 16 million are in circulation.[2] Transactions are recorded on a public ledger called blockchain.

People can earn bitcoins in several ways, including buying them using traditional fiat currencies[3] or by “mining” them—receiving newly created bitcoins for the service of using powerful computers to compile recent transactions into new blocks of the transaction chain through solving a highly complex mathematical puzzle.

For much of the past decade, cryptocurrencies were the preserve of digital enthusiasts and people who believe the age of fiat currencies is coming to an end. This niche appeal is reflected in their market value. For example, at a market value of $16,000 per bitcoin,[4] the total value of bitcoin in circulation is less than one tenth of 1% of the aggregate value of global stocks and bonds. Despite this, the sharp rise in the market value of bitcoins over the past weeks and months have contributed to intense media attention.

What are investors to make of all this media attention? What place, if any, should bitcoin play in a diversified portfolio? Recently, the value of bitcoin has risen sharply, but that is the past. What about its future value?

You can approach these questions in several ways. A good place to begin is by examining the roles that stocks, bonds, and cash play in your portfolio.

EXPECTED RETURNS

Companies often seek external sources of capital to finance projects they believe will generate profits in the future. When a company issues stock,

Legal Entity Identifiers (LEI’s) – Do you need one?

If you hold any form of investment, whether it be stocks, company shares, investment bonds, etc., you may well have heard of a Legal Entity Identifier (LEI) – but what is it, what does it do, and more importantly … do you need one?

In January 2018, the UK will become subject to new legislation brought about by the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II (MiFID II) regulations.  MiFID first came into force in the UK in November 2007 when its aim was to increase competition and consumer protection in the financial services sector across the European Economic Area (EEA).  However, lessons learned from the ‘financial crisis’ along with the desire to strengthen consumer protection have led to the updating of the regulations.

Transaction Reporting & Unique identifiers

Perhaps one of the biggest changes to be brought about by MiFID II relates to the transaction reporting rules, which are designed to ensure that Investment Firms report post-trade information to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to help them to detect and deter market abuse. In addition to this, from the 3rd January 2018, Investment firms must also ensure that prior to trading in any ‘reportable financial instrument’ they hold an appropriate unique identifier.  For individual’s this will be their N.I. number, and for a Legal entity, this will be a Legal Entity Identifier (LEI).

Legal What is a Legal Entity Identifier (LEI)?

Legal Entity Identifier’s (LEI’s) are unique alphanumeric 20-character codes that are used to

Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile…

This week I thought I would share with you a blog written by Tim Hale of Albion Strategic Consulting.  Tim is engaged by Carpenter Rees as a consultant and has helped design and develop the investment strategies we put in place for our clients. Tim is well known  for his investment knowledge and is author of the book Smarter Investing. 

Modern life provides us – some would say swamps us – with so much news, information and punditry, which focuses on the here-and-now, that it is easy to be overwhelmed with the feeling of doom and gloom. The list of things to concern us is long and worrisome; Donald Trump leading the free world, a nuclear-armed North Korea; an increasingly fractious Brexit process and looming cliff-edge, to name a few.

The natural extension of this is to worry about what the impact of all this uncertainty will have on your portfolio and in turn, on your future wealth and expenditure goals. The first mistake is to believe that the world is falling apart around our ears.  It most certainly is not.  The second mistake is to think that the portfolio needs to be repositioned to mitigate these events. There are six key reasons why portfolio tinkering is unlikely to be a sensible course of action.

Reason 1: today’s ‘unprecedented’ turmoil is no different to how it’s always been

Today’s worries dominate our thinking; but can you remember what you were worrying about a year ago, or two years ago? Probably not. It has ever been thus.  Take a look at the chart below. The overwhelming take-away is to acknowledge the relentless upward trajectory of purchasing power for those patient enough, and disciplined enough, to stay the course.

Figure 1: The relentless growth of purchasing power, despite World events

Source: Albion Strategic Consulting[1]

Reason 2: bad news sells – so don’t ignore the underreported good news

We are all aware that bad news sells. For example, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) delivered a ‘gloomy’ forecast for growth of ‘only’ 1.4% for 2018.  Yet, the UK economy is still growing; remember too that this slow down comes after a period of growth that has outstripped much of the developed world – particularly the rest of the EU – for the past few years.  It is not all bad news.

Reason 3: the danger of conflation of ‘what ifs’

The human mind likes stories and in themselves these stories may lead to what appear to be rational outcomes on which some action, or another, could or should be taken. What we often fail to realise is that the seemingly logical outcome is highly unlikely; we have failed to multiply the probabilities of each sequential outcome together.  Think hard about the stories you read and hear.

Reason 4: the futility of futurology

Futurology is the financial markets’ version of astrology. There is a huge industry out there from the IMF and the UK’s Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to investment banks, academics and BBC reporters all peddling their own view of the future.  These futurologists have one thing in common; they are nearly always wrong in their predictions, and are rarely held to account for their poor forecasts. Take forecasts with a pinch of salt.

Reason 5: the framing of data

As we all know, data is used to score points in support of the data-user’s viewpoint. Be aware that simple statements of fact can be both very influential and misleading.

Reason 6: the news is already in market prices

It is normal to be worried about the potential impact of what is going on in the world and how this will affect markets. The reality is that you are not alone; in fact, all active investors have some view on how Trump, Brexit, Merkel’s problems in Germany, or the Federal Reserve in the US – to name a few – will impact bond and equity prices.  These global, diversified view-points are already reflected in the equilibrium price of securities, agreed freely between buyers and sellers.

Your portfolio is already structured to manage uncertainty

Today’s concerns such as Brexit, Sterling’s weakness, potential tax rises in the event of a Labour government, and Donald Trump in general, are endlessly recycled through the 24/7 media soundbite process, alarming some who are invested in the markets. Well-structured investment portfolios seek to ensure that any market conditions can be weathered in the future, whatever drives these storms.  Your highly diversified portfolio, balancing global equity assets with high-quality shorter-dated bonds, is well positioned to do so.  Try not to worry.  Start by watching the news less.

If you are feeling concerned, please feel free to get in touch to talk further.

 

Other notes and risk warnings

This article is distributed for educational purposes and should not be considered investment advice or an offer of any product for sale. This article contains the opinions of the author but not necessarily the Firm and does not represent a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but is not guaranteed. 

Past performance is not indicative of future results and no representation is made that the stated results will be replicated.

[1]     Global balanced portfolio: 36% MSCI World Index (net div.), 26% Dimensional Global Targeted Value Index, 40% Citi World Government Bond Index 1-5 Years (hedged to GBP) – no costs deducted, for illustrative purposes only. Data source: Morningstar Direct © All rights reserved, Dimensional Fund Advisers.

Your financial adviser will now take you through the safety procedures

Whilst listening to the safety procedures on a recent flight with friends on our annual Barons golf trip (Incidentally, I won the Barons trophy for the second year running!) it reminded me of the importance of planning clients investments.

Fasten your seat belts

As we hover around market highs for world equity markets and the 10-year anniversary of the crisis at Northern Rock, the media is again stoking up concerns about current market levels. We have had several conversations on this subject recently with clients.

The truth is that at some point the markets will fall. So, if the markets do fall what do you do?

Adopt the brace position

If you have planned your investments correctly, absolutely nothing is the answer. This may not be your natural reaction as you may feel an urge to take control; but what do you do? Do you sell?  if you do decide to sell, what do you sell, when do you sell and where do you invest the proceeds?   You then need to decide when to go back into the market. Getting these decisions right is practically impossible and even the so-called experts can make the wrong calls.

There is no doubt it can be scary, and at such times there is no comfort in reading the newspapers or listening to the news.

The emergency lights will direct you to your closet exit

So, what do you do? Well you stick to the plan that we have worked on with you, which will have built in the possibility of market falls; the scale of which is dependent upon the risk you wish to take with your investments.

When we design your plan, we ensure that you have a level of cash that you feel comfortable to hold and in addition, we ensure that you have cash within your portfolio to cover normally 12 month’s requirements. There will also be a certain amount of short term fixed interest stock within your portfolio, the level of which is again dependent upon the level of risk you wish to take. Most of our clients have 30% or more in these safer investments, so it is important to remember that if the stock market fell by 30% and you have 60% of your investment portfolio invested in equities, then your portfolio value will reduce by around 18%.

Sit back and enjoy the flight

These lower risk investments enable you to leave your long-term portfolio untouched when markets fall enabling you to sit back relax and wait for your portfolio to recover and fall comfortable in the knowledge that you need not stress about making the right calls.

Show me the money?

Where will the money come from? This is a question often asked by our clients as they think about working less or stopping work (you will note from previous blogs that I do not like the term retirement!).

It is certainly an understandable concern as most of us are used to getting a monthly salary or drawings, so it is vital to know what happens when that stops.
This is where the financial planning process comes in, especially if the hard task of saving and investing has been done along the way and we can prove using our financial modelling that you have enough!

If properly planned during the saving and investment period, it is probable that we as financial planners will have suggested you invest across a broad range of tax efficient investments to help achieve a tax efficient and sustainable income stream. These investments are likely to include ISA’s, Pensions, General Investment accounts, Life Assurance Bonds and sometimes a buy to let investment or two.

The tax allowances available are likely to include: –

  • Income tax personal allowance
  • Dividend Allowance
  • Savings allowance
  • Capital Gains Tax allowance

When working with a couple, then we have two lots of tax efficient investments and exemptions available. It is best to illustrate what can be done by way of an example; let me introduce you to Harry and Rachel.

Harry has just sold his publishing business and Rachel recently retired from her own separate business earlier this year. The children have all left home. Over the years we have helped them build a pot large enough to let them stop working for money and follow their dreams of travelling combined with their interest in art.

When they both worked they paid a lot of tax at higher rates however post retirement we can structure their income and their savings and investment to get them to a position where they have all the income they need whilst paying minimal tax, which is a massive boost as it ensures their pot can last for longer and they feel great about paying minimal tax after all those years.

Their income and tax position looks something like this:

Income Source Harry Rachel
Pension £30,000 £0
Interest £1,500 £1,500
Dividend Income £3,000 £3,000
Rental Income £0 £26000
Total Taxable Income £34,500 £30,500
ISA Dividends £5,000 £5,000
Pension Tax free cash £10,000 £0
Capital withdrawal within

CGT allowance

£5,000 £5,000
Total Tax-free Income £20,000 £10,000
Total Income £54,500 £40,500
Tax paid (£4,700) (£3,000)
Net Spendable income £49,800 £37,500
Overall tax rate 8.62% 7.41%

The above figures are based on 2017/18 tax allowances and exemptions which are subject to change, but as the financial plan should be reviewed annually, then we can adjust where funds come from to minimise tax and meet requirements from year to year.

So, the answer to the question is that the money post work is likely to come from a multiple of sources. This can take a bit of getting used to when you are used to one monthly salary payment but that is where working with a Financial Planner really helps in creating the income you need, saving tax and taking care of the administration surrounding your plan. This then allows you to get along with having the life you want, happy in the knowledge that your finances are in good hands.

 

Ongoing governance of the investment process

At Carpenter Rees, our investment philosophy adopts a systematic buy-hold-rebalance approach to investing.  This approach could prompt some of our clients to question why their portfolio seems to be largely unchanged from one period to the next and what the firm is doing for its fee. That would be unfair.

Wear a risk manager’s hat, not a performance manager’s hat

A good place to start is to look at the investment process, not from a performance perspective – as most stock brokers and investment managers tend to do – but from a risk perspective. Performance-focused managers inevitably look busy as they regularly change portfolio allocations and fund holdings; yet more activity does not equate to better outcomes.  Plenty of evidence exists to back this up.  Those who focus on chasing returns are at susceptible to taking unknown or poorly understood risks and getting it wrong.  They also incur higher costs. On the other hand, focusing on taking risks that are fully understood and adequately rewarded offers an investor every chance of a successful outcome.

Your portfolio, as it stands today, should provide you with the comfort that it is robust under the wide range of testing scenarios that could be thrown at it by the markets. Let’s consider some of the key risk decisions that have been made when establishing it.

  • Key decision 1: own a highly diversified pool of global companies to avoid concentration risks and capture the broad returns of capitalism.
  • Key decision 2: tilt the portfolio toward higher risks, such as value (less financially healthy) and smaller companies to pick up incrementally higher returns
  • Key decision 3: own shorter-dated, higher quality bonds to balance equity downside risk. Chasing higher yields in bonds simply dilutes their defensive qualities. The lower the credit quality the more these bonds act like equities.
  • Key decision 4: use systematic rather than judgemental fund managers. Although picking a manager who promises to beat the market sounds appealing, the stark reality is that true skill is hard to discern from luck, it is extremely rare, and it is almost impossible to identify in advance. Employing managers who capture the returns delivered by taking on specific market risks makes good sense.
  • Key decision 5: avoid owning an increasingly risky portfolio by rebalancing. Over time, the riskier assets (equities) in a portfolio tend to rise in value and begin to overpower the more defensive assets (bonds) in the portfolio. Periodically realigning – or rebalancing – a portfolios back to its original structure avoids this risk.

The role of the Investment Committee

The firm’s Investment Committee is responsible for the oversight of these risks in client portfolios and the wider investment process. Meetings are held regularly and minutes are taken, which include all action points to be followed up on.  Third-party inputs and guest members provide valuable independent insight, where necessary.  Its responsibilities include:

  • Responsibility 1: ongoing challenge to the process. If new evidence suggests that doing things differently would be in clients’ best interests, then the firm will revise its approach. The investment process is evolutionary, but change is most likely to be rare and incremental.
  • Responsibility 2: review of the best-in-class funds recommended. Each fund has a role to play in a portfolio and its ability to deliver against this objective is regularly reviewed. Any fund-related issues are raised and resolved, although this is pretty rare.
  • Responsibility 3: review the portfolio structure. Risks (asset class exposures) and their allocations within a portfolio are evaluated and from time to time these may change as the firm’s thinking evolves, given the latest evidence.
  • Responsibility 4: screen for new funds. New, potential best-in-class funds face detailed due diligence and approval, before they are recommended to clients. It would take a material improvement to knock an incumbent fund off its perch, but it can and does happen from time to time.
  • Responsibility 5: reaffirm or revise the investment process. Risk (asset) allocations and fund changes are approved by the Investment Committee. Any actions arising from portfolio revisions will be undertaken, after discussion with, and agreement by, clients.

Conclusion

It is entirely possible, and likely, that your portfolio will look much the same between one time period and the next with little activity, except for rebalancing. That most definitely does not mean that nothing is happening.  In fact, it takes quite a lot of work to keep our portfolios the same!

All that glistens …….

Gold has always held a certain appeal for humans. Its lustre (due to a lack of oxidation), makes it pleasing to look at and to handle. Yet, it is simply a lump of metal that generates no income and will only be worth what someone else wants to pay for it at any point in time.  Given the lack of cash flow, common valuation models are not useful.

Warren Buffett is not a big fan, stating: –

“Gold gets dug out of the ground in Africa, or someplace. Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no utility. Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head.”

Gold has suffered lengthy, negative real returns over periods as long as 20 years. Between 1987 and 2017 it delivered an annualised return of just 1.5% p.a. after inflation – around 5% lower than equities – yet with similar volatility.  In its favour, gold prices are uncorrelated to equity markets.

Yet many investors seem enamoured by Golds fabled investment properties. So, do these claims stack up?

Claim 1: Gold is a good defensive asset at times of global equity market crisis

In the period under review, there were three

What is Evidence-Based Investing?

Often in my blogs, you will hear me refer to ‘Evidence-Based Investing’ which reflects the investment philosophy adopted by Carpenter Rees Ltd.    This week, I thought I would share with you an Infographic which explains how this differs to ‘Traditional Active Investing’.   Whilst the two offer very different approaches to investing, at Carpenter Rees we don’t believe in timing markets, making knee-jerk reactions or acting on ‘expert’ opinions; we prefer to work with long term academic evidence in order to allow investments the time they need to do what we feel is most important to our clients ….achieve long term returns aimed at meeting their personal aspirations and financial goals.

Click here to view in detail our one page investment philosophy comparison.