Brexit: What Should I Do with My Portfolio?

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Since the UK voted to leave the European Union on 23 June, global markets and currencies have reacted negatively to the uncertainty, with a significant falls across all major equity markets. The British pound fell to a three-decade low against the US dollar – its biggest one-day fall on record. Markets are likely to remain volatile until it becomes clear what Brexit will mean for the UK and the rest of the EU.

What does all this mean for your portfolio? Clearly, no one knows for sure. But no matter how markets react in the next few months, you should follow this advice: Don’t let fear of the unknown – or your emotions  make your investing decisions for you.

Why we let emotions drive our investments. We tend to be controlled by our emotions regardless of circumstances. We become overly excited and ready to invest at the worst possible times. And when it comes to deciding how to invest, we often rely on poor advice, a hunch or worse – speculation we heard on the news or the radio. On the other hand, we sometimes let our fears and emotions keep us out of the game altogether.

How to take the emotion out of your investment strategy. Whether you’re worried about how global events might affect your portfolio or just fearful in general, the best investment strategy is one built for the long term. In other words, once you map out a lifelong investing strategy with your financial advisor, you should have confidence in that strategy regardless of the blips you’ll endure along the way.

While it can be fun to “play” the markets, investors should refrain from playing or risking too much on a handful of bets. It is much more prudent to keep your investments boring by broadly diversifying across big and small companies, domestic and foreign companies, and between stocks and bonds.

If your portfolio is properly diversified, stay cool and await developments.

At the end of the day, investing is a game of consistency – one where the investors who take the longest approach usually win. And when it comes to emotional investing – whether out of fear or confidence – the only way to win is not to play.

Money Advice that Don’t Grow Old

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Many recommendations I’ve made are as applicable today as they will be in future, and they bear repeating. Here are some of the best financial moves for you to consider:

1. Understanding and managing your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about money is as important as understanding how money works. Our brains are programmed to make poor financial decisions. Exploring your money history and learning to identify your unconscious beliefs about money can change your financial behaviours forever. It is important to gain control of your finances and become comfortable using money as the valuable tool it is.

2. Building an emergency reserve to cover living expenses for three to months if you lose your job or experience a business slump is a necessity. If you are retired, having one to three years of cash available to cover living expenses can help you avoid taking money out of investments when their value has declined.

3. Retirement will happen, sooner than you think. Start early — as in the day after university graduation — and be consistent in investing at least 20 percent of your paycheck.

4. Learn to appreciate the word “budget”. Creating a way to track and manage income and expenses is an essential skill to thrive financially. Numerous free or inexpensive tools, like Mint.com and Expensify, can help.

5. Run from consumer debt. Personally, I use credit cards for almost every purchase for convenience and cash back rewards. However, it’s of vital importance to pay the card off every month, without fail.

6. A house is a home, not an investment. Don’t buy more home than you can afford, and don’t buy without a down payment.

7. No asset goes up forever. Price declines, even crashes, are part and parcel of investing. It’s essential to understand that the value of your portfolio will fluctuate. Be prepared to ride out downturns. Selling in a down market is a big mistake that will cost you dearly.

8. The fundamental strategy for managing market ups and downs is asset class diversification. This doesn’t mean having money in different banks, with different brokers, or with different fund managers. It’s about having a good balance of mutual/exchange-traded funds that invest in SG and International stocks, SG and International government bonds, real estate investment trusts, commodities and junk bonds.

9. There are no free investments. Pay attention to the fees associated with any investment, as well as how the advisor recommending any investment is compensated.

10. Pay yourself first. The most successful savers and investors I know simply take all their fixed expenses, taxes, and retirement plan contributions off their income earned, then spend the rest. This means learning to live on 30% to 50% of how much you earn. Certainly, it isn’t easy, but one of the most valuable money habits to cultivate is to save something for the future, instead of spending everything that comes in.

You may have likely heard of these pieces of advice before. There’s a reason for that: it works, and never goes out of style.

The Truth About Diversification

Most investment advisors including myself, believe that building and maintaining a diversified portfolio is the most prudent way to help clients invest their money.

Not only do numerous studies of asset class returns back this up, but no matter how smart and experienced the advisor is, it’s near impossible to predict with consistency which asset class (e.g. stocks, bonds and cash) will outperform in any given time frame.

Studies on long-term investing have shown that more than 90% of the variations in a portfolio’s return can be attributed to the asset allocation decision.

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That isn’t to say that it doesn’t take skill and expertise to build a diversified portfolio – it does – there are many metrics that come into play such as growth prospects, valuation metrics, and global economic trends.

The truth about diversification is that a truly diversified portfolio will not provide the return of the best performing asset class over a given time period, nor will it match the return of the worst performing asset class. The return will be somewhere in between. Which is exactly the point – the highs are less high but the lows are less low making it more likely that an investor will not panic and change strategy at exactly the wrong time. This applies to both professional and individual investors.

The truth about diversification is that it isn’t a strategy designed to predict which asset class will outperform each year, but rather to gain from the outperformance in some asset classes while avoiding the lows in others and in the end producing solid average returns. Liken it to the Tortoise and the Hare story…as the Tortoise said: “slow and steady wins the race.”

Are Your Debts Good or Bad?

Debt is like a double-edged sword. It can help you, but it can harm you too. Making good use of debt can create wealth for you, but mishandle it and you can possibly be put into bankruptcy.

Therefore, we should learn how to use debt wisely to let our money grow. Debts can be classified as bad debts and good debts. Here’s a table showing annual interest rates of various types of loans currently:

CURRENT INTEREST RATES FOR VARIOUS LOANS
Type of Loan Interest Rate
Mortgage 1.8% – 3.75%
Education 4.6%
Car 5%
Renovation 5% – 7%
Personal Unsecured 14%
SME Unsecured 5% – 10%
Credit Card 24%

Bad Debt

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What types of debt should be considered bad? Any expense-related debts can be classified as bad. Examples include taking a loan for travel and taking up a hire purchase with interest for your home furniture.

This is because the value of these purchased goods usually drop after you purchase them. For example, after getting a new TV at $3,000 hire purchase, the value of it drops by $500 in the following month.

Another popular form of debt comes from something almost all of us use – credit cards. If used smartly, credit cards can help us enjoy discounts and savings when we make purchases from relevant merchants. On top of that, it allows us to carry less cash in our wallets and makes payment convenient. However, if you were to delay your credit card debt repayments, the interest payment can be as high as 24%. Let’s say a person has just charged $10,000 to his/her credit card today and defaults on his/her repayments for the next 3 years. Based on the rule of 72, the total debt would have grown twice the size 3 years later. Yes, that’s a whopping $20,000!

Therefore, please think twice before you use your credit cards or when taking up bad debts. You may land yourself in huge financial trouble if you fail to make repayments on time.

Good Debt

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A loan that helps you to acquire an asset which can potentially earn a higher rate of return than the loan interest rate can be classified as a good debt.

Mortgage and business loans are examples of good debt. In fact, the interest rate on mortgage is the lowest among different types of loans which we can get. Although a HDB Housing Loan is at 2.6% per annum currently, you can potentially earn a higher yield if your house is timely sold in the future. At the same time, CPF Board credits a return of 2.5% per annum into our CPF Ordinary Account (CPFOA). This means that your HDB Housing Loan interest is offset to 0.1% annually.

Many successful entrepreneurs have also benefited from the use of good debt. Through the use of business loans, small enterprises are able to expand their businesses. Large companies are able to grow even bigger.

Another example of good debt is your education loan. The knowledge gained through your education allows you to acquire a good job and earn living. It is definitely a worthwhile investment.

In summary, leveraging on good debts to grow your wealth is one of the important principles to growing rich.

Be careful not to over-borrow

Here’s a warning – do not over-borrow, as you may get yourself into trouble. How do we ensure then, that we do not over-borrow?

Your monthly debt repayments should not add up to more than 35% of your monthly salary. If your monthly salary is $4,000, then your monthly debt commitment should not exceed $1,400.

Avoid bad debts and use good debts smartly – this is a sure way to create great wealth for yourself.

4 Simple Ways to Invest for The Long Term

Most people do not want investing to take up too much of their time and effort. This is due to us having many other things in life to focus on, such as our careers, families, housing etc. And so, trading, timing the market and stock picking is not suitable for 90% of retail investors.

So how can you grow your money without taking up too much time and effort? Here are 4 simple ways to do so and if you stick to this, there will be a high chance for you to retire comfortably after 20 to 30 years.

1) Start Early & Stay Invested

Inexperienced investors looking to grow their money without active monitoring can first look to compound interest to pursue gains over time. The key ingredients here are starting early, and staying invested. By doing so, you will have more time to grow your money. The table below shows how even saving and investing a small amount every month when you are young benefits you, simply because of the power of compound interest.

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2) Diversify Your Portfolio Among Various Assets and Geographical Regions

Market timing and stock picking are not suitable strategies when you want to invest passively. What you can do is to construct a well-diversified portfolio.

Diversification involves another important concept – Asset Allocation. This means mixing you portfolio among various asset classes to spread your risk. The most common asset classes for retail investors are: equities, bonds and cash. A lack of diversity means less liquidity in times of need.

A simple two-asset portfolio, comprising bonds and equities, helps to enhance returns and reduce risk. The proportion of a person’s investment portfolio to be allocated in bonds should be equal to the person’s age (or age minus 10 if he/she is more risk tolerant).

The reason behind this formula is because as we age, we are closer to retirement and should safeguard out nest egg by having less exposure to risky assets such as equities. For young people who mostly have higher risk tolerance, they can allocate more of their investments in equities which can potentially yield higher returns. I have written a separate article on why we should invest in equities if we have a long investment horizon to prepare for retirement.

Besides the classes of assets, having a basket of stocks spread across different geographical regions can reduce your long-term portfolio risk.

Interestingly, we should note that much research have shown that more than 90% of investment returns are determined by asset allocation. Only 10% is influenced by stock picking and market timing. The pie chart below illustrates the recommended asset allocation for a person with a moderately aggressive risk profile.

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3) Invest Regularly – Effect of Dollar Cost Averaging

Every stock investor may fall into the trap of emotional or irrational investing. This stems from our 2 strongest emotional forces – fear and greed, which leads to failure to grow our money.

1. Fear – When the price of our stock holdings fall, a common response stemming from fear is to sell our shares and cut our losses. Subsequently, when the stock price rises, we may be afraid to invest in the stock again. If the stock price continues to rise, we may enter the market too late to see any substantial return.

2. Greed – When we see the price of a stock going up, greed drives us to invest our money in it, with irrational optimism that the price will continue to rise. Quite often, the stock price drops instead.

Emotional/irrational investing often yields little returns for retail investors. Instead of speculating on a stock price, we should do quite the exact opposite – We should set aside a fixed amount of money to invest regularly, regardless of how the stock market is performing. The graph below illustrates what happens if we invest a fixed sum of money on a monthly basis for a certain stock, X:

DCA graph

This enables us to take advantage of Dollar Cost Averaging, a passive mechanism which helps you to buy less of an investment when the price rises, and more when the price falls. This lowers your overall purchase price for investments in the long term.

4) Review and Rebalance Your Portfolio

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Given the dynamic global economy, investors should review their investment portfolio regularly and change the mix of assets, a process called rebalancing. Rebalancing safeguards your portfolio from being exposed to undesirable risks and maintains your original desired asset allocation. This would ensure you are on track to meeting your financial goals.