Household expenditure analysis: identifying savings

Obviously the size of your savings is clearly influenced by your current expenditure, perhaps not so much where compulsory superannuation is concerned in Australia, but definitely when it comes to making voluntary additional contributions to a pension of superannuation scheme.

And clearly, with the market the way it’s been over the last 12 months, many people’s pensions are now looking decidedly smaller, thereby increasing the amount that has to be saved.

So how in a practical sense can you identify what you’re really spending and more to the point, where you are spending it?

An obvious place to look is at the last 12 month’s bank statements but It is not that easy a task. For example, as an Australian resident with a household of 4, including two small children, we primarily use 2 funding sources to operate for household expenditure, a credit card and a bank account.

In Australia, as opposed to the UK, banks tend to impose more small transaction charges for things like direct debits and cash withdrawals so it makes sense to charge as much as possible to a credit card to reduce the number of bank account transactions provided you can pay your card off in full every month (and obviously it’s critical that you can pay it off).  The plus side of this credit-card based system is of course that Australian banks pay less derisory rates of interest on current accounts than do the UK banks.

Most accounts allow you to export transactions into something like Excel but on my accounts this is limited to the last 3 months, so you need to export every 3 months and save to build up a year’s worth.

Your next issue is quite a large number of transactions. For example, for our household of 4 we generated 367 transactions on our joint current account and 510 transactions on our joint credit card. Cash flowing into and out of other investments such as high interest accounts must of course be eliminated and then you’ve got the laborious task of categorising each expenditure item in Excel. To label all significant 850 odd transactions took me about 4 hours.

What you’ll end up with is something like this:

18/12/2007 Bigwonline             Abbotsford    Au 31.6 entertainment
18/01/2008 Simmone Logue Foods    Double Bay    Au1 55.7 groceries
12/02/2008 Harris Farm Mrkt         Edgecliff 52.63 groceries
25/03/2008 Sydney Ferries           Sydney 26 entertainment
26/03/2008 Sydney Aquarium          Darling Harbo 28.5 entertainment
27/03/2008 Peters Meats             Edgecliff 53.75 groceries
6/05/2008 The Bay Tree Pty Ltd     Woollahra 339.9 gift
3/06/2008 Deli Cucina              Edgecliff 54 groceries
21/08/2008 Orson & Blake P/L        Woollahra    Au 290 gift

Excel remembers your categorisations and will prompt you after you first type a the first letter of a existing category on a new row (see our category list at the end).

You’ll then have a huge jumbled list of categorisation which you can argue with your partner about for hours but changing things is no problem – you just use Excel’s condition sum feature.

For instance Excel will pick out all items categorised as ‘childcare’ from both our credit card expenditure sheet and our current account expenditure sheet wherever they are and add them using the formula:


Incidentally for our household of 4 with two small children these are the categories we came up with and this is our summarized expenditure breakdown for the last 12 months (perhaps useful if you’re an expatriate returning to Australia):

Expediture Category A$ Amount Proportion
Childcare $27,554 18.1%
Groceries $24,084 15.8%
Tax $13,000 8.5%
Cash $12,200 8.0%
Travel $11,107 7.3%
Medical $8,697 5.7%
Cleaning $8,000 5.2%
Sundries $7,887 5.2%
Utilities $7,884 5.2%
Car $5,832 3.8%
Clubs $5,641 3.7%
Entertainment $5,230 3.4%
Restaurants $4,468 2.9%
Unknown $3,836 2.5%
Gifts $3,639 2.4%
Clothing $2,897 1.9%
Electricals $535 0.4%

Probably bears no relationship to your own patterns (for example we have no mortgage costs) but that’s the whole point. Going through this exercise enabled us to identify about $13,000 in savings.

Posted under savings levels

This post was written by mike on January 7, 2009

Tags: , ,

The credit crunch: the fine print changes at banks

Whilst the more visible mass layoffs at banks like Citigroup, RBS and HBOS grab the headlines, there have also been some subtle changes at banks which are equally designed to shore up their balance sheets.

This time however they’re looking to you, the customer, to do it.

In Australia we usually hold the cash component of our super fund in St George term deposits (St George is soon to merge with Westpac).

The way that St George configures term deposits is, of itself, of some interest as the “12 month term deposit”, if you read the fine print, actually translates into an ‘indefinite deposit’ if you fail to give the bank “Notice” during a 14 day maturity window at the end of the term deposit. Put simply, if you don’t tell the bank that you wish the term deposit to mature at that point they will simply re-invest it for the identical term at whatever the prevailing interest rate is at that time. 

Leaving aside the somewhat misleading nature of a ‘term deposit’ with an indefinite term (which has always been the case at St George) what has changed with the onset of the credit crunch is that it has suddenly got considerably more difficult to give them the Notice in the form in which they require it…

“You are able to continue to send a signed fax to Fixed Terms with a copy of your passport and drivers licence, outlining your request.  A contact number is required in order for our staff to make a verbal confirmation of the request received.  The Bank’s decision to implement these additional safeguards is to protect your funds and personal information.  As your security is of the utmost importance to us, if we are unable to contact you or identify you once contacted, the request will not be actioned.”


So, for ‘personal security’ reasons you can no longer inform them, in advance, that you wish the deposit to mature as specified in the term (we used to be able to do this by email or using phone banking) and in their online banking system whilst you can extend or vary the term you cannot mature it.

They actually now require verbal instruction to mature a term deposit using their phone banking service.  Bad luck if you’re on holiday or you happen to overlook the maturity statement they provide you in the mail … or if, like us, you happen to be travelling in a different timezone expect to spend some time late at night making sure your term deposit matches the term you agreed in the first place.

Naturally, the real motivation here is likely to be that many clients will overlook the fine print, and the bank will end up with some percentage of term deposits renewing when their owners in reality had the intention of moving the money to a better return elsewhere.  As interest rates fall this is a good thing to keep an eye on.

Posted under Risk, Setup

This post was written by mike on November 25, 2008

Tags: , ,

Cable & Wireless; a Bargain and Safe Dividend too!

The current wholesale sell-off in global stock markets is leading to many a baby being thrown out with the bathwater! Inevitably there are some stocks which are being sold off which are sound businesses.  There are certainly far more exciting investment opportunities out there than there have been at for a good four years.  No doubt the forthcoming economic recession will have an impact on all industries, and most companies will see a significant reduction in revenue, profits and cash flow. Many however are currently being priced as if they will go bankrupt, or head into a long painful terminal decline. Some of these very undervalued companies might even manage to grow earnings in the forthcoming recession. 

Cable & Wireless: business segments and spin-off discussions

One example is Cable & Wireless in the UK.  Cable & Wireless essentially has two distinct businesses. The growing internet and broadband division for corporate customers in Europe, Asia and the US, and the International division which includes the legacy cash generative telecoms businesses in the Caribbean, Panama, Macau and Monaco.  For years shareholders have argued that the combination of these two divisions is not strategically compelling and that a demerger would be the best way to realise value.

Earlier this year management announced that they were considering strategic options including a demerger and returning cash to shareholders.  In the following months, the share price rose 20%, dramatically outperforming the sector, but in the last few weeks it has fallen over 30%.  Part of the reason for the recent stock price sell off is that management have suggested, quite sensibly in my view, that the current market turmoil is hardly the time to be realising value via a demerger and spin-off.  This does not signify a change in strategic thinking but rather a delay until more rational markets prevail.  

Cable & Wireless’s acquisition of Thus

C&W has also recently completed a takeover of its smaller UK rival, Thus.  Even after paying £361 million for Thus, the company will still be significantly underleveraged with a net debt position of £184 million, less than 10% of equity. The purchase of Thus, following on from the acquisition of Energis in 2005 gives C&W increased market share and helps them consolidate their position as a clear number two to BT in the provision of internet services to corporate customers in the UK.

Cable & Wireless: guidance and valuation

In the June 2008 interim statement, management said it was on track to achieve its guidance of a 20% increase in operating profits for this year. Let’s be conservative and assume that current economic circumstances mean C&W will not achieve any improvement in the underlying going concern this year or next. At the current price, this would put the business at a very reasonable 6.6X cash flow.  The dividend should be secure too; giving a current yield of 6%. Throw in likely cost savings from the Thus acquisition, and a potential special dividend from the eventual separation of the two key businesses, and it seems to me that Cable & Wireless is a bargain.

Disclaimer:  Note the author may hold investments in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Any new investment should only be considered in the context of the risks in your existing portfolio.

Posted under individual stocks

This post was written by ex-fund-manager on October 31, 2008

Tags: ,

Index trackers may not be as diversified as you think

The whole market is on sale, 30%+ below its high.

So it doesn’t matter what you buy, you can just buy a tracker fund / index fund right? That will give you a low risk, low cost, highly diversified bet on the long term value of equities. Sure, you may want to drip-feed funds in, because it could fall another 20%.

We….ll, as ever, maybe it’s not that simple.

Industry sector weights in the ASX 100

For example, if you look at the broader Australian stockmarket, you find that actually were you to buy an ASX 100 tracker you are effectively taking a bet on two sectors in a big way, financials and mining. For instance Jun 2008 S&P sector weights show that the ASX 100 is 8.41% energy, 28.17% Financials-ex-Property, and 30.1% materials. In other words 64% of the large cap end of the index.

Industry sector weights in broader ASX indexes

So what about a broader tracker, for instance the State Street SPDRs tracker for the ASX 200?

Well this is actually a similar sector bet. For example Oct 2008 figures (i.e. even after the credit crisis fallout of the last 12 months) show a sector weight of 39% on financials, and 21% on materials, and 6% on energy, a total of 66%…

It is only when you get to the ASX Small Ordinaries (companies in the S&P ASX 300 but not in the S&P ASX 100) that financials drop to 7% but materials is still 31% and energy is still 14% taking the weight for the 3 to 51%.

You can not buy a tracker of the Small Ordinaries, you’d have to look at a managed fund like BT Microcap Opportunities or the equivalent, so in a sense this is rather academic, but it does give you a pointer to the extent that the Australian economy is dependent on these sectors, even after a commodity price fall and the banking price fall.

Sector weights in UK indexes

The FTSE 100 is 22% oil and gas, 21% financials, and 15% basic materials as of June 30 2008, another significant bet on mining and banking.

However the FTSE 250 is a significantly more diversified bet: 27% financials, 6% oil and gas, and 5.4% basic materials as of 30 June (probably significantly less of a financial and mining bet as of Oct 2008).

Non-standard ‘stylistic’ trackers can also give you some variation on the standard sectors. For example, the FTSE UK Dividend Plus tracker, which consists of the highest dividend yields in the FTSE 350 filtered by specific liquidity requirements, is 32% financials and 4% oil and gas as of 30 June.

Aren’t trackers about not guessing themes?

None of this is to say that we should be trying to guess what themes will do well (for instance a tracker that is heavily weighted to financials and diversified might not be a bad thing to buy at the moment).

It is also the case that not all trackers are equal. So-called ‘Enhanced Trackers’ where the managers have some freedom to track the index somewhat more loosely and use derivatives, supposedly often perform better over the longer term by anticipating index departures and arrivals, but more of that later.

Posted under index trackers, investment strategies

This post was written by mike on October 19, 2008

Tags: , , ,

Humorous reasons to buy equities

I received this in an email this morning – don’t know where it originated but it is a good laugh with more than a grain of truth in it.

“I am going to leave you with 21 reasons to buy some beaten up equities.
1.        Good news is taken as bad news (the market is totally glass empty)
2.        Every guest on CNBC is talking about buying US T Bills at record low yield
3.        Every other guest on CNBC is talking about buying gold at a record high (in A$)
4.        Marc Faber was just on CNBC
5.        CBA, the strongest bank in the world right now, struggles to get a placement away at a 15% discount despite the fact they bought a good asset very cheaply from a distressed seller
6.        Volatility is unprecedented
7.        Hedge Funds are massive forced sellers of everything
8.        Central Banks and regulators are pumping more liquidity than at any time in history
9.        Cash rates are going sharply lower; cash will be an underperforming asset class
10.        Equity risk premiums are enormous meaning that real investment risk is low.
11.        The credit markets have bottomed
12.        Fear is the no.1 investment factor
13.        Every headline in the mainstream press is about the equity market
14.        The coffee shop guy kindly asked me today “Charlie are you ok?”
15.        We are all addicted to CNBC: ie we are all focused on the extreme short-term.
16.        Commentators who have predicted 10 of the last 2 recessions are all over the press
17.        Main St now gets we have a problem (ie it’s a known known)
18.        Stocks and currencies are being sold irrespective of fundamentals
19.        The Oil price is down $62 from its high.
20.        Inflationary pressure is dead
21.        Even my Labrador is bearish”

Posted under market timing

This post was written by mike on October 13, 2008


At what point is it worth buying broader US market index funds as a foreigner?

When is it worth stepping back into the US market as a foreigner (in a broadly diversified drip-feed way)? With the S&P 500 now sitting 50% below its peak you could be forgiven for thinking there might be a bargain out there.

Here are some things it might be worth taking into account:

  • market valuations
  • currency risk
  • appropriate indicators like risk aversion 
  • average length of recessions

Not on this list are technical indicators – apologies, basically we are not amongst the true believers.

Market Valuations on the S&P 500

Market valuations on the S&P 500 had it on a forward concensus PE of around 12 at the end of September putting it around 11. Since then it has dropped another 10%+ (end of September S&P 1099, today Oct 9th  984). However some estimates have it on a forward basis of 15 or even 19 or higher (at the $48 a share earnings estimate mentioned in this article on the Big Picture blog) on the basis that analysts have been known to be over-optimistic about earnings …

15 actually might well be the long run average but in previous recessions PEs have actually got down to 10 (see this article to see historical PE fluctuations) implying a further fall might be entirely possible.

Currency Risk on US Equities

One would think that in the medium term the $700 billion bailout last week is not good news for the US dollar (for example, it will represent a 24% increase in the 2008 US Federal Budget):

“total government commitment and proposed commitments so far in its current and proposed bailouts is reportedly $1 trillion compared to the $14 trillion United States economy” [Wikipedia]

 However in the short term there has been a flight to US dollars in relation to UK sterling and Australian dollar by around 12% and 30% (!) respectively (it is likely the A$ has been punished by the fall-off in commodity prices as well as general risk aversion).

At the risk of trying to predict the future of currencies (a mug’s game as everyone from Warren Buffett to your neighbour Frank can tell you) one would have to wonder when the immediate perceived risk related to bank solvency starts to decline whether the $US is in for a fall – essentially this bailout has given everyone a new reason to dislike it.

How risk averse are equity investors at the moment?

Very averse … The VIX volatility index aka ‘the fear gauge’ which measures the cost of options hit a record high yesterday (Oct 8th) and this kind of VIX level has previously been associated with market bottoms.

Average Length of Recessions

The ‘average’ recession is about 12 months but on the plus side it does seem that recessions have become both less frequent and milder (see NBER study information in previous link). Is the current credit squeeze different – almost certainly – but equally there are many other things that are different in 2008 as well, ranging from technology to world trade.

The ‘Bottom Line’ – buy the S&P 500 now or wait?

At the moment I am inclined to wait. Mainly because I would like to see the US dollar come off a bit as opposed to any other reason. However the other indicators are looking pretty positive. It is of course impossible to pick the exact bottom but if you were within say 15% of the bottom in 2002 you still would have been up 50% within say two and a half years.

Posted under index trackers, market timing

This post was written by mike on October 9, 2008

Tags: , , ,

Bargain shares after the fall on Nasdaq: Ebay?

In the light of the 10% fall on Nasdaq yesterday we have been wondering today what might be out there in the way of opportunities (from memory the Nasdaq has now fallen roughly 50% from its peak).

There was a wholesale sell-off in the tech sector and we wondered whether everything should be tarred with the same brush. Just how similar say, are Dell and Ebay and Google in reality?

If you were looking to do some bottom-fishing for an opportunity then perhaps some worthwhile characteristics would be:

  • a stock that was pretty well disliked
  • a stock that had a nice balance sheet
  • a stock that was well diversified across multiple markets and geographical sectors
  • a stock without a sky-high valuation
  • a stock where some of the analysis looks uninformed

People hate Ebay

Unlike internet darlings such as Google or, Ebay’s halo is regarded as slipped by a lot of people, including Peter Lynch style investors who think because they use a product and it works it’s worth buying. Have a look at a 5 year chart and you’ll see it was trading at $58 3 years ago, as compared to 20 bucks today.  Analysts are pretty well split and there is ton of negative publicity out there from pissed-off sellers which you can find appended as comments to any discussion of the stock objecting to everything from changes to feedback ratings to Ebay’s attempts to ‘encourage’ their buyers and sellers to use PayPal.

Ebay’s balance sheet

Doesn’t look too bad. At a guess I would say there are going to be a lot of opportunities out there if you’re pulling in free cash flow of $2.1bn (2007) and you’ve got $3.4 bn sitting round to pick up other nice businesses which are not in such a good position because they’re busily building market share and not worrying about cash or profits and investors don’t seem to like that at the moment. And after probably seriously overpaying (from memory $2.1bn) for Skype they are hopefully not going to make that mistake again too quickly (management change might also suggest that with the departure of Meg Whitman).

Ebay is diversified

With basically 3 businesses: payments in PayPal, the much smaller communications business with Skype, and the merchant side auction business, Ebay has a few different bets. From memory about 40% of their income comes from outside the USA too.

Ebay’s valuation

Float over to Morningstar and you find Ebay’s fair value estimate at about $40. They say consider buying at $30. You can find some competitor analysis here but their price/sales, price/cashflow and PEG don’t look bad compared to some of their peers like Amazon, Google, and Yahoo.

Ebay angles off the analyst radar screen?

There may be a few bright spots that are being underestimated:

  1. PayPal is growing fast. In Ebay’s Q1 2008 (April) financial results [Morningstar analyst quote] “total payment volume from the Paypal online payment service increased 17% on the eBay platform and a remarkable 61% off the platform” . By ‘off the platform’ they mean people using Paypal accounts to pay for other stuff via other websites. Whilst there are other competitors it looks to me like Ebay is leveraging their auction position (under the guise of ‘safety in transactions’) to push Paypal where some of their competitors like Google can’t – another situation where Ebay could establish a pretty dominant franchise.
  2. When money gets tight where do consumers go to buy the cheapest products? Pawnbrokers seem to have been valued on the basis that they might benefit from a switch downmarket as with cheap supermarket chains like Aldi. Why not Ebay?
  3. Skype seems to be working better and better – there are lots of VOIP plays out there but call quality to normal phones seems to be good and there’s not a lot of other options when it comes to the utility of knowing people are there waiting to take your call and quick and easy ad hoc conferencing. For small businesses you could argue that Skype is becoming essential.

Other analysis of Ebay


Motley Fool:

Posted under individual stocks

This post was written by mike on September 30, 2008

Tags: , ,

When there’s panic, it’s the best time to buy!

Having recently lived through the most dramatic trading week in living memory, it seemed like a good time to revisit the impact on long term performance of trying to time the market. Looking at the long term performance of the main investment indices of both the US and the UK stock markets produce similar conclusions.

The compound average annual return of the FTSE from June 1986 to June 2008 was 10%. If you missed the 10 worst days during this 22 year period, your annual compound return would have risen to 13%. A study of the S&P 500 from 1979 to 2004 shows an even more dramatic impact. If you missed the worst 10 days investing the in S&P 500 during this 25 year period, your annual compound return would have risen from10% to 38%!

If you were wise enough to look around you during the last couple of years and realise that booming global economic growth based on the apparently infinitely deep pockets of US consumers was unsustainable, congratulations! Perhaps you were even clever enough to reduce your exposure to sky high asset valuations in both property and equities. In which case you are already well on the way to achieving a much better return than those who believed the party would last forever!

But… even if you believe as I do, that we are at the beginning of a nasty global recession which may last 3-5 years, and which will see substantial rises in unemployment and slowing economic growth from Los Angeles to Beijing, it does not pay to wait for the young green shoots of economic growth to emerge before reinvesting in the equity market.

If you missed the 10 best days of the FTSE during the 22 year period from 1986 to 2008, your annual compound return would have fallen from 9.8% to 7.4%. If you missed the 10 best days of the S&P 500 during the 25 year period from 1979 to 2004, your annualized return would have fallen from +10% to -10%.

Cleary these are idealistic scenarios and nobody gets it right all the time, but given that Thursday 18th September was one of the worst market days in living memory, it’s probably fair to assume it will turn out to be one of the ten worst days this decade. For those brave or crazy enough to buy as the lemmings jumped, Friday 19th September turned out to be one of the best market days in living memory! The FTSE 100 closed up 8.8% – the biggest daily gain in its 24 year history.

Yes, the global crackdown on short sellers was no doubt a catalyst, and the $700 billion dollar promised “temporary asset relief programme” bailout by US Treasury Secretary Paulson had a dramatic impact on short term sentiment. Nevertheless I’m willing to bet that starting to buy on the dips will turn out to be a great long term strategy.

It usually pays to be contrarian. Global markets are likely to fall further and will bounce along the bottom for some time. But with global valuations some 25% below where they were a year ago, the risks have subtly shifted so that there’s probably now more to lose by being out of market than being in!

Posted under market timing

This post was written by ex-fund-manager on September 29, 2008

Tags: ,

Index/tracker funds: management costs & selling discipline

When it comes to investment strategy for self managed super funds or self invested personal pension plans, unless you are a retiree with lots of time on your hands or a very competent stock picker, index/tracker funds or actively managed funds are probably going to play some role.

In making the choice for your SMSF strategy between passive trackers and actively managed funds there are two commonly cited reasons as to why you should choose passive versus actively managed funds:

1. Cost – and specifically the impact of management costs over the long period of a superannuation fund investment. According to Rainmaker’s most recent survey, cited in the Australian, “the fee varies according to what you buy: workplace super funds average 1.41 per cent, personal super funds average 2.03 per cent and retirement funds average 1.86 per cent. ‘Out of that, the weighted industry average is 1.36 per cent,’ says Andrew Keevers, Rainmaker’s associate director of research.”

Of course this includes ‘unavoidable’ costs like compliance costs but it also includes perhaps more avoidable costs like trailing sales commissions paid to advisors.  It is not an entirely fair comparison (simply because it does not include super-specific running costs) but the management expenses of something like the iShares IJP tracker runs at .5% (and that’s not the cheapest tracker around).

1% or so difference between an actively managed fund and a tracker doesn’t sound like much on the face of it but the impact of just 1% over a longer period can be quite high. For example, from memory the average SMSF in Australia is around $250,000. Assume two SMSFs, one with passive trackers, one with actively managed funds (with slightly higher expenses) are both held for 15 years starting with a balance of $100,000 (to make it simple I have assumed no new contributions). Assume the same return of 6% p.a. (see point 2 below about returns) but a 1% higher management fee in the actively managed fund so the net return on the passively managed SMSF (after expenses) is 5% and the net return on the actively managed SMSF (after expenses) is 4%:

Passively managed SMSF Number of years passed Annual return after management fee Final value
$100,000.00 15 5.00% $207,892.82
Actively managed SMSF Number of years passed Annual return after management fee Final value
$100,000.00 15 4.00% $180,094.35

So a 1% difference in returns compounded over 15 years leads to a 20% difference in the value of the fund on retirement … now imagine the impact with new contributions every year plus longer timelines given increasing life expectancy

2. Returns – tend to be lower in most managed funds than passive funds. Whilst individual managers may have periods of outperformance this tends not to last.  It is sometimes thought that active fund managers may perform better in bear markets, but even this doesn’t look like it is true:

“Lipper Inc. studied active managers’ performances in bear markets (defined as a drop of 10% or more in the equity markets). Lipper found that active managers underperformed the S&P 500 Index in the six market corrections occurring between August 31, 1978, and October 11, 1990. For example, the average loss for the S&P 500 Index in these episodes was 15.1%, compared with a 17.0% average loss for large-cap growth funds.” [Source Vanguard

Both these points are commonly cited when it comes to comparing active management and tracker funds. However the advantage that you do not see mentioned so much relates to entry and exits.

Whether you are picking stocks yourself, or paying an active manager to do it for you, it often seems like the hard part is knowing when to sell … knowing when to buy is much easier.

For instance, if you are a value investor (you tend to buy stocks that you think are undervalued on say price/sales ratios or PE or whatever) broadly speaking one of two things is likely to happen, you were right (it was undervalued and the price goes up), or you were wrong (it was actually overvalued because it had a load of debt that it is having trouble refinancing and that wasn’t captured in the ratios you used).

Assuming you picked well at what point do you sell? When it’s priced at the correct ratio? What if things have changed in the business and it’s long run returns look better?

And if you picked badly how do you recognise this? If you are a value investor a la Mr Buffett you’re supposed to ignore the price falling and just buy more … but what if the fundamentals in the industry have changed (like Mr Buffett you quite like the newspaper industry but increasingly everyone is getting their news for free online)?

Add to this the well known predilection that people have for finding it hard to cut their losses and finding it equally hard to let their profits run, rather than take them too quickly, and it is easy to understand why so many private investors (and fund managers!) end up portfolios full of dogs. It’s not that they can’t recognise value when they see it: it’s that they can’t recognise when they’re wrong, and equally they don’t know when to sell when they’re right…

The great advantage of tracker funds is that they make these buying and selling decisions for you without your emotions coming into it (and without your time being spent on constant re-evaluation of your picks).

Posted under index trackers, investment strategies

This post was written by mike on September 21, 2008

Tags: , ,

Long term recession or ‘are we anywhere near the bottom’?

With the problems at Merrill Lynch, AIG, and collapse of Lehmans, there will be some people who have been sitting on the sidelines in cash who may think this is a bleak enough moment to start dribbling cash into the market.

This is not one of those ‘on the one hand & on the other hand’ articles in that I spent 10% of my SMSF cash holdings today on buying 3 (fairly poorly researched) index trackers, but as someone noted to me this evening it is easy to want to get back in too quickly (the possibly apocryphal example given was that of JP Morgan who waited from 1929 to 1939 to start buying again).

The same person noted that that ASX index had now fallen from 6800 to 4799 but that the next support level was at 4200 (confession: I neither believe in or understand charting in anything but a rudimentary sense when it comes to equities).

There was some muttering about if we hit 4200 we would be in for “10 years of poor returns”.

‘Typical bear markets’ fall 25% and that is where we are now in most major markets.

So I went looking today for poor performing markets over the last couple of years where I could start to nibble at low cost index trackers, which had gone on to fall even more after the weekend’s events.

I ended up buying small holdings in 3 iShares trackers that just happen to be in Asia that have not performed very well over the last 5 years and have fallen even further over the last few days (the charts are for the underlying indices and not the tracker):

IJP – (iShares MSCI Japan)
IKO – (iShares MSCI Korea)
ITW – (iShares MSCI Taiwan)

I am even tempted increasingly by the S&P500 which got to 1500 last year and is now sitting 20% lower just below 1200 (back where it was in 1998!) but wonder if there will be another US dollar fall that might be a better entry point given that I am not a US resident (the USD is up 10% against the $A in the last few weeks).

Posted under index trackers, market timing

This post was written by mike on September 16, 2008