Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Equity Management #7 : Taking on more risk from a benchmark portfolio.

Most investors are normally fixated at their returns from ordinary asset classes. You take on the risk of equity for 8% returns and moderate your equity position with a bond position which is stable but only gives you only 2%.

Professionals don't have that luxury.

If market returns from equity are like an act of God then individual returns which deviate from the market benchmark would be the act of Man.

Professionals use Information Ratio (IR) as a measure of their skill - calculated by how much excess return (called alpha) is generated for each unit of residual risk. Most professionals get about 0.5 but an exceptionally good professional manager can get 1.0. As I still am not an accredited investor yet, I have yet to ask professional money managers what has been their information ratio for the past 5 years.

For the other readers, here how you take on increasing residual risk and subsequently have a bigger chance of outperforming or underperforming the benchmark :

a) Hold the STI ETF ( ES3 )

At the lowest level of residual risk, you hold the STI ETF and track is almost perfectly. The only tracking error you get is probably the amount paid to rebalance the portfolio when a new stock enters the index and a negligible management fee. If you just want to have average market returns, this is the best choice and supported by many financial bloggers.

b) Shift to an equal weightage STI portfolio

If you have more capital, you can hold each STI component stock in equal proportions. At this stage, your portfolio will no longer track the STI but you will no longer be over burdened with banking stocks and won't hold stocks based on how large STI companies are.

In the US, the equal weighted RSP index fund has outperformed the capitalisation-weighted SPY index for over a decade.

c) Smart Beta

If you want to take on more even more risk, you may wish to start looking at Smart Beta ETFs which will eventually show up in Singapore one day. One example of such an index is one which weighs each stock based on dividend yields or earnings yields (to exploit low PE outperformance). At this stage even more risk is taken and you stand a greater chance of deviating from the market benchmark.

Until the Smart Beta ETFs actually show up, you can take the counters in the STI ETF, take the reciprocal of the P/E value and own a proportion of stocks based on this earning yields number.

Eg. You will own twice as much stock with a P/E of 10 than a stock with P/E of 20.

d) Personal Active Management 

If you can stomach even more risk than that, you will get back to square one as there is a low of solid analysis on individual stocks in the financial blogosphere. You can just focus on stock picking and ignore the market benchmark altogether.

If you are a reader and an intermediate reader, you do not need to make the jump from buying and holding the STI ETF to owning a portfolio of individual stocks based on recommendations you read about.

There are intermediate means to contain your risk by varying the proportion of STI stock in your portfolio - Too bad the ETFs here have not evolved to that stage yet.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Three Faces of Poverty in Modern Life.

In order to become richer, sometimes it is helpful to understand poverty.

When Thomas Piketty published Capital in the 21st Century, it is easy for a rentier like me to dismiss this as a rallying cry of welfare-state socialists. But as it turns out, the book had the effect of deepening my conviction towards my dividend portfolio because it proposes the idea that the growth of capital far exceeds the growth of earned labour income as reflected in the ( r > g ) inequality which made the work antithetical to capitalism. The lesson I learnt is that : Between using your wealth to make more wealth and selling your time to make money, always choose the former.

Today I'm going to propose that there is more than one way of being poor.

Understanding that inequality and poverty goes beyond the lack of financial wealth may be a useful insight in structuring your personal finance as well as planning for your children's future.

I propose three ways to look at poverty.

a) Financial poverty

The most common form of poverty is when you lack money. Without money, there is essentially no way you can buy what you need. Nothing more needs to said here as the combined might of financial bloggers are now at your disposal to obtain advise on wealth management matters so let's move on...

b) Temporal Poverty

More insidious than wealth poverty is time poverty. Some families or communities may not be considered financially poor but they might suffer a form of temporal poverty in that they lack time. A wealthy executive woman can hire a helper to assist with child rearing, but a single mother is not just financially poor, she is time starved as she has to balance a job with child rearing. Even if both women are equally smart and capable, the single mother will always feel more tired than the wealthy executive.

One recent study concerns the lack of sleep which, unfortunately, led to the censure of a popular radio station. This would have been better construed as a discussion on time poverty and its effects on our population. It starts with a constructive discussion on what are trading away our sleep for.

Dealing with time poverty is often very similar to dealing with financial poverty. If you studied harder while you were younger, you might be able to trade off one unit of your time for more money than if you had dropped out. Similarly, time spent planning your budgets in your 20s, can give you more time after financial independence in your early 40s.

c) Social/Cultural Poverty  

It's not what you know but who you know.

Being in the right family, school or church can result in very different life outcomes. My dad and his blue collar co-workers would coordinate trips to buy in bulk that result in substantial savings within the household. At the higher end, being from a particular school along Bukit Timah Road is helpful getting a foot in the door in high finance.

It is much harder to earn social or cultural capital. Sometimes, you can break a social barrier by studying hard and earning a valuable skill. An engineering degree is often the fastest way a working class family can quickly gain a foothold in the middle class.  Some barriers, unfortunately,  simply cannot be breached - for further details you can read Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians.

In the US, Tyler Cowen talks about the phenomenon of rich, white families gently buying up the homes of adjacent black families so that more of these rich, white can be clustered together. In the US, we have a problem with rich liberals railing about income inequality when they live amongst the most segregated communities in the country. In Singapore, just look at the folks aggressively promoting Singlish - can you figure out which schools they come from ? Personally, I think its the same phenomenon.

Social poverty is possibly better managed with a government mandate. We've done very well when we made sure that our public housing are evenly distributed based on race. We may want to do the same thing with primary and secondary schools.

At a personal level, perhaps along with auditing your financial accounts, you may want to have an honest look at you spend your time and whether your time is really spent on important priorities in your life. Thereafter, you may want to review your family, schools and companies you are associated with to see whether you have a "weak network" in case you need to look for a new career or start a business.

You might be richer / poorer than you think.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Equity Management #6 : A unified approach to engineering portfolios.

Ok, we're moving into a new section of the book which talks about portfolio management. The basic summary is quite simple - a unified approach towards portfolio management trumps the approach where the markets get segmented.

What this means to me is quite simple, wherever possible, try to start with the entire universe of stocks. In my case, I review the 700+ counters available on SGX through my broker when looking for counters with the highest yields.

Stick to table of stocks which typically gives higher yields is self defeating because even Venture does not give 6% yields anymore at its current price. Instead, the table of yield stocks should be updated from the entire universe before I target a set of stocks for analysis.

The chapter also hints that some forms of analysis might be superior depending on the sector you are analysing :

Dividend discount models work better for utilities. ( Which begs the question of whether it would similarly be good enough for REITS. )

For growth industries like  the Tech industry, momentum measures might be a better bet.

The chapter also considers the power of long-short portfolios, something which I was tempted many times to try but have no guts to do so. Basically, you you go long on a set of low P/E stocks and you go short on a set of high P/E stocks. As you may have no market risk, any profits you make is portable and above and beyond index returns and you can then supplement the returns with a position on the STI ETF.

These are all great ideas, but my finance portfolio is not merely a financial strategy, it is also a lifestyle strategy which lets me focus on my legal studies with minimal trades.

So I'll stick to my dividend income portfolio, thank you...

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Personal Update

There has been no article on Equity Management last week because I as getting into the deep end of the book which talks about selecting the right data and tracking errors, items which are dry even for a dedicated finance otaku like me.

Instead, I hope to start talking about the Portfolio Management section of the book over this weekend.

So all I have is a personal update :

a) School has been intense but the worse is over.

This has been the week of major deadlines. I have one more presentation to go next week and then it will onto the exams. But beginning next week, I can start to relax as I only have two papers this semester. If everything works, out my final paper in SMU would be sometime mid-April.

Then its about 3 months of holidays and internships before the bar preparations.

b) Finance and Investments

Markets have been red-hot and most income investors would have had a great time with the markets with a series of large payouts at the end of March. Manufacturing stocks are also doing very well due to the turnaround in the Singapore economy.

The question remains as to whether the turnaround in the economy is real and whether the US may put a dampener on world trade when they kick in protectionist policies. The markets don't seem to care that the Donald is in charge.

I probably made my dumbest investment move this decade in February :

Because I needed some liquidity to tide over the Chinese New Year, I started liquidating my non-yield generating assets and sold off most of my cryptocurrency. Thereafter, Ethereum went from around $10 to $40 !!! It was only a token sum of $1,000 but $3,000 can last me quite a while.

Fortunately, I had secured some mining contracts which still gives me a couple of Ethereum coins in my wallet but this failure is really epic in the midst of other parts of my portfolio doing so spectacularly well.  

c) Books and readings

I am currently reading The Complacent Class by Tyler Cowen. It is an interesting take on how America's loss of physical mobility is slowing down innovation and exacerbates inequality. It is full of insights which can be contextualise to Singapore.

One possible tip is when observing Singaporeans is that when you read about those keyboard warriors who rail at income inequality may be the folks who live in the most segregated housing estates and school in the most racially segregated secondary schools.

There are too many good books out there. Anthony Robbins just published another finance guide called Unshakeable - maybe he just wants us to forget about his old self-help guru days. The Cato Institute finally published a book entitled Anti-Piketty which is compulsory reading for rentier/super-managers aspirants.

d) The Hillion has opened.

For the folks who live in Bukit Panjang, congratulations.

The Hillion has opened so we have another soulless mall within a short commute of where we live. For my family, at least we no longer have to go to Choa Chu Kang when a kid needs to see the pediatrician.

Hope to post at a higher frequency from now on.

Friday, March 17, 2017

You don't get to hack the CPF, the CPF gets you hack you !

Ok, it is time to summarise yesterday's proceedings. In case you guys are wondering, when we conduct our talks, we don't really do rehearsals so some of us speakers are also there to listen to what other bloggers have to say. So things get interesting if there is a disagreement between us, nothing we ever do is scripted.

Here are some comments and things which I learnt from yesterday's session :

a) Budget babe's mention of SRS.

At first the company directors were slightly concerned when they realised that SRS which was covered last night was not actually administered by the CPF Board, but I think we've learnt a lot more as a result of her talk. One way of avoiding taxes is to voluntarily set your money aside into the SRS program where you can then invest in the financial markets. The downside is that withdrawal retirement age will incur a 5% penalty. 50% of all withdrawals are still taxable when you take you money at a later age.

The SRS is a great system to have but I am not currently using it. I would be more interested if withdrawals of dividends can be made tax free.

b) CreateWealth8888's market timing approach.

Jacob's session was a real treat because he shed light on the wisdom of baby boomers on how they invest their money. Jacob has a method which involved drawing money from the markets and placing it in his warchest when times are good and doing the opposite when markets are bearish.

The approach may seem simplistic, but Jacob can get 17.2% CAGR out of his approach to investing which is very impressive indeed.

c) Attendees really really like the CPF-SA 4% interest rate.

A bulk of questions involve the CPF-OA to CPF-SA transfer. I can see that folks really like that scheme and want to find all sorts of way to take advantage of this program. Although I have been a beneficiary of this technique having maxed out my CPF-SA prior to reaching 30, there are some things people need to take note of.

If you can invest 35% of your CPF-OA at 8% and keep 65% at 2.5%, you will earn 4.425% which is higher than what the CPF-SA gives. I also believe that, over the long term, as interest rates rise, the government will set the CPF-SA rate to a government bond rate plus may 1-2% so when interest rates drop again, you will stop getting 4% in the future.

Guaranteeing 4% may not be a sustainable practice.

d) Some attendee wants to hack the CPF-SA system

I think a very small proportion of blog readers are actually too smart for their own good.

One particular person wanted to contribute to his son's CPF to "hack" the CPF system. After conferring to other bloggers, I have to say that this is one of the stupidest ideas I have ever heard in quite a while and sadly my body language may have shown that I was just not too impressed by this suggestion. While I could not answer the question last night, apparently you can perform a voluntary contribution (VC) into your child's CPF which distributes the money even between the CPF-OA, CPF-SA and CPF-MA.

While the CPF program is a good one with a lot of government guarantees locked into it, a 4% interest rate on the CPF-SA is not a Constitutional guarantee. It is also cruel to lock in money for your kids when you can just get them to open a CDP account and give them some preference shares. There are currently 5 preference share counters in the SGX, if you buy each counter in equal proportion, you are likely to beat 4% every year.

The lesson for readers is this : You don't hack the CPF. In Singapore, the CPF hacks you.

Michel Foucault is a philosopher who wrote books on how prisons exert control over inmates. He pioneered the idea that the ability to influence a population's sense of what is normal is a legitimate form of power a government can have. The CPF as a scheme tells you that having a house is good, saving adequately for health is good and supporting your parents, and paying yours kid's tuition is the normal thing to do. Government officials are influenced by Richard Thaler's Nudge and practice a form of liberal paternalism on the population. ( Lucky us right ? )

The more you contribute to your CPF, it is almost always true that you get to better secure your future. But you are also letting the CPF define to you what is normal and what is not normal in your life.

While I agree that many things like home ownership and giving my mum money every month is great, I bet that almost all financial bloggers would agree that we'd prefer to have control over our retirement age.

When it comes to financial independence the CPF Board can keep its tendrils to itself.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Equity management #5 : The Small Firm Effect

Some investors like investing in small firms because it is an area where the natural strengths of a retail investor can really shine.

Institutional investors can't invest in some counters like Karin Tech and Global Testing because there is so little liquidity in these counters that it would be a struggle to even pick up more than 2000 shares in a single transaction.

The small firm effect is a well known in academic literature. You can earn higher returns if you focus on smaller stocks.

But there are some caveats :

a) Small firms might also be neglected firms

A large component of small firm returns is also attributed to its neglect. You may also have oversized returns if you invest in stocks which are not covered by analysts. I can't seem to get a lot of information on a counter like Figtree, for example.

b) Small firms are illiquid.

There is a high bid-ask rate and low number of bids so it will take a lot more transactions for a position to hit 1% of your portfolio. My dad took weeks to pick up 1,700 shares of Global Testing. I think that is quite enough because of the amount of cash which needs reinvestment every month.

c) Small firms effect can disappear when macroeconomic conditions change.

Small firms are fragile.

When there is increase in BAA corporate bond interest rates or T-bill rates, returns may disappear. Similarly returns may go up when there is an unexpected increase in industrial rates. When there is expected inflation, small firms are also impacted negatively.

Academic research on small firms is not particularly practical for retail investors but one is clear : It might be useful and fun to research and accumulate a small portfolio of 20 local small stocks when you are younger and have smaller portfolio size below $50k.

When you start managing a larger portfolio, you would have to look for other opportunities.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

FInancial Blogger's CPF Talk : Some details.

For this upcoming talk, we employed a very lax marketing schedule so right now we are about one week away and we have only 20% of our tickets left to sell so we should have another sell-out session next week.

Today I’m going to provide more clarity on what I will be talking about.

The problem with the CPF program is that it attempts to do too many things at once. Hence we should emphasize the “personal” in personal finance.

Instead of giving the audience solid answers, I will discuss the feature of CPF in question, followed by how I employ this feature. This is then followed by suggestions how the audience can think about whether this mode of application applies to their personal circumstance.

Don’t expect all the speakers to have any consensus on CPF.

My presentation is organised around 7 arguments or touch points which tends to generate the most debate in the financial blogosphere:

·      Whether to transfer of CPF-OA to CPF-SA ?
·      How much CPF to tap for investment purposes ?
·      How much to allocate to your parents retirement needs ?
·      How much to allocate to your child’s education ?
·      How much CPF should you use to pay for your housing needs ?
·      The controversial question of whether it is better to have an Integrated Health Shield.
·      Which scheme to subscribe to for CPF Life ?

It is quite a lot of material and I will cover much ground in 30 minutes but hopefully once you understand some of the basics of the CPF system, the other bloggers will be able to entertain you with more anecdotes and personal stories on how they manage their CPF money.