Unlucky Alf

You have to laugh. At least, as an investor, you have to. A full year of Brexit and Trump which, in the minds of many economists and intelligentsia, should have trashed the Western economy, and what do the markets do? They thrive like never before. We have the UK FTSE 250 up by 14% and the US by 20%. I wonder what would have happened if we’d voted for Hillary and Remain?

Still, the dogs will have their day at some point, and it’s all bound to come tumbling down in a market “correction”. Reading the papers this week, most City commentators – no doubt sipping their second Bolly of the morning – don’t see this as happening in 2018. All systems are go, the world is looking good, Big Tech has more growth in there yet and China, well, who really cares? They weren’t great in 2017 and look what we did!

All this makes me scratch my head in frustration. I like to think that at least I know that I know nothing when it comes to investing, so I’ll stick to my largely passive, Index based strategy. But which Index? Should I stay in the UK? (I’m actually out of the US, because I sold up in anticipation of Trumpian havoc, underlining the fact that I know nothing.) Should I rebalance into Emerging Markets? China? The Pacific Rim? Latin America? Am I too late for Japan?

At the moment, I’m spread across many of these markets, but not in a big way. These days, almost the majority of my investments sit in dividend paying international funds such as the Fidelity Global Dividend and the L&G International Index. My intention is to stick with them and not tinker around, but is that a wise move?

One of the things that surprised me when I reviewed my allocations was that 15% of my portfolio is in an Investec Global Gold fund, which I started back in mid 2015. I must have been twitchy as an investor at that time too, hedging my shares against the lure of the precious metal. Let’s face it though, as an investor I’m ALWAYS twitchy, always thinking that every silver lining has a cloud. At the end of a year where my investing and pension portfolios are both returning more than 15% growth, my overall thought seems to be “We’re doomed!” The party has to end at some point and how should I best guard against a crushing hangover?  

Another irritation from the year is the investing equivalent of penis envy. Is my growth as big as the next bloke’s? Of the financial commentators I do read, I like the straightforward and easy to understand style of Ian Cowie in The Sunday Times. He has a portfolio of single shares that he calls his “Forever Fund” and, seemingly, it’s up 24% this year. That knocks my performance – restricted by conservative pitches into gold and bloody bonds – into a cocked hat. While I know I’m not comparing apples with apples, it doesn’t seem to help. He’s done better than me and, if my portfolio had grown by 24% I’d have made…..oh, I can’t even bare to calculate it.

So, as I say, in the face of this imminent financial catastrophe that, in my head, is coming, I have to laugh. Sometimes I feel I should be a lot more irrational, convert everything into cash and stuff it under a digital mattress. Unfortunately the suspicion that one day I will be uncovered as Unlucky Alf would then mean that inflation would take off to 10% and I’d be ruined that way. There doesn’t seem to be much alternative than to keep reading the tea leaves as best I can, taking an interest in the financial pages (and blogs of course) and tell myself that, whatever happens, “I’m in it for the long term”. I know, “in the long term” that we’re all dead, but I think I’m happy with that because, coincidentally, that will be the day it seems I will stop worrying about my financial performance.

Rolling with the Punches

I read in the weekend papers about the “Santa Rally”. No, this was nothing about Jeremy Clarkson on “The Grand Tour” (which I will always call “Top Gear”) but financial journalists commenting on the fact that December is generally a good month for share prices, although none were sure why that might be. But who knows anything about the markets? I sold out my American Index funds in the belief that the markets would wobble badly if Trump got in and, because I’d had a good run up until that point. I felt I should “take some profits”. Of course Trump did get in, and what did the Dow Jones do? It has only jumped subsequently by 36%.

I console myself with the fact that I sold the US Index and bought Global Dividend funds with the proceeds which, when I look at their portfolio mix, are over 50% weighted in American companies. So I’ll probably have benefited there, but I won’t give myself any credit over it. I know I’ve no real idea which markets and funds are likely to prosper and I only checked the Global Index portfolio spread after I’d bought it.

“Santa Rallies”, “Sell in May and go away” – I’m sure there is some backing to these mantras in the same way that “A stopped clock is right twice a day”. True, but at what time will the clock stop?

I’m not buying anything in December, but I probably will have a look at how my investments have progressed this year. This is because it’s probably looking not too bad – the “Trump Bump” has pulled most things along with it, including the UK market. Seriously though, if you’d have a crystal ball that told you with certainty that both Trump and Brexit would happen in 2017, would your first response have been, “Fantastic, the stock markets will take off after that!”? Somehow I doubt it. I now guffaw when I hear commentators recite that old cliche, “The markets hate uncertainty”. No they bloody well don’t, they absolutely thrive on it from what I’ve seen this year.

What will happen in 2018 then? Well, what goes up must come down, but even if there is a correction, it has seemingly only ever taken the markets 69 days to recover losses from such adverse events in the past. That’s even happened after the dot com collapse and the financial meltdown of 2008. I’m going to make a real effort to remember this adage in case 2018 sees a downturn, and maybe I’ll refer back to my dairy of 2007 and 2008 when queues formed at Northern Rock and Lehman Brothers imploded. I’ve read through my entries from those months before and was I panicking? Was I even slightly bothered? If I was then I wasn’t writing it down. Like everyone else, I rode it out and I’d probably do the same next time ’round. 

So, when I think back over 2017 I reflect that it’s been a pretty major historical year that’ll be recalled as a watershed on a lot of fronts. Uncertainty abounded, but the markets strode on regardless. Keeping an open mind and remaining flexible when it comes to finances seems to me to be the best advice I can give myself in the light of what has gone on. Anytime I try to be smart, such as making the call on Trump being elected and believing that Britain may well Vote Leave, I failed to foresee the consequences that would have helped my investments. I guessed the right results and then guessed the wrong market response.

Hindsight is 20/20 vision, of course, and it’s that historical data that pushes information on December “Santa Rallies” and “69 days” of recovery. They’re interesting statistics, but they still tell you nothing about what will happen either in January or Day 70, except that those days will come too. Just like Trump and Brexit, what choice do we have but to live through them and roll with the punches if, it transpires, that’s actually what they turn out to be?

Loadsa Loadsa Loadsa

It seems that an American journalist has caused a bit of a Twitter storm for publicising the following advice:

According to Jean Chatzky, a financial journalist, by the time you are 30 you should have at least the equivalent of your annual income saved for retirement. By 40 it should be three times your annual income; by 50, six times; by 60, eight times and by retirement 10 times. How do you do that? You save 15% of your income every year (most of it into the stock market) from the age of 25 onwards.

I can’t say I saw anything out of the ordinary in what was stated, but then I do read stuff about FIRE so perhaps I need to admit that I’m not part of the mainstream when it comes to finances.

Circulating stuff on Twitter is one sure fire way of hitting a young audience. Or, perhaps more accurately, I should state that by doing so you’ll miss an older demographic who are still slavishly watching the BBC or Sky News and reading the papers. So, as the tweet picked up steam on line, the youth reacted in utter horror at the seeming impossibility of saving a penny, never mind 15% of their income.

I have to admit that I don’t remember saving much in my teenage years or my twenties when it seemed there was so much stuff to buy and so little cash to buy it with: hifi separates on which to play my budding album collection, driving lessons in the hope that I could borrow my dad’s car (an old Fiat 126, the only car in the family), beer, Chinese takeaways, clothes from Burton’s menswear and so on. There weren’t iphones and laptops and ridiculously priced coffees, but we had our temptations.

What there was though, in the Eighties, was a growing sense of the importance of money and the desire to get some and make it work for you. Other people seemed to be doing it, which was why they were driving around London in Porches while sporting blue striped shirts with red braces. It also seemed that certain tradesmen were beginning to do quite well for themselves and that we needed to Tell Sid about the British Gas shares that were coming to market. In the Thatcher years I do think we became much more money orientated, but it was with a sense that there was a positive edge to it. You could get some and you could use it to get some more.

I turned 30 in 1993 and had just married, and that’s when I remember thinking about trying to save and invest for the future. I doubt I was thinking about retirement at the that point but, having pretty much spent everything I earnt up until then, I wanted some sort of financial cushion to support my family going forward. I’d realised how pernicious debt could be with credit cards that just never were cleared and I resolved to pay them down – once I did, the money I’d been spending to do that would be “put to work” in buying investments and shares.

Sometimes, however, I do wish I had had access to the information in the 1990’s that I have now. What if I’d been reading Early Retirement Extreme and Mr Money Moustache when I turned 30 instead of 50? What if I’d had access to the information about UK investing that I’ve found on Monevator and been applying it for twenty years? What if I’d had the forums on Money Saving Expert at my fingertips to give me further advice on tax, pensions, ISA’s, ETF’s and the rest as I required it?

So, on the one hand, I sympathise with the youth of today looking at the financial mountain they have to climb, but I also kind of think that  it was always thus. The young will never have any money, they never do. But, what they do have on a scale way beyond anything I had, is access to information and knowledge that will help them when they decide the time is right. “When the student is ready, a teacher will appear”, is a saying that’s always appealed to me because it often seems to be true. The teacher appears when you seek them out and, given the internet, the ability to find that guru, or gurus, has increased exponentially since the days when Norman Tebbit told us to get on our bikes.