Five charts on investing to keep in mind in rough times
By Robert Wright /May 19,2023/
- Successful investing can be really difficult in times like now with immense uncertainty around inflation, interest rates, issues in global banks and recession risks impacting the outlook for investment markets.
- This makes it all the more important to stay focused on the basic principles of successful investing.
- These five charts focus on critical aspects of investing that are insightful in times of market stress: the power of compound interest; don’t get blown off by cyclical swings; the roller coaster of investor emotion; the wall of worry; and market timing is hard.
Every so often the degree of uncertainty around investment markets surges and that’s been the case for more than a year now reflecting the combination of high inflation, rapid interest rate hikes, the high and rising risk of recession which has been added to in the last few weeks by problems in US and European banks. And all of this has been against the background of increased geopolitical uncertainties. Falls in the value of share markets and other investments can be stressful as no one wants to see their wealth decline. And so when uncertainty is high a natural inclination is to retreat to perceived safety. As always, turmoil around investment markets is being met with much prognostication, some of which is enlightening but much is just noise. I will be the first to admit that my crystal ball is even hazier than normal in times like the present. As the US Economist, JK Galbraith once said “there are two types of economists – those that don’t know and those that don’t know they don’t know.” And this is certainly an environment where we need to be humble.
But while history does not repeat as each cycle is different, it does rhyme, in that each cycle has many common characteristics. So, while each cycle is different the basic principles of investing still apply. This note revisits once again five charts I find particularly useful in times of economic and investment market stress.
Chart #1 The power of compound interest
This is my favourite chart. It shows the value of $1 invested in various Australian assets in 1900 allowing for the reinvestment of dividends and interest along the way. That $1 would have grown to $246 if invested in cash, to $997 if invested in bonds and to $781,048 if invested in shares up until the end of February. While the average return since 1900 is only double that in shares relative to bonds, the huge difference between the two at the end owes to the impact of compounding or earning returns on top of returns. So, any interest or return earned in one period is added to the original investment so that it all earns a return in the next period, and so on. I only have Australian residential property data back to 1926 but out of interest it shows (on average) similar long term compounded returns to shares.
Key message: to grow our wealth, we must have exposure to growth assets like shares and property. While shares and property have had a rough ride over the last year as interest rates surged, history shows that both will likely do well over the long term.
Chart #2 Don’t get blown off by cyclical swings
The trouble is that shares can have lots of (often severe) setbacks along the way as is evident during the periods highlighted by the arrows on the previous chart. Even annual returns in the share market are highly volatile but longer term returns tend to be solid and relatively smooth, as can be seen in the next chart. Since 1900, for Australian shares roughly two years out of ten have had negative returns but there are no negative returns over rolling 20-year periods.
The higher returns that shares produce over time relative to cash and bonds is compensation for the periodic setbacks they have. But understanding that these periodic setbacks are just an inevitable part of investing is important in being able to stay the course and get the benefit of the higher long term returns shares and other growth assets provide over time.
Key message: short term, sometimes violent swings in share markets are a fact of life but the longer the time horizon, the greater the chance your investments will meet their goals. So, in investing, time is on your side and it’s best to invest for the long term when you can.
Chart #3 The roller coaster of investor emotion
It’s well known that the swings in investment markets are more than can be justified by moves in investment fundamentals alone – like profits, dividends, rents and interest rates. This is because investor emotion plays a huge part. This has been more than evident over the last year with all the swings in markets. The next chart shows the roller coaster that investor emotion traces through the course of an investment cycle. Once a cycle turns down in a bear market, euphoria gives way to anxiety, denial, capitulation and ultimately depression at which point the asset class is under loved and undervalued and everyone who is going to sell has – and it becomes vulnerable to good (or less bad) news. This is the point of maximum opportunity. Once the cycle turns up again, depression gives way to hope and optimism before eventually seeing euphoria again.
Key message: investor emotion plays a huge role in magnifying the swings in investment markets. The key for investors is not to get sucked into this emotional roller coaster. Of course, doing this is easier said than done, which is why many investors end up getting wrong footed by the investment cycle.
Chart #4 The wall of worry
There is always something for investors to worry about it seems. And in a world where social media is competing intensely with old media it all seems more magnified and worrying. This is arguably evident again now in relation to uncertainty about inflation, interest rates and associated recessions risks. The global economy has had plenty of worries over the last century, but it got over them with Australian shares returning 11.7% per annum since 1900, with a broad rising trend in the All Ords price index as can be seen in the next chart, and US shares returning 9.9% pa. (Note that this chart shows the All Ords share price index whereas the first chart shows the value of $1 invested in the All Ords accumulation index, which allows for changes in share prices and dividends.)
Key message: worries are normal around the economy and investments and sometimes they become intense – like now but they eventually pass.
Chart #5 Timing is hard
The temptation to time markets is immense. With the benefit of hindsight many swings in markets like the tech boom and bust and the GFC look inevitable and hence forecastable and so it’s natural to think why not switch between say cash and shares within your super fund to anticipate market moves. This is particularly the case in times of emotional stress like now when much of the news around inflation, interest rates and recession risks seem bad. Fair enough if you have a process and put the effort in. But without a tried and tested market timing process, trying to time the market is difficult. A good way to demonstrate this is with a comparison of returns if an investor is fully invested in shares versus missing out on the best (or worst) days. The next chart shows that if you were fully invested in Australian shares from January 1995, you would have returned 9.3% pa (with dividends but not allowing for franking credits, tax and fees).
If by trying to time the market you avoided the 10 worst days (yellow bars), you would have boosted your return to 12.2% pa. And if you avoided the 40 worst days, it would have been boosted to 17.1% pa! But this is very hard, and many investors only get out after the bad returns have occurred, just in time to miss some of the best days. For example, if by trying to time the market you miss the 10 best days (blue bars), the return falls to 7.2% pa. If you miss the 40 best days, it drops to just 3% pa.
Key message: trying to time the share market is not easy. For most its best to stick to an appropriate well thought out long term investment strategy.
Source: Shane Oliver, AMP
Investment fundamentals to consider in volatile times
By Robert Wright /September 08,2022/
Sharp share market falls are stressful for investors as no one likes to see their investments fall in value. But at times like these, there are number of key things for investors to bear in mind.
Compound interest is magical! The value of $1 invested in 1900, allowing for the reinvestment of dividends and interest along the way, by the end of May this year would have been worth $243 if invested in cash, $901 if invested in bonds, and $757,136 if invested in shares. Of course, this is pre-tax and fees but the relativities remain the same. The higher end point for shares reflects their higher long term return. So, to grow our wealth we need to have a long term exposure to growth assets like shares.
Sharp falls in share markets as we are now seeing are not nice, but they are a regular occurrence and the price we pay for the higher returns they provide over the longer term compared to assets like cash and bonds. The key is to recognise that these setbacks are part of the cycle. So, the key is to not get thrown off by the higher returns that shares and other growth assets provide over the longer-term by cyclical falls.
The best performing asset class each year can vary dramatically. Last year’s top performer is no guide to the year ahead. So it’s important to have a combination of asset classes in your portfolio. This particularly applies to assets that have low correlation, i.e. that don’t just move in lock step with each other. A well-diversified portfolio is less volatile.
Understand risk and return
Put simply: the higher the risk of an asset, the higher the return you should expect to achieve over the long-term, and vice versa. There is no free lunch, and you should always allow for the risk and return characteristics of each asset in which you invest. If you don’t mind short-term risk, you can take advantage of the higher returns growth assets offer over long periods.
Time-in, not timing
In times of uncertainty like the present it’s tempting to try to time the market. But without a proven asset allocation or stock picking process, it’s next to impossible. Market timing is great if you can get it right, but without a process, the risk of getting it wrong is very high and can destroy your longer-term returns. Selling after big share market falls can feel comfortable given all the noise is negative but it locks in a loss and makes it much harder to recover.
Time is on your side
Since 1900 there are no negative returns over rolling 20-year periods for Australian shares. Short-term share returns can sometimes see violent swings, but the longer the time horizon, the greater the chance your investments will meet their goals. When it comes to investing, time is on your side, so invest for the long-term.
Remove the emotion
Emotion plays a huge roll in amplifying the investment cycle, both up and down. Avoid assets where the crowd is euphoric and convinced it’s a sure thing. Favour assets where the crowd is depressed, and the asset is under-loved. Don’t get sucked into the emotional roller coaster.
The wall of worry
It seems there’s plenty for investors to worry about at the moment. While this is real and creates uncertainty, in a long-term context it’s mostly noise. The global and Australian economies have had plenty of worries over the past century, but they got over them. Australian shares have returned 11.8 per cent per annum since 1900.
So, it’s best to turn down the noise around the short-term movements in investment markets.
Nine keys to successful investing
By Robert Wright /November 18,2020/
As an investor it’s very easy to get thrown off by the ever-present worry list surrounding investment markets that relates to economic activity, profits, interest rates, politics, and so on.
This has been magnified by a digital media where everyone is vying for attention and the best way to get this attention is via headlines of impending crisis. This all adds to uncertainty and potentially erratic investment decisions. Against this backdrop, there are some key things for investors to keep in mind in order to be successful.
Make the most of the power of compound interest
The best way to build wealth is to take advantage of the power of compound interest and have a decent exposure to growth assets. Of course, the price for higher returns is higher volatility but the impact of compounding higher returns from growth assets is huge over long periods.
Don’t get thrown off by the cycle
Investment markets constantly go through cyclical phases of good times and bad. Some are short and sharp, some can spread over many years. The trouble is that cycles can throw investors off a well-thought-out investment strategy that aims to take advantage of longer-term returns. But they also create opportunities.
Invest for the long term
Looking back, it always looks obvious as to why things happened. Looking forward no-one has a perfect crystal ball. Usually the grander the forecast the greater the need for scepticism as such calls invariably get the timing wrong or are dead wrong.
This has been evident throughout the coronavirus pandemic with all sorts of forecasts as to what it would mean, most of which provided little help in actually getting the market low back in March let alone the rebound. For most investors it’s best to get a long-term plan that suits your level of wealth, age, tolerance of volatility, etc, and stick to it.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Having a well-diversified portfolio will provide a much smoother ride. For example, global and Australian shares provide similar returns over the very long term but in the March quarter this year global shares in Australian dollars fell less than half as much as Australian shares.
Turn down the noise
After having worked out a strategy that’s right for you, it’s important to turn down the noise on the information flow and prognosticating babble and stay focussed.
The trouble is that the digital world we live in is seeing an explosion in information and opinions about economies and investments. But much of this information and opinion is of poor quality. Don’t waste too much time on individual shares or funds as it’s your high-level asset allocation that will mainly drive the return and volatility you will get.
Buy low, sell high
The cheaper you buy an asset (or the higher its yield), the higher its prospective return will likely be and vice versa, all other things being equal of course. So as far as possible, it makes sense to buy when markets are down and sell when they are up. Unfortunately, many do the opposite; buying after a big rally and selling after a collapse which just has the effect of destroying wealth.
Beware the crowd at extremes
It often feels safe to be in a crowd and at times the investment crowd can be right. However, at extremes the crowd is invariably wrong – whether it’s at market highs like in the late 1990s tech boom or market lows like in March.
Focus on investments with sustainable cash flow
If an investment looks too good to be true it probably is. By contrast, assets that generate sustainable cash flows (profits, rents, interest) and don’t rely on excessive gearing or financial engineering are more likely to deliver.
Source: AMP Capital
Dividend cuts – what can investors expect?
By visual /May 13,2020/
Since the financial crisis more than a decade ago, investors have had to search much harder for income as savings rates have plunged.
Many have looked to the equity market to help them achieve better income returns, with large numbers of companies increasing dividend payments to shareholders as they have grown.
It is likely that equities will continue to provide a relatively attractive source of income for those comfortable with the risks of investing in the stock market. However, regrettably, dividend payments for most equity income investors are likely to be lower than in previous years for the foreseeable future as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
Here we explain why and give our views on the outlook for dividend payments over the medium and longer term.
The equity income fund model
Equity funds that have a focus on investing for income as well as the potential for capital growth are called equity income funds.
A dividend is an income payment from an investment. The dividends that investors receive from an equity income fund directly reflect the dividends received from companies that the fund holds shares in. This money is paid out to unit or shareholders in proportion to the size of their holdings.
One aim in managing an equity income fund can be to increase dividend payments to investors over time. A manager may aim to achieve this through focusing investment on successful businesses that have the potential to increase their dividend payments as they increase their profits. The income and capital value of an equity income fund can go down as well as up and investors may not get back the amount they invest.
How the coronavirus crisis has impacted companies’ dividend plans
The coronavirus crisis has blown the carefully laid plans of large numbers of companies around the world way off course.
For the time being, the revenue streams of many good businesses have been drastically reduced. And for some, in the most exposed sectors, they have effectively evaporated. All the while, there are costs that must still be met alongside obligations towards key stakeholders including employees, customers and suppliers.
As in any crisis, there are exceptions – some supermarkets, for example, have experienced a surge in sales during the lockdown period – but the management of a great many companies now have a single overriding focus: navigating their way through the current unprecedented conditions as best they can.
It should therefore come as no surprise that many companies have announced that they are reducing their dividend payments or in some cases, suspending them entirely. In most cases we believe this should be welcomed in the short term as it will provide necessary funds to shore up businesses, helping them to ensure their long-term viability once the immediate crisis has passed.
We expect to see more companies follow suit over the coming months, with many likely to err on the side of caution in setting their dividend policies, given the high degree of uncertainty we are all living with.
Companies that have been forced to accept Government assistance will find it difficult to continue paying dividends. And in some countries, banks have been instructed not to pay to a dividend to preserve capital so that they can provide finance to companies that need it.
The knock-on impact on equity income funds
When investing in equities for income you are left with a choice between trying to maintain the level of your dividend income or accepting that it will fall.
Importantly, this does not have to mean abandoning an aim to grow your income over the long-term. This can sensibly remain a key consideration in your stock selection. Instead you may wish to consider each company on an individual basis, assessing how well they are positioned to come through the crisis without fundamental changes to their long-term business case, which will impact their ability to pay dividends going forward.
An insistence on maintaining the dividend of an equity income fund in the current environment would, in most cases, force you into investing in a narrow, less diversified range of stocks. Accepting a cut in the dividend on the other hand can allow you to maintain a focus on investing in the companies that are most likely to help you achieve your long-term objectives in both income and growth terms.
Bouncing back following a crisis
In the wake of crisis situations, companies that have cut their dividends to prioritise cash holdings that enable them to operate and trade effectively can often recover faster than those that have blindly pursued the maintenance of dividend targets set in a completely different environment.
When the economic environment improves, these companies have the potential to restore and grow their dividends again from a position of comparative strength. A look at past crises shows that the overall impact on the intrinsic value of a business from a temporary dividend cut is generally small and, for long-term investors, it is important not to lose track of that fact amid the short-term market noise.
The outlook for dividends and equity income investors over the medium and long term
The shape of the recovery from the coronavirus crisis remains far from clear. There are indications that the strict lockdown conditions in place in many countries could be relaxed reasonably soon, enabling some limited activity to resume.
Realistically however, we all face a long wait for anything approximating ‘business as normal’ to resume, given that the only route to achieving this appears to be the development and implementation of an effective vaccination programme on a global scale.
This is unlikely to come together until well into next year, even if one of the vaccines that have already begun human trials proves effective.
This means that dividend payments over the next three years or so are likely to remain well below levels seen in 2019. There is no precedent for the current crisis but estimates of the eventual cut in dividends for the UK market as a whole in 2020 have so far ranged from around 25% to as high as 50%.
Longer term, a return to ‘business as normal’ for the economy is likely to lead to a return to ‘business as normal’ for dividends and by extension equity income funds.
It is possible that we could begin to see more companies around the world adopt more conservative dividend policies along the lines of Asian businesses. However, the aftermath of past crises would suggest that while companies may change their behaviour for a couple of years, they often then revert to the way that things were before.