I continue to believe the choices for investors are much more challenging than they normally are, as I have written about several times. Though maybe soon, this will just be the new normal (in which case investors won’t have the fairly easy choices they have had for much of the last 100 years).
In previous posts I have discussed the value of real estate investments in this investing climate. Real estate is one way to cope with the challenges of extremely low yields today.
There are many advantages to city property, in the right city. When I was looking at my first house I looked for something that would be easy to rent out. The most important factor to minimize vacancy is high demand. If there is high demand, the worst you should face is the need to lower your asking price.
An additional consideration in buying condos (your only option in large urban centers like New York City, seen in my photo of the Empire State Building) are condo fees. Fees and taxes can make positive cash flow a challenge and they continue when the property is vacant thus creating more risk for the investor. Of course, in popular markets and good times rents are very attractive for owners and price increases can make them great investments.
During downturns rental property that is not in high demand can be vacant no matter the price. And those properties with some, but not overwhelming, demand will face the need for dramatic rent decreases to minimize vacancy (and large declines if you need to sell). My purchase was 3 blocks from a metro stop (close in to Washington DC). All housing near metro stops in DC have high demand and that close in to the city has even higher demand.
In over 10 years I have had maybe 2 months of vacancy – the first year I messed up; I was new to trying to rent places out and believed people were going to sign the lease because they said they would but then they backed out. I think I may have had 1 more month sometime, but maybe not, I can’t really remember.
I have considered tourist property but have decided against it so far. The rental yield are higher but you have higher vacancy rates, which is manageable, but also much more property management issues to deal with. In order to cope with that you need to hire a property manager, for example, Summit Vacations Property Management Company, very carefully. You need to carefully check their experience, reliability and competence.
And even for residential real estate the hassles of dealing with the property management yourself may lead investors to use property managers. This cuts into the advantages of direct real estate investments and so if you are going to use property managers then looking at REITs has to be considered. I believe if you are sensible direct real estate investments would normally return more but the risks are significantly higher and the hassle is somewhat to significantly higher. Likely the decision on whether to use direct real estate investing is more about personal preference than just a decision on which option would be a better investment.
I was recently interviewed on equities.com, read the full interview – Financial Blogger Profile: John Hunter. Some quotes from the interview:
John Hunter: I look for good individual investments, but I also weigh my guesses about long term macroeconomic conditions in making investment commitments. I think there is much more risk to the drastic measures central banks have been making for the past few years than the market is factoring in. I think the poor job regulating risk in the financial system is also very risky at the macroeconomic level.
I don’t have any real idea of what the chance of massive economic failure is, but I am much more worried today than I have been. Pretty much, my worry has remained the same over the last few years. We did avoid an immediate meltdown, though we still had plenty of economic pain. Yet, in my opinion, the risk has remained very high for the last few years, but people seem to think central banks can continue this extraordinary behavior without consequences; I see a great deal of risk in the economy.
Three macro-economic factors make healthcare an appealing investment. First, the aging population should provide a booming market. Second, the huge increase in rich people globally that can afford very expensive medicine again provides an ever-growing market. Third, the broken healthcare system in the USA results in exceedingly high-priced medical care in a very large and rich market.
I also close out the interview with some tips I have shared on this blog over the years
John Hunter: I can’t pick one, but I can pick a few short pieces of advice:
- Save 15%, or more, of your income and invest it wisely. If you want to buy more, then earn more, or save extra until you can pay for it with the extra savings.
- Minimize costs on investments, use Vanguard or similar low fee funds. Buying individual stocks reduces even the costs of Vanguard. There are tradeoffs to diversity of your portfolio when buying individual stocks.
- Pay attention to the overall risk of the portfolio, and even beyond that, your entire financial picture. For example, in the USA we have extra healthcare expense risk that is outside our portfolio risk, but is part of our entire financial picture. Building your portfolio with extra-portfolio risks in mind is wise. Don’t get fooled into thinking about the risks of investments taken individually, even though that is what you will continually be bombarded with.
I think those that find this blog worthwhile will also enjoy the interview so I hope you read the full interview.
One thing for investors consulting historical data to remember is we may have had fundamental changes in stock valuations over the decades (and I suspect they have). Just to over simplify the idea if lets say the market valued the average stock at a PE of 11 and everyone found stocks a wonderful investment. And so more and more people buy stocks and with everyone finding stocks wonderful they keep buying and after awhile the market is valuing the average stock at a PE of 14.
Within the market there is tons of variation those things of course are not nearly that simple, but the idea I think holds. Well if you look back at historical data the returns will include the adjustment of going from a PE of 11 to a PE of 14. Now maybe the new few decades would adjust from PE of 14 to PE of 17 but maybe not. At some point that fundamental re-adjustment will stop.
And therefore future returns would be expected to be lower than historically due to this one factor. Now maybe other factors will increase returns to compensate but if not the historical returns may well provide an overly optimistic view.
And if there is a short term bubble that lets say pushes the PR to 16 while the “fair” long term value is 14, then there will be a negative impact on the returns going forward bringing the PE from 16 to 14. That isn’t necessarily a drop (though it could be) in stock prices, it could just be very slow increases as earning growth slowly pushes PE back to 14.
Another thing to consider is another long term macro-economic factor may also be giving long term historical returns an extra boost. The type of economic growth from the end of World War I to 1973 (just to pick a specific time, there was a big economic slowdown after OPEC drastically increased the price of oil). While that period includes the great depression and World War II, which massively distorts figures, from the end of WW I through the 1960s Europe and the USA went through an amazing amount of economic growth.
This richest 1% continue to take advantage of economic conditions to amass more and more wealth at an astonishing rate. These conditions are perpetuated significantly by corrupt politicians that have been paid lots of cash by the rich to carry out their wishes.
One thing people in rich countries forget is how many of them are in the 1% globally. The 1% isn’t just Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. 1% of the world’s population is about 72 million people (about 47 million adults). Owning $1 million in assets puts you in the top .7% of wealthy adults (Global Wealth Report 2013’ by Credit Suisse). That report has a cutoff of US $798,000 to make the global 1%. They sensibly only count adults in the population so wealth of $798,000 puts you in the top 1% for all adults.
$100,000 puts you in the top 9% of wealthiest people on earth. Even $10,000 in net wealth puts you in the top 30% of wealthiest people. So while you think about how unfair it is that the system is rigged to support the top .01% of wealthy people also remember it is rigged to support more than 50% of the people reading this blog (the global 1%).
I do agree we should move away from electing corrupt politicians (which is the vast majority of them in DC today) and allowing them to continue perverting the economic system to favor those giving them lots of cash. Those perversions go far beyond the most obnoxious favoring of too-big-to-fail banking executives and in many ways extend to policies the USA forces on vassal states (UK, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Japan…) (such as those favoring the copyright cartel, etc.).
Those actions to favor the very richest by the USA government (including significantly in the foreign policy – largely economic policy – those large donor demand for their cash) benefit the global 1% that are located in the USA. This corruption sadly overlays some very good economic foundations in the USA that allowed it to build on the advantages after World War II and become the economic power it is. The corrupt political system aids the richest but also damages the USA economy. Likely it damages other economies more and so even this ends up benefiting the 38% of the global .7% that live in the USA. But we would be better off if the corrupt political practices could be reduced and the economy could power economic gains to the entire economy not siphon off so many of those benefits to those coopting the political process.
The USA is home to 38% of top .7% globally (over $1,000,000 in net assets).
|country||% of top .7% richest||% of global population|
|other interesting countries|
Oxfam published a report on these problems that has some very good information: Political capture and economic inequality
The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College is a tremendous resource for those planning for, or in, retirement. The center created the National Retirement Risk Index (NRRI) to capture a macroeconomic level measure of how those in the USA are progressing toward retirement.
Based on the Federal Reserve’s 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances the Center updated the NRRI results (the entire article is a very good read).
The lower the risk number in the chart the better, so things have not been going well since the 1990s for those in the USA saving for retirement.
As the report discusses their are significant issues with retirement planning that defy easy prediction; this makes things even more challenging for those saving for retirement. The report discusses the difficulty placed on retirees by the Fed’s extremely low interest rate policy (a policy that provides billions each year to too-big-too-fail banks – hardly the reward that should be provided for bringing the world to economic calamity but never-the-less that transfer of wealth from retirees to too-big-to-fail banks is the policy the Fed has chosen).
That exacerbates the problems of too little savings during the working career for those in the USA. The continued evidence is that those in the USA continue to spend too much today and save too little. Also you have to expect the Fed and politicians will continue to make policy that favors their friends at too-big-fail banks and hedge funds and the like. You can’t expect them to behave differently than they have been the last 50 years. That means the likely actions by the government to take from median income people to aid the richest 1% (such as bailing out the bankers with super low interest rate policies and continue to subsidize losses and privatize their winning bets) will continue. You need to have extra savings to support those policies. Of course we could change to do things differently but there is no realistic evidence of any move to do so. Retirement planning needs to be based on evidence, not hopes about how things should be.
Related: How Much of Current Income to Save for Retirement – Save What You Can, Increase Savings as You Can Do So – Don’t Expect to Spend Over 4% of Your Retirement Investment Assets Annually – Retirement Planning: Looking at Assets (2012) – How Much Will I Need to Save for Retirement? (2009)
The 11 stocks for 10 years portfolio continues to do very well. It consists of stocks I would be comfortable putting away for 10 years. I look for companies with a history of large positive cash flow, that seemed likely to continue that trend.
In fact it is doing so well I am a bit worried about the valuation of some of the stocks. Or, in the case of Apple, I was heavily weighted in it and it has risen so much that, combining those two factors, it is now 20% of the portfolio. That seems excessive, so while I still like Apple – at these prices, I will sell a bit of that position.
Since April of 2005 the portfolio Marketocracy calculated annualized rate or return is 8.75% (the S&P 500 annualized return for the period is 8.55%). Marketocracy subtracts the equivalent of 2% of assets annually to simulate management fees – as though the portfolio were a mutual fund. Without that fee the return beats the S&P 500 annual return by about 220 basis points annually (10.75% to 7.55%). I also often have a bit held in cash, 5% now, for example which lowers the return.
Since the last update I have added to the Abbvie position (part of the former Abbot which was split into two companies in 2013) and sold off Tesco. I will sell TDF from the fund (I include it in the table below, since I haven’t sold it all yet, I am waiting to get a bit better price).
The current stocks, in order of return:
|Stock||Current Return||% of sleep well portfolio now||% of the portfolio if I were buying today|
|Amazon – AMZN||556%||8%||8%|
|Google – GOOG||*||18%||15%|
|Apple – AAPL||131%||20%||16%|
|Danaher – DHR||126%||9%||9%|
|Templeton Dragon Fund – TDF||120%||2%||0%|
|PetroChina – PTR||88%||4%||4%|
|Intel – INTC||78%||8%||8%|
|Toyota – TM||65%||8%||12%|
|Abbvie – ABBV||43%||5%||7%|
|Cisco – CSCO||31%||4%||4%|
|Templeton Emerging Market Fund – EMF||29%***||5%||7%|
|Pfizer – PFE||25%||5%||5%|
The current marketocracy results can be seen on the Sleep Well marketocracy portfolio page.
I make some adjustments to the stock holdings over time (selling of buying a bit of the stocks depending on large price movements – this rebalances and also lets me sell a bit if I think things are getting highly priced. So I have sold some Amazon and Google as they have increased greatly. These purchases and sales are fairly small (resulting in a annual turnover rate under 2%).
I have been giving loans through Kiva for many years now. I enjoy the opportunity to help out entrepreneurs around the world. And the web site is well done to give you a psychological boost – photos of the entrepreneurs, stories on what they will do, etc..
I often have difficulty finding real entrepreneurs (many of the loans are for things like education, fixing up their house, buying motorcycle/car, etc. that may well be very important but are not really related to entrepreneurship in most cases). That is fine, in this session I had 3 loans to entrepreneurs and 2 loans for solar energy solutions for people’s homes. Improved energy, cooking or water access are some things I am happy to lend to that are not entrepreneur related. Though usually the water loans are – to an entrepreneur that will sell clean water to a neighborhood and sometimes the solar energy ones are, though not in this case.
Kelly in Medellin, Columbia is starting a shoe business.
The write-ups on Kiva are often fairly well done; targeting those interested in making loans. Kelly’s:
She works as a saleswoman in different shoe stores in the municipality of Medellin.
She wants to start her own business making and selling shoes of all styles. She wants to start this activity because she has the desire to generate the resources she needs to support herself and her education, in addition to helping with expenses at home.
She is a young, very disciplined entrepreneur. She is requesting a loan to buy a wide range of materials such as leather, soles, adhesives, and fabrics. With these elements, she can start this business and improve her quality of life.
I often screen the data on delinquencies and defaults for the partner bank in making loan decisions. It isn’t because I am worried about losing my loan (I just re-lend what I get paid back). But if I lend to organizations that are having more failures I increase their supply of money to make loans which don’t seem to be working out for borrowers as well as another lender). I want my money going to help people, not get people into a mess.
The 10 publicly traded companies with the largest market capitalizations.
|2||Exxon Mobil||USA||$405 billion|
|5||Berkshire Hathaway||USA||$337 billion|
|6||Johnson & Johnson||USA||$295 billion|
|7||Wells Fargo||USA||$270 billion|
Alibaba makes the top ten, just weeks after becoming a publicly traded company. The next ten most valuable companies:
|11||China Mobile||China||$240 billion*|
|12||Hoffmann-La Roche||Switzerland||$236 billion|
|13||Procter & Gamble||USA||$234 billion|
|14||Petro China||China||$228 billion|
|15||ICBC (bank)||China||$228 billion**|
|16||Royal Dutch Shell||Netherlands||$227 billion|
|19||JPMorgan Chase||USA||$224 billion|
Petro China reached to top spot in 2010. I think NTT (Japan) also made the top spot (in 1999); NTT’s current market cap is $66 billion.
Market capitalization shown are of the close of business today, as shown on Yahoo Finance.
According to this March 2014 report the USA is home to 47 of the top 100 companies by market capitalization. From 2009 to 2014 that total has ranged from 37 to 47.
The range (during 2009 to 2014) of top 100 companies by country: China and Hong Kong (8 to 11), UK (8 to 11), Germany (2 to 6), France (4 to 7), Japan (2 to 6), Switzerland (3 to 5).
Related: Stock Market Capitalization by Country from 1990 to 2010 – Global Stock Market Capitalization from 2000 to 2012 – Investing in Stocks That Have Raised Dividends Consistently – The Economy is Weak and Prospects May be Grim, But Many Companies Have Rosy Prospects (2011)
A few other companies of interest:
Facebook, USA, current market cap is $210 billion.
Pfizer, USA, $184 billion.
Toyota, Japan, $182 billion.
While people question the value of a college degree a recent study by the New York Federal Reserve shows a degree is close to as valuable today as it has ever been. The costs to get that value have risen but even with the increased cost students earn on average a 15% annual rate of return on their investment.
Of course, not every student will earn that, some will earn more and some less.
The time required to recoup the costs of a bachelor’s degree has fallen substantially over time, from more than twenty years in the late 1970s and early 1980s to about ten years in 2013. So despite the challenges facing today’s college graduates, the value of a college degree has remained near its all-time high, while the time required to recoup the costs of the degree has remained near its all-time low.
So a college education is a great investment for most people. This can create a problem however, when people then assume that all they need to do is go to college and they will do well no matter what. The same thing happens in other markets. Real estate has proven to be a great investment. that doesn’t mean every real estate investment is good. It doesn’t mean you can ignore the costs and risks of a particular investment. The same goes for stocks.
This is potentially a real risk to Google. The odds of such a huge success it decreases Google’s profits are tiny (I think). But there is a real risk that the increase in Google’s profits going forward are materially affected by a well done competitor to Adsense.
Adwords is Google’s platform for buying ads. Those ads are then displayed on Google’s websites and on millions of other websites. Other websites can host ads via the Adsense program. It seems to me what is really at risk is better seen as Adsense business. The business on Google’s own websites is not at risk (Google’s profit from its sites are double I think all the other sites [via Adsense] combined).
If Amazon took away 10% of what Google’s Adsense business 4 years would have been that is likely material to Google’s earning. Not huge but real.
Even losing the ads on Amazon’s web site is likely noticeable (though not a huge deal, for Google, for many companies it would be significant, I would guess).
There is even the potential Google has to reduce their profitability, on Adsense, to compete – giving web sites a better cut of revenue.