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Investing

A Review Of Current Risks Part 3

In my last review of current risks, I identified a number of risks and hypothesized that inflation would tick along until attitudes towards COVID change. I think that attitudes to COVID are changing, albeit at different rates around the world, which infers that workforce efficiency could improve.

Although notably, China is maintaining it’s Zero Covid policy, which means that workforce efficiency will remain low for trades relating to China.

Addendum

Another contributing factor to this will be higher global OCR rates that will increase people’s dependence on their employment. Coupled with the fact that rates have been increased at such a fast rate that it’ll be difficult to see the effect of the volume of change, it’s entirely possible that the rate changes alone will push the world into recession early-mid 2023. All these factors will likely kill off the high demand for labour and quash wage inflation.

We also have Putin who will likely be becoming more desperate as despots who lose wars usually lose their power (excuse the pun). I feel that he will be unlikely to use nuclear weapons because everyone fairly unanimously views using nukes as bad for people who choose to live on Earth. While this won’t deter Putin personally, even his allies would struggle to defend his actions, which would give NATO the freedom to turn the full power of their technologically superior arsenal directly on Russia to set them back to the stone age and remove any possibility of future threat.

In summary, I predict that 2023 is lining up for:

  • Recession.
  • Wage deflation.
  • Continued high inflation for energy due to a continued stalemate between Russia and civilized society.
  • Medium-to-low* Medium-to-high inflation for necessary goods that depend on energy / logistics (food), though these will feel expensive because of the wage deflation.
  • Low* Medium inflation for luxury goods due to increased costs because of energy/logistics, but tempered by the lack of demand from the recession.
  • There are many countries with unconventional economic policies from unconventional leaders, such as England, Turkey, etc. Who have lead their country into a dire economic situation. I don’t know how this will affect the balance of global trade when it settles, but there could be some industries that are no longer viable in particular countries and other industries that are new to those countries due to currency values changing – this will lead to inefficiency, paucity and lower wages.
  • Property will likely continue to fall as recession hits demand, OCR reduces affordability and population growth remains lackluster.

* Revisions made due to the above addendum relating to China’s Covid issues.

It’s hard to know where best to put the money to preserve it in line with inflation, never mind investing for growth. That said, my personal financial strategy remains to cover my risk of exposure to debt by reducing liquid holdings and claw back what I can of my illiquid holdings.

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Investing

A Review Of Current Risks Part 2

I’m still trying to get my head around what’s going on in the world and more importantly where things are going, so I can act accordingly with my investment strategy. I wrote up an article a couple of months ago outlining the current risks as I saw them, but I think it’s time to review that and think about which risks are important to my strategy.

I think the current risks remain, which can be broadly categorized as inflation (resulting in recession) & wealth destruction. Ultimately I’m looking to mitigate the risk of being unable to repay my hefty mortgage due to increases in OCR / mortgage rates, while keeping my investments if possible. Let’s look at the cause of each and whether things are going to change.

Wealth Destruction

This is being caused by the falling stock market and falling house prices. The fall in the stock market is caused by fear of inflation. The cause of the house price fall is possibly due to government policy enabling people to build more property and (more significantly) restricting banks from lending.

Inflation

Causes of inflation are mainly around COVID and war, but may also be affected a little bit by the “wealth effect” from being at the end of an investment boom in property and shares (less significant). The concern is that inflation will increase costs and decrease consumer demand, which will decrease profits and maybe cause a recession.

Things affecting inflation are numerous:

  • Oil and food price increases from the lack of supply due to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. This will likely persist for years.
  • Deflation of the value of cash resulting from money printing during COVID lock-down. It seems unlikely that this will be wound back.
  • Shipping cost increases, possibly caused by increased oil costs and labour supply issues.
  • Wage inflation due to lack of supply of labour. I’ve not understood this one until recently when chatting with a friend, who hypothesized that it’s not that companies are demanding more labour because of demand on their company; rather, employee output has decreased, so employers need to hire more people to do the same jobs that they had before. My friend believes that employee output has decreased because of COVID measures and attitudes. I.e. If an employee is sick, all healthy contacts may not be able to go to work (you can lose a whole department to that). Additionally attitudes towards taking sick days have changed: Managers are happy to allow days off without question and employees are willing to take a day of due to the slightest suggestion of a sniffle. I believe this is likely to continue until job scarcity causes employees to value their jobs more, which may happen if there’s a recession.

Wage inflation is an interesting one, because while it’s a bad thing for business costs, it seems to be the only thing keeping people spending (holding up the economy) during this time of increased costs and financial risk from increases to the OCR.

How Can Inflation Be Stopped?

Conventionally, inflation is stopped with monetary policy; specifically increasing the OCR. However, as long as people’s salaries keep going up, they’ll keep spending more because interest rates will be less of a factor for them. Therefore OCR increases cannot solve this problem without causing a recession.

The only other way I can see wage inflation stopping is if people’s attitudes towards COVID measures change and productivity increases. The idea that we all need to work more to reduce our salary is ironic. I feel that this is an unlikely scenario.

Predictions And Actions

Clearly it all boils down to how central banks across the world handle the inflation. It seems as though the options are:

  • Continued inflation and the economy ticks along until COVID attitudes and measures relax. Possible hyper inflation (my feeling is that hyperinflation is unlikely).
  • Recession caused by high OCR (mortgage cost increases)

My focus will be to keep an eye on the rate of increase of OCR vs the rate of wage inflation, which will be used to help decide whether or not exit my more liquid investments. In terms of my income, I will try to be the best, most valuable employee I can be (so I keep up with the wage inflation) in a company that looks like it will be robust through a recession (so I can keep my job). I will continue to try to exit my largest private equity position so I can clear all my debt and become financially independent. I will try to reduce my debt by paying more of my salary into my mortgage and become slightly more frugal if things look like they’re taking a turn for the worst. I may consider selling more liquid shares to reduce my debt risk, as information presents itself.

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Investing

A Review Of Current Risks

I had hoped to hold onto my NZX and ASX listed stocks for years to come and ride out any dips in the markets, with the view that my stocks were of such quality and a good balance that I could just get a nice dividend return to cover my retirement.

Also, the planned exit from one of my private equity holdings would be significant enough to cover any losses and secure my position. However as inflation unfolds around the world, with some countries experiencing hyper inflation and comments from the BoE saying that they’re not going to shy away from generating a recession to curb inflation, I had a moment of panic yesterday and sold some stocks. Specifically my panic was that as my private equity exit isn’t happening as early as planned (and I might end up holding for more years to come), if the RBNZ were to put rates up this could mean that I am unable to service my mortgage in future and my stocks could become so undervalued that I would be bankrupt with a negative equity situation on my home.

As I’m feeling a bit calmer today, I decided to reconsider things with a goal of holding on to as many of my stocks as possible, particularly the more resilient ones, while diminishing the possibility of bankruptcy from my future.

The first thing to consider is a summary of what’s currently going on that might affect me, so I made a list:

  • Inflation for all goods due to monetary policy and COVID related supply issues
  • Inflation of food and fuel throughout the world due to war related supply issues
  • Inflation of wages in NZ due to lack of labour supply
  • Wealth destruction from NZ housing policy
  • Wealth destruction from falling share market due to all of the above
  • … and it’s going to be a contentious one, but I’m going to add an incompetent NZ government to this list, too.

Looking at how this might play out, it seems that COVID is here to stay for a few more years; and while the war in the Ukraine is a bit of a wild card, from my research into Russia’s military losses vs stock, when considering the time it takes to resupply their losses, it seems that Russia can keep up their invasion indefinitely if they choose to do so. This means that consumer price inflation is likely to stay for a while – certainly at least as long as the war and sanctions persist.

From what I can see (with the limited research I’ve done), the media’s reporting of house price falls lags significantly (about a month). The superior data that I’m fortunate enough to have access to suggests that things might be a lot worse than reported, with houses similar to mine having fallen by 23% where I live (based on a limited dataset – I should probably do more research on the other data). What’s worrying about this, is that it’s likely common consensus that the housing market is in a downward trend, which becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, pushing prices down further. The same can be said for losses in the stock market, though this is forward looking in a different way.

Wage inflation is in my opinion, the only thing that’s allaying a recession. Here’s why I say that and why I was panicked yesterday.

Inflation results in high interest rates (aimed to reduce spending) which results in less spending by consumers. This results in less company revenue and then poor company outlook, which results in less company investment. When companies invest less money, they hire fewer people, resulting in less demand for labour and fewer jobs. This results in less money in the hands of the public, which results in less spending by consumers (which loops back to the start, causing a downward economic spiral that is difficult to manage. Even if this is managed well by our current government (I say government rather than RBNZ because there are problems in supply that cannot be fixed by monetary policy alone), this difficult challenge will have to be handled well by more than most governments of the world to avoid global contagion of financial issues.

To compound the problem, the above also results in lower house prices, due to less buyer capacity. Lower house prices are a particular problem for NZ because a lot of wealth is held in houses. The loss of the wealth effect from people having value in their houses looks like this:

House prices go down, which means that people have less borrowing power (think: LVR). This results in less spending which is the cause for the downward economic spiral I mentioned in the former paragraph.

As I mentioned before, wage inflation is the only thing that can allay a recession because it enables people to keep spending, and gives them enough money to pay more for goods and services, which means that companies can pass on their costs, keep their profits up and therefore keep investing, which means more people hired… etc. In other words, it breaks the downward spiral.

Because of this, I am keeping a sharp eye on retail stats which I believe are a bellwether for wage inflation. Unfortunately, even though I have things like Paymark stats that can give indicators, I can’t tell if costs are being fully passed on to consumers until retail stocks publish their NPAT figures. I believe that a fall in consumer spend reported by Paymark is an early recession indicator, but a flatline or below CPI increase is an indicator of a possible recession.

In terms of my strategy (without discussing the specifics), I will:

  • Assume my exit from the private equity will not eventuate
  • Assume that my 6 figure shareholder loan will be paid back at the start of next year
  • Use that money and other money from yesterday’s fire sale to reduce my mortgage as terms allow
  • Consider locking in a multi year term for my mortgages that come off fixed rates
  • Continue to hold onto my high quality stocks for the long term – which includes a retail stock that will likely struggle, but has a history of always paying a dividend
  • Not bother selling the remaining handful of lower quality stocks whose value is sufficiently low that it’s wouldn’t change my financial position to sell anyway (The value of which is about $4,000)

In the event that I lose my job during a particularly bleak recession, I will use the value in my listed stocks, savings and hopefully shareholder loan, to try to outlast the recession.

Risks to my strategy are:

  • I lose my job AND (the shareholder loan defaults OR stocks drop in value by >60% from their current position and I can’t get another job for 6 months)
  • Interest rates go crazy after next year when my largest mortgage expires and I don’t get pay rises. The level of “crazy” depends on what other failures happen in my investments that prevent me from paying down my mortgage.
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Investing

Changing My Investing Strategy – Part I

Past Strategies

I’ve had a number of strategies for investing over the years. Initially I was a property investor who planned to do a FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) type approach to saving in order to buy 5 houses to rent, then give up the aggressive FIRE saving to live a normal life for 30 years until those houses were paid off so I could live off the rent.

The property market changed a few years into my plans, which altered my strategy as each year passed, changing from a strategy to buy and sell to retire, to a buy and leverage to buy stocks, eventually becoming too much of a burdon in the effort to do my tax returns and dealing with bad tenants, causing me to part ways with property and focus solely on stocks.

I then discovered Angel Investing, and have made significant gains investing a number of six-figure sums in a handful of companies in this arena, which has altered my retirement timeframes significantly.

With my retirement timeframe brought forward, I now need to change my investment strategy from investing in growth stocks that will eventually pay dividends in 5-10 years time, to a new strategy that will give me an income and security in my retirement, which will be either next year or the year after – though truthfully I haven’t decided if I want to work for a few more years to get more security, socialize while my friends are at work, or become mega rich (the later is possibly less interesting to me, unless it would facilitate some other interest, such as making a business out of some of my inventions – yes, I’m also an inventor!).

How To Make An Investment Strategy

Having a strategy is something often talked about, but not often explained. People new to investing will always say:

“My strategy is just to make a bunch of money.”

“Buy low, sell high!” – words often proclaimed by the least educated of investors.

“I will invest in shares until I have enough money to buy a house.”

New Investors

Actually to be fair, the last one in the list of quotes there is almost a strategy.

To build an investment strategy, you first need a goal. That goal will most likely be to buy a house or save for retirement, though it could be as simple as buying a car or saving for a holiday. In fact, I would suggest that everyone’s goal should be to save for retirement, and holidays, homes and cars are things that you include in your strategy as interruptions along the way.

Once you have a goal for your strategy, you need to do some financial modelling. This will tell you what you need to do in order to meet your goals.

To do a financial model, first work out how much money you’ll need to attain your goal(s). Then work out how much you can save, how much you’ll need to invest each year, and how much your investments need to grow to attain the goal(s) set out. You’ll need to do several of these models to model what happens if things go right, wrong or somewhere in between. You’ll need a strategy for each scenario (or at least a strategy to deal with the near term issues).

Once you’ve got your models sorted out, you should think about whether they are tolerable. Do they prevent you from having the sort of life you want? If so, perhaps you can make another model that has some compromise? Your compromise should not involve making your financial models rely on your situation becoming more fortuitous than you might realistically expect. Alternatively this might be the nudge you need to put in the effort to get that higher paid job.

Once you have your financial model, you should refine your investment strategy around this. There might be a few investment strategies that fit your models. For example, at for the past few years, my strategy was to save like crazy then put my savings into investments that will grow at a rate that does not require me to save any of my salary – which I then used as a giant leisure budget as compensation for my time spend saving. Of course this was balanced by a backup plan which involved my savings being redirected back to investing if things didn’t go to plan.

You should always have at least one backup plan.

In fact, not only should you have backup plans, but you should have multiple plans that phase in and out of existence as situations change, much like my car keys seem to when I’m looking for them.

My Investing Strategy For 2021

My goal remains the same, which is to retire, but my timeframes have changed significantly. Therefore my new goal is to invest in things that will:

  • Give me dividends within the next 1-2 years, every year. This basically means that I need investments that give me dividends now, which have a history of paying dividends, so I can be sure that they will produce dividends in 1-2 years.
  • Gives me security of income for decades to come. This means that I’ll need access to a pot of money that can get me through bad times, with possibly a Plan C in case that goes awry. This also means that I’ll need my dividend producing stocks to grow the dividend return at a rate higher than inflation to be comfortable, or come up with an alternative strategy such as buying growth stocks that may not pay dividends, but can be sold at a later date to cover the failings of my dividend growth stocks – not my preference. I will also need a significant amount of diversification such that the loss of a few stocks from my portfolio will not make my lifestyle untenable, or have a Plan D that makes my lifestyle less expensive while I save / work for enough money to replenish my position.

As I’ve written a lot today, I think I might write up the rest of my Investing Strategy for 2021 another day. In the next article of this subject I will cover my costs, how I plan to diversify and cover my risks, and my investing strategy for the coming year prior to the preparation for my retirement, which will involved divesting my holdings in companies and investing in dividend paying stocks (unless those companies start to pay reliable dividends backed by a policy in the Company Constitution).