Home > Archive: January, 2007

Archive for January, 2007

Is it Time to try Timing the market?

January 31st, 2007 at 11:43 am

Although my preferred strategy is a "high-growth/high-risk, buy-and-hold, stick to your asset allocation" one, there comes a time when the market starts to look a bit too high to any dispationate observer. The pundits are still saying that the Australian stock market isn't cheap but isn't too expensive either, based on historic p/e ratios and company profitability outlook. Then again, they're saying that after three consecutive years of total returns of 20%+ the best they expect this year is around 10%, so the upside seems limited, while the downside risk has obviously increased from what it was four years ago. Looking at the chart for the All Ordinaries Accumulation Index since 1980 the current market rise looks a lot like 1987 - and we all know how that ended up!

Anyhow, the Superannuation (retirement) account for my son was invested with the following asset allocation:
80% Geared Australian Share Fund
20% International Shares Fund
This allocation has performed very well since I opened his account four years ago, with returns of:
FY 04/05 25.3%
FY 05/06 42.0%
I figure that having gotten off to such a good start DS1 can now afford to move to a more conservative, high-growth asset mix (even though at age 6 he has another half century before he reaches retirement age), so today I sent in the paperwork to change his investment mix to:
30% Australian Share Fund
10% Australian Small Co Share Fund
20% International Shares Fund
20% Property Securities Fund
20% Australian Bonds Fund
This is still a high-growth, high-risk allocation (with 60% in stocks) so it should provide a good rate of return over the next 50 years, but at lower volatility than the previous asset mix. If there's ever a significant (30%-50%) correction in the Australian Stock Market I'll think about moving some funds back into the geared Australian Share Fund again. I think this weak form of market timing is called "dynamic allocation" - but it's still just a guess no matter what you call it.
* * * *
The current market also has me a bit nervous about my Australian Share Portfolio. I have two margin lending accounts holding $540K of Australian Shares, with a loan balance of $263K, so a severe market correction would have a big impact on my Net Worth! I'm toying with the idea of buying some PUT options on the ASX200 Index as insurance against a major market correction occurring between now and the options expiry date (21 June 2007). For $12K I could buy enough Options to offset any losses where the market drops below 5500 (it's currently at about 5750). The simpler option (excuse the pun) would be to just sell off enough of my portfolio to pay off the margin loan balances - but the interest has been pre-paid until 30 June 2007, so I'd be throwing five months of interest payments down the drain if I paid off the loans now. I also have reasons for not wanting the realise a capital gain prior to 30 June.

Commonwealth Diversified Share Fund

January 31st, 2007 at 11:39 am

I received a couple of dividend statements today for my investments in the Commonwealth Diversified Share Fund [ASX code: CDF] - a sort of ETF that aims to replicate the S&P/ASX200 Accumulation Index. I was interested to see how the Annualised Net Return (change in net asset value per unit after fees, taxes and expenses, assuming all distributions are reinvested) compared to the ASX200 Accumulation Index:

1 Year 3 Year 5 Year
Net Return 23.27% 24.31% 14.78%
S&P/ASX200 24.22% 25.00% 15.35%
Difference 0.95% 0.69% 0.57%

This shows that the effective "fee" for using this "Index" fund is around 0.57% - 0.95% (it varies as in some years they outperform or underperform the index by a slight amount - aka. "tracking error").

This compares favourably to investing in, say, Vanguard Australia's "High Yield Australian Shares" Index Fund, which invests in the S&P/ASX200 stocks (excluding LPTs) which has a management fee of 0.90% for the first $50,000 invested (0.60% for the next $50,000 and then 0.45% for the balance of your investment in this fund over $100,000).

The buy-sell spread of 0.30% for the Vanguard Fund is slightly higher than you'd pay in brokerage costs for buying a parcel of over $10,000 of CDF stock.

The only substantial difference between these two methods of investing in the ASX200 index that I can spot is that the CDF shares occasionally trade at a small discount to the ASX200 index (XJO), so you could save yourself the buy-sell spread and a couple of year's worth of management fees by timing your purchase carefully:

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January 31st, 2007 at 11:37 am

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What to do when you save too much

January 31st, 2007 at 11:36 am

The NY times has an article covering the contrarian view of some academics that Americans are saving too much for their retirement, and risk squandering their youth rather than their money. The theory being that a middle-income couple could trade off $400,000 less in retirement money for an extra $3,000 a year disposble income during prime working years to spend on education or home improvement.

On the other hand, I've seen advice that if you are "on track" to meet your retirement or investment target you should adjust your asset allocation to attain the amount of return required for the least possible risk.

I don't find either of these options terribly attractive - just because my retirement fund is on track to meet my retirement income needs doesn't mean that I want to start spending more or wish to adjust my asset allocations to a mix with lower "risk" and a lower expected rate of return. I'm happy with my current budget, so I intend to add any future pay rises (that exceed increases in my cost of living) to my savings plan. Similarly I'm quite content with the current risk level of my investment portfolio, so it is likely to achieve a higher rate of return than I really require to achieve a comfortable retirement. Even if I adjusted the risk level of my retirement account investments down in order to "guarantee" that I'd have enough money in retirement, I'd still aim for the same overall level of risk in my entire investment portfolio that I'm comfortable with, so I'd likely accept an increased level of risk with my non-retirement investments as my retirement account got load up with "safe" assets.

So, my preferred option for when you find yourself ahead of target for your investment goals is just to keep on accumulating "excess" wealth. You can always leave it to charity in your will if you're so inclined, or else leave a larger estate to your heirs.

Plus there's always the risk that advances in medical technology might mean that you live a lot longer than you currently expect. Or else the world could go to "hell in a handbasket" due to global warming, WMD terrorism, etc. etc. and you could find yourself "retired" earlier than you expect, or else needing a lot more income in your retirement than seems likely assuming "status quo".

Medical Expenses

January 31st, 2007 at 11:35 am

I took a day of work last week to have a medical test done - a couple of hours of "day surgery" was involved. The bill for the procedure was around $500 for the specialist, with the medicare "scheduled fee" being $295.40 for this procedure. This would mean that without insurance I would have had to pay around 15% of the scheduled fee plus the difference between the scheduled fee and the actual amount invoiced. ie. around $250 plus an extra amount for the anaesthetist.

As it turned out my basic hospital insurance policy covered the entire amount, so it ended up costing nothing for this procedure (the test result also came back "normal" which was also a *good thing* Wink. And how much does the insurance cost me? Well, the monthly fee charged to my CC is $148.40 (the amount is reduced by a federal government subsidy for private medical insurance) or $1780.80 pa for my family policy. However, the actual "out of pocket" cost is less than this as there is a medicare levy surcharge of an extra 1% of taxable income if an individual's taxable income is over $50K ($100K for a family). This tax year we wouldn't be liable for the surcharge as DW is on maternity leave an will have little taxable income, so our family income will be below the threshold. However, in most years our family income is high enough to be liable for the surcharge if we didn't have basic hospital cover, meaning that we'd be paying an extra $1250 in tax. So, the "real" cost of having the policy is only around $530 pa ($10 a week). Well worthwhile, especially if any of us ever need elective surgery in a private hospital, such as a hip replacement. (The waiting lists for elective surgery in public hospitals are very high to constrain costs, to private hospital insurance can be essential).

Domain Name and Template changes

January 31st, 2007 at 11:34 am

I've bitten the bullet and setup blogger to use my custom domain name "" - hopefully my blog will be accessible via this URL as well as still working using the old ! I'll keep copying my posts to as a backup site - it seems to have attracted higher readership than the version for some reason, although it has some limitations with what you can do to the blog template over there.

I've also taken the opportunity to change to a new, cleaner template for Let me know what you think. Over the next couple of days I'll be adding in bits and pieces of html code from the old template, to reinsert the NetWorthIQ graph, link list, adsense etc. Hopefully I'll be able to put this all into the side bar without stuffing up the rest of the template (like last time).

Aside from the usual annual domain name rego fee for "" (US$14.95 with Dotster) I now have to pay an extra US$10 pa to get Dotster to provide "DNS management" so I could set the CNAME to the required value for automatic redirection to my blogger-hosted blog.

Hopefully using the custom domain will get better exposure than using a subdomain of - and help build readership over time.

Technorati claim - ignore

January 27th, 2007 at 03:13 pm

Technorati Profile

Confusing Wealth with Lifestyle

January 23rd, 2007 at 11:58 am

An article on reports that in UCLA's annual survey of college freshman 75% of those surveyed in 2006 thought it was essential or very important to be "very well-off financially.", compared with 62.5 percent who said the same in 1980 and only 42 percent in 1966. What I found most disturbing was that "wealth" was apparently seen as synonymous with the "trappings" of wealth. No wonder these people will leave college with student debt and immediately pile on more debt trying to acquire the "lifestyle of the rich and famous" before they actually have any net worth, let alone become wealthy.

Silly Spend Day

January 23rd, 2007 at 11:57 am

Yesterday DW wanted to drive to the Aldi Supermarket to buy a couple of pakcets of their "cheap but good" nappies for DS2. A good idea in theory, although the petrol and wear on the car makes it doubtful how much we actually "save" by going out of our way to buy these. In practice, a total disaster (from the fiscal point of view).

While there I saw an "Digital Notepad" on sale - basically a clipboard with a 1000 lpi electronic pen/sensor built in so you can write up to 88 pages of notes and then download the images to my PC via USB. Basically I could already do that by simply scanning pages of notes using my flat-bed scanner! Anyhow, it looked cool, and I fancy the idea of wandering around the office taking notes on this high tech toy - so I forked out $140 for one (reduced from $160). Silly, silly, silly me.

Kicking around some investment scenarios

January 23rd, 2007 at 11:56 am

I've been doing some research on Self-Managed Superannuation (Retirement) Funds with a view to setting one up for myself, DW, DS1 and DS2 (luckily the maximum number of members in a SMSF is a perfect fit to my "nuclear" family).

The potential benefits of a SMSF compared to my company-selected superannuation fund are:
* can invest in any "suitable" investment (eg. direct shares, index funds) rather than picking from the list of 20 or so managed funds available via my current Super Account.
* saving money on fees - although our employer has arranged for a "rebate" of part of the standard admin fee charged by the Super Fund (so it ends up being around 0.4% instead of 0.95%, plus the managed fund management fees of around 1-1.5%), this is still higher than the $500 pa "flat fee" available from for a SMSF (eg. on my current Super Account balance of $315K this equates to an admin fee of 0.16% pa)

There are some possible drawbacks though:
* I currently have life insurance via my Super Fund. If I changed funds I'd have to apply for cover again, and, for the amount of cover I currently have ($400K) I'd probably have to pass a medical exam
* As a member of a SMSF I'd have to be a trustee and be responsible for setting an investment policy and abiding by the rules regarding running a SMSF, otherwise the SMSF can lose it's tax-advantaged status. This shouldn't be too onerous though, as I previously acted as an employee-appointed Superannuation Fund trustee at my previous job.

The other thing I have to consider is shifting some of my assets that are currently held outside of Superannuation (ie. my geared investments in Australian shares) into a Superannuation account to save tax. Basically an undeducted contribution of up to $1M can be made before Sep 2007 (due to recent changes in the Superannuation rules) and there won't be any contribution tax. Once held by a Superannuation Fund, the assets income is only taxed at 15% (rather than my personal marginal tax rate of around 30%+) and capital gains are taxed at 10% (rather than half my personal marginal tax rate). Also, once I reach retirement age (65) all withdrawals from the Superannuation account are not taxable under the new rules.

The disadvantages of putting these assets into a SMSF are:
* Can't "borrow" for a Superannuation investment, so gearing is out. However, this isn't a big issue as I'm thinking of eliminating my gearing this year anyhow as the stock market has had a good run for 3 years and will eventually have a "correction" of 10%-30%, not a good time to be geared up. Also, Superannuation Funds can invest in "warrants" which give you similar effects as margin loans, but without the risk of margin calls (but the effective "interest rate" built into warrants is higher).
* You can't "roll" existing stock investments into a Superannuation account without triggering a CGT "event" - so I'd have to pay Capital Gains Tax on the currently unrealised gains in my stock portfolio. If I was just selling off enough of my stocks to pay off my margin loans I could probably offset a large part of the realised gains by selling off all the "losers" in my portfolio.
* I'll have to get all my CGT records up to date in Quicken so I can work out how much capital gains tax I'd be liable for (I have old records up to 1998 in my old Quicken backups, but need to trawl though the past 8 years of transactions to get my CGT records up to date! It's amazing how little time I've had "spare" to do my financial records in Quicken since I got married and started a family!). I wouldn't want to do the transfer till after the end of the Australian tax year (30 June) as DW is on maternity leave this FY and may get some family assistance money if our combined income is not too high this FY. So the "window of opportunity" to make a large (up to $1M) undeducted contribution into Super for me is between 1 Jul and Sep this year. After Sep the max undeducted contribution each FY is going to be $50K, so it would then take 6 years to shift my current Australia Share investment into Super.
* Once assets are in a Super Fund they can't be "released" until retirement (except in exceptional circumstances). Thus, I'll be keeping some other assets outside of Super to act as my "Emergency Fund".

I'm also looking into which offers a managed direct share service, which can be done within a SMSF. I like the fact that they run individual stock holdings for each account, so you avoid some of the unintended tax effects that can arise when investing in managed funds. But their admin/management fee is quite high (around 2%) and you have to pay a $1000 setup fee when open an account with them. The setup fee covers recording all your CGT history if you transfer existing stock holdings to them, so it would be reasonable if I transferred my existing stocks without triggering a CGT event. But if I transfer my shares into a SMSF CGT will have been paid on the date of transfer, so there's no CGT history data required - so the $1000 setup fee seems a bit high in that case. Looking at DirectPortfolios results for their various "mandates" they have achieved around 2.3% above the ASX200 accumulation index for this period, which means they "outperform" by slightly (0.35%) more than the fees are costing. But, they don't provide data on the "beta" of their "mandates" so it's hard to tell if their risk-adjusted return actually outperforms enough to offset the management fee. So, if I decide to move my stock assets into a SMSF I'll probably just sell them off and deposit cash into the SMSF, then use it to buy a Vanguard Index Fund (perhaps their "High Growth" Fund).

Lots to research and think about in the next 5-6 months!

My use of home equity for investing

January 23rd, 2007 at 11:55 am

As previously discussed, we bought an investment property in 1999, just when the "boom" in Sydney real estate took off. The property cost just over $400K, and we took out a standard 25-year variable rate mortgage. The property appreciated significantly until 2003, and is now valued over $700K, so we have significant equity in that property. As loan interest on your own home loan isn't tax deductible in Australia (but you don't pay any CGT when you sell it either), but loan interest on investment loans is, we recently converted the loan to a fixed rate 5-year mortgage, so we could maximise payments off our home loan instead. At the same time I also arranged to make use of the available equity via a Home Equity Loan and I'm investing the funds over a period of 18 months a portfolio of US stocks, selected from candidate companies listed on the magic formula investing website. This strategy allows you to put your home equity to work as an investment, but, of course, is fairly high risk so is not suitable for all investors. It will pay off handsomely though if my US stock portfolio performs as well as the long-term average for the S&P-500 and interest rates on my home equity loan average out less than this rate of return. As a bonus, the dividends from the US stocks are fairly low compared to the interest on the home equity loan, and the difference can be claimed as a deduction on my personal tax return. As long-term capital gains in Australia are taxed at half your normal marginal tax rate, this means that I am basically able to reduce the tax paid at marginal rates (up to 48%) on my wage income, and will instead pay CGT at half the marginal rates (ie. up to 24%), assuming I eventually sell the stocks at a profit.