Sold some of The Firm last week, as it was a little of the way off ex-div but still riding high. Earlier this year I had decided everything was too high to invest any real money in my ISA, so a Capital-Gains bed and ISA operation was in order.
Looks like this year may not be such an uneventful one after all, and this Autumn may have opportunities in it, Syria fighting, thankfully in my optionion currently without UK involvement. It’s never good to get into a fight when you can’t picture what success looks like. As for tosspots like Toby Young rabble rousing with “We are all crisp-eating surrender monkeys now” get off you bloody high horse, mate. If you really want to go out and sort douchebags in the world why weren’t you sabre-ratting to get rid of Li’l Kim of North Korea, and Mugabe has some bad history too. Neverland and Lupulco have done a better job that I of deconstructing the shabby nature of Western involvement in Syria 😉
Then I took a few days out to poke around the Cotswolds and see some new stuff. Another one of those freebie holidays that comes with having control of my own time – I get to drive, Mrs Ermine gets to find out mob-grazing cows[ref]I’m scared of cows, so when I hear mob-grazing I think of seeing them over in a field and then like in the films there’s low music gathering speed, as head dip, snort, and then there’s an awful thundering of hooves as the herd charges as one mob and stampedes towards you. Apparently mob grazing isn’t that sort of mob[/ref] and I get to look at some attractive English countryside. I know George Monbiot really hates the English countryside, with some good reasons, but I happen to really love bits of it – indeed one of the things I found on retiring is appreciating the natural beauty[ref]George M would probably say the unnatural beauty[/ref] of the country I live in a lot more 😉
It was a time for enjoying some peace and early Autumn sunshine. I also felt the chill winds of inflation – I went for a gander at a National Trust Roman villa and was somewhat shocked to be charged £8.80 to get in. I certainly wasn’t in the mood to pay the extra charge to giftaid it (what’s that about, isn’t the point of Gift Aid that the taxman lobs in the extra?) which I forestalled by asking for a standard adult ticket. The staff had been trained well because nearly all the other visitors got soaked for the extra giftaid story which was well sold to the punters. I was amazed that so many families thought little of spending £24 – the middle may be squeezed but clearly not that squeezed if they are that easily talked into an extra 10%. It’s one of the things about simple living – I think more about my spending, and whether I am getting value for the transaction. I could easily afford the extra, but I figured the utility I was getting for my £8.80 was already borderline. I can’t really fill in the giftaid ticket with integrity, as a non-taxpayer though I doubt HMRC tests them 😉
I personally had the suspicion the adult ticket was loaded to sponsor the child tickets, since the site was heavily loaded towards child-friendly activities. I was in two minds as to whether to simply park up and observe from the fence with binoculars, as you can get most of the benefit from that, but in the end I stumped up, and it was worth seeing the hypocausts and mosaics up closer.
It’s been over three years since I have done an attraction like this, the last was Stonehenge for £5.70 ISTR. It shows how inflation has really hit things that involve people to provide it – your iPhones and television sets have gone up a little but they’re much better, whereas the falling pound has presumably jacked up the cost of staffing, servicing and maintaining this sort of thing.
The hypocaust also really brings into relief the improvement in standard of living. One and a half thousand years separate us from the Fall of Rome. They could do central heating without fossil fuels, but apparently it needed slaves to shovel wood into the firebox. Presumably they vented the far end to achieve enough draw, or maybe they had slaves to use bellows. You, dear reader, and I, have the same technology but in far more compact form with fossil fuels, gas in my case, and some electricity to run the central heating pump to circulate the heat-carrying medium. Water in the UK, commonly air in the US. While we may moan about the price it really is a remarkable tribute to 1500 years of progress. Even where I electively choose to use the same power source as the Romans did, my usage is far less labour intensive because we have better stove design and far better thermal insulation. And obviously I only have to heat a semi rather than a villa, natch. That’s the trouble with having more house than you need – the cost of domestic servants is so high these days as well as energy 😉 Sometimes it pays to take time out to think and appreciate what we have.Makes me think of the two horses I’d have to run alternately loaded in my basement that I’d need to power the fridge freezer at a shade under 2kWh/day, something I give little thought to. Not having to find the money to pay slaves to service the heating system, not to mention to go out and fell the forests is also a tribute to modernity and fossil fuels 😉 If/when the oil does run out and no alternatives are mustered, feudalism and slavery will be back IMO…
The original topic of this post has somewhat been overtaken by events as I come back to see that the Syrian fight interrupted, exeunt opportunities for buying on the sound of gunfire. For now. Well, what the hell, at least I am only vastly over-exposed to The Firm (it’s now down to a third of of my total shareholdings) as opposed to owning a massive stock of my ex-employer with a piddly three-and-a-half year ISA on the side. For some reason The Firm has been going gangbusters of late – even after transferring some of it into my ISA and letting it go ex-div it’s handsomely up on when it went in, never mind when I purchased the shares as an lowly employee five years ago from pre-tax money via ESIP and post-tax via Sharesave. To be honest something gives me the willies about the current level – it’s a mixture of I’ve no ‘king idea what we are doing up here mate… and the fact that The Firm is doing well but not enough to justify its valuation compared to its peers.
Run towards fire…
One of the sad things about stock market investment seems to be that you need to have enough to be able to tolerate the counter-intuitive aspects of it. It’s all very well to think you can tolerate a 50% fall in networth in the anticipation of riding up the other side, but it’s a different thing to actually do it under fire in a market crash. Buy on the sound of gunfire is attributed to Nathan Rothschild in the 19th century You need to be prepared to buy things that people hate, and indeed buy when people hate it. Obviously all the press is about what’s doing well, since curiously enough in the finance pages good news sells, even though the rest of the paper is about the car crashes and wars. The trouble is the good news isn’t useful in finance, apart from perhaps a guide what not to buy. Odd conundrum that, we could probably do with more cynicism in the finance pages and more good news on the front pages, but that’s what the invisible hand of the market seems to be saying we really want of our journalism. Well, along with sex ‘n slebs and the whole bread and circuses thing.
I am trying to avoid selling, though I make an exception for The Firm purely to get my portfolio less one-sided – it’ll take me ten years of buying to get to balance the shareholdings I left The Firm with. I was lucky enough to be able to buy into Sharesave during its annus horribilis, and you just don’t say no to that sort of one-way bet[ref]Sharesave is an “share option with benefits” – you buy options at the outset but unlike the commitment of real CFD options at the end you can back out and say “no thanks let’s call this whole thing off, I’ll have my money back” if the share price has gone down. If it’s available at your workplace- just do it![/ref].
So it’s what to buy – at the moment there are three areas that the world seems to hate: Europe, emerging markets, and it sort of hates gold. So naturally an ermine has been buying Europe and I’m toying with a move into emerging markets. There’s something to be said for the barbarous relic too, but I’ll leave that to those more clever than I am. The case for index trackers is slowly being firmed up for me, but I am an inveterate active investor, if I’m going to be passive I’m going to be actively passive, and that means buying passive funds in areas I don’t have expertise in and in areas the world hates.
And then sitting on them. Unfortunately moving away from HYP shares will lower my yield – which is why I will still also add to the HYP shares I started off with, because the 5% yield is good. I’ve nearly reached the point where I have enough yield to top up my future pension to what I want it to be, so I want to do something else with the excess – start building capital. One of the advantages of living simply is I get to see what enough looks like. The rest is towards building a bulwark against the depredations of Mark Carney and to give me future options to do things I don’t know that I want to do yet, the unknown unknowns of Rumsfeldian epistemology[ref]Rumsfeld left out the most dangerous element, the unknown knowns. These are the hidden precepts and subconscious biases that distort our vision of the world. The unknown unknowns, the known knowns and the known unknowns did not cause the groupthink failure otherwise known as the Project for a New American Century, but the assumption that the rest of the world was like them and dreamed the same American Dreams was perhaps unwise in retrospect[/ref].
It’s generally a bad thing to compartmentalize savings [ref]strictly speaking in this case I am compartmentalizing a combinations of savings and investments, which is slightly less barmy because they are different asset classes with different risk and liquidity horizons[/ref]- think of all the people earning 1% interest on savings, or even worse investing in the stock market while owing at 20% interest on their credit cards. I already have a problem with large cash holdings that are being destroyed by Carney’s slow-motion bank-robbery because without an income I need the worst-case likely outlay as liquid cash. However, I need to open an account with a new ISA provider next year to get a renewed tranche of FSCS protection (this is only £50,000 per ISA provider) so that is probably a good time to look at building an index portfolio. Buying what’s out of favour or hated rather than the equal shares to equal pots – -in the end an index investor is still active both in what he chooses to buy and when he chooses to buy.
Running towards fire has served me well in the past. Sharesave, starting in 2009, the London riots, REITs, income shares in 2009-2012. Every other bugger’s jumped on the income bandwagon now, I’d prefer if they’d kindly gerroff and stop crashing the private party I was having with income ITs on a discount. This part of the year is often good for a punch-up in the markets. There’s the whole Syria trouble, there’s wider Middle East stuff. There is trouble in Europe with Angela Merkel coming up for re-election. Perhaps I called the sound of gunfire early, but I can probably find some sector on fire to get into… The world isn’t likely to run too short of trouble any time real soon.
31 thoughts on “Buy to the sound of gunfire, sell on the sound of trumpets”
Wages have been falling in real terms so you’d expect a fall in labour intensive service prices. Imports such as an iphone are the one hurt by a weak pound. You got it the wrong way round.
The pound did most of its falling 5 years ago now anyway so the inflation effects of that have already occurred.
If you want to be well and truly converted to passive investing and barraged with numbers along the way start reading these.
I’m with Ha-Joon Chang with tech. I bought an iPod a while back. Despite it being the devil’s own job to get it to play music, as a web browser, a pedometer, an email reader, it rocks. The gains in productivity in tech stupendously outstrip even the falling of the pound. I agree that wages are falling behind inflation, but not as much as tech is improving.
I don’t personally consume many human-provided services, whereas I’m still tempted, though usually resist, buying tech. So I end up with a overly optimistic view of how little my purchasing power has fallen – until I meet the requirements of meatspace. I was usually too tight to use campsites, I’m a rough/wild camper, even in the UK, but Mrs Ermine won’t have that; I’m surprised at how quickly campsite fees add up these days. Whereas I look at the price of my SD702 I bought for field recording and bird recording way back in ’07 and thing ‘hey – I was robbed’ – I paid that much in real money back then. It’s a fantastic piece of kit and I wouldn’t be without it, but it’s effectively so much cheaper now, relative to campites, and NT entry, hotel places, rail tickets, and anything done by real people.
The website is remarkable – I love the commentary of the hazards of the BRICs 😉
I wish I had the problem of wondering where to invest my next 50000 sterling. Sounds like you have a plan though. Why not look for a BRIC Bond Fund for income. At least I can imagine doing that.
Pleased that you had a nice break and enjoying life etc.
Another one of Nathans was, “be fearful when others are brave, brave when others are fearful”. Also “don’t be too greedy”.
On the subject of comments, here is one by Ernest Hemmingway, proves nothing is new, it’s just a merry? go round.
The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is the inflation of the currency; the second is war.
Both bring temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin.
But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists.
I was talking about imports in general. If we were still at two dollars to the pound a nexus 4 might be even cheaper at £130 rather than £160.
We would probably be seeing a fall in both nominal and possibly an even bigger drop real wages in that case though.
Know of an explanation for the service cost inflation but falling wages?
@g the numbers get big because to get an annual income of £x you need £20x to £25x. Replacing income is expensive!
@Lupulco I thought that was Warren Buffet, maybe he pinched it from NMR 😉
@mucgoo I guess the National Trust, and indeed a lot of meatspace services like a campsite or a hotel has a lot of non-tech physical wrangling of Stuff to do that competes with their lowered staff costs?
It’s also possible that the NT got Government funding that’s been cut. Either way, I was surprised at the prices people were prepared to pay. Maybe I am a cultural Philistine, because I was close to the refuse and turn around point at nearly £9. However, I didn’t value things like the child-friendly tours and interpretations because I’m capable of reading the display boards without needing it pre-digested, other may actually get better value.
Not everything has risen – I’m still staggered by the outstandingly low cost of secondhand cars, compared to nearly any time in my working life. Haircuts haven’t risen in nominal terms in the last five years, supporting your wage pressure since that’s nearly all staffing.
Yes The Sage of Omaha did say it in a share holders letter 2004, but I bet he pinched it.
I agree, admission to loads of things seems to have gone up. How does anyone afford the London Eye? Being an NT member can be worthwhile if you go to a few places per year.
Also, don’t you get £85k FSCS protection for ISAs?
Hi Caroline – you’re right in the case of cash savings, including Cash ISAs, subject to arcane wrinkles better explained by moneysavingexpert. However, the lower £50,000 limit applies to stocks and shares ISAs. SG tracked the reference down in his comment earlier this year.
It’s a nasty little gotcha, because of how people use S&S ISAs. Even if I leave mine alone it’s been creeping up beyond the FSCS mark. Unlike cash, which is fungible so you could move it from one account to another, shares ISAs are hard to transfer, and you lose the benefits of having a monolithic block for internal rebalancing.
I did wonder if the NT was pushing people towards membership, but for a family this is about £100 a year! I would have baulked if Mrs Ermine hadn’t been learning about those mob-grazed cows so this wasn’t a £17 charge, I’m not _that_ cultured 😉
I hadn’t realised there was any protection for S&S ISAs, so that’s good news! Thanks for the explanation.
If you volunteer for the NT, in any way, you seem to get a free pass, which also gives you discount on the overpriced cafe food. It’s a good deal and also an enjoyable experience in retirement! My son and I did a working holiday in Norfolk and I hadn’t realsied this was one of the rewards.
The protection on S&S accounts is against criminality in the S&S provider so they run off with client money (see MF Global for the canonical example, however our own Aberdeen Asset Managers and Fund Management have been fined by the FCA for playing fast and loose with client money, so it could happen here. It is also protection against criminality in the fund platform but they are aggregated per provider. i.e. hold £100k in a plethora of Invesco Perpetual funds across three ISA providers and you’re still 50% outta luck if Invesco goes bad. The whole risk-management of that is a nightmare, but easier for me as I hold little in funds.
The protection isn’t against the underlying investments going down, of course 😉
Interesting offer from the NT, though I am still too close to leaving work to be able to countenance volunteering. Have you retired too or am I reading too much into the ‘also an enjoyable experience in retirement’ 😉
I was similarly shocked by the National Trust’s high entry fees, and also the way they try to force you into making a ‘donation’ – it actually says on the sign that they will assume you want to pay the extra 10% unless you specifically tell them otherwise!
If you ask me, an entry fee isn’t a donation at all because you’re paying for a service and getting something in return. I find this a more offensive kind of loophole-finding tax avoidance than what people are protesting about with Vodafone, Starbucks, etc. because of the moralistic self-justification involved. And the’re not just saving tax – the government has to pay them hard cash when they make their Gift Aid claim.
One reason why this service cost is increasing while wages are falling is that wages are actually still rising at charities and in the public sector while they’re falling in the private sector. So we’re basically subsidising their inability to face the real world out of our diminishing income.
I have retired and did so at 48. I dabbled in paid work a bit for a few years but now do very little. Voluntary work is another way of building a social network, which somewhere I think you mentioned as being important in retirment. But I agree it si nice to be free from such commitments and I have recntly given up a voluntary activity with a charity where I started to feel resentful as I did when working.
I have just been out picking blackberries to contribute to our richly frugal lifestyle!
I am intrigued by how we started out in the same place and kind of ended up similarly but have followed different routes in between!
Re BeatTheSeasons’ comment about the NT, I’m not sure there’s much difference between avoiding tax and the gov’t paying out hard cash in gift aid claims…. different people doing the chasing? But I agree about the tactics the NT are using to get people to pay more for admissions. Are public sector wages rising? Also a lot of NT work is done by volunteers so wages may not come into it as much.
@BTS There does seem to be an explicit HMRC requirement to charge 10% on top for entry to be admissible for Giftaid, here is the skinny. However, the hard sell given to the other punters pissed me off and greatly reduced the standing of the NT in my mind. I had looked at the price board and asked beforehand for a standard ticket so I got no hard sell, in all fairness 😉
FWIW you can join the New Zealand Historic places trust for a lot less than UK NT membership and get in free. There’s a top class barney on MSE about whether that’s ethical but it seems perfectly straight up and within the rules AFAICS – also gets you into English Heritage properties 😉
Interesting point about the increasing wages in the third sector. The increasing ‘professionalisation’ of charities certainly makes me think harder, I like ’em amateur and enthusiastic rather than mean and keen if I am going to donate, because I don’t give to corporations – I pay them for their services, and as little as possible.
@Caroline wow – I tip my hat to you achieving nirvana four years earlier than I did – congratulations! I wasn’t knocking voluntary work at all, I’m very grateful that so many people are generous with their time.
It is kind of interesting how we started and ended in the same place. Maybe there’s something about Physics. Or Imperial…?
hi ermine, a couple of updates on Syria, plus maybe a reason why the US is aiding Saudi.
Hi Lupulco, Interesting globalresearch link. Opportunities to buy on the sound of gunfire coming up perhaps 😦
I iced the more, er, ‘Truther’ one because it’s wildly outside my sphere of knowledge to qualify/verify 🙂 In the end it’s up to the good people of the US…
What bout easing into a position in EM debt, which has taken a battering recently and gives a tasty yield. (Perhaps Investec EM blended debt?)
Oh and as to an EM equities fund, I’ve got my eye on Aberdeen Asian Smaller Companies (AAS) which is on a rare discount.
For yield bearing EM funds, there’s JP Morgan’s Global emerging Markets Income trust (JEMI) which seems sound. Less general are Schroder Oriental Income (SOI) and even Blackrock Latin American (BRLA) which is the only one at a tasty discount as it doesn’t have “income” in the name.
Finally, if you are ok with its covered call writing method to boost income, you could go with Schroder Asian Income maximiser (though that will overlap with SOI and is an OEIC which you may or may not prefer).
There are plenty of interesting options to choose from and I don’t think the market is running away with itself so it might be a reasonable time to start building something in these? (I don’t actually own any of the above!)
Ermine, I do enjoy your posts, but are you in danger of lapsing into self-parody here:
“…I was in two minds as to whether to simply park up and observe from the fence with binoculars…”
That Monbiot article is really provocative and food for thought. I knew a professor once who was on a mission to reforest the Highlands. Similar theme,
Beware that gold (and gold miners) have had a pretty nice run up and down a bit since i wrote that article you kindly link to (FRES did 30% at one point!). I find it really hard to hold small miners or non-diversified commodity companies, I’ve discovered, so I’ve been using the likes of CYN (which has a reasonable yield, or did when I bought).
My mother got some BRCI, or you could also look at BRWM. Both linked to commodities/EMs, but with a nice yield. Definitely not for huge allocations in my book though, as are sure to be volatile.
@Greg I’ve had an eye on AAS too. The others are slightly racy for me, though I confess I lack knowledge on any way to qualify value in EMs. It’s sometimes good to know I don’t know, but not here 😉
@Monevator absolutely fair cop, guv. Turning round after a quick gander from the fence would have been a daft thing to have done. I’m not short of £8.80, and I spent the effort getting there.
But it felt like being shafted, and humans are sensitive to perceived unfairness/sharp practices and do irrational things if they feel someone’s taking the piss. I like charities less and less the more they become like corporations. If I buy something from Tesco at least I know they are in it for themselves, they don’t pretend otherwise. Whereas the moralising ‘poor us doing all this good work we can get more if you pay more and giftaid’ just got my goat, and hearing a few punters rushed with the GA hard sell before I got to pay didn’t put me in a better frame of mind.
To add balance the site is very well done and the NT presented the site very well!
The history of the Countryside by Oliver Rackham is definitely worth a read. It’s full of surprising revelations about the countryside like how nearly every road in England dates from Saxon times or earlier, how there are more deer now than at any time in history, and how abnormally low levels of woodcutting are changing woodland habitats and affecting wildlife. The countryside we love is certainly not natural, not would it exist in its present or past forms without management by humans.
Heh – I’d consider AAS to the the raciest out of all my musings above! (e.g. covered call writing _lowers_ volatility.)
Another option might be Asian Total Return company (ATR) which in its new form might be of interest.
Finally, perhaps floating rate debt funds might fit the bill? AEFS for Europe and NBLS for a more global / US fund. I’m not very knowledgeable about them but perhaps they give good protection from rising rates and fill a bit of the middle between bonds and shares?
As for attractions funding themselves, perhaps the big London museums have it right – free, with an option for donation, but fairly expensive special exhibits and cafe as well as corporate sponsors. I don’t begrudge paying £4.50 for a beer to watch the sun set over London after a free afternoon in the Tate Modern, and I was happy to pay a similar amount in the interval of a prom that cost £5. I realise that won’t work for something small though!
Having said all the above, perhaps the large amounts really are what we have been paying all along, just more through taxes and a smaller amount direct. I’m for the latter rather than the former for anything that could be considered ‘enriching’, to try to make it easier for people to get out and experience the world around them.
What makes you think the Romans didn’t use coal? They did, at least in Britain, having been impressed by the Britons’ ability to ‘burn stone’.
the british film institute have also started selling gift aid tickets for 10% extra, though i haven’t noticed any hard sell.
note that paying the 10% extra actually saves money for higher-rate taxpayers, at least ones who fill in a tax return and are organized enought to include the cost of all these tickets in the gift aid box.
reforesting the highlands is well underway, with over a million trees planted so far: http://www.treesforlife.org.uk/
@Greg > e.g. covered call writing _lowers_ volatility
but introduces counterparty risk and my understanding 😉
I’m reasonably old-fashioned about stock market investing. I believe is buying part of a company, and then holding. Obviously this is modified in the case of funds and investment trusts, but I like to stay with the general principle. This future section of my portfolio is for wealth preservation, I’m not fussed about winning a working income from it, that’s what the HYP section is for.
I’m still chuffed the London museums are free, I used some of the trips working on the Olympics to take a few goes at the British Museum after work finished but before getting the train back. I usually only had about an hour but worked by way round a lot of the sections that way.
@dearieme I was following what the NT said about it on their info boards, and the storage allocated was quite large. I didn’t realise it was possible to move bulk materials like coal in Roman times since the Cotswolds isn’t near coal, though I guess London and similar could be serviced by boats?
@GGS – Interesting – I guess as a 40% taxpayer one would have to ask whether the time value of money makes it work. If you’re already filling in a tax return though, then maybe it makes sense, particularly if you’re paying a whole family’s worth of tickets!
I’m not sure covered call writing necessarily introduces counter-party risk, though this is not something I know much about, so check anything I say!
The idea is that the fund sells the right to buy one of its stocks at a predetermined price at a time in the future. This caps the gain if the stock rises above the strike price, but you’ve already made money from selling the option. Indeed, the fund might be better off if the shares doesn’t rise as expected.
Now I’m sure the market probably prices things about right, so it probably works out as turning capital gains into income, reducing total returns slightly (or significantly if markets are rising) but noticeably lowering volatility (especially if markets fall).
However, I can’t see where the counter-party risk is; if the holder of the option goes bust, why would you care? They’ve already paid you!
If you take a look at Fidelity Enhanced Income, a mostly UK fund for ease of analysis, (http://www.trustnet.com/Factsheets/Factsheet.aspx?fundCode=EGFT7&univ=O or http://www.morningstar.co.uk/uk/funds/snapshot/snapshot.aspx?id=F000002JQ3&tab=2 ) we see it:
a) lagged somewhat since 2009
b) has a volatility of about 8.5%
c) did much better during sell-offs
So perhaps this strategy is a nice way of protecting on the downside (e.g. sortino ratio might be a nice stat to look at) with a side-effect of producing income, reducing income volatility risk too!
However, one must not get too attached to an idea as we can see a more standard stock/bond mix did a fair bit better:
(However, I don’t think this will necessarily remain the case now that bonds seem to be falling.)
Note that one can manually create these charts by looking at the url of individual plots and working out the codes. In a similar vein, I found a neat way of using trustnet to find correlation matrix elements for ITs: e.g. the following shows that CGT, PNL & RICA complement each other nicely:
Back to more worthwhile things, don’t forget the Museum of London! It’s of a similar standard to the others but people seem to be unaware of it!
We did this ourselves and made sure that only higher rate taxpayers bought the tickets.
But it’s another abuse of what gift aid was created for, namely so that people could choose to reduce their income tax liability in exchange for making a GIFT.
Instead both the National Trust and myself have made a taxpayer-subsidised profit out of pretending that I made a huge charitable donation when all we really did was shuffle money around between us and then pay for a service.