Warning – Brexit content, and I was/am a remainer. It the topic bores you, switch off and do something more constructive with your time now 😉
The Ermine sits in his eyrie, and surveys the increasing twisted wreckage of the British political landscape before him, and wonders, how did it really all come to this?
It took me too long to realise a philosophical fact about life. In general, run towards what you do want, rather than away from what you don’t want. Imagine sitting by a candle – if you want to run away from the darkness you have no end of directions to go, whereas if you are in the darkness and want to run towards the light, the aim is easy, as every night moth knows.
You gain simplicity in running towards a goal, and pay in decision making if you try and execute the ‘anywhere but here’ command. You get in your car and drive towards where you want to go, you don’t drive away from your home town.
There are exceptions, of course. If you were in the town of Paradise recently, get the hell out of here was a good move. That’s the sort of problem that is urgent and important. Some things that are important aren’t urgent, however.
There’s an argument that being in the EU or not is something that is important to many. But it wasn’t urgent. What was urgent was for Cameron to save his ass, so he couched his question is simplistic terms, and it looks like we get to live with the consequences of asking the question in such a stupid way without asking what sort of independent existence outside the EU matters to you, Sir? What does success look like?
There are several answers to that question, though the main axes, which aren’t particularly interdependent, seem to be
greater national self-determination over trade policy and legislation
control of immigration
In not asking the question ‘what do we want to happen here?’ Cameron turned something that was important but not urgent into something that is both. Well done you, Dave. Clearly a public school education doesn’t imbue an understanding of philosophy even if it does teach you to lead, sort of, until the going gets touch, in which case you run away from the SNAFU you have created because it falls into the ‘too hard’ bucket.
Two years later and we still don’t know what success looks like. Put two Brexiters in a room and you get five different answers, none of which are compatible with each other. That is the tragedy of chasing the negative. Well done us.
What’s wrong in the world gets a lot more attention than what’s right
That’s the problem with a lot of decision-making. Too much of it is running away from what is wrong, rather than towards what is right. I admire a lot of the younger FIRE-folk for getting this right – freedom to use their time for their own goals is what they want, FIRE is a means to an end. They are living Stephen Covey’s second rule – Begin With the End in Mind. Where do you want to go?
I didn’t do that. I wanted to be free of work. I had some terrific luck which saved me from the consequences of violating Covey’s second rule and executing the ‘anywhere but here’ command, though I was at least guided by instinct towards freedom rather than, say, not working for The Firm but stacking shelves in Tesco.
Why is working getting more crap?
I am reading a dog-eared copy of Britain on the Couch, which from the cultural references must’ve been written in the late 1990s. The Ermine was just over halfway through his working life, and Oliver James observed that the heady mix of higher and more individualistic aspirations, combined with a greater exposure to comparing ourselves with others, as portrayed in the media was screwing us up at a faster rate than increasing material wealth seems to be making us happier. It was the increasing gamification of the workplace that started to make me sick of it, irrational spurious requirements to justify your existence every quarter, the knowledge it was a zero-sum game etc.
The writing was already on the wall halfway through my career. Nick asked me this, and it was an interesting question
I’m curious Ermine, what do you see as the purpose of work? Purely an exchange? Looking back on a full career, do you see it all as BS or enjoyable at the time (until things started changing and going south.) I think I actually enjoy the challenge work provides, I will always keep my toe dipped for that reason and the various protection mechanisms it offers (until this goes south anyway.) What gets me very badly is time pressure, work (too many things to juggle), side work, sorting the house, general life. For me I feel striking a balance could make things much more enjoyable…or as I get closer I’ll discover I’m wrong and have an existential crisis.
I had a good run. 25 years of no real trouble, two years of hell and then three tough years of saving hard to get out. There were several things running against me. Some of it was simple globalisation – the west does not need to staff its research and development facilities with expensive Westerners when they can outsource the job. Some of it was the sorts of things that Oliver James wrote about, the increasing surveillance and the gamification of the workplace. Reading articles like this about gamification taken to extremes gives me the creeps. Oliver James called that trend out twenty years ago…
I’m not even particularly sensitive to that sort of incentivisation – I don’t really do badges. I was a member of a professional confederation and happened to storm the theoretical part of one of their training courses, so they were chasing me to get hold of me to award the certificate and get the gong, and were clearly puzzled at how hard work it was to get hold of an Ermine 😉 Similarly for a club where I sorted out their online presence several years ago and was given an award. I have to tell myself that many see this as a big deal, because I don’t want to charge around upsetting people who worked hard to get the gong for me, but I don’t really feel it inside. I am an introvert, and more internally referenced. The sort of challenges and goal-setting that clearly reward others leaves me cold.
I’m only a third of the way through the book, but it’s always puzzled me why the Britain of now is so immeasurably richer than the London that I grew up in, and while physical disease is much lower, mental health and general distress with life seems worse. I was fortunate – I was able to buy my way out of it, because much of the trouble seems to be associated with the way we work now. Work seems to take up a lot more headspace now that it used to. My Dad needed to clock on on time but when he clocked off he was absolutely done with work. Looking at people now, work didn’t drift too much into my time off. But I look at the way many people work, and there are always on the job in some way it seems, tethered to their smartphones – I see these as a tool of oppression in the modern world, not emancipation.
Calling Extrovert FIRE Folk
For the first few years of my FI journey it seemed to be the introverts making most fo the running, I started reading Jacob ERE and many others seemed to lie on the introverted axis. However, all you extroverts in the Fi movement seem to have suddenly found your mojo and are making more of the running, what with meet-ups an the like. So if you’re the life and soul of the party but you find talking about saving makes people’s eyes glaze over then here’s a couple of events you can find some like minds.
There’s apparently a Financial Independence UK Facebook Group (wonder what Oliver James would have had to say about Facebook 😉 ) who are getting together on Nov 24th in Surrey a little way off the A3.
Then there’s a Financial Independence London facebook group who are meeting up on the 5th December, I guess you search FB for Financial Independence London
I’m not sure I fit in anywhere to this outgoing part of the FIRE community, but what the hell, each to their own; knock yourselves out, guys.
I read my first copy of Richard Bolles’ seminal job-hunting tome What Color is your Parachute in the late 1990s. The big cheeses at The Firm had decided to move away from research, and out of electronics towards development and software. I was wondering if I should stay with my first love, which was electronics design, or stay with the Firm.1
Parachute is a great resource and a good read. At the heart its message is as old as the Delphic Oracle itself – know thyself. Around that message, however, is a good periphery of tactics and perspective. There is only one problem. Parachute is a weapon of contemplative reflection. You can’t use it under fire, IMO, and when do most people turn their attention to looking for a job?
When they either need a job right now, or are fearful of losing the one they have already.
Here in the West we have a lineage of puritanical belief systems that still leave their mark, and all forms of Christianity teach that suffering brings us closer to God.
Niall Ferguson made the case a few years ago that this Protestant work ethic is the reason that the West is cock of the rock, his crystal ball didn’t show that the fire was burning out rapidly. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Read widely – library ebooks don’t have late fees
The Ermine reads widely, particularly as the library lets you borrow ebooks for free, and a little munging with Calibre gets that onto a Kindle which makes it easier to read in the park, or a particularly favourite little beauty spot near me with a swing seat and a glorious view. So when I saw a copy of WCIYP 2018 I thought I might take a look at what’s changed over 20 years
Billed as a practical manual for job-hunters and career-changers, it is an interesting read. It has been nearly thirty years since I last applied for a job in the open market2, and getting on for eight since I applied for an internal job, so much has changed. The first part of the book is about the conventional approach, and why this doesn’t work. This is the method the DWP push the unemployed into – registering with Monster jobs and scattercasting CVs3. I’ve only actually ever once had a CV work, and this was at the very beginning of my career, and even that was responding to a newspaper small ad which invited applications with a CV.
Escapism seems to be the norm, people have got back from their hols and the rude awakening of life back at the office makes for good newspaper copy. It seems the Torygraph is working on this sort of thing, and let’s hear it from the Grauniad –
…the secret to never having to work again – but does it work for everyone?
Ah bless ’em. There are people who get to live in London and retire early. They aren’t the Guardian media types, though, who asked themselves this question and failed to detect yes in the echo from the walls of the city skyscraper canyons.
The ermine already established part of the dirty little secret to retiring early. You need to earn more than average for a decent amount of time, or massively more than average for a shorter time. The Times qualifies that as having £600k in the bank and a fully owned house, H/T Monevator for breaking down the paywall.They also say that Barney from Surrey managed this as a modestly paid accountant after 20 years. WTAF, guys, compound interest is irrelevant over a period of 20 years so there’s an implication this modestly paid accountant was on a screw of ~£800k * 2 / 20, assuming he had a savings rate averaging 50% and his Surrey place cost him about £200k1. That’s about £80k net pa, which is way over the average UK income. Now it’s possible he got lucky on the stock market, let’s face it the stock market probably worked the equivalent of three years of an ermine at the office, but there’s another little dark truth here. We are several years in to a bull run that is long in the tooth by historical standards.
Oh yes, and half our blessed fellow countrymen decided to devalue the pound in a rush of blood to the head a couple of years ago, which made the numbers bigger by roughly the same as the loss in currency value. It ain’t real guys, the tide’s gonna run out at some time, and much shorter than the 40+ years a fellow retiring in his forties and drawing down needs it to last… Let’s hope Barney has some other plans, eh?
I only earned a bit more than the British average wage compared to many others in the PF scene, but I did it for thirty years. Let’s get that into perspective, however, I earned getting on for twice the average national income for more than half my working life. Many PF writers earn a lot more than I did, but they are in industries where burnout is rife. So it’s pretty darned obvious that it’s not going to work for everyone, d’oh. And we really shouldn’t be bullshitting people, if you are earning the average wage, and get up to the average level of spendyness and the average number of kids, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell you are going to retire early. End of. Sorry about that. You might get it so you don’t have to wait to 67, but 40? Fuhgeddaboudit.
Let’s look at a poster child – MMM. That was deconstructed by Flannel Guy a while back. It’s still an impressive achievement – most people who have a household income of $100,000 for ten years don’t end up retiring early, they rack their lifestyle up to spend that and then gaze longingly at the people earning $500,000 and wishing they were them. Yacht envy is a thing2, y’know.
So you gotta earn more, but that’s not enough. Not only do you have to do an MMM and know when to stop, you need to have a stroke of luck, or at least avoid some types of bad luck. The prime example is for God’s sake don’t have kids and get divorced before they all come of age. So the answer to the rhetorical question
but does it work for everyone?
Is even more a great big fat no. Not a prayer, Guardianistas. If you want to live an average life, do the things everyone else does, well, you ain’t gonna retire early, because that’s not an average thing to do.
There probably aren’t that many people who live in London and get to retire early in London. For two reasons. Just about everything about London, with the exception of transport and art galleries/museums, is dearer than pretty much everywhere else. So you need more to retire there, unless you bought your house 40 years ago on a teacher’s salary. Plus you’ll have more going out the kitty day-to-day, though perhaps that is compensated by the fact you can earn more in London. The operative word there is earn, which implies w-o-r-k.
The other reason is that of sample bias – if you are the sort that flourishes in London and earns shitloads of money you are probably driven, and would find doing without the finer things in life a massive privation and you’d feel out of kilter with your peer group. You’re more Wolf of Wall Street than the Good Life. Jeroboams of champers and fine dining don’t grow on trees. If you want to stop working and enjoy that, then you either need to have earned stratospheric amounts of money, in which case hitting the off switch early may be tough though necessary, or you need inherited money. Take Petra Ecclestone, for instance. A great way to retire early is to get Daddykins to earn the money 😉
Wikipedia says about her “Petra Ecclestone (born 19 December 1988) is a British-born heiress, model, fashion designer and socialite.” I’m guessing here, but probably the modelling and fashion designer income wasn’t quite enough for a 29-year old to buy the $90M Chelsea place and the 57,000 sq ft LA place. Thanks, Dad, is probably the order of the day, here…
The Times did a feature on FIRE where apparently 900 good people from London piled into a pub to hear about how they could retire early. Several things vaguely disturb me about this –
In a pub – you’ll find it easier to be an introvert if you want to retire early, because to be different you have to do different 😉
but the #1 thing that worried me was if they were paying to hear how to retire early, because they’ve started off on the wrong track. Retiring early is usually about spending less, and spending to find out how to spend less has a delicious irony of its own. If it was a general shindig to chinwag and you got to cover room hire, fair enough, but if it’s like one of those make-money-fast trading seminars then it’s wrong foot forward, people.
Update 30/9/2018 – it was a Facebook meetup and the only cost was the price of your beer, see Luke’s comment below. I am getting too much of a cynical S.O.B. I’ve been punted too many payable London events but I should roll back my guns in this case. There’s everything good about the extrovert wing of the FIRE clan getting together and drinking beer. I’m all for it. Mea culpa
The Times headline is modest earners find formula to retire in their 40s, which should be banned under advertising standards regulations. If these are modest earners in London they are stuffed. Has anybody told these poor saps that we are ten years into a massive bull run fluffed up by funny money? You don’t have to be clever to have made money on the stock market in the last 10 years. Weegee’s quip on how to get a great picture applies – f/8 and be there. The f/8’s irrelevant, it’s the be there. Where you gotta be clever is holding on to that wedge over the next 10 years – and if you’re retiring at 40 then you need to accumulate and hold on to that for the next 40 years.
How do you make a small fortune on the stock market? Start with a big one, or start when it looks like it’s going to hell in a handcart. That time is not now, dear modest earning office workers, so if you want to start your FIRE journey on your modest earnings, then don’t start with the stock market, start with racking back your spendy ways. Some of your spendy life choices have probably already been made, but don’t add to ’em.
So no, the ermine is not going to add to this pipe-dream. If you’re on a modest income in London looking at a bull run that’s one of the longest in recorded history and you are looking back at what would have happened if you had invested along with Monevator in March 2009 then stop right there, breathe in deeply and remind yourself that it was all a dream.
I’m not saying you can’t retire a little bit earlier than normal, if you invest sensibly and consistently, and control your spending, and you have reasonable luck. But look at the sort of privations RIT had to put up with to retire in his 40s – and he was an above average earner, again. But if you are looking at the stock market to do the heavy lifting, then forget it. If you are beginning to aim at retire in your forties, assuming you have started work, you are between 20 and 30. You can’t retire on a modest salary from a standing start in 10 years without having given it any thought beforehand. Really you can’t.
Take it from me – at 49 I wanted to retire early, from a standing start. By then I owned my own house almost (bar £1000) mortgage free, had a decent built up pension and I was earning a decent salary. Plus I was starting in a stock market swoon otherwise known as the global financial crash. Try as I might to munge the figures to give me a shorter timescale, I had to work another three years saving as much as I possibly could, living on less than the national minimum wage after all the saving. That really wasn’t any fun at all. 3
30 year-olds on a modest salary in London probably haven’t paid off their mortgages and you’ll have 20 years less pension savings than I had. You’re unlikely to cross the finish line in 10 years, and you have to stretch it for 15 years longer. And whatever you read about the magic of compound interest, forget it. Over a 30 or 40 year working life, compound interest sort of doubles the real value of your pension savings, as long as you leave them alone to grow. Over 10 years, not so much. If you don’t believe me, listen to RIT. There is no snowball in FIRE.
There’s a general rule about investment. By the time you read it in the papers, it’s too late. Beware Greeks bearing gifts. It’s going to be a tough ask for somebody starting now to replicate RIT’s work of retiring by 40. Oddly enough your greatest hope of doing that is for the greatest humdinger of a stock market crash to occur ASAP, provided you get to hold your job. But remember Weegee. You gotta get in there and stay there, and stay the course.
Passive investing aficionados will no doubt tell me that’s market timing, to which I would say yep. You want to retire in only 10 years, you need a bit of market timing on your side to get yourself a place most have to work for more than 30 years to get to. RIT reached the finish line using passive investing. But he sure started at a reasonably good time, too, like me. Methinks he earned more than that average British wage for much of that time, too. RIT also highlights some very serious social costs that will be more of a load on younger people – to wit:
The vast majority of my friends and certainly my indirect family are still from my pre-2007 days. This means that over time a big shift between our once reasonably common values and beliefs has occurred. […]
At the same time I have found it very difficult to find “new” friends with common interests to my new self (it really is amazing once you have shunned consumerism to see how much it dominates people’s lives). They really do seem to be few and far between.[…]
my day to day contacts and colleagues have changed and because their standard of living matches the salary they receive today I am now starting (if I’m not there already) to be seen as very obviously different.
The social contact is more important when you are younger. I didn’t experience these issues because I didn’t really rise through the ranks as I was saving to escape, I did that from the high-water-mark of my career. So while I experienced a much more dramatic adverse change to my lifestyle than RIT, I didn’t have so much of a drift away of common interests.
Beware newspapers bringing you promises of freedom from The Man through the stock market. It’s doable, but as a marathon if you start now. The starting pistol for the sprint probably fired over five years ago.
The stock market gets all the attention because of the promise of free money if it goes right. The other things – getting out of debt and reducing your spendyness are the Mr Boring of the FIRE world but they are reliable. They will deliver dividends just as they always did. FIRE wannabees should start with those first – get out of debt and spend less.
Don’t believe all you read in the papers…
I know, you don’t get to buy a garage in Surrey for £200k. Let’s assume Barney got lucky at some stage in the housing market. It’s what the asset cost Barney when he bought it that matters, not what it is worth now. ↩
I wrote that before googling the supporting reference because a lifetime of studying the human condition taught me yacht envy would be a thing ;) ↩
The fellow who introduced me to using pension contributions to save the loading of 40% tax, who opined that you have to be mad to be working here after 50? He’s still working there as far as I know. Absolutely nothing wrong with his theory. It was selling the lifestyle to his wife and kids that was too hard. Let’s face it, there’s nothing in it for his kids but privation, they don’t have to earn the money for their nice middle class lifestyle. I can see their point ;) ↩
Or should that be Turkeys? It’s not looking good for citizens of nowhere these days. Although I don’t have their wanderlust, as a rentier I’m now probably part of the managerial aristocracy that’s been doing okay out of the TINA world order up to now. Said world order pretty much destroyed my job by first deskilling it and then exporting it to India, but I was lucky enough to be old enough to escape the rat race by sneaking under the falling portcullis.
I was never convinced by the theory of the lump of labour fallacy, and figured unrestricted low-wage immigration was going to lower wages for the poorer end of First World workers, a fair number of these voted for Brexit. Lo and behold, we seem to be getting evidence of the inverse effect of lower wages from the CIPD once the firehose of low-skilled workers is throttled back a smidgen – to wit
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said the number of applicants per vacancy had fallen since last summer across all levels of skilled jobs, and said shortages were forcing many companies to raise wages.
The number of people applying for the average low-skilled vacancy has fallen from 24 to 20 in the past year and from 19 to 10 for medium-skilled posts.
Well I’ll be flippin’ damned. Who’d a thunk it, eh? At least some Brexit voters may get some of what they wanted. The fall in low-end applicants is 20% compared to the 10% fall in higher-end applicants, highlighting who has been taking the sharp end of that shaft. It’s an ill wind…
Perhaps if our welfare and unemployment system hadn’t turned quite so vile and nasty in peddling the chimera that work is the way out of poverty for the unskilled and make them feel so shit about themselves, then we could have come to a better way of divvying up of the spoils of war. And of course these guys will have to spend some of their slightly increased wages on paying a lot more for imported goods and services on WTO terms if they are lucky, our man Jacob Rees-Mogg and the vile shit-stirrer Boris Johnson will see to that. Let’s look on the bright side, though. At least BoJo is no longer in the Foreign Office. British diplomacy used to be envied, while often suspected of perfidy. We will probably need friends in future, the great BJ never was an asset in that line of work. Continue reading “There be a rumbling and a sound of clucking chickens in the air”
Regardless of your views on Brexit’s ultimate desirability or not, it’s likely to bring choppy waters to the UK in the near future. You’ve heard quite enough of Remainers saying that, but the view is shared by some Brexiters. Take a random look at LeaveHQ’s contentAfter all, Britain is about to set up a new startup called UK PLC in the world, and we have good people like Liam Fox and Boris Johnson at the helm, what on earth could go wrong…? In my youth the British elite seemed to be able to screen for competence and eliminate buffoons like BoJo and fops like Fox, but clearly this process has broken down. There’s nothing wrong with saying that Brexit is a tough job with notable risks, let’s spit on our hands and get to work to maximise the utility and minimise the costs. But that’s not what’s being done. The ruling party is a house divided, and so it doesn’t know what Brexit means. Other than Brexit, and I think we all got that over a year ago.
What we do know is that Brexit will be a point of change, the nature and type of change is uncertain, but in the short term will not be increased trade, the date is reasonably set though subject to late-stage fudging. There will be threats and opportunities to be had. It’s worth considering these ahead of time. I’ve already done an investing for Brexit post, but the inflation of the stock market since then makes the stock market more dangerous.
The boy scouts bit
It’s reasonable to expect shit to go down on the transition. There are some obvious things to do – stockpile water, bogroll, tins, dry carbs and motor fuel (outside the house and in approved fuel cans, people!). The Ermine is fortunate enough not to consume medication, but if you need this then having some advance supply would be wise, and do all this before Christmas, because the history of the world shows that if you are going to panic, then panic early or not at all.
I would hope Brexit would be a transient supply chain disturbance issue, but let’s face it, the government seems to be ill-prepared for some of the obvious interruptions to local trade. If you want to get more into this then UK Preppers are your friend. I’m not sure I want to live in their world for more than a couple of weeks…
Personal Finance – threats and opportunities
One of the great things about Brexit is that it is a planned and a local shitstorm. You don’t normally get advance warning about financial challenges, and nor do you usually get a massive store of assets that are definitely not involved with the crisis. Brexit isn’t going to threaten the world economy. The Brexiter Peter North was offering us a ten-year recession.
Britain is about to become a much more expensive pace to live. It will cause a spike in crime. […] Basically it will wipe out the cosseted lower middle class and remind them that they are just as dispensable as the rest of us.
The Ermine has already dealt with some of the threats, before the vote, by shifting into global assets and gold. There are other aspects of derisking:
I owe nobody any money, other than the credit card which is paid off each month. This is a big win in times of trouble, and I am probably not exposed to the jobs market1
I have ramped down my allocation to equity markets over the last year, not to do with Brexit, but to do with overvaluation. Tragically that increases my exposure to Brexit induced devaluation.
I was going to draw my DB pension early, but I can’t think of anything I really want to invest in at the moment, so I run down cash, indirectly buying more annuity. Everyone else lucky enough to have a DB pension seems to be asking how much the CETV is. I wish I knew what asset class promising a good future income stream they were going to invest it in!2
I made several mistakes shortly after the vote, and several wins around it too, but overall I experienced a very significant numerical win from Brexit in my equity holdings. One of the problems now is that stocks are on very high valuations worldwide, buying equities anew is not so attractive. Monevator made a good move with the Brexit dividend, buying his flat with it, so he is less exposed to the overvalued stock market to the tune of one London flat3
the threats are more important to me than the gains
If Brexit is an economic success and I adopted a brace for impact position, then I look a bit stupid, but I get to live in a country that is doing well, though I’ve lost money on my ISA I have gained it in the future income stream of my pension. That’s a win as far as I am concerned, apart from the hurt to my pride in being wrong. I’ve had a lifetime of practice in being wrong, it’s no big deal. You Brexiters can have a jolly good laugh at my expense. I’m big enough to take the ribbing for my lack of faith in Bulldog Blighty.
If Brexit leads to a 10 year recession, that’s at least a third of my life blighted by that from now on, and my globalised ISA becomes a larger proportion of my future assets/income stream. Just to add spice to the mix, the stock market is at very high valuations. I hold two years worth of cash expenses because that’s how long I have to reach the age to draw my pension without penalty.
I hold most of last year’s ISA contribution in cash in my ISA, and may do the same with this year, because there may be opportunities in Brexit to buy UK assets cheaply in the turmoil. This is hard to execute because you never catch the low-water mark, so you buy stuff, then see it plunge 20% and have to be prepared to take the chance of buying similar assets and holding the trash you already have. While all the time you have this horrible screaming noise in your ears from the media telling you all is lost. What I need is for Monevator to do this again, at a suitable point, to stiffen the spine in April 2019. Let’s look on the bright side, it’ll be a new ISA year…
I already hold a lot of gold in ETF form. Rather foolishly I hold it in my ISA. In general you should hold gold outside an ISA, since it pays no dividend. Should the price appreciate to approach the capital gains limit, then sell the ETF and buy another gold etf. I hold SGLP, I could sell that and buy say PHGP at the same time, crystallise the capital gain but stay exposed to the same asset class. As long as there’s not a flash hike in the gold price in the 10 minutes between transactions I am OK. However, given it is in the ISA, the gold gives me some more working capital, if I have the balls to sell it and buy pounded-down UK stock indices.
Repositioning myself for Brexit
Cash and gold represent about 12% and 9% of my ISA. A lot of the shares part is sky-high, and fortunately a lot was bought before this time two years ago. The cash, however, is bad news, it’s GBP.
What can I do with it to get it out of the country?
Buy foreign currency
Spreadbet foreign currency
buy global government bonds
buy world equities
buy world equities hedged to GBP
5 and 6 aren’t attractive, because I feel equities are overvalued now. I already hold a lot of VWRL and IGWD anyway. 4 isn’t that attractive either, because I hold a lot of gold ETFs from the first round of this Brexit aggravation in 2016.
1 and 2 are difficult for me because I want to do this in my ISA, the cash is already in the ISA. I could take it out and try and put it back in, unfortunately the Brexit date 29th March 2019 is very awkwardly close to the turn of the tax year (5th April), it’s possible that the financial system will seize up. It did after the original Brexit vote so it is likely to do so again4. They’re a possibility for next year’s ISA contribution, I guess.
For this year’s ISA, one obvious thing to do is to buy bonds. They are supposed to be the yin of the equity yang. Not so much corporate bonds, which seem to vary with equities these days. I’m already jumpy that the stock market is overvalued, so it’s government bonds I want. I know absolutely nothing about bonds, never been interested because my defined benefit pension has always been more fixed income than I would ever need for a notional 60:40 equities:bonds balanced portfolio for someone of my age and risk tolerance. There was an interesting thread on Monevator about bonds, but I am not sure I understand it well enough. The pointers seems to be to use currency hedged bond funds, which make great sense except for a guy who is explicitly looking for safety against the pound going down the toilet, I don’t want to hedge to the GBP. I read youngFIGuy’s piece on how he invests but it’s for the long term, and I am trynig to forestall a particular short term adversity. Here’s Lars Kroijer on Monevator taling about government bonds. He says:
If your base currency has government bonds of the highest credit quality (£, $, €) then those should be your choice as the minimal risk asset.
Err, no, Lars. With all due respect, not £. The last UK government took the piss having the referendum to alleviate a cat-fight in the Tory party. Not only did that shit on my future to feed tossers like Jacob Rees-Mogg, but the entire prosecution of the process of leaving the EU has been dominated by internecine fighting and precious little effective progress. I’d rather live in the UK than say Uganda, but I don’t view the £ as having the highest stability at all. So the last thing I want is UK government bonds for this particular job. That’s a no to YoungFiGuy’s VGOV, although that is fine for his purposes. Given that premise that UK government bonds may be risk-free in one way, but track the fail I am trying to hedge, Lars carries on
If your base currency does not offer minimal risk alternatives, you have the choice of lower-rated domestic bonds where you take a credit risk, or higher-rated foreign ones where you take a currency risk. Keep in mind that any domestic default would probably happen at the same time as other problems in your portfolio, and your domestic currency would probably devalue. That would render foreign currency denominated bonds worth more in local currency terms.
Exactly. in his next paragraph, it’s basically short-term foreign bonds i want. But looking at, say this US bond, I see shocking volatility. And given it’s only a year, I am chuffed to discover currency ETFs – a class of thing I didn’t even know existed. Let’s take a look at SGBB
The ETFS Bearish GBP vs G10 Currency Basket (SGBB) is designed to provide investors with a short exposure to the British Pound relative to a basket of G10 currencies by tracking the Diversified GBP Short Basket Index (GBP) (TR) (the “Index”).
That’s about right, what did it do over the referendum?
Pretty much what you’d expect. It’s a bit dear, at 0.5% p.a, and of course I eat buy and sell costs plus the spread at iWeb. So I put it into iWeb to see how much it would cost and what the spread was, and couldn’t find it. I asked them on web chat if they offered it and it seemed to be frowned upon:
Thank you for waiting, it looks like the company may be a derivative and if that is the case we won’t be able to offer it. We will need to do some further checks for the company which can take up to 2 working days.
Blimey. Well that’s pissed on that idea then. I didn’t think ETFS securities was such a bunch of dodgy geezers, but it seems they are viewed with suspicion5. Hargreaves Lansdown do this one but disturbingly they say the ongoing charge is 1.24%. I suppose I could do it in my SIPP with them. I pay £24 on the turn, couldn’t work out if I get to pay the 0.5% Stamp duty on this.
Surely the market has priced Brexit in
and will do a great big meh on the day? I’m not sure the market has priced the stupendous incompetence that could be displayed, the danger of a no deal Brexit seems to be mounting. Some of the trend to no deal comes from the bad faith of the likes of Rees-Mogg and the shadowy European Research Group, the quality of whose thought is to be seen here. These are cakeists6, and I’m not personally convinced that Britain has such a compelling offer. Leo Varadkar has a point when he said
“We are two years telling people that it can’t be cherry-picking, it can’t be cake and eat it, so it [the white paper] needs to understand we are a union of 27 member states, 500 million people.
We have laws and rules and principles and they can’t be changed for any one country, even a country like Britain. Any relationship in the future between the EU and UK isn’t going to be one of absolute equals.”
Which is why we are writing to reassure you of our continued, strong backing for the clear vision of an internationally-engaged, free-trading, global Britain which you laid out at Lancaster House.
That’s the internationally-engaged Britain that has just told the 450 million strong nearest trading partners to f*ck right off. I’m not convinced a no deal Brexit is priced in by the market at all. I’m prepared to lose money if we do better than that and there’s a stonking rise in the £.
Obviously it may all be a grand game of chicken, but I’d say that the EU can do without the UK better than t’other way round, and it’s pretty obvious that there will be less UK trade with the EU when we are outside the EU than before. That’s fine, may be a price well worth paying to cut ourselves adrift from these moribund losers as some would see it. We don’t have to be members of the EU to trade with it, other countries seem to manage. But there does have to be some sort of agreement. At the moment it’s we want to have our cake and eat it, or we’ll walk away. Looks like walk away it is, then. That’s not in the price at all, IMO.
probably is because at the moment my deferred DB pension is easily enough to live on, so my ISA holdings and residual SIPP give some buffer. But it is possible to imagine inflation and taxes rising so I struggle, in which case I am stuffed. I am not going to do engineering again after five years out of the field, I am not entrepreneurial by nature and I am too old. ↩
OK, I know the answer. The asset class is BTL residential property, FTW! ↩
He’s of course now exposed to a differently overvalued asset class, London property, but given it’s his first purchase and he wants to live in London, the utility value is high, and if it’s the Brexit dividend then it’s free money anyway… ↩
that could mean that for all this fine talk I will be unable to take advantage of any Brexit opportunities, squeezed out by all the shares selling going on in the market jamming retail websites. ↩
iWeb has since rung me up to confirm, this is considered a derivative and therefore not available to retail investors on their platform. It is news to be that not all listed shares are considered tradable. Need to sit down and think about this, because perhaps this red flag is there for a reason and ETFS really are dodgy geezers. ↩
according to Gerd Kommer, H/T MeineFinanzielleFreiheit (My Financial Freedom) from Germany Austria – in both of these I sadly discovered that my German has degraded through disuse to below a sufficient standard to comprehend them freely1, so Google Translate was my friend. I am looking at financial independence from the other end of the telescope from My Financial Freedom (Google Translate version of MeineFinanzielleFreiheit). MFF is under 40, and assumes most readers are of a similar age, perhaps I do not have the optimism of youth and our Gerd is no spring chicken either, cynical old gits that we are.
Gerd had an interesting taxonomy of routes to financial freedom. I presume from the website that Gerd is what we would call an IFA, though my rotten German may mean I am missing some subtleties. Let us count the ways to financial freedom, with the soundtrack of Paul Simon’s Fifty ways to leave your lover (in this case The Man):
Financial Freedom method 1 – clever investing
Hmm, BTDT. This is the dream of every day-trader and spread-better, and while I avoided those particular pathologies, I was a get-rich-quicker in the halcyon days of the dot-com boom. Dividends, I don’t need no steenking dividends2, the aim was to buy and flip to a greater fool
Yup. Didn’t end well, because in the end I was that greater fool and ended up holding the baby. The existence of Warren Buffett probably proves that some people have hot hands and are good stockpickers, this is not widely spread in the population. If you want to make money from spread betting and trading, buy shares in IG Index. Most of us don’t have hot hands, and the odds are tough. Some of us have lukewarm hands, but the fat-tailed statistics of stock-market investing can be dangerous in that case. Those with lukewarm hands can do well to consolidate some of their gains into passive investments frequently, fiddling around the edges. The challenge is to recognise the presence of some ability but also of some mediocrity, and humans just aren’t wired to do that. I am sadly still at the stage where more knowledge seems to degrade confidence, the confidence high-water mark for me was in 1998…
FWIW I don’t believe markets are totally efficient, and if you have a long enough time horizon than I would consider valuations and CAPE a possible route to market timing, but most of us are in too much of a hurry at the start. Making money in the stock market is deeply rate-limited most of the time and depends on opportunities arising that you can’t control, so doing more is not a recipe for success, unlike in many other fields of endeavour. You don’t have to be condemned to the returns of passive investing. FireVLondon3and TEA show it can be done. I would suspect Monevator does better too. I have been happy with my own performance though it is poorer than theirs and it is shifting closer to passive because I am getting more lazy and passive, when you have enough you have enough. The gains in my AVCs/SIPP were enough to carry me the eight years to normal retirement age because I started in 20094, when the market was in a deep hole.
Round one to Gerd. He’s got a point. By all means try, with money you can afford to lose, to see if you’re the one with hot hands. It’s very unlikely to be you…
Financial Freedom method 2 – downshift
Took me a while to boil down Gerd’s incredulous take on the sort of whazzocks that say
regain control of your life – don’t exchange five days of work for two days of free time. In the books and financial blogs, a curious recipe mix is propagated to “breaking out of the hamster wheel”, “ending the treadmill of employee life”
I guess that’s me, Gerd. Oops, I even used this image on this post.
I checked out of the middle class in 2009 to escape the workplace 8 years early. It’s going fine, thanks for asking, bud. But I do have to acknowledge a lot of luck on my side, holding a decent job for 23 years and being close enough to normal retirement age for my savings and gains to bridge the gap to company pension, plus investing into a stock market that was flat on its back cheered me on. You can’t design for that sort of luck when you’re 20. So let’s call that a draw, Gerd.
Financial Freedom method 3 – start your own business
This is the classic way – the business owner captures a lot more of the value the business adds to the inputs than, say, shareholders. That’s why the long-term average returns on a diversified passive portfolio of stocks are at best around 5% p.a., which isn’t enough to live or die with unless you start off with a decent amount of capital5, which you usually save from working at your job for somebody else, in most cases. Run your own business and you can do a hell of a lot better than that, capturing the entire added value, less taxes and then selling the business as a going concern.
The downside, of course, is that the odds against you being one of the successes are terrible. It’s the same hot hands problem as method#1 but in a different dimension – few have the hot hands for business success, and a decent helping of luck helps too.
Financial Freedom method 4 – Frugalism
Originally popularised by Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme, although the current poster-child is Mr Money Mustache. It’s a variant of downshift, but usually adopted by those in the flush of youth and earning above average. When you are young and preferably single, you can screw your consumption down and put up with privations many can’t. But you will get older, and some of the ultra-frugal lifestyle may pall. Lock yourself into an ultra-frugal lifestyle too early and take advantage of that fact by not having to earn too much, and you may find your style cramped in mid and later life.
Both ERE and MMM worked high paying jobs, and frugality let them drive their savings rate up. If you can stick this for long enough you can retire early. A lot of personal finance blogs run along these lines (eg The Escape Artist), but if the writer is working in the City, then they have an income that is probably more than five times the average British wage. If you earn five times the average Brit but can run on the average outgoings, then you can probably get to early retirement in ten years6 rather than 35. There is more incentive to do that, because these jobs tend to be punishingly stressful.
Gerd is right in that most people don’t earn enough, but if you earn well over the norm then Gerd is wrong, this is a perfectly sensible way to do it. I had some of these advantages – I earned reasonably well and lived outside London so my costs were lower, and my employer contributed more to my pension than is usual now, so effectively my pay was worth more.
That’s a draw, Gerd.
Gerd is right for most people, you can’t get there from here
Whatever the drivers for FI, regrettably I am with Gerd that financial independence is an unattainable chimera for people earning average incomes. They’re unlikely to be able to reach FI/RE except in edge cases. It’s perfectly possible for MeineFinazielleFreiheit because he is a freelancer for an international service company, which puts him on a well above average wage I would imagine. I’d initially jumped to the conclusion that Dienstleistungsunternehmen meant a management consultancy rather than service industry, which is another sort of job like finance where going for FI/RE is almost mandatory because the stressful nature of the job burns people out early. Dictionaries and Wikipedia don’t support that interpretation, although oddly the sort of pictures Google Images comes up with do lean that way.
Gerd then goes on to ask an interesting question –
What makes some people value financial independence whereas it is generally a minority pursuit?
Family, the desire to raise children and spend time with siblings
Honor, the desire for upright character
Idealism, the desire for social justice
Independence, the desire for self-reliance
Order, the desire for structure
Physical Activity, the desire for muscle exercise
Power, the desire for influence or leadership
Romance, the desire for beauty and sex
Saving, the desire to collect
Social Contact, the desire for peer companionship
Status, the desire for respect based on social standing
Tranquility, the desire for safety
Vengeance, the desire to confront those who offend
I’d lump some of these under the same class of thing – 4 and 13 and possibly 14 look the same class of thing to me, 10 and 16 look related. Reiss excludes traits that he does not find some hint of in all the respondents, I wonder if excluding the tails of the distribution makes this limiting. But heck, a hypothesis doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful. Reiss’s thesis is that there is a different balance between these motivations across people, but those motivations are fairly immutable in any specific case. The curious child becomes a curious adult who becomes a curious old man. Satisfying these desires is transient, you have to keep on doing something to sate them. Holger Grethe riffs on this –
“Anyone seeking financial freedom or “early retirement” is very likely to save an above-average need for independence in connection with the urge to save money.”
Conversely, other needs are more important for most people
For some, the quest for power may play a bigger role:
“Power motivates to willpower, the need for achievement and how much you want to work on it … Power influences your propensity to be a leader and to give guidance to others.”
For others, it may be status thinking that outweighs the need for independence:
“Status is the need for social prestige because of wealth, titles, social class or good origin.The satisfaction of this need evokes feelings of self-importance and superiority, while non-gratification leads to feelings of insignificance and inferiority. “
Those who retire from working life to enjoy their financial freedom can neither give commands to others nor bask in the glow of their professional position.
This helped me understand some of the observations I couldn’t really make sense of. Monevator has an extended and insightful blog about the things you need to do to become financially independent, and he served me very well, yet he has no desire to retire, even though he could
I’m pretty much financially independent these days, by my own terms. I once wanted to retire early. But I tried doing no work and discovered it wasn’t for me – or at least not yet.
My expectation now is I’ll earn at least some money for the next 30 years.
I’m incapable of understanding that, other than in a theoretical and intellectual way. I think that if I’d been rich enough to avoid working when I left university I would have done just that. Let’s hear it from Reiss on power
Power is the basic desire for influence or leadership. It motivates willpower, the need for achievement, and hard work. It motivates us to seek to influence people, events, or the environment. Power motivates the desire to lead and to give advice. It has been said of some powerful personalities that they cannot stand to see somebody go in one direction without urging the person to go in a different direction.
I got on okay with work for 30 years, it was just something you did. I’ve led teams, given presentations at international meetings, that sort of thing, but it was a means to an end, it didn’t feed a deep desire within me. In Reiss’s nomenclature I have a weak basic desire for power. I would challenge his claim that these are immutable, however, earlier in life I probably had a stronger or at least normal desire for this7.
Until I grew sick of the way work was going – all the management bullshit, the performance management targets, the needing to justify one’s existence every quarter, began to really piss me off, and then something snapped.
Yesterday was not soon enough to get out of the workplace and I never, ever, wanted someone to be able to hold that gun to my head ever again. It took three years and much slog, but I made it in the end. I have never worked since. I have earned some money, generally hit and run jobs with no ongoing commitment. I have never needed that money, and I have not changed my lifestyle as a result of it, and in some cases I have given it away to people who needed it more. The above average need for independence is writ large in all that. And yet that did not apply for 30 years of my working life – I had no burning urge to retire earlier than the normal retirement age of my company pension.
Clearly the quest for power and the status thinking were either weak in me or they were destroyed in the split second that I realised that a manager was trying to improve his numbers at the expense of my future and realised I had no power. Or perhaps it was the quest for power, but in its inverted image. Reiss presents power from the subject’s perspective – Power, the desire for influence or leadership. Making people do your bidding gives a guy a rush. But there is a corollary for the object of that exerted power. I never wanted to be the underdog again.
I can therefore never use money I would earn from employment, because as soon as I build it into my lifestyle I become a prisoner of The Man again. No consumer shit tastes as good as financial freedom feels. It’s not like I live like an ascetic monk – I did buy the Naim 272 mentioned in that post, and I have been to Malta and the Orkneys this year in search of megalithic wonders. I could afford to go on more vacations. But I can do that from existing reserves, rather than new earnings, which would link me to The Man and his blasted hamster wheel again.
Not everyone who is financially independent can retire early
Skewed by my own experiences I assumed most people who reached financial independence would retire early, and this was supported by the common FI/RE8 acronym. Sure, five decades of living have taught me that there is much variation among individuals, but it puzzles me why somebody would go through all the privations of achieving financial independence if not to retire early, as TEA said, don’t just load the gun, pull the trigger.
Those who value influence and leadership (10), and those who get status from the work they do (14), and perhaps, in the case of men, the desire for peer companionship (13) may reach financial independence, but should reflect on whether they get something non-financial out of work that they might miss. The poster child for this is Jim SHMD, who appears to be working a job that bores him but delivers valuable side effects:
I really wasn’t looking forward to returning to the actual work that I do – but I was looking forward to catching up with the people there, both my co-workers and my customers.
I personally would be saddened if the best thing I felt I could do with my time was going to work, but that is because other motivations are higher – the curiosity (2) and independence (7). For me, independence and power are related – independence is the absence of people with power over me. However, that didn’t bother me for most of my working life, while I had enough bosses I thought were tossers I probably had more that I had some respect for. As management changed from values to processes I came to despise some later bosses and box-tickers rather than leaders, but that’s what metrics and performance management do to people, they turn good and mediocre people bad.
The boss that convinced me I needed to get out of that place was intelligent and an expert in his own field but while fine in calm waters became a psycho under pressure. You don’t hire engineers for their great way with people, I suppose. I would challenge Reiss’s immutability theory. Power and status (10 and 14) mattered more to me earlier in my career, but independence (7) became more important than these as I grew older. Drawing on Carl Jung’s observation that what is true in the morning of life doesn’t hold in the afternoon, my self-respect shifted from what I did more towards what I am.
Reiss’s positive description of 10, Power, the desire for influence or leadership, isn’t totally absent in me – I do take on things where I have skills that aren’t in other people, and therefore indirectly lead or at least define. I don’t generally volunteer in the pure form, I always want the ‘customer’ of the work to pay something, because this world has an endless supply of wouldn’t it be nice if requirements when the cost is zero. But if the project is interesting enough or I like the people enough, then the job doesn’t have to break even, that is a different expression of financial independence.
Reiss’s book is a fascinating read
It was available on Amazon Kindle Unlimited for cheaper 9 than on Kindle and it was an interesting read – Reiss considers his 16-point taxonomy a deconstruction of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is often cited in the PF scene. I didn’t really expect to come across a reference to chakras, to wit:
Maslow’s pyramid is similar to Hindu scripture, specifically the Rig Veda, which refers to the chakras. This is a seven level energy system that maps to specific psychological characteristics.
Gosh… He makes some big claims
People are more or less motivated by the same basic desires throughout their adult life. Maslow’s idea of human development — that values and motives change as we mature — is mostly an invalid, romantic myth.
Well, that’s the idea of individual human progress through the lifecycle done for, then. Nevertheless the art of reading is to open the mind to new ideas that don’t necessarily square with one’s own. On this point, he found a 19th century Oxford professor of philosophy, George Ramsey, who delivered this wisdom in 1843:
“The same difference of feeling and dullness of imagination in men explain what often has been observed, that one half of mankind pass their lives in wondering at the pursuits of the other. Not being able either to feel or to fancy the pleasure derived from the other sources than their own, they consider the rest of the world as little better than fools, who follow empty baubles. They hug themselves as the only wise, while in truth they are only narrow-minded.”
That’s me ranting on about Calvinism then 😉 As a working hypothesis the quest for power and the status thinking isn’t a bad way of comprehending that working satisfies deep innate non-financial needs in some people, and it is likely that these people will appear ambitious, earn more than the average and be more likely to be in a position to get to financial independence.
They just shouldn’t retire early, in fact perhaps they shouldn’t retire at all. FI still improves the power balance with employers – I have never had the experience of not being a supplicant when applying for a job, and I stopped applying for jobs when I didn’t need the money. But it never harms your negotiating position when you can walk away without fear.
These days if I add up all the dividends I have received since re-entering the stock market in 2009 they are about 14% of the current market valuation of my ISAs, dividends matter. The older Ermine is a very different animal to the youthful exuberant one. Dotcom flippers relied purely on the greater fool to buy the shares at a higher price, typical dotcom companies didn’t pay dividends, because they generally didn’t make any money. At least I didn’t buy boo.com or lastminute.com↩
FireVLondon is in Gerd’s category 3 not 4, his achievement in keeping a positive portfolio return is even more impressive given he didn’t work in finance! ↩
I would really love to be able to say that I started in March 2009 because I am a frickin’ genius that monsters the market. In fact the reason was that it took that long for the financial crisis to crush The Firm’s bottom line that they introduced psycho management and ridiculous performance management metrics. I was desperate enough at the right time. I will claim being bright enough to read this and turn the sentiment into action. That was probably easier for me because I had no equity holdings that had plunged in value, so it seemed worth a punt. Success bred success, I learned to run towards fire and be fearful at times like now. If you want to learn what to do in the stock market, then start when it is down the toilet, not when it is high as a kite and everybody is saying how great it is. That’s a general rule for any asset class – equities, gold, bitcoin, housing. tulip bulbs. If it’s in the papers as a sure win, short it. ↩
Let’s try the thought experiment. Using Monevator’s compound interest calculator and imagine our young fellow starting off saving a whole year’s worth of UK average wage at £20k that he somehow manages to not need to live off. After a 30 year working life of compounding at 5% in real terms without any platform costs or taxes he ends up with about £90k. A worthwhile improvement, but it’s not going to make you rich doing that as a one-off at the beginning of your working life, and subsequent savings have less time to compound. A successful business will compound much faster than 5%, and under certain circumstances can use other people’s money to scale up quicker. ↩
35÷5 is 7, but you are probably paying more tax earning >5x average salary than the average grunt ↩
You don’t normally get to earn significantly more than the average with the traits of a weak desire for power, Reiss characterises that sort of individual After graduation from school, these individuals may continue to avoid hard work. They may have a tendency to underachieve their entire lives, not because they are incapable, but because they are motivated in different directions.↩
Financial Independence/Retire Early. Early retirement is in the name. ↩
Kindle unlimited is best tackled on a hit and run basis – sign up and then immediately unsign up (so you don’t forget to unsubscribe). You are then a member of KU for a month for about £8, hit it for all that it’s worth. ↩
You’re a lone voice in the wilderness if you favor shares over property in the UK. UKVI calls out five family members who are of the ‘property is my pension’ school of thought with him being the odd one out. Me too – BTLers to the left of me, housing rampers to the right of me – a cynical Ermine feels stuck in the middle with Stealer’s Wheel
on the subject of property, specifically residential property. It’s an asset class I loathe, and yet everybody else in Britain is in love with it. There is, apparently, no more sure-fire route for an ordinary middle-class Brit to financial Nirvana than a nice li’l buy-to-let or two, preferably bought with the magic of other people’s money.
In the limiting case, we will have everybody over 45 ‘owning’ two houses renting one of them to people under 45. Britain’s factories and service industries can lie shuttered, and we will have a perpetual motion machine when all the old ‘uns can retire at 50 and throw parties where they moan about their children not being able to afford to buy a house. Presumably the proceeds of their BTL will be handed down to their children when they reach the allotted hour, hopefully when said children get to around 451, and so the circle turns again.
Where it appears that shares beat residential property by about 30%. With shares at very high valuations at the moment that is comforting – if we have an average sort of crash2 soon then that 30% differential could easily be given up at the low water mark, but UK house prices are also at all time highs. It is not entirely clear to me on what basis This is Money computed the TR data for housing – by rights they should include rents, less maintenance and less mortgage servicing costs, conveyancing, SDLT and agency fees for the average BTL hold period whatever that is.
Perhaps the BTL boosters were right, provided they could raise the capital to go all-in in June 1995. That’s a yes for Fergus Wilson but perhaps a no for pretty much everyone else, because of the lumpiness of property you need to time your entry into the market very, very carefully, and the slow cycles mean entry points are few and far between. If ever there was a call for an investment trust3, residential property would be an obvious asset class, presumably the reason there isn’t anything like this says something about the aggregate returns on offer.
Stock market cycles are shorter than housing cycles, and 1995, the datum reference, was an absolutely great time to buy UK property, as twits like me who had bought property in 1989 started to capitulate and actually pay down the excess rather than hoping that it would ever come good again in any useful period of time. KPMG tell us 2009 was the second time house prices crashed since the second world war, while there have been 15 stock market crashes and bear markets since the war, counting US and UK ones, the sort that would bother somebody holding VGLS100 in the UK if it had been available in Macmillan’s time.
Ever the contrarian, Merryn Somerset-Webb tells us that these days houses are cheap in terms of gold, and I didn’t do so badly compared to people who bought between 1997 and about 2003.
All I can say is that she didn’t live the decade when my mortgage was higher than the value of the house or pay the difference down from earnings… KPMG have a chart of mortgage interest versus income which highlights that I drew a particularly short straw in 1989
Although the recent highlighting of mortgage plus repayment shows servicing costs are at historic highs relative to the early 1990s. Presumably KPMG is of the opinion that previous generations paid down their mortgages with fairy dust rather than real money.
I am all for buying the house you live in – pretty much for the converse of the reasons Joe Public gives for landlordism. Renting is evil in the UK and residential tenants have very little security of tenure. This is what makes landlords rich. You want to free yourself from the ministrations of Britain’s army of amateur landlords, because what’s good for them is not good for you. After that’s done, residential property is a shockingly illiquid lumpy asset class compared to the average Brit’s net worth, with serious costs of carry and transaction costs, because a house is a physical object subject to entropy; it’s always trying to fall down. As an asset class it stinks on the convenience front because of its indivisibility and illiquidity.
Unlike gold, it is at least productive, inasmuch as it provides a service that tenants will pay for. It’s not tremendously scalable, you’ve got to save up a lot of rental profits before the deposit on the next place, unless you are a Fergus Wilson, who happened to start in the early 1990s of knockdown house prices.
Stocks you can buy bit by bit at average prices. Houses, not so much
There are other shockingly toxic issues to do with residential property. You can invest regularly into the stock market, it’s called pound cost averaging. I do this still now – I think the stock market is ridiculously overvalued, and I hate myself for buying into it regularly. But it is remotely possible that it will go up for a couple of years, in which case I will lose out by diddling on the sidelines even after the inevitable crash, although I am reducing my contributions and holding more cash than is probably good for me.
You just don’t get to do that with residential property, you go all in with borrowed money when you buy your first house, somewhere in your thirties is the place in the normal human lifecycle. Vendors will laugh you out the door if you ask to buy that house over the next ten years in instalments with it marked to market each time.
Since you can’t raise the money you buy with a mortgage. That works like gangbusters when the housing market is going up, but it’s total misery when it’s going down. Because housing cycles are slower the misery persists longer, too. So not only do you not get to ramp your way into this market in a measured way, you get to do it at a time not particularly of your choosing – the time you need to engage with it was determined by la petite mort nine months before you were born, although it only comes to fruition after three decades pass.
My experience matches the chart. For sure, I was whacked around the chops with a wet fish by the stock market in the dotcom boom and bust as I learned the ropes, particularly in what not to do.
But it served me far better since then, and most of the gains I have made were from a combination of saving hard and the stock market. The hit I took was all money I had earned and could afford to lose, whereas with the house I hadn’t earned the money that I lost and could only just afford the loss. If I scale the money I stupidly paid for that house in 1989 and adjust it for inflation then it is only 20% less than my share of my current house, perhaps 40% less if I allow for the amount of equity I released along the way, which went into the stock market. I’d have been better off with gold, although the utility of a house in defending myself against the depredations of BTL landlords has great value of its own.
So it’s good to feel vindicated, despite all the property clowns to the left of me, joker landlords to the right of me. Those results have integrated several stock market cycles including one near death experience in 2008, but perhaps two housing market cycles and no catastrophic events like the early 1990s housing price crash. Reversion to the mean, clowns and jokers… In your favour, the illiquidity of your assets mean you escape some pathologies of the stock market investor, as UKVI went on to say, but you don’t have to be a stock market muppet!
the implication is that they have these kids no earlier than when they are about 35, else the kids will be too old by the time the parents cark it ↩
The credit crunch was a non-average crash – from the UKX high of 6732 in Jun ’07 to a low of 3800 is a suckout of 44%, it took to July 2009 to recover to only a fall of a third. But then unlike you do with a house, you’re a bit dippy to save up in cash for years and make a single humongous share purchase, so your average purchase price is unlikely to capture only the peak ↩
You get plenty of investment trusts in commercial property in the form of REITs but despite the generally believed sure-fire one-way money-tree nature of UK residential property I know of no residential property REIT. You get oddball companies like Grainger PLC, and Castle Trust bastardised their Housa index product into bonds, presumably because they couldn’t turn a profit on it. Such a product would greatly help first-time buyers by allowing their deposits to track house prices. The closest I could find to a res property REIT is Hearthstone, but another problem for buyers is they need to track prices in the region they want to buy, since nobody buys the average UK house in reality. IG Index used to have regional house price indices, but the problem with spread betting is that the cost of carry is high for periods longer than about six months. ↩