Saturday 18 July 2015

A Retirement Investing Today Half 1 2015 Review

On this blog I talk a lot about my own strategy and portfolio including how I'm managing and changing them as I learn.  Importantly, this is not a demonstration strategy or portfolio but instead reflects every penny I have to my name.  The journey also now represents a significant portion of my life with me now having been on this DIY Early Financial Independence (FI) path for seven and three quarter years which is nearly 20% of my life so far.  When I started in 2007 and even when I started this blog in 2009 I had no idea if I would succeed.  Today I'm far more confident that I’ll eventually get there and I also now believe that I have a level of personal finance knowledge that will enable me to self manage my portfolio to and into Early Retirement.  Even so I’m not yet going to relax.  At some point I'm also sure I’ll need to start thinking about how to set-up an autopilot portfolio (Vanguard LifeStrategy anyone?) but that’s for another day.

This strategy and portfolio is an essential enabler to how I want to live my later life – one not burdened by the need to work for The Man but instead able to focus 100% on what’s important to me which enables both location and time freedom.  Given its importance I like to stop every quarter and in line with my Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) strategy do some Checking against the three key focus areas that I believe are essential to get over the Financial Independence line - Save Hard, Invest Wisely and Retire Early.


Saving Hard is defined as Gross Earnings (ie before taxes) plus Employee Pension Contributions minus Spending minus Taxes.  Earn more and one is winning.  Spend less or pay less taxes and you’re also winning.  Savings Rate is then Savings divided by Gross Earnings plus Employee Pension Contributions.  To make it a little more conservative Taxes include any taxes on investments but Earnings include no investment returns.  This encourages me to continually look for the most tax efficient investment methods.  It’s a different and tougher measure to most of my fellow personal finance bloggers who don’t include tax in the calculation.

Savings Rate for the quarter ends at 53.8% against a plan of 55%.  This is identical to last quarter.  While not achieving plan in pounds, shillings and pence it’s actually 56% more than I managed in Half 1 2014 thanks in part to a healthy bonus.

RIT Savings Rate
Click to enlarge, RIT Savings Rate

Saving Hard score: Conceded Pass.  While not achieving a plan of 55% in pound terms I’m a long way above 2014.  Savings have also added 7.6% to my net wealth in the first half of the year – a surreal amount given I’m towards the back end of my Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) journey.


Investment returns for the first half of 2015 were 1.1%.  At the end of quarter 1 I was sitting at 5.8% so a reasonable pull back in quarter 2.  I’m not so concerned with this given I’m well aware that Mr Market can both giveth and taketh away.  I also think I can now answer my quarter 1 question “Is compound interest finally starting to do its thing or has Mr Market just become a little excited?”  My year to date results again reinforce just how important Saving Hard is to my FIRE journey.  In 7 out of 8 periods savings continue to make a greater contribution to my wealth than investments.  This is probably the most surprising thing of my entire journey so far.

RIT Year on Year Change in Wealth
Click to enlarge, RIT Year on Year Change in Wealth

My investing strategy remains largely in line with that developed at the start of my DIY journey except in recent times I've started making 2 tweaks given my closeness to Financial Independence.  The first is to increase cash like holdings to give the option of a family home purchase.  Cash moves from 9.4% of portfolio value at the end of quarter 1 to 10.1% today.  The second is to increase portfolio dividends to 3% with that number coming from a decision to drawdown at 2.5% after expenses which then leaves a little for reinvestment also.  Psychologically I feel this would result in a more relaxed Early Retirement than one where you are selling assets off continually to eat. Mr Market pull-backs, continual HYP additions, some higher risk bonds and my Perpetual Wholesale Industrial Fund for some reason deciding to pay 18% of its value as a distribution mean for the first time on a rolling year basis I'm above that magic 3% at 3.1%.  The Perpetual situation won’t occur again but with my continual HYP building I hope I can continue this trend into the future.  My current asset allocations are:

RIT Asset Allocations
Click to enlarge, RIT Asset Allocations

I continue to invest as tax efficiently as possible with my tax efficient holdings now consisting of:

  • 45.3% held within SIPP's
  • 12.7% held within the no longer available NS&I Index Linked Savings Certificates (ILSC’s)
  • 9.1% held within a Stocks and Shares ISA.

Tax efficiency score: Conceded Pass.  2 and three quarter years ago I was 69.1% tax efficiently invested.  This is now at 67.1% but we now live in an environment without NS&I Index Linked Certificates.  I’d like more efficiency here because it is definitely affecting my Savings Rate badly now but as I mentioned last quarter I’m still struggling to find any more methods that work for me and my goals.

Investment expenses also continue to be treated like the enemy.  In 2014 I took these from 0.36% to 0.31%.  Year to date, thanks to my not accepting a blasé employer and obstructive (for obvious reasons) pension provider this quarter, I've been able to reduce these to 0.27%.  0.04% might not sound like much but on wealth of £100k that’s £40 and on £500k it’s £200.  Better in my pocket than theirs.  I think I’ve also identified an opportunity to get that down to about 0.24% next quarter but I need to do a little more research first.

Minimise expenses score: Pass.  Success in transferring my current employer pension into a SIPP and an idea to further reduce expenses.

If I'm Investing Wisely I should be able to beat (or at least match if I was 100% Index Tracking which IMHO is an admirable pursuit) an Index Benchmark.  My benchmarks are continually challenged by readers but at least for now my Benchmark here remains a simple UK Equity and Bond Portfolio aligned in percentage terms with the building blocks of my own portfolio which is then rebalanced once every year.  Today that benchmark allocation is 67% UK Equities and 33% UK Bonds. The 2 indices I use to replicate that benchmark are the FTSE 100 Total Return (Capital & Income) Index which this half has returned 2.7% and the iBoxx® Sterling Liquid Corporate Long-Dated Bond Total Return (Capital & Income) Index which has returned -1.6%.  The first half return of my benchmark is therefore 1.3%.  My 1.1% (2.1% annualised) half return has been beaten by my benchmark.

Investment return score: Fail.  Even though my benchmark doesn't carry any investment costs where my portfolio sees expenses including fund and wrapper expenses, investment spreads, trading commissions, withholding tax on some investments and deducted at source tax on savings interest I’m going to be hard on myself here.  Particularly given that my Investments are having so little effect on wealth building compared with Savings.

In the scheme of a lifetime of investing 6 months is an insignificant time period.  My strategy is all about time in the market and not timing the market so let’s zoom out and look at my performance since I started down this DIY road.  This looks a little better with the chart below tracking the performance of my portfolio against my Benchmark and inflation (RPI).  Note that the chart assumes a starting sum of £10,000 which is not my portfolio balance at that time but is instead simply a nominal chosen sum to demonstrate performance.  As always I never reveal my portfolio values in £ terms as it’s irrelevant to readers as we all have different earnings, investments, risk profiles, savings rates and target retirement amounts.

RIT Portfolio Performance vs Benchmark vs Inflation
Click to enlarge, RIT Portfolio Performance vs Benchmark vs Inflation

Since the end of 2007 the benchmark continues to beat inflation with Inflation growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 2.8% compared with the benchmark at 4.7%.  In contrast my portfolio has increased at a CAGR of 6.1%.  In real inflation adjusted terms that’s now 3.3%.  My whole investment strategy since 2007 has been to generate a Real Return of 4% over the long term and so in contrast to my position at the end of the first quarter I'm back behind plan.

Long term investment return score: Conceded Pass.  Ahead of log run benchmark but behind plan.


Combining Saving Hard and Investing Wisely should eventually give Early Financial Independence and the option of Retiring Early.  When I started this site in November 2009 I stated that my aim was to retire (which at the time I defined as work becoming optional) in less than 7 years.  I am now nearly five and three quarter years into that journey and assuming I can continue to save at expected rates while achieving a real return of 4% I forecast that financial independence will arrive in a bit less than 18 months.  So since I opened my mouth 4 months ago I've gone absolutely nowhere.  If it happens that will then be a few months over 7 years from waking up to what the game was all about to goal achieved.  It will however still mean financial independence in less than 10 years from when I went DIY in 2007.

Savings and investment return have allowed total wealth to increase 8.6% in the first half of 2015.  A reasonable combined amount with poor investment returns being rescued by savings.  Two charts demonstrate the effect of this.

Firstly, if I stopped work today my earnings would have to come from drawing down from my investment wealth.  The chart below shows on a month by month basis what that drawdown rate (so that’s current Spending divided by Total Wealth) would be.  My target of 2.5% is shown and importantly while the monthly actuals are pretty noisy that trend line is now below 3% and trending nicely towards 2.5%.  It’s important to note that if I was accepting of the 4% Rule I’d be well and truly FIRE’d now.  A negative I have to live with and which comes from my conservative risk averse nature.

RIT Withdrawal Rate
Click to enlarge, RIT Withdrawal Rate

Secondly, I look at it in terms of how much wealth I currently have compared to how much I need to accrue (so that’s future expected Spending divided by 2.5% plus a home purchase for my family) to be able to drawdown at a rate of 2.5%.  As I write this post I have now accrued 82.3% of the wealth I need for Financial Independence which is a reasonable pull back from where I was at the end of the first quarter.  You can see my progress to financial independence and optional early retirement in the chart below.

RIT Path Trodden Towards Financial Independence
Click to enlarge, RIT Path Trodden Towards Financial Independence

Retiring early score: Conceded Pass.  Slightly off target for 7 years from blog start up but less than 10 years from going DIY.  In the last 12 months I’ve accrued a further 11% of the wealth I need for FIRE.

I’m a little disappointed in 2015 so far however I’m going to keep my head held high and persist as I can now almost see the finish line.  How was your half 1 financially?  Are you happy with your achievements?

As always please do your own research. 


  1. Thanks for the detailed update RIT. The markets have seen a little turbulence in recent weeks but as you point out, the longer term investing picture is very healthy. I am confident FI will arrive before too much longer so good to start making some plans.

    You have posted a few times on location options after FI but I would be interested to hear about your plans around what your plans on what you will be doing with allthe free time when you stop full time work - maybe this will depend to some extent on where you settle on for location?

    Not far to go now - good luck with the final run up!

    1. Thanks for the wishes John. I do tend to keep this blog PF fact based rather than containing too many of my ramblings/musings. I'm also aware that this does make it all pretty dry and non-personal at times. Maybe says something about my personality :-)

      It is probably worth putting some thoughts up on post-retirement activities in the near future. You're right though it does vary a little depending on location - mainly timing as opposed to activity.

  2. Did you ever? Apparently there are benefits to retiring.

    1. Given the amount of stress/strain/pressure/responsibility associated with my current role it would be impossible for early retirement to not be good for my life satisfaction and health.

      That said I'd hate to see my situation today had I not opted out of consumerism and pursued FIRE as I'm now happier and healthier than I was prior to this journey commencing.

  3. Great update RIT thanks - you are close to your FI date yet it's still not quite plain sailing due to the markets wobbling. The main thing is adherence to your plan and strategy. All the best for the final leg!

    1. Thanks for the wishes weenie. TBH I'm not that happy about still having 18 months to go. I really want to FIRE in summer 2016 so I'm going to get my head down and try and work out how to achieve it. More to come...

  4. A very detailed report. It gives some ideas to look into my own reporting. It is good to see that you slowly approach your 2,5pct withdrawal rate.

    As far as the benefit of savings goes vs compounded interest: I noticed the same in my projections. The most part of my journey years, my savings will be the biggest contributor to my F-money.

    1. 'The most part of my journey years, my savings will be the biggest contributor to my F-money.' Glad I'm not the only one. I'm wondering how many people are actually aware of this phenomena or also seeing it in their own journey. I think it's probably only relevant to people pursing very early retirement/FI so there's probably not that many of us affected.

  5. Perhaps not the place to ask but I don't understand how compound interest works with funds? For example if I invest 10k in funds, there is a market crash and in 5years time what I invest is worth 2k....this isn't compounding interest as I know it? How do you decide whether ACC or INC funds are for you?

    1. What you are describing is not compound interest but volatility.

      The total return for ACC and INC funds should be the same. I choose INC funds as this then enables me to allocate the distributions to the most under performing asset class within my portfolio during the accumulation phase. During draw down those distributions will then be my 'salary'.

    2. Compound interest always occurs if you reinvest your dividends. Whether the market moves up or down does not come into it. If, before the crash you were taking your dividend income from your investments and spending it then your investment portfolio after the crash would have lower value than if you were choosing to reinvest your dividend income before the crash. Unless you will be relying on your dividend income for spending now or soon (i.e. retirement), most would choose acc investments as this is the cheapest way to reinvest the dividends (no charge to reinvest).

    3. Thank you for the replies. I don't understand how it can be said to be compound interest if the value of the interest has been obliterated? I guess what you're saying is that it doesn't matter as its compounding, it just isn't working in my favour at that time if it bombs?

    4. You're mixing up compound interest and market volatility. Jim F describes compound interest quite succinctly. If you would like to have a look at how compound interest interacts with volatility this post ( might help. In it I show what I call an Index which is just capital gains and so doesn't contain compound interest effects. I also show the Total Return Index for each of the markets which has capital gains as well as dividends reinvested and so contains compound interest going to work. Both have volatility which is the up's and down's of the indices. Notice how in every case the Total Return Index is ahead - that's the compound interest effect.

    5. Or, as RIT writes, you want the flexibility to manually invest the income in another way. Although acc is supposed to be the most efficient way to reinvest, what I do not know is how easy and cheap it is to switch your portfolio to inc investments when the time comes. If you are forced to manually sell all acc and then manually buy it back as inc then you are possibly going to lose a possibly significant amount. This may be particularly true where you choose to buy investments with initial charges, high buy-sell spread, stamp duty or brokerage charges. See

    6. (Sorry, crossing posts.) I think maybe it would help to refresh yourself with reading about compound interest. It is always working in your favour, even when the market 'bombs'. Maybe what you are thinking is wouldn't it have been better to take the dividends and hold it as cash while the market drops? Sure, yes it would but you don't know which way the market will go in the short term. Most people believe it goes up in the long term, and many are betting their retirements on it (including me). If an investment goes up over the term you have the investment then the parts that the gradually reinvested dividends bought will also go up in value over that term; that is compound interest. (If you are a 'trader' and buy and sell in the short term, it is pretty irrelevant.) It may help if you think of everything in percentage terms. I do not think you are otherwise you would not say that the investment bought from interest/dividend gets obliterated when the market drops; it just gets reduced.

    7. Love the new proving 'I am not a robot' questions! I couldn't quite work out all the bread products in the last quiz; there was not the resolution to tell a chapati from a pancake :). Oh no, is a panettone bread or cake?? This is very educational.

    8. Based on your responses I understand ACC is definitely the right option for me. However, I must admit I still don't fully understand how compound interest works in the scenario like I described. Still, thank you for taking the time to explain it, I'll do some more digging and hopefully it'll click soon enough!

  6. Interesting update RIT. What strikes me is how different the picture might have been if you took your snapshot 2 weeks agp, or next week - maybe. I know that my portfolio has gone from 0.8% down to 2.0% up for the month in the last 10 days or so. In this kind of environment detailed analysis seems a little difficult to take as a serious indicator of where we will be in 12 months time.

    For this reason I vote you'll make next summer happen. Just wait for a good day sometime in April/May/June 2016 to run your spreadsheets and then jump. :-)

    1. I should clarify my 1.1% total return covered the period 03 January 2015 to 04 July 2015. I'm always a bit of a laggard when it comes to posting my quarterly performance as I have to wait for some dividends to be paid to balance the books.

      Like you that has recovered somewhat in the last couple of weeks. Without calculating in full detail, like your good self, I estimate year to date I'm now back to about 2%.

  7. Very interesting - as always. RIT - You are doing the RE community a great service by writing this blog. Keep it up!

    My HYP (which is >90% of my investment portfolio) gained 2.85% in capital value from COB 31 Dec 2014 to COB 03 July 2015. The total gain including dividends received was 4.61%.

    I'm not big on benchmarking, but the FTSE 100 went from 6548 to 6585 in the same period, for a capital gain of 0.57%. Assuming a 3% divi yield, and assuming half is paid out in H1, I make that a benchmark return of around 2.07%.

    The reason for the strange date of 03 July is that I run the numbers each Friday on the train home after work. Sadly, it's a real highlight of my working week. Roll on FIRE!


    1. Thanks for sharing Brodes. Always good to see others performance to hold each other accountable. If you're looking for good benchmark data I'd suggest exploring the iShares site. For every ETF they give a benchmark return. You can also configure each ETF/benchmark for whatever time period takes your fancy.

      Like yourself I also run my numbers weekly. In my case it's Saturday morning with a fresh brew. The FTSE 100 benchmark I gave in the post covers your period quite closely - COB 02 January 2015 to COB 03 July 2015 for a total return of 2.7%.

      Congratulations on the HYP total return of 4.61%. I wrote about my HYP's performance last week. In comparison the closest I have to your period is COB 31 Dec 14 to COB 06 July 2015. So 1 days difference. My total return in comparison was actually -0.1% (capital gain of -3.1% and dividends of 3.0%).

  8. Please ignore my benchmarking above. The 31 Dec 2014 FTSE 100 number is wrong. The HYP numbers are correct though.


  9. As always, thanks for the post, RIT. My HYP performance has been poor over recent times. Probably too weighted towards oil and mining. Also, I made a bum investment with De La Rue (that was mostly a while back but it doesn't help). What I may have done with my HYP is probably failed to pay enough attention to selecting a broad enough range of company activities and not chosen enough companies (tried to keep trading costs very so bought too big tranches of stock), but I have not been running it long so have probably just been a bit unlucky in the short term, too. When you write your HYP selection posts, you have a good list of criteria but how bothered are you to choose diverse company activities? You have two oils and two pharmas I think. I think I will gradually turn my HYP into an IT portfolio because of the lack of diversity in the short/medium term.

    P.S. When you write, 'As always I never reveal my portfolio values in £ terms as it’s irrelevant to readers as we all have different earnings, investments, risk profiles, savings rates and target retirement amounts.', you really do not have to justify it, just say it's private! :)

  10. Excellent post. I echo the comment that you are doing the FIRE community a real service with this analysis. Thank you!

    I am slowly working on piecing together an analysis of my portfolio's returns and whether/why it out/underperforms (as you have asked me to, here: !). Can you point me at your source for the FTSE 100 Total Returns index data? You suggested on my blog the FT market data but I can't quite find a good way of doing it. Is it this:

  11. Great analysis RIT thank you for sharing and good-luck with hitting your target in the next 48 months or so !

    Your breakdowns are in many cases more detailed than my own, so i am still learning on this journey. under the heading Invest Wisely you have a graph that breaks out the "Savings hard" vs "Investing wisely" components, which i like a lot, but theres a question i hope you can answer for me... Which component do you attribute the "interest" you would be receiving from the 10% cash in you portfolio ?? or put another way is do you add it to the Annual saving or the annual investment returns ?

    Thanks again for sharing such a warts and all view