Thursday 2 May 2013

The Cheapest Loan

You’ve done your homework on understanding how debt works and decided to take on a loan.  No matter whether that loan is a mortgage, personal loan or credit card then the next step is to ensure that you end up with the cheapest or lowest cost loan you can, along with one that actually meets your needs.  To do this you have no choice but to find a quiet place, where with a fresh cup of tea, you can read the small print of each loan provider you are considering and in parallel run some maths to calculate who is the cheapest provider based on all that small print.  It’s key to do the maths because when it comes to loans, as with investments, small amounts over long periods and fees matter.

If you want to do the maths yourself then Excel’s PMT function will get you a long way.  This gives the repayment amount for a loan given an interest rate, the number of constant periods the loan is taken over and the present value of the loan.  If you don’t have Excel or aren't mathematically savvy then you could also use a loan or mortgage calculator to do a lot of the work for you.

Let’s look at a few simple case studies, which build in complexity, to show just how important it is to run the numbers.

Case Study 1 - All else being equal secure the lowest interest rate you can

Bank A is offering a loan with an annual interest rate of 5% (the interest rate) and Bank B has a rate of 5.5%.  The loan amount is for £10,000 (the present value of the loan), you are going to make the repayments monthly and you intend to take the loan over 10 years (the number of constant periods will be 10x12=120 months because you pay monthly).   To calculate the monthly repayment for the first scenario you would enter the following into Excel ‘=PMT(5%/12, 10*12,-£10,000)’ which would give you a repayment to Bank A of£106.07 per month.  Note you have to divide the interest rate by 12 months as the repayment is made monthly.  If you run the same calculation for Bank B’s interest rate of 5.5% the monthly repayment would be £108.53.

At first glance it doesn’t seem like much of a difference.  After all it’s only £2.46 per month however this is no different to the Latte a Day case study I’ve run before which demonstrates how small amounts matter.  Over the 10 year period the total interest paid is £2,728 and £3,023 respectively.  That 0.5% actually means 10.8% more in interest payments.   It’s also important to remember that the longer the loan period the worse this effect.  For example lengthen the loan term to 20 years and that 10.8% becomes 11.5%.  This is Compound Interest at work.

Tuesday 30 April 2013

The New FTSE 100 Cyclically Adjusted Price Earnings Ratio (FTSE 100 CAPE) Update - April 2013

Welcome to the new look UK FTSE 100 monthly stock market review which includes a couple of valuation metrics.  The last time we looked at this dataset was on the 10 March 2013.  This monthly review will now loosely follow the same format we use for the S&P 500 which will enable us to get some consistency across regions going forward.

FTSE 100 Price

At market close on Tuesday the FTSE 100 was priced at 6,430.  That is a rise of 0.8% when compared with the 01 March 2013 Price of 6,379 and 9.5% above the 02 April 2013 Price of 5,875.  How this pricing compares with history can be seen in the chart below.

Click to enlarge

This is a similar chart to that which you will see in many places within the mainstream media.  Let’s now remove the sensationalism by:

• Correcting the chart for the devaluation of the £ through inflation.  For this dataset I use the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to devalue the £.
• Plotting the Pricing on a logarithmic scale as opposed to a linear one.  By using this scale percentage changes in price appear the same.

Looking at the chart this way reveals the FTSE 100 in a very different light.  That light shows that the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in today’s £’s has only been 2.0%.  Correct it by the Retail Prices Index (RPI) and that falls to 1.2%.

Click to enlarge

FTSE 100 Earnings

As Reported Nominal Annual Earnings are currently 483, up from 458 on the 01 March 2013.  They are down 18.3% on last year and 23.0% on October 2011’s 628.  Or course this looks better than it really is as inflation flatters the result.  I therefore plot a chart below, again on a logarithmic axis, showing Real (inflation adjusted) Earnings performance over the long term.

Click to enlarge

Monday 29 April 2013

What type of Investor are you?

There are a multitude of investment opportunities and investment products available today to help investors meet their goals, which might include retirement or financial independence.  Before you look at those products in detail you must first ascend to 30,000 feet and decide what type of Investor you are or intend to be.  At this level I see there are essentially 4 types of investor which can be profiled by answering 2 questions:

1. Am I going to be an Active or Passive Investor?
2. Do I want to be DIY or have somebody make my investment decisions for me in consultation with me?

Let’s look at each in turn.

Active vs Passive Investing

The debate over which of these strategies is better has been going on for years.  Passive investments aim to do nothing more than track a market index.  That could be a stock market index like the FTSE All Share Index or a bond market index like the Barclays UK Government Inflation-Linked Bond Index.  These types of investments don’t need talented managers or analysts but simply a decent computer system that will enable the assets purchased to replicate the market.  Importantly when selecting these types of investments you will be looking for ones that track the chosen index as closely as possible.  Therefore if you are passive investing well you will never beat the market but should get pretty close to its nominal performance.

Active investments on the other hand are run by professional managers who are supported by analysts and researchers.  They will conduct extensive market research on the investment opportunities within their remit with the specific aim of beating the market.  It must however be remembered that the law of averages dictates that for every active investment manager that beats the market somebody or something has to not beat the market.  Some of these will be other professional managers.   Pick one of those and you would have been better off going passive.

Active investments typically carry higher expenses than passive investments.  After all those managers, analysts and researchers aren’t working for free and expect to be paid.  Therefore they must beat the market by at least their expenses if they are to be a better bet than the passive investment option.

The second decision you need to make is are you prepared to go it alone, make all of your own investment decisions and live with the consequences.  It should not be underestimated how important planning for retirement or financial independence is.  In many instances you will only ever get one shot at it.  If you go DIY you must be therefore prepared to read a lot and really think through what you are trying to achieve.  You’ll need to accurately assess where you are today, where you want to go and when you want to get there.  You will need to determine how risk tolerant you are, while also realising that, for example, 100% of the lowest risk asset class today will likely not give you the lowest risk portfolio.  You’ll then need to crash all of that information with a lot of research on different asset classes and investment wrappers to build a diversified, tax minimised investment portfolio, with expenses at a level you are happy with, that will give a high probability of meeting your goals.  You’ll need to t
hen review your portfolio regularly to determine if or when you want to rebalance those investments and also ascertain if you are still on target to meet your goals.

Sunday 28 April 2013

The Best Performing Stock Market in the World

In the modern day we see many of the emerging economies of the world moving forward with high growth while in contrast many of the mature western economies have anaemic growth at best.  This was reinforced last week with the UK reporting preliminary quarterly growth of 0.3% (1.3% annualised) while the US fared better with an annualised 2.5%.  In contrast on the 15 April 2013 we heard that China was growing at 7.7%.  Does this mean we should all be selling our mature market equities and loading up on emerging markets?  Or do we get enough benefit from the fact that many mature market companies are exposed to high growth markets?

To try and get an idea I ran the Google search “the best performing stock market in the world” and was rewarded with the result that in 2012 the Venezuela IBC returned around 300%.  I was disappointed with this result and the majority of the other Google results for three main reasons:

• As a private investor are we really going to put a significant portion of our wealth into the Venezuela stock market?  Or the Turkish XU100, Egyptian EGX, Pakistan KSE or the Kenya NSE for that matter?  Well as somebody who is searching for consistent return over many years I know I’m not.
• The majority of results simply show the performance of the major stock market within each country.  This is flawed because each of these markets is priced in the local currency of each country and we all know that currencies move for all manner of reasons including varying rates of currency devaluation caused by inflation.  You therefore cannot compare one with the other as they have different units.  It would be like saying Car A which is travelling at 110 km/hour is going faster than Car B which is travelling at 100 miles/hour.  A clearly ludicrous statement.
• As the results only use the major stock market for each country they are only looking at the capital gain of each of these markets.  If we truly want to understand the best performing market then we should also consider the contribution from dividends because dividends matter.

Let’s therefore answer the question from a personal long term investor perspective while considering the three points above.

Sunday 21 April 2013

The New S&P 500 Cyclically Adjusted Price Earnings Ratio (S&P500 CAPE) Update - April 2013

I've been publishing a review of the S&P500 and all its nuances every month for over 3 years.  This is data that I personally use for my own investments and as my knowledge has grown so too has the content posted but the format has remained largely unchanged.  I've received no complaints but to me the format has now grown a little unwieldy, not as clear as it could be and probably most importantly I've become a little bored with it.  Last month’s review can be found here.  I've therefore spent some time reformatting the charts, adding some more relevant historical content and hopefully arranging the content into something a little more logical.  I hope it works for you.

S&P500 Price

At market close on Friday the S&P500 was Priced at 1,555.  That is a rise of 0.3% when compared with 1,551, which is the average closing Price of each trading day last month.  It is 12.2% above last year’s April monthly Price of 1,386.  Note that for this index I only look at monthly average Prices as opposed to hourly or daily as I'm a very long term investor and just don’t need the noise associated with more granularity.  I’ll leave that for the traders out there.

We can then look at how this Price compares to history which is shown in the chart below.

Click to enlarge

This is a similar chart to that which you will see in many places within the mainstream media when displayed over a long term.  It looks sensational and in my opinion isn’t very helpful.  Let’s therefore adjust it to the chart below where I try to show what is really going on with Prices.  I make two adjustments:

• Correct the chart for the devaluation of the US Dollar through inflation.  This unfortunately means, unlike the mainstream media in recent times, I can’t report that the S&P500 has reached new all time highs as in real terms it is still 22.5% below the Real high reached in August 2000.
• Show the Pricing on a logarithmic scale as opposed to a linear one.  By using this scale percentage changes in price appear the same.  For example let’s say we have two historic prices of 10 and 100.  If they both increase in price by 10% then they increase by 1 and 10 respectively.  On a linear scale it would appear as though the second has increased by a factor of 10 more than the first where on a logarithmic scale they will appear to have changes the same.  Less sensational but more correct.

Click to enlarge