Saturday 9 January 2016

An Interesting Week

Blowing bubbles
Source: wikipedia
Rather than a particular focus this week my brain has been a little all over the place.  Maybe it’s the after effects of too much Christmas and New Year cheer...  What it means though is that instead of a detailed focused post today what you get is a smattering of random thoughts.  If that’s not your thing then you might want to move onto your next piece of Saturday reading.

Stock Market Fun

The big boys and girls seem to have come back from their Christmas vacations and (started to?) put the markets back in their place.  On the week:
  • China’s Shanghai Composite Index is down 10.0%;
  • The US’s S&P500 is down 6.0%;
  • Japan’s Nikkei 225 is down 7.0%;
  • Our FTSE100 is down 5.3%; and
  • Our FTSE250 is down 4.0%

It’s only a week of market action but I thought it might be interesting to compare that action to a diversified portfolio that has different asset classes across multiple countries.  I hope I have one of those so comparing to my portfolio I’m down 2.3% on the week.  I’m not yet at FIRE but even now in pounds, shillings and pence that is a fall of £19,320 which is more than a year’s worth of post FIRE post home purchase living expenses.

London Housing

It’s all too rare that The Investor over at the excellent Monevator has a good rant but there was some good value this week with the post they don’t tax free time.  Like The Investor I've watched the London property market go insane so this comment

“But with London prices having moved from extreme to insane to “oh, so this is what my grandmother meant when she said flinched at 50p for a bag of chips that used to cost a ha’penny”...”

was particularly amusing.  Now every year I try and assess the house value of all the counties ofEngland and Wales so I already knew it was insane and really no longer a place for anyone who isn't an oligarch or money launderer.  Hell even the bankers can’t afford it any more.  In light of this throwing this chart together this week did make me smile:

London first time buyer gross house price to earnings ratios
Click to enlarge, London first time buyer gross house price to earnings ratios

Does this make my first picture today relevant?

Friday 1 January 2016

2015 HYP Review

The vast majority of my low cost portfolio consists of low cost trackers.  The one big exception to this is my UK High Yield Portfolio (HYP), which has just completed its 4th calendar year and contains a not insignificant £60,000 or so of my hard earned wealth.

I am a big believer in passive index tracking as I don’t believe it’s possible to consistently beat the market over a very long time (think 40 years or so in my case).  So why did I start a HYP then?  It all centred on trying to understand my own psychology.  At some point in the not too distant future I'm no longer going to be in the portfolio accrual stage and instead will start drawing down on my wealth.  As a very early retiree my draw down phase is with any luck going to be a long time.  It could even be equivalent to my whole 43 years of life so far.  For me at least I feel that selling down assets to eat on a good day could be psychologically difficult even for somebody as rational as me.  I could only imagine how difficult it would be if Mr Market had tanked by 50%.  So with that in mind I set myself a task to position my portfolio to have a very good chance of being able to live off the dividends and interest only from my portfolio.

The HYP has helped me achieve that goal with my total portfolio dividends and interest (less the funds allocated for a home purchase) currently generating a yield of 3.6% against a planned retirement withdrawal rate of 2.5%.  With this now being well in control I haven’t had a need to add a great deal to the HYP this year.  Additions have been limited to:
  • BP.  Bought in January 2015 and currently sitting on an annualised capital loss of -11.1% and a forecast dividend yield of 7.4%.
  • Rio Tinto.  Bought in March 2015 and currently sitting on an annualised capital loss of -37.1% (ouch!) and a forecast dividend yield of 7.5%.
  • Legal & General.  Bought in May 2015 and currently sitting on an annualised capital loss of -1.1% and a forecast dividend yield of 5.0%.
  • National Grid.  Bought in July 2015 and currently sitting on an annualised capital gain of +25.3% and a forecast dividend yield of 4.7%.

The complete HYP and their respective values are shown in the chart below.  The purchasing rule that I follow is the amount of the next purchase is the median share value of the current portfolio (with the exception of RMG and S32).

Retirement Investing Today High Yield Portfolio
Click to enlarge, Retirement Investing Today High Yield Portfolio

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Giving my bonus to those better able to spend it

I believe that I work hard.  In fact I'm now at the point (and have been for a few months) where I'm wondering if I can increase my discretionary energy further or whether doing so will result in burn-out.  I'm therefore for now maintaining status quo while I better understand my long term capability.  Fortunately, that hard work typically transfers into results meaning another year has passed where my personal work objectives have been yet again knocked out of the park.  Great I hear you say, another year of big bonuses, which you’ll save all of, which will pull you even closer to FIRE.  I wish it were true...

Firstly, bonuses at my company are structured in such a way that it considers your objectives as well as the objectives of the company as a whole.  I can sort of understand this as it protects the company in very bad times such as those seen at the bottom of the Global Financial Crisis.  So has company performance been good this year?  Unfortunately the answer to that question is a resounding no.  If I was asked was the company doing well I would of course give a very different answer but hey ho.  The end result of all this is that a large portion of my bonus will not pay out.  Of course the portion not paid out goes straight to the bottom line meaning a large portion of my hard work this year has gone to enriching the owners of the company.

Saturday 19 December 2015

RateSetter Peer-to-Peer Lending – It can no longer be called an experiment

RateSetter logoI first dipped my toe into the Peer-to-Peer lending arena back in May 2014.  Research at that time suggested for me there were two viable alternatives – Zopa and RateSetter.  I went with RateSetter and duly deposited £10,000.

Since that first investment I've gradually continued to invest and as of today have a not insignificant £43,769 or 5% of my total wealth invested in RateSetter.  With this amount invested I can no longer say I'm experimenting.  My market of choice is the 3 Year Income market however recently I've started to move some new/repayment money into the 1 Year market and as a home purchase gets even closer I’ll start moving into the Monthly market.  My lending has so far achieved an annualised 4.5%.  A result I'm ok with.

Peer-to-peer lending has a very different risk profile to that of a vanilla savings account and given this is money I have planned for an eventual home purchase I'm sensitive to these risks.  For starters you are not eligible for the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) which protects the first £85,000 (£75,000 from 01 January 2016) of savings so your capital is at risk.  RateSetter does offer some protection in the form of a Provision Fund which reimburses lenders (ie us) if a borrowers payment is missed.  I like to keep an eye on defaults and this fund.  When I first started investing the Provision Fund was £6,328,472 which was set against £179,536,557 of loans.  So by value 3.5% of payments would have had to be reneged on before I potentially started to see losses.

Today the Provision Fund has grown to £16,543,201 against loans of £510,819,525 so protection has been diminished to defaults of 3.2% by value.  So far in 2015 the actual default rate has been 0.55% so the Provision Fund is more than covering what’s happening this year.

Of course this year is not a year like 2008 and unfortunately RateSetter was not in business at that time so I can’t check the default rates to compare against the Provision Fund.  Zopa was however in business and they currently have a 2015 actual default rate of 0.13% and back in 2008 saw actual defaults of 4.67%.  So in 2015 it looks like RateSetter’s loan book is riskier than Zopa’s and the Zopa default rate would have more than depleted the RateSetter Provision Fund.  I’ll also make a hypothesis that if/when we have another ‘Global Financial Crisis’ (or equivalent) RateSetter will see actual defaults higher than Zopa.  This is not surprising given a quick check this morning shows Zopa 3 year loans at 3.8% while RateSetter 3 year loans are at 4.8%.  Risk vs Reward and all that.