Category: Boring Investor

Valuation of First Ship Lease Trust

A reader recently alerted me to the undervaluation of First Ship Lease Trust (FSL). It is a stock that lost a lot of money for me, having bought it at $1.27 in Oct 2007, averaged down at $0.42 in May 2009, before finally throwing in the towel at $0.225…

Globalisation, Technology and the Home Bias

I have both active and passive investments in my cash account. The active investments are in local equities while the passive investments are in global/US equities. Part of the reasons is because I understand that passive investments, especially using index funds, can lead to better performance over active investments. In recent years, I have come to realise that there is another important reason for having passive investments that are invested globally. It is the increasing disadvantage of the home bias in the face of globalisation and technology.
Since my active investments are in local equities, I am highly susceptible to the home bias. Home bias means that an investor invests only in companies operating in his home country due to familiarity with local companies and regulations. Literature shows that home bias results in lower performance as the investor gives up the opportunities of investing in better managed companies overseas. With globalisation and technology, the disadvantage posed by home bias is increasing.
Let us use Yellow Pages as an example to illustrate the increasing impact of globalisation and technology on home bias. Before the rise of internet search engines, whenever consumers wish to search for a particular good or service, they had to refer to either word-of-mouth or Yellow Pages. Yellow Pages thus could do well as it had a monopoly on the directory of goods and services in the country. Each country has its own version of Yellow Pages, with some doing better than others due to different environments. While investors who invest only in their country’s Yellow Pages might not have reaped the maximum benefits from investing in the best run companies globally, they could still do relatively well. Before globalisation and technology, home bias leads to relative underperformance, but it is still not serious.
Enter the internet search engines. With internet search engines, consumers no longer need to refer to the local Yellow Pages to find goods and services. They can search on the internet instead. Companies also respond by advertising their goods and services on the internet instead of Yellow Pages. There is also a network effect at work. The more companies a particular search engine covers, the more consumers use that search engine. And the more consumers use that search engine, the more companies advertise on that search engine. This gives rise to just a few dominant search engines in every country. The 3 dominant search engines in the world are Google, Bing and Yahoo, which all reside in US. Thus, with the march of technology and globalisation, local Yellow Pages in every country suffer declining revenue from a business that used to be very stable. Investors who invest in their country’s own Yellow Pages suffer as well. Home bias, in the face of globalisation and technology, can be serious.
Although I used Yellow Pages as an example, it is by no means the only company facing increasing challenges from globalisation and technology. SPH’s newspapers are facing declining readership due to internet news sites, ComfortDelgro’s taxi business is under threat from Uber, hotel business trusts like CDLHT, FrasersHT, FarEastHT, etc. are facing competition from Airbnb. The list goes on and on. The examples above show that big, local companies are not spared from the competition. Not only that, the competitors threatening the local companies are all based overseas. Investors who invest only in local companies are likely to see declining dividends and share prices.
In conclusion, before globalisation and technology, home bias is a small price to pay for the familiarity with local companies and regulations. But with the relentless march of globalisation and technology, the price of home bias is more and more singnificant. It looks like I have to allocate more money to my passive investments, which are invested in global/US equity funds.
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Possibly The Worst Time to Invest – 3 Years On

This is an annual blog series that I started 3 years ago to document the worries about investing at the wrong time, which would bring losses and headaches. The blog series track the performance of 2 passive portfolios invested in index funds using the portfolio rebalancing strategy. Both portfolios comprise of 70% allocation in stocks and 30% in bonds. The plain vanilla portfolio invests in global equities and global bonds while the spicy portfolio invests in US equities and Asian bonds. The first portfolio was started in Dec 2013, while the second one was funded progressively over 2015. 
In the first post in 2014, I mentioned worries about the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) nearing its all-time high (then) and US Federal Reserve planning to raise interest rates from an all-time low. In the second post in 2015, I mentioned that the same worries persisted, with DJIA touching yet new highs and interest rates moving up in anticipation of Fed’s interest rate increase. Not only that, new risks emerged with oil price crashing by more than 50%, China’s growth slowing down and the threat of Grexit. Yet, despite all these worries, the plain vanilla portfolio went up by 12% since its inception.
In the third post last year, I mentioned that worries about market declines actually materialised, with major declines in Aug 2015 and Jan 2016. The decline in Jan 2016 was especially severe, with stock markets around the world crashing. At mid Feb 2016, the plain vanilla portfolio was down by 0.7% since inception while the spicy portfolio lost 7.0%. Yet, by the time I wrote the annual post in Apr 2016, both portfolios had bounced back strongly. The plain vanilla portfolio was up by 8.5% while the spicy portfolio gained 0.6% since inception.
With each passing year, more and more risks materialised. Jun 2016 saw Britons voting for Brexit while Nov 2016 saw US citizens voting for Donald Trump as president. Both outcomes were unexpected and led to sharp falls in the stock markets around the world. Yet, barely days later (or hours in the case of the US presidential election), stock markets had recovered fully from their initial falls. Not only that, stock markets went on to scale new heights on optimism that President Trump’s fiscal policies would spur faster growth in the US and world economies. Currently, the plain vanilla portfolio is up by 21.6% while the spicy portfolio is up by 13.7% over their respective holding periods of about 3.5 years and 1.5 years.
Personally, I still worry a lot about risks, which I wrote about in a couple of posts last year, such as What Have We Got After 8 Years of Easy Money?, Making America Great Again and Its Impact to Asia, Another Year That Ends with 7, etc. This pessimism is reflected in my active investments. Over the past 1 year, I have been taking some money off the table. Some of the risk management related divestments include Venture at $8.38, Valuetronics (partial) at $0.50, Global Logistic Properties (partial) at $1.81 and a couple of speculative shares (see Meet The Minions). Nonetheless, there are new investments, but these are in more defensive stocks such as dividend stocks, beaten-down stocks and even Gold.
In fact, I was quite tempted to tinker with the 2 passive portfolios given the strong views about the market. But I decided not to do anything about them. Had I rebalanced or withdrawn money from the 2 passive portfolios, they would not have achieved the returns mentioned above. They have built-in defence mechanisms to manage market crashes through portfolio rebalancing if the stock/ bond allocation were to deviate from the original allocation by a pre-defined amount. For these 2 portfolios, I will continue to stick to the pre-defined strategy even if the markets were to crash.
In conclusion, it is difficult to predict where the markets are heading. If you have a well-defined defence mechanism in place, just let the portfolios continue their work.
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Early Retirement Maybe A Luxury That I Cannot Afford

I have blogged about early retirement in the past 2 years, but I really do not intend for this to be an annual series. Moreover, I do not intend to retire early and sit back and do nothing. Nevertheless, there are fresh insights on this topic and it is good to write them down for future reference. 
In the past 1 year, I have read a few books such as “Capital in the 21st Century” and “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future”. I am concerned about automation and robots taking away jobs. By right, this should not be a concern for someone who has considered early retirement. However, there are additional complexity if I think about future generations. I do not have any children currently, but if I have, then any actions on my part now would have an impact on them in the future.
I do not think I will be replaced by automation and robots any time soon. However, the same cannot be said for the next generation. If the doomsday scenario of robots replacing workers on a wide scale were to materialise, it means that we are back to the very old days when how well we live does not depend on how hard we work, but who our parents are and/or whom we marry. In the case of my children (if any), that parent would be me. Thus, when seen from an inter-generational perspective, the window of human employment is closing soon and early retirement at a time when jobs are still available seems a luxury. Hence, instead of saving enough for my own retirement and retiring early, I should work for as long as possible to maximise the income from human capital and build up sufficient financial capital upon which my descendants could lead a decent life. Early retirement maybe a luxury that I could not afford in the face of automation and robots.

Of course, this is not a fool-proof plan. Whatever I save could be squandered away by future descendents. So, I do hope that the doomsday scenario of robots replacing workers will not happen. Or perhaps the prevailing governments of the day would understand the social implications and implement some basic income for citizens as suggested in the books mentioned above. If I have to pay more taxes for this to happen, I would grudgingly pay them. It is a small price to pay for social insurance for my future generations.

Having said the above, if I can have the option of not relying on some external parties to bail us out, that would be the best. Thus, I will have to use my own efforts and earn as much as possible. Sorry, folks, I have to go back to work tomorrow.
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Breaking My Valuation & Position Limits

It is official! I have broken my valuation limits on buying & selling stocks and position limits on individual stocks! Previously, I mentioned in What is My Target Price? that I have valuation limits of 1.8 to 2.0 times book value for buying stocks…

I Didn’t Let My Alma Mater Down

How time flies. This is post no. 208, which makes it the 4th birthday for this weekly blog. This is a time for celebrations and reflections. Today’s story is about my studies in the Singapore Management University (SMU)’s Masters in Applied Finance (MA…

The Investigative Approach to Stock Investments

There are a couple of quantitative methods for analysing stocks, such as the Dividend Discount Model (DDM). A lot of people use them for stock analysis and investment as they are relatively simple to use and do not require qualitative analysis of the b…

Challenging Times Ahead for Starhub’s Dividends

When M1 announced its results in end Jan, I went to buy both M1 and Singtel, but I did not buy Starhub. The conventional wisdom is that between M1 and Starhub, Starhub would be better able to manage the competition from the fourth telco, as it has Pay …

Is Pay TV Still A Reliable Cash Cow?

For the past 6 weeks, I have been blogging about the mobile services segment of telcos. It is time to move on to the next segment — Pay TV. I will analyse Pay TV using Starhub’s results, as Singtel has more business segments and operates in many count…