Category Archives: Investing

Changing lanes

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Ive often sat in traffic on Johannesburg’s busy streets, and wondered why so many drivers constantly lane hop… These drivers will cut and push their way into different lanes as that lane speeds up, but the end result is they normally get to their destination in the same amount of time. I always wondered if it was worth all the effort to cut a few seconds off their travel time? I would guess that in some instances, these drivers do cut some time off their ETA, but how often?

This then got me thinking about investing and how some investors try to hop in and out of investments during volatile times, with the aim of timing it perfectly. Are these investors any better than the guy pushing his way through traffic? in the long run, do they achieve a higher return? The short answer is no. In some cases, I’m sure investors could get the call right, and avoid some drop in capital value, but then you have the problem of timing your entry back into the markets. What you normally find is they will panic when the markets drop, and switch everything into cash, just to find that markets have actually bounced back by the time the switch happens. Or they will exit too soon, missing some of the upside, and then wait too long before getting back into the markets.

As it stands now, “cash” gives around 6% yields per annum. It has very little volatility, but little growth. With the Equity market, you do increase your risk to volatility, but in good times, you could see higher yields than cash in less than 1 week. This means if you didn’t time the market right, and missed that run in Equity, you could potentially miss a full year’s worth of cash growth.

So what is the best strategy for investing? Its quiet simple, speak to your Investment Manager, select a risk profile that suits your needs, or investment horizon, and stick to it. Don’t panic when you see markets reacting to situations that are out of your control. You need to ignore the noise, and just let your Investment Manager do what they do best! As per the Wall Street adage – “Time in the markets is better than timing the markets”.

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Impact of the current account deficit on the financial markets

History is littered with examples of countries that have experienced turmoil in financial markets due to large current account deficits. Turmoil in the markets is more pronounced if the deficit is being financed by short term portfolio investments.
The classical textbook definition of a current account deficit is the difference between imports and exports of goods and services. A decline in trade balance caused by either increased demand for imports and or poor export performance, as was the case in the second quarter of 2014 according to the Reserve Bank’s latest quarterly bulletin reported last Tuesday can increase the current account deficit.

A large current account is an imbalance which is always undesirable. However, for investors to navigate the treacherous waters caused by a current account deficit it is important that they establish the source of imbalance and how it has been financed. Because being large in itself may not necessarily lead to turmoil in the markets, case in point- the US has been running huge current account deficits since 2006 without any negative repercussions on the financial markets. Although studies by the IMF have shown that large deficits are ultimately not sustainable as a result of financing problems or a change in investment patterns in a domestic economy.

In the case of South Africa, a stubbornly low savings rate has meant that the country has had to rely on foreign investment to fund the deficit since first quarter of 2006, in particular through “…a combination of direct, portfolio and, to a lesser extent, other investment flows”. This has not been a problem in the past, especially in the wake of the global financial crisis which later morphed into a full blown economic crisis resulting in ultra-loose monetary policy, circa 2008 in the US and Europe making emerging markets attractive investment destinations.
The times are changing though. Whereas in the past 6 years, the only risk to South Africa’s attractiveness as an investment destination was external- from global markets. At the moment South Africa’s macroeconomic environment is weak, implying risk may arise internally as well.

Contrast these prevailing economic conditions in South Africa with recent developments in both the US and the UK where monetary authorities have already made the commitment to put an end to their respective quantitative easing programs and are seriously considering hiking interest rates. A rate hike in the US specifically, will fundamentally alter investment options across the universe posing a threat to the attractiveness of South Africa along other emerging markets as investment destinations.
Given the scenario as described above. Is it time for investors, foreign ones in particular to dispose of their equities in SA stocks? My view is that not yet, not least because returns on capital on the JSE represents income from outside the borders from South Africa but the country despite its economic and social challenges continues to attract capital and investment inflows, the latest bulletin from the Central Bank highlights the fact that foreign direct investment has more than tripled in the second quarter to ZAR 24.6 Billion Rand from ZAR 8 Billion in the first quarter.

Given the ever widening deficit and other disappointing data, it is counterintuitive that investments especially in long term projects have increased. However, it is important to note that these inflows are a vote of confidence in the future of South Africa despite what the credit rating agencies may think. Embedded within this economic data- inflows- is a key political and social message subtly making a positive judgment call about the relative capacity of South Africa’s monetary and fiscal authorities operating within the existing political system to come up with a feasible plan to narrow the current account deficit. And this has and continues to inform my optimistic outlook on the fate of domestic financial markets.

Property, is it a buy, sell or hold?

The most frequent question we get from our clients about property is, should we pay the bond or invest the capital. The second most common question we get is, should we use our investment to buy an investment property and rent it out, or just leave it?

The answer to both of these questions is not clean cut. The fact remains, unlike shares, ETF’s, or Unit Trusts (like the Deton funds) which are measured and priced, property is not. This means you can physically see an increase in your investment over a set period of time whereas with residential property, there is very little data to show the same. Property is an asset, but you only realize your profits or losses once you sell the asset. This means that there is no real return value on this asset. The general thinking is that you buy a property, sit on it for a few years, and you either rent it out or you live in it, and several years later you sell it for double. This may have been the case a few years ago, but since 2007, the property market has not really moved. Once again, as stated, this may vary depending on area and depending on leverage (bonded or not), but on average, property has not beaten inflation (according to states given by ABSA bank).

So the question is, do you use property as an investment or not? Well, if you had invested R1 million in property in 2007, (7 years ago), the truth maybe that you have only received 3% or less from rental income. And the capital price hasn’t beaten inflation of 5.7% (results will obviously vary), so your R1 million is now only worth R1,500,000, provided you can find a buyer for it. And you would have received R230,000 in rental income profit, once again, provided it wasn’t bonded. So your R1 million is now worth around R1,8 million after 7 years. The real question is, what would it be worth if you were invested in the stock exchange?

Since January 2007, the JSE all share has given us over 100% return. Which is around 10.75% compound over the period, meaning your R1million has now doubled and would be worth around R2,050,000. If you consider that the JSE All share is only ranked in the middle of the Unit Trust pack over 7 years, where would you be if you had invested in a Unit Trust? Well one of the well known Equity managers in SA has compounded at a little over 14% for the 7 years, meaning your R1 million would now be worth R2,5 million. If we use the top performing Equity manager over the same period, this return would be closer to R3 million.

Remember all of these figures and values above are just looking at capital price, and would exclude any dividends on the shares. I cannot factor in the other variables on the property like monthly rates and taxes, maintenance and general upkeep of a property. Seeing that different properties have different needs, this would also be impossible to work out.

Where does the above leave us with a rising interest rate cycle and bonded property? The truth is, we are in a rising interest rate cycle, and we could see rates going up by another 2% over a 24 months period. While this increase helps our clients with interest bearing investments, it doesn’t help the man in the street with debt. This means the higher the Prime rate, the better “return” you receive by paying off a bond. So with this being said, what sort of return could you see from paying off debt? With the current Prime rate at 9.25%, and a potential 1-2% increase over the next 24 months, this could mean you could see a return of up to 11.25% if you have the capital to pay off your bond. While this return is not a bad return, it is not a compound return, as such, a return of 10% plus compounded over 5-10 years on the JSE would still beat this 11% return. If we start seeing rates return to the 13-15% levels, then there may be an argument for debt consolidation versus Equity investments. But while the Equity space is giving 5-6% dividend yields and capital growth in the teens, my view is that Equity is still the place to be.

So based on the above, where does this leave us? Do we now sell our properties we live in and go rent? Do we sell those investment properties and give the profit to your trusted investment manager at Deton Private Wealth to invest? Well I guess that is the million-dollar question, and it is definitely one that could be argued all day, but do we really have time for that? Personally, we are not big fans of residential property as an investment, and feel that over the longer term, Equity will outperform cash and Commercial Property. Another factor that you would need to consider is if you require an income, could you break a corner of your gingerbread house off to eat if money is tight?