Beginning to go global

Source: Pixabay

Last month I wrote about reviewing the situation. I was reviewing my 58% exposure to the UK against some possible alternatives. I was doing this because of the unstable political and economic situation arising from the Brexit impasse and the prospect of a general election. I wanted to have a plan ready in case I decided to reduce my UK exposure as events unfolded.

The general election could result in a change of government to one that is much less supportive of business and of investors. I’m surprised that there has not been much commentary in the mainstream media about the possible need to diversify away from the UK because of this. Maybe there is some complacency there. The odds of a Labour government may be 20/1 at present but I believe I should consider this as a possible black swan event.

UK equities are still relatively cheap compared to global and US equities. As at 13 November 2019, I calculate that buying £1 of income is 33% cheaper in the UK than it is globally, and 37% cheaper in the UK than in the US. This is based on the dividend yield of selected income investment trusts. These show an average yield of 4.60% for UK trusts (EDIN, CTY), 3.10% for global trusts (HINT, STS, SCAM), and 2.90% for a US trust (NAIT). I am still persuaded that UK equities offer good value but I don’t want too many of my eggs in that basket.

At the end of September my draw-down portfolio looked like this:

Investment Trust SectorPortfolio %UK %Non-UK %NDY %
UK Equity Income50.0542.747.313.96
Asia Pacific Income19.720.2719.454.86
Global Equity Income14.771.3313.444.50
Property - UK Commercial8.838.310.528.00
Debt - Loans & Bonds5.775.450.327.50
Total99.1458.1041.044.79

Note: Data is from my portfolio and from the AIC website as at 26 September 2019.

Trusts can hold some investments outside of their sector, e.g. a UK trust can hold up to 20% outside of the UK, which is why I needed to look into the geographical distribution of each trust in preparing this summary.

My first actual step just over three weeks ago was to reduce UK equity income and increase bonds. Last week I made further reductions in UK equity income and increased global equity income and Asia Pacific equity income. Some of my global and Asia Pacific selections had lower dividend yields but the increase in bonds has maintained my dividend income at about the same level. I was constrained in these actions by about 26% of the portfolio being in non-ISA accounts and all invested in the UK equity income sector where I didn’t want to incur capital gains tax on some substantial unrealised gains. Also, these non-ISA holdings that I have retained are in lower yielding trusts so my UK dividend yield percentage is now lower.

The portfolio now looks like this:

Investment Trust SectorPortfolio %UK %Non-UK %NDY %
UK Equity Income38.7833.095.693.67
Asia Pacific Income21.900.3221.584.98
Global Equity Income21.091.6819.414.11
Property - UK Commercial9.029.020.007.67
Debt - Loans & Bonds8.427.391.037.65
Total99.2151.5147.704.76

Note: Data is from my portfolio and from the AIC website as at 7 November 2019.

There have also been some dividends re-invested and some small movement in share prices that is reflected in this table.

The changes between late September and now are analysed in this table:

Investment Trust SectorPortfolio %UK %Non-UK %
UK Equity Income-11.27-9.65-1.62
Asia Pacific Income2.180.052.13
Global Equity Income6.320.355.97
Property - UK Commercial0.190.71-0.52
Debt - Loans & Bonds2.651.950.70
Total0.07-6.596.66

These changes represent about one-third of what I was contemplating. Overall the reduction of UK equity income sector by 11.27% has resulted in a reduction of only 6.59% in my UK exposure. Total UK exposure of 51.51% rather than 58.10% does give me more comfort against the possible headwinds. I also maintain good exposure to the UK in case my concerns prove unfounded. I am not yet ready to reduce my UK exposure to below 50%.

This exercise has forced me to widen my investment trust holdings in the Asia Pacific income and global equity income sectors and leaves me poised to increase these holdings in the future if necessary. The difficulty in future may be in selling the non-ISA UK holdings and incurring capital gains tax, and in selling the UK property and bond holdings and thereby reducing my portfolio income. I don’t want to take these steps if I don’t feel that they are absolutely necessary.

Depending on the situation after the election on 12th December I could be making further increases in my global exposure or alternatively increasing my UK exposure and in effect reversing these recent changes. This is my record of my current thinking about my investment situation and it may not be suitable or appropriate to anyone else’s circumstances.

Where to invest – equities or property?

Source: Pixabay

A key choice for investors has been whether to opt for equities (company shares) or for property (buy-to-let).


I recently read an article entitled “Where should you invest for the best returns: Isa, pension or property? Use our calculator to find out” (Paywall). It asked whether you should invest your money in a pension, an ISA, or a property.

I tried the calculator and selected an investment of £100,000 over 30 years for a higher (40%) rate tax payer. The calculated results shown were pension (after 25% tax-free cash taken and with the remainder taxed at 20%) £583,119, ISA £411,614, and Buy-to-let (after CGT) £465,868. For a standard rate tax payer the results were pension £437,339, ISA £411,614, Buy-to-let £562,634. These six results show a compound annual growth rate between 4.83% and 6.05%.


The calculator is something of a “black box” in that you can’t see all the workings used, but some of the assumptions used were: Mortgage interest rate 3%, Housing deposit 30%, interest only mortgage, annual property price growth 1.5%, Annual pensions/ISA interest 5%, Rental yield 5%. Playing around with some of these assumptions showed that a Buy-to-let without a mortgage resulted in only £261,059 for a higher rate tax payer, or £307,340 for a standard rate tax payer. Adding in an assumption of no property price growth resulted in only £198,646 for a higher rate tax payer, or £232,556 for a standard rate tax payer. These four results show a compound annual growth rate between 2.31% and 3.81%. I estimate that the gross rental yield of 5% is reduced by about 25% to a net rental yield of around 3.75% within the “black box.” This is before tax and with no mortgage costs.


It strikes me that unless you believe that from now on property prices will increase faster than inflation, then property investment is not so appealing. Also, a net yield of around 3.75% suggests to me that property may be over-valued, unless you believe that from now on rents will increase faster than inflation.


A UK Buy-to-let yield map shows that the best gross yields (top 25) are above 6.99% and the worst (bottom 10) are below 2.28%.

Estate agent Knight Frank’s guide shows net yields of between 3.50% and 5.25% after operating costs. They don’t provide a definition of operating costs. I suspect they include agent’s costs but exclude repair costs. The annual yield would also be lowered by any months where the property was empty (voids).

Some bloggers have chosen to share their results in using Buy-to-let.


Life after the daily grind has one property, I assume to be in London, and has a net income goal of £19,000 per annum by 2022. That is a net yield of 3.65% on a property valued at £520,000. The gross rental income is £22,000 (4.23% gross yield) and he is aiming to reduce costs from about 25% of the rent to below 15% by not using a property management company and thereby saving over £2,000.

Our Tour have three properties and a shop and in 2016 they had a gross rental income of £22,460 (5.62% gross yield) and costs of £6,498 (29% of rent), resulting in a net income of £15,962 (3.99% net yield).

I retired young has a portfolio of eleven properties in England and in 2017/18 they had a gross rental income of £89,914 (5.30% gross yield) and costs of £21,876 (24% of rent), resulting in a net income of £68,038 (4.01% net yield).

These bloggers are diversified (or not) over one, four or eleven properties. To what extent their investment is passive, and how much time it requires from them, will also vary. Any major problems with tenants, voids or repairs would likely reduce these returns.

In a draw-down situation where you are living off your portfolio income, I favor equities over property. My portfolio income yield has been between 3.82% and 4.84% in recent years. I consider my investment trust portfolio to be quite well diversified across hundreds of underlying companies, bonds and properties, and although my investment choices are for actively managed funds my approach is rather passive with few actions being taken.

I think you can get a higher income yield than the 3.50% to 4.01% mentioned above from a number of alternatives. The UK equity income investment trust sector (average yield 4.00%) has 15 trusts with a yield between 4.20% and 5.60%. The UK commercial property investment trust sector (average yield 5.10%) has 17 trusts with a yield between 4.10% and 8.50%. I invest in these sectors and in the Global equity income, Asia Pacific income and Debt – Loans and Bonds sectors. These would also offer diversification across many companies or properties, and would be more of a hands-off investment. More information is available on the AIC website.

Reading the fame and fortune columns in the weekend press almost always has the famous favoring property over pensions. I interpret that as mostly older people reflecting on their past gains on their properties over the last twenty or more years. I have taken the opposite view and have consistently favored equities over property and have resisted buy-to-let. Looking back with hindsight there are times in the past when that may have been the wrong decision. I will explore that in a future post. Looking forward I think it is the right decision for me.

The house of Woodford

I invest in funds and therefore I invest my hopes in fund managers and their investment performance. I am therefore glad to not be invested with the well-known fund manager Neil Woodford as his well won investment reputation has turned to ruin.


Despite being a fund investor for around the same time as Neil Woodford has been a manager of funds, I did not invest in his funds for over twenty years as he built his reputation. He managed UK income and high-income unit trusts for Invesco Perpetual from around 1988 until 2014. He exceeded the index by avoiding the worst of both the dot com bust of 2001 and the financial crisis of 2008. Instead of investing in the dot com firms in 2001 and the banks in 2008 he favored tobacco companies. After he took over the management of a UK equity income investment trust for the first time, in 2008, I saw that as a good opportunity to invest. My investment in Edinburgh IT (EDIN) coincided with his management for the five years ended on 31 January 2014. During that time the share price total return of £217.80 on an investment of £100.00, exceeded that of my benchmark the FTSE All Share Total Return which returned £200.90. It was, however, below the sector average of £239.20, and below all my other holdings in the sector. At the time I was satisfied with the performance.


His leaving Invesco Perpetual after twenty-six years to set up his own business was a big news story. I followed this with interest but was not too keen to invest in his new venture. This was for several reasons. I aim to buy and hold for the long term. I had a positive view on his successor at Invesco Perpetual, Mark Barnett, who now took on Edinburgh IT. I don’t favor new issue investments and prefer those with a long history. I don’t like to follow hype or over-promotion. I prefer investment trusts to unit trusts. Woodford’s first new fund was the Woodford Equity Income unit trust. I didn’t invest.


His second new fund was the Woodford Patient Capital IT. Although it was an investment trust all my other reservations applied. Also, this fund aimed to invest in new start up and unquoted ventures which was not something I was looking for. I didn’t invest. His third fund was the Woodford Income Focus unit trust. All my original reservations also applied to this one. I didn’t invest.


Initially in it’s first year Woodford Equity Income performed well. Woodford Patient Capital raised more money than it was expecting and, at first, the share price rose to be higher than the asset value. Subsequently, however, some problems surfaced. The Woodford Equity Income unit trust was investing not just in FTSE 100 companies paying above average dividends as expected, but it was also investing in unquoted companies that didn’t pay dividends. This has meant that it has not fully paid the dividends promised at outset. More importantly as a unit trust it was unsuited to holding unquoted companies that it could not sell to pay-out to investors selling out. This became a problem as performance deteriorated and investors sold and the fund came to be increasingly populated by unquoted holdings. Various controversial things were done in order to attempt to address this issue as the unit trust was supposedly limited in the percentage of illiquid assets it could hold. Eventually a significant shareholder requested a large sale and the unit trust was forced to stop all sales and purchases. Without it having re-opened it has now been announced that it will be closed and liquidated and the investors will be paid back what can be realised. The Woodford Patient Capital IT is looking for a new manager and may also close down. The Income Focus unit trust has now also had to stop all sales and purchases and seems likely to close.


My impression of these events suggests to me that Neil Woodford didn’t invest as he was expected to, and maybe not as he promised too. This was no usual UK equity income fund. He invested in unquoted companies which was not the area in which he had built his previous reputation. Such illiquid holdings were entirely unsuited to a unit trust, and especially one which had been heavily promoted, or hyped, to small investors. He persevered with this approach rather than bail out earlier and take a loss on these holdings. The regulators appear to have failed to manage the unfolding situation. He would have done better to have had one genuine income fund and one separate unquoted fund rather than create a hybrid fund that has dragged all three of his funds down.


This story reinforces to me the importance of portfolio management. I aim to have no more than around 10% in any one fund so as to limit manager risk. I hold less in more specialist funds. I also diversify by fund house, by fund sector, by geography and by asset type. I still hold a relatively small number of funds but I aim to watch them carefully so as to avoid the next such problem.

Reviewing the situation

Source: Pixabay

Just over six months ago I wrote about the Brexit blues and how UK equities were relatively cheap compared to global and especially US equities. Since then UK equities have become even cheaper. This could be a value opportunity or a value trap. I’m now reviewing my 58% exposure to the UK against some possible alternatives.

As at 1 October 2019, I calculate that buying £1 of income is 32% cheaper in the UK than it is globally, and 39% cheaper in the UK than in the US. This is based on the dividend yield of selected income investment trusts. These show an average yield of 4.60% for UK trusts (EDIN, CTY), 3.13% for global trusts (HINT, STS, SCAM), and 2.80% for a US trust (NAIT).

The political and economic situation continues to be unstable as discussions about Brexit continue. There is much concern about whether we leave or postpone again, or remain, and whether we have a deal or not. There is also concern about an impending general election which could result in a change of government to one that is less supportive of business and of investors, to say the least. I don’t want to get into all that but I do want to review my investment situation. I want to have a plan ready in case I decide to reduce my UK exposure as events unfold.

I have traditionally had high exposure to the UK because I live in the UK. This could be described as home country bias. I maintained high exposure to the UK as my strategy became one of seeking income, and growth in income, because of the good availability of UK equity income investment trusts with good track records. Many are recognised as “dividend heroes” because they have increased their dividends for more than twenty years. Global trusts can also be “dividend heroes” but they are mainly growth trusts with lower dividend yields. Global equity income trusts are fewer in number, their dividend yields are mostly lower, and very few qualify as “dividend heroes”. Asia Pacific income trusts are also few in number and most do not yet have a twenty-year record.

My draw-down portfolio currently looks like this:

Investment Trust SectorPortfolio %UK %Non-UK %NDY %
UK Equity Income50.0542.747.313.96
Asia Pacific Income19.720.2719.454.86
Global Equity Income14.771.3313.444.50
Property - UK Commercial8.838.310.528.00
Debt - Loans & Bonds5.775.450.327.50
Total99.1458.1041.044.79

Note: Data is from my portfolio and from the AIC website as at 26 September 2019.

I wanted to have a plan that would reduce my UK exposure without overly reducing my income (net dividend yield). My highest income UK holdings are in property and bonds so I decided to leave those holdings unchanged. That meant that I would have to reduce my UK equity holdings. I decided that those could be reduced by about two-fifths and the proceeds re-invested about one-third in Asia Pacific and two-thirds in global trusts. I would sell 22% of my total portfolio. These possible changes look like this:

Investment Trust SectorPortfolio %UK %Non-UK %
UK Equity Income-21.92-18.03-3.89
Asia Pacific Income7.400.137.27
Global Equity Income14.520.0014.52
Total0.00-17.9017.90

The revised portfolio would then look like this:

Investment Trust SectorPortfolio %UK %Non-UK %NDY %
UK Equity Income28.1324.713.423.87
Asia Pacific Income27.120.4126.714.97
Global Equity Income29.291.3327.963.95
Property - UK Commercial8.838.310.528.00
Debt - Loans & Bonds5.775.450.327.50
Total99.1440.2058.944.77

This revised portfolio would sustain my current income as the net dividend yield is virtually unchanged from 4.79% to 4.77%. It would reduce UK exposure to 40% and UK equity exposure to 26%. Given that the global funds would be about one-quarter invested in Asia Pacific then that would be the biggest exposure at about 34%. In seeking higher dividend yields I would need that investment in the higher yielding Asia Pacific income sector.  The three areas of North America, Europe, and Latin America and other, would each only have less than about 8% exposure in the overall portfolio. So, the portfolio would be reasonably diversified but with a greater exposure to Asia Pacific (34%) and UK equities (26%). In seeking income, I would continue to neglect North America.

These possible changes could be made in a relatively small number of trades. Some of the sales would likely incur capital gains tax but it may be best to incur that at current tax rates as these may rise. It may be that I will make some small moves to begin these changes in the next few weeks or months.

If I wanted to reduce my UK exposure any further then I would need to make more radical changes. Ignoring my current portfolio, I have prepared a possible global portfolio where UK exposure is reduced to below 15%, but a dividend yield of 4% is achieved. To create this portfolio, I would have to sell all my current UK trusts, but I could retain my Asia Pacific and Global trusts. 66% of my current portfolio would be sold.

Investment Trust SectorPortfolio %UK %Non-UK %NDY %
Global18.006.3211.682.30
Global Equity Income37.001.7135.293.96
Flexible18.005.9412.064.60
Asia Pacific Income27.000.6026.404.77
Total100.0014.5785.434.00

This is my record of my current thinking about my investment situation and it may not be suitable or appropriate to anyone else’s circumstances. I may have to decide whether it becomes appropriate for mine.

Our friends electric and gas

Source: Pixabay

One significant cost that households have that they can take action to reduce is electricity and gas utility costs. According to energy market regulator Ofgem, the average dual fuel variable tariff as of April 2019 was £104.50 per month, or £1,254 a year, but the cheapest tariff available was around £880 a year, or just £73 a month. That is a 30% saving. Today I ran a price comparison using Money Supermarket based on UK average household kWh usage. The standard cost for our current provider is £1,197 but the cheapest tariff was £948, and that is a 20% saving.

We have lived in our current home for over twenty-four years now and have spent over £25,000 on these utility costs. Our costs in 2018 were 78% higher than in 1996 which compares with an 85% increase in inflation (RPI measure). Over those twenty-three complete calendar years our actual total costs were, however, some 2.44% higher than a calculation of our 1996 costs uprated for RPI each year. This is reflected in there being nine years when our costs ran ahead of RPI (2005-2010, 2012, 2013, 2015). During these twenty-four years we have moved from a two-person household to a four-person household. We have moved from no one being at home during week days to someone being at home most days. We did have to buy a new central heating unit and efficiencies from that have maybe helped to cover these greater demands.

Initially we stayed with the default energy providers for our area but after significant increases of 27% in 2005 we then began switching providers every year or every other year in order to control or reduce our costs. Interestingly just looking at the 1996, 2005 and 2018 years gave the following results. From 1996 to 2005 our utility costs rose at a compound rate of 3.63% compared to 2.58% for RPI inflation, then from 2005 to 2018 our utility costs rose at a compound rate of 2.65% compared to 3.02% for RPI.

Recently we initiated our latest energy switch as a two-year deal came to a close. We ran a price comparison using the Cheap Energy Club on 26th August with these annual cost results:

Best price £1284
Current plan £1356
OK or Good review £1404
Big company £1452
Current provider best £1560
Current provider rolling £1913
Worst price £2412

We chose to go with the “OK or Good review” provider at £1,404 per annum (i.e. £117 per month). This may be £120 more than the best price from a provider with no reviews or bad reviews, but it is £509 less than our current provider’s rolling standard default plan, a 27% saving, and £1,008 less than the worst price on the market.

Switching can be done quite easily. The Money Saving Expert website founded by Martin Lewis, but now part of Money Supermarket, has its own comparison tool the Cheap Energy Club. You need to know your annual usage of electricity and gas in kWh but that should be provided in a renewal offer from your current provider. Alternatively, you should be able to obtain it from your bills for the last twelve months.

The regulator Ofgem has approved a number of other online price comparison sites where you can look when comparing energy tariffs and supplier deals:- Energy Helpline, Energylinx, The Energy Shop, Money Supermarket, My Utility Genius, Runpath, Simply Switch, Switch Gas and Electric, Quotezone, Unravel It, uSwitch.

I’ve just rerun the price comparison using Money Supermarket this time. You need to give your email, your property address, your required supply, e.g. electricity and gas, your current supplier, payment method and tariff, your current annual usage and your intended payment method. You will then receive an email detailing the top quotes and how much you would save. Using the same data as before this gave an annual cost of £1, 407 from the same provider as before. I then ran the calculation again based on our house type rather than the kWh usage and this time the cost was £1,445 suggesting our usage is near average for our house type.

We can’t be certain of how much we have saved over the last thirteen years by continually switching but based on the latest switch saving us about 27% against the default plan we may have saved over £6,000. If such a saving had been invested it could have grown to be over £10,000 based on growth of 8% per annum. It is worth taking the time to switch providers with such a good payback for such little time.

Financial review at 31 August 2019

Source: Pixabay

Eight months Summary

A total return in the year to date of 9.92%, slightly behind the index, results after drawdown expenditure in a capital uplift of 7.24%.

Drawdown

As I am not earning any income from employment any more, I am in drawdown in that I am drawing down some of my financial assets each month to cover our spending. I have been in drawdown since December 2013 so the five years and eight months since then will be the main time period under review. I have estimated the annual income and expenditure for the full 2019 year.

Capital

My capital has increased by 13.55%. This compares to an increase in RPI inflation of 15.23% (I have estimated the RPI figure for August).

Income

My income has increased from 3.53% to 5.31% of my original capital. This compares to the income according to the “safe withdrawal rate” which has increased from 4.00% to 4.51%, based on inflation from December 2013 to December 2018.

Expenditure

My expenditure has increased by 30.05%. This year my spending as a percentage of my income is 77.43%. Expenditure is running at an annual rate of 3.75% of the average asset value during the 2019 year.

Total return

The portfolio total return has been 38.21%. This compares to 35.71% from the FTSE All Share total return index and 32.62% from the M&G Index Tracker Fund Sterling A Acc, a typical index tracker fund.

Income growth

Income has grown by 54.93%. The portfolio income yield has increased from an annual rate of 3.82% in 2013 to 4.84% in 2019. This is calculated on the average asset value during the year.

Conclusion

My current main objective is income growth rather than total return. Compound income growth is running at about 8% per annum. This is derived from increases in the dividends paid per share, from re-investing any unspent income, from re-positioning the portfolio towards higher yielding investments, and from remaining focused on the higher yielding stock markets in the United Kingdom and Asia. If there is economic trouble ahead, I am hopeful that my dividend income will be resilient even if capital values fall.