6% Chinese Stock Market Drop

On October 28th, 1929 the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 12.8%.

On May 28th, 2015 the Shanghai Composite Index dropped 6.5% – the largest fall since 2008.

The Wall Street crash took place after a period of speculative buying where many Americans were borrowing money to invest in stocks. The same can be said about Chinese investors, and to a lesser extent American investors as of late. As P/E ratios drift higher and higher, or non-profitable company stocks start to rise, it’s only a matter of time before the market gets overheated. Considering many of these investors are using borrowed money, the risk of sudden downturn is higher – Margin loans must be called if account balances get too low, and burned investors will not be able to get back in the market.

Whether the 6% drop is a prelude to something bigger is yet to be seen – but keep in mind the market in China does not allow single shares to go down more than 10% in a single day, which means we may see a further drop tomorrow. This will in turn put stress on Chinese investment banks and will have a trickle down effect on the Chinese economy. If mom and pop investors are all putting their life savings in the stock market do you think they will spend as much on the street as they used to?

Anyways, this is all speculation, but I think it’s safe to say we are going to be seeing some pretty interesting financial news come out in the next few months.

The Most Powerful Force in the Universe

E = mc²

E = mc²

Albert Einstein

Mass energy equivalence paved the way for our most powerful weapon and energy source. Nuclear force was not, however, the most powerful force in the universe according to this man. Instead, it was compound interest.

Einstein was a man of relativity, and while it is true that nuclear is the strongest type of force taught in the classroom, in the real world his statement makes a lot of sense. The top 1% of income earners will make much of their income off of investments, and these investments typically yield a certain percent of profit per year which is then applied back upon itself the next year. This is one way in which income inequality grows – because the lower wage earners do not put their money in compounding investments.

It is important for anyone looking to get the highest return on their investment to understand the basics of compound interest.

Rule of 72

For those that don’t want to pull out a calculator to find out how long their investments will double in size there is a helpful and speedy way of figuring out roughly how long it will take to double their money. Divide 72 by the interest rate and that will be the number of years a annually compounding investment will take to double. See examples below:

9% interest – 72/9 = 8 years

5% interest – 72/9 = 14.4 years

3% interest – 72/3 = 24 years

If you use outrageously small or large interest rates the rule of 72 starts to break. Obviously a 100% interest rate will double your money in just 1 year, not eight and a half months!

Compound Interest Formula

The mathematical formula for annually compounded interest is

FV = PV * (1 + i)ᵗ

Where FV is future value, PV is present value, i is the interest rate, and t is the number of years. As most readers know, this is an exponential function of time (See Figure Below).

Solid line is exponential function with lower constant value.

Solid line is exponential function with lower constant value.

As you can see, exponential values can quickly get out of hand. Other real world examples of exponential growth include population growth in developing countries, inflations affect on currency (exponential decrease in value as seen below).

How inflation eats away

How inflation eats away

The phenomenon known as the rising income gap comes largely from these two graphs. The top graph represents invested wealth and the bottom represents buying power of a single unit of a depreciating currency.

What do I do?

If you’ve read to this point then you’ve already taken a good first step – you’re searching for knowledge and exponentially growing your financial acuity rather then let your mind exponentially waste away. I suggest creating a financial plan which takes into account your age (time till retirement), risk tolerance, and net worth and allocate uninvested funds into investment accounts. Investments can range from stocks, bonds, real estate, and even high interest savings accounts. Keep in mind that these days interest rates are amongst the lowest in mankind’s history, in the United States in particular. Most of all, don’t panic!

How To Prospectus Hunt For Stocks

Some investors are clueless when it comes to investing in stocks per industry. There is a way to take out a lot of the hassle of opening financial reports and studying the growth patters of companies – have someone else do it for you! You can hire a portfolio manager or you can buy ETFs which manage a portfolio in your desired sector for you. Another, cheaper, alternative is to simply Prospectus Hunt.

I will be using PHO as my example today – PHO is a water industries based ETF which according to their description:

PowerShares Water Resources Portfolio (the Fund) seeks investment results that generally correspond to the price yield of the NASDAQ OMX US Water Index (the Underlying Index). The Fund generally will invest at least 90% of its total assets in common stocks that comprise the Underlying Index. The Underlying Index seeks to track the performance of the United States exchange-listed companies that create products designed to conserve and purify water for homes, businesses and industries. The Fund invests in the sector such, such as industrials, utilities, healthcare, information technology and materials. Its investment advisor is Invesco PowerShares Capital Management LLC. [1]

Creating products that are designed to conserve and purify water sounds like a pretty noble and lucrative business. I want to take part. The easiest thing to do is obviously to invest in PHO, however if you read their prospectus closely you will notice an “expense ratio” of 0.61%. This is actually a bit higher than the industry average expense ratio of 0.44% for ETFs, and a bit lower than the standard 0.74% expense ratio for index funds. For those who don’t know what expense ratio is:

Expense ratio is the percent amount of your holding that will go towards the fund manager every year. For example if you have $1,000 in an ETF with an expense ratio of 0.61% then you’re going to be paying $6.10 every year to the managers of the fund. Most funds have their holdings listed publicly on their website – Currently PHO has the following as their top stock holdings:

  • WAT      Waters Corp
  • ROP       Roper Industries Inc
  • PLL        Pall Corp
  • PNR       Pentair PLC
  • FLS         Flowserve Corp
  • MWA      Mueller Water Products Inc
  • ITRI        Itron Inc
  • WTS        Watts Water Technologies Inc
  • TTC         Toro Co/The
  • WTR        Aqua America Inc

 

Now that you have a nice list at your disposal the only thing left is to pick a few of these stocks to invest in. Look for standard things, like P/E ratio, growth, current events that make the company appetizing and go for it! Doing this will usually leave your investments more volatile as you will have less diversity but eliminate the expense ratio for each year and enable you more control over your investment make-up.

If you’re interested in different types of ETFs a have a few that you can pick from below:

  • USO (Oil)
  • PPA (Aerospace and Defense)
  • IDU (Utilities)
  • GLD (Gold – keep in mind that ETFs may not hold stocks but may instead hold physical commodities such as gold)
  • SLV (Silver)

 

Good hunting.

 

References:

[1] Invesco Distributors, Inc. “Product Details.” PHO – PowerShares Water Resources Portfolio. Invesco Distributors, Inc., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.

What Explains the Chinese Stock Market Price Boom?

The Chinese stock market boom has been scrutinized by the US mainstream media for it’s rapid ascendance. You will hear people mentioning that high school dropouts are now investing in large numbers without understanding the basic fundamentals of companies including but not limited to earnings. The Hang Seng (Hong Kong’s Market) has risen 60% this year having been opened up to sell shares to Chinese investors.

In all reality, small scale investors make up a small portion of actual market volume – and while it’s true that a large number of them are trying to get in on the action, the real reason for this steep rise is a law change which hampered real estate investment tactics. This included increasing the minimum down payment on a second property to 20% and increasing the capital gains tax on property sales to 20%. If you’ve lived in Asia you will find out that Chinese investors are big into real estate – and this spreads beyond China and Hong Kong into other ASEAN countries including Australia and New Zealand. Even less educated folks know the value of owning property, and many of them have been fortunate to make a reasonable amount of money in the past few decades as China has progressed to claim the world’s #2 spot economically speaking.

Stack the new property restrictions with two interest rate cuts by the central bank and a specter of a stimulus package down the road and you have the perfect environment for a stock market to flourish. This is similar to how the US stock market has reacted in the past few years to the Federal Reserve stimulus packages and extended periods of historically low interest rates.

Just this week, the Hang Seng market value rose above Japan’s Nikkei – an amazing feat but not unexpected given their market getting opened to Chinese mainland investors. Japan continues to stagnate as its fundamentals and workforce are burdened by a low growth rate and near zero immigration (due to strict immigration laws). The one bright side to the economy these days is higher tourism due to a stronger dollar against the Yen.

Some imagine the Chinese and Hong Kong bull markets will continue for awhile until free cash flow diminishes. Others are more skeptical, including most US pundits – they envision a large correction. I can foresee a huge catastrophe if the tax laws are changed regarding Chinese capital gains tax on stocks, but given the new restrictions on real estate trading this isn’t completely out of the question.

In hindsight, an American investor could have made a fair amount if he/she invested in Matthews China Fund Investor Class (MUTF:MCHFX), which has gone up 20.17% Year To Date. This fund specifically zoned in on Chinese stocks has outperformed one of the best American stocks Apple (Apple has gained 12.96% year to date) and NASDAQ (A piddly 4.57%). Investors can also consider investing in a broad array of Asian dividend stocks using the Matthews Asia Dividend Fund Investor Class (MUTF:MAPIX) which has gone up 12.95% YTD.

It goes without saying that the one who thinks there’s a serious bubble can always short these types of securities, but this is EXTREMELY risky. There is still more free cash flow as a percentage of the stock market capitalization in China than the US, meaning that they can pump a lot more money into the stock market before running short on liquidity. My expectation is that if the Chinese stock market is reaching bubble capacity and collapses, it’s quite likely to impact the US stock market. Even from a psychological perspective, seeing a bubbled stock market pop may cause people to rethink their investments.

Investing in Silver

Silver is a pretty common metal in the world – it has many industrial uses due to its highly conductive and reflective properties. In fact, silver is the most thermally conductive element!

Silver also has a lustrous quality, until of course it oxidizes – this phenomenon is called tarnishing.

Silver has been used in coinage since at least 700 BC, when the Lydians used a naturally occurring silver-gold alloy to mint these coins. Concurrently, the Chinese also used silver in their coinage.

Today, silver can be invested in directly through the purchase of silver coins or bars which can be classified into bullion, collectibles, and antiques. Bullion is silver stored in a very simple form like a plain bar with a simple seal of the minting company on top. Collectible silver coins can include nationally minted coinage such as the US American Eagle, the Canadian Maple Leaf, or the Chinese Panda. These nationally minted coins are more valuable than bullion because they are easier to recognize and differentiate between genuine and fake products. That being said, the only true way to test silver is to perform an acid test, as today there are very skilled copycats which use lead and other inferior materials to create realistic looking fakes.

If you are going to invest in silver, make sure you are buying from reputable sources – I would not encourage buying from an online store that does not sell large quantities. I would also stay away from vendors on the street anywhere in the world – ensure that your seller has a brick and mortar business if you are going to buy face to face. Also, make sure not to buy silver that is overpriced – Bullion should not be selling for more than 5 percent more than the “strike price”. Strike price means the current world market price. In some countries, however, it’s hard to get around paying a large premium if the government imposes high import taxes on such goods. India, for example, has a huge import tax on gold and silver.

Silver bullion is usually sold in 1, 5, and 10 ounce pieces. This makes future transactions much easier.

If you are interested in buying collectibles, then you are effectively buying an insured piece of history. This is similar to buying collectible coins but for the vast majority of historical coins the silver/gold ones carry a much higher premium. For example, a simple old Roman coin might cost you $50-$100. A silver Roman coin will run you more like $250-$1000. I can’t claim to be an expert on the value of historical coins, but these types of investments can be a lot more risky than investing in simple bullion.

Historically, silver is not a good investment as compared to stocks or bonds. Silver will not pay you interest, it does not work to create earnings, and requires the cost of storage. However, under certain circumstances most recently the stock market crash of 2009 investing in silver or gold until the stocks dipped by 50 percent was a damn good deal.

Financial Planning 101

Financial planning is often necessary for people to realize their life’s goals without having to worry about being short of cash. Financial planning may be necessary to save a sinking ship of personal finances, and financial planning can be done by anyone with the willpower, organization, and intelligence to draw up and execute such a plan.

Smart financial planning doesn’t only consider how to have the most money by the time you die, but actually have the best quality life with the amount of money on hand while saving enough to avoid external risks.

The first step in a solid financial plan is making sure personal income less fixed and variable expenses is positive. If this doesn’t happen none of the other steps really make sense – if you don’t have any savings you really shouldn’t be investing in risky stocks – for example.

Tools to accomplish this include making a budget, getting a good education in order to get a good paying job, and cutting spending. A good financial planner will accommodate to the needs of his/her clients and make changes to a plan as necessary. Sometimes budgeting is unnecessary for certain individuals who have a track record of modest spending vs. their income, at these times budgeting can really be a waste of time. Other-times, however, budgeting can point out significant spending patterns that the client might not realize are eating into his savings. Having a Starbucks every day, for example, will eat into your savings. Eating out expensively every day can eat into your savings.

After making sure your budget aligns with a healthy financial future, it is the job of a financial planner to make sure that their clients are protected against the unforeseen. Do you have health insurance, do you have disability insurance, do you have a rainy day fund bank account that you do not touch unless there is an emergency? A rainy day fund typically should be six months of expenses – unless the client has a working spouse in which case that duration may be cut in half.

A rainy day fund is something that can be used if you are unexpectedly terminated from your job – the amount of such a fund is based on your fixed expenses. If you make 5,000 MYR per month and spend 3,000 then your rainy day fund will be a bit less than 18,000 MYR. I say a bit less because costs associated with getting to work can be subtracted. In the US less than 1/4 of medium income earners have at least 3 months saved based on information from bankrate.com.

Once a rainy day fund is established the fun part starts – getting saved up for kids’ educations and retirement. Choosing investment portfolio allocations along with real estate advice, along with tax advantaged strategies. In the US financial planners sometimes recommend putting money into tax advantaged 529 plans, which are based on a stock market portfolio that when cashed out for college doesn’t need to pay capital gains tax. Malaysia has something called SSPN managed by The National Higher Education Fund Corporation.

According to the SSPN website : “The National Education Savings Scheme (SSPN) is designed especially by the National Higher Education Fund Corporation to enable parents/guardians to save for the purpose of the higher education of their children.” I wont be getting into the details of this Malaysia specific scheme but if paying for your child’s education is something you’re interested into it is advertised to pay higher interest than regular bank accounts.

At the end of the road for financial planners it is time to consider how a client wishes to pass on their assets or estate to heirs or anyone/anything of their choosing. This usually involves writing a will and managing gift taxes that are in play in the client’s respective country. Luckily for Malaysians there is no death tax, for people in the US sometimes if they wish to benefit their relatives or “heirs” they will create education 529 plans for grandchildren and fund them all to the max, along with giving away money before their death up to a certain threshold. In the US as of last year the exclusion amount is 5.34 million USD.

So really the job is pretty straightforward from an outside perspective. Keep people from becoming broke throughout life – make money a non-issue so clients can enjoy life.

Frivolous Purchases and You

If you’ve read the tech news lately, you’ll know that Apple is going to release it’s Apple Watch on April 24th in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, the UK and the US. The most surprising and talked about subject about the release was the price on it’s Edition series of watches, which will range in price from $10,000 to $17,000. These watches are made of 18-karat gold which Apple claims to be developed to be “twice as hard as standard gold” and sport the sapphire screen. While these watches look “nice” they are certainly still pieces of technology. The funny thing about technology is that it depreciates much faster than other durable goods – faster than a mahogany piece of furniture, for example. I’d expect digital technology products to depreciate faster than mechanical products of a similar type (for example a Rolex watch).

If one spends $17,000 on a Apple Watch – a watch that starts out at around $350, then one should expect the rest of the watch to be worth at least $16,000 – which it is not. You’d be able to buy more than 12 ounces of gold for this price. The gold portion of the watch is not described to be compatible with newer versions of the hardware, so when the Apple Watch 2 comes out the value of your watch probably goes down by around $10,000!

As someone concerned with you making the most of your money, while still enjoying life, I would not suggest buying a Apple Watch Edition. Go ahead and splurge a few hundred dollars on a piece of technology if if will, but $17,000 is a fools purchase.

$10 Oil Will Never Happen

Recently I read an opinion article posted on Bloomberg View where a guy named Gary Shilling predicted that the oil price could fall as low as $10. The title of the article read “Get Ready for $10 Oil”.

Of course this is a sensationalist title, and the author probably doesn’t really believe that oil will fall that low, but it ranked #1 on Google News results. The link is here.

Before people go buy new Hummers, let it be known that the lowest production cost in the world is $10-$20 per barrel in Saudi Arabia – and Saudi Arabia only produces around 13% of the world’s crude. The US imports most of it’s oil from Canada, and produces shale oil at a cost between $25 and $95 per barrel. It would be more economical to simply stop pumping oil rather than producing it for free – and that’s what’s happening. Around 100 shale oil rigs were closed in the US in late January, and more are probably being closed as we speak. Countries with small bankrolls will not be able to afford running their oil industry with oil at $10, and will most likely end up in economic chaos. Russian oil production costs are between $10 to $16 but the transportation costs are high to get the oil to suitable refineries and around the world. World demand for oil is not decreasing, but increasing at a slower pace (until the effects of people all bathing in oil and taking joyrides in 18 wheelers starts to kick in).

As of today Crude WTI oil trades at $52.78 and Brent trades at $57.39. Brent is the price used for global oil producers and WTI stands for Western Texas Intermediate. This is up from the low of around $45 in late January.

With all the volatility in oil prices you can bet people are making money off of the price changes. You can too – just read my article “How To Capitalize on Low Oil Prices“.

Cheers

 

How To Get Out

The bull market that has basically defined the past six years seems to have stalled. After recording no gains for December or January it remains to be seen whether or not the market is experiencing a temporary lull or has reached a summit. With the Federal Reserve expected to raise interest rates in June, one can only expect that the market will push down further in the medium-term.

What should you do if you’re currently holding stocks but want to get out? First of all, don’t panic – you should assess your situation and deal with it accordingly. This article is catered for strategies of liquidating stock holdings so if that is not your plan then please read one of my other articles!

Scenario 1: Holding lots of short term stocks

Answer 1: If you’re holding a lot of short term stocks and want to get out, you should first determine if you have any capital gains on those stocks. If you are selling at a loss, then go ahead and sell these stocks now and make sure to record your losses in order to benefit from capital loss carry-overs in the future. If you’ve made a lot of money off of these stocks and are in a high tax bracket you can sell with the knowledge that you will be paying high tax on these gains or buy put options for these stocks that expire when you can sell these stocks as long term gains.This really only works when that date is in the near future, since put options’ price is largely influenced by a factor of time. If you have to wait six more months before selling it usually does not make sense to buy put options since the cost of those options may trade at around 20% of the stock’s price. In the case of Apple, which has gone up 20% in the past six months – it’s $115 put options trade at around $11 dollars per share, which upon purchase would cut a 20% profit into only a 10% profit, which would only benefit those who are paying more than 50% short term capital gains tax (I’d hate to live in an area where my combined federal/state/local tax is that high!).

Scenario 2: Holding lots of long term stocks

Answer 2: Sell them! You’re going to have the pay the long term capital gains someday anyway and might as well sell when you think they’re most profitable!

Scenario 3: Have no brokerage accounts, but instead have lots of money in a 401k primarily invested in stocks

Answer 3: You should be able to reallocate your money into bonds or fixed income assets. Bonds have higher returns but more risk than fixed income. Unfortunately most 401ks do not allow individual choosing of bonds, instead offer a choice of bond funds. Bond funds will fare differently dependant on the length these bonds are held for. Long term bonds will fare poorly if the Federal Reserve increases the prime interest rates since the bonds themselves are locked into a lower interest rate.

 

How To Capitalize on Low Oil Prices

With crude oil trading the lowest it’s been since 2009 there are a few things you can do today to capitalize:

As Jerry Reed says in his song “Lord, Mr. Ford“:

Well, if you’re one of the millions who own one of them
Gas drinking, piston clinking, air polluting, smoke belching
Four wheeled buggies from Detroit City, then pay attention:

Now is a perfect time to load up the family and take a road trip. A penny saved on gas is worth more than a penny earned (considering taxes).

If the price of oil remains low, many sectors stand to benefit from the cost savings to their business. Obvious candidates include shipping, airlines, and retail. Oil revenue dependent companies should be avoided if low prices persist, such as drilling support and manufacturing companies.

If you think the oil price is bound to jump up sometime in the near future then you can buy oil futures, or if you have a regular stock brokerage account you can trade in exchange traded funds (known as ETFs) which base their performance on the performance of the oil price.

Two of the most popular of such funds are ‘UCO‘ and ‘SCO‘. UCO aims to emulate 2x the positive price change of oil, while SCO aims to emulate 2x the negative price change of oil. Take a look at the performance of these two funds over the past six months.

UCO ultra oil fund performance for past six months

UCO ultra oil fund performance for past six months

SCO ultra oil fund performance for past six months

SCO ultra oil fund performance for past six months

As you can see, UCO has been hammered by the fall in oil price over the past six months while SCO has climbed over 250%. If oil stages a large rally then UCO has a lot of upside potential – while SCO has a lot to lose. Four potential strategies that would benefit from a oil price increase include the following:

  1. Buy call options for UCO
  2. Buy put options for SCO
  3. Buy long UCO
  4. Sell short SCO

Outside of purely playing the oil price movements with these ETFs, you can also consider buying companies that have been hammered by the lower prices. This strategy involves more risk because companies have the possibility of going bankrupt and bringing their share price to zero, while the oil price will never reach zero until a revolutionary technology make it obsolete (and that transition time would be formidable).

Oil behemoths are more likely to survive a sustained weak oil price than smaller more leveraged companies. Some of these giants include:

  • Exxon Mobil Corporation (XOM)
  • Chevron Corporation (CVX)
  • Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A / RDS.B)
  • BP (BP)

Smaller players that may return a better yield if a oil rally occurs include:

  • ENSCO (ESV)
  • Transocean LTD (RIG)
  • Seadrill Ltd (SDRL)
  • Northern Oil & Gas, Inc (NOG)

 

Whether or not the oil price remains cheap, recovers, or falls even further there are always ways to profit from it if you take a certain degree of risk. Given the deflated state of oil, it’s large but limited supply, and the motives behind the price bullying of American oil operators by OPEC I think oil will stage a moderate comeback in the next few months (make sure to read my disclaimer below).