I've been investing since the late 1980s when I received my free shares in Abbey National BS following their demutualisation. I started this blog in 2013 after moving into early retirement a few years earlier and have since written and self-published several books. Of course, like most small investors, I have had mixed fortunes along the way...last year was my best for actual returns with just over 50% from my green portfolio...this coming year could well be shaping up to be my worst year! But my long term average over the past 20 years is 9% p.a. which, whilst not outstanding, is very acceptable especially compared to returns of less than 2% from cash savings in recent years.
Legendary investor Benjamin Graham suggests "to achieve satisfactory investment results is easier than most people realise; to achieve superior results is harder than it looks".
I thought it might be useful to pass on a few of my thoughts on what I believe it takes to become a half-decent investor. For sure I don't discount all the usual aspects of good practice...a diverse portfolio, keep costs as low as possible, an understanding of market volatility in relation to different asset classes etc. but here are my top three:
For me, this is probably the most important aspect...the ability to know yourself, your ability to evaluate and understand risk, to know what level of market volatility is acceptable. On a personal level, I tend to be fairly unemotional in most aspects of life as a result of being someway along the aspergers spectrum, which is good for investing but not so good for personal relationships! I don't tend to prevaricate so when my I decide on a course of action I will go for it 100 percent.
Are you impulsive or can you play the long game and exercise a high degree of patience? Do you get dispirited and give up when things don't turn out as expected? Does making more and more money from your investments make you happy? On the flip side, would the sudden loss of a large percentage of your investments make you very unhappy?
Some people are natural risk takers and will be well suited to a portfolio of individual shares and a higher weighting to equities. Others are more cautious and will be more comfortable with a more balanced portfolio including a mix of lower volatility assets such as bonds and property.
Therefore an appreciation of your psychological make up will be essential in selecting the most suitable asset allocation. We are all different, have individual goals and time frames; we have our individual values and ethical considerations - for me in recent years it has been climate change and therefore a radical shift of strategy to avoid the fossil fuel companies.
The reality is that DIY investing is not for everyone.
"We have seen much more money made and kept by 'ordinary people' who were temperamentally well suited for the investment process than by those who lacked this quality, even though they had an extensive knowledge of finance, accounting, and stock market lore" Warren Buffett.
A Sound Plan and Strategy
With any long term adventure or project, it's always a good idea to have a plan of what you want to achieve and how you are going to get there. When I was starting up a new business venture in the early 1990s, I spent the first 6 months putting together a comprehensive business plan to persuade the bank manager to provide the initial funding followed by a further 6 months of market research before the business was launched.
Successful investing is all about the long term so it is important to have a strategy which will give you the best chance of riding out the inevitable market shake-outs and volatility and to remain 'in the game' for many years. It is therefore essential to develop a plan that meshes well with your temperament and personality and this will influence asset allocation.
With an understanding of your basic personality type, developing an investment plan can be fairly straight forward. In my book "DIY Simple Investing", I suggest the average small investor can achieve a good outcome with a very simple strategy based on the use of low-cost, multi-asset index funds. For many, this should be relatively easy to understand, simple to set up and involves a minimum of ongoing maintenance.
I suspect that many small investors will move to a simpler strategy as they gain more experience.
Be Aware of the Big Picture
For me over recent years the big picture has increasingly become climate change and how this will impact the global economy.
The world is starting to take the threats posed by global warming more seriously and there are now some significant policy changes from governments and the business community to address the climate crisis. These changes will impact the way we live our lives and the way our global economy is managed. This will inevitably have an impact on our investments as we move towards a more sustainable economy and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
The EU has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by at least 55% by 2030 (previously 40%) whilst Germany will now aim for net zero emissions by 2045. The US rejoined the Paris agreement in January and is aiming for net zero by 2050 and to decarbonise its energy sector by 2035. The world's largest CO2 emitter China has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2060.
The energy sector accounts for around 75% of warming so a shift away from fossil fuels in this area will be critical in the fight against climate change. For the past century or longer, the global economy has been dependent upon fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas so the rapid transition to clean energy will be one of the most significant industrial developments of our time.
In recent weeks we have seen a ramping up of action against the oil majors; Blackrock and Vanguard voted against two of Exxon's board members in favour of climate activists. In Holland, Shell were ordered by the court to cut its carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 whilst at Chevron, 60% of investors voted in favour of climate resolutions forcing the company to cut emissions. The credit rating agencies have now warned that the financial risk for investors has increased. The big global banks are now coming under increasing pressure to cut off the supply of money for new operations in the fossil fuel sector.
Investors need to be aware of these changes and make provisions for climate factors in their long term investment plans and strategy.
On a personal level, I decided to move my portfolio into more climate-friendly investments in 2018 and this involved the sale of my multi asset global index funds as I wanted to divest away from fossil fuels. I am still waiting for the industry to provide an climate-friendly alternative to the likes of Vanguard Lifestrategy range but for the time being I have switched to a range of individual shares and some funds such as the iShares Global Clean Energy and their global fossil-free ESG index. Here's an article I posted back in May 2019.
So, I guess investing is not suitable for everyone and for those who don't have the time, inclination or temperament they would be better employing a financial professional or maybe considering the robo-advice route.
Of course, for those who decide to give the DIY route a go, there is much more to making a success of investing - some great books and blogs are worth reading/following, starting early and allowing gains to compound, avoiding switching in and out of strategies, avoiding high charges etc. - these are all important elements in the mix. But I believe investors will have a big advantage if they have a clear plan at the outset, they are aware of their psychology and temperament and they keep an eye on the big picture.
These are some of my thoughts but what has worked for you, what has been the main factors for your success so far and the pitfalls to avoid? Feel free to leave a comment below.