Monday, December 4, 2023

39% Dividend Yield?

Apologies for the clickbaity title, but it’s true (for now). And 39% is an understatement; not counting the 30% withholding taxes (I guess you may know where this counter is listed at), the current yield is sitting at around 56%1.

Introducing KLIP


So, what is this marvellous counter?


It is the KraneShares China Internet & Covered Call Strategy ETF (ticker: KLIP), listed on the NYSEARCA.


Incepted early this year, KLIP is an income-focused ETF that provides a monthly dividend to investors by writing options on its own sister ETF, the KraneShares CSI China Internet ETF (ticker: KWEB).


I had written how covered call ETFs work and vested in one of them, but to put in summary covered calls, though having a limited upside due to its nature, works well in times of market volatility. The past years had seen the Chinese technology and internet-related firms going through a roller coaster, partially in due to the sector’s regulatory crackdown and semi-conductor sanctions, etc., so in a way it plays into KLIP’s strategy.


Listed on 12 Jan 2023, KLIP’s price to date is down by about 33%, but with dividends propping it up, a Singaporean investor vested from the beginning would have a net gain of around 2.7% after taking in withholding taxes and without dividend reinvestment. From the fund fact sheet2, the total annual fund operating expense sits at 0.95%, which is relatively high as compared to RYLD’s 0.6%. The ETF’s net assets are around USD 120 million.

Let us compare with the sectoral equivalent Global X Nasdaq 100 Covered Call ETF (ticker: QYLD), in terms of performance over the same period (i.e., from 12 Jan 2023); QYLD price was up by 3.3%, a current yield of 7.7% (30% withholding taxes applied) and an overall gain of 10.3%3. Despite the lower yield, QYLD had performed better than KLIP; these are two dimensions from which dividend investors must understand: Firstly, total returns included capital gains and income derived. Secondly, yield is a ratio of dividends over price, and a higher yield does not imply higher dividend amounts.


However, it would be unfair to compare these two as such, due to QYLD’s longer history (incepted on 11 Dec 2013), and how the technology and internet sectors (and the overall economy) of China would fare in the future.


The Bedokian’s Thoughts


If you had noticed, this blog post is not written under the “Inside The Bedokian’s Portfolio” series, which means I have yet initiated a position and I am keeping watch on this. Understandably, KLIP is attractive with a high yield. One could imagine that the counter could get “freehold status” (i.e., common speech amongst dividend investors of the distributions paying off the initial capital amount) in three years. Comparatively, it is one of the highest yielding covered call ETFs I had encountered.


However, over the past 11 months, both price and dividends were undulating, thus the “freehold” concept would be very dependent on one’s entry price and the subsequent yield derived. This point, from another angle, makes it tricky to capture higher yield at a given entry price and dividend income. Being less than a year old, the track record runway is considered short. 


Granted that a lot of covered call ETFs did not surpass their listing launch price, the Bedokian’s approach to them is to enter them on a “nibbling” basis and to obtain the yield to either reinvest back onto the ETFs or as dry powder for other U.S. counters. Being derivative in nature, such ETFs are placed inside our trading portfolio instead.


1 – Current yield is based on the total monthly dividend payouts between Jan and Nov 2023 of USD 9.336 divided by the price of USD 16.63 as of 1 Dec 2023. Dividend reinvestment not considered. Sourced from Yahoo Finance.


2 – KraneShares China Internet & Covered Call Strategy ETF fact sheet. 31 Oct 2023. (accessed 3 Dec 2023)


3 – Current yield is based on the total monthly dividend payout between Jan and Nov 2023 of USD 1.877 divided by the price of USD 17.07 as of 1 Dec 2023. Closing price of QYLD as of 12 Jan 2023 was USD 16.52. Dividend reinvestment not considered. Sourced from Yahoo Finance.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

ZIRP Is An Anomaly

For the United States (U.S.) federal funds interest rate, the period between 2009 and early 2022 (besides a short period between 2017 and early 2020) was known as the zero-interest rate period, or ZIRP, as a response to and result of one of the biggest financial events known as the Great Recession. Although “zero” was not technically correct, the rates were hovering near the zero line (see Fig. 1), thus I guess that was why it gave the acronym. During this period, debt was cheap, and with it fuelled huge purchases of assets and accelerated growth of capital.

We see this happening here in Singapore, too, especially on the property front. As the U.S. interest rates are positively correlated to Singapore’s (see Fig. 2), our average overnight interest rate (equivalent to the U.S. federal funds rate) was also near zero at around the same time, we had seen a huge demand for local properties simultaneously.

Fig. 1: 25-year United States Fed Funds Interest Rate (source: Trading Economics)


Fig. 2: 25-year Singapore Average Overnight Interest Rate (source: Trading Economics)


For some Millennial (born 1981-1996), Generation Z (born 1997-2012) and late-blooming Generation X (born 1965-1980, like myself) investors, the ZIRP was the time when they had started their investment journeys. Due to the relatively extended period of ZIRP, the sense of it being a given was naturally entrenched in some of their investment philosophies.


However, if one studies the history of markets and economies, we know there are things called cycles, and with this ZIRP could not last long. In fact, ZIRP lasting this long was deemed an anomaly, since rates had not gone that low for the past 50 years. Interest rate has a role to play in the whole scheme of things, and it is the go-to tool to combat an overheated economy and the related phenomenon called inflation. We saw this happening when inflation started to go up hard in early 2022, attributed to major factors like the post-COVID19 supply crunch and the long ZIRP, and the U.S. Federal Reserve came down on it hard with spiking interest rates.




One asset class that was particularly hard hit by rising rates is real estate investment trusts (REITs). If remembered correctly, when rates were going up (known as quantitative tightening back then) in 2017, REITs, being leveraged, displayed a downward trend known as “taper tantrum” emerged, as it was seen the cost of debt would be going up. While rates stabilized sometime in 2019, REITs had gotten used to it and prices went back up to their valued norms.


The rates rise in 2017 could be seen as a precursor of what would happen if they went up again. Still, for 2022, the effects were more pronounced because of the rapid acceleration of rates increase and there was a return to ZIRP at the onset of COVID19. REITs that were highly leveraged were caught out, and with the added effects of risk premium compression, they got battered.


High Interest Rates Are An Anomaly, Too


Viewing from the other side of the coin, a high interest rate would not be sustainable in the long run. Due to the shock of the near-vertical climb, most were literally and figuratively caught with their pants down, as the market and economic models were still at ZIRP mode.


The next obvious question is, how high interest rates are supposed to be? Looking back at Fig. 1, rates were the same, if not higher, pre-2008. In all fairness, going back to that norm 15 years ago would be hard to swallow as of now, and this means “high” is more relative than fixed at a certain percentage.


We must understand that one of the functions of the Federal Reserve is to conduct monetary policy, and raising and lowering rates is a tool used to carry it out. They do not change the interest numbers on a whim, but rather based the decision on the latest economic data and reports presented. In other words, and as what famous fund manager Peter Lynch had mentioned, no one can predict interest rates, not even the Federal Reserve themselves.


Combining what was said in the last two paragraphs, interest rates would be normalized depending on the economic conditions of the time, and the rate percentage would be adjusted in relative to the last one. In summary, though staying at present levels is the norm back in 2007, it is deemed too high as of now. If reversion to the mean is followed, it would go down, eventually, to an average level.


Friday, December 1, 2023

Lock-Up Savings Accounts: An Idea To Stash Your Emergency Fund?

In response to the prevalence of online scams, the three major local banks DBS, OCBC and UOB had introduced lock-up savings accounts, where you could park your monies safely and they could only be withdrawn via physical means (either in person over-the-counter and/or ATMs – automated teller machines). 

Since the roll-out was just a couple of days ago, you could find out more from the respective banks (click DBS , OCBC , UOB).


Whilst reading up on the lock-up accounts, an idea sprang up: why not use them for starting up an emergency fund?


The gist is simple; the idea of the emergency fund is to tide over unexpected situations in life, such as sickness, unemployment of just about anything that would eat into your money. The advantages are two-fold: there is a behavioral disincentive in touching the fund, thus it is protected against frivolous spending, and the lock-down can also protect against scammers wiping clean your monies. 


However, as sometimes spillovers from the set quotas in the emergency fund are used to fuel investments and/or other savings, it would be a slight hassle to do the non-digital way of withdrawing. But hey, at least one could experience nostalgia by learning how to use an ATM and/or encountering the goings-on within the bank branch. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Inside The Bedokian’s Portfolio: Haw Par Corporation Limited

Inside The Bedokian’s Portfolio is an intermittent series where I will reveal what is actually inside our investment portfolio, one company/bond/REIT/ETF at a time. In each post I will talk a bit about the counter, why I had selected it and what lies ahead in the future.

Today’s counter is a follow-up from the post about myself going back to prospecting after a while, and the counter selected is Haw Par Corporation Limited (Haw Par). This is a classic value/dividend hybrid counter in my opinion.


A Little More Than Just Tiger Balm


Haw Par’s main product is the ubiquitous Tiger Balm, which within it contains an assortment of ointments, patches and rubs for different uses ranging from the traditional kind (e.g., soothing of headaches) to relieving of muscle pains from sports. Being one of the known brands of analgesics, Tiger Balm is marketed in more than 100 countries around the world.


On top of ointments, Haw Par also has in its portfolio four commercial and light industrial properties (three in Singapore and one in Malaysia) and an underwater theme park (Underwater World Pattaya) in Thailand.


And there is another point on its other investments, which I will mention later.


Fundamental Analysis


Ratio Analysis

I will use the selection guideline from the eBook1 and apply it to Haw Par’s ratios (as of 26 Nov 2023 of price SGD 9.75):


Equity Selection Guideline

Haw Par Corporation Limited

Price-to-Book Ratio of 1 and below


Debt-to-Equity Ratio of 50% and below


Current Ratio 1.5 to 3

3.11 (deemed acceptable)

Price-to-Earnings Ratio being the 25% lowest amongst other companies within the same sector/industry

12.33 (as there were no other comparable companies within the local market, a judgement call made to deem acceptable)

Dividend Payout Ratio 25% and above


Dividend Yield higher than 10-year average inflation rate (based on past 3 years)


Based on MAS figures of year-on-year CPI for the past 10 years, the average annual figure is 1.4%

Forward yield – 4.1%

Trailing yield – 3.58%

Yield figures from between 2020 and 2022 were above inflation rate


From the table, Haw Par had passed the selection guideline.


Income And Cash Flow Analysis


From the excerpts of the income statements, the following gross profit margins (GPMs) and net profit margins (NPMs) were derived:


















Though numbers of the last three years were usually sought, I had added in 2019 to see a comparison between what is deemed to be a normal operations year and 2020 when COVID-19 struck.


The GPM were from profits of Haw Par’s main operations which are the Tiger Balm, properties and the underwater park. Across 2019 and 2020, the GPM was dented by around 23%, but it can be observed that it is heading for recovery from 2021 onwards. The half year result for 2023 had shown an increase of 16.3%year-on-year, continuing the upward trajectory. 


However, what is surprising is that on top of the said operations, Haw Par also has other investment income from dividends, interest and share of profits from its associated companies, and these brought up the NPM to relatively high percentages. One could view Haw Par is a holding company of sorts, and it is really a bit more than just Tiger Balm.


Moving on to cash flow, it is positive and rather consistent from 2020 onwards, though it dwarfed when compared to 2019 and before. As long as the cash flows are positive and the variations are not wild (i.e., swing from negative to positive), I am alright with it. Furthermore, with almost no debt, interest rates, which are the talk of the town, are of little effect to Haw Par.


What’s Next


Once a brand known only in East Asia, Tiger Balm expanded globally and had formed a sort of moat. However, the other point of interest would be Haw Par’s investment income, and this had shown profitability based on past records. If the four income components (Tiger Balm, properties, underwater park and investments) are profitable, it would be a good hold for the next decade.


All figures are derived from Yahoo Finance and Haw Par’s annual reports unless otherwise stated.




Bought Haw Par at:


SGD 9.75 at Nov 2023




1 – The Bedokian Portfolio (2nd Ed), p103-106


2 – Condensed Interim Consolidated Financial Statements For The Half Year Ended 30 June 2023. 11 Aug 2023. (accessed 26 Nov 2023)

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Going All-In Into Treasury Bills And Deposits?

With interest rates now at an all-time high since around 16 years ago, short term treasuries and bank deposits are providing a much safer and better deal in providing more bang for the buck (from a risk premium point of view). It is basically common sense; why would I want to plonk my monies in an investment with possible capital loss for maybe an additional 1-2% yield when I could put it in an almost-capital guaranteed place at an almost-guaranteed return?

Yet, investors (including myself) are going for the former, scrolling through numerous screeners, scrutinizing the ratios and financial numbers, getting knowledge on the company’s/sector’s/industry’s goings-on, and understanding the macroeconomics of the time, etc. I must confess it is hard work, and all these could be dealt away with by just applying the latest treasury bill and/or going down to the bank/financial institution that offered the best rates.


You can still do that, but for myself I would not switch 100% of my capital to them. As the adage goes, “Good times do not last forever”. We cannot expect that interest rates would stay high, and just like other forms of investments, they will go down eventually. This is because markets and economies go through a cycle, and other instruments would provide a better bang for the buck than treasuries and deposits. We need not look further than just two years ago when little people paid attention to them due to the low interest rate environment.


This is where we need to capitalise on the (deemed) only free lunch in the investing world, which is diversification. By diversifying, you can capture the prevailing highest return offered by an asset class / region / country / sector / industry / company on part of your investment portfolio, while at the same time protecting it from extreme drawdowns suffered by other asset classes / regions…etc.


Quoting the second part of the adage mentioned above, that is “Bad times do not last forever, too”, brings us to the diversification-related property of rebalancing. Depending on the preferred make-up, or asset allocation, of your investment portfolio, if an asset class begins to grow/decline beyond the set allocated level, you can either start selling/buying counters from that said asset class, or inject funds to buy up others, or both, to bring balance back to the portfolio.


Whilst some critics may say the method above reduces overall returns as compared to having a concentrated portfolio, which is correct, the main aim is to try to reduce as much risk as possible. Sure enough, we have had heard of success stories of investors/traders going all into one counter and reaped exorbitant profits, but what if the call was wrong? We cannot predict how the markets and economies turn out, and investing gurus and fund managers are not correct all the time, same as us retail investors. Thus diversification, rebalancing and asset allocation are a better defence against volatility and outright 100% capital loss (save for alien invasions and nuclear winters).


A final word for dividend investors: high interest rates are not favourable for equities and REITs due to high costs of leverage, and this brings a bargain for erstwhile healthy counters which were depressed overall by the situation. As we know current yield = dividend / current price, if the leverage is low, cash flow is strong and there are still profits, it is a good consideration to look at it further and swoop in if it is worth.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The Gold Rush

An article from the Straits Times a few days ago caught my attention, which read:

Singapore’s central bank the world’s third-largest gold buyer from Jan to Sept 20231


It reported that Singapore had purchased 75 tonnes of the precious yellow metal during the first nine months of the year. While sitting at third, the purchase was slightly dwarfed by the largest buyer, China (181 tonnes) and second-placed Poland (105 tonnes) for the same period. 


Gold is recognized globally and used by central banks as reserve assets, which could prop up the country’s currency and economy in times of need. The buying-up of gold by central banks had increased since 2022, with that year well over 1,000 tonnes were purchased, mainly fuelled by the Russo-Ukrainian conflict and soaring inflation then. The recent crisis in the Middle East had made the price of gold jumped to above USD 2,000 before settling down to the current USD 1,980-ish.


Photo credit: istara from

The Importance Of Gold


Gold is usually seen as a safe haven by many investors, which explained its price spikes in times of uncertainty. Yet it is an asset which, unlike most other asset classes, does not provide growth in terms of yield.


For The Bedokian Portfolio, gold comes under the category of commodities asset class, which also includes silver and oil. Commodities (especially gold) forms as a dampener in reducing volatility and stabilizing the overall portfolio, as demonstrated in my post here.


I had described the various ways of owning gold in the eBook2, but since this post started off from the news of central banks buying gold by the tonne, it would be appropriate for me to share on the various aspects of owning physical gold.


Owning Physical Gold


Before going in, you must be clear on the objective of owning gold; you are owning based on the market value of the commodity, nothing else. Thus, if the design of the gold bar/coin intrigues you and you are willing to pay (very much) extra for it, then it would be in the alternate investment form of collectibles called numismatics. These should not be in your normal investment portfolio but be held in a separate one instead.


That aside, let us go into the key points of owning the metal itself.


Find a reputable dealer/bank


This would be the first thing in my mind before going around and buy gold. Recent years had seen several bullion dealers setting up shop in selling physical precious metals, which is good as there is a freedom of choice and comparison. As a rule of (my) thumb, a dealer with a physical shop, and with a few years’ presence is preferred. Also, it should carry some gold from LBMA (London Bullion Market Association, more on this later) accredited refineries and mints.


If your trust level is for dealers are still low, perhaps you could try out the banks. To my knowledge, United Overseas Bank (UOB) is the only bank that sells physical gold over the counter, but only at UOB Plaza in Raffles Place (disclaimer: I am not sponsored by UOB).


Know the form and weight


Physical gold comes in two forms: bars and coins, which are both self-explanatory. Within the bar itself, there are two sub-types: cast and minted. Cast bars looked rugged and rough, while minted ones are more refined looking, hence the former would have a lower premium (see later) than the latter.


Next up, there are different weight (or mass, for those who are particular on the term) steps; the smallest is one gram, while the largest can go up to one kilogram. Though some of the weights are in metric, there are also weight steps in imperial system called troy ounces (oz), as international gold prices are determined per oz.


The premium


One of the main disadvantages of getting physical gold is you cannot buy it at its spot price. This is fair as the refinery/mint would need to bear additional costs for smelting, packaging, transport, etc. Since we are investing on the value of gold itself, we would try to look for physicals that has the lowest premium over spot.


Other than cast and minted conditions (for bars), the weights do play a part in premiums. Ideally, the heavier the weights, the lower the premium portion of the overall cost. For example, using gold prices and USDSGD exchange rate on 6 Nov 2023, and using a dealer’s online prices, a one-gram bar’s premium is about 33% over spot, as compared to 0.4% for a kilogram.


Of course, for retail investors it would be a tall order to get a kilogram of gold (commonly referred to as kilobar), so the sweet spot for premium would be to keep it within 5%. For myself, it would be minimally 1 oz, which is around 3.2%, and I could make a quick check of gold prices since it is based on oz.




The LBMA is a trade association that governs the standards for the global wholesale market for precious metals, and that includes their purity. If a refinery/mint is a member of the LBMA, it would be subject to the rigour of the LBMA and thus the gold bars and coins produced would be of the highest standard that could be traded (and of investment grade quality). Additionally, in Singapore, physical gold that are LBMA approved would be exempted from the Goods and Services Tax, therefore there would be additional cost savings.




Physical gold being a tangible asset requires the use of storage. If the quantity is small, you can keep it at home (or other storage options such as a bank safe deposit box), or if the quantity is large, you can engage with the dealer to use their storage facility, though this would bring additional costs.


Other administrative stuff


Some nitty gritty stuff before I sign off from this post. First, an invoice/receipt is issued whenever you buy a physical. Keep this piece of document as it is needed when you decide to sell it back to the dealer/bank or other dealers. Second, for minted bars, it normally comes in a package denoting the serial number and an assayer’s (an entity that tests the metal’s purity) verification. Do not remove it from the packaging as doing so would make the trade-in difficult as the dealer has the right of not accepting it.


I hope the above would provide some helpful tips in starting your physical gold journey. Remember, gold is just one of the assets for your investment portfolio, and diversification is still important on the overall scheme of things.


1 – Tan, Angela. Singapore’s central bank the world’s third largest gold buyer from Jan to Sept 2023. The Straits Times. 2 Nov 2023. (accessed 6 Nov 2023)


2 – The Bedokian Portfolio (2nd Ed), p38-41

Thursday, October 26, 2023

REITS Follow-Up

Following up from my post on REITs here on 20 Aug 2023, where I had named three REITs that I would look to add positions to, and I had managed to buy into them since then, namely:

  • Frasers Logistics & Commercial Trust (FLCT) (21 Aug 2023, SGD 1.16)
  • Paragon REIT (Paragon) (15 Sep 2023, SGD 0.895)
  • Frasers Centrepoint Trust (FCT) (20 Oct 2023, SGD 2.06)


The prices for FLCT and Paragon had since gone further down, due to the foreseeable sustained level of current interest rates spooking the REIT (and in general property) asset class. It is a heartache but as I had mentioned, it is impossible to catch the bottom and low can go lower. For disclosure, as of 25 Oct 2023, our overall position based on price (no dividends) for FLCT, Paragon and FCT stood at -4.83%, -11.3% and +2.76% respectively.


Two main developments had occurred after my 20 Aug 2023 post, and both came from FCT. First is the near-total divestment of their Hektar REIT holdings. The second is the divestment of Changi City Point, in which the latter’s disposal would bring FCT’s aggregate leverage down from 40.2% to 37.1%, improve hedge ratio of fixed interest rates from 63% to 73%, and reduce average cost of borrowings from 3.7% to 3.6%. These are good statistics in the wake of high interest rates.


With prices of FLCT, Paragon and FCT (25 Oct 2023) standing at SGD 1.03, SGD 0.80 and SGD 2.11 respectively, I would be more inclined in adding more Paragon, as FCT is hitting our portfolio’s 12% limit and FLCT’s high exposure to overseas properties.




The Bedokian is vested in FLCT, Paragon and FCT.



Saturday, October 7, 2023

Low Unemployment Is Not Good?

Just yesterday, the United States (U.S.) jobs report for the month of September was out.

The numbers, in short:


  • Non-farm payrolls were up 336,000 against the expected 170,000.
  • Unemployment rate was fairly constant at 3.8%
  • Labour force participation remained unchanged at 62.8%.


The U.S. market’s reaction was quick; within moments of the report’s release, the yields of the U.S. treasuries and bonds rose, the index futures went down and the U.S. dollar had strengthened.


To a layman, having a low unemployment rate is good, which is a healthy sign of the economy in general. However, in the current context of high inflation, this is not a good sign.


And yes, that not-so-good-sign comes in the form of interest rates.


Of Hypotheses And Theorems


Economics and markets in general are paradoxical; we can use hypotheses and theorems to explain certain relationships, yet they are not totally valid and reliable in explaining everything.


One of the macroeconomic concepts out there is the Philips Curve, which stated that there is an inverse relationship between inflation and unemployment. This meant that when unemployment goes down, inflation goes up, and vice versa. Though sound, the Philips Curve did not manifest much during the 1970s when the U.S. experienced high unemployment and high inflation, becoming what was known as stagflation.


Another view is that higher participation in the labour market implies heightened economic activity in the form of increased incomes and demand, which in turn could drive inflation higher; this can be explained from the simple demand-supply curve.


Now you know why the markets reacted as described in the previous section when the jobs report came out.


In gist, when unemployment is low, it hints that inflation is, ceteris paribus, still high, which in turn the Federal Reserve (the U.S. central bank that governs interest rates) would, barring any other conditions, either raise interest rates or remain them as at the current level. High interest rates are no good for the equities markets and long dated bonds, but good for holding the U.S. dollar.


Note For The Bedokian Portfolio Investor


Such macroeconomic stuff sits at the top level of the Bedokian Portfolio’s  fundamental analysis model, which is economic conditions1. While these things are beyond our control, it is good to know and acknowledge them so that you can have a situational awareness of your investment portfolio going forward. This is the reason why I preferred that, before one starts on investing, it is good to have a basic grasp of economics.



1 – The Bedokian Portfolio (2nd ed), Chapter 11.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Comparing S&P 500 And Berkshire Hathaway

One of the reasons why I had recommended S&P 500 and Berkshire Hathaway (Berkshire) was that both were representative of the United States (U.S.) market, so in my opinion they are good choices for newbies to enter it.

The other reason for their inclusion, something which I did not highlight much about,

was their relative performance with each other; a comparison between the two as stated in the latest Berkshire letter to shareholders, over a 58-year period from 1965 to 2022, Berkshire returned compounded annual gain of 19.8%, as compared to S&P 500’s 9.9%1. A USD 100 investment into Berkshire in 1965 will return around USD 2.42 million as at the beginning of 2023 versus S&P 500's roughly USD 22,4002.


A Relook


For a more recent analysis, using Portfolio Visualizer, I had pulled out an in-depth view of the two counters. Available data for Berkshire Hathaway Class A share between Jan 1986 and Dec 2022 (Class A was chosen as it had a longer history than Class B, which was issued in 1996) was compared with the Vanguard 500 Index Fund Investor, acting as a proxy for the S&P 500.


During this period, Berkshire's compounded annual growth rate stood at 15.23% against S&P 500's 10.42% (see Figure 1). Looking at rolling returns, which is of interest to long term investors, the average 10-year and 15-year for Berkshire stood at 14.30% and 12.87% respectively, with S8P 500's average 10-year and 15-year at 9.93% and 8.54% respectively (see Figure 2).


Fig.1: Returns and other data between Berkshire Hathaway and Vanguard 500 Index Investor, Jan 1986 to Dec 2022. Source: Portfolio Visualizer. Click to view larger.

Fig.2: Rolling returns between Berkshire Hathaway and Vanguard 500 Index Investor, Jan 1986 to Dec 2022. Source: Portfolio Visualizer. Click to view larger.


Why The Difference?


Berkshire is currently helmed by two of the greatest investors known by many: Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. Part of their successes can be attributed to their value investing methodology (discounted cash flow and intrinsic value), looking for great companies (having a wide "moat") and having the virtue of patience ("be fearful when others are greedy..."), to name a few.


Investing in Berkshire is like investing in an actively managed fund, just that you need not pay the high fees that are associated with it. Being a "fund", Berkshire has the discretion to buy and sell companies within its portfolio as it deems fit.


This is unlike the S&P 500 in which the investment vehicles following it (e.g., exchange traded funds, unit trusts, etc.) must at least replicate most of the holdings of the index itself, thus there is no freedom of selection.


Another overlooked aspect of Berkshire is it holds both public and private companies. You may have heard about it having close to 50% of holdings in Apple, but that does not mean 50% of Berkshire's invested funds are in Apple. Notable private companies under Berkshire's belt included See's Candies, Duracell and insurance companies GEICO and Gen Re. These private companies would have contributed further to Berkshire's returns. Also, it is from its insurance arm that Berkshire can garner the cash power to purchase equities using insurance float (difference between premiums and claims paid out).


Why Still Need S&P 500?


Despite the superiority of Berkshire's past performance over S&P 500, the latter is still included in a U.S. market beginner's toolbox. The reason is obvious: diversification.


Both Berkshire and S&P 500 represented different microcosms of the U.S. market and economy in general, and having them would be the closest thing in getting one's fingers dipped into the whole U.S. market and economic pie.


Furthermore, the management and investment decisions of Berkshire would have to be handed over to the next generation after Buffett and Munger, which there may be some deviations in investment methodology and decision-making process. The term “past performance does not indicate future results” is to be reminded of.


Contrasting to S&P 500, as an index, the inclusion of companies followed a set of requirements, which included market capitalisation, profitability and liquidity. This captures the essence of the microcosm analogy described above as the S&P 500 showed the current sectoral and industrial trend of the U.S.


And to conclude this post with a fact: S&P 500 contains Berkshire, too, and it is among the top 10 constituents by index weight3.


The Bedokian is vested in Apple, Berkshire Hathaway and S&P 500 via the SPY ETF.



1 – Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Shareholder Letter 2022, p2. (accessed 30 Sep 2023)


2 – Berkowitz, Bram. If You Have Invested $100 in Berkshire Hathaway in 1965, This Is How Much You Would Have Today. The Motley Fool. 3 Jan 2023. (accessed 30 Sep 2023)


3 – Equity S&P 500. S&P Dow Jones Indices. 31 Aug 2023. (accessed 30 Sep 2023)

Saturday, September 23, 2023

In For The Long Haul

The United States (U.S.) Federal Reserve had signalled a few days ago that there would be one more interest rate hike before the year ends, and that the rates would be held steady for a longer time.

The latter point above would have severe downstream repercussions for the markets and economies. Optimistic predictions and estimates of a drop in interest rates in at least the first half of 2024 had evaporated, and with such high numbers, leverage itself had turned to the other edge of the sword and cut into companies and organisations so used to having cheap loans.


This meant companies and real estate investment trusts (REITs) with high gearing, lower fixed rate loans, shorter debt maturity profiles and/or poor cash flow would be in for a ride in trying to navigate these high-rates waters. This is why in your fundamental analysis, it is important to select healthy companies and REITs for your portfolio.


On the other hand, cash and short-term treasuries are experiencing high yields. With Singapore’s interest rates somewhat correlated with the U.S. side, the past year or so had seen the popularity of erstwhile boring treasury bills (T-Bills), Singapore Savings Bonds (SSBs) and banks’ fixed deposits.


We are entering into relatively new stage of our investing life. Never had we seen a sharp rise of inflation and interest rates within a short time, and the last time this happened was in the last century’s 70s and 80s. For those whose investment portfolios were formed after the 2008/2009 financial crisis, like myself, this is unexplored territory. Yet, if your investment journey is a quarter/third/half way, you still have a long runway ahead of you, and definitely it will be full of events, good and bad.


However, if you do the following two things, your investment journey would be less daunting and you are better prepared for the things to come. 


The first is to stay diversified; it has been demonstrated in the past that different asset classes have different correlations with one another in different market and economic situations. Coupled with the act of rebalancing, your investment portfolio could at least withstand the storms with lesser detriment while enjoying some fruits during fine weather.


The second is to remain calm in good times and bad. Do not get overhyped when every day is a Sunday and gloomy when every day is a Monday. Follow through your tested investment philosophy and style methodically, which in this way the element of emotion is reduced.


Remember, we are in for the long haul, so keep calm and stay invested.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Of Custodians And Ringfencing

Occasionally there will always be a question popping up on the safety of having one’s securities in a custodian account. Time and again, some people will have the impression that if the brokerage who is holding their shares in custody goes under, there goes the shares. And I am quite surprised that due to this, a few investors would rather invest locally and have their shares custodised with the Central Depository, or CDP, which to me is a missed opportunity on diversifying into other markets outside of Singapore.

This thinking is not without basis. In 2011, a now-defunct U.S. based commodities brokerage firm MF Global had misused customers’ funds by using them to cover their liquidity shortfalls, and there were Singapore customers included. It was till 2016 that MF Global’s liquidators returned all the funds to the affected customers. Due to this experience, I have heard of at least one ex-MF Global client swearing off custodian accounts.


By legal right, the assets of investors are separated from the assets of the brokerage with whom the investors invest with. This is the “ringfencing” described in the title. In the rare event where the creditors are acting against the brokerage, they are going after its assets, not the investors’.


As the adage goes, however, anything can happen, and skeptics will argue the scenario of another “MF Global happening” and if so whatever safeguards and legal protections would be thrown into the wind. I do not dispute of such possibilities manifesting, since I acknowledge that there are many risks involved in investing, though in terms of probability, it is very rare.


Rather than restrict oneself from investing in overseas markets (or local markets if wanting cheaper transaction costs), why not diversify across different custodian brokerages? Recent years had seen several discount brokerages popping up, and adding a layer of safety and security is that they are (mostly, if not all) licenced by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Perhaps these may convince those to try out (or retry) custodian brokerages, and from there, invest in the rest of the world?





Ross, Marc L. What Happened At MF Global? Investopedia. 17 Jan 2023. (accessed 17 Sep 2023)