Zombie Stocks

Zombie Stocks

The thing that really bugs me about meme (popular “story” or “theme” stocks) stocks is that shorting (betting against) is a good mechanism or at least was a good mechanism for keeping stock prices reasonable. Short sellers are often made out to be terrible people, and sure maybe some of them are, but the simple fact is that if no-one can exist to bet against an overvalued stock, if no-one can question “is this price correct”? Then yes the sky is the limit. Insolvent firms don’t go bankrupt, instead these “Zombies” rise in value. Defying any type of logic right? Markets stop acting efficiently or correctly.

The market no longer prices stocks correctly with its “invisible” collective knowledge, because everyone or almost everyone is involved in this heightened, gluttonous, impassioned, frenzied state. People who are not feel pressure, maybe they are wrong? And there will be pressure from investors to not miss out on the action and potential profits. So everyone buys in. The market no longer thinks clearly. At least, for a time. Eventually however, what happens is that reality hits home, and everyone begins to question prices, but no-one is quite sure, some people start to sell, which leads to contagion selling, which leads to people in highly leveraged (borrowed-money-to-invest) positions having to sell “good” stock to cover their losses, leading to much broader forced sell-offs indiscriminately of both good and bad “zombie” stocks, and we will have a massive market crash, aka 1929. A good analogy I read recently (I think it might have been Robert Shiller, Nobel Prize winner) was that the mania of buying stocks and the subsequent sell off is much like the spreading of a pandemic, something we all can understand quite well now.

The type of behaviour going on in markets is uncannily similar to the madness in markets described in John Kenneth Galbraith’s “The Great Crash 1929”, a must read for anyone with an interest in economics, financial history, or investing in the stock market. For now, I am interested in the amount of leverage involved in the buying of meme stocks, including Tesla and Cryptos.

Bloomberg article 12 June 2021 “Zombie Stocks Defy Bankruptcy Logic as Meme Traders Bid Them Up” by Katherine Doherty and Tom Contiliano

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-06-11/zombie-stocks-defy-bankruptcy-logic-as-meme-traders-bid-them-up

Wall Street Stock Exchange, 1929. https://www.boweryboyshistory.com source: New York Daily News

My experience investing

I’ve had an interesting life with many twists and turns, but I have always been curious about the world and asked questions.  I am passionate about building a better world for all Australians and for a long time seen that this would be best achieved through investment.  I studied three years of civil engineering, had a baby, then went back and  studied science while working and being a parent.  Now I’m completing a Master of Economics, and have never felt it more possible, that in the not so distant future I might help shape and implement ideas make positive change in the world.

 

I have long believed that to grow a strong economy for future generations, to continue to be one of the richest nations per capita in the world, vision of the future and direction for investment is needed.  Future wealth needs to come from the industries and infrastructure that we invest in to make Australia strong, so we have a future — and this is what I am passionate about.

 

I am excited about some of the amazing new industries like renewable energy and solar tech, carbon capture tech, and quantum computing, that could bring huge returns for Australia in the future.  I am passionate about getting the right infrastructure and housing mix, to support our industry, people and cities.  To foster creativity and build future wealth.

 

I love to read about companies, follow markets, and macroeconomic news (read: world, national, business and political current events).  I invest my own money and although I know I have made mistakes, overall, I have made money on my investments and I have learned so much by actually investing some of my own savings.  I am learning about building a resilient and diverse portfolio.  At this point in history, there have been so many challenges. Just in the last few years we have had the US-Sino Trade War, Escalations of tensions around the world, between Russia and Europe, The Middle East, and South America.  There have been wild fires that ravaged the globe, the omnipresent threat of climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, and now internal tensions over police and state treatment of African American people in the United States, that have led to solidarity protests echoed around the world just this last week.

I had thought about investing for several years, probably I first thought about doing it when I was in year 11 or 12 studying economics at high school, but back then I had no idea really how to even make an investment.  There was a stock market game my high school economics teacher, Mr Young, tried to get me involved with but I felt quite overwhelmed by the task with out any additional guidance, even though it wasn’t real money, the whole idea stressed me out!  Finally after many years debating with myself, I took the plunge, the market had been strong for several years, I had watched stocks have returns wildly above what I was earning in bank savings account interest.  I felt I should at least try the stock market, now I had educated my self a little.  The week after I made my first ever investment in the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX), was the last week of September 2018…you might not even remember now, but it was just before the stock market suddenly dived due to trade tensions and tariffs put up between the US and China.  I lost 6 – 10 % in a couple of weeks and was pulling my hair out trying to salvage the situation.  I was thrown into the deep end and I had to pull out everything I had learned to pull my investments out of dire straits.

 

It was both exhilarating and terrifying.  I used everything I knew, listened to the best advice and managed to make back everything I had lost and more.  At one point I was up about 30% but I had to learn the hard lesson of not locking in my gains when the market began to falter.  Although I was ahead, I had losses that diminished my possible gains. During the crisis this year I had learned something from experience and pulled most of my investments as things got ugly, in hindsight I would have pulled them much sooner and done a few things differently.  Presently, my return since I started investing sits approximately 8.12% above XAO, and 8.37% above XJO. If I had invested in an ASX-200 ETF tracker, I would today be 8.37% worse off.  I am proud I have achieved that with the little experience I had going in.

Looking back, we would laugh to think I thought 6– 10 % was a big loss!  The ASX with most markets around the world, fell almost 40 % this year between 24 February and 23 March this year, after it became apparent that coronavirus Covid-19 was unstoppable and would turn into a worldwide pandemic.  The Australian stock market All Ordinaries fell from a peak of around 7230.445 on Monday 24 February, to a low of around 4564.129 by Monday 23 March (Figure 1). This was a loss of 36.89%.  Those numbers ‘7230.445’ and ‘4564.129’ are the index numbers, indicating the relative ‘height’ of the stock market as a total weighted average of al listed companies.

AXO Australian Stock Market Pandemic 2020 Feb March

Figure: AXO Australian Stock Market Pandemic Dec 2019 – June 2020, source:  ASX charts (1)

To calculate this stock market loss mathematically, first we divide the ‘new low’ by the ‘old high’ or (4564.129/7230.445) = 0.6312, meaning the market was at 63.12% of its previous height.  This is basically like buying a glorious gelato in a cone, your favourite flavour too,  walking outside the shop, and being immediately bumped by someone passing you in the street.  The gelato scoop falling on the pavement, leaving you holding just the cone.  Well, over those few weeks, the world was left just holding their respective cones, gobsmacked.  Gelato splattered all over the footpath.  The loss is found by taking the size of the ‘gelato cone’ away from the original size of the gelato scoop and the cone, which has been normalised in this case to ‘one’ , so the amount of gelato lost is equal to ‘One gelato minus the Gelato Cone’ = 1 – 0.6312 = 0.3687 =  36.89%.

As you can see in the chart the market has partially recovered from it’s lows, but it is a very uncertain time, and anything can happen, it’s not necessarily a real recovery.  We could be in for a prolonged downturn that could stretch for years, and we just don’t quite see it at this stage.  It took a few years to reach market bottoms in the past after stock crashes, after 2008 and 1929.  It’s likely I think this will again happen this time.  We have seen so many events together that some people wouldn’t see in their entire lifetime.  Or at least once in a lifetime events.  It’s a time to come together (virtually or over the phone of course) with friends and love ones.  Take care of yourself, your family, friends, and show care about your community.  Humans are communal creatures, and we can get through this if we pull together and work in unison, rather than letting our differences divide us.

 

1. ASX Charts, URL: https://www.asx.com.au/prices/charting/index.html?code=XAO&compareCode=&chartType=line&priceMovingAverage1=0&priceMovingAverage2=0&volumeIndicator=Bar&volumeMovingAverage=0&timeframe=, date viewed 7 June, 2020.

Portfolio diversification: Starcraft analogy

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My 11 year old is a big fan of Starcraft II, a strategy computer game. If you know the game, you will be aware there are two resources in the game, Vespene Gas and Minerals.  Units in the game can collect these resources and use them as commodities to build new items, or as currency to finance acquisitions, for example fighting or healing units in one of the three armies, Zerg (Alien insects), Protoss (A highly advanced alien race) or Terrans (Humans).  The resources Vespene Gas and Minerals are valuable and necessary for any successful Starcraft II army.  Especially if you want to have success in the game or annihilate your enemy’s bases.  Successful armies require Vespene Gas and Minerals so there is always a market for these resources.

If I was an investor in the Starcraft universe, I would have two possible resources to invest in, Vespene Gas or Minerals.  If I bought only Vespene Gas, my investment portfolio would contain one thing: Vespene Gas.  Say I invested only in a Zerg Vespene Gas field I would have only the risk attached to owning a Zerg Vespene Gas field.

If one day the Protoss came along and blew it up, and blew up all my harvesting units, I would loose all of my investment.  I would have nothing and be all of a sudden very poor.  If I  had instead put only half my assets into the Zerg Vespene Gas field and the other half into a Terran Minerals deposit I would have reduced my risk.  My portfolio would be half Minerals and half Vespene Gas. I would still have my investment in the Minerals even if the gas field was destroyed. I would only loose half of my investment.

By investing in both resources I am spreading my risk and hopefully by doing so reducing my total investment risk. This is why it is so important to build a diverse portfolio and why people say “not to put all your eggs in one basket”.  That is why it is unwise to only invest in Vespene Gas.

 

*Note: This is a very simple example of portfolio diversification for demonstration purposes only. It should not be taken as investment advice. At the time of writing I do not and have not previously held stocks in Blizzard Activision (or Vespene Gas for that matter!)

Housing affordability in metropolitan Australia

Why are houses today too expensive to buy for the average person and especially young people in our major cities? Are elements such as negative gearing and overseas investors that are often blamed for the rising prices in the media and by politicians the cause of the inflated prices? Or is there something else that has caused the inflation? The short answer is yes. Yes there is. And quite simply it’s supply.

Demand and supply are two elements of the market that are directly linked. If demand is high and supply is low, prices will be higher. If supply is high and demand is low, prices will be lower. The problem in cities like Sydney is that there is a short supply of housing in areas where people actually want to live. Homes that are of a good size (2-3 bedrooms a good size if you are planning a family), in nice neighborhoods, close to schools, medical centres and hospitals, close to public amenities like parks and swimming pools, close to public transport and within a short commute from places of work, which for a city like Sydney is the CBD.

Over past decades new homes have been predominantly built on the outer fringes of the city, which has stretched our cities of Sydney and Melbourne to massive sprawling suburbia. As you head out into this sprawling suburbia land sizes of individual blocks of land get larger, houses get on average larger and are more spread out. The suburbs get larger, amenities are more spread out, hospitals are further away, work is much much further away, everyone requires a car just to do things like go to the shops or take the kids to school, because everything needed for life is so spread out.

This in turn means that the next set of new houses built is pushed even further again from the city centre. The toll of this on people buying their first home, is that they are forced to have a much lower standard of living than those closer to the CBD because they have to spend a lot more time commuting to the city to work in the morning and home again each evening.

People living on the city outskirts will spend several hours a day either in their car or on the train or bus in long commutes.  People living on the fringes often rely on cars to drive everywhere and therefore spend a lot more on petrol for their cars, as well as the other costs involved in car ownership, compared with people in the inner city who often don’t need a car and thus save money on not running a car. Former Liberal Party Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey infamously said in a radio interview in 2014 “The poorest people either don’t have cars or actually don’t drive very far in many cases” (1). In fact it’s the opposite, most “poor people” do drive cars and the costs of running a car helps to keep them poor. “Poor people” who live on the city outskirts tend to drive much further than those who live in the centre, who tend to be wealthier (2).

Houses are generally larger and temperatures in the west of the city are hotter than by the coast because they don’t receive the cool sea breezes, so electricity costs are higher as homes require air conditioning to remain pleasant to live in.

Long commutes are a waste of peoples time, and seriously cuts into peoples recreation time. Time that could be spent with family or friends. High electricity bills and costs of running a car that is used everyday cuts into peoples ability to save money or spend on items to make their life more pleasant.

The short supply of housing in the inner city has pushed house prices up so high they have become unobtainable for people that did not already own a home in Sydney. In the suburb I live in, Marrickville in Sydney’s Inner West about 6 km from the CBD, the median price for a 2 bedroom house is now $1.23 Million (3). The median price means the price in the middle, it’s a bit like the average but a better indication of the middle price people are paying for homes.

In comparison the median price for a 2 bedroom house in Campbelltown, a suburb on the outskirts of Sydney’s western suburbs, is $476 thousand (4). People who live in Campbelltown and work in the city centre will commute for at least 2 hours a day.

So why is a 2 bedroom house where I live so much higher than that of a 2 bedroom house in Campbelltown? The simple answer is demand. There is high demand for houses in suburbs like Marrickville because they are convenient place to live, we have schools, public transport (trains, buses and close connection to light rail), medical care (like GPs, specialists rooms, dentists, radiography services), grocery shops and a shopping centre all within walking distance from homes. There are top hospitals and universities like RPA and The University of Sydney and University of Technology Sydney only 4-5 km away. For people with disabilities there is more access and choice when it comes to disability services. Suburbs closer to the city tend to have more people around and so there is often a greater sense of being in a community than out in the outer suburbs where you can often feel isolated in your street or home. There are cultural and community events in the inner city like weekend markets and theatre, all of which make life more enjoyable in the inner city. Another reason for higher demand in the inner compared to the outer suburbs is that crime rates tend to be lower in the suburbs closer to the city, obviously with a few exceptions.

In my opinion, more focus needs to be on increasing the supply of homes in the CBD and inner suburbs of cities (within 10 km of the CBD), because this is where people want to live based on price data. Yes, people who are already lucky enough to live in the inner suburbs will argue “But there aren’t enough schools! There aren’t enough hospitals! Over-development! I don’t want high rise apartments over looking my house!” . Government has tried to to increase supply and there has been massive backlash in these communities about any new development. This viewpoint to me seems very selfish and short sighted.

My question to those people resisting development and resenting newcomers is, why do you think that you deserve to live in a convenient area, but other people do not? Is it fair that just because you were there first, future generations are forced to live at a poorer standard of living and have to live in an area which is not good for a productive economy because of the high costs on it’s residents, because you were here first? I don’t think that is either fair or good for the economy or society. It ultimately increases inequality in society.

Census data helps governments to determine the number of hospitals and schools built in an area. If more people move to an area, government will see in the Census that the area requires more infrastructure. If zoning laws are changed to allow more housing to be built in the inner suburbs, government can also plan to deliver more hospitals, schools and public transport, for example the new Sydney Metro line going up along the Bankstown line (one of the two main train lines through the Inner West of Sydney) coincides with the opening up of zoning for high rise residential apartments along the Bankstown line corridor.

In the past, and even in the present the most creative and productive areas of cities are not the outer fringes but the more highly developed inner city. If we want to make productive cities we need to make them more livable, which includes increasing the sustainability of our cities by reducing the number of petrol cars on the road, and increasing the happiness of residents by decreasing commuting times and the cost of living.

Reference

1. URL: http://jbh.ministers.treasury.gov.au/transcript/075-2014/ date accessed 12 June 2018.

2. URL: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-08-15/joe-hockey-poor-people-cars-claim-misleading/5671168 date accessed 12 June 2018.

3. URL: https://www.domain.com.au/suburb-profile/marrickville-nsw-2204 date accessed 12 June 2018.

4. URL: https://www.domain.com.au/suburb-profile/campbelltown-nsw-2560 date accessed 12 June 2018.

How I saved $10,000 a year, over 4 years.

A few years ago I had very little in savings in my savings account, let’s be honest and say I had nothing in my savings account after having to spend all my savings on child care fees before my son went to school while I was finishing my degree at university. It was a tough time and when I started living pay cheque to pay cheque I had to really evaluate my financial position.

I found that my Big Four bank account was giving me very little interest post financial crisis. Where I used to get about 6.00 % in about 2007 I was now getting less than 3.00 %  in 2013. The bank had also charged ridiculous fees such as a $35 fee for overdrawing my account by $20. I decided that something had to be done to change my financial situation and getting low interest and paying $6/month in bank fees to a Big Four bank (with billion dollar profits) was not going to cut it anymore.

So I started to do my research and looked up savings account interest rates online for local banks, credit unions and international subsidiaries operating in Australia. I found the best rate offered at that time was with ING Direct (now ING). I had banked with ING in the Netherlands so it was more familiar to me than other online high interest bank accounts. I didn’t have any savings so I didn’t really have much to loose anyway.

The positives for me were that there were no bank fees and that I could withdraw from ATMs for free (when I opened the account you had to withdraw $200 or more for the ATM fee to be paid by ING, now it’s any amount) or withdraw as cashout from the supermarket for free. If I deposited more than $1000 a month to my linked transaction account I would get a higher interest rate on my ING Savings Maximiser account which at the time it was about 3.8 % c. 2013, compared with my 3.00 % now it’s 2.8 % which is to the best of my knowledge still higher than all other online savings accounts in Australia, and much higher than the old Big Four bank account which is currently offering only ~0.81 %.

I actually kept my Big Four transaction account so that I could use cheques to pay my rent (by another financial justification because it was the lesser of two evils when it came to paying my rent). However it is only used and kept open for that reason. If I didn’t need cheques or my new bank account had that functionality I would close it in a heartbeat.

When I recently complained about my low interest rate on my online savings account to the Big Four bank they offered me the same interest rate the offer their new customers, which was ~2.30% for 3 months because I was “a long time customer”, which is really crappy considering I get 2.80% in my ING bank account all the time.

I went with ING because they were familiar to me, but there are other banks and credit unions that offer no monthly fees on savings and transaction accounts, online only high interest accounts. Money magazine ranked them highest that year in that category which was another reason I went with them. And I’m Dutch, so I like orange.

I’ve never really looked back since opening up my online no fee bank account. I deposit my salary into it and I save what I can each fortnight. With ING you can have more than one savings account and give them different names. The down side to this is that the secondary savings account does not attract the higher interest rate, the current rate as of January 2018 is 1.35% which is still higher than the Big Four account. However the advantage is you can have different accounts for different things which makes saving easier.

I have one primary Savings Maximiser account that I NEVER touch (as in I never withdraw from it), which is my home deposit savings account, originally it was going to be for a holiday to Europe, but after some deliberation of my priorities I decided purchasing our own home might be more important than a holiday. It receives the higher interest rate and contains the bulk of my savings. I have a secondary savings account where I save up for bills, school fees and other expenses which gets used regularly.

Because I often can’t afford to pay big bills like the electricity bill out of my fortnightly salary, having an account where I can save a bit each week so I have enough to cover all my bills when they come in is really handy. I also use this account to save for trips to Queensland to see my parents or little getaways once in a while or any large purchase, like a new computer or washing machine. I’ve called it “Expenses Rainy Day” account, but it could have easily been called “Bills and Expenses” account.

I said earlier that I kept my Big Four bank account for the cheque functionality, I did also keep the online savings account because it attracts no fees and I wanted to see if the interest rate would improve, but I again don’t touch this account. I kept this account because I am a highly skeptical and somewhat pessimistic person. I don’t place a huge amount of trust in any financial institution. I kept this account basically in the case there is a real emergency, and I need a few thousand dollars. A while ago I worked out the cost of moving house if we were evicted and our landlord refused to give us our bond back and we lost the tribunal would be about $3000. That would cover the cost of paying a new bond and movers to keep a roof over our heads. I decided that $3000 was the baseline savings I had to have for a real emergency.

I kept it in that bank because I wanted to spread my cash investments, like you would if you were investing in the stock market. You wouldn’t just invest all your money in one firm in case that firm failed. I figured in the worst case scenario, if Australia were to have a Greek style collapse of the banking system, I’d want my money to be in more than one bank. I never want to be in a situation where I loose everything because my bank fails and the government fails to bail them out. Luckily the chances of this happening are very low in Australia, but like I said, I’m a skeptical person. The fact that it’s in another institution to my transaction account means I am also less likely to be tempted to dip into this money.

Recently I’ve been looking at my dismal ~0.80% interest on this account and thinking along the lines of John Bull and 2% interest rates, to paraphrase, John Bull can stand many things but he cannot stand 2% and this is less than half that amount. So I have been researching interest rates again to see if I can find a better deal for my $3k that is at least in line with inflation. The best I’ve found so far is Suncorp’s eOptions account, currently offering 1.55% on savings, which is almost twice the rate of my unhappy account. It’s a bricks and mortar bank rather than purely online and it is larger than some of the other “small banks”. This would be a much healthier interest rate for my emergency fund. An account can easily be opened online, but the drawback is the easiest way to withdraw money due to Suncorp’s token and secondary password system is to also open a linked transaction account. The best thing to do is to either not get the card and go to a branch directly to withdraw funds or destroy the card or if you can’t bring yourself to do that put this card somewhere safe where it won’t be stolen and basically forget you have it, for instance if you keep your title deeds or another precious possession in the bank then put the card with that. By using another bank there is less temptation to spend my emergency fund money. The card definitely doesn’t belong in my wallet. Really I don’t even need this card, because I can walk into a Suncorp bank to make my withdrawal if that worst case came to be. However if there was a Greek style collapse, the banks may not open their doors and you may need a card to access the ATM.

I have been saving with my partner who gives me about 65 % – 70 % of his pay cheque to pay our bills, rent, sons school fees etc and keeps some aside for himself to buy groceries and general expenses like pay for his various hobbies or if we have a day out. I use his pay cheque for most of our expenses and cost of living and basically try to save as much of my pay cheque as possible. From saving this way and focusing on saving as much as we can afford I have managed to save with my partner over $40 000 over the past 4 years which is more than I could have hoped for considering our living expenses are fairly high in Sydney but I am still working towards having enough for a home deposit. I try to save regularly and save what we can afford.

My partner pays me as soon as his pay cheque clears and I distribute this money as soon as it enters my account (either paying bills immediately or putting into my cheque account for rent or the bills savings account). I put my money into savings as soon as my pay cheque clears so there is no temptation to spend it. Saved money does not exist in my mind as spending money. I figure out approximately how much my major bills like phone, internet, electricity, gas, ambulance insurance, swimming lessons for my son etc for the year cost add a bit extra for unexpected costs and divide that number by 26 weeks, so I know how much I need to save in my bills savings account each pay. I work out how much I need for rent and set that aside too. Then I figure out how much I need to spend on travel and food and leave that in my transaction account and then I put what I have decided I can afford into my home deposit account. Sometimes I might put some of the money destined for the home deposit account into my bills account just in case other expenses come up like an expensive school camp or new school uniforms or shoes.

I try to be aware about my expenses but I don’t let my self worry about bills because I know I am prepared and I have enough to cover all my bills saved. It’s a nice feeling to have peace of mind, and takes away a lot of stress in your life.

I want to make a disclaimer that you should not take the general advice on my blog as qualified financial advice and that you should make your own decisions or seek advice from an independent qualified financial advisor about your own finances based on your unique circumstances.

I recommend listening to any good financial advice that is offered to you and considering if it is best for your circumstances before following it. Don’t blindly follow what people tell you to do including me, always consider if it’s right for you in your own situation, and if you’re not good with money seek professional advice or go to the government website moneysmart.gov.au

Before I make any major financial decision I always try to remember my friend who in university lost $20 000  that their parents had given them to cover their living expenses on the stock market, thinking they could make a profit and who after loosing all that money was very very poor for the rest of that year. At the time being a poor student myself I could hardly imagine having $20 000 in the bank let alone loosing it on the stock market. Knowing what can happen when you make a poor financial decision made a huge impression on me. 

Last Christmas my mother bought me a book called The barefoot investor by Scott Pape. Scott Pape has formed a very similar savings strategy to mine, he is a good writer with a style that is easy to digest and I recommend the first chapter of the 2017 edition on savings accounts. I didn’t follow his strategy when setting up my savings account strategy, I hadn’t even heard of Scott Pape before my mum gave me the book. Previously to me Barefoot was a film from Germany about a girl with mental illness.