Step 54: Bull & Bear Markets

Step 54 of the 100 steps mission to financial independence: Bull & Bear Markets
Step 54: Bull & Bear Markets

Now, as I’ve mentioned a few times before, by no means am I an expert on investing (yet..), but there are a few concepts that I have picked up along the way and that I’d like to share at this stage. These are to do with the practicalities when it comes to investing on a day-to-day (or year-to-year) basis.

As I have said before, I – and with me many others on their way to financial independence -, see index investing as the safest, easiest and surest way to invest. It is boring, but most likely to get decent results. Of course not everybody agrees, there are many who prefer other ways to invest, (or of course to not invest at all), so make sure you choose what is good for you. With that said, I am mainly referring to index investing in this step, so not everything might be applicable to the other ways of investing.

Bull & Bear Markets

Let’s first start with two definitions in the investing world: bull and bear markets. During a bull market, the general market does well: prices are on the rise, investors feel confident, every day more people want to buy shares which pushes the prices further up as demand exceeds supply, people see their portfolio grow and demand increases even further..  Continue reading

Step 53: To invest or not to invest

Step 53 of the 100 Steps mission to financial independence: To invest or not to invest?
Step 53 of the 100 Steps mission: To invest or not to invest?

The big question is of course whether you should or shouldn’t start investing. Ask anybody and you are likely to get very different answers, some saying they can recommend putting in some money monthly, others saying only the really wealthy or dumb invest in the market, whilst still others see it as their main way to (early) retirement.

The truth is, whether or not to invest depends entirely on you, your personal (and financial) situation, and the reasons you might want to invest in the first place. In this step I’ll try to give you some pointers to think about to help you determine whether or not you should invest, but the ultimate decision is yours and you have to feel comfortable and happy with that decision.

My boyfriend at the time (he’s my husband now), suggested we’d start investing in 2009 when the market was at a low. Now I wish we had, as we would have been able to buy lots of really cheap shares, but at the time I didn’t know anything about money and didn’t feel comfortable putting money into something that I didn’t understand. Of course I regret not having bought those cheap shares now, but I don’t regret not putting in money without knowing what I was doing and whether I really wanted to invest. Continue reading

Step 52: Investing through Index Funds / ETFs

Step 52 of the 100 steps to Financial Independence: Investing through Index Funds
Step 52: Investing through Index Funds

It is now time for an introduction to the third main way of investing. As you were able to appreciate in step 50 on handpicking stocks and step 51 on mutual / collective funds, both ways have some very strong advantages, most notably the possibility of making lots of money on the stock market. Yet the opposite unfortunately is also the case and rather more likely than the first scenario… As we’ll see below, the third way of investing aims to find a middle ground between making money on the market and avoiding losses.

Index investing – an overview

Imagine looking at a long list of all the stocks and shares in a particular market – an index (such as the S&P 500) – and buying shares of every single company in that index in the same proportion as their relative size in the market. By buying all the shares of all the companies in the index, you basically copy the market and therefore will almost exactly get the same returns as the market average.  (It will normally be just a fraction below due to the small fees you pay). If the index goes up by 8% your return will be around 7.8%, if it goes up by 13% your returns will be around 12.8% etc. That’s what index investing does. Sounds simple and indeed it is simple.

Of course as a small investor you’ll never have enough money to buy shares of all the companies in the index, which is why index investing – like with mutual funds – pools money of different investors together in order to increase buying power. Continue reading

Step 51: Investing through Mutual Funds

Step 51 of the 100 steps mission to financial independence: Investing through Mutual Funds
Step 51: Investing through Mutual Funds

In the previous step we looked at the advantages and challenges of choosing the shares and bonds to invest in yourself. In this new step we look at an alternative which is designed to help you if you don’t want to choose your own investments, but rather rely on the opinion and experience of somebody else: Investing through collective or mutual funds.

As we’ll see, this type of investing has its own major positives and drawbacks so let’s get started with the details.

Mutual funds – an overview
In the case of collective or mutual funds, the money of small investors in pooled together in order to raise the total amount available to invest. A fund manager is appointed to manage these funds and he or she decides which shares and bonds to add to the portfolio, trying to make as much money as possible. This often means they buy and sell continuously, following the market, aiming to buy shares at a low price, sell them at a high price and rush selling if they see a fall in the market coming, to avoid their clients losing a lot of money. Sounds like a good tactic? On paper yes, but in reality there are two main problems with this type of investing. Continue reading

Step 50: Investing through Handpicking shares

Step 50 of the 100 Steps to financial independence: Investing through Handpicking Shares
Step 50: Investing through Handpicking Shares

Now that we’ve discussed the what of investing (stocks and bonds and what the differences between the two are), it is now time to learn more about the how of investing and in particular how one can enter the stock market and start investing. Hopefully by now you’ve at least become slightly curious about how this investing really works, whether or not you feel like this will be your thing to do.

Generally speaking there are three different ways you can invest in a stock market:

  1. Handpicking shares (and bonds) of individual companies
  2. Getting a collection of shares and bonds through collective or mutual funds
  3. Passive investing through Index tracking or Exchange Traded Fund

We’ll look at each option in turn to find out more about each way of investing in detail. In this step we’ll start by looking at handpicking shares of individual companies. Remember that these steps are only an introduction to the complexity of investing, so don’t just take my word for it, but read up if you’d like to find out more. There are many good books, articles and websites around that will explain this all in greater detail.

To make things easier on me as well as on you when reading, I have decided to talk about “handpicking shares” where in reality I am talking about both shares and bonds (yes, you can call me lazy if you want..!) Continue reading

Step 49: The Difference between Shares and Bonds

Step 49 of the 100 steps to Financial Independence: The Difference between Shares and Bonds
Step 49: The Difference between Shares and Bonds

Stock markets have a vast selection of stocks and bonds that can be invested in and before deciding what to invest in, understanding the main differences between stocks and bonds well is absolutely key if you consider getting in the stock market. Investors can decide whether they want to invest in just shares, just bonds or whether to create their own mix of stocks and bonds. With time, many furthermore decide to slowly reallocate their investments, so even if you start with a certain percentage shares and bonds, this needn’t stay as such for the rest of your investment life.

Here we’ll look at the main differences between shares and bonds from an investor’s point of view and how they both offer different advantages and disadvantages.

Volatility

  • Share prices vary more day-to-day but also over long periods of time: their value can increase or decrease fast.
  • Bonds are generally more price solid and fluctuate less over time and at a much slower pace than shares.

Continue reading

Step 48: Understanding Bonds

Step 48 of the 100 steps to financial independence: Understanding Bonds
Step 48: Understanding Bonds

In step 47 we looked at an introduction of what shares are, but they are only part of the stock market, there is another major player to be found on the stock exchange, which are of course bonds. In this step we’ll look at bonds in greater detail and find out why they might be interesting to invest in.

What is a bond

A bond is in essence nothing more than an IOU that a government or company issues when they borrow money. In the case of a bond, the debtor (i.e the government or company that issued a bond and therefore borrows money) agrees to pay back the full amount of the original loan, along with interest.

A bond is traditionally an official paper to confirm the loan and when bonds are issued, they usually have the following information:

  • Value of the original loan, i.e. how much money the bond was for.
  • Interest rate that the company or government will pay back yearly.
  • Redemption date: this is the date when the issuer of the bond will pay back the original loan. This is usually anything between 5 and 30 years.

Like with stocks, companies and governments often issue many bonds at the time in order to raise a total amount of money they need for a new investment or expansion.

Why do bonds exist

So why do companies issues bonds and not just borrow money from the bank? The main reason to choose for bonds is that companies can often agree lower interest rates with investors than they can with banks. It also means that they don’t need to adhere to the restrictions that many banks impose on entities when they borrow money. By issuing bonds it guarantees that companies have more flexibility and freedom when it comes to chosing between reinvesting or loan repayments.

So why not issue shares then? A drawback of shares is that a company cannot just continue issuing more and more stocks without annoying their investors as the more shares are out, the more owners of the company there are, the more reduced the Earnings Per Share (EPS) are: the same profit has to be divided amongst more investors. With bonds, companies don’t have this problem as they can issue more so long they can find new investors willing to lend them money. Of course the disadvantage of bonds over stocks is that the full amount needs to pay back, which as we saw in step 47 is not the case when a company issues shares.

What do bonds give

Bonds give investors the possibility of making money in the following two ways:

  • Interest payment – as with any loan, a debtor agrees to pay interest on an outstanding loan, so if you lend somebody $100 at an interest rate of 5%, you can expect to get $5 every year until the redemption date, when the bond will be paid back in full.
  • Capital gains – similar to shares an investor can decide to sell their bond to somebody else, meaning the new investor takes over the loan. Since bonds are traded on the market, their prices can go up (or down). Bonds can be sold for more or less money than was originally lent to the company or than what the original investor paid, so as with shares, one can make and lose money on the buying and selling bonds.

What affects the price of bonds

The fluctuation of bonds prices is usually a result of the following three main factors:

1. Interest rates of the national and global economy

Investing in anything on the stock market always brings a risk as well as a cost with it. You pay fees somewhere along the line, be that to a stock broker or your brokerage account.. at some point you’ll pay. Added to that, bonds might cease to exist if the company or government goes bankrupt. So if you get 5% interest on a savings account with you bank, you’d be silly to buy bonds at 4%, as not only will you get less money on it, you will also run a higher risk of losing your money and you haven’t even paid for any costs at this stage. When interest rates of the economy go up, bonds have to offer more interest, otherwise people will invest their money in their own savings accounts. Add in inflation rates being high or low and you can imagine that it might be more interesting to put your money in stocks instead of in a low-interest bond.

2. Risks associated with the bonds

Every bond issuer is different and is either more or less likely to actually pay back the loan. If the entity goes bust, you simply won’t get any money back. Safer bond issuers might be more interesting as they are less likely to go bankrupt, although returns (i.e. interest rates) are generally lower than on bonds from more risky entities. To indicate how safe a bond is, there is a credit quality rating or bond rating, which ranges from AAA (highest level of safety) to AA, then A, BBB, BB and B and continues with CCC, CC and finally C, which indicates a low quality bond. During different economic times, people are willing to take more or less risk.

3. The remaining life span of the bond

Bonds that have a long life span have a higher risk of a payment default (the issuer not being able to pay) or a change in their credit rating. A company might be very healthy at the moment, but what will they look like in 30 years’ time? Because of the associated risk, longterm bonds usually have a higher interest rate to correct for the increased risk or insecurity. Bonds getting closer to their redemption date can go up in prices as they become more interesting to have as the chance of payment default or bankruptcy of the company goes down.

Two last warnings

  • Remember that if you bought a bond of $100 for $110 (thinking you’d either get enough interest on it to counter for the $10 difference, or would be able to re-sell at an even higher price), since the bond was originally issued for $100 at the end of the its date, you will only be given $100 by the issuer! If on the other hand you purchased it for $90, you will make $10 on the bond by its expiry date.
  • If a company has issued both bonds and stocks, then their bondholders must be paid interest before any profit can be given to the share holders. At the same time when you buy a bond, you won’t be given any part of the profit.

Step 48 – Understanding bonds – in detail

Like in the previous step, we are for now just finding out about bonds and how they behave on the market.

  • Type in bond prices + a company to find out more about the characteristics of bonds, such as their interest rates, maturity date / redemption date, and current prices. See how this evolves over time. Don’t worry about the actual details or number, just try to get an idea of how bonds trade on the market.
  • It’s harder to find information on bonds in the news, as news items tend to focus more on shares since they sound more exciting due to their prices fluctuating more. Try and see if you can find some information on bond prices, defaults and other information on bonds.

And that ladies and gentlemen is the introduction to bonds. Does the whole stocks-and-bonds-story still sound little confusing? Good, as the next step is completely focussed on comparing the two in greater detail.

Read more about my 100 steps mission to financial independence or simply decide to take control today and join us on our step-by-step quest on how to make your finances work for you, starting with step 1.