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Weekend reading: Putting 2016’s returns into perspective

Weekend reading: Putting 2016’s returns into perspective post image

Good reads from around the Web.

I bet you enjoyed stellar returns in 2016. Most well-diversified passive investors in the UK should have got into the 20% range.

Our own model portfolio flew up 25%!

It is easy to feel like you did really well last year, but a mistake to feel special. So put off the phone call to Foxtons and forget watching Billions or even Downton Abbey for lifestyle tips.

2016 was only a great year for most British investors because the crippled pound lifted our portfolios – both in terms of overseas holdings, and also by boosting our biggest multinationals.

And a currency shift is the most even-handed lift up (or slap down) that the market can give deliver. It’s largely blind to your talents, or otherwise, as an equity investor.

This chart of the FTSE 100 in pound, dollar, and euro terms is sobering:

It was Brexit wot won it. (Blue is the FTSE in $ terms, white in £s).

Source: 3652 Days

You got much richer as a global investor based in Britain in 2016 because the UK got much poorer.

In the stocks

To do relatively badly in 2016 with equities you needed to be a stock picker, with all the wide dispersion of returns that entails.

Focusing on domestically orientated UK companies got full-time small cap investor Maynard Paton a bit over 7%, which is hardly a disaster. But a few wayward decisions saw John Rosier clock up minus 4%. Veteran investor and author John Lee [FT search result] did much better (and beat the UK index) with a roughly 18% showing from his UK companies, but even that hugely lagged a global tracker.

I’m not picking on these chaps to ridicule them, incidentally. As an active investor, I enjoy their writing and insights, and as best I can tell they’re all skilled investors.

I’m simply highlighting how easily (so-called) “dumb money” trounced the enthusiasts in 2016.1

As an active investor you know you’re going to have bad years now and then. It’s the price of admission. Anyone who doesn’t is either a quant genius far above my pay grade (and theoretically prone to blowing up) or else they’re running a Ponzi scheme.

Besides, the majority of hedge funds delivered yet another lousy index-lagging year, too. Some of those guys are paid millions to deliver worse than nothing.

Pounded portfolios could recover

Returning to currency, one elephant in the room for active investors like myself, Paton, Rosier, and Lee is if and when the pound will reverse.

Normally long-term equity investors can choose to ignore currency fluctuations, for various reasons we’ll save for another time.

But the speed, scale, and political nature of the pound’s shock drop arguably means things are different today.

If the pound rallies hard, then UK stock picker’s portfolios pregnant with home bias should spectacularly outperform, all things being equal.

But all things are not equal, and for Brexit-phobes like me it’s a daily challenge not to try to see the UK markets through Marmite-coloured glasses.

As for the passive investors who hopefully make up the majority of our readers, I say enjoy those great returns.

Why not? The science tells us we feel losses twice as much as we enjoy gains – one reason so many people avoid investing in volatile shares in the first place. Perhaps taking a moment to appreciate the good times can help counteract that.

But remember the good times won’t last forever.

I’ve long been more optimistic about stock market returns than the gloomsters. But another crash someday is a nailed-on certainty, and the pound seems unlikely to fall so spectacularly again.

Remember, the long run real2 return from shares is about 4-6%, depending on who you read. When I hear even John Lee talking about a “steady, unspectacular year” which ended with a return three-times in excess of that, it does make me worry we might be getting complacent.

Let’s stay sensible out there.

From the blogs

Making good use of the things that we find…

Passive investing

Active investing

Other articles

Product of the week: Resolved to join a gym? Shed the right sort of pounds by finding the best value opt-in sweatshop from The Guardian’s run through the options.

Mainstream media money

Some links are Google search results – in PC/desktop view these enable you to click through to read the piece without being a paid subscriber of that site.3

Passive investing

  • Jack Bogle: The secret to becoming a winning investor – MarketWatch
  • It’s time to ignore advice about which stocks to buy in 2017 – New York Times

Active investing

  • Five economic terms we should all use – Bloomberg
  • Mini-bond firm may not survive, auditor warns – Telegraph
  • The world’s cheapest markets in 2017 – Telegraph

A word from a broker

Other stuff worth reading

  • Can money make you happy? [Search result]FT
  • New year’s resolutions for your money [Search result]FT
  • Round £1 coins will cease to be legal tender in October – ThisIsMoney
  • The taxman unleashes its ‘snooper computer’ – Telegraph
  • How to tackle your debts if you overspent at Christmas – Guardian
  • Is night time the right time for cheaper electricity? – Guardian
  • Why UK cities must make homes more affordable for key workers – Guardian
  • What history tells us about your investments in 2017 – The Washington Post
  • Young Britons increasingly reliant on inherited wealth… [Search result]FT
  • …but even the Left is terrified of properly taxing inheritances – Guardian
  • Solar power could be cheaper than coal everywhere in a decade – Bloomberg
  • Fixing globalisation (featuring BRIC-coiner Jim O’Neil) [Podcast]BBC
  • Swedish six-hour workday is [apparently]4 proving too costly – Bloomberg

Book of the week: For a year or so my American friends have been waxing – and wailing – lyrical about Amazon’s ubiquitous voice-activated assistant, Alexa. Well, the hype is now hitting the UK. You can’t hold back the future – especially not at just £150 or £50 for the smaller Echo dot. But make sure you fit a manual override to your pod bay doors.

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  1. I suppose it’s only fair to hint at my own returns, given all this finger pointing. I did better than those writers cited, but appreciably worse than a world index fund in sterling terms. And much of my gains were simply due to holding a decent slug of US stocks and other overseas assets. []
  2. That is after-inflation. []
  3. Note some articles can only be accessed through the search results if you’re using PC/desktop view (from mobile/tablet view they bring up the firewall/subscription page). To circumvent, switch your mobile browser to use the desktop view. On Chrome for Android: press the menu button followed by “Request Desktop Site”. []
  4. Trialing this with hands-on nurses as the guinea pigs seems to set up the experiment to fail. Test it with accountants or engineers or warehouse employees. []

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{ 54 comments… add one }
  • 51 gadgetmind January 18, 2017, 4:56 pm

    I’m hitting LTA because of Bexitcide and no other reason. How delighted do you think that makes me?

  • 52 Steve January 18, 2017, 5:34 pm


    Not very, I would imagine. It is indeed odd to “enjoy” such gains in such a negative situation for the country. I see things like “Britain decides to jump off cliffedge” but even that does not do it; half of us are in fact being forcibly manhandled (more accurately womanhandled) over said cliffedge.

  • 53 gadgetmind January 18, 2017, 6:45 pm

    Yes, the amount of “sterlings” in my pension has gone up, but its real world buying power hasn’t. I now get taxed an extra 25% on the “excess”, an excess caused entirely by Brexit. Sweet. May’s recent “Brexit means hard Brexit over our own head with a brick” speech has made things even worse. I wish she’d keep her gob shut and take off the clown costume.

  • 54 AAJ January 20, 2017, 1:17 pm

    “I wish she’d keep her gob shut and take off the clown costume”

    Maybe it’s all part of a plan. It does appear she is talking the £ down. The hope being that she can pull a rabbit of the hat. Either way, everyone and their national bank wants a weaker currency. Politically, she can’t lose. Devalue for short/medium term gain or get a better than expected deal with EU.

    However, I wish she’d keep her gob shut.

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