The Problem with HVST (Betashares Australian Dividend Harvester Fund)

For probably two years now I have been buying up the Betashares Australian Dividend Harvester Fund (HVST), which is a exchange traded managed fund listed on the ASX. The appeal of this fund is that it pays a very high dividend yield (about 10% to 14%) and pays this dividend monthly. The monthly dividend payment normally gets paid into my bank account in the middle of the month, and every payment is roughly the same. Hence HVST makes living off dividends very easy. This is why I have accumulated over $100k worth of HVST.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that there are many flaws with this fund, the main one being that it has not performed well in the last few year compared to the ASX 200.

HVST vs ASX 200 from 2014 to 2017
HVST has significantly underperformed the ASX 200 over the last few years (chart from CommSec).

That being said, I am not criticizing the fund or Betashares. I was well aware that the dividend harvesting technique employed by the firm would result in less upside when markets were going up. This is a result of the fund manager buying high dividend paying stock just before dividends are paid and then selling the stock after the dividend is paid. As stock prices normally go down after dividend payment (as the company’s value goes down in line with its reduction in cash) then naturally a dividend harvesting technique would result in lower capital gains.

Something else surprising is that during downturns in the ASX 200, HVST also went down considerably as well, which makes me question the firm’s risk management overlay employed. According to the article Managing risk: the toxic combination of market downturns and withdrawals in retirement on the Betashares Blog:

One way to help manage sequencing risk is to apply a dynamic risk exposure strategy, which seeks to reduce downside market risk…. BetaShares combined its expertise with Milliman to launch the BetaShares Australian Dividend Harvester Fund (managed fund) last November. The fund invests in large-cap Australian shares with the objective of delivering franked income that is at least double the yield of the Australian broad sharemarket while reducing volatility and managing downside risk.

Based on this description, I was hoping that the fund’s risk management overlay would reduce downside movements, but the chart of the performance of HVST against XJO shows that when XJO turns downwards, HVST goes down by as much. When XJO goes up, HVST tends not to go up much if at all, which results in HVST falling by about 20% over the last few years while XJO has managed to increase in value by a modest 5% during the same time period.

As I said, this does not mean I will not continue to invest in this fund. The regular and high monthly dividend payments are extremely convenient, and any capital losses made by the fund over time, in my opinion, can be compensated for by investing in ETFs in riskier sectors e.g. investing in tech stocks, emerging market, or small caps or even by investing in internally leveraged ETFs such as GEAR. For example, if you invest half your money in HVST and half in GEAR, you get the convenience of monthly regular dividends from HVST and any capital loss is compensated for with your investment in GEAR which should magnify upside market moves. Note that a limitation of the half HVST and half GEAR strategy is that when the market goes down, GEAR will go down significantly as well. Furthermore, another problem with both GEAR and HVST is that they have management expense ratios that are significantly higher than broad-based index ETFs mostly from Vanguard or iShares. Both HVST and GEAR have management expense ratios of 0.80 percent whereas Vanguard’s VAS is 0.14 percent and iShares’s IVV is 0.04 percent.

Nevertheless, I do recommend many products from Betashares. One ETF that I am interested in from Betashares is their new sustainable ETF called the Betashares Global Sustainability Leaders ETF (ETHI). I normally buy ETFs in batches of $10k to $25k at a time, so I intend to buy a batch of ETHI and write a blog post about it later. I have mostly positive views about Betashares as they provide a great deal of innovative ETFs.

Update 18 June 2017: The poor price performance of HVST is explained in the Betashares blog article Capital vs. Total Return: How to correctly assess your Fund’s performance. If performance includes income as well as franking credits, the gross performance of HVST looks more favourable.

Agricultural Commodities Bottoming? ASX: QAG

The prices of agricultural commodities such as sugar, wheat, and soybeans have been falling for some time now. This can be seen in the performance of the QAG ETF.

For a number of months now I have been thinking that these commodities cannot go down forever. If this were the case, soybeans, sugar, etc would eventually be free. Could this be a buying opportunity?

QAG ASX price from 2012 to 2017
Source: Google

Hating Humanity and the Dream of Being an Urban Hermit #Podcast

Humanity is fundamentally and inherently evil, and being happy about humanity depends on delusion and ignorance. The only way to sustain lasting happiness is to turn a blind eye towards human atrocity. If you know the truth, you cannot unknow the truth. You are destined to being exposed to reality, which can disappoint you and lead to permanent depression. The solution is to shield yourself from humanity and live off dividends. Gradually transition away from forced interactions with people e.g. through work and family and move towards a more flexible lifestyle that allows you to move in and out of relationships and friendships with ease. There is nothing wrong with moving closer to feel warmth, but you must have the freedom to step back lest you burn yourself trying to achieve warmth.

Buy Banks, not Houses #Budget2017

Buy bank ETFs and rent a cheap unit instead.

Recently the Australian government has announced in its Budget 2017 that there will be a bank tax applied to the five biggest banks in Australia. This may affect me because I live off dividends, and much of these dividends come from Australian banks via ETFs. When I mentioned my concerns to others, I was surprised at how much hatred others have for banks in Australia, which is surprising to me.

I am not too concerned by the bank tax, and I will continue to invest in ETFs that invest in high-dividend paying stocks (e.g. HVST) as well as the finance and banking sector (e.g. OZF and MVB).  The reason why I am confident is because I feel that banks can simply pass on the tax expense to borrowers by raising interest rates and fees. Many people may be unhappy about this, but they have the freedom to take their business to other banks.

Banks should also benefit from the cutting of the corporate tax rate from 30% to 25%.

The housing affordability scam

The budget also includes a complex scheme whereby people saving up for a deposit to buy a home can salary sacrifice at most $30k per year into their superannuation fund thereby obtaining tax benefits and then taking that money out to use as a deposit on a home.

This, in my opinion, is such a scam because it is effectively the same as the various grants that the government gave to home buyers. Why put first home buyers through the whole process of putting money into super to get tax benefits and then taking it back out again? Why not just give the expected tax savings to these first home buyers directly?

suburbs-2211335_1920

The scheme also does nothing to address housing affordability because every economist knows that the price of housing will go down if demand goes down and supply goes up. If there are tax benefits to using super, and if super is used to buy houses, this will only increase demand, which increases prices. Make no mistake, this scheme does not help buyers. It is designed to prop up the market.

Once again, first home buyers are being scammed. The major problem is that most first home buyers don’t understand economics and believe that the government giving them money will help them buy a house. Rather, it will simply drive house prices up even more thereby requiring them to get into even larger debt. The debt that they’d be getting themselves into will also be nondeductible debt, which means they pay more tax than if they had borrowed the money to buy a investment property or other investment e.g. ETFs.

What should you do?

Unfortunately I don’t see the housing affordability issue being addressed because too many people benefit from high house prices, so governments will do what they can to prop up the market. Homeowners benefit from higher prices; banks earn interest from mortgages; and real estate agents, property developers, builders, and lawyers also make money from the property boom. Those hoping to buy a house suffer, but the solution seems to be to help them become homeowners, and when these young homeowners finally buy a house with government support, they have a vested interest in high property prices, but what many of them don’t seem to understand is that they are buying into a very expensive market by loading themselves up with so much debt they effectively become slaves to the bank.

Those who borrow from banks to buy houses believe they are oppressing renters, but really in most cases it is the other way around. Rental yields are so low that the average Melbourne house only produces about 3% in rental yield. If you had $1 million and invested it in a house and rented it out, you make $30k in rent. Had you invested that money in NAB shares as of today you’d be earning 8% dividend yield, i.e. $80k per year if you invested $1 million, which means you could invest your $1 million in bank stocks, earn $80k, rent that house you wanted for $30k, and have $50k leftover. By buying the house, you lose $50k in opportunity cost.

The market will continue to be propped up because everyone benefits, and those who don’t benefit think they are benefitting. First home buyers think that by receiving government money they are closer to buying a home, but they don’t realize that homes will be more expensive. Those who recently bought a home think they are better off than if they rented, but they don’t understand how much they will pay in interest nor will they understand how much opportunity cost there is in owning property. The best slaves are those who believe that they are the oppressors.

The major problem with housing is that it is commonly associated with a debt-fuelled depraved and wasteful materialistic lifestyle. Once someone borrows large sums from the bank, it is not just a massive house that they buy. They increase their spending in other ways, e.g. furniture and renovations. The debt that they hold tricks them into believing that they have more than they actually have.

The solution then is to go back to basics. Own bank ETFs and live cheaply off the dividends. You can rent a cheap self-contained unit in the outer suburbs for less than $250 per week and then wake up early to commute to work via train. Insecure tenancy is not a problem in the age of Airbnb. Renting gives you the freedom to move to different areas to minimize costs and maximize opportunities. Renting also frees up cash flow to enable you to seek out the best investments.

 

Netflixing to Save Money

When I was younger, I rarely went out. I preferred to stay inside and indulge in cheap electronic entertainment. As I invested more and more and started to earn more dividends, I found myself in a position to go out every now and then, but I have realized that I actually hate going out. I would prefer to stay home and watch Netflix. It just so happens that netflixing is much cheaper than going out, and it is very enjoyable as well.

Netflix pours billions of dollars each year into content production, which means they are able to provide extremely good entertainment to its customers, and customers only need to pay $12 per month. It’s a good deal, in my opinion. It is far better than going out. When people at work show off to me that they went out to a restaurant to a vineyard, I am not afraid to just tell them that I am a hardcore netflixer.

I was talking to colleague earlier this week about how Netflix is an investment because you save up so much money on Netflix that you are able to pour massive sums of money into ETFs. What I hate about “going out” is that it has become such a status symbol. People brag about going out and socializing as if there is something so special about it when really all they are doing is moving themselves to a new location and spending significantly more for it.

When I started working full-time, I was saving about 80% of my salary whereas now I am saving 100% of my salary and living off dividends. I think what is most important is that you pick a savings rate and stick to it. Whether you eat out, pack your lunch, buy coffee, or whatever is irrelevant as long as you stick to your savings goal. Many people focus on small things such as skipping coffee and saving $4 per day, but I find that many of these people skipping coffee are blowing their money on holidays, cars, and so forth. Often skipping coffee is not a savings plan but a reaction to blowing your money elsewhere. Picking and choosing isolated examples of how you save money is meaningless. It’s the overall savings rate that matters.

You Save 100% of Your Salary? What if You Die Before You Retire?

I probably shouldn’t do this, but I told someone recently that I save 100% of my salary and live off dividends. One of the argument he used against this is that, if you save up a considerable amount of money, you deprive yourself while you save and there is a chance that before you retire, you may die, which means you never had the opportunity to enjoy spending the money that you saved.

This made me think about why I continue to live a minimalist lifestyle and live off dividends.

If you die with lots of money saved up, you could have enjoyed that money. However, for many people, freedom is so important that it’s not the spending of money that makes them happy but the holding of money. This applies to me as well. I love to hoard money not because of what I can buy with it but because of the freedom and autonomy it gives me.

If I had, say, $1 million then according to the 4% rule I can spend $40k per year forever. I never need to work ever again so long as I’m satisfied with a $40k per year lifestyle. There is no need to suck up to some boss, and I can do jobs on my own terms and live according to your own rules. I continue to work, but I do the work that I love. That is freedom, and I care about that more than some shiny Ferrari.

You enjoy your work when you’re not dependent on it

In my opinion, you enjoy working when you don’t care if you’re fired. If something at work bothers you, you simply ask your manager if you can be transferred elsewhere. If for some reason you are fired, just shrug and walk to a job agency or find a new job yourself. Because you live off your investments, it doesn’t matter if you’re unemployed. You don’t work to feed yourself because other people feed you.

However, if you’ve never saved up any money, if rather than living off dividends you have massive debt and spending obligations, you are then dependent on your job, and dependency is slavery.

Slavery has not been abolished. It has evolved.

Embracing Laziness

It is easter and I have not been out of the house. It is cold outside, so I just don’t feel like going out. I don’t have many friends, so I am rarely invited places, and even if I am invited, I often reject the offer because I consider it a hassle to go. It is paradoxical because I feel mild loneliness but at the same time I am repulsed by humanity.

When I talk to colleagues at work, they always talk to me about their latest weekend adventures, e.g. skiing or hiking in the mountains, going to music festivals, etc. Now that I am in my early thirties, many people my age are married and have children, so they do family activities, and there some DINKs as well who spend their free time holidaying or playing with their dogs.

Meanwhile, the way I live now in my early thirties earning six figures is no different to the way I lived when I was a university student, that is, with my parents mostly staying at home indulging in electronic entertainment. Now that I am older, I am less ashamed of my lifestyle, and there is a rebelliousness in me now. I want to defend this lifestyle.

Some things have changed. Rather than read books from the library, I read ebooks now. I still watch YouTube, but I prefer higher quality films and shows streamed via Netflix. I am still an avid reader of everything on the internet.

I still travel. About a year ago I travelled by myself to Bali, and I met some girls while travelling and have mostly kept in contact with them. When I travelled to Bali, I was strongly encouraged by my manager to travel because I had too much annual leave accrued. I have heard people telling me it’s illegal for an employer to force employees to take annual leave, but I sometimes don’t mind having my hand forced in certain situations.

Upon reflection, I am quite lost in my life because I don’t really know what to do. My main focus has always been on freedom and autonomy by living off dividends, and when you have the freedom to do what you want, oftentimes you don’t know what to do because nothing seems to provide any significant happiness, and I suspect nothing will. Nevertheless, having the freedom to be able to experiment with different activities is in itself satisfying.

I feel that my career has stagnated. I received a promotion about three or four years ago and since then I have applied for a handful of jobs with more responsibilities, but I haven’t been successful. I will continue to apply for promotions or better jobs, but I see it as just a chore. I feel like I am just going through the motions, and I show up at work because I have nothing else to do in my life. If I stay home, I would just sit in a room all by myself whereas work does give me companionship because I am around people, and I talk to them. I admit that the connections you make with colleagues at work are not as deep as, say, the connections you make with a spouse or family member, but I have learned to appreciate the benefits of superficial relationships now. Greater connectedness to others exposes your vulnerabilities, which invites conflict, and often when others reveal themselves too much, what they expose is quite vulgar. The interactions at work are sanitized by HR guidelines, anti-discrimination legislation, fear of authority, etc, and these forces seem to do a good job at making socializing at work more pleasant. Many people complain about “political correctness,” which to me is roughly defined as “restricting behaviour to minimize offending others.” I personally love political correctness. Why would anyone want to be exposed to an environment in which they are bombarded with people, ideas, conversations, etc that are offensive? You can grow a thick skin, but at the end of the day, everyone is offended by something. Blocking offensive communications is not about being afraid of truth. The truth is that there are many out there who only want to offend others without any regard for truth or logic. Trolls don’t just live on the internet.

I now have a desk with a window view facing the city, so I can see skyscrapers and busy streets below, and often I love staring out the window at people walking on the streets. There is a homeless woman who sits on the street at the bottom of the building opposite mine, and I see her all the time, and I often think about her life and how she ended up where she is. We all live together in this city but we all go through different paths in life.

Because work for me has become very comforting and pleasant, I spend a lot of time at work. Often I am not working hard enough during the day, so I need to stay back to catch up.

I will continue to live off dividends. I believe it is the best way to live. Everything I earn from work, I invest, and I live off my investments. This ensures that I am not dependent on work. Even if I am fired, it does not matter because I already live off my investments. I can work how I want to work. If I don’t like where I work, I simply move, and I am very happy to hire career consultants or other professionals to help with the move. If all efforts to move to a new job don’t work, it doesn’t even matter. I can travel to Thailand and start my own online business or I can freelance. I have layers upon layers of backup plans for everything.

I will always work because I love making money and growing my investments. My investment portfolio is like a child to me. I love watching it grow. I love protecting it by diversifying government bonds or gold mining ETFs into it. It is a beautiful child (in my opinion), and unlike a human child, my investment portfolio pays me money in the form of dividends. I love to work, but I don’t like to work hard. I hate pushy people and unrealistic deadlines. I want to enjoy my work. I want to work with people I get along with. I don’t think the job I do right now is the perfect job for me, but I am hopeful I will land in that perfect job one day.