Top 10 ASX ETFs or LICs

See below a chart providing a ranking of the best income-producing ETFs or LICs on the ASX. The chart below updates in real time and estimates future income returns (including franking credits) based on historic returns. Past performance does not guarantee future performance. The chart below is not exhaustive and does not include all ETFs and LICs.

How Much Passive Income Do You Need?

Most people I speak to, when they want to measure someone’s wealth, measure wealth by referring to how many houses they have. For example, “John owns 14 houses. He is rich.” However, someone may own 14 houses, but each house may only be worth $200k, which gives total assets of $2.8 million. However, what if he also had $2.7 million worth of debt? His net worth would be $100k whereas someone who owns one house worth $1 million that is fully paid off would be 10 times wealthier even though he owns 14 times fewer houses. This example clearly demonstrates how misleading a count of houses is. A more sensible approach is to calculate net worth.

However, net worth can be misleading as well. For example, suppose you inherited a house from your parents that was worth $500k and you live in this house. Suppose suddenly this house went up in value to $1 million. Are you better off? Your net worth has increased by $500k, but because the extra wealth is within the house, you cannot unlock it unless you sell the house. If you sell the house, you’d still need a place to live, so you’d buy another place. The problem is that if you buy another place, that home will have risen in value as well, so the net effect is that you have paid taxes, real estate agent fees, conveyancing fees, etc but there is no difference in your living standards. You are worse off. If you downsize and buy a cheaper place, you’d be able to unlock your extra wealth, but then your living standards drop (e.g. extra commute time).

This point highlights that net worth, although better than a count of houses, has its flaws. An alternative metric, in my opinion, is passive income. Passive income (e.g. from dividend income but also from rent, interest, etc) is income you receive by not working. Passive income should subtract any debt as debt is negative passive income. Debt is the opposite of passive income because you must work to pay off debt. This applies if you hold debt as a liability. If you hold debt as an asset (e.g. you own bonds) then this is passive income. The bonds generate interest for you that you can live off without any work.

Passive income is more useful because it directly measures your standard of living. If your net worth goes up by $500k, that may have zero impact on your standard of living. However, if your passive income goes up by e.g. $1000 per month, that is actual cash in your hands. It directly impacts how much you spend and directly impacts your standard of living.

So how much passive income is enough? It all depends on the person. Everyone is different. It also depends on the city you live in. Some cities are expensive while others are cheap.

However, using Melbourne, Australia for this example, in my opinion, to cover the basic necessities of life, passive income of about A$2000 per month (US$1500 per month) at a minimum is needed, in my opinion.

Currently I work, and I do like my job at the moment, but loving my job is a recent experience. For a long time I have hated my job mainly because I have had bad managers. Something I have learned is that things change all the time at work, so you need to have an exit plan at all times. Too many people get a job, expect they will always love the job and always make good money, so they go into debt to get a mortage, have children, inflate their lifestyle, etc and then suddenly they find they hate their job, but by then they are trapped. I made this realization early on in my career because, when I started working, I went through a restructure in the organisation. I learned quickly how risky it was to have debt and obligations, and I realised the value of structuring your life so that you have the ability to walk away from anything, not just your job but from any person or any organisation. There is great power in being able to disappear at the drop of a hat, and this is achieved with passive income coupled with minimum or no obligation (including financial obligation i.e. debt).

Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.

~ Neil McCauley

Even if there were a restructure at work or a tyrannical manager took over and started legally abusing staff, with passive income of $2000 per month, it is easy to stop work and live an urban hermit lifestyle e.g. renting a one-bedroom unit on the outskirts of the city (e.g. this place in Frankston), living off Aussielent, and surfing the internet all day. The only costs are rent ($1000 per month), Aussielent ($320 per month), wifi ($50 per month), electricity ($100 per month), and water ($100 per month), which comes to a total of $1570 per month. I round that up to $2k per month just to give a little buffer. Nevertheless, this is quite a spartan minimalist lifestyle. Doubling it makes $4k per month passive income, which I feel is enough to really enjoy a comfortable and luxurious lifestyle e.g. travelling, living in the city, eating out, etc. Nevertheless, $2000 to $4000 per month in passive income is a good range to aim for.

The Problem with Dividends #Podcast

Passive income is often considered a very important aspect of personal freedom and autonomy. An easy way to generate passive income is through dividend investing. However, while living off dividends is a great safety net to allow you to generate income without any work, there are two main problems, namely a lower capital gains and tax inefficiency.

The End of Slavery – Why I Live Off Dividends

One of the reasons why I don’t like being around people most of the time is because they tend to say things that trigger me. Maybe I am too sensitive. Most of the time people just say whatever is on their mind, and they quick jump from one superficial idea to another. Most of the time human interaction is just an attempt to say something for the sake of saying something, so perhaps I take things too seriously.

I live with my mother, and a few days ago, someone at work commented that I should not live with my mother because she will become a burden on me as she grows older. The reason why this comment triggered me is because there are many assumptions made, and it simply isn’t true. I didn’t get much of a chance to explain myself before the topic of conversation moved on, but days after this colleague made this trivial comment, I am still thinking about it, and my colleague may have forgotten all about it.

If I moved out from my mother’s house, she could still be a burden on me because technology connects us all, so even if I lived far away from my mother, she can still call or message me if she wants something from me.

However, suppose my mother and I lived in different cities. It would be more difficult for me to get to her, so she won’t be as much of a burden on me. Regardless, currently I don’t consider myself to be too close to my mother even though I live with her. I work quite often, and she also works as well, so we often do not see each other. My mother and father divorced a few years ago, so my mother learned from experience how important it is to be independent and to never trust or be dependent on anyone. Even on weekends I may be out somewhere, and she would be as well, so we rarely see each other. The only time we regularly see each other is at night when I get home from work and she cooks me dinner, and this is a tradition that seems to just happen all the time. She has always cooked dinner for me, and I never objected to it, so it keeps happening. In fact, my mother cooked dinner from my whole family, but over time everyone moved out. After the divorce, my father moved out, then my brothers moved out, and now she only cooks for me.

Even though my mother is in the habit of cooking dinner for me, this doesn’t happen all the time. For example, last night I had dinner with a colleague at work, so I came back at around nine at night, had a shower, and went to bed. This tradition of my mother cooking dinner for me seems to be the only habit that keeps us together. My grandmother on my father’s side used to wake up early and cook breakfast for me. I didn’t like it because there were days when I wanted to go to work earlier, so I just wanted to make my own breakfast or skip breakfast and just drink coffee, but my grandmother wanted to make breakfast for me. After the divorce that ripped through the family, my grandmother left the house to live with my father, and now I rarely see her. Most relationships are based on dependence and habit. When you are a child and you’re dependent on your parents, you are forced to interact with them, and they become familiar to you, so you bond to them. The same applies with work. You provide skills to your employers, and employers give you a salary, so you are mutually dependent, and over time there are colleagues at work you see all the time, and familiarity breeds trust and bonding. But as people become more independent, that dependency goes away, and as a result, bonds break.

Going back to the topic of my mother and her habit of cooking dinner for me, there are many in my family who jokingly talk about how I need my mother to cook for me (or I need a woman to cook for me), but I think many people say this because many people are traditional, and they believe in the traditional family. They want to believe that the woman’s role is to cook. This includes many traditional women. However, in my opinion, modern technology has made cooking irrelevant. You can easily eat out at restaurants, but even if you consider that to be expensive, it is not difficult to cook simple meals for yourself using e.g. a blender or microwave. For example, it is not hard to microwave or boil beans or to throw fruits and greens into a blender. To clean up, there is the dishwasher. There are many traditionalists out there (mostly women, based on my observation) who want to go back to the days of old when they stayed at home and engaged in low-skilled cooking and cleaning duties, and I think the allure of this is that woman don’t need to go out into the workplace to make money, and this is what drives anti-feminism among women. These women are simply selfish. I would consider myself to be a feminist man, and I encourage all women to get out into the world, work, invest, and become financially independent. They should resist the temptation to glamorize slavery.

My mother does not always cook dinner for me. There are times when I eat out, e.g. when I had a girlfriend a few years ago I spent a lot of time having dinner with her. If I wanted a cheap dinner, rather than eating out, I can bring meal replacement powders (e.g. Aussielent, Soylent, Huel, or Joylent) to work, and after work I can simply mix the powder with water and drink it as dinner. For added nutrition, I can come home and prepare a green smoothie using the blender. Because these foods are simple to make, I am not dependent on my mother for anything.

In the future, I intend to rent a one-bedroom apartment in or near the city because I am quite tired of commuting to and from work. I love to just be able to walk to work. Once I grow my dividends, my dividend income should cover the cost of renting an apartment in the city. As my dividends grow even more, I may be able to work part-time and use the spare time to work in a coworking space doing projects that I enjoy. With the proliferation of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, I suspect that a lot of business in the future will be done online and on the blockchain. It is a new frontier. Basically my plan is to transition gradually from living in the suburbs with my mother to living in the city and being self-reliant. I will also transition away from the traditional 9 to 5 job into more flexible work that gives me more control over what I do and with whom I work, and all this will be funded by dividend income. I recently performed a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation and found that I am investing about $70,000 per year, which is a lot. A considerable amount of this (about one-third of it) is going into my superannuation fund, which means I will not have access to it until I am very old) but about two-thirds of it is going into dividend-paying stocks or ETFs, so I expect my dividend income to gradually increase, which will improve my standard of living. I want to use my dividends to fund a more autonomous life with more freedom. I want to be free from my family and from my employer.

I expect freedom to come gradually. Most people have a date when they simply retire. There is a clear date, a line in time when they are no longer slaves but are free. I will have no such date. I believe that slavery is a continuum. On one end you have total freedom, i.e. no debt, good health, and living off enormous amounts of passive income. Then on the other end you have total slavery, e.g. shackled and in prison. Then there are degrees of slavery, and most people have quite a considerable degree of slavery imposed on them by their jobs, their family, their children, their mortgage and car loans, etc. For me, there is no retirement, just a gradual move from slavery to freedom.

As my dividend income increases, I will eat out more for dinner (or drink Aussielent) rather than go home and get my mother to cook. As my dividend income grows even more, I will sleep at home less. Rather than commute back home, I may hire places to sleep at night using Airbnb or I will rent apartments in the city for longer periods of time. The same applies for work. My intention is to reduce my hours so that I work part-time, or I may be more flexible, e.g. I may work at coworking spaces or at cafes. I may even ask my manager if I can work at overseas coworking spaces. This is good for me because I get away from the office, but it is also good for my employer because my desk is not being used, so there are cost savings. If technology is good enough, working remoting should not make me any less productive. This will be my main digital nomad plan, which is to do what I currently do at work but to gradually do it remotely as my dividend income and skills increase. As dividend income and skills increase, I have more bargaining power, and technology will improve over time, which should make remote work be easier. There is also a broader push by feminists for more flexible working arrangement because women want to spend more time looking after their family, so this could possibly benefit me.

Basically with higher dividends, I have more power so that I can shape my life the way I want my life to be. This has been the intention since the beginning. Living off dividends is my guiding philosophy in life because it gives me the freedom and power to do what I want. The basic idea is that you increase dividend income so that you get paid without needing to work, and at the same time you reduce all obligations, e.g. debt, marriage, and children. You minimize responsibility, obligation, and duty. By not putting any future obligation on yourself, you are free to do what you want. You are free to experiment with what makes you happy, and dividend income will allow you to experiment.

At the end of the day, my belief is that freedom depends on the direction of flow of obligation. When you hold stocks, ETFs, government bonds, etc, then there is an obligation for others to pay you money. There is a legal obligation for companies to pay you dividends. There is a legal obligation for the government to pay you interest because you are a bondholder. The flow of obligation is from others towards you. However, if you have debt, then the flow of obligation is reversed. For example, if you have credit card debt or a mortgage, you owe money to the bank. If you have obligations to family, friends, spouse, or children, that also imposes either a legal or social obligation from you to others.

The flow of obligation from you to others makes you a slave. The flow of obligation from others to you makes others your slave and increases your freedom. Freedom or autonomy is dependent on the flow of obligation. Manage the flow of obligation and you manage your freedom, and freedom is happiness.

Technocapitalism, Human Evil, and Sedation Through Technologically Induced Dopamine Spikes

I am a misanthrope because I hate people. It is not one particular factor that makes me disgusted with humanity but various factors. At work yesterday a colleague spoke to me about how he loves to go to the gym to build muscle so he can attract women. He is so superficial and status conscious that it disgusts me, and he is not the only one who behaves like this. This is normal behavior. If you are not working to make yourself appealing in the eyes of others, you are abnormal. You are not trying hard enough to get a promotion, get a wife, and have a family. Society and its cultural norms promotes conformity, superficiality, and a culture of appeasement and slavery.

Something I have been trying to do more of recently is to be more anti-social. I have a habit of catching up with people. I have lunch or dinner with various colleagues and friends, but often these catch ups are nothing more than bragging sessions for others to go on and on about how great they are. Many complain about narcissism on Facebook, but social media merely accentuates what happens in real life, and at least most social media apps such as Facebook allow you to effortlessly block or unfollow someone whereas blocking or unfollowing someone in real life is far more awkward. Nevertheless, I have tried to reject many offers to catch up with people. Sometimes I will just tell people directly that I don’t like something e.g. someone invited me over to a wedding, but I told her that I don’t like weddings. Sometimes I will just make up some excuse not go.

I hate being around people, but I cannot simply walk away from humanity because I need a job in order to build dividend income so that I can shield myself from humanity, so it is a gradual process. I need to learn how to be more assertive so I can be more anti-social so that I can isolate myself more, but at the same time I need to work in order to earn money, and I need to learn how to cope with being constantly exposed to the corruption of humanity yet not being affected by it by being fake and by numbing or sedating myself with technology.

I commute via train, and something that first shocked me about commuters was how fixated they were to their smartphones, but I realized that they are probably like me. Being around people takes its toll. You need to be fake, conform, and be a witness to the superficiality and vulgarity of humanity. When you walk away from work, you have a choice: dwell on it and hurt yourself more, or crowd out these thoughts by consuming something else from your smartphone.

Human history is marked by war and conflict. There is innate in humans greed and ego, and these emotions lead to conflict, violence, and oppression, which result in suffering and pain.

When you’ve spent your life trying to appease others and then when you stop because you realize that the opinions of others do not matter, then you feel an emptiness. You felt that life was all about impressing others, e.g. impress your manager to get a promotion or impress a girl to get married. But when you realize this is all a sham designed to enslave you, there is no point in your life anymore, and you must build for yourself a new reason for living. For me it is about escaping, being free, and being autonomous.

I need to learn how to clear my mind. I have heard that meditation is healthy because it allows you to focus and clear out distractions. I am mostly distracted either because I dwell on the evil of humanity or I am engrossed in stimuli that I have consumed in order to distract myself from the evil of humanity. I need to eliminate my exposure to humanity and then if thoughts of humanity emerge in my mind, I need to expel so I can focus on more important things rather than try to displace it with stimuli. The problem is that the evil of humanity is a potent stimulus, so to overcome it you need a stimulus more potent, e.g. pornography, and this is why I believe pornography is so popular. However, if you consume potent stimulus like pornography, you can become addicted to it. It distracts you from the evil of humanity yet it also distracts you from important tasks you need to do.

 

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.

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.