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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are many people who claim that dividend investing is a bad idea because you end up paying more tax.
Although it depends on country, generally dividends are classified as income, and income is usually heavily taxed whereas capital gains are normally not taxed until you sell the investments. Investors typically sell all their investments when they retire. When investors retire, they are typically earning zero income (because they’ve stopped working), so any tax they pay as a result of capital gains tax is usually minimal.
If you invest in dividend-paying stocks, you are being taxed on those dividends, and in countries with progressive taxation, the tax you pay is usually very high because your salary from work is counted as income as well.
There is also an argument made that companies that pay high dividends sacrifice capital gains because money that the company pays out as dividends could have been reinvested back into the company for expansion.
One in hand is better than two in the bush
While these are all fair arguments, I still believe that investing in dividends is better even if you pay more tax. The reason is due to risk. A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. When companies pay dividends, you get cold hard cash in your hands. If instead you sacrifice your dividends and instead allow the company to reinvest that money, you don’t know if that reinvestment will work or not. Most people employing a buy-and-hold strategy typically wait multiple decades expecting capital gains to accumulate throughout that time, and when they retire they sell their investments. However, if you wait three or four decades and amass large capital gains, what if, just before retirement, there is a very large global recession that sends asset prices down? Decades of work has been flushed down the drain.
Money printing, negative interest rates, automated trading, and high leverage have made capital gains unreliable
Dividends are simple. A company sells something, they make money, pay their expenses, and a portion of whatever is leftover is given to investors as dividends. Dividend payments therefore depend on the quality of businesses, the quality of their management, products, services, etc.
Capital gains, however, are completely different. In today’s world of constant money printing and stimulus and high leverage products that increase volatility, it’s hard to trust asset prices because asset prices can be instantly manipulated. Asset prices are now so divorced from reality that it’s difficult to know what real or fundamental value is. If a bubble never pops and is continually inflated, is it a bubble?
In my opinion, the lost two decades in Japan following the crash in its asset price bubble in the early ’90s will play out in Western countries. Japan was an economic leader but the crash of the ’90s was its peak, and since then they have simply tried to reinflate their economy with no success, and the economy has gone sideways ever since.
What has played out in Japan will play out in Western countries where peak growth has been realized. We will see a zigzag pattern as stock markets crash and then are reinflated before crashing again, and this continuous forever. The best way to make money in such an economy is to forget about prices and focus on dividends.
Dividends and capital gains are not necessarily a trade-off
Empirically, dividend-paying stocks don’t necessarily perform worse. Below is a chart of the S&P 500 index versus the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats index.
I have mentioned in a previous post that I don’t like to buy a house. Instead, from experience, I find that it’s best to invest in ETFs. The reason is because ETFs give you flexibility to invest in what you want. If you buy a house as an investment, you are leveraging into one house, and although the general property market may behave one way it’s very hard to know how your house will perform individually. For example, the house price indexes from the Australian Bureau of Statistics averages out results for a number of different houses. If, say, you have a house in Sydney and Sydney house prices went up 5% this does not mean your house specifically went up 5% but that houses in general in Sydney went up 5%.
Furthermore, if you buy a house to live in, you have nothing but debt (unless you buy a house outright without a mortgage, but this is rare). You have a mortgage that you must pay monthly and any benefit from the investment is in the form of capital gains, which you cannot access until you sell the house. You cannot see capital gains, and you cannot access capital gains. Capital gains are invisible and, if there is suddenly a recession, all your capital gain that may have taken you decades to accumulate may disappear in a matter of weeks or months.
Capital gains do not provide the same sort of comfort that cold hard cash income provides. If you have a house, this problem can easily be fixed if you turn your house into an investment property and rent it out, but even if you had an investment property, the performance of an investment property just doesn’t compare to ETFs, in my opinion. Unless you really know how to pick good property, residential property in general has low yields, and after you pay property management fees, taxes, house repair and maintenance, etc, you don’t end up with much, especially not when compared to ETFs that have been engineered to seek out and pay high dividends.
Property is not a good investment. From my experience with residential property, once you buy a property, suddenly everyone wants money from you and everyone sends in their bills. Once you buy property, you need to pay bank fees, mortgage interest, lawyer fees (for conveyancing), real estate agent commissions, taxes (stamp duty and land tax), and property manager fees. Once something goes wrong in your house (e.g. the shower breaks) you need to get a repairman in to fix it, and he send you a bill as well.
Investing in high-dividend paying ETFs is completely different. You use an online broker (e.g. CommSec) to buy ETFs listed on a stock exchange, and then you sit back and watch money flow into your bank account. That’s it.
What about leverage?
One of the benefits of property is leverage. Because you borrow money from the bank, you have more assets exposed to the market, which means potentially higher gains. However, leverage works both ways. If the asset price does not go up enough to compensate you for the interest expense, you will lose money, and when you are leveraged, you will lose a lot of money.
That being said, leverage is a legitimate strategy if you want to accept higher risk to get higher returns. You are effectively moving up the efficient frontier.
Leverage is easy to achieve using ETFs. There are two options: (1) invest in leveraged ETF (e.g. the Betashares Gear Australian Equity Fund (ASX: GEAR)) or (2) apply for a margin loan to borrow money from the bank to buy stocks or ETFs.
Based on the modelling I have done, all these options (property, margin loan, and leveraged ETFs) have somewhat similar returns, so it doesn’t matter which you do so long as you feel comfortable with the risk you are taking. However, that being said, I think that out of these three choices, property is the worst because once you sign up to borrow money from the bank, you have a monthly mortgage that you must pay. You basically have a noose around your neck. If you don’t pay it, the bank will sell your house, and you will incur substantial transaction costs. When you have a margin loan, many people will try to scare you about the dreaded so-called “margin call” but this I think is overblown. The bank will only step in to induce a margin call when your debt levels are high relative to the value of your assets (they look at your loan-to-value ratio or LVR). They do this because, if you have a high LVR, the risk you are taking is too high, and the bank will get worried that the size of your debt will be too high relative to the size of your assets, which means you may owe the bank money that you may not pay. As part of their risk management, banks will monitor your LVR and intervene to lower your LVR if you raise it too much. This applies not only with stocks but also with property.
Banks will intervene to lower your LVR if you have not been paying your mortgage. If you miss a mortgage payment or two, the bank may allow it because your LVR will not be too high, but if it goes on for too long and your debt levels start to rise too much, the bank will intervene to sell your property. Therefore, regardless of whether you have a property or a margin loan, the bank will still intervene if the LVR is too high. So long as you keep watch of your LVR and make sure it is not too high, you will be fine.
When managing your LVR, the problem with property is that you have zero control over your portfolio. Once you buy your house, there’s littel you can do to affect the volatility of the asset. You have zero control. However, if you own a portfolio of shares or ETFs, you can control how much volatility there is in the portfolio by buying specific listed assets. Managing volatility is important to managing your LVR because volatility affects the value of the portfolio, which of course impacts the denominator in the LVR. If you use a margin loan to leverage, say, into the Chinese stock market (e.g. the iShares China Large-Cap ETF (ASX: IZZ)) then the risk you face (and therefore the probability of a margin call) will be much higher than if, say, you invest in stable assets such as global infrastructure (e.g. via the AMP Capital Global Infrastructure Securities Fund (ASX: GLIN)).
There is a much easier way of leveraging that involves zero risk of a margin call, and this is by investing in internally geared funds. With internally geared funds, you don’t borrow. Rather, you take your money and invest it in the fund. The fund manager collects your money (as well as money from other investors) and uses this to borrow money from the bank in order to invest in stocks. Because debt is handled by the fund manager (rather than you yourself), you don’t owe anyone anything ever. Betashares currently offer two listed internally geared ETFs: GEAR, which leverages into Australian stocks; and GGUS, which leverages into US stocks.
According to the Betashares website, the fund is “‘internally geared’, meaning all gearing obligations are met by the Fund, such that there are no possibilities of margin calls for investors.”
Gearing via an internally geared ETF, in my opinion, is the optimal strategy unless you want to borrow money yourself so you can claim the interest expense as a tax deduction. However, that being said, if you borrow money yourself, because you are only one man (or woman), you will typically pay between 4 to 6 per cent at current rates, but if you invest in a leveraged ETF, the fund manager is responsible for borrowing, and the fund manager has access to low institutional interest rates (supposedly around 3%) thanks to its buying power. You are therefore able to gain even greater leverage with internally leveraged ETFs.
I used to be very much against gearing because I strongly believe that debt is slavery, but now I accept that gearing can be a legitimate strategy so long as you have robust downside protection. I believe that no matter what you do (when investing and in life in general), it’s good to take risk because more risk provides greater return, but risk must be managed. It is okay to take risk so long as you have a safety net or a fallback plan if everything goes wrong.