Is Now the Time to Buy Crypto?

To be fully transparent, my crypto portfolio is down 83% from all time highs. My overall net worth is down 40% from all time highs. However, I started seriously investing in crypto in 2018 and my crypto portfolio is up about 700% from then.

Now that 2022 is coming to an end, I have found that this year is the first year when my net worth has declined. In fact, from the start of this year to today, my net worth has declined by 23%, but the peak of my net worth was back in November 2021 and from then my net worth, as mentioned, has declined by 40%.

Focusing on how much your net worth has declined against the all time high is an example of the achoring bias. There are many ways to measure how much you have made or lost from an investment. For example, if you purchased dogecoin for $0.007 back in 2018 and held it until today when it is $0.07, it seems like you have made 10x off your investment. However, dogecoin reached a peak of around $0.70 back in November 2021. If you had sold all the dogecoin back when it was $0.70, you would have made 100x, but because you waited, you only made 10x. Or did you lose 10x because you could have sold back in November 2021 but did not? Did you make 10x or lose 10x? I have thought about this and my view now, after listening to Dave Ramsey, is that it doesn’t matter. According to Dave Ramsey, when you have purchased an asset in the past is a sunk cost. What matters is when you sell it and if you’re comfortable with the volatility when you sell the asset.

Although 2022 has been a hard year, it is important to remember that downturns happen, especially in the stock and crypto markets. In fact, looking at history, none of this is new. The crypto market especially has seen a spectacular decline, especially with the collapse of crypto exchange FTX. However, in my opinion, the collapse of FTX is not as bad as many make it out to be. FTX is merely an exchange, and staff in this exchange stole funds. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is anything wrong with the actual crypto. To use an analogy, if a bank is corrupt and the staff siphon off money for themselves, it doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with the currency they stole. If a robber breaks into a vault and steals gold, it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with gold as an investment.

I have recently started allocated more of my salary into to dollar cost averaging into various cryptos. In my view, there is a real use case for crypto. It is not just imaginary money. The use case for crypto is much clearer in developing countries. For example, if I were an expat or migrant working in Zimbabwe, I would convert my pay into crypto rather than deal with having to send it back to Australia or convert it into Australian Dollars. Look at the recent war in Ukraine. Crypto has been used by many Ukrainians and even Russian who have had to use crypto because their banking system does not work as well during war. Crypto has been used to send money to help the Ukrainian war effort. Crypto is useful when there are problems with the banking system in your country. According to Bitcoin Cash (BCH) user Roger Ver, there is a Russian man who now lives in Saint Kitts and Nevis and spends in Bitcoin Cash because his bank accounts have been frozen.

Although the use case of crypto is clear in developing countries, what about developed countries? Quite simply, there is no telling when a developed country may become a developing country due to a collapse of civilisation. In fact, due to political polarisation and extremism, I think it is becoming more and more likely that developing countries could collapse. And although I currently support the sanctions and asset seizures of Russian oligarchs currently, who is to say that another political party may get into power later and rather than target Russian oligarchs they come after me? Or you?

As such, I view crypto as a safe haven similar to gold. Some people argue that if there is a collapse of civilisation then the internet will not work and therefore crypto will not work. However, just because there is a collapse of civilisation it doesn’t mean that the internet everywhere will stop working. Crypto is useful when there is a situation where there is a collapse where you are but not in other areas. A good example, as I mentioned, is Ukraine.

Which cryptos as best?

After the recent crypto downturn, I have learned again that it is best to diversify across multiple cryptos and to stick to the ones that have been around for a long time. In my opinion, bitcoin, ethereum, and dogecoin are all good cryptos and make up the majority of my crypto portfolio. If you invest in some of the newer cryptos, I recommend investing only a small amount (e.g. PancakeSwap has not done well). If in doubt, diversify. Also I do not recommend staking or investing in stablecoins. If you want exposure to USD, just get actual USD.

As I said, if in doubt, diversify. All good investors are humble enough to understand they don’t know everything, and diversification is the antidote to ignorance. With that being said, I don’t recommend going all in crypto. It is important to not only diversify your crypto but also to diversify into other asset classes such as equities or bonds using ETFs.

How do you hold crypto in a safe way?

As the FTX collapse has shown us (and the Mt Gox collapse before that), holding crypto on any exchange is dangerous. It is much better to hold crypto yourself (self-custody) rather than let an exchange hold it for you. This is one of the reasons why I do not recommend staking crypto anymore because you typically give up self-custody when you stake crypto.

Of course, when you say “self-custody” to the average person, it is very difficult to explain the concept to them, and self-custody is very hard to do correctly. This I think is one of the main barriers to mass crypto adoption. To make self-custody easier, many in the crypto community recommend buying a Ledger hardware wallet directly from the official Ledger website (do not buy a Ledger via eBay).

An alternative to buying a Ledger, in my opinion, is to buy an ETF that invests in crypto companies. An example of one on the ASX is the CRYP ETF from Betashares. For those who are familiar with ETFs but unfamilar with crypto and self-custody, CRYP is a good way to gain exposure to crypto without any of the issues with self-custody. Many people who look at the CRYP price will be stocked to see that has been trending down since inception. However, CRYP was introduced right at the peak of the crypto market, so it makes sense that it will go down with the market. In fact, if we compare CRYP to the prices of bitcoin and ether then we notice that CRYP roughly tracks these major crypto (see below).

CRYP ETF (blue) vs BTC (orange) vs ETH (cyan) throughout 2022

It s worth noting that although CRYP gives you exposure to crypto, it doesn’t actually invest in crypto. Rather, it invests in companies that work in crypto such as exchanges like Coinbase or bitcoin miners. This is analogous to holding a gold mining ETF such as GDX or MNRS rather than a physical gold ETF itself such as PMGOLD. It is like buying Woodside Energy (WDS) rather than storing coal and natural gas in your garage. Exposure to companies rather than commodities means that there is risk associated with company scandals, corruption etc but the advantage is that you don’t need to worry about self-custody of gas, coal, gold, or crypto.

Which crypto am I most bullish about?

Of all the cryptos I invest in, I believe ethereum is the most promising. I would not be surprised if, in the future, companies and even governments are run on the ethereum blockchain. Below is a recent video I watched that captures the many achievements of ethereum in 2022 including the monumental transition from proof of work to proof of stake. Of all the cryptos, ethereum seems to be the most open to innovation.

My Changing Views

One of my favourite financial independence bloggers is Pat the Shuffler who has done very well for himself investing purely in Australian ETFs and LICs. He currently has close to half a million in net worth. From what I know, Pat rents a place with his girlfriend, has a high-paying construction job, and manages to save a huge amount of money into Australian equity ETFs and LICs (e.g. VAS and AFI).

However, recently he wrote a post regarding his changing views. Over time, he has realised the importance of global diversification. He will be transitioning away from Australian equities and diversifying into foreign equities using VGS, which invests mostly in the stocks of the US, Europe, and Japan. In my opinion, this is a great move, and it reminds me of my own evolving views, and it has also inspired me to admit some of my own backflips and mistakes.

My views with regards to investing were very similar to Pat’s in that I believed that financial independence depended on dividends alone. If you generate high dividends, you will have enough to live off the dividends and become financially independent quickly. When I read back on my earlier posts (e.g. Dividends vs Capital Gains and 4% SWR vs Living off Dividends), I now notice that I seem quite cultish and stubborn in my views that dividends from Australian equities with franking credits was the only legitimate route to freedom and that anyone who does anything contrary to this is a slave! When I was in my twenties, I would dream of a life in my thirties, forties, and beyond flying around the world, relaxing on beaches, and living off dividends drinking coconut by the beach as I read books.

Perhaps I am becoming more mature as I head into my mid-thirties. I have since relaxed my views on a pure Australian dividend focus. Even though I did invest in some foreign equities, I had the bulk of my investments in Australian equities, and one of the consequences of that is that capital gains were not as high. Had I invested in foreign equities, my net worth today would be much higher. Things may change in the future. I will not tinker too much with my portfolio. For all I know, the Australian stock market may perform very well, but what this illustrates is the importance of global diversification. Australia only makes up 2% of global equities, which is almost nothing, and you never know what policies may be implemented within a country that impacts on every single company in that country.

Another area where my views are changing is in regards to debt and property. I am not a fan of debt, but I do have debt in a margin loan, and if you read my old posts, you’ll notice many posts that are anti-property. Property, in my opinion, is neither better or worse than shares. It is different but also somewhat similar, and there are some benefits of investing in property instead of shares. The key benefit of property is that interest rates on property are typically lower than interest rates for borrowing to invest in shares. Property is easy to leverage and great for capital gains and growth as opposed to Australian shares, which are great for cashflow but historically are lacking in capital gains. Whether now is the right time to be buying property is uncertain. Property prices have been going down for the past two years but the rate of decline has been slowing recently, leading many to believe the market may be bottoming out.

So what do I believe? If I have moderated on everything I have believed in, is there anything here of value? In my opinion, Pat the Shuffler explains it best when he says the following:

“Despite my many stumbles, poor decisions, changing of strategies and general non observance to much of the best advice when it comes to investment, I am still here and still kicking goals. So what gives? Thankfully for me…and everyone else…getting things perfect from the beginning isn’t nearly as important as getting things mostly right and just starting.”

Pat the Shuffler

Basically, it is important to not let perfection get in the way of progress. Most people spend so much time trying to get everything perfect that they don’t start at all. You need to start saving and investing right away, and in my opinion there are three fundamental principles: (1) lower expenses, (2) diversify, and (3) minimise obligation.

Saving a lot of money relies on lowering expenses. Rather than focus on small expenses, we should focus on the big expenses e.g. accommodation and transport. Regarding accommodation, if you live with flatmates or with your parents, you will save far more. Regarding transportion, if you ride a bike or take public transport more, you will save far more. Do you need frequent international travel? Perhaps ride your bike around bike trails in your city.

Another key principle is diversification. Every investment or asset class has pros and cons. Property has cheap leverage and potentially high growth, but poor cashflow; dividend stocks may have less capital growth but good cashflow; tech stocks have low dividends but potentially high growth; gold generates no income and questionable capital gains but may perform very well during a market crash or a period of prolonged economic uncertainty. Rather than feel that you must invest in or feel attached to one asset, it is best to simply diversify across everything. Where there is uncertainty, diversify, and where you feel certain in any asset, it is important ot test that certainty by exposing yourself to the opposite viewpoints. Getting into the habit of challenging our views and diversifying accordingly is a check against our natural psychological biases.

Another key principle I feel I have not let go of is the idea that freedom depends ultimately on the absence of obligation. An obligation is something that compels you to do something in the future e.g. debt compels you to work to pay the debt. Obligation can be non-financial e.g. if you feel you must follow a particular social custom. Obligation is everywhere, and many obligations give people meaning and satisfaction in their lives e.g. obligation to their family or children. However, obligation is indeed the enemy of freedom, so if you want more freedom, you need to minimise obligation. I am a big believer in what I call the “do nothing” test, which is the idea that you are truly financially free when you can do nothing and everything is fine. If you must work to pay the bills, you are not free. There must be automated income coming into your bank account to cover all your obligations.

How to Prepare for Upcoming Stagflation

Recently markets have been shook by rising interest rates in the US. Interest rates around the world are somewhat correlated because of globalization. Australian banks often borrow from overseas (even from the US), so if interest rates rise overseas, this affects the cost that Australian banks pay to borrow money. The ASX200 chart below shows the correction in recent weeks.

the beginning of an xjo crash september 2018
Source: Bloomberg

How may the stock market crash?

Even though it is not wise to try to predict markets, my hunch is that a very large correction is near, but it may be delayed until around 2020. During the 2009 GFC, the threat was deflation i.e. prices going down, which means prices of e.g. property and shares went down as well. The solution to this was unprecedented money printing around the world. The printed money was used to purchase government bonds (in the US) or even stocks or ETFs directly (in Japan). When there is deflation, money printing is an easy fix because money printing puts more money into the economy, generating inflation, which cancels out deflation.

However, this time the fear is that when the market crashes, it is not a deflationary crash. Rather, we have a downturn while there is inflation at the same time. Why would there be inflation at the same time as a downturn? For example, take the US-China trade war. If US companies and consumers cannot import cheap goods from overseas, consumers and US businesses face higher costs. Higher costs cut into margins, which reduce profits, which reduce stock prices. If the trade wars heat up, US equities should decline futher as inflation increases. Usually when there is inflation, the central bank can combat inflation by raising interest rates. However, US businesses are already highly indebted. If the US central bank (the Federal Reserve) increases interest rates to combat inflation, businesses face higher interest expenses, which cuts into their profit margins and reduces stock price.

This dilemma that the Fed faces, in my opinion, will present a problem in the future and may usher in a 1970s-style stagflationary recession.

What can be done to protect against a downturn?

In a previous post, I spoke about the importance of the “age in bonds” rule. The “age in bonds” rule is just a guide. It doesn’t literally mean you must hold your age in bonds (e.g. if you are 30 then you hold 30% bonds).  “Age in bonds” is a rule of thumb. The complication comes from the fact that some bonds are risky (e.g. emerging market bonds, corporate bonds, etc) whereas some shares are arguably safe (e.g. utilities, gold mining stocks, etc). The basic principle behind “age in bonds” is to reduce risk or volatility in your portfolio as you are nearing retirement so that you are not exposed to e.g. a 50% decline in your wealth just before you retire.

“My personal, non-retirement accounts are about 80 percent bonds and 20 percent stocks, reflecting my old rule of thumb that your bond allocation should roughly equal your age. It’s spread across different bond funds, like the Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt (VWITX). I’m a pretty conservative guy.”

~Jack Bogle, Vanguard Group Founder

Given that I live off dividends, consider myself somewhat semi-retired, and don’t really have a fixed retirement date, I feel it is wise for me to reduce risk in my portfolio much moreso than the average person. For the average person in their 20s or 30s, they may feel that they don’t need to worry about a huge market correction because they can simply make up for the lost wealth by working longer. However, I don’t like the idea of being forced to work when I don’t need to.

Furthermore, even though many people feel as if they can withstand a huge market crash, if a 70% decline eventually does occurs and the reality hits that they have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars without any guarantee that the market will recover in the long run (remember that in the recovery may be many decades away and may be in the next century), I feel that many people would succumb to panic.

Which ETFs perform best in a bear market?

During the recent market correction, I was observing the reaction of different ETFs. What I found interesting is that MNRS, a gold mining ETF, shot up as the XJO went down. See the Bloomberg chart below, which shows MNRS (in yellow) shooting up as the XJO (in black) heads down.

xjo MNRS HBRD QAU and BOND during september 2018 correction
Source: Bloomberg

The large increase in gold mining stocks contrasts with the price of gold, which is represented above by the QAU ETF (in red), which holds physical gold. This makes sense since holding pure gold only provides you with access to gold whereas gold miners usually hold debt, which means they are leveraged to gold. The blue and aqua above show hybrid and bond ETFs, which both remain very stable.

Looking at the last six months, we can see how these ETFs perform not only during a bear market but also during a bull market. We can see that as the XJO goes up, the gold mining ETF and physical gold ETFs go down, which is not ideal. The bond and hybrid ETFs are stable as expected.

Gold miners and bonds vs stocks
Source: Bloomberg

What does this tell us? If you were shaken up by the recent market correction and feel that more risk is coming, a quick way to reduce risk in your portfolio is to buy physical gold and gold mining ETFs. This can be ideal if you don’t want sell shares and trigger capital gains tax. Gold miners are also legitimate companies in their own right. However, the problem with physical gold is that it pays zero passive income, and gold miners historically pay little in dividends. In contrast, the government bond ETF (BOND) pays about 2% in yield whereas the bank hybrid ETF (HBRD) pays about 3% to 4% in monthly distributions, so if you feel you have far too much risk in your portfolio, you can correct it fast by buying gold, but once you have derisked your portfolio sufficiently but still want to tread cautiously, you can take advantage of passive income with bond and hybrids, as well as some high dividend ETFs as well (e.g. IHD, VHY, EINC, etc).

Trump Inflation Will Hurt Families

Many people complain that government spending and debt was high under an Obama Administration, but government spending and debt will still rise under a Trump Administration.

Whereas the Democrats tax and spend, the Republicans will spend and spend.

Trump will increase government spending with a massive government infrastructure program. He will also lower corporate and income taxes.

Lower taxes and higher spending means more money going out and less coming in. You don’t need to be an accountant to know that if there is more money going out and less coming in, you need to either go into debt or print more money.

Either way, the amount of money in circulation will increase, which will cause inflation (see “Investors are betting that Trump will be the inflation president“).

This is very bad for families because although money can be printed from thin air, value cannot be. The more money there is, the more inflation there is, which means the cost of living is higher, and families tend to spend a lot.

Thankfully, I am am single and childfree. No wife and no children means I don’t need to spend much money. I only feed one mouth rather than three to five.

My recommendation to others is to live a minimalist lifestyle and invest your money in assets that go up with inflation (e.g. stocks, property, gold, and inflation-indexed government bonds). The breadwinners in families with massive costs of living will need to slave away in a desperate attempt to keep on top of the inflation that will ravage their household finances.

The Dismal Future of the Australian Economy

gold price vs asx200 27 august 2015
GOLD vs the ASX200 (Commsec)

The recent volatility in stock markets has gotten me worried. Everyone keeps telling me to relax because “economic fundamentals are sound,” but when I ask them to explain how this is true, it’s revealed that they don’t really know what they’re talking about. It seems that most people just hope for the best and rationalize away bad news.

The Chinese stock market is certainly wobbly. Some say the Chinese economy is very healthy. After all, they have low debt and a massive foreign exchange reserve. They are the biggest lender nation in the world with the USA the biggest creditor nation. However, we don’t really know much about the true size of China’s debt because there is significant activity in the underground economy that is not transparent, and I’m not too confident in official figures provided by the Chinese government. Of course, China has been manufacturing products from t-shirts to smartphones, but the government has in recent years been intervening in the economy to prop up the stock and property markets. It’s uncertain whether these distortions can be held together by the government or whether the market will eventually strike back.

America has resorted to printing money, which has resulted in surges in the stock and bond markets. However, unemployment is still high and wage growth is low. Printing money doesn’t seem to have done anything other than make the holders of stocks and bonds wealthy (these are mostly wealthy people anyway).

In Australia, our economy used to be dominated by two sectors: the banks and the miners. The miners dug resources from the ground and shipped them to China. China makes goods and ships them to US consumer who buys these goods.

But the American consumer (or consumers from any other developed country) is not buying as much as they did before the GFC. This means China is slowing down, the price of resources is dropping, and the mining sector in Australia is getting crushed. We only have the banks left, and how do they make money? The balance sheets of Australian banks is mostly in loans to consumers who buy real estate. Real estate prices have been going up thanks to profits from mining. In other words, banks do well because house prices have been sustained by profits from the resources sector. Now that mining is dead, what will sustain us? Where are our strong fundamentals? House prices only go up with people buy houses, but to buy houses you need to make money in the first place. You can’t make money from houses without putting money into it in the first place.

Many who have bought stocks have made great wealth from quantitative easing, but now that tears are emerging in a bubbling world economy held together by printed money, it’s time to look at investing in gold.

Gold tends to shoot up significantly when stocks tumble, and when stocks go down, gold tends to go sideways or go up anyway, so there doesn’t seem to be any downside to investing in gold.

Personally, I will be buying this shiny metal from now on.