Category Archives: Fund Choices

Sanlam Cumulus Echo RA

I was recently approached by someone for help with her Sanlam RA’s – they are the bad, old traditional life RA’s with opaque fees, poor returns and hefty penalties if you make any changes before the term ends. It seems that Sanlam has found a way around this though with their Cumulus Echo RA where they are encouraging clients to move. The “carrot” is no penalties when the move to this RA and bonuses if they see out the term. Sounds good, or does it?

It took quite a bit of digging to find the fees on these new RA’s but after a while I found 2 pages* on the Sanlam website that say it all. The first one is the advice and marketing costs which are “hidden” behind a “more information” button. Here is what it says…

“If you prefer to select your own funds and will be investing recurring monthly payments, the following marketing and administration charge is applicable:”

Fund value band Yearly marketing and administration charge % of the fund value of the plan
First R500 000 4.10
R500 001 – R1 000 000 3.75
Excess above R1 000 000 3.50

The fee for using internal funds is slightly lower but still far too high to make it attractive.

But I think that the most insightful part of the investigation was an example of how much an investor could expect if they used the RA (including future bonuses).  “The Example is based on a monthly payment of R1000, taking into account an annual inflation increase of 6% over 25 years. It assumes an investment return of inflation plus 2% after fees.”

2% after fees? We know, that it is reasonable to expect a “balanced” unit trust fund to generate CPI+5% (after fees) over the long term (25 years). Sanlam seems to be acknowledging that their fees are so high that an investor should expect to only receive inflation+2% over that time. The loss of the 3% to fees, compounded over 25 years, will be devastating to your retirement and will result in significant damage to your ultimate fund value (bonus or not).

My advice to anyone considering the Cumulus RA is to run far away – pay the penalty for transferring away from the old RA and find a unit trust RA with an underlying passive fund – your total annual fee should come in at around 1-1.25% pa (advice fee included).


*One of the pages:

To pay a penalty or not?

A client of mine presented a potential dilemma to me. He has a living annuity through Liberty Life but also has the bulk of his living annuity funds on a LISP platform. He was wanting to move the Liberty one to the LISP and consolidate his investments on one platform*.
Under normal circumstances there should be no penalty when transferring living annuities. However, in the fine print, Liberty had noted that there would be an exit penalty if the annuity was transferred anywhere else within the first 5 years of the investment. As such he was advised that he was going to pay a penalty of 1.2% (±R6500) to move his annuity and he balked at the prospect.
We told him to find out from Liberty what the total annual fee on his annuity is and it turns out that they are charging him a total of 2.15% pa (admin and fund fee, no advice fee included – the advisor took that maximum upfront fee).
By comparison his living annuity on the LISP has a total annual fee of 1.1% (fund and admin fee, no advice fee). Do the maths – the 1.2% penalty will be covered in the next 12 months and thereafter he will be better off because of the lower annual fee (less than half of the current annual fee and there would still be a penalty to move for the next 24 months).
The real question I have for him is why anyone would ever invest in a product where there is any kind of exit penalty? There is no need to ever pay penalties when it comes to investing – there are far better (and cheaper) products out there than those offered by the life insurance companies. Stay away from them unless it is insurance you need!

*Note: he pays us directly for advice and there are no on-going advice fees on his investments so the advice we give to him is not affected by the desire to grow assets on which we earn fees.

Is everyone thinking it but no one prepared to say it?

What if SA is where Zimbabwe was ±20-25 years ago? With the benefit of hindsight, what would the average Zimbabwean do differently? Would they have stopped investing into their pension funds and bought more foreign currency? Would they have emigrated? Would they have bonded their houses to the hilt and taken the funds offshore?

I have always promised my clients that I would not invest their funds where I am not investing myself…if it is good enough for me it is good enough for them. In the same way, I have been a massive proponent of retirement annuities (and pension funds) in SA – they have made so much tax sense (as well as estate duty sense). But what if this is all about to change? If SA goes the way of Zim then I am afraid that your pension fund in SA will be worthless. If the state re-introduces prescribed assets for pension funds, then possibly it will be better to have funds offshore. If Zuma has been paid his commission for the nuclear deal, as some are suggesting, then we are facing a bleak future and a very weak currency – then it will be better to have funds offshore.

They say you should never ask a barber if he thinks you need a haircut and unfortunately this seems to apply to fund managers and pension funds too? If you ask them if it still makes sense to invest into your pension fund in SA they are likely to answer yes – their income depends on it. But what are they doing with their own money? I’ve asked a few of them but no one is prepared to stick their necks out – I suspect that they are all moving as much money offshore as quickly as they can but no one seems to be brave enough to say this in public.

So perhaps it’s time that we had a frank discussion about the future of pension funds in SA – we might not be Zimbabwe yet but perhaps we are the proverbial frog in the pot of water and perhaps we are reaching the point where we will no longer be able to jump out? So how about it, anyone brave enough to express an opinion on this one?

Dont panic – plan!

There are essentially 2 emotions that drive human behaviour when it comes to money: fear and greed. Both of them can result in investors behaving irrationally and this can result is significant financial losses if we are not careful.
For many South Africans there is currently a lot of fear around the future – it certainly looks like SA Inc is doomed (well for the next 5-10 years at least) and at times like this it is easy to panic and want to sell the house and take all the proceeds offshore. However, while having funds offshore may make you feel better about things, it might not be the correct thing to do financially.

Investing requires time – but investing offshore requires even more time. This is because you not only subject yourself to the volatility of the markets but also the volatility of the currency. It is possible that you get a double negative on your money – weak offshore markets and a stronger rand at the same time.

If you don’t think this is possible, ask anyone who took funds offshore during the first 3 months of 2016 – we hit almost R17/US$ (we are currently under R14/$) and we touched R24/GBP (R17.1/GBP currently). Those are significant short term losses as a result of currency movements*.

The point is this – take money offshore by all means but make sure that:
• You have a plan in place for investing and that this forms part of your long-term plan.
• You don’t need the funds for at least the next 10+ years and possibly longer.
• You don’t need to draw income from the funds at any stage.
• You don’t leave it sitting in a bank account offshore.
• Don’t put it into an insurance backed product – use unit trusts and ETF’s as far as is possible.
• It is also probably not a good idea to borrow money to take it offshore – there is a very real chance that interest rates could go up by a few % points over the next few years which might make the repayments on the loan impossible. If this corresponds to a period of currency strength and market weakness, you could end up in a real cash-flow crisis

*for anyone who can remember back to 2001/2 – the rand almost hit R14/$ and then fell right back to around R5/$ over the next few years.

Gryphon Money Market unit trust – the most accessible money market account out there?

Despite all the money that the banks spend advertising their savings products and all the claims to have no fees or commissions, I would not put a cent into any of their money market or savings products. If you want a money market account then you need to use a unit trust money market fund. They are safer, more transparent (cheaper) and give better returns than the bank money market accounts:

Safer – the money is held in a trust and you own units in the trust (remember Saambou or African Bank?)

Better returns – the fund generally invests billions and is able to secure a better rate than your single investment at the bank

Transparent/Cheaper – each fund publishes its annual fee and these range from 0.25% to about 0.5%. As a rule, the lower the fee, the better the return you will receive.

Expected return – currently 8%+ pa (after fees)

Unfortunately, most unit trust money market accounts want big initial deposits and/or very high monthly debit orders…but not the Gryphon Money Market Unit Trust Fund. They accept an initial investment of just R2000 or a R200 debit order and on that amount you will receive the same interest as someone who invests R1m. That’s the beauty of a unit trust account!

You can read more about the fund on their website and can also find the application there

Below are a few of the facts about the fund…happy saving.

Benchmark: Short term Fixed Interest Index (STEFI)
Charges (Incl. VAT): Initial 0%
Annual Management Fee 0.29%
Minimum lump sum: R2,000
Minimum debit order: R200

For the record – they also have some other great funds.


It’s too late to panic

As we wake to the news of a significant cabinet reshuffle by Mr Zuma and that the rand has lost another 4% on the news, there will be a tendency to panic. Now is not the time for knee-jerk reactions. The market will do that for you. Like a pendulum, it will overshoot as people attempt to digest and predict the future consequences of the moves.
You are a long-term investor and should not be swayed by short term noise – even if it is a very loud noise. Today will most likely be horrible from a market and currency point of view but over the next few weeks and months we will make sense of it and there will be some positives that come out of this – don’t do anything in a panic. It is too late to take that money offshore (today) and it is too late to sell your portfolio to try to get out of the market.

One of my favourite lines that we often get to use is from the movie “Mickey Blue Eyes” which stars Hugh Grant as the boyfriend whose prospective father-in-law is a gangster boss. Grant’s character is very proper and speaks with a real hot potato in his mouth. The father wants to introduce him to his gangster friends but cant have him speak with that accent and so he tries to teach him to speak like a mobster…about the only thing he gets right is the line “forget about it” which sounds more like “fur ged abowd did”.

I am not advocating a reckless negligence of your finances but I recommending that if you are an investor (that implies that you are in it for the long haul) and you have an investment plan/strategy in place then you need to learn to do the “Micky Blue Eyes” with your funds and “fur ged abowd did” (for now).

Five lessons learnt in 2016

It has been a while since I last posted – 2016 has been a year to remember…I think that this post by Anet Ahern from PSG pretty much sums it up. Happy holidays and here’s to a better 2017!

1.   The best investment decisions aren’t always the most comfortable

During the first two weeks of 2016, the S&P 500, Dow Jones and Nasdaq Composite indices were down between 8% and 10% – the worst start to a year ever. All three indices would eventually add to their losses after a modest rebound, hitting their lows for the year in mid-February.  The US market then staged the biggest quarterly reversal since 1933 from these lows.  Here in SA, our All Share index had a similar start, and rose by 16% in just four months to reach its high for the year in June.  But that’s only part of the story…

It was during those panic-stricken weeks that shares such as Imperial, Glencore, Anglos and FirstRand were on sale at levels which subsequently provided returns of between 30% and 300%.  What was needed to make the right decision to invest in these shares at that point?

  • A calm, unemotional, measured approach.
  • Deep knowledge of the companies in question.
  • A solid assessment of their long term value.
  • Cash to invest, whether in a separate income portfolio or as part of the asset allocation of a multi asset or flexible fund.

During 2016, PSG Asset Management’s funds were invested in the shares mentioned above as well as other undervalued shares. Our ability to do so was backed by research, and funded by cash holdings which were intended to help us take advantage of opportunities to add more of these shares to portfolios at a time when others were fearful to act.

2.   Shares in good companies don’t need a good economy to show excellent returns
It would be fair to say that economic conditions have not been ideal for the likes of Imperial.Yet, an investment in this company at the low in January 2016 has produced a return of around 70% to the end of November 2016. This is because the market is often short-term oriented and frequently extrapolates current events and conditions into the future, creating extreme under- or overvaluation.In other words, investors often fail to take a long-term view, and they overreact to short-term pressures. This creates opportunities, as is evident with Imperial, a share held across our funds.

3.   Fixed Income can work hard towards your long term goals too
It was a long-term view on inflation that helped us to recognise the attractive real yields on offer from time to time during 2016, enabling us to lock-in returns of up to 4.5% above inflation in parts of our funds. We view cash and fixed income instruments as hardworking portions of a portfolio, providing income, diversification, stability, real returns and fire-power for opportunities during uncertainty. At PSG Asset Management every single part of the portfolio is an active decision and has to bring something that will take our investors closer to their long term goals.

4.    Our institutions are holding up so far
By the skin of our teeth, I hear some say.  But the fact is that the institutions which served to help us retain credibility in the eyes of the world mostly worked for us in SA this year when it really counted.  We had a peaceful and fair election and our finance minister managed to hang on to his independence. The Reserve Bank delivered on their inflation targeting mandate. While there are many instances of poor delivery and corruption, we learned this year that our key institutions stood the test of 2016, which was no mean feat.

5.    All countries have their issues, and major events will happen
Italy’s referendum led to the resignation of their prime minister. Brits voted in favour of leaving the EU, and Trump amused, horrified and surprised the world. We saw a failed military coup in Turkey. Oil hit a 12-year low this year, and gold had its best quarter in 30 years. Japanese bonds traded at a negative interest rate for the first time ever while Apple sales fell for the first time in almost 13 years. While investors around the world try to get their mind around these as they happen, at PSG Asset Management we try to focus on seeing the bigger picture and taking a longer-term perspective, while doing most of the work from the bottom-up. We believe this approach will continue to work as it has in the past.

As always, hindsight can serve to make us forget how hard it was at the time to stay calm and make the right decision.This is only possible if you have a solid framework to start with, be it around the way you research and assess shares, or the way your long-term investment strategy is crafted.


TFSA or not to TFSA?

Alec Hogg recently wrote a piece encouraging people to take full advantage of the tax free savings account before the end of February (…I disagree with him on this one and here are the reasons why.

Sorry Alec but I disagree with you on this one…I have previousy written about how I’m not so excited about TFSA ( but we need to remember that the TFSA’s are not aimed at the people that read our websites – they are intended to get non-savers saving. For the average reader of our sites who has maxed out their retirement savings and has spare cash to invest, I would rather have funds invested into a UT or ETF physically offshore than a TFSA in SA…funds invested into an offshore unit trust are to all intents and purposes tax free in SA.

On a roll-up fund there are no distributions and therefore no tax implications in SA…yes there will be CGT one day but I will not be bringing all the funds back in one go so the tax effect of the capital gain will be muted. I think the TFSA is a great idea in principle but as with all other Government savings initiatives they dont go far enough (Fundisa being another example).
To my mind, to be meaningful the annual amount should be closer to the UK amount of 15k GBP – even R200k in SA would have been better…but government dont want to be seen to favour the wealthy.
Anyone who thinks that they are going to have a fortune saved from the TFSA is dreaming. Realistically, the R30k pa for 15 years should allow you to draw a monthly income of roughly R2150 in todays terms for 30 years…not even half a month’s shopping for our “average” reader.

If you have spare cash to invest before the end of February then first maximise your RA/retirement contributions and once you have done that then look to take the funds offshore directly into a foreign currency based unit trust or ETF. That’s what I am doing!

Guaranteed returns or guaranteed losses?

It seems trite to be talking about investment returns in the context of the “feesmustfall” campaign however, there are people who still need to invest and grow their money and in some ways life goes on.

One of the more frequent conversations we are currently having is around the issue of market volatility – which to some investors is apparently a new thing. It is in this context (and on the back of 7-8 years of really good returns) that investors often lose sight of the big picture. Market volatility causes panic and they start talking about not wanting to take any risk on their investments. Inevitably their focus turns to issue of “guaranteed” returns.

One such example is of an investor who is looking for income and has decided that the best way to secure his income is by way of a 5 year term certain annuity. In short he will receive an escalating income for 5 years and is guaranteed to receive his full capital in 5 years time. He is over the moon…but should not be.

His income may be secure but he is also guaranteeing himself a capital loss. What he is failing to take into account is that while he may receive his capital back (in nominal terms) in 5 years, in real terms he will be poorer by ±26% – or in his case, R1m on R3.8 million. This is because he has failed to factor in inflation risk! He has forgone volatility risk in favour of a much more dangerous and insidious risk in the form of inflation.

Volatility is a short term investment risk and is just one form of investment risk. Exposing your investments to this kind of risk is the only way to deal with inflation risk. But it requires time to work…1, 3 or even 12 months is not “time”. It takes years…

Inflation risk, on the other hand, is a long term investment risk and if you don’t take enough volatility risk you are guaranteeing that you will lose money. Don’t be short sighted – the current market volatility is nothing new – it has happened before and will happen again. Don’t panic and don’t lose sight of your plan. Sit it out and you will reap the rewards…or you can panic and buy yourself a guaranteed capital loss!