Portfolio activity, May 2010

The latest portfolio activity happened in May. It was scheduled in April but was postponed due to travelling in overseas.

According to my asset allocation plan, I needed to top up US asset class. But after allocating the required amount from my fresh fund to the US asset class, there was some, but not much, surplus left. I could allocate this surplus to the asset class that almost reached the bottom threshold of its allocation, which was Asia Pacific ex Japan.

In the end, I topped up only the US asset class with all the fresh fund to save time and commission, since the top up of Asia Pacific ex Japan by the relatively small surplus did not change much the allocation of all asset classes.


Lower commission for stocks traded in London Stock Exchange

I received this email from Saxo last week:

… the minimum commissions charged on stocks traded on the following exchanges will be lower from 1 May 2010:

  • Euronext Amsterdam (AMS) from EUR 20 to EUR 12
  • Euronext Brussels (BRU) from EUR 20 to EUR 12
  • Euronext Lisbon (LISB) from EUR 20 to EUR 12
  • Euronext Paris (PAR) from EUR 20 to EUR 12
  • Frankfurt/Xetra Stock Exchange (FSE) from EUR 20 to EUR 12
  • London International Exchange (LSE_INT) from USD 40 to USD 20
  • London Stock Exchange (LSE_SETS) from GBP 15 to GBP 8
  • Milano Stock Exchange (MIL) from EUR 20 to EUR 12
  • OMX Helsinki (HSE) from EUR 20 to EUR 12
  • Sistema De Interconexion Bursatil Espanol (SIBE) from EUR 20 to EUR 12
  • Swiss Virt-X (VX) from CHF 30 to CHF 18
  • Swiss Exchange (SWX) from CHF 30 to CHF 18
  • Wiener Börse – Vienna Stock Exchange (VIE) from EUR 20 to EUR 12

Saxo Capital Markets will raise the minimum commissions charged on stocks traded on the OMX Copenhagen Stock Exchange (CSE) from DKK 19 to DKK 29.

The reduction of commission for London stock exchange is almost half. Great! Now I only need half of the previous investment amount to achieve the same ‘sales charge’.

With this low commission, I may also consider bond ETF in London stock exchange when I need to add to my global bond asset class. Currently I use unit trust fund for global bond asset class. Below are the global bond ETFs in London stock exchange that I may use:

Portfolio review for 2009

I am late in writing my portfolio review. As usual, it is divided into three sections: Expenses, Emotion and Return.  Let’s dive into it…


2009 2008
Number of Buy 9 13
Number of Sell 1 1
Turnover Ratio 0.72% 1.94%
Average Holding Period (year) 139 51
Total Expense Ratio 0.58% 1.45%

Expenses have gone down because of reduced number of transaction. This also translates into lower turnover ratio and longer average holding period.


After the financial crisis in 2008, one of the hot topic that surfaced in 2009 is buy-and-hold, as shown in this Google search result. Investor started to question the logic of buy-and-hold, and when they saw the S&P 500 Index returned -1.4% per year from 1999 through 2008, many termed this as the “lost decade”‘ for investors and went on to say “buy-and-hold is dead”. But seriously, who would invest in a 100% S&P 500 index fund portfolio in reality? When investors say “buy-and-hold is dead”, many examples are given — some use S&P 500 index in the above example, some use a basket of stocks, etc. So are all types of buy-and-hold dead? We should ask what John Bogle asks, “Buy and hold what?” in the interview in Is Buy-and-Hold Dead?, where he explains which buy-and-hold is long dead before the financial crisis.

This just shows that how much noise there is in the financial media. Investors would be better off to tune out financial news (see the last point of Larry Swedroe’s New Year’s Investing Resolutions). I am glad that I have adhered to my plan in 2009 and will do so in 2010 and beyond.


2009 2008
Portfolio IRR Portfolio TWR Benchmark Portfolio IRR Portfolio TWR Benchmark
25.60% 25.48% 20.39% -32.54% -32.78% -29.05%
28.92% 23.58% -32.35% -28.85%

*Both TWR and IRR returns include dividend and un-invested cash holding.


From this year onwards, I will include another type of return – Time-Weighted Returns (TWR), in addition to the IRR (Internal Rate of Return, also known as Money-Weighted Returns or MWR or Dollar-Weighted Returns). The difference between TWR and IRR is that TWR is independent of contributions and withdrawals of money in the portfolio.

  • TWR is therefore more suitable for comparing your portfolio return to a benchmark.
  • IRR, on the other hand, measures the true return of your portfolio because it takes into account the effect of when you make contributions and withdrawals to the portfolio.

There a few methods for calculating TWR; I use the Modified-Dietz Method. I refer to this Excel spreadsheet example in section Time-weighted method #3: The Microsoft Excel way of this article to calculate TWR.

Comments on the return

  • The IRR and TWR are almost the same. This is because new cash contribution is evenly spread out over the year, as I save monthly to contribute to the portfolio.
  • Portfolio return is quite close to the benchmark, which tells me that my portfolio behaves as expected as a 75/25 portfolio.
  • On the other hand, the portfolio return swings 3-5% more than the benchmark. It outperforms the benchmark in positive year (2009) and underperforms the benchmark in negative year (2008). This is expected as the portfolio asset allocation within the equity and fixed income is not exactly the same as the benchmark, though they have the same 75/25 equity and fixed income allocation.

Portfolio Allocation

Current Target
Equity 72% 75%
US 22% 25%
EU 17% 20%
JP 6% 5%
APEJ 8% 10%
SG 4% 5%
REIT 16% 10%
Fixed Income 28% 25%
Global 7% 10%
Asia 5% 5%
SG 13% 10%
Cash 2% 0%

The table above shows the portfolio allocation as at 31 December 2009. The current allocation is pretty much close to the target. There is a slight over allocation in REIT due to a number of right issues by several REIT managers.

Looking into 2010

No much change is expected for my portfolio, except, may be for the financial instrument that I use for each  asset class. I hope there will be good ETFs for US equity and Europe equity in SGX. I am not satisfied by the current SGX-listed Europe equity ETFs — the one from Lyxor has a very small asset under management; the one from DB could use up to 100% of its asset in Swap (according to the prospectus).

Another area that look into is the fixed income part of the portfolio. Right now I use actively managed fund as my global fixed income fund. One alternative is to use fixed income ETFs listed in London Stock Exchange (mainly because the dividend is tax-free), but I have not looked into this in detail. Anyway, I find that my new cash contributions have seldom bought into fixed income, there wasn’t even a transaction in fixed income in 2009!

Last but not least, stay the course and tune out financial news.

Paul Samuelson dies at age 94

Legendary economist, Nobel laureate and author Paul Samuelson has died at the age of 94 (see Paul Krugman’s blog post).

I first came to know his name from what he has said below on investing (which is also my favourite investment quote):

Investing should be dull. It shouldn’t be exciting. Investing should be more like watching paint dry or watching grass grow. If you want excitement, take $800 and go to Las Vegas. — Source

Paul Samuelson was referring to the emotional traps (overconfidence, market timing, performance chasing, etc.) that investors often fall into. And that investors would be better off doing it passively. It is also the investment philosophy I adopt and wrote about it in this post 3 years ago.

Portfolio activity, October-November 2009

October is the time to do my semi-annual purchase of funds. My asset allocation plan shows that I need to top up two asset classes:

  1. Europe equity
  2. Japan equity

No top up for REITs as the current holdings in my portfolio is over the target allocation already, because I have accepted a number of rights issues offered by some of the REITs.

For Europe equity and Japan equity, the funds that I will use remain the same: iShares MSCI Europe ETF and Lyxor Japan (TOPIX) ETF respectively. There is an alternative to Europe equity: Lyxor MSCI Europe ETF that was listed in SGX a week ago.  The broker fee to buy this ETF is cheaper than iShares MSCI Europe ETF, which is listed in London Stock Exchange. But for now,  I will give Lyxor MSCI Europe ETF a miss because it is quite new and the asset under management is only slightly more than USD 6 million.

I have made the transaction for Lyxor Japan (TOPIX) ETF and will buy iShares MSCI Europe ETF next week, after its ex-date on 28-Oct-2009.

Portfolio activity, April-July 2009

Just to update my regular fund purchase in April. The asset allocation plan in April indicated top up required for asset classes:

  1. US
  2. Asia Pacific Ex Japan
  3. REIT

I have only bought REIT in April, while I was preparing for the funds for the rest. When the fund was ready, it was July and the asset allocation had changed due to the rise in Asian stock markets. The asset classes to top up in July was US equity only, for which I bought Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI).

As of 7-September-2009, my portfolio allocation is shown below.

Current Target
Equity 67% 75%
US 23% 25%
EU 14% 20%
JP 4% 5%
APEJ 8% 10%
SG 4% 5%
REIT 14% 10%
Fixed Income 33% 25%
Global 7% 10%
Asia 6% 5%
SG 13% 10%
Cash 7% 0%

The next regular fund purchase is in October. The 7% cash shown above is the savings for this coming purchase.

Sell VWO to cut future dividend withholding tax?

Right now, I still hold Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock ETF (VWO) and pay the dividend withholding tax every year. I wonder if it would be better to sell VWO to cut the future dividend withholding tax. Before I continue, here’s some background:

  1. In a portfolio asset allocation update in 2007, I decided to use Lyxor ETF Asia Pacific Ex Japan listed at SGX (symbol: AEJ) to replace VWO for future purchase. But I still keep my VWO holding.
  2. As a result, I am still paying every year 30% dividend withholding tax on the dividend I receive from VWO.
  3. The dividend withholding tax is about USD10-15 every year.
  4. In my previous post on claiming back US dividend withholding tax on non-US equity ETF, I decided not to pursue that avenue to claim back dividend withholding tax for VWO, because my broker’s Form 1042-S does not list the necessary information and the dividend tax amount is small to worth the effort.

To get an idea of how much dividend withholding tax I would be paying if I were to hold it for the next 30 years, I calculated the cumulative present values of the tax in this spreadsheet Present value of VWO dividend tax (Google Docs) with a discount rate of 2.5%. The rate 2.5% is the interest rate of CPF Ordinary Account.

As you can see, the cumulative present values of the tax paid for the next 30 years are between USD200-300. Compare this with the broker commission of USD15 if I sell VWO, it seems logical to me to sell VWO to save on the tax. The sales proceed would be used to buy VWO’s replacement – Lyxor ETF Asia Pacific Ex Japan.

Does this make sense to you? Is the maths correct? Let me know and leave your comment, please.