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Don't get too greedy
Earlier this month, I was asked if a simple, one-size-fits-all investment strategy actually exists. I hesitated, thinking it was a daft question, but thought it might be worth considering in greater detail, though it was a task I approached with some scepticism.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if a straight forward investment strategy did exist? At any point in your working life, you could accurately establish where you were vis-à-vis investments and their virtually guaranteed outcome.
Returns would be easy to forecast, dividends entirely reliable and life considerably smoother in retirement when the need for income becomes paramount. Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t operate in this way.
Even if returns on investment vehicles were entirely predictable, our approach towards them is bound to vary.
Consider, for example, basic matters such as the investor’s age and time horizon, his or her attitude to risk and how much he or she has to invest.
In other words, investment strategy is as complicated as life itself because everyone’s motives and aims are different. And this is before we touch upon tax liabilities.
But there are two simple statements that can be made without fear of contradiction — the earlier you start investing, the more you will accumulate and, for almost all investors, the ultimate purpose of investing is to generate an income.
How much, when and over what period is determined by other factors, but the foundations of an income-producing portfolio can be laid at any time.
Where to start? It is here that an analyst might suggest the investor should consider standard deviation, a statistical measure of relative risk.
In truth, few investors get beyond looking up definitions of the phrase which are hardly consistent.
Property’s role as a prospective longer-term source of both capital growth and income puts it at the head of many investment strategies and rightly so.
Britons’ love affair with property is not going to wane, which ensures that housing demand from buyers will, in normal circumstances, remain constant.
Much has been written recently of rental yields climbing to impressive levels but, frankly, I see little real evidence of this.
In my experience (I bought my first investment property in 1986, a decade before I started buying shares), very few investors get rich on rental income alone. Those who concentrate upon the property paying for itself and getting rid of any mortgage at the earliest opportunity do well — capital appreciation looks after itself.
In many respects, the same is true of shares, another essential cornerstone of an income-producing portfolio.
In the years we have owned Vodafone shares, for example, our holding has increased by almost 70 per cent, simply as a result of forfeiting a bi-annual cheque and having the company buy more shares on our behalf.
I consider this the simplest rule of investing: plough the dividend back in and benefit from the miracle of compound interest.
Another source of that elusive capital growth with income combination, beloved by investors of all ages are bonds, be they in the form of emerging market bond funds or corporate bond funds, gilts and index-linked bonds.
So the investment ‘universe’ is incredibly diverse and while there is no ‘off-the-shelf’ answer for investors of different sizes and attitudes, it does, thankfully, become easier to navigate provided the investor adheres to some simple rules – and does not get greedy.