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I'm reasonably disciplined with regard to saving but am unsure as to how exactly I should go about it on a long term bases. Should I favour shares, funds or long term saving accounts? What are the rules of thumb? What percentage of my savings should I invest in shares? How many different shares should I have? What sectors should I try to spread my investments across? IT / Banking / Transportation / Energy etc. Why might I favour a fund instead of shares?

  • is the pension from the same IT company? – littleadv May 21 '13 at 20:05
  • @littleadv I'm employed by this company and they "top-up" my pension by paying into the state controlled pension system. – Belo May 21 '13 at 20:08
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    then I suggest you learn from Enron and decouple your personal investments from your employment. – littleadv May 21 '13 at 20:09
  • What do you consider to be "long term savings"? Is long term three years, five years, ten years or 40 years? I'm guessing you mean retirement-targetted savings, meaning you are looking at a 30-35 year timeframe, but it would be better if it was made explicit. – a CVn May 23 '13 at 9:30
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Congratulations on a solid start. Here are my thoughts, based on your situation:

Asset Classes

I would recommend against a long-term savings account as an investment vehicle. While very safe, the yields will almost always be well below inflation. Since you have a long time horizon (most likely at least 30 years to retirement), you have enough time to take on more risk, as long as it's not more than you can live with. If you are looking for safer alternatives to stocks for part of your investments, you can also consider investment-grade bonds/bond funds, or even a stable value fund. Later, when you are much closer to retirement, you may also want to consider an annuity. Depending on the interest rate on your loan, you may also be able to get a better return from paying down your loan than from putting more in a savings account.

I would recommend that you only keep in a savings account what you expect to need in the next few years (cushion for regular expenses, emergency fund, etc.).

On Stocks

Stocks are riskier but have the best chance to outperform versus inflation over the long term. I tend to favor funds over individual stocks, mostly for a few practical reasons. First, one of the goals of investing is to diversify your risk, which produces a more efficient risk/reward ratio than a group of stocks that are highly correlated. Diversification is easier to achieve via an index fund, but it is possible for a well-educated investor to stay diversified via individual stocks. Also, since most investors don't actually want to take physical possession of their shares, funds will manage the shares for you, as well as offering additional services, such as the automatic reinvestments of dividends and tax management.

Asset Allocation

It's very important that you are comfortable with the amount of risk you take on. Investment salespeople will prefer to sell you stocks, as they make more commission on stocks than bonds or other investments, but unless you're able to stay in the market for the long term, it's unlikely you'll be able to get the market return over the long term. Make sure to take one or more risk tolerance assessments to understand how often you're willing to accept significant losses, as well as what the optimal asset allocation is for you given the level of risk you can live with.

Generally speaking, for someone with a long investment horizon and a medium risk tolerance, even the most conservative allocations will have at least 60% in stocks (total of US and international) with the rest in bonds/other, and up to 80% or even 100% for a more aggressive investor. Owning more bonds will result in a lower expected return, but will also dramatically reduce your portfolio's risk and volatility.

Pension

With so many companies deciding that they don't feel like keeping the promises they made to yesterday's workers or simply can't afford to, the pension is nice but like Social Security, I wouldn't bank on all of this money being there for you in the future. This is where a fee-only financial planner can really be helpful - they can run a bunch of scenarios in planning software that will show you different retirement scenarios based on a variety of assumptions (ie what if you only get 60% of the promised pension, etc).

This is probably not as much of an issue if you are an equity partner, or if the company fully funds the pension in a segregated account, or if the pension is defined-contribution, but most corporate pensions are just a general promise to pay you later in the future with no real money actually set aside for that purpose, so I'd discount this in my planning somewhat.

Fund/Stock Selection

Generally speaking, most investment literature agrees that you're most likely to get the best risk-adjusted returns over the long term by owning the entire market rather than betting on individual winners and losers, since no one can predict the future (including professional money managers). As such, I'd recommend owning a low-cost index fund over holding specific sectors or specific companies only. Remember that even if one sector is more profitable than another, the stock prices already tend to reflect this.

Concentration in IT Consultancy

I am concerned that one third of your investable assets are currently in one company (the IT consultancy). It's very possible that you are right that it will continue to do well, that is not my concern. My concern is the risk you're carrying that things will not go well. Again, you are taking on risks not just over the next few years, but over the next 30 or so years until you retire, and even if it seems unlikely that this company will experience a downturn in the next few years, it's very possible that could change over a longer period of time. Please just be aware that there is a risk.

One way to mitigate that risk would be to work with an advisor or a fund to structure and investment plan where you invest in a variety of sector funds, except for technology. That way, your overall portfolio, including the single company, will be closer to the market as a whole rather than over-weighted in IT/Tech.

However, if this IT Consultancy happens to be the company that you work for, I would strongly recommend divesting yourself of those shares as soon as reasonably possible. In my opinion, the risk of having your salary, pension, and much of your investments tied up in the fortunes of one company would simply be a much larger risk than I'd be comfortable with.

Last, make sure to keep learning so that you are making decisions that you're comfortable with. With the amount of savings you have, most investment firms will consider you a "high net worth" client, so make sure you are making decisions that are in your best financial interests, not theirs. Again, this is where a fee-only financial advisor may be helpful (you can find a local advisor at napfa.org).

Best of luck with your decisions!

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There is no rule of thumb (although some may suggest there is). Everybody will have different goals, investment preferences and risk tolerances. You need to figure this out by yourself by either education yourself in the type of investments you are interested in or by engaging (and paying for) a financial advisor. You should not be taking advice from others unless it is specifically geared for your goals, investment DNA and risk tolerance.

The only advice I would give you is to have a plan (whether you develop it yourself or pay a financial advisor to develop one). Also, don't have all your savings sitting in cash, as long-term you will fall behind the eight ball in real returns (allowing for inflation).

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    Good answer, but I'd add that you should probably look for a fee-only financial planner/advisor. If it's someone who sells any investments, they have a natural conflict of fiduciary interest--approach with extreme caution. – Rick Goldstein May 21 '13 at 23:13
  • @RickGoldstein Second that. For a few hundred dollars, you should be able to get a lot of useful information as well as a good idea of where to start. Try napfa.org to find a local advisor. – JAGAnalyst May 23 '13 at 6:30
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RED FLAG. You should not be invested in 1 share. You should buy a diversified ETF which can have fees of 0.06% per year. This has SIGNIFICANTLY less volatility for the same statistical expectation. Left tail risk is MUCH lower (probability of gigantic losses) since losses will tend to cancel out gains in diversified portfolios. Moreover, your view that "you believe these will continue" is fallacious. Stocks of developed countries are efficient to the extent that retail investors cannot predict price evolution in the future. Countless academic studies show that individual investors forecast in the incorrect direction on average.

I would be quite right to objectively classify you as a incorrect if you continued to hold the philosophy that owning 1 stock instead of the entire market is a superior stategy. ALL the evidence favours holding the market.

In addition, do not invest in active managers. Academic evidence demonstrates that they perform worse than holding a passive market-tracking portfolio after fees, and on average (and plz don't try to select managers that you think can outperform -- you can't do this, even the best in the field can't do this).


Direct answer: It depends on your investment horizon. If you do not need the money until you are 60 then you should invest in very aggressive assets with high expected return and high volatility. These assets SHOULD mainly be stocks (through ETFs or mutual funds) but could also include US-REIT or global-REIT ETFs, private equity and a handful of other asset classes (no gold, please.) ... or perhaps wealth management products which pool many retail investors' funds together and create a diversified portfolio (but I'm unconvinced that their fees are worth the added diversification).

If you need the money in 2-3 years time then you should invest in safe assets -- fixed income and term deposits.

Why is investment horizon so important? If you are holding to 60 years old then it doesn't matter if we have a massive financial crisis in 5 years time, since the stock market will rebound (unless it's a nuclear bomb in New York or something) and by the time you are 60 you will be laughing all the way to the bank. Gains on risky assets overtake losses in the long run such that over a 20-30 year horizon they WILL do much better than a deposit account.

As you approach 45-50, you should slowly reduce your allocation to risky assets and put it in safe haven assets such as fixed income and cash. This is because your investment horizon is now SHORTER so you need a less risky portfolio so you don't have to keep working until 65/70 if the market tanks just before retirement.


VERY IMPORTANT. If you may need the savings to avoid defaulting on your home loan if you lose your job or something, then the above does not apply. Decisions in these context are more vague and ambiguous.

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