Might does not make right, it makes reality.

The above expression sums up many of the ruling classes of Southern African countries. It most certainly applies to the ANC party which controls South Africa, and also until two months ago to Mugabe who controlled Zimbabwe.

I have always had an interest in this part of the world, and some twenty years ago I owned a factory near Durban. It manufactured pine furniture, which we shipped back to the U.K. and then into our main furniture sales and distribution system.

At about the same time I almost became involved in setting up a saw mill and processing plant in Zimbabwe to supply timber to the furniture plant in Durban. It was an attractive proposition and the Shona race, the largest population in the country, was educated, friendly and not averse to hard work. Fortunately, as it turned out, we did not go ahead with the project because it was obvious the direction the country was heading under the rule of Mugabe.

As a result of these projects, my wife and I have many friends in South Africa and most years we will visit there on holiday. In recent years it has become more and more obvious that the “Zimbos” have been moving to S.A. to find work, and then repatriate money back home to keep the wolf away from the family door. Their work ethic and attitude makes them stand out amongst the rest of the S.African working population, and they have ended up with the better jobs.

This now brings me to the point of this article. Mugabe has gone, and it looks as if his successor Mr Emmerson Mnangagwa may be about to try to turn the clock back towards the time when Zimbabwe was the bread-basket of Southern Africa and it’s people were well educated and gainfully employed. That is a big ask, but any recognisable step in that direction will likely result in the return of the Zimbabweans to their home country. Achieve that and Zimbabwe, rich in agriculture and natural assets, will bloom again – but this time on a more equitable racial footing.

Another major problem in investing into these areas has been the disappearing value of their currencies. In 2015 the Zimbabwean dollar, after years of hyper-inflation, had become virtually worthless, and trade was being conducted in other world hard currencies. Now that Mugabe is leaving, perhaps the Zimbabwean dollar will obtain a value again.

In a similar fashion the S.African Rand was at 15R/£ in 2008, but after a few years of President Zuma`s careful attention it had fallen in value to 23.5R/£. Now that he is at long last heading for the sunset, and a cosy retirement, it has recently strengthened to 16R/£.  It will be good news for investors if Mr Cyril Ramaphosa is also able to ring the changes on the South African economy and the Rand continues to strengthen.

There are many funds that have Africa in their title, but frequently their investments are in international companies and are continent wide.

These two occasionally turn up in the Saltydog numbers.

  • African Opportunity Investment Trust
  • HSBC MSCI South Africa ETF

There are also many Emerging market unit trusts that have a percentage of their investments in Southern Africa but then you also carry the baggage of the other country investments.

If the above scenario was to come to pass, it would be nice to find that unit trust fund which was more country specific. Of course one would want to know that the above process was definitely, and irreversibly, underway before making an investment.

Using nautical terminology; “when approaching an unknown coast or port it is better to do this on a rising tide”. That is sound logic, and anyone who thinks otherwise should submit to counselling!


What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average has recently had its largest single day fall of the last six years, with this coming after one of its largest one year rises. This fall then spread to all other world markets.

For somebody who had been invested through this bull market, the fall represented a mere couple of months of previous rises. So why all the upset, and why do I feel so unsettled? Obviously, it is because I don’t know which way the markets are going to move, and I just really, really hate that uncertainty.

Is this a minor blip, or are we heading for a major correction? Who knows; market overpricing and the potential of rising inflation are worrying, but countering that, the world economy is said to be growing, so where to next?

There are those that say we are due another major correction because that is just the way of the world. I have some sympathy with that statement when I look at the graph of the FTSE100 over the last 25 years.


For a variety of reasons these corrections do occur. First there was the bursting of the dotcom bubble, then in 2008/9 it was the financial crisis, in 2011 it was the Eurozone debt crisis and in 2015 it was a panic over China`s growth. They are like rogue waves at sea, they are just going to happen. However, that is not to say there aren`t signs that suggest being cautious.

We have just experienced a minor roller, which might or might not be the precursor of a damaging investment tsunami. So in my book, it was a straight-forward decision and I have put on my life-jacket and sold off some of my funds into cash.

If nothing adverse materialises then I have lost a gain and will buy back again later, but if the worse happens and the markets do crash then I have suffered less of a loss. That is my preferred position. I am not in the lifeboat yet, but I have one hand on the gunwale.

Please remember that I am not a financial shaman, but just an ordinary DIY investor with access to fund performance numbers. I am in the same position as yourselves, and like you I am bombarded by commentary about Cape Numbers (performance index) and VIX numbers (volatility) and articles written by readers of chicken bones all telling me that I should be able to tell what is going to happen next.  Well I cannot, and nor can they!

The only thing that I do know is that in the past when there have been falls, the recovery time varies from a few weeks to over twelve months, and that is fact. You can take precautions and reduce your exposure to the markets or you stay where you are and see what happens. You pays your money and takes your choice, quite literally!

At times like this I am reminded of the Jesse Livermore quotation…

“No person can accurately predict what will happen in the future, and you should not listen to people who tell you that they can.”


Everyone has a photographic memory, some just don’t have film!

I have recently been reading about the Kennedy clan and how their vast wealth was generated.

The Kennedys moved from Ireland to America in the mid nineteenth century, but did not start to accumulate wealth until Joseph P.Kennedy took the family reins at the beginning of the twentieth century. He is reputed to have made his money from trading on the stock market, in transport, real estate speculation and liquor distribution. Although he went on to become the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the American Ambassador to Great Britain, many of his methods of accumulating his business success were questionable.

Today the billion dollar fortune that he created still carries on down through the Kennedy generations, protected by family trusts.

Now why might this be interesting to a Saltydog investor? Here is why.  A great deal of his wealth came from his liquor distribution business, which straddled the ending of prohibition in America. The consumption of alcohol simply exploded with the changing of the law and this created a vast fortune for Joseph Kennedy.  He subsequently re-invested this into the stock market and real estate with – it is rumoured – considerable help from his friends!

Again today we have a similar situation in America, as the law is changing so that the production and use of Marijuana will no longer be illegal. It is used both medically and also personally so there could be a similar explosion in demand as that which occurred for liquor at the end of prohibition. This requirement will be met by legal farming and conversion companies, in which it should be possible to invest.

There are already a couple of ETFs taking advantage, like the Horizons ‘Marijuana Life Sciences Index ETF’ (HMMJ), which was launched last April in Canada, and the ‘ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF’ (MJX), which was launched in the US at the end of last year. Another ETF, ‘Marijuana Opportunities Fund’ (MJJ) began trading last week in Canada.

Although these funds aren’t readily available in the UK at the moment, they will be at some point. Your broker may also be able to get hold of them if you ask.

I hasten to add that I am not advocating or encouraging the use of drugs, although my wife says that perhaps if I were to participate I might get my film back!

The caterpillar does all the work, but the butterfly gets all the publicity. (George Carlin)

This is a similar situation to the funds in my own portfolios. The 70% that take the strain in the boring ‘Slow Ahead’ and the slightly more exciting ‘Steady as She Goes’ Groups receive a lot less attention than they should. They go about their business quietly and with lower volatility.

Whereas the other 30% – in the more exciting and engaging ‘Full Steam Ahead’ areas of Technology, Emerging Markets, Asia and China – get my full attention and are never far from my mind.

One of my New Year’s investing resolutions was to turn this around and direct more attention to these low lying areas. At my age I am not looking to make decisions that might put at risk my family`s inheritance. At least that is the directive I have been given by my daughters! A global return of 10% to 12% should meet these requirements. Simple arithmetic says that 70% earning 10% p.a. would yield 7%p.a. and 30% earning 15% p.a. would yield 4.5%p.a. making a grand total of 11.5% p.a. This result doubles the pot every six years, and would certainly satisfy even my most vocal supporters.

This result would be less than I would normally expect to attain, but it would be achieved with far less worry and aggravation. Why chase the 30% to make big returns, whilst leaving the 70% to make low returns of around 5% to 6% as I have done recently?

There was a time, soon after the last financial crisis and at the height of QE, when getting 10% out of funds in the ‘Slow Ahead’ Group was straight-forward. Those of you who’ve been on board with us from the beginning might remember favourites like the ‘Old Mutual Corporate Bond’ – it went up by 36% in 2009 and 16% in 2010. It only went up by 4% in 2011, the year of the UK Gilts and Index-Linked Gilts, but then went up by 18% in 2012.

I’ve never felt particularly comfortable with the funds in the ‘Slow Ahead’ Group – it seems strange to me that people are investing in ‘fixed interest’ investments to get capital gains – and yet the numbers have been strong enough to convince me. Like the Saltydog demonstration portfolios, the majority of my ‘safer’ money has also been in the ‘Slow Ahead’ Group – that is no longer the case.

Look below, at the sector annual returns data for 2017, and it is not difficult to see that last year the sectors in the ‘Slow Ahead’ Group were not the most rewarding place to be – with annual returns varying between 2% and 6%. However, placing the bulk of a portfolio into the top sectors of the ‘Steady as She Goes’ Group, which has relatively low volatility, and the balance into the ‘Full Steam Ahead’ Groups would have made the overall target a shoe-in!


Of course it would still have to be managed to keep the funds in the sectors carrying the momentum of the moment. It is most unlikely that one sector will continue its forward run for a complete year so it will mean changing horses throughout the race, but that is what makes it interesting. Watching the numbers and then taking the appropriate action is my message of the year to myself.

I do realise however that there will be times when abrupt financial market movements and politicians’ utterances will mean moving your investments quickly into cash, the only safe haven in those circumstances. Today we live in unsettling times, but for the moment we still move forward.

Remember there is nothing wrong with optimism, as long as you don’t get your hopes up.

Investing in Vietnam

“How stupid can you get?”, was a question teachers often used to ask me. “How stupid do you want?” was always my reply.

Over the last few years I have written articles about the attraction of Vietnam as an investment destination. Before proceeding further I must admit to travelling there 56 years ago when in the Merchant Navy, and now my youngest brother is a doctor in Ho Chi Min City. His experiences, and my recent visit, confirm my opinion of this country.

The population of Vietnam is around 93 million with an average age of 35 years. More than half now live in the cities and have aspirations to live a western lifestyle – this includes mobile phones and the internet.

Originally the roads were packed with bicycles, then it moved to scooters (carrying the whole family plus livestock) and now there are cars. Vast sums of money are being spent on roads, rail and infrastructure in general.

The country is self-sufficient in oil and rice, and the surplus is supplied into the rest of the Asian community. China, America and Japan have off-shored manufacturing here for a number of years due to the low wages and the “can do” attitude of a young population. When these countries do well, then so do the Vietnamese.

Just look at the graph below, showing two means of investing directly into Vietnam.


In 2003 one of my first investments ever was into the VinaCapital Vietnam Opportunity Fund where my money almost doubled before I exited in 2007, fortunately ahead of the world markets collapse of 2007/8.

I revisited Vietnam five years ago to holiday with my brother, and the activity there was just simply startling. On my return to the UK I observed how the SDI numbers covering Asia and the Pacific region appeared to be turning favourable, so I reinvested.

Here is the rub, and the reason I was reminded of my old school teachers. Although I was aware of two ways to make an investment into Vietnam, through an Investment Trust or an ETF, I only ever used the VinaCapital Vietnam Opportunity Fund. This was the one I was familiar with, and I ignored the Vietnam tracker ETF. I put all my eggs into the one basket, and then compounded the error by not keeping track of the performance of the ETF (both investments feature in the Saltydog numbers).

A quick glance at the table and the graph for the last six months hammers home the error of my ways. That has now been rectified.



Now don`t get me wrong, this single investment has proved very lucrative. But it was poor decision making to travel solo.

As for the future, will this performance continue? Who can be certain, but if China and Japan continue to perform well, and they are on Vietnam`s doorstep, then why not?  This probably also applies to the Asia Pacific region in general.


Ninety nine percent of Financial Advisors give the rest a bad name!

Now as you all know, I do not profess to be an authority on financial investment. I am just a person who together with Richard and David has come up with a system of producing a regular supply of unbiased fund performance numbers which indicate the direction of travel of the I.A.sectors and investment funds. Anybody with access to these numbers, and a good fund supermarket to place their trades, should be able to enjoy success.

The idea is pretty simple. Use the numbers, and endeavour to rule out sentiment and the outside noise that comes from financial commentators dressed as life-guards throwing you anvils.

That is the tricky bit and definitely what I find difficult. I enjoy reading and sifting through financial comment and numbers. Unfortunately, this has on occasions resulted in my anticipating a trend which has subsequently turned out to be a mirage. I am fighting with such a situation at the moment in the form of Mr Trump and the USA Market.

In the last year, the world`s intelligentsia and media have enjoyed poking fun at the intemperate tweets of the President. However the financial situation for the USA, for the working class and blue collar workers, could well be on an upward self-sustaining virtuous spiral.

  • The imminent lower corporate tax structure changes could persuade the large American conglomerates to repatriate their financial offices back into the USA. This would result in more taxes being paid and business expansion occurring at home, which means more employment.
  • These same large conglomerates have also been offered a one-off low tax payment on the trillions of dollars they already hold offshore so they can clean up their act and be good Americans. If this occurs, then the USA debt can be reduced and large amounts of money can be spent on improving infrastructure. Again more employment.
  • The dollar has also fallen to a low value against the standard international basket of currencies. This must result in higher exports and lower imports, both of which create employment at home.
  • At the same time as the above is happening, employment has already fallen to a very low level and wages have started to rise as demand outweighs supply. This trend must surely accelerate. More people at work with more money to spend will continue the demand for more goods. The tax collection also rises and the country has a virtuous circle of expansion.

Therein lies my problem, for if I put any credence in the above argument I would expect it to be showing in our Saltydog numbers and it does not. I have graphed a great many of the American funds that we cover and by and large they have very similar results. One year results of 5%-10%, three years 45%- 55% and five years 130%-140%. Their performance is falling and this at a time when the USA stock markets are approaching all-time highs.

I would have expected fund prices to follow the market trends, but apparently not.

Maybe the market is inflating on the back of the major technology funds and is not yet reflected in the market sectors as a whole. Perhaps as Sterling investors, part of the poor performance can be laid at the door of currency movement because Sterling has appreciated against the dollar by around 10% in the last twelve months.

These however do not account for the large discrepancy between the market and fund price movements. Still, what do I know?

The Ocean Liner made a small investment in an American fund at the end of last year, but my personal portfolios will remain un-invested in this sector until I understand more, and the numbers start to reflect the arguments.


Is there any oxygen left in today’s markets?

Three weeks ago we saw some of the markets drop. The Chinese, Emerging Markets and Technology sectors took the biggest knocks, with some funds losing between 10% and 15%. These sectors, along with UK Smaller Companies, have been my favourites over the last year making very nice gains. Now as I had indicated before, I sold half of my holdings at the start of the rout which mitigated most of this loss, fortunately leaving a very substantial profit.

The question is “what do I do next?”

I have been waiting for our numbers and graphs to show which way these sectors are now going to move – so far there are no clues. Small ups and downs with no definitive direction, and definitely no Santa Rally. The whole situation is starting to make the inside of my head itch!

It’s a question of patience and an understanding that you cannot force, or time, the markets. Jesse Livermore said many quotable expressions and here are two;

“The desire for constant action irrespective of underlying conditions is responsible for many losses on Wall Street.”

“What beat me was not having brains enough to stick to my own game – that is, to play the market only when I was satisfied that precedents favoured my play.”

I feel that with Brexit and the EU on this side of the Atlantic and Mr Trump on the other side, good political news is going to be hard to come by. Therefore the market is likely to remain as it is today; like a corpse waiting for an autopsy!

With this and Jesse Livermore`s words in mind, I intend to sell the balance of my holdings in the Chinese, Emerging Markets and Technology sectors. Holding cash whilst things sort themselves out will feel more comfortable.

I need to do this straight away, as I have reached the age where my train of thought often leaves the station without me!

Time for another look at ‘Slow Property’?

Last weekend I spent a considerable amount of time agonising over whether to reduce my exposure to the Technical Funds, and other dollar influenced investments such as China. After a week that had seen some of these funds fall by as much as 6%, was this the time to make a tactical retreat in order to fight another day?

The fall was attributed to sterling strengthening as a result of favourable comments concerning the path of Brexit. (My goodness how I am getting to hate that word). However my calculations indicate that there must have been other influences apart from currency to create this substantial downward move. I put this down to an additional sell-off in the Technical and Chinese funds themselves.

In the end I decided to sell half of all my funds in these sectors and then wait and see in which direction they headed this week. That was very hard for me to do as these funds have been a wonderful investment over the last year, but I thought it wise to err on the side of caution. If I am wrong I will simply buy back, but if they continue to fall I will sell the balance. At the moment it looks likes they have stopped falling, and may be starting to pick up again.

There are good arguments to suggest that a sensible Brexit (sorry) would see sterling recover back towards the $1.50 mark. If that occurs, and it is in the interest of both the UK and the EU for this to happen, then dollar based funds will fall again.

The next question is where to put the proceeds of these sales? I am already holding enough cash and do not want to see this percentage rise. I’m really looking for something that is relatively safe which can earn something, however small. This led me to look again in the slow property funds which burnt me badly at the time of the Brexit referendum. In this week’s numbers they feature in our 4 week data in the ‘Full Steam Ahead – Developed Group’, with four week returns ranging from 0.4% to 0.9%.


At the time of the UK referendum all of the UK property funds went down. Many changed their pricing policies, imposed dilution levies and temporarily stopped any withdrawals. Since then they have been making relatively steady progress. In the last year the Standard Life fund is up 6.4% and the Aberdeen fund is up 6.5%.
Here’s what the top two funds have done over the last two years.


These funds would seem to me to counterbalance the sterling movement. If Brexit struggles then the Tech and China stocks will not suffer from currency movements, if it is a success then these property funds have no reason to fall again as everyone will love the UK.

I’m going to invest some of the money released from my recent sales into these property funds again, and hold my breath whilst the politicians and bureaucrats perform their machinations.


The Magical World of Derren Brown.

Five great technical revolutions have defined the progress of mankind… The Stone Age…The Bronze Age…The Iron Age…The Industrial Revolution…The Information Revolution. Now Robotics and Artificial Intelligence will become the sixth revolution to take mankind forward. Perhaps this era would be bettered named the Age of Magic.

We may not understand how Derren Brown appears to be able to levitate and walk on water, but we do know that it is achieved by misinformation and trickery and so we can rest easy. This is not the case with the advances in technology, such as medicine, robotics, nano and artificial intelligence sciences. As these become increasingly more complex, they are rapidly becoming more akin to magic for the bulk of the population. Technology is developing faster than education can instruct. Those that can keep up, the whizz kids of today such as Zuckerberg and the like, will become the controlling wizards of tomorrow.

Twelve months ago I wrote an article saying that technology funds invested in companies immersed in the Information Revolution should still be a good source for capital growth. Most of these funds carried Google, Apple, Microsoft, FaceBook, Cisco, Alibaba and Amazon in their portfolios, all the well known companies from this era. The concern was that these have massively high valuations and there is always the possibility of an imminent correction around the corner. They are also mainly dollar denominated, and any movement in the relationship between the dollar and sterling produced instant change for sterling based investors. Nevertheless these funds have still produced great returns.

Polar Capital Technology up 53% in the last twelve months….Scottish Mortgage Trust 45%

Henderson Global Technology 40%….L&G Global Technology 36%…AXA Framlington Global Technology 36%.

I have been struggling to find those companies and funds that are immersed in the “magic” technologies of the future. It turns out however, that many of these businesses are getting their development and expansion money by giving up equity to the likes of FaceBook, Amazon and Microsoft. So by default I am already invested in the “magic” via the technology funds I already hold. Maybe this new equity ownership alone will be sufficient to fight off the argument of over evaluation and bubbles in these older established businesses. If there is any truth in that, then maybe the technology funds above will not run out of steam and will continue to deliver the goods.

In the meantime it appears that Polar Capital is launching a unit trust that is going to hit the sweet spot. It is going to be called Polar Capital Automation and Artificial Intelligence Fund and its aim is to hold forty to fifty businesses all directly working in Derren Brown`s world of magic. That is one for me to hold!

Investing does not always have to be a case of controlling spinning plates.

When my grandson was born my wife`s mother invested a £1000 for him. This was placed with Invesco Perpetual in a Managed Fund. Sixteen years later following the introduction of Junior ISAs we were able to transfer the grand sum of £1950 into one of these. This represented a pathetic growth of 95%.

Now my grandson is mathematically skilled and well able to understand the vagaries of currency, stock-market and fund movements. He is also of an age where a bit of excitement does not go amiss. Between us we agreed that as D.C.I Hunt would have said “Now was the time to fire up the Quattro”. Two years later his portfolio stands at £3050 a growth of 56%. Keep that up for another ten years and he has £30,000 towards a deposit on a house.  So what rules did we lay down for our investment strategy?

-We would use only the weekly numbers and statistics published by The Saltydog Investor.

-We would not be swayed by the opinions of financial pundits, thereby avoiding being shipwrecked in an ocean of information.

-We would only be invested in a few funds which were all in growth I.A .sectors, and if such a sector did not exist at the time we would be in cash. That made for a very simple all or nothing pie-chart.

-The key point of this approach was for him to understand that it would be essential to be an active investor on a weekly basis when necessary.

So far this approach has been successful, but it is definitely not for the shy or those close to retirement. The last two years has seen him invested at different times in basically four sectors, Technology, China, UK Smaller companies and Japan. Currently technology funds such as Scottish Mortgage Trust, Polar Capital Technology, L&G Global Technology and AXA Framlington Global Technology have been carrying him forward.

There is no doubt that a good run of momentum feels amazingly good, and really can undo the knots in your rope. It is however inevitable that you will lose sometimes. The trick is not to make a habit of it!