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Money Times - 06/05/09

Posted by Jill Kerby on May 06 2009 @ 23:15

SHARES? FUNDS? ETF’S?  WHICH INVESTMENT METHOD SUITS YOU BEST?

Investing in the current climate is either a leap of faith, or a carefully weighed undertaking, depending on how much effort you are prepared to make. 

The investment experts I trust believe that despite the recent global market rally and the huge value some shares now represent, many stock market indices are still overvalued and are likely to fall much further before a genuine bottom is met.  Anyone jumping into this market now could be badly burned.

But they also accept that timing a market is very difficult.  If you have a long enough investing perspective – 10 years and beyond – they say that buying strong, global companies that produce goods and services that we all need even in the depths of a recession, could be a very sensible decision. These companies need to have very low amounts of debt and large cash surpluses companies like like Exxon, Shell, Microsoft, Intel, Walmart and Tesco, Glaxo, Proctor & Gamble, etc.

Since no one knows exactly how the future will unfold and everyone’s risk profile is different, it isn’t just the assets you choose that is important, but also your investment method: 

Direct Investing:  This doesn’t involve share tips from a friend or a popular newspaper column. Instead, it involves careful research of every share, commodity or property you are considering, usually by reading serious business journals and magazines (The FT, Wall Street Journal, MoneyWeek, Barrons, Forbes, The Economist); broker reports, annual company reports and balance sheets for the statistical nitty-gritty, and subscribing to financial newsletters and free or pay to view websites (like The Motley Fool, Yahoo Finance, Agora Financial and its affiliates) for their insight and analysis. Even going onto a ‘investment beginner’ website (see http://beginnersinvest.about.com/) and buying a classic investment book like ‘The Intelligent Investor’ by Ben Graham, Warren Buffett’s mentor, is a good place to start. 

You will need to set up a share dealing account if you buy shares directly – check out www.sharewatch.com, the on-line brokers for their relatively low cost Irish service and then compare their charges with the Irish stockbroker’s dealing services (Davy’s, Goodbody’s, NCB, Merrion and Bloxham). If you have lots of money and lots of faith in stockbrokers, you can hire one to do this work, but their primary interest is to mainly make themselves and their firm rich…then you. 

Fund Investing:  If you prefer the convenience and comfort of buying a fund of shares or other assets, like property, cash, bonds (or a combination of all four) you can do so from well know Irish life assurance companies or your bank.  You are spreading your risk by buying into a fund of assets, but you should still read the prospectus so you know exactly what companies or sectors you are buying into and before you make a final decision, do some independent research on these sectors.  

The cost of buying into life assurance funds is high – up to 5% of your capital and annual management fees of up to 2% - unless you arrange to buy through a fee-paying advisor who will strip out commissions and can usually negotiate lower entry charges. My preference is to buy through discount brokers (see www.labrokers.ie and www.myadviser.ie) or from the likes of RaboDirect and Quinn Life, who offer a transparent range of international funds directly to customers for no upfront cost and lower annual management fees. 

Low Cost ETFs: The most important retail investment development of the last decade has been the growth of Exchange Traded Funds or ETFs which is a portfolio of assets, usually shares, but also of commodities that is listed and trades as a single share on a stock market.  

Many ETFs mirror the investment funds that are managed and sold by life assurance companies or stockbrokers, but the transaction costs are a fraction since they do not operate through the third party – the life company or fund management firm.  The only cost to you is the stock broking transaction commission and a low annual management fee of usually between 0.3% and 0.5% of the fund.  

There are hundreds of ETFs on the market – including 13 listed on the Irish stock exchange (see www.ise.ie).  Do your research into the ETF you are buying before you commit your money (the commentators I read favour ETFs that represent oil and energy shares, consumer durable companies, precious metals like gold, silver, platinum, food producers and big food retailers, and agriculture commodities.) 

How much further can stock markets fall? Who knows, but the signs are not good.  How long before this great economic crisis is over?  Again, no one knows for sure, but perhaps longer than we expect.   

But the longer the view you can take in trying to position yourself for that recovery, the better. 

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