Family Money: Exchange Traded Funds
Managing director of Westminster Portfolio Services (Thailand) Ltd.
Although I wrote about exchange-traded funds (ETFs)
some months ago, it seems few amateur investors have ever heard of them,
and fewer understand what they are or how to acquire them.
So what are ETFs? ETFs are quoted companies structured
as open-ended funds, so an ETF is a collective investment instrument that
looks, behaves and acts like a share, but for ease of use it is just like
ETFs combine the best attributes of mutual funds,
investment trusts and index trackers, offering low-cost exposure to stock
markets and sector indices, and, like investment trusts, individual ETF
shares can be bought and sold on stock markets. Like a share, they have
continual pricing; but being structured like mutual funds, their share
price reflects the value of their underlying assets.
Essentially then, they are easily traded, diversified,
low-cost, low-risk investments that deal like a share but perform like a
fund. Until comparatively recently, they could be traded only on the US
market, but now are available through London also. In fact, their success
and popularity with investors worldwide has been phenomenal. According to
Morgan Stanley, more than €123bn is currently invested in ETFs compared
with less than €10bn as recently as 1997.
But in what ways are investors using ETFs? Because of
their inherent transparency and cost-efficiency, ETFs are ideal tools for
a wide array of investment strategies, be they long- or short-term.
One of the catch phrases in the world of portfolio
building these days is “core-satellite” investing. This is where the
bulk of one’s portfolio is invested in a stable, lower risk “core”
vehicle, whilst the remainder is allocated across a number of riskier
“satellite” investments, which aim to make the overall portfolio
ETFs can provide an ideal vehicle for the “core”
component of this strategy. They provide broad, diversified exposure to a
wide variety of industry benchmarks, sectors, countries, and regions. This
is a relatively simple way of using ETFs, but one that growing numbers of
retail investors are adopting as a cost-efficient, “buy and hold”
Similarly, ETFs have emerged as ideal products for
tactical asset allocation, and are increasingly being used by investors to
implement specific strategies including risk diversification and
It is in relation to short-term investment strategies
that ETFs really come into their own.
ETFs are listed on stock exchanges and their prices
follow the indices they track throughout the day. This allows investors to
profit from short-term movements, buying into a market as it starts to
rise or selling out when it starts to fall. Compare this to open-ended
funds that are only re-priced once a day.
Also, because ETFs can be sold ‘short’, they can be
used to hedge a portfolio of stocks or funds, and to make specific bets on
For example, the highly volatile NASDAQ 100 Index
offers frequent moneymaking opportunities if one can pick the market
swings correctly. ETFs tracking this index can be sold short, cheaply and
simply, and quick gains can be made. As a hedging vehicle, ETFs have also
proven an effective alternative to futures. Depending upon the
availability of the futures contract for a given benchmark, the
anticipated holding period, and the overall expense ratio of a given fund,
ETFs can enable investors to avoid the quarterly rolling costs of futures.
The ease with which ETFs can be bought and sold,
combined with their very high liquidity, has seen growing numbers of fund
managers turn to ETFs as a means of maintaining equity market exposure
easily and cheaply, prior to making specific stock or sector asset
allocation decisions. In technical parlance, this is called equitising
short-term cash balances.
This stratagem is increasingly being used in portfolio
transition management. If an investor wants to move his assets from one
manager to another, this transition can often be time consuming, with
market exposure being difficult to maintain at reasonable cost. ETFs
provide the perfect way of maintaining cheap market exposure while this
often lengthy transfer process is taking place.
Again, the overall liquidity of ETFs has seen the most
successful of them benefit as a result of index arbitraging. Despite their
closeness to respective indices (which is a key attraction with ETFs),
arbitrage opportunities do present themselves when the value of the ETF
slips from its tracked index.
Because of their efficiency, these arbitrage
opportunities are usually only very brief windows of opportunity for large
investors, but their high liquidity enables the alert speculative investor
to capture these incremental differences between the ETF and the market.
But ETFs have their disadvantages. Index tracking can
be a safe, low-risk and cost-effective way to invest in markets, but only
when they are rising. Market turmoil this year has shown index tracking to
be highly restrictive. ETFs perform only as well as the index they are
tracking, so investors must still make a judgement about which index or
which sector to track.
Nonetheless, it could almost be claimed that ETFs are
the “investment for all seasons”. They offer simplicity,
diversification and ease of access - key selling points for risk-averse
Some portfolio managers claim that they are simplistic
and unsuited to more complex trading strategies or portfolio building -
but this attitude does ETFs a disservice. ETFs can be used as key tools
for securing or enhancing one’s portfolio - very useful in a time of
continued volatility and uncertainty about equity markets.
Some ETFs are distributor funds and pay out all
dividends from the underlying markets as income, which could potentially
create a tax liability. Other ETFs are accumulator funds, which roll-up
dividends and pay them out as capital gains. So before buying an ETF,
consider the index or sector you want to track, the type, and how this
will affect your tax position.
Personal Directions: Switched-on and hands-on
By Christina Dodd,
founder and managing director of Incorp Trining Associates
I had the opportunity to meet a business owner recently who
added a refreshing dimension to managing a business. I have known this
gentleman for many years and have always accepted the fact that his success
has come through sheer hard work - and that’s that! But to my surprise I
discovered that this person is a very switched-on and hands-on “partner”
of people - his people.
His success has led him to build new and large offices with
an enormous amount of floor space dedicated to training rooms and staff
facilities. This is not how I had perceived this man’s way of operating at
all, and I was very pleased indeed. When shown the offices and particularly
the executive offices, I asked where his office was. His reply was, “I
don’t need too big an office as I’m usually down on the shop floor -
that’s my real office.”
The interesting thing here is that this man’s success has
in part been driven by the fact that he never forgot his people - his workers
- his staff - all through the years. He lives with them up front with the
customer. He is accessible to them all and visible every day. His finger is on
the pulse not only of his customers, but also of his employees.
So many companies lose sight of the fact that they exist
because of the abilities of their people. Certainly companies exist because of
other factors, but at the end of the day it all comes down to people, the
quality of people and the way a company manages its people.
Some managers look for the conventional methods and study
all the current texts to hone their skills and to become good managers. Sure
there are lots of things you can learn from books and from management
programs, and some managers do very well this way. But there is also the fact
that to manage people, you have to be “people savvy”, you have to be out
there with your people - and not just the figure that sits in the big office
at the end of the hall who comes out occasionally to bark!
A real eye-opener for any manager is to spend time on the
“shop floor” with staff and to work in various positions to see how it’s
all done. It’s a rewarding exercise in many aspects and can have enormous
benefit at all levels. Become part of the team, roll up the shirtsleeves, and
be prepared to get dirt on your hands. Take on various jobs for a day at a
time; handle customer complaints at the counter where most of them happen; see
how you cope with ringing up the register, the task of taking a customer’s
order or how you cope with working on the process line operating machinery.
This is where my friend at the beginning of this story
shines in terms of his management style. His people love him. They also
respect him for his acknowledgement of their role in the business. He
understands only too well that his success is the result of his people and in
a recent move he offered them the opportunity to invest in the company and to
share financially in its success.
Today companies are rethinking the roles their managers
play. This is not the world it used to be and people are changing rapidly as
technology becomes a major part of the equation. The traditional concept of
management is undergoing a revolution and there are many who believe that the
days of the bureaucratic managers will soon be over. They will really be
entrepreneurs even in a large organizational setting.
Emphasis will be on individuals and teams with guides and
coaches, so to speak, as opposed to managers. The hands-on approach and
situational focus with involve maximizing every individual’s and team’s
potential and capabilities to contribute to the overall performance. This will
require that “managers” re-align themselves with the needs of the people
who do the real work in a company - the work that brings in the revenue.
Interesting thoughts and I’m sure there are a lot of
conventional managers shuddering in their boots at the prospect of such
change. But to me this seems like a natural approach and I’m sure that there
are companies that operate this way, and very successfully as well.
The most important thing management can do is to stay in
touch with the people who do the real work in the company.
It seems to me that the time is here for a huge
“wake-up” call for those involved in management at any level of a company.
The boys or girls at the top, right through the middle sanctuaries, down to
the factory floor. The time has come to take the emphasis away from compiling
copious reports and holding endless time-wasting meetings. Focus is paramount
and for it to bring rewards it has to be on the key elements of a company -
its people - and on their own territory.
A lot of senior executives forget the realities of hard
work that got them to where they are today. Only a few can remember and
through staying in touch with this part of their lives, they are able to
really succeed in business.
There are so many barriers built by management that prevent
interaction with the people of the company. I remember when open planning
became all the rage in offices and individual booths were knocked down to
welcome a new era in management. It had a tremendous impact and was a much
needed step, despite the opposition to such a dramatic change!
Changes are happening all the time and need to be. If we
continue to manage people by remote then it is not really managing. It is
simply pressing a button and expecting everything to work - just like a
machine. The people who form the majority of a company’s workforce are
generally in tune with what good and effective management should be. Indeed
they can recognize outstanding managers a mile away and would no doubt welcome
them on the shop floor any day of the week.
For further information I can be contacted at cme [email protected]
Until next time, have a great week!
The Doctor's Consultation by Dr. Iain Corness: “Natural” contraception (AKA Vatican Roulette!)
Getting pregnant, or not getting pregnant, is a major item
in most young couple’s lives and unfortunately there still exists vast
chasms of ignorance, in the minds of both the men and women of this country
(and all over the world, I hasten to add).
Let’s get back to basics and deal with the egg and
chicken thing. In its simplest terms, the lady lays the egg, and the man
fertilizes it. But just the same as your local neighbourhood chickens lay eggs
every day, which you eat for breakfast easy over, these eggs do not contain
baby chickens. This is because they have not been fertilized by the local
rooster and cock-a-doodle-do to you too.
Moving up the food chain several steps, human females do
“lay” an egg (the ovum), which also does not contain babies, unless it is
fertilized. Human females do not drop eggs on a daily basis, but generally
only once a month.
Now the male of the species (the human rooster) produces
the sperm (tadpole like things) which can penetrate an egg and fertilize it -
and then, and only then, do you have the start of another human being. A
growing mess of microscopic cells that eventually turns into a baby.
So, to get pregnant, you need one egg and one sperm to meet
each other on a dark night and fall in love. Well, not quite, sperms and eggs
are not capable of human emotions, but they do need to meet.
Since this system seems a bit “hit or miss”, nature has
tried to make it a little bit easier to get pregnant by allowing the male to
produce millions of sperm to join the race to claim the prize egg. Sperm are
not particularly strong or long lived (sorry if that dents your egos guys),
and this is why we need the several battalions of them to catch one egg! Mind
you, the egg only lasts a couple of days too.
Now then, how do we get the sperm and the egg to meet? Here
is where nature has again made it a little bit easier - the female of the
human species produces one egg a month, and this is how we get the
‘monthly’ cycle (periods) that women have to endure for around 30 plus
years of their lives. Time it right, so that the egg release and the sperm
release occur at the same time and you have a high possibility of scoring the
Again, nature has made it (relatively) simple. The release
of the ovum is followed two weeks later by the woman’s next period (if the
egg has not been fertilized). So if you know when a period is expected, the
egg release is two weeks before then.
Now this is what the “Rhythm Method” is based on.
Predict the ovum release date and avoid intercourse for four days either side
and you will not win a prize. The so-called “fertile” time of the month is
avoided. Simple! Or is it?
Well if the lady has completely regular cycles then it is
easy (around 28 to 30 days is the norm) to predict the onset of the next
period, but if she does not, then it is not really possible to use this method
for reliable contraception. Vatican Roulette failures stem from irregular
cycles more than anything else. You have been warned!
When you read my letter (email) you will probably just
discount it as being another of “those” letters from milked and bilked
foreigners, but please read it through as this one is genuine. Despite not
wishing to have anything to do with women from the ‘wrong side of the
tracks’ six months ago I found that I was getting very fond of a young
lady who worked in a bar here. I come over three times a year for a week
and in between times we began to keep in touch via email, and I thought I
was beginning to understand something about the Thai culture. It got that
she would wait for me at the airport and see me off afterwards, and in all
ways looked after me very nicely (and not like the women back at home).
Never once did she ask me for money, and I began to think that all those
letters I read before showed just what mugs they are. This time it is
different. I had given her a gold chain last time I came over and this
time she wasn’t wearing it, so I asked why and she told me she had to
pawn it to help pay the mortgage for her father’s land. Then she said
she didn’t have a job anymore and couldn’t go back to the bar she
worked in before because she would lose face because she didn’t have the
chain, and asked me to buy her another one. I blew my top, I’m afraid,
and I know it’s a no-no in Thailand and walked out leaving her in tears.
Now I don’t know if I’ve done the right thing. What do you think,
Why can’t I meet people like you? You are here for
a grand total of two weeks and you start throwing gold chains about like
you are fishing for mackerel - except you are the fish on the end of the
chain, coming in hook, line and sinker! Let me assure you that you have
done the right thing - there’s a lot of land out there, and it’s all
under finance! Every last rai of it.
Today I just made $23 million, and all it will cost me
is a fax or two. Three separate emails in one day from people all over the
world who have ‘over-invoiced’ accounts and have the surplus ready to
be disbursed, or have been left the money after their father was
unfortunately murdered, or finally they were given money to use for a
secret arms shipment and they ran off with the cash. Grand total of $92
million and they will give me 25%. The senders of the good news were an
accountant, a senior minister and an African princess. Hillary, do people
actually fall for this? Surely if enough people bring this to
everybody’s attention we can stop the nonsense? Or do you believe these
The emails are real, it’s just the subject matter
that is phoney. Unfortunately there are still people who get suckered in
by the thought of all that lovely money. It’s a very basic human emotion
called Greed, my Petal. The more zero’s you put after the number, the
greater the greed and the bigger the sucker. Hillary doesn’t know what
to do about the unwanted emails, my in-box is stuffed with unforgettable
offers, millions of dollars and do I want to see women doing contortionist
activities with free access for three days? Like you, I have managed to
pass all these opportunities by.
I am over here on a retirement visa, living off a small
pension I get from the old country. This is enough for me and my lady
friend as we don’t have expensive tastes and eat at the local markets
and such, so it’s been good for the last year or suchlike. Only now her
grownup kids have come to stay with us from their village. It was going to
be for a week, and then it was two and then it was a month. She has let
them stay for three months now and they just sit around and drink Thai
whisky, don’t work and live off me. At first I didn’t mind, but it’s
costing me more than my pension and I don’t like dipping into the bank
account that’s supposed to be for emergencies. I feel I have to do
something. She tells me it is the Thai way. You know these things, what
should I do?
You certainly have to do something Ernest, and
that’s a little wood work - you have to show them the door! And ask them
to close it on the way out! You are just being used. Forget all this
nonsense about Thai ways and the family, the way the system works is that
as soon as they are old enough the kids support the old folks, not the
other way round. Put your foot down and tell them they either have to
contribute and keep you in Thai whisky, or return to their village.
Camera Class: Is now the time to go digital?
A couple of years ago, I posed this same question, and came
up with the final words, “Digital cameras are tomorrow. While the doomsayers
have been spelling the end of normal film and photographic processes for ten
years, the days of the 35 mm SLR are numbered. Harry here believes that digital
will surpass conventional photography within two years. Just remember Mr. Kodak
doesn’t sell digital cameras because he thinks it is a passing phase!”
Two years later, Mr. Kodak is producing and selling one of
the finest digital cameras on the market, and the top digital cameras are now
every bit as good as the current SLR’s. In fact, many digitals and SLR’s now
share the same optics. Digital cameras do have optical components, just like
normal cameras. They have lenses that zoom and do all the usual optical tricks
as regards depth of field and suchlike. The main difference is that the image is
not recorded on film, but recorded electronically inside the camera itself. Some
cameras record this on ‘memory sticks’ or even on the universal floppy
A couple of years back, there was a question mark over the
image quality of the digital cameras. Now in “conventional” photography the
image quality depends largely on how many “grains” make up a picture. It is
like the grains of silver halides in normal Black and White print film. Big
grains a fair way apart give a “grainy” soft image. With digital cameras,
these grains are called “pixels”, and obviously the more pixels the better.
The better cameras have millions of pixels, with Mr. Kodak’s wonder digital
camera having 14 mega-pixels - sharper than normal print film.
Comparing the two types of results can be difficult, or even
confusing. When you want to view pictures from a digital camera, you will
generally be looking at a computer screen, not known for razor sharp images
itself. You can print out the picture from the screen if you want to be able to
hold the picture in your hand, and if you have a high enough quality printer and
use the special “photographic” quality paper in the printer you will get a
very clear and sharp image from the digital camera.
An immediate plus when going digital is the saving on
photographic film and processing, since the electronics do that without film.
But there is always a downside. To get the picture in your hand, you do need
that special photographic paper in the printer - and it’s not cheap. Another
problem - digital cameras eat a gross of batteries for breakfast. Their appetite
for normal alkaline batteries is truly prodigious. Even NiCad batteries do not
last long in a digital camera. Rechargeable Lithium batteries are the answer,
but they are expensive.
Another plus for the digital photographers is what I call
instant gratification! No longer do you have to wait till the film is finished
and then another hour at the photo shop. You can see what you’ve got a few
seconds after firing the shutter. Yes, you’ve got it, or no, you haven’t and
take it again.
You win some and you lose some, though. With the digital
cameras, there is a pause between pushing the button and the electronic storing
of the image. To take action photography is difficult, because the moving
subject tends to be out of the frame by the time the electronic saving is
completed - but at least you do have the instant (lack of) gratification and can
see that you’ve missed the action!
One drawback to the giant step of going digital was the cost.
A good quality digital camera would set you back 30,000 baht and upwards, but
the cost is falling daily. There is another drawback. Digitals have
“computer-like” menu driven controls. To take pictures with a digital camera
requires a reasonable degree of computer literacy as well as photographic
The decision is now yours. Me? I’m still conventional, but a lot closer to
making the change!
Recipes from Rattana: Lettuce Wrappings (Sangchoi bau)
This is a traditional Chinese dish. Originally made with
minced pigeon meat in the lettuce wrapping, but as a Chinese friend told me,
pigeons are more of a public nuisance than edible these days, so pork is used
instead. Remember to wash the lettuce leaves well.
Ingredients Serves 6
Cooking oil 6 tbspns
Sesame oil 1 tspn
Minced pork 500 gms
Oyster sauce 1 tbspn
Soy sauce 3 tbspns
Green ginger wine 1/2 cup
Onions 3 large
Champignon pieces canned 250 gm
Water chestnuts canned 250 gm
Bamboo shoots canned 250 gm
Ginger minced 3 tspns
Garlic minced 2 cloves
Corn flour 1 tbspn
Lettuce 2 (separate into large whole leaves)
Chop onions, mushrooms, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots.
Heat 3 tablespoons of cooking oil and one teaspoon sesame oil in pan, add
chopped onions, minced garlic and minced ginger. Stir on medium heat until
cooked 3 minutes. Add pork mince, stir and break up with fork. Remove pork from
pan as soon as it is cooked.
Heat 3 more tablespoons cooking oil, add chopped mushrooms,
chestnuts and bamboo mix. Stir until cooked on medium heat 5 - 6 minutes.
In a cup, mix corn flour with a little cold water until
smooth, add ginger wine (or sweet sherry at a pinch), oyster sauce, soy sauce.
Add mince and onion mix to mushroom mix in pan, stir well. Add corn flour sauce
mixture. Cook on low heat - 6 minutes. Remove from heat. Serve warm.
Everyone places their own mince mixture in individual
lettuce leaves, wrap it up and eat.