Investing in Thailand – DIF.BK

Some trends are in plain eyesight and yet often disregarded by investors. This is especially true for digital infrastructure. While we often assume that things like 3G, 4G, 5G, wi-fi, broadband access, etc. are already everywhere, we are only scratching the surface of what this industry is about to grow into. From industry 4.0 to smart cities. This is a market that should not be missed in any investors portfolio. And one such a stock in Thailand to add is DIF.

DIF is the shortcut for Digital Infrastructure Fund, and the company does pretty much what the name says. Putting money into relevant infrastructure projects. Or as they describe it on their website HERE:

Digital Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund (DIF) (Previous Name: TRUE Telecommunications Growth Infrastructure Fund (TRUEIF)) is Thailand’s first telecommunication infrastructure fund offering opportunity for everyone to invest in telecommunication infrastructure which experiences constant growth and therefore allows investors to enjoy recurring incomes while simultaneously helps developing the sharing of telecommunication infrastructure. 

The Fund has been established with a view to raise funds from investors via both domestic and international offerings. The funds raised from the offerings will be used to invest primarily in infrastructure businesses, particularly in telecommunications infrastructure assets that cover the entire country such as telecommunication tower, fiber optic cable, transmission equipment, broadband system and/or incomes generated from the businesses.

Units of the Fund has been listed and traded in the SET since December 27, 2013.

This gives you a broad overview, but to go a little more into detail and which areas specifically are concerned, the fund is getting involved in the following sectors:

  • Railway or Pipeline Transportation
  • Electrical Grid
  • Waterworks
  • Road, Expressway, or Concession Way
  • Airport or Airfield
  • Deep Sea Port
  • Telecommunications or Telecommunication-Related Infrastructure and Communications
  • Alternative Energy
  • Water Management/ Irrigation
  • Natural-disaster prevention system including the alert and management systems to mitigate the intensity of such natural disaster
  • Waste Management

As we know, most of these areas in Thailand are under strict control and funding by the government, so the income is pretty reliable and the investment yield is high. At the time of writing these lines, the dividend yield is 8.35%.

Another cherry on top: This is one of the few stocks in Thailand that is paying a quarterly dividend. Every March, June, September and December this reliable dividend is being transferred to your account, and as we experienced over the last 2 years, it’s COVID-resistant.

A solid pick for passive income and hopefully another piece of the puzzle to reach financial independence.

Is it FIRE or just FI

This pandemic just keeps dragging on, and it’s very interesting to observe how people are handling it all across the globe. When things got started, Asia was on the forefront of effective handling of the pandemic. Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Singapore. We managed here to keep infections and deaths on the low, as people were quick to adapt to protective measures and limitations on economic activity. Europe and the US were lagging behind, and there were frequent discussions on what the west can learn from the east in the future.

But now the tides have turned. While Europe and the US is on track to full recovery, here in Thailand I feel like we are back to where it all started. Lockdowns, economic restrictions. It’s like we got stuck somewhere along the way, and can’t find a way to move forward.

This is of course mainly due to the lack of efficient vaccines. Herd immunity is apparently not an option with this virus now circulating in the form of several diverse mutations, and our natural immune system not offering the long-term protection that would be required to keep infections at bay. To top it off, the SinoVac and SinoPharm vaccines aren’t working well, and the local production of AstraZenecca has stalled for whatever reason.

FIRE vs. FI

But let me stop here before I get political. My point is, that since this pandemic keeps dragging on and I am spending more time at home than usual, I realized a few things. One of those things is that I really don’t want to retire any soon. I like to work, and I miss having more action in my hotels, in my office, and spending more time with my guests. I like spending time with people, and the idea of retiring early and spending much more time on non-productive things feels a little less desirable after more than one year of Covid.

I know that there are thousands of people who don’t want to work at all. People who don’t want to report to anyone, to not depend on anyone, and to not being micro-managed by anyone. I am also fairly often at odds with myself over all these work-necessities, which make me sometimes feel not free, dependent, and all the negative notions that accompany these points.

But retiring early… honestly right now, it doesn’t seem for me like the right thing to do. I want to work. I might get out of the hotel business and do something else, become a consultant or stock analyst, turn to freelancing or whatever. But I am pretty sure that I will keep working for a long time to come.

So my goal changes from FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) to FI (Financial Independence).

It may not sound like much, but there is a significant point to it: Since I will keep working for a long time to come, I can be a little less frugal. I don’t need to maximize my savings all the time, because with a continuous stream of income from work, I have significantly more time to reach retirement. Striving “only” for financial independence first will give me the feeling of security and freedom that I want and need, while not thinking too much about retirement will take some stress and pressure out of the equation.

What’s the right thing for you?

Being financially independent offers a lot of options to do things that you actually want to do. If you don’t worry anymore about a low income, then you can start a new career, change your field of expertise or interest. Hell, you could even do an internship again in your 40s or 50s. Why not? It can open up some very exciting opportunities for you to learn more about the world, to pursue dreams which you set aside when you were younger due to financial concerns, or simply to just gain new perspectives. For me, this is absolutely “good enough”.

But of course, this means that hanging out on the beach all day and sipping Jim Beams with Coke will have to wait. That’s probably for the better anyway.

Investing in Thailand – BGC.BK

Green investments are gaining traction, and while not as exciting as some online start-ups, there are lots of opportunities in this growing market. Also in Thailand. One crucial company for Thailands future success on the environmental front is BGC.BK. What does the company do? Let’s take a look at an excerpt from the “About us” part of their website:

BGC or BG Container Glass Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of Bangkok Glass Public Company Limited, operates in glass packaging business. The plant was established in 1974 and started its production in 1980 in Pathumthani with the production capacity of 150 tons per day. Currently, BGC has 5 glass packaging plants with the largest number of production capacity in Thailand.

From just one furnace, today, BGC has grown steadily. The company was incorporated into BG Container Glass Company Limited in the year 2016 and was registered as Public Company Limited in the year 2018 The company is built on a foundation of innovation, advanced production technology and effective performance that can be recognized internationally. Moreover, the products meet the standards and cover all needs of diverse customers.

With a commitment to innovation and new products, quality control and environmentally friendly for remaining the leader of Thailand integrated glass packaging market.

So there you go. It’s all about glass.

Commitment to reduce plastic usage will drive future business growth

Living in Asia one can’t help to notice the ridiculous amounts of plastic that is being used here for almost everything. Plastic bags, bottles, jars, food containers. And beyond those items critical for daily consumption, it goes even further. It’s very common to see households with plastic furniture, dishes and cutlery, even decorations. As a European arriving first time in Thailand, I was honestly shocked. But change is coming, slowly but steady, and glass solutions will play a crucial role on that front.

BGC.BK is a key player in this market, providing standardized solutions for jars, bottles, bottle closures, and caps. They have a wide range of products adjusted to international standards, and with the government pushing slowly towards plastic reduction in the market, they are poised to grow further.

Reading this I admit that while I am trying hard to make this sound like an exciting opportunity, it’s really not. It’s a pretty boring business with lots of old-school elements to it. Factories, chain-supplies, standard distribution. All basic industry 101. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s an already profitable company in a growing market, with almost no local competition, and an experienced team.

Solid dividend four times a year

Another key point for me to invest in BGC is the dividend policy. BGC has an annual dividend yield of above 4% and pays out 4 times a year. Last year the company paid a dividend in May, June, September and December. This year should be the same. Anyone interested in a passive-income strategy should therefore have this stock on a watchlist. Or in a stock account.

Disclosure: I am managing a portfolio that has purchased BGC.BK since 2020, and I am adding shares of BGC to this portfolio on a regular basis.

Keeping things simple

For humans, the world is full of problems and all of these problems require some kind of a solution. The good news is that we as a species already accumulated a vast range of knowledge about most of our every-day problems, and how to solve them.

The bad news is that humans are not only slow learners with inconsistent memory functions. We are also easy to be influenced by others, and unfortunately, these “others” don’t always have our best interests at heart.

Let’s take a look at the concept of investing. As I wrote in my to date most popular article “Nobody wants to get rich slowly“, investing in the stock market is a fairly easy and straightforward process. The modern tools that we have at our disposal, namely easy access to information via the internet, access to the stock market, and to the right products (like ETFs), can help everybody becoming a successful investor.

But of course, everything simple can also be made more complicated. The world of investors today is not only about buying and selling stocks and ETFs, but the financial industry has added countless additional products to the mix. From FOREX trading to CFDs, short-selling, and BitCoins. Things can get pretty complicated.

Keeping things simple

I invest in single stocks and in ETFs only. I don’t trade with foreign currencies, I don’t put bets on the futures market, I don’t purchase digital coins, and I don’t engage in short-selling. Am I losing some opportunities along the way? Possibly. Does it bother me? Not a bit.

I like to keep things simple, and investing per se is a simple process. I do my research and then I purchase shares of a company that I believe has a bright future ahead. If I can’t find enough information about a specific company or can’t focus on one, I will look for an ETF that might cover that specific market group, and I invest in that ETF. That’s it.

It’s pretty rare that I sell any stock unless it made me a significant profit. Even then, I won’t sell the whole position, but probably only some part to free up cash and to buy the next stock or ETF.

My target is to grow my portfolio and to build up my stream of passive income via dividends. Ultimately I want to retire with sufficient passive income to not care about any government money or support from others. I want to be financially free and independent, and I still have plenty of years ahead of me to get there. History taught us that investing in stocks is the single easiest, most reliable process to reach this target.

Impatience and greed

But of course, there are some obstacles along the way, and the biggest ones are our own emotions, namely the feelings of impatience and greed.

Most companies don’t grow overnight, and the perspective of waiting for 2, 3, 5, or even 10 years for a breakthrough and the ultimate success is not easy for everyone. It can feel tempting to try to speed up the process with some CFDs and bets on the future, to hedge against losses with some short-selling options, or to divert some funds into bitcoins with the hope for a quick boost to your net-value.

And yes, there definitely are opportunities that I might be missing out on. But for me, it’s just not worth the headache, mainly because the trading frame is too short and the risk-reward ratio is not appealing enough for me.

I don’t want to trade stocks daily or even weekly. I don’t want to be forced to follow every single news-flash to be able to quickly react in a fast-paced environment. And I don’t believe in every single new trend is being said to become the next Trillion-$ market. So why would I give myself all these troubles, especially while knowing well that the simple investor approach that I am following now is historically also the most reliable one?

There is also the fact that while most of all these other opportunities in the financial industry offer viable options to make profits, they often also offer the possibility to lose your hard-earned money even beyond the originally invested amount.

Last but not least I am also perfectly aware that the main reason for the financial industry to push and empower a fast-paced environment is because they earn more in commissions and trade fees if their customers are more active.

Do your thing, but keep it simple and keep your emotions in check

I am not saying that people shouldn’t try other investments or explore other potential opportunities in the financial market on their own. Everyone can find a different path to success, and some products and concepts will work better for some than for others.

But no matter what you plan to do, learn from others who walked that path successfully, try to keep things as simple as it gets, and keep your emotions in check.

Investing in Thailand – TISCO.BK

Who would have thought? It’s already February. January didn’t really give us a fresh start into a post-covid era, which some overly optimistic people might have expected, and February doesn’t look any better. Neither does March, but let me write about that next month.

Having said that, the world is adapting to the new conditions. Stock markets are back at all-time highs as investor’s sentiment and perspectives for the future seem to be getting more predictable. So today, let me share with you my opinion on a bright star of the investment world of Thailand. A conservative pick from the world of finance: TISCO.BK

A modern specialist for finance in Thailand

The TISCO Financial Group PCL is a giant in the financial industry of Thailand. The company profile on Reuters says the following:

“TISCO Financial Group Public Company Limited is a Thailand-based holding company engaged in the financial and banking businesses. The Company primarily operates two main activities: commercial banking business and securities business. The Company and its subsidiaries provide banking services, personal loan services, corporate lending services, as well as life and non-life insurance brokerage services. They also offer securities brokerage services, asset management services, cash management services, underwriting services and others.”Source: Reuters

So there you go, nicely summarised their entire activities. The first time I stumbled upon Tisco in Thailand when I bought my first car, financed with a Tisco loan, and insured with Tisco insurance. I didn’t think much about it at that time as an investment, but I was amazed about the modern and easy way the loan was handled.

I would pay my monthly installments via online banking, at any 7/11 shop, or I could instruct them to withdraw the payments directly from my bank account. I could also make additional payments at any time I wanted, which was great as it helped me to pay off the loan much faster than the 6 years that I originally put in the contract. I paid the car back in half of that time and saved interest on top of it.

Stable growth and solid dividend

When purchasing shares, I prefer buying companies that I trust and that I have a positive experience with. So when I started investing in Thailand some 3 years ago, I naturally took a look at Tisco, and I liked what I saw.

The company has not only solid growth and an excellent share performance to show for, but it also pays annual dividends which are almost constantly growing year on year. In 2019 my yield on cost after tax was 5,84%, in 2020 it grew to 7,65%, and I am now very curious about 2021. The dividend is usually being paid out in May each year.

When COVID hit the markets and the stock dropped to levels below 70 THB, I have added to my position, which pushed my average purchasing cost to a mere 75,96 THB per share. So while I do expect the dividend to be reduced in 2021, I might still reach an excellent yield on cost.

Learning from other markets

Tisco is right now my largest holding in the Thai portfolio I manage, and I am confident that I will add more shares whenever I see the market dipping again or even if it would be just stabilizing further. One of the main reasons why I feel so confident about this company is my experience with another German financial giant: The Allianz AG.

While I never invested in Allianz (yet), it was always one of those stocks for me that I regretted not having had put money in (I still do). As boring as the business sounds in comparison with Apple or Starbucks, it’s one of the most profitable and reliable business models on the planet. It benefits from amazing profit margins and enjoys customer loyalty beyond what most other businesses can present. Not because of having such great products or services, but simply due to necessity.

If you’re investing in Thailand, Tisco should be at least on your watchlist. Do the due diligence, check the numbers, visit their investor relations website and analyze the chart. Read more articles from professional investors and get your facts straight. But I bet you will like what you see and that the stock will find its way into your portfolio.

DISCLOSURE: I have TISCO.BK in a portfolio that is managed by me.

PS: You might notice minor changes to the blogs layout. I have decided not to purchase the WordPress Premium plan this year to reduce my expenses slightly as my dividends dropped by 11% year on year. Therefore, I swapped to a free layout AND you might have to endure some WordPress commercials every now and then. Sorry for that, I will put things back into place next year.

Portfolio year-end evaluation

As the year is coming to an end, it’s time for a portfolio re-evaluation. I do this every year in order to determine what I did good, bad, or just wrong, and what I can and should do better in the next year.

Keeping a cool head

I wrote it many times. When it comes to investments, you need to keep a cool head and take emotions out of the equation. You need to stick to your thesis and know that you’re in for the long run no matter what. But this is easier said than done.

When your shares are moving up for a while and you see your profits surging by 20%, 30%, or even 50%, you might feel the urge to sell your shares just to make sure that you can actually keep that profit. I call this phenomenon “negative greed”. It’s greed because you want to keep the profits, and you want to make sure that your account gets credited before anything happens to it (like another downturn in the market). But it’s “negative” because once the shares are sold, you have obviously no more shares that could grow even further from there. You secure profits, but you lose chances for more profits.

Similarly, when your shares are moving down, it’s hard to stay cool while watching your account going negative into the double digits. When a recession hits and all you can see is a screen with red numbers on it, thoughts will crawl into your head. Thoughts, that question your decisions, making you wonder whether that whole thing is just a big scam that you fell for, and that you should have better listened to all your non-invested friends who think you’re nuts for being an investor.

On both counts, I did quite well in 2020. While I experienced all the emotions and drags as described above, ultimately I kept a cool head. The only shares I sold were those of Apple (AAPL) after the stock-split. They soared by over 150% and I sold some to be able to buy a few new shares of other companies which I considered to be good opportunities. What did I buy?

New investments

  • Wereldhave – A dutch shopping mall operator who suffered dramatic losses in its share price in recent months and who is due for recovery once this whole Covid drama is over
  • Starbucks – The company is showing over and over again that it’s one of the best in the market. The pandemic didn’t hit it as hard as one would have thought, and it will come out stronger in the aftermath
  • Veolia – After watching a documentary on Netflix about drinking water (the show is called “Explained”, highly recommendable) I decided to start focusing more on water-related investments

I also started a savings plan into an ETF. It’s called “Xtrackers MSCI World Information Technology UCITS ETF 1C” and it’s focused on tech-investments world-wide. 100 Euros a month that have started to flow into this ETF, completely paid by the dividends I receive each month.

One more word about Wereldhave. I had this company in my portfolio in the past, and I sold it at a loss when they cut the dividend and when the covid crisis hit. But I kept it on my watchlist and observed the stock movements on a weekly basis. When I noticed that the stock stopped moving further down (after dropping more than another 50% since the time when I sold them) and the company announced a new management team as well as a full restructuring of their business model, I got back in. The shares are now up 40% since I bought them.

Dividend growth

In terms of dividends, Starbucks and Veolia will contribute to my annual income in 2021 as they both pay stable and each year growing dividends. Wereldhave used to pay a strong dividend until the crisis hit. They canceled all dividends in 2020, and I don’t think the company will be able to pay out any dividends in 2021. I expect them though to start paying dividends again sometime around 2022.

My dividend income shrank in 2020 compared with 2019. This was mainly due to my largest and also most disappointing investment: A company called Aurelius (AULRF). It’s a business development company (BDC) which I purchased back in 2018. It was showing not only superior growth opportunities but also had an amazing dividend yield, and since 2018 it developed into my single largest holding position.

Unfortunately, it also became my most disappointing investment. The share price dropped by almost 70% and the dividend was cut down to zero in 2020. However, in the last couple of weeks recovery started to kick in. My losses are now at -56% and given the recent business reviews, I am quite confident that shares will continue to tick up. Also, the dividend should recover in 2021. But I admit, this one is my single largest nail-biter.

Overall it looks like my dividends year on year will reduce by some 11,60%, and this despite the growth of my total invested cash by 8,99%.

Monthly passive income

The total decline of dividend payments by 11,60% is obviously not great, but overall, my monthly passive income remained largely stable. My total dividend yield on investment came down to 3,22% from 3,97% in the year before. For 2021 I expect it to move back up into the 3,5% to 3,9% range.

Considering the scale of the covid crisis, I see my thesis of investing and putting money to work in the stock market confirmed. And 2021 is almost guaranteed to produce similar or better results, with most stocks set to soar once the vaccine distribution starts kicking in.

From Bad to Worse

When it comes to the pandemic, there are some good news and reasons to be hopeful. Several vaccines are either in their final development stage or about to get approved. Right on time for the end of the dreadful year of 2020. 2021 can only get better. Or can it?

We still have 5 weeks for 2020 to go, and no matter what happens until New Year’s Eve, this won’t be the end of the challenges. Challenges with the pandemic, and challenges with the economy. Production, distribution, and the re-opening of borders will take time. So will the recovery. And we are not talking about days or weeks. We are talking about months and years.

Why things might get worse

Markets tend to be optimistic, but corporations tend to be cruel – by perception. Despite the silver lining on the horizon, it is most likely that most companies will continue cutting costs, reducing payrolls, and doing whatever necessary not just to survive, but also to make-up for the lost revenue during the pandemic.

But not only that. Many companies see the current situation as an opportunity to push through decisions that may have not been possible without such a crisis.

Some of these decisions might be radical, and urgent. In fact, they might have been urgent for a while. Upgrades of IT systems. Reviews of procedures. Reorganizing teams and the abolishment of established structures. But there is also a downside to it, especially when it comes to the “reorganizing teams” part. People are and will continue losing jobs.

Same old or not?

Now don’t get me wrong. This is nothing new. Maximising revenues and minimising expenses is what every business does. That’s how you generate profits. This was the case before the pandemic. During the pandemic. And it will stay with us also after the pandemic. It’s simply how every business works.

So, while cutting expenses and especially payrolls is nothing new to us, the magnitude of the cuts in the current environment is immense. And many of these cuts are not just until this pandemic is over. Many of these lost jobs will disappear permanently.

I am working in hotels, and my industry is among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Many of my colleagues have lost their jobs. I personally had to cancel contracts with trusted contractors, shrink my teams to an absolute minimum level, and cut payrolls through unpaid leaves and other essential measures. It hurt. Almost everyone on my team was hand-picked by me since the opening of my hotel. But I had no choice. Still, some of my former colleagues are hoping to be able to return to their previous assignments once all this is over.

But this is where it gets tricky. Because when corporate number-crunchers tell you that things can be stream-lined, everyone is replaceable and that the balance sheets still don’t look good enough, then you might want to get creative in your response to minimize the damage.

Short-term requirements for a quick brush-up of the balance sheet might become costly in the long-run. As everybody “on the ground” knows well, some people are truly not replaceable, and with everything that’s happening we are loosing countless talents and professionals. Some of them possibly never to return to a business, that destroyed their dreams or didn’t get a grasp on the value that they brought to the workplace. Also, more than often, stream-lining procedures and getting “lean” can have just the opposite effect, creating processes that result in micro-management, bureaucracy, and slow response rates. In the hospitality sector in particular this can quickly lead to frustrations for the hotel teams and for hotel guests alike.

Things are not over for the service industry

The tough times are not over, and especially the service industry will continue to suffer. Hotels, bars, restaurants. People will vacation less abroad. Companies will continue keeping business travel at a minimum. Since so many people depleted their savings or borrowed money, they will eat out less and keep parties and events on the low.

As my readers know, I am managing a hotel. For the last 12 years in this industry I was never worried about my profession, and I never worried about my job (which includes finding a new one when I felt it was time to move on).

But this time it’s different. This is the first time that I am not confident in receiving the opportunity to extend my contract (which is due in May 2021). And it’s also the first time that I have doubts. In the case that it should not be renewed, finding an immediate new opportunity will be a serious challenge.

Many of my colleagues have already lost their jobs. Many of them are smarter and more experienced than I. It’s therefore only logical to assume that I might follow in their footsteps rather sooner than later.

One more reason to keep preaching financial independence, and the purpose of having multiple income streams. And practicing it.

What a year

Today is the 14th of November 2020, and what a year this has been! With only 6 weeks to go and all the bad news going on, all I want at this point is for it to end.

Whatever your idea or opinion about the Coronavirus might be, we have to acknowledge plain facts that it had an immense impact on literally the world as a whole. This is beyond anything my generation experienced so far.

Jobs were and are being destroyed, incomes diminished, entire industries shut down, and thousands of people are still dying across the globe. And just to be clear: Whether it’s a direct or indirect count, if the virus triggers the death, then it’s on Covid to me.

Since I am working in the hotel industry, I am directly affected by it. In order for my business to survive, I need to cut expenses, reduce jobs, reduce salaries. It hurts. It’s many tears and many broken hearts. Many tough decisions every single day. And despite having the promise of a vaccine now visible on the horizon, we still have a few more months of pain and suffering ahead.

Also let me share with you this: As a business insider in an executive role, I can tell you here and now that this won’t get better any soon. Even post-covid. For most, the jobs that were cut aren’t coming back. The recovery of the service industry, the largest industry in the world, will take years. In order to survive cost cuts will remain in place until further notice.

Financial independence has never been more important

What I am sharing and trying to explain above is that the world is not going to get really significantly better any soon. And even if, how do we know that there won’t be another outbreak in one, two, or five years from now?

We have learned that there is no such thing as invulnerability. There is no such thing as total job security. And when times get really tough, even the best employers might be forced to make some tough choices to the detriment of employees.

Business owners face even greater risks, especially when they operate on thin margins and have not sufficient funds to survive prolongued periods of time without a regular income.

So what are our choices? How can we financially prepare for such an event?

There aren’t many choices, frankly, and there is no single solution. What we have to do is to create layers of protection. To create multiple income streams. And being invested in the stock market is one such strong layer. Also during the current crisis, it has again shown to be a reliable protection for tough times.

I am not talking about the value of my shares. I am down 25% in my portfolio so far. What I am talking about are dividends, my passive income stream.

Let me compare it with my salary, which is currently being cut by 25%. Next month it will be probably around 30%. At its peak, the cut was at 40%. But my dividends have decreased by only 11% year on year. And while I am not certain about my salary, I am quite confident for my dividends to fully recover next year.

Some of the most reliable dividend companies have not changed their policies and kept paying the same or even increased amounts throughout the crisis. This has again reconfirmed with me that for those who seek financial independence, being invested in the market is essential.

This crisis has been a huge reminder that we need to take responsibility for our financial well-being into our own hands. We can’t always rely on others, not to mention governments.

And it’s not just about the money. It’s about having that pressure off your chest, knowing that you have one more layer of safety, one that will contribute to protecting you and your loved ones when times are tough. This feeling alone is beyond any monetary value.

What the pandemic is teaching us

As I am writing these lines, we are into the 8th month of the pandemic. And as this year has only 9 more weeks left before coming to a painful end, it doesn’t look like the pandemic would stop there. We are in for a long and rough ride ahead with several more months to get through.

But every challenge bears also opportunities, and during these 8 months, there were already plenty of lessons for us to remember for the future ahead. Especially when it comes to our jobs and finances.

Lesson 1: There is no such thing as job security

The first lesson was to recognize that there is no such thing as “job security” when a real crisis hits. Given how our economies are connected and intertwined worldwide, any crisis that comes on a global scale is likely to effect employees and business owners everywhere and in almost every industry.

This pandemic showed us how quickly companies find ways to reduce staff counts and reduce payrolls. Whether people get furloughed, put on unpaid leaves, or forced to accept pay-cuts. When a crisis hits, people suffer. So one would do better preparing for such an eventuality.

Lesson 2: Emergency funds make sense

I wrote about emergency funds before, but let me repeat it again: Everyone should have an emergency fund that covers 3-6 months worth of expenses. More cautious types might even consider saving for up to 12 months.

Having an emergency fund won’t negate your worries when a crisis hits, but it will certainly ease them. Knowing that you don’t need to panic when the next rent or utility payment is due is already a huge relief. Not having the immediate pressure or struggle to afford your regular daily, weekly, and monthly expenses will keep your head clear and allow you to focus on finding the right solution to the challenge at hand, without the pressure or need to compromise on less adequate opportunities.

Lesson 3: One source of income is not enough

It’s good to have an emergency fund, but to increase your defenses even further, you should also not rely on a single source of income. Creating multiple income streams is a critical step not only for those who plan to retire with a better standing but also for those who want to prepare for emergencies.

Lesson 4: Be prepared to help others

If you have an emergency fund, additional sources of income, and are even able to keep your job while a crisis is spreading across the globe, then you have generated a unique opportunity for yourself: You can protect yourself and those in your care, and you might also be able to support others.

A friend in need, a local shelter for the homeless, or an orphanage. There is always someone in need. Whether it’s money, food, or clothes. Giving feels good, and even more so in such a difficult time.

Breaking Rules

Nothing is as it should be this year. 2020 will go down in history as one of the worst years for my generations (X / Y – I am right on the brink).

Highest unemployment as far as I can remember across the globe. People are restricted to travel between countries, in some areas even between cities. Foodbanks, charities, and NGOs are stepping up and doing what they can to get people through hard times, even in the richest and most developed nations. Medical supplies are running short, equipment gets scarce. And governments are printing cash for people like there is no tomorrow.

Every weakness of our economic systems has been exposed by now. The mantra of a small government and an unhinged economy has been crushed to pieces. Whether it’s Germany, the US, UK or Thailand: Without government support it would all collapse.

It’s a terrible situation, but we will get through this, as humanity always did. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and I am confident that we will thrive again once this is all over.

And having said that, as bad as it is, it’s also a great lesson and experience for us. Instead of lamenting and complaining, we have right now the opportunity to analyze the situation and to think about how we can handle a similar occurrence in the future. Because we know that this wasn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last pandemic that we will have to deal with.

Financial independence should grab more spotlight than ever before

The current situation showed lots of weakness in the structure of our society, especially to those who are in the rat race. As the crisis triggered massive unemployment, salary cuts, and put people in danger of losing access to their basic needs like shelter, food, and healthcare, it has never been more obvious that the rules we follow are flawed.

People are talking about jobs, minimum wages, worker protections. Protections from evictions, free medical support, and other measures to help all of us getting through the challenges of the pandemic. And it’s all good and right. We need to work, we need to have our rights protected, and we need a framework of rules to make sure those in power don’t abuse those who are not in a position to protect themselves.

Unfortunately, the same rules that protect us are also the rules that limit our opportunities. They push us into the rat race, into the dependence on people who employ us, and on governments that care for us. We give away some parts of our freedom and receive in return limited protection that helps us to make it through the days ahead.

But those who really want to get at least a slice of their freedom back, they got to break out of the rules and take ownership of their future. It’s especially situations like the current crisi, when financial independence becomes more important than ever.

Being financially independent means that you can afford to have a shelter without relying on the government, that you can put food on the table without relying on charities, and that your health is protected. Financial independence is not about getting rich. It’s about freedom.

The steps for reaching financial independence are only a few:

  • Earning as much as you can
  • Spending as little as possible
  • Saving and investing the surplus
  • Building passive income

Only four steps that explain it all. Simple and while not easy, definitely achievable with the right mind-set, plan and determination. And the benefits are immense. Not only may it allow you to retire early from your regular job. Achieving financial freedom will also empower you to pursue other paths and passions which you might have not considered previously due to financial commitments that couldn’t be neglected.

Even more importantly though, it will also prepare you for hardships, and situations as we are experiencing right now. It’s undeniable that those who build up emergency funds that cover 6-12 months of expenses, or who have passive income streams, are significantly less worried while the virus is causing panic and havoc across the world.

The FIRE movement is just a smart thing to do

When you explain the idea of financial independence and the FIRE movement to people who never thought about it, you will hardly find anyone who would disagree with it these days. There is nothing about massive unemployment, stagnant wages, and deteriorating economic conditions that would encourage people to go back to the old days.

And this is not a one-off event. It will happen again. Maybe it will be another virus. Maybe something else. But we know that hard ships are part of the equation throughout our lives. So wouldn’t it be a smart thing to do something about it? To prepare for it?

As my readers know, I am promoting investing in stocks. And surely, many companies got in trouble and had to cut or reduce their dividends, hence also impacting my passive income. But what this crisis showed me clearly is that while there is no 100% protection in this kind of environment, the odds are still clearly favouring investors over regular workers.

I work in the hardest hit industry of the pandemic: I am a hotel manager. And while my salary was cut by up to 40% as my hotel had to close for a few months, my passive dividend-income went down only by 9% on average year to date so far, and I expect it to remain on that level.

If you ever had doubts whether FIRE is for you, these doubts should be gone by now. And whether you invest in stocks or real estate, or any other way that generates passive income streams, it should be (or become) a part of your plan.