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.

About being independent

I have been working now for about 27 years. I started in 1994 when I was 14. This was the legally allowed minimum age in Germany when teens were allowed to have part-time jobs at that time. And since I started, I never stopped.

Filling in shelves in supermarkets, fixing computers, tutoring math, working as a part-time instructor at our local martial arts gym, doing translations in German, Polish and Korean, teaching German and English. And when times got rough, I was working on construction sites, painting walls and fences or digging holes around houses. I also did two years of a vocational training in a bank and got certified as a martial arts stuntman. The day never seemed long enough to follow up on all my commitments, which continued throughout high school, university, and until I finally settled on the hotel industry.

When I started working in hotels in 2008 I was already 28 years old and just about to finish my Bachelor’s degree. I started with an internship, and then became a full-time employee.

I loved the job and the industry. Traveling the world, meeting people from all walks of life, and being paid to do that. I went to Korea, Japan, China, Scotland, back to Germany and finally to Thailand. I didn’t mind working 12-14 hours a day, often 6 to 7 days a week. I didn’t mind working when others had holidays, missing Christmas and New Years events. And I didn’t mind the low payment. All I wanted was to travel to exotic places and to be meeting people, learning about their stories, and solving the problems they had during their stays in “my” hotel.

This attitude and flexibility allowed me to promote quickly. By 2014 I was already 2nd in charge of a large hotel operation, and by 2017 I became a General Manager. Starting late and after only a little more than 8 years on the job.

Things are sometimes not what they seem

Becoming a General Manager was my dream. I wanted to be fully in charge. To make all the decisions. To be the one who can really make a difference and implement all the things that would make my hotel great.

But after becoming a General Manager, I became quickly disillusioned. Between the actual guest requests, the requirements of hotel owners, the corporate office, and the whims of the companies vice presidents and executives for operations, sales, marketing, finance, and all the other people involved, there is actually very little room to navigate.

I enjoyed being a GM for a very short time. Yes, the salary and benefits were finally coming closer to the actual effort, but I still didn’t feel to have the full freedom to do what I wanted and how I wanted. I still had to justify myself, had to restrain and to adjust my processes and ideas to what everyone else wanted. I used to think that the General Manager of the hotel has all the power to make a hotel truly great, but the reality is that a General Manager is barely performing a balancing act, holding up a house of cards that is constantly being pulled by different people from different directions, each of them with different agendas and varied interests. The job is truly not what I expected it to be.

Time to get real

That’s when I came to realize, that no matter how much I would push myself, how much effort I would put into my job, how much time I would dedicate trying to appease everyone who is higher in rank, I would never get to the point where I would consider myself to be free. Even IF I would pull off the impossible and become CEO of a hotel company, between shareholders, the board of directors, and majority stakeholders, I still wouldn’t be free to do things the way I want.

So there is only one solution. I need to do what I can to become financially independent, and then, only then, I will have the freedom to do things the way I want.

Starting my own business will be another key step, but given my current responsibilities towards my family, I need to be cautious. Every successful entrepreneur tells you how liberating it is to be your own boss, but having worked in a bank, I also know that more than 80% of businesses fail in the first year of operations. I can’t put my family through that.

So, I am working diligently, saving and investing. And in about 4 years from now I should get to the point that I can give real independence another try. I will be 45 by then. Maybe a little late. But the game is not over at half-time.

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.

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.

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.

Who gets all the money?

As I mentioned in my last post, investing makes a lot of sense for people who want to retire earlier, safer, and with a higher degree of protection than one would have with a regular job. This is applicable to basically everyone.

I explained this with the distribution of all the freshly printed cash that is being pushed into our economy. This is especially true in times of a crisis as we are currently experiencing. The difference in the amounts of cash that ends up in the hands of ordinary people, and in comparison with how much of that money goes to companies, is astounding.

But don’t rely on my word for it. The ones who know about this best are obviously the ones who get all the money, and I recently stumbled upon an article in my Flipboard account about that topic that explains it further very well.

You can find the entire article HERE, but let me take out and quote the most important paragraph of the read:

“All the signs are that coronavirus will increase inequality even further. The government is accumulating debt to subsidise the wages of the employed and self-employed unable to work because of the lockdown. Businesses are taking out loans to keep afloat. This debt is being used to pay bills and rent to those who own assets.

The money goes to those who own assets

Now, The Guardian is not my favorite paper but every now and then there is a good article. This article also has some weak points that might be debatable, but in the essence, this paragraph as highlighted above explains it really very neatly. I underscored the key points above.

Governments are printing money, issuing bonds. Interest rates are being pushed down to make loans cheaper thus more attractive. And all this money, trillions of dollars and euros, is ultimately being pushed to and ends up with those who own assets.

It’s your choice to make

I know, it’s easy to get offended by this system. It’s easy to blame it for all the problems in the world. But as I learned early on in my career, complaining solves nothing. You need solutions. Just complaining for the sake of it doesn’t help anyone. You need to have a solution, some viable alternative. And the fact of the matter is that currently there are no alternatives to the system we live in that would assure us to end up on a better path.

Politics aside, everyone has a choice here. You can be outraged, you can complain, and you can think about alternatives, go into politics, and plan for a better future. Or do nothing.

But in the meantime, it might be smart to own some assets.

About multiple income streams

People all around the globe face unprecedented challenges. Well, at least it’s unprecedented for my generation (Gen X), and certainly for Millenials and anyone younger than them. Millions are losing jobs, are forced into quarantine. Many are in dire need of some kind of assistance, whether it’s cash, food, or both.

Here in Thailand, we just passed through the first month of the lockdown. When I drive through the streets of Bangkok or Pattaya where I am currently working, I see people lining up (with social distancing) for food support from the government and from some private institutions.

The Thai government is issuing cash support of THB 5.000 per month to those who need it most. It’s not much, but it’s enough to survive on a very low bar. Together with the support from private institutions, NGOs, and hundreds of those who are more fortunate and who are volunteering to support, I have no doubt that the country will get through the event.

I am also always astonished by the amount of support among Thais in times of crisis. My wife is getting postal packages from friends and family with food, face masks, and snacks. We pass on the favor by sending things to others who need it more than us. I am fortunate enough to still have my job and my monthly salary intact, albeit slightly reduced.

About income and unexpected situations

But not everyone is lucky. Similar to other places around the globe, unemployment in Thailand is on the rise on a massive scale. This is dire in a country with very limited governmental social protection in place, and where most people live paycheck to paycheck.

Which brings me to the main point: Unemployment means for many people to lose their only source of income. And we can see right now more clear than ever, how many people’s lives really depend on their job. Being without work and without an opportunity to find new employment within a short time has now turned into an existential threat for millions of people.

Also, only very few of them could have even imagined such a situation two or three months ago. Yes, some might have an emergency fund and savings to ride out bad times. But would they have expected that they can lose their job, their income, and their benefits within such a short period of time? Hardly.

Building up multiple income streams

This is where the lessons of FIRE become such a powerful reminder, because having multiple, passive income streams is what FIRE is all about! The whole point of becoming financially independent means not being dependent on your job.

Building up passive income streams is best done by investments. Sure, the stock market is crashing and we are sliding into a recession. But out of the 33 companies in my income portfolio, so far only one of them has canceled the dividend, and only two announced to reduce it for this year.

Thanks to this, I am never worried about losing my job. Sure, my monthly dividends can’t compare with my salary, but that’s not the point. The important part for me is that I won’t need to rely on government support and on charities. I will be able to fulfill my main responsibility of providing shelter, medical protection, and food to me and my family on my own.

Personally, this is a very important factor to me, as this defines my perception of freedom and independence.

Who gets the money

And just to add another layer of understanding of why investing is a safer bet than your job, let me explain here one thing. While our savings and jobs are being destroyed, a crisis like this also generates unimaginable amounts of money. While stock valuations may be nosediving right now, governments all across the globe are printing cash like there is no tomorrow.

And where does this cash go to?

In the US, every US national is receiving a one time check of USD 1.200. There are 328,8 Million people in the US, so this sums up to roughly 395 Billion USD. Yes, it’s a lot of money.

But you know who gets more? Companies. Especially the big ones. They get bailed out when they get in trouble, they receive grants, and the FED is reducing interest rates so they can borrow money almost for free. This may sound very negative, but I don’t mean it that way. That’s just how it works for plenty and a variety of reasons.

The important thing is that you have a choice to make. Do you stick to your job and when you lose it, wait for your one-time check of USD 1.200? Or do you invest, and build up multiple and passive sources of income?

Having the knowledge that governments across the globe will put significantly more effort into protecting your investments and your sources of passive income (in comparison with taking care of you directly), this shouldn’t be a complicated choice to make.

Is this THE opportunity for the next decade?

People were talking about the possibility of an economic collapse for a few years now. Over the last two or three years, whenever I visited a bookstore (yes, I do that) I saw countless books from economy professors, advisors, and other professionals talking about the next crash. I read some of them and I agree that there are many valid arguments that could justify a market crash. But I don’t ever recall reading anything about a possible impact of a pandemic on the world economic system.

wood black and white office business

Photo by Recal Media on Pexels.com

I should probably have read the “Gates Notes” more often. Bill Gates is obviously a guy you want to follow. He is smart, he is rich, and he likes to share his ideas. And yes, we should always be open to learning from the best, whatever our personal opinion about that person might be.

Bill Gates had a Ted Talk back in 2015 presenting a simulation of a very comparable scenario and urging governments worldwide to invest more into possible preventive measures to fight such a pandemic. His experience due to his work at the Gates Foundation together with his experience in the software industry gives him a unique set of skills that qualifies him to make valid assessments in this field. Additionally, he is well known as one of the richest people on the planet. So if anyone could grab some attention on this kind of topic from governments across the globe, it would be him.

He wasn’t as successful as he hoped for, so the Gates Foundation followed up in 2019 with the support of a simulation of such an event. The target was to highlight the impact of a pandemic event on every possible part of society, economy, politics. For those interested, search online for “Event 201”. It is quite impressive. Most things that were simulated during this event are right now developing “live” pretty much according to that playbook.

While some are already bringing up conspiracy theories, the truth is that this is just what scientists do. This is the power of science. A few smart people, computing power, and big data make it possible to foresee and to predict possible events, impacts, effects, and results. Those who see conspiracies at play here are those who don’t understand science.

So while the President of the United States of America keeps repeating that no one could have seen this coming, the truth is that many people did. They just didn’t have the audience, they didn’t get the government support, and they didn’t have access to the cash required to prepare the world for what we have to get through now. Even for Bill Gates alone, this check would have been too large.

Back to the markets

But enough politics, let’s get back to the markets. My income portfolio is currently down 40%. That hurts. My speculative portfolio is down 34%. My portfolio here in Thailand is down 35%. It’s looking not great. And all of this happened only during the last 4 weeks.

So what am I doing? I am losing lots of sleep. Not because of the losses on paper, but mainly due to the time I am spending now on analyzing where I am going to invest next.

I don’t want to rush into it, especially as I think that this recession (yes, we got into a recession by now) might hold on for a little longer. But, as soon as the virus situation starts clearing up markets will start to recover. And there are lots of companies out there that will get back on their feet.

The big question & the strategy

The big question is of course which companies will get back on their feet faster and stronger than others. And while I am analyzing and working on this almost daily, there is a simpler alternative for everyone who doesn’t have the time and knowledge to do that: Index ETFs.

It’s almost impossible to time the market. I don’t know when the lowest point will be reached. No one does. The recession could hold on longer. It could also end as quickly as it started. History has just no precedence to compare this with.

And this is what makes Index-ETFs so attractive. Instead of picking a company, I trust in the market. I intend to invest half of my available cash in just two ETFs. One ETF focusing on small & medium-sized companies in Germany. And another one focusing on major dividend-payers in Europe. I don’t buy them as a one-time investment. Instead, I set up a savings plan that will stretch over the next 8 months putting in equal amounts of cash into each ETF every first day of each month until the end of this year.

The second half of my available cash will be distributed in US and Thai stocks. I can’t say yet which companies I will choose, but to give a direction, it will be mostly in the technology sector. Software. Digital payments. Digital marketing. Telecommunications. But I am looking also at some companies that offer essential services, like food, water, energy, waste management. If anything became clear during the current crisis is that in any event, these are the companies that will sustain their operations (and cashflows) the longest.

More updates will follow soon. But no matter how the next few months will turn out, I see this as a great opportunity. I might of course also be wrong, but if I am right, then this will give my FIRE goal the kick that comes only once every few years.

Panic has never been a good adviser

The coronavirus is now officially a pandemic. A serious threat not only to human lives but also to the world economy, to our health system, and yes, even to our financial system.

As the virus spreads further, entire countries are closing borders, schools are closing doors, events get canceled, elections move online. People get scared to go for a beer to their local pub. Even the premiere of the new James Bond movie has been postponed!

So the ultimate outcome, and changes to our lives, possibly to the world, it’s all very uncertain. And nowhere is this uncertainty better reflected than in the stock market. Having crashed almost on a scale comparable to the financial crisis of 2008, we can see the negative sentiment of investors on full display.

Where do we go from here?

After three weeks of markets being basically in free-fall, the last Friday showed something of a possible turn around. After the US-President decided to declare a national emergency and at least showed something more of seriousness about the situation, confidence seemed to return to the markets and stocks recovered some of their losses.

But is this enough to start a full-scale recovery? In my humble opinion, it’s still way too early to even think about it. Not only does the response from the White House lack enough credibility to be trusted and to trigger a sustainable recovery. Even more importantly we will need to see some real numbers before the full impact of the crisis can be assessed. What numbers am I talking about?

  • Lost revenues
  • Lost jobs
  • Recovery costs
  • Updated annual forecasts (for everything)
  • Dividend payouts and dividend cuts
  • Repercussions on globalization as a system
  • Political repercussions

That’s a lot of data to digest and I don’t dare to predict how long the evaluation of it may take. And I am not alone there. Markets tend to react quickly to possible opportunities because there are plenty of speculative traders who are willing to take a risk to bet on the direction which they consider more plausible. But more than often these emotional and non-data driven speculations go wrong. It’s a 50:50 bet.

Don’t panic. Analyze. Invest.

Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some additional bad weeks ahead of us. The short spike-up which we observed on Friday could turn out to have been only a short-sighted flare of hope from some speculative investors betting on a turnaround, ahead of having done the required due-diligence and analyzing some real numbers.

For us private investors it’s a challenging time. First of all, we got to keep a cool head. Panic doesn’t help. As my personal portfolio has lost over 30% in value, I haven’t lost any sleep about it.

First of all, the loss is not real until I actually sell the shares. Until then, it’s only a loss on paper. And do I have any reason to sell my shares? I don’t think so. All the stocks in my portfolio have been bought for a reason. While the dividend payments might get cut or even fully canceled for a year, as long as the business itself doesn’t face an existential threat, I don’t worry.

Secondly, markets go up and down. That’s what they do. We had an 11-year run-up and it might be time for a turn-around. Will this turn-around last forever? Very unlikely. Bull-markets are followed by bear-markets and vice-versa. Do I, or my generation (I am from Gen X), need to worry? Very unlikely. I have still plenty of time ahead of me and will almost certainly see more recessions – and more recoveries.

Lastly, I am an optimist, and what I see is a great opportunity to continue building up my retirement portfolio. Even if we should have now entered a bear market and a possible recession. All I see is companies and businesses, learning to adapt, getting more efficient, improving their resilience and tweaking their operational proficiency, to come out even stronger once this bear market will be over.

So don’t panic. Analyze. Invest.

To space and beyond!

Investing in the stock market always involves risks. In financial jargon, we have something called a “magic triangle”. It describes and shows the relation of the three cornerstones of any financial investment: Profit, security, and liquidity. You can never have all three maxed out.

The more your investment tends towards one cornerstone, the less the other two will get applied. I.e.: An investment with a high return (profit) will offer less security and fewer options to get to your money if you need it (liquidity). On the other hand, a highly liquid investment with a safety margin will usually offer a significantly lower profit. You get the picture.

Taking a hit

Why am I bringing this up? Because I just took a strong hit and realized a loss of almost 2000 Euros on my investment in the Dutch REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) Wereldhave (WRDEF) The shares are caught in a downward spiral for a couple of years now and after two dividend cuts and a decline of almost 65%, I have decided to get out of it.

Frankly, I got out way too late. I should have acted sooner but I still had the expectation for a rebound. I was also quite comfortable with the high dividend yield of 10% in the first year, and still 6% after the first dividend cut. But the second dividend cut would bring the yield down to only 4%, with a perspective of even further reductions down the road. It’s just too many negative points that piled up.

Moving on

2000 Euros is a lot of money. But, I had no feelings at all while exiting the position. A key factor to success in investment is emotional control. It also helps that I have enough other stocks to balance this loss. Especially the recent run-up in Apple (AAPL) was of great support on that front. My Apple shares are up 96% and I sold a small chunk to make up for the loss and to spread/diversify my investments a little more.

Also, as some readers might remember, I had another great success story. My investment in Virgin Galactic (SPCE) as recent as only 2 months ago, back in December. While I invested only a tiny amount of 270 USD (250 Euros), the company had a stellar run for the last 2 weeks and is up 242%, meaning that my investment more than tripled, almost quadrupled. I bought in 25 shares at 10,57 USD and sold yesterday 8 shares at 35 USD. Of course, it’s not enough to balance the loss of 2000 Euros, but let’s see where this goes. With the sales of 8 shares, I already got over 100% return on my investment and I still kept 17 shares for whatever happens in the near or distant future. Several analysts see this company already as the Tesla (TSLA) of space.

Exciting times.

Disclosure: As mentioned, I owe all the stocks mentioned in this article except for Wereldhave (WRDEF) which I just sold.