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Financial Happenings Blog
Sunday, May 31 2009

The latest edition of Monday's Money Minute has been uploaded onto the website - 3 Factor Model

The following provides a transcript of the podcast:

Welcome to the latest edition of Monday's Money Minute.  In today's edition I want to provide a quick review of the three factor model which is the approach this firm uses to assist clients structure their Australian and international share exposures.


Research published by professors Fama & French in the 1990s suggested that on top of the expected higher returns, compared to risk free assets, from investing in shares there were two other areas of the equity market that seemed to provide even slightly higher returns over the long term.  Namely investing in

-       small companies and

-       value style companies


The key reason behind this outcome becomes clearer through an understanding of risk for investors.  Investors expect higher returns for investing in riskier investments otherwise they would not bother.  Investing in companies on the share market is a risky activity.  Companies don't tend to smoothly grow over time and some end up failing leaving their investors with very little from an initial investment.


Therefore, to invest in companies investors need to expect to get a better return than from plonking their savings in a much more secure cash account.  If you look at share market returns at the end of a really sharp fall like we have experienced to the beginning of March this year, this principle (and our definition of long term) is put to the test.  However, over the very long term, most would agree with the assertion that investing in shares has provided a better outcome compared to investing in risk free assets such as cash and government bonds.


Smaller companies are riskier options compared to large well established companies and therefore investors in this area of the market expect a higher return going forward.  Because they are riskier, this higher return is not always achieved.  This is what makes it a risk - the lack of certainty.


Value companies, as defined in Fama & French's research as those companies where their book assets seem to have been undervalued by the market, as identified through using a Book to Market ratio, also hold more risk for an investor as compared to investing in companies the market are more positive about.


Fama & French's research suggested that investors could look to achieve 2 to 3 % better returns from investing in these small and value areas of the market.


So how have these areas performed over 2008?


For the 12 months to the end of December 2008, we saw that:

  • An investment in Australian large companies fell in value by approximately 37%
  • Australian small companies by approximately 48%,
  • Australian value companies by approximately 33%

So small companies performed a lot worse and value companies slightly better.



  • An investment in Global large companies fell in value by approximately 24%
  • Global small companies by approximately 24%,
  • Global value companies by approximately 31%

Here, the opposite to the Australia market was experienced, value underperformed and small performed in line.


2008 clearly showed that the premiums can not be relied upon to consistently be there each and every period of time.  It is all about risk and uncertainty.


So what has happened since the beginning of 2009?

  • An investment in Australian large companies has risen in value by approximately 3%
  • Australian small companies risen by approximately 17%,
  • Australian value companies risen by approximately 3%
  • An investment in Global large companies has fallen  in value by approximately 7%
  • Global small companies fallen by approximately 5%,
  • Global value companies fallen by approximately 4%

2009 so far has been a much better year for the factors especially Australian small.


What about longer term results?


For the 7 years the end of April 2009:

  • Australian small companies have outperformed large companies by approximately 3.5%
  • Value companies have outperformed large companies by just on 2%
  • Global small companies have outperformed lglobal arge companies by approximately 4%
  • Global value companies have outperformed large companies by just on 2%

Part of the risk/reward story in international markets I have left out until now is the Emerging Markets story.  The story here is that investing in developing countries like China, India, Brazil is a riskier proposition due to a range of political and economic factors.   However the expected return should also be higher but more volatile.  The recent results for this area of the market have highlighted these points:

  • Through 2008 - the emerging markets investment I suggest clients use fell by 36% - 12% worse than global large companies
  • 2009 Year to Date - this investment is up 18%, a 25% better performance compared to global large companies.
  • For the past 7 years - approximately a 12% better performance compared to global large companies.

Concluding Comments


In conclusion, structuring investments to add exposure to small, value and emerging market companies is not a free ride as we saw through 2008.  For those who build investment portfolios with a long term focus utilising an index style approach, the benefits will come not only from the risk story but also from diversification benefits.


If you would like to find out more about this firm's approach to structuring portfolios please take a look at our Building Portfolios page on our website or get in contact via email.



Scott Keefer

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 08:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 28 2009

I have spent this morning cleaning up my email in box and catching up on some reading.  (A sure sign of procrastination before my upcoming CFA exam.)


During my reading I came across an article written by John Kavanagh published in the Sydney Morning Herald - The importance of being idle.


The article looked at analysis conducted by Standard & Poor's regarding managed equity and fixed interest Fund managed fund returns for the 5 year period ending 31st December 2008.  S&P found:


" that the S&P 500 index outperformed 71.9per cent of actively managed large-cap (investing in large-capitalisation stocks) funds. The S&P MidCap 400 index outperformed 79.1per cent of actively managed mid-cap funds and the S&P SmallCap 600 outperformed 85.5per cent of small-cap funds."


The report also looked at results for the 2008 year separately and found the following:




All Large-Cap Funds     54.3

All Mid-Cap Funds       74.7

All Small-Cap Funds     83.8

Large Growth            90

Large Core              52

Large Value             22.2

Mid Growth              89

Mid Core                62.3

Mid Value               67.1

Small Growth            95.5

Small Core              82.5

Small Value             72.6



Apart from the returns for the Large Value segment, the data points out that active managers have underperformed benchmark indices last year.  This result flies in the face of the argument that active managers better protect clients during bear markets.


The report adds further evidence that active management of investments does not benefit investors and provides further support for the approach taken by A Clear Direction in using passive, index based investments.  Please take a look at our Building Portfolios page for more information about this philosophy.



Scott Keefer

Posted by: /scott Keefer AT 10:23 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 27 2009

A friend of mine has been in contact recently explaining that her superannuation contributions for the past year had not yet been paid by her past employer.  After ringing her employer she was informed that the company she had previously worked for had been put into receivership.  However we later found out that the business she worked for was still operational just under a new company structure.

After we rang the  ATO they explained that there was nothing that they could do to follow up this breach and that my friend need to contact the receivers to make a claim on any remaining assets of the previous company.


Without wanting to comment on the ethics of this situation I thought it would be useful for readers to know what they should do as early as possible if their employer has not been paying superannuation entitlements.


The ATO sets out the following points on their website:


If you're concerned about unpaid super guarantee contributions you should:
Step 1
Talk to your employer. You should ask them how often they are currently paying your super, into which fund they are paying it, and how much they are paying. It's a good idea to ask these sorts of questions when you start work with an employer.
You should also make sure you are eligible to receive super. Usually an employer has to pay super contributions for you if you are over 18 and you are paid at least $450 in salary and wages (before tax) in a month. It doesn't matter if you work casual, part time or full time hours. You can also be eligible if you are a contractor working primarily for labour (eg. graphic designer).
Step 2

Check your last Member Statement from your super fund, or contact them to confirm if your employer has paid your super.
Step 3
If you have completed steps 1 & 2 and still believe your employer is not paying enough or any super, and/or is not paying the super to your chosen fund, you can lodge an enquiry about unpaid super by phoning the Tax Office on 13 10 20.
Before phoning the Tax Office on 13 10 20 you will need to prepare information to help us record your enquiry. Please refer to:
       What information do I provide when I lodge an enquiry about unpaid super?
       What process does the Tax Office follow to investigate unpaid super enquiries? 
Other ways to obtain unpaid super
If you lodge an enquiry with the Tax Office, we will take action on the information you provide.

Below are some other ways you can try to obtain unpaid superannuation from your employer. You can try to recover the superannuation that should have been paid to you directly from your employer.
If you areemployed under the federal workplace relations system (that is, if you are/were employed in the ACT, Northern Territory or Victoria, or you are employed by a company in another state or under a federal award or agreement), you can seek an order from an eligible court under the Workplace Relations Act 1996.
Alternatively, the Workplace Ombudsman may be able to help you if you have not received all of your workplace conditions and entitlements. The Workplace Ombudsman may get you to complete a Wages and Conditions claim form and pursue your entitlements on your behalf, including going to court, if necessary.
If you are employed under one of the state industrial relations systems (in NSW, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia or Tasmania), each state has its own laws that enable the courts to order your employer to pay the amount of the shortfall to you or your superannuation fund.


I hope that you do not need to follow this process but in the current climate it might be worth looking into any unpaid super entitlement before it becomes too late.

Scott Keefer

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 06:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 26 2009

Jim Parker, a Regional Director from Dimensional Fund Advisors always has interesting insights into the world of journalism stemming from the many years spent working in the industry.  He has posted another item on DFA's website today which provides more ammunition as to why we should try turning off, or at least down, the financial media commentary we are listening to.  (Don't switch off from my blog or website though!!!)

The following is the article published by Jim:

A Really Bad Day

With economic pessimism becoming a growth industry, it's interesting to note that the glummest of the glum work in a field with the most potential to influence how everyone else is feeling: the media.

Pollsters Ipsos MORI recently asked the people of Britain to cite the most pressing issue facing their country. Out front by a country mile was 'the economy', with two thirds citing it as the most important challenge.1

And in terms of occupations, Ipsos found journalists were the most negative, with 96 per cent of that grouping believing the economy would get worse.

"Out of all the audiences we look at?businesses themselves, consumers, employers, the people who are most negative are the journalists," Ipsos managing director Ben Page told the Financial Times.2

As to why journalists are so gloomy, there are a number of theories. One is that things really are that bad. Journalists, being closer to the newsmakers, see through all the 'happy talk' and feel compelled to tell their audiences and readers how it really is.

But if that were the case, why are investors expressing greater optimism, as reflected in the large bounce in risk assets recently? As of early May, the US S&P-500 was 34 per cent above the lows struck two months before. Other major world indices were up by between 20 and 40 per cent.3

Of course, no-one knows whether the bottom really has been reached. But it seems for now that there are enough green shoots of recovery to encourage those risking their capital to move back into the market.

While journalists are routinely plugged into hundreds of news sources, it seems highly unlikely that they would have any better access to new information than the market in aggregate, which?unlike the media?tends to be a forward looking indicator.

A second explanation for the media tendency to gloom is that pessimism is a professional hazard for journalists. It goes with the territory in a job that requires the individual journalist to exercise extreme skepticism in a world driven by PR spin doctors.

But this tendency to see the glass always as half empty means journalists can be late to break the story when the news really is good.

A third theory is that bad news sells. Like ghoulish spectators at grizzly car accidents, the public is pathologically drawn to tales of the misfortunes of others. Knowing this, the media tends to give prominence to the gloomy.

But is that really true? What sells are great stories?good or bad. When the media seems routinely focused on the negative, it is often because the individual editors and reporters concerned have grown lazy and reflexive.

A final theory is that the newspapers are full of gloom because the mainstream media itself is in something of a death spiral as the internet robs it of advertising revenue, circulation, ratings and jobs.

Newspapers and network television were already facing a structural crisis before the global recession came along. For journalists, then, the economic crisis is just the icing on an already unappetizing cake. One estimate puts the loss of newsroom jobs in the US alone last year at nearly 6,000.4

That last theory might be the closest to the truth right now.

For the average investor struggling to comprehend the daily financial news headlines, it may be worth reflecting on all this. Are things really as gloomy as the headline writers say they are or are they just having a really bad day?

1'Economy Still the Most Important Issue Facing Britain, Ipsos MORI, May 1, 2009

2'Truth Tellers or Doom Mongers?', Financial Times, May 4, 2009

3Bloomberg data

4'The State of the News Media 2009', Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 07:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 26 2009
The latest edition of our fortnightly email newsletter for 2009 has been sent to subscribers.

In this edition we:

  • take stock of the current investment climate and discuss what should investors do now,
  • look at the RP data - Rismark proerty indices,
  • summarise the movements in markets since the last edition including 3, 5 and 10 year return history,
  • take a look at the question of out of market risk,
  • provide a link to Scott Francis' latest Eureka Report articles,
  • provide a case study on what to do if your employer has not made your superannuation guarantee contributions,
  • link to the Financial Planning Association's Good Advice website, and
  • provide evidence of the three factor model in action.

Click on the following link to have a look at the full newsletter - Financial Fortnight That Was - 26th May 2009.


The market update section is set out below:


ASX P/E Ratio & Dividend Yields


The P/E ratio is a common broad indicator of the price of shares.  It is a calculation of the price of shares compared to expected earnings.   A higher ratio indicates that share prices are more expensive.  The historical P/E ratio for the ASX has been between 14 & 15.  The dividend yield is the calculation of dividend payments divided by the market capitalisation of the company or index.  The historical average in Australia is around 4%.


As of May 25th the P/E ratio for the S&P/ASX 200 was 9.82.  The dividend yield was 5.98%.


Volatility Index (VIX)


Another index we are keeping an eye on in the USA is the CBOE Volatility Index.  This index purports to be a key measure of market expectations of near term volatility conveyed by the S&P 500 share index.  The higher the level of index, the higher are expectations for volatility in the S&P 500 index.  For more information on how the VIX is calculated please take a look at  -


The latest close for the index was at a level of 31.36.  This is slightly higher than the recent low of 27.47 but well off the high of  80.74 from last year.


Market Indices



Since last ed.

Since Start of 2009

1 Year

3 Year

5 Year

10 Year

Australian Shares







S&P - ASX 200






NA *

International Shares







MSCI World - Ex Australia







MSCI Emerging Markets














S&P - ASX 200 REIT






NA *

S&P/Citigroup Global REIT - Ex Australia - World - AUD














US Exchange Rate







Trade Weighted Index







 * - Data unavailable as ASX 200 only commenced on 31st March 2000


General News


The following major economic parameters have been announced since the previous edition:

  • Unemployment now at 5.4% (predicted to rise to 8.5% in Federal budget)
  • Annual CPI measured at 2.5% for the year ending 30th March (predicted to fall to 1.5% in Federal budget)
  • RBA left official interest rates at 3.0% in the May board meeting.

We have also had the Federal Government budget delivered on May 12th.  If you missed our email summarising the major personal finance impacts please take a look at the summary on our website - 2009 Personal Finance Budget Summary.



Scott Keefer

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 06:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 26 2009
Users of our website, through our User Voice feedback forum, have requested that we regularly update the graphs outlining the performance of the Dimensional trusts that we use in building portfolios for clients.  In response to this feedback we have updated these graphs to reflect performance up to the end of March 2009.




The graphs show growth in monthly returns over April for all asset classes.


Over the long run, the graphs continue to clearly show the existence of the risk premiums (small, value and emerging markets) that the research tells us should exist:


Australian Share Trusts - 7 Year returns



7 Yr Return

to April 2009

Premium over ASX 200

Accumulation Index

ASX 200 Accumulation Index



Dimensional Australian Value Trust



Dimensional Australian Small Company Trust




International Share Trusts - 7 Year returns



7 Yr Return

to April 2009

Premium over MSCI World (ex Australia) Index

MSCI World (ex Australia) Index



Dimensional Global Value Trust



Dimensional Global Small Company Trust



Dimensional Emerging Markets Trust



NB - These premiums are higher than what we would expect going forward.


Please click on the following link to be taken to the graphs - Dimensional Fund Performance Graphs.


For anyone new to our website, it is important to point out that we build investment portfolios for clients based on the best available academic research.  Take a look at our Building Portfolios and Our Research Based Approach pages for more details.  In our view, this research compels us to use the three factor model developed by Fama and French.  In Australia, the most effective method of investing using this model is through trusts implemented by Dimensional Fund Advisors (  We do not receive any form of commission or payment from Dimensional for using their trusts.  We use them because they provide the returns clients are entitled to from share markets.


However, academic theory is nothing if it can not be implemented and provide the returns that are promised by the research.  Therefore, we like to provide the historical returns of the funds that we use to build investment portfolios.


Please let us know if you have any feedback regarding these graphs by using the Request for More Information form to the right or via our User Voice feedback forum.



Scott Keefer

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 10:24 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 25 2009

The latest edition of the Monday's Money Minute podcasts has been uploaded onto the website - Taking Stock - What Should Investors Do Now?

The following provides a transcript of the podcast:

In this edition of our podcasts I wanted to provide a simple update on the movement of markets so far in 2009 and then turn listeners attention to considering what their response should be to the current climate.


To the end of last week - 22nd May - we have seen the following performance in share asset classes:


·         Australian shares are now up 1% for the year, up 20% since the bottom reached in early March

·         Australian listed property still down 26% for the year but up 17% since the bottom.

·         International listed property is also still down 19% for the year but up 16% since the bottom.

·         International shares up 2.5% for the year and up over 30% since the bottom.

·         Emerging Markets are now up 27% for the year so far, up 38% since early March.


As I always profess - as my family and closest friends can confirm - I have no idea whether markets will continue this projection in the short term.  There is still potential for "icebergs" to create more havoc such as the downgrading of the UK's or even the US credit rating.  Let's hope the global economy can avoid these icebergs but we should be prepared for this.


So What Should Investors Do Now?


For clients and regular visitors to A Clear Direction's website you will be well aware that I currently favour the use of Dimensional Fund Advisor investments within portfolios.


Last Friday, Dimensional have uploaded to their public website a really useful series of online presentations done by Weston Wellington, Vice President of Dimensional in the United States.  The series is titled - What Should Investors Do Now?

The presentations are 68 minutes in total length but well worth sitting through.  Weston covers Dimensional's approach to managing money under adverse business conditions, looks at how recessions affect share prices, explains why many did not see the problems in share markets coming, compares the recent downturn with previous downturns, considers whether government intervention is a threat to capitalism and concludes by suggesting what investors should do now.


Summarising the concluding comments:

  • Diversification remains important.
  • If you have less borrowed money, are less affected by the recession, and have a longer time horizon than the average it makes sense to buy.
  • If you have more borrowed money, are more affected by the recession or have a shorter time horizon, it might be the time to sell.
  •  If you are about the same as everyone else, do nothing and relax

These are very general rules of thumb that hold some merit.  However each individual's approach will be more complex given individual circumstances, risk tolerance and goals.  If you wanted to spend time discussing your individual response to the current economic and investment climate please do not hesitate to be in contact.

Have a great week!!


Scott Keefer

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 08:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 21 2009
In a recent article published in Alan Kohler's Eureka Report, financial education consultant Scott Francis looks at the possibility of investing in inflation-linked bonds.
Scott concludes that the bottom line is that we don't know what the budget will bring, other than the reality that the Australian government will have a significant amount of borrowing. If an inflation-linked bond is proposed, it will be interesting to see the form in which it is offered.

The reality is that in an environment where the cash rate is 3%, and with the interest payments on a bond taxable, it might not be quite as exciting opportunity as the concept of an inflation-linked bond suggests.

To take a look at the full article please click on the following link - Inflation-linked bonds need just one ingredient.
Posted by: AT 07:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 21 2009

Today I have come across some really simple but useful videos presented by Vanguard.  It is a bit of a marketing tool for Vanguard but the initial commentary provides a good summary of the fundamentals of a range of asset classes with data updated to the of March 2009.

I particularly liked the Fixed Interest presentation.  Please click on the following link to be taken to the videos - Vanguard Investment Insight videos.

If you would like to discuss any of the details please be in contact.

Scott Keefer

Posted by: AT 12:35 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 20 2009

Every year Iput together a summary of the major items from the Federal Budget that may impact on the personal finances of our clients.  The Budget presented last week by Wayne Swan provided a number of significant financial planning changes which have been outlined in this summary.

We have posted a summary on our website and encourage anyone with questions regarding the details to get in contact.  The following is a brief summary of the major points.  For more details please click on the link to the full summary - 2009 Budget - Personal Finance Summary.

A copy was also sent out to subscribers of our email newsletter the day after the budget was delivered.  Please click on the following link to take a look at a copy of this email - Email Newsletter Budget Summary.

If you would like to subscribe to this free email newsletter please Sign Up.

The budget has provided a number of significant financial planning changes which have been outlined in this summary.  Some readers will not be interested in all of the details so I start with a brief summary of the major changes introduced:


-          Reduction of Tax Deductible Contributions to Superannuation from $50,000 to $25,000 for those under 50 years old and from $100,000 to $50,000 for those aged 50 and older.  Effective July 1st 2009.


-          Reduction of the Superannuation Co-contribution to $1 per $1 of eligible personal contributions up to a maximum of $1,000.  Effective 1st July 2009 until 30th June 2012 (3 years) and then increasing to $1.25 per $1 of eligible personal contributions up to a maximum of $1,250.


-          Continuation of the 2008-09 drawdown relief for superannuation pensions through 2009-10 reducing the minimum draw down rates by 50%.


-          Single Age Pension rate to increase by $32.49 per week with the Combined Couple Age Pension rate to increase by $10.14 per week.


-          Increase in the Age Pension income test taper from 40 to 50 cents in the dollar for a single pensioner and 20 to 25 cents in the dollar for each member of a couple.


-          No new entrants to the Pension Bonus Scheme from the 20th of September 2009.  Replaced in some way by the Work Bonus for pensioners which will leave exempt from the Income Test half of the first $500 of fortnightly income.


-          Qualifying age for Age Pension to increase to 67 by 2023.


-          Increase in the Senior Concession allowance for singles by $129 per annum.


-          Introduction of a new carer's supplement, $600 per annum to all Carer Allowance recipients for each person being cared for, $600 per annum to all Carer Payment recipients.


-          Commonwealth Senior's Health Card income test will not be amended to include gross tax-free superannuation pension income however it will include income which has been salary sacrificed to superannuation.


-          First Home Owners Boost to continue as is until the 30th September and then be wound back by $3,500 for existing home purchases and $7,000 for building a new home up until the 31st December 2009.


-          Introduction of paid parental leave for up to 18 weeks at the Federal Minimum Wage - currently $543.78 per week.


-          Introduction of new Private Health Insurance Incentive Tiers with existing arrangements remaining unchanged for singles earning less than $75,000 and families earning less than $150,000 per year.


-          Increase in the Small Business Tax Break from 30% to 50% of eligible purchases from 13th December 2008 to 31st December 2009 as long as the equipment is installed by 31st December 2010.


-          Previously announced income tax cuts left untouched.



Scott Keefer

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 11:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 20 2009
In a recent article published in Alan Kohler's Eureka Report, finacial education consultant Scott Francis looks at changes to the superannuation system announced in the Federal Budget.  In particular he looks at these issues:
  • Contributions cut; 
  • Co-contribution cut;
  • Minimum drawdowns reduced;
  •  Limits placed on transitition to retirement income streams;
  • Age pension rates increased;
  • Qualifying age to access the Age Pension to increase to 67.
Scott concludes that he does not necessarily think that the system has been made worse off for investors but there are significant restirctions for some.

To take a look at the full article please click on the following link - Time to look beyond super.
Posted by: AT 10:55 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 07 2009

Scott Keefer has recently been quoted in an article written by James Dunn for the Australian's wealth section - Value in offshore portfolio exposure.

In the article a number of commentators were discussing the potential benefits from having international share exposure.  Scott was also part of an online discussion based on this topic as broadcast on Boardroom Radio Australia.  A copy of the audio webcast can be found here - International Shares: Where the opportunities are.

Posted by: AT 10:21 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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