Investing wisely during lockdown

Coronavirus investing

Lockdown will be a new experience for most if not all investors. Based in the UK, I have pretty much been housebound for over a week, apart from the occasional trip to the shop or for a walk. Fortunately, I am able to work from home so my productivity has not been impacted much. As the Coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across the World with increased intensity, here are my top tips for the Intelligent Investor.

Polish up you CV and Skills

It is no secret that, across the board, all types of companies, big and small, have been affected by the Coronavirus and are looking into different ways of mitigation. This may impact employees through reduced hours or pay, forced leave or redundancies.

In such times it is very wise for the employee to be prepared for the worst by getting their CV up to date, improving or learning new skills and have a Plan B. It may not be easy though as hiring may be scaled back or stopped in certain sectors.

Have a Low Information Diet

The worst thing about being stuck at home is that you will probably end up watching/ reading a lot of the news which ends up making you even more depressed. For investors, too much bad financial news may cause one to act irrationally.

Personally, I know a few people who were happy when the bull market was raging recently but are now either rushing to sell or hoping to stop investing when previous valuations are restored. Selling now will crystallize your losses forever. Instead, it is best to not check your portfolio frequently, stay the course and hold firm.

When I did my regular quarterly update my portfolio is down 18.33% so the net worth chart below looks bumpy. It may look like an entire year’s progress has been wiped out but it is a a good time to buy. My progress to Financial Independence has been scaled back but I will keep investing.

Net worth chart snapshot (to Q1 2020)

Net worth chart snapshot (to Q1 2020)

Keep buying stocks consistently

It is undeniable that Coronavirus is unlike anything investors have ever experienced. Even Warren Buffett said he had never seen such an event in his lifetime. The virus has touched every aspect of life from the housing market to visiting family. Unbelievable; even last month who would have ever thought that you would be never be able to move house or go to the local park.

The one thing to do now is to be consistent at buying stocks, preferably low cost index funds. This may be an opportunity of a lifetime for investors with a long term view, particularly if stock prices remain low for a prolonged period. When things recover, those who have been piling into the markets will reap the rewards.

Look out for the silver lining

It is also important to have a positive outlook. Not all bad things have to end up that way. If we get through this situation then there may be other opportunities to be had. You just have to be in the right place at the right time so it is worth thinking about any potential benefits in future.

A number of great businesses were born during scary recessions of the past including General Electric, Microsoft, IBM, Disney and FedEx. Necessity is the Mother of Invention.

You may be finally finding out in shock that your job or business can go at any moment. It is best to have some resilience. A level of Financial Independence can also help mitigate any financial hits.

Relevant posts:

Investing lessons from Warren Buffett’s letter to Berkshire Shareholders 2019 amid Coronavirus market panic 

Why I am Optimistic about future investment returns 

How to react to a Bear Market and invest wisely

Why volatility is an investor’s best friend and top insights from Warren Buffett’s 2017 letter 

Standoff and stocks selloff – Should Investors be worried 

Investing lessons from Warren Buffett’s letter to Berkshire Shareholders 2019 amid Coronavirus market panic

FTSE 100 EventsWarren Buffett’s 2019 Letter* to Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders has been released in a timely manner, amid the panic gripping Global markets due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. As usual, for those seeking Financial Independence, there are likely to be gems of advice in the letter for how to keep a cool head in such times. I enjoyed reading the latest letter, so let us get into it.

“Be fearful when others are greedy. Be greedy when others are fearful.”

This is the most iconic advice by Warren Buffett. This is not a core message in the latest letter but worth taking note of as one of the keys to successful long term investing. Instead of running for the hills; it is best to keep calm rather than sell shares at this point. Instead most dedicated investors will be happy about any buying opportunities. It is interesting how people run to the shops to buy goods on sale but rush to sell when the market becomes less expensive. Whether it is socks or stocks, we like it cheap.

Retained earnings are key to compound growth

When buying stocks, one is buying fractional pieces of businesses rather than short-term gambling on market gyrations. A business’ earnings can be reinvested in the company and or distributed to Shareholders as dividends.

Buffett, with advice from economist Edgar Lawrence Smith, writer of Common Stocks as Long Term Investments and John Maynard Keynes, asserts that companies which retain and reinvest part of their profits will grow with an element of compound interest.

Mind-boggling wealth was amassed by Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie and others by following this simple principle. Today investors can emulate this by regularly investing in low cost index funds; the “Accumulation” type which automatically reinvest dividends. Berkshire Hathaway has deployed a total of $121 billion on property, plant and equipment against depreciation charges of $65 billion.

It is all about the units you own & having a long term view

Berkshire Investments

A picture is worth a thousand words. This image captured from the letter is worth a long look. These are the partly owned companies within Berkshire Hathaway’s investment portfolio. It shows that you should focus on the number of units or shares of your stock investments rather than the movements in the price. Over time, the price per unit will increase due to earnings resulting in a market value which far surpasses the cost price. Buy and hold is the best strategy.

According to Buffett, due to the power of the economy and wonders of compound interest, stock investments will outperform bonds over the long run, but only for those who can control his or her emotions. Others or those who use borrowed money should beware!

He also notes that occasionally, market drops of perhaps 50% magnitude or even greater will occur.

These Letters to Berkshire Shareholders are interesting and definitely worth reading as they contain timeless investing advice. I have also done a review of the letters for 2017 and 2018.

*The 2019 letter can be accessed here.

How to avoid lifestyle inflation to achieve Financial Independence

House and bicycleHousing, Transportation and Food are the big three categories to control in order to maintain a relatively high savings rate. To achieve financial independence (FI), the most important thing is your savings rate as I explained in a previous post here.

A lot of people try to find investments or other means with a high return rate. However, this may turn out futile if the necessary capital available to invest is not substantial. Good returns do not have a big impact if you intend to be financially free at a young age, considering that the stock market typically returns nominally 10% a year.

I am in the process of looking for a new place to live in January 2020 and this has made me to seriously consider my lifestyle costs in future. When I moved to new places previously, I did not  do the math well, particularly for housing and transportation costs in relation to my new lifestyle. In a number of cases, this has resulted in me being worse of either financially, by quality of life or both.

For example, when I moved for my current job (from Cambridge to London outskirts) my salary went up by 13%. This seems great but I ended up living 11 miles from work compared to 4 miles previously. This seemingly innocuous change turned a simple 20 minute commute into a gruelling drive of over an hour in rush hour traffic.

The new job meant that I lost many hours a month plus cash due to the long commute and I was generally more tired. It felt like I had already been to work when I got to work.

Housing and Transportation

I see management of these two elements as being critical in propelling me towards financial independence at this stage. It is not wise to find a cheap place to live which is very far from work, costing time, an arm and a leg to get there. For this reason, I have decided to find a rental within walking distance of the office. Costs will be roughly the same as the previous place but the commute by car or train will be completely eliminated, resulting in cost savings and 7 hours a week freed each week. That would be effectively gaining an extra work week each month! 

55% savings rate

To be financially free by my target date I have estimated that at least an average 55% savings rate will be required. This has been over 53% so far. I will also need to maintain the progress made by maintaining my core living expenses or even better by reducing them. To do this it is important to know current and expected expenses which will guide the search for new accommodation.

Housing and Transportation to gross income ratio

People often wonder how much they should spend on housing in relation to their income. It will depend on what you can afford and what you value in life. I was a bit shocked when the estate agent said that I could afford a place which is my gross salary divided by 30. This would mean that 53% of net pay would go towards housing which is ridiculously high. Admittedly I would get a nicer place but my financial independence progress would drop to only 29% and future savings to 35%. Achieving freedom would become practically impossible, leading to many more years in the cubicle.

Housing and Transportation to gross income ratio

With these facts in mind how much should one allocate towards housing and transport. I have been tracking how much I spend on these two since 2007 as shown the the graph above. When I started my first job in 2007 I lived in shared accommodation with very low costs and a 20% spend. However, within a year I got a small pay rise and had a huge bout of lifestyle inflation by moving to my own studio flat.

Now with a hefty 30% expenditure I managed to save absolutely nothing after a three year period and remained with even more credit card debt while having a negative net worth.

Over the next few years I moved locations for new jobs and back to shared accommodation. This enabled me to pay off the credit card and start the fi journey in 2012.

The housing and transport expenditure proportion has been steadily decreasing due to some some pay rises and is expected to get back to near 20% when I move to the new place. I find this to be an acceptable amount to pay. It may mean sacrificing a little luxury but will not derail progress towards financial independence within a few years.

*It is also important to stick to a budget while tracking your other expenses as these will affect the overall picture.


In summary, to maintain a 55% savings rate I would need to spend roughly 20% of my gross income to housing and transport to achieve financial freedom within 3 years. This is based on my current level (52%) of expenses covered by passive income.


I have found this to be the most comfortable scenario for me in relation to my goals. Everyone’s situation will be different.

Geographic Arbitrage

As I am currently based in one of the most costly areas of the UK (South East), applying some Geographic Arbitrage almost anywhere would definitely have a positive impact. Quality of Life could be increased and Cost of Living reduced readily so this will definitely be on the cards soon. In fact I realise that I am already 70% FI for less costly parts of the country.

Also, renting a place rather than owning is beneficial as one would be far more flexible to take advantage of opportunities and overall expenditure on housing and transport would be far easier to limit.

Things look set to get more exciting in the next couple of years as the snowball keeps gathering speed and size, opening up more possibilities and options.

The enduring strength of Index Funds and fallacy of active investing

The demise of Neil Woodford has been coming for a long time and has ended in a bloody nose for the active investment fund management sector. As long been explained by investing legends such as Vanguard’s John Bogle and Warren Buffett, investing using index funds is the only sensible way to go for most people.

Tough time for active investment funds

Active investing is going through a roller coaster ride which started when investors holding the Woodford Equity Income Fund were locked out of their assets. Things did not feel right and it was not a surprise when a few months later it was announced that trading the fund would be shut down. It was a shock for those who did not take time to educate themselves sufficiently about investing, rather deciding to go with the “British Warren Buffett”.

When this active fund was set up in 2015, I was still a novice at investing and followed the hype, buying some shares as part of my portfolio. However, within months I switched the shares to passive tracker funds, taking in the advice gleaned from books such as A Random Walk on Wall Street by Burton Malkiel. This was fortunate, as people who remained in the active Woodford fund have made huge losses.

Performance of the actively managed Woodford fund is shown in the chart below. In this relatively short period the passive FTSE All Share Tracker outperformed both the active fund and all funds within its category.

Woodford Equity Income Fund Performance (Morningstar UK)

Woodford Equity Income Fund Performance (Morningstar UK)

Focus in Costs

Achieving Financial Independence would already be impeded by the very high fees charged by active fund managers (0.75% per year in this case) compared to passive tracker funds which can be as low 0.06% – 13 times lower! This can easily run into hundreds of thousands of pounds over an investing lifetime. Additionally, it is highly unlikely to identify a star fund manager who can beat the market consistently over the long term.

Vanguard is leading the way by cutting costs while active managers are raking in millions for underperformance.

Performance is further degraded by frictional costs due to the frequent trading by active managers; typically selling when prices are low and buying when they are up.  

Low information diet

It is best to not succumb to the heavy marketing from the City and have a low information diet. Talk about asking the barber for a haircut, and getting a bad one at that.

As active fund managers are experiencing vey high outflows in the wake of the Woodford scandal, it is not a coincidence that the S&P 500 index has almost crossed over its all time high. Diligent long term passive investors will be disciplined and not worried about all these shannanigans.

This episode proves what has been outlined time and again on this and other platforms which seek to educate about the benefits of investing in index funds.

Time in the market works, rather than Timing the market. Financial education and staying the course are key to long term success.

Interesting reading: