Quick Poll: Don’t google this, but who here has heard of Mr Chua Soon Hock?
Yup. I thought so. Nobody.
Probably not a single one of the 1000+ or so people who will read this post, knows who this guy is. Not now anyway.
He is a personal friend of TTI, and is the most low profile and under-rated super investor I know. (He doesn’t know me as TTI, and neither does he have any knowledge of this post at the time of writing this.)
Before I start, of course I gotta justify what I mean by “super investor”. That’s easy enough. I’ll let his track record speak for himself. If this doesn’t qualify as a super investor, I don’t know what does.
Now, I haven’t gotten permission to write this post, so everything I write here will pretty much have to come from public information. Nothing personal will be revealed.
CSH started his career in GIC, before moving to Sanwa Bank, where he rose to become the chief strategist (aka CIO). He left and eventually, in 1st March 2000, he launched his Japan Macro Fund, managed under Asia Genesis Asset Management, which today, has become his private investment vehicle.
By 2009, he closed the fund and returned all funds to investors, citing health reasons:
The fund’s performance?
In the 9 years of the fund’s existence, it generated a return of 18.89% annually! In fact, as the fund grew, the performance actually improved (larger fund sizes are usually a drag on performance, but not in this case). From Jan 2003 to 2009, the fund generated an annualized return of 26.02%!
Even the 2nd newer fund, Asia Genesis Equity Fund, launched in May 2009, returned net 8.92% as at end July 2009. That’s 8.92% in 3 months!
Annunalized return of 18.89% means that if you had invested $1mil at the start of the fund, it’d have grown almost 5-fold to $4.8mil by 2009 when the fund was closed. (I was told that the return would be even higher when converted into SGD terms)
Even in the midst of poor performance amongst all peers, the fund stood out for its resilience:
Now, all these results obviously made CSH a well respected figure in the fund management business. He was recently sought out by TheEdge for his opinions in several opinion pieces.
On top of that, CSH recently made the news (reluctantly I’m sure) when he splashed out the cash to buy some GCBs to capitalize on a”unique situation”. The jury is still out on the success of this investment, but given time….
Come on, I’m sure anyone by now will agree that this guy is an investing monster.
The funny thing is, in all these years that I’ve known CSH, I never knew he had such an illustrious career as an investor. (Only found out and asked him when I saw the TheEdge article)
This guy is simply unassuming, goes about doing his business without a hint of arrogance, yet freely shares his knowledge when asked to.
See what I mean?
I’ve stated multiple times in SG TTI that Global Macro investing is something that confuses me. There are so many variables to consider and each inaccuracy in your thought process can snowball and affect your conclusions in unimaginable ways. Yet this friend of mine, does it consistently, with amazing results.
Even now, managing his vast personal fortune, his returns continue to be astounding. It’s just no longer published and the world doesn’t know what he does (Aside from the occasional news report like the GCB acquisition above)
Now, CSH doesn’t know me as TTI. He knows me as a doctor. Of course, in our social conversations, he knows this other side of me where I pit my investing skills against the world. Occasionally, (I think), he gets bemused and surprised at why this clinician knows so much about investing.
Well, we all need a hobby.
Alright, so there are 2 lessons that I can draw here:
Humility. When was the last time you felt like a king when you got a 20% ROI on your investment? Well, there are guys out there who get that consistently, year in, year out.
I’m constantly reminded that there are titans in this space. And this titan, doesn’t even want to let people know he’s a titan.
Each time I think my research is so water tight, and that I know everything there is to know about a company, I’m reminded that there are others who are sharper, smarter and work harder than me at this.
What do I know that they don’t?
This drives me to go on and on and on. I’ll dig deeper, work harder, think on a different level altogether and do what others won’t do or find it too tough such that they give up.
And ultimately, even if an investment turns out to be a multi bagger killer… just remember that there’s no room for arrogance. Arrogance/complacency dulls your sense of urgency and makes you settle.
(There’s another lesson about work ethic but I won’t talk about it here)
Expected Returns. The other lesson I gather, is the range of expected returns. Now, if in your personal investing journey, you consistently get sky high returns of >15% year in year out… logically, it must be 1 of 5 scenarios:
- Your calculation methodology is wrong. Systematic error.
- You’re trying to con yourself. Or others too.
- Your portfolio size is puny enough. And even then, you need to add an enormous dose of luck to it.
- You are an investing genius. Congrats.
- You are doing illegal stuff. Transporting firearms, drugs or stuff like that.
Yup. Those are the only ways one can get to boast of sky high returns CONSISTENTLY. For most of us at least.
Which is also why I am highly skeptical when people show up with long term, multi year returns of 20+%. Or 30%. Or 40%. It just cannot happen. Everyone likes to think that they’re a Carl Icahn.
Even for CSH to achieve this level of success, his work ethic (when he was managing other people’s funds) was out of this world. The level of hard work that goes on behind the scenes is always unnoticed. Only the fancy results.
Most people are just not prepared to go to that extent… yet expect to get the same results.
I’ll divert a bit here. My personal hypothesis for this phenomenon of ever rising ROI figures, is simply that today, there is so much competition for attention. Financial coaches running courses, financial bloggers (yes, I guess that includes SG TTI), and even publications like TheEdge, occasionally show their returns.
10% used to be impressive. Not so though, if everyone else shows 15% ROI right? Then how about 20%?
And it goes on and on.
Well, take it all with a pinch of salt. Cos now we know: 18.9% annualized over 9 years, is enough to put you at the apex of the investing world. Period.
Anyway, in the spirit of sharing, I’ll share an article written by CSH way back in 1999 (!!!), shared with me. I think most investors would do well to read, understand, internalize and execute.
Execution, is going to be by far, the hardest part.
PLAYING THE STOCKMARKET: WHAT EVERY RETAIL INVESTOR SHOULD KNOW
The purpose of this article is to address the recurring phenomenon of retail investors losing money in the financial markets and to provide a roadmap for realistic and profitable investing for non-professional investors.
The points below are meant for non-leveraged retail investors and not for institutional and leveraged speculators. Although the general philosophy in investing is applicable to all classes of players, the strategies and methods will differ for different players. The pointers below of course are not comprehensive but are to the best of my knowledge as a market practitioner.
Before we begin, let us consider: Why do retail investors lose money?
The reasons normally fall into one or a combination of the following:
- Investors buy shares at relatively high prices and sell them at lower prices.
- Active trading results in high commissions, where costs become a big factor.
- Investors hold shares bought at high prices during euphoric, bull period with big unrealized losses and take small profits from other shares purchased.
- Investors buy ‘in-fashion funds’ promoted by financial institutions during a particular time window. This is despite the good past performance of the funds.
Underlying factors that cause the above-mentioned tendencies:
- Not knowing who you are in relation to the marketplace
- Not knowing what the marketplace is about
- Not understanding the basic human weaknesses of greed, fear, impatience, pride and laziness
- Listening to the counsel of those who do not have the skill-sets to help you make money.
- Not applying common sense but being confused by endless emphasis on unprofitable semantics of what are blue chips and what are not, what is investing and what is speculating, what is safe and what is not.
Rule 1: Know who you are in relation to the marketplace
Successful investing starts with knowing your limitations and strengths.
The limitations which affect most retail investors are:
- Time: the limited time available to track and learn the markets without affecting other responsibilities adversely
- Resources: the limited financial resources that most can hardly afford to lose without jeopardizing the fulfillment of family responsibilities
- Knowledge: the little knowledge and ignorance of the intricacies of products and the dynamics of the markets
- Cost: the highest per unit cost of transaction among all players
The strengths of retail investors are:
- Investing is not your job, therefore you are under no compulsion to trade
- You can afford to wait
- You need not be leveraged
- Your trades will not affect market prices, therefore there is no slippage in execution
Honesty is required to arrive at this understanding and to come to accept your strengths and weaknesses. The key is to focus on minimizing the adverse effects of your limitations and exploiting your strengths to your advantage. Devising an investment strategy along this line is essential. A good fisherman must first know that he is a fisherman; his job is to catch fish and not be the fish.
But knowing this, though important, is not enough; you must also realistically know what type of successful fisherman you are or can be, and concentrate on being that type of fisherman till you attain proficiency. Practice makes perfect.
The retail investor cannot be a successful ‘Goldman Sachs’ and apply the methods of an institutional player. You should concentrate on being ‘that profitable retail investor’. With this clear self-identity you can then cut out 95% of investment literature which though at times sounds logical, realistically is not applicable to your situation. This will thus eliminate confusion and result in clear thinking and improve your ability to focus on learning what matters. The learning costs involved in perfecting the art of investing, within the science of probability can then be kept to a minimal.
Rule2: Know what the marketplace is about
The marketplace should be seen as mass human forces of buying and selling that result in various prices over a period of time on a continuous basis. At a certain point in time buying forces will dominate, while at other times selling forces will be dominant. The market trades on float and not on a total basis.
This fundamental understanding is needed to comprehend the underlying psychological behavior of extreme movements that frequently occur in markets over time. A hard look at financial markets should make one come to the conclusion that “markets are the biggest re-distribution of wealth mechanism invented by the capitalists.”
This realization should lead to two conclusions and raise the antennae of care and caution. One, that participation in markets necessarily means that if I don’t make money, I will be losing my money to someone else. And two, if I want to win then I have to learn to apply an appropriate strategy that incorporates the right philosophy, principles and methods that suit my situation, from people who have done it successfully and consistently before as retail investors.
Rule 3: Identify the basic human weaknesses
How do human weaknesses empty your pockets? If one initially makes money, greed usually makes him gradually increase his positions until his biggest holdings are always at, or near, the top of the market in the intermediate or long term. When the correction or crash comes, due to heavy exposure, there is a necessity to cut positions at dramatically low prices resulting in big losses.
Fear makes one miss investing in the market when shares are at bargain basement levels. Fear always is the major hindrance to exploiting good opportunities.
Impatience leads one to invest when good opportunities have not arrived, thus committing resources in a unproductive manner and finding oneself in a ‘no-bullet’ situation when the opportunities finally come.
Pride makes one hold to unprofitable beliefs, prejudices and behavior, cutting a person off from learning and adjusting to truth and realities. Pride is so expensive that no one can afford it.
Laziness makes one stick to shortcuts in life, but the truth is that there are none. One always reaps what one sow. If one applies sound investing philosophy, principles and methods appropriate to one’s station, he has to reap profits. There is no other way. But if one sows wrong counsel and applies unsound philosophy, principles and methods, one must surely reap the pain of an empty pocket in due time.
Identification of all these common and normal human weaknesses and their adverse effects on the pocket is essential if one aims to be a consistently profitable retail investor. One needs to prepare oneself psychologically to overcome these human weaknesses when markets move to a certain situation that puts one to the test. And in order to come out on top, there is a need to ‘dehumanize yourself’ and institute a certain systematic methodology, through the basic of ‘knowing yourself and knowing the marketplace.’ This is the basic principle of successful engagement.
Rule 4: Garbage in, garbage out: Know the quality of your counsel
Too often investors concentrate on their desire to get rich without paying detailed attention to the process and to working on the process that is suitable to him. The truth is that if you get the process right and work on it, the desired results will be the natural consequence, in due time. Therefore the quality of your counsel to help you to arrive at the process is important.
However, one of the most common mistakes among retail investors is to rely on their brokers to help them make money. But really, if they can help you make money they would most likely not be your brokers. A broker ‘brokes’. It is unrealistic and not reasonable to expect your well-intentioned brokers to have the skills to help you make money. They are there to help you execute your trades. The few exceptional brokers with some moneymaking skills will be covering the rich and powerful.
Retail investors also rely too heavily on tips. But can a good insider tip get to a small retail investor and be of relevance? This is almost impossible. Even assuming that the tip is reliable, by the time it reaches the ‘small potatoes’, in all likelihood the big “sharks” would already be waiting to take profit on this new batch of buyers.
The underlying reason for the existence of ‘rumours and tips’ in the marketplace is mainly because a player or group of players has an inherent position in the market and want to influence prices in order for them to profit from the impact of this news. This is a silly and ultimately painful way for retail investors to engage in the market.
Retail investors also tend to rely on the publications of reputed, established financial institutions to make investing decisions. However, there is no positive correlation between the profitability and reputation of a financial institution and the relevance of its research in helping retail investors making money.
An investor rely on the past good performance of a stock fund to invest without examining the following points: Firstly, did the dedicated fund have outstanding results due to the mere fact that that particular sector or country had a huge rally? Secondly, was the past good performance due to the same time window of the bull market phase?
There is a need to seek highly skilled fund managers who consistently outperform the market, and invest in these funds. However, the truth is that in most cases these seasoned veterans have already more than enough money to manage. Retail investors are therefore likely to be left with fund managers from institutions that are still in the ‘experimenting process’.
Good fund managers are individuals who are identifiable; they are not institutions. Successful investing is a personalized skill. Most institutions are profitable because they are very good at marketing.
Rule 5: Apply common sense
Between the individual and the market, one is controllable while the other is not. Therefore investors should focus on improving the controllable “self” to enhance their chance of success in the uncontrollable market. Most however focus on trying to guess the direction of the market, thus neglecting to focus on controlling weaknesses of “self” as highlighted earlier.
In my experience as a practitioner, when one focuses on time, size and price management coupled with patience the probability of success is very high. Big price fluctuations should be viewed as opportunity rather than with fear. It is exactly because of these big price fluctuations over a long period that one is able to buy at depressed prices and sell at high prices. To be truly profitable consistently one must be able to buy at low prices consistently. In the long run only those who manage to “buy low and sell high” will be the winners.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: what is the appropriate strategy for retail investors?
A: As a general rule, there are two points to consider. Firstly, the strategy must not rely on having an edge in resources of time, knowledge and finance, as retail investors are weakest in these areas when compared to all other players. Secondly, such a strategy must necessarily be based on the patience to buy shares at basement prices on a non-leveraged basis with minimal transactions over an extended period.
Q: How can retail investors know when shares are at basement prices?
A: Shares will be at basement prices when bearish psychology is extreme and liquidity is tight in the following situations:
- The asset bubble bursts and strong economy tailspins into a recession like the recent Asian crisis
- The economy goes into a period of stagflation
- The economy in a depression with prevailing banking crisis
- The market crashes due to special events eg Gulf War, 19 Oct 87 (program trading), LTCM debacle, etc
Q: How do I improve my timing in order to buy shares at basement prices?
A: For situations where share prices are low due to a weaker economic cycle it is best to invest over a six to 12 month period. The initial investment should be 50% of capital, with 10% each subsequently over the intended period for the last 50%. The timing of the initial investment of 50% is crucial.
Based on my experience it is best to buy on the day following the national government’s admission that the economy is in a recession and gives a negative GDP forecast for the rest of the year. When this announcement is one that makes the front page of the national daily, then almost all the bad news has been discounted by the market.
For a market crash due to a special event it is normally right to commit 50% of capital on the same day of the event and the rest of the 50% within a week. Special event crash tends to be immediate and furious as institutional and retail investors all unload holdings aggressively yet simultaneously, thereby prices reach bottom very quickly.
In the case of a banking crisis, the time to buy is when the government’s plan to use public money to re-capitalize the banks, whether directly or indirectly through tax incentives aimed at the disposal of bad loans, is at the final stage.
Q: What type of shares should one buy?
A: Buy the top two of the best-managed institutions from each of the key sectors of banking, media, telecommunications, healthcare and computer software. These sectors tend to be essential and also have inherent oligopoly power.
Q: Is the investing going to be smooth sailing?
A: Absolutely not, especially at the initial phase of your buying spree. All your good friends including your dear spouse will think that you are crazy. They will say, “The market is getting lower, this is too dangerous, you can wait”. And likely, in the next few days or weeks after buying, the market may indeed go lower, and you will look like a fool.
But to want to buy at the absolute bottom is not possible. But to buy near the bottom is possible and can be made highly probable by this approach. Be prepared for some short-term psychological torture. But you need to buy. If not, you will watch and miss the opportunity altogether. Somehow in most cases, you will later look like the wisest man in town for having the courage to buy those shares. View it as short term pain, long term gain.
Q: When then should one take profits?
A: For shares bought resulting from a market crash due to special events (ie it is a one-off situation), one can take profits when profits are between 50% to 100% within a six months period.
However, for shares bought as a result of an economic crisis or economic downturn one should keep them for years. Liquidation should only begin when the bull market is so obvious and in such a great rage that it sucks in all kinds of new retail players. The greater fool theory, unfortunately, always comes into play near the end of a new bull market cycle. Shares should be disposed gradually over a 24-month period as bull markets normally last much longer than expected.
Q: After taking profits, what should the investor do with the money?
A: Stay in cash until shares are at basement prices again. This strategy implies that when not invested one must hold cash and be patient even if the waiting period is long. In fact, one of the unprofitable “myths” that is frequently encouraged and practiced is that of continued deployment of capital to enhance returns.
This approach usually means that when the opportunity comes for acquiring bargain basement shares you will not have the money. Instead you will be among those hurt by lower share prices. Rather, you should build up liquidity for deployment when market liquidity is tightest in order to make big money.
Q: How often can a retail investor reasonably be expected to participate in such an investment strategy?
A: Assuming a 35-year investment life, one can expect to participate in three to four complete economic cycles, with each cycle of about eight to 10 years, yielding returns of at least 200% over capital. With this approach, transaction costs will be at the barest minimum and any disruption to one’s job will be almost non-existent, as the investor will be doing nothing most of the time.
During this period of 35 years, one who is patient and courageous will in addition be rewarded withabout five event market crashes, which should yield at least 50% for each event. Therefore this strategy though on a day to day basis does not seem to bear anything, can be very profitable and consistent over the 35 years horizon.
Be patient and be prepared, and you will come out tops in the investment arena.