Wealth

Diversifying Risk For Long-Term Returns

Most South Africans have 83% of their wealth concentrated in South Africa. Entrepreneur spoke to three investment experts about offshore investing and how diversifying one's risk can boost long-term returns.
Diversifying Risk For Long-Term Returns
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Entrepreneur Staff
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THE EXPERTS

Philip Smith is the Head of Investments and Fiduciary Services for Standard Bank, Wealth International

Clinton Sprong is Head of Private Clients, Sasfin Wealth

David Nathanson is a Global Equity Specialist at Bellwood Capital

 

Q. What should investors be using offshore investments for?

Clinton Sprong: One of the main reasons is for diversification. That means not having all one’s assets in South Africa. Furthermore, there are many global companies that provide access to international themes that are going to reshape the future like robotics, artificial intelligence, driverless cars and so on. One just can’t get access to these companies on the JSE.

 

Philip Smith: South Africa is a small, open economy that comprises approximately 0,4% of global GDP. By limiting your investments to South Africa your potential capital growth is entirely constrained by the vagaries of the local economy. It also means your investment is not able to benefit from the economic growth in more than 99% of the global economy.

Similarly, the total market capitalisation of the JSE (approximately $1,11 trillion as of March 2018) is just over 1% of the total stock market capitalisation of all listed markets worldwide (approximately $100 trillion).

So, by limiting your investments to the local market you miss out on the equity market performance of approximately 99% of the world.

You are also not able to expose your investments to the truly rapidly growing tech stocks like Apple, Amazon or Samsung, as well as flagship global companies like Honda or Toyota. Of course, investing offshore does have a currency component to it, and by investing in offshore markets you are able to hedge against some of the volatility of the local currency. However, the main rationale for investing offshore should be about diversifying your portfolio rather than the rand alone.

 

David Nathanson: While all countries are subject to their own specific set of risks, emerging market countries are generally faced with greater political and currency uncertainty than developed countries, and South Africa is no exception. The biggest risk facing South Africa is its debt burden, which has doubled since the last global recession in 2008/09.

Excessive debt is the main culprit in any household, company or country that finds itself in financial trouble. In 2008/09, when the last global recession struck, South Africa was in a fairly strong financial position and managed to weather the storm.

There was volatility, but no permanent destruction of wealth. Countries like Iceland and Greece were less fortunate: Their domestic stock exchanges have lost 70% and 80% respectively in USD over the last decade. More recently, Turkey and Brazil — countries in a similar position to South Africa — have found themselves in difficulty.

Their domestic stock markets have lost 30% and 40% respectively in USD over the last decade. Over the same time period, the MSCI World Index has doubled in USD — global diversification would have served investors in these countries very well.  The point of these decade-long examples is to demonstrate the difference between temporary volatility and long-term wealth destruction.

It is the latter that investors should be most concerned about, and this is the risk faced by anyone overexposed to one country, particularly an emerging market country with a heavy debt burden, capital controls and significant political risks. 

From an investor perspective, the major risk is actually overexposure to South Africa, and the solution is to invest globally.

According to the latest AfrAsia report, wealthy South Africans have 83% of their wealth concentrated in South Africa.  Ask yourself, as a global investor, how much of your capital would you risk in any one country, specifically an emerging market that represents less than 1% of the world? No amount of optimism can justify 83%, or even half for that matter.

Fortunately, the case for global investment doesn’t hinge solely on an optimism or pessimism towards South Africa. The upside is that there is a whole world of opportunity out there that South Africans should be taking advantage of. We believe that a portfolio of our 30 best investment ideas chosen from 7 000 stocks globally is likely to be vastly superior in terms of quality, price and diversification when compared to a portfolio chosen from 100 stocks locally.

 

Q. If the investor never plans to leave South Africa, or start a business overseas, is it advisable that they invest offshore? Why?

Clinton: Yes. Having most of one’s life savings and investments (house, car, pension fund, business etc) in South Africa means that investing offshore allows one to diversify risk and get exposure to world-class companies that are able to expand aggressively given their size, brands and distribution.

 

Q. Does investing offshore give you a better return than investing locally?

Philip: Not necessarily. For example, if you are invested only in developed markets like the US or Europe then you are likely to get lower returns — at least in percentage terms — due to the fact that economic growth and inflation rates in these mature markets are much lower than their developing counterparts. Where you benefit by investing in developed economies is that you are exposed to hard currency returns and are also able to access truly blue chip, global stocks. However, if you invest in an emerging market fund, you could potentially get higher returns than those available in South Africa as many developing nation economies, particularly those in Asia, are growing at a much faster pace than South Africa, which is currently experiencing very slow economic growth.

 

Clinton: All markets move in cycles. Global equity markets have certainly provided superior returns over the past three to four years.

Global economies have been growing at between 3% and 4% per annum versus a 0,5% and 1% growth in the South African economy, which lends itself to better returns from international companies.

David: A wider opportunity set can be a massive advantage if it is used correctly. This depends on whether or not you have a strong investment process, and on how you apply it. If you apply indiscriminate diversification, you shouldn’t expect superior returns, though you would reduce country-specific risks. If, instead, you apply a great investment process to choose your best ideas from a wider global opportunity set, you should expect these investments to do better than your best ideas chosen from the narrow local market. This can be done without sacrificing the benefits of global diversification.

 

Q. For those investing offshore, what would be the benefits and risks of investing in emerging markets versus developed markets?

Philip: The advantage of investing in an emerging market fund is that you are able to gain exposure to high growth economies with significant scale like South Korea, India, China, Indonesia, Thailand and so on. These markets tend to have much faster rates of economic growth than developed markets and also tend to have fairly favourable long-term demographic underpinnings (i.e. a young population of aspirant consumers who are likely to help drive economic growth well into the future).

However, the advantage that many developed markets have is that they still contain the bulk of the truly blue-chip global stocks and also offer arguably more stable, predictable currencies. Emerging markets tend to be highly reliant on exports to developed nations and anything that imperils that ability to export can immediately impact their currencies.

In a global geopolitical environment where there is an increasing risk of trade wars, one only needs to look at recent developments with the Turkish lira, to see that emerging market currencies can be very vulnerable to external shocks, which can negatively impact your returns.

 

Clinton: Emerging markets have historically been attractive investment destinations as their economies have often grown in excess of developed markets. China for example has been growing in the high single digits for a decade. However, the risk of a South African investor investing in an emerging market is that it reduces the benefits of diversification, as in most cases if there is a crisis in one emerging market, all emerging markets, including South Africa are affected.

 

Q. There are professionals advising people to invest in a global account when saving for their annual international vacation. Is this good advice? Is offshore investing for short, medium or long-term investing?

Clinton: An individual’s investment horizon is dependent on their needs, goals, and risk appetite. Depending on this there would not be a problem dividing one’s investment goals into short-, medium- and long-term ‘buckets’. One may find however that the short-term bucket has less exposure to growth assets like equities, while the long-term investments have a much higher weighting to equities to cater for better long-term growth prospects.

Philip: It’s advisable to save in the currency that you intend spending. So, if you’re planning on taking a holiday in Europe and are able to save monthly in euros then you can insure yourself against the risk of a sudden negative move in the rand rendering your holiday unaffordable.

However, saving in foreign currency is not entirely fool-proof, as history has shown that the rand can experience both aggressive negative falls and dramatic pull backs. It is entirely possible that you could spend six months to a year saving in dollars or euros only to end up seeing the rand experience a bout of prolonged strengthening when you’re getting ready to take your overseas holiday.

However, the safer of the two options is probably to save in the currency in which you intend spending the money, as it gives you an element of certainty that a sudden currency swing won’t leave you with less money than you anticipated.

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