VINCE SCULLY | Chief Sherpa at Life Sherpa

· Podcast Episodes
The decline is temporary, the advance is inevitable. Vince Scully  from Life Sherpa
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So I wanted to explore the concept of "high-growth assets". But as always when talking with Vince Scully, the Chief Sherpa at Life Sherpa, nothing is as simple as it seems. In this wide-ranging discussion, Phil and Vince navigate the nuanced terrains of growth and defensive assets, and the all-important balancing act in portfolio construction.

"Nuance is the first casualty of the Internet and finance."

As Vince breaks down the intricacies of growth shares, value companies, and the significance of asset allocation, you'll gain insights into the art of constructing a portfolio that can withstand the market's volatility while aiming for long-term returns.

Vince discusses the psychological impact of market volatility and the common pitfalls investors face, such as panic selling during downturns. He stresses the importance of aligning your investment strategy with your risk tolerance to maximize returns while minimizing heartache.

"By aligning your volatility with your tolerance and capacity for risk, you reduce the risk that you'll hit the sell button at an inopportune time."

The episode also touches on the role of financial advisors in helping investors navigate these turbulent waters and the dangers of core and satellite investing. Vince's candid discussion about the temptation to "have a punt" on the side with a small portion of your portfolio provides a realistic view of human behavior in financial markets.

"Investors generally earn three to 5% less than the market they invest in... that's because human nature makes us feel more bullish about investing when markets are heading up."

From superannuation funds to the psychology behind checking your investments, this episode is packed with valuable nuggets for both the seasoned investor and the curious newcomer. Tune in to demystify the complex world of investing and learn how to align your risk tolerance with your investment strategy for a more secure financial future.


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Chloe: Shares for beginners Phil Muscatello and Fin pods are authorised reps of money Sherpa. The information in this podcast is general in nature and doesn't take into account your personal situation.

Vince: The problem with the core and sellage approach, it's often used by scoundrels in the industry to justify any crappy investment that they want to sell. Because it creates the illusion that this is side money. You can do something about it.

Phil: G'day and welcome back to shares for beginners. I'm Phil Muscatello. What is a high risk asset and what does it mean for your long term returns? Can you incorporate high growth investment options and still sleep at night? But as I've just been finding out talking before we roll tape, is that I've got this completely arse up. G'day. Vince Scully, chief Sherpa at Life Sherpa, welcome back to the podcast. G'day, Phil.

Vince: It's great to be back.

Phil: What we're going to be talking about is high growth. And as you pointed out before we went on e because he wanted to correct my version of a video with high growth, is that I was thinking about approaching this episode about high growth assets and the particular companies on the share market were considered high growth. But this is not the case, is it? There's a much more subtlety and nuance. I know you like going into the weeds, Vince.

Vince: Yeah, well, actually, take us there. Well, as you know, nuance is the first casualty of the Internet and finance, and so it's not so much wrong as there are, uh, different meanings applied to the word growth or high growth in different contexts.

Phil: And just let's get back, because this is another thing that you'll be looking at in your super statement, and you'll see terms like growth, aggressive and so forth. So we're kind of trying to dig down into this particular aspect of it so, uh, that listeners actually know what they're talking about when they say that.

Vince: That's right. What the superfund's talking about. Yeah, when we talk about growth in its generic sense, it just means the value of your assets going up in a categorisation, uh, sense. We divide assets into growth assets or defensive assets. And growth assets are ones that are generally capable of growing faster than inflation. And they're generally bricks or businesses or bricks infrastructure and real estate businesses. Shares, as contrasted with defensive assets being the other three b's being bank bills, cash, bonds, which are really IOUs from governments and companies, and bullion, which I needed a b word that reflected commodities. But for most people that means gold, which is why I use the word bullion.

Phil: So hasn't gold been on a tear lately?

Vince: It has in fact, for more than 20 years. Really? I mean that's part of its attraction that if you look at what happened in 2008 when the UH, stock market fell 40%, well, gold was up 20 or 30. Similarly happened, similar thing happened during the COVID collapse, although that was much more short lived. So that's I guess, growth assets and defensive.

Phil: Defensive, yep.

Vince: Within the growth category or specifically within the UH, businesses portion, the shares portion. We describe some shares as being growth shares or growth companies, which are uh, companies that the market expects their future earnings to grow quickly. And the obvious ones are uh, things like Google, Facebook, Amazon. And so that means they are generally priced on a high multiple of today's earnings because tomorrow's earnings are expected to be higher. So they are referred to as growth assets, growth companies, and they as distinct as a value companies. And they tend to underperform over time because you're paying more for the same cash flow today. So they include more price risk. Now, uh, for a while, they will generally deliver higher growth. So that's what we've seen with the big seven recently. Facebook, Amazon, Google, all have been growing into those earnings. Where the problem lies is when that growth starts to level off, which it always will. And so that's why value shares tend to, over the longer term, deliver better returns, because you're buying the cash flow at a lower multiple. There are also companies that you would expect to deliver higher growth because they're higher risk. So generally smaller companies. So smaller companies, it's much easier to double the revenue of a company that's making $10 million in revenue than one that's making a billion dollars in revenue. And so they can grow more quickly, they tend to have less analyst attention, so there's more scope for a manager to outperform. And so allocating some money to smaller companies, and in an Australia context, that's generally stuff that's outside the ASX 300 and can deliver you higher returns. And then finally, the way you put those all together into a portfolio can create a growth portfolio, or a high growth portfolio, or a balanced, or a conservative or a capital stable portfolio. So in that context, these words don't necessarily mean anything. There's no legal definition of what a growth portfolio or a high growth portfolio is. But as a general rule, anything that's more than about 85% growth assets would generally be referred to as a high growth portfolio. I have seen portfolios described as balanced from some of our leading super funds with asset allocations in that range. But as a general rule of thumb you should think about an 85% plus as being high growth.

Phil: So it's a factor of the allocation then because I came in thinking there are particular assets. Like if you look at small caps, they are high growth assets. And this might be a common misconception.

Vince: Um, yeah, I mean it's just people use the same words to describe different things. So it's always a good question to think about when someone uses these words is well, what do they mean? Do they mean high growth assets? Do they mean a high growth portfolio? Do they mean a high growth company? And all of those things mean different things and have different implications for your investing.

Phil: And it makes sense to ask or refer to them in those kind of terms.

Vince: You could use the same word three different ways in the same sentence and still make sort of sense. So it's important to always, uh, think about what's the context of that word. And when anyone talks about my portfolio did well or this asset did well, you've always got to ask compared to what? And is that compared to what? An asset with similar sort of risk characteristics that you can always have a higher expected return by taking more risk. So when people say you can't beat the market, well that's true depending on how you define the market. But if I take a well selected portfolio of small companies, that is companies that are outside the ASX 300, I would expect that over time they will outperform the ASX 300.

Phil: If they survive.

Vince: If they survive. M. You know, I said well selected is the important point that there is no tradable index that you can buy that looks at the X 300 in any meaningful sense. Yeah, the all odds includes, I think it's 1800. But the ones that are 301 to 1800 are uh, largely a rounding difference when compared to the 300. Just as the 300. Yeah, they're 201 to 300.

Phil: They're pretty small companies, aren't they? Yeah, in comparison, I mean they're certainly.

Vince: Small compared to BHP and NEB but they're still hundreds of millions of dollars in market cap. But I guess the point I was trying to make, however inarticulately was that 200, uh, one to 300 makes stuff all difference when you compare it to the 200. ASX 200 versus ASX 300, substantially the same. And to get that benefit of small caps you need to look beyond the uh, 300.

Phil: So risk and its related volatility, that's meat and potatoes. For your financial planning types. And this is when you're looking at companies assets that are going to grow faster, there is going to be inherent levels of risk. This is really volatility. And there's ways of measuring this, isn't there?

Vince: There is. And it's important to understand what we mean when we use volatility as a proxy for risk.

Phil: It still blows me away that they're so interchangeable in financial terms. I never realised until.

Vince: Yeah, and it's probably unfortunate that that's what we do. But when most people start in investing, they think about risk as, will this company go bust?

Phil: Yeah. Will I lose all my money?

Vince: M will I lose all my money? And when you move beyond individual companies, that becomes a largely immaterial risk that, sure, companies in the ASX 200 go bust from time to time. You've been around as long as I have. So you go back to pre GFC. We had companies like Alco, Babcock and Brown, ABC, childcare, lots of companies that.

Phil: Onetel.

Vince: Onetel, yep. I mean, Harris scarf. The list is long, but looked at in the context of the overall ASX 200, those companies disappearing aren't going to leave you eating cat food in your retirement. So once you move away from individual companies, the concept of the bankruptcy risk or the total loss of my money becomes largely academic. And so when you're trying to say, is investing in the big four banks different to investing in the big three miners or the big two grocery retailers, one way of looking at that is how wiggly is their share price. And that's really a measure of how much your investment's going to go up and down every day. And so the bigger the level of wiggliness or volatility, the greater the uncertainty of what your portfolio will be worth on any given day.

Phil: And that's the risk.

Vince: And that's the risk, really. There are people who will say volatility is not risk, and that's true in the context of the bankruptcy risk, but in the context of what most people are trying to achieve. That is, we're all investing for some goal. Uh, we don't just invest because to invest means we have to defer today's spending. So why are we doing that? We're doing that to achieve some goal in the future, whether that's tomorrow or next week or next year or next decade. And volatility drives the level of certainty you can have in what that outcome will look like when you want to achieve that goal. And that's what matters to most people. The argument that people put that volatility is not risk, is that it only turns into a loss when you actually sell. And that's true. So in that sense, the value of your portfolio today compared to its value yesterday is relatively unimportant, other than the psychological impact it has on your behavior. What matters is what's it going to be worth in whatever timeframe I want to achieve this goal. And that is, will require you to take risk sufficient to deliver a return in excess of inflation to achieve that goal. And there are really three levers you can pull when it comes to achieving a goal. You've got time. So how long have you got? The longer you've got, the longer your money's got to work, the longer time it's got to grow, which is the benefit of compound interest, not compound returns. You've got how much you're prepared to set aside. And we all have finite financial resources, so, uh, how much I set aside means I spend less today. And so there is a trade off between what future fill spends and what present day Phil spends. And there's a willingness to make that trade off. And having set those two levers, the third lever then is return. So the longer you have and the more you set aside, the lower the return you need to achieve the same goal. And obviously there's a finite range of possible returns. And from a practical perspective, you know, a balanced portfolio that is something that's got between, say, 50 and 75% growth assets should be delivering you 8%. So inflation plus five or six, probably as you move up the risk curve, you might expect to get more than that. But to, uh, plan on getting more than 10% over the long term is increasing the probability that you won't achieve it. And that's the challenge. So if you look at the numbers, the australian share market has delivered an average return of 13% over the last 124 years. But an investor investing on the 1 January 1900, just not keeping their hands off it, would have realised 10% over that period before tax, before fees. And that's because a decline of 20% takes more than an increase of 20% to get back to where it was.

Phil: So that's, uh, on that particular date, it was very high and then it dropped out.

Vince: No, it's just that if you take, let's say you've got a market that does plus ten, minus ten, average zero, but what would you actually got? You've got 100, plus ten is 110, -10% is 99. So you may have had an average return of zero, but you've now got a realized return of minus one. And it's just the maths that the bigger the number, the bigger the impact the percentage has.

Phil: That damn maths.

Vince: Yes. So that's the thing. The other place that volatility becomes important is your ability to stay the course. And when we see volatility, that is, or at least the negative bits of volatility, nobody cares about volatility going up. People care about what happens when the volatility leads to a down period. And so, faced with a 30%, 40%, 50% decline in the portfolio, many people will rush to hit the sell button. And that's the worst thing you can do. So by aligning your volatility with your tolerance and capacity for risk, you reduce the risk that you'll hit the sell button at an inopportune time and increase your ability to stay the course. And that's why volatility matters. You can't have return without volatility, but too much will lead to the sell. So you need enough growth to deliver the return. You need, but enough defensiveness to allow you to sleep at night and keep your hand off the sell button. And that's partly where an advisor comes in. So by having a human between you and the market can help talk you down off the ledge in those periods. And, you know, many people under 40 whose experience of investing is the last 14 or 15 years have never really experienced a, uh, serious downturn. And so it can be tempting to believe that if some is good, more must be better. And therefore, I should be going 100% growth or 100% equities within my 100% growth. And that looked great for the last 14 years, but over time, it's not looked that good. And history is littered with people hitting the sell button when they really needed to grit their teeth. And so, uh, by living through possibly the greatest real bull market, that is, returns adjusted for inflation, the last 14 years have probably been the best 14 years in history. They won't turn up in the top 14 years of overall returns, but we've had a remarkably benign inflation position. We've had very low interest rates for that period. So those returns, not only do they feel good because it's a big number, but they're also actually really good in real spending, power adjusted terms. And there haven't really been that many big downturns. The COVID one might have been relatively, uh, deep as they come, but it was sort of all over in four or five months. And so it's important to understand your real tolerance for risk.

Chloe: Super is one of the most important investments you'll ever make. But how do you know if you're in the best fund for your situation? Head to dot au to find out more. Life Sherpa, uh, Australia's most affordable online financial advice.

Phil: Also understand the timeline as well. It's like if you're saving for a deposit on a house, you don't want to be heavier assets or heavier dosh in assets that are going to be possibly get into a downturn.

Vince: Yeah, that's right. So if you're saving for your goal is one or two years out, you probably have no business being in the equity market.

Phil: Yeah, and that's what so many people say. They say, well, what's your goal? What do you want to do? They say, I want to make as much money as possible. And that's, uh, you know, you've really got to talk people down from that position, don't you? Yeah.

Vince: And that whole concept of which is sort of a natural human instinct that I want to beat the market. So as a goal, that's a remarkably difficult thing to tie down. So if someone comes into me and says, look, I want to. What's your goal? I want to beat the market. Well, first of all, you've got to define the market. Do you mean the australian market? Do you mean the equities market? Do you mean the residential property market? Do you mean big companies? Do you mean small companies? Do you mean value companies? Do you mean the ASX 200? Do you mean the s and P 500? What do you mean and what currency are you going to measure it in? And you're going to measure it before or after taxes. And you also need to be comfortable that if the market's down 30%, is being down 25%, going to feel like you've achieved your goal. Um, that's what you've told me. I want to beat the market, but that actually bears very little relationship to, uh, why are you stopping present day fill? Spend this money in order for future fill to be able to spend something more or different. And that return does matter. So when you look at retirement saving, about two thirds of the money you spend in retirement comes from the earnings on your money and on your third from the money you put in. So return does matter. But, um, what I would say my job as an advisor is to ensure that the return the market delivers, which I don't control. I have no better knowledge of what the SX 200 is going to do tomorrow than you do or my 20 year old 24 year old son knows. But what I can do is help you construct a portfolio that you're going to be comfortable with. And I can make sure that those returns end up in your pocket. And we know from all of the research and any of your listeners want to look at the Dalbar research. Dalbar is a researcher in the US and they produce a comparison between the returns of the market and returns of investors. And every time they do this, investors generally earn three to 5% less than the market they invest in or the funds they invest in. And that's because human nature makes us feel more bullish about investing when markets are heading up. And so we invest more money and therefore we're buying in at higher prices and people put less in when markets are falling because it doesn't feel very good. And that means that we tend to buy high, sell low, rather than what you actually want to do, which is buy low, sell high, and that avoiding that human behavior, again, is one of those important roles that advisers play in all of this. But I'm certainly not delusional enough to think that I control what the SX 200 does.

Phil: That's wishing. It's wishing it to go up. It's not going to make it go up.

Vince: Your vanguard australian share Fund doesn't know whether you picked it by throwing a dart at the fin review, or you paid an advisor to do it, or you heard you bought it because someone on Reddit said it was a good thing. It will do what it does and nobody knows what it will do tomorrow. Um, and what you need to do is tilt those odds in your favour by having the right mix of assets or asset classes and knowing that diversification is your friend. Consistency is your friend. And low fees, all other things being equal, is your friend and low taxes is your friend. So putting all that together and managing your own behaviour is the key to, um, making this work.

Phil: What would you suggest? You know, because people, uh, often would like to have a little bit of what they call a punt on the site. Okay. They might be following those precepts religiously, um, for 95% of their portfolio, but, you know, they want to have that little. Would you discourage someone from.

Vince: I mean, this is the.

Phil: Is there a percentage that you would say, don't go over that percentage for your punting behaviour?

Vince: I mean, this is the concept of what is often referred to as core and satellite investing, that the core of your investments should be in diversified, low cost, broad based index funds with enough active funds playing their part, where that sector is one that active management adds value. And then around that you can have your. Whether you want to punt on crypto or lithium, lithium, whatever.

Phil: Vanadium.

Vince: Whatever. The thing.

Phil: Vanadium is the latest thing that scratches.

Vince: Your urge to do something. And as humans, we really like doing stuff. There's nothing as frustrating as having to sit back and keep your hands off things. And so having an active allocation to things that you feel passionate about can really build engagement and help protect your core, or your fortress, as I call it, that you want to lock this up, the core up, so that it delivers your core return and then you can have fun with the bit around it. Now, how big should that be? That's the challenge for me. My tab account is my satellite, so I am under no illusions that I know who's going to win race five at Randwick on the weekend, but boy, do I have fun playing with it. And that's the bit that we. If your plan is to get some fun out of this money that you're setting aside for future fill, how are you going to scratch that itch? For some people it's investing in thematic funds, for some people it's throwing the money at Cathie woods and some of it is crypto or whatever. And sometimes you'll make out like a bandit. Sometimes I hit the hundred to one roughy, but more often I don't. And what's the slogan these days? You win some, you lose more. But that's not why I'm, um, playing the tab. This is about having fun. Yeah.

Phil: Whereas many people approach the tab or Ned's or Ladbrokes, they're going to make some money. Yeah.

Vince: I mean, I worked with, um, an actuary at Macquarie in the nineties and when we'd be in the office on a Saturday, I mean, this predates a lot of online betting, but he had his tab accounts at the various tabs around the country and was playing off the odds of one against the other very successfully. But that was, a, because he understood horses and, um, b, he was an actuary, so he was able to factor these odds in his head.

Phil: So he was arbitraging between Tob's.

Vince: Arbitraging the tob's.

Phil: Wow. Incredible.

Vince: So that's, to me, that satellite approach, the problem with the core and sellage approach, it's often used by scoundrels in the industry to justify any crappy investment that they want to sell because it creates the illusion that this is side money. You can do something about it.

Phil: Speaking of investments and marketing of investments.

Vince: That'S what this podcast is about Phil, isn't it?

Phil: Well, but trying to dig a bit deeper to what they're saying, I saw this ad on a bus shelter on the way walking up here, and it said it was for a property trust, I think, I can't remember the name. And it said active investment for the price of passive. It's such a meaningless.

Vince: What does it mean?

Phil: That's right. I mean, we sort of know what they're trying to say.

Vince: But yeah, investment costs are in general coming down, they've come down very materially over the last few decades, and due.

Phil: To ETF's competition and so forth, access, uh, people are starting to understand the fees that are involved.

Vince: Investing in London in the eighties, the standard way of getting was either you bought a managed fund directly from the manager and you filled out a form and pinned a check to it and stuck it in the mail, or you bought generally listed investment trusts, or listed investment companies, generally trusts in the UK, which are uh, sort of the equivalent of our lics. And you paid a government regulated brokerage to buy, which was typically, I think, 1% with a minimum of 100 pounds or something. So these were material costs and it was relatively inconvenient to do. The upside was your broker phoned you in the morning and said, japan's looking good today, how would you buy some? The downside was that trading cost a lot of money, and that's why we all got into dividend reinvestment plans, because a, you got a discount for them, and b, you saved this massive brokerage, but the world's a different place today. You know, I can trade for close to zero and I can practically go and buy $1,000 parcel on my phone, on the bus, on the way to.

Phil: Work of any index you want, and.

Vince: I can sell it by lunchtime. Well, not quite. You still have to have, we're still at t plus two. That is, you don't get your stuff for two days after you buy it, but that changes the dynamic on a lot of those things. But you've got to look at, what does that do for your behaviour? So if you can look at the, uh, market on your phone five times a day, you'll get a very different view of the world than if you look at it once a week or once a month.

Phil: Yeah, long term investors looking at five minute charts.

Vince: That's right. And as a general trend, the market goes up three quarters of the time. The market, in that case, I mean equities markets generally, three quarters of the time, they got quarter of the time.

Phil: They'Re designed to go up.

Vince: Yeah, and that's largely because GDP goes up, inflation goes up, money supply goes up. So the number will go up over time. As my good friend Nick Murray says, the decline is temporary, the advance is inevitable, and the more you look at it, the more likely you are to see a down result. And the human brain's reaction to a negative news is twice as bad as our reaction to a positive news. So just do the maths. You know, three quarters, you're going to get one quarter time you're going to get two. So the more often you look, the more likely you are to get a down number. So if you're investing for the long term, don't check it in the short every day or every hour.

Have you shopped at Woolies lately and have you felt gouged

Phil: Vince, to finish off. Have you shopped at Woolies lately? And have you felt gouged the thing.

Vince: That does, or Coles.

Phil: Sorry, I should.

Vince: No, I am m a Wooley shopper because I have two very close by. I think one was an old Franklin shop. And incidentally, the building that Wooley's neutral bay occupies is actually owned by Coles. And I think they're in.

Phil: Gee, talk about a cozy duopoly.

Vince: Um, but the thing that really does bother me is Woolies have this scheme, I think it's called everyday rewards. I might have the brand name wrong, but they have two prices on a lot of products that if you're a member of this scheme, you get the lower price, and if you're not, you pay the higher price. So that's the incentive to hand over your email address so that they know the data.

Phil: Yeah.

Vince: And that was sort of what tipped me over. I'm a very bad shopper. I do a just in time shop. I happen to walk by the door of woolies on my way home from work. And so I usually pick up as much as I can carry from there to my house. And I only do a, uh, the big heavy shop once a month. So I'm probably not your typical grocery buyer. But, you know, in Australia, the two grocers, I don't want the share of the market, but it's probably 60 or 70%. We have four banks that have 80 plus percent of the market. We have two airlines that have most of the market. And that's just a consequence of living in a country that's thousands of miles from anywhere and has only got 29,000 people.

Phil: 29 million.

Vince: 29 million people. Sorry.

Phil: Otherwise we'd know everyone. That's right.

Vince: Um, sometimes it feels like we do, and that's just, that's life. Are they gouging? I think the suppliers are probably bearing them. I think as consumers we do. Okay. But it is interesting that the UK consumer has a much greater level of trust in their supermarkets than we do. They don't trust their banks. We trust our banks more than they do. So when you look at the UK consumer, the UK consumer is quite happy to buy a bottle of wine with a Sainsburys or a Tesco label on it. The australian consumer won't. I mean, we do. Because if you look behind the brand, the address will be coles or Woolies address, but they will never put a Coles or Woolies logo on it because we don't trust our supermarkets like they do.

Phil: So even if they marketed discount goonies.

Vince: No, I mean, that's why Aldi, when Aldi started selling grog in Australia, their advertising campaign was, don't knock it till you try it. And they do have some absolute winners.

Phil: They do. I mean, that rose, I don't know.

Vince: About the rose, but their el Toro macho is for $5.99 is.

Phil: It's a temperanillo, isn't it?

Vince: It's a temperanillo. Temper temperanillo from Spain. And for $5.99 on a weeknight, that is the bargain of the century. So that's my view on grocery stores.

Phil: And they're gouging. You can avoid. If you think you're getting gouged, you can go somewhere else anyway.

Vince: I mean, I do buy my coffee at Harris Farms, but I've got better things to do with my life than worry about whether I'm paying five cents more for my baked beans.

Phil: Vince Scully thank you very much.

Vince: Thank you, Phil. Been a blast.

Chloe: Thanks for listening to shares for beginners. You can find if you enjoy listening, please take a moment to rate or review in your podcast player or tell a friend who might want to learn more about investing for their future.

TONY KYNASTON is a multi-millionaire professional investor thanks to the QAV checklist he developed . Tony's knowledge and calm analysis takes the guesswork out of share market investing.

Any advice in this blog post is general financial advice only and does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Because of that, you should consider if the advice is appropriate to you and your needs before acting on the information. If you do choose to buy a financial product read the PDS and TMD and obtain appropriate financial advice tailored to your needs. Finpods Pty Ltd & Philip Muscatello are authorised representatives of MoneySherpa Pty Ltd which holds financial services licence 451289. Here's a link to our Financial Services Guide.