Financial Independence Progress Report for April 2018

April is usually a dull month, post March dividends. But, this time, I did a rework of my portfolio to cash out profits from my equity funds and move them to MUNI funds. Dividends for rest of the year and going to look totally different than prior years. So, excited to see how the changes work out rest of this year. Let us see how the numbers look for April 2018.

5/03/2018
Emergency Fund 83.33% 20.83%
College Fund ($80K) 64.54% 65.61%
Passive Income (2017 vs 2018) $450.13(4/2017) $911.81 (4/2018)..cheating!
Retirement Fund 82.79% 78.08%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund (via HSA) 9.77% 9.77%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance policy)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Passive Income Stream
    • My passive Income for April 2018 is 100% higher than April 2017 🙂
      • I know I know….this is cheating a bit.I sold funds which distribute dividends quarterly and bought funds which distribute dividends monthly. Details below.
      • The June, September and December dividends are going to be much less. The total dividends for the entire year should be the same OR slightly higher though.
  • Additional Investments
    • Investments in taxable accounts
      • I sold some more stocks…primarily international funds, captured the gains and moved the money into my MUNI funds. Why?
        • Tax equivalent yield for MUNI funds are close to 4%
        • VTMGX and VEMAX yield is roughly 2.5 to 2.75% and I get taxed on top of that. It is possible that VTMGX and VEMAX might add some capital gains….but I am okay with this risk.
        • When the prices drop later this year, I will invest back into these funds…lets cross that bridge when we get there.
      • In addition, I took a bunch of money from my house down payment fund and deployed them as well….a house purchase does not seem to be on cards this  year….so, why let the money sit idle?
      • I also took a bunch of money from my emergency fund and invested them as well. If I need money, I would have to sell some bond funds….hopefully the funds do not lose too much value in case such a case comes….touch wood to avoid taking such a loss.
    • Investments in tax-deferred account (IRA)
      • In the last few months, I have taken some profits and set up a a cash fund to take advantage of the next investing opportunity. Unlike 2008, I want to have a cash fund ready to take advantage of lower asset prices in the next bear market!!
      • I bought some VEIPX (Vanguard Equity Income Fund).
        • Every fund in my tax-advantage portion is earning money for me: stocks and bonds and REIT funds. The stocks are primarily International funds.
        • I am slowly going to dollar cost average into US equities using VEIPX with the cash fund I have developed over the last few months.
        • Basic strategy is that I can get access to entire vanguard funds inside my IRA. A generic total market fund is easy to get from any 401K provider….so, I will add more US equities via my 401k using a total market fund.

Financial Independence Progress Report for January 2018

It is already end of January 2018 and a new year is well underway and I just realized once again how time flies. I started writing this blog in July of 2014. My first page was this (About) and my second was this (What is Financial Independence to Me). I had just then started thinking about Financial Independence and freedom from the rat race!

Surprisingly, even after 4 years, the initial goals have not changed at all….which means I was thinking some things correctly 🙂 Every month of new dividends flowing in gets me closer to my goals and motivates me to get every dollar working hard for my freedom. Best of luck for my fellow travelers in the journey of financial freedom…..make every dollar work for you!

That said, lets look at the numbers for January, 2018.

2/4/2018
Emergency Fund 100.00% 83.33%
College Fund ($80K) 62.50% 64.47%
Passive Income (2017 vs 2018) $441.42 (1/2017) $755.14 (1/2018)
Retirement Fund 81.03% 82.17%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund (via HSA) 6.17% 6.17%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance policy)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Emergency Fund
    • I saw an opportunity to reach my funding target in one of my MUNI funds (VCADX) and just could not resist it. So, I took some of my emergency funds and bought into the fund. It was a momentary weakness to dip into my emergency fund…but hopefully the new dollars will bail me out later in time.
    • More on this later.
  • Passive Income Stream
    • My passive Income for January 2018 is a couple hundred dollars higher than January 2017. This is mostly the result of a push towards adding to my MUNI funds through 2017 and a bit in Jan 2018.
  • Additional Investments
    • Investments in taxable accounts
      • As mention earlier, I invested some emergency fund cash into purchasing MUNIs (VCADX). This fund is both federal and state tax free.
    • Investments in tax-deferred account (IRA)
      • In Dec 2018, I took some profits and set up a a cash fund set up to take advantage of the next investing opportunity. Still in a holding pattern….

Welcome to new members of my mutual funds family :-)

This month (July 2016) ends the changes I have been making to my mutual fund family. This month, I am welcoming two new members to the family. Hearty welcome to VWELX (Vanguard Wellington Fund) and VWITX (Vanguard Intermediate Term Tax-exempt fund). The obvious next question is why 🙂

In October of 2014, I implemented my Passive Income Streams strategy. I wrote about it here. One of the six design principles was: For each risk bucket, have a minimum of two investment vehicles. I like this principle for two reasons:

  • Investment philosophy diversification
  • Investment manager diversification.

My thesis is that both of the above together will provide better risk diversification. Using this thesis, I build the following set of Passive Income streams (as of 10/18/2014).

Table 1: Investment Vehicles Update 10/18/2014
Risk Bucket Name Investment 1 Investment 2 Investment 3
Risk 1 (Cash) Smarty Pig (online) Credit Union N/A
Risk 2 (Bonds) VCAIX (CA munis) N/A N/A
Risk 3 (Balanced Funds) VTMFX (50% stocks and 50% National MUNIs) N/A N/A
Risk 4 (Dividend Investing) VDIGX (div growth) VHDYX (Curr div) N/A
Risk 5 (Capital Growth) VTCLX (large+mid cap) VTMSX (small cap) N/A
Risk 5 (International Funds) VTMGX (large blend) N/A N/A

Over the last couple months, the stock market has been on a tear. I cannot come up with any logical reason to explain why…it seems that no bad news can touch this market….it seems to go up and up and up. For day traders, this is heaven….but for normal folks like me, this seems suicidal…there is no reasonable value to any asset in my mutual fund family. Dollar Cost Averaging (DCA) is supposed to help me deal with this, but I can’t seem to pour money into vehicles which rise up like crazy. So, I have taken a few steps over the last couple months to do the following:

  • Bail out to re-enter at a later date
    • Sold VTCLX and VTMSX
    • Moved some of it to VWITX (National Munis) and some to cash
    • Cash helped me capture valuable stocks big time during the Brexit market dip.
  • Sell a portion of funds that had appreciated to capture gains
    • Sold portions of VTMFX, VDIGX and VHDYX
    • Captured gains accumulated over the last two years
  • Move some of the captured gains into to more solid ground
    • More on this below…..
  • Move the remaining captured gains into cash (Money market funds)
    • Basically fresh powder for the inevitable market downturn….

To redeploy the captured gains, I needed to find new vehicles that will produce passive income for me. I like all the categories I have listed in my original design in Table 1…so no new categories were needed. But some of the mutual funds did not have any competition 🙂 So, I decided to add some competition in two categories:

  • Bonds
  • Balanced Funds
  • Dividend Investing

The changes are listed in Green Color in Table 2 below.

Table 2: Investment Vehicles Update 07/30/2016
Risk Bucket Name Investment 1 Investment 2 Investment 3
Risk 1 (Cash) Smarty Pig (online) Credit Union N/A
Risk 2 (Bonds) VCAIX (CA munis) VWITX (National Munis) N/A
Risk 3 (Balanced Funds) VTMFX (50% stocks/50% National MUNIs) VWELX (60-70% stocks/30-40% bonds) N/A
Risk 4 (Dividend Investing) VDIGX (div growth) VHDYX (Curr div) VDAIX (div appreciation)
Risk 5 (Capital Growth) N/A N/A N/A
Risk 5 (International Funds) VTMGX (large blend) N/A N/A

Why did I choose those specific funds?

  • VWITX
    • In the Bonds category, I had VCAIX (CA Muni bonds). Since this was CA specific only, I bought into VWITX (National Muni bonds). Now mu MUNI bonds are spread across many states in the country. The advantage is that National Munis add better risk diversification. The disadvantage is that I lose the state tax exclusion that VCAIX would have given me.
  • VWELX
    • In the Balance funds category, I already had VTMFX…a fund split into 50% stocks (cap appreciation, low dividends) and 50% National Munis. I wanted to add a bit more aggressiveness into the balanced fund category and I chose VWELX, a fund with modest current income and long term growth. The fund invests across a broad section of the market and is known for stable returns….under performance in  bull markets and lower loss in bar markets but stable returns.
    • The disadvantage is that the turnover is 35% i.e. a bit tax unfriendly but short term capital gains are pretty low. So, I think it is worth it….lets see if my bet pays off in the long run.
  • VDAIX
    • In the dividend funds category, I already had two funds which I am very happy about. VDIGX is turned for future dividend growth (low current income) and VHDYX is tuned for high current income (low future dividend growth).
    • VDAIX on the other hand is a mix of both: companies that have consistently raised dividends for the last 10 years (good current income) and also the same companies have promise to continue growing the dividend stream in future.
    • One can ask….VDIGX is managed by Donald Kilbride, a super star manager who has consistently beaten VDAIX for the past few years. So, why not invest all the money in VDIGX if you do not need current income? Risk diversification and lower turnover.  Donald Kilbride is one person and VDAIX is an index…no more explaining needed 🙂
  • Money Market Fund
    • I want to start accumulating some cash to jump into the market when the markets go down “deep”. I have noticed that when DOW goes 100 pts in the morning, it is back up 200 points by end of market. Looks like a lot of people are investing on a 100 pt dip.
    • My new standard will be to accumulate cash until DOW dips 300 pts. My assumption is that the market will not be able to come back from a 300 pt loss in one day i.e. I can really get some value for money. Lets see how this goes.

Thatz it for now. Join me in welcoming the new members to my mutual fund family!!

Financial Independence Progress Report for April 2016

April is a slow month for dividends in my portfolio. But, after a couple months of no paychecks, seeing regular paychecks in April was such a joy! In celebration of that, I pumped a couple hundred dollars into making sure that future paychecks via dividends are a certainty 🙂

Lets look at the numbers now.

04/30/2016
Emergency Fund ($72K) 100.0% 100.0%
College Fund (80K) 39.33% 41.25%
Passive Income Streams ($4000 pm) $544.13 pm (04/2015) $509.15 pm (4/2016)
Retirement Fund ($900K) 57.96% 61.08%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund 00.00%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance payments initiated)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Portfolio changes continues this month….
    • I wrote about my Capital Gains gut check here. As part of that exercise, I divested all my holdings in VTCLX (Vanguard Tax Managed Capital Appreciation) and VTMSX (Vanguard Tax Managed Small Cap).
  • Additions to my new investment vehicle…
    • Last month, I initiated a position in Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt Fund Investor Shares (VWITX). I wrote about it in my March Progress Report.
    • I took all the money from the sale of VTCLX and VTMSX and moved them into VWITX.
    • The gains are Federal Tax free and AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) free as well. I would still have to pay CA state tax for VWITX though.
  • Dollar Cost Averaging
    • Did not have cash to dollar cost average (DCA) my funds this month…but I did boost my investments to dollar cost average VTMGX (Vanguard Developed Markets Index Fund….my non-US exposure mutual fund). I want to have some of my passive income streams to not come from US companies. VTMGX diversifies my passive income streams to include companies from Greater Europe, Greater Asia and Canada.
  • Passive Income Stream
    • Passive income for April 2016 ($1016.87) broke the positive trend of current year month winning over previous year’s month as April 2015 ($544.13). Hmm….
      • ….this was expected as my portfolio changes led to a some days where my money was not working for me…a gap of a couple days between closing of accounts and moving them into new accounts.
    • I compute Passive Income per month as (total passive income in this year) / number of months completed this year.
      • Total passive income is a sum of dividends + capital gains distributions.
      • April Passive Income = (total passive income in this year) / 12 == $201.98 which beat the 2015 April number ($172.40 per month)
      • Doing it this way keeps the monthly passive income more realistic because I can instantly know which of my monthly expenses are covered by this amount. I keep a separate tracker for this which I will write about at a later date.
    • My intermediate goal is to get $1000 pm in passive income first. My estimation for 2016 is that I will reach $750 pm. Lets see if I can push it some more 🙂

Capital Gains Investing…a gut check

Kevin O’Leary…

In my on-going search for increasing my knowledge about all things finance, I recently came across Kevin O’Leary of the Shark Tank fame. More precisely, I came across a quote he made in this video. The statement he made was this: I would never buy a stock that doesn’t pay a dividend. Whatever you think of Kevin O’Leary as a person, it is worth thinking about the statement. This post is about my thinking process and what actions I took w.r.t. my portfolio.

My Capital Appreciation investment

When I started my journey towards Financial Independence in late 2014, I wrote about the design principles behind my Passive Income streams and how I implemented the design. One of the design principles is this: Invest some money in Capital Appreciation (high risk) buckets. I called this bucket the lottery ticket investments. The implementation of this bucket was done via two Vanguard Mutual Funds.

  1. Vanguard Tax Managed Capital Appreciation Fund (VTCLX)
  2. Vanguard Tax Managed Small Cap Fund (VTMSX)

If you look at the funds, they are excellent in many ways…

  • both Morning Star gold rated and tax efficient.
  • both minimize dividends and maximize capital gains…hence tax efficiency.
  • both have an awesome track record in prior years

But, for the past four months or so, these two funds stood out whenever I did a Cost Basis analysis in my account. Let us consider VTCLX for example. Since 2014 when I started funding my Passive Income Streams, I have accumulated appx $12,000 in my VTCLX account. If I do a Cost Basis analysis i.e. how much money I invested vs how much is the current market value, here are the nos:

  • Total Investment: $12, 000
  • Today’s Market Value: $12,300
    • All dividends, however small, have been re-invested
    • Includes all capital appreciation
  • Excludes any taxes I paid on the dividends

Damn….Kevin O’Leary time again….

Yes. Only $300 total return i.e. a 2.5% total return, even excluding taxes. Similar numbers for VTMSX. This is where Kevin O’Leary’s statement bugged me. In one of the few interviews I watched of him, he said something like: if I am giving my money to a company, I expect a decent return….a return comparable to the risk I took on.

Painful Questions…

So, I asked myself this question: for the risk of investing in funds whose Beta is > 1.0 i.e. funds that are more riskier that the market, I got a 2.5% total return. This is pathetically low in my opinion. But, lets argue that 2 years (2014 to 2016) is a very small investment window. Then comes the scarier question: what kind of return can I expect in the years going forward? Here is why I think this question is scary:

  • S&P 500 is at historically high P/E ratio (inflation adjusted p/e)
    •  I.e. room for capital appreciation is pretty low
  • Dow Jones Industrial Average is also at historically high P/E ratio (charts)
    • I.e. room for capital appreciation is pretty low
  • Nasdaq composite is also at historically high P/E ration (charts)
    • Higher than the 2000 dot-come bubble!
    • I.e. room for capital appreciation is pretty low

For a moderate risk taker like me, the data is showing me that there is not much room for capital appreciation. Note that Google stock went from $550 per stock to $750 per stock from 2014 to 2016, but also note that VTCLX has google stock 🙂 So, it must be that there were many stocks that dragged it down. But, I do not dabble in individual stocks…I prefer the risk diversification and passive nature of mutual funds.

It gets even worse. I plotted a graph of Vanguard Intermediate Term Tax Exempt MUNI fund (VWITX) and an investment here could have easily beat VTCLX over the last two years. So, if we assume that the room for capital appreciation is low, then it looks like I made a very inefficient investment by choosing capital appreciation vs cash flow. Now for the all important question: Why 🙂

Why why why…

I have realized that I missed a fundamental point in my analysis of investing for capital appreciation and passive income streams.

  • Achieving capital gains implicitly implies that one must identify an under-valued asset that can multiply its asset value over time.
    • For example, if I had bought Google stock in 2014 at $550 for one stock, I could sell it today at $750 per stock i.e. $200 worth of capital appreciation.
  • If every market index (S&P, DJIA, Nasdaq, etc) is at historically high P/E, there is not much room to find value in stocks
    • Vanguard folks are good but they are not magicians hey 🙂
  • If finding under-valued assets is the foundation of capital appreciation, then perhaps I should have invested in a product whose primary focus is Value investing.
    • For example, Vanguard Value Index Fund Investor Shares(VIVAX) is one such fund. But, between 2014 to 2016, the appreciation here too is minimal.
    • If experts who sole job is to find value have not been able to do it, then what hope is there for an amateur like me?

So, my fundamental premise for investing for capital appreciation in my taxable account passive income streams was a broken one.

  • Note that I am not saying that capital appreciation approach is broken. Maybe VTCLX has accumulated many under performing assets whose value will become apparent after a bust-boom cycle. Or maybe a balanced approach across capital appreciation and current income like in Vanguard Equity Income Fund (VEIPX) is the way to go, but this fund is not tax efficient for folks in the higher tax brackets.
  • So, for an investor like me who is in the search for tax-efficient income on the path to financial independence *at this point in my life*, investing in capital appreciation at current high market evaluations does not seem like a wise decision.
  • I have a lot of money riding on a total market strategy in my tax-advantaged accounts i.e. there is sufficient skin in the game riding on a capital appreciation strategy. But the time frame for my tax advantaged accounts is more than 20 years i.e. enough time for a boom+bust cycle. But, in my passive income stream bucket, my time frame is appx 10 years and I do not see a place for capital appreciation investing, at current market evaluations.
  • If markets take a deep and I see value in VTCLX or VTSMX, I will dive right in….lets see what the future holds.

Portfolio Changes

I cashed out VTCLX and VTSMX (teeny weeny gains) and moved the money across the following buckets

  • Vanguard Intermediate Term MUNI fund (VWITX)
  • Vanguard Dividend Appreciation fund (VDIGX)
    • Qualified dividends i.e. taxes capped at 15%
    • Dividend appreciation potential…a conservative investor’s substitute for capital appreciation 😉