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Welcome to Firstlinks Edition 552 with weekend update

  •   21 March 2024
  • 15

The Weekend Edition includes a market update plus Morningstar adds links to two additional articles.

Most people think they want to be rich, and that means getting a high-paying, high-powered job, which allows them to buy a fancy home, car, and other possessions. Dig deeper though, and what they often want is something entirely different. What they really want is to become wealthy. Becoming wealthy means having enough income coming in, whether they’re working or not. And it often means earning passive income from assets through equity in a business directly, or indirectly via the share market. Becoming wealthy like this can ultimately give people the time and flexibility to do what they want when they want.

Being rich

I once met one-on-one with a fabulously successful and rich businessman in Hong Kong. It was in 2005 when I joined a stockbroker. The broker was a growing boutique which had successfully taken on bigger investment banks like Goldman Sachs in Asia. The Chairman, Gary Coull, was a Canadian who’d founded the firm with an Australian partner almost 20 years earlier.

Not long after I joined, I got called in by a division head mid-afternoon who said: “The boss urgently wants a name for this new private equity fund that we’re seeding, and he wants you and I to come up with one by close of business today”. We quickly got to work, though finding a unique name that hadn’t been already taken was harder than first thought.

We came up with a few naming options, and an hour later, Coull asked for me, just me, to see him in his office immediately. His office had a fabulous view overlooking Victoria Harbour, the expansive waterway that separates Hong Kong Island in the south and Kowloon to the north.

The meeting began with small talk, and it quickly became clear that the Chairman knew my background and others who’d recently joined the firm. Then, he got to the proposed names, and gave me a steely gaze. “These names are sh*t. I don’t want ancient or prosaic names. This is an Asian fund, and the name needs to reflect that. Come back in an hour with better”.

We did as he asked. At 2.30am the following morning, I was awoken with a text message from an unknown number: “Gruber, almost there”.

Soon after, Coull got cancer, and he died a year later at the age of 52. His Australian partner had previously died at the same age.

Coull had worked day and night on his business, as I witnessed, he’d accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars, and was widely respected and lauded both in Asia and worldwide. He was also divorced, didn’t have children, and died at a slender age.

Coull had all the trappings of being rich, but he didn’t convert them into wealth and true financial freedom.

Being wealthy

I’m friendly with a guy in my neighbourhood who always dresses like a beach bum: casual, loose-fitting shirts, shorts, and flip-flops. Before knowing him, I’d often see him during workdays, and hanging out with his kids after school. His wife didn’t work and that got me curious about what he did for a living.

It turns out the guy is wealthy, though you wouldn’t know it from his appearance. In his early 40s, he’s on the boards of several companies, including his own. He helps raise money for the companies and has equity stakes in each of them.

He doesn’t work a lot and essentially does whatever he wants. He goes to all his kids’ activities, and coaches one of their local sporting teams. He’s a mad football supporter and watches many of the games on the weekend.

This bloke seems to have few of the trappings of being rich. He doesn’t have a high-powered job, he doesn’t have a fancy car or house, and he doesn’t seek fame.

While he may not be rich in many peoples’ eyes, he’s undoubtedly wealthy.

Does one lead to the other?

The question is whether people need to work 24/7 in a high-paying job to attain the desired wealth and freedom. It can happen that way though doesn’t need to. And one doesn’t automatically lead to the other, either.

At the stockbroking firm, I knew plenty of people in their 30s who’d become rich and yet continued to work hard and play harder. I worked out that they kept going, even when they didn’t need to, because they had certain lifestyles to maintain, and more cars, houses, and other things to accumulate. Many of them never got off that treadmill.

Another story comes from the father of a friend of mine, who was a top-notch lawyer. As a partner in the firm, he worked day and night, and many weekends, for 40 years. He got many of the trappings of success, though he sacrificed his family for the sake of work. That led to divorce when his two children were reaching their teens.

Nowadays, he’s retired, drinks too much wine, and doesn’t know what to do with himself. He never learned to convert his money into wealth and freedom.

Differences between the two

There are two key differences between being rich and being wealthy:

  1. Both involve making money, but it’s the way that money is made that differs. Being rich means getting a high-paying job; being wealthy means owning income-producing assets, usually via owning equity in a business, directly or indirectly. Being rich means working more to earn more; being wealthy breaks the nexus between time and money, where people earn money even when you sleep. While it’s true that money from a job can be converted into income-generating assets, that’s the indirect rather than the direct route to wealth.
  2. Being rich means being a slave to time through work; being wealthy can allow people the flexibility to do what they wish with their time.


In my article this week, I look at the holy grail of investing: finding stocks that can generate life-changing returns. Nividia and Pro Medicus are recent examples of stocks that have increased more than 100x over the past decade. I outline four ways to increase your chances to unearth the next 100-bagger, and the challenges that you may face along the way.

James Gruber

Also in this week's edition...

There's new data out on how SMSFs have been investing their money. The report reveals that the number of advised SMSFs has continued to rise at the expense of self-directed SMSFs. And AUSIEX's Brett Grant says more SMSFs are using ETFs to invest overseas and diversify their portfolios.

Dividends globally are up, while Australia's are down. In 2023, worldwide dividends increased 5%, and the fourth quarter continued the momentum, up 7.2%. The banking sector was the key driver for global dividend increases. However, Janus Henderson's Ben Lofthouse say Australia lagged last year due to reduced dividends from the benchmark-heavy mining sector. 

The Aged Care Taskforce's final report is more than a week old, and Rachel Lane has had the time to go through the fine print. She's found some intriguing details, including an 'unofficial' recommendation that will see higher aged care accommodation costs for all, not just the wealthy, as well as considerable uncertainty around means-testing, and government subsidies.

There's an ongoing debate about whether passive investing is distorting markets. Robert Almeida from MFS has a different take on the issue, suggesting passive investing is amplifying the disconnect between valuations and fundamentals, with a lot of capital being allocated based on market cap rather than on which opportunities may offer the best risk-adjusted returns. He says that's not how capitalism is supposed to work and it's bad news for economies.

It's great to have Paul Moore from PM Capital contribute an article for us. Formerly of BT, Paul has been a trailblazer in global equities and has delivered strong long term returns for his clients. Today, he gives his market overview and expresses surprise at being able to still find cheap stocks, with single digit PEs and double digit dividend yields, in what he considers an overvalued global market.

After the strong performance of global investment grade credit in 2023, Yarra Capital's Phil Strano says the Australian credit market is emerging as a great diversifier and alternative to investing in other ‘safe haven’ asset classes, including residential proper

Two extra articles from Morningstar for the weekend. Mark LaMonica looks at ASX listed shares wth the DNA of a Buffett company, while Shani Jayamanne reveals an Australian stock with high returns on capital that's undervalued.

Lastly, in this week's whitepaper, VanEck looks at the attractive opportunities in emerging market bonds


Weekend market update

On Friday in the US, stocks were little changed as the S&P wrapped up the week with a healthy 2.2% advance, its best such showing since mid-December.  Treasurys rallied again with 2- and 30-year yields settling at 4.59% and 4.39%, respectively, down three and five basis points on the session, while WTI crude stayed just below US$81 a barrel, gold slipped to US$2,166 per ounce and the VIX ticked back above 13.

From AAP Netdesk:

The local bourse finished slightly lower on Friday. The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index on Friday finished 11.4 points lower at 7,770.6, a drop of 0.15%, while the broader All Ordinaries fell 18.3 points, or 0.23%, to 8,026.3. For the week the ASX200 rose 1.3%, after dropping 2.3% the previous week in its worst weekly performance in a little over a year.

On Friday six of the ASX's 11 sectors finished lower and five finished higher.

Energy was the biggest mover, dropping 1.3% as Woodside fell 1.8% and Whitehaven Coal retreated 3%.

The heavyweight mining sector dropped 0.9% despite a rebound in the price of iron ore, which was up $US2.75 to $US111.50 a tonne. BHP dipped 0.8% to $43.79, Fortescue fell 2.1% to $24.64 and Rio Tinto was 0.5% lower at $120.56.

The Big Four banks were mixed, with Westpac down 0.8% to $26.47 and CBA dipping 0.4% to $117.48, while NAB was basically flat at $34.76 and ANZ was 0.1% higher at $29.04.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare was the biggest gainer in the ASX200, rising 7.7% to a nine-month high of $24.18 after the Kiwi respiratory care company announced it now expects to make around $NZ262.5 million in net profit for the 12 months to March 31, from the roughly $NZ$255 million previously forecast.

Australian Unity Office Fund rose 10.3% to a five-month high of $1.18 after its management announced they were in talks to sell 150 Charlotte Street, Brisbane, an office tower it bought in 2017 for $105.7 million.

From Shane Oliver, AMP:

The past week was a big one for central banks and, while the Taiwanese central bank provided a surprise interest rate hike (providing a reminder that nothing is guaranteed), the overall picture remains one of major central banks heading towards normalising interest rates, which for most means rate cuts:

  • Of course, for the BoJ this means monetary tightening making it the odd one out, but it was a dovish hike. After eight years of negative interest rates with a deposit rate of -0.1% if finally raised it to a range of zero to 0.1%. This reflected confidence that it will finally sustain inflation around its 2% target. 
  • The Fed left rates on hold as expected, and its message was upbeat, reaffirming its inclination to start cutting rates. It remains cautious and is still waiting for more confidence (a bit like the RBA), but despite two months of hotter inflation which it sees as bumps along the way to lower inflation it’s still flagging three rate cuts this year. While it revised down its flagged rate cuts for next year from four to three and revised up slightly its longer-term expectation for the Fed Funds rate (to 2.56%) this was matched by upwards revisions to its GDP growth forecasts which is now seen as being around 2% out to 2026 as inflation falls back to 2%. In other words, it's expecting a very soft landing with a supply side surge and higher productivity allowing both lower inflation and stronger than previously expected growth. 
  • The Bank of England also left rates on hold at 5.25% as expected pointing to “inflation persistence” but it leaned more dovish with no more hawkish dissents on the Monetary Policy Committee and one member voting for a cut, more optimistic language around inflation, the labour market now being seen as relatively tight as opposed to tight and Governor Bailey saying “things are moving in the right direction” for a cut.
  • The Swiss National Bank surprised with a 0.25% rate cut taking its policy rate down to 1.5% citing lower inflation.
  • The RBA left rates on hold but removed its tightening bias. While the Bank welcomed the moderation in inflation it remains cautious noting that inflation remains too high and waiting for more confidence that inflation is heading sustainably to target. The key though is that while it may not be confident enough yet Governor Bullock indicated that some data has made it “more confident” and in response it replaced a reference to the possibility of another hike with more neutral language that it “is not ruling anything in or out.” The progressive easing in its tightening bias to now a neutral bias adds to confidence that we are likely getting closer to rate cuts. That said we are not quite there yet and with the economy still growing (albeit only just) the RBA is not in a rush to cut. And don’t expect the RBA to necessarily tell us what it’s about to do ahead of doing so with Governor Bullock saying “I won’t be giving forward guidance.” Our assessment remains that the combination of weaker growth and a faster fall in inflation than the RBA currently expects will ultimately force its hand and we continue to see it cutting rates from mid-year with three 0.25% rate cuts by year end, taking the cash rate down to 3.6%. But the road to rate cuts will likely remain bumpy. Our base case is that the first cut will come in June. But with the economy still growing, very strong population growth still adding to demand, the RBA painting a relatively benign assessment of the financial position of households and businesses in its latest Financial Stability Review  and the labour market still tight with some risk to wages growth flowing from another large pay rise for aged care workers there is a high risk that rate cuts will get delayed till August or September.   

Curated by James Gruber and Leisa Bell


A full PDF version of this week’s newsletter articles will be loaded into this editorial on our website by midday.

Latest updates

PDF version of Firstlinks Newsletter

Australian ETF Review from Bell Potter

ASX Listed Bond and Hybrid rate sheet from NAB/nabtrade

Listed Investment Company (LIC) Indicative NTA Report from Bell Potter

Plus updates and announcements on the Sponsor Noticeboard on our website


April 15, 2024

These days it is relatively easy to look "rich". Someone buys a mod car or big house and suddenly people say they are rich. Rich seems to be increasingly measured by things you can show off. On the other hand, wealth is measured in time; not something that is easily spotted because all the rich people are too busy rushing to the next meeting.

April 02, 2024

Thank you James. An excellent article to help focus the grandchildren and great grandchildren. I forwarded it around the family and the grandchildren thought it very helpful to explain values and life perspective to the teenagers. We have two in family who have or are living the “rich” lifestyle. Both have nothing, one in their 70s and dismayed to find where he is financially, the other in his 40s is yet to realise where he is heading.

March 26, 2024

Reminds me of the parable in the Bible when a rich man approached Jesus regarding his riches Jesus responded by saying “ What if he was to gain the whole world and lose his soul What gain is there in that Wealth is no substitute for spiritual contentment

Donald Beattie
March 26, 2024

Are algorithms making fools of us all?

I appreciate First Links earnest attempts to help investors discover real value in stock market investing. However I see little recognition and discussion of the way in which share market plays in small to medium companies are becoming dominated by automated bids and offers driven by algorithms - complex equations designed to out guess the deliberative choices of human investors.

Here is a classic example from the trades on 25 March of shares in McMillan Shakespeare Ltd (ASX:MMS). (I am ready to attach a download of the stock market trades if you supply me with an email address to send it to.) There were 9905 trades for a total value of $5,760,375, representing an average trade worth $582. There certainly weren't 9905 individual investors making such relatively trivial trades. So who, or rather what, was making the trades. A vast number of trades occurred between 10am and around 10.50am, in clusters of trades with identical time signatures. They are almost entirely for trivial share quantities, often in single or double digits. These trades managed to push the MMS share price down by 1.38% (from $19.52 to $19.25) in that period, and that is where it pretty much stayed for the rest of the day.

In other words, computer programmed buy and sell rules spent the first 50 minutes either trying to reach a (probably arbitrary) equilibrium or else were collusively working on a short selling blitz, with one or more playing both sides of the market. I have been investigating several other equally concerning trade patterns in other stocks and have come to the conclusion that the patterns often seen of share prices zigzagging up and down in a strikingly repeated pattern are probably the result of what might be termed algorithm battles or, worse, blatant manipulation of the share price to fleece unwitting human investors.

If you doubt the latter, here's a little test I tried when trying to sell some shares: I put in a sell offer at the last market price. A small bite was taken from it and then all the top bid prices dropped noticeably and a large, seemingly genuine, offer slightly higher than mine suddenly was withdrawn. This left my offer with several phony (ie small quantity) offers immediately above it. Sensing something odd I increased my offer price to put it above the phony ones and next to the next highest substantial offer. The top bid prices then rose. At that stage I pulled my offer entirely. At the end of the day the final price was well above my initial offer price and trades over the day were dominated by phony small quantity trades.

This looks very like serious corruption of the stock market and certainly would make the buying and selling of shares in small and medium companies a challenge for investors trying to find real value.

March 25, 2024

We buy things we don't need, with money we don't have, to impress those we don't even like; and work takes up too much (when one's out of touch) of a body's spare time. There's 'time in the market' and then there's being able to have 'the time of your life'.

Follow your bliss.

March 25, 2024

He who is contented is wealthy

Stephen B
March 24, 2024

I concur with thrust of James article. I can also attest that you can take a “part way” option and choose to work a 4 day week and sacrifice 20% of your income in exchange for time especially when your kids are younger (under 15.) It is well worth it !

March 22, 2024

great article. but i say to all if i had to choose between rich, wealthy or healthy i know which one i would choose.

March 22, 2024

I pretty much agree with your ideas on rich vs wealth. In my own case, I worked in a high paying job for ten years, paid off the mortgage, and retired at age 52 living on passive dividend income until the SMSF kicked in last year. In essence, my wife and I certainly didn't live the high life while I was on the good salary, we saved most of it and then invested in the share market. Our neighbours wouldn't have any real clue of our wealth (other than the fact I retired early I suppose).

March 22, 2024

Defining 'Wealthy' as when passive income exceeds expenditure:

The unit of measure is total expenditure, normalised to 1.

If 'banking on' real net total returns of 2% / y then minimum required capital is 1 / 2% = 50 times expenditure.

Time to wealthy depends on: (Income - Expenditure) / Expenditure

Example; real net total returns 2%, Income 8, Expenditure 1, Capital 50:
= NPER(2%, -(8 - 1) / 1, 0, 50)
= 6.743 y

Income / y Years to wealthy
8.000 6.743
6.727 8.127
5.657 9.823
4.757 11.918
4.000 14.527
3.364 17.817
2.828 22.031
2.378 27.547
2.000 35.003
1.682 45.594
1.414 62.009
1.189 92.826
1.000 1764.667

Andrew B
March 22, 2024

Thanks, James, this was a great article. At 77 years of age, I wish I had read it 40 years ago. The comments of the above readers are also very valid. Unfortunately, the demographic of this forum is over 50.

jeff O
March 22, 2024

Yes - focus on happiness.
You should know when you are happy (v stressed) and if not ask your partner, friend or shrink!
Health & family & (sufficient) income and wealth makes most people happy and free to do what you like doing. But wealth is not sufficient for freedom.
Avoid stress - esp. diving wealth by two (that's divorce). Most people like to connect and give to others (until it hurts and without expectations of financial and other returns), Some are married to a job, building lots of financial wealth and income and risk going from hero to zero..and/or physically or mentally unhappy/unwell!

Rod in Oz
March 22, 2024

Yes and the question of Values comes into it... you can't buy true happiness but maybe you can buy pleasure - I think Socrates and Plato had some things to say about these two :) What are we living for...?
Great article and promotes one to look within - the way to wisdom!

March 22, 2024

Thanks James. It does prompt one to wonder, what is a good life? Hugh Mackay has one perspective that I think is worth reading.

Jeremy P
March 21, 2024

Love this article, James. Do more of these, please.


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Welcome to Firstlinks Edition 552 with weekend update

Being rich is having a high-paying job and accumulating fancy houses and cars, while being wealthy is owning assets that provide passive income, as well as freedom and flexibility. Knowing the difference can reframe your life.

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