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Why it’s better to be a small investor

I have never liked the expression ‘smart money’. It is demeaning to individual investors and used by some in the finance industry to imply they are smart and the rest of you are by implication ‘dumb’. A lot of supposedly smart professionals do some very dumb things, and a lot of commentators that use the expression (you don't know who you are) I know are dumb. And I also know a lot of non-professional investors (you guys) do some very clever things.

Some advantages for the insiders

There are only a few ‘smart money’ activities, inaccessible to the mortal investor. They include:

Access to IPOs, share issues, and placements. Allocations of larger amounts in of hot new issues is something only the big institutions receive, and they get it because the brokers controlling the issue want to suck up to them to win their secondary market trading business. Those accelerated rights issues are an utter rort. They hand value from existing shareholders to the chosen institutions that may not even hold the stock. So yes, the fund managers are advantaged in this respect over retail money.

Inside information. There is a broker’s saying that “If you are not on the inside, you’re on the outside” and a lot of private investors think that this is how everybody else makes their money. Some private investors (usually after they just made a loss) will also tell you that the stock market is one big Machiavellian plot of big money with inside information exploiting small money investors without.

But it’s not. Let me give you a story. I once stood in a lift with a very experienced professional trader who overheard a couple of brokers talking about an inside tip. He piped up in a gravelly voice of experience. “If I’d never been told any inside information, ever, I would be a million dollars better off.” I’m sure inside information is around and you may be considered ‘smart’ if you come across it and use it to make money and not get arrested. But it's not legal and it's not commonplace in or out of the industry. The main misconception of those outside the industry is thinking everybody else has it. Quite simply, they don’t. That’s not the game.

Writing options. Some wealthy investors do very little other than constantly write out-of-the-money call options against large existing holdings in the big stocks. They do not write naked calls; they own the stocks. But this will only ever achieve incremental gains, a few percent maybe, over and above the total return of that stock. They see it as a way to achieve a 'higher yield' rather than a way to make capital.

The truth is that what most people call smart money, is not really smart money, it's just ‘big money’. Big money is institutional money, fund manager money, money that attracts the attention of brokers that can deliver an advantage by prioritising the big money when it comes to shares issued at a discount, share allocations to IPOs and private placements without using a Product Disclosure Statement.

But before you have a whinge about those privileged institutions getting favours from their broker mates, let me tell you, there are a host of advantages for people like SMSF trustees running ‘small money’.

I have collected some of them. This should make you feel better about the big end of town.

The advantages of being a small investor

  • Liquidity doesn’t matter. Moving prices when they buy or sell is a big issue for fund managers. When you buy and sell you don’t affect the share price in a counterproductive way. You get better and quicker execution.
  • You don't have a mandate controlling what you do. You can do what you want.
  • You can change what you do at any time without reason or explanation.
  • You don’t have to stick strictly to an investment strategy (the written requirements for SMSFs are notoriously lax).
  • You don’t have to stay invested when the market falls over, you can sell. Most fund managers can’t, their mandates limit the size of their cash holdings.
  • You don’t have to boringly diversify and include stocks because they are a big part of a benchmark.
  • You don’t have competitors boasting how well they have done.
  • You can walk away without anyone knowing or minding. You can take the day off. You can take a month off. You can take a year off. You can stop managing funds forever without one email asking you why.
  • If you buy an ETF or a LIC, it's not seen as a ‘failure’ (it is for a fund manager who is supposed to select stocks).
  • Reputation doesn’t matter. You don’t lose your job if you underperform.
  • You don’t get emails from your investors distracting you from the job in hand.
  • If you get it wrong, you don’t lose investors.
  • You don’t have compliance issues burning time and money. You don’t have to publish, let alone comply with, your FSG. You don’t have to pay for a compliance manager. You don’t have the threat of ASIC turning up at your door with a 'Please explain'. You don’t need an AFSL. You don’t have the cost of an AFSL. You don’t have the administration of an AFSL.
  • You have almost no costs.
  • You don’t have to justify your decisions to a committee.
  • You can react to events almost instantly.
  • You can use mechanisms like stop losses if you want.
  • No one is comparing you to a compounding benchmark with no costs.
  • With today’s technology you have almost identical tools available to a fund manager.

On the flip side

  • You don’t have brokers buying you lunch.
  • You aren’t given access to IPOs because you’re a small client they don't need to suck up to.
  • You don’t get to read the research before everybody else does.
  • You don’t have $200,000 analysts finding stocks for you before they tell anyone else.
  • If you lose millions in a correction, it's not okay just because everybody else’s performance was terrible as well.

The bottom line is that being a ‘small money’ investor is a big advantage because you have the freedom a professional investor would love.

 

Marcus Padley is the author of the daily stock market newsletter Marcus Today. For a trial, see marcustoday.com.au. This article is general information and does not consider the circumstances of any investor.

 

24 Comments
Tim
June 13, 2022

Marcus, another advantage to the SMSF investor in pension phase is that they do not pay any capital gains tax on sales.

Robert S
June 12, 2022

If you are a serious private investor use a software package to measure your performance against the relevant index. I compare mine using Sharesight against the ASX200 which is comparable to my portfolio. I know I am on the right track as I am running about 2%pa ahead of index over 2,5 and 10years. If I was consistently below index I would use a combination of managers and index funds.

Jerome Lander
June 09, 2022

The evidence suggests most retail and small investors underperform significantly. An experienced and well trained fund manager with the right incentives, alignment and motivation (and this is critical) should be expected to add value to most small investors versus what they would be able to achieve themselves. There is a wide spectrum of both. In particular a manager who is not a short term speculator but one who emphasises risk management should be able to do a better job over time through having more time and expertise to put to work. I don't personally lie awake at night worried that most amateurs who fairly measure themselves will outperform me.

AlanB
June 09, 2022

Really? How are the majority of professional fund managers who can't beat their index doing?

Allan
June 09, 2022

Jerome Lander says: " ... most amateurs who fairly measure themselves ... " As a rule, Jerome, would this mean that they mustn't tape it upon themselves - intern -  to openly profess to being amateurs, for good measure?

Kevin
June 11, 2022

WOW. I don't think so.
I agree with Marcus.The smart money will never have the freedom that my dumb money has.The smart money would be put in jail if they did what my dumb money has done over the decades.

Drumming fingers wondering if I can pick up Macbank at $140 and CBA at $75 to $80.I wouldn't mind if Computershare and Rio fell of a cliff and I'm at the bottom to catch them.

C
June 09, 2022

Hi Marcus, do you know if those research reports we retail clients can view on Commsec are the same as the ones the institutional investors get? Are those reports released to retail and institutional clients at the same time?

Graham Hand
June 09, 2022

Hi C, CommSec reports are supplied by Morningstar. It's my understanding that the reports are released simultaneously to retail and institutional clients and while the text is the same, there may be some differences in the detail in the statistics.

C
June 10, 2022

Hi Graham, thanks, good to know. What about those Goldman Sachs reports on Commsec? As an example, the one dated 7 June for RMD has a target price of $34.40.

Allan
June 09, 2022

Marcus says: "[...] ...being a 'small money' investor is a big advantage because you have the freedom a professonal investor would love." Given Bernie Madoff was pusillanimously parking huge sums of investors' money in but *bank savings accounts*, which he succinctly said would have flagged big time to the authorities that he was running a Ponzi scheme had the authorities been woke in the slightest rather than enjoying their sterile sinecure, free and easy Bernie wasn't advantaged in being a *small investor*.

Kien
June 09, 2022

Good points! I find investing as a small investor is like training for and running a marathon. Have to be patient, make mistakes, improve slowly, stick to the plan. But one big difference is that running performance eventually plateaus. Whereas the learning and experience from being a small investor accumulates over time (albeit slowly). There is no plateau!

Allan
June 09, 2022

Kien says: "[...] I find investing as a small investor is like training for and running a marathon. Have to be patient, make mistakes,... There is no plateau! [...]" When talking of plateaus, make gnome mistake by con_flat_ing running a marathon with that of being fed-up as a small investor. One may ostentatiously show satiation eating up the miles with the former, but as a small investor one's money doesn't run to caviar...making it a hard roe_d a'head.

Graham Wright
June 09, 2022

A couple of points. First, Re IPOs, I heard from an old broker long ago "if you want an allocation in an IPO, you probably shouldn't want it, if you can't get an allocation in an IPO, you probably should have wanted it". Why do so many individual investors denigrate Funds. They are the backbone of the industry. They buy when we want to sell, making a market for us, they allow us to invest contrary to the general market, they limits on holding cash advantage us as individual investors but disadvantage us as investors in funds. In distressed markets as we may be entering, they may close their funds to withdrawals while we are free to buy and sell as we see fit. I will invest in funds (LICs) for the opportunities they offer that I can' otherwise access, but I prefer the freedom to be an individual doing as I wish, when I wish and answerable only to myself.

AlanB
June 09, 2022

Expanding on the point about access to IPOs, a recent regulatory change means that small investors are now no longer able to buy bank hybrid/floating notes securities upon issue. Hybrid releases are now restricted to wholesale/non-retail buyers, meaning that small investors have to pay more for them on the secondary/share market, consequently getting a lower yield. This is a change put in place purely to advantage large investors, who somehow persuaded the government to act against the interests of smaller investers who buy bank hybrids to diversify and obtain a regular income that was unfailingly paid. Bank hybrid prices and distributions are generally less volatile and more predictable than share prices and company dividends.

Alex
June 09, 2022

Agree, AlanB. What on earth did this achieve other than force small investors to pay a premium in the secondary market. They can still buy the things so there is absolutely nothing achieved except a lot of paperwork and denial of access. Brilliant piece of regulation. NOT!

AlanB
June 10, 2022

Alex: I received a generic email today from Westpac saying it has made a determination under the product design and distribution obligations (DDO) that I am excluded from the target market for the next Westpac Capital Notes offer. My response to Westpac: 1. As a retail investor, I have over many years purchased and sold shares, exchange traded funds, managed funds and hybrid securities, floating notes and corporate bonds issued by different banks. 2. I benefit from holding bank hybrids/capital notes due to their regular secure distributions of income, floating note advantages when interest rates rise and investment diversification. 3. Westpac's Guide to Bank Hybrids advises that "An investment in Bank Hybrids is generally considered to have less risk than an investment in a bank’s ordinary shares" so as a Westpac share holder I should be included in the target market for a less risky product like the Westpac Capital Notes. 4. I will be financially disadvantaged by this decision to exclude me from the target market because I will be unable to participate in the offer and will consequently have to purchase the notes, at a higher cost, on the secondary/share market. A higher purchase cost means a reduced yield. 5. I have not and do not wish to use the 'services' of a financial advisor in relation to these instruments. 6. It is not in the interests of Westpac or its customers to compel customers to pay additional fees to a non-Westpac entity simply to access a Westpac product like these notes, yet this is the result of the Westpac determination to exclude retail clients from participation in the offer. 7. I urge Westpac to raise this matter with the appropriate regulatory authority as an unintended and disadvantageous consequence of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Design and Distribution Obligations and Product Intervention Powers) Act 2019 for its retail clients, suggesting the need for a review and amendment to restore retail client participation in future offers of capital notes.

Alex
June 10, 2022

A fantastic post, AlanB. Why do we put up with this ridiculous requirement and the bank interpretation of it? It achieves nothing but denying primary market access. Revolting!!!

PaulR
June 12, 2022

Hi Alan B. I am both an individual investor and work in the financial services industry so see both sides. Regarding your concern about hybrids, I agree with you but the underlying law change is designed to assist retail unadvisedly investors. The Design and Distribution Obligations have changed the way investments are offered from buyer beware to requiring the issuer (the bank in this case) making sure it is distributed to the appropriate target market. It is designed to help the end consumer. Hybrids are a very technical instrument which can blow up in your face rather unexpectedly in the wrong circumstances as the issuer knows. This is why they are cautious.

Lisa Romano
June 12, 2022

I too have some hybrids, both with WBC and other banks. They have been valuable additions to my portfolio, so under the new rules, I am willing to buy them on the secondary market. I may achieve this by keeping an eye on them as they come on the ASX: sometimes you can pick up a bargain, because occasionally the hybrids drop below $100.00 after being listed.

AlanB
June 13, 2022

Hi PaulR. As retail/small individual investors and SMSFs we are being disadvantaged by this change because we can no longer buy bank hybrids on offer or at rollover like we were able to before the change was brought in to 'protect' us. From what? Why are we no longer in the target market? Hybrids are less risky than shares because their price is less volatile, their distributions more stable and the issuing banks safer than most ASX300 companies. So perfect for us. This change simply benefits and was probably pushed by the fee seeking financial advice industry.

Hi Lisa Romano - yes, some hybrids trade below the issue price but these are generally the non-bank hybrids and those with no fixed redemption date. Still good to own eg NFNG, CWNHB. Personally I object to now being banned from initial offers for no sensible reason. Hopefully others will also complain about being excluded, leading to a review. Its the principle.

George
June 09, 2022

It's still annoying that brokers can do their mates a favour with discounted private placements which disadvantage all other shareholders. Big instos are happy to pay brokerage fees as long as they see the favourable deals. Why is this allowed? Then it's off to the pub, tickets to the big games and how about a weekend at the ski lodge.

Aussie HIFIRE
June 09, 2022

In part at least it is because you can call up 100 instos (or likely a lot less) and raise a billion dollars or more within an hour and get the money in a timely manner with no uncertainty for the market to worry about. If you go out to all shareholders then it can take months and require a lot more paperwork and expense. If you were a company which one would you choose, and bear in mind for a lot of these companies the majortiy or even vast majority of their shareholders will be institutions.

C ( the other one)
June 12, 2022

With the use of technology, l don’t see why it will take months and require a lot more expense. The company can make the announcement to the exchange and email all holders. Most holders can already be emailed. Holders can be given a short time to express interest ( l suggest 2 weeks) and pay ( electronically) The main problem is shareholders who want all communications mailed out.

Nic
June 09, 2022

Thank you Marcus. Much appreciated.

 

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