The five mistakes we have talked about so far are:-
– Not paying myself first
– Not forming or joining a correct peer group
There is more.
The next one is “foolishly selling my long term investments without proper evaluation and soul searching”.
Ever since I realized that I should start savings for retirement and for our children’s education, I have made monthly contributions to a unit trust or mutual fund as some people call them. My wife and I chose the UT reasonably carefully. We did not delve into diversification and asset allocations and such.
In Malaysia, we have something called the Employee Provident Fund, where all employees and employers are required by law to contribute 11% and 12% respectively of gross salaries. This EPF is administered by a body set up under the Ministry of Finance and the Fund pays yearly dividends.
You are allowed to withdraw a part of your EPF savings and invest them in approved UT’s. I also withdrew from my EPF account and invested in UT’s. (When we sell these UT’s then the money has to be reinvested back with the EPF).
So over the years we had built up a reasonable nest egg.
The mistake I made
We had what can only be called a mind blowing bull-run in equities in 1992/1993 which as per text book rules ended in a spectacular collapse. The market then drifted slowly upwards and downwards.
In 1997/1998 there was another equally mind blowing collapse due to internal political uncertainties followed by the famous Asian currency crisis.
Against this backdrop, you may have guessed that my UT did not perform particularly well. There were years when no returns were paid and there were also years of losses.
In 2003, I did something that I still regret. I sold off the bulk of the UT’s.
The balance UT’s that I still held have performed as follows:-
31 December 04 – Taken as base
31 December 05 – Increased by 21%
31 December 06 – Increased by 40%
31 December 07 – Increased by 54%
The above returns include my monthly contributions (which I continued, thankfully). I am still astonished at the returns after even accounting for my contributions. Even though the last few years have been spectacularly good years for equities, the returns are nothing to be ashamed of.
What I should have done
Equities have their cycles of ups and downs. I was well aware of this, having been through a number of them. I also knew that these cycles could take years but just like clockwork, sooner or later the markets would move up again. And the time to turn around was not too far off.
UT’s offered a great way to diversify amongst a number of stocks.
In addition the UT company managing the fund we had selected was one of the better operated ones.
Since we were using the “dollar averaging method”, we had been bulking up on cheaper units as the markets languished.
I should have weighed all these factors and made an unemotional decision on whether to stay invested or to sell out.
Instead, I got influenced by the fact that there were no returns, without objectively analyzing the reasons why. I also never revisited the reasons why I had invested in UT’s in the first place.
Don’t repeat my mistake, please
Long term investments are just that….long term. They should not be influenced by the market fluctuations that happen daily, monthly or even the bigger swings (like what we are going through now) every once in a while.
Investments in UT’s have the advantage of professional management and diversification amongst a wide array of stocks. Dollar cost averaging does give us an advantage in down markets, as we end up buying more units.
Had we maintained our investments, my wife and I would be very, very much further ahead in our quest for retirement savings.
Though I am not losing any sleep over it now, this selling off decision is something that I have regretted and will regret for a long time.
And it is something I’ll keep repeating to my children never to make!