[Ask FH] How to Invest Money for Singapore Investors

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Taking the opportunity to respond to reader’s queries on investment. As always, if you have any burning questions on investing at all, drop me an email at [email protected] with the subject title [Ask FH], and I’ll respond to you via an article. Life does get in the way sometimes, so do forgive me if I take some time to churn out an article.

Note: I’ve tweaked/omitted some of the information below to protect the privacy of the readers. Accordingly, any resemblance with a person you know is purely coincidental. Please note that this article should not be construed as formal investment advice. If you are uncertain as to the steps you should take, please consult your stockbroker or a financial advisor. 🙂


Hi FH!

Firstly, I’ve recently stumbled across your blog and I just want to say that I’m very thankful for your articles, as they have allowed me to increase my financial literacy quite quickly! Secondly, I apologise for the long email.

A little bit of background on myself. I will be turning 21 this year, and I just started investing over a month ago. I previously had absolutely horrible spending habits and didn’t save a dime over the past few years, but I’m determined to change that. 

I currently get about $1000 a month in allowance, and will be starting University this year. I don’t think that I will be taking on a part time job, as I genuinely want to focus as much of my time and energy as possible into my degree. I will also likely be studying for the next 8-10 years, as I intend to pursue a doctorate degree, and this is one of the reasons why I decided I should start investing ASAP.

With regards to my investments, I’ve been using Stashaway for about 1.5 months now, and have $530 in it. This past month I also started investing in the SPDR STI ETF, through Maybank Kim Eng’s Regular Shares Savings Plan. I’m currently contributing $150 per month per investment.

However, I’ve read on your site that you are not particularly a fan of Stashaway and the STI ETF. As such, do you recommend that I change up my investment strategy?

In addition, I’m considering asking my parents for a loan to invest lump sum, so I want to seek your advice on how I should go about investing it. Should I seek high dividend stocks to sustain myself for the coming years, or seek out capital gains? I don’t mind taking on some extra risk, especially considering my age etc.

Thank you so much for your help again!


Financial Horse says:

Not at all, thanks for the kind words, and congratulations on starting your investment journey! 21 is an amazing age to start investing. I myself only started in my mid-20s, so you’ve got a couple of years headstart on me ;).

Taking a loan to invest is always a tricky one. For me personally, I’m okay losing my own money, but once I’m losing someone else’s money, it feels 10 times worse. There are no guarantees when investing in the market, so you should ask yourself whether you’re comfortable losing most of the money you borrowed from your parents (and pay them back via your future earnings) before you start investing at all.

What I would say though, is to play it safe. So many beginner investors out there try to locate those “multibagger” stocks that go up 20 times in 1 year. Sure, if you get really lucky it works, but most of the time you just end up buying duds that lose money.

By contrast, just focussing on the basics, picking a company with a strong business model that generates lots of cashflow, pays out decent dividends, isn’t too hyped up by the market, and holding them for long periods of time, can actually reap pretty decent results. For me personally, I target to hit about a 6% to 7% return a year with my investments, so when I buy a 6% yielding REIT, as long as I don’t suffer capital losses I’m good. And concurrently, I’ll focus on earning more at my day job, continuing to invest new money, and over time it really adds up.

StashAway is an acceptable investment. When you get more familiar with investments (and your investment sums go up), you can replace StashAway and just DIY it yourself. You just need a Saxo account and buy it yourself quarterly (or half yearly), and you save on the 0.8% fee. Their asset allocation is also unnecessarily complex, you can easily replicate a lot of those gains just by buying the S&P500 (SPY), the NASDAQ 100 (QQQ) and a treasuries ETF (TLT).

I know a lot of people out there bash the STI ETF (myself included – see a previous post), but if you just want to buy 1 ETF to get broad exposure to the Singapore economy and be done with it, there’s really no good replacement to the STI. So it works, but again when you become more familiar with investments, you can consider replacing it with direct investments into the individual stocks that make up the STI, which gives you greater control over what goes into your portfolio.

Hope this helps!


Hi FH Admin,

I was reading one of your articles the other day [https://financialhorse.com/autowealth-2/] and was contemplating doing the DIY portfolio.

A little bit of background, I’m a 30 plus-year-old professional working in Indonesia earning SGD 55,000 after tax annually. I was recently married with no kids yet (planning to have one soon). I have 0 debt (just monthly credit card bill, nothing major), no mortgage (generous wealthy parents, bless them), and Indonesian CPF is pretty much a joke so let’s just assume it’s non-existent. I have enough cash to cover a year worth of living cost (side note: I have health insurance from my office but not one personally, I should get one soon lol)

Last year, I received some part of my inheritance (~SGD 96,000) and invested most of them in indonesian mutual funds. I didn’t have any strategy whatsover and decided that since I can take the risks, I invested them in equities mutual funds (SINSAUN, HPAMUE1, SUCOREQ, and SUCORSE). Return after a year is still negative but I plan to hold it for 5 years anyway.

Recently, I received more of my inheritance (~SGD 100.000) and I’m interested in diversifying my portfolio and gain exposure to US market (and USD) by investing it in Stashaway. But, after reading that aforementioned article of yours, I was intrigued to try and build my own portfolio according to your suggestion. However, this article [https://financialhorse.com/ideal_asset_allocation/#] gets me even more confused about the asset allocation.

I have opened a trading account with Saxo and is just 1 click away from building the portfolio according to your suggestion (50% VTI, 30% VWO, and 20% TLT), but before doing so, I would like to ask some questions:

So here are they:

  1. I have no interest in stock picking and would prefer buying ETF. What asset allocation would you recommend for me? I’m asking because I guess none of the asset allocations that you recommended cover my case
  2. Running the portfolio visualizer, I realised that the less you rebalance, the higher your return seems to be. Unfortunately the website can’t simulate a biyearly rebalance. How often should one really rebalance?
  3. I’m also curious about bonds allocation. In one of your articles, you said that bonds are increasingly becoming overvalued, but I also understand that it will help minimize one’s loss during a crisis. So what % of my assets should be bonds? And at what yearly interval should I increase its allocation, and by how much %?

Thank you and God bless you for running Financial Horse.


Financial Horse says:

Hello!

As you’ve mentioned, your personal circumstance is highly unique. You didn’t mention specifically what you wanted to get out of your investments long term, but it sounds like you’re generally in a very healthy financial position, and the main purpose of these investments is to generate wealth.

If I were in such a situation, I would probably do something that is heavily equities based. Given that you’re working in Indonesia, the forex risk is real, so something like the All Weather Portfolio may actually make sense given the gold and commodities component.

You can have a look at the link here for more information and on the thought process  when constructing the all weather portfolio, but broadly speaking, it’s intended to perform well in all economic conditions. I would probably shift some of the bond allocation into equities though, since you sound like you’re able to take on greater risk in pursuit of higher returns.

On your questions specifically:

  1. The All Weather Portfolio could be a good start. As it gives you broad exposure to equities, debt instruments, gold and commodities. You can reduce the bond component and replace it with equities to increase the potential returns, but at the cost of greater portfolio volatility (which it sounds like you can handle). For me personally, the ETFs that I like are the S&P500 (SPY) and the NASDAQ 100 (QQQ). I’m not a huge fan of all world indexes, but given your case, I absolutely see why it makes sense to allocate some money to Indonesia given that’s where you’re based. As long as you’re comfortable with the Indonesian mutual funds you selected, I don’t see any reason not to keep them.
  1. Rebalancing is overrated (mostly). As you rightly mentioned, rebalancing too often can actually hurt your performance, because it cuts exposure to an asset class just when it is about to go on a big runup in price. Sometimes in investing you just have to be patient and let the market do its thing. I would say annual rebalancing is good enough for most purposes.
  1. There are many different kinds of bonds, and each has a slightly different objective. If you use US Treasuries, the thinking is that their price goes up when stocks fall, so it’s a good way to hedge your portfolio. So the next time 2008 comes around and your stocks fall 30%, at least the bonds would go up 10%, and your overall portfolio drops only by 20%, and the bond component serves as a hedge. As foreign investors holding US Treasuries though, all interest payments on the bonds are subject to 30% withholding tax, which does hurt returns somewhat. So you really need to understand your investment objectives, and your investment nerve here. If you’re an investor who is comfortable with portfolio volatility, and large drops in your portfolio value don’t faze you, you can increase your equity allocation to the 80% range and keep only 20% bonds. If you want something safer, 60-40 is quite commonly used. Understand what you’re trying to achieve with your investments (and the amount of risk you are comfortable with), and allocate the bond component accordingly.

    For me personally, I do about 30% bond exposure (but I use Singapore Savings Bonds – there’s no withholding tax on these, but they also don’t go up when stocks fall, so it’s a trade off), because I’m quite a conservative investor at heart, and I know that about myself. For an Indonesia investor though, having that USD exposure through US Treasuries may not necessarily be a bad thing.

Hope this helps, and all the best with your investment journey!


Hi,

I’m in my 20s and I’m looking forward to buying my first REIT for dividend investing. I would like to seek your advise on which sector would be a good sector to start with ? I would pick a retail REIT because I feel that it’s something I can relate to it more however I also feel that the prices for a few of the retail REIT are on the high side now …. so I will just KIV on that first. 

Do you have any advice on which sector I should read up on next ? 


Financial Horse says:

Congratulations on starting your investment journey! I’ve always believed that Singapore is the best REIT market in Asia excluding Japan, so starting with REITs is a very wise choice indeed.

The broad asset classes for REITs are Retail, Commercial (Office), Industrial, Logistics, Hospitality (Hotels and Serviced Apartments) and others (healthcare, data centres etc).

As you mentioned, retail is very relatable because with something like CapitaLand Mall Trust, you can just pop down to Plaza Singapura to check out how business is doing, and the retail business is something every Singaporean professes to understand.

I would say pick the sector that most draws your interest. Start with that sector, and try to learn as much as you can about it. When you’ve done that, move on to the next sector. Pretty soon, you’ll realise that you have a rough understanding of all asset classes, and what you learnt in one may come in handy in the other.

For me personally, I started with Retail much like you did, simply because I love shopping malls. From there I went into Commercial, Hospitality, and finally Logistics. Once you learn the jargon from one asset class, you’ll realise that it becomes a loty easier to understand the others, because the underlying concepts are all the same. The same concepts, demand and supply, market cycles, interest rate cycles, rental yield, location, apply to real estate regardless of asset class. It’s the same underlying concept, dressed up as a different term. 🙂

Good luck!


Hi FH,

Come across your article talking about different brokerage for different market which is fascinating.

I got a poem account that open long time ago, bought some shares with them, but all under my CDP account. My question is if I am using different brokerage like DBS VICKER, can I sell my shares in CDP that bought with POEMS with DBS VICKER to enjoy lower brokerage fees?  


Financial Horse says:

Yes absolutely. Any broker in Singapore that is CDP-linked can sell CDP shares. That includes DBS Vickers.

Do make sure that the shares are in your CDP though. Certain custodian brokers like Standard Chartered Online Trading hold their shares via a custodian and not your CDP. If you try to sell shares through your CDP, it comes a naked short sell, and can be annoying to remedy (you’ll need to buy the shares back on the open market to settle the trade).


Hi FH, 

I’m pretty much in a dilemma and hence I decided to write to you. First, I would like to thank you for spending time to reply us readers. It means a lot to us to have unbiased opinions. 

I’m a 40 plus year old lady with 2 young kids. One turning 6 year old and one turning 2 year old this year. 

I would like your advice on my current portfolio n how I can improve on it. ( trying hard to have a dividend machine.)

My local shares are on a negative, although my reits are positive. 

3000 shares singtel

3000 shares maple NAC 

3000  shares Kep dc

3000 shares Ascendas reits 

3249 shares K reits 

7000 shares starhill reits 

5000 shares centurion. 

3000 shares yangzijiang 

1000 shares Keppel Corp

4000 shares QAF  

1000 shares Kep infra. 

SSB $24500 

SP Endowment insurance for self $67000 

RP endowment for self fully paid $60k ( with another 30k to be paid in 10 yrs)

Endowment for kids : $25k fully paid 

8k out of $40k paid. 

I hv at hand $100k which I do not know whether to put in stocks/reits , a monthly income retirement plan or SSB. 

I do have shared overseas investment properties with sister, but I do not get cash flow from it yet as rental goes into the mortgage payment n maintence .  Both are turning in profits on paper and monthly rentals are more than enough to cover expenses. 

With such rojak portfolio, what would you do with the excess 100k for retirement planning? ? desired age is 55 yrs old.

My flat in sg is also fully paid. 

P.s: the above doesn’t include my hubby’s assets. 

Thanks for reading n your advice if you do reply to me ! 

God bless you. 


Financial Horse says:

Hello there! Based on some rough calculations, it looks like you have about S$35,000 in shares / REITs, S$24,500 in Singapore Savings Bonds, and about S$120,000 plus in endowment for yourself or your children. This excludes your fully paid flat, and overseas investment properties.

You’re now looking to invest the remaining S$100,000 liquid cash on hand.

I don’t know for certain what your risk tolerance is, it looks to be on the lower side. Accordingly, the All Weather Portfolio may be a good starting point. I’ve extracted the broad asset allocation below:

Asset classPortfolio allocationSingapore equivalent
Stocks30%Stocks/REITs
Intermediate US Bonds15%CPF Ordinary Account, Singapore Savings Bonds, US Treasuries 7 to 10 years (IEF)
Long Term US Bonds40%CPF Special Account, Singapore Government Securities, Bond ETFs, US Treasuries 20 Year + (TLT)
Gold7.5%Gold (GLD)
Commodities7.5%Commodities (DBC)

Your existing stocks and REITs are quite alright, and should generate quite a decent dividend yield going forward (about 5 to 6%). I don’t see any reason to change them, and they can form part of the Stocks component above.

Your Singapore Savings Bonds are alright as well, and can form the Intermediate Bond component above. Do check the interest rates (coupon) on the bonds that you have though, because short term rates have gone up significantly since last year, while long term rates have come down, so if you’re holding them for the short term it may be worthwhile to redeem all your existing bonds and “swap” them out for the newest bonds.

A lot of people like to strip out the gold and commodities exposure from the all weather portfolio. But do be aware that once you do so, the portfolio will underperform in certain economic regimes (mainly high inflation situations). For Singaporeans, I think that’s an acceptable risk to take because our political climate and forex are relatively stable, but if one day the central banks succeed in engineering high inflation, you might want to relook the asset allocation.

Long story short, your remaining S$100,000 should be broadly split among bonds and stocks. As a rough gauge, I would say putting S$50,000 into stocks / REITs, and S$50,000 into Singapore Savings Bonds may make sense, but again, the final decision should be yours based on your risk appetite and investment objectives. The bond component can go in all at once, but you might want to dollar cost average the stock component(invest it over a period, say 12 months), because stock prices are looking quite fully priced at the moment.

What stocks to buy is always a tricky question, and I’ve written a couple of these articles in the past (actually that’s all I write about), so do check them out. But based on your existing stock / REITs picks it seems like you’re doing pretty well anyway.


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4 COMMENTS

  1. For the Indonesian Investor, if he intends to live there and doesn’t intend to relocate, think he can consider Indonesian government bonds or fixed deposits in his home country. The interest rates are far higher than what we get here in Singapore. And he doesn’t need to worry about FX risk since he’s based there.

    Don’t know much about the mutual funds he selected, but I think Indonesian equities based on demographics and stage of development should offer more potential for growth, than what we get here in SG.

    Haha I guess what I am trying to say is, the opportunity set for an investor like him is quite different due to his nationality!

    • You’re right that’s a great point. If I were an Indo investor I would be concerned by a depreciation in the domestic currency, and given the stage of the economic cycle, I would probably want to get exposure to USD debt/equities instead of Indo debt haha.

      But yeah, it’s ultimately a choice of tactical allocation, and the Indo equities/debt could see quite attractive returns as well.

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