Winning By Not Losing: How to Arrange Your Wealth for Post-COVID 19

Dear Reader,

Not bearish? Yeah Vern and I’m Santa Claus.’

The doubters are still doubting. That big end of the telescope remains firmly pressed against their eye.

In case you missed the relevance of these opening remarks, please read yesterday’s article titled ‘How Do You See Me?’.

Winning by not losing

My investment philosophy — gleaned from more than 30 years in the rough and tumble of this business — is very simple ‘winning by not losing’.

This table — from the soon to be available ‘How to arrange your wealth now for a Post-COVID 19 World’ — spells out the mathematics on ‘gains required’ to cover ‘losses incurred’.

The Rum Rebellion

Source: Port Phillip Publishing

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The greater the loss, the steeper the road is to recovery.

The Aussie market — at present — is down around 30%. Making up that lost ground requires a gain of…42.9%.

Here’s a quick back of the envelope exercise. Long-term growth rate from the market is around 6% per annum. Break-even timeframe…seven years. Not good, but not devastating either, assuming that’s the extent of the market loses.

But, what if — ultimately — the market loses 65% or 80%? How many years/decades will it take to rack up gains of 186% to 400%? Do the maths…it’s a devastating prospect.

And then you ask, will investors live long enough to see recovery?

Winning by not losing is about avoiding (the majority of) the downside and participating in (the majority of) the upside.

Who doesn’t want that? Traders try to practice that every day. But I’m not a trader, never have been. Never will be. My approach is about long-term wealth creation.

That’s what most people want. However, their actions of ‘buying high and selling low’ run counter to that aim.

Download Vern’s free report right now and discover the five Aussie stocks that he suggests investors should sell today.

How the winning not losing theory works

While the ‘winning by not losing’ theory is simple, the practice does require a level of research, mathematics, gut feeling and a truckload of patience.

When evaluating the risk versus reward of an investment, the benchmark is the risk-free return (the interest rate paid on a government-guaranteed deposit).

Here’s an example of how this works when markets are in bullish (overvalued) mode.

The Rum Rebellion

In this instance, you ask yourself is it worth risking half my money for a 5% return?

The answer? Hell no.

Therefore, the money stays in the bank, waiting for an equation that offers a more favourable outcome, far more upside and much less downside.

Individual shares are not my thing. Too much work for me. My investing world is focused on major asset classes, indices (ASX 200 and S&P 500); REIT ETFs; bond ETFs; currencies; gold; term deposits.

A lot of water can pass under the bridge before these markets present a favourable risk versus reward outcome.

So you wait (and you wait some more), which is where the patience comes in. That’s the theory.

Now, here’s how this model has been put into practice. In recent months, The Gowdie Letter has attracted a number of new readers.

The 2 March 2020 issue addressed the ‘permabear’ myth and provided insight into the rationale behind some of my recent (well, recent in my context of investing timeframes) recommendations/investments.

Here’s an edited extract from the issue…

AUD versus US

Remember the good old days of the mining boom when one Aussie dollar bought US$1.10?

On trips to the US, you didn’t mind paying the ‘tip and tax’ back then.

In the midst of our strengthening currency, economists were tipping US$1.20.

People tend to extrapolate the trend.

In November 2012 (prior to me joining Port Phillip Publishing), we transferred a sizeable sum of Aussie dollars into USD…our average buy-in was around US$1.05.

My reasoning for buying USD was again based on, risk versus reward.

For us to lose 50% in value, the Aussie dollar would have to go to USD$2.10.

The RBA would never let that happen.

The more probable scenario was for the Aussie dollar to fall back towards the median range of US75 cents or in the event of another global economic crisis, possibly into the sub-US50 cent range.

Downside was minimal…maybe 5% to 10% if we went to US$1.10 to $1.20.

But, my guess was this would only be temporary.

Whereas, the upside was at least 30%-plus and possibly, over 100%.

It was the very, very low risk versus much higher return equation, that convinced me to put a considerable amount of money into this investment.

Our investment in US cash — with interest payments — has returned around 70% (now it’s more than 80%) over the past seven (and a bit) years.

Was this a bullish or bearish investment selection? Neither. It just fitted our low risk versus high reward criteria.


From 2010 to its peak in September 2011, gold (in US dollars) was unstoppable.

The arc-like price movement was a result of the hysteria over the prospect of hyperinflation.

Central banks were going to create another Weimar Republic or turn us into Zimbabwe.

Buy Gold. And people did.

The Rum Rebellion

Source: Trading View

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I questioned the hyperinflation hyperbole.

Why? This is not what happened in Japan…after almost two decades of stimulus.

My publicly stated view was (and still is) we were more likely to see deflation.

And the CPI numbers show us we’ve been far closer to deflation than hyperinflation.

I wasn’t anti-gold, just anti the rationale that was pushing the price higher.

So I didn’t buy during a manic run.

The crosshairs on the above chart have been deliberately aligned with the US gold price in early August 2015.

At that stage, gold was down over 40% from its September 2011 peak.

That looked reasonable to me.

After four years, the heat was out of the market.

The risk versus reward equation — while not as good as the US versus AUD — warranted a ‘dip the toe in the water’ exposure to gold.

In the August 2015 edition of Gowdie Family Wealth (a previous newsletter), I recommended a 5% exposure to the GOLD Exchange Traded Fund…a fund that reflects one tenth of an ounce in Aussie dollars.

The Rum Rebellion

Source: Market Index

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The buy-in price was around $141.

The current price is $236 (now $245), a gain of 67% [now 74%] over a 4.5-year period.

The combination of a rising USD gold price and a falling Aussie dollar has turbocharged the GOLD return over the past 12 months.

All the talk at present is about buying gold as a hedge against COVID-09. The contrarian in me, is looking to do the opposite. I get nervous when the crowd starts prefacing recommendations with ‘you can’t go wrong buying’. Yes, you can.

AUD versus GBP

Markets don’t like surprises and the Brexit vote to ‘leave’ in June 2016, was definitely a surprise.

Talk of economic Armageddon saw the Great Britain Pound (GBP) get hammered.

That’s the kind of market that gets my attention. One that’s been moved away from historical levels by emotional reactions.

The 14 October 2016 edition of The Gowdie Letter recommended an exposure to GBP.

Here’s an edited snippet…

There are a couple of ways to gain exposure to the GBP.

Firstly, buy the physical currency.

Secondly, invest in the BetaShares British Pound ETF [ASX:POU].

Here’s a link to the BetaShares site.

Check out the top of the performance table:

The Rum Rebellion

Source: BetaShares

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In the last 12 months, the fund has lost 21.4%.

Over a five-year period, it’s struggled to make 1% per annum.

These are great numbers.

One of the criteria for value investing — low risk/high reward — is to buy quality assets that are unloved.

At present, the British pound is not all that popular.

While the GBP has had a tough time of late, it could get worse…especially if a forecast recession does materialise.

Due to the potential for the pound to lose even more ground against the Australian dollar, the recommendation is to dollar-cost average our way to the 10% exposure.

Our strategy — starting this week — is to move 2% per month for the next five months.

If you do not have a British bank account, you can dollar-cost average your investment via the BetaShares British Pound ETF [ASX:POU].

Please note, this investment could take two or more years to realise a decent return.

Our initial buy-in was around $16.

Which, as it turned out, was pretty much the lowest point on the chart. That was ‘more a*se than class’. You can never, ever pick the bottom or top.

The Rum Rebellion

Source: Market Index

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The current POU price is around $19.27 (now $19.96)…a gain of 20% (now 25%) over the past 3.5 years.

Not brilliant, but better than the cash rate.

Back again.

Hopefully that extract has given you a better understanding of how the winning by not losing approach works.

You have to question popular thinking. You make an educated guess on the upside versus downside. You make proportionate allocations depending on the risk versus reward equation…in the case of the USD investment, the equation was so compelling our allocation was almost 20%. Then…you wait for the trend to play out.

I’m going to practice what I preach…

While share markets, of late, have been falling like a stone, these currency investments (and gold in AUD terms is partly a currency play) have been RISING in value.

In due course, if share markets go where I think they’re going, we’ll be doing the same risk versus reward calculations for the major indices.

However, markets are not even close to warranting the numbers being done…yet.

Why do I say that?

Here’s just one of the many valuation metrics that form part of my research.

The Total Market Capitalisation (TMC)/ GDP or sometimes referred to as the Buffett Indicator.

In 2001, Warren Buffett said in a Fortune magazine interview, ‘it [TMC/GDP] is probably the best single measure of where valuations stand at any given moment.’

The latest reading is 113.70.

The Rum Rebellion

Source: Guru Focus

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According to the valuation table, this reading is at the high end of the MODESTLY OVERVALUED range.

The Rum Rebellion

Source: Guru Focus

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That is NOT what I’d term as a ‘low-risk’ proposition.

Look at where the TMC/GDP ratio fell to in 2001/02 and 2009, under 75% and touching on 50%, the MODESTLY UNDERVALUED range.

And, if you go back to the early 1980s, the ratio was well into the SIGNIFICANTLY UNDERVALUED range. When that ratio starts to head much further south, then we get interested.

In the interim, I’m going to practice what I preach, and…wait.


Vern Gowdie,
Editor, The Rum Rebellion

PS: Vern reveals 5 stocks to sell in his recent 2020 ASX blacklist. Click here to find out more.

Vern has been involved in financial planning since 1986.

In 1999, Personal Investor magazine ranked Vern as one of Australia’s Top 50 financial planners.

His previous firm, Gowdie Financial Planning, was recognised in 2004, 2005, 2006 & 2007, by Independent Financial Adviser magazine as one of the top five financial planning firms in Australia.

In 2005, Vern commenced his writing career with the ‘Big Picture’ column for regional newspapers and was a commentator on financial matters for Prime Radio talkback.

In 2008, he sold his financial planning firm due to concerns about an impending economic downturn and the impact this would have on the investment industry.

In 2013, he joined Fat Tail Investment Research as editor of Gowdie Family Wealth. In 2015, his book The End of Australia sold over 20,000 copies and launched his second premium newsletter, The Gowdie Letter.

Vern has since published two other books, A Parents Gift of Knowledge, all about the passing of investing intelligence from father to daughter, and How Much Bull can Investors Bear, an expose on the investment industry’s smoke and mirrors.

His contrarian views often place him at odds with the financial planning profession today, but Vern’s sole motivation is to help investors like you to protect their own and their family’s wealth.

Vern is Founder and Chairman of The Gowdie Advisory and The Gowdie Letter advisory service.

The Rum Rebellion