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February 2023 Portfolio Update and Thoughts on Finding Purpose


Feb 23 Portfolio Update

Portfolio allocation as of Feb '23.

• SG Shares: CDG, DBS, SGX, Valuetronics

• SG Reits: Syfe Reit+


Not much to update this month – I mainly added a small amount to my Syfe Reit+ portfolio, as interest rate fears once again puts pressure on S-Reits. This is part of my regular DCA strategy as I work towards accumulating $20k in S-Reits on Syfe. I am clear that my objective is to just achieve market returns for S-Reits and thus will continue to build my position, even though the outlook for Reits may be rocky.

A few months back, I wrote that I was closely watching the US Office Reit sector, and was looking at Keppel Pacific Oak Reit (“KORE”) in particular. Against the backdrop of some office landlords defaulting on their loans – Pimco ($1.7bn, Office assets across the US), Brookfield ($755m, 2 offices in LA) and Blackstone ($562m, Office assets in Finland), I decided that KORE will drop off my watchlist.

In last month’s update I also wrote about my interest in Haw Par. It was trading at $9+ at that time, then shot up to $11+ within a few weeks, and is now back at the $9 level. I did some further research over the past week and I think it is a compelling opportunity for me in the coming weeks.

With the SVB crisis, things would probably get volatile again in the coming weeks, but as I’ve said multiple times before, I think having a diversified portfolio, investing prudently and consistently and having a long-term oriented mindset will be the best way of riding out any volatility.

Meanwhile, I will continue to collect my dividends – current run rate stands at around $4k for the year, and well on track to hit the $6k target for 2023.

FIRE musings – some Thoughts on Finding Purpose

Let’s talk about “purpose” today.

Recently, a friend shared about their longer-term career goals, about what they would like to have achieved at the end of their career. They work in a tech role and therefore will likely be very well compensated during their career, but yearn for a greater “purpose” or “impact” on the world. This friend shared that an option would be to work at a Big Tech firm, or perhaps even become a quant in finance. But they want something more “meaningful”. For example, working on how artificial intelligence can be applied to the medical field. For them, the main decision at this point would be between money, or money and purpose. I think that’s great, and I feel happy for them to be able to find their ikigai. This person is incredibly capable and talented, and definitely deserves the best of both worlds.

This conversation led me to think further about finding purpose, and what it means to me.

A common misconception is that “purpose” has to come from work. I mean if you can find purpose from your work, or deliberately look for jobs that have “purpose”, then that’s great. Even better if you get paid well for it. You are lucky.

But “purpose” to me can come in many forms – it could be from volunteering, it could be from nurturing your children, it could be from being a caregiver to your elderly parents… and much more.

I think that at least for the vast majority of folks, during their search for employment, do not have “purpose” at the top of their list – instead focusing on factors such as compensation, job progression, job scope and so on. After all, “purpose” doesn’t pay the bills.

Then, after settling into a role, some might attempt to rationalise and find “purpose” in their roles, perhaps as a way to justify their chosen field. It is easier to find purpose in some jobs than others, for sure. A teacher’s purpose might be “to educate the future generation”, or a healthcare worker’s purpose might be “to help my patients recover well”.

But for a good number of private sector employees, what can they say? If you work in the securities desk at a bank, you might say something abstract like, to paraphrase Lloyd Blankfein, “we are selling this security to clients who wanted exposure to the housing market…” (lol) Or, for someone working at a tech firm and whose role is to write algorithms to literally get people addicted to social media, what can they say?

Therefore, I think for the vast majority of folks, this whole job and purpose thing should be viewed as a “good to have” rather than a “must have”. Don’t be too fixated on this.

What is my purpose then?

I believe that writing this blog gives me purpose. It is always nice when people write to me to tell me that I’ve positively impacted their financial independence journey. I love it when a new finsta account tells me that they’ve been following my account for some time, and finally decided to start to document their own financial independence journey as well.

All these Singaporean financial independence accounts come from a variety of backgrounds, some are recent graduates and have just began working, while some are families with kids and in their 30s and 40s. Some have even achieved Barista FIRE or FIRE.

I think what’s great about this community is that, at least from my perspective, while we are clear that we are all running our own races, we still celebrate the triumphs and success of others. For me, I recognise that we all have different starting points, different circumstances and different priorities, thus it is clear that some will achieve FI faster than others. Yet, I believe that we can still learn a great deal from what others share, especially from those in a similar situation or those who have walked a similar path before. The focus is on sharing positive financial habits with the ultimate goal of achieving Financial Independence. At that point, the option to Retire Early will always be on the table.

I think we should all do more to uplift each other, rather than having a dog-eat-dog mentality where people look to put each other down – as seen in some forums or groups where people constantly argue over whether a starting salary of $X is realistic or not, or whether a net worth of $Y by a certain age is attainable or not… all I can say is – the sky’s the limit.

Thus, I would like to give a shoutout to the people who I’ve crossed paths with on Instagram. These are Singaporeans who have embarked on their personal finance / financial independence journey and have been sharing their progress. In no particular order:





























Sincere apologies if I missed anyone out – do let me know and I’ll be happy to update this list :)

Thus, to sum up, my purpose would be to share the ups and downs of my financial independence journey, and hopefully, inspire others to embark on the same as well.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Part 2: Sequence of Returns Risk - A Crucial but Often Overlooked Factor


This is part 2 of the 4-part series on financial projections for achieving financial freedom. If you’ve not read the first part, I’ll suggest reading that post first and/or watch my YouTube video above (give some support to my first video!), which explains the overall framework for making projections that I’m using to plan my financial freedom journey.

Part 2: Sequence of Returns Risk – A Crucial but Often Overlooked Factor

The focus of this post is on one important section of the entire planning process – that the sequence of returns is a huge factor that is often overlooked when projecting your investment returns. If you’re lucky, a favourable sequence of returns may fast forward your retirement target by a few years; if you’re unlucky, it could wreck your retirement plans just as you think you’re almost there.

Try to recall the last time someone share about their targeted investment returns – your friend might say “I am targeting a 10% annual return”. Or perhaps when you spoke to an insurance agent, who told you that the “S&P500 has an average return of 10%”. But how exactly do we project this 10% into the future?

A very common way of “projecting” these future returns would be to simply extrapolate the expected annual returns and compound it over the intended time horizon.

For example, if someone intends to invest $10,000 per year, and targets a 5% annual return over 10 years, extrapolating this 5% across 10 years, compounded, will give you something like this:

At the end of year 10, this person would expect to have an ending capital of $132k, after investing $100k over 10 years at a 5% annual return.

But does this resemble real world stock market returns? Clearly not…

This “5% compounded annual return” is merely the long-term compounded annual growth rate – the “CAGR”. From year to year, returns may differ very significantly: In 2021 the S&P500 gained 27%, while in 2022 it fell by 19%.

To illustrate how the sequence of returns impact the returns of someone who is investing consistently over time, consider the following two examples:

What the above two scenarios show is that during the accumulation phase – the phase where you are earning an active income, saving up and investing for your retirement, apart from the obvious factors like increasing your income, reducing expenses and having a higher allocation to equities given your longer time horizon... The sequence of returns actually play a huge part in determining whether you can hit your retirement goals sooner or later.

From the two scenarios above, even though in both cases the CAGR over 10 years is the same 5%, and both people are investing the same $10,000 per year, simply because the “lucky” person A experiences the “bad” returns in the earlier years (when less capital is at stake), while the “unlucky” person B faces the “bad” returns in the later years (when more capital is at stake), they end with a huge difference in ending capital $194k vs $94k, a whopping $100k difference!

How do I account for sequence of returns risk?

Having said the above, how do I then account for the sequence of returns risk, when coming up with projections for accumulating my financial freedom portfolio?

I decided the best way would be to run a range of simulations, where the returns are randomised in each year – within a given long-term average and standard deviation. Stock market returns generally follow a normal distribution, although in the real world there are fat-tail risks that would not be captured here.

For my projections, I decided to use a 5% long-term average return, and a 15% standard deviation. These are in line with the long-term historical averages for the MSCI ACWI.

Let’s look at the same example above, but in this case applying the randomised returns based on a 5% average and 15% standard deviation. For simplicity, we will cap the maximum annual increase and decrease at +/- 30%, so that we don’t end up with too extreme numbers.

By running 30 iterations of the above parameters, we get this chart which shows the 30 scenarios.

I overlaid the “lucky” (person A, in green) and “unlucky” (person B, in red) scenarios on the chart, to show how these stand, relative to the other simulated returns. I also included the base case “straight-line 5% return” scenario (in orange), to illustrate how a range of 30 potential real-world returns may differ significantly from this base case.

Note that because the returns are randomised with an average of 5% and a standard deviation of 15%, the CAGR for the 30 simulations may end up greater or less than 5%.

Key takeaway when projecting Financial Freedom numbers

Now that we know the sequence of returns play a key role in determining the outcome of our capital accumulation phase, how do we use this to project when would we be able to retire early, which is what many of us are aiming for?

You need to know your required annual cash flows during retirement, based on today’s purchasing power. Then, adjust this cash flow figure over time to account for inflation.

You need to decide on your safe withdrawal rate. The number often being brought up is 4%, although you may use a lower figure if you’re more conservative. Alternatively, for dividend investors (like me), the question to ask is – what is the expected dividend yield I can get from my portfolio?

Lastly, depending on how much you expect to invest each year, you will be able to generate a probability distribution of when you will likely be able to reach these targets, which is either the point when:

  • Based on your safe withdrawal rate, your portfolio size can cover your inflation adjusted retirement expenses, or,

  • Based on your expected dividend yield, your portfolio can generate enough cash flows to sustain your inflation adjusted retirement expenses.

To conclude, I think there’s value in viewing things based on probabilities. By acknowledging the likelihood of different outcomes, we can make more informed decisions and prepare for a range of outcomes.

I tend to view things in life in terms of probabilities. When it comes to my investments, I take the same approach.

May the odds be ever in your favour.