Monday, August 24, 2020

Life and Investing In the Midst of A Recession

News of what was to come came in early January 2020. Working in healthcare, I first heard of the then Wuhan virus in early Jan. Infectious disease experts in Singapore were already starting to monitor the developments in China very early on and preparing for what was to come. We didn't have the mood to celebrate Chinese New Year and the worrying part is when people around the world travel to different parts of the world during the CNY holidays causing the virus to spread.

In the midst of CNY, I was busy preparing slides for manpower planning for COVID-19 support. I had to work till midnight for several days. The CNY holidays were totally disrupted for me. The preparation work continued for the rest of the 15 days of CNY and DORSCON was raised to orange in Singapore even before the 15 days CNY was over. I remembered some of my colleagues had arranged reunion dinner with their family on that faithful night but all plans were disrupted. 

The virus was officially named 2019-nCOV in February and then changed to COVID-19 thereafter. The events happened very quickly and caught many by surprise. It sent shock waves to the stock market and every stock went into free fall mode. Many people, including me started to deploy our warchest to buy some stocks at good bargain thinking this virus will pass by in just a few months. The only comparison we had was the SARS virus back in 2003 and the world got out of it in just a few months. 

Little did I know that COVID-19 would cause such massive damage to the economy as compared to SARS. Fast forward 7 months into COVID-19, we are still far from over from this crisis. Retrenchments are intensifying and pay cuts become a common occurence. Our borders are still mostly closed even though there's some good news now that our borders are starting to reopen to revive the tourism, hospitality and aviation sector. This sector contributes about 5% to Singapore's GDP which is somewhat significant. Furthermore, there are repercussions if there are no tourists in Singapore. Tourists contributes significantly when they spend in our country. Without them, many businesses suffer a drop in income and many had to close down as what we have seen. Singapore's domestic market is still too small to sustain our economy for the long run. 

Is this still the best time for investing?

Nevertheless, I still think this is the best time for investing. Many investors in the past have said that they will take advantage and find opportunity to invest when a crisis happens. I too was looking forward to a crisis so that I can invest more. When the crisis really comes, it was easy deploying cash into stocks at the start but as the crisis drags on and your portfolio continues to see losses, we also start to doubt our investment thesis whether is it correct or should we even be investing now. I had self doubts too investing in this crisis. Almost all companies have cut dividends. The more than 10% dividend yield we see for some companies when the stock price drop becomes less than 5% now after they cut dividends. Its almost like everything is going against you.  

The good thing now is the companies I invested in, so far non have collapsed in the midst of the crisis. This is especially important as some companies will surely not make it and file for bankruptcy. Big names like Muji, GNC, Hertz have filed for bankruptcy in the US. Recently, Genting HK which owns Dream Cruise and Zouk Singapore also defaulted on its loans. Car sharing firm Smove in Singapore also collapsed. In times like this, it is really important to invest in strong companies with good balance sheet to ensure they can ride out the storm. 

This storm may take some time to pass. Perhaps another 6 months to 1 year from what I read so far. For Singapore, we should be looking at a vaccine nearer to the end of 2021 which is still quite some time from now. For now, we still have to get use to living this different life we have since the start of 2020. I am still accumulating stocks which are at depressed prices now. I still believe in REITs which I had accumulated more of Frasers Centrepoint Trust, Capitaland Mall Trust and Lendlease REIT to larger positions. I have also invested more on hospitality REITs such as CDL Htrust even though the hospitality sector may still take some time to recover. However, the REITs that own hotels are still surviving with profits as they cater for visitors on SHN and foreign workers. I believe once COVID-19 is under control, people will start travelling again. There is definitely pent up demand for travel again.

I also bought more Netlink Trust as they continue to generate dividends and appear unscathed from the crisis. For recovery plays, I bought in Comfortdelgro at $1.35 as I feel they should be the first to recover and the stock price is really attractive. I also invested in banks such as OCBC and DBS to ride on the banking giants at attractive prices. Lastly, I also made my first investment in US stock in Alphabet Inc which is the Google company we know. 

Nevertheless, my portfolio is still down 15% YTD while the STI is down almost 20%. This is definitely not a good year for investment and who knows how long this will continue on. Reference to the past during the 2008 global financial crisis, the stock market took about 7 months to 1 year to bottom out and recovered furiously thereafter to reach another peak in 1-2 years. I feel the stock market has already bottomed out and bad news are already priced in, not withstanding another shock to the world again. There may still be another slight dip but it should not be as bad as what we have went through thus far. 

Therefore, I do feel this is the best time to accumulate good companies in the next few months. We are so far about 5-6 months from the stock market drop and if history do repeat itself, then it should take another 5-6 months to see recovery. Remember, the stock market is always 6 months to 1 year ahead of the economy. So, the market can be recovering when retrenchments are intensifying and at the peak. This is the nature of investing. 

Life has not been an easy one for many of us this year and it may get worse before it gets better. Nevertheless, when we get out of this crisis, we will become better and life will be back as normal again. As with all other crisis, nothing will be permanent. Those who look for opportunities during a crisis will become better and emerge stronger. Its up to us to take action now in all aspects of our life.