Hello, folks, it’s Cameron, sitting here by myself in a co-working space in sunny Bundaberg. It’s the 11th of April and I’m posting an interview that Tony and I did a couple of weeks ago. Tony is currently watching the US masters in Augusta, Georgia. Very busy, very important work that he’s doing there. I’m on a quasi-vacation trying to spend as much time on the beach with my family as possible. So, it’s a short show today. Interview with Simon Shepherd from The Investing Newsletter Group. As I said, we recorded this a couple of weeks ago. Really great service that Simon has created, I think, that helps all of us compare the performance of the investment newsletters in the Australian marketplace. So, let’s jump into it and have a chat with Simon Shepherd, and we’ll be back for a normal show next week with a bit of luck. Ciao, have a great week. Market’s up today, looking good.
Welcome to QAV. I don’t know what episode this is because honestly, I don’t know when we’re going to put this out. But we’re recording it, for the record, on the 13th of March 2023. TK and I have a special guest with us today: Simon Shepherd from The Investment Newsletter Group, aka TING. I like that, it’s a pretty cool acronym. Is it an acronym? That’s an acronym, I think. TING. Welcome to QAV, Simon.
Thanks, Cameron, good to be here.
According to TING’s website, or tinglive.com.au if the people at home want to check it out while we talk about it, they track investment newsletters, do comparisons of the top investment newsletters in Australia and look at their buy recommendations, track the performance of their recommendations, and bring a little bit of much needed transparency to the investing newsletter industry. Is that a fairly accurate summation of what you’re doing there, Simon?
Yeah, that’s spot on.
Do you want to tell us a little bit more about what it is and why you started it?
Yeah. Cameron, I think being an investor myself and also a financial advisor, you know, what I found is there’s plenty of choice out there with various newsletters, various styles, some have been going for a long time. In fact, from what I can see, most of them been going for a long time, which is probably a good sign. But there was no unified way to check their results, no clear way to find it on each of their respective websites, and they all speak a bit of a different language, both in the way they approach investing, but also if and at all, if they report returns. So, I thought, you know, wouldn’t it be great if there’s some way we could, as best we could, do an apples-to-apples comparison, so to speak. So, we built this thing, started tracking these services coming up on two years ago. You know, all being well, over time we might expand it depending on how things go, but we thought you know, six or seven is a good start. We try to have a variety of different styles and investment approaches in there as well. And what we did was sort of tried to replicate what a typical, you know, investment journey might be for your standard mum and dad DIY investor, self-directed SMSF trustee, whatever you want to call it, by building a hypothetical or a paper portfolio of twelve stocks in each of the baskets. So, one basket for each of those seven newsletters, basically.
My big concern Simon is I don’t think you really understand the financial services industry. Nobody wants clarity and transparency. The whole idea of the financial service industry is to complicate it as much as possible.
No one wants to talk to me. It’s funny.
It’s really confusing, so people just throw their hands up and go. “Oh, well, I’ll just do this one.” Yeah, you got it all wrong, Simon.
Well, it keeps me in a job, right?
Exactly, exactly. What do you hope to achieve with TING?
Look, I think it’s really, the idea is that it’s a useful tool or a portal, just a research channel that people can use to help them make better decisions, better informed decisions. I can’t stress enough it shouldn’t be solely us to make a decision. It should just be one of your toolkit of due diligence or research methods that you look at when you’re shopping around for a newsletter or looking to add more newsletters, or whatever it is. But ideally, that’s what we want. I mean, in a way, you know, maybe it ends up being like a finder.com for investment newsletters, for example. So, it’s an evolving process. But yeah, at this stage, it’s predominantly focusing on, let’s have some hypothetical baskets in there, see how they go, periodically rebalance them, keep an eye on the on the buy list, etc. And in a way, in the nicest possible way, hold these newsletters accountable to what they’re saying that they’re trying to do, which is obviously beat the market.
And when do you start taking money from the newsletters to give them an upper hand in the reporting?
Would you like to be the first?
Is that an offer?
We’ll sign up to it, get in on the ground floor. That’s the way Google makes money, right? Putting it gently.
They do very well, yeah.
And some of the other comparison sites and other industries as well, which we won’t mentioned.
Can I just ask Simon? Great idea.
I went to your website, there’s, I think seven or eight newsletters ranked there. The ones I had a look at, the only common thing I could find about them was they’re the ones that don’t publish their returns. They don’t have what we call a dummy portfolio on their website. So, is that why you’ve picked them? Or is there some other unique commonality?
Yeah, possibly. I mean, probably that’d be a secondary consideration. It wasn’t an explicit screening tool, per se. I think it was more just let’s pick a variety of different styles, and hey, great if they display results, fantastic. But to be honest with you, I didn’t want to jump in down that rabbit hole with, you know, what is that chart, how do you work the numbers out? I was like, “you know, I’ll just do it myself,” and where we can try to be consistent with our approach.
And I encourage people to go to your website and have a look. But I had looked today, and I think out of the seven or eight that are there, there were two or three who were beating the market. So, has that been the consistent sort of performance since you’ve started? Or is this unusual?
It’s still early days with the data. So, we didn’t really start running any kind of cumulative league table, if you will, until late last year. These numbers are, generally speaking, going to run a quarterly — we do monthly read reviews and rebalances — but we’ll publish results at the end of each quarter. And certainly, as of today, those rankings are fairly, you know, the numbers have changed a bit because the markets come off as you’d be aware since mid Feb, particularly after last Friday. But broadly speaking, they’re kind of still sitting in that category. I can screen share with you, if you want me to put the table up.
Let me just ask a couple of questions. So, first of all, why do you think that the majority of the investment newsletters, at least in the period you’ve tracked them, have underperformed the market? Because as you said, they’ve been around for a long time.
I mean, it could partly be the season that we’re in. So, what I mean by that is, you know, you’ve been in the market a long time, certain styles tend to come in out of favour for potentially long periods, right? Value versus growth being a classic one that’s often talked about in the press, and all the empirical data, and so on and so forth. So, it could possibly be not a reflection that those ones that are underperforming the market are necessarily bad, it just might be the style that’s in vogue at the moment that’s overtaking the other styles in terms of performance. And look, to be honest with you, again, full disclosure, I think that we need more data, right. So, the longer I’m running this thing, the better the more support I get, the more interest, because that’ll just encourage us to keep going and hopefully fill it with more information, and so forth. So, it’s really early days, it’s kind of hard, you know, other than sort of my gut feel that I’ve just given you, it’s kind of hard to give probably anymore, you know, scientific analysis, if you will, I think.
I was gonna ask you, how long do you think you need before you’ve ridden through those cycles? So, all things being equal, the performance is accurate?
Yeah, I mean, maybe not so much accurate is the right description — because it’s accurate now — but in terms of implying…
… Conclusions, yeah, from different styles, probably three or four years, I guess. I mean, what it is a very long term? An average stock market cycle is what, maybe fifteen years, right? From boom, to bust, to boom again. Again, I stand to be corrected, but this is just broad numbers. You know, most of my clients, if they’ve got direct equities, I say, “look, you need to be in it for at least five, preferably seven, preferably longer.” Not necessary saying this won’t be of value now. And I think what’s interesting is over time, if we, you know, do like a game board approach — have you heard of the game board? You know, Vanguard published their game board where every year they’ve got the six or seven major asset classes and they’re colour coded, and each year they’re kind of shifting around? So, with, obviously, the top being, in that year, the top code or asset class being the best performer, and number seven or eight being the worst. And the point of the chart with Vanguard is to show that it’s very hard to pick one asset class and consistently see it perform over time at the top of the gameboard. So, one idea we’re working on as we get more data sets for these newsletters is to possibly have a game board. And again, that’d be a great way to figure out whether these guys are lucky or they’re doing something consistently and repeatable. So, time will tell I think, on that front.
And I think the key is the game board doesn’t just have the latest period, it also has since inception in history.
Yeah, that’s the real challenging thing, I think, because as you say, every dog is going to have its day in the short term. It’s the ones that have survived and are consistent that’s important.
As my old boss used to say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
And just with that, in terms of, you know, you said at the beginning that these newsletters, some of them have been around a long time. But your history on them with TING only goes back two years. Is there any reason why you can’t grab the last ten years of their recommendations and throw those into a report?
I think it’d be extremely labour intensive, if at all, they were, you know, open to giving me that information. So, theoretically, the answer would be yes, right? But, you know, how many resources do we have? How many hours in the day? And this is assuming that all of these guys would open up their books and give us their recommendations ten years ago?
Why wouldn’t they?
Possibly, but yeah, possibly not.
If they’ve done a good job, just tell them to send you a spreadsheet.
nothing to hide, right?
No. I mean, it’s like, if they say, “oh, no, we don’t want to do that,” you just put that on your website. “We invited them to give us their recommendations for the last ten years, they declined, read into that what you will.”
I’m not making friends in a hurry here, am I?
Oh, no, you’re our friend.
That’s all that counts, guys.
I guess the other point to make, just on that, is that a lot of these newsletters also have a fund, and you can certainly look at the fund history. I’ve often found that the fund is radically different in its performance to the newsletter if they actually declare a performance in the newsletter.
Good point. And, again, you’ve got to, I guess, as a potential subscriber, you know, think about what axes these guys might have to grind, if any axe, you know. So, are they producing greenhouse products? That’s a great example, Tony, are they running funds, are they launching ETFs, and how does that work with this business, and is it conflicted? All those kinds of things as well. So, there’s a lot more work one can do as a researcher on this stuff. We’re just kind of challenged by resources and time and what’s going to be… But yeah, great suggestions, great insight. And case in point: Intelligent Investor, which is, you know, Alan Kohler, Eureka report, they’ve been around a very long time, well-funded, well backed. Alan Kohler is an amazing commentator, but a terrible market *timer*. Ridiculous. And he’s the first person to say that, too. Luckily, he doesn’t run the newsletter service for the stock picking, as you probably know. But anyway, they’ve launched the international share fund, like, just over the weekend, I think, and they’re pushing that in their newsletters. It’s a free world, right? But the trick is to understand, where’s their edge? What’s their business model. So, again, it’s about going in eyes open. And hopefully, as a start, a tool like this can at least help people fast track some of the information they might be looking for to make a decision.
Alan Kohler 12:21
“It is different every time. It’s always different, Tony, it’s never the same.” *Recording from previous episode*
Sorry, that’s my, I have to put in an Alan Kohler clip telling Tony that “this time it’s different” every time we mention Alan Kohler. I’m contractually obliged to play that clip,
Is there like a dollar jar or something? You put $1 in the jar?
Buy a round of drinks on Friday.
We usually play it when someone says, “this time, it’s different.” You know, “Bitcoins gonna go to the moon, and Gamestop is gonna go to the moon.”
“Interest rates are always going to be low.”
We had Alan on the show a few years ago, and he was trying to tell Tony, “this time, it’s different.” It was classic.
I would’ve loved to be a fly on the wall.
Just winding back the conversation on how you manage the website. So, you said that you put together a dummy portfolio from each newsletter and then rebalance it. So, that may or may not affect performance, because a lot of these newsletters don’t tell you how to actually invest, they just say, “here’s a recommendation,” and it’s up to you to decide how big your portfolio is when you buy and sell. So, why did you pick rebalancing, and not just buy and hold or some other style of investing?
There had to be some rules around it. And again, because they’re all different, a different language, we had to kind of come up with some kind of trigger or catalyst for a change based on their changes or their rating changes. So, basically, for example, with Intelligent Investor, which is, as you would know, a more traditional style of newsletter, kind of like a stockbroker’s report, fundamental analysis and entry price, etc. And they have a buy list, and they have a hold list, etc. So, obviously, because we’re trying to replicate the journey of a typical investor, but not someone who’s staring at a screen every day for every minute, we thought, well, we’ve got to draw a line in the sand and kind of come up with a balanced approach — that’s not the right word, but, you know, what’s a suitable timeframe to review the portfolio? So, we thought at month’s end is a good time to do that. And so, basically, in the case of Intelligent Investor’s portfolio, end of each month, if it’s still there on the buy list, great, we’ll keep it. If it’s on the hold list, well, it’s probably still got a good chance we’ll keep it as well. So, that’s just the rule for that one. If it drops off, then we sell it and we buy the newest recommended buy on the fresh list, so to speak. So, repeat that process consistently every single month. What’s been interesting about Intelligent Investor is, in terms of ranking of turnover, it’s been one of the lowest of the universe that we analyse. And as you can see, the best performer as well. So, whether there’s a message in low turnover gets better results, like that’s another insight, you know, over time we might be able to garner as well.
How do you invest, Simon, after looking at all these newsletters? Do you follow one yourself or try and take the best of each, or what?
So, I’ll answer that in two ways. The second bit first. Another product that we’re working on, and you know, over time we might put something together, is trying to build what we call a TING best dollar or a TING basket, and maybe whatever system we develop to cherry pick the top one or two from each of the providers, and then run that portfolio and see how we go. So, that’s something, again, in the development pipeline down the track, potentially, but in terms of how I do personally, kind of my style, and it’s not a recommendation, just answering your question, I’m pretty much a value type investor. You know, I have an accounting and finance degree, I worked on a trading desk for fifteen years, financial planner for coming up on fifteen as well. So, just the numbers to me work, that’s just the way my brain works. But you’ve got to have good risk management, the right mindset, overcome those emotions when you’re losing money. And that’s the hardest part, right, with any of these systems, really? Is sticking with it when you go through a tough period. But broadly speaking, that’s what I’m attracted to, that style of approach. So, obviously, the Buffett style. You guys talk a lot about that on your website, as well, I’ve noticed. So, I can’t stress enough that’s what works for me. If you’re not that kind of person or investor, and you subscribe to a value newsletter, it’s gonna be a disaster, right? Because you won’t be able to stick with it. I mean, you hope that you do, right? So, again, another idea with this is to try to figure out, well, I kind of liked the way that Stockopedia works. I’m a numbers guy and datasets really appealed to me, and I love to screen and cut and divide and cherry pick and have all these themes or a return on equity filter, or whatever it might be. So, that’s great for that kind of mentality or thinking or analysing process. But other people might be visual. So, the Snowflake’s approach on Simply Wall Street, right? It’s a really quick, efficient way, if you’re a visual person. “Great, here’s how I can build my portfolio. I don’t want to spend half an hour reading about the latest toilet paper they’ve come up with that’s going to make them extra 1% margin, you know, because they’re out in court.” Whatever it is, you know what I mean? So, we are blessed with an abundance of different styles of newsletters.
I believe that your day job is looking after clients and giving them financial advice, do you have a process where you try and take them through the newsletters or the different styles to work out what’s going to work for them when you’re talking with them?
We don’t, actually. So, this is more developed for those that, I’d say for every client that comes to see us, there’s probably five or ten that try to do it themselves. And so, we’re trying to address that gap in that market and provide a resource for those clients. And as we’ve been saying, it’s useful for me as well, right? Personal interest, my Superfund, my investment strategy, etc. But for the most part, they’re pretty much standalone businesses, if you will, at this point.
Yeah, well, my last question is probably following on from what Cam said: have you had any of the newsletter proprietors contact you at all and try to explain the results in more detail?
Not yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time when word gets out.
Cool. I think I’m finished, Cam.
Well, I was gonna ask what kind of feedback you’ve had from the other newsletters? Have you reached out to them and said, “hey, we’re doing this, do you want to help us? Do you want to give us access to your data?” Or anything like that? Are you interacting with them, or are you just doing it at arm’s length?
The obvious call would be Intelligent Investor, wouldn’t it? The obvious call would be the two that are smashing it, because I’m sure they want to get the word out. So, that’s where I would start if I was doing that. But at this stage, I haven’t. You know, it sounds like, again, an obvious thing to do, you guys have got lots of great ideas. It’s really resources at this point more than anything, just trying to juggle my main line business, and you know, support this sort of research arm as well. So, over time we may do that. Actually, I literally approached Finder about this, and they said it wasn’t suitable for them. But podcasts and just investor education channels, things like that, really, where there might be interested in in people using this tool.
You’ve got to become a TikTok influencer — that sounds like a disease. I mean, it’s great what you’re doing. You’re on the same wagon as we are, trying to de-jargon the industry and show some sunlight on it so people can do it themselves. It’s great.
Yeah, I mean, the investment field is very democratised — it that the right word? Everybody gets a vote, right? Anybody can open an account with a thousand bucks. And I mean, a lot of people shouldn’t, but those that do, let’s give them the best that they can, right? And as I was saying to Phil on Shares for Beginners a few weeks ago, I think, not so much important is selecting the right newsletter, but sticking with the strategy when you’re having a rough patch. That’s where you can really do the damage or hit the home runs, right? And so, it comes down a bit to the money management and the risk management, and I think that’s where a lot of people fall over as individual investors. So, this is only the starting point, right? Buying the stock is probably the easiest thing. It’s the rebalancing, the taking profits or cutting losses, position sizing, all that stuff. Even if you’re not a day trader or doing this for a living as a professional, whatever you want to call it. So, I think we’re as an industry, there’s still a lot of stuff we could do to help people figure that out. So, really important.
It’s a good point. And in fact, that’s probably an issue — I don’t know if you want to highlight this — but it’s a bit like the league tables that get presented now for fund managers. You don’t want people to chase the top performing person on your list, because they may not, they probably won’t be the top performing person the next period; they’ve just had their good run.
That’s right. Mean reversion, survivorship bias. Again, you’d know the dataset probably a lot better than me, but that’s why I think, you know, this is just one tool, right? If over time it develops some insight that there is one or two of these services that has an edge and they can consistently repeat it, well, that’d be interesting and amazing. We’ll see what happens, right, and if time will tell. But we know, you know, empirically and statistically, that value over the very long term does outperform. But again, that’s very long term, right? I mean, we’ve had up until about two, three years ago, as you would know, the traditional growth versus value growth has been smashing it because of the tech heavy, the tech overweight in that space. And that’s obviously screened out from a lot of the value investors’ approaches and funds, and so forth. So, so much of the information again, you know, the devils in the detail, right? And this is where I think the press have a lot to answer for, even more than our industry, is they just are absolutely atrocious at reporting information in the right way that gets people thinking in the right way and not panicking and, you know, fear and greed, it’s just… Okay, again, it gets back to what axe do they have to grind? They want to get eyeballs on their website, they want people to panic or jump or react, because that’s how they get paid. So, again, when you’re doing homework for a newsletter, or a managed fund, or an ETF, it’s like, well, you know, what’s their edge? How are they making their money off you? And if you know that, you can make better decisions.
Yeah, well, according to the newspapers, were going to be at war with China in three years’ time. So, this is all kind of irrelevant, really, isn’t it?
Oh, there goes a jet now, actually. They’re landing in Chatswood. Crazy.
You know, our newsletter for QAV Light, which we only started about a year ago, one of the reasons we did is we were talking to one of our club members who said that he had some experience with the Motley Fool newsletter, and he was saying the problem with Motley Fool’s newsletter is that they will tell you what to buy, but they don’t tell you when to sell it. And so, people hold it and don’t know when to let go of it. So, you know, one of the things we do with our Light portfolio is we tell people when we’re buying something for our portfolio, and when we’re selling it and why we’re selling it, so they know it might be time to let it go. Is that common across the newsletters that you’ve looked at? You mentioned before that they have a buy list, and a hold list and things just don’t appear on the buy list anymore. Is that-do they tell people when to sell stuff and why to sell stuff that’s previously been on their buy list? Or do they just let people work it out for themselves?
I think broadly speaking, yes. It’s a good question and really important one, right? Because it’s that money management thing again and trying not to blow yourself up. Broadly speaking, yes, but it varies so wildly, Cameron, across the different newsletters. And in some cases, they don’t, because it’s not their role. So, again, classic examples like a Stockopedia or Simply Wall Street, right? It’s just a number, it’s up to you then to build your own risk management system, which is why, obviously, it’s not for everybody to do that approach. But the more traditional ones that you’ve mentioned, in one way or another, they do. But it can be quite slow moving, compared to what I’ve read, and what I think you guys do, it’s like, as long as your clients or subscribers are watching the email and you’re exiting and your rule number ones been activated, which I presume is you know, never lose money, right? Warren Buffett? Then, you know, that works quite well. But again, gotta have the person that’s watching their inbox, right? Otherwise, they’re going to miss it. So, broadly speaking, they will address it, but some much better than others. Some have hard stop losses, like Stocks Down Under, for example. They’ve got huge volatility in their returns, probably one of the broadest REITs, in other words, biggest losses and biggest gains, of what we’ve seen so far. And they’re not massively underperforming the market, but they have hard stops, right? And broadly speaking, they aim for 20 to 40% upside, you know, 20% downside, and I think it’s overly simplifying things sometimes, but at least they’ve got a policy, right? It’s transparent. So, if you go in there, you know, okay, great — and like you guys on your website — “this is what we’re targeting, twice the long-term return of the Aussie market, minimal downside,” so on and so forth. So, you might have multiple small losses in yours, like you’ve flagged depending on what time you come into the portfolio, but then a five bagger or a ten bagger that makes up for it. So, yeah, again, it comes down to, you know, disclosure, education, doing your homework, and first and foremost knowing what kind of investor you are, what resonates with you. Because if you can’t follow orders and rip the band aid off when you hit the stop loss, there’s no point even having a stop loss, right? You’ve got to come up with another method as your risk management. Otherwise, who know what can happen.
One of our common questions is, “I missed my sell point and it’s now down 30%. What should I do?”
Same answer as last time: sell it.
Yeah, two weeks ago.
Where were you when we sent the newsletter?
The other thing we see a lot with our club members, particularly new club members, is they’ll come in and, you know, they’ll know that the rule is to sell-our rule one is if it drops 10% below your buy price to sell and redeploy your funds. But quite often we’ll have people go, “I don’t think so.” They’ll go, “I’m not going to,” you know, they’re going to do it their own way for a while. That usually lasts six or twelve months, and then they go, “okay, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe I should just follow the rules.”
Like I say to my kids, you’ve got to learn the hard way sometimes.
The pain of loss.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s how we learn, right, it’s how we grow.
Investing University. That’s right.
All right. So, just that URL again, for people: tinglive.com.au. What does it cost to subscribe to tinglive, Simon?
At this stage is complimentary. So, we’re just building it up, testing it. Yeah, the more support we get the better. Over time, we might come up with some kind of revenue programme or whatever. But at this stage, it’s really just come along, have a look. The next run will be for updated results. So yeah, people can just jump on and subscribe to the reports and see how we go.
Excellent. Well, really great idea. Maybe you should put the cost of the newsletter subscription along beside the results, so you can get an ROI calculation as well.
Again, I’ll give you a call for some consulting work. I don’t think I could afford you, but anyway.
I dunno, cup of coffee. It’s more than you’ll get from Cam, that’s for sure.
But yeah, I have thought about that as well. So, yeah, there’s so many ways you can slice this information. So, it’s really about feedback, right? I welcome any suggestions. And when you subscribe, there’s just a short question in there just asking people what they’re looking for in the newsletter, because we want to make something that’s a value to as many people as possible.
Well, anything that brings more transparency to the investing world I think is a good thing. So, well done, Simon. Congratulations and best of luck with it. Thanks for coming on the show.
Thanks guys. Yeah, my pleasure. Let’s talk again soon.
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