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Diary of a Dumb Investor: ETF heartache and a zombie assault

While the gains on my investments more than doubled in a week, there was an ugly stain on my portfolio: the exchange traded fund I bought recently.

Diary of a Dumb Investor: ETF heartache and a zombie assault

My success is becoming a bit of a joke now: when I looked at my portfolio on Friday, I noticed to my jaw-dropping surprise that the gains on my four investments had only gone and more than doubled their value… in the space of a week.

Read Dumb Investor: the story so far.

The portfolio, including the £6,000 still in cash, stood at £10,032 on the previous Friday; a week later, it had rocketed up to £10,074.

My Aberdeen Emerging Markets fund had continued to rise; my Jupiter European Opportunities investment trust had shown a serious gain; and my investment in Lloyds (LLOY.L) had actually turned positive for the first time.

Where I stood on Friday: Click to enlarge

That said, there was a black spot: the exchange traded fund (ETF) I bought recently, iShares S&P 500, had slumped 3.23%, or £31.75, after only losing £9.67 a week earlier. Which I don’t really understand, because a quick check on Google Finance showed that the S&P 500 stock index – which the ETF is meant to track - basically went nowhere over the period.

Maybe there was some kind of currency issue? I did chose, in the end, to buy the ‘unhedged’ version of the ETF – meaning that if the dollar falls against sterling, as it did last week, so will the value of the investment. Anyway, whatever went on there, the bottom line is that it’s annoying.

Pedro Pinto, a reader, touched on another issue in his response to last week’s entry about the ETF. ‘Well done for investing at the top of the market,’ Mr Pinto congratulated me. ‘Had you not heard of [quantitative] easing?’

He has a point. I understand that Europe’s top central banker, one Signor Trichet, announced a historic interest rates hike last week – after years of extremely low rates and tonnes of emergency cash. The pro-hike dogs in Britain and the US, who were already barking, are now frothing at the mouth, I’ve read. And apparently an end to ‘loose’ post-financial crisis policies is meant to be bad for equities.

I suppose it’s a bit like a film I watched last week, Planet Terror, where a group of happy Texans are going about their lives until they are overrun by a horde of diseased zombies. Of course, they rally and due to the inordinate amount of firearms they have at hand and some freaky stuff involving a prosthetic leg, manage to obliterate the zombie peril.

Let me say just now that I’m not suggesting in any way that someone obliterates Signor Trichet!

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42 comments so far. Why not have your say?


Apr 11, 2011 at 13:18

Cutting through your pseudo-speak and risible hyperbole...("rocketed up" to describe an increase of around 30 quid!) just cut to the chase, if that's possible for you, and show your net gain figure to date.

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Adam K

Apr 11, 2011 at 13:59

£74.49 up to date. Only 1 click away Rustie...

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Hugo First

Apr 11, 2011 at 14:42

If you're going to get this emotional about such small losses and gains ("heartache" (???) of a £31.75 drop in your iShares S & P 500 holdings) you perhaps ought not to be investing in these sorts of things. What would you have done in 2008 ?

And yes, the pound has strengthened recently against the dollar, so any S & P holdings (in dollars) are worth fewer pounds. You can experience the "ectasy" of the rise when it swings back the other way.

I know Buffett's successsion plans are in disarray, but I wouldn't wait by the phone for the headhunters to call yet.

Learn to live with it without making such a fuss.

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m g

Apr 11, 2011 at 14:54

First and the last time I will read this topic.

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Apr 11, 2011 at 14:59

Are you proposing to introduce a stop loss system? With the dollar getting weaker by the day your ETF holding will be a further £5 down by next week.

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Clive B

Apr 11, 2011 at 15:58

@Dumb Investor

I will congratulate you on one thing - if you were hoping to win an award for how NOT to go about investing, you're going to claim 1st prize.

As many others have suggested, you're checking your portfolio way too frequently and getting way too excited about trivial gains/losses.

I hope nobody is watching you as a lesson in how to do it (rather than how NOT to)

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Apr 11, 2011 at 16:08

Noted that you are "a little fed up with shares", so you would rather dilute your capital increase and income by the management charges, and presumeably so that you can cry into your tea that you have been let down.

You wanted expertise in investment, and instead of watching and analyzing shares and the trends (and a little use of your own common sense), you, with respect, cop out to funds. That is no way to gather expertise (without being an investment expert by 'trade') sufficient to allow you 'grow'. Yes, buying into funds allows you to the more easily access the foreign stocks. Further, if you go into funds, you will become an expert on the 'experts' rather than shares to be held for the long term.

As for the agrifunds, a very volatile sector at the mercy of vagaries of Mother Nature, and why look so far away. Africa has huge tracts of underused land and an ideal growing climate. The far east has a huge population that will always consume locally most of their production. Ergo transportation costs from Africa are going to be lower (and fuel costs are going to be and ever increasing factor on the cost of produce delivered to, for example) Europe. Staples, usually grown in bulk) wheat and rice, the latter mostly from the Far East (although the States are also a big producer/exporter) and wheat, States and Canada, and Russia (in good years).

Corn, Africa and the States, but I haven't gone into the subject.

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Apr 11, 2011 at 16:47

Hi Dumb Investor

I have been following your column with interest, as someone who has an interest in investing but hasn't actually ventured into yet (as I need some more money first!) and I don't blame you at all for getting excited by small gains and disheartened by small losses - I would be exactly the same!

I think some people on here are not taking this column for what it is - a first time investor who is trying his hand at making a bit of money.

Yes there are a lot of experts on here, but there are also people like me - a 25 year old graduate who has just bought her first house and is looking at ways to invest for the future.

I for one think this is a great column and some of the comments on your entries have been harsh to say the least.

I think if it was me I would have taken some of the comments to heart - so I salute you for being so gracious!

Hugo First - he has to make a bit of a fuss for the column, otherwise we wouldn't know how he was getting on.

IKeep going, I think you're doing a great job!

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Alan Carmody

Apr 11, 2011 at 17:07

New Home Owner - I'm sure Dumb (and I ) appreciate you standing up for him but I think his skin is thick enough for this column. As for the harsh comments, keep them coming - you guys crack me up.

By the way Dumb, if you were wondering why my cheque hasn't arrived yet, I've decided to invest it myself. Keep up the good work.

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Apr 11, 2011 at 17:42

New Home owner, try setting up and choosing a dummy portfolio.

Also get yourself a reuters bookmark file e.g. (and yes I have Lloyds, and you could do worse, but do not wait too long) to keep an eye on your chosen and being watched items. Run that for a year. Do not do investments in small packets (£1,000) , high costs (unless it is burning a hole in your pocket/purse).

The earlier you invest, the bigger the portfolio at the end and it is for your twilight years that you are investing, as well as essential, I say essential, rather than highly desired, purchases, before then. The fund should be regarded as ring fenced, as well as the income, which should be reinvested. Using this as guide, as the years roll on you will have more and more to plough back in.

If you go in for funds, after 30 years, you will find that you have lost a small fortune in management charges, albeit only 0.5% per annum, small, but it does mount up, and think of the additional loss of returns on reinvestment of that amount charges on an annual basis.

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gggggg hjhjkl;'

Apr 11, 2011 at 18:12

New Home Owner - KEEP AWAY from dummy portfolios they will be of little use to you!! There is no substitute for REAL EXPERIENCE. I do agree that you should invest litle and often (you can do this for as little as £1.50 a pop).

Dumb investor - keep up the good work!! As an experienced investor I enjoy your articlles, although I do agree that you are looking at your portfolio to much. You need to develop a better psychology before you do this, otherwise it could well be your downfall.

You point about the unhedged dollar is well made. I once held a fund of fund hedge fund which did not hedge, this cost me a significant percentage of my return over 5 years purely because of this factor.

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Chris Marsden

Apr 11, 2011 at 22:34

Relax DI. It will go up and down, if not content with that, get a building Socy account.

You might expect your portfolio to go up 12%pa, or about £100 a month, otherwise there is little point in the risk, but some months or years you will be down. By all means check every day just to see how it inter-relates to the Business News, if you want, but don't worry about it. As I said on the last installment, try CFDs if you really want to see instant action, with 20% of your portfolio, not being Dumb or Gung Ho you could make a decent profit, or you will blow the lot, but you will learn a lot - the purpose of the exercise? It is not for everyone.

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Apr 11, 2011 at 23:49

New Home Owner's comments have struck a chord with me at least and reminds me that Dumb Investor's articles are intended to be educational for virgins of the investment persuasion. For that reason agrifunds, CFDs and even individual shares are best avoided until some knowledge of stock markets has been acquired.

Investing in funds is a good start. Charges might be high but does that matter as long as returns are acceptable? You could of course do better by investing in higher risk products but you could also do a lot worse.

Le't face it this series of articles is not intended for experienced investors (note my avoidance of the term "expert" used by New Home Owner) but it's good fun nonetheless.

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Apr 12, 2011 at 03:57

42 pound gain. Well done - you'll be able to think about retirement soon at this rate.

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Apr 13, 2011 at 11:30

Dumb Investor, you are falling into the trap so many investors fall into - relying on logic : "demand from places like China and India is only going to grow as those countries hurtle along towards Western levels of economic development". If the markets were that logical we'd all be millionaires.

The true value of anything - paintings, secondhand books, even shares - is what somebody is prepared to pay for it. Logic, and intrinsic value, have only a minor part to play. So you have to follow what the markets are actually doing. Momentum investing will always beat value investing.

You should be keeping a watch-list, and monitoring how it is doing at least weekly (not necessarily daily). You will soon get a feeling for the shares that are performing.

Having said that, my personal watch-list of 68 investment trusts is showing an average return of 18.7% over the last year, which isn't too dusty. My watch-list of shares, which is rather larger at 162, is showing an average 38.1% over the year. So I think the real trick may be selecting the right shares for your watch-lists. Just don't get to thinking you'll always choose the best shares to buy from your watch-lists . . . . . !

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Apr 13, 2011 at 15:36

Maverick. In the nicest possible way you must get out more. That is one of the main reasons why I stopped trading shares.

Monitoring 230 shares and ITs on a watch list with attendant research plus keeping an eye on those you already own must consume an incredible amount of time.

An average 38.1% is however very commendable as is 38.1% for ITs.

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Apr 13, 2011 at 15:38

Why isn't there an edit on here? The 38.1% for ITs mentioned in my previous post should read 18.7%.

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Apr 13, 2011 at 16:26

I think you're doing too much analysis. If you're going to buy funds, go for investment trusts as the charges are lower and you can often get them at a discount if you're patient. Buy 'dull', solid, well-run ITs like Foreign & Colonial, Edinburgh Investment Trust, City of London or Personal Assets, then sit back, sleep at night, only look at how they're doing every couple of months or so and look to make money steadily over a 3-5 year timeframe or longer.

If you're buying funds, you're paying the manager to worry about things like hedging, currencies, global prospects, the ups a\nd downs of commodities and analyisng stocks. So look for good managers at reasonable annual charges and stop fretting.

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Heavens above

Apr 17, 2011 at 09:34

Time to spice up your portfolio a bit!

Buy some DES first thing Monday morning.

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Apr 17, 2011 at 10:08

Time to spice up your portfolio and buy some real or silver! Remember the stooges calling a bubble when it hit $32??! well it's now $43!!

My target is $750/oz. Most people will laugh this off as a joke but I can assure you it isn't. I have studied in great detail for endless hours the true nature and history of money and anyone who takes their time to do the same will come to similar conclusions. The paper currencies being printed into infinity are a government promise and nothing else. That promise is breaking.

Go on, look beyond the mainstream!...

Try this one for starters (I admit it's American but please read beyond the first actually does an excellent job of explaining the unique situation we are all in right now)

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Anonymous 1 needed this 'off the record'

Apr 17, 2011 at 11:39

The title aptly describes who you are..... surely of the female gender, but really good to see people getting worked up over £10,000. Keep it up, the entertainment is surely better than anything on TV. Will really enjoy your comments in the next dip....

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wayne roberts

Apr 17, 2011 at 13:25

I think Dumb is doing a brilliant job, he should be micromanaging it, he should be unhappy if it has gone down even a little bit, I don't think he should be diversifying with that amount of money, he could have bought 10k of one stock for less than a tenner and as soon as it goes the wrong way get out and put it into another one, max loss 10%, max upside unlimited, just keep going on like that and he might check his account one day and see it has doubled, tripled or quadrupled! And buy stocks that are cheap that no one else wants! Do you think Warren Buffet got rich by buying at the top of the market? And he certainly wouldn't buy funds, bonds or any other rubbish where people are making money out of you, just buy straight stocks at low prices in companies that are turning a corner, I recommend Alcatel Lucent as one such stock at the mo but like I say, if it goes down ditch it! There's not a shortage of low priced stocks even in this market..

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paul armstrong

Apr 17, 2011 at 14:09

who exactly are you ?

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Apr 17, 2011 at 15:29

Hi (not so) Dumb Investor,

It was with both surprising and lucky that I found your daily report just after I started to invest the savings that I have accumulated over recent years.

Having left enough cash to handle any sudden demand I, like you, had now to decide where to invest £10,000. Not wanting to spread the investment over such a large portfolio I decided to split it in:

30% UK Equity - Standard Life Investments UK Sm Cos Ret managed by Harry Nimmo (CityWire Selection)

30% UK Bonds – M&G UK Corporate Bond A Acc GBP managed by Richard Woolnough

20% Emerging Markets (Looking) – Still looking but I will probably go for a fund that has a major focus on Brazil.

20% US S&P Index (Pondering) – Still considering, might change my mind

Now I know that there was a lot of discussion on the benefits and drawbacks of funds, but for Dumb Investor like us I find that the high management fees will pay out in the end, as long as the funds you choose are well chosen. I’m willing to pay up to 1.6% (TER) if the fund is well manage, outperforms and it saves me time of managing my own stoke portfolio, after all I do have a day job, and time is money and my time with my family is actually priceless.

Of course with more experience I might, and probably will, change my strategy and rely less in funds over other types of investments, but for now I will stick with them.

Regarding investments in currencies other than GBP, I wonder what the majority of the investor think of hedging using a platform like Oanda?


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Apr 17, 2011 at 16:20

Mike88 - Nice of you to be solicitous about my (mental) health, but I do get out!

The hard work is done by Moneyextra - all you have to do is to set up the watch-list (which I admit is tedious every two months), and they work out the percentages.

Wayne Roberts - and Dumb Investor - the problem with micromanaging is that you can end up trading too frequently, with, in my admittedly limited experience, unsatisfactory results. While I had perfectly good reasons for selling, I'd like back all the shares I sold last June. Other decisions, like getting out of Asia Pacific and emerging markets, were dead right. But that's probably why the return on my portfolio is lower than the notional return on my watch-list.

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David Trigg

Apr 17, 2011 at 16:38

New Home Owner,

Follow Neil Wood ford at Invesco Perpetual - 'The Sage of Henley' via Fidelity or Torquil Clarke for reduced charghes and also as an ISA or SIPP.

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David Trigg

Apr 17, 2011 at 16:38

New Home Owner,

Follow Neil Wood ford at Invesco Perpetual - 'The Sage of Henley' via Fidelity or Torquil Clarke for reduced charghes and also as an ISA or SIPP.

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Hilary hames

Apr 17, 2011 at 21:38

The dull and solid Investement Trusts that Ladysaver talks about buying when the discount is right - how do you know what is a good discount for a particular Investment Trust? Are there any particularly worth considering just now?

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Chris Marsden

Apr 18, 2011 at 00:34

The problem is if they are at an even bigger discount when you sell them.

Comparisons with Buffet is not really apt. He can afford to invest for the long term, if the company loses 75% of it's value, there many others he owns so no sweat, if it goes belly up he can buy it and/or turn it round, he can 'persuade' others to buy it, he can get laws changed to suit an industry, DI is not in quite that league.

Wayne, I agree to some extent, but it's all very well saying upside is unlimited, stop-loss if it goes down, but after buying, selling charges, stamp, slippage, you easily end up buying in the middles and selling at a low.

Sometimes studying say Gold, and buying at the expected low is just one strategy that can be useful. As the total dealing cost and spread can be less than 0.4%, it only has to go up just 1/2% to show a profit. Therefore it follows that if you set a buy at 0.5% below current and set a sell at 0.5% above current, you will more often than not come out winning on a flat market or even more as now in a Bull Market. Hey I will try that, it's now 1485.7, if it falls to 1478.27, I buy, if it rises (or even spikes) up to 1493.07 I sell. I might lose big time, or make a decent annualised percentage. Or it might never fall that much, so I don't ever buy :-(

(if it doesn't fall that far, I wont be too unhappy as I have 4 other open positions (or fractional) parts, to give me some glee) Aw, Shucks, it's gone up to 1486.6, and it's 34 mins past midnight! Off to bed.

DI, I have thrown down the gauntlet!

But as (most) people cannot be in tune with several markets at once, that is where Fund managers are well worth their expense if they have a consistent good track record.

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Apr 18, 2011 at 04:34

Wayne, my brother had a bee in his bonnet about Alcatel, and it hasn't moved that much for the last 2 years.

I persauded him into Old Mutual, L & G, Morgan Crucible when they were really down and he more than doubled his money whilst Alcatel was relatively static. He has cashed in L & G and a number of OM

Currently he has a yen for International Ferro Metals and Lonrho, slower moving, but like me, he thinks that they are going places. It is going to take a year or so for them to really rise. Time will tell. Lonrho has more than doubled since I bought 20,000 at 7.9 p and I reckon there is a lot more to come (I have since bought more at various figures, including @17.9p). Those two form less than 4% of my portfolio because they do not currently pay a dividend, but I am hopeful for next year, and if that happens, in terms of value it will be much bigger. Yer takes yer choice!

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Chris Marsden

Apr 18, 2011 at 16:18

Update on the Gold I mentioned earlier today. Amongst a pretty torrid day for the Markets, Gold is now up 0.45% Silver down 0.72%, that is unusual, but mainly due to WTI being down 1.9%. However I got lucky with the guess of a 0.5% drop.

Bought at 1478.27 whilst I was out, at 13.03, and turned north to sell at 1493.07, whilst still out, a rather quicker profit of £148-00 (in 1hour 4 mins) than I could have hoped for. On a margin of only £148.80. 100% profit in an hour, times 3,000+ trading hours p.a. - if only!

Seems buying low, selling high and a bit of simple charting does work.

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Chris Marsden

Apr 18, 2011 at 16:33

@ Heavens Above

Did you know something we didn't?

You said on the 17/4/11

"Time to spice up your portfolio a bit!

Buy some DES first thing Monday morning."

Was that to buy before or after the (now) 62.5% plunge? :-

"18 Apr 2011 - 12:05

* Says Ninky to be plugged and abandoned

* Remaining funds insufficient to drill another well

* Falkland Islands still viable as oil province - analyst

* Desire shares crash 56 pct, Rockhopper down 5.3 pct"

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Paul Tricki

Apr 18, 2011 at 16:52

If only there was "Vote Up" and "Vote Down" option for the posts here. There's lots of good 'uns but too many poor or irrelevant ones. Overall though, the "Dumb Investor" article concept is highly entertaining.

Personally I would favour the unit trust route for this portfolio, (I had my fingers burnt with individual shares, first with the technology bubble then the financial crash). But as this article and forum is largely educational, I appreciate the additional information regarding other investment 'vehicles'.

The concept that some here fail to grasp is that everyone is different, e.g.

a) What age are you? say 18, 45 or 65 (this is the "biggie")

b) Portfolio timescale, eg. do you have impending future commitments?

c) Tax status (capital gains etc.)

d) Have you used your ISA allowance?

e) Marital and family status (single, married, divorced, kids, etc?)

f) Attitude to risk, (basically, are you an investor or a gambler ?)

f) Do you have a job? and is it (say) 90% secure?

g) Do you feel the need to monitor your investments daily/weekly/monthly ?

h) Do you have the time and skills to monitor your investments ?

i) Do you have other investments? e.g. pension, home 100% owned by you

j) If working, does your employer make (or match) pension contributions?

k) Is your portfolio 2%, 10%, or 80% of your overall "net worth"

l) Are you likely to receive an inheritance from a wealthy relative soon?

m) etc., etc., etc., ( I've almost certainly omitted something important)

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Heavens above

Apr 18, 2011 at 17:04

Er yes, that's right, its called bottom fishing. More than likely that DES will get taken over now. So shouldn't think it should go any lower.

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Paul Tricki

Apr 18, 2011 at 17:37

@ Heavens Above

@ Chris Marsden

My earlier point about having your fingers burnt with individual shares is perfectly exemplified by Chris's DES news, (I was busy typing when he posted). For anyone out of the loop, Desire Petroeum was 170p six months ago, but plumetted from 40p to less than 15p this morning on disastrous drilling news; an epic fail basically.

I recommend reading some of the hundreds of comments on iii's site discussions area for DES; it's sobering stuff for any potential investor/gambler. The best comment I read there advised:

". . . an expensive lesson to some, never invest on anything what is written on any bb"

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wayne roberts

Apr 18, 2011 at 18:34

Sounds like a good time to buy DES ;-)

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Chris Marsden

Apr 18, 2011 at 22:46

Buy DES? After their oily water fiasco? It's cheap alright, but a big reason for it. It's a big gamble, because they may not get the backers again and so go bust losing you everything.

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wayne roberts

Apr 18, 2011 at 23:10

I would only ever buy something going upwards, if this starts going upwards it is now cheap enough to speculate on, someone mentioned buying on limit orders, ie buying on weakness I think that is mad, also someone said that you shouldn't buy off bb recommendations, I think that is mad too, theyre good for finding things but you have to also do your own research! DES could only ever have been as a punt as they hadn't actually found any oil and their stock price was going up so I can't see why anyone would be upset that it didnt work out, no one could have been seriously thinking that they were a proper investment!

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David Trigg

Apr 19, 2011 at 14:09

How does one know which ETFs are leveraged and loaning stock and so toxic and/or potentially toxic and those which are not?


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Apr 24, 2011 at 10:59

I can't help being a bit cynical that the emphasise here is on buying into funds with expensive management fees (which he actually grumbles about) and directing us away from direct share holdings and the lower cost ETFs. What's going on here? An agenda, I suspect.


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Chris Marsden

Apr 24, 2011 at 22:40

Wayne, not so sure it is mad....

"someone mentioned buying on limit orders, ie buying on weakness I think that is mad,"

If you buy on a limit order, ie you expect a price to fall say 3%, setting a buy at -2% means by definition it IS falling and may for another 1%, but if you have confidence it WILL go up, then you have an immediate 2% advantage over the "Buy Now" price.

Am I mean to hope not to buy the asking price and look for something cheaper?

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wayne roberts

Apr 26, 2011 at 14:44

I think you misunderstood me, of course I wouldn't buy at the full ask, I would wait for a pullback or preferably a really bad piece of news or some other over reaction, I would then wait for the stock to confirm that it is going UP and buy in, if I had set my limit order before the bad news/correction etc, it would be hit and I could be in while the stock just kept on dropping (I had bought into weakness), I wouldn't personally want to watch my hard earned money dwindle away and sit here hoping it would come back, therefore buying into strength ie when the stock is going UPWARDS is the right thing to do, maybe I'm wrong but I haven't lost any money by getting in when something is going UP, I have lost money getting in when something is going DOWN, I have made money when I have got in after something has gone down but is now going UP, BP for example after the share price collapsed but had stopped falling and was then on the way back up.. I bought into strength and at a low price.. I'm no expert, just seems like common sense..

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