Time to invest amid stock market rout

Here we are, three weeks into 2016, and it has been anything but Happy New Year for financial markets worldwide.

But for the uninitiated like myself, this could be just the contrary: The stock market's dismal start to the year, after all, is the perfect chance for young investors to kickstart their investment journey.

Truth be told, I do not have a single lot to my name, even though I opened a trading account earlier last year after my editor expressed unconcealed horror at my lack of one.

I am not one for risk-taking, as part of a generation that grew up with the doctrine of not taking any chances with our education or future. It has not helped that my family and close friends are not active investors either.

But I do believe there is more I can do with my money by putting it into equity investments, rather than letting it lie idle in the bank and lay victim to the creeping snares of inflation.

I think we can also agree that a year is more than enough for procrastination.

A fellow colleague with years of invaluable financial experience said at a talk last week that the ongoing market rout is a good time to pick up bargain buys, especially if you believe in a company enough to know it will be able to ride out the tough period.

True enough, many blue-chip heavyweights on Singapore's benchmark Straits Times Index are down to multi-year lows today.

Shares of DBS Group Holdings, for instance, closed at $13.87 last Friday, the lowest since 2012. Singtel reverted to 2014 prices at $3.46, while Keppel Corp, at $5.02, is back to levels last seen in 2009.

This comes as uncertainty over the global economic outlook has been building up in recent years, especially with the slowdown in China, coupled with the collapse in oil prices. Economists and analysts, however, have said that a recession is not on the horizon.

Mr Vasu Menon, vice-president and senior investment strategist at OCBC Bank's wealth management unit, offers the same advice: "Don't wait for blue skies before embracing risks and investing in markets."

He notes that the headwinds that have affected financial markets in recent years do not look like they will go away any time soon, as global uncertainties remain.

This means that riskier assets like equities will stay volatile - but "this is the new reality and investors need to come to terms with it".

Those looking to enter the stock market can benefit from volatility by making investments gradually, instead of timing them, says Mr Menon, adding that one should cut risk by spreading investments across a variety of asset classes.

"It is still possible for you to grow your wealth despite changes to the investment landscape if you invest carefully and prudently, and exercise patience," he notes.

A friend of mine recently told me about his experience with the United States stock market during the 2008 financial crisis.

He had bought Citigroup shares for as little as US$1.70 and made a tidy sum of about US$9,000 selling them around a year later when the price rose to more than US$4.

This was before Citigroup carried out a reverse stock split in 2011, which shrank its share count and instantly created a double-digit price.

The counter trades at about US$40 today.

But let's say you are not a fan of equities. There are plenty of alternatives out there, such as bonds, currencies and even property, if you have the cash to spare.

Many younger investors these days tend to go for things that they like and are familiar with, be it art or watches.

Another friend - who, unsurprisingly, loves his alcohol - invests in whisky, which has seen a growing appetite globally in recent years as a luxury item.

He buys it from airports for a few grand and puts it up for auction on overseas-based online platforms, which he says can fetch high returns.

Not a bad option, it seems, except you have to wholly entrust your coveted whisky to an online auction house, not to mention empty your pockets for a variety of miscellaneous charges along the way, such as shipping, storage and commission fees.

It probably takes a lot of willpower as well, not being able to add the bottle to your personal liquor stash.

But I digress. The point is, whatever the investment, make a start.

I am definitely keeping my eyes peeled for bargains on global stock markets.

In the meantime, I have also sunk in money on a fresh load of books from an online bookstore, a couple of concert tickets (one of which has been on my bucket list for the longest time) and plans for a vacation or two.

These are merely "self-investments" with no monetary or tangible gains, but little pleasures go a long way.

It's going to be a good year, I hope.

This article was first published on Jan 24, 2016.
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