New year, fresh start

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New year, fresh start.

We all know the reality of our new year’s resolutions. By February they will be forgotten. The ice cream will be too tempting, the running shoes start gathering dust and War and Peace will be back on the bookshelf to be attempted another year.

However, there is a worthwhile task that we can set ourselves, it won't take long and will pay dividends for the rest of the year. Make time to take a fresh look at your investment portfolio.

Like our bodies, our bookshelf or our new year's resolutions, investment portfolios tend to gather dust over time. To remedy this there is one simple thing you can do to ensure your portfolio is freshened up for 2018.

Be clear on "the Why". Why do you own each and every investment in your portfolio?

If you invest in a managed fund does it fit into your long term strategy, is its risk level appropriate and has been it managed in a way consistent with the promises made when you invested in it?

If you invest directly in a company are you clear on your reason for owning these shares? One way to do this is to write an investment thesis for each company you own. You don't have to be an investment guru or an academic to write a thesis, in fact the simpler the better. All you need to do is set out a clear rationale for what makes the investment attractive.

Your thesis should focus on three things:

What makes this company special?

Competition between companies is brutal and consumers are becoming increasingly savvy, trading one firm against another to get the best deal. As an investor great deals for your customers may not be so good for your bottom line. Ideally you want to own companies that are at least somewhat immune from competition. Less competition means less risk and more secure profits. A good example of a company that faces limited competition is Auckland Airport, it's pretty hard to land a jet anywhere else in Auckland!

Can your company grow its profits over time?

Over the medium term share prices follow a company's profits. Higher profits mean a higher share price. Assessing the future profitability of a firm is not easy but there are some pretty straightforward things to consider when gazing into that crystal ball. To start with think about whether it is possible that the competition will steal your customers or could your company steal theirs? This relates back to the point above that consumers are more mercurial than ever. It's important to consider other opportunities for growth — are there new products or markets your firm could expand in to? Is the market for its goods and services growing at a slow or rapid rate? The goal here is not to forecast what future profits will be to the nearest cent but to get a sense of whether the company will continue to grow over the medium term.

Is it trading at sensible price?

Just as when you buy a house you want to pay a sensible price, the same is true when investing in shares. A sensible price is one that reflects the current earnings of the firm and maybe even a small premium reflecting its qualities. The watch out is that the share price does not imply such a rosy view of the future that it is vulnerable to disappointment. By writing a clear investment thesis out for every investment it will quickly become clear if you own something for the right reasons or whether it is an investment that should be culled. Be brutal, if you aren't clear on the "why", sell. So this year instead of pondering the gym a little time on your portfolio will pay dividends and by doing it today this is one resolution you will keep!


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