Investing without the guesswork

Ms Mabeline Xie's business venture has grown into a luxury bags and accessories e-commerce platform and she is trying to carve a niche in the second-hand luxury goods market.
Ms Mabeline Xie's business venture has grown into a luxury bags and accessories e-commerce platform and she is trying to carve a niche in the second-hand luxury goods market.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

This is the first of a four-part series on women from various fields, including business and the technology scene

Former hedge-fund accountant Mabeline Xie was inspired to pursue finance because of her parents' missed investment opportunities when she was younger.

Ms Xie, 29, recalls that when she was a child, her father wanted to buy a shophouse, so that he could live upstairs and rent out the shop for an income.

"My mum was too risk-averse and he dropped the idea. The property subsequently appreciated multiple times and my dad still occasionally nags at my mum about the missed opportunity. It's too bad.

"They made the decision using their gut feel and not through actual financial planning and analysis."

The urge to "learn the scientific ways of valuation and managing money", without emotions coming into play, led her to study accountancy at Temasek Polytechnic.


A lot of people want to sell their second-hand bags but there is no single player who stands out, and there are more selling brand-new bags instead. I think there's a good opportunity to expand.

MS MABELINE XIE, who runs a luxury bag business

"I did well in accounting in secondary school too and it cultivated my interest," says Ms Xie, who later studied finance at the National University of Singapore.

She is an advocate of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) because they offer portfolio diversification at low cost, and are a passive investment that "doesn't require the...amateur investor to know company fundamentals, financial ratios and keep updated on market or company announcements".

ETFs allowed her to carry on with life even during the recent "Black Monday" market turmoil, she says.

In 2010, she decided to give up her fledgling career in management accounting and move to San Mateo, California, where her husband, civil servant Ng Wee Leong, 31, had been posted for about two years.

Over there, she earned her Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) credentials and also set up a "blogshop selling luxury bags when I spotted a huge price difference between the United States and Singapore".

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  • Q What has been your biggest investing mistake?

    A Vard Holdings, a Norwegian shipbuilding company. I bought at $1.80 and it's now only about 40 cents. I'm still holding it. It's already so low, and I invest long term so I don't see the point in selling it.

    I bought based on analysts' recommendations and not based on my own research. I learnt not to invest when I'm lazy. That's probably why I switched to ETFs.

    Q And what has been your best investment move?

    A Before we left for the US, we sold our first car and made a profit (laughs). We didn't expect it.

    We'd bought the car in 2008, when the financial crisis hit. Back then, the COE had dropped to zero dollars, so I told my husband, why not get a car? The lowest the COE could go is zero but the upside could be huge.

    We bid for the COE and got it at $2,000.

    When we left for the US, the COE had risen to about $30,000.

    Selling it at a profit was unheard of for a car, which is a depreciating asset. But don't let fear consume you. When everyone is afraid, there is opportunity.

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They returned in 2012 and she landed at Citco, a major financial services firm that undertakes hedge-fund administration, where she did accounting for hedge funds.

She could have kept her comfortable job but decided to leave earlier this year because of a little bundle of joy - her 10-month-old son Ethan.

Ms Xie also wanted to work her luxury goods business Amore-Venti, which she continued to maintain as a sideline business and hobby, even after leaving the US.

"The most important reason why I left (my job) was Ethan, I wanted to spend more time with him. And I always wanted to do my own business, so I thought the timing was good."

It has grown to become a luxury bags and accessories e-commerce platform with three employees, and Ms Xie is trying to carve a niche in the second-hand luxury goods market.

"A lot of people want to sell their second-hand bags but there is no single player who stands out, and there are more selling brand-new bags instead. I think there's a good opportunity to expand."

She notes that people are looking for "trusted channels to transact online" and believes there is potential as business has been growing about 5 per cent each month, thanks to Amore-Venti's reputation for authentic products.

Ms Xie has major plans for her business and is working with other industry players to boost the authenticity of sellers in Singapore.

"We are trying to come together to form a group of trusted sellers so that people will know that only these shops sell authentic items."

It's tempting for her to return to a nine-to-five office gig as she misses the good times with former colleagues, and she has received attractive offers from boutique hedge funds, for instance.

Ms Xie says with a laugh: "When you're looking for it, they (opportunities) don't come. When you're not looking, they come, but it's too late."

Q Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

A I grew up in an average family. My dad was a firefighter and is now retired. Mum is a homemaker. Life was simple and frugal with my dad as the sole breadwinner.

I grew up in a Housing Board flat and my parents never took me on overseas holidays but they always gave me and my elder brother the best they could afford.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A I was majoring in finance and was exposed to investing - how to value the stocks of companies and how the price of a stock was derived.

I started learning about the stock market and felt that investing is an important component of life, and it's important to start early because if you don't invest, your money won't grow.

I started investing in individual stocks, and real estate investment trusts (Reits).

I'm now into fixed income and ETFs, because I do not have time to research and monitor every stock, and stocks are riskier to me now.

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A I plan and invest for the long term. I do so because I need to plan for my retirement, and it's good to invest in something that can generate income in the long run rather than keep it in a fixed deposit.

In the short term, the fluctuation of the markets is too high, and it's very difficult to time the market, so I just hold my investments for the long term and they will even out.

Q What's in your portfolio?

A I have insurance to cover three undesirable events: death, hospitalisation and disability. I also buy term insurance which gives me a high coverage at low cost.

You can get a $100,000 death and disability term coverage for $10 a month.

I also signed the advance medical directive (AMD) to spare my family from the painful decisions if I were to become terminally ill.

For our investment portfolio, we have 50 per cent in equities, and the other 50 per cent is split among Reits, bonds and ETFs. I get a return of about 5 per cent every year from my portfolio.

The ETFs are US counters as there are more actively traded ETFs there than in Singapore. It's safer to invest in ETFs as the diversification is already there and the expense ratio is low.

Warren Buffett advised his heirs in his 2013 annual letter to just buy index funds and they will do better than most investors.

About fees, I can cite Singaporeans' favourite Central Provident Fund Investment Scheme (CPFIS) unit trusts as an example.

The CPFIS-approved unit trusts have expense ratios averaging 1.6 per cent, while the Vanguard S&P500 ETF has an expense ratio of just 0.05 per cent.

The numbers may be small but they are not negligible, it is a 32-times difference. Assuming a similar performance of the funds, $10,000 invested in the Vanguard S&P500 ETF would yield $1,600 of savings over a 10-year period. That's a 16 per cent "extra" return.

Q What does money mean to you?

A Money is not everything. It's essential but as long as you're comfortable, you can still have a quality lifestyle that allows you to spend more time with your family and do what you enjoy.

Q What's the most extravagant thing you have done?

A Buying a second-hand Citroen C4 for about $35,000, with 2½ years left on the certificate of entitlement (COE).

You can buy a BMW in the US for $30,000. When I tell Americans how much a car costs in Singapore, they are so shocked.

The other thing, in terms of opportunity cost, was leaving a well-paying job as an accountant to follow my husband on his job posting.

Q What has been one of your biggest regrets when it comes to investing?

A Selling our first car, which we bought brand-new for $60,000, before we left for the US.

We didn't expect the COE to rocket. COE prices hit $85,000 when I was about to come back to Singapore. I learnt you can never predict the future, and you can never time the market.

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A I'm putting most of my capital into expanding my luxury bags and accessories e-commerce platform.

Q How are you planning for retirement?

A I've planned for my later years financially as everybody gets old, but I think it's good to work and keep yourself active.

I'm growing my own business so no one can ask me to stop working.

Q Home is now...

A A Build-To-Order (BTO) flat in Punggol. Every Singaporean couple has a sure chance to gain from the property market, and that is through getting a BTO flat. I'd advise young people not to throw the chance away.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 06, 2015, with the headline 'Me&MyMoney Investing without the guesswork'. Print Edition | Subscribe