Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hope in the future

Last week I was reading Psalm 52:
Why do you boast, O mighty one,
    of mischief done against the godly?
    All day long you are plotting destruction.
Your tongue is like a sharp razor,
    you worker of treachery.
You love evil more than good,
    and lying more than speaking the truth.
You love all words that devour,
    O deceitful tongue.

But God will break you down forever;
    he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
    he will uproot you from the land of the living.
The righteous will see, and fear,
    and will laugh at the evildoer, saying,
“See the one who would not take
    refuge in God,
but trusted in abundant riches,
    and sought refuge in wealth!”
But I am like a green olive tree
    in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
    forever and ever.
I will thank you forever,
    because of what you have done.
In the presence of the faithful
    I will proclaim your name, for it is good.
As I listened to it, I realised how unlike the psalmist I am.  When I see people doing bad stuff I don't look at them, mystified, and think "how can you possibly think God will let you get away with that forever?".  Instead, I'm more likely to feel depressed or outraged.  Either way, I'm tacitly assuming they'll get away with it forever, just like they are.

Yet part of the Christian message is that that's not true! As the psalm says, "God will break [them] down forever; he will snatch and tear [them] from [their] tent; he will uproot [them] from the land of the living."

Because that's mostly likely only going to happen in the distant future, I tend to forget that it's so and live as if it's never going to happen.

Martin's reading a book about some of this at the moment: J├╝rgen Moltmann's Theology of Hope.  In it Moltmann is talking about how Christians often forget the big hope of the gospel: that a time is coming when God is going to make everything good and perfect.

One thing Martin mentioned from it that struck me was about activism.  Christians absolutely should be involved in striving to make the world a better place: that's part of being the 'first-fruits of the new creation' and of loving our neighbours as ourselves.  However, Moltmann argues that we shouldn't be overly invested in these things: partly because we know that they'll never really solve the problems of the world (just alleviate them somewhat) and partly because we know that the real solution is coming.

I found that really helpful in thinking about my own disappointment with the results of the recent election in New Zealand.  Yes, I do think things would have been better for the most vulnerable Kiwis if the Greens had gotten into government.  But things wouldn't have been utopian, because we'd still all be fallen sinful people, stuffing things up all over the place.  However, a time is coming when there won't be any poverty or disability any more.  I can hold onto the fact that the real solution is coming, and that tempers my disappointment that the partial and temporary solution I was hoping for isn't in place.

I've always been a bit nervous of focussing too much on a future where God makes everything perfect.  People insult Christians by describing us as people overly focussed on 'pie in the sky when you die'.  I realise now that I've over-reacted to that insult and have, instead, given far too little thought to celebrating the future God has promised us.

So over the last week or so I've been practising a new spiritual discipline.  Whenever I've been disappointed by something, I've taken the time to think: is that something that would occur after Jesus comes back?  If not (and it generally isn't), then I remind myself that things won't always be like this.
  • When I've looked at our dingy white hand towels (dingy because I've refused to use bleach for cosmetic purposes since I learned that doing so forms dioxins), I've taken time to celebrate that a time is coming when I can have beautiful things without destroying the health of my fellow-creatures;
  • When I'm tired and sore and nauseous, I've tried to remind myself that God has promised me a new body one day;
  • When I read of the suffering of one person in Sierra Leone who lost four people close to him to ebola in just one week, I mourn with him, but also remind myself that God has promised us a future without such dreadful grief.
May God remind you, also, of the good future he has promised to all his children, and may that give you fresh courage to face the challenges in front of you as you work as his ambassador wherever he has place you!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

'Ethical' Kiwisaver schemes

See update re. Koinonia at end of post

The Kiwisaver scheme to which Martin currently belongs is being closed down, so we're on the hunt for a replacement.  Ideally we'd like to invest in a scheme that invests in something socially positive, but if we can't have that then at least we want to exclude investments in things that are really harmful.  To see what our options are I've been trawling all the Kiwisaver schemes that pitch themselves as 'ethical'.  I thought I'd share what I'd found here in the hope of saving someone else some work.

All the 'ethical' schemes exclude investments in alcohol, tobacco, gambling and armaments except Craig's Investment Partners' 'Balanced SRI' Fund (which only aims to "have a diversified portfolio of investments that are deemed to be environmentally and socially sustainable") and OneAnswer's 'Sustainable Growth' Fund (which excludes investments in tobacco, gambling and armaments but allows investments in alcohol).  I've listed any other 'ethical' criteria the various schemes employ under their names below, along with what kind of investment they are, what their past returns have been like and what fees they charge.  Note that for 'past returns' I'm listing the returns to end March 2014, after tax (at the maximum rate) and fees.

Fidelity Life's Ethical Kiwi Fund
NB: This fund appears to no longer be accepting new members.
  • No additional ethical criteria.
  • A medium risk balanced' fund investing 60% in shares and 40% in fixed interest.
  • Past returns: 5.8% per annum over the last five years (9.2% over the last three).
  • Fees: $3.03 per month plus 1.16% and up to 0.065% per year.

SuperLife's Ethica
  • In addition to alcohol, tobacco, gambling and armaments it excludes investments in pornography and fossil fuel extraction.  It also excludes investments where it sees the activity behind the investment having negative social/community outcomes, damaging the environment or violating UN standards on human rights, health and safety or child labour.  Investments in activities that would be illegal in NZ are also excluded.
  • A medium-risk 'balanced' fund that's 60% shares and property and 40% cash and bonds.
  • Past returns: 6.3% per annum over the last five years (5.0% over the last three).
  • Fees: $2.75 per month plus 0.23% and approx 0.50% per year.

Grosvenor's Socially Responsible Investment Balanced Fund
  • No additional ethical criteria.
  • A medium-risk 'balanced' fund that's 50-70% shares with the balance in fixed interest and cash.
  • Past returns: I can't find these - the disclosure statement only lists the 'growth' fund, as does 'Sorted', so I think this may be a new fund.
  • Fees: $3 per month plus 1.17% per year.

Craig's Investment Partners' Balanced SRI Fund
  • Aims to "have a diversified portfolio of investments that are deemed to be environmentally and socially sustainable".
  • A medium-risk 'balanced' fund that's 60% shares and 40% cash and fixed interest.
  • Past returns: 5.4% per annum over the last five years (4.7% over the last three).
  • Fees: 1.25% entry fee plus up to $30 and 1.25% per year.

Grosvenor's Socially Responsible Investment Growth Fund
  • No additional ethical criteria.
  • A high-risk 'growth' fund that mostly invests in New Zealand and Australian shares.
  • Past returns: 5.2% per annum over the last three years.
  • Fees: $3 per month plus 1.17% per year.

OneAnswer's Sustainable Growth Fund
  • In addition to tobacco, gambling and armaments it excludes investments in nuclear power, pornography and fur.  It does not exclude investments in alcohol.  It only invests in companies which it sees as being in the top 50% of their class in terms of environmental, social and governance policies and transparency.
  • A high-risk 'growth' fund with at least two thirds of the funds invested in shares and/or transferable securities.
  • Past returns: 5.8% per annum over the last five years (2.5% over the last three).
  • Fees: $2 per month plus 1.62% per year.

Amanah
  • In addition to alcohol, tobacco, gambling and armaments it excludes investments in money-lending, pornography and pork.  It also takes into account "environmental, social, and governance considerations" in its investments and is Shari'ah compliant.
  • An 'aggressive' fund investing in equities, debt-free real estate and cash.  It will only invest in companies with a low level of debt (no 'high-gearing'.)
  • Past returns: the fund has only been in existence since late March 2014.  Between then and end June 2014 it lost 4.9%.
  • Fees: $2.70 per month plus 1.78% and 15% on any returns above 8% per year. 

Update from September 2016

I wasn't looking at restricted schemes when I did this post two years ago.  However, since then Koinonia, whilst still restricted, has become much more open: anyone who self-identifies as Christian can join.  Here's what I've found about it.  For consistency, I've given returns to end of March 2014 (the same as for the rest of the post), although that means I can only give three-year returns and not five-year returns as the older data is no longer easily accessible.

Koinonia Income Fund
  • In addition to tobacco, gambling and armaments it excludes direct investments in pornography and beer (but not wine or spirits - it's an Anglican fund and these are used by Anglicans in worship).  They also avoid:
    • companies whose primary purpose is extraction and production of fossil fuels;
    • those with a poor environmental or industrial relations record;
    • those where the management "appears excessively concerned with their own remuneration";
    • those where "the activities of key individuals raise serious ethical concerns". 
  • A low-risk 'defensive' fund that's 100% cash and fixed interest.  35% of funds are invested overseas, where they will not necessarily be invested in accordance with their investment guidelines.  As they say: "Our policy does not preclude investment in certain overseas funds which may not necessarily have the same approach as the Board to ethical investment. For example, tracker funds, alternative strategy funds and certain fixed interest funds.".
  • Past returns: 2.1% per annum over the three years ending 31 March 2014 (note that, for the first year of the period, this was actually a different fund that was wound up and replaced).
  • Fees: 1.5% (no monthly fee).  Note that this fee doesn't seem to be published anywhere: my number is what's given in a number of recent quarterly reports.
Koinonia Balanced Fund
  • In addition to tobacco, gambling and armaments it excludes direct investments in pornography and beer (but not wine or spirits - it's an Anglican fund and these are used by Anglicans in worship).  They also avoid:
    • companies whose primary purpose is extraction and production of fossil fuels;
    • those with a poor environmental or industrial relations record;
    • those where the management "appears excessively concerned with their own remuneration";
    • those where "the activities of key individuals raise serious ethical concerns". 
  • A medium-risk 'balanced' fund that's 50% cash and fixed interest, 25% international shares, 20% Australasian shares and 5% 'alternative assets' (forestry etc.).  45%-50% of funds are invested overseas, where they will not necessarily be invested in accordance with their investment guidelines.  As they say: "Our policy does not preclude investment in certain overseas funds which may not necessarily have the same approach as the Board to ethical investment. For example, tracker funds, alternative strategy funds and certain fixed interest funds.".
  • Past returns: 4.0% per annum over the three years ending 31 March 2014.
  • Fees: 1.7% (no monthly fee).  Note that this fee doesn't seem to be published anywhere: my number is what's given in a number of recent quarterly reports.
Koinonia Growth Fund
  • In addition to tobacco, gambling and armaments it excludes direct investments in pornography and beer (but not wine or spirits - it's an Anglican fund and these are used by Anglicans in worship).  They also avoid:
    • companies whose primary purpose is extraction and production of fossil fuels;
    • those with a poor environmental or industrial relations record;
    • those where the management "appears excessively concerned with their own remuneration";
    • those where "the activities of key individuals raise serious ethical concerns". 
  • A high-risk 'growth' fund that's 40% international shares, 25% cash and fixed interest, 25% Australasian shares and 10% 'alternative assets' (forestry etc.).  50-60% of funds are invested overseas, where they will not necessarily be invested in accordance with their investment guidelines.  As they say: "Our policy does not preclude investment in certain overseas funds which may not necessarily have the same approach as the Board to ethical investment. For example, tracker funds, alternative strategy funds and certain fixed interest funds."
  • Past returns: 4.3% per annum over the three years ending 31 March 2014.
  • Fees: 1.8% (no monthly fee).  Note that this fee doesn't seem to be published anywhere: my number is what's given in a number of recent quarterly reports.

Summary of past returns (after tax and fees) and fees (updated to include Koinonia):



fund type return over 5 years return over three years fixed fee (annual) percentage fee


Koinonia Income defensive ? 2.10% $0 1.5%



Koinonia Balanced balanced ? 4.90% $0 1.7%



Fidelity Life's Ethical Kiwi balanced 5.80% 9.20% $36.36 1.22%



SuperLife's Ethica balanced 6.30% 5.00% $33 0.73%



Grosvenor's SRI Balanced balanced ? ? $36 1.17%



Craig's Investment Partners' Balanced SRI balanced 5.40% 4.70% $30 1.25% + 1.25% entry fee

Koinonia Growth growth ? 4.30% $0 1.8%



Grosvenor's SRI Growth growth N/A 5.20% $36 1.17%



OneAnswer's Sustainable Growth growth 5.80% 2.50% $24 1.62%



Amanah growth N/A N/A $32.40 1.78% + 15% on any returns above 8%

Friday, October 3, 2014

I made bread!


We're wondering about buying a fancy electric beater (one of the ones that can handle bread dough) so we've borrowed one off Martin's boss for a couple of weeks to try it out.  We were worried it might be too heavy or noisy for me to cope with so wanted to have a go with one before we bought one.  It's worked out beautifully so far and today I used it to make bread for the first time :-)

I used to make bread a lot back in the day but these days I can only manage no-knead bread.  However, today I made normal bread!  It was so much fun - seeing it rise like magic, smelling all the rich yeasty smells - all things that I've been shut off from for years!  Yay!

It's been awesome, and hopefully we'll be buying one of our own soon, using a mixture of our own money and some money we got when my Grandma died.  She was a great baker so it feels like a fitting tribute :-)