Apr 242017
 

Today we’ll explore a common question I get asked all the time: What is my thought process behind leverage?

The short answer is simple. I want to make high returns without being exposed to high risk. Normally the two go hand-in-hand. But leverage allows me to separate them.

For example, a speculative marijuana stock may grow 20% to 50% a year. But it could just as easily lose half its value. The potential reward is tempting. But the high risk is not worth it.

Instead, I’m looking for a lower return, lower risk investment such as an established pipeline company known for its predictable earnings, dividend growth, large economic moat, and low stock volatility. Using historical data and fundamental analysis I may determine that there is a very high probability this stock will appreciate 4% to 10% a year. I can then apply a leverage multiplier of 5 times on this investment which means my actual expected rate of return is 20% to 50%.

In other words, I do not subject myself to the high risk that is typically associated with juicy returns. But I still get those juicy returns! Awww yeah. 😀

That’s pretty much it. The long answer requires some further explanation. Let’s start with the 3 criteria I look for before I borrow to invest.

 

The 3 fundamental rules of practicing leverage

  1. A 10+ year investment time horizon.
  2. An adequate diversification strategy.
  3. An asymmetric risk-return opportunity.

The first and second rules are straightforward. Billionaire Jeff Bezos recommends we think in 7 year terms to remain competitive. I suggest taking that up to 10 years just to be safe. 🙂 In terms of diversification it can mean more than just having stocks and bonds.

 

Seek Out Asymmetric Returns

Now comes the fun part. Rule number 3. As we all know there is no investment without risk. The third rule is about knowing which investment has a favorable risk to reward ratio. This simply means comparing the odds. For example, let’s say we are asked to roll a normal 6 sided die. If it lands on 1, 2, 3, or 4, we win $10. 🙂 But if it lands on 5 or 6, we lose $10.

So should we play? The answer is a resounding yes every time! 😀 We have a 66.7% chance (4/6) of success. So from a rational perspective this has an asymmetric probability in favor of us winning.

 

Analyzing Probable Returns with a Bell Curve

We can use a normal distribution to help identify favorable investment opportunities. In statistics, a normal (bell curve) distribution outlines all the possibilities with the most likely outcome being in the middle. The standard deviation can be used to measure the variation in a set of data. Let’s see how we can put this bell curve to use when we overlay it on top of a chart that shows how many times the stock market returned a specific amount over any 10 year period between 1916 to 2016. (source)

So over the last century, any 10 year period of investing in the S&P500 index would have returned somewhere between 6% to 11%, 40% of the time, or within 1 standard deviation of a normal distribution curve. Additionally, returns were between 3% to 14%, 72% of the time, within 2 standard deviations from the mean.

This strongly suggests that we have a 95% chance (95/100 possibilities) of making at least 3% annual return from the stock market in any given 10 year period. Pretty neat eh? 😀 Time in the market reduces risk in the market, and creates a huge asymmetric advantage to investors!

But enough theory. Let’s see this at work in a real life example.

 

Banking on Leverage

A couple of years ago I used leverage to buy RBC Royal Bank stocks. Let’s go through my thought process behind this decision.

Large cap, blue-chip dividend stocks are ideal to use leverage on. They don’t come much bluer and larger cap than RBC. It’s the largest company in the country. Plus, there’s a lion in the logo. That’s how you know it’s a top quality company. 😉

I borrowed $4,000 to buy 55 shares of TSE:RY and contributed $0 of my own money. I wrote a full analysis on RBC and explained why I thought it was a good stock to buy at the time. The reason I used leverage was because I didn’t have any cash and the investment fits my 3 rules of leverage.

  • First rule: I planned to keep RY stock for the next 10 years.
  • Second rule: I made sure RY would only be a small part of my total portfolio.
  • Third rule: RY’s P/E ratio, peg ratio, and other fundamental measurements looked appealing in 2015. The stock was expected to grow 8% to 10% a year for the foreseeable future. Historical data showed strong earnings growth and stock appreciation. RY’s dividend would be enough to cover the interest cost of the debt. Thus, this would have a favorable asymmetric risk-to-reward ratio.

My return on this investment so far, net of margin interest cost, is about 37% or $1,500. Not too shabby. 😀 But this shouldn’t be a big surprise. After all, stocks are fundamentally priced based on their earnings. And RBC has an impressive history of consistent earnings growth. Back in 2015, RY was expected to earn $7.35 per share by 2017. Fast forward to today, it appears RY may actually be on track to hit $7.40 EPS this year. We shall see.

This leveraging strategy is also recession resistant. For example, let’s say I did the exact same thing in 2007 at the peak of RY’s market capitalization, (the worst possible time to use leverage) right before the greatest recession of our generation. Yikes! Well despite the unfortunate timing, 10 years later I would still end up with a 70% positive return, net of interest expenses! This is why I am not concerned about future recessions. 😉 I know I can just hang on to RY until the stock market recovers like it always does after a major correction.

Continue reading »

Apr 202017
 

Some people suffer from areophobia, the fear of flying. But this is plane silly. Flying is statistically safer than driving. Yet some people live entire lives without ever getting onto a plane due to this irrational fear. They believe merely walking into an airport could give them a terminal illness. 😄

Borrowing to invest is similar to flying. Nobody ever has to do it, but it can make life a lot easier. I can certainly take a train to get from Paris to Zürich. However, flying is much faster. I can retire comfortably some day without ever going into debt. However, using leverage will enable me to get there much faster. 🙂

If we tend to pick bad investments, then we should probably pay a professional to help manage our portfolio. But on the other hand, if we have a history of making mostly good investment decisions, then rationally speaking we should double down to boost ours returns unless evidence suggests otherwise. Leverage doesn’t change our odds of winning. It merely enhances our gains or losses based on the inherent odds of the underlying investment decision.

Using leverage removes the problem of not having any money to invest. It allows us to be fully invested at all times, but still have access to instant liquidity. This gives investors a huge advantage. Just ask any MBA graduate.

Next week I will blog about my 3 fundamental rules of leveraged investing. A lot of readers have requested this so I will break down my thought process and method. The extended bull market cycle we’ve been in has helped my investments tremendously. But when I use leverage, I also follow specific criterias that are meant to reduce downside risk in recessions and bear markets. 🙂

 

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Random Useless Fact:

Foxes are smarter than most, but not all, dog breeds.

 

Apr 172017
 

A Present To Yourself

If you like to receive presents, and let’s be honest – who doesn’t? then consider giving yourself the gift of long term planning. That simply means making a plan today that will pay off dividends for you later on. Your future self will thank you for this priceless gift that you have given him or her. And best of all, making this gift doesn’t cost you any money today. 🙂

Last month, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos surpassed Warren Buffett to become the 2nd richest person in the world! How did he do it? Maybe a letter he wrote to shareholders in 1997 can reveal some secrets. 😀 In it Jeff writes that we can’t realize our true potential as people or as companies unless we plan for the long term. “If everything you do needs to work on a 3-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people,” Bezos told Wired in 2011. “But if you’re willing to invest on a 7-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few are willing to do that.”

Year 7 of the 12 Year Journey

I started this blog in 2010 with a 12 year plan to reach financial independence. It’s now been 7 years and things are progressing very well. 🙂 Back in 2013, my net worth was only $200K. And my financial details looked like the following.

Assets:
Home = $252K
Farms = $325K
Liquid investments (Including Retirement Accounts) = $161K

Liabilities
Total debts = $535K

At that time I wrote about my plans and my course of action to reach financial freedom. Without a solid plan back then, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Developing a strategy years ago was the best present I could have given my current self.

Speaking of the present, we are now only 5 years away from 2022. My net worth is currently about $610K, and here is an update of my financial details today.

Assets: 
Home = $270K
Farms = $436K
Liquid investments (Including Retirement Accounts) = $400K

Liabilities
Total debts = $495K

It appears I’m farther ahead that I initially planned for. This means I have to adjust my original plan made a few years ago. Not that I’m complaining. 😀 So here is my new revised plan for Freedom 35:

Step 1: Pay down $18K of debt per year. After 5 years my total debt should be $400K.
Step 2: Sell all farmland in 2022 for $436K. After agent fees and tax, I would keep $400K in my pocket.
Step 3: Use the $400K from selling farmland to pay off my $400K of debt. This would make me debt free.
Step 4: Re-balance my $400K liquid portfolio to earn $15,000 per year of dividend income.
Step 5: Live on passive income for the foreseeable future.

That’s pretty much it. 🙂 A $15,000 income from a $400,000 portfolio represents a sustainable 3.75% withdrawal rate.

Here is a look at my projected monthly expenses after I reach financial independence in 2022, assuming 2% annual inflation rate from today.

  • 300 – strata fee
  • 30 – gasoline for car
  • 100 – car insurance
  • 30 – home insurance
  • 100 – property tax
  • 70 – internet
  • 40 – cell phone
  • 300 – food
  • 30 – electricity
  • 250 – discretionary

Total monthly spending = $1,250

Discretionary spending will be clothing, entertainment, and other things like that. I won’t have to pay into the MSP healthcare system anymore because I wouldn’t be making enough income to be charged the monthly insurance premium. I also don’t have to move to a small city or change my lifestyle. I can stay in YVR. 🙂

Continue reading »

Apr 132017
 

Farmland Update – Small Price Increase

Farm Credit Canada just released its annual Farmland Values Report which provides a yearly overview of provincial and national land values trends across the country. As usual, it is this time of the year that I adjust the value of my Saskatchewan farmland using the average change of this report and the inflation rate (CPI.)

Unfortunately farmland values in east-central and southeast Saskatchewan remained unchanged in 2016. This is where my plot of land is. The FCC report points to the oil and gas industry slowdown as the main reason for the lack of appreciation. However, other parts of Saskatchewan did see increases. 🙂

There was 0.00% increase in value to my farmland according to the report. The overall inflation rate in Canada was 1.43% in 2016. The average of these two numbers is 0.715%. Therefore I will be adding $3,000 to my farmland value from $433,000 to $436,000 in my April net worth update. 🙂

Ever since I started to invest in farmland, the FCC reported values is SK have always appreciated faster than CPI. This is the first year where the inflation rate has surpassed that of the annual FCC report.

Despite the stagnation in some parts of Saskatchewan, the overall appreciation in Canadian farmland was pretty good. Each province saw positive growth in aggregate, and the average increase across the country was 7.9% for 2016.

Luckily my farmland operation is profitable and I have a rental contract for the next 2 years so I am not too concerned that my farmland did not appreciate in 2016. I just hope it retains its value for the next 4 years, at which time I will probably sell it to free up capital for other, more liquid investments.

I bought my farmland in 2012. If I had to grow my own crops I would probably start with fruit farming. I think I would be berry good at that. 😀 But for now, I am happy just being a landlord.  My tenant always pays on time and the land’s value has gone up a lot so far.

But as we can see, the growth has been slowing since 2013. I believe the hay-day of farmland investing is behind us. Interest rates can’t go much lower than it already is. A weakening of the Canadian dollar and more foreign investments can spur a little more growth in the farmland market, but it’s not a guarantee.

 

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Random Useless Fact:

Domino’s has over 8,000 stores across 82 countries, making it the 2nd largest pizza chain after Pizza Hut.

Apr 102017
 

To get the most out of our spending we can take advantage of consumer surplus. A consumer surplus occurs when we, as consumers, are willing to pay more for something than the actual market price. For example, I pay about $50/month for parking at work. Since I drive to work everyday, being able to use the parking lot is fairly important to me. Given how essential this privilege is, I would be willing to pay up to $125/month for parking. 🙂

The difference between how much I value the parking space versus how much I actually pay is the consumer surplus, which is $75 in this case. If the cost of parking was over $125/month however, then I would take public transportation instead of driving to work.

In order to increase our perceived wealth and live a richer life, we should try to allocate more of our spending towards products and services that will bring us greater marginal benefit.

Here are a couple of ways to increase our consumer surplus:

  • Practice mindful spending.
    Lots of people buy clothes, exercise equipment, or magazine subscriptions often on impulse. But realize after awhile that they don’t actually use those things very much. We should minimize buying things that won’t give us a consumer surplus. We have to know ourselves and take some time to consider how much utility a product will give us not only at the moment of the purchase, but also in the future.
  • Earn more money.
    The more income we make the more affordable things will be for us, relative to other consumers. A taxi ride to the airport may seem expensive to someone making minimum wage. But the same fare would be pocket change for an engineer making $140,000 a year. My cell phone plan was $40/month 10 years ago. That seemed expensive to me as a student. Today, my cell phone plan is still $40/month. But I would be willing to pay $300/month for it. So my consumer surplus is $260, making it an excellent deal for me.

Consumer Surplus in Everyday Life

Some people complain we have expensive telecommunication services here compared to other countries. This is true, but measured from a consumer surplus perspective the cost of internet and phone services is not that bad. 🙂 Evaluating a product based on what other people are willing to pay for it is natural. But it puts us at risk of buying something not very useful or enjoyable to us. Here’s a joke to prove this point.

Husband: I just bought this bag of dog food for 90% off. I couldn’t pass up such a great deal!
Wife: But we don’t have a dog.

We all have different values and interests. So if we spend money with a higher priority on maximizing consumer surplus then we can enjoy more bargains in life. 🙂

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Random Useless Fact: