May 222015
 

Those who invest in cocoa should put their money behind bars. Chocolate bars that is! 😀 Earlier this week in part 1 of my investing in chocolate series I wrote about the insatiable global appetite for chocolate and how to make money from that. :) Today I’ll go into details about how I plan to do it.

Last week I purchased about $4,000 USD of chocolate companies, Hershey Co and Mondelez International Inc. 😀 Both are major players in the chocolate space and own some very high quality products and valuable brands. I bought 20 shares of HSY and 50 shares of MDLZ, which is roughly $2,000 of each company.

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As we can see I bought these 2 stocks in my US dollar TFSA for efficiency. I’ll post a tutorial on how to open a registered $USD account in the future if anyone’s interested. For now let’s go over some analysis to understand why I believe these companies should be in my long term investment portfolio.

The Hershey Company

Famous investor Warren Buffett said one of the secret formulas to a successful business is to “buy commodities, and sell brands.” That is exactly what Hershey is doing. :) It purchases sugar, milk, cocoa, etc, and sells products that have major brand recognition. About half of the chocolate consumed in America is milk chocolate, and that is what Hershey is known for. :) If someone goes into a candy store to buy a Hershey chocolate bar and the store owner says “sorry, we don’t have Hershey, but we have this other generic brand that is 20% cheaper,” then the customer will probably leave and try to find another store to get his Hershey fix. 😆 That is the power of brand loyalty. It automatically puts a 20% value premium over other businesses offering the same food. Check out some of the awesome brands Hershey is responsible for.

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May 192015
 

Life is like a box of chocolates – full of nuts! 😛 They’re also similar in that we never know what we’re going to get. Life gave me a tax refund this year so I decided to put the money to good use and invest it in chocolate. I believe the cocoa industry will continue to grow and I don’t want to miss out on all the potential gains. :)

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Produced from the tropical cacao tree people have been cultivating cocoa for at least 3,000 years. It’s one of the oldest, sustainable food we know of. Dating back to circa 1,100 BC the Aztecs were the first to use it by making cocoa into a beverage. Over time cocoa products have become an important part of the world’s social fabric. 😉

The Global Cocoa Market 🍫

Generations of confectionery marketing experts worked hard to integrate chocolate into as many parts of our lives as possible. We eat chocolate at weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and many other events. It’s also customary to buy chocolate on Valentines, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and other holidays. It can be a part of breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, appetizers, and desserts. Globally about $100 billion worth of chocolate is eaten every year. It has even made it into the hospitality industry, especially in fancy hotels and restaurants where guests are offered complimentary chocolate.

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May 162015
 

46% of Canadians credit card holders carry some kind of balance each month, and we all know how high the interest rates can get on those. Over time the free market has come up with solutions to provide more affordable lending to borrowers in many parts of the world. In the U.S. and Europe for example, peer to peer lending has grown significantly in popularity as consumers look for alternative means to finance large purchases and pay down high interest debts.15-05-marketplace-lending-grouplend

Canada has been lagging behind in this segment of the financial market for some time but just last year a new Vancouver based company became the first to offer a legitimate marketplace lending solution. Grouplend plans to give Canadians a fast and convenient platform to borrow money with lower interest rates than credit cards or pay day loan services. I recently had a chance to sit down with its director of business development, Sean, to learn more about possible opportunities in this space for consumers and investors.

Grouplend leverages the power of technology to bring together creditworthy borrowers seeking loans with investors looking to earn a fair return on their money in an online environment that provides personalized services with competitive interest rates. The company claims to have over $50 million of loan applications already. The way it works is pretty straight forward. Large institutions and accredited investors pool money into a fund which is lend out to borrowers. These borrowers can take out a loan up to $30,000. The term of the loan is fixed for 3 years. The interest rates start from 6.3% and goes up depending on the borrower’s income and financial situation.

I can see this benefiting two main groups of people: consumers who want to consolidate their debt or want to borrow money for a short amount of time, and investors who are willing to risk lending their money to fellow Canadians to hopefully make a return.

The borrowing process is simple. Let’s say you have a line of credit at your bank at 9% and want to lower your rate. You may be able to replace this LOC with a Grouplend loan at a lower interest rate. On the main page of its website, use the questionnaire near the bottom to get your no-obligation personalized quote in a couple of minutes. If you like the conditions and interest rate, you may proceed with your loan application. To verify your identity and credit worthiness you will need to email them some documents like scans of your drivers license, 2 most recent pay stubs from work, etc. If the application is approved it takes as little as 24 hours for the loan money to be deposited into your bank account. You can also set up automatic repayments. After 6 months of on-time payments, you may even apply for a second loan. A process that used to take weeks and meetings with a financial representative at a bank has been condensed into a few mouse clicks and keystrokes. :) There is no origination fee, and you can pay back the loan in full at any time without penalty. This is a great opportunity for borrowers to save money on their high interest debts. Paying less interest means becoming debt free sooner, which frees up more money for retirement savings and investing. :)

For fixed income investors who are looking for alternative to bonds Grouplend allows individuals to pool their money into funds that consumers can borrow from. On its FAQ page the website encourages investors to reach out by email if they are interested. Due to regulatory and securities issuance in Canada only accredited investors can invest in Grouplend funds. Generally speaking an accredited investor has to either earn a high salary or have a net worth of $1 million. An employee benefit plan or a trust can also be qualified as accredit investors if total assets are in excess of $5 million.

Today’s world is all about going digital and crowd sourcing to become more efficient. :) I find the start ups for marketplace lending to be an interesting development. Since almost half of Canadians with credit cards hold a balance I expect there to be strong consumer demand for a lower cost, convenient, online loan platform moving forward.

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Random Useless Fact:

Use the phrase, “My understanding was…” instead of, “I assumed…” so that other people will merely think you misunderstood something as opposed to being viewed as having hastily jumped to a conclusion based on insufficient evidence.

May 132015
 

Not in my Backyard 

I recently read an article about a lower mainland couple who doesn’t like how a neighbouring $2 million house sits empty all the time. The yard is unkempt, there are no cars in the driveway and the lack of human presence is “driving [the couple] slightly bananas.”

Sacré bleu! You mean to tell me that there are people who buy property only for investment purposes? How dare they offer above market price to purchase a house here, so that Canadians can unlock the full value of their real estate. What can we do with cash anyway? Buy a diversified portfolio of liquid assets like stocks and bonds to provide passive income for retirement? No thanks. I’d much rather put all my nest eggs into a single illiquid asset that produces no income, and lies on a major fault zone. 😛 Those pesky foreign investors who don’t even live here think they can just not contribute any waste to our sewage system, and not use the city’s garbage services, but somehow think they still have the right to pay the full brunt of utility tax and property tax. Some nerve! How dare those foreigners help fund our police, fire, and public education system when they don’t even have kids here to overcrowd our classrooms. It’s also unfortunate how quiet their house is all the time. Who would want to live beside quiet neighbours anyway? Not me. :roll:

Sarcasm aside, foreign ownership of real estate is a hot button issue around here. Should non-residents or non-citizens be allowed to purchase Canadian residential property?

There’s actually a petition to restrict foreign investment in Canada’s most expensive real estate market, which I’ve signed and shared on social media. To be frank I don’t believe this petition will bring about any meaningful change, but I think it’s an important discussion for fellow Vancouverites to have. :)

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click on image to sign the petition

There will also be a rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on May 24th, to focus on the problem of affordable housing for young people in a city where the average house costs more than $1 million. Feel free to attend and take a stand if you believe in the cause. :)

Foreign Real Estate Ownership

Some believe foreign ownership drives up the cost of housing which makes it less affordable to live in the city. But I think that’s largely a myth. The amount of foreign owned property is just a fraction of the overall market. Foreign investment laws haven’t changed much in Canada over the last decade. However mortgage interest rates have been cut in half over the same period. Raise the interest rate and watch as prices correct overnight.

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May 102015
 

Some folks believe earning a higher income is a valid excuse to submit to lifestyle inflation. But I don’t think lifestyle should necessarily be tied to active income because job security is a fickle pickle. However with a strong framework of growing passive income, a little lifestyle inflation is not only acceptable, but I would even recommend it because YOLO. 😀 Due to the recent tailwinds of increasing investment gains and asset prices it appears I’m ahead of schedule by 1 year to reach financial freedom by my 35th birthday. Since my ultimate goal is to live a balanced, resourceful, and meaningful life, I have decided to succumb to lifestyle inflation and increase my expenses.

Changes to my budget:

Item Old Monthly Budget New Monthly Budget
Grocery $100 $150
Eating Out $25 $50
Internet + Phone + Entertainment $75 $100

Overall I’m now spending $100 per month more than I was back in 2010. This is not a major change to the way I spend money, but it allows me to enjoy the present a little bit more while not sacrificing too much of my financial security in retirement. The way I conduct my budget is I set an expected target, such as my $150/month for groceries. The target is more of a guideline than a strict limitation. Sometimes I spend less, other times I spend more depending on what I buy and how often I eat out.

Here are my thoughts behind the 3 categories.

  • Grocery: Since food inflation has been higher than the average consumer price index over the years I’ve decided to increase my grocery bill to $150 per month. Some people might think $150 is not enough, but it all depends on where you shop. A few years ago I blogged about buying some staple foods from Safeway for about $17. That’s enough produce to last me for probably 1 or 2 days. Then I walked half a block down the street to another grocery store and purchased the same food for literally 1/3 of the cost. I’ve uploaded pictures with receipts for proof. The economics of this situation needs explaining
    Since it’s been 3 years since writing that article, I think the same basket of goods would probably cost about $20 at a Safeway or equivalent big box store today due to the ever increasing price of food. How much can the same $20 buy at one of the smaller independent stores I go to? Well I recently went to a small grocer to find out. 15-05-persia-food-groceryIt’s called Persia Foods located in North Vancouver if anyone is curious. Below is a picture of everything I bought. It actually came out to $21.07 but you get the idea. There is enough produce here to last me for an entire week. (click image to enlarge.)  15-05-persia-foods-grocery-receiptI’ve also blogged before where I get cheap meat, other sources of protein, and grains. Last month I bought nearly 4 lbs of ribs in a West Vancouver supermarket for less than $8, and it took me several days to eat through it all. 15-05-lifestyle-inflation-food-ribs-osakaThe point is it’s perfectly reasonable to eat well on $35 per week for an individual adult, which works out to $150 per month. Of course if people are buying all their groceries from Safeway then they can expect to pay $300/month or more for essentially the same diet. But that’s their choice. 😛
  • Eating Out: By increasing my restaurant budget to $50/month I can spend more time to socialize with friends. :)
  • Internet + Phone + Entertainment: A couple of things happened here over the last year. I finally upgraded to a smart phone earlier this year. No more flip phone for me lol. So I upgraded my cellular package to include a data plan. I also subscribed to Netflix which is an additional $9/month. So I’m paying $25 more for telecom services now than before.

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