Oct 182017
 

Knowledge is not enough. It must also be applied.

Good financial advice is easy to come by, but not always implemented effectively. The tips and suggestions on personal finance blogs are, for the most part, pretty generic. Unfortunately most people would read a few articles and quickly become bored of the topic because they don’t get anything meaningful out of them. Only personal finance enthusiasts are committed to read new material about money regularly, because they know how to turn generic advice into a more personalized form of advice that is practical and effective. Let’s look at some examples of this below. 🙂

How to turn generic advice into personalized advice.

A good rule of thumb to follow is to spend less than we earn. Well, okay. That’s great. But this is generic advice. Most people will roll their eyes at something so obvious. To personalize this principle, we can find a way to apply it practically. For example, we can pay ourselves 20% of our income by transferring money to an investment account. This can be automated to re-occur every paycheck period. This insures that we always spend less than we earn. Setting up a systematic rule based approach before we even start to save will improve our odds of success. 🙂

Another generic advice is to look for value when investing. Once again, this is pretty good advice, but not practical. So let’s find a way to personalize it. For example, the capitalization rate of a house in Toronto, Ontario is about 3% which is not a great return on investment. But a similar house near Barrie which is a smaller municipality in the same province can have a cap rate of 4% to 5%. So by simply zooming out and looking at a broader area, we are able to find more opportunities for value. If we search countrywide, we will find more, and possibly better bargains, than in any single city.

My favorite generic advice is don’t put all your eggs in one basket. To personalize this we can determine which different asset classes we should hold in our portfolio, how much of each we should have, and find low cost index funds to satisfy each class. The 100 minus age rule is a good place to start when it comes to determining one’s asset allocation.

Generic advice is good. But personalized advice is always better. Generic advice tells us what to do given a certain situation. But personalized advice shows us how to do it, and how to make a practical plan to tackle any situation. 🙂

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Sep 272017
 

Understand Why You Invest Before You Invest

There should always be a goal, or objective attached to an investment. But not all investments require them to have the same goal. Here’s a list of some objectives, and how they’re different.

Investment Objectives
  • Capital Preservation – To seek maximum stability for our investment by investing in assets that are associated with extremely low risk. For example, I usually have a couple thousand of dollars on hand.
  • Hedging – To take long or short positions of an asset in order to hedge or offset the risk of another asset. For example, I hold gold and silver to hedge against inflation, which is gradual devaluation of currency.
  • Income – To generate dividend, interest, RoC, or other types of income instead of capital appreciation. The peer to peer lending platform, Lending Loop, is a good example of this. My effective annual yield on the platform is currently over 10%. 🙂
  • Growth – To increase the principal value of our investments over time through capital appreciation. Investors can expect attractive long term gains but also assume relatively higher levels of risk. My farmland and growth stocks such as Amazon, Netflix, and Facebook, are all examples of this objective.
  • Speculation – To greatly increase the principal value of our investments by taking on substantially high levels of risks. Examples of this would be trading cryptocurrencies, or penny stocks.

Some investments could fit into multiple objectives. And much like anything else with personal finance, our investment objectives can change over time. But the important thing is to be mindful about what we want our money to do, and re-evaluate those objectives periodically (ie: annually,) based on our changing financial situations.

At this time my primary objective is growth. Most of my financial decisions are based on this objective. 😀 I’m willing to overlook short term gains in favor of maximizing the potential for long term total returns. Much of my choices, such as using leverage, makes sense when viewed in this context. But having said that, it wouldn’t be wise to rely 100% on a single investment objective. 😉 This is why about 20% of my net worth is allocated to investments that strictly produce income. Naturally over time, in preparation for retirement, my investments will focus more on income and capital preservation, and less on growth and speculation. 🙂

Whatever our investment objectives may be, the important thing is to make a decision. 🙂 As fund manager Sir John Templeton once said, “the only way to avoid mistakes is not to invest—which is the biggest mistake of all. So forgive yourself for your errors. Don’t become discouraged, and certainly don’t try to recoup your losses by taking bigger risks. Instead, turn each mistake into a learning experience. Determine exactly what went wrong and how you can avoid the same mistake in the future. The investor who says, “This time is different,” when in fact it’s virtually a repeat of an earlier situation, has uttered among the four most costly words in the annals of investing. The big difference between those who are successful and those who are not is that successful people learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of others.”

 

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Random Useless Fact:

 

May 222017
 

Some people are so debt averse they even refuse to borrow money when interest rates are at rock bottom. They save up for a 30% down payment for a home instead of 20% because they want to save on interest costs. This is despite the fact that Canadian mortgages only cost about 2.5% currently, or sometimes lower like in my case. These people also refuse to invest on margin. I’ve explained in the past how anyone with at least $10,000 can open an account with Interactive Brokers, put in some money, and safely borrow modest amounts of money at just 2% interest rate, with practically no risk of getting a margin call.

Can’t have it both ways

Yet, many people who are debt averse and won’t borrow money under any circumstances also believe in the 4% rule of investing. But this kind of thinking is contradictory. It’s silly to make the argument that paying down their mortgage is a guaranteed rate of return, but investing is uncertain and they can’t be sure they’ll make more than 2.5% return in the markets. While at the same time, also claim that the 4% rule is valid.

The four percent rule is a widely accepted rule of thumb used by many investors and financial experts. There are slightly varying definitions of it, but for the purpose of today’s post we’ll define it as the maximum sustainable rate of withdrawal from a retirement account each year without depleting the account itself. This is because 4% is considered a “safe” rate of withdrawal over the long run for a balanced and diversified portfolio.

So if a person really believes in the 4% rule and uses it as part of his retirement planning, then it would only be rational to consider borrowing money to invest if the cost to borrow is lower. The 4% rule says that this person will make at least 4% return on his investments per year on average. So if he always borrow money at less than 4%, then he is virtually guaranteed to profit in the long run! assuming the 4% rule holds true.

This is why I always buy properties using very low down payments, and use controlled margin borrowing to invest. Since I believe in the 4% rule, it would be illogical if I didn’t try to take advantage of low interest rates. If my margin or mortgage interest rate were to increase to 5% or 6% some day, then of course I would no longer take out new loans to invest. At that point it wouldn’t make sense to use leverage anymore. Sometimes it may seem like being debt free is more safe. But there is risk in being overly debt averse, the risk of not seeing perfectly good opportunities to earn higher investment returns.

Obviously just because a rule has held up in the past doesn’t mean it will continue to hold true in the future. Whether or not you think the 4% rule is valid is up to you. 🙂 But this principal can work with any other withdrawal rate. If you believe you can safely and sustainably withdrawal 3% a year, then you must also accept that your portfolio will return 3% a year minimum on average. You can then use this number as your reference point when deciding when to use leverage and how much.

 

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Random Useless Fact:

Some grocery stores have an aisle dedicated to strong, independent women. 😄

 

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.

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Mar 272017
 

In a World of Abundance

Over the last couple of weeks I have indulged in many pleasant gastronomic experiences around the city. Below are some pictures of events I attended and the food I enjoyed. And here’s the kicker. 😀 Everything was free!

food events mostly found through eventbrite

 

Free Food is Everywhere 

Why would companies hold events to give away food to the public? Usually it’s because they have something to sell. Most of the presentations I attend are sponsored by financial companies that want to push their investment products. I was given wine, bread, and cheese at a Raymond James event. Private market company Pinnacle served pasta and pizza at a fancy Italian restaurant. Yum. 🙂

Even technology companies such as Realm, which develops mobile apps, gave away pizza and t-shirts. So I got a free meal that evening, and free clothing. Yay! Whenever I wear my new Realm t-shirt I’m essentially giving them free publicity.

The companies try to raise awareness for their brands, sell their services, or recruit people into their community. That’s why they host these events. I can ramble on. But enough teasing. Let me reveal how you can get free food!

Search and Execute

There are 3 steps that anyone in the developed world can use to acquire free food.

Step 1: Live in or near an urban area.
Step 2: Sign up with event management organizers.
Step 3: Search and register for upcoming local events using filters such as “free” and “food.”

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