Sep 162019
 

One advantage of owning real estate is being able to access the value of the underlying asset for financial gains. The more properties we own, the more equity we can use to buy additional properties. This is why it’s often easier for homeowners to grow their net worths, but harder for renters. One of the best reasons to refinance is to lower the interest rate on your existing mortgage. Historically, many lenders agree that refinancing is a good idea if you can reduce your interest rate by at least 1.00%.

As we know, a mortgage balance gets paid down slowly over time. In the beginning you might have a $300,000 mortgage. But maybe after the first 5 year term is over, your balance is only $250,000. When you go to renew your mortgage you’ll likely have a couple of options. One is to continue paying down the $250,000 balance. Assuming interest rates haven’t changed, your monthly mortgage payments would also be unchanged, because that’s how mortgages are designed. But the other option is to refinance at a higher balance so your total loan amount is increased. By refinancing, you can access up to 80% of your home’s value less any outstanding mortgages. So if the value of your property is now higher than when you bought it, you could potentially borrow more than your initial mortgage amount against your home. 🙂 But your monthly payments would go up in this scenario because you have more debt.

In order to figure out when is a good time to use one method or the other, we need to consider the following factors.

  • How tight is your budget? 
    If you are already struggling to make ends meet, then it’s usually not a good idea to refinance at a higher balance. Just keep to the lowest amount until your income and spending situation improves.
  • Are there any investment opportunities out there?
    If you expect a good return on a potential investment, then it may be worth it to borrow more money against your home. For example, the Canadian Apartment Properties REIT (CAR.UN) has performed somewhat predictably over the years. Its 1-Year, 3-Year, 5-Year, 10-Year, and even 15-Year returns have all averaged over 10% per year. If my mortgage rate is 3% then that’s a 7% gap minimum, before taxes. It’s reasonable to assume that a margin of safety of 7% is a low level of risk, considering the stability of Canadian real estate.
  • Do you have any other debts?
    Using home equity is a great way to pay out higher interest debt through a refinance. For example, let’s say you have outstanding car loans, student loans, and credit card balances that combine to equal $50,000. Chances are these are all charging a higher interest rate than your mortgage. So instead of refinancing at $250,000 you could simply grow your mortgage debt to $300,000. And use the extra $50,000 to pay off your other debts, saving interest expenses over time.

In terms of how to get more equity out of your home, you could either take on a home equity line of credit, or blend and extend your current mortgage with your lender. Please be aware there are costs associated with refinancing. If you want to refinance in the middle of your term to access equity or lower your interest rate your lender will charge you a penalty. For fixed mortgage rates this penalty is the greater of 3 months interest or the interest rate differential payment (IRD). For variable mortgage rates this is simply 3 months interest. There may also be lawyer fees involved with a refinance. You can also have multiple mortgages from different lenders at the same time, but a 2nd or 3rd mortgage will often come with a higher interest rate and may not be worth it. So it’s important to consider which type of refinance you need before renewing your mortgage. 🙂

 

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Random Useless Fact:

Jan 242019
 

Putting Household Debt into Perspective

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Canadian households currently owe more than $2 trillion. Our average debt to income ratio increased to 170%, making us number 1 among the G7 countries. 🙂

But do we actually have too much debt? Well perhaps not. Comparing Canada to the G7 group conveniently omits other highly developed countries. Australia’s national broadcaster claims its country has a household debt to income ratio of 200%. And reports of Netherlands, Denmark, and other Nordic countries are even higher than that! So in reality Canada is far from being the most indebted country in the world.

The cost of borrowing also affects the degree to which people will go into debt. For example, in the U.S. a typical mortgage today would cost about 4.5%. But in Canada you can get a mortgage for only 3.0%.  If the debt is cheaper to service then people will be naturally inclined to borrow more. 🙂

There’s a whole slew of other economic, legal, and political variables that make it nearly impossible to accurately compare household debt from one country to another. These kinds of comparisons would never be published as a scientific study because you have to correct for way too many variabilities. But they make for intriguing headlines nonetheless. 🙂

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Jan 152018
 

How to Prepare for Higher Borrowing Costs

My debt to income ratio is about 500% while the national average is around 173%. Readers sometimes email me and ask what I will do when interest rates rise. My answer is simple.

I tell them I will pay down my debts in an accelerated manner prioritizing the highest interest loan first. I will limit my monthly interest expense to no more than $1,500. Doing this will adequately protect myself from interest rate risk. Sounds like a solid plan, right? 😉

But I know not everyone will agree. :/ Back in 2014 I noticed some people were concerned that I had taken on excessive risk because my debt level was too high. This sentiment echoed around various internet forums. Here are some examples I’ve saved.

The last commentator wanted to know how I’m doing now. That’s what I’ll be discussing in today’s post. 🙂

But first, here’s a look at my debt summary in 2014. The numbers are taken from my net worth update 4 yrs ago.

Liquid’s 2014 Debts Balance Interest Rate Annual Interest Cost
Mortgage$200,0002.95%$5,900
Farmloans$208,3003.40%$7,082
Margin Loans$52,9004.25%$2,248
HELOC$17,9003.60%$644
TD Line of Credit$33,7005.25%$1,769
CIBC Line of Credit$14,0004.50%$630
RRSP Loan$5,0004.00%$200
Total Debt Balance$531,800  
Average Weighted Interest Rate 3.47% 
Total Cost of Debts$18,474

 

Back then I had nearly $532K of debt, charging me an average interest rate of 3.47% per year.

I was paying $1,540 per month in interest. But I was cash flow positive and saving about $1,000 per month. I felt like I had everything under control. So I didn’t understand why people claimed I was overly leveraged. I thought maybe I was missing something. But as Bobby McFerrin would say, “don’t worry, be happy.” 😀 So that’s what I did.

And here’s what my debt looks like today, 4 years later. 🙂

Liquid’s 2018 DebtsBalance Interest Rate Annual Interest Cost
Mortgage$180,3002.80%$5,048
Farmloans$185,3004.30%$7,968
Margin Loans$57,0002.40%$1,368
HELOC$14,9003.70%$551
TD Line of Credit$5,0005.45%$273
CIBC Line of Credit$17,5005.00%$875
Total Debt Balance$459,000  
Average Weighted Interest Rate 3.49% 
Total Cost of Debts$16,083

 

So my debt costs me $16,083/yr or $1,340 per month right now. This is actually $200 per month lower than in 2014, despite interest rates being higher today.

Yay. Bobby was right. There was no need to be worried. 😀

Nearly every asset class I hold long positions in has produced decent returns since 2014. Had I not borrowed and used other people’s money to invest I would have missed out on all the investment gains.

 

Continue reading »

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 ZĂŒrich. 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.