Jul 132017
 

Lending Loop Update

Earlier this year I blogged about investing $20,000 in a peer-to-peer lending platform called Lending Loop. My goal was to make 8% return overall, net of fees and write-offs. To be frank I was a little apprehensive at first when I learned about the high interest rates.

I wondered if it was really possible to earn 15% or higher rates of return consistently. Being greedy, I decided to give Lending Loop a try. I primarily invested in B and C loans because they are relatively safer, although the returns are lower than loans in higher risk categories.

Here’s what my Lending Loop portfolio looks like after half a year of investing. This screenshot was taken at the end of June.

As we can see I have made about $846 so far. Yay! 🙂 That’s about 4.2% return, or 8.5% annualized return. This is very much in line with my expected 8% return I had initially set as my goal. I have invested in roughly 30 different loans so far on the platform, each loan averaging $700 of principal. Thankfully none of them have missed a payment yet so I’m really pleased about that. 😀

If this trend continues I should be able to earn a double digit return by the end of the year! But this rosy picture assumes there are no defaults on my loans for the next 6 months. 🙂 Anyway, I will update again at the end of the year so we shall see what happens.

Unlike investments in a tax advantaged account, my Lending Loop returns will be taxed at my marginal tax rate, which is about 30%. This means if I earn 8.5% from the P2P investment, I will only end up making roughly 6% return after tax. To me 6% after tax is pretty good and certainly beats many alternative options out there. 🙂 As interest rates are starting to climb slowly in North America, fixed income investments such as Lending Loop should continue to be attractive for investors looking for yield.

 

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Random Useless Fact:

Due to the lower surface gravity of Mars, if you weigh 100 pounds on Earth, you would weigh only 38 pounds on Mars.

Mar 202017
 

I’ve been using a peer to peer lending service called Lending Loop for several months now. It allows businesses to access financing from lenders all across Canada (except in Quebec due to excess regulatory hurdles.) There’s about 6,800 investors using the platform so far. I thought I’d share my thoughts about investing in Lending Loop. Discuss the advantages and risks. And answer some common questions readers may have about the process. 🙂


TL;DR

What works

  • Website design and easy to use.
  • Responsive support.
  • Using technology to solve business problems.
  • Reasonable projected returns (5% to 10% pre-tax) on investment given the risk involved.
  • Alternative asset class that is not highly correlated with the stock market.
  • Transparency and thorough reporting.

What can be improved

  • It’s currently not eligible for RRSP/TFSA 🙁 This is a problem due to the asymmetric tax disadvantage of debt instruments.
  • Font on site can be hard to read due to small size and low contrast with background, especially the Q&A sections in the Marketplace.
  • Limited financial history for borrowers. It would be nice to see 4 or 5 year history for more established businesses.
  • Lack of a discussion forum. It could be beneficial for lenders to have an online space to correspond openly with each other about loans in the marketplace. The Lending Loop subreddit has restrictions about what information can be communicated.

Full review below…


 

What is Lending Loop?

There are many small and medium size businesses in Canada that have trouble raising money to expand their operations. Applying for debt can be a challenge because traditional banks are hesitant about lending money to entities with erratic income streams such as restaurants, contracting, etc. Large financial institutions generally can’t allocate the appropriate resources to underwrite small deals with the sophistication they require and struggle to price them according to the actual risk. As a result a lot of high quality deals simply fall through the cracks.

This is where Lending Loop (LL) comes in. It’s a crowd sourcing platform that raises money for growing Canadian companies. Based in Toronto, Lending Loop is Canada’s first (and currently only) fully regulated peer-to-peer lending platform. It operates an online marketplace that connects small and medium-sized businesses that are looking for debt financing with Canadian investors. It allows all investors, regardless of wealth or income, to access a high-yield fixed income asset class.

How Does Lending Loop Work?

Businesses can apply for a term loan product with flexible terms. The amount could be as small as $5,000 and as large as $500,000. Most loan durations are from 3 months to 3 years, but some can be as long as 5 years. Once approved, the loan goes into Lending Loop’s Marketplace where investors have 30 days to fund the project. If the loan becomes fully financed before the funding period expires, the loan will go through a finalization stage for a few days before it starts going into scheduled payments.

Investing with Lending Loop is safe, in the sense that it is properly regulated. Lending Loop is registered as an Exempt Market Dealer across the country. But of course once investors start making loans on the platform then all bets are off. So it’s up to individual investors to decide which companies they want to lend to.

First Impressions

Registering on the Lending Loop site as an investor is a pretty simple process. I filled in some online forms and provided some personal information such as my address and Social Insurance Number (for CRA purposes.) Then I answered an investor questionnaire to assess my personal preferences and risk tolerance. I obviously got the “very aggressive” result. 😀 The last thing I did was connect my TD bank account with Lending Loop using the information from my cheque book so I can transfer funds back and forth. The entire process takes about 1 to 2 weeks.

The overall site design is pretty clean and easy to navigate. The main dashboard page gives a broad overview of my account situation.

The Marketplace is where all the action is. 🙂 This is where investors can shop for the best loans. There are usually around 5 to 10 different loans looking for funding at any given time. The companies are listed in order of when they first appear on the marketplace. There’s a brief description about each business, and the nature of their loan.

Clicking on any individual loan will take you to the detailed page where you can see the company’s financial details, what the owner intends to use the loan for, and other Lending Loop investors who have already committed to investing in the loan. There’s even a Q&A section within this area where lenders can ask the borrower questions.

lending loop marketplace details

 

About the Loans 

The funding process begins with a loan application. Borrowers are required to be incorporated or a partnership for at least 1 year and have generated a minimum of $100,000 in annual revenue. Once this minimum criteria is met, Lending Loop’s credit assessment team performs a formal review of the loan application.

Lending Loop uses its proprietary evaluation and scoring system to assess a company’s creditworthiness. Factors in the credit evaluation may include:

  • A business credit score obtained from a credit rating agency, which may take into account payment and delinquency history, delinquency patterns, years in business, years borrowing, the business’ size, and industry segmentation, among others;
  • Various financial metrics such as the business’ debt service coverage ratio, debt-to-tangible net worth, and working capital ratio, among others;

Once a loan is approved it is added to the Marketplace and assigned a Lending Loop Credit Rating. This rating, consisting of a rating from A+ through E, is intended to quantify the level of risk associated with a particular listing and corresponds to an estimated loss rate for the loan. The higher the rating the lower the default risk. 🙂 Here is a look at the Lending Loop interest rates for each risk band.

lending loop risk band interest rate ranges

These interest rates are what the borrowers pay. Lenders are charged a servicing fee amounting to an annualized rate of 1.5% of the outstanding principal amount owed on a loan every time a monthly payment is made. For example, if a loan rated B has a posted interest rate of 11.5%, then investors can expect to actually receive 10% yield on their investment if all goes well.

All loans are amortized using the declining balance method over the term of the loan. So similar to a mortgage, the loan is paid back in monthly installments with principal and interest until the loan balance is gradually paid off. All Lending Loop interest rates for loans are fixed.

Small loans under $30,000 are usually funded very quickly, within a couple of days of being published on the marketplace. But larger deals worth $150,000 or more can take weeks to fund or sometimes fail to become fully funded so the loan doesn’t go through and committed investors get their money back.

Currently there aren’t any liquidity options as there is no secondary market, so lenders would be fully paid back only at the time of the last payment.

Continue reading »

Jan 052017
 

Narrowing Down the Choices

Most bond ETFs have pulled back meaningfully over the last few months. Now is probably a good time to consider buying some bonds in your TFSA. There are over 60 bond ETFs on the TSX to choose from. So which is the best one? Rob Carrick wrote an article about bond ETFs for the Globe & Mail back in 2011. I’ve narrowed the list down to the following 5 exchange traded funds which I think are the most appropriate for Canadian retail investors!

  1. Vanguard Canadian Aggregate Bond Index ETF (VAB)
    A favorite fund among couch potato investors. The default go-to bond ETF. Portfolio manager Justin Bender recommends it in his model ETF portfolio.
  2. Vanguard Canadian Short-Term Bond Index ETF (VSB)
    This is similar to VAB, but contains shorter maturing bonds. Very safe and steady. Popular with conservative index investors.
  3. iShares Canadian Universe Bond Index ETF (XBB)
    This one has been around for a long time. It’s the largest bond ETF here by net asset value. Great track record overall.
  4. iShares Canadian Corporate Bond Index ETF (XCB)
    Holds corporate bonds only. Withstood the great recession very well. Relatively high management fees though.
  5. BMO Mid Corporate Bond Index ETF (ZCM)
    Similar to XCB, but more diversified and lower fees.

Honorable mentions: Horizons Active Corp (HAB), iShares Canadian HYBrid Corp (XHB), TD e-Series Bond Mutual Fund (TDB909)

Maybe there’s a bond fund I didn’t include above that is a better fit for you. Check out Rob’s article to see a more complete list of funds. The following table breaks down the five bond ETFs into categories so we can compare them. 🙂 You can read my previous post about what bonds are if you need a refresher. (Bond table below)

Breakdown of the Top Five Bond ETFs

Comparing Bond ETFsVABVSBXBBXCBZCM
Price per unit as of Jan 2016$25$24$31$21$16
Government / Corporate mix %77 / 2371 / 2969 / 310 / 1000 / 100
Net Assets$1.1 billion$0.8 billion$2.1 billion$1.7 billion$1.2 billion
MER (annual fees)0.13%0.11%0.34%0.45%0.34%
Average duration7.6 years2.7 years7.4 years6.1 years6.2 years
Annual yield2.75%2.45%2.80%3.19%3.18%
Avg yield to maturity2.0%1.2%2.1%2.7%2.8%
% Credit rating AAA45%57%41%4%0%
% Credit rating AA37%23%27%26%22%
% Credit rating A9%11%21%33%26%
% Credit rating BBB8%10%11%38%52%
1 year total return1.2%1.3%1.3%3.2%3.6%
5 year average annual return3.0%1.9%2.9%3.7%4.8%
Morningstar ETF Rating4 stars4 stars4 stars5 stars5 stars
Sector breakdownGov’t 77%
Financial 12%
Industrial 8%
Utilities 1%
Gov’t 71%
Financial 19%
Industrial 8%
Utilities 1%
Gov’t 69%
Financial 12%
Infrastructure 4%
Energy 5%
Industrial 2%
Utilities 1%
Others 8%
Financial 42%
Energy 18%
Infrastructure 16%
Communication 10%
Industrial 7%
Real Estate 6%
Energy 28%
Financial 25%
Communication 15%
Real Estate 13%
Industrial 10%
Infrastructure 9%

 

 

How to Decide Which Bond ETF to Buy

Let’s go down the list of categories one at a time, starting with the government/corporate bond mix. Government bonds in Canada are considered very safe investments. Low risk means low reward. The current yield on a 10 year Canadian bond is only 1.7%, which leaves much to be desired.

However, a 10 year corporate bond can go for roughly twice that yield, reaching between 3.0% to 3.6% return. Here are a couple of corporate bonds I’ve found using my broker’s online web interface – Brookfield Asset Management and Bell Canada bonds. 🙂

As we can see, Brookfield and Bell Canada have investment-grade credit ratings of A- and BBB+ respectively. Both companies are very financially sound, and are well known among stock investors as blue-chip, large-cap stocks (BAM.A) and (BCE).

Bell is literally the largest telecommunications company in the country, worth over $50 billion, and is a full fledged dividend aristocrat. So although there’s a chance BCE could go bankrupt in the next 10 years, the risk of that happening is really low. Government bonds are the safer variety. But after adjusting for risk, I still prefer corporate bonds like Bell that yields 3.2%, over Canadian government bonds that only pay a disappointing 1.7%. Seriously – even GICs offer higher yields than 1.7% right now. 😄

Since I’m comfortable with a 100% corporate bond portfolio, my bond ETF choice is between XCB and ZCM. This is not to say all government bonds are bad. I just think there are better alternatives at this time, given my personal risk tolerance. Continue reading »

Dec 122016
 

A Shift in Focus

Money can’t buy happiness. But it can help us look for it quicker, in a BMW. 😉 In order to maximize our chances to earn more money we have to reassess our investment strategies from time to time and be flexible to changing market conditions. Currently the price to earnings (P/E) multiple for the S&P 500 is around 25 times, compared to 16 times per historical average, suggesting the stock market today is probably overvalued.

If we invert the P/E ratio we would get the earnings yield, which is currently 3.9% for the index. 🙁 This means if we invest in the S&P 500 today, we can expect to make 3.9% return by next year. That doesn’t sound very attractive does it? And it’s not much better for Canadian stocks. The S&P/TSX Composite index has an earnings yield of 4.3%.

This is why I’ve been focusing a lot on fixed income investments over equities in 2016. I can get 7% or 8% on high yield bonds or mortgage investment corporations, with arguably the same or even lower risk than buying stocks. 🙂 I prefer to buy individual junk bonds because ETFs are too mainstream for me. 😉 But if you want to buy a basket of high yield bonds in a neatly packaged fund, Nelson from Financial Uproar wrote an informative post on high yield bonds with some useful ETF suggestions.

Anyway, last week I purchased $5,000 face value of Baytex Energy junk bonds. Here is how I did it using my broker, TD Direct Invest. Other brokerages may have similar procedures.

How to Purchase High Yield Bonds

On the main account page.

 

On the next screen.

On the new pop up screen.

I now hold 3 individual high yield bonds in my retirement account. 

Continue reading »

Oct 272016
 

Received My SolarShare Bond Certificate!

If you meet someone new, start talking about global warming. It’s a real icebreaker! 😄 Climate change is very real and as a concerned citizen I want to help however I can. According to top scientists, earth is the only known planet with bacon. This is why I care so deeply about protecting the world.

So about a month ago I purchased $10,000 of bonds from SolarShare, which is a renewable energy company that allows investors to earn a competitive return while doing something good for the environment. I am finally stepping up and doing my part to save the planet and the next generation of food animals. 😉

Well this week I received a letter from the President of the company along with a certificate that looked so awesome I decided to frame it and hang it up. 🙂

16-10-solarshare-bond-certificate-copy

The small words on the certificate say that SolarShare “acknowledges itself indebted and promises to pay, in Canadian money, to the Investor….” This piece of paper represents my $10,000 investment. But it’s actually a copy. The original certificate is securely kept with SolarShare for safe-keeping. It feels good to have someone else owe me money for a change, haha. 😉

2 Ways to Invest

The future looks green, and I’m not just talking about money. 😛 SolarShare offers 2 types of bonds that investors can buy; a 5-year bond with 5% return, or a 15-year self-amortizing bond with 6% return.

16-10-solarshare-options

The 5 year bond has a lower minimum investment so folks who don’t have a lot of money can still take part investing in solar energy. But I bought the 15-year bond because I like the higher interest rate. 🙂 In either case, interest is paid semi-annually to an investor’s bank account via electronic fund transfer, or by direct deposit into a registered account.

The 5-year option works just like any other bond, which I’ve explained in the past. But the 15-year bond I purchased is self-amortized which means it works more like a mortgage. Every 6 months I will receive a payment made up of both principal and interest. This will continue for 15 years, or 30 payments in total, until all my principal is paid back in full.

So how much will I receive each payment? I know there’s a way to calculate the amount, but unfortunately math is not my strong suit. If I had a nickel for every time someone said I’m bad at math, I reckon I’d have 47 cents. But thankfully SolarShare sent me a customized payment schedule so I don’t have to do any math. Phew. 🙂

16-10-solarshare-payment-plan

As we can see, every year I’ll earn $1,020.40 of income from this bond. By the end of the 15th year, I will have received over $15,000 for my initial $10,000 investment.

Continue reading »