Jan 222018

Why Bonds Are So Important

A fundamental skill to successfully managing wealth is knowing how to diversify our assets. This means we must own both equity and fixed income, with the correct weighting and balance. There isn’t a single solution that fits everyone’s situation. But in general bonds help to protect our wealth against volatility when the stock market goes crazy, which it tends to do once in awhile.

Some kind of mix between safe assets such as bonds, and growth assets such as stocks, has proven to work very well in good economic times and bad. For example, a mix of 80% stocks and 20% bonds in a diversified portfolio would have returned about 8% on average over the past decade, which is not bad since that includes the stock market crash of the 2008 financial crisis.

Financial problems are often cited as the number one reason for divorce. But having some solid bond exposure can bring stability to a relationship. It’s clear that couples are more likely to stay together if they have strong bonds. 😎

The Best Bond Exchange Traded Funds

So what’s the best way to buy bonds? Personally I like to invest in bond ETFs, which hold individual bonds so I stay diversified within this asset class. The following funds are the best Canadian bond ETFs to buy for investors looking at a medium or long term time horizon. I’m no expert but these funds are the best in their categories that I can find. 🙂

  • BMO Aggregate Bond Index ETF (ZAG) 
    A broad index fund that holds both government and corporate bonds. Very diversified.
  • BMO Mid Corporate Bond ETF (ZCM)
    An index fund that holds only corporate bonds with maturities between 5 to 10 years.
  • iShares Canadian HYBrid Corporate Bond Index ETF (XHB)
    Holds lower quality corporate bonds (Mostly BBB rated) with a minimum maturity of 1 year.
  • Horizons Active Corporate Bond ETF (HAB)
    Actively managed corporate bond fund that seeks moderate capital growth and generate high income.
  • BMO Long Corporate Bond Index ETF (ZLC)
    An index fund that holds only corporate bonds with maturities over 10 years.

Here’s a table so you can easily compare all of them. 🙂

Price/unit on Jan 2018$15$16$20$11$18
Gov’t / Corporate %72 / 280 / 1000/ 1000 / 1000 / 100
Net Assets (billions)$3.4$1.4$0.5$0.6$0.4
MER (fees)0.14%0.34%0.51%0.60%0.34%
Weighted Avg duration7.5 years6.3 years5.9 years6.2 years13.3 years
Annual yield3.00%3.10%4.00%3.10%4.10%
Avg YTM2.50%3.30%4.00%3.20%3.90%
% Credit AAA410020
% Credit AA3213051
% Credit A173303861
% Credit BBB1054805138
% Credit BB or Lower002000
1 year total return1.5%1.2%3.3%2.6%5.9%
3 year avg return1.4%2.3%3.3%2.5%3.4%
5 year avg return2.7%3.6%3.9%3.2%5.1%
Additional informationMorningstar: 4

Federal 37%
Provincial 35%
Corporate 28%

Avg coupon: 3.2

$6,300 to DRIP

Morningstar: 5

Energy 31%
Financial 26%
Real estate 12%
Commun 12%
Other 19%

Avg coupon: 3.5

$6,300 to DRIP

Morningstar: 3

Energy 30%
Commun 23%
Industrial 17%
Financial 13%
Other 17%

Avg coupon: 4.7

$6,200 to DRIP

Morningstar: 5

Financial 43%
Energy 18%
Infrast 16%
Commun 10%
Other 13%

Avg coupon: 4.0

$4,200 to DRIP

Morningstar: 5

Infrast 43%
Energy 33%
Commun 10%
Financial 7%
Other 7%

Avg coupon: 5.4

$5,600 to DRIP


  • The Average duration refers to how sensitive the ETF is to changing interest rates. Longer duration bonds offer higher yields, but are also more sensitive to interest rate movements.
  • The weighted average yield to maturity (YTM) includes the interest payments and any capital gain or loss that the investor will realize by holding the bonds to maturity.
  • The Credit rating is how risky a bond is. The lower the rating, the more likely the company is to default on its debt obligations.

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Dec 262017

Year In Review

It’s been a year since I began investing in the peer to peer lending platform Lending Loop. I was anticipating a return of 8% when I first wrote about it. However things turned out better than I expected. I started the year with $20,000 and have earned just over $2,000 in interest now. So my year to date return is currently about 10%. I’m really happy with that! 🙂 Here’s a recent snapshot of my account.

Here’s what my account looked like back in June.

I currently hold about 40 different loans. I usually commit about $500 to $1,000 per new loan. Each company has a different credit rating based on its likelihood to pay back debt. The table below shows how Lending Loop categorizes the risk bands.

I generally invest in the range between B and C rated loans. The interest rate I receive on the investment should be high, but I don’t want super risky loans with high rates of default. I do my research on a company before I invest so I do not automatically put money into every C+ loan that Lending Loop offers. I don’t have any A or A+ rated loans because the rates of return on those after fees are too low for me.

The reason I was expecting only 8% annual return is because I had factored in loan defaults that would cut into my gross interest earnings. However, across my ~40 different loans not a single one has defaulted yet. 😀 Phew. Thank goodness for that. *Knocks on wood* But I’ve only been on this platform for 12 months. Most loans in my portfolio have a lifespan of 24 to 36 months. So as time goes on I should probably expect to see some defaults, but hopefully not a lot.


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Aug 172017

Holding some cash for emergencies or opportunities is a sound idea. But having too much cash sitting around instead of putting the money into investments can be financially unwise.

Like most things in life, there is a cost component to cash – which is that cash usually produces lower returns than other asset classes such as stocks or bonds. One advantage of holding cash is to deflect volatility in a portfolio. But with a longer time horizon investors can manage volatility by using fixed income vehicles instead of cash. Long term corporate bonds from large, stable companies such as Enbridge pay 3.5% or higher annual returns, easily beating the interest earned in a savings account. 🙂

According to investment management company, BlackRock, people who have allocated their money towards cash or cash equivalent assets actually lost purchasing power in the past. The value of their savings slowly whittled away at 0.8% per year on average between 1926 and 2014. This gives a whole new meaning to cash poor.

Holding cash for one or two years isn’t a big deal because the loss is very small. But over time it can build up to significant loss of buying power. The longer the investment time horizon, the less cash investors should consider holding. For a multi-decade horizon and high return objectives, which is the strategy I’m personally using, having excess cash savings would be a liability because it produces negative real returns. Sometimes the risk is not being aggressive enough with our investment plan and losing out on easy gains.

According to a survey by State Street’s Center for Applied Research, globally retail investors are holding 40% of their assets in cash. Uh oh. If someone has 60% of their portfolio in bonds, and the rest in cash then they could be making zero progress with their portfolio after inflation and tax.

If I’m sure I won’t touch my money until I retire, then I should take advantage of my long time horizon. This is why I don’t keep more than 1% of my net worth in cash, unless I’ve earmarked savings for a large, specific purchase. 🙂


Random Useless Fact

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.


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. 🙂


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 a properly regulated company with government oversight. Lending Loop is registered as an Exempt Market Dealer in most provinces. But of course the individual loans on the platform are subject to scrutiny and due diligence just like any other investment. 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.

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