May 252020
 

What is driving Canadian FIRE?

Everyone is affected by the FIRE economy in one way or another. FIRE is an acronym that stands for Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate. Together, these 4 industries are growing over five times faster than the general economy and represent about 1/5th of Canada’s total economic output. FIRE is especially important in BC. Although it employs just 6% of the province’s workforce, it generates 24% of the province’s GDP.

Other industries such as manufacturing and mining produce things of intrinsic value so their growth tends to be linear. But FIRE industries can scale more quickly. Finance and insurance products often involve derivatives, annuities, and other intangible products. Banks and credit unions can literally increase the credit supply through fractional reserve banking – essentially creating money without actually producing anything material. The real estate industry can unlock value from existing land assets with re-zoning and densification. These advantages inherent in the FIRE economy allow for faster expansion and exponential growth.

Another tailwind for FIRE is population growth. Our charismatic leader wants to welcome 341,000 new immigrants into Canada in 2020, more than from previous years. All of those people will need homes. Many will require a mortgage and insurance – further expanding the FIRE industries.

 

How to invest in the FIRE sectors

FIRE should continue to outgrow the general economy in the future. The most direct way to capture some of this growth is by working in one of these fields. I have some friends who work in finance and real estate. They are all making a decent living. 🙂 If you are just starting school or considering a career change, this can be something to think about. But for the rest of us, investing in FIRE businesses that pay dividends should pay off well in the long run.

 

How safe is playing with FIRE?

The risk of investing in the FIRE economy is a slowdown in these industries. However policy makers won’t let that happen easily. Instead of allowing markets to naturally go up and down, government officials have proven through their actions that they intend to accommodate perpetual economic growth. A real estate crash could drag down all other industries. No governing body wants to be responsible for a housing lead economic recession, or worse.

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Oct 212019
 

Investing is a lot like dating. Low confidence can keep you out of the market. A good way to gain confidence is to learn from those with experience. 🙂

When you do an internet search for “famous investors” you might see a list of highly experienced individuals. Some are dead. Most are alive. But despite being from different backgrounds, all the investors from the search result appear to have one thing in common.

None of them are wearing hats. A piece of headwear can tell a lot about someone’s personality. However, there is one famous investor that didn’t come up in my search results but does like to wear hats: and that’s Hetty Green. There aren’t a lot of photos of her because she died in 1916, but she had an incredible investment career. Here are five lessons we can learn from Hetty.

 

1. Start early

Wearing hats wasn’t the only trait that differentiated Hetty from other world class investors. With her grandfather’s encouragement Hetty had learned to manage her family’s financial accounts when she was just 13 years old. Born into the Quaker family (yes, the cereal name) Hetty was raised with conservative financial principles that would stay with her for life. The world was much simpler back in the days before Instagram and electric scooters. But while other kids were playing hopscotch outside, Hetty was busy reading financial papers and stock reports. 🙂

2. Practice delayed gratification

When her father bought her brand new clothes, Ms. Green sold her new wardrobe and purchased government bonds with the money instead. She eventually turned an inherited sum of $6 million into $100 million by 1916, which is the equivalent of $2.3 billion in today’s climate thanks to inflation.

3. Have an independent mindset and don’t follow the crowd

Hetty followed a contrarian investing strategy where she bought stocks and bonds when the market was full of pessimistic sentiment. She also had a knack for snapping up cheap real estate deals and trading railroad companies. In her own words she told the New York Times in 1905, “I believe in getting in at the bottom and out at the top. I like to buy railroad stocks or mortgage bonds. When I see a good thing going cheap because nobody wants it, I buy a lot of it and tuck it away. I keep them until they go up and people are anxious to buy. That is, I believe, the secret of all successful business.” She showed off this strategy a couple years later in 1907. After deciding that the market was overvalued, Hetty called in all her loans. Then, when the market crashed, she swooped in and bought them again at the lows. This line of thinking is very similar to Warren Buffett’s investment advice about being “fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”

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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. 😄

 

Jan 232017
 

Beating the market isn’t necessarily hard. We don’t have to outperform everyone else. We just have to do better than the average. By picking individual stocks my investment returns have either matched or beaten the S&P/TSX Composite index every year since I started investing. 😀 But in today’s post I will explain why that doesn’t actually matter.

When Using Debt to Invest Pays Off

Most readers can recall that my Saskatchewan farmland value has been growing at incredible rates year after year. I’ve disclosed my stock performance many times in the past. And owning real estate in Metro Vancouver for the past 8 years has also helped to boost my net worth. However, beating the market is easy when leverage is used during a bull market cycle. Borrowing money to invest will always increase one’s investment gains, as long as the investment returns are higher than the cost to borrow, which luckily has been the case for me since I began investing. 😉

But what kind of returns would I be getting if I hadn’t used any financial leverage? Since I no longer hold any leveraged accounts at TD, there is no margin to exaggerate this account’s performance. 🙂 I have not been meticulously keeping track of my portfolio’s internal rate of return (IRR.) However, we can use the next best thing, which is a performance chart from TD.

Here’s a look at my non-leveraged portfolio for the past 3 years. It appears that my annual return was 11.57%. 🙂

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Sep 222016
 

Lower Cost with Interactive Brokers

Everyone likes a discount, especially personal finance enthusiasts. We tend to get hyped over even marginal deals. 😀

16-09-why-pay-10-discount

Speaking of margin-al discounts. I recently lowered my stock margin rate from 4.45% to just 1.95%. Hot damn! It’s even lower than my mortgage now, haha. 😁

One of the best things investors can do to increase our net returns is to reduce the cost of investing. When it comes to leverage, or borrowing money to invest, the best way to reduce our cost is to find a broker which charges the lowest interest rates. 🙂

In the past I have held my margin account with TD Direct Investing. The current interest rate they offer is 4.25% or 4.75% per year, depending on which currency investors borrow in.

16-09-td-margin-rates

Although TD’s rates are already competitive relative to the other large banks in Canada, it is not the lowest. After doing some research online I’ve discovered that a U.S. based brokerage firm called Interactive Brokers offers the lowest margin rates, and has cheap trading commissions. So I recently transferred my entire margin portfolio from TD to IB to reap the benefits of lower cost borrowing. 🙂

Interactive Brokers Advantages

Here are 4 reasons why I switched to IB.

  1. Reduced margin rates for more cost-effective leverage. I currently have about $54,000 of margin debt. I was paying on average 4.45% a year for this massive loan with TD. But with Interactive Brokers I’m now paying only 1.95% on average because I have both US and Canadian dollars. This represents a difference of 2.50% between the two brokers, which translates into $1,350 of interest rate savings every year! 😀 “BM” in the table below refers to the benchmark rate set by Central Banks.16-09-interactive-brokers-margin-rates
  2. Cheaper trading commissions. TD and many other brokers charge a flat fee of $9.99 per trade when buying stocks. But IB charges 0.5 cent per share for U.S. accounts, and 1 cent per share for Canadian stocks. The minimum cost per transaction is $1. For example if I buy 200 Shares of BMO (Bank of Montreal) shares, then my total commission would be $2.00 CDN. My trades are typically worth between $1,000 to $3,000. This means I rarely buy more than a few hundred shares of anything because most companies I prefer to own are dividend growth stocks, which tends to be priced at $20 per share or higher.
  3. Access to global markets. This isn’t a big deal for most people, but for more advanced investors Interactive Brokers allows trading in foreign currencies outside of North America. This means we can buy European stocks in Euros, or Australian stocks directly from the ASX using Aussie money. 🙂 TD used to have a platform that lets Canadians like myself trade internationally, but they cancelled that service last year. 🙁 I’ve mentioned in a previous post, that I want to diversify into other countries and there could be some good opportunities in the U.K. after the Brexit event earlier this year. So having access to a global trading platform is important for my financial goals. 😉
  4. Great for options trading. $0.70 per contract; $1 minimum order; volume discount available. And in the unlikely chance that our open options are exercised or assigned, there is $0 assignment fee, unlike $43 for TD or BMO.

Disadvantages of IB

Here are a couple drawbacks with IB.

  1. Penalty for not being an active trader. If investors do not spend at least $10 in commissions per month, we will be charged the difference. Furthermore, there’s a $10 fee for real-time quotes each month which is waived if at least $30 in commissions is spent. I typically trade once or twice a month so I will be paying these fees.
  2. $10,000 USD minimum balance to open up an account. This isn’t an issue for me, but some investors might have trouble coming up with $10K.

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