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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Oct 312016
 

Last month I blogged about opening up a new Interactive Brokers account to invest in stocks. I’ve received some reader’s questions since then. So in today’s follow-up post, I’d like to discuss the following topics. 🙂

  1. How to Open an IB Account
  2. How to transfer funds between your bank and IB
  3. How margin accounts work with IB
  4. How to enter a stock trade
  5. Overall thoughts and Review of Interactive Brokers

1) How to Open an Interactive Brokers Account

To begin the process of creating an IB account, go to https://www.interactivebrokers.com and choose the “OPEN ACCOUNT” option near the top right of the page. Then follow the online instructions.

16-10-interactive-brokers-how-to-start-application

Sometimes Interactive Brokers may need to verify your identity before you can start using its service. This means you’ll have to take your ID to an accredited professional such as an accountant or doctor and get them to guarantee your identity. This happened to me. So I took my Driver’s License to a notary public and paid $35 to verify my identity. This extra security measure makes it more difficult for criminals to open fake trading accounts under someone else’s name.

2) Transferring Funds to Your IB Account

There are 2 ways to deposit funds into an IB account.

  • Fund Transfers. Use this to deposit cash into the account.
  • Position Transfers. Use this to transfer your current stocks & balance from an existing account at another brokerage to IB.

For example, in my case I used the Position Transfer method because I wanted to move my existing stocks from TD to IB. Make sure to choose the correct settings when creating the transfer instructions. For the transfer method, choose ATON if you are transferring from a Canadian broker like TD. For the transfer type choose “Full” rather than “Partial” if you want to make a complete switch like I did. Choose the correct institution and your account number that the portfolio will be transferred from.

16-10-interactive-brokers-transfer-from-td

I noticed that TD Direct Investing breaks up Canadian and U.S. margin accounts. So I had to put in 2 separate transfer orders; one for my $CAD account, and another one for my $USD account. If both instructions are not entered around the same time then TD will reject the transfer instructions because the pair of accounts must move together. Transferring funds from TD to Interactive Brokers will take about 1 week. TD charges a $135 fee for closing an account, which will happen automatically once all the funds have transferred out.

Getting money out from your IB account is more straightforward.  🙂 Just use the Fund Transfers option again. But this time, choose to withdraw funds, and select the currency. Then choose a method such as Electronic Funds Transfer.

16-10-interactive-brokers-transfer-out

Then enter your bank’s information like its transit and inst. number, as well as your personal account number. After a few business days the money will deposit into the bank account of your choice. The deposit description at your bank will say something like “INTERACTIVE BRO MSP.”

3) Using Margin Inside an IB Account

Interactive Brokers allows traders to buy stocks on margin. This means you can borrow money to buy stocks using your existing holdings as collateral. In the past I’ve described how margin accounts work, and walked through how to execute a trade on margin, so I won’t go into that here. This section will be specific to using margin with IB.

Interactive Brokers calculates margin based on Regulation T for US accounts, and CDN margin rules for Canadian accounts. The maintenance margin is the amount of equity which must be maintained in order to continue holding a position. If this number is too low then traders will risk getting a margin call. The actual calculations for the maintenance margin requirement depends on a number of different factors. So the effective maintenance margin is often within a range between 30% to 40% depending on the makeup of your securities. In my case it’s about 35%. This means that at least 35% of my stock holdings have to be covered by my own money. In other words IB will lend me no more than 65% of the value of my portfolio.

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Jul 202015
 

Experts worry that the recent interest rate cut in Canada will lure people to rack up even more debt. Bankruptcy trustee Doug Hoyes warns, “the more debt you have, the greater your chances of going bankrupt. It’s simple math.” He predicts bankruptcy numbers will “skyrocket when interest rates rise and people are saddled with ballooning debt payments.” Yikes. That doesn’t sound good. 😐

Anyway, last week I borrowed $1,420 from the bank to purchase 100 shares of Corus Entertainment (CJR.B) for $14.20/ share in my non-registered account. Normally I wouldn’t buy a stock with 100% borrowed money but with credit this cheap how can I say no? 😀 Besides, the dividend from CJR.B is twice as much as the interest I pay on the margin loan so it’s totally sustainable as long as the dividend doesn’t get cut, lol. 🙂

CJR.B Dividend Payout History

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Corus is a large media company in Canada that operates both TV networks and radio stations. It owns brands including YTV, Treehouse, Nickelodeon Canada, W Network, OWN Canada, and Movie Central (including HBO Canada and Encore Avenue.)

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Jul 102015
 

You’ve probably heard on the news about the stock market correction in China. Last year, Chinese stocks experienced huge gains and surged more than 140%. Oh my Buddha, that’s insane! 😯 But since June 2015, the market has dropped by almost a third in value. Some people in the media claim this is some sort of catastrophic event comparing it to the Great Depression.

But we know better. 😉 First of all, a 33% drop, after a 140% gain is not such a bad thing. In fact that’s a net positive return of 60% in about 18 months, so who’s complaining? 🙂 Secondly, due to strict foreign investment regulations only 1.5% of all the stock market shares in China are owned by foreign investors like Canadians and Americans. So this recent market decline has very little direct impact on investors outside of China. And lastly corrections inevitably happen after a parabolic upward trend, so this shouldn’t be a surprise to any informed investor. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” ~George Santayana

The Boom and Bust of China’s Stock Market

It all started a couple years ago when the Chinese government wanted to boost the country’s economy. It implemented policies making it easier for retail investors (average folks) to invest in the stock market. Things worked out even better than expected and the market quickly became detached from the fundamentals of the underlying economy. Last month the Shanghai Composite Index (SSE) started to fall. To make things worse many investors were investing on margin and had been forced to sell their stocks as their shares lost value which only perpetuated the downward momentum. 😕 Within a few weeks the SSE had dropped almost 33%. Here’s a comparison of stock markets over the last 12 months. (blue line = China, red line = Canada, yellow line = U.S.)

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