Dec 162019
 

I attempted to join Mensa. What happened next wont surprise you.

So I ran a Twitter poll asking what topic people would like me to write about. The top 2 picks were my Mensa test results and financial plans for next year. 🙂

In today’s post I will discuss all 4 topics from the poll, but focus primarily on the 2 that got the most votes.

Mensa: The smart people club

So out of vanity I decided to take the Mensa exam earlier in the fall. 😎 Mensa is a non-profit international organization for the intellectually gifted. Only the top 2% smartest people in the world can be accepted into this private club. In Vancouver there are only about 200 Mensa members. There are other high IQ societies out there, but Mensa is the oldest, and most well known with over 130,000 members worldwide. Mensa members can attend local meetups and enjoy exclusive intellectually stimulating social events. I decided to join this club because I wanted to feel special. 🙂 So I handed over the $90 to take the formal Mensa exam.

There were 4 other applicants that day. We had a chance to make some small talk. They all seemed to be smarter than me. I felt like a Morty in a room full of Ricks. The test was 50 questions, and we only had 12 minutes. In the end I managed to answer 30 questions correct. Not bad. But unfortunately I needed 35/50 to pass.

How it feels to fail the Mensa exam.

So I failed to get into Mensa. 🙁 Oh well. I guess I’m just an ordinary peasant after all. Apparently I can re-take the test after a year. But I don’t think I can handle the rejection a second time. 💔

 

The Real Estate Market

Sales is a leading indicator for price. Both Vancouver and Toronto saw strong sales in the last couple of months, signalling potential higher real estate prices in the new year. In a typical cycle the market goes through 3 stages: from boom, to slump, to recovery, and then repeats.

In Vancouver I believe we are currently in a real estate slump. However we are either nearing the bottom of this slump, or have already hit the bottom and are now transitioning into the recovery stage where prices will start to climb again. If you plan to buy property around the Greater Vancouver area, the latest data from the Real Estate Board suggests the window to get in at the lowest point of this real estate cycle is closing fast.

Finding Neverland real estate meme

Toronto is a bit of a different story. The low point was already hit last year in 2018. The recovery has been strong, and average prices now rival the 2017 peak. I anticipate interest rates will fall early next year. If that happens, property prices in major Canadian cities will become more expensive by the summer of 2020.

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Nov 252019
 

investment ideas for 2020

Looking Ahead – What to Expect in the new year

The last decade has been one of the best times for investors of any generation. 🙂 It didn’t matter if you had money in stock, bonds, or real estate. Almost every major asset class delivered terrific returns on average. But I think 2020 will be a very pivotal year.

The U.S. will hold a presidential election. Stock markets are about to head into the new year at record highs. And there’s a greater than 50% chance Canada will fall into a recession according to Oxford Economics.

The U.S. is even more likely at 64% probability to hit a recession in 2020 according to the New York Fed.

Data seems to indicate consumer spending in North America will almost certainly slow down next year. The U.S. government will spend a buttload of money to desperately prop up the economy. Deficit spending will go through the roof. But the market demand for U.S. bonds won’t be there unless interest rates rise. But rather than let natural market forces drive up interest rates, the Federal Reserve will step in and buy up the newly issued bonds at lower rates. This will likely create some inflation which will be felt in Canada as well.

Protecting Your Net Worth

No matter how we look at the financial markets it’s not hard to see how overvalued most asset classes are. A straightforward way to reduce our exposure to the markets right now is to become more conservative with our investment strategy. If you’re worried about a financial crisis here are some ideas to consider…

  • Emphasize investing new savings into value stocks and dividend stocks rather than growth stocks.
  • Sell some equities and hold onto short term bonds or cash.
  • Stay away from IPOs and ICOs.
  • Find value in alternative investments such as peer to peer lending.
  • Write covered calls or buy some put options.

Any of those methods should help reduce portfolio losses in the event of a stock market correction.

My Strategy for 2020 

We can’t predict the future. But there are events we can anticipate ahead of time and be ready to make the correct decision when the time comes. Given what we know so far, I think one of two scenarios will happen next year.

1st scenario: The current course of expanding asset bubbles will accelerate – widening the wealth gap between the haves and have-nots even more. Private and public debts will grow.

2nd scenario: We see a dramatic economic slowdown followed by a recession in the U.S. first, and then probably in Canada. Central banks inject over $100 billion a month of new liquidity into the markets. Public debt grows. Private debt shrinks through paydowns and defaults.

Right now it’s impossible to know which scenario will play out. But I don’t see an in-between scenario happening. This isn’t financial advice or anything, but if I’m right about next year, then here are some investment opportunities to watch out for.

  • Real estate.
  • Silver stocks.
  • Telecom stocks.
  • Investment grade corporate bonds.

If either of the 2 scenarios play out then there will be a lot more debt owed by governments. This will cause inflation, especially if the money makes it into financial markets and trickles down to the consumer level. Inflation is also good for precious metals, and silver appears to be undervalued compared to gold right now. Phone and cable companies should also perform well next year as telecommunications tends to be an inelastic service. Canadian real estate prices have been cooling off since 2018. Meanwhile the TSX/S&P composite index climbed to an all time high last week. Compared to the stock market, the real estate sector seems like a bargain. Personally I will be looking at buying an investment property around the Greater Vancouver area. The expected return on investment for real estate about 7% under current conditions. If I see something I like and the price is reasonable then I will buy it. 🙂

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Random Useless Fact:

Facebook’s content moderators make about $29,000 per year.

Nov 182019
 

Time + Ownership = Financial Freedom

When financial writer David Bach was just 7 years old his grandma took him to McDonald’s and explained to him that there were 3 types of people in the world: The minimum wage employees working there, the consumers who pay money and eat there, and the owners who aren’t there but can still make money from the restaurant. David’s grandma helped him buy 1 share of McDonald’s, and taught him how to read and follow MCD’s stock chart.

The next time they went to a McDonald’s restaurant she told him, “now you are not just a consumer here, you are also an owner. Every time you eat here you are paying yourself.” It’s a brilliantly simple concept; easy enough for a child to understand. Yet it’s an inspiring and powerful idea. David became hooked on investing. He bought other stocks over time to eventually become a millionaire. 🙂 From the time he bought his first stock to today in 2019, MCD shares have increased in value by over 250 times! But it didn’t happen overnight. It took decades.

McDonald’s menu in 1973 when David Bach was a kid.

Fortunately anyone can become an owner by investing in established companies like McDonald’s. And the best part is you get to earn all your money while you sleep. 🙂

It all comes down to saving a percentage of your income, and investing it on a consistent basis. And then simply wait. The longer you wait the more your money will have time to compound and grow exponentially. Although you can schedule to invest every month, or every quarter, studies suggest you should invest as soon as possible to maximize potential returns.

People who try to get rich quick stay broke long.” ~ David Bach

If we understand that financial success requires patience, then investing will appear to be easier and less risky. For example, imagine if 2 investors held 2 different views about buying a house.

Investor 1) I’m afraid prices might drop in the next year or so. 🙁 And it’s a rather large investment so I question if now is a good time to be buying.

This mindset makes it difficult to pull the trigger when a good opportunity comes. We act based on what we believe. If we believe prices may fall then of course we will experience more hesitation and concern when buying a house. But let’s look at the second mindset where patience is paramount.

Investor 2) I have the patience to hold this property for at least 7+ years. So after the year 2026, based on macro trends, house prices will probably be much higher than it is now. Most likely rent in the city will be higher as well. Therefore buying a house now and locking in a mortgage balance is probably better than buying a house later and risk taking on an even larger mortgage.

The first person is thinking about the short term, while the other is thinking only long term. The second investor has a better chance of putting his intent into action because his long term perspective provides him with more investment certainty. That’s because it’s hard to know what the market will do next year. But due to inflation and urban densification, it wouldn’t be hard to predict that Vancouver’s home prices will trend upwards over the long run.

Continue reading »

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. 🙂

Continue reading »

May 012017
 

Home is where the house is, in a manor of speaking. 😀 Real estate is a popular topic, especially when a large player in the subprime lending market is under fire. Home Capital Group Inc. recently disclosed it has secured a large $2 billion loan, but is effectively paying 15% to 22% interest on it.  One explanation is that Home Capital is facing a liquidity crisis, and is desperate for funding. “Basically they blew up the income statement in order to save the balance sheet,” says David Baskin of Baskin Wealth Management. This is not a good place for any company to be in. Home Capital went from a $1.9 billion company a few months ago, to a market cap of just under $700 million today. 🙁

Surprisingly Home Capital (TSE:HCG) was still considered investment grade a few months ago. But in light of this new event, I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets downgraded soon to CCC or some other junk status by credit rating agencies.

Home Capital Group Inc.’s shares plunged about 70% last month after disclosing its financial situation. On the plus side, Home Capital stock is currently paying a juicy 13% dividend yield. 🙂 But with promising returns like that, there must be a substantial amount of risk. I think its dividend will be cut within the next quarter or so. I certainly don’t want to invest in HCG at this time.

But it’s important to separate the company from the assets it holds. Home Capital’s downfall is not related to its loan book. The company is in trouble for improper disclosure and possibly committing fraud. But the delinquency rate on Home Capital’s loans is only 0.25%, which is even “lower than the major Canadian banks,” noticed Marcus Tzaferis, a Toronto-based mortgage broker with MorCan Direct.

Worries about the general subprime lending market caused competitor Equitable Group (TSE:EQB) to fall 47% in April. This is a worrying trend. My public mortgage investment corporations (MICs) decreased in value as well, although by a much smaller amount of 5% last month. Furthermore, large Canadian banks are down about 3%. But I think this is temporary. Both MICs and the big 5 banks should bounce back by next month because I don’t see any real problems in the lending market itself.

At the end of the day here are some things to take away from this story.

  • Credit rating agencies are still as unreliable as they were in 2008. Don’t count on them to warn us of the next major market downturn.
  • Don’t concentrate too much on one asset class. If putting money into the mortgage industry, choose a wide range of banks, MICs, and other financial companies. Not just one type.
  • Mortgage lending companies may be in trouble, but relatively low delinquencies across various interest rate ranges suggest Canadians can still afford to borrow money for real estate and pay their debts on time. 🙂
  • Just because a dividend yield is attractive, doesn’t mean it is sustainable.
  • If you have a mortgage, consider paying it down as slowly as possible. This increases savings so you can speed up investing. This Reddit discussion goes into more detail. It looks like more and more people are starting to realize what I’ve been saying for years; when interest rates are low, invest, don’t pay down debt. And if we take this concept one step further then it turns into taking on more debt to invest, which is also known as leverage. 🙂

 

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Random Useless Fact:

Online ads are getting smarter.