Jan 162017

There is a lot of misinformation online about personal finance, especially from all those amateur blogs. This is why you should read everything on the internet like you would drink a shot of tequila – with a pinch of salt. 😀 Today I will try to debunk some of the most common financial myths out there.

Myth #1. Credit cards are bad.

Credit cards can make you a lot of money. Fellow blogger Tawcan generates thousands of dollars in passive income through the use of his credit cards. My no annual fee Tangerine Mastercard gives me 2% cash back on most of my credit card purchases. Promotional credit card rates can be used to pay down higher interest debt. There are so many benefits to using credit cards. 🙂


Myth #2. Renting gives you more freedom than owning.

One argument renters use to justify their decision to not buy property is that they can move around more freely. But don’t be fooled by this appeal to popular opinion. Throughout human history, power and financial freedom actually went to those who owned the most resources and assets. Modern day real estate is no different.

Sure, a renter in Vancouver can move to Toronto. But as homeowner, so can I. A renter has to give notice before moving out. But I can move any time I want. I can choose between selling my existing property, or rent it out to make extra income. There are even professional property management services to help me find a suitable tenant. I received this ad in my mailbox the other day.

Everyone has to live somewhere. Being a homeowner simply gives you dominion and veto power over a real piece of land. This gives you more opportunities in life, not less. Anyone who can afford a security deposit can be a renter, including me. So a homeowner has all the same freedoms as a renter. But not vice versa.

Homeowners are generally more financially free. Most can use their properties to secure a low cost loan (HELOC) for major purchases or other liquidity needs. Over 90% of millionaires own their own homes. Meanwhile, not many renters have become millionaires by investing the difference they’ve saved over the years in the financial markets.


Myth #3. You need an emergency fund.

An emergency fund is like an insurance policy. It insures against unexpected financial emergencies. But like any other insurance plan, there’s a cost to having one. In this case it’s the opportunity cost of not doing something more productive with your pile of money. Unless you live in a third world country, consider the probability that you don’t actually need an emergency fund (EF.) I have never created an EF for myself, and I have never run into a financial emergency in my entire life. Most western societies already have generous social safety nets. Frankly, I  can’t think of anything that could possibly happen to me right now that would require me to have 3 to 6 months of expenses saved up.

If we already have proper insurance for ourselves, and stress test our finances, then having a rainy day fund is nothing more than holding a redundant insurance policy. Oh, but wait. I actually do have something prepared for a rainy day!

It’s called an umbrella. 😄


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Jun 302016

Brexit Raises Risk of Global Recession, Maybe

After Britain voted to leave the EU last week stock markets around the world became very volatile. Two days after the vote $2.5 trillion were wiped from the world’s markets.? To put that into perspective that’s roughly the entire annual economic productivity (GDP) of the United Kingdom.

George Soros, the investor who warned of a 20% devaluation in the British pound now warns the Brexit has “unleashed a crisis similar to the financial panic of 2007 and 2008.” He says that a hard landing in China is “practically unavoidable.” And he is not alone. Most news sites say the Brexit fallout will continue to ripple across the world and put not only Britain but also the U.S. and other countries back into recession.

These commentaries are often portrayed as conventional wisdom, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily true. In fact, news predictions are often wrong. One day in 1987 stock markets around the world crashed starting in Hong Kong and spreading to Europe and then to North America. The Dow Jones index in the U.S. lost more points in a single day than any prior trading period. This historic event was known as Black Monday. Many analysts and publications at the time warned it was only the beginning of a bear market and that more turmoil would come. A lot of people believed the hype and got out of the market because they were afraid. But those investors didn’t do their own risk assessment. Today, Black Monday is nothing more than a small, insignificant blip in the historical stock market chart. (circled in red below)


The way we perceive risk is not always rooted in reality. An article in the Chicago Sun-Time features a study that demonstrates how conventional wisdom can lead people to the wrong conclusions about risk. Imagine an 8 year old girl has 2 best friends who both live close by but in different homes. The first friend’s parents keep a gun in their home.? The other friend’s household doesn’t have a gun but does have a backyard swimming pool. ?

If you had to choose, which is the safer house for the little girl to go play in? ?

Without any other information most parents would probably think the second friend’s house is safer because guns are perceived to be more dangerous than swimming pools. But in a country such as the United States, there are about 6 million swimming pools, and 550 children under ten years old drown in them each year. However out of roughly 200 million guns in the U.S., only 175 children die each year from guns. In other words, the risk of the girl dying by a pool (1 in 11,000) is much higher than dying by a gun (less than 1 in 1,000,000.) According to the study’s author, most people are “terrible risk assessors.” We often let irrational fears cloud our judgement.


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Apr 152016

This is a guest contribution from my friend Ben Reynolds at Sure Dividend.  Sure Dividend uses The 8 Rules of Dividend Investing to find high quality dividend growth stocks trading at fair or better prices.

Successful investing can be simplified into two aspects:

  1. Maximize returns
  2. Minimize risk

Point one could not be more straightforward.  The more money you make from your investments, the better.

Minimizing risk sounds straightforward, but in practice it is much more complex.  This article takes a look at the ‘standard’ risk measures in the stock market – and whether they are truly useful in reducing risk.

Common Stock Market Risk Metrics

The words Beta, standard deviation, and volatility are often used to describe the risk of individual stocks.  These financial metrics are the backbone of stock market risk measurement.

Beta refers to a specific securities’ sensitivity to overall stock market moves. A Beta greater than 1 shows more price sensitivity. If the market declines by 10%, one would expect a stock with a Beta over 1 to decline by more than 10%.  Alternatively, if the market goes up by 10%, a stock with a Beta greater than 1 would see gains of greater than 10%.

Stock price (return series) standard deviation is the most commonly used risk metric. It is calculated as the annualized stock price standard deviation of a given security.  It measures how ‘bouncy’ returns are.  The more big swings there are in the return series, the greater the stock price standard deviation.  Volatility is the same as stock price standard deviation.  It is another word for the same idea.  Volatility and standard deviation are synonymous in investing.

Fun with Numbers

Everything is a nail to a man with a hammer. Similarly, finance professors like to come up with nice tidy formulas for messy real-world problems. Beta and volatility are proxies for risk. The idea is that riskier securities will see their prices move up and down more.  This means that beta and volatility can measure underlying risk in theory. In the real world, this isn’t true.

Here’s a nice thought experiment:  Imagine you have your pick to invest in 2 different businesses at equal prices. One business makes $1,000 a year every year like clockwork.  The other business makes between $1,000 and $5,000 a year every year. Any rational person would pick the second business even though it has more variability (‘risk’ as academics see it) in its returns. In the stock market, the business that makes $1,000 a year would almost certainly have a lower beta and standard deviation than the $1,000 to $5,000 business because its returns are more ‘stable’.

What Risk Really Is

Real risk can’t be quickly calculated with stock price data. Real investing risk comes from a permanent impairment (loss) of your investment. When you are investing in businesses (stocks), you can understand risk far better by qualitatively analyzing the business.

Is Coca-Cola (KO) less risky than a biotech startup?  Most certainly.  Can I say it is 3.2x less risky?  No, because qualitatively I know Coca-Cola’s business model is proven, but I can’t put numbers to exactly how less risky it is than an unproven biotech startup.  You can say it is much less risky, however.

Some people like precision and exact numbers.  I certainly do.  But you can’t always have them.  Sometimes using exact numbers leads to worse results because the numbers don’t mean much.

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Jan 282016

What Does Risk Mean?

It’s time again to learn about you, the readers. :D  Awhile ago visitors of this blog were asked which word first comes to mind when they hear the term, “risk.”  Here are the results. Thanks to everyone who voted.


It appears most readers associate risk with uncertainty or opportunity. I would choose uncertainty as the first thing I would think about when facing or talking about risk. Opportunity would probably be the next thing I would think about. Opportunity and loss can both derive from uncertainty but financially savvy people are usually cautiously optimistic about the unknown and we try to seek out serendipitous possibilities. Investors have to think like heart surgeons; we must never bypass a good opportunity. As Winston Churchill once said, “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Usually the best chance we have at success also comes with a good amount of risk. But the good news is we can lower the risk without diminishing the potential gain. 🙂 We can lower risk through self knowledge and an understanding of the financial world. A lack of wisdom leads to risky behavior. As Warren Buffett once said, “risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” That’s why countries that are less financially literate tend to have a less affluent population. People who work in business and investment banking understand how finance works, and not surprisingly they tend to make a lot of money in their fields. The more we know, the less likely we are to fail, and the less risky our decisions will become. 🙂

Random Useless Fact

According to the BBC, in some parts of Australia, 90% of koalas are infected with STDs. Koalas are at risk of becoming extinct because over half of them have chlamydia.


Aug 142014

The level of financial risk we can tolerate depends on our savings: The less money we have the more risk we can afford to take on. If you have worked with a financial advisor before then you’ve probably seen a risk tolerance chart like the following.


Each portfolio from A to D represents a different risk tolerance of maximum expected returns and losses. Choosing a model portfolio can help one’s financial advisor determine the best funds for the client based on his risk assessment. Conservative portfolios tend to hold more bonds, GICs, and T-Bills. Aggressive portfolios may hold more technology and energy stocks, which are more risky but also more potentially profitable.

If we are currently in our working years and only have $100,000 of savings, then we should have an aggressive investment plan that mimics the expected rate of return as Portfolio D in the image above. High risk, high reward. Like Ms. Frizzle always says, “take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” This is because losing $20,000 in the worst case scenario is no big deal since we are still actively working. $20,000 is only 6 months worth of salary for many people, so the loss can be quickly recouped 😀 But if things go well then hot diggity dog! we’ll make a $50,000 profit. The key to compound interest is to start as early as possible so if we can make our portfolio value 50% higher at a younger age it will give us a huge advantage over the long run.


But if we have recently retired and have $1,000,000 in savings then our investment goals would be different. We can’t be in Portfolio D because a potential $200,000 loss is a lot of money, and could prevent us from having a comfortable retirement. At the same time the potential return of $500,000 doesn’t sound that appealing when we’re already millionaires. At a certain level of wealth any extra money we save will face diminishing marginal utility which means the lifestyle of a senior who is worth $1.5 million isn’t going to be drastically different from another senior with only $1 million. So in this situation it would be better to choose the more defensive Portfolio A.

When we’re young our spending often depends on the product of our human capital and time, both of which we have an abundance of. But when we’re retired our human capital becomes diminished, so lifestyle needs to depend on our savings instead. This is when capital preservation takes priority over investment returns and we have to decrease our exposure to risk in order to make our portfolio last as long as possible 😉

Random Useless Fact:
Humans don’t have natural enemies. So we fight with each other.