Monthly Archive for March, 2007

My Portfolio’s Performance for 2006

I finally crunched the final numbers and here is how we did in 2006:

Annualized returns
From: 2006-01-01 to 2006-12-31
TD Stuff: 14.24%
Templeton International Stock Fund: 28.79%
S&P TSX 60 Index ETF: 13.28%
E&P Growth Opportunities Fund: 5.97%
CI Value Trust Fund: 8.89%
TD Canadian Bond Fund (Wife): 8.30%
TD Canadian Bond Fund (Dave): 4.19%
Cash (Wife): 1.71%
Cash (Dave): 6.17%
Overall: 12.17%

I got these numbers by making a list of all the inflows and outflows; not just into the entire RRSP but into cash, into the investments, out of the investments, out of cash, and so on. Every transaction is a double-entry transaction, except for the final balance (outflow) and the cash inflows from my chequing account (inflow). I could have just looked at cash flows into my RRSP and the final balances but I wanted to see the breakdown between the different components. Once I had the cash flows for each individual investments I did an Internal Rate of Return for each individually. I also did an overall calculation for the entire portfolio (shown at the bottom). Considering that the EAFE index went up 23.47% last year, the S&P 500 went up 13.62%, and the TSX went up 14.51%, we didn’t do too well. All of the stuff there except for the “TD Stuff” we only owned since March when we switched to Clearsight from TD. So I lost to the the indexes I mentioned above. The reason is because we had a sizable bond portion of about 25% and we were also carrying around a lot of cash (not literally) this year for whatever reason. Well part of the reason was that Clearsight dumped my advisor after they were bought by Wellington West and I ceased communication with them after that as I switched to E*Trade. So I didn’t do any trading during that time and our cash pilled up a bit too much.

The reason that my cash account went up by 6.17% annualized is because the dividends from the iShares S&P TSX 60 Index ETF (XIU) do not get reinvested (ie. it’s not a DRIP) but instead go into my cash account. So the dividends show up as sort of a capital gain in the cash account. One way for me to fix this would be to aggregate the cash inflows and outflows from cash and the iShares XIU and get the annualized return for that combination. That would give the annualized return including inflation. But once I buy another dividend-paying ETF, then what? The final 12.17% annualized return takes into account all the unrealized capital gains and dividends that went into the cash account and the dividends on the TD Canadian Bond Fund that were reinvested.

I really love these calculations. It really shows how well YOU did regardless of that the mutual fund’s NAV or the ETF’s market price did. Look at the TD Canadian Bond Fund for example. My wife got 8.3% annualized on hers and I only got 4.19%. This was because I bought it at a worse time. What’s the lesson here? That you should try to time the market? NO! You can’t time the market (so give up trying). The best way in my opinion is to trade completely randomly (hard to do) or just trade at some regular interval (easy to do) regardless of what the market is doing. Too many investors panic when their investments lose value and chase performance in bull markets. These behaviours lead to lower annualized returns for your portfolio, regardless of what the underlying mutual fund or ETF’s published returns were.

I wrote about investors and their bad timing before. Here is one of the quotes from that blog post:

The results indicated that, as with most active funds, investors’ timing decisions were costly when it came to index funds. The dollar-weighted returns for virtually all large-cap index funds were worse than their official returns for the trailing 10-year period through the end of the third quarter 2005. As the table below shows, poor timing cost Vanguard 500 shareholders 2.7 percentage points of returns per year over the past decade. That’s not chump change.

So I hope to see from these calculations how good/bad my timing is. By this time next year I will have an all ETF portfolio so I will be able to compare my annualized return in index X with the return of index X over the same period.

Popularity: 10% [?]

Foreign Exchange Costs Associated With USD Investments in an RRSP

I have been looking at adding an emerging markets component to my portfolio. I look at my choice as either being Vanguard’s VMO ($USD), iShares’ EEM ($USD), or a Canadian mutual fund offering (such as the TD Emerging Markets Fund or the Altamira Global Discovery Fund. Unfortunately there are no Canadian ETFs investing in emerging markets.

The Vanguard Emerging Markets Fund has an MER of 0.30%. The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index Fund has an MER of 0.70%. Once again Vanguard seems to have the lowest-cost ETFs around. The TD Emerging Markets Fund has an MER of 2.88%, and the only thing the Altamira Global Discovery Fund is discovering is how to take MERs to astronomical levels, with an MER of 3.42%. Looks like the Altamira fund is beating the MSCI Emerging Markets Index (CAD$) but those gains are paying for the MER and it ends up just matching the index.

I decided that between the Vanguard VWO and the iShares EEM I would rather go with VMO as the MER is smaller. They hold virtually the same indexes underneath. The VMO one is a “Select” MCSI Emerging Makrts index that was designed especially for Vanguard a long time ago for one of their mutual funds. VMO also has more stocks. It’s daily volume is less than EEM but still high at 400k on average which is what EEM was at a few years ago.

The next thing I was worrying about was the foreign exchange. I have CAD dollars sitting in my E*Trade RRSP. If I buy VMO, E*Trade will convert the CAD to USD and purchase VMO. When I sell VMO (eventually) E*Trade will sell the VMO and covert the USD to CAD. So my CAD dollars gets converted into USD once at a rate of say 1.18 dollars CAD for every dollar USD. Then when I sell VMO they will only give me something like 1.14 dollars CAD for every dollar USD. I don’t know what E*Trade’s spread usually is (if anyone knows, please tell me) but I assume it will be 4-5%.

So I did some calculations to see how bad this hit works out to be on an annualized basis. In other words, what would the effective MER of owning VMO as opposed to a Canadian mutual fund be? I’ll assume that VMO always goes up by 10% every year, has an MER of 0.30%, the nominal foreign exchange rate is 1.16% and the spread is 4%. So obviously if you buy VMO and sell it quickly (say, within a year), it will have increased by 10% but the foreign exchange spread has stolen away 4%. A bit worse than the mutual funds then. But what if you hold it for a long time? It’s going to get better over time. If you hold it for two years, it will increase to 1.1*1.1 = 1.21 of it’s original value but it’s multiplied by (1-0.04) due to the foreign exchange, now what’s the effective annualized return there? It’s about (1.12*0.96)^(1/2)=7.78%, so that’s an effective MER of 2.22%. Already we are better than the mutual funds. (I’ve made an approximation above…it’s not exactly 0.04 that I should be using, it’s 1-(1.14/1.18)… but nevermind, if you want to know more, ask me). If you keep going with the years you’ll get the following graph:

Effective MER for USD Investment

So it looks like it falls off pretty rapidly. Gets down close to 0.5% MER which is not bad. Essentially you can just think of the the foreign exchange hit as multiplying the PV by some number, so it lowers your PV. Over time the effect of lower PV is lessened as the investment grows due to compounding. Note also that I neglected commissions in the above analysis.

Keep in mind that with EEM this graph would be shifted upwards a bit. Since I have beaten the two mutual funds above by a long shot as far as cost goes, I think I might by some shares of VMO. I’ll make it about 5% of our portfolio and then I’ll make an effort to hold it for at least 10 years, where that curve really starts to flatten out.

Popularity: 12% [?]

Top 5 Things That Should be Taught in School

Some guy named Brian Kim wrote an article called Top 5 Things That Should be Taught in Every School.

Below are five things that I firmly believe should be taught in every school in America so that students don’t get railroaded when they enter the real world. If you’re still in school and reading this, consider it your lucky day as mastering these five skills will give you a great head start and help separate you from the rest of the pack as well.

He puts personal finance at #1 on his list:

most young adults don’t have a clue on how to invest their money. They don’t know what a Roth IRA account is, or a 401k, or the magic of compound interest, the tax benefits associated with investing in these types of vehicles, etc. There’s a lot of specialized knowledge out there that young adults are not aware of on when it comes to how they can invest their money and as a result, they frivolously spend it away.

The other three are communicating effectively: “I ‘m mainly talking about being able to clearly take what’s in your head and to put it into words so the other person clearly understands what you’re saying the first time.” Social skills: “Learn to approach people – that’s another big skill. Most people don’t have the guts to take the first initiative and introduce themselves. Be the big man. Take the first step. Learn to make the other person feel good and important.” Sales: “Selling is one of the few skills that can be utilized in any job or career. It’s one of the most important cross marketable skills you will ever develop.” And finally, time management, and he added a sixth, health.

I have to agree that personal finance should definitely be taught in school. I learned some in school as there was a “business ed.” course when I was in high school that was mandatory. Our teacher walked us through filling out mock T1 returns and we bought some stocks on the stock exchange with fake money. I think we learned a bit about investing too but I don’t remember it much. I know the next summer (after Grade 10) I starting buying mutual funds monthly. Part of that early start might have been due to taking that course, who knows?

Popularity: 5% [?]

NETFILE to Resume Thursday

For all those that were waiting for NETFILE to come back online to file, it should be back up on Thursday.

Popularity: 6% [?]

Debunking David Trahair’s Smoke & Mirrors: Myth #1

Canadian Capitalist recently had an article discussing the “smoke & mirrors” guy’s “Myth 1: If I had a $1,000,000… I Could Retire”. I hate guys like Mr. Trahair who rant about the financial services industry and their “vested self-interest in telling people they need more” and flame about how the banks try to scare people into putting more money away for retirement. All the while ignoring the fact that the individual also has a vested self-interest in saving for retirement. It’s the stupidest reason to not invest as much as possible that I have ever heard. It’s like taking a lower salary so you can receive the GST credit.

He talks about how once you retire your expenses are much lower because you will hopefully no longer have a mortgage to pay down, no more kids’ education to pay for, etc… So what? Your expenses could go up too if you want to travel more than before you retired. You could go out for dinner more. You might want to go buy a dream house, buy a cottage, a boat, hire a maid when you are 60, hire someone to help you out when you have a stroke at the age of 70, etc… But no, Mr. Trahir tries to explain how you’ll be just fine with 40% of what you made in your 40s.

The question of how much you need when you retire is irrelevant (if you can easily satisfy your needs). The question is how much do you want? For most people, the more the better. Of course you need money now too, but no one will instinctively starve themselves now to have more money later. Nor will you ever starve yourself now by putting away too much for later. You can always take money out of later if you need it now. One thing I don’t need is Mr. Trahair telling me that I can “get by” on only 30% of my current income in retirement. I’d rather have some balance between now and later. Maybe do some travelling and enjoy the money when I am older on a boat or a condo at Whistler or on Vancouver Island. Not scrape by on 30% of my current income.

It seems his only reason in debunking this “myth” is to “start relaxing a bit.” I think saving up more for retirement than I would actually “need” is a perfect way to “relax a bit.” The stock market and/or interest rates might go through a bad slump and your investments won’t compound as much a your thought/predicted they would. Targetting 100% of your present income (in tomorrow’s dollars) in retirement is playing is safe.

The Canadian Capitalist adds “of course, those planning an early retirement need a larger nest egg.” Another perfectly good argument for saving as much as you can. The more you save, the earlier you can retire.

Smoke and mirrors “is a metaphor for a deceptive, fraudulent or insubstantial explanation or description.” Describes Mr. Trahair very well.

Popularity: 21% [?]


I did a NETFILE once, or maybe it was a telefile (over the phone), I’m not sure. But then for many years I could not because I had some non-RRSP investments and there were some foreign dividends or something like that on them and that made me ineligible for the simpler T1 and NETFILE and telefile. So then I went back to paper returns but using software such as TaxWiz and to create the return and then printing it. Nowadays, I no longer have those non-RRSP investments so I could use NETFILE but I choose not to because with NETFILE you don’t have to send in your receipts, so I figure that with NETFILE a) I’ll have a greater chance of being audited (I assume), which is a pain; b) all the receipts are with me, which means there is a danger of them all being destroyed which might be a bad thing (if I were audited); and c) there is no way for Revenue Canada to correct certain mistakes if I make one (and I have made some in the past) as they won’t have the receipts. The main advantage of NETFILE is that you get your tax refund sooner. If you don’t wait until the last minute to file a paper return you will get your refund fairly quick as well. If you are really that concerned about the quicker refund, you should consider getting your employer to take less tax off your paycheque in the first place.

Popularity: 8% [?]

Why I Probably Won’t Ever Pack a Lunch

Here’s why I won’t start packing a lunch any time soon (except if I have leftovers that is). This article on “Save $988 per year by packing your lunch.” $1000 saved by packing a lunch!? That’s a lot lower than I thought. If you’re making $50,000 gross that’s only 2% of gross income. Make $100,000 and that’s 1%. That seems pretty insignificant to me. I used to think about bringing a lunch to save money but I’m not so sure anymore. There are some big advantages to going out for lunch with coworkers: Networking, talking about work-related ideas but outside of work, and socializing, and if the difference is only $1000 per year I don’t have any huge motivation to change. You also have to factor in the extra time spent preparing decent-tasting lunches and extra grocery shopping. As far as efficiency goes, leftovers are a smarter idea because you just have a cook a bit more than usual the night before which doesn’t take any more time.

Popularity: 5% [?]