Vancouver Housing Bubble Has Finally Burst

The Vancouver housing bubble has finally burst and here is just some of what I have seen in the past month or so that has led me to this conclusion:

Look for the real estate people to stay positive all the way down to the bottom. Check out this awesome graph charting David Lereah’s (US National Association of Realtors Chief Economist) comments.

Ask Dave: All Foreign ETFs RRSP-eligible?

Charles asks:

Are all Vanguard’s ETF RRSP eligible? What about U.S. iShares or Wisdom Tree or Powershares?

Thanks for the help!

Well all US stocks are RRSP-eligible and ETFs are just stocks. I suppose the only hitch is that you have to find a broker that offers registered accounts and allows you to put US stocks in them. Fortunately, I don’t think there are any discount brokers in Canada they don’t allow you to purchase US stocks and that don’t offer registered accounts.

Be wary of Wisdom Tree and Powershares. The MER of Wisdom Tree’s ETFs are higher than Vanguard’s. I was not able to find the MER of Powershares funds within 5 minutes so they are most likely high. They sell an insane number of ETFs–also a sign that their ETFs are probably costly.

iShares has some low MER ETFs. For example, iShares S&P 500 Index Fund (IVV) has an MER of 0.08% compared with Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI) which has an MER of 0.07%. In general, Vanguard sells the lowest cost ETFs.

FFI (Fund Fee Index): Useful?

Rob Carrick recently did some analysis of mutual funds’ and ETFs’ MERs relative to their performance, which he calls FFI (Fund Fee Index) (see “How to get the skinny on your fund’s fat fees“). The FFI is supposed to be used as “a new way to measure the value you get from the fees you pay to your own mutual funds and exchange-traded funds.” It is calculated as follows:

FFI = \frac{MER}{gross\ return + MER} \times 100 = \frac{MER}{gross\ return} \times 100

Cute idea, but unfortunately it is a fairly meaningless measure since paying more expenses to a mutual fund company will not get you more gross returns (because returns are random). The big thing you will notice from the chart is that all the iShares ETFs scored far lower. In fact, as Carrick points out:

The best index score for a mutual fund was the 8.7 earned by the Phillips Hager & North Dividend Income. The worst score on the ETF side was the iShares Cdn Short Bond Index Fund at 4.8. Here, we have a vivid example of how the low fees of ETFs work to the advantage of investors. The ETF scoring worst on the Fund Fee Index beat the mutual fund with the best score.

That’s right, each of the 12 ETFs he chose beat the top 50 mutual funds of all types according to his FFI measure. He praises ETFs’ low fees, which is why the ETFs’ FFI scores are consistently lower than those of mutual funds, but stops short of making any grander conclusions. He says “it’s pointless to generalize about the value that investors get for the mutual fund fees they pay – some funds are outstanding, many are middling and some are pretty bad.” Maybe so, but we can definitely generalize and say that investors get much more “value” (I’m using Carrick’s definition of value here… a low FFI) out of ETFs than they do from mutual funds.

In general the FFI is a useless measure. Here’s an example. If a mutual fund or ETF had a 5 yr. annualized return of 1% and an MER of 0.1%, we get an FFI of 11 \left( \frac{1+0.1}{0.1}=11 \right). Let’s say another fund or ETF had a 5 yr. annualized return of 20% with an MER of 2%. That gives the same FFI of 11 \left( \frac{20+2}{2}=11 \right). So what does that tell us? That these two investments are equally “good”? The FFI hides the returns and in the end doesn’t tell us anything.

The only way in which the FFI is moderately useful is for comparing funds in the same sector or market. Then we can truly understand why the ETFs have lower FFIs than the mutual funds and what that actually means. The FFIs for the ETFs range from 0.9 to 4.8. These are ETFs such as iShares CDN Composite (XIC) with an FFI of 1.3 and the iShares CDN Short Bond Index (XSB) with an FFI of 4.8. The gross returns of the mutual funds should, on average, be equal to the gross return of the iShares ETF in the same category (because the gross return of the iShares ETF is the market average’s return). So when comparing ETFs and mutual funds in the same sector, the only variable affecting the FFI score is the MER. The higher the MER, the higher the FFI. So for this specific case, the FFI basically just becomes another measure for the net return, and as Rob Carrick says “The ETF scoring worst on the Fund Fee Index beat the mutual fund with the best score.” But what he is really saying here is that in any given sector, the iShares ETF for that sector had a higher net return than all the mutual funds in that sector that he looked at.

Buy vs. Rent Calculators (for a Home)

I just discovered a great buy vs. rent calculator at the New York Times website. Check it out:

New York Times buy vs. rent calculator (don’t forget to check out the advanced settings on the right-hand side!)

Don’t forget about the VanCity buy vs. rent calculator, which I blogged about previously: Vancity buy vs. rent calculator.

The Canadian government also has their own rent vs. buy calculator.

Ask Dave: Choosing a Discount Broker

Anthony asks:

I am reading about your move to ETRADE.

My question is a simple one…..did you research all the discount brokers before moving to ETRADE?

I am about to move my accounts, (they are sizeable), to a discount broker, and take care of them myself.
I just coundn’t figure the value I was getting from a full service broker.

Why did you go with ETRADE? And would you, or your readers recommend any one in particular?

I would really appreciate a reply directly to my email address, if you have the time,

Thanks and good luck,

No, I didn’t really do tons of research. I was paying $70 or something like that during my brief stint at a full service brokerage. E*Trade offered $20 per trade and I figured that there might be some other brokers out there with $10/trade, and there were some, but they were not names I had heard of before. E*Trade has been around for a while and I knew their name so I went with them. I didn’t really care about the details, I just needed some where to put my money after my financial advisor’s company got swallowed up by another company and he was (I assume) laid off. E*Trade does offer $9.99 trades if you have more than $50,000 in assets with them.

Rob Carrick recently compared online brokers in “With online trading, it pays to shop around“.

Dividend Stocks Inside vs. Outside an RRSP

In this article, “Dividend tax breaks make blue-chips a wise buy” in the Toronto Star (linked from the Canadian Capitalist), Ellen Roseman says:

Buying blue-chip Canadian stocks can be a good strategy for do-it-yourself investors. I’m talking about the big banks, insurers, pipelines, telephone companies, gas and electrical utilities that pay dividends of 2 per cent to 4 per cent a year.

This is similar to what you earn on a high-interest savings account or fixed-term deposit. But if you hold these stocks outside of a registered plan, your income is worth more because of the tax breaks on dividends.

It almost sounds as if she is saying that, given the choice, you should hold dividend investments outside of a registered plan (RRSP) rather than inside. I think what she is saying is that if we just compare dividend stocks with interest-bearing investments such as term deposits and high-interest savings accounts, if they are both held outside of an RRSP, less tax will be paid on the dividends than on the interest from the other investments. However, dividend stocks should never be held outside an RRSP if one still has contribution room inside one’s RRSP. Putting dividend stocks inside an RRSP eliminates the taxes on the dividends. Instead, pre-income-tax dollars are invested inside the RRSP where it can grow tax free. The money is then taxed as income when the money is withdrawn later during retirement (presumably at a lower income tax rate). The double taxation of dividends/interest is avoided.