Stock Market Corrections Are Beautiful… When

A correction is a beautiful thing, simply the flip side of a rally, big or small. Theoretically, even technically I’m told, corrections adjust equity prices to their actual value or “support levels”. In reality, it’s much easier than that.

Prices go down because of speculator reactions to expectations of news, speculator reactions to actual news, and investor profit taking. The two former “becauses” are more potent than ever before because there is more self-directed money out there than ever before. And therein lies the core of correctional beauty!

Mutual Fund unit holders rarely take profits but often take losses. Additionally, the new breed of Index Fund Speculators over-react to news of any kind because that’s what speculators do. Thus, if any brief little market hiccup becomes considerably more serious, new investment opportunities will become abundant!

Here’s a list of ten things to think about doing, or to avoid doing, during corrections of any magnitude:

1. Your present Asset Allocation should be tuned in to your long-term goals and objectives. Resist the urge to decrease your Equity allocation because you expect a further fall in stock prices. That would be an attempt to time the market, which is (rather obviously) impossible. Asset Allocation decisions should have nothing to do with stock market expectations.

2. Take a look at the past. There has never been a correction that has not proven to be a buying opportunity, so start collecting a diverse group of high quality, dividend paying, NYSE companies as they move lower in price— Investment Grade Value Stocks. I start shopping at 20% below the 52-week high water mark— the bargain bins are filling.

3. Don’t hoard that “smart cash” you accumulated during the last rally, and don’t look back and get yourself agitated because you might buy some issues too soon. There are no crystal balls, and no place for hindsight in an investment strategy. Buying too soon, in the right portfolio percentage, is nearly as important to long-term investment success as selling too soon is during rallies.

4. Take a look at the future. Nope, you can’t tell when the rally will resume or how long it will last. If you are buying quality equities now (as you certainly could be) you will be able to love the rally even more than you did the last time— as you take yet another round of profits. Smiles broaden with each new realized gain, especially when most Wall Streeters are still just scratchin’ their heads.

5. As (or if) the correction continues, buy more slowly as opposed to more quickly, and establish new positions incompletely. Hope for a short and steep decline, but prepare for a long one. There’s more to Shop at The Gap than meets the eye, and if you are doing it properly, you’ll run out of cash well before the new rally begins.

6. Your understanding and use of the Smart Cash concept has proven the wisdom of The Investor’s Creed (look it up). You should be out of cash while the market is still correcting— it gets less scary each time. As long your cash flow continues unabated, the change in market value is merely a perceptual issue.

7. Note that your Working Capital is still growing, in spite of falling prices, and examine your holdings for opportunities to average down on cost per share or to increase yield (on fixed income securities). Examine both fundamentals and price, lean hard on your experience, and don’t force the issue.

8. Identify new buying opportunities using a consistent set of rules, rally or correction. That way you will always know which of the two you are dealing with in spite of what the Wall Street propaganda mill spits out. Focus on Investment Grade Value Stocks; it’s just easier, as well as being less risky, and better for your peace of mind. Just think where you would be today had you heeded this advice years ago—

9. Examine your portfolio’s performance: with your asset allocation and investment objectives clearly in focus; in terms of market and interest rate cycles as opposed to calendar Quarters (never do that) and Years; and only with the use of the Working Capital Model (look this up also), because it is based upon your personal asset allocation. Remember, there is really no single index number to use for comparison purposes with a properly designed portfolio.

Unfortunately, only Self Directed 401k and IRA programs are able to use Market Cycle Investment Management.

10. So long as everything is down, there is nothing to worry about. Downgraded (or simply lazy) portfolio holdings should not be discarded during general or group specific weakness. Unless of course, you don’t have the courage to get rid of them during rallies— also general or sector specifical (sic).

Corrections (of all types) will vary in depth and duration, and both characteristics are clearly visible only in institutional grade rear view mirrors. The short and deep ones are most lovable (kind of like men, I’m told); the long and slow ones are more difficult to deal with. Short ones (those that last a few days, weeks, or months) are nearly impossible to deal with using Mutual Funds.

So if you overthink the environment or overcook the research, you’ll miss the party. Unlike many things in life, Stock Market realities need to be dealt with quickly, decisively, and with zero hindsight.

Because amid all of the uncertainty, there is one indisputable fact that reads equally well in either market direction: there has never been a correction/rally that has not succumbed to the next rally/correction—

Think cycle instead of year, and smile more often.

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Lower gas prices can mean really big TFSA savings!

Many Canadians have grown accustomed to low mortgage rates and strong residential pricing, and now the price of gasoline is leaving a few more bucks in our pockets.  Don’t get too comfortable, because history teaches us that none of this is sustainable.  It is circumstances like the present that make seasoned money managers anxious.  While neophytes are happy to carelessly bathe in the sunshine, experts are usually getting ready for the next storm.  What can you do?  With lower gasoline prices providing some extra cash flow why not use the cash to bolster your savings?

One cloud on the horizon has been getting some attention of late.  The massive global financial stimulus that has caused interest rates to remain low for so long has had a predictable impact on our collective behaviour.  Canadians have borrowed money like there’s no tomorrow.

Household Debt vs Disponable IncomeAccording to data from Statistics Canada, our total borrowing has been on a steady incline since 1990, while servicing the debt has been eating away at our disposable income.  Sure, we tightened our belts some during the financial crisis, but the temptation to borrow at low rates has just been too much to overcome.

It is difficult to save money, when so little of one’s income is disposable.  And most financial advisers would recommend that it doesn’t make a whole bunch of sense to save money at all when you owe money.  It makes far more financial sense to pay down your debt.  Based on numbers alone, this is sound advice.  But our behaviour is seldom governed by numbers alone – we are indeed a complex species.

For example, contributing to your RRSP provides a tax savings in the same year your contribute right?  So where does it go?  A strictly numbers analysis espousing the merits of RRSPs would certainly factor in those savings to illustrate how effective they are at growing your wealth, but I am inclined to agree with the Wealthy Barber (David Chilton) who frequently points out (and I am paraphrasing here) that those dollars you supposedly ‘saved’ were most probably squandered, not saved.  If the tax savings were indeed invested, then it is true that one’s net worth might grow.  However the iPhone, piece of furniture or other consumer good bought with that tax refund hardly qualifies as savings now does it?

Does it make any sense at all to save when wallowing in debt?  I would argue most emphatically YES!  According to an IPSOS Reid poll published in October:  “The average working Canadian believes they would need $45,609 in savings to sustain themselves for a year should they be off work due to illness.”  Where would this money come from?  In real life, a portion of it would be required for food and lodging yet some of it will be needed just to pay the mortgage or rent.  I’d bet that the average Canadian polled would no doubt have seriously underestimated the amount needed to live on while not working (for whatever reason).  In the same poll roughly 68% admitted to having some or lots of debt – suggesting that 1/3rd of Canadians have none?  Pardon me if I suspect that a good percentage of those polled might also have been too embarrassed to answer candidly even if their responses remained anonymous – we are Canadians after all and loathe to taint our conservative image.

Now is an ideal time to bump up your savings!

Where will the extra cash come from to begin a more aggressive savings program?  Let’s start at the gas pump.  We all feel a bit of relief simply watching the price of gasoline come down when fueling, but has anyone really considered how much they might now be pocketing because of lower energy prices?  In April of 2014 Canadians were paying a near-record $1.50 per litre.  Just 6 months ago the price of gasoline in Toronto was 139.9 cents a litre and today (I am writing this on December 10) it is 103.9 cents.  That’s a whopping 25% decrease.  Say a motorist was spending $50 in after-tax dollars a week.  If they price of gas simply stays at 103.9 the cost savings are $12.50 a week which is equivalent to $650 of annual savings requiring about $1000 of your pre-tax income.  If there is more than one vehicle in a family? Let’s keep it simple and assume $1000 in annual family savings simply from the lower gasoline price.  Never mind that other energy costs (heating) and transportation costs (flights) will also create savings.  What if you simply invested that amount every year and earned a rate of return on it?  It will grow to a handsome sum.  Unfortunately, you will have to pay taxes on those returns but more about that later.

Growth in $1000 annually

 

Of course it’s unreasonable to expect gas prices to remain at these levels or fall lower.  It is also not wise to anticipate more generous rates of return.  In point of fact, it is foolhardy to expect or anticipate anything at all.  Returns will be what they will be, and gas prices are determined by market forces that the experts have trouble understanding.

Does the uncertainty we must live with mean that savings might just as well be spent on the fly?  As I tell students studying to be financial planners; one must start somewhere and there are two things worth acknowledging up front:

1)  The power of compounding (letting money earn money by investing it) is very real, as evidenced by the table.

2)  It makes sense to have a cushion in the event of a loss of income, the desire to pay down some debt, make a purchase or just retire.

Yes it makes more financial sense to have no debt at all, but the majority of Canadians will borrow for those things they want now rather than later, like a home or car.  If you must borrow, why not save as well?  Fortunately we have been gifted the perfect savings vehicle.  The Tax Free Savings Account introduced in 2009 has advantages that make it an ideal place to park money you are saving at the gas pump.  The returns you earn in the account are tax-free.  With GIC rates as low as they are, you might be inclined to say ‘so big deal?’ But any financial adviser over 45 years of age (I admit, there aren’t many) can tell you that low interest rates are temporary, and besides you can and will earn better returns over the longer term in equity mutual funds just as an example.

TFSA Contribution LimitsOf course there are limits (see table) to what you are allowed to contribute, but best of all they are cumulative.  In other words, if you haven’t contributed your limit since 2009, you can ‘catch up’ at any time.  Including 2014, you have a right to have put up to $31,000 into the account.   Also the contribution limit rises (is indexed) over time with the rate of inflation.  Perhaps most important, you can withdraw money from the account tax-free.  Your contributions were already taxed (there’s no tax deduction when contributing like when you put funds into an RRSP), and the investment returns are all yours to keep.  Using your TFSA means that won’t have to pay those taxes and the effects of compounding aren’t diminished.  To top it off, you are allowed to replace any money you’ve withdrawn in following years.

The seasoned money manager will want some flexibility in the event that he is blindsided.  With your TFSA savings you too will enjoy more flexibility.  If interest rates are higher when you renegotiate your mortgage, taking money out of your TFSA to reduce the principal amount might help reduce your monthly payments to affordable levels.  Should the economy take a turn for the worse over the next several years and you lose your job, then you’ll have some extra cash available to retire debt and help with living expenses.  For younger Canadians saving money at the gas pump? Investing the extra cash flow in your TFSA account will certainly help towards building a healthy deposit for your first home.

  • Don’t squander the cash you are saving thanks to low energy prices.
  • Your TSFA if you have one, allows you to invest those savings and the returns you earn are tax free.
  • If you don’t have a TFSA, then get one.
  • Be sure to use only qualified investments and do not over-contribute. The penalties are severe.
  • Money earned on your investments is tax-free.
  • Take out cash when you need it, and put it back when you can.
  • When you retire, money withdrawn from your TFSA does not count as taxable income.

 

Mal Spooner is a veteran fund manager and currently teaches at the Humber College School of Business.
Mal Spooner is a veteran fund manager and currently teaches at the Humber College School of Business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a Happy New Year to all!

, T-bnAs we finally close 2012, there are many things on which we can reflect. The sad, the inexplicable, the disappointing and yes, some good things too – from an investment perspective anyway!

Canadian banks and other financial institutions, despite a credit downgrade late in the year, are among the safest in the world and investors continue to benefit from holding their preferred shares, common stocks and various debt instruments. The same appears true for the utility industry, despite the contretemps of the Northern Gateway (or maybe Arctic Gateway or Eastern Gateway) oil pipeline in Canada and the US side of the Canada/US Keystone XL pipeline project. Oil is a key utility input in all of it’s many forms as is natural gas. I will stay out of the debate on fracking!

The world needs power – from any and all sources so I believe that for long-term holdings, exposure to this part of the economy is important. Short-term, be prepared for some storms in all of the energy sector, and I suspect they will all be of a political making. So some inclusion of energy and utlities makes some sense – the amount you include depends on your investment comfort level and time-horizon.

Communications in all of it’s forms will continue to grow although I suspect it too will be choppy due to anti-trust, patent issues and regulatory meddling on one level or another. Manufacturing and transportation industries should experience reasonable grow as I believe that deficit and national debts will gradually be controlled allowing economies to begin expanding again.

Whether doing your equities on a do-it-yourself basis or using some form of managed funds or ETFs, I would be staying blue-chip common shares and preferreds particularly for the risk-adverse.

Short-term interest rates (10 years and less), I believe will stay within about 1% to 1.5% of curent levels, which is positive for everyone including companies loooking to expand their operations. If doing things on your own, I recommend GIC or GIA ladders and if you are going the managed fund or ETF route, then I would be looking at average term-to-maturity south of 10 years and only A or better ratings – BBB if you feel adventurous.

On the pure cash side of things, whether in a bank account, T-bill account or some life insurance cash values, it seems to make sense to hold somewhere in the 5% to 7% range – both for protection and any buying opportunities that present themselves.

On Precious Metals – flip a coin! From everything I can find, the “experts” are about evenly divided on direction and potential upside/downside movement. Some level of exposure would seem reasonable if you can tolerate the earthquake-style market reactions but for these I would personally stay on the managed money side and look for broad diversification across countries keeping in mind political situations and I wouldn’t be comfortable holding more than 4% to 5% and only then if I was looking in the 10 plus-year holding range.

Think positive about yourself and your family, keep personal debts going DOWN and by wise in your discretionary spending in 2013!

Investing Is Tough Stuff

By: Don Shaughnessy

Profit is a poor proxy for success and investors should not rely on the number without considering other facts.
Strangely a business can become bankrupt while it is profitable. This profit ambiguity causes problems for business owners, managers, policy makers and investors.
What do you mean by profit?
Suppose an incorporated business earns $1,000,000 using the tax rules and generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) In Ontario, the tax bill would be $220,000 leaving $780,000 to invest. Clearly profitable!
BUT, only within the system of GAAP and taxation. In the real world, the result might well be very different.
Suppose the business must invest $1,500,000 to remain competitive in its industry, (same market share and same technology as the leaders in the industry.) Did it really make a profit or did it really lose $720,000?
The economic answer is it lost $720,000, and even that is not simple.
By investing the profits and borrowing, the business continues to exist and possibly a weak entrant in the industry will become weaker still and succumb. So the true long-term economic loss is actually somewhat smaller. Maybe a lot smaller and possibly not a loss at all. Some of the cash loss is an investment in future market share.
Management faces the task of deciding if they will survive long enough to benefit. Especially true if the government bails out the weak ones.
For those looking at profit alone, other expenses matter too. Marketing, advertising, R&D, employee training and more, pay off over long periods but have immediate cost. Good for tax expense but hard for the analysts to validate. Some other expenses, like pensions, have a visible price today but an unknowable future cost.
In both accounting and taxation, profit is not the result of facts but rather is the result of rules and opinions. Things like depreciation rate, inventory and product obsolescence, bad debts, investment rate to be earned on the pension fund, future technology effects and more.
As an investor, is there anything at all to be gleaned from the financial statements?
Maybe.
In most cases, it makes sense to pay attention to the management letter. I know a high performance fund manager who looks for the words challenge or challenging in that letter. If he sees either he throws the statement away. In his words, “I have only limited resources, so why would I invest with people who have challenges?”
When looking for an investment, use commons sense first. I like the product, I like management, I like the industry and so on. Then look at the numbers.
• “Cash is real, profit is opinion.” Or at least cash is more likely to be real because you go to jail if you fool with it. Not so much with profit.
• Look for dividends. They impose a discipline on management and the cash paid out reduces the homeless dollar problem. When management finds that problem, some pretty dodgy projects get funded.
• When things go wrong, quit quick. Holding losers and waiting for recovery is a losing tactic. The price of tulip bulbs, which peaked in Holland in February 1637, has, as yet, not returned to that high.
Good look!
Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.  don.s@protectorsgroup.com