Archive | June, 2014

Calculating Adjusted Cost Base: A Case Study

If you’ve read our ironically titled white paper, As Easy as ACB, you understand how complex it can be to track the adjusted cost base of ETFs. You need to account for all purchases and sales of shares during your holding period and then adjust for any reinvested distributions, return of capital and share splits along the way. Since that paper came out, several readers have emailed to ask whether it’s really necessary to do all that work.

That’s up to each investor to determine, but I wouldn’t want the Canadian Revenue Agency to discover you were paying a lot less tax than you owed. And as we discovered recently with a client of our DIY Investor Service, taking the time to accurately calculate your adjusted cost base can also save you from paying unnecessary taxes.

Our client purchased 300 shares of the iShares S&P/TSX Composite Index ETF (XIC) in September 2005 and added another 200 shares the following year. She eventually sold the entire holding (which by then had more than doubled in value) in April of this year. On the surface that seems like a straightforward set of transactions,

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Rebalancing With Cash Flows

With stocks continuing to enjoy a roaring bull market, rebalancing is on the minds of many investors—or at least it should be. Disciplined investing starts with choosing long-term targets for the asset classes in your portfolio and making regular adjustments to stay on course. Rebalancing discourages you from chasing performance, timing the markets and taking inappropriate risk.

There are three main rebalancing strategies. The first is based on the calendar: you might rebalance annually, or even several times per year. (Many balanced funds, for example, rebalance every quarter.) The second is based on thresholds: a rebalance might be triggered any time an asset class is five percentage points off its target. Finally, you can rebalance with cash flows, buying underweight asset classes with new contributions or cash from distributions (or, if you’re drawing down your portfolio, selling overweight positions when you make withdrawals).

In the real world, most investors probably do some combination of all three, and that’s fine. But there’s a good argument to be made for emphasizing the cash-flow method.

Go with the flow

Rebalancing with cash flows is particularly useful for those making regular contributions. The idea is that you deposit cash in your account every month or so,

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US Investors in Canada: What to Watch For

Index investors in the US have always had it easier than Canadians, thanks to lower costs and more choices. Unfortunately, if those investors move to Canada, their plight becomes much more difficult.

Unlike Canada (and virtually every other western country), the US requires its citizens to file an annual return and potentially pay taxes even if they live abroad. The rules may apply even if you were born in Canada and have never lived in the US, since it’s possible to inherit citizenship from US-born parents. For tax purposes, “US persons” don’t even need to be citizens: they can also be Canadian green card holders or snowbirds.

Tax implications for US persons living in Canada are complex and often controversial: if you’re in this situation, you should seek help from an advisor who specializes in cross-border issues. But here’s a heads-up on two issues that have recently come up with clients of our DIY Investor Service who had no idea they were flirting with danger.

Don’t open a TFSA or an RESP. Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) and Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs) offer significant tax benefits for Canadians.

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A Trove of Tax Tips for Canadian Investors

If your long-term savings are all in RRSPs and TFSAs, consider yourself lucky. Using tax-sheltered accounts is easy compared with the plight of investors who are saving in non-registered accounts. From deciding on the right asset location, to harvesting losses, to calculating the adjusted cost base of your holdings, taxable investments are always a challenge. But André Fok Kam’s new book, Tax-efficient Investing for Canadians, will make the job easier.

There are countless books on taxes, but this is the first one I’ve seen that focuses specifically on investments, and it’s loaded with excellent advice. Here are three tips to give you a taste:

Be careful when reinvesting distributions. In the chapter covering the tax implications of mutual funds and ETFs, Fok Kam explains why distributions add no value: “Instead, they merely transfer value from the fund to its unitholders. Investors are enriched when the fund earns a return, not when it transfers value.”

Cash distributions can help pay living expenses if you’re drawing down your portfolio. But investors in the accumulation phase often reinvest all distributions, which is a potential problem at tax time,

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ShareOwner: Canada’s First ETF Robo-Advisor

Back in February I wrote about the rise of robo-advisors, the online services that allow you to build an ETF portfolio that’s maintained by a computer. These services are already operating in the US, and several are in the works in Canada, including the start-ups Nest Wealth and Wealthsimple. But the first to market has turned out to be ShareOwner, a well-established firm better known to dividend stock investors.

I wrote about ShareOwner more than four years ago, and my review at the time was quite negative. They charged a $79 annual fee for RRSPs, their trading commissions were on the high side, and their menu of ETFs was mostly confined to niche products. But the firm has a new owner in Bruce Seago (a veteran of the online brokerage business) and a revamped offering. Their newly announced Model Portfolio Service has a lot of promise for ETF investors seeking a low-cost, low-maintenance solution.

Here’s an overview of how it works. When you open an account, you can select one of ShareOwner’s five model portfolios,

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How to Estimate Stock and Bond Returns

Even the simplest financial plan requires assumptions about how your investments will perform. We know these assumptions can never be perfectly accurate, but they need to be thoughtful and reasonable. If you’re just assuming a balanced portfolio will return 7% every year, then your projections aren’t likely to be useful.

So what exactly are reasonable assumptions for stocks and bonds? In Great Expectations—a new white paper I’ve co-authored with Raymond Kerzérho, PWL Capital’s director of research—we explain the methodology we use when creating financial plans.

There are two main approaches one can use when estimating future returns. The first is to rely on history: for example, if the average return of global stocks over the last century was 8%, one could simply assume the same going forward. The second approach uses valuation metrics to estimate future stock returns based on current market conditions. You can also apply these two methods to expected bond returns, using either the long-term historical average or the current yield on a benchmark index.

As you’ve probably figured out, both methods are flawed. But as we argue in the white paper,

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Ask the Spud: How Are Investors Protected?

Q: My father lost a large sum of money when the company holding his investments in his home country defrauded its clients. As a result, I worry whether it is safe to keep all our investments in one institution. What would happen to investors if these companies became insolvent? Should we diversify across fund providers and financial institutions the way we diversify our investments? — M.T.

Canadians have many legitimate gripes about their financial institutions, but compared with most other countries we’re pretty fortunate. Fund companies and brokerages may charge too much or provide lousy service, but they aren’t likely to defraud their clients. And in the extremely rare cases when they become insolvent, there are safeguards that should prevent investors from significant losses.

It may not be necessary to diversify your holdings across multiple fund providers or financial institutions. But every Canadian should understand how investor protection programs work and be aware of their limits.

Your online brokerage

Every major online brokerage is a member of the Canadian Investment Protection Fund (CIPF), which was established by agreement with the Investment Industry Regulatory Association of Canada. (IIROC is the self-regulatory organization that oversees investment dealers in Canada.)

The CIPF maintains a pool of money that can be used to compensate investors in the event of a member’s insolvency.

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