Archive | Podcast

Podcast 10: MoneySense, We Hardly Knew Ye

If you’ve been a reader for a while, you know that I have a long association with MoneySense, a magazine I contributed to for some 15 years as a feature writer, columnist, and editor. MoneySense didn’t invent the Couch Potato strategy, but the magazine brought the idea to Canada around the turn of the millennium, when index funds were rare and ETFs were almost completely unknown to the public.

But times are tough for print media, and at the beginning of this year MoneySense published its last magazine and made the transition to an all-digital format, including a lineup of free newsletters.

In my latest podcast, I sit down with David Thomas, who was named editor-in-chief at the magazine in late 2015 and still oversees the MoneySense and Canadian Business brands at Rogers Media. We chat about the magazine and as well as the evolving role of the financial media.

Worlds apart

Do you still need international diversification in your portfolio? That’s the question I tackle in this episode’s edition of Bad Investment Advice.

I’ve recently received questions from readers and listeners about whether investors really need international diversification in their portfolios.

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Podcast 9: Finding Common Ground

Does the whole “active versus passive” debate miss a key point about what leads to successful investing? Why do investors focus on “mutual funds versus ETFs” when neither structure is inherently superior? These are some of the topics I discuss with Tom Bradley in my latest podcast:

Tom is the co-founder and president of Steadyhand Investment Funds, based in Vancouver. Steadyhand believes strongly in active management: they even call themselves “undex funds,” because their goal is to look like nothing like the benchmarks. But if you spend any time reading Tom’s articles in the Globe and Mail, MoneySense, and on the Steadyhand blog, you’ll notice there a surprising amount of overlap in our messages. I noted this some six years ago when Tom released the first edition of his book, It’s Not Rocket Science.

Tom and I both understand that, whatever your specific strategy happens to be, the fundamental ingredients of a successful plan are low cost, broad diversification and a disciplined strategy you will adhere to over the long term.

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Podcast 8: Couch Potato With a Conscience

Are you interested in indexing but uneasy about the idea of investing in certain “sin stocks”? In my latest podcast, I look at whether you can be a Couch Potato investor and still stay true to your values.

The episode features a detailed interview with Tim Nash, a financial planner, creator of the Sustainable Economist blog and a specialist in socially responsible investing (SRI), with a particular expertise in green ETFs. I first interviewed Tim here on the blog back in 2013, and since then he has been my go-to guy on sustainable investing.

During the interview we discuss several ETFs. Here are links to the ones Tim mentions:

iShares Jantzi Social Index ETF (XEN) offers exposure to 50 large-cap Canadian companies weighted according to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria.

iShares MSCI KLD 400 Social ETF (DSI) is one option for large-cap US stocks. According to Tim: “Really what they’re trying to do is to replicate the S&P 500, but getting rid of the worst of the worst companies.” The fund drops the lowest-ranking 20% of stocks based on their ESG scores.

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Bond Basics 3: Should You Wait for Higher Yields?

In my last podcast, I set out to answer a series of common questions about bonds. Here’s one I’ve been hearing on and off since 2009: “With yields so low now, is it even worth it to invest in bonds? Wouldn’t I be better off waiting until interest rates go up?”

It’s true that interest rates are near historical lows: as of early May, 10-year Government of Canada bonds are yielding just over 1.5%, and a broad-based bond index fund like the ones I recommend in my model portfolios yield a little less than 2%. It’s hard to get excited about that, especially when equity returns have been so strong in recent years.

It’s also hard to tune out the financial media, which is still populated by gurus who warn interest rates have “nowhere to go but up.” Since rising rates will cause the value of bonds to fall, why not just stay out of bonds until yields are higher?

The first thing to discuss is this idea that interest rates are highly likely to go up in the near future. I don’t think we can take people seriously anymore if they continue to beat this drum.

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Bond Basics 2: Why Your ETF Isn’t Losing Money

In my latest podcast, I answer a series of frequently asked questions about bonds. The second of these came from a reader named Andrew: “I have been investing using your Couch Potato strategy for just over three years now,” he wrote. “However, does it still make sense to invest in bonds when they are continually losing money?”

As it happens, bond ETFs have not been “continually losing money” at all. Indeed, over the three years ending March 31, broad-based funds such as the BMO Aggregate Bond Index ETF (ZAG) and the Vanguard Canadian Aggregate Bond Index ETF (VAB) returned close to 4% annually, with positive returns in each calendar year. A $1,000 investment in either ETF would have grown to about $1,120 over that period. So why would an investor think he had lost money?

I don’t blame Andrew for being confused, as this one trips up a lot of investors. The problem lies in the way brokerages display the holdings in your account. Rather than calculating the total return on your investments—which would include both price changes and all interest payments and dividends—your list of holdings reflects only the change in market price.

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Podcast 7: Making Sense of Bonds

I’ve always felt that being a defenseman is the toughest job on a hockey team. Forwards score most of the goals, and goalies can steal the show with a few timely saves, but fans rarely notice a defenseman until he makes a mistake. Bonds get that same lack of respect from investors: everyone seems to forget the times they provided a safety net when stocks plummeted, but if they lose a few percentage points they get kicked to the curb.

Part of the problem is that bonds can be difficult to understand. So in my latest podcast, I devote the full episode to answering common questions about the asset class investors love to hate.

I previewed this episode in my last post about why bond prices fall when rates rise, and I’ll continue with a series of blog posts that expand on some of the other issues discussed in the podcast:

If you started investing in bond ETFs about three years ago, chances are good that your holding is showing a loss on your brokerage statement. So you might be surprised to learn that broad-based bond index funds returned close to 4% annually over the three years ending March 31.

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Podcast 6: Wishing Upon a Morningstar

Are truly active managers more likely to beat the market than those who stay closer to their benchmark index? In my latest podcast, I discuss this idea with Christopher Davis, a strategist and researcher at Morningstar Canada.

The idea of active share was introduced in a 2009 paper called How Active is Your Fund Manager? A New Measure That Predicts Performance, by Martijn Cremers and Antti Petajisto. For example, a large-cap US equity fund that holds only half the stocks in the S&P 500 would have an active share of 50%. An index fund, by definition, has an active share of zero.

The researchers presented evidence that the most active funds “significantly outperform their benchmarks, both before and after expenses, and they exhibit strong performance persistence.” A year later, Petajisto published a follow-up paper called Active Share and Mutual Fund Performance, which included more support for the idea that the most active stock pickers can be expected to add value.

Both papers take aim at so-called closet index funds, which charge the higher fees one expects for active management yet differ little from their benchmark.

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Podcast 5: Master Class with the Millionaire Teacher

My newest podcast features an interview with Andrew Hallam, author of Millionaire Teacher, a compelling introduction to building wealth through smart saving and disciplined investing.

Andrew grew up in Canada, but he’s a citizen of the world. He spent several years as a teacher at the Singapore American School and has lived and travelled all over the globe. As this podcast goes live, Andrew is touring the Middle East to speak to expatriate investors about how to avoid getting fleeced by the financial industry. And he’s not being paid for his appearances: “I’m not a saint,” he writes on his blog. “But when I’m teaching people about money, I’ll do almost anything so others can learn.”

Andrew has an interesting backstory, which I featured in my MoneySense Guide to the Perfect Portfolio. He was both comically frugal and a tremendously successful stock-picker for many years. This combination of talents allowed him to amass a tidy nest egg in his 40s. “So what did I do after a decade of stock-picking success?” he told me. “Apply for a job as a Wall Street analyst?

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Podcast 4: Charles Ellis and the Index Revolution

For the latest episode of the Canadian Couch Potato podcast, I was privileged to have the opportunity to interview Charles Ellis, who has been called “Wall Street’s wisest man.”

Mr. Ellis’s best-known work is Winning the Loser’s Game, a book that had a big impact on me when I was beginning my education on index investing. After spending decades as an analyst and consultant for pension and endowment funds, here was Ellis arguing that individuals—and even many institutional investors—would be better off simply using index funds. And while that seems like a familiar argument today, Ellis first made it some 42 years ago, in a hugely influential article called The Loser’s Game. That paper appeared in The Financial Analyst’s Journal in the summer of 1975, a few months before John Bogle launched the first index fund at Vanguard.

In our interview, Mr. Ellis and I discuss his latest book, The Index Revolution, which looks back over his long career and concludes that, alas, things haven’t changed very much. The financial industry still behaves as though the data in favour of indexing doesn’t exist—or at least doesn’t apply to them.

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