Archive | Podcast

Podcast 13: Here Come the Robots

In Episode 13 of the Canadian Couch Potato podcast, we turn our attention to one of the most significant trends in ETF investing: the rise of robo-advisors. As Rob Carrick recently wrote in the Globe and Mail, “It’s time to stop treating robo-advisers as a novelty and start considering them as a smart option for people seeking help in building an investment portfolio.”

I haven’t written much about robo-advisors since they arrived in Canada back in 2014, because it’s been hard to get much deep insight into these firms. On one hand, the media love painting them as a massive disrupter in the financial services industry, but it’s not clear how popular they’ve been with Canadian investors. Most firms are silent about the number of clients they have attracted and the amount of assets they manage.

To inject a little objectivity, I spoke to someone with expertise but no vested interest in the robo-advisor space. Pauline Shum-Nolan is a professor of Finance at the Schulich School of Business whose research has focused on ETFs. She is also president and co-founder of PW Portfolio Analytics,

Continue Reading 5

Podcast 12: Robert Shiller – CAPE Crusader

In the latest episode of the Canadian Couch Potato podcast, I speak with Robert J. Shiller, professor of economics and finance at Yale University, and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Economics.

Prof. Shiller was in Toronto recently for the launch of the BMO Shiller Select US Index ETF (ZEUS), a fund that selects US stocks using a methodology based on Shiller’s CAPE ratio. The acronym stands for cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings: unlike traditional P/E ratios, which usually use only the previous 12 months of earnings, CAPE uses the average of the previous 10 years. The idea is to smooth out any short-term aberrations and provide a more useful measure of a company’s value.

The CAPE ratio is widely followed, not just for individual companies, but for the US market as a whole. During the interview I mention that a 2012 study by Vanguard found the CAPE ratio was the one of the most useful tools for estimating long-term stock returns—although even then, it explained less than half of subsequent performance.

Prof. Shiller has also lent his name to the Case-Shiller Home Price Indexes,

Continue Reading 20

Podcast 11: Fighting Evil With Index Funds

The waiting is over: we’re back with another episode of the Canadian Couch Potato podcast:

Our featured interview this time around is with Mike Foy, senior director of the Wealth Management Practice at J.D. Power, the well-known research firm. Mike was the lead author on the Canadian Self-Directed Investor Satisfaction Study, released in September. The survey included some 2,500 clients of the major online brokerages in Canada.

The full J.D. Power survey is not available to the public. But if you’re interested in comparing online brokerages in Canada, MoneySense has been doing an annual survey since 2013, and I was closely involved in establishing the criteria and writing the articles during the first couple of years. The 2017 edition includes a handy comparison tool that lets you scan for the features that are most important to you.

If you want to dig more deeply, you can visit the website for Surviscor, the research firm that provides the raw data for the MoneySense rankings.

Rob Carrick and the Globe and Mail also do an annual review of online brokerages and robo-advisors.

Continue Reading 33

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.

Continue Reading 19

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.

Continue Reading 18

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.

Continue Reading 34

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.

Continue Reading 38

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.

Continue Reading 52

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.

Continue Reading 24