Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Park the stuff and get on with life

As a retired couple, my wife and I need income to live. My pension, CPP and OAS taken together are not going to keep us in our home. I took a cut of about 25% in both my pension and my CPP when I accepted an early retirement offer from my employer, Quebecor. My wife was forced to begin drawing her CPP early in order to balance our books. This meant she took a slightly larger cut in payments than I did. She is younger than I am.

Yet, my wife and I are still in our home some six years into my retirement. We have bought a new car, a VW Jetta TDI. We have taken one big vacation: six weeks in my vintage Morgan (since sold) to California. Life is good. How is this possible? Dividend paying stocks.

Take our investment in REITs. I buy them and hold them and live on the monthly dividends. Whether the value of these holdings goes up or down is not of big concern to me. I would not like to see a cut in the dividends, that I would notice faster than a fall in unit value, but even the unit value can fall without causing me to lose sleep.

I bought most of our REITs holdings when I retired. Some are up and one (D.UN) is down. Overall the REITs section of our portfolio is by a few thousands. I see that as a cushion guarding my sleep. But, there is another cushion and that is the monthly income. We realize an income of about $450 a month from our REITs. This amount is enough to make up the shortfall in our income for a full three months.

REITs have been under great pressure lately. They have dropped in value and this has negatively affected the value of our overall portfolio. Am I worried? No. In fact, I may buy a few more if the price is right. When the market falls, I see a buying opportunity. I figure sooner or later there will be a correction of some size and I hope to have some cash on hand to take advantage of the sale prices.

In the meantime, while I wait, I will enjoy the monthly income, enjoy my grandchildren, enjoy my wife, enjoy my home.

Oh, by the way, the Bank of Montreal utilities ETF, ZUT, dropped below $15. This is another nice income payer for those in retirement. I have a little ZUT. If it drops below $14.00, I'll may double my holdings. (I won't put too much in ZUT as I am not all that fond of some of the stuff held by this ETF. I love Emera and Fortis but have reservations about Just Energy.)

I'm watching XUT as the prices drop. If the prices drops low enough that the dividend yield climbs above 4% I may well buy some XUT. It has a lot of exposure to the big, safe names in the utilities category. In fact, one could just buy the top five utilities and create your own pseudo ETF. But XUT offers a lazy person a nice mix with safey in the diversity. I'm old and lazy. I'll keep watching XUT for a entry point. (I'm also going to examine some of the other utilities offerings as it does seem that the time to buy may be coming.)

And lastly, I caught a chap talking about both REITs and utilities on BNN. He said his investment company had done an indepth review of how REITs and utilities react in a rising interest rate environment. REITs, as long as they aren't mortgage REITs, fare just fine, he said. He isn't selling off his clients REITs. But, utilities are another matter. These investments suffer. He is lightening up on utilities.

I can agree somewhat with what he is saying and go so far as to add some utilities exposure when the time is right.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A new monthly income fund to consider

I have a soft spot in my heart for monthly income funds. The MERs are not screamingly high but they are still uncomfortable. Some of these MERs are in the 1.5% range. What makes these funds attractive is that whenever the market dives, as it does now and then, these funds hold more of their value than other not-so-well-balanced funds. One can plan on sleeping at night if one keeps money in these investments.

One of my favourite monthly income funds, the TD Monthly Income, charges a MER of 1.47% and has yield of 1.46%. Although Morning Star rates it a four star fund, it has careened from the 4th percentile to the 1st in the past six months. On one hand it appears to be regaining its footing; on the other hand Year To Date (YTD) it is only up .61%. This is on the low side and not what I have come to expect from the fund.

I've been looking at Purpose Monthly Income Fund (PIN) as a better place to park my retirement money while minimizing volatility. The MER for PIN is .95%. High for an ETF but still better than my personal benchmark, the TD Monthly Income fund. The dividend yield today is 4.81% which is more than I need in order to live in retirement and is much better than the TD offering. And PIN is up 1.6% YTD. Another bonus.

Now, I am surprised at how little PIN has grown this year considering the mix. And I am surprised at how closely both PIN and TDB622 track when graphed. PIN is on top more than the TD fund but not by so much as to have any bragging rites.

So what is the PIN mix? Well, it is split between cash, bonds and equities with the biggest chunk of equity investment in the States, followed by Canada and then Asia and Europe. I'd have thought that PIN would have fared much better than the TD fund considering that the TD fund has essentially no money invested outside Canada.

The biggest downside to PIN is its size. The ETF has only about 12.9 million in total net assets. I believe PIN must grow if it is to survive. TDB622, on the other hand, has 6.8 billion in total net assets.

I'd like to see PIN show some signs of growth, of attracting investor interest, before adding it to my portfolio mix.

The difference is in the cash yield

I have a little money growing in a tax free savings account. At age 71 at one is forced to begin liquidating one's RSPs on a schedule dictated by the government. It is good to move as much of that RSP money into a TFSA as possible. I've started.

In the graph above my TFSA is the blue line. As you can see, since opening the account, I have, for the most part, stayed above the S&P/TSX Composite and the S&P/TSX 60 Index. The big difference, I see it as an advantage, is that I have realized more of my growth in cash than those benchmark indexes. Why? Because all the investments are dividend paying stocks. One equity, before the dividend was cut, had a better than 11% yield.

With my investment up more than 20%, I'm thinking I might be bold and put the growing cash into PIN. PIN is the Purpose Monthly Income Fund. It is a nicely balanced ETF with both Canadian and U.S. equities plus a nice assortment of bonds. It yields almost 5% in cash annually.

With interest rates remaining so very low, it can be difficult for a retiree to find adequate cash income without taking on more risk than one would like. So far, I've been lucky. I've taken on the risk and I've been very nicely rewarded. After more six years in retirement, it would take a heck of a downturn to drop my portfolio into the red compared to where I entered the market.

p.s. Two of the big movers in my TFSA are Norbord and Royal Bank. As the U.S. economy continues to improve, the housing starts in the States should keep growing and this should pull my Norbord stock to new heights.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Money diminishing for life

The television ad promised "money for life." It showed a very happy and a very relaxed retiree enjoying the benefits of having money for life. It sounded too good to be true but I contacted Sun Life Financial anyway. I thought this was probably just a fancy ad for the Sun Life annuity products. and it was -- sorta.

I learned that if I gave Sun Life Financial $100,000, they would provide my wife and me with a monthly income of $435.12 for a guarantee period of 15 years. If either one of us lived longer, we'd continue to benefit. If we died before the 15 years had passed, the remaining money would be paid to our estate. I believe this is an income for life annuity with a guaranteed period certain benefit.

$435.12 per month is $5221.44 a year. This is only 5.221 percent per year on our 100 grand and no inflation protection. Is this good? Maybe -- but I strongly suspect it isn't. It all depends upon how long my wife and I live. I have a bad heart. Everyone will be surprised if I am still here in 15 years. But my wife's grandmother lived into her 90s and my wife shows every sign of doing the same.

Let's consider the effect of inflation on this "money for life." If the next 15 years are like the past 15, then inflation will average 1.91 percent. Historically, this is a rather low rate of inflation. We have gotten off easy these past few years. Still, in just 15 years, my "money for life" would be greatly diminished in value, delivering something in the neighbourhood of 30 percent less buying power.

If my wife lives to 90, another two decades plus, her "money for life" annuity would be slashed in buying power by something approaching almost 50 percent. At age 95 my wife would still be getting a monthly cheque for only $435.12. Does this sound like a good deal? It sure does, for Sun Life.

But I shouldn't be too quick to knock annuities. There is something to be said for having some guaranteed income, even if it is shrinking in buying power every year. My pension is shrinking. It is not completely protected from the ravishes of inflation. But that pension is a wonderful thing to have despite its shortcomings.

Interestingly, I own stock in Sun Life Financial. My investment is up 84% in just a few years. In other words, if I had put $100,000 in Sun Life Financial back when I made my original investment, today I'd have $184,000 in stock. And even better, Sun Life pays a very nice dividend. My initial $100,000 would have purchased 4727 shares and today I'd be enjoying an annual dividend of $6806.88.

This not to say one should never buy an annuity. Annuities have their place in your financial plans but they are not the only investment vehicle to consider. Even the Sun Life representative said as much. He'd put some of our portfolio into an annuity -- he suggested we should have a guaranteed income greater than our expected expenses -- and he suggested putting the remainder of our portfolio into other investments, equities and bonds, while keeping an eye on the tax treatment.

My visit with the Sun Life fellow was educational but it didn't convince me to rush into "Money for Life." Interest rates are down and may drop more. I'll take my chances and hope that by the time my wife and I hit the must-convert-age that interest rates will have recovered somewhat. Higher interest rates translate into higher monthly annuities payments.

When I hit the must convert to a RIF or annuity wall, I hope to know more about investing and the tax treatment of investments. Right now, I believe my wife and I will be ready to add an annuity into our financial plan at that time.

And, I'm keeping the Sun Life rep's card. I liked him.


This add is in response to the second comment following this post. I agree with the writer that we all have fixed expenses and variable expenses. I track both categories using an Excel spreadsheet. To keep my expense records accurate, I charge everything using  a card that rewards me with a full one percent rebate based on the total amount charged.

I charge all food, telephone, clothing, all car expenses except for insurance and much much more. I easily charge more than $20,000 annually and collect more than $200 in rebates. (We charged a new furnace and a new central air unit a few months ago. The rebate helped ease the pain of that unexpected purchase.) By charging almost everything, I have a monthly record supplied by the credit card company that tracks in detail most of our expenses.

Now, let me make this quite clear. I do NOT enjoy a 6.8% yield on my Sun Life stock. What I was attempting to do was compare apples and apples. When I retired, I got some quotes from banks and insurance companies concerning annuities. I was not impressed.  I was told a hundred thousand dollars would deliver maybe $5,500 per year and that payment would remain stuck at $5,500 until both my wife and I died.

Instead, I put my wife and my money in the market. Today our investments have grown by 60% and that is after we have removed tens of thousands of dollars from our portfolio in order to live in retirement. One stock I purchased for us was Sun Life. Here is a screen grab of our investment.

Click on the above in order to enlarge and read.

I paid only $21.50 for a stock that paid a dividend of 36-cents this past December. A hundred thousand dollar investment made in Sun Life itself sometime after my retirement would be delivering about $1675 every three months. This is about $558 per month or $6700 annually. The icing on the cake is the capital gain. The stock has gained almost 85% since purchase. Click on the above screen grab to enlarge and read.

And it is not the only winner in my portfolio. The past few years have been an amazing time to be in the market. When my wife and I get a little closer to the 71 years of age milestone, we will again consider annuities. Maybe, just maybe, the government will have, by then, changed the withdrawal rules and we may then just allow our portfolio to continue chugging away until we both have died. Our estate can take care of the expense of liquidating our registered retirement savings.

Click on the above in order to enlarge and read.

As for high dividend paying stocks, there are a few out there that I like for long term holds. For instance, Dream Office Real Estate Office Trust (D.UN). It has been knocked down a little by recent news, the head of the REIT moved on, the holdings in the West are being questioned as the price of oil plummets. With the price not, in my estimation, accurately reflecting its value, the dividend payment calculates out at an inflated value: 8.53% today.

Both my wife and I own units of D.UN. Her tax free savings account has grown by a full 25% since she opened the plan. Today that account delivers more than $1400 annually. It would take a massive correction to put her plan at risk of falling into the red and the cushion is growing.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Investing: not gambling but still taking chances

I liked what I knew about Norbord. In my opinion, it made a good product and it had a commanding position in the industry. The product? Oriented strand board (OSB). One can think of OSB as a cross between plywood and the cheaper, both in price and quality, chipboard. There is a lot of OSB used in building construction, especially home building. As home building in the U.S. rebounds, Norbord should benefit. I bought some stock.

Norbord briefly popped and then started on a long, bumpy road downward. I should have bought more when it dipped below $22 but fearing the falling knife, I have some deep financial wounds from doing this in the past, kept me on the sidelines.

Today, Norbord is back in the black in my books. My tax free savings account, started after I retired, is now up almost 25%. Is this like winning a small lottery? No. This gain is simply the result of making a good call. A good investment call.

Take care, invest carefully, and, over time, you will win more than you lose. There is no way to guarantee a win with a lottery ticket. In fact, buying lottery tickets for all but the very lucky is a guaranteed way to lose money.

Learn about asset allocation, set some investment goals, find some stock analysts you trust . . .  And stick to your decisions unless something happens to prove you were wrong. Don't flit here and there, buffeted by changing financial winds.

I am going to go on record as saying I will hold Norbord until I have at least made a profit of about ten percent on my original investment. That was my original goal and I see no reason to change it. Because I am retired and I need to be moving into safer investments, I will put my investment plus the profits into something less risky, something less volatile. If I were younger I'd be bolder. But, I'm not. I'm old.

For instance, I will be making fewer forays into resource stocks like Labrador Iron Mines in the future. My winners have easily covered my losses in LIM. I didn't jump into LIM with both feet. Still, it was not a great move for a retired chap. But, my asset allocation encompasses making wild-flings-for-fun and I did not put more into LIM than I had budgeted as a manageable loss.

Will the path upward be smooth for Norbord in 2015? I don't know. I would be surprised if it was. Still, I have confidence Norbord will deliver a tidy profit in the end.

Other stocks and ETFs that have helped buoy my portfolio:

Bank of Nova Scotia: up 122%
Crescent Point Energy: up 34%
iShares XIC: up 36%
iShares MSCI Singapore: up 60%
iShares XMD: up 47%
Royal Bank: up 55%
Sun Life Financial: up 85%

Only four of my investments are in the red.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Living in Retirement

The market waxes and wanes but my expenses just keep on growing. Putting my retirement money in the market, I was told, was a bad idea. I did it anyway. Even with the recent pullback, my wealth has grown by more than 50 percent since leaving The London Free Press. And that is after removing some funds annually to balance my books.

Today I checked the present yield my wife's Dream Office REIT is delivering. She is enjoying an almost 7.5 percent yield when calculated on her original investment. And the best part is that her total investment has grown in value and is still hundreds of dollars to the plus side. The stock is actually down from where she bought in but the constant flow of monthly dividends has given her investment the needed buoyancy.

We don't need to cash the dividends and so they simply 'puddle.' Each month the cash in her account grows. Each month the percentage of cash in the account tends to increase. The account gets less and less risky over time -- if you equate volatility risk. Today her tax free savings plan is about 14 percent cash. 84 percent equity and 14 percent cash is not a great ratio if safety is one's goal but it is still a pleasant holding of cash. The interest on her cash isn't much but it helps protect the cash from the ravages of inflation.

We won't buy more D.UN. No point having too much exposure to one stock. But we will buy another solid, dividend-paying investment and let it sit with dividends 'puddling.' When we get into our mid 70s and need a good source of steady income, I'm hoping our two TFSAs will be there to help fill the need.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Some investments holding up well

When my wife opened a tax free savings account she had very little money to shove into the plan. Because of the limited funds, she simply stuck all the money in some shares of  Dream Office REIT (D.UN).

Recently the stock started moving lower. Thanks to over a year of accumulated monthly dividends it took awhile for her account to descend into the red, but eventually it did. But today it is back in the black thanks to those same dividends that earlier provided some buoyancy. She is now almost six percent to the good. With interest rates at historic lows, this is not a bad yield. In seven days she will realize another dividend payment and the cushion sheltering her from a loss will grow yet again.

Like my wife, I have little money available to invest in a tax free savings account. But I divided my money between two companies: the Royal Bank and Norbord. My RBC share not only pay a nice dividend but have grown in value. Even with the recent downturn in financials, I am up about 74 percent on my investment. My Norbord is down if all one considers is the stock price but it is up almost 3.5 percent after the dividends are considered. Thanks to good luck and those nice dividends, my tax free savings account is up some 24.7% in very few years.

With the market battling to gain a little ground, with volatility the name of the present game, it is easy to lose faith in the market. At times like this, I like to stand back and look at the big picture. Where are my investments today compared to the day I retired? My investments are up. Way up. After removing tens of thousands to live in retirement, my retirement portfolio is up more than 55 percent.

Have I always made the wisest investment choices? No, but just how bad is something one can argue about over a beer. The dividends have been a godsend in retirement. At the end of the month I'll see how I am doing this year compared to two alternative investing approaches, both easily done: the TD Monthly Income fund and the Complete Couch Potato.

A reader recently made me aware of another TD fund that has performed very well over the years. I'm watching it and may blog on that fund at some later date. I may even buy a little for myself.