Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bought a few more shares of REM

Today I bought another 100 units of iShares REM: iShares Mortgage Real Estate Capped fund. I've owned a little REM for some time now. I watched as it climbed slowly to more than $15 U.S., I believe. Today it had pulled back to $11.60 U.S. and I picked up a few more units. The threat of higher interest rates has investors in REM on the run.

I checked the ten biggest holdings in the ETF and when they all passed the sniff test I ordered a 100 units. Still, I am quite leery of the companies that make up the REM ETF: mREITS. Without getting too deeply into the complexities of this business model, mREITS, I believe generate income by buying mortgage backed securities with borrowed money at short term rates and then making loans at long term rates. The difference or rate spread is profit.

REM is one of those investments that is like a potent spice. A little REM gives a nice kick to one's dividend income. The important word here is 'little.' Keep REM as a small portion of a total portfolio and should it take a big tumble the loss is minimized by the lightness of the exposure.

Personally, I call REM high risk.
The outrageously high dividend and a business model filled with question marks, makes REM a high risk investment in my mind. Still, I like owning a little REM. A yield of 15.8 percent exerts a strong pull.

I'll return to REM and its position in my portfolio at a later date. If you'd like to know more about mREITS read the following from Zacks and for even more info click the link.

mREITs in Focus

"Unlike equity REITs, mortgage REITs do not hold properties, but invest mainly in mortgage backed securities (MBS) instead. These use short-term debt for financing their purchases and are usually highly leveraged.

"Securities in this segment are among the highest yielders in the equity world thanks to their combination of leverage and real estate holdings. But since these are REITs, a pay out of at least 90% of earnings to holders is mandatory in order to obtain a favorable tax treatment. With this focus, many mREITs pay out double-digit yields, handily crushing broad Treasury bond markets and other dividend payers.

"Thanks to this structure, mREIT offer up a very compelling risk reward play. That is because these REITs borrow capital at ultra low short-term rates, and then invest in potentially higher yielding real estate portfolios. Basically, securities in this segment often use leverage to make money off of the spread differential in rates while still paying out high yields to investors on a regular basis."

Monday, August 19, 2013

Tough problem, easy answer, mixed outcome

I haven't blogged about money for some time. I suffered an ICD storm — my implantable cardioverter-defibrillator delivered four full-power jolts in eight hours, stopping a number of life-threatening arrhythmia events. The experience left me shaken but alive and in the hospital emergency ward. Since then I've been busy seeing doctors about my health, lawyers about my will and bankers and financial advisers about what happens to my portfolio in the event of my death.

The portfolio I have been managing during retirement is divided evenly between my wife and me. Retiring at the very bottom of the global financial meltdown, I've done quite nicely. Even though I remove $30,000 or so every year to live, the portfolio has grown by more than half in just four years and some months. Some years I have made more in retirement than I ever made while working.

Am I a financial wizard? No, of course not. I'm simply enjoying a damn fine streak of luck. Anyone bragging about their great investment results over the past four years is either a blowhard or a financial adviser.

Let's look at just one of my investments: ScotiaBank. As an investment it is a no-brainer. I put a big chunk of money into BNS at the time of my retirement. The shares were trading for less than $30. Today my shares have more than doubled in value.

Brilliant? No. If I were brilliant, I'd still hold my Inter Pipeline shares. When IPL.UN doubled in value, I sold. Bad move. Today those shares are selling for triple what they did when I retired. (In my defence, both the Cathedral Energy shares and the Sun Life Financial shares I bought have done very nicely and both are paying a fine dividend.)

I have been investing in the market since I was a boy and the one thing I've learned is that when times are good the market is good. A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say. When times are poor, the market can be tough for the timid. A falling tide strands many boats, leaving them high and dry. The trick to making money is not just having success during the years of feast, the trick is not losing one's shirt during the years of famine. It takes a long time to make up the lost financial ground.

Which brings us to the focus of today's post and to the advice I have for my wife (and for a friend, BM, puzzling over how to run his retirement portfolio.)

First, have an investment philosophy. Mine is: Invest in dividend paying stocks. Stock prices go up and stock prices come down. Dividends boost the climb higher and cushion the inevitable fall.

Next, invest in a balanced portfolio. A mixture of stocks and bonds is important. I found this hard to believe but I've seen study after study showing this is essentially always the case when a long enough investment period is considered — we're talking more than a decade.

My third rule is keep costs down. This generally rules out a lot of mutual funds.

There's more to successful investing than the above but in the past simply following the above guidelines would have resulted in one fine retirement portfolio. If you need proof, click on the image posted below.

The TD Monthly Income fund (TDB622) is a balanced fund presently holding about 58 percent equities, 36 percent bonds and 6 percent cash. The mix changes over time but it is always an equity/bond mix with the accent on equities.

As a monthly income fund, TDB622 is by necessity heavy on dividend paying equities. Despite being a mutual fund, it has a reasonable MER: 1.48 percent the last time I checked.

If a retiree had parked $500,000 of RSP savings in TDB622 in January 2000 and removed 4 percent at the end of every year, 4 percent being the traditional rule-of-thumb safe withdrawal rate, today that retiree would have removed $260,000. Yet the investment in TDB622 would now be worth $1,058,269.94. Wow!

If that that retiree had not demanded dividends but had been content with simply buying a balanced fund, like the TD Balanced Index, they would have less than half as much — and this despite the much lower MER of an index fund.

Do a little research yourself, here is a link to the TD Asset Management fund calculator. Pick the TD Monthly Income-I fund from the Balanced funds, click on Prices and Performance and then click on Advanced Graph Growth. This brings up the calculator. I believe all fields are open to modification.

Now for some caveats:

Dividends can be too good, too high. Outrageously high dividends are a red warning flag. This caveat applies to stocks, funds and ETFs. Read: When fund yields are too good to be true. My two personal picks in the monthly income fund arena are the TD offering and the one from the Royal Bank. Unfortunately, the RY monthly income fund is closed to RSP investors. There are some ETFs that compete but they do not have the long histories of the mutual funds.

Another caveat is buying a bond fund or a bond ETF is not the same as buying actual bonds. Google this problem and learn the difference. And read the article Is Your Bond Fund Really Losing Money posted on the Canadian Couch Potato. This article may keep you from panicking when bond funds and ETFs are losing value.

I've always liked the Canadian Couch Potato philosophy but I've never actually followed it. I've tried but I always get side-tracked. Now, with my health problems, it is time to simplify my holdings. It may not pay as well but it will definitely be easier for my wife to manage. When I have my new portfolio ready for launch, I'll post my findings.

Till then, cheers!

p.s. If you like crunching numbers, try and find a Canadian Couch Potato portfolio that would have beaten the TD Monthly Income Fund over the past decade. My guess is the TDB622 fund will do very nicely despite its higher MER.

To compare historic market returns of funds other than TD offerings, go to The Globe and Mail, Globe Investor: Funds page.