Current Portfolio-13 Year Track Record

 

Sacola                   182%

TSX                           76%

DJIA                          97%

S&P 500                   107%

Past trades total 29 wins and 3 losses with an average gain of 34%. The average holding period was 2.3 years.

Tuesday
Oct182016

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) figures 2016 will be the 5th straight year of global growth below 3.7%, the average for the past 20 years.  It was 8 years ago that interest rates began the slide to zero interest rates (ZIR).  During the Dirty Thirties interest rates rarely went under 3%.  We are today in the position where world growth will continually get weaker as ZIR does its destructive work. 

ZIR have created a bubble in the stock markets and in real estate.  Based on corporate profits, the New York stock market is the third most expensive since WWI.  The Dow Jones Industrial average is bouncing along at around 20 times earnings, while the S&P 500 index is above 24 times.  During the last century the norm for the Dow was 14.4 times earnings.   Since 2000, the average has climbed to roughly 16 times earnings.

The average Canadian household income is $88,000.  Interestingly, Vancouver, the city with the most expensive home prices, has an average family income of just under $80,000.  The average selling price of homes throughout Canada is $440,000.  To purchase this house it means the buyer must put down a payment of $132,000 to qualify for a CMHC mortgage.  Very few Canadians have this kind of savings.  We have to assume most buyers today are going outside of banks to get mortgage money and get away with low down payments.  This is what triggered the 2005-08 housing bust.The housing market is an accident waiting to happen.  Not just in Canada, but in Hong Kong, Sydney, many American cities, London, and so on.  Mathematically, house prices do not add based on wages and savings.  

After taxes of roughly $31,000 the average household income shrinks to $57,000.  The average mortgage payment leaves little for food, medical, a child’s sports, other debt obligations, and next to nothing for saving.   This means when interest rates go up or house prices fall many Canadians are heading to the poor house, and will retire with not enough savings.

Canadian housing is in trouble on another front.  The population is shrinking and will continue to do so for at least the next 2 decades.  This fact will probably show up during the coming decade when there will be a surplus of homes.  The only thing to stop this will be to open the border to millions of immigrants.

ZIR are making it impossible for savers to build up equity.  Soon, if it has not all ready begun, there will be few home buyers.  Instead, sellers will begin to dominate, which is the death spiral for housing.

This means there is going to be falling demand for stoves, tvs, cars, etc.  For the stock markets this means a slow retreat back to past norms.  The profits from investing will come from dividends.  The world economy is in what we call the ‘bounce along economy’.  Until savers are rewarded and can earn 4% on their savings, there is little hope for a return to a healthy economy.  

Wednesday
Sep142016

We believe most of our readers are at or near retirement, so the following will probably not affect you. But, for those aged 55 and under, it is something to consider and plan accordingly.  If you have a company pension it could pay less than anticipated, so building a portfolio for retirement grows more important daily.
Pension managers must put large amounts into money market investments because each month they need large sums to pay out. Today, through no fault of the pension funds, zero interest rates are beginning to eat into the funds returns.  Roughly 50% ($16t) of all pension funds in the world have money invested in zero interest rates money market funds, with some $2t of this earning a negative return. The other $14t is probably earning between 2 to 5% in long term government and corporate bonds. Unfortunately, this low yield mix is not enough to maintain today’s pensions.
Most funds need other sources of income.  As a result, they are playing the stock market which are trading at, or close to, their all-time highs, based on corporate earnings. Many funds have invested in infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, and in private companies. These are proving to be profitable but are very illiquid and require time and extensive planning to unload.
The future looks poor for pensions. It will take at least another two years before cash pays 7%, a rate of return needed to keep pension funds above water.  We are assuming rates will begin to rise early in 2017.  If they do, it will be 8 years of zero interest rates which has resulted in a steady decline in pension cash reserves. The longer today’s low rates remain, the worse the pension problem will become. It is not only in Canada but includes the U.S., most of Europe, the Far East and Japan.  The August 13th issue of The Economist stated “85% of the nearly 6,000 British pension funds covered by the Pension Protection Fund are in deficit at $530b at the end of July”.  
Today in Canada, 1 year T-Bills yield .52 of 1%, while the 10 year government bonds yield 1%. In the U.S., a 1 year Treasury pays .55 of 1% while the 10 year yields 1.49%. These terrible yields are barely enough to  pay pension management fees.
 
We estimate that next year many pension funds will start to cut monthly pay-outs to individuals. Once one firm begins the cuts many others will quickly follow.  Will governments make up the difference? We doubt it. All governments are more broke than the pension funds they will need to save.
Monday
Aug152016

During the Dirty Thirties unemployment exceeded 20%.  Yet, interest rates were between two and three per cent.  Today, unemployment throughout North America is between five and six per cent but we have zero interest rates.  At least back then you would be rewarded on your savings.  Today, after-tax and inflation, one earns not a cent and in most cases lose money.   Without savers being rewarded there cannot be any sustained long term economic growth.  Those with savings tend to spend more freely when their money is generating a return.  Businesses understand this and are making smaller investments as a result.  Savers are also being squeezed by higher energy, housing and food costs.  People are being forced to borrow or cut spending just to survive.   This is not good for the world economy.

Too many Canadians are house rich and cash poor.  This is about to change because house prices are set to fall, if they are not already.  Mathematically, it is impossible for house prices to hold up.  Fewer people have the necessary savings for a proper down payment and the pool of buyers is drying up as ownership rates continue to break records.  Wage growth is almost non-existent.  The California Department of Finance states personal income in the state is the same as what it was in 1995.   Considering California is one of the most prosperous states, how are other states doing? 

A Vancouver real estate agent on the radio stated that prices in downtown were off 3% while prices in the suburbs when down 7% over the past couple of months.  Hong Kong and Singapore have in place a foreign buyer’s tax like Vancouver has implemented.  Prices in Hong Kong and Singapore have dropped 7% and 11% in the past year, respectively.

There are surpluses of foods, iron ore, copper, all types of energy, soya beans, and many more commodities yet prices are holding up. Three weeks ago every New York city gasoline storage tank was full.  Two tankers full of gasoline were sitting out in the ocean as they had no where to unload.  New Jersey was selling gas at the pump at the lowest in a couple of decades.

Here in Canada, Ottawa and Alberta are doing everything they can to close down the energy sector.  A recent paper by Ottawa stated that Canada does not need any more pipelines until after 2025.  This just provides proof that politicians are out to lunch because every oil executive in Alberta says we need pipelines built today.  All existing pipelines are running at above 95% capacity.  Guess who will win this battle?  Ottawa's answer is to add useless carbon taxes.  Australia provides ample evidence that it costs jobs and generates very little revenue for governments.  Not one of our trading partners is implementing carbon taxes.  As a result, Ottawa is making us uncompetitive. 

All this says deflation is coming.  The biggest threat is in housing.  Oil prices are heading back into the low thirties.  Unemployment will be going up this fall due to zero interest rates destroying savers and we are over producing most goods.  The stock markets are trading near record highs based on price-to-earnings. Enjoy the rest of the summer and continue to favour cash.   

Friday
Jul152016

Brexit

From the reaction of people over Brexit one would think that the world is coming to an end.  After a short period, maybe 2 to 5 years after the withdrawal, Britain will easily be outperforming most European countries.  The following is why we believe Brexit is nothing but a small bump in the road for Britain. 

  • The British pound is the world’s oldest currencies and still one of the safest. In over 400 years the pound never was devalued.  It has always traded based on market forces.  Against popular opinion, we believe the pound is safer than the U.S. dollar.  The dollar will one day collapse due to the country’s out-of-control debt and its dysfunctional government.  In the past, not one currency has survived such politics and reckless spending.
  • People from all over the world will continue to buy London real-estate and move some of their wealth to London.   It is one of the safest cities in the world.
  • Some sort of agreement between Britain and the EU will be formed, something similar to what Norway and Switzerland have today.  Once Parliament presents the formal notice to withdraw, Britain has 2 years to fulfill its obligations.  Many agreements will be formed regarding trade, banking, immigration and travel. 
  • You never avoid a rich country with over 80m people.  There could be a slow period until formal papers are signed, but Britain will remain a top trading partner.  Only morons would stop trading with Britain.   
  • For Canada, Britain is a gift to sell our natural resources, especially natural gas.  Unfortunately, for the next four years, Ottawa and Alberta will do nothing to grab this market.  American will quickly grab it from us until PM Heart Throb is replaced.  
  • Banks will not leave Britain.  The market is just too big, earns lots of money, English speaking, and foreigners prefer London to other European cities.  
  • Business around the world will continue to slow as long as zero interest rates can dig the economy into a hole.  Much of this slow-down will be blamed on Brexit even though there will be no correlation. 
  • London will remain one of the largest tourist destinations in the world and the birthplace of Rock.   

A few negatives might be: 

  • Europeans will now make a mad dash into Britain before the 2 years are up.  This could create further political issues for both Britain and the EU.  The country has prospered because of immigrants from all corners of the globe.  Once these 2 years are over, Britain’s population growth may fall. 
  • There will be so much time wasted on setting up new trade deals, international treaties, and most likely a new bureaucracy to arrange these deals.   
  • Due to the vote, chances are there will be no interest rate increase until late 2017.  
  • Bureaucracy in Brussels will not change - politicians are politicians.  The cost of the EU membership will increase to make up for the lost revenue from Britain departing.   
  • Brexit might encourage other countries to leave.

Overall, Brexit is nothing to worry about.  It’s like an amicable break-up, even though one is sad to lose the other, the two will always be friends. 

 

Wednesday
Jun152016

A friend of mine sold his 1970’s, 3 bedroom North Vancouver teardown for $1.25m.  He bought it eight years ago for $650,000.  It is located on a busy street, but has a slight city view in the winter when there are no leaves on the trees.  Property taxes cost him $5,000 per year plus an additional $3,000 annually towards insurance and repairs.  The house was generating $35,000 annually in rental income.

After subtracting property taxes and repairs, his cash-flow generated $28,000 annually (I assumed he had no mortgage), or a yield of 1.8% - hardly something to brag about.

The house had also built up $75,000 per year in additional equity.  So upon selling he realized a capital gain of $600,000, or 92%.  This is an excellent capital gain no matter what the asset.  Combining income earned and capital gains he profited $824,000 (123%) in eight years, assuming there were no extra costs. 

Prior to selling he asked my opinion if he should sell and invest the money elsewhere, or keep it and continue to rake in the capital gains.  Obviously, I told him to sell.  Look at the graph above.  There is so much similarity to other bubbles in the past.  It is amusing that people think this can continue.  But, one cannot underestimate the effect that emotion has on commonsense.  

One rule of buying a home is to never take out a mortgage greater than three-times your household income.  The sole reason is to limit you from interest rate shock.  

Monthly Payments on a 25-year, $240,000 Mortgage

 
 

Interest Rate %

2.1

5

6

7

 

Payment $

1,028

1,396

1,536

1,681

 

As most surveys over the past few months have found, the majority of borrowers will be able to handle a normalization of interest rates.  However, it is the estimated 23% of Vancouverites who cannot afford an increase in interest rates, or any expense for that matter, that is the concern.  Where do the 23% expect to get the extra $4500 per year to cover higher interest rates (assuming a return to 5% mortgage rates)?  The answer is simple; they won’t be able to.  People will either be forced into foreclosure or it will come at the cost of other expenses such as vehicles, travel, and dining out.  Either scenario will have a large impact on the local economy.

Let’s put Vancouver house prices into to the context of the stock market.  Using my friend’s house as an example, the rent he was able to earn would give the house a price-to-earnings ratio of 35-times and a dividend yield of 1.8%.  The general rule of thumb in the stock market is to never pay more than 20-times earnings and invest for a yield of no less than 3%.  Anything outside of this, one is creating opportunity costs.

Don’t get me wrong, Vancouver is a beautiful city and its real-estate demands a premium, just not the one people are currently paying.  This summer will prove to be the peak in Vancouver’s real-estate market.  There is not one city in the world that has been correction free after a run-up in prices like Vancouver experienced.  If you or someone you know wants to enter the market, it is prudent to wait on the sidelines.  If you are one of the many Vancouverites who are nearing retirement and banking on your home to fund your golden days, the next few months will be the last time to take advantage of today’s prices.  This is the time to reap your profits rather than speculate.

Other than herd mentality, there is not one reason to justify today’s prices.  All lower mainland real-estate is going to correct.  It will then recover to levels that the average income can justify under normal frenzy-free conditions.  There is no doubt in my mind Vancouver will see today’s prices again, but not for a generation.