Into Thin Air

Garth Turner really does not like Bitcoin. Or any other cryptocurrency for that matter:

Bitcoin is done. Kaput. So is Ethereum, Tether, Ripple and all the other kiddie cryptos which people have been mining in their bedrooms and selling on unregulated, undisciplined, unsecure, immature and unstable exchanges.

You can read his post here.

I was giving a technology presentation last December. During sound check, the sound person asked me if I was going to say anything about Bitcoin. I told him that I was going to talk a little bit about Blockchain, the technology underneath Bitcoin, but nothing specifically on cryptocurrencies.

“Why do you ask?” I said.

Turns out that he had purchased Bitcoin simply because everyone else was making out like bandits and he wanted in. Unfortunately, as you can see from the chart above, he bought in near the top of the mountain, that initial drop from peak which tempts everyone to dive back into the pool and snap up the coins quickly, while they are still on sale.

Except that Bitcoin wasn’t on sale.

Whether cryptocurrencies will bounce back or not is hard to say. Any type of bubble, whether it is the current nonsense with real estate in Canada, marijuana stocks or Bitcoin, will make a small group of people very, very wealthy. For most, bubbles end badly. With Bitcoin, many people bought with debt, usually credit card debt.

Someone bought Bitcoin at $19,870 USD on a credit card.

They cannot be having a good day today.

Here are some predictions about the future value of Bitcoin. A couple of these predictions claim $1 million or more for Bitcoin.

A gold rush.

At least until the bubble bursts.

Am I Saving Enough To Retire?

That is the question CIBC asked in a poll of 1,523 randomly selected Canadian adults who were Angus Reid Forum panelists. The results were statistically weighted by education, age, gender and region Census data to ensure a sample representative of the entire adult population of Canada.

But basically, no. The vast majority of Canadians are not saving enough.

On February 8, CIBC released the results of a poll that found the vast majority of Canadians do not have a retirement plan. 19 per cent of those polled have less than $50,000 saved. 30 per cent of those polled had no savings at all. Zip. Nada. Zero.

Those nearing retirement do not seem to be doing that much better. 32 per cent of those nearing retirement had nothing saved. Of those that have something saved for retirement, 49 per cent have saved less than $250,000. The average is $345,000.

Canadians seem to think that $750,000 or so is the target amount that would need to be achieved prior to retirement.

Only 2% have saved that amount. And only 3% have saved more than $750,000.

Although every situation is unique, a household with $750,000 would typically expect to withdraw $30,000 in the first year with subsequent annual withdrawals adjusted for inflation. Maybe. That is part of what makes the retirement puzzle challenging. Lots of factors to take into account when drawing down retirement savings.

With typical CPP and OAS of about $30,000, a household with $750,000 in retirement savings would be living off roughly $60,000 of retirement income per year. Median household income in Canada was $70,336 in 2015.

However, if the average retirement savings is closer to $450,000 at retirement, that same household would only be able to safely withdraw $18,000 per year and, with CPP and OAS for the household, retirement income would be about $48,000.

When Sun Life did a retirement survey earlier this year, it found that seniors were doing fine on roughly 62 per cent of pre-retirement household income. Given $70,000 of household income, a retirement income target of $43,400 is within reach of a typical Canadian household if, and only if, there are retirement savings. And no debt.

90 per cent without any kind of detailed retirement plan? 32 per cent between 45 and 64 with no retirement savings at all?

Given the latest numbers on Canadian household debt, there will be a reckoning ahead.


Future U.S. Equity Returns

Philosophical Economics has this to say about the best-case upper limit for U.S. equity returns in the future:

In what follows, I’m going to explain why I believe long-term future U.S. equity returns are almost guaranteed to fall substantially short of the 7.5% pension fund target. Unlike other naysayers, however, I’m going to be careful not to overstate my case. I’m going to acknowledge the uncertainty inherent in equity return forecasting, and manage that uncertainty by being maximally conservative in my premises, granting every optimistic assumption that a bullish investor could reasonably request. Even if every such assumption is granted, an expected 7.5% return will still be out of reach.

25% of my investment portfolio is in U.S. Equities. And they have done really well for me. Since 2008, the S&P 500 benchmark has delivered a 13.04% rate of return. My overall portfolio for the same duration? 12.34%. I am very happy with the performance even though I forecast much lower rates in my spreadsheets. Probably a good idea to remain conservative in my planning assumptions.

This extended bull run in the markets, since 2008, can create a sense of complacency in terms of future returns. After all, if a benchmark is delivering such an impressive rate of return, why pursue any particular investment style? Buy and hold the S&P 500 index.

My expectation in retirement is that the stocks I hold will produce sufficient dividend income and I won’t be focused on share price appreciation. In other words, I don’t need capital gain in retirement. It’s nice to see the total number grow but it is the passive income that is far more important to me.

Philosophical Economics. Always insightful even if the posts are too infrequent.

The Right Time To Retire

I told the CEO in October: I am planning to retire in 2018. Effective October 1, 2018 although with some vacation days that I had built up over the years, my last day in the office will be July 20th.

Just a little over 6 months from now.

Retirement is not something that I have done before. I am not quite sure what to expect.

I have been doing some form of work since 13 years of age. According to my CPP schedule, I have been contributing for 42 years and for 33 of those years, I have made the maximum contribution to CPP. My professional career is 34 years now. And I have been fortunate to work for companies that provided defined benefit pension plans. I have also invested well over the years and I expect that we will be fine in retirement from a financial perspective.

So when is the right time to retire?

I really don’t know.

The financial considerations are only one factor to consider. Although, once you get into your sixties, you will have whatever it is you have been able to accumulate over your career. Most studies I have read suggest that the vast majority of Canadian retirees are making out just fine from a financial perspective.

The media continues to push out stories suggesting that Canadians will need to work much longer than 65 before they can retire. Stories like this one in the Globe and Mail: The New Retirement Age is 70. I am convinced that this is propaganda to try and keep people working as long as possible to contribute as many tax dollars as possible to government and to keep the economy growing through consumption.

Over the past few decades, Canadians have been retiring on average at around age 62. I suspect many like me will decide that they wish to exit the employment market and pursue other interests before age and health have their way. Others may not be financially able to retire in their sixties. Not a good plan though. Ageism is prevalent in corporate environments. Many people find that they get restructured in their late 50s or early sixties and are often unable to find comparable work.

I follow Charles’ blog, Financial Freedom is a Journey. He had a post on How Do You Know When Is The Right Time To Retire?

Probably the most important point in his post, for me, was the following:

I can assure you that, as with any other aspect of your life, you MUST set Goals and Objectives. In the case of retirement, determining the right time to retire depends very heavily on having your financial house in order. Equally important, however, is to ensure you are retiring TO something versus retiring FROM something.

Over the next few months, I will be giving a lot more thought to the specific goals and objectives I will set for the first year of retirement.

Financial Freedom

I worked for this company for about 10 years. The company had achieved a remarkable marketing objective: they branded financial freedom. Known as Freedom 55, London Life successfully brought to market a new way of thinking about financial security planning. Although James MacKinnon, Professor of Econometrics at Queen’s University here in Kingston, had this blunt assessment of Freedom 55:

Freedom 55 is just not going to be feasible, and I’m not convinced it ever was.

Well, some people do get there.

I follow Financial Freedom is a Journey, a blog that highlights the approach that the author had taken to become financially free.

I retired in May 2016 at the age of 56 after a 34 year career in banking. My wife beat me. She retired in 2015 at the age of 52. Who said life is fair?

I have been a relatively conservative investor for over 30 years. While our passive income pales in comparison to that of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger at Berkshire Hathaway, our annual dividend income and rental income far exceeds that reported in any other “investing” blog I have read to date; as at February 2017 we generate six figures in passive income.

My observations lead me to believe the lack of money creates unnecessary problems. I have, therefore, created this blog in the hopes of being able to impart some of my experiences over the course of my investment career.

What I love about his blog is that he posts his portfolio and provides a summary of his dividend income as well as his overall portfolio. You can find his current portfolio here.

His reported holdings total about 1 million which is a great outcome for someone who retired at 56. Although he claims to generate six figures in passive income, I only get to about $30k or so from his reported portfolio so he must have other holdings contributing the balance. Producing six figures in passive income requires a portfolio in the 2-3 million dollar range.

He shares some great investing ideas and really does some post some helpful research. His post on Enbridge is an example.

As always, I read these types of blogs to gain perspective. I do not use them to make my own investment decisions for me. That said, there is a lot of really good insight on this particular blog. I hope he continues to post!

Why You Suck At Investing


Bloomberg asks the question: are you as stupid as your financial advisor thinks?

Investors need to be saved from themselves. That’s the conventional wisdom, and there’s some truth to it. Individual investors can have comically bad timing. They buy when stock prices are high. They panic and sell when markets plunge. They invest with the hot mutual fund managers just as the managers’ luck runs out. And what’s their reward? They supposedly underperform the very mutual funds they invest in by some four percentage points a year, or more, according to an annual study by the research firm Dalbar.

Lance Roberts of Real Investments Advice provided his perspective in his post on Dalbar, 2016: Yes, You Still Suck At Investing (Tips For Advisors):

  • In 2015, the average equity mutual fund investor underperformed the S&P 500 by a margin of 3.66%. While the broader market made incremental gains of 1.38%, the average equity investor suffered a more-than-incremental loss of -2.28%.
  • In 2015, the average fixed income mutual fund investor underperformed the Barclays Aggregate Bond Index by a margin of 3.66%. The broader bond market realized a slight return of 0.55% while the average fixed income fund investor lost -3.11%.
  • In 2015, the 20-year annualized S&P return was 8.19% while the 20-year annualized return for the average equity mutual fund investor was only 4.67%, a gap of 3.52%.

He also points out that:

The biggest reason for underperformance by investors who do participate in the financial markets over time is psychology. Behavioral biases that lead to poor investment decision-making is the single largest contributor to underperformance over time.

Too many investors follow the crowd and too many investors fear losing capital. What was a bit surprising to me is that there are not too many investors. Very few people participate in the stock market. Here’s why:

Unfortunately, between weak economic growth, stagnant incomes, rising costs of living and two major “bear” markets; nearly 80% of Americans simply are not able to participate as shown by numerous studies and statistical facts over the last few years:

  • According to the Pew Research Center, the median income of middle-class households declined by 4 percent from 2000 to 2014.
  • The Pew Research Center has also found that median wealth for middle-class households dropped by an astounding 28 percent between 2001 and 2013.
  • There are still 900,000 fewer middle-class jobs in America than there were when the last recession began, but the population has grown significantly larger since that time.
  • According to the Social Security Administration, 51 percent of all American workers make less than $30,000 a year.
  • An astounding 48.8 percent of all 25-year-old Americans still live at home with their parents.
  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 49 percent of all Americans now live in a home that receives money from the government each month, and nearly 47 million Americans are living in poverty right now.
  • In 2007, about one out of every eight children in America was on food stamps. Today, that number is one out of every five.
  • The median net worth of families in the United States was $137, 955 in 2007. Today, it is just $82,756.

Gambling With Your Future


Curious about retirement income? Curious about whether you are financially prepared for that time in life?

The Canadian government completed a comprehensive review of retirement income in 2011. Not surprisingly, most seniors draw income from OAS and CPP. About half of seniors draw income from investments, over 60 percent draw income from pensions and RRSPs and about 20 percent draw income from employment.

The median income for seniors in Canada:

  • OAS: 6,400 for males and 6,400 for females
  • CPP: 7,800 for males and 6,200 for females
  • Investments: 1,200 for males and 1,300 for females
  • Pensions and RRSPs: 16,300 for males and 8,500 for females
  • Employment: 2,200 for males and 3,300 for females

A senior couple would be at roughly $60,000 in income at retirement. Median after-tax income in senior families was $52,300 in 2012 so that number is close enough.

Median family income in Canada was $76,000 in 2013, just as many households earned less than $76,000 as earned more. The richest ten percent made more than $80,400 and the top one percent, all 272,600 of them, made more than $191,000. You can read more about the Canadian Income Survey here.

That gives a pretty good range of estimates for retirement income. Middle income senior households would be in the $40,000 to $70,000 range, upper income seniors in the $70,000 to $100,000 range. Above that would be a very small group of seniors.

For the median, a senior couple would expect to have the government provide $26,800 through OAS and CPP. The balance, $33,200, would have to be funded from pensions and investments. A rough estimate would suggest that investable assets of about $800,000 would be required to produce $33,200 reliably over the retirement years. And, of course, adjusting for inflation would make all of these assumptions higher depending on the planning horizon.

Assuming a 15 percent savings rate for the median family income of $76,000, investing $11,400 at age 35 and making annual additions of $11,400 for 30 years would produce about $800,000 in retirement savings assuming a 5 percent rate of return — and that number would likely be short as the income needs at retirement would be higher due to the impact of inflation.

Hence why a pension can be so very important for most families.

BlackRock recently issued their Global Investor Pulse for Canada. You can download the report here.

Most Canadians expect to require an annual income of $47,000 at retirement — well below the median senior household income of 2011. Four out of ten Canadians have no retirement savings whatsoever. Canadians above 55 years of age have saved a median of $125,000 for retirement enough to produce roughly $5,000 – 6,000 of income and well below what they will need in their retirement years.

And, more telling, half of Canadians believe that investing is on par with gambling and they hold their savings in cash in low interest bearing accounts.

The BlackRock report highlights 5 steps that Canadians can take to raise their financial IQ:

1. Take Ownership

When it comes to financial planning, it’s important to remember that it starts with you. Whether it’s doing it yourself or seeking advice from an expert, you have an important—and active—role in making these decisions, and the most to win or lose based on how you spend, save and invest your money.

2. Get Informed

Before you take action, make sure you know the options available. For example, when it comes to retirement this could include: workplace plans, government options, or individual retirement accounts. Don’t be part of the 50% of Canadians who don’t know how much money they will need to last them through retirement, or the 52% of those with a Defined Contribution or RRSP plan who do not understand what their maximum contribution is to their plan. Seek ways to become better informed.

3. Make a Plan and Stick to It

Sometimes the now gets in the way of planning for the future. Setting goals is the first important step to ensure that you put yourself on track to achieving your objectives, including a comfortable retirement. Most Canadians (64%) agree that they take financial planning seriously. Make sure that you are part of the group that believes in financial planning and also has a plan to make it happen.

4. Seek Advice

Major life events, like preparing for retirement, starting a business or dealing with an inheritance, can have long-term implications for people’s financial wellbeing. Seeking advice can help you get on the right path. Advice can come in many forms and is made easier by technology. Whether through work, a friend, family, online or a nancial advisor, don’t be afraid to seek advice.

5. Start Early

One of the most important steps you can take to have a successful retirement is to start early. We know from this study that most Canadians who invest begin doing so by the time they reach age 35 (68%). The younger you are, the more time you will have to grow your investments. Consider the most often-mentioned piece of advice that Canadians (56%) would give their “younger self” about saving and investing: start saving for retirement from a younger age.

A Retirement of Your Dreams

couple on the beach

From Benjamin Tal’s latest economic update:

While many Canadians, particularly those now close to 65, are on a path to the retirement of their dreams, the data show that millions of others are headed for a steep decline in living standards in the decades ahead, particularly those who are currently younger and who are in middle-income brackets.

Those born during WWII are positioned to maintain virtually all of their pre-retirement consumption patterns: after allowing for the drop in living costs, they have a replacement rate close to 1.0. The leading edge of the baby boom generation (post-WW II, born between 1945-64) that followed is only slightly less advantaged. But their children are much less well positioned, given the current trend towards lower savings rates and reduced private pension coverage. On average, the replacement rate of those born in the 1980s, who will retire towards the middle of this century, will be only 0.7, implying a 30% drop in their standard of living.

He finishes his update with the following statement:

Add it all up, and there are some 5.8 million working age Canadians who will see more than a 20% drop in their living standards upon retirement. That’s why the time to act is now.

Replacement rates are tricky things to determine. Retirement, from a financial planning perspective, is a compromise between needs and wants. Given the progressive taxation system, a high-income earner in Canada requires a lower replacement rate to maintain the same standard of living. And, according to the government’s own research findings, a low-income earner will actually be better off in retirement:

The lower the income in individuals’ mid-fifties, the higher the replacement rate in their senior years. Individuals in the bottom quintile typically achieved a 110% replacement rate by their mid-sixties, while individuals in the top income quintile had replacement rates in the 0.7 range.

If you happen to be in the middle income group and you do not work for the government, sufficient income at retirement might be a challenge.

The Ontario Government published an interesting study on Retirement Income Security. The following chart highlights the potential impact of the gap in income:


If an individual has income of $75,000 before tax, the replacement rate of 0.7 would suggest a retirement income target of $52,500. After CPP and OAS, this individual would face a potential income gap of $33,329. To produce $33,329 reliably would require savings between $670,000 — 835,000 depending on your planning assumptions. Now, if you had a pension plan, that would likely offset most of the gap. But what if you did not need to replace 70 percent of your working income?

Malcolm Hamilton is a pension expert and he thinks that the 0.7 replacement rate is too high.

Canadians don’t need to “replace” 70 or 80% of their working incomes, which are the percentages usually proffered by our financial institutions. Most of us will be able to get by with 50% or even just 40% of what we earned in our working lives. “No one can tell exactly how much we will need to save. Canadians are unduly and irrationally discouraged about their prospects.”

He also provides an example:

A typical Toronto couple with two incomes totalling $120,000 a year probably spend $480,000 on a modest house and have two kids. If they save five times their gross earnings and accumulate $600,000 in capital, they could replace 52% of their income in retirement. To get there, they’d simply need to save 6% of their income between ages 25 and 65, at which point they could retire. They would direct 23% of earnings to taxes, CPP and EI, and another 23% to pay for the house and kids. In all, 52% of their gross working income goes to taxes, savings, the house and children. At 65, all those expenditures disappear. The $600,000 capital will replace 20% of the income they were earning in their working lives, and CPP and OAS will generate 32%, for a total 52% replacement ratio. That will allow them to spend as much on themselves as they did when they were working.

Should we be saving for retirement? Of course. Do you need a high replacement rate? Probably not. Particularly if you are a high income earner. And, if you look at your current expenses, how much do you spend on taxes, CPP, EI and the house and kids? If you have a pension, you may not need to save much at all if you plan to work to 65.

I like Hamilton’s perspective. We should be optimistic about our prospects.