Monday, 2 February 2015

Best and Worst Canadian CEO Pay from the Investor Viewpoint

The recently released All in a Day's Work? - CEO Pay in Canada by Hugh Mackenzie questioned whether CEOs should be paid so much, especially in relation to the pay of an average worker. Others like Vincent Geloso of the Montreal Economic Institute came to the defense of high CEO pay, saying that CEOs live an ever-shortening and very risky existence. In between the blanket condemnation, or approval, sits the investor, merely trying to figure out whether individual CEOs are earning their pay in order to pick good investments. As might be expected, some CEOs and companies (since the Board of Directors are mandated to control CEO pay) have been plain terrible, while others are shining examples of superb performance for very reasonable pay. Let's see who sits where.

The Globe and Mail CEO Pay Tool
When we did this last year, naming the best performers and the most over-paid, we had to do our own data collection. Fortunately for us and all investors, in June 2014, the Globe and Mail posted the excellent (and free!) Interactive Pay-for-Performance graphic display tool created by Global Governance Advisors. It shows CEO pay for the 100 largest companies in Canada relative to other companies and to a series of seven key measures useful to an investor, starting with total shareholder return. It can also break down the various pieces of CEO compensation and show results of each company's Say-on-Pay shareholder voting. The screenshot below shows the possible selections and part of the output display.
(click to enlarge image)

We've played around with the tool to find the most consistently good or bad CEOs / companies across industries, across time from 2010 to 2014 (year-by-year vs averages) and across the various performance metrics. Our logic is that if a company always looks good, no matter the time frame, industry or market cap group comparison, or the measure of performance, that company's CEO pay must be well-aligned to investor interests, and a positive indicator that the company is well-managed. Clicking on the various options and watching the CEO dots move around gives an impression of evolution and sensitivity of results. It's fun to do!

The best performers are those furthest away from the diagonal line that shows where company performance and CEO pay are in perfect balance. We are looking for those in the bottom right quadrant where company performance is above average while CEO pay is below average - the best investor bang per CEO buck. The worst performers are those in the top left quadrant where high CEO pay is matched with below average performance - when investors are being taken for a ride by the CEO.  In general, below the line is favourable for the investor, above it not so.

Best CEO Performers - "Great performance, modest (relative to other CEOs) pay"
It's hard to choose between the first three below, they have all been consistently superb:
  • Constellation Software (TSX: CSU) - CEO Mark Leonard 2013 pay $2.7 million. The company is currently 62nd largest by market cap in the TSX Composite yet the CEO's pay was not even close to making it into the top 100 list of Mackenzie, where 100th place garnered $3.9 million. Screenshots below are taken from the tool.
(click on image to enlarge)
  • The Jean Coutu Group Inc (TSX: PJC.A) - CEO Francois Coutu 2013 pay $2.0 million. It is a smaller company at $2.1 billion market cap but look at the outstanding relative performance metrics below, which makes a clear leader amongst consumer staples companies.
(click to enlarge)

  • Canfor Corp (TSX: CFP) - CEO Don Kayne 2013 pay $1.4 million, which is the other company in the extreme bottom right corner.
(click to enlarge)

Using the same approach, here are fifteen other companies a good distance from the diagonal in the bottom right quadrant with a very investor-friendly link between CEO pay and company performance:

Consumer Discretionary
  • Dollarama (TSX: DOL) - CEO Larry Rossy 2013 pay $3.7 million
Consumer Staples
  • Alimentation Couche-Tard (TSX: ATD.B) CEO Alain Bouchard 2013 pay $7.2 million
  • Saputo Inc (TSX: SAP) CEO Lino Saputo Jr 2013 pay $3.3 million
  • Metro Inc (TSX: MRU) CEO Eric R. La Flèche 2013 pay $2.7 million
  • Vermilion Energy (TSX: VET) CEO Lorenzo Donadeo 2013 pay $3.6 million
  • Keyera Corp (TSX: KEY) CEO James Bertram 2013 pay $2.4 million
  • Peyto Exploration (TSX: PEY) CEO Darren Gee 2013 pay $2.5 million
  • Tourmaline Oil Corp. (TSX: TOU) CEO Michael Rose 2013 pay $2.5 million
  • CI Financial (TSX: CIX) CEO Stephen MacPhail 2013 pay $4.6 million
  • Intact Financial (TSX: IFC) CEO Charles Brindamour 2013 pay $4.2 million
  • First Capital Realty (TSX: FCR) CEO Dori Segal $2.0 million
  • Westjet Airlines Ltd (TSX: WJA) CEO Gregg Saretsky 2013 pay $3.1 million
  • Finning International Inc. (TSX: FTT) CEO Scott Thompson 2013 pay $4.6 million
  • West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. (TSX: WFT) CEO Ted Seraphim 2013 pay $2.4 million
  • ATCO Ltd. (TSX: ACO.X) CEO Nancy Southern 2013 pay $1.5 million
Worst CEO Performers - "High pay, lousy performance"
This set of companies look more like the CEOs are getting rich at the expense of investors.

The top culprits here are:
  • Talisman Energy (TSX: TLM) CEO Harold Kvisle 2013 pay $9.5 million. The accounting metrics are as bad as they get and shareholder return has been a negative 9.6% per year over the past five years. There was no sign of improvement from 2010 to 2014 either.
(click to enlarge)
  • Onex Corporation (TSX: OCX) CEO Gerald Schwartz) 2013 pay $87.9 million, the most by far of any Canadian CEO (Mackenzie's $13.3 million figure appears to be for 2012). It's astounding pay yet results are insipid.
  • EnCana (TSX: ECA) CEO Doug Suttles 2013 pay $12.8 million. The shareholder return is awful at -9.4% per year for the last five years, as are the accounting metrics. Suttles was named as CEO in mid 2013 to clean up the previous mess, so the pay figure is a handsome welcome package. ECA is the green dot above Talisman in the previous chart. It is even further away from the diagonal in the 4-year average view we have used.But in 2013, when Suttles came on board, the dot moves a lot closer to the line, which is improvement. Nevertheless, should the company / shareholders pay in advance for performance?
Gold mining CEOs - The price of gold may rise and it may fall but the CEOs of the gold miners are making buckets of money no matter what happens to the company or shareholders. Click on the Materials drop down selection and see the top left quadrant is filled with gold stocks and CEOs:
  • Agnico-Eagle Mines (TSX: AEM) CEO Sean Boyd 2013 pay $9.3 million
  • Yamana Gold Inc. (TSX: YRI) CEO Peter Marrone 2013 pay $9.9 million
  • Goldcorp (TSX: G) CEO Charles Jeannes 2013 pay $9.7 million
  • Barrick Gold (TSX: ABX) Jamie Sokalsky 2013 pay $7.5 million
  • Eldorado Gold (TSX: ELD) Paul Wright 2013 pay $7.4 million
  • Kinross Gold (TSX: K) CEO Paul Rollinson 2013 pay $8.2 million
Other "heads I win, tails you lose" CEOs ....

  • Teck Resources (TSX: TCK.B) CEO Donald Lindsay 2013 pay $9.0 million
Consumer Discretionary
  • Thomson Reuters Corp (TSX: TRI) CEO James Smith 2013 pay $8.4 million. What's puzzling is that with well below average performance, this decidedly above average CEO's pay garnered a 98% approval rating from shareholders in a Say-on-Pay vote.
  • Valeant Pharmaceuticals (TSX: VRX) CEO Michael Pearson 2013 pay $6.7 million. The metrics are very inconsistent - shareholder return has been great, but accounting metrics like Return on Equity and Earnings per Share growth very poor. Are stock speculators over-enthusiastic?
This best vs worst list can be a help to company and stock analysis in determining which are well or poorly controlled by the Board of Directors. We have only discussed what we think are the best and the worst. The rest are somewhere in between. Being close to the median diagonal means a company CEO is being paid fairly, relative to peer performance.

Whether CEOs as a whole on average are too-highly paid is another matter (e.g. see the thought-provoking The World's Dumbest Idea paper by author James Montier, who argues long-term excessive CEO pay rises worldwide, not just in Canada, are a manifestation of the shareholder value maximization philosophy that serves investors and the economy poorly) and for consideration another day.

Disclosure: This blogger directly owns shares of TCK.B, IFC, MRU and FCR.

Disclaimer: This post is my opinion only and should not be construed as investment advice. Readers should be aware that the above comparisons are not an investment recommendation. They rest on other sources, whose accuracy is not guaranteed and the article may not interpret such results correctly. Do your homework before making any decisions and consider consulting a professional advisor.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Taxes 2015: Links & Resources for Canadians Filing 2014 Income Tax Return

Tax season is starting. The Canada Revenue Agency will soon open up the NETFILE online electronic tax filing service to receive returns electronically. It's time for Canadian investors to start getting ready for filing their 2014 income tax return. There can be a multitude of slips and receipts to assemble, not to mention older records to dig up and preliminary calculations to do in order to be ready in time for filing on or before the deadline of April 30. We therefore present a collection of resources that should cover the tax information and tools needs of Canadian online investors.

Tax-specific Websites

Key Dates -  see complete CRA list of dates for individuals
January - mid CRA pdf tax forms for all tax years 1985-2014 available to download and print
February - 9 CRA online filing service NETFILE starts accepting 2014 tax returns; last day is January 16, 2016
March - 2 RRSP contribution – last day for making contribution applicable to 2014 tax year
April - 30 CRA – last day to file 2014 return and pay amounts owing to avoid penalties
June - 15 CRA – last day to file 2014 return for self-employed though amounts owing deadline is still April 30
December - 31 RRSP – last day for making an RRSP contribution in the year you turn 71

continual CRA issues tax refunds, often within days, if return is filed electronically
TFSA contributions anytime during year for 2015 or missed past years since 2009

CRA dates are rigid; be late even by a day and you will miss out or suffer penalties. On the other hand the tax documents below relating to the 2014 tax year flood in progressively from mid-January to the end of March. There can be weeks or more of variation amongst companies that issue the slips and receipts.

Checklist and guide for interest, dividends and capital gains
If your investing involves … look for these documents … from these organisations ....

Borrowed money to invest Investment interest  expense  on statements from broker for margin, or bank for loan
Canada Savings Bond interest T5 slip (min $50 interest) from broker if held in a broker account or from Bank of Canada if bought directly from BOC;
GIC interest T5 slip (min $50 interest) from broker if held in a broker account or from bank or trust company if bought directly
T-Bill and Stripped Bond interest Annual summary of security transactions Interest = redemption/sale amount – purchase cost; for details see

T5 does NOT show it, even when over $50 e.g.
Mutual fund distributions T3/T5 slips mailed directly by Mutual fund companies, NOT brokers, even when fund is held in a brokerage account
Mutual fund capital gains (sales) Annual summary of security transactions from broker if held in a broker account 
from mutual fund company if held directly with the mutual fund company  click on links to fund companies at and then look for tax or Distribution info

Bond interest T5 slip (min $50 income) broker
Bond capital gain or loss (sale or maturity) Annual summary of security transactions broker provides statement at purchase year and at maturity or sale; for how to calculate see
Stock dividends T5 slip (min $50 income) broker
Stock capital gain or loss (sale) Annual summary of security transactions broker provides statement at purchase and at maturity or sale
ETF and REIT distributions T3/T5 slips broker
ETF, REIT, Income Trust, Closed End Fund capital gain or loss (sale) Annual summary of security transactions + own records broker for trading transaction summary

Investor must track own adjusted cost base – see

ETF providers publish tax breakdown of distributions on their website. ETF providers in Canada list and links at

CDS Innovations database of free downloadable spreadsheets by year at

Income Trusts and Closed-End Funds - ACB Tracking Inc has a pay service that simplifies the tracking
Split Corporation income T5 broker
Limited Partnerships
Foreign income, capital gains or assets
Exchange rate to Canadian dollar
Bank of Canada average rate for 2014 e.g. USD to CAD multiply CAD by 1.1044664, or rate on the particular day, per;
for T1135 Foreign Income Verification Statement, use rate on day of purchase
for capital gains, use rates on day of purchase and of sale
Note: Quebec residents receive a T5 and relevé3, or T3 plus relevé 16, or T5013 plus relevé 15.

Checklist and guide for account withdrawals, contributions
If your investing involves … look for these documents … from these organisations ....

RRSP contributions RSP Contribution Receipt RRSP account trustee, be it broker, bank, mutual fund company
RRSP contribution room various Canada Revenue Agency -
RRSP / RRIF / LIF / LRIF withdrawals T4 RRSP / RRIF slip RRSP/ RRIF account trustee
RRIF / LIF / LRIF withdrawal limits Evaluation letter or phone call broker
Annuity payouts T4A and T5 slips mailed by insurance companies, both for registered or non-registered annuities
RESP withdrawals T4A Educational Assistance Payment or Accumulated Income Payment slip brokers or financial institution where RESP is held
Non-resident taxpayer NR4 slip broker
TFSA interest, dividends, capital gains, contributions and withdrawals none None – happy days! No tax reporting to do
TFSA contribution room and contribution or withdrawal history phone call or online Canada Revenue Agency – see
Note: Quebec residents receive above T4s and relevé 2.

Tax News, Tips and Blogs - to remind us of the latest developments, the implications, the gotchas and possible strategies to legitimately minimize what we pay
 Books - buy them online, read them offline at leisure

Software - to prepare and NETFILE income taxes electronically; the best packages guide you and make suggestions to optimize your taxes
  • List of CRA-certified programs with links to the companies - old list from last year as of date of posting; certification is on-going through January and February, so check the link to each provider to see if it is certified yet.
  • Wikipedia - basic details on costs, versions, price, limitations, freebies  

HowToInvestOnline Tax-related Posts - our most popular and presumably most useful tax posts

Tax Calculators - for tax planning, what if scenarios and estimation
  • Canadian Tax Calculators - a Basic version, an Detailed version for all provinces except Quebec, one for Quebec, with all the tax credits and a special Investment Income version that compares different types of income, especially useful for retirees.
  • Ernst & Young - ultra-simple, enter your taxable income and it shows you by province total tax (using the basic personal tax credit only) as well as marginal rates on ordinary income/interest, capital gains and dividends;  very handy when you have a taxable and tax-sheltered investment accounts to see which types of securities should go in which account
  • RRIFMetic - sophisticated tool (not free, costs $99) for planning and optimizing for retirement income including taxes on types of accounts (taxable, RRIF, LIF, TFSA, RESP) and types of income (dividends, interest, capital gains) plus factors in non-investment cash flows; helps decide how much to take from which account during retirement.
Tax Discussions - read what other people are grappling with and learn from their experience or register and you can take part, ask questions and perhaps get good answers
These resources will make it easier to pay your taxes quickly with minimal frustration at the very least and probably to pay less as well.

Disclaimer: this post is my opinion only and should not be construed as investment or tax advice. Readers should be aware that the above comments are not an investment recommendation. They rest on other sources, whose accuracy is not guaranteed and the article may not interpret such results correctly. Do your homework before making any decisions and consider consulting a professional advisor.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Model Portfolios - 2014 Return and Risk Performance

2014 was a good year for investors holding any one of a selection of balanced, diversified model portfolios (One-Stop, Lifelong, Simple and Couch Potato, Swensen Seven and Smart Beta, Permanent Portfolio). The lowest return of any portfolio started at 7.5%. But the range extended to more than double, with a 16.0% return in one portfolio. Why the big range and what lessons can we draw, especially considering that all of the portfolios hold a roughly similar breakdown of 40% to 50% fixed income with the remainder equity?

Return vs Risk - The first thing to consider is how much risk the portfolio took on to achieve the return. We computed (using the calculator, which uses Yahoo! Finance data or Morningstar Canada price data e.g. TD Balanced Index Fund, for the portfolio funds) two risk  measures for each portfolio: 1) volatility (standard deviation) of daily returns for the year and, 2) maximum drawdown of fund value from a peak to a trough during the year. These metrics are a kind of "anxiety quotient". The less of each the better. To compare the portfolios, we calculated how much return the portfolio delivered per unit of volatility or drawdown - the higher the ratio, the better.

The Results Table - The best three funds for return, volatility and drawdown are shown in green numbers.
(click on images to enlarge)

Portfolio Return vs Volatility

Portfolio Return vs Maximum Drawdown
Lesson 1) Fund weighting scheme matters as much as asset allocation - The Smart Beta Portfolio delivered the best return by far. It's 16.0% return was 3% ahead of the next best Swensen Seven. The Volatility and Drawdown charts show the Smart Beta to be among the three best on those measures too (the top left corner is the best place to be where the most return for the least volatility or drawdown is achieved). The Swensen Seven differs from the Smart Beta in the choice of ETFs for each asset class - instead of the traditional cap-weighted funds of the Swensen Seven, the Smart Beta uses low volatility, equal-weighted and fundamentally-weighted funds. Compared to the cap-weighted benchmark Canadian equity TSX Composite ETF with symbol XIC, the red-highlighted 2014 return of the fundamentally-weighted fund PXC fell significantly short, but the low volatility fund ZLB more than compensated with its vast out-performance.

In a similar vein, the choice of long term federal government bonds (ZFL's 17.4%) and real return bonds (ZRR's 13.1%) in the Smart Beta, Swensen and Permanent portfolios provided a big return advantage over the broad market bond ETFs such as XBB (8.3%) in all the cap-weighted portfolios.

One year does make an investment lifetime and next year might not see the same all-round out-performance by the Smart Beta ... but it is the result that the research on long term data says to expect, as we reviewed in this post.

Canadian Couch Potato recently reported 2014 returns of a series of cap-weighted model portfolios. This similarity of construction of those portfolios resulted in a much narrower range of returns, only 9.8% to 10.8%. Investors who choose portfolios with different types of ETFs, like the Smart Beta, or others such as the Permanent Portfolio, with its 25% allocation to gold, should expect to diverge appreciably in returns year-to-year.

Lesson 2) Adjusting portfolio weights for volatility looks to be beneficial - Both the Swensen Seven and the Smart Beta, whose weights we adjusted for volatility, had higher returns and good to excellent return vs risk ratios.

The one-stop Tangerine Balanced Fund (mutual fund symbol INI220) and Mawer Balanced Fund (MAW104) performed as well as the Smart Beta on the return vs riskiness measures. The latter is especially interesting since it is actively managed, rather than a passive index fund. It's long term returns look excellent too. Perhaps this is one of the rare actively-managed funds that can and will do better than passive averages. But the passive Tangerine fund has done close to as well in 2014.

Lesson 3) Currency hedging matters - In 2014, when the Canadian dollar fell vs the US dollar, hedging hurt results. The currency-hedged Simple Recipe was clearly the worst on both return-vs-riskiness measures. The unhedged version of the Simple Recipe had a slightly higher return and lower volatility and maximum drawdown. The blue outlined cells in the table show the returns boost to the US-traded and USD-denominated funds in the Smart Beta portfolio. The fall in the Canadian dollar aka rise in USD vs CAD from the start to the end of 2014 provided 9.1% extra return to the three funds with symbols RSP, EFAV and PXH. In the case of PXH, currency turned a net loss in USD into a net gain in CAD. Most of the other portfolios do not hedge their US or international holdings and thus they also received the same returns boost.

Of course, when CAD appreciates, the opposite happens - unhedged foreign holdings' returns are lessened. In the long run, the indications are that hedging does not make a difference without considering costs and in the practical sense, where hedging costs enter the picture, hedging is likely a net negative to returns, as we have discussed in a number of posts under part 6 Asset Allocation and Portfolio Construction of our Guide to Self-Directed Investing.

Lesson 4) Bonds can contribute healthy returns even in a low interest rate environment - The bond component of all the portfolios contributed to the overall attractive portfolio returns as the prevailing low interest rates actually managed to fall (see the charts of various benchmark rates at the Bank of Canada website). When rates fall, bond prices rise and the funds holding the bonds gain in value in addition to receiving the bond interest.

Disclaimer: This post is my opinion only and should not be construed as investment advice. Readers should be aware that the above comparisons are not an investment recommendation. They rest on other sources, whose accuracy is not guaranteed and the article may not interpret such results correctly. Do your homework before making any decisions and consider consulting a professional advisor.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Which Canadian Companies are Earnings Steamrollers?

Earnings, i.e. profit, is the lifeblood of companies. It is what sooner or later drives stock prices and enables dividends. As in everything else in life, some companies perform better than others. Inspired by the discovery that TMX Money has begun publishing historical quarterly earnings results (under the Research tab for a company's stock quote e.g. Home Capital Group (TSX: HCG)) going back as far as 1994, we decided to find which Canadian companies can boast of being earnings steamrollers - those with steady, long-term growth of quarterly profits.

We uncovered thirteen companies (there may be more since there seems to be no handy stock screener that will quickly spotlight them - we had to find them by trial and error) with an amazing record of growth -
  • 10% or greater annual compound increase in earnings per share (EPS) 
  • through 15 or more years, 
  • in a quite predictable pattern, and 
  • no more than one quarter showing a net loss in that time. 
Through thick and thin of financial crises and economic recessions, such companies have powered ahead seemingly oblivious to obstacles, flattening them like a proverbial steamroller.

The Canadian Earnings Steamrollers
Surprising perhaps to some, it is a diverse group, with a mix of well-known and not-so-famous names, across a number of industry sectors. Our comparison table below shows the not-lucky-but-good thirteen.

EPS data: In blue text columns are the start year of the quarterly EPS data and the compound annual growth rate. In some cases the percentages come from directly calculating the growth from the earliest to latest EPS. In other cases, where there is evident seasonal fluctuation, an estimate from an exponential curve fitted to the data looked more appropriate.

Dividend data: For three companies we show the progression of dividends to illustrate how dividends go up with earnings. All companies but CGI Group pay dividends. Other columns contain data from various free online sources (see table footnotes) that we refer to in our discussion below.

Data warning: Readers should note that the TMX data contains many gaps and some errors, usually because adjustments for past stock splits have not been made. In those cases we have had to go back to the original authoritative online source for such data,, where the companies are required by regulation to file all their financial statements. Sedar filings go back to 1997.

(click on table image to enlarge)

Here are the graphs for individual companies showing their quarterly EPS progression.

Home Capital Group (TSX: HCG)
The dark blue line is EPS. The orange line is dividends.
(click to enlarge)

CGI Group (TSX: GIB.A)
(click to enlarge)

Stantec (TSX: STN)
(click to enlarge)

Saputo (TSX: SAP)
(click to enlarge)

Suncor (TSX: SU)
(click to enlarge)

Canadian National Railway (TSX: CNR)
(click to enlarge)

Metro Inc (TSX: MRU)
(click to enlarge)

Power Financial Corp (TSX: PWF)
(click to enlarge)

Canadian Western Bank (TSX: CWB)
(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

Empire Company (TSX: EMP.A)
(click to enlarge)

National Bank (TSX: NA)
(click to enlarge)

Royal Bank (TSX: RY)
(click to enlarge)

What else can we glean from our data?

1) Strong consistent EPS growth is possible in many sectors - Our list includes some expected sectors like banks, financials and utilities , but also an industrial, an oil and gas company, a food manufacturer, an information technology company, a consulting firm and grocery retailers. Though none of these companies is tiny, several are quite small, as the range of market caps shows.

Perhaps more surprising is that Canada's largest company, the Royal Bank, has managed to grow its EPS at such a fast pace for so long. The 2008-2009 financial crisis caused considerable turbulence in its results but the steadier and rapid growth seems to have resumed.

2) The stock of most EPS steamrollers is more volatile (see Beta in our table above) than the market average (Beta of 1.0); some have quite high volatility, like HCG and Suncor. Investors and speculators in the market are obviously constantly guessing whether the amazing past growth will continue. We only have to read the media to see the kind of speculation about the future as daily events unfold with the current hot topic being the effects of the enormous drop in oil prices.

3) Total stock return in the long term, such as 15 years in our table, has reflected the EPS growth and it has far outstripped the TSX Composite average. But the shorter the term, the more variable the return, as the 1- and 5-year total return columns show. On a 1-year basis, five of our EPS powerhouses have lagged the TSX Composite. This reflects a major caveat of our results - no matter what the past, the future is not assured and market prices reflect expectations of the future. In the course of our search, we did find companies that for years were on the EPS growth trajectory and then lost their way.

4) High EPS growth doesn't only happen at high dividend payers. Some in our list pay a healthy dividend, some have a low yield, though their dividends have grown strongly over time e.g. our top dog HCG only pays a 1.8% yield but has increased its dividend 2.37% annually since 2004, when it started paying a dividend. CGI Group pays no dividend at all, reinvesting all the earnings to grow the company. Investors who have held shares since 1998 probably aren't complaining.

It is interesting that some companies with a high dividend policy like REITs do not figure in our list at all. We looked at two leading REITs, Canada's largest, RioCan (TSX: REI.UN) and H&R (TSX: HR.UN) but both have had uninspiring long term EPS growth of around 3% only. Similarly, telecomms companies like BCE (4.3% annual EPS growth since 2002) and Telus (4.6% since 1994) were not near the top achievers.

5) Poor 1-year returns and lower Price-to-Earnings (PE) figures suggest some potential buying opportunities to investigate - CGI Group, Stantec, Power Financial and Canadian Western Bank in particular. When the PE is less than the EPS growth rate and/or the 5-tear average PE, it is a positive sign. has an excellent graphical 10-year display of PE and other valuation measures benchmarked against the TSX Composite under the Valuations tab for a company stock quote (e.g. for HCG here).

There is a group of worthy runners-up with EPS growth rates of 6% to almost 10%. The following companies often showed more erratic growth; some had more quarterly net losses.

  • Scotiabank (TSX: BNS) - 9.8% annual compound EPS growth since 1994
  • TD Bank (TSX: TD) - 9.7% since 1994
  • Canadian Tire Corp (TSX: CTC.A) - 9.7% since 1994
  • Enbridge (TSX: ENB) - 9.4% since 1995
  • Fortis Inc (TSX: FTS) - 9.0% since 1994
  • Industrial Alliance Insurance (TSX: IAG) - 8.8% since 2000
  • Canadian Utilities Ltd (TSX: CU) - 8.0% since 1996
  • Great West Life (TSX: GWO) - 7.9% since 1994
  • Bank of Montreal (TSX: BMO) - 6.1% since 1994
  • TransCanada Corp (TSX: TRP) - 6.0% since 1999

All in all, there is a good range of companies from which to form a portfolio. Some may falter or have temporary problems but as a group, the track record suggests most will continue to steamroll onwards and upwards for investors' benefit.

Disclosure: This blogger, as well as indirectly owning all these companies through broad market ETFs, directly won shares of stock symbols SU, CNR, MRU, ACO.X, EMP.A, NA, RY, BNS, FTS, CU, BMO, TRP and BCE, as well as REI.UN and HR.UN.

Disclaimer: This post is my opinion only and should not be construed as investment advice. Readers should be aware that the above comparisons are not an investment recommendation. They rest on other sources, whose accuracy is not guaranteed and the article may not interpret such results correctly. Do your homework before making any decisions and consider consulting a professional advisor.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Investing Advice from Astronaut Chris Hadfield's Guide to Life on Earth

We'll admit it straight off. In his excellent book An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield gives absolutely no direct advice about investing. What follows is our own interpretation of his general advice that resonates strongly for the investor. Hadfield's tremendous success suggests it is worth heeding what he says, which is based on his experience and life story.

Outstanding success comes from a modicum of talent plus many years of sustained, focused effort towards a goal - As Hadfield puts it, astronauts are not born, they are made. People do not become astronauts by accident - "I didn't walk into JSC a good astronaut. No one does." In a Canadian Business interview in 2014, he added, " ... you are the result of your own decisions. If you want to become somebody else then start making some different decisions, and whittle yourself like some sort of perpetually shifting sculpture into who you want to be".

Investors are not born good either. The first thing we note is that talent is the lesser element. The very wealthy investor Warren Buffett rates the talent portion even lower for investing - "You don't need to be a rocket scientist. Investing is not a game where the guy with the 160 IQ beats the guy with 130 IQ." You don't even need to be as smart as an astronaut!

The second idea to note is that getting to the top of the heap does require huge amounts of effort. But not everyone needs or wants to be a superstar. Those who are not prepared to do so are better off doing what Buffett recommends to his heirs - low cost index funds that track the market.

Risk taken should be outweighed by the reward - Hadfield puts it thus: "... the only good reason to take a risk is that there's a decent possibility of a reward that outweighs the hazard". Taking risk does not automatically lead to reward. In the case of astronauts, thrill-seeking risk-taking is not done since the probable result is quick death. Whereas investors are only likely to see their money disappear, the desirable principle is the same. A critical task is to understand, manage and reduce risks. It is the reason we have often written about risk in our Guide to Self-Directed Investing.

The power of negative thinking, Hadfield's inversion of the famous book title and philosophy of Norman Vincent Peale, tells us to focus on avoiding the downside. Anticipating and avoiding problems that can cause loss of life is astronaut mantra. The investing version is to focus on not losing money, as espoused by legendary investor Benjamin Graham in his classic book The Intelligent Investor and by value investors to this day.

Sweat the small stuff - This next reversal of a popular saying by Hadfield refers to the fact that small defects can be deadly, perhaps the most famous example being the defective O-ring that was at the root of the Challenger disaster. For investors a parallel can be found in the seemingly innocuous management expense ratio fees of mutual and exchange traded funds. A 2% or even a 1% difference doesn't seem like much but the effect compounds mightily over years and decades, causing disastrously lower returns for investors as we wrote about in 2011. Investors must pay attention to costs.

Prepare a plan and stick to it - We would be tempted to say that this idea is so simple that it "isn't rocket science". Except it is! Every space launch is preceded by years of meticulous planning. Every step is written down, including especially what to do in case of malfunctions and when to stop a launch. And the astronaut launchers follow it very strictly, despite the disappointment and frustration at delay and having to start over. Similarly, investors are wise to have a written investment policy that lays out how the portfolio will be constructed and managed, including rebalancing. One big challenge for investors is to actually follow the plan at critical highly stressful moments, such as during the autumn of 2008 when stocks were plummeting. That was the key moment to rebalance from bonds, which kept their value much more, to stocks.

A thirst and willingness to keep learning forever is essential - No matter how experienced the astronauts, they must always be honing their skills and knowledge. Much of the learning comes from noting and analyzing mistakes and deciding how to do differently and better. The investor can profitably do the same.

Hadfield notes that early success is a terrible teacher - "... you have to be competent ... before you can be extraordinary. There are no shortcuts, unfortunately." Astronauts, like everyone, tend to think they know it all if they succeed right off the bat. Investors who have a big winner right away think it's their own savvy whereas it's probably just luck. Investor Buffett puts the point thus: "No one has succeeded without going through their own failures at some point."

Overcoming fear is possible - Supreme irony for an astronaut, Hadfield tells us he has a very strong natural fear of heights and falling! Yet, he has managed to control and overcome this, through a mix of knowledge about how things actually work that gives him confidence they and he won't fall, and of the huge number of simulations the astronauts do. As he points out, anyone would be terrified if they went straight into the launch seat in a rocket. The fear from a feeling of helpless lack of control was more or less eliminated through figuring multitudes of possible things that could go wrong and what actions they would take along with countless hours of practice and simulation that de-sensitized the astronauts to the cramped capsule and the movements.

The fear parallel for investors is the anxiety during extreme market downs. Unfortunately, there are no investing simulators, so it is only years as an investor that allows us to absorb the sensory experience of crashes. But the other elements can be implemented - developing knowledge of the history of market movements (e.g. our post on Investing Risk: Historical Worst Volatility, Business Cycles, Crashes and Crises) and having a plan that tells us exactly what we should do under the various possible circumstances.

Good and bad luck will still happen for reasons we can never control so we should enjoy the ride and be happy with ourselves - Hadfield never knew for sure that he could actually realize his life dream to fly in space. He determined to enjoy the preparation itself, no matter what eventually happened. As he says and others have said before, outside circumstances and events are beyond our control, just as financial markets are for all investors, but we can decide how we want to react and be happy nevertheless. We can do our best and be satisfied with our own effort. That seems a good outlook to adopt.

Further viewing just for fun: The Space Oddity music video performed by Chris Hadfield on the International Space Station.

Disclaimer: This post is my opinion only and should not be construed as investment advice. Readers should be aware that the above comparisons are not an investment recommendation. They rest on other sources, whose accuracy is not guaranteed and the article may not interpret such results correctly. Do your homework before making any decisions and consider consulting a professional advisor.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Last Chance in 2014 to Avoid Large Potential Tax Hit on Reinvested Distributions in ETFs

At the end of last week the Canadian ETF providers were announcing the expected reinvested distributions on their ETFs for 2014. This year, there seem to be a lot of very high amounts, which could cause large unexpected income tax bills for investors holding the affected ETFs in taxable accounts. (This does not affect ETFs inside tax-free or -deferred accounts like a TFSA, RRSP, RESP, RRIF, LIRA etc.)

Reinvested distributions - John Heinzl of the Globe and Mail earlier this year described them as a phantom menace. You don't see the cash but if held in a taxable account they will be included on T3 slips in your income and you are therefore liable to pay tax. We also wrote about this back in 2008 in The Mystery of Fund Capital Gains Explained, when gains had to be reported despite the market having dropped enormously that year.

Most of the distributions arise from capital gains realized internally by the ETFs when they trade stocks to follow their index, though sometimes the CAD-hedging activities of hedged funds can cause it too. It's not something that we investors can control or foresee. Nor is the presence of high reinvested distributions inherent to certain ETFs, or a mark of poor management by the ETF manager. No one's to blame but it can still hurt.

ETFs with High Reinvested Distributions in 2014 - The final official figures will only be available in early 2015, which means some ETFs below will not come in exactly as shown. But by then it will be too late to do anything.

iShares - The December 18th press release from manager BlackRock with the figures for all their Canadian ETFs is here. Expressing the distribution as a percent of each ETF's current Net Asset Value per share tells us the relative impact of the amount. The three highest are:
  • 7.23% of NAV - iShares Advantaged U.S. High Yield Bond Index ETF (CAD-Hedged) (TSX symbol: CHB)
  • 5.04% - iShares Canadian Fundamental Index Fund (CRQ)
  • 4.84% - iShares S&P/TSX Canadian Dividend Aristocrats Index Fund (CDZ)
There is a raft of other iShares ETFs whose reinvested distributions exceed 3.0% of NAV - TSX trading symbols XCV, CUD, XEI, CIF, CSD, XEF, XEH, XHD, XMU and XMV.

BMO - Its press release is here. Only one of its ETFs will have reinvested distributions over 3%:
  • 3.61% - BMO MSCI Europe High Quality Hedged to CAD Index ETF (ZEQ)
Invesco Powershares - Press release here.Two ETFs have estimated reinvested distributions over 3%:
  • 4.33% - PowerShares S&P/TSX Composite Low Volatility Index ETF (TLV)
  • 3.26% - PowerShares Canadian Dividend Index ETF (PDC)
RBC Asset Management has none of its ETFs with reinvested distributions over 3% for 2014 according to its press release, nor does Vanguard Canada per its press release.

The income tax pain that the reinvested distributions will cause stands in contrast to what many investors may be experiencing when looking at their account holding. The Yahoo Finance chart below shows the price action of the highest reinvested distribution ETFs cited above. An investor who had bought any of these ETFs around the beginning of September would be looking at a capital loss position. Yet the reinvested distributions would make them liable for considerable taxable capital gains.
(click on image to enlarge)


To alleviate a potential cash flow problem for the investor to come up with the tax owing, First Asset has announced that it is paying out 25% of the special year end distribution on its ETFs in cash.

To avoid, trade before 1pm close of market December 24th - Shareholders of record as of December 30th or 31st, depending on the provider, will be liable. To avoid being a shareholder of record for both these dates, taking account of holidays, it is necessary to have sold a position in the ETFs before the TSX closes on December 24th.

Substitute a similar ETF - The way to stay invested in an intended portfolio allocation, after selling the offending ETF, is to buy a similar ETF, but not one that is identical, to avoid problems with the Canada Revenue Agency superficial loss tax rule that invalidates claims when buying the same property back within 30 days (see TaxTips explanation).

  • US High-Yield Bonds (CAD-hedged) - Sell CHB and buy BMO's ZHY, which has zero reinvested distribution in 2014
  • Canadian Dividend Stocks - Sell CDZ or PDC and buy BMO's ZDV, which has a very low reinvested distribution of 0.29% of NAV
Beware buying in till after December 24th - Anyone buying these ETFs today and holding past December 24th will incur a large gain to report. Though the reinvested distribution amount can and should be added to the Adjusted Cost Base of the investment, which reduces future capital gains to report upon eventual sale, the requirement to report the gain on the 2014 tax return means paying tax in advance before the investor realizes any gain. Needless to say, if you presently have no position in the high reinvested distribution ETFs, but want to buy in, wait till after December 24th to do so, in order to not be tagged with the tax liability.

Merry Christmas to all blog readers!

Disclaimer: This post is my opinion only and should not be construed as investment advice. Readers should be aware that the above comparisons are not an investment recommendation. They rest on other sources, whose accuracy is not guaranteed and the article may not interpret such results correctly. Do your homework before making any decisions and consider consulting a professional advisor.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Which Large Cap TSX Stocks are Most Dangerous or Most Attractive? - Use Short Interest with Volatility

Unlike stock analysts or media pundits (bloggers included!) who only take a hit to their credibility when their stock recommendations go wrong, short sellers (see short sale definition on Investopedia) have their money where their mouth is. And perhaps due to that fact, short sellers are often right (that doesn't mean they always make money, it's a win-big, lose-big stock market trading strategy).

The recently published The Long and Short of the Vol Anomaly by Bradford Jordan and Timothy Riley (free download on SSRN) studied the inter-action of stock price volatility and the amount of short interest on stocks in the USA from 1991 to 2012. The authors discovered the intriguing relationship that though low volatility stocks outperformed the market and high volatility stocks on average, if the high vol stocks are subdivided into those the short sellers are leaving alone from those they are attacking, there is a huge and consistent gap in performance. This graph from their study shows the enormous difference in long term performance.
(click on image to enlarge)

The high vol - high short stocks are real dogs (red line in graph) and the high vol - low short stocks are real winners (light blue line)! In between, but still much better than the market index of the dotted purple line, are the significantly out-performing low vol - low short interest stocks (green line).

Those results look intriguing. We decided to to apply the idea to the large cap ($2 billion plus market cap) TSX stocks.

Finding the Short Interest and Volatility of TSX Stocks
TMX Money seems to offer the only free stock screener to find stocks with our desired combination of beta / volatility and short interest.

The Short Interest Ratio (see Wikipedia definition) is the number of shares sold short currently outstanding divided by the average daily share trading volume averaged over the past 30 trading days.

Note that lists like the Financial Post's Largest Short Positions show the companies with the most shorts sold shares outstanding but when the large companies like the banks with huge numbers of shares on the market are on the list, it is not necessarily indicative of large market price risk, especially as the authors found that the huge gains or losses were associated with very volatile stocks, which our Canadian banks are not. For instance, TD Bank currently has a very large short position plus a high short interest ratio of about 20.4x but its beta is only 0.81, well below the TSX market average of 1. Though many short sellers are expecting TD to go down (making us think that those who would want to buy TD likely won't lose out by waiting), TD doesn't make our list below of high risk & high potential reward / loss due to its low beta.

The screen capture image below shows how to filter in TMX Money based on short interest, though we could also start filtering with the beta, which is under the Trading and Volume criteria drop down menu. We found by trial and error that a beta of over 2 (i.e. twice as volatile as the TSX overall) was sufficient to bring up a small list of stocks, most of which are highly shorted but a few of which are very lightly shorted.

(click on image to enlarge)

Once the filter is applied the results do not automatically show the short interest and the beta - it is necessary to click on Edit Columns then View More Selections to select the Short Interest Ratio and 60 Mth Beta columns for display. TMX provides beta for computed over the past 60 months only (unfortunately, the 36 Mth Beta doesn't bring up anything), so we cross checked with the 36 month trailing beta from GlobeInvestor's WatchList tool by entering the stocks into a new portfolio.

The Stocks
Our comparison table below shows what we found, colour coded to match the graph from Jordan and Riley - red the dangerous highly volatile and highly shorted, blue the potentially very attractive highly volatile but lightly shorted and green the safest least volatile - least shorted combination. For added interest we've thrown in data on the Analyst recommendations and Analyst EPS dispersion, along with which of these stocks happen to be held by some popular ETFs.
(click on image to enlarge)

The dangerous highly volatile and highly shorted - Little surprise, every one of these companies is either from the energy or the materials sectors, which have been taking the brunt of recent market declines. All of them also display a high dispersion between high and low Analyst EPS estimates, which we have found to be a characteristic of stocks with more downside than upside potential. This blogger won't be buying any Tahoe Resources, Lundin Mining or MEG Energy in the near future, no matter what Analyst recommends them as a Buy!

A handful of potentially highly rewarding highly volatile but lightly shorted stocks - A big surprise here, three of four are energy related - 
  • Precision Drilling (TSX: PSK) and 
  • OANDO Energy resources (TSX: OER) - or materials - 
  • PrairieSky Royalty (TSX: PSK). 
  • The other is Air Canada (TSX: AC).

Surprise! There are energy and materials companies amongst our dozen safe-looking least volatile - least shorted stocks - For example:
  • Whitecap Resources (TSX: WCP), 
  • Keyera Corp (TSX: KEY), 
  • Peyto Exploration (TSX: PEY), 
  • Domtar (TSX: UFS) and 
  • Franco-Nevada (TSX: FNV). 
No surprise, the safe-group stocks' EPS dispersion numbers mostly fall within the lowest or middle riskiness category of that measure.

Short Sellers do NOT at all have the same opinions about the stocks as the Analyst consensus - to say the least! None of the red group is rated a Sell by Analysts, two are Holds and most - 8 of 12 - are Moderate Buys. Who would you rather believe, those who have their money at stake, or who will suffer only a dent in their reputation? As we wrote back in 2010, take Analyst recommendations with a large grain of salt. Now we can add, the short sellers are that grain of salt.

ETF holdings differ dramatically - The benchmark market cap ETF from iShares, the S&P / TSX 60 Index fund (TSX: XIU) has a bunch of the short-sellers' targets but none of the stocks in the least-risky list. Meantime, BMO's Low Volatility Canadian Equity ETF (TSX: ZLB) has none of the short sellers' favorites and several of the least-risky group. The fundamentally weighted PowerShares FTSE RAFI Canadian Fundamental Index ETF (TSX: PXC) is a mix of the two. There are plenty of other stocks in these ETFs so performance will not be determined only by what happens to the 10% or so of the holdings which appear in our lists of this post. But look at the price performance of the three ETFs over the last six months in this Google Finance chart. XIU and PXC are down considerably, while ZLB is up!
(click on image to enlarge)

More investigation is required before buying any individual stock - No doubt some of the stocks in the respective groups will do as the research suggests - gangbusters up or down. The short seller signal is not a certainty for each and every stock. Some will do the opposite of the overall pattern. The research took baskets of stocks - much larger than the groups above - and averaged their performance, in addition to doing so over years. It's a statistical result that looks to be quite robust based on all the tests and checks the authors performed but common sense should warn us that it won't work in every case. 

As it happens, the Globe and Mail recently published the article Ten oil patch stocks that can weather the downdraft, which contains Canadian Oils Sands (TSX: COS), one of our red danger stocks. The article presents some data to support a positive assessment of COS. Maybe the short sellers are wrong and it could be a good buy after all. But the short selling interest data we have presented is, we believe, a useful element to the analysis of the company.

Disclaimer: This post is my opinion only and should not be construed as investment advice. Readers should be aware that the above comparisons are not an investment recommendation. They rest on other sources, whose accuracy is not guaranteed and the article may not interpret such results correctly. Do your homework before making any decisions and consider consulting a professional advisor.