My Best Investment

Back to school

I always get nostalgic this time of year.

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, I was a fretting teenager about to finish high school. While all the other girls were obsessing over prom and what college they were going to, my own world was crashing around me. My boyfriend dumped me two weeks before prom, leaving me dateless. That was also the year my father became chronically ill and was ordered to go on medical leave. There would be no college fund to support me. I was admitted to the university I had set my sights on, but I had no idea how I was going to afford it.

Humiliated and defeated, I opted to lowball my expectations on everything. I wouldn’t go to prom and I wouldn’t go to university. I had some great excuses to stop caring, so I leaned into them. My friends became my fairy godmothers. One took it upon herself to find me a date. Through her grad date, she managed to set me up with a model/actor (or actor/model?). My other friend made me copy and study her year’s worth of notes for my Biology 12 exam, the most demanding subject I had to study for that year. Because of my friends’ clutch support, I was motivated to keep going.

With Starbucks’ chocolate covered coffee beans to keep me jacked, I crammed like a champ. I aced everything that counted and I finished with honours. My grad date, whom everyone ogled that night, turned out to be a seasoned partier. Instead of binge-drinking at a house party with the other grads after prom, my friends and I followed our dates to a rave in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside where we danced until four in the morning. I took a cab home with my bestie as the sun was rising. I finished high school feeling like a rock star.

My next problem was going to be going to university. I got a job, but I couldn’t qualify for a student loan because the tax year prior to my dad’s medical leave stated he made a lot. The financial issue was moot as I didn’t even know what I was going to study even if I could afford school. With no money and no clear ambition, it made no sense for me to go to study at all.

I continued to work. Without any goals to anchor me, I spent my money faster than it came in. I was living the Gen X dream buying beer, candy, and cigarettes, watching movies all day, wondering about the future. I’ve told this story many times before and it’s because it was critical to everything I’ve ever done thereafter. My boss saw how much money I was quickly wasting after each payday. She gave me a talking to and told me how to start saving and investing. Her persuasive sisterly coercion got me going to the bank and getting started. Then after saving for a while, things changed. With money in the bank, I saw school as a possibility. Determined to go to law school, I reapplied to university.

I finished my bachelor’s in record time (thanks, Starbucks coffee beans!). By the end of it, though, I decided not to go to law school. With good financial habits and the benefit of going to university when it was still affordable, I graduated with no student debts. I traveled a lot and lived overseas for a few years but came back to Canada. Even though my studies in humanities was never directly applicable to any line of work I sought, having a degree gave me better job options.

After ten years of drifting, I was still by definition a slacker, but at least I had savings. I brainstormed many possibilities on where I was headed next. I found I was most curious about opening a business. This led to my part-time studies in business school and eventually, further studies and pursuits in investing and the stock market.

Today, I am once again a student. I am deeply curious about how the stock market works on the inside. I know what it is to be a trader/investor, but what happens behind the curtain is what I really want to know next. I am currently enrolled with the Canadian Securities Institute, working towards my Certificate in Equity Trading & Sales. I don’t know exactly where studying this will take me; whether I trade for others or still just myself, I will always be a trader, only a more educated one.

Whether you achieve your career peak and hit your financial goals, learning should never stop. You can take courses or just read books that will help you develop in parts of your life that you feel need focus. In the long run, being dedicated to your personal and professional development really is the best investment.

Money Talks

 

Recently, I did a presentation at the Toronto Public Library on investment basics. I had no idea how it would turn out, but I ran through my head a number of best and worst-case scenarios. It was better than I could’ve ever imagined.

I’d never seen a more diverse audience in age, background, and investment interests. Each person was comfortable enough to engage or ask questions – great questions, I might add. To all those who attended, I’d like to offer my deepest gratitude for your participation. This was the conversation I’ve been dying to have with people. This is the type of conversation more Canadians need to have with each other.

Today I’m going to share with you the questions that I can remember. I’ll add parts of my original answers, but I want to answer the questions more fully. These are in no particular order.


How long does it take for you to do your investment research each week?

Now, it’s a few hours a week, anywhere from two to six hours. But I also apply up to 20,000 hours of previous learning and experience. I hope that I can help others enough so that you don’t have to take as long as I did to learn how to invest.

I’d like to also add that many of my decisions result from bouncing ideas off my man, JP. He has put in the time and discipline to learn as well. We have the advantage of combined knowledge and experience. I share a lot of these very ideas in my weekly blog.

As much as I’d like to spend more time doing research and trading more actively, I would become more prone to micro-managing my trades. I’ve done a lot better with a more passive and hands-off approach.

How did you get a 70% return last year?

2015 was a terrible year for the Canadian market. The loonie and the Canadian economy were weak. We patiently waited for the market to stop going down. This happened around late February 2016. We looked for stocks that we knew traded actively and had suffered huge drops in share price. It was a very good time to get into the market. These opportunities don’t come very often.

We bought shares in TECK.B.TO, ECA.TO, BBD.B.TO when they were really cheap, and then in April, bought some APH.V (now APH.TO). We bought a few other stocks, but these few alone did very well after just a few months. We kept selling shares incrementally each time the stocks surged in order to secure profits (called ‘selling into the strength’), but they kept going up. We could’ve done much better had we just kept the shares in and moved up our stops (selling prices). It became a decision between banking on certain profits and waiting to see what will happen. We did a bit of both and we still have shares in all those stocks.

I don’t anticipate as big a return this year, unless the market has a major correction, soon after which there’ll be many more big buying opportunities (a bad and selfish thing to wish and wait for, I know, but…). My US portfolio, though, has been my big winner this year because I had the same idea with US tech stocks last summer.

One of the things I always say is that investors are always looking for new opportunities.

What ETF should I buy?

Many financial institutions create ETFs. Some are:

  • BMO
  • Horizons
  • Vanguard
  • iShares
  • Claymore

When doing your research, consider your investment objective – dividend income, market index performance, sector selection (like banking), fixed income, etc. Also consider the MER, share price, distributions, and frequency of distribution payments, to name a few things. You can look up this information on the ETF info sheet. For me, I only select among ETFs with higher trade volume.

Market ETFs can swing a lot in price because of the demand of traders in the market. So the ETF might be worth more (or less) than its actual value (NAV). Would it make sense to put some money in a market index ETF and some in an index mutual fund (which will be less prone to price swings)?

If you want to invest in the market, consider an ETF or an index fund – or both. The major distinction between these is the MER as it’s a lot higher for mutual funds than it is for ETFs; however, it can be more affordable to buy units in an index fund than it would be to buy shares in an ETF.

An actively traded market ETF can experience more volatility than the actual index it’s based on. Its price will vary based on the demands of buyers in the market. If buyers drive the price up, it’s possible for the ETF to be worth more than the net asset value (NAV) of its assets, so you’re paying a premium in share price. If investors are fearful, heavy selling can drive its price down below its NAV, so it’ll be trading at a discount. For index funds, the NAV is what it is after the market closes. At the end of the day, you shouldn’t notice a big difference between similar index funds, be it an ETF or a mutual fund. (If you do, the mutual fund will likely be underperforming because of the MER.)

What’s most important is that you’re 1) comfortable in what you’re investing in, and 2) you’re not paying too much in fees.

What do you think of mortgage-backed securities?

These have had a bad reputation as these were hugely responsible for the 2008 recession, but mainly because they were deregulated. They’re just bundles of mortgage loans that pay investors interest.

If you’re after real estate income, the REIT (real estate income trust) is great because it can pay investors their share of the distributions which will come from a mix of rent, mortgage interest, capital gains, as well as return of capital. You can also get real estate ETFs. Because of the mixed forms of investment income that come from these, they’re best held in registered accounts. Also, keep in mind the MER. I own a couple of these to add diversification to my portfolio. Other than the value of real estate happening in my own backyard, I don’t really follow the real estate market as much as I should.

What brokerages do you use?

I have opened accounts in the past with Disnat Direct and Questrade. I now have accounts with Virtual Brokers and Interactive Brokers. I’ve been with the last two for years.

What do you pay in commissions per trade?

With Virtual Brokers, I pay 1 penny per share. It’s less if the stock price is under $1. With Interactive Brokers, it’s 1 penny per share, but a minimum of $1 per trade. So if I buy 125 shares, I pay $1.25 plus any market data fees.

Both of these accounts were opened as margin accounts – trading on margin means you need to open with and maintain a minimum amount of cash in the account which allows you  3 times the buying power. So if you open with $25,000, your buying power is $75,000. To attract active traders, the commission fees are very low.

I also have TFSA and RRSP accounts with Virtual Brokers (VB). Thanks to JP’s slick skills in negotiation, we managed to have the same awesome rates extend from the margin account to our registered accounts. Often with registered accounts, you get charged a quarterly administrative fee. With VB, they do charge $25 plus HST unless your account has a minimum of $5000 in it.

I am an active FOREX trader. How should I be doing my taxes every year?

With an accountant. I did our taxes the first couple of years we started day trading. I had the advice of a friend who’s an accountant. She gave me samples on how to calculate the adjusted cost base of securities and their exchange rates, etc. It was actually a really good exercise in learning about taxation for the self-employed and how to factor in fees and expenses; on the other hand, it was a total headache. After that, we started using an accountant who magically does it all in a few days.

What is your take on robo-advisors?

They’re great if you don’t know what stocks or ETFs to buy, or when to sell them. They take away from you the inconvenience of guessing and researching and they make those decisions for you. I’d just be cautious about the frequency that the portfolio is rebalanced and focus on the ones that meet your criteria and charge the lowest fees. As you get more comfortable and savvy with reading the market, you should compare how your portfolio is performing against it and decide then if you might be better off investing in an ETF.

What is your advice for women and their investment choices, especially as they age?

Women have developed a reputation for being great long-term investors because we typically make conservative, less risky decisions. I feel that the financial markets have shifted so that being conservative could work against us in the long-term. Those traditionally conservative decisions, like owning a lot of GICs and low-risk mutual funds, could leave us with less money than what we actually need to have, especially as we live longer and longer. We should be thinking about how our portfolios need to keep generating income as we age. In my opinion, we should consider dedicating more of our portfolio to more medium-risk choices, like blue chip funds or stocks that pay us a dividend.

I know I have a pretty aggressive approach when it comes to making money, but I’m careful with most of my money and more risky with a smaller amount of it (or maybe that’s just what I tell myself and it’s more like half and half). A big part of my own early retirement plan is to live off of dividends, although I still want to make money on capital gains if I have to sell my shares to rebalance my portfolio.

What are good websites that could tell me more about Canadian securities?

I drew a blank – thank you to the audience members for their helpful input. Motley Fool Canada and Retire Happy were mentioned. I also think that Canadian Couch Potato and My Own Advisor are excellent.

You must have a really diverse portfolio?

Yes. It not only keeps things interesting, it spreads and reduces the risk factors within my portfolio. A lot of my trade decisions come from looking at the sector or industry first. That’s why the economy is a big part of my book. I have stocks and ETFs across many different sectors.

I risk very little for each stock, so I’m not worried if it turns out to be a dud (a rare occurrence). After a while, if I like a stock enough, I’ll buy more shares if there’s a new entry (called scaling in).

How do you research fundamentals?

I said I cared about two things: the price I got in at and dividends. I’ll admit, it was a shortcut answer. I don’t pay as much attention as I should to the fundamentals mainly because I learned about stocks from traders who studied price charts and used only technical analysis. When it comes down to it, even if a company’s fundamentals look good, if the stock price has gone too far up or isn’t trading well, I just won’t enter.

I use technical analysis for all my decisions and I apply very general guidelines when considering a company’s fundamentals. One day, I’d like to take the time to figure out how to use both forms of analysis to become an even better trader. For now, I rely on good charts that indicate signs that a trend is about to start; I look at the sector the stock is in; and I compare the stock to other stocks in its sector. Then I cross my fingers hoping that the rest of the market catches on and buys the stock up.


We all have different ideas on what we want to do with our money. There are so many different ways to apply strategies, even between people who have similar takes on risk and opportunity. What I think we all need to have is a general basis of knowledge and from there, we each can branch out and find our own approach to investing.

Thank you, TPL! I had a wonderful evening.

 

 

My Book, One Year Later

 

Happy Anniversary!

It was just a year ago that I got my book from the distributor in the mail. There were a lot of things running through my mind as to what my next moves were going to be to promote Loonie to Toonie. When I first started writing my book, I was just more set on writing it really well and getting it done. I figured the rest would take care of itself once it was published.

So much has happened in the last year. After doing a lot of new things, I certainly learned a lot about myself. I figured out what I’m comfortable with and what I actually dread. I found myself leaning towards what I’m most passionate about, which is helping and educating people who are really excited about investing.

There are many components to writing and publishing a book. Would I do it again? Maybe. I dedicated a lot of hours figuring things out, so the next time around, it should be easier. I’ll share my journey and process, and hopefully, offer some insight to any budding authors out there.


The Writing Process: Ego vs. Audience

There is a huge amount of ego required to take on a huge project such as writing a book and seeing it to its completion. Your ego is what fuels your drive; this is not a bad thing – it’s actually necessary. Use it to feverishly brainstorm, explore your ideas, flesh out your concepts, and challenge what you’ve already come up with. At some point, your ego will have to step aside so that you can ask yourself objectively, “How can I write this better?”

To tighten up your work, you’ll have to consider your audience. Once you hook in your readers, what will it take for them to keep turning the pages? You need to find a way to consistently engage them. For me, this was a challenge because I prefer fiction. I’m a die-hard story-loving reader, and the last person you’d ever expect to be a stock trader. To write a book on finance was a complete departure from my personality. I realized that given my skills in stock picking and interest in writing, I had to somehow turn my non-fiction piece into my own art form.

I’d written long and short screenplays in the past, so I became more sensitive to voice, tone, and consistency. I absolutely love movies! However, because of my screenwriting experience, I can no longer watch them without breaking down theme, tone, voice, character, setting, pace, beats, cinematography, editing, soundtrack, etc. I tapped into this habit of analysis to get me out of my writing funk, which came and went after each writing attempt over the course of five years.

When I was beginning to write my book, all I could do was introduce each topic by talking about my own relationship with money and the experiences that turned things around for me. It was one self-centred page after the next. I feared that only some readers would appreciate my experiences while others would be thinking, “Okay, you too sucked at money management. Move on and tell me how I can make money.” There are a lot of great personal finance books out there, but many are inundated with anecdotes. If I wanted to write for the wider, more diverse audience of Canada, I needed to consider that not everyone will have the same cultural and generational references.

I felt I couldn’t do justice to the book I wanted to write, so I decided to quit. As a last-ditch effort, I re-wrote a stripped down version of my chapter on the economy. I liked its simplicity. Then I did the same thing for my section on money. I unexpectedly found the voice necessary to write for my intended audience: new investors who didn’t know where to start and didn’t have time to waste comparing financial lessons and life experiences.

The Writing Schedule

I was committed to writing and getting this book done ASAP. To free up my time, I re-focused my trade strategies on holding stocks for longer periods of time. This way, I wasn’t required to log on to the markets every day or watch them all day long.

I had my own office space for trading, but I felt I couldn’t write there. I created a special writing space in the corner of my bedroom. I arranged all my reference books so that they could be readily and easily accessed. I organized all my information and research into folders and I had a whole filing system going on. I became my own office assistant!

Given my drive to write and the number of hours I could dedicate outside my job of managing a neighbouring property, I figured I could write a chapter each week. I also had the huge hurdle of being self-conscious of writing something that the public will one day be reading. To get over it, I signed up for a free blog site on WordPress and I committed to blogging and publishing a chapter every Tuesday. I did this for a few months for the first half of the book. After that, I continued to write a chapter per week, only I didn’t blog them.

What I found good about blogging my work wasn’t just the regular schedule, but it also gave me a real sense of accountability for publishing information. The rush of putting out your work for your friends to see gave me a glimpse of what it would be like to have my blood, sweat, and tears made public and available to criticism. It exposed me to the vulnerability of being an author. It also made me realize the accountability that comes with misinformation. It would take me one to two days to blitz-write a chapter and the next five days fact-checking against the clock until blog day. I vigilantly challenged every sentence’s construction, every idea I thought was true, as well as the proper usage of financial terms (the semantics are often very different from regular English).

Getting Professional Assistance

I didn’t have the time nor the experience to figure out how to publish my book. I personally knew a lot of smart, creative people who wrote books, pitched publishers, and then…waited for their rejections. For me, my traditional publishing options were even fewer because I was writing non-fiction with a focus on personal finance. I’d be approaching publishers who already published books for celebrity financial planners and famous business tycoons. I also feared that a publisher wouldn’t dedicate much marketing efforts for an unknown author. I couldn’t risk any of those things. I knew what I wanted to be done for my book and I was the only person I could trust to do it. Plus, I wanted to keep all of my royalties. Self-publishing was the only way.

I looked around and found Tellwell Talent, based out of Victoria. Their website alone was so informative as it broke down the process of publishing on your own. On top of that, you got to keep all of your royalties. A lot of other self-publishing services take a cut of your royalties. You pay for Tellwell’s extensive services (ISBN, cover design, interior layout, editing, marketing and publicity consultation, distributing, etc.). Once you publish, you keep the money your book makes from sales after your distributor takes its cut for printing your book.

I was set up with a project manager (Hi, Erin!), who was the go-between me and the designer and editor. They were all so helpful and informative throughout the whole process. I’m sure I was no cakewalk to deal with either! While I was still writing my book, I worked with the designer for my cover until I was ready to give my draft for editing.

I often wondered if other authors felt the same way, but there were times when I felt utterly alone as I was writing. I had a lot of support from friends and my man, JP, along the way, but I felt alone in that no one really knew what I going through. Once I signed with Tellwell, I felt I had a team behind me and it made a world of a difference as I completed my book.

Getting Published – Finally!

Once I finished the book and signed off on everything, it was a matter of getting set up with the different distributors. I knew I wanted to have a print version of my book, as well as the eBook. You can have one or the other, but I wanted both. For the eBook, I published through Smashwords (who distributes your eBook title to a bunch of other eBook retailers), Amazon Kindle, and Kobo.

For my printed book, it would’ve been a bit more complicated if I distributed through both Amazon Publishing and IngramSpark. Amazon Publishing would have to give you a separate ISBN along with different loyalty agreements with you while taking a bigger POD (print-on-demand) cut. The main upside was that Amazon Publishing would’ve promoted my book through Amazon. I went with IngramSpark because with them, I was able to affordably print my book in the glossy cover with the weird dimensions that I wanted. (I’m not a Type A, but I really was when it came to my book’s format.)

Ingram could also distribute to most major retailers all over the world. This means if a retailer agrees to place your title in its bookstore, they could order easily through your book distributor. Most retailers have accounts with Ingram, so I felt like I picked the right one. With Ingram, I could still sell my book through Amazon as a retailer, just like anyone who has a product, so it made more sense for me to just have to market one book in print with one ISBN. Thankfully, Tellwell set it all up with the distributors and I (mostly) didn’t have to deal with the headache of all that.

The Most Difficult Part: Marketing My Book

I feel like this warrants a whole book to describe what I went through. This is where an author’s love for his/her book gets tested. I consulted extensively with Sandy, Tellwell’s ebullient marketing consultant. I couldn’t have had a nicer, more encouraging person shake me up with the biggest wake-up call ever. She didn’t just tell me what I had to do – she gave me a real sense of how competitive the book market actually is.

Under Sandy’s guidance, I created a very ambitious marketing plan; I learned later, it would’ve actually required two of me to execute everything. JP was so supportive of what I had to do and he was cool with letting me sidestep our life plans so that I could dedicate myself to getting my book out there.

Even though I’ve long since used up all of Tellwell’s publishing services that I paid for, we’re still in touch. We still email each other with questions or things we discovered that could help each other. I admire a business model that is always evolving. They’ve got a great blog going that informs new authors and features some of their own published authors (scroll down the blog and check me out!).

Your Author’s Platform

Not everyone will want to blog or maintain their own website. I found that if there’s one thing I love doing – out of all the things I’ve done to promote my book – it’s blogging. Blogging might not make sense for all authors or their books, but it’s probably the best way to engage with other readers and to work on your writing. I’ve been very lucky as I was approached by Investor’s Digest of Canada to publish columns for them. It’s a great process for me to be able to step away from blogging sometimes and write to a different audience of investors and industry professionals.

There is no shortage to the discussions surrounding personal finance and investing. I just love writing about money and exploring the different themes that are related to money. I realized that my commitment to the topic of finance goes beyond my book. If you’re a fiction author and into fiction, then you might want to blog about other books or movies in your genre.

If there was one thing I wish I’d done before writing my book, it would’ve been establishing my platform first on loonietotoonie.com. I couldn’t have foreseen the importance of this, but it would’ve been helpful to have been established this way first. I say this because as you pitch media, bookstores, and libraries, they need a place to check you out. If you already have a website with subscribers and your own following on social media, it’s easier for them to say yes to an interview or to carry your book.

Retailers

You should know where you want to see your book sold. “Everywhere” is the obvious answer. However, you’re not a publishing house with a long-standing reputation and established connections to the various retailers out there. Before you pitch anyone to carry your book, you should create your own Marketing and Publicity Plan for your book. Your strategy should outline what you’re going to do to generate buzz, win over readers, the selling points for you and your book, and your book’s information. You can find some good template examples of other authors’ marketing and publicity plans if you do a search on Google Images.

I used Word to create mine and I sent its PDF to a discount printer to print a bunch of glossy copies. I also designed a bookmark to print as well. If you have a good colour printer that will print well on glossy paper and cardboard, use that instead. Otherwise, print this stuff out in bulk.

One of the most recommended and realistic routes to getting your book in bookstores is to consign them. I didn’t do this because there are very few bookstores where I live in the countryside of Southern Ontario. It would be challenging for me to check in regularly to see how my sales are going or to supply new books. Most of my book sales are from online purchases and at Indigo bookstores in BC and Ontario.

If you want to know what is expected of you when you pitch a bookstore, visit Barnes and Nobles because they have excellent guidelines that will help you professionally approach your pitches. Some retailers are more explicit with what they expect of you than others. Once you have your Marketing and Publicity Plan, you can submit that or work off that to give bookstores what they’re looking for.

Libraries

I submitted my book to my library to carry as a title. After it was accepted, I asked the librarian on what I should do to get it out there. She recommended a few librarian distribution sites located in Ontario. I contacted these places and they agreed to list my book and its information.

I did for libraries what I did for bookstores. I made a list of 100 Canadian cities and contacted most of their major university and college bookstores (because my book is educational) and their city and regional libraries. Some libraries require very specific formats for title submissions, while others don’t. So check each library’s website to find their key contact people. Some libraries have title submission forms that you simply fill out online. For libraries without online forms, I did title submissions by email or letter mail (get stamp rolls from Costco to save on postage!) directed to their key contacts.

If you want to have a good idea of what kind of information you should provide when requesting a library to carry your book, then visit Toronto Public Library’s web page that explains their process well. If you do this, you’ll have ready at your fingertips what you’ll need for most other libraries’ title submission requirements.

TPL was actually one of the first libraries to accept my book and they bought 11 copies. They also contacted me and asked me to do a presentation as part of their Personal Finance Program Series this summer! I’m super excited. People are already signing up months in advance, so if you’re going to be in the Toronto area on June 20th, book your spot now!

Other Marketing Moves

There is no end to the different ways to get people to hear about you. I’ve done radio and podcast interviews, had book giveaway contests, applied for book awards, did book signings, created podcasts and videos. I also tried out many strategies on social media.

After a year of marketing, I’m still plugging away at all this. The difference is, I’m now able to focus my energies using strategies that I most enjoy doing. Some things (like book signings) just made me flat out uncomfortable. Other authors will have a different experience. You might surprise yourself, but you won’t know until you try out different things.


Going Forward

Towards the end of last year, I stopped seeing myself as an author and more of a financial educator. (I think I missed my calling as a teacher out of fear of ending up with a student like me.) This shift was very subconscious. My stocks were doing very well, a lot better than my book sales! Rather than worry about boosting sales to make a career as an author, I just started to focus on what I was able to get done with the time that I actually had. I was getting nowhere worrying about what little time I had to do every little thing.

The best way for me to approach this was to prioritize doing the most important things first. I found that regardless of the things I set out to do, I ended up only doing the things I really wanted to do, which is to write and invest. I’m now showing readers who are ready to make money a lot more advanced stuff with stocks. I’m revealing my very own strategies that have made me money. I think it’s just a matter of time before most investors turn to stocks and ETFs, so I’m more than happy to be positioned early on where I am with a number of teaching tools readily available to anyone who wants to learn.

I hope more than anything that I can help people reach their financial goals. I still think it’s important that new investors read my book so they’re not left behind, so I still do a lot of marketing to put my book out there. If you already have my book and want to know where my head is at any given time, just read my blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earnings Seasons for Stocks

There are a few things that can rock the stock market positively or negatively: a major world event, a major company gets caught up in a scandal, election results, or company earnings.

Four times a year, publicly traded companies announce their quarterly earnings results. Some companies (like Apple) are such sector and market giants that their earnings will affect the whole sector – and sometimes entire market.

Earnings season definitely adds an element of uncertainty. If a stock you’re interested in buying is scheduled to report its earnings, buying it beforehand could work for or against you in a big way. Suddenly it feels like you’re placing a bet instead of making an investment.

It’s great if it gaps up in price. Your portfolio will glow thanks to this stock’s incredible move. You’re an amazing investor and have become unstoppable at picking stocks. It’s in your destiny to be the sage investment advisor among your peers.

If the stock gaps down, the feeling is the complete opposite. You’ll be spending your time looking into why the company had good earnings, yet it still came down hard in price. What horrible luck were you just cursed with?

Financial analysts are always trying to predict the earnings results of major companies. What happens then is that traders start to take their positions and buy shares in anticipation of the price going up in a big way. When the actual earnings report comes out, if the predictions were correct, the price usually goes up by a lot because other investors who were waiting on the sidelines are now acting on the correct information. If the predictions are off by a lot, it can send the share price down – even if the company had a better quarterly earnings report than the analysts predicted.

This doesn’t seem to make sense until you start thinking about the psychology behind pricing. There is one thing you should never lose sight of: Stocks move in price based on investors’ perceptions. Analyst predictions are important because they shape people’s perceptions on what they think is a fair price for shares. So, even if the earnings are predicted to be weak earnings, investors can decide on what is a fair share price based on those predictions. People like predictability, even if the information isn’t always good. We don’t like unpredictability because it increases uncertainty. The root of risk lies in uncertainty. 

If you’re planning on buying a stock that has yet to report its quarterly earnings, you can either wait until after its earnings report comes out, or just buy a fewer number of shares to lower your exposure to risk. Sometimes, after an earnings report, the share price stays the same. If it’s higher or lower in price by a significant amount, then I recommend waiting until it settles down before buying more shares. Any big move will trigger a lot of action before it gets quiet again. The trading volume will eventually go down and the daily price ranges will go back to being average. Refer to any of my lessons on price consolidations under the category, “How I Find and Pick Stocks.”

If you own a stock for a while, you’ll know that the big ups and downs from earnings come and go like the seasons of the year – it does happen four times a year, after all! You need to recognize that you buy a stock for more than just its quarterly reports. You invested in the company because you like its product or service, its sector, its dividend, and hopefully, the low price you got it at (thanks to all the techniques I’ve been trying to teach you!).

Stock Video!

Watch the Loonie to Toonie Stock Video!

Finally! My stock video is ready for the world – specifically the world of people interested in reading stock charts, which I believe is a small, yet growing world. My hope is that one day, reading charts of investments is no longer a practice unique to investment pros, but a basic skill that we all have.

You can hit it big in stocks without ever having to read a chart, but for me, it’s key to my decision process. I created this video to provide a more visual supplement to all the information that I’ve been sharing on how I find and select stocks. 

I’m often asked where to find stocks. I feel it’s important to not only tell you where I find stocks but how I decide on which ones to pay attention to. I hope this helps you in your investment endeavours! 

Finishing Strong: A Year in Review

Our household’s stock portfolio had a strong year-end finish, our best year yet. However, looking back at a “good year” doesn’t happen without some wincing. Hindsight is always 20/20, and I have to try really hard not to obsess over what more I could’ve made or what I should’ve done instead.

I do believe that improvement is more about recognizing what you’d do more of and less of rather than operating under a rigid set of rules. There is no exact science to investing and I learned over the years that overanalyzing mistakes and errors could lead to more errors or even worse, create fear and the inability to take action when the opportunity arises. 

For the markets, it was a positive year, but things change from year to year. Not every stock or sector did well, though. My biggest winners were from the Canadian market. They were mostly stocks of typically strong companies that got beat up in 2015. Did I sell some stocks too soon? Yes. Did I sell some too late? Yep. Did I enter much too late on some? O00h yeah! Did I take too much risk in some? Definitely. 

I’m not a psychic, I can only stick to my plan and go with what generally works in given circumstances. Given how busy I was with publishing and marketing my book, I allowed myself to be less disciplined (read: lazy) in the stock department, and I’d been benefiting from my main man JP’s expertise and efforts in stock searches. I’ll admit, the “doing less” attitude was intentional; now that I have data to work with, I can see where that hands-off attitude paid off and where it didn’t. Going forward, I can use this experience to my advantage.

Other than my recurring list of resolutions to workout more, eat better, sleep more, drink more water, meditate, do daily yoga, etc., there are definitely some investment-related goals I’d like to follow-through with for 2017:

  1. Finally finish filming and upload my stock video – gulp! (Many apologies – I almost got it done but then I didn’t as it’s been hard to film day-to-day because the charts always change!)
  2. Have a weekly list of stocks and ETFs to watch and post it on my blog.
  3. Regularly share my analysis and thoughts of the markets and economic news.
  4. Do transparent investing for my RRSP starting with $1000 (it’s ready to go!). 
  5. Put even more of my income regularly into my investment accounts.
  6. Properly document my trades (rather than sloppily jotting them down on post-its) by always (not sometimes) recording my entries, expected exits, and short and long-term plans for each stock. 
The Transparent RRSP Challenge

I got big plans for 2017 which can make me or break me (see #4 above). I feel it’s important to show how a new stock investor could invest a small workable amount such as $1000 and make it grow through regular contributions (for the benefits of compounding, increasing buying capacity, and tax deductions) and from picking appropriate stocks and ETFs.

My intention isn’t to show how I would invest in my own RRSP. Instead, my aim is to put myself in the shoes of a new stock investor by using my own money to invest in the very suggestions I’d make to a dear friend.

It would be cool to show the difference of investing for a TFSA. JP is considering opening another TFSA for the sake of doing a parallel Transparent TFSA Challenge. I’d do it if I had more time, but it would be too dizzying for me to manage my other investment accounts on top of TWO experimental ones. I’ll stick to one. 

Why am I doing this? I feel there’s still a lot of taboo around stocks as being too risky. Many years ago, that was truer than it is now. These days, with lower interest rates on top of inflation, you can no longer get ahead with the standard GICs or mutual funds with high MERs. Despite the shorter-term ups and downs of the stock market, it has shown over the long term very steady growth. In my opinion, investing in the stock market through stocks and/or ETFs is inevitable.

I realize that people generally crave certainty and fear uncertainty and having to deal with variables. That’s perfectly normal, but often this sentiment translates into higher levels of consumer debt (due to the instant gratification of shopping) and less in financial assets (because of longer wait times for the money to come in). It’s never too late to start, but you have to start somewhere with a little something. I’m doing the Transparent RRSP Challenge because I want to be right there with you, offering you all that I know, as you start your journey. You can think of me as that personal trainer who works out with you, by your side.

LET’S DO THIS!

New to Investing? Everyone Was at Some Point

Everyone who invests had to start somewhere.

Folks who have invested for much longer than a new investor started at a time when investing looked a lot more different. I’ll tell you about my investment journey that began over 20 years ago. I’ll also give some tips intended to give you things to think about as you read on.

The ’90s vs. Now: GICs and Term Deposits

20+ years ago, I opened an RRSP and my first investments were term deposits and GICs. These did all right as I was only interested in saving part of my pay cheques and not spending the money. This was at a time when interest rates were better. They were paying me 4.5% to 5%. It made sense for me to start out this way.

Now, putting your money in these is mainly just to lock it up. Interest rates are very low and these only offer a better rate with longer investment terms. It’s safe from you when you have spending urges, but not safe from inflation. If the inflation rate is 1.13% and your investment is paying you at 1.20%, then you’re not getting much of a return. If inflation rises to 1.5% during the term of your investment, you’ll find out the meaning of “inflation risk” the hard way!


If you’re new and nervous about investing and like the guaranteed aspect of GICs, you could get a variable rate GIC if current interest rates are low. You could also get an escalating rate GIC, particularly if you wanted to keep the money invested for a while, like up to five years. If you’ve always wanted to get into the stock market but was nervous, you could get a market-linked GIC. If the market goes up, you can make more money too (although there’s usually up to a maximum amount that you can get). If the market goes down, you get your principal back and you don’t lose any money, just time.

Because the returns aren’t that great with these cash investments, investing in an RRSP at least allows you to claim your contribution and get back more on your tax return.


The Early 2000s vs. Me: Mutual Funds

As my savings grew, I moved onto mutual funds. I had:

  • a Canadian bond fund
  • a Canadian index fund
  • a monthly income fund
  • a Canadian blue chip equity fund
  • a balanced growth fund
  • and a dividend growth fund.

These did all right, but I felt my portfolio should be doing better. I was regularly putting money into my RRSP – these additions seemed to mask the actual mediocre performance of my mutual funds. Little did I realize it was the high MER fees that were negatively affecting my returns.

When I asked an advisor about rebalancing the funds so that they could perform better, he told me I shouldn’t because he’s seen people doing much worse than my portfolio. Wow! That didn’t help me or encourage me. He just said he wouldn’t change anything – besides, I’d lose money from all the load fees I’d have to pay if I did move things around.

I was so frustrated because my online account made ‘switching mutual funds’ look commission-free and as easy as clicking a button. I didn’t know the difference between one fund from another. That’s why I went to the bank to ask for help. Advisors are supposed to be more helpful and if not, at least informative, right? So, I went to another branch and saw another advisor who was even more useless and uninterested in my concerns. It was so different from my experience when I had a big chunk of savings that I didn’t know what to do with. I had received such great service then. After I made the investments, it seemed no one wanted to assist me. 

I was much more angry with myself because I didn’t even know how to have the conversation that I wanted to have when I met with these advisors. I lacked the knowledge and vocabulary to know how to drive the conversation to get what I really wanted. I couldn’t tell you what a bond was. I didn’t know what “equity” meant. Is it an advisor’s job to teach me? Or was it more advantageous for them if I knew nothing? I don’t mean to rag on mutual funds and advisors. It really was just a situation that I outgrew and became frustrated with. Sometimes growth just ain’t pretty.


I actually think mutual funds are great for new investors who don’t have much in savings yetIt’s great to be able to buy shares or units in a fund and co-own assets (wait–does that explain the essence of the term “mutual”?) that you wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. As you grow your money, you’ll be able to afford to buy the actual assets directly. Until then, take advantage of automatic deposit options to enjoy the compounding effects of regular investing.

Mutual funds are so easy to get at your bank. The advisors can help you find the right balance of funds based on your risk tolerance. Just be sure to ask about the fees! Only opt to pay lower fees, but preferably go with the no-load fee options. If you’re deciding between two similar funds, choose the one with lower MER fees. I think mutual funds are best in the RRSP, not just because of the bigger tax return you could get for claiming contributions, but also because if some of your funds have US stocks, the dividends aren’t taxed in your RRSP.


The Late 2000s to Now: In Love with Stocks

I was frustrated enough to cash out my mutual funds and say sayonara to my bank. I parked my money in a discount brokerage and took the free stock trading program that came with opening an account. I took business and financial courses, including the Canadian Securities Course, to become more educated about money. I badly wanted to know what the financial industry knew and how the world of money worked.

The more I learned the more stoked I got about investing, particularly in stocks. While I’m still working on where I want to be financially, I now see my long-term financial goals happening a lot sooner thanks to stocks. And I’m still educating myself and trying to learn.


If you’re new or too busy to know what stocks to buy, get an index ETF for the Canadian and US markets. If you want a bit of diversification, get a sector or international ETF. If you want income, get a fixed-income or dividend ETF.

If you’re new but ready for more than just ETF investing, you can pick blue chip stocks that pay a nice dividend. As your financial knowledge increases, you can build a nice diverse portfolio with a suitable balance of cyclical and non-cyclical stocks.

If you have a US ETF or stock, invest it in an RRSP so the dividends aren’t subject to withholding tax. If your financial goal is more short-term and you’ll want the money in a few years, invest in the TFSA so you can withdraw the money without getting taxed. You can invest your money between both the RRSP and TFSA according to your different goals and needs. If you run out of contribution room, then hold your Canadian equities in a non-registered account to benefit from the favourable taxation on capital gains and dividends.


The 2010s: Educating Others

Once people knew that I was really getting into the markets, the inquiries starting pouring in. I didn’t feel that what I knew was applicable to my friends’ various situations, though. As much as I believe everyone should own even just some stocks, stocks aren’t ideal or applicable to everyone and for every situation.

I began to ask at my bank (not the one I ditched) questions on behalf of my friends. The advisors were so friendly and receptive. Sometimes they’d sit down with me if they felt the questions were more involved. Other times, we’d all be just talking about investment options. I was always impressed with what they knew, how willing they were to answer questions – even if I wasn’t going to invest my own money – and how much more focused they were on the client relationship aspect.

I’m not sure if the great random service I was getting at any given branch was the bank itself, if it was because I knew what I was talking about which led to better, more informed conversations, or simply because financial advisors now are supposed to be more focused on building relationships with clients for their VARIOUS needs, rather than just selling them investment products.

I actually wrote my book for my friends. I wanted the information to be easy enough to access and understand so that even if they had a general concept of how investments worked, they could seek and get incredible assistance from the pros. My book is meant to help liaise between the client and the financial industry and ultimately help investors navigate their available options.

I still get questions from my friends, mainly the ones who haven’t read my book yet! That’s okay. As my confidence over my own investments grows, so does their willingness to learn from me about how their money can make them money.

Stock Picking 5: Selling

Before I discuss selling stocks, let’s do a recap of the Stock Picking posts up until now.

Part 1: Looking for Stocks

Here, I introduce my stock searching process for Canadian and US stocks. I feel more confident in stocks that have higher trading volume. I look for major Canadian stocks under $20 that trade over 10,000 shares a day. For US stocks, they must be over $5 and average at least 500,000 shares a day.

Part 2: Determine Your Investment Goals

I talk about the different reasons you might want to buy stocks. There are different stocks for different investment objectives better suited by shorter or longer-term time horizons. Whether the time horizon is short, medium, or long, I like to get in early before a stock’s price really starts to take off. To determine this, I look at a stock’s price history chart. For shorter-term trades, I seek additional information by looking at the charts of a stock’s corresponding sector and the market.

Part 3: Factoring in the Sectors and the Stock Market

I generally look for stocks in a sector that has been quiet for a while and is just starting to warm up. I’m not as concerned if a sector has been lagging the market, as long as it’s not going down the tubes, especially if the market isn’t. If I’m interested in several stocks in a sector that is starting to heat up, then I’ll pick the stocks that meet my criteria in volume, price, and charts.

No Stock Picking Here. Just Buy the Market Through ETFs

Stock picking is not for everyone as it’s hard to outperform the market. It’s a matter of strategy, research, and some luck. You can simplify the whole process if you ‘buy the market’ by buying the market index ETF. What’s great is that you can also get extra money from an ETF’s distributions or dividends. You can buy ETFs for the Canadian, US, or international markets, or even sector ETFs. You can have a whole portfolio of just ETFs to meet a variety of investment objectives!

Part 4: Investment Income

Here, I discuss my interest in stocks that pay dividends and how I invest in the blue chippy stocks for my retirement fund. What a great source of income as you can also enjoy a profit if you sell your shares later on at a higher price! For these income-generating stocks, I’m less concerned about their sectors.


Part 5: Selling Your Shares

Objective: To determine when to sell some or all of your stock.

Why Sell Your Shares?

Here are a few reasons to:

  • Bank profits
  • Rebalance your portfolio because you’re aging and you need to reduce your riskier assets
  • You need the money to spend or to invest in other things
  • Tax-loss selling (a capital loss can be subtracted from other capital gains, thus further reducing taxation on profits)
  • Play defense because there’s been an interest rate hike or a recession, so you want to lower your exposure and risk
  • Your stock stops paying a dividend
  • Your stock’s company or sector is in trouble and this is affecting the share price
  • Your stock is an underperforming dud
Banking Profits for Retirement

My retirement fund will consist mostly of investment income-producing assets. I’m optimistic to a fault. This means I sit back thinking that most of the dividend-paying stocks for my retirement fund will be worth a lot more in share price too. When I’m a spry elderly lady, livin’ large, and planning my next world adventure, I’ll sell some of those shares and use the massive profits to pay for my trip. If the markets reach exaggerated highs, I might sell some shares to buy a decent annuity.

Banking Profits for My Swing Trades

For my swing trades, I try to give a stock time as it moves within the profit zone, which is anywhere significantly higher than what I paid in share price. I look at the price charts to try to determine how far they’ll go before they experience a major selloff.

It’s a lot more realistic to expect a cheaper stock to double, triple, or increase multiple times in value. Once my investment has more than doubled in value, I usually sell half to 2/3rds of the shares and keep the rest of my shares in for the longer term. This way, I get back my principal investment and I can reinvest it along with the profits in another stock. If the remaining shares don’t keep going up in share price, I’ll sell them for a smaller profit — or break even at worst.

I’ve mentioned before that I like my Canadian stocks cheaper because my Canadian trading account is less funded. I also like them cheaper because I can buy more shares. I find that in general, Canadian stocks don’t move as quickly in price. I can still make money, even with smaller price moves, since I have a lot of shares. For my US swing trades, I use fewer shares than I do for Canadian stocks because they’re more expensive.

US stocks are good for swing trades mainly because they usually can move a lot more in price in a shorter amount of time than Canadian stocks. In other words, they get a lot of price action. I look for stocks that move on average at least $1 in share price in a day. The downside is, when stocks move faster, you have to act faster. If you’re not paying attention, it might get right into the profit zone and then sell off more quickly than it took to get there.

For more expensive stocks, it will take much longer for your total investment to double in its full value. This can take years. Sometimes you’ll have a jackpot situation where there’s a buyout; however, you can’t just wait and hope for these rare events to happen. So what swing traders do is decide how much of their investment they’re willing to risk losing (not all) and see if they stand to gain at least twice, three times or more that amount.

What…?

A lot of traders talk about ‘stops’ to minimize losses. A stop is basically your uncle point where you decide it’s better to take a calculated loss at a certain price than to lose more than that. Once a stop is determined, a trader will calculate how much he or she expects to gain and whether it’s realistic given the stock’s chart, its sector, the market, etc.


I’ll break down here how stops and setting targets work

lulu

  • Let’s say you bought 100 shares of a stock trading at $59.00 per share. Your investment is $5900. But there’s no way you want to lose an entire $5900 if things go south. And how long will it take for the stock to double in price to $118 a share? 
  • You might determine through analysis of its price history and other data that you will not accept a loss lower than $54 per share. You don’t want to lose more than $5 per share, which is $500. So of your $5900 investment, you’re only risking $500 of it. 
  • For this trade to be worth it, you want to at least get double the money you’re risking. Some traders want more, some are okay with less, it’s a personal thing for each person.
  • Take the $5 risk and to get double the reward would mean a $10 price increase at $69.00 ($1000 profit). Triple reward is a $15 increase at $74.00 ($1500 profit). All because you were willing to risk $500 of your investment.

This is a trade I actually took this week. It had a good earnings report (are see-through yoga pants back in style?) and it jumped close to the triple reward zone. It was good enough for me, so I sold 80% of my shares at $71.90.

For my remaining 20%, I’ll hang on to see if it’ll keep going up. Each time it surpasses another risk-reward multiple ($74, $79, $84, $89), I’ll move the stop up on that. If it breaches any of those multiples, I’ll sell the rest.


I use a very loose form of the stop method as I found it to be a pain to bother with stops. I found that with most of these trades if I’d waited a bit longer, I wouldn’t have taken a loss–instead, I would’ve ended up with a huge gain. I found that once I started to set more loosey goosey expectations as to what I’m willing to lose and what I expect to gain, my trading account started to flourish. Yes, I am a loosey goosey swing trader.

I find that if the stock is of a good company in a strong sector, even if you had to endure the discomfort of underperformance, the only thing you really lose is time. Because once the stock really starts to rock, it was totally worth the wait.

This is why sectors are important. If the sector is strong and your stock is strong or stronger than the sector, then you reduce the chance of sitting painfully through negative numbers. If, however, your stock is much weaker than its sector and is going down while the sector is going up, then there could be something else going on with the company that you might have to look into.

Having said all this, I’m not saying to ignore your threshold for losses. You must figure out what works best for you and trade responsibly out of respect for your money. For me, a good swing trade is more than just price action. It’s a combination of factors such as the company, its sector, and the market. Since I consider multiple reasons, I’m okay with waiting out the unforeseen downturns and I don’t totally wig out if the price gets a little out of whack.

Thanks to a diverse portfolio, I only ever have a small fraction of underperformers while the others do well. Sometimes these turn a corner and become the top performers in my portfolio.


Swing Trading is NOT for Everybody

Why do I swing trade? I don’t live much of a structured life (although I sometimes crave one) nor do I have dependents. I have a higher risk tolerance so I can endure the dry spells and downturns and patiently wait for the profits. I’m quite happy to aggressively grow my account in the mid-term while my more solid stocks grow for the long-term. It’s exciting, interesting, engaging, and I can go on about the fun I get out of being tapped into the markets.

Making money like this isn’t for everybody. I’m only sharing my strategies so that curious readers will have a better idea of what I do with my own money. All of what I write is only for information sharing purposes.

While there is a risk component to any kind of investing, there are many ways to reduce that risk with good diversification. To do this effectively, it’s good to be knowledgeable, even of the investment basics. Most working people, in my opinion, are better off saving regularly for their goals and investing their extra savings with a part of it in conservative stocks and ETFs that pay a dividend. No doubt, a lot of money can be made this way!

Some More on Sectors

Rack

My closet, the retail sector.

How I Stumbled Upon Sectors

With investing, I try to think in terms of the big picture. I find it useful to be aware of the moving parts within this picture. When I started to learn about stocks, I was clueless. I couldn’t read a financial column. JP was reading the Wall Street Journal and he had to translate everything for me. At that point, I only understood how a stock worked and what a brokerage account was, but that was it. I had taken courses in business, accounting, and investing, but so much of it went over my head. I just had a lot of different information floating about and not enough experience to apply this information as a novice trader.

I decided to take the Canadian Securities Course to get a better idea about the financial industry, investments, how they work, what professionals do, and what investors need to know. It was great because I could go at my own pace and get more into the stuff on equities. I honestly can’t say studying for the exam was loads of fun, but I was happy enough to pass. I loved that I ended up with a better idea about the workings of the financial world and Canada’s economy.

The more I learned about investments, markets, and the economy, the more fascinating money was to me. I became more aware of the psychological component with money, spending, saving, and investing. There is nothing static about the markets, the spending trends that drive the economy, the saving spells that slow it down, and particularly the movement of money between the different sectors and industries.The market is constantly in flux because it’s made of many different components that drive these fluctuations. Money is always being made somewhere.

One of the most important things I learned is that getting a good read on the economy will help you make better investment decisions. Having even just a basic understanding of the economy can make the difference between a novice investor and a savvy one. I found that watching sectors has helped me make money in the short term and longer term. Sector watching can also give you some idea where the overall markets might be headed towards. Sector movement can help determine why a market is up or down. Understanding sectors is important enough to me that I discuss them along with the economy in my book, Loonie to Toonie.

One of my readers seems to share my interest in sectors and has been asking me about where to find more information on them. I’m happy that she’s recognized the importance of understanding sectors and wants to do her own sector research.


Some Places to Look Up Sector Performance

Click here for a great list of sector indexes that track TSX stocks. If you click under “Symbol,” you will be taken to the index’s chart. You can select the time frame at the bottom of the chart. I suggest looking at the 1-year chart, or even longer. I find that longer time frames provide better insight on overall sector performance. For U.S. indexes, you can find a handy sector list here.

I’m often stalking stocks and looking for new ones that might possibly make a move in the near future. As I mentioned in a previous blog, “Stock Picking – Part 3: Factoring in Sectors and the Market,” I look at stocks, their respective sectors, and the market. It’s easier for me to just type in a sector index’s ETF symbol when I’m on my charting screens.

One thing to note: ETFs don’t always move in sync with their corresponding indexes because ETFs are actively traded on the exchanges. Sometimes ETFs will move more or less than their index as it depends on the trading volume and demand, or lack thereof. Having said this, looking at the sector or market indexes will provide a more accurate picture than the ETF. I’m super lazy, so it’s easier for me to just type in a sector ETF that I’m familiar with if I’m just looking on my phone and I’m not on my trading platform at my desk.

Reports on Sectors and the Economy

Economic reports happen every day. Some get more attention than others. The more important the report, the more effect it’ll have on the markets. Some of these reports are sector-focussed. Some sectors give big clues as to where the market could be headed. For example, a strong economic report on new home sales could indicate an optimistic economy and stronger retail sales. I always look at the US economic calendar to see where there might be a lot of action or potential change in the markets. To know what these reports mean and their significance, click on “Event Definitions.” Here is the Canadian economic calendar and here is the international economic calendar. Many different financial websites have economic calendars, so find ones with formats and reports more suitable to you and your interests.

Media

I sometimes watch CNBC and BNN because I like to listen to industry folks. I could watch that stuff all day (especially CNBC’s Fast Money as they’re traders who sometimes have highly entertaining arguments!). There are always so many different points of view on stocks, sectors, and the economy. There are a lot of opinions out there, many of which are conflicting, but these provide additional context to the charts.

If you read any financial paper, newsreel, website, or blog, you’ll also find a lot of up-to-date reporting on micro and macroeconomic stuff. The news often discusses the employment situation in certain industries or businesses. Consider your own job and the industry you’re working in. You might be able to see where you can be headed career-wise if it’s a growing or steady industry. Look at your bills and see where you’re paying the most. Maybe it’s in a sector that you should invest in. Sectors are out there and also are very much a part of our everyday lives. We know more about them than we might be aware of.


I’m sure my rudimentary research methods would make any financial professional shake his or her head!

As important as it is to know about sectors, there is no exact science in applying this information. It’s just one aspect of financial understanding. Some of your best investments will be so long-term that they will endure decades of economic fluctuations and sector cycles.

In the spirit of being financially literate, understanding sectors and their relationship with the economy will make you more financially fluent. That is how more of us can engage in the important conversation on financial matters.

 

 

 

 

Food & Finance


How Much We Spend on Groceries

Our total grocery costs over the last three months amounted to:

  • September: $246.68
  • October: $206.35
  • November: $196.90

This doesn’t count eating out. We eat out once a month and we’ll spend anywhere from $60 to $90. We also work part-time in a fancy seniors home where we get to eat supper on the days we’re working, which is about three to five days a week. Before working there, our monthly grocery bill averaged out to be $360 to $420 a month and we went out for dinner twice a month. 

It took us a few years before we were able to get our average monthly grocery bill down to what it is. JP and I have been living in Southern Ontario for five years now; it was a matter of trial and error, buying from the different grocery stores before we found where we can generally get the best prices for what we eat on a regular basis.

Our food costs are low for the following reasons:

  • We shop at two to four different places for the cheapest prices;
  • We’re vegetarians (don’t be hatin’!);
  • We make most of our meals at home, quick ‘n’ easy style;
  • We hardly eat packaged food;
  • We always look at the cost per unit;
  • JP is uncannily a savant with prices. He’s like a human app. I don’t know if this talent stemmed from watching stock prices so much, but he just knows when something – in or out of season – costs more than it should;
  • We add up our costs each month and compare our monthly spending.

Where We Shop
No Frills

This is generally the best place for most of our produce (bananas, oranges, onions, broccoli, kale, beets, sweet potatoes, potatoes, parsnips, avocados, tomatoes, cauliflower, squashes, carrots, etc). Here, we also get our spices, rice, pasta, beans, legumes, tofu, and canned tuna for our cats. JP eats salmon once in a while, so he’ll get the frozen packaged salmon when it goes on special. Every week, I bake our bread, so we get our baking needs here too.

We accumulate PC Points whenever we shop which gets us $20 off every three to four months or so. On your membership account, you can designate your preferred food choices. When you do this, they’ll notify you when your faves go on special each week and if you buy them, you get extra points. When we started doing this weekly points special thing, we started accumulating enough points to get money off on a regular basis. What’s also nice is that in case you miss the points specials one week, you can save them for the following week if you need to.

Although No Frills is connected to Independent and Superstore, the prices aren’t always the same from store to store, so we try to be mindful of that. We get our garlic, sauces, and vinegars from Superstore. I also like the prices and selection of personal care products at Superstore. Sometimes the food prices are cheaper at these places than they are at No Frills. 

Comparable places for the cheapest produce are Walmart and FreshCo too. We’ll go there if it’s more convenient for us. 

Costco

They tend to have the best prices for apples, mushrooms, spinach, lettuce, cheese, and eggs. We get most of our other staples here. We calculated that the amount we save on tea and coffee alone pays for the annual membership! Here, we get our oatmeal, coffee, tea, olive oil, canola oil, sriracha, mustard, hot chocolate, soy milk, milk, maple syrup, veggie burgers, edamame, tissue, detergent, toothpaste, and vitamins. I’m now off the local ice cream, but we were getting it here at such a good price. 

This summer, I bought from here an inexpensive set of little tomato plants which I planted and grew in my backyard. From late-August to now (late November) we’ve enjoyed the reddest and tastiest tomatoes. 

At Costco, we bought a 5L tub of Pink Solution, this extremely effective, non-toxic natural cleaner. About twice a year, they’ll have a vendor selling it. We’re going onto year 3 of using it and we still have 2/3rds of a container remaining. We use it to clean everything in our house. It cost us about $50 and it also came with this incredible grease remover and awesome stain-removing laundry bar. We just LOVE this stuff!

Bulk Barn

We get peanuts and xylitol sweetener here. Sometimes we’ll splurge and get raw pumpkin seeds, which aren’t cheap at all. But when you heat those seeds for 4-5 minutes over a frying pan on medium heat and add a bit of soy sauce at the end, BOOM! You now have the tastiest food to go with drinks!

Other Places

We live among farmers. So in the spring and summer, we’ll sometimes get our eggs, syrup, and veggies from the family-run farmer stand down the road. We also buy a massive bucket of honey one to two times a year from a guy down the road who sells honey for a local beekeeper.


How We Eat

We’re healthy eaters, however, we also can be pretty lazy when it comes to cooking. We’re huge fans of low-fuss cooking. We found that the only way to enjoy healthy eating is to make really tasty food using good seasoning and sauces. 

I usually just stir-fry onions and veggies to eat with rice, pasta, legumes, tofu, and even oatmeal. JP likes to bake everything: veggies, squash, and even his salmon. It is our habit to press garlic and marinate it in olive oil and vinegar (apple cider and balsamic) with some seasoning. We always have a bottle of this garlic concoction to pour on top of whatever we’re eating. It’s a great way to keep your weight down and stay healthy when it gets cold. Once in a while, I’ll make a killer onion potato omelette to manage my carb cravings and to nurse hangovers. To manage chip cravings (at heart, I’m a chip addict), I make kale chips.

For meals that take longer to prepare, I’ll just throw on some Netflix and watch while I cook or bake. When we have people over, I’ll just use recipes from my Women’s Health magazines to change things up and try new food and ingredients.

We cook in larger amounts to last us two to three days. When we’re not at our part-time jobs, we’re working from home, writing, or doing stock stuff. Having delicious, nourishing food at the ready kills the need to nosh on junk food. Additionally, when you’re well-nourished, you don’t need to eat as much. I used to be a junk food junkie, but I know that proactively eating healthy will lead to a longer, healthier life. I still eat sweets and junk food once in a while, but it’s no longer a staple in my shopping bags.

If the life-extending, artery de-clogging way I eat grosses you out, I apologize! As much as I want to pursue wealth, I want to be healthy and youthful enough to enjoy my money for years to come. Many people find that the healthier the food choices they make, the more of their money they end up saving. How great is that?

Health IS wealth!

 

Stock Picking 4: Investment Income

Part 4: Earning Investment Income from Stocks

Objective: To buy and hold dividend-paying stocks in my retirement fund.


Over the last couple of months, I’ve held off making any long-term buys for my retirement portfolio as I wanted to wait until after the US election. Now that it’s over, I can see how the markets, sectors, and stocks from both Canada and the US reacted. For the last week, JP and I had been watching stocks and making decisions on what to hold for the long haul. If there’s one thing they all have in common, they all pay a dividend.

The Dividend Income Strategy

The big goal  with stocks is to be able to sell your shares at a higher price for a capital gain or profit. When stocks give their shareholders a dividend, then it makes it less desirable to sell your shares as they’re now a source of income!

If you’re buying stocks purely for dividend income, then the price you pay per share and what the sector and market are doing at the time have little significance. It’s intended as a long-term strategy and the idea is that over time, a dividend-paying stock of a good company should go up in value the longer it’s around and able to maintain dividend payments to its shareholders.

For me, these stocks are intended for my retirement fund. I’m still decades away from retiring, so I haven’t sold these stocks yet! With lesser ability to work and fewer job options, I want to have an investment source of income, and dividends are just that. In my opinion, this is the most simple form of stock investing and from a long-term perspective, the wisest.

If you have a blue chip company like a big bank or utility company you’d like to invest in for dividends, then you can accumulate shares over time, buying whenever it suits you. For me, when my stock goes down in price, I plan to buy more shares as it’s more affordable. I met a guy who buys shares of just one bank stock — his bank. He watches the stock price and whenever his stock takes a hit, he’s buying more shares. Over time, you can accumulate a lot of shares; the more shares you have, the more you make in dividend income.

So if you look up a stock on its company website, they’ll usually have its dividend payment schedule as well as what they pay their shareholders for each share they own. It’s usually on a quarterly basis, but sometimes dividends are paid monthly.

Here are some things to note:

  • Not all companies pay a dividend as they don’t HAVE to;
  • Companies don’t always pay the same amount in dividends each time – they can pay more or less each time;
  • Companies can suspend dividend payments for periods of time if it financially makes sense for them – doing this can often make the stock price go down;
  • If you’re receiving dividends from a Canadian company, you get a tax credit, so you can hold these stocks in non-registered accounts;
  • If the company or your brokerage doesn’t have the DRIP (dividend reinvestment plan) feature to automatically buy more shares, the dividend income just goes into your investment account and you can reinvest it at your discretion;
  • If you’re receiving dividends from US companies, then you should hold these stocks in your RRSP as we have an agreement with the US that investment income in retirement accounts won’t be subject to international withholding tax.

My dividend-paying stocks so far are in utilities, energy, finance, and consumer staples. My discount brokerage doesn’t offer the DRIP option, so the money just comes in regularly into my investment account and it’s nice to see my portfolio increase in value from both the capital appreciation of my stocks and from regular dividend payments.

If you’re off stock picking, you can also buy shares of a dividend income ETF. The dividends that are generated by the stocks in the fund are paid to you in the form of distributions (but also often called dividends). I, too, own a preferred share laddered ETF that pays me a substantial dividend every month!


 Generating a regular investment income from solid dividend-paying stocks of Canadian companies is a great strategy for the long term!

No Stock Picking Here. Just Buy the Market Through ETFs

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When I started trading stocks, I did a lot of my learning in different online chatrooms where traders with their handles would list the stocks they were watching and their likely entry and exit points. Since I traded together with JP, I thought an appropriate handle for a couple would be something that always came in pairs, like ‘Skates’ or ‘Gloves.’ We settled on ‘Antlers’ because it thoroughly amused us whenever someone wrote something like, “Nice call, Antlers!”

Some days, there was little action and it was hard to find hot stocks. When this happened, the play would be to ‘buy the market.’ This meant trading the market ETF (exchange-traded fund). As a very short day trade, ‘trading the market’ is always the dodgiest pursuit (we’re talking going UP and DOWN all day), but I found that for the long-term, this is the way to go for most investors.

Trying to create a portfolio that outperforms the market is a very involved commitment. Picking stocks means searching, researching, and analysis. If you can find some great picks to give your stock portfolio the boost it needs to look better than the market, then keep up the good work.

For the busy investor who recognizes the trouble involved with outperforming the market, market ETFs are a great choice. The commission and MER fees are lower than they are for mutual funds. Additionally, they’re liquid like stocks and you buy them the same way as you would for stocks through your brokerage account. As ETFs are funds that offer the diversification of the different stocks in a market index, you also receive the dividends those stocks pay out in the form of distributions. Add all these benefits to market performance, and you’ve got something good going here!


Below are some ETFs that trade in the TSX. For your research convenience, you can click on their links to access their Fact Sheets and learn more about their distributions and stock holdings.

The following is a list of Canadian market index ETFs. There are a lot more, but these ones have higher volume than most of the other market ETFs in the TSX.

A well-diversified, balanced fund portfolio should have some foreign holdings from the US and globally. Here are few US market ETFs:

The global index ETFs generally have lower trading volume, but in this situation with fewer choices, that’s all right. Here are some to check out:

These are just some of the ETFs. There are hundreds to thousands of others available at different prices.


As you’ve read previously in Stock Picking 3, there are also sector ETFs. There are ETFs for pretty much any investment objective you can think of. There are ETFs with fixed-income assets such as bonds and T-bills, ones that cover specific industries, commodities, and foreign currencies. Please keep in mind that some of the more specialized ETFs require more research and management of the assets in the fund, so they’ll have higher MERs than the market index ETFs.

When I was still newish to investing, my portfolio consisted entirely of mutual funds. It was well-diversified, but I know now that I could’ve done better financially had I invested in ETFs because of the significantly lower MERs and commissions. BUT–I didn’t know what an ETF was back then or even how to open a brokerage account, so it didn’t matter. In the last 10+ years, ETFs have been growing so much in popularity and variety that now you could achieve a well-diversified portfolio consisting only of different types of ETFs.

I don’t own any market ETFs as I like to pick stocks and I especially like picking cheaper stocks. But personally, if I were to invest in ETFs, I’d wait until the new year once it’s clearer where the markets are going with interest rates (will they go up or stay the same?), quantitative easing, and a new US president.

Stock Picking – Part 3: Factoring in Sectors and the Market

Part 3: Factoring in the Sectors and the Stock Market

Objective: To look at how a stock is performing in relation to its sector and the market.


Sectors

Many things can move the market. A major recession. An increase in interest rates. A major election. A major sector going up or down.

In the last couple of years, the oil sector took a big hit due to a saturated market with too many players getting greedy. A lot of the Canadian market is affected by oil because it’s one of our major commodities. So the Canadian market took a huge hit, along with our loonie. This impacted our businesses as it reduced our buying power outside Canada. Having said that, after being so down last year, we had a remarkable recovery and better performance than the US markets since January of this year.

Although the Canadian and US stock markets are different, I often check out the US stock market and sectors to give me an idea of the major trends going on in our part of the world. (I will definitely be looking at the US markets after the election results come out this November!)

The following is my list of sectors and industries that I like to examine. You may be more general or more specific as you can further categorize sectors by looking at the different industries that fall within them. I like to check these out from time to time to see if there are new opportunities, or if current opportunities look like they might run dry soon. Please note that this list doesn’t contain all the sectors and industries.

  • Utilities (XLU)
  • Consumer staples (food & beverages, cigarettes, household & personal care products) (XLP)
  • Healthcare (XLV)
  • Pharmaceuticals (PJP, XPH)
  • Transportation, shipping, and delivery services (IYT)
  • Financial (banking, lending services, and insurance) (XLF)
  • Retail (XRT)
  • Basic materials & construction (IYM)
  • Tech (XLK, AAPL, MSFT)
  • Energy (OIL, XOP, IYE )
  • Home building (XHB)
  • Gold (GLD, GG, AU, NEM)
  • Silver (SLV, SLW, AG/FR.TO)

The way I check out these sectors is by looking at their respective ETFs (exchange-traded funds) or the biggest stocks in those sectors, marked by the blue ticker symbols. If you’re not sure what an ETF is, that means you definitely haven’t yet read my book where I explain ETFs and indexes in easy-to-understand terms (Read it! The eBook is $2 right now!). I look at more than one ETF for some of the sectors.

You can create lists of any stocks you want to keep an eye on when you use freestockcharts.com. I have a list saved for sector ETFs. I can just easily go through my list on freestockcharts.com and check out the charts. Also, you can look up a sector by typing something like,”Retail etf,” anywhere on the screen in FreeStockCharts and a bunch of options will come up and you can select from the multiple options.

chart-1d

I apply the same principles when looking at the charts of each sector as I do stocks. I try to see if the sector has been hot for a while (well above the airplane) or if it’s just starting to warm up (at or below the airplane), or if it’s been quiet and moving sideways (along the runway). If a sector has been moving sideways and just starting to move up, I’m more interested in stocks that fall in that sector because it means there could be new opportunities to buy at lower prices. In investing, this is called “sector rotation.” If a sector is hot, I’ll wait for it and its stocks to cool off.

Remember the main M.O. of a savvy investor is to always look for new opportunities, not to follow a trend that’s far into its season.


The Stock Market

There is a lot of fear-mongering, even among savvy investors, with regards to stock picking and timing your investments with the market. It’s because people hate being wrong. No one wants to give wrong information. But for anyone who’s invested, you know you can be wrong for one month and then be right the next month and be well in the money. You can be right for one or two days and it’ll be months or, in rare cases, years before you’re in the money again.

It is hard to know exactly where the market is headed, but it’s easy to see where it’s been–to me, this is more important than making predictions. The way I see it, if it’s happened already, then you have something real to work with.

For the Canadian stock market, I look at these ETFs:

  • XIU (iShares X&P/TSX 60 Index)
  • XIC (iShares Canadian S&P/TSX Capped Composite Index)

For the US stock market, I look at these ETFs:

  • SPY (S&P 500 index)
  • DIA (SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average)
  • QQQ (Nasdaq 100 Index)
  • IWM (Russell 2000 Index for smaller US companies)

I analyze the charts the same way I do for sectors and stocks on freestockcharts.com. I always compare stocks and sectors against the market. I ask these questions:

  • Is a stock lagging or leading its sector?
  • Is a stock lagging or leading its market (Canadian or US)?
  • Is a sector lagging or leading the markets?

My ideal situation: A sector trading on its own page

If the stock market is moving downwards (for the previous month or longer), but a sector has been moving sideways and is starting to heat up, it’s likely going to lead the market. I’ll be looking for stocks in that sector using the criteria I discussed in Stock Picking Part 1.

My less ideal situation: A sector trading like the market will be more affected by the market

If a sector’s chart looks just like the stock market’s chart over the previous month or more, it’ll likely be affected by the market, so if the market goes down, your sector will likely go down with it too. An individual stock better have an amazing chart (LONG sideways trading–we’re talking about a LONG RUNWAY lasting months!) for me to buy it without a stabilized sector behind it.

The situation I avoid: A sector in trouble

If a sector is weaker than the market and it has been heading down on its own, I’ll avoid it and any stock in that sector until I see the sector stabilize and trade sideways again.

I’m not that concerned with what the stock market is doing. In the past, I’ve been shaken out of some great opportunities because I was staring too hard at the market, trying to predict its next move. As soon as the market sells off just a little bit, I’d freak out and exit my positions, only to have the market recover after (as it always does since the beginning of stock market history). What is most important to me is how a stock is trading relative to its sector and how the sector is trading relative to the market. I’m always looking to get in early, not late after the party has already started.

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I recognize this is advanced information. You really can buy stocks of companies that you like without ever having to look at a chart and do well. This is more about my swing trading strategies which for me, it has been a great way to make money.


When I look for stocks, I always look at their sectors and the market. I check to see whether a stock is leading or lagging its sector and whether the sector is leading or lagging the stock market. 

Is the idea of stock picking getting you down? You can still invest in stocks without having to pick one. Next time, I’ll get into ‘buying the market’ which is code for investing in ETFs!

L2T Updates

updates


November

Financial Literacy

Lots of stuff going on especially with Financial Literacy Month coming up this November. In my world, almost every day is Financial Literacy Day

I’m always trying to learn more about investing and anything related. Right now I’m reading a book called Money, by Felix Martin. Next, I plan to read a book on options trading. I’m sure for most of us, the idea of reading such books doesn’t trigger the same excitement as reading a best-selling thriller like Girl on the Train (which I read too), but it’s great stuff for investor nerds like me.

Speaking of thrilling reads, to encourage financial literacy among new investors, I’ll be offering a massive discount of $5 off my eBook, which is currently available for $6.99. So for the low price of $1.99, you can become financially literate in the short time it takes to read this easy book on your phone or tablet. What’s so thrilling about the book is how knowledgeable you become as you read it!

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Columnista

I’ve got another column coming out in Investor’s Digest of Canada‘s November 25th issue, which you can find at most Chapters Indigo stores. Earlier this month, I was on the cover, front and centre, for another column I’d written. 

id-4

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Stock Picking Cont’d

I will also continue to blog my strategies on Stock Picking which I hope to complete over the course of November.


December

YouTube School of Investing & More

I’ll be posting a video on my process of selecting and analyzing stocks before the end of the year.

I’ll also be posting on various investment strategies based on investments I’d written about in my book to consider for the new year.


2017

Transparent Investing

I’m going to be doing a STOCK INVESTING CHALLENGE. I’m opening a separate RRSP account and I’m going to put $1000 in it. I’ll be selecting Canadian stocks for the portfolio and posting every week the results, my picks, my strategies, my analyses on performance, and the markets. I’m going to be totally transparent to all my readers about the results.

My goal is to make that portfolio grow through stock performance and compounding its growth through regular deposits. It’ll be fun and a great learning experience for us all. I wonder if this is how David Blaine feels when he thinks of his next on-TV challenge…

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Summer Kick-off at the Toronto Public Library in North York

This is an early announcement, but I’m too excited about it to keep it bottled up for almost eight months…

Mark your calendars: On June 20th, I’ll be hosting an event called, Investment Basics Made Easy, at the TORONTO PUBLIC LIBRARY! It’s going to be engaging, extremely informative, and loads of fun. If you’re brand-spanking new to investing, you’ll leave financially savvy and ready to make your money grow!

You really gotta love libraries and their commitment to being incredible resources to the public. The Toronto Public Library offers the Small Business Program in which they regularly schedule experts there to teach you about things related to business, marketing, and investing. I am so grateful for this wonderful invitation to share and engage with people interested in learning how to invest. 


 

That’s it for now, folks!

Stock Picking – Part 2: Determine Your Investment Goals

Part 2: Determine Your Investment Goals

Objective: Identify your investment objectives first, and then let them guide you when you’re choosing a stock.


The main objective for investing in anything is to make money. With stocks, you make money two ways by selling your shares at a higher price than you paid and from dividend payments. Additionally, your decision to invest in a stock could be supported by a number of other reasons. Such reasons will guide you in the selection process.

Here are some reasons to buy a stock:

  • To fund your retirement 
  • For faster portfolio growth
  • To generate dividend income
  • You see potential growth in a particular sector, so you want a good stock from that sector
  • The economy is looking to slow down, so you want to invest in a defensive stock
  • The economy has been in a slump for a while but now business activity is starting to pick up, so you want to buy stocks to get in on the action
  • You like a company for its products, services, or growth potential, so you want to be a shareholder.

My investment objectives vary as I want to invest for the long-term (a fun and comfy retirement life) and the short-term (concerts, trips, and buying a couple of properties in Canada and somewhere hot).

For my retirement portfolio, it’s all about the long game and I’m looking to invest in something that will do me well for years, even decades. So, I look for stocks that have ‘blue chip’ qualities: they pay dividends, they’re well-known, well-established and have been around for a long time, and they usually offer more than one type of product or service which allows them to adapt to various consumer demands and trends. It’s also a bonus when the stocks are in defensive sectors such as utilities and consumer staples. I don’t do much analysis here, I apply a very basic, rudimentary logic.

There is no guarantee these stocks won’t suffer when the economy is slow, but the idea is that even during tough times, they’ll do better or suffer less, and they’ll still likely pay you dividends. If their stock prices take a hit, I’ll likely buy more shares when they start to recover because they’ll be cheaper.

For my swing trades, I look for stocks that look like they’ll do well over the next few months to a year. I look for typically strong stocks that have been quiet for a while and haven’t seen much trading action. When this happens, it’s usually because their sectors have also been quiet. If all the stocks in a particular sector have been down for a while, I’ll narrow down my selection based on the stock price and volume. (See Stock Picking – Part 1.)

The selection process for my swing trades is more involved as I use a very basic form of technical analysis of a stock’s price history to help me decide on where I’m going to buy and where I’m likely going to sell. Technical analysis is about analyzing the price history of a stock in relation to its trading volume, sector, and market environment. 

Many people dispute the validity of technical analysis and prefer to examine the fundamentals of a company’s value in relation to its share price instead. They’re all valid to some degree and many financial pros analyze both the technical and fundamental information.

I prefer to analyze charts because I’d rather see if I’m paying much more than others who got in earlier than me. The lower the price I pay for a stock, the more confident I am in the trade. It’s not a guarantee that the price won’t go lower, but even if it does, I will suffer less by getting in at a lower price than if I bought a stock after it became hot and expensive. I never buy a stock after it makes the news because it’s usually too expensive by then.

chart-1d

Above is a very basic chart of a stock that I actually own. I consider a stock to be ‘quiet’ if it’s trading sideways (the first horizontal line). Think of a stock’s price in terms of flying in an airplane; trading sideways is like starting on the runway. I try to buy either when it’s still on the runway or just as it’s taking off (no higher than where the airplane is). So I just have a quick glance at a stock’s chart to determine if it’s just taken off or if it’s gone far beyond the clouds. If it has long taken off already, I’ll just wait for another sideways setup. Sometimes this wait time could take months to years and I’ll just keep checking the charts every now and then.

For years, I’ve been using freestockcharts.com to look up charts for Canadian and U.S. stocks. It’s FREE and the features and tools for the charts are very similar to what you would use if you had a pro trading account with a brokerage. To look up a stock, you just type the company name and you can select it from the list of options it provides. Sometimes a company will trade on both the Canadian and US stock exchanges, so be sure you’re selecting the proper exchange for you. There are many short and informative tutorials available on its site and on YouTube.

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I look at the charts for everything I buy for both long-term buys and shorter-term swing trades as my goal is always to buy shares at lower prices. For the long-term trades, it’s more important that the stocks meet some ‘blue chip’ criteria. For the swing trades, I rely more on technical analysis, the sectors, and the markets.

Next time, I’ll get into how I analyze sectors and markets!

 

 

Stock Picking – Part 1: Looking for Stocks

green-day

You can decide to buy a stock using very basic logic. It can be as simple as, “My bank is great. I’m going to buy its stock.” And there you go, you own a dividend-paying stock. Those who want to build a more diversified stock portfolio seek more information and try to pick stocks using some strategy.

My process for picking stocks is quite simple and involves less information than what is required by trained financial professionals. I don’t manage other people’s money, only my own, so I’m less stressed out about aligning a certain number of factors before buying or selling a stock.

I usually work with my man, JP, when it comes to selecting stocks, but sometimes we make decisions independently of each other. For this reason, JP and I each have our own investment accounts. My strategy is quite loose in form, but I feel that being rigid will lead to over-analyzing and worry. I’d rather be relaxed and let my trades work when they do because if I panic or get too excited, I’ll sell them too soon.

With stocks, I operate on different time frames. I sometimes day trade, and I always close the position within a day or less. My main thing has become swing trading, which means I’ll hold a position anywhere from over a day to a few weeks or even a few months. And then I’ll do real investing where I’m looking to hold a solid dividend-paying stock until I retire.

I don’t recommend that anyone day trades, it’s a far too risky way to handle your hard-earned money and it’s not investing at all. Many might argue that swing trading isn’t investing either, but it depends on how you look at it. I see it as shorter term investing. Your level of involvement can vary from being very active by watching stocks and the markets, and managing your trades all the time, or you can be more hands-off and just be willing to do such things occasionally. I’m very hands-off with my swing trades. Most of what I’m going to be talking about is related to how I pick stocks for swing trading.

I need to declare that when it comes to managing my money, I have a higher risk threshold than the average person. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed big wins and suffered abysmal losses. My confidence comes from years of experience, training, research, lessons, trade analysis, and self-examination. I’m finally in a place where I’m quite happy with my stocks and current strategy. I’m also happy accepting that if the markets change, I might have to adapt my strategy.

What I’m revealing here today is just to share my method among the curious, not to teach it or to say this is what you should do to make money. My only hope is that you’ll pick up some good ideas and know how to apply whatever is useful to your own decisions.

Just remember that there is no fail-proof way to invest, nor is there one way to make money from investing. Investing is just one aspect of personal finance, which is how you manage your money and make financial decisions. I feel that the other aspects related to personal finance — working, budgeting, managing debt, and saving — are just as important.

I’m going to break down my explanation into parts. Each part will be blogged separately over the next few weeks.


Part 1: Looking for Stocks

Objective: To find major stocks that have higher trading volume


Canadian Stocks: 

I look for stocks that trade a lot in the TSX. I narrow the search process down by looking at the larger stocks in the TSX that are listed in the S&P/TSX 60 Index or the S&P/TSX Composite Index. If you click on those links, you can see the index’s stocks under ‘Constituents.’ If you don’t know what an index is, it means you haven’t read my book yet! You can still refer to the Terminology page for quick reference.

I like stocks that have the higher daily trading volume which means the number of shares bought and sold in a day. So with TSX stocks, I’d like them to trade at least 10K shares a day; the more the stock trades, the more interested I am in it. My TFSA is less funded than my other trading account, so I tend to look for Canadian stocks that are under $20, preferably under $10 so that I can buy more shares.

Rarely do I buy stocks that trade on the TSX Venture Exchange, but if it’s for stocks in a relatively new industry (like cannabis), then I’ll buy the from the venture if it meets all my requirements.

US Stocks:

I use the amazing Screener feature on finviz.com to find US stocks. For free, you can customize different search requirements and save those settings. I’ve created different “presets” for finding current financial stocks, tech stocks, oil stocks, pharma, transports, etc., that suit my preferences. 

The one common feature I use in all my searches is “Average Volume,” so I usually prefer US stocks that trade over 500K shares a day. Some people look for stocks that trade much more, some are okay with less than 500K. If I have too big a list, I’ll also add “Current Volume” to the search criteria and I’ll select over 1M shares because it means it’s currently trading a lot more than its average volume and something unusual could be going on with those stocks.  

I usually look for US stocks that are over $5 in share price, mainly because the higher-priced stocks often, but not always, move more in price so I can make a decent profit in a shorter amount of time. I have more money available in my US trading account too, so I’m able to shoot for higher-priced stocks.

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So that’s basically how I find stocks. I try to select from more popular, higher-volume stocks from the major stock exchanges and I narrow down my selection using preferable price criteria. 

Next time I’ll discuss my process for narrowing down my choices. Stay tuned!

Investing Philosophy

Growing up, I was quite cynical. I had an unhealthy outlook and lifestyle that reflected that attitude. This led to a lot of bad situations, poor health, and many regrets. Reversing an attitude means addressing the patterns that support it. This process can take a while. I’m coming to believe it’s a lifelong journey.

I think of good money management as just one aspect of life. It’s just as important as eating healthy, having an active, balanced lifestyle, and fostering positive relationships personally and professionally. I think most of us want to live a long happy, healthy, and financially comfortable life. To me, personal wealth and success exist because of a good balance among the following:

  • Having goals
  • Supporting these goals with well-thought out plans
  • Hard work, perseverance, and discipline
  • Living and thinking positively
  • Being kind and respectful
  • Pursuing health
  • Respecting your hard work through thoughtful spending
  • Constant self-improvement
  • Avoiding stressful choices

Managing to do these things all the time might be asking too much of yourself. However, it’s possible to make decent progress as we set bigger long-term goals and work towards them via smaller, short-term goals. Practice makes progress. The perfection we might be looking for actually exists in each moment along the way. Perfection is not a final, absolute state that appears at the finish line. All those small victories–whether or not they’re exactly what you expected–are what build you and your life.

The StickK Challenge to Lose Weight

Having said all that, I’m going to talk about the results of my StickK Challenge which I just completed this week. It was a two-month long challenge where I was to lose a certain amount of weight. Health is a form of wealth, and for a bit, I had lost my way. Last summer I pigged out on way too much ice cream for two months and found myself in an unhappy place physically, emotionally, and mentally. I wanted to work off last summer’s indulgence to get back to my healthy weight. I needed the motivation of losing money to make it happen. And it worked! Kinda… 

So this is how it works. You sign up with StickK and set your goal and the time frame you’d like to accomplish it in. You also put money on the line, so if you don’t meet your goals, you have to pay whatever amount you can’t bear to lose. You decide what amount is enough to motivate you to hit your goal. The challenge is not effective until you submit your credit card.

The challenge is broken up into increments. If you want to lose 10 lbs in 10 weeks, then you have to lose 1 pound per week. If you decided to put $1000 on the line, then you stand to lose $100 for each week you don’t hit your target. The money can go to someone you designate or to a charity of StickK’s choice. (Apparently, the people most successful with their StickK challenges were those who decided to pay someone they disliked.) If you meet the weekly requirement, you get to keep your money that week.

So let’s say on Week 5 you reported your weight, but you didn’t hit your target for that week, you only lost half a pound. You’re charged $100 that week. The following week, you’re expected to lose 1 pound — you’re not expected to lose 1.5 lbs to catch up. StickK adjusts the end goal but you’re still expected to lose weight at the same rate.  

I was unsuccessful for two periods, so I had to pay up twice. I found when I was unsuccessful, I got more motivated to get more consistent with my level of activity, sleep, and healthy eating (helpful tip: garlic helps you shed weight!). The end result: I missed my final goal by a small amount but I’m now back in my ideal weight range; I also lost a bit of money in the process. Had I not done the challenge, that same amount of money might have been spent on the same not-so-great food I was eating.

The challenge was totally worth it. I’ve got a better awareness of how much more active I should be and how much more I could improve my diet. For a while, I thought I was already doing all the right things and that nothing was working anymore because something broke in the metabolism department. But as my workout guru, Jillian Michaels, says, “There’s always an ‘UP’ button.” I hit that button by using the fear of losing money to motivate me and that motivation took me to a happier, healthier, and stronger place.

Thanks StickK! You took my money, but it was worth it!

 

 

Basic Guidelines to Debt Reduction

debt

Whether you’re trying to aggressively pay off your debts or saving for some big goal (like buying a home), the principles of money management are very similar. In many ways, the way you live your life may seem the same because the key to long-term success is more about establishing good ongoing habits and making them a part of your regular decision-making process. In other words, all goals involve a plan, some structure, discipline in practice, the determination to stay on track, and faith in the process.

If you have debts, you can’t successfully pay them down without accepting and following these fundamental guidelines:

Get rid of the high-interest debts first and avoid incurring this kind of debt ever again. 

When you make a loan payment, a big part of it goes to interest and rest goes to the principal amount that you borrowed. The higher the interest, the harder it is to pay off the borrowed amount. Paying off the high-interest debts first will mean paying less interest overall. Credit cards are typically the high-interest culprits. Once you pay off your credit cards, be sure to pay off the full balance each month going forward.

Consolidate your debts wisely.

You could reduce the high-interest debts by consolidating them into a low-interest loan such as a credit line with the bank. If you have student loans from the Canadian government, then you could be getting a tax credit back from the interest  portion of your repayment — you may want to hold off on consolidating them with your other debts and pay these off separately.

If you’re not able to get a low-interest credit line, then proceed to pay off the debt with the smallest balance first (of course, while paying the minimums on your other debts). Once that’s paid off, then pay off the next smallest balance and keep going until you slay the rest of them. Some credit cards offer very low to zero percent interest for a limited amount of time (usually a year). If it’s realistic to pay the full balance off within those time constraints, you could consider transferring your other debt balances to such credit cards for a service charge. But please remember…

Do not increase your debts.

…just because you transferred your credit card balances to lower-interest options doesn’t mean it’s time to go shopping again. If you can’t take your own debt takedown seriously, then you can’t expect others to take your goals seriously. If the temptation is too much to handle, cancel those cards. 

Cut your costs and spending every which way. 

You must be ruthless when it comes to reducing your bills and expenses. There are endless ways to cut costs and the internet is bursting with budgeting tips. Paying off debts doesn’t mean enduring years of suffering. You can still have fun and reward yourself from time to time — you just have to spend wisely and get creative with low-budget options. I’ve created ‘Fun’ancial Tidbits to inspire wise spending and mindful money management. Additionally, it’s essential that you address any emotional spending habits that weaken your will (like gambling or a shopping addiction) because caving into these habits even just once will sabotage your efforts. 

Have a good, solid budget that you can work with.

Some periods will be tougher than others as you tackle your debt. “Loan Payments” is going to be a major part of your budget for a while. If your budget is complicated, overly ambitious, and not realistic, you could be setting yourself up for possible failure. You should overestimate your expenses as it’s easier to end up with a surplus than it is to get blindsided by an unexpected deficit. It’s also a good idea to forecast your budget ahead by a few months to factor in upcoming events, birthdays, holidays, annual expenses, etc. That way, you can get more strategic ahead of time by reducing your spending further or picking up extra work to make up the difference or to catch up faster.

Get professional assistance from reputable financial institutions. 

You might feel like your debt situation offers no hope. The folks at your bank are pros and have seen it all. If you’re shy about going in to talk to someone in person, you can call them and ask them for advice and they can provide service over the phone. They can advise you on your loan payment options and various strategies. These advisors can surprise you with helpful things you maybe never thought of. If you give them a chance to support you, you increase your chances of succeeding in paying off your debts.

Share your goals with your loved ones.

It’s understandable if you want to keep your financial woes a private matter; you either don’t want to stress others out or be judged by your problems. You might feel alone and get stressed out as you work hard to unburden yourself of debts. It’s nice to get emotional support from people who really care about you. With team support, you can share stuff, exchange money-saving ideas, and have low-budget gatherings. Heck, you’ll probably find out who your real friends are!

The journey towards financial freedom can seem long and arduous. You have to know that there are many folks out there, just like you, who have worked through seemingly impossible situations to pay off their debts. They put their minds to it, created a plan, and learned a new set of money management skills that set them up for financial success later on. Overcoming a hurdle like this will give you the confidence and good habits to successfully tackle your future goals. 

YOU GOT THIS!   

How Saving My Payday $ Saved Me

I was 18 years old and I had to turn down an offer of admission to university because I had no money saved up. My folks didn’t have extra money after putting me in a really good private school. Working to save thousands of dollars for post-secondary school seemed like such a distant possibility, so it was easier for me to just nix the whole idea of going to university altogether. After 12 years of school, I needed a break anyway. So I started working in a tourist shop.

I consider this first full-time job to be where I learned my most valuable lessons in personal finance. I had written in a previous blog called Couch Money about how my boss schooled me on the value of saving a portion of each pay cheque. Once I started doing that and saw my savings account grow, I unexpectedly began to see new possibilities and I decided university was going to happen the following year. I worked extra shifts and aggressively saved. I also started investing in term deposits and GICs. I was planning to work part-time at the same job while I took classes, so I worked out a budget.

A month after classes started, my boss called me, crying. She said the company wasn’t doing well and was going to start closing down some of its retail locations. Our store was going to remain, but they had to let go of all the part-timers. That meant me. My first thought was, “What about my budget?” Then it hit me that I was getting laid off. It stung to lose my job that I was so devoted to and loved so much. After I got off the phone, I sobbed for a bit, but panic took over and I went straight to updating my resume and looking for part-time work.

It was a over a month before I found another job, but I was grateful that I had saved enough so I actually didn’t have to worry much about my budget being too affected. I was still living at home, so it was all very manageable. I continued working part-time and taking classes all year and throughout the summer (it’s cheaper to study with less student fees).

Right before my second year at school, my parents had a ‘bit’ of a financial crisis, to put it mildly. I had one day to move out and find my own place to live. I was already dealing with a frustrating situation over being wait listed for some classes I really needed for my major. So while I had to figure out my course registration, getting textbooks, and paying tuition, I was sleeping on the floor at friends’ apartments and basements until I found a place to live. It was another two months until I found a semi-full time job and an affordable apartment on campus.

This was one of the most trying times of my life and I had to dig deep to stay positive. What I discovered was an amazing ability to prove to myself that I could come out on top. I took on a heavy course load, I worked nearly full-time, I achieved a high GPA, and I saved enough extra money from each pay cheque that I didn’t need to use my student loans (so I invested them in a GIC with flexible term instead). Working hard at work and school created an unstoppable momentum. I fast-tracked my studies and finished my degree in three years (plus I was motivated to finish early because they were talking about tuition hikes). I’ve had major ups and downs in my life since, but I learned to trust in my abilities to find solutions and persevere.

I was motivated to write about this as today we got a jobs report that we lost 31,000 jobs in July in Canada. My hope is that everyone who was laid off has a rainy day fund to provide some financial safety net so that they can get through their difficult time until they find new work.

Dig deep, friends. Best of luck in your job search. May you come out ahead!