Thursday, May 21, 2020

Sell Stocks Now

I own and track the Vanguard Total Stock ETF, VTI.  It invests in all the stocks in the US markets: small, medium, large cap.  It is a great way to invest in all US economic activity.

Right now, the price of VTI is approximately the same as it was in May 2019.  
  • In May 2019, unemployment was about 3.5%.  In 2019, GDP grew 3%.  There were no major global crises and all major industries worldwide were operating successfully.
  • In May 2020, unemployment is over 15%.  A global pandemic is happening and over 60,000 people have died in the US.  Oil prices went negative a few weeks ago and the world is overstocked with oil.  The global travel industry (hotels, airlines, cruises, rental cars..) is not operating.  JC Penney, J Crew, and Neiman Marcus just went bankrupt.  The FED is printing money, buying securities and the US government is blowing money on people, corporations, and healthcare.  You cannot eat in a restaurant in over half of North America.
Why is the price of VTI the same as it was in May 2019?  I don't know.

Maybe Aliens are controlling our minds, Bigfoot has taken over the Fed, Elvis has left the building, and everyone is drinking Lysol and will be fine, but I don't like this situation.

Disclaimer: this is not professional investment or retirement advice and should be used at your own risk. The author is not a licensed financial advisor. You should not believe everything on the Internet including this blog and should check multiple sources possibly including a professional financial advisor before making decisions.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

What is The Real Issue with Reopening?

There is a lot of disagreement about "reopening", lockdown, quarantine.  Armed protesters in state capitols, the President playing both sides against the middle, threats against epidemiologists, and a lot of misinformation.

But what is the real issue?  I will say it because few reporters and NO politicians will say it.

The issue is the death rate.  How many people should die from COVID?

When generals plan a battle or campaign, they look at the value of objectives versus casualties.  Is it worth it to conduct the D Day invasion if we lose 10,000 men in the first day?  The answer was yes.  If the expected casualties were 100,000, the answer would likely be no, and the plan revised.

It is the same with COVID.  We know that if we stop most economic activity, casualties will be low, but the long term standard of living will suffer badly, so we cannot lockdown forever.  We also know that having no restrictions on activity, "normal activity", will likely result in the loss of 1 to 4% of the world's population, as almost everyone will get COVID and 2 to 8% of people will die.

So the questions are:
  1. What is an acceptable death rate?  Is it OK if 200,000 Americans die over the next 2 years, primarily 60+ and infirm?  If not, what level of death is acceptable?
  2. Once you determine the death rate, you can ask expert professionals (health, business, law) to craft a plan that maximizes economic output while staying under this death rate.
Alternately, you can do what the USA is doing now, fumble along, do different things in different places, get people to fight, and then see what happens.  If this is written up as a disaster by historians (e.g Vietnam war), then you got it wrong.  If this is written up as a triumph in spite of the losses (WW2), then you got it right.  But I like the generals' approach to battles better than the current mess.

P.S. I once stayed at a Holiday Inn

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Take Advantage of Volatility - The Limit Order

There are lots of different views on the economy and the stock market right now due to COVID.  I am quite pessimistic about the economy in the short to medium term due to:

  • Shutdowns for COVID: massive unemployment, supply chain disruptions, psychological impact
  • Globalism and free trade: Trump, China, and COVID have dealt a big defeat to these concepts and the economies of many countries
  • Lack of productivity: why are companies worth so much in the first place
  • Central Bank and government actions on COVID: these have never been tried before and we don't know the effects on employment, inflation, businesses
  • Psychological effect: it will be hard to get people to work again after this fatal threat
But others are not so pessimistic and the stock market is recovering, but not smoothly.  One day, the market is up by 4%, another day down by 4%. Bond ETFs are less volatile, but were down about 12% at one point and then quickly rebounded.

I personally want to keep at least 2 years spending in cash just in case, so I need to sell ETFs (bonds or stocks) or stocks.  I also want to maintain my asset allocation targets.

What is the best approach?  I could just put in a market order to sell when I feel really pessimistic and probably get a low sale price.  I could watch the ups and downs and try to pick a day when the market is up.  What I ended up doing was putting in a limit sell order at a price that I thought was high, but not so high as to be unattainable.  For example, Vanguard Total Stock ETF has been as high as $160 and as low as $115 in the last month or so.  I put in a limit sell order at $142 when it was around $120.  Today, the order went through.

So my idea is to use limit orders to take advantage of volatility in the markets.

Disclaimer: this is not professional investment or retirement advice and should be used at your own risk. The author is not a licensed financial advisor. You should not believe everything on the Internet including this blog and should check multiple sources possibly including a professional financial advisor before making decisions.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Take Advantage of the Lousy Market

Like me, you probably lost a lot in the past few months in the stock market, after making big gains last year.  Those big gains, and rebalancing my portfolio, caused me to have a higher income in 2019 due to capital gains, and pay more tax.

Is there any way to deal with this?  Yes there is.

You can sell your losers today, and get a capital loss in 2020.  Then, according to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), you can use these losses to get back some of the tax you paid in 2019.  Here is an excerpt from the CRA website:

So there is some relief.  By the way, don't just sell and then quickly buy back the same stock or fund, that is called a "superficial loss" in Canada (wash sale in USA).  You will not get credit for your loss if you sell and buy within 30 days.  Better to look at what needs rebalancing, sell the losers in the overweight category, then buy appropriate investments in the category that needs more weight.  For example, selling a Canadian mutual fund and buying an international fund to get more international exposure.

Disclaimer: this is not professional investment or retirement advice and should be used at your own risk. The author is not a licensed financial advisor. You should not believe everything on the Internet including this blog and should check multiple sources possibly including a professional financial advisor before making decisions.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

COVID19 User Guide

I thought I would compile a user guide based on my experiences in Ottawa during the pandemic, feel free to add comments, as long as they slavishly praise me Trump-style.

New Things I Tried and they Work

  • PCExpress grocery delivery and pickup from Massine YIG on Bank Street.  You can even talk to a real person about your order by calling the store.
  • Doordash restaurant delivery for Colonnade pizza. It comes from the restaurant in Carlingview, but its cheaper than Ubereats.
  • Foodora delivery from the LCBO on Isabella.  A limited selection of wine, beer, and spirits but in a pandemic, we recreational drug users should not be too picky.  Use the smartphone app as the website is temperamental.  It will not accept your address unless the postal code exactly matches the Google maps postal code (which is wrong for our building).
  • You can make your own hand sanitizer with rubbing alcohol and aloe vera gel from  3/4 alcohol, 1/4 gel.
  • The New York Times is offering free coverage of covid19.  Their competitor WSJ does not.
  • Nespresso online ordering is working.
  • Workouts using Facetime with our personal trainer Jamie Kelly.  An Ipad works best as the video is good, screen is large, and you can move it around as you exercise.
    • Workout videos from Youtube are also good.  Lots of variety for different ages and abilities.  I use a 6 minute workout from the NYT as my base exercises.
  • The instant pot is a great way to make soup with leftover meat, vegetables, broth, pasta.  
  • Farm Boy on Metcalfe is open from 7 to 8am for vulnerable shoppers (seniors etc.).  It is well stocked and there are only a few shoppers.

Things that Don't Work

  • Instacart Loblaws delivery is down.  Website won't even give you a delivery slot and the help lines are overloaded.
  • USA social security office in Ogdensburg is closed
  • BMO sends checks to our old address in Virginia from 3 years ago but sends statements to our correct address.  You have to go to a branch to fix this.
  • The QPP have blocked the bridges into Quebec from Ontario.  The police are better used to stop gatherings.  

Things That Work, but have Problems

  • Amazon canada is running low on stock and delivery times are long now.
  • Massine YIG grocery store makes people line up on Somerset at 2 meter intervals and lets them in slowly during peak demand.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Date Questions for Senior Citizens

We were having a conversation with some friends the other night, discussing all the senior women we know who are widows, but looking for a new mate.  Lots of talk about how hard it is to find someone as great as me and my friend (we are modest husbands), and what they should talk about on the first date.

There are lots of websites that cover what questions a woman should ask on a first date, things like:

  • What was your favorite vacation?
  • What hobbies do you have?
  • Do you like cats or dogs?
These are all relevant for women 15 to 50 years old, but what are the questions to ask if you and your date are 70 or older?

We came up with some good questions:
  • Do you drive, or has your family confiscated your license?
  • Are you wearing diapers yet?
  • What time does your family want you back at the home?
We all laughed but then realized we will all get old soon and will suffer the indignities of old age.  Still, there is some humor in it.

photo credit: flickr

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

US Economy Excellent Rest of World Not So Much

I took a few economics courses in my university days: micro, macro, etc.  However I am not an economist.  But I've been thinking...

Why is the US economy doing so well and the rest of the world struggling?

Looking at the present, the US is doing well - low unemployment (3.7%), stock markets at record highs, GDP growth (2.2%) and low inflation (1.7%).  Meanwhile, the rest of the world is struggling.  The Euro area has 7.5% unemployment, GDP growth of 1.3%.  Why this divergence?

My theory is that the USA is doing well because it is running up a huge national debt - borrowing from the rest of the world and spending on cars, houses, and Iphones.

  1. The US has a natural advantage that it is the world's reserve currency.  Every business and every country needs US dollars to buy and sell and invest.  Therefore, no one will stop lending to the USA unless there is a financial catastrophe.  The US can continue to run up debt.
  2. The US is running up debt at the rate of 4.7% of GDP.  This is stimulative - it increases growth.  The Euro area is increasing debt at 1.1%, a quarter of the rate of the USA.
    1. I think of it this way.  For every $1,000 an American earns, they actually get $1,047 = $1000 + (4.7% * 1000)
    2. The European gets $1,011
    3. The extra spending based on extra earnings by the American drives growth.
  3. The US economy is 70% driven by consumers due to its low taxes and low level of government services (no health insurance, little infrastructure spending, little welfare).  This means that 70% of the national debt increase is going into people's pockets and being spent.

So the US is expanding more than other countries due to its increasing borrowing.  This money is being spent on short term consumption by consumers, not long term government investments like infrastructure or R&D.  This expansion drives employment, growth in company revenues and profits, and the stock market.  Don't ask me why inflation is so low, that one I cannot answer.

What are the implications for the future?  Again, I don't know.  There could be a catastrophe that causes the world not to lend to the USA anymore?  There could be a change in borrowing by other countries to match the USA?  There could be inflation?  Stay tuned.

All statistics from the The Economist Sept 17, 2019.  Excerpt below.