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Stingy News: Hallett

ETF labelling
05/07/17 Indexing Hallett
"Accurate labelling has long been a problem in retail investing. This issue is about to bubble up for ETFs"

Scalability challenges
11/27/16 Brokers Hallett
"In Canada, robo-advisors must register as Portfolio Managers, which cannot opt-out of their legal fiduciary duty. In my column for the September 2016 issue of Investment Executive, I explain why this will limit the scalability of Canadian robo-advisors' businesses. If they grow as planned, they will need tens of thousands of clients to succeed financially. Technology infrastructure can be built to easily handle this volume. But obligations of registered Portfolio Managers will also require a significant hiring of people who can speak with clients about their investments - and that limits scalability by adding to costs."

Scalability for robo-advisors
09/24/16 Brokers Hallett
"If this robo is able to attract greater AUM per client - $50,000, for example - we're still talking about at least 40,000 clients. I wonder if the scalability assumptions of robo firms - and the regulatory tolerance for automation - will be challenged."

High-payout fund trickery
12/05/15 Funds Hallett
"In the world of investing, nothing turns my stomach more than when a member of the investment industry misleads investors and then directly benefits from said misinformation. Usually only subtle trickery is at play. And most often I have seen this in the form of funds sporting unsustainable cash payouts"

Why robo-advisers are here to stay
07/16/15 Hallett
"Much has been written about newer investment advisory firms that dispense advice through user-friendly websites, called Robo-Advisors. This new breed of advisory firms offers many potential benefits but also faces many headwinds."

To hedge, or not to hedge
05/04/15 Indexing Funds Hallett
"ETFs provide many options for hedging, but you need to ask whether or not this is necessary for your clients"

Lifting the hood on low-volatility ETFs
05/02/15 Indexing Funds Hallett
"These ETFs are designed to smooth the ride for risk-adverse clients, but take the time to understand the strategy"

Advisors behaving badly
03/20/15 Funds Hallett
"Investors should similarly watch out for advisors changing firms or recommending moving portfolios to segregated funds or other DSC mutual funds that may trigger a new set of commissions. (New DSC purchases will also have you pay a fee to exit the funds within the next 6-7 years.)"

Prepare for the bear
11/29/14 Hallett
"All year I've been wanting to write an article urging advisors and individual investors to prepare for the next bear market. When stock markets hit a pothole in late summer and early fall, it struck me as an opportune time to refresh this idea. While markets have since quickly moved past the decline, I was struck at the amount of attention given to what I thought were normal stock market fluctuations."

Sell Oakville, buy Windsor
08/10/14 Real Estate Hallett
"Investing strategist Dan Hallett has been saying this to friends of his lately: With an eye on retirement, sell your home in Oakville, about an hour's drive west of Toronto, and head another three hours west on Highway 401 to his own city of Windsor."

Investors should take a pass
08/10/14 Hallett
"Keep in mind that financial institutions have designed these products and have deemed them attractive enough to want to sell a lot of them. In other words, they will tend to offer products when they are confident that the odds will be tilted in their favour - which may be at odds with what's best for end investors."

Fund risk rating reform
04/05/14 Funds Hallett
"More importantly, the rating doesn.t adequately inform investors about the risks that lie ahead during the next credit market freeze or when the PIMCO managers show their humanity and get some of their bets wrong. PIMCO is following the rules. But assessing this as a low risk fund simply shows the inadequacy of the status quo that so many fund companies have argued to maintain."

Making sense of experts' picks
03/02/14 Funds Hallett
"Among the flurry of recommendations, it's important to keep a few things in mind in the spirit of sound portfolio construction."

Smart beta needs to come out of the closet
02/08/14 Funds Indexing Hallett
"Some suggest that Smart Beta blurs the line between active and passive management. But it's clear to me that Smart Beta is simply active management in disguise."

Should you follow your fund's star
01/18/14 Hallett
"Mutual fund companies have a love-hate relationship with so-called 'star fund managers'. The love stems from such managers' typically strong performance and their ability to tell good stories about how they invest clients' money."

Check out your advisor
01/12/14 Brokers Hallett
"Securities regulators, insurance regulators and organizations governing financial designations all have online searchable databases that allow you to check out an advisor."

Avoid these missteps to be a better investor
12/29/13 Hallett
"With a new year quickly approaching, investors would do themselves a favour by resolving to avoid some of the portfolio weaknesses I've noticed of late. Doing so is bound to make for smarter investors."

Showing returns a big advice industry challenge
11/24/13 Hallett
"The financial advisory industry has long been challenged to report accurate, personalized performance to its clients. Investment management clients have always wanted good reporting but most retail clients didn't require it because returns seemed healthy. But having survived two bear markets, investors have grown disappointed with their portfolios' growth even without knowing percentage returns. Securities regulators have mandated the reporting of personalized rates of return starting in a couple of years. I believe that this will prove more challenging for the advice industry than any other regulatory initiative - including the much-discussed best interest standard."

The lesson from market extremes
11/24/13 Hallett
"On November 20, 2008 I spoke to a powerpoint presentation loaded with slides showing the then-current bear market in a historical context - while doing the same with a variety of valuation statistics for North American stocks. A summary of my conclusions: North American stocks were at 20-year lows relative to earnings and book value. On an interest-rate-adjusted basis, U.S. stock yields were at a four-decade high. High yield bonds were sporting the highest spreads and yields in several decades. Stocks and high yield bonds were very attractive and they should be purchased with a focus on their longer-term fundamentals. While it's now clear that it was a good idea to invest five years ago, it's helpful to add some numerical context."

Different strategies find common ground
11/17/13 Retirement Hallett
"Two recent but different research papers on the mechanics of withdrawal strategies find some common ground against the conventional wisdom while sharing some aspects of the popular "bucket" strategy, in which assets are segmented by certain categories."

Industry risk rating failing investors
09/22/13 Funds Hallett
"Floating rate note (FRN) funds are gaining in popularity because of their marketed 'promise' to protect capital during periods of rising interest rates. In Canada since the mid-2000s, FRN funds invest mainly in corporate loans bearing a fluctuating interest rate. They appeal to investors who fear rising interest rates - which is most - but offer competitive current yields. Investors seduced by this class of funds should be aware that hedging one risk often heightens exposure to other risks. And standard industry risk ratings fail to communicate this trade-off, which risks significantly understating these funds' true risk exposure."

The weather rock
08/04/13 Hallett
"When asked for shorter-term predictions, I always respond candidly that I can guess what's going to happen from year to year but I don't know. Nobody does despite the proliferation of forecasts that our industry produces for each coming quarter, six months or year. And stock market returns from the past several years illustrate this nicely."

Stock pickers' markets a myth
07/21/13 Hallett
"Whenever the notion of a volatile sideways market bubbles up among portfolio managers, they claim indexing will fail in comparison to active stock selection. In other words, portfolio managers argue that trendless volatility is ripe for active management skill to shine. They call it a stock pickers. market. I call it a myth for retail investors."

This fund is likely to chop its payout
06/01/13 Funds Dividends Hallett
"I continue to be amazed by some of these products that pay out fat monthly cash amounts. I know of this fund but have not followed it closely. When I first looked it up in response to Derek's note, the sub-$4 unit price prompted me to double check to make sure I had the right fund. But such is the (negative) power of overdistributing - particularly in a volatile fund. IA Clarington Canadian Dividend is entirely invested in stocks (unlike the many others I have reviewed and analyzed, which were balanced funds with stocks and bonds)."

Making sense of small cap returns
04/14/13 Hallett
"Depending on the particular fund or product under examination, you could draw very different conclusions on otherwise similar portfolios and performance levels. When looking at retail mutual funds, for instance, old income trust funds are now in one of three categories - i.e. Canadian Dividend and Income Equity, Canadian Small/Mid Cap Equity or Canadian-Focused Small/Mid Cap Equity. (It's interesting to note that some institutional databases continue to track a Canadian Income Trust class of products.) For those looking at returns over the past five years, all of this background is relevant because two factors are skewing the performance comparison today."

Regulators should ban this leveraging strategy
03/31/13 Hallett
"A while ago, I was asked by a regulator to speak to its enforcement staff about T-series mutual funds, which pay investors generous monthly cash distributions. The regulator wanted an independent view on product mechanics, common uses and risks, and was particularly interested in my thoughts on leveraging. I happily obliged, ending my talk with a firm recommendation: If I were the chief compliance officer of a dealer, I would not allow any T-series fund sales that involved: borrowing to invest in funds that have a policy to pay distributions exceeding pure yield taking the mostly 'return of capital' (RoC) distribution in cash and using that cash to pay down the loan. Here's my reasoning"

Try some disciplined rebalancing
02/16/13 Hallett
"After considerable discussion and research a few years ago, our firm settled on a +/- 20% method whereby we invest clients at target allocations, and allow their allocations to each chosen manager to drift up or down by 20% of the target."

Biggest controversy with commissions
01/26/13 Funds Hallett
"Type the phrase 'financial advisor commissions' into Google and the results will be less than flattering to the financial advice industry. Understandably, regulators and the media are focused on full service brokers or financial advisors when this issue arises. But there is a good reason for both parties to cast their eyes on another closet door concealing a well-kept secret."

Low bond yields reveal stark choices on risk
12/31/12 Hallett
"In the course of attending several client proposals and meetings over the past several weeks, a common thread has emerged. Since bonds are needed to limit total portfolio risk, they also limit potential total returns. And this is causing investors to have to choose whether risk or return is more important."

Bond bears' growl is all noise
12/22/12 Hallett
"Without failure, for my entire 18+ year career the overriding expectation has been for interest rates and bond yields to rise from their 'historic lows'. My start was in 1994 - notable since that year stands alongside 1979-80 as the worst bond market in North American history. That year, however, was immediately followed by one the best calendar years on record for North American bonds - comfortably recouping 1994 losses and then some. After all this time, the same 'rates must rise' argument continues to proliferate. It's true that the lower that yields fall, the less they can continue falling. That's a mathematical fact. But that alone doesn't mean that yields are bound to rise. And save for one grim scenario, a rise in bond yields is no death sentence for bonds."

Private REITs require careful due diligence
12/08/12 Hallett
"In the early days of income trusts - the late 1990s - portfolio manager Rick Howson used to talk about whether a trust's 'brains' were inside or outside of the 'body'. (He managed Saxon High Income, now known as Saxon Dividend Income, one of Canada's first income trust mutual funds.) Howson preferred trusts where the management 'brains' resided inside of the trust 'body' - in large part for governance reasons. It's no wonder he preferred this structure. A group of companies provide services to the REIT that I reviewed ranging from property due diligence to day-to-day property management and sales (i.e. attracting investors into the fund). There are two problems with this structure. First, each of the companies are completely outside of the REIT structure. Second, each is owned by the REIT's co-founding general partners. While I didn't not delve into this issue further, this structure has potential conflicts all over it. I could not find a single word even mentioning that a conflict exists, let alone how the REIT deals with this conflict."

Income trust fans have no reason to cry
11/10/12 Hallett
"For many income-oriented investors October 31, 2006 will forever be etched in their brains. That was the day that our Federal Finance Minister lowered the tax boom and ended the tax arbitrage of income trusts. The market reacted by slicing about 17% from market prices of trusts to reflect the tax impact of the announcement. Despite the massive outcry at the time - and since - it's hard to find reasons for trust investors to shed any tears."

50 is the new 40 but ETFs are the new Mutual Funds
09/26/12 Hallett
"For years I've been hearing from individual investors and financial advisors who are disappointed with their meagre long-term performance. This jives with calculations I completed four years ago, which showed that Canadian mutual fund investors largely missed out on the available risk premium over nearly 15 years prior to the worst of the last bear market (as illustrated in this chart). As a result, many have cast their mutual funds aside in favour of cheaper exchange-traded funds (ETFs) expecting higher returns. But I'm convinced that in 2022 or 2027, similarly-disappointing performance figures will be printed about ETF investor returns."

Covered-call strategy: expectation vs reality
07/28/12 Hallett
"Investors are snapping up exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that use covered call-writing strategies. The strategy isn't new - covered call writing has been used by portfolio managers for more than two decades - but retail investor interest is growing. Last month alone, covered-call ETFs grabbed a third of the nearly $270-million in net new sales of Canadian-based ETFs. But I suspect that a fundamental misunderstanding of covered call strategies is behind the gap between investor expectations and reality."

Desperately seeking income
06/21/12 Hallett
"Many retail investors - and their advisors - are desperately seeking higher-income solutions in this ultra-low-rate environment. And institutional investment themes continually draw the retail sector to the trough - but usually only after the easy money has been made. Unlike institutions, however, retail investors must accept trade-offs. In an ideal world, retail exposure to institutional investment themes would boast abundant liquidity and reasonable fees to go along with their high income. But this has proven to be an elusive combination as high fees have squeezed returns and exposure is sacrificed for liquidity."

The unintended lifetime commitment
04/02/12 Hallett
"When entering a marriage, it's a bad sign if you start planning your exit before vows are ever exchanged. While many of life's lessons extend to the world of investing, the exit strategy is a notable exception. Unlike in marriage, investors should spend more time contemplating their exit strategy to help avoid the unexpected liquidity trap."

4 things to remember with today's low rates
03/07/12 Hallett
"For those seeking a safe and dependable income source, today's painfully low interest rates pose a real challenge. Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney regularly reminds us that persistent low rates can be dangerous because they incent excessive borrowing. But low rates also pose some risk to the asset side of investors' balance sheets. It looks like low rates will be here for a while so here are a few things to keep in mind when structuring investment portfolios."

Look past emerging markets debt sales pitch
02/09/12 Hallett
"The sales pitch for emerging markets debt - like this one from RBC - might have us think that debt levels alone can be used to assess sovereign default risk. But judging by the 'spreads' of emerging markets bond yields above developed world sovereign debt, the global bond market is saying that other important factors determine default risk. Otherwise, emerging markets bonds would yield less than developed country debt. In This Time is Different - Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff examined - among other things - a history of default among developing countries. While high debt levels were universally linked to default episodes, the authors found that emerging markets defaults have generally occurred at debt levels that are generally considered 'safe' for more mature economies. They found that nearly half of the three-dozen emerging country defaults between 1970 and 2008 occurred at debt-to-GNP ratios below 35 percent."

Active or passive? Process should drive choice
01/24/12 Hallett
"Too many view passive and active investment as mutually-exclusive strategies decided upon via some quasi-political debate. On the contrary, I view active and passive as two strategies on the same continuum. Indeed, the ETF industry - once synonymous with passive investing - has created a blurring of the lines between active and passive strategies. The likes of Fundamental Indexing, equal-weighted indexes and other quant-driven indexes are pushing so-called 'passive' approaches closer to the active management side of the spectrum. That notwithstanding, as highlighted in my most recent Investment Executive article I am indifferent between passive and active investing - a view shared by my HighView partners and, accordingly, written into our firm's investment philosophy."

Should you hold bonds in taxable accounts?
01/13/12 Hallett
"Investors fortunate enough to have money to save and invest over and above their RRSP and TFSA contributions need both asset allocation and asset location strategies. The standard advice is to stuff all of the bonds in RRSP, TFSA and similar accounts to defer or shelter tax on interest income (otherwise 100% taxable). Similarly, stocks usually dominate non-registered accounts because they generate more lightly-taxed capital gains and (in the case of Canadian stocks) dividends. But with bond yields having fallen (i.e. bond prices having risen) in the face of weak stock prices, this traditional asset location advice may not hold for everyone."

Mutual fund critics missing the big picture
12/17/11 Hallett
"Every time markets bleed red, mutual fund investors and the media become much more price-sensitive. So it's no surprise that print media have featured a barrage of anti-fee articles. Interestingly, Canada's two national papers have united in a recent Investors Group bash-fest. I agree with the broad message, which is to keep an eye on fees. Since fees are pretty transparent and easy to understand, they get most of the attention when trying to explain poor investor performance. But the media and the industry would do investors more good by identifying and trying to remove the handful of barriers to satisfying long-term performance."

Leveraging + High Payout Funds = Unhappy Ending
11/07/11 Hallett
"The final chapter to the series of articles I've written this year on high-payout investments funds features leveraging. Over the past few years, I have been contacted by several individual investors and financial advisors about strategies they've been proposed or have seen in use involving borrowing to invest in funds that pay out fat monthly distributions. Every inquiry I received described a troubling and strikingly similar plan. Each case involved an investor setting up a line of credit secured by available home equity. The proceeds from the line of credit would be used to invest in one or more T-series or other funds paying out large monthly distributions. Then, the investor would take the distributions in cash - mostly made up of return of capital - either for personal spending or to put toward the investment loan. After some undefined period of time, the expectation is that the remaining investments (i.e. net of cash distributions) would be sufficient to wipe out the loan balance, with hopefully something extra to add some jingle to the investor's jeans."

BMO set Monthly Income distribution bar too high
10/21/11 Hallett
"With nearly 1/3 of distributions having been taken in cash since 2008, sustainability is a legitimate concern generally and a big concern for any investor relying on this fund's fat payout to pay living expenses. BMO insists the payout is sustainable, an assertion they base on the fund's net inflows. Indeed, while the fund has spent its last two full fiscal years in net redemptions, reinvested distributions have generally kept more money flowing into the fund than leaving. The only exception so far was 2008, when the fund saw net redemptions of $436 million including reinvested distributions. But this speaks only to the mechanics of where the money comes from. When I mention "sustainability" in this context, I'm speaking to the fund's potential to support the payout with a sufficiently high total return. And on that basis, there are good reasons to continue questioning its sustainability."

Want lower fund fees? Vote with your wallet.
10/03/11 Hallett
"Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has asked the Senate National Finance Committee to examine why prices of many retail goods continue to be higher than in the U.S. while the Canadian dollar has been at (or near) par with the U.S. dollar for a year or more. Just over a week ago, FAIR Canada called on Flaherty to add mutual fund management expense ratios to that list of retail goods. I have a great deal of respect for FAIR. Given that investor advocacy isn't a high-paying job - it pays nothing, sometimes less - FAIR is a much-needed organization. But I think their request and fee comparison miss the mark."

Invest like a minimalist
09/17/11 Hallett
"A 'minimalist' lifestyle usually refers to living only with the basics. The less 'stuff' you have, the less you have to worry about day-to-day and the happier you will be, say proponents. Perhaps you can't part with your new smart phone, your second car or the notion of home ownership. But I am convinced that adopting minimalist-like investing style would set most investors on the path of greater happiness and prosperity."

Bond market signaling recession? Should we care?
08/23/11 Hallett
"It's certainly possible that the current decline will tip over into official bear market territory. But that shouldn't be surprising since bear markets have historically been clustered. More importantly, a bad economic environment does not equate to a bad investment environment. An economy that looks to be in its darkest days often gives birth to terrific investment opportunities. While we haven't seen widespread indiscriminate selling of stocks - as in 2008 - many great opportunities have emerged. When hunting for investment opportunities, portfolio manager Geoff MacDonald is happy to invest in businesses even if their growth prospects are low or moderate. The key, he says, is not paying for the growth. And there are many quality businesses today that are growing - and should continue to grow - but are priced for zero or negative growth."

How rising rates may affect bonds
07/09/11 Hallett
"While many have been calling for the end of the bond bull market and the damage that awaits bond-heavy investors, I have rarely seen any quantification of the potential losses that bond investors could suffer. So, I ran some simple calculations."

Do your homework
04/29/10 Indexing Funds Hallett
"The average mutual fund investor pays about 2 per cent annually in management fees, operating expenses and taxes. The average investor in TSX-traded ETFs pays closer to 0.4 per cent a year. The average potential cost savings, then, are about 1.6 per cent per annum. But this is only available to do-it-yourself (DIY) investors. Otherwise, investors who need professional advice have to pay for it either through higher product fees or fees paid to an adviser in addition to ETF expenses. The 2 per cent average mutual fund fee generally includes compensation for advisers, whereas ETF fees do not include the cost of obtaining advice. So-called fee-based or fee-only advisers charge a fee equal to 1 per cent to 1.4 per cent of your portfolio value. Add that to ETF fees and taxes and you've got total annual fees of 1.5 per cent to 1.9 per cent annually. Wave goodbye to that fee advantage."

Market-timing losses in dispute
12/11/09 Funds Government Hallett
"Despite mutual fund companies' insistence that the scandal over illegal market-timing that erupted five years ago is an old and dead issue, there's never been a full industry-wide accounting of all investor losses."

Currency hedging
06/13/09 Funds ETFs Indexing Hallett
"For the 12 months to June 4, XSP lost 35.6 per cent and the S&P 500 gave up 31.6 per cent. Over the past three years, XSP's cumulative loss of 30.8 per cent was about five percentage points worse than the index."

ETF rule: Keep it simple
03/23/09 Indexing Hallett
"Indexing is a simple low-cost way to obtain a diversified investment portfolio which tracks the markets. At least that's the theory. Problem is, many investors get led astray. Before they know it their portfolios become jam-packed with the new breed of expensive and risky exchange-traded funds. What was once a solid investment portfolio becomes a speculative one."

Five things you should know about bear markets
12/22/08 Markets Hallett
"North American stocks have been halved. Overseas stocks have lost even more. Indeed, bear markets can be frightening but they are necessary. In order to enjoy the long-term rewards of investing in stocks, investors must shoulder the associated risks. One of those risks is the occasional emergence of a bear market (a decline of 20 per cent or more). To better understand this risk, here are five things you need to know about this unwelcome beast."

Perspective on the bear market
10/20/08 Markets Hallett
"The decline in stock prices triggered by the U.S. financial crisis has been frightening at times. Most shocking has been the sheer velocity of the decline, which rivals that of the crash of 1929. And despite a recent rally, there is enough bad news to push stock prices back down. But unless you believe the global economy will grind to a halt; I see five reasons why investors should be optimistic today."

Timing errors affect performance
08/21/08 Funds Brokers Hallett
"treat your investments like a bar of soap; the more you touch them, the smaller they get. This saying is so true. In practice, I've rarely found any need to make many changes more often than every two years. Advisors who can't resist the itch to rejig client portfolios should at least keep a running score of how their 'new' advice fares against the 'old,' unchanged portfolio in subsequent years. If the changes detract from performance more often than not, this should be kept in mind the next time the itch to switch returns."

Portfolio dilution excessive in Canada
06/24/08 Funds Hallett
"Drilling down more deeply reveals that the worst dilution occurs in our own tiny stock market. Look at virtually any wrap program and find out where most of the funds or managers are focused. I'll bet it's on Canadian stocks."

Is value dead?
05/22/08 Value Investing Funds Chou Hallett
"The cookie-cutter office building stacked amid high-rise condos and streetside retail is not where you'd expect to find the man who oversees $1.2 billion in funds, and who is said to be Canada's top stock-market bargain hunter. Taped to his door is a plain piece of paper that has been run through a printer: "Chou Associates Management Inc.," it reads, implying that nothing of much importance is happening here. The door is locked, but jiggle the handle of the door and out pops Francis Chou, whom I have come to ask about the strange decline in the once-dominant school of value investing. It's an investing style once described by the late, great value guru Benjamin Graham as the equivalent of rifling through a store's discount bin. In other words, if you are patient enough to search endlessly and smart enough to know the difference between a true bargain and a bad knockoff, then you can make terrific money."

Value investing is supposed to get ugly
04/09/08 Funds Value Investing Hallett
"One of the tenets of value investing is there will be times when it's going to get ugly. Problem is, for a lot of established value firms, things have never looked uglier - leading some advisors to question the wisdom of the strategy. But fund analysts say there is merit to what value firms are doing right now and investors should wait before they write off their value holdings."

Number twisting continues with fees
04/08/08 Funds Indexing Hallett
"It was almost two years ago when a draft research paper - Mutual Fund Fees Around the World - made waves by proclaiming that 'total shareholder costs' for mutual funds sold in Canada were the highest among the 18 developed countries studied. Industry critics and investor advocates ran with the paper's figures, without scrutiny, to pad their case that the fund industry regularly sticks it to investors."

Dan on BNN
04/02/08 Markets Behaviour Hallett
Dan cautions against Ticker Temptation. Read his articles over here.

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