Investment Workshop 8: World Unsteady, But Portfolio Calm

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Hello everyone and Merry almost-Christmas! It’s been about 5 weeks since we started building our workshop portfolio, and that means that some of the graphs and reports in Personal Capital have enough history now to actually have some meaning. So let’s check in with them, shall we? New readers, please click here to start from the beginning.

Before we do, though, let’s review what the purpose of our portfolio is supposed to be. A 60/40 portfolio of low-cost Index ETFs is designed to do 2 things:

  1. Dampen the day-to-day swings of the stock market
  2. Provide steady long-term growth

And while 30 days is not exactly enough time to see “long-term growth,” let’s see how the portfolio is doing at dampening the day-to-day swings of the stock market. And for that, we will log into Personal Capital and click “Portfolio -> Holdings”.

This brings up a view called the “You Index,” which takes our holdings and graphs the asset allocation against various indexes like the S&P 500, Dow Jones, etc.

Here’s our portfolio’s “You Index” view.

Pretty boring, right? Well, in case you haven’t been glued to the news like I have over the past month, the actual markets have been anything but.

Here’s what the bond market’s been doing.

Boom. Bond market down.

This past week, the Federal Reserve (the US central bank) had a BIG announcement: Interest rates are going up. In a unanimous decision by the Federal Open Market Committee (or FOMC, as the cool kids call it) voted to raise the target Federal Funds interest rate from 0.5% to 0.75%. That wasn’t unexpected. As this Business Insider article points out, bond traders had set a 100% probability that the Fed would do this, which means they had already priced that outcome into the bond market. What WASN’T expected, though, was the simultaneous announcement that the Fed would continue with 3 more interest rate hikes, meaning we are going to see interest rates go up a full percentage point at some point in the near future.

And when interest rates go up, Bond ETFs like the one we own in our portfolio go down. So down she went.

Now let’s see what the Canadian stock market did.

Canada up. Whaaaa?

Up here in Canada, our stock market is widely seen as a commodities market. We make other things (maple syrup, Justin Bieber, PM selfies, etc.) but global stock traders treat us mostly as a lumber, mining, and oil-producing nation. So when the price of one of those commodities moves in a major way, our stock market goes with it. So what moved?


Oil has been the biggest commodities news story of the past year. Remember $100-a-barrel oil? Remember how that fell into the $30s at the beginning of 2016? Yeah, that shit wasn’t fun for our stock market.

And all of that was directly caused by OPEC. Annoyed at the Americans’ efforts to produce oil themselves rather than buying it from the Saudis, OPEC has been pumping cheap oil into the global commodities markets in an effort to bankrupt US oil companies. They figured: Make oil dirt cheap so those companies go under. Then when Saudi oil is the only game in town they can jack the price back up.

Well, I appreciate the Machiavellian nature of their plan, but unfortunately for them, it didn’t work. Those US oil companies, having learned how to survive such shenanigans in the past, survived and this oil price manipulation didn’t have the effect that OPEC wanted. What did get whacked in the process, however, was oil producing nations like Canada. Our stock market plummeted 12% at the beginning of 2016. And ask REALLY oil-dependent nations like Venezuela how things are doing. Spoiler alert: Not super.

But all that seems to have changed recently as OPEC announced production cuts in a meeting last month. That means they’re abandoning their make-oil-cheap-as-hell strategy, which means oil prices are going up again (it crossed $50 a barrel recently), which means Canada benefits. So that’s what’s happening here.

Now, how about the US indexes? How are they doing?

OK, what the Hell, US markets? You spent all last year jabbering about how Trump would blow up the financial world, then you go UP after that guy got elected?

So what seems to have happened is that, like most of us, they dismissed the idea of a Trump presidency through most of the year. But when it actually happened, they sat down and thought about what that would actually mean and realized that it might not be so bad.

Don’t get me wrong. For actual Americans on the ground, a Trump presidency is terrible. He’s promised to appoint socially conservative supreme court justices, meaning that in all likelihood, abortion rights and the LGBTQIA community are going to come under attack, his environmental policies are planted firmly in the “screw it!” camp, and he’s about to repeal Obamacare without that pesky “replace” part. That’s all very very bad.

But to a stock trader, does it affect stock markets? Not really. In fact, his promise to cut corporate taxes in half would have a net positive effect on business profitability, and therefore our portfolio. So it looks like what happened here was after that brief “Oh shit!” period we all experienced watching the election results come in, Wall Street has decided that while Trump may be bad for Americans, he’s good for the American Index. We’ll see whether they turn out to be right about that after he takes office.

And finally International markets. Here’s the EAFE:

EAFE is up. Similar to Trump, Europe’s been reeling from the Brexit vote and the wave of Trump-like populist sentiment sweeping over the continent, and has made a similar conclusion of “Bad for Europeans, maybe OK for European stock markets.” Time will tell whether they’re proven right.

And here’s Emerging Markets:

So Emerging Markets is the stable one?!? Ugh, whatever.

What Does It All Mean for our Portfolio?

And throughout it all, I predicted precisely NONE of these events. Especially the Trump-being-good-for-markets thing. And despite what all the talking heads on Mad Money will tell you, THEY predicted precisely none of these events too! That’s why we don’t try to trade on what’s going on in the news. Nobody has any bloody idea what’s going to happen.

But because we just picked a globally balanced asset allocation and stuck with it, how did our actual portfolio behave? For that, we just need to click on over to the “Portfolio Performance” tab in our Personal Capital view.

Steady and slightly up. Super. And that’s the effect of picking an asset allocation like we did. Because we didn’t go 100% stocks or 100% bonds, we didn’t get pulled in one direction too strongly by any one news story, and overall we just kinda floated along. If you were to just track the day-to-day performance of our portfolio, you’d think nothing was going on in the world, when in reality the opposite was true.

And our American portfolio is behaving about the same as well. Here it is:

Snooze. And that’s a good thing.

OK then, that’s it for this week. Have a great Holidays everyone! We will talk again after the Christmas break. Eat lots of turkey!

Or…continue onto the next article!

35 thoughts on “Investment Workshop 8: World Unsteady, But Portfolio Calm”

  1. You could spin it another way and just argue your 40% bond allocation is holding your portfolio back. During favorable economic times, like everybody is expecting with Trump in charge, bonds are a terrible asset to be holding. They’ve been cratering for months now and will only continue to do so with interest rates going up, up and up. My portfolio has returned about 6% just since Trump got elected, largely because I hold no bonds.

    Admittedly when the tide turns and stocks start to fall again, your bonds will balance out the ride, but I can never look past the fact that the closer you are to holding 100% stocks, the more your returns are going to get in the long-term. That’s the end of the argument for me when it comes to allocation. Why knowingly hold a portfolio that will perform worse than it could?

    I can see why for someone in your shoes bonds are good since you’re in the wealth preservation phase of your life, you need the income from the portfolio, but for anybody in a wealth accumulation phase of their life, there is no reason to be holding 40% bonds, especially during this economic period where interest rates are lower than they will ever be again in your life and the only way is up for the next several years.

    This 60/40 portfolio will probably return 6-7% average, if you just held the S&P the return on average has historically been anywhere between 12% and 14% if you hold it for more than 10 years. There is no 15 year period in history that you could have ever lost money in the S&P and the worst you could have done over a 20 year period is nearly an 8% return.

    Facts don’t lie, stocks kick bonds butt. If you are looking for wealth accumulation, don’t hold bonds or hold very little if you must. All you need to do is control your emotions during a downturn and you’ll be golden.

    1. I’d like to add, you guys hold JLCollins as the Godfather, you took his book on your big trip. I loved his book, I read it twice. He motivated to put 100% of my funds into a Total Market fund. How, after reading his book and holding him in such high esteem, did you go on to ignore his advice in his book with regard to your own allocations? Not being a hater, just would like to hear the why on that.

      1. I can understand why they go 60/40 as they are retired, in wealth preservation mode and they live off of the cash flow from their investments. Holding 100% stocks when you need access to the cash is far too risky. Also, these guys made all their investments with Garth Turner, not JL Collins. If you read Garth’s blog you’ll know he swears by 60/40, so they probably just stuck at it.

        That being said, it’s confusing that these guys basically live and die by their mathematical calculations, often “mathing this shit up” to prove an argument. Yet here they are being all emotional when it comes to investing, assuming their readers can’t handle the volatility of an aggressive portfolio.

        It’s odd how aggressively they like to prove renting is better than buying using math, but when it comes to investing they ignore all mathematical arguments and jump to emotion. Most people buy houses on emotion, not math.

        It does seem like they are hand holding a bit by advising everybody should be in 60/40 no matter what stage of their life. I’d assume the vast majority of readers here are currently building wealth, not preserving it, and as such a 60/40 portfolio is holding back their progress quite substantially.

        JL Collins book also changed my mindset to a 100% stock portfolio and I moved to that immediately after reading it. Logic prevails over emotion in everything so if you know you can ride out a market crash without selling your stocks, go 100% stocks (or close to it).

        1. I’d have to disagree with “Holding 100% stocks when you need access to the cash is far too risky,” though. The Simple Path to Wealth got into that. These guys will be retired 50-60 years and I’d guarantee there’s no way this 60/40 allocation will beat a 100% equities allocation. A total market fund is already putting your money into real estate and foreign investments. “We got it covered” as JLC put it. At most I may do 10% bonds when the time comes to RE, but I’m not even sure about that. As GoCurryCracker put it, across 30 years “any asset allocation from 60-100% equities has about the same chance of success (90%+.)” . I suppose in the end this is just what makes these guys feel safe, and of course it will work. I just really took to heart what JLC wrote and others have written for 100% equities.

        2. We never said our allocation would work for everyone. In fact, if you bothered to READ (this seems to be a re-occurring theme with you, doesn’t it?) our investment series, the post on “slicing the pie”, we show exactly how people should pick their allocation based on Loss Tolerance. For people with a higher loss tolerance, they can feel free to go all in to 100% equity. But not everyone is in that scenario. Especially since it depends on how close they are to retirement as well

          Also, if you again bothered to READ JLC’s book, he does mention that in retirement, it does make sense to ramp down from 100% equities to 75/25.

          As well, the riskiest part of depleting your portfolio in retirement is withdrawing during a market crash in the first 5 years (“sequence-of-returns risk”). So it makes sense for us to mitigate that by having a portfolio where the yield is enough to live on without touching the principal. I don’t see the 60/40 split as an emotional decision at all. I see that as having practical, logical sense. Blindly following advice without tailoring it to your own situation is emotional.

            1. Hi! Thanks for the shout-out! That’s my blog!!!
              Yup, people in the FIRE crowd get it exactly wrong: 60/40 has an expected return that’s way too low for a 50-60-year horizon at 4% withdrawal rate. So folks are too timid with their equity allocation (I use essentially 100%), but too aggressive with the withdrawals (I prefer 3-3.25, maybe 3.5%).

        3. To be fair, everyone needs to invest according to their comfort level and palatability for risk. The key is to STICK TO YOUR PLAN.

          If 60/40 lets them stick to their plan, more power to them. Me personally, I like a more aggressive portfolio, but I am not them and they are not Collins.

          Don’t mistake caution for “emotion”. It has to do with personality and comfort level. Plus common sense. They survived 2008 because of the 60/40 allocation. It worked for them. In this overpriced market, I can see their reasons for sticking to it.

          1. Caution is an emotional reaction that stems from fear of something. Someone who goes 60/40 during a phase of their life that they should be accumulating money is being cautious because they’re scared of losing their money. No difference to someone who is cautious of jumping out of a plane to go parachuting. You could argue some caution is warranted, sure, but to say it’s not an emotion is inaccurate, it is an emotional response.

            As for them surviving 2008 because of 60/40, that’s a load of BS. If they were 100% stocks then and kept hold until now they’d be better off than if they weren’t.

            Again, there are times caution is warranted, like now they’re retired caution is advisable and if retirement is around the corner for someone, sure. But it is not, in my opinion, advisable to people who need to accumulate wealth.

            Caution is holding back most peoples performance in the stock market because they’re unjustly scared of losing all their money. Caution is the reason many people end up retiring with too little money put aside because they put all their money in GIC’s and savings accounts because they were too scared to invest it.

            Admittedly a 60/40 portfolio is a healthy middle ground between an aggressive 100% stock portfolio and an overly cautious GIC, but it is perfectly reasonable to say it’s a cautious approach to investing that is holding back their potential long-term returns.

            1. They survived 60/40 in 2008 with portfolio rebalancing because they stuck to their plan. If they had been 100% stocks in 2008 and not sold at all, they might have been worth more now, but would they have been able to stick to their plan based on risk tolerance?

              Markets will do what they want to. How individuals persist in them depends on how they structure their assets based on what works for them.

            2. Again, you’re dismissing sequence-of-returns risk. Long-term potential gains don’t matter if you end up depleting your portfolio too early. I’m willing to trade off gains for yield for the first five years to mitigate for sequence-of-return risk.

              Going forward, if side income becomes high enough to replace the 4% coming from the portfolio, then going 90/10 might make sense. But this blog is about how to retire purely on portfolio income and not on any side income. In that case, it makes sense to rely on the yield and not have withdraw during a stock market crash during the first 5 years. You can talking about long-term gains all you want, but ignoring sequence-of-returns-risk is disregarding the biggest risk to early retirement.

              1. You keep assuming I’m talking about your personal situation when I’m not. I’ve said many times above that you should be in 60/40 because you are in retirement.

                However, if you are not withdrawing money from your portfolio, are not nearing retirement and have a long-term investment horizon (10+ years) there is no sequence of returns risk as you aren’t touching your portfolio. If that is the case, the only reason to be 60/40 is an emotional one, not a logical one.

      2. Read my book review for JLC. I explain why we picked a 60/40 portfolio here:

        It is possible to have someone as your hero and not match up 100% on all view points 😉 Our general investment strategies are the same and that’s the part that matters: long term investing using low cost index ETFs.

        Each person has their own set of rules for risk tolerance. Feel free to pick whatever allocation suits you, but you won’t really know how you react in a market crash until you ACTUALLY experience one (the 60/40 portfolio is what helped us survive 2008 without losing any money, so it works for us)

        1. Thanks FC. I just finished reading it (your review.) Hey I don’t know if it’s just bc I live in Hawaii, but I get an ad on this page ” take a vacation in Hawaii, every day. Starting at 1.7 million” lol. But we know better than that 😉

          1. HA HA. Ignore the ads. I’m not a fan of them either, but they do help keep the site running. We’ll replace them with something better later.

    2. I agree with most of what you have to say and had 100% stock allocation for myself as well …….. till I realize that when the time comes to REBALANCE you can’t if you just have one asset class but if you are in accumulation phase and don’t want to rebalance for a while then stocks are much better then bonds.

  2. Hi all,

    I’d like to play along, however I’m in commission fee hell. Basically, I transferred my mutual funds over to Questrade (commission fee since it was a bit under $25K), and now to Dollar Cost Average my way into following the program, I would need to:

    – Sell a specific number of units of mutual funds to give me cash (as I currently have $0 cash, it’s all mutual funds) ($)
    – Follow your buying plan of ETFs ($$)
    – Rinse and repeat twice per month ($$ upon $$!)

    Anyone have any ideas to avoid and/or minimize these fees?

    1. Yes, you’d incur fees to sell your existing investments, and then making the initial purchase of ETFs. But, going forward, why would you buy twice per month?

      I make my investment purchases monthly. As a simple example, let’s say you’re going to invest $12K this year. You know that (in order to re-balance) you need to invest $6K in Canadian stocks, $4K in US stocks, and $2K in bonds. Sure, you could buy $500 worth of Canadian stocks, $333 of US stocks and $167 of bonds each month – but that would result in excess commissions.

      Instead, in that example, I’d suggest committing to investing $1,000 in Canadian stocks in each of January, March, May, July etc. Put $1,000 in US stocks say in February, April, August and October, and put $1,000 in bonds say in June and December. That way, over the course of the year, you`re making the right investments, while minimizing commissions.

      It’s true, you won’t be perfectly re-balanced at any given point in time. But you can always re-evaluate if one asset class significantly over- or under-performs. (ie if bonds have had a really bad year relative to Canadian equities, maybe you make your $1,000 contribution in November to bonds as well). I tend to view target asset allocations as a guide, where some short-term variances are acceptable, rather than a rule that needs to be followed rigidly. Your mileage may vary – but I find my approach helps me minimize commissions, and also minimize the time (and stress) spent worrying about re-balancing.

    2. Simple. First of all you should have moved your money over to Questrade in cash, not in mutual funds, but since you already made that error, sell all of your mutual funds once.

      Don’t bother dollar cost averaging your way BACK into the market, you’re already in there 100% with your mutual funds, so why bother DCA? Put it all back into the same portfolio at one time.

      DCA historically performs worse than lump sum investing either way, as an FYI.

      Also, it is free to buy ETF’s in Questrade, so there will be no associated fees with buying. Selling ETF’s has a fee but you won’t be doing that going forward, you will only be buying.

      1. Money Miser, I’m in a similar situation. Just opened up three Questrade accounts (non-registered, TFSA and RRSP). I intend to fund the RRSP account by moving my investments (all mutual funds) from elsewhere. For the no-load mutual funds, I intend to move them over in-cash. For those mutual funds with a DSC (estimated to be around 3%), I’m uncertain whether I should sell right away (and eat the cost of 3%), and then DCA my way into the desired allocations OR do it slowly over the next few years (technically I’m allowed to liquidate 10% per year with no penalty). For these DSC mutual funds (got three of them), I should indicate that I’m in positive territory (up +6%, +32 and +52% respectively) . I wouldn’t be selling at a loss.

        What do you think?

  3. On the one hand I agree with Firecracker that a person’s risk tolerance is very important when investing. However, I do think that just because something has worked for you in the past (ie. 2008) doesn’t mean it is the best strategy.

    I do agree that if you’re in your early 30’s, that you can probably get better gains by taking more risk and investing more in stocks and less in bonds. Bill Gross (the Bond King) was on BNN last week and even he said the bull market for bonds is over (let’s face it, interest rates can go only one direction).

    For myself, I have my own metrics when investing in individual companies and when a company disappoints, I am the first one to exit a stock at 930am EST (ahead of the herd or the people who invest in mutual funds and etfs – no offense). As a consequence, my portfolio looks after itself by holding more cash at times and less cash when companies start to grow again. I never believe in the saying “invest for the long-term” (those in the industry love you to believe in that nonsense).

    I understand why 60/40 (stocks/bonds) would appeal to people. Afterall, you are depending on that income to live by everyday. However, bonds can lose money too (if you don’t hold them to maturation) so may not be the best investment, especially when interest rates are going up.

  4. Aloha! We are nurses (on F.I.R.E.!) moving from a very “cowboy” Arizona to a more laid back Hawaii to achieve a better work/life balance while reaching for the stars (pay increase/COLA of >33%). Thank you for laying out all this info, we’ve watched your blog grow from the beginning, but haven’t commented until now. Beautiful job! We were out of the country & actually pretended to be from “lower Alberta” when Trump “won.” It has been a rough month+.

    Question: regarding your “riding out the storm” of 2008, any tips for mental health while riding the waves? I’ll be riding the ocean’s physical waves, but don’t feel emotionally ready for an impending crash. Right now, I’m way too cowboy, looking to moderate my risk down to a 70/30. However, we’re about 11.5yrs out from retirement, so I feel as though we can handle some extra risk. I need to read more on the “psychological safety” piece of investing for FIRE… Any tips would be appreciated. Mahalo!

    1. The single best piece of advice I could offer is to not check the prices on a daily (or even weekly) basis. I used to check the price of each of my investments on a daily basis. In addition to being a huge waste of time, it forces to you obsess about short-term fluctuations, rather than having a long-term focus. This makes it more likely that you’ll panic and make a rash decision.

      Does that mean you’re intentionally depriving yourself of information? I’d argue no. With a long-term focus, short-term price fluctuations have little relevance anyway.

      Besides, if you’re relying on dividend-paying stocks to fund your (early?) retirement, as long as the dividends don’t get reduced, your cash flow won’t change. In 2008, many (most?) “blue chip” Canadian companies didn’t reduce their dividends – so if you were relying on those to fund your expenses, you wouldn’t have been impacted anyway.

    2. I have 50% of my portfolio in buy and hold. The other 50% (in my tax-deferred account) gets sold when the S&P 500 goes below the 200 day moving and average and I get back in when it goes above the 200 day moving average. That helps deal with the downside risk while sticking to a plan. Also, then SPY goes below the 200 day moving average, I load up on bonds and revert back to stocks when it starts going above the 200 day SMA.

  5. A-Aron:
    One way to help keep calm in a major or minor correction/crash is to look at past markets and their ability to “normalize” again. As someone who has seen 20% interest rates and did in fact panic in ’08/’09 by going all safe and missing a big chunk of that recovery (read normalization). KEEP your allocation! Remember even in tough times those bonds or bond etfs still kick out dividends while mitigating the wilder swings in your portfolio which can be so uncomfortable. As well you can use the opportunities in a correction to rebalance thus promoting a buy lower, sell higher strategy while others panic. No one ever went broke taking a profit. Keep calm and rebalance.

  6. I like the investment workshop series here, and think it’s useful for a lot of millennials who don’t have much exposure to investing in the stock market. That said, I find your political commentary to be tiresome. As an American millennial that voted for Trump, you clearly have no idea why he got elected over the other candidate (you’re not the only ones- the media and global elites don’t get it either). Ultimately this is your blog and you can post whatever you want, but the constant bias in your political commentary is a real turn off for a reader like me. Just thought I’d throw that out there. All the best in 2017.

    1. Hey, I’m just “telling it like it is” 🙂

      Look, I’m not even American. You guys are free to elect whoever you want. I’m just concerned by how Trump’s policies are going to affect market indexes we own, and so far we’ve actually been pleasantly surprised.

      1. I really appreciate this service that you are offering for free and for that I thank you. However calling the president of the US an “idiot” is over doing it. You might not like him as a person or not agree with his policies, but there is a reason he is there and Hillary is not. And for that, I thank god every day. I have to tell you between Trudeau and Trump…It’s Trump for me any day. And also thank god for my 401K going up and up since November. Before criticizing the guy, because well it’s so cool to follow the Hollywood crowd, let’s give him a chance, I am sure he knows a thing or two about how to make $$. As for abortion rights and LGBTQ….Really? Fearmongering may be just a bit? 🙂 Thanks again for all you do. Keep up the good work.

  7. At first, I thought the article would be filled with useless stuff by seeing it’s length. But then I saw some interesting graph images which you’ve attached to this article; actually, it’s a good and informative article but what I like the most is the way you presented the world unsteady! Please try to make it as short as possible, and keep sharing such informative articles with us! I advice everyone not to follow others, just invest according to your income level.

  8. I posted a comment on here a few days ago that you must have deleted. Well I guess this will be deleted too, but wanted to tell you that I’m done with your blog if that’s what you do with legitimate comments you don’t like.

    1. Ha, just rechecked and saw my comment- doh! Apologies… Must still be hyped up from new years haha. Have a great 2017.

  9. Hello! Love your blog and this investment course. Thanks so much for sharing. I plan to follow it as soon as I pay off my car then I will be debt free (besides my mortgage ?).
    I’m Canadian and I was wondering if the Canadian portfolio was just as good as the American one? Do you guys only have a Canadian one? (Besides the one you’ve created for this course) In this blog post you were talking about our oil industry taking a hit and it effected the Canadian portfolio. I hope my question makes sense? Sorry if it’s a dumb question. I’m very new to this FI and investing thing. Thanks!!

  10. Are you guys aware that on the mobile version of your site, there are some pages that can’t be read because the content is covered by a pop up asking the reader to subscribe to your newsletter? It’s happened to me on the last two workshop posts I’ve tried to read and I can’t close the pop up. I’m assuming it’s an error since you guys are all about providing info for free! I’m trying to read at work so I can stop working sooner!!!

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