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Investing lessons for everyone

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I’ve worked at Morningstar for more than 25 years now and one of the best aspects of my current job is that I get to think about and work on a huge range of topics that have a real impact on people’s lives, from constructing sturdy retirement plans to coping with cognitive decline to paying for college. I’m constantly learning new things, and I love hearing from Morningstar users about their strategies and successes. I also like to hear what they’re worried about, because that helps me know what I should be working on.

As I reflect on the past 25 years and look forward, here are some of the key lessons I’ve learned:

Investing is overrated
I’m not saying you shouldn’t invest. You absolutely should. It’s essential. End of story. What I am saying, however, is that investing is the attention hog in many discussions about how to reach financial goals. It’s sexy, there’s often a current-events hook to explain why the market is behaving as it is, and hitting it big with an investment doesn’t usually require any sort of sacrifice. But ultimately, your boring pre-investing choices–like your savings rate and how you balance debt paydown with investing in the market–will have a bigger impact than your investment selections on whether you amass enough money to pay for retirement or college. (I call these types of pre-investment decisions your “primordial asset allocation.”) If your savings rate is high enough and you start early enough, that can make up for some lacklustre asset-allocation and investment-selection choices. The flip side is also true: If you haven’t saved enough, great investment picks probably won’t be enough to save you.

Less is so much more
In my early days as an analyst, I covered all kinds of funds: convertibles funds, technology-specific funds, funds that invested exclusively in zero-coupon bonds. It was a great crash course in how various investment types work. But the more I’ve learned about investing, the more minimalist I’ve become. If an investment type can help investors get the job done simply, cheaply, and without a lot of moving parts or oversight, I’m all over it. That’s why I increasingly recommend total market index funds, allocation funds, and target-date funds. (I like some well-diversified actively managed funds, too – and own them – but I’m super-picky.)

If investors build a well-diversified core portfolio using these kinds of building blocks, then more narrowly focused products – whether sector or region-specific equity funds or focused bond funds like emerging markets – are usually going to be redundant. I’m also attuned to the role of investor behaviour in all of this: Because more narrowly focused products will tend to be more volatile than broadly diversified core funds, there’s a greater likelihood that investors will mis-time their purchases and sales.

In addition to reducing complexity at the product level, I’m also an evangelist for eliminating complexity elsewhere in a portfolio. The fewer moving parts in your portfolio, the easier it will be to keep tabs on the real drivers of your financial results – your asset allocation and saving/spending rates, for example.

Beware the latest fad
In a related vein, I’ve seen enough to conclude that many new products that come to market don’t actually help improve investor outcomes. Rather, they’re an effort to help investment firms capitalise on what’s hot and generate fees on new assets.

One investment craze after another has hit the market over the past 25 years: technology sector funds, narrow commodities-tracking funds, and liquid alternatives, to name a few. A consistent theme behind new product mania is firms’ zeal to create products around an asset class that has performed exceptionally well in the recent past – and may not do so in the future. Investors should always ask: “What’s in it for them?” Oftentimes the upside looks better for the seller (them) than it does for you.

But some innovations are brilliant!
That’s not to say every new investment innovation is motivated by mercenary intentions, however. A small handful of the ones I’ve seen over my 25 years at Morningstar have hit the bull’s eye.

At the top of my list are target-date funds, which solve some of investors’ most vexing problems in an extremely low-cost way: They help them arrive at a sane stock/bond mix given their life stage, and change up the asset allocation to become more conservative as retirement approaches. The early results of actual investor outcomes in target-date fund – that is, investors’ ability to stay the course and benefit from compounding – are incredibly encouraging. I’d also put exchange-traded funds (ETFs) on my extremely short list of innovations that have benefited investors.

Get some help in retirement
Thanks to innovations like target-date funds and robo-advisers, the process of allocating assets during your working career has never been simpler. If investors are going to spend on advice and they’re on a tight budget, my bias is that they spend the money on good quality, holistic, financial planning guidance rather than investment advice, which can be obtained pretty cheaply through the aforementioned avenues.

But accumulation (saving for retirement) is a walk in the park compared with decumulation (investing – and spending! – through retirement). Even though I’ve tried to address the nitty-gritty of portfolio decumulation through the intuitive framework of “bucketing”, it’s still not simple.

Most people approaching and in retirement could benefit from another set of eyes on their plans, to help ensure that their withdrawal rate system is sustainable, that they’re being tax-efficient with their withdrawals, and so on. Having a financial adviser who knows what’s going on in your financial life and portfolio is also the gold standard for helping ensure that nothing falls through the cracks if you become incapacitated or die.

While the traditional investment advice model requires investors to pay a percentage of their assets year in year out, soon-to-retire and retired investors who are confident in their abilities can pay for advice on an hourly or per-engagement basis. That will be more economical than paying for ongoing advice or oversight; the downside is that the hourly or per-engagement advisor won’t be looking over your portfolio unless you ask for help. So, it’s a trade-off.

Talk about the hard stuff
On a panel at an investment conference, I referenced my personal situation as the adult child of two parents who struggled with cognitive decline toward the end of their lives. In so many ways, my parents had everything at the end of their lives: My sisters and I adored them and saw them often, they had enough money, and they stayed in their home until very close to the end. Yet I can sum up those last years in two words (forgive my language here): They sucked. We seemed to lurch from one crisis to the next; it was a physically and emotionally taxing experience for all of us. And it cost an arm and a leg.

After the panel, it was as if the floodgates had opened. Everywhere I went at the conference (even in the bathroom!), people stopped to share their own stories of struggling with the care of loved ones. It was obviously cathartic for them. We talked about the financial aspect of care but also the hard decisions that often come fast and furious later in life. My experience at that conference illuminated for me the value of simply sharing our experiences with one another. So many times, financial matters are about much more than finance. I’ve been thrilled to share my thoughts with readers all of these years, and I’m so grateful for all that you’ve all shared with me.

Christine Benz is director of personal finance at Morningstar

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Varcoe: Risks rising on Alberta's multibillion-dollar pipeline investment – Calgary Herald

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Article content continued

The Dakota Access ruling has also shown that even existing pipelines can face legal uncertainty.

“Even if you have the pipeline running and in service, they can ask you to get rid of it,” said Coleman.

Despite the potential pitfalls ahead, other experts feel the gamble is worth it.

Richard Masson, former CEO of the Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission, believes the rationale behind the investment still stands.

Demand for Canadian heavy oil remains strong with Gulf Coast refiners, while competing production from Venezuela and Mexico has dwindled.

The province decided to use its only leverage — its commercial options — to propel the project ahead.

“The fundamental business case is there,” Masson said.

“On balance, it’s a big risk decision, but . . . I would still say it’s the right call. We need Keystone XL.”

Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald columnist.

cvarcoe@postmedia.com

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UCP government to use grants to attract petrochemical investments to Alberta – Globalnews.ca

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The UCP government has introduced a new incentive program it believes will attract billions of dollars worth of investment in the petrochemical sector, employing tens of thousands of Albertans.

The Alberta Petrochemicals Incentive Program will offer direct grants to companies that decide to invest in Alberta. Companies will qualify if their facilities are up and running by 2030.

“The sky is the limit for the benefits this industry can provide to Alberta,” Associate Minister of Natural Gas and Electricity Dale Nally said while announcing the program.

“Beginning now, we’re going to set our sights much higher.”

The new program won’t be a competition. All projects that meet requirements set out by the province will be eligible to receive funding. Those details are still being worked out, and it’s not known how much money the government will end up paying out.

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“From our perspective, if we’re getting return on investment that we need, and we’re getting billions of dollars of infrastructure development happening — and of course resource revenues for Albertans — then we’re not going to put a hard stop on it,” Nally said.

READ MORE: Canadian petrochemical growth spurt expected despite rising desire for fewer plastics 

That answer isn’t good enough for NDP Leader Rachel Notley, who believes an announcement without details can’t be considered a clear plan.

“This minister had almost nothing to do for the last 15 months, and to bring forward an announcement like this, with so little information, I ask the question, what has he been doing?”

While in government, the NDP brought forward a number of petrochemical diversification programs itself, including one that uses royalty credits to attract investment. The second phase of that program is still ongoing.

The industry itself believes this new program will be successful, and could attract $30-billion worth of investment over the next decade.

“Our members are looking at tens of billions of dollars of projects right now,” said David Chappell, the board chair of the Resource Diversification Council. He is also a senior vice-president with Inter Pipeline.

“As companies spend tens and hundreds of millions of dollars on projects, before they decide whether they go ahead or not, they can count on this in their economics.”

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According to the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, the chemicals sector in Alberta is already worth more than $12 billion, and directly or indirectly employs more than 58,000 people.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Benefits of investing in a Registered Education Savings Plan RESPs

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A registered education savings plan (RESP) is widely known for the benefits it provides and its versatility in being able to use it whenever the need crops up. However, there are many other benefits of investing in these accounts that can help you in getting returns in the long run. Let us have a look at the most prominent benefits of investing in RESPs.

Investing in the registered education saving plan is a safe way to save funds for the said purpose. Let us consider why you should invest in RESPs.

Aided by the government – The federal government, through the Canada Education Savings Grant, adds 20% per dollar to your savings, with an annual limit of $ 500. The maximum limit for a lifetime is $ 7,200 per child. In the case of families with a lower income, choosing to invest in such funds can be a great deal. Henceforth, anyone eligible as per the rules and regulations can apply for it.

Taxable in the hands of the beneficiary –

When the beneficiary/child enrols for any post-secondary education program, they are eligible to get access to payments (also known as – educational assistance payments) from their funds. These payments are composed of a specific investment income and government grants.

Also, the tax on these assistance payments remains taxable on the hands of the person registered as the beneficiary. It is a strong possibility that the students do not have their income and are likely to fail to pay tax on such payments. However, the RESP withdrawal transactions are kept charge free. Learn more about taxes and RESPs here.

Flexibility in transfer –  RESPs can be a great alternative; then, you need to do the funds from your registered education savings plan to your registered retirement savings plan (RRSP).  As per the rules, you’re allowed to transfer $50,000 from your RESP funds to your retirement savings plan. Hence, the amount is freely transferable.

Easy setup – Easy access and set up is another great benefit of investing in the registered education savings plan. Almost anyone can set up an individual account for their child. The funds can grow faster when additional contributions come from friends and other family members when the contributions make the funds sustain for long.

Longevity – There are chances that the beneficiary may choose to defer their education plans once they pass high school. Since the funds in RESPs are accessible for a period of 36 years, they can utilize the funds whenever they feel like giving it a start. However, it is always advisable to go through the rules to ensure that there are no specific restrictions on this.

How do RESPs work?

RESP is an account that enables you to initiate investing for your child’s post-secondary education. In each case, the government contributions are subject to taxation only if they are withdrawn or paid for the beneficiary. As long as the recipient takes enrollment in any academic program, the fund is for the beneficiary.

The fund is to aid expenses for part-time or full-time studies in any academic program. It can be for trade, school, college or university. However, this payment entirely depends upon the RESP contribution made by the account holder into the RESP account. Also, the required contributions should be regularly made into a Registered Education Savings Plan to gain government grants.

It is important to note that as long as there is an appropriate confirmation of admission or enrollment in an educational program, the accumulated funds are for his purpose. Also, you can support the miscellaneous expenses for the education of the beneficiary using this fund. Hence, most certainly, almost anyone can open an RESP account for a child, naming them as the beneficiary.

Government Grants and RESPs

 

Since it is a government-aided fund, there are various benefits of it. However, there are several downsides to an RESP that should be known to anyone who intends to open an account in it. For example, if the child decides not to attend the college or university, the government will gets back its funds. However, the account holder can keep the funds belonging to his share, or any money made out of it.

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