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Robo-advisers laid bare – how they compare on fees, returns and investing approach – The Globe and Mail

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Weathering a stock market crash was the last item on the checklist of milestones that robo-advisers had to reach before they’re considered a 100-per-cent legitimate way to invest.

Robos passed their stress test in 2020. In a pandemic where stocks were buried and then resurrected, new clients flocked to robos and robo portfolios held up reasonably well. The 2020-21 Globe and Mail Robo-Adviser Guide shows you how it all went down at 11 different firms. One name change since last year’s guide: WealthBar is now CI Direct Investing.

As always, the guide includes key comparative information like minimum account size, types of accounts available and the provinces and territories served. This year, there is also a close-up look at how portfolios are built, as well as costs and returns. There’s a special crash-test close-up of returns for the three months ended March 31, which was when the worst of this year’s stock market plunge happened.

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Robo-advisers are an ideal investment solution for people willing to pay a modest fee to have a portfolio of low-cost exchange-traded funds built to their requirements and then managed on a continuing basis. Investing with a robo is simple – you add money to your account any time and it’s invested for you. Via app or website, you can track your progress and fees paid.

This version of the Robo-Adviser Guide is based on a close-up look at each firm’s growth portfolio, which would be of interest to someone comfortable having most of their assets invested in the stock market, who keeps their cool in market declines and who has at least 10 years to go until they need their money.

A snapshot of the asset mix for each firm’s growth portfolio is shown, along with fees at various asset levels and returns in the near and medium term. One way to benchmark recent returns for robo-adviser growth portfolios is to compare them with the Vanguard Growth ETF Portfolio (VGRO-TSX), which offers a completely diversified portfolio for growth investors in a single package. This ETF lost 14 per cent for the three months to March 31 and made 7.1 per cent for the year to Sept. 30. Note that VGRO’s returns do not reflect the portfolio management fees charged by robos, which average around 0.5 per cent.

Evaluating robos on past returns alone is a mistake. Look at fees and an approach to portfolio building that makes sense to you. Some firms stick to broad stock and bond categories, while others add sub-sectors like long-term bonds and small-capitalization stocks.

Here are some robo-adviser basics that will help you get the most value from this guide:

  • What robo-advisers invest your money in: The most common investments are index-tracking ETFs, which are called passive investments because there’s no active stock-picking involved; a few firms mix in mutual funds or pooled funds.
  • Account opening: Paperless account-opening with e-signature is standard, so there’s no need to fill out paper forms and send them in.
  • Fees, part 1: Most robos charge for their services through a portfolio management fee applied as a percentage of account assets; some firms may have a minimum monthly charge or a flat monthly amount based on account size; portfolio management fees vary widely and differences can add up to thousands of dollars a year for large accounts. Modern Advisor and Nest Wealth do not charge portfolio management fees on accounts of less than $10,000.
  • Fees, part 2: An additional cost is the management expense ratio on the ETFs in a robo account; investors don’t pay the fee on the ETFs – it’s deducted by ETF companies off their gross returns (net returns are reported to investors).
  • Fees, part 3: Commissions for buying and selling ETFs in your account are generally included in the portfolio management fee. Exceptions: Nest Wealth charges $4.99 a trade with a cap of $100 a year; Smart Money Invest charges 1 cent a share with a $4 minimum per trade.
  • What the portfolio management fee buys you: Setting up a portfolio to match your needs, investing money proportionately in all your funds when you make contributions to your account and periodic rebalancing – selling hot ETFs and buying cold ones – to bring you back to your target mix of stocks and bonds. You can also talk to people at robo firms to discuss your portfolio.
  • Security: Assets are typically held by third-party or related investment dealers that are members of the Canada Investor Protection Fund, which protects eligible account assets for up to $1-million against dealer insolvency.
  • Contact: You can speak to someone at your robo by phone and, often, through some combination of secure e-mail, live online chat and Skype. Some firms offer a dedicated portfolio manager to talk to.

Click here to download an Excel version of the guide.

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Source: Rob Carrick, company websites. EM = emerging markets; ST, LT = short-term, long-term

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Europe's Biggest Utility Unveils $190 Billion Investment Plan – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — Enel SpA, Europe’s biggest utility, is set to invest 160 billion euros ($190 billion) over the next 10 years on a bet that demand for green energy and electrification will surge globally.

Under Chief Executive Officer Francesco Starace, Enel has sought to ride the accelerating shift to a low-carbon world, committing vast sums of money to expanding its renewable power, networks and energy-efficiency divisions. Its bold investment plan comes as competition for new projects intensifies, with utilities now vying with oil majors pushing more aggressively into the sector.

Enel plans to invest about 40 billion euros over the next three years, driving annual profit gains of as much as 10% over the period, the Rome-based company said Tuesday. Almost half of that spending will be channeled to renewable energies.

It’s a “monster investment” program and is above expectations, Roberto Letizia, an analyst at Equita SIM SpA, said in a note.

Enel’s shares jumped as much as 3.3% in Milan, the most in two weeks. The stock traded up 3.2% at 8.34 euros as of 11:39 a.m. local time, extending its gain this year to 18%.

The utility will offer shareholders a guaranteed fixed dividend with a target of 43 euro cents a share in 2023, the strategic plan shows. An increase in the use of so-called sustainable finance — which will account for about half of total gross debt in 2023 — will allow Enel to lower its cost of borrowing.

Open Fiber

The company made no mention Tuesday of any decision on the potential sale of its 50% stake in telecommunications company Open Fiber SpA. The Italian government, which owns about 24% of Enel, has pressed the utility to sell its holding, which has attracted a 2.65 billion-euro bid from Macquarie Group Ltd.

Starace did however touch on acquisition opportunities, saying Enel would favor distribution networks over generation assets.

“We keep this approach open,” he said during a presentation. If an opportunity arises, “we think this is the right time.”

Enel said almost half of its investments will be directed to developing infrastructure and networks, while the rest will be allocated to power generation. The company expects to have about 120 gigawatts of installed capacity by 2030, almost three times more than the current level.

Enel forecast an increase of 8% to 10% a year in adjusted net income through 2023. Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization will rise 5% to 6% annually, reaching as much as 21.3 billion euros in 2023.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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Germany's Short-Lived Rebound Driven by Consumption, Investment – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — German consumers and companies ramped up spending before a resurgence in coronavirus cases forced authorities to reintroduce restrictions, putting a halt to the recovery in Europe’s largest economy.

Figures from the statistics office show private consumption rose 10.8% in the three months through September with investment up 3.6%, contributing to an overall quarterly expansion of 8.5% — stronger than initially reported. Since then, temporary business closures and rules affecting social activities have plunged parts of the economy back into a slump.

Output is likely to stagnate or even shrink in the final three months of the year, the Bundesbank said last week. While domestic restrictions are weaker and more focused on hospitality and leisure activities than during the first wave, exports are suffering from a resurgence of the virus across Europe, it said.

Sales abroad jumped more than 18% in the third quarter, with imports up some 9%.

A business confidence gauge due later on Tuesday is expected to deteriorate, mirroring trends from across the euro area. Lockdowns have put the 19-nation economy on track for another contraction, according to a survey published Monday.

Germany’s outlook could take a turn for the worse on Wednesday when Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s regional leaders will decide on whether to tighten and extend virus curbs through much of the upcoming holiday season.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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Without investment, universities and colleges heading for a crisis – Toronto Star

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Universities and colleges employ hundreds of thousands of people, educate and train over two million students annually and drive research that improves the lives of all Canadians. In cities and communities across the country, they are regional economic drivers and social and cultural centres. Our world-class post-secondary education system is critical to our prosperity, underpins our democracy and finds solutions to key challenges, be it COVID or climate change.

All of this is in peril — and not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Public funding for post-secondary education has been stagnant for more than a decade. COVID-19 has brought the system closer to the edge. Strategic investments in universities and colleges must be made now to ensure a strong economic recovery and a more resilient future for Canadians.

COVID-19 has strained resources and reduced revenues, especially from international student fees. For decades, in the absence of sustainable government funding, students and their families have been asked to pay more. Private sources of funding now make up over half of university revenues, up from just 20 per cent when the parents of students may have once been on campus.

Since the last recession in 2008, provincial government spending in the sector has decreased by one per cent in real terms. Meanwhile, student enrolment has grown by more than 20 per cent over the same time, and income from tuition by nearly 70 per cent. With more than half of all university students already taking on an average of $28,000 of debt to get an education, reliance on student fees to solve the funding crisis simply isn’t sustainable.

There are three areas that need immediate action from the federal government to put post-secondary education on stable footing and improve quality, affordability and accessibility.

First, we need a national strategy for post-secondary education with goals to tackle education inequality, enhance affordability and strengthen research capacity. The last time the federal government increased the base funding to the provinces and territories for post-secondary education was in 2008 under Stephen Harper and this came with no plan of action to address key challenges.

Secondly, we need to accelerate research through enhanced investments in fundamental research. The government’s own advisory panel recommended funding levels 40 per cent higher than what we are investing today to keep Canada competitive.

The pandemic has also put much research on hold. In a survey of Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) members, two out of three have seen their research stop or stall as a result of the pandemic. This hiatus in research will have a significant downstream impact on the innovation and knowledge that supports Canada’s economy.

Finally, we need to secure opportunities for youth and the unemployed by decreasing upfront costs and moving to a free tuition model for working- and middle-class Canadians. The government’s temporary doubling of the Canada Student Grant this year will help students cover costs this term, however it is still less than the average tuition.

It is also an unsustainable approach.

While we have seen increases in student financial assistance, we have also seen increases in tuition. As some provincial officials half-joke, the best way to leverage federal funding for post-secondary education is to raise tuition, as this will increase demands for federally funded student financial assistance.

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Some of the necessary changes to the funding model for post-secondary education could be met by redirecting the $900 million in unused federal funding from the failed Canada Student Service Grant program. The government could also repurpose the Canada Training Benefit to ensure that Canadians have more meaningful and timely access to educational opportunities.

There are many public services and sectors that need strengthening to get us out of the current crisis and be better for it. Post-secondary education is an essential foundation for social cohesion, science, innovation and economic success in Canada, and must not be taken for granted. We cannot let it languish now, when it is so critical to the well-being of our country.

Brenda Austin-Smith is a film studies professor and head of the English, theatre, film and media department at the University of Manitoba. She is also president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, which represents 72,000 academic staff at universities and colleges across the country.

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