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Should Mark and Meredith invest their surplus or pay off their mortgages? – The Globe and Mail



Mark and Meredith, seen here, should catch up on their TFSAs first, lower the extra payments on their original house and invest the difference.

Lars Hagberg/The Globe and Mail

As a military couple, Mark and Meredith have relocated seven times in the past 10 years, so they’re looking forward to moving back to their original home – now rented out – when they eventually retire.

Mark, an officer with the Canadian Armed Forces, is age 44 and earns about $142,400 a year. Meredith, an employee at the Department of National Defence, is 47 and earns $72,660 a year. Her income has suffered from long spells in places where no work was available. They have a 12-year-old daughter, two houses and substantial mortgage debt.

Mind you, they’ll be well-fixed when they retire from the military. At the age of 55 Mark will be entitled to a defined benefit pension, indexed to inflation, of $116,000 a year plus a bridge benefit of $12,838 to the age of 65. From 65 on, he will get $134,623 a year.

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At 58, Meredith will also be entitled to a DB plan: $35,427 a year plus a bridge benefit of $988 until she’s 65. After that, she will get $39,315 a year.

First, though, they want to pay off their mortgages. They’re not sure which one to tackle first or whether they would be better off investing their surplus funds. “My husband thinks that it would be better to invest extra dollars [in financial markets] because our mortgage interest rates are low,” Meredith writes in an e-mail.

We asked Robyn Thompson, president of Castlemark Wealth Management Inc. in Toronto, to look at Mark and Meredith’s situation. Ms. Thompson is also a certified financial planner.

What the expert says

Mark and Meredith have $2,715 a month in surplus cash flow that they can use for debt repayment, investing, or increased lifestyle spending, Ms. Thompson says. They are using $1,000 of this to make prepayments to the mortgage on their original family home, now rented out.

In addition to their two properties, they have investment assets in their various accounts totalling $305,515, with 60-per-cent equity, 30-per-cent fixed income and 10-per-cent cash. Both have unused RRSP room that they are carrying forward to reduce taxes payable on their retiring allowances (a taxable, one-time payment on retirement in addition to their pensions) – $80,000 for him and $25,000 for her.

The couple would like to retire at the age of 55 with an annual after-tax income stream of $72,000 in today’s dollars (or $106,234 at retirement, indexed at 2 per cent), the planner says. When they do, they plan to move back to their original house and rent out their current residence.

Complicating matters is the fact that they have, at different times, declared one property or the other as their principal residence, Ms. Thompson says. “This will create a taxable capital gain on the property that is eventually sold,” she notes.

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For example, renting out part or all of a principal residence changes its use to an income-earning property. So capital-gains tax may apply for the period during which the property was used to earn income. Mark and Meredith would still be able to claim the principal residence exemption for the period in which they used the house as their primary residence.

“It is therefore critically important for Mark and Meredith to keep detailed records of when and how each property was used along with receipts for any improvements made, no matter how minor,” Ms. Thompson says.

Given their substantial income and relatively modest living expenses, Mark and Meredith will be able to achieve their short- and long-term financial goals, the planner says. “They have some catching up to do with their tax-free savings account contributions and prepayments toward the mortgage, but they are in a rock-solid financial position,” she adds.

The couple’s investments have done well, delivering an annualized rate of return of 8 per cent going back to 2013, Ms. Thompson says. The value of their portfolio shrank somewhat in early 2020 as a result of the stock-market meltdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the planner says. “But they have a long time horizon and view the market downturn as a short-term event.”

Their portfolio consists mainly of Canadian and U.S. large-cap, blue-chip stocks, exchange-traded funds and a small mutual-fund allocation. They use an investment adviser to whom they pay 1.65 per cent a year. The adviser does not provide planning or tax services.

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The registered education savings plan for their daughter is allocated 50 per cent to fixed income and 50 per cent to equities. Using a 4.5 per cent expected rate of return and a 2 per cent inflation rate, at their current contribution rate the RESP will grow to $73,028 by the time their daughter starts university at the age of 18.

Now for the mortgages. Mark and Meredith are paying 1.95 per cent interest on the $468,560 mortgage on their original home (rented out for $36,000 a year). Their current mortgage payment on the original house is $40,685 annually. In addition, they are making an extra payment of $1,000 a month, or $12,000 a year.

When the mortgage comes up for renewal next year, the interest rate could well be higher, the planner says. She assumes a 2.39 per cent interest rate at renewal. Instead of paying $1,000 a month, they could cut their prepayment to $500 monthly and redirect the surplus cash flow of $6,000 a year to their tax-free savings accounts, where they have unused contribution room. There the investments are forecast to grow tax-free with an expected real rate of return of 4.5 per cent annually, the planner says. “They will still have the property paid off by [Mark’s] age 55.”

As for the house they are living in now, they plan to rent it out for $2,000 a month after they retire. Rather than paying off the $215,000 mortgage, the planner recommends they continue with it, deducting the mortgage interest along with the other expenses. They could use the net cash flow first to contribute to their TFSAs and then invest any surplus in a non-registered, balanced portfolio.

“Meredith’s first inclination is to pay off the mortgage as fast as possible,” Ms. Thompson says. “This is not always the best option in a low-interest rate environment.” For Mark and Meredith, using cash flow to maximize TFSA contributions makes more sense at this point, the planner says. “With a properly diversified, balanced portfolio, the after-tax compounded annualized rate of return on their investments inside the TFSA is likely to exceed the compound interest payable on their mortgage.”

At Mark’s age 56, the first full year they are both retired, Mark and Meredith will have after-tax income of $169,160 a year. After-tax lifestyle needs and the mortgage payment on the rental will total $120,408 a year, giving them plenty of room to expand their goals if they choose to.

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Client situation

The people: Mark, 44, Meredith, 47, and their daughter, 12

The problem: Should they invest their surplus or pay off their mortgages?

The plan: Catch up on their TFSAs first. Lower the extra payments on their original house and invest the difference. Leave the mortgage on the second house when they retire.

The payoff: Making the best use of their money.

Monthly net income: $16,160 (includes gross rental income).

Assets: Cash $7,000; emergency fund $20,000; her TFSA $52,300; his TFSA $30,815; her RRSP $96,905; his RRSP $80,375; RESP $38,120; residence $450,000; rental $750,000; estimated present value of his DB pension plan $2.36-million; estim. PV of her DB plan $863,000. Total: $4.7-million

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Monthly outlays (both properties): Mortgages $4,570; property taxes $990; water, sewer, garbage $115; home insurance $150; electricity, heat $215; maintenance $895; garden $100; transportation $780; groceries $800; clothing $180; gifts, charity $315; vacation, travel $1,250; other discretionary $30; dining, drinks, entertainment $700; personal care $30; club membership $15; pets $15; sports, hobbies $120; other personal $450; health care $25; disability insurance $370; phones, TV, internet $130; RESP $200; TFSAs $1,000. Total: $13,445

Liabilities: Residence mortgage $215,000; rental mortgage $468,560. Total: $683,560

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Some details may be changed to protect the privacy of the persons profiled.

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Big Oil's Investment Risk Is Spiking –



Big Oil’s Investment Risk Is Spiking |

David Messler

Mr. Messler is an oilfield veteran, recently retired from a major service company. During his thirty-eight year career he worked on six-continents in field and…

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    The major integrated oil companies: Shell,(NYSE:RDS.A, RDS.B); ExxonMobil, (NYSE:XOM); BP, (NYSE:BP); Chevron, (NYSE:CVX), and a few others, so named for their vertical stewardship of the hydrocarbon molecule from initial extraction to final refining, have come under increasingly accurate fire from climate change advocates. In the past organizations like Greenpeace and a host of other conservation organizations, have used direct measures to interdict oil company operations. Measures that were flashy, as they drew a lot of attention from the global press, but over the long haul did little to achieve their goals of stopping oil and gas exploration. 


    The companies themselves have had considerable success in pushing back these operations through the courts. As an example a Scottish court has fined Greenpeace £80K for its boarding of a Transocean rig, enroute to a BP North Sea location, in 2019. A boarding the court held to be in direct violation of an earlier edict prohibiting this type of activity.

    “She said its breaches of the injunction were so serious she would be justified in jailing John Sauven, Greenpeace UK’s executive director, for up to two years or imposing a suspended sentence. He orchestrated the action from the start, knowing he was breaching a court order.”


    Now these activist organizations are increasingly turning to courts around the world, and with particular focus on U.S. courts, to further their aims. Filings in U.S. courts avail the claimants of the extensive body of American environmental law, and consumer protection legislation. A recent article in Reuters noted that this strategy held out new concerns for the big oils as activists became increasingly shrewd in their approach.

    “Cases now are being fought on arguments such as consumer protections and human rights. This shift has been especially pronounced in the United States, where more than a dozen cases filed by states, cities and other parties are challenging the fossil fuel industry for its role in causing climate change and not informing the public of its harms.”


    Related: Apple’s “Holy Grail Of Data” Leaves Oil Traders Disappointed

    State and Local governments are also jumping into the fray as costs mount to comply with air and water quality federal mandates. Using tactics that had proved so successful twenty years ago with cigarette manufacturers, the State of Minnesota and the District of Columbia filed suit against ExxonMobil last month. Among the allegations are that the company had misled the public on the adverse environmental impact of its products, and accusing it specifically of engaging in deceptive practices and false advertising. Reuters in an interview with Kate Konapka, Deputy Attorney General for Washington, D.C., noted-

    “As awareness of climate change grew in the general public to the extent that their disinformation campaigns were no longer acceptable, there was a pivot to greenwashing,” 


    It remains to be seen how this approach will play out for the companies affected as it is early innings and the companies have had some success in pushing back. ExxonMobil in December of last year prevailed in a 4-year court battle with the State of New York, where it had been alleged that the company had failed to disclose what it knew about the effect its products were having on climate change.

    The big funds are decarbonizing their portfolios

    Pressure on the big oil companies also comes from the investment community, as major funds have begun limiting carbon based investing, or engaging in outright divestiture in legacy oil companies. As an example Norway’s $1 trillion dollar national wealth fund, rocked the energy world in 2019 by declaring it would no longer invest in companies primarily in the hydrocarbon energy business. They were followed in early 2020 by Blackrock’s similar decision to decarbonize its lending portfolio. In his annual letter to corporate executives, Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock, put forth a sustainability rallying cry- “Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects. Awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”

    A capital intensive business from the outset, hydrocarbon energy development has always depended on outside capital fund expansion. Those days could be coming to an end if this practice becomes widespread.

    The big oil companies are taking note

    Net Zero 2050 has become a catchphrase in recent times, as big oil companies led by BP have pledged to reduce their net emissions to zero by mid-century. Other major international and national oil companies such as Shell, Total, (NYSE:TOT), Equinor, (EQNR), Eni, (NYSE:E) and others have followed suit with similar pledges. This marks a shift in policy from these organizations from their past stance of not being able to control what became of their products after they were produced and sold. A recent article in Reuters noted this shift-

    “Many oil and gas chiefs remain reluctant to commit to reduce emissions from the use of the oil they extract, arguing that they cannot control whether the cars Ford builds or planes Boeing designs run on oil. Commitments like BP’s move beyond that debate over responsibility for so-called Scope 3 emissions, which are indirect emissions in a company’s value chain including from use of products sold, by signaling a fundamental shift in corporate strategy toward new and cleaner energy businesses”


    In the case of BP what this means is likely to be a fundamental shift in the products that make up the company’s value chain. A shift that is noteworthy to investors as it signals a fairly abrupt about-face on major investments to achieve the goal of net zero carbon by 2050.

    As a sign that they are intent on taking affirmative steps toward this goal major impairments have been announced in recent months by BP and Shell. In the case of BP specific aspects of its up to $17.5 bn impairment charge to be reported on second quarter earnings haven’t been disclosed as yet, but perhaps their announcement last week of the sale of their petrochemicals business is instructive in that area. BP’s CEO, Bernard Looney noted in a press release-

    “This is another significant step as we steadily work to reinvent bp. Strategically the overlap with the rest of bp is limited and it would take considerable capital for us to grow these businesses. As we work to build a more focused, more integrated bp, we have other opportunities that are more aligned with our future direction. Today’s agreement is another deliberate step in building a bp that can compete and succeed through the energy transition.”

    For its part Shell has been a little more specific with its comparable $22 bn asset write-down for Q2. Approximately $9 bn of that charge will be allocated to the company’s Western Australia LNG business, including their marquee Prelude Floating LNG ship. A bitter pill for a project that only came on line in 2018.

    Source Next to the Prelude FLNG vessel a full-sized LNG tanker appears miniaturized.

    In summary, while fighting these court cases one-by one on their merits companies like Shell and BP seem only to be resigned to, but rather are embracing these decarbonization initiatives. Investors may have cause to worry over the short haul as companies go about the task of “Reinventing” themselves. 

    Stranded Assets

    This brings us to one of the most troubling aspects of these companies for investors. The prospects of key assets carried on the books for billions being written-down (their market value reduced due to circumstances) is jolting. For example both Shell and BP have said that natural gas, a lower carbon intensive energy play than crude oil, will be a central element in their long-term energy mix. Whether that will prove a success remains to be seen as one of the key final forms natural gas often takes is as Liquefied Natural Gas, or LNG. Overbuilding in this space is causing project delays as companies deal with pandemic reduced demand. The unusual step of LNG exporters or importers cancelling LNG cargoes has been on the rise in 2020. This has led to a number of major LNG project cancellations or deferrals have been announced globally, as producers attempt to rein in oversupply.

    Related: The Death Of The $2 Trillion Auto Industry Will Come Sooner Than Expected

    Another example of a shift away from a previously orderly Final Investment Decision- FID, approval process for its GoM projects, Shell announced in April it would defer a decision on its massive Whale prospect. Previously anticipated by the EOY 2020, Shell slashed pre-FID spending and deferred the FID to 2021. With billions already sunk in seismic, leasing, and drilling and appraisal costs, a thumbs down on Whale development would be the very definition of a stranded asset. In that case, hundreds of millions of barrels worth as much as $20 bn in today’s market, would be left untapped.

    What other forms these stranded assets may take, remains to be seen as the companies involved fine tune their product mix strategies going forward.

    Your takeaway

    The “Investability” of these oil giants is being increasingly called into question as they face battles on so many fronts around the world. Be it in U.S. or European courts, they are going to be confronted with thousands of climate change lawsuits with the advantage moving in the claimants direction. A single adverse decision could run into the billions. In spite of there being a clear need for hydrocarbon forms of energy well into the latter part of this century, increasingly the companies that produce it are being forced to alter their business practices to meet non-market, stakeholder demands.

    Whether this will create or destroy value in these companies long term is yet to be determined. In some senses however, the market may have already spoken devaluing shares of Shell and BP by about 50% over the last six months.

    Investors considering initiating new positions in these companies might take pause, as a single adverse court ruling could have long term consequences for the stock’s valuation. As we have noted in this article the environmental adversaries of the legacy oil companies have become increasingly cagey in their plans of attack.

    By David Messler for 

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      Alberta government proposes new agency to attract foreign investment



      The Alberta government will create a new provincial corporation tasked with attracting foreign investment if a bill introduced Tuesday becomes law.

      The Invest Alberta Corporation would have a budget of $18 million over the next three years to fulfil a mandate of pulling foreign dollars into Alberta as part of an effort to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn.

      Bill 33, the Alberta Investment Attraction Act, would allow for the creation of the corporation, which would be governed by a board that would have up to seven members. The bill was introduced in the legislature on Tuesday by Tanya Fir, the minister of economic development, trade and tourism.

      “There will be fierce competition as economies begin to re-open to attract this investment,” Fir said. “We know many other jurisdictions across the world, across Canada, already have these arms-length agencies in place that focus on investment attraction.”

      Fir said other jurisdictions — such as British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec — already have organizations set up to do similar work, and that Alberta needs its own to compete.

      “We need to be able to aggressively, proactively, eyeball-to-eyeball be communicating that message to investors around the world,” she said.

      One such Invest Alberta office would be set up in Houston, Texas, where Dave Rodney will be Alberta’s agent general. Rodney, a former UCP MLA, stepped down from his Calgary-Lougheed riding in 2017 to allow Jason Kenney, now premier, to run for the seat. Fir announced Rodney’s appointment Tuesday.

      Rodney will be paid a bi-weekly salary of $9,635. Though his three-year assignment will start immediately, he won’t relocate to Houston until the Canada-U.S. border reopens. In the role, he’s expected to work on creating closer business relationships and to pursue new investment opportunities to benefit Alberta’s energy sector.

      Alberta already has existing international offices, and Fir said that, with the exception of the Ottawa and Washington, D.C., offices which are focused on advocacy, will begin reporting to Invest Alberta.

      “That will allow for a more strategic and co-ordinated approach as we focus on investment attraction,” she said.

      Fir also said the new corporation won’t duplicate efforts of existing agencies that promote specific industries, such as Alberta Innovates or the Canadian Energy Centre. She said her ministry will look for ways the different groups can collaborate.

      If the legislation passes, cabinet will appoint up to seven board members, one of whom will be a member of executive council. The board will in turn select a CEO.


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      Province proposes creation of investment-attraction agency – Lethbridge News Now



      The government will refocus its teams in the world’s largest capital markets like London, New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Toronto, and Houston to communicate more effectively.

      She believes this is especially important now Alberta’s economy has become increasingly-reliant on international markets in the last several decades.

      The province believes the agency will help the province to rebound from the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

      “New investments into Alberta will help to increase economic development, job creation, and expand the competitiveness of our province’s leading industries – energy, agriculture, and tourism, and for Alberta’s high-growth industries such as technology, aviation and aerospace, and financial services.”

      As part of these efforts, Bill 33 will also establish a public board that will oversee the corporation’s operations.

      Fir adds that Premier Jason Kenney has appointed Dave Rodney, the former MLA for Calgary-Lougheed from 2004 to 2017, as Alberta’s Agent General to Houston, Texas.

      “Texas is Alberta’s second-largest export market in the United States and it is vital we have an in-market presence to lead Alberta’s efforts to expand our commercial ties to the region.”

      The overall goal of these initiatives is to highlight things like Alberta’s low tax rates, highly-skilled workforce, and “business-minded” government policies that make Alberta a great place to invest.

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