All posts by Jonathan Chevreau

The 5 factors needed for timing your Retirement, and a 6th that shouldn’t be

My latest MoneySense Retired Money column reprises a couple of interesting takes on the key factors in deciding one’s timing of taking on Retirement. You can read the full column by clicking on the highlighted headline here: The 5 Factors of Retirement for Canadians.

One take is from the Plutus-award winning US blogger and author Fritz Gilbert; the second a Canadian take from MyOwnAdvisor’s Mark Seed.

Gilbert started the ball rolling back in April with a blog on his The Retirement Manifesto blog, entitled The 5 most important factors in your decision to retire. Gilbert is also the author of a book on retirement: Keys to a Successful Retirement. After more than 30 years in Corporate America, Fritz retired (as planned) in June 2018 at Age 55.

Then this site, as it often does with bloggers’ permissions, re-reran Gilbert’s blog late last year. It was then noticed by Mark, who was inspired to write his own version of the blog, with more of a Canadian spin and remarks on his personal perspective. It was also republished on the Hub.

So what was it that so intrigued three different financial bloggers (I’ll count this blog and the MoneySense column as evidence that three of us found it worthy of a write-up)?

Fritz Gilbert

Succinctly, here are the five factors originally identified by Gilbert:

  1. Do you have enough money?
  2. Are you mentally prepared for Retirement?
  3. Have you made a realistic spending estimate?
  4. Is your portfolio ready for withdrawals?
  5. What’s your risk tolerance?

            By now, you may be wondering about the mysterious sixth factor which in his blog Fritz says “doesn’t really matter at all.” Strangely, he adds, many people consider it to be the most important in their decision.

            Spoiler alert: if you like a bit of suspense, read Fritz’s original blog before proceeding. For those who want the quick-and-dirty reveal, if you’ve not already guessed, it’s your age. Or as Fritz wrote: “For once in your life, age has nothing to do with this decision.  Unlike driving, voting, and drinking, there are no legal constraints on when you can choose to retire.  As long as you can check the boxes on the important factors listed earlier, you can choose to retire regardless of your age.” Continue Reading…

Retired Money: Americans cashing out of employer Retirement plans could benefit from Canadian approach

Yanwen Wang of UBC’s Sauder School of Business

My latest MoneySense Retired Money column, which has just been published, looks at an interesting study on trends in cashing out Retirement savings when American workers leave their jobs. You can find the full column by clicking on the highlighted text here: Should you cash out your workplace pension when you leave a job?

The paper, titled Cashing Out Retirement Savings at Job Separation, is co-written by a Canadian, Yanwen Wang, associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business. The study, which is fairly technical, is also featured in a more accessible version in the Harvard Business Review. The article that ran on March 7, 2023 is titled Too many employees cash out their 401(k)s when leaving a job.

Canada and the United States differ in how retirement plans are treated on leaving jobs, so most of the column applies mainly to the United States. But there may be lessons for the US retirement system that can be drawn from the Canadian treatment.

Average American has more than a dozen jobs over a career

In the US, the average American worker will have 12.4 jobs over a career, prompting the report’s authors to write that “Employers should recognize that most people working for them will change jobs before retirement.” Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for their workers to cash out of their 401(k)s when leaving a job, instead of rolling them over and letting the money continue to grow in a tax-deferred manner.

A UBC press release issued early in April carries the alarming headline that “Americans are cashing out the retirement savings at an alarming rate.”  The study identifies a “key” problem: when they switch jobs, 41.4% of employees are cashing out of those funds — even though the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) imposes a 10% per cent penalty on anyone younger than 59.5 years old.

Here’s what Wang said via email about the implications for Canadian retirement: “Canada has some different fundamental rules around retirement savings withdrawal. It is hard or probably impossible to speak to the Canadian RRSP withdrawal based on our US-based study.”
Canadian plans have locked-in feature

In particular,  many Canadian RRSPs have a locked-in feature, Wang added: “which means that even at job changing cash withdrawals are not allowed unless the individual becomes non tax resident. The locked-in feature is a key feature not present in most US retirement savings accounts. I don’t have data but I believe the illiquidity feature substantially reduces 401(k) leakage. I think the U.S. can learn from the Canadian retirement system and consider something similar — a locked-in 401(k) on top of an emergency savings plan — to satisfy the long-term retirement needs as well as short-term liquidity emergency.”

Unlike Canada, American employees can cash out at any time whether they’re working or leaving a job: the only developed economy that does. As the article points out, “other countries require many months of unemployment and evidence of clear hardship before allowing someone to tap defined contribution retirement savings.”

 Researchers also found an interesting phenomenon whereby the more a generous employer “matches” employee contributions, the more the departing employee is tempted to cash out and spend what it regards as “house money” or “free money.” Thus, the authors write, “Right now, cashing out is the path of least resistance. People choose what is easy, not what is wise.”

The column closes with some findings from a recent H&R Block Canada survey released on April 3, 2023. It  found nearly half of Canadians are unprepared for retirement and more than a third (36%) between ages 18 and 54 believe they won’t ever retire.

How to build a portfolio of Fine Wines: for Fun & Profit

It’s been two years since former Vanguard Canada CEO Atul Tiwari launched Cult Wines Americas. Late in April, Tiwari celebrated the milestone with a small media gathering at Fine Wine Reserve, a premium wine storage facility in Toronto.

Atul Tiwari

For a refresher, see this Hub blog written by Tiwari late in 2021: A New Asset Class for Affluent Investors. It explains that the Cult Wine Investment story began in London, England in 2007, and in 2021 expanded into North America with offices in Toronto and New York.  See also these articles written by two Globe & Mail writers who were at this month’s event along with myself: How profitable is investing in fine wine? and Former Vanguard Canada CEO to head wine investing venture in the U.S

The idea behind Cult Wine Investment is to let you invest in leading global wines (mostly French) for ultimate profit, and to safely store it off-site while still having title to and access to the actual product, should you wish to consume a portion. As Tiwari told the G&M’s John Daly last year, “Cult Wines is not securities regulated, because you actually own the wine.” Below are some pointers on building a collection. Cult currently allows Canadian investors with as little as $12,500 (or US$10,000 for U.S. investors) to access a customized wine portfolio, with management fees ranging from 2.25%t to 2.95%, depending on portfolio size.

Marc Russell:

In addition to sampling the mostly-French wines, we had a quick tour of the Toronto storage facility, courtesy of Marc Russell, Founder and CEO of The Fine Wine Reserve Inc. (shown on the right).

The chart above shows a portfolio of Cult Fine Wines [CWI is the orange bars] has performed against its benchmark, the EP40 index (Green bars) as of March 31, 2023. EP40  is a fixed basket of 40 Bordeaux En Primeur wines.

“Fine wine as an asset class has performed as it should over the last two years,” Tiwari told me, “In a volatile market setting, Cult Wines has returned on average 16% in 2021 and 12.77% in 2022, in addition to providing the portfolio diversification  benefits of low correlations to equities, low volatility and acting as an inflation hedge.”

As we learned at the briefing, investing in fine wines for profit primarily means investing in French wines, mostly from the French districts of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. Those three districts account for roughly 80% of Cult Wine portfolios. At the briefing, the tasting focus was on the first two: after all,  Tiwari is a member of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, a global society of Burgundy aficionados.

A handout says Bordeaux wines are “the bedrock of fine wine” portfolios, adding that after a period of recent underperformance, “Bordeaux wines now offer more attractive relative values when compared to other French regions.” In addition, “the end of zero-COVID policies in China fuelled a surge in fine wine trading in early 2023.”

How to store fine wines

While most folk merely buy wines from the LCBO or nearby Vineyard and consume it within days, it turns out that storing multiple cases of wines for profit is considerably more complex. This was evident at the four of the Fine Wine Reserve, where temperature control, humidity and other variables are all far more complex than you might imagine. And yes, if you do hire them to store your wines, you are able to visit and even withdraw a few bottles or cases for actual use, should you desire to enjoy your investment as well as profit from it down the road.

Here are a few interesting talking points provided at the tour:

• Everyone overestimates the importance of cool temperatures when storing and aging fine wines, and underestimates the importance of temperature stability and high humidity.

• This explains why wines age best in the cool damp natural cellars located far below ground, as in Europe.

(Here I dare to add a personal note, since I once visited a white wine vineyard in France’s Loire Valley that bears the illustrious name Chevreau.)

• Wines are like kids. If you neglect them when young, they grow up unbalanced. Don’t put off proper storage. Stored improperly, wines will be irreversibly damaged within a year. And 1 hour in a hot car! Continue Reading…

Franklin Bissett overweights defensive stocks over traditional Canadian sectors like Energy & Financials


Despite a looming recession acknowledged by most of the financial industry, Franklin Templeton Canada is relatively upbeat about the prospects for both Canadian stocks and fixed income over the short- to medium-term. In a Toronto event on Wednesday aimed at financial advisors and the press, Garey J. Aitken, MBA, CFA — Calgary-based Chief Investment Officer for Franklin Bissett Investment Management — described how he has been positioning his Franklin Bissett Canadian Equity Fund somewhat defensively. (There was also a webinar version of the event.)

As you can see from the above breakdown of the fund, Aitken is way overweight defensive sectors like Consumer Staples relative to the index: the S&P/TSX composite. In Canada, consumer staples amounts to the major grocery stores like Loblaw and Metro: there’s little along the lines of such American staples giants as Proctor & Gamble or Colgate Palmolive. Aitken said his fund has owned Saputo Inc. since its IPO in the late 90s, and has long owned Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.

The fund has been overweight consumer staples for more than a year: as the chart shows, he was overweight this defensive sector by a whopping 730 basis points a year ago and this year is even more overweight by 770 bps. He is also overweight the other big defensive sector, Utilities, by 210 bps, compared to overweight by 110 bps a year ago. The third major defensive sector globally is Health Care, but the Canadian stock market has only minimal exposure to that sector.

Aitken has moved from a small underweight position in industrials a year ago to a modest overweight in 2023 of 170 bps. And he is slightly overweight Information Technology by 140 bps, compared to a small underweight of 20 bps a year ago.

Underweight Energy, Financials & Materials

On the flip side, the fund has been and continues to be underweight in the three big sectors for which the Canadian stock market is famous: Energy, Financials & Materials. Financials (chiefly the big Canadian banks) were underweight 330 bps a year ago and Aitken has moved that to an even bigger 730 bps underweight this year. In Materials he has stayed largely pat, with a 530 underweighting today compared to a 550 bps underweighting a year ago.

The chart below shows the fund’s holding in Canadian financials. You can see that among the big Canadian banks, the fund is over the index weighting only for the Bank of Nova Scotia, and is slightly overweight Brookfield Corp. and Brookfield Asset Management:


However, Aitken has moved Energy (Canadian oil & gas stocks, pipelines etc.) from a small 20 bps overweight position last year to a 370 bps underweighting in 2023. The chart below shows the major Energy holdings relative to the index, with overweights in certain less well-known names: 


Aitken remains slightly underweight Consumer Discretionary stocks, moving from a 100 bps underweight last year to 150 bps underweight currently. Real estate is almost flat: from a slight 10 bps underweighting a year ago to a small 70 bps underweight today.  Continue Reading…

2023 Federal Budget: Deficit swells; AMT rises for wealthy but no jump in Capital Gains tax for middle class

The 2023 federal budget dropped on or about 4 pm Tuesday (March 28.) You can click here and here for budget documents and the latest from the Department of Finance. Below are links to some of the early media coverage, much of which is in Wednesday’s papers.

The theme of the budget is Making Life More Affordable, a somewhat comic choice given that government’s inflationary policies and high-spending, high-taxing behaviour is a big part of what makes life so expensive, especially for one-income couples. [See Steve Nease cartoon below on his take on the impact on the middle class.]

Here’s the Department of Finance’s backgrounder on it.

Pre-budget one of the biggest concerns expressed by investors was whether the capital gains tax or the inclusion rate might be hiked. That did not appear to transpire in the budget, at least for the middle class. See however Christopher Nardi’s article in the National Post highlighted below: he suggests those affected by the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) may indeed pay more in capital gains tax.

And here’s CIBC Wealth’s tax guru Jamie Golombek, writing on both topics in the Financial Post: Alternative minimum tax changes will make it harder for high-income earners to avoid paying taxes.

Also hoped for was measures to delay or reduce annual forced taxable withdrawals from Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs). I saw no mention of this in early coverage listed below.

CBC’s summary

On TV, the CBC highlighted that the deficit will grow by $69 billion between 2022 and 2028, no longer projecting a balanced budget in this fiscal framework. On the CBC website it provided the following highlights:

  • $43B in net new spending over six years.
  • 3 main priorities: health care/dental, affordability and clean economy.
  • Doubling of GST rebate extended for lower income Canadians, up to $467 for a family.
  • $13B over five years to implement dental care plan for families earning less than $90K.
  • $20B over six years for tax credits to promote investment in green technologies.
  • $4B over five years for an Indigenous housing strategy.
  • $359 million over five years for programs addressing the opioid crisis.
  • $158 million over three years for a suicide prevention hotline, launching Nov. 30.
  • Creation of new agency to combat foreign interference.
  • Deficit for 2022-23 expected to be $43B, higher than projected in the fall.
  • Higher than expected deficits projected for next 5 years.
  • Federal debt hits $1.18 trillion. Debt-to-GDP ratio will rise slightly over next 2 years.
Cartoon by Steve Nease

CTV’s summary

Here are the highlights in CTV’s view:

Budget 2023 prioritizes pocketbook help and clean economy, deficit projected at $40.1B.

  •  $2.5 billion for a GST tax credit billed as a ‘grocery rebate’
  •  $46.2 billion for federal-provincial-territorial health deals
  •  $13 billion for expanding the federal dental plan
  •  2 per cent cap on incoming excise duty increase on alcohol
  •  Advancing passenger protections but upping a traveller charge
  •  $4.5 billion for 30 per cent tax credit on clean tech manufacturing
  •  $15.4 billion in savings from public service spending cutbacks

Much of the budget was previously announced or telegraphed

The National Post weighed in with this: Chrystia Freeland abandons budget balance plan, adding $50 billion in debt. It noted “much of what is in the budget has been previously announced — or at the very least telegraphed. Ottawa will spend an extra $22 billion on health care over the next five years, as per provincial deals announced last month. It’s also adding about $7 billion for expanded dental care. Low-income Canadians will receive an extra GST credit, at a cost of $2.5 billion.

A Joe Biden Budget

Also at the Post, William Watson said Freeland delivers a Joe Biden budget.  

“From blue-collar bluster to giant green subsidies, Made-in-Canada packaging and make-the-rich-pay rhetoric, Canada’s federal budget borrows from the U.S.”

Green tax credits, more dental care as expected pre-budget

Also expected, according to this FP story published before the budget was released, was “significant” tax credits for the green economy, more measures on dental care and other ways to make life more “affordable,” including amendments to the Criminal Code to reduce predatory lending. It was expected the criminal interest rate be lowered to 35%, as it is in Quebec. The predatory lending measure is indeed included, as you can see in the link to the backgrounder above.

Also leaked earlier in the day was a report in the Globe & Mail that there will be a clean-tech manufacturing tax credit to encourage domestic mining of critical minerals.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) rises

Here is an early overview from the Globe & Mail after 4 pmFederal budget 2023: Trudeau government bets on green economy, expands dental care.  The G&M reported Ottawa plans to raise “nearly $3-billion through changes to the Alternative Minimum Tax, which is a second way of calculating tax obligations to ensure a high wealth individual can’t make excessive use of tax deductions … 99 per cent of the AMT would be paid by those who earn more than $300,000 a year and about 80 per cent would be paid by those who earn more than $1-million.”

Christopher Nardi in the National Post wrote the following summary, with the subheading “Bye bye federal budget surplus, hello light recession.”

Note this sentence from Nardi:

‘With this first overhaul since 1986, the AMT will now apply largely to Canadians in the top income tax bracket (over $173,000) and will see their capital gains inclusion rate jump to 100 per cent and a host of eligible tax deductions, like moving or employment expenses, dropped to 50 per cent.”

Continue Reading…