Debt & Frugality

As Didi says in the novel (Findependence Day), “There’s no point climbing the Tower of Wealth when you’re still mired in the basement of debt.” If you owe credit-card debt still charging an usurous 20% per annum, forget about building wealth: focus on eliminating that debt. And once done, focus on paying off your mortgage. As Theo says in the novel, “The foundation of financial independence is a paid-for house.”

Why Debt-to-Market-Cap matters more than Debt-to-Equity

Understanding the Importance of the Debt-to-Market-Cap Ratio in Stock Analysis

Image courtesy

When evaluating stocks, it’s crucial to assess their resilience during economic downturns and their potential for future prosperity. While the commonly used debt/equity ratio offers insights into a company’s financial leverage, it fails to capture certain nuances. In this article, we explore the significance of the debt-to-market-cap ratio in stock analysis and why it surpasses the debt/equity ratio.

By understanding the intricacies of this approach, investors can make more informed decisions and increase their chances of identifying companies poised for long-term success.

I was recently asked why I use debt-to-market-cap in my analyses, which is different from the debt/equity ratio seen in most other reports. My answer is two-fold. In analyzing a stock, you need to form an idea of how much it would get hurt in a recession. To put it another way, how likely it is to survive a business slump and go on to prosper when good times return? To do that, you need to look at a number of factors. These include the interest rate on its debt, how sensitive it is to the economic cycle, its pluses and minuses in relation to competitors, its vulnerability to adverse legal and regulatory decisions, its credit history and current credit rating … and so on.

Analyzing Debt-to-Equity Ratio

Many successful investors start by looking at the debt/equity ratio. This ratio comes in several variations, but the basic idea is that you measure a company’s financial leverage by comparing its debt with its shareholders’ equity. You assume an attractive company can earn a higher return on its total capital than the interest rate it pays on the debt portion of its capital. If so, the excess goes to shareholders’ equity, raising the total return to shareholders.

But leverage works both ways. If the total return falls short of the interest costs, the difference comes out of shareholders’ equity. When a company loses money, it still has to pay the interest and one day settle the debt. Generally, it does so by dipping into shareholders’ equity. In extreme cases, losses wipe out shareholders’ equity, and the stock becomes worthless. Then bondholders and lenders take over the assets to try to get back their investment. A high ratio of debt to equity increases the risk that the company (that is, the shareholders’ equity in the company) won’t survive a business slump.

However, this ratio can mislead because it compares a hard number with a soft one. Debt is usually a hard number. Bonds and other loans generally come with fixed interest rates, fixed terms of repayment and so on. Equity numbers are softer or ‘‘fuzzier.’’ They mostly reflect asset values as they appear on the balance sheet (minus debt, of course). But the balance-sheet figures may be misleading. They may be too high, if the company’s assets have shrunk in value since the company acquired them (that is, lost more value than the company’s accounting shows). In that case, the company may need to correct its balance sheet figures by cutting them or “taking a writedown.”

Or the equity value may be too low if the company’s assets have gained value since the company acquired them. This can happen with real estate, patents and other assets (which we refer to as “hidden assets”).Much of a company’s real value may rest in its “goodwill” — its brands, or the reputation and relationship it has built with customers over the years. This value would only appear on the balance sheet if it was bought rather than built up by the company’s operations.

Analyzing Debt-to-Market-Cap

Efficient market theory also leads us to favour debt-to-market-cap over debt-to-equity. This theory says that it’s impossible to beat the market, because the market is efficient and eventually reflects all information, good or bad. This idea had a lot to do with the creation of index funds. Market cap — the value of all shares the company has outstanding — benefits from the “wisdom of crowds.” Continue Reading…

Navigating Short, Medium, and Long-Duration Fixed Income in 2024

Image courtesy Harvest ETFs

By Ambrose O’Callaghan, Harvest ETFs

(Sponsor Content)

Fixed-income securities are financial instruments that have defined terms between a borrower, or issuer, and a lender, or investor. Bonds are typically issued by a government, corporation, federal agency, or other organization. These financial instruments are released so that the issuing institution can raise capital. The borrower agrees to pay interest on the debt security in exchange for the capital that is raised.

The maturity refers to the date when a bond’s principal is paid with interest to the investor. In the modern era, interest rates tend to fluctuate over long periods of time. Because of this, shorter-duration bonds have predictable rates. The longer investors go down the maturity spectrum, the more volatility they will have to contend with in the realm of interest rates.

On January 16, 2024, Harvest ETFs unveiled its full fixed income suite. That means investors will have access to ETFs on the full maturity spectrum: short, intermediate, and long-duration bonds.

In this piece, I want to explore the qualities, benefits, and potential drawbacks of short-term, medium-term, and long-term bonds. Let’s dive in.

The two types of short-term bonds for investors chasing security

Short-term fixed income tends to refer to maturities that are less than three years. In the realm of short-term fixed income, we should talk about the relationship between money market and short-term bonds.

Money market securities are issued by governments, financial institutions, and large corporations as promises to repay debts, generally, in one year or less. These fixed-income vehicles are considered very secure because of their short maturities and extremely secure when issued by trusted issuers, like the U.S. and Canadian. federal governments. They are often targeted during periods of high volatility. Predictably, money market securities offer lower returns when compared to their higher-duration counterparts due to the liquidity of the money market.

Short-term bonds do have a lot in common with money market securities. A bond is issued by a government or corporate entity as a promise to pay back the principal and interest to the investor. When you purchase a bond, you provide the issuer a loan for a set duration. Like money market securities, short-term bonds typically offer predictable, low-risk income.

The Harvest Canadian T-Bill ETF (TBIL:TSX) , a money market fund, was launched on January 16, 2024. This ETF is designed as a low-risk cash vehicle that pays competitive interest income that comes from investing in Treasury Billds (“T-Bills”) issued by the Government of Canada. It provides a simple and straightforward solution for investors who want to hold a percentage of their portfolio in a cash proxy.

Medium-term bonds and their influence on the broader market

When we are talking about intermediate-term bonds, we are typically talking about fixed income vehicles in the 4-10 year maturity range. Indeed, the yield on a 10-year Treasury is often used by analysts as a benchmark that guides other interest rate measures, like mortgage rates. Moreover, as yields increase on intermediate-term bonds so too will the interest rates on longer duration bonds.

Recently, Harvest ETFs portfolio manager, Mike Dragosits, sat down to explore the maturity spectrum and our two new ETFs. You can watch his expert commentary here.

US Treasuries avoided an annual loss in 2023 as bonds rallied in the fourth quarter. These gains were powered by expectations that the US Federal Reserve (the “Fed”) was done with its interest rate tightening cycle. The prevailing wisdom in the investing community is that the Fed will look to pursue at least a handful of rate cuts in 2024. Continue Reading…

MoneySense Retired Money: Should GICs be the bedrock of Canadian retirement portfolios?

My latest MoneySense Retired Money column, just published, looks at the role Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs) should play in the retirement portfolios of Canadians. You can find the full column by going to and clicking on the highlighted headline: Are GICs a no-brainer for retirees? 

(If link doesn’t work try this: the latest Retired Money column.)

Now that you can find GICs paying 5% or so (1-year GICs at least), there is an argument they could be the bedrock of the fixed-income portfolios, especially now that the world is embroiled in two major conflicts: Ukraine and Israel/Gaza. Should this embolden China to invade Taiwan, you’re starting to see more talk about a more global conflict, up to an including the much-feared World War 3.

Of course, trying to time the market — especially in relation to catastrophes like global war and armageddon — generally proves to be a mug’s game, so we certainly maintain just as much exposure to the equity side of our portfolios.

I don’t think retirees need to apologize for sheltering between 40 and 60% of their portfolios in such safe guaranteed vehicles. Certainly, my wife and I are glad that the lion’s share of our fixed-income investments have been in GICs rather than money-losing bond ETFs: the latter, and Asset Allocation ETFs with heavy bond exposure, were as most are aware, badly hit in 2022. But not GICs; thanks to a prescient financial advisor we have long used (he used to be quoted but now he’s semi-retired chooses to be anonymous), we had in recent years been sheltering that portion of our RRSPs and TFSAs in laddered 2-year GICs. Since rates have soared in 2023, we have gradually been reinvesting our GICs into 5-year GICs, albeit still laddered.

The MoneySense column describes a recent survey by the site about “Bad Money advice,” which touched in part on GICs. Almost 900 readers were polled about what financial trends they had “bought into” at some point. The list included AI, crypto, meme stocks, side hustles, tech and Magnificent 7 stocks and GICs. Perhaps it speaks well of our readers that the single most-cited response was the 49% who said “none of the above.” The next most cited was the 16% who cited a “heavier allocation to GICs.” You can read the full overview here but I did find a couple of other findings to be worthy of note for the retirees and would-be retirees who read this column: Not surprisingly, tech stocks (FANG, MAMAA. etc. were the first runnerup to GICs, receiving 13.24% of the responses. Not far behind were the 10.55% who plumped for crypto and NFTs (Non-fungible tokens). AI was cited by 3.7%: less than I might have predicted; and meme stocks were only 2.81%.

As I said to executive editor Lisa Hannam in her insightful article on the 50 worst pieces of financial advice, GICs are at the opposite end of the spectrum from such dubious investments as meme stocks and crypto. (I’d put Tech stocks and A.I. in the middle).

GICs won’t grow Wealth for younger investors, aren’t tax-efficient in non-registered accounts

The GIC column passes on the thoughts of several influential financial advisors. One is Allan Small, a Toronto-based advisor who occasionally writes MoneySense’s popular weekly Making Sense of the Markets column. He is among GIC skeptics. He told me his problem with GIC is that they “don’t grow wealth. They can act as a parking lot for money for some people but over time there have been very few years in which people have made money with GICs, factoring in inflation and taxation.” Continue Reading…

Do you need Two Million Dollars to Retire?

Billy and Akaisha on the Pacific Coast of Mexico;

By Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

(Special to Financial Independence Hub)

We like to keep informed about the topic of retirement from the perspective of money managers and those in the financial fields.

You might have read some of these articles also, you know, the ones that say Americans have not saved enough to retire.

Many of these pieces proclaim that you must save enough in your investments to throw off 80% of your current annual salary so that you can afford a comfortable life away from a job. Lots of them will say that you need US$2 million in investments (or more) and woe to the person who thinks they can do it on less.

Approximately 10% of the households in the U.S. have a net worth of one million dollars or more. What are the other 90% supposed to do? Not retire? What kind of common sense does this make?  Expecting the regular “Joe”to meet this $2 million dollar mark is not realistic.

As you know, we have over three decades of financial independence behind us. And while everyone’s idea of a perfect lifestyle sans paycheck is different, we can tell you that for these 33-years, we have kept our annual spending around $30,000.

The secret: Living within your means

In all of our years of retirement and travel we cannot recall one retiree who regrets their decision to retire. In fact, most have told us that they wished they had done it sooner.

The Society of Actuaries (SOA) recently conducted 62 in-depth interviews of retired individuals across both the U.S. and Canada. These people were not wealthy and had done little to no financial planning. But the vast majority of them shared that they had adapted to their situation and live within their means. Translation: they have adjusted their spending to the amount of money they have coming in every month.

So basically, it’s really that simple and this is why we say if you want to know about retirement, Go to the Source.

It doesn’t have to be complicated

In our books and in our articles about finance, we say over and over that there are four categories of highest spending in any household. We personally have made adjustments in all four of these categories, and have therefore reaped the benefits of having done so. We discuss these four categories in more depth below.

The financial guys and gals will have you tap dance all over the place with investment products, and a certain financial goal you must achieve. They will press upon you the seriousness of the decision to leave your job for a couple of decades of jobless living. We say it doesn’t really have to be that complicated, but it’s very important to pay attention to these four categories.

Listen up

Housing is THE most expensive category for you to manage. It’s not just the house itself, it’s the maintenance, the property taxes, the insurance, and any updating you might want to do to a place where you are going to be living for years down the road.

If you want to rebuild that boat dock to the lake where your boat is parked during the summer, that takes money. If you are tired of the style of faucets, sinks, tile and tub areas of your bathroom and want to upgrade, that is a large expense. Now that you are retired and want a more modern kitchen, more counter space, better lighting, prettier cabinet covers – Ka-Ching! You are hearing the cash register tallying up the cost.

If you have a hot tub, an extensive garden, or if you want to build a deck to connect the house to the garden, or put in a Koi pond … Well, you get the idea.

I understand that for some people, their home is their castle, and those homes are gorgeous and a comfortable place to stay. All we are suggesting is that homes will never say no to having money poured into them.

If you want to travel or to snow bird part time, then you will find yourself paying twice for housing – the one you have left in your first location, and the hotel or the vacation home in which you will spend part of the year.

If you are not vigilant, this one category will suck the life out of your retirement. We just want you to know that you have a choice.

Downsizing in retirement is not a bad thing. Relocating to a state or country with less taxation is a smart move. You could move to an Active Adult Community where you could choose to own the land or lease it. Here a variety of social activities are offered and the maintenance of your front yard is taken care of in your lifestyle fees.

When you travel, you could choose to house sit. Or take advantage of better pricing for apartments or hotels that rent for the month and include utilities, WiFi, and a maid. You could try AirBnB for less than a hotel room, and live like a local instead of a tourist.

Do you know how much your home (including the taxes, insurance and utilities) costs you per day? It is a figure that might startle you.

Transportation is the second highest category of expense. Now we realize that especially in the States, it is a bit more challenging to wrap your mind around the idea of not owning a car, or just having one for your household instead of three.

According to the latest AAA’s report on car ownership in 2023, it costs an average of $12,182 every year — $1,015.17 every month — to drive for five years at 15,000 miles per year.

So then, in the category of transportation, if you decide you want to fly to an island for a vacation, you must add in the cost of the flight… and any boat trips you might take, and any taxis from the airport to your hotel, and the price of a car rental for the week or two that you will be vacationing.

It all adds up and it’s all a part of this category. Continue Reading…

The first $100,000 is the hardest

By Alain Guillot

Special to Financial Independence Hub

Here is a quote by Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett’s business partner.

“The first $100,000 is a bitch, but you gotta do it. I don’t care what you have to do — if it means walking everywhere and not eating anything that wasn’t purchased with a coupon, find a way to get your hands on $100,000. After that, you can ease off the gas a little bit.”

Right now, my portfolio is over $500,000 but the first $100,000 were the most difficult to get because, of course, I started with $0, in a foreign country (Canada), with no family connections, no intergenerational wealth, no nothing.

Since I arrived in Canada, I have been a janitor, a busboy, a waiter, an Uber driver, a cleaner, a dance teacher, an insurance salesman, a photographer, and a website designer.

If you are a low earner, like me, you can only save $100,000 through a lot of discipline, sacrifices, perseverance, and the right mindset.

Most people, even those earning $100K per year, will never accumulate this amount of money. I feel extremely privileged to have arrived and surpassed this milestone.

I am the kind of person who believes that wealth is available to all of us and if we want it, all you have to do is to reach out and get it.

My biggest teacher in almost any entrepreneurial endeavour has been YouTube. My college education was not a complete waste, I get to go around and tell people that I have a college education, but for any practical purpose, it was useless.

You don’t need a fancy degree from any college to build wealth. Even now, I am teaching myself website design via YouTube.

Having the goal of saving $100K

Goals can also help to look toward the future and keep saving efforts in check. The more money you can save, either from reduced expenses or increased income, the faster you can move toward accumulating your first $100,000. And once you do that, the way to the next $100,000 becomes easier.

Having the right mindset

To save $100K you need to train your mind. Keeping your particular goal in mind can help, but you also need to understand how to achieve your goal with a plan.

Getting to $100,000 requires three elements:

  • save more
  • earn more
  • invest in stocks

Tips to save more Continue Reading…