Building Wealth

For the first 30 or so years of working, saving and investing, you’ll be first in the mode of getting out of the hole (paying down debt), and then building your net worth (that’s wealth accumulation.). But don’t forget, wealth accumulation isn’t the ultimate goal. Decumulation is! (a separate category here at the Hub).

Investing Advice to follow in the Midst of Two Wars

Investing advice when Putin’s at war against Ukraine. Plus, Putin and the Israel-Hamas War

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Russia launched the war in 2014, during the second Obama term, when it invaded Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. At the time, the U.S. and NATO were still unsure about how to react to Russia’s aggression toward its former possessions. Many observers felt Russia was just trying to retrieve some of the stature it lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, it expected Ukraine to collapse right away (the way France collapsed under the 1940 German invasion, say). The U.S. and other observers feared/expected the same. They still began sending security aid to Ukraine before the invasion. They also used threats of trade and financial sanctions to try to scare Russia off. These steps failed. However, Ukraine fought back surprisingly well and attracted additional aid from the West.

Putin soon saw that he had guessed wrong. But he assumed the West would quickly lose interest. Instead, the West stepped up its aid. Russia then began a series of veiled threats of military escalation, all the way up to tactical nuclear weapons.

My sense is that after its initial stumble, Russia still hoped/believed that if it kept up the military pressure and escalation/nuclear threats long enough, Ukraine and its supporters would agree to a lengthy ceasefire that would work in Russia’s favour.

It seemed to me and many other people that this was unlikely. In April of that year, I wrote that “Russia could launch a nuclear war, but it would find itself fighting against most of the advanced countries of the world. Putin is vain and may be deranged, but he isn’t stupid.”

Later I voiced the off-the-cuff view that any nuclear attack on Ukraine would spark a much more lethal response from NATO forces, which vastly outnumber Russia’s.

Just recently I came across the actual NATO-versus-Russia figures (below) from veteran Toronto journalist Diane Francis, writing in her publication. (Note: her chart refers to a Military Asset as a “Characteristic.”)

Military Asset Comparison Between NATO and Russia


The numbers show an even greater numerical advantage for NATO than I imagined. That’s just the start.

The West is also way ahead of Russia in technology, sanctions, finances, morale, global support and pretty much anything else. Russia’s main advantage in war is its ruthlessness in throwing untrained soldiers — mostly from prisons or Russian-speaking racial/cultural minorities — onto the front lines, until the other side runs out of ammunition.

Putin can only hope that Biden or a successor loses his grip and abruptly pulls out of Ukraine the way the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan in August 2021, after two decades of hostilities.

As the sarcastic one-liner goes, that’s not likely.

Nobody can predict these things, of course. My sense is that we are seeing the last gasps of Europe’s last empire. I’d guess the outcome won’t be pretty or quick, but it may turn out to be a historical milestone. A worldwide swing back toward democracy and away from authoritarianism just might follow.

Putin and the Israel-Hamas War

My guess is that the Israel-Hamas war is just getting started and will last a long time. I also suspect that Putin had something to do with getting it started, and will do what he can to keep it going. After all, when it comes to running his country, Putin takes a grasping-at-straws approach.

Putin may think that bringing the longstanding Mideast conflict back into the headlines is going to improve his chances of conquering Ukraine and bringing the Soviet Union back from the dead.

He thinks taking a long shot is better than no shot at all. Who knows? He might get lucky.

Early on in his war on Ukraine, Putin seemed to think that Chinese dictator Xi Jinping was going to take pity on him and his country, and offer free money and/or weapons to shore up Russia’s Ukraine invasion. Instead, Xi insists on staying out of the war, while paying discount prices for Russian oil. He takes special care not to let his country get caught up in the economic sanctions that the U.S. and NATO countries and allies are directing against the Russians.

It’s not that Putin is stupid. If a war between Israel and Hamas turns out to be a big drain on the U.S. budget, the U.S. might have less money available to arm Ukraine.

Up until lately, however, Israel has had little to say about Russia’s treatment of Ukraine. Israel may soon take a more active role in helping Ukraine defend itself.

Any war is a terrible thing, and this one is no different. Meanwhile, the stock market seems to be creeping upward. Maybe it knows something that Putin hasn’t figured out. If you’re looking for investing advice related to the wars around us, spend more time learning about the wars themselves.

Meantime, if your stock portfolio made sense to you a week or two ago, we advise against selling due to Mideast fears

No matter what the state of the world, here are three rules you can follow for maximum portfolio success:

Rule #1: Invest mainly in well-established, profitable, dividend-paying stocks.

Our first rule will help you stay out of high-risk, low-quality investments. These investments are always available, in good and bad markets. They come with hidden risks due to conflicts of interest and other negatives. Every year, they lead many inexperienced investors to substantial losses. Continue Reading…

Index Investing and the S&P 500

Image BMO ETFs/Getty Images

By Chris McHaney, CFA

(Sponsor Blog)

Index investing, a strategy adopted by cost-conscious investors and passive investing aficionados, is continuing to gain in popularity across individual investors, advisors and institutions alike.

The S&P 500 Index is widely regarded as a gauge of the overall large-cap U.S. equities market. The index, which dates back to the 1920s, includes 500 leading companies and covers approximately 80% of available market capitalization.Other popular indices for U.S. equities include the Dow Jones Industrial Average (covering a smaller number of companies: ~30), and the Nasdaq 100 Index (tracking the largest 100 companies listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market).

ETFs make index investing more efficient, helping investors save time and money relative to holding all the constituents of their favorite market index. Take the S&P 500, for example. Not only would you need to buy 500 companies, you would need to make sure they maintain the appropriate weight in the portfolio over time: requiring a lot of time, and money in trading those securities.

ETF units are primarily bought and sold between different investors. This means there are typically fewer realizations of capital gains and losses with ETFs than with other investment products. Similarly, as passive ETFs track the performance of a specific benchmark, they tend to have lower overall portfolio turnover. Fewer transactions within the ETF again means fewer realizations of capital gains and losses that may flow through to ETF holders.

Investing in the S&P 500 Index has been made simple with ZSP2 – BMO S&P 500 Index ETF.  Also available in hedged and USD (ZUE/ZSP.U)2, these ETFs give you exposure to this broad market index at a low cost of 0.09% 6(MER – Management Expense Ratio) and can be used as a core in your portfolio.  Index based ETFs like ZSP provide broad market exposure and diversification across various sectors and asset classes according to their underlying index. It’s not about timing the market with index-based ETFs, it’s about time in the market and these solutions provide a long-term strategy for investors.

What does the research show?

Another reason index-based investing is becoming a staple in investors’ portfolios is the increase in available research showing passive outperforming active over the long term. The best known of this research, the SPIVA report, which coming from S&P Dow Jones Indexes research division has been looking at this phenomenon for 20 years, measuring actively managed funds, against their index benchmarks worldwide.

Looking at the data as of Dec 31st 2023, and focusing on Canadian Equity Funds, 96.63% of active fund managers underperform the S&P/TSX Composite over 10 years.  Put another way just 3.37% of funds outperformed the S&P/TSX composite over that time period.3 This research holds across time periods and geographies, with the numbers changing year to year but the story remaining compellingly in favor of passive. While there are active managers that out-perform their benchmark, this can be challenging to do consistently over time, even for the professionals.

Innovation in Index Investing

“Losses loom larger than gains.” – Daniel Kahneman & Amos Tversk4

Famed researchers in behavioural finance, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, once hypothesized the psychological pain of loss is about twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining. After strong performances from U.S. stocks over the past two quarters, some may find themselves dusting off the pair’s work and asking, is now the time to lock in gains and take some downside insurance?

We have seen a remarkable run from stocks such as Nvidia, lifting the S&P 500 Index to all-time highs. This may cause some valuation concerns among investors. The S&P 500 is currently trading at a price-to-earnings ratio9(P/E) of about 25 times, which from a historical perspective can be considered rich relative to the average of 17.5 Continue Reading…

How the FIRE Movement can help folks live out their Cruise Ship Retirement Dreams

Image from Unsplash

By Evan Kaur

(Special to Financial Independence Hub)

Imagine waking up to new horizons each day, with the promise of adventure and luxury at your fingertips. For many, retiring and spending their golden years exploring the world from the comfort of a cruise ship is the ultimate dream, and some are turning it into a reality.

Citing data from the Cruise Lines International Association, MoneyDigest highlights that 50% of the 20.4 million people who took a cruise in 2022 were over the age of 50, while 32% were over 60. However, it’s also important to note that this lifestyle is not attainable for everybody.

A poll conducted by the National Institute on Retirement Security finds that more than half of Americans (55%) are concerned that they cannot achieve financial security in retirement, much less afford to live on a cruise ship. That’s where the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement comes into play. In this article, we’ll explore why so many are drawn to retiring at sea and how the FIRE strategy can help folks achieve enough financial security to live out their cruise ship retirement dreams.

The Appeal of Cruise Ship Retirement

Image by Pexels

Retiring on a cruise ship is an attractive option for those who seek adventure, comfort, and a unique globetrotting lifestyle, but its biggest draw is that it can be more affordable than retired life on land.

According to an article from CNBC, the average annual cost to retire comfortably in the U.S. can be anywhere between US$55,074 and $121,228, depending on which state you choose to live in. These numbers factor in living costs, including groceries, healthcare, housing, utilities, and transportation.

Meanwhile, the 2021 national average for a private room in a nursing home was estimated to cost $108,405 per year. By contrast, Business Insider reports that cruise ship companies looking to capitalize on the retirees-at-sea trend now offer fully furnished homes aboard their ships for roughly US$43 a day or less. Continue Reading…

Healthcare (HHL): Spring 2024 Checkup

Image courtesy Harvest ETFs

By Ambrose O’Callaghan, Harvest ETFs

(Sponsor Blog)

The healthcare space entered 2024 with new growth drivers and the COVID-19 pandemic firmly in the rear-view mirror.

Today, we want to explore how the healthcare sector has progressed in the opening quarter of 2024. Moreover, we’ll look at valuations in this sector, drivers for innovation, and the largest healthcare exchange-traded fund (ETF) currently operating in Canada.

How has the healthcare sector performed in the first quarter of 2024?

Healthcare continues to be a vital sector that is in constant demand in the developed and developing world. The permanent and non-cyclical drivers of aging populations, spending in developing nations, and technological innovations, remain constant in the short term and drive the long-term positive outlook for the broader sector. While healthcare has been a consistent sector for growth, just behind high-performing sectors like technology, it has lagged the broader market since the start of 2023.

In the short term, from a macroeconomic perspective, the U.S. economy has shifted from certain interest rate cuts to relatively sticky inflation. That has prompted concerns that interest rates will stay high or even move higher. That has spurred volatility across markets and asset classes since the beginning of March 2024. Ultimately, it serves investors to look more at sector-level drivers in the near term.

How healthcare valuations measure up right now

Healthcare has held out relatively well in the midst of a broad market sell-off that started in early April. Within the sub-sectors there is a wide bifurcation in the very short term.

For example, in the healthcare sector there are big differences in sub-sectors that are working and those that aren’t. The managed care segment – companies that provide insurance and administer healthcare for individual plans and government programs, like UnitedHealth and Humana – is down mid-double digits in 2024. Meanwhile, Tools and Diagnostics is up double digits: Tools and Diagnostics are companies that make the lab and biologic drug equipment and various testing consumables, like Abbott Laboratories.

The bifurcation within healthcare sub-sectors illustrates why diversification is so important within this space.

On the valuations front, positive results are being rewarded. Tools and Diagnostics and Medical Devices have both seen better healthcare utilization. This, in turn, has led to strong corporate results. For example, Bristol Myers unveiled its first quarter (Q1) fiscal 2024 earnings on April 25. Revenues rose 5% year-over-year to US$11.9 billion. Meanwhile, its growth portfolios rose 11% on an adjusted basis to $4.8 billion. Merck bolstered its full-year guidance after posting revenues of US$15.78 billion in Q1 2024 and adjusted earnings per share (EPS) of US$2.07 – both beating expectations.

Drivers for innovation in the healthcare space

There are still many reasons to be excited about growth and innovation in the healthcare sector.

The GLP-1 drug class, frequently referred to as “weight-loss drugs.” continues to be an exciting growth driver as we look ahead. Indeed, this space has expanded from diabetes and weight loss through to sleep apnea trial results that have validated the optimism for this class of drugs. According to Goldman Sachs, the broader market for anti-obesity medications could grow by more than 16 times from $6 billion in early 2024 to $100 billion by 2030.

Eli Lilly has benefited with the weight-loss drug Zepbound gaining considerable momentum in the opening quarter of 2024. Zepbound blew past sales expectations in the March quarter, brining in US$517 million in revenues. That spurred Eli Lilly to bolster its sales outlook for the full year by US$2 billion. Continue Reading…

Mastering the Art of Podcast Production: A Director’s Guide

Image courtesy Canada’s Podcast/unsplash royalty free

By Philip Bliss

Special to Financial Independence Hub

As a podcast Director, your role is pivotal in ensuring the seamless production of engaging and high-quality content.

With more than 750+ Podcasts Canada’s Podcast delivers Digital Multi-Channel Marketing the new influencer medium.

From planning and recording to editing and promotion, the success of your podcast hinges on a well-executed strategy.

In this comprehensive guide, we break down the essential tasks, timelines, and guest information you need to produce a podcast that captivates your audience.


Pre-production Planning

a) Define Your Podcast’s Concept (2 Weeks Before Recording):

Before diving into production, spend time refining your podcast’s concept. Define your target audience, choose a niche, and outline the overall theme of your show. This clarity will guide your content creation and resonate with your audience.

b) Identify Potential Guests (4 Weeks Before Recording):

If your podcast includes guest interviews, start identifying potential guests early. Research individuals who align with your podcast’s theme and have insights to share. Reach out to them, presenting your podcast concept and gauging their interest.

c) Develop Episode Outlines (3 Weeks Before Recording):

Work on detailed episode outlines for the first few episodes. This includes segment breakdowns, key talking points, and potential questions for guests. Share these outlines with your team to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Guest Information and Coordination

a) Guest Invitations and Confirmations (3-4 Weeks Before Recording):

Reach out to potential guests with a formal invitation, explaining your podcast’s concept and the value their participation brings. Once confirmed, share detailed information about the recording process, timeline, and any technical requirements.

b) Coordinate Recording Schedule (2-3 Weeks Before Recording):

Work with guests to coordinate recording dates and times that align with everyone’s schedules. Use scheduling tools like Calendly or Doodle to streamline the process. Ensure guests are aware of any pre-recording preparations, such as technical checks.

c) Provide Information Package (1 Week Before Recording):

Send guests an information package a week before recording. Include details about the podcast, the recording platform you’ll use, technical requirements, and any specific guidelines or expectations. This ensures a smooth recording experience for both you and your guests.

Recording Process

a) Technical Checks (On Recording Day):

Conduct technical checks before each recording session to avoid last-minute hiccups. Ensure microphones, headphones, and recording software are functioning correctly. Confirm that your internet connection is stable, minimizing the risk of disruptions.

b) Set Up Recording Environment (On Recording Day):

Create a comfortable and quiet recording environment. Remind guests to choose a quiet space with minimal background noise. Encourage the use of headphones to enhance audio quality.

c) Conduct Interviews (During Recording):

During the recording, focus on creating a relaxed and conversational atmosphere. Stick to the episode outline but allow for spontaneity. Make guests feel comfortable, prompting them to share insightful and engaging stories.

Post-production Editing

a) Initial Editing Pass (1-2 Days After Recording):

Immediately after recording, perform an initial edit to address any major issues or glitches. This can include removing background noise, adjusting audio levels, and trimming unnecessary segments.

b) Final Editing and Enhancements (3-5 Days After Recording):

Take the time for a thorough final edit. Enhance audio quality, add music or sound effects if desired, and make any necessary adjustments. Ensure the episode flows smoothly and meets your podcast’s standards. Continue Reading…