The Ottawa Citizen
November 9, 2003
Three investment advisers with very different strategies show how their model portfolios weathered the bear market
It was 12 months ago that the Citizen set loose three investment advisers armed with $50,000 (on paper) to invest as they saw fit in model portfolios of their choosing. They began in a bear market at a time when many investors were holding on to cash and sticking with fixed-income investments.
We purposely chose advisers with markedly different approaches in their investment philosophies. The three — Joanne Livingston of Scotia McLeod, Noral Rebin of CIBC Wood Gundy, and Benj Gallander of
Contra the Heard — realized they were at the mercy of the markets’ whims with only their professional judgment as protection.
Ms. Livingston is a devotee of asset allocation, which involves setting fixed percentages for her holdings and applying this as some stocks improve and others weaken. She drew up her portfolio for a working couple, aged 48, who are saving to supplement their retirement.
Mr. Rebin opted for a middle-of-the road, conservative portfolio with emphasis on producing income, growth and limited risk.
“My portfolio will not be aggressive or ultra-conservative,” he said at the time. “It will be an average, middle-of-the-road portfolio, designed to generate reasonable returns in a reasonable time frame.”
Mr. Gallander, author of Canada’s most successful financial newsletter, is the ultimate contrarian.
He scours the markets for beaten-down companies in out-of-favour sectors, where there is a strong balance sheet and good management in the belief that come a turnaround there’s a minimum 50 percent upside for a canny investor.
He has been plying this approach for 25 years with tremendous success.
“I have a very disciplined approach and I like companies that have been around for at least 10 years, companies that have a track record,” he says. “The only way you can forecast where a company is going is to see where it’s been.”
So, how did our experts fare? While the figures speak for themselves, there is not a one-investment style that fits all. Each investor must adopt an approach suits that his or her financial situation.
The S&P/TSX composite index rose 24.38 percent over the past 12
months, with the S&P 500 up 18.6 percent and the Dow Industrials up 16.72 percent. Mr. Gallander was the only one who managed to beat those numbers with an increase of 44.75 percent.
Mr. Gallander’s portfolio also led the way in October, increasing 10.43 percent ($6,837) to bring his four-month rally to 58.5 percent ($26,713). Mr. Rebin’s investments rose 3.76 percent and Ms. Livingston’s 3.68 percent last month. Mr. Rebin chalked up an annual jump of 14.14 percent and Ms. Livingston, 11.30 percent.
Within the portfolios the most inexpensive stock is Kelman Technologies (65 cents) and the most expensive is
Loblaw Inc. ($63.85). That provides something for all readers from the ultra-conservative to the risk-tolerant.
Assuredly with $12,500 in cash, it will be worth watching Mr. Gallander’s investments in the next few months and the strategies of Ms. Livingston and Mr. Rebin.
We set out to generate an average annual rate of return of eight percent for our fictitious 40something couple. We considered current interest rates, investment environment and came up with a mix that would provide the best opportunity with the lowest level of risk.
Setting a target is an important step toward achieving financial goals. If you have no way to measure, how will you know if you are on track to achieving the initial goals? So while it may seem risky to put ourselves on the line, it is imperative that we set the expectation and make the ongoing changes required to meet that goal.
So, to be here 12 months later with a yearend return of 11.3 percent is heartening. Any time one can beat the forecast is cause for celebration!
Could we have increased our returns? Certainly, but that wasn’t the objective. Had the investor been a 30-year-old single male, with no dependents, the portfolio would have been quite different.
As it is, we exceeded the target by 41 percent without increasing the risk to our client.
We will continue to recommend an asset allocation model to ensure that the couple continues to sell high and buy low. Of note was the significant increase in the Canadian dollar over the last 12 months, which masked the performance of all U.S. and international equities. At the start of the year we invested at an exchange rate of 1.565 percent vs. current value of 1.32 percent. This might not appear significant, but it cost those equities 15.65 percent in returns! Swings in exchange rates are something we have to live with, and to try to forecast where the Canadian dollar is headed, vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar, is not unlike crystal ball gazing.
So, we would not alter our model to exclude U.S. or international companies on that basis. Investment outside of Canada provides the long-term risk management that is required to ensure the continued success of our model portfolio. All through the year we remained true to our policy of selling the early profits from bonds to purchase stocks at lower values. Our dividends were reinvested as they came due. We believe our strategy provides a low risk way for the average investor to achieve solid results for the long term.
Let’s see what Year 2 brings!
As I suggested when we first started this process 12 months ago, I designed a middle-of-the-road conservative portfolio that the average investor could understand, implement, maintain and sleep well with. The portfolio was designed to generate reasonable returns in a reasonable time frame. The total return was 14.14 percent.
The three criteria I laid out last November were safety of principal, a little growth and some income.
So how have we done during this last year? Our investments rose 10.1 percent, which is good for a conservative portfolio. Dividends contributed $2,028.20, which represents 4.1 percent, almost exactly what a five-year guaranteed investment certificate (GIC) pays, but with better taxation than interest income.
So what about safety of principal?
In the worst month, we were down about 4.2 percent from our original purchase in an up-and-down year on the market, and that shows a strong degree of stability. The reader may judge the results based upon the criteria that we laid out. I feel good that we were able to provide a clean, simple and conservative portfolio as part of this process. All three portfolios have a different approach and flavour and, as I stated, when we started there is no single right way to invest but we have provided the readers the opportunity to see the risks and benefits of three divergent styles.
This should allow people to examine and learn so that they can begin to choose that path that is right for them.
Going forward, I will continue to follow the same investment course to ensure a high degree of stability and to exclude volatility, the purpose of a conservative portfolio.
I’m exceedingly pleased with the results, that’s for sure. Our investment letter has a 10-year annualized return of 25.2 percent and this is obviously that much better. When you have a smaller portfolio there is always the possibility of greater latitude in the returns, and that’s what happened here.
We’ve owned eight stocks over the course of the year and we had just the one loser,
Stelco. Otherwise everything else has been up, which is tremendous.
We invested in companies and sectors that were out of favour, which is typical of what I do: buying into Japan and the airline sector and copper (Corriente Resources) and retail with
Hudson’s Bay Co., a lot of people thought that was not the thing to do. But that’s the methodology I use to buy into sectors and corporations that are out of favour and to look for grand slam returns. And that’s what I’ve had.
A year ago, it was far easier than now. Then, there were a lot of sectors that were out of favour; hardly anybody wanted to touch Japan or the airlines, techs were out of favour, too, so I bought into
Corel. At this point in time, the stock markets have moved so much there aren’t many sectors that are really out of favour and a lot of stocks that I was looking at, well, they’ve doubled and tripled, so it is definitely far more difficult now than it was a year ago.
But over time I always find that there are companies that are unloved and that seem to have reasonable balance sheets and, hopefully, strong management and from which I can get a good return on investment.
We’ll be doing that in the months ahead with the cash we have in hand and, hopefully, producing some good investment advice and returns for your readers.