Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Investing an Inheritance: How to do a "File and Forget for Forty Years"

Most of us save for retirement in tax-deferred accounts like RRSPs and LIRAs. But what happens when you suddenly receive a large lump sum and you do not have RRSP contribution room, in other words you must invest in a taxable account?

Here's a situation I've come across recently that got me thinking and researching. (Initially, I thought it was simple but it has taken me some time to figure it out to get the practical details right.)

  • $50,000 inheritance, specified in the will to be "for retirement"; a very wise thing the person who died has done, creating a very strong moral, if not legal impediment to spending the money since half the battle of saving is actually doing it; I would note in passing that the person receiving the inheritance does not have to include the amount in income and pay tax since that would already have been done in the process of settling the estate; I would also note that it is not a testamentary trust, which could absolutely ensure that the money not be touched till retirement.
  • 40 years till retirement; the person is in his twenties so the planning horizon is at least that long; due to the above-noted restriction on the lump sum, it is highly likely that the actual time horizon will correspond to the planned horizon - in other words, people frequently suddenly decide that their "retirement nest egg" needs to be cracked open for an omelette craving today, thus blowing the value of a long term approach to smittereens.
  • No RRSP room: the inheritance must go into a taxable account, which means that income taxes for various types of investment returns (interest, dividends and capital gains) can play a crucial role in net returns, especially over the long term; though the person could or should intend to move the investments progressively into an RRSP as his career advanced and contribution room became available, in this case, his apparent career orientation into government or educational jobs suggests that one of those golden defined benefit plans will use up most or all of tax-deferred pension room, so it is better to plan as if it will not happen
  • Maximize net after-tax wealth: obviously ... but he is not interested in high-risk investments that may suffer absolute final losses, as opposed to waiting through market ups and downs, and subject to the following constraint,
  • Zero maintenance and attention portfolio: the person would ideally like to have to do nothing at all for forty years! No buying and selling, no rebalancing, nothing, if at all possible; unfortunately, it is still required to file a tax return every year, so tax reporting simplicity is a consideration. As a consequence, things should be as simple as possible - few holdings at one broker.
General Principles: these should always apply to investing
  • low costs - paying higher fees for others to manage your investments is a sure way to end up with less; 0.1% less per year can add up to many thousands difference after 40 years - 4.1% return compounded will see $50k reach $240k while 4.2% yields $249k; high MERs = low net returns; this eliminates from consideration all equity mutual funds except index trackers
  • diversification - the "not all eggs in one basket" and "some go up while others go down" factors entail being invested in many assets with as low as possible correlation with each other; this ensures that there is a net gain, not a loss, over the long term
  • tax-effectiveness - deferring and reducing taxes means a greater net in the future; tax rates in Canada are lowest on dividends, higher on capital gains and highest on interest as this previous post on tax rates shows. There is a significant advantage to dividends for all taxable income up to the mid-$70k range, which is where our person is most likely to end up based on his career path. However, the portfolio diversification principle must be respected - meaning that it is not acceptable to ignore the fixed income component of a well-structured portfolio merely to avoid taxes. Fortunately, there is a way - substitute preferred shares returning dividends for bonds returning interest income.
The Proposed Solution: this is necessarily a combined solution of portfolio and broker/financial service provider due to the practical constraints outlined below; theory may tell us to do things a certain way but it is not quite possible in practice.

There are three good alternative solutions, the best ranked first.
  1. Portfolio of Four ETFs at Questrade
Portfolio Composition:
  • 35% / $17,500 XIC - iShares Canadian Composite Capped Index Fund, MER 0.25% (the alternative is XIU, the TSX 60 fund, which has a lower MER of 0.17% and distributes much less income as interest, but it only includes the 60 largest companies as opposed to the 270+ companies in the Canadian market, which means less diversification as the 60 only account for three-quarters of total market value of the TSX and presents less opportunity to benefit from small company growth, from income funds and from real estate); negatives of XIC are the MER and the fact that some of the annual distributions are higher-taxed interest; XIC exemplifies the simplicity and advantage of a fund that enables one to own a piece of a large number of assets/companies through one purchase; in the proposed portfolio XIC is the Canadian equity asset class
  • 15% / $7,500 VTI - Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF, MER 0.07%; this is a broad market index, representing some 95% of the total US market according to Vanguard; it is exposed to USD vs CAD currency swings, which can be good or bad, depending on the direction; to some degree, there is also a diversification advantage (see discussion in a Burgundy Asset Management paper and research by Mark Kritzman - when the Canadian market falls, often the Canadian dollar follows, meaning that a VTI owner will end up with more Canadian dollars (as long as the US market doesn't fall by the same percentage); alternatives might be IYY and IWV, two index ETFs that track the broad US market but they have higher MER of 0.20%
  • 20% / $10,000 VEU - Vanguard FTSE All-World ex-US ETF, MER 0.25%; provides very broad exposure to some 1300 companies in 47 countries around the world outside the USA
  • 30% / $15,000 CPD - Claymore S&P TSX CDN Preferred Shares ETF, MER 0.45%; this is the fixed income portion of the portfolio, in which preferred shares are substituted for the bond funds typically held in registered tax-deferred portfolios; preferrred shares produce dividends so the person in a middle tax bracket will lose only about 8% to tax vs 30% - preferred shares pay less than bonds (James Hymas says about 0.89% for corporate bonds) in an article Corporate Bonds - or Preferred Shares? in the May 2006 Canadian MoneySaver) but compound the tax difference over 40 years and the difference is enormous e.g. 6% gross on $15,000 bonds would net reinvested and compounded after annual tax at above example rates $77,767 in bonds and 5.1% on dividends would net $93,892; note that bond funds always include lower yielding government bonds so this comparison understates the after tax advantage of preferred share dividends; the alternatives to CPD are three closed end funds DPS.UN - Diversified Preferred Shares Trust, PFR.UN - Advantaged Preferred Share Trust and PFD.PR.A - Charterhouse Preferred Share Index Corporation according to Portfolio Construction in the July/August 2007 Canadian MoneySaver issue but a cursory look suggests they suffer from making large distributions of return of capital, which is just giving his own money back to an investor, as well as trading often at well-below NAV.
Why the portfolio allocation proportions and holdings?

This is perhaps the most uncertain area. While the whole world is represented, Canada has a much larger proportion of total equity - equal to the sum of the USA and the rest-of-the-world - than in my own portfolio. The logic is simply that the person is likely to live and retire in Canada and use Canadian dollars. The foreign holdings introduce a significant enough exposure to diversification benefits from the equities themselves and from currency swings, but not too much. I've wrestled with this in the past e.g. this post on IFA Canada's model portfolio and this post on my own portfolio but cannot find the "perfect answer".

What does the above portfolio achieve?
  • diversification through diffuse ownership of a large number of companies
  • diversification through investment in most areas of the world
  • diversification through equity and fixed income asset classes that move in different ways at different times (but which all move upwards over the long term)
  • higher net returns through low fees of the ETFs
  • higher net returns through use of a discount broker, which will charge nothing for account administration or management and only charges for trading
  • higher net returns through lower taxes
  • zero maintenance through index tracking - the fund managers regularly restructure the holdings to reflect market evolution requiring nothing of the investor
  • zero market knowledge and investigation required - you get the market average automatically year after year, sometimes that is down but mostly it is up and certainly over the long term it is up
  • zero maintenance through automatic dividend/distribution reinvestment by Questrade
  • minimal administration through the small number of funds requires less work to do annual tax returns for distributions and down the road when they are eventually sold
What does it not achieve and what are the risks?
  • rebalancing to keep the portfolio proportions the same will not happen without selling and buying by the investor; rebalancing every four years or so, or when one holding gets more than 5% (e.g. XIC goes up to 41% or down to 29%)out of whack, is the optimal strategy (see this post for discussion); over many years, the equity investment growth should far outstrip the fixed income CPD, which will increase the overall riskiness of the portfolio; normally, that's a cause for concern and the reason for rebalancing; in this case it is quite possibly a good thing, a worthwhile natural evolution. Why? As this person gets older and if, as expected, he begins to build up a defined benefit pension plan paying a fixed inflation-adjusted income at retirement, that in effect has increased the fixed income portion of his total personal wealth.
  • shifting the portfolio into an RRSP for tax deferment and tax-protected growth as and when that becomes possible can only happen with monitoring and action by the investor; contributing the funds in-kind is possible but that will trigger a deemed disposition and the necessity to calculate and declare capital gains along the way, more work for the investor; the first thing that should go into the RRSP is fixed income, but the CPD should then be sold and replaced by a purchase of a bond fund like XBB the iShares Canadian Bond Index Fund since bonds will produce a higher gross and net (once protected from taxes) yield
  • keeping a record of the Adjusted Cost Base of ETFs is a manual procedure as I explained in this post and it is a pain in the you-know-where; it doesn't really need to be done till the ETF is sold and the gain is to be reported on a tax return so maybe it can be put off and done in one massive catch-up session after 40 years but I'd want to not be further than five years behind simply because corporate fortunes rise and fall, companies come and go and records disappear or become hard to find (I had a lot of trouble some years back trying to figure out mutual fund ACBs to do final returns going back a mere 20 years)
  • potential instability of the solution is an inescapable risk, especially over forty years, since the practical evolves greatly e.g. forty years ago, index funds did not exist and there was no capital gains tax in Canada; change will happen, it's just not possible today to know where, when and to what degree; one thing to remember is that big does not equal absolutely safe, stable or permanent - the current financial turmoil is affecting most the world's biggest banks, some will fall and over the long term, most will fall (just check the stock listings of the TSX, oops it used to be the TSE, 40 years ago and see how many names you recognize); Questrade is a relatively new, smaller player and going with them entails a degree of risk that it will be necessary to shift the portfolio to another institution if they run into business problems ... or maybe their superior product will see them grow into the dominant broker of tomorrow; is CIBC a good place to be, they seem to keep stumbling? Regardless, it will always be necessary for the investor to keep a general eye on developments for this maximum passivity portfolio.
Broker: All ETFs produce cash distributions, either monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or yearly, and there is no option, like there is with mutual funds, to have the ETF manager reinvest the cash automatically. So the investor can do it at his own time and expense or a broker can offer the service. But the objective is to have everything run on autopilot. The choice of Questrade boils down to one thing - Questrade is the ONLY Canadian discount broker I found that could reinvest the cash distributions for all the above ETFs so that the cash would not sit around in the account earning little or nothing. CPD was a particular no-can-do for everyone but Questrade and we see above above, it is a key element of the plan.

2. Portfolio of DFA Mutual Funds described on IFA Canada from Advisor De Thomas Financial.

This approach consists of handing over the $50k to De Thomas Financial for them to invest in the DFA mutual funds described in detail on the IFA Canada website. They follow passive indexing principles to the nth degree, they say convincingly enough (i.e. they back up their assertions with believable data) even more than the various index ETFs. The breakdown of asset classes is more numerous, enabling reductions in volatility and higher returns. Though De Thomas charges a 1% annual fee on top of the 0.25-0.70% embedded in DFA funds, their approach makes up for that 1.25 to 1.7% vs 0.07 to 0.45% ETF fee spread by lower tracking costs, by stock lending revenue and by tax deductibility of the fees (on taxable accounts only). Michael Hill of IFA Canada & De Thomas explained all this in my Q&A blog post of Oct.23. The end result is that the investor should attain a higher net return. The fact that the holdings are mutual funds eliminates the special ACB record-keeping hassle of ETFs, as well as the reinvestment of distributions problem. The rebalancing issue goes away too since De Thomas does it. Finally, part of the De Thomas service is general financial advice (I notice that Mr. Hill is a Certified Financial Planner, one of the better designations) and that may come in handy.

My biggest concern is that all of the portfolios have only bond funds and none with preferred shares and so taxes will be considerably higher. Another is that the "Easy Chair" portfolio for accounts smaller than $100,000 (the minimum required to do the full asset allocation using all the funds) has some limitations but those are not described.

3. Portfolio of TD Canada Trust e-Series Mutual Funds

This portfolio mimics the ETFs in the first portfolio with the difference that they are mutual funds available only through having an account at TD Canada Trust. The funds are:
  • TDB900 - TD Canadian Index Fund, MER 0.31%, tracks the TSX Composite Index (it doesn't appear to be a capped fund like XIC, which limits any stock to no more than 10% of the fund; this shoudn't cause any difference or problem as long as there is no tech bubble II where Nortel gets up to 30% of the total value of the TSX!)
  • TDB902 - TD US Index Fund, MER 0.33%, tracks the S&P 500, which is only three quarters or so of the total US market and really only tracks large companies, a disadvantage since small company stock returns historically have outperformed large company returns
  • TDB911 - TD International Index Fund, MER 0.48%, tracks the Morgan Stanley Capital International Europe, Australasia and Far East Index("MSCI EAFE Index"), which is probably quite a bit less diversified ( we cannot tell because TD's fund information on the above website is too incomplete) than VEU
  • TDB909 - TD Canadian Bond Index, MER 0.48%, tracks the Scotia Capital Universe Bond Index ("Universe Bond Index"); because it's a bond fund in a taxable account this is much less desirable than CPD
The TD funds do offer the advantages of mutual funds over ETFs already noted above but the higher MERs and a bit less ideal diversification characteristics promise lower long run returns. The biggest negative is the absence of a preferred shares fund. Of course, it would be possible to take the $15,000 for fixed income, go to Questrade and have an account only for that holding there. But why start to complicate life with accounts here and there if there is a better overall solution with Questrade?


Michael James said...

I like your well thought out reasoning about investing this inheritance, except that I don't understand the part about bonds.

I don't see why any money should go into bonds. Over 40 years low cost index stock ETFs are overwhelmingly likely to beat bonds. The odds of bonds beating stocks is much lower than the odds that a man in his twenties will die before he retires.

Why not wait until about 5 years before retirement to start switching money over to bonds? The only reason I can see is if an investor is irrational and can't stomach the volatility. A rational investor will say that there will be volatility, but I'll have more money in the end if I invest 100% in stocks. The irrational investor may need to soften the blow of market declines with bonds, even though he will end up with considerably less money at retirement.

(Sorry to sound cranky -- I just can't see any rational reason to own bonds over the long term.)

CanadianInvestor said...

Michael, Thanks for the reminder that I owe you a post on why I believe fixed income should be in a portfolio for a long term investor.

John said...

My view is that your option 3 is the hands down best for the unsophisticated

The vanguard option (which I know you use) will hit the portfolio for currency conversion on the way in and again when the indexes give annual payouts.

The TD e funds allow for very inexpensive rebalancing (i.e. free) and will also reinvest automatically.

CanadianInvestor said...

Initially, the account will be taxable and all brokers, Questrade included, offer such accounts that can hold US cash, so distributions from Vanguard /US ETFs will not be hit with FX fees. I agreee TD e-Series would offer the ability to do rebalancing free, but someone has to take action, it won't happen by itself. One objective was to have no monitoring for rebalancing, so in that way TD e-Series only solves part of the rebabancing problem (option 2 would solve it all).

One thing I did not examine with TD e-Series is tracking error. Do you have any info on that?

John said...

I tried to look at tracking error in globe investor

I compared the TD product (US index in US $) to the S&P and S&P total return and they do not match perfectly.

Interestingly the TD currency neutral S&P product will also not track to the TD US index in US $$.

Wikinvest Wire

Economic Calendar

 Powered by Forex Pros - The Forex Trading Portal.