Thursday, 29 October 2009

Contracts For Difference for Canadian Retail Investors: Beware!

Last Sunday, GlobeInvestor posted the news that henceforth Canadian retail investors in Ontario and Quebec would be allowed to open accounts to trade in Contracts For Difference (CFDs). As Wikipedia describes, CFDs have long existed in the UK, Australia and elsewhere but not in the USA.

In a CFD, the investor bets against a market making broker, in Canada's case CMC Markets, either that a stock or other security will go up, by going long, or that it will go down, by going short (see CMC's examples for how it works). The amount the stock moves away from the price at the time of taking the position/contract to the sale is the difference and that determines the investor's loss or profit. The key unique characteristic of CFDs is the huge amount of leverage they entail, which creates an enormous bang for your investment buck - good or bad. CFDs are essentially a way to get rich or go broke at warp speed. Due to the magnification effect of leveraging, unlike regular stock purchases, you can lose far more than your initial investment.

Since CFDs do not have an expiry date, unlike options which do expire, it might be thought that a retail investor with a long term perspective might for example, simply buy the TSX index long and hold on till the market eventually rises, making sure to keep plenty of cash around to meet the almost inevitable calls for extra cash to maintain margin requirements. However, there's a catch - long positions are subject to a daily interest charge as long as they are open. It is as if one has borrowed the whole amount (see section 2.1 of CMC's rates and fees). The interest rate on the notionally borrowed money is currently low - about 2.8% annualized by my calculation (just a bit less than discount broker BMOIL's 3.5% interest rate on margin debt and a bit more than the TSX 60's current dividend yield of 2.7% ... raising the question, unanswered on CMC's website, whether the Canadian version of CFDs pays out the dividend to the long investor as is the case for CFDs in the UK for instance) - but it still lowers returns and creates a disincentive to anything but short-term speculative day trading with CFDs.

The supposed hedging value of CFDs is minimal. If one takes an offsetting short CFD to balance against a long stock position one already holds, then one simply freezes the total value (excepting the inevitable costs) of the two holdings since a rise or fall in the CFD simply mirrors in the opposite direction the stock holding's movement. Most people think of hedging as downside protection, not both downside and upside. An investor is better off with a straight put option or a stop loss order.

About the only party sure to benefit from CFDs is the market maker CMC Markets, from collecting the bid-ask spread on buys and sells, the interest on open positions, trading commissions and other charges. It is ironic that CMC's website links to this Financial Post story which says that the founder and CEO of CMC Peter Cruddas is London's richest man (interesting isn't it that he is at the top of the Times 2009 online richest list just ahead of a some online gambling site owners). That's where you money will go folks unless you are one of the lucky few who play and win the CFD lottery.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

TFSA Account Adoption Creeping Steadily Up

RBC has just released a survey that shows the number of Canadians opening TFSA accounts is climbing steadily and is now at a quarter of eligible (18+) Canadians. Back in April Jonathan Chevreau had reported in his Wealthy Boomer blog that 20% had opened accounts to that point. The good news is that most people - over 70% - are mostly aware of the TFSA. Hopefully, the slow to act will soon join the list ... hint to some members of my family!

It was a wonderful coincidence that the January 1st start-up date more or less marked the bottom of the equity slump so those who were quick to jump in have seen a very healthy return so far - my initial $5000 evenly split between XIU and XMD has risen 33% or so since my account opened in February, a great tax-free return.

Maybe more Canadians should be a little more adventurous than the cash savings and the GICs that dominate TFSA account holdings according to RBC. Interest rates are so low that there isn't much point to tax-free savings if there isn't any income generated. RBC's headline to its press release - Why aren't Canadians taking advantage of tax free savings accounts? - is true in more ways than one.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Friday Fun: How Much do Pro Golfers Make?

Ever notice how the sports reporting on the winners of golf tournaments says little or nothing about how much money pro golfers make? In these hard economic times it isn't wise to rub it in how much these guys and gals make.

Canadian Business / MoneySense in Golf Earnings 2009 has dug up the data and done a bit of calculation to make us envious. Isn't it a hoot to know that Tiger earned $4191 for each stroke he played?!! It really puts in perspective the three hacks it took me to get out of a sand trap in a recent round. I calculate my $$$ per round not in revenue but in cost - green fee and lost balls.

Worse, as much as these guys make on the course, it is the off-course endorsements and related business (like course design) that their competitive success makes possible which really brings in the dough. It is astounding that Woods in his career could make $1 billion from golfing.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Government Ban on RRSP - TFSA Swaps Revisited: One Red Herring and the Real Problem

Sometimes I'm a bit thick and it takes a while for the real reality to distinguish itself from the illusory reality.

The Illusory Reality: Yesterday I noted the scenario mentioned by two other bloggers - see here and here - for supposedly moving funds tax-free from an RRSP to a TFSA. The illusion is that the investor moved funds but what has actually happened is that the investor made a profit on an investment in the TFSA account and made a loss in the RRSP account. To see this, it is only necessary to remember that the exact equivalent result could be achieved by simply buying and selling on the market instead of doing a swap. In fact, a swap is just that - instead of the investor buying or selling on the open market, his accounts buy and sell to each other.

Another tack is to think of it in the investor's shoes - after the stock price rises in the TFSA, you are $XXX better off in total wealth. Would you really want the stock to decline after your RRSP buys it so that the TFSA can buy it back? After the round trip of swaps and the stock decline, the investor has less money in total than after the TFSA made a profit. The TFSA is the same but the RRSP is worse off. In any case, there is no guarantee that the stock will happily fluctuate up and down within the range needed to come out ahead on a net basis. That's why day trading is a highly risky proposition.

This non-problem is a manifestation of the sunk cost fallacy. At each step of the process, the investor is faced with a clean slate and a new decision about how to invest. The past, however recent, is irrelevant. I certainly hope the Department of Finance policy is not meant to stop this kind of investor operation because the government would then be taxing the profits of normal risky stock purchases and sales.

The Real Reality: The real problem is revealed in the discussion on the Financial Webring TFSA thread. It is the fact that the tax rules allow an investor to choose which price within a security's trading range on the day of the swap to have applied to calculate the value of the swap. The difference between the high and low price is what generates the tax-naughty riskless profit for the investor who has eliminated the market risk through judicious use of options. A more volatile stock, or a volatile day to perform the swap, is better because it produces a higher high-low spread and that increases the risk-free profit. Options also use less capital than straight stock, which boosts the returns.

That being the case, the Government would seem to be engaging in throwing out the swap "baby" with the dirty hi-lo price "bathwater". Instead of banning swaps (which doesn't make sense anyway since direct stock trades can effect the same outcome) or changing the rule that any price during the trading day when the swap takes place may be used to value the transfer amount, either declare that two-way swaps of the same security will automatically be valued at the same price within the same day, or perhaps within 30 days in a manner akin to the superficial loss rule. There's even a catchy name to give it - the superficial swap rule.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

TFSA Ban on Asset Swaps with RRSPs

Updated later in the day - see red text.
The proposed new rules to eliminate potential abuses of TFSA accounts announced the other day by Finance Minister Flaherty includes one strange rule (see the Department of Finance's Backgrounder section on Asset Transfer Transactions) that bans swaps between TFSAs and registered accounts like RRSPs, LIRAs, RRIFs.

I must admit I was puzzled since I had not previously seen anyone proposing a way to avoid taxes by doing a swap.

There seem to be several explanations of what the rule prevents:

  1. A visit to the Financial Webring where all the usual suspects gather and gleefully point out such tax "work-arounds" uncovered in a TFSA thread a post by Marty123 on Oct.20th detailing a highly sophisticated strategy using massive over-contributions and options.
  2. Blogger Michael James on Money's post TFSA Abuse shows another scheme that seems to fit the bill.
  3. The Canadian Tax Resource blog gives a similar example to Michael's.
Perhaps it is the space limitations of traditional media but the clear online examples put to shame the ambiguous description in the Globe and Mail article on the subject.

My direct question to the Department of Finance for an example has yet to be answered (stay tuned for what they eventually tell me). Here is what they said: "The idea would appear to be that overall, advantage is rarely gained but the scheme is such that a large number of small swaps, particularly involving volatile stock, could enable capital gain to exceed tax liability, using financial software and hedging strategies."

In this first year of the TFSA when the contribution limit is only $5k, it is likely Michael's strategy would hardly be worth it considering each swap is charged a fee by the broker ($45 flat fee per security swapped at my discount broker) and it would eat up much of the tax savings. However, down the road when accumulated TFSA room gathers bulk, the benefit becomes more attractive.

Yet to be confirmed also is the import of the tax penalty. The Department of Finance phrase is: "TFSA amounts reasonably attributable to asset transfer transactions will be taxable at 100%." I would think that what it means is that you would be taxed on whatever "excess" you had managed to transfer - the $1000 in Michael's example - at your normal marginal tax rate i.e. just as if you had withdrawn the $1000 directly from the RRSP, and not at a 100% tax rate, which would amount to confiscation by the government of the excess shifted, an action that even for the government is a tad harsh. " Update: I was wrong, ouch! quote from an official spokesman of the Department of Finance - "No it’s not the marginal rate, it’s a levy of the full amount of the *gains*. It won't matter much anyways since the brokers will all block any sort of swaps with TFSAs and registered accounts.

I wonder if the government will now ban swaps between locked-in registered accounts and non-locked-in registered accounts since the same technique Michael describes could be used to move value and unlock locked retirement money.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Book Review: The Secret Language of Money by David Krueger with John David Mann

I like this book. Reading it made me reflect, it explained puzzling human behaviour about money and investing with a neat combination of physical and psychological science and good stories, it gave me practical, implementable advice to, as its subtitle says, "make smarter financial decisions and live a richer life".

The book provides a welcome new approach to improving our own investing and financial success. Unlike the general run of investing books written by economists, mathematicians, engineers, author Krueger formerly practised as a psychiatrist and is now an executive coach. Instead of the facile and useless "just say no" kind of thought that seems to follow from the huge catalogues of irrational investor behaviour (e.g. see Behavioural Finance), Krueger offers ingenious solutions to defeating to defeating our own bad tendencies. One I laughed at is his suggestion to counter impulse spending on a credit card by freezing it a block of ice.

Money is such an essential part of our lives (quoted in the book is the statement of Albert Camus: "It is a kind of spiritual snobbery that makes people think they can be happy without money.") that even one practical thought that a reader actually does something about will make its price more than worth it. And the book does cover a lot: basic attitudes, emotions about money and its alignment with life values and goals, aka our money story, debt, reckless spending, scams, bubbles. Find out why everyone, no matter what their income, thinks that about twice their current income is what it would take to make them happy (oops, caught me too!) and then what to do to make the numbers match up better so you can stop having money be a source of anxiety and become merely the means to an end that it should be.

  • re out of control spenders: "The spender's true goal, whether it is affection, intimacy, prestige, esteem, comfort, or connection, is something that money cannot buy."
  • "A balanced healthy approach to spending means using your money in those ways that best serve your values and your goals in life."
  • "Cons work because they tell us what we want to hear."
  • "... the graying of America has created a bull market on fraud" because the part of the brain that is most useful to detect the irrationality of scams, the pre-frontal cortex, tends to wane with advancing age
  • "Success has less to do with skills and intelligence than with a mindset." ... phew!, I was worried there! I'm not making fun of this statement. The story on page 55, which I presume is true, about the two anthropologists who have totally different outcomes in an experiment because of a difference in mindset struck me as powerful illustration of what I have observed so often - people who succeed but should not have based on "rational" factors and others who fail when by all rights they should have succeeded.
  • "Focus your energy on where you are headed rather than where you've been."
  • "Why do we keep walking the same path over and over, as if "trying harder" will make the critical difference - when we know very well where it is almost to lead?"
My main quibble is that some of the suggested cures to investing-related mistakes seem weak, too general or not very relevant.

Maybe another edition in future will beef up that part but in the meantime this is an excellent book in my opinion. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Thanks to McGraw-Hill for providing me with a free copy to review. Check the book's own website to get a flavour of the book with some substantial content.

Other bloggers have reviewed this book too: Thicken My Wallet, Michael James on Money here and here and Million Dollar Journey

Friday, 9 October 2009

Canada's Place in World University Rankings

How do Canada's universities rate when compared with the best in the world. Pretty darn good, I'd have to conclude after looking through the just-published latest Times Higher Education - QS World University Rankings 2009. The ranking are based primarily on ratings of 9300 academics around the world, along with, in order of declining importance, research productivity, student-faculty ratios, employer reviews and proportions of international faculty and students.

  • Canada took 11 of the top 200 spots, better than many other countries with much larger populations, like Germany with only 10, France with 4
  • Canada had 12 in the top 200 last year - apparently Asian universities are moving into the top rankings displacing mainly US universities (and what longer term effects will the recession aftermath do to further erode that result?) - competition is hotting up and Canada has no cause for complacency as all but McGill and U of T moved lower in the rankings. See also the 2008 vs 2009 table
  • the USA (54 of the top 200) and the UK (29) dominate the world higher education business, with all of the top ten between them and 18 of the top 20
  • in terms of "punching above its weight" in terms of population, Canada is 3rd in the world, at a ratio of about 0.33 (11 universities for a population of 33.8 million) behind the leader UK (ratio 0.47) and Australia (ratio 0.41); the USA is way behind at a measely ratio of 0.18; if one subdivides the UK as Scots are fond of doing(!), wee Scotland with only five million people has the highest ratio of all with 4 universities in the list - ratio = 0.8! ... too bad it doesn't have a very good football team, so everyone could be happy...
  • McGill is the best university in Canada and number 18 in the world, followed by:
U of Toronto (29th),
UBC (40th),
U of Alberta (59th),
U of Montréal (107th),
U of Waterloo (113th),
Queen's (118th),
McMaster (143rd)
Calgary (149th)
Western (151st)
Simon Fraser (196th)
These Times-QS rankings correspond fairly well with those of Maclean's magazine, which also put McGill on top amongst the medical/doctoral schools, though Queen's is second there and Dalhousie, Saskatchewan and Ottawa rate ahead of Western.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Thoughts for the Active Management Mutual Fund Industry

Ottawa Business Journal wrote about the new Investment Partners Fund which has a completely different fee structure from the usual 2% or so annual MER charged by the average Canadian equity mutual fund. The fund managers will only charge a fee if returns exceed 5% in a year. If the fund loses money or makes weak returns, no fee! Over 5% return, they will charge 0.25% for every 1% (or part) return. If the fund was to get a 9% return, which would be quite an achievement, that would be a 1% fee for the year, pretty darn reasonable.

Only thing the article doesn't mention is whether the fund may or will use leveraging (borrow extra money) to try juicing returns, which of course the managers have extra incentive to do. I'd certainly want to see a restriction on borrowing in the fund policy. Otherwise the risk of loss goes way up. Make it a pure stock picking challenge.

Unfortunately the fund is only open to accredited investors, i.e. rich people or professional investors.

But it does offer an idea to our over-charging fund industry.

Financial Times Video Interview Series on Future of Investing

In this October 2nd video interview in the Financial Times, the CEO of BlackRock (world's largest investment managers) Larry Fink says that investing opportunities in the next 5 to 7 years will be more attractive outside the USA. He sees on-going high unemployment, government budgets and slow economic growth constraining investment success.

Another of the FT series on the future of investing interviews Henry Kaufman, described as an elder statesman of Wall Street. He talks about the sources of the credit crunch crisis. It is evident that the causes are still there - huge financial concentration means institutions that are too big to fail, which they know of course, allowing them to take inordinate risks in pursuit of profit, which they have done and will do again, since the appetite for reform is now fading as markets and economies begin to recover. Meanwhile, a big cause of the original crisis - cheap money aka interest rates at zero - is still there. All of which means another crisis is down the road, But what happens if governments are still labouring under the large debts they assumed in bailing out the last crisis?

A priceless moment in this interview occurs when the interviewer asks Kaufman, who has just said he thinks institutions should be allowed to fail as a means of keeping them from taking too many risks, whether he thinks it was correct that Lehman was allowed to fail. Kaufman happens to have been on the Board of Lehman at the time. Delight as we might at Kaufman being hoisted on his own petard, we might ask where was the line between having to make less than ideal decisions while firmly holding one's nose and self-serving favoritism.

Yet another interview with Daniel Putnam of Grail Partners predicts that retail investors will see more and more complicated products, like mixes of active and passive, guaranteed and not guaranteed, personally tailored for each person. Bye, bye mutual funds, hello structured products. I see a great danger that individual investors won't be able to understand them and the providers will take the opportunity to build in very handsome profit margins. Will regulators step up to ensure that investors receive enough understandable information to make intelligent decisions about whether he/she is being offered a fair deal?

There are also interviews with Benoit Mandelbrot of (now growing in fame) Mis-behaving Markets doing an "I told you so" and a series of principal players in the Lehman Brothers collapse doing "it wasnae my fault" for the first year anniversary of the incident that confirmed that some financial institutions really are too big to fail.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Scam and Investor Fraud Alert Sources

DIY investors have to be on their toes against scams and frauds, perhaps even more than ordinary advisor-guided investors (though some might want to debate that point). Here are few online sources I've found to help check out current known illegal schemes.

  1. Ontario Securities Commission Investor Warning List
  2. Alberta Securities Commission Investor Watch page
  3. Canadian Securities Administrators Disciplined Persons search tool and Cease Trade Orders database covering all provinces
  4. BC Securities Commission's InvestRight website has a heading Scams in the News on the home page, an Investment Caution List and an Alerts and Watches
  5. PhoneBusters (sponsored by the RCMP, the Ontario Provincial Police and the Canadian government Competition Bureau) posts more of the "breaking news" type warnings including the dastardly Puppy scam
  6. Quatloos "A public educational website covering a wide variety of financial scams & frauds"; blog and discussion forum includes a lot of US and international content
  7. has North American content

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

UN Praises Canada

The latest UN Human Development Report rates Canada as the 4th best country in the world for its overall success in achieving well-being for its citizens. The UN defines well-being as a combination of three things : "living a long and healthy life (measured by life expectancy), being educated (measured by adult literacy and gross enrolment in education) and having a decent standard of living (measured by purchasing power parity, PPP, income)". 4th is the same position as in 2004.

I daresay that since the data was compiled in 2007, Canada will have moved up into 3rd at least since number 3 Iceland's woes in the 2008 crash would have put a big dent in its standard of living.

Note that the USA is 13th and the UK 21st in the ranking. It is nice also to notice that the upward trending lines of the total averages suggest that the world is becoming a better place to live!

The chronically grouchy CBC doesn't even mention Canada's outstanding result, choosing instead to play up the negative with its UN Calls for Better Deal for Migrants. In contrast CTV highlights the UN's praise for Canada's immigration policies.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Surprising Facts about Scams

Bet you didn't know this:
"... scam victims often have better than average background knowledge in the area of the scam content."
"... scam victims report that they put more cognitive effort into analysing scam content than non-victims. This contradicts the intuitive suggestion that people fall victim to scams because they invest too little cognitive energy in investigating their content, and thus overlook potential information that might betray the scam"
" ... People who show above average vulnerability to scams do not seem to be in general poor decision-makers, for example they may have successful business or professional careers."
"... some people become 'chronic' or serial scam victims:"
"... victims are often acting against their own better judgement: with some part of their minds they recognise a scam for what it is."
Source: The psychology of scams: Provoking and committing errors of judgement a University of Exeter study sponsored by the UK Office of Fair Trading released in May 2009
If you don't believe the research read the cautionary tale Why we keep falling for scams in the Wall Street Journal, written by Stephen Greenspan a university professor psychologist specialized in (studying about) gullibility. Of all people, he was one of Bernie Madoff's victim investors and uses himself as a case study. His interesting conclusion - spreading assets and savings around is a way to reduce the risk of losing all through unforeseen disasters such as a scam. Works for investments in general too, I'd add.

David Krueger's recent book The Secret Language of Money (which I will soon review) also discusses how scammers ultimately depend on our complicity and emotional responses overwhelming our rational brains. He cites one clever investing scam that I've not seen described before. He calls it the Uncanny Forecaster Scam. To get the trust and confidence of the victim, the scammer posing as a broker calls 100 people and tells half that it will go down and the other half that it will go up. No investment is asked for yet. Then he calls back the half for which the answer was correct and again tells half that group that it or any other stock will go up and the other half that it will go down. Presto! Half will be right again! Then he calls back the targets who are by now impressed with his expert forecasting and suggests they send along $25k or whatever for another suggested investment. Bye bye money.

I like one scam avoidance guideline in the Exeter study: "... if you
think an offer might be a scam, it almost certainly is – your gut instinct is almost invariably right."

One mental antidote to scams might be to adopt what might be called the government bureacracy decision-making rule - avoidance of error at all costs: be so skeptical that nothing is ever approved if there is the slightest chance that it could go wrong.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Book Review: Benjamin Graham on Investing, ed. by Rodney Klein, commentary by David Darst

Job ad ... Value Investor: must be highly skilled in dissecting financial statements, especially reading between the lines and uncovering what management may be deliberately or unwittingly concealing; must have great patience and diligence in calculating and estimating data; must be able to separate wheat data from chaff data; must combine internal financial data with external market psychology and national or global economic forces; must have the courage and confidence in one's conclusions to go against the flow of popular and/or professional market opinion or prices; must have the judgement to know when to hold 'em or fold 'em.

Those are some of the thoughts coming to my mind while reading this collection of original writings by the seminal value investor Benjamin Graham. We can see how the master thinks and assembles data into a cohesive analysis. The big question for the individual investor - could I do the same?

Graham speaks for himself in the book through the articles. I wish the editor Klein and commentator Darst had done more to enhance their teaching value by drilling into Graham's analysis, as for example, Jason Zweig does in the Graham classic The Intelligent Investor. For instance, in this day of information overload, it easy to get swamped by irrelevant or misleading details. Could Klein/Darst not have reconstructed the moment in time to say what Graham left aside, or even better to say what he missed? I was asking myself, "so no one is perfect, how good were Graham's analyses in retrospect?" After all, one feature of good investing is to learn from one's mistakes.

Further to that line of thought, I made a small effort to delve into one article, that comparing American Agricultural Chemical (AGR) and Virginia-Carolina Chemical (VC). In the book, Graham says VC is the better buy. Was he right? There's not much to be found through Google for those companies, neither of which exists today (more on that in a minute). From what I did find, Graham was correct, sort of. As of Graham's writing around September 1918, AGR's common share price was $100 and VC's $53. A scant four years later at the end of 1922, their prices were: AGR $32, down 68% and VC $25, down 53%. The Dow Jones Index had moved up from the low 80s to the mid 90s. VC was thus better than AGR in a relative sense but neither was good in an absolute sense. What was Graham's mistake? This, I believe: "... the particular strength of both companies lies in the benefits they will experience from the return of peace. (p.70) ... They have more to hope and less to fear from the future than perhaps any other industry (p.73) ..." In fact, the US suffered a severe postwar recession during 1920 and 1921, not a peace bonus. As fine as was Graham's backward looking analysis, he got the forecasting bit wrong it seems. I did not trace AGR's and VC's history to know whether Graham's conclusion would have made money at any point - that's what Klein and Darst should have done, instead of waxing lyrical about the Aeneid. (It's a bit over the top to say that Graham's writings, well crafted as they are, rank on the same level.)

As for disappearing companies, it is remarkable how few of those mentioned in the book exist today. Capitalism sees companies rise and fall quickly. The mighty of yesterday are gone today. To some degree the foundation of value investing is that the future will be like the past and/or present for a company, e.g. when we buy companies with a record of steady dividend growth, we assume that will continue. For those who don't pretend to know, there's passive index investing.

As a result, this book has no direct investing value relative to today's markets and companies. It is of some pedagogical value for value aficionados, since it is always worthwhile reading the original of any sector's leading mind, like Graham is acknowledged to be.

My rating: 3 out of 5

Watching the UK Get Older - What Effect on Government Finances?

Found on the BBC website Maps chart UK's ageing population this brilliant animated map (compare the map to Statistics Canada's yawn-inducing text Population Projections for Canada, Provinces and Territories) that shows the steady ageing process as the years roll on. Starting from 1992 and projected to 2031, the inexorable slow ageing process is visually striking as the map gets more and more of the darker coloured areas indicating the ageing. Whether the measure is median population age or 65 and older, the pattern is the same. Increasing longevity is evident too as the over 85s triple their share of population.

One interesting phenomenon is that there was not much change through the 1990s but suddenly around 2002 the phalanx of those of State Pension Age or older begins to rise from 18.3% of the population to 19.5% by 2010. That's over 730,000 extra people potentially drawing State Pension. It surely doesn't help government finances. Just as a period of negative market returns is a bad time to start drawing on one's retirement portfolio, so it is for a country, except that the UK government has no choice.

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