What I’m learning

It’s been a while, I know. I took a break for the holidays, then I went on holiday. Now I’m here with no excuses to put off the second part of the Canadian Securities Course. It occurs to me though that an outline of the topics covered might be of interest, if only so you have an idea of what I’m learning about.

Volume 1 and the first exam covered:

The Capital Market
The Canadian Securities Industry
The Canadian Regulatory Environment
Economic Principles
Economic Policy
Fixed-Income Securities: Features and Types
Fixed-Income Securities: Pricing and Trading
Equity Securities: Common and Preferred Shares
Equity Securities: Equity Transactions
Derivatives
Financing and Listing Securities
Corporations and Their Financial Statements

Not a whole lot of everyday practical tips here, or anything I’d really consider personal finance. Volume 2 covers:

Fundamental and Technical Analysis
Company Analysis
Introduction to the Portfolio Approach
The Portfolio Management Process
Fundamentals of Managed and Structured Products
Mutual Funds: Structure and Regulations
Mutual Funds: Types and Features
Segregated Funds and Other Insurance Products
Hedge Funds
Exchange-Listed Managed Products
Fee-Based Accounts
Structured Products
Canadian Taxation
Working with the Retail Client
Working with the Institutional Client

Hedge funds – that sounds sexy. There are exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in my future too. I’m up to Chapter 15 and I’ve actually found some practical tips! But that’s a story for another post – I’m off for a study break to watch another episode of the TV show Bitten (based on a really good book series by Canadian author Kelley Armstrong).

Brave enough to fail

I can’t do math (specifically algebra). Have I told you that lately? As sure as I am that I have blue eyes, I know I can’t do math. So I was understandably stressed while preparing to take the first exam for the Canadian Securities Course. Even one of the easier formulas like this:

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Made my brain look like that:

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But I can do words and study and memory. I decided to tackle the formulas a different way. Instead of the mathematical shorthand seen above, I broke it down into words I could study and memorize:

Yield to maturity equals interest income plus or minus price change, divided by, face value plus price divided by two.

Once I wrote it out enough times I could add a little shorthand of my own:

YTM = interest income +/- price change, divided by, FV + price divided by 2.

I was getting somewhere.

But still – if there were too many math questions I was in for a hard time. Seven months and it came down to this. I needed at least 60% to pass and while many people were cheering me on, I never take anything for granted and my concern was real (there is nothing false about my modesty). I was just going to have to suck it up and ride the fall. I went into the exam prepared to be brave enough to fail.

The time came, the proctor handed me the exam booklet and I took a look. There, of the 100 questions, only 10 even had numbers in them. I only used one formula I had memorized and there was one calculation I could do IN MY HEAD.

Results were swift – three days later I emitted an “Eep!” when I checked online and found I had passed. I didn’t ace it but I didn’t squeak by either.  I did something that scared me, did it successfully and lived to tell the tale. If there’s hope for me, there’s hope for just about anyone.

Halfway there.

Politics, markets & other animal spirits

I haven’t been on here in a while because I just don’t know what to say. I haven’t known what to say since the American election on Nov. 8.** As soon as the winner was officially declared people started asking me questions about what to do with their money. But the market response was unexpected, to say the least. (Great article here about experts and economic uncertainty.)

A few months ago when Brexit hit, stocks tumbled a bit and I went shopping. I was expecting the same to happen after Nov. 8, but instead, aside from an initial stumble by the overseas markets, they started climbing and stayed strong for days. (The Dow Jones set an all-time high on Nov. 9.)

It seems people are hoping that Trump will make good on all his economic promises, and that we’re at the start of a growth period. I’m also guessing that after such a long, drawn out affair, everyone was happy a decision was finally made and we could get on with it.

Yes, I’m guessing. As is everyone who tries to anticipate the markets, don’t let them fool ya. In a recent seminar, Larry Berman revealed that a 10-year analysis of his predictions showed he was right about 62% of the time. (Love his honesty.)

There’s more to come, with other elections imminent across Europe. It seems nationalism and protectionism are in fashion, again.  (Can I just say that Coco Chanel would be my hero if she hadn’t shacked up with a Nazi? Sigh.) Here in Canada there’s the old joke that every time the US sneezes we catch a cold, so we’re right to pay attention to our neighbour’s business.

It’s going to be an interesting four years.

** I don’t know what to say about money, I mean. I have a lot to say about the election, and here’s a fun clip from Saturday Night Live.

 

In the news

Here’s a quick roundup of a few interesting things.

US Banks Finally Getting Sued for the Great Recession Crash

Remember back in 2008/2009 when the US banks lent people money to buy homes they couldn’t afford, then raised interest rates and foreclosed? Miami nearly went bankrupt — if people lose their homes they’re not paying property taxes. But no one went to jail because for years before the crisis the banks and other financial institutions changed the rules in their favour (deregulation). Now Miami is trying to sue the banks. This will be interesting. Read all about it in the Washington Post

Canadian Banks Overcharging Customers

Meanwhile here in Canada the big banks are turning themselves in, admitting they overcharge customers and paying them back. Here’s the key point in this article – it is just too hard for average people to figure out what’s going on with their money. Most of our financial information comes from people trying to sell us something, which makes unbiased decisions much more difficult. Read all about it on CBC

Hillary & Donald: It’s Almost Over

Finally, is anyone else out there waiting to see if election anxiety affects the markets? When people get nervous they start pulling their money out by selling off their stocks, which sends prices lower. That’s what I love about the whole financial and economic scene – it’s not about numbers, it’s about people, and whether they have hope or fear for the future. I won’t direct you to any article about the American election though; I think we’ve all had enough over the past 18 months.

Life, math and chapters in between

There I was, making slow but steady progress, then wham! Life happened, as it does. My last post was about the Breakfast Club Retro Dance, which I’m happy to say was a success. More than 100 people came out and we raised $3300, so in two years the event has raised $7100 for the Ottawa School Breakfast Program. That’s a whole lot of tummys we’re filling, many futures we’re helping.

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Delivering the cheque to Alison Sheepway at the Ottawa Network for Education

Back to the Canadian Securities Course. For people who are working full time while studying it does usually take an entire year to complete. Over the summer I got bogged down by Chapter 7 – Fixed-Income Securities: Pricing and Trading. Or more specifically, by the mathematical formulas in the chapter. I took the math tutorial and thought I had it figured out, then took the online quiz, which explained everything differently, and just got confused. Math panic swelled up in my gut.

Then Adult Me kicked in. (I didn’t even know my brain had an Adult Me function.) I realized that if I were to use this information in daily practice, I could always pull out the book again to refer back to the formulas. This was wonderful, especially since I still have math nightmares. (Seriously. It’s a day before the final exam, I’ve spent the entire year doing nothing but English and history, and if I don’t get my math credit I don’t graduate. Shudder.)

So I moved on, knowing that I wasn’t going to do well on one particular part and that was ok. I sped through Chapter 8 – Equity Securities: Common and Preferred Shares and Chapter 9 – Equity Securities: Equity Transactions, both in one weekend. I took a little more time with Chapter 10 – Derivatives and Chapter 11 – Financing and Listing Securities.

Now I’m on Chapter 12 – Corporations and their Financial Statements. Apparently all the terms I learned in Grade 13 Accounting have changed. (The bastards! How dare they!) Once I’m done, I’ll study Chapters 1-12 and sign up for the first exam.

Yikes.

Shake your ass, save the world

Time after time it’s been shown grown-up boys and girls just want to have fun. Express yourself and get footloose with the Breakfast Club Retro Dance fundraiser. You’ll be dancing in the dark to raise money for the Ottawa School Breakfast Program.

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Rocking teased hair and blue eyeliner for BCRD 2015

Until Aug. 31 tickets are only $20 and that feeds a child for an entire month of school days. Sure, right now school’s out for summer but soon everyone will be hot for teacher again. Show some sweet emotion so kids can dream on and start their day with a full tummy.

Because love is a battlefield but getting through a school day shouldn’t be.

Get tickets & more info here

More Details, Fewer Earworms

The Ottawa School Breakfast Program provides over 2 million breakfasts a year. It’s in 177 schools across town, in all school boards and districts. That’s a lot of hungry kids. Surviving school is hard enough without being distracted by hunger.

The Breakfast Club Retro Dance is a high school dance for grownups to raise money for the Program and you’re invited. All of the fun, none of the mean girls!

You remember school. Maybe you had feathered hair and jeans so tight you needed a coat hanger to zip them up. Maybe you teased your hair and destroyed the ozone layer with all the hairspray you used. Maybe you didn’t use makeup because it clashed with your anti-establishment checkered shirt and torn jeans. Whatever your groove, this is the event for you.

We raised almost $4000 last year and *all* of the money goes to the Ottawa School Breakfast Program. Dressing up from your favourite era is encouraged. It’s a cash bar so the punch is already spiked and there are no chaperones.

The Program can provide a meal for $1/day, so each $20 ticket to the dance feeds a child for a month of school days. (Tickets go up to $25 on Sept. 1!)

It’s a good time for a great cause. On Sept. 24 shake your ass, save the world.

Get tickets & more info here

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Money in a sock drawer

A friend of mine sent me a link to a CBC story about CIBC selling negative-rate bonds for the first time in Canadian history. Negative-rate bonds means they are guaranteed to lose money, and people are buying a lot of them – CIBC raised almost $1.8 billion. Crazy, eh?

Here’s how a negative-rate bond works. When you buy a bond, you’re basically loaning money to the business or government, and they promise to pay you the full value at a certain time in the future. To make you more interested in giving them your money, they give you interest payments along the way. Really, it’s a big IOU and you’re the loan shark.

When the bond has a negative rate, you’re giving say $100 to the business/government and they promise to pay you $95 back. Why would you do it? Because you think the world is going to hell in a hurry and this may be your best bet. At least you’ll have $95.

Like the loan shark you are, if you’re not paid back in time you can take the assets they put up as collateral, they can raise cash by charging their customers more or they can call in their own debts to help them pay you back (after you break their knees, of course). What assets do Canadian banks have? Mortgages. Ah, the plot thickens!

Canadian banks are strong and strongly regulated. The government wouldn’t let them get into the pissing contest between the US and the UK when those countries were deregulating themselves into a tizzy trying to create new ways of making money that eventually led to the 2008 economic collapse. So we trust our banks. When you’re scared, you turn to people and institutions you trust.

That’s why people are handing money over knowing they’ll get less back in the future. They’re scared.

Emotions are running high right now. Here in Canada business investment is slow and the Fort McMurray wildfires took a chunk out of our economic growth when oil production stopped, according to the Conference Board of Canada. Horrible things are happening all over (another attack in France; failed coup in Turkey; race relations in the US; the UK second-guessing its Brexit vote). C’mon, Donald Trump is a presidential candidate fer cryin’ out loud.

Fear, greed and hope. That’s what runs the economy.

My friend wants to keep his money tucked away in his sock drawer. Can’t say I blame him. (Of course there’s inflation, but that’s a post for another day.)