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.)

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Faces behind the figures

There’s been a lot going on lately, both in the world at large and my own personal life (Bluesfest is on, when I participate in my favourite sport – concerting). As a result I’ve been neglecting this blog, and to be honest, my studying. With a full-time contract & contracts on the side, plus an active social life and a fitness routine (yes, I actually have one), it’s hard to find the time for something I’m doing just for me.

I’m up to Chapter 6 now, on bonds. Bonds, just bonds. The entire chapter is full of terminology and I finally realized why it’s so boring.

The people are missing.

Bluesfest 2014

(At Bluesfest 2014)

Sure, there are things that I can make interesting, like strip bonds and convertible bonds. Now don’t they sound sexy? Strip bonds are bonds that have been stripped of their regular interest payments and resold for just the face-value amount. So if you have a bond worth $100 that pays you 5% interest annually until it matures in five years, and you sell it to me, I can sell the bond but keep the interest payments. Convertible bonds are bonds that can be converted into shares. It’s a way companies can raise money, by first borrowing (via bonds) then selling (via shares).

But I have to work at it. I have to imaging someone on a pole stripping (not me) and someone in a convertible (hopefully me). Maybe that’s just how my mind works, but what makes life interesting is the people.

That’s why the events in the US (Orlando, Florida; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; St. Paul, Minnesota; Dallas, Texas) and the UK (Brexit) are so riveting – we’re relating to the people involved and how they’re affected.

So I’ll keep going, slowly but surely, and try to find a connection. Money and the economy affects every single person and they’re just too important to be this boring. (I have to find the characters in the text. Get it? Tee hee!)

I’ll start by imagining James Bond stripping after picking me up in a convertible.

Speaking in tongues, riddles and codes

Any group that has specialized knowledge or works in a specific industry tends to have its own language. That language makes it easier for group insiders to communicate, and by making it harder for outsiders to understand, it also helps secure the group’s status as experts.

What does that mean? It means that as I’m working my way through the Canadian Securities Course materials, half the time I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. The financial industry is in dreadful need of a plain language makeover.

Here’s an example. The book says the national debt is “the sum of past deficits minus the sum of past surpluses.” Seriously, was that necessary? No wonder financial literacy is so low, with language like that! (My version: the national debt is how much Canada owes.)

Chapter 4: Economic Principles was not as much fun as I’d hoped. (Shocking, I know.) Finally, after three chapters on rules and regulations, we were getting to the good stuff. Interest rates, inflation rates, business cycles, oh my! I could see how it all affected actual people.

High interest rates are good for savers but make it more expensive to borrow money for a couple buying a home or a company expanding its manufacturing plant. High inflation is bad for people on fixed income like pensions, like the little old lady I’m going to be one day, because rising prices means your money doesn’t go as far and you can’t buy as much. Business cycles ebb and flow, affecting labour relations and unemployment – and who hasn’t had to hit the pavement to look for a job at some point.

Then I took the quizzes – and spent most of my time trying to figure out what the questions were asking, never mind what the answers could be!

This is going to take some work. I’m onto you, financial industry, and I will learn your secrets. I refuse to be an outsider with my own money. I’m coming for you – and this time it’s personal.

Hitting the regulations wall

I hit the wall in Chapter 3: the Canadian Regulatory Environment. Twenty-eight pages of tedium, plus online exercises. I’m telling myself, you gotta get through this to get to the fun stuff in Chapter 4: Economic Principles. (Yes, by comparison, it is the fun stuff. At least we’ll get back to talking about money.)

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Chapter 1: The Capital Market managed to make money seem like a force for good. Of course it can be, but it’s really just a thing. The people behind it are what matter.

Chapter 2: The Canadian Securities Industry was a little easier, despite multiple definitions of underwriting. (Anyone else think of underwire bras? No? Just me then.)

Ok, one more push to finish. I’m trying to convince myself this is sexy stuff. Arbitration sounds fancy. Examples of unethical practices should be juicy. Trying really hard not to think of Paul Giamatti in his Billions bondage gear. I may need to watch Richard Gere in Pretty Woman instead.

Highlights of what I’ve learned so far:

  • Capital is just money that’s available so you can do stuff with it, like invest.
    Having more capital (money) means people can invest, businesses can increase productivity and governments can get more stuff done. So capital is good.
  • Lots of foreign countries invest in Canada because we’re seen as safe and secure. (Peace, order and good government baby!)
  • There are seven different stock exchanges in Canada, not just the TSX.
  • The big six banks run >90% of the country’s banking assets but there are oodles more banks (yes, oodles. Hey you’re not the one being quizzed. Believe me, I’m saving you.).
  • There are entirely too many definitions of underwriting.

Learning about money stuff – Canadian Securities Course

When the global economy collapsed in 2009 (and the world’s biggest capitalist society needed government bailouts – wow!) we all discovered we really didn’t know much about how or why. We recognized that our financial literacy is lacking. As a current Facebook meme says, I’m sure glad I learned about parallelograms in school instead of taxes…

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Money is a funny thing. I like learning about it and talking about it. It comes from growing up without it. Over the years I’ve collected a little library of books on the topic, I subscribe to a magazine about it (MoneySense), I even have a monthly meeting with a group of women to discuss it. But even with all this, I know there’s still so much I don’t know.

Sure I know how to budget and save and invest – to a certain extent. I know there’s a whole other world out there and, despite having some math fears (seriously, I have recurring nightmares about high school math class), I took a big step.

I signed up for the Canadian Securities Course (CSC), the foundation you need to work in the financial industry here. The plan is to take the course over its suggested 135 to 200 hours of study, and to write about what I’m learning along the way. I’m hoping it’ll help me find new clients to write and edit for in the financial industry. At the very least I’ll learn more about how to make the most of my money so that one day, I won’t have to work so hard for it.

Will I be spending my summer Sunday afternoons on my balcony in studying bliss? Or will I have to replace my new financial calculator multiple times from throwing it in frustration?

Let’s find out. Let’s improve our financial literacy and do some book learnin’ about this money stuff. Most importantly, let’s find out how to avoid eating cat food in our old age.