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).

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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:

blog-ytm

Made my brain look like that:

brain-on-math

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.

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.)

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.