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MAY 17, 2024

The Trick is Not Minding That it Hurts

BY KEITH THOMSON

Earlier this month I returned from the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders' Meeting. This was my second visit, counting myself extremely fortunate in May, 2023 to have seen for the last time both Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger on stage together. It felt as though the “shadow” of Charlie permeated this year’s proceedings, given he passed away this recent November at the age of 99. I will always remember Charlie’s wit and wisdom. Frankly, much of his investment and life philosophy has informed the direction of my own life. I was again reminded of this fact after re-reading the quotation above.
 
Since 2000 we have experienced two market declines of approximately 50%. But here’s the thing … absolutely critical to your success as a long term equity investor is your ability to ride out these painful, but unavoidable (and unpredictable) temporary market declines. In the classic 1962 movie Lawrence of Arabia there is a scene that reminds me of this fact. Based on the life of T. E. Lawrence, played by Peter O’Toole, there is a line where he states, “The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts”. 

And so it is with volatility. We all love volatility on the upside but volatility on the downside … not-so-much. And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the key to making money in the stock market is not being scared out of it. One of my favourite investment charts is from J.P. Morgan. It highlights the fact that since 1980 on average, as reflected by the red percentage numbers, the market declines temporarily 14.2% every single year
 
I get it ... temporary declines hurt emotionally (you wouldn’t be human if they did not). However, the trick to satisfactory investment outcomes is attempting not to mind that it hurts.

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If you can’t stomach 50% declines in your investment, you will get the mediocre returns you deserve.

Charlie  Munger  

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MAY 12, 2024

Find Me a Specialist

BY KEITH THOMSON

Finding the right partner to work with to achieve your philanthropic goals isn’t easy, but choosing wisely can make all the difference.

 

“This is one of the most important areas of my life and I don’t know who to hire. Frankly, I don’t even know what I should be looking for. Can you help me?” lamented Mr. Smith (name has been changed), a well-known and successful Toronto business owner. He asked me this question after one of my presentations illustrating that by redirecting the taxes on their estate which, otherwise, would be paid to the Canada Revenue Agency, Canadians could leave more to family, friends and those causes most meaningful to them.

 

As you might imagine, Mr. Smith isn’t the first to ask me that question. Perhaps you’ve been asking the very same question. Ideally, given the inherent complexities of organizing your estate effectively, your first step should most certainly be to work with specialists.

 

Specialists focus on you, work with people like you, and are acknowledged “All-Stars”.

 

A Specialist Focuses on You and Your Needs

The best way to determine someone’s focus is to spend some time with that person. “I barely had time to speak,” complained Anna, a single, retired woman, who took the time to interview prospective advisors to determine whether or not they were specialists. That’s a real tipoff: true specialists don’t do most of the talking when you first meet.

 

When they do speak, are they helping you think about your dreams and concerns or are they talking about what they do? That’s the second tipoff – the main job of a true specialists is to assist in determining what’s most important and most urgent to you.

 

A Specialist Helps People Just Like You

Thirdly, do you understand them? Do they speak in plain language or in industry jargon?

 

Additionally, you need to ask your advisor a few questions: What’s their professional specialty? Do they have a description of their ideal client? How much have they saved their clients in taxes through their planning?

 

A Specialist is an Acknowledged All-Star

Lastly, make sure your specialist is an All-Star. Every profession knows its All-Stars and there’s even a big difference even between a major leaguer and an All-Star. All-Stars should have proven performance. Have they published in their field? Do they also teach their professional peers?

 

Warren Buffet said his advisors must be people he can trust implicitly, people who are at the top of their game professionally and with whom he enjoys spending time. To me, that’s another way to say “specialists” – individuals who focus on you, work exclusively with people just like you and who are All-Stars.

 

SAVE THE DATE!

On May 22, internationally recognized financial educator Keith Thomson will give a special presentation on how to lower your income tax and even eliminate your estate tax. We hope you can join us!

2024-MAY-12

APR 19, 2024

Why You Are Rich

BY KEITH THOMSON

If you are reading this there is a very good chance you are wealthier than 90% of the Canadian population. Have you ever paused to think why this may be the case? Of course there could be any number of reasons that quickly come to mind such as living below your means and saving the difference, the long term compounding of returns in your portfolio or owning high quality companies etc. However Morgan Housel, a partner at Collaborative Fund and one of the most astute financial writers blogging today, has some ideas on the subject which you probably have not thought of.

​One, you are wealthy because you are a pleasant sociopath. As Housel writes, “I’m convinced that nearly every rich person has the characteristics of a sociopath. Not in a cruel, soulless way. But sociopaths can discharge emotional events that cause normal people to worry and panic. Great investors can do that, too. They can watch stocks fall 50% and shrug their shoulders or see 10 million people lose their jobs and remain unshakably calm.” Napolean’s definition of a military genius was ‘The man who can do the average thing when all those around him are going crazy’. Perhaps you are wealthy because you are the same – you can remain normal when all those around you are losing their heads.”

​Two, you are wealthy because you do things differently. Again Morgan Housel writes, “The funniest thing about rich people is how little their income has to do with their wealth. Mike Tyson earned $300 million during his career and went broke. An orphaned, unmarried administrative assistant died with millions in the bank.”

​Three, you care about time periods most can’t comprehend. Think about it this way, there are four ways to invest:

  • ​Unsuccessfully

  • ​Long term (varying degrees of success)

  • Short term (successful due to luck)

  • Short term (successful due to manipulation/fraud) 


​Reflecting on the above options one comes to the inevitable conclusion that the only logical way to invest is over the long term. But here’s the thing … it’s totally unnatural! As human beings it has been encoded into our DNA to go for the immediate gains and avoid imminent threats.

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Carl Richards, the artist of the above sketch, notes that we have the same emotional connection to ourselves 30 years in the future as we do to a complete stranger. The bottom line is that nearly all sizeable accumulations of wealth can be traced to a single variable, a long term outlook.

Four, you are wealthy because you don’t give a damn what other people think of you! Finally, Morgan Housel points out, “The price of being rich is really simple: You must live below your means. But living below your means is hard. Most people want to be rich to impress other people. They do this by spending money, which is the surest way to have less of it. Rich people avoid this trap. A lot of them are after control over their time, which comes from having a wide gap between what they can afford to buy and what they actually buy.” Or, as the poet William Shenstone once wrote, “A miser grows rich by seeming poor. An extravagant man grows poor by seeming rich”.

P.S. A version of this newsletter was published in July 2017.

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Like all of life’s rich emotional experiences, the full flavor of losing important money cannot be conveyed by literature. You cannot convey to an inexperienced girl what it is truly like to be a wife and mother. There are certain things that cannot be adequately explained to a virgin by words and pictures.

Fred Schwed Jr.  

(Author of “Where Are the Customers’ Yachts?” First published in 1940)

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2024-APR

MAR 26, 2024

Time To Feed The Goose!

BY KEITH THOMSON

Please find below two CI Private Wealth tax resources which may assist you in dealing with your tax reporting.

CIPW 2024 Personal Tax Calendar (link to PDF)
This gives you a list of important dates for personal tax filing and planning for this year.

CIPW 2023 Personal Tax Organizer (link to PDF)
This provides you with a checklist to help you compile the information you need to complete your personal income tax returns, whether you do it yourself or engage the services of a Professional Tax Preparer.
 
As we prepare for this year’s “plucking” perhaps this article will help minimize the “hissing”. Written by Ryan Holiday, it is directed towards an American audience (with a Stoic bent). However, if you change the date to April 30th, the message is no different for us Canadians.​

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The Taxes of Life
Daily Stoic - Ryan Holiday​

"April 17th is the day that Americans pay their taxes. It’s a day of mixed reactions depending on your outlook and politics. Some choose to focus on the good things their taxes pay for and have paid for since Roman times—the roads, the armies, services for the poor. Others focus on the waste (tax corruption and waste is also as old as Rome) or question the morality of the system altogether. Last year when we posted a note about taxes, a number of comments wrote angrily that “taxation is theft!” while others angrily responded to those commenters with defenses of their own. (All this anger being somewhat ironic for Stoics.)​​

In a way, this misses the point. What we should be doing is zooming out and looking at the larger picture: People have been complaining about their taxes since the beginning of civilization. And what has become of it? Taxes are higher than ever and they’re dead. Death and taxes. There is no escape. So let us waste no time and create no misery kicking and screaming about it. Let us not add to our tax bracket the cost of frustration and resentment.​

Taxes are an inevitable part of life. There is a cost to everything we do. As Seneca wrote to Lucilius, “All the things which cause complaint or dread are like the taxes of life—things from which, my dear Lucilius, you should never hope for exemption or seek escape.” Income taxes are not the only taxes you pay in life. They are just the financial form. Everything we do has a toll attached to it. Waiting around is a tax on traveling. Rumors and gossip are the taxes that come from acquiring a public persona. Disagreements and occasional frustration are taxes placed on even the happiest of relationships. Theft is a tax on abundance and having things that other people want. Stress and problems are tariffs that come attached to success. And on and on and on.​

There’s no reason or time to be angry about any of this. Instead, we should be grateful. Because taxes—literal or figurative—are impossible without wealth. So what are you going to focus on? That you owe something, or that you are lucky enough to own something that can be taxed."

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Taxes are our way of feeding the goose that lays the golden eggs of freedom, democracy and enterprise. Someone says, 'Well, the goose eats too much!’. That’s probably true. But better a fat goose than no goose at all.

Jim Rohn

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2024-MAR

FEB 13, 2024

It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Worst of Times - 2024 Edition

BY KEITH THOMSON

Early each year it has been my tradition to share with my readers how our world is making tremendous progress on just about any metric you care to focus on. Unfortunately though, it seems many of us still believe that our planet is quite literally going to hell in a hand basket! This perspective is understandable given the 24/7 continual bombardment from news reports, articles, podcasts, and social media channels.

Edwards Deming once wrote, “In God we trust, all others bring data”. To that end, I bring you 66 Good News Stories You Didn’t Hear About in 2023

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Perhaps I can offer this summary … just because the world is far from perfect, this doesn’t mean things are not getting better. With this thought in mind, I wish you, your family, and friends an ever improving 2024!

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

Charles Dickens

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2024-FEB

JAN 24, 2024

What We Believe - 2024 Edition

BY KEITH THOMSON

It is both simple and genuinely compelling for me to be able to summarize the behaviour of North American equity markets, not only for the last calendar year but over the last two years. In fact, I can do so in two sentences.

In 2022, the Dow, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq 100 (the largest most diversified stock markets in the world) experienced peak-to-trough declines of 21%, 25% and 35% re­spec­tively. A week before Christmas 2023, all three were in new high ground on a total return basis (i.e., including dividends).

Why stocks did this is quite irrelevant compared to the wonderful lessons that can be drawn from this experience. There are almost as many theories and explanations as to why this happened as there are market commentators, of whom I am happily not one. I would point out, however, that the number of said commentators who successfully forecast both the market action of 2022 and that of 2023 is, to my knowledge, rounds to zero.

What should really matter for all of us long-term, goal-focused, plan-driven equity investors is not why this happened, but that it happened. Specifically, that there could be a pervasive and very significant bear market over most of one year, and that those same declines could be entirely erased in the following year. Although in the largest sense not nearly as quick or as perfectly symmetrical as the 2022-23 experience, that is how it works.

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So, as always, I will break my year-end letter into two parts: first, the timeless and enduring principles reinforced by these two years, and then a consideration of current conditions.

General Principles

  • The economy cannot be consistently forecast, nor the market consistently timed. Thus we believe that the highest probability method of capturing equities' long-term return is simply to remain invested all the time.

  • We are long-term owners of businesses as opposed to speculators on the near-term trend of stock prices.

  • Declines in the mainstream equity market, though frequent and sometimes quite significant, have always been surmounted as the word’s most consistently successful companies ceaselessly innovate.

  • Long-term investment success most reliably depends on making a plan and acting continuously on that plan.

  • An investment policy based on anticipating (or reacting to) current economic, financial or political events/trends most often fails in the long run.

 

Current Commentary

  • I remain convinced that the long-term disruptions and distortions resulting from the COVID pandemic are still working themselves out in the economy, the markets and society itself, in ways that cannot be predicted, much less rendered into coherent investment policy.

  • The primary financial event in response to COVID was an explosion in the money supply by central banks around the world. It predictably ignited a firestorm of inflation.

  • To stamp out that inflation, these same central banks implemented the sharpest, fastest interest rate spike in history. Both debt and equity markets cratered in response.

  • Despite this, economic activity just about everywhere has remained relatively robust; employment activity has been largely unaffected, at least so far.

  • Inflation has come down significantly. But prices for most goods and nearly all services remain elevated, straining middle-class budgets.

  • Capital markets around the world have recovered significantly as speculation now centers on when and how much lower interest rates may come to pass in 2024.

  • Significant uncertainties abound. Trends in both the Canadian and U.S deficits and national debts continue to appear unsustainable. In the U.S., unless reformed, Social Security and Medicare appear to be on paths leading to eventual insolvency. And, as we all know, a bitterly partisan U.S. presidential election looms later this year. The markets will face significant challenges in the year just beginning—as indeed they do every year.

 

My overall recommendations to you are essentially what they were two years ago at this time, and what they've always been. Let's revisit your most important long-term financial goals soon. If we find that those goals haven't changed, I'll recommend staying with our current plan. And if our plan isn't changing, there most probably will be no reason to alter your portfolio materially.

As always, I welcome your questions and comments, I look forward to talking with you soon, and thank you again for the opportunity to work with you. It's a privilege for me to do so.

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Recessions and bear markets are very easy to predict, except for the timing, cause, magnitude, duration, location, and policy response.

Morgan Housel

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JAN 2024

DEC 21, 2023

A Holiday To Remember

BY KEITH THOMSON

For the last decade it has been my tradition to close out the year by featuring an advert which I feel best captures the spirit of the holidays. Fortunately my 18 year-old daughter, Kiera, loves Christmas commercials and we have spent many happy hours together filtering through dozens of candidates to find our “Holiday Commercial of the Year Award”.  

This year was a tough one (in a good way!) but we managed to whittle down the competition to just three finalists. Amazon released a winner entitled Joy Ride, a story about life-long friendships made even more special when they're shared. It also featured a beautiful instrumental version of The Beatles song, “In My Life”.

The second finalist, Charlie’s Bar, was created for a pub in Northern Ireland. The total cost to produce it was £700 and filmed entirely on an iPhone. It shares the story of isolation and companionship - and promptly went viral. The pub owner, Una Burns, said she never expected her budget video to go viral and said, “The idea came from what we’ve seen over the years in the bar and it didn’t seem very ground-breaking at the time”. Make sure to watch it!

And finally, my completely unscientific and hugely biased winner of our 2023 "Holiday Commercial of the Year Award” goes to Chevrolet’s A Holiday to Remember. Chevrolet made this commercial with help from the Alzheimer’s Association. My own father passed away in December 2009 with dementia and I believe this ad hit home for thousands, given how many of us have been impacted by this horrible disease. I challenge you to watch it and not get, at least a little bit, choked up … I know I did.

As 2023 winds down I hope you have the opportunity to spend more time with family and friends and, during those quieter times, have a chance to reflect on the people and moments that bring significance to your lives.

Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year!

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Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more.

Dr. Seuss

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DEC 2023

NOV 21, 2023

My Crystal Ball is Broken

BY KEITH THOMSON

Recently, a client emailed me asking if I could draw on the wisdom of economists, money managers and/or market pundits regarding where the world (and presumably the stock market) was heading. I had to share with her the brutal truth that nobody knows, with any degree of consistent accuracy, what the future holds. 
 
I was reminded of this fact while reading a prominent Canadian economist’s comments from a few years ago about the direction of gold prices. It would be an understatement to say that he could not have been more wrong. Having kept track of his “predictions”, I have come to the conclusion he has been wrong so often that, ironically,  he is a reliable contrarian indicator regarding the economy and stock markets. Unfortunately, “B.S." well packaged often sounds like wisdom.
 
The world is full of so-called-experts who profess to have crystal balls that allows them to divine the short to medium term direction of the economy and stock market. Usually, and in order to attract the most attention, these predictions are of the alarmingly negative variety. As 
Morgan Housel writes, “Pessimism always sounds smarter than optimism because optimism sounds like a sales pitch while pessimism sounds like someone trying to help you.”

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Please click through the above image to increase the size.

 

As the chart above illustrates, attempting to time the market is a fool’s errand. Since January 2003 to December 2022, if you had missed just the 10 best days of the market, your return would have been eviscerated by more than 50%. Missing the 60 best days over that almost two decade period and your returns would have been reduced by an incredible 93%! The lesson from these statistics should be - why even bother to try and time the market given the futility of such an activity. For more on this subject I encourage you to click through to Ben Carlson’s excellent article

Thank you

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People have always had this craving to have someone tell them the future. Long ago, kings would hire people to read sheep guts. There’s always been a market for people who pretend to know the future. Listening to today’s forecasters is just as crazy as when the king hired the guy to look at the sheep guts. It happens over and over and over.

Charlie Munger

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NOV 2023

OCT 27, 2023

What The Negroni Can Teach Us About Investing

BY KEITH THOMSON

The Negroni cocktail is one of my favourite libations. Its three ingredients (gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari) make for a tasty combination of sweet and bitter, with the help of an orange garnish to smooth out of the latter. Not surprisingly there is a huge number of variations on this classic with the Boulevardier  at the top of my list. In my opinion some of these variations unfortunately take a bizarre and very bad turn, such as the Sushi Rice Negroni (click the link if you really must know). However, after sampling many of these versions, I always find myself coming back to the classic … and I’m partial to just one large ice cube so that it doesn't melt too quickly and dilute the wonderful flavour combination.

So what does the classic Negroni and investing your wealth with wisdom have to do with one another? In a word, simplicity. For me, and referencing Occam’s razor, simplicity has always, and forever will be, the hallmark of a well designed investment portfolio. As John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard Group wrote in his excellent book, Enough, “Financial institutions operate by a kind of reverse Occam’s razor. They have a large incentive to favour the complex and costly over the simple and cheap, quite the opposite of what most investors need and ought to want”. Bogle goes on to write, “Innovation in finance is designed largely to benefit those who create the complex new products, rather than those who own them”.

Reviewing my “simple”, diversified stock portfolio while enjoying a Negroni.

 

I would argue that a good example of this “curse of the complex” includes the vast majority of what, euphemistically, are referred to as Alternative Investments. These would include hedge funds, private equity, and high cost real estate “opportunities”. As this article from Institutional Investor  points out, not only did “Alts” not deliver better returns, but adding them to portfolios actually reduced significantly their long term performance. This is not all that surprising given their high fees … not to mention their limited liquidity and/or lack of transparency. 

So when your friends brag about their “Alt” investments at the next cocktail party, just go ahead and order a “simple” Negroni. While you are enjoying your beverage, appreciate the fact that your beautifully diversified stock portfolio is made up of some of the most profitable companies in the world. Its simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. 

Thank you

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When confronted with multiple solutions to a problem, choose the simplest one.

William of Occam (Occam’s razor or rule)

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OCT 2023

JUL 24, 2023

Reflections On The Last Six Months

BY KEITH THOMSON

I'm even more delighted than usual to report to you at midyear on the events of the last six months, and on the further progress of our long-term plan. But first, as always, a brief recitation of our principles.

The Ideas That Guide Us

  • You and I are long-term, goal-focused, planning-driven owners of broadly diversified portfolios of enduringly successful companies. As such, we act continuously on our plan, as opposed to reacting episodically to current events and conditions.

  • We're convinced that the economy cannot be consistently forecast, nor the market consistently timed. We infer from this that our best chance to capture something close to the full long-term return of equities is to ride out their frequent, sometimes significant, but historically always temporary declines.

  • These will continue to be the bedrock convictions that inform our investment policy, as we pursue your most cherished financial goals together.

Current Commentary

  • After declining sharply for most of 2022, the S&P 500 ended the year at 3,840 or down 18%.

  • As the year turned, it seemed as if the North American economy might well be in a no-win situation. Either The Bank of Canada/Federal Reserve would tighten credit conditions enough to stamp out inflation, thereby plunging us into recession. Or it would relent, avoiding recession but permitting inflation to burn on. In either case, we were assured that corporate earnings must be about to decline significantly, boding ill for “the stock market.”

 

To this apparently intractable situation, the first half of 2023 added three new and potentially critical uncertainties: the specter of U.S. sovereign default due to the federal debt ceiling not being raised, a wave of bank failures that seemed to threaten the U.S. banking system itself, and a renewed outbreak of fear surrounding the U.S. dollar's status as the world's reserve currency.

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Yet after enduring that relentless onslaught of crises, real and imagined, the S&P 500 closed out the first half of 2023 at 4,450, up 16%. I'm almost tempted to say, “You read that right,” and leave you to draw your own conclusions. Instead, I'll just repeat Peter Lynch's timeless maxim: “The real key to making money in stocks is not to get scared out of them.”

In that sense, these six months represent for me—and I devoutly hope for you—a successful investing career in microcosm. You and I did all that can be asked of us: amid well-nigh universal pessimism, we didn't get scared out.

Rather, we stayed focused on our goals and on our long-term plan, with confidence that the managements of the companies we own were husbanding our capital with diligence, while they sought out new and potentially greater opportunities amid the adversity.

In summary, everything that happened (and didn't happen) in the first half of 2023 turned out not to matter much. What mattered was that together we chose not to react. Is it possible that a lifetime of patient, disciplined investment success is just that simple? I certainly believe it can be, and I sincerely hope you do too.

Thank you, as always, for being my clients. It is a privilege to serve you.

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Benign neglect is the secret to long-term investing success. If you change your investment policy, you are likely to be wrong; if you change it with a sense of urgency, you’re guaranteed to be wrong.

Charley Ellis

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SEP 13, 2023

Uncharitable

BY KEITH THOMSON

"Charities spend too much on overhead!” ... we all hear this phrase often. It’s also continuously reinforced by media and sometimes, so much so, that it is most likely the first thing individuals ask when they’re considering donating to those causes that are meaningful to them.
 
Dan Pallotta published the book, “UnCharitable” to specifically address a number of misconceptions that many donors labour under including overhead metrics that are often meaningless, and sometimes even fraudulent, ways to compare efficiencies between nonprofit organizations. Pallotta went on to give one of the most highly viewed TED Talks where he clearly articulated how charities are rewarded more for how little they spend … rather than for what they get done! As he says, “The next time you are looking at a charity, don’t ask about the rate of their overhead, ask about the scale of their dreams”.
 
On September 22nd the feature length documentary, “UnCharitable”, will be released at movie theatres across North America. (I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to watch a pre-screening earlier this month.) If you have ever donated to charity, or plan to do so in the future, I strongly recommend that you make the time to watch this hard hitting film. I guarantee it will change how you choose to invest your charitable dollars. For more information about the movie (and where to watch it), please go to the website. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out the trailer for the movie.

Thank you.

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You want to make $50 million dollars selling violent video games to kids, go for it. We'll put you on the cover of ‘Wired’ magazine. But you want to make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria, and you're considered a parasite yourself.

Dan Pallotta

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JUL 2023
SEP 2023

JUN 15, 2023

Is that it?

BY KEITH THOMSON

The S&P 500 index (made up of the 500 largest companies in the States) recently re-entered another bull market. Technically defined, that is a re-bound of 20% from its most recent lows from this past October. Keep in mind that there is absolutely no guarantee that the market will not re-test those market lows. However, based on history, the chance of this happening is statistically unlikely. 

Since markets around the world began their bear market decline in early 2022, it has been challenging, understandably, for the average investor to “hang in there” given the constant negative news … from the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, rising interest rates, to the most recent debt ceiling negotiations south of the border. However, if one steps back and takes the longer term view the facts are crystal clear (reflected in the chart below). There are many more bull markets compared to bear markets and they last a lot longer!

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On average, it takes two years for the markets to fully recover to their previous highs. Based on this  “average”, this would mean your portfolio could be making new highs in early 2024. Two years may seem like an awfully long time to wait but, for an investor with a long term time horizon and a well diversified portfolio, patience has always been well rewarded.

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Our capital markets are simply a relocation centre; they relocate the wealth from the impatient to the patient.

Warren Buffett

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JUN-2023
MAY 2023

MAY 16, 2023

My weekend with Warren and Charlie

BY KEITH THOMSON

Earlier this month I was able to finally check off one of the items on my life “bucket list”, specifically, attending the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting.
 
Having to re-schedule my trip in 2020 owing to the Covid-19 outbreak my main concern was (somewhat morbidly), would I finally get to see Warren Buffet (age 92) and Charlie Munger (age 99). I am happy to share that they did not disappoint! 

For over five hours, Buffet and Munger addressed an audience of approximately 20,000 shareholders. What I found truly amazing was that these nonagenarians were able to answer dozens of questions in concentrated sound bites of wisdom … both investing and life in general.

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This is as close as I got to Messrs. Buffet and Munger.

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How close I actually got to Warren and Charlie.

These are a few of my favourite quotes from the two partners of Berkshire Hathaway during the Q&A session.

I thought Munger had the funniest line when he said, “Practising law today is like a pie eating contest where, if you succeed, you get to eat more pie!”.

Buffet on value investing, “Value investing will be fine; people will continue to do dumb things.” What I believe he meant is that human nature never changes. As individuals, especially when we engage in “group think” (i.e. stock market bubbles), there will always be investment opportunities. 

On a more personal note Buffet shared, “If you want to know how to live your life write your obituary and then reverse engineer it so that you can live up to it.”

And on a related subject, “If your kids are reading your Will for the first time after you have died, this is a mistake that you won’t be able to correct.”

Munger’s advice for the good life: "It’s so simple, spend less than you earn, avoid toxic people, toxic activities, keep learning all your life, defer gratification, because you prefer it that way, and if you do it all this way you will succeed. If not, you will need a lot of unusual luck.” Charlie emphasized the toxic people comment when he said, “Get them the hell out of your life!”

The line that has lingered with me since the Annual Meeting was again from Buffet. Specifically, “I don’t know anyone who is kind to die without friends. I know plenty people with money to die without friends.“

For more wisdom directly from Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger I encourage you to click thru to the following link:

Vitaliy Katsenelson 🇺🇦
twitter.com

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If you're not confused, you don't understand things very well.

Charlie Munger

 

commenting on the state of the global economy

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APR 2023

APR 15, 2023

Please… just tell me when it will be over!

BY KEITH THOMSON

The last time the market made an all-time high (as defined by the S&P 500) was on Monday, January 3rd, 2022. Put another way, we have now being waiting 458 long days for our portfolios to return also to their all-time dollar highs. As one of my more eloquent clients stated, “That sucks!”. Emotionally, I find myself agreeing with his pithy remark.

However, and this is the point, when it comes to making intelligent investment decisions there is always the danger that our “heart” will drive our “head”. This is especially true when the latest 12 month return of the S&P 500 through to the end of March is a loss of around 8%. For perspective, one-year losses of 8% or worse have only occurred in 15% of historical returns.

Perhaps surprisingly 458 days waiting for the market to return to its all-time high is, historically speaking, not a long period of time. As highlighted in the chart below, sometimes a complete recovery from a bear market takes considerably longer. Fortunately, over the long term, the market has 
always recovered. 

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To conclude, and referencing Mr. Buffet’s quote that began this missive, “patience” is critical for one’s success in the stock market. For more on this topic I encourage you to click thru to Ben Carlson’s excellent blog, “Why the Stock Market Makes You Feel Bad All The Time”.

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The stock market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to the patient.

Warren Buffett

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MAR 3023

MAR 6, 2023

Time to feed the goose

BY KEITH THOMSON

Please find below two CI Private Wealth tax resources which may assist you in dealing with your 2022 and 2023 tax reporting.

CIPW 2023 Personal Tax Calendar

CIPW 2022 Personal Income Tax Organizer

As we prepare for this year’s “plucking” perhaps the article below will help minimize the “hissing”. The article, written by Ryan Holiday, is directed towards an American audience (with a Stoic bent). However, if you change the date to April 30th, the message is no different for us Canadians.​

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The Taxes of Life
Daily Stoic - Ryan Holiday​

"April 17th is the day that Americans pay their taxes. It’s a day of mixed reactions depending on your outlook and politics. Some choose to focus on the good things their taxes pay for and have paid for since Roman times—the roads, the armies, services for the poor. Others focus on the waste (tax corruption and waste is also as old as Rome) or question the morality of the system altogether. Last year when we posted a note about taxes, a number of comments wrote angrily that “taxation is theft!” while others angrily responded to those commenters with defenses of their own. (All this anger being somewhat ironic for Stoics.)​​

In a way, this misses the point. What we should be doing is zooming out and looking at the larger picture: People have been complaining about their taxes since the beginning of civilization. And what has become of it? Taxes are higher than ever and they’re dead. Death and taxes. There is no escape. So let us waste no time and create no misery kicking and screaming about it. Let us not add to our tax bracket the cost of frustration and resentment.​

Taxes are an inevitable part of life. There is a cost to everything we do. As Seneca wrote to Lucilius, “All the things which cause complaint or dread are like the taxes of life—things from which, my dear Lucilius, you should never hope for exemption or seek escape.” Income taxes are not the only taxes you pay in life. They are just the financial form. Everything we do has a toll attached to it. Waiting around is a tax on traveling. Rumors and gossip are the taxes that come from acquiring a public persona. Disagreements and occasional frustration are taxes placed on even the happiest of relationships. Theft is a tax on abundance and having things that other people want. Stress and problems are tariffs that come attached to success. And on and on and on.​

There’s no reason or time to be angry about any of this. Instead, we should be grateful. Because taxes—literal or figurative—are impossible without wealth. So what are you going to focus on? That you owe something, or that you are lucky enough to own something that can be taxed."

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Taxes are our way of feeding the goose that lays the golden eggs of freedom, democracy and enterprise. Someone says, 'Well, the goose eats too much!’. That’s probably true. But better a fat goose than no goose at all.

Jim Rohn

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FEB 2023

FEB 22, 2023

The grand unifying theory for successful investing

BY KEITH THOMSON

Over the last few years I have found myself increasingly attracted to living a life based on the tenants of Stoicism. This school of philosophy was founded over 2,000 years ago and is currently enjoying a huge renaissance. One of Stoicism’s fundamental principles is the concept of control. Or as Epictetus, arguably the school’s most famous student, once wrote:

“To achieve freedom and happiness, you need to grasp this basic truth: some things are under your control, and others are not. Within our control are your own opinions, aspirations, desires, and the things that repel you. We always have a choice about the contents and character of our inner lives. Not within your control is literally everything else. You must remember these things are externals, and none of your concern.”

Delineating between what is “in your control” and “out of your control” is also critically important when it comes to the school of investing. To that end, I share with you below the Stoic influenced graphic which I refer, somewhat ambitiously, as … “The Grand Unifying Theory for Successful Investing".

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With investing, as with most things in life, knowing what to ignore is more often than not the key to success. Ignoring the things you can not control (i.e. stock market, inflation, corporate earnings, interest rates, etc.) is the first step towards a lifetime of investment success. 
 
Step two is focusing on what you can control (i.e. your asset allocation, behaviour, media consumption, taxes, etc.). The good news is that only two of these “in my control” items (i.e. your behaviour and asset allocation) account for the overwhelming majority of your long term investment returns. Specifically, making sure your behaviour is governed by your head and not your heart and that your asset allocation is heavily weighted towards a diversified portfolio of profitable companies. 
 
And there you have it, “The Grand Unifying Theory for Successful Investing”. Easy to comprehend … but actually quite difficult to do. 

P.S. If you are interested in learning more about Stoicism I can not think of a better introduction than Marcus Aurelius’ book, “Meditations”.

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The single most important variable in your quest for equity investment success is also the only variable that you ultimately control: your own behavior.

Nick Murray

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JAN 2023

JAN 16, 2023

What we believe

BY KEITH THOMSON

If you are a client reading this, I trust you are a long-term, goal-focused, plan-driven equity investor. We believe that lifetime investment success comes from acting continuously on our plan. Likewise, we also believe substandard returns, and even lifetime investment failure, come from reacting to current events. The unforeseen and indeed unforeseeable economic, market, political and geopolitical chaos of the three years since the onset of the pandemic demonstrates conclusively that the economy can never be consistently forecast nor the market consistently timed. Therefore we continue to believe that the most reliable way to capture the full return of equities is to ride out their frequent, but historically always temporary, declines. These will always be the bedrock convictions that inform our investment policy, as we pursue your most important financial goals together.

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Unrelieved chaos continued in 2022. The major drama of the year—and, it seems likely, of the coming year—were the central bank’s belated but very aggressive efforts to bring inflation under control. After rising seven times in the nearly 13 years between the trough of the Global Financial Crisis (March 9, 2009) and January 3, 2022 the U.S. equity market sold off sharply; at its most recent trough in October, the S&P 500 was down 27%. (Bond prices also swooned in response to sharply higher interest rates.)
 
It seems to me more than a little ironic that, after the serial nightmares through which it's suffered since the onset of the pandemic early in 2020, the mainstream equity market managed to close out 2022 somewhat higher than it was at the end of 2019 (3,840 versus 3,231 for a gain of 19%). Not great, but not at all bad for three years during which our entire economic, financial, political and geopolitical world blew up. If anything, this tends to validate our core investment strategy over these three years, which—simply stated—has been: stand fast, tune out the noise and continue to work your long-term plan. Needless to say, that continues to be my recommendation, and in the strongest possible terms.
 
The burning question of the hour seems to be whether and to what extent the U.S. Fed and the Bank of Canada in its inflation-fighting zeal, might tip the economy into recession at some point—if it hasn't already done so. Over the coming year, the way this plays out may determine the near-term trend of equity prices. My position continues to be that this outcome is quite simply unknowable, and that one cannot make rational investment policy out of an unknowable. That said, I continue to believe strongly that whatever it takes to put out the inflationary fire will be well worth it. Inflation is a cancer that affects everyone in our society; if recession proves to be the painful chemotherapy required to destroy that cancer … then so be it.
 
Although this may be hard to remember every time the market gyrates (and financial journalism shrieks) over some meaningless monthly economic datum or other, you and I are not investing in the macroeconomy. Our portfolios largely consist of the ownership of enduringly successful companies—businesses that are even now refining their strategies opportunistically to meet the needs and wants of an eight billion person world. I like what we own. As I always say—but can never say enough—thank you for being my clients. It is a genuine privilege to serve you.

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Recessions and bear markets are very easy to predict, except for the timing, cause, magnitude, duration, location, and policy response.

Morgan Housel

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