Monday, June 26, 2017

Trust Issues

So the bank that I have trusted to do my banking: held my chequing / savings accounts and lines of credit (personal and business accounts) for the past 35 years has fallen into the "there is never just one cockroach" category: "RBC faces scrutiny following report of excess investor fees"

Am I surprised? Not really. We as Canadians throw way too much trust into these vaunted institutions that we believe to be so safe, secure and truly have our best interests at heart (mostly because that is what their advertising convinces us that they do).

It is however just selling.

The shareholders are the folks at the top of the priority list, revenues and earnings (from fees, etc.) take precedence, while client service (a cost of doing business) remains vulnerable to economies of scale and cost cutting.

Not at High Rock. We have no shareholders to report to, we report only to our clients. Our signed Voluntary Code of Conduct for the Stewardship of your Wealth is our guarantee that our clients get precedence.

We do not sell. As anyone who knows me will attest to, I am a lousy salesperson: no slick pitch, no "pressure to close". If it makes sense to build a good working relationship, then we shall work together, but I won't chase you down to sign you up.

I might call you up to re-connect (now that I no longer have a non-solicitation issue), but I only want you to know what it is that I have been putting my efforts towards for the last couple of years: a better way for you to get your money growing and at the same time, taking a lot less risk.

I may suggest that your current advice channel is being a bit complacent about risk, likely painting a pretty picture about the state of markets and returns over the last year. The returns over the last year will mean nothing if they are not captured before the pending equity market correction, your bond portfolio will likely not be in a position to give you the protection that you need. Correlations are changing.

That's what our clients pay us to look after: their protection.

Some RBC clients were overpaying, apparently. I wonder how well they were being looked after?

At High Rock we are trying to change the way that people think about who looks after their money and why and what you get for the fees that you pay: individual attention specific to your goals, fee transparency above the regulatory requirement experienced portfolio management, lots of two-way communication and plenty of sleep at night. All in all, a better client experience.

Join us!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thank You Vancouver Friends!

I really was not prepared for the outpouring of support that I received from old friends, some whom I have not spoken to in a couple of years, I was truly touched. 

Further, it was a great chance to unwind a few of the non-truths that have sprouted while I was under my period of non-solicitation:

For the record: High Rock Capital Management Inc. is not a "mutual fund company" and we do not sell mutual funds.

We are a separately incorporated  portfolio management company who has 2 divisions: One division, what we refer to as the "Institutional Division" manages (sub-advises) very successfully, I may add, on a number of funds for Scotia Managed Companies. 

Scotia Managed Companies, a division of Scotiabank has been recently sold to Marquest Asset Management where we will continue to grow and evolve our fund management services in line with our level of highly regarded expertise.

Our "Private Client Division" manages money for our private clients on a Separately Managed Accounts basis (where your accounts are held at Raymond James Custodial Services for your safety and each individual security that you own is in your account, protected under the Canadian Investor Protection Fund).

We do not pool our clients money.

There are great synergies between our institutional division and our private client division that allow us to trade more inexpensively and pass those lower costs (and investments that are not available to retail investors) on to our private clients (lower fees). We have a nice brief "Introductory Webinar" that out-lines this and a number of other essentials.

Importantly, High Rock is and I am licensed under the Ontario, BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan (and soon to be Manitoba and PEI) securities commissions. 

My licensing under IIROC was not removed / suspended, it was not necessary with the updated licensing with the other securities commissions and was simply not renewed as it was not necessary.

As my licensing is in good standing: OSC Registrant Search

Hopefully, that will dispel that particular rumour!

Our focus for our private clients is on risk and the return per unit of risk taken. What concerns me most (gleaned from some Vancouver conversations) is that many with whom I have had the chance to talk to, just have not clearly and fully been told about the level of risk in their portfolios. In fact, it appears to be just glazed over as if it does not matter at all (a balanced portfolio will inevitably be just fine). 

Well Paul and I, with our vast level of experience will argue that it is just not that simple and it has been great to sit and watch the reaction to those folks to whom we can impart our knowledge. 

So far, a most excellent journey!
So looking forward to more of the same today!

And ... I do have a couple of open time slots for a coffee, adult beverage or jaunt around the sea wall if you would like to rekindle our friendship! Let me know!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Looking Forward To Sunny Vancouver

In an effort to stay current with our more distant clients and bring a personal touch to our message, I get to visit one of the most beautiful cities in the world tomorrow through Friday. I am thrilled to be able to say that High Rock is truly a Canadian company with clients from coast to coast (I will be on the east coast in August).

As you regular readers know, we are passionate about looking after our clients and their families and always put them first (Our Voluntary Code of Conduct for the Stewardship of Your Wealth).

This means that from time to time we need to see these folks face to face, if for no other reason than to just say hi. Knowing and understanding our clients and their goals is more than just numbers on paper. In so many of our client relationships we have multiple generations of grandparents, parents and their kids and there is lots of inter-generational interest to see them all succeed.

The goals for the grandparents are usually somewhat different from those of the parents, but for the children especially, there is not only a huge potential to learn early about saving, but what really is the kicker is the compounding curve and the time factor. It doesn't take much, just a bit of patience and commitment:

We call it the "Aha!" moment, when the young 20 something gets a look at this. Just a little bit of regular saving and you are on your way.

So I will travel to visit our clients (and a few who have expressed an interest in learning about how we are different and better and want to become clients and I would also be happy to include any Vancouver readers into my schedule if you have not already asked) to work to truly understand their goals and how we might best help their families continue to prosper.

See you all soon!

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Recession Is Inevitable
The Question Is When?

Historically, when the yield spread (difference in yields) between the 2 year US Government Bond yield (gold line) and the 10 year (green line) and 30 year (purple line) narrow close to 0, a recession has followed.

If inflation remains below 2% and slower than expected economic growth suggests that it will remain that way for some time into the future, bond investors will continue to buy longer-term bonds because they will not require the inflation "premium" that they would otherwise want to have as protection from future inflation. Long-term bond prices will rise and yields will move lower (see Paul's Blog from June 14th).

At the same time, the US Federal Reserve (the "Fed") is anticipating that lower unemployment numbers will soon push wages higher which will help drive inflation higher and justify their interest rate increases (which will push the 2 year bond yield higher).

In essence, this will push the yield spread narrower.

So if the Fed is correct and higher wages evolve (although until now lower unemployment has not generated much in the way of wage inflation), bond investors may need to reverse course, which would push longer-term bond yields higher and put the odds of a recession back to later, rather than sooner. 

At the moment however, bond investors, recently whipped in two directions because the so-called "Trump Trade" or "Reflation Trade" bandwagon, that traders jumped on after the election, sputtered and went the other way (i.e. the inflation premium was built-in and then rather quickly taken out). The spread differential between the 2 year bond yield and 30 year bond yield has come all the way back to pre-election levels:

After that differential reached a little over 200 basis points (or 2%), it has come back to below 150 basis points (or 1.5%). If the Fed tightens by 1/4% 2 more times, this spread will narrow to less than 100 basis points (if inflation expectations remain the same for bond investors) or more if the economy slows further.

The Fed owns a lot of bonds (purchased during 3 rounds of Quantitative Easing) that they want to sell to reduce the size of their balance sheet, but they have made that quite clear and bond investors have had time to build that outlook into their expectations.

So it is down to trying to determine who is right on inflation (and economic growth): The historically over-optimistic US central bank (trying to keep consumers confident and spending) or bond investors.

The thing about bond investors is that it is their money that is at risk, so being wrong is an expensive proposition. 

Central bankers are, by and large, economists (pretty smart ones at that) but with no real "skin in the game", other than their reputation (which time always repairs). 

We also know that economy's are cyclical and after 8 years this economic cycle is getting long in the tooth. All the anticipated goodies hoped for from the Trump administration are taking some time to come to fruition and when they finally (if, as and when) do get initiated, there will be some lag time before they have the desired impact.

It may just be in time to help pull the US into the next economic cycle, but first, the current one has to end. 

The question is: when? 
The answer is: stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Gloves Are Off!

Last week I wrote about the Capital Economics conference that I attended on June 5 where they suggested that the next move by the Bank of Canada may be to cut rates by 1/4%.

Yesterday, Carolyn Wilkins, Senior Deputy Governor of The Bank of Canada (in a speech given at the Asper School of Business in Winnipeg) stated that "Monetary policy actions influence financial conditions and economic decisions right away but can take as long as two years to have their full effect on inflation. To ensure that inflation gets back to target on a sustainable basis, we must consider not only current economic conditions but also how they will evolve". 

Here is the part that got bond and currency traders all fired up yesterday: "If you saw a stop light ahead, you would begin letting up on the gas to slow down smoothly. (Really? When I drive, what I witness is not so predictable).

The kicker: "You do not want to have to slam on the brakes at the last second". Down went bond prices, up went bond yields and the C$!, with traders taking it that this meant some kind of immediate tightening of monetary policy was now being put into play.

Just for fun, I thought it might be interesting to have a look back at the last couple of years of headlines from the BOC's quarterly Monetary Policy Reports:

"Economic growth in Canada is expected to average 2.1% in 2015 and 2.4% in 2016 with a return to full capacity around the end of 2016".

This coincided with a cut in the Bank Rate to 1% from 1.25%.

On April 15, 2015 the MPR headline was: "Real GDP in Canada is expected to grow by 1.9% in 2015 and 2.5% in 2016 and by 2.0% in 2017.

Then on July 15, 2015: "Economic growth in Canada is projected to average just over 1% in 2015 and about 2.5% in 2016 and 2017."

2015 GDP growth expectations went from 2.1% to 1.0% in just six months.

And they cut the Bank Rate by another 1/4%.

Fast forward to January 2016: "Growth in Canada's economy is expected to reach 1.4% this year (2016) and accelerate to 2.4% in 2017."

So, the pattern has been somewhat overly optimistic growth and inflation targets that over time gradually get revised lower and lower again. There have been plenty of "stop lights" in the distance, but they keep turning green (apparently) and the "gas" pedal has been pushed a little harder. 

The latest Monetary Policy Report headline: April, 2017: "Canada's economy to grow by 2.5% this year and just below 2% in 2018 and 2019."

Stay tuned for the July report, should be a "barn burner"!

For you floating rate borrowers out there, I would suggest sticking to the plan, if short-term rates are going up (IE if GDP and inflation targets are met, which has not been the case over the past couple of years), it will likely not happen until 2018 (six months to a year away and probably not by more than 1/4 to 1/2%). Bond / Currency traders might be a little restless at the moment (not much to do since the great short-covering rally slapped them around a little) and who knows how the housing market is all going to shake out.

Today is Webinar Tuesday (4:15pm EDT, live, for clients) at High Rock, or feel free to tune in at or about 5pm EDT for the recorded version where we will talk about this and any other important developments in the global economy, financial markets and the world of wealth management.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Giving A Little Back To the Community

I grew up learning the importance of trying to assist those who were experiencing challenges in life, regardless of the root cause. Getting them back on their feet, so that they could be making their contribution to the community, was the most important goal, regardless of politics or religious issues.

A couple of years ago I came across a group that was doing just that. 

"New Circles Community Services is a not-for -profit, grass roots agency that builds strong and caring communities by providing basic necessities to those living in poverty. They provide much needed clothing, social programs and skill building opportunities to individuals living on a low income, many of whom are newcomers to Canada."

"Their core mission is to ensure that local families struggling with poverty can meet their basic need for adequate clothing."

But "clothing is just the beginning". They know how to build strong and caring communities that provide programs to help them integrate socially and economically into the community.

My wife Mary and I have assisted in the sorting room, attended graduations of some of their trainees (very moving because you can see the sense of accomplishment as these young people re-enter the world with newly attained skills) and have been able to witness first hand the wonderful work done by founder Cindy Blakely and her staff including Executive Director Alykhan Suleman, Diana Gibbs, Virginia Trotter and Andrea McGavin. 

On Monday, May 29th, High Rock Capital sponsored a hole and entered a foursome in the 5th annual New Circles' Golf Classic where they were able to raise a record high $70,000. I was proud to have in our group, Olympian Maxine Armstrong, Mary Tomenson and hockey legend Jim Lye (we played together on the same championship team in 1981, but I had not seen him since then!).  Jim won the men's longest drive competition, although Maxine's drive on the same hole was longer! Jim's daughter Joey plays softball for Team Canada.

We had a lovely and enjoyable day, but more importantly we were able to help New Circles raise money so that they could continue to do their great work in our community!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

US Fed To Hike 3 More Times In 2017

So says Capital Economics' Chief US Economist, Paul Ashworth. More key take-away's from yesterday's Capital Economics Annual Conference:

Monetary Policy (US):
  • Another 0.75% of tightening this year.
  • Fed Funds rate 1.50% to 1.75% by end of 2017.
  • Rate to peak at 2.75 to 3% in 2019 H1 (first half).
  • Balance sheet normalization to begin "later this year".

Trump Agenda:
  • Tax reform will be modest and delayed until next year.
  • Congress also needs to deal with 2018 budget (by Oct.) and debt ceiling (by Aug.).
  • White House progress hampered by scandal and incompetence.

  • Economy is set to grow at a decent pace this year.
  • Federal reserve to raise rates faster than many expect.
  • Tax reform still more likely than not.
  • Another recession is coming, the question is when?

With a caveat on the recession date: Paul Ashworth said 2019 with tax reform, 2nd half of 2018 without it.

Interestingly, there was little mention of the record amounts of US household debt, which with three 1/4% interest rate increases, should have an impact on the consumer with an increasing cost to servicing their debt.

My take was that they (Capital Economics) expect that the consumer will remain capable of spending by saving less: with improving household wealth (housing price increases and equity market strength) as well as further job growth expected to lead to higher incomes (but not yet, in the most recent data, anyway).

I will let the experts debate the possible outcomes, but I would suggest that herein lies some pretty significant risk that may be impactful on future consumer spending (US consumer is 2/3 of the US economy) and US economic growth outside of the political issues. 

As always, our job for our clients (at High Rock) is to identify risk, assess it and build investing strategies around it. That is not something you will get with a "buy and hold" or "Robo" portfolio structure. 

All this and more to be discussed on our weekly client webinar today, the recorded version which we will post on our (High Rock) website at or about 5pm EDT.