Investing Roadmap Part 2: How much do you need to retire?

In my previous post, I spoke about having goals for investing. My goals fall into the second category, Investing to achieve some target and/or goal, and that goal is to not have to work.

Now, most people don’t want to work. Given the choice, I would rather sit on my balcony all day sipping an espresso reading books, researching companies, or in the living room watching a good film. However, work is a reality of life: we have to pay the bills somehow (how will I buy the espresso?). So, to be able to get to the point where I don’t have to work to make money, I need to have some inflow of cash which handles all of my regular expenses. This is a fairly mechanical exercise:

  1. Identify your monthly expenses, and multiply by 12 to annualize
  2. Add in any annual expenses (e.g. property tax on your residence, if you own a home)
  3. Add inflation up to the point that you wish to retire
  4. Factor in personal taxes

After the four steps above, you’ll have your required annual pre-tax income for when you wish to stop working.  Here is an example:

Monthly Expenses
Rent $1,500.00
Groceries $300.00
Entertainment $400.00
Insurance $100.00
Utilities $200.00
Transportation $200.00
Pet care $75.00
Mobile phone $85.00
Internet $50.00
Netflix / TV $10.00
Computer / Technology $100.00
Maintenance Fees $350.00
Emergency Funds $200.00
Total Monthly $3,570.00
Annualized $42,840.00
Annual Expenses
Vacation $5,000.00
Property Taxes $3,000.00
Total Annual Expenses $8,000.00
Total Expenses $50,840.00
Implied Tax Rate 40%
Total Annual (Gross) $84,733.33

From the example above, if I were to stop working today, I would need ~$84.7M ($M=000) in annual income to maintain my current lifestyle.

However, there is a small wrinkle in that this is in today’s dollars, and we need to factor in inflation (step #3 above).  For example, if we assume 2% inflation (i.e. on average costs will go up 2% next year), our pre-tax income shoots up to ~$86.4M.  And to further complicate things, inflation is an unknown: we don’t know what inflation will be.  Say for example I wish to stop working in 10 years, in 2025.  What inflation rate do I use for 2016, 2017, 2018, etc.?

My own workplace uses a 2.25% inflation assumption for each year.  I would prefer to account for some variability, and one way to account for this variability is to run a simulation, using a range of acceptable inflation values.  Specifically, a Monte Carlo simulation, wherein I have run 100,000 trials using an inflation assumption of 2.25% +/- 1.00% per year for the next 27 years.  One iteration of the simulation gives results such as the following:

Year Pre-tax income
(Jan 1)
Inflation Assumption Pre-tax income (Dec 31)
2015 $85,000 3.21% $87,729
2016 $87,729 3.13% $90,474
2017 $90,474 2.68% $92,899
2018 $92,899 1.29% $94,098
2019 $94,098 1.89% $95,876
2020 $95,876 2.56% $98,330
2021 $98,330 2.13% $100,425
2022 $100,425 2.67% $103,106
2023 $103,106 3.15% $106,354
2024 $106,354 1.39% $107,832
2025 $107,832 1.87% $109,849
2026 $109,849 1.93% $111,969
2027 $111,969 2.64% $114,925
2028 $114,925 1.67% $116,844
2029 $116,844 2.60% $119,882
2030 $119,882 3.24% $123,766
2031 $123,766 2.79% $127,219
2032 $127,219 2.88% $130,883
2033 $130,883 1.88% $133,344
2034 $133,344 1.91% $135,891
2035 $135,891 1.79% $138,323
2036 $138,323 2.36% $141,588
2037 $141,588 2.85% $145,623
2038 $145,623 2.85% $149,773
2039 $149,773 2.67% $153,772
2040 $153,772 2.89% $158,216
2041 $158,216 2.17% $161,649

As you can see, by the time we hit 2041, to live at my current lifestyle, I would require $158.2M in annual income.  The inflation also bounces around a lot, as each year the inflation is estimates to be somewhere between 1.25% and 3.25%.

Now, if we run this simulation 100,000 times, we get the following for the required income in 2041 (only first 10 entries shown):

Sequence # 2041 pre-tax income
1 $158,216.33
2 $160,945.75
3 $142,668.57
4 $160,712.46
5 $160,133.85
6 $160,235.08
7 $146,449.32
8 $150,616.91
9 $161,482.05
10 $152,456.35

But, what do we do with those numbers?  The answers is to perform some statistical analysis on each year, and come up with what we feel is a reliable number.  If we focus on 2041 as our example, here is the histogram:

Histogram of Required Income in 2041

For the above, we have a median required income of $154,922.16, and a mean income of $154,991.19.  However, the median and mean are the mid-point and average required incomes respectively.  Whilst the median is $154,992.16, there is a chance that it will be above that.  What I am interested in is the required income with a certain level of confidence.  If we do some more analysis on the histogram, we can break up all of the salary ranges into buckets, and from there interpolate the expected required income in 2041 with 95% confidence:

Bucket # Low High Count Cumulative Probability
1 $134,510.51 $135,685.09 1 0.0010%
2 $135,685.09 $136,859.67 0 0.0010%
3 $136,859.67 $138,034.25 1 0.0020%
4 $138,034.25 $139,208.83 6 0.0080%
5 $139,208.83 $140,383.41 12 0.0200%
6 $140,383.41 $141,557.99 55 0.0750%
7 $141,557.99 $142,732.57 156 0.2310%
8 $142,732.57 $143,907.15 338 0.5690%
9 $143,907.15 $145,081.73 682 1.2510%
10 $145,081.73 $146,256.31 1296 2.5470%
11 $146,256.31 $147,430.89 2098 4.6450%
12 $147,430.89 $148,605.47 3325 7.9700%
13 $148,605.47 $149,780.05 4653 12.6230%
14 $149,780.05 $150,954.63 6419 19.0420%
15 $150,954.63 $152,129.21 8000 27.0420%
16 $152,129.21 $153,303.79 9048 36.0900%
17 $153,303.79 $154,478.37 10070 46.1600%
18 $154,478.37 $155,652.94 10061 56.2210%
19 $155,652.94 $156,827.52 9678 65.8990%
20 $156,827.52 $158,002.10 8773 74.6720%
21 $158,002.10 $159,176.68 7376 82.0480%
22 $159,176.68 $160,351.26 5833 87.8810%
23 $160,351.26 $161,525.84 4249 92.1300%
24 $161,525.84 $162,700.42 3006 95.1360%
25 $162,700.42 $163,875.00 2057 97.1930%
26 $163,875.00 $165,049.58 1224 98.4170%
27 $165,049.58 $166,224.16 721 99.1380%
28 $166,224.16 $167,398.74 453 99.5910%
29 $167,398.74 $168,573.32 214 99.8050%
30 $168,573.32 $169,747.90 126 99.9310%
31 $169,747.90 $170,922.48 43 99.9740%
32 $170,922.48 $172,097.06 14 99.9880%
33 $172,097.06 $173,271.64 7 99.9950%
34 $173,271.64 $174,446.22 5 100.0000%
100000 100.0000%

Based on the above, our required income, at 95% confidence, is $162,647.28.  In other words, I can say with a degree of confidence that my required income in 2041 will always be at, or less than, $162,647.28; put another way: there is only a 5% chance that I will need more than $162,647.28 in annual income to live comfortably in 2041.

However, that is only for the year 2041.  It would be nice to see a bunch of years, say, from 2026 to 2041.  I won’t display all of the histograms and such, but here is the summary table:

Year Income Required at 95% confidence Mean Income Required Median Income Required
2026 $114,667.71 $111,013.30 $110,991.02
2027 $117,397.60 $113,512.43 $113,484.70
2028 $120,183.67 $116,061.47 $116,037.66
2029 $123,019.43 $118,672.26 $118,654.49
2030 $125,975.59 $121,345.28 $121,319.06
2031 $128,935.52 $124,077.19 $124,044.14
2032 $131,995.18 $126,871.97 $126,845.13
2033 $135,073.08 $129,724.75 $126,845.13
2034 $138,286.34 $132,644.87 $129,688.96
2035 $141,521.77 $135,624.14 $129,688.96
2036 $144,833.57 $138,672.78 $138,639.86
2037 $148,260.68 $141,794.27 $141,765.55
2038 $151,705.86 $144,983.10 $144,948.96
2039 $155,291.29 $148,242.42 $148,193.00
2040 $158,933.22 $151,579.05 $151,517.82
2041 $162,647.28 $154,991.19 $154,922.16

At the outset of this post, I said that my goal was to not to have to work.  From the above, I now know how much income I need in any given year, to maintain my current lifestyle, while factoring in inflation.  So, if my investments happen to generate at least $114,667.71 in income in 2026, I know that I can then quit my job and not have to worry about anything.

In one of my upcoming posts, I’ll talk about forecasting my expected income, which is the flipside of this discussion.

Why do you invest?

A few people may stumble into financial security. But for most people, the only way to attain financial security is to save and invest over a long period of time. You just need to have your money work for you. That’s investing.

Simply put, you want to invest in order to create wealth. It’s relatively painless, and the rewards are plentiful. By investing in the stock market, you’ll have a lot more money for things like retirement, education, recreation — or you could pass on your riches to the next generation so that you become your family’s Most Cherished Ancestor. Whether you’re starting from scratch or have a few thousand dollars saved, Investing Basics will help get you going on the road to financial (and Foolish!) well-being.

Now that the markets are showing signs of life, the pundits and financial writers are pumping out investing articles of all kinds. Gold is prominently mentioned as are a wide variety of stocks, mutual funds, and exotic ETFs. More so than ever, when I read these articles I ask myself this question: Why should I invest in that? Or taken one step further, the question becomes: Why do I invest?

I actually struggled for a long time on how to open up this post, but taking a page from Finding Forrester, sometimes it is easier to let someone else write the intro for you.

It should come as no surprise that many folks have asked the age old question of, “why?”.  In fact, everything that I say in this entry, has likely been written in greater detail, depth, and clarity, by someone else.  However, it is a necessary step in my overall roadmap of investing.

So, the question as it stands, why do you invest?  And as an extension to that, how do you know that you did it well?

The three quotes cited above contain a wealth of information on the how and why of investing.  At the end of the day, If we ignore the mechanics of investing (e.g. compound interest, “buy low, sell high”, “long time horizons”, etc.), the reason that any of of invest is a deeply personal one.  However, in my view the reasons for investing can be broken down into one of three categories:

  1. We invest for personal gain
  2. We invest to achieve some target and/or goal
  3. We invest for someone else

Fundamentally, these three reasons cover pretty much every scenario.  Saving for retirement?  That is #1 or #2.  Helping a relative?  That is #3.  Saving for school?  #2.

The reason that I have broken everything down into three categories, is that the why of investing is useless without some type of barometer as to how well you are investing . If you are saving for school, you know if you are successful if you have enough for your tuition.  If you are saving for retirement, then you have enough if you know that you can be financially secure after you stop working.  If you are saving for personal gain (e.g., “I just want to be rich”), you are successful if the personal decisions you make in your investing are better than those that would be made if you paid someone else to handle your money (e.g. a financial advisor).

There are really only two ways to monitor your performance: absolute, and relative.  In absolute measurements, you have some fixed, quantifiable goal against which you are measuring yourself.  If you are saving for your child’s education, and you know that the total cost will be $50,000 with tuition, books, and residence fees, then you have an absolute target against which to work.  Contrasting this are relative measurements.  These measurements are typically against some benchmark, and fundamentally reflect the opportunity cost of investing relative to some other means.  For example, if your benchmark is one of the couch potato portfolios, the performance of your investment decisions shows how much better (worse) you have done by managing your own money, instead of following the couch potato formula.

With the above in mind, the question should not be “Why do I invest?”.  Rather, it should be, “Am I meeting my investment goal?”  Defining your investment goal will lay the foundation on which you base all of your future decisions.


Back to Basics

School is done! Which means that I’ll finally have time to dedicate to investing again.

Over the past 18 months I have not been paying attention to my portfolio at all, and as such I haven’t had a chance to revisit the actual performance of the portfolio. Traditionally I have invested in value stocks: good companies with cheap prices, and taking a precursory look at my holdings things have gone well. For example High Liner Foods currently trades at $44.30, compared to my ACB of $15.73. Another strong player has been CCL Industries, which I picked up for $36.66, and currently trades for $107.42. Not all of my picks have been faring as well however: Calian Technologies currently trades at $18.76 from my ACB of $20.29.

But I digress; a detailed analysis of my holdings will come shortly when I sit down to take a look at what I’ve got in my books.

However, before I can revisit my books I’d like to revisit my Investment Policy Statement. I realized that I had a notional idea of what type of balance I would like to have (e.g. 1/3 Canadian Equities, 1/3 Bonds, 1/3 US Equities), but I have been pretty lax in maintaining the balance.

Another issue I had, was in balancing allocations between brokerages and account types. The total complement of all of my securities was held across several brokerages (BMO Nesbitt Burns, BMO InvestorLine, ScotiaMcLeod, Questrade, and some certificated shares where I held the physical stock certificates in my own name), and spanned different categories (margin, RRSP, TFSA). I found that I was spending too much time trying to manage the 3-way split across brokerages and account types. Over the past few months, I’ve cut out my investment adviser (they actually moved from BMO Nesbitt Burns to ScotiaMcLeod, and then back to BMO Nesbitt Burns — which was an administrative nightmare), and moved all investments over to BMO InvestorLine, other than those shares I hold in certificated form. Moreover, I’ve taken a different approach to viewing my portfolio: I now track everything at total fund level vs. individual brokerage house level. This makes the exact allocation across account types (e.g. if I keep a security in my margin, or my RRSP, or my TFSA account) irrelevant, since I now take one snapshot of all holdings.


Taking all of that into account, I am going back to basics and revisiting my investment policy statement (IPS), and come up with a new target asset allocation, as well as some constraints. My target asset allocation is show below.

Asset Class Minimum Allocation Target Allocation Maximum Allocation Notes
Cash -5% 5% 10% We allow -5% for margin exposure, but once we break the 10% mark we should be finding something to invest in; while cash is an “option with no expiry date”, after a certain point it does not make sense to keep it as cash because it is not generating income. At the very least, it should be dumped into an HISA or money market vehicle
Equities 35% 50% 60% Traditional public equities.
Real Estate 10% 20% 25% Real Estate is a long-term goal, but in lieu of bricks and mortar investments (e.g. property), I will fulfill this with REITs for now. In the long-term I plan on keeping my condo as an income property, at which point the condo would fall into this category.
Fixed Income 20% 25% 30%
Alternatives 0% 0% 5% Alternative investments would be things such as collectables (stamps, comics, art).
Private Equity 0% 0% 5% I wanted to ensure I had a line item for this, in the event any private equity opportunities come up; e.g. if a friend had a startup and needed investors.
Region Minimum Allocation Target Allocation Maximum Allocation Notes
Canada 40% 55% 65%
US 30% 35% 40%
Global 5% 10% 15%

From the above, I’ve tried to capture every conceivable investment opportunity. No doubt, the majority of my investing will be in public markets, which is why alternatives and private equity have a target of 0%, but I have the option of having up to 5% in each. I treat REITs and fixed income as income streams, which is hwy they take up a good chunk of the portfolio as well. I am looking at total returns which includes any cash flows, which is one reason I am not concerned with the equity being capped at 60%. Finally, the above mix allows me some latitude in finding securities. E.g. I can purchase a US REIT ETF to (1) give me US exposure, and (2) give me REIT exposure. In this way, a single security can satisfy multiple criteria.

I’ve also tried to diversify geographically; for the most part I am very concentrated in the Canadian market. While this is great because it eliminates exposure to currency risk, it also limits the total universe of available investment opportunities.

The goal of this asset mix is to stabilize my returns over time, provide cushion for market shocks, and to provide a steady stream of income. Between condo payments, car payments, and paying off school, the total amount of income I have available for investing has dropped considerably. Because of that, I am dedicating a larger portion of the total asset mix to income vis-a-vis Fixed Income and REITs.

With regards to investment style, I am going to go back to my roots and focus on value investing. Realistically I have not really deviated from that, but with the number of tech IPOs in the past twelve months, I wasn’t sure if I was missing anything. Luckily, it looks like I haven’t! Initially I was kicking myself at not investing into firms such as Twitter of Facebook, but those firms have been taking a beating lately. Given the focus on value investing, the underlying rationale for any investment decision will be:

  • Good firms with strong historical performance. Those firms with strong management, who have exhibited a good history of producing returns for its shareholders.
  • Firms with a solid dividend history. My own portfolio is geared towards income streams, and as such most, if not all, of the firms I invest in must pay a dividend. This restriction also precludes me from investing in growth companies, since those companies usually divert the majority of their income back into the firm to grow it faster, compared with dividend firms who have stabilized (e.g. not in the “growth&;quot phase any longer) and return cash to shareholders.
  • Firms that are cheap. The foundation of “cheap” will be based off of P/E and P/BV multiples. I have built some good models for valuing firms, and I will use those as well, but for the most part I will rely on P/E and P/BV multiples. The reason for this is that multiples provide a snapshot of historical and current performance, whereas valuation models provide a snapshot of estimates and assumptions of the future, which are inherently subject to biases and misinformation.
  • In lieu of equities or fixed income, I will use ETFs where available to park cash and keep the balance. E.g. if I cannot buy bonds, I’ll invest in a bond ETF such as XBB or HYG. Similarly for geographic exposure; to gain US equity exposure, I will purchase VOO or something similar.

So, where do I sit now?

Asset Class Target Weight Variance from Limit
Cash 5.00% 11.57% 1.57%
Equity 50.00% 78.18% 18.18%
Real Estate 20.00% 4.05% -5.95%
Fixed Income 25.00% 6.21% -13.79%
Alternatives 0.00% 0.00% n/a
Private Equity 0.00% 0.00% n/a
Region Weight Variance from Limit
Canada 90.81% 25.81%
US 8.21% -21.79%
Global 0.98% -4.02%

So… Based on my current IPS I am pretty much screwed for the month of March; none of my asset classes or geographic regions are within tolerance. However, I did execute some trades in April, and when BMO InvestorLine posts my statements I’ll revisit and see how we are doing.

Creating a Diversified REIT Portfolio Part II: Geographic Diversification

In my previous post I discussed how my the only REIT currently in my portfolio (other than the iShares XRE ETF) is Artis REIT, but because that is my only holding, I am exposed to a certain level of geographic risk. To help mitigate that risk, I need to make some additions to my portfolio which spread the REIT holdings throughout the rest of the country. The easiest way to do this is to plot all of the properties for all of the REITs I am interested in. Because Artis is a "diversified" REIT, I went and solicited a list of all properties for each of the diversified REITs identified in my previous post.

The exercise was a little tedious, but I’ve managed to build a database of all of the properties for the major diversified REITs which trade on the TSX. To create the map plot, I headed over to the geocommons, a great site I found for creating maps based on user provided data. After all of that, here is the result:


REIT Property Holdings

The screen grab above does not really give the plot justice, but you can head over to view the interactive map at geocommons.

Now that I’ve got the properties all plotted out, I have to sit down and figure out which REIT(s) would be a good addition to the portfolio, with the following objectives in mind:

  • Geographic diversification (i.e., properties not concentrated in only one part of the country)
  • Strong FFO1
  • A strong history of increasing distributions over time

Over the Christmas break from classes I’ll be doing a deeper dive into some REITs, once I determine which ones best satisfy the first criteria above.

1 Free Cashflow From Operations; the cash leftover to distribute.

Creating a Diversified REIT Portfolio

It has been a busy month, but some ideas have been fermenting the on the back burner during that time, and one of them is REITs. REITs, or Real Estate Investment Trusts, offer a great vehicle for regular income, and often offer high yields relative to regular equities. A REIT is several things at once, as indicated by its name:

  • It is an investment trust. As a trust, income from REITs is often categorized as interest income1, and as such is treated different for income tax purposes. However, one key advantage to interest income is that when you use it in a TFSA, none of that interest is taxable.
  • As a trust structure, ownership of the REIT is accomplished through trust units, which differs from equity shares of a typical dividend paying firm.
  • REITs invest in some type of real estate, as indicated by its name.

Artis REIT was my first REIT investment, and in terms of an income stream has treated me incredibly well. While the distribution payout has been flat — the actual distribution has been a consistent $0.06/month for the 2+ years that I have owned it — given the yield that it has provided, I cannot complain. However, one key challenge with holding only one REIT is that you are subject to the properties that the REIT itself invests in. Here is a map, which I pulled from Artis’ own website, which shows its current property distribution:

ARTIS Property Map

Map of properties in Canada and the United States within the ARTIS REIT

As you can see from the above, Artis is heavily concentrated in Central Canada. Not that this is a bad thing, but remember that one of the key qualities of a good portfolio is diversification. One of the easiest ways to diversify a REIT portfolio would be to simply invest in a REIT ETF, such as the S&P/TSX Capped REIT Index Fund, XRE.TO, or Bank of Montreal’s Equal Weight REITs Index ETF, ZRE.TO. One minor challenge with this is that you are still victim to the ETF’s investing strategy. However, the bigger challenge is that the relative yields between an ETF and a hand-picked portfolio of REITs is pretty wide. For example, the latest distribution yield (as of December 6, 2012) on XRE.TO was 4.58%. However, if you were to hand-pick an equal-weighted portfolio of four REITs, AX.UN, BTB.UN, CUF.UN, and HR.UN, you could achieve an effective yield of 6.92%!2.

With that thought in mind, I have been doing research lately on the different REITs available in Canada. My goal is to create a small (sub-)portfolio of REITs that will allow me to beat the yields of the major ETFs, while allowing me to customize the focus of the (sub-)portfolio, and diversify away any geographic concentration risk. There are few articles which are specific to Canadian REITs, but here are some useful links to start with:

For my own research, I headed over to my discount brokerage and ran a quick screen on all Income Trusts which are traded on the TSX. From there, I stripped out any trusts that were not REITs, and came up with the following list:

Ticker REIT Sector URL
AAR.UN-T Pure Industrial Real Estate Industrial link
AP.UN-T Allied Properties REIT Office link
AX.UN-T Artis REIT Diversified I (Office/Industrial/Retail) link
BEI.UN-T Boardwalk REIT Residential link
BOX.UN-T Brookfield Canada Office Prop. Office link
BTB.UN-T BTB REIT Diversified I (Office/Industrial/Retail) link
CAR.UN-T CAP REIT Residential link
CRR.UN-T Crombie REIT Diversified II (Office/Retail) link
CSH.UN-T Chartwell Seniors Housing REIT Retirement/Nursing/Healthcare link
CUF.UN-T Cominar REIT Diversified I (Office/Industrial/Retail) link
CWT.UN-T Calloway REIT Retail link
D.UN-T Dundee REIT Office link
DI.UN-T Dundee International REIT Commercial link
DIR.UN-T Dundee Industrial REIT Industrial link
HLP.UN-T HealthLease Properties REIT Retirement/Nursing/Healthcare link
HLR.UN-T Holloway Lodging REIT Hospitality link
HNT-T Huntingdon Capital Diversified I (Office/Industrial/Retail) link
HR.UN-T H&R Real Estate Invest. Trust Diversified I (Office/Industrial/Retail) link
IDR.UN-T REIT INDEXPLUS Income Fund Fund link
IIP.UN-T InterRent REIT Residential link
INN.UN-T InnVest REIT Hospitality link
KRE.UN-T KEYreit Retail link
LRT.UN-T Lanesborough REIT Residential link
MRG.UN-T Morguard North American REIT Residential link
MRT.UN-T Morguard Real Estate Inv Trust Commercial link
MSN.UN-T Morguard Sunstone Real Estate Fund link
NPR.UN-T Northern Property REIT Residential link
NRF.UN-T North American REIT Fund link
NWH.UN-T Northwest Healthcare Prop REIT Retirement/Nursing/Healthcare link
PAR.UN-T Partners REIT Retail link
PMZ.UN-T Primaris Retail REIT Retail link
RCO.UN-T Middlefield Can-Global REIT Fund link
REF.UN-T Cdn. Real Estate Investment Diversified I (Office/Industrial/Retail) link
REI.UN-T RioCan Real Estate Investment Diversified II (Office/Retail) link
RIT.UN-T First Asset Canadian REIT IF Fund link
RIU.UN-T Canadian REIT Income Fund Fund link
RMM.UN-T Retrocom Mid-Market REIT Retail link
RRB.UN-T Connor Clark & Lunn Real Ret Fund link
TGF.UN-T Timbercreek Global Real Estate Fund link
TR.UN-T Temple REIT Hospitality link
USM.UN-T US Agency Mortgage-Backed REIT Fund link

For the sectors, I borrowed (and slightly expanded) the list found in the Seeking Alpha article listed above. The list above focuses purely on the TSX, and ignores REITs which can be found on the TSX Venture Exchange, some of which were pointed out in a post I put up on the Canadian Money Forum3

Because I already own Artis REIT, I am looking for other REITs to balance the geographic distribution in the Diversified I sector space. The above is just the first cut at the research, and in later blog posts I will document my selection methodology and progress.

Happy investing!

1 As with a dividend paying corporation, occasionally this income may be in the form of Return of Capital.
2 For the 6.92% yield, I used the incredibly scientific method of randomly selected the four highest yield fully diversified REITs.
3 Not that there is anything wrong with the TSX Venture Exchange, however it is not an area that I have ever really looked into.

Analysis: Bird Construction (BDT.TO)

The One-Liner

A tad overpriced, and wonky financials due to conversion to/from an income trust, and changes to IFRS. Revisit in 2013.

Overview of the Business

Bird Construction (“Bird” or “the firm”) is involved in general construction services in Canada, nation-wide, with a focus on St. John’s, Halifax, Saint John, Wabush, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. The bulk of the work performed by the firm is carried out on behalf of the firm by sub-contractors, and Bird mitigates the risks of working with subcontractors through a number of tools and processes:

  • Paper (e.g. bonds, notes, obligations) are facilitated through one of the major Canadian banks
  • Depending on the magnitude of the work, work performed by subcontractors requires promissory notes or similar vehicles to guaranty the work. Bird also closely monitors the performance of subcontractors to ensure that the work is being completed in an accurate and timely manner

While the net income for a given period is a fair indicator of the work that Bird has performed, being a construction contracting company, they have a significant number of contracts which secure future work, and future cash flow. Going through the financial statements, this work is referred to as “backlog”, and serves as a decent proxy for forward looking revenue (but not necessarily net income).

Bird is a relatively simple business to understand: they book deals (contracts) for work, farm out the work to subcontractors, and keep any payment after the subcontractors have been paid off. Bird focuses on the industrial, commercial, and institutional market sectors, and as per their corporate strategy, outsources any design work that they cannot accomplish to a degree that they feel would best benefit the customer. This is reassuring in a firm since it demonstrates their ability to focus on their core competencies, while still leveraging outsourcing relationships to have other projects designed on their behalf. At the end of the day, the actual construction is farmed out to subcontractors, so the design of the work is agnostic to the work actually being performed.

Fundamental Analysis

All discussion relates to the period of 2002-2011.

Criteria Value Threshold Pass?
Strong financial condition Current Ratio 1.30 1.50 NO
Earnings Stability Number of most recent years of positive EPS 10.00 3.00 YES
Earnings Stability Number of consecutive years of negative EPS 0 1 YES
Dividend Growth Compound Annual Dividend Growth 20.77% 2.00% YES
Share Price Growth Compound Annual Share Price Growth 14.51% 3.00% YES
Moderate P/E Ratio P/E 16.01 15.00 NO
Moderate P/BV Ratio P/BV 2.92 1.50
Moderate P/E×P/BV Ratio P/E × P/BV 46.71 22.50
10 Year Prices

10 Year Prices, 2002-2011

The share price of Bird has had compound year over year growth of 14.5%, which represents a good return on capital over the period. There was a significant drop in 2006, which occurred around February after Bird converted from a corporation to an income trust. This income trust structure stayed in place until 2011, when the firm changed back to a corporation on January 1, 2011. As with many other firms, the firm also suffered a huge drop in value between 2008 and 2009 due to the financial crisis.

Dividends vs. Dividend Payout Ratio

Dividends vs. Diviend Payout Ratio against EPS, and Dividend Payout Ratio against Free Cash Flow

As discussed, Bird made a conversion to an income trust in 2006. This makes comparable numbers for dividends (during the corporate format pre-2006 and post-2010) and distributions (2006-2010) a little tricky. The conversion to an income trust in 2006 resulted in a drop in dividends (which technically became distributions). However, even during the income trust format, the firm continued to increase its distributions after the conversion; during the five-year period as an income trust, the distributions had compounded annual growth of 13.4%. This is not as strong as the 46.5% compound growth which occurred during the 2002-2005 period, but it is still impressive. For the period observed, dividend (distribution) growth was 20.77% compounded annually. In short, independent of the firm structure (dividend paying corporation vs. interest paying income trust), Bird has shown a consistent pattern of increasing the cash paid out to shareholders (i.e. unit holders 2006-2011). A point of concern however is the dividend payout ratio vis-à-vis the firm EPS. The payout ratio has remained high throughout the period observed, surpassing 100% in 2005. For the 2011 year (the first year as a dividend paying corporation) the payout ratio was 94%. Comparing dividends to free cash flow is another cause for concern, as observed by the 2011 payout ratio, which surpassed 300.0%.

P/E Ratio

P/E Ratio, 2002-2011

Given the discussion above, based on P/E alone, the firm is attractively priced. Except for 2005, it has the market value of the firm relative to its underlying EPS has remained solid, breaking the 15.0 multiple for the first time in six years in 2011.

Current Ratio

Current Ratio, 2002-2011

The current ratio is partially an area of concern, but more research as to the expectations of the industry is required before making a final call. Bird has kept its current ratio consistently at 1.20 or above, except in 2007. A conservative value investor normally targets a current ratio of at least 1.50. However, given Bird’s performance while maintaining its current ratio in the current range, may warrant a reevaluation of that particular metric when deciding if the firm is a worthwhile addition to an investor’s portfolio.

EPS vs. Dividend Payout Ratio

EPS vs. Dividend Payout Ratio agianst EPS, 2002-2011

Note: For the 2008 and 2009 periods, the EPS seems flat. In the analysis I performed, I have been comparing net income as defined as comprehensive income and income from continuing operations. However, in 2009 Bird closed off its operations in Seattle Washington, which resulted in a loss of $3.9MM from discontinued operations. To provide a fair comparison, the net income used for 2009 was $60,795M, compared to the $56,913M listed in the 2009 financial statements; the 2010 annual report has a description of the discontinued operations.

With that said, EPS has been on the upswing, but took a hit in the 2010 fiscal year. This was to be expected; since projects are booked in advance, there was a hit on the backlog of projects in the 2009 year (2009 backlog ($901MM) was 18% less than the 2008 backlog ($1,105MM)), which affected the 2010 net total revenue.

One final note on the fundamental analysis. Reviewing Bird’s financial statements is a great exercise in investigating the ins and outs of changes to operations and accounting policies. The conversion in 2006 to an income trust, and the subsequent conversion back to a corporation in 2011, made it a little tougher to compare a firm whose corporate structure has remained constant over the period being reviewed. In addition to this, Bird converted to IFRS reporting in 2011 due to regulatory requirements in Canada. This resulted in a hit on the valuation of some items on the balance sheet and the income statement.


Based on the 2011 results, Bird is a solid firm, however it is overpriced. P/E is 16, P/BV is almost 3.0, and P/E × P/BV is 46.8. Ignoring the overpriced quality of the firm, while the business itself is easy enough to understand, I do have some other concerns:

  • The dividend payout ratio as measured against EPS was 94.0% in 2011, and the dividend payout ratio as measured against free cash flow was over 300.0% in 2011. Exceeding free cash flow is a major read flag in my view, and doubly so when it exceeds 100% by a factor of three.
  • While the country made it through he worst of the financial crisis years ago, due to the nature of Birds business it may be some time before the effects of the financial crisis are no longer affecting Bird’s bottom line.

There are some plusses for the company which I like:

  • The ability of Bird’s management to maintain a constantly growing dividend is impressive, especially given the turmoil of the past few years. Their closing of operations in 2009 also speaks to their oversight in discontinuing operations which are not profitable or aligned with their corporate strategy.
  • As of today (October 28, 2012), the dividend yield is an impressive 4.50%. With year over year growth of 20.8%, Bird would be a worthwhile addition to a dividend portfolio.
  • Due to the nature of the business, they are part middle-person and part designer/builder. Their corporate strategy gives them the breadth to take on a wide variety of projects, and when the firm does not have the depth to undertake those projects on the design side, they are willing to subcontract that work out.

That said, I will definitely be revisiting Bird after the 2012 financial results have been published. The company, at least on paper, looks pretty solid. And except for some concerns due to the recent (i.e., past two years) financial conditions of the economy – but not necessarily the firm itself – I would be willing to jump in now.

Analysis: CCL Industries (CCL-B.TO)

Paraphrased from the 2011 Annual Report, CCL Industries Inc. is a world leader in the development of label solutions for global producers of consumer brands in the home and personal care, healthcare, durable goods, and specialty food and beverage sectors and a specialty supplier of aluminum containers and plastic tubes for the same customers in North America. Founded in 1951, the Company has been public under its current name since 1980. CCL’s corporate office is located in Toronto, Canada, with its operational leadership centres in Framingham, Massachusetts, United States. The company operates in three major operations: Label, Container, and Tube.

  • CCL Label: CCL Label is the world’s largest converter of pressure sensitive and film materials and sells to leading global customers in the consumer, packaging, healthcare and consumer durable segments.
  • CCL Container: CCL Container is a leading North American manufacturer of sustainable aluminum aerosol containers and bottles for premium brands in the home and personal care and food and beverage markets.
  • CCL Tube: CCL Tube produces highly decorated extruded plastic tubes for premium brands in the personal care and cosmetics markets in North America.

When analyzing CCL I came up on some interesting challenges. CCL has two share classes, CCL-A.TO and CCL-B.TO. The Class A shares are voting shares, and receive a dividend that is $0.05 less than the Class B shares. Class A shares are convertible to Class B shares at any time. CCL’s annual statements use the number of Class B shares outstanding to calculate EPS and book value. Because Class A can be converted to Class B at any time, I felt it was more appropriate to use the sum of both classes when calculating ratios. That said, my analysis has focused on the combined total of all Class A and Class B shares, and as such my numbers are slightly off (they are actually lower than those published by CCL in their annual report). In later years (2010 onwards) CCL has listed which portion of net income is attributable to Class A and which portion is attributable to Class B, which allows one to calculate the individual EPS values for each class of share.

That said, let’s take a look at the initial evaluation:

Criteria 2002 2011 Value Threshold Min/Max Pass?
Current Ratio 1.665 1.665 1.5 Min YES
Number of most recent years of positive EPS 10.000 10 3 Min YES
Number of consecutive years of negative EPS 0 1 Max YES
Compound Annual Dividend Growth $0.340 $0.700 7.488% 2.000% Min YES
Compound Annual Share Price Growth $15.980 $30.810 6.785% 3.000% Min YES
Compound Annual EPS Growth $0.654 $2.541 14.532% 3.000% Min YES
P/E 12.126 12.126 15 Max YES
P/BV 1.249 1.249 1.5 Max
P/E × P/BV 24.671 24.671 22.5 Max

Remember that for the P/E, P/BV, and P/E×P/BV values we want both P/E and P/BV to pass, or P/E×P/BV to pass. While the P/E×P/BV test fails, the P/E and P/BV values pass. Given that, CCL passes all of my initial tests. Here are the graphs for the stock:

The above represents the Class B share prices, and year over year, the share price of CCL has gone up steadily. Because CCL focuses on packaging for many of the larger firms that produce consumer goods, they were hit pretty hard with the 2008 financial crisis, which is evident in the share price drop during that period. However, since the fall-off-the-cliff, the company has been back on a steady rise to higher share prices.

The three graphs above illustrate an interesting story. In 2004, 2005, and 2007, CCL discontinued some operations which sent positive shocks to the EPS. When you adjust the EPS for these shocks, it remains at around a respectable $2.00. Notwithstanding EPS, the dividends have been raised consistently for the past decade, with 7.49% compounded annual growth.

Another point to note is the free cash flow. CCL invests a considerable amount of time in capital expenditures year over year. From a dividend standpoint, the ideal scenario is for dividends to be taken out of free cash, since this illustrates that dividends being paid to shareholders are coming directly from cash received from customers — in other words, cash is flowing directly from the customer to the shareholder. Except for 2005 and 2007, this was always the case.

Finally, free cash flow has been on a steady rise since 2005.

And of course, no analysis would be complete without taking a look at the P/E. P/E has remained consistently below 15 since 2003. When you combine this with the Price to Book ratio, and the P/E×P/BV multiple, CCL is very attractively priced.

In my opinion CCL is a great company to invest in. Dividends have been increased at a constant rate, and management has taken actions to eliminate parts of the business which do not add value.

Disclosure: No CCL as of 2012/10/08.