The interesting part of the article begins when the authors take aim at critics of leveraging:
“Critics argue that leveraging increases investment risk and that a rate of return higher than the loan’s interest rate is needed to generate a profit. But neither claim is accurate.”Okay, this is going to be good. Apparently, leverage doesn’t increase risk and you can profit even if you pay more to borrow than you make on your investments! Let’s start with risk:
“Risk, as far as it pertains to investing, is the odds that you will lose money. By this definition, we have to question how borrowing money can impact risk. After all, whether you invest your own money or that of the bank’s [sic], it’s the performance of your investment that determines profit or loss. Leveraging will impact how much you could potentially lose, but the odds are still based on your investment choices.”We don’t all agree on a single definition of financial risk, but no sane person ignores the magnitude of potential losses. If an investment goes badly for me, I care a great deal whether I lose $10,000 or $100,000.
Leverage magnifies both gains and losses. This increases financial risk by every reasonable definition I’ve seen.
Let’s move on to how to profit even if your investment returns are less than you pay in interest:
“If investing for a single year, then a return higher than the loan’s interest rate is needed to turn a profit. But most leveraging strategies are designed to be in effect for years, in which case the break-even rate of return drops below the loan’s interest rate.This reasoning may be hard to follow without an example. Suppose you borrow $100,000 at 4% interest. You pay just the interest of $4000 per year for 25 years. So, you pay a total of $100,000 in interest.
“The reason is simple. Investment returns compound over time — in other words, gains from one year generate gains in of themselves in the following year. Meanwhile interest on investment loans is fully paid every year and does not accumulate (simple interest). As a result, investment growth outstrips the interest paid over time.”
You invest the money and earn a return of 3% per year for those 25 years. After paying off the initial loan, you’re left with $109,378. But you only paid $100,000 in interest. So, you’re ahead $9378. Or at least this is the reasoning of the writers of the article.
I wonder if the authors have heard of inflation or opportunity cost. From your point of view as the investor, you paid $4000 per year for 25 years and ended up with $109,378. This works out to a yearly return of 0.74%. Because this is very likely to be lower than inflation, you actually ended up with less purchasing power than you gave up with the interest payments.
Looking at this from a different angle, suppose you hadn’t used any leverage and had just invested $4000 per year for 25 years earning 3% per year. In the end you’d have $145,837. This is $36,459 more than leveraging produced. It’s hard to see any reasonable way to look at this and conclude that the leverage was beneficial.
Any time someone makes an argument that uses the term “simple interest,” you should be wary. Simple interest does not exist in the real world. All interest compounds. Paying off the interest every year creates the illusion of simple interest if we make the mistake of ignoring the time value of money.
Borrowing money to invest is an advanced investing strategy that should only be done by knowledgeable investors with a high capacity for volatility. Because it makes no sense to borrow to invest in fixed income investments, leverage is for those who can handle more volatility than an all-stock portfolio. If you’re like many Canadians with a balanced portfolio (roughly half stocks and half bonds), you should consider bumping up your percentage of stocks before thinking about leverage.
Investors who work with financial advisors need to be concerned about pitches touting the benefits of leverage. Good advisors would only recommend leverage for the small minority of their clients where it makes sense. The not-so-good advisors will see leverage as a way to collect more fees on a larger amount of money you have invested.
If you’re thinking about using leverage and are dreaming of huge riches, you should ask yourself a sobering question: if stock prices tumble to half their current value and then you lose your job, will you be okay?