Friday, July 15, 2022

Short Takes: Savings Account Interest, Reverse Mortgages, and more

EQ Bank says they’re “excited to announce an increased interest rate!”  It’s now 1.65%.  Meanwhile, Saven is up to 2.85%.  Unfortunately, Saven is only available to Ontarians.  It’s normal for banks to offer different rates, but the gap down to EQ is disappointing.  Fortunately, the fix is easy; with just a few clicks, my cash savings are mostly in Saven.

Here are my posts for the past four weeks:

A Failure to Understand Rebalancing

Portfolio Projection Assumptions Use and Abuse

Here are some short takes and some weekend reading:

Jason Heath explains the advantages and disadvantages of reverse mortgages compared to other options.  He does a good job of covering the important issues, but doesn’t mention home maintenance.  With reverse mortgages, the homeowner is required to maintain the house to a set standard.  It’s normal for people’s standards for home maintenance to decline as they age, sometimes drastically when they don’t move well and can’t afford to pay someone else to do necessary work.  Reverse mortgage companies have no reason to go around forcing seniors out of poorly-maintained homes now, but once they have a lot of customers who owe more than their homes are worth after costs, their attitude is likely to change.

Robb Engen at Boomer and Echo
defends some aspects of mental accounting and sees problems with others.  Here is my thinking.  I see some forms of mental accounting as a rational response to the fact that the time and effort we put into making decisions has a cost. So, if we’re trying to be rational and account for all relevant costs when making decisions, we have to limit the time we spend making decisions. This necessarily means using easy rules of thumb (or mental accounting rules) that we only examine infrequently.  However, these rules of thumb do have to be examined occasionally to make sure they’re not wrong.

Big Cajun Man
says Nortel is still paying him tiny amounts he’s owed.  He also makes a good point about clutter costing money.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Portfolio Projection Assumptions Use and Abuse

FP Canada Standards Council puts out a set of portfolio projection assumption guidelines for financial advisors to use when projecting the future of their clients’ portfolios.  The 2022 version of these guidelines appear to be reasonable, but that doesn’t mean they will be used properly.

The guidelines contain many figures, but let’s focus on a 60/40 portfolio that is 5% cash, 35% fixed income, 20% Canadian stocks, 30% foreign developed-market stocks, and 10% emerging-market stocks.  For this portfolio, the guidelines call for a 5.1% annual return with 2.1% inflation.  This works out to a 2.9% real return (after subtracting inflation).

We’ve had a spike in inflation recently, but these projections are intended for a longer-term view.  The projected 2.9% real return seems sensible enough.  Presumably, if inflation stays high, then companies will get higher prices, higher profits, their stock prices will rise, and the 2.9% real return estimate will remain reasonable.  Anything can happen, but a sensible range of possibilities is centered on about 3%.

However, the projections document has an important caveat: “Note that the administrative and investment management fees paid by clients both for products and advice must be subtracted to obtain the net return.”  For a typical advised client, total fees for products and advice can be around 2%, leaving only a real return of 0.9% for the client.

This creates a dilemma for the advisor: to use 2.9% and conveniently forget to subtract fees, or use the embarrassingly low 0.9% that will surely make clients unhappy.  It’s easy enough to justify using the larger figure; just pretend that great mutual fund selection will make up for the fees, even though all the evidence proves that this rarely happens.

But it gets worse.  The guidelines offer some flexibility: “financial planners may deviate within plus or minus 0.5% from the rate of return assumptions and continue to be in compliance with the Guidelines.”  So, unscrupulous advisors can lower inflation by 0.5% and raise all return assumptions by 0.5% to get a 3.9% expected return assumption (if they conveniently forget about fees) and still claim to be following the guidelines.

The typical problem with sophisticated portfolio projection software and spreadsheets is the return assumption baked into them.  No matter how impressive the output looks, it’s only as good as the underlying assumptions.