Monday, June 1, 2009

fixing things in dark times

Thank you to all who submitted questions for The Personal Finance Clinic. We received several questions and we hope to answer most of them over the next few months. Please visit Canadian Capitalist and Triaging My Way to Financial Success to view the balance of the Q&A.

Kris asked...
"Like many people, I have lost a lot of money (at least on paper) in my RSP account.
I don’t have a particularly good mix of mutual funds (took poor advice from a poor advisor), and I had started the process of re balancing into an ETF-based “couch potato” mix (by started, I mean I had thought it through, read up, and picked an asset mix but didn’t actually sell and buy) when the market tanked.

What should I do now? I am still saving but currently holding my savings in an ING savings account (some are for retirement and some are in a general account as I'm hoping to buy a home now that Vancouver's real estate market is somewhat cooled down).

What should I do with my RSP portfolio? Should I just accept my paper losses, sell my mutual funds and execute my plan (I hate to lock in the money I’ve lost but….)
Or, should I just wait it out with my current portfolio, and use any new retirement savings to operationalize my couch potato portfolio? If I wait for my current portfolio to bounce back (at least partway) , how long is reasonable? 1 year? 5 years?

No doubt that many are in your shoes Kris. We have all seen the value of our registered investments drop substantially over the past two years. If you have truly seen the flaws in your current asset mix as well as investment vehicles, I am going to assume that you are paying high management fees (MERs), and/or you are diversified poorly by having too much risk, too little risk, or your sector allocation is out of whack for your time horizon and investor profile. The good news is that it sounds as if you have done some research and you have a plan that will lower your fees and diversify you more appropriately.

Regarding your specific question, I would recommend that you implement your strategy as soon as possible. The way to think about this is that it really does not matter when you sell your mutual funds and buy the new ETFs because you will either be selling low and buying low or selling high and buying high. Theoretically it makes no difference if you are selling and buying like items. For example if you sell a managed Canadian Equity mutual fund and buy a Canadian Equity ETF right now you are selling at point X in the markets and buying at point X in the market. You are no further behind or ahead except for the fact that you believe you are getting into a more appropriate investment vehicle. This is a positive, proactive action.

Things to watch out for:
  • Trading fees (you will likely incur some but minimize them wherever possible)
  • If your main intention is too sell a lot of equity investments and with these funds buy a lot of safer (bonds, gics, money market) investments, now may not be the best time to execute this specific trade, as the market has recently crashed, and you may want to put this off for a year or two. These are not like items with like values. That being said nobody knows where the market is going, this is just my opinion.
  • Don't lose sight of your investment time horizon and let this be your guide to asset allocation.

If you execute your plan now. You can be confident knowing that your money is now working for you the way you want it to. You have empowered yourself by educating yourself and taking the proper steps to rectify your portfolio. Nobody wants to own investments that are poor if they know better. Good luck with your portfolio and your home purchase.

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