Appeared in North Shore News – February 4, 2011
Once again it’s registered retirement savings plan season. Anything I can help you with?
Probably not. Ditto if you are very, very old and your RRSP has been magically transformed into a registered retirement income fund (RRIF), your payout reward for all those sacrificial years of thrift while others sunned their pelts in Hawaii every Christmas, or bought Whistler condos.
I can only advise that you made the prudent choice. Or not.
See? If you are as keen a thinker as I believe you are, and have been around the investment block for quite some time, you will have already detected that I’m about as reliable a financial soothsayer as your average broker, adviser, economist and media pundit.
None of the above being too far above ignorance when it comes to saying their sooth — predicting the past being infinitely easier than predicting the future.
Example, remember the Great Collapse of 2008-2009? Worst dive since the 1930s? That collapse was predicted by 248 per cent of such “experts.”
Yeah, right. You see fairies at the bottom of your garden too.
Take gold. Or leave it. CKNW Money Talks host Michael Campbell modestly reminds listeners that he urged them to buy gold years ago. I once walked a financial prophet to the elevator and his last words as the doors closed were “Buy gold!” (I didn’t.) Which was then being unleashed from its government-mandated $35 an ounce.
But that was then. Now? The “gold bugs” of yore have metastasized, though gold has stumbled recently after months of feverish run-up to north of $1,300. Also hot: commodities, the raw materials that lifted the loonie to parity with the U.S. dollar. How can you lose, especially when your cash account pays less than official (humbug) inflation?
Now harken to Stephen Jarislowsky, one of the gnarly oracles of investment, age 85, writing in the Globe and Mail Report on Business magazine:
“I think commodity stocks are in a bubble.” Biggest bubble? “Gold, obviously. I don’t know if you can call gold a commodity, because it isn’t. It’s nothing. . . . It really is not a proxy for money. I dare anyone to go into a grocery store with an ounce of gold in his hot little fist.”
Hmmm. Better sell Aunt Nellie’s gold candelabra while you can.
But in the same magazine, investment managers Kim Shannon and Norman Lamarche tout oil and gas — big Canadian commodities — and energy. Rohit Sehgal adds potash, uranium and gold. Eric Sprott likes all of the above, plus silver. Eric Bushell likes beaten-up U.S. manufacturers. Irwin Michael recommends dividend-paying stocks.
Vancouver’s own Chris Tidd and members of the Odlum Brown team have long been big on energy companies TransCanada and TransAlta, but in their carefully reasoned annual RRSP guide also recommend U.S. giants Proctor & Gamble, Colgate Palmolive, Kraft, 3M and Microsoft, and our CNR and Barrick Gold. A broad range.
Who to believe? Did anyone predict on the eve of the 2008 collapse that blue chip Bank of Nova Scotia, now around $56, would fall to $24?
Stephanie Phillips, research manager of a UBS fund, spoke truth: “There is no precise methodology” in the fund’s picks. A shrewd investor once advised that the time to buy stock is when there’s blood in the streets. Didn’t work in 1917, though.
As for the vaunted U.S. government regulators, watchdogs and rating agencies, they proved their utter incompetence and blindness, while the market heated to the explosion point.
Splendid quote recently recalled: William McChesney Martin, Jr., longest-serving head of the U.S. Federal Reserve during a great stretch of expansion, drily said that the time to take away the punch bowl is when the party is just getting going. Keep it in mind for our times.
The crisis of a couple of years ago — Sprott believes in September 2008 the financial system was “within hours of collapsing” — spooked smaller investors, many of them still spooked. Perfectly timed as a cautionary tale for the RRSP season, Maclean’s weighs in with a story over the headline The Stock Market Is for Suckers.
So, faced with a mass of competing and conflicting advice, what’s a body to do? My best advice: If you can’t be smart, be lucky.
Oh yes, and the statutory declaration: I hold some of the stocks mentioned above. Do I see a buyer in the crowd for my shares of Hollinger Inc., purchased at $10,490.76 and current value $0.00?
– – –
It’s unfair to other worthy persons but it’s irresistible for news people to celebrate the lives of their old workmates.
Evan Evans-Atkinson was an incredibly fit, tall and handsome chap who guided many young reporters through the snares and delusions of newspaperdom. A skilled sailor, he and his beautiful wife Mary and their corgi dog circumnavigated the globe, a feat that makes me tremble with vicarious seasickness.
He became a close aide to another handsome devil, Garde B. Gardom, a top and bipartisanly popular Bill Bennett cabinet minister and later B.C. agent-general in London.
All the sages agree: No one has greater love for his fellow man than this — a friend who helps you move. That was Evan and, no less, Mary, when my wife and I moved to West Vancouver on a dreadful December day in 1984. The undersigned owed him beyond measure.
Chuck Davis, a gentle, smiling shambler of a man, was known so much for his hugely popular Vancouver Book that it overshadowed what a charming CBC Radio host he was.
No one ever left Chuck’s company without feeling better for it, and with a more favourable view of the human being. Yet, as he related one day over our kitchen table, Chuck had had a terrible childhood, a tribute to the courage to clamber victoriously over obstacles.
His unfinished tome, The History of Metropolitan Vancouver, is scheduled to be completed by Charles (Jock) Campbell the younger. His father, long-time West Vancouver resident Charles Campbell, was a savvy critic of Canada’s immigration policies and appeals procedures, and accurate prophet of some of its present ills.
Martha Robinson, who died in December, would have been excellently cast as everyone’s slightly eccentric aunt. She was a dear. She went back to the days when newspaperwomen were a minority shaped by the hard-drinking, wenching, masculine newsroom culture that produced, dare I say, more fabulously interesting females than most of the grimly emancipated women who followed them. Martha’s lifted eyebrow and sardonic wit held their own with any mere male.
We must have mildly surprised staid West Vancouverites when I spied her on our streets or in the Vancity lineup and seized her passionately, bellowing almost in tune: “Martha — rambling rose of the wildwood!” Oh death in life, the days that are no more.
– – –
Was it or wasn’t it? Last Saturday — a week after a big Vancouver Sun splash on its native Indian art show, Entwined Histories — the North Vancouver Museum was closed. Or so disappointed visitors, one from Tsawwassen, were told at the adjoining North Vancouver Archives.
This is an important collection, though not on the scale of the great Arts of the Raven show in the mid-1960s at the Vancouver Art Gallery — one of the three most memorable in this observer’s experience. (Write for details.)
However, next day another source in the Presentation House building insisted it had indeed been open. A mystery.
– – –
But mysteries no longer: After due deliberation West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan announced that he’s backing George Abbott for Liberal leader.
North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Naomi Yamamoto is also plumping for Abbott. She marshalled sturdy, sensible reasons for her choice, but added a charming personal one:
“George understands the significant economic and social benefit of the freshwater sport fishing sector in British Columbia. As a fellow angler, I believe that it is critical that we recognize the jobs and economic growth associated with this industry, and the need to protect this precious resource for future generations.
“I guess it comes down to who I would want to spend a beautiful B.C. day trading fish stories with — it’s George.”
– – –
Vomit-maker I, the dog slaughter. Vomit-maker II, let the cover-up begin.
It has. The spin, the ass-protecting, the responsibility-dodging, the SPCA’s fuzzy role, above all the brand-protecting of Intrawest and Whistler/Blackcomb and the village’s businesses, of the legacy of the (already financially tarnished) Winter Olympics 2010, and of Beautiful British Columbia as a “world-class destination” and all that hype — are shifting into high gear. These constitute a tower of powerful interests too big to fail.
Sure sign: Premier Gordon Campbell is launching a “task force” and an “inquiry,” a frequent euphemism for truth-suppression in the folds of legalities and the leisurely saunter of process.
I predict nothing but mild punishment for anyone, if that, for an outrage that has flooded media, including at least two radio stations inundated with the most public fury in their history.
© Trevor Lautens, 2011