My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant and a partner with BDO. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Investing Like Your Grandmother (or Grandfather). The Results May Surprise You

When I was a young accountant and happened upon an estate return, I was often amazed at how much wealth the grandmother had accumulated at death. This applied to grandfathers too, but women tend to live longer, so I noticed the tendency more with grandmothers. The accumulated wealth was typically in conservative marketable securities bought over many years.


What I found remarkable, as I saw this time and time again, was that blue-chip stocks dominated these portfolios. (Mutual funds were just coming into vogue and no one had heard of an exchange traded fund (ETF).) Each portfolio had the big Canadian banks, insurance companies, utility companies and the Bell Canadas, Canadian Tires and Thomsons of the Canadian stock universe, plus some large high-quality U.S. stocks sprinkled in. Being a naïve and arrogant young investor, I somewhat derisively at the time called these stock holdings “grandmother portfolios.”

As I look back, an older me should have given my younger self a good swat upside the head, as these portfolios hit on most of the critical tips investment managers and experts still suggest today (other than maybe a little more global diversification and possibly some alternative investments):
  • They were fairly well diversified.
  • They very rarely turned over.
  • They contained stocks that generally paid dividends that grew over time.

Shredding my old tax returns – an eye-opening experience


So why am I talking about grandmother portfolios? Well, a couple months ago I followed my own advice and shredded some of my older personal tax returns. While shredding the returns, I entertained myself by looking at the income earned each year and the capital gains (Schedule 3), which detailed my stock dispositions for each year.

I have always liked to have some risk in my portfolio, and over the years have taken some shots with disruptive technology stocks, “find that big gold mine” stocks and “let’s hit the gusher” oil stocks, among other rather poor stock selections. However, I was astounded when I looked at how many of these flyers resulted in capital losses on my old returns.

The technology stocks included such household names as:
  • Samsys Technologies (RFID readers)
  • International Verifact (forerunners of point-of-sale payment terminals)
  • GenSci Regeneratrion (bone repair and generation for dental use)
  • Zeox Inc. (using Zeolite for environmental waste)
Some of the crazy gold picks included such sterling names as:
  • International Pursuit
  • Gerle Gold (actually looking for diamonds in the Northwest Territories)
  • South Pacific Resources (a stock that followed in the draft of Bre-X when it was going up)
And the oil stocks included:
  • Dome Petroleum (a famous oil stock for those of you of my vintage)
  • Mart Resources (a Nigerian oil play)
The above names are meaningless, but entertaining to me and maybe a couple readers. But what shocked me about my shredding exercise was how many flyers I had actually gone for over the years. (I actually hit on a couple others, but that was luck and not relevant to this post.)

My point is, I was shocked at the time and effort — let alone the money — I wasted trying to chase down the next big thing. 

Moral of the Story


While I have slanted this post on purpose to make a point (I typically also had a substantial part of my portfolio in quality stocks and alike), in retrospect I would have had a larger nest egg if I had stayed away from the above speculative flyers and only bought higher grade stocks.

As an accountant I cannot tell you what stocks and bonds to purchase. But after my shredding exercise, I would suggest the following general investing principles be considered:

1. Buy high-quality stocks, ETFs or mutual funds.

2. Keep the turnover of these securities to a minimum.

3. Diversify across countries and sectors.

4. Consider stocks that pay dividends that grow over time.

5. Keep your flyers to a minimum — or better yet, don’t take any flyers.

In conclusion, invest like your grandmother.

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