Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tax, lies and the Globe and Mail




Today Margaret Wente has a piece about the John Edwards matter in the Globe entitled: “Sex, lies and the National Enquirer”

For the better part of 20 years, I have accused the Globe’s Report on Business as being the journalistic equivalent of the National Enquirer, except the National Enquirer were the ones to break the Edwards story. that everyone else is in the Main Stream Media are now playing catch up on.

Perhaps the better comparison now for the ROB would be to the Watchtower, put out by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as both publications are all about proselytizing.

I think the Globe and Mail needs to look in the mirror. It’s blind allegiance to the Tax Fairness Plan has a wrought vastly greater damage than the titillating story of John Edwards can ever hope to.

There is however the important lesson in the Edwards matter about just how easily misled the main stream media can be, as evidenced by Margaret Wente herself who, of all people, even weighed in with her own ridiculous and grossly misinformed views in support of the double taxation of income trusts. She must have bumped into Eric Reguly in the hall before firing off with her views on that enormously complex issue that Eric Reguly had to eventually recant on.

Strangely, Reguly’s recant of “Flaherty, the Finance Minister has made a huge mistake” never found its way into print????

I guess the Globe doesn’t do mea culpae. They’re too busy misreporting today’s story to have time to correct yesterday’s story, not realizing that Canadian taxpayers are still living with yesterday’s story.

The Globe and Mail is the problem. How much of what Margaret Wente wrote about on November 9, 2006 hasn’t been totally debunked? So why would anyone listen to her today? I know I don’t. Ditto the entire paper. Consider that my moral of the trust fiasco. Here’s Margaret’s:


The moral of the trusts fiasco
MARGARET WENTE

Globe and Mail Update
November 9, 2006

My husband and I don't own income trusts. Our investment manager wouldn't let us. "Too risky," she would say. We used to be unhappy about this because it seemed like everyone but us was getting rich. Now we're happy, because it turns out she was right.

The chickens have come home to roost for a lot of dumb clucks (a.k.a. retail investors). They've been thoroughly plucked, and are they ever mad. But who should they be mad at? Not the Harper government, which did what any government would do. Instead, they should be mad at the investment industry, for selling them a bill of goods. They should be mad at the securities commissions for turning a blind eye. And they should be mad at themselves, for forgetting the basic rule of Investing 101: Caveat emptor. If something looks too good to be true, then it probably is.

Every few years, some new financial craze takes small investors for a ride. Last time, it was tech stocks. They were wildly speculative, and everybody knew it. But income trusts were different. They were marketed as safe, conservative products, something akin to a GIC. And the biggest target market was seniors -- a group with little financial sophistication and a very low capacity for risk. The pitch was that income trusts paid out nearly twice as much as bonds, but were almost as safe. For many seniors whose fixed incomes have been depressed by low interest rates, the pitch was irresistible.

In fact, many income trusts are highly risky, which makes them totally unsuitable for seniors. "Where was the investor protection?" demands Diane Urquhart, a top financial analyst. She's been warning of the perils of income trusts for quite some time. But nobody listened. There was too much money to be made. As the income-trust craze snowballed, investment bankers, financial advisers, and other middlemen raked in hundreds of millions. Billions more flowed into the pockets of company executives, who gorged on bonuses and stock options and windfall profits as their companies miraculously soared in value after being converted to income trusts.

Meantime, small investors got greedy. They figured that if a little bit of income trusts was good, a lot was even better. They forgot the other rule of Investing 101: Diversify. It's these people who are the maddest, because they lost, proportionately, the most. But the parties they should be maddest at are themselves.

The dirty secret of income trusts was that a lot of them paid out more than they were earning. A common practice was to jack up the initial distributions in order to entice investors. That, in turn, would goose the value of the company far beyond its underlying worth. They were houses built on sand. Last year, the Canadian Accounting Standards Board reported that income trusts were overvalued by between 39 per cent and 50 per cent, and that distributions averaged 60 per cent more than earnings. In other words, investors were encouraged to buy ridiculously overvalued companies -- and pay steep commissions for the privilege.

"I don't expect seniors to do their own homework," says Ms. Urquhart. "The financial industry has the duty of care to provide products that are appropriately designed." And where were the securities commissions? Good question. "All those authorities who should have ensured proper specification of the yield turned a blind eye."

But oh! It was great while it lasted! The management of a company called Teranet raked in $167-million when it went public as an income trust. In another deal, a New York private equity firm bought a humble yarn manufacturer called Spinrite for $81-million. For converting it to an income trust, the equity firm made a quick profit of $87-million. Shortly afterward, the amateur knitting craze abruptly ended. Spinrite's value fell by half, and it cancelled all its juicy distributions.

The pain hasn't ended yet. Ms. Urquart says that income trusts (which remain sheltered from tax for four more years) have farther to fall before they reach reasonable valuations. If you can't afford to lose any more of your capital, sell now. And start asking your financial adviser some tough questions.

mwente@globeandmail.com

6 comments:

Transcanada said...

Investors didn't get greedy Margaret, they made the huge mistake of putting their trust in Stephen Harper who promised Canadians Income Trusts would not be taxed at source.

Be assured that investors burned by Harper won't be voting CONservative again no matter what kind of vision Harper puts forward in the future.

Perhaps Margaret should sit her butt down at the IN-OUT hearings in Ottawa to get a true flavour of how sleazy the CONservatives have become under Stephen Harper.

That is your Canadian tax dollars that over-financed the 2006 CONservative election win.

Anonymous said...

Brent,

In her article, Peggy Wente notes that trusts had been paying out 60% of their earnings…sounds ominous. Had little Peggy known how to calculate a payout ratio; she might have discovered that her own parent company’s payout ratio had been higher. But if you have no work experience in capital markets, and if you failed to achieve any level of formal business education past grade 12, what do you expect? When will the G&M begin to hire people with proper educational credentials or work experience to cover their business section? Maybe the new owners will begin to upgrade the skills level of the reporters writing business and finance columns. Canadians deserve better. Secondly, since November 2006 the trust composite is up solidly. The S&P/TSX, however, is relatively flat, and that’s only due to the lift from commodity producers. The bank index and much of the rest of the market is down considerably since then. So much for safe-haven investments.

It is interesting to note that Urquhart forgot to warn seniors about the risks of investing in financial services stocks. Also, that the G&M had as their star analyst a woman who lost over a million dollars of her own money in some internet/tech scheme. She was sued by the company she was a director and promoter of, and a judge described her actions against the company as “frivolous and vexatious”. All of which was reported in the Globe & Mail. That’s the calibre of person they relied upon. Pathetic….


G.

Anonymous said...

Diane Urquart a top research analyst??? For whom??? The BMO Trust Composite is up 26.5% since her piece came out. The TSX Comp is up only 11.9%. Based on her sell recommendation, investors would have missed out on quite a return. Those overvalued trusts weren’t so overvalued I guess. There’s a reason why she’s an “independent consultant”.

C.

Anonymous said...

Transcanada:

Good one!!!!

If it weren't for Diane Francis, people might think we are sexist.

But then there's always Flaherty himself!

Down with men whose pose as knowledgeable. Same for women. Equal treatment for all idiots. Ignorance is fungible, just like the money we lost to these fools.

Brent Fullard

Acid Reflux (acidrefluxweb.com) said...

Wente is not only a hag, she enjoys being a hag, and called a hag in the name of "opinion"

I do not know why G&M has her on board, she would be better placed at the National Post.

Robert Gibbs said...

Not to mention that her whole article entirely avoided the RELEVANT subject matter of the issue, viz.-

-the significant and permanent devaluation CAUSED by Harper's and Flaherty's imposition of an onerous NEW TAX, contrary to their explicit promises.

Congratulations go out to another Globe mis-reporter for veering off into the wrong lane with her myopic vision.


And as to Diane Urquhart, well enough said.