Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Time to write the Canwest obituary, something like this:

Earth to the Aspers:
Don't blame Ottawa for your Alliance Atlantis LBO investing blunders
It's only a real loss if you go bankrupt

By: Jonathan Chevreau, Financial Post
April 23, 2009 (reprint from November 25, 2006)

A month after the Halloween Massacre, income trusts continue to be a bone of contention for Boomers on the cusp of retirement. My e-mail inbox hasn't received such an onslaught of plaintive communiques since, well, the Liberals tried to tax trusts a year ago.

These appeals are being sent to any journalist remotely sympathetic to the cause. And much of the lobbying comes from those with a sharp axe to grind.

One camp is the industry itself and the army of lawyers and financiers feasting on it. Another is retail investors who made too large a bet, perhaps aggravated by margin debt. They're understandably desperate to persuade Ottawa to change its mind, in the hope they can recoup their personal losses.

One senior wrote: "I have lost over 45% of my margin account, because I was using borrowed money on top of the equity in the account."

Earth to this senior: That's appalling but did your financial advisor approve this idea or worse, initiate it? Did they warn you income trusts are equities, not bonds? Did they inform you Canada accounts for just 3% of the world's capital markets and that small- and mid-caps trusts are a small and risky slice of this tiny market? With the end of the 30% foreign-content limit, there's no reason for RRSPs or RRIFs to be so unbalanced.

A third camp is from those with a vested interest in getting the Tories booted from office. Presumably, they are card-carrying Liberals or members of other parties.

Had they been in power once corporate giants such as BCE and Telus decided to convert to trusts, they would have taken the same action.

When the Liberals retreated from their attempt to tax trusts a year ago, comparable losses were recouped and trust investors had a golden opportunity to retreat to a more prudent allocation. But, emboldened by what some viewed as the Tories' "promise" not to touch the sector, some plunged greedily back in again. Their faith in the Tory assurance reminds me of the "Greenspan put," whereby stock-market punters counted on the U.S. Fed to bail out the market by lowering interest rates anytime stocks faltered.

Now, those stubbornly overweight in trusts seek to punish the Tories for having the guts to implement the Liberals' own idea and fix a problem created on their watch.

The telltale line from the politically motivated is the cry "they promised" or "they lied."

"You promised!" may work with children pleading with parents but it's unlikely to sway professional politicians. As for lying, it's sad but regrettably true that prevarication is an occupational hazard for those who attain political office.

Circumstances change. The Tories were ill-advised to promise not to touch trusts in the first place, but what could they do once BCE decided to convert? Wait until all five big banks followed suit?

A structure once limited to small- and mid-cap energy trusts and obscure niches like cold storage suddenly threatened to engulf all of corporate Canada. We were becoming Income Trust Nation, while Australia and the United States and had long since moved to shut down similar arrangements.

More moderate observers agree the tidal wave of new conversions had to stop but feel the exemption for existing trusts should run beyond 2011 to 2017. That's reasonable and worth considering, as are some other suggestions for fine tuning the transition. See, for example,, a Web site for income trust investors to vent.

Generally, with pension splitting and now income splitting in the wings, what we've lost on the swings we've gained on the roundabouts.

I disclose here that I voted Tory last time and will do so again. My spouse and I also own income trusts through index funds. On paper, we've lost enough to sympathize with those whose nest eggs are temporarily depleted. However, like anyone with well-diversified portfolios, we have seen compensating gains in our dividend-paying stocks. Meanwhile, the trusts may yet come back. Remember -- it's only a real loss if you sell.

The manufactured rage is disproportionate to the alleged offence. It's time to let it be.


Dr Mike said...

"However, like anyone with well-diversified portfolios, we have seen compensating gains in our dividend-paying stocks.'

Chevreau unwittingly hit the nail on the head with this statement as he stated that there were subsequent "gains in dividend paying stocks".

The legislation was done to force a shift of capital back to the the home of the good old CEO & away from the small owner investor--plain & simple.

No one cares about the little guy esp politicians.

When the CEOs have direct hand on the purse of the nation then when they speak the gov`t of the day listens.

Sad but true.

People need to realize that the law was passed to aid the very same nimrods who blew us out of the water with the present financial crisis.

Just another good move by the incompetents in Ottawa.

Dr Mike

Anonymous said...

Okay Mr Chevreau, but 4 yrs ago, I`d take my sweet time in the morning, often picking up a Globe and FINANCIAL POST.

Now its like this Mr. Chevreau.

I go where the coffee`s cheapest AND they must have a current newspaper to read. Presently MacDonald`s is the best deal . Coffee`s free for the next 2 weeks, (tastes like $hit though.... but that`s not part of the criteria).

The paper is free to read too.

That`s the criteria sir. I can`t afford to buy the paper, which pays your salary.

I`m sorry. Perhaps this saddens you, perhaps you're angry with a freeloader such as myself. I can even understand... hmmm let`s see , what`s the word... oh yes rage . Perhaps this causes you rage, because I know Canada`s newspaper`s are hurting. Remember this .

The rage is disproportionate to the alleged offence. Its time to let it be.