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Discount Brokerage Weekly Roundup – November 13, 2015

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Fans of Star Wars have probably already seen the trailer to the next episode, The Force Awakens, as the movie is set to be released before Christmas. Undoubtedly one of the most successful movie franchises ever, Disney shareholders are hoping the sci-fi series can also awaken their quarterly earnings well into the future. Interestingly, it seems that Canadian discount brokerages are also banking on robots helping to boost earnings.

In this week’s roundup we take a closer look at the latest move by one of Canada’s largest online brokerage into the ‘robo-advisor’ space and how it is quickly becoming a ‘battle of the bots’.  Next, we’ll highlight some end-of-year milestone dates DIY investors may want to consider to take advantage of some of their portfolio misses. From there we’ll jump into hyperspace through the discount brokerage tweets before easing into investor education events, investor forum chatter and land this ship safely on the close.

Invest Like a … Robot?

In popular culture, there have been positive depictions of robots and artificial intelligence, such as in Star Wars and Star Trek, and there have been the not-so-positive — even apocalyptic — machine scenarios of The Terminator, The Matrix, and the revised Battlestar Galactica saga. In our current world, we’re not on the verge of the machines taking over — yet — but robots, or programmed machinery, have had increasing roles in our society. The Canadian investor space is on the verge of bursting out with its own version of robot functionality.

As we reported earlier this year, the U.S. has already plunged head-first into the world of robo-advisors (portfolio suggestions offered by automated algorithms usually at lower cost than human advisors) with Charles Schwab having attracted billions of dollars in new business as a result of launching its robo-advisor service, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, which adds to the existing mix of dozens of other robo-advisor services south of the border.

Here in Canada, the robo-advisor space is starting to get crowded, too.

As reported by numerous sources, BMO InvestorLine will be entering the space in 2016 with its new robo-advisor offering, which will add to a number of existing players, including Questrade’s Portfolio IQ, which has already been on the market for some time.

While Virtual Brokers has had an arrangement with independent robo-advisors WealthBar and Wealthsimple, it is signalling a more formal entry of its own into the space. Nest Wealth and ShareOwner are examples of other independent players in the field. According to Motley Fool, there are about 10 robo-advisor services currently in Canada, but BMO’s entry would mark the first foray by a major Canadian financial institution.

So, what does this all potentially mean for Canadian investors?

According to the Financial Post’s Jonathan Chevreau, BMO’s entry would lend a kind of credibility to robo-advisors that the banks gave mutual funds a few years back. Chevreau also reports that independent robo-advisors Wealthsimple and Nest Wealth are excited about the news of BMO’s entry into the field. In the end, robo-advisors provide more choice to investors, especially to a tech-savvy millennial generation looking for low-cost investing alternatives.

So, while the machines aren’t taking over Canadian investing, robotic advisors are set to become a formidable force in the market.

When Losses Are Gains

As the saying goes, there are two unavoidable facts of life: death, and taxes. Unfortunately, not even stocks can avoid that same fate. When a stock (or investment) tanks, however, the news isn’t all bad.

While governments tend not to provide investors with ways to minimize paying some taxes, they do recognize that there is a symmetrical relationship to risk and reward that keeps an economy healthy. Investors need to be compensated for taking a risk and one of the mechanisms the Canadian tax structure has in place to do that is to claim capital losses against capital gains. For DIY investors, that means its time to consider “tax loss selling” as a strategy to optimize their portfolio performance.

If there’s one thing to be said about 2015, it’s that there seems to be plenty of opportunity to use tax loss selling. On all Canadian indices, stocks that were lower after a 52-week period outnumbered those that were higher by 31 percent. For the same 52-week period, the S&P/TSX Composite Index fell by more than 10 percent.

As tempting as it might be to simply dump some of these poorer performing stocks at the last possible moment (while also waiting/hoping for a miraculous turnaround) in order to benefit from tax loss selling, as with all shrewd investing tactics, there needs to be a strategy, as well as a knowledge of the rules.

First, there’s the deadline. Investors who sell their losing stocks on December 31st (the last day of the calendar year) will be out of luck since it takes three business days for a trade to settle, and both Christmas and Boxing Day are statutory holidays. That makes Dec. 24th as the last day investors can actually sell a stock for 2015 tax purposes.

In addition, the government does not grant tax loss selling benefits when a sale results in what’s called a superficial loss. According to the Canada Revenue Agency, this essentially happens when the same asset is purchased, or there’s still a right to purchase, by you or an affiliate within 30 days before or after the sale, or you or an affiliate still own, or have a right to buy that asset, 30 days after its sale.

To still benefit from tax loss selling, and also maintain exposure within a certain sector, such as mining, there are a number of tips and strategies. One option, for example, is to sell one stock and buy another in the same sector: mining. Since it’s not the same asset, it’s not a superficial loss, and still allows you to maintain your desired portfolio diversification/exposure. Using different ETFs that have close compositions is also another way to do this. Whatever the case, be sure to get a head start on identifying which stocks will make it into your portfolio for the start of 2016.

Discount Brokerage Tweets of the Week

Scotia iTrade’s mobile app got an improvement, but it wasn’t all positive as one user was unable to access the new app through their Android device. By using Twitter the user was able to get a quick response and the bug was solved a few days later. This week’s discount brokerage tweets showcase customers using Twitter to provide feedback and complaints directly to brokerages for responses. Making the roundup this week are Scotia iTrade, Questrade, and TD Direct Investing.

Event Horizon

It’s an intriguing week ahead for discount brokerage-sponsored investor education events. Here are some upcoming sessions that may be of interest to both technical analysis and options enthusiasts alike. An introduction to tax-loss harvesting rounds out this week’s selection.

November 16

Scotia iTRADE – Tax Loss Harvesting with BMO Global Asset Management

November 17

TD Direct Investing – Advanced Options

Scotia iTRADE – How and When to Use the MACD with Pro Market Advisors

November 18

Scotia iTRADE – Options Strategies for Beginners with Montreal Exchange

NBDB – Tools and Technical Analysis with Michel Carignan – [Fr]

November 20

Scotia iTRADE – Charts & Patterns 101 with AJ Monte

From the Forums

From Index funds to ETFs

Every week it’s easy to find a discussion about low cost index funds or ETFs. In this post from the RedFlagDeals investing thread, a user asks for advice on when to switch from index funds to ETFs. The discussion touches on the optimal amount of money to invest in index funds followed by when and how to switch your investment to ETFs.

Index funds through Scotia iTrade?

Investors not investing with TD Direct Investing are looking for alternatives to the popular TD E-series index funds that are available at other Canadian discount brokerages. For those of you curious about what Scotia iTrade has to offer in terms of something similar, this thread on the RedFlagDeals investing thread asks the question.

Into the Close

Since today is Friday the 13th, we hope your superstitions don’t get the better of you. While it may seem like an unlucky day for the major US markets, savvy investors know that money is made on the way up AND on the way down. Whether you’re doing some portfolio pruning this weekend or content to leave it to the robots, we hope you have a great weekend! Of course, with Black Friday just around the corner, it may be more fun to look for places to spend your hard earned gains.

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