An ETF based Balanced Portfolio for Canadians

I decided to build my own balanced portfolio to grow my hard earned money. No more mutual funds with expensive MERs neither miserable GICs nor saving deposits. For my portfolio I will be using ETFs, which have very low MERs and offer a degree of diversification.

I based my portfolio on the Millennial Portfolio presented by Garth Turner. Below I am listing the different weights per asset classes of the portfolio (taken as a quote from Garth’s blog post).

Canadian bond index ETF
20%
Preferred share index ETF
20%
Canadian equity index (large cap) ETF
15%
US equity index (large cap) ETF
20%
International equity index (large cap) ETF
20%
REIT index (Canadian) ETF
5%
So, what now? The next step is finding the corresponding ETFs for the different classes of assets. I researched a little bit about what ETFs to use and I selected the following ones:

Fixed income portion of the portfolio (40% in total):
  • Government and Corporate bonds: VSB – 16.5%
  • High Yield Bonds: CHB – 3.5%
  • Preferreds: XPF – 20%

Grow portion of the portfolio (60% in total):
  • Canadian Equity: XIC – 15%
  • American Equity: VSP – 20 %
  • International Equity (developed nations): XEF – 15%
  • Emerging Markets: XEC – 5%
  • Canadian REITs: VRE – 5%

I decided to use only large cap equity ETFs at the moment. I am building this initial portfolio with about $25k CAD, which is not too much. As the portfolio grows, I will consider more diversification by adding also medium and small caps into the mix.

I also decided not to add real return bonds to my portfolio at this moment (I will probably do so in the future). The reason for not adding real return bonds is that the FED is very likely to start rising the interest rate this month. If that happens, the long term bonds will be nailed. As it so happens, the real return bonds ETFs that I have found so far have very long terms. 

OK, now what? The broker of course. I decided to use Questrade

Questrade does not charge you when buying ETFs (well, ECN fees might still apply but that is not in their hands). It will charge you though when you sell ETFs (min. $4.95 / max. $9.95). You most likely will have to sell some ETF shares when rebalancing your portfolio, but that should not happen very often: maybe once or twice a year. 

As far as I can tell Questrade has the lowest commissions in Canada when trading ETFs. If you know of a better broker, please let me know with a comment below.

The same goes for the selection of ETFs I made. If you think my selection sucks and have in mind some better alternatives, please, let me know as well. Your comments are very welcome.

Remember, I am an amateur investor and these are my first trades. So, everything that you read here, is to be used at your own risk.  I am neither a financial advisor nor an expert on this subject. I am a merely a rookie investor and I want to share my investing experiences on this blog.

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Happy investing!

IDERA’s intention for Embarcadero’s development tools

I just received the email below from IDERA\Embarcadero. Overall it means they plan on moving forward with Delphi and the other development tools in their portfolio.

I wanted to share the news in case you haven’t heard.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Customer and Partner Welcome from IDERA

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am Randy Jacops, the CEO of IDERA, Inc. You likely saw the press announcement of IDERA’s recent acquisition of Embarcadero Technologies. Here is a link to the announcement if you have not seen it.

We welcome you to the IDERA family and look forward to continuing Embarcadero’s history of market leading products for data professionals and developers. I’m writing this letter to introduce IDERA and explain why we are excited to own Embarcadero.

IDERA serves over 10,000 customers around the world with performance monitoring solutions for databases, applications and technology infrastructure. We believe database professionals have an outsize impact on overall technology performance and describe our focus as database-centric. Our products enable rapid identification and remediation of performance problems across the technology stack as well as providing unique security and compliance capability.

I became CEO in 2013 and during my tenure have focused the company on long-term customer relationships built on innovation, quality, and ease of use. I strongly believe a successful software company starts with a focus on driving customer success via:

    High quality software – complete testing with significant automated code coverage
    Ease of use – simplified user experience, particularly the install/upgrade process
    Application speed – minimal wait time, robust scalability, and real-time analytics

A software company that delivers these metrics will have generally happy customers. Delivering prioritized innovation and features on a reliable schedule advances the relationship from generally happy to customer success. IDERA prioritizes investment to reflect these goals and we will apply the same philosophy to Embarcadero’s products.

As you know, Embarcadero has two unique product families: 1) heterogeneous database modeling, administration, and performance and 2) application development solutions for multiple platforms. Over the years, Embarcadero also built a roster of over 10,000 customers and millions of users, serving nearly the entire Global 2000. Embarcadero operates globally with offices and partners in nearly every major country.

Embarcadero’s database modeling, administration, and performance tools complement IDERA’s products with minimal overlap in functionality and business purpose. By combining the two businesses, we will offer data professionals a comprehensive solution to manage, deploy, and protect data across the company. We will seek customer feedback on integration between the solutions to ensure we adhere to our core product values of simplicity of use, quality, and scalability.

For Embarcadero’s development tools, we acknowledge this is a new opportunity for IDERA. I have seen some chatter on our community forums and received direct questions from customers on IDERA’s intentions for the product line. I wish to emphasize the tremendous value we perceive in development tools. As applications proliferate across multiple channels and platforms, the need for tools to build the next generation of applications will soar. Concepts such as the Internet of Things or proximity awareness in applications did not exist several years ago. Today, everybody recognizes the opportunity in building applications for equipment that simplifies and advances society. We believe the winners in the application development market will focus on the developer and differentiate with speed to market, ease of use, and pace of change. All of these things perfectly align with IDERA’s view of product and customer success.

To that end, we formed a new leadership team that will focus exclusively on Embarcadero’s development tools and growing the business via innovations and opportunistic M&A. Atanas Popov, a longtime colleague of mine, has joined Embarcadero to lead the team. Atanas will focus his attention on growing the business and investing to attract more customers to our solutions. We believe there is significant opportunity in Embarcadero’s development tools and we look forward to working with you to prioritize our investments.

Finally, Embarcadero invested for years to build a robust and reliable reseller/partner network. Many companies aspire to building such a network but the time and effort required eventually discourages most. However, if a company perseveres and delivers a healthy reseller and partner business, the impact and potential is significant. Embarcadero has dozens of active and significant global partners. Maintaining a healthy reseller/partner network requires more and better product and a steady stream of potential customers interested in buying. We expect to introduce IDERA’s broader product family to Embarcadero’s partners and also plan to leverage IDERA’s talented marketing team to refine messaging and advance dialogue with prospects. We believe some modest changes and investment will expand the universe of opportunities for our partners who serve a global customer base.

From an ongoing communication standpoint, we believe in publishing our product roadmaps to active customers and maintaining dialogue with customers interested in contributing. We believe user communities deliver significant customer value and will continue investing appropriately. We also believe that change facilitates innovation and increases value for our customers. We will remain committed to these principles and look forward to working with you to improve every day and help you capture expected value.

If you have questions, please feel free to contact me directly (randy.jacops@idera.com). With over 20,000 customers, it’s not practical to maintain a direct dialogue with every customer, but we will respond to questions. Most importantly, we will communicate future product roadmap reviews, webinars, and related content you will find interesting. I encourage you to participate in all these sessions to ensure a mutually valuable relationship.

Thank you for your business and I look forward to the future.

Regards,

Randy Jacops
CEO, IDERA, Inc.

How to top-up (recharge) the Internet (Nauta) balance of a cellphone in Cuba?

Cubans can now access email and browse the Internet directly from their mobile phones. This service is called Nauta.

The service can be requested in one the ETECSA’s commercial offices in Cuba. Nauta is a pay as you go service, which means you require a Nauta balance linked to your cellphone before you can browse the Internet.

A Nauta Internet account can be refilled online using a credit card or Paypal. I live in Toronto, Canada and my mom lives in Cuba.  I recharge her Nauta account through Ding; so that she does not have to spend her money.

I have used Ding for a long time (over 6 years) to top-up the mobile balance of my mom in Cuba. Note that mobile balance and Nauta balance are not the same. Basically, mobile balance is the credit that you can use to make calls, send SMS/MMS and check the email in a cell. The Nauta balance is strictly used for Internet navigation, using the browser of your phone.

If you want to read about how to recharge the mobile balance then click here. Otherwise, if you are interested in recharging the Nauta (Internet) balance, just keep reading this post.

I recommend Ding if you want to recharge the Internet (Nauta) balance of a person who lives in Cuba. To do so you will need the Nauta email of the person in question; which looks like this: user@nauta.cu. With that email at hand, just click on the banner below that will take you to the Ding website. If the banner does not show, just click here  and go to Ding. From there just follow the steps and recharge the Nauta balance.

Recharge a Nauta permanent access account now

If you think this article might be useful to others, please, share it by clicking the Google Plus (G+) button at the beginning of this post.

Additionally, since we are talking about cells and phones in Cuba, you might be interested in checking out the articles below:

How to request a meter refund from Impark?

I was mistakenly charged twice by an Impark meter, thus I contacted the company hoping to get a refund for the invalid charges. After waiting for two months for their response, I concluded Impark didn't give a damn about my issue. They did not even drop me line.

So, I wrote this blog entry, which initially I titled "Robbed by Impark? You are not along…". Two days after publishing the post I was contacted by Impark through Tweeter. It turns out my posts are automatically tweeted and somehow Impark noted my tweet.

After that, I had to get on the phone with them and I also had to send some emails back and forth with Steve Tirbhowan, a Senior Parking Manager at Impark.

Finally, I was refunded on January 9th, 2015 for an issue I had on September 24th, 2014. It took a lot of effort from my part to get the money back. Read the whole story below.

Important: If you need to request a meter refund from Impark, I suggest you contact them through their Tweeter page. They pay very little attention to their Contact Us Form; but I discovered that they are are quite responsive on Twitter.

If this was useful to you, share it by clicking the Google Plus (G+) button at the beginning of this post. 

###################### Original story below ######################

Toronto, September 24th, 2014. Around 10:00 AM in the morning. This is the day I became a Canadian Citizen. This is also the day I was robbed by Impark.

I was hoping to park my vehicle in the car park in the picture below. The address is 200 Town Centre Court, Scarborough, Ontario. This is the closest parking lot to the CIC office in which I was to have my citizen ceremony.
Robbed by Impark in this car park

I was robbed by Impark in this parking lot

There are a couple of Impark parking meters in that place. I inserted my MasterCard in the machine (twice), but it reported some kind of error. At the end the machine didn’t deliver any ticket or receipt; which is why I had to leave the premises and find a different place to park.

I ended up parking in a different place no far away. You can see my parking ticket below.
Parking receipt – Canada Auto Parks

Parking receipt – Canada Auto Parks (different place in which I ended up parking)

Hurrah! I was ready to become a Canadian citizen.

A few days later when I was browsing my credit card statements, I noticed two payments to Impark. Yes, the defective Impark meter charged me twice and never delivered the ticket/receipt. So, I was charged for nothing.

I understand that technical problems can happen. So, I contacted Impark twice and asked for a refund. I used their own Contact Us form. They never took the time to even write me a line over email. Almost 3 months have passed since then and I have come to the conclusion that I have been robbed and treated disrespectfully by this entity.

Now you know: I was robbed by Impark the same day I became a Canadian Citizen.  I certainly won’t forget this day.

If you have been wronged by Impark as well, please; share you story on the comments section or click the Google Plus (G+) button at the beginning of this post. Let’s call Impark for what it is: a thief company.

Below, I am adding the communications that I sent to Impark. I never got an answer from them.

To prove my story is real, I am also inserting a snapshot of my credit card statement showing the two payments done to Impark.
Robbed by Impark – Credit Card statement
Robbed by Impark – Credit Card statement

First communication with Impark (October 11th, 2014 )


On September 24th, 2014 (around 10 am if my memory allows) I paid
twice with my MasterCard, but the machine (IMPARK00090417U
877-909-6199 ON) never delivered a receipt. At the end, I had to leave
the premises not being able to park.

Still, for my surprise, I just noticed two payments in my credit card
statement: one for $8.00 and the other for $7.00. I would kindly ask
you to refund the full amount of those payments to me since I was not
able to use the service for lack of the receipts.

For more details, feel free to call me at 647-xxx-xxxx or email me at
xxxx@gmail.com.

Sincerely,

   Yanniel Alvarez Alfonso.

Sep 24, 2014    IMPARK00090417U 877-909-6199 ON         8.00
Sep 24, 2014    IMPARK00090417U 877-909-6199 ON         7.00


Second communication with Impark (November 2nd, 2014)


This is the second time I contact Impark about the same meter issue. I
wrote you the first time on October 11t, 2014 and still I am waiting
for an answer.

For your reference, I am copy-pasting below what I sent you in my
first contact. This explains what my claim is about. Please, take care
of this issue. I have been patient enough for this mistake that
Impark made. It's only fair that you correct the issue ASAP.

Sincerely,

Yanniel Alvarez Alfonso.  
  
Update: Two days after writing this blog entry I was contacted by Impark via Twitter. They asked for my contact information, which I provided to them via Twitter's Direct Message.  

Contacted by Impark via Twitter

After this, a support person named Zach called me. I explained the issue to him and he advised me to email my explanation directly to customersupport@impark.com. He said I should provide the first 4 and last 4 digits of my credit card so that they could look-up (verify) the erroneous transactions of September 24th, and then issue a refund.

I emailed the info to customersupport@impark.com as Zach told me to. Guess what? Another month has passed and nobody from Impark has contacted me. 

Rogue companies like this one should not be allowed to operate. There's no protection for the consumer that deal with Impark.

This has never been about the money. It's about principles. I don't appreciate being robbed, even if it is just a dollar. 

This is about calling Impark for what it is: a thief company.

The source code history of Free Pascal and Lazarus visualized with Gource

Gource is a software version control visualization tool. I thought it would be fun to visualize Delphi’s source code with Gource, but that is not possible for obvious reasons. So, I decided to try-out Delphi’s cousins: Free Pascal and Lazarus.

I checked-out the respective code bases and ran them through Gource.

Below are the Gource commands I used:

gource -1280x720 -o C:\\gource\\fpc.ppm -s 0.01 --hide dirnames,filenames,progress,mouse C:\\gource\\fpc

gource -1280x720 -o  C:\\gource\\lazarus.ppm -s 0.01 --hide dirnames,filenames,progress,mouse C:\\gource\\lazarus

Gource shows the filenames and directories of the source code by default; still, I decided to hide them in these videos, because they were overlapping. You can play more with Gource, FPC and Lazarus on your own :-) For a comprehensive list of the command line options and arguments of Gource click HERE.

The above gource calls create two files: fpc.ppm and lazarus.ppm. I guess these are some kind of uncompressed video format. The files were huge: ~60GB and ~100GB respectively.

Then, I used FFmpeg to encode the above .ppm files into .avi files. The FFmpeg commands are below:

ffmpeg -y -r 60 -f image2pipe -vcodec ppm -i C:\\gource\\fpc.ppm -vcodec libx264 -preset ultrafast -pix_fmt yuv420p -crf 1 -threads 0 -bf 0 C:\\gource\\fpc.x264.avi

ffmpeg -y -r 60 -f image2pipe -vcodec ppm -i C:\\gource\\lazarus.ppm -vcodec libx264 -preset ultrafast -pix_fmt yuv420p -crf 1 -threads 0 -bf 0 C:\\gource\\lazarus.x264.avi

Finally, I uploaded fpc.x264.avi and lazarus.x264.avi to YouTube. You can see them below:

Free Pascal source code history visualized with Gource 



Lazarus source code history visualized with Gource 



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How much do you know about your Government? – Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

These are the answers to the questions found in Discover Canada (Citizenship Study Guide) from page 34-35.

The Federal Government part is applicable to all Canada. The Provincial Government part is applicable to Ontario and the Municipal Government part is applicable to Toronto.

Federal Government

Head of State: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The name of the representative of the Queen of Canada, the Governor General, is David Lloyd Johnston

The Head of Government, the Prime Minister, is Justin Pierre James Trudeau

The name of the political party in power is Liberal Party

The name of the Leader of the Opposition is Rona Ambrose (interim leader)

The name of the party representing Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is Conservative Party of Canada

The names of the opposition parties and leaders are:
  • New Democratic Party of Canada: Tom Mulcair
  • Bloc Québécois: Rhéal Fortin (interim)
  • Green Party of Canada: Elizabeth May

My member of Parliament(MP) in Ottawa is [See below next to the *]

My federal electoral district is called [See below next to the *]

* Click this link and enter your postal code. This will allow you to find out who your MP is and to which federal electoral district you belong to.

Provincial Government

The representative of the Queen in my province, the Lieutenant Governor, is Elizabeth Dowdeswell

The Head of Government (the Premier) is Kathleen Wynne

The name of the provincial party in power is Liberal Party

The names of the provincial opposition parties and leaders are
  • Progressive Conservative Party: Tim Hudak
  • New Democratic Party: Andrea Horwath

My provincial representative is
  • Easter and Northern Ontario Representative: John Baird.
  • Southwestern Ontario Representative: Diane Finley.

Municipal Government

The name of the Municipality where I live is Toronto

The name of the head of the Municipal government (mayor or reeve) is John Tory.

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Canadian Credit Cards with No Foreign Transaction Fee

The Foreign Transaction Fee is the charge applied to your credit card when paying for a service or product in a foreign (non-local) currency. 

The currency in Canada is the Canadian Dollar. If you pay for something in a different currency; let’s say US Dollars, Euros, Pound Sterling, etc., then you might get charged with a Foreign Transaction Fee.

The Foreign Transaction Fee is apparently a big business for banks and other credit cards issuers in Canada. They charge a 2.5% of the amount spent that is NOT in Canadian Dollars. So, be advised that if you pay in US Dollars, Euros, or any other currency that’s not the Canadian currency, then you‘ll get busted with the 2.5% Foreign Transaction Fee.

As far as I know, to this date, the only issuer of credits cards in Canada that do NOT charge a Foreign Transaction Fee is Chase. Chase is an American bank authorized to conduct businesses in Canada.

Chase offers various credit cards with No Foreign Currency Transaction Fee. These are some examples:
  • Amazon.ca Rewards Visa Card
  • Sears Financial™ MasterCard®
  • Marriott Rewards® Premier Visa® Card
  • Sears Financial™ Voyage™ MasterCard®

For the more information about the cards provided by Chase visit: Chase for Canadian customers.

I got myself an Amazon.ca Rewards Visa Card. In the details of the card you can read:

Foreign Currency Conversion: We will bill you in Canadian Currency if you use your account to make a transaction in foreign currency. We will convert it into Canadian currency at the exchange rate set by Visa International in effect at the time we post the transaction to your account. This exchange rate may be different from the rate in effect on the transaction date. We will not charge you any additional foreign currency conversion charge.

This is the card I use whenever I pay for something in non-Canadian dollars; thus avoiding the sneaky Foreign Transaction Fee. You can do the same and save yourself a few bucks ;-)

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