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Six Common Myths about Stock Market Returns





“You wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you.” – Yogi Berra

How did you do with the 12 questions in the first article of this series? We have found that most investors have quite exaggerated views about long term stock market returns, mainly believing they are much more erratic than they are.

Here are the facts regarding some of the most common misconceptions and myths of stock market returns.

1. Stock market returns are random.

Most people believe that market returns are essentially random. They believe that the odds of a losing year are always the same, regardless of what happened the previous year. However, the facts do not support this.

A statistic often quoted to encourage investors to stay invested shows how much lower your returns would be if you miss the “10 best days” (or weeks, months, or years). The counter argument by active traders is that their returns would be much higher if they could miss the 10 worst periods.

The truth is that both are hard to do because the best and worst years are usually within 1-2 years of each other. The losses over 20% since 1871 are 1907, 1930, 1931, 1937, 1974, 2002 and 2008. The gains over 25% include 1908, 1927, 1928, 1933, 1935, 1936, 1975, and 2003 (and 20 other years). 1

Note that every one of the losses over 20% had a gain of over 20% within 1-2 years!

Years with large losses have consistently either:

  • had large recoveries the next year (1907, 1931, 1974, and 2002), or
  • followed years of high growth (1930 1937) and so probably started over-valued.

This pattern is consistent and proportional. The only calendar years with losses over 30% were 1931, 1937 and 2008, but there were gains over 30% in 1927, 1928, 1933, 1935 and 1936. 1

While short term market moves (weeks or months) may be quite random, this close linking of years with large losses years to large gains is clearly not random.

2. Bear markets happen every 3-4 years.

While the market has declined every 3.5 years (39 declines of 138 years since 1871), 1 there have been only 5 bear markets (declines over 20%) in the U.S. and 9 in Canada since 1950. 4 This is an average of one bear market every 12 years in the U.S. and one every 7 years in Canada.

While this is less often than most investors believe, market declines and bear markets are a regular part of long term investing. The cost of getting the high, long term returns of the stock market (11%/year since 1950) 4 is being able to stay invested through a negative year every 3.5 years on average and bear markets every 7-12 years.

3. Real estate returns are higher than the stock market.

First, most people know that stock market returns long term are much higher than other major asset classes. Even though GICs, real estate and gold have just had what we believe are the best 30 years ever and the period of time we looked at was at the bottom of the 2008 stock market decline, Canadian stocks have still had total returns 2.6 times GIC returns, 4.3 times real estate returns and 4.6 times the growth in gold. From 1977-2007, the stock market returns were 6.5% times the growth in real estate. 4&5

In the last 60 years, $100 would have grown to $49,000 in the MSCI World index (global stocks) compared to only $6,000 in GICs and $7,000 in Canadian bonds 3. We do not have the equivalent growth in real estate, but it has been lower than the GICs.

This is a huge factor for retirement planning. This is why stock market investments are generally recommended for the core of any long term investment portfolio.

We are always surprised how many people actually believe real estate returns have been higher than stock market returns, when in fact they are lower than GIC returns! People do tend to make money in real estate, but that is almost entirely because the leverage factor from having a significant mortgage. Almost every story we have heard over the years of people making money in real estate in the Toronto area (other than flipping) is really a story about borrowing to invest. For example, putting $80,000 down on a $400,000 home.

The actual growth of real estate has been about 2% over inflation, which is far less than the stock market. 4&5

4. Stock market returns are erratic and unpredictable, even long term.

The most significant misperception about stock market returns for most people is not understanding how consistent they have been over long periods of time. For the three 70-year periods, returns have been almost exactly the same between 6.6%-7.0% above inflation. 2

Even when you invest for only 20 years, the worst-ever total return outside of the 1930s is 5%/year (3.1%/year including the 1930s). Since 1950, the worst 20-year period was still a gain of 6.5%. This is not a great return, but pretty good for a worst-case scenario! 1

The stock market is very erratic and unpredictable short term, but long term it has actually been quite predictable.

5. The U.S. stock market is unique and stock markets around the world are much less consistent.

All our statistics have been about the U.S., because we have the longest data about the U.S. However, the U.S. has been the most successful world economy over the last 100 years. How does their stock market compare with other countries around the world?

In comparing 16 major countries from 1900-2000, the conclusion is that “the United Sates has not been the best performing equity market, nor are its returns especially out of line with the world averages.” 6

6. Bonds and cash are safe.

Bonds and cash are much safer than stocks short term, but their returns can be wiped out by inflation. Inflation is a critical factor for investing. Protecting and growing our purchasing power are the objectives of investing.

Quite surprisingly, after inflation, the worst 10-year period for bonds and cash since 1802 is worse than any 10-year period for stocks! 2

This is especially true in hyper-inflation, where the bonds of a few countries have essentially gone to zero or near zero, including, Germany, Japan, France and Italy. Nearly every country in the world has had a 25% 1-year loss after inflation with their government bonds, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the U.K. The worst loss after inflation for government bonds in the U.S. was 19.3% in 1918 and in Canada 25.9% in 1915. 6

During periods of inflation, companies (and industries) tend to increase their prices to keep their profits rising with inflation. This is why stocks tend to keep up with inflation over time, but bonds and cash tend to lose their purchasing power. If you own bonds or cash, you should fear inflation.

Sources:

1 Our own research by analyzing the calendar total returns of the S&P500 in US dollars since 1871.

2 Classic book “Stocks for the Long Run” by Prof. Jeremy Siegel that has data from 1802-2006.

3 Morningstar as shown in Andex Charts.

4 Morningstar.

5 Toronto Real Estate Board.

6 Book “Triumph of the Optimists” by Elroy Dimson, Paul Marsh & Mike Staunton

Ed Rempel is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and Certified Management Accountant (CMA) who built his practice by providing his clients solid, comprehensive financial plans and personal coaching.  If you would like to contact Ed, you can leave a comment in this post, or visit his website EdRempel.com.  You can read his other articles here.





51 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. I’m glad to find someone who can pull out facts to prove how the stock market is predictable after all.

    It would have been awesome to write this article back in November 2008 ;-)

    Most people were telling me that I was a fool when I told them back in 08 it was one of the best investment opportunity we will ever see in our life ;-)

    Those who didn’t listen are not super happy right now with “safe” investments at 3%!

  2. 2. Bruce

    There aren’t such good days very often as the end of 2008 and the begining of 2009.

  3. No thanks. I’m happy to have my GICs. I think deflation is a greater risk in the near term, so I’m not worried about inflation. Return of capital is more important than return on capital in this environment. Once the environment changes, my asset allocation might as well. For now, it’s safety first.

  4. 4. Germack

    I am not sure if the numbers are correct under point 3. The 30 year return of the S&P/TSX Composite Total Return Index was ~10.76%, The 30 year return of GICs was ~7.28%. Therefore I do not think Canadian stocks had total returns 2.6 times GIC returns.

    Source:
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/investment-ideas/buy-gics-only-gics/article1292666/

  5. 5. prock

    re: real estate – you’re correct that real estate will not out perform equal money into equities, but the real estate advantage is that it’s easier to leverage. Once you’re investing with your own money (rather than the bank’s), equities will likely be better.

  6. 6. Nelson

    Why is deflation a problem?

  7. 7. Rental

    I have to comment on the real estate part…..maybe to live in …its not as good as the stock market….but as an investment….my experience has been that real estate blows the stock market away.
    With rental properties u have 3 parts working 4u
    1 income
    2 principal repayment (paid by someone else)
    3 appreciation
    Being a landlord isnt always fun…but the pay back is sweet!!
    Usually double digit returns around 10%-20%

  8. @Nelson- I think it’s possible that we may experience a deflationary debt crisis for reasons that are too numerous to mention here. At the risk of self-promoting, I humbly suggest that you might read my post for today.

    Given the market action today, it proved to be more prescient than I could ever have thought. I assure you it was purely coincidental. I actually hope I’m wrong on this stuff.

  9. @Nelson,

    Deflation can be good or bad – it depends on what caused the goods to fall in prices.

    If prices for goods go down because of excess is supply and the production of goods then it’s good for the economy because everyone would be able to afford to buy the goods at lower cost.

    But if the prices go down because there is lack of liquidity in the economy then it wouldn’t be good. This generally means that the economy might be on the verge of recession. Generally – during this time there is a high demand for money but there isn’t enough supplies that are affordable. Which is bad, because there would be unemployment, banks become tight on loaning out money for fear of loss (but not to mention banks may not even have the money to loan out).

    Also, when this happens I the government ends up borrowing more money – which increases the national debt – & if they print more money and try to stimulate the economy artificially the dollar devalues.

  10. 10. chad

    i agree with 2 cents capital preservation to capital apprecition

    i like my gic’s for now

  11. Great post. Some comments to your points from me:

    1. Agree fully. This http://retirementinvestingtoday.blogspot.com/2010/01/us-s-500-stock-market-january-2010.html is what suggested to me that returns are not random.

    4. Using average January data for the S&P 500 from 1871 to 2010 my dataset suggests a total return real (ie including dividends, inflation adjusted) CAGR of 6.5% so that’s a match.

    6. I’m always watching for inflation. It’s the easy way out for governments of the world. I’m trying to protect myself by generally buying inflation protected products for my bond allocation in my retirement strategy.

  12. 12. jesse

    Real estate is only 2%? You need to re-invest returns from net yields to produce a fair comparison to the stock market. I would think that real estate’s total return should come in, risk-adjusted, about the same as stocks, no?

  13. 13. Lori

    Most people think that real estate returns are higher than they actually are because they forget to factor in expenses like maintenance, property taxes, real estate fees, and interest costs associated with a mortgage.

  14. 14. Germack

    Real estate numbers are IMO incorrect too. Price appreciation has been around 2% that is correct, however rental income minus expenses should be included in the real estate numbers. Not considering rental income is like looking at stock market performance without considering dividends.

  15. 15. Duncan

    Investing wisely in any asset class will reap rewards. To simply look at past averages and state that everyone invested in the asset class will reap about the same average returns is utterly pointless. The financial industry has spouted this nonsense for years as a way to keep people in that market.

    Every asset you buy is simply a vehicle to get you from point A to point B. We don’t all drive the same cars or live the rest of our lives based on averages, so why should we do this for our investments? BTW: if you look at any prospectus, they always state that past returns do not guarantee future results!

    Bottom line: Statistics are nice and can be manipulated to suit a purpose. The financial industry is notorious for this. Do your homework and invest in what you are comfortable with and understand.

  16. 16. used tires

    I especially agree with Myth #3. It’s something I had assumed readily for a long time too but realized it wasn’t the case later. Also, many people forget to account in all the other expenses associated with real estate.

    Till then,

    Jean

  17. 17. Jordan

    @Ed

    Myth #1, do you believe in the efficient-market hypothesis? Even the weak form says you can’t predict future returns based on past historical prices. That there are no patterns in the price history that can be used ex-ante in a strategy that will produce excess returns long term.

    If you don’t believe in this theory, what model/theory do you believe in?

  18. 18. Rental

    The returns stated above were including all expenses(taxes, utilities). I buy newer houses so maintenance has been minimal.
    I keep track of everything in a spread sheet….how else would you know if you are making money?? The returns get smaller as you pay the mortgage off and become less leveraged.
    Problems with real estate…
    -dealing with tenants.
    -usually takes more capital to get started.

    and about the appreciation…..i guess it depends on the market you are in but i have found that it runs closer to 5-6% in my market….on average for the last 7 years anyways.

    I think when most ppl talk about real estate as an investment…they refer to the home they live in….which usually doesnt have income…but it does have the other 2 factors….and there is something to be said for not having a mortgage to pay at all…then you have lots of cash flow to put in the stock market!! :)

  19. 19. Matt

    Beware advice from anyone who only makes money by getting your’s.

  20. 20. Amit Kalia

    I beg to disagee with author’s comparison of GTA home prices with TSX index returns. In fact, average home prices have increased by whooping 1,250% (Jul 2008) since 1969, about the same as the stock market composite index (1,244%) for the same period. http://condopundit.com/wordpress/?p=73

    Last year, Toronto Star’s graphic reporter had come with this interesting report: http://www.realestate-ontario.com/PDF/GTA-home-prices-since-1969.pdf

    In my opinion, a diversification means good mix of stocks, ETFS, mutual funds, bonds, gold, real estate, GIC etc.

  21. 21. bobby

    @Amit Kalia

    I believe the original topic is comparing the toronto stock market to the average canadian home, not GTA home… if you want to use GTA prices as point of reference, i’ll use berkshire hathaway then

  22. 22. bobby

    @ Rental .. “and about the appreciation…..i guess it depends on the market you are in but i have found that it runs closer to 5-6% in my market….on average for the last 7 years anyways.”

    i like how you cherry picked your numbers and picked the last 7 years

  23. 23. bobby

    @ Jordan.. efficient-market hypothesis is a bunch of bull crap.. value investors have time and time proved that it is wrong

  24. 24. Amit Kalia

    @ Bobby

    Genius, the Toronto market has always outperformed GTA in general. So it the other way around. Save your Berkshire for your retirement. ;-)

  25. 25. Rental

    Re Bobby
    LOL…. no cherry picking……ive only owned the property for 7 years ….so thats all i know

  26. 26. bobby

    @ Amit.. thanks for the advice pal!

    @ Rental, you perfected the timing, good job

  27. 27. Amit Kalia

    bobby:

    As an avid real estate investor, you will agree that leveraged real estate (just enought equity to take care of expenses ) never eats into one’s cash flow (rental income takes care of expenses). On the down side, real estate is not as liquid as stock/bonds/mutual funds etc. It is also not easy to always find good tenants.

  28. 28. Jordan

    @bobby

    Efficient-Market hypothesis is a corner stone in the theory of indexing in general. Since a lot of DIY investors (including MillionDollarJourney to my knowledge) follow this strategy it is important to question one’s beliefs. Without being a statistician it’s hard to tell if Ed’s personal analysis of a limited series of returns of 1 stock market is accurate and useful for future correlations, or if the fundamental belief that you can’t profit by the random movements of the market still holds true.

    Also you should be careful when you say value investing (stock pickers) show the EMT is bull crap. EMT simply says that historical stock information can’t predict future prices, it says all pricing information comes from other sources Value investors could simply be out performing because of their “alpha” ability or the fundamental analysis of their picks.

  29. 29. Ed Rempel

    Hi FB & Bruce,

    I’m with you. The end of 2008 and early 2009 was such an awesome buying opportunity. It may well turn out to be the best buying opportunity in our lifetimes.

    It was obvious at the time, too, for those that understand the market and have faith that it always goes up in the long run.

    Ed

  30. 30. Ed Rempel

    Hi Germack,

    You’re right – stocks don’t have 2.6% times the growth of GICs – its 3.4% times the growth of GICs.

    I have figures from 1978 to 2009 that show average return per year of 11.1% for the TSX and 7.2% for GICs. When you do the math, that’s a total growth of 2,823% for the TSX vs. 835% for GICs – or 3.4% times the growth.

    4%/year higher growth is massive over time!

    Ed

  31. 31. Ed Rempel

    Hi Germack & Rental,

    The figures in the article are from the Toronto Real Estate Board and are for capital appreciation. They relate to what home owners experience.

    Rental real estate would include the rent, less all the expenses. I have not seen a broad study of this, but rental properties have some pluses and minuses, that probably roughly equal.

    Plus – principal portion of mortgage payment & possible positive cash flow.
    Minus – opportunity cost on the down payment & work involved in managing.

    To net them, if you had a mortgage of 100% of the value of the property and paid a property manager to manage the property, you would likely have a negative cash flow, but be paying down the mortgage slowly, and the 2 would probably roughly offset.

    Rents and home prices usually balance out over time. Otherwise, it becomes too advantageous to be an owner or a renter. In Toronto recently, home prices have risen quite a bit quicker than rents. Renting is generally quite a bit cheaper than owning the same property. This can only be maintained if prices keep rising.

    There seems to be a mini-bubble in rental property. Many people have bought rental properties, but the profit is usually low because rents are low.

    I am not a real estate expert and would like to see a broad study of rental real estate, taking into account the pluses and minuses I listed.

    Ed

  32. 32. cannon_fodder

    Also when it comes to real estate there are very significant costs to acquire and sell.

    The legal fees to purchase and sell are probably $2,500 to $4,000 if I’m not far off. And the commission to sell ones house can easily be 4-6% of the house value.

    It is absolutely possible to purchase and sell $400,000 of a broad index ETF for $20.

  33. 33. Ed Rempel

    Hi Amit,

    The figures you show are the base TSX index which excludes dividends, not the Total Return index. The actual total returns of the stock market compounded are many times higher – about 4,000%.

    Ed

  34. 34. Ed Rempel

    Hi Jordan & Bobby,

    We used to believe in the weak form of the EMH, but have come to believe that even that is only partly true.

    On a line from believing it is true to the strong form to the weak form to completely false, our belief is somewhere between false and weak.

    As Bobby mentioned, there have been some consistent ways to beat the market, such as value investing and small caps. However, investors that use charts to time the markets normally underperform.

    However, the market is quite manic and irrational, and seems to be getting more irrational. The EMH claims investors are rational, which is hard to believe.

    Myth #1 also shows that the market is not random, since big gains are consistently just before or after big losses. In other words, the market is far more consistent over time than random chance.

    This will be the subject of an article in the near future.

    Ed

  35. 35. Ed Rempel

    Hi Jordan,

    I don’t know what FT believes, but I doubt he believes the EMH much either. He does pick his own stocks, rather than using indexes.

    I get a kick out of DIY investors trading indexes or ETFs using a chart system (technical analysis). Believing in charts and in indexes are opposite beliefs. They cannot both be true!

    If the EMH is true, then indexes are a good investment and charts are fantasies. If the EMH is false, then charts might work along with lots of other strategies that can beat the indexes.

    Ed

  36. 36. Jordan

    Hey Ed,

    I’m looking forward to hearing more about what theory/strategy you believe in. I like that you’re a facts and figures guy because I’d really like to see the evidence that your strategy outperforms long term.

    At the same time though if you don’t believe in EMH or use indexes then why are you basing your past market performance on the broad market returns? If you don’t invest in an index or index-like broad basket of highly diversified stocks I think you would experience significantly different short and long term returns.

    Just a thought, but maybe you should be using a value index or small cap index to show us how much the worst declines have been, the lowest rate of return for 5 or 10 years, etc?

  37. 37. Amit Kalia

    Ed,

    You said, “The figures you show are the base TSX index which excludes dividends, not the Total Return index. The actual total returns of the stock market compounded are many times higher – about 4,000%.”

    That’s a great growth with dividends in.

  38. When comparing average home prices keep in mind that average home unit in 1969 is not the same as the average home unit in 2010.

    Rental, I am curious. You said your return on rental property was 10% plus because you leveraged and the return dropped as you paid down the mortgage. Do you have a guess what your rate of return would have been if you hadn’t leveraged and just paid 100% for the house?

  39. 39. cash back credit cards

    Why is that so many people completely miss the whole real estate as a market and as an invest that could is huge! I think the problem that so may people have with it is the amount you really have to put out with an real estate investment.

    Thanks for sharing all this information and quizzes…how did every one do?

  40. Excellent… especially your last point. I’m so tired of hearing how safe cash and bonds are… they aren’t necessarily. Thanks!

  41. Ed:

    I would have separated out principal residence appreciation and income producing real estate in your analysis.

    National Council of Real Estate Fiduciaries states historical cap rate in the U.S. is approximately 7.6%. However, this on commercial properties which are typically not subject to rent controls. In other words, your nominal returns on real estate income are approximately the same as real estate return using Siegel’s numbers.

    But the practicality is that most retail real estate investors will be hard pressed to reach a 7.6% cap rate whereas a 7% nominal return may be realistic on the stock market (there’s also an argument about opportunity costs to achieve 7% cap rate in real estate). Having said all of that, some people love to be real estate investors and that should be acknowledged.

    I am not sure if you are doing a part 3 but you should spend some time addressing risk-reward of investing in the markets. Thanks.

  42. 42. Ed Rempel

    Hi Cash Back,

    Scores on the quiz seemed to be in 2 main groups – those that published their score, most of which said they scored 9 or 10 of 12, but all said they guessed on a few – and those that sent me private notes, most of which scored 2 of 12.

    I have the feeling that many in the first group exaggerated or marked themselves very easy.

    Our belief was that most investors know little about the market and have an exaggerated view of the risk. This was not a proper study, but it seems our belief is true.

    We expected that most people would get a low score. I realize most people would not necessarily know the answer, but the idea was to take an educated guess to see if your general perception is close.

    Ed

  43. 43. Ed Rempel

    Hi Doc Stock

    We call GICs “Guaranteed Insufficient Cash”.

    GICs and cash are generally safe, other than they get killed by inflation. But the bigger issue with them is that they are essentially useless in retirement planning.

    We find that almost anyone that wants to just maintain their existing lifestyle (less the mortgage and kids costs, plus a bit for some travel) would have to invest a ridiculous amount (say 30-50% of their gross income) in order to build up enough of a nest egg.

    With rates of 5% or less in the last decade, hardly anyone can have the retirement they want with returns that low.

    Ed

  44. 44. Ed Rempel

    Hi Thicken,

    Thanks for the stats. That’s very interesting.

    Part 3 is already posted.

    Ed

  45. 45. finance

    Rents and home prices usually balance out over time. Otherwise, it becomes too advantageous to be an owner or a renter. In Toronto recently, home prices have risen quite a bit quicker than rents. Renting is generally quite a bit cheaper than owning the same property. This can only be maintained if prices keep rising.

  46. 46. Rental

    Re:Man From Atlantis

    As a matter of fact i do know those numbers.
    gross works out to be a 10% return or 7.8% after tax
    (income with no vacancy)
    with my new property which i paid lot more for…it would work out to 6.5% gross or 5% after tax

    *these number only based on only income …..not including appreciation

  47. 47. Ed Rempel

    Hi Rental,

    Your property pays 10% income on the full value of the property? Or are you just calculating that on your equity?

    Our experience is that high returns on real estate are nearly always really a low return on the investment plus a high leverage factor.

    Ed

  48. 48. Rental

    RE:Ed
    good point
    10% gross on the value i paid for it.
    6.7% gross on what it is now worth (my best guess) or 5.2 % net

    of course it isnt paid off so the return is higher then that

  49. 49. Amit Kalia

    A quick look at TD Canadian BOND Index VS. TD US Index CN, TD International
    Index CN and TD Canadian Index respectively, shows bonds beat stocks hands
    down over same period (since 2000).

    Am I missing something?

    You can compare: http://www.tdcanadatrust.com/mutualfunds/perforFrame.jsp

    Bonds vs.Stocks: Here is another interesting post:

    http://seekingalpha.com/article/134979-stock-vs-bond-performance

  50. 50. Ed Rempel

    Hi Amit,

    Yes. Bonds have higher returns when interest rates fall and lower rates when interest rates rise. We have seen interest rates fall nearly every year since 1982, but they probably were at the low last year.

    Bonds have kept up with stocks in the last 10 years, but their returns are 1/5 of Canadian stock market returns and 1/8 of international stock market returns since 1950.

    In the long run, bond returns must be lower. Companies borrow by issuing bonds to invest in their operations. If companies did not believe their stock would outperform their bond, they would not ever issue bonds. The fact that corporate bonds exist proves that the companies that issue them believe their stocks will outperform those bonds.

    Ed

  51. 51. Pat

    the only people that make money in the stock market are essentially inside traders. To think it is just a person making the right choice?. I have some houses in Florida to sell you to. Give me a break. How does a guy sit around his table with his lap top after a day at work and suddenly know how and where to invest?. Answer he doesn’t and never will. Hence the wealth is accumulated and kept by about 5% of the worls population. 1) if your a regular guy first admit it, I ain’t going to get rich, 2) put your hard earned money into GIC and high interest saving account have cash flow and save the money (what little you have) for your family. Nuff said

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