Questrade Discount Brokerage Offers US Dollars In RRSPs

Big news in the Canadian discount brokerage world today when Questrade announced that they will be the first Canadian brokerage to allow US dollars in rrsp accounts.

What this means is that you can transfer US$ money to your rrsp without going through currency conversion which costs 0.5% at Questrade and usually more at other brokerages. The other benefit is for selling and buying equities that trade on American stock exchanges. This would include any US stocks as well as all ETFs sold by American companies such as Vanguard. Previously when selling the US$ equity the money would get converted to Canadian dollars and then you would have to convert again to buy another US security thereby paying the currency conversion fee twice.

I’ve read of various customer complaints in blog world but I have to say that I’ve been quite pleased with their service. I have my rrsp as well as my open account with Questrade mainly because they have by far and away the lowest commissions available at $4.95 per trade for trades of 495 shares or less.

You can read my previous posts on Questrade here and here.

If you want to sign up with Questrade then feel free to use this link or just use “FourPillars” as the referrer when you fill out the application. For other bloggers feel free to sign up for the referral program and of course use “FourPillars” as the parent affiliate.


Questrade Referral Promotion

Questrade discount brokerage in Canada has a new referral program where you get $50 worth of trades if you are referred by another customer. The basic program has been around for a while but they have improved the referral process.

Lowest Stock Trading Commissions!

Feel free to use this link when you fill out the application. For other bloggers feel free to sign up for the referral program and of course use “dc988dd9” as the referrer ID.

You can see what I wrote a while ago about Questrade here.

Why I like using Questrade for trading stocks and exchange traded funds

I use Questrade for my non-registered leveraged account as well my rrsp and I’m quite happy with them. My attitude about brokers is that their service is a commodity in that they all do the same thing – they convert your money into shares and vice-versa so the only variable as far as I’m concerned is the cost. As a low cost investor I want the lowest fees and for my situation, Questrade has the lowest fees.

Questrade also deals with mutual funds -they will rebate up to 1% of the management fee back to the investor.  Read more about the Questrade mutual fund rebate.

The minimum to open an account is $1000. The minimum to keep an account active is only $250.

My suggestions on which discount broker to use:

If you are looking to do a lot of rrsp “wash trades” then Questrade and TDW are your best bet. A wash trade is when you sell a US$ security in your rrsp, it gets converted to CDN$ (and you pay a currency conversion on it), and then you buy a US$ security and you pay the currency conversion again. They do not charge for the conversions in this case.

If you are looking for a discount broker that offers a lot of extras like fancy graphs and research then you should stick with the big banks. But consider that for $29/trade (if you don’t have $100k) you are paying a $24 premium per trade for that extra research, bells, whistles etc. Even if you only do 10 trades per year that’s $240 per year. There is a lot of research available for free on the internet and $240 will buy quite a bit of the paid research (or a lot of beer).

If you are looking for more information on mutual funds, index funds and ETFs then sign up for a Morningstar free account.  Morningstar is the industry leader in investment information.


Indexing My RRSP

I recently moved my rrsp account from low cost mutual funds to Questrade where I bought some ETFs. I thought I would share the experience with you since I learned a few things during the process.

My plan was to buy four ETFs:

  1. XSB – ishares short term bond (Cdn $)
  2. XRB – iShares real return bond (Cdn $)
  3. VTI – Vanguard US equity (US$)
  4. VEA – Vanguard Europe and Far East (US$ to buy)

I described in a previous post about my first efforts at completing an equity trade. With this solid background I figured I’d be in better shape this time.

If you check out my post on my planned asset allocation you’ll notice that this portfolio is incomplete. That’s because we have several investment accounts so this one doesn’t represent the entire asset allocations. Once I get all the accounts figured out then I’ll post on the final asset allocations.

My goals for this exercise was to try to buy as many shares as possible and minimize the amount of cash in the account and to try to get it over with quickly. I didn’t want to have to spend a lot of time at work trying to get the best price for each security.

I started off with the Canadian purchases. This turned out to be a minor mistake because for some reason I thought that once I purchased the Canadian securities I would phone Questrade and get the Cdn$ converted to US$ and then buy the US$ securities. In actual fact when you buy US$ securities, you put the order in and then the dealer converts to US$ when the trade gets filled. The problem is that since you don’t know the exact currency conversion rate in advance you can’t utilize your last few dollars properly when buying a US$ security since you don’t know the exact maximum number of shares you can buy.

I used only limit orders which are market orders with a limit on them ie if you put in a buy when a stock is trading for around $50.00 with a limit of $50.50 then you will get the market price but only if it is less than or equal to $50.50.

Anyways, on with the trades…

XRB – The ETF had gone from $18.49 to $18.50. I put in a limit order for 700 shares with a limit of $18.55. It was filled immediately for $18.49. Very successful trade!

XSB – This one caused me a some trouble. This one has very slow trading activity so unless your order gets filled right away it might take a while. The last order was $27.97, I put an order for 1050 shares with a limit of $27.98 – first mistake – I should have had a higher limit. Second mistake, I didn’t put in a “all or none” order and 50 shares got filled at $27.98. The price drifted up during the day so my 1000 shares remaining with a limit of $27.98 couldn’t get filled. The problem was that I was already looking at one commission for the 50 shares so if I cancelled the remaining order the I have to pay a second commission. Luckily the trades are cheap at Questrade because by the end of the day the order had expired. The next day the last trade was $28.03, I put in my order of 1000 shares with a limit of $28.05 – filled right away.

VTI – this ETF had the higher share price so I bought it next. Last trade was $146.17 so I put in order for 350 shares with limit of $146.20. The price went up quickly to $146.20 so I had to wait about 15 minutes and it was filled at $146.20.

VEA – my problem with this order was that I didn’t know how much money I had in US$ – I called Questrade to get a recent conversion rate which I used to approximate the amount – I decided to go for 1000 shares. Last trade was $47.29, I put in order for 1000 shares with limit of $47.32 with all-or-none to prevent partial filling. Price went up for a while but it got filled about half an hour later at $47.32.

The next day I checked my cash balance and I ended up with about $900 in cash. This isn’t a big deal since these ETFs will be creating cash via interest and dividends anyways but if I could do it again, I would have left one of the Canadian securities to be the last trade so that I could accurately use up all my cash.

Anyways, it was fun buying these ETFs and I ended up learning quite a bit in the process.


Why I’m sticking with Questrade

Last week Canadian Capitalist broke the story that TDW was offering stock trades for $10 with a minimum balance of $100k. This is important news because as far as I know it’s the first time that one of the brokerages owned by a bank has offered semi-competitive pricing for stock trades. Prior to this announcement TD charged $29/trade.

I decided a couple of months ago to go with the independent brokerage Questrade mainly because of their fees – for trades involving less than 495 shares they charge $4.95 which is a fantastic deal. Ironically my second choice was TD, but with their $29 trades they were a distant second choice.

Having signed up with them, I’ve found that Questrade customer service was quite excellent with minimal wait times and very pleasant staff. I like their trading platform and their simulator helped me get acquainted with entering trades since I had never done so before.

Canadian Capitalist had some valid concerns about Questrade which is why he’s switching back to TD but the fact is that none of the things that affect him, concern me in any way.

His concerns:

  1. Funding in US$ can only be done by cheque and Questrade holds the money for 20 days. I agree that this holding period is ridiculous and apparently there is no other way to move US$ to the account. Having said that I have no reason to move US$ into my account so no big deal for me.
  2. Wash trades – this occurs when you own a US$ security and you want to sell it and buy another US$ security. Currently with all the brokerages except TD this involves selling the US$ security, the US$ get converted to CDN$ (and you pay a fee) and then you convert the money to US$ again (another fee) and then buy another US$ security. Apparently Questrade is working to resolve this issue but regardless I don’t have any issue with it since all the US$ equities I plan on buying will be ETFs and I will be holding them until retirement at which point I’ll convert them back to CDN$ so this issue doesn’t concern me either.
  3. E-series index funds. These funds are the lowest cost index funds available in Canada so if you want to contribute to an rrsp, resp or open account with small dollar amounts then the E-series funds are a great way to do it. However, in my case I make all my contributions to a group rrsp at work so I don’t plan on doing this type of contribution anywhere else.

One thing I noticed about my account is that there are three different logins to get into the main account, the webtrader platform and your financial history screens. I’m not sure what other brokers do but this seems excessive.

My suggestion for anyone who is looking to switch to a new broker or looking for their first broker is to take their time and research their options to make sure they are getting the best fit for their needs.

More resources

Check out the comprehensive guide to Canadian discount brokerages.



Why I Suck At Trading

I’ve come to the realization that I would not make a very good stock trader. The evidence leading to this conclusion became glaringly apparent when I made my first ever stock purchases over the last couple of months. Both trades were Bank of Montreal purchased for my leveraged stock plan.

After doing a bit of research on the mechanics of buying stocks along with practicing on the trading simulator at Questrade, I was able to get comfortable with getting the real time quotes and placing an order with a limit. The limit probably wasn’t necessary since I was buying board lots of a heavily traded company, but better safe than sorry.

The other part of being on the “buy side” was waiting for a dip. I had read in many books and blogs that the best way to accumulate dividend stocks was to “buy on dips”. It seemed pretty obvious that all one had to do was wait until said dip appeared and then let the trading begin! The only problem was an an extreme lack of patience on my part. Once I got it into my head that I was going to be buying some stocks then I kept a close eye on the price in order to identify a dip at which point I would pull the trigger. However due to the feverish excitement I was in, I ended up spending way too much time at work checking the price of the stock. I’m sure my co-workers were suspicious since I was spending a lot more time glued to my computer than I normally do. After a while I decided that dip or no dip it was probably better to pay a couple of bucks too much for the stock rather than lose my job because I was checking real time quotes all day long. The other problem I had was a constant irrational fear that the price would skyrocket and if I didn’t buy right away I would never get it for that price again.

I ended up buying the first 100 shares of BMO at $71 which was after the shares had been hanging around $68 for a while because of the trading scandal. The reason I couldn’t buy when the stock was lower was because I didn’t have the account set up yet and it took a while for that to happen. For the next trade I told myself that I would wait patiently until the stock hit the very bottom (wherever that is). But history repeated itself and I ended up buying 200 shares at $68.60 which felt a lot better than $71 but of course, better deals could have been had with a little patience.

Since my plan is to hold these shares for a long time, the initial purchase price isn’t all that important but the competitive spirit in me demands that I get the best price possible. I didn’t accomplish that goal with my purchases this time but I’m hoping that next time I’ll be able to stay cool long enough to get a good deal. If not, the dividend cheques will help make up for it.


My Portfolio – An Asset Allocation Decision

Last fall I sat down for the first time ever (after 13 years of owning mutual funds) and looked at all our investments and did an analysis to determine what our asset allocation was. As I recall we had over 90% equity and a good portion of that equity was in Canada. At that time I decided to make the equity/bond split to be 80%/20%. This was chosen somewhat arbitrarily although it seemed to be a good mix for a fairly aggressive portfolio with a long investment time horizon. I also changed the country mix in order to reduce the Canadian holdings down to about 30% of the equity portion.

At this point in time I will be revamping my portfolio once again since I decided to move about two thirds of our rrsp to a broker (Questrade) in order to convert it to ETFs. The remainder will stay in low cost mutual funds and GICs. I’ll be discussing some of the specific investments in future posts but I plan to start with the asset allocation since that’s the most important decision in my opinion.

The first asset allocation decision was to lower the equity portion of the portfolio down to 75% from 80% and to raise the bond portion up to 25%. I decided to do this mainly based on the research of William Bernstein (Four Pillars of Investing) which showed that having an equity portion of a portfolio higher than 25% wasn’t worth the extra risk since it usually didn’t result in a significantly higher return and of course results in more ups and downs with the market.

Interestingly enough Bernstein says that although 75% equity should be the maximum for an investment portfolio, 50% should be the minimum regardless of your age. The reason for this is that if you are retired and have a more conservative portfolio ( less than 50% equity ) then inflation is a bigger risk. Another great point he makes about asset allocation is that you should have a more conservative portfolio if you’re not sure if you can handle the volatility in a downturn. If you sell equities every time the market drops and then wait until it goes up before buying in again, then you are better off in a more conservative portfolio (ie 50/50) if that allows you to stay invested during the downturns.