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As an individual that is willing to consistently invest ~100-150 dollars monthly into an investment, willing to devote an average of an hour a day to educate himself / monitor investments, what kinds of investments should I consider?

My risk appetite is moderate-risky. But I am willing to push towards more risky in coming years. I am looking for an avg return of ~5% every 2 years. (Canadian market)

Should I go with an index fund?
EDIT:I am 30 yrs old. If index funds are so good, how come they have not wiped out actively managed mutual funds completely? i.e. I cannot see any benefit of an actively managed mutual fund over an index fund. Should I start things off by talking to an investment adviser from my bank?
Also, I started educating myself by spending 1hr/day on investopedia. But I gather this is going to be a slow process. Are there any otehr books/websites that I may peruse?

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How old are you? –  MrChrister Mar 14 '11 at 23:46
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Recommended book: The Intelligent Asset Allocator by William Bernstein. Don't rely on advice from the investment adviser at your bank -- their interests are not always aligned with (and often are in opposition to) your interests. –  bstpierre Mar 15 '11 at 19:25
    
@btspierre : Thanks. I did try 'The Intelligent Investor' but it appears that is not a beginner book. –  Victor123 Mar 15 '11 at 23:54
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4 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

My experience is in the UK, not Canada, but i imagine the situation is similar.

It's true that an index tracker will outperform the average managed fund. But it's also true that there's a lot more variation in performance in managed funds than in trackers (naturally). That means that when people look at performance league tables, they see managed funds at the top, and they go for managed funds. That explains why index funds haven't taken over the market - people always think they can do better.

The question is, of course, whether they can. Can you reliably pick a managed fund that will be in the top half of that league table five years down the line, rather than one which will have crashed into the below-the-index relegation zone? You can find any number of pundits who will assure you that you can, and at least as many who will be equally certain that you can't.

My two cents (three cents Canadian) is that you can, as long as you're sensible and not greedy; forget about any fund with 'growth', 'aggressive', or 'emerging markets' in the title, and look for ones with a consistent track record over five years or more. It's not a guarantee of future success, but i do think it's a reasonable indication. I'd be interested to see statistics about this, though.

In particular, look for income funds - that's where the money is invested in a diverse set of companies that pay good dividends; the growth rate and volatility may or may not be better than an index tracker, but the dividends mean that the growth in value of the fund is less dependent on capital growth, shielding you from poor performance. For example, a good chunk of my savings are in the Invesco Perpetual High Income fund, which has beaten the FTSE all-share index by a modest amount over the last five years, and will probably beat it harder over the next five if they don't include another crash (a big if!).

On the subject of dividends, i don't know how things work in Canada, but in the UK, an index tracker doesn't pass on any of the dividends paid by the shares it notionally holds; it just tracks the capital value, with the fund manager pocketing the payouts. I have a vague idea that an ETF does pass the dividends on to you, but i'm not sure.

As for websites, The Motley Fool is good.

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Don't forget to consider the costs of the managed funds. –  George Marian Mar 16 '11 at 1:47
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Be careful about statements like "has beaten the FTSE all-share index by a modest amount over the last five years". This fund did not outperform the FTSE all-share index over the past one year (3/15/2010 - 3/15/2011) or the past 3 years (3/15/2008 - 3/15/2011): funds.ft.com/invescoperpetual/fundmanagers/PPHIA/perf. It'd be more interesting to see year-by-year performance against an index, rather than just it's performance starting at a relatively arbitrary point in time. –  matt b Mar 16 '11 at 2:30
    
@matt: Thanks very much –  Victor123 Mar 16 '11 at 2:48
    
@George: i believe the performance in the TrustNet graphs includes the costs. –  Tom Anderson Mar 16 '11 at 14:30
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Don't simply believe, know. This is your money you are talking about. I am not familiar with TrustNet, but most graphs do not include costs. –  George Marian Mar 16 '11 at 15:44
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Yes.

I only do index ETFs, and index funds and target retirement funds. I do not spend anything near an hour a day to monitor my investments. More like an hour a month.

Pick a fund with super low costs and feed it regularly by auto deposit from your paycheck.

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+1 'low cost' and 'auto' reminders –  sdg Mar 15 '11 at 0:31
    
can you give some examples of such funds? Where do I start looking? Like a website or something.. –  Victor123 Mar 15 '11 at 17:13
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Thanks very much –  Victor123 Mar 15 '11 at 23:55
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I think Index funds are a good idea, but only if you know what you are doing. They can be risky if you are not diversified properly. And not all index funds are created equally. That means that just because it has the name 'Index' in it does not mean that it will perform as expected. Given that your question asks if it is good for a starter investment, I would say no. You are better off starting off with a solidly managed mutual fund with a good track record and clearly stated objectives.

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Except that index funds regularly outperform managed funds, and "good track record" doesn't mean much in terms of future performance. See nytimes.com/2009/02/22/your-money/stocks-and-bonds/22stra.html and tons of other articles and studies that support this. –  Craig Walker Mar 15 '11 at 3:53
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In Canada, most actively managed (non-index) mutual funds charge ridiculous fees. Those are risky. ;-) Active fund managers, as a group, seldom out-perform their benchmark index. There exist balanced index mutual funds which provide asset class diversification and the low-cost advantages of indexing. –  Chris W. Rea Mar 15 '11 at 11:39
    
@Craig - As I mentioned in my answer, there are lots of funds out there lately with the word "index" in them, which I do not think are good investment choices, and one should not delude themselves into thinking they perform as a high volume index fund does. I am sure they are not included in the NY Times reference. The OP asked regarding a starter investment. For a starter investment, return should not be the sole criteria, risk should always be factored in, and index funds often have med-high risk. –  Ralph Winters Mar 15 '11 at 23:18
    
Any investment is risky, plain and simple. Managed funds are not inherently less risky than index funds. Even with managed funds, you want to be properly diversified. Beginning investors should likely park their money someplace safe, learn about investing and start with mock portfolio(s). –  George Marian Mar 16 '11 at 15:57
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+1 - You are correct, Ralph, index is an adjective, but not much more. There are .05% S&P indexes and some high expense wacky inverse leveraged funds that fly in the face of reason. Kudo pointing that out. –  JoeTaxpayer Mar 17 '11 at 1:12
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If you are interested in a single-fund solution covering indexed stocks and bonds, you may want to consider ING Direct's Streetwise Portfolio options. The Canadian Couch Potato does a good writeup on these options, entitled "The One-Fund Solution".

ING Direct offers four different funds; its very likely that one of the options will be a good match for you. This fund invests in four different indexes, Canadian bonds (DEX Universe Bond Index), Canadian stocks (S&P/TSX 60), US stocks (S&P 500), and international stocks (MSCI EAFE). The allocations are determined by the specific streetwise fund you buy.

As pointed out in the Couch Potato article and associated whitepaper, this option may be a good choice if you have a small amount of money to invest, and are looking for a simple, straightforward option. If you are looking at a more substantial investment, though, the MER of 1.07% will make other options (for example, buying these indexes via a TD Waterhouse account) worth the (small) extra hassle.

Note that I regularly read that blog and am a customer at both banks I list here, but have no other affiliations with these.

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