Canadian Interest Rates Falling

Canadian Interest Rates are falling with the Bank of Canada keeping the door open to negative interest rates, the yield on High Interest Savings Accounts is near zero. I have updated my page on High Interest Savings Accounts, click here to view the latest rates.

This might be a time for Canadian investors to re-consider jacking up their home and rental property mortgages to take advantage of historically low interest rates, and also protect themselves from potential inflation. Canadian mortgage site RateHub lists 5-year fixed rates from the big banks at under 2%, and variable rates almost down to 1.50%.

QuadrigaCX and Kroll Associates

This post shows the text of a recent e-mail sent out by Miller Thomson on behalf of users of QuadrigaCX. For Canadians who want to buy bitcoin, I currently recommend using Shakepay or Coinberry.

Affected Users:

This communication is to give you an update on (1) ongoing cryptocurrency asset tracing; (2) timing for distribution; and (3) website updates.

(1) Retention of Kroll Associates Inc.

On August 17, 2020, at the direction of the inspectors of the bankruptcy estate of Quadriga  and its related entities (the “Inspectors”), the Trustee retained Kroll Associates Inc. (“Kroll”) to conduct further analysis on a subset of transaction data.

The Inspectors and the Official Committee have been working with the Trustee over the past eight months to obtain and consider proposals from third party crypto-currency asset tracing firms to conduct certain additional forensic analysis.

After conducting diligence and carefully reviewing proposals, the Inspectors directed the Trustee to select Kroll to conduct this additional forensic analysis.

Kroll, a division of Duff & Phelps, is a leading global investigative consultancy firm. Founded in 1972, Kroll has conducted thousands of wide-ranging internal and external investigations related to fraud, bribery, and corruption, and is a recognized leader in conducting complex financial and asset search investigations internationally. Kroll’s resources include nearly 3,500 professionals in 70 offices and 28 countries. Kroll’s global team – including former prosecutors, forensic accountants, former law enforcement officers and cryptocurrency experts, among others – has decades of experience conducting complex investigations.

Kroll is working on this assignment in collaboration with its strategic partner Coinfirm, a global leader in AML and analytics for cryptocurrencies and blockchain.  Since being founded in early 2016, Coinfirm has created a powerful analytics engine for blockchain tracing exercises.  The Kroll/Coinfirm partnership will use a combination of professionals as needed with experience in cryptocurrency, asset tracing/searching, asset recovery, fraud investigations, and data analytics.

The key terms impacting Affected Users are as follows:

Scope: Analysis of specific subset of data. Due to confidentiality, no further comment will be made on the specifics of Kroll’s engagement (the “Engagement”).

Fees: Fees are capped at a maximum of $50,000 USD.

Indemnity: There is a contractual indemnity provided by the Trustee in favour of Kroll which has capped the Trustee’s indemnity at $150,000 USD (three times the professional fees). 

In Representative Counsel’s view, the indemnity provision is highly unlikely to have the effect of delaying distribution.  The Trustee’s obligation to indemnify Kroll expires on the earlier of:

  1. 1 year after completion of Kroll’s Engagement and any additional work if instructed to do so, and payment of Kroll’s fees; and
  2. the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (Commercial List) grants a court-ordered release in favour of Kroll.

Due to the sensitive nature of these transactions, as well as the ongoing involvement of law enforcement, Representative Counsel will not be providing further public comment on Kroll’s retention.

Crypto Capital

As a secondary update, Representative Counsel has forwarded the information gathered from Affected Users regarding Crypto Capital to the Trustee to add to the information that the Trustee had already collected to date regarding Quadriga’s activities and affairs. Representative Counsel understands that based on the Trustee’s review of the information provided by Affected Users and information in its possession, there is currently insufficient evidence to establish that Crypto Capital owed any funds to Quadriga as of the date of bankruptcy.

If new information arises regarding funds owed to Quadriga by Crypto Capital as of the date of bankruptcy, the Trustee will consider recovery avenues available to the Quadriga estate.

(2) Timing for Distribution

Under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. B-3 (the “BIA”), as required by the Inspectors, the Trustee will declare and distribute dividends to unsecured creditors with valid claims from time to time. However, where there is or may be a claim by a taxing authority (such as the CRA), some additional requirements are imposed.

Practically, in Quadriga’s estate, in order for the Trustee to be able to distribute funds, the following needs to occur:

  1. Final determination of unsecured claims; and
  2. Completion of the CRA Audit.

Under the BIA, the Trustee is responsible for examining proofs of claim and wholly or partially allowing or disallowing them.  The Trustee may also disallow any right to priority claimed by a creditor.  If a Trustee disallows a claim, the creditor has the right to appeal the Trustee’s decision to a court within 30 days of receiving written notice of the Trustee’s decision.

In its Interim Claim Status Report dated May 12, 2020, the Trustee reported receiving 16,959 proofs of claim. The Trustee advised that they continue to receive and review proofs of claim.

Each claim will have to be determined. Depending on the nature of an Affected User’s claim, an Affected User may only have indicated on their proof of claim that they agree with the quantum of their claim according to Quadriga’s books and records, as disclosed by the Trustee on the claims website. Representative Counsel does not anticipate a significant expense or delay from the determination of such claims.

In other instances, such as Affected Users with a completed withdrawal or pending withdrawal claim, the Affected User was required to provide documentation satisfactory to the Trustee in order to prove their claim. Representative Counsel anticipates that such claims will require time and expense to determine as the evidence provided by an Affected User will need to be individually assessed by the Trustee and/or its counsel. 

The final determination of unsecured claims will also require the Trustee to address certain proofs of claim that have technical deficiencies, such as a lack of a signature, claim status issues, and improper claims to priority. The Trustee has advised that it anticipates to address these technical issues by way of a court order. Representative Counsel supports this approach; the alternative would be an expensive back-and-forth process between the Trustee and each applicable creditor to address these technical deficiencies.

The most material impact on the speed of distribution will be the CRA’s audit of Quadriga’s tax liabilities. On April 14, 2020, the Court granted an order authorizing the Trustee to comply with a production demand made by the CRA for the purpose of completing an audit. The Trustee complied with the production demand by providing the CRA with a copy of the database. The CRA has advised Representative Counsel that they are reviewing the information received by the Trustee. The CRA did not confirm a timeline of when the CRA Audit will be completed given the COVID-19 pandemic. 

(3) Website Updates

Please note that Representative Counsel regularly updates its website at https://www.millerthomson.com/en/quadrigacx/ with status updates for Affected Users, alongside more significant email communications that are sent out directly to Affected Users.

Representative Counsel is committed to responding to Affected Users, rather than members of the general public or the media, and notes that email is the preferred form of communication with Representative Counsel. Further instructions on how to contact Representative Counsel, along with other FAQs, can be found on Representative Counsel’s website.

Buy Bitcoins with Shakepay

If you buy bitcoins in Canada, Shakepay is the easiest way, with very little verification. This post describes changes in verification process at Coinberry and suggests using Shakepay instead. Recently, I logged into my Coinberry account to buy some bitcoins and was greeted with a prompt asking me to verify more information. See the image below. Up until now, I was able to make transactions with just my e-mail, phone and bank account linked. Now Coinberry is asking me for a ID docs, proof of address (utility bill I assume), and I suspect the enhanced security will be a confirm from one of their staff.

While I don’t think that Coinberry asking for more info is bad in general, as it shows they are trying to comply with AML rules in Canada. I’m a little bit annoyed and it takes time to verify an account so I’d rather just go somewhere that asks me for less info. Shakepay still allows me to buy bitcoins in Canada without any further identification checks. I’ve written another post on how to buy bitcoins with Shakepay, click here to read it.

Shakepay offers a deposit bonus of $10 if you buy more than $100 of bitcoins, click here to take advantage of this offer.

Click here to see my post comparing Shakepay to Coinberry.

USD HISA Rate Update

I’ve updated the rates on my USD HISA rates page, where I list High Interest Savings Accounts available to Canadian investors using brokerage accounts. These HISAs can be bought and sold like mutual funds.

Click here to view current USD HISA rates

Interest rates available to Canadian investors using these USD savings products are almost identical to Canadian rates. NBC101 from National Bank is 0.25%, and so are both RBF2014 from RBC and TDB8152 from TD. Scotiabank’s DYN1350 is currently 0.40% which is the highest in the survey.

Air Canada Share Structure

air-canada

Air Canada is a Canadian based airline with a multiple class share structure. This post briefly describes Air Canada’s share structure.

Generally, I avoid investing in companies with multiple class voting shares. I think having some shareholders subordinate to others is poor corporate governance and doesn’t promote the best business outcomes (this is not a fact, just my opinion 🙂

To find the share structure of any Canadian public company, navigate to sedar.com and find the company’s “Management Information Circular”, then find the section usually entitled “Principal Shareholders”. This section will list the principal shareholders and any shareholder with more than 10% ownership of any share class.

In the case of Air Canada, they have two classes of shares (A & B) both have votes but only Canadians can hold the B shares traded on the TSX symbol AC. There are a bunch of voting rights issues associated with the share classes to prevent foreign takeover of Air Canada. Otherwise, the two share classes have the same rights to assets/dividends.

Canadian ESG funds

This post will review four Canadian ESG funds and ETFs. A friend of mine wants to add a global equity fund to his investment portfolio. But since he already has an Asian ex Japan fund, he wants to add an international equities fund ex United States & Canada. What makes his search for an international equities ESG fund or ETF more challenging is his Investment Policy follows fairly strict ESG and sustainability criteria.

At first glance, there didn’t seem to be too many Canadian based ESG mutual funds or ETFs that meet his sustainable investment criteria, but I did find four funds (some mutual funds and one ETF) that I will review below.

Keep in mind that my friend’s sustainability screen avoids investing in the following activities: oil & gas, mining, coal & gas fired power, tobacco, weapons, junk food, plastics. Let’s see if he could invest in any of the funds I will review below.

Greenchip Global Equity Fund

The Greenchip Global Equity Fund (symbol ECO100) benchmarks to the MSCI World Index. The geographic allocation of the fund is about 1/3 in each of Europe, USA/Canada, and Asia, with about 10% in cash at the time of writing based on this fund fact sheet.

The MER is 1.5% with 10% of the profits above a 6% hurdle, so its kinda expensive, but pretty average for a fund of this kind, and certainly cheaper than 2 & 20. The portfolio has a few utilities in it, and the top holdings are solar companies. Without doing any further analysis, it looks like the fund is suitable for my friend based on its holdings.

Russell Investments ESG Global Equity Pool

The Russell Investments ESG Global Equity Pool (symbol FRC163) looks like a fund of funds, with sub managers. The MSCI World Index is the benchmark. It looks like this fund holds a large number of securities that include the biggest global names that meet the sustainability criteria. No company on their top holdings list seems to go against my friend’s sustainability screen. But the portfolio does include lots of American stocks, which my friend wants to avoid since he already has a few US equities managers.

The MER is pretty expensive at 2.32% according to their fund fact sheet.

AGFiQ Global ESG Factors ETF

The AGFiQ Global ESG Factors ETF (symbol QEF) is a lot cheaper than the mutual funds reviewed in this post. The MER is only 0.45%. But the portfolio also holds a bunch of American stocks, which is not what my friend is looking for.

Mackenzie Global Leadership Impact ETF

The Mackenzie Global Leadership Impact ETF (symbol MWMN) has an MER of 0.63%, so its a lot cheaper than most mutual funds. The portfolio benchmark is the MSCI World Total Return index to Canadian dollars. This fund has some fund of fund characteristics, as the top two holdings are actually other funds offered by Mackenzie.

Also, since the benchmark is global equities, there are a lot of big American stocks in the portfolio.

If you want a sustainable Canadian dividend portfolio, click here to check out my post on that.

What is Qoinify?

qoinify

Qoinify is a open source crypto bank. Qoinify lets users exchange six currencies including Canadian dollars, US dollars, gold, bitcoins, clams, and zcoins. This post will describe the evolution of Qoinify and its current functionality.

Click here to create a Qoinify account.

Qoinify is a passion project. It began in the early days of crypto currencies when friends began asking me to buy and store bitcoins for them. As the crypto markets grew, I began to keep track of my friend’s bitcoins on an excel spreadsheet and sometimes I would invest the bitcoins using bots to earn interest. I also started staking clam coins, which were an early fork of bitcoins, and recording the earnings proportionately to my friends using a simple macro on the excel sheet.

Soon enough, my spreadsheet became unwieldy, and it was impossible for my friends to see their balance without contacting me directly and even then I’d have to update the spreadsheet manually and report results back to the users. To overcome this problem, I decided to create an accounting program to record transactions to a database with web pages serving up the data to users instead. I would move the transaction history to a database and abandon my old spreadsheet.

Since part of my passion for this project come from studying the nature of money, I decided to list six currencies on the Qoinify covering an array of money types including fiat, blockchain, and physical types of money.

Once a user opens a Qoinfiy account, they will arrive on the Dashboard page. The Dashboard shows a table of the user’s balances and a pie chart of the same with Canadian dollars as the unit of account (denominator). A line chart shows the value of balances in Canadian dollar terms and a table shows the user’s transaction history. A form is included on the Dashboard page enabling users to transfer funds to other users.

Users cannot signup for Qoinify without an invitation from a friend which provides new users with a code required to open an account. This code is found on the Affiliate page, along with with a URL link that can be texted to a friend and an e-mail invitation form that can be used to invite a friend via e-mail. Users who refer their friends will receive 50% of the fee from staking clams and earning zcoins (which is 10% of those profits).

The payments page lists all the currencies on Qoinify where users can choose to deposit or withdraw Canadian dollars only. Deposits can be made with Interac e-transfers, and withdrawals can be sent directly to your bank account. In the future, I hope to add deposit and withdrawal functionality for all currencies.

The Stats page shows the global value of the entire platform, and the Exchange page lets users buy and sell currencies on the platform. To buy bitcoins, users can deposit Canadian dollars using Interac e-transfer from the Payments page and then go the Exchange page to trade those Canadian dollars for bitcoins (or any other currency).

I would love to see Qoinify grow. It could be a useful site for Canadian crypto hobbyists who want a simple way to buy and sell bitcoins with other currencies. But I’m also busy with a thriving small business, so I don’t have much spare time to invest in Qoinify other than as a hobby.

Growing Qoinify also requires commitment to regulatory compliance, consistent marketing, client service, and a reliable dev team to continuously improve the software. There are other companies in Canada doing this business including Coinberry and Shakepay so a simple platform to buy and sell bitcoins is certainly a service customers want.

I’m happy to continue funding the development of Qoinify on its current trajectory which means improving the software part-time with a team of two University comp sci undergrads. I can also continue gathering new users from my personal network. Alternatively, Qoinify could raise money from new investors and be run like a real business with ambitious plans and financial objectives.

If someone likes to nerd out over marketing, there are lot’s of opportunities to help Qoinify. Writing a basic marketing plan is a good start. This plan will inform further decisions about what types of marketing strategies should be employed and how they might be done. If Qoinify decides to find outside investors to accelerate development, then a full business plan should be drafted and a pitch deck to support a presentation should be crafted. Coinberry and Shakepay each raised a few million dollars from investors themselves this way.

I’m also keenly interested in suggestions regarding web design because this is what users care most about. I’ve found that most crypto enthusiasts don’t care about or understand the technical aspects of money, but they do enjoy being part of something exciting that could rapidly gain in value. So its important that sites like Qoinify make it easy for users to achieve their objectives. UX is critical to success.

If you try signing up for a Qoinify account by clicking here, I’d be interested to know about your experience (whether the signup process, deposit functionality, and exchange page worked at all). So please comment this page with feedback if you have it.

Qoinify is open source. Click here to view our github repos.

High Interest Savings Rate Update (2020-04-09)

Canadian interest rates are at historic lows, and the yield on High Interest Savings Accounts reflects this. RBC & TD are paying 0.25% on their HISA funds (RBF2010 & TDB8150). While both EQ Bank and Home Trust are still paying 1.15% each. If you can stomach the process of opening a new account, 1.15% is a high rate at the time of writing.

Click here to view rates from all the high interest issuers that I follow. These funds can be purchased in brokerage accounts, but may not always be available at every broker. Brokerages limit access to these HISA accounts and sometimes restrict customers to their own proprietary products. Ask your broker what is available or try typing in a fund code on an order entry screen if you use an online discount broker to determine whether the fund is available on their platform.

Coronavirus Las Vegas Hotel Prices

hiltongardeninnhenderson

There has been a dramatic drop off in visitors to Las Vegas due to the coronavirus outbreak. The governor of Nevada has declared a state of emergency and all casinos have closed. The famed Las Vegas strip is mostly shut down. This post will note how hotel prices are pretty steady and maybe even a bit higher than a few months ago.

There is less demand for rooms because visitors are down, but supply has also decreased dramatically because all the big casino hotels are shut including all MGM properties, Stations, and Boyds.

A room for the week of March 22nd 2020 shows that guests can mostly stay at the “stay suite” type hotels. If I had to stay in Vegas this week, I would probably stay at the Hilton Garden Inn near Sunset Station in Henderson ($144 CAD) or the La Quinta on Sahara in Summerlin ($134 CAD).