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Portfolio Strategy

Investing hits and misses Add to ...

Sorry about that, Gerry Coleman.

This column named you the fund manager of the decade a year ago, and look what happened. Your CI Harbour fund, a fund-industry thoroughbred for more than a decade, was on track in late December for a disappointing year.

Only fools judge mutual funds by one year's worth of returns. Investing columnists are another matter. They should be continually accountable, which is what this final 2010 edition of the Portfolio Strategy column is all about. Let's look back at some of the ideas presented in this space and check how they're working out.

A profile of Mr. Coleman led off the year and noted that CI Harbour had beaten both the average fund in the Canadian focused equity category and the S&P/TSX composite total return index (including dividends) over the previous decade. Today's updated 10-year numbers still look great, but the one-year 5.4-per-cent return to Nov. 30 ran well behind both the index's 16.3 per cent and the average peer fund's 9.3 per cent. Let's call this a chance to buy a quality fund at a low point.

Higher interest rates were widely anticipated early in 2010, so a mid-January column looked at how to manage the bonds in a portfolio. The basic message was to find the right percentage of bonds for your portfolio and stick to it. That worked out well as many of the most widely held bond funds had year-to-date returns of about 6 per cent as of late December.

Some additional thoughts on bonds from a year ago that are pertinent to the rising rate outlook for 2011: Short-term bonds (maturing in one through five years) and bond funds will fall less in price when rates move higher. The longer the term of the bonds or bond funds you hold, the more they can fall in price. Individual bonds do mature and pay your money back, however.

In March, this column labelled 2010 the year of the dividend. It wasn't. As of earlier this week, both the S&P/TSX Canadian Dividend Aristocrats and Dow Jones Canada Select Dividend Index had underperformed the S&P/TSX Composite Total Return Index. In other words, a pair of indexes constructed with blue-chip dividend payers lagged behind the much broader composite index.

Dividend stocks were far from a total loss, however. That March column presented six lists of dividend stocks, including one based on my own personal holdings that gained an average 13 per cent for the year through earlier this week. Add an average dividend yield of 2.8 per cent and you get a total return of close to 16 per cent.

The five stocks I chose were Cameco, Canadian National Railway, Fortis Inc., Rogers Communications and TransCanada Corp. All are dividend-growth stocks and all have bumped up their quarterly payouts in the past year or so.

A May column suggested investors do a risk assessment of their portfolios using an excellent website called RiskGrades.com. This free online tool is worth a visit any time to look up the risk scores for your individual stocks and exchange-traded funds (there's a full Canadian database) as well as your entire portfolio.

RiskGrades also shows how higher risk brings the potential for higher returns. The six stocks in the S&P/TSX 60 index with the highest RiskGrade scores averaged 38.6 per cent for the year to date, while the six lowest-risk stocks averaged 15 per cent. Just remember that higher-risk stocks will lead the market lower during the next correction.

The end of the income trust sector as we know it was the topic of a June column that introduced a new term coined by IncomeTrustResearch.com's Harry Levant - high-yield corporation. The pending 2011 introduction of a new tax on income trust distributions has prompted many trusts to convert into corporations paying a higher-yielding dividend flow than many blue-chip dividend stocks.

Mr. Levant offered up some names of trusts that were expected to pay the same amount of income in 2011 as they did before, and the average gain for the group on a year-to-date basis was 20.7 per cent. The average yield was 7.5 per cent, which encompasses a range of 4.5 per cent for Canadian Real Estate Investment Trust to 10.4 per cent for Medical Facilities Corp.

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