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investor clinic

Is there a good book you recommend for retail investors? I have read several that explain how markets and trading work, but I have found very few that discuss the strategies one should use to invest profitably. One of the hardest decisions I have is when to sell, since if I don’t have extra cash the only way to buy another stock is to sell something first.

As I discussed in a recent column, I’m not a fan of trying to create wealth by trading. Instead, I believe in building a diversified portfolio of solid companies, or exchange-traded funds, and holding them for the long run. Focusing on stocks that raise their dividends regularly has worked well for me, as a growing payout is usually a sign of a healthy company and provides a powerful incentive to stay invested instead of constantly trading in and out.

When I was starting out, one of the most influential books I read was Lowell Miller’s The Single Best Investment: Creating Wealth with Dividend Growth. It is an engaging and accessible read that will not only give you the tools to identify great dividend stocks, but will help you deal with the 24/7 onslaught of market noise that often leads small investors astray.

I’m not exaggerating when I say the book might very well change how you think about investing.

As Mr. Miller, the founder and now-retired chief investment officer of Miller/Howard Investments, writes in the book’s introduction:

“Investing isnʼt some athletic event where agility and flashes of virtuosity are the secrets of success. Rather, investing really is investing – the methodical accumulation of capital through a sensible and disciplined plan which recognizes that ‘shares’ are not little numbers that jump around in the paper every day.

“They represent a partnership interest in a real and going business. Your plan, very simply, must recognize that you will manage your investments by actually being an investor – a passive partner in a real and going business.”

Even though it’s a U.S. book and the latest edition was published in 2006, the principles are still relevant to Canadian investors. Here’s the best part: The book is now available as a free PDF download from Miller/Howard’s website at: bit.ly/SingleBestInvest.

Prefer a hard copy? Check online or at your local library.


In The Single Best Investment, Lowell Miller writes that a company’s bonds should have a Standard & Poor’s credit rating of BBB+ or better – considered “investment grade” – to qualify as a suitable stock. Is the bond rating something you consider when buying a stock for your model portfolio? Is there an easy way to check this for individual companies in Canada? I have tried scrolling through lists of bonds in my brokerage account but I can’t seem to find bond ratings for individual companies.

Yes, I consider the credit rating when buying stocks personally and in my model Yield Hog Dividend Growth Portfolio (tgam.ca/dividendportfolio). A lousy credit rating indicates that a company could have trouble meeting its obligations, and in such cases the dividend is often the first casualty. For that reason, I usually stay away from companies whose bonds are rated as “speculative,” or below investment grade.

Mr. Miller’s minimum credit rating is slightly more stringent than the common definition of investment grade, which includes anything rated BBB- or higher by Standard & Poor’s. According to S&P, companies in the BBB family generally have “adequate capacity to meet financial commitments, but [are] more subject to adverse economic conditions” than those rated A, AA or AAA. (Fitch and DBRS use a similar letter rating system as S&P, while Moody’s defines investment grade as anything rated Baa3 or higher on its scale.)

(One exception to the investment grade rule in my model portfolio is Restaurant Brands International Inc., whose debt is rated BB by S&P. However, the agency recently upgraded the owner of Tim Hortons, Burger King and Popeyes to “stable” from “negative,” saying it expects a continued rebound in sales and profitability as the pandemic recedes and the company opens more franchised restaurants. So I’m comfortable giving Restaurant Brands some slack on its credit rating.)

There are several ways to find a company’s credit ratings. One is to check the investor relations section of its website. A Google search of “BCE credit rating,” for example, brought up a company web page with all of BCE Inc.’s bond, commercial paper and preferred share credit ratings from S&P, Moody’s and DBRS. BCE and other companies typically provide additional credit rating information and analysis in their annual reports.

Another option is to go directly to the credit rating agencies themselves. For example, the DBRS website – dbrsmorningstar.com – lets you search for a company and read detailed reports about its recent credit rating changes or confirmations. This will give you an even deeper understanding of the company’s financial position and outlook. S&P and Moody’s also make credit reports available, but you’ll need to register to get access.

E-mail your questions to jheinzl@globeandmail.com. I’m not able to respond personally to e-mails but I choose certain questions to answer in my column.

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