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investor clinic

Google Headquarters

Mountain View, Calif.

To whom it may concern:

For years, I have relied on your spreadsheet product, Google Sheets, to track my investments. As a financial journalist in Canada, I have also recommended Google Sheets to my readers, not only because it is a free and easy-to-use tool, but because the platform can be customized to calculate all sorts of useful financial information for do-it-yourself investors.

For example, the spreadsheet I built consolidates all of my family’s registered and non-registered holdings – nine accounts in total – in one place. This not only provides a snapshot of our combined assets, but also lets me track the weighting of individual stocks and sectors as a percentage of the overall portfolio, which is a handy way to make sure we remain adequately diversified.

What’s more, Google Sheets is a convenient way for dividend investors like me to track our investing cash flow. Instead of having to manually add up dividends from each account separately, then combine them to calculate my family’s total income, I can open up my Google spreadsheet and instantly know how much cash the overall portfolio is generating annually. Watching that number grow steadily over the years has provided a powerful incentive to continue following my dividend growth investing approach.

But here’s the problem: My Google spreadsheet – and those of countless other Canadians – is now broken.

To work properly, Google Sheets relies on stock quotes supplied by Google Finance. Yet, for a large segment of the Canadian market, those stock quotes stopped working months ago. Now, instead of displaying prices for these stocks, the spreadsheet cells return “#N/A.”

It’s not just me. Hundreds of Google Sheets users have been complaining about this online since May, and many have reported the glitch directly to your company through the “Report a problem with Google Finance” feature. Yet nothing has changed.

“My spreadsheet usually returns bad results at least once or twice a week. Sometimes more. Usually the problem is only for a few minutes, but sometimes it lasts for a few days,” one Google Sheets user posted on Reddit.

But some securities – specifically those with the .UN suffix – haven’t worked for months. These equities generally have above-average yields that make them popular with income-oriented investors, including many seniors, who depend on the cash flow to make ends meet.

Investors who own real estate investment trusts such as RioCan REIT REI-UN-T and Canadian Apartment Properties REIT CAR-UN-T, for example, or royalty firms such as A&W Revenue Royalties Income Fund AW-UN-T and Boston Pizza Royalties Income Fund BPF-UN-T, are no longer getting prices for these and dozens of other holdings. Nor can one look up the prices directly on the Google Finance website, because the symbols aren’t recognized.

Like a virus, the lack of prices infects the entire spreadsheet. As you know, the price of a security is required to calculate its yield. So now, in addition to not having market prices for such stocks, my spreadsheet can’t determine the yield for these securities or the overall yield for my portfolio. The total market value of certain stocks and the overall market value of my portfolio are also “#N/A.”

In other words, the Google Sheets document I spent hours creating and modifying, and which I have depended on for years to track my family’s financial assets and income, is now the digital equivalent of a doorstop. Again, many other Canadians are in the same predicament.

“The error is screwing up my entire sheet,” another user complained on Reddit.

Technology doesn’t always work like it should. Stuff breaks. I get it. But this has been going on for months, and Google Sheets users in Canada have no idea when – if ever – it will be fixed, because nobody from Google, as far as I know, has acknowledged the issue or provided a timeline for its resolution.

Now, I know you probably have bigger fish to fry – developing cool AI tools and preparing to block Canadian news, for example – but would it be too much to ask for you to let Google Sheets users know whether you plan to address this fatal flaw? Or should we all begin to look for alternatives for tracking our portfolios?

The way I see it, this should be a relatively simple fix. The problem appears to originate with your data provider, which has evidently stopped supplying prices for the affected securities. You’re a big company with ample resources. Surely, someone at Google could make a few calls or tweak some code and get this matter resolved promptly. Some of us are running out of patience. The lack of communication from Google is frustrating.

I look forward to hearing from you. So do the many other Canadians who rely on your products to track and manage their finances.

Sincerely,

John Heinzl

Investing Columnist

The Globe and Mail

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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Tickers mentioned in this story

Study and track financial data on any traded entity: click to open the full quote page. Data updated as of 01/03/24 3:59pm EST.

SymbolName% changeLast
REI-UN-T
Riocan Real Est Un
+2.57%18.34
BPF-UN-T
Boston Pizza Royalties Income Fund
+0.32%15.67
CAR-UN-T
CDN Apartment Un
+1.18%48.17
AW-UN-T
A&W Revenue Royalties Income Fund
-0.61%30.91

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