Lower your leverage risk

By Camilla Cornell | October 29, 2013 | Last updated on October 29, 2013
2 min read

Although leveraged investing is, by nature, a riskier play, you can temper the downside by keeping a few basic principles in mind.

Don’t over-leverage yourself

“If you’re going to do this, make sure the loan-to-asset value is quite low,” advises Laura Wallace, VP and portfolio manager with Scotiabank. “That gives you the option of just paying the loan off if interest rates go up sharply.” She suggests no more than 30% of your investment should take the form of a loan. “So if you’ve got a $100 investment, you could get a $30 loan,” she explains.

Diversification is key

Don’t correlate your investments to your core business. “If you own a company in the energy sector,” Wallace contends, “you probably shouldn’t be borrowing money to invest in Suncor. “If something goes wrong, you’ll be doubly exposed.” You might also want to avoid buying property in Calgary, because if the price of oil drops, so does the price of real estate in that city.
 Similarly, the investment itself should be diversified. Betting the farm on emerging market stocks is probably not wise in any case, and certainly not if you’re leveraged to the hilt.

Think long term

Studies have shown the odds are great that returns from leveraged investing will exceed the costs of borrowing if investments are held for 10 or more years. “For responsible leveraging, I generally recommend a long-term horizon of eight to 10 years, or more,” says financial expert Talbot Stevens. “You may have 
to hang on that long for things to work out. But if you try to be more strategic and buy low, it may pay off sooner.” The rate on
 a 10-year loan right now 
is approximately 6%.

Aim for quality

Stay away from penny stocks or anything that’s highly volatile or has a risk of going down sharply, advises Wallace. “You want to make sure you’ve got some quality to protect you in case things don’t unfold as you expect.”

Also, you must be able to cover your losses. Leveraged investing is a suitable strategy only if you can afford to sustain any losses associated with it. If you have other debts and/or limited cash flow, it’s just not a good option for you.

Camilla Cornell