Investing in a Plague Year

A few days into the market maelstrom of March 2020, I was sitting in front of my TV watching the financial channels. Really unbelievable things were happening. Equities plunged and soared in totally unpredictable ways. U.S. government bonds, the safest asset on Earth, traded in incredibly wide ranges. On some days, stocks, bonds and gold all fell in price, something that is just not supposed to happen. And there were occasional news breaks to show infected people being rushed to hospitals where exhausted and under-equipped nurses and doctors fought to save their lives.

I’ve been doing this for a while – this is my 36th year in the capital markets – but I remember distinctly thinking how apocalyptic this was. A sudden universal threat was isolating us and changing our world, depriving us of the good things in life: closing our theatres, museums, restaurants and gathering places, stopping travel and closing borders. And perhaps most cruelly, depriving us of simple human contact.

As I was watching this unfold, a thought flashed across my mind: Do I have enough cash?

Let’s park that thought for a while as we consider how I have invested my family’s money. I am going to take you on a tour of the Rooney family finances. My consolidated portfolio shows the following asset mix:

  • Cash and Money Market 8.6%
  • Fixed Income 1.6%
  • Canadian Equity 16.4%
  • U.S. Equity 36.7%
  • European Equity 23.6%
  • Asian Equity 6.7%
  • Emerging Markets Equity 6.4%

This should be recognizable to most of you as an approximation of the Burgundy Partners’ Global asset mix. My overall allocation is a little different because I have investments in all the portfolios I manage or used to manage (Partners’ Global, Global Equity SRI, Global Focused Opportunities, and EAFE). But Partners’ Global is by far my biggest individual position, and performance differences are trivial. All my investments are in Burgundy portfolios, managed by our trusted regional investment teams.

You may think my asset mix is a little aggressive for a 64-year-old, but I have always preferred to invest in equities while holding two or three years’ expenses and charitable donations in reserve. Over my 25 years at Burgundy, equity investments have also built up education funds for my kids and funded a small family foundation (not included above; it is invested in Burgundy’s Balanced Foundation II).

My wife is a more conservative investor and her investments consist of Burgundy Partners’ Balanced RSP, along with a cash reserve in Burgundy Money Market. She’s done fine too.

So, my question to myself about having enough cash was really just a natural flight response caused by the deeply disturbing nature of this crisis. I have adequate cash, and I don’t need to worry about the stock market’s gyrations. Equity returns can sometimes look nasty, and this will be one of those quarters. In the long run, however, history has shown that it is better to stay invested.

As far as cash needs go, it is kind of difficult to lead an expansive lifestyle right now. Food, shelter, city services, internet, telephone and taxes are just about the entire budget. So, we are all living far beneath our means. When I say we, I mean Burgundy’s private client investors, who must be considered among the most fortunate creatures on Earth, provided this virus spares us.

There is another vital use for our extra cash – to try to assuage the enormous pain this crisis is inflicting on millions of innocent people. Burgundy’s employees have always been proud that you, our clients, are at the top of the donor lists for just about every worthy cause in this country. We know you will be there again in 2020. Let’s all give generously to help our neighbours. That’s always a great investment

With gratitude,

Richard Rooney, FCPA, FCA, CFA
President, Chief Investment Officer


This post is presented for illustrative and discussion purposes only. It is not intended to provide investment advice and does not consider unique objectives, constraints or financial needs. Under no circumstances does this post suggest that you should make investment decisions based on the content. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investors are advised that their investments are not guaranteed, their values change frequently and past performance may not be repeated. The information contained in this post is the opinion of Burgundy Asset Management and/or its employees as of the date of the post and are subject to change without notice. Investing in foreign markets may involve certain risks relating to interest rates, currency exchange rates, and economic and political conditions. From time to time, markets may experience high volatility or irregularities, resulting in returns that differ from historical events.

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