Friday, July 6, 2018

Review: Good Bad and Downright Awful in Canadian Investments Today

Rob Carrick is arguably Canada's best known financial writer.  He describes his column in the Globe and Mail this way: "one regular guy’s attempt to make sense of the world of money." He has been writing about financial issues for about 25 years, and has been the Globe and Mail's Personal Finance columnist since that feature began.

I daily read his contributions in the Globe & Mail, finding his writing direct, clear, well researched and valuable. I also follow him on Twitter (his handle is @rcarrick).  As I have noted a number of times on this blog, I find his annual ETF Guides a valuable resource for Canadian investors.

Not long ago I finally got around to reading his book Rob Carrick's Guide to What's Good, Bad and Downright Awful in Canadian Investments Today (Doubleday Canada, 2009 ISBN 978-0385667456).  The book is available in both Kindle and printed formats.  Although the book was written some years ago, it has not been updated, although he has written a more recent book aimed at millenials: How Not to Move Back in With Your Parents: The Young Person's Complete Guide to Financial Empowerment (Doubleday Canada, 2012).

What's Good

Rob Carrick is noted for his direct, clear and well-researched writing. As the title implies, he is not afraid to sharply criticize when he feels the criticism is warranted. I would say that the direct and open approach is the greatest strength of the book.  If you like his columns in the Globe, you will like this book, as the tone is not surprisingly similar.

The book is positively reviewed on Amazon, with a rating of better than 4/5 stars.  Most comment on the succinct, direct and clear writing style, with occasional use of humour.  Several reviewers do point out that this is essentially a book for those getting started in investing, and it should be followed up with a more detailed and current book.

A true Canadian investing champion, Dan Bortolotti, CFP, CIM of Canadian Couch Potato fame, had this praise for Carrick and this book in a review:
"Rob Carrick is one of a small number of journalists who stand up for individual investors in this country. If you’re not a regular reader of his columns in the Globe and  Mail, I encourage you to start. His latest book, Rob Carrick’s Guide to What’s Good, Bad and Downright Awful in Canadian Investments Today (Doubleday Canada), is classic Carrick: straightforward, easy to read advice that doesn’t kiss any asses in the financial industry. The book is perfect for browsing, because it’s organized into lists such as “Seven dumb rookie mistakes investors make and how to avoid them,” and “Ten signs of a rotten adviser.” Here’s one of his assessments: “If an adviser isn’t an indexing adherent, then he or she should at least recognize the value of this investing approach. The test is whether an adviser trashes indexing, and many will. If this happens, then keep looking.”

Keep in Mind

Do keep in mind that this book was written about ten years ago, so the details of things like MER are not current(fortunately expenses in the investing world have come down dramatically in the last few years). Also, there are even better ETF choices than at the time this book was written (and far more ETF possibilities for Canadians). Therefore while you should read this book for general advice, not as a practical guide to specific investments. Also, while you will find some new gems in his listing of online resources, his list reflects, naturally, the era when this book was written.

Final Thoughts

If you are just starting out investing, do read this book. For a beginning Canadian investor I would place this book in the first ten books to be read.  If you don't want to buy your own copy, you can probably find it at your local library or inexpensively at a used bookstore - don't feel too badly about Rob Carrick missing out on additional royalties, I suspect that he would be happy that you are being frugal and saving money!

In an earlier review of a different book, I mentioned that after reading a book I ask myself the following four questions.
  1. Was my time invested in the book, time well spent?
  2.  Do I have confidence in the validity and balance in the presentation? 
  3. Was I engaged in the book? 
  4. What were the author's motives in writing the book? 
I enthusiastically answer YES to the first three questions.  This book is a quick read (at least for those with even a modest investing background), and I felt my reading time was indeed time well spent. Even if you consider yourself an experienced investor, you will still find value in this book.

While I don't always agree with everything Rob Carrick writes (in this book or in his columns in the Globe), I do have confidence that he genuinely cares about the welfare of Canadians, and that he has thought out and researched what he writes.  While he does express strong opinions, I do feel that there is balance in his writing. While any author hopes to have some financial success with a book, I feel that Rob Carrick, first and foremost, wants to help individual investors have success and avoid blunders. He wants them to be empowered to make good financial decisions.

As well as this book, check out Rob Carrick's website which links to his books, and tells you more about his background.

On his website Rob Carrick promotes his writing this way:
"My willingness to challenge stale consensus thinking and, most of all, my ability to make you say after finishing one of my columns: 'Now I understand.'"
Indeed that would be a good description for the content of this book.

So why not give Rob Carrick's Guide to What's Good, Bad and Downright Awful in Canadian Investments Today a read? While many years since publication, it is readily available in both new and used forms.  If you have not already read the book, put it on your list for summer investment reading. It will be time well spent! While details like specific investment products and costs change over time, the sound investment principles Rob Carrick advocates in this book are timeless.  

This posting is intended for education only and should not be considered investment advice. The reader is responsible for their own financial decisions.  The writer is not a professional financial planner or investment advisor. For major financial decisions it is always wise to consult skilled professionals. While an effort has been made to be accurate, any statements of fact should be independently checked if important to the reader.

Disclosure:  No compensation by any company, organization or individual has been offered, requested or received for writing this column. We do however belong to affiliate programs for some of the links that you find in our articles, details available upon request.

Books for Review: I will not promise a positive, or even any, review, but if you wish to submit your investment book for me to consider, contact me rhawkes (at) I am particularly interested in Canadian books.

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