Canadian Stocks

Canada often gets overshadowed in the investment world. But there are plenty of reasons to invest in Canadian stocks.

Overall, Canadian stocks have not performed as well as U.S. stocks or many emerging markets in recent years. Nor is its economy growing as fast as America’s, China's or India's, with an average gross domestic product (GDP) growth of less than one percent. But Canada has some unique characteristics that are hard to find in today’s global market.

Here are five that particularly stand out:

Economic stability. What Canada lacks in economic growth it makes up for in reliability. Canada’s banking system is one of the soundest in the world. Its budget deficit is relatively modest compared to America’s, and especially when compared to sovereign debt-ridden Europe. Canada’s economy was less impacted by the 2008-09 recession, and thus didn’t have nearly as steep a recovery. And with a solid monetary policy, Canada faces less inflation risk than most countries.

Trusted banks. Moody’s Investors Services ranks Canada’s banking system No. 1 in the world for financial strength and safety. The World Economic Forum has dubbed Canada’s banking system the best in the world for seven years running. Look no further than the global financial crisis for proof of Canadian banks’ strength. During that time, no Canadian bank or insurance company failed or required a bailout. Canada’s banks operate an oligopoly, leading to higher profit margins and more government protection in times of financial drop-off.

Low volatility. Like its banks, Canadian stocks didn’t experience the same kind of drop-off the other G-7 countries experienced in the wake of the global recession. By early 2011, Canadian stocks were back trading near their pre-recession levels. Though Canadian stocks haven’t risen as fast as U.S. stocks since then, there haven’t been many big dips, either. Absent the huge gains of the U.S. and other emerging-market stocks in recent years, Canadian stocks trade at comparatively fair values.

Cheap currency. The Canadian dollar, also known as the Loonie, is historically cheaper than the U.S. dollar, thus inflating the value of Canadian exports by making them more affordable to U.S. – and other – customers. Combine that with a strong manufacturing sector and budding export presence, and there are plenty of Canadian companies that are – and will be – in strong demand globally for years to come.

Low tax rate. At just 17%, Canada boasts by far the lowest tax rate on new business investment among the G-7. That’s about half the effective tax rate of the U.S. Its corporate tax rates are also low, typically in the 26% to 27% range, depending on the province. America’s corporate tax rate is 35%. That makes Canada attractive to outside companies hoping to cut costs by relocating their operations to countries with lower tax rates. Burger King did just that when it merged with Canadian coffee-and-doughnut giant Tim Hortons in part to achieve a less cumbersome tax bill. Canada’s lower tax rates have an even larger impact on the companies that are actually based there, and less of an obstacle toward profitability.

You wouldn’t want a portfolio full of Canadian stocks. There’s better growth in other parts of the world, including the U.S. But in today’s uncertain global economy, countries with reliable banking systems and stable economies are safe places to invest.

Canadian stocks might not deliver the same returns as China or India. But they’re also less likely to go belly up if another financial crisis strikes. Cabot's Benjamin Graham Value Investor has a section on recommended Canadian stocks.

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