Musings – June 22 version

Monday morning delivered the news of a merger announcement between two of my banks. It’s not often I get to play both sides of a deal, so I have to enjoy this one. PB was a hold in my portfolio representing about 1.7% where LTXB was a buy having risen to 1.8% on its’ way to a 3% maximum. My confidence was so bullish that LTXB was my one entrant in Roadmap 2 Retire‘s 2019 Contest. My confidence was inspired by Kevin Hanigan’s (LTXB President & CEO) response on the Q2 2018 Earnings call (July 18, 2018) response in the Q&A on the M&A topic, “We are trying to position the franchise to be the prettiest girl at the dance, whether we’re a buyer or a seller. And I think we’ll soon be a whole lot prettier, if not the prettiest girl at the dance.

Pretty they became as PB is paying 0.528 shares and $6.28 cash for each LTXB share. I plan to vote in favor of the transaction (on both sides), pocket the cash and sell the new shares – retaining the old. Moral to the story – you never know the gem you’ll find embedded in earnings calls.


My initial take with Facebook’s Libra Cryptocurrency is that it’s intriguing, plausible but comes with contradictions. Now – similar to the Mueller report – I’m still digesting the details, but the first two to jump out at me were:

  • Envisioned both as a Stablecoin (tied to a basket of fiat currencies) and a viable alternative to the unbanked masses, is to a degree, an oxymoron as I doubt the majority of the unbanked are versed in currency exchange fluctuations which could have either a positive or negative impact to their wealth.
  • The white paper addresses a goal of social goodness through ethical actors, yet a cursory review of the Founding Members reveals the following:
    • PayU (part of Naspers which had a controversial move from South Africa to the Netherlands – socially responsible?)
    • One founder is Thrive Capital – a VC firm run by Joshua Kushner (Jared’s brother), which would be a potential question mark worthy of further investigation

My interest lies more in the unnamed banks which will be holding all these low cost deposits, and I’m sure there will be more to follow …


The final point this week is on tariffs. Unless a country is self-sufficient, trade is not a zero sum game. There will be surpluses here and deficits there, the goal being all is basically even when viewed on a multilateral basis. My thinking is that the president has been one-upped in the trade war he started. If a measure of greatness is the wealth of a country, perhaps the campaign slogan should be “Making America Irrelevant Again“. China’s reaction (in the long game) to the tit-for-tat brinkmanship has been to reduce tariffs on other country’s goods when retaliating against US tariffs. Good luck getting these markets back …

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My Updated Crypto View

Occasionally I use this space for further elaboration on topics that recently garnered my attention. I spent the better part of this past week on one such beast thanks to Caleb over at Buy, Hold Long. He recently added a You Tube channel to his site and the topic on crypto diversification got my attention (as well as a few views). I can’t say my opinion was changed (it wasn’t) as a review of my original thesis reflects (by chance) I pegged the top of the crypto market (almost). His approach though had me reflecting on the similarities to DGI strategies.

The BHL analysis essentially takes the top 100 currencies by market cap to determine the most profitable investing approach. One of the two Crypto ETFs awaiting SEC approval uses a similar methodology, albeit with the top ten. Some of the questions I posed to BHL are indeed reflected in the Bitwise ETF Trust‘s S-1. For instance, an inflation adjusted formula is used and trade suspensions and hard forks are addressed. Private keys and cold storage (security) have been anticipated and rebalances are monthly. The biggest difference between BHL’s Top Ten and Bitwise is that BHL is equal weight and Bitwise is more market cap (with some constraints) weighted. Additionally, Bitwise will carry a 2-3% fee.

There are some intricacies needing to be fleshed out notably in the KYC and FASB/IFRS space which may result in crypto purists losing faith primarily due to the potential loss of any remaining anonymity. Yet some (like me) may come around thanks to the ease of negotiating multiple wallets, exchanges, and yes, diversity. Until then, I’ll keep my head in the sand waiting for the day US investors have a legitimate crypto ETF alternative.

My final concern with the BHL study (date bias) can not be proven in my cursory review, as my question also reflected date bias. I can state the broader model outperformed as it did in BHL’s although with lower gains. Second was the Top Ten. I do think BHL may be onto something and encourage you to take a look at his efforts!

Mexican Standoff

A confrontation in which no strategy exists that allows any party to achieve victory. As a result, all participants need to maintain the strategic tension, which remains unresolved until some outside event makes it possible to resolve it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_standoff

On May 30th, the Trump administration announced stepped tariffs on Mexican imports under cover of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. Once again it appears to have been a bargaining ploy using the American consumer and farmers as pawns in a game of Chicken as these were “indefinitely suspended” on June 7th – perhaps realizing the signature USMTA was now at risk by this action or the push back by the business community or the fact that Republican Senators realized they did indeed have a backbone (albeit, small).

While I’ve never been a huge fan of ETFs as my view is that an investor is consigning themselves to the average, my preference being to develop a thesis and buy individual companies in support of the idea – with the expectation being the return will be outside the norm (hopefully in a positive manner). That said, I realize ETFs can – and do – serve a purpose and as such I have five in my portfolio, one being iShares MSCI Mexico Capped ETF (EWW). This issue peaked at $44.54 on May 30th before bottoming at $42.64 on June 3rd which is precisely where my order to add executed. Yes, it was luck calling a bottom but it was also a validation of the Headline Risk concept.

One of the first analyses published was that of a short-seller, BOOX research. He does present a decent argument on all counts, save one. This was followed by Liumin Chen’s analysis which missed the same issue. To be fair, I’m now operating in hindsight – post Trump’s reversal, but I did spend most of last weekend forming my conclusion which was the negative tariff impact to EWW was overblown due to one factor. One where you can’t just look at the forest without reviewing the respective trees.

One uncertainty I have with BOOX is his view of a pending peso devaluation as that would likely torpedo any trade agreement and give rise to currency manipulator status. More important is the view that the Consumer Staples exposure is a negative. While it is true that this sector comprises 30.5% of the ETF, only one of the top ten (Walmart de Mexico) has significant Mexican domestic consumer exposure where US imports (tariffs) could be in play. The other two Staples either don’t interact with the US (Fomento Economico Mexicano) or has significant US operations in their own right (Grupo Bimbo with 22,000 US employees). My take is tariffs would slow – but not cripple – the Mexican economy.

Indeed there could be a silver lining for Mexican multinationals that do not import US products. Some brands at the forefront are Tracfone (America Movil), Groupo Mexico (Southern Copper) and the aforementioned Bimbo (Thomas, Entenmann’s, Mrs. Baird’s). Basically these entities could be repatriating US gained profits in inflated USD to Mexico as artificially depressed MXN. A possible spread play that is typically the province of banks and insurers – and an untended consequence that probably escaped the purview of the experts running this show. The icing on the cake? Cemex with 11 plants and 50 quarries in the US. What’s a good border wall without cement and concrete from a Mexican owned company paid for by US taxpayers?

So this is a contrarian play which – so far – is in the money. I believe the real pain would have been felt in the auto and produce industries which do have significant numbers of US workers. Hopefully this is a fire drill that won’t be reenacted any time soon.

May 2019 Update

It’s little wonder that a generally good earnings season was ignored due to rising questions about the economy for the remainder of the year. From the failed trade talks with China putting a damper on the beginning of the month, the president just couldn’t help himself and decided to intermix trade and policy issues on a second front, this time being tariffs on Mexico. End result was the DOW saw six straight weeks of losses and May was the longest losing streak since 2011. To this we can now add the uncertainty of the new NAFTA deal as it is trilateral as opposed to bilateral and the recipe is set for continued disruption. But of course, this could be simply a negotiating tactic in which the living standards of Americans are in play. This month the S&P lost 7.04% (almost erasing the gains for the year) while my portfolio lost 5.85%. For the year, I’m now ahead of the benchmark by 1.2%.

PORTFOLIO UPDATES

  • increased my BDX position

DIVIDENDS

While my primary focus resides on dividends with the goal being a rising flow of dividends on an annual basis, I’m placing less emphasis on the quarterly numbers as the number of semi-annual, interim/final and annual cycles have been steadily increasing in my portfolio.

  • May delivered an increase of 19.57% Y/Y, the largest impacts – essentially getting back on track after the earlier dividend cuts.
  • May delivered a 13.02% increase over last quarter (Feb) – slightly above announced (net) dividend increases.
  • Dividend increases averaged 9.22% with 48.02% of the portfolio delivering at least one increase (including 4 cuts (two being OMI)). This is off last years’ pace and I believe a new personal record for dividend cuts in a single year since about 1980.
  • 2019 Dividends received were 43.17% of 2018 total dividends putting me on target to exceed last years’ total in late October. The YTD run rate is 105.64% of 2018 slightly under my 110.0% goal.

Note: I updated my Goals page to provide a visual of these numbers.  Based on Mr All Things Money’s instruction set with a conversion to percentages.  My code only updates when the monthly Y/Y number is exceeded.  Otherwise, the prior year actual is used.

SPINOFFs

On Oct 4,2018 MSG filed a confidential Form 10 to spin the sports business

MERGERS

XRX merger with Fujifilm cancelled (still being litigated).

TSS to merge into GPN (all stock, .8101 sh GPN for each TSS sh) estimated to complete in October – Upon the announcement, I was prepared to sell my TSS position to book almost a triple in just over 4 years as GPN currently pays only a penny per share dividend per quarter. However, page 14 of their slideshow states: Dividend – maintain TSYS’ dividend yield. This would appear to indicate an increase in GPN’s dividend, so for now I’ll hold.

CORPORATE ACTIONS

  • FFIN declared a 2:1 stock split effective June 3rd

SUMMARY

The blog data conversion to 2019 is almost complete still being worked on. The most significant error is my cost basis (dividend date screen) which doesn’t yet account for all DRIP additions (so it is a minimal understatement – but I strive for accuracy). One more formula to construct to complete this effort.

Hope your month/quarter was a good one!

Trump-Tied Banks

Headline Risk

the possibility that a news story will adversely affect a stock’s price

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/h/headline-risk.asp

As my readers are aware, for a variety of reasons I’ve had an affinity for the banking sector following the financial crisis. Outside the rants of a few of the current presidential contenders highlighting abuses against the ‘normal people’, this sector has been relatively subdued albeit with a major storm cloud brewing on the horizon. This formation hit my radar with the August 19th, 2018 article in the American Banker. Since then, I’ve been tracking the progress of this storm to either identify a manner to profit from the event, to see if it dissipates or if it evolves into a black swan.

This week, the storm finally arrived although I have yet to batten down the hatches. My sense of urgency to publish my findings only increased when I ran across a piece by one of our own, All About Interest, in determining a possible investment in Citizens Financial Group (CFG). My response was: Tending to err with an abundance of caution, I would dig much deeper on CFG. Their former parent had financial issues (hence the spinoff) and most recently has been the associated with Manafort loans (speculation is they are ‘Lender B’ in the Mueller report). Another bank with Manafort ties (BANC) last week cut their dividend by 53.8% – although this could be unrelated and pure coincidence. Basically pointing out a basic flaw in pure DGI screening methodology – Headline Risk.

  • CFG has had a troubled history probably due to its’ former parent, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) (IPO’d in 2014, fully divested in 2015)
  • CFG was apparently “Lender B” in the Mueller Report with questionable loans to Manafort (perhaps a coincidence, they issued $300m in stock as Series D preferred in January)
  • Another bank involved in Manafort loans, BANC, announced a dividend cut of 53.8% effective July (I can’t say if there is a correlation)
  • An indictment against another Manafort lender, Federal Savings Bank (pvt) CEO Stephen Calk, was unsealed after I posted my comment (alleging his personal actions to bypass standard loan processes resulted in a $16m loss to the institution)

Certainly enough thunder to keep me away from an investment in any of these. My count indicates the Trump 8 identified by the American Banker has more than doubled and now stands at 15 – some of which I’m invested in. I’ve basically categorized them into Questionable, Cooperator, Cautionary, Litigant in addition to the three Culpables addressed previously. This is not to imply any wrongdoing – only one of the barometers I use to assess relative safety and mitigate Headline Risk.

QUESTIONABLEhave issues that are unsettling to my investment philosophy

  • Sterling National Bank (SNL) – provided financing for Cohen’s taxi-medallion business
  • Signature Bank (SBNY) – allegedly lent money to real estate developers, (including Kushner’s family) that used improper tactics to push out low rent tenants. Ivanka served on the board between 2011 and 2013.

CAUTIONARYhave potential exposure but appear to be on the right track

  • First Republic Bank (FRC) – filed a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) on flow through money related to the Stormy Daniels payment and a Columbus Nova payment (Russian Billionaire company)
  • Royal Bank of Canada (RY) – McDougal and Daniels payments were allegedly made through a City National account (now RY). It appears the SARS report was filed late probably found by RY through a merger related audit. They are also cooperating on Congressional subpoenas, although a deadline was missed. (own RY)

COOPERATORbased on the Bank Secrecy Act, which allows Congress access to financial information to search for money laundering (all owned except MS)

  • Toronto-Dominion (TD) – provided documents
  • Wells Fargo (WFC) – provided documents
  • Citigroup (C) – missed subpoena deadline
  • Morgan Stanley (MS) – missed subpoena deadline
  • JPMorgan Chase (JPM) – missed subpoena deadline
  • Bank of America (BAC) – missed subpoena deadline

LITIGATORSTrump (Pres., family, companies, foundation) suing to block release of information (lost the first round this past week) (none owned)

  • Deutsche Bank (DB) – Lawsuit under appeal by Trump
  • Capital One (COF) – Lawsuit under appeal by Trump

I can kind of understand the appeals related to his personal financials except where inter-related with SARS filings. In hindsight, this is perhaps a textbook case for use of a blind trust – which as we all know was not done.

In this group, TD has about 1.48% of my portfolio and RY about 0.58%. The others I own are about 0.25% each – therefore my exposure to possible downside risk is minimal. Of the ones not owned, the only one I would currently consider is FRC on weakness. The common thread being compliance to current laws.

Do you account for Headline Risk? Hope you all have a wonderful holiday weekend!

Earnings Season (again)

Once again, earnings season is upon us and the one aspect that rubs me the wrong way is the inevitable comparison of expectations to actuals. This, for the most part, is a grade on how well an analyst anticipated the twists and turns of a particular quarter to provide a gradable prediction. Fortune telling at its finest! For its’ part, Zacks Investment Research has created a business out of the compilation and distribution of this data. But to what end?

Let’s review one example of this season, DGI darling Caterpillar (CAT). The release by Zacks was:

Deere & Company (DEFree Report) reported second-quarter fiscal 2019 (ended Apr 28, 2019) adjusted earnings of $3.52 per share, missing the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $3.58 by a margin of 2%. However, the reported figure recorded an improvement of 12% from the prior-year quarter’s adjusted earnings per share of $3.14.


Ongoing concerns over the impact of the escalating trade war between the United States and China on U.S. exports of key commodities, weakening agricultural market and delayed planting season in much of North America are resulted in farmer’s getting cautious about their equipment purchases. Deere has this trimmed fiscal 2019 guidance. The company’s shares fell 5% in pre-market trading.

https://www.zacks.com/stock/news/415679/deere-de-q2-earnings-lag-estimates-trims-fy19-guidance?art_rec=earnings-earnings-earnings_analysis-ID04-txt-415679

The key here is the Consensus Estimate. Subsequent events are that CAT is one of the companies in the cross hairs of the escalating trade spat. Contrast this with the headlines from the company’s earnings call:

Caterpillar ups dividend by 20%, raises guidance
May 2, 2019 7:48 AM ET
Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) has authorized an increase to its quarterly cash dividend of 20% to $1.03 per share of common stock, payable August 20, 2019, to shareholders of record at the close of business on July 22, 2019.


“Caterpillar expects to increase the dividend in each of the following four years by at least a high single-digit percentage. With its remaining free cash flow, the company intends to repurchase shares on a more consistent basis, with the goal of at least offsetting dilution in market downturns,” according to a press release.


Later today, Caterpillar’s executive leadership team will describe its plans to grow services. It intends to double Machine, Energy & Transportation services sales to about $28B by 2026, from a 2016 baseline of about $14B.


Updated outlook for 2019: EPS of $12.06-$13.06 (vs. previous guidance of $11.75-$12.75). Other 2019 assumptions include: Restructuring costs of about $100M-$200M and capex of $1.3B-$1.5B.


CAT +0.8% premarket

https://seekingalpha.com/news/3457913-caterpillar-ups-dividend-20-percent-raises-guidance

Personally, I’ve never owned CAT primarily due the the volatility of their underlying customer base, i.e., agriculture and construction being in traditional feast or famine business cycles. But if I were an owner, unless there’s any indication of trouble brewing, I would probably place my faith in management over the talking heads. Otherwise, how can one rationalize their investment decision.

It’s not only Zacks. Larry Swedroe wrote an article in 2013 on this issue as well, proving the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.

I guess the real question is in regard to the average investor and their ability to perform adequate due diligence as opposed to blindly following the ravings of the charlatan du jour. If the will – or ability – is lacking, an ETF is probably a better alternative to the whims of most ‘professionals’.

Thoughts and comments are always welcome!

Squirrel!!!

Dug (the dog), from the movie Up, 2009

Which is essentially a metaphor for being easily distracted. Which may be the answer to Buy, Hold Long’s comment on last week’s post. The more complete answer would be the final 10% is more complex than anticipated and other than one outlier (so far), the corrections to my cost basis has generally been within a couple of dollars – mostly lower. So yes, I recognize the need – and have the desire for – accurate reporting, but complex algorithms take a brain toll and to rest I hunt (figuratively) squirrels!

A thought can be like squirrels and one of my recent squirrels was compliments of Buy, Hold Long’s post (congrats on the good month, by the way) where he comments on his recent purchase, APN Asian REIT. His statement, “Take a look here to see how its going” is like telling me ‘hey, how about this rabbit (in this case, squirrel) hole‘. Simply irresistible.

Not a bad choice, in my view, but the fees, structure and liquidity raise a few questions mitigated by the historical performance and geographic diversification. As essentially a REIT of REITs (kind of like a reverse engineered Banker’s Bank), my adversity to fees (even reasonable ones) got me questioning why not a company with diverse real estate holdings (like Hong Kong’s Swire Pacific (SWRAY) with property in Hong Kong, mainland China and the US? Only then did I realize it was a moot point (squirrel) as APN Asia is not registered for sale outside of Australia and New Zealand.

Another type to consider is the rabid squirrel with one of the symptoms being unprovoked aggression or unexplained fearlessness. One of my ongoing diversions concerns the banks caught up in the ongoing investigations surrounding our illustrious president and his surrounding minions. While I have yet to identify a sound investing thesis, the list continues to grow. From a former board seat (Ivanka, SBNY), suspicious activity reports (FRC, RY), subpoenas (DB, COF) and questionable loans to Cohen and/or Manafort (CFG, STL, BANC). Perhaps most rabid being the private Illinois bank that allegedly loaned Manafort a sizable sum that representing about a quarter of their loan portfolio. I’m still waiting for the Fed’s answer to that one.

Then there’s the rabble-rousing one best illustrated by the Ray Stevens classic, Mississippi Squirrel Revival. From the ‘amen pew’ we hear from the Green New Dealers. While generally in agreement with their goals, I’m troubled by parts of their messaging. One area that has my sporadic attention is the topic of corporate welfare. I’ve been working on a file of subsidies granted since Trump took office. While far from complete, the initial findings are that the majority of subsidies are SBA loans for small businesses, which have roughly a 17.5% default rate. Next up are loans for hurricane recovery (as most of these are managed by the SBA, they are in the “corporate welfare” classification). Surprisingly, Federal research grants for alternative fuel sources (battery, solar) were granted by the Energy Department. The larger problem I envision is the fact that these subsidies are provided to large and small companies, foreign and domestic. Charities and religious organizations get a piece of the action as well. Inquiring minds are begging for an answer as to how this will be voiced through the upcoming election cycle. Although not directly an investing theory, my attempt is to identify foreign companies that have proven adept at being subsidized by the American taxpayer. It is another area that heeds Dug’s Squirrel! siren call.

Some of these ideas will bear investing fruit, most probably won’t. The larger question will probably be whether these types of subsidies are permitted under WTO regulations. But the research is enlightening and provides a welcome relief to the tediousness of spreadsheet formulas!