Tax Time & Earnings Season

For all the procrastinators out there the deadline is near.  In fact, this year I was one – completing mine yesterday.  This season brings to mind some of the best practices compiled to minimize – or delay – the tax hit, thereby maximizing disposable income published by the Dividend Diplomats.  Though geared towards wage earners, I can be considered a poster child of these practices as one migrates from the accumulation phase of investing.  Over the years the use of many of these strategies have resulted in continued savings well into retirement.  Case in point being a 2017 Federal effective tax rate of  8.04% on a six figure Adjusted Gross Income ($156 of which was earned income).  Take advantage of all of the breaks provided in life as early as possible to reap the rewards (true in investing as well).

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April Showers

Below the shifting landscape that debates the notion as to whether tariffs are a negotiating ploy or the real deal, some pig farmers are now operating at a loss of thousands of dollars per week (futures markets have priced in tariffs) and soybean growers are considering whether to reduce their plantings to avoid the same fate.  Meanwhile the impact on our NAFTA partners is also being considered across the borders.  Canada can increase their soybean and pork sales to China but the net impact will still be negative to them considering the magnitude of trade volumes.  Mexico is expanding ties to China in an effort to mitigate the ‘Trump’ effect.  All the while, the administration has to be aware that China holds the ultimate ‘trump’ card in the debt held.  Some bearish views posit US interest rates could rise to 14% if China ceases their bond purchases.

With these headlines staring at us, it would be excusable to have missed some of the underlying news – one being in healthcare.  Two of my companies made the news this past week with possible or rumored deals; Shire (SHPG) and Humana (HUM).  Takeda’s interest in Shire has all the appearances of industry consolidation, Wal-Mart and Humana’s discussions are more along the lines of being one of the last gorillas.

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Mar 2018 Update

A few days late since Easter got in the way with the markets being closed March 30th and dividends not being posted in a timely manner.  FX transactions were also delayed impacting my final accounting for the month and quarter.  This month the DOWs first quarterly loss since 2015 grabbed the headlines while the news getting my attention was the rising Libor particularly with its potential impact on adjustable rate mortgages and business loans.  March saw the S&P drop 2.69% and for the first time this year my portfolio outperformed the index by registering a drop of 0.06%!  YTD I still lag the S&P by 0.81%.

Portfolio Updates:

  • Added to PWOD, WU and ABB
  • Initiated a position in VLVLY

DIVIDENDS

This is where my main focus resides.  Market gyrations are to be expected but my goal is to see a rising flow of dividends on an annual basis.  I’m placing less emphasis on the quarterly numbers as the amount of semi-annual, interim/final and annual cycles have been steadily increasing.

  • March delivered an increase of 39.79% Y/Y fueled by dividend increases and purchases.  In particular, my December buys were almost exclusively March payers.
  • March delivered a 11.44% increase over last quarter (December).
  • Dividend increases averaged 11.25% with 40.3% of the portfolio delivering at least one increase (including 1 cut (GE) and 1 suspension (DST see M&A).
  • 2018 Dividends received were 29.3% of 2017 total dividends putting us on pace to exceed last year in early November.

Spinoffs:

Spirit Realty Capital (SRC) – Mar 6, Form 10 was filed publicly with spin completion targeted for 1H 2018.

Mergers:

Jan 13 – DST announced it was merging with SS&C for $84 cash per share.  As part of the merger agreement, the dividend has been suspended – the merger received shareholder approval on March 28th.   I expect the deal to complete in April or May.

Jan 31 – XRX announced a merger with Fujifilm for stock and $9.80 in cash.

A few others are rumored to be in play including Humana and Shire.

Summary

With my March call being spot on (… it appears we’re getting a preview of March Madness in the form of a Trump induced possible trade war.) the Paychex jobs data (small business) released this morning is keeping me in a cautious mood.  Yes it is only a one month view showing fewer jobs – but small businesses are supposed to be the economic driver in Trump World.  Perhaps it’s an aberration – but one to keep an eye on.  Overall a good month in spite of tariff uncertainty.

Hope all of you had a good month as well.

An Historic Day

marchlifeToday saw worldwide protests to demand that student’s lives and safety become a priority by ending gun violence and mass shootings – starting with schools.  The movement, born of tragedy, has morphed into a cause not dissimilar to the ones I saw during the Vietnam war – sans violence.  These protests seek to place the spotlight on Congressional inaction and President Trump’s failure of leadership to prevent further violence.

In a surprising twist, these students have already succeeded in gathering the support of at least one leading Republican donor, perhaps dampening the hopes that this issue would subside prior to the midterm elections.  Now this issue (among others) could be a front-and-center talking point ranking up there with NRA scorecards and contributions.  Perhaps the conservatives that supported Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010 will rue that decision as the tables could be turning.

At the very least, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are gaining an invaluable civics lesson which crosses all the societal divides currently plaguing America today.  If their efforts gain further traction, we could be witness to a generational change agent over the long term.

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Picking Winners & Identifying Losers

It has been said many times before that attempting to time the market is a fool’s errand. One approach common with Dividend Growth Investors the one taken by DivHut which is to  “…invest in a consistent and systematic manner. Over the long haul, being invested and staying invested in the stock market gives you the best long term odds of success.”  The benefits are consistency, removing emotions and dollar cost averaging while the disadvantages – particularly if fully invested – is the reduced ability to take advantage of “one day sale events” which are becoming more common.

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Dividend Increases & a Buy

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Each week I catch up on blogs, comment on a handful and generally learn a thing or two.  On occasion I take issue with a post (or a portion thereof) – and provide a (hopefully) meaningful comment.  The most recent being Lanny’s post which included, the lines:

I don’t know about you, but the dividend increases keep coming in hot, right off of the Tax Cuts, Jobs Act!  and Let’s just say tax reform has continued to be nice, as it relates to dividend increases.

The rationale for my comment being – assuming all of his US company increases were a result of the tax plan, this would be a 12.45% increase.  Not shabby by any means but a far cry from his reported total of 20.13%.  The difference being his foreign holdings which weren’t beneficiaries of a tax cut but of strength in ore prices and China shipments.  My quibble is not the numbers – only the presentation of the tax bill being a panacea for businesses.  It may well be, however the rules are still being written and the jury is still out.

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Feb 2018 Update

The theme for the month was volatility.  A couple of ETNs cratered as a result of the high volatility causing investors to lose significantly when using these levered products.   “We sincerely apologize for causing significant difficulties to investors,” Nomura said.  Credit Suisse stated “investors who held shares of XIV had bet against at volatility at their own risk.  It worked well for a long time until it didn’t, which is generally what happens in markets”.   Caveat emptor.

During the month, the S&P index dipped into correction territory before rallying to close the month down 3.89%.  My portfolio sympathized with the index closing down 5.53%.  I never hit correction so my peak drop was less but I also failed to recover as quickly.  Probably an area to perform a root cause analysis on at some point.  Following back-to-back monthly losses against the S&P, I’m down 3.44%  to start the year. Continue reading