The Ongoing Virus Saga

In the markets this week, concerns over Coronavirus continued to be front and center. Not surprisingly caution (finally) took hold amid varying views on the longevity and severity of the impact, including reports of cases in South Korea and Iran.  In a counter programming attempt, the White House, through Larry Kudlow, indicated it was “not an American story” subsequent to the Saint Louis Fed comments stating there is a “high probability” that the outbreak will be a temporary shock.  While it’s become commonplace for the government to talk from both sides of its mouth, the issues I find in the actual data indicate caution is warranted.  

While the slowing manufacturing output is likely a result of supplier delays with the virus, more concerning to me is that for the first time in the Trump presidency the key economic driver of the US economy – the services sector – fell into contraction territory, albeit fractionally.  For good measure, don’t ignore the corporate warnings due to the virus led by the likes of Apple. One contrarian surprise being Caterpillar – although this could be strictly relief that the perceived end of the trade war is nigh.

Complicating any analysis is oil pricing and whether any strength is the result of production cuts, increased demand or refinery maintenance – or some combination.  There remains an ongoing debate among traders as to whether the market is tilting bullish or bearish. So no raging indicators one way or the other are visible.

Reinforcing my concerns are two measures being implemented by China.  The first subsidized loans to key companies that are helping prevent and fight the epidemic.  These rates are as low as 1.32% of which foreign companies, such as 3M are eligible. The second could be the shock that does make this an American story.  China has issued more than 1,600 force majeure certificates to shield companies from legal damages arising from the coronavirus outbreak. The riddle then potentially becomes, “When is a contract not a contract …?”  Keep in mind that next week’s economic data is mostly pre-virus.

In the midst of tax season the initial results look promising.  As many remember, I groused last year (quite a bit) over Trump’s tax cuts actually being an increase.  We decided to accelerate taxable RMDs in 2018 to lower our 2019 tax bracket. To ensure my calculations were correct, I did not modify any withholding rates.  The strategy worked as a refund for 2019 is forthcoming. I’m still a few weeks away from reporting my final tax percentage rate but do know it’s lower year on year.  And yes – unlike candidate Bloomberg I can and do use Turbo Tax, a product of Intuit which is one of my portfolio companies. I did have to smile from the priceless, national advertising they received.

Another element of my consolidation strategy is taking form.  I have decided to eliminate ETFs from the equation. Although there are things to like about them, the downside (for me) is fluctuating payout rates with regression to the mean, partly a result of changes to the underlying components.  Basically, I see minimal upside potential while conceding there is associated risk mitigation I’m giving up. The upside (hopefully) is a slightly higher return in pure equities. I expect to be fully divested by mid-year distributions.

Here’s hoping February is shaping up as a good month for us all!

DVK System Review

I’ve been noodling over a post published by FerdiS over at DivGro for awhile now, essentially weighing the pros and cons against my biases to figure the most appropriate rebuttal.  In a nutshell, the post first grabbing my attention was his Recent Sells.  Within this piece was the comment, “I … rank my … stocks by quality score and by CDN” and on this basis eliminated two holdings.  

I am a proponent of every investor having a defined methodology within their comfort zone to determine the quality of their portfolio and various bloggers regularly publish their screening mechanisms and processes.  Conversely, I don’t shy away from highlighting perceived frailties in these. A combination of Yield, Rising Payout Streak, PE Ratio and Payout Ratio are the most common attributes used by several bloggers while adding others to customize to their tastes.  One example being the Dividend Discount Model.  

Back in 2013, I’m not sure Simply Investing anticipated the record bull market coupled with inordinately low interest rates.  Using KO as an example, his method would have classified it as overvalued. A changing business – while looking backwards (bottler spinoff) – doesn’t neatly fit this model.  On the other hand, forward looking views, such as the DDM, have a basis in a series of assumptions. Even the Diplomat’s approach – which is arguably the most straightforward – has an assumption set within the metric, Dividend Growth Rate greater than the rate of inflation, allowing for management discretion (not a major issue in a low inflation environment).

FerdiS method – while thoughtful and elegant – has some limitations and could be viewed as an advertisement for premium services.  Value Line, S&P, Morningstar and Simply Safe Dividends are the source data. S&P data can be obtained free and Morningstar through some brokers (otherwise $199/year).  Simply Safe Dividends runs $399/year and Value Line $598/year.

Beyond the fees, the results are only as good as the dataset can generate.  Mindful that I only performed a spot check against my portfolio, it appears Morningstar applies no moat to financials and narrow to utilities.  As to the other providers – your stock has to be within the universe they cover. My assumption is the 80/20 rule applies here with limitations to small caps and foreign issues as these are not widely held by US investors.  

As my preference is to get the investing view from the rear view mirror (ala, what have you done for me lately), all the metrics this model uses are forward focused based on analysis by an individual or algorithm.  The final note being the use of the CDN (Chowder Rule) as Sure Dividend makes a compelling case of its unreliability.  

A comparison would be incomplete without peer review.  KO scores 23 of 25 on the modified DVK scale whereas the Diplomats and Dividends Diversify consider it overvalued.  For my part, KO is a small (<1%) position that I’m not adding to other than dividend reinvestment. Kind of makes me wonder …

Bottom line: I’m not sure of the value of this – at least to me.  But in my spare time I’ll continue plugging my portfolio into the model to ascertain whether this assessment is correct.  I do, however, like the jigsaw puzzle of his methodology but can’t help but wonder if this is a prelude to even further premium offerings being rolled out …

Disclosure: Long MORN, VALU, KO

Dazed and Confused

Which is my state of mind this week. For the most part earnings reports arrived with a caveat – Coronavirus impact to arrive at a future point in time. And the markets generally rose as the can got kicked down the road. So I too moved on to more mundane matters, like:

This is So Wrong!

There comes a time when ones’ sanity is legitimately questioned.  Such a time occurred this past week when reading what I thought was a recent post by the Conservative Income Investor.  Note the publish date of February 3. 2020. While reading this I felt a little like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day while saying over and over this is so wrong.  The root of my disagreement was the section: It pays no dividend. It does one thing especially well: Compound the retained profits, which in this case is all of the profits because the company pays no dividend, at a rate of 15% per year. Over the past ten years, the profits compounded at a rate of 18% per year. The book value has grown by 21% annually.  I mean are we talking about the same SF I added to my portfolio in 2018?  The one that raised this non-dividend by 25% last year? Determined to correct this egregious oversight, I found myself stymied by the inability to leave a comment – which was deactivated.  Perplexed, it was only then I found the small print, “Originally posted 2015-02-26 21:35:26”.  Fact of the matter is they initiated a modern day dividend policy September 15, 2017 – subsequent to the original post.  Fact of the matter is Conservative Income Investor regurgitated the original without regard to updating an environment that changed, leaving me – and who knows how many other readers (if knowledgeable) – in a Twilight Zone scenario.

Up, Up and Away …

The meteoric performance of Tesla has to leave one scratching their heads a little.  Granted, it has finally started to perform as a company rather than a performer in Elon’s three ring circus and recent China results have been favorable – pre Coronavirus.  My assumption had been a significant portion of the rise was a result of a short squeeze as it was one of the most shorted stocks. But this may not be the case as a convergence of factors could be at play.  Like their fourth quarter profit – although largely overlooked is the reason (sale of $133 million worth of regulatory credits to other automakers). It is possible that the corner has been turned though. Then there’s the rise of ESG which you know has become mainstream when Blackrock’s on board.  Perhaps it’s an old-fashioned bubble as millennials flocked to the stock on the SoFi platform. I guess Warren Buffett’s advice is best followed here … “Never invest in a business you cannot understand.”  In this case, I don’t understand the fundamentals at play.

Rounding Down?

I did confirm something I had long suspected.  It is the rare occurrence that I hold the same issue in different accounts but the move of my Canadian stocks from my taxable account to my IRA temporarily accomplished that for at least one dividend payment:

Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD)
    Schwab – $0.56 (USD)
    Motif – $0.5534 (USD)

Now the reasons could legitimately be either 1) Rounding on the exchange rate, 2) Rounding on the applied payment, 3) FX rate when applied, rounding on the handoff between platforms (BK/Motif) or 5) a combination thereof.  

It’s not worth my time to figure out why as I realize the differences are minimal.  But extrapolating a little, these fractional cents on 100 shares would result in an annual difference of $2.64 (assuming a constant exchange rate) which will go into my pocket once the conversion is complete.  Just another little tidbit to assist in keeping the snowball rolling!

Note: This anomaly has only been identified with foreign issues, not domestic

Conundrum of the Week

Last, a side note on ESG investing.  On my to-do list is to develop a framework or mission statement on my strategy.  This is difficult at best on both the macro and micro levels. Will it be a hard core approach or more a negative screening?  Will it acknowledge incremental improvement or pursue a scorched earth policy? Will it recognize that some suspect companies do not profit directly from the market unless possibly through a secondary offering?  Can one be both a contributor and a destroyer?

I present these questions as food for thought as the answers become increasingly murkier as the popularity of ESG increases.

And here’s to your week ahead!

January 2020 Update

What a way to start the new year.  Beginning with the reshuffling of my portfolio and continuing right into earnings season and the inevitable debate over the Coronavirus impact on the economy … all I can say is yep it’s a lot to digest – and it’s only January.  With the gyrations in the market, all but two of my low-ball limit orders executed, probably the most controversial being MTR Corporation – the Hong Kong high speed rail line recently at the forefront of the protests. Anyway, I added two Canadian companies (Fortis and TMX Group – (Toronto stock exchange)) and starting the long rumored whittling of some of the non-core holdings (XRX and MSGN).  Most of the other action was moving Canadian companies from my taxable accounts to the IRA – some of which were done as a rebalance to minimize fees (hence the slight additions to the other holdings). Also selling part of the PB stock (which went overweight due to a merger) to fund these movements. As I indicated last week, this is the first of a multi-month transition. Obviously my timing was decent (this time, anyway) as the S&P lost 0.16% for the month while my portfolio gained 1.81%.

PORTFOLIO UPDATES

DIVIDENDS

My primary focus resides on dividends with the goal being a rising flow on an annual basis.

  • January delivered an increase of 22.73% Y/Y primarily the result of last years’ dividend cuts rolling off.
  • Dividend increases averaged 11.48% with 8.5% of the portfolio delivering an increase.
  • 2020 Dividends received were 1.86% of 2019 total dividends putting me on target to exceed last year’s total in November. The YTD run rate is under my 110.0% goal but I anticipate this will normalize as my portfolio movement becomes clearer and the current year begins to distinguish itself from the last. 

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.

AT A GLANCE

Inspired by Simple Dividend Growths reporting

The relationship between market action and purchase activity was roughly 95/5.  As I’m generally playing with ‘house money’ (proceeds from sales, M&A activity and dividends), I doubt there will be a significant variance until I fund my 2019 IRA contribution.  The Net Purchase Expense being less than 1 or 2% illustrates the ‘house money’ concept. Timing did play a part as I sold early in the month (before the drop) and most of the purchases were in the latter part of the month. 

SPINOFFs

On Oct 4, 2018 MSG filed a confidential Form 10 to spin the sports business which remains in progress.

MERGERS

Spirit MTA REIT (SMTA) voted on Sept. 4th to approve the sale of most assets to HPT for cash. A second vote was held to liquidate the REIT. The first payment was received and awaiting final settlement payout. Fully expecting a profitable outcome for one of my most speculative positions.

SCHW to acquire AMTD for 1.0837 sh SCHW to 1 AMTD.  My only surprise with AMTD being taken out was the suitor – I had expected TD.  Regardless, I have three concerns over this deal, 1) profit margin compression with the onset of $0 fee trades, 2) possible liquidation of a partial TD stake to reduce their ownership share from 13.4% to 9.9% (the same issue Buffet regularly faces) and 3) 10 year phase-out of AMTD/TD cash sweep account relationship.  The third one means TD has a low cost (albeit, decreasing) source of deposits for the foreseeable future. After the first of the year, I’ll probably cash in AMTD and increase TD a little further.  

SUMMARY

Overall, the only complaint is the sluggish start to the year. Minus the drag from last years’ dividend cuts I figure this will be short lived.  On my goals, progress was made as follows:

  • Scenario 1 – TD is now confirmed
  • Scenario 2 – Half complete, awaiting timing issues for the sell part
  • Scenario 3 – Determination of maximum contribution amount complete
  • Scenario 4 – 2020 RMD amounts identified

Here’s hoping your month was successful!