Just a Few Dribs and Drabs

To review this week’s market action is to basically yawn for a change.  Earnings season began but was tempered to a degree by economic news that questioned the robustness of the US consumer.  While the economy is still growing, the rate is slowing. My view remains that without a ‘real’ deal – skinny or otherwise – on the table between the US and China, both countries will continue to hobble along.

Meanwhile I did make one purchase this week that was a little unanticipated, but not totally unexpected.  I topped up my Legacy Texas (LTXB) holdings in preparation for the completion of the merger into Prosperity Bank (PB) which has received regulatory approval.  Currently I hold both sides of this merger, LTXB in a taxable account and PB in my IRA. Essentially I wanted to avoid assignment of an odd fractional share that I could do nothing with as the ratio is 0.875:1 (plus $6.28 cash). Assuming shareholder approval October 29th, the expectation is for the deal to close November 1st.  My current thinking is the new PB shares (and cash component) will be assigned to the taxable account. Subsequently, I intend to sell the old PB in my IRA replacing it with TD (to take advantage of the tax treaty).  After the dust settles, I will sell the TD in my taxable account. End result being more shares (slightly) of both PB and TD, no shares of LTXB and some excess cash.

I did hit the halfway point on my endeavor to replicate the grandkid’s trust (now liquidated, save one stock).  After I complete the transactions I’ll post regarding the rhyme and reason, but for now let’s say it’s to preserve all options regarding financial assistance as she begins the college application process. 

The strategy I’ve employed is to gauge the futures market for weakness prior to entering an order for market open as I decided to use M1 finance for the bulk of this replication.  For the most part, this has been a viable approach except of late there have been some wild swings going into the open. I’m unsure as to the why, but perhaps someone has identified the secret sauce regarding presidential tweets?

The effort remains ongoing regarding the directory update – primarily removing dormant entries.  It turns out I wind up spending more time than usual as my attention gets diverted by an interesting presentation or difference of opinion or a concept worthy of further review.  Examples of some of these include:

  • Dividends Diversify – in his review of the book Dividends Still Don’t Lie, the comment, “I did some searching on the internet for free services. But didn’t come up with anything that looked useful … Dividends Still Don’t Lie goes through how the calculations are done.  So it is certainly possible for a do it yourself investor to develop the calculations on their own.” garnered my attention.  Now the strategy discussed may be an anathema to a Buy and Hold type (my concern would be tax implications), the “tool” became the curiosity.  The best I could come up with was the Charles Schwab screener that could only analyze three of the book’s eleven metrics yielding fifteen possibilities for further manual research.
  • Finance Journey – the comments, “As a dividend investor, my full focus is on income than capital gain. Thus, capital gains or losses in my investments do not make any sense to me at least for now.” and “I do not convert dividends received from U.S stocks to Canadian dollar, and I use a 1 to 1 currency rate approach to keep the math simple and avoid fluctuations in my dividend income reports due to changes in the exchange rate.” were the culprits.  I trust the “full focus” does not exclude possible warning signals. For instance, many dividend cuts (income) are preceded by a falling stock price (capital gain (loss)). Likewise, the use of a 1:1 exchange ratio for simplicity sake risks masking the true portfolio performance. Personally, I (like ETFs) translate income from my thirteen foreign holdings to home currency prior to publishing results. Besides, if the full focus is income why distort currency exchange (which is a direct income factor)?
  • Finance Pondering is a relatively new blog from the UK that is in the process of ramping up in a thoughtful manner.  The insightful questions raised in this rollout carry the promise of one day being one of the standouts. Yet there is already one nagging question that I hope will be answered in the future – “Why Trainline?”.  To enlighten my audience, Trainline is a ticket booking company that charges a premium in exchange for convenience in what is basically a mobile app. My issues are, 1) it was a 2019 IPO (albeit one of the better ones), 2) KKR was involved (can you say monetize and exit strategy), 3) I question the nature of Brits to embrace premium services given the uncertainty of Brexit and recent demise of Thomas Cook.  

This weeks’ final thought is a potential black swan.  My concern is the expanding pockets of unrest appearing from Hong Kong to Chile to Spain.  Ignoring Turkey/Syria for now, just something I’m keeping my eyes on …

Advertisements

Some Overdue Cleaning

This week, I began the annual review of my blogroll and noticed something perplexing.  Some Australian sites have gone dark. Frankie’s is offline and Australian Dividend Investor’s final post cryptically reads:, “As the old saying goes, all good things are eventually brought to end by the firms risk and compliance division.”  Just scratching my head a little and wondering if the hammer was dropped by the authorities down under as I know they can be a little more restrictive there …


Meanwhile, I’ll look to shake up the Top Sites a little to at least replace the broken links.
———

As part of this review, I ran across a great analysis by Mr Free at 33 illustrating the differences between total return and appreciation through capital gains in one case.  The one hole in the analysis (in my opinion) was the potential role of tax strategies – which was promptly brushed aside by Jason. Curious as to why, I found the answer in another comment thread where he states, “Writing about bureaucracy and stuff like that (including taxes) isn’t very interesting for me, so I just don’t.”.  So yes the current tax law is structured advantageously to his benefit – however if this changes – or he grows his portfolio enough to exceed current thresholds – tax strategies could play a role in improving overall performance.
—–

A second anomaly in his work becomes evident when his statement, “The stock that can produce the most possible dividend income on the smallest possible investment is, for me, the best stock of all.appears in his post.  In his case this is certainly a plausible theory.  Yet in a prior post, he defines his top holdings in terms of portfolio value rather than dividend income.  It could be claimed this is a minor point, however allow me to illustrate some differences based on the top holdings in my portfolio.

Obviously I have a mix of the AT&T and Visa scenarios as well.  The point being, 70% of my top ten are the same on each side of the ledger, it’s the 30% that is interesting – particularly Disney.  Legacy Texas could be an aberration due to a pending merger (scheduled to complete November 1st (pending shareholder approval)).

And yes, I do have a slight imbalance that I’ve been trying to correct for awhile now.

—–

Finally, the data in the Dividend CAGR column was extracted from a cool tool that Dividend Dozer created.  It’s one of those things that kind of grows on you particularly when you can identify additional ways to use it.  I would encourage you to look at his Dashboard!

I guess that’s all musings I have for this week, so onward and upward as we see how the market digests the landmark – kinda sorta – trade deal in three phases …

September 2019 Update

The market continued with its’ on-going roller coaster, triggered primarily by external factors in the political arena – basically trade and impeachment. Despite the turmoil, the S&P gained 2.46% and my portfolio rose 4.15%. For the year, I’m outperforming the benchmark by 4.96%.

Like DivHut, I try to make at least one buy per month although these purchases have become smaller as my sentiment has grown increasingly cautious. Therefore, my cash position via non-reinvested dividends (not reported) has grown. The lack of Y/Y dividend growth for September is a testament against hoarding cash – particularly when hit with dividend cuts earlier in the year. This month the grandkid was forced to liquidate her portfolio or face losing 25% of her college assistance (grants/scholarships, etc.). Reminder to self: Future topic possibility being the dark ugly underbelly of custodial accounts (529s are even worse …) Anyway, I decided to deploy part of my accumulated cash to build a replica of her portfolio that I will hold. Bottom line, just when I think I’m shrinking the number of companies owned I get thrown a curveball.

PORTFOLIO UPDATES

  • increased my JNJ position
  • increased my CL position
  • increased my CHD position
  • added GPN (lost TSS via merger)
  • increased my DIS position

DIVIDENDS

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

  • September delivered a decrease of 3.4% Y/Y. This was my first decrease since December 2018 and is primarily a result of not staying ahead of the first quarter dividend cuts (e.g., cash position)
  • Dividend increases averaged 10.34% with 61.67% of the portfolio delivering at least one increase (including 4 cuts). 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 82.89% of 2018 total dividends putting me on target to exceed last year’s total in late October or early November. The YTD run rate is 108.08% of 2018, slightly under my 110.0% goal – but still recoverable – especially with the portfolio replication decision.

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 which remains in progress.

MERGERS

XRX merger with Fujifilm cancelled (still being litigated). The expected settlement was disallowed by the judge September 13th.

PB to acquire LTXB for 0.528 shares and $6.28 cash for each LTXB share. I plan voted in favor of the transaction (on both sides), pocket the cash and sell the new shares – retaining the old PB shares post-merger. I will not add to my PB stake.

VLY to acquire ORIT for 1.6 sh VLY to 1 ORIT. This merger will result in a slight dividend cut November forward as the rate will be normalized to VLY’s current rate. In my view, the other positives outweigh this negative.

PBCT to aquire UBNK for .875 sh PBCT to 1 UBNK. I plan to hold this one as I wouldn’t be surprised if PBCT gets taken out at some point.

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. Awaiting final settlement payouts and still expecting to be a profitable outcome for one of my most speculative positions.

The three banks continue to validate my strategy of bank consolidations from a few years ago. The only flaw (so far) was the holding period required – but dividends were received while waiting.

SUMMARY

Overall, no complaints. It appears the pending mergers/liquidation might provide enough of a premium to improve my performance over the index, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself yet. I still see a little consolidation in my holdings through the last half of the year and am still migrating to a slightly risk off stance, offset slightly by companies with compelling stories. My cash position will hover close to zero while replicating the kids’ portfolio but expect the dividend growth to accelerate into the first half of 2020 with this strategy.

Here’s hoping your month was successful!

Weekly Musing (Sep2019)

For the umteenth time during this presidential reign, I have to say, “What a week!”.  What surprised me was the markets took the probable presidential impeachment in stride, only faltering when Trump decided to fuel trade tensions with China (again) – and this being just prior to the next round of talks.  The topic this time being capital restrictions – neither of which would likely be very successful. For instance, rescinding the waiver allowing Alibaba (BABA) or Tencent (TCEHY) to trade on US exchanges would not change their ways but force them to move their listings to London or Hong Kong.  Noble but not realistic.  Then there’s the issue of the impact on Hong Kong listings … My potential impacts include Yum China (YUMC) and Swire Pacific (SWRAY) which I’ll have to investigate further if this idea gains traction.

I am not alone!  BAML decided to upgrade CHD to Buy citing “strength in their largest business (laundry) and seeing the company’s brand-building efforts paying dividends.”  The one quibble I have with this assessment is the attribution of recent weakness to “value rotation” rather than placing the blame squarely on a short seller (Spruce Point).  Shares were up for the week but still down 5.5% from their September 5th close. This puts last week’s buy squarely in the green. Gotta love it when you are on your game.

Last week’s lament was regarding the lack of novel concepts emanating from the Delivering Alpha conference.  Fast forward a week and one appeared out of nowhere – well actually on the CNBC set. David Zaslav, Discovery’s (DISCA) CEO was interviewed on the launch of a new concept dubbed the Peloton model, aka,  The Food Network Kitchen. Like Peloton (PTON), this offering provides multi-level customer engagement; Subscription, Interactive and Transactional. This type of engagement – if successfully executed – has the potential to attract, retain and increase sales – all while the customer is eagerly forking over their cash.  I chose not to participate in PTON as the dual class and pricing was a turnoff. DISCA pays no dividend so I’m not invested there either. But the concept, if not the companies, is intriguing. 

Thumbing through other news, I ran across an interview with Robert Herjavec regarding his view on interest rates in which he opines, “If I can borrow at 2% or 3% and grow by 10% or 20%, I’m going to take that all day long.”  Well, yes, I would too – and then Eureka!  (yes, I can be dense at times), a rationale behind Trump’s persistent jawboning of the Fed.  I’ve never believed the President’s motives were pure, as people on fixed incomes are disproportionately impacted by low rates.  If a successful businessman such as Herjavec can leverage off of low rates, a leveraged real estate guy – such as the President – should easily profit (or reduce losses) via refinance.  Particularly when other ways to increase business are being scrutinized and licensing deals are drying up.

There are my thoughts for this week.  With both month and quarter end arriving Monday, I’ll be heads down.  I don’t know how it happened but fully 15% of my dividends arrive on two days … the last day of the quarter and the first day of the subsequent quarter.  Next week will be the Monthly/Quarterly recap.

Have a great week!

Delivering Alpha – NOT!

Perhaps I was anticipating too much based on hype and previous editions, but this years CNBC Delivering Alpha conference failed to deliver.  Come on, aren’t there any new and exciting things on the horizon to capture an investor’s fancy? Obviously not, as the VP’s message of a booming economy was sandwiched between short ideas and negative interest rate survival.  All interlaced with the drizzle of ESG investing and streaming concepts – in theory new and improved versions. Sorry, all this is old news, making me think CNBC has lost the concept of Alpha.  ESG has largely turned political (which introduces uncertainty) and the window of opportunity for nice gains in streaming closed about a year ago (about the time I added to my Comcast position).

Investopedia defines Alpha as a term used in investing to describe a strategy’s ability to beat the market – what most of us aspire for.  DGI investing generally attempts to quantify (and reduce) said risk while serving up a theoretically predictable outcome. My portfolio is a modified DGI strategy in that I attempt to introduce some Alpha to maintain my streak of beating the market as defined by the S&P index. I do this by introducing an underlying theme that I meld a portion of my portfolio into.  Past examples include Community Bank consolidation and the Rise of Fintech.

One that delivered Alpha to my portfolio this week was within the theme Transaction Processing.  On Thursday, Total Systems Services (TSS) was lost from my portfolio and replaced by Global Payments, Inc. (GPN)  via the consummation of their merger. TSS was a company that I seriously doubt was held by many other DGI enthusiasts.  To identify why, let’s run it through the illustrious Dividend Diplomat stock screener which addresses most – if not all – the conventional metrics most individual investors would use in decision making.  

Metric #1 P/E Ratio Less than the S&P 500

At purchase, the ratio was 19.16 and the S&P was 20.12.  A technical pass, although the Diplomats prefer a greater margin.

Metric #2 Payout Ratio of Less than 60%

At purchase, the payout ratio was roughly 22.95% (FY2016).  A definite pass.

Metric #3 Increasing Dividends

Here lies the major failure, which probably would have caused the Diplomats and most DGI purists to pass on TSS.  Their record is pitiful with two raises in eight years and the yield rarely exceeded 1%.


My take has always been to consider Total Return as the primary metric with a significant emphasis on Dividend Growth/Safety.  Although TSS’s dividend has been wanting, since I owned it it has delivered 30% average annual price appreciation with an additional 49% since the merger was announced, bringing my total unrealized capital gain to 390% plus a miniscule, taxable dividend.

Rather than reward shareholders directly, they chose to reinvest in R&D and growing the business which probably provided a greater return – and tax-deferred to boot.  The arguments against this approach are consistency and dependability. Additionally, this requires a level of trust in management. Granted, in some cases this depends on being in the right place at the right time as well – and this example is an extreme success story.  Yes, I do have several that I’m waiting on to pan out which is why I categorize this approach as speculative with only a small portion of my portfolio looking for the next emerging brilliant idea or better mousetrap.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my dividends.  In general, DGI provides a stable, consistent foundation.  But a little dash of Alpha through total return could be the difference in beating your index. As always, your views are welcome!

Old Fashioned Horse Race

the horses rounded the bend and started down the home stretch. “Look! Look! See his stride now!”

Black Mack by Neil Dawson in The Canadian Magazine, Vol. 29, Oct. 1907

In a followup to my last post, I decided to increase my position in Church & Dwight (CHD) this week which I posited was a possibility with the current weakness.  I’m assuming that a floor has been reached following Spruce Point’s short campaign and some insider selling reported. Quarterly filings also revealed some increases in long positions by entities much larger than Spruce Point.  With the price decline now at roughly 10%, I thought it prudent to begin accumulating some more. Its’ position in my portfolio was about 0.2% – and now about 0.22%, there’s still plenty of room to add until my 1% limit is met. This is one I’ll be keeping an eye on prior to there next ex-dividend date.  

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose for eight straight days, I believe largely on the heels of positive-sounding trade news – particularly on President Trump’s acknowledgement that he would at least consider an interim trade deal.  This may be short-lived if his base considers this a retreat from the all-or-nothing position that was held stating the tariffs will force China to conform with established standards. Perhaps the message to the base would be, “See how easy trade wars are to win when the goal posts are moved.

With the yield curve steepening, some pressure was off of financials contributing to my portfolio attaining a new record high as well, eclipsing the prior high set in July.  Let’s see if this can continue through month-end as there are some issues like the Fed meeting and the attack on Saudi oil to consider.

This is the time of year that I begin the fine tuning of the portfolio strategy as there are limited possibilities remaining to impact dividend results as the final quarter of the year looms on the horizon.  Considering that ten of my companies have no more ammunition available until next year, the pickings will become increasingly slim until we turn our focus to the new year. Plus there’s a delicate balancing act to perform with the cash allocation as October has historically been a volatile month.  Keeping a little dry powder in place could also be a viable strategy. Just some random ideas that are framing my thought process a little.

So to come full circle, we’re rounding the bend and coming down the home stretch. Being a nose ahead of the index is something I’m not accustomed to as generally I’m several lengths ahead. Which is why my final assessment this year (about two weeks away) will be crucial. Here’s hoping your week is fruitful!

Analyst BullS#!T!

My friend Frankie posted an aptly titled piece (Beware the Broker BullS#!T!) on analyst’s actions awhile ago (along with a followup) which struck a nerve as my early investing career had several of the pitfalls mentioned.  While I did evolve to settle primarily on a modified DGI strategy, I have to wonder as to the due diligence exercised by some of the broker’s clients. In the US, there are some shops that are essentially pay for play schemes, meaning pay us money and we’ll cover your business.  One of these is Taglich Brothers (which has a clearing business relationship with Pershing, LLC in which I am a shareholder (BK)).  Taglich, through it’s press release with NXNN (a spec holding of mine) disclosed, “In October 2017, the company paid Taglich Brothers a monetary fee of $4,500 (USD) representing payment for the creation and dissemination of research reports for three months.  After the first three months, the company will begin paying Taglich Brothers a monthly monetary fee of $1,500 (USD) for the creation and dissemination of research reports.”  Unbiased?  Unlikely. Another take on them was provided by D/M/O.  Point of reference, Orchids Paper (TIS), mentioned in the article was formerly in my portfolio and subsequently filed for bankruptcy protection (I had sold prior to the filing).

Another angle on alternative strategies was brought front and center this week with the publication of Spruce Point’s analysis on Church & Dwight (CHD).  Spruce Point is a small, short focused firm similar to Muddy Waters Capital or Kerrisdale Capital that use Seeking Alpha, Twitter and other social media to broadcast their research.  Spruce Point takes a short position, runs a campaign and determines the traction being gained. In the words of the founder Ben Axler, “Because I run a small business, we don’t have a lot of time to waste going down rabbit holes where there’s a dead end,” he says. “I can generally sniff out a company pretty quickly.”  OK, then.  

I admit that CHD is richly valued and perhaps they overpaid for some acquisitions.  I also submit that Spruce Point is highly vocal for their smallish size. They have, however, been building a little bit of a track record in this bull market.  On first blush, it appears the Spruce Point results have been stellar thus far in 2019 with a by moving the market in their intended direction 77% of the time on the day their report is released – translating into an average market loss of their targets of 3.78%.  I would posit their gain is even greater as I suspect their investors and subscribers get a first look at the reports. My guess would be a 5-10% short term gain.  

As of Sept 7, 2019

In the shorting game, the real money is to be had by riding a target down, but to do so requires conviction, stamina and staying power.  Based on Ben’s comment, I doubt they are riding the targets down other than a select few high conviction ones. My reasoning being that they would be booking a loss for 2019 as their targets, in aggregate, are 2.88% higher post call.  The three that would have rocketed their results lost 49%, 26% and 25%. Conversely the three they should have exited quickly gained 86%, 51% and 12% for the longs.

Over the weekend Spruce Point has continued their campaign against CHD using Twitter to gleefully proclaim success as CHD has not chosen to engage in their antics.  Although some of Spruce Point’s issues have some validity, in large I feel they are overstated – essentially a headline grabber.  

One issue they raise is the use of factoring to manipulate results.  Possible, but it depends on whether it is recourse or non-recourse. Spruce Point also takes issue with an undisclosed UK acquisition.  My take is with sales in the £764,000 range this is negligible. The current year “slowing dividend growth” could be explained by prudence in digesting its last two acquisitions.  I suspect this dividend trend may be the new normal for a period of time if management executes on their goal of expanding their “power brands” to twenty.

In summary, they could very well be right. They could also be playing a manipulation game. If weakness intensifies my thoughts are that a buying opportunity may be at hand. Then again – I may be wrong 🙂