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!

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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!

April 2019 Update

With taxes being in the rear view mirror, it’s time to turn our attention towards the remainder of the year. This month had no further dividend cuts announced (hooray!) yet for every good report there’s a yes, but … To be honest, I don’t see this trepidation ending over the near term as only time will tell, and until then everyone will remain convinced their strategy is right. For myself, this means a closer alignment to my core strategy and jettisoning a few (not all) speculative positions. Meanwhile, the S&P rose 3.78% while my portfolio rose 4.22% on the back of Financials. For the year, I’m slightly ahead of the benchmark by 0.44%.

PORTFOLIO UPDATES

  • increased my ETF position (CUT,VGK,EWA,EWW,JPMV)
  • increased my INDB position and lost BHBK (merger)
  • increased my GNTY position
  • New position ALC (NVS spinoff)
  • New position BDX – this one is a defensive move as I’m long BDXA. This is strictly a placeholder in the event BDX pays a BDXA dividend in stock (unlikely) or when the preferred shares convert to common (next year).

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.

  • April delivered an increase of 12.97% Y/Y, the largest impacts being dividend cuts and a couple of cycle changes offset by increases.
  • April delivered a 6.58% increase over last quarter (Jan) – basically a reflection of my decision to pause dividend reinvestment to fund the tax bill.
  • Dividend increases averaged 7.21% with 42.73% 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 37.12% of 2018 total dividends putting me on target to exceed last years’ total in late October.

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).

BHBK to merger into INDB completed April 1st

CORPORATE ACTIONS

  • KOF announced a stock split and listing of shares in the form of units. There was an eight (8) for one (1) stock split on the Series L shares consisting of three (3) Series B ordinary shares and five (5) Series L ordinary shares. The new shares were simultaneously exchanged into a Unit – each consisting of three (3) Series B ordinary shares and five (5) Series L ordinary shares. As a result, BNY Mellon changed the deposit agreement to update the deposited securities on the Coca-Cola FEMSA, S.A.B. de C.V. American Depositary Share (“ADS”) program as follows:
    • Effective Date for change: April 11, 2019
    • Old Deposited Securities: 1 ADS: 10 Series L Ordinary Shares
    • New Deposited Securities: 1 ADS: 10 Units
  • 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 or additional purchases. At this rate it may be 2020 before I finish this update.

Hope your month/quarter was a good one!

Tax Efficiency

I figured a little reflection was the order of the day as we recently completed tax season in the US, and yes, I had to pay for the first time in years. My initial take was Trump’s tax law did no favors to those of us on fixed incomes – rather tilting the scales to benefit the wealthy and to a lesser degree the working class – though there were winners and losers across the board. In preparation for next year’s fiasco, I’ve been attempting to ascertain some of the intricacies of the changes. Previously, I opined on the foreign tax credit remaining in place. Today’s revelation potentially turns conventional wisdom on REITs on its’ head.

Sage advice has typically been – with a few exceptions – REITs are best held in tax advantaged accounts, like IRAs. The new tax law adds a few wrinkles to this concept, which Justin Law outlines nicely. The essence of his piece is that Section 199A distributions now have a 20% deduction which may warrant a review how tax advantageous REITs are in ones tax deferred versus taxable portfolio. DGI darling Realty Income (O), recently reviewed by Tom at Dividends Diversify, could well be a poster child for this type of analysis as last year’s payouts were 77.1% Section 199A and the remainder Return of Capital. The delay in this week’s post was due to some difficulty in completing a review of the fourteen REITs in my portfolio.

Two of my REITs were excluded from this analysis as I have them classified as probable sales, Uniti as their dividend cut was likely a debt covenant issue and Lamar as their IRS reporting is not straightforward (the corporate filings differ from the filings on the shareholders’ behalf). As all of my REITs are in taxable accounts, using Justin’s generic template, they were first ranked by the new Section 199A exclusion.

  1. American Tower (AMT) 99.68%
  2. EPR Properties (EPR) 95.94%
  3. Washington RE (WRE) 91.89%
  4. Outfront Media (OUT) 86.10%
  5. Iron Mountain (IRM) 83.04%

The next tier combined Qualified dividends and Cap Gains as their tax treatment is similar (and not onerous):

  1. Duke Realty (DRE) 22.59%
  2. Kimco Realty (KIM) 18.29%
  3. Prologis (PLD) 17.33%

The one tier I need to keep an eye on is the Return on Capital with Vereit (VER) 86.17% and Crown Castle (CCI) 34.39%. This part of their distribution is tax deferred until sold or the cost basis reaches 0.

The ugly tier is the Section 1250 gains with a 25% tax rate.

  1. Spirit Realty (SRC) 49.2%
  2. Spirit MTA REIT (SMTA) 21.2%

I consider this to be a one-off due to the spin of SMTA from SRC. Kimco (26.94%) could fit in this category as well although my sense is that their portfolio repositioning is the culprit, but there are opposing views to mine.

Bottom line, I’m willing – even eager – to pay taxes. Yet the rules of the game reward those able to minimize the government’s share. While the key resides in understanding the nuances of the rules, I say, “Seek the rewards and let the games begin!”

Who Loves a Surprise?

This week has been flowing a river of surprises and I’m not talking about the nasty ones, like dividend cuts – of which I’ve had my fair share already this year. Rather I’m talking about the good surprises, the ones that put a smile on your face and lift your spirits. The ones that validate theories and reward accordingly. In this holiday shortened week, I have three to share.

Qualcomm/Apple Peace Treaty

On the eve of their dirty laundry being aired in court, the battle ended. Worldwide. Mark Hibben covers essentially all of the thought process I had when I topped off my holdings a little last July. My current thinking is that Intel was having some difficulty engineering a design that avoided patent violations and emanating minimal heat. When asked my position on this, I allowed it is a win for all three parties – QCOM in the short tern, AAPL in the mid to long term and Intel long term. My rationale? The length of the agreement is double Moore’s law providing Intel and/or Apple the runway to leapfrog 5G and focus on 6G – securing some initial patents for themselves. (Long QCOM, AAPL)

Blackstone Converts (finally …)

The long rumored conversion of Blackrock from a partnership to C-Corp will be effective July 1st. This was greeted enthusiastically by the markets, and I applaud as well. This is a positive result of Trump’s tax plan but my reasons are more the personal impact. In my portfolio I hold Blackstone in an IRA resulting in the annoyance of a K-1 as well as the possibility of Unrelated Business Taxable Income (UBTI). Going forward I’ll have the opportunity to add to this holding without looking over my shoulder at tax consequences. (Long BX)

AB Volvo (Wow!)

The one least expected actually occurred two weeks ago but I had to spend a little time digging into their numbers a little to figure out the why. The announcement from Volvo was a dividend increase to SEK 5.00 (17.65%) plus a SEK 5.00 special dividend. As they pay annually, this will hit my account this month. As the news reports in the states depicts Europe on the brink of a recession, I just had to plow through their report.

Looking at the numbers, I see a little weakness in the bus line, likely due to uncertainty around the revised NAFTA. Their otherwise record results included increases in construction, trucks and heavy equipment. Currency was a positive impact as well. As a multinational, they appear poised for continued strength in light of the Trump team’s escalating war of sanctions with the EU. Deere and Caterpillar were named last week as possible retaliatory targets. (Long VLVLY)


All in all a nice and surprising week. Here’s hoping these April showers result in a torrent of May flowers!

Views on Emergency Funds

Many posts have been penned over the years regarding the necessity of an emergency fund. In this concept, there is a broad agreement. In fact, a commonly quoted phrase is, “40% of US adults don’t have enough savings to cover a mere $400 emergency“. As with all things statistical, this is likely debatable and/or a one-sided view, but there are enough stories being shared that it is difficult to deny the plausibility. Where the views diverge, politics tend to stand in the way of a consensus. One example being Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) proposal to open a savings account at birth with government seed money. I fail to see this gaining much traction particularly if farmed out to FDIC insured institutions managed by the likes of Jamie Dimon who proved last week he was clueless in the ways to reduce wealth inequality. But I digress …

Today is tax day and based on the grumblings, appearances are that most are unhappy. Part of this is messaging, part is radical change, part is perceived promises broken … Pick a reason and you’ll find an issue, mine being an accelerating deficit backed my the ‘promise’ of an administration best illustrated as:

I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

attributed to J. Wellington Wimpy, a character of E.C. Segar’s Popeye

Yes my check is grudgingly going in the mail today after spending most of the quarter paring back my regular stock investments and cutting a little on my discretionary spending. The telltale evidence of this activity is reflected in my March report showing my typical ~20% year on year dividend increases dropping mysteriously to 8.46%. My cash position is my first line of defense when emergency funds are required which is why I don’t report it as an investment position. I have found over the years in situations emergency funds are required, generally a little lead time is provided.

Contrast this with a friend who owns his own business. Over the years, we’ve discussed his lack of an emergency fund. His rationale being his ROI was better reinvesting in his business rather than holding idle cash. All well and good until the unexpected occurs. With a breakout year behind him – his business nearly doubled – he was ready to add a couple of employees and expand into another business line until he saw his tax bill. His check will be going to the government tomorrow and his business expansion is now on hold.

I guess the moral to this non-fictional tale is that the fruits of an expanding economy are only present when the growth outpaces an underlying deficit. As my friend found, reserves are a necessary evil to fuel the future. Perhaps these are isolated incidents, perhaps we’ll hear more like these in the days ahead. One can only hope that perhaps this presidential promise – unlike Wimpy’s – will be paid on Tuesday as today’s hamburger is now in hand.

Observations – r2019.4.7

Last weeks’ update mentioned the – at that time – inverted yield curve. The economists views on what this portends is all over the map from impending recession to this time is different. A couple of articles on Seeking Alpha address these concerns, with Christopher VanWert advocating a position in Consumer Staples and bonds and the self-professed contrarian Peter Schiff spinning a more ominous conclusion. My take? It’s always wise to be aware of all possibilities when setting a course. Banks – moreso the community banks – will bear the brunt of any prolonged inversion setting the stage for potential further consolidation. It might be too late for a meaningful increase in Staples as they’ve become rather pricey of late. Bonds may be an alternative but still carry a premium to what I’m willing to pay. Not mentioned are utilities as they have a perceived sensitivity to interest rates. What is often overlooked is that regulated utilities have the ability to pass this through to their customers, albeit with a delay. My action items will – first and foremost – address the speculative portion of my portfolio to de-risk to a degree.

It’s a little gratifying when other bloggers see a social issue in a similar vein, as in Bert’s piece on stock buybacks. Other issues gaining traction – outside my rants last month – found their way over to Dividend Ninja with his take on the low unemployment rate. As he is Canadian, the US centric version would also have to consider the acceleration of expensing as part of last year’s tax plan – the result being companies getting a tax break to increase automation to increase throughput (or reduce headcount). Also of note is his piece on dividend cuts. I’ll acknowledge cuts may be a sign of proactive management but it is easily a sign of mismanagement – especially when triggered by debt covenants. Most investors don’t have the time or energy to sort through the issues – hence the common rule of thumb, Sell on the news.

This week will be decision time – did I allow enough cash to accumulate to pay the tax man (or woman). I scaled my reinvestment back during the quarter so we’ll see if I have to sell a little or not. Interestingly, an analyst on CNBC last week attributed the slow-down in new car sales to the surprises in store with the tax plan. That has me wondering if that could translate into the housing market OR if that’s why the Trump team is so driven for the Fed to cut rates?

As always, comments are welcome and have a good week!