Things Making Me Go Hmm

Loose reference to a segment on The Arsenio Hall Show, 1989-1994

A handful of areas caught my attention this past week, some of which captured my whimsical thinking so much that it occurred to me that our president may actually have a game plan. Before I roll that scenario, let me start with the Boeing saga.

The Max Issue

As it will be awhile before the dust settles and the corner is turned, shareholders are likely in for choppy ride. My guess is the Jim Cramer Chipotle advice is applicable to this situation, “It takes 18 months from the last incident to get the American people to forget“. As Boeing previously had a solid reputation (outside supplier negotiations), there’s little doubt, given time, they’ll recover. The nagging question in my mind is, “What about their subs?”, the three largest being Spirit AeroSystems (SPR – ~50%), Triumph Group (TGI – 31%) and Hexcel (HXL – 25%) with several others dependent on Boeing for about 10% of their sales.

While some have pulled guidance, looking at Spirit shows a ‘sweetheart’ arrangement with a guaranteed production take threshold. Even so, Wichita, Kansas is feeling a little pain as SPR has cut hours by 20% and eliminated most contractors. The possible hmm counterpoint: Trump’s recent efforts to prod the Fed to reduce rates to weaken the USD.

Ongoing Farm Woes

A couple of weeks ago I touched on the plight of Wisconsin dairy farmers. This week, farming issues – specifically lending – crossed the wires. A Reuters study concluded farm lending declined 17.5% by the thirty largest banks between December 2015 and March 2019. Perhaps they’ve identified a bubble or perhaps diversifying risk. While keeping an eye on developments, my portfolio of community banks isn’t overly concerned as most of their loans are USDA carrying a 95% government guarantee. I think the current largest downside would be depressed merger premiums in this space. The possible hmm counterpoint: The federal debt limit may be reached sooner than anticipated, perhaps in part, due to increased credits to farmers to counteract tariff retribution?

Game Plan?

Low interest rates essentially delays the day of reckoning for out of control federal deficits. A weaker USD benefits exporters to the detriment of importers, but has the potential to reduce the trade deficit. These two issues, coupled with the fairly robust economy have the ability to provide a tailwind to the incumbent’s reelection prospects. The possible hmm counterpoints: Possible implementation of a surcharge based on the USD strength in the Petrodollar world, additional tariff retaliation.

Just some random thoughts to start your week!

Advertisements

Preliminary 1H Results

My apologies, but first half results will have a one week delay due to some dividends not crediting on Friday. These are primarily Canadian held in my taxable account – I’m thinking it’s a tax processing issue as the Canadian stocks in my IRA credited as normal. I do know the S&P beat me for the month but I’m slightly ahead for the year. Beyond that … there’s always next week.

This week, the President attended the G20 and had the anticipated meeting with Xi Jinping. The preliminary reporting by Eunice Yoon, CNBC’s Beijing correspondent was: (June 29, 2019 tweet)

  • By my tally, so far China gets:
    • -no new tariffs
    • -access to US tech for Huawei
    • -better visa treatments for Chinese students
    • -truce on tradewar (resumption of talks)
  • US gets:
    • -bigger purchases for farmers

My initial take was that China came out ahead due to the fact that their pork production has issues with a swine flu epidemic – meaning I think they used a weakness to their advantage. They probably had limited options. The Daily Beast concurs (although a little more stridently). But the futures market appears to be rallying – perhaps because it wasn’t worse? As Monday dawns here I’ll be looking at this a little closer.

Meanwhile, I’ll (finally) be making some moves in July, selling three issues – primarily dividend cut related. Since one of my core holdings is being acquired, a restructure of my top 36 is also in order. So my expectation is more than normal activity is on tap with a slight decrease in the number of my holdings (not the value) as well.

With it being a holiday shortened trading week in the US, I hope you enjoy and have a safe 4th!

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 …

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!

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!

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!