Mexican Standoff

A confrontation in which no strategy exists that allows any party to achieve victory. As a result, all participants need to maintain the strategic tension, which remains unresolved until some outside event makes it possible to resolve it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_standoff

On May 30th, the Trump administration announced stepped tariffs on Mexican imports under cover of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. Once again it appears to have been a bargaining ploy using the American consumer and farmers as pawns in a game of Chicken as these were “indefinitely suspended” on June 7th – perhaps realizing the signature USMTA was now at risk by this action or the push back by the business community or the fact that Republican Senators realized they did indeed have a backbone (albeit, small).

While I’ve never been a huge fan of ETFs as my view is that an investor is consigning themselves to the average, my preference being to develop a thesis and buy individual companies in support of the idea – with the expectation being the return will be outside the norm (hopefully in a positive manner). That said, I realize ETFs can – and do – serve a purpose and as such I have five in my portfolio, one being iShares MSCI Mexico Capped ETF (EWW). This issue peaked at $44.54 on May 30th before bottoming at $42.64 on June 3rd which is precisely where my order to add executed. Yes, it was luck calling a bottom but it was also a validation of the Headline Risk concept.

One of the first analyses published was that of a short-seller, BOOX research. He does present a decent argument on all counts, save one. This was followed by Liumin Chen’s analysis which missed the same issue. To be fair, I’m now operating in hindsight – post Trump’s reversal, but I did spend most of last weekend forming my conclusion which was the negative tariff impact to EWW was overblown due to one factor. One where you can’t just look at the forest without reviewing the respective trees.

One uncertainty I have with BOOX is his view of a pending peso devaluation as that would likely torpedo any trade agreement and give rise to currency manipulator status. More important is the view that the Consumer Staples exposure is a negative. While it is true that this sector comprises 30.5% of the ETF, only one of the top ten (Walmart de Mexico) has significant Mexican domestic consumer exposure where US imports (tariffs) could be in play. The other two Staples either don’t interact with the US (Fomento Economico Mexicano) or has significant US operations in their own right (Grupo Bimbo with 22,000 US employees). My take is tariffs would slow – but not cripple – the Mexican economy.

Indeed there could be a silver lining for Mexican multinationals that do not import US products. Some brands at the forefront are Tracfone (America Movil), Groupo Mexico (Southern Copper) and the aforementioned Bimbo (Thomas, Entenmann’s, Mrs. Baird’s). Basically these entities could be repatriating US gained profits in inflated USD to Mexico as artificially depressed MXN. A possible spread play that is typically the province of banks and insurers – and an untended consequence that probably escaped the purview of the experts running this show. The icing on the cake? Cemex with 11 plants and 50 quarries in the US. What’s a good border wall without cement and concrete from a Mexican owned company paid for by US taxpayers?

So this is a contrarian play which – so far – is in the money. I believe the real pain would have been felt in the auto and produce industries which do have significant numbers of US workers. Hopefully this is a fire drill that won’t be reenacted any time soon.

Advertisements

Mergers & a Buy

The first full week of 2019 was busier than usual with three mergers completed – and I still haven’t completed the year end conversion on my blog data.  I’m getting there though – although one unexpected item was the decision of three of my companies to change their names exacerbating the conversion even further.  I figured this week we would dive a little deeper into the mergers and the subsequent purchase.

Guaranty Bancorp

This one was straightforward with Independent Bank Group (IBTX) shares swapped for GBNK shares on January 1st.  On September 13th I had sold my IBTX shares at $66.15 which was prescient in that the 4th quarter selloff hit Financials particularly hard.  I now have more IBTX shares than I previously had with a cost basis of $48.67.  So my arbitrage angle worked out nicely on this one.

Green Bancorp

The next one was Veritex (VBTX) shares swapped for GNBC shares, also on January 1st.  Holding both sides to completion was a losing proposition as both were impacted with the 4th quarter swoon.  Making matters worse was the forced sale of the new shares (computer glitch on the broker side) locking in a loss on the transaction.  I still retain the old shares so my booked loss is $6.54 per share.  At least the prior one was a nice offset.

Shire Plc

As with a number of investors, I incurred a paper loss on the Baxalta spinoff from Baxter on July 1, 2015 along with the subsequent acquisition by Shire on June 3, 2016.  While this loss was offset to a degree by the cash component of the Shire merger, a loss was carried forward.  On January 8th, the Takeda Pharmaceuticals (TAK) acquisition of Shire was completed.  While the shares have arrived, the cash component is expected next week.  Citi (the ADS sponsor) has provided initial indications that this merger is a fully taxable event (cash and stock) under the new tax law.  Chalk another unintended consequence onto the Trump plan as the intent of the IRS ruling was to increase revenues, I’ll finally be able to book my remaining loss on next years’ taxes decreasing their take (if the ruling holds).

Becton Dickinson

Tom at Dividends Diversify recently performed a Deep Dive on BDX, which I won’t go into here, but I had been researching preferred issues of which they had made the cut.  In general terms preferred stock pays a fixed dividend, has less (or no) voting power, but has a higher standing in the event of bankruptcy.  Each issue is different so it is wise to review the prospectus.

This is my first foray back into preferreds since 1978.  Becton’s pfd A (BDXA) is not callable, yields 5.34% (at my purchase price) and matures May 1, 2020 when it converts to .2361 shares of BDX stock.  The proceeds were used in financing the CR Bard acquisition.  I bought on the 8th making me eligible for the February 1st dividend.  I suspect we’ll see a little dilution in BDX when these mature.


So there we are with my ‘week in review’ and hope you had a good start to your year!


 

 

Selective Updates

Crypto Update

What a difference a year makes.  Last year I penned My Views on CryptoSince hitting its peak of $19,783 last December (17th) the drop has been breathtaking to say the least.  The -84% haircut (through today) makes even GE (-63% this past year) look like a great investment.  Though enthusiasts maintain the theory that a need exists for an alternative to fiat currency, the reality is that other than some emerging and frontier markets the real world has yet to embrace this concept.  The continuing requirement to classify many ICOs as securities may be a contributing factor to the malaise.  Yes, the wild west is being tamed.

I think it may go a little deeper though.  Consider this:

  • the majority of ICOs require Bitcoin to purchase
  • If the US market is limited until SEC compliance is obtained the supply/demand ratio is impacted
  • As the price drops, mining becomes unprofitable
  • With pricing pressure, the speculation component becomes riskier

In a nutshell, my belief is that the ICO aspect is artificially drawing down the cryptocurrency space but remain doubtful that the glory days will return anytime soon.


Yield On Cost Update

In September, I mused on the YOC metric.  A current, real-time example of a valid potential use is probably worthy of discussion.  The view presented by YOC is generally framed by initial yield and dividend growth compounded by the time held.  Over the past two years I’ve had a stagnant YOC for two primary reasons:

  1. Some of my longer term holdings were lost via mergers for cash, and
  2. My current focus on M&A action – which tends to initially be more of a short-term view – for a third of my portfolio.

My portfolio’s average YOC today sits at 3.54%.  When compared against treasuries (with their increasing yields) my view is the risk premium associated with equities, coupled with the tax benefits with treasuries are beginning to converge.  My cross-over point is about a 1% differential and when attained, I’ll reenter the bond market following a 10-15 year absence.  Catfish Wizard recently wrote on his particular strategy.


‘Tis The Season Update

The annual addition to the trust has been completed with the first foreign issue.  With Friday’s market swoon, Royal Dutch Shell (B shares) was added to this portfolio.  The other change during the year was the loss of WGL via merger for cash in July.  This cash was redeployed in August into Atmos Energy (ATO).  Incidentally the acquirer, AltaGas (ALA.TO,ATGFF) was subsequently forced to cut their dividend by 56%).  Kind of like taking the money and running on that one!


There it is – akin to a Greatest Hits release.  In all seriousness though, I think it’s fair to share some of the thoughts that play a role in the direction my actions take me.

Until next week …

Where’s Santa?

What a start to the final month of the year.  At least there is a little something for everyone.  First the CME tripped the first wave of circuit breakers in the futures market.  Then the chartists found the S&P closed the week in a death cross.  Then there’s news of a possible yield curve inversion.  Lest we not forget, the most recent China issue which may or may not even be legal.  While the Huawei issue is unfolding, Lighthizer continues to stir the pot by saying he considers March 1 “a hard deadline” otherwise the delayed tariffs will be imposed.  Hmm … kind of like bringing a gun to a knife fight – or – perhaps the administration really believes that “free and fair trade” is an outgrowth of convoluted negotiations.

If week one is any indication, the traditional “Santa Claus Rally” will be delivering a lump of coal this year.  Being the eternal optimist, I’ll argue Christmas isn’t here yet so I had to take advantage of the sell-off to do a little buying:

  • First, I added to my ETF group.  I accomplished two things with this:
    • As the majority of these are foreign, they are underwater.  Therefore, an ‘average down’ scenario.
    • These all pay December dividends (one quarterly, three semi-annual and one annual) all yet undeclared.  All are now captured.
  • Second I executed a rebalance on a small portion of the portfolio.  I chose a ‘rebalance’ as the fees were lower than the alternatives.  End result being:
    • Sale of BOKF.  I had this issue in two accounts due to a merger, now it’s only in one, with the proceeds and accumulated dividends:
    • Added to ADP, MMM, KIM, FAF as these are underweight target holdings
    • Added to AVNS as they may have received a good price for the division sold to OMI
    • Added to LARK and CASS – missing the ex-date for the stock dividends
    • Added to BR, CNDT, CDK, FHN, JHG, KSU, PJT, WU, XRX – capturing WU’s December dividend

I still have another rebalance queued pending completion of a merger (might be into the new year) and then we return to normal operations.

I also will be selling my OMI – perhaps later in the month to see if Santa really exists!

Ho-Ho-Ho …

Work Freedom Day

Once per year – assuming a static or growing portfolio – the day arrives where current year dividends paid exceed the prior years’ total dividends.  For me, yesterday (October 19th) was the day.  Now the term, coined by Dividend Life in 2014, is a little bit of a misnomer as I don’t work but the concept is applicable.  This compares favorably with last year (October 25th) but still shy of my all time best (in retirement) of October 4th in 2016.  The improvement this year is largely attributable to Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which resulted in increased regular and special dividends.  Whether this is a one-off or sustainable remains to be seen but as my mother was fond of saying, “Don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth.”


I’ve been noodling over an article for awhile – one of those that need to be absorbed in doses.  I see bits and pieces of me across all levels, but probably a three – maybe a four.  The relevance?  In a recent post (9 Sep) I stated:

Bank OZK (OZK) has had some curious moves of late with a costly name change and repositioning from federal to state oversight. These, along with their increasing exposure to high value CRE gives me pause.

Obviously the esteemed Jason Fieber is not among my handful of readers as he initiated a position on 1 October citing:

There are some concerns over its loan portfolio (when are there not concerns about a business?), especially seeing as how the bank has aggressively moved into construction lending in recent years. This tiny bank is behind some of the biggest projects in some of the biggest markets in the US.

But these concerns seem to be more than priced in. It’s almost as if the last four years of growth are worth nothing. Of course, growth could, and likely will, slow in the new construction market. And sticking to strict lending standards means opportunities might dry up.

The market’s (and my) concerns were that “strict lending standards” weren’t consistently followed.  Fast forward to Thursday’s earnings report:

On July 16, 2018, the Bank changed its name to Bank OZK, changed its ticker symbol to “OZK,” and adopted a new logo and signage, all as part of a strategic rebranding. As a result of this name change and strategic rebranding, the Bank incurred pretax expenses of $10.8 million during the third quarter and $11.4 million for the first nine months of 2018.

During the third quarter of 2018, the Bank incurred combined charge-offs of $45.5 million on two Real Estate Specialties Group (“RESG”) credits. These two unrelated projects are in South Carolina and North Carolina, have been in the Bank’s portfolio since 2007 and 2008, and were previously classified as substandard. The combined balance of these credits, after the charge-offs, is $20.6 million.

The CRE issues are centered on two projects in the Carolinas, one a mall with Sears exposure.  I have no conviction that these are one-time issues.  Much depends on the economy and the hurricane related recovery in this area.  Yet I couldn’t resist the the opportunity to average down yesterday on the 26% price drop.  So yes my crystal ball worked this time, but no I didn’t sell in September, nor did I short.  Which is why I may not be a Level 4.


Inspired by Catfish Wizard and Jim Cramer’s Power Rankings, this weekend I’ll add the 2019 DGI Picks by Sector as a Menu Item (fun and games only!).  If you’d like to be included, submit your top pick for each sector.  I’ll probably recalibrate the results around Thanksgiving to provide a level playing field.  🙂

Gamblin’ Man

Lord, I was born a gamblin’ man

David Pratter (parody of Allman Brothers Ramblin’ Man)

I’m not sure what it is about October that causes some vicious swings in the market but this year remained true to form.   When viewed through the prism of percentages the two day drop was merely a blip,  for newer investors I’m sure it was gut wrenching all the same.  While the President was quick to cast blame on the Fed,  this is the same man  that was quick to criticize the Fed for keeping rates artificially low.  Others cast the net a little wider to include trade tensions with China.  Kind of like saying , “Look at the man in the mirror first!”  We don’t have to look any further than PPG’s pre-announcement to identify the culprits: Accelerating raw materials and transportation costs, slowing China demand, weakening auto paint demand and a stronger US dollar.  I wouldn’t be surprised if additional surprises are in store as more companies announce.

What does surprise me a little is the fact that costs like PPG is incurring has not yet worked into the CPI or PPI numbers yet.    One pundit mentioned inventories were being drained so the full increase will be felt in the future – unless a China agreement is on the short-term horizon.  Perhaps …

I was able to capitalize on the rout a little on Thursday by adding to seven positions – notably the foreign ETFs along with BOKF and CL.  Unless markets go haywire again, I have only one more purchase on tap for this month.

To come full circle to the title of this post, our friend Jim Cramer is in the process of releasing his selections for 2019.  He’s doing this in the format of Power Rankings which is a unique approach but one I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.  The reason: there is already an embedded mindset of investing being a form of gambling.  Cramer says, “we’re rolling out power rankings for each sector of the stock market, just like how gamblers use power rankings to gauge the strength of football teams”.  Hmm … but I will keep an eye on these selections.  Mysteriously they stopped after three sectors were released, perhaps related to the market selloff?  All I can say is during week 1, 11 of his 15 selections were under water … so what was advertised as a one week rollout is now on hold?  Perhaps market conditions weren’t conducive for his track record?  Any way, more to come on this front I’m sure 🙂

My 3Rs – Revitalize

In the first two posts of this series, I highlighted my thought process in basically the recent past and present.  Today will attempt to bring the investment landscape of the future into focus.  I will be the first to admit that I have a jaded view of the present – i.e., not being aligned with the economic views espoused by the current administration.  The upcoming midterms have the ability to shuffle the deck even further.  The assumption set I used (which easily could be argued with) is:

  • The current administration will continue to be embattled by prior missteps – primarily in vetting – (resulting continuing indictments and guilty pleas)
  • This could be further hampered by loss of one – or both – chambers of Congress
  • I (currently) anticipate no major activity regarding impeachment, 25th amendment or resignation

Basically a recipe for gridlock – which will put the brakes on some of Trump’s more polarizing policies.  Without a Democratic landslide, I don’t see a major rollback but also don’t see further continuation on a partisan path.  Therefore my view is a continuation of trade tensions (notably Canada and China), rising deficits and interest rates resulting in a slowdown in the US economy.  While the economy is currently growing, the metrics I am watching are debt levels (student loan and state government), the inability of rising wages to keep pace with inflation and savings rate.  Though the concerns are endless, a greater domestic focus tends to mitigate much of the risk but bring me to one conclusion: Regular Americans’ disposable income may be in shorter supply next year.

With this theory outlined, it’s time to fit the remaining pieces into my puzzle of a portfolio which allows for roughly 1/3rd allocation to conservative speculation.  Frankly, my outlook is a bet that the US economy has been front-loaded into the midterm elections.  The downside if incorrect is that I’ve added some slower growth positions.  If correct I’ve generated a little alpha.

Tariff Myself

In the spirit of the times, I completed the move of my Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Church & Dwight (CHD) positions to M1 Finance.  I plan to add Colgate (CL) as a new position in the near future.  With M1 being a no-fee broker, my intention is to add new funds whenever I purchase toothpaste, mouthwash or deodorant throughout 2019 with the aim for these companies to attain about 2%, 3% and 1% of the portfolio respectively.

Corporate Actions

I intend to ride the M&A wave in addition to selected spinoffs.  I rarely participate in IPOs but do make an exception from time to time.  I continue to add to my banks that have completed two-step conversions.  This month has seen activity in this area as follows:

  • added to GBNK and sold IBTX locking in a total gain of 46.4% (16.3% annual return).  Assuming their merger with GBNK completes I’ll be assigned more shares of IBTX than I previously had.
  • added to SHPG as they received another approval in their merger.
  • Initiated a post-IPO position (from the 30 day over-allotment period) in Amalgamated Bank (AMAL).  This due to their intention to initiate a dividend next quarter.

Averaging Down

Yes, there are times when I’m underwater on some investments, most of these being holdings of less than 1%.  It would be a fair assessment that something was amiss in my initial analysis as several of these are foreign caught in the cross hairs of the strong US dollar.  One reason I tend to scale in to investments is to take advantage of opportunities to average down when my  original premise remains intact.  These tend to be intermittent purchases.

There, in three parts, is my strategy going into 2019.  As my dividend goals for 2018 are close to being met, I am now starting the realignment process so I’ll be hitting the new year with a running start.

I’d love to hear your thoughts the processes you use!