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!

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Summer Vacation

I didn’t have to wait too long for turmoil to reemerge.  Apparently the President is unaware of the concept of a vacation as the barrage of libelous, racist, bullying, slanderous and lying tweets continued unabated.  It makes me wonder at times if Jack Dorsey has any regrets of the monster he has enabled. Although it is easy to digress into the madness, I must remain centered, mindful that this is a blog with an investing focus.  Therefore we need to backtrack a little to set the stage for Friday’s meltdown.

Ignoring the slightly left bent of this article, this week’s drama was highlighted by Fed browbeating and a tantrum as a result of a measured Chinese response to additional tariffs imposed by Trump.  Possible additional measures – not mentioned in the article – include of all things a devaluation of the US dollar. Since the Fed is asserting a measure of independence, it appears the only recourse to further Trump’s agenda is through the Treasury Department.  This all culminated on Friday which coincidentally was the eve of the G7 summit. Going into the weekend, the Dow dropped 623 points. My guess is the drop was a little greater than it should have been as positions were probably closed going into the weekend with an aura of uncertainty in the air.

The talking heads really went to town on all of this with the “probability” of a recession increasing in many analysts’ eyes.  Remembering that a recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth, I don’t see this in the cards as yet.  However, if the consumer bears the brunt of any downturn, it will surely feel like one. 

With this in mind – and also as most of my available cash for the month was previously allocated – I had minimal opportunity to play Friday’s slide.  I had previously set $100 aside as the minimum price for admission to the Webull platform that Tom at Dividends Diversify had reviewed. Basically, on a new platform, I dip my toes in at the minimum level, play around and test the waters before jumping in.  I took it as a sign that my final approval and funding was completed on Wednesday.

The one complaint I have with Webull (so far) is their desktop version is in beta and currently has limited functionality – forcing most activity to a smart phone.  This is probably only an issue for those of us with disabilities. Outside that, it performed in line with Tom’s review.

The enrollment offer had two free stocks which I promptly claimed.  The ones assigned were MFG and ERIC.  Interesting that both are ADRs which could be off-putting to some given the foreign taxes, fees and exchange rates – but they are dividend payers, MFG semi-annually and ERIC annually.  They both have intriguing storylines in that MFG could benefit from ongoing US/Japan trade talks and ERIC could see some benefit with the US blacklisting of Huawei. Neither of these were on my radar but I’ll hold these for now and with the market value being $11.03 getting an unrealized 11% gain for one weeks use of my money.  If only that were to continue … 

My Friday rampage continued by initiating two new positions, both with stories of their own.  CSCO, another 5G opportunity, reported lackluster results and Genpact which was a GE spinoff. GE remains their largest client which may strengthen further if recent allegations against GE prove to be true.  I’ll probably add one more position to the Webull account then pause while I figure out the ins and outs of the app. If you are interested in their promotion, this referral link can be used.

Rampage in this context is a misnomer, but I couldn’t resist.  I guess the real question is whether Trump decides to be civil with our allies at the G7 with a reset towards a united effort against China or if he decides to continue with a self-serving path where an increase in market volatility will result.  Keep your seat belts fastened!

July 2019 Update

The market continued to defy gravity this month as the only external turmoil was leveled at the Fed with encouragement to cut rates in excess of a quarter point. At month end, the Fed chose their own path and the market tailed off from the highs recently attained. Earnings season has been generally good to mixed with ongoing concern regarding Trump’s Tariff strategy the main issue. This month the S&P gained 1.3% while my portfolio gained 1.8%. For the year, I remain ahead of the benchmark by 1.0%.

PORTFOLIO UPDATES

  • finally sold out my OMI position (prior dividend cut) and used the proceeds to increase my RY position
  • Sold my UNIT (dividend cut/debt covenant issue) and LAMR (reporting discrepancies (my opinion)) positions using the proceeds to increase positions in ABM, ARD, BLL, CHCO, KOF, CCEP, CTBI, AKO.B, HOMB, IRM, NWFL, OCFC, OUT, PLD, QCOM, SRC, SMTA, BATRA and VALU as a rebalance
  • increased my CHD position
  • increased my JNJ position

DIVIDENDS

My primary focus resides on dividends with the goal being a rising flow on an annual basis. This month marks the removal of the quarterly comparison as this has proved to be steadily meaningless.

  • July delivered an increase of 4.64% Y/Y. This is off my typical run-rate due to two foreign pay cycles hitting in August this year, rather than the July of last year.
  • Dividend increases averaged 10.13% with 57.27% 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 64.31% of 2018 total dividends putting me on target to exceed last years’ total in late October. The YTD run rate is 107.66% of 2018, slightly under my 110.0% goal – but still recoverable.

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). Pending settlement expected in September.

TSS to merge into GPN (all stock, .8101 sh GPN for each TSS sh) estimated to complete in October – Upon the announcement, I was prepared to sell my TSS position to book almost a triple in just over 4 years as GPN currently pays only a penny per share dividend per quarter. However, page 14 of their slideshow states: Dividend – maintain TSYS’ dividend yield. This would appear to indicate an increase in GPN’s dividend, so for now I’ll hold.

PB to acquire LTXB for 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 and perhaps use some of the cash to purchase additional PB shares post-merger.

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 come point.

The last three 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 might provide 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 by migrating to a slightly risk off stance, offset slightly by companies with compelling stories. My cash position does remain slightly above mean.

Here’s hoping your month was successful!

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.

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 …