Overheard in Texas

Though not as juicy as THE conversation between attorneys in DC a few weeks ago, the opportunity to eavesdrop landed in my lap a couple of weeks ago.  Sitting across from me at my local Starbucks were three individuals.  Although not aware at the time, (or I would have paid closer attention sooner), I fast realized one was a locally based money manager, the second an aide of some sort (perhaps a lobbyist) and the third a Republican Congressman (not from my district – but the next one east of here).  They were engaged in a spirited discussion when some topics arose that got my attention (and my phone set to take some notes).

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A Look ‘Down Under’

It’s been about two years since I first invested in Australian issues, choosing to take a slow approach while I obtained some practical experience first hand.  Certainly many of the yields are good, but the economy – much like Canada – is resource based.  Then there’s the whole franking deal.  Plus the foreign exchange conversion – but this has been relatively stable at 75 – 80 cents per USD.  Add to that, until recently the selection was limited to ADRs or using a cost prohibitive foreign desk.

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‘Tis The Season

It’s getting to be that time of the year and since I don’t think the grandkid reads this thing, I figured I’d share one of the presents she’ll be getting.  Just to review, each year since she came to live with us she has received shares in a company as a gift. This gift has been purchased in a company DRIP, established as a Custodial Account of which I’m the custodian. Generally, the company is one in which she can relate, i.e., Trix was her favorite cereal as a kid hence the General Mills stock.

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It’s Not Our Fault

There is a trend occurring that I find troubling to say the least. It is the inability of people in power – essentially those in control of a given situation – to take ownership of a failure. Gone are the days of Harry Truman who popularized the concept of accepting personal responsibility rather than assessing blame with his famous desktop sign stating, The Buck Stops Here. We accept the fact that in politics the notion of assigning fault to a predecessor is commonplace, although not necessarily right. It is what it is. To that end, I feel this is but one reason the majority of citizens have a significant disdain for politicians.

Recently I’ve noticed an increasing number of people in business who appear to subscribe to this political theory.  Forget about asking forgiveness of their customers and outlining remedial actions to remedy the problem. In my book, corporate officers who make the choice to deflect blame rather than accepting responsibility should be replaced as this easily could be a sign of more significant problems simmering beneath the surface.

The first resident of my Wall Of Shame is Reggie Fils-Aimé, president of Nintendo of America. In an interview discussing delays on the Switch, said, “We don’t want to have a consumer disappointed by not being able to get one for the holiday season. But managing that complex supply chain is a challenge.” and “… what I don’t know is what the demand is going to be. And there is a potential that demand is going to outstrip supply.”

Regarding the SNES Classic, he blamed problems “outside our control” at retailers. Looks like they could use a new forecasting methodology, less complex supply chain and greater control over the retail channel? Perhaps even communicate with buyers.  Maybe the answer is much simpler – as in reshuffling maybe the C-Suite?
The second entrant is Rick Smith of Equifax which fessed up to a massive data breach on September 7th. The hack was discovered July 29th (and began in May) and about August 2nd and 3rd, three executives (reportedly in a planned 10b5-1 sale) sold about a combined $1.8m. While the optics don’t look good on this event, it only gets better.

They then blamed a flaw in the open-source software created by the Apache Foundation (STRUTS) without disclosing whether the patches released by Apache since March were properly applied. In a response September 14th, Apache said they weren’t. Also September 14th, CNBC reports that ‘admin’ was used as the database password in Argentina.

The wisdom of using open-source versus proprietary software should be questioned as well as the sheer stupidity exhibited by their administrators.  Then in an attempt to limit liability, their “free” credit monitoring had a provision limiting the legal actions affected consumers could use.  This was subsequently updated with a statement saying, “enrolling in the free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection products that we are offering as part of this cybersecurity incident does not prohibit consumers from taking legal action.” At week’s end, two exeutives “retired” effective immediately.  But not the CEO.

The Fool highlights some other examples but none are nearly as brazen as these two.  I do not own Nintendo (NTDOY) but have them on my watch list.  Perhaps their actions are little more than a misguided marketing ploy to stimulate sales.

I do own a small slice of Equifax (EFX) which is now under water.  As this space is controlled by the tri-opoly of Equifax, Trans Union (TRU) and Experian (EXPGY) there is not significant competition.  In fact, most US mortgages are scored using a merged report of these three bureaus.  So my game plan is to ignore TRU (no dividend), wait to add to my EFX position (so as not to catch a falling knife) and look closely at initiating a position in Experian.  There are rumors that EFX may now be a takeover target as well.

Update 26 Sep 2017 – Rick Smith CEO of EFX has retired effective immediately

So any thoughts on the data breach or other blame games?

Harvey

Hurricane

Mother Nature certainly is a beast at times.  Watching her ongoing treachery on the television is heartbreaking to say the least.  Looking out the window, I see sporadic rain – which will continue for a few days – but nothing of the magnitude being experienced just a couple hundred miles away.

As my mind wanders a little due to the same images being replayed over and over, I can’t help but thinking of the economic impact of Harvey.  Being resident in Texas, my portfolio has a little bias towards my home state.  In a similar vein, which companies stand to lose – or gain – from this tragedy?  I figured I’d lay out my thoughts – which probably are incomplete – as a basis for determining whether my portfolio can weather (pun intended) a storm of this severity.

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Baseball and Screeners

This is one of the times that another blogger’s post has triggered my (loosely defined) creative juices.  The post in question was Lanny’s (Dividend Diplomats)  Waste Management analysis.  Now I have no disagreement with his conclusion, in fact you could compare the DD Screener to delivering a fastball right down the middle.  The only alternatives to a strike are whether the pitch is high or in the dirt.

Personally, I like a little more strategy – the brush back before throwing a curve that nicks the corner.  Questions like EPA regulations or NIMBY impact on landfills.  Or the number of municipal contracts that are competitive versus monopolistic.  Issues obscured by a strict reading of batting and earned run averages.

The jewel in his analysis was:

I was driving around my neighborhood and was surrounded by a few waste disposal service trucks …

Aha!  A twist on the old kitchen cupboard investing strategy.  You know the drill … identify the companies behind the products you use.  I’m not sure of the absolute merits of this strategy, but there is comfort in investing in companies whose products and/or brands are familiar.  And it is one I use (to a degree) as well.  My assumption being, why not have my spending subsidized by companies I do business with through dividends?

I think I stated earlier I thrive in the obscurities, case in point being that last week I required a new prescription.  My meds generally delivered by mail from Humana (HUM).  One-off situations are handled by a local pharmacy.  In this case I chose Tom Thumb grocery as they accepted Humana insurance and I could wait at the Starbucks (SBUX) nearby.  I noticed on my paperwork that Argus Health was used for claim processing.  Argus is owned by one of my companies, DST.

There we have it.  Humana paid Tom Thumb which paid a processing fee to DST while I paid Starbucks while waiting.  Of which HUM, DST and SBUX all will provide a rebate (dividend) to me.  Although a topic I’ve mused on before, it is also one I feel never gets old.  One can always posit that this level of detail is irrelevant and perhaps it is.  But I feel it provides a broader snapshot of the business when inter-relationships are recognized.

 

2017 Mid Year Correction

Each year I establish a basic plan to govern my investing activity based on sectors, segments or locales able to deliver a little alpha to my portfolio.  The past couple of years had a focus on the Financial industry with the outcome being rewarded with mergers (small banks) and outsized dividend increases (money center banks).  I also began increasing my Canadian allocation in 2015 from 2.5% of my dividends to the current 8.6%.  Since the election, I was accelerating the increase in my other foreign holdings to the current 13.6% on two theories, 1) gridlock in Congress would persist as the Republican majority would be too narrow to push through sweeping changes, and 2) this inaction would result in a weaker dollar.  It appears I was correct on both counts as the US dollar is now at an eight month low.

With my alpha agendas now too pricey (at least for slam dunk results), a re-prioritization is in order. With the Fed Chairs’ testimony this week indicating that GDP growth of 3% would be difficult, the Trump agenda which projects a higher growth rate is likely in peril – even ignoring the self-inflicted wounds.  Without an improvement in the GDP, deficit hawks will be circling.  It is likely the last half of the year will present some opportunities, but my view these will be predicated on external events.  My eyes will remain open to the USD exchange rate – on strength I may buy foreign issues.

My portfolio allocation between holdings labeled Anchor, Core and Satellite have been imbalanced for a year or two primarily due to merger activity and the acceleration of adding foreign issues.  Now that the major mergers have completed, the last this past January, and other alternatives are slim, I figure it’s time to get back to basics.

My going forward strategy can be summarized as follows:

  1. Non-US equities when secured at a favorable exchange rate
    a)I have 2 Japanese, 2 Swiss, 1 UK and 1 Swedish company on my watch list in the event an attractive price presents itself
  2. Assess corporate actions (spins, splits, mergers) for opportunities
    a) Generally I’m agnostic to splits except when the result would be a weird fractional.  I can easily manage tenths or hundredths of shares.  Smaller sizes are troublesome so I avoid when possible.
    b) Spins (and mergers) are assessed to prevent (if possible) weird fractionals.  For instance, I added to my MET position earlier this month as their spin will be at a ratio of 11:1 which would have otherwise delivered a weird fractional.
  3. Assess portfolio for average down and other opportunities
    a) An example of this was last months’ purchase of KSU.  To this end, I recently updated my Dividends (Div Dates) Google sheet to flag when the current price is lower than my cost basis.
    b) An example of “Other Opportunities” would be BCBP which is resident in my Penalty Box due to dilution.  The dilution (secondary) might be explained (now) with their announced acquisition of the troubled IA Bancorp.  If the regulators provide their seal of approval, it may be time to remove BCBP from Penalty status and perhaps add to this 3.5% yielder.
  4. Add to holdings that are below target weighting
    a) This is where I expect most of my second half activity to reside.

Of my 26 stocks labeled Anchor, Core or Satellite; 5 can be considered at their target weight (within .5% of the target) and 4 I consider to be overweight.  The remaining 17 will receive most of my attention.  As most of these rarely go on sale, I’ll likely ignore price and place a higher priority on yield and events – at least until I’ve exceeded last years’ total dividends.

The following table highlights this portion of my portfolio:

JAN/APR/JUL/OCT

COMPANY TYPE PORT DIV%
Kimberley-Clark/KMB A-(6%) 4.01%
First of Long Island/FLIC C-(3%) 0.85%
Sysco/SYY C-(3%) 1.81%
Bank of the Ozarks/OZRK C-(3%) 0.67%
PepsiCo/PEP S-(1.5%) 1.51%
First Midwest/FMBI S-(1.5%) 0.3%
Comcast/CMCSA S-(1.5%) 8.32%
Toronto-Dominion/TD S-(1.5%) 1.58%
NOTE: Not all payment schedules coincide completely

FEB/MAY/AUG/NOV

COMPANY TYPE PORT DIV%
Clorox/CLX A-(6%) 3.68%
PNC Financial Services/PNC C-(3%) 0.30%
Legacy Texas Financial/LTXB C-(3%) 1.48%
Starbucks/SBUX C-(3%) 1.07%
Blackstone/BX S-(1.5%) 2.58%
Apple/AAPL S-(1.5%) 1.26%
Lakeland Bancorp/LBAI S-(1.5%) 1.04%
Webster Financial/WBS S-(1.5%) 0.82%
NOTE: Not all payment schedules coincide completely

MAR/JUN/SEP/DEC

COMPANY TYPE PORT DIV%
WEC Energy/WEC A-(6%) 5.61%
3M/MMM C-(3%) 0.76%
Home Depot/HD C-(3%) 7.32%
Blackrock/BLK C-(3%) .22%
ADP/ADP C-(3%) 1.60%
Southside Bancshares/SBSI S-(1.5%) 0.96%
Chevron/CVX S-(1.5%) 9.52%
Norfolk Southern/NSC S-(1.5%) 1.99%
Flushing Financial Corp/FFIC S-(1.5%) 0.99%
Wesbanco/WSBC S-(1.5%) 1.14%
NOTE: Not all payment schedules coincide completely

I will provide the caveat that this plan is subject to not only the whims of  the market but of my own as well.  In addition, this plan may be changed if/when a better idea comes along.