Show Me The Money!

politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.”

Oscar Ameringer 1870-1943

With apologies to the cast of Jerry Maguire, this post is not about sports – unless politics  is now the national pastime.  This post is only peripherally related to the forthcoming election by virtue of the cash.  Period.  Today is not about Purple, Red or Blue – but Green.

Last week I mentioned that any sales of my banks were on hold pending a study which I have now completed.  The common denominator in any US election is fundraising.  The Federal Election Commission lays out the rules of the game, one of which is that cash must be held in one (or more) domestic financial institutions.  For a multitude of reasons (mostly tax related), most campaign advisors recommend placement in a non-interest bearing account.  (Exceptions are rampant – particularly among PACs, but we’ll assume otherwise for simplicity’s sake).

In the current environment, low or no-cost money is key to profitability.  Once critical mass is attained, the spread between cost of funds and the amount earned can be significant.  Three ready sources (that I’m aware of) exist – HSA/FSA accounts (covered previously), state and local tax accounts (still looking for a data source) and political money.

The main problems with political money are additional reporting requirements and stickiness.  A media buy can pull thousands (or millions) of dollars from an account in short order – which could be problematic for many smaller banks.  That said, I kind of had to wonder if the PE ratio noted by Lanny of Peoples United (PBCT) is attributable in part to the fact it was of two used by the Bernie Sanders campaign.  Or perhaps it is an offset to one of my banks’ heavy leverage to the oil patch (BOKF).

Political money is quite often invested in brokered CDs (ensuring FDIC insurance), Treasuries and other low risk and therefore low-yielding investments.  One such bank, Amalgamated (AMAL) reported (March 2020) $774.8m in political deposits (campaigns, PACs, and state and national party committees) with a net interest margin of 3.46%.  All that is required is a decent algorithm to ensure liquidity as the candidates spend their money.

As I was identifying which banks to retain in a post-Motif world, figured it might be enlightening to identify if there was a Republican alternative to the Democratic Amalgamated?  The amount of blatant hypocrisy embedded in the money?  Preconceived notions that were pierced?

I identified 842 campaign accounts reported to the FEC.  116 candidates had no report on file – pretty evenly split between parties.  One of the reasons is explained in this article.  115 of the accounts were held at non-public institutions (private banks, mutual societies or Credit Unions).  For the purpose of this analysis, both categories were ignored with one exception.  66 institutions had the account of only one candidate which were also ignored (except for the self-reporting piece) as they were generally banks in the state or district of the candidate.

The first exception was the answer to Question #1  – a Republican alternative to AMAL.  The answer is an unqualified yes, although Chain Bridge Bank is a closely held (not publicly traded) corporation.  It probably played the spread a little better than AMAL by investing in Treasuries last year, locking in then higher rates.  I identified 42 Republican accounts  held at Chain Bridge versus 88 Democratic at AMAL.  Some Republican accounts of note (at Chain Bridge) include: John Cornyn (TX), Tom Cotton (AR), Lindsey Graham (SC), Joshua Hawley (MO), Rand Paul (KY), the Republican National Committee and one Donald J. Trump.  Notable Democratic accounts at AMAL include: Richard Durbin (IL), Kamala Harris (CA), John Lewis (GA), AOC (NY), Bernie Sanders (VT), Elizabeth Warren (MA), the Democratic National Committee and Joe Biden.

As far as hypocrisy goes, in politics it’s second nature and there’s little difference with the money.  While Democrats seem to thrive keeping Wells Fargo’s feet to the fire after multiple misdeeds over the years, apparently they aren’t severe enough to warrant fellow House Financial Services Committee members David Scott (GA) and Madeleine Dean (PA) to move their accounts or other notable Dems such as Timothy Kaine (VA) or Ted Lieu (CA) either.   Republican’s aren’t immune from hypocrisy either.  Consider the President’s America First campaign.  Apparently Brian Bavin (TX), Richard Shelby (AL) – both BBVA, Glenn Grothman (WI – BMO), Devin Nunes (CA – MUFG) , Ken Calvert (CA – RY) and John Cornyn (TX – UBS) all consider repatriating profits to other countries (Spain, Canada, Japan and Switzerland) the path to making America Great Again.  Moving along …

Let’s talk of my biases – things I had presumed accurate with little basis for the assumption.  Things like Zions Bancorp (ZION) based in Utah would have a conservative political bent.  In fact, 75% of their political accounts are Democratic.  Or the International Bank of Commerce (IBOC) with their CEO an ardent Trump supporter headquartered in a border town with both their political accounts being Democratic.  Or First Republic (FRC) that had some interesting – if not questionable – dealings with Trump associates entrusted by two Democrats. So much for preconceived notions …

The top ten publicly traded banks holding political campaign money are (# of accounts):

Bank of America Corp BAC 115
Amalgamated Bank AMAL 89
Wells Fargo & Co WFC 87
Truist Financial Corp TFC 81
PNC Financial Services Group Inc PNC 23
Citigroup Inc C 19
JPMorgan Chase & Co. JPM 17
Eagle Bancorp, Inc. EGBN 14
Cadence Bancorp CADE 13
Capital One Financial Corp. COF 13

If I were to wager a guess, Amalgamated and Chain Bridge have the number of accounts to move the needle a little where the others either don’t have the critical mass or their sheer size dwarfs any impact to earnings.

I currently own AMAL, BAC, BANF, BMO, BOKF, C, CBSH, CFR, CHCO, CMA, FFIC, FHN, FMBH, HOMB, HTH, IBOC, JPM, KEY, ONB, PB, PBCT, PNC, RY, TD, UMBF, USB, VLY and WFC all with varying degrees of campaign funds.

January 2020 Update

What a way to start the new year.  Beginning with the reshuffling of my portfolio and continuing right into earnings season and the inevitable debate over the Coronavirus impact on the economy … all I can say is yep it’s a lot to digest – and it’s only January.  With the gyrations in the market, all but two of my low-ball limit orders executed, probably the most controversial being MTR Corporation – the Hong Kong high speed rail line recently at the forefront of the protests. Anyway, I added two Canadian companies (Fortis and TMX Group – (Toronto stock exchange)) and starting the long rumored whittling of some of the non-core holdings (XRX and MSGN).  Most of the other action was moving Canadian companies from my taxable accounts to the IRA – some of which were done as a rebalance to minimize fees (hence the slight additions to the other holdings). Also selling part of the PB stock (which went overweight due to a merger) to fund these movements. As I indicated last week, this is the first of a multi-month transition. Obviously my timing was decent (this time, anyway) as the S&P lost 0.16% for the month while my portfolio gained 1.81%.

PORTFOLIO UPDATES

DIVIDENDS

My primary focus resides on dividends with the goal being a rising flow on an annual basis.

  • January delivered an increase of 22.73% Y/Y primarily the result of last years’ dividend cuts rolling off.
  • Dividend increases averaged 11.48% with 8.5% of the portfolio delivering an increase.
  • 2020 Dividends received were 1.86% of 2019 total dividends putting me on target to exceed last year’s total in November. The YTD run rate is under my 110.0% goal but I anticipate this will normalize as my portfolio movement becomes clearer and the current year begins to distinguish itself from the last. 

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.

AT A GLANCE

Inspired by Simple Dividend Growths reporting

The relationship between market action and purchase activity was roughly 95/5.  As I’m generally playing with ‘house money’ (proceeds from sales, M&A activity and dividends), I doubt there will be a significant variance until I fund my 2019 IRA contribution.  The Net Purchase Expense being less than 1 or 2% illustrates the ‘house money’ concept. Timing did play a part as I sold early in the month (before the drop) and most of the purchases were in the latter part of the month. 

SPINOFFs

On Oct 4, 2018 MSG filed a confidential Form 10 to spin the sports business which remains in progress.

MERGERS

Spirit MTA REIT (SMTA) voted on Sept. 4th to approve the sale of most assets to HPT for cash. A second vote was held to liquidate the REIT. The first payment was received and awaiting final settlement payout. Fully expecting a profitable outcome for one of my most speculative positions.

SCHW to acquire AMTD for 1.0837 sh SCHW to 1 AMTD.  My only surprise with AMTD being taken out was the suitor – I had expected TD.  Regardless, I have three concerns over this deal, 1) profit margin compression with the onset of $0 fee trades, 2) possible liquidation of a partial TD stake to reduce their ownership share from 13.4% to 9.9% (the same issue Buffet regularly faces) and 3) 10 year phase-out of AMTD/TD cash sweep account relationship.  The third one means TD has a low cost (albeit, decreasing) source of deposits for the foreseeable future. After the first of the year, I’ll probably cash in AMTD and increase TD a little further.  

SUMMARY

Overall, the only complaint is the sluggish start to the year. Minus the drag from last years’ dividend cuts I figure this will be short lived.  On my goals, progress was made as follows:

  • Scenario 1 – TD is now confirmed
  • Scenario 2 – Half complete, awaiting timing issues for the sell part
  • Scenario 3 – Determination of maximum contribution amount complete
  • Scenario 4 – 2020 RMD amounts identified

Here’s hoping your month was successful!

My Lazy*** Goals

Actual book cover, JoeKarbo.com

In my younger days, I was fascinated with the notion of becoming wealthy with a minimal amount of effort.  To that end I scraped and saved enough pennies to become the proud owner of a copy of the late Joe Karbo’s best seller, The Lazy Man’s Way to Riches.  Imagine my disappointment when I realized that significant effort was still required, albeit in a different manner.  If the book were updated today, I would think it would gloss over the time and coding required to attain website SEO success and focus on the rewards – while ignoring the fact that only a few will reach that level.

My quest for the laziest way to make money was not in vain as I stumbled onto dividend oriented investing forty years ago.  Essentially one can spend as much – or little – time and effort as they want in this regard. One person can use a set-it and forget-it strategy while another can be actively involved.  Or in my case, I’ve used both. While I recovered from my strokes, my portfolio was on auto-pilot accumulating dividends awaiting my return. For over a year – and it didn’t miss a beat. 

The complaint I’ve most often heard is that it takes too long to see results and this endeavor does require patience to get the snowball rolling – probably five to seven years.  But once it gains momentum it is a force to be reckoned with.

This is a meandering way to get to this weeks’ point. I’m really not that much into goals at this stage, but since I’m basically a let the portfolio do its own thing type of guy, there are times when adjustments just have to be made and framing them as goals could be beneficial.  For this year, perhaps you can refer to me as an active manager. The broader theme was my desire to reduce the number of holdings and so far I’ve dropped two (XRX and MSGN) but added two (FTS and TMXXF). Currently, this is a wash. On my monthly reports – with the exception of the new and sold positions – all of the activity nets out with an increase in the value of the stocks retained – which will probably be the case throughout the year.  

Scenario #1

Goal – consolidate all Canadian stocks across multiple accounts into the IRA

Rationale – the tax treaty between the countries allows most holdings to be exempt from the 15% Canadian tax withholding

Funding Source – the sale of PB from my IRA (leaving a slightly larger position in a taxable account)

Actions Required – 

  1. Ensure all have no Canadian taxed dividends
    1. RY, PWCDF are confirms
    2. BCE, CM, BNS, CP, CNI, TRP, TD, BMO, ENB, TMXXF, MFC, SLF, HRNNF, TU, RCI, FTS are pending confirmation
  2. If any are taxed, file appeals
  3. If appeal denied, review for possible sale
  4. If confirmed, add to TRP, TD, BMO, MFC, HRNNF positions
  5. Close out remaining taxable Canadian positions including NTR and AMTD (US)

Over the years I’ve received conflicting answers on the taxability issue.  With free trades I can get the real answer with the next dividend payment. I have 20 current Canadian positions plus AMTD (American, but I grouped it with the Canadians due to TD’s ownership stake).  NTR and AMTD (merger) will be closed positions – probably in April. End result will be more room for foreign dividends to stay under the Form 1116 filing cap.

———

Scenario #2

Goal – Migrate a few issues from Motif to Webull

Rationale – Webull has a promotion too good to pass

Funding Source – petty cash to be replenished by the sale of the same issues in Motif (timed to avoid wash rule issues – if applicable)

My issue with Motif is that they are late to the party on free trades, so I’m beginning to take some money off their table.  Although not fond of Webull (they are in the same camp as Schwab with paying stock dividends as cash-in-lieu rather than fractionals), getting three free stocks is a return equivalent to an immediate 5% (or more).  As my moniker implies, I seek returns where I find them.

——–

Scenario #3

Goal – Add cash to spousal IRA

Rationale – Reduce tax liability

Funding Source – emergency cash to be replenished by the anticipated tax refund

For the first time in years, we have some earned income which enables us to contribute.  This will be done into the spousal one which is not subject to RMDs (yet).

Scenario #4

——

Goal – Address RMDs without liquidating stock

Rationale – Keep the snowball alive

Funding Source – accrued surplus dividends

Our planning for this event was done a few years ago when we reduced the holdings in two IRAs.  One contains all SBUX (cost basis of $6) and the other all AAPL. 2019’s RMDs were addressed by surplus accrued dividends.  In 2020 we may have to journal transfer a few shares of each to the joint account which happens to already have these issues in place.  RMD slam dunk – except for the wife who’d like the cash – hence the alternate funding source.

——

So there are this lazy man’s goals for 2020 and it sure looks like more work than I’ve seen in awhile.  In my spare time I can see how my diverse and weird ideas panned out (or not) to determine the further portfolio reductions so I can return to being a future lazy man! As always, comments, thoughts and criticisms are always welcome.

Some Random Meanderings

Now that I’ve presented my 2019 game plan and my positioning moves planned for the last quarter, the time is ripe to see the strategies embraced by others.   First off the blocks was Credit Suisse with a projection of an 11% upside with some volatility.  I can’t disagree with the answer but question the methodology.  Their belief is the rise will mainly be on the backs of investors willing to pay up for quality (margin expansion).  My belief is that it will be riding the back of productivity increases as a result of the tax plan.  At least we both recognize that the Y/Y EPS growth rate is generally not sustainable.

Continue reading

Feb 2018 Update

The theme for the month was volatility.  A couple of ETNs cratered as a result of the high volatility causing investors to lose significantly when using these levered products.   “We sincerely apologize for causing significant difficulties to investors,” Nomura said.  Credit Suisse stated “investors who held shares of XIV had bet against at volatility at their own risk.  It worked well for a long time until it didn’t, which is generally what happens in markets”.   Caveat emptor.

During the month, the S&P index dipped into correction territory before rallying to close the month down 3.89%.  My portfolio sympathized with the index closing down 5.53%.  I never hit correction so my peak drop was less but I also failed to recover as quickly.  Probably an area to perform a root cause analysis on at some point.  Following back-to-back monthly losses against the S&P, I’m down 3.44%  to start the year. Continue reading

The Big Boys are Playing

I was starting to wonder when – not if – and how the big guns would start deploying their cash stash.  Most have investors to answer to and it has been a relatively quiet year so far – so it must be time to begin prowling for deals to bake and pots to stir.

First out of the chutes was the kingpin Warren fresh off the aborted Unilever deal.  Leaving 3G in his dust, last week he ran one from his playbook that worked before.  This time the victim being Home Capital Group which required a cash infusion following a run on deposits.  His $C2B 9.0% loan is at better terms than the one currently in place provided by the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan.  He’s also getting a discounted share price on a stake that could equal 38%.  The advisors were RY and BMO in which I’m long both.  As an aside … if the US dollar weakens further, profits could be booked on the FX angle as well.

Then only this morning he announced a 9.8% stake in Store Capital.  This one should provide support for REITs in general while (at least on paper) be an investment that meets his standards for playing nice.

This morning brought the announcement that Dan Loeb’s Third Point has amassed a 1.3% stake in Nestlé.  This appears to be a ploy to pressure the company to create ‘shareholder value’ by shedding assets and taking on debt.  It could be argued that Nestlé’s stake in L’Oreal is a slight hedge against commodity pricing and their conservative nature is an asset rather than liability.  I see this as more of an attempt at greenmail with minimal risk.  If pundits are correct, the Swiss Franc should get stronger versus the US dollar this year.  If so, even without spurring corporate change, profits could be booked on the currency.

In today’s most twisted play, the title goes to Tiger Global who reportedly have shorted Tesco plc while being long Amazon.  Not a bad call with Amazon’s Whole Foods announcement last week hurting grocery retailers.  But if the FT report is correct and this position was initiated in January, one has to wonder if they were privy to inside information?  Especially when initiated anonymously through an offshore entity?

So much for this week’s questions … and onward toward month end.

Nov 2016 Update

November was a wild month with a downward trend leading into the US elections and what is being referred to as the ‘Trump Rally’ following the widely unexpected result.  All major indexes achieved record highs on November 21st.  Fortunately I was able to redeploy the majority of the merger funds prior to the election.  This month The S&P gained 3.42%.  My portfolio recorded a gain of 11.49% (no normalization) largely reflecting my overweight position in the Financial sector.  This increases my lead over the S&P for the year to 17.74% with one month to go.

Headlines impacting my portfolio:

  • 11/2 – EPR acquires CLLY properties in liquidation
  • 11/8 – XRX spin (CNDT) set for 12/31/16, ratio 1:5
  • 11/14 – Maine is final approval for the BHB/LSBG merger.  Closing expected Jan 2017.
  • 11/15 – BMO designated as Canadian clearing firm for renminbi trades
  • 11/16 – AMC gets EU approval to for Odeon & UCI merger

Blog Updates:

I chose not to do an October portfolio update due to all the activity which distorted the results a little, especially the XIRR column.  The November data has been compiled and should be posted in the next couple of days with the goals update later in the week.  The Unabridged portfolio should be next week as per normal.

Portfolio Updates:

  • Added to DIS
  • Added to UL
  • Added to PEP
  • Added to TD
  • Added to KMB
  • Added to NJR
  • New position – IRM
  • Added to TRP
  • Added to KOF
  • Added to CCE
  • Added to FLIC (they chose to round up fractionals on a split)

Dividends:

  • November delivered an increase of 29.1% over November 2015.  This was due about evenly between dividend increases (Y/Y) and late 2015 funding.
  • November had a 2.1% increase over the prior quarter.
  • Announced dividend increases currently average 12.5% with 71.81% of my portfolio having at least one raise so far this year.
  • Through November, dividends received exceeded total 2015 dividends by 13.8%.

Spinoffs:

The XRX spin (Conduent – CNDT) is on track to complete 12/31/2016.

Mergers:

LSBG/BHB expected to close in January 2017.