Down, But Not Out

Another week, another round of mixed messages.  Sifting through earnings reports, Covid-19 spread, economic data and the resultant dividend suspensions and cuts is enough to make your head spin.  This week nailed me with two additional dividend cuts, both of which will be cut loose in short order.  Neither was much of a surprise and one would’ve been gone already save for a hold on one of my accounts which is being transferred to a different broker. (The hold should be lifted next week).

What has been a surprise is the number of companies pulling forward guidance.  It kind of reminds me of the days when analysts earned their keep with – well – thoughtful analysis.  Looks like we’ll find out which are the better ones that can prove their mettle in times like these.

Even more of a surprise was the interview CNBC did with Grant Sabatier (Millennial Money) where he claims that, “the concept of retiring early (FIRE) has already started to lose steam among younger generations. And the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy and markets could be enough to eliminate the movement altogether.”  rings a little hollow.  I would surmise there will be greater emphasis on reserves and a heightened awareness of security but the dream of early retirement has endured through multiple generations.  I may be overly sensitive, but it struck me as , “Hey, I got mine and there’s none left for you.”

Let me assure you, there’s always an opportunity awaiting.  You may have to look a little harder or dig a little deeper – but it’s there.  It may also be camouflaged and lying in wait.  These are times when support and thoughtful reflection serves best.  Personal example:  I’m now on the cusp of exceeding last year’s dividend cuts – which was a personal record over roughly 38 years.  The average dividend raise (including cuts) stands at 6.59% and it will probably go lower which puts my goal of 10% year on year increase in jeopardy.  6.59% betters the inflation rate so I’m ahead there.  My current paid run rate on dividends is 19.95% over last year which was previously expected to taper based on some front running I did in the first quarter.  At least I’m operating with a head start.  Lastly, my portfolio balance has lost less value than the overall market which is little consolation, but at least a positive.  Look for what is working.

One of the Diplomats penned a piece published on Seeking Alpha reviewing 3M as a hedge against the pandemic.  In fact, one of their ways to boost income via side hustles.  Overall a good piece with a likely good conclusion – but for the wrong reasons.  The pandemic is a boon to only for their healthcare segment (roughly 20% of sales) their other segments (office, aerospace, automotive) are also in a ditch because of it.  Retooling their lines isn’t easy due to some sterile environment requirements.  Due to their status as an international conglomerate, I believe they will thrive only on the other side of this.  Survivability – either through an essential product line or fortress balance sheet are key.

I would be remiss if I failed to address the (probably) unwanted advertising inflicted by our President on at least two companies.

And I then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute, and is there a way you can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it’d be interesting to check that.

While roundly rejected by the manufacturers:

“As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route),” Reckitt Benckiser

“Bleach and other disinfectants are not suitable for consumption or injection under any circumstances. People should always read the label for proper usage instructions.” Clorox

This has to be classified as an item in the “It would be funny if not true” category.  But it did spur the creative genius in some corners (not to be confused with stable geniuses).  Just remember, due diligence should be performed in investing as well as ‘products’

Some memes making the social media rounds:

Another Freebie Down

Initially, this week’s installment was intended to place a spotlight on the ongoing stream of dividend cuts and suspensions facing DGI aficionados – particularly with earnings season ramping up.  Headlines such as, “For investors banking on dividends, the ‘pain has just begun” are making an appearance with some empirical evidence pointing to 10-16% overall reductions for 2020.  Between Simply Safe Dividends’ running tally and the onslaught of Seeking Alpha notices, it’s become increasingly difficult to deny the brevity of the situation.  In fact, I was handed another this week.

I was beginning to perform some analysis  to identify commonalities other than the two biggies – the Oil War and Covid-19.  With my background, I like to dig in the weeds a little to determine the path forward, whether double-down, stay the course or to sell.  I chose the first on AMC (wrong – now sold), the second on CBRL (jury’s out) and probably the third on CVA.  

What I am finding is the understandable (oil exposure, retail closures), the secondary exposure (companies dependent on retail), the idiots (use of leverage resulting in margin calls) and the coattail riders.  I put Covanta in this category as I think they are using the current environment to their advantage – unless some of their municipal customers are experiencing cash flow issues with Covid-19.

Through the ages, many in the DGI camp have laid bare their rules in dealing with dividend cuts or even lack of growth.  My preference has always been to address these on a case-by-case basis as generally, any loss is already reflected in the price providing time to perform additional confirmation.  Nowadays, my view is any decision must reflect a corporation’s ongoing viability – which is all the more difficult when there is no consensus on what the ‘new normal’ really is.

While an atomistic view, one can also take an holistic approach as Mr Free at 33 is doing.  While I’m sure he has attained a level of freedom and solace, I prefer an attempt at damage mitigation.  Perhaps if a section of my portfolio wasn’t allocated to a higher degree of speculation I could have greater agreement with his sentiment.  And this just may just come to pass as well – as the following hit my inbox:

Fri, Apr 17

Dear Investor,

Since 2012, we’ve worked to give everyday investors access to cutting edge investment products.  First, I want to thank you for all your support in taking Motif to where it is today. We’ve come a long way since we started this journey together and there is a lot for us to be proud of. 

At this time, we’ve made the decision to cease operations and transfer your account to Folio Investing.  We’ve selected Folio to give you access to leading investment tools in a similar experience to what you’ve enjoyed at Motif.

Your account transfer will start after market close on Wednesday, May 20, 2020, and your new Folio Investing account will be ready for you to use on Thursday, May 21, 2020.  Unless you choose to opt-out, there is no action required on your part …

Needless to say, I’ll be in the opt-out category.   Motif holds (held?) most of my speculative ideas. Some panned out, others did not, but it was my playground area.  My Canadian stocks were incubated in Motif until I got them structured as I wanted and migrated them to my primary broker earlier this year.  I had started unloading some of the ideas destined for probable failure (thanks to the pandemic) already. It appears I will need to be a little more aggressive as my timeline is now compressed.  Not a major surprise as the advent of free took its toll. The ones I keep will be moved primarily to Schwab with a handful possibly to M1 (depending on their answer to two questions on Monday). 

My primary point being – all strategies will be tested at some point in time.  My banking strategy – after a six year run – has been torpedoed by low interest rates.  My Experiential strategy has been blown away by Social Distancing. Oil transport by the Oil War, Discretionary spending by the job (and protection) uncertainty, M&A by the uncertain future.  I for one, remain willing to sell when circumstances have changed and the path forward is fog bound. Surprisingly, all of my spec plays are in positive territory ranging from a low of 0.1% gain to a high of 2,103.15%.  Until clarity reappears, I will remain a selective buyer – particularly of my three portfolio anchors (WEC, KMB and CLX) which are all up for the year.

In a year such as this, hunkering down with the tried and true is the primary game plan for yours truly.

Coronavirus – Pt 3

Another week has elapsed with the coronavirus headlines still front and center.  Politically in the US little has changed with the President doing his utmost to slant the narrative, including leaving an infected cruise liner offshore stating, “I like the numbers being where they are,” … (appearing) to be explicitly acknowledging his political concerns about the outbreak: “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”

On the state of the markets, as anticipated there was volatility this past week – despite an emergency Fed rate cut – and the DOW eked out a slight gain.  The one piece of good news at the end of the week was the announcement on test kits for the virus. Many details have yet to be released but will initially benefit two companies – Labcorp (LH) and Quest Diagnostics (DGX).  I suspect it will be provided on a minimal cost-plus basis due to the optics and several insurers already stating existing policies will cover said tests.

 It’s becoming increasingly clear that pundits (probably including yours truly) have disparate ideas as to what’s next.   What is known is travel is being disrupted – Amtrak, airlines and ships. Conventions, including the iconic SXSW, have been cancelled or postponed with a direct economic impact already exceeding $1B – with more to come.  Many companies are issuing earnings warnings, enacting travel restrictions and enabling work from home regimens. Schools in some areas – including the US – are temporarily closing.  Each of these comes with a yet to be identified economic cost, both direct and indirect.  As the US is primarily a service economy, much of this output will not be recovered in future quarter GDP numbers.

Playing on this theme, Jim Cramer began touting his “stay-at-home economy index”.  While (hopefully) being a thought stimulus for his followers, the most blatant issue I have is how well these companies can profit from this paradigm shift.  For example, will new subscribers flock to Netflix? Will companies continue their unfettered advertising on Facebook? How many buildings does Prologis have vacant to accommodate Amazon?  Does Amazon have spare robots up their sleeve to ramp up? This ‘index’ might have legs if the virus is more than a one or two quarter blip.  

Besides the test kits, my inclination is to look at the perceived necessities – the stuff flying off the shelves – even though demand may be based in fear rather than reality – and determine if the stock price reflects a value proposition.  These would include (public companies only):

  • N95 Face Masks (CDC approved
    • Honeywell (HON)
    • 3M (MMM)
    • Kimberly-Clark (KMB)
    • Alpha Pro Tech (APT)
  • Disinfectant Products (EPA approved)
    • Ecolab Inc (ECL)
    • Stepan Company (SCL)
    • Lonza Group AG (LZAGY – caution – possible spinoff)
    • Clorox (CLX)
    • Reckitt Benckiser (RBGLY)

In store for the week ahead will probably be a battle for the headlines between Coronavirus and oil.  No deal in Vienna is good news for US consumers other than the Texans dependent on the oil industry. Prudence dictates I review my oil patch banks’ relative exposure in a declining price environment.
Long: DGX, NVDA, AAPL, PLD, PEP, MKC, MMM, KMB, CLX

Last Week in the Rear View

IMF growth forecasts for 2020 were released this week and were inclusive of the “momentous” and “remarkable” Phase 1 trade deal between the US and China.  It would appear the critics of the deal win the first round as China’s growth forecast for 2020 was revised higher by 0.2 percentage points to 6%, while that of the U.S. was marked down by 0.1 percentage points to 2.0%.  While I’m sure the diehard Trump supporters will discard this report as another in a long line of “deep state conspiracies”, one opinion worth reading is how China is retooling – whereas where are we? My thinking is the trade deal is at best a Pyrrhic victory for the US – tempered by a possible coronavirus black swan.

In a similar vein, is a recession in store for the trucking industry?  That is perhaps the implication of the 2H 2019 data. Trucking, shipping and freight are indicators I tend to keep an eye on and one possibility is recession – which I discount.  In my view, this slowdown is a return to normalization – coming off the sugar highs of the tax plan of 2017 followed by the tariff front loading of 2018. Others to watch in this space include CAT, CMI and NAV.  There are, however, opposing views, such as Larry Kudlow’s, “You’ve gone from 1.5% to 2% growth. We had it going at almost 4%, then the Fed tightened.” Oh yes, the infamous Fed tightening defense. Well sir, unless your boss can pull another rabbit from his hat, I doubt the ‘blame anyone else game’  has much longer to run.  There does come a point when your policies have to stand on their own merits.

In my inbox this image arrived.

Now, I own CLX, CL, PG, GIS, K, KHC, KO and PEP.  If you’re counting, that’s 8 of the 14 company owners of the 26 listed brands.  In an exchange telling of the times in which we live:

Me: So just because they sold themselves to a larger corporation now makes a product like Burt’s Bees less natural? Or am I missing your point?

Resp: They do tend to alter the original ingredients

Me: Well, I guess since there is no acknowledged standard, natural would be in the eye of the beholder.

Point is the definition of “Sold Out”.  My assumption being a merger or acquisition.  Obviously someone else saw this as a breaking of the “natural” covenant – of which there are no standards.  I cannot prove or disprove the “tend(ing) to alter ingredients” allegation. Another example of society’s ongoing inability to communicate.

The final act for the week was the Steve and Greta show.  In Davos, Mnuchin questioned her economic credentials in regards to climate change.  While he may have been technically correct, his flaws were to attack a school girl on an issue where the US has ceded any moral high ground.  He lost the round “bigly” on optics alone.

My opinion is that even if climate change could be denied, the planet and our environment would be better served by implementing many of the Paris Accord action items.  Greta’s zeal is both her charm and achilles heel. To blast the Paris accord as not being enough may well be correct, but at least it is a beginning.  My preference for the moment is to incentivize constant incremental improvement in the vein of Deming’s Law and to bring the ESG conversation to the forefront.  However, to ignore the realities of economics in this quest is begging for the Law of Unintended Consequences to bite you.  One example being a retooling of worldwide supply chains if plastic containers were outlawed.  Doable, yes – but at what cost and in what time frame. Another example is even more ghastly – Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals.  These two consume roughly 4% of petrochemical production although part of this could be attributed to packaging. Impacted products would currently include Aspirin, Heart valves, Hearing aids, Artificial limbs, Antihistamines, Rubbing alcohol, Cortisone, Anesthetics and more.  Two possible consequences emerge, 1) even greater increases in health care costs, and/or 2) Bringing back Sarah Palin’s (2009) death panel debate except the options today could be a heart valve for someones’ life today versus a possible future life. Oh, the conundrums we face.

As we swing into the final week of January, it’s time to break out the month end reports. For my part, my activity was abnormally high due in part to some initiatives previously discussed. Hoping your week is great!

Reporting Style Update

On my “to-do” list was to refine my monthly results presentation to make it more relevant – particularly in light of the significant movements in my portfolio of late.  In search of ideas, I stumbled across the Simple Dividend Growth methodology. While not exactly what I had in mind, it covered probably 80% of which I could mix, match and modify to my hearts’ content.

His presentation covers Weekly actual and Forward Annual views, illustrated below.

XXX is text, $$$ currency

The largest differences are that I report monthly (as opposed to weekly), I convert actuals to percentages and I don’t use forward anything (except announced cuts) preferring to use trailing actuals.

The more subtle differences are twofold, I embrace stock dividends and M&A activity (one of his sell signals is a merger announcement).  So I’ve enhanced this template to serve my purposes as follows:

Actual as of 16 Nov 2019

The left column contains all ticker symbols – essentially a point of reference for portfolio activity.  The right column is the activity – as a percentage of portfolio value. The exception being the Dividends which are percentages of dividend activity.

I’ve segmented my new buys between the source of funds – the default being dividends accrued from prior months.  I don’t show my available cash as I reserve the right to spend it on my tax bill (like last April), take a trip or – in this case – replicate the granddaughter’s portfolio.  I may add a “new cash” line item in the event I hit the lottery or my living expenses decrease, otherwise I expect to continue funding purchases via excess funds generated by the portfolio.

I’m not sure how relevant the separate itemization of increases will be, but I’ll let it run for now.  In this example, BX increased their dividend but it doesn’t register as it amounts to 0.001962% – thereby rounding to 0.00%.  This becomes even more negligible when ORIT’s dividend cut is added. Likewise, the increase from stock dividends and DRIPs may also be too small to be meaningful.

The key point I wanted to visualize was the delta between market fluctuations and dividend growth.  Since my purchases are (generally) self funded by the portfolio, the fields: Increase from New Buys, Less Dividends, Less M&A cash and Incr/Decr from Market Action should equal 100%. 

The selfish reason?  After the four dividend cuts I experienced to start 2019, my assumption was the market was in for a rough year and I went into a little of a retrenchment mode.  My cash position rose and my purchases decreased. Now my dividend run rate is below normal – I might exceed 2018 dividends by month end which would be a month later than usual.  I’m used to coasting into the fourth quarter starting some positioning moves to get a head start for the new year. 

I’m thinking dividends deployed for purchases should be in the 3-5% range.  If I had used this method earlier in the year I probably would have realized faster how far I was lagging behind.

The term M&A Cash may be a little bit of a misnomer as a merger may be the trigger for multiple portfolio transactions which can be illustrated through this example.  The PB/LTXB merger was a cash and stock transaction and I owned both sides – PB in my IRA and LTXB in a taxable account. The cash was received this month.  I will sell PB in the IRA replacing it with TD and finally selling the TD in the taxable account. Excess cash in the IRA was used to create a TD starter position there. However, this daisy chain of events will occur over roughly two months to maximize the dividend payments.  The sales of the (current) overweight PB position and the soon to be overweight TD position will be classified as Positions Reduced.

Others present their results in a manner I found interesting including Dividend Driven and Wallet Squirrel.  Tom at Dividends Diversify had suggested creating an index. This solution is less complex but equally illustrative (I think).  I will probably track (perhaps on the side) the Buys to Dividends ratio as a correlation to market value (think “be greedy when others are fearful”) as this presentation may reflect increased buys when the market drops (or failure to do so).

So I’ll lay it out here for ideas, thoughts and discussion and intend to use it starting with my November review.

Buybacks (part 2)

To follow a theme outlined a couple of weeks ago, my going forward intent in my random musings segments is to view some of the issues of the 2020 presidential campaign under discussion.  My investing rationale has always been that to be successful, one has to understand all possible outcomes which means digging through a lot of crap to discern viable opportunities. It would appear at this early stage that much like 2016, 2020 will have plenty of that to wade through.  As an added bonus, I don’t want to disappoint my newest audience demographic by suppressing my irreverence. As always, these are only observations awaiting an investing opportunity that may never present itself.

The Pitchfork Economics series on buybacks continued on February 26th with Sen. Cory Booker (one of the multitude of Democratic presidential contenders) as a guest discussing his new bill, Workers Dividend Act.  Evidence cited to support his cause is twofold.

  1. American Airlines (AAL) wage increase was roundly panned by analysts.   Booker states the analyst opinions were misguided – which is true. To parlay these opinions into supporting rationale against buybacks is equally misguided as these were partially collectively bargained.  (i.e., benefit to unionized employees which is a goal of the bill.)
  2. His use of Walmart (WMT) as the proverbial case of buyback greed ignores some aspects that are detrimental to his position.  Walmart offers its’ employees matching 401K plans, stock ownership plans with a 15% discount and HSAs, of which some – if not all – allow employees to share proportionately in the “wealth” gained through buybacks.  The choice resides with the employee as to participation.

In an attempt to frame rhetoric with reality, I chose my oldest 15 holdings to identify what happened over the past three years.

Company201820172016
Comcast3.05% decline1.83% decline 3.18% decline
WEC Energy 0.09% decline .09% incr. 16.21% incr.
Chevron0.46% incr.1.33% incr.0.11% decline
Kimberly-Cl.1.77% decline 1.6% decline 1.26% decline
Norf. Southrn3.48% decline 1.93% decline 2.76% decline
Clorox1.19% decline 0.11% decline 0.8% decline
Prosperity B.0.51% incr. 0.28% decline 0.53% decline
Sysco0.5% decline5% decline 3.26% decline
Owens & Minor0.0% change 0.16% decline 0.16% decline
Walt Disney1.51% decline 3.72% decline 4.1% decline
Home Depot2.81% decline 3.82% decline 4.68% decline
PepsiCo0.9% decline 0.96% decline 2.22% decline
Kimco Realty0.62% decline 1.03% incr.1.66% incr.
Towne Bank0.13% incr.0.08% incr.1.05% incr.

Data from MacroTrends

In this scenario (excluding increases denoted bold/italic), the buybacks – as a percentage of the stock outstanding – actually decreased during each of Trump’s years as president despite the tax plan (from 2.1%/1.94%/1.45%).  Companies increasing their share count did so generally to use as currency in lieu of debt. In Chevron’s case this was to fund capital expenditures. Most of the others were for acquisitions.  It’s only slightly ironic that a merger cutting jobs and increasing capital concentration (banking sector) would be viewed more favorably due to an expanding share count

This discussion topic has also been picked up by Mr Tako Escapes who elaborates more skillfully than I.  I don’t dispute two points here, 1) Companies tend to have poor judgement in the timing of these transactions (buy high) and 2) the dollar amounts being expended.  But a dose of reality has to exist as well, I mean – realistically how many capex dollars should be spent to further the worldwide glut of steel (as one example)?

At least this exercise has been interesting but to draw any real conclusions requires a larger sample size.  More questions will also arise such as, ‘Are buybacks more prevalent in the overall S&P universe moreso than the DGI slice?’ or ‘Is my portfolio a large enough sample to be reflective of the stats bandied about by the Democratic candidates?’.  As usual in this blog, more questions than answers. I intend to complete this exercise for all of my holdings during the year

Other concepts will likely hit the garbage heap prior to getting much traction including a wealth tax (constitutional issues) and Modern Monetary Policy (hyperinflation).  As an aside, these concerns, per David McWilliams piece entitled Quantitative easing was the father of millennial socialism as presented by Ben Carlson makes for an interesting case. It certainly appears that the 2020 election season is off to a rousing start. Bottom line, I suspect some candidates will use this issue as a cry to rally the base with minimal substance to follow – similar in many ways to “Build the Wall” of yesteryear.  A reflection of what little has been learned over the last two years. In my mind not an investable theory.  

As always, opinions are welcome!

October 2018 Update

Octobers carry the weight of history on their shoulders and this year was true to form with some wild swings.  Though some sectors touched bear market territory (think housing), basically this month was a mere – but tumultuous – correction.  As we head towards this years’ finish line, there is no room for complacency as my fear is that storm clouds are forming heading into 2019 – basically a tale of two economies.  At the forefront of my mind are the two companies delivering notice of dividend cuts effective January.  I’ll dive into them in more detail next week but Owens & Minor  (OMI) a soon to be former Dividend Achiever which will probably be sold (-71.15% cut) and General Electric (GE) which will cut for the second year in a row this time by -91.67% to which I’ll probably add.  At least I have two months lead time to execute a strategy on my terms as the losses are already baked in.  October saw the S&P of drop 6.96% while my portfolio outperformed the index by decreasing 5.8%. YTD I’m ahead of the S&P by 1.36%.

Portfolio Updates:

  • lost COBZ, added additional BOKF as stock/cash merger completed
  • initiated new position: CL
  • initiated new position: BHBK
  • initiated new position: BNCL
  • initiated new position: HTH
  • initiated new position: SF
  • rebalanced and added to my ETF group (CUT, EWA, EWW, JPMV, VGK)
  • averaged down on OZK
  • added to CLX prior to ex-div

DIVIDENDS

My main focus resides on dividends.  Market gyrations are to be expected but my goal is to see a rising flow of dividends on an annual basis.  I’m placing less emphasis on the quarterly numbers as the number of semi-annual, interim/final and annual cycles have been steadily increasing in my portfolio.

  • October delivered an increase of 32.12% Y/Y, the impacts being dividend increases, special dividends and reinvesting merger cash proceeds into the portfolio.
  • October delivered a 10.52% increase over last quarter (Jul).
  • Dividend increases averaged 15.56% with 74.77% of the portfolio delivering at least one increase (including 2 cuts (GE, SRC).
  • 2018 Dividends received were 104.04% of 2017 total dividends exceeding last year’s on October 19th.

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:

GE‘s rail unit to spin then merge with WEB

GE to spin 80% of the health business

NVS proposed spin of Alcon scheduled for shareholder approval Feb 2019

On Oct 4, MSG filed a confidential Form 10 to spin the sports business

Mergers:

XRX merger with Fujifilm cancelled (still being litigated).

SHPG to merge into TKPYY

GBNK to merge into IBTX (shareholders approved)

GNBC to merge into VBTX (semi-reverse)

BNCL to merge into WSFS

BHBK to merge into INDB

Summary

My repositioning was completed and my 2018 dividends pretty much locked in.  I’ll  now focus on 2019 as it appears I need a head start with the dividend cuts looming.   🙂

Hope your October was equally as good – or better!