Delivering Alpha – NOT!

Perhaps I was anticipating too much based on hype and previous editions, but this years CNBC Delivering Alpha conference failed to deliver.  Come on, aren’t there any new and exciting things on the horizon to capture an investor’s fancy? Obviously not, as the VP’s message of a booming economy was sandwiched between short ideas and negative interest rate survival.  All interlaced with the drizzle of ESG investing and streaming concepts – in theory new and improved versions. Sorry, all this is old news, making me think CNBC has lost the concept of Alpha.  ESG has largely turned political (which introduces uncertainty) and the window of opportunity for nice gains in streaming closed about a year ago (about the time I added to my Comcast position).

Investopedia defines Alpha as a term used in investing to describe a strategy’s ability to beat the market – what most of us aspire for.  DGI investing generally attempts to quantify (and reduce) said risk while serving up a theoretically predictable outcome. My portfolio is a modified DGI strategy in that I attempt to introduce some Alpha to maintain my streak of beating the market as defined by the S&P index. I do this by introducing an underlying theme that I meld a portion of my portfolio into.  Past examples include Community Bank consolidation and the Rise of Fintech.

One that delivered Alpha to my portfolio this week was within the theme Transaction Processing.  On Thursday, Total Systems Services (TSS) was lost from my portfolio and replaced by Global Payments, Inc. (GPN)  via the consummation of their merger. TSS was a company that I seriously doubt was held by many other DGI enthusiasts.  To identify why, let’s run it through the illustrious Dividend Diplomat stock screener which addresses most – if not all – the conventional metrics most individual investors would use in decision making.  

Metric #1 P/E Ratio Less than the S&P 500

At purchase, the ratio was 19.16 and the S&P was 20.12.  A technical pass, although the Diplomats prefer a greater margin.

Metric #2 Payout Ratio of Less than 60%

At purchase, the payout ratio was roughly 22.95% (FY2016).  A definite pass.

Metric #3 Increasing Dividends

Here lies the major failure, which probably would have caused the Diplomats and most DGI purists to pass on TSS.  Their record is pitiful with two raises in eight years and the yield rarely exceeded 1%.


My take has always been to consider Total Return as the primary metric with a significant emphasis on Dividend Growth/Safety.  Although TSS’s dividend has been wanting, since I owned it it has delivered 30% average annual price appreciation with an additional 49% since the merger was announced, bringing my total unrealized capital gain to 390% plus a miniscule, taxable dividend.

Rather than reward shareholders directly, they chose to reinvest in R&D and growing the business which probably provided a greater return – and tax-deferred to boot.  The arguments against this approach are consistency and dependability. Additionally, this requires a level of trust in management. Granted, in some cases this depends on being in the right place at the right time as well – and this example is an extreme success story.  Yes, I do have several that I’m waiting on to pan out which is why I categorize this approach as speculative with only a small portion of my portfolio looking for the next emerging brilliant idea or better mousetrap.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my dividends.  In general, DGI provides a stable, consistent foundation.  But a little dash of Alpha through total return could be the difference in beating your index. As always, your views are welcome!

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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!

My 3Rs – Revamp

Last post in this series I highlighted my views from the rear view mirror.  Going into 2019 will see more changes than normal.  No I’m not selling any positions but changing the emphasis (allocation) on certain issues.  The game plan is for reinvested dividends and fresh money to gradually swing the portfolio into balance with the new targets.

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The YOC Metric

Every now and again I believe a reminder is in store addressing the reason and rationale for various approaches we take.  One such topic relates to Yield On Cost which can generate passion on both sides of the debate.  One side equates this metric as little more than a head fake while the other swears by its’ value.  As with most issues, the real answer lies in between.  At the very least all sides agree on the definition which per Investopedia is:

Yield on Cost (YOC) is the annual dividend rate of a security, divided by its average cost basis.

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May 2018 Update

The month was fairly normal until the final week with Italy followed by Trump’s tariff rollout.  In between we saw the on again – off again negotiating style with North Korea and China.  Other than a couple of down days it appears the market is learning to ignore the noise.  Again I used the dips to my advantage and stayed the course.  May saw a rise in the S&P of 2.16% while my portfolio outperformed the index by registering a rise of 2.24%.  YTD I still lag the S&P by 0.35%.

Portfolio Updates:

  • Added to CMCSA (making another round lot)
  • Added to my ETF group (CUT, EWA, EWW, JPMV, VGK)
  • Added to GE (on the rail spin (WAB) news)
  • Added SMTA (via SRC spin)
  • Added to BKSC (via 10% stock dividend)
  • Added to DGX on news of UNH strategic partnership

DIVIDENDS

This is where my main focus resides.  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.

  • May delivered an increase of 12.97% Y/Y fueled by dividend increases.
  • May delivered a 15.98% increase over last quarter (February).
  • Dividend increases averaged 12.14% with 55.98% of the portfolio delivering at least one increase (including 1 cut (GE).
  • 2018 Dividends received were 46.53% of 2017 total dividends putting us on pace to exceed last year in early November.

Notes: the Q/Q shows an increasing trend line due only to timing of dividend payouts (pay date shifts).  Y/Y is only on par with dividend increases as dividends received were used to purchase next quarter (rather than current quarter) dividends.

Spinoffs:

GE‘s rail unit to spin then merge with WEB

Mergers:

XRX merger with Fujifilm cancelled.

SHPG to merge into TKPYY

Summary

Any month with increasing dividends and beating the S&P has to be considered a good one.

Hope all of you had a good month as well.

Dec 2017 Update and Year End Review

The upward trend continued this month with catalysts being the tax plan and holiday sales.  My guess remains that the first half of 2018 will be good for corporations (i.e., dividends and buybacks) with a shift in focus later with deficits and mid-term elections playing a leading role.  I remain convinced the yearlong weakness in the US Dollar will continue and expect to allocate more cash into foreign equities during the first half 2018.  I will review this plan as my personal tax implications become clearer.  For the month,   the S&P index increased by .98% while my portfolio increased by 3.29% largely fueled by Financials (again).  For the year the S&P increased by a stellar 16.26% while I came in at +20.58%! The S&P return with all dividends reinvested adds about 2.41% which my hybrid approach still beat.

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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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