One More on Ecology

The past couple of weeks have dealt on topics that are front and center in the current news cycle with the one commonality being that barring significant personal convictions there is no mainstream investing approach to capitalize on these trends. This isn’t to imply there won’t be or that some investors in these spaces aren’t at the bleeding edge. It’s just the current risk reward potential is skewed more towards the speculative side.

I’m not immune to a degree of speculation so long as I can see a viable (personal opinion) business model and a path towards profit while – at the very least – making at least an incremental improvement to a problem facing society. One such conundrum hit my inbox this week in the form of a Greenpeace (Netherlands) video on plastic waste. I will first stipulate that there is a real (and growing) problem with plastic waste. I will further stipulate that one of the Greenpeace success stories has been to raise public awareness. But their pitfall, in my opinion, has been their dogged determination to play the all or nothing game. Their inability to claim a partial win to use as a steppingstone on the path towards proactive engagement in accomplishing even greater things can just as easily backfire.

  • Solid waste management plans have a typical hierarchy of:
    1. Reduce
    2. Reuse
    3. Recycle
    4. Waste minimization and WTE
    5. Landfilling

The fourth item is one that I identified last year as a viable investment candidate, particularly the WTE space. With incineration, the biggest drawbacks have been air quality (dioxin release) and ash disposal. While further advances in anaerobic digestion hold promise, Covanta (for one) is commercializing today’s technology to at least make one step forward in improving the quality of life.

So, no my approach is not a wholesale change agent, but more like W. Edward Deming’s theory of small incremental changes. Next week we return to the markets with end of quarter results and my inability to sidestep yet another dividend cut 😦

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!

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.

Oct 2016 Update

October was basically a quiet month with OPEC failing – once again – to shore up their hold on the oil markets.  Chevron announced a small increase in their dividend maintaining their status as a Champion.  Several small positions were added at month end as the market began a pullback (continuing into November) enabling me to start redeploying funds received from PNY’s merger with DUK.  This month The S&P dropped 1.94%.  My portfolio was basically flat, ending down 0.1%.  Note: I normalized these numbers to consider the impact of cash infusion from the merger.  My ‘pure’ equity positions decreased by 4.15%.  The need for this normalization should end as my excess cash is used.  This increases my lead for the year to 11.5% with two months to go.

Headlines impacting my portfolio:

  • 10/3 – JNS to merge w/ Henderson
  • 10/11 – SRCE gains FRB approval for Sarasota, FL branch
  • 10/19 – C finalist to be designated as clearing firm for Renminbi trades

Blog Updates:

I’m a little behind again this month but the portfolio data has been compiled and will 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:

  • Closed PNY due to merger
  • Added to BMO
  • Added to CVLY prior to ex-div for the stock dividend
  • Added to JNS (weakness on currency exposure)
  • New position – ABM
  • New position – AMT (Jan)
  • New position -BLL
  • New position -CASY
  • New position -CHCO
  • New position -KOF (Mex. peso exposure)
  • New position -COKE
  • New position -CCE (UK exposure)
  • New position -CSAL
  • New position -CTBI (Jan)
  • New position -CCI
  • New position -HUM (Jan)
  • New position -LAMR
  • New position -NWFL
  • New position -OCFC
  • New position -ONB
  • New position -OUT
  • New position -PLD
  • New position -QCOM
  • New position -DGX (Jan)
  • New position -SRC (Jan)
  • New position – SGBK (Cuba exosure)
  • New position – BATRA
  • New position – VALU
  • New position  – VER (Jan)
  • New position  – YUMC (YUM spin-off)

Dividends:

  • October delivered an increase of 28.9% over October 2015.  This was due about evenly between dividend increases (Y/Y) and late 2015 funding.
  • October was down 10.68% from the prior quarter due to special and semi-annual payments in July.
  • Announced dividend increases currently average 12.59% with 67.11% of my portfolio having at least one raise so far this year.
  • Through October, dividends received exceeded total 2015 dividends by 7.2%.

Roughly half of the PNY/DUK proceeds have been redeployed with an additional 3 orders pending for January payers.   I’ve filled some of the hole I’ll face in January, so I plan on maintaining a small cash position through the election before making further decisions.

Spinoffs:

The XRX spin (Conduent) is on track to complete by year end.  MetLife has filed for a spin of their Brighthouse Financial unit under the ticker BHF.

Mergers:

Proxies were received and voted for both the LSBG/BHB and AGU/POT mergers.

April 2016 Update

April was generally favorable for the markets.  Earnings reports presented few surprises although the trend of beating analysts’ expectations while presenting lower year over year results continued.  Financials were modestly positive while old technology seemed to disappoint.  Until month end, the market was drifting higher.  Then Apple’s and Starbucks reports were weak, the BOJ failed to raise rates and Carl Icahn announced he sold his Apple position over China fears.  So the month ended basically flat managing a gain of .27% – at least it was positive.

My portfolio value managed a 2.66% gain with the weaknesses (KMB, SBUX and AAPL) being offset by M&A activity (Comcast (CMCSA) acquiring Dreamworks (DWA) and First Cloverleaf (FCLF) being acquired).

Blog Updates

  • I changed my portfolio reporting to measure % of dividends provided instead of market value.
  • Updated the Blog Directory

Portfolio Updates

  • Sold Monarch Financial (due to upcoming merger).
  • With the proceeds, initiated positions in SRCE, BKSC, CVLY and AROW
  • Moved CVX from DRIP to brokerage resulting in a fractional share sale
  • Added to LTXB prior to their earnings release.
  • Added to SBUX after earnings.
  • Added to AAPL after earnings(and the Icahn announcement)
  • Added to XRX – I anticipate a reverse split prior to – or in conjunction with – the spinoff.  So trying to position myself more favorably in this event.

Dividends

  • April delivered an increase of 38.7% over April 2015.  This was due primarily my first dividends from NJR and SJI coupled with dividend increases.
  • April was also up slightly from last quarter by 4.4%
  • Announced dividend increases currently average 10.05% with 48.6% of my portfolio having at least one raise so far this year. .

Recent Buy, Sell & More

  • Sold: Monarch Financial
  • Bought: Source 1, Arrow Financial, Bank of South Carolina, Codorus Valley Bancorp
  • Cancelled  Chevron DRIP

Today I made the decision to sell Monarch Financial.  This was going to be pulled from my account – probably later this month – anyway, so I chose to accelerate the process for these reasons:

  1. Locked in a 22% total gain over the past year and half
  2. Since I also own the acquirer, I didn’t want the same stock in two accounts
  3. In the event the merger fails (doubtful), could buy in cheaply

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The Bear Rolls On

I heard a term used by Jim Cramer the other morning on CNBC.  He claimed (several times) that we were in the midst of a Rolling Bear Market.  I can’t claim to have familiarity with the term so I embarked on a little research.  The earliest reference I found was an article by Bob Carlson which defines the term.  Essentially the argument is that there as now an ebb and flow to the markets, like a wave, that is rolling in on sectors.  Like energy, then materials, then financials and so on.

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