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!

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Week in Review

Blog Update

This week I finally decided to do a little housekeeping on the portfolio section of the site, getting rid of the XIRR column – which is probably meaningful only to me, and adding price (updated with roughly 20 minute delay), prior dividend, dividend frequency, ex-div date (which may or may not be retained) and cost basis.  The Div Wt column is updated when a dividend is credited and reflects the YTD weighting which is most accurate at the end of each quarter.  Basically I’m trying to reduce manual intervention.

Weather Updates

As Texas begins their recovery process from Harvey, Irma slams into Florida and Jose is lurking just behind.  One has to wonder as to the luck of Maersk (AMKBY) who diverted the Ohio from Houston (Harvey) to Freeport (Irma).   I’m also keeping an eye on Antigua and Barbuda where I’ve frequently vacationed and enjoyed their hospitality on my honeymoon years ago.  Impacted issues may include Disney (DIS) and Comcast (CMCSA) as well as the entire Florida tourism and orange businesses.

The End of the Year

As I was updating the site, I realized that two issues have already paid their final 2017 dividends.  Delving a little deeper shows all of my holdings are past the ex-dividend date for a September dividend leaving but one quarterly payment remaining.  This is only a reminder that time is running out on impacting 2017.  Generally I enter October with an eye on the strategy for the upcoming year as most of my moves will have a minimal impact on the current year.

More Dollar Weakness?

Deutsche Bank argues that more weakness is in store for the US dollar as a result of current monetary policy and a failure of the market to price in further 2017 rate hikes.  They may be onto something as hurricanes and a lack of rational policy agendas from Washington can also be added to the mix.  Now this could be good for exports but lousy for the typical consumer.

Hope your week was uneventful.

 

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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Insider Dealing?

The news cycle appears to be churning ever faster.  Whether as a reaction to events, an attempt to manage the narrative or obscure the message is a debate that will occur for some time with the real answer becoming apparent in the hindsight of history.  Not to minimize the Charlottesville tragedy or the headline grabbing Bannon ouster, but these stories are playing out in several flavors depending on the source.  As one who attempts to discern the impact of issues on my investments, two (possible) financial headlines crossed my desk amid the other events that intrigued me.

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Weekly Musings – 13 Aug

Periodically, I post my thoughts on current news or recent postings adding my slightly irreverent take on the events and a sometimes offer a slightly contrarian view.  So follows the current installment.

Observation #1 – MET

This week, my allocation from MET’s spin of BHF arrived.  In layman’s terms, Brighthouse is a domestic play while MET has both domestic and international operations.  Personally, I viewed the logic as being a way to strengthen their hand (MET) in the ongoing court battle with the US regarding the SIFI designation -a view not presented in any interviews I saw.  Once trading began, it was widely panned as a lackluster performance.  Now this was a spin not an IPO, my take was it was aggressively valued – meaning (in theory) greater value was retained by the mother ship.  What garnered my wrath was the incompetence MET exhibited with the spin.

First the costs associated with the spin were underestimated.  This requires consent from bondholders to modify debt covenants (for a fee) with the alternative being selling common stock to attain appropriate debt ratios (dilution).  Secondly, a special meeting has been called (more costs) to vote on dividend payment tests included in the corporate charter.  The press release states:

These changes would avoid potential dividend and common stock repurchase restrictions which could occur as a result of the August 4, 2017 spin-off of Brighthouse Financial, Inc.

Why was this issue only identified post spin?  This gross mismanagement has placed MET into my Penalty Box and one has to wonder whether a meeting should be called to replace the CEO and Board?

Observation #2 – NUE

Sure Dividend analyzed Nucor recently, but his usual precision was (in my opinion) lacking.  Invoking “Trump” in the headline was bound to get visits and his ‘Take a pass’ recommendation hit the mark but the review missed in a few areas:

  1.  The claim of dumping is certainly an allegation yet no part of his analysis was to drill down on the validity of this claim.  Such as a strong US dollar.  Or the findings of the WTO.
  2. He does address electricity as being a significant cost component to the manufacturing process but fails to note that they entered into a 20+ year contract with Encana (ECA) for natural gas in 2012.  Any failure to perform (deliver) could be detrimental to NUE’s margins.
  3. Lastly in a dent to NUE’s dumping claims, their 2016 JV with JFE (JFEEF) to build a Mexican factory to supply the auto industry has a hollow ring to it.  As in, Who’s really doing the dumping?

Observation #3 – DIS

While roaming the channels this morning I came across a segment on Fox (FOX) about how to invest despite the troubles in North Korea.  One talking head said Disney citing their theme park exposure was insulated from it.  Really?  Perhaps he ignores the fact that 18-20% of US Disney visitors are foreign.  How would this be impacted?  What would the traffic count (or currency repatriation) be like in China?  What about travel to Paris or Tokyo?  Just one more reason why Fox is not my choice for news.

Hope you enjoyed this segment … until next time.

April 2017 Update

April brought more noise to the market with geopolitical issues front and center.  The market appeared to acknowledge the fact that even with Republican control of government, a more centrist approach is necessary to accomplish much of anything.  The President’s first 100 days ended with one legislative win; a Supreme Court Justice.  As earnings season kicked into high gear and the French election completed (runoff pending), the markets rebounded and the S&P ended the month with a .91% gain.  Including new money (mostly IRA maximization), my gain was 3.41% (2.32% excluding new money).

Loyal3 Migration

The forced move from the Loyal3 platform is essentially complete.  Full shares arrived at Schwab April 27th.  Fractionals did not move – basically a he said/she said scenario.  Schwab says they would accept them while Loyal3 said they wouldn’t.  All fractional shares on Loyal3 were sold April 28th, netting $218.59.  Loyal3 was basically my ‘spare change’ broker and illustrates the benefits of investing even small amounts.  The trades will settle Wednesday and Friday I’ll transfer remaining funds – after I see which direction the YUM dividend goes.

I decided to use Schwab’s synthetic DRIP for PEP, DIS, SBUX, KO and HAS to mitigate the sting of having to sell shares – even fractionals.  I’ll take the cash on YUM, AMC, AAPL and K.

Headlines impacting my portfolio (bold are owned):

  • 4/3 – IBTX closes Carlile merger
  • 4/4 – NJR/SJI discuss merger
  • 4/4 – MSGN discusses sale
  • 4/7 – JNS merger date expected 5/30/2017 new ticker expected to be JHG w/ qtrly divs
  • 4/10 – UNIT acquires Southern Light (pvt)
  • 4/17 – CCI to acquire Wilcon Holdings
  • 4/17 – BX acquires Eagle Claw Midstream
  • 4/20 – UMBF sells institutional investment arm to RJF
  • 4/20 – SLF acquires Premier Dental
  • 4/24 – NWBI to close consumer finance subsidiary
  • 4/27 –TOWN to acquire PBNC,
  • 4/27 – IVZ to acquire Source UK

Portfolio Updates:

  • Added to JNS
  • Added to VALU
  • Initiated position in PWCDF
  • Initiated position in ARD
  • Initiated position in HOMB
  • Sold LB
  • Sold UL
  • Reduced (fractional positions) YUMC, SBUX, PEP, K, YUM, DIS, SQ, KO, AMC, AAPL, HAS

Dividends:

  • April delivered an increase of 32.55% over April 2016.  17.25% of this increase is attributable to purchases, 48.41% a result of semi-annual cycles (Ireland, Australia) and the remaining 35.51% a result of dividend increases.
  • April had an increase of 20.28% over the prior quarter due primarily to the same reasons.
  • Declared dividend increases averaged 8.72% with 42.94% of my portfolio delivering at least one raise (including 2 cuts – YUM, XRX).
  • YTD Dividends received were 38.1% of total 2016 dividends.  If the current run rate is maintained would exceed 2016 in early November – particularly with most of my semi-annual or interim/final cycles paying during the next quarter.

Spinoffs:

The MET spin (Brighthouse Financial – BHF) remains pending.

Mergers:

Agrium/POT, JNS/HGG.L (estimated completion 30 May) and SGBK/HOMB remain pending.  I did add to JNS and HOMB as both appeared undervalued versus the merger price.

No more Loyal3

Every now and again you wind up getting what you pay for and there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  I probably came to this realization last summer when I ensured that even my smallest holding on the Loyal3 platform had greater than a fractional share.  So the news this week of their migration to FolioFirst was no big surprise.  The issue I have with FolioFirst is the $5 monthly fee.  So transferring my holdings becomes priority one.  In fact Dividend Growth Investor lays out the options fairly succinctly in his post.

Early on, my strategy with Loyal3 was twofold:

  1. Move three horses to the platform to generate enough dividends to play with.  This was accomplished with PEP, AAPL and SBUX.
  2.  Build a group of speculative holdings (less than 1% portfolio weighting) via dividends generated by the first goal.

The free trades with Loyal3 accelerated this process.  Today I’m faced with a (slight) strategy shift.

Sells

An order was placed this morning to sell Unilever (UL) and L Brands (LB).  Unilever due to taking profits off the table and for a sense of protection from a potential single headquarter  location and the possible corresponding tax implications.  L Brands due to uncertainty with their ability to maintain comps while the malls where their stores are located appear to be imploding.  I’ll use this as a tax loss against UL and the required fractional share sales.

Transfer

My remaining Loyal3 full share holdings (YUM, YUMC, AAPL, K, SBUX, HAS, DIS, SQ, PEP, KO and AMC) will be moved … Loyal3 will not move fractionals which will need to be sold.  My goal is to have the transfer complete prior to May 1st which is the ex-div date for the next payer, Hasbro.  I can then sell any remaining fractionals, wait for YUM’s dividend to post (May 5th, went ex-div April 14th), then move any cash into my bank.

My default approach will be to consolidate the holdings into my existing brokerage account which provides the alternative to reinvest dividends.  I will, however, meet with TD Ameritrade today as they (via phone conversations) have indicated they perform OTC ‘grey market’ trades with no surcharge.  As Schwab charges a $50 surcharge, this may clinch the deal for AMTD.

So any Loyal3 strategy shifts in your future?

Update: 20 Apr 2017 – UL and LB sold, decision finalized on move of remaining to existing Schwab account.  AMTD has no set ‘grey market’ policy but will normally adjust the fee.  Lack of certainty killed this option.