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.

Dec 2018 Update and Year End Review

he fourth quarter swoon continued in earnest this month resulting in an annual loss for the markets.  While the final trading day closed higher (DJIA up 265, NASDAQ up 51 and the S&P up 21) it was nowhere near close enough to avoid the worst December since 1931.  Though surprised by the resiliency of the US dollar, last year’s intent to migrate further into foreign equities was largely preempted by tariff uncertainty. My other 2018 concern of rising federal deficits stifling the economy did not manifest itself as yet – though I remain skeptical of  administration claims that growth can outpace the deficit. For the month, the S&P index dropped by 9.18% while my portfolio dropped by ‘only’ 8.44%. For the year the S&P posted an unusual loss of 6.65% while my overall loss was 3.57%. In an otherwise ugly ending to the year, my primary goal of exceeding the S&P’s return was attained marking the 33rd year (of 38) that I’ve been able to make this claim.

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Where’s Santa?

What a start to the final month of the year.  At least there is a little something for everyone.  First the CME tripped the first wave of circuit breakers in the futures market.  Then the chartists found the S&P closed the week in a death cross.  Then there’s news of a possible yield curve inversion.  Lest we not forget, the most recent China issue which may or may not even be legal.  While the Huawei issue is unfolding, Lighthizer continues to stir the pot by saying he considers March 1 “a hard deadline” otherwise the delayed tariffs will be imposed.  Hmm … kind of like bringing a gun to a knife fight – or – perhaps the administration really believes that “free and fair trade” is an outgrowth of convoluted negotiations.

If week one is any indication, the traditional “Santa Claus Rally” will be delivering a lump of coal this year.  Being the eternal optimist, I’ll argue Christmas isn’t here yet so I had to take advantage of the sell-off to do a little buying:

  • First, I added to my ETF group.  I accomplished two things with this:
    • As the majority of these are foreign, they are underwater.  Therefore, an ‘average down’ scenario.
    • These all pay December dividends (one quarterly, three semi-annual and one annual) all yet undeclared.  All are now captured.
  • Second I executed a rebalance on a small portion of the portfolio.  I chose a ‘rebalance’ as the fees were lower than the alternatives.  End result being:
    • Sale of BOKF.  I had this issue in two accounts due to a merger, now it’s only in one, with the proceeds and accumulated dividends:
    • Added to ADP, MMM, KIM, FAF as these are underweight target holdings
    • Added to AVNS as they may have received a good price for the division sold to OMI
    • Added to LARK and CASS – missing the ex-date for the stock dividends
    • Added to BR, CNDT, CDK, FHN, JHG, KSU, PJT, WU, XRX – capturing WU’s December dividend

I still have another rebalance queued pending completion of a merger (might be into the new year) and then we return to normal operations.

I also will be selling my OMI – perhaps later in the month to see if Santa really exists!

Ho-Ho-Ho …

October 2017 Update

This month was pretty solid with the market continuing its upward grind.  Earnings season was in focus with good reports outweighing the bad.  Most of the attribution to the hurricanes was legitimate but a few did raise my eyebrows.  The US dollar turned in a second rising month.  The S&P index increased by 2.22% while my portfolio lagged (again) by only increasing 2.03%.  The two culprits were international currency weakness and a drop in value in my October (speculative) purchase.  For the year I’m still ahead of the index by 2.7%.

Headlines impacting my portfolio (bold are owned):

  • 10/3 – IRM acquires Bonded Services Holdings from Wicks Group, LLC
  • 10/4 – IBM acquires Vivant Digital (pvt)
  • 10/5 – YUMC initiates quarterly dividend scheme
  • 10/5 – IRM buys CS datacenters in London and Singapore
  • 10/6 – K acquires Chicago Bar Company LLC (RXBAR)
  • 10/11 – BHB sells insurance business
  • 10/11 – FHN acquires Professional Mortgage Co.
  • 10/16 – SJI buys NJ/MD assets from SO
  • 10/17 – SYY acquires HFM Foodservice
  • 10/18 – India approval for POT/AGU merger received. awaiting  US and China.
  • 10/18 – DGX to acquire Cleveland Heart Lab
  • 10/19 – JNJ acquires Surgical Process Institute
  • 10/25 – AAPL acquires PowerbyProxi
  • 10/30 – DGX aquires some California Laboratory Associates assets
  • 10/30 – TU to acquire Xavient Information Systems

Portfolio Updates:

  • initiated position in NXNN

Dividends:

  • October delivered an increase of 24.59% Y/Y with the about half of the increase being attributable dividend increases and the other half purchases.
  • October delivered an increase of 8.53% over last quarter (July).
  • Declared dividend increases averaged 10.91% with 70.62% of the portfolio delivering at least one increase (including 2 cuts and 1 suspension).
  • YTD dividends received were 103.83% of total 2016 dividends which exceeded last years’ total on October 25th.

Spinoffs:

Spirit Realty Capital (SRC) has been announced.

Mergers:

AGU/POT (Nutrien) remains pending.

Summary

With the primary goal of exceeding last year’s dividends completed, my focus turns to developing a strategy for 2018.  Meanwhile adding NXNN (speculative) in October and DRE for November’s primary purchase.  DRE as they go ex-div next week and a special dividend is likely in December as a result of the sale of their Medical buildings to HTA this past May.

May 2017 Update

May was generally quiet with the market trending generally higher.  With few pullback opportunities, I barely deployed new dividends so my cash position increased again.  At least the turmoil I experienced moving from Loyal3 subsided and I could resume a more moderate pace.  An upcoming election in the UK may present a buying opportunity on weakness in the GBP versus the US dollar.  The S&P ended the month up 1.16% while my portfolio recorded a gain of 1.37%.  For the year (so far), I’m ahead of the index by 4.07%

Headlines impacting my portfolio (bold are owned):

  • 5/1 – DRE sells medical office portfolio to HTA
  • 5/1 – TIS suspends dividend
  • 5/4 – FHN to acquire CBF
  • 5/30 – JNS/HGG.L merger completed (becoming JHG)
  • 5/31 – KEY acquires HelloWallet from MORN

Portfolio Updates:

  • Initiated position in SGAPY
  • Added to IVZ
  • Added to PWCDF (proceeds from sale of TIS)
  • Added to DST
  • Added to PLD

Dividends:

  • May delivered an increase of 51.44% over May 2016 with the vast majority of this attributable to foreign dividend cycles not held last year.
  • May delivered an increase of 38.94% over last quarter (Feb) for the same reason.
  • Declared dividend increases averaged 8.89% with 48.02% of my portfolio delivering at least one increase (2 cuts – XRX and YUM; 1 suspension – TIS)
  • YTD dividends received were 47.11% of total 2016 dividends which if the current run rate is maintained would exceed last year’s total in early November.

Note: with 14.6% of current dividends paid by foreign sources, the weakening US dollar is providing a tailwind with exchange rates i.e., increasing my return.

Spinoffs:

The MET spin (Brighthouse Financial – BHF) remains in regulatory review.

Mergers:

Agrium/POT, SGBK/HOMB remain pending