2020 Crystal Ball

A gentle reminder was provided by the market last week as to its unsettled nature.  Essentially, headline risk is at the forefront tossing the market based on the sentiment of the day – oft times lubricated (or diverted) by a Presidential tweet. Granted, this is little changed from the past but we do have an increasing clarity to use as a guide.

What is unchanged is that US valuations remain elevated.  Sure, there were some stumbles during the recent earnings season and some cautionary guidance presented.  Barring a black swan event it does appear the next recession (US version) has been punted into the future – at a time post election.   There are – and will continue to be – pockets where value can be had, but I see this opportunity being readily available only to individual stock pickers willing to accept a slightly higher risk factor.

Headlines have also illustrated a measured success that Presidential bashing of the Fed failed to accomplish.  The dollar weakened – a little. On the heels of the results from the UK election, Sterling strengthened. My opinion being this is a relief rally at seeing an end to the Brexit saga as the real work now can now begin in earnest.  These negotiations may get bogged down a little – particularly trade – which could provide a reentry point for Labour and their agenda of nationalization. I see the UK as a viable alternative but with risk associated in telecoms, energy, utilities, rail and mail.  Perhaps a mid-term view is required with an entry point sometime after the first of the year.

Much the same boat for China as the renminbi strengthened against the dollar as the news of a “phase 1” agreement on trade crossed the wires.  What this means probably remains debatable, but if a truce is effective going into the new year it is a likely positive for US equities, tempered by the fact that their currency is a daily peg rather than free-float.  The risk here is twofold – on and off again tariffs and US involvement in their political affairs (Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act and Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act). The bills appear to be more show than substance but could flare tensions. The investment thesis should note the alleged Human Rights abuses along with the minimal sanction levels.  If these pitfalls are successfully navigated, opportunities do exist.

Then there are the fintech darlings, the newest variant being the so-called ‘Challenger Banks” or neobanks.  Though awash with cash from private funding rounds, they all have one glaring defect – they aren’t really banks.  They are apps – generally mobile – with a compelling interface and a few niche benefits targeting the millennial audience.  A couple have started the process to really become banks but most are content to partner with real banks – sweeping funds into accounts that have FDIC insurance.  My research remains incomplete but with three exceptions, the partner banks pay no dividend or are private. I currently own the exceptions, GS, JPM and WSFS but don’t expect the challenger funds to be a significant revenue driver.

Perhaps the largest driver of ‘hot air’ time in the new year will be the election.  The obvious beneficiaries being media companies who are able to capitalize on both sides of an argument.  However fragmentation, targeting and scope make it more difficult to call any winners unless any campaign goes on a deep targeting offensive which would benefit social.  From a messaging position, only health care moves the needle much where companies like UNH, HUM and CVS stand to benefit as the attacks subside.

The commonality between these issues?  None are long term. Yet the nature of capitalism is its’ cyclical nature.  There is always a correction to drain the excesses. The timing and severity are always debatable, but rest assured one will arrive.  My approach to the new year will be to take some marbles off the table by pruning some non-core positions and reassessing some strategic plays. To place this in context, I have three new positions on my watchlist and ten to fifteen under review which if fully implemented would be roughly a 5% churn rate.  My comfort zone is now squarely with Staples and Utilities … items necessary for consumer consumption regardless of the overall economy. Yes, the upside is muted with these companies, but more importantly the downside risk is mitigated. A rising dividend stream exceeding the rate of inflation is the core goal in these times in spite of politics or political persuasion.

And so goes my crystal ball for 2020 …

Crazy Free

I decided to pause my 3Rs series to review one particular event of this past week.  No, not the political spectrum (guilty pleas/verdicts in the US and a new PM in Australia) but the bloodbath incurred in the discount broker space following JP Morgan’s announcement of the commencement of a free trade platform.  In the event you missed it, the Tuesday morning market shudder (per Seeking Alpha) was:

Online brokers slump in premarket trading after JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM) says it’s introducing a mobile investing app bundled with free or discounted trades.

TD Ameritrade (NASDAQ:AMTD) slides 6.5%, Charles Schwab (NYSE:SCHW) -4.9%,  E*Trade (NASDAQ:ETFC-4.5%, Interactive Brokers (NASDAQ:IBKR-3.5%.

JPMorgan +0.7% in premarket trading.

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Johnny-come-latelies

Generally I refrain from back-to-back posts with similar topics but decided to make an exception this week as the moving parts have kicked into high gear.  My post last week addressed my uneasiness with cryptocurrency as well as my interest in the underlying blockchain technology.  It appears that my view has some support as two blockchain ETFs debuted on January 17th (BLOK and BLCN) and one January 25th (LEGR).  This should be followed by KOIN next week.  Horizons and Harvest (HBLK) also have ETF applications pending.  Grenadier penned a piece on Seeking Alpha that did some analysis on the first two.  Four of LEGR’s top five holdings are included in either one or both of the originals so it will probably be similar.  David Snowball highlights this sentiment in his piece There’s no idea so dumb that it won’t attract a dozen ETFs stating, “…there are no publicly traded companies that specialize in blockchain; there are mostly companies with a dozen other lines of business that have some sort of efforts going into blockchain.”  This is 100% correct.

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Sluice Box: My 2018 Strategy

In a recent conversation with a friend of mine, the topic of cryptocurrency arose as he has started accepting Bitcoin in his business.  Though more enamored over the possibilities of wealth through hoarding and/or trading, he began to look under the hood to figure out why I had a greater fondness for Blockchain over any cryptocurrency.  His insight surprised me: “You’re like the sluice box salesman in the California Gold Rush.”

I choose to think of myself as a shortstop hitting singles rather than a home run hitter going for the fence, but his analogy was apt.  I prefer to get a slice of many transactions as opposed to getting the big one.  I play the percentages.   He was able to visualize I place a greater value on the tools (mining), transport (exchanges) and utility (ancillary applications) rather than the commodity itself.  Meaning, I’d rather sell the Levi’s than look for (and mine) the gold vein.

It appears the revisions to the tax plan being discussed will be slightly less draconian than previously announced resulting in a little lead time for portfolio adjustments.  My guess (pure speculation) is the first half of 2018 will be relatively good but a little choppy.  The last half I suspect we’ll be seeing a weaker dollar, a little uptick in inflation and minimal tangible results from the administration’s policies.  Anyway, an emphasis on appreciation over dividends in a rising tax environment may result in tax deferral possibilities.  This belief is the basis for next years’ strategy as subsequently outlined.

  1. Continuation of the primary portfolio strategy in regards to moving closer to the defined target allocations.  One example of this was my first December purchase, KMB which is an Anchor holding of mine.
  2. With the tax bill still in an uncertain status, load the maximum allowable contribution to the IRA.  These funds have been allocated and will be moved by month end.  A small Canadian holding in my taxable account has been identified as my new IRA purchase which will probably be made in January (pre ex-div).  A by-product of this will be a temporary overweight status in this issue.  Since I don’t like redundant holdings across accounts, my smaller taxable holding will be sold post ex-div.  This should shield more income from taxation (under current tax).
  3. Implemented (December 14th) my side strategy for 2018 titled Sluice Box which is a reference to the Gold Rush days.  This represents about 1% of the portfolio and was created (and bought) in my Motif account (shameless plug).  The emphasis is on Bitcoin, Blockchain, Growth and my first Swiss stocks with a couple of beaten down issues thrown in.

My 2018 strategy research began in earnest when I encountered Fortune magazines’ November 1st article, In Search Of ‘Vital’ Companies.  Of the fifty companies listed, my selection process drilled into the dividend payers – albeit at low yields.  Then on November 7th, Investor Place published The 10 Best Growth Stocks You Can Buy Now I chose to ignore The Dividend Guy’s August 23rd launch of Dividend Growth Rocks as I tend to shy away from paid sites particularly when operated by one person with multiple pseudonyms.  Besides, only one of his selections (Nordson – NDSN) was either not owned already or replicated in the other analyses.

Once the data was combined, I removed issues already owned and ones I had no inclination to buy.  Basically I had to be convinced of the opportunity and that the price (subjective argument) remained reasonable.

The following table presents my 2018 picks and the primary reason.  All but one are dividend payers and I front-loaded my purchase to 2017 to ensure receipt of CME’s special dividend (ex-div Dec 28).

SLUICE BOX (Motif: 2018 Growth)
Yield
NVIDIA Corporation (1,2) NVDA 7.30% 0.32% Bitcoin chipset
CME Group Inc CME 7.30% 1.76% Bitcoin Futures
Cboe Global Markets Inc CBOE 6.70% 0.86% Bitcoin Futures
Intercontinental Ex. (1) ICE 6.80% 1.14% Coinbase investor
Nasdaq Inc NDAQ 6.70% 1.96% Blockchain
Microsoft Corp. (2) MSFT 6.80% 1.98% Blockchain (Azure, Ethereum)
JPMorgan Chase & Co. (2) JPM 6.80% 2.68% Blockchain (hyper ledger)
Veritex Holdings Inc VBTX 5.90% 0.00% emerging growth co. (JOBS Act)
Ottawa Bancorp, Inc. OTTW 6.10% 1.10% 2-step conversion (growth)
Newell Brands Inc NWL 6.50% 3.02% Brands
Energizer Holdings Inc ENR 6.50% 2.44% Brands
Cognizant Technology (1) CTSH 6.50% 0.84% Future 50
Intuit Inc. (1) INTU 6.70% 1.00% Future 50
Novartis AG (ADR) NVS 6.70% 3.21% possible Alcon spin
ABB Ltd (ADR) ABB 6.70% 2.91% purchased a GE segment

Notes:

  1. Future 50 (also currently own: MA, V)
  2. Investor Place 10 (also currently own: V, SQ)
  3. Other Bitcoin/Blockchain indirect investments include: GS, IBM, WU, AMTD

At the very least it will be interesting to observe the Crypto phenomenon in more of a supporting role.  I also need to acknowledge Dividend Diplomats whose research on NWL was enlightening.

Overheard in Texas

Though not as juicy as THE conversation between attorneys in DC a few weeks ago, the opportunity to eavesdrop landed in my lap a couple of weeks ago.  Sitting across from me at my local Starbucks were three individuals.  Although not aware at the time, (or I would have paid closer attention sooner), I fast realized one was a locally based money manager, the second an aide of some sort (perhaps a lobbyist) and the third a Republican Congressman (not from my district – but the next one east of here).  They were engaged in a spirited discussion when some topics arose that got my attention (and my phone set to take some notes).

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August 2017 Update

The markets ended the month generally flat while whip-sawing in between on geo-political news (North Korea), domestic disturbance (Charlottesville) and natural disaster (Harvey) taking center stage.  I did deploy a minimal amount of new capital along with dividends received in some positioning moves.  The S&P ended the month up .05% while my portfolio lagged by dropping -0.34%.  The differential can be explained by two events, 1) higher exposure to Texas (e.g., hurricane), and 2) the month-end rise in the US dollar causing my foreign issues to drop a little.  For the year, I remain ahead of the index by 4.47%.

Headlines impacting my portfolio (bold are owned):

  • 8/3 – IVZ in talks to buy Guggenheim Ptnrs ETF business
  • 8/3 – VLO agrees to export refined fuels to Mexico through iEnova (SRE subsidiary)
  • 8/3 – SRC announces spinoff of Shopko properties
  • 8/4 – Ackman requests delay in ADP brd nomination deadline as “8% owner”
  • 8/4 – LAMR acquires Philadelphia market billboards from Steen Outdoor
  • 8/8 – ONB acquires Anchor Bank (MN)
  • 8/10 – PYPL acquires Swift Capital (Del.)
  • 8/10 – INVH and SFR agree to merge (BX stake to be abt 41%)
  • 8/15 – KEY acquires Cain Brothers (pvt)
  • 8/16 – TU acquires Voxpro (pvt)
  • 8/16 – PLD buys out CCP (CYRLY) JV
  • 8/20 – GS approved for Saudi Arabian stock trading license
  • 8/22 – PAYX acquires HR Outsourcing Inc. (a Clarion Capital portfolio company)
  • 8/22 – CLX sells Aplicare line to Medline (pvt)
  • 8/22 – BX considering an IPO/sale of Gates Global
  • 8/30 – KSU forms JV with Bulkmatic for bulk fuel terminal in Mexico
  • 8/31 – BNS confirms discussions to acquire Chile operations from BBVA Spain

Portfolio Updates:

  • Added to VLO
  • Added to LARK
  • Added to AROW

LARK and AROW were positioning moves ahead of anticipated stock dividends (3% announced by AROW post purchase)

Dividends:

  • August delivered an increase of 22.24% Y/Y with the about half of the increase being attributable dividend increases and the other half purchases.
  • August delivered a decrease of 12.99% over last quarter (May).  Semi-annual payers, a date change due to a merger, and normal BX dividend being the culprits.  Also a Singapore dividend paid in August (locally) has yet to be paid via Citi’s ADR (now likely Sept.), so I expect September to be firing on all cylinders.
  • Declared dividend increases averaged 10.92% with 62.71% of the portfolio delivering at least one increase (including 2 cuts and 1 suspension)
  • YTD dividends received were 75.91% of total 2016 dividends which if the current run rate is maintained would exceed last years’ total in early November

Spinoffs:

Brighthouse Financial (BHF) (MET spin) has been received.

Mergers:

AGU/POT (Nutrien) remains pending, SGBK/HOMB received regulatory approval and is expected to close late September.

Summary

Overall another positive month with the only disappointment being the Q/Q dividend decline – which was unexpected.  The primary metric (annual dividend increase) remains on target and well ahead of inflation.

Closing the Primerica Experiment

One year ago I embarked on a mission to determine whether Primerica stock (PRI) was a better investment then the sum of its’ parts – well at least most of the parts.  SEC filings were scoured to identify their investments as insurance companies are required to maintain reserves (the float).  A portfolio was established (3Q 2015) , funded (4Q 2015) and tracked (Oct 2015 to Sep 2016) to be able to declare a winner.

And the winner is … Primerica by 16.15%.  Now I realize that a single snapshot in time may not be reflective of reality, but to my surprise Primerica outperformed the basket through this snapshot in time.

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