The Ongoing Virus Saga

In the markets this week, concerns over Coronavirus continued to be front and center. Not surprisingly caution (finally) took hold amid varying views on the longevity and severity of the impact, including reports of cases in South Korea and Iran.  In a counter programming attempt, the White House, through Larry Kudlow, indicated it was “not an American story” subsequent to the Saint Louis Fed comments stating there is a “high probability” that the outbreak will be a temporary shock.  While it’s become commonplace for the government to talk from both sides of its mouth, the issues I find in the actual data indicate caution is warranted.  

While the slowing manufacturing output is likely a result of supplier delays with the virus, more concerning to me is that for the first time in the Trump presidency the key economic driver of the US economy – the services sector – fell into contraction territory, albeit fractionally.  For good measure, don’t ignore the corporate warnings due to the virus led by the likes of Apple. One contrarian surprise being Caterpillar – although this could be strictly relief that the perceived end of the trade war is nigh.

Complicating any analysis is oil pricing and whether any strength is the result of production cuts, increased demand or refinery maintenance – or some combination.  There remains an ongoing debate among traders as to whether the market is tilting bullish or bearish. So no raging indicators one way or the other are visible.

Reinforcing my concerns are two measures being implemented by China.  The first subsidized loans to key companies that are helping prevent and fight the epidemic.  These rates are as low as 1.32% of which foreign companies, such as 3M are eligible. The second could be the shock that does make this an American story.  China has issued more than 1,600 force majeure certificates to shield companies from legal damages arising from the coronavirus outbreak. The riddle then potentially becomes, “When is a contract not a contract …?”  Keep in mind that next week’s economic data is mostly pre-virus.

In the midst of tax season the initial results look promising.  As many remember, I groused last year (quite a bit) over Trump’s tax cuts actually being an increase.  We decided to accelerate taxable RMDs in 2018 to lower our 2019 tax bracket. To ensure my calculations were correct, I did not modify any withholding rates.  The strategy worked as a refund for 2019 is forthcoming. I’m still a few weeks away from reporting my final tax percentage rate but do know it’s lower year on year.  And yes – unlike candidate Bloomberg I can and do use Turbo Tax, a product of Intuit which is one of my portfolio companies. I did have to smile from the priceless, national advertising they received.

Another element of my consolidation strategy is taking form.  I have decided to eliminate ETFs from the equation. Although there are things to like about them, the downside (for me) is fluctuating payout rates with regression to the mean, partly a result of changes to the underlying components.  Basically, I see minimal upside potential while conceding there is associated risk mitigation I’m giving up. The upside (hopefully) is a slightly higher return in pure equities. I expect to be fully divested by mid-year distributions.

Here’s hoping February is shaping up as a good month for us all!

January 2020 Update

What a way to start the new year.  Beginning with the reshuffling of my portfolio and continuing right into earnings season and the inevitable debate over the Coronavirus impact on the economy … all I can say is yep it’s a lot to digest – and it’s only January.  With the gyrations in the market, all but two of my low-ball limit orders executed, probably the most controversial being MTR Corporation – the Hong Kong high speed rail line recently at the forefront of the protests. Anyway, I added two Canadian companies (Fortis and TMX Group – (Toronto stock exchange)) and starting the long rumored whittling of some of the non-core holdings (XRX and MSGN).  Most of the other action was moving Canadian companies from my taxable accounts to the IRA – some of which were done as a rebalance to minimize fees (hence the slight additions to the other holdings). Also selling part of the PB stock (which went overweight due to a merger) to fund these movements. As I indicated last week, this is the first of a multi-month transition. Obviously my timing was decent (this time, anyway) as the S&P lost 0.16% for the month while my portfolio gained 1.81%.

PORTFOLIO UPDATES

DIVIDENDS

My primary focus resides on dividends with the goal being a rising flow on an annual basis.

  • January delivered an increase of 22.73% Y/Y primarily the result of last years’ dividend cuts rolling off.
  • Dividend increases averaged 11.48% with 8.5% of the portfolio delivering an increase.
  • 2020 Dividends received were 1.86% of 2019 total dividends putting me on target to exceed last year’s total in November. The YTD run rate is under my 110.0% goal but I anticipate this will normalize as my portfolio movement becomes clearer and the current year begins to distinguish itself from the last. 

Note: I updated my Goals page to provide a visual of these numbers.  Based on Mr All Things Money’s instruction set with a conversion to percentages.  My code only updates when the monthly Y/Y number is exceeded.  Otherwise, the prior year actual is used.

AT A GLANCE

Inspired by Simple Dividend Growths reporting

The relationship between market action and purchase activity was roughly 95/5.  As I’m generally playing with ‘house money’ (proceeds from sales, M&A activity and dividends), I doubt there will be a significant variance until I fund my 2019 IRA contribution.  The Net Purchase Expense being less than 1 or 2% illustrates the ‘house money’ concept. Timing did play a part as I sold early in the month (before the drop) and most of the purchases were in the latter part of the month. 

SPINOFFs

On Oct 4, 2018 MSG filed a confidential Form 10 to spin the sports business which remains in progress.

MERGERS

Spirit MTA REIT (SMTA) voted on Sept. 4th to approve the sale of most assets to HPT for cash. A second vote was held to liquidate the REIT. The first payment was received and awaiting final settlement payout. Fully expecting a profitable outcome for one of my most speculative positions.

SCHW to acquire AMTD for 1.0837 sh SCHW to 1 AMTD.  My only surprise with AMTD being taken out was the suitor – I had expected TD.  Regardless, I have three concerns over this deal, 1) profit margin compression with the onset of $0 fee trades, 2) possible liquidation of a partial TD stake to reduce their ownership share from 13.4% to 9.9% (the same issue Buffet regularly faces) and 3) 10 year phase-out of AMTD/TD cash sweep account relationship.  The third one means TD has a low cost (albeit, decreasing) source of deposits for the foreseeable future. After the first of the year, I’ll probably cash in AMTD and increase TD a little further.  

SUMMARY

Overall, the only complaint is the sluggish start to the year. Minus the drag from last years’ dividend cuts I figure this will be short lived.  On my goals, progress was made as follows:

  • Scenario 1 – TD is now confirmed
  • Scenario 2 – Half complete, awaiting timing issues for the sell part
  • Scenario 3 – Determination of maximum contribution amount complete
  • Scenario 4 – 2020 RMD amounts identified

Here’s hoping your month was successful!

Volatility Returns!

With the wild ride in the markets this week, I perused some of the community’s blogs to gauge the reaction.  While not meeting scientific norms regarding sample size, I was surprised by the lack of reference to the pullback in 66% of them – including ones with posts as recent as yesterday.  Perhaps it’s a lack of funds to take advantage or the deer in the headlights syndrome.  One blog, Fully Franked Finance, had a timely piece a few days prior which stated the importance of a ‘shopping list’ – as many others also encourage.  I too, engage in a strategy which emulates  the ‘shopping list’ strategy.  So, what were my moves so far this month?

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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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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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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.