March 2020 Update

Certainly a month for the record books with the dual blows of the Russia/Saudi oil war and Covid-19 wreaking havoc on portfolios.  Coupled with a bear market unlike any other leaves many licking their wounds and pondering their strategies. At this juncture, proven methods like dollar cost averaging, credit evaluation and retained earnings analyses are more valuable than ever before as the discussion moves towards longevity of the crisis and corporate survivability.

For the month, the S&P index dropped 14.3% while my portfolio dropped 13.51%.  While I typically don’t report cash positions, I will say my first quarter reallocation plan (almost completed) has increased my cash position to 7% rather than the typical 0-1% I carry.  If this cash is included, the net portfolio drop was 6.57%. In these days, cash is king for the moment and at least I have some dry powder to redeploy. For the year (ex-cash) I’m beating the index by 2.53%.

Continuing with the Monthly Recap in its newest iteration, I’m still finding pieces that require some elaboration in order to rationalize it.

The net purchase expense threshold is not a pure indicator of my cash position.  The Incr/Decr from the market — 98.95% of the portfolio volatility was due to the market.  Dividend Raises more than offset my one cut. My full position sales were NWL (receipt of a SEC subpoena), EPR (exposure to AMC and Social Distancing constraints) and MAIN (a BDC with exposure to small business lending).

Dividends:

  • March delivered an increase of 30.91% Y/Y with most of the increase attributable to the migration of the majority of my Canadian holdings into my IRA with timing resulting in some double payments (both taxable and IRA).
  • Dividend increases averaged 8.06% with 25.82% of the portfolio delivering at least one increase (including 1 cut and 1 suspension). This is off last years’ pace and a direct by-product of the global pandemic.
  • 2020 Dividends received were 30.34% of 2019 total dividends. The YTD run rate is 106.5% of 2019, slightly under my 110.0% goal. 

As an aside, Justin Law notes “53 companies declared higher dividends in the past month (March), with an average increase of 7.16%”.  While my YTD 8.06% is in the ballpark, I am cautious of going forward potential cuts or suspensions.  For instance, Coca-Cola Amatil maintained their prior dividend noting the dual headwinds of the Australian wildfires and now Coronavirus.  This I consider a positive although I take a shave on the exchange rate.

Spinoffs:

On Oct 4, 2018 MSG filed a confidential Form 10 to spin the sports business which will become effective on April 17th.  Madison Square Garden Sports Corp will begin trading under the symbol MSGS and the new company, Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp. will trade under the symbol MSGE.  Each existing MSG share will receive 1 share of MSGE and subsequently convert to MSGS.

Mergers:

Spirit MTA REIT (SMTA) voted on Sept. 4th, 2019 to approve the liquidation of the REIT. I am awaiting the final settlement payout and as of December 31, this issue was delisted. I fully expect a profitable outcome for one of my most speculative positions.

Splits and Stock Dividends

Although splits are technically agnostic, I consider them a positive with reverse splits a negative.  TU had a 2:1 split.

Tax Season

Yesterday marked my end to tax season with my returns turned into the Post Office for delivery.  During my investment “career” I’ve thrived under tax schemes where I paid as much as a 37% effective rate while realizing over the years that minimizing the tax hit has a direct correlation to wealth creation.  What I dislike more than anything is change as my strategies generally can’t turn on a dime. I experienced this during the Reagan years and again in the Trump years. My effective tax rate has generally been between 12-17% (after loopholes, deductions and credits) with one audit resulting in a tax refund.  My prior Trump Tax plan bluster was due more to the forced change to my strategies than to the outcome – although I think it was shortsighted to increase the debt in flush times. The Trump Tax plan, I’m proud to report, after a year of restructuring has rewarded me with a new record low tax rate of 1.67% proving it pays to incorporate tax strategy into ones’ investing strategy.

Summary

With the health of you and your loved ones paramount – stay safe.  My reading pleasure during my home time includes the economic history surrounding 1918.  Here’s one interesting tidbit along those lines.

When There’s Lemons …

This week’s missive will get back to some of the basic block and tackling we face at times as investors.  Not to downplay the market madness, it seems everyone and their brother now has a view on the pandemic. Certainly not immune to the downdraft, in hindsight my decision to sell my taxable Canadian stocks on February 28th makes me look like a genius.  The reality is essentially sheer dumb luck. It did, however, provide the cash to nibble on subsequent down days.

The Canadian IRA Taxability Answer

I did receive my first dividend from TMX Group a couple of weeks ago and to my chagrin saw Canadian tax withheld even though it’s in my IRA.  Obviously one of the outliers I previously referenced. While my appeal failed, my broker did confirm two of my companies reside in this category, the other being Hydro One.   I did gain some insight which I figured I’d share.  

  1. To be processed as compliant with the tax treaty, companies have to use the DTC – which comes with a cost.  Most Canadian companies trading in the US absorb this fee as a cost of doing business.
  2. Canada has their own version of the DTC – CDS which is owned by none other than the TMX group, which uses (at least for US based stockholders) Citi for disbursement without treaty compliance review.
  3. Brokers have no recourse but to withhold Canadian taxes in IRAs for CDS processed dividends.  Meaning there is no tax benefit for US citizens holding non-DTC processed securities.

These two will be sold from the IRA when the markets recover a little.  Meanwhile both are also held in my taxable account where I can claim a tax deduction when taxes are filed.

De-risking Process

With the heightened level of uncertainty, more than a few bloggers have shared their approach towards increased safety.  Dividend Diplomats ran a piece on Debt to Equity Ratios and Chuck Carnavale reviewed a Debt to Capital analysis. While both metrics are fundamentally sound – and I’ll likely add to existing holdings that are on these lists – both share a flaw that is highlighted by the current black swan event.  Companies in unprecedented numbers are drawing down their credit lines or issuing new paper, both of which have an impact on the ratios. I mean, is Disney any less of an investment with $6B additional debt offset by $6B cash? Other than a slight increase in carrying expense, I would argue no but they do have other issues with the magnitude currently unknown.  My take is this is where the ratings agencies theoretically should be earning their keep.

My process is to essentially begin the process of reducing the speculative portion of the portfolio.  Eliminating my one BDC (MAIN – smaller business exposure), Entertainment Properties (high social distance exposure), Newell (a recipient of an SEC subpoena).  This is one time a dividend cut or suspension doesn’t necessarily mean a sell if the purpose is cash preservation. I did reduce – but not fully sell – Cracker Barrel on their delay and suspension.

Additionally, I keep abreast of the news to identify potential opportunities.  You’ve heard the mantra, Don’t Fight The Fed?  How about profiting from the economic stimulus they’re embarking on?  Blackrock is a (partial) proxy for this angle. I say partial as I doubt the fees will generate a meaningful profit to them.

In Parting

As no one knows when and how this will end and I doubt I have the time on my side to play the long game, the better part of valor is to strengthen the hand I have.  Someone younger can carry more risk but caution is warranted in my opinion. Either way, try to make some lemonade from these lemons.

Uh-Oh …

In last weeks’ post I shared that effective January, my portfolio will experience two dividend cuts.  Based on how my holdings are structured, the overall impact will be a but a blip.  The greater hit is to my pride.  Other than M&A or spinoff activity, never have I experienced more than one cut in a year.  This, my friends, is with forty years of investing under my belt.  And now we have two announcements in the span of one week.  Also (and perhaps warranted), The Dividend Guy published a piece that essentially says that, “hey, I might have screwed up on OZK but at least I never invested in these dogs”.  Like yours truly.  Happy fifth year to you bud and let’s see if that record holds for another thirty.

Seriously though, the GE and OMI situations can’t be any more different.  The only commonality is the cut.  The Dividend Guy mentions a couple of others as well – which I don’t own.  I continue to be suspicious of the real strength of the overall economy as MAIN also announced a revision to their dividend policy (though not directly a cut).  As an investor looking toward dividends, if this is the beginning of a trend it may be time to pare some of the speculation and migrate towards a more conservative posture.

Meanwhile, in these types of circumstances I feel compelled to share my reasoning and anticipated reactions.

Owens & Minor (OMI)

I have to concur with Dividend Guy’s observation earlier this year that this was “dead money”.  I pretty much reached the same conclusion when I reduced my holdings by about 20% in 2015.  I was content with the minimal dividend growth due to their stellar track record.  The sea of change began in earnest in 2017 with fears of the Amazon effect.  Then a couple of losses to competitors (one being CAH).  Current pressure is hitting them on at least two fronts: the trend for hospitals to in-source and the ability to pass on increasing costs.

Being a patient investor I could accept all of the above and even a frozen dividend as they sort out the issues.  But an unexpected cut of this magnitude leads me to believe there is another shoe to drop.  Obviously I’m not alone in this concern on the earnings call, an analyst from Robert W. Baird & Co. asked the operative question, ” … And how comfortable are you with the covenants at this point on the debt position?”  Last time I saw this question was when Orchids Paper (TIS), another former DGI darling, was in their free fall.  I still like OMI’s logistics but they failed to capitalize on the head start they enjoyed prior to this advantage becoming a commodity. 

OMI accounted for 3.46% of my 2017 dividends received and through 3Q 2018 had been reduced further to 1.89%.  As this is an IRA holding I’m limited in the loss realization but intend to sell after ex-dividend and replace with a Canadian stock (with no tax withheld in IRAs).  I suspect my Q1 2019 numbers will see minor impact in the Y/Y growth.


General Electric (GE)

On GE, Dividend Guy’s analysis matches mine, hands down, purely from a DGI perspective.  GE, however (in my view) never regained their prior glory when the financial crisis exposed their warts.  There is but one reason to have GE in a portfolio and it’s not the dividend, it’s corporate actions – which include things like spinoffs (which were the subject of one of my muses).

As this type of approach is speculative in nature, it pays to be mindful of the weightings.  In my case, GE has ranged from 0.05% – 0.07% of total dividends for the past two years.  My self-imposed maximum for speculation is 1% per issue.  Therefore, I’m well within my targets.

So I consider this similarly to a currency trade where GE stock is the fiat.  The wild card is the exchange rate when the spins are finalized.  Best case is that GE is now fairly or under valued, in which case pending actions will be in my favor.  Worst case I get a unfavorable cost basis that reduces (under current law) my tax basis.  Therefore with minimal downside (unless GE goes belly-up) I intend to increase my GE holdings (once the price settles) to the nearest round lot and await the spins.


Therein lies my strategy for dealing with these events.  I’ll attempt to follow the adage: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!

September 2018 Update

It was a tale of two markets this month with highs being set on the 20th before pulling back through month end.  It’s a riddle of sorts when consumer sentiment is off the charts and the ultimate consumer stock (BBBY) plunges on terrible sales.  How about the Fed raising rates again but bank stocks fall?  Then Mexico appears to tap the brakes on a possible bilateral trade deal in favor of retaining a trilateral including Canada with the Trump threat being tariffs on Canadian cars.  Yes, a conundrum indeed. I was off the sidelines during the first half of the month but going silent during options expiration and the sector changes later in the month.  September saw a rise in the S&P of 0.43% while my portfolio lagged by registering a decrease of 0.42%.  YTD I’m ahead of the S&P by 0.21%.  The biggest factor being my cash position – which is normally minimal.  I only report stock positions – but if cash were reported the results would have been a wash.

Portfolio Updates:

  • added to KMB prior to ex-div
  • added to GBNK (hedge on IBTX merger)
  • sold IBTX (locking in a 46% gain – I’ll get these back post merger)
  • sold one CHD position (completed last month’s repositioning)
  • sold one JNJ position (completed last month’s repositioning)
  • added to CMA (minor rebalance)
  • added to EPR (minor rebalance)
  • added to CBSH (minor rebalance)
  • added to FFIN (minor rebalance)
  • added to MAIN (minor rebalance)
  • added to MKC (minor rebalance)
  • added to PYPL (minor rebalance)
  • added to PNC (minor rebalance)
  • added to PRI (minor rebalance)
  • added to SHPG (minor rebalance)
  • added to TSS (minor rebalance)
  • added to UNH (minor rebalance)
  • added to VLO (minor rebalance)
  • added to V (minor rebalance)

DIVIDENDS

My main focus resides on dividends.  Market gyrations are to be expected but my goal is to see a rising flow of dividends on an annual basis.  I’m placing less emphasis on the quarterly numbers as the number of semi-annual, interim/final and annual cycles have been steadily increasing in my portfolio.

  • September delivered an increase of 13.54% Y/Y, the impacts being dividend increases and a sizable special dividend (AMC).
  • September delivered a 15.65% increase over last quarter (Jun).
  • Dividend increases averaged 14.96% with 71.03% of the portfolio delivering at least one increase (including 1 cut (GE).
  • 2018 Dividends received were 92.71% of 2017 total dividends putting us on pace to exceed last year next month.

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.

Spinoffs:

GE‘s rail unit to spin then merge with WEB

GE to spin 80% of the health business

NVS proposed spin of Alcon scheduled for shareholder approval Feb 2019

Mergers:

XRX merger with Fujifilm cancelled (now being litigated).

SHPG to merge into TKPYY

GBNK to merge into IBTX (shareholders approved)

COBZ to merge into BOKF (expected completion 1 Oct 2018)

GNBC to merge into VBTX (semi-reverse)

Summary

My repositioning is almost complete so next month I can begin to front load into 2019.   Dividends this month hit a new record.

Hope all of you had a good month as well.

Feb 2018 Update

The theme for the month was volatility.  A couple of ETNs cratered as a result of the high volatility causing investors to lose significantly when using these levered products.   “We sincerely apologize for causing significant difficulties to investors,” Nomura said.  Credit Suisse stated “investors who held shares of XIV had bet against at volatility at their own risk.  It worked well for a long time until it didn’t, which is generally what happens in markets”.   Caveat emptor.

During the month, the S&P index dipped into correction territory before rallying to close the month down 3.89%.  My portfolio sympathized with the index closing down 5.53%.  I never hit correction so my peak drop was less but I also failed to recover as quickly.  Probably an area to perform a root cause analysis on at some point.  Following back-to-back monthly losses against the S&P, I’m down 3.44%  to start the year. Continue reading

Jul 2016 Update

Last month the sky was falling primarily on Brexit concerns.  Just a few short weeks later, the S&P and DOW are setting all time records.  Similarly you can choose a Cleveland view of the US economy (“it’s on the cusp of a recession”) or the Philadelphia view (“Tremendous progress has been achieved”).  Sadly reality probably sits squarely in between.  Meanwhile, I’m keeping an eye on Italian banks.  For good measure, the S&P outperformed my portfolio for the first time this year – 3.56% vs 3.0%.  For the year though, I’m ahead by 11.65%.  Headlines related to my portfolio this month include:

Continue reading