2019 Year End Report

Looking back at last years’ End Of Year post, the concerns raised at that point all remain valid.  I have to admit that even with the evils of tariffs, rising deficits and US dollar strength the economy remained surprisingly strong.  I did nail one right – the administration’s claim that GDP growth can outpace the deficit was wrong. If it can’t be done when the economy is hitting on all cylinders – the question becomes ‘when can it?’

For the month, the S&P index rose 2.73% and my portfolio (excluding October and November purchases) rose 4.26%.  When those purchases are included, the monthly increase was 10.51%. Yes my gain would have been larger had I re-invested the dividends throughout the year but at least I was fully in the market during the last quarter run-up.  For the year the S&P rose 30.43% (depending on how it’s calculated) the best year since 2013. My Portfolio rose 34.54% allowing me to extend my claim of the 34th year (of 39) that I’ve beaten the index.

Dividend cuts were the big obstacle for the year as I endured five in total.  Frankly, it wasn’t until December that my Dividend Goal (10% annual increase) was in the bag.  This is typically attained in late October or early November. 

I have only three new companies on my watch list with limit orders in place on two.  All are foreign with Canada, Hong Kong and Japan tagged. I have a few I’m willing to shed with a couple more needing repositioning due to mergers.  For the first time in probably five years I’m in a position to reduce my holdings while beefing up my Anchor and Core positions.

Thirteen countries were represented in my portfolio (18.5% of my dividends), losing Ireland but gaining Japan via a merger.  The top countries were Canada (9.77%), UK (2.61%), Singapore (1.21%) and Sweden (1.02%). I’m continuing the migration of Canadian companies from my taxable accounts to my IRA to take advantage of the tax treaty (no Canadian tax withholding for most issues).

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

For instance, the net purchase expense threshold is not a pure indicator of my cash position.  I’m thinking it’s in the 2-3% range as my cash position increased last month despite the purchases.  The Incr/Decr from the market — yes, 99.2% of the increase in portfolio value was due to the market.  A slight disappointment is the Dividend Raises. They weren’t enough to even round up to 0.01% (more a reflection of portfolio size than wimpy raises).

Dividends:

  • December delivered an increase of 40.87% Y/Y with most of the increase attributable to the Oct/Nov purchases, the OMI fiasco of last year aging off and a weaker US dollar (finally).
  • Dividend increases averaged 10.11% with 68.28% of the portfolio delivering at least one increase (including 5 cuts.  Basically a lackluster performance.
  • 2019 Dividends received were 13.78% greater than 2018 dividends and exceeded last years’ total on December 1st.  It would have been over 15% had there been no cuts.

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:

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, 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.

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.  

Although XRX is officially off the list with their Fujifilm settlement, Icahn & Co. couldn’t wait for the ink to dry before stirring things up with HPQ.  As of now, I am considering exiting my XRX position.

Splits and Stock Dividends

Although splits are agnostic, I consider them a positive with reverse splits a negative.  Two of my companies split this year – PWOD and FFIN with no reverse splits to report.

Five companies showered me with shares of stock ranging from 3% to 5%.  I do love stock dividends and this year the benefactors were: CBSH (5%), HWBK (4%), LARK (5%), AROW (3%) and CVLY (5%).

Summary

As we slide into tax season, we’ll see if my readjustments panned out.  My goal was to achieve the 0-10% tax bracket by taking a one year tax hit.  The first part was completed so the results will be evident in the next month or so.  Overall, not one of my better years but I did attain (at least) my minimum objectives.   

Hopefully your year was great or at least in line with the market. 

The COPPA Impact?

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) is a United States federal law, located at 15 U.S.C. §§ 6501–6506.

Wikipedia

The inspiration for this week came from a Facebook post:

COPPA is ruining everything. My youtube channel i watch for family friendly videos, has quit. My YouTube channel I rely on for toy unboxing and reviews, to buy gifts for my grandchildren, quit. My youtube channel that I rely on for gaming reviews, quit. The channels I subscribe to for Kids videos for my grandchildren, quit. People who don’t understand technology, have no business making the laws that govern, technology. So, now there will be no more child friendly videos on YouTube, so now if a child loads YouTube, their only option is adult content… WTG, congress, just when I thought you couldn’t be any more ignorant, you’ve proved me wrong… Idiots!!! ~END OF RANT

Point taken, but – knowing me – I now had to figure out the why.  Why has a law that’s been on the books for some nineteen years suddenly causing angst for the masses?  I mean, this was never an issue under prior administrations (Clinton, Bush II or Obama). So what gives?  Well in September, YouTube was fined $170 million by the FTC because they “illegally collected personal information from children without their parents’ consent”.  As part of the settlement, YouTube agreed to implement a system of checks and balances which puts much of the onus (and liability) on content creators.  Felix ‘PewDiePie’ Kjellbergd, a top ranked YouTuber puts it this way, “content creators can be sued for violating COPPA regulations. “What? Why? That makes no sense… control your children please” he said, clearly disappointed with the fact he can be punished for children viewing his content, and for his content being automatically flagged as child-friendly even if they aren’t.

So my response was, “It’s probably more appropriate blaming the FTC, not Congress. COPPA has been the law for almost 20 years. In 2019, the FTC decided to step up the enforcement actions, resulting in your turmoil.”   This particular thread continued the rant blaming Congress or even Satan.

To be clear, the FTC consists of five members, three Republican and two Democratic – all appointed by President Trump and confirmed by the Senate in April 2018.  These are the Chair, Joe Simons (R), Christine Wilson (R), Noah Phillips (R), Rohit Chopra (D) and Rebecca Slaughter (D).  The FTC approved this action on a party line 3-2 vote.  The nays were not altruistic – they only wanted stiffer penalties.  As an aside, I don’t see ‘Satan’ being confirmed – unless as a euphemism for one (or both) of the parties.

The reality is that COPPA was effective April 21, 2000 almost five years prior to YouTube’s launch (February 14, 2005).  Other than by regulation (rulemaking), I was unable to find any amendment or act to address or update the law given the technological advances over the past two decades.  The most recent effort to update COPPA is S.748 introduced by Sen. Markey (D-MA) and co-sponsored by Sen. Hawley (R-MO). This bill remains in committee and unless amended, does not address this particular issue.  A classic tale of technology outpacing intelligent oversight.

As the FTC is notoriously underfunded, one has to wonder if part of the motivation is collection of the fines.  Regardless, to sew this up in a manner befitting a financial blog, this is not the first fine levied and probably won’t be the last.  Companies targeted include, Devumi, LLC (falsifying social media influencer clout – involving LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter), iBackPack of Texas, LLC (fraudulent acts involving Kickstarter and Indigogo), TicTok (COPPA violation) and more.  Separately, EPIC (non-profit research center) conducts investigations and agitates for reform (includes the likes of Amazon, VTech, Mattel and others).  The same logic is applicable to gaming and vLogs.

Bottom line – the differentiation between child targeting and child attractive is littered with many shades of gray.  Possible examples being channels reviewing custodial accounts for minors or budgeting for children. Be prepared to lose advertising revenue if flagged as child appropriate or perhaps face consequences if classified improperly.  Maybe the best course of action is to follow YouTube’s advice, “Consult a lawyer”.

From an investor’s point of view, the financial impacts are likely negligible – particularly if the ongoing risks are offloaded to the creators.  The biggest downside I see are user discontent (evidenced by the Facebook post above) and headline risk if a content creator is fined by the FTC.

Any thoughts?

Moral Investing

Making the headlines this past week was the atrocious scene along our border.  Being an event driven investor, I had to at least take a look at the situation to – at a minimum – determine my exposure and whether strategy adjustments are  necessary.

I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination but (outside of ETFs) have never invested in tobacco stocks.  I have minimal exposure to wine and spirits.  While I’m not casting aspersions on those that do, I figure there are more than enough alternatives that better fit my preferences.

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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.