July 2019 Update

The market continued to defy gravity this month as the only external turmoil was leveled at the Fed with encouragement to cut rates in excess of a quarter point. At month end, the Fed chose their own path and the market tailed off from the highs recently attained. Earnings season has been generally good to mixed with ongoing concern regarding Trump’s Tariff strategy the main issue. This month the S&P gained 1.3% while my portfolio gained 1.8%. For the year, I remain ahead of the benchmark by 1.0%.

PORTFOLIO UPDATES

  • finally sold out my OMI position (prior dividend cut) and used the proceeds to increase my RY position
  • Sold my UNIT (dividend cut/debt covenant issue) and LAMR (reporting discrepancies (my opinion)) positions using the proceeds to increase positions in ABM, ARD, BLL, CHCO, KOF, CCEP, CTBI, AKO.B, HOMB, IRM, NWFL, OCFC, OUT, PLD, QCOM, SRC, SMTA, BATRA and VALU as a rebalance
  • increased my CHD position
  • increased my JNJ position

DIVIDENDS

My primary focus resides on dividends with the goal being a rising flow on an annual basis. This month marks the removal of the quarterly comparison as this has proved to be steadily meaningless.

  • July delivered an increase of 4.64% Y/Y. This is off my typical run-rate due to two foreign pay cycles hitting in August this year, rather than the July of last year.
  • Dividend increases averaged 10.13% with 57.27% of the portfolio delivering at least one increase (including 4 cuts (two being OMI)). This is off last years’ pace and I believe a new personal record for dividend cuts in a single year since about 1980.
  • 2019 Dividends received were 64.31% of 2018 total dividends putting me on target to exceed last years’ total in late October. The YTD run rate is 107.66% of 2018, slightly under my 110.0% goal – but still recoverable.

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

XRX merger with Fujifilm cancelled (still being litigated). Pending settlement expected in September.

TSS to merge into GPN (all stock, .8101 sh GPN for each TSS sh) estimated to complete in October – Upon the announcement, I was prepared to sell my TSS position to book almost a triple in just over 4 years as GPN currently pays only a penny per share dividend per quarter. However, page 14 of their slideshow states: Dividend – maintain TSYS’ dividend yield. This would appear to indicate an increase in GPN’s dividend, so for now I’ll hold.

PB to acquire LTXB for 0.528 shares and $6.28 cash for each LTXB share. I plan to vote in favor of the transaction (on both sides), pocket the cash and sell the new shares – retaining the old and perhaps use some of the cash to purchase additional PB shares post-merger.

VLY to acquire ORIT for 1.6 sh VLY to 1 ORIT. This merger will result in a slight dividend cut November forward as the rate will be normalized to VLY’s current rate. In my view, the other positives outweigh this negative.

PBCT to aquire UBNK for .875 sh PBCT to 1 UBNK. I plan to hold this one as I wouldn’t be surprised if PBCT gets taken out at come point.

The last three continue to validate my strategy of bank consolidations from a few years ago. The only flaw (so far) was the holding period required – but dividends were received while waiting.

SUMMARY

Overall, no complaints. It appears the pending mergers might provide premium to improve my performance over the index, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself yet. I still see a little consolidation in my holdings through the last half by migrating to a slightly risk off stance, offset slightly by companies with compelling stories. My cash position does remain slightly above mean.

Here’s hoping your month was successful!

Advertisements

Razzle Dazzle

Give ’em the old flim flam flummox

Fool and fracture ’em

How can they hear the truth above the roar?

Richard Gere performing Razzle Dazzle in the movie Chicago, 2001

One of the many stanzas from the song with which could apply to the theme of this holiday special edition. I decided to present this weeks’ activity as a special post since the number of transactions is greater in three days than my normal 4-5 per month. Also included are three sales which I will elaborate on in some detail.

Roadmap 2 Retire presented another cautionary view reinforcing my approach. While I’m beginning to feel a little like Chicken Little, there are conundrums aplenty from which to choose when attempting to make sense of the economy. Perhaps the best illustration is the fact that Wisconsin farmers are going bankrupt in record numbers. This is a good part of Trump’s base in which their downturn has been accelerated by his policies. And the theory of ‘trickle down’ hasn’t made it to these rural enclaves yet he still carries a 42% approval rating there. It seems that every positive in the economy (low unemployment, low inflation, lower taxes (in theory) carries an equal negative (slowing GDP growth, low wage growth, increasing deficits).

Give ’em the old three ring circus

Stun and stagger ’em

When you’re in trouble, go into your dance

Since I’m no fortune teller I can’t provide any timing, but I dare say this juggling act will come to an end. Hopefully it’ll be a prettier end than any of his four bankruptcies. Like R2R, I’m perusing my portfolio and trimming a little of the speculation. Although I’ve been musing on this for awhile, it was time to begin the execution. Following are the first moves of mine in the pivot from macro to micro.

SELLS

  • Owens & Minor (OMI)
    • Following not one but two dividend cuts. I probably had a bit more patience with this one as it was an IRA holding, but enough already. Sold July 1st – net loss 74.2%.
  • Uniti Group (UNIT)
    • This one has been in the cross-hairs of the Windstream bankruptcy. As a result, they cut their dividend to preserve cash and satisfy their lenders. One lesson I previously learned (Orchids Paper (TIS), anyone?) is to bail when lenders force a dividend cut. Sold July 2nd, net loss 59.2%.
      • After market close, UNIT announced the issuance of 8.68m common shares in conjunction with a preferred redemption. UNIT closed down July 3rd 2% from my sale price.
  • Lamar Advertising (LAMR)
    • This one I groused about all year with the shenanigans they were playing with their 2017/2018 year end pay date. At tax time, I confirmed the forms sent to me and the corporate IRS filing were out of sync. Not being an accountant, I can’t say there’s any illegality – but this is one that has questions – therefore it was booted off the team on July 2nd with a gain of 46.6%.

The proceeds from the LAMR and UNIT sales were used to rebalance a portion of the portfolio across thirteen stocks. I have a pending limit order in place to deploy the OMI proceeds into RY.

With any luck this run will continue, however the pessimist within says it would be unlikely (check back around earnings season …)

Trump-Tied Banks

Headline Risk

the possibility that a news story will adversely affect a stock’s price

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/h/headline-risk.asp

As my readers are aware, for a variety of reasons I’ve had an affinity for the banking sector following the financial crisis. Outside the rants of a few of the current presidential contenders highlighting abuses against the ‘normal people’, this sector has been relatively subdued albeit with a major storm cloud brewing on the horizon. This formation hit my radar with the August 19th, 2018 article in the American Banker. Since then, I’ve been tracking the progress of this storm to either identify a manner to profit from the event, to see if it dissipates or if it evolves into a black swan.

This week, the storm finally arrived although I have yet to batten down the hatches. My sense of urgency to publish my findings only increased when I ran across a piece by one of our own, All About Interest, in determining a possible investment in Citizens Financial Group (CFG). My response was: Tending to err with an abundance of caution, I would dig much deeper on CFG. Their former parent had financial issues (hence the spinoff) and most recently has been the associated with Manafort loans (speculation is they are ‘Lender B’ in the Mueller report). Another bank with Manafort ties (BANC) last week cut their dividend by 53.8% – although this could be unrelated and pure coincidence. Basically pointing out a basic flaw in pure DGI screening methodology – Headline Risk.

  • CFG has had a troubled history probably due to its’ former parent, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) (IPO’d in 2014, fully divested in 2015)
  • CFG was apparently “Lender B” in the Mueller Report with questionable loans to Manafort (perhaps a coincidence, they issued $300m in stock as Series D preferred in January)
  • Another bank involved in Manafort loans, BANC, announced a dividend cut of 53.8% effective July (I can’t say if there is a correlation)
  • An indictment against another Manafort lender, Federal Savings Bank (pvt) CEO Stephen Calk, was unsealed after I posted my comment (alleging his personal actions to bypass standard loan processes resulted in a $16m loss to the institution)

Certainly enough thunder to keep me away from an investment in any of these. My count indicates the Trump 8 identified by the American Banker has more than doubled and now stands at 15 – some of which I’m invested in. I’ve basically categorized them into Questionable, Cooperator, Cautionary, Litigant in addition to the three Culpables addressed previously. This is not to imply any wrongdoing – only one of the barometers I use to assess relative safety and mitigate Headline Risk.

QUESTIONABLEhave issues that are unsettling to my investment philosophy

  • Sterling National Bank (SNL) – provided financing for Cohen’s taxi-medallion business
  • Signature Bank (SBNY) – allegedly lent money to real estate developers, (including Kushner’s family) that used improper tactics to push out low rent tenants. Ivanka served on the board between 2011 and 2013.

CAUTIONARYhave potential exposure but appear to be on the right track

  • First Republic Bank (FRC) – filed a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) on flow through money related to the Stormy Daniels payment and a Columbus Nova payment (Russian Billionaire company)
  • Royal Bank of Canada (RY) – McDougal and Daniels payments were allegedly made through a City National account (now RY). It appears the SARS report was filed late probably found by RY through a merger related audit. They are also cooperating on Congressional subpoenas, although a deadline was missed. (own RY)

COOPERATORbased on the Bank Secrecy Act, which allows Congress access to financial information to search for money laundering (all owned except MS)

  • Toronto-Dominion (TD) – provided documents
  • Wells Fargo (WFC) – provided documents
  • Citigroup (C) – missed subpoena deadline
  • Morgan Stanley (MS) – missed subpoena deadline
  • JPMorgan Chase (JPM) – missed subpoena deadline
  • Bank of America (BAC) – missed subpoena deadline

LITIGATORSTrump (Pres., family, companies, foundation) suing to block release of information (lost the first round this past week) (none owned)

  • Deutsche Bank (DB) – Lawsuit under appeal by Trump
  • Capital One (COF) – Lawsuit under appeal by Trump

I can kind of understand the appeals related to his personal financials except where inter-related with SARS filings. In hindsight, this is perhaps a textbook case for use of a blind trust – which as we all know was not done.

In this group, TD has about 1.48% of my portfolio and RY about 0.58%. The others I own are about 0.25% each – therefore my exposure to possible downside risk is minimal. Of the ones not owned, the only one I would currently consider is FRC on weakness. The common thread being compliance to current laws.

Do you account for Headline Risk? Hope you all have a wonderful holiday weekend!

Squirrel!!!

Dug (the dog), from the movie Up, 2009

Which is essentially a metaphor for being easily distracted. Which may be the answer to Buy, Hold Long’s comment on last week’s post. The more complete answer would be the final 10% is more complex than anticipated and other than one outlier (so far), the corrections to my cost basis has generally been within a couple of dollars – mostly lower. So yes, I recognize the need – and have the desire for – accurate reporting, but complex algorithms take a brain toll and to rest I hunt (figuratively) squirrels!

A thought can be like squirrels and one of my recent squirrels was compliments of Buy, Hold Long’s post (congrats on the good month, by the way) where he comments on his recent purchase, APN Asian REIT. His statement, “Take a look here to see how its going” is like telling me ‘hey, how about this rabbit (in this case, squirrel) hole‘. Simply irresistible.

Not a bad choice, in my view, but the fees, structure and liquidity raise a few questions mitigated by the historical performance and geographic diversification. As essentially a REIT of REITs (kind of like a reverse engineered Banker’s Bank), my adversity to fees (even reasonable ones) got me questioning why not a company with diverse real estate holdings (like Hong Kong’s Swire Pacific (SWRAY) with property in Hong Kong, mainland China and the US? Only then did I realize it was a moot point (squirrel) as APN Asia is not registered for sale outside of Australia and New Zealand.

Another type to consider is the rabid squirrel with one of the symptoms being unprovoked aggression or unexplained fearlessness. One of my ongoing diversions concerns the banks caught up in the ongoing investigations surrounding our illustrious president and his surrounding minions. While I have yet to identify a sound investing thesis, the list continues to grow. From a former board seat (Ivanka, SBNY), suspicious activity reports (FRC, RY), subpoenas (DB, COF) and questionable loans to Cohen and/or Manafort (CFG, STL, BANC). Perhaps most rabid being the private Illinois bank that allegedly loaned Manafort a sizable sum that representing about a quarter of their loan portfolio. I’m still waiting for the Fed’s answer to that one.

Then there’s the rabble-rousing one best illustrated by the Ray Stevens classic, Mississippi Squirrel Revival. From the ‘amen pew’ we hear from the Green New Dealers. While generally in agreement with their goals, I’m troubled by parts of their messaging. One area that has my sporadic attention is the topic of corporate welfare. I’ve been working on a file of subsidies granted since Trump took office. While far from complete, the initial findings are that the majority of subsidies are SBA loans for small businesses, which have roughly a 17.5% default rate. Next up are loans for hurricane recovery (as most of these are managed by the SBA, they are in the “corporate welfare” classification). Surprisingly, Federal research grants for alternative fuel sources (battery, solar) were granted by the Energy Department. The larger problem I envision is the fact that these subsidies are provided to large and small companies, foreign and domestic. Charities and religious organizations get a piece of the action as well. Inquiring minds are begging for an answer as to how this will be voiced through the upcoming election cycle. Although not directly an investing theory, my attempt is to identify foreign companies that have proven adept at being subsidized by the American taxpayer. It is another area that heeds Dug’s Squirrel! siren call.

Some of these ideas will bear investing fruit, most probably won’t. The larger question will probably be whether these types of subsidies are permitted under WTO regulations. But the research is enlightening and provides a welcome relief to the tediousness of spreadsheet formulas!

Some Random Meanderings

Now that I’ve presented my 2019 game plan and my positioning moves planned for the last quarter, the time is ripe to see the strategies embraced by others.   First off the blocks was Credit Suisse with a projection of an 11% upside with some volatility.  I can’t disagree with the answer but question the methodology.  Their belief is the rise will mainly be on the backs of investors willing to pay up for quality (margin expansion).  My belief is that it will be riding the back of productivity increases as a result of the tax plan.  At least we both recognize that the Y/Y EPS growth rate is generally not sustainable.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading