Oh, Hell

the U.S. could see a 20% unemployment rate if the coronavirus pandemic is not properly dealt with.

reportedly, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, March 17, 2020

Perhaps it was hyperbole in performing some old-fashioned arm twisting with GOP senators, but it sure was a market mover with the DOW dropping 6.73% the following day. It was down 1,000 points when the double whammy hit:

Hell is coming.

Bill Ackman, CNBC interview March 18, 2020

Bill’s context was in urging companies to conserve cash by pausing buybacks, the warning was apparently heard as the markets promptly dropped further, triggering a circuit breaker. Fast forward two days …

Hell is here.

Robert Herjavec, CNBC interview March 20, 2020

The difference obviously being big companies versus small. Then there are the minis. The mom and pop shops – sole proprietors. The ones that operate on a shoestring budget to begin with.

Assuming Mnuchin is the face of the organization – at least in regards to negotiations with Congress – it would appear to be a tacit acknowledgement that the president has been blowing smoke – albeit perhaps for tactical reasons. Realizing a 20% unemployment rate is not a foregone conclusion, as this is a level not seen since the Great Depression, I doubt many investors have come to grips with the current bear market. Time In The Market recently published a view that is rational and insightful.

Yet, if we are on the verge of Hell, it may be useful to understand some of the conditions present when it last arrived:

  • Unequal distribution of wealth
  • High Tariffs
  • Slowing Economy
  • Market Speculation (notably margin use)

While similarities exist, differences include Federal deficit spending and an external catalyst (rather than implosion).

What is stunning is the general lack of foresight now on display. Granted, some industries (airlines) had any contingency plans blown away with various governments forcing their hands. The line being formed by corporations and trade associations less than a month into the crisis is downright obscene. Some requests on behalf of workers are understandable, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Trump corporate tax cuts did little to shore up the vitality (or viability) of many companies. At the very least, retained earnings (in theory) should sustain companies for longer periods. History may reflect that this opportunity squandered was a result of greed.

There are some foundational cracks forming as well. Ronin LLC, a clearing firm was dissolved last week and some banks acted to shore up money market funds after significant outflows.

It will be one thing to pass a relief bill. As always, the devil is in the details – specifically the delivery mechanisms. Various ideas have been floated – using existing SBA, ADP, PAYX or US Treasury infrastructure but each has inherent flaws. Meanwhile of the small businesses I’m familiar with; a pizza parlor is now delivery only, an after market auto custom shop is sidelined pending a restart of production lines, and another is working through order backlogs. One – a caterer – has evolved from banquets and corporate events to Non-contact Delivery Foodservice. Various approaches from hunkering down to minimizing losses to retooling the business model. Whether Hell is coming or here already, at least ingenuity remains in full swing!

Peeking Into The New Year

It’s that time of year when the pundits are outlining their 2020 top picks with assorted rationale to support their stance.  I find these exercises interesting at the very least and somewhat illuminating as well. I have to admit I am not immune to the siren song as I have participated in a few.  For instance, last year I participated in Roadmap2Retire’s and placed thirteenth. Not bad considering I was effectively out of the contest mid-year with my pick being acquired.

I also tracked sector picks of mine versus Kiplinger using SPDR as a baseline.  For grins I included Cramer’s Power Rankings and Catfish Wizard’s sector picks. Unfortunately, both of these didn’t complete the quest leaving myself and Kiplinger in a tie.

This year’s entrant was to the Dividends Diversify Investment Ideas for 2020 and Beyond panel.  One of my strengths (or weakness, if you prefer) is to view scenarios through a unique prism.  Of the 20 companies, 11 are already in my portfolio. Other than Visa, which generated one observation, these were ignored (why else would I own them?).  Tom grouped companies by segment (like ‘Energy and Oil’) where I chose sector as identified by Morningstar. The duplicate (Visa) was counted twice for my purposes.

  • Financials                  28.57% (6)
  • Technology                          19.05% (4)
  • Utilities                      19.05% (4)
  • Energy                9.52% (2)
  • Healthcare            4.76% (1)
  • REIT                4.76% (1)
  • Communication Services    4.76% (1)
  • Consumer Defensive        4.76% (1)
  • Industrials            4.76% (1)

Through this lens, a slightly different perspective emerged.  With volatility and stability key concerns, I found Financials being a “go-to” sector as interesting.  The following are my observations with the note they are strictly my perspectives. They should not be construed as a criticism of any of the individuals or selections.  Following is my typical, outside the box purview.

The observation on Visa is based on Tawcan’s rationale, “They also make money from users when they don’t pay the balance in full each month.”  The issuer absorbs both the risk and the reward on this aspect so no additional profits to Visa here.

One surprise was the Utility Sector.  

  • GenYMoney selected Fortis which has been on and off my watch list for awhile.  My issue with them has been their Caribbean dependence on diesel. I may need to review this with the advent of solar in the region.
  • Cheesy Finance selected Canadian Utilities.  My issue here is the ownership structure. CU operates as a subsidiary of ATCO (52% ownership) which in turn is controlled by Sentgraf (a Southern family company).  CU class A shares are also non-voting.
  • Brookfield Renewable Partners was the pick of My Own Advisor.  Most investors’ issue with them is that as a Limited Partnership they issue K-1s.  Although they have no UBTI history, some individual and corporate investors shy away from K-1s. 

Three selections were (in my opinion) a little contrarian.

  • The Rich Miser picked Ally.  This one I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.  Yes they do pay a dividend, but only since July of 2016.  My guess is they were restricted by the TARP bailout. Now TARP in and of itself is not a show stopper for me but the fact that they were formerly known as GMAC – yes GM’s financing arm – gives me pause.  Now, ten years post bailout, they still derive 70% of their business through dealers – that is my issue.
  • MoneyMaaster chose  Artis REIT which recently cut their dividend knocking it off most DGI’s radars.  He does make a compelling case though.
  • Freddy Smidlap selected CDW which is a value added reseller.  The issue here is the possibility of margin compression in the event of an economic downturn.  Plus they have a limited track record since their second IPO.

The ones in my portfolio I’ll periodically add to during the year (except Power Corp which is already a little overweight).  One gets the nod to appear on my watch list, FTS.

And I have to commend Tom for the time and effort in putting this together so people like me can have some ammunition for alternative theories. Just for grins, I added these selections to a spreadsheet available on the main menu titled 2020 DivDiversity Panel. This should update automatically (as per Google standards).

For Your Reading Pleasure

Every so often I update my directory omitting inactive or defunct blogs and generally get a feel for what the temperature is in the worlds I frequent less often.  This exercise was all the more telling in the general mood within the community.  One example being Young Dividend‘s monthly recap in which he notes, “Although the portfolio value fell, it is interesting to see that the dividend growth graph of my portfolio continues to climb upwards.“.  In a nutshell that is the reason we choose DGI.  Another analysis on staying the course comes from Time In The Market.  Points I like to keep in mind when the markets are volatile.  My friend Tom over at Dividends Diversify scooped my original thought for the week with his Can You Save Money at a Farmer’s Market piece.  My focus was on the Community Kitchens used by many of these vendors.  That concept will be fleshed out  further and arrive at some future point in time.

All good reads which I encourage you to partake.


Not to beat a dead horse, but I’ll  touch a bit more on Bank OZK which was one of last week’s topics.  Turns out The Dividend Guy featured this stock on his podcast the day before its precipitous drop.  To his credit he published a mea culpa on which the Seeking Alpha version received mixed reviews.  In my view, his laser focus on the dividend growth blinded his peripheral vision.  Not looking a little harder under the hood, so to speak.  Wolf Richter‘s  piece on the potential asset bubble in Commercial Real Estate (CRE) can highlight reasons a broader view is warranted at times.


Since I mentioned Wolf Street, a couple of additional articles grabbing my attention (including the comments) were, Why I think the Ugly October in Stocks Is Just a Preamble with a compelling argument and What Truckers & Railroads Are Saying About the US Economy.

Full disclosure: Long CASS whose data is the basis for his article.

As we come into the final week of the month, though my portfolio is down my dividends are up for the month, quarter and year.  The only suspense being the magnitude of increase!

 

My Overseas Guidebook

Over the past few months I’ve visited several blogs when one topic in particular has been addressed. For the past year or two I’ve been expanding my international holdings to my current mix which is highlighted below. Time In The Market got me thinking with his comment.  Although he tends to be more an ETF investor, he was experiencing similar trends as I.  Then there was Bert’s CM purchase.  He was agnostic to the CAD/USD correlation probably because the US and Canadian markets are usually tightly correlated with exchange rates.  Then there was Tawcan, illustrating his top five.  In his post he mentioned his use of ETFs for international diversification.  Finally there was The Dividend Pig musing on portfolio hedging.

My endeavors in overseas investing have delivered an education of some obscure items that hopefully will benefit an investor looking out of country.

Create a Strategy

Before starting, perform your due diligence and run an issue through your screening algorithm.  Then ask the question, “Is my home currency overvalued?”.  In the case of US investors, the simpler question is “Do you believe Trump’s policies will result in a stronger or weaker dollar?” and secondarily, “To what degree?”.  I like to use foreign exchange as a tailwind.  But by investing in dividend stocks in the event I’m wrong the sting is mitigated.

Be Aware of Monthly Deviations

Currency fluctuation will result in either positive or negative moves in both portfolio value and dividend amounts.  As an example January to August 2017 saw the US dollar depreciating against most currencies.  One example is the Euro which has appreciated 8.95% since last October – making US exports cheaper and imports more expensive.  One anomaly with the currencies I track – the relative value has been stable when compared to each other whereas the US dollar has been the outlier.  Also many companies pay annual dividends or interim/final (with variable amounts) dividends.  Some are capped at a percentage of profits.

Be Wary of Tweetstorms

In recent months, fluctuations have occurred as the result of Presidential tweets.  Most recently was the posturing on NAFTA.  This was a buying opportunity for Canadian and Mexican issues.  Conversely, dividends received took a hit.

Understand the Tax Implications

The US engages in tax treaties on a country by country basis which establishes the withholding rate and the application of said rate.  Ones that I’ve found with caveats include Canada (15% unless in an IRA and a part of DRS – then no withholding), Australia 15% (unless reduced via franking), Singapore – verify on a company basis whether dividends are qualified (may impact the decision to place in a taxable or tax-deferred account) and Switzerland (15% if registered, 25% if not – check your broker).  The good news is that at tax time foreign withholding can be credited (with some limits) under current law.

Stay Abreast of Local Events

This can be issues not normally aired in the US such as the Australian deflation discussion (generally groceries) or the Customs workers strike in Chile.  These wildcard issues have the ability to impact the profitability of the investment.

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The lessons I’ve learned have been many and these are but a few.  However, foreign investing can be rewarding as long as there is an awareness.

A Look ‘Down Under’

It’s been about two years since I first invested in Australian issues, choosing to take a slow approach while I obtained some practical experience first hand.  Certainly many of the yields are good, but the economy – much like Canada – is resource based.  Then there’s the whole franking deal.  Plus the foreign exchange conversion – but this has been relatively stable at 75 – 80 cents per USD.  Add to that, until recently the selection was limited to ADRs or using a cost prohibitive foreign desk.

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