November 2019 Update

Alright, I do have a bias.  Generally I don’t pay much attention to Jim Cramer, but his recent attention grabbing headline did pull me in.  “Owning too many stocks and not enough cash can set you up for failure: Cramer” was the title.  As one who owns 200+ issues, I’m always on the lookout for alternative views.  My expectation was for the sage advice to be essentially “have a war chest and shopping list at the ready”.  But rather it was, “Limiting your holdings can be a great tool for investors who don’t have the time or the drive to do their homework for 20 or 30 different companies”.  The essential message being if you “own more than 10 stocks, you might want to consider paring back”. Say what? This recommendation doesn’t even provide exposure across all sectors. So what to do if like me you have an overabundance?  Sell, he says. “Sometimes, it can be as simple as selling some stocks and getting some cash on hand. Go sit on the sidelines — nothing wrong with that.” Very true if one has a knack for timing the markets. My methods aren’t for everyone either as my emphasis is on consolidation, typically M&A – which results in slightly higher mediocrity for this portion of my portfolio with the aspiration of getting a tape measure homer.  As they say, the devil is in the details. His view was apparently honed as a trader rather as a buy and hold type of investor as he states, “I would analyze every losing trade … I realized that good performance could be linked directly to having fewer positions”. Okey dokey, ‘nuff said ….

Certainly a long and roundabout way of saying the market was basically on an upward tear this month with only a few down days.  Try timing that movement! So the S&P rose a stellar 3.9% – the best since June while my portfolio – including the purchase spree I’ve been on – rose 9.84%.  Excluding the final round of purchases – even with no fresh money being used – the portfolio value rose by 2.43%, a tad below the index, probably due in part to buying at elevated levels.

PORTFOLIO UPDATES

  • increased my PB position and lost LTXB (merger).  I’m now overweight PB as my position doubled which I’ll reduce in the next tax year.
  • New Position – PBCT and lost UBNK (merger)
  • increased my WFC position (replication strategy)
  • New Position – KFC  (replication strategy)
  • New Position – PG (replication strategy)
  • increased my YUMC position basically as a rebellion against the President’s antics.  They derive 100% of their sales, all of their profits, no imports or exports (all domestic), and their entire supply chain is in China.  Yet they are incorporated in Delaware and pay a USD dividend. The major question is currency exchange on their P&L statement and the president’s delisting campaign.
  • increased my TD position (IRA).  I’ll increase it further and sell my taxable account shares after the first of the year.
  • New Position – KNBWY – another statement selection – message being , “Mr. President, play with tariffs all you like but there are Japanese companies other than car manufacturers employing thousands of Americans”.  Besides, I see their sales improving in 2020 with the Olympics being in Japan and it fits my bottler strategy.

DIVIDENDS

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

  • November delivered an increase of 15.51% Y/Y.
  • Dividend increases averaged 10.11% with 68.72% of the portfolio delivering at least one increase (including 5 cuts). 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 99.63% of 2018 total dividends putting me on target to exceed last year’s total on December 1st. The YTD run rate is 110.76% of 2018, slightly over my 110.0% goal. Point of reference, this is the first time since starting this blog that I didn’t exceed the prior year dividends before the end of October.

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 Growth‘s reporting

Key thing I’m looking at is the ratio between market action and purchase activity. This month was roughly 80/20. I suspect most months will be 95/5 as I rebuild the war chest. Another point of interest was the M&A cash exceeding my dividends. I can assure you this is a rare occurrence. It will be interesting to see what I track going forward.

SPINOFFs

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

MERGERS

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.  Should close December 1st.

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 am 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.  

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.

SUMMARY

Overall, the only complaint being not exceeding last year’s dividend haul until December. The culprits being five dividend cuts and merger timings (a couple of completions were accelerated to avoid a payment). My cash position is close to zero, but with replicating the kids’ portfolio complete, I expect this to rapidly change to rebuild a stash for my next sizable purchases (unless market conditions warrant), expected in tax season.

Here’s hoping your month was successful!

Reporting Style Update

On my “to-do” list was to refine my monthly results presentation to make it more relevant – particularly in light of the significant movements in my portfolio of late.  In search of ideas, I stumbled across the Simple Dividend Growth methodology. While not exactly what I had in mind, it covered probably 80% of which I could mix, match and modify to my hearts’ content.

His presentation covers Weekly actual and Forward Annual views, illustrated below.

XXX is text, $$$ currency

The largest differences are that I report monthly (as opposed to weekly), I convert actuals to percentages and I don’t use forward anything (except announced cuts) preferring to use trailing actuals.

The more subtle differences are twofold, I embrace stock dividends and M&A activity (one of his sell signals is a merger announcement).  So I’ve enhanced this template to serve my purposes as follows:

Actual as of 16 Nov 2019

The left column contains all ticker symbols – essentially a point of reference for portfolio activity.  The right column is the activity – as a percentage of portfolio value. The exception being the Dividends which are percentages of dividend activity.

I’ve segmented my new buys between the source of funds – the default being dividends accrued from prior months.  I don’t show my available cash as I reserve the right to spend it on my tax bill (like last April), take a trip or – in this case – replicate the granddaughter’s portfolio.  I may add a “new cash” line item in the event I hit the lottery or my living expenses decrease, otherwise I expect to continue funding purchases via excess funds generated by the portfolio.

I’m not sure how relevant the separate itemization of increases will be, but I’ll let it run for now.  In this example, BX increased their dividend but it doesn’t register as it amounts to 0.001962% – thereby rounding to 0.00%.  This becomes even more negligible when ORIT’s dividend cut is added. Likewise, the increase from stock dividends and DRIPs may also be too small to be meaningful.

The key point I wanted to visualize was the delta between market fluctuations and dividend growth.  Since my purchases are (generally) self funded by the portfolio, the fields: Increase from New Buys, Less Dividends, Less M&A cash and Incr/Decr from Market Action should equal 100%. 

The selfish reason?  After the four dividend cuts I experienced to start 2019, my assumption was the market was in for a rough year and I went into a little of a retrenchment mode.  My cash position rose and my purchases decreased. Now my dividend run rate is below normal – I might exceed 2018 dividends by month end which would be a month later than usual.  I’m used to coasting into the fourth quarter starting some positioning moves to get a head start for the new year. 

I’m thinking dividends deployed for purchases should be in the 3-5% range.  If I had used this method earlier in the year I probably would have realized faster how far I was lagging behind.

The term M&A Cash may be a little bit of a misnomer as a merger may be the trigger for multiple portfolio transactions which can be illustrated through this example.  The PB/LTXB merger was a cash and stock transaction and I owned both sides – PB in my IRA and LTXB in a taxable account. The cash was received this month.  I will sell PB in the IRA replacing it with TD and finally selling the TD in the taxable account. Excess cash in the IRA was used to create a TD starter position there. However, this daisy chain of events will occur over roughly two months to maximize the dividend payments.  The sales of the (current) overweight PB position and the soon to be overweight TD position will be classified as Positions Reduced.

Others present their results in a manner I found interesting including Dividend Driven and Wallet Squirrel.  Tom at Dividends Diversify had suggested creating an index. This solution is less complex but equally illustrative (I think).  I will probably track (perhaps on the side) the Buys to Dividends ratio as a correlation to market value (think “be greedy when others are fearful”) as this presentation may reflect increased buys when the market drops (or failure to do so).

So I’ll lay it out here for ideas, thoughts and discussion and intend to use it starting with my November review.

The Defunct Kid Portfolio

This week saw the completion of the rebuild of my granddaughter’s portfolio.  Basically an effort that spanned six weeks and navigated some tricky waters – earnings season, trade news, Fed meeting … Yep, we had them all.  So, I figured it was only fitting to share the whys and wherefores of this little expedition since it pertains to the market.

Background

Since coming to live with us, the kid has been given an annual present of a stock holding and as such has accumulated a nice – but not quite fully diversified portfolio.  Over the years she has been proud of this and one year participated in a ‘mock’ stock contest at school which was (I believe) sponsored by FinViz taking eighth place in the state.  So it was a sad day for her when she was advised that the majority of college aid programs (Grants, Scholarships, etc.) would be discounted by 25% of her net worth. This includes savings, portfolio …  There goes the incentive for planning ahead. End result being upon graduation, her nest egg would be 0. My wife and I are not her parents – the legal status is guardian – so at least our net worth is not considered. So the game plan evolved to maximizing the available assistance.

Liquidation

The rules are similar between 529 plans and custodial accounts, except when liquidated.  With 529s, there is a penalty and possible tax restatements. With Custodial accounts there is the obligation of the custodian to prove the liquidation benefit was on behalf of the minor.  As these accounts were Custodial, I’m now tracking application fees, ACT/SAT testing fees and much more, so if necessary I can respond to an IRS audit.

My Decision

She’s aware that I chose to replicate her portfolio as a slice of one of my M1 pies.  So I laid the groundwork to ensure no dividends were lost in this migration. Fortunately I’d been holding much of my previously paid dividends in cash just waiting for an opportunity to present itself.  As the checks arrived, I moved an equivalent sum to M1. What I haven’t shared is my intention to gift it back to her upon graduation from college.

The Process

I created a spreadsheet with the sale price and the repurchase price to determine if I made or lost money (outside of fees).  I will say that I don’t have the nerve to try to time the market for a living. On the subject of fees, company plans managed by Computershare, Broadridge and Equiniti downright suck on fees when transferring or cashing out.  To be fair, that’s an aspect that’s not at the forefront of most DGIs who buy and hold for the long term. The fees ranged from a little over $25 (BR, CMSQY) to $0 (SCHW) with EQN.L in between at $15 and change. With today’s free trading schemes, the incentive for using traditional DRIPs will likely wane as I noted in one of my infrequent comments on Seeking Alpha.

Once started, I was blindsided by some events.  WFC named a new CEO, TXN provided weak earnings guidance and KHC had an earnings beat.  For the most part, I was able to better her sale price when I did my purchase as illustrated below.

Cur price as of November 8, 2019

Takeaways

While I didn’t enjoy this exercise, had I realized in 2010 what rules would be in place in2019 I’m not sure I would have done anything differently as the kid gained an appreciation for investing and the power of compounding.  Besides, Administrations come and go, rules and policies are ever changing. The key is adjusting to whatever is most beneficial at a point in time.

Going Forward

I will be hoarding most of my dividends once again until tax time as my wife took a part time job this year.  For the first time in a couple of years I’ll be able to make an IRA contribution. 2020 portfolio reporting will likely be a little strange – at least from my view of normalcy, as I tend to like consistency rather than one-off events.  (I know … first world problems …) My concerns lie more in highlighting dividend growth performance rather than portfolio growth via cash infusions – regardless of whether it’s new cash or self generated by reported dividends. This I’m sure will become clear as we progress into the new year.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcome!

October 2019 Update

On the 1.9% Q3 GDP growth rate, “The Greatest Economy in American History!” as contrasted with the 1.9% Q1 2012 growth rate under the prior administration, “Q1 GDP has just been revised down to 1.9%. The economy is in deep trouble.

As tweeted Oct 30, 2019 and May 31, 2012 by the now president, Donald Trump

With renewed optimism for a China trade deal (again), generally good earnings reports (though there were a few snags) and additional rate cuts in this Great Economy – perhaps to spur growth to the promised sustained 4%+ envisioned with the tax cuts (doubtful) – the markets did achieve new records. In spite of all this noise, the S&P rose 2.0% and my portfolio – sans purchases – rose 2.0%. I did deploy funds that were previously generated by the portfolio, accounted for in my reports , but then stashed in an interest bearing account. When incorporating these funds (repeat – no fresh money was used), the portfolio value rose by 8.65%. So, yes, purchases can have an impact on the portfolio. Imagine the potential results if it was “new money” and I had some years to let it run.

PORTFOLIO UPDATES

  • increased my LTXB position going into the PB merger
  • increased my JNJ position on weakness
  • Performed a partial rebalance resulting in slight increases to AROW, BANF, BKSC, BRKL, CVLY, FMBH, LSBK, NWBI, TMP, UMBF and WFC
  • New Position – GIS
  • New Position – WMT
  • New Position – UNP
  • New Position – RDS.B
  • New Position – HSY
  • New Position – TXN
  • New Position – ATO
  • New Position – T

DIVIDENDS

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

  • October delivered an increase of 7.49% Y/Y.
  • Dividend increases averaged 10.27% with 66.52% of the portfolio delivering at least one increase (including 4 cuts). 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 93.01% of 2018 total dividends putting me on target to exceed last year’s total in mid-November. The YTD run rate is 108.77% of 2018, slightly under my 110.0% goal – but still recoverable. Point of reference, this the first time since starting this blog that I didn’t exceed the prior year dividends before the end of October.

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). The expected settlement was disallowed by the judge September 13th.

PB acquired LTXB for 0.528 shares and $6.28 cash for each LTXB share which completed November 1st. I plan to pocket the cash and sell the old shares – retaining the new PB shares.

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 acquired UBNK for .875 sh PBCT to 1 UBNK – completed November 1st. I plan to hold this one as I wouldn’t be surprised if PBCT gets taken out at some point.

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 am awaiting final settlement payout. Fully expecting a profitable outcome for one of my most speculative positions.

SUMMARY

Overall, no complaints. The initial quote can also bear reference to the growth rate of my portfolio this month – which is why I presented the results in two ways. Although accurate, I do not care to be viewed as tilting the scales in favor of one narrative over another. My cash position will hover close to zero while replicating the kids’ portfolio but expect the dividend growth to accelerate into the first half of 2020 with this strategy.

Here’s hoping your month was successful!

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!

Stock Buybacks?

As we round the corner coming into the final week of this month, the markets are showing a robustness that is probably more of a relief with abating trade tensions as the broader market was more a mixed bag with earnings reports. Case in point being my ongoing saga with Owens & Minor which announced their second dividend cut. At least they aren’t facing a SEC investigation à la Kraft Heinz. The common denominator in these two cases appear to be – at least in part – a laser focus on trimming costs with too much emphasis on the salary component.

Which leads to this week’s topic prompted by a private message which read in part: “… (I listen to) Pitchfork Economics with Nick Hanauer … (which) talked about stock buybacks and shareholder value maximization… I was hoping you could listen to it and let me know if everything they talk about holds up, or if there are pieces of the puzzle missing that might have been left out to steer a narrative. I don’t know what I don’t know and I don’t like thinking I might be getting misled.

First half the battle is acknowledging a gap in understanding. Most of us only begin to realize this too late in life choosing to muddle through as best we can. Second, keep in mind the quote, “99 percent of all statistics only tell 49 percent of the story.” Ron DeLegge II

For my uninitiated readers, this podcast is targeted to the rising generational groups such as Millennials, Gen-Z etc. with a slight Socialistic slant. The New Green Deal (which I’m currently researching) resides in this category as well – (but with a twist). Anyway, there are three schools of thought to stock buybacks; they are good, they are evil or they’re neither. The podcast presents them as generally bad, the current administration treats them as good (no choice here as they were spurred on as a by-product of the tax plan). My personal view is under current law – particularly when the Supreme Court of the United States has granted to corporations the notion of “corporate personhood” – they are generally neither. I’m more of a guy that tries to eke out a profit regardless of the rules, knowing they will likely change at a future date and adjustments will be required.

Major Issues with the Podcast

  • 11:44 – “Secondary offerings aren’t all that important”
    • Depends on the type – if the secondary creates more shares to fund a new production line for instance, why would there be a penalty for a return to the original share count?
  • 18:30 – 90% of corporate profits are returned to the richest people via dividends and stock buybacks.
    • Wells Fargo is 62% owned by institutions and the number is about 15% for Walmart. Generally this reflects ETFs and mutual funds which are largely owned by individuals.
  • 16:00 – shareowners are not investors.
    21:07 – … buying stock is speculating not investing .
    23:01 –  … if you think shareholders are investors … that contributes to the growing economic inequality
    • Only in the narrowest of definitions (buying an initial issuance or direct from a company’s secondary) is this true. Even as “traders” an economic interest with ownership rights is gained with the price (implied value) the speculation.
  • 26:49 – chartered corporations existed to better society and for a limited time.
    • These types of corporate structures were modified (initially in NC-1795) to circumvent perceived constitutional limitations on enforcement of multi-state investments (canals, railroads). They maintained a societal purpose including eminent domain rights (conversely, eminent domain is a New Green Deal issue as well).
  • 33:32    – Wells Fargo … laid off employees while (enriching owners through buybacks).
    • The layoffs were due primarily to exiting business lines in an effort to refocus on core operations reducing (in theory) the ongoing capability for malfeasance.  Also to reduce overlapping operations (footprint acquired through acquisitions). It was not related to buybacks. In fact, Warren Buffett, the largest shareholder is precluded from owning greater than 10%.  He is required to sell when buybacks are performed resulting in no short term enrichment.

The one point I hadn’t really considered in this debate was their point at 40:08 of a possible prohibition of buybacks if employees are receiving public assistance. I would add underfunded pensions and Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) position of taxing buybacks like dividends to the mix of potential areas to improve. One area requiring caution is the treatment of large private companies versus public ones. Examples that initially come to mind are Hobby Lobby, Cargill, Chick-fil-A and Koch Industries. None of the Democratic challengers has yet presented (in my opinion) a viable solution to improve the status quo without discriminating against any current stakeholder thereby cheapening their argument regarding equality.

So, while appreciating the question, my response is probably clear a mud as this issue is a tangled web with no clear right or wrong answer. Only that your instincts are correct in attempting to discern all the arguments to formulate your own opinion. My guess is this rebuttal does not fully address all the issues either – but my 2¢!

Any thoughts, opinions or other considerations that you have?

Black Swan?

A black swan is an event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and is extremely difficult to predict. Black swan events are typically random and unexpected.
Investopedia

With the market jittery of late, my sense is it’s waiting for another shoe to drop.  If only we knew when and why.  With a decelerating economy looming, greater uncertainty present and anticipated struggles with earnings comps it doesn’t stretch the imagination much to envision additional – or greater – turmoil.

The question becomes: what is the catalyst?  For purposes of this post we can ignore politics.  Having survived the past two years gives us that luxury.  The usual suspects; oil, interest rates or political upheaval are in check.  The economy, if not robust, is no slouch.  If I concur with pundits that postulate we can bounce along at these levels for awhile then I still must make the attempt to identify a black swan.  For this posts’ purpose some economic thing.  One example being 1997’s Asian Contagion.  In the absence of such a trigger I suspect Michael Pento’s analysis is a little dire, but with minimal tailwinds I could make a case for stagnation.

In my spare time  I’ve been performing a cursory analysis on the ETFs I added this year.  Only from the aspect of understanding each company and ending with a determination as to whether I would choose to own the component outright.  The process is a little laborious but results in more detailed knowledge on my part.  Australia and Mexico were a breeze.  Europe is last.  Japan was painful with the keiretsu overlaying business relationships (formal and informal) coupled with subsidiary relationships and interlocking ownership structures.  While my research remains incomplete, I may have found a lurking black swan.

With much of the analytical commentary in the US centered on corporate debt in a rising rate environment, in this vein, how about a growing Japanese banking scandal that, by comparison, makes the Wells Fargo scandal pale in comparison.  In essence, in April Japan’s Suruga Bank (a roughly $3.5B regional bank) came under investigation for fraudulent lending practices, falsified documentation and a laundry list of assorted unscrupulous business dealings.  In September, an independent investigation revealed at least 795 cases of fraud.  Garnering my attention was a fear that some “analysts have warned (this) could generate risks for the entire Japanese banking sector“.  All this has come to a head with the filing of a lawsuit against the founding family this week.

One could speculate this issue is confined to this bank – and the answer could well be yes.  However one of the issues with the Japanese corporate system is the propensity to delay remedial action – basically a holdover from the glory days of the keiretsu.  The Suruga scandal has the potential to spread into Shinzo Abe’s government and the BOJ.  Not as direct participants but as a negative reflection of their policies.

My eyes will remain on this as we enter the new year as if Japan stumbles the ramifications on interest rates in the US could be interesting as an inflow of currency to one of the world’s remaining ‘safe-havens’ could result in some artificial – and likely temporary – swings in yield curve.

Have a Happy New Year!