Sunday, October 30

Week 17 - Value vs. Growth

Situation: ITR investors need to know the broad outline of a company’s business plan, so they will not be surprised by price swings in bull and bear markets.

Goal: Orient ITR investors to important accounting ratios that will help them characterize a stock.

To some extent, all of the stocks that are covered in ITR blogs can be called “value” stocks because the companies pay dividends, and those dividends are bigger than the market yield. Growth stocks produce a total return mainly through price appreciation, whereas, value stocks produce a total return mainly through sizable dividend payouts. 

Growth companies tend to be priced high relative to earnings and book value, and the total (enterprise) value of the company tends to be high relative to operating earnings (EBITDA) and sales (Revenue). The updated Master List (Week 16) has a column for each of these 4 accounting ratios. Higher ratios represent stock prices that have been “bid up” in expectation of continued growth for both the price of that stock and the economy. That is speculation, whereas, the payment of a dividend is real.

Growth companies like Colgate-Palmolive (CL), Coca-Cola (KO), McCormick (MKC), Automatic Data Processing (ADP), and T. Rowe Price (TROW) pay a modest dividend and have 3-4 elevated accounting ratios. At the opposite end of the spectrum are value companies that pay a substantial dividend and have 0-1 elevated accounting ratios: Sysco (SYY), Pepsico (PEP), Kimberly-Clark (KMB), NextEra Energy (NEE), and Chevron (CVX). “Defensive” industries (utilities, health-care, consumer staples) are the usual source of value stocks. However, you’ll notice that here we have an energy stock (CVX) but no health-care stock. (ABT and JNJ yield over 3% but aren’t cheap.) NEE is partly an energy stock, since only half is a regulated utility (Florida Power & Light); the other half is a wholesaler of wind & solar electricity (NextEra Energy Resources). The fact that NEE and CVX are value stocks tells us that energy production & distribution can be purchased very reasonably. On the other hand, pharmaceutical companies, are unreasonably expensive. Both conditions are likely to reverse because energy companies will be able to raise prices as the economy recovers, whereas, pharmaceutical companies will be constrained by the Affordable Care Act.  

Bottom Line: When the economy recovers, value stocks won’t have much lost ground to recover.

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Sunday, October 23

Week 16 - Revised Master List (Fall 2011)

Situation: It has been 3 months since we published the ITR Master List (Week 5), and it’s been quite a ride. The S&P 500 Index fell 11%. When prices fall, the dividend yield increases even though the dividend amount remains unchanged. So the yield on the Index went from 1.8% to 2.2% (which is more than an 11% increase because over 50 companies also increased their dividend). We thought this week’s blog would be a good time to update our Master List and discuss changes that have occurred.

Goal: Explain changes to the ITR Master List.

<Click here> to view the updated Master List spreadsheet. There are four new columns that have been added: P/E, Price/Book, EV/EBITDA, and EV/Revenue. These have been added to help explain the difference between what is considered a “growth stock” vs. those that are “value stocks” (which will be the subject of next week’s blog).

After reviewing the numbers, we decided that six companies had to be removed from the Master List because their yields were below 2.2% and no longer exceeded the S&P 500 Index. These companies are:

[In addition, ITT was also removed because it was broken into 3 companies as of 10/11.]

Three months ago, all six of these companies had a yield near the cutoff of 1.8% but since then have not fallen in price as much as the S&P 500 Index (11%). IBM and VFC actually increased in price during that market correction. So the yields of these six companies didn’t rise along with that of the Index. In other words, all six enjoy better earnings prospects than the Index as a whole. We expect that promise in growth potential will be reflected in forthcoming dividend increases, which makes it likely they will be returned to our Master List at some point over the next two years.

As some companies have been removed, five new companies have been added to the Master List because they now exceed the S&P 500 Index:

Medtronic (MDT) is in the health care industry and produces surgical equipment; S&P rates its stock at A/M and bonds at AA-. Walgreens (WAG) is a consumer staples company classified as a drug retailer; S&P rates its stock at A+/L and bonds at A. Linear Technology Corporation (LLTC) is in the information technology industry producing integrated circuits; S&P rates it’s stock at A/M but doesn’t offer a bond rating since the company has been retiring debt rapidly. T. Rowe Price (TROW) is in the financial services industry specializing in asset management; S&P rates its stock at A-/M but doesn’t offer a bond rating because the company carries no debt. Dover (DOV) produces industrial machinery such as elevators; S&P rates its stock at A/H and bonds at A.

Bottom Line: The Master List needs to be updated quarterly to remain useful as a planning and investment guide.

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Sunday, October 16

Week 15 - Retirement on a Shoestring: The Rainy Day Fund

Situation: A middle-income worker reaches age 50 without a pension, 401(k), or 403(b) plan. She’ll need to put aside the maximum amount allowed ($6,000/yr) into a Roth IRA. In addition, it would be smart to start a “Rainy Day Fund” (~$1,200/yr) to protect the Roth IRA from being depleted in the event of illness or unemployment. 

Goal: Determine how much money would be in the proposed Roth IRA and Rainy Day Funds (started at age 50) upon approaching a retirement age of 65, using the lowest expenses and least risky investments. 

Everyone needs to have a Rainy Day Fund as the first line of defense for economic well being. It needs to be readily available without paying significant penalty fees for early withdrawal (aside from taxes due). Such a fund should contain enough to pay 6 months of basic expenses. Most people use a savings account but here at ITR we advocate for something a little more remunerative. Consider a fund that balances stocks and bonds 50:50.

On the bond side, the Inflation-protected Savings Bond (ISB) is hard to beat. It is the benchmark for “net net net investing” (i.e., total return after expenses, inflation, and taxes). An ISB has no up-front expenses (and you know from our prior blogs that is a big point). To purchase yours, go to Treasurydirect and set up electronic withdrawals from your bank account. ISBs pay a fixed rate of interest but also add principal in direct proportion to inflation. There are no taxes on an ISB until you cash it in, typically at a time of minimal tax liability, ideally, after retirement. Invest at least $50/mo until you have enough ISBs to cover 3 months of living expenses. A small fee is assessed if you withdrawal your money prior to 5 years after purchase (you pay 3 months worth of interest income).

To cover the remaining 3 months of expenses, invest at least $50/mo in a Lifeboat Stock with a low beta and high dividend. Abbott Laboratories (ABT) meets those requirements and setting up your DRIP using Computershare is user-friendly. There are no fees for an automatic investment plan of as little as $10/mo. [There is one significant inconvenience: the initial shares need to be purchased through a stock broker and transferred electronically to Abbott Laboratories for registration in your name.] Other DRIPs to consider include Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Procter & Gamble (PG), and Wal*Mart (WMT). Most of those DRIPs charge ~$1/mo but do not require you to register shares through a stock broker.

Once you have your Rainy Day Fund and Roth IRA (review Week 14) on autopilot, you will breathe a little easier. Now you can take an active interest in the rest of your retirement preparations, namely, paying off your obligations which for most people is a mortgage. This will leave you well positioned for starting a reverse mortgage at age 65. We also recommend taking an active approach to keeping your job skills tuned up by taking one evening class per semester at a local community college. This allows the maximum level of flexibility for remaining competitive in your current job, or finding a new job if that (unhappy) situation should arise.

We have attached a Spreadsheet summarizing the investment options mentioned for establishing a Roth IRA (Week 14) and a Rainy Day Fund. ISBs did not become available until 1999, so the history of transactions is shorter than what we’ve used in other examples. But if the total return for that shortened period (3.33%/yr) were to be applied for the same 14.7 yr period as our other examples, the total amount invested would be $8,850 (same as for ABT) and the ending value would be $11,587 instead of the $9,241 listed in the spreadsheet. That would bring the total ending value for the Rainy Day Fund to $24,966 after 14.7 yrs (total return = 4.16%/yr). Since the ending value for the proposed Roth IRA is $155,955, the total savings for retirement equals $180,921. That money could be used, for example, to purchase a fixed annuity paying over $1,000/mo beginning at age 65 in today’s dollars. Alternatively, you could just cease paying the $7,200/yr and draw the annual dividend and interest income from that $180,921 (i.e., $6,107/yr, or $509/mo). That payout would continue to grow ~4%/yr faster than inflation while leaving the principal untouched. Taxes would only be due on expenditures from the Rainy Day Fund. Social Security would likely add >$2,000/mo to your retirement income, which amount is partly taxable but also keeps up with inflation. 

Let’s face it, $2,600+ a month doesn’t go very far even if it is protected from inflation and taxes. This is why setting up a reverse mortgage and continuing to work will become important options to have available for fine-tuning your retirement income.

Bottom Line: Retirement is perilous. Plan ahead. It’s later than you think.

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Sunday, October 9

Week 14 - Retirement on a Shoestring: The Roth IRA

Situation: Many people spend their careers working at jobs that offer slim retirement benefits. Consider this: a year of retirement will cost you about as much as a year of private college. Unlike a child’s college expenses, retirement doesn’t end after 4 years! Many people are now in a situation with big problems looming on the retirement horizon. Those with little money set aside for retirement have only 4 ways to supplement Social Security income (excluding extortion):
   1) convert home equity to a reverse mortgage,
   2) raid their “Rainy Day Fund”,
   3) remain employed for more years,
   4) set up a Roth IRA.

Goal: Explain to a 50 yr old how to start a retirement plan based around a Roth IRA.

Okay, you’ve reached the age of 50 with little by way of retirement savings, and you know you need a sound retirement plan. One thing that Congress got right was to provide middle income workers with a special kind of IRA, called a Roth IRA. With standard IRAs, you receive an annual tax deduction for monies invested but as those monies are spent in retirement you will pay taxes as with ordinary income. A Roth IRA, however, uses monies that are already taxed so that the monies spent in retirement are tax-free. From an accountant’s point of view, a Roth IRA is a bonanza! It shows the lengths to which Congress will go to entice people to save for retirement. 

We want a benchmark to use for the IRA recommendations we’ll be making and have picked the Vanguard Wellesley Fund (VWINX), a bond-centric no-load balanced fund that channels our Goldilocks Allocation to some degree. VWINX had been perking along for several decades without much attention but now investors are taking notice. The reason is that during the recession it posted one of the best records among balanced funds. VWINX has done rather well: investing $200 a month since 2/1/97 would have yielded $57,497 by 10/7/11 for a total return of 5.67%/yr (pretty sweet). This compares favorably to the same investment in the S&P 500 Index, SPY, which would have yielded $40,349 for a total return of 1.69%/yr (not so sweet). The top-performing balanced fund during the recession (MDLOX, the Blackrock Global Allocation Fund that we highlighted in Week 13) yielded $61,233 for a total return of 6.31%/yr (also rocking the house). During that 14.7 year period, inflation averaged 2.5%/yr according to the BLS

After age 50, you can pay $6,000/yr into a Roth IRA. We set up a $3,000 allocation to stocks and picked a model portfolio of 3 “low beta” DRIPs. These were chosen because they carry no investment costs if purchased through Computershare. [Please note: the same purchases could be made using Sharebuilder at an accumulated expense of $144/yr, which cuts 0.5%/yr off your total return.] We selected XOM ($75/mo), BDX ($75/mo), and NEE ($100/mo). Over 14.7 yrs (ending 10/7/11), the $75/mo invested in XOM ($13,275) returned $24,592 for a total return of 7%/yr; the $75/mo invested in BDX ($13,275) returned $25,286 for a total return of 7.28%/yr; and the $100/mo invested in NEE ($17,700) returned $34,860 for a total return of 7.61%/yr. All together, $250/mo was invested in 3 DRIPs ($44,250) and returned $84,738 for a total return of 7.33%/yr. This beats SPY by more than 5.6% a yr. It also beats inflation by more than 4.8%/yr. Other DRIP combinations can be selected and may show even better results.

For the bond side of our demonstration Roth IRA ($3,000), we’ll track $250/mo invested in the diversified T. Rowe Price investment-grade fund, PRCIX. For the 14.7 years ending 10/7/11, that monthly investment would have totaled $44250 and yielded $69,984 for a total return of 5.38%/yr. It is a no-load fund, so we have now constructed a no-load Roth IRA fund balanced 50:50 between stocks and bonds. Our fund is composed of 4 assets and carries no investment costs: XOM, BDX, NEE, and PRCIX. Our benchmark balanced fund (VWINX) is also a no-load fund. In addition, we’ll show what would happen if you invested $6000/yr in MDLOX (Blackrock Global Allocation A), which is also a balanced fund but carries a front-end load of 5.25%. That is, you’d be paying $26.25 in fees with each month’s $500 investment. [While there are other share classes that have a lower initial cost, this is compensated by a higher expense ratio. For long-term investors, the A class shares (MDLOX) are the most economical.] Our model balanced fund composed of 3 stocks and one bond fund yielded $154,633 over 14.7 years on a total investment of $88,500, for a total return of 6.42%/yr. This compares well to the 6.31% total return for MDLOX and 5.67% for VWINX. So our key point is that even the best-performing managed stock fund can be bested by regular purchase and dividend reinvestment using DRIPs in combination with a diversified bond fund, without paying any upfront fees or commissions.

In next week’s blog, we’ll provide a spreadsheet of our proposed Roth IRA and also outline a proposed “Rainy Day Fund”. We’ll include appropriate benchmarks and update the spreadsheet periodically, and model additional DRIP choices from the Master List. In an upcoming edition of “The Incubator”, we’ll discuss the process for incorporating DRIPs into a Roth IRA plan.

Bottom Line: If you’re earning less than $100,000/yr and don’t have a pension plan or 401(k) plan through your employer, it’s time to start a Roth IRA. Don’t delay - the pain only increases!!

<click here to continue to Week 15>

Sunday, October 2

Week 13 - Foreign Stocks and Bonds

Situation: The ending of the Cold War in 1989 and the widespread use of the internet  launched the “global village” in earnest. The US economy now contributes only 25% of the world’s GDP.
Goal: Explain the benefits received when half of an investor’s assets are deployed outside the United States.
In an earlier blog, we defined the ITR Goldilocks Allocation which recommended 1/6th of an investors stock holdings be in foreign investments. A contributing point of fact is that 50% of sales made by S&P 500 companies occur outside the 50 states. Therefore, 2/3rds of recommended stock holdings are drawing part of their revenue from outside the US. Why not recommend an allocation that equals the 75% of world GDP found outside the US? There are 3 key reasons:
   (1) expenses are higher for the international mutual funds that must buy and sell stocks on foreign exchanges and hedge the currency risk
   (2) there is more political uncertainty
   (3) there is less transparency because of less stringent accounting and reporting rules

And then there is this remarkable statistic: several studies report that the coefficient of correlation of international stock indices with the S&P 500 Index is ~0.80. What this means is that economies around the world are strongly tied to the US economy and will move in sync with the US economy. Therefore, there is little risk that the companies on our Master List will fail to benefit from a strong bull market occurring in any country where they sell goods and/or services. Ownership of stock in high quality multinational companies that are based in the US is an indirect means of investing in foreign markets. Many of the Master List companies are heavily invested in Brazil, Russia, India, and China (known by the acronym BRIC), which are large countries that dominate “emerging market” growth.
Broadly diversified bond funds like PRCIX now include some bonds issued by foreign governments and corporations; such funds compose half of the ITR recommended bond allocation. When added to our 1/3rd recommendation for international bond funds like RPIBX, almost 40% of ITR’s recommended bond holdings are outside the US. Why not recommend 75%? Here, the argument is less rational. High quality foreign bonds outperform high quality US bonds by 1-2% because the value of the US dollar has been falling for the past decade. That means you will have to form an opinion about the future value of the US dollar before deciding how much to invest offshore. Recently, the fiscal and monetary policies of the US were redirected to clean up balance sheets at the US Treasury and Federal Reserve. This means the value of the dollar may gradually rise relative to a trade-weighted basket of other currencies. Here at ITR, we are concerned with retirement income and recommend sticking with “the devil we know”, namely, mutual funds and stocks denominated in US dollars - the currency we’ll be spending in retirement.  The type of international bond fund that we are recommending does little investing in emerging markets because such bonds typically carry a high level of risk. But on the stock side of the ITR asset allocation model it is important to capture growth, which is best accomplished by investing in emerging markets.
You may have counted the 1/6ths and noticed that we haven’t yet recommended a safe place to park the last 1/6th of stock holdings targeted to countries where growth is happening. That’s because almost all of the diversified international mutual funds lost more than the S&P 500 Index during the last big downturn, and weren’t beating it by much even before that downturn. Over the past 5 yrs, the S&P 500 Index is more than 1%/yr ahead of foreign indices. And, here at ITR we have only been able to identify two foreign companies that appear to meet ITR’s investment criteria (see Mission & Goals): Total SA (France’s integrated oil company) and BHP Billiton (the Australian mining company).
A generic solution to this problem is to recommend that you resort to a “flexible portfolio” mutual fund, one that can invest in anything anywhere. Few such funds have a long track record but those that do have weathered the recent unpleasantness better than any other category of stock funds. An ITR assessment finds that the flexible portfolio fund with the best track record over the past 15 yrs is Blackrock Global Allocation (MDLOX). It lost only 22% during the “bear market” between 10/9/07 and 3/9/09 vs. the spectacular 43% loss for the S&P 500 Index. As of 9/29/11, its 14.7 yr total return is 7.0%/yr vs. 2.0%/yr for the S&P 500 Index exchange-traded fund (SPY). Those returns are net of expenses (like commissions and front-end loads assessed for making our typical monthly investment of $200) but include the effect of free dividend reinvestment. MDLOX’s out-performance is because of it’s investment model:  a) a significant allocation to bonds, combined with b) stock investments in multinational companies based in developed countries, e.g. IBM, XOM, CVX, JNJ, and Apple (AAPL). To purchase MDLOX shares, use the same financial services company that you used to purchase bond funds (e.g. Fidelity Investments or T. Rowe Price).
But let’s be honest. MDLOX is expensive (management fees of ~2%/yr, regardless of share class), it doesn’t focus on emerging markets, and it depends on interest payments from bonds to maintain cash flow. Emerging market countries grow fast because of jobs in export and commodity businesses that result in dramatic increases in the standard of living. Every year, almost a hundred million people emerge from poverty. Now, those countries are fast becoming consumer-based economies. This is happening not only in the large BRIC countries but also in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Singapore, Chile, and Argentina. This trend has been present for some time, and certain companies have made it their business to market to those new consumers. For example, instead of making a $200/month investment in one of the examples discussed above (SPY or MDLOX), you could be investing in McDonald’s (MCD) where the 14.7 yr total return (net of the $1.50 commission on each purchase you make through Computershare) is 12.1%/yr. Now that’s a lot better than the 2.0% realized for SPY or the 7.0% for MDLOX!! How can “Mickey D” maintain such an outstanding performance through the bear markets of 1998, 2001-2, and 2008-9? Because for more than 20 years it’s business plan has focused on rapid expansion in emerging markets, capitalizing on the fact that 30% of income for those households goes for food vs. 8% here in the US (T. Rowe Price Report, issue 112, summer of 2011, p. 8).
Bottom Line: The US economy is still “the tail that wags the dog” but the dog (economies outside the US) is growing faster than the tail. Half of your assets need to reflect that growth.

<to continue to Week 14 click here>