Sunday, June 18

Week 311 - A-rated S&P 100 “Defensive” Companies With Tangible Book Value

Situation: We know for certain that this is a period of great anxiety in credit markets. Trillions of dollars in loans have been made by banks in Southern Europe and East Asia that are now worth less than a third of their face value. Many of these loans were made by private banks, but governments are ultimately “on the hook” for the debt. With non-performing debts on their books, banks have less ability to make worthwhile loans to support economic growth, education and upgrades of infrastructure. A credit crunch is going to happen, unless these bad debts are boxed up, tied with a ribbon, and sold to the highest bidder. Remember: the credit crunch of 2008-09 quickly cut worldwide GDP growth per capita in half, from 2%/yr to 1%/yr. And it didn’t start to recover until this year.

What’s the best way for you to drill down on this subject? I suggest that you read Peter Coy’s article, which appeared in Bloomberg Business Week last October. His analysis responds to the International Monetary Fund’s 2016 Global Financial Stability Report that was hot off the press. Here are bullet points from that report: “medium-term risks continue to build”, meaning 1) growing political instability; 2) persistent weakness of financial institutions in China and Southern Europe; 3) excessive corporate debt in emerging markets. In China, combined public and private debt almost doubled over the past 10 years, and is now 210% of GDP (worldwide it’s 225% of GDP).

Mission: What’s the best way to tailor your retirement portfolio in response to these global risks? Become defensive. That doesn’t just mean having a Rainy Day Fund that is well-stocked with interest-earning cash-equivalents (Savings Bonds, Treasury Bills, and 2-Yr Treasury Notes). It means overweighting high quality “defensive stocks” in your equity portfolio. What is the Gold Standard? Companies in the S&P 100 Index that are in the 4 S&P Defensive Industries:
   Consumer Staples;
   Utilities; and
   Communication Services.
Large companies have multiple product lines, and membership in the S&P 100 Index requires a healthy options market for the company’s stock, to facilitate price discovery. You have to drill deeper in your analysis, to be sure the company’s S&P credit rating is A- or better, and its stock rating is A-/M or better. Statistical information has to be available from the 16-Yr series of the BMW Method and the 2017 Barron’s 500 List. Check financial statements for signs of high debt: long-term bonds that represent more than a third of total assets, operating cash flow that covers less than 40% of current liabilities, or an inability to meet dividend payments out of free cash flow (FCF). Exclude companies with negative Tangible Book Value.

Execution: By using the above criteria, we uncover 7 companies out of the 32 “defensive” companies in the S&P 100 Index (see Table).

Bottom Line: Defensive companies are less interesting than growth companies or companies involved in the production of raw commodities. But high-quality defensive companies, such as Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and NextEra Energy (NEE), consistently grow earnings faster than GDP and are quick to correct any earnings shortfall. All an investor need do is learn to read financial statements, and regularly examine websites for data on companies of interest.

Risk Rating: 4 (where 1 = 10-Yr Treasury Notes, 5 = S&P 500 Index, 10 = gold bullion).

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into Coca-Cola (KO), NextEra Energy (NEE), and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ). I also own shares in Costco Wholesale (COST) and Wal-Mart Stores (WMT).

NOTE: Metrics are current for the Sunday of publication. Red highlights denote under-performance vs. VBINX at Line 15 in the Table. Purple highlights denote Balance Sheet issues and shortfalls. Net Present Value (NPV) inputs are described and justified in the Appendix to Week 256: Briefly, Discount Rate = 9%, Holding Period = 10 years, Initial Cost = average stock price over the past 50 days (corrected for transaction costs of 2.5% when buying ~$5000 worth of shares). Dividend Growth Rate is the 4-Yr CAGR found at Column H. Price Growth Rate is the 16-Yr CAGR found at Column K. Price Return (from selling all shares in the 10th year) is corrected for transaction costs of 2.5%. The Discount Rate of 9% approximates Total Returns/yr from a stock index of similar risk to owning shares in a small number of large-cap stocks, where risk due to “selection bias” is paramount. That stock index is the S&P MidCap 400 Index at Line 20 in the Table. The ETF for that index is MDY at Line 14. For bonds, Discount Rate = Interest Rate.

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