Sunday, December 17

Week 337 - Agriculture-related Companies in “The 2 and 8 Club” (Extended Version)

Situation: We’ve narrowed our “universe” to large & established US companies that reliably pay a good & growing dividend, and called it The 2 and 8 Club. Why? Because “good ” means 2% or better and “growing” means 8% or better. We use a wash/rinse/repeat method to find those companies. 

In the “wash” cycle, we collect companies that are listed at each of the 3 online spreadsheets we value: 1) The capitalization-weighted FTSE High Dividend Yield Index for US companies, which is simply the 400 companies in the Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF. 2) The S&P 100 Index, which has the advantage of price discovery through the requirement that stocks in these large companies have active markets in Put and Call Options. 3) The BMW Method List of statistical data for stocks that have been traded on a public exchange for at least 16 years. 

In the “rinse” cycle, we look up information online about each stock that passed through the wash: 1) We make sure bonds issued by that company have an S&P Rating of A- or better. 2) We make sure stocks issued by that company have an S&P Rating of B+/M or better (go to your broker’s website). 3) We make sure the company’s annual dividend payout has been growing 8% or faster over the past 5 years, i.e., we get a list of payouts from the relevant Yahoo Finance page then put the most recent year’s payout and the payout for 5 years ago into a Compound Annual Growth Rate calculator

In the “repeat” cycle, we take the same steps 3 months later, then select stocks to add or delete by using a brokerage that charges you a flat fee of ~1% of Net Asset Value/yr. This allows you to trade without incurring transaction costs (including dividend reinvestment). 

If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can extend your oversight beyond S&P 100 stocks to include those on the Barron’s 500 List, published each year in May, which has the advantage of ranking companies by using 3 cash flow metrics. Then you’ll be running the Extended Version of The 2 and 8 Club, which currently has 32 companies (see Table for Week 329). This week’s blog drills down on the 10 companies in the Extended Version that ultimately depend on feedstocks provided by farmers, to ultimately market foods & beverages, motor engine fuels, animal feed, cigarettes, cotton shirts, and plastics made from corn. 

Mission: Set up a Standard Spreadsheet of those 10 companies.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: Farmers operate a capital-intensive business that requires large-scale production on ~1000 acres to justify the cost of chemicals and fertilizer plus the main cost, which is for the purchase and maintenance of equipment (e.g. combines, tractors, grain carts, center-pivot irrigation systems, sprayers, semi-tractors that haul 30 tons of grain, grain-drying bins, grain storage bins, and satellite navigation links needed for weather forecasting and precision agriculture). Their mobile powered equipment requires diesel fuel, and their grain-drying bins require natural gas or propane. 

Archer-Daniels-Midland is the only pure Ag company on the list. ADM collects crops at railheads for further shipment and initial processing, and distributes products worldwide. Much of that distribution begins by loading grain onto barges in the Mississippi River. 

Weather is the key variable. The software and hardware on weather satellites is IBM gear, and IBM owns The Weather Channel. GPS-based software is an important part of precision agriculture, and similarly depends on satellites running IBM equipment. Cummins (CMI) and Caterpillar (CAT) provide diesel engines, and ExxonMobil (XOM) is one of the largest sources of diesel fuel. CAT also makes skid-loaders and backhoe/end-loaders that some farmers use.

PepsiCo (PEP) and Coca-Cola (KO) process a variety of farm products (including milk, cheese, oranges, oats, coffee and tea) into dozens of branded foods and beverages that are found worldwide. Altria Group (MO) processes tobacco plants into cigarettes and smokeless tobacco for the US market. VF Corporation (VFC) is the largest company that fabricates clothing for a variety of markets, and depends on farmers to produce its main feedstock (cotton). Target (TGT) markets clothing, and Super Target stores offer a large variety of foods and beverages. 

Bottom Line: Farm incomes have fallen 20%/yr over the last 3 years, but appear to have stabilized with this year’s harvest. Cost-cutting and scaling-up are the main survival strategies. Farms that are large enough to sustain a family are multi-million dollar enterprises that cultivate more than a square mile of ground. When farmers are forced to cut costs, suppliers are forced into being acquired by (or merged with) other companies. To further complicate matters, efficient transportation networks now circle the planet. The supply of crop commodities outstrips demand enough that the effects of drought or war in one place are mitigated by bumper crops in another place. 

Risk Rating: 8 (where 10-yr Treasury Notes = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, gold bullion = 10).

Full Disclosure: I dollar-cost average into KO, XOM, and IBM, and also own shares of CAT and MO.

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2017 Invest Tune

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