Sunday, July 22

Week 368 - Are You A Baby Boomer (54 to 72 years old) With Only $25,000 In Retirement Savings?

Situation: Here in the United States, a third of you have less than $25,000 in Retirement Savings.

Mission: Assess options for a healthy married couple with a household income of $59,000/yr, whose breadwinner will retire when he or she reaches age 66 and the household starts receiving an initial Social Security check of $2,123/mo . Assume that they have $25,000 in retirement savings in an IRA, with an initial payout of $75/mo.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: The options for the couple to receive an income from their $25,000 IRA are unattractive. They’ll need a relatively safe way to come up with an income of 3-4%/yr from that $25,000, a way that grows the principal at least as fast as inflation (historically 3.1%/yr). That growth rate can be predicted from the 5-yr growth rate for the quarterly dividend. To have enough confidence in that stream of income, their only option is to find half a dozen high-quality stocks with low price variance (5-yr Beta less than 0.7) and secure dividends. 

They should be able to live reasonably well on $2,198/mo, given that the poverty line for a household of two is $1,372/mo. But let’s break it down: They’ll pay at least $900/mo for housing (rent, tenant’s insurance, and utilities), so they’re left with $1,300/mo to cover the consumer price index categories of food and beverages, apparel, transportation, medical care, recreation, education and communication, and other goods and services. “Other goods and services” include restaurant meals, delivery services, and cigarettes. Food will cost at least $250/mo. Now they’re down to ~$1,050/mo to cover clothing, car expenses, Medicare premium plus deductibles and co-payments, smartphones, meals out, vacations, delivery services, and cigarettes. Owning, maintaining, and operating a used car for 5,000 miles/yr will cost ~$625/mo, which leaves $425/mo for clothing, healthcare, smartphones, meals out, vacations, delivery services, and cigarettes. To avoid selling the car, one of them will need to find a part-time job. New clothes, dining out, and travel will be hard to fund. Out-of-pocket healthcare costs will go up, so they’ll need to save money by avoiding alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and sweets. 

Bottom Line: When a couple is facing a retirement that will be funded only by the average Social Security payout at full retirement age ($25,476/yr), they won’t be living much above the Federal Poverty Level for a household of two ($16,460/yr). It they own a home, they’ll no longer be able to afford to maintain it and pay property taxes. So, they’ll need to sell it and invest the residual equity. Maintaining their car will barely be affordable. Having $25,000 in an IRA will help, but a third of couples in their situation will retire with an even smaller cushion. In our Table for this week, we show how $75/mo is the expected income from an IRA of $25,000 value that has an average dividend yield of 3.6%/yr.

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into NEE, KO, and JNJ.

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2017 Invest Tune Retire.com All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com

Sunday, July 15

Week 367 - Safe and Effective Stocks

Situation: The stock market is becalmed, waiting for wind to fill its sails. "Risk-On" investors seem to be out of ideas, except for a renewal of interest in the energy sector. The bond market is experiencing hard-to-predict volatility. Safe stocks that will grow your money effectively are hard to find. The formula for Net Present Value tells us that more value is found when your original investment is returned to you quickly. Therefore, an “effective” stock is one that pays a good and growing dividend. 

Mission:Safe stocks” = an oxymoron. Basically, we’re looking for a group of high-quality stocks issued by companies in “defensive” industries (Utilities, HealthCare, Consumer Staples, and Communication Services). “Effective stocks” are those that a) pay an above-market dividend, b) grow that dividend at an above-market rate, and c) have an above-market 16-Yr CAGR. Our reference for the “market” is the Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF (DIA). 

Execution: see Table.

Administration: What are “high-quality” stocks? Those are either “Blue Chips” (see Week 361) or members of “The 2 and 8 Club” (see Week 327 and Week 348) plus its Extended Version (see Week 362). “Safe and effective” stocks are those that have no red highlights in Columns D, E, G, I, K, and M of the reference Tables. (Red highlights indicate underperformance vs. DIA.) In addition, we require that the company be a Dividend Achiever, and that its long-term bonds have an S&P rating of A- or better (see Column T).   

Bottom Line: We find that only 5 companies issue “safe and effective” stocks (see Table). Were you to own shares of similar value in all 5, you wouldn’t be gambling. In other words, your risk-adjusted returns would likely “beat the market” by 1-2%/yr over a market cycle. But your transaction costs would also be 1-2% higher vs. owning shares in the leading S&P 500 Index Fund (SPY).  

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into NEE, KO, and JNJ.

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2018 Invest Tune Retire.com All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com

Sunday, July 8

Week 366 - A Capitalization-weighted Watch List for Russell 1000 Companies

Situation: Every stock-picker needs to confine her attention to a manageable list of companies, called a “Watch List.” Here at ITR, the focus is on investing for retirement. So, our interest is in companies that have a higher dividend yield than the S&P 500 Index. Why? Because your original investment will be returned to you faster, which automatically gives your portfolio a higher “net present value” than a portfolio composed of companies that pay either no dividend or a small dividend. Once you’ve retired, you’ll switch from reinvesting dividends to spending dividends.

Mission: Assemble a Watch List composed of companies that are “Blue Chips” (see Week 361), companies that are in “The 2 and 8 Club” (see Week 344), and companies that are in the Extended Version of “The 2 and 8 Club” (see Week 362). 

Execution: see Table.

Bottom Line: If you’re saving for retirement and would like to pick some individual stocks to supplement your index funds, here is an effective and reasonably safe Watch List. However, the mutual funds that pick individual stocks haven’t done very well compared to benchmark index funds. So, your chances of doing well as a stock-picker also aren’t good. But index funds like the SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) expose you to significant downside risk. There is one conservatively managed mutual fund that we think is an excellent retirement investment, the Vanguard Wellesley Income Fund, which is mostly composed of bonds. Your risk of loss from owning VWINX is less than half that from owning SPY; the 10-Yr Total Return is 7.0%/yr vs. 9.0%/yr for SPY.

Risk Rating for our Watch List: 7 (where US Treasury Notes = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, and gold bullion = 10).

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into MSFT, JPM, XOM, WMT, PG, KO, IBM, CAT and NEE, and also own shares of GOOGL, CSCO, MCD, MMM, TRV, CMI and ADM.

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2018 Invest Tune Retire.com All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com

Sunday, July 1

Week 365 - “Dogs of the Dow” (Mid-Year Review)

Situation: The 10 highest-yielding stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average are called The Dogs of the Dow (see Week 305 and Week 346). The only time-tested formula for beating an index fund (specifically the Dow Jones Industrial Average) is based on investing equal dollar amounts in each Dog at the start of the year. That would have worked in 6 of the past 8 years. Why? Because those are high quality stocks that have suffered a price decline and are likely to recover within ~2 years, which would lower their dividend yield and release them from the “Dog pen.” 

Mission: Predict which Dogs will emerge from the Dog pen by the end of 2018, using our Standard Spreadsheet.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: For various reasons, the 2018 Dogs are unlikely to post greater total returns this year than the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DIA). But we can still try to play the game by predicting which of this year’s Dogs will be missing from next year’s Dog pen. Those will probably come from those posting lower dividend yields at the mid-year point (see Column G in the Table): Coca-Cola (KO), Cisco Systems (CSCO), General Electric (GE), Merck (MRK) and Chevron (CVX).

Bottom Line: Given current trends, Cisco Systems (CSCO) and Chevron (CVX) are likely to be released from the Dog pen at the end of the year.

Risk Rating: 6 (where US Treasury Notes = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, and gold bullion = 10)

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into KO, PG, XOM and IBM, and also own shares of CSCO.


"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2018 Invest Tune Retire.com All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com

Sunday, June 24

Week 364 - Ethanol Producers

Situation: “Market research analysts at Technavio have predicted that the global bio-fuels market will grow steadily at a CAGR of almost 6% by 2020”. But arguments against blending ethanol with gasoline are building. In 2016, 15.2 billion gallons were produced at 214 plants, with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Valero Energy (VLO) and Green Plains Renewable Energy (GPRE) being the main publicly-traded producers. For example, those 3 companies operate 4 ethanol plants in Nebraska that together produced 2.2 billion gallons, representing 31% of the state’s crop. Not only is fuel a big business for the agriculture sector, but the by-product (“distillers grains”) is a rich source of animal feed. For every ton of ethanol produced, there are 0.24 tons of distillers grains

You need to think of ethanol plants as a permanent feature of the Corn Belt, i.e., the 11 states of the Upper Midwest. Government subsidies for ethanol plants in Europe and the United States aren’t going away, for two important reasons. Ethanol is a renewable fuel, and adding it to gasoline makes tailpipe emissions less damaging to the atmosphere. Furthermore, ethanol plants represent the only stable market for the dominant farm product of those 11 states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio). But, before you buy shares in one of the 6 companies we highlight here, you need to understand a number of factors that impact the feedstocks and ultimate markets served by those plants. Start by reading this summary prepared for Green Plains (GPRE) investors.

Mission: Analyze the 6 publicly-traded US companies in the ethanol business, using our Standard Spreadsheet.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: Ethanol plants have changed the lives of farmers in the Corn Belt from being a speculator to being a professional businessman. Iowa, the state that produces the most corn, almost exclusively grows #2 field corn  destined for ethanol plants. 20% of that corn becomes “distillers grains”, and dry distillers grains are shelf-stable and greatly valued as animal feed all over the world. So, that’s a stable and global market. And, ethanol is increasingly being shipped out of the US, either separately or blended with gasoline. For example, China recently adopted the same 10% ethanol content requirement for gasoline that the US has been using. That is seen as an export opportunity for US ethanol plants.

Bottom Line: Corn Belt = ethanol plants. That’s the equation you need to remember. It’s all based on #2 field corn. The #1 sweet corn that we like to eat is rarely grown in the Corn Belt. A state outside the Corn Belt (Washington) is the leading producer. But it’s only been 11 years since the Bush Administration pushed Congress to blend 10% ethanol with gasoline. Yes, hundreds of ethanol plants were built as a result but the economics of running those plants is only now being sorted out. If you invest in any those, you’re a speculator by definition. 

Addendum: Here’s the definition of a red line for “speculation” given in the May 28, 2018 Bloomberg Businessweek on page 8: “...a conservative threshold for volatility, typically lower than that of the broader market for relevant assets…” Column M in all of our tables lists the 16-year volatility of each company (with the required trading record) and highlights in red those that have a greater volatility than the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DIA). Of the 6 companies in this week’s Table, even Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), the longest-established (and highest rated by S&P) company, has a volatility well above that of DIA.

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), which is a member of “The 2 and 8 Club” (Extended Version; see Week 362).

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2018 Invest Tune Retire.com All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com

Sunday, June 17

Week 363 - Big Pharma

Situation: There are 11 pharmaceutical companies in the S&P 100 Index, with an average market capitalization of ~$130 Billion. Stocks issued by healthcare companies (including  hospital chains, pharmacy benefit managers, medical insurance vendors, and drugstores) are thought to be defensive “risk-off” bets, like stocks issued by utility, communication services, or consumer staples companies. But they’re not. Healthcare consumes almost 20% of GDP but it is a highly fragmented industry, rife with government interference seeking full control. Medical innovation for the entire planet has to take place in the United States because the healthcare industry is socialized elsewhere and large amounts of private capital are needed to conduct clinical trials. That innovation makes US healthcare into an ongoing research enterprise. For biotechnology companies, there is an ever-present risk of being eclipsed by another company’s research team. Stockpickers who have some appreciation for biochemistry can perhaps identify biotechnology groups that are onto a good thing. But Big Pharma companies survive by looking to buy those same startups. Can you really scope-out a “good thing” better than their scientists?

Mission: Run our Standard Spreadsheet for the 11 pharmaceutical companies in the S&P 100 Index.

Execution: see Table.

Bottom Line: This is not a game for the retail investor. All she can do is buy stock in one or two of the 11 “Big Pharma” companies, and hope that its CEO can find small biotechnology groups conducting breakthrough science, then buy at least one a year to throw money at. That’s an iffy business. Why? Because large-scale clinical studies (costing hundreds of million dollars) have to be conducted before the bet pays off. Usually it doesn’t. If you’re a stock-picker new to this industry, start by researching the old standbys that reliably pay good dividends: Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Merck (MRK), Pfizer (PFE) and Eli Lilly (LLY). 

Risk Rating: 7 (where US Treasury Notes = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, gold bullion = 10)

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into JNJ and also own shares of ABT.

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2018 Invest Tune Retire.com All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com

Sunday, June 10

Week 362 - “The 2 and 8 Club” (Extended Version) = Non-S&P 100 Companies In The Russell 1000 Index

Situation: The risk of loss from owning small-capitalization stocks vs. large-capitalization stocks is material, i.e., greater than 5%. Stocks in the S&P 100 Index are safest to own, given that those are required to have actively-traded Put and Call options on the CBOE (Chicago Board Option Exchange), and are usually followed by at least a dozen analysts. Large companies also have the advantage of multiple product lines, one of which is likely to do well in a recession. This same lack of uncertainty makes their stocks boring to own, even though a number of S&P 100 stocks are statistically more likely to weather a Bear Market than the S&P 500 Index (see Column M in any of our Tables). Index investing is even more boring and predictable. 

You’re left trying to find a winner among the other 900 companies of The Russell 1000 Index. A sign that you’ve selected well for your investment occurs when you find that company highlighted in a Wall Street Journal article. Our blog for this week tries to help you do exactly that. We’ve already found a handy way to identify trendy S&P 500 companies, which we call “The 2 and 8 Club” (see Week 348). And, we published an Extended Version (see Week 350) that takes you through promising companies in The Barron’s 500 List

Caveat Emptor:The 2 and 8 Club” focuses exclusively on companies in The Russell 1000 Index that have historically paid an above-market dividend and are judged (by The Financial Times) likely to continue doing so. That means they’re bond-like, and attract investors because of the near-certainty that they will continue to pay a good and growing dividend. The downside of this benefit is that price appreciation will flatten and decline in a rising interest rate environment, just as bond prices do. Why? Because of competition from newly-issued bonds that pay a higher rate of interest and have less risk of default. 

Mission: This week we double-down and identify putative winners in The Russell 1000 Index.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: Rules for membership in “The 2 and 8 Club”: 
   1) The company is listed on the FTSE High Dividend Yield Index (US), which contains the ~400 highest-yielding companies in the Russell 1000 Index. Those are companies that have historically paid an above-market dividend (usually ~2%) without reducing that payout in periods of market stress.
   2) The company has raised its regular quarterly dividend at least 8%/yr over the past 5 years.
   3) The company’s bonds carry an S&P Rating of at least BBB+.
   4) The company’s stock carries an S&P Rating of at least B+/M.
   5) The company’s end-of-week stock price has been analyzed quantitatively by using the BMW Method for the past 16 years.
   6) The company is graded annually as to cash flow trends and revenue growth by the editors of Barron’s.
   7) The company is required to be a Dividend Achiever, to offset the risk of loss of carried by these companies because of being less well capitalized than those in the S&P 100 Index.

Bottom Line: Of the 7 companies in this week’s Table, only two are reasonably safe bets: The Travelers (TRV) and WEC Energy (WEC). In other words, their risk of loss in the next Bear Market is lower than that for investors in the Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF (DIA) (see Column M of the Table). So, why not simply buy shares of DIA instead of gambling on one of the other 5 companies? After all, DIA has an ~2% dividend yield and grows its dividend ~8%/yr. Answer: You’re a speculator and think you can do better than settle for the 7-8% long-term Total Return/Yr you’d realize from owning shares of DIA.

Risk Rating: 7 (where 10-Yr US Treasury Notes = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, and gold bullion = 10)

Full Disclosure: I own shares of The Travelers (TRV) and Cummins (CMI).

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2018 Invest Tune Retire.com All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com

Sunday, June 3

Week 361 - Blue Chips

Situation: What is a “Blue Chip” stock, and why should you think highly of such stocks? There are several definitions but traders are generally talking about a stock in the Dow Jones Industrial Average when they use the phrase “Blue Chip.” More generally, they’re talking about a very large company that pays a good and growing dividend, and has a trading record that covers at least the past 40 years. This also includes any very large company that has a negligible risk of bankruptcy. These characteristics are important because traders think Blue Chip stocks are the only relatively safe bets for a “buy-and-hold” investor to place. Warren Buffett often highlights the importance of these same characteristics whenever he’s being interviewed, and Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B) owns shares in several: Apple (AAPL), Coca-Cola (KO), International Business Machines (IBM), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Procter & Gamble (PG) and Walmart (WMT).

Mission: Develop specific definitions for the above characteristics, and list all companies that meet those definitions. Use our Standard Spreadsheet to analyze those companies.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: Here are my specific definitions for the qualitative terms used above:
   "A very large company"Any company in the S&P 100 Index (OEF)

   "A good dividend": Any company in the Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index (VYM)

   "A growing dividend": Any company in the Powershares Dividend Achiever Portfolio (PFM)

   "A 40+ year trading record": Any company in the 40-Yr BMW Method Portfolio

   "A negligible risk of bankruptcy": Any very large company issuing bonds that carry an S&P Rating of AA+ or AAA. There are only 5 such companies: Apple (AAPL), Alphabet (GOOGL), Microsoft (MSFT), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), and Exxon Mobil (XOM). 

Bottom Line: If you want to include common stocks in your retirement portfolio, Blue Chips are the ones you’ll want to Buy and Hold, provided you buy shares in at least half a dozen. Those that carry a statistical risk of loss greater than “The “Dow” (DIA, see Column M in the Table) best purchased by dollar-cost averaging. But the 6 that carry no more than a Market Risk can be owned by using a “buy the dip” strategy: MCD, PEP, KO, JNJ, PG and WMT. Of course, those are still stocks and market volatility will still affect their prices. 

Caveat Emptor: Corporate debt has been steadily increasing over most of the past 10 years. Why? Because the Federal Reserve reduced to cost of borrowing money to almost nothing. So, pay attention to companies that have purple highlights in Columns P and R (see Table). In the next recession, you’ll be surprised how far their stock prices will fall.

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into KO, JNJ, PG, MSFT, WMT, IBM, CAT and XOM, and also own shares of MCD and MMM.

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2018 Invest Tune Retire.com All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com

Sunday, May 27

Week 360 - “The 2 and 8 Club” (Extended Version)

Situation: Market turmoil is turning stock and bond index funds into a “crowded trade.” Both are momentum investments, and both remain overvalued. Neither offsets the risk of the other. This is a good time to take some chips off the table and bulk-up your Rainy Day Fund. More importantly, it is a time to revisit the fundamentals of sound investing. For example, stop making “one-off” stock investments. Those are usually speculative. But follow Warren Buffett’s lead and continue to invest in strong companies by dollar-cost averaging. Those are “forever” investments that will likely prove worthwhile, through bear markets as well as bull markets, as long as you stay the course.

But how do we find “strong” companies? Experienced traders mainly offer 5 qualifiers: Look for 1) large and 2) well-established companies that have 3) strong Balance Sheets, and pay a 4) good and 5) growing dividend. We have converted those into numbers on a spreadsheet, and call it “The 2 and 8 Club.” We start by looking at the companies in the S&P 100 Index because those are required to have a robust market in Put and Call options (which facilitate Price Discovery). Approximately 20 of the 100 earn membership in our Club. Approximately 10 more companies on the Barron’s 500 List meet our requirements, allowing us to create an ~30 stock list (the Extended Version).

Mission: Produce a spreadsheet of the ~30 companies in the Extended Version of “The 2 and 8 Club.”

Execution: see Table.

Administration: What are our criteria for meeting each of the 5 qualitative objectives?

Large companies
Those are the 500 on the Barron’s 500 List published each May (see Columns N & O in our Tables).

Well-established companies
Those are the companies on the Barron’s 500 List that are also on the 16-Yr list of companies that are quantitatively evaluated each week by using the BMW Method. See Columns K-M in our Tables.

Strong Balance Sheet
Companies must have an S&P Bond Rating of BBB+ or higher (Column T in our Tables). For more granularity on this topic, we provide key metrics: Long-Term Debt as a percent of Total Assets (Column P), Operating Cash Flow as a percent of Current Liabilities (Column Q), Tangible Book Value per Share as a percent of Share Price (Column R), Dividend Payout as a percent of Free Cash Flow (Column S), Weighted Average Cost of Capital vs. Return on Invested Capital (Columns Z and AA). Values in those 6 columns that we think of as sub-par are highlighted in purple.

Good Dividend
Companies must be listed in the FTSE High Dividend Yield Index (US version). Those are the ~400 companies in the Russell 1000 Index that are judged by The Financial Times editors to have a dividend yield that is reliably above the market yield of approximately 2% (see Column G). The most convenient investment vehicle for that is the Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF (VYM). The list is updated monthly, and you can access holdings here.

Growing Dividend
We require companies to have increased their dividend payout at least 8%/yr over the past 5 years (see Column H), as determined by calculating the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) for the most recent 4 quarters of regular dividend payouts vs. the same 4 quarters 5 years ago.

As a sanity check, we require that companies have historic returns relative to risk that is within reason for the retail investor, i.e., an S&P Stock Rating of at least B+/M (see Column U). 

Finally, there are two important caveats that you need to keep in mind: 1) No one invests solely on the basis of numbers. The story behind a company’s stock has to be examined by using multiple online sources, and revisited at least monthly. 2) Every investor needs a Watch List to help her get started with each month’s research. “The 2 and 8 Club” is our Watch List. 

Bottom Line: If you’re a downhill ski racer, your goal is to get to the Bottom Line safely and quickly. “Safely” is accomplished by setting up a few gates with line judges, and allowing you to “shadow” the course the night before. “Quickly” is assessed by using a stopwatch, combined with a video camera trained on the finish line. In other words, the activity is standardized to allow comparison with other racers and place limits on sanity. Stock picking isn’t much different. You need a starting place, a process governed by sanity checks, and a way to judge your performance. “The 2 and 8 Club” satisfies those basic needs. It will help give you a chance to outperform an S&P 500 Index enough to pay for the additional transaction costs and capital gains taxes that you’ll incur.

Risk Rating: 6 (where 10-Yr US Treasury Notes = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, gold bullion = 10).

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into MSFT, NEE, PEP, JPM, CAT and IBM, and also own shares of TRV, MMM, CSCO and CMI.

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2018 Invest Tune Retire.com All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com

Sunday, May 20

Week 359 - Gold Can Be Useful To Own When Markets Are In Turmoil

Situation: On April 2, 2018, a new downtrend began for the US stock market according to Dow Theory. This officially ends the Bull Market that began on March 9, 2009. Gold now becomes one of the go-to destinations for traders, along with other “safe haven” investments like Japanese Yen, Swiss Francs, US dollars, and US Treasury Bonds. When traders stop moving new money into stocks and instead resort to a safe haven, they often move some into SPDR Gold Shares (GLD at Line 15 in the Table). 

Why has the US stock market embarked on a primary downtrend? Because the risk of a Trade War has increased. But it’s a perfect storm because the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) of the US Treasury has also put the US stock and bond markets at risk by steadily increasing short-term interest rates. Normally when the economy falters, bonds are a good alternative to stocks. The exception happens when the FOMC raises short-term interest rates to ward off inflation: Long-term rates also rise, giving their new investors an asset that is falling in value.

An option to buying gold bullion (GLD) is to buy stock in mining companies. Gold miners are emerging from difficult times, given that the 2014-2016 commodities crash caught them competing on the basis of growth in production, which they had funded with ever-increasing debt. Now they are paying down that debt and instead competing on the basis of free cash flow, in order to reward investors (i.e., buy back stock and increase dividends).

Mission: Run our Standard Spreadsheet to analyze gold-linked investments, as well as short-term bonds. Include manufacturers of mining equipment, and other enablers like railroads and banks.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: Some advisors suggest that gold should represent 3-5% of your retirement savings. However, gold has marked price volatility but remains at approximately the same price it had 30 years ago. If you plan to hold it long-term, you’d best think of it as one of your Rainy Day Fund holdings (see Week 291).

What actions are reasonable to take when Dow Theory declares that stocks are entering a new downtrend? Gold is one of the 5 places to consider routing new money instead of stocks, the others being US dollars, Japanese Yen, Swiss Francs, and US Treasury Bonds. We’ve shown that US Treasury Bonds are not a suitable choice in a rising interest rate environment. For US investors, that leaves gold and US dollars as safe haven investments. The most inflation-resistant way to invest in US dollars is to dollar-average into 2-Yr US Treasury Notes or Inflation-protected US Savings Bonds at no cost through the government website. But for traders who are willing to pay transaction costs, the 1-3 Year Treasury Note ETF (SHY at Line 15 in the Table) is more convenient.

How best to invest in gold? Let’s start with the old lesson about how to profit from gold mining, learned during the California gold rush of 1949: Gold miners don’t make much money but their enablers do. Those are the bankers who loan them money, and the owners of companies that provide them with equipment, consumables and transportation. Go to any open-pit gold mine and the first thing you’ll notice is the massive yellow-painted trucks carrying ore. Those are made by Caterpillar (CAT at Line 6 in the Table). 

Now look at the top of the Table. The second company listed is Union Pacific (UNP). This highlights the fact that ores recovered at any mine have to be transported to smelters. The fourth company, Royal Gold (RGLD), is a Financial Services company. This highlights the fact that bankers can profit greatly from loaning money to gold miners, provided they do it in an unusual way, which is issuing loans that don’t have to be repaid in dollars but instead can be repaid by the grant of either a royalty or a specified fraction (“stream”) of gold produced over the lifetime of the mine. Royal Gold (GLD) prefers royalty contracts. The other two Financial Services companies that service gold miners prefer streaming contracts: Franco-Nevada (FNV) and Wheaton Precious Metals (WPM). 

Bottom Line: SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) will be in demand until Dow Theory declares that the downtrend in US stocks has been reversed. 2-Yr US Treasury Notes (SHY) will be in demand until the FOMC stops raising short-term interest rates. 

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into CAT, UNP and 2-Yr US Treasury Notes, and also own shares of WPM.

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 20187 Invest Tune Retire.com All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com

Sunday, May 13

Week 358 - Hedge the Crash With Low-Beta Dividend Achievers

Situation: It’s really tough to own stocks when the market crumps. Yes, you can follow Warren Buffett’s advice and tough it out with dollar-cost averaging. His other main idea, which is to buy great businesses at a fair price, may be useful someday down the road. He hasn’t been able to find any in this overpriced market, and neither will you. But after the market crashes, you’ll both be glad you kept a hefty dollop of cash in reserve to serve that very purpose. 

But what about hedging against the crash? That’s what hedge funds are supposed to do. Why can’t you and I do it? It’s not that simple. Hedging means that your portfolio pulls ahead in a Bear Market but lags on a Bull Market. Given that the market is historically up 3 years out of 4, you see the problem with hedging. But looking deeper, volatility is what you want to hedge against. You can do that year in and year out by adopting the “School Solution”: overweight low-beta stocks in your portfolio at all times. 

By hedging against volatility, your portfolio won’t necessarily fall behind in a Bull Market. Having less volatility only means that your gains will be less than those for the S&P 500 Index in a Bull Market, AND your losses will be less in a Bear Market. It doesn’t mean you’ll underperform that Index long-term. Why? Because trending stocks become overbought in a Bull Market. But you’re underweighting those high-beta Financial Services and Information Technology stocks! Half of the market capitalization in the S&P 500 Index is currently in those two industries, vs. the long-term average of 30%. Owning high-beta stocks will make you richer faster, but you’ll have to do daily research so that you know when to BUY and when to SELL. My approach to those two industries is to dollar-average into Microsoft (MSFT), International Business Machines (IBM) and JP Morgan Chase (JPM). And keep dollar-averaging no matter what.

Mission: Run our Standard Spreadsheet to identify low-beta stocks of high quality: 
   1. S&P Bond Ratings of A- or better (Column T in the Table);
   2. S&P Stock Ratings of B+/M or better (Column U in the Table);
   3. 5-Yr Beta of less than 0.7 (Column I in the Table);
   4. Lower statistical risk of loss than the S&P 500 Index (Column M in the Table);
   5. Higher Finance Value than the S&P 500 Index (Column E in the Table)
   6. Dividend Achiever status (Column AC in the Table).

Execution: see Table.

Bottom Line: Try not to be a momentum investor. The exciting stories that underlie every Bull Market create a crowded trade for stocks issued by Financial Services and Information Technology companies. To usefully deploy the cash that’s rolling into their coffers, those companies will try to innovate and deploy new services and equipment sooner than planned. Things will get messy, bordering on chaos. Parts of the “story” will collapse, or end in court. Current examples abound. So, we’re back to the Tortoise and Hare story because it will be trotted out at the end of every market cycle. Will you channel the Hare, or will you channel the Tortoise?

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into NEE, PEP and NKE, and also own shares of KO and JNJ.

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2017 Invest Tune Retire.com All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com

Sunday, May 6

Week 357 - Dividend Achievers That Support Commodity Production

Situation: Commodities crashed in 2014 but the only S&P industries to be affected were Energy, Industrials (specifically railroads) and Basic Materials. A new Commodity Supercycle began to take hold in early 2017.

Which companies stand to benefit?

Mission: Under the best of circumstances, commodity-related investments are highly speculative. If you gamble at this casino long enough, you’ll lose big and win big. So, let’s confine our attention to “the best of circumstances,” i.e., set up our Standard Spreadsheet to look at companies meeting these requirements: 
   1) S&P credit rating for long-term bonds is BBB+ or better; 
   2) S&P stock rating is B+/M or better; 
   3) Long-term Debt doesn’t exceed 33% of Total Assets; 
   4) Tangible Book Value is a positive number; 
   5) the company is a Dividend Achiever.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: Seven companies meet our requirements. Only the two railroads (UNP, CSX) and Exxon Mobil (XOM) meet the key requirement Warren Buffett has for saying that a company enjoys a “Durable Competitive Advantage” (see Week 54), i.e., steady growth in Tangible Book Value exceeding 7%/yr (see Columns AD and AE in the Table). It is also important to note that all areas of commodity production (aside from aquaculture) employ equipment that digs in the dirt. That makes Caterpillar (CAT) a useful barometer, and its stock has done well since the Commodity Crash of 2014-2016.

Bottom Line: If you’ve held shares in any of these 7 companies (see Table) for more than a few years, I commend your perseverance. Stick it out awhile longer and you may be rewarded. A new Commodity Supercycle appears to be starting, and will likely take hold if China stays the course and becomes a Superpower.

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into Union Pacific (UNP) and Exxon Mobil (XOM).

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2017 Invest Tune Retire.com All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com

Sunday, April 29

Week 356 - Defensive Companies in “The 2 and 8 Club” (Extended Version)

Situation: You don’t want to lose money but you’re starting to. That comes with having your savings in an overbought stock market. It’s time for a cautionary warning light to click on in your head. That would mean moving some money into cash equivalents and making sure that at least a third of your stock portfolio is in defensive stocks, i.e., utility, healthcare, consumer staples, and telecommunication services companies. And, review the stocks you’re dollar-averaging into. Be comfortable with the prospect of building up your share-count in those stocks throughout a market crash. 

Mission: Run our Standard Spreadsheet on defensive companies in “The 2 and 8 Club” (Extended Version).

Execution: see Table.

Administration: If their dividend growth rates continue to fall, Coca-Cola (KO) and Pfizer (PFE) will no longer be members of “The 2 and 8 Club.” Conversely, Hormel Foods (HRL at Line 13 in the Table) recently raised its dividend and now has a yield that is well above the yield for the S&P 500 Index. That means it will soon be included in the US version of the FTSE High Dividend Yield Index. HRL already meets the other requirements for membership in “The 2 and 8 Club.” So, it will become a member upon being listed in that Index. The ETF for that Index is VYM (the Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF at Line 18 in the Table).

Bottom Line: There aren’t a lot of great defensive stocks, but the 8 included in “The 2 and 8 Club” are worth your close attention. Why? Because a set of trade policies are being promulgated by several countries that restrict the cross-border flow of goods and services. If those policies blossom into a tit-for-tat Trade War, Robert Shiller (Nobel Prize winning economist) thinks a recession would be triggered: “It’s just chaos,” he said on CNBC. “It will slow down development in the future if people think that this kind of thing is likely.” 

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into NextEra Energy (NEE) and PepsiCo (PEP), and also own shares of Coca-Cola (KO) and Hormel Foods (HRL).

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2017 Invest Tune Retire.com All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com

Sunday, April 22

Week 355 - Companies in “The 2 and 8 Club” with a Durable Competitive Advantage

Situation: It is now 10 years since The Great Recession began with the collapse of Bear Stearns. Trust in markets was broken and has barely begun to recover. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) grew out of The Great Depression because investors lost trust in markets. One of the ways it tried to rebuild trust was to require private companies to still have a strong balance sheet after a successful Initial Public Offering (IPO). If the SEC wasn’t convinced this would happen at the proposed price for the IPO, then the IPO wouldn’t be permitted.

Before the Great Recession of 2008, fewer than a third of companies in the S&P 500 Index had steadily growing Tangible Book Value (TBV), i.e., property, plant, equipment, and software priced at original cost (see Week 54, Week 94, Week 158, Week 241, Week 251, Week 271). After 2008, Balance Sheets were in need of  repair, and that was facilitated by low interest rates. Now, perhaps a quarter of S&P 500 companies again have steady TBV growth. 

Mission: Apply our Standard Spreadsheet to companies in the Extended Version of “The 2 and 8 Club” that have shown steady TBV growth (with no more than 3 down years) since 2008. Warren Buffett suggests that such companies have a Durable Competitive Advantage (see blogs listed above), as long as TBV meets the Business Case of doubling after 10 years (i.e., a growth rate of at least 7%/yr).

Execution: see Table.

Administration: Risk works both ways for stock investors, i.e., you’ll either lose or gain +20% every few years. Our investing behavior isn’t governed by numbers, so we don’t act appropriately when warning signs of a market crash emerge. Why? Because we can’t know for certain when and whether a market crash will indeed happen. Many of us will remain sitting at the table even after it has clearly become a gambling table. You know when that occurs because the risk-off investors have already cashed out. Those of us who remain are governed by a desire to have. After a few market cycles, we come to realize that having more is going to be either boring or exciting, based on one’s appetite for risk. To have more, and have it be exciting, involves good study habits and an ability to live with chronic anxiety. Simply being human will matter less and less. 

The trick is to maintain discipline 24/7/365, by using a system for monitoring and researching your investments. This has to be combined with a weird ability to stick with your system through good times and bad. Numbers won’t save you when the market is turning. Instead, you have to know whether or not the “story” that underpins the reason for each of your holdings has retained its agency. Truth be told, the moves you make (or don’t make) at turning points will come down to a gut feeling as to whether your holdings are overbought or oversold. Any decision you make at a turning point is a risk-on decision. Caveat emptor: This is not a formula for marital bliss. (Warren Buffett was mystified when his wife left to become an artist in San Francisco.)

Bottom Line: Now is a good time to have a boring investment posture, which means choosing to dollar-average into companies that have bullet-proof Balance Sheets and strong Global Brands. This week we look at the bedrock of strong Balance Sheets, which is steady growth in Tangible Book Value. Five of these 9 companies are part of S&P’s Finance Industry. Their strong Balance Sheets reflect the regulatory requirements of The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. If Dodd-Frank becomes eroded by a Risk-on Congress, you’ll have to dig deeper into Annual Reports when investing in a Financial Services company. REMEMBER: common stocks issued by Financial Services and Real Estate companies are the most risky places to park your money, aside from commodity futures.

Risk Rating: 7 (where 10-Yr US Treasury Note = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, and gold bullion = 10)

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into NEE and JPM, and also own shares of CSCO and TRV.

"The 2 and 8 Club" (CR) 2017 Invest Tune Retire.com All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com