Sunday, February 25

Week 347 - The Gretzky Rule Applied to Dividend Achievers in the Food Sector

Situation: Business people seeking to predict outcomes often quote Wayne Gretzky quote: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” This highlights a problem: All of the metrics and technical charts that we use are retrospective. We’re driving forward by looking in the rear view mirror! Warren Buffett has tried to estimate outcomes by making calculations of the growth in “core earnings’ in companies that have a “Durable Competitive Advantage”. DCA companies have had a growth rate for Tangible Book Value over the most recent 10 years that exceeds 7%/yr, with no more than three down years. (c.f. The Warren Buffett Stock Portfolio, Scribner, NY, 2011 by Mary Buffett and David Clark) You can read more about such estimates of “true” Shareholder Equity by Googling Net Tangible Asset Investing

We agree with Mr. Buffett, and have learned to envision the future prospects of a company by first assessing its ability to grow Tangible Book Value. But since the Great Recession, few S&P 500 companies have even a dollar of Net Tangible Assets. Why? Because the Federal Reserve’s policy (to accelerate recovery from the Great Recession) has been to make money more freely available than ever before. Accordingly, companies favor debt financing over equity financing. Debt becomes a larger dollar amount on the Balance Sheet than equity. (Equity for most companies represents the initial cost of property, plant and equipment, which equals Tangible Book Value.) 

Mission: Use our Standard Spreadsheet to arrive at an estimate of a company’s position in its sector of the economy 10 years from now. Start by analyzing S&P 500 companies in the Food, Beverage and Restaurant sector that are Dividend Achievers, i.e., have increased their dividend annually for at least the past 10 years.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: For almost any business, the name of the game for making money is not losing money. If a stock falls 50% in price, that price must rise 200% just to get back to where it started. So, let’s start our analysis by excluding Dividend Achievers that have a 16 year record of price appreciation showing volatility which exceeds that for the S&P 500 Index (see Column M in the Table). Then, we’ll look for companies having a clean Balance Sheet (Columns P-S in the Table) and a strong Global Brand (Columns AC-AD in the Table). None of the 11 companies have a clean Balance Sheet, but Coca-Cola (KO), Costco Wholesale (COST), Target (TGT), and Walmart (WMT) come close. Those four are also the only companies that have any Tangible Book Value (see Column R in the Table) but none have grown TBV fast enough to meet Warren Buffett’s requirements for DCA (see Column AF in the Table), although Walmart (WMT) comes close. Those 4 companies are also among the 7 that have a strong Global Brand.

Bottom Line: Walmart (WMT) is the winner of this contest.

Risk Rating: 5 (where 10-Yr Treasury Notes = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, gold bullion = 10). As a group, these 11 companies had remarkably buoyant total returns during the recent commodity recession (see Column D in the Table), which saw a 24.2%/yr drop in commodity prices (see Line 21 in the Table). Of course, raw food commodities were less expensive during that period but the outperformance of the food sector is strong enough to suggest that investors tend to move money there in deflationary times. 

Full Disclosure: I dollar-cost average into Coca-Cola (KO), and also own shares of Costco Wholesale (COST), Target (TGT), Walmart (WMT), McCormick (MKC) and McDonald’s (MCD).

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

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