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 All rights reserved.

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