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 All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to:

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 All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to:

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 All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to:

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 All rights reserved.

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: