Sunday, July 29

Week 369 - High Quality Producers & Transporters of Industrial Commodities in the 2017 Barron’s 500

Situation: Here in the U.S., debt/capita is growing at an alarming rate and is now greater than $60,000. U.S. Government debt is almost $20 Trillion and has been growing at a rate of 5.5%/yr (i.e., twice as fast as inflation) since 1990. By 2020, the Federal budget deficit will start to exceed $1 Trillion/Yr and the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency will be threatened. The gold reserves that stand behind the U.S. dollar (currently worth ~$185 Billion) would have to be increased on a regular basis, as would foreign currency reserves (currently worth ~$125 Billion)

The US economy is no longer capable of growing fast enough to balance the budget for even a single year, without introducing draconian measures. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that those can be effective given that Greece appears to have emerged from that process successfully. But the U.S. could not go through that process and still remain the “top dog” militarily. So, the trade-weighted value of the U.S. dollar will fall at some point, and we will no longer be able to afford imported goods and services. Before that happens, U.S. citizens will need to gradually move their retirement savings into commodity-related investments, as well as bonds and stocks issued in reserve currencies other than the U.S. dollar. 

Mission: Use our Standard Spreadsheet to highlight large U.S. and Canadian companies that produce, refine and transport raw commodities, i.e., materials that are extracted from the ground. Select such companies from the 2017 Barron’s 500 list, but exclude any that issue bonds with an S&P rating lower than A- or stocks with an S&P rating lower than B+/M. 

Execution: see Table.

Administration: The S&P Commodity Index has the following components and weightings:
Natural Gas (17.66%)
Unleaded Gas (12.16%)
Heating Oil (12.13%)
Crude Oil (11.41%)
Wheat (5.15%)
Live Cattle (4.87%)
Corn (4.48%)
Coffee (3.88%)
Soybeans (3.84%)
Sugar (3.80%)
Silver (3.67%)
Copper (3.39%)
Cotton (3.22%)
Soybean Oil (2.98%)
Cocoa (2.79%)
Soybean Meal (2.57%)
Lean Hogs (2.04%)

53.36% of the index represents petroleum products, 32.71% represents row crops, 7.06% represents industrial metals, and 6.91% represents live animals. Ground has to be mined, drilled, or planted & harvested with the help of heavy equipment to yield raw commodities. Those have to be transported by barge, rail, truck, or pipeline before being processed for market. 

We find 8 companies that warrant inclusion in this week’s Table. Seven are obviously appropriate, but the presence of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B) needs some explanation (unless you already know it owns the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe railroad). Berkshire Hathaway is the largest shareholder of Phillips 66 (PSX), which has 13 oil refineries and supplies diesel for the largest marketing outlet of that fuel: Pilot Flying J Centers LLC. Berkshire Hathaway purchased 38.6% of that company’s stock on October 3, 2017, and plans to increase its stake in 2023 to 80%.

Bottom Line: Commodity futures haven’t been a good investment, given that their aggregate value is back to where it was 25 years ago, given that the most recent 20-year supercycle recently finished and another is just starting. Nonetheless, the companies that produce, process, and transport those commodities did well over those 25 years (see Column AB in Table). The problem is the volatility of their stocks (see Column M in the Table), and the extent to which their stocks get whacked when commodities become oversupplied relative to demand (see Column D in the Table). If you choose to own shares in these companies (aside from CNI, BRK-B and perhaps UNP), you’d be flat-out gambling. 

Risk Rating: 7-9 (where US Treasury Notes = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, and gold bullion = 10)

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into UNP, ADM, CAT and XOM, and also own shares of CNI and BRK-B.

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

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