Sunday, September 30

Week 378 - Which “Dow Jones Industrial Average” Stocks Are Not Overpriced?

Situation: Is the US stock market overpriced? We need to know because Warren Buffett keeps reminding us how important it is to avoid overpaying for a stock. Buffet says: “No matter how successful a company is, don’t overpay for its stock. Wait until Wall Street sours on a company you like and drives the price down into bargain territory. By making a watch list of interesting stocks, and waiting for their prices to drop, you increase the potential for future capital gains.
The author of this link suggests that none of us “mere mortals” are as smart as Warren Buffett at getting the price right. It’s perhaps better to either dollar-average your investment, or leave it to professionals to do the stock-picking for you. We suggest that there is a third option, which is to use a couple of simple mathematical formulas to guide your stock-picking. Those formulas can be found in the book that Warren Buffett calls “by far the best book on investing every written.” The book is entitled: The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, Revised Edition, Harper, New York, 1973. There, you will find the value of calculating the 7-year P/E instead of the usual 12-month P/E, and also learn how to calculate the “Graham Number.” The Graham Number is what the stock would sell for if it were priced at 1.5 times Book Value and 15 times trailing 12-month (TTM) earnings. Calculating and using the Graham Number is important because it allows for variation in Book Value and earnings. Multiplying the two values just has to be ~22.5 (15 X 1.5) for the stock to be optimally priced.

Mission: To test both methods on stocks issued by the 30 companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA). See columns X, Y and Z on our Standard Spreadsheet (Table).

Execution: see Table.

Administration: Here’s how to calculate the Graham Number, as shown on p. 349 in the book cited above). [Clicking this link will take you to the Amazon website and the book).] Start by multiplying 1.5 (ideal ratio of Book Value/share) by 15 (ideal ratio of TTM Earnings/share) = 22.5. By multiplying two numbers you have created a Power Function. So, you’ll have to take the Square Root of the Final Number to arrive at the Graham Number. Final Number = 22.5 X actual Book Value/share for the most recent quarter (new) X actual TTM Earnings/share. To access Earnings/share, go to any company’s page at Yahoo Finance, e.g. Apple’s. In the right column find EPS (TTM) of $11.038. To access Book Value/share, click on “statistics” at the top of that page and scroll down the left column to “Balance Sheet.” Book Value/share for the most recent quarter (mrq) is the last entry: $23.74. Graham Number = square root of 22.5 X $11.038 X $23.74 = $76.79. This is the true value (Graham Number) for a single share of Apple stock. If it sells for less, that’s a bargain. Right now, it’s selling for almost 3 times as much. If you own some shares, either think about selling those or think about the company’s ability to scale-up the “Apple ecosystem”. Perhaps you’ll decide that those prospects make holding onto the shares for a while longer a worthwhile risk.

Calculating the 7-Yr P/E (p. 159 in the book cited above). You’ll need a website that provides the past 7 years of TTM earnings, or a library with S&P stock reports. Simply add the most recent 7 years’ earnings and divide by 7 to arrive at the denominator. Look up the current price of the stock (or its 50 Day Moving Average price found in the right column of the statistics page under “Stock Price History”) to arrive at the numerator. Divide numerator by denominator to calculate the 7-Yr P/E, which must be 25 or less to reflect “normative” earnings growth over 7 years for a stock with a 12-month P/E of ~20 during most years. By using the 7-yr P/E you avoid being mislead by a year of blowout earnings or negligible earnings.

Bottom Line: As a group, these 30 stocks are overpriced. Nonetheless, 12 companies have stocks that are priced within reason vs. their Graham Numbers and 7-Yr P/Es (see Columns X-Z in the Table): TRV, DIS, WBA, INTC, VZ, JPM, PFE, PG, GS, UTX, CVX, XOM. But only one company, Goldman Sachs (GS), can be called a bargain with respect to both values (those values being highlighted in green in the Table). Note that Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B at Line 35 in the Table) is an even better bargain. Perhaps Warren Buffett noticed these markers of high intrinsic value when he recently spent part of Berkshire Hathaway’s cash hoard to buy back the stock

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into 3 stocks on the “not overpriced list” -- JPM, PG and XOM, and also own shares in two others: INTC and TRV. Additionally, I dollar-average into MSFT, KO, JNJ, WMT, CAT and IBM, and own shares in MCD, MMM and CSCO. 

Comment: I focus on Dow Stocks because each is covered by dozens of analysts and business journalists, and its stock options are actively traded on the Chicago Board Options Exchange. The result of this microscopic attention is that price discovery is efficient, and surprise earnings are rare. In addition, all 30 companies have a long record of business experience, and are large enough to have multiple product lines that provide internal lines of support during a crisis. DJIA companies are famously able to weather almost any storm: Seven DJIA companies went through a near death experience during The Great Recession of 2008-2009 (General Electric, Citigroup, General Motors, Pfizer, Home Depot, Caterpillar, and American Express) but only 3 had to be removed in the aftermath of that “Lehman Panic” (General Electric, Citigroup, and General Motors).

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

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Sunday, September 23

Week 377 - Russell 1000 Non-financial Companies With High Sustainability and S&P Ratings

Situation: You’d like information about the durability of your investments. Sustainability is the jargon term that investment professionals have assigned to this topic. The problem is to quantify it by rating the 3 main components: Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG). The Yahoo Finance website now has a heading for sustainability that attempts to do exactly that. The editors of Barron’s also have a recent article looking more closely at the “100 Most Sustainable Companies”, with date suggesting that these may outperform the S&P 500 Index. We’d like to know which of those have also been examined by S&P. Specifically, which of those 100 Most Sustainable Companies have issued bonds that S&P has rated A or better?

Mission: Use our Standard Spreadsheet to analyze all of the Barron’s “100 Most Sustainable Companies” that are on the Russell 1000 List, selecting only the non-financial companies that have an S&P bond rating of A or better, and an S&P stock rating of B+/M or better. To identify stocks that are possibly overpriced, include columns for “Graham Numbers” and “7-Yr P/E”.

Execution: see Table.

Bottom Line: 18 companies meet criteria, 14 of which already appear on our two major lists: “The 2 and 8 Club” (see Week 360); “Blue Chips” (see Week 361). The new companies are Stanley Black & Decker (SWK), WW Grainger (GWW), Colgate-Palmolive (CL) and Deere (DE).

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into MSFT and PG, and also own shares of CSCO and CMI.

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

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Sunday, September 16

Week 376 - What Does A Simple IRA Look Like?

Situation: You’re bombarded with advice about how to save for retirement. But unless you’re already rich, the details are simple. Dollar-cost average 60% of your contribution into a stock index fund and 40% into a short or intermediate-term bond index fund. If you know you’ll never be in “the upper middle class”, opt for the short-term bond index fund. But maybe you have a workplace retirement plan, which makes saving for retirement a little more complicated. Either way, you’ll want to contribute the maximum amount each year to your IRA, which is currently $5500/yr until you reach age 50; then it’s $6500/yr.

Here’s our KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) suggestion: Make your IRA payments with Vanguard Group by using a Simple IRA (Vanguard terminology) composed only of the Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index ETF or VYM. Then, contribute 2/3rds of that amount into Inflation-protected US Savings Bonds. These are called ISBs and work just like an IRA. No tax is due from ISBs until you spend the money but there’s a penalty for spending the money early (you’ll lose one interest payment if you cash out before 5 years). The annual contribution limit is $10,000/yr. A convenient proxy for ISBs, with similar total returns, is the Vanguard Short-Term Bond Index ETF or BSV

Mission: Create a Table showing a 60% allocation to VYM and 40% allocation to BSV. Include appropriate benchmarks, to allow the reader to create her own variation on that theme.

Execution: see Table.

Bottom Line: However you juggle the numbers, it looks like you’ll make ~7%/yr overall through your IRA + ISB retirement plan, with no taxes due until you spend the money. In other words, each year’s contribution will double in value every 10 years. The beauty of this plan is that transaction costs are almost zero, and the chance that it will give you headaches is almost zero.

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into Inflation-protected Savings Bonds and the Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF (DIA).

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

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Sunday, September 9

Week 375 - Producers Of Gold, Silver And Copper In The 2017 Barron’s 500 List

Situation: Commodity producers have a dismal record. Spot prices fall whenever mining (or drilling or harvesting) becomes more efficient. To make matters worse, supply-chain management and investment has become increasingly global and professionalized. Nonetheless, copper sales remain the best barometer of fixed-asset investment, particularly the ongoing proliferation of industrial plants and equipment in China. Silver has a growing role, thanks to the buildout of solar power. And gold remains a check on the propensity of government leaders everywhere to finance their dreams with debt, as opposed to revenue from taxes.

Mission: Use our Standard Spreadsheet to highlight the largest companies producing gold, silver, and copper.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: Gold and silver prices remain stuck where they were 35 years ago but are characterized by high volatility. Commodity prices (in the aggregate) trace supercycles that last approximately 20 years. The most recent came from a 1999 low and fell back to that level in 2016; since then it has ever so slowly risen from that low.

Bottom Line: The basic rule for commodity producers is that 3 years out of 30 will be good years, and you’ll make a lot of money. But over any 20-30 year period, you’ll lose money (measured by inflation-adjusted dollars). Our Table for this week confirms these points but does show that copper (SCCO) is worth an investor’s attention. But beware! That company’s share price is falling because of a falloff in trade with China and could fall further if a trade war takes hold.

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

Full Disclosure: I do not have positions in any commodity producers aside from Exxon Mobil (XOM), but do dollar-average into the main provider of mining equipment: Caterpillar (CAT).

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

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Sunday, September 2

Week 374 - Bet With The House By Picking Companies In The 2 And 8 Club

Situation: In the U.S., capital-intensive industries with strategic importance are tightly regulated (see Week 230). Electric power grids and railroad networks are expensive to install, maintain and upgrade but those chores are absorbed by shareholders in private companies. Regulatory bodies grant these companies monopoly-like pricing power, oversee safety practices, and set rates high enough to pay for maintenance and upgrades. 

Since the Great Recession, international Money Center banks have also come under intense regulation to meet Basel III requirements for sustainability and reduce systemic risks. A more specific definition now replaces Money Center Bank, which is Systemically Important Financial Institution (SIFI). 

Looked at from the shareholder’s point of view, companies in these three industries have enough government regulation (and monopoly-like pricing power) that bankruptcy is no longer a material risk. One downside risk is that the US market for their goods and services is largely saturated. So, significant growth in the “bottom line” requires innovation and international outreach that will be overseen by government regulators. 

Mission: Use our Standard Spreadsheet to highlight members of “The 2 and 8 Club” that are in the Electric Utilities, SIFI banking, and Railroad industries.  

Execution: see Table.

Bottom Line: The safest tactic in gambling is to “bet with the house” whenever you can. Politicians are now in effective control of three industries: Electric utilities, railroads, and international Money Center banks (now called Systemically Important Financial Institutions or SIFIs). These industries are not in danger of being “nationalized” because politicians would much prefer that shareholders (as opposed to taxpayers) put up the large amounts of capital needed to keep these industries safe and effective. 

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into NEE and JPM.

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

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