Sunday, October 27

Month 100 - The Clubhouse Turn: A-rated Companies in the 65-Stock Dow Jones Composite Index - October 2019

Situation: Last month, we came up with 10 stocks that are “safe and effective” bets for the neophyte stock-picker. Our starting point was the S&P 100 Index of the largest publicly-traded companies that benefit from price discovery through a robust market in stock options. Very large companies have the built-in safety feature of multiple product lines, which provide management with internal options for responding to an economic crisis. I excluded companies with less-than-stellar S&P ratings on the stocks and bonds they have issued, as well as companies trading for fewer than 16 years. I have also excluded companies with volatile stocks--those with a 3-yr Beta that is higher than 0.75--as well as companies that are not listed in both of the “value” sub-indices (VYM and IWD) for the Russell 1000 Index

This month I’ve dialed back on those safety requirements by including stocks that likely carry more reward at the expense of greater risk. My assumption is that the stock-picker has accumulated 10+ years of experience and now needs to face up to the responsibility of carefully investing for retirement. The “savings race” has reached The Clubhouse Turn but she still needs guideposts for selecting safe and effective stocks.

Mission: Run our Standard Spreadsheet on only the companies in the 65-stock Dow Jones Composite Average that have either issued bonds rated at least  A- by S&P or carry no long-term debt on their balance sheet. (Those 65 companies are picked by a committee chaired by the Managing Editor of the Wall Street Journal.)

Execution: see Table.  

Administration: Five companies that met the above criteria had to be excluded because they lack information we need for analysis: a full 16+ years of trading records (V, AWK) or an S&P stock rating of at least B+/M (CVX, DD, MRK). One company, PepsiCo (PEP) has been added to the BACKGROUND section because it is the only company among last month’s list of 10 Starter Stocks that isn’t in the Dow Jones Composite Index.

Bottom Line: A mid-career stock-picker who doesn’t have a degree in accounting or business administration is at a disadvantage. It would be in her best interest to narrow her choices to the gold standard of stock-picker lists, which is the 65-stock Dow Jones Composite Index, then further narrow her choices to companies that issue bonds rated A- or better by S&P and have at least a 16 year trading record for their stock. That leaves 28 companies to research. The goal, of course, is to find stocks that have outperformed the S&P 500 Index over the past 5 and 10 years while losing less value than the Index did in its worst year of the past 10. In other words, I’m suggesting that she should focus her research on the 9 companies that have no red highlights in Columns C through F of the Table: Microsoft (MSFT), UnitedHealth (UNH), Nike (NKE), Boeing (BA), Intel (INTC), Union Pacific (UNP), Disney (DIS), NextEra Energy (NEE), and American Electric Power (AEP).   

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, NKE, BA, UNP, NEE, JPM, INTC, KO, WMT, JNJ, PG, CAT and IBM, and also own shares of AAPL, CSCO, PFE, TRV, DUK, UPS, SO, MMM and XOM. So, I am invested in 22 of the 28 companies. It is difficult to follow that many companies, but it is nonetheless essential: Academic studies suggest that a stock-picker needs to be invested in at least 30 companies to have a good chance of matching market returns (see Columns C, F, and K in the Table) while enjoying less risk that the portfolio will lose value (see Columns D, I, and M of the Table).

APPENDIX: “Investment” is a nice word for the deployment of capital. As with any other capital expenditure, its effectiveness (profit margin) is what accountants call Operating Margin, which is Operating Income divided by Sales Revenue. Sales Revenue comes to the stock investor from dividends and the liquidation of shares. Operating Income is Earnings Before Interest and Taxes (EBIT) “after paying for variable costs of production, such as wages and raw materials, but before paying interest or tax.” 

As an investor who buys stocks, your variable costs of production are transaction costs (fees and commissions paid for purchase and sale of shares) plus rent/utilities/supplies for your “home office” and the cost of your business services (e.g. subscriptions to business magazines, newspapers, and websites). For money used to purchase stocks, EBIT is Gross Income (Sales Revenue after subtracting the variable costs of production) minus Depreciation (which is inflation).

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Sunday, September 29

Month 99 - Starter Stocks - September 2019

Situation: When I started investing, I picked up the phrase “stocks for widows and orphans.” Typically, Probate Court will assign fiduciary responsibility for investments made on behalf of a widow or orphan to lawyer. I later became acquainted with one of those and learned that she expected after-inflation returns from low-risk stocks to be well over 5%/yr. But she hadn’t fully considered transaction fees, taxes, or the need to balance stocks 50-50 with 10-yr US Treasury Notes (to hedge against what could be a catastrophic loss for a widow or orphan). And, few stocks make suitable long-term holdings in a portfolio that is supposed to be immune to gambling. Given that a stock broker’s main talent is to wisely supervise gambling, a broker is likely to welcome the prospect of building a portfolio of “boring” stocks that will have little turnover.

Many young but upwardly mobile “salary workers” face the same problem that lawyer is facing: how to invest wisely without gambling. I have 4 children who are trying to grapple with this problem; none have gained lasting satisfaction from consulting investment advisors. And, they don’t much like my advice, which is to research the problem and find their own solution, which is called DIY investing. But, they already have the most important asset: which is to be disinclined to gamble.

Starter Stocks, like those for widows and orphans, are usually (but not always) boring. Consumer Staples are most likely to be Starter Stocks, and Utilities are close behind. But then you’ll find that technology-related companies start to pop up from Health Care and Information Technology industries. 

Mission: Use our Standard Spreadsheet to screen out companies that are missing from either of the two key value indexes, which are the iShares Russell 1000 Value Index ETF -- IWD and the income-oriented variant of the Russell 1000 Index that was created as the FTSE High Dividend Yield Index but is marketed in the US as the Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF -- VYM. Companies that issue bonds having an S&P rating lower than A- are also excluded, as are companies that issue stocks having an S&P rating lower than B+/M. Stocks must have a 16+ year trading record, to allow quantitative analysis by the BMW Method.

Administration: Most of the strategies that are likely to give high returns from owning stocks in a bull market also carry a high risk of loss in a bear market. So, when the market falls 25% those stocks might fall 50%. That means a 100% gain would have to occur over ensuing years just to get back to where the stock was priced when the last bull market ended. Banking and Finance faculty at business schools teach that this strategy is the only legal way to beat the market. In other words, reversion to the mean growth rate is sacrosanct. One way for an investor to hedge against such volatility is to pick stocks that go up or down less than 75% as much as the S&P 500 Index. In other words, exclude stocks with a 3-yr Beta that is higher than 0.75. Another way is to pick stocks issued by very large companies, namely those found in the S&P 100 Index. To be included in that index, companies are required to have an active market in put and call options at the Chicago Board Options Exchange, which means that “price discovery” for the underlying stock is efficient and relatively well insulated from “momentum” investors who are trading on the basis of fleeting rumors or sentiment. The other advantage of very large companies is that they have multiple product lines, at least one of which is expected to produce an attractively priced product during a recession. Integrated oil companies, for example, maintain a fleet of refineries that would be paying less for their feedstock (oil) during a recession--thereby allowing the company to make a nice profit from selling gasoline at a lower price than the customer had been used to paying. 

Bottom Line: The problem with screening for “Starter Stocks” is that you’ll pull up some that are broadly thought of as desirable. Both gamblers and non-gamblers will bid up such stocks but forget to sell them when shares become overpriced. Given that most Starter Stocks (see Table) are found in channels of the economy that are already saturated (i.e., companies can grow their revenues no faster than GDP grows), there is little reason to hold overpriced stocks in expectation that earnings will explode upward. For example, the stocks issued by all four of the Consumer Staples companies on our list (KO, PG, PEP, WMT) are overpriced (see Columns AB to AD in our Table). You’ll have to figure out when to buy (or sell) overpriced shares of such high-value stocks. A common strategy is to buy more shares when the price drops 5-10% below its usual range. This is called the buy the dip strategy. 

The easiest (and probably best) way to be certain of buying shares when they’re bargain-priced is to do it automatically. Sign up for a dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP) that takes a fixed amount of money out of your checking account on a specific date each month to buy more shares. That strategy is called dollar-cost averaging, and is the strategy that Warren Buffett favors to build a position in stocks that are often overpriced.

How well do our 10 Starter Stocks (at Line 10 in the Table) perform vs. the underlying ETFs -- VYM and IWD (at Lines 19 and 20)? Answer: quite a bit better (see Columns E, F and K).

Risk Rating: 6 (where 10-yr US Treasuries = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, gold = 10)

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into NEE, KO, PG, INTC, WMT and JNJ, and also own shares of PFE, DUK, SO and PEP.

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Sunday, August 25

Month 98 - Berkshire Hathaway’s A-rated High Dividend Yield “Value” Stocks - August 2019

Situation: In case your reason for buying stocks in your working years is to have a growing income from dividends in your retirement years, this blog has emphasized “value stocks.” The bible of value investing is Benjamin Graham’s book: The Intelligent Investor. His most famous student is Warren Buffett, who graduated from Columbia University in 1951 with a Masters Degree in Economics. 

Why value investing, and what is a value stock? The central thought is to discipline yourself not to overpay for earnings and/or assets (“book value”). On page 349 of the Revised Edition (1973) of The Intelligent Investor, Benjamin Graham says “Current price should not be more than 1.5 times the book value last reported. However, a multiplier of earnings below 15 could justify a correspondingly higher multiplier of assets. As a rule of thumb, we suggest that the product of the [earnings] multiplier times the ratio of price to book value should not exceed 22.5.” In other words, 1.5 times 15 equals 22.5.

How do you calculate the “Graham Number” or rational stock price? It is the square root of 22.5 times Earnings Per Share for the Trailing Twelve Months (TTM) times Book Value per share for the most recent quarter (mrq). We suggest that you think of the share price of a value stock as being no greater than: a) twice the Graham Number, b) 25 times the 7-year average for Earnings Per Share (see page 159 of The Intelligent Investor), and c) no more than 4 times Book Value per share. When you purchase a stock meeting those 3 requirements, it is demonstrably worth what you paid for it. The details are shown in Columns AA-AE of Tables accompanying our recent blogs. 

Berkshire Hathaway’s stock portfolio contains 46 holdings worth $201,828,368,888 as of the last 13F SEC filing dated 8/14/19. The top 5 holdings (AAPL, BAC, KO, AXP, WFC) are worth $133,600,000,000 (66% of the total). Eight of the 46 companies have issued A-rated value stocks, since the company meets the following 4 criteria: 1) its bonds are rated A- or better by Standard & Poor’s (S&P), 2) its stocks that are rated B+/M or better by S&P, 3) its stocks have the 16+ year trading record that is required for quantitative analysis using the BMW Method, and 4) its stocks are listed in both the iShares Russell 1000 Value Index (IWD) and the Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index (VYM). 

The top 10 stocks in Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio, listed by valuation, are:

Apple AAPL ($51B)
Bank of America BAC ($25B)
Coca-Cola KO ($21B)
American Express AXP ($19B)
Wells Fargo WFC ($18B)
Kraft Heinz KHC ($8B)
U.S. Bancorp USB ($7B)
JPMorgan Chase JPM ($6B)
Moody’s MCO ($5B)
Delta Air Lines DAL ($4B)

Mission: Use our Standard Spreadsheet to analyze value stocks in the portfolio, based on the 4 criteria listed above.  

Execution: see Table.

Administration: Six of the top 10 stocks in the portfolio are not value stocks (AAPL, BAC, AXP, KHC, MCO, DAL). Data for those can be found in the BACKGROUND Section of the Table.

Bottom Line: The 8 A-rated value stocks account for $54 Billion (27%) of the portfolio’s value. These show that Warren Buffett’s area of expertise is not only value stocks generally but financial services stocks specifically, since 5 of the 8 companies are from that industry. The take-home points for retail investors are: a) don’t overpay for a stock, b) buy what you know, and c) remember that the best bargains are often in the Financial Services industry. But those stocks also tend to have the greatest volatility, which is a key reason why they are underpriced.

Risk Rating: 7 (where 1 = 10-year U.S. Treasuries, 5 = S&P 500 Index, and 10 = gold bullion) 

Full Disclosure: I dollar average into KO, PG, JPM and JNJ, and also own shares of AAPL and TRV.

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Sunday, July 28

Month 97 - Members of "The 2 and 8 Club" in the Russell 1000 Index - July 2019

Situation: The idea here is to “beat the market” by making selective purchases of individual stocks. This is a delusion, given that the odds are less than 1 in 20 that a professional trader will (over any 10-year period) beat VOO--the ticker for the lowest cost S&P 500 Index Fund, which has an Expense Ratio of 0.03%. VOO is marketed by Vanguard

Since you have to actively trade stocks to even come close to beating VOO, trading costs will relentlessly keep you from beating the market. Those costs include brokerage fees, commissions, research time & expense, and capital gains taxes. So, this month’s blog is about an interesting game, like tennis or marriage: When you lose, you’re a fool if you take it personally.  

Mission: Run our Standard Spreadsheet for high-quality stocks in the Russell 1000 Index that have a good and growing dividend. High quality means an S&P bond rating of A- or better. A good dividend is one that gets the stock into the Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index Fund (VYM). A growing dividend is one that has been 8.0%/yr (or better) over the past 5 years.

Execution: see Table.

Bottom Line: You’re toast. It isn’t going to happen. But you’ll come close to beating the market if you avoid making abstract considerations and instead follow concrete markers, such as avoiding stocks with a dividend yield plus dividend growth rate of less than 10%. And, find a way to quickly decide whether a stock is overpriced. For example, you can ask your broker if Morningstar rates the stock as being “overvalued”. Or, you can calculate the Graham Number on your smartphone. The Graham Number is what the stock’s price would be at 15 times Earnings Per Share for the trailing 12 months (TTM), multiplied Book Value for the most recent quarter (mrq). This is a power function (15 times 1.5 equals 22.5). So, you have to multiply those numbers (for the stock in question) by 22.5 before taking the square root, which is the stock’s rational price. If the stock is selling for more than 2.5 times the Graham Number, it is overpriced (see the numbers highlighted in purple at Column AB of the Table). In other words, many investors want to own the stock but relatively few owners want to sell it. You should wait for this fever to break before buying shares.

Risk Rating: 6 (where a 10-year US Treasury Note = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, and gold = 10)

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into NEE, JPM, CAT and IBM, and also own shares of CSCO, AMGN, TRV, CMI, MMM and BLK.

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Sunday, June 30

Month 96 - Watch List for S&P 100 Companies in the Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index - June 2019

Situation: All investors have an objective as well as a plan to reach that objective. I started with the objective of getting my children through college, then moved on to having a comfortable retirement. Direct stock ownership has been a key part of both plans. Why stocks? Because mutual funds are sold on the basis of long-term performance records, not safety from market crashes. But a small group of stocks are relatively safe because of being issued by a large company that reliably pays a good and growing dividend. The trick is to have a Watch List of 20-30 such companies and know “the story” behind each company.

Mission: Use our Standard Spreadsheet to evaluate companies in the S&P 100 Index that also appear in the FTSE High Dividend Yield Index, i.e., the ~400 companies in the FTSE Russell 1000 Index that reliably pay an above-market dividend. Our source document is the list of companies in VYM (the capitalization-weighted Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF,
which is the US version of the FTSE High Dividend Yield Index.

Execution: see Table showing a spreadsheet with 36 columns of information for commons stocks issued by 27 US companies.

Administration: 54 companies are common to both indexes but 27 have been  excluded from our Watch List because an item of information needed to populate a cell in the spreadsheet is missing and/or the company's S&P ratings are too low to denote above-average safety. We require an A- bond rating or better and a B+/M stock rating or better.

A key requirement is to avoid overpaying for a stock. I’m a numbers guy, so I use two numbers to decide if a stock is overpriced (where “price” or P is defined as the 50-day moving average):
   1) the 7-yr P/E is greater than 30 (see Column AD in the Table
   2) the stock’s Graham Number, which is the square root of 22.5 times EPS (Earnings Per Share) multiplied by BV/Sh (Book Value Per Share), is greater than 250% of its price (see Column AB in the Table). 

If only one of those two numbers is over the limit, the stock is still overpriced if the other number is close to the limit (more than 25 or 200%, respectively).

Another key requirement is to know whether a company's stock is a worthwhile investment, given its current price. As a starting place, I’ve devised a Basic Quality Screen that has only 6 elements and a maximum score of 4 (see Table):
   1) If price appreciation over the past 16 years has been greater than 1/3rd the risk of short-term loss as determined by the BMW method, one point is added. In other words, 16-Yr price appreciation in Column K is greater than 1/3rd the risk in Column M.
   2) If Tangible Book Value in Column S is negative and either LT-debt represents more than 50% of Total Capital (Column O), or Total Debt is more than 250% of EBITDA (Column P), one point is subtracted. 
   3) If the S&P Bond Rating in Column U is A- or better, one point is added. 
   4) If the S&P Stock Rating in Column V is B+/M or better, one point is added. 
   5) If Net Present Value of dividend growth (based on trailing 5-Yr dividend growth in Column H) and cash-out value after a 10 year Holding Period (determined by extrapolation of trailing 16-Yr price appreciation in Column K) is a positive number when applying a Discount Rate of 10% (see Column Z), one point is added. 
   6) If the two markers of an overpriced stock noted above (see Columns AB and AD) indicate that the stock is indeed overpriced, half a point is subtracted.

The final SCORE is found in Column AJ.

Bottom Line: As expected, these 27 companies have not performed as well as SPY, the S&P 500 Index ETF (see Line 29 to Line 35 at Columns C through F in the Table). But these 27 companies pay a higher dividend (Column G) and have lower price volatility (see Columns I & M) than SPY. Estimates for Net Present Value after a 10 year holding period (assuming a continuation of the trailing 5 year dividend growth rate and the trailing 16 year price growth rate and trading costs of 2.5% at the time of purchase and sale) were higher than SPY (see Column Z).  

Conclusion: These 9 stocks appear to be over-priced (see Columns AB and AD): CSCO, KO, TXN, PEP, JNJ, LMT, MMM, CL and UPS. These 12 appear to be bargain-priced “value stocks” based on Book Value, Graham Number and average 7 year P/E (see Columns AA-AE): PFE, NEE, DUK, INTC, TGT, SO, JPM, CMCSA, USB, BLK, XOM and WFC. These 10 appear to be worthwhile investments because of having a score of either 3 or 4 on our Basic Quality Screen (see Column AJ): PFE, NEE, DUK, INTC, PG, SO, JPM, WMT, CAT, BLK.

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into NEE, KO, INTC, PG, JNJ, JPM, WMT, CAT and IBM. I also own shares of PFE, CSCO, DUK, SO, PEP, MMM, BLK, UPS and XOM. Note that all but two (BLK and PEP) of those 18 are in the 65-stock Dow Jones Composite Average.

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Sunday, May 26

Month 95 - Dow Jones Industrial Average - Spring 2019 Update

Situation: The S&P 500 Index has recently posted a new all-time high, and “The Dow” is only 1% away from a new all-time high. However, Dow Theory won’t label that achievement (if it happens) as the beginning of a new Primary Uptrend. Why? Because the Dow Jones Transportation Average still has to go somewhat higher before it “corroborates The Dow.” Conclusion: Dow Theory still places the US stock market in a Short-term Downtrend. If you’re a stock-picker, that means you still need to consider selling the overpriced stocks in your portfolio. Why? Because things are likely to get worse before they get better.

Mission: Use our Standard Spreadsheet to highlight DJIA stocks that appear to be overpriced.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: It is almost impossible to distinguish an overpriced stock from a stock that is pulling in more investors because they see a bright future. If the company is already highly regarded because of its Balance Sheet, Product Lines, and Brand Penetration, I would hesitate to call its stock overpriced at any P/E (think of Amazon with its P/E of 81). 

I’m a numbers guy, so I use two numbers to decide if a stock is overpriced (where “price” or P is defined as the 50-day moving average):
   1) the 7-yr P/E is greater than 30. 
   2) the stock’s Graham Number, which is the square root of 22.5 times Earnings Per Share multiplied by Book Value Per Share, is more than 250% of its price. 

If only one of those two numbers is over the limit, the stock is still overpriced if the other number is close to the limit, i.e., more than 25 or 200%, respectively. (For Amazon, those numbers are 53 and 752%. So, it’s overpriced and I sold my shares.)

Deciding whether or not to buy a stock is also tricky. To give a more nuanced estimate of a stock’s value to the investor, I’ve devised a Basic Quality Screen that has only 6 elements and a maximum score of 4 (see Table): 
   1) If price appreciation over the past 16 yrs has been greater than 1/3rd the risk of short-term loss as determined by the BMW Method, one point is added. In other words, price appreciation in Column K is greater than 1/3rd the risk in Column M.
   2) If Tangible Book Value in Column S is negative and LT-debt represents more than 50% of Total Capital (Column O), or Total Debt is more than 250% of EBITDA (Column P), one point is subtracted.
   3) If the S&P Bond Rating in Column U is BBB+ or better, one point is added. 
   4) If the S&P Stock Rating in Column V is B+/M or better, one point is added. 
   5) If Net Present Value of accumulated dividends and cash-out after a 10 year Holding Period is a positive number, when applying a Discount Rate of 10% (see Column Z), one point is added. 
   6) If the two markers of an overpriced stock noted above (see Columns AB and AD) indicate that the stock is indeed overpriced, half a point is subtracted.

The final SCORE is found in Column AJ.

Bottom Line: How to sell a stock is always harder to learn than how to buy a stock. The 30 stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average are great companies. So, those are even harder to abandon once you’ve seen the way their stocks perform in your portfolio. And, the prominence of these companies in the press is guaranteed to attract investors who don’t think they need to do their own due diligence before adding stock in a famous company to their portfolio. You see the problem: We have here the makings of a Perfect Storm that will hit someday. 

Conclusion: There are 11 Dow stocks that appear to be overpriced now: MRK, MSFT, V, NKE, BA, UNH, MCD, KO, HD, JNJ and MMM. And, even though the stock market is generally thought to be overpriced, an equal number appear reasonably priced (see Column AJ in the Table): PFE, CSCO, DIS, AAPL, INTC, PG, TRV, JPM, WMT, CAT and UTX.

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into MSFT, NKE, BA, INTC, KO, PG, JNJ, JPM and CAT, and also own shares of PFE, CSCO, MCD, AAPL, TRV, WMT, MMM, XOM and IBM. (All dividends are automatically reinvested.) 

My holdings of stock in those 18 “Dow” companies are meant to represent a cross-section of the US economy. But you shouldn’t think my future returns (adjusted for risk, transaction costs, and capital gains taxes) will beat The Dow. Only a full-time trader has better than a one in twenty chance of beating the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the next two market cycles. And that trader will likely find it necessary to buy and sell stock options (so as to protect large positions from market-turning events). She might also minimize transaction costs by working from a Globex Terminal, meaning her trades are guaranteed by a firm with Globex Registration at the Chicago Board of Trade.

The rational basis for us, as retail investors, to buy shares of stock in specific companies is to have a growing stream of Dividend Income during retirement years, while leaving Principal intact, i.e., the shares that generate those dividends would only be sold to handle a severe financial emergency. 

P.S.: Warren Buffett advises his friends and family to invest 90% of their savings in a low-cost S&P 500 Index fund marketed by the Vanguard Group , such as VFIAX.


NOTE: This text was written on 5/6/2019.

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Sunday, April 28

Month 94 - Food and Agriculture Companies - Spring 2019 Update

Situation: Investors should pay attention to asset classes that fluctuate in value out-of-sync with the S&P 500 Index. Such asset classes are said to have minimal or negative “correlation” with large-capitalization US stocks. Emerging markets and raw commodities are important examples. Those are a natural pair, given that most countries in the emerging markets group have an economy that is based on the production of one or more raw commodities. 

The idea that you can find a safe haven for your savings, one which will allow you to ride out a crash in the US stock market, is a pleasant fiction. Articles in support of that idea are published almost daily. But unless you are a trader who can afford to rent or buy a $500,000 seat on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, you probably aren’t deft enough to arbitrage the various risks accurately enough before they develop (and at low enough transaction costs) to avoid losing money in a crash. 

If you really want to ride out most crashes, invest in a bond-heavy balanced mutual fund that is managed by real humans. The Vanguard Group offers one best, and it comes with very low transaction fees (Vanguard Wellesley Income Fund or VWINX). To refresh yourself on the competitive advantages of investing in food and agriculture companies, see our most recent blog on the subject (see Month 91). To refresh yourself on the competitive disadvantages, study this month’s Table and Bottom Line carefully.

The essential fact is that economies require money for spending and investment. That comes down to having consumers who are confident enough about their employment prospects and entrepreneurs who are confident enough about their ability to invest. Those consumers and entrepreneurs can be relied upon to transfer their successes to the larger economy by saving money, taking out loans, and paying taxes. National economies are interlinked. Because of the size and innovation of its marketplace, the US economy is the main enabler for most of the other national economies. Logic would suggest that the valuation for any asset class will roughly track the ups and downs of the S&P 500 Index, either as a first derivative or second derivative

Mission: Use our Standard Spreadsheet to analyze US and Canadian food and agriculture companies that carry at least a BBB rating on their bonds (see Column R).

Execution: see Table.

Administration: Of the 25 companies listed in the Table, only one meets Warren Buffett’s criteria of low beta (see Column I), low volatility (Column M), high quality (Column S), strong balance sheet (Columns N-R), and TTM (Trailing Twelve Month) earnings plus mrq (most recent quarter) Book Values that yield a Graham Number which is not far from the stock’s current Price (Column Y). That company is Berkshire Hathaway. We use a Basic Quality Screen that is less stringent as his: 1) an S&P stock rating of B+/M or better (Column S), 2) an S&P bond rating of BBB+ or better (Column R), 3) 16-Yr price volatility (Column M) that is less than 3 times the rate of price appreciation (Column K), and 4) a positive dollar amount for net present value (Column W) when using a 10-Yr holding period in combination with a 10% discount rate (to reflect a 10% Required Rate of Return).

Bottom Line: Only 8 companies on the list pass our Basic Quality Screen (see Administration above): HRL, COST, PEP, KO, DE, FAST, CNI, UNP. At the opposite end of the spectrum, 9 companies have a below-market S&P bond rating of BBB. So, those stocks represent outright gambles. 

Aside from Berkshire Hathaway, none of the 25 companies can be said to issue a reasonably priced “value” stock. We’re dealing with 24 “growth” stocks, only a third of which are of high quality. Three of the 9 with BBB bond ratings have high total debt levels relative to EBITDA (see Column O in the Table) that are unprotected by Tangible Book Value (Column P): SJM, MKC, GIS. The good news is that only one of the 9 appears to be overpriced, and that company (MKC) is a quasi-monopoly that has little risk of bankruptcy because it has “cornered” the US spice market

In summary, you can do well by investing in this space as long as you understand that you’re dealing with a fragmented food industry, one that is flush with companies of dubious quality. You might like to be well-informed about these companies because food, like fuel, is an essential good, and the food industry enjoys steady growth. Why? Because the number of people in Asia & Africa who can afford to consume 50 grams of protein per day grows by tens of millions per year.

Risk Rating: ranges from 6 to 8 (where 10-Yr US Treasury Notes = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, and gold bullion =10).

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into TSN, KO and UNP, and also own shares of AMZN, HRL, MO, MKC, BRK-B, CAT and WMT.

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

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com

Sunday, March 31

Month 93 - Members of "The 2 and 8 Club" in the S&P 500 Index - Winter 2019 Update

Situation: Some investors are experienced enough to try beating the market, but few tools are available to help them. Business schools professors like to point out that it is a settled issue, with only two routes are available: A stock-picker can either seek information from a company insider (which is illegal) or assume more risk (buy high-beta stocks). The latter route can provide higher returns but those will eventually be eroded by the higher volatility in stock prices. In other words, risk-adjusted returns (at their best) will not beat an S&P 500 Index fund (e.g. VFINX) or ETF (e.g. SPY). 

Mission: Develop an algorithm for investing in high-beta stocks. Use our Standard Spreadsheet for companies likely to have higher quality.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: We call the resulting algorithm “The 2 and 8 Club” because it focuses on companies that a) pay an above-market dividend and b) have grown that dividend at least 8%/yr over the most recent 5 year period. Quality criteria require that a company’s bonds carry an S&P rating of BBB+ or better, and that its common stock carry an S&P rating of B+/M or better. We also require 16 or more years of trading records on a public exchange, so that weekly prices can be analyzed by the “BMW Method”.  We use the SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF (DIA) as our benchmark, given that it rarely has a dividend yield lower than 2% or a dividend growth rate lower than 8%. And, we use the US companies listed in the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) High Dividend Yield Index as our only source for stocks paying an above-market dividend. That index is based on the FTSE Russell 1000 Index. The Vanguard Group markets both a mutual fund (VHDYX) and an ETF (VYM) for the ~400 companies in the FTSE High Dividend Yield Index. The same companies are found on each list, and weighted by market capitalization and updated monthly.

Bottom Line: As expected, this algorithm beats the S&P 500 Index (see Columns C, F, K & W) at the expense of greater risk (see Columns D, I, J & M). Its utility lies in risk mitigation (see Columns R & S), where the cutoffs for S&P rankings make these companies above-average for the S&P 500 Index with respect to the risk of bankruptcy. Only 23 companies in the S&P 500 Index qualify for membership in “The 2 and 8 Club”, and only 5 of those are in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (JPM, TRV, CSCO, MMM, IBM). An additional 5 companies are found in the FTSE Russell 1000 Index but have insufficient market capitalization to be included in the S&P 500 Index (WSO, HUBB, SWX, EV, R; see COMPARISONS section in the Table).

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into JPM and NEE, and also own shares of TRV, MMM, BLK, IBM, R and CMI.

Caveat Emptor: This week’s blog is addressed to investors who a) have been investing in common stocks for more than 20 years, b) don’t use margin loans, and c) have more than $200,000 available for making such investments. Most investors are best served by maintaining a 50-50 balance between stocks and bonds, e.g. by investing in the total US stock and bond markets (VTI and BND at Lines 30 & 38 in the Table). That 50-50 investment has returned ~8%/yr over the past 10 years and ~5%/yr over the past 5 years. The same result can be found by investing in a balanced mutual fund where stocks and bonds are picked for you: The Vanguard Wellesley Income Fund (VWINX at Line 35 in the Table). Either way, you’re likely to have no more than 2 down years per decade: VWINX has had only 7 down years since 1970. NOTE: all of the stocks in VWINX are picked from the same FTSE High Dividend Yield Index that we use for “The 2 and Club”.

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

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com

Sunday, February 24

Month 92 - Dow Jones Industrial Average - Winter 2019 Update

Situation: There have been 30 companies in the $7 Trillion “Dow” index since it was expanded from 20 companies on October 1, 1928. Since then 31 changes have been made. On average, a company is swapped out every 3 years. Turnover decisions are made by a committee directed by the Managing Editor of The Wall Street Journal. Dollar value is determined at the end of each trading day by adding the closing price/share for all 30 companies, and correcting that amount with a divisor that changes each time a company is removed & replaced. State Street Global Advisors (SPDR) markets an Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF) for the Dow under the ticker DIA. To get “a feel for the market” before buying or selling a stock, investors around the world look to the Dow. They’re aided in that decision by Dow Theory, which uses movement of the Dow Jones Transportation Average to “confirm” movement in the Dow. If both march together to higher highs and higher lows, the primary trend in the market is said to be up if trading volumes are large. If the reverse is true, then the primary trend is said to down.

Mission: Use our Standard Spreadsheet to analyze all 30 companies in the Dow.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: Many investors use a tried-and-true “system” called Dogs of the Dow (see Week 305), which calls for buying equal dollar-value amounts of stock in each of the 10 highest-yielding companies in the Dow on the first trading day of January and selling those on the last trading day of December. The idea is to have better total returns on your investment over a market cycle than you would from simply investing in DIA. The system works most years and over the long term. Why? Because a high dividend yield a) moderates any price decreases during Bear Markets and b) is such a large contributor to total returns.  

Bottom Line: As a stock-picker, you need to keep up-to-date on Dow Theory and also know which high-yielding Dow stocks are among the 10 Dogs of the Dow. Dow Theory tells us that the stock market switched from being in a primary uptrend to being in a primary downtrend on December 20, 2018. The Dogs of the Dow for 2019 are the same as last year (see bold numbers in Column G of the Table), except that General Electric (GE) has been removed from the Dow and replaced by Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA), which doesn’t have a high enough dividend yield to be considered a Dog. Instead, General Electric’s place has been taken by JP Morgan Chase (JPM).
        When picking stocks from the Dow Jones Industrial Average, be aware that the historically low interest rates we’ve seen over the past decade have led to excessive corporate borrowing. You’ll want to pay close attention to Columns N-S in the Table, where different consequences of corporate debt are addressed. Companies with items that are highlighted in red carry a greater risk of loss in the upcoming credit crunch than has been recognized in the price of their shares.

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into NKE, MSFT, JPM, KO, INTC, JNJ and PG, and also own shares of MCD, TRV, CSCO, MMM, IBM, CAT, XOM and WMT.

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

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com

Sunday, January 27

Month 91 - Food and Agriculture Companies - Winter 2019 Update

Situation: We all have to eat, so food is an essential good. Even in a commodity bear market, the valuations of food and agriculture companies will likely hold up better than the S&P 500 Index ETF (SPY - see Column D in this month’s Table). Which is amazing, given that grains and livestock account for 29% of the Bloomberg Commodity Index. Another way of saying this is that the volumes of food sold are inelastic, much like gasoline. This gives investments in food and agriculture companies a special, almost unique, competitive advantage. 

The most important development in recent years is that the sugar in corn kernels is being processed into ethanol for gasoline. And, to a lesser extent, soybean oil is being processed into diesel fuel (see Week 364). Two US companies are leaders in biofuels production, i.e., Valero (VLO) with a capacity of 1.4 billion gallons per year, and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) with a capacity of 1.6 billion gallons per year. Animal feeds are an important by-product of ethanol production, marketed as dry and wet distiller grains, that capture 40% of the energy in a kernel of corn. 

Mission: Use our Standard Spreadsheet to highlight important metrics for listed companies in the Food and Agriculture sector.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: The 21 companies in the Table meet specific standards for quality, which are: S&P Bond Rating of BBB or better; S&P Stock Rating of B+/M or better; and trading records that extend for 16+ years to allow analysis by the BMW Method

Bottom Line: In the aggregate, common stocks of these companies look to be a good bet (see Line 23 in the Table). Don’t be fooled. Eight of the 21 stocks track the ups and downs of futures markets in raw commodities (see red highlighted companies at the bottom of Column D in the Table). To build a position in any of those stocks you’ll need to employ dollar-cost averaging. And, only the two companies at the top of the Table have clean Balance Sheets (see Columns N-Q in the Table). 

To invest successfully in this sector, you’ll need to do a lot of research on a continuing basis. For example, note that fertilizer companies and seed companies are missing from the Table. Why? Because of the recent wave of mergers and acquisitions. If you had been an investor in now extinct companies like Monsanto, duPont, Dow Chemical, Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, and Agrium, you’ll have gained from the pain but also lost money.

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 TSN, KO, CAT, UNP and WMT, and also own shares of HRL and MKC.

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

Post questions and comments in the box below or send email to: irv.mcquarrie@InvestTuneRetire.com