Sunday, October 25

Month 112 - WATCH LIST: 28 A-rated Non-financial Companies in the iShares Top 200 Value ETF - October 2020

Situation: Savers eventually come to realize that they need to invest for income, to realize a positive return on investment (ROI). ROI is the most common profitability ratio.

    ROI is calculated by subtracting the initial value of the investment from the final value of the investment (which equals the net return), then dividing this new number (the net return) by the “cost of investment”, and, finally, multiplying by 100. For an asset in an investor’s portfolio, the “cost of investment” equals inflation + transaction costs.

Inflation is the only cost from owning Savings Bonds or an FDIC-insured savings account, there being no transaction costs. But savers typically incur a negative ROI because the interest rate credited to their account is almost always lower than the inflation rate, unless they bought Inflation-protected Savings Bonds.

The woke saver’s goal is to invest in assets that have low transaction costs but also have interest or dividend rates that cover inflation: stocks and bonds. An “investment-grade intermediate-term” bond fund, like the Vanguard Total Bond Market Index ETF (BND), is a suitable choice except during periods of hyperinflation. That’s because the value of bonds already held in the fund, referred to as “legacy” bonds, will fall when inflation is rising briskly. Why? Because the interest rate on legacy bonds will be lower than the rate of inflation. 

The dividend yield on stocks and stock ETFs could also lag behind rising inflation. However, the companies that pay those dividends usually grow their earnings and dividends faster during inflation, partly because the value of the dollar keeps falling. The investor’s ROI will likely remain positive, since it reflects growth in the stock’s price (from faster earnings growth) and growth in the dividend payout. 

Our saver, whom we now call an investor because she knows enough to seek out value (by looking to pay low transaction costs for apparently underpriced assets), will need to shop among different high-yielding assets to sustain ROI growth: 1) a bond-heavy “balanced” mutual fund like the Vanguard Wellesley Income Fund (VWINX), 2) a high-yielding stock index ETF like the Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index Fund (VYM), and 3) individual stocks selected from the VYM portfolio

Mission: Analyze stocks in the iShares Top 200 Value Index ETF (IWX) that are also in VYM’s portfolio and meet these 5 criteria: have a) at least a 20-year trading record, b) an S&P bond rating of A- or higher, c) an S&P stock rating of B+/M or higher, d) a positive Book Value for the most recent quarter (mrq), and e) positive earnings for the Trailing Twelve Months (TTM). These criteria narrow your choices to a manageable but high quality Watch List. If you don’t have time to follow all 28 companies, confine your attention to the 21 companies that are also in the S&P 100 Index (see Column AR in the Table) or the 16 companies that are also in the 65-stock Dow Jones Composite Average (see Column AS in the Table).

Execution: see Table.

Administration: For comparison purposes, I list the 9 Financial Services companies separately because the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has promised to keep interest rates near zero through 2023. Financial Services companies profit from the “spread” between what they pay for money and what they make from that money. With interest rates for 15-year home mortgages moving lower than 2.5% and 5-year inflation rates moving higher than 1.8%, there is little profit potential on the horizon.

To calculate the annual ROI of a publicly-traded corporation, divide Earnings Before Interest and Taxes (EBIT line of Net Income statement) by Total Assets (at the bottom of the Balance Sheet statement). You want the most recent information available, which is ROI for the Trailing Twelve Months (TTM). That is similarly calculated using the 4 most recent quarterly Net Income and Balance Sheet statements (see Column AT in the Table). 

Bottom Line: You’ll need to focus on large-capitalization stocks in your retirement account that pay a good and growing dividend. Why? There are 4 reasons: Those companies have 1) multiple product & service lines that likely can be managed to allow the company to continue growing earnings during a recession; 2) multi-billion dollar credit lines are already in place, 3) banking relationships are already in place that make it possible for each company to issue new long-term bonds with low interest rates during a recession, and 4) these companies are what you need to invest in, if you want to achieve total returns that come close to those achieved by the gold standard that we all measure our investment returns against, which are the capitalization-weighted S&P 500 Index ETFs like SPY (see Line 47 in the Table), which large brokers like Fidelity offer at negligible cost. 

Possible BUYs among Value Stocks (i.e. those with green highlights in both Column AD and Column AF of the Table). There are 9 such stocks: Pfizer (PFE), Cisco Systems (CSCO), Intel (INTC), American Electric Power (AEP), Duke Energy (DUK), Comcast (CMCSA), Southern (SO), Eaton PLC (ETN) and International Business Machines (IBM). The “possible BUYs” need to    1) not be overburdened with debt (see red highlights in Columns S-U of the Table);

  2) have a PEG ratio no greater than 2.5 (Column AI), and

  3) have high Returns On Tangible Capital Employed (Column O) and Returns On Investment (Column AT).

Intel (INTC) and Cisco Systems are the only ones that have a Return On Investment (TTM) greater than 15% (see Column AT in the Table). Findings: PFE, CMCSA and IBM are overburdened with debt; AEP, DUK, SO, ETN and IBM have high PEG ratios. The only remaining companies, CSCO and INTC, do have high returns (Earnings Before Interest and Taxes) on Tangible Capital Employed and Total Assets (see Columns O and AT in the Table), and are therefore “possible BUYs.”

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into MRK, PFE, INTC, PG, WMT, CAT, and also own shares of NEE, CSCO, TGT, DUK, KO, JNJ, CMCSA, SO, MMM IBM.

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Sunday, September 27

Month 111 - Nine A-rated non-Financial GARP Stocks in the S&P 100 Index - September 2020

Situation:Growth at a reasonable price (GARP)" is an equity investment strategy that seeks to combine tenets of both growth investing and value investing to select individual stocks.” Different analysts use different metrics (and management assessments) to guesstimate favorable returns. Peter Lynch originated the concept and highlighted the usefulness of one ratio: Price/Earnings:Growth, commonly referred to as PEG. “Earnings” reference Earnings per Share (EPS) for the Trailing Twelve Month (TTM) period. “Growth” references an estimate of growth in EPS over the next 5 years. Yahoo Finance publishes the PEG ratio for each public company under Valuation Measures (see Column AH in the Table). The PEG ratio is kept up to date by Thomson Reuters. Peter Lynch is arguably the greatest stock-picker of all time. My interest in investing started through reading his books, which are practical down-to-earth primers. So, his reliance on PEG carries some gravitas. The basic idea is that a stock’s price ought to approximate the rate at which the company’s earnings grow (PEG = 1.0). That rarely happens in the real world but some companies come close (see Column AH in the Table).  

Mission: Look at the 23 A-rated non-financial high-yielding stocks in the S&P 100 Index and highlight the 9 that have 5-yr PEG numbers no higher than 2.5. 

Execution: see Table.

Administration: A-rated stocks are those that have:

            a) an above market dividend yield (see portfolio of Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index Fund ETF - VYM),

            b) positive Book Value, 

            c) positive earnings (TTM), 

            d) an S&P bond rating of A- or better, 

            e) an S&P stock rating of B+/M or better, and 

            f) a 20+ year trading history. 

Bottom Line: Merck (MRK), Target (TGT), Intel (INTC), Comcast (CMCSA), and Lockheed Martin (LMT) have the overall highest quality among stocks on this list (see Column AL in the Table). INTC and CMCSA are also Value Stocks, meaning that their price (50-day moving average) is less than twice their Graham Number (see Column AC) and their 7-year P/E is no higher than 25 (see Column AE). 

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 MRK, PFE and INTC, and also own shares of TGT and CMCSA. 

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Sunday, August 30

Month 110 - Buy Low! 12 A-rated Haven Stocks in the S&P 100 Index that aren’t overpriced - August 2020

Situation: There’s no mystery to saving for retirement. A good working game plan is to divert 15-20% of your monthly income to the purchase of stocks and government bonds, and then keep those assets in a 60:40 balance of stocks:bonds. You can also use any bond substitutes (e.g. gold, T-bills, and utility stock ETFs) that typically hold their value in a stock market crash. Mainly use stock index ETFs for your retirement savings but also buy stock in companies that tend to have an above-market dividend yield. Those “shareholder-friendly payouts” happen because the company has good collateral: Liabilities are protected by Tangible Book Value and a cushion of Cash Equivalents. In other words, avoid stocks issued by companies that have become over-indebted

Think of the bonds in your portfolio as the collateral that backs your stocks. So, a good way to start saving for retirement is to over-emphasize collateral-thinking: Dollar-average into the low-cost Vanguard Wellesley Income Fund (VWINX), which is 60% bonds and 40% stocks picked from the Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index Fund ETF (VYM). VWINX has lost money in only 7 of the past 50 years, those losses always being less than 10%. Since its inception on 7/1/1970, VWINX has returned 9.7%/yr vs. 10.8%/yr for the S&P 500 Index with dividends reinvested.

The harder task is to stop putting additional money into stocks that have become overpriced. To do that you have to know how to calculate the Graham Number. Benjamin Graham wrote the first edition of The Intelligent Investor almost 100 years ago. It is hard to read because he uses numbers to express almost every pearl of knowledge. The “Graham Number” is simply the rational market price for any stock at any given moment, calculated as the square root of: 15 times earnings for the Trailing Twelve Months (TTM) multiplied by 1.5 times Book Value for the most recent quarter (mrq) multiplied by 22.5 (i.e., 1.5 times 15). So, the Graham Number is nothing more than what the stock’s price would be if it were to reflect a P/E of 15 and a Book Value of 1.5.  The purpose of doing this calculation on your stocks is to know their underlying worth. Benjamin Graham also explained why the 7-year P/E should not exceed 25, assuming that a single year’s P/E (TTM) should not exceed 20, which is an earnings yield of 5%/yr: In a normal inflationary environment, a company’s earnings are likely to grow 3% to 3.5% per year. After 7 years, a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 3.2%/yr takes a P/E of 20 to 25.

My definition of an Overpriced Stock is one that a) has a market price (50-day Moving Average) that is more than 2.5 times the Graham Number and b) has a 7-year P/E that is more than 30. Looking at the 30-stock Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), I see that 5 A-rated stocks are overpriced (see Column AC-AH in Comparisons section of Table):

     Microsoft (MSFT), 

     Apple (AAPL), 

     Nike (NKE), 

     Coca-Cola (KO) and 

     Procter & Gamble (PG). 

Stocks get overpriced because they become popular with investors, leading to a Crowded Trade. Assuming that your goal is to Buy Low, why would you continue to add money to any of these 5 stocks that you already own? You would only do so because you harbor a Positive Sentiment regarding their future prospects, In other words, you would be making a speculative investment (“gambling”). To avoid gambling and instead employ a “risk-off” approach to buying individual stocks, you’ll need clear definitions for A-rated stocks and for Haven stocks to supplement the numbers-based system used above to avoid Overpriced stocks. You’ll also want to favor stocks issued by large companies, since those typically have multiple product lines and unencumbered lines of credit.

Mission: Define “A-rated stocks” and “Haven stocks”. Analyze A-rated Haven stocks in the S&P 100 Index that aren’t overpriced by using our Standard Spreadsheet.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: A-rated stocks are those that have a) an above market dividend yield (see portfolio of Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index Fund ETF - VYM), b) positive Book Value, c) positive earnings (TTM), d) an S&P rating on the company’s bonds that is A- or better, e) an S&P rating on the company’s stock that is B+/M or better, and f) a 20+ year trading history. 

Haven Stocks are A-rated stocks issued by companies that aren’t encumbered with risk factors that are likely to threaten the company’s solvency during a recession. So, companies in the Real Estate Industry (i.e., REITs) and companies in the Financial Services Industry (i.e., banks) are excluded, as are companies with negative Tangible Book Value if Total Debt is more than 2.5 times EBITDA (TTM) or Total Debt is more than 2.0 times Shareholder Equity. 

Bottom Line: With the S&P 500 Index being priced at 29 times TTM earnings (see SPY at Line 28 and Column K in the Table), the stock market is overpriced relative to its long-term P/E of 15-16. But its 50-day Moving Average price is still less than 2.5 times its Graham Number (i.e., 2.1), and its 7-yr P/E is still less than 30 (i.e., 28), per Columns AC and AE at Line 28 in the Table. Using our example of the DJIA, the timely thing to do would be to avoid buying more shares of the overpriced A-rated stocks (MSFT, NKE, PG, KO, AAPL) but to continue buying more shares of SPY. This strategy allows you to retain exposure to volatility in stocks that are Overpriced (because of their future prospects) while using diversification to reduce your risk of serious loss.

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into NEE, INTC, WMT, JNJ, CAT, and also own shares of MRK, CSCO, TGT, DUK, SO, MMM. From late February through April 2020, I added shares of 6 new companies to my brokerage account--Comcast (CMCSA), Costco Wholesale (COST), Home Depot (HD), Merck (MRK), Disney (DIS) and Target (TGT), while selling shares of Norfolk Southern (NSC) and United Parcel Service (UPS). Regarding the 5 overpriced but A-rated stocks in the DJIA, I’ve stopped dollar-averaging into KO but continue to dollar-average into MSFT, NKE and PG because I expect those companies to continue to dominate their competitors. I have no plans to sell the shares of KO and AAPL that I already own.

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Sunday, July 26

Month 109 - 6 High-yield A-rated Non-financial Growth Stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average - July 2020

Situation: The purpose of a retirement portfolio is to accumulate wealth during working years and distribute that wealth during sunset years. The laws of finance that govern accumulation are “reversion to the mean” and “compound interest”. The closest we have to a law of finance that governs distribution is “the 4% rule”. 

If we dollar-cost average our purchase of shares on a monthly schedule during the accumulation period, we’ll never overpay over a given market cycle, i.e., we’ll “buy low” as often as we’ll “buy high” as reversion to the mean works its magic. If we automatically reinvest quarterly dividend payouts, this quarter’s dividend will pay a dividend on last quarter’s dividend as “compound interest” works its magic. During retirement, we’ll spend 4% of our total asset value, as calculated on December 31st of the year just ended, in the coming year. 

A-rated high-yield growth stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) have a dividend yield of ~3%/yr. So, if you’ve been dollar-averaging into those stocks you’ll occasionally want to sell shares in one of those stocks to meet next year’s spending goal. But given the stability of those reliable and growing payouts, I’d suggest that you look elsewhere to make up the projected shortfall. Why? Well, look at the spreadsheet of this month’s 8 DJIA growth stocks. If you own shares in all eight companies, you’re likely to enjoy a dividend yield of more than a 3%/yr for years to come. 

Mission: Find A-rated non-financial growth stocks in the DJIA that have an above-market dividend yield; analyze those by using our Standard Spreadsheet.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: A-rated means that S&P assigns the company’s bonds a rating of A- or higher, and assigns the company’s common stock a rating of B+/M or higher. It also means that debt levels are reasonable. So, in a setting of negative Tangible Book Value it is unreasonable for a company to be capitalized more than 50% with debt or to have total debts greater than 2.5 times EBITDA. Exclude financial stocks and stocks that have been traded on public exchanges for less than 20 years. Select only from DJIA stocks that are held in both of these portfolios: Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF (VYM) and iShares Russell Top 200 Growth ETF (IWY).

Bottom Line: Market volatility is the key concern for investors who plan to maintain their lifestyle during retirement. So, you might as well make money off it. That means automatically buy low (through dollar-cost averaging) whenever the market collapses, and automatically take advantage of mean regression while you’re at it. In other words, use dollar-averaging to buy shares in high-yielding companies for nothing by using a DRIP (dividend reinvestment plan), where dividends pay dividends on previously reinvested dividends. 

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into PG, JNJ and CAT, and also own shares of MRK, CSCO and MMM

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Sunday, June 28

Month 108 - 14 Buy-and-Hold Stocks in both the Dow Jones Composite Index and the S&P 100 Index - June 2020

Situation: If you’re a stock picker, you’ll need Buy-and-Hold stocks that are suitable for retirement but you’ll also need to know how to “buy low.” The job of an investor, according to Joel Greenblatt (CEO of Gotham Capital), “is to figure out what a business is worth and pay a lot less”. Those two words (buy low) separate investors from savers. 

The objective way to “buy low” is to listen to Warren Buffett and dollar-cost average a fixed amount each month into shares of large, well managed, and long-established companies with clean Balance Sheets. You do this by using an online Dividend Re-Investment Plan (DRIP). When the price of that stock falls during a Bear Market, you’ll automatically BUY LOW and acquire more shares per month than usual. 

The subjective way to “buy low” is to resort to labor-intensive Fundamental Analysis, which uses a bespoke set of metrics to repeatedly examine stocks in each sub-industry and decide which are bargain-priced. My requirements for a company to be “A-rated” and join my Watch List of “large and well-managed companies with clean Balance Sheets” can be seen in the Tables for each month’s blog. For example, a large company is one in the S&P 100 Index. A well-managed company is one picked by the Managing Editor of The Wall Street Journal for inclusion in the 65-stock Dow Jones Composite Index. A clean Balance Sheet is one earning an S&P Bond Rating of A- (or better), with positive Book Value for the most recent quarter (mrq). I also require that Tangible Book Value (TBV) be a positive number but a negative TBV is acceptable if the company is mainly capitalized by Common Stock and its Total Debt is no greater than 2.5X EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest Taxes Depreciation and Amortization) for the Trailing Twelve Months (TTM). The companies I analyze are listed in both the iShares Russell Top 200 Value ETF (IWX) and the Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index ETF (VYM). I interpret “long-established” to mean a 20+ year history of being traded on a public stock exchange.

Mission: Using our Standard Spreadsheet, analyze A-rated stocks that are in both the 65-stock Dow Jones Composite Average and the S&P 100 Index.

Execution: see Table. Columns AP and AQ give annual costs and the vendor URL for each dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP). 

Administration: The idea behind owning “value” stocks is to lose less during Bear Markets. The idea behind owning “growth” stocks is to earn more during Bull Markets. Column AO shows how much the price of each stock changed in 2008. Column D shows how much the price of each stock changed in 2018 (when the S&P 500 Index lost 19.9% in the 4th quarter). These 14 stocks lost 5% less than the S&P 500 ETF (SPY) in 2018, and 17.3% less in 2008. An additional benefit of owning shares in these “value” companies that pay above-market dividends is that 7 are also listed in the iShares Russell Top 200 Growth ETF (IWY): MRK, KO, PG, JNJ, CAT, MMM, IBM. You can have “the best of both worlds” by owning those. 

Bottom Line: The secret of stock picking is to have a short Watch List because you’ll need to practice due diligence: follow the evolution of each company’s “story” and the effectiveness of its managers. This takes time and money: online subscriptions to The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Bloomberg Businessweek, and The New York Times don’t come cheap. Neither do online DRIPs: For example, the average expense ratio in the first year of using a DRIP to buy into these 14 companies is 1.56% (see Column AP in the Table: $18.76/$1200 = 1.56%). And, you’ll get a bigger bill from your accountant if you decide to sell a DRIP, besides spending more time yourself to get the paperwork ready. For example, you’ll have to list the “cost basis” for each of the 16 purchases you made each year (12 monthly purchases plus 4 purchases to reinvest quarterly dividends) of each stock so your accountant can calculate capital gains.

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

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

NOTE: Aside from dollar-cost averaging, there is second objective way to buy low: make “one-off” purchases of any of these 14 stocks that appear on the “Dogs of the Dow” list, which is updated every New Year’s Day. For example, the 10 dogs on this year’s list include: International Business Machines (IBM), Pfizer (PFE), 3M (MMM), and Coca-Cola (KO).

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Sunday, May 31

Month 107 - A-rated Food & Agriculture-related Companies - May 2020

Situation: Food is an “essential good.” The COVID-19 Pandemic has made us all acutely aware of this, now that we’re being told to shun restaurants and eat at home. But companies that process row crops into breakfast food have faced a topsy-turvy marketing climate in recent years. General Mills (GIS) and Kellogg (K) have had to endure an existential crisis because consumers chose to distance themselves from processed breakfast foods in favor of more nutritious, fresh, and  “organic” offerings. This was partly because fewer families came together each day for a sit-down breakfast. People became concerned about sugars being added to so much of what we eat, as well as the preservatives and obscure ingredients (like dyes) listed on each box of cereal. Debates arose about nutritional value and safety for children. Now, several years after the fact, those former icons of the food industry have admitted their failures and are marketing foods that are demonstrably good for children and contain no obscure or unsafe ingredients. Cereals contain dried strawberries or blueberries, sliced almonds, and other fruits or nuts. Serious investors welcome this state of affairs because changes in consumer behavior create volatility in the market, which translates into opportunity. And who’s to argue against a wider choice of more healthy foods? But for the casual investor, who doesn’t devote hours a week to following the food industry, this is not a good thing. Now is a good time to look at the food and agriculture companies that are left standing. 

Mission: Use our Standard Spreadsheet to analyze food and agriculture-related companies that have an A- or better S&P rating on their bonds, as well as B+/M or better S&P ratings on their stocks.

Execution: See Table.

Administration: Four of the 12 companies appear to offer exceptional value: Coca-Cola (KO), PepsiCo (PEP), Walmart (WMT) and Target (TGT). Those are all Dividend Achievers as well as being listed in the S&P 100 Index (OEF), the Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index (VYM), and the iShares Top 200 Value Index (IWX) (see Columns AL to AO of the Table).

Bottom Line: Companies close to the production of raw commodities have stock prices that tend to follow the commodity cycle, which is dominated by oil. Investors in Deere (DE) and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) profit if the farmer profits. Investors in food processors and grocery stores face a fickle food consumer, whose only concern is to get the best taste and nutrition per dollar. The companies that have proven they can persevere in that arena are Hormel Foods (HRL), Costco Wholesale (COST), Coca-Cola (KO), Target (TGT), Hershey (HSY), Walmart (WMT), and PepsiCo (PEP). Those companies will still be doing well 10 years from now. 

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into COST, UNP, KO, WMT and CAT, and also own shares of DE, BRK-B, TGT and PEP.

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Sunday, April 26

Month 106 - A-rated Value Stocks in the S&P 100 Index - April 2020

Situation: Growth at a reasonable price (GARP) is often mentioned as an investing goal because value underlies the decision to buy. Warren Buffett is the king of value investing and has over $80 Billion in cash (his “elephant gun”) that he’d like to spend. We’re in a Bear Market fueled by the adverse economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, he’ll soon spend that cash pile to buy a large company. Let’s look at his options, considering the ways he has prioritized purchases in the past. Firstly, he likes large and long-established companies. Why large companies? Because those have multiple product lines, one of which is usually designed to help the company maintain a stream of revenue during a recession. In addition, those companies are large enough to have the marketing power needed to maintain and grow their brands. 

Mission: Let’s see which choices look attractive among A-rated “haven stocks” in the S&P 100 Index (see Month 104). Remember: These companies reliably pay an above-market dividend, so they’re found in the Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index (VYM), and they’re also listed in the iShares Russell Top 200 Value ETF (IWX). Warren Buffett places high store in companies that don’t overuse debt and also retain Tangible Book Value, so we’ll exclude companies with negative Tangible Book Value that also have a total debt load greater than 2.5 times EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation & Amortization) or have sold long-term bonds to build more than 50% of their market capitalization. Finally, the company's stock price has to meet both of our two value criteria: 1) Share price isn't more than twice the Graham Number; 2) share price isn't more than 25 times average 7-yr earnings per share. 

Execution: (see Table).

Administration: These 9 companies include 4 from the two most deeply cyclical industries: banks and semiconductor manufacturers. Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio already includes the 3 banks on the list, i.e., JPMorgan Chase (JPM), U.S. Bancorp (USB), and Wells Fargo (WFC) but doesn’t include the semiconductor manufacturer, Intel (INTC). Berkshire Hathaway is at heart an insurance company, so Warren Buffett always needs to diversify away from the Financial Services industry. There are only 4 non-financial companies on the list: Intel (INTC), Cisco Systems (CSCO), Pfizer (PFE), and Target (TGT), and only TGT is within the price range that Mr. Buffett is looking to spend ($80 to $100 Billion). 

Bottom Line: Target (TGT) appears to be the most attractive company to add to Berkshire’s stable, given that it is priced right and Mr. Buffett already has experience owning companies in the Consumer Discretionary industry.. 

Risk Rating: 7 (where 10-yr U.S. Treasury Notes = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, and gold = 10).

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into INTC and JPM, and also own shares of PFE, CSCO, TGT, USB, BLK and WFC.

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Sunday, March 29

Month 105 - A-rated Companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average - March 2020

Situation: If you’ve been picking stocks for a retirement portfolio, and have more than 15 years of experience, you’ve learned enough about risk to appreciate last month’s blog about Haven Stocks (Month 104). You’re probably ready to take on more risk for more reward, assuming that you’ve learned how to ride out a market crash without selling. Warren Buffett, the reigning value investor, also stretches beyond investing in large-capitalization value stocks like those discussed in our Month 103 blog about Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio.

In his most recent Annual Letter to the shareowners of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren explains how to do that by focusing on Retained Earnings (see the excerpt below in Appendix). Retained Earnings are what’s left over from Free Cash Flow after Dividends have been paid. Free Cash Flow is what’s left over from Operating Earnings (EBIT) after Capital Expenditures have been paid. Warren Buffett uses Return on Net Tangible Capital to estimate whether Retained Earnings are likely to be substantial. Return on Net Tangible Capital is the same as the familiar ROCE (Return on Capital Employed) except that Capital Employed is changed from Total Assets minus Current Liabilities to Total Assets minus Intangible Assets minus Current Liabilities. He thinks 20% is a good Return on Net Tangible Capital (see Column P in the Table).

The company’s CEO will eventually deploy Retained Earnings to build a better company faster. The cost for deploying that capital is zero. Going forward, the return on that investment is approximately the same as the return on Operating Earnings, which is EBIT (Earnings Before Interest and Taxes) divided by Market Capitalization. In a well-managed and well-positioned company, that return represents a high rate of Compound Interest over time--the 20%/yr Return on Net Tangible Capital that Warren Buffett is looking to achieve in most years on most of Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio.

The trick, of course, is to find such companies. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is a good place to start, given that those companies have traditionally been picked (in part) because they expected to have a high Free Cash Flow Yield (see Column H in the Table).

Mission: Pick companies from the 30-stock DJIA that have S&P ratings on the bonds they’ve issued that are A- or higher, and insert a new column in our Standard Spreadsheet for Free Cash Flow Yield (Column K). Exclude any DJIA companies that do not have an S&P stock rating of at least B+/M, or do not have the 16 year trading record that is required for quantitative analysis by the BMW Method ( (We display at Columns L-M in the Table a summary of BMW Method findings for the most recent week.)

Administration: see Table.

Bottom Line: These 19 companies have an aggregate Return on Net Tangible Capital of 19.5%, which almost meets Warren Buffett’s requirement of 20%. Whether any of these stocks can be bought at a “sensible price” is not an easy question to answer. Here at ITR, we call a stock “sensibly priced” if the 50 day moving average in the price per share is no more than twice the Graham Number (see Columns AC & AD) and is no more than 25 times the 7-yr P/E (see Column AF). Five companies meet those criteria: PFE, INTC, JPM, TRV, IBM.

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, PFE, BA, KO, INTC, PG, JPM, WMT, JNJ, CAT and IBM, and also own shares of UNH, CSCO, AAPL, DIS, TRV and MMM.

Appendix: Excerpt from Warren Buffett’s February 2020 Letter to the shareowners of Berkshire Hathaway: “Charlie and I urge you to focus on operating earnings and to ignore both quarterly and annual gains or losses from investments, whether these are realized or unrealized...Over time, Charlie and I expect our equity holdings – as a group – to deliver major gains, albeit in an unpredictable and highly irregular manner. To see why we are optimistic, move on to the next discussion. The Power of Retained Earnings. In 1924, Edgar Lawrence Smith, an obscure economist and financial advisor, wrote Common Stocks as Long Term Investments, a slim book that changed the investment world. Indeed, writing the book changed Smith himself, forcing him to reassess his own investment beliefs. Going in, he planned to argue that stocks would perform better than bonds during inflationary periods and that bonds would deliver superior returns during deflationary times. That seemed sensible enough. But Smith was in for a shock. His book began, therefore, with a confession: “These studies are the record of a failure – the failure of facts to sustain a preconceived theory.” Luckily for investors, that failure led Smith to think more deeply about how stocks should be evaluated. For the crux of Smith’s insight, I will quote an early reviewer of his book, none other than John Maynard Keynes: “I have kept until last what is perhaps Mr. Smith’s most important, and is certainly his most novel, point. Well-managed industrial companies do not, as a rule, distribute to the shareholders the whole of their earned profits. In good years, if not in all years, they retain a part of their profits and put them back into the business. Thus there is an element of compound interest operating in favour of a sound industrial investment. Over a period of years, the real value of the property of a sound industrial is increasing at compound interest, quite apart from the dividends paid out to the shareholders.” 

Warren concludes that history lesson on this note: “Charlie and I have long focused on using retained earnings advantageously. Reinvestment in productive operational assets will forever remain our top priority. In addition, we constantly seek to buy new businesses that meet three criteria. First, they must earn good returns on the net tangible capital required in their operation. Second, they must be run by able and honest managers. Finally, they must be available at a sensible price.”

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

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Sunday, February 23

Month 104 - Retire with a Portfolio of Haven Stocks - February 2020

Situation: Once you retire, you’ll start to worry about outliving your nest egg, wondering when the next recession will start, and how bad it will be. If a market meltdown happens soon after you retire, and kicks off a long and deep recession, half of your retirement savings could go out the door.

You need to close that door ahead of time by focusing your portfolio on haven assets that you won’t sell under any circumstances. The problem is that haven assets are boring things, like Savings Bonds, 10-Yr US Treasury Notes, and stock in American Electric Power (AEP). On the opposite side of the coin are assets with moxie, like JPMorgan Chase (JPM), which are likely to lose a lot of value in a market crash. Why? Because buyers of moxie assets pile on, while sellers become relatively scarce. Market crashes can happen fast, especially those due to a credit crunch, so prices for moxie assets can fall too far too fast while their investors rush for the exit. “A run on the bank” is the apt analogy. The lesson is not to exclude moxie (i.e., growth stocks) from your retirement portfolio but to be careful not to overpay for those shares. That means you have to buy before the mania sets in. If your shares double in price but then fall 50% in the next market crash, you haven’t lost money. "For the investor, a too-high purchase price for the stock of an excellent company can undo the effects of a subsequent decade of favorable business developments." -- Warren Buffett.

The trick is to know when the shares you own in an “excellent company” are overpriced. Once you’ve made that determination, stop buying more but continue reinvesting dividends. To be clear, haven stocks aren’t just high-yielding stocks or value stocks. Growth stocks can also qualify, if not overpriced. So let’s look at metrics that Benjamin Graham used to determine if a stock is overpriced. Remember, he was Warren Buffett’s favorite professor at Columbia University’s business school. Graham started by calculating what a stock’s price would be if it reflected ideal valuation, meaning a price 1.5 times Book Value and 15 times Earnings per Share (EPS). He called that price the “Graham Number,” and calculated it as follows: multiply Book Value per share for the most recent quarter (mrq) by Earnings Per Share for the trailing twelve months (ttm), then multiply that number by 22.5 (1.5 x 15 = 22.5). Then calculate the square root of that number on your calculator. A stock priced more than twice the Graham Number is overpriced.

Another number he thought helpful is the 7-yr P/E, which is the stock’s current price divided by average EPS for the last 7 years. Graham thought that number should be no more than 25 for a stock to be considered fairly priced. In other words, a company that historically has a P/E of ~20 (which Graham thought to be the upper limit of normal valuation) might grow its EPS for 7 years at a typical rate of 3.2%/yr. That would result in a 7-yr P/E of 25. The “danger zone” for a stock’s current price to be thought of as overpriced is 2.0 to 2.5 times the Graham Number and 26 to 31 times average EPS over the past 7 years. So, if one of those numbers is in the danger zone and the other exceeds the danger zone, don’t even think about buying it for your retirement portfolio (see Column AG in our Tables, where that degree of overpricing is denoted with a “yes”).

Mission: Use our Standard Spreadsheet to analyze stocks likely to survive a deep recession. I’ll do this by referencing companies that are named in both of the most conservative indexes: 1) FTSE High Dividend Yield Index (VYM, the U.S. version marketed by Vanguard Group); 2) iShares Russell Top 200 Value Index (IWX).

Execution: see Table.

Administration: Any company listed in both those indexes that issues debt rated lower than A- by S&P is excluded, as are any that issue common stocks rated lower than B+/M by S&P. Stocks that don’t have a 16+ year trading record are also excluded because the data is insufficient for statistical analysis of their weekly share prices by the BMW Method. Companies with a zero or negative Book Value in the most recent quarter (mrq) are also excluded, as are companies with negative EPS over the trailing 12 months (ttm).

Bottom Line: The idea behind owning Haven Stocks is that you’ll “live to fight another day” after enduring an economic crisis. During a Bull Market, some of those value stocks will lag behind the market’s performance. But during Bear Markets, they’ll fall less in value. If market crashes haven’t become extinct, value stocks will outperform both growth stocks and momentum stocks over the long term. Just remember: When you buy a stock for your retirement portfolio, it needs to pay an above-market dividend because a time will come when you’ll want to stop reinvesting that stream of dividends and start spending it.

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

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into PFE, NEE, KO, INTC, PG, WMT, JPM, JNJ, USB, CAT, MMM, IBM, XOM, and also own shares of AMGN, DUK, AFL, SO, PEP, TRV, BLK, WFC.

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

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Sunday, January 26

Month 103 - Berkshire Hathaway's A-rated "Value" Stocks with High Dividend Yields - January 2020

Situation: In case your reason for buying stocks in your working years is to have growing income from dividends in your retirement years, we suggest that you prioritize “value stocks.” The bible of value investing is a book (The Intelligent Investor) written by Benjamin Graham, who was Warren Buffett’s instructor while Warren was earning his Master of Science in Economics degree at Columbia University. 

Why value investing, and what is a value stock? The main idea is to not overpay for either Earnings Per Share (EPS over the trailing twelve months, abbreviated ttm) or Book Value per share in the most recent quarter (abbreviated mrq). 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 [per share] below 15 could justify a correspondingly higher multiplier of assets. As a rule of thumb, we suggest that the product of the [EPS] multiplier times the ratio of price to book value should not exceed 22.5.” That is, 1.5 x 15 = 22.5.

How do you calculate the “Graham Number” -- the “rational” stock price listed in Column AA of the Table? It is the square root of 22.5, times (Earnings Per Share for the ttm), times Book Value per share for the 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 average 7-year Earnings Per Share (see page 159 of The Intelligent Investor), c) 3 times Book Value per share (ttm), and d) 3 times sales per share (mrq). If a company meets 3 out of 4 of those criteria, we call its stock a “value stock” in Column AF of the Table

Berkshire Hathaway’s stock portfolio contains 48 holdings worth $214,673,311,000 as of the last 13F SEC filing dated 11/14/19. The top 5 holdings (AAPL, BAC, KO, WFC, AXP) are worth ~$142B (66% of the total). We rate 8 of the 48 as being high-yielding “value” stocks (KO, PG, JPM, JNJ, TRV, USB, PNC, WFC), in that those companies meet an additional 4 criteria we like to use: 1) their bonds are rated A- or better by Standard & Poor’s (S&P), 2) their stocks are rated B+/M or better by S&P, 3) their stocks have the 16+ year trading record that is required for quantitative analysis using the BMW Method, and 4) their stocks are listed in both the iShares Russell 200 Value Index (IWX) and the Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index (VYM). You’ve probably figured out, by this point, that I’m encouraging you to think along these lines when building your own portfolio of retirement stocks. You can get a feel for the process by looking at 8 such stocks Warren Buffett has picked for Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio.

Mission: Update our Month 98 blog, using our Standard Spreadsheet to analyze value stocks in Berkshire Hathaway’s stock portfolio.  

Execution: see Table.

Administration: The 10 largest positions in Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio are:

Apple AAPL ($56B)
Bank of America BAC ($27B)
Coca-Cola KO ($22B)
Wells Fargo WFC ($19B)
American Express AXP ($18B)
Kraft Heinz KHC ($9B)
U.S. Bancorp USB ($7B)
JPMorgan Chase JPM ($7B)
Moody’s MCO ($5B)
Delta Air Lines DAL ($4B)

Six of those 10 are are either not high-yielding stocks or not “value” stocks (AAPL, BAC, AXP, KHC, MCO, DAL). Data for those 6 companies can be found in the BACKGROUND Section of the Table

A system for buying stocks can be boiled down and presented in a spreadsheet, as long as you realize that it omits assumptions used to estimate intrinsic value. But our Standard Spreadsheet won’t go far in helping you decide to sell a stock. All we have to go by is that Warren Buffett has told us he might sell for two reasons: 1) When a higher return is expected by trading to another asset (to include the loss incurred by capital gains tax); 2) When the company changes its fundamentals. He has also named two stocks he would never sell: Coca-Cola (KO) and American Express (AXP). American Express didn’t make our list for two reasons: 1) the S&P Rating for the company’s bonds is BBB+ as opposed to our minimum requirement of A-, and 2) the company is not in the Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index ETF VYM.

Bottom Line: The 8 A-rated high-yielding value stocks account for $57B (27%) of Berkshire’s stock portfolio. Five of those are in the Financial Services industry (Warren Buffett’s area of expertise). Take-home points include a) don’t overpay for a stock, b) buy what you know, and c) remember that the best bargains are to be found in the Financial Services industry. But note that all 4 of his bank stocks have above-market volatility in share prices (see Column I in the Table), which goes far toward explaining why they’re underpriced (average P/E = 13). Also note that while Coca-Cola (KO) and Procter & Gamble (PG) seem overpriced (see Columns AB-AH in the Table), you’d need to consider intrinsic value before coming to that conclusion.  

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 PG, JPM, JNJ and USB, and also own shares of KO, TRV and WFC.

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

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