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.”

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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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