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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