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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