Posts filed under ‘Stocks’

Inside the Brain of an Investing Genius

Photo Source: Boston.com

Those readers who have frequented my Investing Caffeine site are familiar with the numerous profiles on professional investors of both current and prior periods (See Profiles). Many of the individuals described have a tremendous track record of success, while others have a tremendous ability of making outrageous forecasts. I have covered both. Regardless, much can be learned from the successes and failures by mirroring the behavior of the greats – like modeling your golf swing after Tiger Woods (O.K., since Tiger is out of favor right now, let’s say Jordan Spieth). My investment swing borrows techniques and tips from many great investors, but Peter Lynch (ex-Fidelity fund manager), probably more than any icon, has had the most influence on my investing philosophy and career as any investor. His breadth of knowledge and versatility across styles has allowed him to compile a record that few, if any, could match – outside perhaps the great Warren Buffett.

Consider that Lynch’s Magellan fund averaged +29% per year from 1977 – 1990 (almost doubling the return of the S&P 500 index for that period). In 1977, the obscure Magellan Fund started with about $20 million, and by his retirement the fund grew to approximately $14 billion (700x’s larger). Cynics believed that Magellan was too big to adequately perform at $1, $2, $3, $5 and then $10 billion, but Lynch ultimately silenced the critics. Despite the fund’s gargantuan size, over the final five years of Lynch’s tenure, Magellan  outperformed 99.5% of all other funds, according to Barron’s. How did Magellan investors fare in the period under Lynch’s watch? A $10,000 investment initiated when he took the helm would have grown to roughly $280,000 (+2,700%) by the day he retired. Not too shabby.

Background

Lynch graduated from Boston College in 1965 and earned a Master of Business Administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1968.  Like the previously mentioned Warren Buffett, Peter Lynch shared his knowledge with the investing masses through his writings, including his two seminal books One Up on Wall Street and Beating the Street. Subsequently, Lynch authored Learn to Earn, a book targeted at younger, novice investors. Regardless, the ideas and lessons from his writings, including contributing author to Worth magazine, are still transferable to investors across a broad spectrum of skill levels, even today.

The Lessons of Lynch

Although Lynch has left me with enough financially rich content to write a full-blown textbook, I will limit the meat of this article to lessons and quotations coming directly from the horse’s mouth. Here is a selective list of gems Lynch has shared with investors over the years:

Buy within Your Comfort Zone: Lynch simply urges investors to “Buy what you know.” In similar fashion to Warren Buffett, who stuck to investing in stocks within his “circle of competence,” Lynch focused on investments he understood or on industries he felt he had an edge over others. Perhaps if investors would have heeded this advice, the leveraged, toxic derivative debacle occurring over previous years could have been avoided.

Do Your Homework: Building the conviction to ride through equity market volatility requires rigorous homework. Lynch adds, “A company does not tell you to buy it, there is always something to worry about.  There are always respected investors that say you are wrong. You have to know the story better than they do, and have faith in what you know.”

Price Follows Earnings: Investing is often unnecessarily made complicated. Lynch fundamentally believes stock prices will follow the long-term trajectory of earnings growth. He makes the point that “People may bet on hourly wiggles of the market, but it’s the earnings that waggle the wiggle long term.” In a publicly attended group meeting, Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Inc. (DELL), asked Peter Lynch about the direction of Dell’s future stock price. Lynch’s answer: “If your earnings are higher in 5 years, your stock will be higher.” Maybe Dell’s price decline over the last five years can be attributed to its earnings decline over the same period? It’s no surprise that Hewlett-Packard’s dramatic stock price outperformance (relative to DELL) has something to do with the more than doubling of HP’s earnings over the same time frame.

Valuation & Price Declines: “People Concentrate too much on the P (Price), but the E (Earnings) really makes the difference.” In a nutshell, Lynch believes valuation metrics play an important role, but long-term earnings growth will have a larger impact on future stock price appreciation.

Two Key Stock Questions: 1) “Is the stock still attractively priced relative to earnings?” and 2) “What is happening in the company to make the earnings go up?” Improving fundamentals at an attractive price are key components to Lynch’s investing strategy.

Lynch on Buffett: Lynch was given an opportunity to write the foreword in Buffett’s biography, The Warren Buffett Way. Lynch did not believe in “pulling out flowers and watering the weeds,” or in other words, selling winners and buying losers. In highlighting this weed-flower concept, Lynch said this about Buffett: “He purchased over $1 billion of Coca-Cola in 1988 and 1989 after the stock had risen over fivefold the prior six years and over five-hundredfold the previous sixty years. He made four times his money in three years and plans to make a lot more the next five, ten, and twenty years with Coke.” Hammering home the idea that a few good stocks a decade can make an investment career, Lynch had this to say about Buffett: “Warren states that twelve investments decisions in his forty year career have made all the difference.”

You Don’t Need Perfect Batting Average: In order to significantly outperform the market, investors need not generate near perfect results. According to Lynch, “If you’re terrific in this business, you’re right six times out of 10 – I’ve had stocks go from $11 to 7 cents (American Intl Airways).” Here is one recipe Lynch shares with others on how to beat the market: “All you have to do really is find the best hundred stocks in the S&P 500 and find another few hundred outside the S&P 500 to beat the market.”

The Critical Element of Patience: With the explosion of information, expansion of the internet age, and the reduction of trading costs has come the itchy trading finger. This hasty investment principle runs contrary to Lynch’s core beliefs. Here’s what he had to say regarding the importance of a steady investment hand:

  • “In my investing career, the best gains usually have come in the third or fourth year, not in the third or fourth week or the third or fourth month.”
  • “Whatever method you use to pick stocks or stock mutual funds, your ultimate success or failure will depend on your ability to ignore the worries of the world long enough to allow your investments to succeed.”
  • “Often, there is no correlation between the success of a company’s operations and the success of its stock over a few months or even a few years. In the long term, there is a 100% correlation between the success of a company and the success of its stock. It pays to be patient, and to own successful companies.”
  • “The key to making money in stocks is not to get scared out of them.”

Bear Market Beliefs: “I’m always more depressed by an overpriced market in which many stocks are hitting new highs every day than by a beaten-down market in a recession,” says Lynch. The media responds in exactly the opposite manner – bear markets lead to an inundation of headlines driven by panic-based fear. Lynch shares a similar sentiment to Warren Buffett when it comes to the media holding a glass half full view in bear markets.

Market Worries:  Is worrying about market concerns worth the stress? Not according to Lynch. His belief: “I’ve always said if you spend 13 minutes a year on economics, you’ve wasted 10 minutes.” Just this last March, Lynch used history to drive home his views: “We’ve had 11 recessions since World War II and we’ve had a perfect score — 11 recoveries. There are a lot of natural cushions in the economy now that weren’t there in the 1930s. They keep things from getting out of control.  We have the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation [which insures bank deposits]. We have social security. We have pensions. We have two-person, working families. We have unemployment payments. And we have a Federal Reserve with a brain.”

Thoughts on Cyclicals: Lynch divided his portfolio into several buckets, and cyclical stocks occupied one of the buckets. “Cyclicals are like blackjack: stay in the game too long and it’s bound to take all your profit,” Lynch emphasized.

Selling Discipline: The rationale behind Lynch’s selling discipline is straightforward – here are some of his thoughts on the subject:

  • “When the fundamentals change, sell your mistakes.”
  • “Write down why you own a stock and sell it if the reason isn’t true anymore.”
  • “Sell a stock because the company’s fundamentals deteriorate, not because the sky is falling.”

Distilling the genius of an investing legend like Peter Lynch down to a single article is not only a grueling challenge, but it also cannot bring complete justice to the vast accomplishments of this incredible investment legend. Nonetheless, his record should be meticulously studied in hopes of adding jewels of investment knowledge to the repertoires of all investors. If delving into the head of this investing mastermind can provide access to even a fraction of his vast knowledge pool, then we can all benefit by adding a slice of this greatness to our investment portfolios.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, including KO, but at time of publishing had no direct positions in DELL, HPQ or any other security mentioned. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

August 15, 2015 at 10:00 am 5 comments

Investors Take a Vacation

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (August 3, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

It’s summertime and the stock market has taken a vacation, and it’s unclear when prices will return from a seven month break. It may seem like a calm sunset walk along the beach now that Greek worries have temporarily subsided, but concerns have shifted to an impending Federal Reserve interest rate hike, declining commodity prices, and a Chinese stock market crash, which could lead to a painful sunburn.

If you think about it, stock investors have basically been on unpaid vacation since the beginning of the year, with the Dow Jones Industrial Index (17,690) down -0.7% for 2015 and the S&P 500 (2,104) up + 2.2% over the same time period (see chart below). Despite mixed results for the year, all three main stock indexes rebounded in July (including the tech-heavy NASDAQ +2.8% for the month) after posting negative returns in June. Overall for 2015, sector performance has been muddled. There has been plenty of sunshine on the Healthcare sector (+11.7%), but Energy stocks have been stuck in the doldrums (-13.4%), over the same timeframe.

Source: Yahoo! Finance

Chinese Investors Suffer Heat Stroke

Despite gains for U.S. stocks in July, the overheated Chinese stock marketcaused some heat stroke for global investors with the Shanghai Composite index posting its worst one month loss (-15%) in six years, wiping out about $4 trillion in market value. Before coming back down to earth, the Chinese stock market inflated by more than +150% from 2014.

Driving the speculative fervor were an unprecedented opening of 12 million monthly accounts during spring, according to Steven Rattner, a seasoned financier, investor, and a New York Times journalist. Margin accounts operate much like a credit card for individuals, which allowed these investors to aggressively gamble on the China market upswing, but during the downdraft investors were forced to sell stocks to generate proceeds for outstanding loan repayments. It’s estimated that 25% of these investors only have an elementary education and a significant number of them are illiterate. Further exacerbating the sell-off were Chinese regulators artificially intervening by halting trading in about 500 companies on the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges last Friday, equivalent to approximately 18% of all listings.

Although China, as the second largest economy on the globe, is much more economically important than a country like Greece, recent events should be placed into proper context. For starters, as you can see from the chart below, the Chinese stock market is no stranger to volatility. According to Fundstrat Global Advisors, the Shanghai composite index has experienced 10 bear markets over the last 25 years, and the recent downdraft doesn’t compare to the roughly -75% decline we saw in 2007-2008. Moreover, there is no strong correlation between the Chinese stock market. Only 15% of Chinese households own stocks, or measured differently, only 6% of household assets are held in stocks, says economic-consulting firm IHS Global Insight. More important than the question, “What will happen to the Chinese stock market?,” is the question,  “What will happen to the Chinese stock economy?,” which has been on a perennial slowdown of late. Nevertheless, China has a 7%+ economic growth rate and the highest savings rate of any major country, both factors for which the U.S. economy would kill.

Source: Yardeni.com

Don’t Take a Financial Planning Vacation

While the financial markets continue to bounce around and interest rates oscillate based on guesswork of a Federal Reserve interest rate hike in September, many families are now returning from vacations, or squeezing one in before the back-to-school period. The sad but true fact is many Americans spend more time planning their family vacation than they do planning for their financial futures. Unfortunately, individuals cannot afford to take a vacation from their investment and financial planning. At the risk of stating the obvious, planning for retirement will have a much more profound impact on your future years than a well-planned trip to Hawaii or the Bahamas.

We live in an instant gratification society where “spend now, save later” is a mantra followed by many. There’s nothing wrong with splurging on a vacation, and to maintain sanity and family cohesion it is almost a necessity. However, this objective does not have to come at the expense of compromising financial responsibility – or in other words spending within your means. Investing is a lot like consistent dieting and exercising…it’s easy to understand, but difficult to sustainably execute. Vacations, on the other hand, are easy to understand, and easy to execute, especially if you have a credit card with an available balance.

It’s never too late to work on your financial planning muscle. As I discuss in a previous article (Getting to Your Number) , one of the first key steps is to calculate an annual budget relative to your income, so one can somewhat accurately determine how much money can be saved/invested for retirement. Circumstances always change, but having a base-case scenario will help determine whether your retirement goals are achievable. If expectations are overly optimistic, spending cuts, revenue enhancing adjustments, and/or retirement date changes can still be made.

When it comes to the stock market, there are never a shortage of concerns. Today, worries include a Greek eurozone exit (“Grexit”); decelerating China economic growth and a declining Chinese stock market; and the viability of Donald’s Trump’s presidential campaign (or lack thereof). While it may be true that stock prices are on a temporary vacation, your financial and investment planning strategies cannot afford to go on vacation.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

August 3, 2015 at 10:51 am Leave a comment

Digesting Stock Gains

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (June 1, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

Despite calls for “Sell in May, and go away,” the stock market as measured by both the Dow Jones Industrial and S&P 500 indexes grinded out a +1% gain during the month of May. For the year, the picture looks much the same…the Dow is up around +1% and the S&P 500 +2%. After gorging on gains of +30% in 2013 and +11% in 2014, it comes as no surprise to me that the S&P 500 is taking time to digest the gains. After eating any large pleasurable meal, there’s always a chance for some indigestion – just like last month. More specifically, the month of May ended as it did the previous six months…with a loss on the last trading day (-115 points). Providing some extra heartburn over the last 30 days were four separate 100+ point decline days. Realized fears of a Greek exit from the eurozone would no doubt have short-term traders reaching for some Tums antacid. Nevertheless, veteran investors understand this is par for the course, especially considering the outsized profits devoured in recent years.

The profits have been sweet, but not everyone has been at the table gobbling up the gains. And with success, always comes the skeptics, many of whom have been calling for a decline for years. This begs the question, “Are we in a stock bubble?” I think not.

Bubble Bites

Most asset bubbles are characterized by extreme investor/speculator euphoria. There are certainly small pockets of excitement percolating up in the stock market, but nothing like we experienced in the most recent burstings of the 2000 technology and 2006-07 housing bubbles. Yes, housing has steadily improved post the housing crash, but does this look like a housing bubble? (see New Home Sales chart)

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

Another characteristic of a typical asset bubble is rabid buying. However, when it comes to the investor fund flows into the U.S. stock market, we are seeing the exact opposite…money is getting sucked out of stocks like a Hoover vacuum cleaner. Over the last eight or so years, there has been almost -$700 billion that has hemorrhaged out of domestic equity funds – actions tend to speak louder than words (see chart below):

Source: Investment Company Institute (ICI)

The shift to Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) offered by the likes of iShares and Vanguard doesn’t explain the exodus of cash because ETFs such as S&P 500 SPDR ETF (SPY) are suffering dramatically too. SPY has drained about -$17 billion alone over the last year and a half.

With money flooding out of these stock funds, how can stock prices move higher? Well, one short answer is that hundreds of billions of dollars in share buybacks and trillions in mergers and acquisitions activity (M&A) is contributing to the tide lifting all stock boats. Low interest rates and stimulative monetary policies by central banks around the globe are no doubt contributing to this positive trend. While the U.S. Federal Reserve has already begun reversing its loose monetary policies and has threatened to increase short-term interest rates, by any objective standard, interest rates should remain at very supportive levels relative to historical benchmarks.

Besides housing and fund flows data, there are other unbiased sentiment indicators that indicate investors have not become universally Pollyannaish. Take for example the weekly AAII Sentiment Survey, which shows 73% of investors are currently Bearish and/or Neutral – significantly higher than historical averages.

The Consumer Confidence dataset also shows that not everyone is wearing rose-colored glasses. Looking back over the last five decades, you can see the current readings are hovering around the historical averages – nowhere near the bubblicious 2000 peak (~50% below).

Source: Bespoke

Recession Reservations

Even if you’re convinced there is no imminent stock market bubble bursting, many of the same skeptics (and others) feel we’re on the verge of a recession  – I’ve been writing about many of them since 2009. You could choke on an endless number of economic indicators, but on the common sense side of the economic equation, typically rising unemployment is a good barometer for any potentially looming recession. Here’s the unemployment rate we’re looking at now (with shaded periods indicating prior recessions):

As you can see, the recent 5.4% unemployment rate is still moving on a downward, positive trajectory. By most peoples’ estimation, because this has been the slowest recovery since World War II, there is still plenty of labor slack in the market to keep hiring going.

An even better leading indicator for future recessions has been the slope of the yield curve. A yield curve plots interest rate yields of similar bonds across a range of periods (e.g., three-month bill, six-month bill, one-year bill, two-year note, five-year note, 10-year note and 30-year bond). Traditionally, as short-term interest rates move higher, this phenomenon tends to flatten the yield curve, and eventually inverts the yield curve (i.e., short-term interest rates are higher than long-term interest rates). Over the last few decades, when the yield curve became inverted, it was an excellent leading indicator of a pending recession (click here and select “Animate” to see amazing interactive yield curve graph). Fortunately for the bulls, there is no sign of an inverted yield curve – 30-year rates remain significantly higher than short-term rates (see chart below).

Stock market skeptics continue to rationalize the record high stock prices by pointing to the artificially induced Federal Reserve money printing buying binge. It is true that the buffet of gains is not sustainable at the same pace as has been experienced over the last six years. As we continue to move closer to full employment in this economic cycle, the rapid accumulated wealth will need to be digested at a more responsible rate. An unexpected Greek exit from the EU or spike in interest rates could cause a short-term stomach ache, but until many of the previously mentioned indicators reach dangerous levels, please pass the gravy.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in SPY and other certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

June 1, 2015 at 12:31 pm 1 comment

Netflix: Burn It and They Will Come

Baseball Field Morgue

In the successful, but fictional movie, Fields of Dreams, an Iowa farmer played by actor Kevin Costner is told by voices to build a field for baseball playing ghosts. After the baseball diamond is completed, the team of Chicago White Sox ghosts, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, come to play.

Well, in the case of the internet streaming giant Netflix Inc (NFLX), instead of chasing ghosts, the company continues to chase the ghosts of profitability. Netflix’s share price has already soared +63% this year as the company continues to burn hundreds of millions in cash, while aggressively building out its international streaming footprint. Unlike Kevin Costner, Netflix investors are likely to eventually get spooked by the by the stratospheric valuation and bleeding cash.

At Sidoxia, we may be a dying breed, but our primary focus is on finding market leading franchises that are growing cash flows at reasonable valuations. In sticking with my nostalgic movie quoting, I believe as Cuba Gooding Jr. does in the classic movie, Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money!” Unfortunately for Netflix, right now the only money to be shown is the money getting burned.

Burn It and They Will Come

Money Burning

In a little over three years, Netflix has burned over -$350 million in cash, added $2 billion in debt, and spent approximately -$11 billion on streaming content (about -$4.6 billion alone in the last 12 months). As the hemorrhaging of cash accelerates (-$163 million in the recent quarter), investors with valuation dementia have bid up Netflix shares to a head-scratching 350x’s estimated earnings this year and a still mind-boggling valuation of 158x’s 2016 Wall Street earnings estimates of $3.53 per share. Of course the questionable valuation built on accounting smoke and mirrors looks even more absurd, if you base it on free cash flow…because Netflix has none. What makes the Netflix story even scarier is that on top of the rising $2.4 billion in debt anchored on their balance sheet, Netflix also has commitments to purchase an additional $9.8 billion in streaming content in the coming years.

For the time being, investors are enamored with Netflix’s growing revenues and subscribers. I’ve seen this movie before (no pun intended), in the late 1990s when investors would buy growth with reckless neglect of valuation. For those of you who missed it, the ending wasn’t pretty. What’s causing the financial stress at Netflix? It’s fairly simple. Beyond the spending like drunken sailors on U.S. television and movie content (third party and original), the company is expanding aggressively internationally.

The open check book writing began in 2010 when Netflix started their international expansion in Canada. Since then, the company has launched their service in Latin America, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden Norway, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Australia, and New Zealand.

With all this international expansion behind Netflix, investors should surely be able to breathe a sigh of relief by now…right? Wrong. David Wells, Netflix’s CFO had this to say in the company’s recent investor conference call. Not only have international losses worsened by 86% in the recent quarter, “You should expect those losses to trend upward and into 2016.” Excellent, so the horrific losses should only deteriorate for another year or so…yay.

While Netflix is burning hundreds of millions in cash, the well documented streaming competition is only getting worse. This begs the question, what is Netflix’s real competitive advantage? I certainly don’t believe it is the company’s ability to borrow billions of dollars and write billions in content checks – we are seeing plenty of competitors repeating the same activity. Here is a partial list of the ever-expanding streaming and cord-cutting competitive offerings:

  • Amazon Prime Instant Video (AMZN)
  • Apple TV (AAPL)
  • Hulu
  • Sony Vue
  • HBO Now
  • Sling TV (through Dish Network – DISH)
  • CBS Streaming
  • YouTube (GOOG)
  • Nickelodeon Streaming

Sadly for Netflix, this more challenging competitive environment is creating a content bidding war, which is squeezing Netflix’s margins. But wait, say the Netflix bulls. I should focus my attention on the company’s expanding domestic streaming margins. This is true, if you carelessly ignore the accounting gimmicks that Netflix CFO David Wells freely acknowledges. On the recent investor call, here is Wells’s description of the company’s expense diversion trickery by geography:

“So by growing faster internationally, and putting that [content expense] allocation more towards international, it’s going to provide some relief to those global originals, and the global projects that we do have, that are allocated to the U.S.”

 

In other words, Wells admits shoving a lot of domestic content costs into the international segment to make domestic profit margins look better (higher).  Longer term, perhaps this allocation could make some sense, but for now I’m not convinced viewers in Luxembourg are watching Orange is the New Black and House of Cards like they are in the U.S.

Technology: Amazon Doing the Heavy Lifting

If check writing and accounting diversions aren’t a competitive advantage, does Netflix have a technology advantage? That’s tough to believe when Netflix effectively outsources all their distribution technology to Amazon.com Inc (AMZN).

Here’s how Netflix describes their technology relationship with Amazon:

“We run the vast majority of our computing on [Amazon Web Services] AWS. Given this, along with the fact that we cannot easily switch our AWS operations to another cloud provider, any disruption of or interference with our use of AWS would impact our operations and our business would be adversely impacted. While the retail side of Amazon competes with us, we do not believe that Amazon will use the AWS operation in such a manner as to gain competitive advantage against our service.”

 

Call me naïve, but something tells me Amazon could be stealing some secret pointers and best practices from Netflix’s operations and applying them to their Amazon Prime Instant Video offering. Nah, probably not. Like Netflix said, Amazon wouldn’t steal anything to gain a competitive advantage…never.

Regardless, the real question surrounding Netflix should focus on whether a $35 billion valuation should be awarded to a money losing content portal that distributes content through Amazon? For comparison purposes, Netflix is currently valued at 20% more than Viacom Inc (VIA), the owner of valuable franchises and brands like Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central, BET, VH1, Spike, and more. Viacom, which was spun off from CBS 44 years ago, actually generated about $2.5 billion in cash last year and paid out about a half billion dollars in dividends. Quite a stark contrast compared to a company accelerating its cash losses.

I openly admit Netflix is a wonderful service, and I have been a loyal, longtime subscriber myself. But a good service does not necessarily equate to a good stock. And despite being short the stock, Sidoxia is actually long the company’s bonds. It’s certainly possible (and likely) Netflix’s stock will underperform from today’s nosebleed valuation, but under almost any scenario I can imagine, I have a difficult time foreseeing an outcome in which Netflix would go bankrupt by 2021. Bond investors currently agree, which explains why my Netflix bonds are trading at a 5% premium to par.

Netflix stockholders, and crazy disciples like Mark Cuban, on the other hand, may have more to worry about in the coming quarters. CEO Reed Hastings is sticking to his “burn it and they will come” strategy at all costs, but if profits and cash don’t begin to pile up quickly, then Netflix’s “Field of Dreams” will turn into a “Field of Nightmares.”

Investment Questions Border

 

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), AAPL, GOOGL, AMZN, long Netflix bond position, long Dish Corp bond, and a short position in NFLX, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in VIA, TWX, SNE, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

April 25, 2015 at 11:42 pm Leave a comment

Fink & Capitalism: Need 4 Kitchens in Your House?

Kitchens

Do you need four kitchens in your house? Apparently financial industry titan Larry Fink does. If Mr. Fink were a designer for millionaire homeowners, he would advise them to use their millions to build more kitchens in their house (reinvest) rather than distribute those monies to family members (dividends) or use that money to pay back an equity loan from mom and dad for the down payment (share buybacks). Essentially that is exactly what is happening in the stock market. Companies that are generating record profits and margins (millionaires) are increasingly choosing to pay out larger percentages of profits to stockholders (family members) in the form of rising dividends and share buybacks. Contrary to Mr. Fink’s belief, corporate America is actually doing plenty with room additions, landscaping, and roof replacements – I will describe more later.

As a consequence of corporate America’s increasingly shareholder friendly practices of returning cash, Fink believes this trend will stifle innovation and long-term growth in American companies. Here’s a snapshot of the supposed dividend/buyback problem Mr. Fink describes:

Source: Financial Times

Source: Financial Times

Fink Mails Letter from Soapbox

For those of you who do not know who Larry Fink is, he is the successful Chairman and CEO of BlackRock Inc. (BLK), an investment manager which oversees about $4.65 trillion in investment assets. Mr. Fink ignited this recent financial controversy when he jumped on his soapbox by mailing letters to 500 CEOs lecturing them on the importance of long-term investing. What is Mr. Fink’s beef? Fink’s issues revolve around his belief that CEOs and corporations are too short-term oriented.

In his letter, Mr. Fink had this to say:

“This pressure [to meet short-term financial goals] originates from a number of sources—the proliferation of activist shareholders seeking immediate returns, the ever-increasing velocity of capital, a media landscape defined by the 24/7 news cycle and a shrinking attention span, and public policy that fails to encourage truly long-term investment.”

 

He goes on to bolster his argument with the following:

“More and more corporate leaders have responded with actions that can deliver immediate returns to shareholders, such as buybacks or dividend increases, while underinvesting in innovation, skilled workforces or essential capital expenditures necessary to sustain long-term growth.”

 

What Mr. Fink does not say in his letter is that large, multinational S&P 500 corporations driving this six-year bull run are sitting on a record hoard of cash, exceeding $1.4 trillion (see chart below). In this light, it should come as no surprise that CEOs are forking over more cash to investors in the forms of dividends and share repurchases.

Cash S&P500

What’s more, despite Fink’s assertion that share buybacks and dividends are killing innovation, he also fails to mention in his letter that 2014 capital expenditures of $730 billion are also at a record level. That’s right, CAPEX has not been cut to the bone as he implies, but rather risen to all-time highs.

It’s true that generationally low (and declining) interest rates have accelerated the pace of dividends/repurchases, however dividend payout ratios (the percentage of profits distributed to shareholders) of about 32% remain firmly below the long-term payout ratio of approximately 54% (see chart below) – see also Dividend Floodgates Widen. I find it difficult to fault many companies doing something with the gargantuan piles of inflation-losing cash anchoring their balance sheets. Don’t cash-rich companies have a fiduciary duty to borrow reasonable amounts of near-0% debt today (see Bunny Rabbit Market) in exchange for share buybacks currently providing returns of about 5.5% (inverse of 18x P/E ratio) and likely yielding 7%+ returns five years from now?

Source: Financial Times

Source: Financial Times

The “Short-Term” Poster Child – Apple

There is no arguing that excessive debt eventually can catch up to a company. Our multi-year expanding economy is eventually due for another recession in the coming years, and there will be hell to pay for irresponsible, overleveraged companies. With that said, let’s take a look at the poster child of “short-termism” according to Mr. Fink …Apple Inc. (AAPL).

Of the roughly $500 billion in buybacks spent by S&P 500 companies in 2014, Apple accounted for approximately $45 billion of that figure. On top of that, CEO Tim Cook and his board generously decided to return another $11 billion to shareholders in the form of dividends. Has this “short-term” return of capital stifled innovation from the company that has launched iPhone version 6, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple Pay, and is investing into exciting areas like Apple Television, Apple Car, and who knows what else?

To put these Apple numbers into perspective, consider that last year Apple spent over $6 billion on research and development (R&D); $10 billion on capital expenditures; and hired over 12,000 new full-time employees. This doesn’t exactly sound like the death of innovation to me. Even after doling out roughly -$28 billion in expenditures and -$56 billion in dividends/share repurchases, Apple was amazingly able to keep their net cash position flat at an eye-popping +$141 billion!

Mr. Fink abhors “activist shareholders seeking immediate returns” but rather than deriding them perhaps he should send the greedy, capitalist Carl Icahn a personal thank you letter. Since Icahn’s vocal plea for a large Apple share buyback, the shares have skyrocketed about +85%, catapulting BlackRock’s ownership value in Apple to over $19 billion.

With respect to these increasing outlays, Mr. Fink also notes:

“Returning excessive amounts of capital to investors—who will enjoy comparatively meager benefits from it in this environment—sends a discouraging message.”

 

This would be true if investors took the dividends and stuffed them under their mattress, but an important message Mr. Fink neglects to address as it relates to dividends and share buybacks is demographics. There are 76 million Baby Boomers born between 1946 – 1964 and a Boomer is turning age 65 every 8 seconds. With many bonds trading at near 0% yields (even negative yields) it is no wonder many income starving retirees are demanding many of these cash-rich corporations to share more of the growing spoils via rising dividends.

Capitalism Works

After looking at a few centuries of our country’s history, one of the main lessons we can learn is that capitalism works – especially over the long-run. With about 200 countries across the globe, there is a reason the U.S. is #1…we’re good at capitalism. As our economy has matured over the decades, it is true our priorities and challenges have changed. It is also true that other countries may be narrowing the gap with the U.S., due to certain advantages (e.g., demographics, lower entitlements, easier regulations, etc), but the U.S. will continue to evolve.

In many respects, capitalism is very much like Darwinism – corporations either adapt with the competition…or they die. I repeatedly hear from pessimists that the U.S. is in a secular state of decline, but if that’s the case, how come the U.S. continues to dominate and innovate in major industries like biotechnology, mobile technology, networking, internet, aviation, energy, media, and transportation? Quite simply, we are the best and most experienced practitioners of capitalism.

Certainly, capitalism will continue to cultivate cyclical periods of excess investment/leverage and insufficient regulation. But guess what? Investors, including the public, eventually lose their shirts and behaviors/regulations adjust. At least for a little while, until the next period of excess takes hold. If Apple, and other balance sheet healthy companies allocate capital irresponsibly, capital will flow towards more aggressive and innovative companies. BlackBerry Limited (BBRY) knows a little bit about the consequences of cutthroat competition and suboptimal capital allocation.

While I emphatically share Mr. Fink’s focus on long-term investing values (including his self-serving tax reform ideas), I vigorously disagree with his attacks on shareholder friendly actions and his characterization of rising dividends/buybacks as short-term in nature. In fact, increasing dividends and share buybacks can very much coexist as a long-term investment and capital allocation strategy.

The question of proper capital allocation should have more to do with the age of a company. It only makes sense that younger companies on average should reinvest more of their profits into growth and innovation. On the other hand, more mature S&P 500-like companies will be in a better position to distribute higher percentages of profits to shareholders – especially as cash levels continue to rise to record levels and leverage remains in check.

BlackRock’s Larry Fink may continue to urge CEOs to reinvest their growing cash hoards into superfluous corporate kitchens, but Sidoxia and other prudent capitalist investors will continue to exhort CEOs to opportunistically take advantage of near-free borrowing rates and responsibly share the accretive gains with shareholders. That’s a message Mr. Fink should include in a letter to CEOs – he can use BlackRock’s lofty, above-average dividend to cover the cost of postage.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) including AAPL and iShares ETFs, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in BLK, BBRY or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

April 18, 2015 at 1:58 pm Leave a comment

Ceasefires & Investor Quagmires

tank worry

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (March 1, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

Considering the following current event headlines, who would have guessed the stock market is trading near record, all-time highs and the NASDAQ index breaking 5,000 for the first time since the year 2000?

After reading all these depressing stories, I feel more like taking a Prozac pill than I do venturing into the investing world. Unfortunately, in the media world, the overarching motto driving the selection of published stories is, “If it bleeds, it leads!” Plainly and simply, bad news sells. The media outlets prey on our human behavioral shortcomings. Specifically, people feel the pain from losses at a rate more than double the feelings of pleasure (see Controlling the Lizard Brain and chart below).

pleasure gain pain loss

This phenomenon leaves Americans and the overall investing public choking on the daily doom and gloom headlines. Investor skepticism caused by the 2008-2009 financial crisis is evidenced by historically low stock ownership statistics and stagnant equity purchase flow data. Talk of another stock bubble has been introduced again now that the NASDAQ is approaching 5,000 again, but we are not seeing signs of this phenomenon in the IPO market (Initial Public Offering) – see chart below. IPOs are on the rise, but the number of filings is more than -50% below the peak of 845 IPOs seen in the late 1990s when former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan made his famous “irrational exuberance” speech (see also Irrational Exuberance Deja Vu and chart below).

global ipo pricings

Uggh! 0.08% Really?

Compounding the never-ending pessimism problem is the near-0% interest rate environment. Times are long gone when you could earn 18% on a certificate of deposit (see chart below). Today, you can earn 0.08% on a minimum $10,000 investment in a Bank of America (BAC) Certificate of Deposit (CD). Invest at that rate for more than a decade and you will have almost accumulated a $100 (~1%) – probably enough for a single family meal…without tip. To put these paltry interest rates into perspective, the U.S. stock market as measured by the S&P 500 index was up a whopping +5.5% last month and the Dow Jones Industrials climbed +5.6% (+968 points to 18,133). Granted, last month’s S&P 500 percentage increase was the largest advance since 2011, but if I wanted to earn an equivalent +5.5% return by investing in that Bank of America CD, it would take me to age 100 years old before I earned that much!

cd rates

Globally, the interest rate picture doesn’t look much prettier. In fact, the negative interest rate bonds offered in Switzerland and other neighboring countries, including France and Germany, have left investors in these bonds with guaranteed losses, if held to maturity (see also Draghi Beer Goggles).

Money Seeking Preferred Treatment

Investors and followers of mine have heard me repeatedly declare that “money goes where it is treated best.” When many investments are offering 0% (or negative yields), it comes as no surprise to me that dividend paying stocks have handily outperformed the overall bond market in recent years. Hard to blame someone investing in certain stocks offering between 2-6% in dividends when the alternative is offered at or near 0%.

While at Sidoxia we are still finding plenty of opportunities in the equity markets, I want to extend the reminder that not everyone can (or should) increase their equity allocation because of personal time horizon and risk tolerance constraints. Regardless, the current, restricting global financial markets are highlighting the scarcity of investment alternatives available.

As we will continue to be bombarded with more cease fires, quagmires and other bleeding headlines, investors will be better served by ignoring the irrelevant headlines and instead create a long-term financial plan with an asset allocation designed to meeting their personal goals. By following this strategy, you can let the dooms-dayers bleed while you succeed.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) and BAC, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

March 2, 2015 at 12:11 pm Leave a comment

Inflating Dollars & Deflating Footballs

money football

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (February 2, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

In the weeks building up to Super Bowl XLIX (New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks) much of the media hype was focused on the controversial alleged “Deflategate”, or the discovery of deflated Patriot footballs, which theoretically could have been used for an unfair advantage by New England’s quarterback Tom Brady. While Brady ended up winning his record-tying 4th Super Bowl ring for the Patriots by defeating the Seahawks 28-24, the stock market deflated during the first month of 2015 as well. Similar to last year, the stock market has temporarily declined last January before surging ahead +11.4% for the full year of 2014. It’s early in 2015, and investors chose to lock-in a small portion of the hefty, multi-year bull market gains. The S&P 500 was sacked for a loss of -3.1% and the Dow Jones Industrial index by -3.7%.

Despite some early performance headwinds, the U.S. economy kicked off the year with the wind behind its back in the form of deflating oil prices. Specifically, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices declined -9.4% last month to $48.24, and over -51.0% over the last six months. Like a fresh set of substitute legs coming off the bench to support the team, the oil price decline represents an effective $125 billion tax cut for consumers in the form of lower gasoline prices (average $2.03 per gallon nationally) – see chart below. The gasoline relief will allow consumers more discretionary spending money, so football fans, for example, can buy more hot dogs, beer, and souvenirs at the Super Bowl. The cause for the recent price bust? The primary reasons are three-fold: 1) Sluggish oil demand from developed markets like Europe and Japan coupled with slowing consumption growth in some emerging markets like China; 2) Growing supply in various U.S. fracking regions has created a temporary global oil glut; and 3) Uncertainty surrounding OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) supply/production policies, which became even more unclear with the recent announced death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.

gas chart

Source: AAA

More deflating than the NFL football’s “Deflategate” is the approximate -17% collapse in the value of the euro currency (see chart below). Euro currency matters were made worse in response to European Central Bank’s (ECB) President Mario Draghi’s announcement that the eurozone would commence its own $67 billion monthly Quantitative Easing (QE) program (very similar to the QE program that Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen halted last year). In total, if carried out to its full design, the euro QE version should amount to about $1.3 trillion. The depreciating effect on the euro (and appreciating value of the euro) should help stimulate European exports, while lowering the cost of U.S. imports – you may now be able to afford that new Rolls-Royce purchase you’ve been putting off. What’s more, the rising dollar is beneficial for Americans who are planning to vacation abroad…Paris here we come!

Euro vs Dollar 2015

Source: XE.com

Another fumble suffered by the global currency markets was introduced with the unexpected announcement by the Swiss National Bank (SNB) that decided to remove its artificial currency peg to the euro. Effectively, the SNB had been purchased and accumulated a $490 billion war-chest reserve (Supply & Demand Lessons) to artificially depress the value of the Swiss franc, thereby allowing the country to sell more Swiss army knives and watches abroad. When the SNB could no longer afford to prop up the value of the franc, the currency value spiked +20% against the euro in a single day…ouch! In addition to making its exports more expensive for foreigners, the central bank’s move also pushed long-term Swiss Treasury bond yields negative. No, you don’t need to check your vision – investors are indeed paying Switzerland to hold investor money (i.e., interest rates are at an unprecedented negative level).

In addition to some of the previously mentioned setbacks, financial markets suffered another penalty flag. Last month, multiple deadly terrorist acts were carried out at a satirical magazine headquarters and a Jewish supermarket – both in Paris. Combined, there were 16 people who lost their lives in these senseless acts of violence. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a Utopian world, so with seven billion people in this world there will continue to be pointless incidences like these. However, the good news is the economic game always goes on in spite of terrorism.

As is always the case, there will always be concerns in the marketplace, whether it is worries about inflation, geopolitics, the economy, Federal Reserve policy, or other factors like a potential exit of Greece out of the eurozone. These concerns have remained in place over the last six years and the stock market has about tripled. The fact remains that interest rates are at a generational low (see also Stretching the High Yield Rubber Band), thereby supplying a scarcity of opportunities in the fixed income space. Diversification remains important, but regardless of your time horizon and risk tolerance, attractively valued equities, including high-quality, dividend-paying stocks should account for a certain portion of your portfolio. Any winning retirement playbook understands a low-cost, globally diversified portfolio, integrating a broad set of asset classes is the best way of preventing a “deflating” outcome in your long-term finances.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs),  but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

February 2, 2015 at 12:40 pm Leave a comment

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