Posts tagged ‘R&D’

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

NASDAQ Redux

Twin Babies

The NASDAQ Composite index once again crossed the psychologically, all-important 5,000 threshold this week for the first time since the infamous tech-bubble burst in the year 2000. Of course, naturally, the media jumped on a non-stop, multi-day offensive comparing and contrasting today’s NASDAQ vs. the NASDAQ twin of yesteryear. Rather than rehash the discussion once again, I have decided to post three articles I published in recent years on the topic covering the outperformance of the spotlighted, tech-heavy index.

NASDAQ 5,000 Irrational Exuberance Déjà Vu?

All Right!

Investors love round numbers and with the Dow Jones Industrial index recently piercing 17,000 and the S&P 500 index having broken 2,000 , even novice investors have something to talk about around the office water cooler. While new all-time records are being set for the major indices during September, the unsung, tech-laden NASDAQ index has yet to surpass its all-time high of 5,132 achieved 14 and ½ years ago during March of 2000.

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NASDAQ and the R&D Tech Revolution

Technology

It’s been a bumpy start for stocks so far in 2014, but the fact of the matter is the NASDAQ Composite Index is up this year and hit a 14-year high in the latest trading session (highest level since 2000). The same cannot be said for the Dow Jones Industrial and S&P 500 indices, which are both lagging and down for the year. Not only did the NASDAQ outperform the Dow by almost +12% in 2013, but the NASDAQ has also trounced the Dow by over +70% over the last five years.

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NASDAQ: The Ugly Stepchild

NASDAQ Stepchild

All the recent media focus has been fixated on whether the Dow Jones Industrial Average index (“The Dow”) will close above the 13,000 level. In the whole scheme of things, this specific value doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it does make for a great topic of conversation at a cocktail party. Today, the Dow is trading at 12,983, a level not achieved in more than three and a half years. Not a bad accomplishment, given the historic financial crisis on our shores and the debacle going on overseas, but I’m still not so convinced a miniscule +0.1% move in the Dow means much. While the Dow and the S&P 500 indexes garner the hearts and minds of journalists and TV reporters, the ugly stepchild index, the NASDAQ, gets about as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield (see also No Respect in the Investment World).

Click Here to Read the Rest of the Article

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.

March 7, 2015 at 3:27 pm Leave a comment

NASDAQ and the R&D-Tech Revolution

Technology

It’s been a bumpy start for stocks so far in 2014, but the fact of the matter is the NASDAQ Composite Index is up this year and hit a 14-year high in the latest trading session (highest level since 2000). The same cannot be said for the Dow Jones Industrial and S&P 500 indices, which are both lagging and down for the year. Not only did the NASDAQ outperform the Dow by almost +12% in 2013, but the NASDAQ has also trounced the Dow by over +70% over the last five years.

Is this outperformance a fluke or random coincidence? I’d beg to differ, and we will explore the reasons behind the NASDAQ being treated like the Rodney Dangerfield of indices. Or in other words, why the NASDAQ gets “no respect!” (see also NASDAQ Ugly Step Child).

Compared to the “bubble” days of the nineties, today’s discussions more rationally revolve around profits, cash flows, and valuations. Many of us old crusty veterans remember all the crazy talk of the “New Economy,” “clicks,” and “eyeballs” that took place in the mid-to-late 1990s. Those metrics and hyperbole are used less today, but if NASDAQ’s dominance extends significantly, I’m sure some new and old descriptive euphemisms will float to the conversational surface.

The technology bubble may have burst in 2000, and scarred memories of the -78% collapse in the NASDAQ (5,100 to 1,100) from 2000-2002 have not been forgotten.  Despite that carnage, technology has relentlessly advanced through Moore’s Law, while internet connectivity has proliferated in concert with globalization. FedEx’s (FDX) Chief Information Officer Rob Carter summed it up nicely when he noted, The sound we heard wasn’t the [tech] bubble bursting; it was the big bang.”

Even with the large advance in the NASDAQ index in recent years, valuations of the tech-heavy index remain within reasonable ranges. Accurate gauges of the NASDAQ Composite price-earnings ratio (P/E) are scarce, but just a few months ago, strategist Ned Davis pegged the index P/E at 21, well below the peak of 49 at the end of 1999. For now, the scars and painful memories of the 2000 crash have limited the amount of frothiness, although pockets of it certainly still exist (greed will never be fully eradicated).

Why NASDAQ & Technology Continue to Flourish

Regardless of how one analyzes the stock market, ultimately long-term stock prices follow the direction of profits and cash flows. Profits and cash flows don’t however grow out of thin air. Sustainable growth requires competitiveness. For most industries, a long-term competitive advantage requires a culture of innovation and technology adoption. As you can see from the NASDAQ listed companies BELOW, there is no shortage of innovation.

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Sources: ADVFN, SEC, Other

Sources: ADVFN, SEC, Other

I’ve divided the largest technology companies in the NASDAQ 100 index that survived the bursting of the 2000 technology bubble into “The Old Tech Guard.” This group of eight stocks represents a total market value of about $1.5 trillion – equivalent to almost 10% of our country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Incredibly, this select collection of companies achieved an average sales growth rate of +19%; income growth of +22%; and research & development growth of +18% over a 14-year period (1999-2013).

The second group of younger stocks (a.k.a., The New Tech Guard) that launched their IPOs post-2000 have accomplished equally impressive results. Together, these handful of companies have earned a market value of over $625 billion. There’s a reason investors are gobbling up these stocks. Over the last five years, The New Tech Guard companies have averaged an unbelievable +77% sales growth rate, coupled with a remarkable +43% expansion in average annual R&D expenditures.

Innovation Dead?

Who said innovation is dead? Not me. Combined, these 13 companies (Old Guard + New Guard) are spending about $55,000,000,000 on research and development…annually! If you consider the hundreds and thousands of other technology companies that are also investing aggressively for the future, it should come as no surprise that the pace of innovation is only accelerating.

While newscasters, bloggers, and newspapers will continue to myopically focus on the Dow and S&P 500 indices, do your investment portfolio a favor by not forgetting about the relentless R&D and tech revolution taking place within the innovative and often overlooked NASDAQ index.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), AAPL, GOOG, AMZN, FDX, QCOM, and a short position in NFLX, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct discretionary position in MSFT, INTC, CSCO, EBAY, PCLN, FB, TSLA,  Z, 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.

February 16, 2014 at 1:21 am Leave a comment


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