Stock Selections for Summer 2015

There have been stock sales in some of the portfolios so we will have another round of stock selections.  Here are the choices.


  1. Vale ADR (VALE) – $7, ($5 – $14 over 52 weeks), $35B market capitalization, 5.5% yield, $35B in debt.  The Brazilian mining giant has been hit hard by the reduction in demand for the commodities that it produces as well as difficulties in Brazil as the economy is stagnant and the currency is falling.  With these factors it is a solid candidate for a rebound in future years if they can continue to focus on efficiency and cost reductions
  2. Alibaba (BABA) – $88, ($77 – $120 over 52 weeks), $220B market capitalization, no dividend, $8B in debt.  Alibaba is a Chinese e-commerce giant.  They are listed directly on the NYSE and not an ADR.  While the Chinese stock market has made a huge advance recently, Alibaba has slowed as the company re-groups and reduces hiring and focuses on execution.  If you already own Yahoo don’t buy Alibaba because Yahoo has ownership of a portion of their stock which is already reflected in Yahoo’s value
  3. Infosys ADR (INFY) – $31, ($25 – $37 over 52 weeks), $35B market capitalization, 1.6% yield, no debt.  The Indian outsourcing and consulting company is poised to grow with India and benefits from the strong dollar since much of its costs are in Indian currency but much of its revenues are received in dollars

US Market

  1. Celgene (CELG) – $115, ($72 – $129 over 52 weeks), $91B market capitalization, no dividend, $7B in debt.     Celgene is a US biotech / drug company with a variety of drugs under patent and a pipeline of many other potential future products
  2. Juniper Networks (JNPR) – $27, ($18 – $27 over 52 weeks), $11B market capitalization, 1.5% yield, $2B in debt. Juniper Networking is a high technology company specializing in fast networking gear.  The company is well run and has beaten analyst profit estimates recently
  3. Dow Chemical (DOW) – $51, ($41 – $54 over 52 weeks), $59B market capitalization, 3.3% yield, $20B in debt.  Dow Chemical provides processed material for manufacturing and agriculture.  The company benefits from lower US natural gas costs which provide advantages since it is a major component of their products.  The company recently fended off an activist investor which reduced their stock price.

Recent Stock Moves

Rise of the China Stock Market

When you are judging the success of your portfolio against benchmarks, which conceptually is a simple exercise, the question soon arises:

1) who are you comparing yourself against?

2) what currency is your benchmark denominated in?

Whether you want to invest there or not, China has had a major rally, and the Chinese Yuan is stable against the US dollar (in the range of 6 Yuan / dollar and 6.4 Yuan / Dollar over the last 3 years) as opposed to other currencies like the Euro and the Japanese Yen which have cratered in dollar terms.

The incredible rise in stocks in Chinese stock prices has mostly gone “under the radar” of US media.  Recently they connected the stocks in Hong Kong with stocks on mainland China and not only have prices risen substantially, the same stock trades for different prices in each location.  Per this WSJ article

Shares of Chinese companies listed in Hong Kong look like a steal compared with shares of the same companies that are listed in Shanghai. Such stocks on average trade at a 32.89% discount in the former British colony, according to the Hang Seng China AH Premium Index.

Typically, under a concept called “arbitrage”, the price of equivalent items in different markets are narrowed when investors take steps to capture the “easy money” of buying that same good cheaper in a different place.  A very simple example is that you can’t have gasoline selling for $4 in one state and $3 in an adjacent state; everyone just crosses the border to buy the cheaper gas until the price differential narrows.  Gaps of a couple of percentage even across exchanges is enough for investors to jump in and take advantage; a 32% differential is extreme.

This rally isn’t due to a perception that the economy in China is getting better; in fact it seems to be getting worse.  The rally has been enhanced by structural moves that allow more investors into the market (largely retail mainland investors) and lets them buy stock on margin, as well.  Per this WSJ article:

Margin lending has more than tripled in the past year to a record 1.7 trillion yuan ($274.6 billion)…The practice isn’t unique to China, where margin debt equals 3.2% of total market capitalization, compared with 2.3% in the U.S. But when compared with the value of stock that is freely traded, making it accessible to ordinary investors, the percentage for China rises because state entities own more than half of the market.  Research by Macquarie Securities Group shows China’s margin-debt ratio at 8.2% of the free float. That easily exceeds the peak of 6% reached in the late 1990s in Taiwan, the second-highest level globally in recent years.

Thus if you didn’t have a proportionate share of your portfolio invested in Chinese stocks, you were a “relative” loser, although there are many reasons to believe that this rally isn’t sustainable.  This goes back to the original question of how benchmarks are defined.

Individual Stock Moves

In one of the portfolios I follow there have been significant and immediate moves in several of our stocks.  These stocks were related to China or the the technology industry.

Linked In (LKND) recently had an earnings call and their stock price plunged by over 20% in one day.  The cause of the drop wasn’t the earnings themselves (they beat expectations), it was their “forward guidance”.  For stocks with a high price / earnings multiple like Linked In, the market needs to have continued rapid growth to justify the high stock price today.  In fact, Linked In currently doesn’t book profits, primarily due to their high amounts of stock based compensation (stock given to executives in lieu of cash).  Linked In’s guidance talked about currency headwinds (meaning that if they brought in the same revenues overseas it would “count less” towards net income because of the rise in the US dollar) and also some one time acquisition costs from recent companies they’ve purchased.

Amazon (AMZN) had their last earnings call where they continued to show no profits on a GAAP basis and yet their stock rose 6.8% due to other factors that analysts apparently found compelling.  Note that a 6.8% gain for a company the size of Amazon is a large increase in market capitalization (over $10 billion) in a single day.

China Life Insurance ADR (LFC) has almost doubled from around $40 / share to $80 / share as part of the overall China rally discussed above.  While a seemingly sound stock this performance gain is not tied to any fundamentals in how the company operates; this growth is tied to the giant overall rally.

Wynn Resorts (WYNN) dropped more than 10% in a single day after earnings were released.  Wynn has a property in Macau (China’s only location with legal gambling) and it has been hit hard with a recent crackdown on high-roller gamblers by China’s communist leaders.  Note that the scale of gambling in China dwarfs Las Vegas by any measure (total market, amount bet per player, etc…) and thus properties in China have been proportionally more lucrative than their US equivalent.  It is not known whether this will be a long term reduction of high rolling gamblers or a short term hit; that depends on inscrutable Chinese government polices.  Left to their own devices, it is highly likely that Chinese would continue to gamble at record rates.  Wynn also has long running board issues and governance issues as well.  At risk is their dividend, which “income investors” price highly in an era of virtually zero yield on debt (without taking on significant risk).

Westpac (ADR) – the Australian bank slightly missed earnings and their stock went down almost 5%, but then recovered a bit and was down 3%.  The CEO said that flat earnings won’t be tolerated in a later interview.  Unlike those companies with little or no GAAP profits (Amazon, LinkedIn), a company like Westpac won’t usually fall as much with a minor earnings miss because it has a lower P/E ratio and incredible future profit growth isn’t already “baked in” to the stock price.

Seeing large moves in single stocks can be viewed as a sign of a bull market in its last stages.  Since we invest for the long term we don’t pull in and out of the market based on short term moves but it is definitely something to consider; stocks with limited earnings and high P/E ratios or tied to giant rallies like is occurring in China today should be on some sort of watch.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

The “Kiddie Tax” and When to File

One of the most onerous perceived issues with having a trust fund (UGMA or UTMA) for kids are the US income tax rules.  The government is worried that parents will shift assets into the names of their children in order to minimize tax obligations since the children typically have a lower marginal tax rate.  Several years ago I did a decent write up of the tax situation here which I will summarize and update now.  Remember, this blog is not a professional tax advisory source you need to do your own research and tailor it to your particular situation these are general guidelines only.

One element that is interesting is that the funds don’t even receive a 1099-INT any more.  This form is for interest earned annually; you need to earn $10 in interest income to meet this threshold.  With money market earnings (typically what your brokerage account is hooked up to in order to buy stocks) at near 0.01% (as low as they go) you would need to have $100,000 sitting in cash all year long in order to meet the $10 1099-INT threshold ($100,000 * 0.01%) =  $10.  Sound crazy?  Let’s do that math again… 1% of $100,000 is $1000.  Then 1% of that is $10.  If you had actual interest bearing instruments (CD’s, bonds) obviously you can get in the 2% – 5% range depending on duration and riskiness this is for the short term cash parked in your brokerage account tied to your investing.

For filing requirements – Turbo Tax does a nice job of describing them here (they change year by year so make sure that you are looking at the correct information in future years).  For dependents (someone claimed on another persons’ tax returns, typically kids through the end of college) the minimum filing requirements for “earned income” (wages) is $6200.  Thus you need a pretty good summer job or year round part time job to meet this threshold.

However – for “unearned” income (dividends and capital gains), the filing requirement is only $1000, as they note.  Between $1000 and $2000 you can file section 8814 and add the child to the parents’ tax return, and beyond $2000 in unearned income you are now required to add them to the parents’ tax return under the “kiddie tax” provisions.  This assumes that the college student is paying less than 50% of their own required support, which is another calculation but probably a decent assumption given the high cost of a college education today.  Worst case, you need to either add the child’s unearned income to your return or you need to have them file a separate return that is tied to the parents’ return.  This type of work used to be onerous by hand but with a modern tax program such as Turbo Tax can be done more easily.  Turbo Tax will also tell you if you are better off adding the child to your return or having them file separately; there is a second round of internal calculations it does as you make too much money for certain credits when the unearned income is added to the parents’ return but now we are far beyond the scope of this discussion.

All in all, the likeliest way to avoid this is to net out capital gains with capital losses each year which will usually keep you below the $1000 threshold, until dividends get high enough that it pushes you over the top anyways.  This is called “tax loss harvesting” and I described it here.

With modern tax preparation software and a decent understanding of the brokerage house tax forms these tax complications shouldn’t be enough to deter you from setting up a trust fund (UTMA or UGMA).  For our funds they generally don’t start to get big enough to hit the tax threshold until the beneficiaries are in college and by then they often are starting to work anyways and you need to consider it for those purposes.

Finally, one of my proudest moments as someone who set up these funds is when my nephew called and he was doing his own tax return.  While you think of them as the children they once were they all become adults at some point and begin to take responsibility for their own affairs and this is a proud moment.  Taxes and investing are a part of life and one of the most important purposes of this effort from my perspective is to encourage financial literacy.  I also have been blessed because the beneficiaries all seem to have the sense not to try to take out the money and spend it on frivolous items (which they theoretically could do once they are adults) and this is another positive item, learning to defer gratification and save for the future.

Buying CD’s Through Your Brokerage Account

For many years at this site I have advocated buying CD’s through your brokerage account (Fidelity, Vanguard, E-Trade, Schwab, etc…). If you buy a CD through your own bank you will usually get a far lower rate for what is a completely commoditized product (they are all guaranteed through the FDIC, after all) than what you can get if you shop around in a brokerage.


This NY Times little data graphic found in their business section makes this point starkly. Let’s look at the differences between the “average” CD that your bank would offer versus what you can get from these other banks offering the highest yields:

– 6 month CD (0.16% average, 1% for highest paying CD)
– 1 year CD (0.27% average, 1.21% for highest paying CD)
– 5 year CD (0.87% average, 2.25% for highest paying CD)

In an era of ZIRP the difference between almost nothing (0.16%) and 1% is very significant. Someday if interest rates rise we may not have to scrape for nickels like this but in today’s environment you need to vigorously watch expenses, risks, and get returns where ever you can (without taking on more risk).

Purchasing New Stock in Spring

Thanks to sales we have some cash in the portfolio and we will be looking at additional stock purchases in the spring.

– Portfolio 1 – one stock
– Portfolio 2 – one stock
– Portfolio 3 – two stocks
– Portfolio 4 – no stocks
– Portfolio 5 – one stock
– Portfolio 6 – no stocks

We will also look to see if we should put stop losses on any of the stocks. All of the prior stop losses have expired (they are only good a certain amount of days under the brokerage system that we use).

Portfolio Six Updated March 2015 – And It’s Tax Time

Portfolio Six is our newest portfolio, at 3 1/2 years. The beneficiary contributed $1500, the trustee contributed $3000, for a total of $4500. The current value is $4530, for a gain of $30, or 0.7% or 0.3% / year across the life of the fund. You can go here for details or download the spreadsheet at the links on the right.

In 2014 we earned $122 in dividends, for a yield of over 3%. In an era of no interest on deposits, that is very good. We sold one stock in 2014, Yandex, the Russian search engine, for a slight loss at $35. The stock subsequently tumbled down to $14 with the impact of Russian sanctions and the crash of the Russian ruble.

Two of the stocks are oil stocks – Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell. When oil prices fell from over $100 / barrel to under $50 / barrel (which no one saw coming, at least not the formal analysts) these stocks fell. However, they are both well run companies and pay solid dividends and we plan to hold them for the longer term, unless new adverse events occur.

Two of the other stocks remain under pressure – Coca Cola Femsa, which sells Coca Cola and other beverages in Mexico and Central America, has fallen with the decline in the Mexican Peso vs. the US dollar. Mexico is a good long term growth market but this is on watch. Seaspan, the Chinese shipper, also fell but their very high dividend (7.3%) is still holding up.

Baidu (the Chinese internet company) and Procter and Gamble are both doing well.

Portfolio Five Updated March 2015 – And It’s Tax Time

Portfolio’s Four and Five are both 5 1/2 years old. The beneficiary contributed $3000, the trustee $6000 for a total of $9000. The value is $10,840 for a gain of $1840 or 20%, which works out to about 5.3% / year. You can see the details here or go to the link on the right.

We earned $260 in dividends in 2014, or a yield of approximately 2.6%. During 2014 we sold two stocks – Yandex (the Russian search engine) and China Petroleum. Yandex crashed much further after we sold it and China Petroleum is about the same.

In 2015 we sold Sasol (SSL) during the oil price crash – it is about where we sold the stock at ($35). We have over $1000 to invest so we will buy an additional stock in the spring.

The stocks are mostly doing well – we will keep an eye on Seaspan (SSW) the shipping company with the high dividend (over 7%).


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