Portfolio Two Updated October 2015

Portfolio Two is our second longest portfolio, at 11 years.  The beneficiary contributed $6000 and the trustee contributed $12,000 for a total of $18,000.  The current value is $28,334 for a gain of $10,334 or 57%, which works out to about 6.8% / year across the life of the portfolio.  You can download the detail here or utilize the links on the right side of the page.

This portfolio has been buoyed by two star performers, Amazon (AMZN) and Facebook (FB).  Both of those stocks have moved up substantially recently and account for half the total gain.

Poor performers are TransAlta (TAC), which was hammered by the drop in the Canadian dollar and the collapse of the commodity markets, and Wynn (WYNN) resorts which was hurt badly by changes in Chinese policy that limit gambling and especially “high roller” VIP gambling in Macau.

We will likely sell off all these stocks and move into cash and then ETF’s, likely following the approach listed in this post titled “Investing – Basic Plan” of low-cost ETF’s and CD’s purchased through a brokerage.  At approximately $28,000, the portfolio would likely be about $10,000 5 year CD (at around 2% / year) and $9,000 of VTI (Vanguard total stock market) and $9,000 of VEU (Vanguard total stock market ex-USA).  There would be about $6900 in net taxable gains that would need to be paid and the trustee / their parents need to decide who is going to pay this amount (if the rate was 15%, this would be about $1035 in taxes).  If the taxes were paid out of this distribution, then we would be re-investing just under $27,000.  This portfolio has unique reasons for doing the sell-off and re-investment into ETF’s that we don’t plan to repeat with other portfolios unless it is necessary.

Trends in Stocks

Investing in stocks is always hard.  You are looking at data about the past but you are betting on an individual stock in the future.  In addition, there has been huge correlation among stocks and markets and the impact of currencies and central bankers (often inter-twined) has given various world markets boom and bust qualities.

In the US, there are two markets, the NASDAQ and NYSE.  NASDAQ has traditionally been more technology focused, meaning that when these stocks go up, the NASDAQ soars.   Here is a quote on “the only six stocks that matter” about the NASDAQ from the Wall Street Journal:

Six firms— Amazon.com Inc.,Google Inc.,Apple Inc.,FacebookInc.,Netflix Inc. and Gilead Sciences Inc.—now account for more than half of the $664 billion in value added this year to the NasdaqComposite Index, according to data compiled by brokerage firm JonesTrading.

Thus the bottom line is that if you don’t have these stocks in your portfolio, the overall index may be rising (and our benchmark for performance), but your own returns will be worse.  We do have some of Amazon and Facebook in portfolio 2, but not much of it overall.

Outside the USA, foreign markets have been hurt by the rising US dollar, which makes their market values lower for us here in the USA (where the dollar is our currency).  This hurts stock investments in Europe (the Euro), Canada (the Loonie), and Australia (the Australian dollar) if you are denominated in US dollars (which we are).   The dollar is up significantly vs. almost every other currency in the world with the exception of the Chinese Yuan.

The Chinese market went crazy this year, in what appears to be a major bubble, that recently started crashing and was accompanied by strong intervention from the central authorities, who went after short sellers and even stopped stocks from trading for various reasons.   At one point almost the entire Chinese stock market by valuation (over 80%) was not trading.  The rationale is that if stocks are heading down, and you can stop trading, then this gives the market participants time to stop panicking.  This type of intervention stops the market from functioning efficiently, however, and will have many other unforeseen impacts down the road.

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity also soared in 2015, which is a sign of bullishness and also likely a sign of a market peak.  A Wall Street Journal article recently summed it up:

Companies are merging at a pace unseen in nearly a decade. Halfway through the year, about $2.15 trillion in M&A deals or offers have been announced globally, according to Dealogic. That puts 2015 on pace to challenge the biggest year on record, 2007, when companies inked deals worth $4.3 trillion… In industries ranging from health care to technology to media, chief executives are rushing to make acquisitions, often either in anticipation of takeover moves by rivals or in response to them.

When acquisitions occur, you as a stock market investor typically want to be the “acquired” company, not the “acquirer”.  The “acquired” company receives a premium price to their current market value but the burden of “earning” that higher price falls on to the acquired company, and typically M&A does not pay off long term for most companies (as opposed to internal or “organic” growth).  While there have been many acquisitions, most notably in the health care / insurance / pharma industry which is consolidating under Obamacare, our portfolios had few of these acquired companies in the mix.

Finally, you had a decimation of the commodity indexes.  Commodities such as oil, some foodstuffs, natural gas, iron ore, copper, gold, etc… have seen their prices collapse, which in turn damages the stocks of mining companies, oil companies, and many other participants in the commodity value chain.  Per Bloomberg:

Almost all commodity markets have taken a severe beating lately. The aggregate Bloomberg Commodities Index is down 61 percent from its 2008 peak and 46 percent from the 2011 post-crisis high

These are severe reductions.  They impact entire economies particularly the Arab countries (which make all their export income in oil), Russia (many commodities), Australia and Canada.  There are large “secondary” impacts as well – reduced commodity prices hurt service demand in Canada and Australia and put their housing boom at risk.

So what does this mean for us and our portfolios?  We’ve been hurt by the commodity bust, the rise of the US dollar (on our foreign stocks), and we’ve missed some of the booming stocks because they were narrowly concentrated in a few names and some of the largest M&A was in sectors where we had few investments.

We are now going to look at some of the stocks and cull some prior to our next round of purchases which will occur in August – September as the beneficiaries of the various portfolios head off to school for the year, and will tie new purchases (of the cash) with additional investments that will be made soon.

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

Stocks to Review – December 2014

In order to decide what we should sell or keep, we need to review the stocks that have been hit across the six portfolios.  There are 12 stocks listed and grouped across the various industries and regions.

We will look by group to determine what we recommend to do next based on the specific circumstances of that stock and the factors that caused their valuation to change.  If it is a dividend related stock, we will also start to think if their dividend is “at risk”, because that would likely trigger another price drop.  Many of these stocks have rebounded off their lows, which makes this task easier.

Of the stocks reviewed, the ones we will watch closely will be Anadarko (APC), Sasol (SSL), TransAlta (TAC), Weibo (WB), Seaspan (SSW), and Coca-Cola Femsa (KOF).  We will consider stop losses on these stocks.

US Energy

  • Exxon Mobil (XOM)
  • Devon (DVN)
  • Anadarko (APC)

Of the 3 US energy companies, Exxon Mobil is a long term keeper because it is so well and ruthlessly run.  They have a reasonable dividend of about 3% that doesn’t seem to be at risk.  XOM may even be a candidate for further purchases if it keeps declining in the short term.

Devon is much smaller than XOM.  Their dividend is not as good, under 2%, but that also means that they aren’t being forced to support an unmanageable dividend burden.  From what I’ve read they seem to have hedged against falling oil prices which should insulate them a bit in the short term.  Devon also could be an acquisition candidate at some point although their market cap is $24B so only a giant like XOM could take them out.

Anadarko (APC) (like XOM and DVN) hit a 52 week low, but bounced back recently.  Their dividend at 1.4% is low and doesn’t seem to be at risk.  The company also has financial flexibility.  We are on the edge with APC if the oil rout is extended this may not be a stock to hold.  For now we are holding on with the rebound in energy prices off their lows, but this is on watch.

Global Energy (ADR)

  • Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.B)
  • Sasol (SSL)
  • Statoil (STO)

These global energy companies not only are hit by the drop in crude (see above), but also the decline in foreign currencies vs. the rising US dollar.

Statoil (STO) is denominated in Norwegian Kroner.  Over the last year the Kroner has declined 20% vs. the US dollar.  This means that our ADR has fallen 20% additional beyond the impact of other (negative) factors on the STO stock.  On the other hand, in the past the rising Kroner has boosted returns compared against US equivalent stocks, and provides diversification should the US dollar fall.  Statoil is likely going to defer some major deep water projects since those are not economical at the current oil price.  The dividend is now over 6% with the stock price decline; in general when dividends go much beyond 5% they often turn out to be unsustainable, or in any case should be watched closely.  The Norwegian government also holds a significant stake in this company, which allows them to impact behavior, but they seem to be a prudent steward (compared to partially public or state owned oil companies in Mexico or Brazil, for instance).

Shell (RDS.B) are denominated in UK pounds, which has fallen 5% this year vs. the US dollar.  Shell seems to be in relatively good shape, but the stock (like virtually all energy stocks) is near its 52 week low.  Their dividend is at almost 6% which seems sustainable for now but may not be in the long term.  They seem to be taking steps with their asset portfolio by country to sell components to optimize the company, which seems prudent.

Sasol (SSL) is denominated in South African Rand, which has fallen 11% vs. the US dollar.  SSL is a large energy company for Africa, but is much smaller than the other global majors.  The dividend is near 6%, a level to watch closely.  The stock at one point lost almost 50% of its value and may be a buy at this point or for consideration.  This stock seems more speculative than Statoil and Shell up above (which makes sense because each of the other companies are much larger) which means it is on watch (like APC, above).  On the other hand, since it is smaller, it has more room to grow on the high end in terms of stock price.

Canadian Energy (ADR)

  • TransAlta (TAC) – TransAlta is a Canadian energy company primarily operating in the electricity business.  They also have substantial and growing interests in Australia.  The company has been hit with a big fall in electricity prices in its main provence, Alberta, which means it earns substantially less revenue on the power it generates (most of the company’s costs are fixed in the short and medium term, so this goes straight to the bottom line).  The long term bet on why power use is growing in Alberta, however, is the oil industry so this stock is significantly impacted by the same forces (low oil prices) as the other stocks listed above, in a medium or longer term horizon.  The stock has a large dividend, at 7%, which means it definitely is on watch.  If the company decided to cut the dividend (for whatever reason), it is likely that the price of the stock would fall.  Many investors likely own this stock for income purposes.  As an ADR, they also are driven by the fall in the Canadian dollar, which has dropped about 8% vs. the US dollar over the last year

Chinese Internet (ADR)

  • Weibo (WB) – Weibo is a Chinese internet company, sometimes called their version of Twitter.  Alibaba, the giant of Chinese e-commerce (their Amazon), owns a 14% stake in WB, and in September the stock shot up because of speculation that Alibaba might buy the company or increase their ownership.  Chinese stocks are generally volatile and the tech industry is particularly so.  The stock has gone up recently, but is near a 52 week low.  This one is also on watch but seems to have a reasonable upside, especially if it was swallowed up.

US Technology

  • Amazon (AMZN) – Amazon is, to (partially) quote Winston Churchill, “a riddle wrapped in an enigma”.  The company is a powerhouse, altering whole industries and taking a giant role in e-commerce.  The founder is famously frugal and uses old doors as desks for employees.  Also – the company doesn’t make profits or focus on short term profits.  They continue to invest and to move into new markets.  This company is probably the hardest company in the world to analyze as a result and I personally have had more arguments about Amazon than any other stock.  To be clear, we had it at $14, and I sold at over $100, taking almost an 8x gain, but then it marched all the way to $400 / share, and now has lost about 25% off its peak and is near $300 (we bought most recently at $337).  The market seems to generally believe in Amazon so this is a keeper, even though as an accountant I am often perplexed.

Chinese Shipping (ADR)

  • Seaspan (SSW) – Seaspan is a smaller company that ships goods back and forth primarily to China.  They now have a very high dividend, near 7%, so that is something to watch.  If they ever cut this dividend I would expect that the stock price would be significantly impacted.  The stock price fell on SSW, but bounced back from its 52 week lows.  Even if China itself is slowing in terms of growth the demand for Chinese goods worldwide is still rapacious.  The company is also looking to upgrade their fleet continually to make it more fuel efficient in terms of scale.  On the other hand, shipping is a difficult business in a downturn, as shippers cut rates to near the marginal costs of running their fleet, just to keep afloat (bad pun).  If SSW has a more fuel efficient fleet than most, it should be able to withstand a downturn longer than competitors.  This is a stock on watch.

Casino / China

  • Wynn (WYNN) – Wynn at one point lost almost half their value on concerns over Chinese cutbacks in gambling.  China has a huge gambling culture (wagers at Chinese casinos on average are much higher than in the USA) and there is only one place in China where you can gamble, and WYNN has a casino there.  Much of the Chinese gambling is also a method to move money out of the country, a much more complex topic than I could cover here, but it is safe to say that gambling in China is a much more serious business than it is in the USA.  The current Chinese leader is cracking down on “corruption” (I use parenthesis because the whole business culture is corrupt in a mega-sense, but he is talking about specific behavior elements like lavish behavior with official money) and this means gambling.  WYNN does have an attractive dividend and special dividend and in the long term (unless they open casinos on the mainland) they can recapture money as soon as the official glare goes away.

Mexico / Consumer Staples (ADR)

  • Coca Cola FEMSA (KOF) – Like our other ADR’s, the Mexican Peso has been hit by a 10% drop in value vs. the US dollar, which weighs on this ADR.  It is off 52 week lows but has lost 1/3 of its value over the last 12 months.  The stock has a modest dividend so it is looked at as a long term growth play on the Latin American market.  The stock is on watch due to performance and low dividend but, like Chinese gambling, it is a hard market to walk away from since it is hot and bottled drinks of sugar and beer seem like a safer bet in the long term too.

Portfolio Two Quick Update December 2014

Portfolio Two is listed below. We were hit in Statoil due to the crude collapse and the falling Norwegian currency. TransAlta, the Canadian energy company, was also hit by these forces.

The portfolio also has Amazon, which is falling a bit relative to other tech companies. They are a well run, long term player, but the street was looking for (marginally) higher profits.

Wynn casinos are also on watch because of a crack down on corruption in China, which limits gambling revenues.

Many other companies are doing well, particularly Facebook and Nidec (Japan) which have half the portfolio’s current unrealized gains.


Portfolio One Updated November 2013

Portfolio One is our longest lived portfolio. It began right after 9/11 and thus has been through twelve years. The beneficiary has invested $6,000 and the trustee has invested $13,500, for a total of $19,500. The current value in $33,161 for a gain of $13,661 or 70% in total, which works out to approximately 8% / year. You can see the detail behind this portfolio here or at the link on the right side of the page.

In rough terms if you have a more than 10 or so stocks you have a diversified portfolio (assuming of course that the stocks represent different sectors, market cap, and even countries) and there are 20 stocks in this portfolio, with an average value of around $1600 or so, and I would say that this portfolio is pretty diversified. About half the stocks are non-US (and the US stock Philip Morris is all overseas) and thus the benchmark would be about half the S&P 500 and half an international index of developed countries not including the US.

On the downside, we are watching Urban Outfitters which moved above our purchase price (finally) and which we are not riding back down. There is a stop loss order in for this that we will continue to renew (it only goes out for 90 days at a time).

We also are looking at stocks which may have reached their apex or might be on the verge of being over valued. The current stage of the bull market seems frothy and since we are long term investors we aren’t inclined to immediately sell but we may put in some stop loss orders to prevent some stocks that have risen a great deal from coming down too far. We are less inclined to sell a stock with a high dividend because it will continue to pay out than a stock which has risen a great deal but has no dividend. For now there won’t be any stop orders placed but we will watch stocks like EBAY and Taiwan Semiconductor which have had a great run for us.

As far as stocks we sold in the past, Amazon continues on its tear because it stands alone as a stock that has no profits for investors yet continues to soar and sports an enormous market capitalization. I have literally no answer for this phenomenon.

Microsoft, which we sold a few years ago, increased from the sale price of $25 in 2010 to $37 today. A lot of this gain is because their lunk-headed CEO Ballmer is finally leaving… since he retained his stock the day he announced his departure, the stock soared, and he made himself an extra billion dollars just for firing himself. Now that is surreal.

In general this portfolio is doing well and hope to keep it rolling another twelve years!

Portfolio One Updated July, 2013

It is summer and almost time to select stocks for 2013, before everyone goes back to school, college, or graduate school. Portfolio One, our longest lived portfolio, has $5500 invested by the beneficiary and $12,500 by the trustee over the last 11 2/3 years, and its current value is $29,290, for a gain of 63%, or just under 8% / year since 2001 (adjusted for the timing of cash flows). Go to the portfolio on the right side or click here for the detail.

The portfolio is generally doing pretty well right now. Our stocks from China, India and South Africa took a bit of a hit because of 1) declining currency vs. the US dollar 2) slow growth in the emerging “BRIC” (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries. However, they seem to be well run and have a decent dividend so didn’t take too much of a hit.

Of the stocks we’ve sold, most of them haven’t moved up too much, but Amazon continues to move forward, at over $300 / share. This is amazing because the company essentially has no profits but no company has been better able to win over Wall Street with a vision of the future, apparently.

In the past we’ve held on to a lot that had big dips (like EBAY) that came back up later, so it likely evens out over time.

It is important to note the significant positive impact that dividends have on this portfolio. The portfolio has earned almost $3200 in dividends over its life, which constitutes over 25% of total returns. At one point in the dire period of 2008-9 dividends were the only thing keeping us above break even (now we have lots of unrealized gains, too).

We had a few annoying stock splits recently (the “adjusted shares” column has them highlighted in yellow). Stock splits don’t have any economic impact but are intended to make the cost / share more accessible to a retail audience (like this one, I guess).