Portfolio Two Updated January 2017 – Tax Time

Portfolio 2 is our second longest lived fund, at over 14 years.  This fund has transitioned from individual stocks to an ETF and CD mix.  The beneficiary contributed $7000 and the trustee $14,000 for a total of $21,000.  The current value is $32,151 for a gain of $11,151 at 53% or about 5.5% / year when adjusted for the timing of cash flows.  You can see the spreadsheet supporting this at the link on the right or download it here.

The fund contains 4 ETF’s and one CD.  The $10,000 CD earns 1.55% and will redeem in July, 2018.  This investment is essentially risk free (if the issuer goes under the FDIC will pay out the accrued interest and return the principal).

The largest ETF is VTI, which covers the US stock market on a capital weighted basis (that is to say that the largest market capitalization stocks comprise a larger portion of the index).  Since we have had a rally in Technology (prior to the election) and financials and commodities (mostly since the election), this ETF has done well.

There are two non-US ETF’s, the VEU (all world non-US, unhedged) and HEFA (major non-US markets, hedged against the dollar).  Surprisingly, these two funds mostly performed alike in terms of returns, even though the dollar rose during this period.  This is something I will investigate further in the future when I have some more time.

The fourth ETF is IBB, a NASDAQ bi0technology ETF.  This one was kind of a bet on future growth since it had been pummeled in the period before we purchased it.

In general, these ETF’s are low expense and overall the portfolio has a decent yield at 1.9% comprised of dividends and interest on the 1.55% CD.  This is a nice cash addition in an era of zero yields on short term cash and when even some large issuances have negative yields over a ten year span (in Europe).

I noted that the ETF HEFA (the hedged fund) had a small capital gain.  This is rare for ETF’s (they are common for mutual funds).  Since it is immaterial it is listed as a dividend on the report.

Due to the fact that these trust funds are “subsidiaries” of my account, typically they don’t pay any fees on transactions for individual stocks (essentially zero expenses every year).  Since ETF’s do have expenses, this portfolio will incur implicit expenses (they come out of the returns of the ETF’s so you don’t see them directly).  About $70 in implicit expenses hit the portfolio during 2016 (the CD is free of all expenses).

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Portfolio Post Election

After the elections, stocks have generally gone up. Some sectors have done well, and others have fallen. The US dollar is stronger, which means that our overseas stocks have gone down on a relative basis.

We are judicious on selling off stocks here. However, since the election is past it is likely time to make a few moves in some areas.

Portfolio One:

  • Novartis (NVS)– the Swiss drug maker is down about 20% from where we bought it (but has almost a 4% dividend), and drug makers seem to be under pressure with the new administration calling for price reductions. On watch will look at the next earnings release at the end of January
  • Statoil (STO) – the Norwegian oil company is down 20% off our purchase price but has come back significantly with possible increases in oil prices.  They also didn’t cut their dividend which remains a high 6% yield which also is positive for investors.  Will watch and see if it rises further
  • Infosys (INFY) – Infosys has fallen about 25% off its peak.  The company benefits from the declining Indian currency since most of its revenues are earned overseas.  However, the offshore firms have also been hit by the new administration and potential curbs on outsourcing, which they are trying to limit by having more US based staff and less overseas contractors.  The company is on watch
  • Tesla Motors (TSLA) – this is a very speculative stock (little earnings, high valuation) and has high volatility.  We will keep it on watch
  • Anheuser Busch Inbev – the stock has dropped by over 30% recently as they attempt to purchase Miller Coors.  They also have been hit with economic volatility in Brazil.   They are a well run group but these are strong headwinds.  We will put the stock on watch

Portfolio Two:

Portfolio Two moved over to ETF’s and CD’s.  Their ETF’s have been doing well with the exception of the NASDAQ Biotech ETF (IBB) in which we have a relatively small position that is new.  We will continue to watch this sector ETF.

Portfolio Three:

  • Wynn (WYNN) – the casino stock is a major operator in China.  The stock is down over 30% and no longer delivering “special” dividends beyond the regular quarterly dividend.  We will sell the stock now
  • Infosys (INFY) – Infosys has fallen about 25% off its peak.  The company benefits from the declining Indian currency since most of its revenues are earned overseas.  However, the offshore firms have also been hit by the new administration and potential curbs on outsourcing, which they are trying to limit by having more US based staff and less overseas contractors.  The company is on watch

Portfolio Four:

  • Coca-Cola FEMSA (KOF) – the Central American distributor of Coke is 40% off from our purchase price,  been hit by various issues and negative currency fluctuations and now finally the current administration.  We will sell the stock now
  • Tesla Motors (TSLA) – this is a very speculative stock (little earnings, high valuation) and has high volatility.  We will keep it on watch
  • Novartis (NVS)– the Swiss drug maker is down about 20% from where we bought it (but has almost a 4% dividend), and drug makers seem to be under pressure with the new administration calling for price reductions. On watch will look at the next earnings release at the end of January
  • Statoil (STO) – the Norwegian oil company is down 20% off our purchase price but has come back significantly with possible increases in oil prices.  They also didn’t cut their dividend which remains a high 6% yield which also is positive for investors.  Will watch and see if it rises further
  • Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.B) – the European oil company is down almost 20% on price but has been rising and hasn’t cut the over 6% dividend.  Will watch and see if it rises further
  • Devon (DVN) – unlike Statoil and Shell, Devon did cut their dividend and is down about 20% on price.   However, the stock is up almost 2 1/2 times off its low so we will hold it as it keeps recovering.  Will watch and see if it rises further

Portfolio Five:

  • Anheuser Busch Inbev – the stock has dropped by over 30% recently as they attempt to purchase Miller Coors.  They also have been hit with economic volatility in Brazil.   They are a well run group but these are strong headwinds.  We will put the stock on watch
  • Juniper (JNPR) – Juniper had been down significantly but now is above our purchase price.  We will watch this stock as an acquisition candidate and may sell if it stops rising.  This stock is on watch

Portfolio Six:

  • Coca-Cola FEMSA (KOF) – the Central American distributor of Coke is 40% off from our purchase price,  been hit by various issues and negative currency fluctuations and now finally the current administration.  We will sell the stock now

Portfolio Seven:

  • Unilever (UNLV) – Unilever is down about 14% off peak due to the reduction in the value of the British pound and other factors.  This is a recent purchase and a well run company we will put the stock on watch

Portfolio Eight:

  • Unilever (UNLV) – Unilever is down about 14% off peak due to the reduction in the value of the British pound and other factors.  This is a recent purchase and a well run company we will put the stock on watch

 

Hedging the US Dollar in the “Basic Plan”

Recently the US dollar has strengthened against most foreign currencies.  This means that you could buy foreign stocks and they could do well in their local markets (for example, the Japanese stocks were generally up for a time) and yet you would have losses when your ADR or ETF was valued in US dollar terms.

While you cannot generally hedge the currency risk in a single stock ADR (for example, Toyota), they now offer ETF’s that give exposure to foreign markets but also hedge those currencies against the US dollar, so you receive their “actual” return (good or bad) rather than their actual return PLUS the impact of the rising or falling US dollar.

For instance, let’s look at the VEU Vanguard ETF (one of my favorites, the Red line below) against a new ETF I started looking at, HEFA (the Blue line), over the last two years.  You can see that the total return was 1.1% positive in HEFA and 14.2% negative for VEU over that time span.  This difference is due almost totally to the rise in the US dollar against foreign currencies that make up the bulk of those stock indexes (the Euro, the Japanese Yen, the Australian Dollar, and the Canadian Dollar).  You can see that the peaks and valleys of the blue and red lines track together (they move in the same direction) but the red line sinks as the US dollar rises over the last two years.

 

VEU vs HEFA Last 2 years
VEU vs HEFA Last 2 years

One negative impact of this, all else being equal, is that hedging costs money and this should be expected to drive up fees on your ETF.  The ETF for Vanguard (VEU) is 0.14%, which should be considered somewhere near rock bottom.  The HEFA ETF expense ratio is 0.35%, which is also very low, but higher than the Vanguard product.  This isn’t a perfect comparison because generally the Vanguard ETF’s have the lowest expense ratios due to their member-owned structure.  HEFA is part of iShares which is now owned by Blackrock, a major competitor of Vanguard.

It should be noted that the VEU and HEFA indexes aren’t exactly the same in terms of countries that they cover and weighting of markets but as you can see above they generally move closely in tandem and the majority of the difference is due to the impact of the US dollar against foreign currencies.

This is of interest because the US Federal Reserve is considering raising interest rates soon, which theoretically would cause the dollar to rise which would make holding shares in other currencies less profitable.  Of course this is already priced into the dollars’ current level, which could mean in practice that if the Fed doesn’t move fast enough or make enough moves, the dollar would fall.  If anyone ever tells you that they can predict interest rates or currency moves you should not believe them; there is no reliable way to predict either one although there are mass industries of pundits attempting to do so.

Thus for my “basic plan“, the question is, should you also consider adding currency-hedged ETF’s and not just the two basic ETF’s (VEU and VTI).  The question is whether to replace part of your VEU allocation (how much you buy) with something like HEFA (there are other ETF’s, but this seems to be a pretty good one, with a large base of investors and from a company like Blackrock which isn’t going away any time soon).  Here’s what would happen – if the US dollar falls against major foreign currencies, you are going to make less money than you would otherwise if you hedge it.  If the US dollar rises, you will make more money than you would otherwise with the hedged product.  Also note that the hedging may not be perfect, but would likely shield you from the vast majority of the impact, especially on major currencies like the Euro.

I think that this is getting a lot of play in the financial press right now and I predict that at some point these products will be mainstream.   It took a long time to move from “active” to “passive” investing and it has taken many more years for ETF’s to begin to take a large share of new investments away from mutual funds.  This is another long term trend that started on the margin (there were very few currency hedged funds a couple years ago when I looked, and they were expensive) but is now going mainstream, and the additional expenses for hedging seem quite modest (0.14% vs. 0.35%).

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.

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 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_2_12-12-14

Portfolio Four Updated August, 2014

Portfolio four is five years old, with the beneficiary contributing $2500 and the trustee $5000, for a total of $7500.  The current value is $10,330, for a gain of $2830 or 37%, which is about 10.9% / year adjusted for the timing of cash flows.  You can see the detail in the link to the right or here.

Portfolio four overall is doing well.  There are 10 stocks in the portfolio and we plan to add two more this year.  Big gainers are Westpac, the Australian bank, aided by currency moves (see post below) and Garmin.