Portfolio Six Updated January 2017 – Tax Time

Portfolio six has been around for about 4 1/2 years, with the beneficiary depositing $2500 and the trustee $5000, for a total of $7500.  The current value is $7917 for a gain of $417, or about 6% or 1.8% / year when adjusted for the timing of cash flows.  You can see the detail at the link on the right or download the spreadsheet here.

During the year we had about $136 in dividends for a yield of about 1.7%.  We had one sale, of Coca Cola FEMSA with a long term capital loss of ($321).  Our sales still look relatively good in hindsight.  For the portfolio as a whole, it has mostly recovered from the fall in oil prices.

Portfolio Four Updated January 2017 – Tax Time

Portfolio Four is a bit over 7 years old.  The beneficiary contributed $4000 and the trustee $8000 for a total of $12,000.  The current value is $13,932 for a gain of $1932 or 16%, which is about 3.3% / year when adjusted for the timing of cash flows.  You can see the detailed spreadsheet at the link on the right or download it here.

The portfolio is generally doing well. We sold LinkedIn (LNKD) because they were bought by Microsoft and gave up on Coca Cola FEMSA (KOF) which was hurt by the decline in the Mexican Peso and recent election results.  We did not sell many of the energy companies which (mostly) held on to their high dividends and have risen recently with the uptick in oil prices.  It is important that you look at the “total return” which includes dividends because some stocks look like they have losses just based on price bought vs. today when in fact they’ve been positive due to dividends.

The portfolio had about $240 in dividends for an average yield of about 1.7%.  This is a good rate but down a bit from last year because we sold Seaspan (SSW) and Garmin (GRMN) which had high dividends.  Most of our sales are still OK in hindsight but Garmin has gone up a bit since we sold it.  We had a long term capital loss of $474 due to sales of LNKD and KOF, above.

Portfolio Five Updated January 2017 – Tax Time

Portfolio five is a bit over 7 years old.  The beneficiary contributed $4000 and the trustee $8000 for a total of $12,000.  The current value is $14,071 for a gain of $2071 or 17%, which is 3.5% / year when adjusted for the timing of cash flows.  The spreadsheet can be found on the link to the right or you can download it here.

During 2016 we had about $223 in dividends for an average yield of about 1.6%.  There was a capital loss of $134 on the sale of LinkedIn (which was bought by Microsoft).  The portfolio is doing well, with Spirit Airlines (SAVE) being a recent winner.  Our sales also seem OK in hindsight.

Portfolio Three Updated January 2017 – Tax Time

Portfolio three is our 3rd longest lived portfolio, at a bit over 9 years.  The beneficiary contributed $5000 and the trustee $10,000 for a total of $15,000.  The current value of the portfolio is $16,551 for a gain of $1551 or 10%, which works out to about 2% / year when adjusted for the timing of cash flows.  You can see the detailed spreadsheet at the link on the right or download it here.

During 2016 we had about $280 in dividends (for a yield of about 1.7%) and had long-term capital losses on our sale of WYNN and Linked In (LNKD) which was bought by Microsoft.  Most of our sales have held up pretty well except for Weibo (WB), typically called “China’s Twitter” which went up significantly from recent lows.

On Investing

Investing has changed significantly during the 25 or so years that I have been following both the market and also the tools available for an investor to participate within the market.  The following trends are key:

  • The cost of trading and investing has declined significantly.  Trades used to cost more than $25 and now are essentially free in many cases.  Mutual funds used to have “loads” of 5% or more standard when you made an investment, meaning that $100 invested only went to work for you as $95.  These sorts of up-front costs have almost totally been eliminated
  • ETF’s have (mostly) replaced mutual funds.  ETF’s “trade like stocks”, meaning that you can buy and sell anytime (mutual funds traded once a day, after being priced with that days’ activity) and they don’t have income tax gains and losses unless you actually make a trade (mutual funds often had gains due to changes in the portfolio that you had to pay taxes on even if you were just holding the fund)
  • CD’s and Government Debt are all electronic.  You used to have to go to a bank for various governmental bond products or to buy a CD.  Now you not only can buy all of this online, you can choose from myriad banks instantly rather than settle for whatever your main bank (Chase, Wells Fargo, etc…) offers up to you
  • Interest Rates are Near Zero.  One of the key concepts in investing is “compound interest”, where interest is re-invested and even small, continuous investments held for a long time can end up amounting to large sums (in nominal terms, because inflation often eats away at “real” returns).  However, with interest rates basically near zero, you need to earn dividend income or take on more risk (i.e. “junk bonds”) in order to receive any sort of interest income.  There is no “safe” way to earn income any more
  • Currency Fluctuations Matter.  When the Euro initially came out it was $1.30 for each US dollar, and then it went to 70 cents per dollar, and now it is about $1.10 per dollar.  At one point the dollar fell 30-40% against many currencies world wide (when “commodity” currencies like the Canadian and Australian dollar were surging).   For many years currencies were relatively stable against one another but that era seems to be ending, and thus the change in relationship between the US dollar and their currency can be much greater than the return that is earned on the international investments
  • Active Trading Has Mostly Been Beaten By Passive Trading.  While there are many exceptions, initially the majority of investments were “active”, but over the years many of the “active” managers have substantially under-performed the market, wilst charging investors more in fees (it is cheaper to run a “passive” index).  As a result, there has been a massive shift away from active investors to passive investors like Vanguard
  • Correlation Among Stocks and Investment Classes Is Much Higher.  Correlation means that stocks or asset classes tend to “move up” together or “move down” together.  It is not unusual for me to look at a portfolio of 20 stocks and 19 or 20 of them have all gone up or down on a single day.  This is related to active managers being unable to “beat” the market (see above)
  • The “Risk Premium” for Lower Quality Debt is Small.  The amount of extra interest required for low quality borrowers over the US Treasury benchmark is very small.  Investors are taking on a lot of risk to just earn a few more percentage points of return.  If there is a downturn in the economy (such as what happened only recently in US oil companies), there are likely to be significant declines in junk bond values that wouldn’t justify the modest risk premium you receive for holding these types of assets
  • ETF’s Provide an Easy Way to Participate in Commodity Markets.  It was more difficult to buy and invest in commodities like gold and crude in the past, and it was often limited to relatively sophisticated investors or those willing to hold on to physical commodities like gold (which can be risky since they need to be stored and protected due to high value and inability to trace once stolen).  Today you can easily buy a liquid ETF to participate in the commodity markets for key areas like precious metals (gold and silver) and crude oil / natural gas
  • Fewer Companies are Going Public and the Market is Shrinking (in terms of issuers, not total value) – It is easy for start up companies to access private capital (venture funds) and they tend to “go IPO” at high values, making a further upside (after the initial IPO) more difficult.  The total market is shrinking in terms of listings due to M&A (companies buying other companies) faster than the new IPO’s and many companies are “buying back” shares which also reduces the total value of the public markets
  • Bonds have had a Gigantic Bull Market that is Nearing It’s End – Bond prices move inversely to yield; thus if you held on to a 5% low risk bond (which would have been available everywhere in the early 2000’s), that bond would currently be priced at much more than 100 cents on the dollar today.  Interest rates peaked around 20% near 1980 and now are not far from zero; in this sense bonds are part of an enormous “bubble market” that has not yet peaked.  But given how low rates are (they are even negative), it seems like this bull run is about to come to an end
  • Ensure That You Include Dividends and Total Return.  A common mistake is to look at performance just in terms of stock or asset prices, and avoid including the compounding impact of dividends received, especially since dividends often rise each year.  Dividend income can make up a significant portion (25% and up) of total return, so selecting assets that provide dividend income is critical.  Finally, dividends provide favorable tax rates when compared to interest income

What does all of this mean?  I would sum it up in two ways:

  1. It is easy for individual investors to set up a simple and low cost way to track the market – the “basic plan” that I set up as a simple example can be used by anyone and it does what it says.  Here is a second plan that also includes some hedging of the non-US investment
  2. You will need to save much more (or take on more risk) because interest rates are low – with near zero interest rates, you can’t make much money on low risk interest bearing products (like CD’s, savings accounts, and simple government debt).  If you are earning risk income, you likely are taking on substantial risk of default because there is no “free lunch”.  As a result, you need to put more cash into stocks in order to earn dividends or see real returns, but this also could lead to significant losses if there is a market crash like 2008-9.

I try to promote financial literacy and have helped many friends and some family members when they ask questions.  Ideally we would actually drive financial literacy through school and into the university.  Even those who have a degree in finance or accounting often lack practical advice on personal finance and don’t know how to approach these issues.

One key concept is “net worth”.  Net worth isn’t how much you earn in salary, it is what remains in savings after taxes (or through long term deferral of taxes).  The only “assets” that count are those that you can turn into cash if needed, and they are “net” of the debt (such as on your house).  Most people have a negative or near-zero net worth, which is also linked to the concept that they are essentially a couple of missed paychecks away from very bad outcomes such as having to take out a payday loan or borrow money from relatives.

Another key concept is trying to avoid excessive student debt.  Unlike all other forms of debt (loans on your house, your car, or credit card debt) your student debt cannot be discharged through bankruptcy.  You essentially have no options except to repay your loans, and if you miss payments or fall behind the fees and penalties will greatly increase your balance due.  Student financial literacy is critical because they are making decisions that will impact themselves and their families for the rest of their lives and they must be made thoughtfully and with the end in mind (if you are taking out all of this debt, you must be driven in your career to make money in order to pay it off and get on with building net worth).

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Portfolio One Updated March 2016 – Tax Time

Portfolio One is our longest lived portfolio, starting right after 9/11 and is 14 1/2 years old.  The current value is $35,158 with the beneficiary contributing $7500 and the trustee $16,500, for a total of $24,000.  Thus the gain is $11,158 or 46%, which works out to about 4.5% / year over the life of the portfolio adjusted for the timing of cash flows.   The detail can be found on the links on the right or you can go here to download the spreadsheet.

There are 20 stocks in the portfolio, which is about the maximum I’d want to track in a single portfolio.  When we add new cash into the portfolio and / or sell existing stocks we are consolidating in order to keep at a maximum of 20 stocks.

We had three sales last year, with Garmin (GRMN), Yahoo (YHOO) and TransAlta (TAC).  We had four purchases with Box (BOX), Novartis (NVS), Tesla Motors (TSLA) and Tata Motors (TTM).

We had a net long term capital loss last year, driven primarily by TransAlta.  Up to $3000 in stock losses can be deducted against ordinary income so this at least should be helpful on the beneficiary’s tax form.  The portfolio earned $935 in dividends and had $70 in foreign taxes withheld (this can be deducted as a benefit on the US tax return).  It is important to realize the percent of total return that comes from dividends; while some companies like Tesla won’t pay dividends (because they are growing rapidly), the return on dividends from established companies is an important source of income growth for the portfolio.  I will be sending the tax information to the beneficiary from the brokerage company after completing this update.

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.