dividends

In April of last year, I made the case of going long Vodafone (VOD).

Since then, I’m up nearly 44% on my purchase price (including dividends). Vodafone currently yields nearly 7.5%.

Recently, Barrons had a good article on why investors should still consider investing in Vodafone.

Its ADRs, which trade on Nasdaq and each represent 10 ordinary U.K.-listed shares, could rise more than 20%, to $35-$38, over the next two years. Including dividends, the total return could top 35%, with significantly less volatility than the average stock, given Vodafone’s relatively stable business. (Vodafone ordinary shares closed in London Friday at 180 pence. The ADRs finished near $29.)

There were also several quotes from fund managers:

“Vodafone’s stock is significantly undervalued,” avers Bruno Lippens, a portfolio manager with Pictet Asset Management, “essentially because the market still doesn’t appreciate Verizon Wireless” and the way the dividend will translate into reliable future cash. While there’s no formal annual commitment, Verizon Wireless has little net debt and produces about $1 billion monthly in Ebitda. “Absent massive investment needs, I don’t see an alternative” to paying out a regular annual dividend, adds Lippens, who sees some 40% upside in Vodafone.

The author of the article also thinks that a liquidation of Verizon Wireless could occur within five years, which could be as high as 50% of VODs current market cap.

I remember the good ol’ days of the Internet Bubble in late 1999, early 2000. I bought Qualcomm (QCOM) at around $300 a share and watched it skyrocket to $800 a share in less than a year. Valuations didn’t matter, only the stories behind the stocks. I had lofty ambitions of early retirement and life of luxury. Warren Buffett was widely derided (amongst my friends) as an old fool who didn’t understand the new economy – this time it was surely different.

Sadly, no one told me the party was going to end and I rode that pony all the way back down the hill.

And then my brokerage called me and informed me that not only was my investment account worth zero, I also owed them an additional thousand dollars! Yeah, leverage works both ways.

That’s when I realized that investing isn’t about excitement, it’s about buying dull, income-generating stocks and as Buffett would say, sitting on your hands for extended periods of time.

I realized that I didn’t need to be invested in growth stocks that double every year. I just need to find stocks that generate 8-12% a year in capital appreciation and dividends, and I’ll be able to beat 90% of money managers on the planet.

So why am I bringing this up today? I recently read an article about how an investor was abandoning his position in Johnson and Johnson (JNJ), citing lack of growth as the main reason.

I am not suggesting that JNJ is about to collapse or slowly fade into the background. As I said, JNJ is a strong cash flow generator and the company does generate very strong returns on capital. With such a large amount of reinvestable cash, there will always be at least the hope of better days.

The problem, though, is that JNJ just isn’t a dynamic player. If you want a company that will produce large amounts of cash, and send a fair bit of it back to shareholders in dividends and buybacks, JNJ is a fine choice. But if you really want to harness the growth potential of the healthcare market with a top-notch operator, JNJ simply does not fit the bill.

Based on the 150+ comments, it seems like the investor and numerous readers were tired of the lack of stock performance of JNJ. How anyone would mistake a humongous, global conglomerate for a growth stock is another story, but is it really a dog of a stock?

After holding it for a decade (like some of the readers claimed they did), should you sell it now in favor of a tantalizing growth stock, like maybe SalesForce (CRM) that sells for 260 times earnings?

The problem with growth stocks is that everyone knows they’re a growth stock destined for great things, and investors usually overpay for this privilege, or should I say, excitement.

Studies have shown that over the long run, growth (or glamour) stocks underperform boring, value stocks.

So are people correct in giving up on boring, no-growth JNJ?

Well, JNJ’s story sure isn’t getting any more interesting. In fact, the 100+ year-old stodgy company is so unexciting, I can’t even be bothered to read what it does on its profile page on Yahoo! Finance. I know it makes medicine and related products. It had a slew of recalls and maybe it even makes Splenda. But seriously, who cares?

I don’t need to be swayed by some BS management story. I went to business school, I know how those yarns are spun! Just show me the numbers…

JNJ has a market cap of $166B and it has zero net debt – always a good sign.

Over the past decade (2001 through 2010), income has almost doubled from $33B to $61.6B. Operating cash flow has almost doubled from $8.8B to $16.38B. And most importantly, free cash flow (or as Benjamin Graham would say, the Owners Share of Income) also nearly doubled from $7.1B to $14B.

In terms of valuation metrics, the P/E fell from 32 to 12.7 over the same time period, and the P/CF fell from 20.5 to 10.3. Which meant that it went from being grossly overvalued in 2001 to being favorably-valued in 2010.

At today’s prices, the P/FCF is currently 11.84, which is quite cheap for a blue-chip stock and it has a projected yield of 3.6%, which incidentally, puts in on par with the yield of the 10-year US Treasury.

However, JNJ has been growing its dividend around 9-10% every year since 1972. In fact, it has increased the dividend every single year for 48 years!

If you had invested in JNJ 10 years ago, your entry price (adjusted for splits and dividends) would be about $37. It’s currently trading around $60.50, so while a 64% increase over a decade may not be the dreams that growth stocks are made of, at least your initial quarterly dividend payment of 0.16 cents has more than tripled to 0.54 cents.

And even though you made the wrong decision in buying an overvalued stock a decade ago, you’re still not doing too badly. At your entry price of $37, you’re almost making a 6% yield today.

Buying this boring, no growth stock today gives me an annual yield of 3.6%. If it repeats its performance over the next decade and the dividend triples again, I’ll be making 12% annual yield from the dividends, based on my purchase price. I can live with that sort of sub-par performance!

And if the P/E expands to growth-stock levels, causing the share price to soar and the dividend yield to drop back under 1% like it did 2001, I’ll be happy to sell it to some growth-story-chasing investor.  But until then I’m happy eschewing the glamor stocks in favor of the cheap, boring, no-growth, value stocks.

Disclaimer: I bought some JNJ for my retirement account yesterday around $60.50. I’m happy to keep it for a decade, or until they cut their dividend. I also shorted CRM at the same time.

In my last post, I hinted at using QE2 to your advantage by investing in companies that benefit from a steepening yield curve. But I didn’t have time to get in to specifics. Which is what I’ll do right now, seeing that I have a couple of hours to spare at the Fort Lauderdale airport.

The Federal Reserve let the market know that it plans to keep short term interest rates at extremely low rates for the next few quarters (if not longer). Companies that can borrow short term, can do so at very low rates. So long as you have AA-rated collateral, you can borrow money at about 0.30% on a 30 day basis. If you plan to borrow for a longer term, you just need to keep “rolling” your loan every 30 days or so.

So if you can invest in a AA-rated bond that pays say 3% or 4% and borrow money at 0.30%, you’re going to profit from the spread. Do such bonds exist?

They do – they’re called Agency RMBS and they’re just large pools of single-family residential mortgages that are bundled together in to large multi-million dollar securities and guaranteed against default by a government sponsored agency such as Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae. They also yield about 3.75% or higher.

So you can borrow money at 0.30% and invest it at 3.75% and you’re guaranteed against loss of principle by a government agency! Sounds too good to be true? Well it gets better!

Companies that use this business model to make money are set up as REITs and pay out a hefty dividend to shareholders. Companies like Annaly Capital Management (NLY),  Hatteras Financial Corp (HTS), Cypress Sharpridge Investments (CYS) are mortgage REITs that are set up to do exactly this. And they all pay approximately 15% in dividends.

An RMBS is basically a bond and all bonds have 3 types of risk:

  1. Credit Risk
  2. Prepayment Risk
  3. Interest Risk

Companies which invest in Agency MBS don’t suffer from credit risk. If the borrower of the mortgage defaults, the government-sponsored agency just buys it back and you get your money back. There is no fear of loss of principle!

Prepayment risk is when the borrower pays off the loan early and returns your principle back to you. This usually happens in environments when interest rates are dropping and borrowers can refinance their mortgages at a lower rate. If you get your money back early, you need to reinvest the money, typically at a lower rate. Given that mortgage rates are so low and refinancing is much more difficult than it used to be, the risk of prepayment is limited. There are some always some prepayments though which occur as regular amortization of the loan. Some companies will calculate how much of their portfolio and try to enter forward contracts to purchase more RBMS and thus mitigate the prepayment risk. CYS is one company that does this.

The third and major risk is interest rate risk. As the cost of borrowing increases, the spread between borrowing and invests decreases. Your profit margins drop and are no longer able to make the kind of returns you’re used to. Again some companies hedge against this event, and incur some cost in doing so. But hedging maintains long-term predictability of cash flows and may be worth the drop in potential yield. Again CYS does this and it’s net spread after hedging is 2.55%. It also uses 7.5:1 leverage to maintain a $4.5 billion portfolio against $600 million equity position. When you earn a 2.55% spread and can leverage up 7.5%, that’s a whopping 19% yield! CYS has about a 17% dividend yield.

Disclosure: I bought a 33% position in CYS on Friday and am going to be buying more under $13.50.

Last week the internet was buzzing with rumors of Apple coming out with an iPhone that would work on the Verizon Network. If you decide you wanted to trade this rumor what would you do? Would you buy Apple (AAPL) or would you buy Verizon Communications (VZ)? What if I told you Apple didn’t pay a dividend, while Verizon had a 6% dividend yield. Would that make a difference?

As it turns out, I decided I wanted in on this trade. I’ve been wanting to buy an iPhone for a while but the AT&T network is severely congested in major cities and the sound quality for calls is terrible. So I’ve been holding out for the iPhone until it’s available on the Verizon Network.  I did however get myself a 32GB iPod Touch that is simply amazing.

I didn’t buy either of these two companies. Instead I bought Vodafone (VOD) with a dividend yield of approximately 5.3% based on my $23.10 purchase price. It’s not widely known, but Vodafone owns 45% of Verizon Wireless. The remaining 55% of Verizon Wireless is owned by Verizon Communications.

Verizon Wireless borrowed billions of dollars from its parent company to build out its infrastructure and for the $30 billion purchase of Alltel. It’s been generating nearly $10 billion a year in free cashflow and has been paying back the loans. These loans will be completely repaid in a few months. So what will it do with all the money its generating? It’ll start paying dividends to VZ and VOD.

Verizon needs the money for its own dividend payments. In addition to the wireless division, it runs a landline division that isn’t anywhere as profitable as Verizon Wireless. And last week, Vodafone publicly asked Verizon to either spin off Verizon Wireless or to start paying dividends as soon as it was done with the loan repayments.

By itself, Vodafone generates $8 billion a year in free cashflow. It’s 5.3% dividend seems pretty safe and has the potential to see a massive increase if Verizon Wireless decides to pay out a major portion of its cash flows.  In addition to its stake in Verizon Wireless, Vodafone owns a tiny stake in China Mobile and a 44% stake in some French Telecomm company who’s name I can’t pronounce.

This way you get exposure to a global Telecomm player with exposure to the growing US wireless market and no exposure to the US landline market.  You also get a 5%+ dividend yield with exposure outside the the US and the US Dollar. If we do see inflation, this dividend is likely to keep up with it and is probably a better bet than a treasury bond (which would lose value if we saw high inflation).

For the time being, the “Can you hear me now?” dude is a little less annoying!

Disclaimer: I entered a 50% position in VOD. If the price drops from my purchase price I’ll double down.

Almost exactly a year ago, I mentioned a paired-trade investment between the long-term Bond ETF (TLT) and short-term corporate/sovereign bond ETF (AWF).  I went long AWF and shorted an equal dollar amount of TLT. Last week, I closed the position after holding it for just over a year.

When I entered the trade, AWF was trading for $8.29 and had a yield of 13.4%, while my short position in TLT was trading at $112.10 and had a yield of 3.5%.  When I close out my position a year later, AWF had a price of $13.10 and a yield of 8.6%, while TLT was going for $91.65 and yielding 3.9%.

I made about 63% on the long AWF position and 18% on the short TLT position. Coupled with the 9.9% net dividend yield, that trade made me ~91%. Not a bad return for a year and 4 days.  Bond yields don’t usually move 500 basis points in a year. No point being greedy. Time to bank some profit!

paired-trade-awf-tlt-returns

A drop in the stock market will cause the price of bonds to move up, since they typically are inversely correlated. Similarly a sharp rise in in yields would cause bonds price to drop. I expect a move in TLT to about roughly $96 at which point I might renter the position depending on the larger macro-economic picture.

In October 2008 I bought Annaly Capital Management (NLY)  at around $13.  Annaly Capital is a REIT that buys mortgage-backed real estate securities that are essentially guaranteed by the government via GSEs (or government sponsored agencies).

According to Google finance “it owns mortgage pass-through certificates, collateralized mortgage obligations, agency callable debentures, and other securities representing interests in or obligations backed by pools of mortgage loans. The Company is focused in generating net income for distribution to the stockholders from the spread between the interest income on the investment securities and the cost of borrowings to finance the acquisition of investment securities”.

It basically borrrows money and invests it in MBS and CMOs. When the short term borrowing rate is hovering around 2% and mortgage yields are around 5%, the spread is pretty juicy and it can afford to pay out pretty decent dividends.

At the time I bought it, I think it had ~10% dividend yield and it looked like interest rates were going to stay low for quite some time.  The Federal Funds rate which was 1.50% in early October 2008, bottomed out at close to 0% in a few months and has stayed in the 0-0.25% for most of the past year. Since then, the dividends have increased to about 21% based on my purchase price. At its current purchase price, its still yields around 17-18%.  That is still a pretty stellar dividend, especially for a company that’s in the real estate financing sector.

However, if interest rates raise, its spread decreases and it no longer throws off enough cash flow to maintain its dividend yield. Will the rates rise any time soon? I don’t think so, but over the long-term, rates cannot stay this low. The country cannot keep on issuing new debt at 3-4% indefinitely.  At some point, demand for low rate debt will dry up and rates will start creeping up. When this happens, NLY will cut dividends and its stock price will tank.

During the 15 months that I’ve held the stock, it has appreciated 30% and I’ve received ~20% in dividends as well. Not a bad return (though it’s beaten the S&P500, its not my best trade of last year). Many people think that the economy will continue to stay weak, interest rates will stay low, and NLY will continue to do well. Maybe. But I’d rather book some profit and build up some cash reserves in case the market pulls back. I sold 100% of NLY in my brokerage account and 50% of it in my Roth IRA today. With this sale, the retirement account is currently 50% in cash. Its time to go stock hunting!

NLY_stock_return_compared_against_S&P500

The following is a guest post by Saj Karsan. Saj regularly writes for Barel Karsan, a site dedicated to finding and discussing current value investments.

Stocks with higher dividend yields do outperform the market. Having said that, however, it’s important to be able to determine if a company’s dividend yield is sustainable.

Consider World Wrestling Entertainment (NYSE: WWE). CEO Vince McMahon’s antics are well known, both in the boardroom and as an entertainer himself! For those unfamiliar with his antics (or those who enjoy re-living WWE moments), a video example of McMahon in action is portrayed below:

WWE pays a dividend yield above 10%. However, the following chart demonstrates why you can’t choose a stock on dividend yield alone:

wwe

Clearly, WWE has been paying out more than it has been earning! Over the last four fiscal years (“2006 T” representing an 8-month transition year to a new fiscal year-end), WWE has paid out $1.06 more per share than it has earned!

How does it do it? Balance Sheet strength! The company has virtually no debt, and more than $2.80 of cash (including short-term investments) per share. That means it could continue to pay out cash over and above its net income by 25 cents per share for the next 10 years!

Does that make it a buy? Not quite. At a share price of $14, even if management immediately paid out that entire $2.80 to shareholders, one would still be paying $11.20 for a company that earned 62 cents / share last year, representing a P/E of 18.

When a dividend yield looks appealing, make sure it’s not too good to be true!

Disclosures: None

If you enjoyed this article, consider subscribing to Barel Karsan.

The market has been defying gravity this summer, with the S&P500 up 49% since March. But most of the appreciation has been in what I consider lower quality stocks. Many homebuilders with doubtful prospects have doubled from their recent lows, while stocks that are somewhat recession proof like McDonalds, Walmart, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble have bounced a mere 15-20%.

According to Bloomberg, “companies with the worst earnings led the 45 percent gain in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index since it fell to a 12-year low five months ago”. It might be a good time to sell some of your winners that have exceptionally well and either wait for a pull-back, or if you’re trigger happy, buy solid investment-grade companies.

Given the current economic environment with the US Dollar likely to devalue against foreign currencies and the high probability of inflation, you want to invest in a company with exposure to foreign markets, a stable business model that is non-cyclical and a history of growing dividends. You also want to avoid luxury brands or businesses that sell expensive goods.

Here are a few of the companies that I would consider looking at, along with their dividend yields.

  • Verizon Communications (VZ): 5.87%
  • Johnson & Johnson (JNJ): 3.21%
  • Procter & Gamble (PG): 3.28%
  • Colgate-Palmolive (CL): 2.41%
  • Unilever (UL): 4.39%
  • Altria Group (MO): 7.10%
  • Philip Morris International (PM): 4.61%
  • McDonalds (MCD): 3.55%
  • Walmart (WMT): 2.51%
  • Enerplus Resources Fund (ERF): 9.56%

While I don’t own any of these yet (except ERF), I do own some ETFs that hedge against dollar devaluation and inflation:

  • CurrencyShares Australian Dollar Trust (FXA): 2.04%
  • Morgan Stanley Emerging Markets Domestic Debt Fund (EDD): 7.45%
  • Market Vectors TR Gold Miners (GDX): 1.90%

If you are going to buy currency ETFs or currencies you might want to also check out some of the risk-free currency CDs offered by Everbank. At the very least, definitely subscribe to their free newsletter, the Daily Pfennig. It’s quite informative and very interesting.

ETFconnect.com is a great site to find out more information about ETFs.  Having some exposure to foreign currency and gold miners isn’t a bad idea. I’ve been worrying about the effects of the Federal Reserve printing money like its going out of style and the CEO of Coeur d’Alene (CDE), a silver mining company that I happen to own, predicts that Silver will jump 29% by the end of the year because of this.

Demand from investors seeking a store of wealth accounts for more than half of silver’s 23 percent price jump this year before today, Wheeler said in an interview in New York. The metal will reach $18 an ounce with supplies little changed and demand buoyed by purchases from exchange-traded funds, he said.

“We have this crushing new debt and dollar weakness,” Wheeler said today. “The outlook for precious metals is very positive, and silver will be No. 1.”

The U.S. government has pledged $12.8 trillion, an amount that approaches U.S. gross domestic product, in a bid to stem the longest recession since the 1930s. The spending will erode the value of the dollar and boost the appeal of silver and gold as alternative assets, Wheeler said.

“There’s a lot of anxiety out there over this debt,” Wheeler said. “Around the world, there are a growing number of investors who want protection. They’re going to want silver as part of their portfolio.”

If you believe any of this, you might want to increase your exposure to silver miners like CDE, SSRI or SLW, although these don’t pay any dividends.

Disclosure: I own ERF, CDE, FXA, GDX, EDD, physical gold and silver.