dividend investing

All posts tagged dividend investing

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.

Given the poor performance of the stock market in 2008, its time to go back to the investment basics and make sure you don’t forget the important stuff.

1. Only invest in companies that pay a decent dividend (at least 3%) and that have a long history of increasing their dividend.

You should consider share buybacks when measuring the dividend yield. This criteria achieves several goals. Its narrows your possible choices substantially, providing you an investment “universe” that’s more manageable.

It also automatically prevents you from buying stocks that are speculative or overpriced. If the company is cooking the books, it cannot maintain its dividend. Companies like AOL or MCI Worldcomm were reporting record profits during the Tech bubble (and so was Enron during a later period) when in fact, they were booking large losses. Since they weren’t paying out any dividends they were able to get away with the fraud for a lot longer than otherwise possible.

Investing in dividend-paying companies greatly reduces the odds that your account will ever show a loss. Earning 3% a year isn’t much, but it adds up, especially if the company continues to increase its dividend. After a year or two, even if the share price dips, you’ll probably still show a gain, thanks to the dividend.

2. Out of the companies that are paying a good dividend, only buy companies whose businesses you’re able to easily understand and that you judge to have a solid competitive advantage.

To increase your understanding, read the company’s 10K (annual report) filed with the SEC. You can get a copy online for free at the companies website or the SEC’s website. If you’re not willing to spend an hour or two reading a company’s 10K, are you really ready to invest 4%-6% of your life savings in its stock? It’s surprising that investors will readily pile money into companies that they don’t understand, and that they make no effort to understand.

Note, I’m not talking about trading here. I’m talking about investing – buying a position and keeping it for years.

3. Only buy stocks when they are very attractively priced, i.e. when there’s a substantial margin of safety in the stock.

Benjamin Graham (The Intelligent Investor: The Definitive Book on Value Investing. A Book of Practical Counsel) was a huge proponent of Margin of Safety (Margin of Safety: Risk-Averse Value Investing Strategies for the Thoughtful Investor), which means you should buy a stock when it is worth more than its market price.

This step makes it nearly impossible for you to lose money investing and will ensure you garner the benefits of compounding, because your entry price will be small relative to the company’s assets and future earnings.

It’s very hard for anyone to beat the compound returns of high-quality common stocks held for the long term. If you will follow these three simple rules – good dividends, understandable businesses with competitive advantages, and buying only at very safe prices – you can achieve world-class investment results.

Now if I could only follow this advice!