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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

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Gold Dinar Coin

If you’ve been reading the popular press for the past 6 months, there’s been a slew of articles talking about deflation. I’ve been somewhat skeptical of the long term probability of deflation and have been investing in gold and commodities in anticipation of inflation. Looks like I was a little early to the game (which, on Wall Street is just the same as being wrong!).

Now however, it looks like we are warming up the printing presses and gold has hit $1,000 twice in a week in anticipation of future inflation. Legendary hedge fund manager John Paulson, who made $2.5 Billion last year from his trades, has been betting heavily on gold and his fund has nearly 50% of its assets in gold or gold-related investments like gold mining stocks and ETFs. The gold ETF, GLD reportedly makes up 30% of his fund! He has also taken a large 12% stake in AngloGold Ashanti (ANGJ.J) making him the largest shareholder. According to Reuters, this is not a bet on the company being acquired but rather a bet on inflationary pressures pushing up the price of gold. As opposed to the popular theory of rising prices being a cause of inflation, I like to consider it as an effect of inflation, which is caused by printing money, a side-effect of fiat currency. If you’re unaware about the effects of inflation and how it can ravage the economic (and social) structure of a society, I strongly recommend watching the excellent videos on hyper-inflation.

Another fund which has done well with the gold mining ETF is David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital, which picked it up at the lowest point of last year and which has more than doubled its investment so far.  They both join China in being bullish on gold. Between Paulson’s bullion dollar gold ETF purchase and China’s multi-billion gold bullion purchase, it’s no wonder gold prices have been trending upwards.

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.

While the debate between inflation and deflation keeps on going, I’m firmly in the camp of inflation. And so is Warren Buffett, as are many other investment advisors. So how do you protect yourself and your investments from the effects of inflation?

Investment newsletter editor, Keith Fitz-Gerald, recently had a post on his blog regarding the 4 ways to protect your investments against inflation. Here’s an excerpt:

What’s interesting is that many investors holding large cash positions view their money as an asset, when, ironically, it’s really more of a liability at this stage of the game.
Some might take issue with that statement. After all, even we at Money Morning have counseled readers that cash – correctly deployed – can allow an investor to sidestep the worst stretches of a financial crisis, like the one from which we’re currently attempting to extricate ourselves.

But when the markets are as beat up as they as they have been, history suggests there’s probably more upside than downside – even if we haven’t bottomed out yet.
And there’s a broad body of research to support that contention – including our own newly created “LSV (LIBOR/Sentiment/Value) Index” (published as a part of The Money Map Report, the monthly investment newsletter that’s affiliated with Money Morning).

There’s also data sets widely published by others, such as Yale Economics Professor Robert J. Shiller. Shiller has found that when you look at 10-year periods of Price/Earnings (P/E) data dating all the way back to 1871, the markets tend to rise when the average P/E is low, as it is right now. Conversely, when the average Price/Earnings values are high – as they were in late 1999, and again in 2007 – a decline in stock prices is much more likely.

There are obviously no guarantees that history will repeat itself. But if it does, the same data implies we could see real returns of 10% a year or more “for years to come,” as Shiller noted in a recent interview with Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

My own research seconds the general-market-increase theory, but I’m much more conservative in my expectations of returns and think that returns of 7% are more likely.

Perhaps what’s more important right now is that inflation typically accompanies growth – and with a vengeance. And that means that investors who are sitting on cash “until the time is right” may have their hearts in the right place but are relying on the wrong protection strategy.

My recommendation is a four-part plan that can help lock in the expected returns you want, while also protecting your cash from the ravages of inflation. Let’s take a close look at each of the four elements of this strategy:

  • First, protect your cash with Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPs). Even though the trillions of dollars the Fed has injected into the system seem to be having some effect on the critically ill patient the U.S. central bank is trying to fix, we’re likely to pay a terrible price in the future. Forget the hyperinflation scenario so many people are hyping at the moment. While that’s certainly possible, it’s not probable. However, what is likely is a dramatic realignment of the dollar and a general increase in worldwide living expenses.

If you’re based in the United States and have mostly U.S. assets, you may want to consider something as simple as the iShares Barclays TIPS Bond Fund (NYSE: TIP) to offset this risk. The TIP portfolio is chocked full of inflation-indexed securities, but it also offers a healthy 7.46% yield. If you’ve got international exposure, you may also want to consider the SPDR DB International Government Inflation Protected Bond ETF (NYSE: WIP). It’s a collection of internationally diversified government inflation indexed bonds that provides similar protection. Make sure you talk with your tax advisor about both, though. Depending on your tax situation, you may find that because of the tax liability on inflation-related accretion, these are generally best held in tax-exempt accounts.

  • Buy gold but don’t go crazy. Despite widespread belief to the contrary, gold has never been statistically proven as an inflation hedge. But the yellow metal has proven to be a great crisis hedge because of the 10:1 relationship between gold prices and bond coupon rates – which obviously are directly related to inflation. Over time, the two move in such a way that having $1 for every $9 in bond principal can help immunize the value of your bond portfolio.

So to the extent that you own gold, do so not because you expect it to rise sharply, but because it will offset the inflationary damage to your bonds. A good place to start is the SPDR Gold Trust (NYSE: GLD) because it’s tied directly to the underlying asset without the hassles or risks of direct personal storage associated with bullion.

  • Consider commodities. It’s too early to tell if the so-called “green shoots” that everybody is so excited about are little more than weeds. Therefore, it makes sense to concentrate on picking up resource-based investments. History shows that these things are less susceptible to downturns, but more importantly, rise at rates that far exceed inflation when a recovery begins in earnest.

I prefer companies like Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP (NYSE: KMP) that are less dependent on the underlying cost of energy than they are on actual growth in demand. That way, if energy prices don’t take off immediately for reasons related to deflation or stagflation, those still will benefit from demand growth. It’s a fine point, but one that merits attention for serious investors. KMP, incidentally, yields an appealing 8.68% at the moment.

  • Short the dollar to hedge your bets still further. Not only is the government going to borrow nearly four times more than it did last year, but when you add the complete federal fiscal obligations into the picture, our government owes nearly $14 trillion. This makes the dollar, as legendary investor Jim Rogers put it, “a terribly flawed currency” that could fail at any time.

To ensure you’re at least partially protected, consider the PowerShares DB U.S. Dollar Index Bearish Fund (NYSE: UDN), which will rise as the dollar falls. It’s essentially one big dollar short against the European euro, the Japanese yen, the British pound sterling and the Norwegian kroner, among other currencies.
In closing, there is one additional point to consider. You rarely get a second chance to do anything, especially when it comes to investing. So act now before the markets make it cost-prohibitive to protect yourself. When the economic recovery gets here, you’ll be glad you did.

Pretty sound advice. I was just thinking about converting my 401k into TIPS today when I came across this article. The rest of the advice I’ve followed in some form or another. Instead of directly shorting the dollar, I’m long FXA, which is the CurrencyShares Australian Dollar ETF and EDD which is an ETF of short-term foreign government and corporate bonds.

Another way to SHORT the dollar is buy going LONG foreign currencies. Everbank has multiple CDs you can open in various currencies. They also have some neat products where the principle is guaranteed against loss – there is no free lunch – the interest is used to hedge against loss – but you do get any upside appreciation of the currency. Check out their Marketsafe BRIC CD. Also check out their free newsletter, the Daily Pfennig, which is a good source of unbiased global macroeconomic/monetary and currency information.

Today’s guest post is by MoneyEnergy.

Unless you’ve been on vacation on one of the earth’s poles for the last month, you’ll know that the last few weeks have been great in the markets.  More than four straight weeks of gains have led many commentators to begin asking whether we’re starting to see signs of a recovery and have caused many market-timers to wince with the knowledge that they missed out on one of the quickest and gainliest recoveries in decades.  But how long will this bear market rally last?  Is it just the short-term booster effect coming from the trickling-down of the Obama stimulus throughout the US economy?
Whatever the reasons and however long it’s going to last (I’m still reading articles about the imminent “recovery”), I think it’s safe to assume that we may yet retest the lows.
I take the commentary of analysts like Peter Schiff and Gerald Celente seriously.  Schiff was wrong about the manner in which the dollar rallied owing to so much investment looking for a safe haven, but that’s because Schiff overlooked the effect produced by not everyone’s knowing about the state of the US debt – or even if they did know, investing in greenbacks anyway because of a perception of them as being more of a relative safe haven compared to the Euro (here I interject: why do these discussions on currency options always ignore the Canadian dollar?  Canada’s balance sheets completely upstage those of the US, and Canada’s banks are more sound even than Europe’s).
Peter Schiff hasn’t changed his vision much over the course of the economic debacle.  He sees things as basically proceeding par course.  Sooner or later those Chinese and Japanese won’t want to buy any more US securities. In a sense, Schiff’s view still makes sense – as we saw just a few weeks ago the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao proposing a new world reserve currency.  So Schiff’s prognostications could still be right on course.
Gerald Celente has been in the mainstream media much less than Schiff, and maybe for good reason – although he holds the same views, his visions of the future are much, much bleaker than Schiff’s.  Celente isn’t afraid to say he thinks we’re going to see a major rise in bad crime in the US and that we’re headed into the Greater Depression.  I’ve heard alot of doom and gloom stories, but only Celente really scares me.
So what if Shiff and Celente are still right?  They’re ignoring this bear market rally – maybe you should too.
Here’s what I recommend doing now while the markets are still relatively stable and there is less overall volatility in trading.  In other words, because we’re in a period of slightly more optimism about the economy and slightly better consumer sentiment.

  • If you need to move money in and out of accounts, do this now while all banks are still open and there is less fear of runs
  • If you plan to stock up on any key items/supplies, do it now while supply lines are still running
  • If you have been waiting to cash out of the markets, now is a good time while values are back up (I don’t recommend market timing, but sometimes we do need the cash)
  • Take a look at your gold dealers – might be easier to place orders now and get them quicker
  • It’s a good time to sell off that “stuff” you no longer use: ebay, craigslist, garage sales
  • Make sure you have your emergency cash in place

In other words, treat this moment as a brief sunny respite on a rainy day, a chance to run across the street without getting soaked.  Because we shouldn’t be so foolish as to think the rain is not going to come back. At the very least – even if you don’t think we need to be thinking about more survivalist scenarios – stock up your cash savings now and keep them aside for more bottom-fishing when the time is right.

Here’s an interesting article from Bloomberg. I don’t agree with it, but then again I didn’t make 74% returns last year, nor do I run a multi-billion dollar fund.

Steven Leuthold, whose Grizzly Short Fund makes money for investors by betting companies will fail, says he wouldn’t invest in his own fund now because the U.S. stock market is close to bottom.

Leuthold, who helps manage $3.2 billion as founder of Minneapolis-based Leuthold Weeden Capital Management, told investors to keep money out of the Grizzly fund last week; it rose 74 percent in 2008. He joins Bill Fleckenstein, who shut a 13-year-old bearish fund in December, and Marc Faber, who covered bets against U.S. stocks, in talking down short selling.

Leuthold says the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, which has lost 54 percent since October 2007, may rise 40 percent this year because the U.S. economy won’t fall into a depression and stocks are the cheapest they have been in 24 years.

“I personally would not have an investment in the Grizzly fund because I think we’re so close to a major market bottom,” said Leuthold in an interview. “Every investor ought to be considering putting money into equities.”

Short sellers can profit from falling stock prices by borrowing a stock and then quickly selling it. If the prices then fall, they only have to pay back the stock at the lower price, pocketing the difference.

SP 1,000?

The first simultaneous recessions in the U.S., Europe and Japan since World War II pushed the price of the SP 500 as low as 10.2 times earnings from the past year, the cheapest since 1985, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. About $1.2 trillion in bank losses tied to subprime mortgages sent financial companies in the SP 500 down 82 percent from the February 2007 high, making them the cheapest relative to book value, or assets minus liabilities, since Bloomberg began tracking the data.

Leuthold, 71, said investors have become too concerned about the economy. Comparisons between the current slump and the Great Depression are exaggerated, said Leuthold, who predicts the SP 500 will rally to at least 1,000 this year.

Fleckenstein, president of Seattle-based Fleckenstein Capital Inc., says that while stocks may advance in coming months, they’re likely to lose the gains as the recession worsens and unemployment climbs.

The 55-year-old investor, who plans to open a fund that bets on both stock declines and gains later this year, said if he were managing a fund today he would be “doing a whole lot of nothing” and would have few short sales.

So what am I invested in? I still think gold and oil stocks will outperform in the long run. I’m also shorting a few companies that I think will go bankrupt. One of them is a American College Communities (ACC), which provides luxury student housing. They bought an awful lot of real estate at the peak. Check out this great analysis at Stripnomics blog.

Just thought I’d share an interesting email:

Jim Grant noted in his recent Interest Rate Observer that eight blue-chip companies now meet or exceed Ben Graham’s strictest criteria for defensive investors: Pfizer, Nucor, Cooper Industries, Cintas, Tiffany, Archer Daniels Midland, Molex, and RadioShack.

These are like superhero investments. Each has

  • 10 consecutive years of net profits
  • 20 consecutive years of uninterrupted dividend payments
  • earnings growth in the past decade of at least 33%
  • price-to-earnings and price-to-book multiples of less than 15

For perspective, Grant notes that at the bottom of the Nasdaq bust in 2003, only two stocks met all those criteria. At the bottom of the market in 1991, only six qualified. (Since 1991, those six produced average annual returns of almost 19%.) If you bought just these eight stocks and forgot about them for a decade, chances are better than 90% you’ll make a substantial return and beat the market. Usually, that’s a lot harder to do.

Note: These, are not my personal recommendations to buy. Do your own Due Diligence.

Prof. Jeremy Siegel, author of the excellent book The Future for Investors: Why the Tried and the True Triumph Over the Bold and the New, seems to think 2009 will be a good year for the stock market:

All of this means that, although the first quarter of 2009 will see negative growth, GDP should stabilize in the second quarter, earlier than most economists now anticipate. In real terms, housing prices have already retraced most of their gains from 2000, and by midyear prices should stabilize in this low-interest-rate environment. Year-over-year inflation should sink to zero, especially in the first half of 2009.

This year, as the economic slide abates and investors realize a catastrophe has been avoided, stock prices should enjoy a 20 percent or higher return. All equity sectors should recover.

The financial stocks will still be burdened by bad loans and government obligations. Nevertheless, new lending will prove extremely profitable to the banks whose cost of funds is now essentially zero. The Fed might find that it will be forced to raise rates during the summer, earlier than planned. And I believe long-term Treasuries are in a giant bubble and their prices will fall to earth once the economy improves.

All of this doesn’t mean there are no risks to stocks. The Fed must do more to encourage banks to lend to credit-worthy, non-delinquent customers. And the Obama administration must carefully structure its recovery plan so as not to bail out those that have been profligate and penalize those who have been thrifty.

Still, just as 2008 disappointed us on the downside, 2009 might surprise with better numbers than most are expecting.

Of course, just like everyone else, he didn’t exactly predict the worst bear market since the Great Depression! In fact, he thought the market would be led higher by financial stocks.

One of the few people who got it write was Nassim Nicholas Taleb or NNT for short. NNT was an options trader who achieved public fame after his awesome 2001 book Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets became a best-seller. His hedge fund actually did very well last year returning in excess of 50%.  Check out his video:

Also check out this great NYT article on how misunderstanding of risk management tools caused the financial mess.

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!