Friday, September 4, 2015

The value of dividend growth in retirement planning

Some regular readers might remember that in my retirement planning, I estimate that I will be able to allocate my capital at yields between 3- 4% and dividend growth between 6 – 7%. If I am lucky, the above numbers will result in roughly doubling of dividend income every seven years or so. This means that if I had a dividend portfolio that generated $1000 in annual dividend income today, I could reasonably expect that through meticulous and opportunistic reinvestment of dividends and through the power of dividend growth, I will be able to double this to $2000/year in seven years.

In order to generate $1000 in annual dividends, one needs anywhere from $40,000 invested at 2.50% to $25,000 invested at an yield of 4%. Of course, in a somewhat efficient marketplace for common stocks, investors who require higher current yields today tend to forego some of the expected dividend growth. On the other hand, some are fine sacrificing some current yield today, in order to capture estimated dividend growth in the future. As discussed previously, there is a trade-off between dividend yield and dividend growth. The balance is determined based on investors reasonable expectations against the realities of opportunities available at the time.

I buy dividend growth stocks, because I want to earn dividend income that grows over time. When this annual rate of dividend growth is above the annual rate of inflation, this means that I have maintained purchasing power of my income. However, I have heard arguments that one could maintain the purchasing power of their dividend income, provided they reinvested the dividend back into securities that pay high dividend yields. Therefore, if you own a stock yielding 4% that never increases dividends, but you reinvest dividends at same or other security yielding 4% at the moment, your income will increase by 4% for the year. If inflation is below 4%, you would have essentially slightly increased purchasing power.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Preventing Blind Spots in Dividend Investing

In a previous article I described why dividend investors should look beyond typical dividend growth screens. I am basically finding that investors who take the time to study the numbers for every individual business one at a time, are much more likely to uncover hidden gems. I believe that investors who rely on pure quantitative screens, might develop blind spots that would prevent them from identifying hidden opportunities.

For example, investors who blindly followed the S&P Dividend Aristocrats index in 2007, would have sold their shares of Altria (MO), right before it more than tripled in value. The index committee erroneously thought that when a company splits in three, its past record no longer matters, even if original shareholders were earning higher dividend income from the shares of companies they received. For any smart dividend growth investor, this would not have caused them to sell, but to simply hold on and enjoy the growing stream of cash dividends every year.

In another example, I have the list of stocks in my portfolio input into Yahoo! Finance. When I have spare funds to invest in dividend stocks, I might go to Yahoo! and look at valuation metrics of companies I own. As I was reviewing the valuation of my portfolio holdings, I noticed that some of the companies I own seem very overvalued on the surface.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Altria Delivers Another Strong Dividend Hike

Last week, anywhere I checked on the internet, everyone was focused on stock market volatility. The fear is that we might be entering a new bear market. As a long term dividend investor I don’t really care much about things like that.

I care about selecting quality companies which can deliver results in any environment. I view declines in stock prices as opportunities to buy more shares at a discount.

The sad thing is that few managed to cover the news that Altria (MO) just raised its dividends. The company has been raising dividends for over 4 decades, and is still not done growing earnings and paying larger dividends to its shareholders. I find it impressive when a company can afford to be boring today, and just keep calm and carry on with its proven business model. As an investor, I like boring and predictable, particularly when I am paid in cash to hold on to that investment. Check my analysis of Altria for more details on the company.

Altria raised its quarterly dividend by 8.70% to 56.50 cents/share. This dividend champion has raised dividends for 46 years in a row. The ten year dividend growth rate is 11.60%/year. Given the fact that shares have been consistently undervalued over the past 60 years, the high dividend growth and the consistently high dividend yield, it is no surprise that Altria has been the best performing stock in the S&P 500 since 1957.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Dividend Portfolio for Early Retirees

I am often asked the following question in some variation: If I were starting a dividend portfolio today, and had a lump sum to put to work, how would I invest it?

The goal of an early retiree is to have the flexibility to do what they want, paid for by their nest eggs.
Dividend growth stocks should be an ideal strategy for these individuals, because they provide a relatively safe stream of income which is always positive and is more stable than relying on total returns. The risk with traditional approaches to retirement such as the 4% rule is that you might have to sell assets when prices are low or stagnant, which could deplete the nest egg that you worked so hard to accumulate.

With dividend investing, you are essentially living off the dividends generated by the portfolio. This is similar to living off the fruit from a tree you have planted twenty years ago. Selling chunks of your portfolio in order to finance expenses in retirement is similar to cutting the tree branch you are sitting on. By cutting off the tree that gives you fruit, you won’t get any more fruit. However, by focusing on the fruit (income), you not only receive more fruit over time, but you also can benefit from long-term appreciation in the companies you have invested in ( the tree grows too). It is a true win-win for long term dividend investors. I also believe that dividend growth investing addresses many risks that retirees face these days.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Do not get emotionally attached to a dividend position

As someone who has been investing in, and writing about dividend paying companies for over seven years, I have accumulated a lot of observations about investor behavior. One of the issues I have observed is when investors get emotionally attached to a dividend stock they owned. While it is important to invest in companies you understand and believe in, it is equally important to also know when a company is no longer performing up to par. It is important to objectively evaluate and identify companies in a portfolio that are no longer pulling their weight, in order to stop adding to those companies and possibly even sell them. Failure to do so could result in permanent loss in capital, and permanent loss in capacity to generate dividend income.

Many investors I have interacted with over the years have liked the types of Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Procter & Gamble (PG), Coca-Cola (KO) to name a few examples of successful dividend growth stocks from the past few decades. And I agree that these companies are great, with wide moats, strong competitive positions and global platforms for selling branded products at a premium price. However, while these companies are great there is not such a thing as a buy and forget investment.

It is important to monitor your dividend stocks regularly. Monitoring is important, because things change and people cannot predict what will happen to a business 20 years from now, using the information of the past or present. A healthy and growing company today might find itself in a declining industry and have its fortunes decimated. Investors should purchase stocks with the intention of holding on for the long run. However, if any warning signs are spotted investors should not add more funds to position, and even consider selling. Newspapers enjoyed an economic moat for decades. The internet ruined the moat of companies like Gannett (GCI). Other companies might decide to change business model and embrace hot growth industries, while disposing of their core stable cash generating assets in the process. Prime case in point is Enron. Another one was french water utility Vivendi, which turned itself into a media conglomerate.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Dividend Companies I purchased in August

The stock market is finally having the correction everyone has been waiting for since 2012. In the past month, the S&P 500 is down by 7 – 8% from its all-time-highs. I am not sure if people are scared yet or not. I have a feeling that stock prices can go down even further from here, though it will be a slow process that could take several months. Either way, this is not the time to panic. This is the time to stay the course, and keep following a sound strategy for achieving long-term investment goals and objectives. It is important to remember that time in the market trumps timing the market for the long-term dividend investor.

As many of you know, I am in the accumulation phase of the game. Therefore, I have money to deploy each month. That money comes from regular job income and dividends. It is very interesting that the most important asset I have is my ability to earn income. As long as I have that asset, I have the ability to deploy excess cash into investments that will pay rising dividends for me.

As a dividend investor, I view each stock I buy as an asset that will provide me with growing cashflow for decades to come. The only difference is that I do not have to spend 50 - 60 hours/week in the office, filing TPS reports, and sitting in long status update meetings which take more work than the work itself, in order to earn that passive dividend income.  I gladly accept lower prices for shares, because this means I am effectively purchasing my future retirement income at a discount. Since I am not a market timer, I cannot tell you whether stock prices are going to be up or down. My hunch is that things will go lower over the next few months, though not in a straight line down, given the fact that the broad market is only recently starting to sell off. No matter what happens, I do know that by investing my savings each month, without emotion, I should do fine over time.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Eaton Corporation: Attractively Valued Stock to Consider

Eaton Corporation plc (NYSE:ETN) operates as a power management company worldwide. This dividend company has paid dividends since 1923, but is the type of company that does not raise them every year. For example, in the past two decades the company kept annual dividends unchanged in 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2009. While you would not find the company covered by most other dividend investors, I believe that it has some great prospects for those willing to take the time and study this business. I recently added to my position in the company, and decided to update my analysis on the company.

The most recent dividend increase was in February 2015, when the Board of Directors approved a 12.20% increase in the quarterly dividend to 55 cents/share.

The company's competitors include Johnson Controls (NYSE:JCI), Parker Hannifin (NYSE:PH) and ITT Corporation (NYSE:ITT).

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Are you ready for the next bear market?

It is not a secret that stock prices have been rising for 6 - 7 years in a row now. This makes it easy to hold on to stocks, and believe that we will have smooth sailing until we reach our goals and objectives.

In my investing, I do like to think about different scenarios. What if my quoted portfolio goes down by 50% in 2016?

I know a lot of investors who are focusing only on total returns would be unhappy. Imagine if you saved for 20 years, and accumulated a net worth of $1 million. Then boom – in one year, half of your net worth, blood,sweat and tears – gone. Would you panic?

I myself would likely be indifferent to a 50% stock price drop. As a dividend investor, I am somewhat insulated from stock price fluctuations. This is because I focus on the earnings power of the business, and the dividend payments that the businesses in my portfolio generates. It is very comforting to keep receiving cash, even when the quoted value of investments throughout the world is falling. When everyone else is hurting, I have the luxury of generating cash from my investments, which I can then deploy at ridiculously low valuations. As long as the underlying fundamentals of the businesses I own are intact, I can ignore stock price fluctuations. This is one of the most important traits of successful dividend investors. Those who do not understand that, are usually the ones that have not made any money in stocks to begin with.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Tax Loss Harvesting for Dividend Investors

As an investor my goal is to attain financial independence using my dividend growth strategy. As a dividend investor, my goal is to generate enough dividend income to pay for my expenses in retirement.

In order to achieve this goal, I have spent several years selecting quality dividend paying stocks. However, as I gain more knowledge, I also try to pick new tricks that would help me on my journey.

One of those tricks is tax-loss harvesting. Tax loss harvesting is selling securities at a loss in order to offset a capital gains tax liability. Tax loss harvesting is typically used to limit the recognition of short-term capital gains, which are normally taxed at higher federal income tax rates than long-term capital gains.

The benefit of tax-loss harvesting is that I will reduce my taxable income, which will reduce taxes I pay and results in more money available for me to allocate.

A taxpayer can use that loss to offset against other short-term or long-term capital gains. If there are no capital gains however for the year, then the taxpayer can reduce their income by $3,000 at most of a given year. If their capital loss exceeds $3,000, they can use it on future gains they incurred. If that taxpayer never earns another dime in capital gains, they can go on to reduce their income by $3,000/year, until their capital loss is exhausted. Depending on your marginal tax rates, triggering this $3,000 loss could result in a substantial tax benefit. I am in the 25% tax bracket, which means that $1,000 in capital losses translates into a reduction of my tax liability by $250. This of course assumes I earned no capital gains. However this is not a problem for me, since I am quick to book my losses, but I let my gains compound for years.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Should companies pay dividends?

As many of you know, I only invest my money in companies which pay dividends. I have made a lot of money that way, and I use dividends as a tool to measure my progress towards financial independence. Currently, I am on track to reach financial independence with dividends around 2018. We all know that dividends are more stable than capital gains. If I had to rely on total returns, and the stock market fell by 50% in 2018, I would have been in a lot of trouble. Since dividends are more stable however, I can ignore stock price fluctuations and focus on enjoying my life.

One of the fundamental questions I hear is whether companies should be paying dividends. The answer of course is that it depends on the company.

Mostly mature companies tend to pay dividends. These companies have an established niche in a market, and earn a lot of excess cashflow that they share with shareholders. Those companies have a lower risk of failure. A firm in the start-up phase will not pay dividends, because it needs all resources to grow or maintain the business. These types of companies are unproven, and therefore more speculative. We often hear about the successful companies that reinvested all profits and ended up being valued for billions of dollars. Google (GOOG) is one such example. The part for Google is that most profits are derived from online advertising. Any money allocated to other projects have not resulted in a meaningful return on investment for shareholders yet.

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