Altria Group, Inc. (MO), through its subsidiaries, engages in the manufacture and sale of cigarettes, smokeless products, and wine in the United States and internationally. This dividend champion has managed to increase dividends to shareholders for 44 years in a row.
Many databases show reductions in dividend payments in 2007 and 2008, which is due to the spin-offs of Kraft Foods and Philip Morris International (PM). As a result, Altria was kicked out of what I used to believe was the elite dividend aristocrat index. The investors in Altria from early 2007 would have received shares in Kraft and Philip Morris International, and therefore their total dividend income would not have suffered at all. It actually increased, because all three companies raised dividends in 2008. Those original Kraft shares were further split into Mondelez International (MDLZ) and Kraft (KRFT). This is why one should not focus on purely quantitative characteristics, but also take the time to understand companies by analyzing them in detail one at a time. By focusing too much on screening, you might miss out on important information.
Since the spin-off of Philip Morris International in 2008, quarterly dividends per share have increased from 29 cents/share to 48 cents/share in 2013.
Altria Group pays a very high portion of net income as dividends to shareholders. However, it has limited needs to reinvest large portions of its net income, which is why this ratio is not as troubling as it would be for Coca-Cola (KO) for example. In the old days, Altria used its strong cash flows to diversify into food and spirits, but I do not think this is the case nowadays. Back until the early 2000s, Altria was known as Philip Morris. Now, it has a 26.90% economic and voting interest in SABMiller. Altria earned $402 million in dividends from its stake in SABMiller in 2012. It’s share of SABMiller’s profits was $1.224 billion. This stake is worth approximately 20 – 21 billion dollars at current prices. In comparison, Altria’s market capitalization today is $73 billion.
Earnings per share increased from $1.48 in 2008 to $2.26 by 2013. The company expects to earn $2.57/share by 2014 and $2.76/share by 2015. While I take forward analyst estimates with a grain of salt, I have a high degree of confidence that Altria can achieve decent earnings growth in the long-run, fueled by price increases which are higher than declines in volume and cost restructurings. This could translate into quarterly dividends hitting $2.05/share in 2014 and $2.20 in 2015.
The future for tobacco consumption in the US is bleak. I would estimate that amount of cigarettes sold will decline by 3% - 4%/year for the foreseeable future. There are bans on smoking in public, buildings, parks, bars etc.
However, there is a difference between the future for tobacco consumption, and the future for tobacco companies. The reason behind this variance is stemming from the fact that demand for cigarette products is relatively inelastic. This means that an increase in the price of cigarettes typically results in declines in the amount of cigarette consumption. The increase in prices however is usually higher than the declines in consumption, which results in higher revenues overall.
The market for tobacco companies is inefficient, because there are some investors who are biased against tobacco companies, regardless of valuation or future business prospects. This does not mean these investors are morally right or wrong – they have the right to their own opinions. However, they are not being rational in evaluating tobacco companies as investments.
Most know about the terrible facts about tobacco use. This has led to depressed valuations for tobacco companies in almost all of the times. This means that if you can reinvest those fat dividends at low valuations, your future returns have a very high chance of being pretty good.
Governments need tobacco companies, because it provides them with a healthy stream of revenues through excise taxes for example. Furthermore, it is much more popular to tax the evil tobacco conglomerates, rather than increase taxes on middle class voters, or reduce education expenditures for high-schools
The positives behind companies like Altria includes strong brand loyalty, the fact that consumers are addicted to the product, efficiencies of scale and strong pricing power. It would be almost impossible to start a competing tobacco company today, because of the ban on advertising.
However, the emerging opportunity and threat are e-cigarettes. It seems that these are advertised, and could convert a portion of regular smokers to e-cig smokers. Unfortunately, e-cigarettes could be more disruptive than regulation threats, and they carry slimmer margins. On the positive side, for those legacy tobacco companies that are building up their e-cigarette business, this could be a growth kick to their otherwise stable tobacco revenues. Plus, I would not be surprised if advertising of e-cigarettes reminds consumers about regular cigarettes, thus leading to increase in tobacco consumption. Most recently Phillip Morris International and Altria created an agreement to exclusively commercialize two of Altria’s e-cigarette products outside the U.S.. At the same time, PMI will make available to Altria two of its heated tobacco products for sale in the US.
Recent news about CVS (CVS) dropping tobacco products from its stores may have upset some investors, but those headlines are an example of investment noise out there. It is noise because consumers who were used to purchasing tobacco products at CVS would likely take their business elsewhere. Of course, the real risk is if other retailers follow suit, and decide to stop selling tobacco products altogether. I see this scenario having a very low likelihood however, since these retailers could lose out not only on tobacco revenues but on incremental revenues that tobacco customers bring with them. For example, if you buy your gasoline at the place that you also buy your pack of cigarettes, you might simply take all of your business elsewhere if your Marlborough is not available.
For Altria, it has a dominant position in the US tobacco market with Marlboro brand having a very loyal following amongst smokers. The sheer scale of operations allows Altria to exert higher influence on vendors and distributors. The company is also a leader in US the smokeless market, with a 50%-55% market share. The smokeless tobacco segment is expected to generate single digit volume growth.
Currently, this dividend champion sells for 16.10 times earnings, yields 5.30%, and has a high payout ratio. Given the economics of the business, and the expectation for future earnings growth in the mid single digits, I find it attractively valued today. I plan on adding to my position in the company sometime in 2014, subject to availability of funds.
Full Disclosure: Long MO, PM, KRFT, MDLZ
- The Security I Like Best: Philip Morris International
- How to find long term dividend stock ideas
- A long streak of dividend growth is an indication of a business with exceptional fundamentals
- The predictive value of rising dividends
- Why Investors Should Look Beyond Typical Dividend Growth Screens
Friday, March 7, 2014
Altria Group, Inc. (MO), through its subsidiaries, engages in the manufacture and sale of cigarettes, smokeless products, and wine in the United States and internationally. This dividend champion has managed to increase dividends to shareholders for 44 years in a row.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
There are thousands of strategies for investing in the stock market. The one common factor between all of strategies in improving your odds of success is to maintain a proper check of your emotions. In order to be successful, investors have to chose a strategy with a positive expectancy of success that fits their individual situation and stick to that strategy through thick and thin. The truth is that even if you have the best strategy in the world, you can still lose money if you do not have the mental strength to stick to your guns when things get rough. The rough and ugly situations usually occur with an unpredictable frequency. They are typically short-term in nature, or affect just a tiny portion of investor’s assets if they are permanent. However these situations are guaranteed to make most investors critically reassess their positions, while leading to panic for those who are relatively inexperienced in the game.
If you have a strategy that has the positive expectancy of generating good long-term results, then the goal is to stick through thick and thin and stay the course no matter what happens out there. A strategy of regular dollar cost averaging in quality dividend stocks, strategic dividend reinvestment and portfolio diversification is important. It provides an important edge for the investor against the constant noise that stock prices, market pundits and everyone else out there produces to distract you from achieving your long-term goals. This noise is out there not to guide you, but to be used to your advantage.
A large portion of the noise includes people’s opinions on various companies and industries. I usually ignore those in my investment process. For example, in the past week financial publication Barron’s ran a very biased and critical article on Kinder Morgan Inc (KMI) and Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (KMP). Many investors who had not done their research had obviously panicked, which was evidenced by the steep declines in Kinder Morgan Partners and Kinder Morgan Inc. These panicked investors failed to understand that nothing new was presented in that biased Barron’s article. For many long-term dividend investors however, the noise behind Barron’s article and Hedgeye’s previous attacks has been an opportunity to acquire ownership in this solid energy company in the US. Smart investors knew that Barron’s articles should typically be viewed from the standpoint of a true contrarian.
When I read Barron’s article, I asked myself if it added any new information to the table. The truth was that nothing had changed, other than the fact that the share and unit prices were stagnant. This had made many investors nervous, but the reality is that growth prospects are still intact. Many of those scared investors might have merely chased the high yield on Kinder Morgan entities, without understanding much behind the mechanics of partnership agreements, incentive distributions rights and differences between general and limited partners. Since they didn’t understand what they got themselves into in the first place, they panicked at the first signs of “trouble”. I put trouble in quotation marks, because Barron’s article was just that – an opinion of someone, that didn’t really add anything new to the table.
After reading the Barron’s article, I also asked myself whether anything materially had changed in the way KMI or KMP perform their business over the past 1 - 2 years. The only items that can change my assessment of a company are material statements of fact. That could be things in annual company reports, quarterly company reports or company press releases. It is true that expected distribution growth in Kinder Morgan Partners has declined to about 5%/year. However, if you can get a current yield of 7% that can grow at 5%, you can generate pretty nice total returns over time. I also liked the fact that Richard Kinder was the CEO who had his entire net worth invested in Kinder Morgan. This is the type of CEO I want running the businesses I have ownership stakes in. If Kinder Morgan was a house of cards, then Richard Kinder would lose everything – his credibility and his money. I have bet a large portion of my portfolio that he won’t lose either over the next 20 years.
I never pay attention to opinions of random people either offline or on the internet, because I can never check their credibility, bias, motives etc. I do not pay attention to stock price fluctuations, as I have mentioned multiple times on my site, except as a way to search for underloved and undervalued securities. The only way to stick to your guns through thick and thin is to spend time doing research yourself, and keep an open mind in order to learn about investments all the time. If the Barron’s article was the first time I had heard that Kinder Morgan Inc obtains incremental distributable cash flow exceeding certain targets from Kinder Morgan Partners, then that research was not very good in the first place. One should not be investing if they do not have a systematic way of analyzing securities. One has to start slow, and educate themselves while putting small amounts of money to work initially. It takes time, effort and patience to accumulate the necessary knowledge to make yourself a successful investor. But if you dedicate some time every week to it, you increase your chances of success, while reducing risks of total failure.
I have seen certain groups taking short positions against certain companies, and trying to produce panic, in order to profit from these events. I have seen this with Digital Realty Trust (DLR) in 2013, where those so called “smart hedge fund money” had used circular logic to confuse investors. Examples include their manipulation of terms such as maintenance expenses with maintenance capex. I refuted those points and others in an earlier post. Again, when investors had not done a good job in thoroughly analyzing a company, they get scared away from random noise from parties that might have questionable motives.
It is interesting that on paper, everyone is a contrarian and wants to buy cheap and sell dear. In reality, when things are really difficult, everyone starts crying out loud and looks for the exits. In reality, these are the rare opportunities to step in and capitalize on the fears of the amateurs. Not all of your bets will work out, but over a long investing career, chances are that the shrewd investor will come out ahead.
I have seen this with my investment in Target (TGT) this year, which has touched a nerve with a lot of investors out there. It is a common mistake to take some small missteps that a company has achieved and blow them out of proportion. I know that Target will be out there in 20 years, which is why current valuations make sense for my portfolio. If the stock goes further down in 2014, I would keep dollar cost averaging my way into it.
Full Disclosure: Long KMR, KMI,DLR, TGT
- The Importance of Corporate Governance for Successful Dividend Investing
- How to buy when there is blood on the streets
- Two Dividend Machines I Purchased Last Week
- Kinder Morgan Partners – One Company three ways to invest in it
- Dividend Investing Is Not As Risky As It Is Portrayed
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Back in 2013, I opened a SEP IRA account, in an effort to minimize my tax liabilities for 2012. I realized in 2012 that my largest household expense was for taxes. As a result, I have been maxing out all tax deferred accounts I could get my hands on today, in an effort to minimize amount of taxes I am paying today. Once I retire, my goal is to convert those funds into a Roth IRA and pay a minimal if any amount of taxes on the conversion process.
In early February, I made a contribution to my SEP IRA for 2013 income, in order to reduce those taxable liabilities. I purchased shares in the following four companies, and tweeted about it:
General Mills, Inc. (GIS) produces and markets branded consumer foods in the United States and internationally. This dividend achiever has managed to increase dividends for 10 years in a row. Over the past decade it has managed to boost dividends by 9.90%/year. Currently, the stock is attractively valued at 18.50 times earnings and yields a safe 3.10%. Check my analysis of General Mills.
Diageo plc (DEO) produces, distills, brews, bottles, packages, and distributes spirits, beer, wine, and ready to drink beverages. This international dividend achiever has managed to increase dividends since 1998. Over the past decade, Diageo has managed to boost dividends by 6.40%/year in British currency. Currently, the stock is fairly valued at 19 times earnings and yields 2.30%. Check my analysis of Diageo.
ConocoPhillips (COP) explores for, produces, transports, and markets crude oil, bitumen, natural gas, liquefied natural gas, and natural gas liquids on a worldwide basis. This dividend achiever has managed to increase dividends for 13 years in a row. Over the past decade ConocoPhillips has managed to boost dividends by 15.70%/year. Currently, the stock is attractively valued at 9 times earnings and yields a safe 4.30%. Check my analysis of ConocoPhillips.
McCormick & Company (MKC), Incorporated manufactures, markets, and distributes spices, seasoning mixes, condiments, and other flavorful products to retail outlets, food manufacturers, and foodservice businesses. This dividend champion has managed to increase dividends for 28 years in a row. Over the past decade McCormick has managed to boost dividends by 11.40%/year. Currently, the stock is overvalued at 22.50 times earnings and yields a safe 2.20%. Check my analysis of McCormick.
Dividend paying stocks are the most practical means to put money to work for individual investors. It is not that difficult to comprehend that if you put your money to work in quality dividend machines that manage to simultaneously grow earnings and send a growing stream of income to shareholders, you have a high chance of achieving your financial goals. It is also not difficult to understand that companies that manage to deploy their cash at high rates of return, send excess cash flows to dividends, and still grow the bottom line, will become more valuable over time to investors. Therefore, those investors who manage to snag those quality dividend growth companies at fair valuations in their diversified portfolios will be able to leverage the power of compounding at its fullest. Therefore, dividend growth stocks are ideal not only for current retirees who desire an inflation proof source of income, but also for those who are in the process of accumulating their nest egg.
In my interactions with ordinary investors, I have come to realize that there are two groups out there. One of them instantly gets the benefits of dividend growth investing, while the other group spends their time debating against this strategy. The second group debates against dividend growth investing largely by focusing on outliers or academic knowledge which works on theory, but is short on providing results in the real world that all of us operate under.
At some point, debating just for the point of debating becomes pointless and actually dangerous, because it prevents investors from starting their investment journey. At the end of the day the most important thing for investors is to actually get started and learn the rules of the game along the way. If someone always keeps looking for the strategy that only produces best case results, and they are not comfortable taking any risk, they would never launch their investing career and possibly never earn enough to retire.
My goal is to make money in the real world, and find the way that would ensure a stream of income that grows above level of inflation, which is stable, and recurring, and would make living off my nest egg easy with the least amount of complications. I have found that the perfect method for monetizing my assets is by living off dividends in retirement.
Full Disclosure: Long COP, DEO, GIS, MKC
- Six Dividend Paying Stocks I Purchased for my IRA
- My Retirement Strategy for Tax-Free Income
- Six Compounding Machines for Long Term Dividend Investors
- The Warren Buffett Argument Against Paying Dividends
- Why Dividend Growth Stocks Rock?
Monday, March 3, 2014
When most investors watch share prices fluctuate on a screen, it is easy for them to forget there are real businesses behind those share quotes, and not lottery tickets. It is also very easy to forget that price is what you pay, while value is what you get. Just because everyone is willing to pay only $56 for a share of Target, that doesn't mean that the value of the business in a going private transaction is $56. In reality, it could be much higher than that.
An investor should ask themselves the following questions, in order to better understand the business they are thinking of getting into:
1) What does the business do
In order to learn about a business, the logical first step is to realize what this business does. In the case of Target (TGT), you know that the company is a retailer, that sells things in retail stores with various formats and sizes. In the case of Exxon Mobil (XOM), the company owns fully or fractionally oil and gas wells, refineries and carbon transportation assets. Obviously, you need to understand the business and the industry the company is operating in, and take that into account when analyzing companies. When you evaluate Exxon Mobil you want to make sure that the company is able to replace existing reserves, in order to continue production and earn money. All Target cares about is bringing in traffic to its stores, staying relevant and keeping customer loyalty. Thus, always be mindful of industry specifics, when you try to choose between two businesses.
2) Who are the competitors? Are they relying too much on single customer or supplier?
In the case of Target, there are retail competitors all over the place. Wal-Mart (WMT) is a larger competitor, although Target appeals to individuals who earn more than the typical Wal-Mart client. Target also outspends Wal-Mart in the advertising front, in order to create a unique image that appeals to shoppers. The company also competes with the likes of Amazon.com (AMZN). This is one uncertainty that lies ahead for retailers – would their business model become obsolete by the emergence of the web. I think it is doubtful that physical store locations would not be used in the future, but the internet has brought a new threat to traditional retail. Target definitely has potential on the Target.com front however, which can mitigate some of those risks.
3) At what price can I snag the business?
It is rare that a business like Target would sell at irrationally depressed price to a private owner. In a manic depressive stock market however, it is entirely possible. As an investor, your goal is to buy shares as cheaply as possible. I usually try to avoid paying more than 20 times earnings, and also look into sustainability and growth prospects when I have to decide between companies. It also helps to acquire positions in businesses when few participants are excited about their prospects. Currently, it seems that many are not so optimistic about Target, given the stolen credit and debit card numbers, and the failure in Canada. While it is quite possible that business deteriorates from here, or that the stock price falls further, I think that now is the time to start acquiring Target for my portfolio. I have been nibbling my way into the stock, and would keep averaging down by adding to my stake approximately in 2014, depending on prices for other securities and prices for Target stock of course. I chose to dollar cost average by making 10 - 12 smaller investments throughout the year, rather than 2- 3 larger ones.
If I can purchase Target at 15.20 times earnings and a yield of 3.10%, that could be a good entry price. Earnings and dividends would likely increase from here, and could easily end up doubling every 9 - 10 years. The fact that Target is smaller than Wal-Mart (WMT) actually creates an opportunity for better future growth, since international is still untapped. This assumes that you are a buyer with strong hands, who is not going to be scared away from stock price volatility or temporary business problems. If you think that the business will not be around in 20 years, then obviously it would not make sense to buy. I believe Target will learn from its mistakes, and will succeed, hence I am willing to put my money where my opinions lie.
Another quality dividend paying stock that many investors own is Coca-Cola (KO). If you buy Coca-Cola at $38, and keep getting a $1.12 in annual dividends that grow by 7%/year, would it matter if market price goes down to $20 or up to $60 in the next 5 years? Unless you plan on putting the dividend and any fresh capital back in the stock, you should pretend like the stock market is closed for the next five years, and spend your time with family, on your day job or your hobby instead. I recommend going to bars or the movies also.
4) What are business competitive advantages
With companies like Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), the competitive advantage is the scale of operations. The company is spending a lot of time with suppliers in order to negotiate lowest prices, and it is continuously investing in infrastructure such as distribution centers and technology, in order to bring costs to the lowest levels possible.
On the other hand, Target stores are cleaner than those of Wal-Mart, and provide a more enjoyable experience to the shopper. This comes at a price however, as prices for the same item are usually slightly more expensive at Target. However, if you want to get fresher fruit and vegetables, do not want to wait in lines that have more than 2 customers, and want a better shopping experience, Target is the place for you. Target delivers on a great store experience and a product that is exciting and unique. Target tries to create excitement in shoppers, and position its products on basis of innovation, on design, and on quality. If you are frugal like me, you would keep going to Wal-Mart to save a few bucks however. However, if you can afford to pay slightly more for a better and friendlier customer experience, faster checkout times, then Target is the place for you.
Customer loyalty is strengthened through the Red Card, which offers discounts to shoppers who frequent the store. It is a win-win for both customers and Target. Target also manages to keep customer loyalty with special discounts and deals from time to time.
Another item that appeals to some shoppers is the fact that Target is active in communities, and provides money to non-profits. Compare this to all the negative publicity that Wal-Mart gets for ruining mom and pop stores.
For companies like Exxon Mobil (XOM) for example, their strength is in their integrated scale of operations. Furthermore, the company is very wise on capital allocation decisions, and tries to generate an adequate return on invested capital for all projects, whether drilling for oil and gas wells, making acquisitions or returning money to shareholders through buybacks. This is an important quality for management to have, because it lowers the risk that they would do something to jeopardize shareholder profits by getting in a bidding frenzy and replacing reserves by paying top dollars for it.
5) Can the business earn more over time - what factors will drive it
The thing is that Target’s market is the US is close to its saturation point. Future growth in the US is still likely, but it won’t be as robust as in the past. Therefore, if it wants to generate more growth in the future, the company needs to expand internationally. The company is eyeing Canada and Latin America as its near term base for expansion. It actually seems to have not done so well with the launch of its Canadian operations, which has led investors to discount future growth prospects through a more skeptical lens. I believe that the company would learn from this experience, and hopefully use that in their future expansion plans abroad.
Full Disclosure: Long TGT, WMT, XOM, KO
- How to choose between dividend stocks?
- Two Dividend Machines I Purchased Last Week
- Dividend Investors Should Ignore Price Fluctuations
- Coca-Cola: A wide-moat dividend growth stock to buy and hold
- How to retire in 10 years with dividend stocks
Saturday, March 1, 2014
I spend a lot of time at my day job, spending time with my family, monitoring my investment portfolio and researching existing and potential dividend investments. I also spend a lot of time every single day, reading about investment articles and books about investing. I am usually very open to learning how other investors go about their investment process, and investment philosophy. I have highlighted a few articles from investors whose words I value a lot below:
Buffett's annual letter: What you can learn from my real estate investments
This was an excerpt from Buffett’s 2013 letter to shareholders, which discussed his experience purchasing real estate. The lessons learned are very applicable to stock market investors, and are lessons that are frequently mentioned by the Oracle of Omaha himself. The analogy of Mr Market and the reference to The Intelligent Investor are must reads for anyone who wants to be a long-term investor. To succeed in investing, think of yourself as a partial business owner in an enterprise, whose success is determined based on durability of the investment and its expected earnings, rather than the irrational nature of stock price fluctuations.In addition, he is also scheduled to post his full annual letter on the company website.
Separating Company Performance From Stock Performance
This article from Dividend Mantra was posted on the same day that the excerpt from Warren Buffett was posted on Fortune. I like the topic of focusing on the underlying business when investing, and ignoring the irrational nature of the stock market itself. Dividend Mantra walks us through the reasons why he kept adding to his exposure to Digital Realty Trust (DLR), despite the falling stock price. As a holder of Digital Realty myself, I found the decline in the stock price a welcome opportunity to add to my position there.
Kinder Morgan's Response to Barron's
The Kinder Morgan group of companies was featured in a very biased article by financial publication Barron’s over the past week. That Barron's article didn’t really add anything new, that hasn’t been discussed before. However, it quoted the opinion of an analyst whose faulty logic has already been refuted by others before. (Motley fools article ) Unfortunately, investors who did not do a very good analysis of Kinder Morgan Partners or Kinder Morgan Inc panicked and have been selling off their ownership stakes. I own both KMI and KMR, and am happy to say that both account for the largest position in my portfolio. I like to have smart people like Richard Kinder work for me. My only regret is that I didn't use the dip to add to my positions in the general or limited partner, given my high exposure to Kinder Morgan.
On the Merits of Being a Financial Historian
I liked this article, because it discusses why it is important for investors to learn about financial history. History doesn't repeat, it rhymes. If you want to be a successful investor, learn about history, and avoid chasing returns. Many investors I have met, tend to always focus on stocks when everyone talks about it, and avoid them when stock are unpopular. To be successful, you need to develop independent thinking, which could only be done if you continuously learn about investments.
The Buffett Formula - How To Get Smarter
I really like this article from Farnam Street, because it discusses a little known fact that explains Buffett's success as an investor. The truth is that the guy has managed to read 500 pages a day for 60 - 70 years in a row. As a result, his knowledge of investments is superior to most anyone else in the world, which allows him to act fast when opportunities arise. There are no shortcuts to investing, so you need to be willing to work hard at analyzing businesses, reading annual reports and industry publications and reading books, in order to do well. I personally read about 80 - 100 pages/day, but I also enjoy the process. After several years of following investments, it becomes much easier to spot what you are looking for.
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