Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dividend Investors Will Make Money Even if the Stock Market Closed for Ten Years

I never attempt to make money on the stock market. I buy on the assumption that they could close the market the next day and not reopen it for five years. Warren Buffett

Only buy something that you'd be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years. Warren Buffett

In 1914, the New York Stock Exchange closed for five months. In 2001, the NYSE, Nasdaq and AMEX were closed for a week. Active stock traders did not make any money during those periods. Dividend investors kept receiving their dividend checks, without interruption.

Investors can buy and sell their stock in an instant. This ability to quickly cash out makes stock investing a preferable option for many investors. Compare this to real estate or a private business, where it might take months in order to buy and sell an asset.

Sometimes however this could be a curse as well. While stocks are a very liquid investment, sometimes investors end up being too focused on short-term price fluctuations, while ignoring fundamentals. During bull markets, investors bid up share prices to unsustainable levels. During bear markets, investors who see their portfolio values collapsing panic and sell at the wrong times. Those investors become too emotional, which creates opportunities for the enterprising dividend investors. The emotional investors tend to forget that stocks are not some lottery tickets or numbers blinking on a computer screen, but ownership pieces of real businesses. In a perfectly rational world, the value of business depends on its current and future estimated earnings powers. This is why when entire businesses are sold to a private buyer, the price paid is usually close to the intrinsic value. However, due to the emotional state of Mr Market, the ownership pieces that are exchanged between stock market participants are frequently mispriced.

Dividend investors know that dividend stocks represent ownership stakes in real businesses. As a long-term investor, your success is dependent on the success of the business. If the business manages to grow earnings per share, it would be worth more and would also be able to distribute more in dividend income.

Dividend investors who embrace a buy and hold mentality have an inherently psychological advantage over the average investor. Dividend investors generate a return on investment every time they receive a dividend payment. As a result, many retirees who are living off dividends, concern themselves with the company’s ability to grow earnings to pay higher distributions, than the stock price of the stock. Astute dividend investors focus on fundamentals, understanding the company’s operations and valuing the business as if it were a privately owned corporation.

Dividend investors are in essence much different than the rest of participants, who rapidly exchange little pieces of ownership between each other, in an effort to outwit each other. Dividend investors see stocks as partial ownership pieces of real businesses. They understand that their ultimate success in investment is based on the price they paid and on the success of the business itself. If you own a restaurant along with 10 other partners, you care about making sure the business succeeds, and stays relevant for as long as possible. The goal is to make sure that repeat business is earned, customers are happy, and profit margins are healthy, while trying to constantly increase profits. The advantage of dividend investors is that they focus on the fundamentals of the business, how it earns money, and whether this business has the potential to earn more money in the future. Then they try to purchase that business at an attractive valuation, which takes into consideration a range of potential outcomes, and provide an entry price range which would generate a satisfactory return on investment. If you are the partial owner of a McDonald's franchise, you earn profits whether the stock market is open or closed. In fact, if you have found the right business at the right price, it is highly likely that you will hold this business forever.

This is how I view ownership of high quality companies such as Coca-Cola (KO), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Kinder Morgan Inc (KMI). Those are real businesses, that provide real goods or services to clients, and which generate profits to be distributed to me as the partial share-owner. I expect to hold those businesses forever, and expect to earn ever increasing dividends over time from those ownership stakes. I see the rapid trading as pure madness, which actually doesn't really affect me. Whether I pay $37 for Coca-Cola shares or $37.10/share is irrelevant to me. Let the high-frequency computers make that money. The real money is made by identifying a quality company,  buying it at an attractive price, and then sitting on it for decades. In the meantime, the business will be earning more and more in profits almost every year, and pay you an amount of dividends that will likely exceed the purchase price paid by a factor of a few times the purchase price.  Time is the ally of the long-term, buy and hold dividend investor. The initial results are slow, but eventually, the compounding ends up snowballing into mind-boggling yields on cost and capital appreciation returns.

This is why I spend so much time screening the list of dividend champions and dividend achievers, and then researching companies one at a time. I am looking for companies with strong competitive advantages, strong brands, that would allow those companies to have the potential to be around in 20 years, and still earn more per share over time. For example, if you are a part owner of the local water utility, you know that this business will be around in the next 20 - 30 years, because it would be impossible for someone else to compete with you, due to regulation and cost to set-up and maintain the system. If you are a part owner in a company that provides a unique product or serves, which is largely unregulated, it essentially has a monopoly that could mint profits to the shareholder for decades. A prime example of that is Coca-Cola, which has a strong distribution network throughout the world, is associated in consumers' minds with positive emotions, has over 500 brands globally that quench the thirst of people in 200 countries to the tune of 1.9 billion servings per day. If you believe this business has the staying power to be around in 20 years, then you can make projections on earnings, revenues and dividends with a much larger degree of comfort. You want a business which will not change too rapidly. People will get thirsty 30 years from now. If you have the distribution scale that covers 200 countries, and a portfolio of 500 branded drinks, chances are that consumers will use your products. This is why Buffett invests in quality companies with durable competitive advantages, operated by honest and able managers, which have attractive returns on capital and which are available at attractive prices. If you find such a company, the goal of the dividend investor is to hold on to it for decades, and let the power of compounding do the heavy lifting for them.

In contrast, while I might know that Apple will be around in 20 years, I am not so sure how much profitable the enterprise will be, due to the rapid changes in technology. Sony was another great consumer technology franchise, which has not done so well as of the past decade. Will Apple follow the steps of Sony? I don't know, and chances are that few investors really have the necessary knowledge to make an educated bet today. This is why I am sticking to companies I understand, and focus on their fundamentals for the next 20 - 30 years. As a long term buy and hold dividend investor, my goal is to live off the dividends from my collection of quality enterprises. Therefore, my success will be determined on the success of the businesses I invest in, not on stock price fluctuations. The stock market is only helpful to me as a tool where I find sellers of quality businesses, not as a place to instruct me on how to make my investments.

Full Disclosure: Long KMI, JNJ, KO. One share of BRK.B

Relevant Articles:

Coca-Cola: A wide-moat dividend growth stock to buy and hold
Maintaining Moats in times of Technological Changes
Seven Sleep Well at Night Dividend Stocks
How to analyze investment opportunities?
Let dividends do the heavy lifting for your retirement

5 comments:

  1. I'm confused with Buffett... why did Buffett lament that he bought COP at a very high price at the peak back in 2008 and regretted it when he has repeatedly said that he would buy a good company with the mind set that if the stock market closed for 20 years, he wouldn't care because he knows his company was making money. In the same vein with his recent news letter, he said that he doesn't care about fluctuations as long as his assets are providing cashflow (though he argues why BRK investors need not get a cashflow from a dividend). Yet COP was paying a high growing dividend during that time and Buffett very well knew that the price would require in a few years time so I don't know why he regretted his COP purchase

    On one hand he talks buy and hold and on the other, he acts like he should have timed the market.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Buffett is a complex personality, who cannot be characterized by a simple formula. He keeps learning, and trying to get the best deal at the time. IT just happens that his best deals that have generated the most money happen to be in companies that generate extra cash flow that is paid to him to invest in more businesses paying more cash flow to him. But he has done a lot of other stuff. You might find this interesting:http://www.dividendgrowthinvestor.com/2013/11/warren-buffett-investing-resource-page.html

      DGI

      Delete
  2. Hi DGI, I remember that you have some IBM in your portfolio. Do you have the same opinion on IBM as Apple? Can you shed some light on how you make that decision? Was it driven by IBM impressive dividend growth track record or did you have the competency to understand the competitiveness of IBM products in the market place?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi E,

      I have analyzed IBM before. You might find them interesting:

      http://www.dividendgrowthinvestor.com/2013/03/ibm-ibm-dividend-stock-analysis.html

      http://www.dividendgrowthinvestor.com/2014/06/what-attracted-warren-buffett-to-ibm.html

      Cheers!

      DGI

      Delete
  3. DGI,
    I understand the core of your porfolio are solid companies that you understand. Do you do any risk/edge dividend investing (high growth/not so high yield yet?). If so what percentage of your portfolio do you reserve for such companies?

    ReplyDelete

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