Thursday, March 30, 2023

Dividend Achievers and High Return on Equity

Moody's has included a list of companies that have increase annual dividends for at least the past ten consecutive years since 1979. They call these companies dividend achievers. Each year, Mergent compiles a list of Dividend Achievers from more than 10,000 companies in the US. 

The Dividend Achievers list is based on the concept that certain equity investments can provide a rising cash stream of income over the long run, while offering the additional benefit of potential price appreciation. Annual total return for some stocks may compare favorably with other investment alternatives. Dividends can also serve as signals from companies management teams about the future. When directors increase dividends, they're signaling that they believe that future earnings will be able to maintain the higher dividend payment. This shows their confidence in the near term business prospects and timing of cashflows for the business they are managing.

Peter Lynch has discussed his fascination with the Handbook of Dividend Achievers. These are the words of Peter Lynch from "Beating the Street" below:

“The dividend is such an important factor in the success of many stocks that you could hardly go wrong by making an entire portfolio of companies that have raised their dividends for 10 to 20 years in a row. Moody’s Handbook of Dividend Achievers – one of my favorite bedside thrillers – lists such companies. Here’s a simple way to succeed on Wall Street: buy stocks from the Moody’s list and stick with them as long as they stay on the list.”

Back in the 1990s and 2010s, the list of dividend achievers was printed and sold as handbooks. I obtained several of those old Handbooks of Dividend Achievers on Amazon. I went through several of those, and reviewed the statistics included there.

I love going through old stock manuals. It's helpful to see how conditions looked like for the investors during that time period. I bought old copies of Moody's Handbook of Dividend Achievers from the 1990s and 2000s a while back.

For example, there were 313 Dividend Achievers in the US in 1992.

These were companies that had managed to increase annual dividends for 10 years in a row.

This list shows 1) company name, 2) annualized dividend growth rate over the past decade 3) Number of Consecutive Annual Dividend Increases

Going through the list, and learning what happened to these companies 30 years later can be an invaluable experience. It can definitely change the way you look at things. The fun part of investing is asking questions, trying to connect the dots and hopefully trying to learn something in the process. It is a journey, not a destination.

It fascinating to see what types of businesses grew dividends for at least a decade, and then continued growing them. It’s also fascinating to observe how many of the businesses ended up off the dividend achievers list due to acquisitions or doing spin-offs. There were companies that eventually dropped out of the dividend achievers list due to freezing dividends or cutting dividends. Even declines in a business that was previously a quality one took a long time, and wasn’t a sudden shift at all.

Personally, I believe in diversification and holding as many quality companies that I can find at the right valuation. I also believe in a coffee can type approach to investing, where I invest money in the companies, and then do not touch them for as long as the dividend is not cut or the company is not acquired.

The handbook included the companies with highest Return on Equity. The return on equity is a measure of the profitability of a business in relation to the equity. Because shareholder's equity can be calculated by taking all assets and subtracting all liabilities, ROE can also be thought of as a return on assets minus liabilities.

These are the Dividend Achievers from 1992 with the highest Return on Equity (ROE) .

It is fascinating to observe how many companies with a high (ROE) on this list are still around 30 years later. High returns on equity are a sign of a competitive advantage.

The companies on that list are still around. However, many of them have also been acquired. I think high ROE could be a sign of a competitive advantage.

You may like the list of 2011 Dividend Achievers with the highest ROE below:

I went ahead and identified the 2023 Dividend Achievers List. I then obtained Return on Equity for each company, and have listed the top 40 dividend achievers by ROE.

I wanted to share a list of the 40 Dividend Achievers with the highest Return on Equity. I used a few databased to obtain that information, instead of manually searching for it for several hundred companies.

You can view that list below:

Of course, this would be just one step in the process. Screening is only a step. 

Some may argue that ROE may be misleading, as higher debt/leverage may juice up returns to the point of them being elevated. So the company may often be low but leverage can make that number look big because shareholders equity would shrink with debt accumulation.

If you look at Return on Assets (ROA) instead, and focus on the 40 dividend achievers with the highest ROA, you get to the following table:

The next steps would be to evaluate each company, including earnings per share growth, dividend per share growth, payout ratios and valuation. It also means understanding the business and determining if it has competitive advantages.

Another step further could be looking at Return on Invested Capital. Unfortunately, this has not been published in the old manuals. Thus, ROE could be a decent proxy but not perfect, due to the effects of leverage.

Relevant Articles:

Dividend Achievers Offer Income Growth and Capital Appreciation Potential

- Peter Lynch on Dividend Growth Investing

- Peter Lynch Articles For Worth Magazine

My screening criteria for dividend growth stocks

- How to read my stock analysis reports

Monday, March 27, 2023

Buffett’s Investment in See’s Candy

Warren Buffett is arguably the best investor of our time. He turned a struggling company called Berkshire Hathaway and transformed it into a formidable conglomerate with interests in insurance, transportation, utilities, industrials to name a few. Berkshire also spots an impressive equity portfolio worth over a quarter of a trillion dollars.

One dollar invested in Berkshire Hathaway in 1964 turned into over $28,000 by 2020.

Buffett himself is someone who has worked very hard for decades, spending 70 hours/week studying business, strategy, investing and learning from his mistakes. He has been able to successfully adapt to a variety of conditions, and apply his knowledge in a way that continues to compound his capital. He is a learning machine.

For example, Buffett started investing in companies that were selling at a portion of their asset values and in merger arbitrage situations. That was during the 1950s and 1960s, the days of his Buffett Partnership. These were the cigar butt type companies, where he would buy low and sell high, rinse and repeat. It was difficult to find cheap companies by the late 1960s however, and his asset size was very large, which meant that he had to learn a new method to compound his net worth.

He was able to pivot into investing in quality companies, which seemed optically expensive, but were really compounding machines. Buffett learned the value of investing in quality companies perhaps by accident, perhaps due to his observations or perhaps due to the influence of his long-term business partner Charlie Munger. We would never know, but the focus on purchasing quality businesses transformed him as an investor and put him on the map.

Perhaps the best example of a quality business that he bought was See’s Candy in 1972. He calls See’s Candy his “Dream Business”

The business had a strong brand recognition in the West Coast, particularly California.

There was a stable annual demand for its product, which grew slowly, but sales were consistent.

There was some untapped pricing power, which allowed Buffett to raise prices without affecting sales of the product.

The business was available at an attractive price, albeit it didn’t’ seem that way to Buffett at the time.

In fact, he almost didn’t buy this company. But luckily for Berkshire Hathaway shareholders he did.

The lesson from See’s Candies on brand recognition, pricing power, strong franchises, customer loyalty, have translated into knowledge that inspired Buffett’s investments in Coca-Cola and Apple.
Berkshire Hathaway was able to acquire See’s Candy for $35 million. The business had $31 million in sales in 1972 and made $2.083 million in profits after taxes. The business needed a working capital of $8 million to operate.

As Buffett researched See’s, he realized that the value of the company’s intangibles, things like its brand and customer loyalty, far exceeded the numbers on paper.

If you had "taken a box on Valentine's Day to some girl and she had kissed him … See's Candies means getting kissed," he told business-school students at the University of Florida in 1998. "If we can get that in the minds of people, we can raise prices."

"If you give a box of See's chocolates to your girlfriend on a first date and she kisses you ... we own you," the investor said in "Becoming Warren Buffett," an HBO documentary.

"We could raise the price of the boxes tomorrow and you'll buy the same box," he added. "You aren't going to fool around with success."

See’s sold candies, and was mostly located on the west coast. It was a seasonal business which did most of its sales in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day.

The business did not grow, and is still mostly located in the West Coast in California. That didn’t stop it from generating more earnings and cash flows for Berkshire Hathaway however.

By 2019 See’s had generated over $2 billion in pretax income, which was used to buy other businesses. Based on numbers I have seen, See’s Candy generated an annual income of $82 million in 2007, which was three times the amount that Berkshire paid for the company 35 years earlier.

Buffett installed managements ,and instructed them not to sacrifice quality:

The business was able to grow very slowly. The number of shops selling See’s Candy grew from 167 in 1972 to 214 in 1984. The number of pounds of product sold grew slowly too, from 17 million in 1972 to almost 25 million in 1984.

Sales rose fivefold from $31 million in 1972 to $136 million in 1984.  After tax profits rose from $2.083 million in 1972 to $13.38 million by 1984.

This was possible because of untapped pricing potential, focus on cost control while maintain quality and careful expansion.

“Long-term competitive advantage in a stable industry is what we seek in a business,” Buffett later wrote. “If that comes with rapid organic growth, great. But even without organic growth, such a business is rewarding. We will simply take the lush earnings of the business and use them to buy similar businesses elsewhere.”

Buffett’s 2007 Letter to shareholders summarizes his investment in See’s Candy and the lessons for learned:

"Charlie and I look for companies that have:

a) A business we understand;
b) Favorable long-term economics;
c) Able and trustworthy management; and
d) A sensible price tag.

We like to buy the whole business or, if management is our partner, at least 80%.

A truly great business must have an enduring “moat” that protects excellent returns on invested capital. The dynamics of capitalism guarantee that competitors will repeatedly assault any business “castle” that is earning high returns. Therefore a formidable barrier such as a company’s being the lowcost producer (GEICO, Costco) or possessing a powerful world-wide brand (Coca-Cola, Gillette, American Express) is essential for sustained success.

Our criterion of “enduring” causes us to rule out companies in industries prone to rapid and continuous change. Though capitalism’s “creative destruction” is highly beneficial for society, it precludes investment certainty. A moat that must be continuously rebuilt will eventually be no moat at all. Additionally, this criterion eliminates the business whose success depends on having a great manager.

Long-term competitive advantage in a stable industry is what we seek in a business. If that comes with rapid organic growth, great. But even without organic growth, such a business is rewarding. We will simply take the lush earnings of the business and use them to buy similar businesses elsewhere. There’s no rule that you have to invest money where you’ve earned it. Indeed, it’s often a mistake to do so: Truly great businesses, earning huge returns on tangible assets, can’t for any extended period reinvest a large portion of their earnings internally at high rates of return.

Let’s look at the prototype of a dream business, our own See’s Candy. The boxed-chocolates industry in which it operates is unexciting: Per-capita consumption in the U.S. is extremely low and doesn’t grow. Many once-important brands have disappeared, and only three companies have earned more than token profits over the last forty years. Indeed, I believe that See’s, though it obtains the bulk of its revenues from only a few states, accounts for nearly half of the entire industry’s earnings.

At See’s, annual sales were 16 million pounds of candy when Blue Chip Stamps purchased the company in 1972. (Charlie and I controlled Blue Chip at the time and later merged it into Berkshire.) Last year See’s sold 31 million pounds, a growth rate of only 2% annually. Yet its durable competitive advantage, built by the See’s family over a 50-year period, and strengthened subsequently by Chuck Huggins and Brad Kinstler, has produced extraordinary results for Berkshire.

We bought See’s for $25 million when its sales were $30 million and pre-tax earnings were less than $5 million. The capital then required to conduct the business was $8 million. (Modest seasonal debt was also needed for a few months each year.) Consequently, the company was earning 60% pre-tax on invested capital. Two factors helped to minimize the funds required for operations. First, the product was sold for cash, and that eliminated accounts receivable. Second, the production and distribution cycle was short, which minimized inventories.

Last year See’s sales were $383 million, and pre-tax profits were $82 million. The capital now required to run the business is $40 million. This means we have had to reinvest only $32 million since 1972 to handle the modest physical growth – and somewhat immodest financial growth – of the business.

In the meantime pre-tax earnings have totaled $1.35 billion. All of that, except for the $32 million, has been sent to Berkshire (or, in the early years, to Blue Chip). After paying corporate taxes on the profits, we have used the rest to buy other attractive businesses. Just as Adam and Eve kick-started an activity that led to six billion humans, See’s has given birth to multiple new streams of cash for us. (The biblical command to “be fruitful and multiply” is one we take seriously at Berkshire.)

 There aren’t many See’s in Corporate America. Typically, companies that increase their earnings from $5 million to $82 million require, say, $400 million or so of capital investment to finance their growth. That’s because growing businesses have both working capital needs that increase in proportion to sales growth and significant requirements for fixed asset investments.

 A company that needs large increases in capital to engender its growth may well prove to be a satisfactory investment. There is, to follow through on our example, nothing shabby about earning $82 million pre-tax on $400 million of net tangible assets. But that equation for the owner is vastly different from the See’s situation. It’s far better to have an ever-increasing stream of earnings with virtually no major capital requirements. Ask Microsoft or Google."

DGI Note - Please note that Berkshire actually paid $35 Million for the whole business in 1972. It seems that they acquired the controlling stake from the See's Family for about $24 Million. They acquired the remaining shares for about $11 Million. Source: Moodys Manuals

The lesson is to invest in quality companies, with durable competitive advantages. Even if you are a niche product, having a strong competitive position and customer loyalty is a very good position to be in. If you have the ability to raise prices, that is great for returns. Even if growth is slow, that is not a problem, especially if you require little in assets to operate, relative to the amount of free cash flows you will generate over a period of 10 or 20 years. Businesses with strong moats will be able to generate high returns on incremental capital employed, but sadly it is difficult for them to redeploy all capital back at high rates of returns. Therefore, these businesses generate more in free cash flows than they know what to do with – hence they send it back to shareholders in the form of dividends.

Relevant Articles:

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

36 Dividend Aristocrats for further research

The Dividend Aristocrats List includes S&P 500 companies which have managed to increase annual dividends for at least 25 years in a row. 

This is not a small achievement, which is why there are only 66 companies which fit this. Typically, a long streak of annual dividend increases is a testament to a quality business, with competitive advantages or moats, which has managed to generate higher earnings per share for decades. These types of businesses typically manage to earn above average returns on investment, and end up generating more cashflows than they know what to do with. Hence, these companies end up growing those dividends year in and year out. 

The focus on paying a dividend unlocks value for shareholders, because it removes excess cash each year, and focuses management teams on the reinvestment projects with the highest return on investment for the companies.

In other words, growing dividends for a long period of time does not happen by accident. It is usually an indication of a great business.

That being said, things change. The long streak of annual dividend increases is just the first step in the process for me. It merely gets a company on my list. 

I went ahead and screened out the list of Dividend Aristocrats for 2023 using the following criteria:

1) Having increased annual dividends for 25 years in a row (being an Aristocrat covers this requirement easily)

2) Rising earnings per share over the past decade

I believe that rising earnings per share are the fuel behind future dividend increases. I reviewed the earnings history for each dividend aristocrat and excluded those with spotty earnings growth or lack of earnings growth. 

3) Five year dividend growth exceeding 3%

I am looking for companies that have managed to grow dividends above the historical rate of inflation. In general, higher yielding companies would have lower dividend growth rates. Lower yielding companies would be expected to have higher dividend growth rates.

4) Most recent dividend increase being higher than 3%

I am also looking for consistent dividend growth however. This is a good step to weed out companies whose near-term prospects are decelerating.

This simple screen narrowed the list of dividend aristocrats for further research to 36 companies. The companies include:

This of course is simply a list for further research, not a recommendation. When reviewing each company, I would look at:

1) Trends in earnings per share over the past 5 and 10 years, along with near term earnings expectations. I look for stability of those earnings per share, and whether they are accelerating or decelerating. For example, while Hormel is on this list for research, it has been unable to grow earnings per share for the past 5 years. If earnings don't materially rise above $2, future dividend growth would be hard to come by.

2) Trends in dividends per share

I like to see trends in dividends per share, and watch how dividend growth ebbs and flows. Consistency is great, but it should also come from a consistent and dependable earnings stream. Some fluctuations are inevitable however. 

3) Dividend payout ratios

The payout ratio shows me how sustainable the dividend payment is. I evaluate dividend safety by looking at the dividend payout ratio, and preferably seeing it below 60%. I do also review the trends in this indicator, and generally like to see it sitting in a range. For certain companies, a higher dividend payout ratio may be appropriate, but then I would expect this ratio to always be high - e.g. tobacco companies or REITs. It's in general best to see dividends and earnings rising at a similar pace over time. 

I don't want companies paying too much in earnings to the point of jeopardizing the business and the dividend. We want safety, stability and dependability. Is that too much to ask for?

4) Valuation

Valuation is part art and part science. I do not have a ready formula for stating if a stock is cheap or expensive.

I do look at:

1) P/E ratios

2) Historical Rates of Dividend Growth

3) Understanding the industry/company/cyclicality of it

4) General level of interest rates

5) Dividend yield

I try to take all of these factors into consideration. I also try to compare between companies on my opportunity set. Plus I take into consideration whether I own a position in a company or not.

Some folks tend to look at the historical Highs and Lows in their favorite valuation technique such as P/E ratio or Dividend Yield too. I don't, because there were different conditions in the past in terms of growth and interest rates, but it could aid someone, hence I am mentioning it.

Relevant Articles:

Rising Earnings – The Source of Future Dividend Growth

- My screening criteria for dividend growth stocks

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Three Dividend Growth Stocks Rewarding Shareholders With Raises

I review the list of dividend increases as part of my monitoring process. This exercise helps me monitor existing holdings. It also helps me identify companies for further research.

I typically focus on the companies that have managed to increase annual dividends for at least ten years in a row.

There were 19 companies that increased dividends last week. There were three companies that raised dividends last week, which have also managed to increase dividends for at least ten years in a row. The companies include:

Realty Income (O) The Monthly Dividend Company, is an S&P 500 company dedicated to providing stockholders with dependable monthly income. The company is structured as a REIT, and its monthly dividends are supported by the cash flow from over 6,500 real estate properties owned under long-term lease agreements with our commercial clients.

Realty Income increased monthly dividends to $0.255/share. This is a 3.24% increase over the dividend paid during the same time last year. Realty Income is a dividend aristocrat which has managed to increase dividends since its IPO 1994.

The company has managed to increase dividends by 3.20%/year over the past 5 years and by 5.30%/year over the past decade.

"I'm pleased that our Board has once again determined to increase Realty Income's monthly dividend. This decision is in line with our foundational commitment to pay stockholders a reliable monthly dividend that grows over time," said Sumit Roy, President and Chief Executive Officer of Realty Income. "Today's dividend declaration represents the 633rd consecutive monthly dividend declared by Realty Income during our 54-year history."

Realty Income has managed to grow FFO from $2.41/share in 2013 to $4.04/share in 2022. The company is expected to generate $4.11/share in FFO in 2023.

The stock is fairly valued at 14.90 times forward FFO and yields 5%.

UDR, Inc. (UDR), an S&P 500 company, is a leading multifamily real estate investment trust with a demonstrated performance history of delivering superior and dependable returns by successfully managing, buying, selling, developing and redeveloping attractive real estate communities in targeted U.S. markets. 

UDR raised quarterly dividends by 10.50% to $0.42/share. This is the 13th year of consecutive annual dividend increases for this dividend achiever. 

The company has managed to increase dividends by 4.20%/year over the past 5 years and by 5.60%/year over the past decade.

UDR has managed to grow FFO from $1.45/share in 2013 to $2.21/share in 2022. The company is expected to generate $2.50/share in FFO in 2023.

The stock is fairly valued at 15.50 times forward FFO and yields 4.32%.

Williams-Sonoma, Inc. (WSM) operates as an omni-channel specialty retailer of various products for home. 

The company raised quarterly dividends by 15.38% to $0.90/share. This is the 14th consecutive annual dividend increase for this dividend achiever.

“We are proud of our fourteen consecutive years of increased dividend payouts,” added Jeff Howie, Chief Financial Officer. “Over the last five years, we have returned over $3.2 billion to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases. These actions reflect our commitment to maximizing returns for our shareholders.”

The company has managed to increase dividends by 14.60%/year over the past 5 years and by 13.20%/year over the past decade.

Williams-Sonoma has managed to grow EPS from $2.89/share in 2014 to $16.58/share in 2023. The company is expected to generate $13.69/share in EPS in 2024.

The stock is fairly valued at 8.53 times forward earnings and yields 3.08%.

Relevant Articles:

- Nine Dividend Stocks Rewarding Patient Shareholders With A Raise

- Eight Companies Working Hard For Their Stockholders

- 25 Companies Rewarding Shareholders With a Raise

- 23 Companies Rewarding Shareholders With Raises

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Stocks Versus Bonds Today

I wanted to present some general discussion about fixed income securities. I will then present the companies I invested in this week, followed by a detailed review of each at the end of the newsletter. I included this commentary in the March 2023 Dividend Growth Investor Newsletter. I originally used Treasury Bills, but edited to Certificates of Deposit here.

For the past 15 years, we’ve had falling or low interest rates in the US. The last time I could buy a Certificate of Deposit (CD) yielding 5% was in 2008. Today, after 15 years, I could buy a Certificate of Deposit yielding 5%. I could theoretically lock money for up to 2 years at 5%/year using a Certificated of Deposit.

Naturally, I see some investors gravitating towards fixed income.

I see nothing wrong with owning some fixed income instruments, especially for short-term savings needs such as having your emergency fund, or saving for a major purchase within the next say 1 - 2 or 3 years. It may make sense for some older investors as well, especially if they have lower risk tolerance.

With Bonds, you are guaranteed to get your original principal back and you are guaranteed to earn your interest as well. We are going to assume you hold through the maturity date. Otherwise, you may end up losing money under some scenarios (if interest rates increase after you buy the bond). You may also end up making money if you sell early (if interest rates decrease after you buy the bond).

However, the downside of fixed income instruments is that they are fixed in terms of yield and term. This means that at the end of your term (when the bond expires), you would have to acquire another bond. However, we do not know today if those yields would be higher or lower.  In addition, your return is limited to the interest rate you settled on at the time of purchasing that bond. It would never increase, though you are guaranteed to get your principal back at maturity.

The other risk is that these fixed income instruments offer high nominal yields, but that doesn’t really tell you much about the real yields after inflation. A bond yielding 5% sounds nice, but is not as cool if inflation is more than 5%. In that case, you are losing real purchasing power for your principal AND income.

A third issue is that interest income on bonds is full taxable at ordinary tax rates. Treasury Bonds are exempt from state income taxes, though interest on CD’s is taxable at the State and Federal level. That could be avoided by buying them through a retirement account.

The fourth issue is reinvestment risk. One can buy a 1 year or 2-year Certificate of Deposit yielding 5% today. They are guaranteed that rate for the duration of the bond. At maturity however, they have to reinvest at the going rate. That rate could be higher or lower. Over the next decade, that’s several reinvestment risk scenarios out there. There is not a high likelihood that Short-term Bond would generate 5% annualized returns over the next decade. Investors could theoretically buy a 10 year Bond yielding 4%. However, the issue is that their coupon would not increase. In addition, the purchasing power of their principal and income would slowly lose value over time.


With dividend growth stocks, you may be getting a lower yield today, but there is a decent chance that over a longer period of time that dividend income will grow at or above the rate of inflation. This helps preserve and even increase purchasing power of that passive income. In addition, there is the opportunity to generate capital gains as well, as those businesses earn more money and distribute more to shareholders over time. Of course, nothing is guaranteed and there is risk, but if history is any guide, it is possible that a diversified portfolio of dividend growth stocks would be generating a higher income in 10 or 20 or 30 years from, while also being valued at higher prices over that same time period. Purchasing A bond that yields 4% that expires in a decade would yield income that doesn’t grow and a value that doesn’t change at maturity.

In addition, I wanted to share a longer-term view of total returns on US Equities, Bonds and Short-term bills between 1926 and 2022:


I believe that a long-term investor in equities over the next 10 – 20 - 30 years would do better than an investor in fixed income like T-Bills or Certificates of Deposit. A diversified dividend growth portfolio would likely generate much higher future yields on cost and total returns over the next 10 - 20 - 30 years. A bond portfolio would not.

I understand the logic to hold fixed income for items such as an emergency fund, or if someone is saving for a particular large expense over the next 1 – 3 years for example. In that case, using bonds or a savings account seem like a good idea. However, I would discourage folks who are buying Treasury Bills or Certificates of Deposit in an attempt to try and to time the market.

"The Secret Sauce

 In August 1994 – yes, 1994 – Berkshire completed its seven-year purchase of the 400 million shares of Coca-Cola we now own. The total cost was $1.3 billion – then a very meaningful sum at Berkshire. 

The cash dividend we received from Coke in 1994 was $75 million. By 2022, the dividend had increased to $704 million. Growth occurred every year, just as certain as birthdays. All Charlie and I were required to do was cash Coke’s quarterly dividend checks. We expect that those checks are highly likely to grow. 

American Express is much the same story. Berkshire’s purchases of Amex were essentially completed in 1995 and, coincidentally, also cost $1.3 billion. Annual dividends received from this investment have grown from $41 million to $302 million. Those checks, too, seem highly likely to increase. 

These dividend gains, though pleasing, are far from spectacular. But they bring with them important gains in stock prices. At yearend, our Coke investment was valued at $25 billion while Amex was recorded at $22 billion. Each holding now accounts for roughly 5% of Berkshire’s net worth, akin to its weighting long ago. 

Assume, for a moment, I had made a similarly-sized investment mistake in the 1990s, one that flat-lined and simply retained its $1.3 billion value in 2022. (An example would be a high-grade 30-year bond.) That disappointing investment would now represent an insignificant 0.3% of Berkshire’s net worth and would be delivering to us an unchanged $80 million or so of annual income. 

The lesson for investors: The weeds wither away in significance as the flowers bloom. Over time, it takes just a few winners to work wonders. And, yes, it helps to start early and live into your 90s as well."

 I believe what Buffett is trying to tells us is that for a long-term investor, the best bet is US Equities over Bonds. That's because equities would increase purchasing power for net worth and income over time. Fixed income instruments like Bonds or Treasury Bills or Certificates of Deposit are good places to park short-term cash. That in my opinion is cash that is needed in the next 1 - 2 - 3 years. 

Relevant Articles:

- Does Fixed Income Allocation Make Sense for Dividend Investors Today?

Monday, March 13, 2023

Brokerage accounts and SIPC Limits

Plenty of ink has been spilled over FDIC Insurance Limits this weekend being only $250,000.

But as an equity investor, are you aware that you are protected from Broker failure under SIPC for only $500,000 per separate account per brokerage?

SIPC stands for Security Investor Protection Corporation. It protects investors against the loss of securities and cash held at SIPC member brokerage firms.

If your broker fails, that shouldn't necessarily affect client investments. That's because client assets are segregated from the assets of the brokerage house. In that case, the SIPC may step in and help with the transfer of assets over to a new brokerage firm. In other words, investors would simply be able to access their investments at another brokerage house, if their original broker failed.

However, in the case of fraud or commingling of customer and brokerage assets, SIPC insurance can come in handy. SIPC gets involved in this case and provide the protection for customer assets.

It protects investor securities up to $500,000 per account per brokerage. Examples of securities include stocks like PepsiCo or bonds like US Treasury Bills for example. 

The protection for cash held in a brokerage account is only $250,000 however. This is in line with the FDIC protection limits.

SIPC protects the custody function of the broker. This means that the SIPC would restore missing stocks or bonds after a broker fails or is liquidated. In other words, if you have 100 shares in PepsiCo held at a brokerage firm that fails, you will receive 100 shares of PepsiCo back.

SIPC does not offer protection against decline in the value of your stocks or bonds and losses from selling stocks and bonds.  Just be aware that the SIPC is not created to insure against risk in quotational losses on investments.

The neat thing is that SIPC protection limit of $500,000 is per each separate account type. 

For example, if you have a brokerage account worth $500,000 and a Roth IRA worth $500,000 at the same broker, your entire amounts are protected by SIPC against the loss of securities due to brokerage failure. That's because the taxable account and the Roth IRA account are considered to be of separate capacity by the SIPC. 

However, if you happen to have two taxable brokerage accounts with $500,000 each, your total protection by the SIPC is a total of $500,000. That's because accounts held in the same capacity are combined for purposes of the SIPC protection limits. In other words, the same types of accounts are combined and subject to the $500,000 protection limit.

Examples of separate capacities are:

  • individual account;
  • joint account;
  • an account for a corporation;
  • an account for a trust created under state law;
  • an individual retirement account;
  • a Roth individual retirement account;
  • an account held by an executor for an estate; and
  • an account held by a guardian for a ward or minor.

My opinion:

In my opinion, it is helpful to be aware of the SIPC insurance limits. It is helpful to invest through a legitimate stock broker, who is a member of SIPC. 

In my opinion, it may be helpful to hold more than one brokerage account and more than one broker. That's merely some diversification in case one broker fails. In the event that this happens, it may take some time to access those accounts and the assets in them. That could disrupt even a meticulously planned fail safe retirement plan. 

In addition, it is helpful to hold more than one broker account because of potential outages as well. 

Several readers have indicated how many brokerages have additional insurance above the SIPC limits. I do not believe this is as good as an implied government backstop that SIPC coverage provides. 

I believe that in a crisis the US Government would step in as it has unlimited resources in theory. Any excess brokerage insurance through a private insurance company may not be realizable. In other words, if too many customers need to use those policies, the insurance company may not be able to pay them off at once. It may end up going bankrupt. 

Of course, needing SIPC insurance is a low probability event in the first place. Needing to collect on an insurance policy in excess of SIPC insurance is an even lower probability event too. That would require an Armageddon type event that would have a brokerage fail and fail to segregate customer assets properly. Of course, while the probabilities are very low, they are not non-existent.

I am not trying to scare anyone; these are just a few random thoughts I had after looking through the headlines over the past weekend and the bank failures.

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Saturday, March 11, 2023

Nine Dividend Stocks Rewarding Patient Shareholders With A Raise

 As a dividend growth investor, I look for solid companies to invest my hard earned money in. I look for companies that can grow earnings, and afford to raise dividends regularly. A long dividend streak is the indicator of quality, that places companies on my list for further research. A long dividend streak is not an accident, but the result of a long period of a solid company generating excess cashflows. A byproduct of this solid competitive advantage ultimately results in companies showering their investors with more cash dividends every single year. In my research I look at trends in earnings per share, dividends per share, dividend payout ratios and valuation. I try to evaluate qualitative as well as quantitative factors at play as well.

This is why I review the list of dividend increases every single week. This is a helpful monitoring tool for the companies I own, and for the companies I am interested in owning.

In the past week, there were several companies that raised dividends to shareholders. These companies have at least a nine year streak of annual dividend increases. The companies include:

This of course is just a list, not a recommendation.

I typically look for a ten year streak of consecutive annual dividend increases in those lists. I made an exception for this week, because I wanted to share the monstrous dividend increase by Dick's Sporting Goods - 104%. 

I also wanted to mention Lindt & Spr√ľngli, which raised its annual dividend by 8.33% to 1,300 Swiss Francs/share. This is the 28th year in a row that the company has increased the annual dividend. It is traded on the Swiss stock market, although the stock is also traded as an ADR on the OTC market in the US. The stock is expensive based on absolute share price and based on valuation however. 

When I review companies, I look at ten year trends in:

1) Earnings per share
2) Dividend payout ratio
3) Dividends per share
4) Valuation

Since I have some experience evaluating dividend companies, I also modify my criteria based on the environment we are in and the availability of quality companies. If I see a company with a strong business model and certain characteristics that I like, I may require a dividend streak that is lower than a decade. I have also found success in looking beyond screening criteria by purchasing stocks a little above the borders contained in a screen.

It is important to be flexible, without being too lenient.

You may like this analysis of General Dynamics (GD) as an example of how I review companies.

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Friday, March 10, 2023

25 Golden Rules for Investing by Peter Lynch

Peter Lynch is probably one of the best-known stock pickers of our time and certainly among the most successful. He was portfolio manager of Fidelity Investments' Magellan Fund for 13 years, starting out in 1977 with $20 million in assets and winding up his tenure in 1990, with more than 1 million shareholders and assets in excess of $14 billion. During that period, Lynch delivered an average annual return of just over 29 percent.

The work of Peter Lynch has been very influential for my development as an investor. He has written three bestselling books on investing:

1. "One Up on Wall Street"

2. "Beating the Street

3. "Learn to Earn: A Beginner's Guide to the Basics of Investing and Business

I highly recommend his books.  

I also highly recommend reading Peter Lynch articles from "Worth Magazine" from the 1990s.

I wanted to share a list of investing rules from Peter Lynch, the star manager at Fidelity Magellan Fund, who managed to outperform the stock market between 1977 and 1990. 

This list comes from his book " Beat the Street"

Before I turn off my word processor, I can’t resist this last chance to summarize the most important lessons I’ve learned from two decades of investing, many of which have been discussed in this book and elsewhere. This is my version of the St. Agnes good-bye chorus:

1. Investing is fun, exciting, and dangerous if you don’t do any work

2. Your investor’s edge is not something you get from Wall Street experts. It’s something you already have. You can outperform the experts if you use your edge by investing in companies or industries you already understand.

3. Over the past three decades, the stock market has come to be dominated by a herd of professional investors. Contrary to popular belief, this makes it easier for the amateur investor. You can beat the market by ignoring the herd.

4. Behind every stock is a company. Find out what it’s doing.

5. Often, there is no correlation between the success of a company’s operations and the success of its stock over a few months or even a few years. In the long term, there is a 100 percent correlation between the success of the company and the success of its stock. This disparity is the key to making money; it pays to be patient, and to own successful companies.

6. You have to know what you own, and why you own it. “This baby is a cinch to go up!” doesn’t count.

7. Long shots almost always miss the mark.

8. Owning stocks is like having children-don’t get involved with more than you can handle
The part-time stockpicker probably has time to follow 8–12 companies and to buy and sell shares as conditions warrant. There don’t have to be more than 5 companies in a portfolio at any one time.

9. If you can’t find any companies that you think are attractive, put your money
in the bank until you discover some.

10. Never invest in a company without understanding its finances. The biggest losses in stocks come from companies with poor balance sheets. Always look at the balance sheet to see if a company is solvent before you risk your money on it.

11. Avoid hot stocks in hot industries. Great companies in cold, nongrowth industries are consistent big winners.

12. With small companies, you’re better off to wait until they turn a profit before you invest.

13. If you’re thinking about investing in a troubled industry, buy the companies with staying power. Also, wait for the industry to show signs of revival. Buggy whips and radio tubes were troubled industries that never came back.

14. If you invest $1,000 in a stock, all you can lose is $1,000, but you stand to gain $10,000 or even $50,000 over time if you’re patient. The average person can concentrate on a few good companies, while the fund manager is forced to diversify. By owning too many stocks, you lose this advantage of concentration. It only takes a handful of big winners to make a lifetime of investing worthwhile.

15. In every industry and every region of the country, the observant amateur can find great growth companies long before the professionals have discovered them.

16. A stock-market decline is as routine as a January blizzard in Colorado. If you’re prepared, it can’t hurt you. A decline is a great opportunity to pick up the bargains left behind by investors who are fleeing the storm in panic.

17. Everyone has the brainpower to make money in stocks. Not everyone has the stomach. If you are susceptible to selling everything in a panic, you ought to avoid stocks and stock mutual funds altogether.

18. There is always something to worry about. Avoid weekend thinking and ignore the latest dire predictions of the newscasters. Sell a stock because the company’s fundamentals deteriorate, not because the sky is falling.

19. Nobody can predict interest rates, the future direction of the economy, or the stock market. Dismiss all such forecasts and concentrate on what’s actually happening to the companies in which you’ve invested.

20. If you study 10 companies, you’ll find 1 for which the story is better than expected. If you study 50, you’ll find 5. There are always pleasant surprises to be found in the stock market—companies whose achievements are being overlooked on Wall Street.

21. If you don’t study any companies, you have the same success buying stocks as you do in a poker game if you bet without looking at your cards.

22. Time is on your side when you own shares of superior companies. You can afford to be patient—even if you missed Wal-Mart in the first five years, it was a great stock to own in the next five years. Time is against you when you own options.

23. If you have the stomach for stocks, but neither the time nor the inclination to do the homework, invest in equity mutual funds. Here, it’s a good idea to diversify. You should own a few different kinds of funds, with managers who pursue different styles of investing: growth, value, small companies, large companies, etc. Investing in six of the same kind of fund is not diversification. The capital-gains tax penalizes investors who do too much switching from one mutual fund to another. If you’ve invested in one fund or several funds that have done well, don’t abandon them capriciously. Stick with them.

24. Among the major stock markets of the world, the U.S. market ranks eighth in total return over the past decade. You can take advantage of the faster-growing economies by investing some portion of your assets in an overseas fund with a good record.

25. In the long run, a portfolio of well-chosen stocks and/or equity mutual funds will always outperform a portfolio of bonds or a money-market account. In the long run, a portfolio of poorly chosen stocks won’t outperform the money left under the

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Saturday, March 4, 2023

Eight Companies Working Hard For Their Stockholders

 As part of my monitoring process, I review the list of dividend increases every week. This is helpful as a method to observe recent developments in companies I own. This process is helpful in identifying companies for further research, which may be exhibiting certain characteristics that look promising.

I usually focus on companies with at least a ten year streak of annual dividend increases, in order to focus my attention to companies that can establish and maintain a streak throughout a full economic cycle.

The next steps involve evaluating the rate of increase relative to the historical average, in an effort to determine consistency. Usually, I end up observing a dividend growth rate that is accelerating or decelerating.

I also try to review trends in earnings, and looks at valuation, in order to determine if a company is worth pursuing further.

There were several companies raising dividends last week. The companies include:

This list is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. It is just a list of companies for further research. It is also a list to update my existing observations on companies I own or plan to own at the right price. I analyze companies before buying the,

If I were to evaluate the companies on this list, I would leverage my screening criteriawhich I first outlined in 2010.

Notably I would look for the following:

1) Ten years of annual dividend increases
2) Earnings per share that are increasing over the past decade
3) Dividend Payout Ratio below 60% ( however I am willing to make exceptions for REITs, MLPs, Utilities and Tobacco companies)
4) Dividend growth rate that exceeds the rate of inflation ( however this also needs to take into account the rate of earnings and dividend growth)
5) A P/E ratio below 20

Since I have some experience evaluating dividend companies, I also modify my criteria based on the environment we are in and the availability of quality companies. If I see a company with a strong business model and certain characteristics that I like, I may require a dividend streak that is lower than a decade. I have also found success in looking beyond screening criteria by purchasing stocks a little above the borders contained in a screen.

It is important to be flexible, without being too lenient.

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