Rising Dividend

Where do you want to be invested when faced with the prospect of a bear market? Some say that high dividend yields provide protection when stocks fall. This implies that since the yield rises as the stock price declines, new buyers will be attracted as the price drops. Such buyers could help establish a “floor” below the stock. While this sounds good in theory, we find scant evidence that it actually works in practice. This strategy fails when needed most because “high yielders” tend to be fundamentally weak. While some high-yielding stocks may be good bargains, most high yields reflect…

Read More ›

Beta, Revisited

With the U.S. stock market near highs, we look at the role “beta” plays in portfolios and why we favor combining “beta” with fundamentals. We find that 1) the pandemic era brought a rise in average “betas”, and 2) that “betas” behave differently based on fundamental quality.

Read More ›

The pandemic provides a test for our crucial proposition that dividend growth points to quality. We look at recent evidence since the pandemic’s beginning to test this proposition. We find great similarity in performance of dividend growers and high quality on the one hand, and dividend cutters and low quality on the other. We also question whether the risk of owning this year’s outperforming low-quality, dividend cutters is really worth the much higher volatility of such stocks.

Read More ›

There is more risk in the world than most people realize, and it is often inadequately measured. Here we look at how we measure risk and how quality can help address both volatility and unwanted surprises.

Read More ›

Basic Math

Investing is not just about creating high returns but consistent returns. Therefore, we must contemplate how to address risk well in advance of demanding markets. This commentary addresses how some basic math can help explain the value of investing in high quality.

Read More ›

Easy money policies and rising debt lead us to focus on quality first. In past commentaries, we made a case for owning high-quality firms over low and offer an alternative to “growth and value.” This week, we want to explore how we think about what we pay to own high quality. How We Asses Quality When we say “quality,” we really mean flexibility, resilience, and consistency. To find these characteristics, we test firms for low debt, productive assets, and operating consistency. Each quarter we examine the largest 1,000 U.S. companies along these lines, rank the results, and assign quality grades…

Read More ›

The gardener must sow seed in fertile ground for a garden to grow. Once planted, young seedlings must be cared for and cultivated. If all goes well, the seed grows into an abundant garden, while also producing the seed and nutrients for next year’s plantings. In this way, the gardener achieves a sustained cycle of growth, and everyone benefits. The same is true for a business. Like a seed, a firm must sow investments in assets that yield a profit if it hopes to grow. Additionally, investments will be subject to risk and unknowns, some will produce profit, and some…

Read More ›

Illusion and Reality

Our economy grows decade to decade, with corporations capturing an increasing share of global income in the form of profits in recent years. Along the way, low interest rates prompted growth, encouraged risk-taking, and pumped up the value of future profits. It is not surprising, then, that stocks have enjoyed a historic rise, achieving great returns far above other asset classes. Not even a global pandemic was able to short-circuit this wealth creation process. In this week’s commentary, we revisit an old idea — namely that real factors dominate growth and stock returns in the long-run, while illusory factors can…

Read More ›

Dividend growers outperformed all dividend categories for the past 48 1/4 years with less risk. This is our conclusion based on data provided by Ned Davis Research. The research focuses on dividend payers, non-dividend payers, and dividend cutters. Note that the pattern of dividend growers outperformance holds for both the entire period of analysis and each sub-period (First Table). It also holds that growers experienced lower volatility for both the entire period and each sub-period (Second Table). In this note, we address why we think this phenomenon exists and what it could mean to investors. Return By Dividend Category (Annual)…

Read More ›

To buy quality stocks that increase dividends regularly is a time-honored investing practice, and for good reason. This simple strategy takes a long-term view of investing and focuses on the dividend, not the stock price, which can help some investors maintain perspective. The passive income generated from dividend growth also has two side benefits. First, it focuses your investment strategy on cash-generating, growing companies. Second, it tends to lead to quality businesses that are neither too young nor too old. Why is this so? Almost by definition, a dividend-growing company tends to cover expenses with rising cash flow. And which…

Read More ›

Leverage and Quality

It is essential not to overlook critical assumptions. One of the most basic stock investing beliefs is that firms will continue to exist — firms do not live forever. Beginning as a start-up and ending in decline, firms undergo many changes over their lives. An idea becomes a business that generates growing profits and revenue. As a result of sound investing, the company continues to grow, finds new markets, and fends off competitors. At some point, the demand for the firm’s product or service slows, competition erodes advantages, and the business shrinks. In an age of rapid technological change and…

Read More ›

President Biden signed into law a $1.9 trillion Coronavirus aid package last week. New spending of $1.1 trillion is expected this year, with the remaining $0.8 trillion spread out over the coming years. The spending is on top of last year’s $3 trillion fiscal support program, sets up 15% annual deficits for 2020 and 2021, and increases debt to 110% of GDP.   Why should we care about such spending, especially when the economy is hobbled by COVID-19? Indeed, the package will indeed help many. There are $670 billion in checks and enhanced unemployment benefit checks on the way to…

Read More ›

Quality First

There is lots of discussion about the return of speculation. Cryptocurrencies, message board short-squeezes, soaring penny stocks, “blank check” companies, and record issuance of risky debt dominate today’s headlines. It is hard to imagine that, just under a year ago, financial markets were in freefall. Greed replaced fear in the span of a few short months, despite an ongoing pandemic. This week we return our focus to “quality” as a key factor in portfolio construction. Risk-On! Notice the chart below. It is a ratio of the most volatile stocks in the S&P 500 divided by the least volatile. When investors…

Read More ›

For years, stock investors have fixated on “style,” which means investing in “growth” or “value.” “Value” in this context is usually defined as buying stocks with low price-to-book or low price-to-earnings ratios. Some are now rethinking the very foundations of this framework as the return to value indexes continues to shrink (Chart A, below). Others are leaving behind simplistic notions of “style” investing and looking for all sorts of new factors to find performance. In our view, adding a multitude of new factors to the mix is also the wrong approach. The right perspective simply relates price to a few…

Read More ›

Today, The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page, above-the-fold article titled “Dividend Darlings Trail Stock Market Despite Pumped-Up Yields.” The authors point to underperformance by dividend payers within the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats index, an equally weighted index consisting of all S&P 500 companies that have increased dividends every year for the past 25 consecutive years. The article highlights some iconic dividend payers with large yields suffering large share price drops this year. So says The Wall Street Journal: “Exxon Mobil Corp., whose dividend yield is sitting at a near-record of more than 10%, has declined 51% in 2020… AT&T…

Read More ›