Sunday, January 29, 2012

Stock Buybacks Do Not Benefit Future Stock Performance

In a recent research report by Thomson Reuters they note that a company's stock buyback activity generally does not add value subsequent to the buyback. A reason cited is the fact companies generally have more cash on hand in good economic environments and this tends to be after the stock price has already reflected a more positive operating environment. The report concluded:
"...most companies in the S&P 500 index have not been successful in adding value through stock buybacks in the time frames we observed. The positive correlation between buyback activity and price suggests a combination of poor market timing as well as policies that increase repurchases when firms have more free cash flow. This may be partially explained by the need for officers of public companies to make some use of the cash on hand, including keeping less of it due to the possibility of being taken over. The negative correlation between repurchases and forward returns shows that most buybacks did not pay off within the year after purchase."
Even for the market (S&P 500 Index) overall, the increased buyback activity occurs at ever increasing price levels.

From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors

One interesting aspect of the buyback activity at this point in time is it does seem to be at a sufficient level that it makes up for the lack of investor fund flows into equity mutual funds. As the below chart notes, cumulative outflows in equity mutual funds is running at a little over $400 billion dollars since 2006. Buybacks over that same time period total approximately $2.1 trillion through the 3rd quarter of 2011 as reported by Standard & Poor's (PDF).

From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors

A few companies were highlighted in the Thomson report as having timed their buybacks successfully. One example is St. Jude Medical (STJ). As the below chart shows, the company tended to successfully execute its buyback on dips in the company's stock price.

From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors

On the other hand, Exxon Mobil's (XOM) buyback timing seems to occur after the company's stock price has rallied.

From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors

For investors then, buybacks tend not to be a good predictor of future stock price performance. We have written several posts in the past about some of the pitfalls in company stock buyback programs. Ideally, investors should focus on a company's dividend practices. When a company increases its dividend, it is making a long term commitment of its future cash flow; hence, a more significant statement about future earnings prospects.

Disclosure: Long XOM and no position in STJ

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fourth Quarter 2011 Investor Letter

Fortunately for investors, the calendar has turned to a new year and 2012 has gotten off to a strong start in January. As our 4th Quarter Investor Letter notes, 2011 was a flat but volatile year for the market (S&P 500 Index); however, as of 12/31/2011, the 3-year annualized return for the S&P is 14%. Not bad for a 3-year time period. The disparity in valuations between stocks and bonds is near record levels as we discuss in our Investor Letter.

The Letter can be accessed directly from our website at the following link: 4th Quarter 2011 Investor Letter

We hope you find the content of our letter insightful as we look to 2012.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

High Ratio Of Public Debt To GDP Constrains Economic Growth

Approximately two years ago Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff completed a comprehensive study, “Growth in a Time of Debt”, which looked at public debt levels around the globe and the resultant impact on economic growth for the respective economies. The study noted the historical consequences of various debt levels relative to an economy's GDP growth with the impact of increasing public debt levels on a country's economy being different for emerging and developed economies. The study authors concluded economic growth does tend to suffer significantly when a country's debt to GDP level exceeds 90%. For some emerging economies, debt to GDP levels over 70% begin to constrain growth. In the U.S. public debt to GDP is now over 90%.

From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors

Reinhart and Rogoff noted in their study:
"The simplest connection between public debt and growth is suggested by Robert Barro (1979). Assuming taxes ultimately need to be raised to achieve debt sustainability, the distortionary impact imply is likely to lower potential output. Of course, governments can also tighten by reducing spending, which can also be contractionary. As for inflation, an obvious connection stems from the fact that unanticipated high inflation can reduce the real cost of servicing the debt. Of course, the efficacy of the inflation channel is quite sensitive to the maturity structure of the debt. Whereas long-term nominal government debt is extremely vulnerable to inflation, short term debt is far less so. Any government that attempts to inflate away the real value of short term debt will soon find itself paying much higher interest rates...

...In principle, the manner in which debt builds up can be important. For example, war debts are arguably less problematic for future growth and inflation than large debts that are accumulated in peace time. Postwar growth tends to be high as war-time allocation of manpower and resources funnels to the civilian economy. Moreover, high war-time government spending, typically the cause of the debt buildup, comes to a natural close as peace returns. In contrast, a peacetime debt explosion often reflects unstable underlying political economy dynamics that can persist for very long periods."
Finally, as the below chart shows, debt levels in Europe (emerging and developed) and the U.S., have seen significant growth since just 2003.

From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors

An important outcome of these higher debt levels will be how each country decides to reduce its dependence on debt (balance governmental budgets), while at the same time not implementing policies that constrain private sector growth.

The Dangers Of Leveraged ETFs

From time to time questions arise about using leveraged ETFs in one's portfolio strategy. We caution longer term oriented investors to not use these type of ETF investments. For example, if an investor believes the market will rise in the near term, why not consider a two or three times ultra bull ETF. In this case an investor would expect the ETF to generated two or three times the return of the underlying index. Well, for an investor, it is not that simply due to how the math calculation works. Let's look a 2x's ultra long or bullish ETF example.
  • Lets assume at the beginning of day 1 an index is trading at $100. At the end of the day the index closes at $90 or down 10%. The leveraged ETF would close at $80 or down 20%.
  • On day 2 the index rises to $99 or up 10%. The 2x's leveraged ETF would increase to $96, that is $80 * 1.20=$96.
  • Over the two day period though the index is down 1% while the leverage ETF is actually down 4% or four times worse than the index return versus the expected two times worse return.
From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors

One problem with many of these leverage ETFs is they reset daily and individual investors generally do not rebalance their portfolios on a daily basis. So as one can see, the performance of these ETFs over a period longer than one day can differ significantly from their stated daily performance objectives. More on this topic can be found on the SEC's web site in an article they wrote titled, Leveraged and Inverse ETFs: Specialized Products with Extra Risks for Buy-and-Hold Investors.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Forecast For 2012 By Ed Hyman And Bob Doll

The recent WealthTrack interview conducted by Consuelo Mack features Ed Hyman, Chairman and Founder of ISI Group, and Bob Doll of BlackRock. Ed Hyman has been rated the #1 economist by Institutional Investor for 32 years running. Both strategist see the U.S. as the best house in a bad neighborhood for investors. Hyman notes the US economic data has been better, but not great, every week for the past three months. For more on their insights for 2012, readers can view the below video.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Equity Risk Premium Near An Extreme

The equity risk premium recently reached levels last seen at the height of the financial crisis in 2008. The high risk premium level suggests equities are attractive at this point in the market cycle. One key is whether corporate earnings can continue to make new record highs in 2012. Earnings growth is expected albeit at a slower rate than achieved in 2011. Given the level of stock buybacks and more importantly, company dividend increases, it seems equities could do well looking forward. The buyback and dividend actions by companies provide some level of favorable insight into company earnings expectations. As is typically the case, unforeseen events can derail a favorable market environment. The known risks are numerous and will continue to result in somewhat volatile price action (sovereign debt issues, political rhetoric in the U.S., dealing with the U.S. budget deficit and debt levels, just to name a few), but our forecast suggests equity prices should end 2012 higher.

From The Blog of HORAN Capital Advisors

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Dogs Of The Dow For 2012

The Dogs of the Dow in 2011 significantly outperformed the Dow Jones Industrial Average Index (DJIA) and the S&P 500 Index on a price only basis in 2011. The Dow Dogs returned 12.2% versus the DJIA return of 5.5%. The S&P 500 Index was essentially flat on the year.

The Dow Dog strategy consists of selecting the ten stocks that have the highest dividend yield from the stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Index (DJIA) after the close of business on the last trading day of the year. Once the ten stocks are determined, an investor would invest an equal dollar amount in each of the ten stocks and hold them for a year. The strategy has generated mixed results over the years.

The Dogs of the Dow for 2012 have two new additions, Procter & Gamble (PG) and Kraft (KFT). The two stocks eliminated from the Dow Dogs are Chevron (CVX) and McDonald's (MCD). Below is a list of the Dogs of the Dow for 2012.