<![CDATA[Pennyfarthing Investment - The Derailleur]]>Sun, 12 May 2024 17:22:48 -0400Weebly<![CDATA[2023 Fourth Quarter]]>Mon, 12 Feb 2024 22:27:03 GMThttps://pennyfarthinginvestment.com/the-derailleur/2023-fourth-quarterI recently attended talks on residential energy conservation and the Massachusetts state energy and climate action plan, at the local Hitchcock nature center.  This followed a conference I attended by Historic New England on sustainability themes, environmental, social and economic, not exactly the traditional stuff of stuffy museums or historic homes.  I came away with the following investment ideas:

First, diversity and inclusion were featured.  Done well, as with anything, these initiatives enhance the entire organization, revitalizing the organization’s mission and making its work more productive.

Second, the process of addressing climate change is underway.  Questions have been asked yet answers about who will pay for constructing new physical infrastructure remain.  The expensive stuff won’t get built out of charity.  Expertise and skilled workers are needed.  It’s going to require policy changes and planning, along with a broad mandate politically.

Third, the state’s climate plan doesn’t address embodied carbon, energy that had been used to construct what is already in place, and affordable housing.  Historic structures require labor (along with insulation and updated equipment) to restore and modernize.  In New England, developers have repurposed vast mill complexes for housing, schools and businesses, as well as local community housing trusts have worked to enhance historic neighborhoods within the center of walkable, bikeable towns and cities.

The seeds of several potential investment ideas came out of attending these conferences, especially with regard to investing in community development financial institutions.  I met many wonderful people, no investment advisers … without a doubt, everybody has their thing that matters most to them.
<![CDATA[2023 Third Quarter Commentary]]>Fri, 26 Jan 2024 19:58:04 GMThttps://pennyfarthinginvestment.com/the-derailleur/2023-third-quarter-commentaryThe role of dividends has been overlooked by stock market investors in recent years.  Particularly outstanding investments these days for their dividend yields are utility companies, whose stocks are among the highest yielding, 3½ to 5%, or even more in some cases.  Utility company stock prices have been battered by rising interest rates, i.e., the highest short-term rates since 2001 and for long-term the highest rates since 2007.

Companies that buy back their own stock instead of paying cash dividends could also be solid gainers, although returns would come from their rising stock prices rather than from cash deposited into your account.  For example, Apple has bought back $400 billion of its own stock over the past five years.  Some managements and corporate boards prefer stock buybacks because they increase the price of the stock as well as the stock option compensation executives and employees receive, often the primary means of compensation for managements and board members, while Apple investors meanwhile are paid a measly 0.5% cash dividend.

This is why it can be better to have cash in hand than dreams, but it would be a sad life indeed without hopes.

The best part of cash dividends is watching them increase over time.  Dividend growth stocks are those with a long track record of dividend increases, many we’ve held quite profitably for years.

​What to do with the cash received from dividends?  We both reinvest the cash and pile it up to reduce your overall portfolio risk, within Fidelity’s cash money market funds, whose interest rate yields are among the highest available and among the reasons why we chose Fidelity to safeguard your account.

Decades ago, market consensus held that stocks were valued for their dividend yields. Further back in history, more than a century ago, investors thought a company that paid no dividend was no good.  While such a belief might be old-fashioned, there’s still a role for dividends in an uncertain world. ]]>
<![CDATA[2023 Second Quarter Commentary]]>Tue, 15 Aug 2023 20:27:00 GMThttps://pennyfarthinginvestment.com/the-derailleur/2023-second-quarter-commentaryThe greatest financial crisis currently in the making that few media outlets have reported on is private equity investment funds.

​Unlike the publicly offered, publicly traded portfolios that we manage, private equity is, like its name says, private, with limited oversight and transparency, maybe an audit which few investors read.  The managers of the investments are in charge and set their own valuations.  Managers pay themselves and to a great extent report whatever information they decide to.

Private equity, often structured as partnerships, has been all the rage over the past decade.  During the steep market declines last year, most private equity investments reported positive returns.

Why don’t investment managers want to show negative returns?  Simple, private equity managers are paid a percentage of their funds’ investment returns.  The higher the valuations they set, the more they get paid.

If investors exit private equity, they either sell their investments back to the fund, on a set schedule in defined amounts (for example, once a year and a maximum 5% of the fund) or they find another partner to sell to.

Over the past year, limited partnership transactions in the secondary market have been made at prices -15 to -20% below valuations set by even higher-quality partnerships’ investment managers, i.e., the general partners, many -30 to -40% below.

Private equity investment funds might sound like smart deals, but I’ve found few are.  In the past, good times have bailed out bad managers, allowing losses to be recouped.

As we’ve all heard, good times and dark secrets, they don’t last….
<![CDATA[2023 First Quarter Commentary]]>Tue, 15 Aug 2023 20:25:47 GMThttps://pennyfarthinginvestment.com/the-derailleur/2023-first-quarter-commentaryBanking crisis underway, but a different sort from past crises.   Most will do fine. Those who should be cautious have combined balances for a single bank above the FDIC-protected $250,000 per depositor.

So far, the FDIC has agreed to cover unlimited balances, even those above their maximum.  In the end, a failed bank gets sold to a healthy bank.  The FDIC absorbs banks’ losses.  This has put the deposit insurance fund at risk.  To cover its $23 billion in losses, the FDIC is raising the insurance premiums that banks pay.

Failed bankers had been reckless.  These weren’t community banks like in the film It’s a Wonderful Life, in which the bank finances our local businesses and neighbors’ homes.  These banks failed because they re-invested the cash from their huge corporate depositors into long-term, fixed income securities that dropped sharply in value due to rising interest rates.  When large depositors heard their bank was in trouble, they withdrew their money, forcing the banks to sell securities at massive losses.  One problem led to another, all of which could have been foreseen. 

Millions of individuals have since been rethinking their banking arrangements.  Money market funds at Fidelity Investments and others are higher-yielding alternatives, as is the safety of U.S. Treasury bills, and all the local community banks I’ve reviewed recently should ride through the tumult just fine even after recording losses.

As a result of the crisis, banks are restructuring their balance sheets to avoid becoming case studies for failure in the future. 

​Trust is earned and recklessness will eventually fail.  The same could be said of investing.  ]]>
<![CDATA[2022 Fourth Quarter Commentary]]>Wed, 15 Mar 2023 20:19:22 GMThttps://pennyfarthinginvestment.com/the-derailleur/2022-fourth-quarter-commentaryResearchers find little evidence that investment managers help the companies they invest in become greener.  Much of what passes as ESG (environmental, social, governance) investment is little more than investment managers’ telling clients their portfolios are green.  “There could be a couple of bad apples in Europe, but it’s not the entire cart that’s rotten”, as in the U.S., says London Business School finance professor Alex Edmans.

ESG in practice can amount to a pile of marketing, i.e. telling investors their money is green.  Numerous studies show companies’ ESG scores are notoriously difficult to pin down, especially when trying to measure smaller companies, due to smaller companies’ reduced public oversight and fewer resources to devote to their investor relations.

“In the U.S., we observe a substantial disconnect between what institutional investors claim to do in terms of ESG and what they really do. We do not find better portfolio ESG scores for US PRI (Principles for Responsible Investment) signatories, not even for those that report full ESG incorporation…. We also find no evidence that US PRI signatories improve the ESG scores of portfolio companies after investing in them”,  according to the research paper “Do Responsible Investors Invest Responsibly?” in Review of Finance, November 2022.

In Sweden, environmentally oriented investors are more likely to buy mutual funds with pro-environmental names, but they are not more likely to buy funds that are labeled as ESG-compliant as written in the more complex financial statements that households receive every year.

ESG investors beware.  The name ESG or “sustainable” might be there only to draw you in.
<![CDATA[2022 Third Quarter Commentary]]>Wed, 15 Mar 2023 20:12:50 GMThttps://pennyfarthinginvestment.com/the-derailleur/2022-third-quarter-commentarySince its all-time peak on the first day of the year, the stock market has fallen, in waves, likewise for bonds.

Where have we read this before?  Right, in our last letter.

Significant dislocations and mis-pricings of investments play out as governments and central banks attempt with varying degrees of success to address imbalances and problems amidst supply and demand dislocations.
In a few words, investors aren’t happy when good times end.

Over the first nine months of the year, the U.S. stock market benchmark declined -24.6% and the bond benchmark index dropped –14.6%.

I can’t say when it’ll get better.  It looks to me like an unwinding of a super-charged economy and speculative investment price excesses.

Correcting these imbalances will require time and uncomfortable declines in market prices.  Governments and central banks will, under such pressures, be tempted to lean against the tolls required to set things right.

Rising to meet the challenges, negotiations among interests will be where it’ll get interesting indeed.
<![CDATA[2022 Second Quarter Commentary]]>Mon, 01 Aug 2022 18:24:38 GMThttps://pennyfarthinginvestment.com/the-derailleur/2022-second-quarter-commentaryThis quarter was a rocky one, as has been the year.  Since the all-time peak on the first day of the year, the stock market has fallen in waves, likewise for bonds.

From an economic standpoint, inflation is triggering a hawkish central bank interest rate policy, i.e., higher short-term interest rates.  While the U.S. Federal Reserve has acted strongly according to its stated commitments to markets, they cannot insure the survival of financially at-risk organizations.  We’ve seen this occur with the bankruptcy of badly financed vehicles, e.g., the Celsius Network crypto fund (not one of ours).

Markets look to the future, not the present.  Anything can happen.  Ahead could be a short-term recession or a longer-term one.  The current level of high inflation could be temporary, or it could be more enduring. Evidence suggests we’ll experience something at least in the middle of the spectrum.

​Markets are not fully pricing dire possibilities.  That said, markets tend to predict future upturns fairly well, historically advancing about half a year ahead of a turn toward positive economic growth.

How far down have markets dropped?  Not far, relative to history.  There’s nothing to be said that prices have fallen enough to bring in buyers and exhaust motivated sellers.  While we’ve performed well in this downturn so far, it’s very possible that the downturn might not yet be over.
<![CDATA[2022 First Quarter Commentary]]>Thu, 14 Jul 2022 15:50:49 GMThttps://pennyfarthinginvestment.com/the-derailleur/2022-first-quarter-commentaryThere’s a difference between active, responsible investing and passive, ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investing.  This quarter, we’re taking over the featured investing spot by sharing an aspect of what we do, and what we don’t do.  

ESG investing applies non-financial factors, i.e., environmental, social and governance criteria, to analyze financial returns, opportunities and risks.  When passively managed, ESG funds reflect a broad portfolio of holdings representing a benchmark index.  For stock funds, this might mean holding shares in hundreds or even thousands of individual companies.  It’s a matching exercise.  Whatever the index says, that’s what the passive fund owns.

On the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ESG funds held an estimated $8 billion of Russian investments, mostly in the form of the oil companies Gazprom, Lukoil and Rosneft, as well as the financial conglomerate Sberbank and the nickel miner Norilsk.

Since the war began, passive fund giants such as Vanguard and Blackrock have sold their Russian stocks, realizing huge losses in ESG and non-ESG funds alike.

Passively invested funds, also known as index funds, have grown to $11 trillion in value, 1/4 of the American stock market.  For those who manage a passive fund, whatever is in the benchmark index must be bought.  What drops out must be sold.

The decision made by index providers MSCI and FTSE Russell to deem Russian stocks uninvestable meant cutting them from their ESG indices, thus passive funds sold their Russian holdings.  At Pennyfarthing, in contrast, we’ve never held a Russian stock, neither via direct ownership nor by recommending a fund.]]>
<![CDATA[2021 Fourth Quarter Commentary]]>Thu, 13 Jan 2022 17:06:51 GMThttps://pennyfarthinginvestment.com/the-derailleur/2021-fourth-quarter-commentaryWith one daughter off at college, studying illustration the next three years in England, and another daughter who began her graduate studies in public health, in Paris, my son remains at home, on the cusp of finishing high school….

My dependents have become less dependent.  In contrast to my kids, the investment markets’ price levels are generally the highest in history and cry out for continued support from the U.S. Federal Reserve and the world’s other central banks.  Government spending, tax cuts, wealth are all dependent upon the central bank’s support.

The Fed is buying U.S. government debt at a rate of $120 billion in bonds per month, which depresses interest rates, stimulates credit and supports prices in asset markets.  So many young people can’t afford the high price of a new home even though mortgage rates are low.

The Fed’s economic modeling anticipates inflation running above 3% through the end of 2024.  In financial history, after the Fed’s creation, rising inflation and reversals of easy, excessive credit have preceded stock market declines.

Since 2008, each time the Federal Reserve has reduced its bond purchases, markets have stumbled.  Will inflation, global economic imbalances and supply bottlenecks trip up this market?  Wealth has certainly inflated.

What about those left behind?  Read Fiona Hill’s recently released memoir There Is Nothing For You Here for thoughts about that issue.

These days the Fed’s Chairman Jerome Powell hints at gradual action, hesitantly calming investors’ worries about whether the Fed might reduce its bond purchases, too much, too early -- those kids have too much anxiety to move out.
<![CDATA[2021 Third Quarter Commentary]]>Thu, 13 Jan 2022 17:00:40 GMThttps://pennyfarthinginvestment.com/the-derailleur/2021-third-quarter-commentaryArif Naqvi liked to say, “Today’s peacock is tomorrow’s feather duster”, an apt phrase for a man who was once an impact investing celebrity, targeting social equity and economic growth in emerging markets.  He was charming, generous, attractive, but also bullying and narcissistic.

Naqvi’s hedge funds, foreign entities run out of Dubai, became the Middle East’s largest.

Investors included the Gates Foundation and World Bank.  If Bill Gates is investing, others thought, they should, too.

The funds had been audited and favorable opinions issued.  Despite this, as private funds, and this is a very important point to be aware of, the funds’ fraudulent financial practices were hidden from investors for years.  Private funds lack the heightened oversight and financial controls of publicly regulated entities.

Naqvi, with his connections to the rich and politically powerful, his 154 foot super-yacht and along with his fellow fund managers pocketed the funds’ cash in secret bank accounts.  Turns out, investors eventually noticed they had been duped.  The Gates Foundation raised questions.  Wall Street Journal journalists Simon Clark and Will Louch dug in.  Whistleblowers came forward.

Give me your money to invest, Naqvi said, and we’ll reduce poverty and improve public health.  Instead, he has been charged with stealing $780 million.

The takeaway here is that, even when a fund’s purpose is noble, be diligent and trust, but verify.]]>