Remembering David Fish, The MVP Of DGI

by: Mike Nadel


Long-time Seeking Alpha contributor David Fish died last month.

He always will be remembered for maintaining the list of Dividend Champions, Contenders and Challengers.

David was instrumental in the formation of my Dividend Growth 50 project, and was both an adviser and friend to many.

In October 2014, David Fish was one of 10 fellow Seeking Alpha contributors I asked to take part in a collaborative project to determine a "new Nifty Fifty" primarily for Dividend Growth Investing practitioners.

He initially was uneasy about taking part, saying: "I'm not sure I feel comfortable 'telling' anyone what to buy."

That was Dave Fish in a nutshell. He helped thousands of Seeking Alpha readers through his years of tireless work maintaining the list of Dividend Champions, Contenders and Challengers.

And yet he never wanted to pass himself off as the kind of "expert" who would insist that investors "must" do this or "should" do that. He figured that if he provided the data, his readers would be intelligent enough to make their own informed decisions.

For those Seeking Alpha readers who have gotten so much information and guidance from our colleague, I have some very sad news to share: Dave died last month in his home in Oxford, Mass. He was 68 years old. His obituary can be read HERE.

Seeking Alpha Editor Abby Carmel also has a brief article on the site about David: HERE.

First and foremost, our hearts go out to Dave's family.

Secondarily, Dave will be missed tremendously by his Seeking Alpha family. If readers of the site's dividends section could have selected this decade's Most Valuable Player, David Fish probably would have won the award in a landslide.

On the first of every month, like clockwork, Dave provided an update to his "CCC lists." Which companies had become Champions - those with 25 consecutive years of dividend growth? Which had graduated from Challengers (5-9 years of dividend increases) to Contenders (10-24 years)? Which had dropped out because they cut or froze their dividends? Which companies were on the verge of making the list, with 4+ years of hikes?

It was such a valuable resource because it was chock-full of information - not just about dividend streaks but also earnings, payout ratios, betas, whether companies had dividend-reinvestment plans, etc. His last report, issued on May 1, can be found HERE.

During a time when practically everybody tries to monetize everything, Dave did not charge a penny for access to the CCC lists. What an amazing, generous gift to a generation of Seeking Alpha readers.

An Incredible Resource

Dave always was professional and helpful. He also had a great sense of humor. I came to regard him as both a colleague and a friend, and we had numerous private-message discussions over the years.

One important conversation, which I have referenced on many occasions, had to do with dividend cuts during the Great Recession.

Some contend that DGI is a flawed strategy because a sour economy will force companies to cut or even eliminate their dividends. Indeed, the New York Times ran just such an article back in 2016: Dividends, Wall Street's Battered Status Symbol.

The article said Coca-Cola (KO) and McDonald’s (MCD) were "happy exceptions" - as opposed to the "host of other major companies" that cut their dividends.

That didn't seem right to me, so I turned to "Mr. CCC." And Dave confirmed what I believed to be true, that Coke and Mickey D's were the norms, not the exceptions:

Actually, more than 70% of companies that were Dividend Champions back in 2007 continued to raise dividends through the recession, and another 9% merely froze their dividends. So approximately 80% did NOT cut their dividends.

I used that information in the rebuttal article I wrote: Are Dividends Doomed?

(Spoiler Alert: Dividends weren't doomed ... and they still aren't.)

David Fish's "Greatest Hits"

After Dave expressed concern about "telling" readers what to buy in conjunction with my new Nifty Fifty project, I promised I would "expressly state that these are ideas for investors to research themselves."

I also told him: "I really don't think it should be looked at as 'telling' anyone to buy what's on it any more than the Dividend Champions list 'tells' investors to buy all 100+ companies on it."

With that, Dave agreed to be one of the panelists. He helped select the New Nifty Fifty - a project that has morphed into the real-money portfolio known as the Dividend Growth 50, a popular fixture on this site.

As an adjunct to the project, I asked each panelist to choose a top 10. Although some DGI critics say we all think alike, Dave's "greatest hits" included seven names that no other panelist had in his or her top 10. And those seven have performed quite well since Oct. 1, 2014.

Apple (AAPL) 105.2%
Deere (DE) 105.0%
Costco (COST) 77.1%
Aflac (AFL) 72.6%
Starbucks (SBUX) 62.1%
Oneok (OKE) 31.4%
Comcast (CMCSA) 25.4%

Dave didn't want to tell us what to buy ... but I sure wish I had bought some of those companies back then!

Of course, nobody's perfect. Like a few other panelists, Dave's top 10 included Kinder Morgan (KMI). That, too, helped provide a valuable lesson: An investor need not be perfect to succeed.

Despite the presence of a company that slashed its dividend and that has seen its share price tank, Dave's otherwise superb top 10 would have excelled in both income generation and total return.

Shortly after providing his list, Dave sent me this follow-up message:

I would just suggest that you not emphasize the "favorite" wording too much ... or at least "color" it as something that is currently attractive, as opposed to a "permanent" favorite.

For example, I included Apple and Starbucks because they will become Challengers in the near future and I think that they are strong brands overall. But I don't own either (yet) as their pricing hasn't been attractive and/or I haven't done in-depth studies of them.

So my take on "favorites" was simply stocks that I currently find interesting ... as opposed to my personal (long-term) favorites.

I thought his message was so important that I included a chunk of it in Part 2 of my New Nifty Fifty series.

I will miss my friend Dave Fish, and thousands of Seeking Alpha readers will miss his unique and important contribution to DGI research.

We will never forget our MVP.

Disclosure: I am/we are long KO, MCD, KMI, AAPL, CVX, COST, O, SBUX.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.