My goal is to design and manage a diversified portfolio that provides a growing, relatively safe dividend stream to supplement retirement income.
You can follow the development of my retirement income portfolio by reading the Q3 Portfolio Review and two subsequent articles that highlighted some Q4 portfolio changes: This Is A Great Time To Build A Dividend Portfolio and Portfolio Review: Changes On The Leader Board.
At the end of Q3, there were 49 individual equities, one short of the maximum of 50 that I projected earlier in 2018. Several things happened in 2018 to cause me to reduce the number of holdings by doubling down on high-quality dividend stocks, concentrate my cognitive abilities, and prepare for an eventual recession and/or bear market.
I still plan to limit my stock universe to 50 companies, but I consider those 50 to be the pool from which I select portfolio companies. Just as a major league baseball team's management weighs its roster against the pool of talent in its farm system, I weigh the current 35 companies in the portfolio against the current pool of 15 stocks on my watchlist.
Brief summary of Q4 portfolio changes
During Q4, I closed 15 equity positions and added one new holding. This unusual level of activity transformed the portfolio by shifting more assets to what I believe are higher-quality dividend stocks. This raised the income significantly as I continue to prepare for the distribution phase. This portfolio transformation almost felt like a "rite of passage." After considerable study, one afternoon when I made the difficult decision to close four low-yielding, iconic positions (described below), I reminded myself that "this is a dividend portfolio."
All the companies on the current watchlist are former holdings. Eleven of them (listed below) represent positions that were closed in Q4. In most cases, the valuations seemed stretched. I saw an opportunity to shift assets to some other portfolio companies that offered both high quality and unusual relative values within the current portfolio. As described below, the 16 companies in the current portfolio have Standard & Poor's credit ratings of A+ or higher have an average yield of 3.72%.
The concentration of assets in fewer companies meant selling some great stocks. In the future, I expect to re-establish positions in several, perhaps many, of the companies that were sold. Here's a brief summary of the positions closed in Q4:
- Helmerich & Payne (HP) was bought in September 2018 at $61.88 and sold on October 19 at $66.99. HP has declined with the price of oil, closing the year at $47.94. I did well with HP on this and one other occasion, but I've decided that this strong company is too tied to the commodity price for my comfort level. If you're comfortable with this industry, HP is a very well-managed company now trading at what I believe is a very attractive price and a 5.9% yield. Dividend increases will be minimal, but they've raised the dividend for 46 consecutive years.
- Merck (MRK) was first bought in October 2015 at $54.91, when the yield was 3.28%. My cost basis entering Q4 was $52.83. I closed the position in October 2018 with 3 sales averaging $71.93, when the yield was 3.06%. MRK bucked the market trend to finish with a strong Q4, closing the year at $76.41. This is a great healthcare company with a Standard & Poor's credit rating of AA-. When I sold MRK, I added it to my watchlist. I would be happy to include it in the portfolio again.
- Northwest Natural (NWN) was bought in February 2018 at $53.70, when the yield was 3.52%. I closed the position on October 22 at $71.02, when the yield was 2.66%. This is a slow-growing natural gas utility that is expanding into the water business. It has an S&P credit rating of A+ and NWN has raised the dividend for 63 consecutive years. It's on my watchlist.
- Clorox (CLX) was bought in April 2018 at $119.10, when the yield was 3.22%. I closed the position on October 23 at $149.50, when the yield was 2.57%. CLX has an S&P credit rating of A- and has raised the dividend for 41 consecutive years. It's very well managed, and I would be happy to own shares at some point in the future.
- Microsoft (MSFT) was bought in September 2015 at $43.66, when the yield was 3.30%, and sold on October 25 at $108.73, when the yield was 1.69%. MSFT has an S&P credit rating of AAA and has raised the dividend for 16 consecutive years. MSFT is on my watchlist.
- Walmart (WMT) was bought in October 2015 at $57.80, when the yield was 3.39%, and sold on October 25 at $99.01, when the yield was 2.10%. WMT has an S&P credit rating of AA and has raised the dividend for 45 consecutive years. WMT is on my watchlist.
- Automatic Data Processing (ADP) was bought in September 2016 at $89.76, when the yield was 2.36%, and sold on October 25 at $140.93, when the yield was 1.96%. ADP has an S&P credit rating of AA and has raised the dividend for 43 consecutive years. It's on my watchlist.
- Apple (AAPL) was bought in September 2016 at $104.78, when the yield was 2.18%, and sold on October 25 at $220.48, when the yield was 1.32%. AAPL has an S&P credit rating of AA+ and has raised the dividend for 7 consecutive years. It's on my watchlist. After considerable reflection and study, I sold MSFT, WMT, ADP and AAPL at the same time. The proceeds were deployed across several sectors into some other blue chip companies that had become "accidental high yielders," which are described below.
- National Retail Properties (NNN) was bought in July 2017 at $38.12, when the yield was 4.77% and sold in December with 2 sales averaging $49.47, when the yield was 4.04%. NNN has an S&P credit rating of BBB+ and has raised the dividend for 29 consecutive years. It's on my watchlist.
- Toyota Motors (TM) was bought in August 2018 at $124.26 and sold on December 4 at $123.21. TM is a world leader in the automotive industry and has an S&P credit rating of AA-. I decided to close this holding because there were some compelling values available in companies with long histories of dividend increases. TM pays a variable dividend based on its current profits and the 10% Japanese withholding tax on dividends means filing for a US tax credit. As I looked into the future, I decided that having TM in the portfolio added an unnecessary layer of complexity.
- WEC Energy (NYSE:WEC) was bought in February 2018 at $59.81, when the yield was 3.70% and sold on December 4 at $74.07, when the yield was 3.03%. WEC has announced a new dividend of $.59 per quarter, which gives it a forward yield of 3.41% as of the 12/31/18 price of $69.26. WEC is one of my all-time favorites, and selling it is as tough as any of the other decisions. WEC has an S&P credit rating of A- and has raised the dividend at least annually since 2004. It's number one on my watchlist.
- Fortis (FTS) was bought in July 2018 at $32.72, when the yield was 3.99% ($.425 per quarter Canadian, or $.33 US on that date), and sold on December 17 at $34.66. FTS had recently announced a new dividend of $.45 Canadian, which was $.34 US on that date, for a yield of 3.88%. FTS has an S&P credit rating of A- and is a Canadian Dividend All-Star, having raised the dividend for 44 years. FTS is on my watchlist.
- Canadian Utilities Ltd. (OTCPK:CDUAF) was bought in 3 lots between July and October 2018 at $24.38 and sold on December 20 at $23.17. This utility is based in Alberta, has an S&P credit rating of A- and has raised the dividend for 46 consecutive years. The quarterly dividend is $.3933 Canadian ($.29 US, for a 4.64% at the time of the sale). Although I like CDUAF, I have not included it on my watchlist. The company trades on the Toronto exchange under the symbol CU and the US version, CDUAF, is very thinly traded. I recommend limit orders for US investors.
- Realty Income (O) was originally purchased in November 2016 at $56.48, when the yield was 4.28%. It was sold on December 20 at $64.63, when the yield was 4.09%. O has an S&P credit rating of A- and has raised the dividend for 25 consecutive years. O is on my watchlist.
- Kimberly-Clark (KMB) was bought in several lots beginning in November 2017 for an average price of $109.83, when the yield was 3.53%, and it was sold on December 20 for $113.87, when the yield was 3.51%. KMB has an S&P credit rating of A and has raised the dividend for 46 consecutive years. KMB is on my watchlist.
Quality was the focus during the market's Q4 weakness
During the fourth quarter, I was able to increase the portfolio's income while maintaining a focus on quality and not "reaching for yield."
Nine of the portfolio companies have S&P credit ratings of AA- or better. They comprise 27.68% of the portfolio, an increase from 17.97% at the beginning of the quarter.
Seven companies have A+ credit ratings. Four of these are relatively new additions, and I was able to take advantage of price weakness to build these positions during Q4: Cummins (CMI), Illinois Tool Works (ITW), United Parcel Service (UPS) and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A) (NYSE:RDS.B). The seven A+ rated companies comprise 20.55% of the portfolio, an increase from 10.27%.
The average yield of the 16 companies rated A+ or better 3.72% at year-end, reinforcing my conviction that this is a great time to build a dividend portfolio.
The portfolio was transformed during a raucous Q4 2018
We continued to see sector rotation within the market. This has led to some "rolling corrections" that have provided opportunities to pick up some companies at a discount. As Q4 progressed, the rotation gave way to a broader selloff. December was the market's worst month since February 2009 and the worst December since 1931. During the last week of week quarter, even utilities and some of the stalwart REITs began to show some weakness.
You can see the transformation of the portfolio that occurred in Q4 2018 by looking at the table below. The %Port column indicates the market value of each holding as of 12/31/18, which is alongside a 9/30 column that indicates each holding's market value as of 9/30/18. In almost all cases, it shows strong increases in Q4. I put a priority on raising the value of the portfolio's holdings with S&P credit ratings of A+ or higher. For example, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) grew from 2.50% to 3.17%, Pfizer (PFE) grew from 1.99% to 3.18%, and BlackRock (BLK) grew from 1.11% to 3.09%.
Brookfield Property REIT (BPR)
Brookfield Property REIT was the only new position added to the portfolio in Q4 2018, with 3 buys occurring between November 29 and December 10. The cost was $17.20, for a yield of 7.33%.
BPR is a newly created US real estate investment trust that operates as a subsidiary of Brookfield Property Partners (BPY). BPR was created in conjunction with Brookfield's acquisition of General Growth Properties (GGP), which occurred on August 28, 2018. BPY acquired GGP for $23.50 per share with $9.5 billion in cash and $5.5 billion in Brookfield Property REIT equity. Prior to the transaction, BPY owned 34% of GGP, which owned 150 regional malls in 41 states, second only to Simon Property Group (SPG).
Based on Brookfield's valuation of the 34% of GGP that it already owned, it appears that Brookfield values the rest of the assets at over $17 billion. Some analysts (and GGP shareholders) saw Brookfield's $23.50 acquisition price was too low. Seeking Alpha contributor Trapping Value saw the offer as fair value.
Brookfield has grown its assets through joint ventures, and this strategy continues with this transaction. Immediately upon closing the GGP acquisition, Brookfield sold a 49% interest in three super-regional malls to CBRE Group (NYSE:CBRE) for $1 Billion, and a 49% interest in three other former GGP malls to TH Real Estate, an affiliate of Nuveen, for $714 million.
BPY is one of several Brookfield partnerships that function as subsidiaries of Brookfield Asset Management (BAM). Though the Brookfield family of companies operates from Toronto, Canada, BPY is domiciled in Bermuda, along with Brookfield Infrastructure Partners (BIP) and Brookfield Renewable Partners (BEP). Here's an overview of BPY from Brookfield's website:
"Brookfield Property Partners ... is a diversified global real estate company that owns, operates and develops one of the largest portfolios of office, retail, multifamily, industrial, hospitality, triple net lease, self-storage, student housing and manufactured housing assets. Its investment objective is to generate attractive long-term returns on equity of 12-15% based on stable cash flows, asset appreciation and annual distribution growth of 5-8%."
These goals for return on equity and annual distribution growth are consistent with the goals of BIP and BEP.
BPY is Brookwood's vehicle for management of its global real estate operation.
The relationship between BPY and BPR is an example of Brookfield's creative ability to accomplish a business goal. Here's a paragraph from its website:
"Brookfield Property REIT ... is a subsidiary of BPY, intended to offer investors economic equivalence to BPY units but in the form of a U.S. REIT security. Dividends on BPR shares are identical in amount and timing to distributions paid out for BPY units, and BPR shares are exchangeable on a 1:1 basis for BPY units or their cash equivalence."
BPY's Q3 2018 Letter to Unitholders describes the acquisition's partial impact on the third quarter. BPR's Q3 2018 Interim Report describes some of the potential risks of an investment in the newly created BPR.
I've owned units of BPY in the past. The portfolio is world class. Brookfield's management is very strong, with deep pockets and access to many global financial partners. As of 12/31/18, BPR was 2.22% of the portfolio, BIP was 2.31%, and BEP was 2.55%. The three Brookfield partnerships comprise 7.08% of the portfolio's market value. The "mother ship" BAM has an S&P credit rating of A-, BPY is rated BBB, and BPR has an initial rating of BBB-.
I began keeping track of the portfolio's total return in 2016. I haven't structured the portfolio to try to "beat" the S&P 500 index, but I have kept the index on my spreadsheet for reference. (Author's update, January 3, 2018: After publishing the article, several readers pointed out that I had overstated the S&P 500 performance for 2018. I have revised the table below to be consistent with SlickCharts.)
Though the portfolio is down for the year, I've never felt better about the portfolio than at the end of Q4 2018. I believe the portfolio is undervalued. The portfolio stocks averaged 21.5% below their 52-week highs. Procter & Gamble (PG) was 5.1% below its 52-week high. Manulife Financial (MFC) was 36.0% below its 52-week high. More importantly, I believe the portfolio provides a relatively safe income stream with the potential to grow over time.
The portfolio's 35 individual equities are listed in the table below. S&P is the Standard & Poor's credit rating where available. CCC is the number of consecutive years of dividend/distribution increases, as described above. %Port is each holding's percentage of the portfolio's market value as of 12/31/18. 9/30 is each holding's percentage of the portfolio's market value as of 9/30/18. I've included this to show how money from the sale of securities was deployed in Q4 2018. Price is the 12/31/18 closing price. Div is the annual dividend per share (or distribution per unit). Yld is the dividend yield per share as of the close on 12/31/18. 4-Yr is the 4-year average yield for each holding, where available, from SA's Dividend tab in the Portfolio feature. DGR is the 5-year dividend growth rate. TDR is the total dividend return (Yld+DGR), aka the Chowder Rule Number. %Inc is the percentage of the portfolio's income contributed by each holding. SSD is the Dividend Safety number assigned to each holding (where available) by Simply Safe Dividends.
|Proc & Gam||AA-||62||3.08%||2.26%||91.92||2.87||3.12%||3.3%||4.4||7.5||1.90%||98|
|Ryl Bnk Can (RY)||AA-||7||3.03%||2.32%||68.52||2.87||4.20%||3.9%||8.8||13.0||2.52%||88|
|Texas Inst (TXN)||A+||14||2.98%||1.94%||94.50||3.08||3.26%||2.3%||24.5||27.8||1.92%||92|
|Bnk Nov Sco (BNS)||A+||7||2.90%||2.16%||49.87||2.49||5.00%||4.3%||6.8||11.8||2.86%||81|
|Int Busn Mch (IBM)||A||23||2.80%||0.96%||113.67||6.28||5.52%||3.4%||10.5||16.0||3.06%||65|
|PPL Corp (PPL)||A-||17||2.23%||2.12%||28.33||1.64||5.79%||4.5%||3.1||8.9||2.55%||79|
|Ent Prod (EPD)||BBB+||21||2.42%||2.08%||24.59||1.73||7.04%||5.5%||5.7||12.7||3.37%||79|
|BCE Inc (BCE)||BBB+||9||2.57%||2.42%||39.53||2.21||5.60%||4.9%||5.9||11.5||2.85%||42|
|W.P. Carey (WPC)||BBB||21||2.57%||2.33%||65.34||4.12||6.31%||6.0%||11.4||17.7||3.21%||72|
|Main Str (MAIN)||BBB||8||2.33%||0.94%||33.81||2.34||6.92%||6.5%||5.5||12.4||3.19%||69|
|Apple Hsp (APLE)||NR||0||1.96%||1.88%||14.26||1.20||8.42%||5.4%||0||8.4||3.27%||46|
This newly revised F.A.S.T. Graphs for Cummins is a good example of the recent downturn in price. I owned shares of CMI during the 2015 pullback and I re-established a position in 2018. I've been impressed with management's ability to maximize the effectiveness of its worldwide manufacturing capability, to re-tool during downturns so it will be able to grow the business during the next cycle, and its ability to adapt to a changing industry. One example of this adaptability is its recent expansion into electric motors.
4 closed-end funds
NAV is the most recent Net Asset Value as reported by Morningstar.
|Adams Divers Eq (ADX)||0.93%||12.62||14.89||2.00||15.85%||2.91%|
|India Fund (IFN)||0.80%||20.24||24.02||2.48||12.25%||1.93%|
|Royce Micro Cap (RMT)||0.74%||7.42||8.53||0.84||11.32%||1.66%|
|Royce Value Trust (RVT)||0.77%||11.80||13.73||1.20||10.17%||1.54%|
At year-end 2018, the portfolio cash position was 0.96%.
The portfolio yield was 5.19%.
My watchlist and strategy for 2019
Given the portfolio transformation that occurred in Q4, my strategy for 2019 is to "sit tight" and let the dividends accumulate cash for several months in preparation for beginning distributions sometime in 2019. I would be happy to have this same portfolio configuration a year from now. (This is where my wife interjects, "You always say that"). She's right, of course. The market is dynamic and sometimes it changes fast, as we experienced in December.
Eleven of the positions that were closed in 2018 are now on my watchlist. As I stated earlier, I'm trying to live within a 50-stock universe. For example, if I add a 36th stock to the portfolio, I'll move it from the watchlist to the portfolio, which would make a 36-stock portfolio and a 14-stock watchlist.
The current watchlist is listed in the table below. Price is the closing price on January 2, 2019:
|National Retail Properties||BBB+||29||47.29||2.00||4.23%||42.11|
|Genuine Parts (GPC)||NR||62||94.79||2.88||3.04%||82.29|
For several years, my focus has been to increase the average monthly dividend. At times this led to mistakes when I "reached for yield." The allure of high yields can be seductive. Today, dividend investors have what I believe is an unusual opportunity to invest in a variety of great companies with attractive yields. Jim Cramer talks about companies with "accidental high yields." In Q4 2018, it seemed to me that I now have an "accidental high yield portfolio." With full awareness that prices can go lower (creating even higher yields), here are some current yields compared with year-end 2017:
The table above shows the comparative yields for some current portfolio companies that also were held one year ago. The yield comparisons would be similar for some of the companies that have been added during the past year, such as ABBV, BLK, CMI, ETN, ITW and UPS.
As we begin 2019, I will continue to look for opportunities to improve the portfolio's relative safety, with a primary emphasis on quality. My "first screen" for quality is the S&P credit rating. In Q4 2018, I re-instituted a way of organizing the spreadsheet that I've used from time to time: ranking the companies according to their S&P credit rank. This reminds me to put a priority on investing in companies toward the top of the credit ladder.
My "second screen" for quality is the "CCC list" of companies that have raised their dividends for many consecutive years Dividend Champions (25+), Dividend Contenders (10+) and Dividend Challengers (5+). This list was created in 2007 by David Fish, who died in 2018. That work has been continued by Justin Law. The "CCC" list is made available by The RRiP Investing Resource Center.
I'm not advocating the purchase or sale of any security. My articles generally offer ideas for stocks to study. These articles form a journal of my effort to design and maintain a retirement income portfolio with a relatively safe stream of growing dividends. I seek companies with histories of rising dividends, strong financials and solid future prospects. Your goals and risk tolerance may differ, so please do your own due diligence. If you'd like to receive notices of future article posts, hit that Follow button.
Disclosure: I am/we are long JNJ, XOM, PFE, PG, MMM, BLK, CSCO, RY, TD, PEP, ITW, IBM, TXN, CMI, UPS, BNS, RDS.B, QCOM, SPG, MFC, PPL, ETN, ABBV, SKT, ENB, EPD, BIP, BEP, VTR, BCE, T, WPC, MAIN, BPR, APLE, ADX, IFN, RMT, RVT. 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.