Some share buybacks programs are hurting investors & workers

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Between 2008 and 2017, 466 of the S&P 500 companies spent around $4 trillion on stock buybacks, equal to 53 percent of profits. The Trump tax cut of 2018, helped corporations to repurchased more than $1 trillion of their own stock, a staggering figure and the highest amount ever authorized in a single year.

Under a share buyback program, a company purchases a certain number of its own shares on the open market. Reducing the number of outstanding shares making the remaining shares worth more. One of the most obvious reasons for the growth of such programs is to help offset the effects of generous stock compensation packages for executives, including stock options and stock contributions to employees’ 401(k) programs.

In theory, management only repurchases stock if it expects to enhance shareholder value more that way than by using the cash for capital spending, acquisitions, product development or dividend distributions. In reality, it has helped poor management use financial engineering to artificially increase earnings and hopefully keep share prices from falling in value.

A very simple example below shows how financial engineering works. A corporation buybacks 50,000,000 shares at $20.00 each which increases earnings by $0.25 and reduces the price earnings ratio from 20 to 16 making the company more attractive to investors.

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General Electric is a perfect example of corporate mismanagement. From 2015 to 2017, they repurchased $40 billion dollars’ worth of shares at prices between $20 and $32 and their share price is now only $10.21, a total waste of shareholders’ money.

When corporations direct resources to buy back shares on this scale, they reduce their ability to reinvest profits more meaningfully in the company in terms of R&D, new equipment, higher wages, paid medical leave, retirement benefits and worker retraining.

It’s no coincidence that at the same time that corporate stock buybacks have reached record highs, the median wages of average workers have remained relatively stagnant. Far too many workers have watched corporate executives cash in on corporate stock buybacks while they get handed a pink slip.

Recently, Walmart announced plans to spend $20 billion on a share repurchase program while laying off thousands of workers and closing dozens of Sam’s Club stores. Using a fraction of that amount, the company could have raised hourly wages of every single Walmart employee to $15, according to an analysis by the Roosevelt Institute.

Walmart is not alone. Harley Davidson authorized a 15 million share stock-repurchase around the same time it announced it would close a plant in Kansas City, Mo. And Wells Fargo has spent billions on corporate stock buybacks while openly plotting to lay off thousands of workers in the coming years.

Senators:  Sanders-Schumer propose a bill to limit buybacks

Their  bill would prohibit a corporation from buying back its own stock unless it invests in workers and communities first, including things like paying all workers at least $15 an hour, providing seven days of paid sick leave, and offering decent pensions and more reliable health benefits.

They point out:

The past two years have been extremely disappointing for millions of workers. President Trump promised the typical American household a $4,000 pay raise as he pushed for his tax giveaway to the rich. The reality, however, is that from December 2017 to December 2018, real wages for average workers have gone up by just $9.11 a week. Why should a company whose pension program is underfunded be able to buy back stock before shoring up the pension fund?

Stock buybacks don’t benefit the vast majority of Americans because large stockholders tend to be wealthier. Nearly 85 percent of all stocks owned by Americans belong to the wealthiest 10 percent of households. So when a company buys back its stock, boosting its value, the benefits go overwhelmingly to shareholders and executives, not workers.

What do you think? Should government limit share buybacks?

 

 

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Making a new budget despite a failing budget in 2018

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You would think that a former financial planner could put together an accurate budget. Unfortunately, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. (This saying is in “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns)

No matter how careful I am in planning a budget, something may still go wrong. My central air conditioner failed last year even though it wasn’t that old. Plus, I didn’t realize that the life cycle of my stand up freezer is only 10 years and that hearing aids need to be replaced every 4 to 5 years. Replacing all these items was not in my budget and very expensive.

However, my emergency fund did cover other unexpected break downs like having to replace my old treadmill, workout television and to buy a new refrigerator. Needless to say, 2018 was a year of unforeseen expenses.

Projecting my retirement income for 2018 also missed it mark. Some of my Canadian dividend stocks cut their dividends which not only reduced their payouts but caused their share value to drop.

I offset some of my lost income by doing some tax loss selling which will generate an income tax refund in 2019. Plus my new hearing aids are tax-deductible which makes their purchase a little less painful.

Some tips to avoid budget failure

  1. Don’t guess, there are plenty of ways to track your spending. (Internet banking, credit card statements, mobile apps just to name a few.

  2. Don’t forget to include birthday, weddings and Christmas gifts in your budget. You can rack up credit card debt by unplanned gift giving, especially during the holidays.

  3. Have a realistic emergency fund. Too many people live paycheck to paycheck. For example; the U.S. government shutdown is not only hurting government employees but contract workers who won’t get any back pay. One solution if you have trouble saving is a low-interest personal line of credit which is better than using your credit card for emergencies. 

  4. Your budget should be flexible, it isn’t written in stone. It isn’t something to keep you from spending moneyA budget is a tool to provide you with information to manage your finances. It can help find money that you can spend where it will give you the most enjoyment.

  5.  Think of a budget as a money road map. Sometimes you will come across bad weather, road closures and construction detours. Don’t give up if your budget doesn’t work out the way you planned.

It’s always a shame when you work hard and don’t get any benefit from the money that you have earned. Get in the habit of making a budget every year. Life is too short to live paycheck to paycheck.

Santa Claus rally, No, No, No?

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Is there any hope for a Santa Claus rally this year? What are the chances the markets could reverse the worst December since 1931?

A Santa Claus rally, which would begin on Monday, is a very specific event. It is the tendency for the market to rise in the last five trading days of the year and the first two of the New Year. According to the Stock Trader’s Almanac, it is good for an average gain of 1.3% in the S&P since 1950.

What caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to have its worst week since the financial crisis in 2008, down nearly 7 percent and cause the Nasdaq to close down into bear market territory?

  1. The Federal Reserve’s rate hike on Wednesday drove the losses this week and investors were hoping for a more dovish tone regarding future rate hikes. Despite the fact that Chairman Powell reduced the projected number rate hikes from three to two and reduced the neutral rate to 2.8% from 3%.
  2. In my humble opinion, President Trump is partly to blame for the severity of the losses this week due to his criticism of the Fed.  He backed Powell into a corner and forced him to show that the Fed is an independent institution. (the Fed could have put more emphasis on being data dependent) According to some reports, Trump has also discussed firing Powell privately because of his frustration with stock market losses in recent months.
  3. In an extensive interview at the White House on Thursday, Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro said that it would be “difficult” for the U.S. and China to arrive at an agreement after the 90-day period of talks unless Beijing was prepared for a full overhaul of its trade and industrial practices.
  4. Political chaos in Washington with partial government shutdown, sudden withdrawal of troops out of Syria and the resignation of Defensive Secretary Mattis.

Investors are still worried about:

  • A slowdown in economic growth as more companies scale back their sales growth and profit outlook for 2019
  • Fear that a flat yield curve will invert if the Fed continues to hike short-term interest rates
  • The unwinding of the Fed’s balance sheet will reduce the availability of credit for corporations
  • The trade war with China will escalate causing more inflation
  • More economists are jumping on the recession bandwagon for 2020
  • Political chaos in Washington will get even worse when the Democrats take power in January

A dead cat bounce is a possibility in January

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dead cat bounce is a small short-lived recovery from a prolonged decline or a bear market that is followed by the continuation of the down turn. You need nerves of steel to trade a dead cat bounce but for long-term investors it could be a good time to reduce market risk and re-balance your portfolio.

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U.S. Politics interfering with my financial blog

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It has been a couple of months since my last blog post. Upheaval in U.S. politics makes writing a financial blog very difficult. Who wants to read about financial issues when history is being made in U.S. politics.

I was in University during Watergate and watched as President Nixon was forced to resign. I remember his famous speech “I am not a crook.” Could history repeat itself with another President leaving office in disgrace?

According to the Washington Post, Trump has made 6,420 false or misleading claims over 649 days. Fact checking departments have been working overtime trying to keep up will all the misleading claims made by President Trump. The King of lies has been dominating all forms of media.

No collusion with Russia, yet 16 people have interacted with Russians

  1. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort
  2. Senior Trump campaign official Rick Gates
  3. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn
  4. Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr.
  5. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner
  6. Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos
  7. Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page
  8. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions
  9. Trump campaign official JD Gordon
  10. Former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone
  11. Former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo
  12. Trump associate Erik Prince
  13. White House official Avi Berkowit
  14. Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen
  15. White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump
  16. Trump business associate Felix Sater

Less than two years into Trump’s presidency, his business associates, political advisers and family members are being probed, along with the practices of his late father. On Friday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke became the fourth Cabinet member to leave under an ethical cloud.

His former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is in jail. His former attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen is headed behind bars next year. His deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates is now a confessed felon. George Papadopoulos, a former member of his foreign policy advisory board, just got out of jail after flipping. His former national security adviser Michael Flynn may only avoid prison after turning on his former boss.

More inquiries into the Trump’s campaign, Trump’s transition, Trump’s inaugural committee and Trump’s presidency are now under active criminal investigation. The Trump Organization and his Foundation are also under civil investigation. Trump University has already been deemed a fraud.

Now that the Democrats have control of the house of representatives, more oversight will spark even more investigations of the Trump administration in 2019. No end in sight to U.S. politics dominating all forms of media.

Hoping to get back to writing about financial topics soon!

 

 

Blame Yellen and Trump for rapid raising U.S. interest rates

  

I believe that the former head of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, is partly responsible for rapid raising U.S. interest rates. Although, GDP growth wasn’t overheating during her term, she could have started to unwind the Fed’s balance sheet which had 4 trillion dollars’ worth of treasuries. Instead she bought more treasuries after they matured and expanded the balance sheet by buying more treasuries with the interest earned.

This kept long term interest rate extremely low and allowed corporations to borrow money at low rates to buy back their shares. The Fed’s lack of action has help fuel the longest bull market in history.

Sorry Trump supporters but your man is also to blame. His policies are inflationary!

  1. The trump’s administration decision to pull out of the Iran deal has cause oil prices to rise. One million barrels of oil a day is being taken off the market.
  2. Trump’s tariff war with China and other trading partners will force corporations to increase prices because their costs are going up. Costs could go up even higher if Trump increases tariffs on imports from China from 10% to 25% in January 2019
  3. The corporate tax cuts and government spending has juiced the economy causing unemployment to fall to the lowest level in nearly fifty years sparking fears of raising wage growth.

The Trump’s administration spin that the tax cuts will pay for themselves is simply not true. Both the Reagan and Bush tax cuts added to the fiscal deficit.

The new Fed chairman, Jerome Powell has a difficult job of unwinding the Fed’s balance sheet by buying less treasuries just as the federal government is issuing more debt to cover the Trump’s tax cuts. Trump will add another trillion dollars to the deficit. More supply of treasuries plus less buyers equals raising interest rates.

Trump blaming Powell for the massive drop in the stock market last week is ridiculous. No one knows for sure what caused investors to hit the sell button. Was it fear of raising interest rates, a forecast of slower global growth by the IMF, fear of an escalating trade war with China or fear of runaway inflation.

My guess is all or none of the above. Maybe the stock market was just due for a correction.

 

 

 

 

Option traders are benefiting from trade war fears

Last year was among the least volatile in the history of the stock market. The VIX which measures market volatility averaged a little over 11 for 2017. It was the lowest level for the index since it was introduced in 1986.

Fear is back in the markets as talk of tariffs dominate the financial news media. Choppy markets increase option premiums so it is a good time to write options. The reward for giving someone else the option to buy or sell something has gone way up this year.

Option-writing strategies range from conservative (covered calls and collars) to extremely risky (naked puts). With the virtually unlimited variations of strike prices and expiration dates available, investors can customize their risk/reward parameters with remarkable precision.

Here are three common option strategies that can generate income or limit losses from an investment portfolio.

1. Covered calls and collars

The most common, conservative way to take advantage of rich option premiums is to write call options on securities you already own. If you’re invested in stock funds, you can write on stock indexes although the premiums are generally less than on individual stocks.

For example, say you own 100 shares of Apple at $190.00 and you wanted to generate some income.  Selling a call option expiring on Aug. 17 to buy 100 shares of Apple at the strike price of $195 provides $3.40 of income. That amounts to a 1.7 percent return on a monthly basis, roughly 20 percent annually, assuming you can repeat the process for 12 months.

The risk in the strategy is that the stock rises significantly and your shares are called away at the strike price. In other words, you limit your potential upside from owning the stock in return for the premium income you receive. The option premium also provides a small cushion against losses, but if the stock or index falls dramatically, so will the value of your holdings.

If investors want downside protection, they can buy puts on the position simultaneously. A collar, often called a costless collar, is a strategy that uses the premiums from writing call options to purchase out of the money puts that limit the downside risk on an investment. In the Apple example, you would sell one $195 call option for $ 3.40 and use the money to  buy one Aug 17 put at 185.00 for $3.30

Two things to keep in mind:

  1. The longer the term on a call option, the more premium you’ll receive, but the greater the risk that your investment is called away.
  2. Single stock options pay better premiums than those on an index such as the S&P 500. They are also riskier and more volatile.

2. Straddles are for speculating on short-term price movements

Option straddles are not writing strategies that generate premium income, but rather pure plays on volatility.If an investor believes that a stock or index is going to have a big move either up or down, a straddle can help them benefit from it while limiting the potential risk. The strategy involves buying a put and call option with the same strike price and maturity on a single security or index.

The chart below is the three month price movements of the Dow Jones index which has been very sensitive to fears of a trade war.

For this example I will use the  Dow Jones index (DIA) which closed at 249.30 today so you could buy one Aug 17 $250 call option for $3.10 and one Aug 17 $250 put option for $4.15

Option traders hope that one of the options expires worthless and the other results in a windfall. The worst-case scenario is that the underlying index doesn’t move at all and both options expire worthless. You lose your entire investment in that scenario. The break-even point is when the value of one of the options equals the cost of buying the two contracts. We could get lucky and sell the call option if the Dow suddenly moves up in a short period of time and sell the put option if the Dow moves back down just as fast.

3. Writing cash secured put options or writing put spreads

Financial advisors agree that writing put options when you don’t have the cash to fulfill the contract, is a recipe for disaster. That doesn’t mean you have to avoid writing put option contracts. But you do need to have the cash to buy the shares if the market falls and the option is executed by the buyer. The advantage of writing puts is that they generally carry higher premiums than call options do.

For example, you may like Apple stock but are worried that it’s overvalued at $190. If you write a put option with a strike price of $180, you get the premium income and the opportunity to buy the stock at a lower price.

A put spread is used when you don’t have the cash to buy the underlying stock if it falls. For example, you may not have the money to buy 100 shares of Apple but you think the stock price is stuck in a trading range around $180 to $190. You could sell the Aug 17 $180 put option for $1.95 and buy the Aug 17 $170 put option for $0.70 and net $1.25 if both option expire worthless. The caveat is that if Apple tanks, your potential loss on the contract is limited since you bought put protection at the $170 strike price.

Options are powerful tools that carry embedded leverage and are riskier than owning the underlying security. Premiums are richer now because volatility is higher. Buy a call option and it could become worthless overnight after a bad earning release. Sell a naked put and your potential losses can be catastrophic. Most financial advisors suggest that buying or selling options should be left to experts.

I believe that an investor with a good understand of simple mathematics and the willingness to learn can use options to protect their portfolios and earn some extra income.

Disclaimer: The option trades listed in this post are for educational purposes only and recommendations.