One of the things that annoy me as an investor is how happy the executives are to grant themselves huge amount of pay in general and stock in particular. The love to giveaway huge amounts of stock to themselves and their buddies and then pretend that isn’t a cost.
Thankfully the GAAP rules changed a few years ago to require making the costs of stock giveaways show up on official earnings statements. Now, the companies love to trumpet non-GAAP earnings that exclude stock based compensation to employees.
SG Securities estimates that corporates bought back $480 billion in stock last year, and then reissued about $180 billion.
The theme of the article is that stock buybacks have declined drastically very recently. There has been a huge bubble recently fueled by the too-big-too-fail bailout (quantitative easing). But don’t expect the executives giving themselves tons of stock to decline.
Accounting isn’t as straight forward as people who have never looked at it would like to think. While giving away stock is definately a cost, it isn’t a cash cost. The cash flow statement is best for looking at cash anyway. And the better your company does the more the free spirited giveaway of stock costs (both in your reduced share of the well performing company and the higher cost to buy back the shares they gave away).
They have excuses that they hire people who are not motivated enough to do their job for their pay so they need to offer stock options as a extra payment. But the main reason they like it is they can pretend that the pay to employees isn’t costing as much as it is because we gave them stock options not cash. As if paying $1 billion in cash is somehow more costly than giving away options and then spending $1 billion on buybacks of the stock they gave away.
Options make a lot of sense for small private companies. In a very limited way they can make sense as companies grow. But the practices of executives in huge bureaucracies giving away large amounts of your equity, on top of huge paychecks, is very harmful.
Related: Apple’s Outstanding Shares Increased from 848 to 939 million shares from 2006 to 2013 (while I think Apple’s large buyback is good, the huge share giveaways continue and are bad policy) – Google is Diluting Shareholder Equity by 1% a year (2009-2013) – Executives Again Treating Corporate Treasuries as Their Money
Hedge funds seek to pay the managers extremely well and claim to justify enormous paydays with claims of superior returns. Markets provide lots of volatility from which lots of different performances will result. Claiming the random variation that resulted in the superior performance of there portfolio as evidence the deserve to take huge payments for themselves from the current returns is not sensible. But plenty of rich people fall for it.
As I have written before: Avoiding Hedge Fund Investments is One of the Benefits of Being in the 99%.
This is pretty well understood by most knowledgeable investors, financial planners and investing experts. But funds that charge huge fees continue to get away with it. If you are smart you will avoid them. A few simple investing rules get you well into the top 10% of investors
- seek low fees
- diversify – pay attention to risk of portfolio overall
- limit trading (low turnover)
- use tax advantage accounts wisely (in the USA 401(k)s and IRAs)
From a personal finance perspective, saving money is a key. Most people fail at being decent investors before they even get a chance to invest by spending more than they can afford and failing to save, and even worse going into debt (other than to some extent for college education and house). Consistently putting aside 10-20% of your income and investing wisely will put you in good shape over the long term.
Options can be used as an aggressive strategy to make money with investments. By following news events for quite a few different companies you can put yourself in the position to act when stories break, or events occur which can cause mini trends in their stock price.
Volatile stocks with frequent news provide the opportunity to make money on large changes in price. Amazon is a company an Amazon that often makes headlines. Recently, they have been in the news quite a bit, and savvy binary options traders have been cleaning up.
Binary options are a type of option in which the payoff can take only two possible outcomes. The cash-or-nothing binary option pays some fixed amount of cash if the option expires in-the-money while the asset-or-nothing pays the value of the underlying security.
For example, a purchase is made of a binary cash-or-nothing call option on Amazon at $320 with a binary payoff of $1000. Then, if at the future maturity date, the stock is trading at or above $320, $1000 is received. If its stock is trading below $100, nothing is received. An investor could also sell a put where they would make a payoff if the conditions are met and have to payoff nothing if the conditions are not met.
Examples of big news in the recent past
Amazon Fire Cell Phone – Earlier this year, we watched as Jeff Bezos unveiled the new Amazon Fire 3-D cell phone. As happens in most cases when a company unveils a great new product, we saw this cell phone cause Amazon’s stock price to go through the roof. So, as a trader, seeing the unveiling happen first hand would indicate that the value of Amazon was going to rise, and give the trader unique opportunity to make trades on realistic expectations with this asset.
Brett Arends writes about the investment portfolio he uses?
It’s 10% each in the following 10 asset classes:
- U.S. “Minimum Volatility” stocks
- International Developed “Minimum Volatility” stocks
- Emerging Markets “Minimum Volatility” stocks
- Global natural-resource stocks
- US Real Estate Investment Trusts
- International Real Estate Investment Trusts
- 30-Year Zero Coupon Treasury bonds
- 30-Year TIPS
- Global bonds
- 2-Year Treasury bonds (cash equivalent)
This is another interesting portfolio choice. I have discussed my thoughts on portfolio choices several times. This one is again a bit bond heavy for my tastes. I like the global nature of this one. I like real estate focus – though as mentioned in previous articles how people factor in their personal real estate (home and investments) needs to be considered.
Related: Cockroach Portfolio – Lazy Golfer Portfolio – Investment Risk Matters Most as Part of a Portfolio, Rather than in Isolation – Looking for Dividend Stocks in the Current Extremely Low Interest Rate Environment
Dylan Grice suggests the Cockroach Portfolio: 25% cash; 25% government bonds; 25% equities; and 25% gold. What we can learn from the cockroach
Government bonds protect against deflation (provided your money’s invested in solid government bonds and not trash). Equities offer capital growth and income. And gold, as we know, protects against currency depreciation, inflation, and financial collapse. It’s vitally important to maintain holdings in each, in my opinion.
The beauty of a ‘static’ allocation across these four asset classes is that it removes emotion from the investment process.
I don’t really agree with this but I think it is an interesting read. And I do agree the standard stock/bond/cash portfolio model is not good enough.
I would rather own real estate than gold. I doubt I would ever have more than 5% gold and only would suggest that if someone was really rich (so had money to put everywhere). Even then I imagine I would balance it with investments in other commodities.
One of the many problems with “stock” allocations is that doesn’t tell you enough. I think global exposure is wise (to some extent S&P 500 does this as many of those companies have huge international exposure – still I would go beyond that). Also I would be willing to take some stock in commodities type companies (oil and gas, mining, real estate, forests…) as a different bucket than “stocks” even though they are stocks.
And given the super low interest rates I see dividend paying stocks as an alternative to bonds.
The Cockroach Portfolio does suggest only government bonds (and is meant for the USA where those bonds are fairly sensible I think) but in the age of the internet many of my readers are global. It may well not make sense to have a huge portion of your portfolio in many countries bonds. And outside the USA I wouldn’t have such a large portion in USA bonds. And they don’t address the average maturity (at least in this article) – I would avoid longer maturities given the super low rates now. If rates were higher I would get some long term bonds.
These adjustments mean I don’t have as simple a suggestion as the cockroach portfolio. But I think that is sensible. There is no one portfolio that makes sense. What portfolio is wise depends on many things.
Amazon Prime is in some ways is similar to Costco’s membership fees. Costco make the vast majority of their profit on membership fees and largely breaks even otherwise.
Amazon reported earning that were once again very short on earnings given how successful the company has been. Net income increased to $239 million for the 4th quarter (which is by far Amazon’s most profitable quarter since it includes the Christmas buying season) from $97 million last year.
Amazon Prime costs $79 a year (in the USA) and provides free 2 day shipping and access to their streaming video content. Amazon doesn’t disclose the numbers of prime members (that I can find anyway) but educated guesses seem to say 20 million (or more). That would be $1.6 billion a year.
Amazon’s net income for the full year was $274 million. Fees for Prime customers were $1.6 billion (at 20 million members). Amazon is considering raising the Prime price to $99 or $129 a year (25-50%).
While not directly comparable to Costco it is similar. Both are running much of their business just to break even (or at a loss) and Costco manages to take membership fees as profit (along with a very tiny profit on everything else) while Amazon doesn’t even come close to running the rest of their business at break even.
Now you can look at the two fees and say it isn’t the same. Amazon has to pay for shipping on each of the purchases etc. Still it is an odd strategy of charing customers an annual fee and then providing them services almost like a co-op that runs at break even for members.
I really like lots of what Jeff Bezos does. He goes even farther than I do at prioritizing long term benefit over current profit. I can’t think of any other leader that does that and he isn’t really close to me in how far he goes.
Beyond that long term thinking he is much more sensible about financial figures than the extremely over simplified (and even often just wrong) ideas spouted by other CEOs and CFOs. The quarterly report release form the company starts with:
Bezos understand (and makes sure that the company explains) that operating cash flow is a much better measure in many ways than earnings. Bezos is willing to take many actions to bolster long term gains which often hurt current earnings (and also cash flow though he is less willing to drastically undermine cash flow).
Reading reports from Amazon over the years you get the feeling of reading reports from Warren Buffett. The thinking behind the reports both make is very rare among the rest of the senior leadership of our large corporation (who sadly take huge paychecks while providing mediocre leadership or often worse than mediocre).
I love the prospects for Amazon, as a company. I continue to be frustrated by the price of the stock – it is priced so highly it is difficult for me to justify buying. I do hold it in my paper sleep well portfolio, but I am definitely worried about the price. But I see very little else nearly as compelling and on balance find it an attractive, though risky, investment. I see Apple as an extremely good buy at these prices. I see Google more similar to Amazon – very nice prospects but also a very richly priced stock (though I think much more reasonably priced, all things considered, than Amazon).
Many companies that have have plenty of cash chose to dilute stockholder equity instead of paying market rate salaries. They also do this to pay more than they would be willing to if they had to pay cash and take a direct earnings hit officially and unofficially. And they may do it to allow employees to delay paying taxes (I am not sure if this plays a part or not) – and maybe even avoid taxes using some financial games. Companies chose to give away stockholder equity under the pretense that those losses to shareholders can be hidden on financial statements (and they often are).
Thankfully SEC rules forced disclosure of such financial games in the last few years. Still “Wall Street” often promotes the earnings which pretend though employee costs that are paid with stock instead of cash are not costs to the business.
Google is cash flow positive by billions every quarter. Yet they have issued over 1% more stock each year.
Outstanding share balances in millions of shares
|Sep 30 2013||Dec 31 2012||Dec 31 2011||Dec 31 2010||Dec 31 2009|
This means Google has given away over 5.2% of a shareholder’s ownership from January 1, 2010 to September 30, 2013. If you owned 100 shares at the end of 2010 you owned .000315% of the company. At the end of the period your ownership had been diluted to .000300% of the company.
When the stock value is rising rapidly (as Google’s has) it proves to be much more costly than if the company had just paid cash in the first place. In Google’s case you would own 5% more of the company and the cash stockpile Google had would be a bit lower (Google had $56,523,000,000 in cash at the end of Sep 2013).
For companies that don’t have cash (startups) paying employees with stock options makes sense. When companies have the cash it is mainly a way to hide how much the company is giving away to executives and to provide fake earnings where only a portion of employee pay is treated as an expense and the rest is magically ignored making earnings seem higher.
Related: Apple’s Outstanding Shares Increased a Great Deal the Last Few Years, Diluting Shareholder Equity – Global Stock Market Capitalization from 2000 to 2012 – Investment Options Are Much More Confusing to Chose From Now – Google up 13% on Great Earnings Announcement (2011)
The 12 stock for 10 years portfolio consists of stocks I would be comfortable putting away for 10 years. I look for companies with a history of large positive cash flow, that seemed likely to continue that trend.
Since April of 2005 the portfolio Marketocracy calculated annualized rate or return is 8.2% (the S&P 500 annualized return for the period is 7.8%). Marketocracy subtracts the equivalent of 2% of assets annually to simulate management fees – as though the portfolio were a mutual fund. Without that fee the return beats the S&P 500 annual return by about 240 basis points annually (10.2% to 7.8%). And I think the 240 basis point “beat” of the S&P rate is really less than a fair calculation, as the 200 basis point “deduction” removes what would be assets that would be increasing.
In reviewing the data it seemed to me the returns for TDF and EMF were too low. In examining the Marketocracy site they seem to have failed to credit dividends paid since 2010 (which are substantial – over 15% of the current value has been paid in dividends that haven’t been credited). I have written Marketocracy about the apparent problem. If I am right, the total return for the portfolio likely will go up several tens of basis points, maybe – perhaps to a 10.5% return? And the returns for those 2 positions should increase substantially.
Since the last update I have added Abbvie (part of the former Abbot which was split into two companies in 2013). I will sell TDF from the fund (I include it in the table below, since I haven’t sold it all yet).
The current stocks, in order of return:
|Stock||Current Return||% of sleep well portfolio now||% of the portfolio if I were buying today|
|Amazon – AMZN||622%||10%||10%|
|Google – GOOG||388%||18%||16%|
|Danaher – DHR||111%||10%||10%|
|Templeton Dragon Fund – TDF||100%***||3%||0%|
|PetroChina – PTR||82%||4%||4%|
|Toyota – TM||65%||9%||10%|
|Apple – AAPL||57%||15%||15%|
|Intel – INTC||32%||7%||7%|
|Templeton Emerging Market Fund – EMF||29%***||5%||7%|
|Pfizer – PFE||27%||6%||5%|
|Abbvie – ABBV||18%||3%||5%|
|Cisco – CSCO||12%||3%||4%|
|Tesco – TSCDY||-5%**||0%*||3%|
The current marketocracy results can be seen on the Sleep Well marketocracy portfolio page.
I make some adjustments to the stock holdings over time (selling of buying a bit of the stocks depending on large price movements – this rebalances and also lets me sell a bit if I think things are getting highly priced. So I have sold some Amazon and Google as they have increased greatly. These purchases and sales are fairly small (resulting in a annual turnover rate under 5%).
There are many asset allocation strategies; which often are pretty similar. In general they oversimplify the situation (so an investor needs to study and adjust them to their situation – though most don’t do this, which is a problem). In general, I think asset allocation suggestions are too heavily weighted on bonds, and that is even more true today in the current environment – of could that is just my opinion.
I ran across this suggested allocation in Eyewitness to a Wall Street mugging which I think has several good values.
- It focuses on low fee, market index funds. Fees are incredibly important in determining long term investment success
- It has lower bond allocation than normal
- It has more international exposure than many – which I think is wise (this suggested portfolio is for those in the USA, USA portion should be lowered for others)
- It includes real estate (some suggested allocations miss this entirely)
In my opinion this allocation should be adjusted as you get closer to retirement (put a bit more into more stable, income producing investments).
My personal preference is to use high quality dividend stocks in the current interest rate environment. I would buy them myself which does require a bit more work than once a year rebalancing that the lazy golfer portfolio allows.
I would also include 10% for Vanguard emerging markets fund (VWO) (for sake of a rule of thumb reduce Inflation Protected Securities Fund to 10% if you are more than 10 years from retirement, when between 10 and 1 year from retirement put Inflation Protected Securities Fund at 15% and Total Stock Market Index Fund at 35%, when 1 year from retirement or retired lower emerging market to 5% and put 5% in money market.
Depending on your other assets this portfolio should be adjusted (large real estate holdings [large net value on personal home, investment real estate…] can mean less real estate in this portfolio, 401k holdings may mean you want to tweak this [TIAA CREF has a very good real estate fund, if you have access to it you might make real estate a high value in your 401k and then adjust your lazy portfolio], large pension means you can lower income producing assets, how close you are to retirement, etc.).
The Lazy Golfer Portfolio (Annually rebalance the fund on your birthday and ignore Wall Street for the remaining 364 days of the year) contains 5 Vanguard index funds
- 40% Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSMX)
- 20% Total International Stock Index Fund (VGTSX)
- 20% Inflation Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX)
- 10% Total Bond Market Index Fund (VBMFX)
- 10% REIT Index Fund (VGSIX)
Related: Retirement Planning, Looking at Asset Allocation – Lazy Portfolio Results – Investment Risk Matters Most as Part of a Portfolio, Rather than in Isolation – Starting Retirement Account Allocations for Someone Under 40 – Taking a Look at Some Dividend Aristocrats
Looking at stock market capitalization by country gives some insight into how countries, and stocks, are doing. Looking at the total market capitalization by country doesn’t equate to the stock holdings by individuals in a country or the value of companies doing work in a specific country. Some countries (UK and Hong Kong, for example) have more capitalization based there than would be indicated by the size of their economy.
It is important to keep in mind the data is in current USA dollars, so big swings in exchange rates can have a big impact (and can cause swings to be exacerbated when they move in tandem with stock market movements – if for example the market declines by 15% and the currency declines by 10% against the US dollar those factors combine to move the result down).
As with so much recent economic data China’s performance here is remarkable. China grew from 1.8% of world capitalization in 2000 to 6.9% in 2012. And Hong Kong’s data is reported separately, as it normally is with global data sets. Adding Hong Kong to China’s totals would give 3.7% in 2000 with growth to to 8.9% in 2012 (Hong Kong stayed very stable – 1.9% in 2000, 2% in 2012). China alone (without HK) is very slightly ahead of Japan.
The first chart shows the largest 4 market capitalizations (2012: USA $18.6 trillion, China and Japan at $3.7 trillion and UK at $3 trillion). Obviously the dominance of the USA in this metric is quite impressive the next 7 countries added together don’t quite reach the USA’s stock market capitalization. I also including the data showing the global stock market capitalization divided by 3 (I just divide it by three to have the chart be more usable – it lets us see the overall global fluctuations but doesn’t cram all the other data in the lower third of the chart).
Canada is the 5th country by market capitalization (shown on the next chart) with $2 trillion. From 2000 to 2012 China’s market capitalization increased by $3.1 trillion. The USA increased by $3.6 trillion from a much larger starting point. China increased by 536% while the USA was up 23.5%. The world stock market capitalization increased 65% from 2000 to 2012.