Curious Cat Investing and Economics Blog Wed, 24 Mar 2021 03:52:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 New Health Care Insurance Subsidies in the USA Mon, 15 Mar 2021 15:31:33 +0000 The $1.9 trillion covid19 relief law (American Rescue Plan Act) includes large increases in health insurance subsidies in addition to the $1,400 per person payments to individuals. The law increases subsidies for 2 years.

Under the new law, nobody will have to pay more than 8.5% of their income on health insurance. The government will also pick up 100% of COBRA premiums through September. COBRA is health insurance for people who’ve lost their jobs.

“Probably about three-quarters of uninsured people in the U.S. who are citizens are going to be eligible for some sort of financial help,” said Cynthia Cox, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

I wrote before about the fact that under the old law, based on how the subsidy worked you could lose over $5,000 in health care subsidy payments by earning just enough to no longer be eligible for the subsidy. This new law eliminates that issue (for 2 years) as health insurance costs are now subsidized so that they cost no more than 8.5% of income (instead of having a hard cut off where subsidies go to $0).

A nurse giving a vaccination

For people most people that pay for their health care themselves (instead of their employer paying) this is likely a much larger benefit than the cash payment of $1,400.

The Kaiser Family Foundation calculator lets you get a quick idea of what your approximate subsidy benefit. A 55 year old earning $55,000 would be entitled to a subsidy of $4,700 about 50% of their health insurance costs (based on the USA average). For a 50 year old the subsidy would be $2,900 or 38%. For a 60 year old the subsidy would be $6,800 or 59%. For a couple of 35 year olds and 2 children the subsidy would be $12,100 per year or 72%.

For a 35 year old couple earning $85,000 with 2 children the subsidy would be $9,600 per year or 57%. And for a 55 year old earning $85,000 the the subsidy would be $2,200 per year or 23%.

Only the family of 4 would have been eligible for any subsidies under the old law (or will be eligible after this new law expires in 2 years). And the single 55 year old earning more than $80,000 is not eligible for the $1,400 payment but would receive $2,200 as a health care subsidy.

This is a huge personal finance benefit that has not been widely discussed but will have a huge impact on people’s financial health for the next 2 years.

Photo from CDC

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Individual Stock Portfolio Investment Planning Tue, 26 Jan 2021 19:32:37 +0000 Early last year when studying my portfolio I decided my two biggest positions (Apple and Google – those ready the blog won’t be surprised due to my 10 stocks for 10 years posts) continued to warrant the large portion of the portfolio they held. I also decided that I would systemically sell say 1% of Apple and 2% of Alphabet a year (the Apple dividend was also paying about 1% – actually it was more then but is much less now).

That was just a long term plan that helped me think about the long term portfolio management. But that, like all investment decision, was subject to revision. As both continued to soar I decided it made sense to sell more but maintain a similar plan, just maybe selling 2% and 4% a year (or something).

Basically I still like them as investments. I still feel both companies long term prospects are excellent. I do also feel both are pretty richly valued. They certainly do not seem to be the huge bargains they were 15 years ago. At first my main reasons for slowly selling some was mainly that the portions of the portfolio were growing a bit too high. At this time, that has become even more true. But also the prices are also getting very rich. Selling at these prices seems pretty attractive.

At these prices if I sold more now and then prices decline I can have already cashed in my planned yearly sales (based on my original plan) and therefore could hold off for several years (instead of selling at those reduced prices). And if the prices continue to go up, well I still own a lot of them and so I will profit handsomely in that case.

I have a new 2nd largest holding – Sea Limited ($SE). It is a Singapore based company that I am very high on for the long term. I bought a fair amount, all in that last year. But nowhere near enough to be my second largest holding. However my originally purchases were in the $50s and $60 and today, less than a year since my first purchase, it is at $217. It is a richly valued stock but I believe the potential is still very promising I have no plans on selling any of this anytime soon. It is volatile, it is down 5% today.

It is useful to think about the long term and even to make tentative plans. But, as an investor, adjust those plans as conditions change. I see such plans as helpful thoughts and reminders, not plans to follow automatically.

I do continue to find that the existing prices in the market make finding great investments difficult. I am normally very “over-invested” in the stock market. I have been trying to reduce how over-invested I am. I am doing that a bit less successfully than I would like. But I am raising some cash. I do remain over-invested, which is fine for me, but I also am a bit more over-invested than I think is warranted. I will continue to try to raise some cash. It is a bit difficult for me as I am naturally drawn to make investments when I see available cash to invest.

Related: Retirement Portfolio Allocation for 2020Long Term Changes in Underlying Stock Market Valuation

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Finding Great Investments Keeps Getting Harder Wed, 12 Aug 2020 17:20:03 +0000 In some ways investing recently has been pretty easy, anything you have bought (almost) goes up – and usually goes up a lot. But when looking for bargains to invest in, it just keeps getting more and more difficult in my opinion.

Apple’s most recent earnings report was spectacular. However, unlike when similar things happened 8 years ago, when such great news allowed you to buy a great company cheaply even after great news now Apple went from an already pricy level and added 10% to that the next day. And it has continued to go up. Apple is by far my largest holding (given how expensive it is, a fairly crazy 25%). So I do still like the company long term, but I have been selling a bit the last year (though not nearly enough to keep it from dominating my portfolio more and more).

Years ago it was easy for me to buy Apple and be very confident I would do very well over the next 5 to 10 years. Now I am more hopeful than confident. And one reason why I continue to hold so much is I don’t see other great buys.

In the last 6 months I did make a big buy of Sea Limited ($SE) a company based in Singapore with large gaming, internet commerce and emoney interests. They are especially focused on South East Asia. I bought a lot of this quickly and that has proved wise (at least so far). I made it my 3rd largest holding (Alphabet is 2nd) very quickly and I am up over 100% already. It is speculative. But given my options it seemed like a great opportunity. I would have been much slower to increase the size of this position if I had other options I really liked.

Overall I am going much more into cash as a safe haven than I have before. Normally I am extremely overweight stocks. Even today I am still overweight stocks compared to the conventional wisdom (and the only bonds I hold are Series I USA Savings Bonds (which are actually a good investment option, though you are limited to buying $10,000 per year).

While the markets are giving investors great returns finding good buys is becoming more and more difficult (at least for me). For example, my 10 Stocks for 10 Years (2018 version) has done very well. But several of those stocks are much less a bargain today that they were. Apple is up from $225 to $450. Danaher from $103 to $206. Amazon from $2,000 to $3,150. Tencent from $43 to $68. Alibaba from $175 to $256. The only stock down is Abbvie, from $97 to $95 (though with dividends, it yields 5% now, it is up a small bit). Abbive seems like the rare bargain to me today. While there are short term risks Tencent and Alibaba also seem to be priced reasonably and offer good long term potential.

I think, my post, Long Term Changes in Underlying Stock Market Valuation, provides insight into the challenges of consistently finding the type of values today than was possible in previous decades.

Related: Investment Options Are Much Less Comforting Than Normal These Days (2013)Retirement Portfolio Allocation for 2020Tucows: Building 3 Businesses With Strong Positive Cash Flow

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Huge Growth in USA Corporate Debt from 2005 to 2020 Mon, 09 Mar 2020 16:50:34 +0000 There are many problems with the extremely low interest rates available in decade since the too-big-to-fail financial crisis. The interest rates seem to me to be artificially sustained by massive central bank actions for 12 years now.

Extraordinarily low rates encourage businesses to borrow money, after all how hard is it to invest in something that will return the business more than a few percent a year (that they can borrow at). Along with the continued efforts by the central banks to flood the economy with money any time there is even a slowdown in growth teaches companies to not worry about building a business that can survive bad times. Just borrow and if necessary borrow more if you are having trouble then just borrow more.

chart showing the growth of usa corporate debt from 2005 to 2020

USA corporate debt has increased from a bit over $2 trillion in 2005 to over $7 trillion in 2020.

This isn’t a healthy way to build an economy. Businesses should be robust and able to sustain themselves if the economy experiences a recession and interest rates rise and the ability to borrow decreases.

Extremely low interest rates hide a huge potential cost if interest rates rise. Sure the huge debt is covered by cash flow in good times with the interest rate on your debt is 4%. What happens if interest rates rise to 6% and the economy declines? At some point investors (and banks) are going to realize that huge debt burdens on companies that are overly leveraged are not safe and deserve a premium interest rate.

I don’t think there is any risk to companies with very strong balance sheets and a business model that won’t have any trouble maintaining positive cash flow in a significant recession (Apple, Abbvie, Google, Costco, etc.). But many businesses are over-leveraged and at a significant risk of default in a bad economy.

The stock market is down quite a bit today partially due to the worry that the leveraged oil shale companies in the USA will go under if OPEC does not manage to restrict the supply of oil in order to keep oil prices high (or at least keep oil prices from collapsing).

Plenty of leveraged buyouts (where private equity firms take out cash and leave behind barely functional businesses) are barely able to survive even with extremely low interest rates. Those companies are in danger of failing when they experience even a small problems.

Artificially low rates (due to massive central bank intervention) also deprive savers of a reasonable return on their bonds. This either transfers money from savers to debtors. It also encourages savers to move more money in the stock market in order to get a reasonable return. It is healthy for savers to invest in the stock market. But it is better if they can balance some of their portfolio in bonds and money market funds that pay a reasonable rate.

The debt load in the economy makes the economy less able to absorb economic shocks. Companies like Apple and Google with huge net cash positions have no problem absorbing large economic shocks.

Many other companies have not only not built up cash reserves during the long economic expansion of the last 10 years but have actually added on huge amounts of debt. Some of those did so wisely and sustainably and will be able to survive economic downturns. Given the huge amount of debt many companies have taken on some companies will not be able to survive. And depending on how many fail that will have a cascade effect that puts more companies at peril.

So long as economic times are relatively good and huge amounts or credit are available to nearly any company it is easy to have poorly managed companies seem to prosper. When that tide turns the huge debt level can create a much larger downturn than would otherwise have happened.

Related: Too Much Leverage Killed MervynsLeverage, Complex Deals and ManiaLooking for Dividend Stocks in the Current Extremely Low Interest Rate Environment (2011)

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Retirement Portfolio Allocation for 2020 Tue, 18 Feb 2020 15:34:35 +0000 The markets continue to provide difficult options to investors. In the typical market conditions of the last 50 years I think a sensible portfolio allocation was not that challenging to pick. I would choose a bit more in stocks than bonds than the commonly accepted strategy. And I would choose to put a bit more overseas and in real estate.

But if that wasn’t done and even something like 60% stocks and 40% bonds were chosen it would seem reasonable (or 60% stocks 25% bonds and 15% money market – I really prefer a substantial cushion in cash in retirement). Retirement planning is fairly complex and many adjustments are wise for an individual’s particular situation (so keep in mind this post is meant to discuss general conditions today and not suggest what is right for any specific person).

I wrote about Retirement Savings Allocation for 2010: 5% real estate, 35% global stocks, 5% money market, 55% USA stocks. This was when I was young and accumulating my retirement portfolio.

Today, investment conditions make investing in retirement more difficult than normal. With interest rates so low bonds provide little yield and have increased risk (due to how much long term bond prices would fall if interest rates rise, given how low interest rates are today). And with stocks so highly valued the likelihood of poor long term returns at these levels seems higher than normal.

So the 2 options for the simplest version of portfolio allocation are less attractive than usual, provide lower income than usual and have great risk of decline than usual. That isn’t a good situation.

photo with view of Glacier National Park,

View of Glacier National Park (a nice place to go in retirement, or before retirement) by John Hunter

I do think looking for dividend stocks to provide some current yield in this situation makes sense. And in so doing substitute them for a portion of the bond portfolio. This strategy isn’t without risk, but given the current markets I think it makes sense.

I have always thought including real estate as part of a portfolio was wise. It makes even more sense today. In the past Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) were very underrepresented in the S&P 500 index, in 2016 and 2017 quite a few REITs were added. This is useful to provide some investing in REITs for those who rely on the S&P 500 index funds for their stock investments. Still I would include REIT investments above and beyond their portion of the S&P 500 index. REITs also provide higher yields than most stocks and bonds today so they help provide current income.

While I am worried about the high valuations of stocks today I don’t see much option but to stay heavily invested in stocks. I generally am very overweight stocks in my portfolio allocation. I do think it makes sense to reduce how overweight in stocks my portfolio is (and how overweight I think is sensible in general).

Investing in commodities is another option that I have not considered seriously before (other options were adequate and I was comfortable with them). I am getting closer to spending time researching investing options in those areas but I still haven’t seriously looked at them. There are more interesting than they have been previously given how the other options look today.

I did experiment with peer to peer loans. I have withdrawn most of my investment from that but it is worth consideration, especially for someone seeking current income. I have achieved a bit under 5% return on those investments. Not a great return but it beats what bonds will give you. Likely peer to peer investing returns will suffer in a recession (probably even more than bonds will).

In retirement, today for someone living in the USA I would consider a reasonable portfolio allocation something like:

  • 30% total USA stock market index fund
  • 15% global stock market index funds
  • 10% emerging market index fund (that includes China, such as the Vanguard Emerging Markets fund – VMO)
  • 10% global REIT fund
  • 20% money market fund
  • 15% short term USA treasury fund

If there isn’t a substantial portion (say above 30% – from social security and other sources) of retirement income that currently comes from annuities I would strong consider buying an immediate or deferred fixed annuity to bring in about 10% to 20% of retirement income (to bring total annuity income to 20-40% of income). The low interest rates now do result in disappointing returns but the increased yield due to life expectancy across the population provides a good effective yield. Annuity income can substitute for bond income in a person’s financial situation; so a higher annuity income level can make a higher stock portion of a retirement portfolio reasonable.

Of course the investment portfolio for someone’s particular situation needs to be adjusted for their overall financial situation. How old are they, are they early in retirement, what is life expectancy? Are they married? How much of their income is provided by annuities and what sources of annuity income do they have (social security, annuities, pension…)? Wether they own their own house and how much equity they have in their house? How much of their investment portfolio do they need to spend on current expenses each year…

In retirement, I personally would choose something like:

  • 45% individual stocks that I pick (USA and overseas)
  • 10% emerging market funds
  • 5% global REIT fund
  • 5% global health care fund
  • 10% rental house
  • 23% money market fund
  • 2% peer to peer lending

A portion of my individual stocks would be stocks picked for current and future income (dividend stocks with a good chance to increase dividends in the long term – like Abbvie and possibly some REITs).

Another consideration is that you likely need to increase how much of current income to save for retirement than I suggested in 2013 (due to lower expected investment returns).

I do believe it makes sense to hold quite a bit more cash (money market, CDs…) today that normally makes sense (I plan on added a post soon sharing more detailed thoughts on this idea). Since bonds yield so little today and have greater risk at these levels it makes sense to use cash to reduce risk.

Owning and renting physical real estate is also an attractive idea given the existing situation. Investing that way requires quite a bit of effort, energy and attention. I have rented the first house I bought (that I had lived in for 7 years) since I bought my second house. And when I have been overseas or out of state for several years I have rented my second house. I am now in the process of selling my second house, not for investment reasons but just to make my life simpler (and to diversify – the large increase in value of both houses has left my portfolio heavily concentrated in those 2 houses).

There are also issues with buying physical real estate, such as I can easily sell 5% of my shares in Apple, I can’t easily sell 5% of my rental property. But I think purely as an investment physical real estate makes a great deal of sense (especially in the existing conditions). If someone is comfortable taking on all the issues owning real estate brings it would make sense to have up to 20% of assets invested in that area it seems to me.

Related: Investment Options Are Much Less Comforting Than Normal These Days (2013)Investment Risk Matters Most as Part of a Portfolio, Rather than in IsolationSaving for Retirement (2006)

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Tencent Gaming Sat, 25 Jan 2020 16:52:55 +0000 Tencent is one of the stocks in my 10 stocks for 10 years portfolio. In fact it is my largest holding (when you consider that Tencent shares owned by Naspers. Some others have performed better since my reboot of the portfolio in August of 2018: Apple (from 225 to 318) and Danaher (from 103 to 162) and Naspers (33 to 34, which might not seem so great but 2 spinoffs provide another 15) but I still like Tencent a great deal for the next 8 to 10 years.

Tencent has quite a few huge global businesses. One of the most promising areas is Tencent Gaming. Tencent has ownership in many of the largest computer gaming companies globally.

Tencent’s ownership share in Gaming companies

  • Tencent Games – Honor of Kings (Arena of Valor outside of China) and esports leagues
  • Riot Games (100%) – League of Legends and esports leagues
  • Supercell (84%) – Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, and Brawl Stars
  • Epic Games (40%) – Fortnite and Unreal Engine (gaming engine used to create many games)
  • Activision Blizzard (5%) – Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch, Guitar Hero and Candy Crush. They are also involved with esports. (Activision Blizzard is a public company in the USA valued at $46 billion)
  • Ubisoft (5%) – Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Just Dance and Prince of Persia. (public French company worth $8.7 billion)
  • Grinding Gear Games (80%) – Path of Exile
  • Glu Mobile (14%) – many smaller games (public USA company valued at $915 million)
  • Bluehole (12%) – PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
  • Paradox Interactive (5%) – Stellaris, Europa Universalis, Hearts of Iron, Crusader Kings, Cities: Skylines (public Swedish company valued at $1.2 billion?)
  • Funcom (29%) (public Norwegian company valued at $145 million – after the stock price increased last week due to a Tencent a buyout offer)
  • Sumo Digital (10%)

Tencent also have an undisclosed majority stake in Miniclip. And they own large portions of Huya and Douyu, both are big players in streaming games (similar to Twitch and YouTube Gaming).

Tencent’s subsidiary, TiMi Studios, developed Activision’s Call of Duty: Mobile.

Tencent gaming revenue struggled in 2019 due to regulatory actions in China created problems for all game publishers there. Long term global gaming revenue should continue to grow quickly and Tencent stands to be one of the best positioned companies to profit from that trend.

Tencent gaming revenue accounts for about 30% of Tencent’s revenue.

Tencent owns or has invested in more than 800 companies to date. Over 150 of those companies are valued at more than $1 billion. An broad overview of Tencent’s platforms is shown in this figure from their 2019 3rd quarter presentation.

image of Tencent platforms 3rd quarter 2019

Tencent has a market capitalization of $470 billion, making it one of the top 10 most valuable companies in the world.

Related: Amazon Using a Costco Strategy?It is Not Time to Sell Apple (2013)Interview with Investing Blogger John Hunter (2015)

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Tucows: Building 3 Businesses With Strong Positive Cash Flow Tue, 14 May 2019 15:43:45 +0000 This post is an exploration of a specific stock Tucows (TCX). Tucows, based in Canada, has built from their domain registration business into a company with 3 businesses poised for predictable cash flow generation.

In 2012 Tucows added Ting Mobile, a business that resells access to cell phone networks (Sprint, for CDMA, and T-mobile for GSM phones).  This is not a flashy business but is a reliable cash flow generator.

In 2015 they added Ting Fiber, which builds fiber networks for small communities that have long been mistreated by incumbent Internet Service Providers (ISPs – such as Comcast and AT&T).  This business requires a large up front investment but once it is operating provides a large and reliable cash flow.

Tucows has leveraged the cash flow from the domain registration business to build Ting business and now is leveraging the cash from both of those businesses to build the Ting Fiber business.  I believe the Ting Fiber business is going to be a long term very profitable business.

Tucows’ commitment to customer service is a way they differentiate themselves from their competitors.  They provide great customer service for the Ting service (I have been a customer for years specifically due to the good customer service).

Domain Services Business

OpenSRS and Enom are Tucows’ wholesale domain name providers.

This is a fairly boring business where the key is providing reliable service at a good price. It is not a high margin business, but one that consistently generates cash for Tucows.

If you look at the domain services business you will note that sales have decreased in 2018, this is due to Tucows a large customer (that had a very low margin deal with Tucows) that transferred away a 2.7 million domains.  This seems to be a good business move but it does cause investors that don’t look closely to worry.  They see a decline in revenue for their domain services businesses and worry about the long term prospects.

But investors that understand that this reflects a 1 time decrease in revenue may have the potential to pick up a bargain.  The remainder of the business is expected to remain, and while it isn’t expected to grow much it should continue to provide cash to be invested elsewhere by Tucows.

Ting Mobile

Ting Mobile provides cell phone plans for as little at $10 a month.  The charges are based off usage and are calculated based on the actual usage each month.  For those that do not frequently use the data plans on their phones or have very high minutes of usage they are much cheaper than traditional plans. The average Ting Mobile subscriber bill is $23 (from Nov 2018 Tucows Investor presentation).

map of the USA showing Ting coverage

Ting coverage map

I don’t think they are competitive in prices for those that are heavy users of their smart phones.  The image shows the phone call and text coverage map for CDMA devices on the Ting Mobile network.

So many companies market as though they care about customers yet they almost all treat customers very poorly.  Ting is one the very few exceptions I have seen to that rule (Trader Joe’s is another).

This part of Tucows’ business has been generating profit consistently and continues to grow.  It is not a very exciting business but it is profitable and their great customer service helps maintain customers for the long term.

image showing Ting mobile growth and good customer service score

The graphic (from Tucows investor presentation, Nov 2018) shows a slowly growing business with great customer satisfaction compared to their competitors.

Ting Internet

Ting Internet has already launched Gigabit speed internet service (via fiber) in Charlottesville, Virginia; Westminster, Maryland and Holly Springs, North Carolina.  They have announced that Centennial, Colorado is the next location they will start building out in 2019.

Tucows provides very clear data on the costs of building out their fiber network and the expected returns.  The costs are $2,500 – $3,000 per home.  This value is based on amortizing the costs of building out the town’s infrastructure and assumes a 50% of the houses eligible to subscribe do subscribe to Ting Internet (within 2 to 5 years).

The Ting Fiber business is yet to bring in much revenue and is currently requiring cash to build up their infrastructure at each location.  But 2019 should start to see significant additions of customers that are added as new neighborhoods go live and can start collecting income from customers.  The initial site should be cash flow positive in 2019.

From their Nov 2018 conference call

In Q3, we added about 2,000 addresses and 900 customers to get to totals of 22,500 serviceable addresses and 6,200 active customers. With 3 towns, Sandpoint, Centennial and Fuquay-Varina, still in the foundational stages of construction, you will see outsized serviceable addresses added next quarter and thus we still expect to reach right around 30,000 serviceable addresses by the end of this year. And we continue to be pleased with how these serviceable addresses are translating predictably into subscribers and recurring margin.

we continue to feel confident about the core business as model, adoption of 20% after 1 year and 50% after 5 years, customers are indeed delivering $1,000 a year in margin and our build costs are coming in between 1,000 to 1,500 per serviceable address or $2,500 to $3,000 per customer at that projected 50% adoption.

I see Ting Internet as the most exciting long term cash flow generator.  That business has a strong “moat” (it is difficult for competitors to get into the market).  Their other businesses rely on good management to squeeze value from a challenging business environment.  They continue to do that well, but they have little room for mistakes in the other 2 businesses, their competitors could take away their customers if they stumble or try to raise costs to consumers.

That Ting fiber business continues to grow. Currently it is requiring quite a bit of capital to invest in that infrastructure but the initial investments are starting to generate cash and that trend will continue.

Tucows stock cratered over 20% after the most recent earnings without justification in my opinion. The Ting mobile business has what appear to be some short term challenges but I think people greatly overreacted to that issue.

The stock had been going up quite a bit (and maybe got a bit ahead of itself so some pullback may have been warranted) but the decline was overdone. I had been watching it for several years and for the right portfolio and investment objectives this price decline offers an attractive entry point (it is just under $65 as I publish this post). It is the kind of company I want to hold for many years.

Related: Amazon Using a Costco Strategy?Is it Time to Sell Apple? from 2013 (“No, it is not time to sell Apple”)Apple’s Impossibly Good Quarter (2012)

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The 20 Most Valuable Companies in the World – Jan 2019 Mon, 14 Jan 2019 07:14:16 +0000 This post lists the 20 publicly traded companies with the largest market capitalization as of today. Since my November 2017 list of the 20 most valuable stocks the value of 2 companies increased by more than $150 billion and 4 companies value decreased by over $100 billion.

In the 20 most valuable companies list there are 13 USA companies, 4 Chinese companies and 1 each for Korea, Netherlands and Switzerland. The remaining 15 companies with market caps above $200 billion are based in: USA 10, China 2, Switzerland 2 and Japan 1.

Company Country Market Capitalization
1 Amazon USA $802 billion
2 Microsoft USA $789 billion
3 Alphabet (GOOGL) USA $737 billion
4 Apple USA $720 billion
5 Berkshire Hathaway USA $482 billion
6 Facebook USA $413 billion
7 Tencent China $404 billion*
8 Alibaba China $392 billion
9 Johnson & Johnson USA $348 billion
10 China Unicom China $333 billion

Amazon soared $220 billion since my November 2017 post and became the most valuable company in the world. Microsoft soared $147 billion and became the most valuable company in the world briefly before Amazon took the crown.

Apple lost $178 billion since my November 2017 post (after passing $1 trillion in market capitalization during 2018, up $100 billion from the November 2017 total, before declining). Facebook lost $118 billion off their market cap. Tencent lost $104 billion and Alibaba lost $100 billion in value during the same period.

Google increased 8 billion (since my November 2017 post).

The next ten most valuable companies:

Company Country Market Capitalization
11 JPMorgan Chase USA $332 billion
12 Visa USA $304 billion
13 Exxon Mobil USA $304 billion
14 Walmart USA $276 billion
15 Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) China $270 billion*
16 Bank of America USA $255 billion
17 Nestle Switzerland $255 billion
18 Royal Dutch Shell Netherlands $250 billion
19 Pfizer USA $249 billion
20 Samsung Korea $240 billion

Market capitalization shown are of the close of business November 26th, as shown on Google Finance.

Pfizer is the only new company in the top 20, growing by $37 billion to reach $249 billion and take the 19th spot (Wells Fargo dropped out of the top 20 and into 25th place).

Related: Global Stock Market Capitalization from 2000 to 2012Stock Market Capitalization by Country from 1990 to 2010Historical Stock Returns

Between $255 billion (which earns 15th place) and $223 billion there are 13 companies with market caps very close to each other.

A few other companies of interest (based on their market capitalization):

Verizon, USA, $240 billion
UnitedHealth, USA, $238 billion
Procter & Gamble, USA, $229 billion
China Construction Bank, China, $226 billion*
Wells Fargo, USA, $225 billion

Novartis, Switzerland, $224 billion
Roche, Switzerland, $224 billion
Intel, USA, $223 billion
Chevron, USA, $215 billion
China Mobile, China, $209 billion
Toyota, Japan, $203 billion
Home Depot, USA, $203 billion
Mastercard, USA, $202 billion
Coca-Cola, USA, $202 billion
Boeing, USA, $200 billion

Others of interest, below $200 billion market capitalization:

Cisco, USA, $196 billion
Merck, USA, $195 billion
Petro China, China, $185 billion
Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC), Taiwan, $183 billion
Agricultural Bank of China, China, $179 billion*
Oracle, USA, $173 billion
Walt Disney, USA, $168 billion
HSBC, UK, $167 billion
Comcast, USA, $162 billion
Ping An Insurance, China, $158 billion
Unilever, UK, $153 billion
PepsiCo, USA, $153 billion
Bank of China, China, $152 billion*

Netflix, USA, $147 billion
Total, France, $142 billion
McDonald’s, USA, $141 billion
Citigroup, USA, $138 billion
BP, UK, $135 billion
Abbvie, USA, $133 billion
Amgen, USA, $128 billion
DowDuPont, USA, $127 billion
Anheuser Busch, Belgium, $125 billion
SAP, Germany, $125 billion
BHP, Australia, $113 billion
L’Oreal, France, $111 billion
IBM, USA, $110 billion
Sanofi, France, $106 billion
Royal Bank of Canada, $105 billion
Broadcom, USA, $102 billion

Naspers, South Africa, $95 billion (Naspers owns 31% of Tencent – that stake is worth more than Naspers’ market cap by itself)
China Petroleum & Chemical, China, $95 billion
Novo Nordisk, Denmark, $93 billion
Commonwealth Bank of Australia, $92 billion**
NVIDIA, USA, $91 billion
NTT, Japan, $90 billion**
Gilead Sciences, USA, $88 billion
Banco Santander, Spain, $81 billion
Softbank, Japan $78
China Life Insurance Company, China, $78 billion
GE, USA, $78 billion (losing over 50%, 80 billion, since November 2017)

Market capitalization figures were taken from Google finance. ADRs were chosen, if available (so I get the cap reported in USD).
* market cap taken from Google finance based on the Hong Kong exchange (no ADRs option was available) and converted to USD.
** converted from Australian dollars or Japanese Yen to USD

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20 Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Investing and Economics Blog in 2018 Mon, 31 Dec 2018 17:40:18 +0000 The most popular posts on the Curious Cat Investing and Economics blog in 2018 (based on page views).

  1. Default Rates on Loans by Credit Score (2015)
  2. Stock Market Capitalization by Country from 2000 to 2016 (2017)
  3. Stock Market Capitalization by Country from 1990 to 2010 (2012)
  4. The 20 Most Valuable Companies in the World – November 2017
  5. USA Household Debt Jumps to Record $13.15 Trillion (2018)*
  6. Save What You Can, Increase Savings as You Can Do So (2012)*
  7. Top 10 Countries for Manufacturing Production in 2010: China, USA, Japan, Germany… (posted in 2011)
  8. Government Debt as Percentage of GDP 1990-2009: USA, Japan, Germany, China… (2010)
  9. Manufacturing Output as a Percent of GDP by Country (1980 to 2008) (2010)
  10. “Explaining” Random Variation in Financial Data (2018)*
  11. chart of top 5 counties by stock market capitalization (2000 to 2016)

    The chart shows the top countries based on stock market capitalization, with data from 2000 to 2016. The chart was created by Curious Cat Investing and Economics Blog may be used with attribution. Data from the World Bank.

  12. Monopolies and Oligopolies do not a Free Market Make (2008)
  13. Factfulness – An Extremely Valuable Book (2018)*
  14. 10 Stocks for 10 Years (2018 version) *
  15. Health Savings Accounts in the USA, a spectacular personal finance option (2018)*
  16. Long Term Changes in Underlying Stock Market Valuation (2017)
  17. The USA Doesn’t Understand that the 1950s and 1960s are Not a Reasonable Basis for Setting Expectations (2011)
  18. We Need to Start Electing People That Fix Problems Instead of Watching Things Burn (2017)*
  19. Looking at GDP Growth Per Capita for Selected Countries from 1970 to 2010 (2011)*
  20. Buybacks, Giveaways to Executives and Non-GAAP Earnings (2016)
  21. USA Health Care Spending 2013: $2.9 trillion $9,255 per person and 17.4% of GDP (2015)

* 8 posts appears this year that didn’t appear in the top 20 last year; 1 was first published in 2011, 1 in 2012, 1 in 2017 and 5 in 2018.

As with my other blogs, the most popular posts show that old posts stay popular for a long time. This blog is actually the blog with the most recency bias. Even so, 8 or the top 20 are more than 5 year old. Number of top 20 posts by year of publication:

2018: 5
2017: 4
2016: 1
2015: 2

2012: 2
2011: 3
2010: 2

2008: 1

Related: 20 Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Investing and Economics Blog in 2017The 20 Most Popular Post on the Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog in 201820 Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Investing and Economics Blog in 201620 Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Investing and Economics Blog in 2014

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An Inverted Yield Curve Predicts Recessions in the USA Tue, 04 Dec 2018 11:27:01 +0000 When 2 year US government bonds yield more than the 10 year US government bonds a recession is likely to appear soon. This chart shows why this is seen as such a reliable predictor.

chart showing 2 year v 10 year US government bond yields from 1988 to 2018

The chart shows the 10 year yield minus the 2 year yield. So when the value falls below 0 that means the 2 year yield is higher. Each time that happened, since 1988, a recession has followed (the grey shaded areas in the chart).

Do note that there were very small inversions in 1998 and 2006 that did not result in a recession in the near term. Also note that in every case the yield curve was no longer inverted by the time a recession actually started.

The reason why this phenomenon is getting so much attention recently is another thing that is apparent when looking at this chart, the 2 and 10 year yields are getting close to equal. But you can also see we are no closer than 1994 and the USA economy held off a recession for 7 more years.

Since 1970 the average length of time from the inversion of the 10 to 2 year yield curve has been 12 months (with a low of 6 months in 1973 and a high of 17 months, before the great recession of 2008).

In addition to a possibly impending yield curve inversion it has been a long time since the last recession which makes many investors and economists nervous that one may be due.

Related: 30 Year Fixed Mortgage Rates are not correlated with the Fed Funds RateBond Yields Stay Very Low, Treasury Yields Drop Even More (2010)Looking for Dividend Stocks in the Current Extremely Low Interest Rate Environment (2011)Stock Market Capitalization by Country from 2000 to 2016

Another thing to note about yield curves at this time is that the US Federal Reserve continues to hold an enormous amount of long term government debt (trillions of dollars) which it has never done before the credit crisis of 2008. This reduces the long term yield since if they sold those assets that would add a huge amount of supply. How this impacts the predictive value of this measure will have to be seen. Also, one way for the Fed to delay the inversion would be to sell some of those bonds and drive up long term rates.

The Federal Reserve has taken very slow steps to start reducing the amount of long term debt they hold. That links show a chart of the debt increasing from $870 million to over $4 Trillion (the unprecedented move was first taken to bail out the banks and save the economy from the destruction that would result from allowing all the banks that took risks they couldn’t survive to fail). At the start of 2018 the debt holdings at the Fed stood at $4.4 trillion. As of last week that has decreased to $4.1 trillion.

The Fed has not made clear how far they intend to reduce their holdings though it seems unlikely they are aiming at even reducing to $1 trillion (33% above where it stood before the “too big to fail bailout of 2008”). And the pace of the reduction is not really clear though for the time being they have indicated they will move slowly, as they have done this year. They haven’t indicated they plan on dramatically increase that pace. I do think it would be wise to speed up moving off more of the long term bond holding that they have and allow markets to return to a more normal state of affairs.

As I explained in a post on this blog in 2015 that I believed the Fed should raise the Fed Funds rate. They delayed a bit longer than I would have but the fed funds rates is much closer to where it should be today than when I wrote that article. It is likely increase again this month (which I believe would be wise).

I would likely increase fed funds rates a bit faster than is likely to happen in 2019. But if I could choose to increase the reduction in the Fed balance sheet (sell off more of their long term holding than they plan to) or increase the fed funds rate more than they plan to I would choose to speed up the reduction in the Fed balance sheet. My thoughts in doing so isn’t aimed at delaying a inversion of the yield curve, but it would likely result in such a delay.

I would like to see the Fed balance sheet reduced to $2 trillion as fast as possible (it is a complicated matter to determine how quickly that could be down without dramatic impacts on the economy). I would hope to do so in say 3 years (but that is a wild guess, I haven’t studied what is actually reasonable given the realities of the market). And then I would like to continue the reduction to $1 trillion (or less).

Graph from the St. Louis Fed

Economic Forecasts with the Yield Curve (Research from Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, this study used 10 year versus 1 year rates): “Every U.S. recession in the past 60 years was preceded by a negative term spread, that is, an inverted yield curve. Furthermore, a negative term spread was always followed by an economic slowdown and, except for one time, by a recession.”

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