Month: May 2019

Autonomy: Freedom, Independence…

© Can Stock Photo / RioPatuca

Dictionary definitions of autonomy talk about freedom and independence. This is fitting, when you think about what autonomous or self-driving vehicles (AV) are going to do for those who are unable to drive. And that is just part of the story.

In our society, a drivers license has long represented freedom and independence – autonomy, in other words. One of the toughest issues in dealing with friends or elders with diminishing abilities has been that moment when driving a car becomes a threat to one’s self and others. And some among us have never been able to drive, due to injury, sickness, or congenital conditions.

Progress has been made in the development of autonomous cars. Within the next few years, we are likely to see the first widely available autonomous vehicles. This will make it possible for those who cannot drive to live autonomously, independently, on their own. Delivery of goods and services may be more widely available than ever before. Getting to a medical appointment or store will be routine for nearly anyone, in any condition.

An even larger benefit might come from a reduction in motor vehicle injuries and fatalities. When a self-driving car is implicated in an accident, everybody hears about it – the news covers it extensively. Yet these incidents rarely happen. And each month, more people die in US traffic accidents in conventional vehicles than were killed on 9/11.

From an investment standpoint, it is possible to own stock in several of the leading approaches to autonomous vehicles. A significant fraction of the value of one of the traditional auto companies is in its autonomous vehicle division. With another company, you gain ownership in an aggressive AV development program along with the leading internet search business, among other things. These are established, profitable companies. The third is a somewhat controversial, newer company that has yet to book a full-year profit, as it works on building an electric vehicle business.

In the investment advisory accounts we manage through LPL Financial, we have chosen a number of paths to gain exposure to the evolution of the automobile. This diversified approach will hopefully bear fruit in the years to come. No guarantees, of course.

Just as in the 1990’s, it was difficult to understand the pervasive changes the internet would bring to everyday life, autonomous vehicles may present a transformation as sweeping. We humans tend to believe things will be as they are now – it is hard to visualize change. But we believe change is coming.

We will continue to study and watch. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss. There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.

Consolidating Gains

© Can Stock Photo / designer491

In the course of our weekly research, we found a theme worth talking about.

Some notable long term gains have been notched in the past by companies that consolidated a highly fragmented industry over a period of decades. For example, many years ago, it seemed that most towns had two or three trash hauling companies. There were thousands of them across the country.

Now, a large fraction of our garbage is handled by just a few companies. Each of the giants grew faster than the overall economy, or the waste removal industry, through acquisition of companies and contracts as they consolidated the industry.

There are reasons why this happens:

• A bigger player spreads overhead over a larger operation.
• Larger scale might mean lower cost for equipment and supplies.
• Resources may be shared among different locations.

All of these things and more boost profits, or reduce costs, or both.

This is why we are excited to find the largest player in a highly fragmented industry available at what we believe is a favorable price. We cannot know the future, but thinking that the big will get bigger seems promising. Consolidation has been a durable feature of modern economies.

We own the largest player in each of three fragmented industries, companies that are growing their share of the market. Values bounce around in the short run, as with any long term investment. There are no guarantees.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

This Will Pay Dividends

© Can Stock Photo / lightkeeper

One of the joys of thinking is that every once in a while, you might come up with a good idea. We are hoping we just did exactly that.

Our buy list, the securities we believe have favorable prospects for the years ahead, provides the building blocks for your portfolios. We rank them in order of timeliness, together with a weighting or percentage each should have. When funds are available in a portfolio, we start at the top of this cascade and fill up each holding to the desired weighting.

In our research and portfolio management, our object has long been to maximize total returns.

The bright idea? We re-ranked the Buy List based on dividend yield, and changed the weightings to reflect an income emphasis. By taking the top twenty dividend payers on the list and putting more weight on the better payers, we come up with a healthy dividend yield in a portfolio that has the potential to grow, too. Income and growth.

Dividend payments could be used to reinvest and compound your income or taken as a monthly payment, your choice.

Is this right for you? Maybe, maybe not. Our traditional “total return” approach is more suitable for many. Both alternatives feature holdings that fluctuate in value. These “income emphasis” portfolios will be more concentrated, although having twenty holdings provides diversification.

If you would like to talk about this, or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss. There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.

The payment of dividends is not guaranteed. Companies may reduce or eliminate the payment of dividends at any given time.

Writing the Book on Investing

© Can Stock Photo / alexskopje

In the 21st century, it is possible to be more open about every aspect of business than ever before. Digital communications enable us to describe in real time what we are doing, why, how, and for whom with a level of detail that was not possible in the last century.

We have always had a well-defined investment process. We know what we want to own, and why. Since 2015 we have been able to share insights about our views, thinking, philosophies, strategies, and tactics here on the blog at 228Main.com. Those of you who are regular readers have perhaps gained a good sense of what we are about.

It is time to take it to the next level. We are working to comprehensively document our investment management process, from philosophy to research sources to investment selection methods to portfolio structure to tailoring client fit to trading protocols to client and account review process. We will be writing a book.

As great thinker Morgan Housel wrote, “writing crystallizes ideas in ways thinking by itself will never accomplish.” So we expect to come out of this exercise with a tighter, better-defined set of processes and protocols. No guarantees, of course.

This will take time and effort. What are the other advantages in doing it?

• To provide even greater clarity for you.
• To gain a comprehensive business operating manual.
• To help new associates understand what the enterprise is about.

Bottom line, this is a step toward greater sustainability, one of our major objectives for the years ahead. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Update: The Next Energy Revolution

© Can Stock Photo / kessudap

Our work involves looking at trends and striving to figure out if there is a way to make appropriate investments that may have a good chance to work out well. More than two years ago, we put together a pair of trends and made a forecast. It’s time to check in and see how the forecast is working out.

The cost of electricity from solar sources was said to be declining 10% per year, while the cost of electricity storage by battery was also declining. We felt then that this would lead to a revolution in energy production.

Installed solar generating capacity in the US grew 19% last year. The Solar Energy Industries Association projects that capacity will double in the next five years. In terms of new generating capacity by source, solar has ranked first or second each year for the past six years.1

Groundbreaking projects are going up around the world, too. The World Economic Forum reports that Abu Dhabi switched on the world’s largest virtual battery plant, able to store 648 megawatt hours. That’s enough to keep the city supplied for up to six hours in the event of a generating outage. This is feasible because the price of lithium-ion battery storage has dropped by more than 75% since 2012.2

As this combination of solar power generation plus battery storage commands a bigger share of global energy production, it seems to us that a lot of copper will be used. At the recent Global Copper Conference, a keynote speaker talked of record demand in the years ahead.

With prices on some mining companies that produce copper off by 75% or more from peaks of a few years ago, we see opportunity. This idea has not made large piles of money for anyone over the past few years, but the trend looks favorable. We believe we know how this turns out, so we are sticking with our convictions.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Notes and References

1. Solar Energy Industries Association, U.S. Solar Market Insight. https://www.seia.org/us-solar-market-insight. Accessed May 7th, 2019.
2. World Economic Forum, “The Cost of Generating Renewable Energy Has Fallen – A Lot.” https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/this-is-how-much-renewable-energy-prices-have-fallen/. Accessed May 7th, 2019.

Anniversaries

© Can Stock Photo / tiverylucky

We balance our attention between the moments in which we live, and the longer term over which we plan for the future. Anniversaries are a natural place to pause and take stock.

My 63rd birthday approaches. This may not seem like a particularly important number, but for me it is. My father and my eldest brother both passed away at age 62. Getting older has never been a problem for me; it is key to my intention to live a long and productive life. I am trying to do what I can to extend the string of birthdays so I can indeed work to age 92.

The 25th anniversary of my affiliation with LPL Financial comes later this year. It has always seemed like the right choice. With the challenges that we have had to work around in recent years, the flexibility and effectiveness of our partner LPL has become vital. In particular, full support for 21st century communication has helped us make a digital presence a key way to deal with periodic separation in time and distance.

Speaking of partners, I will celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary with the really important one this summer. In a life filled with good fortune, I count alphabetical order as a special blessing. On the first day of freshman year of high school, I found my assigned locker right next to Cathy Livingston’s.

You play a huge role in my long range plans: you are why I want to work to age 92. To say I am having a good time would be an understatement. While enjoying the moments as they pass, I’m also looking ahead to ways to build an organization that can better serve you, on a more sustainable basis.

Back to work! Thank you all, for everything. If you would like to talk about anything, please email us or call.

Easy Money, Hard Truths

© Can Stock Photo / alexskopje

If you follow market commentary, you may have noticed a lot of attention being placed on Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. After a series of interest rate hikes, the Fed has started pumping the brakes and some market watchers—the President among them—are hoping for interest rates to go back down, or even a return to the Fed’s “quantitative easing” policy.

It is easy to understand the appeal of easy monetary policy. Being able to borrow money cheaply helps fuel economic growth. Corporations, individuals, and governments all benefit from being able to take out lower interest loans.

That growth comes with strings attached. The cheaper it is to borrow money, the more borrowed money accumulates on balance sheets. In moderation, borrowing money allows people and companies to accomplish things their own money could not. But those debts eventually come due, and not all of them always pay off. Too much debt can have catastrophic results.

We do not need to look far into the past to get a glimpse of the consequences that overly easy monetary policy can have. Not even 10 years ago there was widespread panic about the possibility of Greece’s national debt dragging the whole Eurozone down with it.

How did this happen? Greece was a developing country with a growing economy, but Euro monetary policy was dominated by larger countries with slower economies that wanted looser money to fuel their own growth. For Greece, that loose money just wound up inflating their debts into an unsustainable bubble.

We have been concerned for some time about signs that corporate and government debt in the U.S. may be growing into a massive debt bubble, and we are not alone. In our opinion, the last thing that the economy needs is even more debt. We hope that cooler heads prevail and the Fed agrees with us.

Clients, if you have any questions or concerns, please give us a call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

Don’t Stop

© Can Stock Photo / rusty426

I’ve been electrified by James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits. Examining the central message, you may be able to see why:

“Small habits don’t add up. They compound. It’s remarkable what you can build if you just don’t stop. The business you can build if you don’t stop working. The body you can build if you don’t stop training. The knowledge you can build if you don’t stop learning. The fortune you can build if you don’t stop saving. The relationships you can build if you don’t stop caring. Small habits don’t add up. They compound. Tiny changes. Remarkable results.”

This might help explain the wealth I’ve seen you build with lifetimes of work, the stellar careers and businesses so many of you have had, the warm network of relationships so many of you enjoy.

I’m heartened by this message when I think of building a sustainable enterprise to serve you more reliably, staying healthy so I can work to age 92, and meeting other, more personal challenges.

It is exciting, too, to think about bringing the message of effective habits to generations just beginning to save and invest and make career decisions.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this, or anything else, please email us or call.