Episode #12: Rising rates and the dividend investor. Fear not.

After four decades of declining interest rates, and widespread meddling in the risk-signaling mechanism of the US 10-Year Treasury Note, stock investors are justifiably confused by the prospect of rising rates. What’s it mean, particularly for income-oriented stock investors? In this episode, I try to clear the air and simplify the confusing narrative about rising rates and dividend-paying stocks.

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The power of narrative economics….

A recent New Yorker article by Charles Duhigg ties together nicely several threads of emerging finance that are worthy of notice. The first is the power of narrative economics (and finance) championed by Robert Shiller. My review of his 2019 book by that name appeared on the New Books Network. Shiller’s argument stands in stark contrast to the orthodox model of classical economics. The second is that investment bubbles of the type we are now seeing with SPACs can and have in the past left behind substantial technological and financial innovation after the bubble has burst and much money lost. …

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NBN Interview with William Nordhaus

Can classical economics help figure out climate change and support policies that slow global warming?  Yale Sterling Professor of Economics William Nordhaus thinks so. In his new book, The Spirit of Green: The Economics of Collisions and Contagions in a Crowded World (Princeton UP, 2021), Nordhaus tackles the “externality” that is pollution and carbon emissions. By making several adjustments to how we treat this externality in economic terms, it can be brought back into the “system” whereby sensible regulation, market relations, and innovation can lead to markedly lower levels of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The most important of those adjustments is getting the price of …

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NBN Interview with Louis Nelson

Louis Nelson’s Mosaic: War, Monument, Mystery weaves together a personal memoir, a history of the Korean War and its aftermath, and the tale of how the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington DC came to be. The result is a fascinating portrait of one of the late 20th century’s most important designers. Listen to the New Books Network interview here.

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Equity duration, revisited for an even lower market yield.

Updating a post from late 2018 on equity duration. The yield of the market is now down to around 1.5% and inflation expectations are much higher than they were at that time. Hence it is worth revisiting the math of valuing cashflows in a rising rate environment, or at least one in which rates are not relentlessly declining. Updated table below.  The conclusion has not changed. If you have a choice of distributable cashflow options, get paid up front. Those distant cashflows take a real beating in any reasonable discounting exercise.  In that regard the S&P 500 Index is an …

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A thoughtful and optimistic rebuttal to my post on Russian political culture.

A friend responded to my post of April 22….. “One thing I was concerned about with your essay is that some readers might walk away with the impression that Russia hasn’t really changed and won’t change.  I’m not even sure that’s what you intended to say.  There are clearly many Russians who would like things to change—and a number who are quite content with how they are.  There is also a certain type of non-Russian client I’ve had before who like to take they view that Russia is fundamentally different and incapable of being more liberal—and then use this as …

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Using the great 19th century realist novels to bridge what divides us….

Two very thoughtful oddfellows–a labor economist and a Russian literature scholar–take on the world’s problems in their newest collaboration, Minds Wide Shut How the New Fundamentalisms Divide Us (Princeton University Press, 2021). Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro bring to bear the remarkably powerful tool of great 19th century Realist literature (and other parts of the Western canon) to define and counter the all-or-nothing fundamentalisms that have come to divide us in recent years. They touch upon politics, religion and economics, as well as great literature itself, and advocate bridging the divides with assertion and dialogue rather than the crude dismissal of opponents based upon absolute, unyielding …

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Russia & the West, again…..

Making the same mistake repeatedly and expecting a different outcome is a popular definition of insanity.  Can the condition apply to an entire professional group? In the most recent issue of Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasion History, I highlight how many prominent US thinkers about Russia have maintained a naivete in regard to Russia’s ultimate political development for much of the past 70 years. Even during the height of the Cold War, leading members of the US establishment assumed that Russia would ultimately adopt classical liberalism and join the Western community of nations as a fully paid-up member.  It …

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If it looks like a bubble, walks like a bubble, & talks like a bubble, is it a bubble?

History matters, no less so for your retirement account. Are we in a normal investing environment or is something “not quite right”? The asset bubble doctors are in and will see you now.   Join me for a conversation with Will Quinn, co-author along with John Turner, of the new and highly acclaimed, Boom & Bust: A Global History of Financial Bubbles (2020). The NBN podcast can be accessed here.

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Uninvestable, due to government overreach…

I was alarmed yesterday to see a sitting US senator assume that the Fed Chairman would naturally prohibit banks from paying dividends (or buybacks) under the new administration. The Fed Chair wisely deflected the question and the assertion behind it.  For folks unaware of how the stock market works, and specifically bank accounting, let me say that that was a “doozy” moment. Yes, it is true that the vast majority of quantitative easing and Federal Reserve activity over the past 13 years (since the GFC) has gone into the financial markets rather than the real economy. That is not because …

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Do books and articles about financial bubbles mean we are in a bubble?

I’m reading an excellent new academic account of bubbles in the financial markets by two Irish academics, William Quinn and John Turner, Boom and Bust. Their taxonomy of bubbles involves formally identifying them after the fact, though they believe their explanatory model would help forecast as them as well. Still it raises the question, which we all felt in 1999 and some of us feel in 2021, how one identifies a bubble whilst you are in the midst of it. While I was pondering that notion, the latest from the WSJ‘s Streetwise columnist, James Mackintosh, hit my device, “If it …

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Episode #8: A conversation with Ron “Everyman”–questions you should ask yourself about retirement planning.

Before you sit down with your retirement planner, or begin doing your own planning, you should ask yourself several critical questions: about how you define risk and return, how much of the decision making you want to do yourself versus having third parties do it on your behalf, among other choices that have to be made. I go through this exercise with Ron “Everyman,”  an attorney in his late 50s thinking about how to plan for retirement.

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Nav@1ny is a master of modern media, but does it matter?

February 2, 2021 update: It’s not the crime, but the cover up… That’s what they said about Richard Nixon’s downfall. Other similar episodes abound.  Given events in Russia over the past two weeks, one might assert a new corollary:  It’s not the corruption, but the crackdown.  A new allegation of corruption, even one on an unprecedented scale, was unlikely to move Russia. But the government’s excessive response and its treatment of the man behind the video has led to a popular reaction that the video itself did not. When is a show of government force actually a sign of great …

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It’s time for a new Centrist party in the spirit and practice of classical liberalism.

The good news is that the Grifter has left the White House. His closest aides and high-profile abettors are scurrying away to avoid the infamy that they so richly deserve. The newly installed President is clearly a moderate fellow, empathetic and conciliatory. And, ironically, he is so old that he can have no other agenda than to fix the current situation. His Vice President is the embodiment of the American dream. While the country remains in severe national security peril during this period of transition, one of the worst political crises in our nation’s history appears to be behind us. …

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Episode #7: A conversation with Douglas Skinner on the sixty-year academic debate about dividends.

Douglas Skinner (along with his collaborators, Linda & Harry DeAngelo) is the author of an important framework for understanding why companies pay dividends and investors would seek them out. That stands in stark contrast to the dominant narrative on Wall Street and some of Main Street that is, to a substantial degree, dismissive of the distribution of free cashflow to company owners. Douglas Skinner is Deputy Dean for Faculty and the Eric J. Gleacher Distinguished Service Professor of Accounting at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. You can find his work here.

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Price discovery, Soviet Russia, and artistry

The elevator pitch to a book editor and movie producer that never happened: “the early 1960s Soviet experiment of loosening price controls would make for a great work of historical fiction and a high-end movie drama.”  No one in their right mind, right? And yet, it did. Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty came out in 2010. It is simply the best Western work of historical fiction about the post-war Soviet period. Spufford is not a trained Soviet specialist, but every professional historian of the Soviet Union secretly (and not so secretly) wants to have written that book. I know of what …

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How different are financial and political “bubbles”? And what ends them?

Depending on your perspective on certain “excited”  areas of the market and “extremes” in the political spectrum, we are currently engaged in a real-time exercise regarding what catalysts bring an end to these phenomena. Are the catalysts to end those historical moments different? By day, I have to think about the former; by night, I ponder the latter. And we know the role that social media plays in both of these realms. It’s worth recalling that for one of the past extreme moments, the reign of terror led by Joseph McCarthy, the social media of the day played a key …

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Defining risk in a high dividend-paying portfolio. It’s not what most people think.

As the manager of a high dividend-paying portfolio, I necessarily take dividend risk. The yields in the portfolio are, as you might expect, much higher than the market’s miserly 1.6%.  Individual securities in the portfolio have had, can have, and will have yields that can be in the high single digit range, and even sometimes low double-digit range.  Very high yields in a low yielding market is admittedly a sign of dividend risk, but not an assurance of it. And that’s what the goal of the enterprise is: to take an appropriate amount of dividend risk in order to maximize …

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At the intersection of the Random Book Project & lockdown: War & Peace.

#6: Leo Tolstoy, War & Peace, in two volumes. (Leningrad: Lenizdat, 1984, originally published in 1865). Marked 3 rubles, 70 kopeeks, but with a Beriozka sticker indicating 5.55.  Exchange rate at the time was $1.26 per 1.00 ruble so the set cost $7.00 How did I get it? Bought it when I spent a semester in Moscow my junior year in 1984. Others went to London or Florence.  For reasons that still elude me, I went to the Soviet Union. Who does that? Why? While the book is timeless, my copy of it is not. The mass produced, acid-paper Soviet …

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Putting S&P 500 Index “dividend growth” in context….

For those of you keeping score, the S&P 500 Index managed to eke out in 2020 a small increase in the index dividend, 0.07%, over 2019. $58.24 went to $58.28. That’s pretty impressive given the economic circumstances and the reality that dividend-focused products had a tough time in 2020 actually collecting their dividends. The economic downturn affected the Old-Economy dividend payers more than the New-Economy work-from-home companies. So bully for the S&P 500 Index. But it is important to put that achievement in context. Growing the dividend off such a low base isn’t really much of an achevement. The S&P …

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The dividend chorus is getting louder. Will it make a difference?

Blackrock is jumping on the dividend bandwagon. According to a recent Bloomberg article, Blackrock is calling for strong dividend payers to benefit in 2021 from the paucity of income generated in the bond market. Their argument is more in regard to fixed income securities than it is versus other equities, but they are still highlighting the attractiveness of higher-dividend paying equities in a yield-starved market. Blackrock joins a lengthening list of market participants and commentators making the same call. Will it make a difference?  Interest rates have been low and declining for years without a major rotation into dividend stocks …

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“Dividends will have their day again,” says the WSJ. So will business investors.

Happy to have this Dividends will have their day again call out from the Wall Street Journal, but it is worth filling out the story a bit. Distributable profits are the most natural, logical way of generating return for minority shareholders in an on-going, for-profit enterprise. If that enterprise happens to be publicly traded they are called dividends. It is a form of business ownership.  Successful businesses that do not distribute their excess cashflow to company owners can be owned as stocks, and stocks only. Their only cash return comes from going into the market place and selling a stake–hopefully at a …

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Floating above history….

Nearly forty years after encountering The Education of Henry Adams in a college classroom, I was recently treated to a summary as to why the work was and remains so fascinating.  Dan Chiasson’s New Yorker review reminds readers of how Adams floated over history as much as he lived in it and wrote about it. Adam’s wonder at the new technology at the turn of the 20th century is as fresh today as when it was written over a century ago.

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NBN Interview with Paul Donovan: Profit & Prejudice

Prejudice is bad for business. That’s the long and short of it. Paul Donovan amply documents this in his recent work of Shiller narrative economics, Profit and Prejudice: The Luddites of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Routledge, 2020). With that out in the open, shouldn’t prejudice in business cease? Well, that’s a tall order. Not every business person is a profit maximizing Fisherian with an MBA from the University of Chicago. Pointing out to prejudiced business people that they are leaving money on the table is, on its own, unlikely to put an end to their discriminatory practices.  Culture matters, as …

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Markets are everywhere, even where they are strictly forbidden….

Markets are everywhere, including where they strictly forbidden. This excellent research by Jim Heinzen on the Soviet second economy just came out in Slavic Review. The full article is behind a paywall but should be accessible via universities and libraries.  Link is here. Below is the abstract from the Slavic Review site. Soviet Entrepreneurs in the Late Socialist Shadow Economy: The Case of the Kyrgyz Affair James Heinzen Supported by new archival material, this article delves deeply into one landmark criminal case to explore key aspects of the social, economic, and cultural history of illegal production and markets in the …

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December’s real-time test of market efficiency.

We have this month both a test of and an immediate HBS case study in market efficiency. A highly innovative electronic vehicle company is about to enter the major market index. Is that a problem for the many investors in the index funds and ETFs based on the S&P 500 Index, or are things as they should be in an efficient market? Market efficiency is presumed to be greatest in large-cap, liquid, well-researched companies. The EV company clears all three thresholds easily, with a market cap of over a half trillion (!) dollars, plenty of trading volume, and 36 separate …

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