Sunday, June 26, 2011

George Is Still The Boss!

(Part 2 of the series, please read By George I Think He Got It Right, the previous post, before reading this one)

What to do with the George Fund? My first inclination is to make no changes, to treat it as a treasured heirloom. It was my grandfather’s, and then my mother’s and now mine. What right do I have to change it? Then the light went on, actually the whole room lit up. Last time I wrote that I never could figure out why my mother never sold the stocks in 30 years of ownership, now I know why. If I was having these feelings now because this was my grandfather’s, her feelings were even more intense. I think she viewed the portfolio as sacred. This reverence was no doubt expressed to me by voice tone and facial expression when she talked about the stocks. (I’m amazed by how you suddenly understand your parents’ difficult decisions when you unexpectedly have to make those same decisions in your life. Also, we communicate values to our children not by what we say, but what we do, including “how” we say it).

The decision about what to do still remained tough. It was almost if the stocks were “alive”. They grew some days, shrank some others and sent gifts (dividend checks) almost every month. Was I going to just sell assets, or was I going to perform surgery?

I needed guidance. Who to go to? I decided to ask the person who knew the fund better than anyone. I decided to ask George. The moment I asked two questions: “What would George think?” And “What would George do now?” I started to make progress. Yes, I tied to “channel” George. This is ironic because I am an investor because of George. As I wrote about a year ago, I have owned stocks literally my entire life because George gave me three stocks when I was born. Also, I had a great uncle who was a day-trader in the 1920’s. How did you day trade then? You caught the trolley every day to the brokerage house downtown. You negotiated a bulk trading rate (wonder how close it was in real terms to $7 trades today) and you watched the “stock ticker” and traded away. He made a good living doing this until the 1929 stock market crash.

What Would George Think?

George would be proud that the fund has done so well over the past 40 years. But I think George would then say, ”Yes, this is good, but somebody needs to do something about these “dog” stocks. Why are they still here? Boy, you’ve got some work to do!”

What would George Do Now?

To answer this one, I had to study the George Fund in careful detail. It is similar to an archeologist studying a find that had been well preserved for a long time period.

You always hear that you should invest what you know. What George knew was food products and retailing. The portfolio does not include any company in these sectors. I think George had seen many companies in these sectors come and go and thought they were not solid investments.

The companies in the George Fund are all (except one) industrial manufactures. There are several “heavy” manufacturing firms. It is also diversified among industrial sectors. There are oil companies, pharmaceutical companies and chemical companies as well. I determined that all of the companies paid dividends when George originally bought the stocks. The only service firm was a railroad company (you have to transport all that heavy stuff).

The Goal

Before making any changes it is important to establish the purpose for me of this investment. The George Fund will be for me the classic “basket of dividend stocks” that you often read about. The dividends will help pay living expenses in retirement (along with my IRA and 401-K) and the stock portfolio value can then be passed on to my decedents.

What Gets Dumped?

The first part of this is easy. Any company that no longer pays dividends will no longer be in the fund. Of course if the company had to eliminate its dividend, it has had some financial problems and is a weak performer anyway.

The second part of the divesture strategy is brutally tough. Because the top stocks have performed so well, the fund is out of balance. The top stock (a pharmaceutical firm), now makes up over 25% of the portfolio. To maintain diversification and balance, holdings in the top performers must be reduced. This is very difficult to actually do. In addition, some holdings in stocks where the dividends were low will be reduced also.

What to Add?

Obviously no consumer goods or retail stocks will be added. I will add at least one utility and maybe two (Exelon and First Energy look good). Utilities weren’t publically traded when George was buying stock, so that’s why there are none currently in the fund. Utilities make stuff (energy) and pay nice dividends. I probably need a high-tech company to bring the portfolio into the 21st century. It’s difficult to find dividend stocks in this sector. I’m thinking maybe Intel. I also need some healthcare product companies to modernize the group. I’m looking at Baxter and Johnson and Johnson. I may even add a service provider. Both AT&T and Verizon are possibilities. They pay good dividends and should be around for a long time. The other candidates are a natural gas company and a mineral mining (stuff to make stuff with) firm.

The New George Fund

The New George Fund should have around 20 stocks (like the original) that pay decent dividends. I will have changed about 25% of the fund, which means the “base” 75% remains solid. The portfolio will be more diversified, balanced and stronger with less risk than when I began the process. I think George would approve of the changes and that’s far good enough for me. Now it’s time to get some lemonade and enjoy the summer!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

By George, I Think He Got It Right

The subject of today’s post is the By George Mutual Fund (BGMF). You have never heard of it because it is one of the most exclusive funds in the world, yet it is a part of my portfolio. How was I able to get into this elite investment? Well it just turns out that I am the only investor and thus own all the money remaining in the fund.

The BGMF was created by my grandfather George around 40 years ago. It consists of shares in 20 common stocks. When he died 30 years ago, the fund was inherited by his children. While I assume that the other shares of the fund have long been sold off, the portion inherited by my mother remains largely intact. My mother owned the BGMF for 30 years, the only decisions she made was to redeem shares for cash when offered due to buybacks or transfers. Other than that, the BGMF was not “managed” or intentionally varied in 40 some years. I always wondered why my mother didn’t sell it all due to the work involved handing dividend checks and all the paperwork and tax issues that come with direct stock ownership.

The Man Behind the BGMF

George the Businessman

George obtained his wealth through hard work. He started off as a teacher (I teach part-time and several cousins are teacher/educators, funny how that works), but soon found his passion and opened a small grocery store. George was an excellent store owner. His outstanding people skills combined with natural business acumen resulted in continuous success.

His store grew in size throughout the years and George had some money in the bank. At this point most people would have opened more grocery stores in order to gain more wealth, but not George. I think that George loved what he was doing, which was personally connecting with his customers, personally connecting with his employees and cutting meat. More stores would mean that he would be managing store, and not doing what he truly loved. This brings us to:

Life Lesson #1: Find out what you love doing and then do it well as you possibly can.

George the Person

I have to say something about George the person. George was very generous. My mother told me stories about how he let his customers run up credit during The Great Depression when they didn’t have jobs and he had no assurance he would ever be paid. He also would give away soup bones to others who were hungry.

Life Lesson #2: Having the money isn’t as important as helping others with your money. (If you don’t agree with this one, I suggest you give a try and see what happens)

George’s people skills were extraordinary. I watched him interact with customers in the store, but was too young at the time to realize just what was really happening. But I now see the impact based on what people said about my mother’s people skills and my interactions with my uncles (one still living). The most important person in the world to my uncle(s) is the person he is talking to at the time. You just feel after having a conversation (about anything) with these guys. That’s a special gift and they got it from George.

Life Lesson #3: Treat everyone (no matter income, race, religion, appearance, etc.) with the utmost respect. Everyone you interact with should be important to you.

George the Investor

So instead of investing in more stores, George invested in the stock market. That way George got to continue doing what he loved and to increase his wealth by doing what he liked (investing in the stock market). And he was good at it.

The incredible thing about the BGMF is how solid it is after 40 years. This is the mother of all “buy and hold” strategies. As far as I can tell, the portfolio when George stopped managing it had stock in 20 companies. It has 20 companies today. Only one company went out of business and one company spun off a new company, so there are still stocks of 20 companies in the fund today.

Many of the companies in the fund are strong blue-chip stocks. There are a few “weak sisters”, but that is to be expected. George believed in diversification. Of course if he had bought only the five best stocks, the fund would be worth much more today. But if he had bought the five worst, it would not be worth very much at all. George knew he would make mistakes so he spread the risk.

Life Lesson #4: You are not going to be right all the time, so make sure you prepare for those times when you will be wrong. In investing, that means diversify, diversify, and diversify some more.

The bottom line is that George was one great stock picker. To put together a portfolio that has withstood the changes and crises over the past 40 years and is so solid today is remarkable. When I told my broker (who now services the account) the history of the BGMF, he was speechless. I have even more respect for George because in doing the research for this post I discovered that the worst performing stock in the fund is not a stock that he bought, but the spinoff mentioned earlier.

What Now?

So upon the death of my mother a year ago, I became sole owner and now manager of the BGMF. What to do, what to do? Me. The person who bought into Braniff Airlines (bankrupt), Storage Technologies (bankrupt), Home Centers (bankrupt) and Gliatech (bankrupt). It would seem that the BGMF could be in grave danger.

To Be Continued ………..