My first article on this website was over 5 years ago, Inflation Destroys Dollars. I certainly did not have any idea that the price inflation would be triggered by the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I certainly didn’t anticipate the lockdowns and supply chain disruptions back in 2016.
I know the fiscal and monetary policy pursued by the United States and virtually all the world: money printing, onerous regulations, taxes and spending, would eventually result in significant price inflation. Government response to COVID-19 has made the situation worse and pulled the day of reckoning forward but it certainly isn’t the largest factor.
Timing is always a challenge and I was quite early.
Price inflation is here and it is happening fast enough where people notice it and are actually talking about it. Depending on who you trust and how you measure it, prices are rising at a rate of 6-10% per year now. I think what is interesting is that the government’s own numbers (the CPI-U) shows inflation at 6%. This is far beyond the 2% the Federal Reserve has been calling for.
Gold and Silver as an Inflation Hedge
In Inflation Destroys Dollars I write about how gold and silver are an inflation hedge. On 16 May 2016 when I wrote that article, gold was trading at $1,252 per ounce. As I write this it is currently up to $1,864.61, an increase of 48.9%. That is an annualized return of roughly 7.5%.
On 16 May 2016 Silver was trading at $17.14. It is now trading at $25.29. That is a 47.5% increase for an annualized return of approximately 7.3%.
So, if you think that inflation has been somewhere between 4% and 8% over the past five and a half year, gold and silver have on just kept up with inflation during this timeframe. Not bad but also not great. Gold and silver remain the boring reliable hedge and that is a good thing.
Value Stocks as an Inflation Hedge
Value stocks are another asset class I mentioned in Inflation Destroys Dollars. I didn’t mention specific funds. I have made some of my own individual value stock picks with some fantastic picks, but also some not so good picks.
Vanguard’s Selected Value fund (VASVX) is a mid-cap fund that could serve as a proxy for “value stocks”. It was trading at $26.41 on 16 May 2016. It is currently at $33.39. This is a return of 26.4% and an annualized return of 4.3%. Not stellar as I would not say this has kept up with inflation.
The Vanguard Value Index is a large cap value fund (VVIAX). It started this period at $32.49 and is up to $56.68. This is a return of about 74.5% and an annualized return of 10.65%.
A final example to look at, Vanguard’s Mid-Cap Index Admiral Shares Fund (VIMAX) started in this timeframe at $150.33 and is now at $320.62. That is a total percent return of 113% and an annualized return of 14.7%. Much better.
Compare those to the Vanguard 500 (VFIAX), which started this timeframe at $184.53 and is now at $432.9. The total return of this fund was 134.6% an an annualized return of 16.77%.
So while value stock fund did beat the rate of inflation and are a good hedge, they didn’t outperform your vanilla S&P 500 index fund.
Bitcoin as an Inflation Hedge
Compared to gold and silver, Cryptocurrencies, particularly Bitcoin has had all the action.
On 16 May of 2016 a Bitcoin was trading at about $454. Today Bitcoin is trading at $64,346. That is an astounding increase of 14,073% or an annualized return of about 146%.
Clearly Bitcoin has outperformed Stocks, Gold and Silver during this timeframe in an astounding way.
I own Bitcoin and I’m not anti-bitcoin. But I’m also not a Bitcoin maximalist. I think it is possible and perhaps even likely that Bitcoin will be replaced with a superior cryptocurrency that has some combination of faster transactions, higher transaction throughput, anonymity and or additional features. In my view Bitcoin in its current state is too slow and transactions are too costly for it to work as a medium of exchange for day to day transactions. These views are very unpopular with Bitcoin maximalists that ignore or downplay Bitcoin’s weaknesses.
However, Bitcoin has provided an incredible return and far outpaces inflation.
The 14,073% return is not just a result of inflation, although it is increasingly being viewed as a safe haven alternative investment.
Bitcoin has had several great tailwinds 1) It is an emergent asset class 2) It is trendy and popular and gets media attention 3) It is viewed as a Federal Reserve / dollar debasement hedge in place of gold.
Protecting one’s wealth and purchasing power from inflation is important. Just keeping up with inflation is not ideal either, if the assets are not tax advantages, the government will tax the “gains”, and so purchasing power is eroded.
Let’s look at a simplified example. Say you frequently buy a widget or pay a service that costs $100 per year. Say the price goes up 5% per year due to monetary inflation. You also have a $100 investment that also goes up 5% per year. You’re still not keeping up with inflation because of taxes. If your $100 investment goes up 5% to $105, the government is going to want some taxes on that $5 gain. Say you’re on the hook for 15% capital gains taxes, the government is going to take their share and leave you with a $4.25 gain.
So you now have to come up with another $0.75 to pay for the item or service. Scale this up to include all of your expenses for the year and you see that you need to not only keep up with inflation, but exceed inflation so you have the money to pay the taxes on the gains.
In order to keep up with inflation your investment would need to be in a tax advantaged account that would lower or eliminate the tax burden owed or (again assuming a 15% gains tax) you’d need the investment to go up by about 5.9%.
This also shows how insidious inflation is. Not only is money worth less, but the government taxes the gains, even if there was no gain in terms of purchasing power.
One other thing to keep in mind, in the United States at least, realized gold and silver gains are taxed at the generally higher income tax rate rather than capital gains tax rate.
Are Gold and Silver Great Inflation Hedges Anymore
Gold and silver might not be very good inflation hedges anymore. If I owned gold or silver I wouldn’t sell unless I needed to rebalance my portfolio. I would expect these assets to at least keep pace with inflation, but unless the demand for gold and silver increases in excess of new supply, I don’t think gold and silver will beat inflation in the way needed in order to truly hedge for inflation when accounting for taxes. While it has produced a positive return in excess of inflation, it certainly hasn’t been a fantastic play over the last five and half years since I started HowIGrowMyWealth.com.
Most people aren’t willing to go back to a pre-industrial standard of living and so energy is very important. Nuclear energy is deemed too dangerous by many and solar and wind are niche players. This leaves fossil fuels.
Until we get Mr. Fusion to run cars and power electronics big energy companies will continue to be indispensable.
Big oil companies are also great for dividend investors as they tend to pay a good yield. Places like the US and Europe are highly dependent on energy imports. In 2016, Europe turns to import for 54% of its energy needs. The biggest provider of these imports is Russia when it comes to crude oil, natural gas and solid fuels.
The main thing that Gazprom has going against it is the negative free cash flow. The enterprise value to market cap is also the highest amongst the five stocks I’ve looked at. The trailing twelve month (TTM) operating cashflow is $24.969 billion and capital spending is $25 billion. This results in a negative $0.34 billion in free cash flow.
Gazprom’s five year average free cash flow has been $3.62 billion and they could increase free cashflow by trimming their capital spending if needed.
If I add their FCF history to the firm’s stellar operating margin, high return on equity (ROE), and financially healthy current ratio, quick ratio, and dividend payout ratio I’m willing to overlook the lack of free cashflow in the last 2 years.
Recent Price Action
On 14 May 2019 Gazprom jumped up from around $5 to over $6 on the news management recommended increasing the dividend. This was the most price action the stock has seen in nearly a decade.
It’s been a year since my last value stock pick. I haven’t been buying stock and have been focused on building up a war chest I can use to buy stocks and other assets at a discount when the US economy faces it’s next crash.
I don’t know when the next stock market crash will take place nor have I failed to notice that stocks are up some 300% since the lows of the 2008 financial crisis.
So I maintain some exposure to stocks even though I believe the stock market a whole is overvalued.
1) Enterprise Value to Market Capitalization (EV/Market Cap)
2) Enterprise Value to Free Cash Flow (EV/FCF)
3) Enterprise Value to Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EV/EBIT)
4) Enterprise Value to Owners’ Cash Profits (OCP)
5) Operating Margin
6) Dividend Yield
7) Return on Equity (ROE)
Energy production is very capital intensive so I’ve decided to compare Royal Dutch Shell (RDSb) to similar companies: Exxon Mobil (XOM), Total (TOT), and Chevron (CVX).
Data is from Morningstar as of 13 March 2018 (with the exception of EV/Owner’s Cash Profits) which is from yCharts as of 16 March 2018.
So how does RDS stack up?
1) EV/Market Cap
I like to see an EV/Market Cap below 1. Of these four energy companies none meets this criteria and RDSb is actually the highest. Total is the lowest just edging out Exxon Mobil by what amounts to a rounding error.
RDSb – 1.242
XOM – 1.134 TOT – 1.129
CVX – 1.154
Winner: Total (TOT)
2) Enterprise Value to Free Cash Flow (EV/FCF)
EV/FCF is where RDSb really shines compared to it’s peers. EV/FCF is in my view a more accurate measure than Price to Earnings (PE). The lower the number the better.
RDSb – 19.55
XOM – 24.42
TOT – 28.99
CVX – 36.15
Winner: Royal Dutch Shell (RDSb)
3) Enterprise Value to Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EV/EBIT)
Another metric where lower is better.
RDSb – 18.31
XOM – 18.57 TOT – 14.68
CVX – 26.98
Winner: Total (TOT)
4) Enterprise Value to Owners’ Cash Profits (OCP)
16 March 2018 Update:
EV to Owners’ Cash Profits is another metric that I believe is more accurate than price to earnings.
Shell has a payout ratio of 144.6%. That means that the dividend might be unsustainable.
However, Shell’s payout ratio has been below 100% from 2008 up through 2014 and I think that the payout ratio will drop to a sustainable level in the next year or two.
The return on equity for shell has also been lower than I’d like but they are also in stronger financial shape (based on the current ratio and quick ratio) than ROE king Exxon.
Another Valuation Metric
One way to calculate a margin of safety is by determining what multiple of the EBIT the stock is trading at. I could write an entire article on how this is calculated (shout out to Jason Rivera who I learned this technique from).
Using the number 14 in the equation might seem somewhat arbitrary but it isn’t. The reason I chose that is because if you plug in 13.5 you get the current share price of Shell. In other words Shell is trading at EBIT x 13.5 + Cash Equivalents.
Using this metric (using a multiple of 14) we find a “fair” share price of each of these four stocks would be as follows:
RDSb – $65.9
XOM – $64.1
TOT – $75.8
CVX – $72.7
And if we compare the actual share price to these values we get the following “margin of safety” for each stock:
Using this technique we can see that Shell is trading at about a 3.5% discount to 14xEBIT + Cash. Exxon is trading at a 16.27% premium, Total is trading at a generous 23.91% discount and Chevron is overvalued by a large 60.12%.
Even though it is in a totally different industry, just for fun, I decided to compare this to Netflix (NFLX). NFLX is currently trading at $315.88 per share. At 14 times EBIT plus cash NFLX should be trading at $6.32 and at current prices it is trading at a a 4,900% premium.
I would venture to say that Netflix is overvalued.
Class A or Class B?
I used to own RDSa in a Roth IRA. The RDSa shares are subject to a 15% withholding to the Dutch government. Because of this RDSa trades at a discount to RDSb, which does not have this withholding.
At one point you could get around the 15% withholding through Shell’s scrip program (which they have discounted twice) and get a lower price and higher yield.
But given that the scrip program has been discontinued I choose to own RDSb. I prefer to own it on the London Stock Exchange but I do own it in US markets in a Roth IRA.
Shell is a great value
Shell is a great value and a cash flow machine with a strong dividend. Total is an excellent value as well although it has thin operating margins and has struggled to generate free cash flow with the same consistency as Shell and so for those reasons I prefer Shell.
I really enjoy baseball. It’s a great game. No timers, no clocks. The winning team has to get the losing team out at least 27 times.
A great movie about baseball is Moneyball. This film was released in 2011 and it’s about a small market team, the Oakland Athletics, and how they are having trouble competing against large market teams (like the New York Yankees) who have larger budgets and are able to pay more money for the best players. The story focuses around the Oakland General Manager, Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt), and his quest to find a way to recruit players to form a winning team even though they can’t afford to pay the higher salaries the top talent requires.
Beane finds Yale graduate Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill) who uses a system for evaluating players based on math. It’s a more scientific approach to player evaluation. Using metrics like on base percentage rather than a traditional batting average and looking beyond things like unorthodox pitching style or age and focusing strictly on performance they are able to find value in players that other people overlook.
Moneyball is based on a true story and the metrics they use are based on the “Sabermetrics” pioneered by Bill James and others.
It’s essentially applying the concept of value investing to baseball. While Billy Beane and Peter Brand looked for undervalued players who would get on base, get runs, and help Oakland win baseball games, value investors look for undervalued stocks that will produce earnings, positive cashflow and make an investor money.
I’m very excited to be sharing this interview with Jason Rivera, a man who in his first five years achieved better returns than Warren Buffet did in his first five years. Who is Jason Rivera? Let’s get into the interview and you’ll find out!
John: Can you provide some background on yourself and Rivera Holdings for those who aren’t familiar with you or your company?
Jason Rivera, Chairman, CEO, and Founder of Rivera Holdings Investment Holding Company
Jason: Yes. I’m a self taught value investor who focuses on small and obscure public companies to buy for my investors. And I’m now also looking for private businesses and cash flow producing real estate to buy as well.
I’m the author of the acclaimed value investing education book How To Value Invest. Have run the blog Value Investing Journey for more than five years now. Wrote a 60-page booklet detailing the immense power of investment float that I released for free to readers of my blog and followers – on Twitter and Facebook – titled All About Float. Have written for several publications and investment newsletters including: Seeking Alpha, Guru Focus, Insider Monkey, and Palm Beach Research Group among others.
I mentor others on how to become great value investors, consult on projects requiring business analysis and valuation skills, and run my investment holding company Rivera Holdings LLC. out of the Tampa Florida area.
John: When you were a kid did you know you wanted to grow up to be a value investor?
Jason: Ha 🙂 no. I don’t have any stories like Warren Buffett where he was buying things at wholesale prices – gum if I remember right – and then selling them at a higher price to his classmates as a kid.
Unfortunately, I was far more interested in playing sports, chasing girls, and playing video games than investing when I was a kid.
I always knew I wanted to make money, start businesses, and help people but the value investing part and putting effort into making those things happen only began happening in my late teens and early twenties.
John: Why do you favor value investing as opposed to momentum investing, a passive asset allocation approach or another strategy?
Jason: I don’t remember what first drew me to value investing but once I read about it I knew it was the strategy for me because it made total sense immediately.
I agree with value investing greats like Seth Klarman and Warren Buffett that to some degree having an affinity for value investing has to be genetic.
I never wanted to get into momentum trading because I have a long term mindset – decades not days, weeks, or even years – so that or any other kind of trading never made sense to me.
I’m terrible at predicting things into the future so macro investing was out. And I like the challenge of finding great companies so I would have gotten bored with passive investing and never done it for a long time.
John: I’ve written about the value investing metrics I use. Some of metrics I look at are the result of what I’ve learned from you. I’d be interested in getting your feedback on my approach.
Jason: First of all thanks so much for letting me know some of the content I’ve written helped.
Sitting alone in front of my computer all day reading filings and asset information, or talking with people through phone or internet makes it challenging to know if what I’m doing helps. So thanks a lot.
Everything looks great when it comes to some of the metrics you look at but I do have one quibble…And this is a personal preference so do whatever works best for you.
I prefer owner’s earnings to owner’s cash profits because OE includes working capital while OCP doesn’t. And since I focus more on the balance sheet side of things – at least to start – I find this more useful.
John: It’s clear form your book and website you spend hours and hours analyzing companies before you invest in them. Do you have a process to screen out certain stocks at a higher level so you can deep dive into a specific company?
For those who don’t want to read that I’ll give a quick summary below:
First off, I don’t use any screeners when looking for companies to research now and instead rely on my processes and lists to find companies.
I find any lists I’m interested in – ADR list, country list like Brazil or Indonesia for example, or a list of all the OTC companies – and then do preliminary analysis based on my requirements and preliminary checklist. This can be downloaded for free by signing up to mailing list on my blog.
After this, with any companies remaining I do quick “back of the envelope” valuations.
The ones that are overvalued go on a watchlist for later research. And those that are undervalued or fairly valued I do further research on.
For those that are undervalued or fairly valued I then go to both Morningstar and the company’s website to download its most recent annual report, quarterly report, proxy form, and any recent investor presentations.
I read all these, take notes, and if I find too many red flags discard the company.
On the other hand, if the company still looks promising I then revalue it using all the new information.
This is especially important at this stage because now you have a great idea of what the company does, if it has any competitive advantages, if there are any hidden assets, etc.
For any companies that remain promising I then research any competitors for the company. Get all their most recent financials. Take notes on them. And build a spreadsheet of profitability metrics and relative valuations so I can compare them against each other.
If the company still looks good from here I’ll then look for any recent news and developments to consider in my analysis.
At this point I’ll also read and take notes on the company’s financials going back five to 10 years. I’m also looking for things here that could blow up my investment thesis as well.
At this stage if one of the original company’s competitors looks better I’ll begin full research on that company instead of the original one.
After gathering everything, I then begin to write my investment thesis down. These usually end up being between 20 – 50 pages.
This helps me spot any errors in my investment thesis or thought processes. And it’s also valuable so you can go back to see where you made any mistakes or to see what your analysis and reasons for buying the company was months or years from now.
By the time I’ve finished doing all this research, writing, and editing I’ve put well more than 100 hours into researching one idea and its competitors.
The more I learn the more I add as well so this time is a lot closer to 200 hours total now for one idea potential idea.
The beginning of the process helps me weed out the crap companies fast. And the middle and end of the process helps make sure my investment thesis is still sound, while also helping me identify any potential risks or missing thoughts in the thesis.
I analyzed my data a few years back and found I invested in less than 1 out of every 500 companies I researched.
With more experience, knowledge, and refinement of my processes this number is now likely between 1 out of every 750 – 1,000 I end up buying.
But all this work is paying off.
By implementing this strict process I make far fewer mistakes than I used to.
Through the first five full years of my investment career I’ve produced returns of 29.2% for investors – on average not compounded – every year. This is better than the 25.4% Buffett produced in the first five years of his career on average.
John: What Inspired you to write “How to Value Invest”?
Jason: I wanted to help people not have to go through the often times painful, long, and frustrating experience I did in the first several years of learning about value investing.
I wasn’t able to go to a university because of severe health issues at the time. I didn’t have a mentor to guide me in the right direction. And for the most part other than asking questions here and there from other value investors online, had to figure everything out myself.
While this was a great learning experience, and even if I could go back I wouldn’t change anything. I wrote the book to help others avoid the years of wasted time and frustration I dealt with while beginning to learn.
John: This is probably an unfair question, but I’m going to ask it anyway, how do you go from dedicating yourself to being an excellent value investor in February of 2012, to going after an $8 million acquisition as CEO and Founder of Rivera Holdings roughly four years later?
Jason: It’s not an unfair question at all. And I actually think it’s a good one.
Several friends asked me the same thing – or said people they told about the potential deal asked them the same thing after they told them about my age and experience.
For reference, as I queried investors to raise the money for the acquisition I was still 29. I turned 30 in December of 2016 after the acquisition failed. And at that point still had yet to finish my fifth full year of being a serious investor.
I’ve studied and practiced investing for almost 10 years now but the bulk of the first five years were wasted to some degree through the process trial and error learning and frustration I mentioned above.
So what the hell at age 29, with less than five full years of serious experience under my belt as an investor without a degree from somewhere like Wharton or Columbia Business School made me think I can do an $8 million acquisition?
It’s a good question… But I think an even better one is; why not go for it?
I believe anyone can become and do great things if they’re willing to work and put in the time and effort to learn a valuable skill.
At the end of my career I want to be known as the best investor, businessman, and capital allocator ever. Yes, even better than Warren Buffett.
Is this likely, I know the answer to this is no.
But I’ve always shot for the stars… No one ever says they want to be the tenth best investor ever, or the fifth best quarterback ever, or the second best golfer ever, etc.
To do great things I believe you have to have huge goals you can work towards and then do everything in your power to work towards those goals.
So why not start by going after an $8 million acquisition?
Could I have started going after a $100,000 company? Yes. Would it have been far easier? Definitely. But would $100,000 change my life drastically and allow me to help other people change their lives for the better? No. At least not to the degree I want to help.
Why put limits on your potential, the money you make, and the amount of people you can help?
The saying: “If I could just help one person that’d be enough” has never made sense to me. If you can help one person you can help hundreds, thousands, millions, or even billions. Why stop at one?
Like I said above I want to help as many people as I possibly can. But to do that requires great sums of money. And to have great sums of money I need to go after big targets.
I’m working towards that. And it just happened that when I began looking I found an $8 million company to go after that was a great business.
Did I plan this when I started looking, no. But again, why not go after it if it’s there?
If I went after a $100,000 target and completed the acquisition I would have a $100,000 company but not learned as much in the process, gained as much experience, or grew my connections like I did and continue doing.
I’d rather fail huge but still make massive progress towards my goals then set small goals, reach them, and still be disappointed by not doing what I truly want to do.
But by doing and going after big things negativity creeps in so if you go this route you need to be prepared.
Below are some of the negative things I’ve heard since going after that acquisition.
Who the hell is he to think he can go after an $8 million acquisition?
Why the hell are you going after an $8 million acquisition? This was one of my own thoughts at the beginning of the process by the way so this isn’t limited to others thoughts.
Why are you going after such a big target to start? Again, one of my own thoughts.
Can you pull this off?
What if you fail?
What if you succeed? This question came after someone questioned my experience running this size of a business.
You’re so young still, why not take your time and start slow?
You’re so young still why do you think you can do this?
Something else I learned from Be Obsessed or Be Average is: “If you can, you must.”
I have the skills and mindset necessary to help a lot of people so I feel an obligation to work towards helping as many people as I possibly can.
Something else that will illustrate why I went after such a big target to start and how my goals are intertwined with that is from a post I wrote on Facebook about a month ago which I repost below.
“I know that I have the ability to ACHIEVE the object of my DEFINITE PURPOSE in life; therefore I DEMAND of myself persistent, continuous action toward its attainment, and I here and now promise to render such action.
I realize the DOMINATING THOUGHTS of my mind will eventually reproduce themselves in outward, physical action, and gradually transform themselves into physical reality; therefore I will CONCENTRATE my thoughts for 30 min. daily upon the task of thinking of the person I intend to become, thereby creating in my mind a clear MENTAL PICTURE.
I know through the principle of autosuggestion, any desire that I PERSISTENTLY hold will eventually seek expression through some practical means of attaining the object back of it; therefore, I will devote 10 min. daily to DEMANDING of myself the development of SELF-CONFIDENCE.
I have clearly written down a description of my DEFINITE CHIEF AIM in life, and I will never stop trying until I shall have developed sufficient self-confidence for its attainment.”
– Bruce Lee
This is a perfect reflection of where I’m at and what I work on every day as well.
Something I’ll add to these thoughts is from Grant Cardone’s book Be Obsessed or Be Average – “If you can, you must”
What this combination of thoughts means to me is that because I have the ability to help people throughout the US and world through my knowledge and businesses, I must – at a moral and ethical level – help as many people in my lifetime as I possibly can.
If I don’t do everything in my power every day to excel, work towards achieving my goals, and build great businesses and wealth to help as many people as I can, I’m betraying my deepest moral convictions and ethics. Failing myself, failing my family and kids, and failing those I could help.
Sorry about this long answer but it’s such a great question you asked which leads to a bunch of other questions and answers.
I hope this question and answer resonate with your readers on some level.
John: Is Rivera Holdings open to non-accredited investors?
Jason: Yes it is. If they’re based in the United States and are either US citizens, green card holders, or naturalized citizens.
Unfortunately, I can only accept outside the US investors at this point if they’re accredited.
John: Where can folks go for more information about investing with Rivera Holdings?
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