All posts by Sarah

Finally time to use RIRP as was intended

Finally time to use RIRP as was intended

I launched the Rising Income Retirement Portfolio (RIRP)  ten years ago this coming March after phasing myself out, as planned, from the private companies I had sold two years earlier. One reason was that well wishers advised me that as I had been a notorious workaholic I should get involved in some other activities to prevent myself curling up and dying from boredom; resuming writing after many years broadcasting was one of several commitments I undertook.

I soon realised that the advice – although well meant – was based on a wicked puritan lie. Now as I approach my 72nd birthday I have decided to wind down all my outside activities. I find I am quite capable of passing my time very agreeably without getting the slightest bit bored. My ideal retirement is an extended version of my working-life definition of a holiday: a time when I never have to look at my watch or meet a deadline; my various commitments are now increasingly frustrating this ambition.

So in this final review of the RIRP and its younger offspring, the Income for Life Portfolio, I am distilling the main lessons I have learned during this fifth decade of my life as an active investor; they may also act as pointers for anyone wishing to continue or emulate a portfolio such as these.

If my original aims had been fully achieved, there should be nothing for them to do unless a company gets taken over, cuts its dividends, or goes bust.

Lessons start here

But the first main lesson is that even for a “buy and hold” investor like me, all portfolios require a greater degree of active management than I now want to provide, other than to my own investments. The second lesson is that the original concept – finding shares with a likelihood of delivering above-inflation dividend increases – is entirely possible, as the RIRP proves; but the second part of the plan, to be able to largely forget about them, is not practicable, and not least because of the distorting effect of special dividend payments, to which companies seem increasingly attracted.

The third lesson is one every honest journalist or fund manager knows, but is easily tempted to forget: however experienced we may think we are, none of us is infallible. Although most of my RIRP shares are those I started with, various unforeseen failures – ranging from a change from rising to gently declining dividends, such as Sainsbury’s, through big cuts such as Pearson recently, to outright suspension such as Balfour Beatty and Interserve – have combined with successful or unsuccessful takeovers such as Sky to produce more changes over the years than I had ever anticipated.

But even given the impact of my most recent manifest error, GLIF, overall I can claim considerable success. The total income available this year from the RIRP equates to a yield of over 7.2% on the sums originally invested, and even the three year old IFL could distribute over 6.7%. But in both cases some of this comes from a combination of special dividends or realised capital gains, which were very much not part of the original plan.

Income growth is king

The real test for me is the growth in the underlying income, the first bold figure in the penultimate columns of tables 1 and 2. For the current year the RIRP only squeaks in just ahead of inflation, and that only thanks to an adjustment I made last year from my “bonus” fund when I was facing a short term income reduction from reinvesting halfway through the dividend year. But the overall rise is despite the complete collapse in dividends at GLIF, which I greedily included in both portfolios, compounded in the RIRP by the massive cut in Pearson’s most recent dividend. In both cases the full impact will not be felt till the forthcoming accounting years. The fact that special dividends and realised capital gains boost the total available income of both funds well above any measure of inflation only disguises the failure this year to achieve the core investment aim.

Excluding the party poopers, the underlying dividend growth for the other shares has been strong: 11.2% in the RIRP and 5.8% in the younger IFL. Over the decade the RIRP’s underlying income is up 56% on its initial 4% target, while underlying projected full year income from the existing shares in the IFL represents growth of nearly 6% on the initial 5% target yield.

I have always claimed that so long as the dividend targets were achieved, I could afford to be entirely indifferent to changes in the capital value of the portfolio. In the long term, market values should rise at least in line with dividend payouts, and so it has proved with the RIRP. In this final appraisal I am showing the market value of each of the shares, and their percentage rise or fall from their original purchase price. The RIRP’s 37% increase in market value has marginally exceeded the rise in the RPI over the decade shown in Table 3.

So I have preserved the real value of my capital while seeing my underlying income rise from an initial 4% by nearly double the 30.4% rise in the RPI.

The IFL currently fares less well, but may be excused to some extent since it was constructed within one year with an ambitious first year fully invested yield target of 5%, which it exceeded.

But the fact the year ended with the (unrepresentative) FTSE 100 index at an all time high means I cannot ignore the fact that these selections are living proof that a rising tide does not necessarily lift all vessels equally. I find I am ending the year with paper losses in nearly half of the IFL shares, which makes it all the more impressive that overall the portfolio shows a tiny capital gain. In neither case should this be relevant, except that I have previously resorted to realising some capital profits to make up for the mistakes I have not been clever enough to avoid.

In providing some guidance for the future, quite apart from GLIF I cannot ignore the doubts the market clearly has over Centrica, Connect, Kier and Marston’s. Normally I would take comfort from the fact all these companies except Centrica raised their dividends this year; but equally I remember that in the year before the banking crash all the UK banks rashly raised their dividends by an average of double figures.

You do the maths

The final lesson I take away for the last decade is a mathematical formula for resolving the dilemma of whether and how to reinvest in such cases. The problem is always how to preserve the underlying income flow when the capital value has collapsed. To take a current example: if Centrica merely maintains its dividend, it is still only yielding me 4.7% on my original investment against a higher portfolio average of 5.3%. But if I sell it, at its current diminished market value I need 8.7% just to suffer no fall in income, and that is simply unobtainable from anything I know of which shows any prospects of dividend growth. The only way to plug such a gap is to use the capital profits generated by reducing the stake in one or more of the star capital performers, such as HSBC or BATs, which in both cases requires sacrificing shares with record-breaking dividend growth, helped in HSBC’s case by declaring its dividends in US dollars.

Maintaining control

I’m aware that people who do not know me may conclude I am chucking everything in at the first signs of problems. To restore the balance I must boast that I have come out well against some of the “control” shares which we built into the RIRP, to make sure I was not reinventing the wheel. Early on I included Bankers IT, the only investment trust I could find whose aim was the same as mine: dividend increases above inflation. A surprise 12.2% dividend spurt over the past 12 months coupled with the RIRP’s below par performance means they have finally fractionally beaten the RIRP: their dividend increases over the decade are 60% against my 56%; and although my earlier slightly creative reinvestment accounting means the table overstates the rise in Bankers’ capital value, it has significantly outpaced the RIRP, even though it has had to bear transaction and administration expenses which my portfolios ignore.

But there is a cost: just as its starting yield was well under my minimum 4% target, so anyone thinking of buying today has to make do with a 2.1% yield against 4.5% from my mature portfolio. If in the future any capital gains are needed in the RIRP for any reason, this is clearly a prime candidate.

The same is true of Reckitt Benckiser, added at the same time as the much higher yielding Direct Line, in response to some subscribers’ suggestion that I should include a lower yielding “growth” share as a comparator.

To my pleasant surprise its 25% rise in underlying dividends only marginally beats DL, so RB is still only yielding half as much on the original cost of its shares as Direct Line. DL has therefore paid out twice as much actual money to the RIRP as RB. My income from DL has been further boosted by regular special dividends which far outweigh the benefit received from RB’s spin off of Indivior, which I sold and treated as a special dividend.

The last column of each table shows why I am content to take my curtain call with every reason to be confident that the coming year will prove that the changes I made last year will restore the underlying dividend growth in both portfolios. The only caveat has to be the possibility that the three big share price falls (apart from GLIF) in the IFL are accurately predicting disasters ahead, rather than a temptation to top up: in which case the same sort of surgery which saved the RIRP from its earlier scars in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis are still available, with similar medium term prospects of success.

Douglas Moffitt, January 2018

Income for life Dividend cuts force strategic rethinking

Income for life Dividend cuts force strategic rethinking

A sense of deja vu surrounds me as i write, mingled with absolutely no Schadenfreude. Three months ago I wrote that “a surprise cut in the dividend of what had been one of my star performers …. forced me to apply dramatic surgery to the Rising Income Retirement Portfolio”. I then went on complacently to explain how nevertheless everything would come out rosy for the full year, and went on to apply similar dramatic surgery to the newer Income for Life portfolio.

In doing so I had chosen to ignore Sainsbury’s further small cut to its dividend, and had sadly overlooked its restated dividend policy. What I had not anticipated was that a month after the last article, Pearson’s new regime would be quite so ruthless in doing what the collapse in the share price had been screaming at me was likely: cutting the interim dividend by 72%, and with the likelihood of more cuts to come.

So it’s time for the pruning shears again, never mind the squeals: overall the RIRP garden is healthy enough to withstand some more surgery.

Essential action

If I did nothing – which is the avowed purpose of the RIRP, and intended to require minimal management now it is nearly 10 years old – the combined effect of these two dividend cuts would have reduced my underlying income this year by more than 6% from £6,332 to £5,937. Special dividends and realised net capital profits would admittedly have boosted that by more than 7%, nearly twice the latest 3.9% RPI inflation rate; but the whole purpose of this portfolio is that it should be invested in shares whose underlying income is likely to rise by more than the rate of inflation without what I still regard essentially as window dressing in the form of strategic realisation of capital profits.

So I am forced again to take another look at the dividend growth prospects of some of my underperformers. Assuming a similar cut in the final dividend is on the way Pearson may only yield around 1.6% next year on its original purchase cost. Pearson claim the cut will enable them to pursue a “sustainable and progressive dividend that is comfortably covered by earnings”. The original RIRP rules required me to junk Pearson (and GLIF – see update opposite). But another lesson I have learned rather late in life is that nowadays holding on in these situations can make sense: as Legal & General and United Utilities have proved, if they get it right – and the stronger choices in the portfolio can carry them for a while – companies which have cut their dividends often subsequently deliver above average dividend growth. But I will be keeping a close eye on promises versus delivery.

The same is not true of Sainsbury, who have now delivered 3 years of gently declining dividend payments, leaving them yielding less than my low-dividend growth stock Reckitt Benckiser which has at least been delivering double digit growth from its pathetic start, and has allowed me to scalp some life-saving capital gains. Sainsbury’s have redefined their dividend policy as being to pay out half of earnings, but this is just the sort of unpredictability that I don’t want from a sector where Lidl has now become the biggest player – albeit only at the cost of a huge profits squeeze. As a privately owned German company, the owners can afford the long view, but some of us have rising post-Brexit bills to pay, so with many regrets, I have to eject Sainsbury, at 238p for a loss of £1,347, in the full knowledge that there is a possibility that I may be selling right at the bottom of its cycle.

Cash in the Bankers

To make up for the loss I shall repeat my previous raid on the shares of one of the several companies whose share price has shot ahead from the purchase price. I am selling one sixth of the shares we hold in Bankers Investment Trust. At 813p, on paper these are showing me an astonishing capital gain of 137%, though some of this reflects the too clever accounting in the early days of the RIRP when I used realised capital profits to deflate the purchase price of my reinvestments. I have become more transparent since.

This sale yields me a profit of £1,375 on the original investment, £28 more than the Sainsbury loss. Taking capital profits this way goes against the grain of the whole of my investment philosophy developed over the past 50 years since I first rashly invested some of my university grant in buying entirely unsuitable speculative commodity shares which fortuitously benefited from a surge in commodity prices on the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli 3 day war; I now realise I probably have almost as much to learn now as I did then.

Rolling the dice

Nevertheless I am taking a bit of a gamble with the proceeds, and reinvesting the six £1,000 Sainsbury units into Barratt Developments, the country’s biggest housebuilder. As shown by my previous inclusion of Galliford Try in the sister Income for Life portfolio, I do not share the post Brexit gloom for the housing sector, since I – perhaps naively – believe addressing the lack of housing supply will define the success of this and future governments. The gamble is that the business is notoriously cyclical and there is a danger I am buying in at the top of the cycle. The business has just delivered a near 20% rise in profits from its highest sales volume for nine years.

The chart shows the recent spectacular dividend growth – but also the dangers when things go wrong as happened after 2007. The shares go xd at the end of this month, which means we only capture some two thirds of the underlying dividends this year, but this is more than compensated for by the special dividend.

The sales of Sainsbury and Bankers produce £7,022 cash, so with an eye to boosting underlying dividend growth next year I am putting the remaining £1,000 into Lloyds whose dividend paying capacity I think still has some way to go, for all the reasons explained in Peter Shearlock’s lead article. To make up for the £97 dividend losses this year from the two sales, I am raiding some of the £173.52 special dividends which we will get from Barratt in November to include in this year’s underlying income.

Even so as Table 1 shows, despite all the companies shown in bold in the last column which have increased their dividends since the table was last published, total underlying dividend income is still some 2.7% down on last year, although of course more than compensated for by special dividends and realised capital profits.

Positive change

The summary Table 2 for IFL shows that the changes made three months ago are succeeding in their aim of keeping underlying average dividend growth comfortably ahead of inflation.

However the figures in blue show those payments made in dollars or euros where the effect of foreign currency moves can produce some quite perverse results, as in the case of HSBC; though as Shell and Vodafone prove, it is very much a case of swings and roundabouts.

Douglas Moffitt, October 2017

RIRP – Flexing the rules now to save for that rainy day

RIRP – Flexing the rules now to save for that rainy day

Three months ago a surprise cut in the dividend of what had been one of my star performers, Interserve, forced me to apply dramatic surgery to the original Rising Income Retirement Portfolio (RIRP)  in order to Brexit-proof it for the inflationary challenges then only just starting to appear.

Three months on and the inflationary pace has accelerated to 3.7% by the highest measure – and I am expecting a peak of at least 5%, confirmed by the fact the come-on 3-for-1 offer of one of my favourite beers at Tesco has just gone up 5%.

Table 1 shows the portfolio is likely to come out smiling.

Table 1 RIRP

The average full year yield on the sums invested is up to 6.4%, 60% up on the original 4% target 10 years ago, and more than twice the highest measure of inflation over that time. The last figure of column 2 shows the shares have already increased their underlying dividends by more than 5% over the previous year even though we are less than half way through the current accounting period. So with the extra bunce of some special dividends, I anticipate the RIRP will resume its original brief of being a low maintenance have-and-hold portfolio.

For most of its life, low inflation means I was able to carry a few failures and sleepers in the RIRP, but rising inflation now forces me to be less indulgent. I shall be keeping a beady eye on companies unable or unwilling to raise their payouts, regardless of their high yields.

Paring out the dead wood

This time I must perform a similar exercise on the newer junior portfolio, the Income for Life, constructed over a one year period designed to deliver at least 5% income rising so as to beat inflation. The first was a deliberately ambitious challenge, and the second is increasingly becoming so.

Table 2 shows that in its second year, and its first year being fully invested, the underlying return on the £100,000 capital was over 5.2%, boosted to over 6% by special dividends and an enforced share sale.

Table 2 RIRP

But just like Interserve in the RIRP, one of my holdings has turned into a cuckoo; and just like the takeover of Alternative Networks forced me to sell a share at a time not of my making, so the Fox bid for Sky is effectively forcing me to do the same. I have always justified my professed indifference to my shares’ capital values with the argument that the value of my share certificates does not pay the bills, but the dividend cheques do. And the nasty small print in the Fox bid is that Sky pays no dividends this year. The sex scandals at Fox are again raising concerns as to whether the UK should consider it a “fit and proper person” to own such an influential broadcaster outright, and frankly I cannot any longer afford to forgo any return on one twentieth of the portfolio.

So entirely aware that I am throwing away the chance of a 5%+ capital gain if and when the bid does go through, I am selling all my Sky shares for a small capital loss.

Building a war chest

To compensate for this I am selling another chunk of the formerly high-yielding UIL, whose big capital gains have actually reduced the return on its current share price to under 4.6%. I am similarly cashing in £2,000 of the investment in De La Rue which still has to generate the dividend growth I want, but which for reasons I find as difficult to understand as UIL’s valuation, has risen by 50% since I bought it; since even I cannot resist banking a £1,000 capital gain to provide a war chest against future possible dividend disappointments.

All this generates nearly £9,000 cash of which I am using £8,000 to buy 4 units of two very different shares, each something of a gamble in their own way.

The first is what I hope will be a solid but unspectacular provider of income which will rise at least to match inflation: HICL Infrastructure, launched by HSBC back in 2006 as the first of what are now many infra-structure companies listed on the stock exchange. The nature of their contracts effectively allows investors a guaranteed inflation-linked return, unless the management lose track of their costs. Dividends have risen from 6p at launch to a target of 7.8p for the current year, bang in line with inflation over the period. Dividends are paid quarterly, which means this year we will only get three quarters of the projected 4.7% full year yield. In keeping with the lessons I have learned late in life about sometimes dipping into capital gains when they seem too good to be true, I am using the De La Rue and UIL profits minus the Sky loss to further boost the “bonus” line, already standing at nearly £500 because of which a welcome surprise special dividend from National Grid last month.

Building in the bonus

And for all my railings about the distortive effect of special dividends, I am buying my second share very much in the hope it will continue the pattern of the past 5 years by further supplementing its above average underlying dividend growth by generous regular special dividends. It is ITV which after some difficult years has found ways to continue to generate viewers and revenue despite the huge changes in viewing habits.

ITV chart

Underlying dividends have increased by two and a half times over just the past 5 years, and the projected percentage yield in the table is based on last year’s basic dividends. But the special dividend last year boosted the yield by more than two thirds. Unfortunately we will get only one dividend in our current year, but I am hoping for a bumper bonus next May.

The table shows we have some way to go to get underlying full year income even back up to last year’s £5,215. I am hoping GLIF will provide at least something to help narrow the existing £129 gap, but in view of the current share price around 14p I am not holding my breath. Clearly this is going to be a year when I shall have to dip into the war chest.

I realise of course that in doing so I am spending the two sources of money which I claim not to want, special dividends and realised capital gains. But when needs must, it is surely a fool who feels constrained by his own dogmas. And to salve my conscience I am pretty sure that by the year end next March I shall not have had to boost the income figures by more than last year’s £828 bonus, which prudent investors should have kept aside for precisely such a rainy day; but which I fully realise most of us will have spent.

Douglas Moffitt, July 2017

Star holding sacrificed for post Brexit income growth

RIRP – Star holding sacrificed for post-Brexit income growth

When I last wrote 3 months ago, I anticipated that I would have to review some of my holdings in my RRP and IFL portfolios. This is forced by the inevitable imported post-Brexit inflation making it more difficult for my shares to continue to raise their dividends by more than inflation, as they have so spectacularly done since I launched the two portfolios.

I anticipated that the main problem would be with the more recently launched Income for Life portfolio, because I initially had to settle for some higher yielding shares with lower growth prospects in order to achieve my rather demanding starting income target.

Low maintenance, just not that low

I had grown used to just periodically updating the original Rising Income Retirement Portfolio (RIRP) and complacently reporting that most companies had increased their payouts by two or three times the (undemandingly low) rate of inflation, and so conveniently compensating for any temporary laggards. After all, the portfolio was specifically constructed so as to be a low maintenance selection of shares, designed essentially to look after itself, as insurance against the day when I may have lost those marbles still remaining to me, rendering me less able to take financial decisions.

So it was a shock to me as I updated the table below to discover that whereas seven of my companies had already announced dividend increases for the accounting year ahead averaging over 11%, shown in bold in the last column of the table, Interserve had spoiled the party by “suspending” its forthcoming payout.

RIRP table

Only recently I had been heralding it as one of my star performers, only one of three in the portfolio to be delivering the coveted double figure yield on the original sums invested. This is where my professed indifference to the capital value of my shares may have let me down. For as Interserve’s dividends had risen since I first bought the shares, so the capital value had climbed to more than 3 times my original purchase price by 2014. This is what I would expect. But what I had not appreciated was the steady fall in the share price from its peak, despite continuing rises in the payout – up nearly 5 per cent last year.

Now it is marginally less than we paid for it, and we know the reason why: not only are underlying profits down, but exceptional costs in getting out of its Energy From Waste business has resulted in a £160m exceptional charge, and the need for new banking facilities to see it through the painful transition.

The passed dividend will “only” save some £23m, so I anticipate the dividend “suspension” may be rather like Norman Lamont’s suspension of the UK’s membership of the European Monetary system back in 1992. Since I cannot see how the pound’s post Brexit decline can fail to feed through to anything less than price rises of 5% before much longer, I need to undertake some drastic surgery to protect my future income flows in the RIRP.

Because Interserve’s cumulative dividend growth had been so good, it leaves a £600+ hole in the coming year’s income, assuming the dividend “suspension” lasts the whole year, and not just the final which should have been paid next month. Before this I had decided the portfolio was strong enough to ride out both the projected further dividend cuts at GLIF, partly because I have little appetite for crystallising the resulting large capital losses, but also because I still have some hope that it – like Lloyds and RSA – might eventually come good. And because I suspect that may happen before Interserve resumes its former payouts, I still think that makes sense.

Realising cash for new purchases

So I think it makes sense to take a small capital loss on the Interserve shares by selling them all. To pay for this, and also to compensate for the inevitable short-term dividend reduction resulting from my reinvestment decisions, I will also sell two fifths of my holding in Reckitt Benckiser, whose shares are currently up around 50%. In some ways this is a painful choice, since this dollar-earner has just announced a dividend increase of 10% which may well be exceeded for the full year, but in terms of its current share price it is only yielding just over 2%, and in the short term I can put both the capital and the capital gain to better use.

My sale of Interserve and the RB shares generates cash of around £8,836 from investments originally costing around £8,000.

So I am going to add the net capital gains of £836 to the £43.30 already sitting in this year’s annual “bonus” account as a result of Lloyds Banking Group’s latest special dividend payable, and use £3,000 to top up my below-average holding in Lloyds to the standard 5 units, since I now anticipate continuing above average dividend increases as the company recovers from its near-bankruptcy after the HBOS takeover. (I am assuming the latest legacy liability regarding illegal actions by rogue staff will be negligible in the context of the costs of PPI misselling). This latest purchase means a big rise in the average price we have paid per share, and though the apparent yield is still below the portfolio average, the latest special dividend to be paid in May brings the actual return to over 5.25% with every expectation of further growth.

In place of Interserve I am investing the remaining £5,000 “original” capital into Phoenix Group.

Formerly Pearl Assurance, this company really has reinvented itself, moving to the Cayman Islands and developing an eagle eye for making money out of other companies’ zombie life funds – those closed to new business but whose liabilities can be run down very profitably. Although the current dividend is technically not covered by earnings, the group is actually throwing off cash at an impressive rate, and the board is confidently forecasting a further overall 5% increase for the year. The City gossip is that it may relocate its domicile from the Cayman Islands to facilitate fundraising for more acquisitions. I am buying this share (as I have recently bought for myself) even though the portfolio will miss the xd date for the May dividend, and so will only deliver half the full year’s anticipated 6.4% yield in our accounting period.

Short-term shortfall

The short term effect this year will be that based on dividend increases for the year ahead declared so far, the portfolio’s underlying income will fall from £6,325 to £5,843. I expect this gap to have narrowed substantially over the remaining 10 months of the accounting period as more companies announce further increases, but meanwhile I have no compunction in including the “bonus” income in the yield calculations. Just as I have always claimed that unrealised capital profits do not pay the grocery bills, so the corollary is true that realised profits can do. If we choose to deplete the whole of this year’s current war chest, our disposable income will be more than 6% up for the year ahead, way above any anticipated inflation rate. The expectation of further announcements of higher dividends over the coming 10 months mean there should be no need to crystallise any further capital profits, unless an exceptional reinvestment opportunity arises; barring another Interserve of course.

I am leaving the IFL alone for this issue as there are no horrors other than the known question mark over GLIF’s future dividends, though several other shares are showing little or no growth, problems I shall address in the July issue.

First published in The IRS Report on 1st April 2017.

RIRP pays double the inflation rate as IFLP demands my attention

RIRP pays double the inflation rate as IFLP demands my attention

As with most new arrivals, the Income for Life portfolio which I launched less than two years ago has occupied more of my attention than I intended. As a result, its predecessor, the Rising Income Retirement Portfolio (RIRP) – nine years old in February – has effectively been ignored for the second 12 months in a row. Again no changes have been made to the portfolio, and this is exactly what was intended when it was constructed: a low maintenance selection whose dividend increases would comfortably outstrip inflation.

To be frank, this has not really been a very demanding target over the past few years, and even though the most recent annual inflation rate for the RPI has risen to 2.2%, as Table 1 shows the fund’s underlying income went up by 5.5% – two and a half times faster.

I no longer include special dividends in the basic calculations, rather treating them separately as “bonuses” because they are so unpredictable: this year’s specials from Direct Line, Glaxo and Lloyds provide a further £468, equivalent to nearly 0.5% on the original investment, but in fact the total bonus sum is nearly £2,300 less than the previous year’s truly exceptional and clearly unrepeatable receipts.

The future will be harder

But life is going to be tougher for the next couple of years. Since June and for most of the coming year, dividends of companies designated in dollars or euros, such as BP, HSBC or Vodafone, or with significant international earnings such as BATs or Reckitt Benckiser, will benefit from the fall in sterling which the foreign exchange markets so obligingly gifted the Brexiteers. But by the same token imported inflation will increasingly start showing through, so I must look carefully at some of the small print behind my funds’ performances.

The last column of Table 1 shows the actual rises or falls in income compared with the year before. The fact the market is around all time highs means the RIRP has unrealised capital gains approaching 40 per cent which means I now need to have pretty good reasons not to weed out shares which have gone ex growth or cut their dividends. The next article in April may see me jettison Pearson, Sainsbury and the two utilities unless they can raise their games.

IFLP beats its target in year 1

Table 2 shows that the junior portfolio, the Income for Life, will complete its first fully invested year in March with flying colours, delivering an underlying yield of over 5.2% on the original capital, usefully above the original 5% target.

There have been a lot of changes to the IFL since the last full table was published 6 months ago. Not only does it now reflect my post-Brexit decision to realise some of the inexplicably large capital gains at UIL and reinvest in what seemed to be the unreasonably depressed Galliford Try, but also the rather surprising year-end takeover of Alternative Networks.

Alternative profits

When I originally bought Alternative Networks for the portfolio in July I was attracted by the rising dividend record on the basis of which I had myself invested when the share price was significantly higher and the yield correspondingly lower and so below the IFL’s initial targets. This was reinforced by the company’s confident forecast of a further 10% dividend increase this year.

I can only conclude the directors suffered a collective case of terminal post-Brexit depression, because they have since unanimously recommended a cash takeover from one of their biggest rivals. A reference to “Brexit uncertainty” is the only new factor I can discern in the lengthy statement of recommendation which makes any sense at all. For all the talk about how the group has created long term value for shareholders, unless – like the IFL – you were lucky enough to buy between the end of May and the beginning of September this year, there is precious little profit for anyone who bought the shares after mid 2013, and losses for anyone who bought during 2014 or 2015 – as I did. The all time high in 2014 was 570p – 70% above the recommended takeover price.

So I think the IFL is very lucky to be able to book a 15.5% profit, even though it is deprived of the forecast £188 initial January dividend. I am applying some of the gain to replace the lost dividend.

I dislike takeover bids for two reasons. They sometimes force me to crystallise a paper loss I might have been happy to live with, as I was with my personal holding based on the dividend and pre-Brexit forecasts. But even when bids crystallise a gain they force me to make reinvestment decisions at a timing which is not of my choice.

I thought about using the Alternative Networks bid proceeds to bring in a new share, but because the portfolio was constructed in the space of 12 months it has never been able to benefit to any significant degree from the multi-year pound-cost-averaging drip investment technique employed to create the RIRP.

Top-ups win over new shares

So I have applied the RIRP rules, and topped up on shares whose fundamentals seem unchanged from when I originally bought them, but whose share prices are either still around or below my original purchase price. To my surprise and delight one of the qualifying candidates was Galliford Try, so my maiden £2,000 investment is now topped up to the standard 5 units, and the remaining £2,000 is split between Connect and Marston’s. All three shares are yielding more than the fund’s current average 5.2%. I have booked the capital gain minus the £188 dividend to the “bonus” line.

The IFL will face the same challenges as the RIRP as inflation starts rising, but with the disadvantage of initially having been forced to invest in higher yielding shares, the corollary to which is normally lower dividend growth longer term. Like the RIRP it also faces a further dividend cut from GLI Finance, but even if GLIF pays no other dividend this coming year than the remaining quarterly to which it is committed in March, the full year dividends from Galliford Try and my other increased holdings already largely make up the loss.

I also admit I quite like leaving a failure in if I can afford it. There are two reasons: sometimes they come right, if you can wait long enough; and meanwhile they are an enduring reminder that none of us gets it right all the time, and should therefore not beat ourselves up too much for our failures.

Douglas Moffitt, January 2017

Income For Life portfolio Brexit creates house builder opportunities

Income for Life portfolio – Brexit creates house builder opportunities

The Rising Income Retirement Portfolio and its more recent offspring the Income for Life Portfolio were designed as a selection of shares requiring minimum maintenance once fully invested, delivering dividend increases above the rate of inflation.

The RIRP was constructed over a 7 year period through drip investments, designed to maximise the benefit of pound cost averaging, and has been fully invested since 2015. Table 1 shows it is more than fulfilling its mandate.

RIRP portfolio

Projected underlying income for the year to next February will be nearly 5% up on last year, and that’s before non-recurring items – which I now treat as “bonuses” – which bring the total rise in income for the year to 13%. This compares with the 1.8% rise in inflation according to the RPI over the most recent 12 months. The underlying yield on the sums originally invested is up by more than 50%, from 4% net after basic rate tax to 6.3%.

The IFLP on the other hand was built from scratch from April 2015 in just twelve months. It also had a more demanding initial yield target of around 5% in its first full year of investment. It will comfortably exceed that in its first full year to March 2017.

However this meant making some compromises between the fund’s need for an income significantly higher than is available from the FTSE 100 (and way ahead of anything on offer at any reputable bank), and its long term aim – the same as the RIRP, to deliver dividend increases which exceed the rate of inflation.

I made no secret of the fact that once fully invested it was likely I would have to revisit some of the shares initially bought just as income-boosters, but whose growth of income was likely to prove a drag on the fund’s longer term performance.

Table 2 shows how the dividends this year of the twenty current components of the fund compare with those declared the previous year. Until the most recently reported dividend increases from Kier, Manx and Sky, the reductions at GLIF meant the average underlying rises were barely keeping pace with the 1.8% inflation rate.

income for life portfolio

Well ahead of inflation

Now it is clear that we will finish the year usefully ahead of any likely inflation rate, but for the longer term any shares showing lower dividend rises than the current inflation rate obviously require re-examination as to whether it makes sense to keep them.

Some caution is needed: the IFL is only half way through its accounting year, so some – such as De La Rue – have not yet declared both their dividends for the year. On the other hand, Centrica has done, and is clearly not going to keep our spending power from being squeezed in future unless it ups its game next year. It was admittedly a risky candidate for inclusion in the first place because it had previously cut its dividend, but history shows that if you buy such companies after the nasty medicine, they can sometimes outperform – in dividend and capital terms – as both United Utilities and Lloyds have proved within the RIRP. I will watch any such underperformers carefully next year.

It walked like a duck…

The big scar in both portfolios is of course GLIF, the classic illustration of something looking too good to be true and turning out to be precisely that. A boardroom coup has already seen the dividend halved, and now the company says from 2017 dividends will be fully covered by sustainable operating income plus the proceeds of any sales of investments, which must imply another cut.

The only silver lining is the suggestion that this will provide the basis for the payment of a “progressive dividend”, which is what both portfolios are all about. The original guidelines for the RIRP disqualified any company which had a history of dividend cuts, and by implication required me to eject any company which did so after I had bought, but this proved too rigid in the testing times following the banking crisis during which the portfolio was launched. I am leaving GLIF in both portfolios for the time being as examples of how even the odd disaster can be absorbed, even within only a 20-share portfolio.

The RIRP was actually launched on a disaster I would rather now forget, and has been carrying Lloyds Banking Group almost since launch, and RSA for several years recently. In investing no one is infallible, and while I obviously prefer not to choose lemons, history shows that when I have done, jettisoning them too hastily is often a costly error – not least because the “replacement cost” is often very high. For instance, on its current reduced payout, GLIF still yields 4.4% on its original investment, but because the share price has been understandably punished, I would need to get over 10% on any new investment to avoid a reduction in ongoing income.

Similarly the original RIRP guidelines required me to ignore capital ups and downs as random noise behind the sole objective of delivering rising dividends, and by and large I did.

But the shorter timeframe and need to underpin growth means I cannot be so intellectually detached with the IFL. So when I see UIL, one of my star income boosters but with no history of rising dividends, showing a capital gain of over 66% for reasons I cannot imagine from any published information, I have to look at how I might benefit.

I bought UIL at 111p to yield 6.8%, but at the current market price of 187p its dividend yield for new investors is just 4%. So if I can find a share with the prospects of dividend growth which currently yields that or more, I would be quids in selling UIL and reinvesting.

House builders remain cheap

I am therefore going to sell enough UIL shares to buy £2,000 of Galliford Try. As a Brexiteer I have never understood why the doom-mongering should apply to housebuilders, since I do not accept that post Brexit Britain will see us all living in caves.

Galliford is one of many good companies whose shares have not recovered from their immediate post Brexit markdowns.

The company recently released a splendid set of results and boosted the year’s total payout by over 20%. Despite the 17% rise in its share price since the announcement, the shares still yield over 6% assuming the payout can be maintained; I have every expectation that it will be increased further until the housebuilding cycle goes into decline.

I don’t expect that to happen in the foreseeable future. While I have no special insight into the minds of Messrs May and Hammond, I do know that if they are serious about capturing the true centre ground of British politics, they could do far worse than do all in their power to see as many houses as possible built between now and the next election.

But I shall wait for the November Autumn Economic Statement before committing myself further.

Simple maths; simple decision

UIL has just paid the second of its quarterly dividends, so any shares I sell now will only lose me half a year’s income. The Galliford shares don’t go exdividend until October 27 so this year I will pick up their final dividend, more than two thirds of the annual payout.

The maths is a no-brainer. If I sell enough UIL shares to buy £2,000 Galliford Try I lose £40 UIL income this year, but gain £86 from Galliford; in the full year next year the Galliford dividends will be well ahead of UIL assuming there is no increase, which is unlikely.

I have thus converted high yielding shares with little or no dividend growth prospects into shares with dividend growth prospects, and given the current year’s income an additional small boost. In capital terms I will have sold shares which cost me £1,186 and acquired new shares costing £1,997.

These changes will be reflected in the table with the next article in January, when I will look at some of the other dividend laggards in my list such as GSK. If they are still showing capital gains, I will see if I can repeat the trick, though in reality it is unlikely I shall be able to switch from all the higher yielding underperformers without some short term cost to my income.

Douglas Moffitt, October 2016

Income for life trying to sit on my hands as the world wobbles

Trying to sit on my hands as the world wobbles Income for Life

The late, much maligned but consistently entertaining stockmarket commentator Bob Beckman used to claim that the most difficult thing any investor has to learn is the art of “masterly inactivity”. I know just what he means.

Even before the referendum vote and its shock result, I had been tempted to indulge in some tinkerings to take advantage of juicy situations thrown up by the stockmarket’s gyrations. I thought I might take the opportunity to chuck out some of the income boosters held in both the original Rising Income Retirement Portfolio (RIRP) and its more recent successor, the Income For Life Portfolio (IFLP), and reinvest in a couple of companies I have come across recently which are still pledging to raise dividends anything from 4% to 15% and whose depressed share prices would actually give the portfolios a further income boost.

Why I shouldn’t trade

In fact there are three good reasons not to do this.

• Both portfolios were intended to be low-maintenance, partly as an insurance policy against the day when I may be less mentally capable of tinkering, even if I wanted to. So my shares are designed as investments to “buy and hold”. If there isn’t a compelling reason to do something, don’t.

• It is not as if my selections aren’t providing what I intended. Both portfolios are more than delivering their stated aims. Without lifting a finger, and only one third of the way through its accounting year, I know that the original RIRP will deliver a 3.7% rise in underlying income for the year. This represents a return of over 6.2% on the original capital invested, and we have also pocketed a special dividend which brings the actual rise to over 7%. Similarly, within just one year I have constructed the IFLP whose dividends in its first full year will slightly exceed the targeted 5%. So, as neither portfolio looks broken in any way, why fix it?

• There is also a more practical reason, and that is that as we go to press the market has had only a few trading days in which to respond to “Independence Day”, and frankly it could still change its mind as violently as it did on the Day After. My head and experience tell me that only an idiot would make major changes in those circumstances.

But Beckman was right. Masterly inactivity is difficult when you can see opportunity staring you in the face. In both portfolios I have shares in companies whose dividend growth has stalled or disappointed, even if they have not forced me to act by cutting their dividends. In most such cases, especially with the more recently constructed IFLP, this means to sell these stocks now would mean crystallising a loss, which goes against the grain: even in the new 20-share IFLP, I can carry some sleepers if I have to. But some of my laggards are actually showing useful capital gains – don’t ask me why, I long ago stopped trying to impute any rationale to stock market valuations.

I have a further disincentive to tinker, and that is second column in Table 1 which shows the historic yield on the original cost of the RIRP shares. There are question marks over the short term dividend growth potential for GSK, Interserve, Pearson and United Utilities, but you need compelling reasons to oust shares mostly still yielding more than my 6.2% RIRP average.

july-2016-dm
Table 1 & 2

This would clinch the decision, were it not for the fact that most of the shares in the RIRP have risen in value by more than the rises in their dividends, and so anyone buying now gets much lower yields. To show the effect, I have created a new column for both tables showing what the yield is on the current value of the shares. It shows that new investors in the RIRP now get a lower yield than my initial IFLP target of 5%.

Because I launched the IFLP when the market was near its all-time high, I naturally have capital losses there. The result is that the similar current yield column in Table 2 shows an investor buying all the IFLP shares today would now get a yield approaching 5.5%.

Will RIRP deliver better dividend growth?

The logical conclusion from this would be to switch the whole of the RIRP into the IFLP — assuming the dividend growth prospects of the IFLP are as good as those of the RIRP. Because of the stocks I had to choose to maximise my first year income for the IFLP this would surprise me. And I am, as always, ignoring dealing costs. So I am not suggesting that anyone should do this. But monitoring the comparison between the RIRP and IFLP will be an interesting intellectual exercise for the future.

The principle underlying the creation of these portfolios is that they are based on my own investments, and are my best choices of what I have ended up in my own portfolio since I sold my companies in 2008. And despite Bob Beckman’s good advice, I have been unable to resist topping up my own holdings of Berkeley Group and Lloyds, which seemed to me to have been knocked back disproportionately, and where my holdings were below my average size.

So I am going to deny “masterful inactivity” for the IFLP as well – but with just one holding.

Out with esure, in with Alternative Networks

Even before the vote I had my eye on another of my own holdings as a possible substitute for esure in the IFL. As discussed in April, this company not only cut its special dividends – on which I had been relying for an initial dividend boost, but also its final. Yet the share is still showing a capital gain, and I cannot resist the temptation to sell the shares (crediting the £100 capital gain to my “bonus” line), and reinvest £5,000 in Alternative Networks.

The company delivers IT products and services to businesses, ranging from cloud computing, managed hosting, fixed-line voice, software development, mobile, systems, IP networks and various other things like “virtualisation” which are beyond my understanding. But what I can understand is the 64% rise in dividends over the past 5 years. The shares have almost halved from their all-time high when their yield was too low to come up as a possible choice for the IFLP, but at their current price will yield nearly 6% in a full year. I can see nothing in June’s interim report to justify this rating; what I can see is the commitment to raise dividends a further 10% this year.

We have unfortunately missed the xd date for the July dividend, so will only get the final in January in this accounting year. But together with the dividend already received from esure, the special dividend from GSK and the capital profit from esure, this means the actual cash flowing in up to next April will represent a yield of over 5.25% on the £100,000 notionally originally invested, against the underlying first full year yield of just under 5.1%.

After this, perhaps I can resist the temptation to deal for a few months.

The post-BREXIT outlook for my portfolios
When the Editor asked me to “comment on the outlook for the types of companies in the portfolios”, my response was to suggest that at this stage any rational judgement on individual company or sector prospects is likely to be about as helpful as the Treasury’s “calculation” that average household gross domestic product (not income) would be £4,300 less than it might otherwise have been by 2030.
All depends on the renegotiation, which is unlikely to be finalised before 2019, assuming we have not had a new election and a National Government first. But whatever the uncertainties, political or economic, I can’t see the logic for bashing the construction sector; banks will only suffer if the euro collapses, and that might have happened anyway. Cynics may think that companies currently subject to EU price caps, like Vodafone, might have an opportunity to exploit their customers once we are out, whereas pharmaceutical companies based in the UK may suffer a regulatory disadvantage.
Most of my companies earn most of their money in the UK and so might be best placed eventually to benefit from less EU regulation. It’s difficult to see how my utility and oil companies are likely to be affected either way, except in the way that all companies with significant non-sterling earnings will benefit from the lower pound.

Douglas Moffitt, July 2016

IFL off to a cracking start

IFL off to a cracking start

Exactly a year ago I launched the Income For Life (IFL) portfolio, which is an attempt to recreate for more recent subscribers the success of my Rising Income Retirement Portfolio (RIRP), now in its ninth year. I had set myself some pretty ambitious targets for the IFL – not least to be fully invested within a year. The result so far is a bit of a curate’s egg, but definitely with more good than bad.

In January I completed investing all my notional £100,000 with twelve top-up purchases, shown in red in Table 1.

378 table1

Although less than £50,000 was invested throughout the full year, dividends received since last April totalled over £2,300 net of basic rate tax. That’s equivalent to nearly 3% pre-tax from a bank on the full £100,000, and more than you are likely to find from any savings institution with the exception of the likes of Bank of Baroda.

Forecast divis at 5% net

Even better are the red figures in the dividend column. These highlight companies which are paying more than was expected at the time of my last article about the IFL in October. However the rises shown for HSBC and Shell are entirely due to the weakness of sterling and could just as easily be reversed this year. Clearly too, these companies’ prospective yields suggest that the market has some doubts about the sustainability of their dividends.

But at the moment, projected dividend income for the 12 months ahead is a fraction over 5% net. And that is despite two partial failures.

GLIF has halved its projected payout, though even after that it is still delivering the equivalent of 5.5% pre-tax interest on the original investment (and over 9% on its current price). My forecast for the coming year’s income includes the reduced payment. GLIF is a useful reminder that although I have now been investing for over 50 years, and writing about it for nearly as long, “even I” still periodically forget that if it looks too good to be true, it almost certainly is. I beat myself up about GLIF quite enough in the January issue, so I will not do so again. I am hoping a progressive dividend policy might replace the previous income-kicker attractions, but will certainly be keeping more of an eye on it than most of the other stocks.

Insurer esure has also disappointed, though here I am partly to blame for nurturing unrealistic expectations. The company’s stated policy is to pay out 50% of underlying earnings in dividends, plus special payments depending on circumstances. I own shares in esure, like all others in both portfolios, and it has provided me with a healthily rising income in the past. For the RIRP, the unpredictably distortive effects of special dividends have been a persistent problem, but I assumed they could only be a bonus in the initial stages of building the IFL.

With esure, underlying earnings are down over 25% this year. Despite paying out an extra 20% of earnings in a (reduced) special, actual dividends for the past 12 months are down from 16.8p to 11.5p per share. The forecast income for the year ahead is based on the actual dividends declared during the past 12 months.

Mixed results from drip-feeding initial capital

Paradoxically esure is one of the 7 shares out of my 20 to show an overall capital gain for the year. As regular readers will know, so long as dividends are maintained or increased, I regard capital movements as largely random noise – unless I want to rearrange my holdings, which by and large it is my aim not to do.

In taking 9 months to become fully invested – instead of the several years I took to complete investing the funds for the RIRP – I had hoped to reap some of the benefits of the pound cost averag-ing which had served me so well with the RIRP. In retrospect this was a mixed success, to really benefit from pound cost averag-ing you need to use a longer drip-feed period than 12 months – ideally over a full market cycle.

I started the IFL with the FTSE flirting with its all-time highs, around 12% higher than now, and if I had invested all the cash at the start, all my current selections would have cost more then than my average buying price apart from esure and Manx Telecom. For me this is a clear win – the lower the average purchase price, the higher the resulting yield. My only regret is that having restricted myself to only dealing once a quarter when the articles appeared, I was unable to benefit from the severe shakeout in mid-February as I might otherwise have done.

On the other hand, almost inevitably, having started with the index so much higher than now, our shares are on balance currently worth less than we paid for them, as Table 2 shows.

377 table2

If this worries you, you should not be contemplating following my sort of strategy – indeed arguably you should not be buying shares at all. But a typical fund manager would claim that a fall of under 5% against a market decline of 12% is something to boast about. In my case I am just sad I am not launching the fund now so we could buy all the fallers at today’s prices. Someone doing just that would get a prospective yield of nearly 5.5%; if they bought the whole portfolio at current prices the prospective yield is 5.25%.

RIRP income motors ahead

The aim of the IFL is to be able to sit back and watch the dividends roll in at an increasing rate so as to keep overall income well ahead of inflation – as the original RIRP has done. In fact the RIRP is now delivering in spades – its underlying income is already projected to rise by over 3% in the year ahead. Statistically the star dividend increases – of over 100% each – come from two legacy failures, Lloyds and RSA; but both of course are starting from only nominal bases, and still contribute little in absolute terms to the fund’s total income. Legal and General stands out with a 13% projected rise already under its belt, bringing its return on the original capital invested to a splendid 17.5%. Together with BT and Interserve, consistent above-average dividend growth from these three shares mean they yield an average of 12.75% on the amounts originally invested. For income-focused investors, it is figures like these – not paper gains – that are evidence of success.

My quest for as much income as possible in the first 12 months from the IFL means that some of my selections may not possess the long-term inflation-busting potential which I need, and I fear I will have to do some unwelcome tinkering over the year ahead to have any hope of delivering underlying growth matching the RIRP.

Take steps to avoid extra dividend tax

Additionally, shareholders face a googly this coming year: if the value of your dividends held outside an ISA or SIPP comes to more than £5,000, you will be liable to pay the Chancellor’s sneaky 7.5% dividend tax surcharge announced in last year’s Budget. It will not actually become payable until end-January 2018. But even if you had to give the Chancellor 7.5% extra on the whole of next year’s projected IFL income, what you are left with is the equivalent of 5.8% from a bank. I believe it will in fact turn out to be higher than that after another year of rising dividend announcements – assuming no nasty surprises from HSBC or Shell. Or anyone else!

You can now read every article on the RIRP and IFL portfolios from inception at RIRP.co.uk.

First published in The IRS Report on 2nd April 2016.

Income growth record in 2015

RIRPs record 32% income growth in 2015

Income growth a record 32% in 2015. In the year since I last published full details of the original Rising Income Retirement Portfolio I have pursued a policy of benign neglect towards its management. This was partly because my attention has been focused on constructing its successor, the Income for Life Portfolio, but also as a test of one of its original aims.

It was launched in March 2008 to deliver dividend increases each year at least equal to – and ideally exceeding – the rate of inflation; but just as importantly entailing minimum maintenance once fully invested.

The much maligned market commentator Bob Beckman used to claim that “masterly inactivity” was one of the most difficult disciplines to embrace, and I have forced myself to observe it over the last year, other than to consult my Excel sheet on what my dividend flow should be.

Now I come to look more closely, I find quite a few surprises, not all of them pleasant.

Four nasty surprises

I did write in the summer that I feared that my laissez-faire approach might have meant I had missed a developing problem at Infinis. This duly culminated in December when the original private equity sellers took the company private again for 185p, 29% less than the price at which they had floated it less than 2 years previously. This is nice work if you can get it. We lose nearly £1,500 of our £5,000 investment, and a dividend stream of over £231.

The second surprise was that GlaxoSmithKline had gone ex-growth over my accounting period, at least in dividend terms. This was always a danger, as had already happened at competitor Astra Zeneca, but I had not expected it so soon at Glaxo. I am taking no action yet as the company’s recent acquisitions may allow it to resume rising payouts and not affect the income growth.

And although the dividend at Pearson has continued to rise, worries about its future sustainability have knocked the share price nearly back to the average price we paid for it years ago.

The capital fluctuation does not worry me in itself, but a dividend cut of course would, as is now happening at GLI Finance. Its share price collapsed towards year-end to under 35p, following proposals to repay nearly £25m maturing loans with a zero dividend preference share issue.

In the week before Christmas those plans were abandoned in favour of selling 7% of the company to a Jersey-based venture capital group for 37p a share and other cash injections which will allow it to repay its loans. The former CEO has resigned and the dividend will be halved. This reduces the prospective yield to only 4%; the fund can live with this if it has to, but I will be reviewing this holding in April.

Income growth record
Income growth record at 32% in 2015

Three shares now yield sustainable 10%+

There have been some pleasant surprises too, notably a double figure rise in the dividend at BT, as also Legal & General and BP, the latter boosted by favourable currency fluctuations. This means that three of our shares now yield 10% or more on our original investment. This more than offsets the anticipated dividend reduction at Sainsbury.

The other surprise was that the increase in income which my spreadsheet was showing at Reckitt Benckiser was entirely accounted for by the spin off of their anti-addiction unit into a new plc, called Indivior. Reckitt itself actually reduced its sterling payout.

As the Indivior holding in total was only worth a couple of hundred pounds I have decided to sell it and show the proceeds as an adjustment in a separate line in the table, in the same way as I brought in £127 of unusual items this time last year, as explained at the time.

The Indivior payout had artificially boosted the increase in underlying income recorded in my interim reports over the past year on the fund’s dividend growth. The fund’s underlying income was boosted by £2,750 in special dividends or capital repayments from Direct Line and Standard Life. Unlike Reckitt, where the impact on dividends is transparent, both these companies implemented capital reconstructions, reducing the number of shares in issue so as to compensate for the capital repayment.

Effectively this reduces the payouts, as the cash income figures from Standard Life show. And because the huge capital repayment from Vodafone the previous year had straddled the end of my accounting year, the figures shown this time last year for Vodafone’s income unfortunately included some £500 which should have been included in the bonus line in my summary updates over the past year: my apologies, and I have corrected it in the current tables.

Even after the above adjustments, and the dividend cut at Sainsbury, the fund still shows an entirely healthy rise in underlying income for the year of over 4.7 per cent, to nearly £5,994 – a return of 6 per cent on the original capital invested. My target of at least doubling the rate of inflation so long as it remains abnormally low has been helped by the mere 1.1 per cent rise in the RPI over the latest twelve month period available.

Table 2 shows the longer term achievement, and the increasingly sizeable impact of the non-recurring bonuses.

RIRP dividend income growth
RIRP dividend income growth

Bonus payments help income exceed target

Over the 8 years my original at target yield of 4% needs to have grown to nearly £4,928 to keep up with the 23.9 per cent rate of inflation since I started the fund. In fact the underlying income has grown over twice as fast to nearly £6,000, and that’s before the bonuses and adjustments amounting to over £2,900 this year alone, plus others over previous years.

This year’s rise of nearly one third in total income can obviously not be predictably repeated, the main reason I have started showing one-off payments separately from underlying income. Another benefit of identifying specials and capital repayments separately is the ability to regard such income as a slush fund for a rainy day.

Similarly, if I wanted, I could use some of it to pay for the capital loss on the forced sale of Infinis. But I don’t think I need to.

Compensating for the £231 loss of income from Infinis with only just over £3,500 to reinvest requires a yield of nearly 6.6 per cent, which is almost impossible to get without undue risk.

I have decided to leave my slush fund untouched this year in case I need to top up my underlying income next year, as a result of this forced sale and reinvestment and dividend cut at GLI, and instead will correct a feature in the table, which worries some readers because it shows “artificially depressed” purchase prices for a few stocks which I had paid for or topped up in previous years by scalping some capital gains from shares which had shown significant capital profits.

What this meant, for example, was that if I sold a £1,000 unit of a share which had risen by 50 per cent, I would buy shares in (for example) Bankers Investment Trust for £1,500, but only show a book purchase cost of £1,000; in other words reducing the apparent purchase price by a third. I justify this because it keeps the book value of my original capital constant just under £100,000 and so lets me see what the real achievement has been in terms of the yield on that original capital.

So now I am going to spend my actual £3,503 realised from the sale of Infinis to top up the existing £4,000 investment in Bankers and £3,000 investment in Vodafone by a book cost of £5,000 in total to 6 units each. This will have the effect of raising the average purchase price of those two shares, and reducing their projected percentage yield, though between them still to an average of over 5.

On current projections the fund needs to deliver an extra 1.3% underlying growth to make good for these lower reinvestment yields. As happened last year I am expecting another healthy round of dividend rises over the year ahead to deliver much more than this, even if higher interest rates do make some inroads into corporate profits.

I am hoping that my long-term sleeper Lloyds may also compensate for GLI letting me down. If as is widely mooted Lloyds is sold off with a prospective yield of 5 per cent or more at a significantly higher price than my average purchase cost, the resulting sharply higher dividends will solve a lot of my potential shortfall. I may even consider topping up the holding in the public offering by selling off a couple of units in companies whose share prices are up sharply and where I am overweight, such as Interserve or Standard Life, if the reinvestment yield makes sense adding to the income growth.

Filling out the IFL portfolio

So far as the Income for Life Portfolio is concerned, as foreshadowed in the previous article I am spending the fund’s remaining £12,000 in topping up to 5 units those shares in which I have currently invested less than the full £5,000, and will report on the first full year’s income growth, with the fund fully invested over those twelve months, in the April issue.

My New Year’s Resolution is to apply the lesson from this past year, which I already knew in my bones: that there is all the difference in the world between masterly inactivity and neglect, and will take a proper look at the RIRP components at least every quarter. Clearly the market – I dare not say insiders – knew something was up at GLI and Infinis, and I suppose the market valuation for Pearson is as likely to be as right or wrong as it was less than a year ago when the share price was more than twice what it is now.

And although only of interest to my heirs, it turns out that despite these scars the market value of the portfolio has ended the year slightly higher than a year ago, unlike the major UK indices, underpinning my faith that dividend income growth is the best defence against capital erosion.

First published in The IRS Report on 9th January 2016.

RIRP investment updates

RIRP Investment Updates

Investment Update – 1st June 2013

First Group – Events have moved swiftly since I posted my first reaction to FirstGroup’s rights issue and dividend suspension a week ago. By the end of the week the market was valuing the shares with the rights entitlement at less than the theoretical ex-rights price.
Now that the full details are available, it is clear the restored dividend in over a year’s time will only be producing a yield of under 5% at the rights price, and while the group may later enjoy the revitalisation they hope for, I don’t think I can afford to wait for them to prove it. As I think I can do something better with the cash, certainly in the meantime, I now propose to sell all the RIRP holding.
he shares go ex-rights at close of business on June 7th, the Friday after this issue of The IRS Report is published, and just in case the market changes its assessment after the rights, in the July RIRP article I shall treat the sale proceeds as if half the holding had been sold cum-rights on June 6th, and the remaining half ex-rights the following Thursday, June 13th. If the rights have any value in the market the RIRP will notionally sell them too.
Sadly as FirstGroup is our biggest single holding, its sale will create a £600 black hole in the dividend income for the current year, equal to over 0.6% of the total invested capital. But I will still have over half the RIRP’s accounting year to make up some of the lost ground.

 

Investment Update – 1st December 2012

RIRP dividend growth tops 11%

Now the Rising Income Retirement Portfolio is nearing maturity, with over 90% of capital invested, reporting on it should become increasingly routine, and for this reason we are in future only going to publish full updates every third month.

This after all was the key behind the original concept — to create a portfolio, for those like me who are in or approaching full retirement, which would require only care and maintenance rather than day-to-day active management. Two main reasons for my adopting this approach were to minimise dealing costs and to protect against the day when I may not feel or be able to take sensible investment decisions.

Ideally, now that only a small amount remains to be invested, I should just be recording a continuing catalogue of dividend increases outstripping inflation from the RIRP. I wish… but of course in reality the sailing will never be entirely so plain. Since the last full report, it is true, the dividends have continued to roll in: the average rate of increase in dividends this year will be comfortably over 11% as three more companies have announced increases.

But we have also had a warning shot from FirstGroup, which has not raised its interim dividend, adding to market speculation about the possibility of a rights issue: this would require some active engagement of the grey cells. If necessary, I will confront this issue in the next full report in the January issue.

 

Investment Update – 3rd November 2012

FirstGroup (FGP): the shares were not selected for the RIRP on the basis that they would win the West Coast rail franchise. So the company’s failure to win it will not result in any action. The rules of the RIRP require a review and usually a sale if the dividend is cut.

 

Investment Update – 5th February 2011

Cattles – Sum invested for RIRP: £4,000. Average price per share: 165p. Suspended 23.4.09.
Value of offer under proposed Scheme of Arrangement £24.23.
The shareholder meeting held on January 31st overwhelmingly accepted the 1p per share offer so as to enable the company to be reconstructed, largely to the benefit of the banks who are owed over £1 billion.
But as a result of the huge number of proxies gathered on behalf of the shareholders association, the board was forced to allow major concessions recognising the rights of many of the shareholders who have lost money — which will include those who bought at the time the RIRP was buying — to gradually get some more back in addition to the 1p per share.

 

Investment Update – 3rd April 2010

In line with our policy of topping up whenever companies maintain or increase their dividends and the yield remains above 4%, we are adding to three companies in the RIRP.

Interserve’s annual results show revenues, pre-tax profits and earnings per share all up healthily, and the final dividend goes up, to make a rise of nearly 3% for the whole year. The prospective yield is almost double the portfolio target. The portfolio adds a further £1,000 worth at 220p.

Balfour Beatty’s full-year revenues were up more than 9% and profits up 7% at £267m. The recent rights issue means earnings per share were unchanged, but adjusted for that, the 12p total dividends for the year are up 8%. We add £1,000 worth at 295p.

Standard Life’s full-year figures show broadly maintained pre-tax profits and earnings per share of 29.1p, allowing a 5% rise in the final dividend to make a well covered 12.24p for the year. The portfolio adds a fifth £1,000 at 205p.

 

Investment Update – 7th November 2009

Lloyds Banking Group – In theory I should spurn Lloyds’ proposed rights issue and sell the shares, since there is no hope of a dividend for the foreseeable future. But while it is true that unrealised capital profits or losses are almost immaterial to the portfolio’s dividend paying potential, a certain return on the original capital is required and retirees cannot replace lost capital from earnings. So as I am only 50% invested I do not want to crystallise any significant capital losses unless I have to.
Our losses on Lloyds would be much bigger if we had not taken up the last rights issue at tiny cost. The terms of the proposed £13.5bn issue will (unusually) not be announced till later this month, but on my reckoning they will involve less than £600 for our holding, and the price can only reduce our average purchase cost still further. So I shall take them up and hope they will come right one day.
I toyed with taking the profits on Kingfisher which would more than wipe out the losses on selling Lloyds, but am frankly gambling that the group will recover to the point where the government can get out at a profit, and we can decide whether to join them or stay in if they resume dividend payments.

 

Investment Update – 1st August 2009

National Express – Takeovers are usually bad news for a rising income portfolio since, regardless of price, the subsequent income stream usually falls. National Express, which is now clearly “in play”, may be the exception, since the board are convinced the company is worth significantly more than our average purchase price. The rumoured cash bid would enable us to reinvest at similar yields to what we were getting on the shares. For this sort of portfolio the strategy is to hold the shares until we are bought out.

 

Investment Update – 6th June 2009

Tate & Lyle – The RIRP has so far made only one investment in Tate & Lyle, because I wanted to see their considered assessment of the adverse International Trade Commission judgment against their claim for patent infringements of their key sucralose product. There is good news and bad: they claim not to be worried by the judgment, and report that a breakthrough in sucralose yields enables them to mothball their US plant and concentrate production in Singapore.

This produces a one-off charge of £97m which cuts profits from £182m to £113m. The final dividend is only maintained at 16.1p, after a small increase in the interim, and is technically not covered by earnings. But the full-year payment of 22.9p is covered 1.5 times by free cash flow and 1.7 times by adjusted earnings from continuing activities.

The outlook is cautious and debt has risen, but the company says its “inherent ability to generate strong cash flows, assisted by the ending of our major capital expenditure programme, will help drive a stronger balance sheet in the year ahead.”
Adding another £1,000 to the portfolio at 312.5p a share to bring the average purchase price down to 349p, giving a highly satisfactory yield of nearly 6.6% on the £2,000 invested to date.

United Utilities – Water supplier United Utilities has produced an optimistic commentary on its full-year figures – underlying pre-tax profit up 12% to £531m, a final dividend of 22.03p payable in August as promised under the capital reconstruction scheme, and the commitment to a 5% increase in the year ahead. The company is in discussion with Ofwat about pricing for the coming 5-year period; its earnings from activities not subject to government price controls increased by 9% to £68m.

The company says its “robust financing position” gives it headroom to cover its projected financing needs through to mid-2011. The only danger I foresee is that utilities might become a political football in the forthcoming election, and that a new “caring-feely” regime might ignore the consensus to date, hitherto preserved under New Labour, that utility companies are not charities and need to earn a proper return on capital to finance their huge capital investment programmes.

The RIRP makes its fifth £1,000 investment at 535.5p, bringing the average purchase price to date down to 651p, giving a yield of just over 5% on the sums invested to date.

Kingfisher – The first quarter update from DIY group Kingfisher shows how a well-managed company can buck recession: first quarter trading profits are up 40% at £128m, despite a slump in sales in China and 25% rise in losses there to £14m. In retrospect I should have bought more Kingfisher earlier, but the price has soared since my first purchases to the point where the yield on any new investment falls way short of my 4% target. So while my sentiment remains very positive, the portfolio has to sit on its hands and look for another buying opportunity later.

 

Investment Update – 7th March 2009

Pearson, publishers of the FT, owners of Penguin and much more, released their results after the copy deadline for my main article. They are everything I could want. Pre-tax profits are up 25% to £585m, earnings per share are up nearly the same at over 57p, and the dividend goes up 7%.

So long as the dividend goes up by more than inflation (and this is the 17th successive year of above-inflation payouts) I don’t mind them improving their cover, currently 1.7, even though their headline free cash flow was up 55% at over 70p a share. CEO Dame Marjorie Scandino says she expects the company to remain “hardy and aggressive” in difficult times. If the current US exchange rate prevails this year it will add around 7p to earnings per share.

Even though markets were testing new lows as these figures were announced, Pearson are actually showing a gain on my purchase price. The shares do not go xd until April 8th, and ideally I should like the price to come back closer to where I originally bought, but I shall monitor them throughout March and if they start showing renewed strength I will book a further £1,000 purchase if they rise above 660p, when they will still be yielding over 5%.
Comment: Very Positive.

 

Investment Update – 6th December 2008

If the recession is going to be as severe as as severe as the markets and almost everyone except MR Darling seem to believe, then we are indeed entering unknown territory.  When companies cut dividends even though profits are better than expected (as Mitchells and Butlers – not in my portfolio – have done) then the entire rules of the game are changing. The portfolio’s income expectations have been downgraded by Barclays and Lloyds passing their dividends, and my aim is now to preserve the target 4% net yield for the year to form a base on which to produce inflation-linked rises in future years – I am still not yet protecting against real long term deflation. After the markets tested new lows recently, I believe the best policy for the portfolio for the rest of this year is masterly inactivity: I will review the New Year strategy in the January issue.

 

Investment Update – 6th September 2008

Cattles – I can see nothing in the Cattles interim figures to explain the market’s continued distrust of the shares. Profits for the half year are up a sixth to £70.2m, earnings per share are up over 7% and the interim dividend goes up 5%. The loan loss ratio is unchanged, the cost to income ratio is down, the return on equity is up – and the shares are below the recent rights issue price. As I said in the last issue, if there were no nasty surprises in this statement the Rising Income Retirement Portfolio would top up its holding on the announcement by £1,500 making a total investment to date of £4,000, so I am booking the purchase of a further 1,282 shares at the price they were the day of the announcement reducing the average purchase price per share to 163p.

 

Investment Update – 5th July 2008

Cattles – The market continues to ignore everything unsecured lenders Cattles tell it. The company again confirms that trading so far this year is in line with its expectations, which were the basis for the recent rights issue at 128p putting the shares on a prospective yield of over 12.8%. It is applying even tighter credit criteria to protect the quality of its loans and continues to express confidence on its funding situation: gearing is under 3.5 times against a covenant limit of 6. Half time results will be announced on August 28th. The price has since fallen below the rights price; if your nerves can stand it, buy.

 

Investment Update – 7th June 2008

Full-year profits to end March 2008 from Scottish and Southern (Issue 283) are up nearly 14% to £1.23m, with a slightly higher percentage rise in earnings per share, and a 6% rise in the final dividend to make the full year 10% up on last year.

My recommendation was based on the board’s commitment to real dividend growth of 4%, which this clearly comfortably exceeds. Again the board takes the opportunity to state that its “first responsibility to shareholders is to deliver sustainable real growth in dividends”.
The price has moved up some 4.6% since my recommendation and at 1453 still offers a 4.1% historic yield. But if you buy before the shares go xd on August 20th, the raised final dividend alone on September 26th gives you over 2.9% net on your money at the current price, which I make an annualised time-adjusted return of something over 9%.

In my next article I shall be booking another purchase at this date and price.

Similarly United Utilities (Issue 283) have reported a 17% rise in profits from continuing activities to £475m, and confirm payment of the 31.47p final dividend on 8th August with an xd date of June 25th. This alone gives a net return of 4.1% at 765p in just two months’ time, so I shall also be booking another purchase of this stock at this price and date.

Shares in Cattles (Issues 280, 283) took a hammering ahead of the rights call on June 3rd. but by comparison with RBS and Bradford and Bingley the fall is a relative vote of confidence. The company has appointed two more experienced clearing bankers to the board to strengthen their application for a retail banking licence, one of the purposes of the rights issue. Even if the prospective yield of over 9% shows no growth, they still look a bargain for new investors at 173p.

 

Investment Update – 3rd May 2008

Cattles – The company says that it has made a strong start to 2008, and is achieving higher margins on its new lending volumes. The fall in the share price since my initial recommendation seems to have been largely due to a trickle of institutional selling. Take up rights/buy.