Inflation beating income: RIRP keeps on winning
Inflation beating income: RIRP keeps on winning. This is the seventh year I have reported on the performance of the Rising Income Retirement Portfolio, and for the seventh year I am able to report an increase in income significantly greater than inflation, both during the year and since inception, despite a much greater number of disasters on the way than I had anticipated.
The portfolio still contains two shares which paid no dividend last year, one of which never has paid one since I bought it – Lloyds. And my latest disappointment is dear old Sainsbury’s, which has signalled it will cut its dividend this coming year because of the cost of the price war with Lidl and Aldi. Not what I want to deliver inflation beating income.
According to the original rules I should junk Sainsbury’s and switch into something yielding more, but the fall in its share price means it will probably still yield well over 5% on what the capital is now worth. So partly in the spirit of the season I have decided to leave it in.
Another reason is that the result of undertaking a more detailed review of the past 7 years is the realisation I do not need to work nearly as hard as I did to make up for my early failures.
This is the first year during which the fund has been fully invested for the whole period. I am not sure whether it is due to the wisdom that comes with maturity, or a fiscal version of the seven-year itch, but I decided it was time to take a longer view, and introduce a simpler and more transparent way to report the inflation beating income produced by the RIRP results from now on.
Readers may have tired of reading every year that the fund’s rise in income has consistently been more than double the rise in the cost of living. To achieve this both year on year and cumulatively has admittedly required some complicated accounting adjustments to smooth out the distorting effect of one-off special dividends, and to deal with shares on which I have unwillingly had to crystallise a profit or a loss.
Inflation fall is a bonus
The latest bigger-than-expected fall in inflation means I turn out to have overreached myself spectacularly this year, always useful when the objective is inflation beating income. As usual at the start of a year, the table shows the known performance of the fund up to the end of its accounting year in February. It shows dividend rises of 6.3% against a rise in the RPI of a fraction under 2% to November.
That looks – and in cash terms is – terrific, but most of this is in fact due to the huge return of capital by Vodafone, some of it in the form of special dividends, which more than compensated for RSA’s passed dividends.
So I have re-cast the figures. I have removed this year’s and last year’s special dividends to better reflect the underlying income growth over the life of the RIRP.
The small table shows what that really means.
This shows that if I do nothing, dividends in 2015 will be some £800 more than I need to keep ahead of the recent RPI inflation rate: 2% dividend growth only represents a little over £100.
Another way of looking at it is to look at the actual dividend growth since inception in percentage terms. It works out at 44.8% – more than twice the rate of inflation. As above, this figure excludes the special dividends from Vodafone and Direct Line in the current year.
So from now on I propose to ignore special dividends entirely in my computation of the fund’s underlying performance shown in the large table, but to aggregate all such payments in a new line called “Annual Bonus”. This will hopefully be enough each year to more than compensate for any dividend storms ahead.
Up till now the RIRP has not declared by how much it aims to beat inflation – I thought I would be doing well enough just to match it. But in the light of the achievement of the past 7 years, I am making a doubling of the inflation measure my aspiration – at least so long as inflation remains at these historically low levels.
Raising the income target
At the moment, based on recent payouts but factoring in a dividend cut for Sainsbury (and nothing from RSA or Lloyds), the RIRP will produce an income rise of only a little over 1% for the coming year, but we have a year of dividend announcements ahead of us.
I gather that some fund managers are becoming increasingly jittery about the sustainability of dividend growth in future, arguing that dividends cannot continue rising indefinitely faster than wages, even though that is precisely what they have done since incomes started being squeezed in 2010. This may be true in aggregate, but is not necessarily true in individual cases. There is no doubt that Aldi and Lidl will be paying their shareholders more this year, at the expense of Sainsbury and Tesco.
More worrying is the renewed fear of deflation. I do not discount the danger entirely, but think the markets are forgetting that much of the current “problem” is caused by a drop in the oil price. Back in the 1980s when Britain was at the peak of its oil exporting history, the Treasury still judged the effect of a falling oil price as on balance benign for the UK, and lower oil prices have always historically been reflationary in their impact on the economies of all except the oil-producing countries.
If deflation were to occur, then if companies were only to cut their dividends by no more than the fall in the general price level, the portfolio would in theory still be delivering its original aim – the preservation of purchasing power through Inflation beating income. But sadly, history suggests this is not what happened last time round.
Although the historical information is far from robust, everything in the best we have, the Barclays Equity and Gilt study, indicates that when prices last fell over a prolonged period in Britain (every year bar one from 1924 to 1932) the dividend payouts from shares fell much faster. But capital values did fall much less than the cost of living, and the value of income shares fell less than the market as a whole, so an equity income strategy still benefited investors.
I think deflation is improbable. I am – so far – only mildly discomforted by the conclusions of a growing body of academics who are claiming that quantitative easing is itself inherently deflationary rather than inflationary, and that is only partly because I lack the patience to follow the economic maths involved.
The RIRP’s approach is based on the premise that the biggest risk to my wealth in retirement is inflation, rather than the fluctuation in capital values inherent in stockmarket investment; and that shares represent the only likely protection against inflation – apart from property, whose management headaches I do not want to get involved in.
Ultimately I believe politicians will choose to inflate away the national debt and its rising interest burden as they always have done in the past, and which Britain will still be able to do so long as we do not join anyone else’s currency union.
How to deal with BT rights issue?
But do not forget the old City warning: “Never forget the 1% chance”. Presumably the only reason for a private investor to hold gilts with taxed redemption yields of under 2% is as insurance against a prolonged period of deflation.
For what it is worth, I am putting my money – or rather someone else’s, and with it my domestic safety – where my mouth is. I have finally convinced my pathologically risk-averse former partner that as his 5-year bank deposits yielding an average of 4.5% mature, the only way to avoid a massive collapse in his income is to embrace the principles of the RIRP.
His income requirements mean I have had to abandon one of the points of the original RIRP – drip-buying over a long period to benefit from pound-cost averaging, which has certainly proved its worth. Instead since November I have been creating a “Son of RIRP” with the additional short-term aim of maximising its underlying income over the coming 12 months.
The editor has suggested that a forward-looking version of this in the next issue could help those subscribers who have joined less than 7 years ago and who fear they might have missed the inflation beating income provided by the RIRP boat.
So with this in mind for April, I am anticipating a period of “masterly inactivity” for the original portfolio: I hope to watch the underlying inflation-busting dividend increases continue to roll in, perhaps supplemented by continuing specials from Direct Line. I hope the only strategic decision I shall have to make will be what to do if BT launches a rights issue to help fund its mobile phone acquisition.
As the RIRP is fully invested I will be forced either reduce my holdings of one or more other shares in order to increase my BT weighting, or to tail-swallow – sell the rights to fund a small take-up. I shall advise my decision on a web update as and when the details are known.
First published in The IRS Report on 10th January 2015.