Tag Archives: Rising Income Retirement Portfolio

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

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

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 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.

Lower share prices are good for the IFL portfolio

Lower share prices are good for the IFL portfolio

Lower share prices are good for the IFL portfolio. This is my third instalment of my new Income For Life (IFL) portfolio, launched as a successor to the highly successful Rising Income Retirement Portfolio (RIRP), now in its eighth year.

The good news is the markets have fallen since I launched the IFL portfolio in April; the shares I bought then are now worth on average some 7% less than I paid for them.
I am particularly pleased that the average share price fall since April is almost exactly 7.5%, since arithmetical magic means that as I invest the rest of the portfolio it will yield some 8% more than originally envisaged last April, so largely offsetting the Osborne “We now really are in it together” 7.5% hike in dividend tax which comes into effect next April.

The bad news is I had set myself a very high target for IFL’s first-year yield – “as close as possible to 4% net of basic rate tax”. The first year is always the most difficult when building a portfolio from scratch because of the gap between companies’ ex-dividend dates and actually receiving the first payouts.

I wanted to try and replicate the benefits from pound cost averaging which worked so well for the precursor of this portfolio, the Rising Income Retirement Portfolio.

Struggling to gain cost averaging benefits

But the RIRP took 7 years to get fully invested, and the 12-month time limit for the construction of the IFL portfolio is frankly not long enough to reap the full benefits; pound cost averaging only really comes right over a full market cycle. Although the market is usefully lower now than it was when I started, in the short term I have sacrificed first year income for only slightly higher long-term higher yields.

As an example, one of my biggest fallers is Centrica, in which I had invested £4,000 of my guideline £5,000 maximum by last July at an average price of 267p with a yield of 4.4%. Now they are down to 225p, giving new investors a yield of over 5.3%.

But in topping them up to the maximum £5,000, this only has the effect of raising the average yield on the total investment from 4.4% to 4.7%, and because the ex-dividend date falls a couple of days before our publishing date, in the current year I lose £53 of income which I could have otherwise booked in the first accounting year to end March. It will take a long time for the higher yield on the latest purchase to make up that £53 deficit.
IFL will hit 5% yield target

Lower share prices are good
The Income for Life Portfolio as yet not fully invested

But we are where we are, and I embark on this latest set of purchases with the portfolio from July (already just over half invested) projected to exceed the full year yield target of 5%.

My strategy this time is to maximise income for the remainder of the accounting year to end March by topping up to the maximum those shares going xd between now and December, and choosing 6 new shares to bring the total portfolio up to its full strength of 20 shares, most of them paying out more than half their annual dividends between now and March.

So I am investing the bulk of the remaining funds now and am topping up every share by at least a single thousand pound unit. To capture any possible future benefit from pound cost averaging, where shares are not going xd in the coming quarter I am making only a minimum £1,000 top-up now. This leaves £12,000 available in January from the notional £100,000 available to top up the remaining shares in which we have not yet invested the maximum £5,000.

New buys have lower yields

Apart from bank note printers De La Rue, my new additions Marston’s, Sky and Real Estate Investment Trusts Hansteen and Tritax all yield a little less than the initial selections, where I naturally went for the higher-yielding low hanging fruit. I have resisted the temptation to compensate by going for BHP Billiton whose dividend for the coming half-year alone comes to 4%, but in researching yield-boosting alternatives I have discovered Utilico Investments, currently standing at a 25% discount to net asset value as it shifts its investment priorities from utilities and infrastructure to technology. I shall now add this to my own portfolio, as hitherto all the shares for both the RIRP and IFL are selections from those I own, and this should be no exception.

Lower share prices are good
The Income for Life portfolio versus open-ended funds

Before this issue’s changes, my projected income to end December came to a little over £1,100 representing a respectable return on the sums invested by July of over 2.2%. After this issue’s new purchases, and top ups, shown in the final column of Table 1, the end December cash projection rises by nearly 50% to nearly £1,600, but as a percentage of the sums invested it falls to under 2%.

That still gives an annualised return of over 2.4%, equivalent under this year’s dividend taxation rules to 3% pre-tax from a bank, which is more than most subscribers are likely to be getting even on maturing long term funds. The full-year projection of yield from the portfolio after these purchases is 5.3%.

Since the IFL’s investment mandate for January, outlined above, is straightforward, I shall devote that month’s article to reviewing the 8th year of the original portfolio, the RIRP. As Table 2 shows, this has quietly continued to deliver dividend increases of over 6% so far this year with absolutely no management from me, in addition to special dividends equivalent to a further 2.7% of the fund’s value.

Summary of the Rising Income retirement Portfolio
Summary of the Rising Income retirement Portfolio

As I have done with the RIRP, I reserve the right to tinker with some of the initial IFL share selections next year when I may jettison some of the initial income-boosters in favour of those with better prospects for dividend growth, but I am already confident that the IFL will deliver similar inflation- beating dividend growth from an even higher first full year yield than I had expected last April.

First published in The IRS Report on 3rd October 2015.

Income For Life makes post-election purchases

Income For Life makes post-election purchases

Income For Life Portfolio makes post-election purchases. I launched the new Income For Life portfolio last April when most of us had been led to believe that the country faced 5 more years of uneasy coalition of one sort of another, and because of this I was deliberately cautious in my initial selections.

I chose to invest only £20,000 of the £100,000 theoretically available to the Income for Life Portfolio, even though my targets are to deliver a net income to beat something in excess of 5% from the bank (if you could still get such a return), and an actual return of over 4% net in the first twelve months.

My thinking was driven by uncertainty over how the markets might react, not least in useful potential growth-of-income sectors such as utilities.

As so often the case, I need not have worried, as markets as a whole are lower now than they were then, helped as we go to press by events in Greece. Followers of the original Rising Income Retirement Portfolio will know that this pleases me at this stage of constructing the fund, since it makes topping up most of my shareholdings more attractive now.

Utility companies, though, are a bit higher instead of quite a lot lower as they might have been on the expected election result. An exception is National Grid whose price has dropped despite being one of the three shares to have raised its dividends since April.

The first selections in April were driven by those shares going xd beween April and now, so as to maximise income during the fund’s most difficult period, its first few months. The last column in Table 1 shows the problem.

Whereas the annualised income from the 10 original stocks suggested in the initial April report was 5.3%, my best efforts at dividend date manipulation will only result in the fund receiving £482 between inception and end-August.

This represents an entirely respectable 2.4% of the £20,000 invested in the Income for Life Portfolio, equivalent to over 5.7% annualised, but it represents a yield of under 0.5% of the total I have to invest before next April.

Income for Life Action plan

So my strategy this quarter is

  • to purchase up to the maximum number (5) of £1,000 investment units in those shares which will be going xd again in the coming quarter, such as GSK, or which have fallen significantly without any apparent change to the underlying investment merits, such as BAE, National Grid, and Shell
  • top up other shares by one or two units so as to allow maximum benefit of pound-cost averaging and maximum dividend capture over the coming 9 months
  • identify new shares going xd in the coming quarter which meet the underlying criteria.

The result is 4 new shares, only one of which, BATS, is a duplication from the original RIRP, a modified and accelerated version of whose philosophy drives the IFL. BATS are a classic illustration of what rising income investment is all about. When I originally bought it for the RIRP it was among one of the lowest yielders, barely scraping in above my 4% minimum target.

The Income For Life Portfolio
The Income For Life Portfolio at 50% invested

Now, as Table 2 shows, at 7% it is among the leaders in terms of yield on the original capital invested, but unlike others where dividends have grown even faster, like BT or Legal & General, the share price has “only” kept pace with the dividend increases, meaning new investors can still get in on the game.

Rising Income Retirement Portfolio constituents
Rising Income Retirement Portfolio constituents

A safer HSBC?

Of the others, as with both portfolios, these are shares I hold myself but which still seem to be underrated by the market and likely to deliver rising payouts. I agonised a while over HSBC, as all my fingers have burn scars resulting from my unwillingness to believe the banking system was as bust as it was revealed to be in 2008. But I conclude that HSBC’s new focus and potential Midland Bank spin-off should enable it to continue to deliver rising payouts for shareholders in one form or another.

I can see nothing in anything that esure has released which can explain why it should be yielding so much above the sector average, and similarly I cannot see why Kier is rated at a discount to (for example) Costain, if only because of its large involvement in Crossrail.

The net result of all this is that at £48,000 the IFL is now nearly 50% invested, and I hope to be able to discipline myself so that I shall still have around £25,000 uninvested at the beginning of January.

Meanwhile the original RIRP continues to excel. Table 3 shows that nearly all companies have now announced that they will be paying out more this year than last, bringing the rise in the fund’s underlying income to nearly 5%.

Of the shares which show no rise, GLIF was bought as an income booster in troubled times for the fund, with little short-term expectation of growth; Lloyds and RSA have only returned to the dividend lists this year and so no percentage increases can be calculated.

Doubts over Infinis

I may have taken my eye off the ball with Infinis: I originally bought it around the IPO offer price because I did the maths on their £55m cash dividend forecast and reckoned a yield of 7% was too good to miss. But the latest figures show that this is likely to be short earned this year, or as the market seems to think more likely, cut.

The capital value of the shares is also down because of uncertainty over future government subsidies for renewable energy, and the residual 70% shareholder has told the world it wants to sell.

I had great difficulty getting hold of the latest Infinis report and accounts from their internet site, and its remarks about future dividend prospects are at best Delphic. I was tempted to reinvest some or all of the GLIF holding into Infinis on the grounds that at the current price around 200p the dividend – due to be paid in August – represents an immediate return of over 6%, and whatever any subsequent rebasing may entail seems more than discounted at the current price.

But no: I am committed not to make any changes to the old RIRP until my annual January review, which will coincide (I hope) with final top-ups for Income for Life.

Rising Income Retirement Portfolio overall performance
Rising Income Retirement Portfolio overall performance

Far ahead of target

The luxury of the mature RIRP is that I can sit out some short-term disasters, as Infinis may turn out to be in rising dividend terms, as the regular reports on the first 7 years proved; all the more so following Direct Line’s capital reconstruction and special 27.5p dividend which, together with Standard Life’s even bigger similar exercise back in April, brings my projected “bonus” for the year ahead to over £2,700, over 40% of the fund’s projected underling income.

Those of a more nervous disposition may want to use some of this windfall to make up for the capital loss you would create if you crystallise your Infinis book loss now.

The latest, bigger, measure of inflation, the RPI, shows it running at 1%, and as I concluded last time, a rise in the RIRP’s underlying income of what is now over four times that is good enough for me, even before the “bonus” income, bringing the projected rise in income for the year to over 25%. Indeed, “trebles all round”!

First published in The IRS Report on 4th July 2015.

High yield portfolio from scratch

Starting a high yield portfolio: Income for Life builds on RIRP

Starting a high yield portfolio: Income for Life builds on the success of RIRP.

This month’s liberalisation of the UK pension rules means that more investors will be looking to SIPPs – self-invested pension plans – to manage their retirement income and provide tax-free inheritances. Some will be looking at a high yield portfolio.

The sort of inflation-busting dividend increases which my Rising Income Retirement Portfolio (RIRP) has delivered over the past 7 years, coincidentally matched by increases in the capital value of the portfolio, is ideally suited to a SIPP, the sort of thing anyone can use when starting a new high yeld portfolio.

Some recent subscribers have said that while the thinking behind the existing RIRP may be interesting to read about, there is little actionable value from them in reports on the portfolio.

Since average yields on the shares in the RIRP at their current market prices are well below the yields on the original capital invested, is it too late to join the party?

I don’t think so, and so am rising to the challenge of starting a high yield portfolio with similar objectives, though it will differ from the RIRP in several respects. I am calling it the Income For Life (IFL) portfolio to emphasise the fact that I expect it to go on delivering (as does the RIRP) until the investor no longer has any reason to care.

The IFL’s short-term objective differs from the RIRP. It is designed to address the problems faced by investors needing to invest capital to secure an immediate income in a zero-rate environment. Some will be trying to replace fixed-term investments taken out when interest rates were nearer 5% pre-tax than today’s 3%.

As a result, the RIRP’s policy of a long-drawn out drip-feed investment designed to ride out market cycles has to be abandoned. This means investors will have to accept that if the bears are right, the IFL’s capital values could suffer – maybe for a period of years – while (I hope) the income continues to rise regardless. A factor to consider when starting a new high yield portfolio.

For those who worry about the FTSE 100 achieving its previous nominal peak, and who are aware that market peaks tend to attract the stupidest punters, I counter with the fact that to compensate for inflation since 1999 the index should be over 10,000, and that corporate earnings today are nearly twice what they were in 1999 in nominal terms. To my mind, there are no amber valuation lights flashing as there were in late 1999.
Initial 4% yield target

The IFL will invest a notional £100,000 over the coming 12 months, with the aim of delivering an income as close as possible to 4% net of basic rate tax over the coming year (the equivalent of 5% gross in interest), and higher than that in a full year, from shares likely to continue to raise their dividends on balance by the greater of the RPI or CPI.

The income target is a real challenge in the first year, largely because the gap between shares going ex-dividend and actually paying the money means investors cannot get a full year’s income for the first 12 months.

To maximise the first year income, my initial choices will therefore have more higher-yielding shares with poorer dividend growth prospects than my choices later in the year. And my investment timing will largely be determined by the dates on which the shares I select go ex-dividend. To this extent emotion will be removed from the market, at least for most of the initial year’s selections.

As with the RIRP, my selection of shares will always be from among those which I hold myself, some of which may also be duplicated in the IFL. Some may surprise, like Centrica, which recently announced a 30% dividend cut.

My initial rules banned companies that cut their dividends from the RIRP, but experience with L&G and United Utilities has made me revisit this. Now it seems that companies which “rebase” their dividends actually tend to show above-average dividend growth thereafter. The trick is to buy after their announcement, such as Centrica.

I shall aim to invest in no more than 20 shares for the IFL, which means a limit of £5,000 per share. Some investors with more to invest might like to hold more shares, so for this first instalment of the IFL I have provided a selection of 15 stocks to set the ball rolling, all of which are going ex-dividend over the coming three months.

My core selections for the 20-share IFL high yield portfolio I shall be reporting on in future are shown in bold in Table 1. They are a combination of the higher yielders and those I consider most likely to outstrip, rather than merely keep pace with, inflation.

Starting a high yield portfolio; The Income For Life Portfolio
The Income For Life Portfolio opening positions

As when building up the original RIRP we must keep our attention firmly fixed on the income stream we are building up for the future, disregarding what the capital value of the shares is doing: any capital growth is a bonus. This has certainly worked for RIRP: its original £99,442 is now worth around £158,000, with the few losers such as BP, Infinis, RSA and Sainsbury more than compensated for by those which have more than doubled in value such as BT, Interserve, L&G and Pearson.

I will add further stocks to IFL in July.

RIRP income storms ahead

In January I said that now the Rising Income Retirement Portfolio – my original high yield portfolio – had been fully invested for a year, I would adopt a much simpler and transparent method of accounting for its eighth year. The results are in Tables 2 and 3, which capture the fund’s key performance measures.

Column 1 of Table 2 shows the projected yield on the original sums invested for the year ahead, and column 2 shows the percentage increase in yield over the previous year for those companies that have so far announced rises. Table 3 shows what this means in money, but with special dividends and returns of capital now identified separately as “bonuses”.

Rising Income Retirement Portfolio
Rising Income Retirement Portfolio constituents

Last year these came from Vodafone and Direct Line. This year Direct Line has raised its basic dividends while declaring the same special as this time last year; and Standard Life has made a 73p a share return of capital to shareholders, which means the RIRP’s total income will be streaks ahead of last year’s.

Prudent investors will bank these bonuses against a rainy day; most of us will be tempted to spend them while we can enjoy them.

The SL scheme does entail a reduction in the number of SL shares the fund holds through a capital reduction, which I am happy to regard as simply increasing the average original purchase price; even with this self-deprecating accounting, I could still cash in the SL shares for nearly 90% more than my book cost. And clearly I am going to have no problems in achieving my original aim of increasing dividends by at least the higher of the rise in the RPI or the CPI; and my newly adopted aim of doubling the inflation figure looks easily achievable.

Rising Income Retirement Portfolio
Rising Income Retirement Portfolio performance to date

This is despite the fact that I am projecting a one third cut in Sainsbury’s final payout later this year, which may turn out over-optimistic. The return to the dividend lists by RSA and Lloyds so far only make a nominal cash contribution, but with a full year’s income from GlaxoSmithKline and a bumper dividend rise from Legal & General mean the fund’s underlying income will still rise by 2.4% – and we are only one month into the RIRP’s accounting year.

I am relieved that my fear of a rights issue from BT to fund its purchase of EE did not materialise. I am now getting a yield of over 5% on my original investment in this stock – though surprisingly, this is below the average projected underlying yield of 6.5% from the portfolio as a whole. If this year’s capital repayment from Standard Life is factored in, the projected yield on initial capital rises to over 8%.

Since I have chosen to treat these exceptional payments as bonuses from now on, I do not need to try to present this in future as a truly sustainable yield. Income rising at over twice the rate of inflation is good enough for me.

First published in The IRS Report on 4th April 2015.

Inflation beating income: RIRP keeps on winning

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.

Inflation beating income - RIRP
How the RIRP produces its inflation beating income

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.

Inflation beating income - RIRP
Rising Income Retirement Portfolio performance

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.