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Relative Dividend Yield: Common Stock Investing for Income and Appreciation / Edition 2

Relative Dividend Yield: Common Stock Investing for Income and Appreciation / Edition 2

by Anthony E. Spare, Paul Ciotti


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Expert investors Anthony Spare and Paul Ciotti demonstrate the Relative Dividend Yield (RDY) approach that has outperformed the market for more than fifteen years, without the market risk. This comprehensive book covers all aspects of investing and money management, while providing you with the proven advice you need to calmly navigate the rough waters of investing. In addition, Relative Dividend Yield, Second Edition has been completely updated to help you:
* Compare RDY with other investment methods such as venture capital, emerging growth, large growth,technical analysis, and sector rotators
* Manage even the largest portfolios with confidence
* Learn about RDY valuations, including consumer stocks, industrial stocks, utilities, and cyclical stocks
* Avoid pitfalls and take preventive measures by maintaining a safe dividend level, using a straightforward analytical process, and focusing on quality companies
* Ascertain the primary characteristics of RDY stock portfolios and find out the connection between RDY and market timing

With an exercise on Dow Jones stock selecting included, you owe it to yourself to find out why RDY is on of the best-kept secrets in investing today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780471327059
Publisher: Wiley
Publication date: 07/08/1999
Series: Frontiers in Finance Series , #66
Edition description: REV
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

ANTHONY E. SPARE is Chairman and Chief Investment Officer of the San Francisco investment portfolio management firm of Spare, Kaplan, Bischel & Associates. Previously, he was Director of Research and Chief Investment Officer of the Bank of California's Merus Capital Management Group. Mr. Spare holds an undergraduate degree from Tufts University and an MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

Read an Excerpt

Relative Dividend Yield: Common Stock Investing for Income and Appreciation, 2nd Ed.

Anthony E Spare, (with Paul Ciotti)
ISBN: 0-471-32705-0

Note: The Figures and/or Tables mentioned in this sample chapter do not appear on the Web.

Chapter One

Introduction to RDY Investments

Despite 30 years in the investment business, I'm always amazed at the way institutional investors buy stocks. You would think that successful investors would have no difficulty explaining what they do and how they do it. But 85% of investment managers cannot tell you what criteria they use to buy a given stock or how they determine when it's time to sell. When the market changes, they have no idea why their portfolios act the way they do. They do not even seem to have defined goals for investing other people's money, which to me is clearly unprofessional. How do you know if you're doing something right when you don't know what you're trying to do?
I know there are some professional investors who would argue that it's a mistake to try to be too precise, that investing is an art form to which numerical analysis doesn't apply and that they get better results basing their decisions on intuition and feeling for the market. At least that's what they say publicly. After three decades in the investment business, I know that very few successful investors make decisions on intuition alone.
At the other end of the spectrum is another group of (equally misguided) professional investors who maintain that, in their hands, investing is a science. But experience has repeatedly shown that numbers in and of themselves are no more reliable than emotion or intuition. Those who allow numerical analysis wholly to determine investment strategy are just fooling themselves and, more importantly, their clients.
There's no way it could be otherwise. Forecasts about the market are invariably unreliable. Every day in investment firms across the country there are thousands of analysts sitting in front of their computers, manipulating data and discovering correlations, which they then confuse with cause-and-effect relationships. But the truth is their forecasting tools don't work. There is no way to look at what the market has done in the past and draw conclusions about what it will do in the (near) future. Investing is not reporting. You can't drive a car by staring in the rearview mirror and you can't predict the market's near-term future by relying on past correlations.
What I'm suggesting in this book is an approach different from either pure intuition or pure mechanics. If you start off assuming, as I do, that investing is a soft science in the same sense that psychology, sociology, and economics are soft sciences, it's clear that what is missing is discipline and rigor. People who find ways to add such qualities to their investment strategy may not be either artists or scientists but, when it comes to stock market investing, they're far more successful. To me, they are masters of their craft, which is to say people who both know their tools and know how to use them.


Although the phrase Relative Dividend Yield sounds technical, it's actually a straightforward strategy for helping you decide when to buy or when to sell a given stock. By comparing the yield of a given stock (its dividend divided by its price) with the yield of the market itself (readily available weekly from major financial publications), RDY provides you with a reliable index of relative value. It helps you determine when a stock is so out of favor with investors that it is underpriced and thus a good value-what I call "cheap." Or it helps you tell when a stock is so much in favor with investors that it's overpriced and therefore a bad value-what I call "expensive."
Unlike some other strategies, RDY doesn't rely on predictions or earnings. It has nothing to do with trend following, momentum, or timing the market. It simply gives you a way to identify stocks that have fallen so far out of favor they're objectively worth more than the stock price would seem to indicate. Then while you wait for the stock to go up, you get an income stream of higher than average dividends to live on. Or, as we cheap stock enthusiasts like to say, "You get paid to be patient."
Typically cheap stock buyers hold on to their stocks for three to five years. That's a normal business cycle-the time it takes for management to understand the problem, devise a solution, and get the company back on track. This is also the point at which other investors will begin to recognize the stock's true potential and start driving the price up. Since, as an RDY investor, you never want to own expensive stocks, that's when you sell your shares, take your profits, and go looking for another cheap stock to buy.
Although people who consistently use RDY over the long term have historically gotten returns 1.5% to 2% higher than the market with less than market risk over the longer term, RDY is not a strategy for everyone. It requires patience, discipline, a willingness to postpone gratification, and-most of all-the courage to go against prevailing wisdom (and ignore the herd). People who like to gamble, play the lottery, risk everything on the chance of high quick return, or merely brag about their hot stocks at cocktail parties will not find RDY especially exciting. But, if you have character to get rich slowly (for most of us there's no other method, anyway), you will be rewarded with better than average returns at below-market risk.
Note: RDY isn't for everyone. It's for people who have money-most likely in an IRA or 401( k) plan. You will need a minimum of $10,000 (if you have less than that you get killed on the transaction costs). If you have more than $1 million, you'll probably want an investment adviser.


Let's begin with two assumptions:

  • Investors want to buy cheap stocks and sell them when they are expensive.
  • No one knows how to do this consistently over the long term.

Relative Dividend Yield is an approach that can be applied, at various levels of detail and sophistication, by both institutional and individual investors. Although used by relatively few investors, it is a powerful and sensible approach to value investing.
What makes a stock a good value?
Over the past 30 years there have been a large number of companies with above-market dividend yields. The primary precondition is that other investors hate the stock. This causes the price to fall and the yield to increase.
In this sense, RDY is a measure of investors' attitude toward a stock. High RDY indicates despair (among most investors). A low RDY, on the other hand, indicates a lot of enthusiasm. Since we are cheap stock buyers, our attitudes run counter to those of the herd. When other buyers are most enthusiastic about a given stock (and thus are driving up the price), that's when we feel the most despair. When other investors shun a stock, that's usually when we are most enthusiastic about buying it.


A few simple definitions:

Yield = Indicated Annual Dividend Rate Divided by Current Stock Price

Market Index Dividend Yield = Indicated Index Annual Dividend Rate Divided by Current Index Value

Relative Dividend Yield (RDY) = Stock's Yield Divided by Market Index Yield

Tables 1.1 and 1.2 show some examples.

Note: There are two ways of doing Relative Dividend Yield. One is ratio-the stock's yield divided by the market's yield. But you can also do it on a spread basis by looking at the difference-between the stock yield and the S&P 500 (market index) yield. Until six or eight years ago, both kinds of RDY tended to move together. But as yields dropped in the 1990s, the two ways of measuring RDY began to show some divergence.


The dividend per share for each stock is the most recent quarterly rate declared by the board of directors. This quarterly rate is then annualized by multiplying by four. This is the dividend figure used in the Wall Street Journal, Barron's, and the stock tables published in most newspapers. (I would have suggested Investor's Business Daily as well but, as a result of the publisher's bias against dividend yield as a basis for investing, the publication doesn't provide dividend per share information on either individual stocks or the market averages.)
Information on the market's dividend rate and yield can be found in Barron's (reported weekly) or the Outlook, a publication of Standard & Poor's.
Figure 1.1 shows a table that appears in Barron's every week indicating the dividend amount and dividend yield for all of the major market indices. The S&P 500's dividend yield (B) is based on the most recent price (A). The current dividend rate is shown in (C).
Figure 1.2 is an example of Barron's stock tables that shows the indicated dividend amount for a given stock (A), the current dividend yield (B), the latest quarterly dividend (C), the record date (D), and payable date (E).
Figure 1.3 shows the Wall Street Journal's presentation of the dividend amount (A) and the dividend yield (B). Figure 1.4 shows dividend information (A) from a typical newspaper, in this case the San Francisco Chronicle.
Some stocks almost always have above-market yields that only drop below market during periods of excessive enthusiasm. Other stocks generally have such bright growth prospects that their yields rarely rise above that of the market.


The following RDY graphs feature a few common elements. The scale on the side of each graph indicates the Relative Dividend Yield for the particular issue. When the RDY is at 100%, it is equal to the S&P 500's yield, and when the RDY reaches 200%, the yield is twice that of the market. The scale for each stock is different. Time is indicated along the bottom of each graph in five-year periods. The graph line is the stock's RDY, plotted quarterly. Note that the time periods observed are very long (35 years). The point here is that RDY doesn't require you to watch the stock or the market on an hour-by-hour, day-to-day, or even week-to-week basis.
Figure 1.5 shows the RDY graph of a real company (here called the XYZ Corporation) for 30-plus years. This is a stock whose yield is (almost) always above that of the market's dividend yield. Does that mean that you can't go wrong with this stock, that any time you buy it is always a good time?
When you compare the stock's current RDY with the stock's past RDY (especially on a 30-year graph), you can easily recognize those periods of undervaluation where the price is depressed and the RDY is high. By the same token, it's easy to spot those periods when optimism is high and RDY is low.
When the RDY on a given stock rises to "buy" levels, typical (non-RDY) investors get nervous. They can't find a single person on Wall Street willing to recommend the stock. They think the company is in real trouble-it hasn't done anything in a long time and all the other investors are ignoring the company. At this point, the last thing they want to do is buy this stock.
But to RDY investors, the fact that the stock is finally cheap (high RDY) is good news. They don't care what the market is doing. They don't care about the opinion of financial journalists or other investors. They simply look to see whether a stock is expensive or cheap. If it's cheap, they buy. If it's expensive, they sell. The (sometimes feverish) calculations of other investors never come into the equation. To say it in an-other way, RDY helps investors make rational decisions in irrational times.
Most investors don't like to have problems (and, for that matter, neither do we). But risk and reward go together. If you want greater rewards you have to take greater risks-if you don't want any risk you shouldn't own stocks at all. But even though risk can't be eliminated, it can be managed. Because most people don't distinguish between dividend in-come and capital appreciation, they don't understand that, in the short run, capital appreciation is very risky. But when investors get 30% to 40% of their total returns in a low-risk dividend stream, their overall risk goes way down. Although there can be occasional dividend cuts, at the portfolio level there is higher income every year. (Over the past 70 years, the market has provided a total return of about 11% a year, with about 4% of that coming from the dividend yield.)
Figure 1.6 is the same as Figure 1.5 (the XYZ Corporation's RDY), with the addition of relative stock price. As you can see from the difference between the two plot lines, stock price and RDY are (roughly) inverse. When the price of XYZ's stock is low, its RDY is very high. When the stock price is high, RDY is low.
Note: Although RDY shows when a given stock is cheap (and should be bought) and when it is expensive (and should be sold), RDY provides no timing information. Furthermore, as a result of computer-powered trend followers or problems with market illiquidity, the time when it is appropriate to buy (or sell) seems to be getting shorter every year. This in turn means you have to be ready to act when RDY gives you the signal. Investor's attitudes can turn on a dime, making today's favorites tomorrow's disappointments. Sooner or later the dog that was neglected by Wall Street analysts for years will suddenly be welcomed as Wall Street's best friend.
To the RDY investor, it makes no difference what caused a given stock's price to climb. What matters is that the RDY investor, having bought in a period of neglect when prices were low, now finds the stock price climbing. At this point, the savvy RDY investor sells (the increasingly expensive) stock with a happy heart, knowing that in doing so he or she has added substantial capital appreciation to the already high dividends earned during the company's lean years.


There's a reason this discipline has worked when so many managers cannot match market returns or even add any value at all. RDY investors have a discipline and-as any army sergeant or junior high school teacher knows-any discipline works better than no discipline.
Investors who use a consistent approach to the markets will invariably produce better results than investors who stick a finger in the air and try to go with the flow. Staying with a tool, even if it is an inferior tool, is better than not understanding when to use which tool or, worst of all, not having any tools at all.
The lack of discipline can easily hurt small individual investors. Whereas institutions and large private investors can afford to hire an investment advisory firm such as ours to protect them from their own worse impulses, small investors are often on their own (or advised by people who have no more rational strategy than they do). As a result, they may make expensive mistakes just at the times of their lives when they can't afford to.
There are in this country many people who, over the years, have managed to accumulate a little over a million dollars worth of stock. But because it only cost them perhaps $50,000 when they bought it years ago, if they sold the stock at market peaks they'd have to pay something like $300,000 in capital gains taxes, which frankly most of them are loath to do. So, for fear of paying the taxes, they may hold on to the stock-hold on to the stock even as the market declines. By the time the market hits bottom, they are thinking it's the end of the industrialized world, and they frantically tell their broker to sell everything. But instead of getting the $1 million or so their stock was worth a few months earlier, perhaps now they get only $700,000. By the time they pay taxes on this, they're left with only $550,000, instead of the $700,000 they would have had if they had sold at market peaks.
No one, including me, likes to pay taxes, but I do have a little technique that helps make the notion somewhat more palatable. When the market goes up, I don't so much look at it as profits as the market's way of paying my taxes for me. Unfortunately virtually no one agrees with me, rather taking the attitude it's their money; they earned it and they're not going to give it to anyone, especially the government. While such thoughts are understandable, they can have devastating consequences. Sometimes, it makes better financial sense to put aside your resentment and just pay the taxes. This is why RDY is such a great psychological crutch. It encourages you sell when your stocks are expensive. Even though you have to pay high taxes, you still save money in the long run.
There's another psychological advantage to RDY and it has to do with investors' confidence. Most individual investors feel intimidated at the prospect of going head-to-head in the market with institutional investment advisers. But I've seen it over and over again-a disciplined private investor will have no problem beating the average institutional investor. One reason: Private investors are more careful (it's their money). Institutional investors, on the other hand, only care about beating the market. If their portfolio goes up 25% and the market is up 20%, they see themselves as doing 5 percentage points better. If the market goes down 25% and they go down only 20%, they see this also as doing 5 percentage points better. To them the situations are equivalent. No individual investors would ever make this mistake-not with their own money. They understand that there is a huge difference between an opportunity loss and a real loss.
I don't want to imply that professional investors are all stupid and wrongheaded. The reason they focus so heavily on growth stocks over the short term is that their clients expect them to. Perhaps it's just human nature but everyone with money to invest is still looking for that Powerball jackpot that will make them rich overnight-even though the chances of finding such stocks are very small. The (far more certain) prospect of getting rich slowly strikes most people as an overly conservative, buy-once, hold-forever strategy for widows and orphans. They think the real profits are found in frequently traded growth stocks, not in what they see as infrequently traded widow and orphan stocks. In fact, it is the RDY stocks that you have to watch (to buy when they are cheap and sell when expensive). If you were lucky enough to buy a long-term growth stock cheap, you don't have to do anything but hold on to it. The important thing here is to remember not to try to out-outmaneuver the market by buying and selling them every six months or year. These are the stocks you want to buy and own forever (10 to 30 years).
RDY investors are also intimidated at times because they don't have access to the kind of information that institutional investors do. I contend it's not a problem. When the company sets the dividend it is essentially doing your research for you.
When the management and board of directors of a large corporation set the dividend policy they take a long hard look at the company's fundamentals as well as the industry in which it operates. To them, the dividend is anything but a light or frivolous matter. They look at every aspect of their company, their industry, and the economy in general. Investors would be foolish indeed not to take advantage of the serious thought and considerable effort that goes into setting the dividend, given that it represents the best estimate of the company's prospects by people who have investigated the matter most thoroughly-the company's management and board of directors.
Because companies tend to take the long view when setting dividends, dividend strategies are inherently conservative. This is why oil companies did not raise dividends to fully match their increased earnings in the late 1970s when oil and petroleum product prices skyrocketed and profit margins (temporarily) shot into the stratosphere. By the same token, oil companies did not deeply cut dividends in the mid-1980s when oil and petroleum product prices fell sharply and earnings (temporarily) plunged. If you had relied solely on P/Es during the oil crisis, you would have thought that the prospects for oil company stocks were unbelievably good (when oil and petroleum product prices were high) and unbelievably bad (when they were low).
You would have been wrong in both instances. The market exaggerates-it overreflects both investor's enthusiasms and investor's fears. Stocks are most expensive when everybody loves them and cheapest when they have been neglected by the investment community for a long time (and you're always buying from eager sellers).
This doesn't mean that there isn't any downside to RDY investing. Any company with a high RDY has probably had some problems-you do not get high yield for free-but there are some shortcuts (discussed in later chapters) to ensure that you are not buying into a bankruptcy or disastrous situation.
I'm not saying, by the way, that RDY stocks are inherently risky. My colleagues and I have been practicing and refining the technique for over 25 years and what we've found is that substantial assets managed under the RDY discipline consistently result in above-market returns at below-market risk. (Typically, the combination of stock appreciation and dividend income provides total returns of 150 to 200 basis points above the market with less than market risk over the longer term.)
Not everyone agrees with this. Despite RDY's success in using dividend yield to beat the market, some academics and consulting firm purported experts maintain that dividends aren't useful for valuation purposes anymore. They saw yields down to 1.4% in early July of 1998 and concluded that companies were reducing dividends in order to repurchase company stock. Well, this was not what was going on among the dividend-paying stocks. If you are trying to decide whether dividends are growing or not, you have to exclude companies like Microsoft, Dell Computer, and Cisco Systems that are entrepreneurial companies (owned by the founders) and don't pay dividends at all. (I don't know why Bill Gates takes any salary whatsoever, given that he has to give half to the government in taxes. The same thing is true of Michael Dell.)
In my opinion, academia and consulting firms are confusing yield with dividend change. Right now there are over 70 nondividend stocks in the S&P 500 that together account for about 15% of the market's total capitalization. When you exclude those non-dividend-paying stocks from the calculations, you discover that dividends are generally up 9% to 10%. (It's true that yields are down, but that's only because stock prices are so high.)
The other thing I like about RDY is that it's driven by hard data. There aren't many people or firms whose investment strategies I have much confidence in. Investors do a lot of shucking and jiving, but if you ask them to show you the data, they can't do it. Seven or eight years ago I went to a presentation where the speaker said, "We have an automatic-sell discipline. When a stock drops 20%, that's when we sell."
Well, the audience thought that was terrific. But it was a number without any real data to back it up-there certainly isn't anything magic about 20%. Sometimes it makes better sense to sell a stock that drops only 10%. Other times it makes better sense to keep a stock that drops 30%. But you can't pull a number out of the air and stick with it no matter what. There has to be some data behind it.


I'm always suspicious of professional investment advisers who stand up and tell the world how they've become so successful. Why would someone reveal his professional secrets if they were really any good? And yet with this book we are doing the same thing-laying out all our professional secrets for all the world to see.
Won't it just help our competition?
For one thing, in my experience many professionals only go into the field in the first place because the title "investment adviser" has an aura about it and they think it will be a socially acceptable profession. But they have no real passion for investing and never learned much about it. For them, a real discipline like RDY is more than they want to know or perhaps can really handle.
For another, we are not laying out a set of mechanical rules from which an investor can pick and choose; we are rather offering an entire philosophy of investing. But it is a philosophy that works only if you only apply all of it. That's why we can show the competition (other professional investment advisers) everything we do and it still won't hurt us. They would have to change their entire investment philosophy to follow the RDY approach and I know from experience most of them won't do that.
If for no other reason their clients wouldn't let them. Our philosophy is a contrarian one. Not only does it run counter to what passes for wisdom on Wall Street, it requires far longer time horizons than most people think are useful or wise.
You can see it when institutional investors first look at our portfolios. Their first reaction is that we're nuts, all our companies are dogs, management will cut the dividends, and all our companies will go bankrupt. The idea that someone would buy a stock because he or she thinks it will go up three, four or five years from now is to them unimaginable. They see it as "dead" money. They would, they say, much rather invest in a current hot company, wait four years, and buy that formerly worthless stock just when it is about to go up.
They might as well tell me that they're going to score a hole in one every time they play golf. It's impossible for any institutional investor (or any investor, for that matter) to consistently know just when a stock is about to go up. What happens instead is, after three and a half years of watching the stock not go anywhere, they are more convinced than ever that the stock is a long-term loser. Not only wouldn't they buy it themselves, they wouldn't wish it on their worst enemy.
This of course is precisely when the company's management finally gets the company back on track, revenues start to grow, earnings soar, and the stock price shoots up. The stock, which was at $30 for the past three years and 11 months, now suddenly rises to $45-a 50% gain. At this point the typical institutional or private (non-RDY) investor is finally interested. But where does that investor buy it? At $46!
When you try to outsmart the market you only outsmart yourself. You can't guess what a stock is going to do. If it is cheap (under the RDY criteria), buy it. If it's expensive, sell it. You can't wait around. You can't say, "Well, I don't know enough. Let me wait and see what happens." Knowledge isn't free. If you wait until you are absolutely certain that the stock has turned, everyone else will have figured it out too. If the market offers you something cheap, don't wait three months. Go out and buy it now-you have to take what the market gives you.

Table of Contents

Introduction to RDY Investments.

Other Investment Methods.

Proof that RDY Works: A Study of 100 Large Companies from 1976 to 1993.

The RDY Approach in Practice.

More Examples of RDY Valuations.

Pitfalls and Preventative Measures.

RDY-Based Portfolio Characteristics, Construction, and Maintenance.

Having Others Invest for You and Investing in Other Countries.

Investing for Yourself.






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