Monday, November 7, 2016

Managing Risk With Dividend Stocks

When you purchase individual stocks, risk is inherit. Sometimes bad things sometimes happen to good stocks such as the Chicago Tylenol murders of 1982. This shook Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ) , but eventually it prevailed. Sometimes it is difficult when a strong leader leaves a company and creates a void that just can't be filled. Consider the performance of General Electric's (GE) after Jack Welch retired and Microsoft's (MSFT) after Bill Gates began relinquishing his responsibilities. So how do you guard against these situations and disasters similar to what BP (BP) and what their shareholders faced?

Something Bad Will Happen

Eventually, every investor will hold a stock that falls out of favor and endures a double-digit decline. Understanding this from the onset makes it easier to deal with. If we go ahead and accept this as fact, then when it happens it really shouldn't be a shock. This sounds simple, but is really an important step in removing emotion from the equation. It is much easier to reach the correct hold or sell decision when evaluating the facts from a rational perspective.

Diversify Your Holdings

When really bad things happen to an individual stock, it usually pulls down other stocks in the same industry. Consider the April 20, 2010 explosion and fire on Transocean Ltd's (RIG) drilling rig Deepwater Horizon licensed to BP where 11 workers were killed. BP still hasn't fully recovered from this incidence. In addition several companies, such as Halliburton (HAL) and Schlumberger(SLB), under-performed the S&P immediately after the accident.

 Limit Your Exposure

The single most important thing you can do to manage the risk associated with holding individual stocks is to simply limit your exposure. My standing rule is to limit each individual stock to no more than 5% of my income portfolio, based on market value and income. If any single company were to go bankrupt and the stock went to $0, my loss would be less than 5% - the market has moved my portfolio more than that in a single day.

At the time of the BP accident, I held a position in BP that represented 1.6% of my income portfolio and generated 2.1% the portfolio's income. This small position kept me from being overly concerned. If BP ended up bankrupting, these would not have been dramatic losses. Limiting your exposure in any single stock to a reasonable level lets you sleep at night even when that stock is facing adversity.

Focus On Quality

Your core portfolio should focus on quality with the "meat and potatoes" blue-chip stocks. You might want to add some high-yield and high-risk stocks in limited amounts to "spice" things up. Below are several quality blue-chip stocks that are the cornerstone of most dividend growth investor's portfolio, along with their risk number:

PepsiCo, Inc. (PEP) is a major international producer of branded beverage and snack food products. The company has paid a cash dividend to shareholders every year since 1952 and has increased its dividend payments for 44 consecutive years.
Yield: 2.8 | Risk #: 1.5

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) is a leader in the pharmaceutical, medical device and consumer products industries. The company has paid a cash dividend to shareholders every year since 1944 and has increased its dividend payments for 54 consecutive years.
Yield: 2.8 | Risk #: 1.5

Genuine Parts Co. (GPC) is a leading wholesale distributor of automotive replacement parts, industrial parts and supplies, and office products. The company has paid a cash dividend to shareholders every year since 1948 and has increased its dividend payments for 60 consecutive years.
Yield: 2.9 | Risk #: 1.5

McDonald's Corporation (MCD) is the largest fast-food restaurant company in the world, with about 35,000 restaurants in 119 countries. The company has paid a cash dividend to shareholders every year since 1976 and has increased its dividend payments for 39 consecutive years.
Yield: 3.3 | Risk #: 1.25

Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), formed through the merger of Exxon and Mobil in late 1999, is the world's largest publicly owned integrated oil company. The company has paid a cash dividend to shareholders every year since 1882 and has increased its dividend payments for 34 consecutive years.
Yield: 3.6 | Risk #: 1.25

Finally, it is a good idea to have a written mission statement for your income portfolio that includes your goals and what you will and will not do in the portfolio. It may sound silly to take the time to write this down, but it is very helpful when fear or greed tempts you from your predefined path.

Full Disclosure: Long PEP, JNJ, GPC, MCD, XOM. See a list of all my Dividend Growth Portfolio holdings here.

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(Photo: sean carpenter)


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