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How To Determine If Your Stock Is Safe?

“That was amazing. How did you do that?”

I have to pat myself on the back. While most investors have had a stressful week, the readers of the newsletter I publish – The Palm Beach Letter – were able to relax.

The S&P 500 fell 11% from August 3 to August 8. Overall, our portfolio dropped only half as much. And the five recommendations we’ve made in our monthly newsletter lost only 1.8% on average. (Three of them actually gained in value.)

We received many grateful letters from our readers. Some wanted to know how we did it.

In today’s essay, I’m going to show you my technique for picking safe stocks. Don’t be surprised. This technique is incredibly simple. My two tests will take
about 10 seconds each to perform.

If your stock passes these two tests, it’s safer than 99% of all stocks in the world.

The first test I do is open up a chart of the stock and see how it performed in 2008.  The 2008 financial crisis was the worst market crash since the Great
Depression. The S&P 500 declined more than 50% in less than a year. Many riskier stocks fell 90% or more. It was a true massacre.  So if your stock held its value during this crisis – or better yet if it was one of the rare stocks that actually rose – it’s worth evaluating further. It might be a safe haven.

But if the stock tanked in 2008, I won’t touch it. It goes in the trash. A great analogy for this is the car market. A car manufacturer might tell you
its car has airbags, side impact protection, an onboard computer, and anti-lock brakes. But until you’ve driven that car into a wall at 110 miles per hour, you
won’t know it’s safe.

It’s the same with stocks. You might find a great business with an honest CEO and a prudent management team. But until you’ve seen how that business performs in a crisis, you can’t know it’s safe.

A bank in Connecticut called People’s United Financial passed this test. Fast food giant McDonald’s and the mining royalty firm Royal Gold held up as well. There’s also an insurance company from Canada called Fairfax Financial. It rose 36% in 2008.

The second test I do is my debt test. The fact is, if a company doesn’t have debt, there’s no way it can go bankrupt. Any company can go out of business if it
can’t make a profit. But if it doesn’t have debt, it can’t collapse – like Lehman Brothers did.

So the first thing I do is look at a company’s long-term debt. Ideally, I like to see a big fat zero there. Often though, companies have debt, but they have
more cash…

Take a company like Johnson & Johnson, for example. Johnson & Johnson has over $17 billion in debt. But it has over $26 billion in cash. In accounting terminology, Johnson & Johnson has zero “net” debt. I consider these companies safe, too.

The easiest way to run the debt test on a company is to compare its “enterprise value” with its market cap. You’ll find both these statistics on Yahoo Finance’s Key Statistics page.  Enterprise value is market cap plus net debt. So if a company’s enterprise value is less than its market cap, then the company has more cash than debt.  It’s safe. But if its enterprise value is greater than its market cap, then it has debt. It fails the test.

What you’ll find is that a lot of companies have tiny market caps in relation to their enterprise values. If you’d run my test before Lehman Brothers went
bankrupt, you would have seen its enterprise value was 30 times greater than its market cap.

These companies are among the riskiest in the world. They go bankrupt the day Wall Street stops lending them money. (And I’m constantly amazed how many
American companies operate their businesses like this.)

In sum, to figure out if your stock is safe or not, perform my two 10-second tests. First, look at its chart. Did it maintain its value in 2008? Second, look at its enterprise value. Is it less than its market cap?

If you can answer “yes” to these two questions, you have a safe stock in your possession.

 

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Do You Have a “Kiss My Ass” Fund?

During my early education years, I earned a Masters of Business Administration from top ranked University.  When I entered this institution, I was delighted to have such an opportunity to attend a top 20 Business School.  My education here set the stage for a very rewarding career that has fulfilled my hopes of achieving lifelong success.  In fact, I probably would not be in this same place without it.  I encourage all young persons to pursue higher education that develops your skills and knowledge for success.

 This achievement banter was not why I decided to write about my education today.  I was reminded of something a professor discussed during an early class in my first year.  While discussing the expectation of a career in business, this professor stated something I have always remembered and passed on to others.  It was something like this: the first thing you should do when you land your first job is to start a “kiss my ass” fund because one day you will have to tell your employer to kiss my ass.  This is the ideology of the classic cold corporate world of being pushed beyond your limits or where you draw the line.  While the statement is over dramatic, it has an inherent meaning and purpose – be prepared.

Today, I think of this idea as one of those buckets we should be working to fill.  To prepare for your later years, you always should diversify your savings.  You obviously want an emergency cash account for unforeseen events.  Then, you want to take care of your retirement through 401 and other type of retirement plans as the 40 year company pension plan doesn’t exist today. Some may invest in real estate or businesses as a diversification of investments.  Then, where does the “kiss my ass” fund fit in with your personal planning?

I use the ole kiss my ass fund as my financial independence tool.  This is where I invest using income strategies such as the PCD strategy and other monthly income opportunities.  The PCD is defined as put-call-dividend. I sell a put option for income on a world class dividend stock until the stock is put to me.  Then, I sell call options on the stock until it is called away.  Finally, I also collect dividends while I own the stock shares.  In each of the three positions, I am earning income! I also invest in CEFs that pay monthly distribution because I can diversify across numerous asset classes. And, I have a higher risk option spread account to play poker with through fast moving swing trades.

Of course you know where the cash goes from these income strategies – into my “kiss my ass” fund.  Why? Because one day I will need the income generated from the “kiss my ass” fund to live the life I envisioned long ago! And to think – it all started from that one day in class that had a lasting impact on my life and I hope now your life too.

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