Category Archives: stock market

Dividends by the Numbers in June 2022 and 2022-Q2

After a strong first quarter, a more mixed situation for the U.S. stock market's dividend-paying companies turning has developed during the second quarter. The following chart visualizes the count of U.S. firms either increasing or decreasing their dividends in each quarter from the first quarter of 2021 (2021-Q2) through the just completed second quarter of 2022 (2022-Q2).

Number of Public U.S. Firms Increasing or Decreasing Their Dividends by Quarter, 2021-Q2 through 2022-Q2

For the good news. At 51 dividend cuts, the U.S. stock market saw twenty fewer dividend reductions announced during 2022-Q2 than it did during 2022-Q1. While that figure is elevated over the year-ago total of 28, it is a sign of improvement in what had been a downward trend.

Now the bad news. 346 firms announced dividend rises during 2022-Q2, less than each of the preceding four quarters. That's also the fourth lowest total seen for all second quarters going back to 2004, which covers the available data. Only the second quarters of the Great Recession era's 2009 and 2010 and the Coronavirus Recession's 2020 have seen fewer dividend increases.

The next chart breaks down the number of dividend increases and decreases for each month from January 2004 through June 2022.

Number of Public U.S. Firms Increasing or Decreasing Their Dividends Each Month, January 2004 through June 2022

Here's the summary of June 2022's dividend metadata:

  • A total of 4,698 U.S. firms declared dividends in June 2022, an increase of 657 from May 2022's recorded value and 1,975 more than did a year earlier in June 2021.
  • Some 46 firms announced they would pay a special (or extra) dividend to their shareholders in June 2022, 39 less than did in May 2022 and 13 less than did in June 2021.
  • Just 63 firms declared they would increase their dividends in June 2022. That's 93 fewer than did in May 2022 and 18 fewer than did in June 2021. Only fifteen months have seen a lower number of dividend rises announced, seven of which occurred during official periods of recession for the U.S. economy.
  • There were 16 dividend reductions announced during June 2022, seven more than in May 2022 and ten more than did in June 2021.
  • In June 2022, zero U.S. firms omitted paying their dividends, continuing the trend established since June 2021, when the last U.S. firm that suspended paying dividends to its shareholding owners did so.

The lack of dividend increases appears due to rising costs for businesses related to President Biden's inflation. The exit question: Is this situation a precursor to recessionary-level dividend cuts being announced in upcoming months?

References

Standard and Poor. S&P Market Attributes Web File. [Excel Spreadsheet]. Accessed 1 July 2022.

Standard and Poor. S&P Indicated Rate Change. [Excel Spreadsheet]. Accessed 1 July 2022.

What Does Bitcoin Look, Walk, and Quack Like?

Duck, by Ross Sokolovski via Unsplash - https://unsplash.com/photos/kCZSzqvIei4

What is the best way to think about what Bitcoin (BTC-USD) is as an investment?

We've already demonstrated what it isn't. Bitcoin isn't "Gold 2.0". We know that's true because Bitcoin doesn't act like gold (KITCO: Live Gold Price), which rises in value whenever inflation forces real interest rates to fall. If anything, we found changes in the value of Bitcoin is almost completely independent of inflation-adjusted interest rates. If gold were a duck, Bitcoin wouldn't look, walk or quack anything like it.

Which then raises the question: what does Bitcoin look, walk and quack like?

We think Bitcoin looks, walks, and quacks like a non-dividend paying stock.

The thing that put us onto that line of thought was a recent headline: Bitcoin’s correlation with the Nasdaq 100 index reaches a new all-time high.

To be highly correlated with something is akin to looking, walking and quacking like it. So we put that proposition to the test, tracking the relationship between Bitcoin and the Nasdaq Composite Index (NASDAQ: COMP.IND), which is a broader measure of the stocks that trade on the NASDAQ stock exchange. The following chart shows what we found after we mapped the available data we have for the historic value of Bitcoin against the value of the Nasdaq Composite Index over the same period of time, from 17 September 2014 through 20 May 2022.

Bitcoin Value vs NASDAQ Composite Index, 17 September 2014 - 20 May 2022

In the chart, we see that Bitcoin's value has two distinct phases. One before the NASDAQ Composite index exceeded $10,000 in value, which was generally linear outside of a bubble-like period from October 2017 through November 2018. One after the NASDAQ exceeded $10,000 in value, coinciding with when Bitcoin began gaining institutional backing and its value with respect to the index took on power law characteristics. In both cases though, outside short periods where changes in its valuation decoupled from changes in the value of the stock index, Bitcoin has a generally tracked along with the NASDAQ, rising and falling with it in a positive relationship.

That makes it very much like a non-dividend paying stock, especially during the period after it began gaining significant institutional backing. We know that from the exponent of the power law relationship that exists between Bitcoin and the Nasdaq Composite Index during this period, which represents the ratio of the exponential growth rates of Bitcoin and that of the Nasdaq index, which includes dividend-paying stocks.

In doing that, Bitcoin is very much looking, walking, and quacking like a volatile non-dividend paying stock, which shares those characteristics. Unless and until it starts acting differently, that's perhaps the best way for investors to think about Bitcoin's qualities as an investment.

Update 26 May 2022

We're not the only ones looking at a cryptocurrency and wondering what it looks, walks, and quacks like! Elsewhere on the interwebs, Mitchell Zuckoff argues many cryptocurrencies are passing the Ponzi duck test.

References

Federal Reserve Economic Data. NASDAQ Composite Index. [Online Database (Text File)]. Accessed 20 May 2022.

Yahoo! Finance. Bitcoin USD (BTC-USD), 14 September 2014 through 21 April 2022. [Online Database]. Accessed 20 May 2022.

Previously on Political Calculations

Image credit: Photo by Ross Sokolovski on Unsplash.

Who’s Better at Picking Stocks: r/WallStreetBets or a Goldfish?

Michael Reeves has carved out a unique niche in the online world through his comedy-tech videos, combining his programming skills and love of modern technology with rapid fire jokes and satire.

In his latest production, he's taken on the world of meme investing, as represented by the favorite stocks pitched by top contributors to r/WallStreetBets, and pitted them against pure random selection, as represented by the stock picks of his pet goldfish. In the following 15-minute video (featuring some NSFW language and visual humor), he explains how he did it and presents his experimental results:

Our favorite part is when he pitches the "FISH" system to potential investors.

Reeves' experiment makes sense in the light of the real results of the Wall Street Journal's long-running investment dartboard challenge, in which the performance of stocks picked by professional investors competed against stocks picked by WSJ reporters who threw darts at the newspaper's stock listings to pick stocks at random. Superficially, it appeared the pros beat the darts, but that was because they benefitted from two secret advantages that were hidden in plain sight:

Professor Burton Malkiel of Princeton University, who for decades has been arguing that you can't beat the market, and a colleague found that the stocks the experts picked were risky. They were far more volatile than those the reporters picked using darts or the stocks that make up the S&P 500. When the stocks of the three groups are adjusted for risk, the returns of the experts fall precipitously below those of the dartboard or the index.

Professor Malkiel goes further. He argues that the unadjusted returns of the experts were higher because Wall Street Journal readers noted the selections after they were published and then bid them higher. Had the experts chosen their stocks on the day the stock picks were published instead of the day before, their return would fall a whopping 3 percentage points!!!

All in all, Reeves' goldfish-based investing system is a fun way to revisit those old results.

Previously on Political Calculations

How Gamestop’s Stock Price Was Squeezed

The story of how Gamestop (NYSE: GME) went from a value of $11.01 per share on 13 November 2020 to reach $325.00 per share on 29 January 2021 has become a stock market legend.

It has also become the subject of a fascinating academic study, where a new paper by Lorenzo Lucchini, Luca Maria Aiello, Laura Alessandretti, Gianmarco De Francisci Morales, Michele Starnini and Andrea Baronchelli investigated how social media contributed to the short squeeze that made GME into *the* prototype meme stock.

If you're not familiar with the story, here's the paper's summary of how the GME short squeeze was made, in which Reddit's r/wallstreetbets (WSB) plays a prominent role (we've added the bullet list formatting to make it easier to follow):

GameStop (GME) is a US video game retailer which was at the centre of the short squeeze in January 2021. The timeline of the events around the squeeze is summarized in table 1, and it unfolded as follows.

  • In 2019, Reddit user u/DeepFuckingValue entered a long position on GME, i.e. he bought shares of the GME stock, and started sharing regular updates in WSB.
  • On 27 October 2020, Reddit user u/Stonksflyingup shared a video explaining how a short position held by Melvin Capital, a hedge fund, could be used to trigger a short squeeze.
  • On 11 January 2021, GME announced a renewed Board of Directors, which included experts in e-commerce. This move was widely regarded as positive for the company, and sparked some initial chatter on WSB.
  • On 19 January, Citron Research (an investment website focused on shorting stocks) released a prediction that GME’s stock price would decrease rapidly.
  • On 22 January, users of WSB initiated the short squeeze.
  • By 26 January, the stock price increased more than 600%, and its trading was halted several times due to its high volatility. On that same date, business magnate Elon Musk tweeted ‘Gamestonk!!’ along with a link to WSB.
  • On 28 January, GME reached its all-time intra-day highest price, and more than 1 million of its shares were deemed failed-to-deliver, which sealed the success of the squeeze. A failure to deliver is the inability of a party to deliver a tradable asset, or meet a contractual obligation; a typical example is the failure to deliver shares as part of a short transaction.
  • On 28 January, the financial service company Robinhood, whose trading application was popular among WSB users, halted all the purchases of GME stocks.
  • On 1 and 2 February, the stock price declined substantially.

By the end of January 2021, Melvin Capital, which had heavily shorted GameStop, declared to have covered its short position (i.e. closed it by buying the underlying stock). As a result, it lost 30% of its value since the start of 2021, and suffered a loss of 53% of its investments, i.e. more than 4 billion USD.

While the paper's summary indicates a substantial decline in value, we'll point out that since it peaked at $325 per share, GME bottomed at $40.69 per share on 18 February 2022 before climbing back up to $300 per share on 8 June 2021, before dropping back toward the middle of that range. The following chart shows its stock price history:

GME Stock Price History: 12 October 2020 - 14 April 2022

That's all the "what happened", but it's the "why it happened" we find fascinating. The authors identify one key element in the postings of the WSB redditors that established their credibility, separating their postings from the ordinary run of the mill comments that dominate discussions on many other stock investing discussion sites, which they describe in the paper's introduction:

In this paper, we analyse discussions on WSB from 27 November 2020 to 3 February 2021 (table 1) and investigate how they translated into collective action before and during the squeeze that was initiated on 22 January and lasted until 2 February. Motivated by recent theoretical [10,11] and experimental [12] evidence that minorities of committed individuals may mobilize large fractions of a population [10,1315] even when they are extremely small [16], we investigate whether committed users on WSB had a role in triggering the collective action. To this aim, we operationalize the commitment of a user as an exhibited proof that the user has financial stakes in the asset.

We won't keep you in suspense. Here's the summary of what they found:

We show that a sustained commitment activity systematically pre-dates the increase of GameStop share returns, while simple measures of public attention towards the phenomenon cannot predict the share increase. Additionally, we also show that the success of the squeeze operation determines a growth of the social identity of WSB participants, despite the continuous flow of new users into the group. Finally, we find that users who committed early occupy a central position in the discussion network, as reconstructed by WSB posts and comments, during the weeks preceding the stock price surge, while more peripheral users show commitment only in the last phases of the saga.

The last part is to say that the early influencers who effectively established their credibility continued to be influential within the network. We think that continued influence is attibutable to their success, which had the short squeeze of GME's stock not occurred, would have led other WSB participants to discount the information value of their postings. People with opinions about a company's investment worthiness are a dime a dozen on a stock discussion board, but people who back up their talk with hard evidence of their bets that go on to pay off were granted credibility.

Much of the authors' study focuses on the dynamics between this "core" group of GME redditors and others who were on the periphery of the investing activity, which they describe as a "behavioural cascade" event. The core group attained a critical point of credibility, sweeping up peripheral redditors who transitioned from observers to participants as the short squeeze cascaded into a legendary event.

Update

As for the hedge fund that lost billions on its attempted short of GME, the firm is considering returning what's left of the capital it controls to its remaining investors as its future with its current structure is in doubt. The fund lost 39% of its capital in 2021, with another 21% of losses to date in 2022. It's management would launch a new fund to replace it.

Reference

Lorenzo Lucchini, Luca Maria Aiello, Laura Alessandretti, Gianmarco De Francisci Morales, Michele Starnini and Andrea Baronchelli. From Reddit to Wall Street: the role of committed minorities in financial collective action. Royal Society Open Science. Volume 9, Number 4. 6 April 2022. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.211488.

150 Years of Historic Yields for the S&P 500

With over 95% of the earnings data for the fourth quarter of 2021 now reported, we thought it might be a good time to visualize the historic yields for the S&P 500 (Index: SPX). The following chart presents the trailing year earnings and dividend yields for the index over the past 150 years, from January 1871 through December 2021.

Historic Yields for the S&P 500, January 1871 through December 2021

For December 2021, we find the earnings yield for the S&P 500 is 4.70%, which places it within the middle of the range it has fallen during the past thirty years. The index' dividend yield however is 1.46%, which comes within a few tenths of a percent from its all-time low recorded at the peak of the Dot-Com Bubble in August 2000.

At this point in 2022, both measures of the relative valuation of the S&P 500 have risen as the value of the index has fallen throughout the year to date.