Investing Ideas: June 2018


Yes, it’s time once again for a monthly “Investing Ideas” post!  In my continuing quest to find good places to invest excess cash, I’m always searching for interesting stocks, funds, REITs, ETFs, bonds and preferred shares to potentially buy.

Week after week, I’m hunting for good investment ideas.  I end-up passing on a lot of frogs that probably aren’t going to be princes… but every once in awhile I find a interesting stock that I just might want to kiss.

In general, I try to find good returns by investing in businesses with a significant margin of safety, a growing stream of dividends, and good returns on capital.  My preference is usually for equities (stocks) due to the generally higher returns available, but this isn’t always the case.

Not many investments end-up fitting this stringent criteria, but a few do.  Every month I try to write-up the best ideas in this regular monthly post.

 

FAQ & Boilerplate Warnings

Readers seem to really enjoy these ‘ideas’ posts, but they also generate a ton of questions.  In response, I’ve put together a Investing FAQ that should answer the bulk of common questions.  If you’ve got questions, check that page first.

Please be warned — Do NOT consider any of these investing ideas as a solicitation to buy shares.  I’m not endorsing or advising anyone purchase these investments for themselves.  These are merely investing ideas that I’m considering this month.  I am not your financial advisor.  Please do your own research or hire a professional advisor.

I do not currently own shares in any of these companies, nor am I paid to endorse them in any way.  I may or may not put money into these investing ideas.  Some investing ideas may require additional research, or need to have certain questions answered before anyone should invest in them.

With that out of the way, let’s proceed with the investing ideas!

 

Iron Mountain

My first investing idea this month is a REIT… and no, I’m not going to recommend a dying mall REIT.  Instead, I decided to take a look at a real estate sector that’s doing well despite the death of retail — it’s data centers.

Data centers are the buildings where the web servers and cloud infrastructure of our modern world live.  Most people will never see the inside of one as they’re usually very secure facilities.  Without a doubt, data centers are a very important part of our modern world and they’re going to be around for a very long time.

The problem is, everyone already knows it.  Data center stocks are usually really expensive:  EQIX, COR, QTS, CONE, DLR.  They’re all very highly priced in my book, going for EV-to-EBITDA values greater than 20x.

So Iron Mountain (Symbol: IRM) is a bit of an odd-ball.  They’re actually a document storage REIT, with a quickly growing data center business.

boxes on shelves
IRM still has plenty of boxes still stored on shelves, but 80% of all new assets taken-in are digital.

One way to look at IRM is a slow growing document storage business that spits off a lot of cash AND a fast growing data center business that’s not quite as profitable (yet).  Iron Mountain also has a number of digital services, such as document digitization, digital archiving, digital video storage, and other digital-type services related to documents.  These services make up about 20% of revenues.  My point is, it’s not all documents stored in dusty boxes.

The good part?  It’s relatively affordable compared to other data center REITs — the EV-to-EBITDA is a more affordable 15x multiple.  The dividend yield is far more pleasant too, with a juicy 7.07% yield.

What about growth you say?  Well, based on current AFFO growth projections it should be possible for the dividend to grow by 4-6% most years, easily exceeding inflation.

While that’s nothing too exciting, it’s important to remember that the S&P 500 has an average dividend growth rate of 6.21%.  The difference here is that investors start with a 7% yield instead of a 1.82% yield.

 

Principal Financial Group

What can I say about Principal Financial Group (Symbol: PFG)?  This one is as boring as they get. But when it comes to investments, sometimes boring can be a very good thing.  It occasionally hides the gems.

Principal Financial Group (PFG hereafter) is a business with a focus on wealth management, retirement plans (401k’s, IRA’s and annuities), and insurance.  I know, I know… really boring stuff.

But the word “boring” doesn’t exactly cover a business that’s been growing at a regular 10% clip and growing dividends nearly as quickly.  The shares sport a nice 3.36% dividend yield that should continue to grow as long as assets under management also grow.

PFG_div_growth
Since the Great Recession, dividend growth at PFG has been nothing short of impressive.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find anything particularly wrong with PFG.  It appears to be a fairly well run business.  Even the dividend payout ratio is completely rational at 30% of earnings.

Considering that PFG’s shares trade at 10 times this year’s projected earnings, they could be considered “a bargain” for value oriented investors.  Reasonable debt levels and a slowly declining share count are frosting on the cake here too.

The big negative is what happens when assets under management don’t rise — typically this happens during recessions when markets are declining.  During those periods, PFG tends to make a little less (but then again, so does everybody else).

The last time this happened was 2008, and earnings declined to $1.63/share from $3.09/share the prior year.  That really isn’t any worse than the broader market declines during that time period.  Risks for investors would be similar to making a broad market investment.

Year to date, shares of PFG have declined 21% which seems like it could be in cheap bargain territory.

While certain people might criticize PFG’s products like annuities, life insurance, and ETFs/Mutual funds as being ‘outdated’, I believe there’s still room for this niche to exist.  Certainly index funds are going to attract the bulk of new investing dollars, but these traditional products still have their place for some investors.

As long as the future has a need for the various investment products they produce and sell, PFG should do fine and reward investors equally well.

 

Western Union

Yep, it’s that old stalwart of telegrams that’s now in the business of money movement and payment services.  You’ve probably seen the advertisements.

In this day-and-age of Paypal and Bitcoin, going to a Western Union (Symbol: WU) office to send someone money sounds decidedly quaint.

“Who could possibly need such an outdated service?” you’re probably wondering.  Well A LOT of people apparently — over 150 million of them last year alone.  Over $300 billion dollars was transferred via Western Union last year.  According to WU’s annual report, many of them are immigrants that send money home.

Here’s an interesting quote from that same annual report:  “The vast majority of transfers are paid in cash at agent locations.”

Yep, cold hard cash.  Apparently there are people and places in the world that still use plenty of cash.

At one time it was thought Western Union was a business in serious decline due to online competition, but the company responded to change by investing heavily in phone apps and online money transfer services.  They seem to have largely solved this problem.

As a result, the company is growing again (albeit slowly).  Last year revenues grew at a 3% pace, and I would expect to see similar slow growth in future years.  Dividends are healthy with a 4% yield that grows anywhere from 5 – 10% per year (it varies wildly depending upon the year)

But what about the threat of digital currencies?

Well, bitcoin and other digital currencies tend to be way too expensive to be effective competition — A transfer of $600 to Mexico might cost a customer $5 (or less) with Western Union. The transaction might take a couple days to complete.

With Bitcoin this same transaction might cost around $12 (2% conversion fee), and the transfer could take a day or two if you want it converted to actual cash.

(Note: This varies considerably depending upon the digital currency and exchanges involved).

It’s not cheap to move money around in the bitcoin world.  Some digital currencies are trying to solve this problem, but in its current incarnation the technology is not a major threat to Western Union.

WU
Shares of WU haven’t done much the last few years due to fear of online competition. These concerns seem largely overblown now that the company has a solid online/mobile product.

Initially when I was researching the company, the money transfer business see seemed like it was the kind of business where a low cost provider would be the big winner. Customers usually want the transfers to be as cheap as possible….

But, if you’re trying to send cash to your Mom who lives in a tiny village in South America, it’s the breadth of the network that matters most.  This I believe is where Western Union’s moat truly lies — with 550,000 global retail locations in 200 countries, I know of no money transfer business that comes anywhere close to this level of global coverage.

Those are very impressive numbers, and not something a competitor easily could tackle overnight.  For this reason, I think Western Union is going to be around for a very long time.

 

Computer Services Inc.

Computer Services (Symbol: CSVI) is probably one of the best companies you’ve never heard of.  Primarily, CSVI sells their services to small regional community banks and small banking chains that need to remain up-to-date, competitive, and compliant with federal banking regulations.

For example, if you’re a small community bank with 10 employees you can’t afford to hire an army of software developers to make a mobile app for your bank.  But your customers demand modern accoutrements like this… so what’s a small bank to do?  Well, you call CSVI and use their mobile banking app instead of building one yourself.

The same goes for the dozens of other services small banks might require — check printing, websites, digital payments, payment processing, fraud detection, regulator compliance, and all kinds of banking software.  They’re a one-stop-shop for bank software.

csvi card management
Small community banks don’t have the size or expertise to run a large IT department.  Instead of trying to develop online banking and mobile applications themselves, they look to Computer Services Inc to fill this need.

Contracts with these small banks tend to be long term, so CSVI is a “steady Eddy” in the earnings department.  They simply powered right through the Great Recession with nary a blip in earnings. Yes, earnings grew right through the recession.  The outperformance is impressive.

This feat really displays the power of CSVI’s moat — When it comes to small banking services there is  little competition and a small bank is simply not going to cancel a contract that’s critical to banking customers on a whim.

what recession
What recession? These charts show how CSVI essentially skipped the last two recessions.

Meanwhile, CSVI has been growing their dividend at a market beating 10%-clip for many years now.  Currently the shares have a healthy 2.53% yield.  The payout-ratio has grown in recent years, so I expect these large dividend increases are going to eventually slow down.  They should increase at a rate similar to free cash flow growth in the future (I estimate around 5% long term)

The only problem?  The shares never really get cheap.  Not even during recessions.  The company is just that durable.  With a TTM PE multiple of about 17.68 this is not going to be deep value territory.

Instead, I consider this a high-quality moat-heavy company going for a fair price.

 

Final Thoughts

That wraps up this June’s investing ideas post!  I hope you enjoyed these ideas and perhaps found them useful.  I’m curious to hear your feedback on these ideas, and please feel free to share your own investing ideas!

If you enjoyed this post, or others in my Investing Ideas series, please let me know in the comments.  This series is still an experiment, so I’m very curious to hear your feedback!

Until next time!

 

[Image Credit: Flickr1, storage.misc.org, CSVI]

19 thoughts on “Investing Ideas: June 2018

  • June 23, 2018 at 4:30 AM
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    In my first ever job out of college our company used Principal Financial to manage the 401k. After I left I kept my money with them for a good while until I consolidated to another account years later. Like you said, they’re boring but they got it done, no complaints with them. Surprised they’re still around!

    Reply
    • June 25, 2018 at 10:51 AM
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      I think I read somewhere they’re over 130 years old. That’s crazy.

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  • June 23, 2018 at 6:41 AM
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    Interesting pics Mr Tako. I always enjoy looking into different ideas. IRM to me is a lot like a bond in that you get a nice dividend with pretty stable price, not much capital appreciation but probably more risk. I already own DLR and got lucky on that one but yes it is a high flyer and quite risky. This CSVI looks very interesting to me in that it is very small and unheard of but like you say has a nice moat. Good quality small young companies never are very cheap. I need to do more research, but of the 4 ideas, I really like this one the best and may invest a little!

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    • June 25, 2018 at 10:51 AM
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      Interesting perspective. I’ve never met a bond that pays interest that increases at 6% a year. There could be several scenarios where IRM sees a lot of capital appreciation — such as if the market suddenly starts valuing them like another data center REIT. That’s easily a 50% jump.

      Nice job on buying DLR early!

      Reply
  • June 23, 2018 at 7:57 AM
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    Great investing ideas, Mr. Tako. I’ll have to keep an eye out on these companies.

    I did some buying recently, bought HBI at a good clip and then saw shares levitate by over 30% in a short time. Also I bought GIS and BTI. The dividend train marches on steadily.

    -Mike

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    • June 25, 2018 at 10:53 AM
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      HBI showed up on my list too, but I’m not big on consumer stocks when things are this pricey.

      I’ll definitely take a look at GIS and BTI though!

      Reply
  • June 23, 2018 at 5:50 PM
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    I agree that PFG is attractive here. I really like P&C insurance businesses when they can underwrite new business at a profit

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    • June 25, 2018 at 10:55 AM
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      Yeah, at one time I made a ton of money in the P&C insurance business. In my book, they’re pretty easy businesses to value!

      Reply
  • June 25, 2018 at 9:24 AM
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    REITs are definitely interesting to me in the long term (we have something similar on a small scale through work) because as awesome as real estate can be financially, I have zero interest in managing my own rentals outside of the one roommate who lives in our primary residence.

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    • June 25, 2018 at 10:56 AM
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      Totally in agreement with you here. I simply don’t have the time to manage and maintain multiple properties. REITs are a great way to diversify into real estate, but there’s obviously both good and bad REITs out there.

      Reply
  • June 25, 2018 at 10:52 AM
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    Iron Mountain looks interesting. I didn’t realize there are document storage REITs out there. Figured there would be more data storage REITs nowadays. Just added more shares of SBUX last week when the price dropped by a bit. It’s something we already own so I tried to cost average down. Is it a good move? We’ll see in a few years. Seems that the SBUX growth is slowing down a bit in NAM but there’s still a huge amount of growth potentials in Asia.

    Reply
    • June 25, 2018 at 11:02 AM
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      Yeah, a lot of data centers are actually not public. There’s plenty of investor demand, but I think it could be a size thing, that and having the right profitable niche.

      Most small-med size companies just buy server capacity through AWS or from MSFT or Google’s cloud systems. It can be much more cost effective than running your own data center. (I have some professional experience in this area.) For these profitable data center REITs, I think they’re exploiting niches where customers have good reasons to avoid those “big three”.

      Reply
  • June 25, 2018 at 12:33 PM
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    Didn’t know about Iron Mountain. Interesting that they went from document storage to digital. Good call! The business that survive are the ones that grow and evolve.

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    • June 25, 2018 at 6:42 PM
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      Indeed! They also fill a niche by helping companies that are still heavily paper based to get their records digitized. It’s a fascinating hybrid company.

      Reply
  • June 25, 2018 at 3:57 PM
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    What ever happened to the Well known Energy Company?

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  • June 26, 2018 at 1:00 PM
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    IRM is on my list of REITs to purchase once my pension transfers over to Fidelity. I’ve had a good deal of experience with them on the customer side as the last three employers I worked for used them heavily for off-site storage of documentation that was required to be retained, and I like what they’ve been doing.

    CSVI is one that has piqued my interest as I was not familiar with them, but I like the description you provided of their moat. I’m curious to see if the small bank we use for our kids accounts use them, as I know they don’t have a big internal staff. Definitely need to do some due diligence on them.

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    • June 26, 2018 at 4:06 PM
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      FISV or JKHY would be competitors to CSVI, but quite a bit larger. You might want to look at them also (sadly, no dividend at FISV)

      Reply

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