Ain't no stopping this now, the bear's on the move. Yep, I keep hearing the lyrics of that 1980s song by McFadden & Whitehead every time the waves of selling in inundate the marketplace. And while strength at various times of the day does seem to tempt us that the selling's over, rumors of Ebola outbreaks, or Baghdad falling, or Russian advances on Kiev keep anything positive from having any lasting staying power.
After a prolonged period when it seemed that every dip was worth buying, we have run into a dip that isn't. This tip has no touchstones yet. We have seen sell-offs stop, for example, because of yield protection. Stocks that used to yield 2.5% were suddenly yielding 5% and those accidental high yields held. But most of the industrials with half-way decent yields are still far from 5%. Others, like the Master Limited Partnership yields, are being viewed as suspect. All of them. Many will no doubt be good money, but the bashing of these stocks by sellers is horrific, and much of it is linked to ETFs that own these funds. The sellers fear underwritings, and they fear distribution cuts, and they want to get out ahead of them. One look at Linn Energy (LINE), with its 12% yield, tells you that investors doubt the company can make good on that distribution.
The panic is palpable. Sifting through the ones that can pay, mostly because they are largely fee-based, not commodity based ¿ vs. the ones that need higher oil and gas to make the distributions -- you see bargains. But then you get clubbed over your head from some seller in one of the 20 open-ended funds that owns these stocks. The moves are breathtaking. Take a look Emerge Energy (EMES), the miner of the highest quality fracking sand in the nation. Here's a stock that six months ago stood at $76. It stands there now again. However, in the interim it traded at $144 in the last week of August. It yields more than 6% and it can easily boost that distribution. The company's biggest problem, when I spoke to company representatives last week, was being able to meet demand. It needs to buy thousands of railcars and open up new sand pits with alacrity to get the job done.
But now people are asking: does it need to get the job done? Is fracking too expensive vs. where the Saudis are able to take price? Shouldn't the new projects that might need that sand be put on hold until the all-clear is sounded?
So now, instead of steadily increasing sales, earnings and distributions, the market thinks the opposite is about to occur. Once again, given the volatility of this stock, a 6% cushion isn't much of a trampoline if things go bad. It just can't protect you from the downside as those who bought it when the yield was 5% can attest to.
This no-help-from-yield phenomenon in areas other than utilities is new. Yesterday saw the long-awaited break in the consumer package group stocks that have held up so well with their 3% yields and their lack of growth. They are now some of the more vulnerable stocks out there. Do you think that slow-growing Merck (MRK) can keep on going higher with a 3.14 yield? Do you think the 3.3% yield can buoy General Mills (GIS) despite its total lack of growth?
I think the inability of yields to keep stocks from sinking has distinguished this market to the negative, and is more a reminder that we got too high, not that the dividends aren't safe.
Put simply, dividends aren't defending. At least not yet, and until they do, buying this dip may be harder than you think.