Misunderstandings about Dividend Growth Investing

I am building a decent follower base on Twitter and that gives me the opportunity to interact with investors from different backgrounds, with different mindsets with different set of questions. Some of these interactions are particularly interesting where questions center around whether dividend growth investing is a meaningful strategy towards reaching financial independence.

I know the personal finance community on social media can get very confrontational at times with their general discourse. A natural response that I see from folks who are questioned is to get defensive, start taking the questions as a personal attack and classify the questions as “hate” or “trolling” or whatever.

I take a slightly different approach. If the question that is posed has some sense of rational basis to it, I want to think about it and answer it. Investing can be a pretty lonely endeavor. And it is natural to question your approach and think about whether your strategy is right or not. And as an investor, it is easy to slip into an echo chamber and block out all arguments that are contrary to your way of investing. But IMHO, this is not healthy.

A solid investment strategy is one that can withstand the counter punches of critics. And so from that viewpoint, I value criticisms because they force me to deeply introspect about my investing strategy.

Note: These are actual questions/criticisms that have been posed to me either directly (through DMs/email) or indirectly (addressed to the dividend growth investing community at large, of which I am a part of).

So with background out of the way, lets get to the questions/criticisms…

Criticism #1: Most dividend growth investors are investing in a company simply because it is paying a dividend. Some of these companies are not even growing and are under-performing the broader market. Aren’t these investors having a myopic view, being blinded by the dividend income, but vastly under-performing the broader market in terms of total returns?

There is some merit to this question. Yes, dividend investors can be blind-sided by the dividend yield of a particular company and invest in that business solely for that reason. But there are similar parallels with other investing strategies as well. With the so-called “growth stocks” you are also investing in companies that are largely unprofitable at this moment and buying into the narrative of promised future growth. Same deal with real-estate. And don’t even get me started with cryptocurrency and other speculative investments!

So almost all strategies when not used correctly can lead the investors into making bad decisions. So where does the flaw lie in this reasoning?

The answer lies in “growth” aspect of the dividend growth investing strategy. Most dividend growth investors ought to be focused on not just the current dividend yield but the safety of that dividend in the near-future and the possibility of a growing dividend several years into the future. And to guarantee that, they need to consider the cash flows, revenues and the strength of the balance sheet for those businesses.

And not all dividend growth stocks will grow the same way, some grow slower but offer a higher starting yield, some grow faster but offer a lower starting yield. Some grow unevenly/cyclically because of the nature of the sector that the business belongs to. But all these stocks work together as a part of the cohesive portfolio to generate meaningful returns in all kinds of economic environments.

Criticism #2: You are using dividend growth investing as a strategy to generate passive income, that is because you are either not successful or simply don’t know how to generate passive income through other means. You can just as easily earn passive income through other means.

Ummm..sure. Yes, I could just as easily earn passive income through some other means. No disagreements there. It is just that dividend growth investing seems to fit the bill the best in-terms of being hands-off, offering meaningful growth and letting me sleep well at night and focus on my regular job during the day. If I have found this and it is working for me, why should I continue looking for something else??

Criticism #3: Dividend theory is nonsense and is a topic for newbies. Dividends are irrelevant because the stock drops by the same amount as the amount of dividend being paid.

Agree that act of a business paying the dividend is irrelevant as far the stock price action on the day the dividend is being paid. However, to extend that argument and then state that the dividend policy itself is irrelevant is fallacious. Dividends form a significant part of the total returns generated by any business and any argument that states otherwise is missing the point completely.

Criticism #4 :You individual stock pickers really think that you would be outperforming the broader market? Do you even know how many stock pickers have been able to achieve this? I am sure your portfolio under-performs the broader market index. You could have simply invested in a index and been better off.

Here is the thing: While my focus on this blog is about dividend growth investing and my dividend growth portfolio, a large portion of my net-worth is also tied with low-cost index funds. They both serve dedicated purposes. My dividend growth portfolio is something that I am using to build a reliable stream of passive income that will one day be used to pay my bills. The funds tied up with index funds form the bedrock of my retirement and can/will be used for other retirements needs.

My point is you can very well be both an index-fund investor and an individual stock picker at the same time!

Now, regarding the question on whether someone should be picking individual stocks. I invest in individual stocks for a specific reason: to generate dividend income. Investing in a index fund like VOO, Vanguard’s SP500 Index fund ETF, would only yield ~1.6%, at the time of writing this, a yield that is far below what my portfolio is generating currently.

One can make the case of investing in an dividend growth ETF instead of picking individual stocks. There is certainly merit in this argument and for this reason, I too hold some ETF investments in my portfolio. Having said that, I have explained a few drawbacks with investing with ETFs on this blog in the past.

On the question of performance w.r.t the broader market, we are really comparing apples to oranges because my goal is to generate passive income through dividends and not measure capital appreciation alone. That said, several stocks in my portfolio are also a part of the SP500 index as well.

Criticism #5: These dividend investors keep bragging about their monthly dividend income. It is more like a status symbol and/or means to build a social media following and clout.

This criticism and the next one came from a YouTuber called Brad Finn who owns a channel on YouTube to discuss personal finance topics, option trading, futures trading etc.. He has a decent following on that medium. Brad recently sold his dividend growth portfolio completely. Oddly, he says that this is the second time he is selling out of this dividend portfolio completely. This is not a personal attack on Brad or anything, because anyone can change their mind about what they want to do with their investments. But something that he said about this struct me as very odd.

“I know it makes for great videos, but if I was not a YouTuber, or a (air quotes) influencer….would I really need a dividend portfolio?”

I have seen similar comments from other critics as well. I don’t know where this is coming from, but I want to make one thing amply clear: I certainly am not doing this for gaining subscribers or gaining more social media followers. For the same reason, I do not have any affiliate marketing links here. I am genuinely not interested in making money from this blog or anything like that.

To the contrary, the primary purpose of this blog is to motivate you, the reader, in your journey towards financial independence, irrespective of whether the journey happens to be via dividend growth investing or some other investing strategy. Everyone’s situation and goals are slightly different and it would be naive of me to proclaim that dividend growth investing is the ONLY strategy that works for everyone.

Funnily enough, while you have one set of critics who think folks only like to talk about dividend growth investing because it is cool, there are a separate set of critics who like to think that dividend growth investing is the most boring thing in this world. Who is right here? Neither, of course.

Criticism #6: With dividends received, you are realizing forced income and paying taxes for it. Why even bother with that especially for income that you do not need right now? Couldn’t you instead invest in something that does not have this forced income, like an ETF like VTI, grow that unrealized and only begin investing in dividend stocks closer to retirement when you actually need this income.

Brad Finn brought up this question on a separate video and I think it is a good one because I have seen the same argument brought up by other critics. The rationale for the argument is sound (atleast on the face of it): if you do not need that passive income right now and you would only need it in the future, why realize it now and pay a forced tax on it. However, the argument has several flaws and let me attempt to debunk each of them.

So the first flaw in this argument is that even with investing those funds in an ETF like VTI, I would still realize some forced income because VTI also happens to pay dividends/distribution.

The second flaw is that when I would need those funds to invest in individual dividend stocks closer to retirement, I would need to sell some of my VTI stock to gain access to those funds. Depending on the gains, this could be a significant tax event. But more importantly, what is VTI were to drop like 20% closer to my planned sell date due to a recessionary economic environment and the stock market would never recover for the next decade. This would mean that the amount of capital available to me to deploy towards dividend stocks would be that much lesser, meaning my generated income would be lesser as well. Arguably, I might be able to buy stocks with higher dividend yields , but this depends on the stocks I am planning to purchase. My point being: it is not as straightforward as it sounds in theory.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in this argument is the lack of understanding of the concept of Yield-On-Cost. This is a subject that I covered during the early days of this blog. Simply put, with companies that grow their dividend at a decent clip, it is not the starting yield alone that matters, but rather the compounded yield available after several years that matters more to the investor. This highlights the value of a dollar spent 20-30 years prior to today i.e. what is the compounded yield that my capital deployed 20-30 years ago generates as of today. I had used Visa (ticker: V) as an example in that computation and showed how after 30 years of compounding the simple yield on cost amounts to 77%. It would be impossible to find that high of a starting yield.

I understand Brad’s frustration with the taxes on this forced income. But he is also big on earning passive income through option premiums on covered calls, wheel strategy etc. I find it odd that he is complaining about taxes on dividend income, when in fact taxes on option premiums are worse, they are treated as ordinary income and taxed higher.

IMHO, dividends are a tax-efficient form of passive income. Atleast in the US, at the time of writing this, qualified dividends are taxed as follows if you are married and filing jointly:

If you make under $89,250 in qualified dividends, you pay 0% tax! That’s right, 0%.

This becomes even more impressive if you add in standard deduction limit of $27,700 i.e. $89,250 + $27,700 = $116,950. So you pay 0% tax on ~$117,000 of qualified dividend income for the year.

Source: https://www.bankrate.com/investing/long-term-capital-gains-tax/#rates


Once again, I welcome counter-criticisms regarding this strategy, it has its nuances to grasp and it can be very misleading. But when you see the compounding in action, it finally “hits you”. Atleast that was what it was in my case.

As always, drop in your comments if you disagree/agree. But please do so respectfully without engaging in needless mud-slinging.




Dividend Growth ETFs and their potential drawbacks

Dear Readers,

Due to the current bear market environment that we are in, a lot of previously popular growth stocks have been decimated. This has lured a lot of investors towards the “safety” of dividend stocks. Rather than jeering, I am actually very happy for these investors. This is a great entry point, with dividend yields at all-time highs and also attractive valuations for several popular dividend growth stocks.

Another popular entry option is that of owning a dividend growth Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) and there are several options available here as well. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what an ETF is, Investopedia defines an ETF as follows:

So essentially by owning a single ETF security, you are effectively owning a basket of stocks. And what type of stocks? Well that depends on the type of ETF. For example, a dividend growth ETF like SCHD would comprise of dividend growth companies through which the fund promises to yield some dividend income for its investor. And since the fund manager does the leg work of choosing the dividend growth stocks for the investor, the investor is charged some fees typically called the expense ratio.

At first glance, it is easy to see the attractiveness of the ETF option for dividend growth investing. After all, if the investor is hard-pressed for time and simply does not have the mental bandwidth or the interest to track individual companies, the investor can simply choose to own an ETF instead. As the saying goes, such investors simply choose to “ETF and chill”.

I ran into a question from a fellow investor on Twitter on this subject:

Great question. And as someone who owns a dividend growth ETF like SCHD in addition to several individual stocks, I wanted to pen down my thoughts on some potential drawbacks with a pure dividend growth ETF-based investing strategy. I will use the beloved and everyone’s favorite SCHD as an example.

That Dreaded Expense ratio

There is no free beer in this party. With SCHD, per the fund’s fact sheet, the expense ratio is 0.06% i.e. 0.06% of total investment in the fund are deducted annually. This might not seem like a lot initially, but when compounded over a long period of time, the same can account for a significant portion of the total investment returns. Ironically, while we as dividend growth investors rely on compounding to generate a stable cash flow, in this case, the expense ratio can cause compounding to work against us.

Choice in the basket of stocks

So the investor relies on the fund manager to choose high-quality dividend growth stocks. But do their definitions of “high-quality” align completely? What if the fund manager chooses some stocks that the investor believes to have dodgy fundamentals. This is yet another drawback with ETF i.e. the investor has little say in the basket of stocks that are contained with the ETF.

With SCHD, its top 3 holdings are Merck (ticker: MRK), Pepsi Co. (ticker: PEP) and IBM (ticker: IBM). While I do not have any particular issues with MRK and PEP (I hold PEP separately in my portfolio), I am not particularly comfortable with IBM. Having tracked the company for a few years now, I am not sure about the management and the business’s long-term growth prospects.

Souce: SCHD fact sheet


Let us assume that the investor chooses an ETF that has exactly the funds that he/she is interested in. Then there is the question of weight distribution among the various stocks and sector weightings within the fund. With SCHD, at the time of writing this, it owns 20.8 in Information Technology sector, 19.6% in Finance and 14.7 in Consumer Staples. Personally, I am not as comfortable with the allocations to Finance and Consumer Staples. In fact, I would have been more comfortable if the allocations were swapped.


The next issue is with regards to predictability of stocks contained in the fund. The fund manager can choose to trade in and out of different positions, while maintaining the overall objective of the fund performance i.e. in the case of SCHD, match the total returns of the Dow Jones US Dividend 100 Index. It becomes quite a challenge to track when and where these turnovers are happening. The whole aspect of tracking these changes defeats the objective of maintaining a “hands-off” investing strategy for the investor.

As an aside, since income obtained through a dividend growth ETF is due to the holdings contained in the ETF itself, it becomes a little harder to track the potential dividend growth rate of the ETF especially considering that the fund manager can trade in and out of positions. This makes retirement planning that much harder.

So why own an ETF then?

For me, there are two primary reasons:

  • Diversification: As a part of a diversified portfolio, an ETF can provide necessary diversification to the investor. In my case, I hold ETFs in separate accounts that are tied to retirement (HSA, IRA etc.)
  • With individual stocks held across different accounts, it becomes quite tedious (for me atleast) to keep track of my cost basis, last transaction date, weighting etc. for individual positions. The effort required to track these is non-trivial. Compare that with holding an ETF in these other accounts, I can save a lot of energy and time by going that route.

Let me know in the comments below if you agree/disagree with the above thoughts. Are there any popular dividend growth ETFs that you own in your portfolio?

Until the next post. Cheers!


Random Thoughts on Financial Freedom

Dear Readers,

I wanted to step away from the market news, discussion on investing and talk about the topic of “financial freedom”. This subject evokes a lot of interesting responses from the community. After all, everyone’s background and life experiences are not the same.

Financial Freedom = Retirement

The first common theme/variation of a response equates financial freedom to a point in life where you do not have to worry about making ends meet. Lot of folks simply think of this as retirement and this eventually leads into a pretty picture of a relaxing next to beach, sipping your favorite drink or whatever. I’ve got to admit, this sounds fantastic.

But after thinking about this a lot, to me this sounds just like a…..vacation.

I enjoy vacation time and some “do nothing”/”chill out” time. But if the same situation would extend over a long run, it would drive me nuts. I would probably just get sick of myself after a few days of “doing nothing”. Retirement or not, I think I would still be involved in some form of activity to keep myself engaged and mentally challenged. This drive to work on something cool and rewarding is what fuels me, and I do not think that is going to change in retirement.

Indeed, my work schedule as I get closer to retirement might change substantially. I might consider during more “consultant” like roles during the later half of my career. I might also consider stepping away from the tech industry altogether and going towards academia. I have always enjoyed teaching young students whatever I have learned from my experiences and I might even consider doing it for free. The gift of educating a young child, especially from a financially challenged background, can not only setup that child for life but can benefit a whole generation to follow. I find that thought very captivating.

Financial freedom = Escaping the 9-5 cycle

The second theme around any financial-freedom discussion is centered around of escaping the 9-5 work cycle. This has an implied assumption that almost everyone who works in their present day job, hates it for one or more reasons. They are pursuing the path of financial freedom so that they can escape this “monotonous” cycle and “use their time doing something that they actually love”.

I can understand folks hating their day jobs if they are stuck doing something that they are not really passionate about, but are doing it because pursuing other income options is not a viable option. This is indeed a difficult situation.

What I have a problem is with the broad assumption that everyone who is in a 9-5 job is expected to hate it. I am in the (supposed) minority who does NOT hate their day job. I think I was fortunate enough to realize very early in my education that I would end up with a career in engineering. And I ENJOY doing what I do. I cannot explain the thrill of seeing people using products which potentially is running a piece of software that I designed and/or contributed towards. I can actually take a bet with you that if you do a quick scan around your house, you might find atleast one such electronic product where this is true. And I am not saying this to brag or anything. I think this is largely true for large number of engineers who work with me on products or other such solutions.

Add to all this, I find the predictability around getting a periodic paycheck extremely useful. This actually helps me plan a budget and also determine how much to invest etc. In a world that is full of chaos and unpredictability, THIS one aspect is probably the biggest advantage of the 9-5 job. It helps me sleep better at night.

I also feel that a lot of the 9-5 job haters are exaggerating some of the downsides. Some common criticisms might sound something like…

  • But, you are working to fulfill someone else’s dream, aren’t you?
  • You are being told about what you need to do.
  • There is no freedom…your time is not your time…
  • You are not an owner. You are just a modern-day slave.
  • And who likes working in a cubicle anyway?

I honestly feel this is a slightly myopic perspective of the world. If one were to open up their mind a little more, they would see that most of these concerns were just hollow statements with no real substance. Let me try debunking these..

Working to fulfill someone else’s dream

Not really. Like I said, I enjoy working on engineering problems that are ultimately related to products that common people use in their day-to-day lives. This is as much my dream as it is the CEO/upper management’s dream. Great products are built by great teams of people all working towards a shared dream.

You are being told about what you need to do

Ok? So what? First of all, why is this such a bad thing? Second of all, I have always been encouraged to ask questions regarding the tasks being assigned to me to get a better context of the larger problem it is trying to solve. There have been several occasions where my immediate boss has welcomed me bringing up these questions and we have either re-scoped the task, eliminated it if it was deemed unnecessary or kept it as-is since I have understood it well. In all three cases, it has helped everyone concerned.

There is no freedom…your time is not your time…

There is some truth to this argument. This largely depends on the kind of industry you are in and the work you do. Thanks to the WFH dynamics in the post-pandemic world, I have been able to have a largely flexible work day where I can plan my personal activities and appointments around my work schedule without either one being impacted. I have been pretty lucky to have worked for bosses who were mostly hands-off and did not believe in micro-management. But I can understand that not everyone might have the same experience.

You are not an owner. You are just a modern-day slave.

This is kinda related to the “me working to fulfill someone else’s dream”. Again, good corporations will make each and every member feel like a co-owner. Sure, there might be some cases where you might not agree with the approach to solve a given problem. But usually the opposing parties, in any given discussion, also have a sound argument. And this argument about being a modern-day slave…well if you are in stuck in that mindset, then no amount of talking is going to convince you to look at it some other way.

And who likes working in a cubicle anyway?

Thanks to COVID and WFH dynamics, you no longer need to work from an office! And even if you had to work out of a office, most workspaces now have enough flexibility to allow you to take your laptop and sit anywhere you want in a building and work from there.

Granted, I might be a bit biased in that not all 9-5 jobs are like mine. There might be certain types of 9-5 jobs which are indeed terrible because of bad working hours, bad management and vitriolic work environments. But what is stopping you from quitting and finding a job where such a situation does not exist?

This is perhaps a FAR MORE important step than anything else. You need to put yourself out of toxic work environments and go find a job that is personally and professionally rewarding. In my opinion, focusing on being kick-ass at your job should be a higher priority and thinking about stock markets and investing. This allows you to command a very competitive wage, which in-turn improves your savings rate. Once you have a solid base i.e. your day job, you can then focus on long-term financial plans as well.

So what does “Financial freedom” mean to me?

I have grappled with this question a lot and it has not really led to any clear answers. But one thing is certain, I want to be in a position where I have a periodic stream of income coming into my bank account. That cash is going to give me the ability to pay my bills and live my life. This is perhaps the SINGULAR most important reason why I have chosen dividend growth investing as my investing strategy. It is perhaps the only strategy that helps in stay invested in the market, generates a passive income stream while I can focus on my day-job and do my best on that front.

If my calculations are right, I will have enough money in retirement to live life king-size. But I will continue living well below my means. Why? Because I am not envisioning a king-size life next to the beach, sipping a margarita or whatever. Personally, I find that such a life to be boring and meaningless. I might consider traveling for a bit, but I am pretty sure I will find that sickening and tiring after some time as well.

Maybe the choice to live your life your own way in retirement is what financial freedom really means? I really don’t know.

The Savings Rate – Revisited

My dear loyal readers,

I sincerely value your readership and appreciate your patience over the last few weeks in sticking with my blog updates. I am hoping that I have not lost you. Life has been crazy busy over the last several weeks. As I stated in my previous post, I am going through an fairly significant change in my professional life which has been consuming a lot of my free time. I would finally like to talk about this in this post.

Before getting started, I wanted to take you back to the topic of “Savings Rate” which I have also talked about previously on this blog.

A simple equation to look at your savings is as follows:

Savings = Income Generated – Expenses

Our objective is to improve the savings rate to the best extent possible, because higher the savings, the more capital we have to invest into our own future. For dividend growth investing to work as a strategy, it is important to ensure that we are investing as much capital as we possibly can atleast during the accumulation phase of our investing journey.

None of this should be overly controversial as the subject of improving the savings rate is pretty critical to the success of ANY investing strategy, let alone dividend growth investing.

The part of the equation that does not get as much attention as it should is the “Increasing Income” part. Since we are so hyper-focused on the “reducing expenses” part of the equation, we generally ignore the aspect of getting better at our day jobs and “coast” through it. Some of this is due to the relative comfort of our job, we understand it pretty well, why push ourselves in the quest for something better? Is it really worth it?

In my case, I saw a couple of interesting dynamics that prompted me to seriously ponder over this question. The rising inflation was one of these factors. At the time of writing this, we are seeing record-high levels of inflation and it is unclear how long this situation will last. The other dynamic was a question about my employer’s profitability in the years to come. As an investor, I am now used to reading through financial statements and questioning aspects of the businesses that I am invested in. I used some of these learnings to study the financial statements of my own employer. The exercise revealed some interesting insights. I was able to make reasonable approximations about the company’s long-term profitability and make reasonable guesses about how long it would take me to reach my financial goals if I would stick with this employer. It also dawned on me that while things are great with my employer at present, there is only so much I could do to boost my pay beyond a certain level. Ultimately, this exercise prompted me to start considering other options.

Interviewing in my area of expertise (i.e. tech sector) is incredibly hard and requires months of arduous preparation. This is because the interview process itself is fundamentally broken thanks to the FAANG (Facebook/Meta, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) style of companies. These companies have tailored the software engineering interviews to include questions surrounding topics that an engineer would have typically studied back in graduate school. These questions, while academically interesting, have arguably little practical relevance. Unfortunately, the rest of the tech industry has been so enamored by these FAANG companies that they have replicated the interview process as well. It can be mind-numbingly stupid at times, but there is nothing much anybody can do about this.

Anyhow, the mere thought of preparing for interviews can be demotivating by itself. In my case though, I had to look past this and focus on my larger goals. So I prepared….juggling my responsibilities between a full-time job, my family responsibilities and using every little free time available to prepare.

After interviewing with several potential employers, I landed up with offers from a handful of them. Apart from evaluating the offers themselves, I studied each employer’s history by looking through their annual SEC filings, reading up about the management itself and factoring those into my decision making. This is something that I never did previously in my career. I would mostly look at the role itself, look at the offer in isolation, rely on the recent media news about the company and just take a blind leap of faith about the health of the company. My education as investor has forced me to research these other aspects of a potential future employer and use that to make a decision.

In the end, I am happy that I went through this process. Change is incredibly hard to accept especially as one progresses through life. But sometimes it is important to take a step back, analyze and make a difficult decision. At this point, I have no idea if my decision is right or not. But the decision is based on a logical premise, and that is all that is in my control.

Thoughts on investing philosophies

I wanted to take a step back from the dividend portfolio updates and talk about a subject that has been on my mind lately. Investing is such a diverse topic with various facets that sometimes it is easy to muddle things up and ultimately lose focus. While I was beginning my investing journey, I found it overwhelming and confusing to listen to so many “experts”. It was difficult to understand and chalk out what was the right path forward that would meet my goals. I would like to share my thoughts on this subject to aid some new investors who can hopefully learn from my experience. I’ll try divide these into individual sections and cover them one at a time.

Investing strategy

This is such a hotly debated topic in the investment community. There are various strategies available to the individual investor: growth investing, value investing, dividend investing, index fund investing etc. And while there is no right or wrong approach with each of these, it is amazing how passionate some folks get when discussing this subject. Eventually, this discussion starts tending towards “the approach that I have chosen is the best and all other approaches suck!”. Ultimately, this leads into a mindless debate with no desirable outcome for anyone involved.

I can illustrate this with several examples with regards to dividend growth investing. For instance, the inter-web is full of discussions regarding the dividend irrelevance theory. I have also heard several other arguments against this strategy. Some of these revolve around subjects such as: taxes incurred on the dividend income OR how there is very limited stock price appreciation on some stocks that get touted as great dividend growth stocks (think PepsiCo (ticker: PEP) or Johnson & Johnson (ticker: JNJ). Often times, this discussion starts to get into ridiculous territory with comments like “dividend growth investing is so boring and not sexy at all”, whatever that is supposed to mean.

It is important to understand that there are multiple approaches to investing and your approach is unique to YOU. And since it works for you, that is all that matters in the end.

It is also important to highlight that your approach could be a unique mix of different styles of investing. Just because you are invested in dividend stocks does not mean you cannot invest in growth stocks. You can do both! In fact, when I own companies like Microsoft (ticker: MSFT) and Apple (ticker: AAPL), I can justify that I am owning both dividend AND growth stocks. It is called dividend growth investing, after all, for the same reason.

Similarly, just because you are invested in individual stocks does not mean you cannot invest in ETFs. You can do both here as well! You are just using your unique strategy to achieve your financial goals and you must avoid getting into the business of championing the strategy itself. The strategy is just the means to achieve the goal, it is NOT the goal itself.

“Sin” stocks

This is a subject that has come up so often in my education as an investor. In general, sin stocks refer to companies whose central business can be considered to immoral or unethical. The tobacco stocks such as British American Tobacco (ticker: BTI), Altria (ticker: MO) or Phillip Morris (ticker: PM) often get cited in this bucket. Other companies that are lumped together in the same category are the “Big Oil” companies such as Exxon Mobil (ticker: XOM), Chevron (ticker: CVX) etc. The rationale being that these companies are causing harm to our natural environment and therefore “bad“. The next category of companies are those that are involved in producing weapons, which then subsequently are used in wars by defense forces. Some examples are Lockheed Martin (ticker: LMT), Raytheon (ticker: RTX) etc.

In my opinion, the moment you start mixing ethics with your investments, you are going down a slippery slope. Every single company, irrespective of how great it is or has been in its past history, would have been involved in some questionable business practices throughout its history. In one of my earlier posts where I discussed JNJ in fair detail, I mentioned how even a great company like JNJ has been involved in some litigations. One could argue that snack food and beverage companies such as Coco-Cola (ticker: KO) and PEP are “evil” because some of their products are bad for their consumer’s health. There are several other examples in other industries: Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon etc. have all been in the dock at one point or another for anti-trust hearings and alleged business practices that attempted to thwart any competition. At the time of writing this, Facebook is in the news for wrong reasons where a whistleblower has indicated how Facebook and Instagram have deliberately ignored research data that shows how their platforms have a negative impact on the mental psyche of their users. To be honest, this news is not surprising to me, and one of the reasons why I dropped off from Facebook a few years ago. Looking back, it was a fantastic decision!

Every company at some point in its lifetime has had some such negative news. Even with a boring and predictable business like that of Waste Management (ticker: WM), we have seen instances of fraud.

So, where does one draw a line? Is this such a black-and-white classification after all or are there several shades of gray here? It is hard compass to judge any company on.

For this reason, my metrics when choosing a business are pretty straightforward: does it make long-term sense for me to invest in this business AND is it a business that I can understand and reason about logically. If the answer to both those questions is yes, I then proceed forward with further analysis. Most of my analysis is tended towards looking for reasons to NOT want the own the stock. This way I play devil’s advocate against myself with a hope that doing so will keep my biases at bay.

I also support my analysis in a quantitative fashion with valuation techniques such as discounted cash-flow and dividend discount model, padded with a margin of safety. The margin of safety here is critical, since there is risk associated with every business, the risk being that I could potentially lose 100% of my invested capital.

Once I am happy with my analysis, I initiate a position and then consistently dollar-cost average into that position. This further attempts to keep emotions out of the decision of buying.

Investing for other motives

During the whole GameStop fiasco earlier in the year, I was carefully waiting and watching on the sidelines as that whole episode was playing out. While reading about the news on various platforms, I was coming across comments where some people were investing “to teach the big guys a lesson” and “standing up for the small time investor”. While I can understand the enthusiasm and the thrill, using your (or someone else’s) hard earned money to “make a statement” OR “be a part of a public movement” is a recipe for disaster. In general, if there such a mass hysteria going around, it is always better to take a step back and really contemplate if the investment decision you are about to execute really makes sense to you and is in your long-term interests.

We have had so many examples of such events from the past. Tulip mania comes to mind readily. Here is another excerpt from The Intelligent Investor, arguably the best book on investing ever written.

And while we are on the subject, beware of those who are instigating you or asking you to invest in a stock because they think it is the right thing to do. Such people are two-faced liars and are only looking out for their interests.


So there you go. I think some of that post might sound like a incoherent rant to some folks and some others might take this as useful advice. In any case, my central goal is to motivate you to do your own research and think about what your strategy is before investing a dime in the market. If I have forced you to think about this subject, I would count that as objective achieved.

Thank you for reading thus far.

PS: You can find me on Twitter @LifeWDividends

Disclosure: Long JNJ, MSFT, AAPL, WM, PEP, XOM, LMT. No positions in Facebook, Google, Amazon or Coca-Cola, MO, PM, BTI, CVX, RTX

John (“Jack”) C. Bogle – 10 Investing Principles

One name that keeps consistently coming up in my education as an investor is John C. Bogle, the person who gave us Vanguard and also the concept of index funds. I have been watching/listening to some of his interviews before his death in Jan. 2019. Even at an age of 87, the man was so sharp! And I must say, every single time I listen to him speak, I learn something new.

John’s statements are easy to co-relate with the historical stock market data i.e. passive index investing generally gives the investor better returns at lower costs compared to actively managed funds. It is for this reason that a large portion of my net worth is tied up in low-cost index funds from Vanguard.

Regardless of what your investing strategy is like, it would be wise to listen to experienced heads such as John and adopt those learnings into your overall investing mindset.

In this post, I wanted to highlight 10 such investing principles that I have heard from his various interviews/speeches/books.

1. Reversion to the mean

Don’t choose funds based on past winners. One way or the other, all mutual funds do badly in one period and do better in another period

This is true of all investments in general. Past performance alone cannot guarantee future results. With every investment, it would be wise to look towards the future and question if the investment makes a good long-term choice for your portfolio.

2. Time is your friend.

Think of the value of compounding. Get yourself a little compound interest table and see that at 7%, money doubles every 10 years and it doubles again and again and again. And by the time you are at your retirement age, it might 35 to 40 times your original investment…maybe more than that.

I demonstrated this very concept in my previous post where I discussed Yield-on-Cost. This is such a powerful concept that can achieved through a simple buy-and-hold strategy with dividend growth investing.

3. Buy Right and Hold Tight

Pick a good fund and hold it through thick and thin. Don’t get despondent when it does badly, because it comes and goes. So don’t let yourself get distracted by changes in the fund performance or changes in the market.”

Again, some sound advice about any investment vehicle. During a market correction, it would be wise to disregard all the market headlines and look instead at the fundamentals of the businesses you have invested in. If nothing materially has changed, stay put.

4. Have realistic expectations

I think common stocks should return at a nominal rate, nominal meaning before inflation…at a nominal rate of 7%. The dividend yield is very important in all this. Reasonable rate of return would be 7%, don’t look for 11, don’t look for 15, don’t look for nothing, don’t keep waiting for the next bear market….those are all guesses! Some of these guesses will come good, some not so good.

Several pearls of wisdom in that statement alone. In general, when attempting to draw estimates about projected growth in your portfolio or also things like valuing a business, it is better to remain conservative. Other useful takeaway is to remain invested in the market and not wait on the sidelines.

5. Forget the needle, buy the haystack

You don’t need to take the risk of owning individual stocks, take the market risk, which is high as it is“.

I think I largely agree that for a common individual who is least interested in the stock market news and the world of finance, this would be great advice. However, I prefer a slightly hybrid approach where I have a large portion of my net worth invested in low-cost index funds and a smaller portion invested in dividend growth stocks.

6. Minimize the Croupier’s take

Cost is an important factor

Ensure that if you are investing in a index fund, it is low-cost. The expense ratio can add up over time and take away a significant portion of your total return.

7. There is no escaping risk

Think about this for a second..I don’t like the risk of the stock market. I am putting my money in a savings account or certificate of deposit. There is no risk there. Wait a minute! The return there is probably going to be about 1.5% and we are going to have 2.5% inflation. The real return is -1%! So is there any risk in putting your money in a savings account? You better believe it!

Stay invested and stay the course. Obviously, set aside some cash for emergency expenses. But keep the remainder invested. Cash sitting in a bank account will slowly get devalued over time.

8. Don’t fight the last war

Your job is to get the biggest gross return…inflation is going to take whatever it takes out of that. If it is big return, it will take a little of it. But if the gross return is small, it will eliminate it!

Jack was referring to safeguarding against inflation through special funds like “inflation beaters” (his words, TIPS?). In general, my takeaway from this was staying focused on one primary strategy and to not make sweeping decisions based on problems that existed several years back or that might possibly exist several years into the future.

9. The Hedgehog beats the fox

The fox knows many things. But the hedgehog knows one great thing. In our business, foxes are those harvard business graduates with their fancy computers…armies of them..who know many things. I know one great thing, which is if you own the market in a low-cost index fund, you are guaranteed to earn your fair-share of what the market is kind enough to give us, and lets be clear on this, whatever returns a bad market is mean-spirited enough to take from us. So it is the hedgehog who wins ultimately“.

Simple boring strategies ultimately have the highest probability of success, as compared to complicated strategies that involve timing the market.

9. Stay the course

Let me start with this premise…Many investors lose because of their own behavior and not because of how stocks and bonds do. They are trailers…they buy something that has done well and expect it to perform the same in the future, and it doesn’t. A whole lot of bad behavioral patterns…the find a hot stock manager, they jump on the bandwagon and that does not work….that will not work. So figure out a sound program, set the right course and don’t let all these superficial emotional momentary things get in your way! Another way of putting that is, don’t do something, just stand there!

Again, so many pearls of wisdom from the legend. I have previously written about cognitive biases and how that impacts investment decisions. A good investor must be cognizant of these and try their best to avoid such biases creeping in. Another advice is to avoid frequent tinkering with the portfolio based on market news. In fact, I find it easier at times to “zone out” and stay away from the news and headlines and instead focus on big picture and long-term fundamentals.

So there you go! Words from the legendary John C. Bogle. Dear Sir, I thank you humbly for all your contributions to this world. I am a better investor thanks to you.

Cognitive Biases during Investing

Things have really been getting a lot busy with work and life lately. It is summer time here in the US, and from what I can tell, the general public is out and about, trying to spend a lot of time outdoors. I can see the pandemic restrictions being lifted as well and it seems like things are slowly returning back to some semblance of normalcy. The markets are rallying along as well, and even all this talk of inflation has not really slowed it down. Does this mean that Mr. Market is treating this rise of inflation as a transitory event? Time will tell.

Even with all this news, I am continuing to stick to my strategy. While I tend to my responsibilities of my day job and my family’s needs, my capital deployed in high-quality businesses earns passive income for me in the form of dividends.

In my spare time, I have been binge-reading articles/watching videos on valuation, with an overall goal of adding more tools to my repertoire to analyze businesses effectively. One such person who has been widely quoted on the subject of valuation is Prof. Aswath Damodaran from the NYU Stern School of Business. If you have not checked his website, I humbly urge you to do so, as I think it is a treasure-chest of useful information/tools on the subject of valuation.

One of the topics that I happened to read about is how biases can impact valuations and this subject perked my interest. Here is what Prof. Aswath writes on this subject:

When you start on the valuation of a company, you almost never start with a blank slate. Instead, your valuation is shaped by your prior views of the company in question. The more you know about a company, the more likely it is that you will be biased, when valuing the company…In principle, you should do your valuation first before you decide how much to pay for an asset. In practice, people often decide what to pay and do the valuation afterwards.

Cognitive biases, in general, impact our ability to think and reason logically. Investing is no different. It is important to understand them and ensure that you are avoid them when evaluating businesses. Here are some well known biases that can impact your investment decisions.

Anchoring Bias

We humans tend to rely a lot on the very first piece of information that we receive and use that as an anchor or an initial reference point. As we receive new information, it is processed with reference to this anchor.

Anchoring is used very effectively by folks in the sales and marketing domain. One example that readily comes to mind: if you are ever at a car dealership shopping for a new car, notice how the car dealer will first show you the expensive models before showing you a “cheaper” model, thereby prompting you to buy the latter.

Here is another classic example, this time it is Steve Jobs using anchoring during an iPad promo event.

Anchoring, by itself, may not be such a bad thing in investing, if you are anchoring your brain to the intrinsic value of the investment. However, if your brain fixates on the wrong data point, such as say stock price alone, it can have a damaging effect on your decision making.

Confirmation Bias

Simply put, confirmation bias is a tendency to only search for, favor or interpret proofs that align with our existing point of view. In fact, taken to its extreme, this can result in misinterpreting contradictory evidences to support the current view.

This can be particularly harmful when objectively analyzing a business. If you are approaching the analysis with a “loaded mind” where you already think that “This is a great business“, you will tend to interpret data put in front of you through this prism and simply dismiss other non-conforming data as outliers.

Outcome Bias

This is a tendency to base the effectiveness of a decision through its eventual outcome, and neglecting all the other factors that may have contributed to the outcome. I view this bias through two hypothetical examples:

I bought a stock, and the stock price went higher the next day. Therefore, my decision to buy was correct.


I sold a stock, and the stock price dropped the next day. Therefore, I am right about selling this stock.

Conventional wisdom states that the stock price is probably the worst place to look at when it comes to validation for your decision to buy/sell a stock.

Bandwagon Effect or Herd Mentality

This is a tendency of adopting a specific style or belief simply because others are doing it. In investing, this might be summarized as:

Everyone is buying this stock, therefore it must be a good business.

There is also the common case of FOMO aka Fear Of Missing Out, because you are always wondering about what the other investors know about this business that you don’t.

There are several examples from history to show how this generally does not end well for the investor. One such funny example is quoted by Benjamin Graham, the Godfather of Value Investing, in his famous book titled The Intelligent Investor:

And back in the spring of 1720, Sir Isaac Newton owned shares in the South Sea Company, the hottest stock in England. Sensing that the market was getting out of hand, the great physicist muttered that he “could calculate the motions of the heavenly bodies, but not the madness of the people.” Newton dumped his South Sea shares, pocketing a 100% profit totaling £7,000. But just months later, swept up in the wild enthusiasm of the market, Newton jumped back in at a much higher price—and lost £20,000 (or more than $3 million in today’s money). For the rest of his life, he forbade anyone to speak the words “South Sea” in his presence.

Availability Heuristic Bias

This is a tendency to place undue importance on events and examples that come readily to mind. This is easily seen in a lot of commentary and analysis on investing. Investors tend to remember the dot-com boom or the Great Financial Crisis in vivid detail and sometimes use that a basis for future investments.

So what does all this mean?

Through this discussion, we can derive the following conclusions:

  1. Your greatest enemy and your greatest friend in all your decisions, investing or otherwise, is your very own sub-conscious.
  2. If you already own a particular stock and think the underlying business fundamentals are sound, one technique that I have found useful while analyzing such a holding is playing the Devil’s advocate i.e. now look for reasons why you would want to sell this stock and be as objective as you possibly can.
  3. Valuation is not an exact science, quite far from it actually. In fact, as a result of these biases and assumptions, there is a good chance that your estimations are completely wrong. It is for this reason that diversification in your portfolio helps to safe-guard against such bets going wrong.
  4. When in doubt, use the philosophy based on Occam’s Razor i.e. the simplest explanation/model is usually the best way to attack an estimation problem. The more complicated your model gets (including more inputs and assumptions), the greater the risk of your biases sneaking in.
  5. Always invest with a Margin of Safety, because at the end of the day, all valuations are estimates and they could be wrong.

That’s it, folks! I hope you found this article useful to read. Please drop a comment below to share your thoughts on this subject.

Until next time…

Articles of Interest – June 2021

Call me old-school, but I enjoy reading blog subscriptions on my old RSS feed reader. There is a wealth of information out there in the blogging community regarding investing in general, and specifically dividend stock investing.

A fellow dividend investor + blogger, Engineering Dividends, has a practice of sharing an article of interest and he/she has this setup as a post-series. I drew inspiration from this and decided to do the same on my own blog.

So here are some articles that I particularly enjoyed reading from the last few days:

DGI is one of the first bloggers that I started reading when learning about dividend growth investing. I have learned a lot from his articles and continue to do so. This post talks about Ronald Read, an average citizen who worked as a janitor and/or at the gas station, invested in high-quality dividend paying stocks throughout his life. By the time of his death, he had amassed a portfolio worth $8 million. I find this story inspiring and it re-affirms my belief in this strategy. My biggest takeaway from this is that you do not need to be a wall-street big-shot to be a successful investor. Even average retail investors such as you or me can be successful using such a simple investing strategy.

I started following this blog fairly recently and the above post happened to be one of the first ones that I read. I find the post to be a good starting point for anyone thinking about getting started with dividend growth investing. Mark has done a pretty good job of covering a lot of breadth without overwhelming the first time reader. I also find a lot of synergies between my approach to investing and the approach that Mark has described in this post.

The last article of interest is a rather somber one, but an important one nonetheless. Tawcan, one of my favorite bloggers in the dividend investing community, writes about how the news of a death a coworker helped put things in perspective with regards to his overall pursuit of financial independence.

In my previous post, I talked about the importance of making sound financial decisions and hinted at cutting down unnecessary expenses whenever possible. While this is a reasonable suggestion, there is a fine line here. And I realize that this pursuit can be taken to an extreme. At the end of the day, we all live once and life is short. And there are times when living the moment with your family and/or loved ones is more important than anything else, even if this means spending some money in that process. Money spent on a vacation with your family or on a wedding, might seem extravagant and unnecessary momentarily. But in the grand scheme of things, those memories that are priceless, which no amount of money can buy back.

So, it is important to strike a balance. Weigh the pros and cons of each major financial decision you make. Ensure that you are living the moment and spending a happy life one or the other. But don’t lose sight of securing your future as well. It is your hard-earned money, spend it wisely. 🙂

Making sound financial decisions

Over the course of investing in high-quality dividend stocks, I have realized that this strategy relies on two key facets:

  • Time
  • Capital Invested.

Let me elaborate on how each of these impact your portfolio’s performance.


In general, the longer you stay invested in the stock market, the greater the odds of you generating a better return on your original invested capital. Hence, it is generally better if you start investing early in your lifetime and stay invested throughout.

Capital Invested

The other factor is simply how much amount your can contribute towards your investments and at what frequency. This is largely dependent on your personal lifestyle and the financial choices you make throughout the course of your lifetime.

I wanted to touch on this second aspect since it is often overlooked when it comes to investing.

A simple equation to look at your savings is as follows:

Savings = Income Generated – Expenses

Common sources of generating income are your regular day job and any side-hustles. One approach to maximize your savings is to excel regularly at your day-job, invest in yourself through improving your existing skillset such that you can command a higher salary. You can further supplement this by having one or more side hustles. But pretty soon, you will come to a point where you will simply be unable to maximize your income: either because of factors that are simply not in your control (eg. your employer cannot afford to pay you more), or because you simply do not have the time or the bandwidth to pick up more side-hustles.

This brings to the other piece of the equation: expenses. Compared to your income, on the face of it, this seems to be a little more under your control. Sure there are aspects such as groceries, gas or daily-use items that we cannot avoid paying. Because we all got to eat, take a shower, commute to work etc. 🙂 I get that.

But what about that fancy new car you are planning to buy (or just recently bought)? What about that fancy new smartphone you are planning to buy during Christmas this year? What about those frequent takeout meals you like spending on? These are lifestyle choices and they eat into your savings, thereby reducing the available capital that you could have otherwise deployed towards generating more wealth.

Even before you begin investing a single dime in the stock market, it is critical that you self-introspect and take note of your current financial situation. Monitor all of your expenses for any given month (or months), sit down with your family or loved ones who live with you and seek guidance on which expenses can be cut down. Work towards creating a reasonable monthly budget and stick to it.

Among the daily expenses that are common in each household, the ones related to paying off debt will impact your journey to financial independence the most. In this specific regard, I highly encourage the interested reader to look at Dave Ramsay’s baby steps. The first four steps, in particular, are critical. While I do not agree with Dave Ramsay’s thoughts on investing, I also cannot agree with him more about paying off debt sooner.

If you are currently in debt, please know that this is not the end of the world. We have all been there (including yours truly 🙂 ). It is actually pretty easy to turn this around and knock off this debt. You just need to turn that “Beast Mode” setting ON and aggressively eliminate this debt. If I have managed to open your eyes and forced you to think about this seriously, I have achieved my goal.

If you are not having any outstanding debt (other than your mortgage), pat yourself on the back! From this point on, you should first look at having an emergency fund. I typically recommend keeping a stash of cash to cover for expenses for atleast 3-6 months. What this amount would be is subjective to each family’s individual lifestyle.

You should then look at maxing out your retirement accounts such as 401(k) and IRAs. Note that these retirement accounts are applicable to US residents only. Your country’s tax laws might call them something else and treat them accordingly for tax purposes. Please check with your tax advisor.

If you have maxed out your retirement accounts, you are killing it! Congrats!! Now, it is really a question of how to choose to invest the remaining money into income generating assets. There are several options available to you depending on your preferences and risk tolerance. My personal preference is to use part of my capital and invest in high-quality businesses that will pay me back cash in the form of dividends. Your strategy might be something else. There is no one right/wrong answer here. It depends. The key here is you are making financially sound decisions to invest in yourself and securing your future.

I would love to hear your views on this subject. Please let me know by dropping a comment below.

Photo courtesy: Damir Spanic

Disclaimer: Please read my disclaimer here.