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Book stuff: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

So this is a post that I was preparing for my next dividend income report. After I hit the 500 word mark I decided it was a good idea to give these ramblings a dedicated blog post ūüôā

Book stuff: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
A couple of days ago I finished reading¬†How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. This book was published in 2013 by Scott Adams. I don’t think he’s well known in Belgium (or Europe) but he’s the creator of the popular Dilbert comic. It’s part biography and part a self-help book. Adams basically explains how he failed himself to success.

I came across his blog about a year ago and was captivated by how he covered the 2016 US presidential election. Shortly after Donald Trump announced his presidential run, Adams was one of the first commentators that explained why, against all odds, Trump had a much better chance of winning the election than most people in the media would give him credit for.

Adams observed Trump is a “Master Persuader”, who acknowledges that voters are irrational and that facts don’t really matter if you can appeal to people’s emotion. I don’t think it worked out as great as Adams envisioned in 2015 as the US is still divided about Trump. But Adams’ unique line of thinking and his “persuasion filter” peaked my interest in his book as I wanted to learn more about his thought process and how he views the world. I mean, just the title of the book is already alluring. Who doesn’t want to know how you can fail and still come out ahead?

The book is a witty rollercoaster ride with lots of interesting tips on helping you to become more successful. Adams started out in the corporate world, where he “failed his way to promotions”, and he eventually used his experience to become a popular cartoonist and author.

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Goals versus systems
One of the central themes of this easy-to-read book is that goals are for losers and systems are for winners. The distinction between the two isn’t always that black and white but basically, if you set yourself a goal to lose 5kg you’re likely going to fail. By implementing a system, something you do on a regular basis, your odds of achieving something become much greater. Adams also provides some great nuggets on how to influence others and the final chapters of the book deal with diet and exercise. The author believes the two are critical to maximizing your personal energy and to get yourself on your way to achieving success. There’s also some great stuff about viewing your brain as a programmable, “moist computer”.

Adams also provides some great nuggets on how to influence others and the final chapters of the book deal with diet and exercise. The author believes these two are critical to maximizing your personal energy and to get yourself on your way to achieving success. There’s also some great stuff about viewing your brain as a programmable, “moist computer”.

I think the book also helps to explain why dividend growth investing is a good match for a lot of investors. It’s a system that helps you to get comfortable with the stock market, you pick up a habit of investing regularly and most companies send you quarterly “rewards” in the form of dividends.

Cutting down on Coca Cola
Some parts of the book relate to my personal life. In particular, in 2015 I decided it was time to cut back on my Coca Cola consumption. Mostly for health reasons but the potential to save money was also a good motivator. One liter of Coca Cola costs about 1.60EUR so on a yearly basis I was probably spending over 600EUR on Coca Cola.

Before my mid-teens I rarely consumed Coca Cola but eventually that grew to 1 liter per day. And after some hard physical work that sometimes ballooned to 1.5 liter or more. I identified one of the problems was that I bought Coca Cola in bottles. Once a bottle is opened it is hard to resist the urge to drink just one more glass. Additionally, you know the carbonation is slowly escaping from the bottle so your mind is pushing you to empty the bottle as quickly as possible because flat Coca Cola is awful.

So I decided to switch from bottles to cans. Initially, I consumed three 330ml cans of Coca Cola a day so overall it didn’t make a lot of difference to my diet but it helped to make the transition smooth. After some time I cut down to two cans a day, at first this took some will power but after a week or so the need to consume three cans a days dissipates rapidly.

That was around the time Coca Cola launched its Life version in Belgium. It got a bad reputation as many critics called Coca Cola Life a “greenwashing” product but I saw it as a good fit for me. I’ve never been a fan of the calorie-free versions of Coca Cola, they taste awful and they contain aspartame. Now I know that rationally speaking, aspartame is probably OK. There’s little to no scientific evidence that this artificial sweetener is bad for humans. But human beings aren’t rational and aspartame has a “burned” reputation. People drink Coca Cola because it tastes delicious and makes you feel good. I do not want to drink something that makes me want to second-guess it every time I grab a can out of the fridge. Like Scott Adams explains in his book, you need to maximize your personal energy so I don’t think Coca Cola Zero is a good match for me.

Coca Cola Life on the other hand sounded alluring to me. If I recall correctly, Coca Cola launched the product with the promise of a taste that comes very close to the original Coca Cola but with a lot less calories. The first version of Coca Cola had 40 percent less sugar than regular Coke. In terms of taste, it came close to the real thing so I decided to switch to one regular Coke and one Coke Life a day.

After that Coca Cola reformulated Coca Cola Life and the current product contains 45 percent less sugar than regular Coke. As an added bonus, I definitely prefer the taste of the reformulated version. I switched my daily Coke consumption entirely to Life. It has the same signature taste as regular Coke but there’s a little extra “kick” in the reformulated Life version that makes it a very enjoyable drink for me.

The next step came involuntarily. Sales of Coca Cola Life aren’t doing great and Coca Cola Belgium discontinued the 330ml version in favor of 250ml cans. I didn’t like this at first and it also stings that Coca Cola is charging the same price for 250ml cans as the old 330ml version. Anyway, the 250ml cans are starting to grow on me and the end result is that instead of 1l or more of Coca Cola with 106g of sugar and 420 calories I’m now down to 33.6g sugar and 136 calories with the Coca Cola Life.

It’s probably still too much but definitely a more manageable level than before. And besides the health benefits, it also results in annual savings of at least 155EUR a year.

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Reprogramming your moist computer can take some time and everything written above happened before I read How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. But Scott’s book definitely made me realize the power of making small changes to what you do on a daily basis. At the moment, I’m trying to replicate the Coca Cola trick in other areas of what I do on a daily or weekly basis. Small and incremental changes without hurting personal energy levels.

The book also kickstarted my desire to exercise more. After reading about a third of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big I decided to rearrange my daily routine to incorporate exercise in my workdays. I discovered that my wife’s treadmill and my tablet computer are a good combination. Gathering knowledge from books while working out is a win-win and feels pretty rewarding.

Anyway, this post is getting way too long. I wholeheartedly recommend¬†How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. It’s a great, practical, and very motivating book.

 

June dividend income report and the Idorsia spin-off

It’s the end of the month so here’s my latest dividend income report!

June 2017 dividend income

  • Unilever: 17.37EUR
  • NVIDIA: 1.40EUR
  • Hershey: 5.55EUR
  • Moury Construct: 36.40EUR
  • McDonald’s: 5EUR
  • Royal Dutch Shell: 68.79EUR
  • Gilead: 4.31EUR

In total that adds up to 138.82EUR in dividend income this month. As always, the figures I list are after all taxes and applicable fees. This is the fourth month in a row this year of triple-digit dividend income.

New purchases
Since my last report I added shares of Nike as well as AB InBev.

Actelion spin-off Idorsia off to a good start
As I wrote a couple of months ago, I bought shares of Actelion as a merger play. The company got acquired by Johnson & Johnson and shareholders got $280 in cash per share plus one share of the new spin-off R&D company called Idorsia. At the time I bought the shares it seemed like a good way to earn some cash plus get some free shares of a new company.

The offer was in US dollars so unfortunately the cash part worked out less favorable than expected due to the rising euro. Instead of a minor gain of a couple of percentages, I ended up with a 35.67EUR less than my original investment in Actelion.

Fortunately, it seems the new Idorsia spin-off is worth a lot more than expected. The company went public for 10CHF per share two weeks ago and is now trading at 17CHF! That’s a 70 percent gain in less than two weeks which tips the balance to a total gain of 4.3% for my four-month investment in Actelion.

Part of the astronomical rise is attributed to some large purchases. Actelion co-founder Jean-Paul Clozel (who now leads Idorsia) started with a 15.12 percent stake on the day of the IPO and has been using the cash he received from Johnson & Johnson to steadily increase his stake. According to the latest disclosure, Clozel and his wife now own 22.84 percent of Idorsia. Talk about a great vote of confidence!

Anyway, I now own 8 shares of Idorsia which I plan to hold for a long time. They’re not worth much at the moment but hopefully the company strikes gold with its R&D pipeline.

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How much dividend income did you receive this month?

Going solar?

So ¬†yesterday’s green post from Amber Tree Leaves inspired me to write up a little green post of my own. One of my next investments this year may be solar panels. Over the past decade, ¬†I’ve switched my position on renewables from a critic to a believer in the long-term potential of wind and solar energy.

Technological progress and scale of economies have dramatically reduced the cost of renewables. I’ve always considered 1EUR per Watt-peak an import psychological barrier and that’s roughly where we are right now for DIY kits as prices dropped to less than a quarter of what they were a decade ago.

Unfortunately, the payback time is still a bit longer than I’d like it to be. This is primarily because the Flemish government charges a big tax on solar installations that are connected to the power grid.

The position of our government on solar energy is pretty weird to say the least. On one hand the government wants a lot more renewables because of the commitment to the EU 2020 goals but on the other hand they’re heavily taxing residential PV systems to fill holes caused by over-subsidizing solar in the past.

During the solar boom in our country new installations were extremely over-subsidized in Flanders but now we’re in the opposite situation where there are no subsidies and owners of PV systems need to pay a tax to use the grid as a “battery”. ¬†As in many other areas, government fucked up hard and created an unstable and uncertain investment climate.

Under somewhat optimal conditions, I think it’s possible for the PV system to pay back itself within nine years. But a lot depends on the future (and constantly changing) legal framework.

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What green investments or other things do you do?

May 2017 dividend income report

Another early dividend income post as there are no dividends in the queue for the back half of this month.

May 2017 dividend income:

  • AB InBev: 40.6EUR
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb: 4.9EUR
  • Van de Velde: 57.19EUR
  • YUM! Brands: 2.41EUR
  • Omega Healthcare Investors: 8.51EUR
  • Colgate-Palmolive: 3.45EUR
  • Kinder Morgan: 4.18EUR
  • Sanofi: 25.89EUR
  • Warehouses De Pauw: 1 new share valued at 83.44EUR + 59.7EUR cash = 143.14EUR

Adding it all up gives a total of 290.27EUR for May 2017, my highest monthly dividend income to date and 27.11% more than in 2016. All figures are after all applicable taxes and fees.

Like last year, I opted for WDP’s share dividend and received one extra share plus a load of cash. This extra share should increase my 2018 after-taxes dividend income by around ¬†3.12EUR.

So far I haven’t added any new shares this month but I did publish an article about my position in NVIDIA. Since I bought the shares in November 2016, my NVIDIA stock has delivered a total return of 66.19! This makes it the second-best performing stock in my portfolio. Surprisingly, the best stock in my portfolio is McDonald’s, which is up 94.51 percent since I bought it 2.5 years ago.

I must say I’m a fan of the new McDonald’s premium burgers, nice step up in quality. Here’s a new variety that’s offered in Belgium:

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April 2017 dividend income report

The last April dividend hit my broker account this afternoon so it’s time for my montly dividend income report!

Here’s an overview of my April 2017 dividend income:

  • Nike: 4.50EUR
  • Coca Cola: 10.31EUR
  • Novo Nordisk (ADR): 21.81EUR
  • Diageo: 11.20EUR
  • Diageo (ADR): 31.51EUR
  • South32: 1.20EUR
  • PZ Cussons: 3.78EUR
  • GlaxoSmithKline: 28.71EUR
  • Philip Morris: 54.01EUR
  • General Electric: 6.52EUR

Now that’s a pretty large list this month and it sums up to a total of 173.55EUR in after-taxes dividend income. Last year my RDSB dividend arrived a couple of dates late and if I exclude that from the April 2016 income then¬†I have received about 19 percent more dividend income in April 2017.

But May is going to be even better. There’s a large concentration of heavy hitters in May, which resulted in 228.35EUR in May 2016 dividend income. Some new names in my portfolio like AB InBev should push next month’s income even higher. My quick calculation point to a figure of just under 300EUR.

There were also some dividend increases this month:

  • Unilever: +12%
  • Omega Healthcare Investors: +1.61%

Omega Healthcare Investors keeps increasing the dividend every quarter like clockwork, while Unilever’s management made a new commitment to creating more shareholder value after they got the shock of their life with the out-of-the-blue takeover bid from Kraft-Heinz.

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Just a random Unilever product… go buy some!

How much was your dividend income this month?

New buy: Getting overweight on Novo Nordisk (NVO)

There are a lot of companies I’d like to own shares of but sadly most of them aren’t attractively valued at the moment. This is why I once again gravitated towards buying more shares of Novo Nordisk (NYSE:NVO).

Earlier this week I added 44 shares of Novo Nordisk to my dividend portfolio, which will give me an additional 22.97EUR in after-taxes annual dividend income.

Closing in on 1500EUR in yearly dividend income
According to my latest dividend income projection, I can look forward to an after-taxes dividend income of 1491.46EUR over the next 365 days. Unilever recently promised they would increase their dividend by 12 percent (the exact figure will be announced on April 20) so there’s a good chance my projection will exceed 1500EUR before the end of this month.

It’s still nowhere near financial independence but it feels great to have an extra 125EUR or so available every month to buy more shares.

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Claiming back dividend tax from the Danish…
One of the things I don’t like about Novo Nordisk is that the Danish government has a 27 percent dividend withholding tax.¬†Despite all that’s being said about the so-called four freedoms of the European Union, this is all one big joke for small investors and especially for those living in Belgium as we can’t even deduct foreign withholding from our national dividend taxes.

There’s supposedly free movement of capital¬†and there are tax treaties to limit double taxation but ironically it’s a lot easier to get the reduced withholding rate (15 percent) from the United States than from most fellow EU countries. To reduce the dividend withholding tax for US stocks you fill out a single form and you’re set forever. For most European countries, you have to deal with a lot of bureaucracy.

As Novo Nordisk is becoming an increasingly larger position in my dividend portfolio, I’ve started to look into how I can reclaim the excess dividend withholding tax. Belgium has a tax treaty with Denmark to reduce the dividend withholding from the standard rate of 27 percent to a reduced rate of 15 percent. ¬†But like I said, this isn’t done automatically and it involves quite a lot of paperwork so most investors probably don’t bother to do this.

The biggest stumbling block perhaps is that you need a tax residency certificate signed and stamped by your local tax administration. It’s almost half an hour drive for me and they’re only open 9-12 A.M. on work days. I’m not entirely sure but I think¬†you need a new form for every dividend tax reclaim application. I haven’t tried it yet, the Danish tax authorities give you ¬†three years time to reclaim excess dividend withholding tax so at the moment I’m just making sure I have all the required paperwork tucked away in a folder on my computer. ¬†I’m probably going to wait until after I’ve received Novo Nordisk’s interim dividend in summer 2018 to minimize the work involved.

March 2017 dividend income report

March has passed, winter is over and the weather in Belgium has been pleasantly warm the past week or so.  Perfect weather for the first bicycle trips as well as getting the garden back in order.

In terms of dividends it was a fine month, with a couple of dividend increases and total dividend income that was about 8.6% higher than the same month a year earlier. Here’s an overview of all the dividends I received in March:

  • BHP Billiton: 13.20EUR
  • Hershey: 5.88EUR
  • McDonalds: 5.26EUR
  • Novo Nordisk: 11.01EUR
  • NVIDIA: 1.46EUR
  • Royal Dutch ¬†Shell: 72.6EUR
  • Unilever: 15.95EUR
  • Gilead: 4.58EUR

That’s a total of 129.94EUR in dividends for the month of March. As always, the figures I list above are after-taxes.

And here¬†are all the dividend increases since last month’s report:

  • Moury Construct: +4%
  • Colgate-Palmolive: +2.6%
  • BHP Billiton: +185%
  • Coca Cola: +5.71%

A massive dividend increase from BHP Billiton as metal prices rebounded in 2016. The mining giant slashed its dividend severely a year ago but despite the big increase its dividend is still below the old level. Looking back, I’m glad I did not sell BHP Billiton nor Kinder Morgan when these companies cut their dividend as that was one of the worst moments to sell shares.

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BHP Billiton mine in Chile

It’s also interesting to see the total portfolio gain is now over 9,500EUR, it’s rapidly the five figure range.

How was your month?