by Neil George | December 30, 2010 6:03 am
I buy and recommend stocks with the goal of owning them theoretically forever. However, I review each and every stock recommendation and holding at least as every brokerage, bank or trust statement comes in with the same query – would I buy the stock all over again and why?
This discipline forces me to start over every month and in the process helps me to avoid one of the dreaded mistakes of all time – investing with the hold and hope strategy. This is a killer for too many investors.
Either they’ve bought a stock that’s just sagged and are hoping that something happens to enable them to break even – or they’ve done so well that they can’t bring themselves to sell at profit and hope that something even better happens to the stock.
But over the years, there are plenty of stocks that month after month and year after year – I keep coming up with the same results to my discipline and keep buying and owning them.
It takes a lot for a stock of a company to keep earning the privilege of buying bought and owned for one year let along many years. And at the core, companies behind such stocks tend to have the same characteristics.
First, they’re proving over and over again to be focused on shareholders. Providing reliable information and watching costs while doing their job to bolster business and paying big and ample cuts of the profits in the form of dividends.
Second, they’ve got to keep performing those same tasks over and over again better than not just their industry peers – but better than alternatives across other markets and even other nations.
And when you hold regional telecom Otelco (NASDAQ: OTT), the phone company passes with flying colors.
Phone companies aren’t all the same. In fact, there have been more than one over the past few years that have gone belly up with bankruptcy judges deciding what happens to the leftovers.
The key to being a phone company is maximizing revenue from household and business customers and keeping those customers for as long as possible. This comes not from just providing a landline dial tone — but by becoming an integral part of everything that the customer does with overall communications.
From wireless phones to faster and better quality data and increasingly to providing a pipeline for video and audio entertainment — all go far to making a growing number of customers into bigger and stickier customers.
And at the same time — since the modern phone company can be seen as just one in a collection of competing companies including other phone operators, cable, satellite and alternative wired and wireless companies — keeping service levels high while pushing costs ever lower is how a phone company goes from being one of a collection to becoming the phone company to own.
One of the subsets of the communications utility industry is the rural phone business. This has a lot of advantages for a well run company to maximize billable services to stickier customers as competition can be less than in over-concentrated and more urban markets.
But again — it’s not a given as plenty of rural operators have left investors with a dead line item on their brokerage statements. And typically the reason for failure comes down to not focusing on the business as too many get wept up in wheeling and dealing to expand business rather than building it themselves.
Otelco (NASDAQ: OTT) is one company that’s kept earning its keep over and over again enough for me to make it a buy for a year.
It’s headquartered in Oneonta, Ala. And it has its operations in north central Alabama, Maine, western Massachusetts, central Missouri and southern West Virginia. And it offers an increasing cross-spectrum of communications products and services from old land lines to wireless as well as data and entertainment.
It has expanded from its home base of Alabama — but in a very conservative way. Any new area has to fit into its business without jeopardizing the existing company and it has to be able to improve the new area while controlling costs and building revenues.
Revenues have been on the ascent since coming to the public market in late 2004. And even during the past few years of economic challenges — the average for each of its core product/service lines has been ramping up at an average annual rate of over 16% — with local services climbing by over 38% alone.
Cost containment is key for the business. And as a prime example the headquarters building in Oneonta on Third Avenue is just a quiet building without limos out front but rather service trucks. No wonder operating margins are fat and up running currently at over 21%.
And the company is very risk adverse not just in running and building its business – but in controlling its balance sheet. As a result – cash and a lot of it sits to make sure that it can cover even the most wildly unexpected.
The impact of this is that the credit markets and its banks continue to be satisfied and are at the willing to continue to be there for the company.
Not only does Otelco continue to run and expand its business in a very focused way — but it has from the start been a prime example of a company that wants to earn and keep the trust of its shareholders.
Otelco came to the market with a newer kind of stock known as an Income Deposit Security (IDS). This means that one share is made up of roughly half common stock and half corporate bond.
The dividend is generated by the success of the common stock as well as the fixed coupon of the bond. And together the dividend paid quarterly is running at a yield of over 9.5%.
Investors get the upside of the common stock — with the security of being a bondholder. And the combination keeps paying quarter after quarter year after year.
The results are that since coming to the market in 2004 and through all of the market, economic and industry ups and downs — investors have seen returns in excess of 127% or an average annual return of over 14 percent.
So, for the new year start out with a big dividend payer that proven it can keep delivering on the bottom line. Buy Otelco stock.
Check out the other FREE stock picks that make up InvestorPlace.com’s Top 10 Stocks for 2011.
Neil George is editor of The Pay Me Strategy (www.paymestrategy.com)
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