Dr. Draghi Delivers a Drag On the Market

by Richard Band | August 3, 2012 11:30 am

It’s touch-and-go. The bull’s heart is still beating on Wall Street, but more faintly than normal for August of a presidential election year.  Stocks fell Thursday, a fourth straight downer for the Dow, as European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi’s much anticipated press conference flopped.

After Draghi’s bold statement a week ago that the ECB would “do whatever it takes” to save the euro, investors were expecting at least some specifics when the boss emerged from the bank’s latest policy confab in Frankfurt.  Instead, not-so-super Mario basically passed the hot potato back to the European politicians.

If a country (read Spain, Italy) needs financial help, Draghi said, that government will have to apply to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), a separate body from the ECB.  Then and only then would the central bank consider buying the country’s bonds.

Bottom line:  More delay.  Don’t expect any grand European rescue overnight.

So we’re back to the hope, now looking a bit pale, that the North American economy, perhaps with an assist from China, can carry the world.  Today’s jobs report will give us more to chew on, but we know already from the ISM purchasing managers’ survey[1] that the U.S. manufacturing sector contracted for a second month in July.

Not good.  We’re in a major slowdown here.

If it were to turn into a double-dip recession, the marquee stock indexes could easily fall 20% or more from today’s levels.  However, I’m not pressing the panic button just yet.  Reason:  A lot of the companies we own are reporting surprisingly robust results.

In particular, I’m pleased with the number of dividend increases being declared (and their size).  On Wednesday, American States Water (NYSE:AWR[2]), a member of our Incredible Dividend Machine, boosted its quarterly payout by a stunning 27%, from 28 cents per share to 35.5 cents per share. It’s AWR’s 58th consecutive year of rising dividends.

Thursday afternoon, Dover (NYSE: DOV[3]), the newest arrival among our World-Class Franchises, lifted its payout 11%.  DOV has now rewarded shareholders with a fatter dividend check 57 years in a row.  The stock rates a buy.

Among our Growth & Income Plays, Government Properties Income Trust (NYSE:GOV[4]) didn’t lift its already rich dividend today, but the REIT did post an encouraging Q2 earnings report.  GOV signed more than enough new leases to cover expiring contracts, resulting in a slight uptick in occupancy to 92.2% (from 91.9% as of March 31).

In addition, the trust was able to raise rents 10.9% on government tenants who renewed their leases.  That figure, as management noted on today’s conference call, will almost certainly tail off during the second half.  But the trend is in the right direction—for us as shareholders, anyway:  Rents are going up, not down.

I continue to view GOV as a worthy vehicle for high income and modest capital appreciation, with reasonable safety.  Current yield: 7.8%.

P.S.  Niska Gas Storage Partners (NYSE:NKA[5]), one of our Niche Investments, is gradually healing from the disastrous plunge in natural-gas prices earlier this year.

While the partnership will probably have to pare its cash distribution in 2013, management’s cash-flow guidance, reiterated in today’s earnings report suggests that Niska may be able to get by with a smaller reduction than appeared likely three or four months ago.  Hold NKA if you own it.

  1. ISM purchasing managers’ survey: http://community.nasdaq.com/News/2012-08/ism-manufacturing-survey-disappoints-real-time-insight.aspx?storyid=160461
  2. AWR: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=AWR
  3. DOV: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=DOV
  4. GOV: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=GOV
  5. NKA: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=NKA

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