Book Review – Yes, You can be a Successful Income Investor by Ben Stein and Phil DeMuth

Most people remember Ben Stein as the teacher in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” or from his show “Win Ben Stein’s Money.” However, he is also an accomplished economist, with a degree from Columbia and the valedictorian of Yale Law School. He worked in the White House in the 70s, and has written articles on finance for Barron’s and the Wall Street Journal.

Phil DeMuth was valedictorian of his class at the University of California, and has a master’s & doctorate degrees. He is a registered investment advisor and president of Conservative Wealth Management in Los Angeles. He has also written extensively for the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s.

This is the second book in the author’s five part series on finances. In their first, they wrote about using certain metrics to be able to “time the market” in the long term (10 – 15 years +). In this book, they talk about how to set up an income portfolio that will pay you dividends – something often used by folks for their retirement. There is also a school of investing that says that the only real stocks you can count on are ones generating dividends – all the other “growth” stocks are just hot stocks that can easily come crashing down.

Written in 2005, the book discusses how, in reaction to the dot.com stock meltdown, the fed dramatically dropped rates in the US. The risk-free T-bill of 2000 was 6.2 percent, while in 2005, it was at 1.7 percent. This affected a lot of folks looking for income generating investments, like dividend stocks, bonds, annuities, etc. The book starts out explaining how the chase for growth can lead to major stock drops (like 2000) – which can be very painful depending on the timing. Their alternative is income investing, where you put money in the market when it is too expensive. Their idea is not to buy into growth, but to buy into investments that produce a regular yield.

The key measurement for them is yield – both yield from stocks, and yield from bonds. The caution that you should get your yield information from the same source for all your investments (since some calculate yield a little differently) so that you are always comparing apples-to-apples. They also caution that some of the info in the book is time sensitive (like from 2005?) so do the analysis yourself to get up-to-date information.

The book spends several chapters discussing Bonds (a topic that many FIRE folks don’t spend a lot of time on).It discusses the risks and rewards, how to measure yield, essential bonds for fixed-income investors, and then higher yielding bonds. These chapters alone are a real benefit for folks, because most people are poorly educated on the bond market.

The book then moves into income producing stocks, including preferred stocks. Much of the info here has been covered before, but the emphasis on yield and dividends, over growth, is the key concept.

The book then covers Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) which are another key source of income. REITs are a special class of companies, dedicated to real estate investments. Because they have to distribute 90% of their earnings as dividends each year, they benefit from certain tax codes write offs. Since they distribute so much of their earnings via dividends, they are income producing machines, and a key part of anyone’s income portfolio.

The book closes by working up some sample income portfolios:

  1. A very simple one, consisting of four index funds (20% Vanguard REITs, 20% IShares Stock select dividend, 30% Vanguard Inflation protected securities and 30% Vanguard short-term bonds). Four funds, low expenses, no fuss. In 2005, this generated a 3.8% annual yield. In 2016, it was around 2.6%.
  2. A slightly more aggressive allocation (20 different REITs, 10 dividend stock, 10% in IShares, 30% in Vanguard inflation protected securities, and 30% in Vanguard total bond market). This increased the yield in 2005 to 4.3%
  3. A very aggressive allocation (20% in leveraged REIT fund, 20% in leveraged dividend funds, 30% in Inflation-protected securities and 30% in PIMCO corporate income fund – to get some emerging markets yield). This gets the yield in 2005 up to 6.9%, even with the bump up in expenses.

The last thing they note is tax strategies. Specifically, tax sheltered accounts (401Ks, IRAs, etc.) is where you want to stock your Treasury Inflation-Protected securities. It helps avoid having to pay taxes on income that is one of the major hassles of TIPs bonds. Also consider putting REITs in your tax advantage accounts, for the same reason.

Overall, I found the book to be interesting, and I’ve used my father’s remainder IRA to setup something similar. It has produced some good yield for me (around 3.42%).

I would rate in 3.5 stars out of 5.

Mr. 39 months

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