If I had to name a stock that shares the most characteristics in common with the Johnson & Johnson of the late 2000s, I would point to Philip Morris International (PM) right now. It has become disfavored the past four years because it has struggled to grow revenues and this struggle has been exaggerated by the strength of the U.S. dollar (remember, Philip Morris International generates 100% of its profits outside the United States so that a strong U.S. dollar will artificially lower earnings while a weak U.S. dollar will artificially raise earnings. And by artificially, I mean that the earnings shifts due to currency fluctuations are illusory unless it is part of a fundamental shift in the equilibrium of exchange rates between the dollar and everything else.)
I haven’t yet written about the cross-selling scandal at Wells Fargo because I suspect there are more relevant facts that will come out, and I want to analyze them before I publicly share my opinion on the surprising business development. But I do want to use the Wells Fargo news to tackle an ancillary question: “Why would a conservatively managed bank feel pressure to goose earnings?”
The best way to answer that question is through example by looking at the story of M&T Bank (MTB).
If someone asked me to build a portfolio of 50 “buy and hold” forever investments where each of the 50 spots had the lowest possible risk of bankruptcy or permanent capital impairment, M&T Bank would make the list.