Author Archives: Chris Versace, Chief Investment Officer

About Chris Versace, Chief Investment Officer

I'm the Chief Investment Officer of Tematica Research and editor of Tematica Investing newsletter. All of that capitalizes on my near 20 years in the investment industry, nearly all of it breaking down industries and recommending stocks. In that time, I've been ranked an All Star Analyst by Zacks Investment Research and my efforts in analyzing industries, companies and equities have been recognized by both Institutional Investor and Thomson Reuters’ StarMine Monitor. In my travels, I've covered cyclicals, tech and more, which gives me a different vantage point, one that uses not only an ecosystem or food chain perspective, but one that also examines demographics, economics, psychographics and more when formulating my investment views. The question I most often get is "Are you related to…."
Tematica investment themes front and center in Super Bowl 2021 Ads

Tematica investment themes front and center in Super Bowl 2021 Ads

One of the wonderful things about thematic investing when it is done right, is the number of recognizable and relatable points of confirmation to be had once an investor has fine-tuned their focus, or as we at Tematica like to say, strapped on your thematic lens. The traditional investor analyzes and assess a variety of data points ranging from monthly and quarterly economic data to survey findings and third-party research reports as well as industry and company specific news and events. We at Tematica do all that as well, given our fundamental and global macro upbringing, but we also look for other confirming data points such as new product introductions, M&A activity as company’s look to reposition their offerings, new partnerships and the like. This has us being those pesky people that slowly walk the aisles of store, be it grocery or other, looking for the new, new thing while also noting how much of the floor and shelf space has been usurped by products that fit hand in glove with our investment themes. That’s pretty much week in week out for the Tematica team but from time to time there is a confirmation blitz, and it so happens the 2021 Super Bowl was just such an event.

While the 2021 Super Bowl may have been a meh event to many, it was still the most watched television event so far this year and was likely at least on par with the 100 million people in the US that have watched each Super Bowl over the last decade. On a global basis, total viewership is estimated to be another 30-50 million more. The sheer magnitude of eye-balls being captured during the game means it’s a big-ticket item for a company to reach all those viewers, roughly $5.5 million in 2021 for a 30-second spot. In today’s digitally connected world, that increasingly favors ad placement with focused online content, it means the Super Bowl is one of the last bastions of major mass marketing in which advertisers can reshape their brand awareness, oftentimes looking to become a household name. And that doesn’t factor in the additional views to be had on YouTube and other video platforms, given the penchant to discuss them as part of pop culture and the latest zeitgeist.

From our perspective, it means companies are looking to use this event to reach viewers they may not normally speak to and reveal to them, sometimes in a subtle way, how they are tilting their businesses into the thematic tailwinds that are unfolding before our very eyes. For Tematica, this year’s Super Bowl ads were a cornucopia of confirming data signals for many of our themes. Here are some examples:

Cleaner Living

Digital Infrastructure & Connectivity

Digital Lifestyle

Unlike many thematic strategists Tematica doesn’t just look for themes that “could be happening if” or the companies that are “skating to where the puck will be.” We focus on the themes arise from structural changes in behavior and spending and the companies whose business models allow them to prosper. And yes, we recognize that neither Verizon (VZ) nor T-Mobile (TMUS) are in our Digital Infrastructure & Connectivity Index, but the focus of their commercials on 5G speak to the one of the key drivers of that theme and index as well as as the corresponding ETF. The bottom line is this – the ad spending on Super Bowl LV while providing pivot points for some, re-enforced to us that our investment themes and indices are on track.

Disclosures

  • Chipotle Mexican Grille (CMG) is a constituent in Tematica Research’s Cleaner Living Index.
Thematics Make Outsized Returns in 2020

Thematics Make Outsized Returns in 2020

To say 2020 was a year unlike any other is an understatement on several fronts but despite all of it, equities finished the year higher and once again the major indices were bested by several of Tematica Research’s thematic indices. That includes several of them topping the outsized (but fairly narrowly driven) 43.6% return for 2020 registered by the Nasdaq Composite Index.

Investing between February 19th and March 23rd was a clear example of “catching a falling knife” as the uncertainty of the impact of an unfolding global pandemic set in. While that uncertainty lingered well into the 2nd quarter, some trends started to emerge that forced changes in both consumer behavior and company business models. Going into the 3rd quarter, equities recovered as economic data and earnings were somewhere between better than expected and not as bad a feared. There were some setbacks in September and October as Covid case counts surged, but stocks were once again surging in early November due to a fresh shot of hopium following positive vaccine developments and the conclusion of the presidential election. 

The bulk of the 2020 gains for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 came during the fourth quarter, despite the year-end haggling over the pandemic relief bill. The same was true with the small-cap heavy Russell 2000, which climbed 31% in the fourth quarter, outpacing the other major market barometers and enabled its positive return for all of 2020. By comparison, the Nasdaq Composite Index, which closed up more than 40% in 2020, benefited from a number of factors, including the pandemic inspired accelerated shift to digital shopping, work from home and learn from home. That pull-forward in both data consumption and data creation fueled incremental network capacity additions and set up the launch of 5G networks and devices in the second half of the year. The same shift, however, led to a year over year uptick in cyberattacks culminating with the Solar Winds attacks that compromised not just federal institutions and large companies, but also platforms of Microsoft (MSFT) and FireEye (FEYE). Those catalysts in particular led to the strong December quarter showing for Tematica’s Digital Infrastructure & Connectivity and Cybersecurity & Data Privacy investing themes.

What’s to come in 2021?

It’s great to enjoy the wins, but as we all know, the stock market is a forward-looking animal and that means not taking too much time to pat ourselves on the back, but rather preparing for what lies ahead. Even as the COVID-19 vaccine is being administered, it will take months before vaccines are readily available to all who need them. Then, and only then will many politicians feel comfortable fully reopening their economies. On January 4, for example, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson just ordered a third national lockdown to be in place through mid-February. Yes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but we continue to see some economic speed bumps to be had — at least at the outset of the March quarter. 

In the coming weeks, President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn into office, and despite the lawsuits, promises of legislative (and other) disruptions, the machinery of government continues to move forward. Perhaps Capitol Hill will hammer out an infrastructure spending bill that will finally address the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, ports, airports and highways. The ongoing trade issues with China will also need to be addressed, as well as President Biden’s own agenda items.

Before Biden takes the Oval Office, two known items that we’ll contend with are the CES 2021 tech conference and the start of the December-quarter earnings season. Much like other conferences and trade shows held during the pandemic, CES will be a virtual-only event for the first time in its history. It will still feature a number of keynotes that will prognosticate on what we are likely to expect in the coming year on the technology front and “virtual” vendor booths.  

In recent weeks we’ve seen GDP expectations for the start of 2021 drift lower as the pandemic has once again presented a headwind to the economy and efforts to contain it have expanded. We’re also learning of a new strain of Covid-19 that “spreads more efficiently” but “does not seem to evade the protection that’s afforded by vaccines that are currently being used,” according to Dr. Anthony Fauci. At the same time, the distribution of vaccines in the U.S. has gotten off to a slower-than-expected start. Expectations are that vaccine activity will increase in the coming weeks and we’ll be sure to keep tabs on vaccine-related data published on the CDC COVID Data Tracker website. As the number inoculated rises in the coming months, the closer we will be to the economy returning to normal. 

The issue is it will take some time to walk down this path, which to suggests things won’t begin to normalize until the second half of 2021. We also continue to think consensus expectations run the risk of an economic and earnings speed bump in 2021. Supporting that view is the retreat in the Citibank Economic Surprise Index in recent months, and also the slowing growth reported in the IHS Markit December Flash U.S. Composite PMI data. Part of that was due to the fall in new export sales, as renewed lockdowns in key export markets dampened foreign demand.

All of this is summed up rather well by Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit who said, “… December has seen companies rein in their expectations, given the higher virus case numbers and tougher lockdown stances adopted in some states. Lockdowns in other countries were meanwhile reported to have hit exports. While vaccine developments mean some of the clouds caused by the pandemic should lift as we head through 2021, rising case numbers continue to darken the near-term outlook.” 

Normally, there tends to be some step down in economic activity from the December quarter to the March one, as consumer spending wanes in comparison to the year-end holiday shopping season. The start of 2021 is expected to see a somewhat larger step down in GDP — to 1.9% during the March quarter vs. the expected 4.1% in the December 2020 quarter, according to data published by The Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecasting Survey. That same survey goes on to forecast GDP of 3.7% for all of 2021, which means its expectation for the other three quarters of 2021 hover around 4.0%. 

While recent COVID-19 new cases have waned some in aggregate across the U.S., hot spots remain — and that has prompted the extension of virus-fighting measures even as a new strain of the virus that spreads quicker has been found inside the U.S. Similar to what we saw after Thanksgiving, odds are we will see a post-holiday rise in new case counts in early January. Should this come to pass, in all likelihood it will mean more restrictions that will be a headwind to the economy and corporate earnings.

Earnings expectations ahead

On the December-quarter earnings front, data from FactSet shows that so far in the quarter, more S&P 500 companies issued positive earnings guidance than average. More than 80 companies in the index have issued EPS guidance for the December quarter so far and of them, roughly 30 issued negative EPS guidance and more than 55 issued positive EPS guidance. That puts the percentage of companies issuing positive EPS guidance at more than 65%, well above the five-year average of 33%. This sounds positive, but keep in mind that the total number of companies issuing guidance remains well below the five- year average for the quarter and consensus expectation for December quarter EPS is still a year-over-year decline of around 10%.

Digging into the data, we see the S&P sectors that are driving that year-over-year decline for the December quarter.

But again, the stock market is a forward-looking animal, and current expectations call for a 22.7% rebound in S&P 500 EPS during 2021 vs. 2020, as well as a 4.1% increase compared to 2019.

Circling back to the Tematica Research indices that we shared at the outset, their EPS prospects over the 2019-2021 period are multiples greater than for the S&P 500. We attribute this to the pronounced tailwinds that are powering both each of those themes as well as the revenue, EPS and cash flow of the aggregated constituents. One rule of thumb on Wall Street is that faster EPS growth tends to spur multiple expansion, which is a pretty powerful one-two combination for stock prices and index constituents. Reflecting on the below data, it looks like 2021 will be another year of outperformance for several Tematica Research themes and indices.

California voters approved California Privacy Rights and Enforcement Act. Now what?

California voters approved California Privacy Rights and Enforcement Act. Now what?

On November 3, California citizens approved the California Privacy Rights and Enforcement Act (CPRA), a comprehensive privacy law that expands the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Of note, the CPRA creates more stringent requirements for companies that collect and share sensitive personal information and creates the California Privacy Protection Agency, which will be responsible for enforcing CPRA violations once the CPRA becomes effective on January 1, 2023. Most privacy experts believe the CPRA moves California closer to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The CPRA defines “sensitive personal information” as a wide range of data points that includes things like account and login information, precise geolocation data, contents of mail, email and text messages, genetic data, Social Security numbers, drivers licenses, passports, financial accounts, race, ethnicity, religion, union membership, personal communications, genetic and biometric data, health information, and anything about sex life or sexual orientation.

CPRA sets limits on the collection and retention of personal information, requiring a business to retain only that which is reasonably necessary to achieve the purposes for which the personal information was collected or processed. In addition, the CPRA requires businesses to inform consumers of the length of time the business intends to retain each category of personal information and sensitive personal information, or the criteria used to determine that period.

The CPRA also expands the private right of action for consumers to bring claims against a business for the unauthorized access or disclosure of an email address and password or security question that would permit access to an account, along with access to a consumer’s non-encrypted and non-redacted personal information. It creates triple damages for violations relating to consumers who are minors under the age of 16.

One key change in the CCPA requirements in the CPRA is an extension of an exemption for businesses in terms of their employees’ data. The CPRA gives businesses the exemption from meeting the consumer privacy requirements’ tough standards for their employees until January 1, 2023. However, businesses will have to comply with certain aspects of employee privacy protection between now and then.

Source: California voters approved a new and even tougher data privacy act.  What happens now?

US telemedicine users to surpass 40 million in 2020, 60 million by 2023

US telemedicine users to surpass 40 million in 2020, 60 million by 2023

The coronavirus pandemic is radically altering how people go about their daily lives, and that includes how they interact with their healthcare providers. With quicker data speeds brought on by 5G, WiFi 6 and other broadband technologies that also feature lower latency, the telemedicine experience will continue to improve, chewing up network capacity along the way. Needless to say, we see this as a positive driver for the Tematica BITA Digital Infrastructure & Connectivity Index. 

 

 

This year, 41.7 million adults in the US will use telemedicine, representing 98.8% growth from a year prior, according to our latest estimates.We expect this behavior to stick and for growth to continue through the end of our forecast period in 2023, when the number of users will be more than triple that of 2019. By the end of 2023, there will be 64.0 million telemedicine users.

Data from CivicScience published in July also signals a change in telemedicine adoption. For example, in January, just 11% of US adults said they had used telemedicine. That figure more than tripled by July. During that same time period, the percentage of respondents who reported having no plans to use telemedicine—or simply no awareness of it—decreased by 25 percentage points.

Source: US telemedicine users will surpass 40 million this year – Insider Intelligence Trends, Forecasts & Statistics

Cloudflare and Apple design a new privacy-friendly internet protocol

Cloudflare and Apple design a new privacy-friendly internet protocol

Engineers at Cloudflare (NET) and Apple (AAPL) say they’ve developed a new internet protocol that will shore up against “one of the biggest holes in internet privacy.” Dubbed Oblivious DNS-over-HTTPS (ODoH), as Nick Sullivan, Cloudflare’s head of research explains, it is meant to “separate the information about who is making the query and what the query is.”

Every time you go to visit a website, your browser uses a DNS resolver to convert web addresses to machine-readable IP addresses to locate where a web page is located on the internet. But this process is not encrypted, meaning that every time you load a website the DNS query is sent in the clear. That means the DNS resolver — which might be your internet provider unless you’ve changed it — knows which websites you visit. That’s not great for your privacy, especially since your internet provider can also sell your browsing history to advertisers.

Enter ODoH, which decouples DNS queries from the internet user, preventing the DNS resolver from knowing which sites you visit.

ODoH wraps a layer of encryption around the DNS query and passes it through a proxy server, which acts as a go-between the internet user and the website they want to visit. Because the DNS query is encrypted, the proxy can’t see what’s inside, but acts as a shield to prevent the DNS resolver from seeing who sent the query to begin with.

Cloudflare (NET) is a constituent in the Foxberry Tematica Research Cybersecurity & Data Privacy Index.

 

Source: Cloudflare and Apple design a new privacy-friendly internet protocol | TechCrunch

UK lawmakers plan bill to target Huawei

UK lawmakers plan bill to target Huawei

In a move to appease hawks pushing for tighter restrictions on Huawei Technologies, the UK is considering a ban on the installation of 5G equipment from Huawei as soon as next year, well before a blanket ban in 2027. UK lawmakers are set to debate the bill next week, and should it come to pass it would be a shot in the arm for Ericsson (ERIC), Nokia (NOK) and other company’s in the Tematica BITA Digital Infrastructure and Connectivity Index

Any further installations of Huawei equipment by carriers would carry fines of as much as 10% of sales or 100,000 pounds a day ($133,000).

The government already set limits on telecom companies including BT Group Plc, Vodafone Group Plc and CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd.’s Three UK buying gear from Huawei that are set to kick in after December. However, there are no rules yet barring the companies from using Huawei equipment they already bought but haven’t yet installed.

Under the new proposal, that ban could come into force as soon as September next year, the people said, asking for anonymity as the talks are confidential.

The latest proposals may not go far enough for some lawmakers, who are calling for the government to consider forcing carriers to remove Huawei equipment from their 5G networks earlier than the current 2027 plan.

Source: U.K. Looks at Huawei Install Ban Next Year to Placate Hawks – Bloomberg

Almost one-third of top online shopping domains are vulnerable to a cyber attack

Almost one-third of top online shopping domains are vulnerable to a cyber attack

It’s extremely important for digital shopping and e-commerce platform websites that handle sensitive customer information to ensure the communication between servers and users is encrypted. As we move in the 2020 holiday shopping season, one that is widely expected to shift considerably to digital shopping given the resurgence in the coronavirus, this is more critical than ever. However, new report from CyberNews found that nearly one-third of analyzed web servers were vulnerable.

CyberNews decided to see if popular online shops take their encryption hygiene seriously. To do this, our Investigation team analyzed the web servers of 2,620 popular online shopping domains for SSL configuration security, as well as their susceptibility to known vulnerabilities related to the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption protocol.

…to carry out this investigation, we gathered a list of the top 2,620 online shop domains on Google search. We then tested them for their SSL web server configuration security and their susceptibility to six known high-severity SSL vulnerabilities by using the Qualys SSL Server Test service.

We found that even though the absolute majority of online shops follow excellent to good SSL configuration practices in general, almost a third of the web servers we analyzed are susceptible to known SSL vulnerabilities, with the BEAST vulnerability being the most widespread among online shops.

BEAST (short for Browser Exploit Against SSL/TLS) is an attack that allows a threat actor to access the data exchanged between a web server and the user’s web browser.

Source: 30% of top online shopping domains are vulnerable to BEAST SSL attack | CyberNews

Unilever targets $1.2 billion sales target for meat and dairy alternatives but it’s simply not good enough

Unilever targets $1.2 billion sales target for meat and dairy alternatives but it’s simply not good enough

The plant-based meat market is expected to grow enormously in the coming years given the shift in consumer preferences for sustainable. Barclays predicting the market will grow by more than 1,000% over the next 10 years to reach $140 billion by 2029. It comes as no surprise to us then that companies would look to capture that tailwind to drive revenues, profits and cash flow.

Recently Unilever (UL) announced plans to dramatically increase sales of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives as part of a new sustainability program designed to shrink the environmental footprint of its food brands. While the company targets $1.2 billion of plant-based foods and dairy alternatives over the next five to seven years, consensus revenue forecasts put the company’s 2023 revenue near $64.4 billion.

Despite Unilever’s good intentions, that context means less than 2% of its revenue in the coming years would be derived from plant-based foods and dairy alternatives. Under the Tematica scoring system that barely gives the company a low-level “1” score for our Sustainable Future of Food investing theme and index with Foxberry.

The Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant said last week that it plans to sell more than $1.2 billion worth of plant-based foods and dairy alternatives within the next five to seven years, largely by boosting sales from its The Vegetarian Butcher brand and increasing the number of vegan alternatives across its extensive portfolio.

Unilever acquired plant-based meat company The Vegetarian Butcher in late 2018 and since has expanded the brand into more than 30 countries and secured a major supply deal for the firm’s vegan patties and nuggets with Burger King. In the same time frame, it has launched a number of vegan products for its most high profile brands, including Hellman’s, Magnum and Ben & Jerry’s.

“As one of the world’s largest food companies, we have a critical role to play in helping to transform the global food system,” said Hanneke Faber, president of Unilever’s food and refreshment division. “It’s not up to us to decide for people what they want to eat, but it is up to us to make healthier and plant-based options accessible to all. These are bold, stretching targets which demonstrate our commitment to being a force for good.”

 

Source: Unilever sets $1.2B sales target for meat and dairy alternatives | Greenbiz

Which company is the Middle-class Squeeze Thematic Dividend Leader?

Which company is the Middle-class Squeeze Thematic Dividend Leader?

Folks in the U.S. will, in one form or another, be celebrating and giving thanks as part of the Thanksgiving holiday. This year they will be joined by shareholders of Costco Wholesale (COST) given the company’s recently announced $10 per share special dividend that will be paid on December 11 to shareholders of record on December 2. Like special dividends announced by other companies, this $10 per share one is in addition to Costco’s current quarterly dividend of $0.70 per share. Before I share why there is good reason why Costco will continue to increase its quarterly dividend, let’s first put some context around why this special dividend is so special.

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Announcing the Guilty Pleasure Thematic Dividend Leader…

Announcing the Guilty Pleasure Thematic Dividend Leader…

Occasionally, when I’ve had the privilege of sitting in for Doug Kass’s  Doug Kass’s Daily Diary at TheStreet, I’ve shared with readers updates for Tematica’s Thematic Leaders model portfolio. The Thematic Leaders model portfolio is set at the start of each year and reflects the crème of the crop, best thematically positioned companies for the coming year for each of our thematic investing themes at Tematica Research. After much thought and more than a few requests, we’re going to share some of the leaders for another Tematica portfolio — Thematic Dividend Leaders.

Thematic Dividend Leaders is a very different model portfolio than Thematic Leaders. The starting universe for Dividend Leaders begins with companies that have increased their annual dividends for at least 10 years. And to be crystal clear, that means no skipped dividends. From there we then use our investment themes as an overlay, to identify the best thematically positioned and the intersection of those criteria leads us to each Thematic Dividend Leader.

When done right thematic investing identifies structural changes in the marketplace, including those across the shifting landscapes of economics, demographics, psychographics, technology, government mandates and other areas. Companies positioned to capitalize on these structural shifts see a pronounced revenue, earnings and cash flow tailwind. That tailwind tends to produce a powerful combination of EPS generation and stock valuation multiple expansion thereby driving what many investors are searching for — alpha. And from a dividend investors’ perspective, those thematic tailwinds bode rather well that companies that have a track record for increasing their payouts will continue to do so.

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