Category Archives: Middle Class Squeeze

Keys to July Retail Sales and Walmart Earnings Results

Keys to July Retail Sales and Walmart Earnings Results


Plus the Biggest Threat to the German Auto Industry

On this episode of the Thematic Signals podcast, we’re digging into the July Retail Sales and quarterly earnings results from Walmart as both confirm the hard-blowing tailwinds associated with our Digital Lifestyle, Middle-Class Squeeze, Aging of the Population and Cleaner Living Investing themes.





We also breakdown a recent article in The Wall Street Journalthat discusses how one aspect of our Cleaner Living investing theme — electric vehicles — could threaten the German economy. It’s the same structural shift that should have folks more than a little concerned about Tesla, both its business as well as its shares. All that and much more on this episode of the podcast. 

Have a topic or a conversation you think we should tackle on the podcast, email me at cversace@tematicaresearch.com

And don’t forget to subscribe to the Thematic Signals Podcast on iTunes!

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Central Bankers’ New Clothes

Central Bankers’ New Clothes

In this week’s musings:

  • Earnings Season Kicks Off 
  • Central Bankers’ New Clothes 
  • Debt Ceiling – I’m Baaack
  • Trade Wars – The Gift that Keeps on Giving
  • Domestic Economy – More Signs of Sputtering
  • Stocks – What Does It All Mean

It’s Earnings Season

Next week banks unofficially kick off the June quarter earnings season with expectations set for a -2.6% drop in S&P 500 earnings, (according to FactSet) after a decline of -0.4% in the first quarter of 2019. If the actual earnings for the June quarter end up being a decline, it will be the first time the S&P 500 has experienced two quarters of declines, (an earnings recession) since 2016. Recently the estimates for the third quarter have fallen from +0.2% to -0.3%. Heading into the second quarter, 113 S&P 500 companies have issued guidance. Of these, 87 have issued negative guidance, with just 26 issuing positive guidance. If the number issuing negative guidance does not increase, it will be the second highest number since FactSet began tracking this data in 2006. So not a rosy picture.

Naturally, in the post-financial crisis bad-is-good-and-good-is-bad-world, the S&P 500 is up nearly 20% in the face of contracting earnings — potentially three quarters worth — and experienced the best first half of the year since 1997. In the past week, both the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average have closed at record highs as Federal Reserve Chairman Powell’s testimony before Congress gave the market comfort that cuts are on the way. This week’s stronger than expected CPI and PPI numbers are unlikely to alter their intentions. Welcome to the world of the Central Bankers’ New Clothes

Central Bankers’ New Clothes

Here are a few interesting side-effects of those lovely stimulus-oriented threads worn in the hallowed halls of the world’s major central banks.

https://www.tematicaresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/2019-07-12-EU-EM-Neg-Yields.png https://www.tematicaresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/2019-07-12-Greek-below-UST.png

Yes, you read that right. Greece, the nation that was the very first to default on its debt back in 377BC and has been in default roughly 50% of the time since its independence in 1829, saw the yield on its 10-year drop below the yield on the 10-year US Treasury bond. But how can that be?

Back to those now rather stretchy stimulus suits worn by the world’s central bankers that allow for greater freedom of movement in all aspects of monetary policy. In recent weeks we’ve seen a waterfall of hints and downright promises to loosen up even more. The European Central Bank, the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of Canada have all gone seriously dovish. Over in Turkey, President Erdogan fired his central banker for not joining the party. Serbia, Australia, Dominican Republic, Iceland, Mozambique, Russia, Chile, Azerbaijan, India, Australia, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Angola, Jamaica, Philippines, New Zealand, Malaysia, Rwanda, Malawi, Ukraine, Paraguay, Georgia, Egypt, Armenia, and Ghana have all cut rates so far this year, quite a few have done so multiple times. From September of 2018 through the end of 2018, there were 40 rate hikes by central banks around the world and just 3 cuts. Since the start of 2019, there have been 11 hikes and 38 cuts.

That’s a big shift, but why? Globally the economy is slowing and in the aftermath of the financial crisis, a slowing economy is far more dangerous than in years past. How’s that?

In the wake of the financial crisis, governments around the world set up barriers to protect large domestic companies. The central bankers aimed their bazookas at interest rates, which (mostly as an unintended consequence) ended up giving large but weak companies better access to cheap money than smaller but stronger companies. This resulted in increasing consolidation which in turn has been shrinking workers’ share of national income. For example, the US is currently shutting down established companies and generating new startups at the slowest rates in at least 50 years. Today much of the developed world faces highly consolidated industries with less competition and innovation (one of the reasons we believe our Disruptive Innovators investing theme is so powerful) and record levels of corporate debt. It took US corporations 50 years to accumulate $3 trillion in debt in the third quarter of 2003. In the first quarter of 2019, just over 15 years later, this figure had more than doubled to $6.4 trillion.

Along with the shrinking workers’ share of national income, we see a shrinking middle class in many of the developed nations – which we capitalize on in our Middle Class Squeeze investing theme. As one would expect, this results in the economy becoming more and more politicized – voters aren’t happy. Recessions, once considered a normal part of the economic cycle, have become something to be avoided at all costs. The following chart, (using data from the National Bureau of Economic Research) shows that since the mid-1850s, the average length of an economic cycle from trough to peak has been increasing from 26.6 months between 1854 and 1919 to 35 months between 1919 and 1945 to 58.4 months between 1945 and 2009. At the same time, the duration of the economic collapse from peak to trough has been shrinking. The current trough to (potential peak) is the longest on record at 121 months – great – but it is also the second weakest in terms of growth, beaten only by the 37-month expansion from October 1945 to November of 1948.

https://www.tematicaresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/2019-07-12-Economic-Cycles.png

Why has it been so weak? One of the reasons has been the rise of the zombie corporation, those that don’t earn enough profit to cover their interest payments, surviving solely through refinancing – part of the reason we’ve seen ballooning corporate debt. The Bank for International Settlements estimates that zombie companies today account for 12% of all companies listed on stock exchanges around the world. In the United States zombies account for 16% of publicly listed companies, up from just 2% in the 1980s. 

This is why central bankers around the world are so desperate for inflation and fear deflation. In a deflationary environment, the record level of debt would become more and more expensive, which would trigger delinquencies, defaults and downgrades, creating a deflationary cycle that feeds upon itself. Debtors love inflation, for as purchasing power falls, so does the current cost of that debt. But in a world of large zombie corporations, a slowing economy means the gap between profit and interest payments would continue to widen, making their survival ever more precarious. This economic reality is one of the reasons that nearly 20% of the global bond market has negative yield and 90% trade with a negative real yield (which takes inflation into account).

Debt Ceiling Debate – I’m baack!

While we are on the topic of bonds, the Bipartisan Policy Center recently reported that they believe there is a “significant risk” that the US will breach its debt limit in early September if Congress does not act quickly. Previously it was believed that the spending wall would not be hit until October or November. As the beltway gets more and more, shall we say raucous, this round could unnerve the markets.

Trade Wars – the gift that keeps on giving

Aside from the upcoming fun (sarcasm) of watching Congress and the President whack each other around over rising government debt, the trade war with China, which gave the equity markets a serious pop post G20 summit on the news that progress was being made, is once again looking less optimistic. China’s Commerce Minister Zhong Shan, who is considered a hardliner, has assumed new prominence in the talks, participating alongside Vice Premier Liu He (who has headed the Chinese team for over a year) in talks this week. The Chinese are obviously aware that with every passing month President Trump will feel more pressure to get something done before the 2020 elections and may be looking to see just how hard they can push.

Trade tensions between the US and Europe are back on the front page. This week, senators in France voted to pass a new tax that will impose a 3% charge on revenue for digital companies with revenues of more than €750m globally and €25m in France. This will hit roughly 30 companies, including Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB), Amazon (AMZN) and Alphabet (GOOGL) as well as some companies from Germany, Spain, the UK and France. The Trump administration was not pleased and has launched a probe into the French tax to determine if it unfairly discriminates against US companies. This could lead to the US imposing punitive tariffs on French goods.

Not to be outdone, the UK is planning to pass a similar tax that would impose a 2% tax on revenues from search engine, social media and e-commerce platforms whose global revenues exceed £500m and whose UK revenue is over £25m. This tax, which so far appears to affect US companies disproportionately, is likely to raise additional ire at a time when the US-UK relationship is already on shaky ground over leaked cables from the UK’s ambassador that were less than complimentary about President Trump and his administration.  

That’s just this week. Is it any wonder the DHL Global Trade Barometer is seeing a contraction in global trade? According to Morgan Stanley research, just under two thirds of countries have purchasing manager indices below 50, which is contraction territory and further warning signs of slowing global growth. This week also saw BASF SE (BASFY), the world’s largest chemical company, warn that the weakening global economy could cut its profits by 30% this year.

Domestic Economy – more signs of sputtering

The ISM Manufacturing index weakened again in June and has been declining now for 10 months. The New Orders component, which as its name would imply, is more forward-looking, is on the cusp of contracting. It has been declining since December 2017 and is at the lowest level since August 2016. Back in 2016 the US experienced a bit of an industrial sector mini-recession that was tempered in its severity by housing. Recall that back then we saw two consecutive quarters of decline in S&P 500 earnings. Today, overall Construction is in contraction with total construction spending down -2.3% year-over-year. Residential construction has been shrinking year-over-year for 8-months and in May was down -11.2% year-over-year. Commercial construction is even worse, down -13.7% year-over-year in May and has been steadily declining since December 2016. What helped back in 2016 is of no help today.

While the headlines over the employment data (excepting ADP’s report last week) have sounded rather solid, we have seen three consecutive downward revisions to employment figures in recent months. That’s the type of thing you see as the data is rolling over. The Challenger, Gray & Christmas job cuts report found that employer announced cuts YTD through May were 39% higher than the same period last year and we are heading into the 12thconsecutive month of year-over-year increases in job cuts – again that is indicative of a negative shift in employment.

Stocks – what does it all mean?

Currently, US stock prices, as measured by the price-to-sales ratio (because earnings are becoming less and less meaningful on a comparative basis thanks to all the share buybacks), exceed what we saw in the late 1999s and early 2000s. With all that central bank supplied liquidity, is it any wonder things are pricey?

On top of that, the S&P 500 share count has declined to a 20-year low as US companies spent over $800 million on buybacks in 2018 and are poised for a new record in 2019 based on Q1 activity. Overall the number of publicly-listed companies has fallen by 50% over the past 20 years and the accelerating pace of stock buybacks has made corporations the largest and only significant net buyer of stocks for the past 5 years! Central bank stimulus on top of fewer shares to purchase has overpowered fundamentals.

This week, some of the major indices once again reached record highs and given the accelerating trend in central bank easing, this is likely to continue for some time — but investors beware. Understand that these moves are not based on improving earnings, so it isn’t about the business fundamentals, (at least when we talk about equity markets in aggregate as there is always a growth story to be found somewhere regardless of the economy) but rather about the belief the central bank stimulus will continue to push share prices higher. Keep in mind that the typical Federal Reserve rate cut cycle amounts to cuts of on average 525 basis points. Today the Fed has only about half of that with which to work with before heading into negative rate territory.

The stimulus coming from most of the world’s major and many of the minor central banks likely will push the major averages higher until something shocks the market and it realizes, there really are no new clothes. What exactly that shock will be — possibly the upcoming debt ceiling debates, trade wars or intensifying geological tensions — is impossible to know with certainty today, but something that cannot go on forever, won’t.

What’s Behind the Commodities Rally?

What’s Behind the Commodities Rally?


On this episode of The Thematic Signals Podcast Chris Versace checks in with Sal Gilbertie, Teucrium Trading Chief Investment Officer


Welcome to the Thematic Signals podcast, where we look to distill everyday noise into clear investing signals using our thematic lens and our 10 investing themes. On this episode Chris Versace welcomes Sal Gilbertie, the Chief Investment Officer at  Teucrium Trading, back to the podcast. In the past on Tematica’s Cocktail Investing podcast, Chris and Sal have talked about the thematic influences on agricultural commodities, including Tematica’s New Global Middle-class one. They touch on that today but also discuss the current supply constraints as well as looming ones that have led to a supply imbalance, particularly for corn and soybeans, that has sent prices soaring. Sal explains how investors should think about these commodities across the 5 to 7 year cycle and shares why the upcoming G20 summit could serve as another catalyst for commodity prices to move higher. The two also discuss the ripple effect to be had on both consumers and companies in the agricultural complex but also those that count corn as a key input. 

Have a topic or a conversation you think we should tackle on the podcast, email me at cversace@tematicaresearch.com

And don’t forget to subscribe to the Thematic Signals Podcast on your favorite Apple device

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G20 summit will determine what the Fed does next

G20 summit will determine what the Fed does next

Welcome to the Thematic Signals podcast, where we look to distill everyday noise into clear investing signals using our thematic lens and our 10 investing themes. 



On this episode, host Chris Versace discusses the sharp June rebound in the stock market that is being fueled by “bad news is good news” with return of Fed related hopium for a rate cut. Recently Federal Reserve Chairman Powell confirmed the Fed is closely watching trade and tariff developments and “will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion.” As Chris explains, given the timing of the G20 meeting vs. the next Fed monetary policy meeting, those hoping for a June rate cut are likely to be very disappointed. Also on the podcast, several ripped from the headlines signals for a number of our investing themes, including Cleaner Living, Middle-Class Squeeze, Guilty Pleasures and Safety & Security

Have a topic or a conversation you think we should tackle on the podcast, email me at cversace@tematicaresearch.com

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More troubling signs at retailers as earnings fall 24% 

More troubling signs at retailers as earnings fall 24% 

As we wind up the most recent barrage of quarterly earnings, we are being left with a sour taste in our collective mouths thanks to retailers, particularly those focused on apparel. While some data points to those mall-based retailers, like The Gap being hard hit, other data suggests retailers are not matching consumer preferences either for the apparel they have or investing in their digital shopping platforms. While the former points to the fickleness of the consumer, or the tone-deaf ears of certain retailers, the latter indicate that not all retailers have accepted the growing importance of digital commerce that is a key tenant of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.

Is it easier to blame the weather and other items in the short-term for a failed strategy? Sure it is, but the real drivers of falling retailer results will come out in the coming quarters. Those like Target, Walmart and Costco that have been investing in digital commerce are likely to thrive while those that haven’t will likely disappoint further as Amazon begins free one-day shipping for Prime customers. 

Clothing retailers like the Gap, Canada Goose and Abercrombie & Fitch are all experiencing troubling sales reports, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Great Recession a decade ago, according to a report by CNBC.

Many companies are blaming the weather, slow traffic at malls, bad promotions and product blunders. With the industry as a whole struggling, the S&P 500 Retail ETX was down 2 percent on Friday (May 31), and has dropped almost 13 percent in May, which sets it up to be the worst period since November of 2008, when it lost 20.25 percent.

As a group, apparel retail earnings are down 24 percent, although earnings had been growing since Q3 of 2017. In Q1 of 2018, earnings gained 26 percent. In Q1 of 2008, earnings fell 40 percent.

“These are all mall-based retailers experiencing traffic issues,” Retail Metrics Founder Ken Perkins said. “The consumer is holding up … sentiment numbers have been really high.” The problem, he said, is that some companies aren’t investing in attracting customers to their stores and websites.

There are some bright spots. Target and Walmart both had good first quarters, and have been investing in apparel, with positive results.

“It’s not that people are buying fewer clothes,” CGP president Craig Johnson said. They’re going to different places, he said, and some older companies, like Chico’s and Talbots, which are “classic, women’s, missy retailers,” are victims of changing popular culture and taste.

“The demand for that product is a fraction of what it used to be a generation ago. Women aren’t dressing like that,” he said.

Another issue facing the industry is the threat of tariffs, which could worsen the outlook.

There’s the consideration of a 25 percent tax on clothing and footwear from China, and many companies haven’t factored in the effect this could have. There’s also the possibility of a 5 percent duty on Mexican imports on June 10, which would raise to 25 percent by October.

Source: Retail Clothing Sales Down 24 Percent | PYMNTS.com

Family Dollar expands its plan to sell alcohol

Family Dollar expands its plan to sell alcohol

When times get tough, companies look to tap into the goods and services with inelastic qualities. In other words, things people will buy no matter what the speed of the economy. Many of these can be found in our Guilty Pleasures investing theme including the one that Middle-Class Squeeze company Dollar Tree is embracing – alcohol.

For Family Dollar, the added benefit is that alcohol, at least in our experience, is a consumable product that needs periodic replacement depending on one’s drinking habits. This portends to recurring trips on which Family Dollar likely hopes to capture additional spending.

Dollar Tree, the company that purchased Family Dollar in 2015, this week announced plans to sell alcohol in 1,000 select stores across the country.

Family Dollar, which serves low- and middle-income neighborhoodsand has more than 8,000 stores nationwide, introduced sales of adult beverages at 45 stores in the first quarter, it said in a news release.

The plans are part of a larger company “store optimization” to improve performance that also includes expanding freezers and coolers in 400 Family Dollar stores and rebranding 200 Family Dollar stores to the Dollar Tree brand.

“We are simply providing customers with a convenient option to purchase adult beverage product while shopping for everyday needs at their neighborhood store,” Kayleigh Painter, investor and media relations manager for Dollar Tree, said.

Source: Family Dollar Plans to Sell Alcohol at 1,000 Stores – The New York Times

Welcome to the New Thematic Signals Podcast

Welcome to the New Thematic Signals Podcast


Welcome to the Thematic Signals podcast, where we look to distill everyday noise into clear investing signals using our thematic lens and our 10 investing themes. Every week we not only discuss key events that are shaping the stock market, but we also look at key sign posts for the changing economic, demographic, psychographic, and technological landscapes that are driving the structural changes occurring around us. 

On this episode, with retailer earnings in the spotlight, we dig into which ones are winning the fight for consumer wallet share and those that are losing. The implications are huge given that retail accounts for nearly 20% of the S&P 500 and roughly 16% of US GDP.  Those that are winning the wallet share fight, such as Target, Hibbett Sports, Walmart, TJX Companies. Best Buy and others are leveraging our Middle-Class Squeeze, Digital Society and to a lesser extent our Aging of the Population investing theme. We also talk about what investors should be looking for next as earnings season winds down and share some of the latest signals for our 10 investing themes.

Have a topic or a conversation you think we should tackle on the podcast, email me at cversace@tematicaresearch.com

And don’t forget to subscribe to the Thematic Signals Podcast on iTunes!

Resources for this podcast:

Millions of Americans are just one paycheck away disaster

Millions of Americans are just one paycheck away disaster

Every few months we receive the results of another study or survey that remind us of the worrisome financial state for a number of Americans. While we take no pleasure in these Middle-class Squeeze confirmation points, they are fodder for companies that either help consumers get a grip on escalating debt levels that sap disposable income or those like Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale help consumers stretch their remaining disposable spending dollars.

A new study from NORC at the University of Chicago, an independent social research institution, found that 51% of working adults in the United States would need to access savings to cover necessities if they missed more than one paycheck.

“The 2019 Prosperity Now Scorecard shows that too many families are either struggling to make ends meet, or are just one emergency away from a financial disaster,” it said.

A separate survey from home repair service HomeServe USA found that almost 1 in 5 Americans (19%) reported having no money set aside for dealing with the costs of an unexpected emergency expense. That report said 31% of Americas don’t have at least $500 set aside to cover an unexpected expense.

Source: Millions of Americans are just one paycheck away from ‘financial disaster’ – MarketWatch