Category Archives: Middle Class Squeeze

Going cashless may break the law?

Going cashless may break the law?

Here at Tematica, one of the things we like more than anyone of our investing themes is when two or more of them intersect as it forms a super-theme of sorts. We’ve seen numerous examples over the last several quarters, but there are also times when the tailwind of one of our themes presents a headwind for another. We are seeing that unfold between the cashless consumption aspect of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme and our Middle Class Squeeze and Safety & Security ones.

There are benefits to be had with the move by business to digital commerce…

Some retailers are cutting out cash to speed up transactions, reduce the risk of theft and accommodate the increased use of credit and debit cards, as well as digital wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay, to purchase services and products.

… and there are times when having to pay only by cash can be a hassle, especially if you’ve gotten used to paying with a swipe or a tap. There are also those folks that are tapping their credit cards harder than others as they look to make ends meet. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s latest Household Debt and Credit Report, consumer household debt balances have been on the rise for five years and quarterly increases continued on a consecutive basis, bringing the second quarter 2019 total to $192 billion.

But as the below excerpts note, not everyone in the entire population is able to participate in cashless consumption be it because they lack a debit or credit card. Others have those but are wary about leaving a digital trail that could be exploited by cyber attackers and compromise their privacy.

But with 6.5% of U.S. households in 2017 not having bank accounts, according to the FDIC, and 18.7% having accounts but also using financial services outside of insured institutions, some are pushing back on the trend

But it’s not just those without credit and debit cards who may balk at being told they can’t use cash. In an era when data breaches have occurred at institutions such as Capital One and credit rating agency Equifax, some consumers worry that cashless payments can infringe on their privacy.

“You do hear a good portion of people saying ‘Once we move to this cashless economy, there is a digital trail for every single one of my purchases, and I’m not entirely comfortable with that,’’’ Santana says. “And there’s a possibility there could be a data breach where your information gets compromised. The probability of a data breach happening is very low, but it is isn’t zero.”

Interestingly enough, despite these headwinds, the tailwind for cashless consumption continues to blow as evidenced by the continued decline in using cash.

Square Inc. found that four years ago, shoppers used cash for 46% of purchases that were less than $20. But this year, shoppers used cash for 37% of transactions in the same price range.

 And while there may be some overlap in the user numbers, earlier this year Paypal’s (PYPL) Venmo reported 40 million users that completed one transaction in the prior 12 months, while Square reported 15 million Square (SQ) Cash App users for “monthly actives (at least one transaction in the past month).” While those numbers are larger than some digital user figures at banks — Bank of America (BAC) reported that its active base of digital users was 37 million in the March 2019 quarter and for the same period Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) had 29.8 million active digital users – during the June 2019 quarter Apple (AAPL) Apple’s Apple Pay completed nearly 1 billion transactions per month, nearly transaction levels in the year-ago quarter.

What those figures tell us is in today’s increasingly connected world filled with more consumers embracing digital shopping and mobile ordering, for both convenience and in many cases better affordable prices, we will likely see a continued movement away from cash usage… but we may not see the use of cash disappear just yet. In thematic speak, two powerful tailwinds may be impeded by one headwind, but that will likely only slow the impact, not eliminate it. 

As that shift away from cash continues, odds are we will see more companies embrace our Disruptive Innovators tailwind and bring new solutions to market. One such company is Tematica Select List resident USA Technologies (USAT) that is bringing mobile payments to vending machines and unattended retail.

Another is the cash to debit card ReadyStation kiosk found at the now cashless Mercedes Benz stadium in Atlanta. The kiosk by ReadyCard that converts cash to a prepaid debit card that can be used anywhere VISA is accepted. That is but one solution that could thwart regulatory headwinds, especially if like the ReadyStation kiosk the resulting debit card is fee free.

From Philadelphia to San Francisco, several cities and states have passed or are considering bills that prohibit retailers from refusing to accept cash, a policy they say shuts out the millions of Americans who don’t have a bank account, lack credit cards or don’t have photo identification. 

Another reminder that where there is a pain point, solutions tend to result.

Source: Going cashless? If you do in these cities, you’re breaking the law

More retailers are pivoting to capture the “thrift shift”

More retailers are pivoting to capture the “thrift shift”

When not just one company but a growing number of them make a conscious decision to pivot the merchandise they offer to consumers, to borrow a term from the game of poker, it’s a pretty big tell. The shift we are talking about is the move to selling used clothing, which takes a page right out of the Poshmark playbook and is in tune with our Middle-class Squeeze investing theme.

The more meaningful question is the why as in why are these companies doing this and doing it now?

We at Tematica have been sharing economic and other data that points to not only the continued climb in consumer debt levels but now banks ranging from Citibank to Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Capital One have announced rising credit card delinquency rates. We’ve long said that rising debt levels would sap consumer disposable income as interest costs associated with that rising debt level take hold.

At the same time, retailers of apparel and especially department stores remain under attack from digital commerce as well as private label brand initiatives at not only Amazon, but also Walmart and Target.

As we like to say, a pain point generally gives rise to a solution. Sometimes that solution arises quickly and other times not so much. But in the case of the apparel and our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme, we are seeing several solutions unfold.

Above we mentioned Poshmark, a company that sits at the intersection of our Digital Lifestyle, Digital Infrastructure and Middle-class Squeeze investing themes and while it has garnered a significant user base and following it isn’t the only company looking to attack the market for monetizing one’s wardrobe. Online marketplace Depop counts more than 15 million users that tap into its marketplace to buy and sell clothes. And for those thinking the used clothing market isn’t for higher-end and luxury items, offerings from TheRealReal (REAL) and Farfetch (FTCH) should get you to think again.

Aside from the business pivot, Macy’s, JC Penney and others could also be looking to get a valuation multiple bump by wading into the used clothing market. Shares of Farfetch are trading at more than 3x expected 2019 sales, multiples ahead of the 0.2x price to sales valuation currently accorded to Macy’s shares. And for those wondering, that valuation is even lower at JC Penney. In order to get that multiple pop, Macy’s and JC Penney will both have to cross the digital shopping chasm, something Macy’s has been far more successful at than JC Penney.

Macy’s Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. this past week unveiled partnerships with resale marketplace thredUp Inc. to sell used clothes and accessories in some of their stores. Outdoor brand Patagonia plans to open a temporary store in Boulder, Colo., this fall dedicated to selling pre-owned goods, its first such location.

Thrifting is gaining traction as shoppers have grown more bargain conscious and concerned about the environmental impact of fashion, particularly the throwaway clothing model popularized by fast-fashion chains.

“We looked deeply at Generation Z consumers, and recommerce came up over and over again,” Macy’s Chief Executive Jeff Gennette said in an interview, referring to theburgeoning resale market. “It’s not a downside that something has been preowned.”

Thorsten Weber, chief merchandising officer of Stage Stores Inc.,

Other chains, including Bloomingdale’s, which is owned by Macy’s, Urban Outfitters Inc.and Ann Taylor, are taking a slightly different approach by launching services that let shoppers rent clothes instead of buying them. Customers can even rent home décor at West Elm, which has partnered with Rent The Runway Inc. for the program.

Source: On Second Thought, Traditional Retailers Make Room for Used Clothes – WSJ

Almost one-third of Americans say they can’t afford a vacation

Almost one-third of Americans say they can’t afford a vacation

While more than a few GDP forecasts for the current quarter were lifted by the July Retail Sales report that came in ahead of expectations, we’re seeing other signs indicating that not all is well in consumer land. Odds are consumers feeling the pinch of our Middle-class Squeeze investing theme are having to choose what and where they can spend their disposable income dollars.

This is nothing new for some, but it does explain consumer spending strength across certain categories, while others, such as appliances, clothing, sporting goods and vacations, have been declined year over year. The larger issue is in order to make ends meet or to have funds to meet a portion of their spending needs consumers continue to take on more debt. The newest Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Household Debt and Credit Report shows that exiting the June quarter consumer household debt was  1.2 trillion higher than the peak of $12.68 trillion in 2008.

That’s bound to be a headwind on consumer spending as more discretionary dollars are eaten up by debt servicing. This doesn’t exactly bode well for the year-end holiday shopping…

Americans, crippled by debt and seeing signs of a slowing economy, are sitting out on pricey vacations and everyday leisure activities.

A new Bankrate survey found 42% of Americans decided not to take a vacation over the past year because of the cost. Nearly a third said they can afford a vacation less now than they could have five years ago, though 26% said they can afford to do so more now. More than two-thirds of U.S. adults opted out of a recreational activity due to the cost at some point in the past year, the study found.

You can’t blame them. Trade tensions have economists projecting the likelihood of a recession in the next 12 months at 35%. U.S. student debt is over $1.5 trillion. Almost 40% of Americans think the economy is “not so good” or “poor.”

Source: Americans Say They Can’t Afford a Vacation – Bloomberg

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

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

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