Doubling Down on Digital Infrastructure Thematic Leader

Doubling Down on Digital Infrastructure Thematic Leader

Key point inside this issue

  • We are doubling down on Dycom (DY) shares on the Thematic Leader board and adjusting our price target to $80 from $100, which still offers significant upside from our new cost basis as the 5G and gigabit fiber buildout continues over the coming quarters.

We are coming at you earlier than usual this week in part to share my thoughts on all of the economic data we received late last week.


Last week’s data confirms the US economy is slowing

With two-thirds of the current quarter behind now in the books, the continued move higher in the markets has all the major indices up double-digits year to date, ranging from around 11.5-12.0%% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 to nearly 18% for the small-cap heavy Russell 2000. In recent weeks we have discussed my growing concerns that the market’s melt-up hinges primarily on U.S.-China trade deal prospects as earnings expectations for this year have been moving lower, dividend cuts have been growing and the global economy continues to slow. The U.S. continues to look like the best economic house on the block even though it, too, is slowing.

On Friday, a round of IHS Markit February PMI reports showed that three of the four global economic horsemen — Japan, China, and the eurozone — were in contraction territory for the month. New orders in Japan and China improved but fell in the eurozone, which likely means those economies will continue to slug it out in the near-term especially since export orders across all three regions fell month over month. December-quarter GDP was revealed to be 2.6% sequentially, which equates to a 3.1% improvement year over year but is down compared to the 3.5% GDP reading of the September quarter and 4.2% in the June one.  Slower growth to be sure, but still growing in the December quarter.

Before we break out the bubbly, though, the IHS Markit February U.S. Manufacturing PMI fell to its lowest reading in 18 months as rates of output and new order growth softened as did inflationary pressures. This data suggest the U.S. manufacturing sector is growing at its slowest rate in several quarters, as did the February ISM Manufacturing Index reading, which slipped month over month and missed expectations. Declines were seen almost across the board for that ISM index save for new export orders, which grew modestly month over month. The new order component of the February ISM Manufacturing Index dropped to 55.5 from 58.2 in January, but candidly this line item has been all over the place the last few months. The January figure rebounded nicely from 51.3 in December, which was down sharply from 61.8 in November. This zig-zag pattern likely reflects growing uncertainty in the manufacturing economy given the pace of the global economy and uncertainty on the trade front. Generally speaking though, falling orders translate into a slower production and this means carefully watching both the ISM and IHS Markit data over the coming months.

In sum, the manufacturing economy across the four key economies continued to slow in February. On a wider, more global scale, J.P. Morgan’s Global Manufacturing PMI fell to 50.6 in February, its lowest level since June 2016. Per J.P. Morgan’s findings, “the rate of expansion in new orders stayed close to the stagnation mark,” which suggests we are not likely to see a pronounced rebound in the near-term. We see this as allowing the Fed to keep its dovish view, and as we discuss below odds are it will be joined by the European Central Bank this week.

Other data out Friday included the December readings for Personal Income & Spending and the January take on Personal Income. The key takeaway was personal income fell for the first time in more than three years during January, easily coming in below the gains expected by economists. Those pieces of data not only help explain the recent December Retail Sales miss but alongside reports of consumer credit card debt topping $1 trillion and record delinquencies for auto and student loans, point to more tepid consumer spending ahead. As I’ve shared before, that is a headwind for the overall US economy but also a tailwind for those companies, like Middle-class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale (COST), that help consumers stretch the disposable income they do have.

We have talked quite a bit in recent Tematica Investing issues about revisions to S&P 500 2019 EPS estimates, which at last count stood at +4.7% year over year, down significantly from over +11% at the start of the December quarter. Given the rash of reports last week – more than 750 in total –  we will likely see that expected rate of growth tweaked a bit lower.

Putting it all together, we have a slowing U.S. and global economy, EPS cuts that are making the stock market incrementally more expensive as it has moved higher in recent weeks, and a growing number of dividend cuts. Clearly, the stock market has been melting up over the last several weeks on increasing hopes over a favorable trade deal with China, but last week we saw President Trump abruptly end the summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un with no joint agreement after Kim insisted all U.S. sanctions be lifted on his country. This action spooked the market, leading some to revisit the potential for a favorable trade deal between the U.S. and China.

Measuring the success of any trade agreement will hinge on the details. Should it fail to live up to expectations, which is a distinct possibility, we could very well see a “buy the rumor, sell the news” situation arise in the stock market. As I watch for these developments to unfold, given the mismatch in the stock market between earnings and dividends vs. the market’s move thus far in 2019 I will also be watching insider selling in general but also for those companies on the Thematic Leader Board as well as the Tematica Select List. While insiders can be sellers for a variety of reasons, should we see a pronounced and somewhat across the board pick up in such activity, it could be another warning sign.


What to Watch This Week

This week we will see a noticeable drop in the velocity of earnings reports, but we will still get a number of data points that investors and economists will use to triangulate the speed of the current quarter’s GDP relative to the 2.6% print for the December quarter. The consensus GDP forecast for the current quarter is for a slower economy at +2.0%, but we have started to see some economists trim their forecasts as more economic data rolls in. Because that data has fallen shy of expectations, it has led the Citibank Economic Surprise Index (CESI) to once again move into negative territory and the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow current quarter forecast now sat at 0.3% as of Friday.

On the economic docket this week, we have December Construction Spending, ISM’s February Non-Manufacturing Index reading, the latest consumer credit figures and the February reports on job creation and unemployment from ADP (ADP) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With Home Depot (HD) reporting relatively mild December weather, any pronounced shortfall in December Construction Spending will likely serve to confirm the economy is on a slowing vector. Much like we did above with ISM’s February Manufacturing Index we’ll be looking into the Non-Manufacturing data to determine demand and inflation dynamics as well as the tone of the services economy.

On the jobs front, while we will be watching the numbers created, including any aberration owing to the recent federal government shutdown, it will be the wage and hours worked data that we’ll be focusing on. Wage data will show signs of any inflationary pressures, while hours worked will indicate how much labor slack there is in the economy. The consumer is in a tighter spot financially speaking, which was reflected in recent retail sales and personal spending data. Recognizing the role consumer spending plays in the overall speed of the U.S. economy, we will be scrutinizing the upcoming consumer credit data rather closely.

In addition to the hard data, we’ll also get the Fed’s latest Beige Book, which should provide a feel for how the regional economies are faring thus far in 2019. Speaking of central bankers, next Wednesday will bring the results of the next European Central Bank meeting. Given the data depicted in the February IHS Markit reports we discussed above, the probability is high the ECB will join the Fed in a more dovish tone.

While the velocity of earnings reports does indeed drop dramatically next week, there will still be several reports worth digging into, including Ross Stores (ROST), Kohl’s (KSS), Target (TGT), BJ’s Wholesale (BJ), and Middle-class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale (COST) will also issue their latest quarterly results. Those reports combined with the ones this week, including solid results from TJX Companies (TJX) last week should offer a more complete look at consumer spending, and where that spending is occurring. Given the discussion several paragraphs above, TJX’s results last week, and the monthly sales reports from Costco, odds are quite good that Costco should serve up yet another report showcasing consumer wallet share gains.

Outside of apparel and home, reports from United Natural Foods (UNFI) and National Beverage (FIZZ) should corroborate the accelerating shift toward food and beverages that are part of our Cleaner Living investing theme. In that vein, I’ll be intrigued to see what Tematica Select List resident International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) has to say about the demand for its line of organic and natural solutions.

The same can be said with Kroger (KR) as well as its efforts to fend off Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) and Walmart (WMT). Tucked inside of Kroger’s comments, we will be curious to see what the company says about digital grocery shopping and delivery. On Kroger’s last earnings conference call, Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen shared the following, “We are aggressively investing to build digital platforms because they give our customers the ability to have anything, anytime, anywhere from Kroger, and because they’re a catalyst to grow our business and improve margins in the future.” Now to see what progress has been achieved over the last 90 or so days and what Kroger has to say about the late-Friday report that Amazon will launch its own chain of supermarkets.


Tematica Investing

As you can see in the chart above, for the most part, our Thematic Leaders have been delivering solid performance. Shares of Costco Wholesale (COST) and Nokia (NOK) are notable laggards, but with Costco’s earnings report later this week which will also include its February same-store sales, I see the company’s business and the shares once again coming back into investor favor as it continues to win consumer wallet share. That was clearly evident in its December and January same-store sales reports. With Nokia, coming out of Mobile World Congress 2019 last week, we have confirmation that 5G is progressing, with more network launches coming and more devices coming as well in the coming quarters. We’ll continue to be patient with NOK shares.


Adding significantly to our position in Thematic Leader Dycom Industries

There are two positions on the leader board – Aging of the Population AMN Healthcare (AMN) and Digital Infrastructure Dycom Industries (DY) – that are in the red. The recent and sharp drop in Dycom shares follows the company’s disappointing quarterly report in which costs grew faster than 14.3% year over year increase in revenue, pressuring margins and the company’s bottom line. As we’ve come to expect this alongside the near-term continuation of those margin pressures, as you can see below, simply whacked DY shares last week, dropping them into oversold territory.


When we first discussed Dycom’s business, I pointed out the seasonal tendencies of its business, and that likely means some of the February winter weather brought some added disruptions as will the winter weather that is hitting parts of the country as you read this. Yet, we know that Dycom’s top customers – AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ), Comcast (CMCSA) and CenturyLink (CTL) are busy expanding the footprint of their connective networks. That’s especially true with the 5G buildout efforts at AT&T and Verizon, which on a combined basis accounted for 42% of Dycom’s January quarter revenue.

Above I shared that coming out of Mobile World Congress 2019, commercial 5G deployments are likely to be a 2020 event but as we know the networks, base stations, and backhaul capabilities will need to be installed ahead of those launches. To me, this strongly suggests that Dycom’s business will improve in the coming quarters, and as that happens, it’s bound to move down the cost curve as efficiencies and other aspects of higher utilization are had. For that reason, we are using last week’s 26% drop in DY shares to double our position size in DY shares on the Thematic Leader board. This will reduce our blended cost basis to roughly $64 from the prior $82. As we buy up the shares, I’m also resetting our price target on DY shares to $80, down from the prior $100, which offers significant upside from the current share price and our blended cost basis.

If you’re having second thoughts on this decision, think of it this way – doesn’t it seem rather strange that DY shares would fall by such a degree given the coming buildout that we know is going to occur over the coming quarters? If Dycom’s customers were some small, regional operators I would have some concerns, but that isn’t the case. These customers will build out those networks, and it means Dycom will be put to work in the coming quarters, generating revenue, profits, and cash flow along the way.

In last week’s Tematica Investing I dished on Warren Buffett’s latest letter to Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) shareholders. In thinking about Dycom, another Buffett-ism comes to mind – “Opportunities come infrequently. When it rains gold, put out the bucket, not the thimble.” Since this is a multi-quarter buildout for Dycom, we will need to be patient, but as we know for the famous encounter between the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race.

  • We are doubling down on Dycom (DY) shares on the Thematic Leader board and adjusting our price target to $80 from $100, which still offers significant upside from our new cost basis as the 5G and gigabit fiber buildout continues over the coming quarters.


As the pace of earnings slows, over the next few weeks I’ll not only be revisiting the recent 25% drop in Aging of the Population Thematic Leader AMN Healthcare to determine if we should make a similar move like the one we are doing with Dycom, but I’ll also be taking closer looks at wireless charging company Energous Corp. (WATT) and The Alkaline Water Company (WTER). Those two respectively fall under our Disruptive Innovators and Cleaner Living investing themes. Are they worthy of making it onto the Select List or bumping one of our Thematic Leaders? We’ll see…. And as I examine these two, I’m also pouring over some candidates to fill the Guilty Pleasure vacancy on the leader board.



WEEKLY ISSUE: Companies continue to serve up weaker guidance

WEEKLY ISSUE: Companies continue to serve up weaker guidance

Key points inside this issue

  • The outlook for earnings continues to wane even as the trade-related market melt-up continues.
  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $2,250.
  • Our price target on Alphabet (GOOGL) shares remains$1,300.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $250.
  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) shares remains $125.
  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50


The outlook for earnings continues to wane even as the trade-related market melt-up continues

Domestic stocks continued to trend higher last week as the December-quarter issues that plagued them continued to be dialed back. Said another way, the expected concerns — the Fed, the economy, the government shutdown, geopolitical issues in the eurozone, and U.S.-China trade talks — haven’t been as bad as feared a few months ago.

In recent weeks, we have seen the Fed take a more dovish approach and last week’s data, which included benign inflation numbers and fresh concerns over the speed of the economy following the headline December Retail Sales Report and Friday’s manufacturing-led contraction in the January Industrial Production Index, reaffirm the central bank is likely to stand pat on interest rate hikes. We see both of those reports, however, feeding worries over increasing debt-laden consumers and a slowing U.S. economy. 

Granted, economic data from around the globe suggest the U.S. economy remains one of the more vibrant ones on a relative basis, which also helps explain both the melt-up in both the domestic stock market as well as the dollar. On Thursday we learned that economic growth in the eurozone was basically flat on a sequential basis in the December quarter, rising a meager 0.2%. Year-over-year growth stood at just 1.2% for the final quarter of 2018. This came after news that the eurozone economic powerhouse that is Germany had no growth itself in the fourth quarter after a contraction of 0.2% in the third quarter. Italy experienced its second consecutive quarter of economic contraction, putting it in a technical recession.


All of this put further downward pressure on the euro versus the U.S. dollar, which means dollar headwinds remain for multinational companies. And we still have another major headwind that is the lack of any Brexit deal. With three pro-EU Conservatives having resigned this morning from Prime Minister Theresa May’s party to join a new group in Parliament, there is no an even slimmer chance of Brexit deal being put in place ahead of next week.

So, what has been fueling the rebound in the stock market?

Among other factors, the deal to avoid another federal government shutdown, which was followed by the “national emergency” declaration that will potentially give President Trump access to roughly $8 billion to fund a border wall. We’ll see how this all plays out in the coming days, alongside the next step in U.S.-China trade talks that are being held this week in Washington. While “much work remains” on the working Memorandum of Understanding, trade discussions last week focused on several of the larger structural issues that we’ve been more concerned about — forced technology transfer, intellectual property rights, cyber theft, and currency.

Early this morning, it’s being reported that President Trump is softening on the March 1 phase in date for the next round of tariff increases, which is likely to give the market some additional trade optimism and see it move higher. We remain hopeful, but we expect there to be several additional steps to go that will set the stage for any final agreement that will likely be consummated at a meeting between Presidents Trump and Xi. And yes, the final details will matter and will determine if we get a “buy the rumor, sell the news” event.

Even as the trade war continues at least for now, we continue to see companies positioning themselves for the tailwinds associated with Living the Life and New Global Middle-class investing theme opportunities to be had in China. If you missed a recent Thematic Signal discussing how Hilton (HLT) is doing just that, you can find it here.

And then there are earnings

Over the last several weeks, we’ve been tracking and sharing the declining outlook for S&P 500 earnings for 2019. As we closed last week, roughly 80% of the S&P 500 companies had reported their quarterly earnings and issued outlooks. In aggregating the data, the new consensus calls for a 2.2% year-over-year decline in earnings for the current quarter, low single-digit earnings growth in the June and September quarters, and 9.1% growth in the December quarter. In full, the S&P 500 group of companies are now expected to grow their collective 2019 EPS by 5% to $169.53, which means that as those expectations have fallen over the last several months, the 2019 move in the market has made the stock market that much more expensive.

In my view, we are once again seeing a potentially optimistic perspective on earnings for the second half of the year. While a U.S.-China trade deal and infrastructure spending bill could very well lead to a better second half of 2019 from an earnings perspective, the unknown remains the vector and velocity of the rest of the global economy.  As discussed above, the US is looking like the best house on the economic block, but as I share below there are valid reasons to think that it too continues to slow.


Last week I touched on a Thematic Signal about the record level of auto loan delinquencies, and in the last few days, we’ve learned that student-loan delinquencies surged last year, hitting consecutive records of $166.3 billion in the September 2018 quarter and $166.4 billion in the December 2018 one. I’ve also noticed an uptick in credit-card delinquencies this past January as companies ranging from American Express (AXP) to JPMorgan (JPM) and other credit card issuers reported their monthly data. What I find really concerning is this record level of delinquencies is occurring even as the unemployment rate remains at multi-year lows, which suggests more consumers are seeing their disposable income pressured. While this isn’t a good sign for a consumer-led economy, it certainly confirms the tailwind associated with our Middle-class Squeeze investing theme.


Tematica Investing

 December Retail Sales shock some, confirm Costco and others

December Retail Sales have been published by the Commerce Department and to say the results were different than most were expecting is an understatement. And that’s even for those of us that were watching data of the kind I mentioned above.  Normally, holiday shopping tends to build as we close out the year, but according to the report, consumers pulled back in December as monthly retail sales fell 1.3% compared to November.

Yes, you read that right – they fell month over month, but as we know that is only one way to read the data. And while sequential comparisons are helpful, they do little to help us track year over year growth. From that perspective, retail sales in December 2018 rose 2.1% year over year with stronger gains registered at Clothing & Clothing Accessories Stores (+4.7%), Food Services & Drinking Places (+4.0%), Nonstore retailers (+3.7%) and Auto & other motor vehicles (+3.4%). That’s not to say there weren’t some sore spots in the report – there were, but there are also the ones that have been taking lumps for most of 2018. Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, & book stores fell 13% year over year in December, bringing the December quarter drop to 11% overall. Department Stores also took it on the chin in December as their retail sales fell 2.8% year over year. These declines are largely due to the accelerating shopping shift to digital from brick & mortar that are associated with our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.

Despite the headline weakness, I once again see the report as confirming for Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) and to a lesser extent Select List resident Alphabet (GOOGL) given its Google shopping engine. Not only is Amazon benefiting from the accelerating shift to digital commerce, but also from its own private label efforts, which span basic electronic accessories to furniture and apparel. It goes without saying that comparing the December Retail Sales report with Costco Wholesale’s (COST) monthly same-store sales reports shows Costco continues to win consumer wallet share.


As a reminder, Costco’s December same-store sales rose 7.5% in December (7.1% excluding gasoline prices and foreign exchange) and 6.6% in January (7.3%). And it remains on path opening new warehouse locations with 768 exiting January, up 3.0% year over year. That should continue to spur the company’s high margin membership fee income in the coming quarters. My suspicion is others are catching onto this given the 7% increase in COST shares thus far in 2019, the vast majority of which has come in the last week. We’ll continue to hold ‘em.

  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $2,250.
  • Our price target on Alphabet (GOOGL) shares remains $1,300.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $250.


Turning to this week’s data

This week’s shortened trading week brings several additional key pieces of economic data. And following the disappointing December Retail Sales report, these reports are bound to be closely scrutinized as the investment community looks to home in on the speed of the domestic economy. 

In addition to weekly mortgage applications, and oil and natural gas inventory data, tomorrow we’ll also get the December Durable Orders report and January Existing Home sales data. Given the drop-off in mortgage applications of late as well as weather issues, it’s hard to imagine a dramatic pick-up in the housing data since the end of 2018. Rounding out the economic data will be our first February look at the economy with the Philly Fed Index.

 Speaking of the Fed, today we’ll see the release of the Fed’s FOMC minutes from its January meeting. Considering the comments emanating from Fed heads lately as well as the lack of inflation in the January CPI and PPI data, there should be few surprises in terms of potential interest rate hikes in the near term. The looming question is the speed at which the Fed will normalize its balance sheet, which likely means that will be an area of focus as investors parse those minutes.


Here come Universal Display and Mobile World Congress 2019

As long as we’re looking at calendars, after Thursday’s market close Select List resident Universal Display (OLED) will report its quarterly results. To say the shares have found some legs in 2019 would be a bit of an understatement given their resurgence over the last several weeks.


We know Digital Lifestyle Select List company Apple (AAPL) has shared its plans to convert all of its iPhone models to organic light emitting diode displays by 2020, and that keeps us in the long-term game with OLED shares. Given the current tone of the smartphone market, however, we could see Universal Display serve up softer than expected guidance.

We’ll continue to hold OLED shares for the duration and look for signs that other device companies, including other smartphone vendors but other devices as well, are making the shift to organic light emitting diodes next week during Mobile World Congress 2019 (Feb. 25-28). The event is a premier one mobile industry as it tends to showcase new devices and technologies, and as you might imagine means a number of announcements. This means it’s not only one to watch for organic light emitting diode adoptions, but we are also likely to see much news on 5G virtual reality and augmented reality, key aspects of our Disruptive Innovators investing theme, as well. And with 5G in mind, we could very well hear of more 5G network launches as well, which means keeping my Nokia (NOK) and Digital Infrastructure ears open as well as my Digital Lifestyle ones.

  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) shares remains $125.
  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50.



Weekly Issue: Among the Volatility, We See Several Thematic Confirming Data Points

Weekly Issue: Among the Volatility, We See Several Thematic Confirming Data Points

Key points inside this issue:

  • As expected, news of the day is the driver behind the stock market swings
  • Data points inside the September Retail Sales Report keep us thematically bullish on the shares of Amazon (AMZN), United Parcel Service (UPS) and Costco Wholesale. Our price targets remain $$2,250, $130 and $250, respectively.
  • We use the recent pullback to scale further into our Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) shares at better prices, our price target remains $14.
  • Netflix crushes subscriber growth in the September quarter; Our price target on Netflix (NFLX) shares remains $500.
  • September quarter earnings from Ericsson (ERIC) and Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM) paint a favorable picture from upcoming reports from Nokia (NOK) and AXT Inc. Our price targets on Nokia and AXT shares remain $8.50 and $11, respectively.
  • Walmart embraces our Digital Innovators investment theme
  • Programming note: Much commentary in this week’s issue centers on the September Retail Sales Report. On this week’s Cocktail Investing podcast, we do a deep dive on that report from a thematic perspective. 


As expected, news of the day is the driver behind the stock market swings

If there is one thing we can say about the domestic stock market over the last week, it remains volatile. While there are other words that one might use to describe the down, up, down move over the last week, but volatile is probably the most fitting. Last week I shared the market would likely trade based on the data of the day — economic, earnings or political — and that seems to have been the case. While we’ve received several solid earnings reports, including one from Thematic Leader Netflix (NFLX), several banks and even a few airlines, the headline economic data came up soft for September Retail Sales and Housing.

And then there was yesterday’s FOMC minutes from the Fed’s September monetary policy meeting, which showed that even though the Fed expects to remain on its tightening path, subject to the data to be had, several members of the committee see “a period where the Fed even will need to go beyond normalization of rates and into a more restrictive stance.”

Odds are we can expect further tweets from President Trump on this given his prior comments that the Fed is one of his greatest risks. I also expect this to reignite concerns for the current expansion, particularly since the Fed has historically done a good job hiking interest rates into a recession. From a thematic perspective, continued rate hikes by the Fed is likely to put some added pressure on Middle-Class Squeeze consumers. Before you freak out, let’s check the data. The economy is still growing, adding jobs, benefiting from lower taxes and regulation. It’s not about to fall off a cliff in the near term, but yes, the longer the current expansion goes, the greater the risk of something more than just a slower economy. More reasons to keep watching the monthly data.

Here’s the good news, inside that data and elsewhere we continue to receive confirming signals for our 10 investing themes as well as favorable data points for the Thematic Leaders and other positions on the Tematica Investing Select List.


Several positives in the September Retail Sales report for AMZN, UPS & COST

Cocktail Investing Podcast September Retail Sales Report

With the consumer directly or indirectly accounting for nearly two-thirds of the domestic economy and the average consumer spending 31% of his or her paycheck on retails goods, this monthly report is one worth monitoring closely.

Let’s take a closer look at this week’s September 2018 Retail Sales report. First, let’s talk about the headline miss that was making the rounds yesterday. Yes, the month over month comparison Total Retail & Food Services excluding motor vehicles & parts fell 0.1%, but Retail rose 0.4% on the same basis. The thing is, most tend to focus on those sequential comparisons, but as investors, we examine year over year comparisons when it comes to measuring revenue, profit and EPS growth. On that basis, Total Retail & Food Services rose 5.7% year over year while Retail climbed 4.4% compared to September 2017. That sounds pretty solid if you ask me. Now, let’s dig into the meat of the report and what it means for several of our thematic holdings.

Right off the bat, we can’t ignore the 11.4% year over year increase in gas station sales during September, which capped off a 17.2% increase for the September 2018 quarter. With such an increase owing to the rise in oil and gas prices, we would expect to see weakness in several of the retail sales categories as the cost of filling up the car saps spending at the margin and confirms our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme. And we saw just that. Department stores once again fell in September vs. year ago levels as did Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, & bookstores. Given recent construction as well as housing starts data, the Building material & garden eq. & supplies dealer category posted slower year over year growth, which was hardly surprising.

Other than gas station sales, the other big gainer was Nonstore retailers – Census Bureau speak for e-tailers and digital commerce that are part of Digital Lifestyle investing theme,  which saw an 11.4% increase in September retail sales vs. year ago levels. That strong level clearly confirms our investment thesis that digital shopping continues to take consumer wallet share, which bodes well for our Amazon (AMZN), United Parcel Service (UPS), and to a lesser extent our Costco Wholesale (COST). With consumers feeling the pressure of our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme, I continue to see them embracing the Digital Lifestyle to ferret out deals and bargains to stretch their after-tax spending dollars, especially as we head into the holiday shopping season.

Sticking with Costco, the company recently reported its U.S. same-store-sales grew 7.7% for September excluding fuel and currency. Further evidence that Costco also continues to gain consumer wallet share compared to retail and food sales establishments as well as the General Merchandise Store category.

  • Data points inside the September Retail Sales Report keep us thematically bullish on the shares of Amazon (AMZN), United Parcel Service (UPS) and Costco Wholesale. Our price targets remain $2,250, $130 and $250, respectively.


Scaling deeper into Del Frisco’s shares

Now let’s dig into the report as it relates to Del Frisco Restaurant Group, our Thematic Leader for the Living the Life investing theme. Per the Census Bureau, retail sales at food services & drinking places rose 7.1% year over year in September, which brought its year-over-year comparison for the September quarter to 8.8%. Clearly, consumers are spending more at restaurants, than eating at home. Paired with beef price deflation that has been confirmed by Darden Restaurants (DRI), this bodes well for profit growth at Del Frisco.

Against those data points, I’m using the blended 12.5% drop in DFRG shares since we added them to our holdings to improve our costs basis.

  • We are using the recent pullback to scale further into our Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) shares at better prices, our price target remains $14.


Netflix crushes subscriber growth in the September quarter

Tuesday night Netflix (NFLX) delivered a crushing blow to skeptics as it served up an EPS and net subscriber adds beat that blew away expectations and guided December quarter net subscriber adds above Wall Street’s forecast. This led NFLX shares to pop rather nicely, which was followed by a number of Wall Street firms reiterating their Buy ratings and price targets.

Were there some investors that were somewhat unhappy with the continued investment spend on content? Yes, and I suppose there always will be, but as we are seeing its that content that is driving subscriber growth and in order to drive net new adds outside the US, Netflix will continue to invest in content. As we saw in the company’s September quarter results, year to date international net subscriber adds is 276% ahead of those in the US. Not surprising, given the service’s launch in international markets over the last several quarters and corresponding content ramp for those markets.

Where the content spending becomes an issue is when its subscriber growth flatlines, which will likely to happen at some point, but for now, the company has more runway to go. I say that because the content spend so far in 2018 is lining its pipeline for 2019 and beyond. With its international paid customer base totaling 73.5 million users, viewed against the global non-US population, it has a way to go before it approaches the 45% penetration rate it has among US households.  This very much keeps Netflix as the Thematic Leader for our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.

One other thing, as part of this earnings report Netflix said it plans to move away from reporting how many subscribers had signed up for free trials during the quarter and focus on paid subscriber growth. I have to say I am in favor of this. It’s the paying subscribers that matter and will be the key to the stock until the day comes when Netflix embraces advertising revenue. I’m not saying it will, but that would be when “free” matters. For now, it’s all about subscriber growth, retention, and any new price increases.

That said, I am closely watching all the new streaming services that are coming to market. Two of the risks I see are a recreation of the cable TV experience and the creep higher in streaming bill totals that wipe out any cord-cutting savings. Longer-term I do see consolidation among this disparate services playing out repeating what we saw in the internet space following the bubble burst.

  • Our price target on Netflix (NFLX) shares remains $500.


What earnings from Ericsson and Taiwan Semiconductor mean for Nokia and AXT

This morning mobile infrastructure company Ericsson (ERIC) and Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM) did what they said was positive for our shares of Nokia (NOK) and AXT Inc. (AXTI).

In its earnings comments, Ericsson shared that mobile operators around the globe are preparing for 5G network launches as evidenced by the high level of field trials that are expected to last at such levels over the next 12-18 months. Ericsson also noted that North America continues to lead the way in terms of network launches, which confirms the rough timetable laid out by AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ) and even T-Mobile USA (TMUS) with China undergoing large 5G field trials as well. In sum, Ericsson described the 5G momentum as strong, which helped drive the company’s first quarter of organic growth since 3Q 2014. That’s an inflection point folks, especially since the rollout of these mobile technologies span years, not quarters.

Turning to Taiwan Semiconductor, the company delivered a top and bottom line beat relative to expectations. Its reported revenue rose just shy of 12% quarter over quarter (3.3% year over year) led by a 24% increase in Communication chip demand followed by a 6% increase in Industrial/Standard chips. In our view, this confirms the strong ramp associated with Apple’s (AAPL) new iPhone models as well as the number of other new smartphone models and connected devices slated to hit shelves in the back half of 2018. From a guidance perspective, TSM is forecasting December quarter revenue of $9.35-$9.45 billion is well below the consensus expectation of $9.8 billion, but before we rush to judgement, we need to understand how the company is accounting for currency vs. slowing demand. Given the seasonal March quarter slowdown for smartphone demand vs. the December quarter and the lead time for chips for those and other devices, we’d rather not rush to judgement until we have more pieces of data to round out the picture.

In sum, the above comments set up what should be positive September quarter earnings from Nokia and AXT in the coming days. Nokia will issue its quarterly results on Oct. 25, while AXT will do the same on Oct. 31. There will be other companies whose results as well as their revised guidance and reasons for those changes will be important signs posts for these two as well as our other holdings. As those data points hit, we’ll be sure to absorb that information and position ourselves accordingly.

  • September quarter earnings from Ericsson (ERIC) and Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM) paint a favorable picture from upcoming reports from Nokia (NOK) and AXT Inc. Our price targets on Nokia and AXT shares remain $8.50 and $11, respectively.


Walmart embraces our Digital Innovators investment theme

Yesterday Walmart (WMT) held its annual Investor Conference and while much was discussed, one of the things that jumped out to me was how the company is transforming  itself to operate in the “dynamic, omni-channel retail world of the future.” What the company is doing to reposition itself is embracing a number of aspects of our Disruptive Innovators investing theme, including artificial intelligence, robotics, inventory scanners, automated unloading in the store receiving dock, and digital price tags.

As it does this, Walmart is also making a number of nip and tuck acquisitions to improve its footing with consumers that span our Middle-Class Squeeze and in some instances our Living the Life investing theme as well our Digital Lifestyle one.  Recent acquisitions include lingerie company Bare Essentials and plus-sized clothing startup Eloquii. Other acquisitions over the last few quarters have been e-commerce platform Shoebuy, outdoor apparel retailer Moosejaw, women’s wear site Modcloth, direct-to-consumer premium menswear brand Bonobos, and last-mile delivery startup Parcel in September.

If you’re thinking that these moves sound very similar to ones that Amazon (AMZN) has made over the years, I would quickly agree. The question percolating in my brain is how does this technology spending stack up against expectations and did management boost its IT spending forecast for the coming year? As that answer becomes clear, I’ll have some decisions to make about WMT shares and if we should be buyers as we move into the holiday shopping season.


Amazon shares some Prime Day results, Bullish 5G comments from Ericsson

Amazon shares some Prime Day results, Bullish 5G comments from Ericsson

Key points in this issue:

  • Our $1,900 price target for Amazon (AMZN) shares is under review with an upward bias.
  • Our price target on United Parcel Service (UPS) remains $130.
  • Our price target on Dycom (DY) shares remains $125.
  • Our price target on AXT Inc. (AXTI) shares is $11.
  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares is $8.50.


Follow up on Prime Day 2018

As the dust settles on Amazon’s (AMZN) 2018 Prime Day, the company shared that not only did Prime members purchase more than 100 million products during the 36-hour event, but that it was also the “biggest in history.” While details were limited, this commentary like means the 2018 event handily eclipsed last year’s. Adding credence to that was the noted addition of Prime Day in Australia, Singapore, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, which brought the total event country count to 17. It was also reported that Prime Day Sales on Amazon’s third-party marketplace were up some 90% during the first 12 hours of Prime Day this year.

All very positive, but still no clarity on the overall magnitude of the event relative to forecasts calling for it to deliver $3.4-3.6 billion in revenue. There was also no mention about the number of new Prime members that joined the Amazon flock, but historically Prime Day has led to a smattering of conversions and with it occurring in 17 countries this year, including four new ones, odds are Amazon continued to draw in new Prime users.

As we mentioned yesterday, our $1,900 price target for Amazon shares is under review with an upward bias. In looking at Prime Day from a food chain or ecosystem perspective, we see it benefitting the package volume for Tematica Investing Select List resident United Parcel Service (UPS). I’ll be looking for confirming data in comments from United Parcel Service when it reports its 2Q 2018 quarterly results on July 25 as well as any insight it offers on Back to School shopping and the soon to be upon us year-end holiday shopping season. Let’s also keep in mind that UPS will share those comments one day before Amazon reports its quarterly results on July 26.

  • Our $1,900 price target for Amazon (AMZN) shares is under review with an upward bias.
  • Our price target on United Parcel Service (UPS) remains $130.


Ericson’s 5G comments are positive for Dycom, AXT and Nokia shares

Also yesterday, leading mobile infrastructure company Ericsson (ERIC) reported its 2Q 2018 results, and while we are not involved in the shares, its comments on the 5G market bode very well for our the shares of specialty contractor Dycom Industries (DY) and compound substrate company AXT Inc. (AXTI) as well as mobile infrastructure and wireless technology licensing company Nokia (NOK).

More specifically, Ericsson called out that its sales in North America for the quarter increased year over year due to “5G readiness” investments across all of its major customers. This confirms the commentary of the last few weeks as AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) – both of which are core Dycom customers – move toward commercial 5G deployments in the coming quarters.

We’ve also heard similar comments from T-Mobile USA (TMUS) as well. But let’s remember that 5G is not a US-only mobile technology, and we are seeing similar signs of readiness and adoption for its deployment in other countries. For example, the top three mobile operators in South Korea are working to launch the technology in March 2019. Mobile operators in Spain are bidding on 5G spectrum, France has established a roadmap for its 5G efforts and recently the first end to end 5G call was made in Australia.

While the US will likely be the first market to commercially deploy 5G service, it won’t be the only one. This means similar to what we have seen with past mobile technology deployments such as 3G and 4G LTE, this global rollout will span several years. While Ericsson’s North American comments bode well for our DY shares, these other confirmation points keep us bullish on our shares of AXT and NOK as well.

  • Our price target on Dycom (DY) shares remains $125.
  • Our price target on AXT Inc. (AXTI) shares is $11.
  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares is $8.50.


Applied served up another winning quarter, that’s good for OLED shares too

Applied served up another winning quarter, that’s good for OLED shares too



  • Our price target on Applied Materials (AMAT) shares remains $70.
  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) shares remains $225.


Midweek, we saw yet another dynamite earnings report from Tematica Investing Select List company Applied Materials (AMAT).   The company simply walked right over expectations and not only raised its outlook, but also boosted its quarterly dividend and share repurchase program. Simply put, it was a picture-perfect earnings report from top to bottom, and in keeping with increasing presence of our Connected Society investing theme, Applied’s management team shared a number of reasons why as I like to say, “chips are the fabric of our digital lives.”

While many of the talking heads are bemoaning slower growth prospects for the smartphone market, the devices continue to pack more functionality and storage inside their packages, and this is before 5G. Voice recognition technology and greater processing power to handle that as well as augmented reality, virtual reality technologies are leading to greater chip dollar content in these devices despite slower unit growth. Per Applied average semiconductor content per smartphone rose 30% in 2017.  To use the investing lingo, we are seeing rising average dollar content per device that is poised to step up again in 2019-2020 as those aforementioned 5G chips make their way into smartphones as AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ), Sprint (S) and T-Mobile USA (TMUS) all launch 5G commercial networks.

We’re also hearing quite a bit about the growing voice assistant market as Apple (AAPL) launches its Home Pod and Amazon (AMZN) touted 2017 was a banner year for its Alexa powered devices. What’s not really talked about, however, is the typical voice assistant has around 30 chips and a total of 200 square millimeters of silicon, roughly twice the area of a smartphone application processor. Now let’s think about not only the new types of voice assistants we are seeing from Amazon with video screens, but how these digital assistants are being embedded in other devices ranging from TVs to a road map that includes home appliances and autos. All of these digital assistants are connected back to servers like Amazon Web Services and the artificial intelligence workloads require server architectures that have up to eight times more logic and four times more memory content by area than traditional enterprise servers.

The bottom line is the Internet of Things, big data, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, data centers and storage are driving incremental chip demand. This tailwind of our Connected Society investment theme is leading Applied to raise its wafer spending forecast among its customer base to $100 billion over 2018-2019, up from $90 billion in 2017-2018. One of the wild cards for potential upside to that forecast is China, which continues to add domestic capacity, which is benefitting Applied given its leading market share position in the region.

Turning to Applied’s Display business, which is benefitting from larger format TVs as well as the ramp in organic light emitting diode (OLED) display capacity. These drivers have led Applied to forecast more than 30% growth in its Display business in 2018, which follows nearly 60% growth in 2017. Digging into the company’s comments on the earnings conference call, it is not only seeing rising OLED demand, but also a diversification in its customer base which in my view reinforces the

Previously, one customer (most likely Samsung) was more than 50% of its OLED business, and now more than 50% of Applied’s OLED business, but that has flip-flopped and now more than 50% is coming from multiple customers. That widening in demand is not only good for Applied, but it also points to an expanding market for Universal Display’s (OLED) chemical and IP licensing business as well.

On the dividend and share repurchase fronts, Applied Material’s Board of Directors approved a doubling of the quarterly cash dividend on the company’s common stock to $0.20 per share. That new dividend will be payable on June 14, to shareholders of record as of May 24. Ahead of that, Applied will pay its next cash dividend of $0.10 per share on March 14. The Board also approved a new $6.0 billion share repurchase authorization that is in addition to the $2.8 billion remaining under its previously approved authorization. I see these two offering a combination of support for our $70 price target on AMAT shares, while also providing support for the shares. At the current share price, the combined $8.8 billion in repurchasing power equates to roughly 166 million shares, roughly 15% of the company’s overall share count. Do I expect it to happen in one fell swoop? Nope, but it’s a factor that offers a way for the company to continue to meet and potentially beat Wall Street EPS expectations.

Given the consequences a company faces should it miss a dividend payment or find itself in the position to cut it, it’s not a simple decision for a company to boost its dividend, let alone double the existing quarterly payment. In my opinion, that alone says volumes about Applied’s confidence in its business over the coming years, and the additional and upsized buyback program only adds to that.

  • Our price target on Applied Materials (AMAT) shares remains $70.
  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) shares remains $225.



WEEKLY ISSUE: The Shakeout from Market Volatility on the Select List

WEEKLY ISSUE: The Shakeout from Market Volatility on the Select List



It’s Wednesday, February 7, and the stock market is coming off one of its wild rides it has seen in the last few days. I shared my thoughts on the what’s and why’s behind that yesterday with subscribers as well as with Charles Payne, the host of Making Money with Charles Payne on Fox Business – if you missed that, you can watch it here.

As investors digest the realization the Fed could boost interest rates more than it has telegraphed – something very different than we’ve experienced in the last several years – the domestic stock market appears to be finding its footing as gains over the last few days are being recouped. Lending a helping hand is the corporate bond market, which, in contrast to the turbulent moves of late in the domestic stock market, signals that credit investors remain comfortable with corporate credit fundamentals, the outlook for earnings and the ability for companies to absorb higher interest rates.

My perspective is this expectation reset for domestic stocks follows a rapid ascent over the last few months, and it’s removed some of the froth from the market as valuations levels have drifted back to earth from the rare air they recently inhabited.


Among Opportunity This New Market Dynamic Brings, There Have Been Casualties

While this offers some new opportunities for both new positions on the Tematica Investing Select List as well as the opportunity to scale into some positions at better prices once the sharp swings in stocks have abated some, it also means there have been some casualties.

We were stopped out of our shares in Cashless Consumption investment theme company, USA Technologies (USAT) when our $7.50 stop loss was triggered yesterday. While the shares snapped back along with the market rally yesterday, we were none the less stopped out, with the overall position returning more than 65% since we added them to the Select List last April. For those keeping track, that compares to the 15.3% return in the S&P 500 at the same time so, yeah, we’re not exactly broken up over things. We will put USAT shares on the Tematica Contender List and look to revisit them after the company reports earnings tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 8).

That’s the second Select List position to have been stopped out in the last several days. The other was AXT Inc. (AXTI) last week, and as a reminder that position returned almost 27% vs. a 15% move in the S&P 500. Again, not too shabby!

The last week has brought a meaningful dip in shares of Costco Wholesale (COST). On recent episodes of our Cocktail Investing Podcast, Tematica Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins and I have discussed the lack of pronounced wage gains for nonsupervisory workers (82% of the US workforce) paired with rising credit card and other debt. That combination likely means we haven’t seen the last of the Cash-Strapped Consumer investment theme — of the key thematic tailwinds we see behind Costco’s business. While COST shares are still up more than 15% since being added to the Select List, we see the recent 5% drop in the shares as an opportunity for those who remained on the sidelines before the company reports its quarterly earnings in early March.

  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $200.



Remaining Patient on AMAT, OLED and AAPL

Two other names on the Tematica Investing Select List have fallen hard of late, in part due to the market’s gyrations, but also over lingering Apple (AAPL) and other smartphone-related concerns. We are referring to Disruptive Technologies investment theme companies Applied Materials (AMAT) and Universal Display (OLED). As we shared last week, it increasingly looks that Apple’s smartphone volumes, especially for the higher priced, higher margin iPhone X won’t be cut as hard as had been rumored. Moreover, current chatter suggests Apple will once again introduce three new iPhone models this year, two of which are slated to utilize organic light emitting diode displays.

Odds are iPhone projections will take time to move from chatter to belief to fact. In the meantime, we are seeing other smartphone vendors adopt organic light emitting diode displays, and as we saw at CES 201 TV adoption is going into full swing this year. That ramping demand also bodes for Applied Materials (AMAT), which is also benefitting from capital spending plans in China and elsewhere as chip manufacturers contend with rising demand across a growing array of connected devices and data centers.

  • Our price target on Apple (AAPL) remains $200
  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) remains $225
  • Our price target on Applied Materials (AMAT) remains $70


The 5G Network Buildout is Gaining Momentum – Good News for NOK and DY

This past week beleaguered mobile carrier, Sprint (S), threw its hat into the 5G network ring announcing that it will join AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ), and T-Mobile USA (TMUS) in launching a commercial 5G network in 2019. That was news was a solid boost to our Nokia (NOK) shares, which rose 15% last week. The company remains poised to see a pick-up in infrastructure demand as well as IP licensing for 5G technology, and I’ll continue to watch network launch details as well as commentary from Contender List resident Dycom Industries (DY), whose business focuses on the actual construction of such networks.

Several months ago, I shared that we tend to see a pack mentality with the mobile carriers and new technologies – once one makes a move, the others tend to follow rather than risk a customer base that thinks they are behind the curve. In today’s increasingly Connected Society that chews increasingly on data and streaming services, that thought can be a deathblow to a company’s customer count.

  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50
  • I continue to evaluate upgrading Dycom (DY) shares to the Select List, but I am inclined to wait until we pass the winter season given the impact of weather on the company’s construction business.


Disney Offers Some Hope for Its ESPN Unit

Last night Disney (DIS) announced its December quarter results while the overall tone was positive, the stand out item to me was the announcement of the new ESPN streaming service being introduced in the next few months that has a price tag of $4.99 a month. For that, ESPN+ customers will get “thousands” of live events, including pro baseball, hockey and soccer, as well as tennis, boxing, golf and college sports not available on ESPN’s traditional TV networks. Alongside the service, Disney will unveil a new, streamlined version of the ESPN app, which is slated to include greater levels of customization.

In my view, all of this lays the groundwork for Disney’s eventual launch of its own Disney streaming content service in 2019, but it also looks to change the conversation around ESPN proper, a business that continues to lose subscribers. Not surprising, given that Comcast (CMCA) continues to report cable TV subscriber defections. One of the key components to watch will be the shake-out of the rights to stream live games from the major professional leagues — the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA. Currently, ESPN is on the hook for about $4 billion a year in rights fees to those three leagues alone — not to mention the rights fees committed to college athletics. Those deals, however, include only the rights to broadcast those games on cable networks or on the ESPN app to customers that can prove they have a cable subscription, not cord-cutters. So the question will be how quick will customers jump on board to pay $5 a month for lower-level games, or will they be able to cut deals with the major professional sports leagues to include some of their games as well.

Nevertheless, I continue to see all of these developments as Disney moving its content business in step with our Connected Society investing theme, which should be an additive element to the Content is King investment theme tailwind Disney continues to ride. With that in mind, we are seeing rave reviews for the next Marvel movie – The Black Panther – that will be released on Feb. 16. The company’s more robust 2018 movie slate kicks off in earnest a few months later.

  • We will continue to be patient investors with Disney, and our price target on the shares remains $125




Nokia: 5G paves the way for higher earnings

Nokia: 5G paves the way for higher earnings


Shares of Disruptive Technology company Nokia (NOK) are gapping up nicely this Thursday afternoon, following better than expected December quarter results, and favorable long-term guidance that reflects the pending ramp in 5G mobile technology. For the December quarter Nokia delivered EPS of $0.13 vs. the expected $0.11 and $0.12 in the year ago quarter. Despite a modest dip in revenue for the quarter, Nokia’s revenue for the final three months of the year came in ahead of expectations.

Breaking down the results across the Nokia’s two core businesses – Networks and Nokia Technologies – our core investment thesis on the shares that hinges on the IP licensing business was confirmed as both revenue and profits at Nokia Technologies soared during the quarter. Year over year Nokia Technologies revenue rose 79% year over year and profits rose 145% due primarily to new licensing agreements as well as catch up payments from licensees. With a gross margin of more than 90%, incremental wins like those had during the quarter tend to flow through to the company’s bottom line. During the fourth quarter 2017, Nokia Technologies entered into a multi-year patent licensing agreement with Huawei and received an arbitration ruling related to a contract dispute with BlackBerry.

With approximately 20,000 patent families, we see Nokia Technologies being well positioned to expand its licensing customer base as 5G networks move mobile connectivity beyond today’s smartphone-centric market into the connected home, connected car, wearables, and the industrial internet – in other words, the Internet of Things. We see this high margin business delivering meaningful EPS expansion in the coming quarters as 5G deployments gain momentum similar to past 3G and 4G rollouts.

One of the leading indicators that we’ll be watching for that expansion will be Nokia’s own networks business as well as that of others. We’ll also be listening to comments from AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ) and T-Mobile USA (TMUS), all of which are expected to begin 5G deployments later this year.

Sticking with Nokia’s Networks business, for the December quarter, currency moved against it, leading revenue to fall 4%; however, on a constant currency basis, revenue was up 2% year over year. For the coming year, Nokia sees the transition to 5G network deployments from 4G/LTE ones weighing on margins in 2018, but as those deployments scale and mature the company sees a more favorable financial impact in 2019 and 2020. We see the above comments about AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile USA as confirming Nokia’s expectations.

This expected uptick in 5G is reflected in Nokia issuing longer-term guidance and the boosting of its divided points to the confidence in the pending upturn related to 5G. For 2018, Nokia is forecasting EPS of €0.23-€0.27 vs. €0.33 in 2017 rising to markedly to €0.37-€0.42 in 2020. In terms of its dividend, the company has proposed dividend of €0.19 per share for 2017, which is up considerably from the $0.02 per share paid for 2016. In terms of 2018 and beyond, management continues to target a dividend payout of between 40%-70% of EPS. What this likely means is as the Networks business turns up as 5G ramps and Nokia Technologies expands its reach, we are apt to see further increases in the company’s annual dividend.

While this position has been frustrating, the key with any business tied to cyclical spending is to catch the shares as the winds of spending are poised to blow harder driving revenue and earnings higher in the process. That’s what we see in the coming quarters for 5G, and that means being a patient investor with NOK shares.

  • Our long-term price target on Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50
Corning beats, but smartphone comments will be the near-term guide for the shares

Corning beats, but smartphone comments will be the near-term guide for the shares


Amid a falling stock market open this Tuesday morning, which comes on the heels of a Monday that was the worst day thus far for stocks in 2018, Disruptive Technology company Corning (GLW) reported better than expected December quarter earnings, beating on both the top and bottom lines. The sparse release from the company showed positive results across the majority of its business and hinted at expectations for the company’s top line to rise 5% this year. All in all, a solid report ahead of the company’s 8:30 AM ET conference call, which should shed far more details on its quarterly results and outlook. It’s that more granular view, especially for the smartphone market, that will determine how GLW shares will trade later today as well as those for Apple (AAPL) and Universal Display (OLED).

Piecing some comments together from its earnings press release, it appears Corning’s Display Technologies business (31% of sales) will continue to benefit from larger screen sizes and better LCD glass pricing, while Optical Communications (34% of sales) is expected to grow 10% year over year due in part to a contract with Verizon (VZ) as well as ongoing backhaul demand. That year over year improvement at the Optical Communications segment is forecasted without any benefit to be had from the recently acquired 3M Communications Market Division. Two of the company’s other segments – Life Sciences and Environmental Technologies – are slated to deliver positive sales gains, but there is some rather cryptic wording for the company’s Specialty Materials business (14% of sales)

As I noted above, Corning is holding its December quarter earnings conference call this morning and we expect the dialog to be had to provide far more details on management’s expectations as well as the dynamics, such as smartphone shipment expectations for the first half of 2018, that will impact product mix and profits. Current consensus expectations have the company delivering EPS near $1.80. Because the company’s Display Technologies business accounted for 46% of earnings in the December quarter and 47% in all of 2017, we expect Wall Street to pepper the company with questions surrounding iPhone production levels in the coming quarters. Those answers will determine the likelihood of those 2018 EPS forecasts that fall between $1.64 – $1.98 per share. Quite a wide berth, and the answers will determine if there is upside to our $37 price target.

I have shared there is much speculation over iPhone X production levels to be had, but we would remind subscribers the iPhone X is just one of Apple’s smartphone models. That said, given the rapid rise in the overall stock market year-to-date, up 6.7%-8.2% across the major market indices after yesterdays’ performance, and the 7% increase in GLW shares over the same time frame, Corning’s smartphone commentary could weigh on the shares if it indicates an overall weaker than expected smartphone market. It will also help chart the near-term direction for the Apple and Universal Display shares on the Tematica Investing Select List.

From my perspective, we are hearing reports of larger format smartphones from Apple and others hitting shelves later this year. Paired with the growing adoption of larger format organic light emitting diode (OLED) displays on both smartphones and TVs, as well as burgeoning demand for backhaul technologies that should grow in the coming quarters as 5G networks are built, we’ll use any pullback to be had in GLW shares in the near-term to improve our long-term position.



WEEKLY ISSUE: Prepping for Tematica Select List earnings to come this week

WEEKLY ISSUE: Prepping for Tematica Select List earnings to come this week

A few days ago in the Monday Morning Kickoff, I cautioned that over the coming days we would see a profound increase in data in the form of economic data and earnings. We are seeing just that as we head into the eye of the earnings storm today and tomorrow. For the Tematica Investing Select List that means results will be had from Connected Society company Facebook after today’s market close, followed tomorrow by Disruptive Technologies company Universal Display (OLED) and the latest addition – Apple (AAPL). Yes, after patiently keeping our eyes on Apple for some time, we finally added the shares back to the Select List given what we see as a robust 2018 for the company. If you missed our deep thoughts on that addition you can find it here, and below we’ve previewed what’s expected from these three companies.

We all know there are a number of factors that influence the market, and two of them – the Fed and prospects for tax reform – will be in full coverage today and tomorrow. This afternoon the Fed will break from its November FOMC policy meeting, and while next to no one expects the Fed to boost interest rates coming out of it, the focus will be the language used in the post-meeting statement. Last week’s stronger than expected 3Q 2017 GDP print of 3.0% — you can read Tematica’s take on that here – and Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen’s likely status as a lame duck keep the prospects of a rate hike in December fairly high in our view.

Tomorrow, the highly anticipated tax reform bill is slated to be revealed, a day later than expected “because of continued negotiations over key provisions in the bill.” It’s being reported that issues still being negotiated include retirement savings and the state and local tax deduction — two key provisions that involve raising revenue to pay for the plan. As the bill’s details are released, we suspect many will be interested in proposed tax bracket changes and the potential economic impact to be had as well as near-term implications for the national debt. We will have more comments and thoughts on the proposed bill later this week as it, along with the tone of earnings to come, will influence the market’s move in the coming days.


A quick reminder on Amazon and Nokia plus boosting our Alphabet price target

Before we preview what’s to come later today and tomorrow, I wanted to remind you that last week, on the heels of Amazon destroying 3Q 2107 expectations, we boosted our price target for AMZN shares to $1,250 from $1,150, keeping our Buy rating intact. As expected, other investment banks and analysts did indeed up their rating and price targets as we move deeper into what is poised to be one of the busiest quarters in Amazon’s history. The wide consensus is that once again digital shopping will take consumer wallet share this holiday season. As Amazon benefits from that e-commerce tailwind following robust Prime membership growth in 3Q 2017, the company is also poised to see its high margin Amazon Web Services business continue to benefit from ongoing cloud adoption. In our view, this combination makes Amazon a force to be reckoned with this holiday season, especially since it remains the online price leader according to a new report from Profitero.

  • As we have said for some time, as consumers and business continue to migrate increasingly to online and mobile platforms Amazon shares are ones to own, not trade.
  • Our price target on Amazon is $1,250.


We also used the sharp sell-off in Nokia (NOK) shares to scale into that position as its high margin licensing business continues to perform as its addressable device market continues to expand. That addition helped improve our NOK cost basis considerably as we patiently wait for the commercial deployment of 5G networks that should goose its network infrastructure business. Hand in hand with those deployments, we should see even further expansion of Nokia’s licensing market expand as the connected car, connected home and Internet of Things markets take hold.

  • We continue to rate Nokia (NOK) shares Buy with an $8.50 price target.


Also last week, Alphabet (GOOGL) soared following the company’s 3Q 2017 results that crushed expectations and confirmed the company’s position in mobile. More specifically, the company delivered EPS of $9.57, $1.17 per share better than expected, as revenue climbed nearly 24%, year over year, to $27.77 billion, edging out the expected $27.17 billion.

Across the board, the company’s metrics for the quarter delivered positive year-over-year comparisons and in response, we are upping our price target to $1,150 from $1,050. Given its positions in search, both desktop and mobile, the accelerating shift in advertising dollars to digital platforms, and YouTube’s move into both streaming TV and proprietary programming, we continue to rate GOOGL shares a Buy.

  • We are upping our price target on Alphabet (GOOGL) shares to $1,150 from $1,050.


After today’s market close, Facebook will report its 3Q 2017 results

Following positive reports from Amazon, Alphabet and even Twitter (TWTR) that confirmed the accelerating shift to digital platforms for advertising and consumer spending, Facebook shares rallied in tandem over the last few days. This brings the year-to-date rise in the shares to more than 55% fueled in part by several investment banks upping their price targets and ratings for the shares. For now, our price target on FB shares remains $200.

Despite the better-than-expected results from those companies mentioned above, we have not seen any upward move in consensus expectations for Facebook’s 3Q 2017 results that will be reported after today’s market close. As I share this with you, those expectations for 3Q 2017 sit at EPS of $1.28 on revenue of $9.84 billion while those for the current quarter are $1.70 in earnings and $12 billion in revenue. On the earnings call, we’ll be looking not only for updated quarterly metrics but also updates on its monetization efforts and how its video streaming offering, Watch, is developing. We see Watch as a salvo against TV advertising given its 2 billion-and-growing user footprint across the globe. We also hope to hear more about Facebook’s virtual reality initiatives and its plan to expand the recently launched online food-ordering capability.

  • As Facebook continues to garner advertising dollars and flexes its platforms to gather more revenue and profit dollars, we are once again assessing potential upside to our $200 price target for this Connected Society company


Thursday brings Apple and Universal Display earnings

After tomorrow’s market close we receive earning from Disruptive Technology company Universal Display (OLED) and Connected Society company Apple (AAPL). There have been a number of positive data points to be had for our Universal Display shares over the last several weeks and they have propelled the shares higher by 13% over the last month. That latest move has brought the return on the OLED position that we have had on the Tematica Investing Select List since October 2016 to more than 175%. Patience, it seems, does pay off as does collecting and assessing our thematic signals.

In terms of 3Q 2017, consensus expectations call for the company to deliver EPS of $0.12 on revenue of $47.1 million. We’d remind subscribers the company has a track record of beating expectations and a favorable report this week from LG Display points to that as once again being likely tomorrow.

As noted by LG Display, “Shipments of big OLED TV panels have increased, as 13 manufacturers adopted our products…We plan to focus on investing in OLED products as part of our long-term preparation for the future” away from LCD displays. LG Display also shared it is planning to spend 20 trillion won to expand OLED production through 2020.

We see this rising capacity as bullish for our Universal shares as well as our Applied Materials (AMAT) shares given its display equipment business, but also as a signal that OLED display demand is poised to expand into other markets, including automotive.

  • Our price target on Universal Display shares remains $175.
  • Our price target on shares of Applied Materials (AMAT) remains $65.


With regard to Apple’s 3Q 2017 earnings, expectations have this Connected Society company reporting EPS of $1.87 on revenue of $50.8 billion. As we mentioned when we added the position, given the timing of both new iPhone model launches we are likely to see 3Q 2017 results get a pass as investors focus on the outlook for the current quarter. As I shared on Monday, our strategy will be to use any pullback in AAPL shares near the $140-$145 level to improve our cost basis for what looks to be a favorable iPhone cycle in 2018.

  • Our price target on Apple (AAPL) remains $200.
Breaking down earnings from AXT, Nokia and UPS, plus thoughts on Amplify Snacks

Breaking down earnings from AXT, Nokia and UPS, plus thoughts on Amplify Snacks

We are officially in the thick of earnings season with reports from AXT Inc. (AXTI) last night, and both Nokia (NOK) as well as United Parcel Service (UPS) this morning. Below we have comments on the better than expected results from AXT, share why we are going to be patient with Nokia shares for the long-term and how United Parcel Service confirms out thesis on the shares. We also have some thoughts on the recent share price pressure in Amplify Snacks (BETR), and explain why Amazon’s (AMZN) comments and outlook on its Whole Foods business are what we’ll be watching next for this position.


Many positives in AXT’s 3Q 2017 earnings report and outlook

Last night compound semiconductor substrate and Disruptive Technology company AXT (AXTI) reported 3Q 2017 top and bottom line results that handily beat consensus expectations and delivered an in-line view on the current quarter. This popped the shares some 7% in aftermarket trading last night and sees the shares trading up nicely today.

More specifically, AXT delivered EPS of $0.11, $0.02 better than the consensus and up dramatically from $0.07 in the year-ago quarter on revenue that rose 29% compared to 3Q 2017. Higher substrate volumes revealed the operating leverage in the company’s business model and led gross margins to soar to 39.5% in the quarter, up from 30.8% in the prior quarter. Other factors aiding the margin comparisons included raw material prices and vendor consolidation as well as product mix, both of which help margins in the coming quarters.

In terms of its outlook for the current quarter, AXT guided revenue and EPS in the ranges of $26-$27 million and $0.07-$0.09, respectively, which compares with the consensus forecast of $26.6 million in revenue with EPS of $0.08. What’s not obvious in those ranges is expected growth at the midpoint of 22% and 47%, respectively. The current quarter, as well as the next one, tend to reflect the seasonal downtick compared to the third quarter 3Q 2017, which tends to house the RF semiconductor ramp for year-end smartphone sales. Given new smartphone models, continued growth in data traffic that is leading further data center investment, and new solar panel applications the outlook for continued year over year growth at AXT remains more than favorable.

For example, Audi and BMW are using solar panels on certain new models to provide power to the vehicle’s climate control system fan without ruining the battery, even when the vehicle is turned off. In addition, Audi and Alta Devices recently announced their partnership to integrate solar cells into panoramic glass roofs of Audi models to generate solar energy that increases the range of Audi electric vehicles. The first of these car prototypes are expected to by the end of this year, and the solar cells utilize compound semiconductor technology that is built on AXT’s substrates.

In the data center arena, companies such as Microsoft (MSFT), Intel (INTC), Cisco (CSCO), Broadcom (AVGO) and a number of others are driving the adoption of silicon photonics to drive data rates of 100 gigabits per second or better. This adoption bodes well for AXT’s higher margin indium phosphide substrates.

Recognizing the seasonal downturn we will face in the coming months, we will continue to be patient with AXTI shares.

  • Our price target on AXT (AXTI) shares remains $11, which for now keeps the shares a Buy at current levels.
  • With regard to that rating, we’ll be watching the $9.90 level, which offers roughly 10% upside to our price target.


Nokia: The market focuses on network infrastructure, but it’s the licensing business that matters.

Early this morning Nokia (NOK) reported 3Q 2017 results of €0.09 per share in earnings, €0.03 ahead of expectations even though overall revenue fell 7% year over year to €5.54 billion, a hair shy of the €5.64 billion consensus forecast. In trading today, Nokia shares are getting hit hard given the guidance that calls for continued declines in its Networks Business. We are not surprised by this guidance as we continue to wait for deployments of 5G technology in 2018-2020. Despite that shortfall, continued focus on cost in the Networks Business, as well as ongoing customer wins bode well for the business as the 5G ramp begins.

What we found as rather confirming was the continued growth in its high margin Nokia Technologies business, which rose to 9% of 3Q 2107 sales and 22% of 3Q 2018 gross profits up from 6% and 15%, respectively, in the year-ago quarter. Despite the overall revenue shortfall for Nokia in 3Q 2017, Nokia Technologies led the company’s consolidated margins higher and drove the EPS upside in the quarter. In other words, our thesis behind owning NOK shares was confirmed in this morning’s earnings report. As 5G and other technologies contained in the company’s intellectual property arsenal matriculate in the coming quarters, we see continued improvement ahead for this business and that bodes well for the company’s overall margin and EPS generation.

One of our key strategies has been to use share price weakness to scale into a position on the Tematica Select List provided the underlying investment thesis remains intact. As we saw in Nokia’s 3Q 2017 earnings report, that is the case. As we look for that opportunity, we’d note that Nokia’s Board of Directors plans to propose a dividend of EUR 0.19 per share for 2017, which if history holds will be paid in the first part of 2018. Given the current share price, that is a hefty dividend yield to be had and adds both a layer of support to the shares and adds to the total return to be had.

  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50


Quick thoughts on UPS’s 3Q 2107 results

With United Parcel Service (UPS), the results and outlook were in line what we expected and simply put the company’s outlook simply reinforces our shift to digital commerce predicated thesis on the shares. Case in point, UPS sees:

  • Record holiday delivery of about 750 million packages,
  • Deliveries between Black Friday and New Year’s Eve forecasted to increase 5% from 2016
  • 17 of 21 holiday delivery days before Christmas to exceed 30 million packages each.

This latest forecast echoes what we’ve already heard about this holiday shopping season from the National Retail Federation, E-Marketer, and others.

We’ll dig through the UPS’s earnings call in greater detail, but what we’ve heard thus far along with a price increase slated for December 24th keeps our Buy rating and $130 price target intact. As we do that, we’ll also be looking at Amazon’s forecast for the current quarter and its comments on the holiday shopping season.

  • Our price target on United Parcel Service (UPS) share remains $130.


Shares of Amplify Snacks under pressure, but Amazon/Whole Foods will be the guide

Finally, our Amplify Snacks (BETR) shares have been under pressure this past week. On the news front, things have been rather quiet and the shares could be coming under pressure as institutional investors being their tax loss selling. We’ll look for confirmation on our thesis – consumers shifting toward food and snacks that are “healthy for you” in quarterly results out tonight from Amazon (AMZN) as it discusses recent performance and its outlook for recently acquired Whole Foods. As we do this, we’ll also be revisiting the dollar’s recent run-up and what it could mean for Amplify given its growing exposure to markets outside of the U.S.

With the shares approaching oversold levels, we are keeping a close eye on the shares. As we mentioned above with Nokia, we certainly like to improve our cost basis provided our investment thesis remains intact.