Weekly Issue: Streaming Services and the Middle Class Squeeze

Weekly Issue: Streaming Services and the Middle Class Squeeze

Key points inside this issue

  • Stocks continue to melt higher on hopes, but details will matter in the end
  • Our price target on Middle-Class Squeeze company Costco Wholesale (COST) remains $250.
  • Netflix: Mark your calendars for Apple and Disney events
  • Taking a look at LendingClub (LC) shares as consumer debt climbs

 

Sorry, we’re a day late with your weekly issue. I’m just back from InsideETFs 2019, the industry event for the exchange-traded (ETF) industry. This isn’t the first time I’ve attended the event, and attendees continue to hear about the uptake of ETFs, as well as the growing number of differentiated strategies to be had. Some, in my opinion, are faddish in nature, looking to capture assets even though their strategies may not be ones that survive more than a few years. We’ve got a long issue this week, so I’ll suffice to say that such ETFs are not thematic investing, but rather trend investing and we’re already starting to see several of those older trend products being repositioned to something else.

As we close out this week, we’ll be halfway through the first quarter of 2019. Hard to believe, as we have yet to go through the swarm earnings reports from retailers, but it’s true. Given what appears to be the rollbacking of items that weighed on the stock market during the last few months of 2018, we’ve seen all the major stock market indices rebound hard, even though the global economy continues to slow. Once again, this has made the US the best house in the neighborhood, which has likely bid up assets and made the dollar a headwind to multinational companies in the process. As we are fonding of saying, the devil is in the details and that includes any would be progress on US-China trade and Congress with immigration reform. We remain cautiously optimistic, especially on the China trade front, but recognize that more time is likely to be needed until a Trump-sized “big deal” can be reached.

As we get set for the second half of the quarter, we here at Tematica will continue to not only watch the data and our Thematic Signals to assess what’s the next likely step for the market from here, but also the happenings in Washington on trade and infrastructure.

 

Tematica Investing

Odds are, the Thematic Leaders have seen some lift from the sharp rebound in the market thus far in 2019. As we can see in the chart above, several of them are going gangbusters, including Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), Netflix (NFLX), Alibaba (BABA) and Axon Enterprises (AXXN). This morning we’ll get the first Retail Sales report since before the federal government shutdown, and in my view, it will more than likely continue to show what it did during all of 2018 – digital shopping taking share and Middle-Class Squeeze leader Costco Warehouse (COST) continuing to win consumer wallet share.

On a reported basis, Costco’s January same-store sales rose 6.6% (7.3% excluding the impact of gasoline prices and foreign exchange). Exiting the month, Costco operated 768 warehouse locations vs. 746 this time last year, a 3% year over year, which reflects its stated path to open more locations in 2019, allowing for the steady growth of its high margin membership fee revenue stream. In my view, this lays the groundwork for a favorable earnings report from Costco on March 7, which is also when it will publish its February sales results.

  • Our price target on Middle-Class Squeeze company Costco Wholesale (COST) remains $250.

 

Netflix: Mark your calendars for Apple and Disney

While we have our calendars out and are marking them for that upcoming Costco date I mentioned early, let’s also circle March 25th, which is the rumored date of Apple’s next event. Per the Apple rumor mill, the company will not only showcase its new news subscription service (say that three times), but also unveil its video service as well. This video service falls into the category of one of the best, worst kept secrets, given the number of deals it has inked for original shows and movies. The news subscription service, which is expected to be called Apple News Magazines, comes after Apple acquired Texture, the would-be Netflix (NFLX) of magazines last year.

While we could see a new device or two, this event will be focused primarily on Apple’s Services business, which it is using to further its position inside our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.  Much like Proctor & Gamble’s (PG) Gillette razor blade business, I would not be surprised if Apple adopts a similar mindset with its devices being the razor that gets replaced periodically, while its far more profitable Services business is the one that people consume on a frequent basis.

Soon after Apple’s event, Disney will hold its annual Investor Day on April 11th at which it is expected to unveil its much discussed, but yet to be seen Disney streaming service dubbed Disney+. Given its robust library of films, content, and characters, Disney should not be underestimated on this front, and in my view much like Apple and its Services business, success with Disney+ could change the way Wall Street values DIS shares. Key items to watch will be the Disney+ price point, original content rollout, and subscriber growth.

Stepping back, if one were to argue that we are on the path to a crowd of streaming services between Netflix, Amazon (AMZN), Hulu, CBS, NBC, AT&T (T), and now Apple and Disney, I would have to agree. In many ways, we’re heading for cable-TV without the cable box, but on an ala carte basis. While we’ve argued that consumers will go to where there is great content, the more streaming services there are the more likely we see the proliferation of good or not so good content. The risk they run is that just like cable channels that need to be filled with content, so too will their streaming services. Also too, one unknown is how many services will a person subscribe to? Past a certain point, consumers will balk, especially if all they’ve succeeded in doing is replicating that high cable bill they sought to originally sought to escape.

Needless to say, I’ll be watching the unveiling and uptake of these new services from Apple and Disney with an eye for what it may mean for Digital Lifestyle company Netflix (NFLX). One interesting item to watch will be to see what is actually included in the Disney and Apple services at launch and over time. Both companies are rumored to be working on streaming gaming services as are Microsoft (MSFT) and Alphabet (GOOGL), which to date is something Netflix has resisted at least publicly. If Apple were to bundle a gaming, video and news service along with Apple Music into one digital content bundle, that would offer some consumer wallet leverage over other single, stand-alone services.

 

Taking a look at LendingClub shares

Earlier this week, Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins posted a Thematic Signal for our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme following the news that a record 7 million Americans are 90 days or more behind on their auto loan payments. Lenore went on to show some additional data that consumer loans from banks are in contraction mode, which as we know is a sign the US economy is not going gangbusters.

What we are seeing is the consumer looking to get their financial house in order, most likely after ringing up credit card, auto loan and student debt over the last several quarters. A new report from LendingTree (TREE) points to total credit card debt having climbed to more than $1 trillion in under five years, with more people using personal loans to manage existing debt. This has led the amount owed on personal loans to double what it was five years ago and the number of outstanding loans to rise some 50% in the last three years. According to the report’s findings, managing existing debt was the most popular reason for a personal loan, representing 61% of all loan requests in 2018. Of that percentage, 39% of borrowers plan to use their loans to consolidate debt, while 22% planned to use it to refinance credit cards.

From a stock detective’s point of view, the question to ask is what company is poised to benefit from this aspect of our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme?

One candidate is LendingClub (LC), which operates an online credit marketplace that connects borrowers and investors in the US. It went public a few years ago and was heralded as a disruptive business for consumers and businesses to obtain credit based on its digital product offering. That marketplace facilitates various types of loan products for consumers and small businesses, including unsecured personal loans, unsecured education and patient finance loans, auto refinance loans, and unsecured small business loans. The company also provides an opportunity to the investor to invest in a range of loans based on term and credit.

Last year 78% of its $575 million in revenue was derived from loan origination transaction fees derived from its platform’s role in accepting and deciding on applications on behalf of the company’s bank partners. More than 50 banks—ranging in total assets of less than $100 million to more than $100 billion—have taken advantage of LendingClub’s partnership program.

LendingClub’s second largest revenue stream is derived from investors fees, which include servicing fees for various services, including servicing and collection efforts and matching available loans with capital and management fees from investment funds and other managed accounts, gains on sales of whole loans, interest income earned and fair value gains/losses from loans held on the company’s balance sheet.

In the past LendingClub was tainted with uncertainty given several investigations, but in mid-December, it settled with the SEC and DOJ, with the SEC stating:

“The SEC’s Enforcement Division determined not to recommend charges against LendingClub Corporation, which promptly self-reported its executives’ misconduct following a review initiated by its board of directors, thoroughly remediated, and provided extraordinary cooperation with the agency’s investigation.”

The SEC’s comments are a positive affirmation of the company’s internal procedures and policies, which also helps reduce the potential negative impact from the still-remaining Federal Trade Commission complaint. The FTC’s complaint against LendingClub charged it has misled consumers and has been deducting hidden fees from loan proceeds issued to borrowers.

Those recent developments have improved the company’s risk profile at a time when its core business has been growing given Middle-Class Squeeze pains being felt by more consumers. According to data TransUnion, subprime personal loan balances have been climbing since 2014 and are forecast to increase 20% this year to a record $156.3 billion.

Here’s the thing, the year-end shopping season isn’t just for shopping,  it’s also the seasonally strongest time of year for subprime loan originations, which according to TransUnion rose to 5 million loans at the end of 2018. That sets up what is likely to be a favorable December quarter earnings report from LendingClub when it issues those results next week (Tuesday, Feb. 19). The thing is I continue to see far more upside to be had with Middle-Class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale, which is not only growing its very profitable membership fee income stream the company is also a dividend payer.

 

Weekly Issue: Another company poised to benefit from the Middle Class Squeeze

Weekly Issue: Another company poised to benefit from the Middle Class Squeeze

Key points inside this issue

Sorry, we’re a day late with your weekly issue. I’m just back from InsideETFs 2019, the industry event for the exchange-traded (ETF) industry. This isn’t the first time I’ve attended the event, and attendees continue to hear about the uptake of ETFs, as well as the growing number of differentiated strategies to be had. Some, in my opinion, are faddish in nature, looking to capture assets even though their strategies may not be ones that survive more than a few years. We’ve got a long issue this week, so I’ll suffice to say that such ETFs are not thematic investing, but rather trend investing and we’re already starting to see several of those older trend products being repositioned to something else.

As we close out this week, we’ll be halfway through the first quarter of 2019. Hard to believe, as we have yet to go through the swarm earnings reports from retailers, but it’s true. Given what appears to be the rollbacking of items that weighed on the stock market during the last few months of 2018, we’ve seen all the major stock market indices rebound hard, even though the global economy continues to slow. Once again, this has made the US the best house in the neighborhood, which has likely bid up assets and made the dollar a headwind to multinational companies in the process. As we are fonding of saying, the devil is in the details and that includes any would be progress on US-China trade and Congress with immigration reform. We remain cautiously optimistic, especially on the China trade front, but recognize that more time is likely to be needed until a Trump-sized “big deal” can be reached.

As we get set for the second half of the quarter, we here at Tematica will continue to not only watch the data and our Thematic Signals to assess what’s the next likely step for the market from here, but also the happenings in Washington on trade and infrastructure.

 

Tematica Investing

Odds are, the Thematic Leaders have seen some lift from the sharp rebound in the market thus far in 2019. As we can see in the chart above, several of them are going gangbusters, including Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), Netflix (NFLX), Alibaba (BABA) and Axon Enterprises (AXXN). This morning we’ll get the first Retail Sales report since before the federal government shutdown, and in my view, it will more than likely continue to show what it did during all of 2018 – digital shopping taking share and Middle-Class Squeeze leader Costco Warehouse (COST) continuing to win consumer wallet share.

On a reported basis, Costco’s January same-store sales rose 6.6% (7.3% excluding the impact of gasoline prices and foreign exchange). Exiting the month, Costco operated 768 warehouse locations vs. 746 this time last year, a 3% year over year, which reflects its stated path to open more locations in 2019, allowing for the steady growth of its high margin membership fee revenue stream. In my view, this lays the groundwork for a favorable earnings report from Costco on March 7, which is also when it will publish its February sales results.

  • Our price target on Middle-Class Squeeze company Costco Wholesale (COST) remains $250.

 

Netflix: Mark your calendars for Apple and Disney

While we have our calendars out and are marking them for that upcoming Costco date I mentioned early, let’s also circle March 25th, which is the rumored date of Apple’s next event. Per the Apple rumor mill, the company will not only showcase its new news subscription service (say that three times), but also unveil its video service as well. This video service falls into the category of one of the best, worst kept secrets, given the number of deals it has inked for original shows and movies. The news subscription service, which is expected to be called Apple News Magazines, comes after Apple acquired Texture, the would-be Netflix (NFLX) of magazines last year.

While we could see a new device or two, this event will be focused primarily on Apple’s Services business, which it is using to further its position inside our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.  Much like Proctor & Gamble’s (PG) Gillette razor blade business, I would not be surprised if Apple adopts a similar mindset with its devices being the razor that gets replaced periodically, while its far more profitable Services business is the one that people consume on a frequent basis.

Soon after Apple’s event, Disney will hold its annual Investor Day on April 11th at which it is expected to unveil its much discussed, but yet to be seen Disney streaming service dubbed Disney+. Given its robust library of films, content, and characters, Disney should not be underestimated on this front, and in my view much like Apple and its Services business, success with Disney+ could change the way Wall Street values DIS shares. Key items to watch will be the Disney+ price point, original content rollout, and subscriber growth.

Stepping back, if one were to argue that we are on the path to a crowd of streaming services between Netflix, Amazon (AMZN), Hulu, CBS, NBC, AT&T (T), and now Apple and Disney, I would have to agree. In many ways, we’re heading for cable-TV without the cable box, but on an ala carte basis. While we’ve argued that consumers will go to where there is great content, the more streaming services there are the more likely we see the proliferation of good or not so good content. The risk they run is that just like cable channels that need to be filled with content, so too will their streaming services. Also too, one unknown is how many services will a person subscribe to? Past a certain point, consumers will balk, especially if all they’ve succeeded in doing is replicating that high cable bill they sought to originally sought to escape.

Needless to say, I’ll be watching the unveiling and uptake of these new services from Apple and Disney with an eye for what it may mean for Digital Lifestyle company Netflix (NFLX). One interesting item to watch will be to see what is actually included in the Disney and Apple services at launch and over time. Both companies are rumored to be working on streaming gaming services as are Microsoft (MSFT) and Alphabet (GOOGL), which to date is something Netflix has resisted at least publicly. If Apple were to bundle a gaming, video and news service along with Apple Music into one digital content bundle, that would offer some consumer wallet leverage over other single, stand-alone services.

 

Taking a look at LendingClub shares

Earlier this week, Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins posted a Thematic Signal for our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme following the news that a record 7 million Americans are 90 days or more behind on their auto loan payments. Lenore went on to show some additional data that consumer loans from banks are in contraction mode, which as we know is a sign the US economy is not going gangbusters.

What we are seeing is the consumer looking to get their financial house in order, most likely after ringing up credit card, auto loan and student debt over the last several quarters. A new report from LendingTree (TREE) points to total credit card debt having climbed to more than $1 trillion in under five years, with more people using personal loans to manage existing debt. This has led the amount owed on personal loans to double what it was five years ago and the number of outstanding loans to rise some 50% in the last three years. According to the report’s findings, managing existing debt was the most popular reason for a personal loan, representing 61% of all loan requests in 2018. Of that percentage, 39% of borrowers plan to use their loans to consolidate debt, while 22% planned to use it to refinance credit cards.

From a stock detective’s point of view, the question to ask is what company is poised to benefit from this aspect of our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme?

One candidate is LendingClub (LC), which operates an online credit marketplace that connects borrowers and investors in the US. It went public a few years ago and was heralded as a disruptive business for consumers and businesses to obtain credit based on its digital product offering. That marketplace facilitates various types of loan products for consumers and small businesses, including unsecured personal loans, unsecured education and patient finance loans, auto refinance loans, and unsecured small business loans. The company also provides an opportunity to the investor to invest in a range of loans based on term and credit.

Last year 78% of its $575 million in revenue was derived from loan origination transaction fees derived from its platform’s role in accepting and deciding on applications on behalf of the company’s bank partners. More than 50 banks—ranging in total assets of less than $100 million to more than $100 billion—have taken advantage of LendingClub’s partnership program.

LendingClub’s second largest revenue stream is derived from investors fees, which include servicing fees for various services, including servicing and collection efforts and matching available loans with capital and management fees from investment funds and other managed accounts, gains on sales of whole loans, interest income earned and fair value gains/losses from loans held on the company’s balance sheet.

In the past LendingClub was tainted with uncertainty given several investigations, but in mid-December, it settled with the SEC and DOJ, with the SEC stating:

“The SEC’s Enforcement Division determined not to recommend charges against LendingClub Corporation, which promptly self-reported its executives’ misconduct following a review initiated by its board of directors, thoroughly remediated, and provided extraordinary cooperation with the agency’s investigation.”

The SEC’s comments are a positive affirmation of the company’s internal procedures and policies, which also helps reduce the potential negative impact from the still-remaining Federal Trade Commission complaint. The FTC’s complaint against LendingClub charged it has misled consumers and has been deducting hidden fees from loan proceeds issued to borrowers.

Those recent developments have improved the company’s risk profile at a time when its core business has been growing given Middle-class Squeeze pains being felt by more consumers. According to data TransUnion, subprime personal loan balances have been climbing since 2014 and are forecast to increase 20% this year to a record $156.3 billion.

Here’s the thing, the year-end shopping season isn’t just for shopping,  it’s also the seasonally strongest time of year for subprime loan originations, which according to TransUnion rose to 5 million loans at the end of 2018. That sets up what is likely to be a favorable December quarter earnings report from LendingClub when it issues those results next week (Tuesday, Feb. 19). The thing is I continue to see far more upside to be had with Middle-Class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale, which is not only growing its very profitable membership fee income stream the company is also a a dividend payer.

 

Tematica Options+

 

Adding a call option play on Lending Club

While we aren’t adding Lending Club shares to the Thematic Leaders, we will look to capitalize on the opportunity ahead of the company’s December quarter earnings report by adding the Lending Club (LC) March 2019 4.00 calls (LC 190315C0000400)that closed last night at 0.10. Given the tight trading pattern of these calls, I’m not recommending a stop loss level just yet, but as they trend higher I plan to do so.

 

Boosting the stop loss on our Del Frisco’s calls

The September 2019 10.00 calls for Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) calls that we added last week climbed more than 58% over the last several trading sessions. While we’ll continue to hold these calls as Del Frisco’s continues to review potential takeout bids, we will boost our stop loss on the calls from 0.30 to 0.60, which also happens to be our entry point.

 

The U.S. is on track to fall to the world’s second-biggest retail market

The U.S. is on track to fall to the world’s second-biggest retail market

While China’s economy may be slowing now, the long-term implications associated with our Living the Life, Rise of the New Middle-class and Digital Lifestyle investing themes in that market will continue to be felt. Even if China’s economy slows to something between 5%-6%, the economic reality is it will continue to grow far faster than the US. Per the Fed’s most recent FOMC economic forecast, it sees US GDP between 1.8%-2.5% over the next few years.

That faster rate of growth mixed with our three investment themes cited above will continue to drive retail sales growth in China. Will that eclipse the US in 2022, a year later or a year sooner? It’s hard to predict but it’s the longer term tailwind that we’re focused on here at Tematica. Sneaking up right behind China is India, which boasts wonderful demographics that will continue to power our Rise of the New Middle-class theme for years to come.

With regard to our Digital Lifestyle theme, given the far superior rate of adoption of mobile payments not to mention Alibaba’s seemingly replicating Amazon’s strategies, it comes as little surprise to us that digital shopping will be a key driver in China. This is backed to some extent by the growing usage of digital commerce and social media by the luxury brands that are associated with our Living the Life theme.

 

China’s economy may be slowing, but it is on track to overtake the United States and become the world’s top retail market this year.

The latest forecast by eMarketer predicts that retail sales in China will increase 7.5% to $5.636 trillion in 2019. That’s approximately $100 billion more than the United States, where retail sales are expected to grow 3.3% to $5.529 trillion.

And while growth rates are slowing for both countries, China’s growth rate will exceed that of the United States through 2022. By 2022, total retail sales in China are expected to hit $6.757 trillion, while U.S. total retail sales will reach $6.030 trillion.

A major driver of China’s retail economy is e-commerce. Online retail sales in China will increase 30.3% to $1.989 trillion in 2019, accounting for 35.3% of the country’s total retail sales, which is the highest percentage in the world, according to Marketer. The United States lags far behind, with e-commerce on track to represent 10.9% of total retail sales this year.

By the end of 2019, China will account for a whopping 55.8% of all online retail sales globally, with the metric expected to exceed 63% by 2022. The United States is expected to account for 17% of all global online sales, followed by the U.K. at 3.8%, Japan at 3.2% and South Korea at 2.4%.

Emarketer noted that Alibaba will lead e-commerce sales in China with a 53.3% share. But its share has been steadily declining for the past several years as smaller players chip away at the e-commerce giant’s dominance. In particular, social commerce platform Pinduoduo has seen triple-digit growth since 2016, although its share remains small, according to eMarketer.

Source: U.S. set to lose its position as world’s biggest retail market

Weekly Issue: We aren’t out of the woods just yet

Weekly Issue: We aren’t out of the woods just yet

Key Points from this Issue:

  • We are downgrading Universal Display (OLED) shares from the Thematic Leaders to the Select List and cutting our price target to $125 from $150. In the coming days, we will name a new Thematic Leader for our Disruptive Innovators investing theme.
  • Given the widespread pain the market endured in October, Thematic Leaders Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), Del Frisco’s (DFRG), Axon Enterprises (AXXN), Alibaba (BABA) and Netflix (NFLX) were hit hard; however, the hardest hit was Amazon (AMZN).

 

This week we closed the books on the month of October, and what a month it was for the stock market. In today’s short-term focused society, some will focus on the rebound over the last few days in the major domestic stock market indices, but even those cannot hide the fact that October was one of the most challenging months for stocks in recent memory. In short, the month of October wiped out most the market’s year to date gains as investors digested both September quarter earnings and updated guidance that spurred a re-think in top and bottom line expectations.

All told, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 5.1% for the month, making it the best performer of the major market indices. By comparison, the S&P 500 fell 6.9% in October led by declines in eight of its ten subgroups. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 9.2% and the small-cap focused Russell 2000 plummeted 10.9%. That marked the Nasdaq’s steepest monthly drop since it posted a 10.8% fall in November 2008. The month’s move pulled the Russell 2000 into negative territory year to date while for the same time period both the Dow and S&P 500 closed last night up around 1.5%.

We are just over halfway through the September quarter earnings season, which means there are ample companies left to report and issue updated guidance. Candidly, those reports could push or pull the market either higher or continue the October pain. There are still ample risks in the market to be had as the current earnings season winds down. These include the mid-term elections; Italy’s next round of budget talks with Brussels; upcoming Trump-China trade talks, which have led to another round of tariff preparations; and Fed rate hikes vs. the slowing speed of the global economy.

Despite the very recent rebound in the stock market, CNN’s Fear & Greed Index remains at Extreme Fear (7) as I write this – little changed from last week. What this likely means is we are seeing a nervous rebound in the market, and it will likely some positive reinforcement to make the late October rebound stick. As we navigate that pathway to the end of the year, we will also be entering the 2018 holiday shopping season, which per the National Retail Federation’s annual consumer spending survey should rise more than 4% year over year.

This combination of upcoming events and sentiment likely means we aren’t out of the woods just yet even though we are seeing a reprieve from the majority of October. As is shared below, next week has even more companies reporting than this week as well as the midterm elections. The strategy of sitting on the sidelines until the calmer waters emerge as stock prices come to us is what we’ll be doing. At the right time, we’ll be adding to existing positions on the Thematic Leaders and Thematic Select List as well as introducing new ones.

Speaking of the Thematic Leaders and the Select List, as the mood shifts from Halloween to the year-end shopping season,  we have several companies including Amazon (AMZN), United Parcel Service (UPS), Costco Wholesale (COST), Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG), McCormick & Co. (MKC) and Apple (AAPL) among others that should benefit from that uptick in holiday spending as well as our Digital Lifestyle, Living the Life and Middle-class Squeeze investing themes in the next few months.

 

UPDATES TO The Thematic Leaders and Select List

Given the widespread pain the market endured in October, we were not immune to it with the Thematic Leaders or companies on the Tematica Select List. Given the volatility, investor’s nerves it was a time of shoot first, ask questions later with the market – as expected – trading day to day based on the most recent news. I expect this to continue at least for the next few weeks.

The hardest hit was Amazon, which despite simply destroying September quarter expectations served up what can only be called a conservative forecast for the current quarter. For those that didn’t tune in to the company’s related earnings conference call, Amazon management flat out admitted that it was being conservative because it is too hard to call the second half of the quarter, which is when it does the bulk of its business during the frenetic holiday shopping season. I have long said that Amazon shares are one to hold not trade, and with the move to expand its private label product, move into the online pharmacy space as well as continued growth at Amazon Web Services, we will do just that. That conservative guidance also hit United Parcel Service (UPS) shares, but we see that as a rising tide this holiday season as digital shopping continues to take consumer wallet share this holiday shopping season.

Both Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), Del Frisco’s (DFRG), Axon Enterprises (AXXN), Alibaba (BABA) and Netflix (NFLX) have also been hit hard, and I’m waiting for the market to stabilize before scaling into these Thematic Leader positions. As we’ve moved through the current earnings season, comments from Bloomin’ Brands (BLMN), Del Taco (TACO), Wingstop (WING), Habit Restaurant (HABT) and others, including Chipotle, have all pointed to the benefit of food deflation. Chipotle’s Big Fix continues with progress had in the September quarter and more to be had in the coming ones. Del Frisco’s will soon report its quarterly results and it too should benefit from a consumer with high sentiment and lower food costs.

With Axon, the shares remain trapped in the legal volley with Digital Ally (DGLY), but as I pointed out when we added it to the Leaders, Axon continues to expand its safety business with law enforcement and at some point, I suspect it will simply acquire Digital Ally given its $30 million market cap. Turning to Alibaba (BABA) and Netflix (NFLX), both have been hit hard by the downdraft in technology stocks, with Alibaba also serving as a proxy for the current US-China trade war. In my opinion, there is no slowing down the shift to digital streaming that is driving Netflix’s business and its proprietary content strategy is paying off, especially outside the US where it is garnering subscriber growth at price points that are above last year’s levels. This is one we will add to as things settle down.

The same is true with Alibaba – there is no slowing down the shift to the Digital Lifestyle inside of China, and as Alibaba’s other business turn from operating losses to operating profits, I expect a repeat of what we saw with Amazon shares. For now, however, the shares are likely to trade sideways until we see signs of positive developments on trade talks. Again, let’s hang tight and make our move when the time is right.

 

Downgrading Universal Display shares to the Select List

Last night Thematic Leader Universal Display (OLED) reported rather disappointing September quarter results that fell well short of expectations and guided the current quarter below expectations given that the expected rebound in organic light emitting diode materials sales wasn’t ramping as expected despite a number of new smartphones using organic light emitting diode displays. On the earnings call, the company pointed out the strides being had with the technology in other markets, such as TV and automotive that we’ve been discussing these last few months but at least for the near-term the volume application has been smartphones. In short, with that ramp failing to live up to expectations for the seasonally strongest part of the year for smartphones, it speaks volumes about what is in store for OLED shares.

By the numbers, Universal now expected 2018 revenue in the range of $240-$250, which implies $63-$73 million for the December quarter vs. $77.5 million for the September quarter and $88.3 million in the year-ago one. To frame it another way, that new revenue forecast of $240-$250 million compares to the company’s prior one of $315- $325 million and translates into a meaningful fall off vs. 2017 revenues of $335.6 million. A clear sign that the expected upkeep is not happening as fast as was expected by the Universal management team. Also, too, the first half of the calendar year tends to be a quiet one for new smartphone models hitting shelves. And yes, there will be tech and consumer product industry events like CES, CEBIT, and others in 2019 that will showcase new smartphone models, but candidly we see these new models with organic light emitting diode displays as becoming a show-me story given their premium price points. Even with Apple (AAPL) and its September quarter earnings last night, its iPhone volumes were flat year over year at 46.9 million units falling short of the 48.0 million consensus forecast.

In my view, all of this means the best case scenario in the near-term is OLED shares will be dead money. Odds are once Wall Street computes the new revenue numbers and margin impact, EPS numbers for the next few quarters will be taken down and will hang on the shares like an anchor. Given our cost basis in the shares near $101, and where the shares are likely to open up tomorrow – after market trading indicates $95-$100, down from last night’s closing price of $129.65 – we have modest downside ahead. Not bad, but again, near-term the shares are likely range bound.

Given our long-term investing style and the prospects in markets outside of the smartphone, we’re inclined to remain long-term investors. That said, given the near-term headwinds, we are demoting Universal Display shares from the Thematic Leaders to the Select List. Based on revised expectations, we are cutting our price target from $150 to $125, fully recognizing the shares are likely to rangebound for the next 1-2 quarters.

  • We are downgrading Universal Display (OLED) shares from the Thematic Leaders to the Select List and cutting our price target to $125 from $150. In the coming days, we will name a new Thematic Leader for our Disruptive Innovators investing theme.

 

Clean Living signals abound

As we hang tight, I will continue to pour through the latest thematic signals that we see day in, day out throughout the year, but I’ll also be collecting ones from the sea of earnings reports around us.

If I had just read that it would prompt me to wonder what some of the recent signals have been. As you know we post them on the Tematica Research website but during the earnings season, they can get a tad overwhelming, which is why on this week’s Cocktail Investing podcast, Lenore Hawkins (Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist) and I ran through a number of them. I encourage you to give it a listen.

Some of the signals that stood out of late center on our Clean Living investing theme. Not only did Coca-Cola (KO) chalk up its September quarter performance to its water and non-sugary beverage businesses, but this week PepsiCo (PEP) acquired plant-based nutrition bar maker Health Warrior as it continues to move into good for you products. Mondelez International (MDLZ), the company behind my personal fav Oreos as well as other cookies and snacks is launching SnackFutures, a forward-thinking innovation hub that will focus on well-being snacks and ingredients. Yep, it too is embracing our Clean Living investing theme.

Stepping outside of the food aspect of Clean Living, there has been much talk in recent months about the banning of plastic straws. Now MasterCard (MA) is looking to go one further with as it looks to develop an alternative for those plastic debit and credit cards. Some 6 billion are pushed into consumer’s hands each year. The issue is that thin, durable card is also packed with a fair amount of technology that enables transactions to occur and do so securely. A looming intersection of our Clean Living, Digital Infrastructure and Safety & Security themes to watch.

 

Turning to next week

During the week, the Atlanta Fed published its initial GDP forecast of 2.6% for the current quarter, which is essentially in line with the same forecast provided by the NY Fed’s Nowcast, and a sharp step down from the initial GDP print of 3.5% for the September quarter. Following the October Employment Report due later this week, where wage growth is likely to be more on investor minds that job gains as they contemplate the velocity of the Fed’s interest rate hikes, next week brings several additional pieces of October data. These include the October ISM Services reading and the October PPI figure. Inside the former, we’ll be assessing jobs data as well as pricing data, comparing it vs. the prior months for hints pointing to a pickup in inflation. That will set the stage for the October PPI and given the growing number of companies that have announced price increases odds are we will some hotter pricing data and that could refocus the investor spotlight back on the Fed.

Next week also brings the September JOLTS report as well as the September Consumer Credit report. Inside those data points, we expect more data on the continued mismatch between employer needs and available worker skills that is expected to spur more competitive wages.  As we examine the latest credit data, we will keep in mind that smaller banks reporting higher credit card delinquency rates while Discover Financial (DFS) and Capital One (COF) have shared they have started dialing back credit spending limits. That could put an extra layer of hurt on Middle-class Squeeze consumers this holiday season.

Also, next week, the Fed has its next FOMC meeting, and while it’s not expected to boost rates at that meeting, we can expect much investor attention to be focused on subsequent Fed head comments as well as the eventual publication of the meeting’s minutes in the coming weeks ahead of the December meeting.

On the earnings front, following this week’s more than 1,000 earnings reports next week bring another 1,100 plus reports. What this means is more than half of the S&P 500 group of companies will have issued September quarter results and shared their revised guidance. As these reports are had, we can expect consensus expectations for those companies to be refined for the balance of the year. Thus far, roughly 63% of the companies that have issued EPS guidance for the current quarter have issued negative guidance, but we have yet to see any meaningful negative revisions overall EPS expectations for the S&P 500.

Outside the economic data and corporate earnings flow next week, we also have US midterm elections. While we wait for the outcome, we would note if the Republicans maintain control of the House and Senate, it likely means a path of less resistance for President Trump’s agenda for the coming two years. Should the Democrats gain ground, which has historically been the case following a Republican presidential win, it could very well mean an even more contentious 24 months are to be had in Washington with more gridlock than not. Should that be the case, expectations for much of anything getting done in Washington in the medium-term are likely to fall.

Yes, next week will be another busy one that could challenge the recent market rebound. We’ll continue to ferret out signals for our thematic lens as we remain investors focused on the long-term opportunities to be had with thematic investing.

 

 

 

 

Weekly Issue: Adding to BABA and DRFG

Weekly Issue: Adding to BABA and DRFG

 

Key points in this issue:

  • The market hits new records, but the corporate warnings are growing
  • We are using the recent fall-off in both Rise of the New Middle-Class investment theme company Alibaba (BABA) and Guilty Pleasure theme company Del Frisco’s (DRFG) to scale into both positions. Our price targets remain $230 and $14, respectively.
  • We’re putting some perspective around the National Retail Federation’s 2018 Holiday Shopping forecast that was published yesterday.
  • As more holiday shopping forecasts emerge, and we progress through the upcoming earnings season I plan on revisiting our current $2,250 price target for Amazon (AMZN) shares. More details on the pending acquisition of PillPack are also a catalyst for us, as well as Wall Street, to boost that target.
  • Heading into the holiday shopping season, our price target on UPS shares remains $130.
  • We continue to see Costco Wholesale (COST) a prime beneficiary of the Middle-class Squeeze. Our price target on the shares remains $250.
  • What to watch in tomorrow’s September Employment Report? Wage growth.

 

The market hits new records, but the corporate warnings are growing

While we’ve seen new records for the stock market indices this week, we’ve also seen the S&P 500 little changed amid fresh September data that in aggregate points to a solid US economy. This week we received some favorable September economic news in the form of the ADP Employment Report as well as the ISM Services Index with both crushing expectations. Despite these reports, the S&P 500 has barely budged this week, which suggests to me investors are expecting a sloppy September quarter earnings season. No doubt there will be some bright spots, but in aggregate we are seeing a number of headwinds compared to this time last year that could weigh on corporate outlooks.

Already we’ve had a number of companies issuing softer than expected outlooks due to rising input and transportation costs, trade and tariffs, political wrangling ahead of the upcoming mid-term elections, renewed concerns over Italy and the eurozone, and the slower speed of the economy compared to the June quarter. A great example of that was had yesterday when shares of lighting and building management company Acuity Brands (AYI) fell more than 13% after it reported fiscal fourth-quarter profit that beat expectations, but margins fell amid a sharp rise in input costs. The company said costs were “well higher” for items such as electronic components, freight, wages, and certain commodity-related items, such as steel, due to “several economic factors, including previously announced and enacted tariffs and wage inflation due to the tight labor market…”

Acuity is not the first company to report this and odds are it will not be the last one as September quarter earnings begin to heat up next week. As the velocity of reports picks up, we could be in for a bumpy ride as investors reset their growth and profit expectations for the December quarter and 2019.  The good news is we are our eyes are wide open and we will be prepared to use any meaningful moves lower to scale into our Thematic Leader positions or other positions on the Select List provided our investment thesis remains intact. Pretty much what we’re doing this morning with Alibaba (BABA) and Del Frisco’s Restaurant (DFRG) shares. As I watch the earnings maelstrom unfold, I’ll also be keeping an eye on inflation-related comments to determine if the Fed might be falling behind the interest rate hike curve.

 

Adding to our Alibaba and Del Frisco Restaurant Thematic Leader Positions

This morning we are putting some capital to work, scaling into and improving the respective cost basis for Alibaba (BABA) and Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG), the Rise of the New Middle-Class and Guilty Pleasure Thematic Leader holdings.

Earlier this week, the administration inked a trade deal between the US-Mexico-Canada that has some incremental benefits, not yuuuuuuuge ones. But in the administration’s view, a win is a win and with that odds are the Trump administration will focus on making some progress with China trade talks. Per the recent Business Roundtable survey findings

As that happens we should see some of that overhang on BABA shares begin to fade, allowing the factors behind our original thesis to shine through. Before too long, we’ll be on the cusp of the upcoming Chinese New Year, the largest gift-giving holiday in the country, and as know from our own holiday shopping here in the US, consumer spending picks up ahead of the actual holiday.

We’re also seeing Wall Street turn more bullish on BABA shares – yesterday, they received a price target upgrade to $247 from $241 at Goldman Sachs that in its view reflects Alibaba’s expanding total addressable market with continued growth in its cloud business. We view this as more people coming around to our way of thinking on Alibaba’s business model, which closely resembles that of Amazon (AMZN) from several years ago. In short, the accelerating adoption of Alibaba’s digital platform along with the same for its cloud, streaming and mobile payment services should expand margins at the core shopping business and propel its other businesses into the black. Again, just like we’ve seen at Amazon and that has propelled the shares meaningfully higher.

Could we be early with BABA? Yes, but better to be early and patient than late is my thinking.

  • We will use the pullback in Alibaba (BABA) shares to improve our cost basis in this Rise of the New Middle-class position. Our price target on Alibaba shares remains $230.

 

Turning to Del Frisco’s, we have fresh signs that beef prices will trend lower over the next few years as beef production begins to climb. In the recently released Baseline Update for U.S. Agricultural Markets, projections through 2023, the Food and Agricultural Policy Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri estimated the average price of a 600-to 650-pound feeder steer (basis Oklahoma City) at $158.51 per hundredweight (cwt) this year, and then declining to as low as $141.06 in 2020.

As a reminder, beef prices are the biggest impact on the company’s margin profile, and falling beef prices bode extremely well for better profits ahead. Even if we see a fickle consumer emerge, which is possible, but in my view has a low probability of happening given the increase in Consumer Confidence levels, especially for the expectation component, those falling beef prices should cushion the blow.

  • We are adding to our position in Guilty Pleasure company Del Frisco’s (DFRG), which at current levels will improve our cost basis. Our price target remains $14.

 

The NRF introduces its 2018 Holiday Shopping Forecast

Yesterday, the National Retail Federation published its 2018 holiday retail sales forecast, which covers the November and December time frame and excludes automobiles, gasoline, and restaurants sales. On that basis, the NRF expects an increase between 4.3%-$4.8% over 2017 for a total of $717.45- $720.89 billion. I’d note that while the NRF tried to put a sunny outlook on that forecast by saying it compares to “an average annual increase of 3.9% over the past five years” what it did not say is its 2018 forecast calls for slower growth compared to last year’s holiday shopping increase of 5.3%.

That could be some conservatism on their part or it could reflect their concerns over gas prices and other aspects of inflation as well as higher interest costs vs. a year ago that could sap consumer buying power this holiday season. Last October the NRF expected 2017 holiday sales to grow 3.6%-4.0% year over year, well short of the 5.3% gain that was recorded so it is possible they are once again underestimating the extent to which consumers will open their wallets this holiday season. And if you’re thinking about the chart on Consumer Confidence above and what I said in regard to our adding more DFRG shares, so am I.

While I am bullish, we can’t rule out there are consumer-facing headwinds on the rise, and that is likely to accelerate the shift to digital shopping this holiday season, especially as more retailers prime the digital sales pump. As Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist, Lenore Hawkins, is fond of saying – Amazon is the deflationary Death Star, which to me supports the notion that consumers, especially those caught in our Middle-class Squeeze investing theme, will use digital shopping to offset any pinch they are feeling at the gas pump. It also means saving some dollars by not going to the mall – a double benefit if you ask me, and that’s before we even get to the time spent at the mall.

On its own Amazon would be a natural beneficiary of the seasonal pick up in shopping, but as I’ve shared before it has been not so quietly growing its private label businesses and staking out its place in the fashion and apparel industry. These moves as well as Amazon’s ability to competitively price product, plus the myriad way it makes money off its listed products and the companies behind them, mean we are entering into what should be a very profitable time of year for Amazon and its shareholders.

  • As more holiday shopping forecasts emerge, and we progress through the upcoming earnings season I plan on revisiting our current $2,250 price target for Amazon (AMZN) shares. More details on the pending acquisition of PillPack are also a catalyst for us, as well as Wall Street, to boost that target.

I’ve long said that United Parcel Service (UPS) shares are a natural beneficiary of the shift to digital shopping. With a seasonal pickup once again expected that has more companies offering digital shopping and more consumers shopping that way, odds are package volumes will once again outpace overall holiday shopping growth year over year. From a financial perspective, that means a disproportionate share of revenue and earnings are to be had at UPS, and from an investor’s perspective, that means multiple expansion is likely to be had.

  • As we head into the holiday shopping season, our price target on UPS shares remains $130.

 

Coming up – Costco earnings and the September Employment Report

After tonight’s market close, Middle-class Squeeze company Costco Wholesale (COST) will issue its latest quarterly results. Given the monthly reports that it issues, which has seen clear consumer wallet share gains in recent months and confirmed the brisk pace of new warehouse openings, we should see results tonight. As you are probably thinking, and correctly so, we are entering one of the strongest periods of the year for Costco, and that means watching not only its outlook, relative to the holiday shopping forecast we discussed above, but its membership comments and new warehouse location plans ahead of Black Friday. Two other factors to watch will be its comments on beef prices – the company is one of the largest sellers of beef in the world – and where it is seeing inflation forces at work.

In terms of consensus expectations for the quarter to be reported, Wall Street sees Costco serving up EPS of $2.36, up more than 13% year over year, on revenue of $44.27 billion, up 4.7% from the year ago quarter.

  • We continue to see Costco Wholesale (COST) a prime beneficiary of the Middle-class Squeeze. Our price target on the shares remains $250.

 

Tomorrow’s September Employment Report will cap the data filled week off. Following the blowout September ADP Employment Report, expectations for tomorrow’s report have inched up. While the number of jobs created is something to watch, the two key factors that I’ll be watching will be the payroll to population figure and wage data. The former will clue us into if we are seeing a greater portion of the US population working, while any meaningful movement in the latter will be fuel for inflation hawks. If the report’s figures for job creation and wage gains come in hotter than expected, we very well could see good news be viewed as concerning as investors connect the dots that call for potentially greater rate hike action by the Fed.

Let’s see what the report brings, and Lenore will no doubt touch on it as part of her next missive.

 

Mastercard Files More Blockchain Patent Apps 

Mastercard Files More Blockchain Patent Apps 

There has been much talk this year about the rapid rise and fall of Bitcoin. We here at Tematica have long said the far more interesting disruptor is Blockchain, and as Bitcoin has fallen hard in recent weeks, we’ve seen a flurry of renewed news flow for blockchain, including a growing number of patent filings from MasterCard, IBM, Alibaba, and others. We see those firms as looking to establish a firm position in a technology that could very well upend the financial and transactional markets. Like most other disruptors, ranging from 5G to augmented reality, this renewed blockchain newsflow could lead to a frenzy of activity in the near-term that will likely give way to a longer than expected development time. Still, blockchain is one the radar screen for our Disruptive Innovators investing theme.

 

Blockchain has been receiving attention well beyond cryptocurrencies, and the focus has shifted in part to patent filings. Though it may seem that China has dominated patent filing activity in recent weeks, a number of firms (not Alibaba) have been making their own way across the patent landscape.

In the latest news germane to intellectual property and blockchain, Mastercard has filed three patent applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, as reported this week. Amid those patent filings came details that the payments giant has developed a blockchain-based system, which aims to streamline high-volume B2B transactions. The patents are titled “Method and System for Recording Point-to-Point Transaction Processing.”

In those filings, Mastercard noted that the infrastructure underpinning B2B payments is unwieldy and still focuses on individual payment transactions. The number of transactions/settlements is on the rise, though, and there is strain on current infrastructure. The company’s embrace of digital ledger technology (DLT) can help data related to those transactions to be stored and used securely.

Recent news also follows earlier patent activity, where Mastercard patent filings seek to utilize digital signatures in signing blockchain transactions. In more patent activity in July, Mastercard filed a patent application that had been titled “Blockchain-Based Asset Bonding System to Fiat Currency Accounts,” which would pave the way for bitcoin transactions on credit cards.

Source: Mastercard Files More Blockchain Patent Apps | PYMNTS.com

Introducing The Thematic Leaders

Introducing The Thematic Leaders

 

Several weeks ago began the arduous task of recasting our investment themes, shrinking them down to 10 from the prior 17 in the process. This has resulted in a more streamlined and cohesive investment mosaic. As part of that recasting, we’ve also established a full complement of thematic positions, adding ones, such as Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and Altria (MO) in themes that have been underrepresented on the Select List. The result is a stronghold of thematic positions with each crystalizing and embodying their respective thematic tailwinds.

This culmination of these efforts is leading us to christen those 10 new Buy or rechristened Buy positions as what are calling The Thematic Leaders:

  1. Aging of the Population – AMN Healthcare (AMN)
  2. Clean Living – Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG)
  3. Digital Lifestyle – Netflix (NFLX)
  4. Digital Infrastructure –  Dycom Industries (DY)
  5. Disruptive Innovators – Universal Display (OLED)
  6. Guilty Pleasure – Altria (MO)
  7. Living the Life – Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG)
  8. Middle-Class Squeeze – Costco Wholesale (COST)
  9. Rise of the New Middle-Class – Alibaba (BABA)
  10. Safety & Security – Axon Enterprises (AAXN)

 

By now you’ve probably heard me or Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins mention how Amazon (AMZN) is the poster child of thematic investing given that it touches on nearly all of the 10 investing themes. That’s true, and that is why we are adding Amazon to the Thematic Leaders in the 11th slot. Not quite a baker’s dozen, but 11 strong thematic positions.

One question that you’ll likely have, and it’s a logical and fare one, is what does this mean for the Select List?

We wouldn’t give up on companies like Apple (AAPL), Alphabet (GOOGL), Disney (DIS), McCormick & Co. (MKC) and several other well-positioned thematic businesses that are on the Select List. So, we are keeping both with the Thematic Leaders as the ones that offer the most compelling risk-to-reward tradeoff and the greater benefit from the thematic tailwinds. When we have to make an adjustment to the list of Thematic Leaders, a company may be moved to the Select List in a move that resembles a move to a Hold from a Buy as it is replaced with a company that offers better thematic prospects and share price appreciation. Unlike Wall Street research, however, our Hold means keeping the position in intact to capture any and all additional upside.

Another way to look at it, is if asked today, which are the best thematically positioned stocks to buy today, we’d point to the Thematic Leaders list, while the Select List includes those companies that still have strong tailwinds behind their business model but for one reason or another might not be where we’d deploy additional capital. A great example is Netflix vs. Apple, both are riding the Digital Lifestyle tailwind, but at the current share price, Netflix offers far greater upside than Apple shares, which are hovering near our $225 price target.

After Apple’s Apple Watch and iPhone event last week, which in several respects underwhelmed relative to expectations despite setting up an iPhone portfolio at various price points, odds are the iPhone upgrade cycle won’t accelerate until the one for 5G. The question is will that be in 2019 or 2020? Given that 5G networks will begin next year, odds are we only see modest 5G smartphone volumes industry-wide in 2019 with accelerating volumes in 2020. Given Apple’s history, it likely means we should expect a 5G iPhone in 2020. Between now and then there are several looming positives, including its growing Services business and the much discussed but yet to be formally announced streaming video business. I continue to suspect the latter will be subscription based.  That timing fits with our long-term investing style, and as I’ve said before, we’re patient investors so I see no need to jettison AAPL shares at this time.

The bottom line is given the upside to be had, Netflix shares are on the Thematic Leaders list, while Apple shares remain on the Select List. The incremental adoption by Apple of the organic light emitting diode display technology in two of its three new iPhone models bodes rather well for shares of Universal Display (OLED), which have a $150 price target.

Other questions…

Will we revisit companies on the Select List? Absolutely. As we are seeing with Apple’s Services business as well as moves by companies like PepsiCo (PEP) and Coca-Cola (KO) that are tapping acquisitions to ride our Clean Living investing tailwind, businesses can morph over time. In some cases, it means the addition of a thematic tailwind or two can jumpstart a company’s business, while in other cases, like with Disney’s pending launch of its own streaming service, it can lead to a makeover in how investors should value its business(es).

Will companies fall off the Select List?

Sadly, yes, it will happen from time to time. When that does happen it will be due to changes in the company’s business such that its no longer riding a thematic tailwind or other circumstances emerge that make the risk to reward tradeoff untenable. One such example was had when we removed shares of Digital Infrastructure company USA Technologies (USAT) from the Select List to the uncertainties that could arise from a Board investigation into the company’s accounting practices and missed 10-K filing date.

For the full list of both the Thematic Leaders and the Select List, click here

To recap, I see this as an evolution of what we’ve been doing that more fully reflects the power of all of our investing themes. In many ways, we’re just getting started and this is the next step…. Hang on, I think you’ll love the ride as team Tematica and I continue to bring insight through our Thematic Signals, our Cocktail Investing podcast and Lenore’s Weekly Wrap.

 

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Lots of Activity Around Costco, Chipotle, Netflix and Alibaba

WEEKLY ISSUE: Lots of Activity Around Costco, Chipotle, Netflix and Alibaba

Key points inside this issue:

 

Boosting the stop loss on our Costco Wholesale calls

Our shares of Costco Wholesale (COST) on the Tematica Investing Select List have been on a tear of late, rising 20% since June 1. We chalk this up to the data that shows consumers contending with rising prices while wage gains lag behind – in other words supporting data for COST shares and our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme.

With last night’s COST closing price at $235.61, our Costco Wholesale (COST) January 2019 230.00 (COST190118C00230000) calls have moved past their strike price, finishing trading at 14.55, up 120% from our 6.60 buy in just over a month ago. Quite a move and one that we want to protect, which is why we are boosting our stop loss level to 13.20 from 10.00, locking in a 100% return on the position.

Just because we are smartening up our defense, doesn’t mean we’ve exhausted the potential upside in COST share or our calls. After tonight’s close, Costco will report its August same-store-sales results, and if the string of impressive reports continues, which I think likely, we are likely to see Wall Street boost its price targets on COST shares. If that occurs, we should see our calls continue to chug higher. I’ll be analyzing the report once it hits the tape after tomorrow’s market close, and if we need to make some adjustments with our call position, I’ll be sure to issue a special alert. I remain bullish on the underlying COST shares as we head into the shopping filled last few months of the year.

 

Adding a call option play on Chipotle shares

As part of our Clean Living investing theme, we very recently added the shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) to the Tematica Investing Select List. As I noted with that addition, CMG shares have been volatile of late, but the company’s new management team is in the midst of implementing its turnaround strategy that has been dubbed the “Big Fix.” Having recently eaten at a Chipotle, I can attest to a new found cleanliness in the restaurant, and far better-tasting food with better service than I have seen in months. That’s the low hanging fruit in the turnaround strategy with more to come, which should attract old and new diners even before the marketing, digital reward and delivery aspects of the strategy take hold.

As we’ve seen before, these turnarounds take time and sometimes they can get caught up in a few steps forward and one or two back. For that reason, we are going to cast a wide berth on CMG call options, looking to capture the potential turnaround benefits over the next two quarters. That lands us in January, and we will select the 500 strike price because of the upside to be had in the shares and due to those being the most liquid of the January 2019 calls.

 

Housekeeping on our stopped out Netflix and Alibaba calls

This week’s pressure on the technology stalks including shares of streaming video and original content company Netflix (NFLX), which pushed our two call option positions below their respective stop loss levels. While those stops not only limited potential losses but resulted in our keeping two profitable positions intact. To be more specific, we were stopped out of the Netflix (NFLX) Jan 2019 400.00 (NFLX190118C00400000)calls at 20.00 yesterday, well above their closing price of 14.45, which netted a profit of more than 26% given our 15.80 entry point.

Turning to the Netflix (NFLX) Jan 2019 350 calls (NFLX190118C00350000) calls, we were stopped out at 40.00, which resulted in a return of just over 29% since adding the calls less than two weeks ago at 30.90. Last night those calls closed at 31.00.

We were also stopped out of our Alibaba Feb. 2019 180.00 calls (BABA190215C00180000) as they crossed our 10.00 stop loss on their way to closing last night at 8.60. While we’re never pleased with a losing position, our use of the stop loss tool capped our losses at just 34.5% vs. the potential loss of almost 44% based on last night’s closing price.

These stop outs are never fun, and while they can leave a bitter taste in our mouths, as in the Alibaba case, strategic usage can help lock in gains when the underlying shares get a little topsy-turvy. We’ll let the recent volatility of the underlying Netflix and Alibaba shares, we’ll sit back and let the shares cool off before revisiting alternative call option positions.

 

 

Booking some gains, boosting stop losses levels and new call recommendation as well

Given the holiday weekend that for many is the last summer hurrah for many folks, we’re coming at you a day earlier than usual lest we fall victim to even lower trading volumes during this historically quiet trading week. Over at Tematica Investing, I’ve been doing some pruning and repositioning on the Select List, and in today’s issue, we’re doing more of that by exiting Habit Restaurant (HABT) shares, with a tasty gain, and adding Alibaba (BABA) shares to the fold as a Digital Lifestyle company.

In that issue, I walk you through my rationale, which includes not only the continued adoption of the Digital Lifestyle in China but Alibaba’s other business – cloud, media and innovation projects – are on the cusp of being drags on the overall profit picture to profit generators. To me, this looks like the same situation Amazon was in several years ago – an -commerce platform that was driving the ship with some questions as to whether or not it could be profitable.

Today, EPS expectations for Amazon in 2019 are $25.37 up from -$0.52 in 2014 due in part to smart investments in recent years as well as the continued growth in Amazon Web Services. While many compare Alibaba and Amazon, this is one area in which Alibaba differs from Amazon as the company is already profitable even though its cloud business is a drag on profits.

As I write in this week’s Tematica Investing:

In coming months, odds are we will see continued growth in China digital commerce as China consumers build up for the year-end holidays and Chinese New Year. That along with other gains in its cloud and digital media businesses should see Alibaba closing the profit gap leading to not only more comparisons to Amazon, but to multiple expansion to a PEG ratio of 1.1x that offers upside to $230, if not more.

Chinese New Year is the biggest gift giving holiday in China and in 2019 it begins on Feb. 5 and lasts for 7 days. That timetable as well as the current share price have me adding the Alibaba Feb. 2019 180.00 calls (BABA190215C00180000)that closed last night at 15.26 to the Select List. I’m setting a wider than usual stop loss at 10.00 given the extended time table, and our strategy will be to either scale deeper into the position or add a layered one should the opportunity present itself.

Taking some chips off the table for our Costco calls

To fund this new position, we’re going to trim back our position in the Costco Wholesale (COST) January 2019 230.00 (COST190118C00230000)calls that closed last night at 10.89, 65% higher than our buy price on Aug. 1. I’m selling half the position on the Select List, a prudent move in my opinion, and keeping the balance in place to capture the additional upside. As you make this trade, you should also boost your stop loss to 10.00 from 8.50, which should ensure a minimum return of just over 50% on this remaining slug of Costco calls.

 

Boosting our Netflix stop loss levels

With the recent surge in Netflix (NFLX) shares, our layered call option approach for the shares has also paid off rather nicely of late. As of last night’s close, our Netflix (NFLX) Jan 2019 400.00 (NFLX190118C00400000)closed at 23.00 while our Netflix (NFLX) Jan 2019 350 calls (NFLX190118C00350000)finished trading at 45.50 and both are up 45%-47% from our initial buy-in prices.

While I continue to see more upside ahead for the underlying Netflix shares, given my $500 price target, we want to do the smart thing with the calls full well knowing how volatile call options can be. Therefore, we are:

As Netflix shares churn higher, I’ll look to revisit those stop loss levels.

 

Housekeeping: Stopped out of our IFF calls

In yesterday’s trading, our International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) Nov 2018 135 calls (IFF181116C00135000)calls hit a low of 2.40, which tripped our 2.50 stop loss. Given our 3.02 buy price, the position generated a return of just over 17%.

 

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Booking more Habit gains and redeploying into another Digital Lifestyle investment

WEEKLY ISSUE: Booking more Habit gains and redeploying into another Digital Lifestyle investment

Key points in this issue

  • We are issuing a Sell on Habit Restaurant (HABT) shares and removing them from the Tematica Investing Select List. As we say goodbye to Habit, we’d note the position generated a blended return of more than 80% over the last four months.
  • We are issuing a Buy on Alibaba (BABA) shares as part of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme with a $230 price target.
  • Chatter over Apple’s (AAPL) potential new products begins to swell ahead of its upcoming Fall event, and it’s looking for our Universal Display (OLED) shares as well. Our price targets for AAPL and OLED shares remain $225 and $150, respectively.

 

Exiting Habit Restaurant Shares

A few weeks ago we took some of our Habit Restaurant (HABT) shares off the table, which gave us a tasty 68% profit on that half of the position. In the ensuing weeks, Habit shares have continued their climb higher and with last night’s close, the remaining portion of our HABTshares were up almost 89% from our early May buy. Not only is that a hefty profit, but it equates to a very rich valuation as well.

As of last night’s close, HABTshares were trading at 278x expected 2019 EPS of $0.06 vs. a PE range of 16-80 for peers that that range from El Poll Loco (LOCO) to Shake Shack (SHAK). On a price to sales basis, HABTshares are trading near 1.15x expected 2018 sales, well ahead of the 0.9x takeout multiple at which Zoe’s Kitchen is being acquired by Cava Mezza Grill.

As we often hear, it pays not to fall in love with the stock one owns, lest we are tempted to not do the prudent thing. I still like the Habit Restaurant story, and that goes for its Ahi Tuna burger as well. That said, given the phenomenal run and rich valuation, I’m calling it a day and removing HABTshares from the Tematica Investing Select List. I’ll be keeping tabs on the company and its geographic expansion in the coming months, but I’d be more inclined to revisit the shares at a more reasonable set of valuation metrics.

  • We are issuing a Sell on Habit Restaurant (HABT) shares and removing them from the Tematica Investing Select List. As we say goodbye to Habit, we’d note the position generated a blended return of more than 80% over the last four months.

Gearing into Alibaba Shares

One of the shortcomings in the perspective for most investors is they tend to be focused on the geographic region in which they reside. Given the global nature of our investment themes, I try to keep an open mind and look for thematic opportunities no matter where they are. One such company that sits at the crossroads of our Digital Lifestyle and Rise of the New Middle-Class investments, and has a dash of Disruptive Innovators and Digital Infrastructure is Alibaba (BABA). Alibaba has long been heralded as the Amazon (AMZN) of China given its position in digital shopping (84% of revenue) but that’s about where the similarities end…. For now.

Last week Alibaba reported its latest quarterly results, in which revenue hit $12.23 billion for the quarter, beating consensus expectations of $12.02 billion. Paired with double-digit earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) growth is more than overshadowing a $0.02 per share miss on the company’s bottom line, which came in at $1.22 per share.

At Alibaba, all the company’s operating profit is derived from its core commerce business with the remaining 16% of its revenue stream spread across cloud, digital media and innovation initiatives all weighing on that profit stream. By comparison, Amazon’s Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the company’s profit and cash flow secret weapon as I like to call it.

That’s the negative, but if we look at the year over year comparisons of the non-core commerce businesses, not only are they growing quickly, but year over year Alibaba is shrinking their losses across the board.

In many respects this is similar to one of the key concerns investors once had with Amazon not too long ago — can it turn a consistent profit? We have seen Amazon do just that for a number of quarters in a row, and investors have removed that objection, which has sent AMZN shares significantly higher.

With Alibaba, the question is not whether those businesses become profitable, but rather when. Yes, much like Amazon, Alibaba continues to invest for future growth as evidenced by the level of capital spending in the June quarter vs. the year ago and declining cash on the balance sheet.

Both of these reflect investments to — much like Amazon — move past its core commerce platforms, into physical retail and food-delivery services, as well as expanding its footprint in areas such as logistics and in overseas markets.

That said, the company is benefiting from the continued tailwinds of the Digital Lifestyle investment theme. This is evidenced by the continued growth in both active consumers on its retail marketplace as well as mobile monthly active users. Exiting June, the company’s annual active consumers reached 576 million, up nearly 24% year over year, while its mobile monthly active users hit 634 million, up 20% year over year.

Much like Amazon’s Prime business, as Alibaba expands its scope of product and services, at least in the near-term, it should continue to win new users and retain existing ones. Also much like Amazon, Alibaba will continue to grab incremental consumer wallet share. The combination should continue to drive top-line growth and pull its non-core commerce businesses into the black.

Following last week’s earnings report, consensus EPS sits at $5.71 per share, up from the $4.78 achieved in 2017, with expectations of $7.75 in 2019. What the math shows is an expectation for roughly 27% EPS growth over the 2017-2019 time frame, and against that backdrop BABA shares are trading at a PEG ratio of 0.85 based on 2019 EPS expectations.

In coming months, odds are we will see continued growth in China digital commerce as China consumers build up for the year-end holidays and Chinese New Year. That along with other gains in its cloud and digital media businesses should see Alibaba closing the profit gap leading to not only more comparisons to Amazon but to multiple expansion to a PEG ratio of 1.1x that offers upside to $230, if not more.

The one obvious risk is the impact of trade and tariffs between the U.S. and China, which stepped up today. My thinking is given the slowing economic data of late from China and potential mid-term election risk, President Trump could be angling for an October-early November trade win. Not only would that send the overall U.S. stock market higher, but it would remove the trade concerns from BABA shares as well.

  • We are issuing a Buy on Alibaba (BABA) shares as part of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme with a $230 price target.

 

Apple ChatterCcontinues to Build Ahead of its 2018 Product Launch

With Apple’s (AAPL) annual fall event inching closer, chatter about new products is increasing and the internet is filling up with speculation over the number of iPhones and other products that the company could ship later this year. The current buzz has three new models being released:

  • an iPhone X successor
  • a new 6.5-inch iPhone X Plus
  • a mass-market 6.1-inch LCD iPhone with thin bezels and Face ID just like the iPhone X

Accompanying this chatter is speculation concerning the impact on Apple shipments, with DigiTimes saying “new iPhone shipments should hit 70-75 million units through the end of the year, the highest level since the iPhone 6/6 Plus super cycle. This number is purely on new 2018 iPhone shipments, it does not include sales of older generations.”

These happenings help explain the favorable move higher in Apple shares registered in recent days as well as for fellow Select List holding Universal Display (OLED).

Based on the rumblings, it looks like Apple will have two iPhone models utilizing organic light-emitting diode display technologies, up from just one last year, a positive for Universal’s chemical and IP business, especially as shipments of those model will likely continue to grow in 2019. Remember, too, that some months ago Apple was expected to fully transition its iPhone lineup to organic light-emitting diode displays with its 2019 lineup. Going from one model to two or three of its new models appears to be a confirming step as organic light emitting diode capacity expands and display prices come down.

I continue to see an improving outlook for OLED shares as smartphone competitors follow suit and adopt the organic light-emitting diode technology, and its uses expand into other markets (interior automotive lighting, specialty lighting and eventually general illumination, much the way light emitting diodes did). Our price target on OLED shares remains $150.

With Apple, I expect the shares to continue to melt up ahead of its rumored mid- September event and look to revisit our $225 price target based on products the company does announce, not rumors.

  • Chatter over Apple’s (AAPL) potential new products begins to swell ahead of its upcoming Fall event, and it’s looking for our Universal Display (OLED) shares as well. Our price targets for AAPL and OLED shares remain $225 and $150, respectively.