Adding downside protection and naming a new Thematic Leader

Adding downside protection and naming a new Thematic Leader

Key points inside this issue

  • As more investors reassess coming growth expectations, we are adding ProShares Short S&P500 (SH) to hedge both the Thematic Leaders and the Select List. While not a thematic position but one that will limit near-term downside, we will evaluate this position on as needed basis in the coming weeks.
  • Calling Nokia up to the Thematic Leaders
  • Adding Skyworks Solutions to the Contender’s List
  • Cannabis rumors swirl around Altria

 

Adding some downside protection with SH shares

It’s not often we get a mid-week break for the stock market, and the reason behind yesterday’s stock market closure was a solemn one. It did offer a respite from the wild swing we saw in the market between Monday and Tuesday, which resulted in a demonstrable move lower for all the major market indices. As I shared on Monday, despite the seeming forward motion on US-China trade, there remains much work to be done and a number of headwinds that, as expected, are leading investors to question 2019 EPS growth prospects.

Yesterday, China’s Commerce Ministry released a statement calling trade talks between Presidents Xi and Trump at the G20 Summit in Argentina “very successful.” The statement said the Chinese and U.S. trade and economic delegations will “actively advance the work of consultation” in 90 days in accord with “a clear timetable” and “road map” but offered little concrete details. Odds are this will add to the uncertainty that led Monday’s rally to finish the day off its highs and helped drive the market lower on Tuesday.

In my view, this will keep the market on pins and needles as we digest the coming economic data points to be had that I shared on Monday as well as those for next week that include November reports for inflation, Retail Sales and Industrial Production. As more investors question earnings growth prospects vs. the current stock market multiple, the risk is we could see more downside, especially if those same investors suspect tariffs will indeed be eventually raised to 25% from 10% along with further interest rate hikes. A recent survey of 500 institutional investors by Natixis showed that 65% see a change coming, with the biggest threats being geopolitical tensions and rising interest rates. Between the wage data to be had in Friday’s Employment Report and next week’s PPI and CPI reports, we also run the risk of seeing potentially hawkish comments following today’s latest Fed Beige Book. That report showed tariff driven price increases have spread more broadly through the U.S. economy.

As we get these and other data points ahead of the Fed’s essentially baked in the cake rate hike on December 19, I’ll continue to heed the Thematic Signals we collect each week. Given the market mood, however, I’m adding some downside protection to help insulate subscriber assets in the near-term in the form of ProShares Short S&P500 (SH), an inverse ETF for the S&P 500.

  • As more investors reassess coming growth expectations, we are adding ProShares Short S&P500 (SH) to hedge both the Thematic Leaders and the Select List. While not a thematic position but one that will limit near-term downside, we will evaluate this position on as needed basis in the coming weeks.

 

Samsung set to bring 5G into the prime time

Amid the trade news between the United States and China out of the G-20 summit, there was other news that we’ve been waiting on patiently. Subscribers know that one of our core investment thesis for our positions in Dycom Industries (DY),  AXT Inc. (AXTI), Nokia (NOK) and to a lesser extent Applied Materials (AMAT) shares is the deployment of 5G networks and devices. In the last few months, we’ve heard of beta rollouts from both AT&T Inc. (T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) as well as fixed wireless testing that could be a replacement for broadband to the home. The thing that has been missing is the to-date elusive announcement on a 5G smartphone that will ride 5G networks and their data speeds, something that will make the speed of the current 4G LTE network look something out of the dial-up days. If you remember those days, you know what I’m talking about — all that’s missing is the wonky connect garble noise.

Let me rephrase: That announcement was elusive until this past Monday when Verizon shared that smartphone users in the United States will be able to use Verizon’s 5G wireless network in the first half of 2019 starting with devices from Samsung. While details of the devices were scant — no models or price points — it is expected that Samsung will be revealing a proof concept this week at the annual Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) Snapdragon Summit in Maui, Hawaii. Given the location of the unveiling, it seems like a sure bet Qualcomm and its chipsets will be powering the device. No surprise, considering that Samsung long has been a core customer of Qualcomm.

The key point here is the largest smartphone company by volume will be debuting its first 5G market in the coming months.

 

Calling Nokia up to the Thematic Leaders

From our perspective, I see this development as confirming our view on a few levels. Operators are not ones to launch a network unless devices are available for them to monetize that network and all the investments that led to it. That’s a positive for Nokia as it confirms the pending multi-year upswing in 5G infrastructure demand is firmly in front of it, as is the opportunity for its IP licensing business. Second, given Verizon’s timetable of “the first half of 2019,” it means the supply chain soon will be firing up to deliver the components necessary for these devices, including the incremental number of RF (radio frequency) semiconductors needed for 5G. That means incremental wafer demand for AXT during what is a seasonally slow period for smartphones.

As a result, I am calling shares of Nokia up from the Select List to the Thematic Leaders to fill the Disruptive Innovatorsvoid. With Samsung, AT&T, and Verizon having now laid out a timetable for 5G deployments for both networks and devices, we now have a far firmer timetable for a pick up in demand for mobile infrastructure business as well as high margin licensing business. My price target on NOK shares remains $8.50.

  • We are adding Nokia (NOK) shares to the Thematic Leaders for our Disruptive Innovators investing theme. Our price target remains $8.50

 

Adding Skyworks Solutions to the Contender’s List

That incremental RF semiconductor demand for 5G I mentioned a few paragraphs above also means more power amplifiers, switches, filters and other components that will once again increase the dollar content per device for Skyworks Solutions (SWKS) and its competitors. We’ve owned SWKS shares before, and more recently they’ve been battered around as more signs of stalling smartphone demand have emerged leading suppliers to cut their forecasts.

I’ve no intention in jumping into that fray ahead of the seasonally slowest time of the year for smartphone demand – the first half of the calendar year. Rather, we’ll put a pin in SWKS shares, add them to the Contender List and look to revisit them as a Disruptive Innovator play as we either put the March quarter behind us or a new US-China trade deal is inked.

 

Cannabis rumors swirl around Altria

After we published Monday’s Tematica Investing issue, there was much chatter suggesting that Guilty Pleasure Thematic Leader Altria Group (MO) could be interested in acquiring Cronos Group (CRON), a Canadian cannabis company. That speculation sent CRON shares 11% higher on the day and also lifted MO.

As you know, I have held the view that Altria would look to diversify its business away from tobacco and ride the wave of cannabis legalization in the U.S. The key here is legalization across the entire U.S., which would ease manufacturing, distribution, sales and marketing efforts by Altria rather than being an ad-hoc effort. Until the federal ban is lifted, there are also issues with how a company such as Altria would deposit its revenue and profits.

For those looking at Cronos as a positive for Altria’s U.S. business, I think that is a bit presumptuous as the timing of U.S. cannabis legalization remains tenuous. A potential acquisition such as this, however, would give Altria a toehold in the cannabis space, which is legal in Canada, and allow it to learn the business and test market product for an eventual launch in the U.S. when the time is right.

For now, a potential acquisition of Cronos is just speculation, but in principle, it fits with our long-term view of where Altria is likely headed. Now we have to see what Altria does next.

 

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Taking Positions Off the Board and Reallocating Into Existing Positions

WEEKLY ISSUE: Taking Positions Off the Board and Reallocating Into Existing Positions

Key points from this issue

  • We are exiting the shares of Paccar (PCAR), which had an essentially neutral impact on the Select List;
  • We are exiting the shares of Rockwell Automation (ROK), which were a drag of more than 11% on the Select List;
  • We are exiting the shares of GSV Capital (GSVC), which in full returned a modest decline since we added the shares back in April.
  • We are scaling into shares of Applied Materials (AMAT) at current levels and keeping our long-term price target of $70 intact.
  • We are scaling into shares of Netflix (NFLX) at current levels and keeping our long-term price target of $500 in place.

 

After the S&P 500 hit an all-time high yesterday, if the stock market finishes higher today it will mean the current bull market will be 3,453 days old, which will make it the longest on record by most definitions. For those market history buffs, as of last night’s market close, it tied the one that ran from October 1990 to March 2000.

Even as the S&P 500 hit an all-time high yesterday thus far in 2018 it’s up 7.1%. By comparison, we have a number of positions on the Tematica Investing Select List that are up considerably more. Among them are Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Costco Wholesale (COST), ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK), Habit Restaurant (HABT), McCormick & Co. (MKC), and USA Technologies (USAT). Not that I’m prone to bragging, rather I’m offering a gentle reminder of the power to be had with thematic investing vs. the herd and sector-based investing.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been recasting our investing themes, which in some cases has given rise to a new theme like Digital Infrastructure, combined a few prior themes into the more cohesive Digital Lifestyle and Middle-Class Squeeze ones, and expanded the scope of our Clean Living theme. In the next few weeks, I’ll finish the task at hand as well as ensure we have a stock recommendation for each of what will be our 10 investment themes.

As part of that effort, I’m re-classifying USA Technologies (USAT) shares as part of our Digital Infrastructure investing theme. The shares join Dycom Industries (DY) in this theme.

 

Pruning PCAR, ROK and GSVC shares

Once we pass the approaching Labor Day holiday, we will be off to the races with the usual end of the year sprint. For that reason, we’re going to take what is normally the last two relatively quiet weeks of August to do some pruning. This will go hand in hand with the ongoing investment theme reconstitution that will eliminate the stand-alone Economic Acceleration/Deceleration and Tooling & Re-tooling investment themes. As such, we’re saying goodbye to shares of Paccar (PCAR) and Rockwell Collins (ROK). We’ll also shed the shares of GSV Capital (GSVC), which are going to be largely driven by share price movements in Spotify (SPOT) and Dropbox (DBX). As the lock-up period with both of those newly public companies come and go, I’ll look to revisit both of them with an eye to our Digital Lifestyle and Digital Infrastructure investing themes.

  • We are exiting the shares of Paccar (PCAR), which had an essentially neutral impact on the Select List;
  • We are exiting the shares of Rockwell Automation (ROK), which were a drag of more than 11% on the Select List;
  • We are exiting the shares of GSV Capital (GSVC), which in full returned a modest decline since we added the shares back in April.

 

Scaling into Applied Materials and Netflix shares

We’ll use a portion of that returned capital to scale into shares of Applied Materials (AMAT), which approached their 52-week low late last week following the company’s quarterly earnings report that included an earnings beat but served up a softer than expected outlook.

Applied’s guidance called for sales of $3.85-$4.15 billion vs. analyst consensus outlook of $4.45 billion. On the company’s earnings conference call, CEO Gary Dickerson confirmed worries that slower smartphone growth could cause chipmakers to rein in capital spending and reduce demand for chipmaking equipment in the near- term. That’s the bad news, the good news is Applied sees double-digit growth in 2019 for each of its businesses and remains comfortable with its 2020 EPS forecast of $5.08.

From my perspective, I continue to see the several aspects of our Disruptive Innovators investing theme – augmented and virtual reality, 5G, artificial intelligence, Big Data and others – as well as growing storage and memory demands for connected devices driving semiconductor capital equipment demands. There is also the rising install base of semiconductor capital equipment inside China, and with Apple turning to China suppliers over Taiwanese ones to contain costs it likely means a rebound in China demand when the current US-China trade imbroglio ends.

As we wait for that, I suspect Applied will continue to use its stock buyback program During its recently closed quarter, Applied repurchased $1.25 billion or 25 million shares of stock and the company has about $5 billion remaining in buyback authorization. Applied’s next quarterly dividend of $0.20 per share will be paid on Sept. 13 to shareholders of record on Aug. 23.

  • We are scaling into shares of Applied Materials (AMAT) at current levels and keeping our long-term price target remains $70 intact.

Turning to Netflix (NFLX) shares, they are down some just under 20% from where I first added them to the Select List several weeks ago. My thesis on the shares remains unchanged, and I continue to see its streaming video service and original content as one of the cornerstones of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme. Adding to the shares at current levels will serve to reduce our cost basis from just under $420 to just under $380.

  • We are scaling into shares of Netflix (NFLX) at current levels and keeping our long-term price target of $500 in place.

 

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: The Potential Impact Tariffs Will Have on 2nd Half Earnings

WEEKLY ISSUE: The Potential Impact Tariffs Will Have on 2nd Half Earnings

 

Given the way the Fourth of July holiday falls this year, we strongly suspect the back of the week will be quieter than usual. For those reasons, we’re coming at you earlier than usual this week. And while we have your attention, Tematica will be dark next week as we recharge our batteries ahead of the 2Q 2018 earnings onslaught that kicks off on July 16.

With the housekeeping stuff out of the way, let’s get to this week’s issue…

Closing the bookS on 1Q 2018

Last Friday, we closed the books on the second quarter, and while it’s true all four major US stock market indices delivered positive returns, the last three months were far more volatile than most expected back in January. Year to date, the Dow Jones Industrial Average remains modestly in the red and the S&P 500 modestly in the green. By comparison, despite being overshadowed in the second quarter by the small-cap heavy Russell 2000, the Nasdaq Composite Index finished the first half of the year with a 9% gain.

From a Tematica Investing Select List perspective, there we a number of outperformers to be had including Alphabet (GOOGL), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Costco Wholesale (COST), ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK), McCormick & Co. (MKC), USA Technologies (USAT). To paraphrase one of team Tematica’s favorite movies, Star Wards, our themes are strong with those companies. As much as we like the accolades to be had with performing positions, there are ones such as Dycom Industries (DY), Nokia (NOK), AXT Inc. (AXTI) and Applied Materials (AMAT) that had a challenging few months but they too should be seeing the benefits of thematic tailwinds in the coming months.

During the quarter, we did some fine tuning with the Select List, adding shares of GSV Capital (GSVC), Habit Restaurant (HABT) and Farmland Partners (FPI). We also shed our positions in Starbucks (SBUX), LSI Industries (LYTS), Corning (GLW) and International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) during the second quarter. In making those moves, we’ve enhanced the Select List’s position for the back half of 2018 as the focus for investors centers on the impact of trade and tariffs on revenue and earnings. Let’s discuss…

 

First Harley Davidson, then BMW and General Motors

Last week we were reminded that trade wars and escalating tariffs increasingly are on the minds of investors. Something that at first was thought would be short-lived has grown into something far more pronounced and widespread, with tariffs potentially being exchanged among the U.S., China, the European Union, Mexico and Canada. As we discussed Harley-Davidson (HOG) shared that its motorcycle business will be whacked by President Trump’s decision to impose a new 25% tariff on steel imports from the EU and a 10% tariff on imported aluminum.

We soon heard from BMW (BMWG) that U.S. tariffs on imported cars could lead it to reduce investment and cut jobs in the United States due to the large number of cars it exports from its South Carolina plant. Soon thereafter, General Motors (GM) warned that if President Trump pushed ahead with another wave of tariffs, the move could backfire, leading to “less investment, fewer jobs and lower wages” for its employees. Then yesterday, citing a state-by-state analysis, the new campaign argues that Trump is risking a global trade war that will hit the wallets of U.S. consumers,  the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shared it would launch a campaign to oppose Trump’s trade tariff policies.

With up to $50 billion in additional tariffs being placed on Chinese goods after July 6, continued tariff retaliation by China and others could lead to a major reset of earnings expectations in the back half of 2018. And ahead of that potential phase-in date, Canada’s foreign minister announced plans to impose about $12.6 billion worth of retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods beginning yesterday. Not all companies may swallow the tariffs the way Harley Davidson is choosing to, which likely means consumers and business will be paying higher prices in the coming months. That will show up in the inflation metrics, and most likely lead to the Fed being more aggressive on interest rate hikes than previously thought.

As part of our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme, a growing number of consumers are already seeing their buying power erode, and if the gaming out of what could come it means more folks will be shopping with Amazon (AMZN) and Costco Wholesale (COST) and consumer McCormick & Co. (MKC) products.

 

Falling investor sentiment sets the stage for 2Q 2018 earnings

All of this, is weighing on the market mood and investor sentiment as we get ready for the 2Q 2018 earnings season. Remember that earlier this year, investors were expecting earnings to rise as the benefits of tax reform were thought to jumpstart the economy and if Harley Davidson is the canary in the coal mine, we are likely going to see those expectations reset lower. We could see management teams offer “everything and the kitchen sink” explanations should they rejigger their outlooks to factor in potential tariff implications, and their words are likely to be met with a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality by investors.

Helping fan the flames of that investor mindset, the Citibank Economic Surprise Index (CESI) has dropped into negative territory. We’ve discussed this indicator before as has Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins, but as a quick reminder CESI tracks the rate that U.S. economic indicators come in better or worse than estimates over a rolling three-month period. When indicators are better than expected, the CESI is in positive territory and when indicators disappoint, it is negative.

As Lenore pointed out in last week’s Weekly Wrap:

While the CESI has just dropped into negative territory, let’s add some context and perspective — the index has had an impressive run of 188 trading days of positive readings, the longest such streak by 37 days in the 15-year history of the index. Now some of that reflects the enthusiasm surrounding tax reform and its economic prospects from the start of the year, but economic reality is now hitting those earlier expectations. Odds are the reality as seen through the trade and tariff glasses will continue to weigh on the CESI in the coming weeks, adding to investor anxiety.

I’d point out the level of anxiety hit Fear last week on the CNNMoney Fear & Greed Index, down from Neutral a month ago. But there is reason to think it will not rebound quite so quickly…

 

Here’s the question investors are pondering

The growing question in investors’ minds is likely to center on the potential impact in the second half of 2018 from these tariffs if they are enacted for something longer than a short period. While GDP expectations for the current quarter have climbed, the concern we have is the cost side of the equation for both companies and consumers, thanks in part to Harley-Davidson’s recent comments.

We have yet to see any meaningful change to the 2018 consensus earnings forecast for the S&P 500 this year, which currently sits around $160.85 per share, up roughly 12% year over year. But we will soon be entering second-quarter earnings season and could very well see results and comments lead to expectation changes that run the risk of weighing on the market. Given the upsizing of corporate buyback programs over the last few months due in part to tax reform, any potential pullback could be muted as companies scoop up shares and pave the way for further EPS growth as they shrink their share count. That means we’ll be increasingly focused on the internals of earnings reports as well as new order and backlog metrics.

There are roughly a handful of companies reporting this week, and next week sees a modest pick-up in reports, with roughly 25 companies issuing their latest quarterly results. It’s the week after, that sees the number of earnings reports mushroom to more than 220. We’ll enjoy the slower pace over the next two weeks as we get ready for that onslaught, but we will be paying close attention to comments on potential tariff impacts in the second half of 2018 and what that means for earnings expectations for both the market as well as companies on the Select List.

 

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Trade and Tariffs, the Words of the Week

WEEKLY ISSUE: Trade and Tariffs, the Words of the Week

 

KEY POINTS FROM THIS WEEK’S ISSUE:

  • We are issuing a Sell on the shares of MGM Resorts (MGM) and removing them from the Tematica Investing Select List.
  • While the markets are reacting mainly in a “shoot first and ask questions later” nature, given the widening nature of the recent tariffs there are several safe havens that patient investors must consider.
  • We are recasting several of our Investment Themes to better reflect the changing winds.

 

Investor Reaction to All the Tariff Talk

Over the last two days, the domestic stock market has sold off some 16.7 points for the S&P 500, roughly 0.6%. That’s far less than the talking heads would suggest as they focus on the Dow Jones Industrial Average that has fallen more than 390 points since Friday’s close, roughly 1.6%. Those moves pushed the Dow into negative territory for 2018 and dragged the returns for the other major market indices lower. Those retreats in the major market indices are due to escalating tariff announcements, which are raising uncertainty in the markets and prompting investors to shoot first and ask questions later. We’ve seen this before, but we grant you the causing agent behind it this time is rather different.

What makes the current environment more challenging is not only the escalating and widening nature of the tariffs on more countries than just China, but also the impact they will have on supply chain part of the equation. So, the “pain” will be felt not just on the end product, but rather where a company sources its parts and components. That means the implications are wider spread than “just” steel and aluminum. One example is NXP Semiconductor (NXPI), whose chips are used in a variety of smartphone and other applications – the shares are down some 3.7% over the last two days.

With trade and tariffs being the words of the day, if not the week, we have seen investors bid up small-cap stocks, especially ones that are domestically focused. While the other major domestic stock market indices have fallen over the last few days, as we noted above, the small-cap, domestic-heavy Russell 2000 is actually up since last Friday’s close, rising roughly 8.5 points or 0.5% as of last night’s market close. Tracing that index back, as trade and tariff talk has grown over the last several weeks, it’s quietly become the best performing market index.

 

A Run-Down of the Select List Amid These Changing Trade Winds

On the Tematica Investing Select List, we have more than a few companies whose business models are heavily focused on the domestic market and should see some benefit from the added tailwinds the international trade and tariff talk is providing. These include:

  • Costco Wholesale (COST)
  • Dycom Industries (DY)
  • Habit Restaurants (HABT)
  • Farmland Partners (FPI)
  • LSI Industries (LYTS)
  • Paccar (PCAR)
  • United Parcel Services (UPS)

We’ve also seen our shares of McCormick & Co. (MKC) rise as the tariff back-and-forth has picked up. We attribute this to the inelastic nature of the McCormick’s products — people need to eat no matter what — and the company’s rising dividend policy, which helps make it a safe-haven port in a storm.

Based on the latest global economic data, it once again appears that the US is becoming the best market in the market. Based on the findings of the May NFIB Small Business Optimism Index, that looks to continue. Per the NFIB, that index increased in May to the second highest level in the NFIB survey’s 45-year history. Inside the report, the percentage of business owners reporting capital outlays rose to 62%, with 47% spending on new equipment, 24% acquiring vehicles, and 16% improving expanded facilities. Moreover, 30% plan capital outlays in the next few months, which also bodes well for our Rockwell Automation (ROK) shares.

Last night’s May reading for the American Trucking Association’s Truck Tonnage Index also supports this view. That May reading increased slightly from the previous month, but on a year over year basis, it was up 7.8%. A more robust figure for North American freight volumes was had with the May data for the Cass Freight Index, which reported an 11.9% year over year increase in shipments for the month. Given the report’s comment that “demand is exceeding capacity in most modes of transportation,” I’ll continue to keep shares of heavy and medium duty truck manufacturer Paccar (PCAR) on the select list.

The ones to watch

With all of that said, we do have several positions that we are closely monitoring amid the escalating trade and tariff landscape, including

  • Apple (AAPL),
  • Applied Materials (AMAT)
  • AXT Inc. (AXTI)
  • MGM Resorts (MGM)
  • Nokia (NOK)
  • Universal Display (OLED)

With Apple we have the growing services business and the eventual 5G upgrade cycle as well as the company’s capital return program that will help buoy the shares in the near-term. Reports that it will be spared from the tariffs are also helping. With Applied, China is looking to grow its in-country semi-cap capacity, which means semi- cap companies could see their businesses as a bargaining chip in the short-term. Longer- term, if China wants to grow that capacity it means an eventual pick up in business is likely in the cards. Other drivers such as 5G, Internet of Things, AR, VR, and more will spur incremental demand for chips as well. It’s pretty much a timing issue in our minds, and Applied’s increased dividend and buyback program will help shield the shares from the worst of it.

Both AXT and Nokia serve US-based companies, but also foreign ones, including ones in China given the global nature of smartphone component building blocks as well as mobile infrastructure equipment. Over the last few weeks, the case for 5G continues to strengthen, but if these tariffs go into effect and last, they could lead to a short-term disruption in their business models. Last week, Nokia announced a multi-year business services deal with Wipro (WIT) and alongside Nokia, Verizon (VZ) announced several 5G milestones with Verizon remaining committed to launching residential 5G in four markets during the back half of 2018. That follows the prior week’s news of a successful 5G test for Nokia with T-Mobile USA (TMUS) that paves the way for the commercial deployment of that network.

In those cases, I’ll continue to monitor the trade and tariff developments, and take action when are where necessary.

 

Pulling the plug on MGM shares

With MGM, however, I’m concerned about the potential impact to be had not only in Macau but also on China tourism to the US, which could hamper activity on the Las Vegas strip. While we’re down modestly in this Guilty Pleasure company, as the saying goes, better safe than sorry and that has us cutting MGM shares from the Select List.

  • We are issuing a Sell on the shares of MGM Resorts (MGM) and removing them from the Tematica Investing Select List

 

Sticking with the thematic program

On a somewhat positive note, as the market pulls back we will likely see well-positioned companies at better prices. Yes, we’ll have to navigate the tariffs and understand if and how a company may be impacted, but to us, it’s all part of identifying the right companies, with the right drivers at the right prices for the medium to long-term. That’s served us well thus far, and we’ll continue to follow the guiding light, our North Star, that is our thematic lens. It’s that lens that has led to returns like the following in the active Tematica Investing Select List.

  • Alphabet (GOOGL): 60%
  • Amazon (AMZN): 133%
  • Costco Wholesale (COST) : 30%
  • ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK): 34%
  • USA Technologies (USAT): 62%

Over the last several weeks, we’ve added several new positions – Farmland Partners (FPI), Dycom Industries (DY), Habit Restaurant (HABT) and AXT Inc. (AXTI) to the active select list as well as Universal Display (OLED) shares. As of last night’s, market close the first three are up nicely, but our OLED shares are once again under pressure amid rumor and speculation over the mix of upcoming iPhone models that will use organic light emitting diode displays. When I added the shares back to the Select List, it hinged not on the 2018 models but the ones for 2019. Let’s be patient and prepare to use incremental weakness to our long-term advantage.

 

Recasting Several of our investment themes

Inside Tematica, not only are we constantly examining data points as they relate to our investment themes we are also reviewing the investing themes that we have in place to make sure they are still relevant and relatable. As part of that exercise and when appropriate, we’ll also rename a theme.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing these repositions and renamings with you, and then providing a cheat sheet that will sum up all the changes. As I run through these I’ll also be calling out the best-positioned company as well as supplying some examples of the ones benefitting from the theme’s tailwinds and ones marching headlong into the headwinds.

First up, will be a recasting of our Rise & Fall of the Middle-Class theme.  As the current name suggests, there are two aspects of this theme — the “Rise” and the “Fall” part. It can be confusing to some, so we’re splitting it into two themes.  The “Rise” portion will be “The New Global Middle Class” and will reflect the rapidly expanding middle class markets particularly in Asia and South America. On the other hand, the “Fall” portion will be recast as “The Middle Class Squeeze” to reflect the shrinking middle class in the United States and the realities that poses to our consumer-driven economy.

We’ll have a detailed report to you in the coming days on the recasting of these two themes, how it impacts the current Select List as well as other companies we see as well-positioned given the tailwinds of each theme.

 

 

SPECIAL ALERT: Calling this Disruptive Technology Company back up to the Select List

SPECIAL ALERT: Calling this Disruptive Technology Company back up to the Select List

 

  • We are issuing a Buy on shares of Universal Display (OLED), a Disruptive Technology company, with a $175 price target.

This morning I am calling shares of Universal Display (OLED) back up to the Tematica Investing Select List on reports from South Korea’s ETNews that Apple (AAPL) intends to fully transition its iPhone line up to organic light emitting diode displays with its 2019 models. As the organic light emitting diode  industry continues to ramp capacity in order to meet full demand by Apple and others, I expect to see pricing become more favorable for Apple and others, which should help restrain iPhone price creep in 2019 and beyond. As a reminder, the price of the iPhone X is one of the most cited reasons for its high price point, with one of the key reasons for that price tag being the cost of the organic light emitting diode display that is currently sole sources from Samsung.

As a reminder, Tematica’s Disruptive Technology investment theme focuses on companies that upend existing business models as new technologies come to market. I see Universal Display and its organic light emitting diode technology doing just that to the display industry and eventually the lighting industry as well, just the way light emitting diode displays did. These disruptions can take time and are often filled with setbacks that punish stock prices, much like we have seen with OLED shares over the last several months. As those setbacks fade, however, the adoption resumes and the Apple news suggests that is about to happen for organic light emitting diode displays, a major positive for OLED shares.

Being cautious as OLED shares may get ahead of themselves in the near-term

I expect OLED shares to jump on this news, perhaps even get a tad ahead of themselves in the near-term, but I will keep in mind the ramp for Apple’s 2019 iPhone models will begin in earnest in roughly 12 months from now. During that time, I expect current industry capacity issues to be digested and additional capacity added, which will also be a positive for the display equipment business at our Applied Materials (AMAT) shares.

I point this out because it’s still widely expected that Apple will introduce three new iPhone models this year with some combination of organic light emitting diode and liquid crystal displays (LCDs). Some reports suggest Apple has scaled back volume expectations for iPhone models with organic light emitting diode displays this year in favor of lower cost LCD ones, likely to help it regain share with more affordable models.  In my view, the push-pull between the lineup display choices between this year and 2019 likely reflects a combination of sufficient organic light emitting diode capacity for Apple’s full iPhone lineup and near-term pricing for the displays.

What this means is there are likely to be fits and starts for Universal Display along the way as other smartphone and device manufacturers incrementally chew up existing industry ahead of the 2019 Apple ramp. Should this pan out, it will give us the opportunity to scale into this OLED position, potentially at better prices.

In terms of sign posts I’ll be watching over the coming quarters, organic light emitting diode industry capacity utilization data, new order metrics from Applied and smartphone display choices by other top competitors such as Samsung, Huawei and others.

A conservative price target… for now

With the add back of OLED shares, I am instilling a price target of $175, but as we did before I will continue to monitor the speed of organic light emitting diode adoption and adjust that target accordingly in the coming months.

While some may ask questions over that 51x price to earnings multiple on currently expected 2019 EPS of $3.42 per share I offer two thoughts. First, as the Apple ramp unfolds, odds are 2019 EPS expectations will move higher. Second, even if those 2019 expectations don’t move higher, which is unlikely, OLED shares are currently trading at a price to earnings growth (PEG) ratio of 0.35 based on the compound annual earnings growth rate of 82% over the 2015-2019 period. My $175 target equates to a PEG ratio of 0.6 on current 2019 EPS expectations. In my view, the Apple news is the catalyst that will move shares higher, but it will take the expected ramp becoming a reality that will push the shares closer to a PEG ratio of 1.0 over the coming several quarters.

  • We are issuing a Buy on shares of Universal Display (OLED), a Disruptive Technology company, with a $175 price target.

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Adding back a specialty contractor to Select List

WEEKLY ISSUE: Adding back a specialty contractor to Select List

 

  • We are issuing a Buy on Dycom Industries (DY) shares with a $125 price target as part of our Connected Society investing theme.
  • We are adding LendingClub (LC) shares to the Tematica Investing Contender List and will revisit the shares following the resolution of the current FTC complaint.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) and Amazon (AMZN) shares remain $210 and $1,750, respectively.
  • Our long-term price target on shares of Applied Materials (AMAT) remains $70.

As we inch along in the second half of the current quarter, the stock market is once again dealing with the flip-flopping on foreign trade. Last week there appeared to be modest progress between China and the US but following comments from President Trump on the pending summit with North Korea and “no deal” regarding China’s bankrupt ZTE, trade uncertainty is once again gripping the markets. Several weeks ago, I cautioned we were likely in for some turbulent weeks – some up some down – as these negotiations got underway. In my view, there will be much back and forth, which will keep the stock market on edge. I’ll continue to utilize our thematic lens and look for compelling long-term opportunities in the coming weeks, just like the one we are about to discuss…

 

Adding back shares of Dycom (DY) to the Tematica Investing Select List

Late last summer, we exited our position in specialty contractor and Connected Society food chain company Dycom Industries (DY) that serves the mobile and broadband infrastructure markets. Yesterday, following an earnings miss and reduced guidance from the company, its share dropped 20% to $92.64. The reason for the miss and outlook revisions stemmed from weather-related concerns during the February and March months as well as protracted timing associated with key next-gen network buildouts.

Clearly disappointing, but we have seen such timing issues before in the buildouts of both 3G and 4G/LTE networks before. In today’s stock market that double disappointment hit DY shares, no different than it has other companies that have come up short this earnings season.

We’ve often used pronounced pullbacks in existing positions to sweeten our average cost basis, and today we’re going to use this drop in DY shares to add them back to the Tematica Investing Select List.

Why?

Two reasons.

First, the inevitability of 5G network deployments from key customers (AT&T) and Verizon (VZ). Those two alongside their competitors have Sprint (S) and T-Mobile (TMUS) have committed to launching 5G networks by year-end, with a buildout to a national footprint to follow over the ensuing quarters. AT&T and Verizon accounted for 24% and 16% of the quarter’s revenue with Comcast (CMCSA) clocking in at just under 22% and Centurylink (CTL:NYSE) around 12%. This positions Dycom extremely well not only for the pending 5G buildout, but also the gigabit fiber one that is underway at cable operators like Comcast. Amid the timing disruptions with AT&T and Centurylink that led to the earnings disappointment and outlook cut, Dycom called out solid progress with Verizon, as its revenue rose more than 80% year over year. There’s also an added bonus – Dycom has little exposure to Sprint and T-Mobile, which are planning to merge and based on what we’ve seen in the past that means spending cuts are likely to be had as they consolidate existing assets and capital expansion plans.

Here’s the thing, while it is easy to get caught up in yesterday’s DY share price drop, it’s akin to missing the forest for the trees given the network upgrades and next-gen buildouts that will occur not over the coming months, but over the coming quarters.

Dissecting Dycom’s quarterly earnings and revised outlook that calls for EPS of $1.78-$1.93 in the first half of the year, to hit its new full-year target EPS of $4.26-$5.15 it means delivering EPS of $2.98-$3.22 in the back half of the year. In other words, a pronounced pick up in business activity that likely hinges on a pickup in network buildout activity from its customers.

I do expect Wall Street price target revisions and analyst commentary to weigh on DY shares in the near-term. Even I am cutting my once $140 price target for the shares to $125. That $140 target was based on 2019 EPS of $7.10 per share and given the company’s comments yesterday I expect 2019 EPS forecasts to be revised down to the $6.00-$6.50 range.

As the 5G buildout gets under way, the reality is that several quarters from now, such EPS and price target cuts could prove to be conservative, but I’d rather be in the position to raise our price target as the company beats EPS expectations. That revised 2019 EPS range derives a price target for DY shares of $120-$130. For now, we’ll split the difference at $125, which still offers almost 35% upside from current share price levels.

  • We are issuing a Buy on Dycom Industries (DY) shares with a $125 price target as part of our Connected Society investing theme.

 

Putting LendingClub shares onto the Contender List

As team Tematica has been discussing over the last several weeks in our writings and on our Cocktail Investing Podcast, we’re seeing increasing signs of inflation in the systems from both hard and soft data points. This likely means the Fed will boost rates four not three times in 2018 with additional rate hikes to be had 2019. That’s what’s in the front windshield of the investing car, while inside we are getting more data that points to a stretched consumer.

  • Per the May 2018 Consumer Debt Outlook report from Lending Tree (TREE), Americans are on pace to amass a collective $4 trillion in consumer debt by the end of 2018. This means Americans are spending more than 26% of their income on consumer debt, up from 22% in 2010 with the bulk of that increase due to non-house related borrowing.
  • The Charles Schwab’s (SCHW) 2018 Modern Wealth Index that reveals three in five Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.
  • A new report from the Federal Reserve finds that 40% of Americans could not cover an unexpected $400 expense and 25% of Americans have no retirement savings.

 

As consumer debt grows, it’s going to become even more expensive to service as the Fed further increases interest rates. On its recent quarterly earnings conference call, LendingClub’s (LC) CFO Tom Casey shared that “Borrowers are starting to see the increased cost of credit as most credit card debt is indexed to prime, which has moved up 75 basis points from a year ago…We have observed a number of lenders increase rates to borrowers…We know that consumers are feeling the increase in rates.”

Again, that’s before the Fed rate hikes that are to come.

The bottom line is it likely means more debt and higher interest payments that lead to less disposable income for consumers to spend. Unfortunately, we see this as a tailwind for our Cash-strapped Consumer investing theme as well as a headwind for consumer spending and the economy. We’ve seen the power of this tailwind in monthly retail same store sales from Costco Wholesale (COST), which have simply been off the charts, and in monthly Retail Sales reports that show departments stores, sporting goods stores and others continue to lose consumer wallet share at the expense of non-store retailers like Amazon (AMZN). The drive is the need to stretch what disposable spending dollars a consumer has.

The reality is, however, that those that lack sufficient funds will seek out alternatives. In some cases that means adding to their borrowings, often times at less than attractive rates.

With that in mind, above I mentioned LendingClub. For those unfamiliar with the company, it 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 platform. 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 decisioning 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 LendingClub’s partnership program.

LendingClub’s second largest revenue stream is derived from investor 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.

The core loan origination transaction fee business along with the consensus price target of $5.00, which offers compelling upside from the current share prices, has caught my interest. However, there is one very good reason for why I am recommending we wait on LC shares.

It’s because the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed a complaint against LendingClub, charging that it has misled consumers and has been deducting hidden fees from loan proceeds issued to borrowers. Moreover, as stated in the FTC’s complaint, Lending Club recognized that its hidden fee was a significant problem for consumers, and an internal review by the company noted that its claims about the fee and the amount consumers would receive “could be perceived as deceptive as it is likely to mislead the consumer.”

Given the potential fallout, which could pressure LC shares, we’ll sit on the sidelines with LendingClub and look for other companies that are positioned to capitalize on this particular Cash-strapped Consumer pain point.

  • We are adding LendingClub (LC) shares to the Tematica Investing Contender List and will revisit the shares following the resolution of the current FTC complaint.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) and Amazon (AMZN) shares remain $210 and $1,750, respectively.

 

Sticking with shares of Applied Materials

Last week Disruptive Technology company Applied Materials (AMAT) reported quarterly results that once again topped expectations but guided the current quarter below expectations. As I mentioned above with Dycom shares, the current market mood is less than forgiving in these situations and that led AMAT shares to give back much of the gains made in the first half of May.

The shortfall relative to expectations reflected reported weakness in high end smartphones, which is slowing capital additions for both chips and organic light-emitting diode display equipment. This is the latest in a growing number of red flags on smartphone demand, which in my view is likely to be the latest transition period in the world of smartphones. For those wondering about our Apple (AAPL) shares, the company already issued a sequentially down iPhone forecast when it reported its own earnings several weeks back as it upsized its own buyback program.

Again, looking back on my Dycom comments above, mobile carriers are about to embark on building out their 5G networks, which will drive incremental RF semiconductor chip demand as well as drive demand for new applications, such as semi-autonomous and autonomous cars. I see 5G devices with near broadband data speeds driving the next smartphone upgrade cycle. When that happens, there are also other technologies, such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and virtual reality that will be moving into a greater number of these and other devices. On its earnings call, Applied shared it’s starting to see ramping demand for artificial intelligence, big data a cloud related applications. I see more of this happening in the coming quarters… again, the long-term forest vs. the quarterly tree… and I haven’t even mentioned the internet of things (IoT).

Another driver I’m watching for Applied’s semi-cap business is the ongoing buildout of in-China semiconductor capacity. The item to watch for this is The National Integrated Circuitry Investment Fund, which represents the Chinese government’s primary vehicle to develop the domestic semiconductor supply chain and become competitive with the U.S.  chip industry leader the US. That fund is reportedly closing in on an upsized 300 billion-yuan fund ($47.4 billion) fund vs. the expected 120 billion-yuan ($18.98 billion) to support the domestic chip sector. As we have seen in the headlines with ZTE as well as the Broadcom (AVGO) bid for Qualcomm (QCOM), the semiconductor industry has taken a leading role in the current U.S.-China trade conflict. As I continue to watch these trade discussions play out, I’ll only be assessing implications for the National Integrated Circuitry Investment Fund and our Applied Materials shares.

In terms of organic light emitting diode displays and revisiting shares of Universal Display (OLED), the industry is still in a digestion period given the capacity ramp for that technology and the smartphone transition I touched on above. We’ve got OLED shares on the Tematica Investing Contender List and I’ll be watching them and signs of ramping demand as we move through the summer months.

While we wait, I expect Applied will continue to put its robust share repurchase program to use. As we learned in its quarterly earnings report last week, during the quarter, Applied used $2.5 billion of its $8.8 billion share repurchase authorization to repurchase 44 million shares, roughly 4% of the outstanding share count coming into the quarter. I suspect that once the post-earnings quiet period is over, Applied will be putting more of that program to work. I see that as limiting downside from current levels.

Finally, a quick reminder that come June, Applied will be paying its first $0.20 per share dividend.

  • Our long-term price target on shares of Applied Materials (AMAT) remains $70.
  • As we monitor signs of organic light emitting diode display demand, we continue to have shares of Universal Display on the Tematica Investing Contender List

 

 

Trade Alert: Adding AMAT Calls Before Earnings

 

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ALERT

  • Heading into Applied Material’s quarterly earnings report tomorrow night, we’re adding the Applied Materials (AMAT) June 55.00 calls (AMAT180622C00055000)that closed last night at 2.04. As we do this, we’re setting a stop loss at 1.50 for the options.
  • We continue to have a short position in Funko (FNKO) shares, and our buy stop level remains at $10.00
  • If Target shares (TGT) breach our $75.00 buy stop level, we’ll step to the side with short trade and re-assess adjusted downside to had with the shares in the coming weeks.
  • Housekeeping: We were stopped out of Cummins Inc. June 2018 150.00 calls (CMI180615C00150000) earlier this week.

 

We are coming to you a day earlier than usual with Tematica Options+ for a few reasons this week. First, I’ll be traveling but second, I want to give subscribers enough time to get our new recommendation before the underlying company reports its quarterly earnings after tomorrow night’s close. With that in mind, let’s cut the chit-chat and get to it.

Adding a call option play on Applied Materials (AMAT)

Regular readers of Tematica Investing now we’ve had a long-term position in Applied Materials (AMAT), which I see as a Disruptive Technologies company given the combination of its semiconductor capital equipment and display business. With regard to the core semiconductor capital equipment business, I continue to see longer-term opportunities for it associated with a number of emerging technologies and applications (growing memory demand, 5G chips sets, 3D sensing, smarter automobiles and homes, and augmented reality to virtual reality and the Internet of Things) that will drive incremental chip demand in the coming years.

I’m also hearing that China’s state-backed semiconductor fund, The National Integrated Circuitry Investment Fund, is closing in on an upsized 300 billion-yuan fund ($47.4 billion) fund vs. the expected 120 billion-yuan ($18.98 billion) to support the domestic chip sector. This buildout was one of my focal points behind adding AMAT shares to the Tematica Select List over a year ago.

As the current earnings season got underway, we heard very positive commentary on the semiconductor capital equipment market from several competitors, including Lam Research (LRCX). This lays the groundwork for an upbeat report despite the softness we are seeing in the organic light emitting diode display market over the last few months and are expected to in the near-term.

For Applied, expectations call for it to deliver EPS of $1.14 on revenue of $4.45 billion after tomorrow night’s close. For those at home keeping score, those figures are up 44% and 26%, respectively, on a year over year basis. Aside from the positive competitor commentary, let’s remember that Applied had $8.8 billion remaining under its share repurchase program coming into its most recent quarter. Given the volatility of AMAT shares over the last several weeks, odds are the company put that program to work, which would shrink its share count for the quarter and for upcoming ones. In other words, there is a high probability of very favorable EPS comparisons to be had tomorrow night and a boost to the company’s EPS outlook relative to expectations.

 

Checking in on Funko shares

Shares of pop culture company Funko (FNKO) moved against us last week following modestly better than expected quarterly earnings. It appears my thesis for our short position – the negative impact to be had from the Toys R Us bankruptcy and liquidation sales – is taking longer to play out than expected. At the same time, FNKO shares have moved deep into overbought territory. I counsel patience with this position, especially coming out of yesterday’s April Retail Sales report that showed continued weakness in the line item that corresponds to Funko’s business — Sporting goods, hobby, book & music stores.

With real wages largely unchanged, rising gas prices and debt servicing taking a bigger bite out of disposable income, I’m inclined to keep our sort position on this business that hinges on discretionary spending intact. If the market continues to move higher in the near-term, the risk we run is we could get stopped out of FNKO shares.

  • We continue to have a short position in Funko (FNKO) shares and our buy stop level remains at $10.00

 

Watching our Target short

Also spinning out of the April Retail Sales report, general merchandise stores, like Target (TGT), continued to lag overall retail sales gains during the month and over the last three month. Despite that loss of wallet share, Target shares are trading up today in tandem with Macy’s (M), which reported better than expected bottom line results. Even after stripping out the positive impact of tax reform and share buybacks, Macy’s pre-tax income was still up more than expected but let’s remember that Macy’s has a robust online business – very different than Target.

If Target shares (TGT) breach our $75.00 buy stop level, we’ll step to the side with short trade and re-assess adjusted downside to had with the shares in the coming weeks.

 

Housekeeping!

Earlier this week we were stopped out of Cummins Inc. June 2018 150.00 calls (CMI180615C00150000). I continue to hear more this earnings season over the rising transportation costs and rising new truck orders. I’ll keep this on the back burner and look to re-engage in the coming weeks.

 

 

 

Weekly Issue: Many Confirming Data Points from Retail Sales Report

Weekly Issue: Many Confirming Data Points from Retail Sales Report

 

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ISSUE:

  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $1,750
  • Our price target on United Parcel Service (UPS) remains $130
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) remains $210.
  • Our price target on Habit Restaurant (HABT) shares remains $11.50
  • Our price target on Applied Materials (AMAT) shares remains $65.
  • Our price target on Apple (AAPL) shares remains $200.

 

Yesterday, we received the latest monthly Retail Sales report and it once again confirmed not only several of our investing themes, but also several of our Tematica Investing Select List holdings as well. While I and others at Team Tematica put these and other such reports through the grinder to ensure we understand what the data is telling us, I have to say some reports are more of a pleasure to read than others. In this case, it was a great read. First, let’s dig into the actual report and then follow up with some thematic insight and commentary. 

April Retail Sales – the data and comments

Per the Census Bureau, April total Retail Sales & Food Services rose 4.7% year over year, with the core Retail Sales ex-auto parts and food services up 4.8% compared to April 2017. A modest downtick compared to the year over year growth registered in March, but a tad higher than the February comparison.

Subscribers will not be bowled over to learn the two key retail drivers were gas stations (up 11.7% year over year) followed by Nonstore retailers (9.6%). The two categories that have been a drag on the overall retail comparisons – Sporting goods, hobby, book & music stores and Department Stores – continued to do the same in April falling  1.1% and 1.6%, respectively. Scanning the last few months, the data tells us things have gotten tougher for those two categories as the last three months have happened.

With gas stations sales up nearly 11% over the last three months compared to 2017, real hourly earning’s barely up per the latest from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and consumer debt up to 26% of average disposable income (vs. 22% during the financial crisis per the latest LendingTree Consumer Debt Outlook) there’s no way to sugar coat it – something had to give and those two continue to take the brunt of the pain. As gas prices look to move even higher as we switch over to more costly summer gas blends and interest rates poised to move higher, it means consumers will continue to see discretionary spending dollars under pressure.

In keeping with our Connected Society and Cash-strapped consumer investing themes, consumers are turning to digital shopping to hunt down bargains and deals, while also saving a few extra bucks by not heading to the mall. That is, of course, positive confirmation for our position in Amazon (AMZN) shares as well as United Parcel Service (UPS) shares, which have had a quiet resurgence thus far in 2018. That move serves to remind us that connecting the dots can lead to some very profitable investments, and as I like to say – no matter what you order from Amazon or other online shopping locations, the goods still need to get to you or the person for which they are intended. I continue to see UPS as a natural beneficiary of the accelerating shift toward digital commerce.

  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $1,750
  • Our price target on United Parcel Service (UPS) remains $130

 

April retail sales confirms our bullish stance on Costco

Costco Wholesale (COST) shares have been on a tear since their February bottom, and in my view each month we get a positive confirmation when Costco reports its monthly sales data as increasingly Cash-strapped Consumers look to stretch their disposable dollars was had in Costco Wholesale’s (COST) April same-store-sales report. For the month, Costco’s US sales excluding gas and foreign exchange rose 7.9%, once again showing the company continues to take consumer wallet share. As for the critics over how, late Costco had been to digital commerce, over the last few months its e-commerce sales have been up 31%-41% each month. While still an overall small part of Costco’s revenue stream, the management team continues to expand its digital offerings putting it ahead of many traditional brick & mortar focused retailers.

Finally, we need to touch on one of the key profit generators at Costco – membership fee revenue, which is tied to new warehouse openings.  If we look at the company’s recent quarterly earnings report we find that 73% of its operating profit is tied to that line item. As part of its monthly sale report, Costco provides an updated warehouse location count as well. Exiting April Costco operated 749 warehouse locations around the globe, the bulk of which are in the U.S. and that compares to 729 warehouses exiting April 2017. That number should climb by another 17 new locations by the end of August and paves the way for continued EPS growth in the coming quarters.

  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) remains $210.

 

Two favorable data points for recently added Habit Restaurant shares

Last week, we added shares of Habit Restaurant (HABT) to the Tematica Investing Select List with an $11.50 price target. Since then, we’ve had two positive data points, including one found in yesterday’s Retail Sales report. The first data point was from TDn2K, a firm that closely watches monthly restaurant sales. For the month of April, TDN2K reported same-store sales for the month rose 1.5%, the best showing in over 30 months. The April Retail Sales report showed year over year April retail sales at Food services & drinking places rose 3.8%, bringing the trailing 3-month total to up 3.6% on a year over year basis.

While our investment thesis on HABT centers on the company’s geographic expansion, these data points point to an improving business for its existing locations. Paired with the pending menu price increase, we see this data pointing a stronger operating environment in the coming quarters.

  • Our price target on Habit Restaurant (HABT) shares remains $11.50

 

Gearing up for earnings from Applied Materials

After tomorrow night’s close Disruptive Technologies company Applied Materials (AMAT) will report its quarterly earnings. Expectations call for it to deliver EPS of $1.14 on revenue of $4.45 billion. For those at home keeping score, those figures are up 44% and 26%, respectively, on a year over year basis.

As the current earnings season got underway, we heard very positive commentary on the semiconductor capital equipment market from several competitors, including Lam Research (LRCX). This lays the groundwork for an upbeat report despite the softness we are seeing in the organic light emitting diode display market. With more smartphone models poised to adopt that display technology, including more favorably priced ones from Apple (AAPL), Applied’s outlook for its Display business tomorrow night could be the canary in the coal mine for shares of Universal Display (OLED).

With regard to the core semiconductor capital equipment business, I continue to see longer-term opportunities for it associated with a number of emerging technologies and applications (growing memory demand, 5G chips sets, 3D sensing, smarter automobiles and homes, and augmented reality to virtual reality and the Internet of Things) that will drive incremental chip demand in the coming years. I’m also hearing that China’s state-backed semiconductor fund, The National Integrated Circuitry Investment Fund, is closing in on an upsized 300 billion-yuan fund ($47.4 billion) fund vs. the expected 120 billion-yuan ($18.98 billion) to support the domestic chip sector. This buildout was one of my focal points behind adding AMAT shares to the Select List over a year ago.

Since then AMAT shares are up more than 50%, and this upsized demand from China is poised to drive them even higher in my view. Before that can happen, however, the semiconductor industry has taken a leading role in the current U.S.-China trade conflict. This means I’ll continue to monitor this development closely.

As we get ready for the upcoming earnings report, let’s also remember Applied buyback program. I suspect the company was in buying shares during the April lows. We’ll get a better sense when we compare year over year share counts once I have the earnings report in my hands.

  • Our price target on Applied Materials (AMAT) shares remains $65.

 

Tim Cook confirms Apple’s move into original content

Apple’s move into original content has to be one of the worst-kept secrets in some time. There have been hiring’s of key people for key roles as well as content partners that have spilled the beans, but now Apple CEO Tim Cook quietly confirmed the move while appearing on “The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations” on Bloomberg Television by saying

“We are very interested in the content business. We will be playing in a way that is consistent with our brand,” Cook told Bloomberg. “We’re not ready to give any details on it yet. But it’s clearly an area of interest.”

A summary of that conversation can be found here, and my $0.02 on this is Apple will be looking to leverage original content to increase the sticky factor for its devices as well as attract new customers for those devices. This is similar to the strategy behind its services business that includes iCloud, Apple Music, Apple Pay and other offerings. We could hear more of this in a few weeks at Apple’s 2018 World Wide Developer Conference but given the expectation for its content to roll out after March 2019 odds are we won’t hear much just yet.

  • Our price target on Apple (AAPL) shares remains $200.

 

 

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Robust Earnings and March Retail Sales Bode Well for Select List

WEEKLY ISSUE: Robust Earnings and March Retail Sales Bode Well for Select List

 

Once again, the stock market has shrugged off moves in the geopolitical landscape and mixed economic data to start the week off higher. Not surprising as the highly anticipated 1Q 2018 earnings season has gotten underway and based on what we saw the last two days so far so good. For the record, we had 44 companies that reported better than expected top and bottom line results, a number of them high profile companies such Bank of America (BAC), Netflix (NFLX), Goldman Sachs (GS), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), and CSX (CSX).

Like I said, so far so good, and while we’re getting some additional nice EPS beats this morning, we’re still very early on in the 1Q 2018 earnings season. Make no mistake, it’s encouraging, but we have a long way to go until we can size up 1Q 2018 earnings performance vs. the high bar of expectation that calls for roughly 18% EPS growth year over year for the S&P 500.

That’s why I’ll continue to parse the data — earnings and otherwise — as it comes through. Last week and this week, we’ll get more of that for March, and that means we can get a view on how those data streams performed in full for 1Q 2018. Case in point, on Monday we received the March Retail Sales Report, which on its face came in at 0.6%, better than expected, and excluding autos and food services the metric also 0.6% vs. February. That translated into a 4.7% increase for retail ex-auto and food services year over year for the month. Stepping back, the data found in Table 2of the report showed that line item rose 4.3% year over year for all of 1Q 2018.

With that information, we can size up which categories contained in the report gained wallet share and identify those that lost it. The two big winners for 1Q 2018 were gasoline stations, up 9.7%, which was no surprise given the rise in gas prices over the last three months, and Nonstore retailers, which also rose 9.7%. We see that data as very favorable for our Amazon (AMZN) shares and boding well for Costco Wholesale (COST) given its growing e-commerce business. Contrasting that figure against the -0.6% for department store sales in 1Q 2108 confirms the ongoing shift in how and where consumers are shopping. Not good news in our view for the likes of JC Penney (JCP) and other mall anchor tenants.

The hardest hit category during 1Q 2018 was Sporting Goods, hobby, book & music stores, which fell 4% year over year. Remember, we’re seeing these categories impacted as well by the shift to digital commerce, streaming services such as newly public Spotify (SPOT) and programs like Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited that looks to be the Netflix (NFLX) of books, audiobooks, and magazines. In my view, the other shoe to drop for this Retail Sales Report category is the Toys R Us bankruptcy that is poised to do to the toy industry what the Sports Authority bankruptcy and subsequent liquidation sales did to Under Armour (UAA), Nike (NKE) and Adidas among others. We’ll get a better picture on that when toy company Mattel (MAT) reports its quarterly results later this week.

I’d also call out that Clothing & Clothing Accessories store retail sales for 1Q 2018 rose just 3.0%, signaling slower growth than overall retail sales – a sign that consumers are spending their disposable dollars on other things or elsewhere. Over the last year, we’ve more than touched on the transformation that is underway with digital shopping, and we continue to see Amazon as extremely well positioned. Likely augmenting that Amazon has moved its Amazon Prime Wardrobe service, its “try before you buy offering,” from beta to launch.

Of course, it requires Prime membership and we see this service as helping drive incremental Prime subscriptions, especially as Amazon continues to improve its apparel offering, both private label and branded. Another headwind to clothing retailers looks to be had in Walmart’s (WMT) upcoming website overhaul that is being reported to have a “fashion destination” that will leverage its partnership with Lord & Taylor. With branded apparel companies looking to reach consumers, some with their own Direct 2 Consumer businesses and others by leveraging third party logistic infrastructure, we’ll keep tabs on Walmart’s progress and what it means for brick & mortar clothing sales. If you’re thinking this should keep our Buy rating on shares of United Parcel Service (UPS), you’re absolutely right.

The bottom line is the March Retail Sales report served to confirm our bullish view on both Connected Society companies Amazon and UPS as well as Cash-Strapped Consumer play Costco.

  • Our price target on Amazon remains $1,750
  • Given its strong monthly same-store sales data and ongoing wallet share gains as it opens additional warehouse locations, we are boosting our Costco Wholesale (COST) price target to $210 from $200
  • Our long-term price target on United Parcel Service (UPS) shares remains $130

 

 

Robust Earnings from Lam Research Bode Well for Applied Materials

Last night Applied Materials (AMAT) competitor Lam Research reported stellar 1Q 2018 earnings and issued an outlook that topped Wall Street expectations. For the quarter, shipments of its semiconductor capital equipment rose 19% year over year, which led revenue to climb more than 30% year over year for the quarter. Higher volumes and better pricing led to margin expansion and fueled a $0.43 per share earnings beat with EPS of $4.79. All in all, a very solid quarter for Lam, but also one that tell us demand for chip equipment remains strong. Those conditions led Lam to guide current quarter revenue to $2.95-$3.25 billion vs. the consensus view of $2.94 billion.

From growing memory demand, 5G chips sets, 3D sensing, smarter automobiles and homes, and augmented reality to virtual reality and the Internet of Things, we continue to see a number of emerging technologies that are part of our Disruptive Technologies investing theme driving incremental chip demand in the coming years that will fuel demand for semi-cap equipment. We see this as a very favorable tailwind for our Applied Materials shares. Also, let’s not forget Applied’s recently upsized dividend and buyback programs, which, in my view limits potential downside in the shares.

  • Our price target on shares of Applied Materials (AMAT) remains $70.

 

The Habit Restaurant – Loving the Burgers and Shakes, but Not the Shares Just Yet

People need to eat. That’s a pretty recognizable fact. Some may eat more than others, some may eat less; some may eat meat, others may not. But at the end of the day, we need food to survive, but in some cases for comfort at the end of a long day.

As investors, we recognize this and that means considering where and what consumers eat, and also identifying companies that are poised to benefit from other opportunities as well. One such opportunity is geographic expansion, and with restaurants, it often means expanding across the United States.

Typically, expansion is driven by new store openings, which in turn drive sales. Tracing back its expansion over the last several years, Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) had to build up to 2,363 locations. Even with that number of locations, per Chipotle’s recently filed 10-K, the company still expects to “open between 130 and 150 new restaurants in 2018.” At that pace, it would take quite a while before Chipotle had as many locations as McDonald’s (MCD) (more than 14,000) or Starbucks (SBUX) (just under 14,000) in the U.S. exiting last year.

A little over a year ago, Restaurant Brands (QSR), the company behind Tim Hortons and Burger King, acquired Popeye’s in part for food-related synergies but also the opportunity to grow Popeye’s through geographic expansion. In 2016, Popeye’s had some 2,600 locations compared to more than 7,500 Burger Kings in the U.S. For those wondering, that’s greater than the 2,251 locations Jack in the Box (JACK) had in 2017.

This brings us to  The Habit Restaurants (HABT), a Guilty Pleasure company if there ever was one.

With just 209 Habit Burger Grill fast-casual locations in 11 states spread between the two coasts, Habit has ample room to expand its concept serving flame char-grilled burgers and sandwiches, fries, salads and shakes. And if you’re wondering how good Habit is, don’t just listen to me (one of those 209 locations is just a few miles away from him), the company was named “best tasting burger in America” in July 2014.

In 2017, the company recorded revenue of $331.7 million from which it generated EPS of $0.16. For this year, consensus expectations have it serving up revenue near $393 million, up around 18% year over year, but EPS of $0.05 — a sharp drop from 2017.

What I’m seeing is Habit hitting an inflection point as it engages a national advertising agency, opens 30 new locations this year (7-10 in first-quarter 2018) and contends with higher wage costs (up 6%-7% vs. 2017), as well as test markets breakfast. Making matters challenging, the overall restaurant industry has been dealt a tough hand during the first two months of 2018 as winter weather and cold temperatures led to reduced traffic and same-store sales industry-wide, according to research firm TDn2K.

While a recent survey of March restaurant sales published by Baird showed a pick-up, the question I am pondering is to what degree will restaurant sales rebound on a sustained basis as the winter weather fades? I’m asking this question full well knowing the level of credit-card and other debt held by consumers as the Fed looks to hike interest rates several times this year.

Do I like the long-term potential of Habit?

Yes, and I would recommend their burgers, fries, and shakes – without question. That said, the company is not without its challenges, especially as McDonald’s begins to roll out its fresh beef offering nationwide. I had one of those a few days ago and in my view, it’s a clear step up from what Mickie D’s had been serving. You may be getting the idea that I like burgers, and I can easily confirm that as well as my fondness for chocolate shakes.

By most valuation metrics, HABT shares are cheap, but as we all know, cheap stocks are usually cheap for a reason. As such, we want to see how the company performed during the first quarter, the quarter in which the greatest number of new locations were to be opened. Typically, new locations drive up costs, and given the uptick in wage costs, this combination could weigh on the company’s bottom line.

All of this has us sitting on the sidelines with Habit Restaurants shares, which means adding them to Tematica Investing Contender List as part of our Guilty Pleasure investing theme.

SPECIAL ALERT: Walking Away from Universal Display Shares… For Now

SPECIAL ALERT: Walking Away from Universal Display Shares… For Now

  • We are issuing a Sell rating on the shares of Tematica Select List resident Universal Display (OLED) as short-term headwinds mount.
  • As we exit the position, despite their 2018 performance to date we’d note OLED shares have generated a return of more than 100% since being first added to the Select List in October 2016. On a combined basis, our two Buy actions for the shares on the Select List have returned a blended return of more than 47%.
  • As we cut Universal Display (OLED) shares from the Tematica Investing Select List, we will place them on the Contender List, looking to call them back up when signs of fresh industry capacity additions emerge.

While I continue to have a long-term bullish outlook on the organic light emitting diode display opportunity and Universal Display (OLED) shares, we are seeing mounting headwinds in the short-term that will likely restrain the shares.

The latest blow is coming from news that organic light emitting diode display adopter Apple (AAPL) is developing a competing technology dubbed MicroLEDs. While that tech likely won’t be commercialized for several years, it along with other near-term headwinds like the temporary slowdown in organic light emitting diode capacity additions, have taken their toll on OLED shares.

While I continue to expect new products containing organic light emitting diode displays to be announced and hit market shelves later this year, odds are OLED shares will remain range bound at best until we have clear signs the industry is once again increasing capacity. This means watching equipment orders from the likes of Tematica Investing resident Applied Materials (AMAT) and others. The downside risk is industry adoption of the technology is slower than previously expected, which means would lead to even further downside in OLED shares. Given the shifting risk to reward profile in the shares near-term, I’m opting to exit the shares, walking away with still impressive gains in the position until we see clear signs of a rebound in demand.

Speaking of AMAT shares, later this week Micron (MU) will be reporting its quarterly results I’ll be assessing its outlook and what it means for not only our Connected Society and Disruptive Technologies investment themes, but for AMAT shares as well.