Weekly Issue: Amid Impeachment Noise, Adding V Shares to Select List

Weekly Issue: Amid Impeachment Noise, Adding V Shares to Select List

Key points inside this issue

  • We are adding shares of Visa (V) to the Tematica Select List with a $200 price target as part of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme. 
  • We are adding to Living the Life Thematic Leader Farfetch Ltd. (FTCH) at current levels; our price target remains $16
  • We remain bullish on shares of Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) heading into the holiday season, and subscribers that are underweight AMZN should be buyers at current levels. Our price target remains $2,250.

Visa: Where we want to be for more than just the holidays

We are using the recent pullback in Visa (V) shares to add them to the Tematica Select List as part of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme given the accelerating shift to digital commerce as well as the movement away from cash and check usage.

While most tend to think of online and mobile shopping when it comes to digital commerce, we also are seeing increases in online grocery, ridesharing and ride services, digital forms of payment for metros and subways, and other changes in spending that require a debit or credit card. And while this may come as a surprise to some, roughly $17 trillion of payments were conducted in cash and by check in 2018.

To me, that means there is ample room for growth ahead and transaction share gains ahead to be had. Unlike American Express (AXP), Visa also stands to be an indirect beneficiary from consumers looking to stretch their spending dollars by shifting their payments to credit from debit or charge cards that must be paid in full. In other words, our Middle Class Squeeze investing theme. Also unlike banks such as Bank of America (BAC)Wells Fargo (WFC) and other credit card issuers, Visa is paid for each transaction and is far less susceptible by rising credit card delinquencies. Moreover, if consumers shift to debit cards, those transactions still have to be processed over a payment network.

Visa’s global scale and reach are made possible by a network of more than 15,900 financial institution clients that issue Visa-branded products. During fiscal 2018, Visa’s total payments and cash volume grew to $11.2 trillion and more than 3.3 billion cards were available worldwide to be used at nearly 54 million business and merchant locations that span over 160 currencies. For that entire fiscal year, Visa processed 124.3 billion transactions, and through the first half of 2019 those transaction volumes are up more than 11% as its install base of cards has continued to grow. As that install base grows and more physical card swipes, chip insertions and online or mobile ordering take place, Visa’s processing volumes grow.

With operating margins of more than 60%, Visa’s incremental margins on each transaction are significant. This has allowed the company to drive robust earnings growth and cash flow, all while continuing to invest in its payment network and layer on security in today’s increasingly cyber-conscious world. That cash flow has also allowed Visa to increase its quarterly dividend to the current $0.25 per share, up from $0.14 per share in late 2015, as well as fund its share repurchase program. Visa has been an active repurchase of its shares, scooping up almost 44 million shares valued at $6.5 billion. That compares to $8.7 billion in cash generated from operations over the same period. Exiting the June 2019 quarter Visa still had $6.2 billion under its current buyback authorization and $8.8 billion in cash and equivalents on its balance sheet.

And let’s not forget about holiday shopping…

While there is an ongoing shift toward non-cash, non-check transactions, there is also the seasonal nature of shopping and consumer spending that tends to rise during the year-end holidays. More transaction volume means more revenue, profits and cash flow for Visa during this time period. To that, we can add the steady year-over-year climb in online and mobile shopping as it has continued to take wallet share during the holiday shopping season. And yes, it is expected to happen once again this year. According to a new online survey from The Harris Poll and ad exchange network OpenX, shoppers are not only expected to spend more year over year but spend more digitally. Per the survey’s findings consumer expect to increase their holiday shopping by 5% more this year with 53% of their holiday shopping to be done digitally. 

These transactional shifts in how consumers around the globe are spending have enabled Visa to grow its earnings on a steady basis. Even during the financial crisis, Visa continued to grow its revenues, which in our view is evidence of the power behind those structural shifts. Over the last several years, Visa has been growing its annual EPS at a double-digit clip, with prospects for that rate to continue this year and next. By applying a price-to-earnings-to-growth (PEG) multiple of 2.0 to expected EPS growth of 16% in the coming year, where the consensus EPS forecast is $6.27 for 2020, we derive our $200 price target. That offers roughly X% upside from current levels. My recommendation would be to add to the shares at better prices, but even so, we’ll get started on this as the consumer get ready to begin shopping for not only the approaching year-end holiday season but also Halloween and Thanksgiving as well. 

  • We are adding shares of Visa (V) to the Tematica Select List with a $200 price target as part of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme. 

Adding to Living the Life Thematic Leader Farfetch Ltd. shares

Since we added shares of Farfetch Ltd. (FTCH) to the Thematic Leader board for out Living the Life investment theme, the shares have come under pressure and have entered oversold territory.

This likely has to do with the financing for Farfetch’s New Guard acquisition that will tally $675 million and be equally between cash and stock. We’ll take it as an opportunity to improve our cost basis as we get ready to move into the year-end shopping season, which as noted above will rise nicely year over year and favor digital platforms like Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) and Farfetch. 

  • We are adding to Living the Life Thematic Leader Farfetch Ltd. (FTCH) at current levels; our price target remains $16
  • We remain bullish on shares of Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) heading into the holiday season, and subscribers that are underweight AMZN should be buyers at current levels. Our price target remains $2,250.

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Uncertainty is back, but we’re thematically prepared

WEEKLY ISSUE: Uncertainty is back, but we’re thematically prepared

Key points inside this issue:

  • The Fed, Trump, tariffs and the data bring uncertainty back to the market
  • What it means for investors
  • We will continue to hold Disney (DIS), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN) and AT&T (T) shares.
  • What to watch this week

The Fed, Trump, tariffs and the data bring uncertainty back to the market

Between the number of S&P 500 companies reporting last week to the Fed’s FOMC meeting and the pieces of economic data coming at us, we knew it was going to be a busy and potentially volatile week. What few saw coming was the attempt by Fed Chairman Powell to give the market the 25 basis point rate cut it was expecting and regain the position of the market not knowing exactly what the Fed’s next move might be. But then we received the July ISM Manufacturing Index and the July IHS PMI data for the four global economic horsemen (China, Japan, the eurozone and the US). In aggregate those data points signaled the continued slowdown in the global manufacturing economy.  

Granted, the sequential pick up in the July ADP Employment Report fostered the view the domestic economy hasn’t frozen over just yet, but Friday’s July Employment Report reveled slower job creation month over month. 

Normally, economic data like we’ve received in the back half of last week would be enough to ignite the market doves and stoke the view that another rate cut by the Fed was more likely before we exit 2019. And it was that view that led the major market indices higher on Thursday, that was until President Trump did something that arguably next to no one saw coming – announced another layer of tariffs on China that would go into effect on September 1. The implications of that move, which would likely lead to yet another trimming of forecasts for both the economy and earnings, pulled the market lower on Thursday afternoon. 

And on Friday morning, China responded by saying while it does not want a trade war, its not afraid to fight one. Soon thereafter, President Trump is “open to delaying or halting the 10% tariff on September 1” if China were to take action between now and then. Remember, we shared our concern that trade talks could devolve into playground taunting and fighting. Well, we are there and sticking with the analogy, it’s likely going to keep the stock market on the uncertainty teeter totter for the next few weeks. 

If some were hoping for a more normal August for stocks following this week’s Fed meeting, we’re sorry to say that’s not likely to happen. In the past we’ve shared several analogies about investing – it’s not crock pot cooking, you can’t fix it and forget it or investing is not a like a photo, i.e. snapshot in time, but much like a good film it’s an evolving story. As this latest chapter begins to unfold, it will be mean assessing and re-assessing expectations as new developments are had and their ripple effects determined.

What it means for investors

Odds are this will uncertainty will result in the usual back and forth for the market in the coming weeks, which will also see the usual end of summer low trading volumes. While a good chunk of Wall Street is at the beach, I’ll remain vigilant and continue to leverage our thematic lens.

More than likely, we will see the herd once again focus on domestically focused as well as inelastic business models as it looks for ports of safety. We’ve have a number of these among the Thematic Leaders and the Tematica Select ListChipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), Dycom Industries (DY), Costco Wholesale (COST), Axon Enterprises (AAXN), AT&T (T), and USA Technologies (USAT). Unlike the shoot from the hip go to choice of the herd that tends to zero in on electric utilities that group of six have the added benefit of thematic tailwinds propelling their respective businesses.

As August drips by, I’ll continue to look for thematically well positioned companies that offer favorable risk to reward tradeoffs in terms of share prices as I look to position us for what lies ahead. In the meantime, I would recommend subscribers catch the August 5, 2019 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek as the cover story focuses the coming streaming video war that I’ve talked about both here and on the Thematic Signals podcast. The author likens it to “The Hunger Games”, and in many respects I can see why that is a good comparison.

While we were recently stopped out of Netflix (NFLX), I’ll remind you that among the Thematic Leaders and Tematica Select List we have several companies — Disney (DIS), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), and AT&T in particular – that are focusing on this market. Each brings their own particular set of strengths ranging from content to addressable customer base, but all three have other businesses besides streaming video to drive profits and cash flow that can fund their respective streaming businesses.

  • We will continue to hold Disney (DIS), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN) and AT&T (T) shares.

What to watch this week

After all the happenings for last week that I described above, this week looks to be yet another frenetic one for corporate earnings with more than 1,100 reports to be had, but the pace of June quarter earnings begins to slow and we face a lighter economic data schedule as well. And to be clear, even though we will face a plethora of June quarter reports, let’s remember that exiting this week roughly 78% of the S&P 500 has reported and next week another 13% of that group will be doing so. What this means is the vast majority of reports next will have far less of an impact on the market. This doesn’t diminish them from an ownership of data and information perspective, but rather a smaller impact is likely on earnings revisions and trading ranges. 

Corporate earnings to watch

In terms of which reports I’ll be focusing on this week, it should come as little surprise that they are the ones touching our various investment themes. Here’s my short list:

  • Monday, August 5: Tyson Foods (TSN), International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), Insulet (PODD) and ShakeShak (SHAK). 
  • Tuesday, August 6: Tenneco (TEN), ADT (ADT), AMN Healthcare (AMN), Comscore (SCOR), LendingClub (LC), Disney (DIS), 
  • Wednesday, August 7: CVS Health (CVS:NYSE), CyberArk (CYBR), Physicians Realty Trust (DOC), Darling Ingredients (DAR), Skyworks (SWKS), Tivity Health (TVTY), 
  • Thursday, August 8: Activision-Blizzard (ATVI:), Alarm.com (ARLM), Dropbox (DBX), Synaptics (SYNA:Nasdaq), Uber (UBER) 
  • Friday, August 9: US Concrete (USCR)

Economic data to watch

Before we tackle the coming week’s economic data, I’ll mention GDP expectations from the Atlanta Fed and New York Fed started last week off between 2.0%-2.2% and as we exited the week those expectations sat at 1.6%-1.9%. As I touched on above, the employment data we received last week pointed to a still growing economy but the take on the manufacturing economy per the July ISM Manufacturing Index and the July US IHS Markit PMI data pointed to a slowing domestic manufacturing one. 

We have only a handful of meaningful economic data coming at us this week in the form of the July inflation reports and ISM’s July reading on the US service economy. Given our pension for looking at other data set in addition to the formal economic data, we here at Tematica will be on the lookout for the last Cass Freight Index and other truck tonnage figures as well as the weekly railcar loading data. Those have been signaling the slowdown we’ve seen in the government produced economic data, and as such we’ll keep a close watch on them in order to stay one step ahead of the herd. 

Should the coming economic data be continue to disappoint relative to expectations and signal the vector and velocity of the domestic economy is down and even slower than recent revisions suggest, odds are the market will increasingly expect another Fed rate cut sooner than later. Our concern, however, is the intended effect of this week’s rate cut and another one should it come to pass on business investment could be muted by the continued trade uncertainty and weakening global economy. As we’ve seen with falling mortgage rates that didn’t stimulate demand earlier this year, in the near-term businesses may stay on the sidelines given the trade and economic uncertainties despite more favorable interest rates.


India’s Mobile Monsoon

India’s Mobile Monsoon

 

An article in this week’s Economist points out some phenomenal data that speaks to our Global Rise of the Middle Class investing theme. While the Middle Class in many developed nations is under pressure, part of our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme, we are seeing technology help leapfrog infrastructure needs in many emerging markets. In India, mobile data is giving people access to the global economy in ways that was utterly impossible just a few years ago.

Just three years ago there were only about 125m broadband internet connections in India; by last November the number had reached 512m. New connections are growing at a rate of 16m per month, almost all on mobile phones. The average Indian phone user now consumes more mobile data than most Europeans.

Incredible economies of scale possible in the most populous nation on earth make for business models that are not feasible elsewhere.

So as not to limit the market to people who can afford smartphones, Jio also launched its own 4g feature-phone, the JioPhone, which it says is “effectively free”. Customers pay only a refundable deposit of 1,500 rupees ($21) for the device, with which they can use WhatsApp, watch YouTube and take pictures. As Mr Ambani said last year, for most users their Jio connection “is not only their pehla [first] phone but also their pehla radio and music player, pehla tv, pehla camera and pehla Internet”.

Which has lead to incredible adoption rates.

Data in India now cost less than in any other country. On average Jio’s users each download 11 gigabytes each month.

The opportunities here are staggering, but as we’ve seen pushback on globalization in much of the developed world, so too is India looking to protect is domestic companies from foreign competition. Draft rules revealed last July would require internet firms to store data exclusively in India. Another set of rules that went live last October require financial firms to store data locally, too. On December 26th India passed rules that hit hard at Amazon (AMZN) and Walmart (WMT), which dominate e-commerce there, preventing them from owning inventory in an attempt to protect local digital and traditional retailers.

Investors are well served to look beyond just the U.S. economy which is facing growth headwinds from slowing population growth, aging demographics and enormous debt loads with a mountain of unfunded liabilities across pensions and Social Security. In India, a country with a massive population that is relatively young and with productivity levels well below those of developed economies, small improvements can generate enormous returns for both its citizens and investors.

Source: Mukesh Ambani wants to be India’s first internet tycoon – India’s new Jiography

Retirement Plans Disappear When Parents And The Kids Return Home

Retirement Plans Disappear When Parents And The Kids Return Home

A recent Wall Street Journal article points out that the American dream is further out of reach for a growing number as plans for retirement go up in smoke thanks to the needs of aging parents and their adult children.

A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center found 52% of U.S. residents in their 60s—17.4 million people—are financially supporting either a parent or an adult child, up from 45% in 2005. Among them, about 1.2 million support both a parent and a child, more than double the number a decade earlier, according to an analysis of the Pew findings and census data.

Rather than enjoying the fruits of their decades of labor, many are finding that their household burdens are growing as they enter their sunset years.

More Americans find themselves housing two generations simultaneously, just when they thought they could kick back and retire. Instead, they face the strain of added expenses, constant caregiving and derailed dreams.

This pressure is coming as our Aging of the Population investment theme sees more senior citizens with inadequate savings and a healthcare system that is unable to provide the care they need at a price they can afford. On the other end of the spectrum, adult children are struggling with student debt levels the likes of which this country has never before seen and years of lackluster wage growth.

The squeeze is coming from both ends. With lifespans growing longer, the number of 60-somethings with living parents has more than doubled since 1998, to about 10 million, according to an Urban Institute analysis of University of Michigan data, and they are increasingly expensive to care for. At the same time, many boomers are helping their children deal with career or health problems, or are sharing the heavy burden of student loans.

This helps explain why discount retailers are expecting their customer base to continue to expand. Those companies that are able to help consumers push their dollars further [such as Amazon (AMZN), Costco (COST), Walmart (WMT)] have a growing set of tailwinds supporting them.

Source: ‘I Was Hoping to Be Retired’: The Cost of Supporting Parents and Adult Children – WSJ

Is that a Robot on Isle 9?

Is that a Robot on Isle 9?

We’ve all heard endlessly about the death of brick and mortar, (we discuss how that death is overstated in our podcast with Katherine Cullen of the National Retail Federation next week) as online retailing continues to gain market share and is nearly equal that of brick and mortar as a percent of consumers’ spending. While online retailing has made enormous gains, brick and mortar is far from dead, but rather is evolving and disruptive technologies are part of that evolution, even in your local grocery store. A recent Wall Street Journal article revealed that an enormous amount of capital is being invested in improving the way the grocery industry operated, (emphasis mine).

Grocers are stocking their warehouses with robots and artificial intelligence to increase efficiency as competition for consumer spending on food picks up. Robots are relatively new to the food industry, where customer interaction is common and many goods like fruit are fragile and perishable. Startups are vying to sell supermarkets an array of robots that perform different tasks. Venture-capital firms have invested more than $1.2 billion in grocery technology this year, according to PitchBook, a financial-market data provider, double the total for 2017.

Online groceries retailing has been a relatively weak area for growth in online retail, despite the early efforts of now-defunct Webvan and HomeGrocer. But that looks like it will be changing as investments in disruptive technologies are increasing.

Altogether, spending on technology by many of the biggest U.S. food retailers could accelerate the adoption of online ordering for groceries. Deutsche Bank expects online orders to represent roughly 10% of the $800 billion grocery market by 2023, up from 3% today.

Learning from those who tried in the early dotcom era and failed, the WSJ article reports that according to Narayan Iyengar, senior vice president at Albertsons Cos., the second-biggest U.S. supermarket chain,

“We have to find a model where we can deliver groceries to customers’ homes and do it in a more profitable way,”

Beyond robotics, companies like Kroger are also getting into delivery.

Kroger also is testing a driverless grocery van with autonomous vehicle company Nuro Inc., and it entered the crowded meal-kit distribution market through a $700 million deal with startup Home Chef. The deals are expected to advance Kroger’s online prowess, but have hurt the company’s profits and weighed on recent earnings.

The bottom line is those disruptive technologies can and have upended all aspects of our lives. Our Disruptive Technology investing theme focuses on those companies providing the technologies that completely change the way we communicate, shop, eat, work, exercise and even play.

Source: Grocers Enlist Robots to Chase E-Commerce – WSJ

Brookdale Senior Living: are its thematic tailwinds enough to earn a buy rating?

Brookdale Senior Living: are its thematic tailwinds enough to earn a buy rating?

The following article is an excerpt from Tematica Investing, our cornerstone research publication. Tematica Investing includes original investment ideas and strategies based upon our proprietary thematic investing framework developed by our Chief Investment Officer Chris Versace. Click here to read more about our Premium Tematica Research Membership offering.

One of the great things about thematic investing is there is no shortage of confirming data points to be had in and our daily lives. For example, with our Connected Society investing theme, we see more people getting more boxes delivered by United Parcel Service (UPS) from Amazon (AMZN) and a several trips to the mall, should you be so inclined, will reveal which retailers are struggling and which are thriving. If you do that you’re also likely to see more people eating at the mall than actually shopping; perhaps a good number of them are simply show rooming in advance of buying from Amazon or a branded apparel company like Nike (NKE) or another that is actively embracing the direct to consumer (D2C) business model.

While it may not be polite to say, the reality is if you look around you will also notice that the domestic population is greying. More specifically, we as a people are living longer lives, and when coupled with the Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, it has a number of implications and ramifications that are a part of our Aging of the Population investing theme.

There are certainly the obvious issues related to this demographic shift, such as whether or not folks have enough saved and invested well enough to support themselves through increasingly longer life spans. And then, of course, there is the need of having access to the right healthcare to deal with any and all issues that one might face. That is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted, given the national shortage of nurses and health care professionals we are currently experiencing, and the reason why one AMN Healthcare Services (AMN) has been on the Tematica Investing Select List in the past.

But our Aging of the Population theme doesn’t stop there. Again, much like looking around at what people are doing at the mall, all one has to do is sit back and assess the day-to-day life of a typical octogenarian and see that we are seeing:

  • A shift in demand for different types of housing as seniors give up on the homestead and move into easier to maintain condos and townhouses.
  • An even greater focus on online retailers that will deliver purchases directly to the home, rather than having to go out and carry purchases from the store to the car and then into the home. Also driving this shift will be younger children making purchases for their aging parents and having them shipped directly to their home.
  • Fountain of Youth goods and services will be in even higher demand as Baby Boomers will not let go of their youth easily.
  • And finally, technology and services that will help maintain independence— we’re talking about robots, digital assistants, monitoring equipment and even things such as the autonomous car.

According to data published by the OECD in 2013, the U.S. expectancy was 78.7 years old with women living longer than men (81 years vs. 76 years). Cross-checking that with data from the Census Bureau that says the number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to 75.5 million by 2030, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Other data reveals the number of older American afflicted with and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise to nearly 25% from 15%. According to United States Census data, individuals age 75 and older is projected to be the fastest growing age cohort over the next twenty years.

As people age, especially past the age of 75, it becomes challenging for individuals to care for themselves, and this is something I am encountering with my dad who turns 86 on Friday. Now let’s consider that roughly 6 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s by 2020, up from 4.7 million in 2010, and heading to 8.4 million by 2030 according to the National Institute of Health. Not an easy subject, but as investors, we are to remain somewhat cold-blooded if we are going to sniff out opportunities.

What all of this means is we are likely to see a groundswell in demand over the coming years for assisted living facilities to house and care for the aging domestic population.

 

Is Brookdale Senior Living Positioned to Ride this Thematic Tailwind?

One company that is positioned to benefit from this tailwind is Brookdale Senior Living (BKD), which is one of the largest players in the “Independent Living, Assisted Living and Memory Care” market with over 1,000 communities in 46 states.

The company’s revenue stream is broken down into fives segments:

  • Retirement Centers (14% of 2017 revenue; 22% of 2017 operating profit) – are primarily designed for middle to upper-income seniors generally age 75 and older who desire an upscale residential environment providing the highest quality of service.
  • Assisted Living (47%; 60%) – offer housing and 24-hour assistance with activities of daily living to mid-acuity frail and elderly residents.
  • Continuing care retirement centers (10%; 8%) – are large communities that offer a variety of living arrangements and services to accommodate all levels of physical ability and health.
  • Brookdale Ancillary Services (9%; 4%) – provides home health, hospice and outpatient therapy services, as well as education and wellness programs
  • Management Services (20%; 6%) – various communities that are either owned by third parties.
  • In looking at the above breakdown, we see the core business to focus on is Assisted Living as it generated the bulk of the company’s operating profit stream. This, of course, cements the company’s position within the framework of Tematica’s Aging of the Population theme. However, as with all investment strategies, success with a thematic approach ultimately comes down to the underlying principle of investing: determining if a stock is mispriced or undervalued relative to the business opportunities ahead as a result of the sea change presenting itself through a theme.

And so with Brookdale, we must determine whether it is a Tematica Contender — a company that we need to wait for the risk to reward tradeoff to reach more appetizing levels -—  or is one for the Tematica Investing Select List to issue a Buy rating on now?

 

Changes afoot at Brookdale

During 2016 and 2017, both revenue and operating profit at Brookdale came under pressure given a variety of factors that included a more competitive industry landscape during which time Brookdale had an elevated number of new facility openings, which is expected to weigh on the company’s results throughout 2018. Also impacting profitability has been the growing number of state and local regulations for the assisted living sector as well as increasing employment costs.

With those stones on its back, throughout 2017, Brookdale surprised to the downside when reporting quarterly results, which led it to report an annual EPS loss of $3.41 per share for the year. As one might imagine this weighed heavily on the share price, which fell to a low near $6.85 in late February from a high near $19.50 roughly 23 months ago.

During this move lower in the share price, Brookdale the company was evaluating its strategic alternatives, which we all know means it was putting itself up on the block to be sold. On Feb. 22 of this year, the company rejected an all-cash $9 offer as the Board believed there was a greater value to be had for shareholders by running the company. Alongside that decision, there was a clearing of the management deck with the existing President & CEO as well as EVP and Chief Administrative Officer leaving, and CFO Cindy Baier being elevated to President and CEO from the CFO slot.

Usually, when we see a changing of the deck chairs like this, it likely means there will be more pain ahead before the underlying ship begins to change directions. To some extent, this is already reflected in 2018 expectations calling for falling revenue and continued bottomline losses.

Here’s the thing – those expectations were last updated about a month ago, which means the new management team hasn’t offered its own updated outlook. If the changing of the deck history holds, it likely means offering a guidance reset that includes just about everything short of the kitchen sink.

On top of it all, Brookdale has roughly $1.1 billion in long-term debt, capital and leasing obligations coming due this year. At the end of 2017, the company had no borrowings outstanding on its $400 million credit facility and $514 million in cash on its balance sheet. It would be shocking for the company to address its debt and lease obligations by wiping out its cash, which probably means the company will have to either refinance its debt, raise equity to repay the debt or a combination of the two. This could prove to be one of those overhangs that keeps a company’s shares under pressure until addressed. I’d point out that usually, transaction terms in situations like this are less than friendly.

 

The Bottomline on Brookdale Senior Living (BKD)

While I like the drivers of the underlying business, my recommendation is we sit on the sidelines with Brookdale until it addresses this balance sheet concern and begins to emerge from its new facility opening drag and digestion. Odds are we’ll be able to pick the shares up at lower levels.

This has me putting BKD shares on the Tematica Investing Contender List and we’ll revisit them for subscribers in the coming months.

The preceding article is an excerpt from Tematica Investing, our cornerstone research publication. Tematica Investing includes original investment ideas and strategies based upon our proprietary thematic investing framework developed by our Chief Investment Officer Chris Versace. Click here to read more about our Premium Tematica Research Membership offering.

Surprises From Market Breadth with Record Margin Debt

Surprises From Market Breadth with Record Margin Debt

As we discussed earlier, heading into the third quarter earnings season, we have above average level of positive guidance in terms of both top line sales and earnings as well as lower-than-average negative earnings guidance. We  pointed out yesterday, however, that an uncomfortable portion of that guidance is driven by gains from a weak dollar and we are seeing signs that may be reversing course.

 

In the last quarter, companies that delivered on or beat expectations didn’t get much of a reward for their efforts. We looked at the current market conditions to get a feel for what the earnings reactions could be this reporting season.

 

Margin Debt

Margin debt has reached $550.9 billion, a record high for the second consecutive month and the sixth record high in the past eight months.  Anyone who recalls just a tad bit of market history can see that rapidly rising margin debt has preceded the beginnings of both the March 2000 and July 2007 bear markets. However, nearly one in four monthly margin debt readings since 1959 have been record highs, so to assume that a pullback is imminent based on a record high is folly at best. Instead, we like to look at the rate of change over a 12-month period. Here we can see that the rate of change recently hasn’t been nearly as dramatic as the wild moves we saw around the 2000 and 2007 crashes. This metric does not indicate a market that has been wildly laying on the leverage, despite reaching yet another record high.

Market Breadth

Another measure of the health of the market is the Advance/Decline line which has been well above its 50-day and 200-day moving average. This indicator is showing a market that appears rather robust, but the value of this indicator may lessened by the rapidly rising use of ETFs. When an investor puts money into an ETF, those funds are used to buy all the companies in the ETF indiscriminately, which can give the appearance of greater robustness than would otherwise exist.

 

To further assess breadth, we look at the ratio of equal weight versus market cap weighted for the major market indices. What we found is the S&P 500 and the Russell 2000 equal weight indices underperformed their market cap weighted indices by a material amount year-to-date. This metric indicates that the indices upward moves have been driving by larger cap high-flyers, which indicates weaker breadth than we’d like to see.

 

High Fliers Losing Some Altitude

Amazon (AMZN) tried to carve out a head and shoulders pattern this week, down by over 2% during the week, but closed the week back in the black by Friday. If it moves below the neckline where it is currently perched rather precariously, the shorts will go for the jugular and this is one of those mega cap stock that has been helping to keep the indices up. Another high flier that has driven a good portion of the market’s gains, Apple (APPL), has dropped below both its 50-day and 100-day moving averages and is now down in 13 of the last 18 days as the new product line doesn’t exactly have consumers busting down the doors.

 

Facebook (FB) is also feeling the pain with all the bad press surrounding is ad platform that Ivan and his Russian buddies have been abusing to stir up domestic strife here in the U.S. Who knew Putin’s team may not play fair! The stock suffered its worst day this week since last November, falling over 5% at one point during the week and closing below its 50-day moving average for the first time since July 6th. By week’s end the shares had moved back to neutral territory in this Teflon market, but the warning flares have been fired. Netflix (NFLX) joined in falling as much as 5.5% this week to waver right arounds its 50-day moving average.

 

With the performance of the equal weight indices below that of the market cap weighted, weakness in the big guys are cause for concern. The end of the week saw a rebound in most, such as Alphabet (GOOGL) but we’ll be watching to see if the rebound holds.

 

Another Breadth Indicator

We then looked at the percent of companies above their 50-day moving average in the S&P 500, Nasdaq and the NYSE Composite. We found that the number of stocks trading above their 50-day moving averages has been rising, so from this metric, the markets are looking to have decent breadth, which limits the damage from those high fliers weakening.

 

When assessing either the markets or a stock we always want to find confirming or discordant data points to increase our confidence. While we have conflicting indicators here, our assessment leans more towards a bullish view based on this data for the near term.

 

Volatility

 

What about that wacky VIX that appears to be on a IV drip of some sort of powerful sedative? No matter what gets thrown at it, the index continues to be like Fonzi. The recent Commitments of Traders report from the CFTC revealed that the net speculative short position on the VIX has once again reached a new record high at 171,187 futures and options contractions, taking out the prior 158,114 peak in early August. This is a 63% increase! Talk about the calm before the storm. Yeah, we know, been saying that for a while. This has been a seriously impressive run!

 

Of all the days the VIX has been below 10 since its inception, 70% those have been in 2017. We can’t help but shake our heads, (and remember to stock up on Alka Seltzer) when we consider the likely impact on the markets when the reversion to the mean rule kicks in.

 

Given the lack of volatility, investors seem to be going all in. The last week’s Market Vane report found that the bullish share has reached the highest level in the current bull market. The last time it was this high was in June 2007.

 

The bottom line is while equities are clearly expensive at these levels, the market breadth looks decent and volatility is still hitting the snooze button. The disconnect between fundamentals, historical norms and the current market is likely to at some point result in some seriously dramatic moves.  However, we’ve all seen that expensive stocks can get even more expensive and for at least the near term, we are not seeing any clear catalyst for a pullback that would get the attention of this seemingly Teflon market.

WEEKLY ISSUE: Nike offers several points of confirmation; Boosting two price targets

WEEKLY ISSUE: Nike offers several points of confirmation; Boosting two price targets

Yesterday, we received the first of what is likely to be quite a bit on potential tax reform. If the efforts we’ve seen pertaining to repeal and replacing Obamacare are any indication, tax reform will take some time and call for reaching across the aisle. We’re cautiously optimistic such reform can take place in a lasting fashion as it would help give a boost to disposable incomes, which would be a boon to the consumer spending led U.S. economy. We’ll have more on this as it develops as well as implications of other happenings inside the Beltway, from more barbs with North Korea to President Trump’s regulatory reform overview to be shared next week.

 

Making some adjustments to the Tematica Investing Select LIst as we close the quarter

As the new tax policies are put forth and put under the microscope, we will soon close the books on September and 3Q 2017. With a few days left in the current quarter, the S&P 500 is up 3.3%, and we’ve had a number of positions ranging from AXT Inc. (AXTI), USA Technologies (USAT), International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) and Facebook (FB) handily beat that index. Some of our more recently added positions, including this week’s Corning (GLW) and last week’s LSI Industries (LSI) have dipped along with the market these last few days, but our outlook for both remains undiminished.

We have seen some former stalwarts, like Amazon (AMZN) and Alphabet (GOOGL) underperform over the last few months, but we’re heading into the seasonally strongest time of the year for these two companies – we’ll continue to keep both on the Tematica Investing Select List. The same goes for Starbucks (SBUX) as it rolls out its pumpkin flavored beverages and its peppermint mocha alongside other seasonal favorites.

Our price targets remain as follows:

  • Alphabet (GOOGL) — $1,050
  • Amazon (AMZN) — $1,150
  • AXT Inc (AXTI) — $11
  • Corning (GLW) — $37
  • Facebook (FB) — $200
  • LSI Industries (LYTS) — $10

 

We are boosting our price targets this morning on International Flavors & Fragrances and USA Technologies as follows:

  • Raising our IFF price target to $150 from $145;
  • Increasing our USAT target to $6.50 from $6.00

 

These increases offer additional upside, but not enough to warrant subscribers committing new capital at this time. Rather subscribers should continue to own these positions to capture incremental upside and in the case of IFF its dividend stream.

 

Now let’s step back and take a wider view

Our position has been and remains that we are likely to see the recent bout of volatility continue as we close the books on the third quarter of 2017 and roll right into earnings season. That reporting activity will come to a head just as we get the bulk of economic data for the month of September, the proverbial icing on the 3Q 2017 GDP cake. Based on the hurricanes, odds are this data will be a bit wobbly, to say the least, and odds are we will see more GDP revisions for the three months ending in just a few days. While some may look through the economic data, the quarterly results from Darden Restaurants (DRI) earlier this week and the subsequent drop in its shares tell us the market has yet to fully price in the impact of the hurricanes.

Here’s the thing – this could lead to the stock market retrenching from current levels, and in our view letting some of the froth out of the market is a good thing. Candidly, with the market trading near 19x expected earnings – head and shoulders above the 5- and 10-year averages – it begs the question as to how much additional upside is to be had?  This is especially true for investors that are only now returning to the market.

Our strategy for the near-term will be to focus on those companies that have strong thematic tailwinds and whose shares have a more than favorable risk-to-reward tradeoff. This could be in new positions like the ones we’ve added over the last 10 days or it could be in existing ones that come under pressure this earnings season. We always like the former, but the latter is also welcome if it allows us to improve our cost basis for the long-term.

Now, let’s dig into what Nike said last night in its quarterly earnings results – the skinny is, it was reinforcing on several levels for our themes as well as our recent comments on the dollar. Here we go…

 

What’s Nike telling us this morning?

Last night athletic footwear and apparel company Nike reported better than expected quarterly results, but the shares are trading off this morning. Sifting through the results, we see the 3% decline in North American sales as offering credence to our Cash-Strapped Consumer theme, while the 9% growth year over year in China, as well as the 5% year on year improvement in Asia-Pac/Latin America for the company, reflects our Rise & Fall of the Middle-Class thematic. That mix brought Nike’s international business to more than 55% of its overall revenue, and yes during the earnings call last night the company conceded that it has indeed benefitted from the weakening dollar during the last several months.

When it offered its outlook, however, Nike quickly called out that its expected margin contraction with “FX continuing to be the single largest driver.” Yesterday we shared our view the rebounding dollar could present a renewed headwind as the investing herd adjusts it view to incorporate the Fed’s interest rate hike forecast and we see that comment by Nike as confirmation. In addition to the near-term post-hurricane economic slump, this is potentially another reason we could see earnings expectations get reset in the back half of 2017 in the coming weeks.

We’ll look for more confirmation today during Applied Material’s (AMAT) 2017 Analyst Day and tomorrow when McCormick & Co. (MKC) and reports its quarterly earnings. As a reminder, we expect Applied to deliver a favorable demand picture for both its semiconductor as well as display capital equipment businesses, with the former benefitting from ramping demand in China. With regard to McCormick, consensus expectations have the company delivering EPS of $1.05 on revenue of $1.18 billion for the August-ending quarter. As we’ve all seen of late, missing expectations by a penny or two these days is likely to lead to a 4%-8% drop in the share price, and should that happen with MKC shares we’re inclined to scale into the position near or below our original cost basis of $91.80 on the Tematica Investing Select List.

  • Our price target on Applied Materials (AMAT) shares remains $55
  • Our price target on McCormick & Co. (MKC) shares remains $110

The Impact of the Nike — Amazon Deal

Turning back to Nike’s earnings conference call, heading into it, one of the things we wanted was more color on was the company’s invigorated relationship with Amazon (AMZN). We were not disappointed. During the call, even we were somewhat surprised by how blunt Nike was about the pressures facing U.S. retail when it said:

“…a developed market like North America must embrace change to its legacy retail infrastructure. As the leader, we’re fully committed to energizing and growing the marketplace through both our own NIKE Direct businesses and with strategic wholesale partners… over the past 90 days, it has become increasingly evident to all that the North America marketplace is undergoing significant transformation. Several quarters ago, we said that the U.S. retail landscape was not in a steady state, but rather would continue to be disrupted by the accelerating consumer shift to digital and more personal brand experiences… those shifts are now profoundly impacting the more undifferentiated dimensions of retail, resulting in store closures, bankruptcies, and a promotional environment… We’ve proven, I think, through our ability to create some real great success with other consumer-oriented digital partners like Tmall and Zalando that there isn’t a real opportunity here, and we’re excited about where that can go with Amazon (AMZN).”

In our view, those comments sum up the impact on brick & mortar retail that is being had by our Connected Society investing theme. Odds are, Nike is only one of the initial branded apparel companies that will look to leverage Amazon’s logistics and related infrastructure, and this keeps up long-term bullish on AMZN shares.

  • Our long-term price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $1,150.

We also clearly heard Nike is embracing several aspects of our Disruptive Technology theme when it said, “…we target doubling our direct connection to consumers, we are ramping up investment in digital capabilities ranging from data science and analytics to machine learning to augmented reality to image recognition and personalization.”

The only thing better than a company riding one of our investment tailwinds is when it is riding two or more. Over the last three months, NKE shares have underperformed the overall market falling nearly 2.5% vs. the S&P’s 3.3% climb. As the investing herd digests Nike’s comments and the shares drift lower, we’ll revisit the potential upside and downside to be had over the coming 12-18 months. If it’s compelling, we’ll be back with more on this Rise & Fall of the Middle-Class company that is looking to leverage our Connected Society and Disruptive Technology themes.

 

Lackluster Demand for the Apple iPhone 8 Puts Pressure on OLED and others

Lackluster Demand for the Apple iPhone 8 Puts Pressure on OLED and others

Yesterday we witnessed a sharp decline in technology stocks as evidenced by the declines in Facebook (FB), Amazon (AMZN), Alphabet (GOOGL), Netflix (NFLX) and Apple (AAPL). Regarding Apple shares, yesterday’s move lower simply adds to the recent pressure on the shares we’ve seen since the company’s lackluster September special event as investors question iPhone 8 model demand ahead of the early November launch of the iPhone X. Of course, snafus with the latest Apple Watch and MacOS High Sierra aren’t helping a company that seems plagued either a lack of vision or remaining trapped in a position until technology forces align for its next new product.

Pressure on Apple shares has overflowed and resulted in the same downward pressure on our Universal Display (OLED) shares, slipping from a high of $142 on September 19, down to a hair below $125 when the market closed last evening. We’ll continue to keep OLED shares on the Tematica Select List however, as Apple adopts its technology across other devices, and as demand from other devices (other smartphones, TVs, wearables, automotive interior lighting) climbs in the coming quarters. As a reminder, tomorrow brings the 2017 Analyst Day from Applied Materials (AMAT) and we expect bullish comments for both its semiconductor capital equipment business as well as its display business.

 

Other Market & FED Notes

We’ve noted that we have seen the Wall Street herd rotate sectors as of late, with water and electric utilities being strong performers of late — both part of our Scarce Resource investment theme. While the S&P 500 Volatility Index (VIX) may be near record lows, the recent performance of those safe havens signals that investors are in a wearisome mood. Another group that has performed well over the last several weeks is multinational companies, which have benefitted from the dollar’s renewed weakness in July, August and early September. We’ve seen this with our Amazon (AMZN), International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), and Facebook (FB) shares to name a few.

More recently, however, we’ve seen the dollar rebound modestly, and with the Fed talking up several interest rate hikes in as many quarters, we are likely to see the dollar move further off early September lows. This brings Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen’s speech this afternoon into focus. Will we get much more from Yellen on the pace of balance sheet unwinding vs. what the Fed shared last week? Probably not, but we’ll still be looking to parse her usual clear as mud words.

The expected lack of “new info” from the Fed will likely keep the market mentality fixated on the Fed’s forecasted interest rate hike timetable. We here at Tematica prefer to remain data dependent when it comes to contemplating potential Fed rate hikes. That view led Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari to reiterate his view yesterday that raising rate now is a bad idea:

“When I look at the economy, I don’t see any signs the economy is close to overheating… I see no need to tap the brakes and attempt to moderate the economy with higher short-term rates.”

Realizing Kashkari is a lone voting wolf inside the Fed, odds are the herd view will continue to influence the prevailing narrative in the near-term. We’ll remain patient as that group will once again take some time to come around to how we see things.

In the short-term, a continued rebound in the dollar is likely to pressure multinational companies ranging from General Electric (GE) and Caterpillar (CAT) to the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Applied Materials, and even MGM Resorts (MGM) that are on the Tematica Select List. With this in mind, we’ll be closely dissecting the forward guidance to be had from Nike (NKE) later today and the Select List’s own McCormick & Co. (MKC), which reports this Thursday (Sept. 28).

As the herd continues to feel its way around, we’re inclined to re-test our thematic thesis on the stocks comprising the Select List, but given what we’ve seen in our Thematic Signals we have reason to believe our thematic tailwinds continue to blow.  As we do this, we’ll remember this week unveils President Trump’s tax reform proposal followed by the administration’s regulatory agenda that will be outlined next week (Oct. 2), not to mention all the amped-up geo-political news between the U.S. and North Korea.

Odds are the next few weeks, will be tumultuous, but let’s remember that “fortune favors the prepared” and that’s what w we aim to be. This means looking for thematically well-positioned companies that offer favorable risk-to-reward dynamics, like the recent addition of Corning (GLW) and Nokia (NOK), as well as opportunities to scale into existing positions on the Tematica Select List.

 

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Shedding Dycom Shares, Remaining Bullish on UPS and Facebook

WEEKLY ISSUE: Shedding Dycom Shares, Remaining Bullish on UPS and Facebook

Throwing in the Cards on Dycom (DY)

Before we get things started this week, early this morning Connected Society company Dycom (DY) reported an EPS beat for the quarter but issued a weaker than expected outlook for the current quarter. Of late, we’ve noticed stock price fatigue when a company beats expectations and raises its outlook, and that likely means Dycom’s report will be met with investors shedding the shares. In recent years, we’ve seen similar reports from companies met with sharp moves lower, and given the current environment, we see the odds of that happening with DY shares rather likely.

We expect the management team to discuss the rationale and drivers behind its recast guidance on the earnings call this morning. As investors, we’ll want to cap the potential pullback in the shares on the Tematica Select List and that has us exiting the position. As Wall Street analysts parse the data and lower their EPS expectations we see target price cuts being set lower as well.

  • We are issuing a Sell rating on Dycom (DY) shares.
  • As we do this, we will shift DY shares to the Tematica Contender List because it will only be a matter of time before mobile operators pony up to expand existing network capacity and build out their 5G as well as gigabit fiber networks.

 

No Shortage of Confirming Thematic Data Points this Week

While last week ended on a high note with all the major stock indices finished higher, this week we’ve seen a return of volatility to the market thanks to North Korea at the same time Texas grapples with one of the worst hurricanes in recent memory. The people of Houston are certainly in our thoughts this week and in the coming ones as we assess the impact to be had on the both the Texas economy and that of the overall country.

Exacerbating the markets move has been the usual seasonally low trading volume we tend to find at the tail end of the summer. As we called out in this week’s Monday Morning Kickoff, there are a number of reasons to think September, which is usually one of the most volatile months for stocks, is likely to be so once again.

As we prepare that amid the usual end of the month, start of the new month data flow, we’ll continue to take our cues and investment moves from our thematic lens. Even amidst the political tension of the last few weeks, once again there has been no shortage of confirming data points for our 17 investment themes. Earlier this week we shared comments our initial findings on the Amazon (AMZN)-Whole Foods Market (WMF) tie up, but also what the Mayweather vs. McGregor bout meant for Las Vegas and our MGM Resort (MGM) shares as well as how we found positive confirmation for our Applied Materials (AMAT) shares in a filing made by Samsung.

We also shared out take on a recent upgrade to Starbucks (SBUX) shares made by Wedbush following prospects for stronger than expected U.S. same-store-sales. As temperatures start to cool, and holiday shopping season thoughts begin to form we recognize that Starbucks will once again have its semi-addictive seasonal beverage — the Pumpkin Spice Latte — and when matched with its expanded food offering we see the recent trend of better than expected same-store sales continuing.

We’ve also uncovered more signs that brick & mortar retail remains in a worrisome place. First, Simon Property Group (SPG), the nation’s largest mall operator, is asking an Indiana court to issue an injunction to put the brakes on Starbucks phasing out of its 379 Teavana locations over the coming twelve months. No doubt Simon Property Group is feeling the headwind associated with the shift toward digital commerce in a big way, but we have to say this move reeks of desperation. We certainly understand the difficult position Simon Property Group is with its business at risk as more retailers embrace digital commerce solutions on their own or pair with Amazon to leverage its logistics capabilities.

The thing is, while Simon Property Group may try to fight one set of retail closures, in reality, it is a game of “whack-a-mole” as others are popping up to take their place. Over the weekend Affordable Luxury candidate Perfumania Holdings (PERF), which sells discounted perfumes from high-end brands, such as Dolce & Gabana and Burberry, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and intends to close 64 of its 226 stores. We blame the adoption of our digital commerce aspect of our Connected Society theme not only at Amazon, but also Ulta Beauty (ULTA) and Sephora. Sephora, in particular, has focused on digital commerce and has embraced augmented reality, a component of our Disruptive Technology theme, to improve the customer experience.

Sephora is not alone in making cosmetics shopping even easier. Shopping platform FaceCake has partnered with brands like NARS Cosmetics to let online shoppers try on everything from makeup to handbags. Another example is IKEA as its new Catalog App uses augmented reality to allow customers to virtually place and view 200 different IKEA products in their homes. All you need is a smartphone (unfortunately, no Swedish meatballs are included in the online app). As more retailers embrace augmented reality in their apps, we question the need for consumers to visit physical store locations.

Connecting the dots, however, we find the growing usage of augmented reality will speed the shift toward digital commerce, and that bodes very well for our shares of United Parcel Service (UPS) as we head into the seasonally strongest time of the year for the company.

  • Our price target on United Parcel Service (UPS) shares remains $122; given the 10% move in the position, subscribers should continue to hold the share.
  • Those that missed our initial recommendation should look to revisit the shares closer to $105.

 

 

Restaurants Too Are Feeling the “Retail-Mageddon” Pinch

On a related note to the pains retailers are feeling we covered earlier, the restaurant industry is suffering from many of the same woes afflicting retailers – plain and simple, there are too many physical locations, and customers increasingly prefer to have everything delivered to their door.

That’s why pizza chains, especially Domino’s (DPZ) and Papa John’s (PAPA) have been able to gain an edge. Roughly 60% of Papa John’s orders are digital from not only its own app, but also via Facebook (FB)’s name product as well as its Messenger product. As the restaurant industry looks for solutions by leveraging our Connected Society, Disruptive Technology, and Cashless Consumption themes, we see Facebook (FB) and its multi-tiered platform offering benefitting. This along with its move into original content that bodes well for additional advertising, as well as its overall monetization efforts across those platforms keeps us bullish on Facebook shares.

  • Our price target on Facebook (FB) shares remains $200

 

Looking Ahead to the Coming Weeks

As we put the summer behind us in the coming days and absorb the litany of economic data to be had, our intention is to use whatever market volatility emerges to our advantage. This means revisiting recent additions to the Tematica Contender List like Nokia (NOK) and Innovative Solutions (ISSC), but also examining new potential positions for the select list as well.