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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.