Apple’s negative pre-announcement serves as a reminder to the number of risks that have accumulated

Apple’s negative pre-announcement serves as a reminder to the number of risks that have accumulated

 

We are “breaking in” to share my thoughts with you on the implications of Apple’s (AAPL) downside December quarter earnings news last night. Quickly this is exactly of what I was concerned about in early December, but rather than take a victory lap, let’s discuss what it means and what we’re going to do. 

Last night we received a negative December quarter earnings preannouncement from Apple (AAPL), which is weighing on both AAPL shares as well as the overall market. It serves as a reminder to the number of risks that have accumulated during the December quarter – the slowing global economy, including here at home; the US-China trade war; Brexit and other geopolitical uncertainty in the eurozone; the strong dollar; shrinking liquidity and a Fed that looks to remain on its rate hike path while also unwinding its balance sheet. Lenore Hawkins and I talked about these at length on the Dec. 21 podcast, which you can listen to here.

In short, a growing list of worries that are fueling uncertainty in the market and in corporate boardrooms. When the outlook is less than clear, companies tend to issue conservative guidance which may conflict with Wall Street consensus expectations. In the past when that has happened, it’s led to a re-think in growth prospects for both the economy, corporate profits and earnings, the mother’s milk for stock prices.

These factors and what they are likely to mean when companies begin issuing their December quarter results and 2019 outlooks in the coming weeks, were one of the primary reasons we added the ProShares Short S&P 500 (SH) shares to our holdings in just under a month ago. While the market fell considerably during December, our SH shares rose 5% offering some respite from the market pain. As expectations get reset, and odds are they will, we will continue to focus on the thematic tailwinds and thematic signals that have been and will remain our North Star for the Thematic Leaders and the larger Select List.

 

What did Apple have to say?

In a letter to shareholders last night, Apple CEO Tim Cook shared that revenue for the quarter would come in near $84 billion for the quarter vs. the consensus estimate of $91.5 billion and $88.3 billion, primarily due to weaker than expected iPhone sales. In the letter, which can be read here, while Apple cited several known headwinds for the quarter that it baked into its forecast such as iPhone launch timing, the dollar, supply constraints, and growing global economic weakness, it fingered stronger than expected declines in the emerging markets and China in particular.

Per the letter, most of the “revenue shortfall to our guidance, and over 100 percent of our year-over-year worldwide revenue decline occurred in Greater China across iPhone, Mac, and iPad.”

Cook went on to acknowledge the slowing China economy, which we saw evidence of in yesterday’s December Markit data for China. Per that report,

“The Caixin China General Manufacturing PMI dipped to 49.7 in December, the first time since May 2017 that the reading has been below 50, the mark that separates expansion from contraction. The sub-index for new orders slid below the breakeven point of 50 for the first time since June 2016, reflecting decreasing demand in the manufacturing sector.”

In our view here at Tematica, that fall in orders likely means China’s economy will be starting off 2019 in contraction mode. This will weigh on corporate management teams as they formulate their formal guidance to be issued during the soon to be upon us December quarter earnings season.

Also, in his letter, Cook called out the “rising trade tensions with the United States”  and the impact on iPhone demand in particular.

In typical Apple fashion, it discussed the long-term opportunities, including those in China, and other positives, citing that Services, Mac, iPad, Wearables/Home/Accessories) combined to grow almost 19% year-over-year during the quarter with records being set in a number of other countries. While this along with the $130 billion in cash that Apple has on its balance sheet exiting the December quarter, bode well for the long-term as well as its burgeoning efforts in healthcare and streaming entertainment, Apple shares came under pressure last night and today.

 

Odds are there will more negative earnings report to come

In light of the widespread holding of Apple shares across investor portfolios, both institutional and individual, as well as its percentage in the major market indices, we’re in for some renewed market pressure. There is also the reality that Apple’s decision to call out the impact of U.S.-China trade will create a major ripple effect that will lead to investors’ renewed focus on the potential trade-related downside to many companies and on the negative effect of China’s slowing economy.

In recent months we’ve heard other companies ranging from General Motors (GM) to FedEx (FDX) express concerns over the trade impact, but Apple’s clearly calling out its impact will have reverberations on companies that serve markets tied to both the smartphone and China-related demand. Overnight we saw key smartphone suppliers ranging from Skyworks Solutions (SWKS) and Qorvo (QRVO) come under pressure, and the same can be said for luxury goods companies as well. We’d note that Skyworks and Qorvo are key customers for Select List resident AXT Inc (AXTI, which means if we follow the Apple revenue cut through the supply chain, it will land on AXT and its substrate business.

All of the issues discussed above more than likely mean Apple will not be the only company to issues conservative guidance. Buckle up, it’s going to be a volatile few weeks ahead.

 

Positives to watch for in the coming weeks and months

While the near-term earnings season will likely mean additional pain, there are drivers that could lift shares higher from current levels in the coming months. These include a trade deal with China that has boasts a headline win for the US, but more importantly contains positive progress on key issues such as R&D technology theft, cybercrimes and the like – in other words, some of the meaty issues. There is also the Federal Reserve and expected monetary policy path that currently calls for two rate hikes this year. If the Fed is data dependent, then it likely knows of the negative wealth effect to be had following the drop in the stock market over the last few months.

Per Moody’s economist Mark Zandi, if stocks remained where there were as of last night’s close, it would equate to a $6 trillion drop in household wealth over the last 12-15 months. Per Zani, that would trim roughly 0.5% to 2019 GDP – again if the stock market stayed at last night’s close for the coming weeks and months. As we’re seeing today, and given my comments about the upcoming earnings season, odds are that 2019 GDP cut will be somewhat larger. That would likely be an impetus for the Fed to “slow its roll” on interest rates or at least offer dovish comments when discussing the economy.

Complicating matters is the current government shutdown, which has both the Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis closed. Even though there will be some data to be had, such as tomorrow’s December 2018 Employment Report from the Labor Department, it means the usual steady flow of economic data will not be had until the government re-opens. No data makes it rather difficult to judge the speed of the economy from all of us, including the Fed.

Given all of the above, we’ll continue to keep our more defensive positions companies like McCormick & Co. (MKC), Costco Wholesale (COST), and the ProShares Short S&P 500 shares intact. We’ll continue to watch input costs and what they mean for corporate profits at the margin – case in point is Del Frisco’s (DFRG), which is benefitting from not only falling protein costs but has been approached by an activist investor that could put the company in play. With Apple, Dycom Industries (DY), and AXT, we will see 5G networks lit this year here in the US, which will soon be followed by other such networks across the globe in the coming years. Samsung, Lenovo/Motorola and others have announced 5G smartphones will be shipping by mid-2019, and we expect Apple to once again ride that tipping point in 2020. That along with its growing Services business and other efforts to increase the stickiness of iPhone (medical, health, streaming, payments services), keeps us long-term bulls on AAPL shares.

When not if but when, the stock market finds its footing, which likely won’t be until after the December quarter earnings season at the soonest, we will look to strategically scale into a number of positions for the Thematic Leaders and the Select List.

 

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

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

Key points inside this issue:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Cocktail Investing Podcast September Retail Sales Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Scaling deeper into Del Frisco’s shares

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

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

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

 

Netflix crushes subscriber growth in the September quarter

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Walmart embraces our Digital Innovators investment theme

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

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

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

 

Weekly Issue: Trade Meetings and Earnings Reshape Market Outlook

Weekly Issue: Trade Meetings and Earnings Reshape Market Outlook

Key points from this issue:

  • Earnings from Boeing (BA) and General Motors (GM) signal markets will trade day-to-day as trade meetings and earnings season heat up.
  • Our price target on Dycom Industries (DY) shares remains $125
  • Our AXTI price target remains $11.
  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50
  • Our long-term price target for Farmland Partners (FPI) shares remains $12.
  • As we head into the seasonally strong second half of the year for United Parcel Service (UPS), our price target on the shares remains $130.

 

This week we’ve moved into the meaty part of 2Q 2018 earnings season, and so far, we’ve seen a number of companies beat top and bottom line expectations. Some market observers will point out that some 20%-25% of the S&P 500 group of companies are in that boat, and are declaring “victory” for the market. With today’s earnings from Boeing (BA) that and General Motors (GM), the market is trending lower as Boeing’s outlook falls short of Wall Street expectations while GM cut its outlook due to higher commodity prices. As you probably guessed, one of the culprits for GM is higher aluminum and steel prices.

My take on that is with 75%-80% of the S&P 500 yet to report, that claim while it could prove to right, it also could be a bit premature. As I shared with Oliver Renick, host at the TD Ameritrade Network a few days ago, we’ve only started to see the impact of initial trade tariffs and if the international dance continues we could see far more tariff jawboning put into action.

Consider a tweet from President Trump this morning that suggests a tariff follow through is possible.

 

 

But last night Trump tweeted a path forward to eliminating tariffs and other trade barriers between the Eurozone and the US ahead of his meeting today with the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker today to discuss trade, including tariffs on autos.

It would appear Trump is attempting to keep his negotiating opponents off balance in the hopes of improving trade relations from a US perspective. But it also seems that others have read Trump’s Art of the Deal by now as according to EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, the Commission is also preparing to introduce tariffs on $20 billion of U.S. goods if Washington imposes trade levies on imported cars.

While I would love to see some forward progress coming out of these talks, but just like with China the probability is rather low in my opinion. Much like with the China trade talks, things have escalated so that both sides will be looking to claim some victory to report back to their countrymen and women.  This likely means that as we migrate over the next few weeks of earnings, we will have to continue to watch trade developments, especially if more recent and wider spread tariffs wind up being enacted.

With more on the earnings and trade to be had in the coming days, we should be ready for day-to-day moves in the market, which will make it challenging for traders and options players. As they struggle, we’ll continue to take a longer-term focus, heeding the signals to be had with our thematic investing lens. Now, let’s get to some updates and other items…

 

Checking in on 5G spending from Verizon and AT&T

With both Verizon Communications (VZ) and AT&T (T) reporting June quarter results yesterday, I sifted through their comments on several fronts but especially on 5G given our positions in mobile infrastructure and licensing company Nokia (NOK), specialty contractor Dycom (DY) as well as compound semiconductor company AXT Inc. (AXTI). The nutshell take is things remain on track as both carriers look to launch commercial 5G networks in the coming quarters.

Verizon delivered solid quarterly results, buoyed by its core wireless business that added 531,000 net retail postpaid subscribers, which included 398,000 postpaid smartphone net adds. We’ve talked about how sticky mobile service is with consumers as smartphones are increasingly a life link for their connected lives so it comes as little surprise that Verizon’s customer loyalty remains strong with the quarter marking the fifth consecutive period of retail postpaid phone churn at 0.80 percent or better.

In terms of capital spending, a figure we want to watch as Verizon gets ready to launch its commercial 5G network, the company shared its 2018 spend will be at the lower end of its previously guided range of $17.0-$17.8 billion. Now here’s the thing, the mix of spending will favor 5G, which confirms the bullish comment and tone we shared last week from Ericsson (ERIC) on the North American 5G market.

With AT&T, its net capital spending in the June quarter slipped to $5.1 million, down from roughly $6 million in the March quarter but the company shared it will spend roughly $25 billion in all of 2018. Doing some quick math, we find this spending is weighted to the back half of 2018, which likely reflects investments in its 5G network as well as the new first responder network, FirstNet, it is building. During the earnings call, management shared the company now has 5G Evolution in more than 140 markets, covering nearly 100 million people with a theoretical peak speed of at least 400 megabits per second with plans to cover 400 plus markets by the end of this year. In terms of true 5G, trials are progressing and AT&T is tracking to launch service in parts of 12 markets by the end of this year.

That network spend and 5G buildout bodes well for both our Dycom shares.

  • Our price target on Dycom Industries (DY) shares remains $125

 

In addition, a few days ago mobile chip company Qualcomm (QCOM) shared that its 5G antennas are ready from prime time. More specifically, Qualcomm is shipping 5G antennas to its device partners that include Samsung, LG, Sony (SNE), HTC and Xiaomi among others for testing. Moreover, Qualcomm said it stands ready for “large-scale commercialization” which likely means 5G devices are just quarters away instead of years away.

We’d note those device partners of Qualcomm’s mentioned above have all announced plans to bring initial 5G powered phones to market during the first half of 2019. That means the supply chain will be readying power amplifiers and switches that will enable these devices to communicate with the 5G networks, which bodes well for incremental compound semiconductor substrate demand at AXT. Because 5G is being viewed as an “access technology” that will move mobile broadband past smartphones and similar devices, I continue to see this as a positive for the higher margin licensing business at Nokia as well.

As a reminder, AXT will report its quarterly results after tonight’s market close, and expectations for its June quarter are clocking in at $0.08 per in earnings on $26.1 million in revenue, up 60% and roughly 11% year over year.

  • Our AXTI price target remains $11.
  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50

 

Farmland Partners fights back

A few weeks ago, we shared not only our long-term conviction for Farmland Partners (FPI) shares but also prospects for continued drama in the coming months. Well, let’s say we’re not disappointed as this morning the company filed a lawsuit in District Court, Denver County, Colorado against “Rota Fortunae” (a pseudonym) and other entities who worked with or for Rota Fortunae in conducting a “short and distort” scheme to profit from the sharp decline in Farmland’s stock price resulting from false and misleading posting on Seeking Alpha. Farmland is seeking damages and injunctive relief for defamation, defamation by libel per se, disparagement, intentional interference with prospective business relations, unjust enrichment, deceptive trade practices, and civil conspiracy.

Are we surprised? No, especially since the Farmland management team signaled it would be moving down this path. While this will likely result in some incremental noise, we’ll continue to focus on the business and the long-term drivers of the agricultural commodities that drive it.

  • Our long-term price target for Farmland Partners (FPI) shares remains $12.

 

Paccar delivers on the earnings front, boosts its dividend

Tuesday morning, heavy and medium duty truck company Paccar (PCAR) delivered strong June quarter results, beating on both the top and bottom line. For the quarter, Paccar reported earnings of $1.59 per share, $0.16 better than the $1.43 consensus on revenues that rose more than 24% year over to year to $5.47 billion, edging out the $5.39 billion that was expected. The strength in the quarter reflects not only rising production and delivery levels that reflect the pick up in truck orders over the last 6-9 months, but also the ripple effect had on the company’s high margin financing business. Also too, as truck up time increases as does the number of Paccar trucks in service, we’ve seen a nice pick up in the company’s Parts business that carries premium margins relative to the new truck one.

During the quarter, Paccar repurchased 1.21 million of its common shares for $77.2 million, completing its previously authorized $300 million share repurchase program. The Board of Directors approved an additional $300 million repurchase of outstanding common stock earlier this month and given the current share price that is below that average repurchase price we suspect this new program will be put to use quickly. Also during the quarter, Paccar boosted its quarterly dividend to $0.28 per share from $0.25, and management reminded investors of the company’s track record of delivering quarterly and special dividends in the range of 45-55% of net income.

Given 111% year over year growth in the new heavy truck orders throughout the U.S. and Canada during the first half of 2018, we continue to be bullish on PCAR shares as we head into the second half of 2018. Even so, we’ll continue to analyze the monthly truck order data as well as freight indicators and other barometers of domestic economic activity to assess the continued strength in new truck demand. In the coming months, we expect long-time followers of Paccar will begin to focus on the potential year-end special dividend the company has issued more often than not.

  • Our price target on Paccar (PCAR) shares remains $80.

 

A quick note on United Parcel Service earnings

Early this morning, United Parcel Service (UPS) beat estimates by a penny a share, with an adjusted quarterly profit of $1.94 per share. Revenue beat forecasts, as well, boosted by strong growth in online shopping – no surprise to us given our Digital Lifestyle investing theme. UPS will host a conference call this morning during which it will update its outlook for the back half of the year, and that should help quantify the year over year growth in Amazon’s (AMZN) Prime Day 2018 ahead of its earnings report later this week.

  • As we head into the seasonally strong second half of the year for United Parcel Service (UPS), our price target on the shares remains $130.

 

 

Weekly Issue: Adding Two New Positions As We Pass the Summer Doldrums

Weekly Issue: Adding Two New Positions As We Pass the Summer Doldrums

 

Key points in this issue:

 

Over the past couple of weeks, we saw a number of our Tematica Options+ positions get stopped out. These included:

  • Discovery (DISCA) October 2018 30.00 calls (DISCA181019C00030000)
  • Utilities SPDR ETF (XLU) August 17, 2018 53.00 calls (XLU180817C00053000)
  • JPMorgan Chase & Co. August 110.00 calls (JPM180817C00110000)
  • ProShares Short S&P 500 (SH) August 17, 2018 30.00 calls (SH180817C00030000)

Stop outs are never easy nor are they fun — especially if the underlying strategy pays off in the longer-term — but they speak to the importance of being a disciplined investor and managing risk. Those qualities will serve us well in the coming weeks as thousands of companies serve up their quarterly results, updating investors as to their views on how a slowing global economy, rising dollar, climbing interest rates and input costs, as well as tariff implications, will impact their business in the coming months. While we’ve heard from more than a handful of companies over the last several days we still have more than 85% of the S&P 500 companies to go. As baseball great Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over” and that means we will have several weeks of earnings fun and potential disruption in the market.

This will make trading options a tad more difficult than usual, and while we may get stopped out in the short-term, I go back to what I said above – it’s all part of being a disciplined investor and managing potential downside risk. I agree, it’s not optimal but we can look for opportunity where it is present and that brings two new call option trades to the Select List today. Here we go…

 

Adding a call position on Netflix shares

As I reminded you in yesterday’s issue of Tematica Investing, last week we added Netflix (NFLX) shares to the Tematica Investing Select List and also yesterday I shared my view on the company’s 2Q 2018 earnings results. To quickly recap those comments, I saw that earnings report as a bump in the road and the combination of stock rating upgrades as well as the share price recovery vs. the 14% post-earnings drop in after-market trading on Monday tells us we’re not the only ones remaining bullish on the shares.

One of the criticisms of the second quarter for Netflix was its lack of breakout content, and while that was a fair criticism of the quarter, CEO Reed Hastings reminded investors there is much more content coming in the back half of 2018 and even more in 2019 given the next few quarters are big content spending ones. We also have the benefit of pending price increases that should help with year over year revenue comparisons.

As we remain patient with NFLX shares over at Tematica Investing, the recent pullback in offers us an opportunity at Tematica Options+. To capitalize on that as well as the likely strength as we head into a seasonally stronger period for Netflix, I’m adding the Netflix (NFLX) December 2018 400.00 calls (NFLX181221C00400000)that closed last night at X to the Select List. As we do this, be sure to set a stop loss at 20.00, which is a little wider than we’ve been setting them of late but the duration on this position is also on the longer end of the spectrum.

 

Adding Dycom calls following positive 5G comments from Ericsson

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

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

While one could consider call option positions in AXT and Nokia, the former has very thin call option volume while Nokia’s customer mix is far more global in nature compared to Dycom’s US heaving business. For that reason as well as being in the middle of the seasonally strong period for construction activity as well as Ericsson calling out the North American 5G market, in particular, I’m opting to add the Dycom (DY) December 2018 110.00 calls (DY181221C00110000) that closed last night at X to the Select List. Again, given the time frame, we’re going to set a wider than usual initial stop loss at 3.00 for this position.

Signposts for this trade will include earnings results and 5G commentary on both spending and deployment from AT&T and Verizon both on Tuesday, July 24.

 

 

Housekeeping on AMC Network calls

After long last, it certainly looks like Disney (DIS) is poised to acquire 21st Century Fox (FOXA) although the Justice Department is looking to appeal the federal court ruling that paved the way for that transaction. I still suspect that means Comcast (CMCSA) will be on the acquisition hunt to bulk up against the post-acquisition Disney, and that is keeping the AMC Networks (AMCX) calls on the Select List.

I would share that it hasn’t gone unnoticed that trading activity in our AMCX calls has ground to a halt over the last few trading sessions across the board for September 2018 calls. While it could be the summer doldrums, the reality in any market is there needs to be a matching up of willing buyers to willing sellers and there has been an absence of that. I expect that to change as we near the company’s June quarter reporting date of Aug. 2. For now, let’s hold tight with the AMCX calls and we’ll revisit the situation based on that report and any other new media merger news.

 

SPECIAL ALERT – Adding AXT Inc. shares back to the Select List

SPECIAL ALERT – Adding AXT Inc. shares back to the Select List

 

  • We are adding shares of AXT (AXTI) back to the Tematica Investing Select List as part of our Disruptive Technology investing theme. Our price target is $11.

Like the saying says, “To make a mistake is human” and last week I did just that – I made a mistake by saying we were scaling into shares of compound semiconductor substrate company AXT (AXTI). I had forgotten that we had been stopped out of AXTI shares back in late January with a 27% gain. While I could blame it on the crazy week of economic data and earnings reports, the bottom line is I made a mistake.

The silver lining is that as we formally add back AXTI shares to the Tematica Investing Select List, we are doing so at an even better share price – roughly $6.50 vs. the $8.25 price at which we were stopped out. Over the last few weeks of earnings season, we’ve heard a growing number of companies point to the launch of 5G networks and devices in the coming quarters. I expect more confirmation at the upcoming 5G North America conference that will be held May 14-16 in Austin, Tex. Based on the list of speakers for the event, I expect a number of data points surrounding the timing of 5G but also ensuing applications to be had spinning out of the event.

Also, I am hearing more about rising demand for vertical cavity surface emitting lasers (VCSELs for short) that are a crucial light source component for 3D sensors which increasingly being adopted into smartphones and other consumer electronics devices. This should help drive incremental substrate demand for AXT in the back half of 2018 and beyond.

At current levels, the longer-term reward to be had with AXTI shares easily outweighs incremental downside, and this has us adding AXTI shares back to the Tematica Investing Select List with an $11 price target.

 

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: The Cherry on Top of Apple’s Quarter Earnings Beat

WEEKLY ISSUE: The Cherry on Top of Apple’s Quarter Earnings Beat

 

Key Points from this Alert:

  • After March quarter earnings that shut down the doomsayers, an upsized capital return program and ahead of the upcoming WWDC 2018 event in June, our price target on Apple (AAPL) shares remains $200.
  • What’s the Fed likely to say later today?
  • We are scaling into AXT (AXTI) shares on the Tematica Investing Select List at current levels and keeping our long-term $11 price target intact.
  • We are also adding to our position in LSI Industries (LYTS) shares at current levels, and our price target remains $11.

 

Apple delivers for the March quarter and upsizes its capital return program

Last night in aftermarket trading, Apple (AAPL) shares popped more than 3% after closing the day more than 2% higher as Apple delivered a March quarter that was a sigh of relief to many investors. More specifically Apple served up results on the top and bottom line that were ahead of expectations, guided current quarter revenue ahead of expectations and upsized not only its share repurchase program, but its dividend as well. Heading into the earnings report, investors had become increasingly concerned over iPhone shipments for the quarter, particularly for the iPhone X, following recent comments on high-end smartphone demand from Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM), Samsung and others. That set a low sentiment bar, which the company once again walked over.

What Apple delivered included iPhone shipments modestly ahead of expectations – 52.2 million vs. 52.0 million – and an average selling price that fell $70 to $729. Down but certainly not the disaster that many had fretted for the iPhone X. iPad shipments were also stronger than expected and Apple continued to grow its Services business with Mac sales in line with analyst forecasts. Looking at the Services business, Apple is well on track to deliver on its $50 billion revenue target by 2021 and that’s before we factor in what’s to come from its recent acquisitions of Shazam and Texture as well as its burgeoning original content moves. In my view, that original content move, which replicates a strategy employed by Netflix (NFLX) and Amazon (AMZN), will make Apple’s already incredibly sticky devices even more so.

Think of it as Tematica’s Content is King investing theme meets Connected Society and Cashless Consumption… and yes, I need a better name for that three-pronged tailwind combination.

On the guidance, Apple put revenue ahead of consensus expectations and signaled a modest dip in gross margins due to the memory pricing environment. Even so, the sequential comparison for revenue equates to a quarter over quarter drop of 12.5%-15.5%, which likely reflects a mix shift in iPhones toward non-iPhone models. Pretty much as expected and far better than the doomsayers were predicting.

The bottom line on the March quarter results and June quarter outlook was investors fretted about the iPhone X to an extreme degree… an overreactive degree… forgetting the company has a portfolio of iPhone products as well as other products and services. Some may see the report as giving investors a sigh of relief, but I see it more as a reminder that investors should not count Apple out as we move into an increasingly digital lifestyle.

Is the company still primarily tied to the iPhone? Yes, but it is more than just the iPhone and that is something that will become more apparent in the coming year. We’re apt to see more of that in a month’s time at the company’s annual World-Wide Developer Conference, which several months later will be followed by what continues to sound like an iPhone product line up with refresh with several models at favorable price points.

The added cherry on top of the company’s meet to beat quarter and outlook was the incremental $100 billion share repurchase program and the 16% increase in the dividend. That dividend boost brings the company’s annual dividend to $2.92 per share, which equates to a dividend yield of 1.7%. Looking at dividend yields over the last few years applied to the new dividend supports our $200 price target for Apple shares.

  • After March quarter earnings and ahead of the upcoming WWDC 2018 event in June, our price target on Apple (AAPL) shares remains $200.

 

What’s the Fed likely to say later today?

While many were focused on Apple’s earnings, others, like myself, were also getting ready for the Fed’s latest monetary- policy meeting, which concludes today. Market watchers expect the FOMC to leave interest rates unchanged, but recent data (as well as some comments that company executives have made this earnings season) suggest that we’re seeing a pickup in U.S. inflation.

For example, Caterpillar (CAT) last week shared that its margins likely peaked during the first quarter due to rising commodity prices, most notably steel. Meanwhile, the April IHS Markit Flash U.S. Composite Purchasing Managers Index report last week showed that average prices for goods and services “increased solidly. The rate of input price inflation was the quickest since July 2013.”

And on the manufacturing side, the report noted that “price pressures within the factory sector intensified, with the rate of input-cost inflation picking up to the fastest since June 2011.” Markit also wrote that the services sector “witnessed its average cost burdens climbing month over month as well.”

We also learned just this week that the U.S. Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index (which happens to be the Fed’s preferred inflation metric) rose 2.4% year over year. While that’s down a few ticks from February’s 2.7%, the PCE came in well above the Fed’s 2% inflation target for the second month in a row.

And lastly, the April ISM Manufacturing Index’s price component edged up to 79.3 from 78.1 in March, easily marking 2018’s highest level so far.

All of these figures have likely caught the Fed’s eyes and ears. Make no mistake about it — the central bank will review them with a fine-toothed comb. The FOMC came out of its last policy meeting rather divided as to the number of rate hikes it expects for 2018. Some FOMC members preferring the three hikes that markets widely expect, but others on the committee increasingly leaned toward four.

In the grand scheme of things, four vs. three rate hikes isn’t a “yuge deal” (as President Donald Trump would say). In fact, more investors are likely expecting the higher numbers of hikes given the recent inflationary economic data. But that’s just the investor base. Odds are that any language in the FOMC’s post-meeting communique that points to an upsized pace of rate hikes is bound to catch the mainstream media and others off-guard.

And one way or another, the Fed’s comments are bound to make the wage data that we’ll be getting in this Friday’s U.S. April jobs report a key focus. A hotter-than- expected headline number will boost the odds that we’ll see a fourth rate hike this year.

But between now and then, expect to see lower-than-usual trading volumes as investors wait to see the latest economic figures while also digesting this week’s litany of earnings reports. Things could get a little wonky, as investors reset expectations for corporate earnings and FOMC hikes, but I’ll continue to let our thematic tailwinds be our guide.

 

Scaling into AXTI (AXTI) shares …

Last week was a challenging one for shares of AXT Inc. (AXTI) and LSI Industries (LYTS), and while that is painful and frustrating in the near-term, I view this as an opportunity to scale deeper into both positions at better prices. The silver lining is this will improve our cost basis for the longer term.

With regard to AXT, the smartphone industry has been currently transfixed on comments from Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM), Samsung and SK Hynix that all warned on demand for high-end smartphones. As we saw last night, those comments were not necessarily indicative of Apple’s iPhone shipments for the March quarter and as I pointed out above Apple has a portfolio of smartphones and a growing services business. Also, given comments from mobile infrastructure company Ericsson (ERIC) and chip-supplier Qualcomm (QCOM), 5G smartphones should be hitting in 2019, which we see fostering the beginning of a major upgrade cycle for the iPhone and other vendors.

This is a great example of focusing on the long-term drivers rather than short-term share-price movement. Later this week two of AXT’s customers — Skyworks Solutions (SWKS) and Qorvo (QRVO) — will report their quarterly results. I expect those reports to reflect the short-term concerns as well as the longer-term opportunity as wireless connectivity continues to move past smartphones. With AXT’s substrates an essential building block for the RF semiconductors, let’s remain patient as I keep our long-term price target at $11, following the company’s first-quarter 2018 results that beat expectations but also call for sequential improvement in both revenue and earnings per share.

  • We are scaling into AXT (AXTI) shares on the Tematica Investing Select List at current levels and keeping our long-term $11 price target intact.

 

… and buying more shares of LSI Industries (LYTS) as well

Now let’s turn to LSI Industries. Concerns about a sudden management change last week, just days ahead of the company’s quarterly earnings report, led LYTS shares to plummet 20% but rebound a bit later in the week even as LSI reported March-quarter results that missed both top-line and bottom-line expectations. While the search for a new CEO is underway, what was said during the earnings conference call was favorable, in my opinion, and supports my thesis on the shares.

First, let’s tackle the elephant in the room that is the sudden CEO departure. As one might expect, such a late in the quarterly reporting game resignation is bound to jar investors, but the near 29% move lower over the ensuing few days was more than extreme. That said, a sudden CEO departure raises many questions, and when it’s in a market that has been registering Fear on the CNNMoney Fear & Greed Index, investors tend to a shoot first and ask questions later mentality.

What I saw on the earnings conference call was a calm management team that is looking for a next-generation CEO. What I mean by that is one that understands the changes that are happening in the lighting market with increasing connectivity in lighting systems and signage. This to me says the desired CEO will be one with a technology background vs. one with a legacy lighting background. Much the way the lighting technology being used is being disrupted with LEDs and soon OLEDs, LSI needs a forward-thinking CEO, not one that only thinks of traditional light bulbs.

Second, the company’s lighting business is nearing the end of its transition to light- emitting diodes (LEDs) from traditional lighting solutions. During the March quarter, LSI’s LED business grew 14% year over year to account for 92% of the segment vs. roughly 80% in the year-ago quarter. Despite that success, the legacy lighting business continues to decline, with sales of those products falling by more than 55% year over year in the March quarter.

With one more quarter left in its transition to LEDs, the weight of the legacy lighting business likely won’t be a factor much longer, and that should allow the power of the LED business to benefit the bottom line. The LED business is riding the combined tailwinds of both environmentally friendly green technology as well as the improving nonresidential landscape.

Alongside its earnings report, LSI’s Board of Directors declared a regular quarterly cash dividend of $0.05 per share that is payable May 15 to shareholders of record as of May 7. The annualized dividend equates to LYTS shares offering a dividend yield of 3.4% at recent levels, well above its historical range of 1.5%-2.5% over the 2015-2017 period. Applying those historical dividend yields to the current annualized dividend yields a share price between $8-$13. The stock market liked this as LYTS shares rallied some 10% over the last several days, but we still have ample upside to my long-term $11 price target.

This tells me that there is much further to go fro LYTS shares in the coming months as LSI finds a CEO and gets its story back on track. Let’s remain patient with this one.Helping with that patient attitude was yesterday’s March Construction Spending Report, which revealed private nonresidential construction rose 3.8% year over year for the month on a non-seasonally adjusted basis.

  • We are adding to our position in LSI Industries (LYTS) shares at current levels, and our price target remains $11.

 

 

Ahead of CES 2018, AT&T targets 5G in 2018. Another positive for NOK and AXTI shares

Ahead of CES 2018, AT&T targets 5G in 2018. Another positive for NOK and AXTI shares

Early this morning it was announced that AT&T (T) “will be providing 5G services in around 12 markets by late 2018” and “plans to add 3 million more locations to the AT&T Fiber network, for a total of 12.5 million locations across 82 metro areas by mid-2019.” This follows comments several weeks ago by T-Mobile USA’s (TMUS) CTO Neville Ray that it would look to deploy its own 5G network across the entire nation by 2020. At the time of the T-Mobile news, we shared the likelihood that AT&T and Verizon (VZ) would soon be putting their own 5G stakes in the ground, and that is what we are seeing today. Given the impact of 5G networks on our Disruptive Technologies and Connected Society investing themes, we are following these developments rather closely.

Whenever I heard of this big spending plans on networks, facilities or other forms of capital spending, my mind switches into detective mode and the first question tends to be: Who benefits?

In this case, it’s who benefits as AT&T opens the purse strings and spends on the network and as its competitors follow suit?

On the Tematica Investing Select List, we have existing positions in mobile infrastructure company Nokia (NOK), as well as AXT (AXTI) whose substrates are the core building block for wireless and fiber optic related semiconductors. Both stocks are trading up modestly today, but I’d note that given the winter storm that is pounding the Northeast today (believe me I know on this as I am huddled in a hotel room about 30 miles outside of Manhattan right now) trading volumes are rather lite.

As I shared in yesterday’s Tematica Investing, I expect to hear much more about 5G next week when CES 2018 is held. Heading into next week, I remain bullish on both Nokia and AXT shares, which have respective price targets of $11 and $8.50.

On the back of the AT&T news, we are eyeing bringing specialty contractor Dycom (DY) back into the Tematica Investing Select List fold. I say eyeing because as much as a positive as the 5G race will be for the company, the record low temperatures across the country and winter storm Grayson are likely to lead to some disruptions in the current quarter for Dycom and could thus push revenue from the first quarter into the second quarter. Once these probable disruptions are priced into DY shares, I’ll look to revisit them as well as other chip companies that are poised to benefit from incremental 5G demand, but must first contend with the seasonal slowdown in smartphone demand.

 

 

Investing herd continues to catch up to us

Investing herd continues to catch up to us

Over the weekend I was doing my usual reading and noticed our positions in both Costco Wholesale (COST) and Applied Materials (AMAT) received favorable mentions in Barron’s. I always say it’s nice to see the herd catching up to what we’ve been seeing and saying, and these two articles are just the latest. As we shared in this week’s Monday Morning Kickoff, we are heading hip deep into 3Q 2017 earnings season. Thus far, we have been observers, but that will change this week when a number of companies on the Tematica Investing Select List report their quarterly results and update their outlook for the current quarter.

 

Costco Wholesale – Oppenheimer misses the real EPS generator

In Costco: 5 Reasons to Load Up digs into Oppenheimer’s Buy rating on COST shares and its $185 price target, which is in line with our price target. Candidly, while we agree with several of the presented points, we find it somewhat confounding that Costco’s continued footprint expansion, a key driver of very profitable membership fee income was not mentioned. While we could chalk it up to not really understanding how the company derives its overall profits and EPS, we’ll take the high road and say they did focus on reasons why the recent pullback in COST shares due to the perception of e-commerce threats is overblown.

 

 

Applied Materials – Semi-cap is strong, but let’s not forget about Display

Turning to Applied Materials, it was included in 4 Cheap Stock Picks for the Impatient article even though AMAT shares have been on a tear throughout 2017. The article rightly discussed one of the key drivers of rising semiconductor capital equipment demand:

It bodes well that China is rapidly building a chip industry, and must stock its factories with new machines, while new applications, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, are expanding the world-wide market for chips.

But, the article failed to mention the growing demand for Applied’s Display Business that is benefitting from the ramp in organic light emitting diode displays, which is also benefitting our Universal Display (OLED) shares. With both businesses firing, and following an upbeat outlook from semi-cap competitor Lam Research (LRCX), we remain bullish on AMAT shares. Our price target now stands at $65, but we suspect that as demand for its products continues to climb in 2018 there is likely another price increase to be had in the coming months.

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

 

This week’s earnings calendar

As I mentioned above, we are no longer passive observers this earning season as we have 6 companies on the Tematica Select List reporting this week. Here’s a quick rundown of when those companies will report and current consensus expectations. As you might expect, we’ll have color commentary on these reports, especially those that require us to take any action.

Tuesday, October 24

Corning (GLW; Disruptive Technology) – Consensus expectations call for this glass company that serves display and fiber markets to deliver EPS of $0.41 on revenue of $2.6 billion. Our price target is $37.

 

Wednesday, October 25

AXT Inc. (AXTI; Disruptive Technologies): Consensus expectations call for the RF semiconductor and fiber building block company to deliver EPS of $0.09 on $27 million in revenue. Our price target is $11

 

Thursday, October 26

Alphabet (GOOGL; Asset-Lite) – Consensus expectations have this internet search and digital advertising company earnings EPS of $8.33 on revenue of $27.2 billion for the quarter. Our price target is $1,050.

Amazon (AMZN; Connected Society) – Consensus expectations for the company we consider the poster child for thematic investing to deliver EPS of $0.03 on revenue of $42 billion, up almost 29% year over year. Our price target is $1,150.

Nokia Corp. (NOK: Asset-Lite – Consensus expectations have this wireless infrastructure, connected device and intellectual property company earnings EPS of $0.06 on revenue of $6.35 billion for 3Q 2017. Our price target stands at $8.50.

United Parcel Service (UPS; Connected Society) – This e-commerce delivery solutions company is slated to deliver EPS of $1.45 on revenue of $15.6 billion. Our price target on UPS shares remains $130.

 

 

Here’s what we’ll be watching for at today’s Apple special event

Here’s what we’ll be watching for at today’s Apple special event

Several of the Disruptive Technologies investment theme companies currently on the Tematica Select List will play a key role in the Apple Special Event scheduled for Tuesday, September 12th. In all likelihood the companies themselves will never be mentioned during the event, but with expectations once again running high ahead the next generation iPhone, here’s what we’ll be watching for as it pertains to the Tematica Select List.


 

Early this afternoon, Connected Society and smartphone reliant Apple (AAPL) will hold its next special event that is widely expected to unveil a bevy of new products, including its latest iPhone models. Much has been made over the last few days of “leaked information” over these new models as well as new iterations for Apple TV and Apple Watch, but as exciting as those other new products may be because the iPhone is the majority of Apple’s revenue and profits odds are investors will focus their attention on those new models.

While we don’t own Apple shares, and we touched on at least one of those reasons yesterday, there are several companies on the Tematica Select List that will be affected by today’s special event – Universal Display (OLED), Applied Materials (AMAT), and AXT Inc. (AXTI) as well as USA Technologies (USAT) and Nuance Communications (NUAN).

 

Universal Display (OLED) 

As subscribers should be aware, Universal Display is a Disruptive Technology investment theme company that supplies needed chemicals and intellectual property utilized in the manufacturing of organic liquid crystal displays (OLEDs). Over the last few months, there has been much talk of ramping demand in an industry that is capacity constrained as Apple begins to adopt the technology in the iPhone while other applications (other smartphone vendors, TVs, wearables and automotive interior lighting) continue to replace existing lighting and displays with OLEDs. There are now indications that Apple is likely to introduce OLEDs in its new premium iPhone, purportedly the iPhone X.

The issue, however, is that it is being reported that the manufacturing of iPhone X device is currently capped at around 10,000 units per day and may not begin shipping until next month. This could be due OLEDs supply constraints, but if this speculation over the iPhone X turns out to be true, we could see a pullback in our OLED shares, especially following the more than 18% move in the last month alone that has the shares bumping up against our $135 price target. We continue to think that as the adoption of OLEDs continues to ramp up, we will see a step-function higher in our price target for Universal Display shares, but in the near-term, our concern is that rapid climb in the share price could hit a “buy the rumor, sell the news” wall following Apple’s event. If such an outcome occurs, our view is subscribers should continue to hold OLED shares for the long-term. If the shares retreated to the $110-$115 level, which would be a sharp pullback, we would view that as another bite at the apple for subscribers that have so far held off buying OLED shares.

  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) shares remains $135
  • For now, subscribers that have missed out on OLED shares should look to scoop them up between $110-$115.

 

Applied Materials (OLED) 

If the supposition that Apple’s iPhone X production is capped because of capacity constraints for OLEDs, we see that being a resounding positive for shares of Disruptive Technology company Applied Materials (AMAT). As a reminder, Applied not only manufactures semiconductor capital equipment (the machines that make chips) it does the same for displays, including OLEDs. Applied has been rather frank about the robust demand for OLEDs, and it remains one of the reasons we are bullish on AMAT shares. Others include rising memory demand as well as ramping in-country semiconductor capacity in China.

  • Our price target on Applied Materials (AMAT) shares remains $55.

 

AXT Inc. (AXTI)

We would be surprised to hear Apple talk about 5G wireless technology, which would require several additional layers of RF semiconductors, largely because most wireless carriers like AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ) and T-Mobile USA (TMUS) are still testing the technology. If, however, the Apple Watch is updated to include LTE wireless technology, that would be a source of new demand for RF semiconductors, like those from Skyworks Solutions (SWKS) and Qorvo (QRVO). In turn, that means those companies, as well as other RF semiconductor suppliers of Apple’s, would require additional compound semiconductor substrates from AXT Inc. (AXTI). While we still see the eventual deployment of 5G networks that will drive incremental RF semiconductor demand as the key driver longer-term for AXT’s business, incremental demand from devices like Apple Watch is certainly welcome.

  • Our price target on AXT Inc. (AXTI) shares remains $10.50

 

USA Technologies (USAT) & Nuance Comm. (NUAN)

Finally, during today’s presentations, we’ll also be watching and listening for incremental news on USA Technologies (USAT), an Apple Pay partner, as well as Nuance Communications (NUAN). In iOS 11, Apple will continue to expand the services offered through Apple Pay, and we expect to hear at least some usage statistics from Apple CEO Tim Cook today. With Nuance, voice continues to become the new interface of choice across new applications from smart speakers to chat-bots, like those being rolled out by Google (GOOGL), Facebook (FB) and yes, Apple, and that keeps us bullish on NUAN shares.

  • Our price target on USA Technologies (USAT) shares remains $6
  • Our price target on Nuance Communications (NUAN) remains $21.