Can The Santa Experience Save Brick-And-Mortar Retail This Holiday Season?

Can The Santa Experience Save Brick-And-Mortar Retail This Holiday Season?

This is a quaint idea, but as the data published by ShopperTrak for Black Friday 2019  showed there is no putting the digital shopping genie back in the bottle, especially not after companies like Target and Walmart have ramped up their digital commerce efforts to battle Amazon.

Some holiday traditions are easy to explain — things like wrapping presents, drinking hot chocolate and baking cookies are all neatly summed up with the knowledge that the vast majority of people like opening presents and eating cookies.

Source: Can The Santa Experience Save Brick-And-Mortar Retail This Holiday Season?

Weekly Issue: The Changing Mood of the Market

Weekly Issue: The Changing Mood of the Market

Over the last several days, volatility in the stock market has been rampant with wide swings taking place. Part and parcel of this has been a mood change in the stock market as high-flying stocks, including a number of technology ones, have come under pressure as investors re-think their growth prospects. That continued yesterday as shares of iPhone maker Apple (AAPL) became the latest one to dip into bear market territory with last night’s close following renewed concerns over the company’s device shipments in the near-term. This, in turn, has led to a few downgrades by Wall Street analysts, that at least in my view, are being somewhat short-sighted as the company continues to morph its business into one that is more reliant on high margin services rather than just the iPhone.

The same can be said with Amazon (AMZN), which has seen its shares tumble despite there being no slowdown in the shift to digital commerce as evidenced by the October Retail Sales Report. That report showed Nonstore retail sales for the month climbing just shy of 3x as fast as overall retail sales year over year. That was certainly confirmed in the latest earnings reports this week from Macy’s (M) and Walmart (WMT).  All indications, as well as expectations, have this aspect of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme accelerating into the all-important holiday shopping season. And yes, this keeps me bullish on our shares of United Parcel Service (UPS)

Now here’s the tough part to swallow – while we and our thematic way of investing are likely to be right in the medium to long-term, the mood in the stock market tends to prevail in the short-term. And with several of the concerns I’ve talked about here as well as in Tematica Investing and on our podcast, Cocktail Investing, rearing their heads odds are the stock market will continue to be a volatile one in the very near-term. This will likely see the current expectation resetting continue, especially for the sector-based investor view of “technology” stocks. Talk about a multi-headed sector that is simply a mish-mash of things – I’ll stick to our thematic lens approach, thank you very much. That said, with “tech” being in the doghouse, I’m using the time to evaluate a number of companies for the currently open Disruptive Innovators slot in our Thematic Leaders. Some of the current contenders include cloud-focused companies Dropbox (DBX), Instructure (INST) and Okata (OKT) among others.

This week

What’s been driving the latest round of roller coaster like thrills in the stock market can be found in the intersection of the latest earnings reports, economic data, and political developments. From sector investing perspective, we continue to get mixed results as evidenced by this week’s earnings reports as JC Penney (JCP) lagged expectations while Walmart (WMT) and Macy’s (M) beat them. From a thematic one, however, we see the dichotomy in those results as strong confirmation in our Digital Lifestyle investing theme as both Macy’s and Walmart delivered strong digital shopping performance in those quarterly reports, while JC Penney continues to struggle with its brick & mortar business.

Our Living the Life investing theme was also the recipient of positive confirmation this week as high-end outerwear company Canada Goose (GOOS) simply smashed top and bottom line expectations. Similarly, profits at luxury car company Aston Martin (AML.L) soared as its sales volume doubled year over year in the September quarter.

 

Sticking with Del Frisco’s

And while the Living the Lifestyle Thematic Leader that is Del Frisco’s (DFRG) reported a sloppy quarter following the disposal of its Sullivan’s business, the company shared a vibrant outlook, including the plan to grow its revenue and EBITDA to at least $700 million and $100 million by, respectively, by 2020 from the September quarter run rates of $420 million and $74 million, respectively. The intent on average will be to roll out two to three Double Eagles, two to three Barcelona Wine Bars and six bartacos restaurants each year, which is a measured move over the coming years and one that could be scaled back quickly should the domestic economy begin to falter several quarters out.

Near-term, Del Frisco’s should benefit from a pick-up in activity quarter to date following the arrival in the third quarter of its new chief marketing officer. On the earnings conference call, management shared Double Eagle’s private dining is up almost 20% in the first few weeks of the quarter and bookings for the rest of the quarter are up more than 20% compared to last year at this time.

The company also confirmed one of the key aspects of our investment thesis, which centers on margin improvement due in part to beef deflation. As discussed on the earnings call, the company’s total cost of sales as a percentage of revenue for the quarter decreased by 60 basis points to 27.3% from 27.9% in the year-ago period due to margin improvements at Double Eagle, Barcelona, and bartaco. This improvement and the year-over-year jump in bookings certainly point to the expected holiday inflection point panning out, which is also the most seasonally profitable time of year for Double Eagle and Grille. Cost-reduction efforts put in place earlier this year at these two brands should lead to visible margin improvement versus year-ago levels as the holiday volumes take effect.

  • For now, we’ll keep our long-term price target of $14 for Del Frisco’s (DFRG) shares intact, revisiting as needed should the company’s rollouts begin to slip.

 

Several headwinds remain in place

Despite these positive signals and happenings, we have to remember there are several headwinds blowing on the overall stock market. These include Italy standing firm with its latest budget, which puts it at odds with the European Union; Brexit limping forward; inflationary readings in both the October Producer Price Index and Consumer Price Index that will more than likely keep the Fed’s rate hike path intact, a looming concern for consumer debt and high levels of corporate debt; and the pending trade talks between the US and China at a time when more data shows a cooling in the global economy.

On a positive note, the NFIB Small Business Index’s October reading continued the near-two year string of record highs with more small businesses than not citing a bullish attitude toward the economy and expanding their businesses. A note of caution here as most businesses tend to exude such sentiment at or near the economic peak – few see the looming the downside. The NFIB’s report once again called out the lack of skilled workers with 53% of those surveyed reporting few or no qualified applicants.

This signals potential wage pressures ahead, however, the sharp fall in oil prices, which follows the notion of the slowing global economy and rising inventory levels, is poised to give some relief to both businesses and consumers as we head into the holiday shopping season. Yes, average gas prices have fallen to $2.68 per gallon from $2.89 a month ago, but they are still up vs. $2.56 per gallon this time last year. When it comes to gas prices, most consumers think sequentially, which means they are recognizing the drop in recent weeks, which in their minds offers some relief.

Noticed, I said some relief – consumers still face high debt levels with larger servicing costs vs. the year-ago levels. And let’s be honest, a consumer with a 12-gallon gas tank in his or her car that fills up twice a week is saving all of $4.80 per week compared to this time last month. In today’s world, that’s about enough to buy one pizza with some toppings a month. In other words, it will take more pronounced declines in gas prices to make a meaningful difference for those investors that resonate with our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme.

 

What to watch next week

In looking at the calendar for next week, we have the Thanksgiving holiday, which long-time subscribers know is one of my favorites. While the stock market is only closed for that holiday, we do have shortened trading hours next Friday – better known as Black Friday – and that will kick off the race for holiday shopping. That means we can expect the litany of headlines over initial holiday shopping sales over the post-holiday weekend as we ease into Cyber Monday. And yes, I will be paying close attention to those results given our positions in Amazon and UPS.

Before we get to share our thankfulness with family and friends, we will have a few economic reports to chew through including October Housing Starts, Durable Orders and Existing Home Sales. This week even Fed Chair Powell recognized the softening housing market as a headwind to the economy, and in my view that sets the stage for yet another lackluster housing report next week. Inside the Durable Orders report, we’ll be watching the all-important core capital goods line, a proxy for business investment. The stronger that number, the better the prospects for the current quarter, which tends to benefit from “use it or lose it” capital spending budgets.

On the earnings front next week, we will continue to hear from retailers, such as Best Buy (BBY), Kohl’s (KSS), Ross Stores (ROST) and TJX Companies (TJX). With regard to our own Costco Wholesale (COST) shares, we’ll be paying close attention to results from competitor BJ Wholesale (BJ). Outside of those retailers, I’ll be listening to what Nuance Communications (NUAN) has to say about the adoption of voice interfaces and digital assistants next week.

Special Alert: Trimming Back our Amazon Call Position

Special Alert: Trimming Back our Amazon Call Position

 

KEY POINTS FROM THIS SPECIAL ALERT:

 

Earlier this morning, we posted a special alert to Tematica Investing, which digests all the data coming out Thanksgiving weekend, the official kickoff to the 2017 Holiday Shopping Season. We also included a special bonus alert letting all subscribers see the big Options+ win we’re banking this morning on our Amazon calls.  You can read that full alert here, but we also wanted to make sure we sent it directly to you as well, so here goes . . .

 

Being Prudent Investors and Taking Big Gains in our Amazon Calls Off the Table

As the confirming holiday shopping data is coming in, we’re seeing Amazon shares respond accordingly and that is propelling the Amazon (AMZN) January 2018 1150 calls (AMZN180119C01150000) higher this morning. As we share today’s thoughts with you the AMZN calls are trading past $76.62, which equates to a gain of more than 135% since we added the position just 7 days ago to the Tematica Options+ Select List. As much as we like quick gains, we also like to be prudent and in this case, that means trimming the position back, while leaving a portion intact to capture additional gains to be had this holiday shopping season.

  • We are selling half of the Amazon (AMZN) January 2018 1150 calls (AMZN180119C01150000) that broke $76.62 this morning, generating a gain of more than 135% over the last 7 trading days.
  • As we make this trade, we are also boosting our stop loss on those calls to $55 from $32.50, which should ensure a profit of at least 69% on the remaining call position.

 

 

Special Alert: Recapping bullish signals for our Connected Society theme as holiday shopping goes increasingly digital this year

Special Alert: Recapping bullish signals for our Connected Society theme as holiday shopping goes increasingly digital this year

 

KEY POINTS FROM THIS SPECIAL ALERT:

  • Tematica Options+ Subscribers: We are selling half the Amazon (AMZN) January 2018 1150 calls (AMZN180119C01150000) that broke $76.62 this morning, generating a gain of more than 135% over the last 7 trading days. We are also boosting our stop loss to $55 from $32.50.*
  • With today being Cyber Monday, we will be revisiting our Amazon (AMZN) price target as the day’s sales tallies are published.
  • We continue to see Amazon (AMZN), Alphabet (GOOGL), and United Parcel Services (UPS) as beneficiaries of the accelerating shift toward digital commerce.

 

* Note: Following the Thanksgiving holiday, we are in a thankful mood and as such we are sharing this latest Tematica Options+ call option trade with all Tematica Investing subscribers. If you would like to upgrade your subscription to include Tematica Options+, please contact us at (571) 293-1977 or email us at customerservice@TematicaResearch.com

 

Holiday shopping data is confirming Our Connected Society Investment Theme on several fronts

We hope you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday, and where appropriate you took advantage of retail sales, both in-store and on digital platforms. Over the coming paragraphs, we’re going to review the weekend spending data that was bullish for our Connected Society investing theme as well as several Tematica Investing Select List positions and preview what’s expected today, Cyber Monday, but the quick takeaway is it confirmed the accelerating shift toward digital commerce that is fueling our positions in Amazon (AMZN) and United Parcel Service (UPS), and to a lesser degree Alphabet (GOOGL) given its search and shopping businesses.

According to Adobe Systems (ADBE), U.S. shoppers splurged more than $1.52 billion online by 5 PM ET on Thanksgiving and went on to part with more than $2.85 billion for the day in full. By comparison, that compares to $1.93 billion in online Thanksgiving sales in 2016. What we found even more incredible was the percentage derived from smartphones – a record 46% according to Adobe.

Turning to Black Friday, per e-commerce platform company Shopify, customers spent as much as $1 million per minute on the internet. Adobe reports that shoppers spent a record-high of $5 billion for the day, up from $3.34 billion in 2016. Another interesting data point, marketing firm Criteo reports that roughly 40 percent of Black Friday online sales were made on mobile devices Pairing Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales at the 100 largest U.S. Web retailers, Adobe found $7.9 billion was spent, marking an 18% increase compared to 2016.

Reports for Black Friday were less favorable for brick & mortar retailers, with many shoppers flocking to stores; however many of them were there only to “showroom” the merchandise. For those unfamiliar with that term, “showrooming” means eying items in person while waiting to complete the actual transaction online, while continuing to bargain hunt online or via mobile. Estimates from ShopperTrak said foot traffic “decreased less than one percent when compared to Black Friday 2016.” Looking at both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, however, ShopperTrak found in-store foot traffic was actually down nearly 2% compared to the same two days last year. Not good for brick & mortar at all, but with some context, we see it is simply more of the same given disappointing same-store sales reported by retailers of late.

What we found most interesting in retailer comments was the growing verbiage toward digital commerce . . . 

While some may call it pandering, we see it as more confirmation of the shift we’ve been describing. Case in point, Kohl’s (KSS) CEO Kevin Mansell shared that while the retailer delivered a “record-breaking” Thanksgiving, more than 16 million visits were made to kohls.com, Kohl’s said, outpacing any prior traffic or sales precedents. Mansell went on to say the company fulfilled roughly 40% more orders that were bought online and picked up in stores when compared with Black Friday of last year. Another example was had at J.C. Penney (JCP), which shared that traffic at jcp.com increased at a double-digit pace throughout the week, with most shoppers visiting the site from their mobile devices. And on Thanksgiving Day, Penney’s website received the most visits of any day so far this year.

Rounding out the holiday shopping weekend, today is Cyber Monday and it is expected to become the largest online shopping day in history, generating $6.6 billion in sales, up  16.5% compared to last year’s $5.6 billion according to Adobe. Here’s the thing — if this Cyber Monday sets a new online record, it will be the sixth year in a row the day has done so.

Stepping back, we see all the weekend’s data confirming the shift to digital commerce that has been at the heart of our position in Amazon. The same shift towards online is also driving the search and shopping business at Alphabet and fueling the season surge at United Parcel Service.

As this shopping shift is occurring, we are also seeing Amazon build its own private-label offerings across a growing number of categories, including sportswear, electronics, and accessories to kitchenware. This is placing additional pressure on bricks-and-mortar names such as J.C. Penney and Sears (SHLD). Of course, there is more than enough reason to think there will be even more pain on the way, as traditional retail businesses are pumping up the use of discounts to win business, which should further pressure margins.

In a survey conducted by the Berkley Research Group of more than 100 high-level retail executives in October, 64% of the respondents said they expected promotions to play a more significant role in overall sales during the 2017 holidays. This tells us is there is more trouble ahead for brick & mortar retailers as these companies sacrifice profits to win revenue. That isn’t exactly a sustainable business model and one that tends to lead to declining earnings per share. In our view, those that lack a competitive weapon in its back pocket — weapons like Amazon’s Amazon Web Services or Costco Wholesale’s (COST) higher margin membership fee business — are stocks to be avoided as retailer pain continues.

  • Our price target on Amazon is $1,250 but based on the online shopping strength thus far and what’s expected today we are reviewing that target.
  • As we review our AMZN price target, we are doing the same for Alphabet (GOOGL) shares. Currently, that price target sits at $1,150.
  • Our price target on United Parcel Service (UPS) shares remains $130.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $185.

 

Tematica Options+ Subscribers: Trimming back our Amazon call position

* Note: Following the Thanksgiving holiday, we are in a thankful mood and as such we are sharing this latest Tematica Options+ call option trade with all Tematica Investing subscribers. If you would like to upgrade your subscription to include Tematica Options+, please contact us at (571) 293-1977 or email us at customerservice@TematicaResearch.com

As the confirming holiday shopping data is coming in, we’re seeing Amazon shares respond accordingly and that is propelling the Amazon (AMZN) January 2018 1150 calls (AMZN180119C01150000) higher this morning. As we share today’s thoughts with you the AMZN calls are trading past $76.62, which equates to a gain of more than 135% since we added the position just 7 days ago to the Tematica Options+ Select List. As much as we like quick gains, we also like to be prudent and in this case, that means trimming the position back, while leaving a portion intact to capture additional gains to be had this holiday shopping season.

  • We are selling half of the Amazon (AMZN) January 2018 1150 calls (AMZN180119C01150000) that broke $76.62 this morning, generating a gain of more than 135% over the last 7 trading days.
  • As we make this trade, we are also boosting our stop loss on those calls to $55 from $32.50, which should ensure a profit of at least 69% on the remaining call position.

 

 

Record $25 Billion on Alibaba’s Singles’ Day and Most was Mobile

Record $25 Billion on Alibaba’s Singles’ Day and Most was Mobile

For more than 90% of the past two millennia, China and India have dominated the global economy, generating over half of the total GDP in terms of real purchasing power. The incredible volume of sales generated by Alibaba (BABA) over the weekend illustrates the reemergence of that economic power.

Asia’s return to its multi-millennial dominant role began in the 1950s and started accelerating in the 1980s to rise from 16% to over 30% by 2000. Today Asia’s share of global GDP, excluding the Middle East, has reached a 160-year high of 43%. During that time, the share of the United States and Western Europe has fallen to a 166-year low of 33%, with the U.S. share cut to half its mid-20th peak and Western Europe losing nearly one-third of its share just since the start of the 21st century — all part of the story behind our Rise and Fall of the Middle Class as the west loses its dominance while emerging economies come into their own.

This was inevitable, given the demographic disparity between China, India and the U.S. The population of China is nearly 1.4 billion and India over 1.3 billion, while the United States population is less than a quarter of that at just over 320 million and Western Europe at 400 million. With such enormous population numbers, small gains in productivity have a much greater impact on growth.

Alibaba generated a mind-boggling $25.3 billion (168.2 billion yuan) in sales in just one day from at least 225 countries and regions, a 39% increase from the prior year. Sales are estimated to mean distribution of over 700 million packages after 11-11. What was even more astounding and illustrates the power of our Connected Society theme was that according to Bloomberg,

About 90 percent of transactions were done via mobile. At its peak, the company’s processors handled 256,000 transactions per second.

For perspective, on Black Friday last year, American’s spent a new record $3.34 billion online, a 21.6% increase over 2015. Black Friday’s mobile sales amounted to just $1.2 billion, which was a 33% increase over 2015.

Source: Alibaba’s Singles’ Day Goes Global With Record $25 Billion in Sales – Bloomberg