Doubling Down on Digital Infrastructure Thematic Leader

Doubling Down on Digital Infrastructure Thematic Leader

Key point inside this issue

  • We are doubling down on Dycom (DY) shares on the Thematic Leader board and adjusting our price target to $80 from $100, which still offers significant upside from our new cost basis as the 5G and gigabit fiber buildout continues over the coming quarters.

We are coming at you earlier than usual this week in part to share my thoughts on all of the economic data we received late last week.

 

Last week’s data confirms the US economy is slowing

With two-thirds of the current quarter behind now in the books, the continued move higher in the markets has all the major indices up double-digits year to date, ranging from around 11.5-12.0%% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 to nearly 18% for the small-cap heavy Russell 2000. In recent weeks we have discussed my growing concerns that the market’s melt-up hinges primarily on U.S.-China trade deal prospects as earnings expectations for this year have been moving lower, dividend cuts have been growing and the global economy continues to slow. The U.S. continues to look like the best economic house on the block even though it, too, is slowing.

On Friday, a round of IHS Markit February PMI reports showed that three of the four global economic horsemen — Japan, China, and the eurozone — were in contraction territory for the month. New orders in Japan and China improved but fell in the eurozone, which likely means those economies will continue to slug it out in the near-term especially since export orders across all three regions fell month over month. December-quarter GDP was revealed to be 2.6% sequentially, which equates to a 3.1% improvement year over year but is down compared to the 3.5% GDP reading of the September quarter and 4.2% in the June one.  Slower growth to be sure, but still growing in the December quarter.

Before we break out the bubbly, though, the IHS Markit February U.S. Manufacturing PMI fell to its lowest reading in 18 months as rates of output and new order growth softened as did inflationary pressures. This data suggest the U.S. manufacturing sector is growing at its slowest rate in several quarters, as did the February ISM Manufacturing Index reading, which slipped month over month and missed expectations. Declines were seen almost across the board for that ISM index save for new export orders, which grew modestly month over month. The new order component of the February ISM Manufacturing Index dropped to 55.5 from 58.2 in January, but candidly this line item has been all over the place the last few months. The January figure rebounded nicely from 51.3 in December, which was down sharply from 61.8 in November. This zig-zag pattern likely reflects growing uncertainty in the manufacturing economy given the pace of the global economy and uncertainty on the trade front. Generally speaking though, falling orders translate into a slower production and this means carefully watching both the ISM and IHS Markit data over the coming months.

In sum, the manufacturing economy across the four key economies continued to slow in February. On a wider, more global scale, J.P. Morgan’s Global Manufacturing PMI fell to 50.6 in February, its lowest level since June 2016. Per J.P. Morgan’s findings, “the rate of expansion in new orders stayed close to the stagnation mark,” which suggests we are not likely to see a pronounced rebound in the near-term. We see this as allowing the Fed to keep its dovish view, and as we discuss below odds are it will be joined by the European Central Bank this week.

Other data out Friday included the December readings for Personal Income & Spending and the January take on Personal Income. The key takeaway was personal income fell for the first time in more than three years during January, easily coming in below the gains expected by economists. Those pieces of data not only help explain the recent December Retail Sales miss but alongside reports of consumer credit card debt topping $1 trillion and record delinquencies for auto and student loans, point to more tepid consumer spending ahead. As I’ve shared before, that is a headwind for the overall US economy but also a tailwind for those companies, like Middle-class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale (COST), that help consumers stretch the disposable income they do have.

We have talked quite a bit in recent Tematica Investing issues about revisions to S&P 500 2019 EPS estimates, which at last count stood at +4.7% year over year, down significantly from over +11% at the start of the December quarter. Given the rash of reports last week – more than 750 in total –  we will likely see that expected rate of growth tweaked a bit lower.

Putting it all together, we have a slowing U.S. and global economy, EPS cuts that are making the stock market incrementally more expensive as it has moved higher in recent weeks, and a growing number of dividend cuts. Clearly, the stock market has been melting up over the last several weeks on increasing hopes over a favorable trade deal with China, but last week we saw President Trump abruptly end the summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un with no joint agreement after Kim insisted all U.S. sanctions be lifted on his country. This action spooked the market, leading some to revisit the potential for a favorable trade deal between the U.S. and China.

Measuring the success of any trade agreement will hinge on the details. Should it fail to live up to expectations, which is a distinct possibility, we could very well see a “buy the rumor, sell the news” situation arise in the stock market. As I watch for these developments to unfold, given the mismatch in the stock market between earnings and dividends vs. the market’s move thus far in 2019 I will also be watching insider selling in general but also for those companies on the Thematic Leader Board as well as the Tematica Select List. While insiders can be sellers for a variety of reasons, should we see a pronounced and somewhat across the board pick up in such activity, it could be another warning sign.

 

What to Watch This Week

This week we will see a noticeable drop in the velocity of earnings reports, but we will still get a number of data points that investors and economists will use to triangulate the speed of the current quarter’s GDP relative to the 2.6% print for the December quarter. The consensus GDP forecast for the current quarter is for a slower economy at +2.0%, but we have started to see some economists trim their forecasts as more economic data rolls in. Because that data has fallen shy of expectations, it has led the Citibank Economic Surprise Index (CESI) to once again move into negative territory and the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow current quarter forecast now sat at 0.3% as of Friday.

On the economic docket this week, we have December Construction Spending, ISM’s February Non-Manufacturing Index reading, the latest consumer credit figures and the February reports on job creation and unemployment from ADP (ADP) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With Home Depot (HD) reporting relatively mild December weather, any pronounced shortfall in December Construction Spending will likely serve to confirm the economy is on a slowing vector. Much like we did above with ISM’s February Manufacturing Index we’ll be looking into the Non-Manufacturing data to determine demand and inflation dynamics as well as the tone of the services economy.

On the jobs front, while we will be watching the numbers created, including any aberration owing to the recent federal government shutdown, it will be the wage and hours worked data that we’ll be focusing on. Wage data will show signs of any inflationary pressures, while hours worked will indicate how much labor slack there is in the economy. The consumer is in a tighter spot financially speaking, which was reflected in recent retail sales and personal spending data. Recognizing the role consumer spending plays in the overall speed of the U.S. economy, we will be scrutinizing the upcoming consumer credit data rather closely.

In addition to the hard data, we’ll also get the Fed’s latest Beige Book, which should provide a feel for how the regional economies are faring thus far in 2019. Speaking of central bankers, next Wednesday will bring the results of the next European Central Bank meeting. Given the data depicted in the February IHS Markit reports we discussed above, the probability is high the ECB will join the Fed in a more dovish tone.

While the velocity of earnings reports does indeed drop dramatically next week, there will still be several reports worth digging into, including Ross Stores (ROST), Kohl’s (KSS), Target (TGT), BJ’s Wholesale (BJ), and Middle-class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale (COST) will also issue their latest quarterly results. Those reports combined with the ones this week, including solid results from TJX Companies (TJX) last week should offer a more complete look at consumer spending, and where that spending is occurring. Given the discussion several paragraphs above, TJX’s results last week, and the monthly sales reports from Costco, odds are quite good that Costco should serve up yet another report showcasing consumer wallet share gains.

Outside of apparel and home, reports from United Natural Foods (UNFI) and National Beverage (FIZZ) should corroborate the accelerating shift toward food and beverages that are part of our Cleaner Living investing theme. In that vein, I’ll be intrigued to see what Tematica Select List resident International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) has to say about the demand for its line of organic and natural solutions.

The same can be said with Kroger (KR) as well as its efforts to fend off Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) and Walmart (WMT). Tucked inside of Kroger’s comments, we will be curious to see what the company says about digital grocery shopping and delivery. On Kroger’s last earnings conference call, Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen shared the following, “We are aggressively investing to build digital platforms because they give our customers the ability to have anything, anytime, anywhere from Kroger, and because they’re a catalyst to grow our business and improve margins in the future.” Now to see what progress has been achieved over the last 90 or so days and what Kroger has to say about the late-Friday report that Amazon will launch its own chain of supermarkets.

 

Tematica Investing

As you can see in the chart above, for the most part, our Thematic Leaders have been delivering solid performance. Shares of Costco Wholesale (COST) and Nokia (NOK) are notable laggards, but with Costco’s earnings report later this week which will also include its February same-store sales, I see the company’s business and the shares once again coming back into investor favor as it continues to win consumer wallet share. That was clearly evident in its December and January same-store sales reports. With Nokia, coming out of Mobile World Congress 2019 last week, we have confirmation that 5G is progressing, with more network launches coming and more devices coming as well in the coming quarters. We’ll continue to be patient with NOK shares.

 

Adding significantly to our position in Thematic Leader Dycom Industries

There are two positions on the leader board – Aging of the Population AMN Healthcare (AMN) and Digital Infrastructure Dycom Industries (DY) – that are in the red. The recent and sharp drop in Dycom shares follows the company’s disappointing quarterly report in which costs grew faster than 14.3% year over year increase in revenue, pressuring margins and the company’s bottom line. As we’ve come to expect this alongside the near-term continuation of those margin pressures, as you can see below, simply whacked DY shares last week, dropping them into oversold territory.

 

When we first discussed Dycom’s business, I pointed out the seasonal tendencies of its business, and that likely means some of the February winter weather brought some added disruptions as will the winter weather that is hitting parts of the country as you read this. Yet, we know that Dycom’s top customers – AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ), Comcast (CMCSA) and CenturyLink (CTL) are busy expanding the footprint of their connective networks. That’s especially true with the 5G buildout efforts at AT&T and Verizon, which on a combined basis accounted for 42% of Dycom’s January quarter revenue.

Above I shared that coming out of Mobile World Congress 2019, commercial 5G deployments are likely to be a 2020 event but as we know the networks, base stations, and backhaul capabilities will need to be installed ahead of those launches. To me, this strongly suggests that Dycom’s business will improve in the coming quarters, and as that happens, it’s bound to move down the cost curve as efficiencies and other aspects of higher utilization are had. For that reason, we are using last week’s 26% drop in DY shares to double our position size in DY shares on the Thematic Leader board. This will reduce our blended cost basis to roughly $64 from the prior $82. As we buy up the shares, I’m also resetting our price target on DY shares to $80, down from the prior $100, which offers significant upside from the current share price and our blended cost basis.

If you’re having second thoughts on this decision, think of it this way – doesn’t it seem rather strange that DY shares would fall by such a degree given the coming buildout that we know is going to occur over the coming quarters? If Dycom’s customers were some small, regional operators I would have some concerns, but that isn’t the case. These customers will build out those networks, and it means Dycom will be put to work in the coming quarters, generating revenue, profits, and cash flow along the way.

In last week’s Tematica Investing I dished on Warren Buffett’s latest letter to Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) shareholders. In thinking about Dycom, another Buffett-ism comes to mind – “Opportunities come infrequently. When it rains gold, put out the bucket, not the thimble.” Since this is a multi-quarter buildout for Dycom, we will need to be patient, but as we know for the famous encounter between the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race.

  • We are doubling down on Dycom (DY) shares on the Thematic Leader board and adjusting our price target to $80 from $100, which still offers significant upside from our new cost basis as the 5G and gigabit fiber buildout continues over the coming quarters.

 

As the pace of earnings slows, over the next few weeks I’ll not only be revisiting the recent 25% drop in Aging of the Population Thematic Leader AMN Healthcare to determine if we should make a similar move like the one we are doing with Dycom, but I’ll also be taking closer looks at wireless charging company Energous Corp. (WATT) and The Alkaline Water Company (WTER). Those two respectively fall under our Disruptive Innovators and Cleaner Living investing themes. Are they worthy of making it onto the Select List or bumping one of our Thematic Leaders? We’ll see…. And as I examine these two, I’m also pouring over some candidates to fill the Guilty Pleasure vacancy on the leader board.

 

 

Adding two Middle-class Squeeze call option positions ahead of earnings this week

Adding two Middle-class Squeeze call option positions ahead of earnings this week

Key point inside this issue

We are coming at you earlier than usual this week in part to share my thoughts on all of the economic data we received late last week, but also to share a new call option trade with you. The timing on that trade is important because the underlying company will report its quarterly results after Tuesday’s (March 5) market close. With that said, let’s get to the issues at hand…

 

Last week’s data confirms the US economy is slowing

With two-thirds of the current quarter behind now in the books, the continued move higher in the markets has all the major indices up double-digits year to date, ranging from around 11.5-12.0%% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 to nearly 18% for the small-cap heavy Russell 2000. In recent weeks we have discussed my growing concerns that the market’s melt-up hinges primarily on U.S.-China trade deal prospects as earnings expectations for this year have been moving lower, dividend cuts have been growing and the global economy continues to slow. The U.S. continues to look like the best economic house on the block even though it, too, is slowing.

On Friday, a round of IHS Markit February PMI reports showed that three of the four global economic horsemen — Japan, China, and the eurozone — were in contraction territory for the month. New orders in Japan and China improved but fell in the eurozone, which likely means those economies will continue to slug it out in the near-term especially since export orders across all three regions fell month over month. December-quarter GDP was revealed to be 2.6% sequentially, which equates to a 3.1% improvement year over year but is down compared to the 3.5% GDP reading of the September quarter and 4.2% in the June one.  Slower growth to be sure, but still growing in the December quarter.

Before we break out the bubbly, though, the IHS Markit February U.S. Manufacturing PMI fell to its lowest reading in 18 months as rates of output and new order growth softened as did inflationary pressures. This data suggest the U.S. manufacturing sector is growing at its slowest rate in several quarters, as did the February ISM Manufacturing Index reading, which slipped month over month and missed expectations. Declines were seen almost across the board for that ISM index save for new export orders, which grew modestly month over month. The new order component of the February ISM Manufacturing Index dropped to 55.5 from 58.2 in January, but candidly this line item has been all over the place the last few months. The January figure rebounded nicely from 51.3 in December, which was down sharply from 61.8 in November. This zig-zag pattern likely reflects growing uncertainty in the manufacturing economy given the pace of the global economy and uncertainty on the trade front. Generally speaking though, falling orders translate into a slower production and this means carefully watching both the ISM and IHS Markit data over the coming months.

In sum, the manufacturing economy across the four key economies continued to slow in February. On a wider, more global scale, J.P. Morgan’s Global Manufacturing PMI fell to 50.6 in February, its lowest level since June 2016. Per J.P. Morgan’s findings, “the rate of expansion in new orders stayed close to the stagnation mark,” which suggests we are not likely to see a pronounced rebound in the near-term. We see this as allowing the Fed to keep its dovish view, and as we discuss below odds are it will be joined by the European Central Bank this week.

Other data out Friday included the December readings for Personal Income & Spending and the January take on Personal Income. The key takeaway was personal income fell for the first time in more than three years during January, easily coming in below the gains expected by economists. Those pieces of data not only help explain the recent December Retail Sales miss but alongside reports of consumer credit card debt topping $1 trillion and record delinquencies for auto and student loans, point to more tepid consumer spending ahead. As I’ve shared before, that is a headwind for the overall US economy but also a tailwind for those companies, like Middle-class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale (COST), that help consumers stretch the disposable income they do have.

We have talked quite a bit in recent Tematica Investing issues about revisions to S&P 500 2019 EPS estimates, which at last count stood at +4.7% year over year, down significantly from over +11% at the start of the December quarter. Given the rash of reports last week – more than 750 in total –  we will likely see that expected rate of growth tweaked a bit lower.

Putting it all together, we have a slowing U.S. and global economy, EPS cuts that are making the stock market incrementally more expensive as it has moved higher in recent weeks, and a growing number of dividend cuts. Clearly, the stock market has been melting up over the last several weeks on increasing hopes over a favorable trade deal with China, but last week we saw President Trump abruptly end the summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un with no joint agreement after Kim insisted all U.S. sanctions be lifted on his country. This action spooked the market, leading some to revisit the potential for a favorable trade deal between the U.S. and China.

Measuring the success of any trade agreement will hinge on the details. Should it fail to live up to expectations, which is a distinct possibility, we could very well see a “buy the rumor, sell the news” situation arise in the stock market. As I watch for these developments to unfold, given the mismatch in the stock market between earnings and dividends vs. the market’s move thus far in 2019 I will also be watching insider selling in general but also for those companies on the Thematic Leader Board as well as the Tematica Select List. While insiders can be sellers for a variety of reasons, should we see a pronounced and somewhat across the board pick up in such activity, it could be another warning sign.

 

What to Watch This Week

This week we will see a noticeable drop in the velocity of earnings reports, but we will still get a number of data points that investors and economists will use to triangulate the speed of the current quarter’s GDP relative to the 2.6% print for the December quarter. The consensus GDP forecast for the current quarter is for a slower economy at +2.0%, but we have started to see some economists trim their forecasts as more economic data rolls in. Because that data has fallen shy of expectations, it has led the Citibank Economic Surprise Index (CESI) to once again move into negative territory and the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow current quarter forecast now sat at 0.3% as of Friday.

On the economic docket this week, we have December Construction Spending, ISM’s February Non-Manufacturing Index reading, the latest consumer credit figures and the February reports on job creation and unemployment from ADP (ADP) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With Home Depot (HD) reporting relatively mild December weather, any pronounced shortfall in December Construction Spending will likely serve to confirm the economy is on a slowing vector. Much like we did above with ISM’s February Manufacturing Index we’ll be looking into the Non-Manufacturing data to determine demand and inflation dynamics as well as the tone of the services economy.

On the jobs front, while we will be watching the numbers created, including any aberration owing to the recent federal government shutdown, it will be the wage and hours worked data that we’ll be focusing on. Wage data will show signs of any inflationary pressures, while hours worked will indicate how much labor slack there is in the economy. The consumer is in a tighter spot financially speaking, which was reflected in recent retail sales and personal spending data. Recognizing the role consumer spending plays in the overall speed of the U.S. economy, we will be scrutinizing the upcoming consumer credit data rather closely.

In addition to the hard data, we’ll also get the Fed’s latest Beige Book, which should provide a feel for how the regional economies are faring thus far in 2019. Speaking of central bankers, next Wednesday will bring the results of the next European Central Bank meeting. Given the data depicted in the February IHS Markit reports we discussed above, the probability is high the ECB will join the Fed in a more dovish tone.

While the velocity of earnings reports does indeed drop dramatically next week, there will still be several reports worth digging into, including Ross Stores (ROST), Kohl’s (KSS), Target (TGT), BJ’s Wholesale (BJ), and Middle-class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale (COST) will also issue their latest quarterly results. Those reports combined with the ones this week, including solid results from TJX Companies (TJX) last week should offer a more complete look at consumer spending, and where that spending is occurring. Given the discussion several paragraphs above, TJX’s results last week, and the monthly sales reports from Costco, odds are quite good that Costco should serve up yet another report showcasing consumer wallet share gains.

Outside of apparel and home, reports from United Natural Foods (UNFI) and National Beverage (FIZZ) should corroborate the accelerating shift toward food and beverages that are part of our Cleaner Living investing theme. In that vein, I’ll be intrigued to see what Tematica Select List resident International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) has to say about the demand for its line of organic and natural solutions.

The same can be said with Kroger (KR) as well as its efforts to fend off Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) and Walmart (WMT). Tucked inside of Kroger’s comments, we will be curious to see what the company says about digital grocery shopping and delivery. On Kroger’s last earnings conference call, Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen shared the following, “We are aggressively investing to build digital platforms because they give our customers the ability to have anything, anytime, anywhere from Kroger, and because they’re a catalyst to grow our business and improve margins in the future.” Now to see what progress has been achieved over the last 90 or so days and what Kroger has to say about the late-Friday report that Amazon will launch its own chain of supermarkets.

 

Tematica Investing

As you can see in the chart above, for the most part, our Thematic Leaders have been delivering solid performance. Shares of Costco Wholesale (COST) and Nokia (NOK) are notable laggards, but with Costco’s earnings report later this week which will also include its February same-store sales, I see the company’s business and the shares once again coming back into investor favor as it continues to win consumer wallet share. That was clearly evident in its December and January same-store sales reports. With Nokia, coming out of Mobile World Congress 2019 last week, we have confirmation that 5G is progressing, with more network launches coming and more devices coming as well in the coming quarters. We’ll continue to be patient with NOK shares.

 

Adding significantly to our position in Thematic Leader Dycom Industries

There are two positions on the leader board – Aging of the Population AMN Healthcare (AMN) and Digital Infrastructure Dycom Industries (DY) – that are in the red. The recent and sharp drop in Dycom shares follows the company’s disappointing quarterly report in which costs grew faster than 14.3% year over year increase in revenue, pressuring margins and the company’s bottom line. As we’ve come to expect this alongside the near-term continuation of those margin pressures, as you can see below, simply whacked DY shares last week, dropping them into oversold territory.

 

When we first discussed Dycom’s business, I pointed out the seasonal tendencies of its business, and that likely means some of the February winter weather brought some added disruptions as will the winter weather that is hitting parts of the country as you read this. Yet, we know that Dycom’s top customers – AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ), Comcast (CMCSA) and CenturyLink (CTL) are busy expanding the footprint of their connective networks. That’s especially true with the 5G buildout efforts at AT&T and Verizon, which on a combined basis accounted for 42% of Dycom’s January quarter revenue.

Above I shared that coming out of Mobile World Congress 2019, commercial 5G deployments are likely to be a 2020 event but as we know the networks, base stations, and backhaul capabilities will need to be installed ahead of those launches. To me, this strongly suggests that Dycom’s business will improve in the coming quarters, and as that happens, it’s bound to move down the cost curve as efficiencies and other aspects of higher utilization are had. For that reason, we are using last week’s 26% drop in DY shares to double our position size in DY shares on the Thematic Leader board. This will reduce our blended cost basis to roughly $64 from the prior $82. As we buy up the shares, I’m also resetting our price target on DY shares to $80, down from the prior $100, which offers significant upside from the current share price and our blended cost basis.

If you’re having second thoughts on this decision, think of it this way – doesn’t it seem rather strange that DY shares would fall by such a degree given the coming buildout that we know is going to occur over the coming quarters? If Dycom’s customers were some small, regional operators I would have some concerns, but that isn’t the case. These customers will build out those networks, and it means Dycom will be put to work in the coming quarters, generating revenue, profits, and cash flow along the way.

In last week’s Tematica Investing I dished on Warren Buffett’s latest letter to Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) shareholders. In thinking about Dycom, another Buffett-ism comes to mind – “Opportunities come infrequently. When it rains gold, put out the bucket, not the thimble.” Since this is a multi-quarter buildout for Dycom, we will need to be patient, but as we know for the famous encounter between the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race.

  • We are doubling down on Dycom (DY) shares on the Thematic Leader board and adjusting our price target to $80 from $100, which still offers significant upside from our new cost basis as the 5G and gigabit fiber buildout continues over the coming quarters.

 

As the pace of earnings slows, over the next few weeks I’ll not only be revisiting the recent 25% drop in Aging of the Population Thematic Leader AMN Healthcare to determine if we should make a similar move like the one we are doing with Dycom, but I’ll also be taking closer looks at wireless charging company Energous Corp. (WATT) and The Alkaline Water Company (WTER). Those two respectively fall under our Disruptive Innovators and Cleaner Living investing themes. Are they worthy of making it onto the Select List or bumping one of our Thematic Leaders? We’ll see…. And as I examine these two, I’m also pouring over some candidates to fill the Guilty Pleasure vacancy on the leader board.

 

Tematica Options+

One of the key takeaways over the last few issues has been the growing consumer spending headwind that has become increasingly evident across the December Retail Sales report, falling Personal Income data and increasing delinquencies. At the same time, we learned that despite mild December weather Home Depot (HD) missed earnings expectations and set the bar lower. Macy’s (M) reported uninspiring results and guidance while Nordstrom missed quarterly revenue expectations and L Brands (LB), the home of Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body works.

Meanwhile, last week TJX Companies (TJX), the parent of TJ Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, and HomeSense, reported same-store comp sales of 6% for its most recent quarter as store traffic surged. The company also boosted its quarterly dividend by 18% and announced plans to upsize its share buyback plan to $1.75-$2.25 billion.

Quite a different story. Also last week, the Gap (GPS), a company that in my view has been lost for quite some time, announced it was splitting into two companies. One will house its Gap and Banana Republic lines, while Old Navy, a business that fits the mold of our Middle-class Squeeze investing theme, will stand on its own.

Then there is Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale, which has been simply taking consumer wallet share as it opens additional warehouse locations. Excluding the impact of gas prices and foreign exchange, Costco’s US same store sales climbed 7.1% year over year in December and 7.3% in January.

In my view, all of this sets up very well for solid earnings reports from both Ross Stores, which will issue those results after the market close on Tuesday (March 5), and Costco, which reports after the close on Thursday (March 7). To capture the upside associated with these reports, we will add the following call option positions:

 

Note the corresponding stop losses. These are tighter than usual because these are earnings related trades, and as we’ve seen of late guidance is as important as the rear-view quarterly results. These stops will help us limit that downside risk.

With regard to our Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) September 20, 2019, 10.00 calls (DFRG190920C00010000) and Nokia Corp. (NOK) December 2019 7.00 calls (NOK191220C0000700), we will continue to hold them. The Del Frisco’s calls traded off last week and finished the week at 0.85, which is rather close to our 0.80 stop loss. This will bear watching and should we get stopped out, while we’ll net a 33% return should it happen soon than later, I may be inclined to jump back into a DFRG call position ahead of the company’s March 12 earnings report.

 

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Confirming Data Points for Apple and Universal Display

WEEKLY ISSUE: Confirming Data Points for Apple and Universal Display

Key points inside this issue:

  • The Business Roundtable and recent data suggest trade worries are growing.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $250.
  • Our price target on Apple (AAPL) and Universal Display (OLED) shares remain $225 and $150, respectively.
  • Changes afoot at S&P, but they still lag our thematic investing approach

 

While investors and the stock market have largely shaken off concerns of a trade war thus far, this week the stakes moved higher. The U.S. initiated the second leg of its tariffs on China, slapping on $200 billion of tariffs on Chinese imports of food ingredients, auto parts, art, chemicals, paper products, apparel, refrigerators, air conditioners, toys, furniture, handbags, and electronics.

China responded, not only by canceling expected trade talks, but by also implementing tariffs of its own to the tune of $60 billion on U.S. exports to China. Those tariffs include medium-sized aircraft, metals, tires, golf clubs, crude oil and liquified natural gas (LNG). Factoring in those latest steps, there are tariffs on nearly half of all U.S. imports from China and over 50% of U.S. export to China.

Should President Trump take the next stated step and put tariffs on an additional $267 billion of products, it would basically cover all U.S. imports from China. In terms of timing, let’s remember that we have the U.S. mid-term elections coming up before too long — and one risk we see here at Tematica is China holding off trade talks until after those elections.

On Monday, the latest Business Roundtable survey found that two-thirds of chief executives believed recent tariffs and future trade tension would have a negative impact on their capital investment decisions over the next six months. Roughly one-third expected no impact on their business, while only 2% forecast a positive effect.

That news echoed the recent September Flash U.S. PMI reading from IHS Markit, which included the following commentary:

“The escalation of trade wars, and the accompanying rise in prices, contributed to a darkening of the outlook, with business expectations for the year ahead dropping sharply during the month. While business activity may rebound after the storms, the drop in optimism suggests the longer term outlook has deteriorated, at least in the sense that growth may have peaked.”

Also found in the IHS Markit report:

“Manufacturers widely noted that trade tariffs had led to higher prices for metals and encouraged the forward purchasing of materials… Future expectations meanwhile fell to the lowest so far in 2018, and the second-lowest in over two years, as optimism deteriorated in both the manufacturing and service sectors.”

As if those growing worries weren’t enough, there has been a continued rise in oil prices as OPEC ruled out any immediate increase in production, the latest round of political intrigue inside the Washington Beltway, the growing spending struggle for the coming Italian government budget and Brexit.

Any of these on their own could lead to a reversal in the CNN Money Fear & Greed Index, which has been hanging out in “Greed” territory for the better part of the last month. Taken together, though, it could lead companies to be conservative in terms of guidance in the soon-to-arrive September quarter earnings season, despite the benefits of tax reform on their businesses and on consumer wallets. In other words, these mounting headwinds could weigh on stocks and lead investors to question growth expectations for the fourth quarter.

What’s more, even though S&P 500 EPS expectations still call for 22% EPS growth in 2018 vs. 2017, we’ve started to see some downward revisions in projections for the September and December quarters, which have softened 2018 EPS estimates to $162.01, down from $162.60 several weeks ago. Not a huge drop, but when looking at the current stock market valuation of 18x expected 2018 EPS, remember those expectations hinge on the S&P 500 group of companies growing their EPS more than 21% year over year in the second half of 2018.

 

Any and all of the above factors could weigh on corporate guidance or just rattle investor’s nerves and likely means a bumpy ride over the ensuing weeks as trade and political headlines heat up. As it stands right now, according to data tabulated from FactSet, heading into September quarter earnings, 74 of 98 companies in the S&P 500 that issued guidance, issued negative guidance marking the highest percentage (76%) since 1Q 2016 and compares to the five year average of 71%.

Not alarmingly high, but still higher than the norm, which means I’ll be paying even closer than usual attention to what is said over the coming weeks ahead of the “official” start to September quarter earnings that is Alcoa’s (AA) results on Oct. 17 and what it means for both the Thematic Leaders and the other positions on the Select List.

 

Today is Fed Day

This afternoon the Fed’s FOMC will break from its September meeting, and it is widely expected to boost interest rates. No surprise there, but given what we’ve seen on the trade front and in hard economic data of late, my attention will be on what is said during the post-meeting press conference and what’s contained in the Fed’s updated economic forecast. The big risk I see in the coming months on the Fed front is should the escalating tariff situation lead to a pick-up in inflation, the Fed could feel it is behind the interest rate hike curve leading to not only a more hawkish tone but a quicker pace of rate hikes than is currently expected.

We here at Tematica have talked quite a bit over consumer debt levels and the recent climb in both oil and gas prices is likely putting some extra squeeze on consumers, especially those that fall into our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme. Any pick up in Fed rate hikes means higher interest costs for consumers, taking a bigger bite out of disposable income, which means a step up in their effort to stretch spending dollars. Despite its recent sell-off, I continue to see Costco Wholesale (COST) as extremely well positioned to grab more share of those cash-strapped wallets, particularly as it continues to open new warehouse locations.

  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $250.

 

Favorable Apple and Universal Display News

Outside of those positions, we’d note some favorable news for our Apple (AAPL) shares in the last 24 hours. First, the iPhone XS Max OLED display has reclaimed the “Best Smartphone Display” crown for Apple, which in our view augurs well for other smartphone vendors adopting the technology. This is also a good thing for our Universal Display (OLED) shares as organic light emitting diode displays are present in two-thirds of the new iPhone offerings. In addition to Apple and other smartphone vendors adopting the technology, we are also seeing more TV models adoption it as well. We are also starting to see ultra high-end cars include the technology, which means we are at the beginning of a long adoption road into the automotive lighting market. We see this confirming Universal’s view that demand for the technology and its chemicals bottomed during the June quarter. As a reminder, that view includes 2018 revenue guidance of $280 million-$310 million vs. the $99.7 million recorded in the first half of the year.

Second, Apple has partnered with Salesforce (CRM) as part of the latest step in Apple’s move to leverage the iPhone and iPad in the enterprise market. Other partners for this strategy include IBM (IBM), Cisco Systems (CSCO), Accenture (ACN) CDW Corp. (CDW) and Deloitte. I see this as Apple continuing to chip away at the enterprise market, one that it historically has had limited exposure.

  • Our price target on Apple (AAPL) and Universal Display (OLED) shares remain $225 and $150, respectively.

 

Changes afoot at S&P, but they still lag our thematic investing approach

Before we close out this week’s issue, I wanted to address something big that is happening in markets that I suspect most individuals have not focused on. This week, S&P will roll out the largest revision to its Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS) since 1999. Before we dismiss it as yet another piece of Wall Street lingo, it’s important to know that GICS is widely used by portfolio managers and investors to classify companies across 11 sectors. With the inclusion of a new category – Communication Services – it means big changes that can alter an investor’s holdings in a mutual fund or ETF that tracks one of several indices. That shifting of trillions of dollars makes it a pretty big deal on a number of fronts, but it also confirms the shortcomings associated with sector-based investing that we here at Tematica have been calling out for quite some time.

The new GICS category, Communications Services, will replace the Telecom Sector category and include companies that are seen as providing platforms for communication. It will also include companies in the Consumer Discretionary Sector that have been classified in the Media and Internet & Direct Marketing Retail subindustries and some companies from the Information Technology sector. According to S&P, 16 Consumer Discretionary stocks (22% of the sector) will be reclassified as Communications Services as will 7 Information Technology stocks (20% of that sector) as will AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ) and CenturyLink (CTL). Other companies that are folded in include Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOGL), Disney (DIS), Twitter (TWTR), Snap (SNAP), Netflix (NFLX), Comcast (CMCSA), and DISH Network (DISH) among others.

After these maneuverings are complete, it’s estimated Communication services will be the largest category in the S&P 500 at around 10% of the index leaving weightings for the other 11 sectors in a very different place compared to their history. In other words, some 50 companies are moving into this category and out of others. That will have meaningful implications for mutual funds and ETFs that track these various index components and could lead to some extra volatility as investors and management companies make their adjustments. For example, the Technology Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLK), which tracks the S&P Technology Select Sector Index, contained 10 companies among its 74 holdings that are being rechristened as part of Communications Services. It so happens that XLK is one of the two largest sector funds by assets under management – the other one is the Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLY), which had exposure to 16 companies that are moving into Communications Services.

So what are these moves really trying to accomplish?

The simple answer is they taking an out-of-date classification system of 11 sectors – and are attempting to make them more relevant to changes and developments that have occurred over the last 20 years. For example:

  • Was Apple a smartphone company 20 years ago? No.
  • Did Netflix exist 20 years ago? No.
  • Did Amazon have Amazon Prime Video let alone Amazon Prime 20 year ago? No.
  • Was Facebook around back then? Nope. Should it have been in Consumer Discretionary, to begin with alongside McDonald’s (MCD) and Ralph Lauren (RL)? Certainly not.
  • Did Verizon even consider owning Yahoo or AOL in 1999? Probably not.

 

What we’ve seen with these companies and others has been a morphing of their business models as the various economic, technological, psychographic, demographic and other landscapes around them have changed. It’s what they should be doing, and is the basis for our thematic investment approach — the strong companies will adapt to these evolving tailwinds, while others will sadly fall by the wayside.

These changes, however, expose the shortcomings of sector-based investing. Simply viewing the market through a sector lens fails to capture the real world tailwinds and catalysts that are driving structural changes inside industries, forcing companies to adapt. That’s far better captured in thematic investing, which focuses on those changing landscapes and the tailwinds as well as headwinds that arise and are driving not just sales but operating profit inside of companies.

For example, under the new schema, Microsoft (MSFT) will be in the Communications Services category, but the vast majority of its sales and profits are derived from Office. While Disney owns ESPN and is embarking on its own streaming services, both are far from generating the lion’s share of sales and profits. This likely means their movement into Communications Services is cosmetic in nature and could be premature. This echoes recent concern over the recent changes in the S&P 500 and S&P 100 indices, which have been criticized as S&P trying to make them more relevant than actually reflecting their stated investment strategy. For the S&P 500 that is being a market-capitalization-weighted index of the 500 largest U.S. publicly traded companies by market value.

As much as we could find fault with the changes, we can’t help it if those institutions, at their core, stick to their outdated thinking. As I have said before about other companies, change is difficult and takes time. And to be fair, for what they do, S&P is good at it, which is why we use them to calculate the NJCU New Jersey 50 Index as part of my work New Jersey City University.

Is this reclassification to update GICS and corresponding indices a step in the right direction?

It is, but it is more like a half step or even a quarter step. There is far more work to be done to make GICS as relevant as it needs to be, not just in today’s world, but the one we are moving into. For that, I’ll continue to stick with our thematic lens-based approach.

 

Verizon to launch 5G home service on October 1

Verizon to launch 5G home service on October 1

We are on the cusp of seeing 5G network service being deployed, just not in the application that many of us would expect. That’s right, not the smartphone but rather for in-home wireless service and it’s from Verizon. Pretty interesting given that Verizon mostly stopped expanding FiOS fiber-to-the-home service in 2010 and since then has been focused on completing existing builds. Of course, rather than laying fiber to every home, a wireless 5G in-home service is far less costly to deploy and with speeds rivaling its wired speeds ranging from 100 to 500 Mbps vs. 300 Mbps to peak speeds of nearly 1 Gbps it looks to be an optimal solution as Verizon looks to combat Comcast and other cable providers.

 

Verizon’s 5G broadband internet service will go live later this fall, with installations starting on October 1st in Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento, the company announced today. This marks the first 5G commercial service to launch in the US, and it sees Verizon make good on its promise to do so in November 2017. Verizon is calling it simply 5G Home, quoting “typical speeds” of 300 Mbps and peak speeds of nearly 1 Gbps, depending upon location.

This isn’t true mobile 5G, which will be the more impactful rollout of the new internet speed standard that was finalized last December when all networks and phone manufacturers support it. But theoretically, it should bring faster broadband speeds for home internet that are on par with, or at least in the range of, gigabit fiber networks. It also helps Verizon in its rollout of mobile 5G in the future, which will involve a dizzying number of different technologies, hardware, and partnerships to get off the ground.

It will cost $50 a month for existing Verizon Wireless customers, and $70 for non-Verizon customers. If you’re one of the first members to sign up for the service, Verizon will sweeten the deal with free router installation, three months of complimentary service, a free Chromecast or Apple TV 4K, and three months of free YouTube TV. According to Verizon, the service will be up and running once installation is complete.

Source: Verizon will launch 5G home internet service starting October 1st – The Verge

Even theme parks are spending millions on Wi-Fi to connect guests

Even theme parks are spending millions on Wi-Fi to connect guests

If we needed any confirmation that aspects of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme are bleeding over into in-person fun, here it is – theme parks are adding free Wi-Fi. Now, in some cases, it may be to stream videos, but more likely it’s to access maps, schedules, and tickets that one finds inside a theme park’s app that can also be used to book ride and dining reservations. Let’s not forget all the picture posting to social media.

Odds are that burst of activity spread across thousands of people degrades what cell signal there is, which means Disney (DIS), Comcast (CMCSA), SeaWorld (SEAS), Cedar Fair (FUN), Six Flags (SIX) and others are spending to pick up the connective slack.

 

 

 

Stand by the Hyperion Theater at Disney California Adventure Park and you may be able to connect to the internet with speeds fast enough to stream a video about your day in the park.But if you try that on the boardwalk at nearby Pixar Pier, you’ll find yourself on a less-than-nostalgic trip to a pre-internet age, said Paul Barrie, host of “Window to the Magic,” a biweekly podcast about Disney attractions and other happenings.“If I’m streaming, I have to be careful where I am to get best possible picture out of the park,” he said.In this pics-or-it-didn’t-happen era, a selfie unposted represents a financial opportunity squandered for theme park operators. For that reason, parks have begun investing heavily in improving internet access for visitors, primarily by expanding their free, in-park Wi-Fi systems.“People can’t live without Wi-Fi anymore,” said Dennis Speigel, president of the Ohio-based consulting firm International Theme Park Services. “They need access to it all of the time.”The Disneyland Resort recently has been adding new Wi-Fi hot spots throughout its two Anaheim parks, and Universal Studios Hollywood said it has worked over the last two years to expand and upgrade its Wi-Fi service throughout its park. Six Flags Magic Mountain began offering free Wi-Fi parkwide in 2016.None of the parks would disclose how much they have invested in such upgrades, but industry experts say such systems can cost millions of dollars, depending on how many park guests the system is expected to serve.

Source: Why theme parks are spending millions to give guests free Wi-Fi

WEEKLY ISSUE: Positioning for Fed Stress Test Result

WEEKLY ISSUE: Positioning for Fed Stress Test Result

Key Points in this Issue

 

Positioning for the Fed Stress Test Results

Over the last few weeks, as the last of the March quarter earnings have been reported, investors have been focused on fresh economic data as well as the escalating back and forth on trade and tariffs. As that escalating conversation has taken up more headlines, it’s rankled the market with uncertainty, which has led the market to once again move up and down in the span of not weeks, but days.

Odds are not all investors have been paying attention to the Federal Reserve’s annual stress tests for banks.  As we’ve seen in the past, the likely outcome of these tests is a dividend increase, a boosted share repurchase program or a combination of the two.

This very topic was the focal point of a piece in Barron’s over the weekend. While the article touched on several banks, including Citigroup (C) and Goldman Sachs (GS), it clearly called out expectations for JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM):

“Among the biggest banks, JPMorgan Chase may raise its dividend by about 50%, boosting its yield to 3%… Overall, banks are expected to return an average of 100% of their earnings to shareholders over the next 12 months, the highest capital return of any major industry group.”

The results of the first round of annual stress tests by the Federal Reserve were released last week, and the second set, which takes into account capital adequacy in stressed environments after planned distributions to shareholders, will be announced after today’s market close. That means in the coming days, JPMorgan and others are likely to make their capital return announcements.

With investor sentiment bouncing between Fear and Greed amid escalating trade talks, as I shared in yesterday’s Tematica Investing weekly issue, odds are we will see a rocky 2Q 2018 earnings season as companies do their best to guesstimate the potential impact. Harley Davidson (HOG) was the canary in the coal mine for this. As that happens,  I suspect the investing herd will once again flock to higher dividend yielding stocks and other safer ports in an earnings storm.

The prospects of a higher dividend and stepped up share repurchase program at JPMorgan combined with the likelihood of greater investor demand is a mixture to drive JPM shares higher. To capitalize on that, I’m adding the JPMorgan Chase & Co. August 110.00 calls (JPM180817C00110000)that closed last night at 1.37. As we add these calls, I’m setting a stop loss at 0.90.

  • We are issuing a Buy and adding the JPMorgan Chase & Co. August 110.00 calls (JPM180817C00110000) that closed last night at 1.37 to the Tematica Options+ Select List. As we add these calls, we are setting a stop loss at 0.90, and will look to adjust that higher as the underlying JPM shares and the calls move higher.

 

 

Comcast still circling 21stCentury Fox keeps these two call positions in play

As we all know, Disney (DIS) recently upsized its bid to acquire 21st Century Fox (FOXA) and Fox quickly endorsed the new deal. Even as the proposed transaction received conditional approval from the Department of Justice provided that Disney divests 22 of its regional sports networks, I am hearing that Comcast could be making another counteroffer. This likely means there could be more media M&A drama in the short-term, but nonetheless, one of the bidders for Fox will be left on the dancefloor and that will more than likely lead to another round of takeovers. As such, I continue to have a Buy on both on both AMC Networks (AMCX) September 2018 $65 calls (AMCX180921C00065000)and Discovery (DISCA) October 2018 30.00 calls (DISCA181019C00030000)

 

 

AT&T and Time Warner launch WatchTV, with new unlimited data plans

AT&T and Time Warner launch WatchTV, with new unlimited data plans

The dust has barely settled on the legal ruling that is paving the way for AT&T (T) to combine with Time Warner (TWX), and we are alread hearing of new products and services to stem from this combination. No surprise as we are seeing a blurring between mobile networks and devices, social media and content companies as Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB), Google (GOOGL) and now AT&T join the hunt for original content alongside Netflix (NFLX), Amazon (AMZN), and Hulu, which soon may be controlled by Disney if it successfully fends of Comcast to win 21st Century Fox.

While we as consumers have become used to having the content I want, when I want it with Tivo and then the content I want, when I want it on the device I want it on with streaming services, it looks now like it will be “the content I want, when I want it, on the device I want on the platform I choose.” All part of the overlapping to be had with our Connected Society and Content is King investing themes that we are reformulating into Digital Lifestyle – more on that soon.

In short, a content arms race is in the offing, and it will likely ripple through broadcast TV as well as advertising. Think of it as a sequel to what we saw with newspaper, magazine and book publishing as new business models for streaming content come to market… the looming question in my mind is how much will today’s consumer have to spend on all of these offerings before it becomes too pricey?

And what about Sprint (S) and T-Mobile USA (TMUS)…

 

Taking advantage of the recent approval of its merger with Time Warner, AT&T on Thursday announced WatchTV, a new live TV service premiering next week — and initially tied to two new unlimited wireless data plans.

WatchTV incorporates over 30 channels, among them several under the wing of Time Warner such as CNN, Cartoon Network, TBS, and Turner Classic Movies. Sometime after launch AT&T will grow the lineup to include Comedy Central, Nicktoons, and several other channels.

People will be able to watch on “virtually every current smartphone, tablet, or Web browser,” as well as “certain streaming devices.” The company didn’t immediately specify compatible Apple platforms, but these will presumably include at least the iPhone and iPad, given their popularity and AT&T’s long-standing relationship with Apple.

The first data plan is “AT&T Unlimited &More”, which will also include $15 in monthly credit towards DirecTV Now. People who pay extra for “&More Premium” will get higher-quality video, 15 gigabytes of tethered data, and the option to add one of several “premium” services at no charge — initial examples include TV channels like HBO or Showtime, and music platforms like Pandora Premium or Amazon Music Unlimited.

&More Premium customers can also choose to apply their $15 credit towards DirecTV or U-verse TV, instead of just DirecTV Now.

WatchTV will at some point be available as a $15-per-month standalone service, but no timeline is available.

Source: AT&T uses Time Warner merger to launch WatchTV, paired with new unlimited data plans

Positioning for the post AT&T-Time Warner ruling

Positioning for the post AT&T-Time Warner ruling

 

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ISSUE:

 

Earlier this week, a court ruling paved the way for at least two things that are poised to alter the entertainment/media industry. I’m talking about the victory had by communications company AT&T (T) over the US Department of Justice in its bid to acquire content company Time Warner (TWX). The gist of the merger between these two companies is it brings together one of the biggest programmers of movies and television with one of the biggest mobile carrier in the US. From a thematic perspective, this combines our Connected Society and Content is King under one roof, and the result is likely to be rather disruptive.

What does it mean?

Those are two legs to a combination that I am increasingly referring to as the Digital Lifestyle, which also includes our Cashless Consumption investing theme – a powerful three-legged stool that reflects the consumer digital footprint. Consumers will not only be able to get content when, where and whatever device they want, but AT&T will now have a content moat around its business. We’ve seen this strategy in play before, most notably when Comcast (CMCSA) acquired NBC Universal from General Electric (GE), but also in the combination of Disney (DIS) and ABC/Capital Cities in the mid1990s. We’ve also witnessed the power of captive content in Netflix’s (NFLX) business model, and we’re seeing companies from Amazon (AMZN) and Facebook (FB) to even Apple (AAPL) tapping into it, igniting a would-be arms race for content.

This means the competitive lines are being redrawn, and in our view serves to confirm something we have long said here at Tematica – sector investing is dead. A simple question proves the point – what sector will the new AT&T-Time Warner be in? Communications? Media/Entertainment?

That brings us to the second thing – this court ruling and potential combination of AT &T with Time Warner will more than likely send shock waves throughout these industries, leading to the usual copycat merger and acquisition activity that we tend to see. Much like a game of musical chairs, companies will look to partner up in one form or another so as to avoid being out in the cold by themselves. Of course, in this game of pick up, the longer one takes to partner up, the lower quality partnership choices one faces. This likely means companies such as T-Mobile (TMUS), which is finally combining with Sprint (S), will need to at least consider making a similar move to acquire a content-producing engine. We could see Verizon (VZ) doing the same to go beyond just its digital properties under the Oath brand, which includes the old AOL and Yahoo! web properties. As I pointed out above AT&T will be competing with those companies that are already challenging their businesses and are not tied to their legacy business models of telephone and TV services.

Odds are this means we will see a pronounced pickup in acquisition activity. Aside from AT&T-Time Warner, we are seeing another M&A attempt heat up between Disney and 21stCentury Fox (FOXA) as Comcast (CMCSA) has re-entered the bidding fray. We’ll see how this resolves itself, but odds are the company that loses the bid will look to shore up its content position. It takes time to build one’s own content library and character pool, which is another reason to expect a pickup in M&A activity and again competitors will not want to be caught flat-footed especially after the AT&T- Time Warner ruling.

How to play it?

While there are several content companies out there including CBS (CBS) and Viacom (VIAB), the vast majority of them have market capitalizations over $20 billion, which can make for an expensive proposition. Well below that threshold, however, is AMC Networks (AMCX), which is home to AMC, WE tv, BBC AMERICA, IFC, and SundanceTV and boasts a growing roster of original content, including The Walking Dead franchise, Love After Lockup, Killing Eve, McMafia, Brockmire, Dietland, Better Call Saul, Nosferatu, and others, under its AMC Studios business. That businesses’ content library also includes Mad Men and Breaking Bad, as well as its burgeoning gaming business.

To me, all of the above makes AMC Networks a likely takeout candidate and that means we are adding the AMC Networks (AMCX) September 2018 $65 calls (AMCX180921C00065000) that closed last night at 2.05 to the Tematica Options+ Select List. We’ll set a wider than usual berth with our stop loss at given the recent move from $57 to the current share price over the last several trading days, which popped the September calls from roughly $1.00 on May 23 to last night’s closing price. Factoring that in, I’m setting the stop loss at 1.25.

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Adding back a specialty contractor to Select List

WEEKLY ISSUE: Adding back a specialty contractor to Select List

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Why?

Two reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Putting LendingClub shares onto the Contender List

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

With that in mind, above I mentioned LendingClub. For those unfamiliar with the company, it operates an online credit marketplace that connects borrowers and investors in the US. It went public a few years ago and was heralded as a disruptive business for consumers and businesses to obtain credit based on its digital product platform. That marketplace facilitates various types of loan products for consumers and small businesses, including unsecured personal loans, unsecured education and patient finance loans, auto refinance loans, and unsecured small business loans. The company also provides an opportunity to the investor to invest in a range of loans based on term and credit.

Last year 78% of its $575 million in revenue was derived from loan origination transaction fees derived from its platform’s role in accepting and decisioning applications on behalf of the company’s bank partners. More than 50 banks—ranging in total assets of less than $100 million to more than $100 billion—have taken advantage LendingClub’s partnership program.

LendingClub’s second largest revenue stream is derived from investor fees, which include servicing fees for various services, including servicing and collection efforts and matching available loans with capital and management fees from investment funds and other managed accounts, gains on sales of whole loans, interest income earned and fair value gains/losses from loans held on the company’s balance sheet.

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

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

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

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

 

Sticking with shares of Applied Materials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: The Shakeout from Market Volatility on the Select List

WEEKLY ISSUE: The Shakeout from Market Volatility on the Select List

 

 

It’s Wednesday, February 7, and the stock market is coming off one of its wild rides it has seen in the last few days. I shared my thoughts on the what’s and why’s behind that yesterday with subscribers as well as with Charles Payne, the host of Making Money with Charles Payne on Fox Business – if you missed that, you can watch it here.

As investors digest the realization the Fed could boost interest rates more than it has telegraphed – something very different than we’ve experienced in the last several years – the domestic stock market appears to be finding its footing as gains over the last few days are being recouped. Lending a helping hand is the corporate bond market, which, in contrast to the turbulent moves of late in the domestic stock market, signals that credit investors remain comfortable with corporate credit fundamentals, the outlook for earnings and the ability for companies to absorb higher interest rates.

My perspective is this expectation reset for domestic stocks follows a rapid ascent over the last few months, and it’s removed some of the froth from the market as valuations levels have drifted back to earth from the rare air they recently inhabited.

 

Among Opportunity This New Market Dynamic Brings, There Have Been Casualties

While this offers some new opportunities for both new positions on the Tematica Investing Select List as well as the opportunity to scale into some positions at better prices once the sharp swings in stocks have abated some, it also means there have been some casualties.

We were stopped out of our shares in Cashless Consumption investment theme company, USA Technologies (USAT) when our $7.50 stop loss was triggered yesterday. While the shares snapped back along with the market rally yesterday, we were none the less stopped out, with the overall position returning more than 65% since we added them to the Select List last April. For those keeping track, that compares to the 15.3% return in the S&P 500 at the same time so, yeah, we’re not exactly broken up over things. We will put USAT shares on the Tematica Contender List and look to revisit them after the company reports earnings tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 8).

That’s the second Select List position to have been stopped out in the last several days. The other was AXT Inc. (AXTI) last week, and as a reminder that position returned almost 27% vs. a 15% move in the S&P 500. Again, not too shabby!

The last week has brought a meaningful dip in shares of Costco Wholesale (COST). On recent episodes of our Cocktail Investing Podcast, Tematica Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins and I have discussed the lack of pronounced wage gains for nonsupervisory workers (82% of the US workforce) paired with rising credit card and other debt. That combination likely means we haven’t seen the last of the Cash-Strapped Consumer investment theme — of the key thematic tailwinds we see behind Costco’s business. While COST shares are still up more than 15% since being added to the Select List, we see the recent 5% drop in the shares as an opportunity for those who remained on the sidelines before the company reports its quarterly earnings in early March.

  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $200.

 

 

Remaining Patient on AMAT, OLED and AAPL

Two other names on the Tematica Investing Select List have fallen hard of late, in part due to the market’s gyrations, but also over lingering Apple (AAPL) and other smartphone-related concerns. We are referring to Disruptive Technologies investment theme companies Applied Materials (AMAT) and Universal Display (OLED). As we shared last week, it increasingly looks that Apple’s smartphone volumes, especially for the higher priced, higher margin iPhone X won’t be cut as hard as had been rumored. Moreover, current chatter suggests Apple will once again introduce three new iPhone models this year, two of which are slated to utilize organic light emitting diode displays.

Odds are iPhone projections will take time to move from chatter to belief to fact. In the meantime, we are seeing other smartphone vendors adopt organic light emitting diode displays, and as we saw at CES 201 TV adoption is going into full swing this year. That ramping demand also bodes for Applied Materials (AMAT), which is also benefitting from capital spending plans in China and elsewhere as chip manufacturers contend with rising demand across a growing array of connected devices and data centers.

  • Our price target on Apple (AAPL) remains $200
  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) remains $225
  • Our price target on Applied Materials (AMAT) remains $70

 

The 5G Network Buildout is Gaining Momentum – Good News for NOK and DY

This past week beleaguered mobile carrier, Sprint (S), threw its hat into the 5G network ring announcing that it will join AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ), and T-Mobile USA (TMUS) in launching a commercial 5G network in 2019. That was news was a solid boost to our Nokia (NOK) shares, which rose 15% last week. The company remains poised to see a pick-up in infrastructure demand as well as IP licensing for 5G technology, and I’ll continue to watch network launch details as well as commentary from Contender List resident Dycom Industries (DY), whose business focuses on the actual construction of such networks.

Several months ago, I shared that we tend to see a pack mentality with the mobile carriers and new technologies – once one makes a move, the others tend to follow rather than risk a customer base that thinks they are behind the curve. In today’s increasingly Connected Society that chews increasingly on data and streaming services, that thought can be a deathblow to a company’s customer count.

  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50
  • I continue to evaluate upgrading Dycom (DY) shares to the Select List, but I am inclined to wait until we pass the winter season given the impact of weather on the company’s construction business.

 

Disney Offers Some Hope for Its ESPN Unit

Last night Disney (DIS) announced its December quarter results while the overall tone was positive, the stand out item to me was the announcement of the new ESPN streaming service being introduced in the next few months that has a price tag of $4.99 a month. For that, ESPN+ customers will get “thousands” of live events, including pro baseball, hockey and soccer, as well as tennis, boxing, golf and college sports not available on ESPN’s traditional TV networks. Alongside the service, Disney will unveil a new, streamlined version of the ESPN app, which is slated to include greater levels of customization.

In my view, all of this lays the groundwork for Disney’s eventual launch of its own Disney streaming content service in 2019, but it also looks to change the conversation around ESPN proper, a business that continues to lose subscribers. Not surprising, given that Comcast (CMCA) continues to report cable TV subscriber defections. One of the key components to watch will be the shake-out of the rights to stream live games from the major professional leagues — the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA. Currently, ESPN is on the hook for about $4 billion a year in rights fees to those three leagues alone — not to mention the rights fees committed to college athletics. Those deals, however, include only the rights to broadcast those games on cable networks or on the ESPN app to customers that can prove they have a cable subscription, not cord-cutters. So the question will be how quick will customers jump on board to pay $5 a month for lower-level games, or will they be able to cut deals with the major professional sports leagues to include some of their games as well.

Nevertheless, I continue to see all of these developments as Disney moving its content business in step with our Connected Society investing theme, which should be an additive element to the Content is King investment theme tailwind Disney continues to ride. With that in mind, we are seeing rave reviews for the next Marvel movie – The Black Panther – that will be released on Feb. 16. The company’s more robust 2018 movie slate kicks off in earnest a few months later.

  • We will continue to be patient investors with Disney, and our price target on the shares remains $125