All Eyes On The September Jobs Report

All Eyes On The September Jobs Report

Today’s Big Picture

US market futures point to a modestly lower open Friday morning. After the disappointing manufacturing and services data this week, all eyes will be on today’s Nonfarm Payrolls report, which is expected to see 145,000 jobs added in September, up from 130,000 in August with the unemployment rate holding at 3.7% and wages gaining +0.2%. Keep in mind that the General Motors (GM) strike will add some confusion to the data as striking workers aren’t counted in payrolls.

We’ll also be looking for any updates on the previous downward revisions to payrolls. In August the BLS cut job gain estimates for 2018 and early 2019 by about 500,000, the largest such downward revision in the past decade. Overall we’ve seen downward revisions for around 17 months – a sure sign that labor market dynamics ...

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More troubling signs at retailers as earnings fall 24% 

More troubling signs at retailers as earnings fall 24% 

As we wind up the most recent barrage of quarterly earnings, we are being left with a sour taste in our collective mouths thanks to retailers, particularly those focused on apparel. While some data points to those mall-based retailers, like The Gap being hard hit, other data suggests retailers are not matching consumer preferences either for the apparel they have or investing in their digital shopping platforms. While the former points to the fickleness of the consumer, or the tone-deaf ears of certain retailers, the latter indicate that not all retailers have accepted the growing importance of digital commerce that is a key tenant of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.

Is it easier to blame the weather and other items in the short-term for a failed strategy? Sure it is, but the real drivers of falling retailer results will come out in the coming quarters. Those like Target, Walmart and Costco that have been investing in digital commerce are likely to thrive while those that haven’t will likely disappoint further as Amazon begins free one-day shipping for Prime customers. 

Clothing retailers like the Gap, Canada Goose and Abercrombie & Fitch are all experiencing troubling sales reports, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Great Recession a decade ago, according to a report by CNBC.

Many companies are blaming the weather, slow traffic at malls, bad promotions and product blunders. With the industry as a whole struggling, the S&P 500 Retail ETX was down 2 percent on Friday (May 31), and has dropped almost 13 percent in May, which sets it up to be the worst period since November of 2008, when it lost 20.25 percent.

As a group, apparel retail earnings are down 24 percent, although earnings had been growing since Q3 of 2017. In Q1 of 2018, earnings gained 26 percent. In Q1 of 2008, earnings fell 40 percent.

“These are all mall-based retailers experiencing traffic issues,” Retail Metrics Founder Ken Perkins said. “The consumer is holding up … sentiment numbers have been really high.” The problem, he said, is that some companies aren’t investing in attracting customers to their stores and websites.

There are some bright spots. Target and Walmart both had good first quarters, and have been investing in apparel, with positive results.

“It’s not that people are buying fewer clothes,” CGP president Craig Johnson said. They’re going to different places, he said, and some older companies, like Chico’s and Talbots, which are “classic, women’s, missy retailers,” are victims of changing popular culture and taste.

“The demand for that product is a fraction of what it used to be a generation ago. Women aren’t dressing like that,” he said.

Another issue facing the industry is the threat of tariffs, which could worsen the outlook.

There’s the consideration of a 25 percent tax on clothing and footwear from China, and many companies haven’t factored in the effect this could have. There’s also the possibility of a 5 percent duty on Mexican imports on June 10, which would raise to 25 percent by October.

Source: Retail Clothing Sales Down 24 Percent | PYMNTS.com

Millions of Americans are just one paycheck away disaster

Millions of Americans are just one paycheck away disaster

Every few months we receive the results of another study or survey that remind us of the worrisome financial state for a number of Americans. While we take no pleasure in these Middle-class Squeeze confirmation points, they are fodder for companies that either help consumers get a grip on escalating debt levels that sap disposable income or those like Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale help consumers stretch their remaining disposable spending dollars.

A new study from NORC at the University of Chicago, an independent social research institution, found that 51% of working adults in the United States would need to access savings to cover necessities if they missed more than one paycheck.

“The 2019 Prosperity Now Scorecard shows that too many families are either struggling to make ends meet, or are just one emergency away from a financial disaster,” it said.

A separate survey from home repair service HomeServe USA found that almost 1 in 5 Americans (19%) reported having no money set aside for dealing with the costs of an unexpected emergency expense. That report said 31% of Americas don’t have at least $500 set aside to cover an unexpected expense.

Source: Millions of Americans are just one paycheck away from ‘financial disaster’ – MarketWatch

Walmart teams with Google for grocery voice play

Walmart teams with Google for grocery voice play

Walmart is teaming with Alphabet Inc. to take the grocery fight via voice ordering to Amazon and its Whole Foods, Alexa combination.

In a blog post, Walmart shared that starting this month, customers would be able to grocery shop through the Google Assistant by saying, “Hey, Google, talk to Walmart.” This seems like a positive for Google, especially if they are able to share in the data collection with Walmart, while for Walmart it seems like the enemy of my enemy is my friend. It’s also a way to add the functionality associated with our Disruptive Innovators investing theme without having to develop a solution in house.

Kudos to Walmart for continuing to innovate and partner for the new digital world we live in. And to be clear, while Amazon and Walmart compete on several levels, Walmart lacks the profit and cash flow powerhouse that is Amazon Web Services.

According to data from Loup Ventures and published by Voicebot.ai, Amazon’s Alexa had 52% global market share in 2018 vs. 32% for Google Home/Assistant. For now, that would appear to give Amazon the edge, but the reality is it comes down to the percentage of people using these devices to order groceries.

Here’s the thing, just because Walmart makes it available, it doesn’t mean consumers will be using Google Assistant to order groceries. Even I still like to pick out fresh produce and select my cuts of meat. But for generic and boxed items ranging from detergent to garbage bags, this could give not only Amazon a run for its money but also Costco Wholesale and Target.

Now to see how usage develops and what if any other other potential partnerships follow.

Retailers are turning to voice assistants to make it easier for customers to shop for groceries amid strong competition. Walmart, in one case, has rolled out an offering called Walmart Voice Order by working with partners such as Google.

The feature allows consumers to use voice commands to shop for groceries. Beginning in April, shoppers will be able to say “Google, talk to Walmart” and Google Assistant will add products directly to their Walmart grocery carts. Shoppers can also manage their shopping carts on the go, as the technology is available on a host of devices, such as Android phones.

The technology uses the shopper’s past purchases to create a more personalized experience. If a shopper instructs Google Assistant to add milk to the shopping cart, for example, the feature will add the size, brand and type of milk he or she regularly chooses.

In a blog post, Walmart Senior Vice President of Digital Operations Tom Ward noted, “We know when using voice technology, customers like to add items to their cart one at a time over a few days – not complete their shopping for the week all at once. So, this capability aligns with the way customers shop.” While Walmart is rolling out the function with Google, Ward hinted that other voice assistant options will be available in the future. “We’re kicking off the work with Google, adding others to the mix as time goes on,” he noted, adding that the service would be available to more customers in the weeks to come.

Source: Voice Shopping: Walmart’s Newest Grocery Play | PYMNTS.com

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.

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

What did Apple have to say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Odds are there will more negative earnings report to come

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

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

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

 

Positives to watch for in the coming weeks and months

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

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

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

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

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

 

Weekly Issue December 17 2018

Weekly Issue December 17 2018

Key points inside this issue:

  • The Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey surprises the market
  • Costco stumbles, but it is far from down and out
  • Thematic confirmation had in the November Retail Sales Report
  • Digging into Friday’s other economic reports
  • What to watch this week
  • Holiday Housekeeping

The Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey surprises the market

What looked to be shaping up as a positive week for the stock market turned on its head Friday following renewed concerns over the pace of the global economy. As we’ve talked about recently, the vector and velocity of the latest economic reports suggest a slowing economy and that is fueling questions over the top and bottom-line growth prospects for 2019.

Tossing some logs on the that fire late last week was the new survey findings from the Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey that showed almost half (48.6%) of US chief financial officers believe the United States will be in recession by the end of next year while 82% of CFOs surveyed believe that a recession will begin by the end of 2020. That’s quite different than the Wall Street consensus, which per The Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecasting Survey sees the speed of the economy slowing from 3.5% in the September 2018 quarter to 2.5% in the current one to 2.4% in the first half of 2019 followed by 2.2% in the back half of the year.

This revelation has added to the list of concerns that I’ve been discussing of late and adds to the growing worries over EPS growth prospects in 2019.

 

Costco stumbles, but it is far from out

Last Thursday night, Costco Wholesale (COST), our Middle-Class Squeeze Thematic Leader, reported an EPS beat by $0.05 per share for the quarter, but revenue came in a tad short at up 10.3% year over year, or $34.3 billion vs. the expected $34.66 billion. Same-store sales for the quarter rose 8.8% (+7.5% ex-gasoline and currency), which is well above anything we’ve seen for the September-November period per Friday’s November Retail Sales report save for digital shopping (Non-store retailers) and gas station sales – more on that shortly.

Despite the positive EPS, COST shares fell 8.6% on Friday.

The issue with Costco was the margin profile as reported operating income was essentially flat year over year. When combined with the top line increase vs. the year-ago quarter it means the company’s operating margin hit 2.7% vs. 3.0% in the year-ago quarter, and 3.2% this past August quarter. Part of the issue was the jump up in pre-opening expenses for new warehouse locations which rose by 6% quarter over quarter. The real culprit was the step up in merchandising costs, which climbed 10.8% year over year for the November quarter vs. 5.4% year over year in the September quarter. Clearly, Costco is seeing the impact of not only higher prices but also the impact of tariffs associated with the U.S.-China trade war.

Despite that, the core basics at the company – foot traffic, renewal rates, and membership growth – continue to fire on all cylinders. That to me makes Costco one of the best-positioned retailers, and the fact that its e-commerce business continues to blossom is positive as well. In all of 2019, Costco looks to open 20-23 net new warehouses, which equates to an increase of 2.5%-3.0% year over year. This will likely drive pre-opening expenses higher in the coming months, but given the favorable metrics associated with each new location over the medium to longer-term, we’ll take it, especially if the economy slows more than expected. Odds are that will drive more consumers to Costco than not.

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

 

Thematic confirmation in the November Retail Sales Report

Looking over Friday’s November Retail Sales Report, core Retail Sales rose 4.0% year over year with strong performance as expected for Non-store Retailers (+10.8% year over year), Gasoline Stations (+8.2%) and Food Service & Drinking Places (+5.6%). To me, those first and third categories ring positive for our Digital Lifestyle and Living the Life investing themes. That means I see those as positive signs for our thematic and holiday shopping positioned companies, which includes the aforementioned Costco, but also Amazon (AMZN), United Parcel Service (UPS), McCormick & Co. (MKC), International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) and Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG).

Back to the November Retail Sales report, while the sequential overall retail comparisons came in either as expected or slightly better depending on the forecast one is looking at, what’s likely to catch the market’s attention is the sequential drop in year over year retail sales growth that was had in November. Again, year over year November retail sales growth rose 4.0%, which was down compared to the October year over year increase of 4.5%.

Given the growing amount of data that points to a slowing domestic economy, one that is driven meaningfully by the consumer, odds are market watchers will not love what they saw in those year over year comparisons. Add to it that a recent Gallup poll found that Americans plan to spend less on holiday gifts today than they expected back in October and less than they expected to spend in 2017. The $91 decline in expected spending since October is “one of the steeper mid-season declines, exceeded only by a $185 drop that occurred in 2008, as the Wall Street financial crisis was unfolding, and a $102 drop in 2009 during the 2007-2009 recession.”

Clearly, those latest data points weighed on the overall stock market last week, but those weren’t the only ones.

 

Digging into Friday’s other economic reports

The November Retail Sales report wasn’t the only set of key data that weighed on the market last Friday. The November Industrial Production Report showed a flat manufacturing economy following the modest dip in October. On the December Flash PMI reports, the U.S. hit a 19-month low for the month with softer new order growth, while “Lower oil-related costs contributed to the slowest rate of input price inflation since the start of the year.” Turning to the eurozone, its Composite Output PMI hit 51.3, down from 52.7 in November, and reached a four-year low. The Flash Manufacturing PMI data for Japan was better, as it rose to 52.4 for December up from 52.2 in November, but that is hardly what we would call a robust figure given the expansion/contraction line at the 50.0 level. While new orders activity improved in Japan, new export orders fell, signaling a change of direction, which supports the notion of a slowing global economy.

This data along with the back and forth on U.S.-China trade, Brexit developments, Italy budget concerns, protests in France, and the potential government shutdown have all raised investor uncertainty levels. We see this in the current “Extreme Fear” (9) reading on the CNN Business Fear & Greed Index, which is little changed over the last few weeks. We’ve seen this play out in the stock market as the number of stocks hitting new highs pales in comparison to hitting 52-week lows. As one likely suspects, we saw this play out in small cap stocks, which per the Russell 2000 last week, were once again the hardest hit of the major stock categories. Quarter to date, small cap stocks are down just under 17% quarter to date.

We saw a number of these concerns brewing as we exited September and entered the September- quarter earnings season. We have been careful in making additions to the Select List given what I’ve viewed as an environment that has been more skewed to risk than reward. Odds are that will continue to be the case between now and the end of the year, which means we will continue to be overly selective when it comes to deploying capital. For that reason, last week we added the ProShares Short S&P 500 ETF (SH) shares to our holdings to add some downside protection.

 

What to Watch This Week

Following last week’s rash of economic data, don’t ask me how or why but the Atlanta Fed saw fit to boost its GDP Now forecast for the current quarter to 3.0% from 2.4% last week. As subscribers know, I prefer the far more solid track record at the NY Fed and its Nowcast report, which now calls for the current quarter to be +2.4%, down from +2.44% last week. That’s in line with The Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecasting Survey, but again that Duke poll is likely to be in the forefront of investor minds this week as more data is had. This includes several pieces of housing data — the November Housing Starts & Building Permits as well as November Existing Home Sales and the October NAHB Housing Market Index — as well as the November Durable Orders Report and November Personal Income & Spending data.

As I mentioned above, the number of economic numbers suggesting the global economy continues to slow are growing, which likely gives the Fed far more room to issue dovish comments after next week’s all but done December rate hike. In recent weeks as the Fed has once again signaled it will more than likely remain data dependent in 2019, we’ve seen a change in the futures market, which is now pricing in less than 20 basis points of rate hikes next year versus over 55 basis points just a few months ago. But we have to consider the reason behind this slower pace of rate hikes, which is the suggestion by recent data that the economy is far from overheating, which also adds to the core question we suspect investors and the market are asking: how fast/strong will EPS growth be in 2019?

As we prepare for Fed Chair Powell’s remarks, it’s not lost on me that we could very well see a “buy the rumor, sell the news” event following the FOMC meeting next week.

Heading down the final stretch of 2018, I’ll be looking at well-positioned companies relative to our investment themes that have been hard hit by the quarter to date move in the market. As of Friday’s market close, the S&P 500 was down X% quarter to date, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index and the small-cap heavy Russell 2000 were down 14% and nearly 17%, respectively, on that basis. One of the criteria that I’ll be focusing on as I weed through this growing list of contenders is favorable EPS growth year over year relative to the S&P 500. And, yes, when I say that I do mean to “real” EPS growth due to rising profit margins and expanding dollar profits instead of those lifted largely by buyback activities.

With that in mind, I’ll be paying close attention to a number of key earnings reports coming at us next week. These include Nike (NKE), Carmax (KMX), ConAgra (CAG), General Mills (GIS), Micron (MU), FedEx (FDX) and Darden Restaurants (DRI). Inside these reports and company commentaries, I’ll be looking for data points that to confirm our investment themes, the question of inflation vs. deflation and where it may be, and a last-minute update from FedEx on digital commerce for this holiday shopping season that we are all in the thick of. Also, among those reports is Del Frisco’s competitor – The Capital Grill, which is owned by Darden. I’ll be paying extra close attention to that report and what it means for our DFRG shares.

 

Holiday Housekeeping!

And that brings us to our Housekeeping note, which is this – given the way the Christmas and New Year’s holidays fall this year, barring any unforeseen issues that will require our attention and immediate action, we here at Tematica will be in “get ready for 2019” mode. That means we’ll be using the quiet holiday time to review the Thematic Leaders as well as positions on the Select List to ensure we are well prepared for the coming months ahead.

As such, we’re likely to be back the week of January 7th, although I can’t rule out the urge to share some thoughts with you sooner. For example, if the Fed says something that rolls the stock market’s eyes later this week, I’ll be sure to weigh in and share my thoughts. The same goes for the Darden earnings report I mentioned above and what it may mean for our DFRG shares.

We will have a new podcast episode or two before then, and we will be sharing a number of Thematic Signals over the coming weeks – if only those confirming signs for our investment themes would take a break. I’m only kidding, but of course, I love how recognizable and relatable the themes are in and around our daily lives.

To you and your loved ones, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year! See you 2019!!

 

 

Options+ Weekly Issue

Options+ Weekly Issue

Key points inside this issue:

 

The Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey surprises the market

What looked to be shaping up as a positive week for the stock market turned on its head Friday following renewed concerns over the pace of the global economy. As we’ve talked about recently, the vector and velocity of the latest economic reports suggest a slowing economy and that is fueling questions over top and bottom-line growth prospects for 2019.

Tossing some logs on the that fire late last week was the new survey findings from the Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey that showed almost half (48.6%) of US chief financial officers believe the United States will be in recession by the end of next year while 82% of CFOs surveyed believe that a recession will begin by the end of 2020. That’s quite different than the Wall Street consensus, which per The Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecasting Survey sees the speed of the economy slowing from 3.5% in the September 2018 quarter to 2.5% in the current one to 2.4% in the first half of 2019 followed by 2.2% in the back half of the year.

This revelation has added to the list of concerns that I’ve been discussing of late and adds to the growing worries over EPS growth prospects in 2019. For that reason, even though our ProShares Short S&P 500 Jan 2019 30.00 calls (SH190118C00030000)are up 30% since we added them roughly 10 days ago, we’ll continue to hold them for the duration. Given the upward move, however, I will boost our stop loss to $0.65 from $0.35.

 

Costco shares stumble and we’re jumping on board!

Last Thursday night, Costco Wholesale (COST), our Middle-Class Squeeze Thematic Leader, reported an EPS beat by $0.05 per share for the quarter, but revenue came in a tad short at up 10.3% year over year, or $34.3 billion vs. the expected $34.66 billion. Same-store sales for the quarter rose 8.8% (+7.5% ex-gasoline and currency), which is well above anything we’ve seen for the September-November period per Friday’s November Retail Sales report save for digital shopping (Non-store retailers) and gas station sales – more on that shortly.

Despite the positive EPS, COST shares fell 8.6% on Friday.

The issue with Costco was the margin profile as reported operating income was essentially flat year over year. When combined with the top line increase vs. the year ago quarter it means the company’s operating margin hit 2.7% vs. 3.0% in the year ago quarter, and 3.2% this past August quarter. Part of the issue was the jump up in pre-opening expenses for new warehouse locations which rose by 6% quarter over quarter. The real culprit was the step up in merchandising costs, which climbed 10.8% year over year for the November quarter vs. 5.4% year over year in the September quarter. Clearly, Costco is seeing the impact of not only higher prices but also the impact of tariffs associated with the U.S.-China trade war.

Despite that, the core basics at the company – foot traffic, renewal rates and membership growth – continue to fire on all cylinders. That to me makes Costco one of the best-positioned retailers, and the fact that its e-commerce business continues to blossom is a positive as well. In all of 2019, Costco looks to open 20-23 net new warehouses, which equates to an increase of 2.5%-3.0% year over year. This will likely drive pre-opening expenses higher in the coming months, but given the favorable metrics associated with each new location over the medium to longer-term, we’ll take it, especially if the economy slows more than expected. Odds are that will drive more consumers to Costco than not.

We’ve seen setbacks like this before with COST shares, and as it continues to operate as smartly as it does and open additional locations it continues to deliver enviable same-store sales figures month after month. With more new warehouses to be had in 2019, I strongly suspect this will once again be the case. This has us adding the Costco Wholesale (COST) April 2019 $210 calls (COST181221C00210000)that closed at 2.03 to our holdings. This will allow for the capture of December as well as first quarter holidays as well.  We’ll give this a wide berth initially, which means setting our stop loss at 1.00 for now. As the company’s monthly same-store sales figures confirm our thesis, I’ll look to boost that stop loss.

 

Holiday Housekeeping!

And that brings us to our Housekeeping note, which is this – given the way the Christmas and New Year’s holidays fall this year, barring any unforeseen issues that will require our attention and immediate action, we here at Tematica will be in “get ready for 2019” mode. That means we’ll be using the quiet holiday time to review the Thematic Leaders as well as positions on the Select List to ensure we are well prepared for the coming months ahead.

As such, we’re likely to be back the week of January 7th, although I can’t rule out the urge to share some thoughts with you sooner. For example, if the Fed says something that rolls the stock market’s eyes later this week, I’ll be sure to weigh in and share my thoughts.

We will have a new podcast episode or two before then, and we will be sharing a number of Thematic Signals over the coming weeks – if only those confirming signs for our investment themes would take a break. I’m only kidding, but that, of course, I do love how recognizable and relatable the themes are in and around our daily lives.

To you and your loved ones, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year! See you 2019!!

 

 

Weekly Issue: Investor anxiety continues

Weekly Issue: Investor anxiety continues

Key points inside this issue

  • As the investors grapple with anxiety over trade as well as the speed of economic and earnings growth, we’ll continue to hold ProShares Short S&P 500 (SH) shares.
  • Our price target on the shares of Guilty Pleasure Thematic Leader Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) remains $14.
  • Our price target on Middle-Class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $250.
  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $2,250

 

The stock market experienced another painful set of days in last week as it digested the latest set of economic data, and what it all means for the speed of the domestic and global economy. Investors also grappled with determining where the U.S. is with regard to the China trade war as well as the prospects for a deal by the end of March that would prevent the next round of tariffs on China from escalating.

There remain a number of unresolved issues between the U.S. and China, some of which have been long-standing in nature, which suggests a fix in the next 100+ days is somewhat questionable. This combination induced a fresh round of anxiety in the market, leading it to ultimately finish the week lower as the major indices sagged further quarter to date. In turn, that pushed all the major market indices into the red as of Friday’s close, most notably the small-cap heavy Russell 2000, which finished Friday down 5.7% year to date. For those keeping score, that equates to the Russell 2000 falling just under 15% quarter to date.

Last week we added downside protection to our holdings in the form of ProShares Short S&P 500 (SH) shares, and we’ll continue to hold them until signs of more stable footing for the overall market emerge. As we do this, I’ll continue to evaluate not only the thematic signals that are in and around us day-in, day-out, but also examine the potential opportunities on a risk to reward basis the market pain is creating.

 

Shares of Del Frisco’s get some activist attention

Late last week, our shares of Guilty Pleasure Thematic Leader Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) bucked the overall move lower in the domestic stock market following the revelation that activist hedge fund Engaged Capital has acquired a nearly 10% in the company with a plan to push the company to sell itself according to The Wall Street Journal. Given the sharp drop in DFRG shares thus far in 2018, down 52%, it’s not surprising to see this happen, and when we added the shares to our holdings, we shared the view that at some point it could be a takeout candidate as the restaurant industry continues to consolidate. In particular, Del Frisco’s presence in the higher end dining category and its efforts over the last few months to become a more focused company help explain the interest by Engaged.

In response, Del Frisco’s issued the following statement:

“Del Frisco’s is committed to maximizing long-term value for all shareholders. While we do not agree with certain characterizations of events or of our business and operations contained in the letter that we received from Engaged Capital, the Company values constructive input toward the goal of enhancing shareholder value. “

Compared to other Board responses this one is rather tame and suggests Del Frisco’s will indeed have a dialog with Engaged. Given the year to date performance in DFRG shares, odds are there are several on the Board that are frustrated either with the rate of change in the business or how that change is being viewed in the marketplace.

In terms of who might be interested in Del Frisco’s, we’ve seen a number of going private transactions in recent years led by private equity investors that re-tool a company’s strategy and execution or combine it with other entities. We’ve also seen several restaurant M&A transactions as well. Let’s remember too how on Del Frisco’s September quarter earnings conference call, the management team went out of its way to explain how the business performed during the last recession. That better than industry performance may add to the desirability of Del Frisco’s inside a platform, multi-branded restaurant company.

As much as we may agree with the logic behind Del Frisco’s being taken out, we’d remind subscribers that buying a company on takeout speculation can be dicey. In the case of Del Frisco’s, we continue to see a solid fundamental story. We are seeing deflation in food prices that bode well for Del Frisco’s margins and bottom line EPS. Over the last quarter we’ve seen prices in the protein complex – beef, pork, and chicken – move lower across the board. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) food price index, world food prices declined during the month of November to their lowest level in more than two years. We’re also seeing favorable restaurant spending per recent monthly Retail Sales reports, which should only improve amid year-end holiday dinners eaten by corporate diners and individuals.

We’ll continue to hold DFRG for the fundamentals, but we won’t fight any smart, strategic transaction that may emerge.

  • Our price target on the shares of Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) remains $14.

 

What to watch in the week ahead

As we move into the second week of the last month of the quarter, I’ll continue to examine the oncoming data to determine the vector and velocity of the domestic as well as global economy. Following Friday’s November Employment Report that saw weaker than expected job creation for the month, but year over year wage gains of 3.1% the Atlanta Fed continued to reduce its GDP forecast for the current quarter. That forecast now sits at 2.4%, down from 3.0% at the end of October.

With the sharp drove in oil prices has consumers feeling a little holiday cheer at the gas pump, odds are next week’s November inflation reports will be tame. The fact that world food prices per the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) food price index hit the lowest level since May 2016 also bodes well for a benign set of inflation data this week. Later in the week, we’ll get the November Retail Sales report, which should be very confirming for our holiday facing positions – Amazon (AMZN), United Parcel Service (UPS), McCormick & Co. (MKC) and Costco Wholesale (COST) – that given the kickoff of “seasons eatings” with Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday shopping season that clearly shifted to digital shopping.

That report will once again provide context for this shift as well as more than likely confirm yet again that Costco Wholesale (COST) continues to take consumer wallet share. Speaking of Costco, the company will report its quarterly results this  Thursday. Quarter to date, the company’s monthly same store sales reports are firm evidence it is winning consumer wallet share, and we expect it did so again in November, especially with its growing fresh foods business that keeps luring club members back. Aside from its top and bottom line results, I’ll be focused once again on its pace of new warehouse openings, a harbinger of the crucial membership fee income to be had in coming quarters.

  • Our price target on Middle-Class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $250.

We’ll end the economic data stream this week with the November Industrial Production report. Given the sharp fall in heavy truck orders in November, I’ll be digging into this report with a particular eye for what it says about the domestic manufacturing economy.

As discussed above, this week Costco will report its results and joining it in that activity will be several other retailers such as Ascena Retail (ASNA), DWS (DWS), American Eagle (AEO) and Vera Bradley (VRA). Inside their comments and guidance, which will include the holiday shopping season, I’ll be assessing the degree to which they are embracing our Digital Lifestyle investing theme. We’ll also see Adobe Systems (ADBE) report its quarterly result and I’ll be digesting what it has to say about cloud adoption, pricing and prospects for 2019. As we know, that is a core driver of Amazon Web Services, one of the key profit and cash flow drivers at Amazon (AMZN).

  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $2,250