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

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

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

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

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

The U.S. government is knocking for student loan

The U.S. government is knocking for student loan

While there are talks of student loan forgiveness on the 2020 campaign trail, the Treasury Depart is stepping up its game to collect on delinquent student loans. Data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) points to disposable income once again coming under pressure during the first quarter of 2018. Paired with rising gas prices and renewed uncertainty over the global economy as well as the current state of US-China trade, we see the average consumer remaining in a tight spot.

It comes as no surprise to us that loan inquiries at consumer finance platform company LendingClub jumped significantly in the March 2019 quarter as consumers look to shore up their personal finance and manage existing debt levels. Disposable dollars for debt servicing take a bite out of consumer spending, which means our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme remains an economic headwind. It does, however, bode very well for companies like Costco Wholesale, BJ’s, Walmart and Amazon that help consumers stretch their spending dollars.

Your rich Uncle Sam is calling in his chips.The U.S. government stepped up collections on delinquent student debt to $2.9 billion last year — or an average of $1,000 from 2.9 million former students and their cosigners, according to the Treasury Department. And the trend continues. In the first six months of fiscal 2019, which started Oct. 1, collections totaled $3.3 billion.

Source: U.S. Stepping Up Enforcement on Delinquent Student Loans – Bloomberg

WEEKLY ISSUE: Companies continue to serve up weaker guidance

WEEKLY ISSUE: Companies continue to serve up weaker guidance

Key points inside this issue

  • The outlook for earnings continues to wane even as the trade-related market melt-up continues.
  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $2,250.
  • Our price target on Alphabet (GOOGL) shares remains$1,300.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $250.
  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) shares remains $125.
  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50

 

The outlook for earnings continues to wane even as the trade-related market melt-up continues

Domestic stocks continued to trend higher last week as the December-quarter issues that plagued them continued to be dialed back. Said another way, the expected concerns — the Fed, the economy, the government shutdown, geopolitical issues in the eurozone, and U.S.-China trade talks — haven’t been as bad as feared a few months ago.

In recent weeks, we have seen the Fed take a more dovish approach and last week’s data, which included benign inflation numbers and fresh concerns over the speed of the economy following the headline December Retail Sales Report and Friday’s manufacturing-led contraction in the January Industrial Production Index, reaffirm the central bank is likely to stand pat on interest rate hikes. We see both of those reports, however, feeding worries over increasing debt-laden consumers and a slowing U.S. economy. 

Granted, economic data from around the globe suggest the U.S. economy remains one of the more vibrant ones on a relative basis, which also helps explain both the melt-up in both the domestic stock market as well as the dollar. On Thursday we learned that economic growth in the eurozone was basically flat on a sequential basis in the December quarter, rising a meager 0.2%. Year-over-year growth stood at just 1.2% for the final quarter of 2018. This came after news that the eurozone economic powerhouse that is Germany had no growth itself in the fourth quarter after a contraction of 0.2% in the third quarter. Italy experienced its second consecutive quarter of economic contraction, putting it in a technical recession.

 

All of this put further downward pressure on the euro versus the U.S. dollar, which means dollar headwinds remain for multinational companies. And we still have another major headwind that is the lack of any Brexit deal. With three pro-EU Conservatives having resigned this morning from Prime Minister Theresa May’s party to join a new group in Parliament, there is no an even slimmer chance of Brexit deal being put in place ahead of next week.

So, what has been fueling the rebound in the stock market?

Among other factors, the deal to avoid another federal government shutdown, which was followed by the “national emergency” declaration that will potentially give President Trump access to roughly $8 billion to fund a border wall. We’ll see how this all plays out in the coming days, alongside the next step in U.S.-China trade talks that are being held this week in Washington. While “much work remains” on the working Memorandum of Understanding, trade discussions last week focused on several of the larger structural issues that we’ve been more concerned about — forced technology transfer, intellectual property rights, cyber theft, and currency.

Early this morning, it’s being reported that President Trump is softening on the March 1 phase in date for the next round of tariff increases, which is likely to give the market some additional trade optimism and see it move higher. We remain hopeful, but we expect there to be several additional steps to go that will set the stage for any final agreement that will likely be consummated at a meeting between Presidents Trump and Xi. And yes, the final details will matter and will determine if we get a “buy the rumor, sell the news” event.

Even as the trade war continues at least for now, we continue to see companies positioning themselves for the tailwinds associated with Living the Life and New Global Middle-class investing theme opportunities to be had in China. If you missed a recent Thematic Signal discussing how Hilton (HLT) is doing just that, you can find it here.

And then there are earnings

Over the last several weeks, we’ve been tracking and sharing the declining outlook for S&P 500 earnings for 2019. As we closed last week, roughly 80% of the S&P 500 companies had reported their quarterly earnings and issued outlooks. In aggregating the data, the new consensus calls for a 2.2% year-over-year decline in earnings for the current quarter, low single-digit earnings growth in the June and September quarters, and 9.1% growth in the December quarter. In full, the S&P 500 group of companies are now expected to grow their collective 2019 EPS by 5% to $169.53, which means that as those expectations have fallen over the last several months, the 2019 move in the market has made the stock market that much more expensive.

In my view, we are once again seeing a potentially optimistic perspective on earnings for the second half of the year. While a U.S.-China trade deal and infrastructure spending bill could very well lead to a better second half of 2019 from an earnings perspective, the unknown remains the vector and velocity of the rest of the global economy.  As discussed above, the US is looking like the best house on the economic block, but as I share below there are valid reasons to think that it too continues to slow.

 

Last week I touched on a Thematic Signal about the record level of auto loan delinquencies, and in the last few days, we’ve learned that student-loan delinquencies surged last year, hitting consecutive records of $166.3 billion in the September 2018 quarter and $166.4 billion in the December 2018 one. I’ve also noticed an uptick in credit-card delinquencies this past January as companies ranging from American Express (AXP) to JPMorgan (JPM) and other credit card issuers reported their monthly data. What I find really concerning is this record level of delinquencies is occurring even as the unemployment rate remains at multi-year lows, which suggests more consumers are seeing their disposable income pressured. While this isn’t a good sign for a consumer-led economy, it certainly confirms the tailwind associated with our Middle-class Squeeze investing theme.

 

Tematica Investing

 December Retail Sales shock some, confirm Costco and others

December Retail Sales have been published by the Commerce Department and to say the results were different than most were expecting is an understatement. And that’s even for those of us that were watching data of the kind I mentioned above.  Normally, holiday shopping tends to build as we close out the year, but according to the report, consumers pulled back in December as monthly retail sales fell 1.3% compared to November.

Yes, you read that right – they fell month over month, but as we know that is only one way to read the data. And while sequential comparisons are helpful, they do little to help us track year over year growth. From that perspective, retail sales in December 2018 rose 2.1% year over year with stronger gains registered at Clothing & Clothing Accessories Stores (+4.7%), Food Services & Drinking Places (+4.0%), Nonstore retailers (+3.7%) and Auto & other motor vehicles (+3.4%). That’s not to say there weren’t some sore spots in the report – there were, but there are also the ones that have been taking lumps for most of 2018. Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, & book stores fell 13% year over year in December, bringing the December quarter drop to 11% overall. Department Stores also took it on the chin in December as their retail sales fell 2.8% year over year. These declines are largely due to the accelerating shopping shift to digital from brick & mortar that are associated with our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.

Despite the headline weakness, I once again see the report as confirming for Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) and to a lesser extent Select List resident Alphabet (GOOGL) given its Google shopping engine. Not only is Amazon benefiting from the accelerating shift to digital commerce, but also from its own private label efforts, which span basic electronic accessories to furniture and apparel. It goes without saying that comparing the December Retail Sales report with Costco Wholesale’s (COST) monthly same-store sales reports shows Costco continues to win consumer wallet share.

 

As a reminder, Costco’s December same-store sales rose 7.5% in December (7.1% excluding gasoline prices and foreign exchange) and 6.6% in January (7.3%). And it remains on path opening new warehouse locations with 768 exiting January, up 3.0% year over year. That should continue to spur the company’s high margin membership fee income in the coming quarters. My suspicion is others are catching onto this given the 7% increase in COST shares thus far in 2019, the vast majority of which has come in the last week. We’ll continue to hold ‘em.

  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $2,250.
  • Our price target on Alphabet (GOOGL) shares remains $1,300.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $250.

 

Turning to this week’s data

This week’s shortened trading week brings several additional key pieces of economic data. And following the disappointing December Retail Sales report, these reports are bound to be closely scrutinized as the investment community looks to home in on the speed of the domestic economy. 

In addition to weekly mortgage applications, and oil and natural gas inventory data, tomorrow we’ll also get the December Durable Orders report and January Existing Home sales data. Given the drop-off in mortgage applications of late as well as weather issues, it’s hard to imagine a dramatic pick-up in the housing data since the end of 2018. Rounding out the economic data will be our first February look at the economy with the Philly Fed Index.

 Speaking of the Fed, today we’ll see the release of the Fed’s FOMC minutes from its January meeting. Considering the comments emanating from Fed heads lately as well as the lack of inflation in the January CPI and PPI data, there should be few surprises in terms of potential interest rate hikes in the near term. The looming question is the speed at which the Fed will normalize its balance sheet, which likely means that will be an area of focus as investors parse those minutes.

 

Here come Universal Display and Mobile World Congress 2019

As long as we’re looking at calendars, after Thursday’s market close Select List resident Universal Display (OLED) will report its quarterly results. To say the shares have found some legs in 2019 would be a bit of an understatement given their resurgence over the last several weeks.

 

We know Digital Lifestyle Select List company Apple (AAPL) has shared its plans to convert all of its iPhone models to organic light emitting diode displays by 2020, and that keeps us in the long-term game with OLED shares. Given the current tone of the smartphone market, however, we could see Universal Display serve up softer than expected guidance.

We’ll continue to hold OLED shares for the duration and look for signs that other device companies, including other smartphone vendors but other devices as well, are making the shift to organic light emitting diodes next week during Mobile World Congress 2019 (Feb. 25-28). The event is a premier one mobile industry as it tends to showcase new devices and technologies, and as you might imagine means a number of announcements. This means it’s not only one to watch for organic light emitting diode adoptions, but we are also likely to see much news on 5G virtual reality and augmented reality, key aspects of our Disruptive Innovators investing theme, as well. And with 5G in mind, we could very well hear of more 5G network launches as well, which means keeping my Nokia (NOK) and Digital Infrastructure ears open as well as my Digital Lifestyle ones.

  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) shares remains $125.
  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50.

 

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Reversing Course on Lending Club Calls

WEEKLY ISSUE: Reversing Course on Lending Club Calls

Key points inside this issue

The outlook for earnings continues to wane even as the trade-related market melt-up continues

Domestic stocks continued to trend higher last week as the December-quarter issues that plagued them continued to be dialed back. Said another way, the expected concerns — the Fed, the economy, the government shutdown, geopolitical issues in the eurozone, and U.S.-China trade talks — haven’t been as bad as feared a few months ago.

In recent weeks, we have seen the Fed take a more dovish approach and last week’s data, which included benign inflation numbers and fresh concerns over the speed of the economy following the headline December Retail Sales Report and Friday’s manufacturing-led contraction in the January Industrial Production Index, reaffirm the central bank is likely to stand pat on interest rate hikes. We see both of those reports, however, feeding worries over increasing debt-laden consumers and a slowing U.S. economy. 

Granted, economic data from around the globe suggest the U.S. economy remains one of the more vibrant ones on a relative basis, which also helps explain both the melt-up in both the domestic stock market as well as the dollar. On Thursday we learned that economic growth in the eurozone was basically flat on a sequential basis in the December quarter, rising a meager 0.2%. Year-over-year growth stood at just 1.2% for the final quarter of 2018. This came after news that the eurozone economic powerhouse that is Germany had no growth itself in the fourth quarter after a contraction of 0.2% in the third quarter. Italy experienced its second consecutive quarter of economic contraction, putting it in a technical recession.

 

All of this put further downward pressure on the euro versus the U.S. dollar, which means dollar headwinds remain for multinational companies. And we still have another major headwind that is the lack of any Brexit deal. With three pro-EU Conservatives having resigned this morning from Prime Minister Theresa May’s party to join a new group in Parliament, there is no an even slimmer chance of Brexit deal being put in place ahead of next week.

So, what has been fueling the rebound in the stock market?

Among other factors, the deal to avoid another federal government shutdown, which was followed by the “national emergency” declaration that will potentially give President Trump access to roughly $8 billion to fund a border wall. We’ll see how this all plays out in the coming days, alongside the next step in U.S.-China trade talks that are being held this week in Washington. While “much work remains” on the working Memorandum of Understanding, trade discussions last week focused on several of the larger structural issues that we’ve been more concerned about — forced technology transfer, intellectual property rights, cyber theft, and currency.

Early this morning, it’s being reported that President Trump is softening on the March 1 phase in date for the next round of tariff increases, which is likely to give the market some additional trade optimism and see it move higher. We remain hopeful, but we expect there to be several additional steps to go that will set the stage for any final agreement that will likely be consummated at a meeting between Presidents Trump and Xi. And yes, the final details will matter and will determine if we get a “buy the rumor, sell the news” event.

Even as the trade war continues at least for now, we continue to see companies positioning themselves for the tailwinds associated with Living the Life and New Global Middle-class investing theme opportunities to be had in China. If you missed a recent Thematic Signal discussing how Hilton (HLT) is doing just that, you can find it here.

And then there are earnings

Over the last several weeks, we’ve been tracking and sharing the declining outlook for S&P 500 earnings for 2019. As we closed last week, roughly 80% of the S&P 500 companies had reported their quarterly earnings and issued outlooks. In aggregating the data, the new consensus calls for a 2.2% year-over-year decline in earnings for the current quarter, low single-digit earnings growth in the June and September quarters, and 9.1% growth in the December quarter. In full, the S&P 500 group of companies are now expected to grow their collective 2019 EPS by 5% to $169.53, which means that as those expectations have fallen over the last several months, the 2019 move in the market has made the stock market that much more expensive.

In my view, we are once again seeing a potentially optimistic perspective on earnings for the second half of the year. While a U.S.-China trade deal and infrastructure spending bill could very well lead to a better second half of 2019 from an earnings perspective, the unknown remains the vector and velocity of the rest of the global economy.  As discussed above, the US is looking like the best house on the economic block, but as I share below there are valid reasons to think that it too continues to slow.

 

Last week I touched on a Thematic Signal about the record level of auto loan delinquencies, and in the last few days, we’ve learned that student-loan delinquencies surged last year, hitting consecutive records of $166.3 billion in the September 2018 quarter and $166.4 billion in the December 2018 one. I’ve also noticed an uptick in credit-card delinquencies this past January as companies ranging from American Express (AXP) to JPMorgan (JPM) and other credit card issuers reported their monthly data. What I find really concerning is this record level of delinquencies is occurring even as the unemployment rate remains at multi-year lows, which suggests more consumers are seeing their disposable income pressured. While this isn’t a good sign for a consumer-led economy, it certainly confirms the tailwind associated with our Middle-class Squeeze investing theme.

 

Tematica Investing

 December Retail Sales shock some, confirm Costco and others

December Retail Sales have been published by the Commerce Department and to say the results were different than most were expecting is an understatement. And that’s even for those of us that were watching data of the kind I mentioned above.  Normally, holiday shopping tends to build as we close out the year, but according to the report, consumers pulled back in December as monthly retail sales fell 1.3% compared to November.

Yes, you read that right – they fell month over month, but as we know that is only one way to read the data. And while sequential comparisons are helpful, they do little to help us track year over year growth. From that perspective, retail sales in December 2018 rose 2.1% year over year with stronger gains registered at Clothing & Clothing Accessories Stores (+4.7%), Food Services & Drinking Places (+4.0%), Nonstore retailers (+3.7%) and Auto & other motor vehicles (+3.4%). That’s not to say there weren’t some sore spots in the report – there were, but there are also the ones that have been taking lumps for most of 2018. Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, & book stores fell 13% year over year in December, bringing the December quarter drop to 11% overall. Department Stores also took it on the chin in December as their retail sales fell 2.8% year over year. These declines are largely due to the accelerating shopping shift to digital from brick & mortar that are associated with our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.

Despite the headline weakness, I once again see the report as confirming for Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) and to a lesser extent Select List resident Alphabet (GOOGL) given its Google shopping engine. Not only is Amazon benefiting from the accelerating shift to digital commerce, but also from its own private label efforts, which span basic electronic accessories to furniture and apparel. It goes without saying that comparing the December Retail Sales report with Costco Wholesale’s (COST) monthly same-store sales reports shows Costco continues to win consumer wallet share.

 

As a reminder, Costco’s December same-store sales rose 7.5% in December (7.1% excluding gasoline prices and foreign exchange) and 6.6% in January (7.3%). And it remains on path opening new warehouse locations with 768 exiting January, up 3.0% year over year. That should continue to spur the company’s high margin membership fee income in the coming quarters. My suspicion is others are catching onto this given the 7% increase in COST shares thus far in 2019, the vast majority of which has come in the last week. We’ll continue to hold ‘em.

  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $2,250.
  • Our price target on Alphabet (GOOGL) shares remains $1,300.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $250.

 

Turning to this week’s data

This week’s shortened trading week brings several additional key pieces of economic data. And following the disappointing December Retail Sales report, these reports are bound to be closely scrutinized as the investment community looks to home in on the speed of the domestic economy. 

In addition to weekly mortgage applications, and oil and natural gas inventory data, tomorrow we’ll also get the December Durable Orders report and January Existing Home sales data. Given the drop-off in mortgage applications of late as well as weather issues, it’s hard to imagine a dramatic pick-up in the housing data since the end of 2018. Rounding out the economic data will be our first February look at the economy with the Philly Fed Index.

 Speaking of the Fed, today we’ll see the release of the Fed’s FOMC minutes from its January meeting. Considering the comments emanating from Fed heads lately as well as the lack of inflation in the January CPI and PPI data, there should be few surprises in terms of potential interest rate hikes in the near term. The looming question is the speed at which the Fed will normalize its balance sheet, which likely means that will be an area of focus as investors parse those minutes.

 

Here come Universal Display and Mobile World Congress 2019

As long as we’re looking at calendars, after Thursday’s market close Select List resident Universal Display (OLED) will report its quarterly results. To say the shares have found some legs in 2019 would be a bit of an understatement given their resurgence over the last several weeks.

 

We know Digital Lifestyle Select List company Apple (AAPL) has shared its plans to convert all of its iPhone models to organic light emitting diode displays by 2020, and that keeps us in the long-term game with OLED shares. Given the current tone of the smartphone market, however, we could see Universal Display serve up softer than expected guidance.

We’ll continue to hold OLED shares for the duration and look for signs that other device companies, including other smartphone vendors but other devices as well, are making the shift to organic light emitting diodes next week during Mobile World Congress 2019 (Feb. 25-28). The event is a premier one mobile industry as it tends to showcase new devices and technologies, and as you might imagine means a number of announcements. This means it’s not only one to watch for organic light emitting diode adoptions, but we are also likely to see much news on 5G virtual reality and augmented reality, key aspects of our Disruptive Innovators investing theme, as well. And with 5G in mind, we could very well hear of more 5G network launches as well, which means keeping my Nokia (NOK) and Digital Infrastructure ears open as well as my Digital Lifestyle ones.

  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) shares remains $125.
  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50.

 

Tematica Options+

Last week we added a Middle-class Squeeze position with Lending Club (LC) March 2019 4.00 calls (LC190315C0000400)to the Select List, and despite the move higher in recent days ahead of the company’s earnings report last night, the calls were little changed. While LendingClub reported a 35% increase in personal loan applications in 2018 to more than 14 million with double-digit growth in both loan volumes and revenue it served up softer than expected December quarter results and guided the first half of 2019 below expectations. It continues to expect positive earnings in 2019, but that’s not expected to happen now until the second half of the year.

Given the March strike data associated with the LendingClub calls, combined with last night’s developments, odds are the shares will not rebound in such time as to make it worth holding onto them. As such, we will look to limit our losses on the trade, shedding them today at market.

 

Del Frisco’s to report on March 12

Turning to the Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) September 20, 2019, 10.00 calls (DFRG190920C00010000)that closed last night at 1.00, up more than 65% from our 0.60 entry point two weeks ago, the company has announced it will report its December quarter results on March 12. Because the company pre-announced it results in early January, the quarterly results won’t be much of a surprise. In my opinion, the company has stretched out its reporting timetable in order to evaluate potential bids. We know the company has beefed up its Board of late with an eye to maximizing a would be takeout transaction, and with ample private equity and corporate cash on the sidelines, odds are rather good that Del Frisco’s won’t be a stand-alone public company by this time next year.

 

Weekly Issue: Streaming Services and the Middle Class Squeeze

Weekly Issue: Streaming Services and the Middle Class Squeeze

Key points inside this issue

  • Stocks continue to melt higher on hopes, but details will matter in the end
  • Our price target on Middle-Class Squeeze company Costco Wholesale (COST) remains $250.
  • Netflix: Mark your calendars for Apple and Disney events
  • Taking a look at LendingClub (LC) shares as consumer debt climbs

 

Sorry, we’re a day late with your weekly issue. I’m just back from InsideETFs 2019, the industry event for the exchange-traded (ETF) industry. This isn’t the first time I’ve attended the event, and attendees continue to hear about the uptake of ETFs, as well as the growing number of differentiated strategies to be had. Some, in my opinion, are faddish in nature, looking to capture assets even though their strategies may not be ones that survive more than a few years. We’ve got a long issue this week, so I’ll suffice to say that such ETFs are not thematic investing, but rather trend investing and we’re already starting to see several of those older trend products being repositioned to something else.

As we close out this week, we’ll be halfway through the first quarter of 2019. Hard to believe, as we have yet to go through the swarm earnings reports from retailers, but it’s true. Given what appears to be the rollbacking of items that weighed on the stock market during the last few months of 2018, we’ve seen all the major stock market indices rebound hard, even though the global economy continues to slow. Once again, this has made the US the best house in the neighborhood, which has likely bid up assets and made the dollar a headwind to multinational companies in the process. As we are fonding of saying, the devil is in the details and that includes any would be progress on US-China trade and Congress with immigration reform. We remain cautiously optimistic, especially on the China trade front, but recognize that more time is likely to be needed until a Trump-sized “big deal” can be reached.

As we get set for the second half of the quarter, we here at Tematica will continue to not only watch the data and our Thematic Signals to assess what’s the next likely step for the market from here, but also the happenings in Washington on trade and infrastructure.

 

Tematica Investing

Odds are, the Thematic Leaders have seen some lift from the sharp rebound in the market thus far in 2019. As we can see in the chart above, several of them are going gangbusters, including Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), Netflix (NFLX), Alibaba (BABA) and Axon Enterprises (AXXN). This morning we’ll get the first Retail Sales report since before the federal government shutdown, and in my view, it will more than likely continue to show what it did during all of 2018 – digital shopping taking share and Middle-Class Squeeze leader Costco Warehouse (COST) continuing to win consumer wallet share.

On a reported basis, Costco’s January same-store sales rose 6.6% (7.3% excluding the impact of gasoline prices and foreign exchange). Exiting the month, Costco operated 768 warehouse locations vs. 746 this time last year, a 3% year over year, which reflects its stated path to open more locations in 2019, allowing for the steady growth of its high margin membership fee revenue stream. In my view, this lays the groundwork for a favorable earnings report from Costco on March 7, which is also when it will publish its February sales results.

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

 

Netflix: Mark your calendars for Apple and Disney

While we have our calendars out and are marking them for that upcoming Costco date I mentioned early, let’s also circle March 25th, which is the rumored date of Apple’s next event. Per the Apple rumor mill, the company will not only showcase its new news subscription service (say that three times), but also unveil its video service as well. This video service falls into the category of one of the best, worst kept secrets, given the number of deals it has inked for original shows and movies. The news subscription service, which is expected to be called Apple News Magazines, comes after Apple acquired Texture, the would-be Netflix (NFLX) of magazines last year.

While we could see a new device or two, this event will be focused primarily on Apple’s Services business, which it is using to further its position inside our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.  Much like Proctor & Gamble’s (PG) Gillette razor blade business, I would not be surprised if Apple adopts a similar mindset with its devices being the razor that gets replaced periodically, while its far more profitable Services business is the one that people consume on a frequent basis.

Soon after Apple’s event, Disney will hold its annual Investor Day on April 11th at which it is expected to unveil its much discussed, but yet to be seen Disney streaming service dubbed Disney+. Given its robust library of films, content, and characters, Disney should not be underestimated on this front, and in my view much like Apple and its Services business, success with Disney+ could change the way Wall Street values DIS shares. Key items to watch will be the Disney+ price point, original content rollout, and subscriber growth.

Stepping back, if one were to argue that we are on the path to a crowd of streaming services between Netflix, Amazon (AMZN), Hulu, CBS, NBC, AT&T (T), and now Apple and Disney, I would have to agree. In many ways, we’re heading for cable-TV without the cable box, but on an ala carte basis. While we’ve argued that consumers will go to where there is great content, the more streaming services there are the more likely we see the proliferation of good or not so good content. The risk they run is that just like cable channels that need to be filled with content, so too will their streaming services. Also too, one unknown is how many services will a person subscribe to? Past a certain point, consumers will balk, especially if all they’ve succeeded in doing is replicating that high cable bill they sought to originally sought to escape.

Needless to say, I’ll be watching the unveiling and uptake of these new services from Apple and Disney with an eye for what it may mean for Digital Lifestyle company Netflix (NFLX). One interesting item to watch will be to see what is actually included in the Disney and Apple services at launch and over time. Both companies are rumored to be working on streaming gaming services as are Microsoft (MSFT) and Alphabet (GOOGL), which to date is something Netflix has resisted at least publicly. If Apple were to bundle a gaming, video and news service along with Apple Music into one digital content bundle, that would offer some consumer wallet leverage over other single, stand-alone services.

 

Taking a look at LendingClub shares

Earlier this week, Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins posted a Thematic Signal for our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme following the news that a record 7 million Americans are 90 days or more behind on their auto loan payments. Lenore went on to show some additional data that consumer loans from banks are in contraction mode, which as we know is a sign the US economy is not going gangbusters.

What we are seeing is the consumer looking to get their financial house in order, most likely after ringing up credit card, auto loan and student debt over the last several quarters. A new report from LendingTree (TREE) points to total credit card debt having climbed to more than $1 trillion in under five years, with more people using personal loans to manage existing debt. This has led the amount owed on personal loans to double what it was five years ago and the number of outstanding loans to rise some 50% in the last three years. According to the report’s findings, managing existing debt was the most popular reason for a personal loan, representing 61% of all loan requests in 2018. Of that percentage, 39% of borrowers plan to use their loans to consolidate debt, while 22% planned to use it to refinance credit cards.

From a stock detective’s point of view, the question to ask is what company is poised to benefit from this aspect of our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme?

One candidate is LendingClub (LC), which 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 offering. 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 deciding on 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 of LendingClub’s partnership program.

LendingClub’s second largest revenue stream is derived from investors 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.

In the past LendingClub was tainted with uncertainty given several investigations, but in mid-December, it settled with the SEC and DOJ, with the SEC stating:

“The SEC’s Enforcement Division determined not to recommend charges against LendingClub Corporation, which promptly self-reported its executives’ misconduct following a review initiated by its board of directors, thoroughly remediated, and provided extraordinary cooperation with the agency’s investigation.”

The SEC’s comments are a positive affirmation of the company’s internal procedures and policies, which also helps reduce the potential negative impact from the still-remaining Federal Trade Commission complaint. The FTC’s complaint against LendingClub charged it has misled consumers and has been deducting hidden fees from loan proceeds issued to borrowers.

Those recent developments have improved the company’s risk profile at a time when its core business has been growing given Middle-Class Squeeze pains being felt by more consumers. According to data TransUnion, subprime personal loan balances have been climbing since 2014 and are forecast to increase 20% this year to a record $156.3 billion.

Here’s the thing, the year-end shopping season isn’t just for shopping,  it’s also the seasonally strongest time of year for subprime loan originations, which according to TransUnion rose to 5 million loans at the end of 2018. That sets up what is likely to be a favorable December quarter earnings report from LendingClub when it issues those results next week (Tuesday, Feb. 19). The thing is I continue to see far more upside to be had with Middle-Class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale, which is not only growing its very profitable membership fee income stream the company is also a dividend payer.

 

Weekly Issue: Another company poised to benefit from the Middle Class Squeeze

Weekly Issue: Another company poised to benefit from the Middle Class Squeeze

Key points inside this issue

Sorry, we’re a day late with your weekly issue. I’m just back from InsideETFs 2019, the industry event for the exchange-traded (ETF) industry. This isn’t the first time I’ve attended the event, and attendees continue to hear about the uptake of ETFs, as well as the growing number of differentiated strategies to be had. Some, in my opinion, are faddish in nature, looking to capture assets even though their strategies may not be ones that survive more than a few years. We’ve got a long issue this week, so I’ll suffice to say that such ETFs are not thematic investing, but rather trend investing and we’re already starting to see several of those older trend products being repositioned to something else.

As we close out this week, we’ll be halfway through the first quarter of 2019. Hard to believe, as we have yet to go through the swarm earnings reports from retailers, but it’s true. Given what appears to be the rollbacking of items that weighed on the stock market during the last few months of 2018, we’ve seen all the major stock market indices rebound hard, even though the global economy continues to slow. Once again, this has made the US the best house in the neighborhood, which has likely bid up assets and made the dollar a headwind to multinational companies in the process. As we are fonding of saying, the devil is in the details and that includes any would be progress on US-China trade and Congress with immigration reform. We remain cautiously optimistic, especially on the China trade front, but recognize that more time is likely to be needed until a Trump-sized “big deal” can be reached.

As we get set for the second half of the quarter, we here at Tematica will continue to not only watch the data and our Thematic Signals to assess what’s the next likely step for the market from here, but also the happenings in Washington on trade and infrastructure.

 

Tematica Investing

Odds are, the Thematic Leaders have seen some lift from the sharp rebound in the market thus far in 2019. As we can see in the chart above, several of them are going gangbusters, including Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), Netflix (NFLX), Alibaba (BABA) and Axon Enterprises (AXXN). This morning we’ll get the first Retail Sales report since before the federal government shutdown, and in my view, it will more than likely continue to show what it did during all of 2018 – digital shopping taking share and Middle-Class Squeeze leader Costco Warehouse (COST) continuing to win consumer wallet share.

On a reported basis, Costco’s January same-store sales rose 6.6% (7.3% excluding the impact of gasoline prices and foreign exchange). Exiting the month, Costco operated 768 warehouse locations vs. 746 this time last year, a 3% year over year, which reflects its stated path to open more locations in 2019, allowing for the steady growth of its high margin membership fee revenue stream. In my view, this lays the groundwork for a favorable earnings report from Costco on March 7, which is also when it will publish its February sales results.

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

 

Netflix: Mark your calendars for Apple and Disney

While we have our calendars out and are marking them for that upcoming Costco date I mentioned early, let’s also circle March 25th, which is the rumored date of Apple’s next event. Per the Apple rumor mill, the company will not only showcase its new news subscription service (say that three times), but also unveil its video service as well. This video service falls into the category of one of the best, worst kept secrets, given the number of deals it has inked for original shows and movies. The news subscription service, which is expected to be called Apple News Magazines, comes after Apple acquired Texture, the would-be Netflix (NFLX) of magazines last year.

While we could see a new device or two, this event will be focused primarily on Apple’s Services business, which it is using to further its position inside our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.  Much like Proctor & Gamble’s (PG) Gillette razor blade business, I would not be surprised if Apple adopts a similar mindset with its devices being the razor that gets replaced periodically, while its far more profitable Services business is the one that people consume on a frequent basis.

Soon after Apple’s event, Disney will hold its annual Investor Day on April 11th at which it is expected to unveil its much discussed, but yet to be seen Disney streaming service dubbed Disney+. Given its robust library of films, content, and characters, Disney should not be underestimated on this front, and in my view much like Apple and its Services business, success with Disney+ could change the way Wall Street values DIS shares. Key items to watch will be the Disney+ price point, original content rollout, and subscriber growth.

Stepping back, if one were to argue that we are on the path to a crowd of streaming services between Netflix, Amazon (AMZN), Hulu, CBS, NBC, AT&T (T), and now Apple and Disney, I would have to agree. In many ways, we’re heading for cable-TV without the cable box, but on an ala carte basis. While we’ve argued that consumers will go to where there is great content, the more streaming services there are the more likely we see the proliferation of good or not so good content. The risk they run is that just like cable channels that need to be filled with content, so too will their streaming services. Also too, one unknown is how many services will a person subscribe to? Past a certain point, consumers will balk, especially if all they’ve succeeded in doing is replicating that high cable bill they sought to originally sought to escape.

Needless to say, I’ll be watching the unveiling and uptake of these new services from Apple and Disney with an eye for what it may mean for Digital Lifestyle company Netflix (NFLX). One interesting item to watch will be to see what is actually included in the Disney and Apple services at launch and over time. Both companies are rumored to be working on streaming gaming services as are Microsoft (MSFT) and Alphabet (GOOGL), which to date is something Netflix has resisted at least publicly. If Apple were to bundle a gaming, video and news service along with Apple Music into one digital content bundle, that would offer some consumer wallet leverage over other single, stand-alone services.

 

Taking a look at LendingClub shares

Earlier this week, Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins posted a Thematic Signal for our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme following the news that a record 7 million Americans are 90 days or more behind on their auto loan payments. Lenore went on to show some additional data that consumer loans from banks are in contraction mode, which as we know is a sign the US economy is not going gangbusters.

What we are seeing is the consumer looking to get their financial house in order, most likely after ringing up credit card, auto loan and student debt over the last several quarters. A new report from LendingTree (TREE) points to total credit card debt having climbed to more than $1 trillion in under five years, with more people using personal loans to manage existing debt. This has led the amount owed on personal loans to double what it was five years ago and the number of outstanding loans to rise some 50% in the last three years. According to the report’s findings, managing existing debt was the most popular reason for a personal loan, representing 61% of all loan requests in 2018. Of that percentage, 39% of borrowers plan to use their loans to consolidate debt, while 22% planned to use it to refinance credit cards.

From a stock detective’s point of view, the question to ask is what company is poised to benefit from this aspect of our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme?

One candidate is LendingClub (LC), which 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 offering. 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 deciding on 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 of LendingClub’s partnership program.

LendingClub’s second largest revenue stream is derived from investors 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.

In the past LendingClub was tainted with uncertainty given several investigations, but in mid-December, it settled with the SEC and DOJ, with the SEC stating:

“The SEC’s Enforcement Division determined not to recommend charges against LendingClub Corporation, which promptly self-reported its executives’ misconduct following a review initiated by its board of directors, thoroughly remediated, and provided extraordinary cooperation with the agency’s investigation.”

The SEC’s comments are a positive affirmation of the company’s internal procedures and policies, which also helps reduce the potential negative impact from the still-remaining Federal Trade Commission complaint. The FTC’s complaint against LendingClub charged it has misled consumers and has been deducting hidden fees from loan proceeds issued to borrowers.

Those recent developments have improved the company’s risk profile at a time when its core business has been growing given Middle-class Squeeze pains being felt by more consumers. According to data TransUnion, subprime personal loan balances have been climbing since 2014 and are forecast to increase 20% this year to a record $156.3 billion.

Here’s the thing, the year-end shopping season isn’t just for shopping,  it’s also the seasonally strongest time of year for subprime loan originations, which according to TransUnion rose to 5 million loans at the end of 2018. That sets up what is likely to be a favorable December quarter earnings report from LendingClub when it issues those results next week (Tuesday, Feb. 19). The thing is I continue to see far more upside to be had with Middle-Class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale, which is not only growing its very profitable membership fee income stream the company is also a a dividend payer.

 

Tematica Options+

 

Adding a call option play on Lending Club

While we aren’t adding Lending Club shares to the Thematic Leaders, we will look to capitalize on the opportunity ahead of the company’s December quarter earnings report by adding the Lending Club (LC) March 2019 4.00 calls (LC 190315C0000400)that closed last night at 0.10. Given the tight trading pattern of these calls, I’m not recommending a stop loss level just yet, but as they trend higher I plan to do so.

 

Boosting the stop loss on our Del Frisco’s calls

The September 2019 10.00 calls for Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) calls that we added last week climbed more than 58% over the last several trading sessions. While we’ll continue to hold these calls as Del Frisco’s continues to review potential takeout bids, we will boost our stop loss on the calls from 0.30 to 0.60, which also happens to be our entry point.

 

Looking past this week’s market relief rally

Looking past this week’s market relief rally

As expected, the last few days in the market have been a proverbial see-saw, which culminated in the sharp market rally following the mid-term elections. The outcome, which saw the Democrats gain ground in Washington, was largely expected. We’ll see in the coming weeks and months the degree of gridlock to be had in Washington and what it means for the economy, but we have to remember several other concerning items remain ahead of us. To jog memories, these include the next round of budget talks between Italy and EU, which should occur next week; continued rate hikes by the Fed as it looks to stave off inflation and get more tools back for the next eventual recession; and upcoming trade talks between the US-China.

While we like the mid-week, market rebound and what it did for the Thematic Leaders as well as positions on the Select List, the upcoming events outlined above suggest near-term caution is still warranted. Shares of McCormick & Co. (MKC) International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) as well as Altria (MO), AMN Healthcare (AMN) and Costco Wholesale (COST) have been on a tear of late. Earlier this week, Costco reported its October same-store sales results, which once again confirmed this Middle-class Squeeze company is taking wallet share.

Yesterday, mobile infrastructure company Ericsson (ERIC) held its annual Capital Markets event at which it spoke in a bullish tone over 5G rollouts, so much so that it raised its 2020 targets. I see that along with other similar comments in the last few weeks as very positive for our positions in Digital Infrastructure leader Dycom (DY) and Disruptive Innovator Nokia Corp. (NOK) as well as AXT Inc. (AXTI) shares.

 

Axon’s – September quarter earnings and an upgrade

Over the last few weeks, share of Safety & Security Thematic Leader Axon Enterprises (AAXN) have come under considerable pressure, but on Tuesday night the company reported September quarter earnings of $0.20 per share, crushing the consensus view of $0.13 per share as both revenue and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) soared. Axon then reiterated its full-year guidance which hinged on the continued adoption of its Axon camera and cloud-storage business. Year over year, the number of cloud seats booked by customers rose to 325,200 exiting September up from 187,400 twelve months earlier. The combination of the 25% pullback in the shares quarter to date and that upbeat outlook led JPMorgan Chase to upgrade the shares to Overweight from Neutral.

Yes, we are down with the shares, but as the market settles out I’ll look to add to the position and improve our cost basis along the way. I continue to expect Axon will eventually acquire rival Digital Ally (DGLY) and its $31 million market cap, removing the current legal overhang on the shares. Our price target remains $90.

 

Disney earnings on deck tonight

After tonight’s market close, Disney (DIS) will report its quarterly results, and while we are not expecting any surprises for the September quarter, it’s the comments surrounding the company’s streaming strategy and integration of the Fox assets that will be in focus. Expectations for the September quarter are EPS of $1.34 on revenue of $13.73 billion. Our position on Disney has been and continues to be that based on the success of its streaming services, investors will need to revisit how they value DIS shares as it goes direct to the consumer with a cash-flow friendly subscription business model. Our price target for DIS shares remains $125.

 

Del Frisco’s earnings to follow next week

Monday morning, Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) also postponed its quarterly earnings report from until Tuesday, Nov. 13, citing “additional time required to finalize the accounting and tax treatment of our acquisition of Barteca Restaurant Group, disposition of Sullivan’s Steakhouse, a secondary offering of common stock and debt syndication.”

Coincidence? Perhaps, but it raises questions over the bench strength of these companies as they reshape their business. If you’ve ever been in a negotiation, you know things can slip, but following GNC’s postponement, we are at heightened alert levels with Del Frisco’s. We knew this was going to be a sloppy earnings report and we clearly have confirmation; our only question is why didn’t the management team wait to announce its earnings date until it had dotted its Is and crossed its Ts on all of these items?

To some extent, I am expecting a somewhat messy report in light of the sale of its Sullivan’s business and its common stock offering early in the quarter that raised more than $90 million. In parsing the company’s report, I will be focusing on revenue growth for the ongoing business as well as its profit generation considering that earnings-per-share comparisons could be challenging if not complicated versus the year-ago quarter. Nonetheless, the reported quarterly results will be gauged at least initially against the consensus view, which heading into the weekend sat at a loss per share of $0.25 on revenue of $120 million. For the December quarter, one of the company’s seasonally strongest, Del Frisco’s is expected to guide to EPS near $0.23 on revenue of $144 million.

So far this earnings season we’ve heard how restaurant companies including Bloomin’ Brands Inc. (BLMN), Ruth’s Hospitality Group (RUTH), Del Taco Restaurants Inc. (TACO), Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (CMG) and more recently Wingstop Inc. (WING) are seeing their margins benefitting from food deflation. Along with a pickup in average check size owing to prior price increases, these companies have delivered margin improvement and expanding EPS. I expect the same from Del Frisco’s. When coupled with an expected uptick in holiday spending and consumer sentiment running at high levels, we remain bullish on DFRG shares heading into Monday’s earnings report. Our price target on DFRG shares remains $14.

 

What to Watch Next Week

On the economic front, we’ll get more inflation data in the form of the October CPI report next week, which follows tomorrow’s October PPI one. In both we hear at Tematica will be scrutinizing the year over year comparisons and given the growing number of companies issuing price increases we expect to see those reflected in these October as well as November inflation reports. If the figures come in hotter than expected, expect that to reignite Fed rate hike concerns. Also, next week, we have the October reports for Retail Sales and Industrial Production as well as the first look at November with the Empire Manufacturing and Philly Fed indices.

With the October Retail Sales report, we’ll be once again parsing it to compare against the October same-store sales reported yesterday by Costco Wholesale (COST), which were up 8.6% year over year (+6.6% core). Odds are we will once again have formal confirmation that Costco is taking consumer wallet share.

Compared to the more than 1,200 earnings reports we had this week, the 345 or so next week will be a proverbial walk in the park. there will be several key reports to watch including Home Depot (HD), Macy’s (M), JC Penney (JCP), Williams Sonoma (WSM), and WalMart (WMT). We’ll be matching their forecasts for the current quarter up against the 2018 holiday shopping forecasts from the National Retail Federation, Adobe (ADBE) and others that call for overall holiday shopping to rise 4.0%-5.5% with online shopping climbing more than 15% year over year. I continue to see that as very positive for our shares in Amazon (AMZN), Costco and United Parcel Service (UPS) as well as McCormick & Co. (MKC).

Perhaps the biggest wild card next week will be the Italian budget and as we near the end of this week, things are already getting heated on that front. Today, the Italian government said it is sticking with its plan to rapidly increase public spending despite the budget dispute with the European Union, and it has no intention of revising its plan by next week. As background, Italy is the third largest economy in the EU, and if a joint resolution is not reached we expect this to reignite talk of “Italeave,” which will stoke once again questions over the durability of the EU. Given its size compared to Greece, the Italian situation is one we will be watching closely in the coming days.

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

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

Key points inside this issue:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Cocktail Investing Podcast September Retail Sales Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Scaling deeper into Del Frisco’s shares

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

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

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

 

Netflix crushes subscriber growth in the September quarter

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Walmart embraces our Digital Innovators investment theme

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

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

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

 

Breaking down the ISM Manufacturing Report plus Paccar and Costco updates

Breaking down the ISM Manufacturing Report plus Paccar and Costco updates

Key points inside this issue

  • While the August ISM Manufacturing Report shows an improving economy, it also confirms inflation is percolating as well.
  • An earnings beat and robust outlook at heavy truck and engine company Navistar (NAV), keeps us bullish on Paccar (PCAR). Our PCAR price target remains $85.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $230 heading into the company’s same-store-sales report after tonight’s market close.

This week we started to get our first firm look at the domestic economy for the month of August. The first piece of data was the ISM Manufacturing Index for August, which came in at 61.3, the highest reading in the last 12 months and a sequential improvement from 58.1 in July. In pulling back the covers on the index’s components, we find the forward-looking components – net orders and the backlog of orders – move up nicely month over month suggesting the manufacturing economy will continue to grow this month. The same, however, can be said for the Price component, which registered 72.1 for August. While down from July’s 73.2 figure, sixteen of the surveyed 18 industries reported paying increased prices for raw materials in August. With the August Prices reading well above the expansion vs. contraction line that is 50, the modest tick down in that sub-index does little to suggest the FOMC won’t boost interest when it meets later this month.

With regard to the report and the current trade wars, new export orders in August ticked lower to 55.2, down a meager 0.1 month over month. We’ll continue to monitor this and related data to assess the actual impact of the current trade wars for as long as they are occurring. As a reminder, by the end of this week, the US could impose tariffs on roughly half of all Chinese goods entering the country. Estimates put that figure at $200 billion, a step up from the $34 billion that had tariffs placed on them in July and the additional $16 billion last month. Should this latest round of tariffs go into effect, odds are we will see China follow suit with another round of its own tariff increases on US goods.

Drilling into the employment component of the ISM Manufacturing Report, it jumped to 58.5 in August, up from 56.5 in July. Given the historical relationship between this component and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Employment Report – a reading in the ISM employment index above 50.8 percent, is generally consistent with an increase in the (BLS) data on manufacturing employment – odds are Friday’s Employment Report could surprise to the upside. To us, the real figure to watch inside that report, however, will be average hourly earnings to see how it stacks up against the data pointing to mounting inflation to be had in the economy. As we’ve said before, if wage growth lags relative to that data, it could put the brakes on the robust consumer spending we’ve seen in recent months.

 

An update on Paccar and a reminder on Costco Wholesale

Turning to the portfolio, this morning heavy truck and engine company Navistar (NAV) reported better than expected quarterly earnings due to continued strength in the heavy truck market. We see that as well as Navistar’s upsized heavy truck industry delivery forecast to 260,000-280,000 from the prior 250,000-280,000 as a positive for our Paccar (PCAR) shares. The same can be said from the recent July report on truck tonnage released by the American Trucking Association that showed an 8.6% year over year increase for the month, sequentially stronger than the 7.7% increase in June. The activity had with that ATA report suggest not only a pick up in the domestic economy, but the pain point of the current truck shortage continues to be felt, which bodes well for continued new order flow.

  • Our price target on Paccar (PCAR) shares remains $85.

After tonight’s close, Costco Wholesale (COST) will report its August same-store-sales figures, which we expect will continue the recent string of favorable reports. We’ll also be looking for an update on the number of open warehouses, a leading indicator for its high margin membership fee revenue stream. Based on the report, we will look to revisit our current $230 price target on COST shares.

  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $230 for now.

 

Apple Pay now at Costco 

Apple Pay now at Costco 

The chicken or the egg problem that has been facing mobile payment adoption in the US continues to ease with Costco Wholesale joining the ranks of 7-11 and CVS Health to accept Apple Pay. It’s all about reducing transaction friction but I’d also add it’s a relief for someone like me that sometimes forgets his wallet, but not his iPhone. With Consumer Reports recently crowning Apple Pay the winner in a head to head showdown of mobile peer-to-peer payment platforms, beating out the likes of Venmo and Square, and greater retail acceptance we are likely to see greater usage in the coming quarters- a positive for Apple’s growing Services business.

 

Costco has announced that it now accepts Apple Pay at all of its US warehouse stores, and says that the payment method will be coming soon to its gas stations …

The company told CNET that contactless terminals have been installed at both store checkouts and gas stations, but the latter are not yet in use.

Costco was a notable Apple Pay holdout after 7-11 and CVS finally announced their own rollouts last month.

.A recent analyst report suggested that Apple Pay now has more than 250M users worldwide, led by international adoption. Use of the service for online payments is lagging significantly behind offline use, though a recent survey suggested that demand is there.

Source: Apple Pay now accepted at all US Costco warehouses, coming soon to gas stations | 9to5Mac