This week our Safety and Security investing theme, unfortunately, reigned supreme. Just days after the worst storm in modern U.S. history took nearly one quarter of U.S. refining capacity offline and dropped a biblical amount of rain on Texas, here comes Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history after having done major damage in the Caribbean. Right behind her is Hurricane Jose, currently a Category 3.
Apparently not to be outdone, Mexico was struck by its strongest earthquake in a century, measuring 8.2 magnitude, just before midnight on Thursday local time, which resulted in a Pacific tsunami warning issued immediately after. Then there is Hurricane Katia, which could hit the eastern coast of Mexico in a few days.
Whoever has been ticking off mother nature, please knock it off. Of course, all kidding aside, our hearts and prayers go out to all those affected.
There is something distinctly unnerving seeing equity markets relatively calm when mother nature is tossing a whopping 4 apocalyptic-like disasters our way. But then if the South Korean Kospi doesn’t care about North Korea rattling its nuclear sword, then we suppose the S&P 500 might not be terribly fussed about nature tossing a little Armageddon our way.
These horrific natural disasters are also reflected in our Scarce Resources investing theme as the price of frozen concentrated orange juice, lumber, Brent crude, heating oil, nickel and aluminum rise. We’ve also seen shares of Home Depot (HD) and Lowe’s (LOW) both gain over 5% since the start of the month. Given the magnitude of these storms and subsequent destruction, we expect the fallout to dominate headlines over the coming days. We also recognize companies ranging from Disney (DIS) to Kroger (KR) will see disruptions that will weigh on expectations for the current quarter as well as the speed of the economy.
As investors, however, we continue to see signs of a stock market that is poised for greater volatility than we’ve seen over the last few months. Yes, we recognize that September tends to be that way, but it’s looking like this September will be more volatile than some. We say this given:
- Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer announced he was stepping down for “personal reasons.” His term was to end June 2018. Between his departure and likely end of Fed Chair Yellen’s term, Trump needs to fill six out of seven positions, which just adds more uncertainty into monetary policy. Keep in mind that it will be a major challenge to find anyone that will be both dovish and pro-deregulation. We’ve heard that after his comments regarding Trump’s handling of Charlottesville, Gary Cohn is no longer being considered for Fed Chair when Yellen’s term ends in early 2018.
- Treasury Secretary Mnuchin warned that the U.S. could seek to sanction any country trading with North Korea in an effort to put the kybosh on this missile and nuclear testing insanity. China and Russia quickly signaled their opposition, reducing the chances that this area of geopolitical uncertainty will be resolved diplomatically in the near-term.
- Back in D.C., within hours of Paul Ryan announcing that the Democrats’ proposal on the debt-ceiling was “ridiculous and unworkable,” Trump overruled both his Treasury Secretary and GOP leadership by siding with the Dems over the three-month debt ceiling extension, which has some GOP conservatives already labeling it the “Pelosi-Schumer-Trump Deal.” So that relationship is going well.
Meanwhile, the U.S. economy continues to show signs of being long in the tooth, as even the Bureau of Labor Statistics has acknowledged that employment growth has been slowing.
The Fed’s Beige Book revealed that “contacts in many Districts expressed concerns about a prolonged slowdown in the auto industry,” and “low inventories of homes for sale continued to weigh on residential real estate activity across the country.” These are typical late stage indicators with slowing employment growth and peaking home and auto, (although the damage from the recent storms is likely to help with some of that excess auto inventory as folks will need to replace their submarined vehicles.)
While the ISM non-manufacturing business activity index did improve to 57.5 in August, up from 55.9 in July, this is the second weakest reading over the past twelve months and still well below the 60+ levels we saw at the beginning of the year. As for future growth prospects, the share of businesses expanding dropped to the lowest level of the year at 67% from 78% in June and July.
We are seeing some improvement in productivity, with nonfarm productivity rising 1.5% on an annualized basis in Q2 versus expectations for 1.3% after having growth of a mere 0.1% in the first quarter. Obviously, we like to see productivity improving, but the longer-term trend is still nothing to get excited about. Remember that the potential growth of an economy is a function of just two things: improvements in productivity and growth in the labor pool. The civilian labor has been growing at less than 1% for much of the time since the post-financial crisis.
In other cheery news, the U.S. Dollar is on course for its biggest weekly slide in almost fourth months, dropping to its lowest level in 33 months. Mario Draghi’s recent comment that the European Central Bank could start QE tapering as early as October pushed the euro up over $1.20 and further weakened the dollar. Weakness has also been driven by the decreasing likelihood of further rate hikes in 2017, made more unlikely by the ongoing natural disasters coupled with the North Korea-related tensions. The dollar has declined for six consecutive months, the longest slide in 14 years, and is down over 12% from post-election highs. The Amex Dollar Index (DXY) has broken down through major support levels and sits at levels last seen at the start of 2015.
The Treasury market is also reflecting the less-rosy outlook with the 10-year Treasury yield hitting its lowest level since the election, on its way towards 2%. While the major U.S. indices are mostly unchanged since the start of the month, the SPDR Gold Shares ETF (GLD) has gained over 3% and the iShares Silver Trust ETF (SLV) is up nearly 4% and the long-dated iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (TLT) has gained over 1.3%. Risk-off is the new black so far in September.
The bond market is also indicating we are in the later stages of this business cycle with the rather pronounced decline in yields. The pullbacks we’ve seen in shares of the more cyclical segments of the stock market also indicate that the coming months are more likely to see further slowing in the economy.
The current bull market is the second longest since WWII, outpaced only by the one ending in March 2000. That one also saw record high valuations and much talk of “this time it’s different.”
Stepping back, we have valuations that remain heady, with the decidedly meh reactions to earnings and revenue beats, (most shares actually fell on reaction day) in the last reporting round reflecting the priced-to-perfection. We have an economy and a bull market that are both long in the tooth heading into what is typically the most volatile time of the year on top of unusually high domestic and geopolitical tensions.
The U.S. economy is no longer the “cleanest shirt” in the laundry in terms of economic growth as Europe and emerging markets look increasingly more robust and have more attractive valuations. Don’t forget that going back to even before 1900, the U.S. has experienced a recession within 12-months of the end of every two-term presidency. We have experienced the second longest run in history of trading days without a 5% or more pullback in the S&P 500. Reversion to the mean demands that prolonged periods of hyper-low volatility must result in heightened volatility.
While we may see some market relief as the debt-ceiling battle has been pushed back 3-months — removing the possibility of a technical default in October — the upside potential from here, versus the downside risk, indicate caution. Investors would be wise to put on some protection and have a plan for getting out if things get wiggly. Yes, that is one of the technical terms we use here at Tematica.
With headlines swirling following the WannaCry attack that hit more than 230,000 computers across more than 150 countries in just 48 hours, on this episode of Cocktail investing we spoke with Yong-Gon Chon, CEO of cyber security company Focal Point to get his insights on that attack, and why ransomware will be the cyber threat in 2017. Before we get into that Safety & Security conversation, Tematica’s investing mixologists, Chris Versace and Lenore Hawkins broke down last week’s economic and market data as well as the latest relevant political events. With all the controversy in D.C., there was a lot to discuss concerning the likelihood that the Trump Bump, which was based on assumptions around tax reform, regulatory roll-back, and infrastructure spending is evolving into the Trump Slump as investors realize the anticipated timeline for such was decidedly too aggressive. With mid-term elections looming, we expect the Trump opposition will be emboldened by the controversy surrounding the administration and will put in best efforts to appeal to their constituents. For the market, it’s another reason to see the Trump agenda likely slipping into late 2017-early 2018, and that realization is likely to weigh on robust GDP and earnings expectations for the balance of 2017.
The markets on May 17th suffered their biggest losses in 2017, with the Nasdaq taking the biggest one-day hit since Brexit, as the turmoil in Washington dampens investors’ appetite for risk while raising questions over GDP and earnings growth. While some Fed banks are calling for 2Q 2017 GDP as high as 4.1 percent (quite a jump from 1Q 2017’s 0.7 percent!), the data we’re seeing suggests something far slower. We continue to think there is more downside risk to be had in GDP expectations for the balance of 2017, and the latest Trump snafu is only likely to push out team Trump’s reforms and other stimulative efforts into 2018. If 2Q growth is driven in large part by inventory build, which is what the data is telling us, expect the second half to be significantly weaker than the mainstream financial media would lead you to believe.
While the global financial impact of the WannaCry ransomware attack may have been lower than some other high profile attacks such as ILOVEYOU and MyDoom, the speed at which it moved was profound. We spoke with Yong-Gon Chon, CEO of Focal Point Data Risk about the incident to get some of the perspective and insight the company shares with its c-suite and Board level customers. While many are focusing on WannaCry, Yong-Gon shares that as evidenced by recent content hijackings of Disney (DIS) and Netflix (NFLX), ransomware is poised to be the cyber threat of 2017. Those most likely to be targeted are those organizations that prioritize uptime and whose businesses tend to operate around the clock, making backups and software updates extremely challenging.
While in the past IP addresses may have been scanned once every four to five hours, in today’s increasingly Connected Society, IP addresses are scanned one to ten times every second. As consumers and businesses in the developed and emerging economies increasingly adopt the cloud and other aspects of Connected Society investing theme, we are seeing an explosion in the amount of data as more and more of our lives are evolving into data-generating activities. From wearables to appliances to autos, our homes, offices, clothing and accessories are becoming sources of data that goes into the cloud. With the Rise of the New Middle Class in emerging markets, we are seeing the number of households participating in this datafication grow dramatically, exposing new vulnerabilities along the way. That increasingly global pain point is fodder particularly for cyber security companies, such as Fortinet (FTNT), Splunk (SPLK) and Cisco Systems (CSCO) that are a part of our Safety & Security investing theme.
During our conversation with Yong Gon we learned that companies need to understand that breaches must be viewed as inevitable in today’s Connected Society, network boundaries are essentially a thing of the past. Security can no longer about preventing nefarious actors from gaining entrance, but rather is now about managing what happens once a company’s network has been invaded. From a sector perspective, with all the regulation and reporting requirements in financial services, many of these firms are leading the way in how to best deal with such breached.Uber
For investors who want to understand the potential impact of cybercrime, Yong-Gon Chon suggests looking at how much data a company is generating and how the company is managing the growth of that data, with companies such as Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Uber examples of heavy generators. Investors need to look at a company’s cyber risk as a function of the magnitude of its data generation and the company’s level of maturity in addressing that risk. By comparison, companies not affected by attacks such as WannaCry need to be asking themselves why didn’t they get hit? Was it luck or did we do something right? If so, what did we do right and what is the scope of protection we have given what we’ve learned about the latest attack strategies?
We also learned about the new efforts underway globally to develop attribution of cyber threats so as to differentiate between those threats from professional cyber criminals versus the capricious tech savant engaging in ill-advised boundary exploration. Along with this shift is also a change in the boardroom, where cybersecurity is viewed in the context of its potential impact on the business, rather than as a function of a company’s IT department.
One thing we can be assured of is that hackers are watching each other and the good ones are learning what makes attacks fail and where organizations are weakest. As the Connected Society permeates more and more of our lives, these risks become more pernicious and their prevention more relevant to our everyday lives. The bottom line is we are likely to see greater cyber security spending in preventative measures as well cyber consulting as those responsibilities become a growing focus of both the c-suite and board room.
Companies mentioned on the Podcast
- Amazon.com (AMZN)
- Apple (AAPL)
- CVS Health (CVS)
- Disney (DIS)
- Facebook (FB)
- Focal Point
- JC Penny Co (JCP)
- Kohl’s (KSS)
- Macy’s (M)
- Microsoft (MSFT)
- Netflix (NFLX)
- Nordstrom (JWN)
- TJX Companies (TJX)
- Twitter (TWTR)
- United Parcel Service (UPS)
- Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA)
Resources for this podcast:
- Chris Versace – @_ChrisVersace
- Lenore Hawkins – @EllesEconomy
- Focal Point Data Risk https://focal-point.com/about-us
In this Week’s Issue:
- Disney Delivers an EPS Beat, But Reaffirms 2017 is a “Transitional” Year
- Amplify Snacks Serves Up a Healthy Quarter
- USA Technologies: Riding the Cashless Consumption Wave
- March JOLTS Report Confirms Our Stance on AMN Healthcare (AMN) Shares
As we noted in the Monday Morning Kickoff a few days ago, this week was going to be yet another barn burner in terms of activity, with yet another 1,000 companies reporting earnings. We’ve gotten some incremental economic data points, but the main ones for the week – the April reports for PPI, CPI and Retail Sales – all come later in the week.
As we sifted through hundreds of earnings reports over the last two days, we also saw further downward revisions by both the Atlanta Fed and the New York Fed for their respective 2Q 2017 GDP forecasts. Hardly surprising, given the readings from ISM and Markit Economics as well as the April data supplied by regional Fed banks, but once again here we are. What made headlines yesterday was the comments from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that the US economy “won’t achieve the Trump administration’s 3 percent growth goal this year and not until all of its tax, regulatory, trade and energy policies are fully in place.”
Given Ross’s comments that the growth target “ultimately could be achieved in the year after all of President Donald Trump’s business-friendly policies are implemented” but that “delays were possible if the push for tax cuts was slowed down in Congress,” odds are there is some DC-style politicking going on. Even so, the reality is without a jolt to the system odds are the US economy will remain in low gear.
As we’ve shared previously, the economy is facing several headwinds associated with our Aging of the Population and Cash-strapped Consumer investing themes that are likely to keep it’s growth range bound. As such, we continue to see current GDP expectations as somewhat aggressive for the coming quarters, and the same holds true for S&P 500 earnings expectations. That said, we are not buyers of the stock market, but rather those companies that are well suited to capitalize on the tailwinds associated with our investing themes. You’ll see confirmation of that in our comments below on Disney (DIS), Amplify Snacks (BETR), USA Technologies (USAT) and AMN Healthcare (AMN), as well as Amazon (AMZN) and Alphabet (GOOGL) in the next paragraph.
As a quick reminder, later this week we’ll get the April Retail Sales Report, which could see favorable comparisons year over year given the late Easter holiday. As usual, we’ll be digging in below the headlines to get a better sense of consumer spending for not only what they are buying, but where. We once again suspect the report will confirm the accelerating shift toward digital commerce that is power our Amazon (AMZN) and Alphabet (GOOGL) shares. We continue to rate both Buy with $1,100 and $1,050 price targets, respectively.
Now let’s dig into the earnings reports for several positions on the Tematica Select List…
Disney delivers an EPS beat, but reaffirms 2017 is a “transitional” year.
Last night Disney (DIS) reported March 2017 results, which included better than expected EPS, revenue that came in a tad shy of expectations and sober forward guidance, which reminded investors that 2017 is a transitional year for the company as it targets better growth in 2018. EPS for the quarter came in at $1.50, $0.09 ahead of consensus expectations as revenue rose 2.8 percent compared to the year-ago quarter hitting $13.34 billion, shy of the $13.44 billion that was expected.
Heading into 2017, we noted the first half of the year would likely be a more subdued one and so far that is proving to be exactly the case. As we enter the company’s fiscal second half of 2017, Disney has a far stronger movie lineup, which should continue into 2018 and beyond. Higher costs at ESPN and investments in new park attractions, however, are likely to be gating factors over the next few quarters. We see Disney as investing today to leverage its vast array of characters and tentpole films that will drive incremental business at its parks, for its merchandise and other businesses in the coming quarters.
Our price target remains $125, but we’ll continue to revisit that target based on box office strength in the coming months. Odds are the quarter’s results will take some of the wind out of Disney’s sails, but with the company set to continue to leverage its Content is King strategies, we’re inclined to be patient.
Breaking down the company’s segment results from the March quarter we find:
- Cable Networks revenues for the quarter increased 3 percent to $4.1 billion and operating income decreased 3 percent to $1.8 billion. The decrease in operating income was due to a decrease at ESPN due to higher programming costs because of the timing between College Football Playoff (CFP) bowl games and NBA programming, which was partially offset by increases at the Disney Channels and Freeform. Programming costs are expected to be 8 percent higher this year due in part to the new NBA contract.
- On a positive note, Disney continues to make progress in transitioning ESPN by expanding its reach into streaming services like those from Sling TV, Sony’s (SNE) PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV (GOOGL), Hulu and DirecTV Now from AT&T (T). While Disney is seeing favorable momentum, it’s still not enough to totally offset the slide it is seeing in cable subscriptions. As we discussed recent, Disney is focusing on live mobile content, which should help drive incremental viewing compared to the 23 million unique users who collectively spent 5.2 billion minutes engaging with ESPN on its mobile platforms in the March quarter.
- Parks and Resorts revenues for the quarter increased 9 percent to $4.3 billion and segment operating income increased 20 percent to $750 million. We’d note that segment benefited from price increases taken in prior months, but this was offset by the later than usual Easter holiday this year.
- As expected construction is underway on Star Wars attractions at both Disney World and Disney Land, a great example of how the company’s film content will drive park attendance and merchandise sales. Management commented that in a few days the 10 millionth guest will pass through Shanghai Disney and the park is tracking to break even this year as Disney downshifts investing in the park compared to year-ago levels.
- Studio Entertainment revenues for the quarter decreased 1 percent to $2.0 billion and segment operating income increased 21 percent to $656 million. Despite having two films that grossed more than $1 billion each during the quarter – Rouge One from the Star Wars franchise and remake of Beauty and the Beast – the quarter faced stiff year over year comparisons given the success of last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Zootopia and in essence making them a victim of their own success. On the earnings call, as expected management talked up Friday’s Guardians of the Galaxy 2 release, which took the top spot at the box office and raked in more than two times the first installment of the Guardians franchise. Disney reminded investors it has four Marvel films coming over the next 14 months, as well as the next installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and Cars 2 dropping in the next few months before The Last Jedi lands in December. Longer-term, there will be more Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm tentpole properties, but on the call Disney shared that Frozen 2 will be released in 2019.
- Broadcasting revenues for the quarter increased 3 percent to $1.9 billion and operating income increased 14% to $344 million led by greater sales of Marvel TV programming content to Netflix (NFLX) and others.
- Consumer Products & Interactive Media revenues for the quarter decreased 11% to $1.1 billion and segment operating income increased 3 percent to $367 million.
On the housekeeping front, during the March quarter, Disney repurchased about 18.6 million shares for about $2 billion. Over the last two quarters (better known as the company’s fiscal year-to-date), its repurchased 41.5 million shares for approximately $4.4 billion. Citing lower than expected capital spending needs and improved operating cash flow, Disney once again increased its share repurchase target by $2 billion to $9 billion to $10 billion for the year. As the company chews through this program, it should help improve year over year EPS comparisons, but we’ll still be monitoring both operating profit as well as net income growth when contemplating how to best value the shares.
The bottom line on DIS shares:
- Given the appreciation in the shares price over the last five months, we would not add to positions in the Walt Disney Co (DIS) at current levels and thus are changing our rating to a Hold at this point in time.
- Rather, we would look to commit fresh capital to DIS shares between $100-$105 if the shares pull back in the coming days, while over the longer term we still maintain a price target of $125 for the shares.
Amplify Snacks Serves Up a Healthy Quarter
After last night’s market close, Foods with Integrity theme company Amplify Snacks (BETR) reported 1Q 2017 results that included EPS of $0.06 vs. the expected $0.06 on revenue of $87.2 million vs. the consensus expectation of $87.6 million and up more than 60% compared to $54.3 million in the year-ago quarter. The one wrinkle in the quarter was the company’s gross margin line that contracted year over year, which we attribute to short-term initiatives to grow the company’s business further. For example, during the quarter the company launched its SkinnyPop Ready-to-Eat popcorn in the U.K., carried a full quarter of both the Oatmega and Tyreell acquisitions, and introduced new SkinnyPop product extensions (popcorn cakes, popcorn mini-cakes and microwave popcorn).
As these initiatives bear fruit over the coming months and longer term as Amplify brings Tyrrell chip products to the US in the back half of 2017 and 2018, the good news is the company continues to expand its distribution. Exiting the quarter, its ACV (a widely recognized distribution measure) hit 81 points up from 73 in the same period last year. The year over year improvement reflects new distribution across grocery, mass and convenience channels as those companies embrace our Foods with Integrity investing theme and expand their healthy snacking alternatives.
Given stronger prospects for the domestic business, Amplify amended its tax guidance which has led to a modestly higher tax rate than previously expected. This, in turn, has led the company to ever so so slightly trim its 2017 EPS outlook to $0.42-0.50 versus our prior expectation of $0.43-0.51., which in our view is a very minor change relative to the growth prospects to be had over the coming quarters.
- Exiting the company’s quarterly earnings report, we continue to rate BETR shares a Buy with a $10.50 price target.
USA Technologies: Riding the Cashless Consumption Wave
Yesterday, USA Technologies (USAT) reported inline EPS expectations for the March quarter on better than expected revenue. USA Technologies 1Q 2017 revenue rose 30 percent year over year as the company continued to grow the number of connected to its ePort services, up 26 percent to 504,000 connections. As the adoption of mobile payments continues to spread, USA expanded its customer base by another 500 to reach 12,400 exiting the quarter, a 15 percent increase year over year. The company also issued a more upbeat outlook calling for 2017 revenue of $95-$100 million, a tad higher than the $95-$97 consensus expectation derived from the three Wall Street analysts following the shares.
On the earnings call, the company shared a number of confirming data points for investment thesis on USAT shares including:
- USAT is working with Ingenico to provide customers with more hardware options and where Ingenico will be able to leverage USA’s quick connect service as well as ePort Connect platform for use with its NFC/contactless unattended payment solutions. As way of background, Ingenico was the first international multi-billion-dollar mainstream payments hardware company that have entered the unattended retail market.
- During the quarter, USA also launched an alliance with vending company Gimme Vending as also announced a stand-alone loyalty program that integrates with Apple’s (AAPL) Apple Pay.
- Digging into 1Q 2017 revenue, the company had 105 million total transactions representing 203 million in transaction volume increases of 28% and 34% respectively from last year.
- License and transaction fees rose 19% year over year to $17.5 million compared to $14.7 million last year. We call this out because the segment includes recurring monthly service as well as transaction processing fees, which offer good visibility and predictability. As the percentage revenue derived from license and transaction continues to climb from 66% of total revenue in 1Q 2017, the company’s visibility should similarly improve.
With the continued migration toward a cashless society, we continue to rate USAT shares a Buy with a $6.00 price target.
March JOLTS Report Confirms Our Stance on AMN Healthcare (AMN) Shares
Yesterday we received the March Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey and once again it showed not only a strong year over year increase in healthcare job openings, but also the number of open healthcare jobs significantly outweighs the number of positions filled. Granted the data lags by a month, but given the April jobs data, we rather doubt there has been any meaningful change in the metrics over the last month. We continue to see the far greater number of healthcare job openings compared to the available talent pool as driving demand for AMN Healthcare’s (AMN) healthcare workforce solutions.
- With more than 20% upside to our $47 price target, we continue to rate AMN shares a Buy.