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.

 

The stock market wasn’t sold on Yellen’s final FOMC press conference

The stock market wasn’t sold on Yellen’s final FOMC press conference

Yesterday the Federal Reserve, as expected, boosted interest rates by 0.25% and updated their economic projections, which included boosting its view on 2018 GDP to 2.5% from 2.1%. For 2019 and 2020, the Fed left its GDP forecast unchanged at 2.1% and 2.0%, and also signaled that it continues to expect to boost interest rates three more times in 2018.

While none of this news was a surprise, the stock market and the dollar sold-off during outgoing Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s final FOMC press conference. Perhaps it had something to do with the recent economic data that has several regional Fed banks cutting their GDP forecasts for 2017, raising questions over the Fed’s 2018 forecast?

Or it could be Yellen’s comments for continued growth past 2018, even though the Fed’s own economic projections see the economy slowing in 2019 and again in 2020?

Or it could be the fact the even though the Fed is usually an economic cheerleader, it only increased its 2018 GDP forecast by roughly half a percentage point based on FOMC members incorporating tax reform into their forecast. That’s far less of an economic bump than President Trump and others are expecting from tax reform.

Or it could be investors doing the calculus of potentially higher interest rates on ballooning consumer debt levels without any major uptick in wages. That means shrinking disposable income as consumers devote more after-tax dollars to interest payments. Not a good thing for an economy that relies on consumer spending, but from our thematic perspective it means our Cash-Strapped Consumer investing theme has legs into 2018 and beyond.

The other indicator that was rather revealing was despite the Fed’s view it could boost interest rates three times in 2018, financial stocks including the Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLF) sold off, while gold ticked higher. Looking at the flattening yield curve helps explain the why behind this move lower in financials, and in our view the natural hedge offered by gold, a Scarce Resource theme contender if there ever was one, was welcomed given not only Yellen’s mixed comments but the market’s sky-high valuation of more than 20x expected 2017 earnings.

And with that, we bid adieu to Janet Yellen and get ready to welcome in new Fed chair Jerome Powell, who is likely to be more of the same – a consensus builder that is not likely to rock the Fed’s dovish bent. Yellen didn’t have a recession to contend with during her tenure, but given the length of the current business cycle, odds are Powell will have to deal with one. To us here at Tematica that means we are likely to see at least a few interest rate hikes in the coming year.

 

A Quick Pro Position Update Ahead of the 3-Day Weekend

A Quick Pro Position Update Ahead of the 3-Day Weekend

As we get ready for the three-day weekend, courtesy of the President’s Day holiday, we wanted to check in on our Tematica Pro positions. In doing so, we saw that we were stopped out of the US Concrete (USCR) May 2017 $70 calls as they fell below our 3.00 stop loss level. We booked a very modest gain in the trade, certainly nothing to write home about. USCR calls tend to be volatile, and we’ll keep eyes on them for a possible second run given prospects for President Trump’s infrastructure stimulus plans.

Our PowerShares DB US Dollar Bullish ETF (UUP) June 2017 $27 calls (UUP170616C00027000) finished today up modestly, but the net move in the shares this week was modestly lower. Next Tuesday, we’ll get the Flash February Manufacturing PMI data from Markit Economics. As we noted above, recent economic data for the US has been pointing toward a far firmer economic landscape complete with higher prices, and we’ll look to see if that trend continued during the month. If we see a meaningful pickup like the one we saw in the Empire Manufacturing and Philly Fed indices for February this week, it is bound to ignite chatter over when the Fed may boost interest rates. A pull forward in rate hike timing would bode well for our UUP calls.

That leaves our newest addition, the Trinity Industries (TRN) April 2017 $30 calls (TRN170421C00030000) that closed the week at 1.05 — a nice move higher from our 1.00 entry point just yesterday. After last night’s market close, Trinity reported better than expected December quarter results and guided the current quarter in line with expectations. We’ll continue to watch weekly railcar traffic patterns, which should tell us how quickly railcar capacity is tightening, as well as infrastructure spending stimulus plans that should drive incremental demand for Trinity’s construction business.

 

Enjoy the long weekend, and we’ll have more Tematica Pro for you next week.

Musings on Apple’s “Record” December Quarter

Musings on Apple’s “Record” December Quarter

Last night Tematica Research Chief Investment Officer Chris Versace appeared on CGTN America’s Global Business program to talk about Apple’s (AAPL) December quarter earnings and several other topics. As CEO Tim Cook put it, “We sold more iPhones than ever before and set all-time revenue records for iPhone, Services, Mac and Apple Watch…” which enabled the company to deliver better than expected revenue and earnings per share relative to Wall Street consensus expectations.

While Cook boasted of strong Apple Watch growth, iPhone shipments were up 5 percent year over year, hardly the robust growth levels we’ve seen in the past. Meanwhile, the Mac business — the next largest one next to the iPhone at just over 9 percent of total revenue — saw volumes rise 1 percent year over year, while iPad units fell 19 percent compared to the year-ago quarter. One bright spot in the company’s December quarter was Apple’s Services business, which rose 18 percent year over year and boasts more than 150 million paid customer subscriptions.

Circling back to that better than expected December quarter EPS, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out Apple’s net income actually shrank year over year. If it weren’t for the company flexing its cash-rich balance sheet, which clocked in at $246.1 billion, to shrink the share count during 2017 Apple’s reported EPS would have been flat to down year over year instead of being reported up just under 10 percent. Coming into 2017, Apple has nearly $50 billion remaining on its current capital return program, which means more share repurchase activity is possible in the coming quarters.

One other sour point in the earnings report was Apple’s guidance for the current quarter, which fell shy of expectations. One particular call out was the impact of foreign currency, which is expected to be a ‘major negative’ as the company moves from the December to the March quarter.

The long and short of it is that while Apple CEO Tim Cook called it a record quarter, the reality is Apple’s financial performance remains closely linked to the iPhone, which still accounts for 70 percent of Apple’s overall business. To us here at Tematica this means until Apple can bring to market an exciting new product, or reenergize an existing one that can jumpstart growth, the company will be tied to the iPhone upgrade cycle. Expectations for the next iteration, the presumed iPhone 8, call for a new body, new display — hence  Disruptive Technology company Universal Display (OLED) being on the Tematica Select List — and a greater use of capacitive touch that should eliminate the current home button and bezel. But we’ll have to see if this new model on the 10th anniversary of the transformative device’s launch will capture the hearts of customers, as the last couple of models have only had a meh response.

Despite its current reliance on the iPhone, there are hopeful signs at Apple, such as the new AirPods that echo past design glory, an Apple TV business that has 150 million active subscriptions and a growing Services business. The issue is even if Apple doubled its service business in the coming year, it would still account for 15-20 percent of Apple’s overall revenue. Moreover, if that happened in the coming year it would likely mean the next iteration of the iPhone underwhelmed, something Apple is not likely to shoot for on the devices 10-year anniversary. Near-term, Apple is likely to remain a victim of its own success in creating one of the most loved and most used devices on the plant.

We’ll continue to keep tabs on this poster child company for our Connected Society investment theme company, but with no evident catalyst over the coming months, we’re inclined to be patient and pick off the AAPL shares at better prices.

 

Additional Thematic Data Points from Apple’s Earnings Announcement

While we are not quite buyers of Apple shares just yet, there was a number of confirming thematic data points shared during the company’s earnings conference call last night:

  • Rise & Fall of the Middle Class — “The middle class is growing in places like China, India, Brazil, but certainly, the strong dollar doesn’t help us.”
  • Cashless Consumption — “Transaction volume was up over 500% year over year as we expanded to four new countries, including Japan, Russia, New Zealand, and Spain, bringing us into a total of 13 markets. Apple Pay on the Web is delivering our partners great results. Nearly 2 million small businesses are accepting invoice payments with Apply Pay through Intuit QuickBooks Online, FreshBooks, and other billing partners. And beginning this quarter, Comcast customers can pay their monthly bill in a single touch with Apple Pay.”
  • Content is King — “In terms of original content, we have put our toe in the water with doing some original content for Apple Music, and that will be rolling out through the year. We are learning from that, and we’ll go from there. The way that we participate in the changes that are going on in the media industry that I fully expect to accelerate from the cable bundle beginning to break down is, one, we started the new Apple TV a year ago, and we’re pleased with how that platform has come along. We have more things planned for it but it’s come a long way in a year, and it gives us a clear platform to build off of… with our toe in the water, we’re learning a lot about the original content business and thinking about ways that we could play at that.”
  • Connected Society — “every major automaker is committed to supporting CarPlay with over 200 different models announced, including five of the top 10 selling models in the United States.

We’ll continue to look analyze management commentary for more thematic data points as more companies report their December-quarter earnings over the next few weeks.

 

 

Adverse Weather Conditions Have Europe Importing US Vegetables

Adverse Weather Conditions Have Europe Importing US Vegetables

Weather can be a very disruptive force when it comes to the supply of food and other commodities. Crops can flourish under right conditions, but adverse weather conditions can reduce harvests we tend to see prices spike whether it be coffee, corn and the like. Following a near record corn crop, consumers in the US are experiencing the benefit of food deflation that is helping Cash-strapped Consumer dollars go a bit further. In Europe, however, cold weather has led to countries importing vegetables from the US. Shipping and freight costs, airline handling fees and the strength of the dollar make for a pricey solution for this current scarcity. If this weather continues into the March planting season vegetables could become an affordable luxury.

Due to cold weather in Europe’s key vegetable supplying countries, the continent is dealing with an extreme vegetable shortage. “The last time Europe dealt with a vegetable shortage like this was in 2005,” says Lisa Sternlicht with California-based A.M.S. Export.

In spring 2013, we exported a little bit of iceberg lettuce to the UK, but now we receive requests from the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. Even the Spanish might be in the game pretty soon,” continued Sternlicht.

It is uncertain how long Europe’s demand for US vegetables will last. Will the consumer continue to pay high prices for vegetables or will they switch to alternatives? “Airfreight comes with a price,” shared Sternlicht. Landed costs into Europe are around 2.3 and 2.5 euros per kg. On top of it, you have to add duties and airline handling. The strength of the dollar and the post-Brexit weakness of the GBP make it pricey.
The current supply shortage could become even bigger in March. Important vegetable growing regions like Murcia in Spain plant produce this time of the year for a March harvest. The extreme cold weather has made it complicated to plant and time will tell what the impact will be.

Source: US vegetables flown in to Europe during unprecedented shortage