Weekly Issue: While far from booming, U.S. economy not  as bad as the headlines

Weekly Issue: While far from booming, U.S. economy not as bad as the headlines

Key points inside this issue

  • Thematic confirmation in the July Retail Sales report
  • Getting back to the global economy and that yield curve inversion
  • The week ahead
  • The Thematic Leaders and Select List
  • A painful reminder about dividend cuts

Despite Friday’s rebound, the stock market finished down week over week as it continued to grapple with the one-two punches of the slowing global economy and U.S.- China trade. There was much chatter on the recent yield-curve inversion, but as we look back at the economic data released last week, the U.S. economy continues to be on more solid footing than the Eurozone or China.

That’s not to say the domestic economy is booming. The Cass Freight Index, weekly railcar-traffic and truck-tonnage data and the July U.S. industrial-production report’s manufacturing component leave little question that America’s manufacturing economy is slowing. And as we saw last week, the U.S. consumer buoyed the economy in July with stronger-than-expected retail sales.


Thematic confirmation in the July Retail Sales report 

Last week’s July Retail Sales Report confirmed one of the key aspects of our Digital Lifestyle investment theme – the accelerating shift toward digital shopping that continues to vex brick and mortar retailers, particularly department stores. Granted, the year over year increase in non- store retail sales of 16.0%, which was several magnitudes greater than overall July Retail Sales that rose 3.4% year over year and bested sequential expectations, was aided by Thematic King Amazon’s (AMZN) 2019 Prime Day event but one month does not make a quarter. For the three months ending July, non-store retail sales rose 14.2% year over year, easily outstripping the 3.2% year over year comparison for overall retail sales. 

Clearly, the shift to digital shopping is not only underfoot, or more properly stated on a variety of keyboards, it is accelerating, and the victims continue to be department stores, electronics and appliance stores, sporting goods and bookstores, and to a lesser extent clothing and furniture. We’re seeing this play out in the results from Macy’s (M) as well as J.C. Penney (JCP), which is so strategically lost it is venturing into the used clothing market through a partnership with online consignment company thredUP. With its July quarter sales down 9% year over year, J.C. Penney is going for the “Hail Mary” pass with this move, but it’s only going to bring cheaper product in to compete with its already low-priced offering. I can almost understand the J.C. Penney is looking to double-down on our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme, but it’s facing stiff competition from companies like Poshmark that are doing that as well as riding our Digital Lifestyle theme. 

Each of those challenged categories I mentioned above are also areas that Amazon continues to target with offerings from both third-party sellers as well as its growing private label line of products. I’ve often said Amazon shares are ones to hold, not trade, and we continue to feel that way as we approach the seasonally strongest time of the year for its business.


Getting back to the global economy and that yield curve inversion

For now, the U.S. economy remains the best house on the economic block — but it’s showing signs of wear. Of course, the fact the yield curve inverted briefly last week rang the “Recession Warning Bell.” But let’s remember that there’s historically been a lag of up to almost two years following that warning. Moreover, the Federal Reserve has already adopted a more dovish tone and will likely stand ready to add more stimulus to the economy if need be. All eyes will now on the Fed’s mid-September monetary-policy meeting.

Meanwhile, as economic-growth worries increased in the Eurozone and China last week, we heard about a big bazooka of stimulative measures that the European Central Bank is considering for its Sept. 12 policy meeting. China will also reportedly soon roll out a plan to boost disposable income over the coming quarters to spur its domestic consumption.

I would suggest you tune in later this week for what Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins has to say on this.

We’ll continue to monitor how global central bankers try to steer their respective economies in the coming weeks. While we suspect that Wall Street will likely cheer any and all dovish moves, the question remains how stimulative those policies will really be if the U.S.-China trade war continues.

U.S.-Chinese trade talks are set to resume in September, which tells us that we might get a lull in Wall Street’s recent volatility. But we should by no means think that “Elvis has left the building,” and we could very well see another round of turbulence in the coming weeks.


The Week Ahead

With two weeks to go until the Labor Day holiday weekend, we’re officially in the dog days of summer. These weeks historically see lower-than-usual trading volume, as investors and traders look to squeeze in that last bit of fun in the sun. Following last week’s full plate of economic data, this week will have a far smaller helping coming at us. Upcoming reports include July new- and existing-home sales, as well as the Index of Leading Economic Indicators.

Investors will also focus on what the latest flash PMI data from IHS Markit has to say about the global economy when that report lands on Aug. 22. I’ll be looking to see whether the U.S. economy continues to outperform Japan, China and the Eurozone following data out last week that suggested the German and Chinese economies continue to slow.

Reading those reports and the upcoming Federal Open Market Committee meeting minutes should set the stage for what we’re likely to hear when the FOMC next meets on Sept. 18. We’ll also have more data coming our way over the weeks leading up to the FOMC session, and we’re apt to get a few surprises along the way. While there’s no Fed interest-rate meeting scheduled for August, the Kansas City Fed will hold its widely watched annual Jackson Hole symposium Aug. 22-24 in Wyoming. The central bank doesn’t usually discuss monetary-policy plans at this event, but we aren’t exactly in normal times these days.

On the earnings calendar this week, the focus will continue to be on retail. If we were reminded of one thing last week in retail land, it’s that not all companies are responding the same way to retailing’s changing landscape. Just look at what we heard last week from Walmart (WMT), Macy’s (M) and JCPenney (JCP). Other key retail reports to watch this week include Home Depot (HD), Kohl’s (KSS), Lowe’s (LOW), Target (TGT), Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS), and Foot Locker (FL). I’ll be looking for the degree to which they’re embracing digital shopping, as well as what they have to say about tariff implications and their expectations for 2019’s remainder.

We’ll also hear from Salesforce (CRM) and Toll Brothers (TOL), which should shed some light on the housing market and IT spending associated with our Disruptive Innovators and Digital Infrastructure investing themes.


The Thematic Leaders and Select List

As I noted above, last week was another choppy one for the stock market and those swings stopped out of Thematic Digital Infrastructure Leader Dycom Industries (DY) as well as Cleaner Living company International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) shares. Given that we were stopped out, it means we took some losses in those two positions, but as I look at the live ones across the Thematic Leaders and the Select List I see an impressive array of returns with our Amazon, Costco Wholesale (COST), Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), McCormick & Co. (MKC), Walt Disney (DIS), Universal Display (OLED) and USA Technologies (USAT) shares. 

Wide swings in the market can present both challenging times as well as opportunities provided, we get some degree of clarity. As I touched on above, the first few weeks of September could be when we see that clarity emerge. Until then, we’ll continue to look for thematically well positioned companies at favorable risk to reward entry points. 


A painful reminder about dividend cuts

Last week I mentioned that the following – I’m focusing more on domestic-focused, inelastic business models that tend to spit off cash and drive dividends. In particular, I’m looking at companies with a track record of increasing their dividends every year for at least 10 years. And of course, they have to have vibrant thematic tailwinds at their respective back.

While I was doing just that, shares of famous lawn-mower engine maker Briggs & Stratton Corp. (BGG) — whose shares tumbled 44.5% last Thursday — presented a sharp reminder as to what can happen when a company cuts its dividend. Yes, the shares rebounded late last week along with the market, but they’ve been generally falling for a long time as the company’s dividend looked shakier and shakier.

Investors tend to think of quarterly dividends as payments in perpetuity, but these payouts are actually only declared at a company board’s discretion. When dividends are disrupted, that can lead to significant share-price pain for a stock.

In this case, Briggs & Stratton not only cut its dividend and reported a far-greater-than-expected quarterly loss, but also slashed its outlook for the balance of the year. The company now expects to earn just $0.20-$0.40 per share for the full year, which down significantly from its prior forecast of $1.30.

When matched up against its revised revenue forecast of $1.91 billion to $1.97 billion vs. a prior $2.01 billion, it’s rather evident that BGG’s cost structure has become an issue. So, it’s no little surprise that Briggs & Stratton also announced plans to close a plant that manufactures engines for the walk-behind lawn mowers you commonly find at Home Depot (HD) or Lowe’s (LOW) .

The company called out that product category in particular for weakness, which management attributed to the U.S. housing market’s current tone. I’ve previously talked about how new- and existing-home sales have been rather sluggish despite the recent mortgage-rate drop, with low rates fueling a wave of home refinancings rather than purchases.

But the biggest factor behind Thursday’s steep BGG dive was the fact that management slashed the company’s quarterly dividend by 64% to $0.05 per share from the prior $0.14. That one-two-three punch combination — bad earnings, a bad forecast and a dividend cut — sent Briggs & Stratton’s share price tumbling.

Going into Thursday morning’s earnings report, BGG shares were sporting a 6.8% dividend yield, which is on the lofty side. Investors should have interpreted that as a warning and here’s why – even before Thursday’s selloff, BGG shares had been down some 70% since January 2018, partly because the company missed analysts’ earnings expectations for the prior three quarters. In hindsight, the misses were escalating in percentage terms — a trend that continued with Thursday’s earnings report.

Paired with the dividend cut, there’s little confidence any more in the current management team, which means BGG shares are likely to flounder further due to several unknowns. Some of those unknowns are company specific, like: “Will be the plant closure deliver sufficient savings?” But others are about the U.S. economy’s future vector and velocity, which Thursday’s July industrial-production report shows is continuing to cool.

And while the July U.S. retail-sales report came in better than expected, we already know that consumers aren’t buying lawnmowers. And unfortunately, that’s not likely to change any time soon as we put the summer behind us.

The bottom line — as I’ve discussed before, when a stock’s dividend yield looks too good to be true, odds are it is just that. BGG is just the latest stock to prove that. While its newly revised dividend yield (4.1%) might still look enticing, it’s not one that we should be clamoring for given the lack of thematic tailwinds for its lawnmowing business. But at a minimum, no investor should consider the shares until there is some proof that management’s turnaround plan is on the cusp of delivering. 

Weekly Issue: Trade and geopolitical issues make for a less than sleepy August 2019

Weekly Issue: Trade and geopolitical issues make for a less than sleepy August 2019

Key points inside this issue

  • Trade and geopolitical issues make for a less than sleepy August 2019
  • What to watch this week
  • Earnings this week
  • Economic data this week
  • The Thematic Aristocrats?

Uncertainty continued to grip the stock market last week as the U.S.-Chinese trade dispute once again took center stage. After the return of tariff talk week prior, the battle expanded this week to include a war of words between Washington and Beijing over the Chinese yuan’s devaluation.

The market ultimately shook that off, in part due to the renewed thought that the Federal Reserve could accelerate interest-rate cuts. But then stocks closed lower week over week after President Trump suggested Friday that trade talks with China set for next week might be canceled.

There’s also renewed geopolitical uncertainty — not just Britain’s Brexit process, but also a looming no-confidence vote against Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte that’s once again plunging Italy into political turmoil. And as if that wasn’t enough, over the weekend escalating tensions between Chinese authorities and protesters in Hong Kong were added to the mix, making for one big ball of uncertainty even bigger.

Meanwhile, global economic data continue to soften. This gives some credence to the notion that the Fed could become more dovish than Chairman Jerome Powell suggested during his July 31 press conference following the Federal Open Market Committee’s decision to cut rates. While I don’t expect anything near-term, down below we have a calendar date to mark even though I don’t think it will mean much in the way of monetary policy.

We’re seeing confirming signs for the economic data in oil and copper prices, both of which have been mostly declining of late. Not exactly signs of a vibrant and growing global economy.

Odds are that as we head into summer’s final weeks, stocks will be range-bound at best as they trade based on the latest geopolitical headlines. And odds are there won’t’ be any newfound hope to be had on the earnings front. With 90% of S&P 500 stocks already reporting second-quarter results, it looks like we’ll see another year-over-year decline in quarterly average earnings. For the full year 2019 those earnings are only growing at a 2.5% annual rate, but if President Trump goes forth with the latest round of announced tariffs, odds are those expectations could come down in the coming weeks – more on that below.

All in all, barring any meaningful progress on US-China trade, which seems rather unlikely in the near-term, at best the stock market is likely to be rangebound in the coming weeks. Even though much of Wall Street will be “at the beach” the next few weeks, odds are few will be enjoying their time away given the pins and needles discussed above and further below.

What to watch this week

We have three weeks until the Labor Day holiday weekend, which means we’re entering one of the market’s historically slowest times. There’s typically lower volume than usual, as well as low conviction and wishy-washy moves in the market.

Traditionally, a more-sobering look emerges once Wall Street is “back from the beach” following the Labor Day holiday. This tends to bring a sharper picture of the economy. There are also ample investor conferences where companies update their outlooks as we head into the year’s last few months.

But as we saw this past week, geopolitical and trade tensions could make the next few weeks much more volatile than we’ve seen in the past. As we navigate these waters, we’ll continue to assess what this means for earnings — particularly given that analysts don’t expect the S&P 500 companies to see year-over-year earnings-per- share growth again until the fourth quarter. In my view that puts a lot of hope on a seasonally strong quarter that could very well be dashed by President Trump’s potential next round of tariffs. I say this because retailers now face the 10% tariffs set to go into effect on September 1, which will hit apparel and footwear, among other consumer goods.

The risk is we could very well see 2019 turn into a year with little to no EPS growth for the S&P 500, and if factor out the impact of buybacks it likely means operating profit growth had at the S&P 500 is contracting year over year. We’ll know more on that in the coming weeks, but if it turns out to be the case I suspect it will lead many an investor to question the current market multiple of 17.6x let alone those market forecasters, like the ones at Goldman Sachs, that are calling for 3,100 even as their economists cut their GDP expectations.

Earnings this week

This week will have the slowest pace of earnings releases in about a month, with only some 330 companies issuing quarterly results. That’s a sharp drop from roughly 1,200 such reports that we got last week.

Among those firms reporting numbers next week, we’ll see a sector shift toward retail stocks, including Macy’s (M), J.C. Penney (JCP) and Walmart (WMT). Given what I touched on above, I’ll be listening for their comments on the potential tariff impact as well as comments surrounding our Digital Lifestyle and Middle-class Squeeze investing themes, and initial holiday shopping expectations.

This week’s earnings reports also bring the latest from Cisco Systems (CSCO), Nvidia (NVDA), and Deere (DE). Given how much of Deere’s customer base sells commodities like U.S. soybeans (which China has hit with tariffs), we’ll carefully listen to management’s comments on the trade war. There could be some tidbits for our New Global Middle-class theme from Deere as well. With Cisco, we could hear about the demand impact being generated by 5G network buildouts as well as the incremental cyber security needs that will be needed. These make the Cisco earnings conference call one to listen to for our Digital Infrastructure and Safety & Security investing themes.

 

Economic data this week

On the economic front, we’ll get July reports for retail sales, industrial production and housing starts, as well as the August Empire Manufacturing and Philly Fed surveys. Given the importance of the consumer, the July Retail Sales will be one to watch and I for one expect it to be very bullish for our Digital Lifestyle investing theme if and only if because of Amazon’ 2019 Prime Day and all the other retailers that tried to cash in on it. I suspect, however, the report will reveal more gloom for department stores. All in all the week’s economic data points will help solidify the current quarter’s gross domestic product expectations, which are sitting at 1.6%-1.9% between the New York and Atlanta Fed.

Based on what we’ve seen of late from IHS Markit for Japan, China and the Eurozone, that still makes America the best economic house on the block. Granted, the U.S. vector and velocity are still in the down and slowing positions, but we have yet to see formal signs of a contracting domestic economy. As Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins pointed out in her most recent assessment of things, we’ll need to keep tabs on the dollar for “The deflationary power of a strengthening US dollar strength in the midst of slowing global trade and trade wars just may overpower anything central banks try.”

Odds are that as the latest economic figures hit, especially if they keep the economy’s recent vector and velocity intact, we will see more speculation on what the Fed might do next. While there’s no Fed interest-rate meeting scheduled for August, the Kansas City Fed will hold its widely watched annual Jackson Hole symposium Aug. 22-24 in Wyoming. The central bank doesn’t usually discuss monetary-policy plans at this event, but as noted above, we aren’t exactly in normal times these days.

 

The Thematic Aristocrats?

Given the recent market turbulence as prospects for more of the same in the coming weeks, I’m sitting back and building our shopping list for thematically well-positioned companies. Given the economic data of late and geo-political uncertainties as well as Lenore’s comments on the dollar, I’m focusing more on domestic-focused, inelastic business models that tend to spit off cash and drive dividends. In particular, I’m looking at companies with a track record of increasing their dividends every year for at least 10 years. And of course, they have to have vibrant thematic tailwinds at their respective back.

Perhaps, we can informally call these the “Thematic Aristocrats”?

I’ll have more as I refine that list.

WEEKLY ISSUE: Uncertainty is back, but we’re thematically prepared

WEEKLY ISSUE: Uncertainty is back, but we’re thematically prepared

Key points inside this issue:

  • The Fed, Trump, tariffs and the data bring uncertainty back to the market
  • What it means for investors
  • We will continue to hold Disney (DIS), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN) and AT&T (T) shares.
  • What to watch this week

The Fed, Trump, tariffs and the data bring uncertainty back to the market

Between the number of S&P 500 companies reporting last week to the Fed’s FOMC meeting and the pieces of economic data coming at us, we knew it was going to be a busy and potentially volatile week. What few saw coming was the attempt by Fed Chairman Powell to give the market the 25 basis point rate cut it was expecting and regain the position of the market not knowing exactly what the Fed’s next move might be. But then we received the July ISM Manufacturing Index and the July IHS PMI data for the four global economic horsemen (China, Japan, the eurozone and the US). In aggregate those data points signaled the continued slowdown in the global manufacturing economy.  

Granted, the sequential pick up in the July ADP Employment Report fostered the view the domestic economy hasn’t frozen over just yet, but Friday’s July Employment Report reveled slower job creation month over month. 

Normally, economic data like we’ve received in the back half of last week would be enough to ignite the market doves and stoke the view that another rate cut by the Fed was more likely before we exit 2019. And it was that view that led the major market indices higher on Thursday, that was until President Trump did something that arguably next to no one saw coming – announced another layer of tariffs on China that would go into effect on September 1. The implications of that move, which would likely lead to yet another trimming of forecasts for both the economy and earnings, pulled the market lower on Thursday afternoon. 

And on Friday morning, China responded by saying while it does not want a trade war, its not afraid to fight one. Soon thereafter, President Trump is “open to delaying or halting the 10% tariff on September 1” if China were to take action between now and then. Remember, we shared our concern that trade talks could devolve into playground taunting and fighting. Well, we are there and sticking with the analogy, it’s likely going to keep the stock market on the uncertainty teeter totter for the next few weeks. 

If some were hoping for a more normal August for stocks following this week’s Fed meeting, we’re sorry to say that’s not likely to happen. In the past we’ve shared several analogies about investing – it’s not crock pot cooking, you can’t fix it and forget it or investing is not a like a photo, i.e. snapshot in time, but much like a good film it’s an evolving story. As this latest chapter begins to unfold, it will be mean assessing and re-assessing expectations as new developments are had and their ripple effects determined.

What it means for investors

Odds are this will uncertainty will result in the usual back and forth for the market in the coming weeks, which will also see the usual end of summer low trading volumes. While a good chunk of Wall Street is at the beach, I’ll remain vigilant and continue to leverage our thematic lens.

More than likely, we will see the herd once again focus on domestically focused as well as inelastic business models as it looks for ports of safety. We’ve have a number of these among the Thematic Leaders and the Tematica Select ListChipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), Dycom Industries (DY), Costco Wholesale (COST), Axon Enterprises (AAXN), AT&T (T), and USA Technologies (USAT). Unlike the shoot from the hip go to choice of the herd that tends to zero in on electric utilities that group of six have the added benefit of thematic tailwinds propelling their respective businesses.

As August drips by, I’ll continue to look for thematically well positioned companies that offer favorable risk to reward tradeoffs in terms of share prices as I look to position us for what lies ahead. In the meantime, I would recommend subscribers catch the August 5, 2019 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek as the cover story focuses the coming streaming video war that I’ve talked about both here and on the Thematic Signals podcast. The author likens it to “The Hunger Games”, and in many respects I can see why that is a good comparison.

While we were recently stopped out of Netflix (NFLX), I’ll remind you that among the Thematic Leaders and Tematica Select List we have several companies — Disney (DIS), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), and AT&T in particular – that are focusing on this market. Each brings their own particular set of strengths ranging from content to addressable customer base, but all three have other businesses besides streaming video to drive profits and cash flow that can fund their respective streaming businesses.

  • We will continue to hold Disney (DIS), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN) and AT&T (T) shares.

What to watch this week

After all the happenings for last week that I described above, this week looks to be yet another frenetic one for corporate earnings with more than 1,100 reports to be had, but the pace of June quarter earnings begins to slow and we face a lighter economic data schedule as well. And to be clear, even though we will face a plethora of June quarter reports, let’s remember that exiting this week roughly 78% of the S&P 500 has reported and next week another 13% of that group will be doing so. What this means is the vast majority of reports next will have far less of an impact on the market. This doesn’t diminish them from an ownership of data and information perspective, but rather a smaller impact is likely on earnings revisions and trading ranges. 

Corporate earnings to watch

In terms of which reports I’ll be focusing on this week, it should come as little surprise that they are the ones touching our various investment themes. Here’s my short list:

  • Monday, August 5: Tyson Foods (TSN), International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), Insulet (PODD) and ShakeShak (SHAK). 
  • Tuesday, August 6: Tenneco (TEN), ADT (ADT), AMN Healthcare (AMN), Comscore (SCOR), LendingClub (LC), Disney (DIS), 
  • Wednesday, August 7: CVS Health (CVS:NYSE), CyberArk (CYBR), Physicians Realty Trust (DOC), Darling Ingredients (DAR), Skyworks (SWKS), Tivity Health (TVTY), 
  • Thursday, August 8: Activision-Blizzard (ATVI:), Alarm.com (ARLM), Dropbox (DBX), Synaptics (SYNA:Nasdaq), Uber (UBER) 
  • Friday, August 9: US Concrete (USCR)

Economic data to watch

Before we tackle the coming week’s economic data, I’ll mention GDP expectations from the Atlanta Fed and New York Fed started last week off between 2.0%-2.2% and as we exited the week those expectations sat at 1.6%-1.9%. As I touched on above, the employment data we received last week pointed to a still growing economy but the take on the manufacturing economy per the July ISM Manufacturing Index and the July US IHS Markit PMI data pointed to a slowing domestic manufacturing one. 

We have only a handful of meaningful economic data coming at us this week in the form of the July inflation reports and ISM’s July reading on the US service economy. Given our pension for looking at other data set in addition to the formal economic data, we here at Tematica will be on the lookout for the last Cass Freight Index and other truck tonnage figures as well as the weekly railcar loading data. Those have been signaling the slowdown we’ve seen in the government produced economic data, and as such we’ll keep a close watch on them in order to stay one step ahead of the herd. 

Should the coming economic data be continue to disappoint relative to expectations and signal the vector and velocity of the domestic economy is down and even slower than recent revisions suggest, odds are the market will increasingly expect another Fed rate cut sooner than later. Our concern, however, is the intended effect of this week’s rate cut and another one should it come to pass on business investment could be muted by the continued trade uncertainty and weakening global economy. As we’ve seen with falling mortgage rates that didn’t stimulate demand earlier this year, in the near-term businesses may stay on the sidelines given the trade and economic uncertainties despite more favorable interest rates.


Weekly Issue: Watching the G20 for what the Fed may or may not do

Weekly Issue: Watching the G20 for what the Fed may or may not do


Key points inside this issue

  • The G20 meeting will set the stage for what the Fed does next
  • Earnings expectations have yet to follow GDP expectations lower
  • We are implementing a $340 stop loss on Digital Lifestyle Thematic Leader Netflix (NFLX).


Over the last few days several economic data points have reinforced the view that the domestic economy is slowing. Meanwhile, the continued back and forth on the trade front, between the U.S. and China as well as Mexico, has been playing out.

What has really captured investors’ focus, however, is the Federal Reserve and the comments earlier this week from Fed Chair Jerome Powell that the Fed is monitoring the fallout from trade issues and eyeing the speed of the economy. Powell said the Fed will “act as appropriate to sustain the expansion, with a strong labor market and inflation near our symmetric 2 percent objective.”

This has led to a pronounced shift in the market, from bad economic data is bad news for the market, to bad news for the economy and trade is good news for the Fed to take action and cut interest rates.

In other words, after the disappointing one-two punch of the IHS Markit US PMI and May ISM Manufacturing Index data, combined with the sharp uppercut that was the May ADP Employment Report, “hopium” has returned to the market.  

Over the weekend, we received signs the potential trade war with Mexico will be averted, though few details were shared. China is up next, per comments from U.S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, who warned Beijing of tariffs to come if it does not “move forward with the deal … on the terms we’ve done.”

“If China doesn’t want to move forward, then President Trump is perfectly happy to move forward with tariffs to re-balance the relationship,” Mnuchin said.

Near-term, we’re likely to see more “bad news is good news” for the stock market as evidenced by Friday’s market rally following the dismal May jobs report that fell well short of expectations. More economic bad news is being greeted as a positive right now by the market under the belief it will increase the likelihood of the Fed cutting rates sooner than expected.



While that data has indeed led to negative GDP expectation revisions for the current quarter as well as the upcoming one, this new dynamic moved the market higher last week and helped reverse the sharp fall in the market in May, when the major stock indices fell between 6.5% and 8.0%.

As I see it, while the Fed has recently done a good job of telegraphing its moves, the new risk is the market over-pricing a near-term rate cut.

The next Fed monetary policy meeting is less than two weeks away and already expectations for a rate cut exiting that two-day event have jumped to around 21% from less than 7% just over a month ago, according to the CME FedWatch Tool.

Let’s remember there are four more Fed monetary policy meetings — in July, September, October and December — and those give the Fed ample room to cut rates should the upcoming G20 Osaka Summit on June 28-29 fail to get U.S.-China trade talks back on track.

To me, this makes the next two weeks imperative to watch and to build our shopping list. If there is no trade progress coming out of the G20 meeting, it increases the potential for a July rate cut. If trade talks are back on track, we very well could see the Fed continue its current wait-and-see approach.

And what about that potential for over-pricing a rate cut into the market? Anyone who has seen the Peanuts cartoons knows what happens when Lucy yanks the football out from under Charlie Brown at the last minute as he goes to kick it. If you haven’t, we can assure you it never ends well, and the same is true for the stock market when its expectations aren’t fulfilled.

I talk much more about this on this week’s Thematic Signals podcast, which you can listen to here.



Earnings expectations have yet to follow GDP expectations lower

Here at Tematica our view is that one of the clear-cut risks we face in the current market environment is the over- pricing in of a Fed rate cut at a time when profit and EPS expectations are likely to be revised lower for the second half of 2019. When we see falling GDP expectations like those depicted in the two charts above, it stands to reason we will likely see, at a minimum and barring any substantial trade progress at the G20 summit, companies adopt a more cautious tone for the back half of the year in the coming weeks as we enter the June quarter earnings season. 

If that proves to be the case, we are likely to see negative revisions to EPS expectations for the second half of the year. Despite the slowing economic data and impact of tariffs, current expectations still call for an 11% increase in earnings for the S&P 500 in the second half of the year compared to the first half. Viewed a different way, those same expectations for the second half of 2019 call for mid-single digit growth on a year over year basis. To me, given the current backdrop there seems to be more downside risk to those expectations than upside surprise. 

Between now and then, we should be listening closely as management teams hit the investor conference circuit this week and next. This week alone brings the Stifel Inaugural Cross Sector Insight Conference 2019, Morgan Stanley U.S. Financials Conference 2019, JP Morgan European Automotive Conference 2019, UBS Asian Consumer, Gaming & Leisure Conference 2019, Deutsche Bank dbAccess 16th Global Consumer Conference 2019, Nasdaq 40th Investor Conference 2019 and the Goldman Sachs 40th Annual Global Healthcare Conference 2019, to name just a few. What we’ll be listening for is updated guidance as well as industry comments, including any tariff impact discussion.

In my view, the conferences and the information spilling out of them will reveal what we are likely to see and hear from various industry leaders in the upcoming June- quarter earnings season.


Tematica Investing

The June rebound in the stock market propped up a number of the Thematic Leaders, most notably Cleaner Living leader Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and Safety & Security leader Axon Enterprises (AAXN). Digital Infrastructure Leader Dycom Industries continues to tread water on a year to date basis, but with 5G deployments accelerating I see a more vibrant landscape for it as well as Disruptive Innovator Leader Nokia (NOK). 

In recent weeks, we’ve gotten greater clarity and insight into forthcoming streaming video services from Apple (AAPL) and Disney (DIS), which are likely to make that market far more competitive than it has been to date. Disney’s rumored $6.99 per month starter price recently led Comcast (CMCSA) to not only abandon its own streaming initiative due in 2020 but to also sell its stake in Hulu to Disney. That to me is a potential game changer depending on how Disney folds Hulu’s streaming TV service into Disney+. 

One of our key tenants is to observe the shifting landscape, and with regard to streaming video we are seeing the beginning of such a shift. For that reason as well as the risk of a challenging June quarter earnings season in the coming weeks, we are implementing a $340 stop loss on Digital Lifestyle Thematic Leader Netflix (NFLX). That will lock in a profit of just over 27% for NFLX shares. 

Later this week, we’ll get the May Retail Sales report, which should once again showcase the accelerating shift to digital shopping. In my view, it’s just another positive data point to be had for Thematic King Amazon (AMZN)… as if all the UPS and other delivery vehicles aren’t enough proof.

 

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: Del Frisco’s Sends Strong Signals of Potential Take Over Bid

Weekly Issue: Del Frisco’s Sends Strong Signals of Potential Take Over Bid

Key points inside this issue

  • The stock market continues to move higher even as global growth slows and S&P 500 earnings prospects for the current quarter slump further.
  • Our long-term price target on Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $2,250, which offers more than 35% upside following its December quarter earnings report.
  • As Living the Life Thematic Leader Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) gets serious with its strategic alternatives, our price target remains $14.
  • We are issuing a Buy on and adding the Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) September 20, 2019, 10.00 calls (DFRG 190920C00010000) that closed last night at 0.60 with a stop loss at 0.30.
  • On the housekeeping front, we were stopped out of the Nokia (NOK) July 2019 7.00 (NOK190719C00007000) calls last Friday (Feb. 1).

 

Stocks rebounded in a pronounced manner as we started off 2019, making it the best January showing since 1989. The data continues to point to a slowing global slowing economy, especially in China and in the eurozone with Italy in a recession and France not too far behind. The December-quarter concerns, however, have rolled back and propelled the market higher, especially during the last week of the month when the Fed signaled patience with its speed of further interest rate hikes. For the month in full, the S&P 500 finished up just shy of 8.0%, ahead of the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s 7.2% rise, but trailing the tech-heavy Nasdaq’s 9.7% surge.

On top of Friday’s blockbuster January Employment Report, a stronger-than-expected ISM Manufacturing Index reading for January came in, which showcased a rebound in new order activity. On the back of those two reports, the domestic stock market started February off in the green, as that data suggest the U.S. remains the brightest spot in the global economy. That view was supported by the January PMI data released Friday morning by IHS Markit, which showed the U.S. manufacturing economy picking up steam while that activity in the eurozone and Japan slowed, and China marked the second month in contraction territory.

 

Another positive inside the ISM Manufacturing Report was the month-over-month drop in the Prices component. Pairing that with falling prices in the eurozone data, it’s another reason the Federal Reserve can take its finger off the interest rate hike button for the time being. That patient stance, shared by the Fed this week after its latest FOMC meeting, has walked the dollar back some, but as we see in the chart below the greenback’s year-over-year strength will likely continue to be a headwind for companies during the first half of 2019.

 

The current mismatch between U.S. economic data and that for China has raised hopes for U.S.-China trade talks. Also lending a helping hand on that front were several positive tweets from President Trump exiting this week’s round of trade talks. I remain cautiously optimistic but will once again remind subscribers it’s the details that we’ll be focused on when they are released. 

As we move deeper into February, just over half of the S&P 500 companies have yet to report their quarterly results and given the slowing global economy and dollar headwinds we are likely to see further downward revisions to earnings expectations for the S&P 500 in the coming weeks. Along with the market’s push higher in January that has extended into February, should those revisions come to pass it means the market gets incrementally more expensive. This means we should continue to tread carefully in the near-term.

 

As we do this, known catalysts to watch in the coming weeks will be incremental developments on U.S.-China trade and potential moves by the European Central Bank. Following the weakening economic data in the eurozone, ECB President Mario Draghi said, “The European Central Bank is ready to use all its policy tools to support Europe’s softening economy, including by restarting a recently shelved bond-buying program.” There is also the possibility of another government shutdown should Congress fail to reach an agreement on immigration. Who said 2019 was likely to be boring?

 

Tematica Investing

As I have said numerous times, we do not buy the market, but rather invest in companies that are well positioned to capitalize on the tailwinds from our 10 investment themes. From time to time, we are given opportunities to scale into existing positions and in my view, we are seeing that now with Thematic King Amazon (AMZN). The reason for this latest bout of weakness in Amazon’s share price is management’s comments that it will once again investment more than Wall Street expected and the news over e-commerce regulations in India.

From time to time we’ve seen Amazon step up its investment spending and historically its been a great time to load up on the shares because those investments have paved the way for future growth. From opportunities in grocery, mobile payments, streaming video and gaming services, healthcare following its PillPack acquisition as well as expanding the scale and scope of its Amazon Prime service further in the US and abroad, there are ample thematic opportunities for the Amazon business. I also suspect that with FedEx (FDX) looking to collapse order times to under 24 hours for its retail partners, that Amazon too is working on growing its Prime Now offering at the same time.

Let’s turn to the new e-commerce regulations in India and their potential impact on Amazon. The issue is that while these new regulations permit full foreign ownership of ‘single brand’ retailers such as IKEA, restrictions are in place with ‘multibrand’ stores such as supermarkets from outside India. Odds are we will see a rebranding of sorts by the likes of Amazon, Walmart (WMT) and others that are looking to tap into this New Global Middle-Class market. Candidly, given Amazon’s growing private label business that spans apparel, furniture, food, electronics, and other categories, I’m not all that bothered by this. And let’s face it, not only are the folks at Amazon pretty smart, but we have yet to see a market that shuns two-day delivery. I doubt India and its growing middle-class will be the first.

The bottom line with this Thematic King is it is a stock to own as the company is poised to further disrupt other markets, sectors and other business models in the coming quarters.

  • Our long-term price target on Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $2,250, which offers more than 35% upside following its December quarter earnings report.

 

 

Del Frisco’s gets serious about entertaining take out bids

After a few weeks of no big news from Living the Life company Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group Inc. (DFRG) after it pre-announced its fourth-quarter revenue in early January, we have a new development that in my view reinforces our belief that the company is putting itself up for sale. More specifically, Del Frisco’s announced on Monday that it has executed a cooperation agreement with its third-largest shareholder, Engaged Capital — the same shareholder that criticized the management team in late 2018 and suggested the company examine its strategic alternatives.

Included in the agreement is the appointment of Joe Reece not only to the Del Frisco’s board but also as the Chairman of the Transaction Committee that is overseeing the company’s previously announced review of strategic alternatives. There are other conditions with the cooperation agreement, but it is the naming of Reece and the comments contained inside the accompanying press release that gives us some insight into his background. The comments read in part:

Glenn W. Welling, the founder and Chief Investment Officer of Engaged Capital, said, “I am pleased to have reached this agreement as part of a constructive dialogue with Del Frisco’s. In addition to his decades of experience working inside boardrooms, Joe Reece brings exceptional experience in investment banking and the capital markets to Del Frisco’s which will be instrumental as the Board evaluates the various opportunities available to maximize value for all shareholders.”

 Joe Reece has over 30 years of experience as a business leader. His experience working with executives at corporations, financial sponsors, and institutional investors, as well as serving on several public company boards, will bring an added dimension to the Board.

Mr. Reece is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Helena Capital. Mr. Reece previously served as Executive Vice Chairman and Head of the Investment Bank for the Americas at UBS Group AG from 2017-2018 as well as serving on the board of UBS Securities, LLC.

 

More on Reece’s background is contained in the press release, but as the above excerpt notes, he has ample investment banking experience. In our view, the naming of Reece as chairman of the Del Frisco’s Transaction Committee means two things. First, the company is serious about examining alternatives to remaining a stand-alone company. Second, it is also serious about extracting the greatest value for its business and brands.

As shareholders, this news has increased my degree of confidence that a transaction, be it with private equity or a strategic partner, is likely to happen. As such, we will continue to keep DFRG shares as a Thematic Leader for the time being to capture these potential gains.

  • As Living the Life Thematic Leader Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) gets serious with its strategic alternatives, our price target remains $14.

 

Weekly Issue: Making a strategic move on  Del Frisco’s options

Weekly Issue: Making a strategic move on Del Frisco’s options

Key points inside this issue

  • The stock market continues to move higher even as global growth slows and S&P 500 earnings prospects for the current quarter slump further.
  • Our long-term price target on Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $2,250, which offers more than 35% upside following its December quarter earnings report.
  • As Living the Life Thematic Leader Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) gets serious with its strategic alternatives, our price target remains $14.
  • We are issuing a Buy on and adding the Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) September 20, 2019, 10.00 calls (DFRG 190920C00010000) that closed last night at 0.60 with a stop loss at 0.30.
  • On the housekeeping front, we were stopped out of the Nokia (NOK) July 2019 7.00 (NOK190719C00007000) calls last Friday (Feb. 1).

 

Stocks rebounded in a pronounced manner as we started off 2019, making it the best January showing since 1989. The data continues to point to a slowing global slowing economy, especially in China and in the eurozone with Italy in a recession and France not too far behind. The December-quarter concerns, however, have rolled back and propelled the market higher, especially during the last week of the month when the Fed signaled patience with its speed of further interest rate hikes. For the month in full, the S&P 500 finished up just shy of 8.0%, ahead of the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s 7.2% rise, but trailing the tech-heavy Nasdaq’s 9.7% surge.

On top of Friday’s blockbuster January Employment Report, a stronger-than-expected ISM Manufacturing Index reading for January came in, which showcased a rebound in new order activity. On the back of those two reports, the domestic stock market started February off in the green, as that data suggest the U.S. remains the brightest spot in the global economy. That view was supported by the January PMI data released Friday morning by IHS Markit, which showed the U.S. manufacturing economy picking up steam while that activity in the eurozone and Japan slowed, and China marked the second month in contraction territory.

 

Another positive inside the ISM Manufacturing Report was the month-over-month drop in the Prices component. Pairing that with falling prices in the eurozone data, it’s another reason the Federal Reserve can take its finger off the interest rate hike button for the time being. That patient stance, shared by the Fed this week after its latest FOMC meeting, has walked the dollar back some, but as we see in the chart below the greenback’s year-over-year strength will likely continue to be a headwind for companies during the first half of 2019.

 

The current mismatch between U.S. economic data and that for China has raised hopes for U.S.-China trade talks. Also lending a helping hand on that front were several positive tweets from President Trump exiting this week’s round of trade talks. I remain cautiously optimistic but will once again remind subscribers it’s the details that we’ll be focused on when they are released. 

As we move deeper into February, just over half of the S&P 500 companies have yet to report their quarterly results and given the slowing global economy and dollar headwinds we are likely to see further downward revisions to earnings expectations for the S&P 500 in the coming weeks. Along with the market’s push higher in January that has extended into February, should those revisions come to pass it means the market gets incrementally more expensive. This means we should continue to tread carefully in the near-term.

 

As we do this, known catalysts to watch in the coming weeks will be incremental developments on U.S.-China trade and potential moves by the European Central Bank. Following the weakening economic data in the eurozone, ECB President Mario Draghi said, “The European Central Bank is ready to use all its policy tools to support Europe’s softening economy, including by restarting a recently shelved bond-buying program.” There is also the possibility of another government shutdown should Congress fail to reach an agreement on immigration. Who said 2019 was likely to be boring?

 

Tematica Investing

As I have said numerous times, we do not buy the market, but rather invest in companies that are well positioned to capitalize on the tailwinds from our 10 investment themes. From time to time, we are given opportunities to scale into existing positions and in my view, we are seeing that now with Thematic King Amazon (AMZN). The reason for this latest bout of weakness in Amazon’s share price is management’s comments that it will once again investment more than Wall Street expected and the news over e-commerce regulations in India.

From time to time we’ve seen Amazon step up its investment spending and historically its been a great time to load up on the shares because those investments have paved the way for future growth. From opportunities in grocery, mobile payments, streaming video and gaming services, healthcare following its PillPack acquisition as well as expanding the scale and scope of its Amazon Prime service further in the US and abroad, there are ample thematic opportunities for the Amazon business. I also suspect that with FedEx (FDX) looking to collapse order times to under 24 hours for its retail partners, that Amazon too is working on growing its Prime Now offering at the same time.

Let’s turn to the new e-commerce regulations in India and their potential impact on Amazon. The issue is that while these new regulations permit full foreign ownership of ‘single brand’ retailers such as IKEA, restrictions are in place with ‘multibrand’ stores such as supermarkets from outside India. Odds are we will see a rebranding of sorts by the likes of Amazon, Walmart (WMT) and others that are looking to tap into this New Global Middle-Class market. Candidly, given Amazon’s growing private label business that spans apparel, furniture, food, electronics, and other categories, I’m not all that bothered by this. And let’s face it, not only are the folks at Amazon pretty smart, but we have yet to see a market that shuns two-day delivery. I doubt India and its growing middle-class will be the first.

The bottom line with this Thematic King is it is a stock to own as the company is poised to further disrupt other markets, sectors and other business models in the coming quarters.

  • Our long-term price target on Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $2,250, which offers more than 35% upside following its December quarter earnings report.

 

 

Del Frisco’s gets serious about entertaining take out bids

After a few weeks of no big news from Living the Life company Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group Inc. (DFRG) after it pre-announced its fourth-quarter revenue in early January, we have a new development that in my view reinforces our belief that the company is putting itself up for sale. More specifically, Del Frisco’s announced on Monday that it has executed a cooperation agreement with its third-largest shareholder, Engaged Capital — the same shareholder that criticized the management team in late 2018 and suggested the company examine its strategic alternatives.

Included in the agreement is the appointment of Joe Reece not only to the Del Frisco’s board but also as the Chairman of the Transaction Committee that is overseeing the company’s previously announced review of strategic alternatives. There are other conditions with the cooperation agreement, but it is the naming of Reece and the comments contained inside the accompanying press release that gives us some insight into his background. The comments read in part:

Glenn W. Welling, the founder and Chief Investment Officer of Engaged Capital, said, “I am pleased to have reached this agreement as part of a constructive dialogue with Del Frisco’s. In addition to his decades of experience working inside boardrooms, Joe Reece brings exceptional experience in investment banking and the capital markets to Del Frisco’s which will be instrumental as the Board evaluates the various opportunities available to maximize value for all shareholders.”

 Joe Reece has over 30 years of experience as a business leader. His experience working with executives at corporations, financial sponsors, and institutional investors, as well as serving on several public company boards, will bring an added dimension to the Board.

Mr. Reece is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Helena Capital. Mr. Reece previously served as Executive Vice Chairman and Head of the Investment Bank for the Americas at UBS Group AG from 2017-2018 as well as serving on the board of UBS Securities, LLC.

 

More on Reece’s background is contained in the press release, but as the above excerpt notes, he has ample investment banking experience. In our view, the naming of Reece as chairman of the Del Frisco’s Transaction Committee means two things. First, the company is serious about examining alternatives to remaining a stand-alone company. Second, it is also serious about extracting the greatest value for its business and brands.

As shareholders, this news has increased my degree of confidence that a transaction, be it with private equity or a strategic partner, is likely to happen. As such, we will continue to keep DFRG shares as a Thematic Leader for the time being to capture these potential gains.

  • As Living the Life Thematic Leader Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) gets serious with its strategic alternatives, our price target remains $14.

 

Tematica Options+

As I noted above, it increasingly looks to me that Del Frisco’s is priming itself to be acquired. Over the last several years, we’ve seen several high-end steakhouses, such as Morton’s, Fleming ’s and the Capital Grille, acquired by either strategic or financial buyers. As we’ve discussed before in regard to Del Frisco’s business, these fine dining establishments tend to be less susceptible to economic downturns than casual and fast-casual dining restaurants. This makes them a sought after jewel in a restaurant portfolio, and with few stand-alone steakhouses like Del Frisco’s left, odds are it is only a matter of time before it too is acquired.

Therefore, while we own DFRF shares as part of the Thematic Leaders, we are going to add the Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) September 20, 2019 10.00 calls (DFRG 190920C00010000) that closed last night at 0.60 to our Options+ holdings. The timing of these calls will give the company’s Transaction Committee ample time to conduct a thorough process, which will likely include multiple bidding rounds. Because there is the possibility, no matter how slim it might be, that Del Frisco’s and would be buyers do not agree on price, we are going to set a stop loss on these calls at 0.30.

 

 

Weekly Issue: Verizon is bulls up on 5G, paving the way for a Disruptive Innovator Leader position

Weekly Issue: Verizon is bulls up on 5G, paving the way for a Disruptive Innovator Leader position

Key points in this issue:

  • As expected, more negative earnings revisions roll in
  • Verizon says “We’re heading into the 5G era”
  • Nokia gets several boosts ahead of its earnings report
  • USA Technologies gets an “interim” CFO
  • We are issuing a Buy on and adding the Nokia Corp. (NOK) April 2019 call options (NOK190208C00006500) that closed last night at 0.30 with a stop loss of 0.15 to our options playbook this week.
  • Treading carefully after stopping out of our Del Frisco’s call option

 

As expected, more negative earnings revisions roll in

In full, last week was one in which the domestic stock market indices were largely unchanged and we saw that reflected in many of our Thematic Leaders. Late Friday, a deal was reached to potentially only temporarily reopen the federal government should Congress fail to reach a deal on immigration. Given the subsequent bluster that we’ve seen from President Trump, it’s likely this deal could go either way. Perhaps, we’ll hear more on this during his next address, scheduled ahead of this weekend’s Super Bowl.

Yesterday, the Fed began its latest monetary policy meeting. It’s not expected to boost interest rates, but Fed watchers will be looking to see if there is any change to its plan to unwind its balance sheet. As the Fed’s meeting winds down, the next phase of US-China trade talks will be underway.

Last week I talked about the downward revisions to earnings expectations for the S&P 500 and warned that we were likely to see more of the same. So far this week, a number of high-profile earnings reports from the likes of Caterpillar (CAT), Whirlpool (WHR), Crane Co. (CR), AK Steel (AKS), 3M (MMM) and Pfizer (PFE) have revealed December-quarter misses and guidance for the near-term below consensus expectations. More of that same downward earnings pressure for the S&P 500 indeed. And yes, those misses and revisions reflect issues we have been discussing the last several months that are still playing out. At least for now, there doesn’t appear to be any significant reversal of those factors, which likely means those negative revisions are poised to continue over the next few weeks.

 

Tematica Investing

With the market essentially treading water over the last several days, so too did the Thematic Leaders.  Apple’s (AAPL) highly anticipated earnings report last night edged out consensus EPS expectations with guidance that was essentially in line. To be clear, the only reason the company’s EPS beat expectations was because of its lower tax rate year over year and the impact of its share buyback program. If we look at its operating profit year over year — our preferred metric here at Tematica — we find profits were down 11% year over year.

With today’s issue already running on the long side, we’ll dig deeper into that Apple report in a stand-alone post on TematicaResearch.com later today or tomorrow, but suffice it to say the market greeted the news from Apple with some relief that it wasn’t worse. That will drive the market higher today, but let’s remember we have several hundred companies yet to report and those along with the Fed’s comments later today and US-China trade comments later this week will determine where the stock market will go in the near-term.

As we wait for that sense of direction, I’ll continue to roll up my sleeves to fill the Guilty Pleasure void we have on the Thematic Leaders since we kicked Altria to the curb last week. Stay tuned!

 

Verizon says “We’re heading into the 5G era”

Yesterday and early this morning, both Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T) reported their respective December quarter results and shared their outlook. Tucked inside those comments, there was a multitude of 5G related mentions, which perked our thematic ears up as it relates to our Disruptive Innovators investing theme.

As Verizon succinctly said, “…we’re heading to the 5G era and the beginning of what many see as the fourth industrial revolution.” No wonder it mentioned 5G 42 times during its earnings call yesterday and shared the majority of its $17-$18 billion in capital spending over the coming year will be spent on 5G. Verizon did stop short of sharing exactly when it would roll out its commercial 5G network, but did close out the earnings conference call with “…We’re going to see much more of 5G commercial, both mobility, and home during 2019.”

While we wait for AT&T’s 5G-related comments on its upcoming earnings conference call, odds are we will hear it spout favorably about 5G as well. Historically other mobile carriers have piled on once one has blazed the trail on technology, services or price. I strongly suspect 5G will fall into that camp as well, which means in the coming months we will begin to hear much more on the disruptive nature of 5G.

 

Nokia gets several boosts ahead of its earnings report

Friday morning one of Disruptive Innovator Leader Nokia’s (NOK) mobile network infrastructure competitors, Ericsson (ERIC), reported its December-quarter results. ERIC shares are trading up following the report, which showed the company’s revenue grew by 10% year over year due primarily to growth at its core Networks business. That strength was largely due to 5G activity in the North American market as mobile operators such as AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ) and others prepare to launch their 5G commercial networks later this year. And for anyone wondering how important 5G is to Ericsson, it was mentioned 26 times in the company’s earnings press release.

In short, I see Ericsson’s earnings report as extremely positive and confirming for our Nokia and 5G investment thesis.

One other item to mention is the growing consideration for the continued banning of Huawei mobile infrastructure equipment by countries around the world. Currently, those products and services are excluded in the U.S., but the U.K. and other countries in Europe are voicing concerns over Huawei as they look to confirm their national telecommunications infrastructure is secure.

Last week, one of the world’s largest mobile carriers, Vodafone (VOD) announced it would halt buying Huawei gear. BT Group, the British telecom giant, has plans to rip out part of Huawei’s existing network. Last year, Australia banned the use of equipment from Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese supplier of mobile infrastructure and smartphones.

In Monday’s New York Times, there was an article that speaks to the coming deployment of 5G networks both in the U.S. and around the globe, comparing the changes they will bring. Quoting Chris Lane, a telecom analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein in Hong Kong it says:

“This will be almost more important than electricity… Everything will be connected, and the central nervous system of these smart cities will be your 5G network.”

That sentiment certainly underscores why 5G technology is housed inside our Disruptive Innovators investing theme. One of the growing concerns following the arrest of two Huawei employees for espionage in Poland is cybersecurity. As the New York Times article points out:

“American and British officials had already grown concerned about Huawei’s abilities after cybersecurity experts, combing through the company’s source code to look for back doors, determined that Huawei could remotely access and control some networks from the company’s Shenzhen headquarters.”

From our perspective, this raises many questions when it comes to Huawei. As companies look to bring 5G networks to market, they are not inclined to wait for answers when other suppliers of 5G equipment stand at the ready, including Nokia.

Nokia will report its quarterly results this Thursday (Jan. 31) and as I write this, consensus expectations call for EPS of $0.14 on revenue of $7.6 billion. Given Ericsson’s quarterly results, I expect an upbeat report. Should that not come to pass, I’m inclined to be patient and hold the shares for some time as commercial 5G networks launches make their way around the globe. If the shares were to fall below our blended buy-in price of $5.55, I’d be inclined to once again scale into them.

  • Our long-term price target for NOK shares remains $8.50.

 

USA Technologies gets an “interim” CFO

Earlier this week, Digital Lifestyle company USA Technologies (USAT) announced it has appointed interim Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Glen Goold. According to LinkedIn, among Goold’s experience, he was CFO at private company Sutron Corp. from Nov 2012 to Feb 2018, an Associate Vice President at Carlyle Group from July 2005 to February 2012, and a Tax Manager at Ernst & Young between 1997-2005. We would say he has the background to be a solid CFO and should be able to clean up the accounting mess that was uncovered at USAT several months ago.

That said, we are intrigued by the “interim” aspect of Mr. Goold’s title — and to be frank, his lack of public company CFO experience. We suspect the “interim” title could fuel speculation that the company is cleaning itself up to be sold, something we touched on last week. As I have said before, we focus on fundamentals, not takeout speculation, but if a deal were to emerge, particularly at a favorable share price, we aren’t ones to fight it.

  • Our price target on USA Technologies (USAT) shares remains $10.

 

Tematica Options+

The positive developments associated with Disruptive Innovator leader Nokia outlined above strongly suggest the company will deliver an upbeat December quarter earnings report, and will likely guide at least if line, if not higher, for 2019 given the accelerating 5G deployments and improving competitive landscape. That’s why we are adding the Nokia Corp. (NOK) April 2019 call options (NOK190208C00006500) that closed last night at 0.30 to our options playbook this week.

Not only does the timing on these calls capture this Thursday’s earnings report, but it also includes the next major mobile industry conference, the 2019 Mobile World Congress (MWC) that will be held in Barcelona from Feb. 25-28. Historically, during times of new mobile technology rollouts, MWC has been a hotbed of announcements. As we stand on the cusp of commercial 5G network deployments, odds are high that history will once again repeat itself.

While signs are bullish for 5G and Nokia, we as investors will want to limit our downside, which is why I’m setting a stop loss at 0.15 for this position.

 

Treading carefully after stopping out of our Del Frisco’s call option

On the housekeeping front, last night we were stopped out of our Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group call option. With the company evaluating its strategic options, we’ll carefully look to revisit a call option position in this company. This extra sense of caution follows the 20+% drop in GameStop (GME) shares following its Board’s decision to forego being taken private by private equity investors and remain both public and independent.

I would note that GameStop is hitting the headwind of our Digital Lifestyle theme as gamers increasingly shed physical formats over downloading games to their devices and consoles. As if that weren’t enough, I’m hearing reports that Apple, Google (GOOGL), Amazon (AMZN) and Microsoft (MSFT) are eyeing a streaming game service similar to what Thematic Leader Netflix (NFLX) has done for TV and movie content. I see this as another potential nail in the GameStop coffin, which means GME shares are one to avoid… at least in a long position.

 

 

Weekly Issue: As earnings season continues, the market catches a positive breather

Weekly Issue: As earnings season continues, the market catches a positive breather

Key points in this issue:

  • As expected, more negative earnings revisions roll in
  • Verizon says “We’re heading into the 5G era”
  • Nokia gets several boosts ahead of its earnings report
  • USA Technologies gets an “interim” CFO

 

As expected, more negative earnings revisions roll in

In full, last week was one in which the domestic stock market indices were largely unchanged and we saw that reflected in many of our Thematic Leaders. Late Friday, a deal was reached to potentially only temporarily reopen the federal government should Congress fail to reach a deal on immigration. Given the subsequent bluster that we’ve seen from President Trump, it’s likely this deal could go either way. Perhaps, we’ll hear more on this during his next address, scheduled ahead of this weekend’s Super Bowl.

Yesterday, the Fed began its latest monetary policy meeting. It’s not expected to boost interest rates, but Fed watchers will be looking to see if there is any change to its plan to unwind its balance sheet. As the Fed’s meeting winds down, the next phase of US-China trade talks will be underway.

Last week I talked about the downward revisions to earnings expectations for the S&P 500 and warned that we were likely to see more of the same. So far this week, a number of high-profile earnings reports from the likes of Caterpillar (CAT), Whirlpool (WHR), Crane Co. (CR), AK Steel (AKS), 3M (MMM) and Pfizer (PFE) have revealed December-quarter misses and guidance for the near-term below consensus expectations. More of that same downward earnings pressure for the S&P 500 indeed. And yes, those misses and revisions reflect issues we have been discussing the last several months that are still playing out. At least for now, there doesn’t appear to be any significant reversal of those factors, which likely means those negative revisions are poised to continue over the next few weeks.

 

Tematica Investing

With the market essentially treading water over the last several days, so too did the Thematic Leaders.  Apple’s (AAPL) highly anticipated earnings report last night edged out consensus EPS expectations with guidance that was essentially in line. To be clear, the only reason the company’s EPS beat expectations was because of its lower tax rate year over year and the impact of its share buyback program. If we look at its operating profit year over year — our preferred metric here at Tematica — we find profits were down 11% year over year.

With today’s issue already running on the long side, we’ll dig deeper into that Apple report in a stand-alone post on TematicaResearch.com later today or tomorrow, but suffice it to say the market greeted the news from Apple with some relief that it wasn’t worse. That will drive the market higher today, but let’s remember we have several hundred companies yet to report and those along with the Fed’s comments later today and US-China trade comments later this week will determine where the stock market will go in the near-term.

As we wait for that sense of direction, I’ll continue to roll up my sleeves to fill the Guilty Pleasure void we have on the Thematic Leaders since we kicked Altria to the curb last week. Stay tuned!

 

Verizon says “We’re heading into the 5G era”

Yesterday and early this morning, both Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T) reported their respective December quarter results and shared their outlook. Tucked inside those comments, there was a multitude of 5G related mentions, which perked our thematic ears up as it relates to our Disruptive Innovators investing theme.

As Verizon succinctly said, “…we’re heading to the 5G era and the beginning of what many see as the fourth industrial revolution.” No wonder it mentioned 5G 42 times during its earnings call yesterday and shared the majority of its $17-$18 billion in capital spending over the coming year will be spent on 5G. Verizon did stop short of sharing exactly when it would roll out its commercial 5G network, but did close out the earnings conference call with “…We’re going to see much more of 5G commercial, both mobility, and home during 2019.”

While we wait for AT&T’s 5G-related comments on its upcoming earnings conference call, odds are we will hear it spout favorably about 5G as well. Historically other mobile carriers have piled on once one has blazed the trail on technology, services or price. I strongly suspect 5G will fall into that camp as well, which means in the coming months we will begin to hear much more on the disruptive nature of 5G.

 

Nokia gets several boosts ahead of its earnings report

Friday morning one of Disruptive Innovator Leader Nokia’s (NOK) mobile network infrastructure competitors, Ericsson (ERIC), reported its December-quarter results. ERIC shares are trading up following the report, which showed the company’s revenue grew by 10% year over year due primarily to growth at its core Networks business. That strength was largely due to 5G activity in the North American market as mobile operators such as AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ) and others prepare to launch their 5G commercial networks later this year. And for anyone wondering how important 5G is to Ericsson, it was mentioned 26 times in the company’s earnings press release.

In short, I see Ericsson’s earnings report as extremely positive and confirming for our Nokia and 5G investment thesis.

One other item to mention is the growing consideration for the continued banning of Huawei mobile infrastructure equipment by countries around the world. Currently, those products and services are excluded in the U.S., but the U.K. and other countries in Europe are voicing concerns over Huawei as they look to confirm their national telecommunications infrastructure is secure.

Last week, one of the world’s largest mobile carriers, Vodafone (VOD) announced it would halt buying Huawei gear. BT Group, the British telecom giant, has plans to rip out part of Huawei’s existing network. Last year, Australia banned the use of equipment from Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese supplier of mobile infrastructure and smartphones.

In Monday’s New York Times, there was an article that speaks to the coming deployment of 5G networks both in the U.S. and around the globe, comparing the changes they will bring. Quoting Chris Lane, a telecom analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein in Hong Kong it says:

“This will be almost more important than electricity… Everything will be connected, and the central nervous system of these smart cities will be your 5G network.”

That sentiment certainly underscores why 5G technology is housed inside our Disruptive Innovators investing theme. One of the growing concerns following the arrest of two Huawei employees for espionage in Poland is cybersecurity. As the New York Times article points out:

“American and British officials had already grown concerned about Huawei’s abilities after cybersecurity experts, combing through the company’s source code to look for back doors, determined that Huawei could remotely access and control some networks from the company’s Shenzhen headquarters.”

From our perspective, this raises many questions when it comes to Huawei. As companies look to bring 5G networks to market, they are not inclined to wait for answers when other suppliers of 5G equipment stand at the ready, including Nokia.

Nokia will report its quarterly results this Thursday (Jan. 31) and as I write this, consensus expectations call for EPS of $0.14 on revenue of $7.6 billion. Given Ericsson’s quarterly results, I expect an upbeat report. Should that not come to pass, I’m inclined to be patient and hold the shares for some time as commercial 5G networks launches make their way around the globe. If the shares were to fall below our blended buy-in price of $5.55, I’d be inclined to once again scale into them.

  • Our long-term price target for NOK shares remains $8.50.

 

USA Technologies gets an “interim” CFO

Earlier this week, Digital Lifestyle company USA Technologies (USAT) announced it has appointed interim Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Glen Goold. According to LinkedIn, among Goold’s experience, he was CFO at private company Sutron Corp. from Nov 2012 to Feb 2018, an Associate Vice President at Carlyle Group from July 2005 to February 2012, and a Tax Manager at Ernst & Young between 1997-2005. We would say he has the background to be a solid CFO and should be able to clean up the accounting mess that was uncovered at USAT several months ago.

That said, we are intrigued by the “interim” aspect of Mr. Goold’s title — and to be frank, his lack of public company CFO experience. We suspect the “interim” title could fuel speculation that the company is cleaning itself up to be sold, something we touched on last week. As I have said before, we focus on fundamentals, not takeout speculation, but if a deal were to emerge, particularly at a favorable share price, we aren’t ones to fight it.

  • Our price target on USA Technologies (USAT) shares remains $10.