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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

What did Apple have to say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Odds are there will more negative earnings report to come

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

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

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

 

Positives to watch for in the coming weeks and months

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

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

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

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

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

 

Weekly Issue: Investor anxiety continues

Weekly Issue: Investor anxiety continues

Key points inside this issue

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

 

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

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

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

 

Shares of Del Frisco’s get some activist attention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What to watch in the week ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Behind Powell’s comments and digital shopping reigns supreme

Behind Powell’s comments and digital shopping reigns supreme

Key points inside this issue:

Coming into this week with a clean slate following the pre-Thanksgiving stop out of our Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLP) January 2019 58.00 (XLP190118C00058000) calls at 0.35.  Yesterday, the stock market put in its best one-day performance in months following the report that Fed Chairman Powell said aid interest rates are close to neutral, a change in tone from remarks the central bank chief made nearly two months ago. To be clear, “neutral” means neither speed up nor slowing down growth. This comment was warmly received by investors as they perceived it as removing one of their concerns – the number of interest rate hikes to be had over the coming 13 months, which as of last week totaled five.

Here’s the thing, over the last few months we’ve seen a number of data points suggesting a slowdown in both the global economy as well as the domestic one. Whether it’s the sharp drop in oil prices that suggest weak demand for crude, which is also helping mitigate some related inflation concerns, the continued weakness in the housing market due in part to higher interest rate or other economic indicators (Industrial Production, Durable Orders or the ISM manufacturing), the speed of the US economy is slowing. Moreover, consensus expectations point to that continuing over the coming quarters with sequential declines in GDP expected between now and the end of 2019.

What this more than likely means is the Fed is digesting this data and resetting its interest rate expectations. Great that they may not move as high in the coming 13 months, but the probable reason is the speed of the economy could not handle that degree – 5 additional rate hikes. Let’s remember that monetary policy is not a fixed formula, but is one that has to remain flexible to react to global economic and geopolitical events, and we have to focus on the reason behind that shift in monetary policy.  Later today, we’ll receive the Fed’s meeting minutes from its November monetary policy meeting, which should offer further insight into this shifting view inside the central bank.

While Powell’s comments may have offered some relief to investors, we have to remember that in addition to a slowing economy several other risks remain. These include the upcoming US-China trade conversations at this week’s G20 summit, Brexit and Italy-eurozone issues. Just this morning, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said the populist government is not considering cutting next year’s budget deficit target to below 2.2%.  In my view, once we clear the G20 meeting we’ll have a much better sense as to the playing field that will close out 2018 and be with us when we enter 2019. Despite the stock market ripping higher yesterday, caution and prudence remain the mantra in the very near term as we wait for these other shoes to drop and investors to recognize the reason behind the Fed’s shifting view on the speed of monetary policy.

 

Circling back to UPS calls following Thanksgiving-Cyber Monday shopping

On this week’s Cocktail Investing Podcast, Tematica’s Lenore Hawkins and I sift through all the data that was had coming out of the official kickoff to the 2018 holiday shopping season that span Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, and in some cases “extended Tuesday.” The short version is consumers did open their wallets over those several days, but in keeping with our Digital Lifestyle investing theme, we saw a pronounced shift to online and mobile shopping this year, while brick & mortar traffic continued to suffer.

According to ShopperTrak, shopper visits were down 1% for the two-day period compared to last year, with a 1.7% decline in traffic on Black Friday and a versus 2017. Another firm, RetailNext, found traffic to U.S. stores fell between 5% and 9%  during Thanksgiving and Black Friday compared with the same days last year. For the Thanksgiving to Sunday 2018 period, RetailNext’s traffic tally fell 6.6% year over year.

Where were shoppers? Sitting at home or elsewhere as they shopped on their computers, tablets and increasingly their mobile devices. According to the National Retail Federation, 41.4 million people shopped only online from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday. That’s 6.4 million more than the 34.7 million who shopped exclusively in stores.

Thanksgiving 2018 was also the first day in 2018 to see $1 billion in sales from smartphones, according to Adobe, with shoppers spending 8 percent more online on Thursday compared with a year ago. Per Adobe, Black Friday online sales hit $6.22 billion, an increase of 23.7% from 2017, of which roughly 33% were made on smartphones, up from 29% in 2017.

The most popular day to shop online was Cyber Monday, cited by 67.4 million shoppers, followed by Black Friday with 65.2 million shoppers. That day alone mobile transactions surged more than 55%, helping make the day the single largest online shopping day of all time in the United States at $7.9 billion, up 19% year over year. It also smashed the smartphone shopping record set on Thanksgiving as sales coming from smartphones hit $2 billion.

As I have long said, as consumers increasingly shift to digital shopping, a key tenant of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme, these goods will need to reach the intended recipient no matter who or where they are. That makes United Parcel Service (UPS) a prime beneficiary as more consumers and retailers embrace digital commerce. Given the data that has emerged over the last week, it is safe to say the speed of digital commerce adoption is accelerating. For that reason, we are adding back a UPS call option play for the holiday season, which candidly is at far better pricing levels following the market pain of the last few weeks. Between now and Christmas, I expect to see many a UPS truck traveling up and down the streets, and I strongly suspect you will see them as well.

 

More Americans are focused on cutting back their spending to save more

More Americans are focused on cutting back their spending to save more

More than a few times, we here at Tematica have talked about the rising level of consumer debt across student and auto loans as well as credit cards. We’ve also talked about how older Americans are undersaved for retirement and how the upward trajectory in interest rates is going to make debt servicing more costly, crimping disposable income. In thematic speak that’s Middle-Class Squeeze with a helping of Aging of the Population.

But new data suggests consumers are aware of their situation and that is prompting them to cut back on their spending in order to save more. What we’ll have to see in the coming monthly Personal Income & Spending reports is to what degree they are opting to save vs. spend. In recent months, we’ve seen the personal savings rate reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis slip to 3.6% in August from 6.9% in April, which took a minor bite out of personal spending.

If we see a more pronounced level of spending, it could be a headwind to an economy that is reliant on the consumer to open his or her wallet and spend. The silver lining if that comes about is those companies that we’ve identified as riding our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme are likely to see a more favorable tailwind.

 

A new Bankrate survey finds that 66 percent of Americans are limiting their spending each month. Among those who are curbing their spending, 36 percent are doing so to save more money (24 percent of all respondents).

With more than 60 percent of Americans unable to cover a $1,000 emergency with savings, it’s good news that some are willing to sacrifice to start building cushions for the future.

Americans aren’t just limiting their spending to save: 24 percent of people who are limiting their spending are doing so because their income hasn’t changed, while 17 percent said they have too much debt. Another 11 percent are worried about the economy, and 5 percent are worried about the economy.

Households with incomes of $50,000 per year or more were more likely to say they needed to limit their spending to save. These households were also more likely to report being frugal, on a budget or having no desire to spend more money. They were less likely to cite stagnant income than households with income under $50,000 per year.

Meanwhile, households with income under $30,000 per year had the highest likelihood (13 percent) of citing their worries about the economy as the top reason for limiting spending.

… older Americans aren’t showing the same dedication to saving. Stagnant income was the top response for baby boomers (34 percent) and the Silent Generation (49 percent).

For a generation that is still working, flat-lining wages brings concern. In 2017, the labor force of Americans ages 55 and up accounted for about 23 percent of the average annual labor force. By 2024, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that percentage will increase to almost 25 percent.

Source: Survey: Two-Thirds Of Americans Are Limiting Their Spending — Here’s Why | Bankrate.com

Breaking down the ISM Manufacturing Report plus Paccar and Costco updates

Breaking down the ISM Manufacturing Report plus Paccar and Costco updates

Key points inside this issue

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

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

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

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

 

An update on Paccar and a reminder on Costco Wholesale

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

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

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

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

 

Weekly Issue: Continued Volatility Puts Us in a Holding Pattern

Weekly Issue: Continued Volatility Puts Us in a Holding Pattern

Volatility returned to the market this week, but unlike the last several it wasn’t driven primarily by trade war and concerns over escalating tariff. This time it began with concerns over Turkey, its flip-flopping currency and contagion concerns with other emerging markets and spread with tumbling oil and metal prices reigniting concerns over a global slowdown due in part to China’s slowing economy.

One of the more closely watched metals as a leading indicator of the economy is copper — or as it’s known in the financial markets as Dr. Copper— because it is utilized in a number of different sectors, from home construction and consumer products to manufacturing. Yesterday, copper prices hit their lowest levels in 13 months, entering a bear market, potentially signaling an economic slowdown is happening around the world.

 

 

The culprit of that downward price move? This week, China reported weaker-than-expected industrial production and retail sales growth, raising worries that the second-largest economy in the world could be headed for a slowdown.

Against that backdrop and the escalated tariffs against China, it appears the Chinese government may have blinked last night as it was the Chinese Commerce Ministry announced a delegation will travel to the United States later this month for talks for another round of trade talks. The Chinese delegation will be led by Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen, who will hold talks with David Malpass, the US Treasury Department’s undersecretary for international affairs, according to the Chinese statement.

That news led to a rebound in Asian markets earlier today, and as I write this US futures are up nicely, looking to reverse yesterdays’ losses. While there is reason to be hopeful, we also know the devil will be in the details as both the US and China will be looking to claim victory in the upcoming round of trade talks…. Assuming they are able to hammer out a new pact. Mixed with the seasonally slow trading volume, we are likely to see the volatility continue.

I remain optimistic that President Trump and his team will be able to negotiate a better trade deal with China. Odds are it won’t be perfect, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be better. At the same time, however, Trump is once again threatening to shut the US government down and has tied funding the government to a showdown on the border wall. The Senate returned to work yesterday, and the U.S. House will return Sept. 4. With the federal fiscal year ending on Sept. 30, Congress a short time frame to find a fix. We could very well be in for another game of chicken, and one that could put some additional indigestion in the mouths of investors.

As I look ahead, next Thursday (Aug. 23) brings the IHS Markit Flash August PMI data, which should inform us as to the impact of tariffs that have been enacted of late. Between now and then, we should get some additional details on the upcoming round of US-China trade talks. For now, the risk is the market overreacts to the news US-China talks will resume. As I said above, I’m hopeful but as someone that looks below the headlines, I’m holding off doing anything with the Tematica Options+ Select List until we have more details on what those conversations may bring as well the true speed of global economy.

 

Housekeeping

As I shared earlier this week, Dycom Industries (DY) took a hatchet to its top and bottom line forecast for the back half of 2018, which sent the shares tumbling. We took advantage of that, adding to the DY shares position on the Tematica Investing Select List. That same plunge, however, stopped out our Dycom (DY) December 2018 110.00 calls (DY181221C00110000) at 3.00, generating a return of -25.0%.

US Housing market plauged by lack of housing supply and capable buyers as prices climb

US Housing market plauged by lack of housing supply and capable buyers as prices climb

Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins has been rather vocal on the two issues hitting the domestic housing market – a lack of supply and escalating prices that are shrinking the pool of potential buyers.

While one would think homebuilders would respond with more affordable housing, they are also contending with increases to their own cost structure as commodity prices for steel, aluminum, copper and lumber rise. Some of that increase can be traced back to tariff and trade talks, but given limited supply of these materials there is also the Rise of the New Middle Class factor as well.

Usually when there is a paint point such as this, there is or tends to be an eventual solution. This has and will hold true as well, but it likely means the housing multiplier effect on the economy won’t be what it was in the past… and that’s not counting the demographic impact to be had associated with our Aging of the Population investing theme.

Lest I forget, prospects for continued housing price increases will add wood to the inflation hawk fire. Team Tematica will be looking for signs of this not only in the regular data we watch, but also in the Fed’s comments.

 

After losing over a third of their value a decade ago, which led to the financial crisis and a deep recession, U.S. house prices have regained those losses.

But supply has not been able to keep up with rising demand, making homeownership less affordable.

Annual average earnings growth has remained below 3 percent even as house price rises have averaged more than 5 percent over the last few years.

The latest poll of nearly 45 analysts taken May 16-June 5 showed the S&P/Case Shiller composite index of home prices in 20 cities is expected to gain a further 5.7 percent this year.

That compared to predictions for average earnings growth of 2.8 percent and inflation of 2.5 percent 2018, according to a separate Reuters poll of economists. [ECILT/US]U.S. house prices are then forecast to rise 4.3 percent next year and 3.6 percent in 2020.

A further breakdown of the April data showed the inventory of existing homes had declined for 35 straight months on an annual basis while the median house price was up for a 74th consecutive month.

Source: U.S. house prices to rise at twice the speed of inflation and pay: Reuters poll | Reuters

The Tematica take on Fed hikes, balance sheet contraction and other works of creative fiction

The Tematica take on Fed hikes, balance sheet contraction and other works of creative fiction

As we all know by now, the Fed exited its September monetary policy meeting yesterday. Chairwoman Janet Yellen said that in the Fed’s view, the domestic economy is on solid enough footing to handle another Fed rate increase before the end of the year as well as the initiation of the Fed’s plan to unwind its $4.5 trillion balance sheet. This view effectively brushes aside the fact that the Fed’s inflation target has yet to be realized, despite its herculean monetary policy efforts, and in the near-term, the economy is headed for a tumble following hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and maybe more depending on how Hurricane Maria develops.

In recent days, we’ve seen several cuts to GDP expectations for the current quarter, including from the Atlanta Federal Reserve as well as several investment bank economists. The general thinking is that Hurricanes Harvey and Irma trimmed roughly 1% off of economic activity. With the bulk of the damage coming in September, including what we have yet to experience with Maria, we’ll have a fuller sense of the trifecta’s extent in October when we get the September data.

The market reaction to the FOMC statement is that it was more hawkish than what had already been priced in. While the market was priced at a 50/50 chance for a rate hike before the end of the year, the now infamous dot-plot shows that 12 of the 16 members expect one more hike this year, with one expecting two. In sharing the committee’s view Chairwoman Yellen remarked, “The median projection for the federal funds rate is 1.4 percent at the end of this year, 2.1 percent at the end of next year, 2.7 percent at the end of 2019, and 2.9 percent in 2020.”

This means the next rate hike, which is now likely to occur in December,  will be a quarter point in nature, and based on the Fed’s forecast the three targeted rate hikes in 2018 are likely to be of the same magnitude. As Yellen shared this, she once again cautioned the Fed will remain “data dependent” in its thinking. As the markets recalibrate from a 50% likelihood to the new 70% that we will see another hike in 2017, gold lost $10 per ounce, the dollar gained some strength and the yield on the 2-year rose 4 basis points while the long bond has barely moved, flattening the yield curve.

From our perspective, with a recovery that is increasingly long in the tooth (something that is not likely lost on Yellen and the Fed heads), we see the Fed looking to regain monetary stimulus firepower ahead of the next eventual recession. To be clear, we’re not calling for one, just recognizing that at some point one will happen – it’s the nature of the business cycle. As we share that reality, we’d also note that historically the Fed has a very good track record of boosting rates as the economy heads into a recession.

We’d like to point out that while most are viewing these minutes as more hawkish than expected, the phrasing of their economic analysis has become more sedate. Oh for the days when we didn’t need to analyze every little word out of the Fed like a bunch of teenagers assessing the meaning of their crush’s every utterance! The Fed’s assessment of unemployment has dropped the reference to “has declined,” leaving just “unemployment rate has stayed low.” With respect to spending, the wording has gone from “continued to expand” in July to “expanding at a moderate rate.” As for the dot plots, of the four FOMC members who expected two more hikes in 2017, only one remains.

As much as the Fed will likely try to avoid that and preserve Yellen’s time as chairwoman, it’s different this time. Next month, the Fed will begin unwinding its balance sheet that bulked as a result of its quantitative easing measures. The Fed admits to “months of careful preparation,” but let’s be real here, this is unlike anything we have seen before as the Fed expects to boost interest rates further. Yes, the Fed will baby step with its balance sheet as its targets selling no more than “$6 billion per month in Treasuries and $4 billion per month for agencies” in 2017. In 2018, however, those caps will rise to “maximums of $30 billion per month for treasuries and $20 billion per month for agency securities.” Given the Fed’s balance sheet weighs in at a hefty $4.5 trillion, this is poised to be a lengthy process and we suspect that as well intended as the Fed’s thinking on this is, odds are there are likely to be some unintended consequences.

The question we continue to ponder is whether the economy is strong enough to not falter as the Fed ramps its selling while boosting rates. Even the Fed sees GPD falling from its 2.4% forecast this year to “about 2 percent in 2018 and 2019. By 2020, the median growth projection moderates to 1.8 percent.” To get to that 2.4%, we need the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow forecast for 2.2% in Q3 to materialize, which we think is going to be tough given the impact of this season of insane storms, as well as at least a 3% bump in Q4. Our bets are that’s about as likely as either of us giving up chocolate.

As we mull this forecast vs. the business cycle, we must keep in mind the Fed is ever the cheerleader for the economy and tends to be optimistic with its GDP forecasts. We prefer to be Rhonda Realist vs. Debbie Downer or Cheery Charles, and when we triangulate the Fed’s comments, we continue to think it’s underlying strategy is to re-arm itself for the next downturn.

 

 

 

Assessing the Market as We Get Ready for 1Q17 Earnings Deluge

Assessing the Market as We Get Ready for 1Q17 Earnings Deluge

Despite yesterday’s move higher in the stock market, March to date has seen the Dow Jones Industrial Average move modestly lower with a larger decline in the Russell 2000. Only the Nasdaq Composite Index has climbed higher in March, bringing its year to date return to more than 9 percent, making it the best performing index thus far in 2017. By comparison, the Dow is up 4.75 percent, the S&P 500 up 5.35 percent and the small-cap heavy Russell 2000 up just 0.75 percent year to date.

So what’s caused the move lower in the stock market during March, bucking the upward trend the market enjoyed since Election Day 2016?

Despite the favorable soft data like consumer confidence and sentiment readings, investors are waking to the growing disconnect between post-election expectations and the likely reality between domestic economic growth and earnings prospects. Fueling the realization is the move lower in 1Q 2017 earnings expectations for the S&P 500, per data from FactSet, as well as several snafus in Washington, including the pulling of the vote for the GOP healthcare plan. These have raised questions about the timing and impact of President Trump’s stimulative policies that include infrastructure spending and tax reform.

We’ve been steadfast in our view that the earliest Trump’s policies could possibly impact the US economy was late 2017, with a more dramatic impact in 2018. On a side note, we agree with others that would have preferred to have team Trump focus on infrastructure spending and tax reform ahead of the Affordable Care Act. As we see it, focusing on infrastructure spending combined with corporate tax reform first would have boosted confidence and sentiment while potentially waking the economy from its 1.6 to 2.6 percent annual real GDP range over the last five years sooner. We’d argue too that that would have likely added to Trump’s political war chest for when it came time to tackle the Affordable Care Act. Oh well.

 

Evolution of Atlanta Fed GDPNow real GDP forecast for 2017: Q1

 

So here we are and the enthusiasm for the Trump Trade is being unraveled as growth slows once again. As depicted above, the most recent forecast for 1Q 2017 GDP from the AtlantaFed’s GDPNow sits at 1.0 percent compared to 1.9 percent for 4Q 2016 and 3.5 percent in 3Q 2016. Even a grade school student understands the slowing nature of that GDP trajectory. Despite all the upbeat confidence and sentiment indicators, the vector and velocity of GDP forecast revisions and push outs in the team Trump timing has led to to the downward move in S&P 500 EPS expectations for the current quarter and 2017 in full.

With Americans missing bank cards payments at the highest levels since July 2013, the delinquency rate for subprime auto loans hitting the highest level in at least seven years and real wage growth continuing to be elusive, the outlook for consumer spending looks questionable. Factor in the aging of the population, which will have additional implications, and it looks like the consumer-led US economy is facing more than a few headwinds to growth in the coming quarters. These same factors don’t bode very well for the already struggling brick & mortar retailers like Macy’s, Sears, JC Penney, Payless and others.

Now here’s the thing, currently, the S&P 500 is trading at 18x 2017 expectations —expectations that are more than likely to be revised down than up as the outlook for U.S. economic growth in the coming quarters is revisited. In three days, we close the books on 1Q 2017 and before too long it means we’ll be hip deep in corporate earnings reports. If what we’ve seen recently from Nike, FedEx, General Mills, Kroger and Target is the norm in the coming weeks, it means we’re more likely to see earnings expectations revised even lower for the coming year.

While it’s too early to say 2017 expectations will be revised as steeply as they were in 2016, (which started the year off with the expectation of a 7.6 percent increase year over year but ended with only a 0.5 percent increase following 4Q 2016 reporting), but any additional downward revisions will either serve to make the market even more expensive than it currently is or lead to a resumption of the recent downward move in the market. Either way, odds are there is a greater risk to the downside than the upside for the market in the coming weeks.

Buckle up; it’s bound to get a little bouncy.

Friday’s January Job Report a Blowout, But There’s More You Need to Know

Friday’s January Job Report a Blowout, But There’s More You Need to Know

This morning’s January Employment Report showed the economy added 227K  jobs in January, beating consensus expectations for 170K jobs.  This comes after the surge in January private sector jobs to 246K vs. the expected 165K reported by ADP earlier this week. Great to see some data to back up the uber-optimistic market these days, but there is a bit more to this story.

While the headline number looked great, digging beneath the headline and into the details the report wasn’t as rosy. If we take into account that revisions to the prior two months reduced jobs by 39k, the average is closer to expectations and the 3 month moving average is less impressive.

We also saw a decline in employment in the key working age group of 25-54-year-olds of 305k, which was partially offset by a 195k increase in 55+ employment – more near retirement working and fewer in prime working years isn’t a positive sign. Looking at the bigger picture, job growth averaged 239k in 2014, falling to 213k in 2015 and this report brings the recent 12-month average to 182k. The pace of job growth continues to slow,  total payrolls rose now up 1.6 percent year over year versus 1.9 percent in the first quarter of 2016, which is typical with an economic recovery that is rather long in the tooth.

We also saw an increase in those working part-time because they cannot find full-time work by 232k – we’d obviously prefer to see that decline. Those expecting a Fed rate hike soon should note that this is one of Fed Chair Yellen’s favorite metrics.

 

Along these lines, we saw the underemployment rate (as measured by the U6) rise to a three-month high of 9.4 percent from December’s 9.2 percent.

Along with that increase in part-time workers, we saw the change in weekly hours worked drop to a rate not seen since the recession, which indicates that future strong job growth is less likely.

 

More frustrating is the lack of meaningful wage growth, rising just 0.1 percent month over month and 2.5 percent year over year, the weakest year over year gain since last March. Average weekly earnings saw the weakest gain in six months at 1.9 percent.

 

One of the biggest challenges facing the employment situation is the mismatch between available labor and business needs. Small businesses are finding it increasingly more difficult to find qualified talent for the position they are looking to fill, which clearly negatively impacts their ability to grow – another headwind to the economy. This is also reflected in the record level spread between job openings and hirings we see every month in the JOLTS report. Our next take on that data comes next week with the December report.

 

All this those doesn’t address the much bigger issue the country is facing and this is what investors need to understand far more than the monthly fluctuations.

The growth of an economy is dependent on just two things: the size of the available workforce and productivity levels. For an economy to grow one or ideally both of those need to be rising.

It has become a popular refrain to refer to President Trump as the next Ronald Reagan, implying that his policies will lead to the type of economic boom that the country experience during and after Reagan’s presidency. We’d love nothing more than for the country to see that kind of growth again, but the fundamentals today are very different from those in the 1980s.

When Reagan took office median baby boomers were moving into their prime working age and the percent of women in the workforce was rising significantly.

 

When Reagan took office, less than 50 percent of women were employed. That number peaked in 2000 at 58 percent but has declined to just 54.1 percent in January.

 

The weak employment relative to total population though isn’t all about the baby boomers retiring as the percent of those in the prime working age cohort ages 25 to 54 years rose dramatically from the early 1980s to just over 72 percent to a peak of over 81 percent in 2000. As of January, 78.2 percent are employed, a level we haven’t seen, outside of a recession, since the late 1980s.

You might have heard as well that fertility rates in developed economies have been slowing dramatically. In many European nations the rate has dropped below replacement levels, which means that without immigration, the total population of those countries would be declining. In the U.S. the rate of growth of the working population, either through immigration or native births has been slowing significantly.

 

The potential growth rate of the U.S. economy is materially different today than during Reagan’s era because of significant changes in the dynamics of the labor pool. Today the percent of people choosing to be in the workforce is lower than it has been in decades. Compounding this problem, the growth rate in the working age population has slowed dramatically from where it was in the 1980s.

To increase the potential growth rate for the economy, outside of any handicaps placed on it through legislation, regulation or taxation, the population of those in the workforce needs to increase and/or productivity needs to rise.

When it comes to productivity, it is all about capital investment and for years we’ve seen companies choosing to buy back shares rather than reinvest in their own productive capacity… but that’s a topic for next time!