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.


TRADE ALERT: Freight pain leads to this Economic Acceleration/Deceleration addition

TRADE ALERT: Freight pain leads to this Economic Acceleration/Deceleration addition



  • We are issuing a Buy on truck company Paccar (PCAR) with an $85 price target as part of our Economic Acceleration/Deceleration investment theme.

With the market’s volatility over the last several days, a number of stocks are revisiting levels that are 5%, 10%, 15% lower than they stood at end of January. And while investors have been thunderstruck by the market gyrations, the day to day data from the December quarter earnings season as well as recent economic data, has continued to confirm certain opportunities. One of the recurring drum beats this earnings season has been companies ranging from Tyson Foods (TSN, Hershey (HSY), Packaging Corp. of America (PKG), Sysco (SYY) and J.M. Smucker (SJM) to Tractor Supply (TSCO) and Prestige Brands (PBH) talking about rising freight costs and the impact on earnings.

One of the culprits is the national shortage in available trucks, which has sent shipping costs soaring, with retailers and manufacturers in some cases paying over 30% above typical rates to book last-minute transportation for cargo. This, of course, goes hand in hand with the accelerating shift toward digital commerce that we talk about, a shift that led Amazon to correctly assess back in 2013 that as more shoppers bought products online, “parcel volume was growing too rapidly for existing carriers to handle.” As that shift to digital commerce has happened, we’ve seen that forward-looking view come to play out, and odds are it’s only going to get worse. According to Statista, e-commerce sales accounted for 9.1% of total U.S. retail sales in 3Q 2017, but we see that only growing further. In South Korea, e-commerce represented 18% of all retail sales in 2016 with forecasts calling for that percentage to reach 31% by 2021. We may not reach such a level for years to come, but each percentage point that e-commerce gains, means more product that needs to be shipped from a warehouse to the buyer.

Historically, the trucking industry has been associated with the economic cycle. When the economy is growing, more goods (parts, subassemblies, products) need to be shipped to customers at factories, distribution sites, warehouses and so on. According to the American Trucking Association, the trucking industry accounts for 70.6% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. This has made freight traffic a good barometer of the economy, and the December year over year increase of 7.2% in the Cass Shipments Index capped off a year in which the ATA’s truck tonnage index rose 3.7%, the strongest annual gain since 2013.


As truck tonnage climbed in late 2016 and 2017, industry capacity has been tightening after tepid tonnage in most of 2015 and the first half of 2016 leading to the robust jump in freight costs we described above. This data point from DAT Solutions puts in all into perspective – “there were about 10 loads waiting to be moved for every available truck in the week ending Jan. 20, compared with three in the same week last year…”


As freight costs climbed in the back half of 2017, so too did heavy truck orders, which have continued to climb into 2018. According to ACT Research, December 2017, which saw a 76% increase in truck order volume was the best month for orders since December 2014. In full, due to the year-end surge, 2017 saw truck orders hit 290,000 units, up 60% year over year. That strength continued into January with monthly truck orders hitting some 47,000 units, the highest level since 2006.



This data is not surprising, given that for the first three weeks of January, national average spot truckload rates were higher than during the peak season in 2017, according to DAT. January was also the fourth consecutive month in which truck orders were above the 30,000 mark. Initial heavy truck forecasts put orders near 300,000 for 2018, however tight industry capacity combined with companies that are benefitting from tax reform and looking to replace older, less fuel-efficient trucks, we could see that some lift to that forecast in the coming months.

But that’s heavy truck orders, and while four months above 30,000 paves the way for a pick-up in business, the real question to focus on is heavy truck retail sales. Heavy truck, otherwise known in the industry as class 8 trucks, industry retail sales were 218,000 units in 2017, compared to 216,000 vehicles sold in 2016, with forecasts calling for 235,000-265,000 trucks to be sold in the U.S. and Canada during 2018.

Looking outside the U.S. and Canada, the data shows an improving European economy and that should give way to a favorable truck market there as well. European truck industry sales above 16-tonnes were a robust 306,000 trucks in 2017, and It is estimated that European truck industry sales in that category will be in the range of 290,000 to 320,000 trucks in 2018.


Paccar – more than a leading heavy truck company

And that brings us to Paccar (PCAR), whose shares have fallen some 15% as the domestic stock market moved sharply lower over the last two weeks. The company is an assembler of heavy-duty trucks, with an estimated market share near 31% in the U.S. and Canada, as well as medium duty trucks (think the kind you see being driven locally by United Parcel Services (UPS) and FedEx (FDX)). That business drove 53% of its truck deliveries in 2017, with the balance coming from Europe (36%) and other markets (11%). As truck retail sales improve in the U.S., Canada and Europe, even absent additional share gains, Paccar’s truck business in terms of revenues and profits should see a nice lift.

The improving truck market also bodes well for Paccar’s high margin truck financing business – while it generated just 6.5% of total revenue in 2017 with operating margins that are more than double the truck business, it accounted for 12% of overall operating profits.

The third leg to the Paccar stool is its Parts business (20% of 2017 revenue, 28% of 2017 operating profit), which stands to benefit from the time lag between truck orders and sales in a capacity constrained industry, where up-time for existing equipment will be crucial.

Given the industry dynamics and Paccar’s position, we are seeing revenue and earnings expectations move higher in recent weeks, with the current consensus calling for EPS of $5.34 this year up from $4.26 in 2017 on a 13% revenue increase to $20.6 billion. With the company only recently sharing its 2018 tax rate will be 23%-25% vs. 31% in 2017, we could see the 2018 consensus move higher in the coming weeks.

As mentioned above, Paccar’s share price has fallen some 15% in the last two weeks, which in our view makes the shares rather compelling given our $85 price target. That target equates to just under 16x 2018 EPS. Over the prior seven years, PCAR shares have bottomed at an average P/E of 12.2x, which derives a downside target of $67.65 based on current 2018 EPS expectations. On the upside, the average peak multiple over those same years of just over 17x hints at a potential price target near $95. Looking at a dividend yield valuation, we see upside vs. downside of $82 vs. $60.

As we add the shares, we’ll split the difference with an $85 price target, and we’ll look to aggressively scale into the shares should the market come under further pressure and drag PCAR shares closer to $60. In terms of sign posts to watch for the shares in the coming days and weeks, monthly heavy truck data as well as tonnage stats and manufacturing industrial production data is what we’ll be watching. As the current earnings season winds on, we’ll be focusing on the results and outlook from Rush Enterprises (RUSHA), which owns the largest network of commercial dealerships in the U.S., with more than 100 dealerships in 21 states.


The bottom line for this alert today:

  • On Monday morning we are adding Paccar (PCAR) shares to the Tematica Investing Select List.
  • Our price target for PCAR shares is $85, nearly 26% above where the shares closed on Friday February 9.
  • At this time we are not setting a protective stop loss, but instead will look to scale further into the shares should further pressure drag them closer to $60 per share. 


The Expanding Pain Point Fueling Safety and Security Investment Theme

The Expanding Pain Point Fueling Safety and Security Investment Theme

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been reminded of the dark side of our increasingly Connected Society, given cyber attacks and hacks at Equifax (EFX) and more recently Amazon’s (AMZN) Whole Foods and Sonic Corp. (SONC). Those are but a handful of examples in what is an expanding pain point that is fueling our Safety & Security investing theme and the ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK)* shares on the Tematica Investing Select List.

Unsurprisingly to us, there is yet another new report that not only paints a gloomier picture but also forecasts a continued ramp in cyber attacks. We see this as confirming our $35 price target on HACK shares over the coming quarters. New research by Gemalto showed that almost 2 billion data records around the world were lost or stolen by cyber attacks in the first half of 2017. Worse yet, the number of breaches is slated to rise further. Per the latest Gemalto breach level index report, there were 918 breaches during the first six months of 2017, and of those breaches, 500 had an unknown number of compromised records. Meanwhile, the top 22 breaches involved more than one million compromised records.

With new regulations such as the U.K. data protection bill, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and Australia’s Privacy Amendment (Notifiable Data Breaches) Act set to come into force in the coming months and quarters, odds are we will see another step up in the number of reported security breaches. No wonder in its latest annual results, consulting firm Deloitte described cybersecurity as a “high growth area” for the firm.

A somewhat different view on this was had with FedEx’s (FDX) recent earnings report, in which it copped to the fact that cyberattack Petya cost the company around $300 million dollars. This should serve as a reminder the impact of a cyber attack can cost a company day to day, but it also has implications for its stock price when it misses earnings expectations.

We see all of the above as a reminder of the incremental spending to be had to fend and secure companies from prospective cyberattacks, a good thing for the companies contained inside the HACK ETF.

  • Our price target on Safety & Security investing position in the ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK) remains $35.


* One quick housekeeping item, there was a recent name change for HACK shares to ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF from PureFunds. The underlying strategy of the ETF and its focus on cybersecurity stocks remains intact.

WEEKLY ISSUE: Business as usual ahead of the Fed’s September policy meeting

WEEKLY ISSUE: Business as usual ahead of the Fed’s September policy meeting

Stocks continued to inch higher over the last several days ahead of today’s next Fed policy meeting. Over the last few days, we’ve seen GDP expectations for the current quarter revised lower from economists, regional Fed banks and even companies like FedEx (FDX), which sees GDP hitting all of 2.2% this year. I continue to see the Fed taking yet another pass on boosting interest rates later today, and given the impact from the recent hurricanes, the team Tematica view is that while next potential interest rate hike could come late this year, it’s more likely going to be in 1Q 2018.

The more closely watched item in the Fed’s comments will be timing for its balance sheet unwinding, and that means parsing the Fed-speak out this afternoon. Much like interest rates, I suspect the Fed will take a pass this month on kicking that initiative off and revisit the strength of the economy at its October/November meeting, but again, more on that once we have parsed the Fed’s words. We’ll have the Tematica take and what it means for the markets as well as the Tematica Investing Select List tomorrow morning.

Keeping the market somewhat in check yesterday was President Trump’s address to the United Nations General Assembly at which he shared he will take a hard line, vowing to “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatened the United States or its allies. Nothing keeps uncertainty alive lately quite like political drama in DC. Such drams also now includes questions over the potential benefits to the domestic economy with corporate tax reform at a time when the federal budget deficit continues to climb. Let’s also remember we are on the cusp of the 2017 election season, and even as President Trump reaches across the aisle, odds are it won’t be an all “cookies and warm milk” as politicians are vying for their own jobs.  For this reason, I see tax reform more likely toward the end of 2017, which happens to be when the debt ceiling conversation will be resumed.


Earnings this week, set the stage for coming 3Q 2107 season

Over the next week and a half we will close the books on 3Q 2017 and face quarterly earnings. Before too long the year-end holidays will be upon us. Last night we had a few earnings reports from FedEx, Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) and Adobe Systems (ADBE), and today all three stocks are trending lower. Part of the reason for FedEx missing expectations last night was the disruption it faced due to its recent cyber attack. Such attacks are yet another reminder that the cybersecurity aspect of our Safety & Security theme is a form of insurance in our Connected Society. This keeps us long-term bullish on PureFunds ISE Cyber Security ETF (HACK) shares.

Despite a beat at Adobe, the company signaled softer than expected growth for its cloud business. When paired with revenue guidance that was in line with expectations and the stocks sky-high valuation near 40x 2017 earnings per share, it’s not surprising to see ADBE shares trading off today. I point this out because it is another example of good news being ill-received on Wall Street — another reason to think the next few weeks will continue to be volatile.

  • Our price target on PureFunds ISE Cyber Security ETF (HACK) shares remains $35.



Another brick & mortar retailer looks to leverage Amazon

While earnings reports from FDX, BBBY and ADBE will factor into our larger thinking, what I found far more interesting was the new partnership announced between thematic investing poster child Amazon (AMZN) and retailer Kohl’s (KSS), which includes Kohl’s offering to accept returns for Amazon customers at 82 stores in Los Angeles and Chicago. This is yet another example of a retail-facing company looking to partner with Amazon, and to me, it speaks to the logistics power that is one of Amazon’s core strengths.

Perhaps the management team at Kohl’s saw what I did in the last week’s August Retail Sales Report –  continued pain at department stores as shoppers continue to shift spending to digital platforms. As much pain as we here at Tematica see for brick & mortar retailers in the upcoming year-end holiday shopping season, we see a similar amount of opportunity for Amazon given its footprint expansion over the last year.

  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $1,150, which keeps the shares a Buy on the Tematica Investing Select List.



Results at United Natural Foods offer comfort for Amplify Snacks

One of the positions that has been lagging this market move higher is Food with Integrity company Amplify Snacks (BETR), and we used August pullback to improve our cost basis. Since that scaling, BETR shares have once again languished, but commentary last week from United Natural Foods (UNFI) offered a confirming perspective. In United Natural’s earnings report it shared its supernatural net sales were up approximately 6.8% year over year and its supermarket channel net sales increased 8.3% year over year in the quarter. To me, that points to consumers continuing to embrace food that is good for you and bodes rather well for healthy snacking options offered by Amplify. Anecdotally, after visiting several Whole Foods locations over the weekend we can attest to a rebound in traffic and shopping bags.

We will continue to be patient with Amplify Snacks (BETR) shares as the company expands its product offering as well as its reach beyond the U.S. As we have said, we see Amplify as a potential acquisition candidate for PepsiCo (PEP), Snyder’s-Lance (LNCE), Post Holdings (POST), General Mills (GIS) or another snack-food company as they look to expand their presence in the “better for you food” snacking category.

  • Our price target on Amplify Snacks (BETR) shares remains $11



Recapping moves made earlier this week

As we get ready for what lies ahead over the coming weeks, we made some maneuverings with the Tematica Select List earlier this week. Those moves included adding two new Buy rated positions – LSI Industries (LYTS) and Nokia Corp. (NOK) – and we exited shares of CalAmp Corp. (CAMP). I’d note that one day after we added NOK shares to the Select List, UBS unveiled a “buy” rating on the shares.

Also, this week, our shares of Applied Materials (AMAT) were upgraded to “outperform” at RBC Capital Markets with a new $55 price target; if you’re thinking “that $55 price target sounds familiar” it’s because it has been our AMAT price target for months. As a reminder, Applied will host its 2017 Analyst Day on Sept. 27, and I see that offering an upbeat dialog for both its display  semiconductor capital equipment businesses

  • Our price target on LSI Industries (LYTS) remains $10
    Our price target on Nokia Corp. (NOK) remains $8.50
    Our price target on Applied Materials (AMAT) remains $55


Speaking of displays and price targets, yesterday we increased our price target on Universal Display (OLED) shares to $175 from $135, and we are evaluating potential stop loss levels for this position.

As we close this week’s issue, we’d suggest subscribers that missed yesterday’s comments on the current corn harvest as well as a potential longer-term disruptor to corn supply-demand dynamics and what it means for the Teucrium Corn Fund (CORN) shares on the Select List give them a whirl.

  • Our long-term price target on Teucrium Corn Fund (CORN) shares remains $25.