Doubling Down on Digital Infrastructure Thematic Leader

Doubling Down on Digital Infrastructure Thematic Leader

Key point inside this issue

  • We are doubling down on Dycom (DY) shares on the Thematic Leader board and adjusting our price target to $80 from $100, which still offers significant upside from our new cost basis as the 5G and gigabit fiber buildout continues over the coming quarters.

We are coming at you earlier than usual this week in part to share my thoughts on all of the economic data we received late last week.

 

Last week’s data confirms the US economy is slowing

With two-thirds of the current quarter behind now in the books, the continued move higher in the markets has all the major indices up double-digits year to date, ranging from around 11.5-12.0%% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 to nearly 18% for the small-cap heavy Russell 2000. In recent weeks we have discussed my growing concerns that the market’s melt-up hinges primarily on U.S.-China trade deal prospects as earnings expectations for this year have been moving lower, dividend cuts have been growing and the global economy continues to slow. The U.S. continues to look like the best economic house on the block even though it, too, is slowing.

On Friday, a round of IHS Markit February PMI reports showed that three of the four global economic horsemen — Japan, China, and the eurozone — were in contraction territory for the month. New orders in Japan and China improved but fell in the eurozone, which likely means those economies will continue to slug it out in the near-term especially since export orders across all three regions fell month over month. December-quarter GDP was revealed to be 2.6% sequentially, which equates to a 3.1% improvement year over year but is down compared to the 3.5% GDP reading of the September quarter and 4.2% in the June one.  Slower growth to be sure, but still growing in the December quarter.

Before we break out the bubbly, though, the IHS Markit February U.S. Manufacturing PMI fell to its lowest reading in 18 months as rates of output and new order growth softened as did inflationary pressures. This data suggest the U.S. manufacturing sector is growing at its slowest rate in several quarters, as did the February ISM Manufacturing Index reading, which slipped month over month and missed expectations. Declines were seen almost across the board for that ISM index save for new export orders, which grew modestly month over month. The new order component of the February ISM Manufacturing Index dropped to 55.5 from 58.2 in January, but candidly this line item has been all over the place the last few months. The January figure rebounded nicely from 51.3 in December, which was down sharply from 61.8 in November. This zig-zag pattern likely reflects growing uncertainty in the manufacturing economy given the pace of the global economy and uncertainty on the trade front. Generally speaking though, falling orders translate into a slower production and this means carefully watching both the ISM and IHS Markit data over the coming months.

In sum, the manufacturing economy across the four key economies continued to slow in February. On a wider, more global scale, J.P. Morgan’s Global Manufacturing PMI fell to 50.6 in February, its lowest level since June 2016. Per J.P. Morgan’s findings, “the rate of expansion in new orders stayed close to the stagnation mark,” which suggests we are not likely to see a pronounced rebound in the near-term. We see this as allowing the Fed to keep its dovish view, and as we discuss below odds are it will be joined by the European Central Bank this week.

Other data out Friday included the December readings for Personal Income & Spending and the January take on Personal Income. The key takeaway was personal income fell for the first time in more than three years during January, easily coming in below the gains expected by economists. Those pieces of data not only help explain the recent December Retail Sales miss but alongside reports of consumer credit card debt topping $1 trillion and record delinquencies for auto and student loans, point to more tepid consumer spending ahead. As I’ve shared before, that is a headwind for the overall US economy but also a tailwind for those companies, like Middle-class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale (COST), that help consumers stretch the disposable income they do have.

We have talked quite a bit in recent Tematica Investing issues about revisions to S&P 500 2019 EPS estimates, which at last count stood at +4.7% year over year, down significantly from over +11% at the start of the December quarter. Given the rash of reports last week – more than 750 in total –  we will likely see that expected rate of growth tweaked a bit lower.

Putting it all together, we have a slowing U.S. and global economy, EPS cuts that are making the stock market incrementally more expensive as it has moved higher in recent weeks, and a growing number of dividend cuts. Clearly, the stock market has been melting up over the last several weeks on increasing hopes over a favorable trade deal with China, but last week we saw President Trump abruptly end the summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un with no joint agreement after Kim insisted all U.S. sanctions be lifted on his country. This action spooked the market, leading some to revisit the potential for a favorable trade deal between the U.S. and China.

Measuring the success of any trade agreement will hinge on the details. Should it fail to live up to expectations, which is a distinct possibility, we could very well see a “buy the rumor, sell the news” situation arise in the stock market. As I watch for these developments to unfold, given the mismatch in the stock market between earnings and dividends vs. the market’s move thus far in 2019 I will also be watching insider selling in general but also for those companies on the Thematic Leader Board as well as the Tematica Select List. While insiders can be sellers for a variety of reasons, should we see a pronounced and somewhat across the board pick up in such activity, it could be another warning sign.

 

What to Watch This Week

This week we will see a noticeable drop in the velocity of earnings reports, but we will still get a number of data points that investors and economists will use to triangulate the speed of the current quarter’s GDP relative to the 2.6% print for the December quarter. The consensus GDP forecast for the current quarter is for a slower economy at +2.0%, but we have started to see some economists trim their forecasts as more economic data rolls in. Because that data has fallen shy of expectations, it has led the Citibank Economic Surprise Index (CESI) to once again move into negative territory and the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow current quarter forecast now sat at 0.3% as of Friday.

On the economic docket this week, we have December Construction Spending, ISM’s February Non-Manufacturing Index reading, the latest consumer credit figures and the February reports on job creation and unemployment from ADP (ADP) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With Home Depot (HD) reporting relatively mild December weather, any pronounced shortfall in December Construction Spending will likely serve to confirm the economy is on a slowing vector. Much like we did above with ISM’s February Manufacturing Index we’ll be looking into the Non-Manufacturing data to determine demand and inflation dynamics as well as the tone of the services economy.

On the jobs front, while we will be watching the numbers created, including any aberration owing to the recent federal government shutdown, it will be the wage and hours worked data that we’ll be focusing on. Wage data will show signs of any inflationary pressures, while hours worked will indicate how much labor slack there is in the economy. The consumer is in a tighter spot financially speaking, which was reflected in recent retail sales and personal spending data. Recognizing the role consumer spending plays in the overall speed of the U.S. economy, we will be scrutinizing the upcoming consumer credit data rather closely.

In addition to the hard data, we’ll also get the Fed’s latest Beige Book, which should provide a feel for how the regional economies are faring thus far in 2019. Speaking of central bankers, next Wednesday will bring the results of the next European Central Bank meeting. Given the data depicted in the February IHS Markit reports we discussed above, the probability is high the ECB will join the Fed in a more dovish tone.

While the velocity of earnings reports does indeed drop dramatically next week, there will still be several reports worth digging into, including Ross Stores (ROST), Kohl’s (KSS), Target (TGT), BJ’s Wholesale (BJ), and Middle-class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale (COST) will also issue their latest quarterly results. Those reports combined with the ones this week, including solid results from TJX Companies (TJX) last week should offer a more complete look at consumer spending, and where that spending is occurring. Given the discussion several paragraphs above, TJX’s results last week, and the monthly sales reports from Costco, odds are quite good that Costco should serve up yet another report showcasing consumer wallet share gains.

Outside of apparel and home, reports from United Natural Foods (UNFI) and National Beverage (FIZZ) should corroborate the accelerating shift toward food and beverages that are part of our Cleaner Living investing theme. In that vein, I’ll be intrigued to see what Tematica Select List resident International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) has to say about the demand for its line of organic and natural solutions.

The same can be said with Kroger (KR) as well as its efforts to fend off Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) and Walmart (WMT). Tucked inside of Kroger’s comments, we will be curious to see what the company says about digital grocery shopping and delivery. On Kroger’s last earnings conference call, Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen shared the following, “We are aggressively investing to build digital platforms because they give our customers the ability to have anything, anytime, anywhere from Kroger, and because they’re a catalyst to grow our business and improve margins in the future.” Now to see what progress has been achieved over the last 90 or so days and what Kroger has to say about the late-Friday report that Amazon will launch its own chain of supermarkets.

 

Tematica Investing

As you can see in the chart above, for the most part, our Thematic Leaders have been delivering solid performance. Shares of Costco Wholesale (COST) and Nokia (NOK) are notable laggards, but with Costco’s earnings report later this week which will also include its February same-store sales, I see the company’s business and the shares once again coming back into investor favor as it continues to win consumer wallet share. That was clearly evident in its December and January same-store sales reports. With Nokia, coming out of Mobile World Congress 2019 last week, we have confirmation that 5G is progressing, with more network launches coming and more devices coming as well in the coming quarters. We’ll continue to be patient with NOK shares.

 

Adding significantly to our position in Thematic Leader Dycom Industries

There are two positions on the leader board – Aging of the Population AMN Healthcare (AMN) and Digital Infrastructure Dycom Industries (DY) – that are in the red. The recent and sharp drop in Dycom shares follows the company’s disappointing quarterly report in which costs grew faster than 14.3% year over year increase in revenue, pressuring margins and the company’s bottom line. As we’ve come to expect this alongside the near-term continuation of those margin pressures, as you can see below, simply whacked DY shares last week, dropping them into oversold territory.

 

When we first discussed Dycom’s business, I pointed out the seasonal tendencies of its business, and that likely means some of the February winter weather brought some added disruptions as will the winter weather that is hitting parts of the country as you read this. Yet, we know that Dycom’s top customers – AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ), Comcast (CMCSA) and CenturyLink (CTL) are busy expanding the footprint of their connective networks. That’s especially true with the 5G buildout efforts at AT&T and Verizon, which on a combined basis accounted for 42% of Dycom’s January quarter revenue.

Above I shared that coming out of Mobile World Congress 2019, commercial 5G deployments are likely to be a 2020 event but as we know the networks, base stations, and backhaul capabilities will need to be installed ahead of those launches. To me, this strongly suggests that Dycom’s business will improve in the coming quarters, and as that happens, it’s bound to move down the cost curve as efficiencies and other aspects of higher utilization are had. For that reason, we are using last week’s 26% drop in DY shares to double our position size in DY shares on the Thematic Leader board. This will reduce our blended cost basis to roughly $64 from the prior $82. As we buy up the shares, I’m also resetting our price target on DY shares to $80, down from the prior $100, which offers significant upside from the current share price and our blended cost basis.

If you’re having second thoughts on this decision, think of it this way – doesn’t it seem rather strange that DY shares would fall by such a degree given the coming buildout that we know is going to occur over the coming quarters? If Dycom’s customers were some small, regional operators I would have some concerns, but that isn’t the case. These customers will build out those networks, and it means Dycom will be put to work in the coming quarters, generating revenue, profits, and cash flow along the way.

In last week’s Tematica Investing I dished on Warren Buffett’s latest letter to Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) shareholders. In thinking about Dycom, another Buffett-ism comes to mind – “Opportunities come infrequently. When it rains gold, put out the bucket, not the thimble.” Since this is a multi-quarter buildout for Dycom, we will need to be patient, but as we know for the famous encounter between the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race.

  • We are doubling down on Dycom (DY) shares on the Thematic Leader board and adjusting our price target to $80 from $100, which still offers significant upside from our new cost basis as the 5G and gigabit fiber buildout continues over the coming quarters.

 

As the pace of earnings slows, over the next few weeks I’ll not only be revisiting the recent 25% drop in Aging of the Population Thematic Leader AMN Healthcare to determine if we should make a similar move like the one we are doing with Dycom, but I’ll also be taking closer looks at wireless charging company Energous Corp. (WATT) and The Alkaline Water Company (WTER). Those two respectively fall under our Disruptive Innovators and Cleaner Living investing themes. Are they worthy of making it onto the Select List or bumping one of our Thematic Leaders? We’ll see…. And as I examine these two, I’m also pouring over some candidates to fill the Guilty Pleasure vacancy on the leader board.

 

 

Adding two Middle-class Squeeze call option positions ahead of earnings this week

Adding two Middle-class Squeeze call option positions ahead of earnings this week

Key point inside this issue

We are coming at you earlier than usual this week in part to share my thoughts on all of the economic data we received late last week, but also to share a new call option trade with you. The timing on that trade is important because the underlying company will report its quarterly results after Tuesday’s (March 5) market close. With that said, let’s get to the issues at hand…

 

Last week’s data confirms the US economy is slowing

With two-thirds of the current quarter behind now in the books, the continued move higher in the markets has all the major indices up double-digits year to date, ranging from around 11.5-12.0%% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 to nearly 18% for the small-cap heavy Russell 2000. In recent weeks we have discussed my growing concerns that the market’s melt-up hinges primarily on U.S.-China trade deal prospects as earnings expectations for this year have been moving lower, dividend cuts have been growing and the global economy continues to slow. The U.S. continues to look like the best economic house on the block even though it, too, is slowing.

On Friday, a round of IHS Markit February PMI reports showed that three of the four global economic horsemen — Japan, China, and the eurozone — were in contraction territory for the month. New orders in Japan and China improved but fell in the eurozone, which likely means those economies will continue to slug it out in the near-term especially since export orders across all three regions fell month over month. December-quarter GDP was revealed to be 2.6% sequentially, which equates to a 3.1% improvement year over year but is down compared to the 3.5% GDP reading of the September quarter and 4.2% in the June one.  Slower growth to be sure, but still growing in the December quarter.

Before we break out the bubbly, though, the IHS Markit February U.S. Manufacturing PMI fell to its lowest reading in 18 months as rates of output and new order growth softened as did inflationary pressures. This data suggest the U.S. manufacturing sector is growing at its slowest rate in several quarters, as did the February ISM Manufacturing Index reading, which slipped month over month and missed expectations. Declines were seen almost across the board for that ISM index save for new export orders, which grew modestly month over month. The new order component of the February ISM Manufacturing Index dropped to 55.5 from 58.2 in January, but candidly this line item has been all over the place the last few months. The January figure rebounded nicely from 51.3 in December, which was down sharply from 61.8 in November. This zig-zag pattern likely reflects growing uncertainty in the manufacturing economy given the pace of the global economy and uncertainty on the trade front. Generally speaking though, falling orders translate into a slower production and this means carefully watching both the ISM and IHS Markit data over the coming months.

In sum, the manufacturing economy across the four key economies continued to slow in February. On a wider, more global scale, J.P. Morgan’s Global Manufacturing PMI fell to 50.6 in February, its lowest level since June 2016. Per J.P. Morgan’s findings, “the rate of expansion in new orders stayed close to the stagnation mark,” which suggests we are not likely to see a pronounced rebound in the near-term. We see this as allowing the Fed to keep its dovish view, and as we discuss below odds are it will be joined by the European Central Bank this week.

Other data out Friday included the December readings for Personal Income & Spending and the January take on Personal Income. The key takeaway was personal income fell for the first time in more than three years during January, easily coming in below the gains expected by economists. Those pieces of data not only help explain the recent December Retail Sales miss but alongside reports of consumer credit card debt topping $1 trillion and record delinquencies for auto and student loans, point to more tepid consumer spending ahead. As I’ve shared before, that is a headwind for the overall US economy but also a tailwind for those companies, like Middle-class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale (COST), that help consumers stretch the disposable income they do have.

We have talked quite a bit in recent Tematica Investing issues about revisions to S&P 500 2019 EPS estimates, which at last count stood at +4.7% year over year, down significantly from over +11% at the start of the December quarter. Given the rash of reports last week – more than 750 in total –  we will likely see that expected rate of growth tweaked a bit lower.

Putting it all together, we have a slowing U.S. and global economy, EPS cuts that are making the stock market incrementally more expensive as it has moved higher in recent weeks, and a growing number of dividend cuts. Clearly, the stock market has been melting up over the last several weeks on increasing hopes over a favorable trade deal with China, but last week we saw President Trump abruptly end the summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un with no joint agreement after Kim insisted all U.S. sanctions be lifted on his country. This action spooked the market, leading some to revisit the potential for a favorable trade deal between the U.S. and China.

Measuring the success of any trade agreement will hinge on the details. Should it fail to live up to expectations, which is a distinct possibility, we could very well see a “buy the rumor, sell the news” situation arise in the stock market. As I watch for these developments to unfold, given the mismatch in the stock market between earnings and dividends vs. the market’s move thus far in 2019 I will also be watching insider selling in general but also for those companies on the Thematic Leader Board as well as the Tematica Select List. While insiders can be sellers for a variety of reasons, should we see a pronounced and somewhat across the board pick up in such activity, it could be another warning sign.

 

What to Watch This Week

This week we will see a noticeable drop in the velocity of earnings reports, but we will still get a number of data points that investors and economists will use to triangulate the speed of the current quarter’s GDP relative to the 2.6% print for the December quarter. The consensus GDP forecast for the current quarter is for a slower economy at +2.0%, but we have started to see some economists trim their forecasts as more economic data rolls in. Because that data has fallen shy of expectations, it has led the Citibank Economic Surprise Index (CESI) to once again move into negative territory and the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow current quarter forecast now sat at 0.3% as of Friday.

On the economic docket this week, we have December Construction Spending, ISM’s February Non-Manufacturing Index reading, the latest consumer credit figures and the February reports on job creation and unemployment from ADP (ADP) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With Home Depot (HD) reporting relatively mild December weather, any pronounced shortfall in December Construction Spending will likely serve to confirm the economy is on a slowing vector. Much like we did above with ISM’s February Manufacturing Index we’ll be looking into the Non-Manufacturing data to determine demand and inflation dynamics as well as the tone of the services economy.

On the jobs front, while we will be watching the numbers created, including any aberration owing to the recent federal government shutdown, it will be the wage and hours worked data that we’ll be focusing on. Wage data will show signs of any inflationary pressures, while hours worked will indicate how much labor slack there is in the economy. The consumer is in a tighter spot financially speaking, which was reflected in recent retail sales and personal spending data. Recognizing the role consumer spending plays in the overall speed of the U.S. economy, we will be scrutinizing the upcoming consumer credit data rather closely.

In addition to the hard data, we’ll also get the Fed’s latest Beige Book, which should provide a feel for how the regional economies are faring thus far in 2019. Speaking of central bankers, next Wednesday will bring the results of the next European Central Bank meeting. Given the data depicted in the February IHS Markit reports we discussed above, the probability is high the ECB will join the Fed in a more dovish tone.

While the velocity of earnings reports does indeed drop dramatically next week, there will still be several reports worth digging into, including Ross Stores (ROST), Kohl’s (KSS), Target (TGT), BJ’s Wholesale (BJ), and Middle-class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale (COST) will also issue their latest quarterly results. Those reports combined with the ones this week, including solid results from TJX Companies (TJX) last week should offer a more complete look at consumer spending, and where that spending is occurring. Given the discussion several paragraphs above, TJX’s results last week, and the monthly sales reports from Costco, odds are quite good that Costco should serve up yet another report showcasing consumer wallet share gains.

Outside of apparel and home, reports from United Natural Foods (UNFI) and National Beverage (FIZZ) should corroborate the accelerating shift toward food and beverages that are part of our Cleaner Living investing theme. In that vein, I’ll be intrigued to see what Tematica Select List resident International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) has to say about the demand for its line of organic and natural solutions.

The same can be said with Kroger (KR) as well as its efforts to fend off Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) and Walmart (WMT). Tucked inside of Kroger’s comments, we will be curious to see what the company says about digital grocery shopping and delivery. On Kroger’s last earnings conference call, Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen shared the following, “We are aggressively investing to build digital platforms because they give our customers the ability to have anything, anytime, anywhere from Kroger, and because they’re a catalyst to grow our business and improve margins in the future.” Now to see what progress has been achieved over the last 90 or so days and what Kroger has to say about the late-Friday report that Amazon will launch its own chain of supermarkets.

 

Tematica Investing

As you can see in the chart above, for the most part, our Thematic Leaders have been delivering solid performance. Shares of Costco Wholesale (COST) and Nokia (NOK) are notable laggards, but with Costco’s earnings report later this week which will also include its February same-store sales, I see the company’s business and the shares once again coming back into investor favor as it continues to win consumer wallet share. That was clearly evident in its December and January same-store sales reports. With Nokia, coming out of Mobile World Congress 2019 last week, we have confirmation that 5G is progressing, with more network launches coming and more devices coming as well in the coming quarters. We’ll continue to be patient with NOK shares.

 

Adding significantly to our position in Thematic Leader Dycom Industries

There are two positions on the leader board – Aging of the Population AMN Healthcare (AMN) and Digital Infrastructure Dycom Industries (DY) – that are in the red. The recent and sharp drop in Dycom shares follows the company’s disappointing quarterly report in which costs grew faster than 14.3% year over year increase in revenue, pressuring margins and the company’s bottom line. As we’ve come to expect this alongside the near-term continuation of those margin pressures, as you can see below, simply whacked DY shares last week, dropping them into oversold territory.

 

When we first discussed Dycom’s business, I pointed out the seasonal tendencies of its business, and that likely means some of the February winter weather brought some added disruptions as will the winter weather that is hitting parts of the country as you read this. Yet, we know that Dycom’s top customers – AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ), Comcast (CMCSA) and CenturyLink (CTL) are busy expanding the footprint of their connective networks. That’s especially true with the 5G buildout efforts at AT&T and Verizon, which on a combined basis accounted for 42% of Dycom’s January quarter revenue.

Above I shared that coming out of Mobile World Congress 2019, commercial 5G deployments are likely to be a 2020 event but as we know the networks, base stations, and backhaul capabilities will need to be installed ahead of those launches. To me, this strongly suggests that Dycom’s business will improve in the coming quarters, and as that happens, it’s bound to move down the cost curve as efficiencies and other aspects of higher utilization are had. For that reason, we are using last week’s 26% drop in DY shares to double our position size in DY shares on the Thematic Leader board. This will reduce our blended cost basis to roughly $64 from the prior $82. As we buy up the shares, I’m also resetting our price target on DY shares to $80, down from the prior $100, which offers significant upside from the current share price and our blended cost basis.

If you’re having second thoughts on this decision, think of it this way – doesn’t it seem rather strange that DY shares would fall by such a degree given the coming buildout that we know is going to occur over the coming quarters? If Dycom’s customers were some small, regional operators I would have some concerns, but that isn’t the case. These customers will build out those networks, and it means Dycom will be put to work in the coming quarters, generating revenue, profits, and cash flow along the way.

In last week’s Tematica Investing I dished on Warren Buffett’s latest letter to Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) shareholders. In thinking about Dycom, another Buffett-ism comes to mind – “Opportunities come infrequently. When it rains gold, put out the bucket, not the thimble.” Since this is a multi-quarter buildout for Dycom, we will need to be patient, but as we know for the famous encounter between the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race.

  • We are doubling down on Dycom (DY) shares on the Thematic Leader board and adjusting our price target to $80 from $100, which still offers significant upside from our new cost basis as the 5G and gigabit fiber buildout continues over the coming quarters.

 

As the pace of earnings slows, over the next few weeks I’ll not only be revisiting the recent 25% drop in Aging of the Population Thematic Leader AMN Healthcare to determine if we should make a similar move like the one we are doing with Dycom, but I’ll also be taking closer looks at wireless charging company Energous Corp. (WATT) and The Alkaline Water Company (WTER). Those two respectively fall under our Disruptive Innovators and Cleaner Living investing themes. Are they worthy of making it onto the Select List or bumping one of our Thematic Leaders? We’ll see…. And as I examine these two, I’m also pouring over some candidates to fill the Guilty Pleasure vacancy on the leader board.

 

Tematica Options+

One of the key takeaways over the last few issues has been the growing consumer spending headwind that has become increasingly evident across the December Retail Sales report, falling Personal Income data and increasing delinquencies. At the same time, we learned that despite mild December weather Home Depot (HD) missed earnings expectations and set the bar lower. Macy’s (M) reported uninspiring results and guidance while Nordstrom missed quarterly revenue expectations and L Brands (LB), the home of Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body works.

Meanwhile, last week TJX Companies (TJX), the parent of TJ Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, and HomeSense, reported same-store comp sales of 6% for its most recent quarter as store traffic surged. The company also boosted its quarterly dividend by 18% and announced plans to upsize its share buyback plan to $1.75-$2.25 billion.

Quite a different story. Also last week, the Gap (GPS), a company that in my view has been lost for quite some time, announced it was splitting into two companies. One will house its Gap and Banana Republic lines, while Old Navy, a business that fits the mold of our Middle-class Squeeze investing theme, will stand on its own.

Then there is Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale, which has been simply taking consumer wallet share as it opens additional warehouse locations. Excluding the impact of gas prices and foreign exchange, Costco’s US same store sales climbed 7.1% year over year in December and 7.3% in January.

In my view, all of this sets up very well for solid earnings reports from both Ross Stores, which will issue those results after the market close on Tuesday (March 5), and Costco, which reports after the close on Thursday (March 7). To capture the upside associated with these reports, we will add the following call option positions:

 

Note the corresponding stop losses. These are tighter than usual because these are earnings related trades, and as we’ve seen of late guidance is as important as the rear-view quarterly results. These stops will help us limit that downside risk.

With regard to our Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) September 20, 2019, 10.00 calls (DFRG190920C00010000) and Nokia Corp. (NOK) December 2019 7.00 calls (NOK191220C0000700), we will continue to hold them. The Del Frisco’s calls traded off last week and finished the week at 0.85, which is rather close to our 0.80 stop loss. This will bear watching and should we get stopped out, while we’ll net a 33% return should it happen soon than later, I may be inclined to jump back into a DFRG call position ahead of the company’s March 12 earnings report.

 

 

Recasting Our Rise and Fall of the Middle Class and Cash-Strapped Consumer Themes

Recasting Our Rise and Fall of the Middle Class and Cash-Strapped Consumer Themes

 

KEY POINTS FROM THIS POST

  • As we recast our Rise & Fall of the Middle Class into two themes – the New Middle Class and the Middle-Class Squeeze, which also folds in our Cash-Strapped Consumer theme, we are calling out Costco Wholesale (COST) shares as a top Middle-Class Squeeze pick, reiterating our Buy rating on the shares, and bumping our price target from $210 to $220.

At the end of yesterday’s Tematica Investing issue, I mentioned how at Tematica we are in the process of reviewing the investing themes that we have in place to make sure they are still relevant and relatable. As part of that exercise and when appropriate, we’ll also rename a theme.  Our goal through this process is to streamline and simplify the full list of 17 themes.

Of course, first up is our Rise & Fall of the Middle-Class theme that we are splitting into two different themes — which I know doesn’t sound like an overall simplification, but trust me, it will make sense. As the current name suggests, there are two aspects of this theme — the “Rise” and the “Fall” part. It can be confusing to some, so we’re splitting it into two themes. The “Rise” portion will be “The New Global Middle Class” and will reflect the rapidly expanding middle-class markets particularly in Asia and South America. On the other hand, the “Fall” portion will be recast as “The Middle Class Squeeze” to reflect the shrinking middle class in the United States and the realities that it poses to our consumer-driven economy.

As we make that split, it’s not lost on us here at Tematica that there is bound to be some overlap between The Middle-Class Squeeze and our Cash-Strapped Consumer investing theme given that one of the more powerful drivers of both is disposable income pressure and a loss of purchasing power. As such, as we cleave apart The Middle-Class Squeeze we’re also incorporating Cash-Strapped Consumer into it. It’s repositionings like this that we’ll be making over coming weeks, and while I hate to spoil a surprise as we say good bye to one or two themes, we’ll be saying hello to new one or two as well.

 

 

Why America’s Middle Class are Feeling the Squeeze

As both I and Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist, Lenore Hawkins, have been sharing in our writings as well as our collective media hits, we’re seeing increasing signs of inflation in the systems from both hard and soft data points and that recently prompted the Fed to boost its interest rate forecast to four hikes this year, up from three with additional rate hikes in 2019. That’s what’s in the front windshield of the investing car, while inside we are getting more data that points to an increasingly stretched consumer that is seeing his or her disposable income under pressure.

According to LendingTree’s May 2018 Consumer Debt Outlook, Americans owe more than 26% percent of their disposable personal income on consumer debt, up from 22% in 2010. And just so we are clear, LendingTree is defining consumer debt to include non-mortgage debts such as credit cards, personal loans, auto loans, and student loans. These outstanding balances of consumer credit, per LendingTree, have been growing at a steady rate of 5% to 6% annually over the last two years, and this has it to forecast total consumer debt to exceed $4 trillion by the end of 2018.

Part of the reason consumers have been turning to debt is the lack of wage growth. Even as tax reform related expectations have been running high for putting more money in consumer pockets data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed compensation for civilian workers rose 2.4% year over year in the March quarter. By comparison, gas prices have risen more than 24% over the last 12 months, and the average home price in the US was up more than 11% in April 2018 vs. April 2017. So, while wages have moved up that move has paled in comparison to other costs faced by consumers.

Then there’s the data from Charles Schwab’s (SCHW) 2018 Modern Wealth Index that finds three in five Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. According to other data, consumers more than three months behind on their bills or considered otherwise in distress were behind on nearly $12 billion in credit card debt as of the beginning of the year — an 11.5 percent increase during Q4 alone.

And it’s not just the credit card debt — mortgage problem debt is up as well, 5.2% to $56.7 billion.

As that debt grows, it’s going to become even more expensive to service. On its recent quarterly earnings conference call, Lending Club’s (LC) CFO Tom Casey shared that “Borrowers are starting to see the increased cost of credit as most credit card debt is indexed to prime, which has moved up 75 basis points from a year ago…We have observed a number of lenders increase rates to borrowers…We know that consumers are feeling the increase in rates.”

And that’s before the Fed rate hikes that are to come.

The bottom line is it likely means more debt and higher interest payments that lead to less disposable income for consumers to spend.

 

More US consumers getting squeezed

All of this points to an already stretched consumer base that has increasingly turned to debt given that real wage growth has been tepid at best over the past decade. And this doesn’t even touch on the degree to which the American consumer is under-saved or has little in the way of an emergency fund to cover those unforeseen expenses. Per Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 Planning & Progress Study, which surveyed 2,003 adults:

  • 78% of Americans say they’re ‘extremely’ or ‘somewhat’ concerned about not having enough money for retirement. Another 66 percent believe that they’ll outlive their retirement savings.
  • 21% of Americans have nothing at all saved for the future, and another 10 percent have less than $5,000 saved or invested for their golden years.

Adding credence to this figures, Bankrate’s latest financial security index survey, showed that 34% of American households experienced a major unexpected expense over the past year. But, only 39% of survey respondents said they would be able to cover a $1,000 setback using their savings. Other findings from Bankrate, based on data from the Federal Reserve, showed that those Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 that have retirement savings only have a median of $120,000 socked away. A similar 2016 GOBankingRates survey found that 69 percent of Americans had less than $1,000 in total savings and 34 percent had no savings at all.

Nearly 51 million households don’t earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, childcare, healthcare, transportation and a cell phone, according to a study by the United Way ALICE Project. That’s 43% of households in the United States.

As the New Middle Class in the emerging economies like China, India and parts of South America continue to expand, it will drive competitive world-wide pressures for food, water, energy and other scarce resources that will drive prices higher given prospects for global supply-demand imbalances.

 

Middle-Class Squeeze pain brings opportunity with Costco and others

What this tells us is that there is a meaningful population of Americans that are in debt and are not prepared for their financial future. In our experience, pain points make for good investment opportunities. In the case of the Middle-Class Squeeze investment theme, it means consumers trading down when and where possible or looking to stretch the disposable dollars they do have.

It’s no coincidence that we’re seeing a growing move toward private label brands, not only at the grocery store for packaged foods and beverages but by the likes of Amazon (AMZN) as well. We’re also seeing casual dining and fine dining restaurant categories give way to fast casual, and as one might expect the data continues to show more Americans eating at home than eating out.

From my perspective, the best-positioned company for the Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme is Costco Wholesale (COST). By its very nature, the company’s warehouse business model aims to give consumers more for their dollar as Costco continues to improve and expand its offering both in-store and online. To me, one of the smartest moves the company made was focusing not only on perishable food but on organic and natural products as well. That combination keeps customers coming back on a more frequent basis.

Let’s remember too, the secret sauce baked into Costco’s business model – membership fees, which are high-margin in nature, and are responsible for a significant portion of the company’s income. As I’ve shared before, that is a key differentiator compared to other brick & mortar retailers. And Costco looks to further expand that footprint as it opens some 17 more warehouse locations in the coming months.

I’ll continue to monitor Costco’s monthly sales reports, which have clearly shown it taking consumer wallet share, and juxtaposing them against the monthly Retail Sales report to confirm those wallet share gains.

  • As we recast our Rise & Fall of the Middle Class into two themes – the New Middle Class and the Middle-Class Squeeze, we are calling out Costco Wholesale (COST) shares as a top Middle-Class Squeeze pick, reiterating our Buy rating on the shares, and bumping our price target from $210 to $220.

 

Examples of companies riding the Middle-Class Squeeze Tailwind

  • Walmart (WMT)
  • Amazon (AMZN)
  • McDonald’s (MCD)
  • Dollar Tree (DLTR)
  • TJX Companies (TJX)
  • Ross Stores (ROST)
  • Kohl’s (KSS)

Examples of companies facing the Middle-Class Squeeze Headwind

  • Dillard’s (DDS)
  • JC Penney (JCP)
  • Macy’s (M)
  • Target (TGT)
  • Gap (GPS)
  • Red Robin (RRGB)

Again, those are short lists of EXAMPLES, not a full list of the companies benefitting or getting hit.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be revisiting our investment themes, both the ones being tweaked as well as the ones, like Safety & Security, that are fine as is.

WEEKLY ISSUE: Trade and Tariffs, the Words of the Week

WEEKLY ISSUE: Trade and Tariffs, the Words of the Week

 

KEY POINTS FROM THIS WEEK’S ISSUE:

  • We are issuing a Sell on the shares of MGM Resorts (MGM) and removing them from the Tematica Investing Select List.
  • While the markets are reacting mainly in a “shoot first and ask questions later” nature, given the widening nature of the recent tariffs there are several safe havens that patient investors must consider.
  • We are recasting several of our Investment Themes to better reflect the changing winds.

 

Investor Reaction to All the Tariff Talk

Over the last two days, the domestic stock market has sold off some 16.7 points for the S&P 500, roughly 0.6%. That’s far less than the talking heads would suggest as they focus on the Dow Jones Industrial Average that has fallen more than 390 points since Friday’s close, roughly 1.6%. Those moves pushed the Dow into negative territory for 2018 and dragged the returns for the other major market indices lower. Those retreats in the major market indices are due to escalating tariff announcements, which are raising uncertainty in the markets and prompting investors to shoot first and ask questions later. We’ve seen this before, but we grant you the causing agent behind it this time is rather different.

What makes the current environment more challenging is not only the escalating and widening nature of the tariffs on more countries than just China, but also the impact they will have on supply chain part of the equation. So, the “pain” will be felt not just on the end product, but rather where a company sources its parts and components. That means the implications are wider spread than “just” steel and aluminum. One example is NXP Semiconductor (NXPI), whose chips are used in a variety of smartphone and other applications – the shares are down some 3.7% over the last two days.

With trade and tariffs being the words of the day, if not the week, we have seen investors bid up small-cap stocks, especially ones that are domestically focused. While the other major domestic stock market indices have fallen over the last few days, as we noted above, the small-cap, domestic-heavy Russell 2000 is actually up since last Friday’s close, rising roughly 8.5 points or 0.5% as of last night’s market close. Tracing that index back, as trade and tariff talk has grown over the last several weeks, it’s quietly become the best performing market index.

 

A Run-Down of the Select List Amid These Changing Trade Winds

On the Tematica Investing Select List, we have more than a few companies whose business models are heavily focused on the domestic market and should see some benefit from the added tailwinds the international trade and tariff talk is providing. These include:

  • Costco Wholesale (COST)
  • Dycom Industries (DY)
  • Habit Restaurants (HABT)
  • Farmland Partners (FPI)
  • LSI Industries (LYTS)
  • Paccar (PCAR)
  • United Parcel Services (UPS)

We’ve also seen our shares of McCormick & Co. (MKC) rise as the tariff back-and-forth has picked up. We attribute this to the inelastic nature of the McCormick’s products — people need to eat no matter what — and the company’s rising dividend policy, which helps make it a safe-haven port in a storm.

Based on the latest global economic data, it once again appears that the US is becoming the best market in the market. Based on the findings of the May NFIB Small Business Optimism Index, that looks to continue. Per the NFIB, that index increased in May to the second highest level in the NFIB survey’s 45-year history. Inside the report, the percentage of business owners reporting capital outlays rose to 62%, with 47% spending on new equipment, 24% acquiring vehicles, and 16% improving expanded facilities. Moreover, 30% plan capital outlays in the next few months, which also bodes well for our Rockwell Automation (ROK) shares.

Last night’s May reading for the American Trucking Association’s Truck Tonnage Index also supports this view. That May reading increased slightly from the previous month, but on a year over year basis, it was up 7.8%. A more robust figure for North American freight volumes was had with the May data for the Cass Freight Index, which reported an 11.9% year over year increase in shipments for the month. Given the report’s comment that “demand is exceeding capacity in most modes of transportation,” I’ll continue to keep shares of heavy and medium duty truck manufacturer Paccar (PCAR) on the select list.

The ones to watch

With all of that said, we do have several positions that we are closely monitoring amid the escalating trade and tariff landscape, including

  • Apple (AAPL),
  • Applied Materials (AMAT)
  • AXT Inc. (AXTI)
  • MGM Resorts (MGM)
  • Nokia (NOK)
  • Universal Display (OLED)

With Apple we have the growing services business and the eventual 5G upgrade cycle as well as the company’s capital return program that will help buoy the shares in the near-term. Reports that it will be spared from the tariffs are also helping. With Applied, China is looking to grow its in-country semi-cap capacity, which means semi- cap companies could see their businesses as a bargaining chip in the short-term. Longer- term, if China wants to grow that capacity it means an eventual pick up in business is likely in the cards. Other drivers such as 5G, Internet of Things, AR, VR, and more will spur incremental demand for chips as well. It’s pretty much a timing issue in our minds, and Applied’s increased dividend and buyback program will help shield the shares from the worst of it.

Both AXT and Nokia serve US-based companies, but also foreign ones, including ones in China given the global nature of smartphone component building blocks as well as mobile infrastructure equipment. Over the last few weeks, the case for 5G continues to strengthen, but if these tariffs go into effect and last, they could lead to a short-term disruption in their business models. Last week, Nokia announced a multi-year business services deal with Wipro (WIT) and alongside Nokia, Verizon (VZ) announced several 5G milestones with Verizon remaining committed to launching residential 5G in four markets during the back half of 2018. That follows the prior week’s news of a successful 5G test for Nokia with T-Mobile USA (TMUS) that paves the way for the commercial deployment of that network.

In those cases, I’ll continue to monitor the trade and tariff developments, and take action when are where necessary.

 

Pulling the plug on MGM shares

With MGM, however, I’m concerned about the potential impact to be had not only in Macau but also on China tourism to the US, which could hamper activity on the Las Vegas strip. While we’re down modestly in this Guilty Pleasure company, as the saying goes, better safe than sorry and that has us cutting MGM shares from the Select List.

  • We are issuing a Sell on the shares of MGM Resorts (MGM) and removing them from the Tematica Investing Select List

 

Sticking with the thematic program

On a somewhat positive note, as the market pulls back we will likely see well-positioned companies at better prices. Yes, we’ll have to navigate the tariffs and understand if and how a company may be impacted, but to us, it’s all part of identifying the right companies, with the right drivers at the right prices for the medium to long-term. That’s served us well thus far, and we’ll continue to follow the guiding light, our North Star, that is our thematic lens. It’s that lens that has led to returns like the following in the active Tematica Investing Select List.

  • Alphabet (GOOGL): 60%
  • Amazon (AMZN): 133%
  • Costco Wholesale (COST) : 30%
  • ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK): 34%
  • USA Technologies (USAT): 62%

Over the last several weeks, we’ve added several new positions – Farmland Partners (FPI), Dycom Industries (DY), Habit Restaurant (HABT) and AXT Inc. (AXTI) to the active select list as well as Universal Display (OLED) shares. As of last night’s, market close the first three are up nicely, but our OLED shares are once again under pressure amid rumor and speculation over the mix of upcoming iPhone models that will use organic light emitting diode displays. When I added the shares back to the Select List, it hinged not on the 2018 models but the ones for 2019. Let’s be patient and prepare to use incremental weakness to our long-term advantage.

 

Recasting Several of our investment themes

Inside Tematica, not only are we constantly examining data points as they relate to our investment themes we are also reviewing the investing themes that we have in place to make sure they are still relevant and relatable. As part of that exercise and when appropriate, we’ll also rename a theme.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing these repositions and renamings with you, and then providing a cheat sheet that will sum up all the changes. As I run through these I’ll also be calling out the best-positioned company as well as supplying some examples of the ones benefitting from the theme’s tailwinds and ones marching headlong into the headwinds.

First up, will be a recasting of our Rise & Fall of the Middle-Class theme.  As the current name suggests, there are two aspects of this theme — the “Rise” and the “Fall” part. It can be confusing to some, so we’re splitting it into two themes.  The “Rise” portion will be “The New Global Middle Class” and will reflect the rapidly expanding middle class markets particularly in Asia and South America. On the other hand, the “Fall” portion will be recast as “The Middle Class Squeeze” to reflect the shrinking middle class in the United States and the realities that poses to our consumer-driven economy.

We’ll have a detailed report to you in the coming days on the recasting of these two themes, how it impacts the current Select List as well as other companies we see as well-positioned given the tailwinds of each theme.

 

 

Is a Safer, More Entertaining and Eventually Autonomous Car Near?

Is a Safer, More Entertaining and Eventually Autonomous Car Near?

It seems every day we hear about the inevitability of the autonomous car, a member of our Disruptive Technology investing theme, with many hoping that it will usher in a new area of safety.  According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, 3,287 people die, on average, every day in road crashes. That translates into 1.3 million deaths annually with an additional 20-50 million injured or disabled. Globally, road crashes are the 9th leading cause of death.

Clearly, there is room for improvement and Apple’s (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook agrees, citing the auto industry as ripe for a major disruption in a recent interview on Bloomberg Television. According to Cook, there are three vectors of change intersecting: autonomous driving, electrification of the auto and ride-sharing. From our thematic investing lens, this is where Disruptive Technologies meet the Connected Society.

Cook revealed that his company is focusing on autonomous systems, referring to it as a very important core technology that is probably one of the most difficult AI (Artificial Intelligence) projects to work on. Apple has hired over 1,000 engineers to work on the technology and just this April secured a permit from the California DMV to test three self-driving sports-utility vehicles. The company is clearly also focused on the ride-sharing vector of change, as last year Apple invested $1 billion — pretty much chump change for the company these days — in Didi Chuxing, the biggest ride-hailing service in China. As for electrification, it remains to be seen if Apple will develop their own electric vehicles or partner and sell their technology.

Apple is not alone, as the electrification leader Tesla (TSLA) continues to break new ground and Alphabet (GOOGL) is working on autonomous technology in partnerships with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU)and Lyft. BMW (BMWYY), in cooperation with Intel (INTC), reports that it intends to have Level 3, 4 and even 5 capabilities for self-driving by 2021. Level 3 is defined as conditional automation that requires a driver to intervene in certain situations, but aren’t obligated to be constantly monitoring progress. Level 4 is full autonomy, while Level 5 requires zero input from a driver to navigate city and highway roads and is expected to be at least on par with the performance level of a human driver.

 

A Conversation with One of the Pioneers of In-Car Information & Entertainment

To better understand the evolution of the smarter vehicle, on a recent episode of Cocktail Investing, Tematica Research’s Chris Versace and Lenore Hawkins spoke with Ted Cardenas, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Car Electronics Division at Pioneer Electronics Corp (PNCOY). Given that about 95 percent of his company’s business is related to auto and the company will reach its 80th anniversary next year, we thought he’d have some valuable insight. This is the company that introduced the consumer laser disc in 1979, the car CD player in 1984 and GPS car navigation in 1990, with around four decades in the car entertainment space.

Ted pointed out to us that compared to home or office-based technologies, the car is a seriously brutal local for innovation where electronics need to be able to withstand extremes in temperatures, moisture and vibrations – not exactly the friendliest environment! We discussed how the increasingly Connected Society allows for not just millions of on-demand songs, but also delivered the “killer app” of real-time traffic information thanks to all those GPS enabled smart phones tagging along with their drivers.

The Connected Society has materially changed product development for the car as well as it also means connected companies. The need for higher and higher speed data networks and the innovations that allow for and take advantage of them means that companies no longer have to, or should for that matter, go it alone. Each company is only part of the solution as we see more specialization taking place with the consumer benefiting from a simple, usually intuitive solution in which all the complexity has been blissfully hidden.

In this new development paradigm, relationships are increasingly important as companies specialize within the solution set and we’ve seen some of the complexity offloaded to smartphones, allowing for greater flexibility as consumer can choose which device best fits their needs. For Pioneer, this means offering in-dash multimedia receivers that are compatible with popular smartphone interfaces and apps such as Apple CarPlay®, Android Auto ™, and Waze®, as well as features such as Bluetooth® music streaming, hands-free calling, Spotify® and Pandora®.

Pioneer isn’t just innovating within entertainment and communications as the company is also developing advanced driver assist for both OEM and aftermarket, allowing owners of older cars to benefit from the latest in safety improvements. When asked about his expectations around the timeline for the truly driverless car, Ted framed his analysis in the context of the evolution of in-car GPS systems – an evolution by degrees rather than a binary event.

The first GPS systems were developed by Pioneer and were used to figure out where you were on a map, but could not provide point-to-point directions. Those first systems also didn’t provide 100% coverage, so drivers could find themselves driving into a GPS void when traveling in areas not covered by the devices internal maps. Over time the map coverage became increasingly more complete and turn-by-turn directions evolved from available only in highly-trafficked areas into the most remote. He suspects we will see something similar with driver-assist that will offer more thorough assistance in more populated areas with less as one gets into more rural areas. Over time the level of assistance and coverage areas will expand.

Finally, we discussed how the increasingly smart car will also do more of the heavy lifting when it comes to maintenance, providing a more seamless driver experience that not only provides autonomous transportation, but monitors and schedules its own maintenance needs. We likely not alone in looking forward to the day when we no longer find ourselves noticing that little oil change reminder sticker a few months and few thousand miles late. The car of the future will be safer, smarter and a lot more entertaining.

 

Companies mentioned on the Podcast

  • Alphabet (AAPL)
  • Apple (AAPL)
  • BMW (BMWYY)
  • Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU)
  • Intel (INTC)
  • Pandora (P)
  • Pioneer Electronics (PNCOY)
  • Tesla Motors (TSLA)
Tematica’s Take on Trump’s Tax Proposal

Tematica’s Take on Trump’s Tax Proposal

This week a one page outline was released for President Trump’s tax plan, which includes slashing the corporate tax rate to 15 percent from 35 percent, reducing and simplifying individual tax rates and a “one-time” lower repatriation tax, (at a rate TBD) for the more than a trillion dollars in corporate cash being held outside the US. While policy proposals such as these tend to be fraught with negotiations and pushback that could ultimately alter the final outcome, it’s already being reported that House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday said Trump’s plan is 80 percent aligned with House Republican proposals. That likely raises the probability of Trump’s plan getting more support than the first attempt at repealing and replacing the Affordable Car Act, but even so, it still doesn’t guarantee passage.

From our perspective, there are several questions left to be answered (the proposal was less than 200 words after all), including the eventual Congressional Budget Office scoring on the deficit potential, but directionally speaking investors should ask, “Who benefits?” There are thousands of companies across the S&P 500 and S&P 1500 as well as the Wilshire 5000, but individual investors are likely to look for a handful of stocks that could see a relatively outsized reduction in their tax burden should the corporate tax rate be reduced.

Said another way, which companies are likely to see a dramatic drop in their corporate tax rate even after some Washington haggling occurs?

Here are a few:

  • Aging of the Population candidate CVS Health (CVS), which derives nearly 100 percent of its sales inside the United State and had reported tax rates of 38-39 percent in 2015 and 2016;
  • Wealth management and online brokerage company Charles Schwab (SCHW), another Aging of the Population candidate, is also predominantly U.S. focused when it comes to its revenue stream and its 2015-2016 tax rate was 36.5-37.0 percent;
  • A third example is Southwest Airlines (LUV), which resonates with our Cash-strapped Consumer investing theme, which recorded corporate tax rates of 35.5-37.1 percent over the last few years.
  • While its reported corporate tax rate was lower than the above three companies, Connected Society company Verizon (VZ) would also see its bottom line vastly improved should the corporate tax rate fall meaningfully from the 31-34 percent rate it paid in 2015 and 2016.

In any of the above cases, a meaningful tax cut would allow a far greater percentage of the company’s operating profit to fall through to its net income line, which in turn would lead to a meaningful improvement in reported earnings per share. The lingering question is whether investors would see through that below the operating line improvement in earnings per share or fall into the trap of “faster earnings growth year over year means greater P/E multiple expansion?”

In our view, it rather resembles a cousin to investors paying stretched valuations for earnings growth that has been fueled by stock repurchase initiatives, especially if reported net income actually fell year over year.

Odds are there will be much back and forth in Washington over the coming weeks and months as even the White House has backed off Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s goal of passing tax reform by August, setting a new year-end target date in the process.

Getting back to House Speaker Ryan’s 80 percent comment, it means there is some 20 percent that would need to be reworked. One area that has been mentioned is the border adjustment feature, which has been viewed as one way to fund President Trump’s infrastructure program. That spending initiative, which is sorely needed per the latest report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers, would be a boon to companies ranging from Caterpillar (CAT) to Granite Construction (GVA) and other infrastructure related ones.

In its current form, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said the border adjustment tax doesn’t work, but as Washington gets ready to haggle over Trump’s tax plan it could mean the border adjustment tax gets rethought as well. If so, we could see investor concern over rising costs for apparel companies that source heavily outside the US as well as those outside the US that derive a meaningful portion of revenue and profits from sales inside the U.S. Examples of the former would include Gap (GPS) and Michael Kors (KORS), while the latter would be companies lie Diageo (DEO) and Unilver plc (UL).

As the back and forth gets underway in Washington,  investors should continue to search for companies that could benefit from lower corporate taxes and do their due diligence on the underlying business. Given our thematic investing strategy, we’d argue that as investors do that they should factor in the various tailwinds associated with our more than 15 investing themes into their thinking.

Looking at the bigger picture, the release of this one-page, sub-200 word outline understandably gave the market pause if only due to the brevity of the proposal, as we close in on the administration’s 100th day. The market rose dramatically post-election because investors believed that the new administration would usher in a more business-friendly regime that would stimulate the economy. The market’s weakness Wednesday was likely along the line of, “That’s it? Nearly 100 days in and that’s all you have for us?” This is one more area in which the market got ahead of itself based on hopes with reality being a bit less encouraging. In time, the administration may very well put together a comprehsive plan that is compelling to Congress, but with less than 200 words and only 7 numbers nearly 100 days in, the market is left scratching its head.

Two More Thematic Tailwinds Are About to Change Healthcare

Two More Thematic Tailwinds Are About to Change Healthcare

Healthcare expenditures are being driven by a combination of our Aging of the Population and Rise & Fall of the Middle Class investing themes, but there are two other Tematica themes that are poised to change the how, where, when and why people consume healthcare — Connected Society and Disruptive Technology. There is little argument that today’s healthcare is filled with wasteful spending and paperwork but given connective platforms such as smartphones and wearables,  and disruptive technologies like apps, GPS, and sensors, healthcare is about to be turned on its head.

Last year Americans spent an amount equivalent to about 18% of GDP on health care. That is an extreme, but other countries face rising cost pressures from health spending as populations age.

In rich countries about one-fifth of spending on health care goes to waste, for example on wrong or unnecessary treatments. Eliminating a fraction of this sum is a huge opportunity.

Consumers seem readier to accept digital products than just a few years ago. The field includes mobile apps, telemedicine—health care provided using electronic communications—and predictive analytics (using statistical methods to sift data on outcomes for patients). Other areas are automated diagnoses and wearable sensors to measure things like blood pressure.If there is to be a health-care revolution, it will create winners and losers.

Andy Richards, an investor in digital health, argues that three groups are fighting a war for control of the “health-care value chain”.One group comprises “traditional innovators”—pharmaceutical firms, hospitals and medical-technology companies such as GE Healthcare, Siemens, Medtronic and Philips.

A second category is made up of “incumbent players”, which include health insurers, pharmacy-benefit managers (which buy drugs in bulk), and as single-payer health-care systems such as Britain’s NHS.

The third group are the technology “insurgents”, including Google, Apple, Amazon and a host of hungry entrepreneurs that are creating apps, predictive-diagnostics systems and new devices. These firms may well profit most handsomely from the shift to digital.The threat to the traditional innovators is that as medical records are digitised and new kinds of patient data arrive from genomic sequencing, sensors and even from social media, insurers and governments can get much better insight into which treatments work. These buyers are increasingly demanding “value-based” reimbursement—meaning that if a drug or device doesn’t function well, it will not be bought.

Overall, telemedicine is expected to grow rapidly. In America, GPs will conduct 5.4m video consultations a year by 2020, says IHS Markit, a research firm. Britain’s NHS is testing a medical AI from a London-based startup called Babylon which can field patients’ questions about their health. A paid service called Push Doctor offers an online appointment almost immediately for £20 ($24).

Source: The wonder drug: A digital revolution in health care is speeding up | The Economist

Latest UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study confirms the accelerated shift that has Gap and other retailers questioning their business models 

Latest UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study confirms the accelerated shift that has Gap and other retailers questioning their business models 

Given the data junkies that we are, we are always looking for confirming data points and this one while a bit self serving certainly confirms the accelerated shift toward digital commerce. We define digital commerce to include both online and mobile shopping. Given the growing install base of connected devices, collapsing time to customer from Amazon and others, and consumer psychographics, we see this acceleration only picking up speed. Pretty much, tracking as expected for our Connected Society investing theme. As this happens, we’ll also see benefits ripple through to our Cashless Consumption investing theme.

According to the fifth annual UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study, 51% of all purchases made by respondents were made online. This is up from 48% in 2015 and the first time in the study’s five-year history that figure went above 50%. The study is based on a comScore survey of more than 5,000 U.S. online shoppers.Considering this result, it is not too surprising that 17% of consumers plan to shop less in store, shifting time to their electronic devices. The use of smartphones is up 10 percentage points to 77% during the past two years, and respondents report a better mobile experience with satisfaction up eight percentage points to 73% since 2015.

Source: UPS: Online shoppers shift purchase habits | Chain Store Age

Remaining loyal to our disciplined and thematic approach

Remaining loyal to our disciplined and thematic approach

The market move has turned more bearish of late, and we are not surprised Wall Street has adopted the more cautious stance we’ve had these last several weeks. A headline freak out on the April CPI report shows us just how nervous the stock market is these days. We’ll continue to be disciplined when contemplating adding each new position to the Tematica Select List.

In this week’s edition of Tematica Investing:

  • Just doing it with Nike shares. We are issuing a BUY on Nike (NKE) shares with a price target of $66. Because this is an initial recommendation we are holding off with a commensurate stop loss, as we intend to build this position size over time. We would be buyers of Nike up to $59. Read More >>
  • Remaining patient with Costco Wholesale (COST) shares
  • Adding share of EPR Properties (EPR), a Content is King company to the Tematica Contender List. Read More >>
  • Quick Updates on AT&T (T), PetMeds Express (PETS), Regal Entertainment Group (RGC) and Disney (DIS). Read More >>
  • This week’s Ask Tematica focuses on choosing between two different share classes.
  • As promised Thematic Signals returns this week, and there is no shortage of confirming data points for our thematic investing themes. Read More >>

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