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.

 

 

Weekly Issue: Factors making the stock market melt up a head-scratcher

Weekly Issue: Factors making the stock market melt up a head-scratcher

Key points inside this issue

  • Our long-term price target on Disruptive Innovator leader Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50.
  • We will continue to be long-term shareholders with Disruptive Innovator Select List resident Universal Display (OLED). Given the improving outlooks, our near-term price target for OLED shares is getting lifted to $150 from $125, and I will revisit that target as we move through the balance of 2019.

 

Reading the latest from the Oracle of Omaha

Over the weekend, the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, released his annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A). This letter has become a must-read among institutional and individual investors alike because it not only reveals changes in Berkshire’s top investment portfolio positions, but it also has contained ample comments on the economy and markets as well as an investing lesson or two.

Out of the gate, we learned that once again Team Buffett outperformed the major stock market indices in 2018. As Buffett got underway, he casually reminded readers to be buyers of “ably managed businesses, in whole or part, that possess favorable and durable economic characteristics” and to do so at sensible prices. While it may seem somewhat self-serving this sounds very much like our thematic investing strategy that looks to identify companies benefitting from structural economic, demographic, psychographic and technological changes at prices that offer commanding upside vs. potential downside.

In the past, Buffett has commented that stocks are akin to pieces of paper and it’s the businesses behind them that are the drivers of revenue and profits. It’s an idea we are very much in tune with as we view ourselves as buyers of thematically well-positioned business first, their shares second. No matter how attractive a stock’s price may be, if its business is troubled or facing thematic headwinds, it can be a tough pill to swallow.

As Buffett later noted, “On occasion, a ridiculously high purchase price for a given stock will cause a splendid business to become a poor investment — if not permanently, at least for a painfully long period.” I certainly agree with that statement because buying a stock at the wrong price can make for a painful experience. There are times, to be patient, but there are also times when the thesis behind owning a stock changes. In those times, it makes far more sense to cut bait in favor of better-positioned companies.

Buffett then shared that “prices are sky-high for businesses possessing decent long- term prospects,” which is something we’ve commented on several times in recent weeks as the stock market continued to melt up even as earnings expectations for the near term have moved lower. We’ll continue to take the advice of Buffett and focus on “calculating whether a portion of an attractive business is worth more than its market price,” for much like Buffett and his team work for Berkshire shareholders, Tematica and I work for you, our subscribers.

Mixed in among the rest of the letter are some on Buffett’s investing history, which is always an informative read, and a quick mention that “At Berkshire, we hope to invest significant sums across borders” and that it continues to “hope for an elephant-sized acquisition.” While I can’t speak to any acquisition, especially after the debacle that is now recognized as Kraft Heinz (KHC), the focus on investing across borders potentially speaks to our New Global Middle-class and Living the Life investing themes. Given Buffett’s style, I suspect Team Buffett is more likely to tap into the rising middle-class over luxury and travel.

Several times Buffett touched on his age, 88 years, as well as that of its key partner Charlie Munger, who is 95. There was no meaningful revelation on how they plan to transition the management team, but odds are that will be a topic of conversation, as will Kraft Heinz Co. (KHC) at the annual shareholder meeting that is scheduled for Saturday, May 4. More details on that can be found at the bottom of the 2018 shareholder letter.

If I had to describe the overall letter, it was a very solid one, but candidly not one of the more memorable ones. Perhaps that reflects 2018 as a whole, a year in which all major market indices fell into the red during the last quarter of the year, and a current environment that is characterized by slowing global growth.

 

More signs that the domestic economy is a-slowin’

In recent issues of Tematica Investing and in the recent Context & Perspectives pieces penned by Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins, we’ve shared how even though the U.S. economy looks like the best one on the global block, it is showing signs of slowing. We had further confirmation of that in the recent December Retail Sales Report as well as the January Industrial Production data that showed a drop in manufacturing activity. The December Durable Orders report that showed orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft dropped 0.7% added further confirmation. Moreover, the report showed a downward November revision for the category to a fall of 1.0% vs. the prior 0.6% decline.

Much the way we focus on the order data inside the monthly ISM and IHS Markit PMI reports, the order data contained inside the monthly Durable Orders report gives us a sense of what is likely to come in near-term. These declining orders combined with the January declines in Industrial Production suggest slack is growing in the manufacturing economy, which means orders for new production equipment are likely to remain soft in the near-term. 

This past Monday we received another set of data that point to a slowing U.S. economy. We learned the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) fell to -0.43 in January from +0.05 in December. This index tracks 85 indicators; we’d note that in January, 35 of those indicators made positive contributions to the index, but that 50 made negative contributions, which produced the month-over-month decline.

Before we get all nervous over that negative January reading for the CFNAI, periods of economic expansion have been associated with index values above -0.70, which means the economy continued to expand in January, just at a much slower pace compared to December. Should the CFNAI reading fall below -0.70 in February or another coming month, it would signal a contraction in the domestic economy.

In response, Buffett likely would say that he and the team will continue to manage the portfolio for the long term, and that’s very much in sync with our thematic investing time frame.

 

Watch those dividends… for increases and for cuts!

Ahead of Buffett’s shareholder letter, shares of Kraft Heinz (KHC) tumbled in a  pronounced manner following several announcements, one of which included the 35% cut in its quarterly dividend to $0.40 per share from $0.625 per share. That’s a huge disappointment given the commonplace expectation that a company is expected to pay its dividend in perpetuity. It can increase its dividend or from time to time declare a special dividend, but as we’ve seen time and time again, the cutting of a company’s dividend is a disaster its stock price. We’ve seen this when General Motors (GM) and General Electric (GE) cut their respective dividends and again last week when Kraft made a similar announcement.

Those three are rather high profile and well-owned stocks, but they aren’t the only ones that have cut quarterly dividend payments to their shareholders. In December, L Brands (LB), the company behind Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, clipped its annual dividend by 50% to $1.20 per share from $2.40 per share and its shares dropped from $35 to $24 before rebounding modestly. On the company’s fourth-quarter earnings conference call, management of Century Link (CTL)  disclosed it would be cutting the telecom service provider’s annual dividend from $2.16 to $1.00 per share. Earlier this month, postal meter and office equipment company Pitney Bowes (PBI) declared a quarterly dividend of $0.05 per share, more than 73% fall from the prior dividend of $0.1875 per share. Other dividend cuts in recent weeks were had at Owens & Minor (OMI), Manning & Napier (MN), Unique Fabricating (UFAB), County Bancorp (ICBK), and Fresh Del Monte (FDP).

What the majority of these dividend cuts have in common is a challenged business, and in some cases like that for Pitney Bowes, the management team and Board have opted to carve out a new path for its capital allocation policy. For Pitney, it means shifting the mix to favor its share buyback program over dividends given the additional $100 million authorization that was announced which upsized its program to $121 million.

As I see it, there are several lessons to be had from these dividends:

One, outsized dividend yields as was the case back in September with L Brands can signal an opportunity for dividend income-seeking investors, but it can also represent a warning sign as investors exit shares in businesses that look to have operating and/or cash flow pressures.

This means that Two, we as investors always need to do the homework to determine what the prospects for the company’s business. As we discussed above, Buffett’s latest shareholder letter reminds investors to be buyers of “ably-managed businesses, in whole or part, that possess favorable and durable economic characteristics” and to do so at sensible prices. Through our thematic lens, it’s no surprise that L Brands and Pitney Bowes are hitting the headwinds of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme, while Kraft Heinz is in the grips of the consumer shift to Cleaner Living. Perhaps Kraft should have focused on something other than cost cuts to grow its bottom line.

Third, investors make mistakes and as we saw with the plummet in the share price at Kraft Heinz, it can happen to Buffett as well. There’s no shame in making a mistake, so long as we can learn from it.

Fourth and perhaps most important, while some may look at the growing number of dividend cuts on a company by company basis, if we look at them in aggregate the pace is greater than the number of such cuts, we saw in all of 2018. While we try not to overly excited one way or another, the pace of dividend cuts is likely to spur questions over the economy and where we are in the business cycle.

 

Putting it all together

As we move into March, more than 90% of the S&P 500 group of companies will have reported their quarterly results. As those results have been increasingly tallied over the last few weeks, we’ve seen EPS expectations move lower for the coming quarters and as of Friday’ stock market close the consensus view is 2019 EPS growth for the S&P 500 will be around 4.7%. That is significantly lower than the more than 11% EPS growth that was forecasted back at the start of the December quarter.

For those keeping score, the consensus for the current quarter points to a 2% growth rate. However, we’re starting to see more analysts cut their outlooks as more figures are reported. For example, JPMorgan (JPM) now sees the current quarter clocking in at 1.5% due to slower business investment spending. For now, JP sees a pick-up in the June quarter to a 2.25% forecast. But in our view, this will hinge on what we see in the coming order data.

Putting it all together, we have a slowing economy, EPS cuts that are making the stock market incrementally more expensive as has moved higher over the last 9 weeks, marking one of the best runs it has had in more than 20 years, and a growing number of dividend cuts. Sounds like a disconnect in the making to me.

Clearly, the stock market has been melting up over the last several weeks on increasing hopes over a favorable trade deal with China, but as I’ve been saying for some time, 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.

We will continue to tread carefully in the near-term, especially given the likelihood that following the disappointing December Retail Sales report and consumer-facing data, retailers are likely to deliver underwhelming quarterly results. Despite favorable weather in December, we saw that yesterday with Home Depot (HD),  and historically it’s been a pretty good yardstick for the consumer. In all likelihood as the remaining 10% of the S&P 500 companies report, we’re going to see further negative revisions to that current 4.7% EPS growth rate for this year I talked about.

 

Tematica Investing

A few paragraphs above, I touched on the strength of the stock market thus far in 2019, and even though concerns are mounting, we have seen pronounced moves higher in a number of the Thematic Leaders as you can see in the chart below. We’ll continue to monitor the changing landscapes and what they may bring. For example, in the coming weeks both Apple and Disney (DIS) are expected to unveil their respective streaming services, and I’ll be listening closely for to determine what this means for Digital Lifestyle leader Netflix (NFLX).

Nokia and Mobile World Congress 2019

We are two days into Mobile World Congress 2019, arguably THE mobile industry event of the year and one to watch for our Digital Lifestyle, Digital Infrastructure, and Disruptive Innovator themes. Thus far, we’ve received a number of different device and network announcements from the event.

On the device side, more 5G capable handsets have been announced as well as a number of foldable smartphones that appear to be a hybrid between a large format smartphone and a tablet. Those foldable smartphones are sporting some hefty price tags as evidenced by the $2,600 one for Huawei’s model. Interesting, but given the size of the device as well as the price point, one has to question if this is a commercially viable product or simply a concept one. Given the pushback that we are seeing with big-ticket smartphones that is resulting in consumers not upgrading their smartphones as quickly as they have in the past, odds are some of these device announcements fall more into the concept category.

On the network side, the news to center on comes from Verizon (VZ), which said it expects to have its 5G network in 30 U.S. cities by the end of 2019. That’s hardly what one would call a vibrant, national 5G network, and makes those commercial 5G launches really a 2020 event for the mobile carriers and consumers. It does mean that over the next several quarters, those mobile operators will continue to build out their 5G networks, which is positive for our shares of Nokia (NOK). As the 5G buildout moves beyond the U.S. into Europe and Asia, this tailwind bodes rather well for the company and helps back its longer-term targets. 

This 5G timetable was also confirmed by comments from Intel (INTC) about the timing of 5G chipsets, which are now expected to be available by the end of 2019 and are not likely to hit devices until 2020. Given the timing of CES in early January and the Mobile World Congress 2020 in February, odds are it means we will see a number of device announcements in early 2020 that will hit shelves in the second half of the year. Many have been wondering when Apple (AAPL) will have a 5G powered iPhone, and based on the various chipset and network comments, odds are the first time we’ll hear about such a device is September-October 2020. 

If history is to be repeated, we are likely to see something similar to what we saw with the first 3G and 4G handsets. By that, we mean a poor consumer experience at least until the 5G networks are truly national in scale and the chipsets become more efficient. One of the issues with each additional layer of mobile technology is it requires additional radio frequency (RF) chips, which in turn not only consume more power but also present internal design issues that out of the gate could limit the size of the battery. Generally speaking, early versions of these new smartphones tend to have less than desirable up-times. This is another reason to think Apple will not be one of those out of the gate 5G smartphone companies, but rather it will repeat its past strategy of bringing its product to market at the tipping point for the chipsets and network deployments. 

Circling back to our Nokia shares, while there are just over a handful of 5G smartphones that have been announced, some of which are expected to become available later this year, over the coming 18 months we will see a far greater number of 5G devices. This should drive Nokia’s high margin, IP licensing business in the coming quarters. As this occurs, Nokia’s mobile infrastructure should continue to benefit from the growing number of 5G networks being built out, not only here in the US but elsewhere as well.

  • Our long-term price target on Disruptive Innovator leader Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50

 

Universal Display shares get lit up

Last week I previewed the upcoming earnings report from Select List resident Universal Display (OLED) and following that news the shares were off with a bang! Universal posted earnings of $0.40 per share, $0.08 per share better than the consensus expectations, on revenue that matched the Wall Street consensus of $70 million. Considering the tone of the smartphone market, I view the company’s quarterly results as “not as bad a feared” and, no surprise, the guidance reflects the continued adoption of organic light-emitting displays across a growing number of devices and vendors. For the current year, Universal has guided revenue to $325 million-$350 million, which is likely to be a step function higher as we move through the coming quarters reflecting the traditional year-end debut of new smartphones, TVs and other devices.

Longer-term, we know Apple (AAPL) and others are looking to migrate more of their product portfolios to organic light-emitting diode displays. This shift will drive capacity increases in the coming several quarters — and recent reports on China’s next round of display investing seems to confirm this happening per its latest Five-Year Plan. As we have seen in the past, this can lead to periods of oversupply and pricing issues for the displays, but the longer-term path as witnessed with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) is one of greater adoption. 

As display pricing improves as capacity grows, new applications for the technology tend to arise. Remember that while we are focused on smartphones and TVs in the near-term, other applications include automotive lighting and general lighting. Again, just like we saw with LEDs.

  • We will continue to be long-term shareholders with Disruptive Innovator Select List resident Universal Display (OLED). Given the improving outlooks, our near-term price target for OLED shares is getting lifted to $150 from $125, and I will revisit that target as we move through the balance of 2019.

 

 

Weekly Issue: Favorable signposts have us adding a call option position

Weekly Issue: Favorable signposts have us adding a call option position

Key points inside this issue

  • We will continue to be long-term shareholders with Disruptive Innovator Select List resident Universal Display (OLED). Given the improving outlooks, our near-term price target for OLED shares is getting lifted to $150 from $125, and I will revisit that target as we move through the balance of 2019.
  • We are issuing a Buy on and adding the Nokia Corp. (NOK) December 2019 7.00 calls (NOK191220C0000700) that closed last night at 0.38 to the Options+ Select List with 0.20 stop loss.
  • We will continue to hold the Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) September 20, 2019, 10.00 calls (DFRG190920C00010000) that closed last night at 1.00, but we will boost our stop loss to 0.80, which will ensure a minimum return of 33% based on our 0.60 entry point.

 

Reading the latest from the Oracle of Omaha

Over the weekend, the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, released his annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A). This letter has become a must-read among institutional and individual investors alike because it not only reveals changes in Berkshire’s top investment portfolio positions, but it also has contained ample comments on the economy and markets as well as an investing lesson or two.

Out of the gate, we learned that once again Team Buffett outperformed the major stock market indices in 2018. As Buffett got underway, he casually reminded readers to be buyers of “ably managed businesses, in whole or part, that possess favorable and durable economic characteristics” and to do so at sensible prices. While it may seem somewhat self-serving this sounds very much like our thematic investing strategy that looks to identify companies benefitting from structural economic, demographic, psychographic and technological changes at prices that offer commanding upside vs. potential downside.

In the past, Buffett has commented that stocks are akin to pieces of paper and it’s the businesses behind them that are the drivers of revenue and profits. It’s an idea we are very much in tune with as we view ourselves as buyers of thematically well-positioned business first, their shares second. No matter how attractive a stock’s price may be, if its business is troubled or facing thematic headwinds, it can be a tough pill to swallow.

As Buffett later noted, “On occasion, a ridiculously high purchase price for a given stock will cause a splendid business to become a poor investment — if not permanently, at least for a painfully long period.” I certainly agree with that statement because buying a stock at the wrong price can make for a painful experience. There are times, to be patient, but there are also times when the thesis behind owning a stock changes. In those times, it makes far more sense to cut bait in favor of better-positioned companies.

Buffett then shared that “prices are sky-high for businesses possessing decent long- term prospects,” which is something we’ve commented on several times in recent weeks as the stock market continued to melt up even as earnings expectations for the near term have moved lower. We’ll continue to take the advice of Buffett and focus on “calculating whether a portion of an attractive business is worth more than its market price,” for much like Buffett and his team work for Berkshire shareholders, Tematica and I work for you, our subscribers.

Mixed in among the rest of the letter are some on Buffett’s investing history, which is always an informative read, and a quick mention that “At Berkshire, we hope to invest significant sums across borders” and that it continues to “hope for an elephant-sized acquisition.” While I can’t speak to any acquisition, especially after the debacle that is now recognized as Kraft Heinz (KHC), the focus on investing across borders potentially speaks to our New Global Middle-class and Living the Life investing themes. Given Buffett’s style, I suspect Team Buffett is more likely to tap into the rising middle-class over luxury and travel.

Several times Buffett touched on his age, 88 years, as well as that of its key partner Charlie Munger, who is 95. There was no meaningful revelation on how they plan to transition the management team, but odds are that will be a topic of conversation, as will Kraft Heinz Co. (KHC) at the annual shareholder meeting that is scheduled for Saturday, May 4. More details on that can be found at the bottom of the 2018 shareholder letter.

If I had to describe the overall letter, it was a very solid one, but candidly not one of the more memorable ones. Perhaps that reflects 2018 as a whole, a year in which all major market indices fell into the red during the last quarter of the year, and a current environment that is characterized by slowing global growth.

 

More signs that the domestic economy is a-slowin’

In recent issues of Tematica Investing and in the recent Context & Perspectives pieces penned by Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins, we’ve shared how even though the U.S. economy looks like the best one on the global block, it is showing signs of slowing. We had further confirmation of that in the recent December Retail Sales Report as well as the January Industrial Production data that showed a drop in manufacturing activity. The December Durable Orders report that showed orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft dropped 0.7% added further confirmation. Moreover, the report showed a downward November revision for the category to a fall of 1.0% vs. the prior 0.6% decline.

Much the way we focus on the order data inside the monthly ISM and IHS Markit PMI reports, the order data contained inside the monthly Durable Orders report gives us a sense of what is likely to come in near-term. These declining orders combined with the January declines in Industrial Production suggest slack is growing in the manufacturing economy, which means orders for new production equipment are likely to remain soft in the near-term. 

This past Monday we received another set of data that point to a slowing U.S. economy. We learned the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) fell to -0.43 in January from +0.05 in December. This index tracks 85 indicators; we’d note that in January, 35 of those indicators made positive contributions to the index, but that 50 made negative contributions, which produced the month-over-month decline.

Before we get all nervous over that negative January reading for the CFNAI, periods of economic expansion have been associated with index values above -0.70, which means the economy continued to expand in January, just at a much slower pace compared to December. Should the CFNAI reading fall below -0.70 in February or another coming month, it would signal a contraction in the domestic economy.

In response, Buffett likely would say that he and the team will continue to manage the portfolio for the long term, and that’s very much in sync with our thematic investing time frame.

 

Watch those dividends… for increases and for cuts!

Ahead of Buffett’s shareholder letter, shares of Kraft Heinz (KHC) tumbled in a  pronounced manner following several announcements, one of which included the 35% cut in its quarterly dividend to $0.40 per share from $0.625 per share. That’s a huge disappointment given the commonplace expectation that a company is expected to pay its dividend in perpetuity. It can increase its dividend or from time to time declare a special dividend, but as we’ve seen time and time again, the cutting of a company’s dividend is a disaster its stock price. We’ve seen this when General Motors (GM) and General Electric (GE) cut their respective dividends and again last week when Kraft made a similar announcement.

Those three are rather high profile and well-owned stocks, but they aren’t the only ones that have cut quarterly dividend payments to their shareholders. In December, L Brands (LB), the company behind Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, clipped its annual dividend by 50% to $1.20 per share from $2.40 per share and its shares dropped from $35 to $24 before rebounding modestly. On the company’s fourth-quarter earnings conference call, management of Century Link (CTL)  disclosed it would be cutting the telecom service provider’s annual dividend from $2.16 to $1.00 per share. Earlier this month, postal meter and office equipment company Pitney Bowes (PBI) declared a quarterly dividend of $0.05 per share, more than 73% fall from the prior dividend of $0.1875 per share. Other dividend cuts in recent weeks were had at Owens & Minor (OMI), Manning & Napier (MN), Unique Fabricating (UFAB), County Bancorp (ICBK), and Fresh Del Monte (FDP).

What the majority of these dividend cuts have in common is a challenged business, and in some cases like that for Pitney Bowes, the management team and Board have opted to carve out a new path for its capital allocation policy. For Pitney, it means shifting the mix to favor its share buyback program over dividends given the additional $100 million authorization that was announced which upsized its program to $121 million.

As I see it, there are several lessons to be had from these dividends:

One, outsized dividend yields as was the case back in September with L Brands can signal an opportunity for dividend income-seeking investors, but it can also represent a warning sign as investors exit shares in businesses that look to have operating and/or cash flow pressures.

This means that Two, we as investors always need to do the homework to determine what the prospects for the company’s business. As we discussed above, Buffett’s latest shareholder letter reminds investors to be buyers of “ably-managed businesses, in whole or part, that possess favorable and durable economic characteristics” and to do so at sensible prices. Through our thematic lens, it’s no surprise that L Brands and Pitney Bowes are hitting the headwinds of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme, while Kraft Heinz is in the grips of the consumer shift to Cleaner Living. Perhaps Kraft should have focused on something other than cost cuts to grow its bottom line.

Third, investors make mistakes and as we saw with the plummet in the share price at Kraft Heinz, it can happen to Buffett as well. There’s no shame in making a mistake, so long as we can learn from it.

Fourth and perhaps most important, while some may look at the growing number of dividend cuts on a company by company basis, if we look at them in aggregate the pace is greater than the number of such cuts, we saw in all of 2018. While we try not to overly excited one way or another, the pace of dividend cuts is likely to spur questions over the economy and where we are in the business cycle.

 

Putting it all together

As we move into March, more than 90% of the S&P 500 group of companies will have reported their quarterly results. As those results have been increasingly tallied over the last few weeks, we’ve seen EPS expectations move lower for the coming quarters and as of Friday’ stock market close the consensus view is 2019 EPS growth for the S&P 500 will be around 4.7%. That is significantly lower than the more than 11% EPS growth that was forecasted back at the start of the December quarter.

For those keeping score, the consensus for the current quarter points to a 2% growth rate. However, we’re starting to see more analysts cut their outlooks as more figures are reported. For example, JPMorgan (JPM) now sees the current quarter clocking in at 1.5% due to slower business investment spending. For now, JP sees a pick-up in the June quarter to a 2.25% forecast. But in our view, this will hinge on what we see in the coming order data.

Putting it all together, we have a slowing economy, EPS cuts that are making the stock market incrementally more expensive as has moved higher over the last 9 weeks, marking one of the best runs it has had in more than 20 years, and a growing number of dividend cuts. Sounds like a disconnect in the making to me.

Clearly, the stock market has been melting up over the last several weeks on increasing hopes over a favorable trade deal with China, but as I’ve been saying for some time, 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.

We will continue to tread carefully in the near-term, especially given the likelihood that following the disappointing December Retail Sales report and consumer-facing data, retailers are likely to deliver underwhelming quarterly results. Despite favorable weather in December, we saw that yesterday with Home Depot (HD),  and historically it’s been a pretty good yardstick for the consumer. In all likelihood as the remaining 10% of the S&P 500 companies report, we’re going to see further negative revisions to that current 4.7% EPS growth rate for this year I talked about.

 

Tematica Investing

A few paragraphs above, I touched on the strength of the stock market thus far in 2019, and even though concerns are mounting, we have seen pronounced moves higher in a number of the Thematic Leaders as you can see in the chart below. We’ll continue to monitor the changing landscapes and what they may bring. For example, in the coming weeks both Apple and Disney (DIS) are expected to unveil their respective streaming services, and I’ll be listening closely for to determine what this means for Digital Lifestyle leader Netflix (NFLX).

Nokia and Mobile World Congress 2019

We are two days into Mobile World Congress 2019, arguably THE mobile industry event of the year and one to watch for our Digital Lifestyle, Digital Infrastructure, and Disruptive Innovator themes. Thus far, we’ve received a number of different device and network announcements from the event.

On the device side, more 5G capable handsets have been announced as well as a number of foldable smartphones that appear to be a hybrid between a large format smartphone and a tablet. Those foldable smartphones are sporting some hefty price tags as evidenced by the $2,600 one for Huawei’s model. Interesting, but given the size of the device as well as the price point, one has to question if this is a commercially viable product or simply a concept one. Given the pushback that we are seeing with big-ticket smartphones that is resulting in consumers not upgrading their smartphones as quickly as they have in the past, odds are some of these device announcements fall more into the concept category.

On the network side, the news to center on comes from Verizon (VZ), which said it expects to have its 5G network in 30 U.S. cities by the end of 2019. That’s hardly what one would call a vibrant, national 5G network, and makes those commercial 5G launches really a 2020 event for the mobile carriers and consumers. It does mean that over the next several quarters, those mobile operators will continue to build out their 5G networks, which is positive for our shares of Nokia (NOK). As the 5G buildout moves beyond the U.S. into Europe and Asia, this tailwind bodes rather well for the company and helps back its longer-term targets. 

This 5G timetable was also confirmed by comments from Intel (INTC) about the timing of 5G chipsets, which are now expected to be available by the end of 2019 and are not likely to hit devices until 2020. Given the timing of CES in early January and the Mobile World Congress 2020 in February, odds are it means we will see a number of device announcements in early 2020 that will hit shelves in the second half of the year. Many have been wondering when Apple (AAPL) will have a 5G powered iPhone, and based on the various chipset and network comments, odds are the first time we’ll hear about such a device is September-October 2020. 

If history is to be repeated, we are likely to see something similar to what we saw with the first 3G and 4G handsets. By that, we mean a poor consumer experience at least until the 5G networks are truly national in scale and the chipsets become more efficient. One of the issues with each additional layer of mobile technology is it requires additional radio frequency (RF) chips, which in turn not only consume more power but also present internal design issues that out of the gate could limit the size of the battery. Generally speaking, early versions of these new smartphones tend to have less than desirable up-times. This is another reason to think Apple will not be one of those out of the gate 5G smartphone companies, but rather it will repeat its past strategy of bringing its product to market at the tipping point for the chipsets and network deployments. 

Circling back to our Nokia shares, while there are just over a handful of 5G smartphones that have been announced, some of which are expected to become available later this year, over the coming 18 months we will see a far greater number of 5G devices. This should drive Nokia’s high margin, IP licensing business in the coming quarters. As this occurs, Nokia’s mobile infrastructure should continue to benefit from the growing number of 5G networks being built out, not only here in the US but elsewhere as well.

  • Our long-term price target on Disruptive Innovator leader Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50

 

Universal Display shares get lit up

Last week I previewed the upcoming earnings report from Select List resident Universal Display (OLED) and following that news the shares were off with a bang! Universal posted earnings of $0.40 per share, $0.08 per share better than the consensus expectations, on revenue that matched the Wall Street consensus of $70 million. Considering the tone of the smartphone market, I view the company’s quarterly results as “not as bad a feared” and, no surprise, the guidance reflects the continued adoption of organic light-emitting displays across a growing number of devices and vendors. For the current year, Universal has guided revenue to $325 million-$350 million, which is likely to be a step function higher as we move through the coming quarters reflecting the traditional year-end debut of new smartphones, TVs and other devices.

Longer-term, we know Apple (AAPL) and others are looking to migrate more of their product portfolios to organic light-emitting diode displays. This shift will drive capacity increases in the coming several quarters — and recent reports on China’s next round of display investing seems to confirm this happening per its latest Five-Year Plan. As we have seen in the past, this can lead to periods of oversupply and pricing issues for the displays, but the longer-term path as witnessed with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) is one of greater adoption. 

As display pricing improves as capacity grows, new applications for the technology tend to arise. Remember that while we are focused on smartphones and TVs in the near-term, other applications include automotive lighting and general lighting. Again, just like we saw with LEDs.

  • We will continue to be long-term shareholders with Disruptive Innovator Select List resident Universal Display (OLED). Given the improving outlooks, our near-term price target for OLED shares is getting lifted to $150 from $125, and I will revisit that target as we move through the balance of 2019.

 

Tematica Options+

It would have been wonderful to have been long Universal Display (OLED) calls, but again given what we’ve heard in recent weeks about the tone of the smartphone market, its results were far more “not as bad as feared” and I suspect in the short-term drove a fair amount of short covering. I still like the long-term prospects for the adoption of the technology, and it’s something to watch as adoption heats up.

By comparison, after months of what seemed like modest forward progress coming out of Mobile World Congress, the pace of 5G is about to get into gear from both a device and network perspective. As we move through 2019, that pace is poised to accelerate even further, which should bring favorable operating leverage to both businesses tucked inside Nokia.

For that reason, I am adding the Nokia Corp. (NOK) December 2019 7.00 calls (NOK191220C0000700) that closed last night at 0.38 to the Options+ Select List. The duration should capture that expected swell in 5G activity, and as we move through the coming months, I’ll consider a layered strategy that could include adding 2020 calls to the mix. Given the time span, we’ll set a wider stop loss berth than usual at 0.20.

 

 

Looking past this week’s market relief rally

Looking past this week’s market relief rally

As expected, the last few days in the market have been a proverbial see-saw, which culminated in the sharp market rally following the mid-term elections. The outcome, which saw the Democrats gain ground in Washington, was largely expected. We’ll see in the coming weeks and months the degree of gridlock to be had in Washington and what it means for the economy, but we have to remember several other concerning items remain ahead of us. To jog memories, these include the next round of budget talks between Italy and EU, which should occur next week; continued rate hikes by the Fed as it looks to stave off inflation and get more tools back for the next eventual recession; and upcoming trade talks between the US-China.

While we like the mid-week, market rebound and what it did for the Thematic Leaders as well as positions on the Select List, the upcoming events outlined above suggest near-term caution is still warranted. Shares of McCormick & Co. (MKC) International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) as well as Altria (MO), AMN Healthcare (AMN) and Costco Wholesale (COST) have been on a tear of late. Earlier this week, Costco reported its October same-store sales results, which once again confirmed this Middle-class Squeeze company is taking wallet share.

Yesterday, mobile infrastructure company Ericsson (ERIC) held its annual Capital Markets event at which it spoke in a bullish tone over 5G rollouts, so much so that it raised its 2020 targets. I see that along with other similar comments in the last few weeks as very positive for our positions in Digital Infrastructure leader Dycom (DY) and Disruptive Innovator Nokia Corp. (NOK) as well as AXT Inc. (AXTI) shares.

 

Axon’s – September quarter earnings and an upgrade

Over the last few weeks, share of Safety & Security Thematic Leader Axon Enterprises (AAXN) have come under considerable pressure, but on Tuesday night the company reported September quarter earnings of $0.20 per share, crushing the consensus view of $0.13 per share as both revenue and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) soared. Axon then reiterated its full-year guidance which hinged on the continued adoption of its Axon camera and cloud-storage business. Year over year, the number of cloud seats booked by customers rose to 325,200 exiting September up from 187,400 twelve months earlier. The combination of the 25% pullback in the shares quarter to date and that upbeat outlook led JPMorgan Chase to upgrade the shares to Overweight from Neutral.

Yes, we are down with the shares, but as the market settles out I’ll look to add to the position and improve our cost basis along the way. I continue to expect Axon will eventually acquire rival Digital Ally (DGLY) and its $31 million market cap, removing the current legal overhang on the shares. Our price target remains $90.

 

Disney earnings on deck tonight

After tonight’s market close, Disney (DIS) will report its quarterly results, and while we are not expecting any surprises for the September quarter, it’s the comments surrounding the company’s streaming strategy and integration of the Fox assets that will be in focus. Expectations for the September quarter are EPS of $1.34 on revenue of $13.73 billion. Our position on Disney has been and continues to be that based on the success of its streaming services, investors will need to revisit how they value DIS shares as it goes direct to the consumer with a cash-flow friendly subscription business model. Our price target for DIS shares remains $125.

 

Del Frisco’s earnings to follow next week

Monday morning, Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) also postponed its quarterly earnings report from until Tuesday, Nov. 13, citing “additional time required to finalize the accounting and tax treatment of our acquisition of Barteca Restaurant Group, disposition of Sullivan’s Steakhouse, a secondary offering of common stock and debt syndication.”

Coincidence? Perhaps, but it raises questions over the bench strength of these companies as they reshape their business. If you’ve ever been in a negotiation, you know things can slip, but following GNC’s postponement, we are at heightened alert levels with Del Frisco’s. We knew this was going to be a sloppy earnings report and we clearly have confirmation; our only question is why didn’t the management team wait to announce its earnings date until it had dotted its Is and crossed its Ts on all of these items?

To some extent, I am expecting a somewhat messy report in light of the sale of its Sullivan’s business and its common stock offering early in the quarter that raised more than $90 million. In parsing the company’s report, I will be focusing on revenue growth for the ongoing business as well as its profit generation considering that earnings-per-share comparisons could be challenging if not complicated versus the year-ago quarter. Nonetheless, the reported quarterly results will be gauged at least initially against the consensus view, which heading into the weekend sat at a loss per share of $0.25 on revenue of $120 million. For the December quarter, one of the company’s seasonally strongest, Del Frisco’s is expected to guide to EPS near $0.23 on revenue of $144 million.

So far this earnings season we’ve heard how restaurant companies including Bloomin’ Brands Inc. (BLMN), Ruth’s Hospitality Group (RUTH), Del Taco Restaurants Inc. (TACO), Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (CMG) and more recently Wingstop Inc. (WING) are seeing their margins benefitting from food deflation. Along with a pickup in average check size owing to prior price increases, these companies have delivered margin improvement and expanding EPS. I expect the same from Del Frisco’s. When coupled with an expected uptick in holiday spending and consumer sentiment running at high levels, we remain bullish on DFRG shares heading into Monday’s earnings report. Our price target on DFRG shares remains $14.

 

What to Watch Next Week

On the economic front, we’ll get more inflation data in the form of the October CPI report next week, which follows tomorrow’s October PPI one. In both we hear at Tematica will be scrutinizing the year over year comparisons and given the growing number of companies issuing price increases we expect to see those reflected in these October as well as November inflation reports. If the figures come in hotter than expected, expect that to reignite Fed rate hike concerns. Also, next week, we have the October reports for Retail Sales and Industrial Production as well as the first look at November with the Empire Manufacturing and Philly Fed indices.

With the October Retail Sales report, we’ll be once again parsing it to compare against the October same-store sales reported yesterday by Costco Wholesale (COST), which were up 8.6% year over year (+6.6% core). Odds are we will once again have formal confirmation that Costco is taking consumer wallet share.

Compared to the more than 1,200 earnings reports we had this week, the 345 or so next week will be a proverbial walk in the park. there will be several key reports to watch including Home Depot (HD), Macy’s (M), JC Penney (JCP), Williams Sonoma (WSM), and WalMart (WMT). We’ll be matching their forecasts for the current quarter up against the 2018 holiday shopping forecasts from the National Retail Federation, Adobe (ADBE) and others that call for overall holiday shopping to rise 4.0%-5.5% with online shopping climbing more than 15% year over year. I continue to see that as very positive for our shares in Amazon (AMZN), Costco and United Parcel Service (UPS) as well as McCormick & Co. (MKC).

Perhaps the biggest wild card next week will be the Italian budget and as we near the end of this week, things are already getting heated on that front. Today, the Italian government said it is sticking with its plan to rapidly increase public spending despite the budget dispute with the European Union, and it has no intention of revising its plan by next week. As background, Italy is the third largest economy in the EU, and if a joint resolution is not reached we expect this to reignite talk of “Italeave,” which will stoke once again questions over the durability of the EU. Given its size compared to Greece, the Italian situation is one we will be watching closely in the coming days.

WEEKLY ISSUE: Examining an Aging of the Population Contender as we wait for the Fed

WEEKLY ISSUE: Examining an Aging of the Population Contender as we wait for the Fed

 

Key Points from this Issue:

  • We’ll continue to stick with Facebook shares, and our long-term price target remains $225.
  • We continue to have a Buy rating and $1,300 price target on Alphabet (GOOGL) shares.
  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $1,750.
  • We are adding shares of Aging of the Population company Brookdale Senior Living (BKD) to the Tematica Investing Contender List

 

The action has certainly heated up this week, with more talk of trade restraints with China, two more bombings in Austin, Texas and renewed personal data and privacy concerns thanks to Facebook. And that’s all before the Fed’s monetary policy concludes later today when we see how new Fed Chair Jerome Powell not only handles himself but answers questions pertaining to the Fed’s updated forecast and prospects for further monetary policy tightening. Amid this backdrop, we’ve seen the major US stock market indices trade off over the last week, but as I shared in this week’s Monday Morning Kickoff, what Powell says and how the market reacts will determine the next move in the market.

I continue to expect a 25bps interest rate hike with Powell offering a dovish viewpoint given the uncertainty emanating from Washington, the lack of inflation in the economy and the preponderance of weaker than expected data that has led to more GDP cuts for the current quarter than upward revisions. As of March 16, the Atlanta Fed’s GDP Now reading stood at 1.8% for 1Q 2017 vs. 5.4% on Feb. 1 – one would think Powell and the rest of the Fed heads are well aware of this.

We touched on these renewed personal data and privacy concerns earlier in the week, and the move lower in Facebook (FB) shares in response is far from surprising. As I wrote, however, I do expect Facebook to instill new safeguards and make other moves in a bid to restore user trust. At the heart of the matter, Facebook’s revenue model is reliant on advertising, which means being able to attract users and drive usage in order to serve up ads. As it is Facebook is wading into original content with its Watch tab and moves to add sporting events and news clearly signal there is more to come. I see it as part of a strategy to renews Facebook’s position as a sticky service with consumers and one that advertisers will turn to in order to reach consumers as Facebook focuses on “quality user engagement.”

The ripple effects of these renewed privacy concerns weighed on our Alphabet/Google (GOOGL) shares, which traded off some 4% over the last week, as well as other social media companies like Twitter (TWTR) and Snap (SNAP). The silver lining to all of this is these companies are likely to address these concerns, maturing in the process.

Not a bad thing in my opinion and this keeps Alphabet/Google shares on the Tematica Investing Select List, while the company’s prospect to monetize YouTube, mobile search, Google Express (shopping) and Google Assistant keep my $1,300 price target intact. Per a new report from Reuters, Google is working with large retailers such as Target Corp (TGT), Walmart (WMT), Home Depot (HD), Costco Wholesale (COST and Ulta Beauty (ULTA) to list their products directly on Google Search, Google Express, and Assistant. I see this as Alphabet getting serious with regard to Amazon (AMZN) as Amazon looks to grow its advertising revenue stream.

  • We’ll continue to stick with Facebook shares, and our long-term price target remains $225.
  • We continue to have a Buy rating and $1,300 price target on Alphabet (GOOGL) shares.
  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $1,750.

 

On the housekeeping front, earlier in the week, we shed Universal Display (OLED) shares, bringing a close to one of the more profitable recommendations we’ve had over the last year here at Tematica Investing. Now let’s take a look at a Brookdale Senior Living and our Aging of the Population investing theme.

 

Brookdale Senior Living – A well-positioned company, but is it enough?

One of the great things about thematic investing is there is no shortage of confirming data points to be had in and our daily lives. For example, with our Connected Society investing theme, we see more people getting more boxes delivered by United Parcel Service (UPS) from Amazon (AMZN) and a several trips to the mall, should you be so inclined, will reveal which retailers are struggling and which are thriving. If you do that you’re also likely to see more people eating at the mall than actually shopping; perhaps a good number of them are simply show rooming in advance of buying from Amazon or a branded apparel company like Nike (NKE) or another that is actively embracing the direct to consumer (D2C) business model.

While it may not be polite to say, the reality is if you look around you will notice the domestic population is greying More specifically, we as a people are living longer lives, which has a number of implications and ramifications that are a part of our Aging of the Population investing theme. There are certainly issues of having enough saved and invested to support us through our increasingly longer life spans, as well as the right healthcare to deal with any and all issues that one might face.

According to data published by the OECD in 2013, the U.S. expectancy was 78.7 years old with women living longer than men (81 years vs. 76 years). Cross-checking that with data from the Census Bureau that says the number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to 75.5 million by 2030, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Other data reveals the number of older American afflicted with and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise to nearly 25% from 15%. According to United States Census data, individuals age 75 and older is projected to be the fastest growing age cohort over the next twenty years.

As people age, especially past the age of 75, it becomes challenging for individuals to care for themselves, and this is something I am encountering with my dad who turns 86 on Friday. Now let’s consider that roughly 6 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s by 2020, up from 4.7 million in 2010, and heading to 8.4 million by 2030 according to the National Institute of Health. Not an easy subject, but as investors, we are to remain somewhat cold-blooded if we are going to sniff out opportunities.

What all of this means is we are likely to see a groundswell in demand over the coming years for assisted living facilities to house and care for the aging domestic population.

One company that is positioned to benefit from this tailwind is Brookdale Senior Living (BKD), which is one of the largest players in the “Independent Living, Assisted Living and Memory Care” market with over 1,000 communities in 46 states. The company’s revenue stream is broken down into fives segments:

  • Retirement Centers (14% of 2017 revenue; 22% of 2017 operating profit) – are primarily designed for middle to upper income seniors generally age 75 and older who desire an upscale residential environment providing the highest quality of service.
  • Assisted Living (47%; 60%) – offer housing and 24-hour assistance with activities of daily living to mid-acuity frail and elderly residents.
  • Continuing care retirement centers (10%; 8%) – are large communities that offer a variety of living arrangements and services to accommodate all levels of physical ability and health.
  • Brookdale Ancillary Services (9%; 4%) – provides home health, hospice and outpatient therapy services, as well as education and wellness programs
  • Management Services (20%; 6%) – various communities that are either owned by third parties.

 

In looking at the above breakdown, we see the core business to focus on is Assisted Living as it generated the bulk of the company’s operating profit stream. This, of course, cements the company’s position in Tematica’s Aging of the Population theme, but is it a Contender or one for the Tematica Investing Select List?

 

Changes afoot at Brookdale

During 2016 and 2017, both revenue and operating profit at Brookdale came under pressure given a variety of factors that included a more competitive industry landscape during which time Brookdale had an elevated number of new facility openings, which is expected to weigh on the company’s results throughout 2018. Also impacting profitability has been the growing number of state and local regulations for the assisted living sector as well as increasing employment costs.

With those stones on its back, throughout 2017, Brookdale surprised to the downside when reporting quarterly results, which led it to report an annual EPS loss of $3.41 per share for the year. As one might imagine this weighed heavily on the share price, which fell to a low near $6.85 in late February from a high near $19.50 roughly 23 months ago.

During this move lower in the share price, Brookdale the company was evaluating its strategic alternatives, which we all know means it was putting itself up on the block to be sold. On Feb. 22 of this year, the company rejected an all-cash $9 offer as the Board believed there was a greater value to be had for shareholders by running the company. Alongside that decision, there was a clearing of the management deck with the existing President & CEO as well as EVP and Chief Administrative Officer leaving, and CFO Cindy Baier being elevated to President and CEO from the CFO slot.

Usually, when we see a changing of the deck chairs like this it likely means there will be more pain ahead before the underlying ship begins to change directions. To some extent, this is already reflected in 2018 expectations calling for falling revenue and continued bottomline losses. Here’s the thing – those expectations were last updated about a month ago, which means the new management team hasn’t offered its own updated outlook. If the changing of the deck history holds, it likely means offering a guidance reset that includes just about everything short of the kitchen sink.

On top of it all, Brookdale has roughly $1.1 billion in long-term debt, capital and leasing obligations coming due this year. At the end of 2017, the company had no borrowings outstanding on its $400 million credit facility and $514 million in cash on its balance sheet. It would be shocking for the company to address its debt and lease obligations by wiping out its cash, which probably means the company will have to either refinance its debt, raise equity to repay the debt or a combination of the two. This could prove to be one of those overhangs that keeps a company’s shares under pressure until addressed. I’d point out that usually, transaction terms in situations like this are less than friendly.

While I like the drivers of the underlying business, my recommendation is we sit on the sidelines with Brookdale until it addresses this balance sheet concern and begins to emerge from its new facility opening drag and digestion. Odds are we’ll be able to pick the shares up at lower levels. This has me putting BKD shares on the Tematica Investing Contender List and we’ll revisit them in the coming months.

 

 

Weekly Issue: Looking for Trump-Proof Companies

Weekly Issue: Looking for Trump-Proof Companies

We exited last week with the market realizing there was more bark than bite associated with President Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. That period of relative calm, however, was short-lived as the uncertainty resumed in Washington yesterday in the form of changeups in the administration with Trump letting go Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just after agreeing to talks with North Korea, and more saber rattling with trade actions against China for technology, apparel, and other imports. This also follows Trump’s intervention in the proposed takeover of Qualcomm (QCOM) by competitor Broadcom (BRCM).

While many an investor will focus on the “new” volatility in the market, I’ll continue to use our thematic lens to look for companies that are “Trump-Proof” in the short-term. That’s not a political statement, but rather a reflection of the reality that the modus operandi of President Trump and his Twitter habit often cause significant swings in the market as the media attempts to digest and interpret his comments.

How will we find these so-called Trump-proof companies? By continuing to use our thematic lens to uncover well-positioned companies that are benefitting from thematic tailwinds that alter the existing playing field, regardless of the latest noise from Washington politicians.

At least for now, volatility is back in vogue and that is bound to drive headlines and other noise. I’ll continue to focus on the data, and if you read this week’s Monday Morning Kickoff you know we are in the midst of a whopper of a data week. While the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for February was in line with expectations, and on a year over year basis core rose 1.8% — the same as in January — which should take some wind out of the inflation mongers. This morning we have the February Retail Sales report, which in my view should once again serve up confirming data for our positions in Amazon (AMZN) and Costco Wholesale (COST), which continue to benefit from our Connected Society and Cash-strapped Consumer investing themes.  Later in the week, the February reading on Industrial Production should confirm the demands that are exacerbating the current heavy truck shortage here in the U.S. – good news for the Paccar (PCAR)shares on the Tematica Investing Select List.

 

 

An Update on Our Once Star Performer, Universal Display (OLED)

A few weeks ago, I shared an update on Universal Display (OLED) shares, which have been essentially treading water following the company’s December quarter results. Later today, the management team will be presenting at the Susquehanna’s Seventh Annual Semi, Storage & Tech Conference. Odds are the management team will reiterate its view on market digesting the organic light emitting diode capacity additions made over the last several quarters, but I expect they will also describe the growing number of applications that will come on stream in the next 3-6 quarters.  As of late February, Susquehanna had a positive rating on OLED shares with a price target of $200 and I suspect they will have some bullish comments following today’s presentation.

 

Considering the ripples to be had with the latest Connected Society victim, Toys R Us

Over the weekend we were reminded of the situation facing many brick & mortar retailers that are failing to adapt their business to ride our Connected Society investing theme. I’m referring to toy and game retailer Toys R Us, the one-time Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS) or Home Depot (HD) of its industry. Like several sporting goods retailers and electronic & appliance retailers such as Sports Authority, Sports Chalet, and HH Gregg that have gone belly up, if Toys R Us doesn’t get a last-minute lifeline or find a buyer it will likely file Chapter 7.

It’s been a rocky road for the one-time toy supermarket company as it entered bankruptcy in September, aiming to emerge with a leaner business model and more manageable debt. The company obtained a new $3.1 billion loan to keep the stores open during the turnaround effort, but results worsened more than expected during the holidays, casting doubt on the chain’s viability. The company entered this year with more than 800 stores in the U.S. — under both the Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us brands, but by January, it announced the shuttering of 180 locations.

The pending bankruptcy to be had at Toys R Us is but the latest in the retail industry, but it’s not likely to be the last. Claire’s Stores Inc., the fashion accessories chain with a debt load of $2 billion, is also preparing to file for bankruptcy in the coming weeks as is Walking Co. Holdings Inc.

What these all have in common is the increasing shift by consumers to digital commerce and the growing reliance on retailers for what is termed the direct to consumer (D2C) business model. Certain branded apparel, footwear, and other consumer product companies, like Nike (NKE) have embraced Amazon’s formidable logistics capabilities and this has benefitted our United Parcel Service (UPS) shares. As we have said before, and we recognize it sounds rather simplistic, when you order products online they have to get to where they are being sent. Hello UPS!

Now let’s consider the ripple effect of the pending Toys R Us bankruptcy.

When events such as this occur, there is a liquidation effect and a subsequent void. As we saw when Sports Authority went bankrupt, the businesses at Nike and Under Armour (UAA) were impacted by liquidation sales in the short term. At the same time, both lost the recurring sales associated with Sports Authority. Odds are we will see the same happen with Toys R Us with companies like Mattel (MAT) and Hasbro (HAS) taking it on the chin. In my view these companies are already struggling as teens, tweens and kids of all ages shift to digital games, apps and e-gaming, which are aspects of our Connected Society and Content

In my view these companies are already struggling as teens, tweens and kids of all ages shift to digital games, apps and e-gaming, which are aspects of our Connected Society and Content is King themes. When was the last time you saw an elementary schooler play with Ken or Barbie? More likely they are on an iPad or Microsoft (MSFT) Xbox while their older siblings are playing the new craze sweeping the nation – Fortnite. And yes, that it appears the rumors are true and Fornite will soon be available across Apple’s iDevices.

Looking at the financial performance of Mattel, not even the all mighty Star Wars franchise could save them from delivering declining revenue and earnings this past holiday shopping season. On the liquidation front, we are likely to see the toys businesses at Target (TGT) as well as Walmart (WMT) take the brunt of the blow. But here too this is likely just another hit as these two retailers have already been dealing with falling revenue at Mattel and Hasbro. Walmart is the largest customer for Mattel and Hasbro, accounting for about 20% of total sales for each toy maker. Both toy companies get nearly 10% of their revenue from Target too.

One of the investing strategies that I employ with the Select List is “buy the bullets, not the guns” which refers to buying well-positioned suppliers that serve a variety of customers. In situations like what we are seeing in the brick & mortar retail sector, we can turn that strategy upside down and uncover those companies, like Mattel and Hasbro, that we as investors should avoid given the multiple direct and indirect headwinds they are currently facing or about to.

 

With more earnings on the way, getting ready for a shortened week for stocks

With more earnings on the way, getting ready for a shortened week for stocks

Today is all quiet when it comes to the domestic stock market as they are closed in observance of President’s Day. While never one to dismiss a long weekend, it does mean having a shorter trading week ahead of us. From time to time, that can mean a frenetic pace depending of the mixture and velocity of data to be had. This week, there are less than a handful of key economic indicators coming at us including the January Existing Home Sales report and one for Leading Indicators.

Midweek, we’ll get the report that I suspect will be the focus for most investors this week – the monthly Flash PMI reports for China, Europe and the U.S. from Markit Economics. These will not only provide details to gauge the velocity of the economy in February, but also offer the latest view on input prices and inflation. Given the inflation focus that was had between the January Employment Report and the January CPI report, this new data will likely be a  keen focus for inflation hawks and other investors. I expect we here at Tematica will have some observations and musings to share as we digest those Flash PMI reports.

On the earnings front, if you were hoping for a change of pace after the last two weeks, we’re sorry to break the news that more than 550 companies will be reporting next week. As one might expect there will be a number of key reports from the likes of Home Depot (HD) and Walmart (WMT).  For the Tematica Investing Select List, we’ll get results from four holdings:

 

MGM Resorts (MGM) on Tuesday (Feb. 20)

When this gaming and hospitality company reports its quarterly results, let’s remember the Las Vegas shooting that had a negative impact on overall industry Las Vegas gaming activity early in the December quarter. In amassing the monthly industry gaming data, while gaming revenue rebounded as the seasonally slow quarter progressed, for the three months in full it fell 5% year over year. Offsetting that, overall industry gaming revenue for the December quarter rose 20% year over year in Macau.

Putting these factors together and balancing them for MGM’s revenue mix, we’ve seen EPS and revenue expectations move to the now current $0.08 and $2.5 billion vs. $0.11 and $2.46 billion in the year ago quarter. On MGM’s earnings call, we’ll be looking to see if corporate spending is ramping down as had been predicted as well as what the early data has to say about the new Macau casino. We’ll also get insight on the potential direct and indirect benefits of tax reform for MGM’s bottom line.

  • Heading into that report our price target for MGM shares remains $37.

 

Universal Display (OLED) on Thursday (Feb. 22).

After several painful weeks, shares of Universal Display rebounded meaningfully last week following the news it re-signed Samsung to a multi-year licensing deal and an upbeat outlook from Applied Materials (AMAT)for the organic light-emitting display market. For subscribers who have been on the sidelines for this position, with the Apple (AAPL) iPhone X production news now baked in the cake we see this as the time to get into the shares. We expect an upbeat earnings report to be had relative to the December quarter consensus forecast for EPS of $0.85 on revenue of $100 million, up 55% and 34%, respectively, year over year.

Based on what we’ve heard from Applied as well as developments over organic light emitting diode TVs and other devices at CES 2018, we also expect Universal will offer a positive outlook for the current as well as coming quarters.

  • Our price target on OLED shares remains $225.

 

 

Consumer Confidence & LEI’s Flash Warning

Consumer Confidence & LEI’s Flash Warning

Consumer Confidence for September declined a bit more than expected, falling to 119.8 from 120.4, versus expectations for a decline to 120. While that doesn’t sound all that meaningful as it is still well above the long-term average of 93.9, we see something occurring beneath the headlines that warrants further attention and is particularly concerning – relative confidence levels by age group.

 

As one would expect, confidence among younger consumers is almost always better than amongst older consumers, (less time alive means less time for regrets and a perception of more time to accomplish one’s goals) which is why this month’s Consumer Confidence report is so remarkable. This month middle-aged consumers, those 35-54 years of age, have a higher level of confidence at 128.2 than younger consumers, those under 35 years of age, who have dropped to 120.9 from 126.6. This divergence is quite rare, but even more concerning is the magnitude of the reversal. Going all the way back to 1980, the negative 7.1 spread in confidence between those middle-aged and those in the younger cohort has never been greater. The low rates of household formation coupled with the well above average rates of college grads living with mom and dad put the Millenial generation deep in our Cash Strapped Consumer investing theme.

 

We also saw something with respect to confidence levels by income that could be a concern for the current administration. While confidence levels for consumers with incomes over $50,000 and those with incomes under $35,000 rose, confidence for consumers with incomes between $35,000 and $50,000 dropped to the lowest level since last October. Given that a large portion of President Trump’s base is in that cohort, don’t expect to see an improvement is his approval ratings anytime soon.

For investors, this means that President Trump may have an even more difficult time passing the legislation he promised on the campaign trail. Low approval ratings make it less appealing for legislators to reach across the aisle and increase the perceived potential risk versus reward for those in his own party to be staunch supporters of any Trump-led legislation. Repeal/replace of Obamacare and tax reform, let alone that much-promised infrastructure spending is more challenging when fewer and fewer support the current administration.

 

The Consumer Confidence report also revealed weaker plans to spend, with autos falling to a 14-month low and housing dropping to 6.9 from 7.3. On the other hand, the trend to remodel versus trade up continues as plans to buy a major appliance jumped to 54.0 from 50.5, the highest level since May 2009. This bodes well for shares of Home Depot (HD) and Lowe’s (LOW).

 

The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) gave us ample cause for concern as 50 of the 85 variables it measures across the national economy were in contraction mode for August with the 3-month moving average dropping to -0.04 in August from +0.15 in June. Personal Consumption & Housing was in the red at -0.06 and has now been negative for 123 consecutive months – more evidence of our Cash Strapped Consumer.

 

Finally, the ECRI leading index smoothed growth rate has fallen for seven consecutive weeks, stalling last week after having growth at nearly a 12% pace at the beginning of 2017. We haven’t seen growth this weak since March of 2016.

 

The bottom line is we see a continued disconnect between sentiment, the hard data and the market’s enthusiasm coupled with a profound “meh” when it comes to political and geopolitical risks. However, as we noted earlier, expensive stocks can get more expensive and the market isn’t giving us any signs of an imminent reversal, particularly as we see an increasing number of stocks moving above their 50-day moving averages.

Stopped Out of the Remaining Home Depot Calls

Stopped Out of the Remaining Home Depot Calls

Last Friday, we took advantage of the buildup in anticipation of Hurricane Irma and trimmed back the Home Depot (HD) Jan 2018 155.000 calls (HD180119C00155000) position on the Tematica Options+ Select List as well as boosted the stop loss on the remaining calls to 8.00 from 5.00. With Irma being downgraded over the last 36 hours to a Category 1 from a Category 4, investor concern over its impact has lessened. This led to our being stopped out of the remaining portion of the Home Depot call position at 8.00 today. While we’re sorry to see the calls go so quickly after having just added them on August 31, we’re not one to complain over the 78% return on the remaining calls. On a blended basis, the Home Depot (HD) Jan 2018 155.000 calls (HD180119C00155000) delivered

On a blended basis, the Home Depot (HD) Jan 2018 155.000 calls (HD180119C00155000) delivered a return of more than 102% – not too shabby if we say so ourselves.