Weekly Issue: September Looks Like a Repeat of August

Weekly Issue: September Looks Like a Repeat of August

Key points inside this issue

  • We are establishing a buy-stop level at 9.50 for shares of Veeco Instruments (VECO), which will lock in a profit of at least 13% on this short position.
  • The Hershey Company: Tapping into Cleaner Living with M&A


We ended a volatile August… 

Stocks rebounded from some of their recent losses last week as trade tensions between the U.S. and China appear to have cooled off a bit. For the month of August in total, during which there seemed to be one market crisis after another, most of the major stock market indices finished down slightly. The outlier was the small-cap heavy Russell 2000, which shed around 5% during the month.

Looking back over the last few weeks, the market was grappling with a number of uncertainties, the most prominent of which was the announced tariff escalation in the U.S- China trade war. There were other uncertainties brewing, including the growing number of signs that outside of consumer spending, the economy continues to soften. We saw that consumer strength in Friday’s July Personal Income & Spending data, but also in the second June-quarter GDP revision that ticked down to 2.0% from 2.1%, even though estimates for consumer spending during the quarter rose to 4.7% from 4.3%. I would note that 4.7% marked the strongest level of consumer spending since the December 2014 quarter. We are, however, seeing a continued shift in where consumers are spending — moving from restaurants and department stores to quick-service restaurants and discount retailers as well as online. This raises the question as to whether the economy is prepared to meet head-on our Middle Class Squeeze investing theme?

Another issue investors grappled with as we closed out August was the yield curve inversion. While historically this does raise a red flag, it’s not a foregone conclusion that a recession is around the corner. Rather it can be several quarters away, and there are several stimulative measures that could be invoked to keep the economy growing. In other words, we should continue to mind the data and any potential monetary policy tweaking to be had.

Closing out August, more than 99% of the S&P 500 have reported earnings for the June-quarter season. EPS for that group rose just under 1%, which was far better than the contraction that was lining up just a few weeks ago. Based on corporate guidance and other factors, however, EPS expectations for both the September and December quarters have been revised lower. Some of this no doubt has to do with the next round of tariffs that took effect on Sept. 1 on Chinese imports, but we can’t dismiss the slowing speed of the global economy either.

That overall backdrop of uncertainty helps explain why the three best-performing sectors during August were Utilities, Real Estate and Consumer Staples. But as we saw in the second half of last week, a softer tone on the trade war led investors back into the market as China said it wished to resolve the trade dispute with a “calm” attitude.

Without question, investors and Corporate America are eager for forward progress on the trade war to materialize. While there have been several head fakes in recent months, we should remain optimistic. That said, we here at Tematica continue to believe the devil will be in the details when it comes to a potential trade agreement, and much like deciphering economic data, it will mean digging into that agreement to fully understand its ramifications. Those findings and their implications as well as what we hear on the monetary policy front will set the stage for what comes next. 


… and it looks like more ahead for September

This week kicks off the last month of the third quarter of 2019. For many, it will be back to work following the seasonally slow, but volatile last few weeks of summer. The question to be pondered is how volatile will September be? Historically speaking it is the worst calendar month for stocks and based on yesterday’s performance it is adhering to its reputation.

As a reminder, on Sept. 1 President Trump authorized a tariff increase to 15% from 10% on $300 billion in Chinese imports, many of which are consumer goods such as clothing, footwear and electronics.  As we saw, that line in the sand came and went over the holiday weekend and now Trump is once again rattling his trade saber, suggesting China should make a deal soon as it will only get worse if he wins the 2020 presidential election.

In addition to that, yesterday morning we received the one-two punch that was the August reading on the manufacturing economy — from both IHS Markit and the Institute of Supply Management. The revelation that manufacturing continued to slow weighed on stocks yesterday. The direction of Tuesday’s official data, however, was not a surprise to us given other data we monitor such as weekly rail car loadings, truck tonnage and the Cass Freight Index.  But as I have seen many a time, just because we are aware of something in the data doesn’t mean everyone is. 

What I suspect has rattled the market as we kick off September is the August ISM Manufacturing Survey, which showed the U.S. manufacturing sector declined to 49.1 in August. That is the lowest reading in about three years, and as a reminder, any reading below 50 signals a contraction. Data from IHS Markit also released yesterday showed the U.S. manufacturing PMI slowed to 50.3 in August, its lowest level since September 2009. Slightly better than the ISM headline print, but still down. Digging into both reports, we see new orders stalled, which suggests businesses are not only growing wary of the trade uncertainty, but that we should not expect a pickup in the month of September.

In my view, the more official data is catching up to the “other data” cited earlier and that more than likely means downward gross domestic product expectations ahead. It will also lead the market to focus increasingly on what the Fed will do and say later this month. I also think the official data is now capturing the weariness of the continued trade war. The combination of the slowing economy as well as the continued if not arguably heightened trade uncertainty will more than likely lead to restrain spending and investment in Corporate America, which will only add to the headwinds hitting the economy. 

Taking those August manufacturing reports, along with the data yet to come this week – the ISM Non-Manufacturing readings for August, and job creation data for August furnished by ADP and the Bureau of Labor Statistics — we’ll be able to zero in on the GDP taking shape in the current quarter. I would note that exiting last week, the NY Fed’s Nowcast reading for the September quarter was 1.76%, below the 2.0% second revision for June-quarter GDP. There is little question that given yesterday’s data the next adjustment to those forecasts will be lower. 

Adding to that view, we’ll also get the next iteration of the Fed’s Beige Book, which will provide anecdotal economic commentary gathered from the Fed’s member banks. And following the latest data, we can expect investors and economists alike will indeed be pouring over the next Beige Book.

No doubt, all of this global macro data and the trade war will be on the minds of central bankers ahead of their September meetings. Those dates are Sept. 12 for the European Central Bank (ECB) followed by the Fed’s next monetary policy meeting and press conference on Sept. 16-17. Given the declines in the eurozone, the ECB is widely expected to announce a stimulus package exiting that meeting, and currently the CBOE FedWatch Tool pegs a 96% chance of a rate cut by the Fed. With those consensus views in mind, should the economic data paint a stronger picture than expected it could call into question those likelihoods. If central banker expectations fail to live up to Wall Street expectations, that would more than likely give the stock market yet another case of indigestion. 

All of this data will also factor into earnings expectations. Earlier I mentioned some of the more recent revisions to the downside for the back half of 2019 but as we know this is an evolving story. That means effectively “wash, rinse, repeat” when it comes to assessing EPS growth for the S&P 500 as well as individual companies. And lest we forget, companies will not only have to contend with the effect of the current trade war and slowing economy on their businesses, but also the dollar, which as we can see in the chart below has near fresh highs for 2019. 

The biggest risk I see over the next few weeks is one of economic, monetary policy and earnings reality not matching up with expectations. Gazing forward over the next few weeks, the growing likelihood is one that points more toward additional risk in the market. We will continue to trade carefully in the near-term and heed what we gather from the latest thematic signals.


The Thematic Leaders and Select List

Over the last several weeks, the market turbulence led several positions, including those in Netflix (NFLX), Dycom (DY) and International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) — on both the Tematica Leader board and the Select List to be stopped out. On the other hand, even though the overall markets took a bit of a nosedive during August, several of our thematic holdings, such as USA Technologies (USAT), AT&T (T), Costco Wholesale (COST), McCormick & Co. (MKC) and Applied Materials (AMAT) to name a few outperformed on both an absolute and relative basis.

Even the short position in Veeco Instruments (VECO) has returned nearly 18% since we added that to the Select List last March. That has been a particularly nice move, but also one that is playing out as expected. Currently, we have do not have a buy-stop order to protect us on our VECO position, and we are going to rectify that today. We are establishing a buy-stop level at 9.50 for shares of Veeco Instruments (VECO), which will lock in a profit of at least 13% on this short position. 

  • We are establishing a buy-stop level at 9.50 for shares of Veeco Instruments (VECO), which will lock in a profit of at least 13% on this short position.


The Hershey Company: Tapping into Cleaner Living with M&A

When we think of The Hershey Company (HSY) there is little question that its candy, gum and mints business that garnered it just over 30% of the US candy market lands its squarely in our Guilty Pleasure investing theme. Even the company itself refers to itself as the “undisputed leader in US confection” and we look at its thematic scorecard rankings, its business warrants a “5”, which means nearly all of its sales and profits are derived from our Guilty Pleasure theme. 

Not exactly a shock to even a casual observer. 

But as we’ve discussed more than a few times, consumers are shifting their preferences for food, beverages and snacks to “healthier for you” alternatives. These could be offerings made from organic or all-natural ingredients, or even ingredients that are considered to promote better health, such as protein over sugar. Recognizing this changing preference among its core constituents, Hershey hasn’t been asleep at the switch, but rather it has been making a number of nip and tuck acquisitions to improve its snacking portfolio, which aligns well with our Cleaner Living investing theme. 

These acquisitions have played out over a number of years, starting with the acquisition of the Krave jerky business (2015);  SkinnyPop parent Amplify Snacks (2017), Pirate Brands, including the Pirate’s Booty, Smart Puffs and Original Tings brands (2018). Then, just last month, Hershey acquired ONE Brands, LLC, the maker of a line of low-sugar, high-protein nutrition bars. August 2019 turned out to be a busy month for the executives of Hershey, as also in that month, the company announced minority investments in emerging snacking businesses FULFIL Holdings Limited and Blue Stripes LLC. FULFIL is a one of the leading makers of vitaminfortified, high protein nutrition bars in the UK and Ireland, while Blue Stripes offers cacao-based snacks and treats instead of chocolate ones. 

Clearly the Hershey Company is improving its position relative to our Cleaner Living investing theme. The outstanding question is to what degree are these aggregated businesses contributing to the company’s overall sales and profits? While it is safe to say Hershey has some exposure to the Cleaner Living theme, the answers to those questions will determine Hershey’s overall theme ranking. That level of detail could emerge during the company’s September quarter earnings call, but it may not until it files its 2019 10-K. 

As we wait for that October conference call, I’ll continue to do some additional work on HSY shares, including what the potential EPS impact is from not only falling sugar prices but also the pickup in cocoa prices over the last six months. In a surprise that should come to no one, given the size and influence of the company’s chocolate and confectionary business to its sales and profits, cocoa and sugar are two key inputs that can hold sway over the Hershey cost structure. 

In my mind, the long-term question with Hershey is whether it can replicate the nip and tuck transformative success Walmart (WMT) had when it used a similar strategy to reposition itself to better capture the tailwinds of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme? No doubt transformation takes time, but now is the time to see if a better business balance between our Guilty Pleasure and Cleaner Living themes emerges at Hershey.

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 December 17 2018

Weekly Issue December 17 2018

Key points inside this issue:

  • The Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey surprises the market
  • Costco stumbles, but it is far from down and out
  • Thematic confirmation had in the November Retail Sales Report
  • Digging into Friday’s other economic reports
  • What to watch this week
  • Holiday Housekeeping

The Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey surprises the market

What looked to be shaping up as a positive week for the stock market turned on its head Friday following renewed concerns over the pace of the global economy. As we’ve talked about recently, the vector and velocity of the latest economic reports suggest a slowing economy and that is fueling questions over the top and bottom-line growth prospects for 2019.

Tossing some logs on the that fire late last week was the new survey findings from the Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey that showed almost half (48.6%) of US chief financial officers believe the United States will be in recession by the end of next year while 82% of CFOs surveyed believe that a recession will begin by the end of 2020. That’s quite different than the Wall Street consensus, which per The Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecasting Survey sees the speed of the economy slowing from 3.5% in the September 2018 quarter to 2.5% in the current one to 2.4% in the first half of 2019 followed by 2.2% in the back half of the year.

This revelation has added to the list of concerns that I’ve been discussing of late and adds to the growing worries over EPS growth prospects in 2019.

 

Costco stumbles, but it is far from out

Last Thursday night, Costco Wholesale (COST), our Middle-Class Squeeze Thematic Leader, reported an EPS beat by $0.05 per share for the quarter, but revenue came in a tad short at up 10.3% year over year, or $34.3 billion vs. the expected $34.66 billion. Same-store sales for the quarter rose 8.8% (+7.5% ex-gasoline and currency), which is well above anything we’ve seen for the September-November period per Friday’s November Retail Sales report save for digital shopping (Non-store retailers) and gas station sales – more on that shortly.

Despite the positive EPS, COST shares fell 8.6% on Friday.

The issue with Costco was the margin profile as reported operating income was essentially flat year over year. When combined with the top line increase vs. the year-ago quarter it means the company’s operating margin hit 2.7% vs. 3.0% in the year-ago quarter, and 3.2% this past August quarter. Part of the issue was the jump up in pre-opening expenses for new warehouse locations which rose by 6% quarter over quarter. The real culprit was the step up in merchandising costs, which climbed 10.8% year over year for the November quarter vs. 5.4% year over year in the September quarter. Clearly, Costco is seeing the impact of not only higher prices but also the impact of tariffs associated with the U.S.-China trade war.

Despite that, the core basics at the company – foot traffic, renewal rates, and membership growth – continue to fire on all cylinders. That to me makes Costco one of the best-positioned retailers, and the fact that its e-commerce business continues to blossom is positive as well. In all of 2019, Costco looks to open 20-23 net new warehouses, which equates to an increase of 2.5%-3.0% year over year. This will likely drive pre-opening expenses higher in the coming months, but given the favorable metrics associated with each new location over the medium to longer-term, we’ll take it, especially if the economy slows more than expected. Odds are that will drive more consumers to Costco than not.

  • Our long-term price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $250.

 

Thematic confirmation in the November Retail Sales Report

Looking over Friday’s November Retail Sales Report, core Retail Sales rose 4.0% year over year with strong performance as expected for Non-store Retailers (+10.8% year over year), Gasoline Stations (+8.2%) and Food Service & Drinking Places (+5.6%). To me, those first and third categories ring positive for our Digital Lifestyle and Living the Life investing themes. That means I see those as positive signs for our thematic and holiday shopping positioned companies, which includes the aforementioned Costco, but also Amazon (AMZN), United Parcel Service (UPS), McCormick & Co. (MKC), International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) and Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG).

Back to the November Retail Sales report, while the sequential overall retail comparisons came in either as expected or slightly better depending on the forecast one is looking at, what’s likely to catch the market’s attention is the sequential drop in year over year retail sales growth that was had in November. Again, year over year November retail sales growth rose 4.0%, which was down compared to the October year over year increase of 4.5%.

Given the growing amount of data that points to a slowing domestic economy, one that is driven meaningfully by the consumer, odds are market watchers will not love what they saw in those year over year comparisons. Add to it that a recent Gallup poll found that Americans plan to spend less on holiday gifts today than they expected back in October and less than they expected to spend in 2017. The $91 decline in expected spending since October is “one of the steeper mid-season declines, exceeded only by a $185 drop that occurred in 2008, as the Wall Street financial crisis was unfolding, and a $102 drop in 2009 during the 2007-2009 recession.”

Clearly, those latest data points weighed on the overall stock market last week, but those weren’t the only ones.

 

Digging into Friday’s other economic reports

The November Retail Sales report wasn’t the only set of key data that weighed on the market last Friday. The November Industrial Production Report showed a flat manufacturing economy following the modest dip in October. On the December Flash PMI reports, the U.S. hit a 19-month low for the month with softer new order growth, while “Lower oil-related costs contributed to the slowest rate of input price inflation since the start of the year.” Turning to the eurozone, its Composite Output PMI hit 51.3, down from 52.7 in November, and reached a four-year low. The Flash Manufacturing PMI data for Japan was better, as it rose to 52.4 for December up from 52.2 in November, but that is hardly what we would call a robust figure given the expansion/contraction line at the 50.0 level. While new orders activity improved in Japan, new export orders fell, signaling a change of direction, which supports the notion of a slowing global economy.

This data along with the back and forth on U.S.-China trade, Brexit developments, Italy budget concerns, protests in France, and the potential government shutdown have all raised investor uncertainty levels. We see this in the current “Extreme Fear” (9) reading on the CNN Business Fear & Greed Index, which is little changed over the last few weeks. We’ve seen this play out in the stock market as the number of stocks hitting new highs pales in comparison to hitting 52-week lows. As one likely suspects, we saw this play out in small cap stocks, which per the Russell 2000 last week, were once again the hardest hit of the major stock categories. Quarter to date, small cap stocks are down just under 17% quarter to date.

We saw a number of these concerns brewing as we exited September and entered the September- quarter earnings season. We have been careful in making additions to the Select List given what I’ve viewed as an environment that has been more skewed to risk than reward. Odds are that will continue to be the case between now and the end of the year, which means we will continue to be overly selective when it comes to deploying capital. For that reason, last week we added the ProShares Short S&P 500 ETF (SH) shares to our holdings to add some downside protection.

 

What to Watch This Week

Following last week’s rash of economic data, don’t ask me how or why but the Atlanta Fed saw fit to boost its GDP Now forecast for the current quarter to 3.0% from 2.4% last week. As subscribers know, I prefer the far more solid track record at the NY Fed and its Nowcast report, which now calls for the current quarter to be +2.4%, down from +2.44% last week. That’s in line with The Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecasting Survey, but again that Duke poll is likely to be in the forefront of investor minds this week as more data is had. This includes several pieces of housing data — the November Housing Starts & Building Permits as well as November Existing Home Sales and the October NAHB Housing Market Index — as well as the November Durable Orders Report and November Personal Income & Spending data.

As I mentioned above, the number of economic numbers suggesting the global economy continues to slow are growing, which likely gives the Fed far more room to issue dovish comments after next week’s all but done December rate hike. In recent weeks as the Fed has once again signaled it will more than likely remain data dependent in 2019, we’ve seen a change in the futures market, which is now pricing in less than 20 basis points of rate hikes next year versus over 55 basis points just a few months ago. But we have to consider the reason behind this slower pace of rate hikes, which is the suggestion by recent data that the economy is far from overheating, which also adds to the core question we suspect investors and the market are asking: how fast/strong will EPS growth be in 2019?

As we prepare for Fed Chair Powell’s remarks, it’s not lost on me that we could very well see a “buy the rumor, sell the news” event following the FOMC meeting next week.

Heading down the final stretch of 2018, I’ll be looking at well-positioned companies relative to our investment themes that have been hard hit by the quarter to date move in the market. As of Friday’s market close, the S&P 500 was down X% quarter to date, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index and the small-cap heavy Russell 2000 were down 14% and nearly 17%, respectively, on that basis. One of the criteria that I’ll be focusing on as I weed through this growing list of contenders is favorable EPS growth year over year relative to the S&P 500. And, yes, when I say that I do mean to “real” EPS growth due to rising profit margins and expanding dollar profits instead of those lifted largely by buyback activities.

With that in mind, I’ll be paying close attention to a number of key earnings reports coming at us next week. These include Nike (NKE), Carmax (KMX), ConAgra (CAG), General Mills (GIS), Micron (MU), FedEx (FDX) and Darden Restaurants (DRI). Inside these reports and company commentaries, I’ll be looking for data points that to confirm our investment themes, the question of inflation vs. deflation and where it may be, and a last-minute update from FedEx on digital commerce for this holiday shopping season that we are all in the thick of. Also, among those reports is Del Frisco’s competitor – The Capital Grill, which is owned by Darden. I’ll be paying extra close attention to that report and what it means for our DFRG shares.

 

Holiday Housekeeping!

And that brings us to our Housekeeping note, which is this – given the way the Christmas and New Year’s holidays fall this year, barring any unforeseen issues that will require our attention and immediate action, we here at Tematica will be in “get ready for 2019” mode. That means we’ll be using the quiet holiday time to review the Thematic Leaders as well as positions on the Select List to ensure we are well prepared for the coming months ahead.

As such, we’re likely to be back the week of January 7th, although I can’t rule out the urge to share some thoughts with you sooner. For example, if the Fed says something that rolls the stock market’s eyes later this week, I’ll be sure to weigh in and share my thoughts. The same goes for the Darden earnings report I mentioned above and what it may mean for our DFRG shares.

We will have a new podcast episode or two before then, and we will be sharing a number of Thematic Signals over the coming weeks – if only those confirming signs for our investment themes would take a break. I’m only kidding, but of course, I love how recognizable and relatable the themes are in and around our daily lives.

To you and your loved ones, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year! See you 2019!!

 

 

Weekly Issue: A Number of Our Thematic Leaders Well Positioned for the Holidays

Weekly Issue: A Number of Our Thematic Leaders Well Positioned for the Holidays

 

Normally we here at Tematica tend to shut down during the short week that contains Thanksgiving, but given all that is going on in the stock market of late, we thought it prudent to share some thoughts as well as what to watch both this week and next. From all of us here at Tematica, we wish you, your family, friends and love a very happy Thanksgiving!

Now let’s get started…

Key points in this issue

  • Despite the recent market pain, I continue to see a number of holdings being extremely well positioned for the holiday season including Amazon, Costco Wholesale (COST), United Parcel Service (UPS), McCormick & Co. (MKC) and both businesses at International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF).
  • I’ll continue to heed our Thematic Signals and look for opportunities for when the stock market lands on solid footing.
  • Later this week, Disney’s (DIS) latest family-friendly move, Ralph Breaks the Internet, hits theaters and we’ll be checking the box office tallies come Monday.
  •  Taking a look at shares of Energous Corp. (WATT), a Disruptive Innovator contender

 

The stock market so far this week…

There is no way to sugar coat or tap dance around it – this week has been a difficult slug ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday as the pressures we’ve talked about over the last two months continue to plague the market as the impact has widened out. Oil prices have continued to plummet, pressuring energy stocks; housing data continues to disappoint, hitting homebuilding stocks; and we’ve received more new of iPhone production cuts as well as potential privacy regulation that has rippled through much of the tech sector. Retail woes were added to the pile following disappointing results from Target (TGT) and L Brands (LB) that pressured those shares and sent ripples across other retail shares.

The net effect of the last few weeks has wiped out the stock market’s 2018 gains with both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 down roughly 1.0% as of last night’s market close. While the Nasdaq Composite Index is now flat for the year, the small-cap heavy Russell 2000 is firmly in the red, down 4.3% for all of 2018 as of last night.

The overall market moves in recent days have weighed on several constituents of the Thematic Leaders and the Select List, most notably Apple (AAPL), Amazon and Alphabet/Google (GOOGL). Despite that erasure, we are still nicely profitable those positions as well as AMN Healthcare (AMN), Costco Wholesale (COST), Disney (DIS), Alphabet (GOOGL), ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK), and several others. More defensive names, such as McCormick & Co. (MKC), and International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) have outperformed on a relative basis of late, which we attribute to their respective business models and thematic tailwinds.

As I describe below, the coming days are filled with events that could continue the pain or lead to a reprieve. As that outcome becomes more clear, we’ll either stay on the sidelines collecting thematic signals for our existing positions or take advantage of the recent market pain to scoop up shares in thematically well-positioned companies at prices we haven’t seen in months.

 

What to watch the rest of this week

As we get ready for the Thanksgiving holiday, we know before too long the official kick-off to the holiday shopping race will being. Some retailers will be open late Thursday, while others will open their doors early Black Friday morning and keep them open all weekend long. As we get the tallies for the shopping weekend, the fun culminates with Cyber Monday, a day that is near and dear to our hearts given our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.

Given the market mood of late, as well as the disappointing results from Target and L Brands earlier this week, we can count on Wall Street picking through the shopping weekends results to determine how realistic recently issued holiday shopping forecasts. The National Retail Federation’s consumer survey is calling for a 4.1% increase year over year this holiday season, which they define as November and December. The NRF’s own forecast is looking for a more upbeat 4.3%-4.8% increase vs. 2017.

Consulting firm PwC has a more aggressive view — based on its own survey, consumers expect to spend $1,250 this holiday season on gifts, travel and entertainment, a 5% increase year over year. One of the differences in the wider array of what’s included in the survey versus the NRF. In that vein, Deloitte’s inclusion of January in its findings explains why its 2018 holiday shopping forecast tops out among the highest at a 5.0%-5.6% improvement year over year. That Deloitte forecast includes a 17%-22% increase in digital commerce this holiday shopping season compared to 2017, reaching $128-$134 billion in the process. That’s a sharp increase but some estimates call for Amazon (AMZN) to increase its sales during the period by at least 27%.

I continue to see a number of holdings being extremely well positioned for the holiday season including Amazon, Costco Wholesale (COST), United Parcel Service (UPS), McCormick & Co. (MKC) and both businesses at International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF).

Also this week, Disney’s (DIS) latest family-friendly move, Ralph Breaks the Internet, hits theaters and we’ll be checking the box office tallies come Monday.

 

What to watch next week

As mentioned above, next week will bring us the full tally of holiday shopping results and begin with Cyber Monday, which means more holiday shopping data will be had on Tuesday. As we march toward the end of November, we’ll have several of the usual end of the month pieces of economic data, including Personal Income & Spending as well as New Home Sales and Pending Home Sales for October. We’ll also get the second print for the September quarter GDP, and many will be looking to measure the degree of revision relative to the initial 3.5% print.

As they do that, they will likely be taking note of the forward vector for GDP expectations, which per The Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecast Survey sees current quarter GDP at 2.6% with 2.5% in the first half of 2019 and 2.15% for the back half of 2019. Taking a somewhat longer view, that means the economy peaked in the June quarter with GDP at 4.2%, due in part to the lag effect associated with the 2018 tax reform, and has slowed since due to the slowing global economy, trade war,  strong dollar, and higher interest rates compared to several quarters ago. As tax reform anniversaries, that added boost to the corporate bottom lines will disappear and in the coming weeks, we expect investors will be asking more questions about the likelihood of the S&P 500 delivering 10% EPS growth in 2018 vs. 2017.

With that in mind, perhaps the two most critical things for investors next week will be the minutes to the Fed’s November meeting and the G20 Summit that will be held Nov. 30-Dec. 1. Inside the Fed minutes, we and other investors will be looking for comments on inflation and the speed of rate future rate hikes, which the market currently expects to be four in 2019. And yes, the December Fed policy meeting continues to look like a shoe-in for a rate hike. Per White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, US-China trade is likely to come to a head at the summit. If the speech given by Vice President Pence at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit – the United States “will not change course until China changes its ways” – we could see the current trade war continue. We’ll continue to expect the worst, and hope for the best on this front.

On the earnings front next week, there will be a number of reports worth noting including those from GameStop (GME), Salesforce (CRM), JM Smucker (SJM) and a number of retailers ranging from Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS) and Tiffany & Co. (TIF) to PVH (PVH) and Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF). Those retailer results will likely include some comments on the holiday shopping weekend, and we can expect investors to match up comparables and forecasts to determine who will be wallet share winners this holiday season. Toward the end of next week, we’ll also hear from Palo Alto Networks (PAWN) and Splunk (SPLK), which should offer a solid update on the pace of cybersecurity spending.

 

Taking a look at shares of Energous Corp. (WATT)

In our increasingly connected society, two of the big annoyances we must deal with are keeping our devices charged and all the cords we need to charge them. When I upgraded my iPhone to one of the newer models, I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of charging it wirelessly by laying it on a charging disc. Pretty easy.

I’m hardly alone in appreciating this convenience, and we’ve heard that companies ranging from Tesla Inc. (TSLA) to Apple Inc. (AAPL) are looking to bring charging pads to market. That means a potential sea change in how we charge our devices is in the offing, which means a potential growth market for a company that has the necessary chipsets to power one or more of those pads. In other words, if there were no such chipsets, we would not be able to charge wirelessly. This coming change fits very well inside our Disruptive Innovators investing theme.

Off to digging I went and turned up Energous Corp. (WATT) and its WattUp solution, which consists of proprietary semiconductor chipsets, software and antennas that enable radio frequency (RF)-based, wire-free charging of electronic devices. Like the charging disc I have and the ones depicted by Apple, WattUp is both a contact-based charging and at-a-distance charging solution, which means all we need do is lay our wireless devices down be it on a disc, pad or other contraption to charge them. In November 2016, Energous entered into a Strategic Alliance Agreement with Dialog Semiconductor (DLGNF), under which Dialog manufactures and distributes IC products incorporating its wire-free charging technology.

Dialog happens to be the exclusive supplier of these Energous products for the general market and Dialog is also a well-known power management supplier to Apple across several products, including the iPhone. Indeed, last week Dialog bucked the headline trend of late and shared that it isn’t seeing a demand hit from Apple after fellow suppliers Lumentum Holdings Inc. (LITE) and Qorvo Inc. (QRCO) cut guidance earlier this week.

On its September quarter earnings call, Dialog shared it was awarded a broad range of new contracts, including charging across multiple next-generation products assets, with revenue expected to be realized starting in 2019 and accelerating into 2020. I already can feel several mental carts getting ahead of the horse as some think, “Ah, Energous might be the technology that will power Apple’s wireless charging solution!”

Adding fuel to that fire, on its September quarter earnings conference call Energous shared that “given the most recent advances in our core technology” its relationship with its key strategic partner – Dialog – “has now progressed beyond development, exploration and testing to actual product engineering.”

If we connect the dots, it would seem that Energous very well could be that critical supplier that enables Apple’s wireless charging pads. Here’s the thing: We have yet to hear when Apple will begin shipping those devices, which also means we have no idea when a teardown of one will reveal Dialog-Energous solutions inside. Given that there was no mention of Apple’s wireless charging efforts at either its 2018 iPhone or iPad events, odds are this product has slipped into 2019. That would jibe with the timing laid out by Energous.

Based on three Wall Street analysts covering WATT shares, steep losses are expected to continue into 2019, which in my view suggests a ramp with any meaningful volume in the second half of the year. That’s a long way to go, and given the pounding taken by the Nasdaq of late, we’ll put WATT shares onto the Contender’s so we can keep them in our sights for several months from now.

 

 

Booking some gains, boosting stop losses levels and new call recommendation as well

Given the holiday weekend that for many is the last summer hurrah for many folks, we’re coming at you a day earlier than usual lest we fall victim to even lower trading volumes during this historically quiet trading week. Over at Tematica Investing, I’ve been doing some pruning and repositioning on the Select List, and in today’s issue, we’re doing more of that by exiting Habit Restaurant (HABT) shares, with a tasty gain, and adding Alibaba (BABA) shares to the fold as a Digital Lifestyle company.

In that issue, I walk you through my rationale, which includes not only the continued adoption of the Digital Lifestyle in China but Alibaba’s other business – cloud, media and innovation projects – are on the cusp of being drags on the overall profit picture to profit generators. To me, this looks like the same situation Amazon was in several years ago – an -commerce platform that was driving the ship with some questions as to whether or not it could be profitable.

Today, EPS expectations for Amazon in 2019 are $25.37 up from -$0.52 in 2014 due in part to smart investments in recent years as well as the continued growth in Amazon Web Services. While many compare Alibaba and Amazon, this is one area in which Alibaba differs from Amazon as the company is already profitable even though its cloud business is a drag on profits.

As I write in this week’s Tematica Investing:

In coming months, odds are we will see continued growth in China digital commerce as China consumers build up for the year-end holidays and Chinese New Year. That along with other gains in its cloud and digital media businesses should see Alibaba closing the profit gap leading to not only more comparisons to Amazon, but to multiple expansion to a PEG ratio of 1.1x that offers upside to $230, if not more.

Chinese New Year is the biggest gift giving holiday in China and in 2019 it begins on Feb. 5 and lasts for 7 days. That timetable as well as the current share price have me adding the Alibaba Feb. 2019 180.00 calls (BABA190215C00180000)that closed last night at 15.26 to the Select List. I’m setting a wider than usual stop loss at 10.00 given the extended time table, and our strategy will be to either scale deeper into the position or add a layered one should the opportunity present itself.

Taking some chips off the table for our Costco calls

To fund this new position, we’re going to trim back our position in the Costco Wholesale (COST) January 2019 230.00 (COST190118C00230000)calls that closed last night at 10.89, 65% higher than our buy price on Aug. 1. I’m selling half the position on the Select List, a prudent move in my opinion, and keeping the balance in place to capture the additional upside. As you make this trade, you should also boost your stop loss to 10.00 from 8.50, which should ensure a minimum return of just over 50% on this remaining slug of Costco calls.

 

Boosting our Netflix stop loss levels

With the recent surge in Netflix (NFLX) shares, our layered call option approach for the shares has also paid off rather nicely of late. As of last night’s close, our Netflix (NFLX) Jan 2019 400.00 (NFLX190118C00400000)closed at 23.00 while our Netflix (NFLX) Jan 2019 350 calls (NFLX190118C00350000)finished trading at 45.50 and both are up 45%-47% from our initial buy-in prices.

While I continue to see more upside ahead for the underlying Netflix shares, given my $500 price target, we want to do the smart thing with the calls full well knowing how volatile call options can be. Therefore, we are:

As Netflix shares churn higher, I’ll look to revisit those stop loss levels.

 

Housekeeping: Stopped out of our IFF calls

In yesterday’s trading, our International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) Nov 2018 135 calls (IFF181116C00135000)calls hit a low of 2.40, which tripped our 2.50 stop loss. Given our 3.02 buy price, the position generated a return of just over 17%.

 

 

Weekly Issue: Adding a layered approach to our Netflix strategy and new position in IFF

Weekly Issue: Adding a layered approach to our Netflix strategy and new position in IFF

Key points in this issue:

 

A layered approach to Netflix calls

In yesterday’s weekly issue of Tematica Investing, we scaled into the shares of both Applied Materials (AMAT) and Netflix (NFLX). Today at Tematica Options+, we’re going to add a layered approach to our existing Netflix call option play add a new call option position in shares of International Flavors & Fragrances.

The easy temptation would be to scale into the existing Netflix position in a move that would lower our cost basis. Rather than do that, we’re going to use the double-digit drop in the shares following its June quarter earnings report to our advantage.

Unlike NFLX shares, which are the only shares one can buy in Netflix the company, with options we have various strike prices and dates to choose from.

In this case, the call option that I’m selecting is one that is modestly out of the money vs. the current NFLX share price of $344.44. That means the 350 strike price.

In terms of timing, Netflix will have a plethora of original content hitting its streaming service in the coming months. Yes, a fair amount of it will be geared toward its international exposure as the company targets those subscribers but there will be new content for the domestic market as well. Based on the historic seasonality seen in the company’s subscriber growth as well as earnings, we’re going to stick with the existing strike date in January 2019.

 

A new call option position in IFF shares

We recently added back shares of International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), which as its name suggests is a company focused on flavors and fragrances. We recently addedIFF shares back to the Select List as part of our recast New Middle Class investing theme, but what the company’s name doesn’t share is its growing focus on natural and organic products. As a reminder, this past May IFF acquired Frutarom, a flavor, savory solutions and natural ingredients company that sells over 70,000 products to more than 30,000 customers in over 150 countries. The combination of the two businesses creates a global leader in taste, color, scent, and nutrition that is a leader in natural solutions.

If you’re thinking IFF sounds like it’s not only riding our New Middle-Class theme but also our Clean Living one, well…. Let’s just say that you are thinking like I am.

Over the last week, the Clean Living investing theme has been a high profile one given two major M&A transactions. The first was privately held Cava Mezza Grill acquiring publicly traded Zoë’s Kitchen in a transaction worth $300 million. The combined company will continue to focus on healthy fair with a hefty dash of Mediterranean influence. The second was PepsiCo (PEP) buying SodaStream (SODA), and if you missed that news I talked about it in this Thematic Signal from a few days ago.

Here’s the thing, these are the two latest in a growing list of acquisitions by companies that are looking to improve if not emphasize their exposure to our Clean Living investing theme. As more companies look to bring all natural products to market, we see that boding very well for IFF shares. With the accelerating shift in consumer preference toward Clean Living that is forcing companies to respond — including new beverage products by PepsiCo,  Coca-Cola testing a new Dasani Free beverage machine(yes, another Thematic Signal) and other initiatives, not to mention re-formulated food, cosmetic, and cleaning products from other players – I see a pickup in demand for IFF’s improved natural portfolio of flavors, colors, and fragrances. That has me adding the International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) Nov 2018 135 calls (IFF181116C00135000) that closed last night at 3.50 to our holdings.

 

Adding a Stop Loss to our Costco calls

With last night’s close, our Costco Wholesale (COST) January 2019 230.00 (COST190118C00230000) calls hit 10.85, which leaves them up some 64% since we added them to our holdings on Aug. 1. While I still see ample upside in the position as we move into the shopping filled last four months of the year, I’m adding a stop loss at 8.50, which will ensure a 29% gain should things go awry. I don’t expect it, but better to be safe than sorry.

 

SPECIAL ALERT: Some House Cleaning of the Tematica Select List

SPECIAL ALERT: Some House Cleaning of the Tematica Select List

 

KEY POINTS FROM THIS POST:

  • Adding to the Trade Desk (TTD) position and improving the cost basis along the way
  • Funding the TTD move by exiting Teucrium Corn Fund (CORN) shares
  • Boosting our International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) price target
  • Upping our USA Technologies price (USAT) target as well
  • MGM Resorts (MGM) enters a seasonally slow period
  • What’s expected from Applied Materials (AMAT) on Thursday?

 

As we shared in today’s Monday Morning Kickoff, this week will see a downtick in the pace of corporate earnings. There are, however, still companies worth listening to beyond Applied Materials (AMAT) — the only Tematica Investing Select List company reporting this week. In addition to sharing what’s expected from Applied later this week, today we’re boosting our price targets on International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) and USA Technologies (USAT) as well as scaling into recently added Trade Desk (TTD) shares, using the proceeds from closing out the position in Teucrium Corn Fund (CORN) shares. We’ve also got an update of MGM Resorts (MGM) following its quarterly earnings report last week.

 

Adding to the Trade Desk position and improving the cost basis along the way

As we shared on Friday, we are using the sharp pullback in Trade Desk (TTD) shares to add to our position on the Tematica Investing Select List, while improving our cost basis from just under $65. Our view is the 21% move lower in TTD shares last week was an extreme overreaction given the company’s current quarter guidance was less than 1% below consensus expectations. At the same time, we only see the shift to digital advertising accelerating as consumers flock to digital platforms from podcasts, like our own Cocktail Investing podcast to various social media and streaming platforms.

  • Adding to the Trade Desk (TTD) position
  • Our price target on Trade Desk (TTD) shares remains $80

 

Funding the TTD move by exiting Teucrium Corn Fund (CORN) shares

To help fund this doubling down in Trade Desk shares — and continuing the process of house cleaning as we prepare to exit 2017 — we are issuing a Sell on Scarce Resource play Teucrium Corn Fund (CORN) shares. Here’s why: last week in its November Crop Production and Supply/Demand Report, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) shared U.S. corn production reached “175.4 bushels per acre vs. the trade’s expectations of 172.4 bushels per acre and the USDA’s October estimate of 171.8.”

This means despite rising international demand for corn, the ending stocks are much greater than expected a month ago, let alone several months ago, and that has this consumable resource being far less scarce than expected when we added the CORN shares to the Select List. We’ll move the shares down to the Contender List, but it won’t be until the spring 2018 planting season that we look to revisit CORN shares and even then, it will depend on the geopolitical environment for agriculture exports and demand.

While never an enjoyable moment to close a position, we see this as the right move at the right time as the 13% loss endured will offset short-term taxable gains booked earlier in the year when we closed positions in PowerShares NASDAQ Internet Portfolio ETF (PNQI), Costco Wholesale (COST), and more recently CalAmp Corp. (CAMP).

  • We are issuing a Sell on Teucrium Corn Fund (CORN) shares and placing them on the Tematica Investing Contender List.

 

Boosting our International Flavors & Fragrances price target

In last Wednesday’s Weekly Tematica Investing issue, as part of our review of International Flavor & Fragrances (IFF) September quarter earnings that handily beat expectations, I shared that my $150 price target was under review. I can now share that my new price target on the shares is $160, which is in line with the shares average dividend yield of 1.7% over the 2005-2016 period when applied to the current $0.69 quarterly dividend. On a price to earnings basis, my new price target is a modest premium to the 10-year average, but we see as warranted given the rising demand for organic flavoring solutions as well as the shifting preference for non-sugar flavoring that is forcing beverage companies, like PepsiCo (PEP) and Coca-Cola (KO) to reformulate their beverages.

  • Our new price target on International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) shares is $160, which keeps our Hold rating intact.

 

Upping our USA Technologies price target as well

Last week USA Technologies (USAT) reported mixed September-quarter results, with earnings per share that beat expectations while revenue fell modestly short of Wall Street consensus. Also last week, USA shared it would acquire Cantaloupe Systems, a provider of cloud and mobile solutions for vending and office coffee services. At the same time, the company boosted its 2018 outlook. Factoring in Cantaloupe, USA now sees its 2018 revenue falling in the range of $127 million to $142 million, compared to the pre-earnings consensus of $123.8 million.

Given the lift in revenue, as well as favorable margins associated with Cantaloupe, we’re boosting our price target to $8.00 from $6.50, which offers around 13% potential upside from current levels. This keeps our Hold rating on USAT shares intact.

Getting back to the USA’s results, revenue rose 19%, year to year, to $25.6 million, marking its 32nd consecutive quarter of year-over-year revenue growth. We’d note that even before including Cantaloupe in the outlook for the coming quarters, USA’s base 2018 guidance means the company would have had to grow its revenue another 21% even after we annualized September-quarter revenue.

So, what gives us the confidence the company can continue to deliver on those growth metrics with its core business? Let’s look at some operating metrics from the September quarter:

  • Net new connections rose 37%, year over year, to 26,000, bringing total connection count to 594,000, of which approximately 500,000, or 84%, are a near-field communication (NFC) enabled.
  • USA’s customer base rose by 550 new customers in the quarter and was the highest new customer count it has achieved in two years, bringing the total number of customers on the ePort Connect service to 13,250. While it may be simple or obvious, the more customers on ePort Connect, the more potential transactions there are in vending and unattended retail.

On the earnings call, USA management shared several new developments that bode very well for continued ePort Connect growth in the coming quarters:

  • As part of its partnership with Canteen, the largest automated merchandising company in the United States, offering vending, micro-market, office coffee and dining services to a large network of corporate-owned and franchise locations, two Canteen franchisees will transition their business to 100% connectivity for cashless payments.
  • Premier Food Service, a leading food service provider in Kansas, will upgrade more than 1,400 locations to USA’s ePort Connect service and over 300 kiosks to its consumer engagement and loyalty program.
  • Berkshire Foods, a leading vending and food service company in Connecticut and New York, is widening its footprint with the addition of 1,000 new ePort Interactive and ePort G10-S units to its existing network of approximately 1,500 locations that use USA’s services.

With regard to Cantaloupe, we like the acquisition as it builds on the company’s service offering as well as helps expand its footprint even further. Cantaloupe is headquartered in San Francisco and has approximately 300,000 machines on its service with more than 1,300 operator customers in the U.S., Canada, Australia and South America. The acquisition is expected to close in short order, and as such, we expect more associated synergies to come to light in the coming weeks and months.

  • We are boosting our price target on USA Technologies (USAT) shares to $8.00 from $6.50.

 

MGM Resorts (MGM) enters a seasonally slow period

Last Wednesday, MGM Resorts (MGM) reported its September quarter results, which beat on revenue but missed by $0.02 per share on EPS. Despite that mixed result, due in part to the August typhoon in Macau, the management team echoed comments from Las Vegas Sands (LVS) that it is seeing Las Vegas return to normalized activity levels as the impact of the Oct. 1 shooting fades.

This prompted MGM to issue current quarter guidance for its Las Vegas business that is down low to mid-single digits, far better than many had feared, given the events early in the quarter and led our shares to climb more than 5% on Wednesday. With regard to Macau, activity in Asia’s tourist and leisure capital has also bounced back and MGM confirmed its second property in the region will open late this coming January.

Stepping back, the company shared more on how it responded to the October shooting explaining that, along with other casino operators, it shut down all marketing channels, bringing them back online on Oct. 10. Since then, the company has seen the historical patterns of October — typically the strongest month in the quarter and one of the stronger ones during the year — take hold.

As we move past this relief rally and digest the current guidance, the company’s prospects in the short term will be facing continued spending to revamp several of its properties, as well as open its next Macau property in January. This opening will keep the recent stream of new or updated properties flowing following the acquisition of the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in August 2016 and the MGM National Harbor opening in December 2016; we expect it to continue as MGM re-opens its Monte Carlo property as the Park MGM.

There will also be some impact of time shifts, with the Las Vegas convention season in the first quarter of 2018. The company has already booked 80% of its convention room nights for 2018, which is great given that roughly 60% of its business is corporate in nature. It has a robust entertainment calendar at all of its arenas (Mandalay Event Center, MGM Grand Garden or T-Mobile Park Theatre) that should bode well for its hotel, restaurant, and gaming operations.

What this means, at least over the next few months, is that we will have to be patient with MGM shares as spending is curtailed, allowing the company’s operating strategy to flow through to the bottom line. Helping soften the would-be blow, earlier this week the company’s board approved the next quarterly dividend of $0.11 per share that will be paid on Dec. 15. On the earnings call, management reiterated that they remain committed not only to the current dividend but to increase it over time.

Here’s what we’re going to do with MGM shares… Following last week’s 5% move higher in MGM shares, we have roughly 13% upside to our $37 price target, but as discussed above, we see some short-term headwinds that will likely keep the shares range bound. As we move into 2018, we’ll look to revisit our $37 price target provided the company’s investments in new and existing properties wanes, which should enhance the company’s earnings and cash generation.

  • Our price target on MGM Resorts (MGM) shares remains $37.

 

What’s expected from Applied Materials on Thursday?

On Thursday, after the market close, Applied Materials (AMAT) will be reporting its quarterly results. The results come on the heels comments made earlier in the current earnings season regarding growing chip demand due to the expanding roster of connected devices, artificial intelligence, gaming, data center expansion and China’s goal of building its own semiconductor capacity. We’ve also heard bullish display commentary from not only our own Universal Display (OLED), but also LG Display and Samsung as they increasingly focus on organic light-emitting diodes for smartphones, TVs and eventually other applications like automotive and general lighting.

Consensus expectations have Applied Materials achieving EPS of $0.91 on revenue of $3.94 billion for the quarter. We’ll also be reviewing the company’s backlog and book to bill metric for the quarter as we reassess our current $65 price target.

  • Heading into Applied Material’s (AMAT) earnings call on Thursday, our price target on the shares is $65.
  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) shares remains $200.

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Some Underperformers Set to Come out from the Shadows

WEEKLY ISSUE: Some Underperformers Set to Come out from the Shadows

Monday was one of those sort-of holidays that saw banks, the post office and schools closed, but domestic stock markets and a number of other businesses open. The result was once again a more subdued start to the week that leads into what is poised to be a focal point for the stock market as 3Q 2017 earnings kickoff. Over the last several days, we saw through earnings from restaurant company Darden (DRI) and Cal-Maine Foods (CALM) and this week the negative 2017 reset from coatings company Axalta Coating Systems (AXTA). This tells me that not only has Wall Street underestimated the impact of September’s hurricane trifecta — a fact we saw in last Friday’s September Employment Report — but it has likely overestimated the current speed of the economy as well.

The next few days will give way to several economic reports that will more fully shine a light on the true speed of the economy, and they will help set the table for what is to come over the next few weeks as literally thousands of companies report. As subscribers, you know through our weekly Thematic Signals and our Cocktail Investing Podcast that I co-host with our Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins, we are constantly scrutinizing data points with our thematic lens and assessing the market.

Now let’s take a look at our overall market view, which is one of the key backdrops when it comes to investing – thematic or otherwise. As we shared on last week’s podcast, the domestic stock market continues to grind its way higher ahead of 3Q 2017 earnings. This march higher is being fueled in part by the return of investor greed as measured by CNNMoney’s Fear & Greed Index. The question we are increasingly pondering is what are those late to the party seeing that allows them to get comfortable with enough upside to now jump into a market that is trading at more than 19x expected 2017 earnings?

With the market priced to perfection and expectations running high, odds are we are bound to see some disappointment. The fact that margin debt is running at record levels is not lost on us here at Tematica, and it has the potential to exacerbate any near-term bump or pullback in the market.

This has us holding steady with the Tematica Select List, but it doesn’t mean we are being idle. Rather, we are scrutinizing contenders and revisiting price points at which we would scale into existing positions. Not quite our 2017 holiday shopping list, but one that as we approach Halloween could be ripe for harvesting.

 

 

Checking in on some of our outperformers

We’ve benefitted from this push higher as the Select List’s positions in LSI Industries (LYTS), Amplify Snacks (BETR), USA Technologies (USAT), Amazon (AMZN), Alphabet (GOOGL) and International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) have outperformed the month to date move in the S&P 500. With USAT shares, this has them closing in on our $6.50 price target, while the others have ample upside to our respective price targets.

We continue to rate these stocks as follows:

  • Our price target on LSI Industries (LYTS) remains $10.00
  • Our price target on Amplify Snacks (BETR) remains $10.50
  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) remains $1,150
  • Our price target on Alphabet (GOOGL) remains $1,050

With USA Technologies (USAT) shares, we will continue to keep them on the Select List and as we reassess our Thematic Signals and other data points for additional upside to be had relative to our $6.50 price target.

The same is true with International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), given the accelerating shift away from sugar toward food that is good for you vs. the modest upside to our current $150 price target.

 

It’s not all bad news for the underperformers however

While we like to focus on the outperformers, we tend to spend as much, if not more time, on the ones that are underperforming. Currently, that means shares of Costco Wholesale (COST), Nokia (NOK), MGM Resorts (MGM) and recently added United Parcel Service (UPS).

In reverse order, shares of Connected Society derivative company UPS shares came under pressure following comments that Amazon is once again flirting with expanding its own logistics business. While this may happen, it will take years to replicate the hub and spoke to home delivery service currently offered by UPS that is poised to benefit from the accelerating shift to digital commerce this holiday shopping season. We remain bullish on this position and expect the shares to rebound as we move into the 2017 holiday shopping season. We will look to scale into UPS shares closer to $110 should such a pullback in the shares emerges this earnings season.

Shares of Guilty Pleasure company MGM Resorts continue to languish following the recent Las Vegas shooting. In our view, it will take some time for the perception of the business to recover. As that time elapses, we’ll look to improve our cost basis following the better than expected August Nevada gaming data. Below $30 is where we are inclined to make our move, and our price target stands at $37.

We continue to see favorable data on 5G testing and deployments that bode very well for Nokia’s intellectual property business as well as its communications infrastructure business. Much like MGM shares we will be patient and look to opportunistically improve the cost basis on this Disruptive Technologies Select List position.

We have a more detailed look at Cash-Strapped Consumer company Costco down below, but as you’ll soon read we continue to favor the shares despite some concerning developments.

 

So, what’s up with Costco Wholesale?

As we mentioned above Costco is one of the recent underperformers and it comes following last week’s better than expected quarterly earnings results. The issue is that its the earnings call Costco shared that it is seeing a slowdown in membership rates, which Wall Street took to mean “Here comes Amazon!” While we agree that Amazon is set to continue disrupting traditional retail as it leverages Whole Foods into grocery and meal kits, and continues to focus on apparel, Costco’s issue is it opened 16 new warehouses during the first 9 months of its recently completed fiscal year, so odds are it would see some slowing in membership growth.

For those not convinced that Costco’s business is thriving we would point out the following:

  • September 2017: Net sales up 12%
  • August 2017: Net sales up 10.0% year over year with comparable stores sales up 7.3% (up 5.9% excluding gasoline prices and foreign exchange)
  • July 2017: Net sales up 8.8 percent year over year with comparable store sales up 6.2% (up 5.3% excluding gasoline prices and foreign exchange)
  • June 2017: Net sales up 7.0% year over year with comparable store sales up 6.0% (up 6.5% excluding gasoline prices and foreign exchange)

Looking at that data, we see Costco not only as a company that has continued to improve net sales month over month, but one that is hardly suffering the same fate as traditional brick & mortar retailers. Moreover, we would point out the company had 741 warehouses in operation during the August 2017 quarter, up from 715 a year ago. This led to a 13% increase in its high margin Membership Fee revenue, which accounted for nearly all of its net income during the quarter.

As we have said before, the power in Costco’s business model is the warehouses and membership fee income, and we see this continuing to be the case. As part of our Connected Society theme, we will continue to monitor consumer acceptance of delivered grocery. This includes Costco’s new two-day delivery services for both dry groceries and fresh foods that will be free for online orders exceeding $75 from 376 U.S. Costco stores. Unlike many brick & mortar retailers, Costco is not standing around and watching its competitors outflank it, rather it is responding. To us, this suggests the recent pullback is overdone.

  • We continue to have a Buy on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares, and our price target remains $190.

 

 

 

 

Putting Some Defensive Measures in Place Ahead of Tuesday’s Trump Speech

Putting Some Defensive Measures in Place Ahead of Tuesday’s Trump Speech

If you’ve missed our weekly Monday missive that is the Monday Morning Kickoff, we’d encourage you to pursue it later today as it offers both context and perspective on last week, including much talk about the Fed, and sets the stage for this week.

This week, we’ve got a lot of data coming at us, more corporate earnings that prominently feature our Cash-strapped Consumer and Fattening of the Population investing themes. There are a number of events and conferences as well, and before too long we’ll have some thoughts on this week’s Mobile World Congress, an event that meshes very well with our Connected Society, Disruptive Technology and Cashless Consumption investing themes.

We expect to see a number of announcements ranging from new smartphone models, connected as well as autonomous vehicle developments, voice digital assistant initiatives, drones, and payment systems to name a few. We’ll be watching these with regard to a number of positions on the Tematica Select List, including Universal Display (OLED), Nuance Communications (NUAN), AT&T (T), Dycom Industries (DY), CalAmp (CAMP) and Alphabet (GOOGL) as well as Amazon (AMZN). Already Amazon has announced it will bring its Alexa VDA to Motorola’s smartphones, and we see that as the tip of the proverbial iceberg his week.

As the Mobile World Congress gets underway, however, we have another event that should capture investor attention. After presenting today what’s called a “skinny budget”, (which we view as the “opening bid budget”) tomorrow night President Trump will be speaking to a joint session of Congress. Typically this is referred to as the State of the Union Address, but it’s not called that for a newly elected president. Trump has already shared that he will be talking about health care reform — “We’re going to be speaking very specifically about a very complicated subject…I think we have something that is really going to be excellent.”

As we’ve said before, we’re optimistic and hopeful, but thus far it seems Republicans have yet to find common ground on how to move forward on this. In addition to healthcare reform, investors, including us, will be listening for more details on Trump’s fiscal policies. The issue is speeches such as this tend to be lacking in specifics, and we would be rather surprised to see Trump deviate from that tradition. Moreover, we’ve already seen the Treasury Secretary push out the timetable for a tax report to late summer, and Trump himself suggested that we are not likely to see his tax reform proposal until after the healthcare reform has been addressed.

As we shared in this morning’s Monday Morning Kickoff, with the S&P 500 trading at 18x expected earnings, it looks like the stock market is out over its ski tips. Two drivers of the market rally over the coming months have been:

  • The improving, but not stellar economic data
  • The hope that President Trump’s policies will jumpstart the economy.

We’ve been saying for some time that the soonest we’d likely get any meaningful impact from Trump’s policies would be the back half of 2017. That’s been our perspective, but as we know from time to time, the stock market can get ahead of itself, and we see this as one of those times. The stock market’s move reflects expectations for an accelerating economy – it’s the only way to get the “E” that is earnings growing enough to make the market’s current valuation more palatable.

 

Need to Keep Our Eyes on Both Sides of the Equation

One of the common mistakes we see with investors is they almost always only focus on the upside to be had, without keeping an eye on the downside risks. If Trump is successful when it comes to the domestic economy, and we’d love nothing more than to see acceleration here, earnings will likely grow materially.

One of the potential risks we see this week is the market being disappointed by the lack of details that Trump will share tomorrow night, which might be read as a push out in timing relative to what the stock market expects. As we said on last week’s Cocktail Investing podcast, resetting expectations is a lot like children that open presents on Christmas morning to find something other than what they expected — it’s far from a harmonious event and more like one that is met with mental daggers, confusion, and second guessing. In short, not a fun time at all.

For that reason, we’re going to make some defensive adjustments to the Tematica Select List, which has enjoyed the market rally over the last few months and led to strong moves in our Universal Display (OLED), AMN Healthcare (AMN), Costco Wholesale (COST) shares as well as several others.

 

With an eye toward preserving profits, we are going to introduce the following stop losses:
  • Alphabet (GOOGL) at $800
  • Universal Display at $70
  • AMN Healthcare at $37
  • PowerShares NASDAQ Internet Portfolio ETF (PNQI) at $90

 

Alongside these new stop losses, we’re also going to raise several existing ones:
  • Boost our stop loss on AT&T (T) to $36 from $31
  • Raise our stop loss on International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) to $115 from $105
  • Boost our stop loss on Costco Wholesale to $170 from $165
  • Increase our stop loss on Disney (DIS) shares to $100 from $87

 

Again, our thought is better to be safe than sorry given where the market currently sits. We’ll continue to review other positions on the Tematica Select List with similar actions where and when it makes sense.