Winter weather slows construction, but rebuilding is the longer-term story

Winter weather slows construction, but rebuilding is the longer-term story

Last week shares in Tematica Select List company LSI Industries (LYTS) fell roughly 1% compared to the upward moves in the overall market. I attribute that move lower to the weaker than expected December Housing Starts report. I can understand the sympathy on the fall off as many scrutinize the shortcoming in this latest construction report, but we’d remind subscribers that LSI’s business is heavily, heavily skewed toward non-residential construction. By comparison, the Housing Starts reports discusses just that – housing, for both single-family and multi-family structures.

Given the differences in the types of construction we aren’t likely to see much correlation between the non-residential and residential construction data. That being said, we know that good weather offers a more favorable construction environment, while bad weather can hamper construction activity be it residential or non-residential.

With that in mind, peering into the December Housing Starts reports shows a sharp fall in residential construction activity in the Northeast and South, both of which were hit with and are being hit with severe winter weather. A corroborating indicator of this was found in yesterdays’ December Industrial Production report that showed a sharp pick up in utility activity as consumers looked to stay warm. Given the weather thus far in January that has featured winter storms and near record or new record lows in much of the country, odds are weather will continue to impact construction activity in the current quarter.

Now let’s circle back to our LYTS shares.

In a few days, we’ll get the December Architectural Billing Index, and odds are it’s going to see some weather impact as well. Soon after, on Jan. 25, LSI will report its December quarter results and we would be shocked if there was no impact on its December quarter or if it didn’t factor into its outlook for the current quarter. Currently, LYTS shares are hovering close to our $6.73 entry point on the Select List, and we’d look to scale into the position below $6.25 should that come to pass late next week.

We continue to see LSI’s business benefitting from post-hurricane rebuilding efforts as well as incremental spending to be had as part of President’s Trumps initiative to rebuild US infrastructure. With Washington trying to once again sort out a measure to prevent the government from shutting down, we suspect those infrastructure details to emerge in the next week to 10 days, ahead of the next State of the Union Address on Jan. 30. If the announcement comes ahead of LSI’s earnings report, we would expect the company to discuss how its business will benefit, putting the concern over the January weather in the rear view mirror.

  • Our price target on LSI Industries (LYTS) shares remains $10.



November construction spend and ABI index data are positives for LSI Industries

November construction spend and ABI index data are positives for LSI Industries

Yesterday we received a rather favorable November Construction Spending report. I continue to see the overall improvement in nonresidential spending, — due in part to post-hurricane rebuilding efforts — benefiting the shares of Tematica Investing Select List resident LSI Industries (LYTS) in the weeks to come. Also in the coming weeks, President Trump is set to unveil his rebuilding US infrastructure framework and in my view, this is a likely catalyst to drive LYTS shares higher.

Now let’s recap yesterday’s report from the Census Bureau…

Per the report, November Construction Spending rose 0.8% month over month and 2.4% year over year, continuing the string of improvement that began in August. Breaking the report down, private residential construction rose 1.0% month over month while private nonresidential construction rose 0.6%, a sharp tick higher compared to the modest contraction in October due primarily to a boost in commercial spending (+4.6% month over month. Turning to public construction, nonresidential spending increased 0.9% in November as office spending grew 5.5% and transportation spending rose 3.7%.

Aside from the upbeat view on nonresidential construction offered by this report, I also like that it backs up the recent Architecture Billings Index (ABI) reading for November that hit 55.0 for the month, its strongest reading for 2017. I look at a number of these indices, and it always helps to understand what each’s particular reference scoring system in mind. In the case of ABI, an index score of 50 represents no change in firm billings from the previous month, a score above 50 indicates an increase in firm billings from the previous month, and a score below 50 indicates a decline in firm billings from the previous month.

  • Our price target on LSI Industries (LYTS) shares remains $10.


Hurricanes Irma and Harvey make drinking water a Scarce Resource

Hurricanes Irma and Harvey make drinking water a Scarce Resource


As time continues to pass since Hurricane Harvey and Irma, we’re hearing more about more disruptions to electricity and water that will call for significant spending to rebuild utility infrastructure. We’ve seen price gouging for bottled water near Houston, and we suspect the same is occurring in parts of Florida as people look for this once again Scarce Resource that is clean drinking water. We’ll be eyeing comments from companies like American Water Works (AWK) and Aqua America (WTR) on how their water treatment capacity has been affected, and what it means for their capital spending plans going forward.

In addition to the billions of dollars of damage from wind and the rain, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have trashed the wastewater systems in the cities they tore through.

Untreated water has combined with all the flooding from storm surges to fill the cities and surrounding areas, posing health risks for people trying to return to normalcy.In Florida, city pipelines are able to withstand about twice the amount of water than they’re built to filter.

The past two hurricanes have completely overwhelmed these systems, and pipes have overflowed with millions of gallons of untreated water into streets, homes, and along the coasts of the state.

Texas water treatment centers haven’t fared too well either; the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that at least 40 of the 1,219 wastewater treatment centers in the area surrounding Houston are temporarily out of commission in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Without proper treatment, wastewater can carry all sorts of bacteria that can lead to illnesses. According to an independent report conducted by the New York Times (paywall), Houston is experiencing an outbreak of E. Coli, a type of bacteria typically found in human waste that can cause gastrointestinal illnesses if accidentally consumed.

In addition to E. Coli, flood waters also likely contain other infectious bacteria that cause stomach flus or, like the microbe that causes tetanus, infect open wounds.

Source: Hurricanes Irma and Harvey overwhelmed wastewater treatment centers in Florida and Texas — Quartz

Something more than Harvey and Irma have Goldman Sach’s CEO “unnerved” about the current stock market?

Something more than Harvey and Irma have Goldman Sach’s CEO “unnerved” about the current stock market?

As we witnessed over the weekend, the Caribean and Florida took a beating from Hurricane Irma, and its impact is going to be a major source of weakness in the economy for the current quarter. Paired with the impact of Hurricane Harvey, we’re looking at one-two punch to the GDP gut and we expect existing GDP forecasts for 3Q 2017 will be revised sharply lower in the coming days. That’s enough to rattle the market, but there are other reasons investors should be increasingly cautious. Last week, when speaking at a conference in Germany, Goldman Sachs (GS) CEO Lloyd Blankfein shared that he was “unnerved” by things going on in the stock market. As we’ve been analyzing the economic data and watching the political landscape in Washington, we here at Tematica have been talking about a growing sense of unease in the market over the last several months. Yet, the market has at least thus far managed to shrug these mounting concerns off its proverbial shoulders.

In today’s increasing frenetic society, short attention span filled society sometimes it takes a “voice from on high” to catch people’s attention and wake them up. All it took was a short comment from Blankfein during the question and answer session of his presentation at a conference in Germany:

“Things have been going up for too long,” he told attendees at a Handelsblatt business conference in Frankfurt. “When yields on corporate bonds are lower than dividends on stocks? That unnerves me.”


We certainly share Mr. Blankfein’s concerns and have been hammering the points home weekly in our Monday Morning Kickoff report and the Cocktail Investing Podcast.  To fully understand the source of Mr. Blankfein’s current unease let’s explore his statement:


#1: “Things have been going up for too long.”

While there have been modest pullbacks in the market, like the ones in late 2014 and the second half of 2015, a longer view shows the major averages have moved sharply higher over the last five years, with the S&P 500 in the upper range of its long-term upward trend. Before factoring in dividends, the S&P 500, a key benchmark of institutional investors, is up more than 70% since September 2012.

More recently, the S&P 500 has gone more than 300 trading days without a 5% or more pullback, the longest such streak since July 19, 1929. For those wondering, the record still sits at 369 trading days per Dow Jones data. Historically speaking periods of suppressed volatility tend to be followed by periods of heightened volatility, as market volatility reverts back to its mean. Given the extended period of low volatility, the probability of entering a period of heightened volatility moves higher.

As the stock market has moved higher, so too has its valuation. As we write this, the S&P 500 is trading at 18.7x expected 2017 earnings versus the 5 and 10 year average multiples of 15.5x and 14.1x, respectively. In 2015 and 2016, we saw earnings expectation revised lower during each year until annual EPS growth was nil. With economic data that is once again leading the Atlanta Fed to reduces it GDP forecast, we’re seeing downward earnings revisions to EPS expectations in the back half of 2017. We at Tematica classify that as “unnerving.”


#2: The Current “Recovery” is Now Over 100 Months

If we look back to when the stock market bottomed out during the Great Recession, the timeframe for the current “recovery” has been over 100 months. By comparison, the average economic expansion over the 1945-2009 period spanned 58.4 months. In other words, the current expansion is rather long in the tooth and a variety of data points ranging from slowing growth in employment to peak housing and auto to a flattening yield curve support this assessment. While the length of expansion has likely been affected by the Fed’s aggressive monetary policy, the bottom line is at some point

While the length of expansion has likely been affected by the Fed’s aggressive monetary policy, the bottom line is at some point it will come to an end. As the Fed looks to unwind its balance sheet and gets interest rates closer to normalized levels, we’re reminded that the Fed has a track record of boosting interest rates as the economy heads into a recession. Let’s not forget that every new presidential administration coming in after a two-termer going all the way back to 1900 has experienced a recession within the first twelve months. Yep, we color that as “unnerving.”


#3: The Market’s Post-Election Euphoria Has Worn Off

Coming into 2017 there was a wave of euphoria surrounding newly elected President Trump with high hopes concerning what his administration would accomplish. Over the last few months, a number of executive orders have been administered, but we have yet to see any progress on tax reform or infrastructure spending. The risk is that expectations for these initiatives are once again getting pushed out with tax reform that was slated for August now being expected (don’t hold your breath) near the end of 2017. The risk is the underlying economic assumptions that powered revenue and EPS expectations in the second half need to be reset, which will mean those lofty valuations are even loftier.


#4: Precious Metals Are Gaining Strength

Since August 1, Gold, Silver and the Utilities sector have significantly outperformed financials and consumer discretionary stocks – never a positive sign. The KBW index of regional banks has fallen below is 50-day, 100-day and 200-day moving averages and is down over 18% from its March 1st


#5: The Breadth of Current Rally Isn’t Looking So Hot

The median Dow stock is down more than 4% from its 52-week high and the median S&P 500 stock has dropped nearly 7.5%. Only 44% of Nasdaq members are trading above their 50-day moving average.


#6: Another Contra-Indicator Has Reared its Head — Individual Investor Confidence

TD Ameritrade’s (AMTD) Investor Movement Index (IMX) has continued its month-over-month rise. For those unfamiliar with this, it’s a behavior-based index created by TD Ameritrade that aggregates Main Street investor positions and activity to measure what investors are actually doing and how they are positioned in the markets. The higher the reading, the more bullish retail investors are. In August, the IMX hit 7.45, up from 7.09 in July, to hit an all-time high.

Why is that unnerving you ask?

While TD Ameritrade opted to put a rosy spin on the data, saying, “Our clients’ decision to continue buying reflects the resiliency of the markets.” Institutional investors, however, see this continued surge higher as a warning sign. Here’s why: Historically speaking, retail investors have been late to the stock market party. Not fashionably late, but really late, which means they tend to enter at or near the point at which things start to go seriously awry.

Complicating things a bit further, over the last month CNNMoney’s Fear & Greed Index has slumped from a Neutral reading (52) to Fear (38). Taking stock (pun intended) of these two indicators together at face value sends a mixed message on investor sentiment. Not a hardcore piece of data like the monthly ISM data, but one institutional investors and Wall Street traders are likely to consider as they roll up their sleeves and revisit the last few weeks of data.


How to Know What’s Next

These are just some of the points that could be unnerving Blankfein. Generally speaking, the stock market abhors uncertainty and anyone of those points on their own would be a cause for concern. Taken together they are reasons to be cautious as we move deeper into September, which is historically one of the most tumultuous months for stocks.

Whether you’re a subscriber to Tematica Investing or not, we would recommend you subscribe to both our Monday Morning Kickoff and Cocktail Investing Podcast to get our latest thoughts on the economy, the stock market as well as thematic signals that power our 17 investing themes.


Dow on Track for Longest Losing Streak Since 2011 as Trump Trade Stalls

Dow on Track for Longest Losing Streak Since 2011 as Trump Trade Stalls

We are shocked, shocked and just shocked I tell you. President Trump has not been able to effortlessly end the gridlock in D.C. and push through his agenda. Hmmm, something so new and novel for a resident of the White House.


This morning the Wall Street Journal reported that,

Stocks around the world fell Monday, putting the Dow Jones Industrial Average on track for its longest losing streak since 2011 as doubts percolated about the Trump administration’s ability to push through on campaign promises.

You don’t say. Doubts? Why on earth? Apparently, others are starting to wonder just how easy this is all going to be for the new administration,

“There is some real concern about whether [President Donald Trump] is going to be able to get these policies through,” said Dianne Lob, managing director for equities at AB. “I think the theme for the year will be uncertainty.”

“Markets are questioning the high expectations built over the past few months,” said Jeremy Gatto, investment manager at Unigestion. “[Mr. Trump] did promise a phenomenal tax reform package, and the market would be disappointed if we got something smaller than expected or nothing at all.”

What is surprising, we must admit, is that President Trump spent all of 17 days trying to push the ACA repeal/replace through. Let that sink in for a moment.

Donald the “I am the best dealmaker” candidate, who pledged that the first thing he’d do would be to repeal and replace the “disaster” of Obamacare, spent all of 17 days before calling it quits. Whether you think the ACA is a disaster or divine, on face value that doesn’t exactly look like solid effort. In comparison, it took Reagan about five years to reduce the top marginal tax rate from 70 percent down to 28 percent, but then Reagan enjoyed a higher approval rating at the time, which gave him more firepower. What we’ve seen here is that enough Republicans, never mind the Democrats, are unafraid of Trump to thwart his efforts.

That’s not a good sign for the markets that have had quite the run-up based on the assumption that this time things are different and with Trump in the White House, sky-high valuations make sense and economic realities, such as an aging population, are no anchor.

Never fear, though! Those financial talking heads are spinning this as a positive because now, (thank God!) Trump can focus on tax reform, which will be the first attempt at major reform since 1986 no less! I’m sure that’s going to go much more smoothly given the consensus in Washington around spending, the national debt, and income inequality. Remember too that the Ryan plan for health care would have reduced the budget by $1 trillion, so any reform is already in the hole $1 trillion, but I’m sure this won’t be a problem – eye roll.

Then there is that resolution that’ll need to be passed in April to keep the government funded and then we get to experience yet another debt ceiling debate this summer. Get that popcorn ready, we are in for a show, which means more rocking and rolling in the markets as investors get their arms around just what are reasonable expectations for the new administration.

Up next for the Trump team, tax reform, deregulation, and infrastructure. Regardless of whether you love Trump and his plans or hate them, today the probability of success on any of those items is lower today than it was just a few weeks ago. Their successful implementation was expected to usher in accelerating growth, which would lead to inflation, but when we look at the yield on the 10-year Treasury today, we see it is still well within its multi-decade long-term downtrend. (Pulled from YCharts)


If the bond market was buying into this great acceleration story, would the 10-year yield really be at 2.4 percent? Mr. Bond market remains skeptical.

Keep in mind that over the past few months, the year-over-year data for commodity prices has been off of extremely low levels as the sector experienced quite the downturn this time last year, making small changes, on a percent basis look unusually large. If, as I suspect, we are not actually seeing a sustained acceleration in the economy, these increases should begin to moderate over the coming months. Stay tuned…

Since the beginning of March, all the major U.S. equity indices are down, from the small cap Russell 2000, down 4.2 percent to the S&P 500, down 2.2 percent to the Dow Jones Industrials down 2.5 percent. U.S. bank stocks have fallen around 8 percent from their recent highs, that’s a bit wobbly for what could be the first earnings season to toss cold water on those sky-high growth expectations under the new administration.

Bottom Line: The market’s “This time it’s different” fairy tale is fading. With earnings season right around the corner, we will be getting some hard data on just what is actually happening versus the optimism. We’ll keep you posted!

Source: Dow Poised for Longest Losing Streak Since 2011 – WSJ