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

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

Key points inside this issue

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

 

Reading the latest from the Oracle of Omaha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

More signs that the domestic economy is a-slowin’

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

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

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

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

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

 

Watch those dividends… for increases and for cuts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Putting it all together

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

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

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

Clearly, the stock market has been melting up over the last several weeks on increasing hopes over a favorable trade deal with China, but as I’ve been saying for some time, measuring the success of any trade agreement will hinge on the details. Should it fail to live up to expectations, which is a distinct possibility, we could very well see a “buy the rumor, sell the news” situation arise in the stock market.

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

 

Tematica Investing

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

Nokia and Mobile World Congress 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Universal Display shares get lit up

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Key points inside this issue

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

 

Reading the latest from the Oracle of Omaha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

More signs that the domestic economy is a-slowin’

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

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

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

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

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

 

Watch those dividends… for increases and for cuts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Putting it all together

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

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

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

Clearly, the stock market has been melting up over the last several weeks on increasing hopes over a favorable trade deal with China, but as I’ve been saying for some time, measuring the success of any trade agreement will hinge on the details. Should it fail to live up to expectations, which is a distinct possibility, we could very well see a “buy the rumor, sell the news” situation arise in the stock market.

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

 

Tematica Investing

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

Nokia and Mobile World Congress 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Universal Display shares get lit up

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

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

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

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

 

Tematica Options+

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

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

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

 

 

Intel’s 5G showcase should have cable companies quaking in their boots

Intel’s 5G showcase should have cable companies quaking in their boots

On this week’s Cocktail Investing Podcast, Tematica’s Chris Versace and Lenore Hawkins do a deep dive on our Connected Society investing theme and discuss the coming creative destruction to be had with 5G wireless technology. Carriers like AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) are beta-ing 5G networks and commercial deployments are expected to begin in a handful of quarters. With data speeds of up to 100 gigabits per second – speeds that would enable someone to download a high-def movie in seconds instead of minutes –  5G will be a key ingredient in up and coming Disruptive Technologies such as autonomous car, telemedicine, the connected home and generally speaking far greater datafication as part of the Internet of Things.  We see Intel’s upcoming 5G showcase as giving the world the first real-world glimpse at what the technology will enable.

The question to ponder is what does this mean for cable companies, especially those that have not embraced our Content is King investment theme like Comcast (CMCSA)? Our guess is more pain ahead as more consumers cut more cords.

Intel plans to showcase 5G wireless networking technologies at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, in February. The network will demonstrate wireless data transfer speeds of gigabits per second, based on the pending 5G wireless standard.

5G promises to disrupt wired internet connections, such as cable TV and modem service, or wired phone line services. My hope for 5G: I’ll be happy if our family can play games and watch Netflix on a wireless network without it bankrupting us or slowing our data network to a crawl.

“As mobility evolves beyond the smartphone, 5G is becoming one of the most impactful technology transformations we are likely to see in our lifetimes,” said Sandra Rivera, senior vice president and general manager of the network platforms Group at Intel, in a blog post.

“It will bring seamless connectivity, massive computing capabilities and rapid access to the cloud together for the first time.”

Source: Intel to show off 5G network at 2018 Winter Olympics | VentureBeat

Samsung focuses innovation efforts on the next industry to be disrupted – autos

Samsung focuses innovation efforts on the next industry to be disrupted – autos

 

With innovation stalling, at least for now, in the smartphone market, we see companies shifting their R&D investments in technologies that are poised to disrupt other markets. One of those receiving the most attention these days is the automotive industry.

While the guts of cars and trucks have become littered with chips and sensors, we will soon be seeing even greater connectivity within the car as part of our Connected Society investing theme, as well as self-driving and organic light emitting diode interior lighting technology that resides in our Disruptive Technology theme. With competitors ranging from Apple (AAPL) to Google (GOOGL) and Intel (INTC) as well as Facebook (FB) and even Amazon (AMZN) investing in the future of auto, Samsung’s latest effort, given its various chip, battery and display businesses is to be expected.

Samsung has announced a $300 million fund to invest in a range of automotive technologies. The new Samsung Automotive Innovation Fund will invest in connected car and autonomous driving technologies covering artificial intelligence (AI), machine vision, smart sensors, safety features, cybersecurity, and more.

The fund’s first investment will be in Austria’s TTTech, a company specializing in safety, networking, and software integration for ADAS (advanced driver-assistance systems) and automated driving platforms. Samsung revealed it will invest €75 million ($89 million) in the company.

The Korean electronics giant has made no secret of its intentions in the broader automotive realm and has been ramping up efforts in research and development for products relating to transport for a while now. Samsung has made previous investments in battery technology for electric vehicles, including investments in California-based Seeo, which develops rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, and StoreDot, a company that’s building instant-charging batteries for electric cars.

Source: Samsung creates $300 million fund and new business unit for autonomous driving tech | VentureBeat | Transportation | by Paul Sawers

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Companies mentioned on the Podcast

  • Alphabet (AAPL)
  • Apple (AAPL)
  • BMW (BMWYY)
  • Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU)
  • Intel (INTC)
  • Pandora (P)
  • Pioneer Electronics (PNCOY)
  • Tesla Motors (TSLA)
Shifting Consumer Preferences Favor Food with Integrity Bullets Not Restaurant Shares

Shifting Consumer Preferences Favor Food with Integrity Bullets Not Restaurant Shares

It’s no secret the restaurant industry is having a tough time given restaurant traffic data and less-than-flattering industry articles as it grapples with several consumer-centric issues. We received yet another indication of that restaurant pain last week when Sonic Corp. (SONC) reported a 7.4 percent decline in same-store-sales. The company’s management team chalked up the drop to “a sluggish consumer environment, weather headwinds and share losses…” amid a “very intense” competitive environment. Predictably, the company is retooling its menu offering and even though it’s late to the party, it is also jumping on the smartphone bandwagon.

Stepping back there is a larger issue that Sonic and other restaurants have to contend with – declining restaurant traffic that is due not only to lower prices at grocery stores but also to the shift in consumer preferences to healthier foods. That preference shift is toward natural and organic offerings as well as paleo, gluten-free and others and that’s one of the reason’s we’ve favored shares of United Natural Foods (UNFI) as grocers expand their offering to meet that demand.

Even as companies like Coca-Cola (KO) and PepsiCo (PEP) tinker with their carbonated soft drink formulas to reduce sugar, the new enemy, they have to do so without sacrificing taste. Some investors may remember the whole New Coke thing back in 1985 that was ultimately a failure given the different taste. As Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and even Dr. Pepper Snapple (DPS) look to reformulate to ride either the lower sugar or better-for-you shift, it bodes rather well for flavor companies like International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) or Sensient Tech (SXT).

That shifting preference has led several restaurant companies such as Panera Bread (PNRA) and Darden’s (DRI) Olive Garden to change up their menus in order to lure eaters. Over the last several years, Panera has been working to eliminate artificial additives in its food to make it “cleaner” for consumers and in 2015 it released a “no-no” list of more than 96 ingredients that it vowed to either remove from or never use in food. Darden is shifting to lighter fare recipes that have far fewer calories than prior ones. Even Chipotle (CMG), the one-time poster child for our Food with Integrity investing theme until its food safety woes last year, has come to fulfill its pledge of using no added colors, flavors or preservatives of any kind in any of its ingredients.

These are all confirming signs of our Food with Integrity investing theme that Lenore Hawkins and I talked about on last week’s podcast. Here too with these new menu offerings, it’s a question of how can restaurants offer healthier alternatives without sacrificing flavor? To us, the answer is found in  International Flavors & Fragrances, McCormick & Co. (MKC) and Sensient shares as well as other flavor companies.

Against that backdrop — – the shift to eating not only at home but eating food that is better for you – we have serious doubts when it comes to the quick service restaurant industry. According to the data research firm Sense360, which analyzed data from 140 chains and 5 million limited-service visits, 38% of heavy quick-service restaurant users reduced their visits in February, compared with the period before Christmas. Not exactly an inspiring reason to revisit shares of Sonic or several other QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) chains like McDonald’s  (MCD) or Wendy’s (WEN) at a time when bank card delinquency rates are climbing, subprime auto issues are doing the same, student debt levels loom over consumers and real wage growth has been meager at best.

While more people eating at home is a positive for Kroger (KR) and Wal-Mart (WMT), our “buy the bullets not the gun” approach continues to favor shares of McCormick and International Flavors & Fragrances in particular.  For those unfamiliar with “buy the bullets, not the gun” it’s a strategy that looks to capitalize on select industry suppliers that serve the majority of the industry with key components or other inputs. Shining examples of this strategy have included Intel (INTC), Qualcomm (QCOM) and recently acquired ARM Holdings. Common traits among them include a diverse customers base and strong competitive position with a leading market position for their products. The same holds true for both McCormick and International Flavors & Fragrances, which are also benefitting from our Rise & Fall of the Middle Class investing theme.

Shifting Consumer Preferences Favor Food with Integrity Bullets Not Restaurant Shares

Shifting Consumer Preferences Favor Food with Integrity Bullets Not Restaurant Shares

It’s no secret that the restaurant industry is having a tough time, given restaurant traffic data and less-than-flattering industry articles as it grapples with several consumer-centric issues. We received yet another indication of that restaurant pain last week when Sonic Corp. (SONC) reported a 7.4 percent decline in same-store-sales. The management team chalked up the drop to “a sluggish consumer environment, weather headwinds and share losses…” amid a “very intense” competitive environment. Predictably, the company is retooling its menu offering and even though it’s late to the party, it is also jumping on the smartphone bandwagon.

Stepping back there is a larger issue that Sonic and other restaurants have to contend with — declining restaurant traffic that is due not only to lower prices at grocery stores but also to the shift in consumer preferences to healthier foods. That preference shift is toward natural and organic offerings as well as paleo, gluten-free and others and that’s one of the reason’s we’ve favored shares of United Natural Foods (UNFI) as grocers expand their offering to meet that demand.

Even as companies like Coca-Cola (KO) and PepsiCo (PEP) tinker with their carbonated soft drink formulas to reduce sugar, the new enemy, they have to do so without sacrificing taste. Some investors may remember the whole New Coke experiment back in 1985, which was ultimately a failure given the different taste. As Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and even Dr. Pepper Snapple (DPS) look to reformulate to ride either the lower sugar or better-for-you shift, it bodes rather well for flavor companies like International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) or Sensient Tech (SXT).

That shifting preference has led several restaurant companies such as Panera (PNRA) and Darden’s (DRI) Olive Garden to change up their menus in order to lure eaters. Over the last several years, Panera has been working to eliminate artificial additives in its food to make it “cleaner” for consumers and in 2015 it released a “no-no” list of more than 96 ingredients that it vowed to either remove from or never use in food. Darden is shifting to lighter fare recipes that have far fewer calories than prior ones. Even Chipotle (CMG), the one-time poster child for our Food with Integrity investing theme until its food safety woes last year, has come to fulfill its pledge of using no added colors, flavors or preservatives of any kind in any of its ingredients.

These are all confirming signs of our Food with Integrity investing theme that Lenore Hawkins and I talked about on last week’s podcast. Here too, with these new menu offerings, it’s a question of how can restaurants offer healthier alternatives without sacrificing flavor? To us, the answer is found in International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), McCormick & Co. (MKC) and Sensient shares as well as other flavor companies.

Against that backdrop — the shift to eating not only at home but eating food that is better for you — we have serious doubts when it comes to the quick service restaurant industry. According to the data research firm Sense360, which analyzed data from 140 chains and 5 million limited-service visits, 38 percent of heavy quick-service restaurant users reduced their visits in February, compared with the period before Christmas. Not exactly an inspiring reason to revisit shares of Sonic or several other QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) chains like McDonald’s  (MCD) or Wendy’s (WEN) at a time when bank card delinquency rates are climbing, subprime auto issues are doing the same, student debt levels loom over consumers and real wage growth has been meager at best.

While more people eating at home is a positive for Kroger (KR) and Wal-Mart (WMT), our “buy the bullets not the gun” approach continues to favor shares of McCormick and International Flavors & Fragrances in particular.  For those unfamiliar with “buy the bullets, not the gun” it’s a strategy that looks to capitalize on select industry suppliers that serve the majority of the industry with key components or other inputs. Shining examples of this strategy in the tech industry have included Intel (INTC), Qualcomm (QCOM) and recently acquired ARM Holdings. Common traits among them include a diverse customers base and strong competitive position with a leading market position for their products.

The same holds true for both McCormick and International Flavors & Fragrances, which are also benefitting from our Rise & Fall of the Middle Class investing theme.

  • Our price target on MKC shares is $110; we’d be more inclined to scale into the shares closer to $95.
  • Our price target on IFF shares remains $145; as new data becomes available, we’ll continue to evaluate potential upside to that price target. 
Many Reasons to be Bullish on This Semi-Cap Company

Many Reasons to be Bullish on This Semi-Cap Company

We are adding shares of Applied Materials (AMAT) to the Tematica Select List as the company’s business is poised to benefit from our Disruptive Technology investing theme over the coming 12-24 months. Applied Materials is a leading nano- manufacturing equipment, service, and software provider to the semiconductor, flat panel display (FPD), and solar industries. In short, it builds the capital equipment that is used to manufacture chips, display and solar panel components. Our price target of $47 offers upside of roughly 30 percent and equates to just over 17x expected 2018 earnings in the range of $2.75 per share. By comparison, consensus expectations call for AMAT to deliver EPS of $2.55-$2.60 this year, up from $1.75 in 2016. Our rating is a Buy up to $41-$42.

Why We’re Adding AMAT Shares to the Tematica Select List

It’s been a while since we’ve seen the TV ad touting cotton as the fabric of our lives. Over the last few years, as we’ve been migrating more and more into the digital society, we’ve thought the new fabric of our lives is chips. As we know from our devices, be it a laptop, smartphone, tablet, we are facing the need for more computing power, greater connectivity speeds and more connections into more things (cars, homes, and that Internet of Things thing).

There are also newer and in some cases disruptive technologies — like emissive display technology organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs), a technology that is catching fire in the smartphone market, TVs and wearables. In short, there is a pronounced increase in the for chips, which is also spurring a pickup in new semiconductor capital equipment. We know this given our existing position in Universal Display (OLED) shares.

Exiting December, North America-based manufacturers of semiconductor equipment posted $1.99 billion in orders worldwide and a book-to-bill ratio of 1.06, according to the December Equipment Market Data Subscription (EMDS) Book-to-Bill Report published by SEMI. December bookings rose more than 28 percent compared to November 2016 and were up nearly 48% on a year over year basis.

In the recently reported January quarter, Applied’s order book rose more than 85 percent year over year, as orders for its silicon and display businesses rose more than 85 percent and 200 percent, respectively. The silicon business is benefitting from strong 3D NAND demand, given significant power and performance advantages over other memory solutions, as well as silicon to power applications, 4K video, as well as compute-intensive applications like artificial intelligence and smart vehicles.

 

As part of the Internet of Things, we’re seeing sensors and communications being added to a variety of commercial and consumer products as well. These and other applications are, on a combined basis, driving robust demand for additional semiconductor capacity and that is fuel for Applied’s semiconductor business. We see this reflected in capital spending budgets at companies like Intel (INTC), which is boosting its 2017 budget by $2.5 billion year over year to $12 billion. Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM)‘s 2016 capital spending came in at $10.2 billion, ahead of the expected $9.5 billion, and the company is slated to spend another $10 billion in 2017.

The accelerating ramp in OLED display demand was the primary driver of that robust Display order activity, and Applied noted the demand has only strengthened over the last several months. “In the past few months, our view of display spending has strengthened further. We now see customers increasing their investments by around $3 billion in 2017, $1 billion more than we thought in November. Our early view of 2018 is also positive.” It added: “50% of our demand going forward for this year is new customers for the mobile OLED”, with orders improving across all of its mobile OLED customer base. We strongly suspect a significant factor in this ramping Display demand is Apple (AAPL) adopting OLED displays in its next iPhone iteration. Odds are that shift will push other smartphone vendors to adopt OLED display.

One overarching driver over the long term is ramping capacity for semiconductor capital equipment and display technologies in China as it consumes a growing number of devices. In total, wafer fabrication equipment (WFE) sales in China are expected to reach $7 billion in 2017, compared to $6.7 billion in 2016 and $3.4 billion in 2013, according to SEMI, with more significant spending likely in 2018. With easier export controls in China compared to several years ago, companies like Applied can now ship more advanced tools into the country.

Against such a rosy outlook, we’d note semiconductor capital equipment demand tends to be dependent on the health of the economically sensitive semiconductor and consumer electronics industries. This means that we will continue to keep our eyes tuned not only to chip demand and fabrication utilization levels, but also the underlying economic tone of the global economy.

Valuation and Price Target

Our $47 price target equates to 17-18x expected 2017-2018 EPS, which we’d note is a discount to 52-week high price multiples in the range of 21-22x earnings that were accorded to AMAT shares during 2015 and 2016. On the downside, AMAT shares have bottomed out at roughly an average P/E multiple of 12x over the last few years. Applying that multiple to slated 2017-2018 earnings points to downside near $30-$32, and those are levels near which we’d look to scale into our position on share price weakness, as along as the current outlook remains intact.

 

The Bottom Line on Applied Materials (AMAT)
  • We are adding shares of Applied Materials (AMAT) to the Tematica Select List.
  • Our price target of $47 offers upside of roughly 30 percent.
  • Our rating is a Buy up to $41-$42.