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: 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.

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Thematic Tailwinds Blow Strong, Even as Market Fundamentals Bring Concern

WEEKLY ISSUE: Thematic Tailwinds Blow Strong, Even as Market Fundamentals Bring Concern

Even though our concerns over the underlying fundamentals of the market remain — especially amidst this most recent rebound — thematic tailwinds continue to propel several of our positions on the Tematica Select List, particularly those tailwinds for the Cash-Strapped Consumer and Connected Society investment themes.

 

The week started off in rebound mode for the stock market. The damage from Hurricane Irma, while severe with several million people still without power, was far less than the devastation many forecaster models had been predicting. That sigh of relief sent stocks climbing on Monday and put the major market indices back to new record highs. While many likely cheered that rebound — especially those investors that have only recently returned to the market — several underlying dynamics remain, which could make for potential trouble in the coming weeks.

Those concerns are the same items we recapped earlier this week as part of our thought process behind Goldman Sachs (GS) CEO Lloyd Blankfein sharing the current market environment has him “unnerved”. Unfortunately, these items did not fade with the passing of Irma, nor are they likely to and in the case of market’s stretched valuation, the rebound is only exacerbating things further. Furthermore, we have yet to see any markedly downward revisions into GDP forecasts for the current quarter, despite the tens of billions in hurricane damages and business interruptions. Hardly surprising, given the regional Federal Reserve banks adjust their forecasts to published economic data and the impact of the two storms has yet to turn up in the data. But it will in the coming weeks, just the way it did in the August auto & truck data, and will in the August Retail Sales data out later this week.

From the perspective of the Tematica Select List, we continue to see the August Retail Sales report putting some much-needed perspective around Costco Wholesale (COST) shares given the simply stellar monthly comparable sales figures the company has been delivering.

  • We continue to rate Costco Wholesale (COST) shares a Buy with a $190 price target.

 

When Market Concerns Arise, Relying on a Thematic Approach is Even More Crucial

Amid the noise in that retail sales data, we suspect our Connected Society theme and our Amazon (AMZN) shares will be share gainers from the recent Back to School shopping season. That’s also a positive for the position in United Parcel Service (UPS) that is on the Tematica Select List, and we see those shares being strong performers once again in the upcoming holiday shopping season that increasingly includes Halloween.

As crazy as it may seem, in 2016 American spent roughly $8.4 billion on Halloween. We’re already seeing rows and rows of Halloween candy line our grocery stores, even though soda manufacturers like Coca-Cola (KO) and PepsiCo (PEP), and now sports drinks companies, are looking to reduce sugar content in their offerings. We see the unsweetening of the beverage category continuing to benefit our position in International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) as manufacturers look to replace that oh so yummy sugar taste with other appealing, yet healthier, solutions. Should the move to limit sugar spill over into candy and other confections, it would be another shot in the arm for IFF shares and potentially McCormick & Co. (MKC) as well. We’ll be talking more on this during this week’s Cocktail Investing Podcast.

 

  • We continue to rate shares of Amazon (AMZN) a Buy at current levels, and our price target remains $1,150.
  • United Parcel Service (UPS) shares, up more than 14% since being added to the Tematica Select List, are now less than a handful of dollars away from our $122 price target. As such, we rate UPS shares a Hold at current levels. As a reminder, that’s a true Hold, not Wall Street speak to exit the shares.
  • The same can be said with International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) shares, which are up nearly 17% on a blended basis. Our price target on IFF shares remains $145, however, we are revisiting this target with an upward bias.
  • Our price target on McCormick & Co. (MKC) shares remains $110.

 

 

Looking Ahead to the End of the 3rd Quarter

When we exit this week, we will have two weeks left, not only in September, but in 3Q 2017 as well. It means in roughly a month’s time, we will once again be back in the quarterly earnings deluge. Given what I discussed above, I’ll be watching and listening as companies issue business updates over the next few weeks due in part to Harvey and Irma, and putting it into perspective for Tematica Select List positions. While the debt ceiling conversation has been kicked down the road until December, next week’s Federal Reserve monetary policy meeting, which is likely to leave interest rates unchanged, should clue us a bit more into the Fed’s balance sheet unwinding timetable.

Finally, while you start preparing your holiday shopping lists, I expect the political battles in Washington will once again flare up as the 2017 election season kicks into gear, just as Team Trump looks to make its case, hopefully with some concrete details, for tax reform. Giving a shot in the arm to potential political uncertainty, this morning North Korea showed trademark defiance over new U.N. sanctions imposed after its sixth and largest nuclear test.

The bottom line is we’ve seen volatility return to the market in September, and there are reasons to think we will see more of it before we enter 4Q 2017 in just a few weeks. While we continue to turn over new candidates for the Tematica Select List, we’ll continue to be patient until those potential positions have the right mix between potential upside vs. downside. Like always, our thematic lens will continue to be our North Star.

 

 

The Silver Lining in Apple’s Otherwise Lame Special Event

Some quick words on Apple’s (AAPL) special event yesterday – it was lame!

As we feared, not only did the company’s latest products show off iterative at best features, the presentation was less than enthusiastic, as was the reception by attendees at the new Steve Jobs Theater. Candidly when Apple began talking about its new retail footprint and then started the iPhone conversation with new colors, we had a feeling it was all about to go downhill. And we were right. What ensued was a noticeable groan be it for the lack of compelling new features or the fact that Apple’s “one more thing” – the iPhone X – and its $1,000 price point won’t begin shipping until early November, far later than anyone had expected.

While we missed the move in Apple shares in recent months, we see yesterday’s underwhelming event serving as a reminder that at least for now, Apple’s business remains reliant on the slower growing smartphone market. Odds are Apple will continue to gain incremental share and generate significant cash, but the opportunity for real growth from here hinges on either a new business category or a new must-have product from an existing one. As we shared earlier this week, neither of those appears to be on the near-term horizon. Given several thematic tailwinds that power its various businesses, we’ll continue to look for an opportune entry point, but for now, it looks like the shares will fall victim to “buy the rumor, sell the news.”

 

Now for the better news…

Just because growth is lacking at Apple, there were several announcements yesterday that bode rather well when it comes to growth for Universal Display (OLED) and AXT Inc. (AXTI). Regarding Universal Display, Apple did announce it is adopting organic light emitting diode displays in the iPhone X with its Super Retina Display, however, again, that product is not set to ship until early November. This likely means a modest push out in expectations. We see that, however, as a modest bump in the road for the capacity constrained organic light emitting diode industry that is hog tied due to demand from not only Apple but other smartphone vendors as well as other applications (TVs, wearables, interior automotive lighting). If Apple follows its historical pattern, and we think it will, we expect the Super Retina Display to make its way down the lineup into other iPhone models as well as those for iPads as supply eases and newer iterations are introduced.

While Apple’s didn’t specifically point to a display capacity shortage as the culprit behind the later than expected ship time for the iPhone X, its timetable when paired with recent comments from Applied Materials (AMAT) certainly suggest the industry remains constrained relative to demand. Moreover, with applications such as TVs calling for larger display sizes vs. those for smartphones and wearables, the industry is likely to be constrained for some time, especially as more TV vendors look to bring more models featuring that technology to market over the coming quarters. We see that as a good problem for Applied Materials and its display equipment business. The next update from Applied will be at its 2017 Analyst Day on September 27, and we expect an upbeat tone not only for its display business but from its semiconductor capital equipment one as well.

  • Currently, Universal Display (OLED) shares are up a whopping 149% since we initiated the position in October, and in many respects, the outlook continues to brighten.
  • As we move into 4Q 2017 and with increasing clarity on the growing number of applications we will be revisiting our $135 price target, odds are with an upward bias.
  • We continue to be bullish on Applied Materials (AMAT) shares and our price target remains  $55.

 

Turning to AXT Inc (AXTI), Apple did announce it was bringing standalone wireless connectivity to its latest Apple Watch. In order for that to happen, Apple has to pack the device with cellular technology, which means RF semiconductors that are based on AXT’s compound substrates. This is one more step in the expanding array of connected devices under the Internet of Things umbrella. From our perspective, the untethering of Apple Watch from the iPhone makes this newest model the one consumers are most likely to desire. While it’s still not enough to move the needle for Apple, it does move it for AXT.

  • We will use this incremental demand to bump our price target on AXT (AXTI) shares to $11 from $10.50. The added upside keeps our Buy rating on the shares in place.

 

On a disappointing note . . .

There was no update on Apple Pay in yesterday’s event, other than how with its new iPhone X it is utilizing its new Face ID technology as part of the payment process with Apple Pay. We were hoping for a more meaningful update given our position in USA Technologies (USAT), but we’ll happily settle for the news coming out of CVS Health (CVS) that it is utilizing new vending machines at “select landmark locations to outside of its store footprint. These machines will be stocked with things like over-the-counter medications, beauty and personal care products, eye care and oral health care products, first aid items, batteries, phone chargers, earbuds, and healthy snacks and beverages. We see this as yet another expansion in the unattended retail market that hinges on cashless consumption that is enabled by USA’s products and services.

  • Our price target on shares of USA Technologies (USAT) remains $6.

 

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. 
The Stock Market Marches Higher and So Does the Tematica Select List

The Stock Market Marches Higher and So Does the Tematica Select List

The last week has been a barn burner for a number of our positions on the Tematica Select List. We had earnings from AMN Healthcare (AMN) and International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) that led both positions to move higher, January Retail Sales that were bullish for our Amazon (AMZN) shares and to a lesser extent our Alphabet (GOOGL) shares, and big move in our Universal Display (OLED) shares. Part of the catalyst for that move in Universal Display (OLED) shares was bullish comments from Applied Materials (AMAT) on the rising capacity for organic light emitting diode displays. On the back of that as well as accelerating growth in chip demand, we added Applied Materials shares as a Disruptive Technology play on the Tematica Select List with a $47 price target.

Yesterday’s Flash February PMI reports from Markit Economics point to an improving global economy complete with input prices moving higher. We suspect this will be on the Fed’s mind as we get more data ahead of the March FOMC meeting that is just a few weeks out. Our position is the Fed is likely to wait until firm details of President Trump’s economy stimulus plans and tax overhaul have been announced and digested. Given the likelihood that won’t happen ahead of the March FOMC meeting, we think there is a higher probability the next Fed rate hike will be had at its May meeting. Of course, the coming data will be key and that means pouring over the next iteration of Fed meeting minutes that will be published later today.

Later in the week, we have earnings from Universal Display (OLED). Consensus expectations for Universal’s December quarter results are EPS of $0.42 on $68.6 million in revenue. We expect a bullish outlook to be had when Universal reports its results this Thursday. Our price target on OLED shares sits at $80.

Before we get to some housekeeping items, here’s a quick recap of where our various positions sit on the Tematica Select List. Remember, our thematic style of investing is long-term in nature, which means we are inclined to use share price weakness to scale into Buy rated positions provided the thematic thesis remains intact:

 

Buy rated stocks on the Tematica Select List continue to be:

  • Alphabet (GOOGL) – Asset-Lite Business Models
  • Amazon (AMZN) – Connected Society
  • Applied Materials (AMAT) – Disruptive Technology
  • CalAmp Corp. (CAMP) – Connected Society
  • Disney (DIS) – Content is King
  • Dycom Industries (DY) – Connected Society
  • Facebook (FB) – Connected Society
  • International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) – Rise & Fall of the Middle Class
  • McCormick & Co, (MKC) – Rise & Fall of the Middle Class
  • Nuance Communications (NUAN) – Disruptive Technology
  • PureFunds ISE Cyber Security ETF (HACK) – Safety & Security
  • Starbucks (SBUX) – Guilty Pleasure
  • United Natural Foods (UNFI) – Foods with Integrity

 

Subscribers should continue to hold shares of: 

  • AMN Healthcare (AMN) – Aging of the Population
  • AT&T (T) – Connected Society
  • Costco Wholesale (COST) – Cash-strapped Consumer
  • PowerShares NASDAQ Internet Portfolio ETF (PNQI – Connected Society

 

Remember, the full list of positions on the Tematica Select List, along with detailed price targets, recommended stop-limit prices and returns are always listed on the Holdings / Performance page you can access by clicking here or on the white and green “Select List Performance” box on the top right of this page.

 

Exciting Updates to Your Tematica Investing Service . . .

Amazing as it might seem, we’ve got less than one week to go until we close the book on February. We suspect you’re likely thinking that means before too long mild temperatures will be on the way, and we’re right there alongside you. Here at Tematica, we’ll be coming up on the one-year anniversary since we opted to self-publish our products. As we said at the time, we wanted more editorial control to provide the kind of service and insight we think our subscribers deserve.

Over the last year, you’ve probably noticed several happenings that build on our Monday Morning Kickoff and premium products, like Tematica Investing. We added weekly Thematic Signals, which is our Tematica take on “ripped from the headlines” but with a thematic perspective. As we see it, Thematic Signals is a constant reminder of our 17 investment themes at work in and around us each and every day. Those signals are posted to our website on nearly a daily basis and then an email is sent out summarizing all of them on Friday afternoons.

Lenore Hawkins
Tematica Research Chief Macro Strategist

A few months ago we brought Lenore Hawkins on as Tematica’s Global Macro Strategist, and if you’re not checking out Elle’s Economy over at TematicaResearch.com on a regular basis, we have to say you’re missing out.

More recently in a move that has Chris Versace’s as happy as a dog getting his belly scratched, we are back podcasting with Lenore chiming in as well with her usual wit and insights. We’ve already had the CEO of US Concrete (USCR) on the program as well as the CEO of mobile advertising disruptor Digital2Go, and we’ve got a number of great guests coming up in the coming weeks including IBM (IBM), InterDigital (IDCC), Skyworks Solutions (SWKS), Boxed, and several cyber security companies. Versace always enjoys these conversations because you never know what useful tidbits a guest might drop. You can find the Cocktail Investing podcast each and every week right here on TematicaResearch.com

 

After all of that, one might think we’d take it easy for a while . . . We’re not.

Rather, we’ve kicked things up even further by sharing our thoughts on a more frequent basis. You’ve probably noticed the “Tematica Investing Posts for XX/XX/2017” that have started to hit your email. Our thinking is the stock market is a quick moving and dynamic animal, not one that should only be addressed once per week. Each day, you’ll get a mid-day recap of what we’ve published in the last 24 hours including our latest thoughts on the economy, key thematic data points, new positions on the Tematica Select List (like yesterday’s Applied Materials (AMAT) addition), and position updates.

The goal is not to overwhelm you, but rather share in real-time digestible thematic insights and action that much like the Hippocratic oath is aimed at helping you be a smarter investor without doing any harm in the process.

We’d love to hear your feedback at customerservice@tematicaresearch.com