Weekly Issue: Trade and geopolitical issues make for a less than sleepy August 2019

Weekly Issue: Trade and geopolitical issues make for a less than sleepy August 2019

Key points inside this issue

  • Trade and geopolitical issues make for a less than sleepy August 2019
  • What to watch this week
  • Earnings this week
  • Economic data this week
  • The Thematic Aristocrats?

Uncertainty continued to grip the stock market last week as the U.S.-Chinese trade dispute once again took center stage. After the return of tariff talk week prior, the battle expanded this week to include a war of words between Washington and Beijing over the Chinese yuan’s devaluation.

The market ultimately shook that off, in part due to the renewed thought that the Federal Reserve could accelerate interest-rate cuts. But then stocks closed lower week over week after President Trump suggested Friday that trade talks with China set for next week might be canceled.

There’s also renewed geopolitical uncertainty — not just Britain’s Brexit process, but also a looming no-confidence vote against Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte that’s once again plunging Italy into political turmoil. And as if that wasn’t enough, over the weekend escalating tensions between Chinese authorities and protesters in Hong Kong were added to the mix, making for one big ball of uncertainty even bigger.

Meanwhile, global economic data continue to soften. This gives some credence to the notion that the Fed could become more dovish than Chairman Jerome Powell suggested during his July 31 press conference following the Federal Open Market Committee’s decision to cut rates. While I don’t expect anything near-term, down below we have a calendar date to mark even though I don’t think it will mean much in the way of monetary policy.

We’re seeing confirming signs for the economic data in oil and copper prices, both of which have been mostly declining of late. Not exactly signs of a vibrant and growing global economy.

Odds are that as we head into summer’s final weeks, stocks will be range-bound at best as they trade based on the latest geopolitical headlines. And odds are there won’t’ be any newfound hope to be had on the earnings front. With 90% of S&P 500 stocks already reporting second-quarter results, it looks like we’ll see another year-over-year decline in quarterly average earnings. For the full year 2019 those earnings are only growing at a 2.5% annual rate, but if President Trump goes forth with the latest round of announced tariffs, odds are those expectations could come down in the coming weeks – more on that below.

All in all, barring any meaningful progress on US-China trade, which seems rather unlikely in the near-term, at best the stock market is likely to be rangebound in the coming weeks. Even though much of Wall Street will be “at the beach” the next few weeks, odds are few will be enjoying their time away given the pins and needles discussed above and further below.

What to watch this week

We have three weeks until the Labor Day holiday weekend, which means we’re entering one of the market’s historically slowest times. There’s typically lower volume than usual, as well as low conviction and wishy-washy moves in the market.

Traditionally, a more-sobering look emerges once Wall Street is “back from the beach” following the Labor Day holiday. This tends to bring a sharper picture of the economy. There are also ample investor conferences where companies update their outlooks as we head into the year’s last few months.

But as we saw this past week, geopolitical and trade tensions could make the next few weeks much more volatile than we’ve seen in the past. As we navigate these waters, we’ll continue to assess what this means for earnings — particularly given that analysts don’t expect the S&P 500 companies to see year-over-year earnings-per- share growth again until the fourth quarter. In my view that puts a lot of hope on a seasonally strong quarter that could very well be dashed by President Trump’s potential next round of tariffs. I say this because retailers now face the 10% tariffs set to go into effect on September 1, which will hit apparel and footwear, among other consumer goods.

The risk is we could very well see 2019 turn into a year with little to no EPS growth for the S&P 500, and if factor out the impact of buybacks it likely means operating profit growth had at the S&P 500 is contracting year over year. We’ll know more on that in the coming weeks, but if it turns out to be the case I suspect it will lead many an investor to question the current market multiple of 17.6x let alone those market forecasters, like the ones at Goldman Sachs, that are calling for 3,100 even as their economists cut their GDP expectations.

Earnings this week

This week will have the slowest pace of earnings releases in about a month, with only some 330 companies issuing quarterly results. That’s a sharp drop from roughly 1,200 such reports that we got last week.

Among those firms reporting numbers next week, we’ll see a sector shift toward retail stocks, including Macy’s (M), J.C. Penney (JCP) and Walmart (WMT). Given what I touched on above, I’ll be listening for their comments on the potential tariff impact as well as comments surrounding our Digital Lifestyle and Middle-class Squeeze investing themes, and initial holiday shopping expectations.

This week’s earnings reports also bring the latest from Cisco Systems (CSCO), Nvidia (NVDA), and Deere (DE). Given how much of Deere’s customer base sells commodities like U.S. soybeans (which China has hit with tariffs), we’ll carefully listen to management’s comments on the trade war. There could be some tidbits for our New Global Middle-class theme from Deere as well. With Cisco, we could hear about the demand impact being generated by 5G network buildouts as well as the incremental cyber security needs that will be needed. These make the Cisco earnings conference call one to listen to for our Digital Infrastructure and Safety & Security investing themes.

 

Economic data this week

On the economic front, we’ll get July reports for retail sales, industrial production and housing starts, as well as the August Empire Manufacturing and Philly Fed surveys. Given the importance of the consumer, the July Retail Sales will be one to watch and I for one expect it to be very bullish for our Digital Lifestyle investing theme if and only if because of Amazon’ 2019 Prime Day and all the other retailers that tried to cash in on it. I suspect, however, the report will reveal more gloom for department stores. All in all the week’s economic data points will help solidify the current quarter’s gross domestic product expectations, which are sitting at 1.6%-1.9% between the New York and Atlanta Fed.

Based on what we’ve seen of late from IHS Markit for Japan, China and the Eurozone, that still makes America the best economic house on the block. Granted, the U.S. vector and velocity are still in the down and slowing positions, but we have yet to see formal signs of a contracting domestic economy. As Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins pointed out in her most recent assessment of things, we’ll need to keep tabs on the dollar for “The deflationary power of a strengthening US dollar strength in the midst of slowing global trade and trade wars just may overpower anything central banks try.”

Odds are that as the latest economic figures hit, especially if they keep the economy’s recent vector and velocity intact, we will see more speculation on what the Fed might do next. While there’s no Fed interest-rate meeting scheduled for August, the Kansas City Fed will hold its widely watched annual Jackson Hole symposium Aug. 22-24 in Wyoming. The central bank doesn’t usually discuss monetary-policy plans at this event, but as noted above, we aren’t exactly in normal times these days.

 

The Thematic Aristocrats?

Given the recent market turbulence as prospects for more of the same in the coming weeks, I’m sitting back and building our shopping list for thematically well-positioned companies. Given the economic data of late and geo-political uncertainties as well as Lenore’s comments on the dollar, I’m focusing more on domestic-focused, inelastic business models that tend to spit off cash and drive dividends. In particular, I’m looking at companies with a track record of increasing their dividends every year for at least 10 years. And of course, they have to have vibrant thematic tailwinds at their respective back.

Perhaps, we can informally call these the “Thematic Aristocrats”?

I’ll have more as I refine that list.

Turning Heads I Win, Tails You Lose Inside Out

Turning Heads I Win, Tails You Lose Inside Out

For much of the current expansion, cycle investors have been forced taught to believe in a Heads-I-Win-Tales-You-Lose investing environment in which good economic news was good for equities and bad economic news was also good for equities. Good news obviously indicates a positive environment, but bad news meant further central bank intervention, which would inevitably raise asset prices.

Those who didn’t buy-the-dip were severely punished. Many fund managers who dared to take fundamentals into consideration and were wary, or put on portfolio protection, saw their clients take their money and go elsewhere. An entire generation of market participants learned that it’s easy to make money, just buy the dip. That mode just may be changing as the past two weeks the major indices have taken some solid hits. Keep in mind that while the headlines keep talking up the equity markets, the total return in the S&P 500 has been less than 5% while the long bond has returned over 18%. Austria’s century bond has nearly doubled in price since it was first offered less than two years ago!

Earnings Season Summary

So far, we’ve heard from just under 2,000 companies with the unofficial close to earnings season coming next week as Wal Mart (WMT) reports on the 15th. The EPS beat rate has fallen precipitously over the past week down to 57.2%, which if it holds, will be the lowest beat rate since the March quarter of 2014. Conversely, the top line beat rate has risen over the past week to 57.4% which is slightly better than last quarter, but if it holds will be (excepting last quarter) the weakest in the past 10 quarters. The difference between the percent of companies raising guidance versus percentage lowering is down to -1.8% and has now been negative for the past four quarters and is below the long-term average.

With 456 of the 505 S&P 500 components having reported, the blended EPS growth estimate is now -0.72% year-over-year, with six of the eleven sectors experiencing declining EPS. This follows a -0.21% decline in EPS in Q1, giving us (if this holds) an earnings recession. The last time we experienced such a streak was the second quarter of 2016.

The Fed Disappoints

Last week Jerome Powell and the rest of his gang over at the Federal Reserve cut interest rates despite an economy (1) the President is calling the best ever, (2) an unemployment rate near the lowest level since the 1960s, at a (3) time when financial conditions are the loosest we’ve seen in over 16 years and (4) for the first time since the 1930s, the Fed stopped a tightening cycle at 2.5%. We have (5) never seen the Fed cut when conditions were this loose. They were looking to get some inflation going, Lord knows the growing piles of debt everywhere would love that, but instead, the dollar strengthened, and the yield curve flattened. Oops. That is not what the Fed wanted to see.

The President was not pleased. “What the Market wanted to hear from Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve was that this was the beginning of a lengthy and aggressive rate-cutting cycle which would keep pace with China, The European Union and other countries around the world,” he said in a tweet. “As usual, Powell let us down.”

The dollar’s jump higher post-announcement means that the Fed in effect tightened policy by 20 basis points. Oops2. The takeaway here is that the market was not impressed. It expected more, it priced in more and it wants more. Now the question is, will the Fed give in and give the market what it wants? Keep in mind that both the European Central Bank and the Bank of England are turning decisively more dovish, which effectively strengthens the dollar even further.

Looking at past Fed commentary, the track record isn’t exactly inspirational for getting the all-important timing right.

But, we think the odds favor a continuation of positive growth, and we still do not yet see enough evidence to persuade us that we have entered, or are about to enter, a recession.” Alan Greenspan, July 1990

“The staff forecast prepared for this meeting suggested that, after a period of slow growth associated in part with an inventory correction, the economic expansion would gradually regain strength over the next two years and move toward a rate near the staff’s current estimate of the growth of the economy’s potential output.” FOMC Minutes March 20, 2001

“At this juncture, however, the impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the subprime market seems to likely be contained.” Ben Bernanke, March 2007

“Would I say there will never, ever be another financial crisis? You know probably that would be going too far but I do think we’re much safer and I hope that it will not be in our lifetimes and I don’t believe it will be.” Janet Yellen, June 2017 (This one is going to be a real doozy)

This time around Fed Chairman Powell told us that what we are getting is a “mid-cycle policy adjustment.” Wait, what? We are now (1) in the longest expansion in history with (2) the lowest unemployment rate in over 50 years as (3) corporate leverage levels reaching record levels at a (4) time when more of it is rated at just above junk than ever before in history. This is mid-cycle? I’m pretty sure this one will be added to the above list as some serious Fed facepalming. Now I think these folks are incredibly bright, but they are just tasked with an impossible job and live in a world in which their peers believe they can and ought to finesse the economy. So far that theory hasn’t turned out all that well for anyone who doesn’t already have a good-sized pile of assets.

Domestic Economy (in summary because it is August after all)

  • We are 3-year lows for the US ISM manufacturing and services PMIs.
  • We are seeing a shrinking workweek, contracting manufacturing hours and factory overtime is at an 8-year low.
  • Just saw a contraction in the American consumer’s gasoline consumption.
  • American households just cut their credit card balances, something that happens only about 10% of the time during an expansion. Keep in mind that Q2 consumer spending was primarily debt-fueled when looking towards Q3 GDP.
  • The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Leading Economic Indicator for the US fell to a 10-year low in June, having declined for 18 consecutive months. A streak of this nature has in the past always been indicative of a recession. Interestingly that same indicator for China just hit a 9-month high.
  • The Haver Analytics adjusted New York Fed recession risk model has risen from 50% in early January to a 10-year high of 80%.

Global Economy

  • The IMF has cut world GDP forecasts for the fourth consecutive time.
  • We have 11 countries so far in 2019 experiencing at least one quarter of shrinking GDP and 17 central banks are in cutting mode with Peru the latest to cut, the Royal Bank of Australia hinting at further cuts and Mexico and Brazil likely next in line.
  • Some 30% of the world’s GDP is experiencing inverted yield curves.
  • Over half the world’s bond market is trading below the Fed funds rate.
  • Despite the sanctions on Iran and OPEC output cuts, WTI oil prices have fallen over 20% in the past year.

Europe

  • The Eurozone manufacturing PMI for July fell to 46.5, down from 47.6 in June and is now at the lowest level since the Greek debt crisis back in 2012 as employment declined to a six-year low with a decline in exports. Spain came in at 48.2, 48.5 for Italy and 49.7 for France.
  • Germany, long the economic anchor for the Eurozone and the world’s fourth-largest economy, has negative yields all the way out 30 years and about 40% of Europe’s investment-grade bonds have negative yields. The nation’s exports declined 8% year-over-year and imports fell 4.4% in June as global demand continues to weaken.
  • France had its industrial production contract -2.3% in June versus expectations for -1.6%.
  • Italy’s government is back in crisis mode as the two coalition ruling parties look to be calling it quits. Personally, I think Salvini (head of the League) has been waiting for an opportune time to dump his Five Star partners and their recent vote against European Infrastructure gave him that chance. The nation is likely heading back to the polls again at a time when Europe is facing a potential hard Brexit, so we’ve got that going for us.
  • The UK economy just saw real GDP in Q2 contract 0.2% quarter-over-quarter. Domestic demand contracted -3%. Capex fell -0.5% and has now been in contraction for five of the past six quarters. Manufacturing output also contracted -2.3% in the worst quarter since the Great Financial Crisis.

Asia

  • South Korean exports, a barometer for global trade, fell 11% year-over-year in July. The trade war between South Korea and Japan continues over Japan’s reparations for its brutal policy of “comfort women” during WWII.
  • The trade war with China has entered the second year and this past week it looks unlikely that we will get anything sorted out with China before the 2020 election. The day after Fed’s rate decision Trump announced that the US would be imposing 10% tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese goods starting September 1st. In response, China devalued its currency and word is getting out that the nation is preparing itself for a prolonged economic war with the US. The rising tension in Hong Kong are only making the battle between the US and China potentially even more volatile and risky. Investors need to keep a sharp eye on what is happening there.
  • Auto sales in China contracted 5.3% year-over-year in July for the 13th contraction in the past 14 months.
  • Tensions are rising between India and Pakistan thanks to India’s PM Modi’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy.

US Dollar

When we look at how far the dollar has strengthened is have effectively contracted the global monetary base by more than 6% year-over-year. This type of contraction preceded the five most recent recessions. While the headlines have been all about moves in the equity and bond markets, hardly anyone has been paying attention to what has been happening with the dollar, which looks to be poised the breakout to new all-time highs.

Reaching for new all-time highs?

A strengthening dollar is a phenomenally deflationary force, something that would hit the European and Japanese banks hard. So far we are seeing the dollar strengthen significantly against Asian and emerging market currencies, against the New Zealand Kiwi and the Korean Won, against the Canadian dollar and the Pound Sterling (Brexit isn’t helping) and China has lowered its peg to the dollar in retaliation against new tariffs in the ongoing trade war. There is a mountain of US Dollar-denominated debt out there, which is basically a short position on the greenback and as the world’s reserve currency and the currency that utterly dominates global trade. As the USD strengthens it creates an enormous headwind to global growth.

The deflationary power of a strengthening US dollar strength in the midst of slowing global trade and trade wars just may overpower anything central banks try. This would turn the heads-I-win-tales-you-lose buy-the-dip strategy inside out and severely rattle the markets.

The bottom line is investors need to be watching the moves in the dollar closely, look for those companies with strong balance sheets and cash flows and consider increasing liquidity. The next few months (at least) are likely to be a bumpy ride.

The market is going great so no need to worry, right?

The market is going great so no need to worry, right?


There are weeks when sitting down to write this piece is tough because not much worthy of note has happened in the markets or the economy outside of the usual noise. This week, that was most definitely not the case. Thank God it is Friday – we all need a break.


New Market Highs and the Economy Gets Uglier

Thursday the S&P 500 closed at a new all-time high and is now above its 50-day, 100-day and 200-day moving averages. The post Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting debrief gave the market essentially what it wanted, a significantly more dovish stance with plenty of reasons to believe future rate cuts are imminent. Perhaps the Marty Zweig adage, “Don’t fight the Fed,” has been flipped on its head to “Fed, don’t fight the markets.” Unemployment is at multi-decade lows with more job openings than unemployed persons, rising hourly earnings, and improving retail sales while the market hits all-time highs and yet the Fed is preparing to stimulate. Yeah, something’s off here.

Stocks may be partying like it is 1999 (for those who remember that far back) but the yield on the 10-year closed at 2.01% Thursday. To put that in context, on June 9th when the 10-year was down to 2.09%, the Wall Street Journal ran an article asserting that, “Almost nobody saw the nosedive in bond yields coming, but a few players were positioned well enough to profit. Some think there is more room for yields to fall further,” along with this chart. To be clear, despite not one respondent predicting the yield on the 10-year would fall below 2.5% in 2019, none of these economists are idiots, but the thing is they all tend to read from the same playbook.

The stock market is giddy over its expectations for lower rates, yet the spread between the 3-month and the 10-year Treasury has been inverted for four weeks as of this writing, not exactly a ringing endorsement for economic growth prospects. Every time this curve has been inverted for 4 consecutive weeks, it has been followed by a recession (hat tip @Saxena_Puru) for this chart. Note that the chart uses 10-year versus 1-year until the 3-month became available in 1982. Much of the mainstream financial media and fin twit believe this time is different. Time will tell.

The red arrows denote 4 consecutive weeks of inversion and the blue arrows mark bear-market lows (20% declines).

Then there is this, with a hat tip to Sven Henrich whose tweet with a chart from Fed went viral – that in and of itself says a lot.

Both US imports and exports have declined from double-digit growth in 3Q 2018 to essentially flat today. The recent CFO Outlook by Duke’s Fuqua School of Business found that optimism about the US and about their own companies amongst CFO’s had fallen from the prior year.

The shipments of goods being moved around the country have plummeted since the beginning of 2018, as shown by the Cass Freight Index.

The Morgan Stanley Business Conditions Index fell 32 points in June, the largest one-month decline in its history.

If all that doesn’t have your attention, consider that the New York Fed’s recession probability model puts the probability that we are in a recession by May 2020 at 30%. Note that going back to 1961, whenever the probability has risen to this level we have either already been in a recession or shortly entered one with the exception of 1967 – 7 out of 8 times.

But hey, the market is going great so no need to worry right? If that’s what you are thinking, skip this next chart from @OddStats.


Geopolitics – From Bad to Oh No, No No

Brinksmanship with Iran continues as in the early hours of Friday we learned that the US planned a military strike against Iran in response to the shooting down of an American reconnaissance drone. The mission was called off at the last minute after the President learned that an estimated 150 people would likely have been killed. Frankly, the official story sounds a bit off, but what we do know is that we are in dangerous territory and one can only hope that some cooler heads prevail, and the situation gets dialed back a whole heck of a lot.

Given we weren’t enjoying enough nail-biting out of the Middle East news, an independent United Nations human rights expert investigating the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is in a 101-page report recommending an investigation into the possible role of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salam citing “credible evidence,” and while not specifically assigning blame to bin Salam, did assign responsibility to the Saudi government. This week the US Senate voted to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia, rebuking the President’s decision to use an emergency declaration to move the deal forward. This matters when it comes to investing because there are some seriously high-stakes games being played out that have the potential to suddenly rock markets without any warning.

Over in Europe more and more data points pointing to a slowing economy, which led to European Central Bank President Mario Draghi to announce that more stimulus could be in the works if inflation fails to accelerate. At the ECB’s annual conference in Sintra, Portugal Draghi stated that, “In the absence of improvement, such that the sustained return of inflation to our aim is threatened, additional stimulus will be required.” It isn’t just inflation that is troubling the region. Euro Area Industrial Production (ex Construction) has only seen increases in 2 of the last 11 months.

Italy continues to struggle with its budget deficit outside the limits allowed by the European Union, leading to a battle between Rome and Brussels. Friday Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (head of the euro-skeptic Lega party) threatened to quit his position if he is not able to push through tax cuts for at least €10 billion. While the US has been laser-focused on the Fed (and the president’s tweets) the Italian situation is getting more tense and a time when UK leadership with respect to Brexit is also getting a lot more tense. To put the Italian problem in perspective and understand why this problem is not going away, look at the chart below.

Today, Italy’s per capita GDP is 2.8% BELOW where it was in 2000 while Germany is 24.8% higher. Even the beleaguered Greece has outperformed Italy. Italy’s debt level is material to the rest of the world, its economy is material to the European Union, its citizens are losing their patience and its leadership consists of a tenuous partnership between a far-right, fascist-leaning Lega and a far-left, communist(ish) 5 Star movement lead by folks that very few in the nation respect. So that’s going well.

As if the European Union didn’t have enough to worry about as its new parliament struggles to find any sort of direction or agreement on leadership, the parliamentary process for selecting the next Prime Minister of the UK is down to two finalists. Enthusiam is rampant.

A hard Brexit is looking more likely and that is not going to be smooth sailing for anyone.


The Bottom Line

All this is a lot to take in, but there is a bright light for the week. Anna Wintour, Vogue’s editor-in-chief and eternal trend-setter, has given flip-flops her seal of approval. So, we’ve got that going for us. If that didn’t put a little spring into your step, I suggest you check out this twitter feed from Paul Bronks. Your soon-to-be more swimsuit ready abs will thank me, but your neighbors will wonder what the hell is going on at your place.

Weekly Issue: Looking Around the Bend of the Current Rebound Rally

Weekly Issue: Looking Around the Bend of the Current Rebound Rally

 

Stock futures are surging this morning in a move that has all the major domestic stock market indices pointing up between 1.5% for the S&P 500 to 2.2% for the Nasdaq Composite Index. This surge follows the G20 Summit meeting of President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping news that the US and China will hold off on additional tariffs on each other’s goods at the start of 2019 with trade talks to continue. What this means is for a period of time as the two countries look to hammer out a trade deal during the March quarter, the US will leave existing tariffs of 10% on more than $200 million worth of Chinese products in place rather than increase them to 25%.  If after 90 days the two countries are unable to reach an agreement, the tariff rate will be raised to 25% percent.

In my view, what we are seeing this morning is in our view similar to what we saw last week when Fed Chair Powell served up some dovish comments regarding the speed of interest rate hikes over the coming year – a sigh of relief in the stock market as expected drags on the economy may not be the headwinds previously expected. On the trade front, it’s that tariffs won’t escalate at the end of 2018 and at least for now it means one less negative revision to 2019 EPS expectations. In recent weeks, we’ve started to see the market price in the slowing economy and potential tariff hikes as 2019 EPS expectations for the S&P 500 slipped over the last two months from 10%+ EPS growth in 2019 to “just” 8.7% year over year. That’s down considerably from the now expected EPS growth of 21.6% this year vs. 2017, but we have to remember the benefit of tax reform will fade as it anniversaries. I expect this to ignite a question of what the appropriate market multiple should be for the 2019 rate of EPS growth as investors look past trade and the Fed in the coming weeks. More on that as it develops.

For now, I’ll take the positive performance these two events will have on the Thematic Leaders and the Select List; however, it should not be lost on us that issues remain. These include the slowing global economy that is allowing the Fed more breathing room in the pace of interest rate hikes as well as pending Brexit issues and the ongoing Italy-EU drama. New findings from Lending Tree (TREE) point to consumer debt hitting $4 trillion by the end of 2018, $1 trillion higher than less five years ago and at interest rates that are higher than five years ago. Talk about a confirming data point for our Middle-class Squeeze investing theme. And while oil prices have collapsed, offering a respite at the gas pump, we are seeing more signs of wage inflation that along with other input and freight costs will put a crimp in margins in the coming quarters. In other words, headwinds to the economy and corporate earnings persist.

On the US-China trade front, the new timeline equates to three months to negotiate a number of issues that have proved difficult in the past. These include forced technology transfer by U.S. companies doing business in China; intellectual-property protection that the U.S. wants China to strengthen; nontariff barriers that impede U.S. access to Chinese markets; and cyberespionage.

So, while the market gaps up today in its second sigh of relief in as many weeks, I’ll continue to be prudent with the portfolio and deploying capital in the near-term.  At the end of the day, what we need to see on the trade front is results – that better deal President Trump keeps talking about – rather than promises and platitudes. Until then, the existing tariffs will remain, and we run the risk of their eventual escalation if promises and platitudes do not progress into results.

 

The Stock Market Last Week

Last week we closed the books on November, and as we did that the stock market received a life preserver from Federal Reserve Chair Powell, which rescued them from turning in a largely across-the-board negative performance for the month. Powell’s comments eased the market’s concern over the pace of rate hikes in 2019 and the subsequent Fed November FOMC meeting minutes served to reaffirm that. As we shared Thursday, we see recent economic data, which has painted a picture of a slowing domestic as well as global economy, giving the Fed ample room to slow its pace of rate hikes. 

While expectations still call for a rate increase later this month, for 2019 the consensus is now looking for one to two hikes compared to the prior expectation of up to four. As we watch the velocity of the economy, we’ll also continue to watch the inflation front carefully given recent declines in the PCE Price Index on a year-over-year basis vs. wage growth and other areas that are ripe for inflation.

Despite Powell’s late-month “rescue,” quarter to date, the stock market is still well in the red no matter which major market index one chooses to look at. And as much as we like the action of the past week, the decline this quarter has erased much of the 2018 year-to-date gains. 

 

Holiday Shopping 2018 embraces the Digital Lifestyle

Also last week, we had the conclusion of the official kickoff to the 2018 holiday shopping season that spanned Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, and in some cases “extended Tuesday.” The short version is consumers did open their wallets over those several days, but as expected, there was a pronounced shift to online and mobile shopping this year, while bricks-and-mortar traffic continued to suffer. 

According to ShopperTrak, shopper visits were down 1% for the two-day period compared to last year, with a 1.7% decline in traffic on Black Friday and versus 2017. Another firm, RetailNext, found traffic to U.S. stores fell between 5% and 9% during Thanksgiving and Black Friday compared with the same days last year. For the Thanksgiving to Sunday 2018 period, RetailNext’s traffic tally fell 6.6% year over year. 

Where were shoppers? Sitting at home or elsewhere as they shopped on their computers, tablets and increasingly their mobile devices. According to the National Retail Federation, 41.4 million people shopped only online from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday. That’s 6.4 million more than the 34.7 million who shopped exclusively in stores. Thanksgiving 2018 was also the first day in 2018 to see $1 billion in sales from smartphones, according to Adobe, with shoppers spending 8% more online on Thursday compared with a year ago. Per Adobe, Black Friday online sales hit $6.22 billion, an increase of 23.7% from 2017, of which roughly 33% were made on smartphones, up from 29% in 2017.

The most popular day to shop online was Cyber Monday, cited by 67.4 million shoppers, followed by Black Friday with 65.2 million shoppers. On Cyber Monday alone, mobile transactions surged more than 55%, helping make the day the single largest online shopping day of all time in the United States at $7.9 billion, up 19% year over year. It also smashed the smartphone shopping record set on Thanksgiving as sales coming from smartphones hit $2 billion.

As Lenore Hawkins, Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist, and I discussed on last week’s Cocktail Investing podcast, the holiday shopping happenings were very confirming for our Digital Lifestyle investing theme. It was also served to deliver positive data points for several positions on the Select List and the Thematic Leader that is Amazon (AMZN). These include United Parcel Service (UPS), which I have long viewed as a “second derivative” play on the shift to digital shopping, but also Costco Wholesale (COST) and Alphabet/Google (GOOGL). Let’s remember that while we love McCormick & Co. (MKC) for “season’s eatings” the same can be said for Costco given its food offering, both fresh and packaged, as well as its beer and wine selection. For Google, as more consumers shop online it means utilizing its search features that also drive its core advertising business.

As we inch toward the Christmas holiday, I expect more data points to emerge as well as more deals from brick & mortar retailers in a bid to capture what consumer spending they can. The risk I see for those is profitless sales given rising labor and freight costs but also the investments in digital commerce they have made to fend off Amazon. Sales are great, but it has to translate into profits, which are the mother’s milk of EPS, and that as we know is one of the core drivers to stock prices.

 

Marriott hack reminds of cyber spending needs

Also last week, we learned of one of the larger cyber attacks in recent history as Marriott (MAR) shared that up to 500 million guests saw their personal information ranging from passport numbers, travel details and payment card data hacked at its Starwood business. As I wrote in the Thematic Signal in which I discussed this attack, it is the latest reminder in the need for companies to continually beef up their cybersecurity, and this is a profound tailwind for our Safety & Security investing theme as well as the  ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK) shares that are on the Select List.

 

The Week Ahead

Today, we enter the final month of 2018, and given the performance of the stock market so far in the December quarter it could very well be a photo finish to determine how the market finishes for the year. Helping determine that will not only be the outcome of the weekend’s G-20 summit, but the start of November economic data that begins with today’s ISM Manufacturing Index and the IHS Markit PMI data, and ends the week with the monthly Employment Report. Inside those two reports, we here at Tematica be assessing the speed of the economy in terms of order growth and job creation, as well as inflation in the form of wage growth. These data points and the others to be had in the coming weeks will help firm up current quarter consensus GDP expectations of 2.6%, per The Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecasting Survey that is based on more than 60 economists, vs. 3.5% in the September quarter.

Ahead of Wednesday’s testimony by Federal Reserve Chair Powell on “The Economic Outlook” before Congress’s Joint Economic Committee, we’ll have several Fed heads making the rounds and giving speeches. Odds are they will reinforce the comments made by Powell and the November Fed FOMC meeting minutes that we talked about above. During Powell’s testimony, we can expect investors to parse his words in order to have a clear sense as to what the Fed’s view is on the speed of the economy, inflation and the need to adjust monetary policy, in terms of both the speed of future rate hikes and unwinding its balance sheet. Based on what we learn, Powell’s comments could either lead the market higher or douse this week’s sharp move higher in the stock market with cold water.

On the earnings front this week, we have no Thematic Leaders or Select List companies reporting but I’ll be monitoring results from Toll Brothers (TOL), American Eagle (AEO), Lululemon Athletica (LULU), Broadcom (AVGO) and Kroger (KR), among others. Toll Brothers should help us understand the demand for higher-end homes, something to watch relating to our Living the Life investing theme, while American Eagle and lululemon’s comments will no doubt offer some insight to the holiday shopping season. With Broadcom, we’ll be looking at its demand outlook to get a better handle on smartphone demand as well as the timing of 5G infrastructure deployments that are part of our Disruptive Innovators investing theme. Finally, with Kroger, it’s all about our Clean Living investing theme and to what degree Kroger is capturing that tailwind.

 

Looking past this week’s market relief rally

Looking past this week’s market relief rally

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

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

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

 

Axon’s – September quarter earnings and an upgrade

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

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

 

Disney earnings on deck tonight

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

 

Del Frisco’s earnings to follow next week

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

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

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

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

 

What to Watch Next Week

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

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

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

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

WEEKLY ISSUE: Taking a Last Sip from Our Venti Latte as We Head into the Summer

WEEKLY ISSUE: Taking a Last Sip from Our Venti Latte as We Head into the Summer

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ALERT:

  • We are issuing a Sell on Starbucks (SBUX) shares and removing them from the Tematica Investing Select List.
  • We are trimming our position in USA Technologies (USAT) shares, selling half the position on the Tematica Investing Select List and keeping the other half in play to capture any potential additional upside.
  • Heading into this week’s Costco (COST) earnings call, our price target is $210.
  • Heading into Apples 2018 WWDC event next week, our price target on Apple (AAPL) shares remains $200.
  • While we watch for a potential Las Vegas strike, our longer-term price target for MGM remains $39.
  • We continue to have a Buy rating and an $85 target for Paccar (PCAR) shares
  • With data points confirming a pick-up in business investment, we continue to have a Buy rating and a $235 price target for Rockwell Collins (ROK) shares.

 

Coming into this shortened week for the stock market following the Memorial Day holiday, we’ve seemingly traded one concern for another. I’m talking about the shift in investor focus that has moved from the pending June 12 meeting between the US and North Korea to renewed concerns over Italy and what it could mean for the eurozone and the euro as well as the overall stock market and the dollar. In last week’s Weekly Wrap, I thought Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist, Lenore Hawkins, did a bang-up job summing up the situation but as we entered this week it pivoted once again, pointing to the likelihood of new elections that could pave the way for anti-euro forces.

This fresh round of uncertainty led the market lower this week, pulling the CNN Money Fear & Greed Index back into Fear territory from Neutral last week. Not surprising, but as investors assess the situation odds are US stocks, as well as the dollar and US Treasuries, will be viewed as ports of safety. That realization likely means the short-term turbulence will give way to higher stock prices, especially for US focused ones. Multinational ones will likely see a renewed currency headwind given the rebound in the dollar as well as the new fall in the euro.

I’ll continue to keep close tabs on these developments and what they mean for not only our thematic lens, but also for the Tematica Investing Select List. Expect to hear more about this on our Cocktail Investing podcast as well.

 

Cutting Starbucks shares from the Tematica Investing Select List

Given our thematic bent, we tend to be investors with a long-term view and that means it takes quite a bit for me to remove a company from the Tematica Investing Select List. Today, we are doing that with Starbucks (SBUX) and for several reasons. As I just mentioned above, this multinational company will likely see currency headwinds return that will weigh on its income statement.

At the same time, the company has been underperforming of late in same-store sales comparisons, which have slipped to the low single digits from mid-single digits in 2013-2016. The decline has occurred as Starbucks has reaped the benefits of its improved food offering over the last several quarters, and its new beverage offerings of late have underwhelmed. In the March quarter, if it weren’t for price increases, its same-store sales would have been negative.

While I still go to Starbucks as does the rest of team Tematica, the reality is that we are not spending incremental dollars compared to last year outside of a price increase for our latte or cappuccino. Said a different way, Starbucks needs to reinvigorate its product line up to win incremental consumer wallet share. In the past, the company had new beverages and then the addition of an expanded food and snack offering to deliver favorable same-store comparisons. Now with a full array of beverages, food and snacks, the question facing Starbucks is what’s next?

It’s this question as well as the simple fact that the closure of its stores yesterday to deliver racial tolerance training to its employees will weigh not only on same-store sales comps for the current quarter but hit profits as well. Keep in mind too that we are heading into the seasonally slower part of the year for the company.

Taking stock of Starbucks stock, my view is let’s take the modest profit and dividends we’ve collected over the last 24 months and move on.

  • We are issuing a Sell on Starbucks (SBUX) shares and removing them from the Tematica Investing Select List.

 

Trimming back our position in USA Technologies

Since adding shares of USA Technologies (USAT) back to the Tematica Investing Select List in early April, they have risen more than 50%, making them one of the best performers thus far in 2018. While the prospects for mobile payments remains vibrant and we are starting to see some consolidation in the space, I’m reminded of the old Wall Street adage – bulls make money, bears make money and pigs get slaughtered.

Therefore, we will do the prudent thing given the sharp rise in our USAT shares in roughly a handful of weeks – we will trim the position back, selling half the position on the Tematica Investing Select List and keep the other half in play to capture the additional upside. As we do this, we are placing our $12 price target under review with an upward bias. That said, we would need to see upside near $16 to warrant placing fresh capital into the shares.

  • We are trimming our position in USA Technologies (USAT) shares, selling half the position on the Tematica Investing Select List and keeping the other half in play to capture the additional upside.

 

Prepping for Costco earnings later this week

After the market close on Thursday (May 31), Costco Wholesale (COST) will report its latest quarterly earnings. Consensus Wall Street expectations are for EPS of $1.68 on revenue of $31.59 billion.

Over the last several months, the company’s same-store sales show it gaining consumer wallet share as it continued to open additional warehouse locations, which sets the stage for favorable membership fee income comparisons year over year. Exiting April, Costco operated 749 warehouse locations around the globe, the bulk of which are in the U.S. and that compares to 729 warehouses exiting April 2017. The number of Costco locations should climb by another 17 by the end of August and paves the way for continued EPS growth in the coming quarters.

  • Heading into this week’s earnings call, our price target is $210 for Costco (COST) shares

 

Updates, updates, updates, updates

Apple (AAPL)                                                                       
Connected Society

Next Monday Apple will hold its 2018 World-Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), which historically has been a showcase for the company’s various software platforms. This year it’s expected to feature iOS 12, the next evolution in its smartphone and tablet software. Recently it was hinted that Apple will unleash the full power of Near Field Communication capabilities found in those chipsets, which have been inside the iPhone since the iPhone 6 model.

In my view, this is likely to be but one of the improvements shared at the event. Those hoping for a hardware announcement are likely to be disappointed, but we never know if we’ll get “one more thing.”

  • Heading into next week’s 2018 WWDC event, our price target on Apple (AAPL) shares remains $200.

 

MGM Resorts International (MGM)
Guilty Pleasure

Quarter to date, shares of gaming-and-resort company MGM have come under pressure but our position in them is down only modestly. I’m putting MGM shares on watch this week following a vote by Las Vegas casino workers to strike when their contract expires at the end of May. I see that vote as a negotiating tactic with dozens of casino and resort operators, akin to what we’ve been seeing emanating from Washington these last few months.

I’ll continue to watch for a potential resolution and what it could mean for margins and EPS expectations. We’ve been patient with MGM shares, but if a strike ensues I’m apt to exit the position and fish in more fruitful waters for this investment theme of ours.

  • While we watch for a potential Las Vegas strike, our longer-term price target remains $39.

 

Paccar (PCAR)
Economic Acceleration/Deceleration

Over the last month, shares of this heavy-duty and medium-duty truck manufacturer have traded sideways. According to the most recent data point from the Cass Freight Index, shipment rose just over 10% year over year in April. That sets the stage for a favorable April reading for the American Trucking Associations’s For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index that rose 6.3% year over year after increasing 7.7% in February on the same basis.

At the same time, we continue to hear from a growing array of companies that they are facing rising costs due in part to surging trucking rates. Coca-Cola (KO) recently reported a 20% year-over-year increase in freight expense. Procter & Gamble (PG), Hasbro, Inc. (HAS), Danone SA, and Nestle SA also reported higher transportation costs and Unilever (UL) expects high-single-digit to high-teens increases in U.S. freight costs in the coming quarters. All of this confirms the current truck shortage that is fueling robust year-over-year growth in new orders for medium and heavy-duty trucks. Next week, we should get the May data and I expect the favorable year over year comparisons to continue.

As production rises to meet demand, we see a positive impact on Paccar’s business on both the top and bottom lines. Our $85 price target equates to just under 15x current estimated 2018 EPS, which has crept up by a few pennies over the last several weeks to $5.69 per share vs. $4.26 in 2017.

  • We continue to have a Buy rating and an $85 target for Paccar (PCAR) shares

 

Rockwell Automation (ROK)
Tooling & Re-Tooling

Our thesis on Rockwell Automation has focused on the expected pick-up in business investment and capital spending following tax reform last year. As the March quarter earnings season winds down, data collected by Credit Suisse reveals spending on factories, equipment and other capital goods by companies in the S&P 500 is expected to have risen to $166 billion during the quarter, up 24% year over year. That’s the fastest pick-up in capital spending since 2011 and marks a March-quarter record since Credit Suisse started collecting the data in 1995.

That year over year increase is roughly in line with the year over year increase in March 2018 U.S. manufacturing technology orders according to data published in the U.S. Manufacturing Technology Orders report from The Association For Manufacturing Technology (AMT). For March quarter in full, AMT’s data points to a 25% year over year improvement, which is in line with Credit Suisse’s capital spending assessment.

Based on these prospects, as well as statistics for the average age of private fixed assets that reveal the average age of U.S. factory stock is near 60 years old, it appears AMT’s 2018 forecast that calls for a 12% increase in US orders of manufacturing equipment compared to 2017 is looking somewhat conservative.

I’ve also noticed that over the last several weeks 2018 EPS expectations for Rockwell have inched up to $7.87 per share from $7.79, while 2019 expectations have moved higher to $8.81 per share from $8.73. I see those upward movements as increasing our confidence in our $235 price target for ROK shares.

  • With data points confirming a pick-up in business investment, we continue to have a Buy rating and a $235 price target for Rockwell Collins (ROK) shares.

 

WEKLY ISSUE: Adding a safe harbor position amid resurfacing uncertainty at home and abroad

WEKLY ISSUE: Adding a safe harbor position amid resurfacing uncertainty at home and abroad

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ISSUE:

Over the last week since our last issue of Tematica Options+, the S&P 500 has bopped higher and slipped lower on the hopes and the dashing of them over trade conversation with China and North Korea. Even as China has softened its position on auto and auto parts imports, last night The Wall Street Journal reported that per the Commerce Department, “Trump administration is using national-security laws to consider imposing new tariffs on vehicle and auto-parts imports.”While this talk is bound to spook the stock market, I continue to see it as President Trump continuing to keep his negotiation adversaries off balance as the trade talks continue. Several weeks back I cautioned this would be the likely course, but that it would bring uncertainty back into the marketplace.

Over the last month, we’ve seen sharp moves in the CNN Money Fear & Greed Index from Fear to Greed and as of last night Neutral. Again, all in a month. These make for wide swings in investor sentiment, and as I shared in yesterday’s weekly issue of Tematica Investing, it has the stock market in an unforgiving mood even though expectations were extremely high coming into the March quarter earnings season. That along with the weaker than expected outlook from Applied Materials (AMAT), which looks will it like be a bump in the road when viewed with some hindsight, led to our being stopped out of the Applied Materials (AMAT) June 55.00 calls (AMAT180622C00055000) last week.

As I’ve shared both here and in Tematica Investing, the last four months have been far different than the prior 15 and that has made it far more challenging in the short-term. Fundamentally sound short positions have been stopped out by a snap higher in the market only to see call option positions be stopped out as the market contends with the latest policy by tweet coming out of Washington. In all my time with the stock market, some 25 years now, I am hard pressed to remember a time when the global landscape is as it is today – mixed economic growth globally, rising costs and other inputs that will likely call for four not three rate hikes, contentious trade negotiations and more trouble in the Eurozone rearing its head.

Developments in Italy are raising investor concerns

That last item I mentioned refers to developments in Italy, a country that has been in the grip of political gridlock over the last 11 months and now appears to be on the cusp of forming a new government. The concern is the potential governing agreement, which has been termed a “budget buster” for the country, which is currently swimming in debt – roughly 130% to GDP – and is one of the EU’s slowest growing economies. The newly formed government, which is a reflection of the populist movement in the country, has vowed to increase fiscal spending and cut taxes — moves that given the country’s debt and economic speed could throw it into disarray, potentially creating a new sovereign debt crisis.

Bad for investments such as iShares MSCI Italy ETF (EWI) and those like iShares MSCI Eurozone ETF (EZU) and WisdomTree Europe Local Recovery Fund (EDOM) that hold meaningful exposure to the country.

When we’ve seen situations like this on the global stage, investors look for safe ports, which in turn tends to drive demand for US-based equities, the dollar and Treasuries.

In yesterday’s minutes from the Fed’s May FOMC meeting, we saw the following statement – “It would likely soon be appropriate for the Committee to take another step in removing policy accommodation.” I see that as a crystal-clear sign we will see a rate hike at the June meeting and Fed watchers are now pricing in a 94% probability of a third rate hike this year in September. Given the inflationary data and input price comments during this past earnings season, it seems increasingly likely that we will see a fourth rate hike late this year at either the November or December Fed meeting.

How to trade it in the short-term?

To sum up, we have uncertainty bubbling over in the Eurozone and interest rates poised to higher in the U.S. offering a safe haven of sorts for investors. The upward move in interest rates, at the margin, will curb investor appetite for dividend stocks, which is somewhat silly in my opinion given the excellent source of alternative income dividend dynamo and quality, high dividend yielding stocks represent. Recently posted Thematic Signals remind us the financial condition of many Americans. Not only is it not pretty, they could certainly use the extra income.

But I digress…. Back to the conversation at hand… the likelihood that Treasuries will see increased demand in the near-term. This has me adding a position in iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (TLT) June 2018 119.00 (TLT180615C00119000) calls that closed last night at 0.58to the Tematica Options+ Select List. These just out of the money calls are among the most liquid, and the expiration date of June 15 is after the Fed’s next monetary policy meeting that concludes on June 13. It’s also worth noting that after that meeting the Fed will hold a press conference as well as issue an update to its economic outlook. As I add these to the Select List, I’ll also set a stop loss at 0.40 to limit potential losses on this position.

 

 

Mama Mia! Italian Elections Continue the Anti-Establishment Trend

Mama Mia! Italian Elections Continue the Anti-Establishment Trend

The results of the election last weekend in Italy continue the international trend of angry and frustrated voters dumping those in power, desperately seeking some way to improve their conditions. While many continue to trumpet an improving global economy, and there are some improvements to be sure, many nations have not yet recovered from the damage of the financial crisis. The Brexit vote, Trump vote, weakened Angela Merkel in Germany and this weekend’s vote in Italy are all signs that voters in those nations want to see significant changes. Voters don’t do that when they are satisfied with their pocketbooks today and opportunities for tomorrow.

 

Sunday, March 4th Italians headed to the polls amidst and economic backdrop that has become increasingly frustrating. Economic growth in the nation has been weaker than many other European Area Nations.

 


source: tradingeconomics.com

 

Even more telling is the weakening trend in per capita GDP.


source: tradingeconomics.com

 

Italy’s unemployment rate remains well above historical norms and well above that of Germany.


source: tradingeconomics.com

 


source: tradingeconomics.com

 

Youth unemployment has been even more grim, peaking at 43.40 in March 2014 after having been as low as 19.40% in 2007. This high level of youth unemployment has meant that the best and the brightest are much more likely to leave the struggling nation than to stay and fight an uphill battle.


source: tradingeconomics.com

 

Wage growth (year-over-year) has been weakening for decades but has been sitting at record lows post-financial crisis, below 2% since 2011 and below 1% since 2016.


source: tradingeconomics.com

 

The bottom line is while the markets have been priced for sunshine and roses, we continue to see voters around the world frustrated with weak economies, poor wage growth and the lack of opportunities to improve their circumstances.  While the 2017 markets may have been a bit like watching a sunny summer afternoon PGA tournament, 2018 looks to be more like the latest reality TV drama.

Manufacturing Goes Bipolar but Yellen is Feeling Good

Manufacturing Goes Bipolar but Yellen is Feeling Good

The recent US manufacturing data has gone biopolar while over in Europe and even Japan, manufacturing is more solidly strenghtening. Then there is Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s recent assurances… this week is shaping up to be full of entertainment outside of yesterday’s fireworks!

ISM Manufacturing data for June indicated solid growth in most areas but was also considerably better than expectations (57.8 versus expectations for 55.3, up from 54.9 in May, a 3-year high) at a time when most economic data is coming in at or weaker than expectations.


source: tradingeconomics.com

  • New orders rose to 63.5 from 59.5
  • Backlogs gain 2 points to hit 57
  • Supply deliveries rose by near 4 percent to reach 57
  • Employment hit 3-month high at 57.2 from 53.5
  • But…. The prices paid index fell to a 7-month low of 55 from 60.5 in May, 68.5 in April and 70.5 in March. Ehh? Production and demand rising but prices are dropping month after month after month?

To further emphasize that this month’s ISM manufacturing report might not be all that telling is the U.S. Census Bureau Construction Spending report which was flat for May versus expectations for a gain of 0.3 percent month-over-month. Given that this one measures what was spent rather than sentiment, we tend to give it more weight. Most of the components saw a month-over-month drop in spending, including manufacturing (down -1.7 percent), residential (down -0.6 percent), commercial (down -0.7 percent), highway and street (down -1.0 percent), lodging (down -0.3 percent), communication (down 1.9 percent), transportation (down -1.2 percent). Overall total private construction dropped 0.6 percent month-over-month while public construction rose 2.1 percent. Other than that all good – sheesh!

Bear in mind that the last time ISM manufacturing came in around 58 was August 2014, after which the annualized GDP growth rate slowed to 2.3 percent. The time before that was early 2011 which preceded a slump to 1.9 percent growth for GDP.

On the other hand, the Markit manufacturing survey told a very different story, one that was more consistent with what we saw in the Construction Spending report, falling to a six-month low of 52 from 52.7 in May. We like to confirming data points and sorry Mr. ISM, your cheese is standing alone this month.

Also contradicting the ISM, June auto sales declined 0.9 percent month over month, dropping to 16.5 million units at an annual rate and making for the fifth decline in the past six months. The first half of the year has seen sales drop at a 20 percent annual rate. A drop of this magnitude occurred last in 2010 when markets were fretting about the likelihood of a double-dip and the Fed was moving towards loser policies.

We’d point out that this lack of pricing power isn’t just here, as the Eurozone and Japan are experiencing the same phenomenon, with Japan experiencing a 43-year high for labor shortage without much in the way of upward pricing pressures.

In contrast, the Markit Nikkei Japan Manufacturing PMI continued to improve in June, extending the current sequence of expansion to ten months with gains in both production and new orders.

IHS Markit Spain Manufacturing PMI revealed that Spanish manufacturing completed a strong second quarter with growth of output, new orders and employment remaining elevated. June saw further sharp rises in output and new orders with the rate of job creation at near-record highs. Purchasing activity increased at the fastest pace so far in 2017.

IHS Markit Italy Manufacturing PMI saw sharp and accelerated increases in output and new orders in June with output picking up on the back of robust export orders. Even employment rose amid a rebound in business sentiment.

IHS Markit France Manufacturing PMI saw new orders increase at a sharper pace in June with output growth moderating. The index rose to 54.8 from 53.8 in May and was only just shy of April’s six-year high.

IHS Markit/BME Germany Manufacturing PMI rose to a 74-month high with the fastest growth in new orders since March 2011 as input prince inflation slowed to a 7-month low. The 12-month outlook for production remained strongly positive.

Back in the U.S., on top of the contradictory manufacturing data, there is the ECRI leading indicator which has fallen now for three consecutive weeks, with a decline in six of the past seven and now sits at its lowest point since December 9th, 2016.

Mr. Market seems utterly unimpressed with continued trend for economic data to disappoint relative to expectations as the CBOE VIX net speculative shorts is now at the highest level ever – so apparently there is nothing of concern here.

Fed Chairperson Janet Yellen seems to agree, “Would I say there will never, ever be another financial crisis? You know probably that would be going too far but I do think we’re much safer and I hope that it will not be in our lifetimes and I don’t believe it will be.”

Really? That’s quite a statement, but then…

“But, we think the odds favor a continuation of positive growth, and we still do not yet see enough evidence to persuade us that we have entered, or are about to enter, a recession.” Alan Greenspan, July 1990

“At this juncture, however, the impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the subprime market seems to likely be contained.” Ben Bernanke, March 2007

via GIPHY

Facebook Lite Taps into the Rising Middle Class in Low-bandwidth Areas and Explodes

Facebook Lite Taps into the Rising Middle Class in Low-bandwidth Areas and Explodes

Facebook once again delivered knockout metrics in its December quarter earnings report, but what caught the team Tematica eye was how the social media giant is leveraging the rising middle class that is a part of our Rise & Fall of the Middle Class investing theme. Several years ago Facebook launched a lite version of its app that allowed users in lower-bandwidth countries (those either lack 4G/LTE coverage entirely or have spotty at best coverage) to utilize the social media platform and it has paid off in spades. In less than 2 years, Facebook Lite has more than 200 million users — that’s nearly 2/3 of the entire US population! Now to watch Facebook monetize those users to drive its average revenue per user (ARPU) even higher.

Facebook’s stripped-down but speedy Lite app is growing fast and adding countries so it can keep connecting people and building the company’s business in the low-bandwidth world where revenue increased 52% this year.

Facebook Lite launched in June 2015, it rocketed to 100 million monthly users by March 2016, and now it’s doubled in size to 200 million users, Mark Zuckerberg says.

Average revenue per user is up 28% this year from $1.10 to $1.41. And that pushed its Rest Of World revenue up 52% this year to $839 million per quarter.

By making it enjoyable for users to sign up and spend more time on Facebook even with a weak network connection, Facebook is starting to make money in places other apps don’t.

Source: Facebook Lite hits 200M users as low-bandwidth world revenue skyrockets | TechCrunch