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: The Changing Mood of the Market

Weekly Issue: The Changing Mood of the Market

Over the last several days, volatility in the stock market has been rampant with wide swings taking place. Part and parcel of this has been a mood change in the stock market as high-flying stocks, including a number of technology ones, have come under pressure as investors re-think their growth prospects. That continued yesterday as shares of iPhone maker Apple (AAPL) became the latest one to dip into bear market territory with last night’s close following renewed concerns over the company’s device shipments in the near-term. This, in turn, has led to a few downgrades by Wall Street analysts, that at least in my view, are being somewhat short-sighted as the company continues to morph its business into one that is more reliant on high margin services rather than just the iPhone.

The same can be said with Amazon (AMZN), which has seen its shares tumble despite there being no slowdown in the shift to digital commerce as evidenced by the October Retail Sales Report. That report showed Nonstore retail sales for the month climbing just shy of 3x as fast as overall retail sales year over year. That was certainly confirmed in the latest earnings reports this week from Macy’s (M) and Walmart (WMT).  All indications, as well as expectations, have this aspect of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme accelerating into the all-important holiday shopping season. And yes, this keeps me bullish on our shares of United Parcel Service (UPS)

Now here’s the tough part to swallow – while we and our thematic way of investing are likely to be right in the medium to long-term, the mood in the stock market tends to prevail in the short-term. And with several of the concerns I’ve talked about here as well as in Tematica Investing and on our podcast, Cocktail Investing, rearing their heads odds are the stock market will continue to be a volatile one in the very near-term. This will likely see the current expectation resetting continue, especially for the sector-based investor view of “technology” stocks. Talk about a multi-headed sector that is simply a mish-mash of things – I’ll stick to our thematic lens approach, thank you very much. That said, with “tech” being in the doghouse, I’m using the time to evaluate a number of companies for the currently open Disruptive Innovators slot in our Thematic Leaders. Some of the current contenders include cloud-focused companies Dropbox (DBX), Instructure (INST) and Okata (OKT) among others.

This week

What’s been driving the latest round of roller coaster like thrills in the stock market can be found in the intersection of the latest earnings reports, economic data, and political developments. From sector investing perspective, we continue to get mixed results as evidenced by this week’s earnings reports as JC Penney (JCP) lagged expectations while Walmart (WMT) and Macy’s (M) beat them. From a thematic one, however, we see the dichotomy in those results as strong confirmation in our Digital Lifestyle investing theme as both Macy’s and Walmart delivered strong digital shopping performance in those quarterly reports, while JC Penney continues to struggle with its brick & mortar business.

Our Living the Life investing theme was also the recipient of positive confirmation this week as high-end outerwear company Canada Goose (GOOS) simply smashed top and bottom line expectations. Similarly, profits at luxury car company Aston Martin (AML.L) soared as its sales volume doubled year over year in the September quarter.

 

Sticking with Del Frisco’s

And while the Living the Lifestyle Thematic Leader that is Del Frisco’s (DFRG) reported a sloppy quarter following the disposal of its Sullivan’s business, the company shared a vibrant outlook, including the plan to grow its revenue and EBITDA to at least $700 million and $100 million by, respectively, by 2020 from the September quarter run rates of $420 million and $74 million, respectively. The intent on average will be to roll out two to three Double Eagles, two to three Barcelona Wine Bars and six bartacos restaurants each year, which is a measured move over the coming years and one that could be scaled back quickly should the domestic economy begin to falter several quarters out.

Near-term, Del Frisco’s should benefit from a pick-up in activity quarter to date following the arrival in the third quarter of its new chief marketing officer. On the earnings conference call, management shared Double Eagle’s private dining is up almost 20% in the first few weeks of the quarter and bookings for the rest of the quarter are up more than 20% compared to last year at this time.

The company also confirmed one of the key aspects of our investment thesis, which centers on margin improvement due in part to beef deflation. As discussed on the earnings call, the company’s total cost of sales as a percentage of revenue for the quarter decreased by 60 basis points to 27.3% from 27.9% in the year-ago period due to margin improvements at Double Eagle, Barcelona, and bartaco. This improvement and the year-over-year jump in bookings certainly point to the expected holiday inflection point panning out, which is also the most seasonally profitable time of year for Double Eagle and Grille. Cost-reduction efforts put in place earlier this year at these two brands should lead to visible margin improvement versus year-ago levels as the holiday volumes take effect.

  • For now, we’ll keep our long-term price target of $14 for Del Frisco’s (DFRG) shares intact, revisiting as needed should the company’s rollouts begin to slip.

 

Several headwinds remain in place

Despite these positive signals and happenings, we have to remember there are several headwinds blowing on the overall stock market. These include Italy standing firm with its latest budget, which puts it at odds with the European Union; Brexit limping forward; inflationary readings in both the October Producer Price Index and Consumer Price Index that will more than likely keep the Fed’s rate hike path intact, a looming concern for consumer debt and high levels of corporate debt; and the pending trade talks between the US and China at a time when more data shows a cooling in the global economy.

On a positive note, the NFIB Small Business Index’s October reading continued the near-two year string of record highs with more small businesses than not citing a bullish attitude toward the economy and expanding their businesses. A note of caution here as most businesses tend to exude such sentiment at or near the economic peak – few see the looming the downside. The NFIB’s report once again called out the lack of skilled workers with 53% of those surveyed reporting few or no qualified applicants.

This signals potential wage pressures ahead, however, the sharp fall in oil prices, which follows the notion of the slowing global economy and rising inventory levels, is poised to give some relief to both businesses and consumers as we head into the holiday shopping season. Yes, average gas prices have fallen to $2.68 per gallon from $2.89 a month ago, but they are still up vs. $2.56 per gallon this time last year. When it comes to gas prices, most consumers think sequentially, which means they are recognizing the drop in recent weeks, which in their minds offers some relief.

Noticed, I said some relief – consumers still face high debt levels with larger servicing costs vs. the year-ago levels. And let’s be honest, a consumer with a 12-gallon gas tank in his or her car that fills up twice a week is saving all of $4.80 per week compared to this time last month. In today’s world, that’s about enough to buy one pizza with some toppings a month. In other words, it will take more pronounced declines in gas prices to make a meaningful difference for those investors that resonate with our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme.

 

What to watch next week

In looking at the calendar for next week, we have the Thanksgiving holiday, which long-time subscribers know is one of my favorites. While the stock market is only closed for that holiday, we do have shortened trading hours next Friday – better known as Black Friday – and that will kick off the race for holiday shopping. That means we can expect the litany of headlines over initial holiday shopping sales over the post-holiday weekend as we ease into Cyber Monday. And yes, I will be paying close attention to those results given our positions in Amazon and UPS.

Before we get to share our thankfulness with family and friends, we will have a few economic reports to chew through including October Housing Starts, Durable Orders and Existing Home Sales. This week even Fed Chair Powell recognized the softening housing market as a headwind to the economy, and in my view that sets the stage for yet another lackluster housing report next week. Inside the Durable Orders report, we’ll be watching the all-important core capital goods line, a proxy for business investment. The stronger that number, the better the prospects for the current quarter, which tends to benefit from “use it or lose it” capital spending budgets.

On the earnings front next week, we will continue to hear from retailers, such as Best Buy (BBY), Kohl’s (KSS), Ross Stores (ROST) and TJX Companies (TJX). With regard to our own Costco Wholesale (COST) shares, we’ll be paying close attention to results from competitor BJ Wholesale (BJ). Outside of those retailers, I’ll be listening to what Nuance Communications (NUAN) has to say about the adoption of voice interfaces and digital assistants next week.

Rising consumer credit card debt to be a headwind to GDP in 2018

We are starting to get not only holiday sales results from the likes of Kohl’s (KSS) and others, but also December same-store-sales results from Tematica Investing Select List resident Costco Wholesale (COST) and its retail brethren. Thus far the results are positive and in some cases much better than expected, but when we see we think about the other shoe to drop. In this case, that is “How are consumers paying for all of this given that wages barely budged in 2017?” 

The answer is they have been turning to their credit cards. Before the holidays began, the Federal Reserve found consumer credit card debt hit $808 billion exiting September. Now let’s add findings from MagnifyMoney that “people who used credit cards for holiday purchases charged an average of $1,054, about 5%  more than last year.” This helps support the view that consumer credit card debt will eclipse $1 trillion this year.

For us here at Tematica, it’s more reason to think consumers, especially Cash-Strapped Consumers, are likely to use the benefits of tax reform to get their financial houses in order, pay down debt and spend less than the Wall Street herd is thinking. In other words, we see this supporting views that were laid out by Chris Versace and Lenore Hawkins on last week’s Cocktail Investing podcast, and that’s before we factor in potential Fed rate hikes this year.

 

“The scary number — $1 trillion — we’ll definitely hit in 2018,” said Jill Gonzalez, an analyst with WalletHub. “It seems to say a lot of American consumers did not learn their lesson from the recession and are returning to living beyond their means.”

Credit card debt stood at $808 billion on Sept. 30, the end of the third quarter, according to the most recent data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That’s $280 billion more than the previous high hit in 2008, at the height of the financial crisis that led to the Great Recession.

As consumers keep spending away on their credit cards — which typically come with interest rates starting at about 16 percent — the Federal Reserve is expected to have two or three quarter-point hikes this year to a key rate that affects consumer debt. It did so three times in 2017.”Every time there is a Federal Reserve rate hike, that adds about $1.5 billion to our collective financing rates,” Gonzalez said. “That has to do with these delinquency rates rising. And when you factor in mortgages, student loans and auto loans, that becomes a scary picture.”

Source: How to knock out holiday credit card debt

Growing focus on Amazon’s private label potential

Growing focus on Amazon’s private label potential

During the summer, we here at Tematica spoke at length on the growing number of private label products and brands at Amazon (AMZN). Having seen the strategy work at a number of other retailers, like Costco Wholesale (COST), Kohl’s (KSS), Wal-Mart (WMT) and even JC Penny (JCP), we see it as “expected” that Amazon would seek to grab a greater slice of profits to be had by offering its own products.

Today, Amazon boasts 34 private label brands in nine categories, and more across Wall Street are starting to realize this is bound to be something far greater than small potatoes or a rounding error for Amazon. Now we’re wondering how long until they realize our Connected Society, Cash-Strapped Consumer and Rise & Fall of the Middle-Class themes are some of the meaningful tailwinds behind this?

 

In recent Amazon news, an analyst from financial firm Morgan Stanley has predicted the eCommerce platform’s private label retail sales could provide an added boost to its bottom lines.

According to a Barrons.com article published Tuesday (Oct. 10), analyst Brian Nowak has speculated that Amazon’s private label merchandise sales could add $1 billion to Amazon’s bottom line, making up 5 percent of retail sales by 2019.“… for Amazon, it’s all about gross profit dollars: advertising, subscriptions, services … and now private label …” Brian Nowak said.

“We believe it is increasingly important to focus on Amazon’s gross profit dollar drivers. A deepening gross profit pool gives Amazon more dollars to invest and [eventually] allows [funds] to flow down to P&L for shareholders.

”Amazon’s private label goods first launched in 2009 and include thousands of products in a wide range of categories, such as clothing, electronics, industrial supplies and more, the Barrons.com article reported.

“Private label is likely to be the next driver … as our sensitivity shows that even if private label could grow to 5 percent of Amazon’s retail sales by 2019, it would add almost $1 billion of gross profit,” the Morgan Stanley analyst said.

Amazon currently boasts 34 private label brands in nine categories. Private label products are responsible for 0.15 percent of its global merchandise sales. Other major retailers see an average of 18 percent of gross merchandise sales coming from private label profits, Barrons.com reported. For example, Costco gets 20 percent of its revenue from private labels, JCPenney sees 44 percent, Kohl’s gets 46 percent and Walmart sees 15 percent, the article noted.

Source: Private Label Boosts Amazon’s Retail Sales | PYMNTS.com

As earnings move into the fast lane, things are likely to get bumpier

As earnings move into the fast lane, things are likely to get bumpier

Key Points from this Alert

  • With market volatility picking up as earnings velocity takes off, we are keeping our inverse ETF position intact.
  • Recent data confirms our short bias on General Motors (GM) and Simon Property Group (SPG).
  • Today we are using a lackluster developer conference to scale into Facebook (FB) May 2017 $150 calls (FB170519C00150000) as we drop our stop loss to $0.75 from $1.00.

Over the last two weeks, we’ve seen the stock market bounce up and down with both oil and gold prices doing the same. The latest blow in oil prices comes following a report on Tuesday that “U.S. crude stockpiles fell less than expected in the latest week while gasoline stockpiles grew unseasonably” — not exactly something we want to hear as economists and others trim back their GDP forecasts.

Peering below the headlines, we saw the first dip in the manufacturing component of the monthly Industrial Production report in March. Even if we exclude the step-down in the production of motor vehicles and parts, March manufacturing output still declined. Furthermore, revisions to January and February meant manufacturing activity was weaker than previously thought.

Yes, we realize that we have been talking about this for several weeks, and while we take solace in knowing that once again the herd is catching up to us, we’re not exactly thrilled the latest data suggests there is more revising to be done. As this is happening, we are also seeing a drop in Fed interest rate hike expectations. Just a few weeks ago, 57 percent of traders expected the Fed to boost interest rates two more times this year. As of last night, that expectation fell to 36 percent according to CME Group’s FedWatch program.

Tracing back the market’s up and downs over the past month or so tells us investors continue to look for some direction, and in our view, the coming days are likely to offer the road map. The issue is, the road ahead may not be the one that most are hoping to take and its guide will be the plethora of earnings reports we get not just this week, but increasing pace over the next two weeks. Compared to some 300 reports this week — the vast majority of which will hit after tonight’s market close — next week has more than 990 companies reporting followed by another 1,269 during the first week of May.

As this pace picks up, we’re seeing more political drama unfold in Washington, and when we put it all together it tells us there is more risk to be had in the near-term than reward. While we recognize we are likely preaching to the choir at this point, the simple truth is corporate expectations needs to be reset given the economic climate and as that happens we are likely to see more wind taken out of the stock market’s sales.

 


In looking at the recent move in the Volatility Index (VIX), which recently hit its highest level since before the November election, the market is on edge as earnings ramp up. Adding to this is some new findings from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch monthly fund manager survey that shows some 83 percent of fund managers believe U.S. stocks are overvalued. As always we try to put data like this into perspective, and in doing so we find that 83 percent is a record number for data that reach back to 1999.

Now that certainly tells several things, but the one we are zeroing in on is the simple fact that in a nervous market, investors are likely to shoot first and ask questions later when faced with a barrage of earnings reports.

  • For these reasons, we will continue to stick with all of our inverse stock market ETFs — the ProShares Short S&P500 (SH), ProShares Short Russell 2000 (RWM) and ProShares Short Dow30 (DOG), all of which climbed higher over the last two weeks — for at least the next several weeks. 

 


 

Turning to Our Short Positions in
General Motors (GM) and Simon Property Group (SPG)

The March Retail Sales report confirmed our concern over the consumer’s ability and willingness to spend. The fact that 1Q 2017 was the worst quarter for restaurant traffic in three years is yet another confirming sign of that fact. As earnings reports roll in, we’ll take stock in what Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA)have to say about consumer spending, but with more than $1 trillion in consumer credit card debt, we are inclined to keep our short position in GM and SPG shares intact.

  • We continue to have a Sell rating on GM shares with a price target of $30. 
  • Our buy stop order on GM remains at $40. As the shares continue to move lower, we’ll look to revisit our buy-stop loss further with a goal of using it to lock in position profits.
  • With retail pain likely to intensify, we continue to have a bearish view on SPG shares. Our price target on SPG remains $150 and our buy stop order remains at $190.
  • As SPG shares move lower, we’ll continue to ratchet down this buy stop order as well. 

 


 

That Brings Us to Our One Long Position — Facebook

The Facebook (FB) May 2017 $150 calls (FB170519C00150000), closed last night at $1.10, modestly above our $1.00 stop loss level. The calls have traded off over the last two days and we can understand why. We have to say we were somewhat underwhelmed by this year’s annual developer conference, better known as F8, that spanned the last two days. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced a series of new features covering augmented reality, artificial intelligence bots, and more far-fetched plans to close the gap between humans and machines. In particular, Zuckerberg wants Facebook users to be able to “type with their brains and hear with their skin.”

If you thought you heard our eyes roll, you were correct.

Each of these announced initiatives will take Facebook time to develop and then, in turn, it will be even more time for them to have a meaningful impact on the company’s business model — far more time than we have with our May calls.

That said, given Alphabet’s (GOOGL) recent snafu with YouTube and advertisers, we suspect Facebook saw a bump in advertising that should help it keep its earnings beating track record intact. With the company set to report its 1Q 2017 earnings on May 3, we’ll use the recent pullback in the calls to scale into the position, reducing our cost basis along the way. As we do this, we will drop our protective stop loss to $0.75 as well.

The Data Says Steady as She Goes

The Data Says Steady as She Goes

Key Points from this Alert

  • With market volatility expected to pick up as we head into earnings, we’re keeping our inverse ETF positions in tact.
  • March auto sales data, as well as the growing concern over the consumer, have us keeping our short positions on both General Motors (GM) and Simon Property Group (SPG) shares.
  • While the Facebook (FB) May 2017 $150 calls (FB170519C00150000) calls dipped week over week, the two major catalysts behind the trade remain ahead of us. We continue to rate the calls a Buy.

We’re slowing inching our way closer toward 1Q 2017 earnings season, which, as we shared earlier this week, we think could bring a return of volatility to the stock market. We’ve read a lot of bullish commentary, with many pointing to the robust inflow of funds into ETFs during 1Q 2017 — $134.7 billion vs. 29.6 billion in inflows in 1Q 2016 – but we have to remember individual investors tend to stay on sidelines only to return to the market near the top.

Part of what’s to blame is the overly bullish talking heads, and in my readings, I found a great example of this. Financial firm LPL published the following commentary about 1Q 2017:

Although the S&P 500 Index just missed out on a five-month winning streak in March with a 0.04% loss, the good news is it still gained 5.5% in the first quarter.|

“This came out to the best quarter overall since the fourth quarter of 2015, and it was the best first quarter gain since 2013! Going back to 1950, this was the 25th time the S&P 500 gained 5% or more during the first quarter. The good news for the bulls is the returns after a big first quarter have been broadly stronger across the board.”

Now let’s dig into this…. there have been 67 years between 1950 and 2017, and doing some basic math we find 25/67 equals 37 percent. This means the “good news” for the bulls happens a little more than one-third the time. This also means that nearly two-thirds of the time, it doesn’t happen.

Just another example that we need to really dig into the data with context and perspective to understand what is really going on vs. what is being said. In doing so with this LPL commentary, we’ll be generous and say it has an overly bullish slant given the data. With the herd taking a bullish view despite the hard data we’ve been getting that calls for a rest in expectations for both 2017 earnings and GDP forecasts, we’ll continue to keep all three of our inverse ETFs in the Pro Select List.


Housekeeping!

Before we get to recapping our existing positions, we have a quick housekeeping reminder. As we mentioned in yesterday’s Tematica Investing, we’ll be using the market holiday next week to take a breather to get ready for the explosion in earnings reports that will begin the day after Easter. As such, your next regular issue of Tematica Pro will be April 20.

Rest assured that is something important comes along, we’ll be sure to issue a special alert.

 


March Auto Sales Confirm our Bearish View on GM 

March was supposed to be the month US auto sales rebounded from decreases in January and February. Instead, ample discounts were unable to spur demand for at the biggest automakers such as Ford (F), Fiat, and Toyota (TMC), and Honda (HMC), which all posted year over year declines. Sales incentives rose 13.4 percent in March, compared to a year earlier, to an average of $3,511 per vehicle, according to ALG. Making matters even worse, production is outpacing sales, which means auto dealers getting stuck with too many vehicles. Inventory levels hit 4.1 million units entering the month, the highest level since June 2004, according to Edmunds analysis based on Ward’s Auto figures.

General Motors faired a little better, with its US sales rising 2 percent year over year in March, but that was well below the consensus forecast that called for a +9.6 percent increase year over year.

As we look around us and see consumers saving more while others are grappling with rising bank card and subprime auto loan delinquencies, we continue to question the degree of new car demand. Adding to our concern is a new report from the Mortgage Bankers Association that showed the average size of a home loan was the largest in the history of its survey, which dates back to 1990. Another data point that points to Cash-strapped Consumers at a time when auto loan costs are ticking higher following the Fed’s two recent interest rate hikes.

GM will report its 1Q 2017 earnings on Friday, April 28 and as important as the rear view mirror quarterly results are, it will be the guidance that sets the tone for GM shares in 2Q 2017.

  • We continue to have a Sell rating on GM shares with a price target of $30. 
  • Our buy stop order on GM remains at $40. As the shares continue to move lower, we’ll look to revisit our buy-stop loss further with a goal of using it to lock in position profits. 

 


More Retail Pain Adds to Bearish Resolve on Simon Properties 

Next week will bring the March Retail Sales report, and based on what we’ve heard from retailers over the last few weeks paired with the data we’ve been sharing of late that shows our Cash-Strapped Consumer theme remains in full force, odds are it won’t be a pretty report. With Payless (PSS) and Bebe (BEBE) filing for bankruptcy and hhgregg (HGG) likely headed for liquidation, these are just the latest retailers that are dying on the vine. As we have learned this week, others are wounded including Urban Outfitters (URBN), shared its quarter to date sales are down in the mid-single digits, and Saks owner Hudson Bay (TSE:HBC) reported a drop in overall consolidated sales.

While Simon Property Group (SPG) rose modestly over the last week, we continue to be concerned over the shrinking customer landscape. We are also mindful that we will soon begin to see store closings from anchor tenants like Macy’s (M), JC Penney (JCP) and others. As those closings progress, we suspect investor sentiment will weigh on SPG shares.

  • With retail pain likely to intensify, we continue to have a bearish view on SPG shares. Our price target on SPG remains $150 and our buy stop order remains at $190.
  • As SPG shares move lower, we’ll continue to ratchet down this buy stop order as well.

 


Facebook continues to expand its footprint;
All eyes on April 18-19

Shares of this Connected Society investment theme social media company that is morphing into much more dipped modestly over the last several days, which reflected a similar move in the Nasdaq Composite Index. While Facebook lost out on its bid to stream the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package, we continue to see it benefitting from YouTube’s recent advertising snafu as branded companies ranging from AT&T (T) to Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) pull advertising spend.

That’s a nice development for FB shares as well as our Facebook (FB) May 2017 $150 calls (FB170519C00150000) calls, but we still have the two major factors ahead of us that led to our adding the call position to the select list. First, on April 18-19 is Facebook’s annual F8 Developer Conference at which we expect a number of updates and announcements from new monetization strategies to its plans for virtual as well as augmented reality and now payments.

That’s right, we said payments. Through its WhatsApp business, Facebook is launching digital payments in India, which happens to be WhatsApp’s largest market with more than 200 million users. Given the November 2017 ban on high-value currency notes in India as well as the country’s push into digital payments, we see WhatsApp as extremely well positioned for this. Forecasts have mobile payments growing to $2.57 billion in India by 2021, up from just $79 million this year, which would be awesome if it happened. Even if it falls short of that target, there is still phenomenal growth ahead that bodes well for our Facebook shares as well as the Facebook (FB) May 2017 $150 calls (FB170519C00150000) calls.

The second date to watch will be Facebook’s 1Q 2017 quarterly earnings that will be reported on May 3. Given its focus on monetization and mobile, Facebook has been handily beating expectations, and given the growing adoption of its platforms across the globe we see the company continuing that trend once again.

Adding more protection, but also taking advantage of YouTube’s misfortune

Adding more protection, but also taking advantage of YouTube’s misfortune

Key Points from this Alert

  • We are adding ProShares Short Dow30 (DOG) shares to the Select List with a price target of $$20, and should the shares trade below their 52-week low of $17.69 in the next several days we’re likely to scale into the position.
  • We are also adding the Facebook (FB) May 2017 $150 calls (FB170519C00150000) that closed last night at 1.85 to the select list. As we do that we’ll set a protective stop loss at 1.00. We’d be buyers of the calls up to the $2.25 level.
  • We continue to have a negative bias on both General Motors (GM) as well as Simon Property Group (SPG) shares. 

With all of two days left in the month of March and 1Q 2017, it certainly looks like March has been a sobering month for the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average as both indices have shed gains over the last few weeks. We tend not to pat ourselves on the back as we recognize that self-serving comments can be a little cheesy, but in this case, the concerns we laid out in February came home to roost in March. As we shared yesterday, the disconnect between stock prices, economic growth and earnings expectations remains and we think it’s going to be a very bumpy earnings season in just a few weeks.

 

As investors have come around to our view, we’ve seen a radical change in the CNN Money Fear & Greed Index, which closed last night at 34 (Fear) from 70 (Greed) just 30 days ago. Even though the Volatility Index has traded off the last few days, as you can see in the chart below it’s not too far off year to date lows.

 

Given the above, we’re going to hang on to our ProShares Short S&P500 (SH) and ProShares Short Russell 2000 (RWM) shares and add ProShares Short Dow30 (DOG) shares to the mix. DOG shares are an inverse ETF for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and are coming off their 52-week low given the strong move in the Dow over the last several months. As we saw in recent earnings reports from Nike (NKE), Target (TGT), FedEx (FDX), and last night LuluLemon (LULU), if this is what we’re in for it makes sense to add another layer of protection to the Select List.

  • We are adding ProShares Short Dow30 (DOG) to the Tematica Pro Select List.
  • Our price target on DOG shares is $20, and should the shares trade below their 52-week lows of $17.69 in the next several days we’re likely to scale into the position.

 

 

Getting back into Facebook calls

As we wrote yesterday in Tematica Investing, we see Facebook (FB) as a natural beneficiary of Alphabet’s (GOOGL) current bout of problems that centers on questionable YouTube content that has led to advertisers ranging from AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) to Volkswagen, Honda (HMC) and McDondald’s (MCD) to pull their ads from YouTube. Estimates put the potential revenue loss between $750 million to $1.25 billion, but we don’t think we’ll have a clear sense of the magnitude until we see how long those companies hold back their advertising spend with YouTube.

With several platforms at Facebook, including Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, that it continues to add increased functionality and monetization efforts, we see it as the natural beneficiary. This is especially the case given continued struggles at Twitter and Facebook adding features at Instagram that take aim at Snapchat (SNAP). As a reminder, Facebook continues to target live sporting events and other streaming capabilities, which could lead it to pick off TV advertising dollars. Finally, in a few weeks, Facebook will be holding its annual developer conference dubbed F8, which tends to be a showcase for new initiatives. Soon after the company will report its quarterly earnings and that has us eyeing the Facebook (FB) May 2017 $150 calls (FB170519C00150000) that closed last night at 1.85.

  • We’re adding those Facebook (FB) May 2017 $150 calls (FB170519C00150000) calls to the Select Listand as we do that we’ll set a protective stop loss at 1.00. We’d be buyers of the calls up to the $2.25 level.
  • As we do that we’ll set a protective stop loss at 1.00. We’d be buyers of the calls up to the $2.25 level.
  • We’d be buyers of the calls up to the $2.25 level.

 

 

Still bearish on General Motors and Simon Property Group shares

While both General Motors (GM) and Simon Property Group (SPG) shares traded modestly higher over the last few days, we continue to be bearish on both. The latest data show auto incentives have soared, particularly at General Motors, which is likely to eat into profits. With Americans missing bank cards payments at the highest levels since July 2013, the delinquency rate for subprime auto loans hitting the highest level in at least seven years and real wage growth remaining elusive, the outlook for consumer spending looks questionable. This includes auto sales as well as brick & mortar retailers.

We’ve written about issues at a number of such retailers, but we continue to hear about more being in trouble. The latest additions include Gymboree, Claire’s Stores, Ascena (ASNA), and Bebe Store (BEBE). Factor in the yet to be felt pain of store closing from Macy’s (M), Sears (SHLD) and J.C. Penney (JCP), and we continue to see more downside than upside with SPG shares.

  • We’ll continue to keep our short position in General Motors (GM), with a price target of $30. 
  • Our buy stop order on GM remains at $40. As the shares continue to move lower, we’ll look to revisit our buy-stop loss further with a goal of using it to lock in position profits. 
  • With retail pain likely to intensify, we continue to have a bearish view on SPG shares. Our price target on SPG remains $150 and our buy stop order remains at $190.
  • As SPG shares move lower, we’ll continue to ratchet down this buy stop order as well. 

 

As the market mood turns sour, we continue to favor our short positions

As the market mood turns sour, we continue to favor our short positions

Key Points from this Alert

  • With investors questioning the moves that have led the market higher over the last few months and revisiting earnings expectations for the S&P 500, we are counting our losses and exiting the United Parcel Service (UPS) April 2017 $110 calls (UPS170421C00110000) on the Tematica Select List.
  • More data points this week have added to our bearish view on General Motors (GM) shares, which have already fallen more than 7 percent since being added to the Select List. 
  • Similarly, investment firms turning increasingly negative on retail and a warning in Sears’s 10-K filing have us even more confident in the Simon Property Group (SPG) short position on the Select List.
  • With the market looking to get bumpy, our inverse ETF positions that are on the Select List are coming into favor as planned.

As we shared in yesterday’s Tematica Investing, spring has brought a shifting wind into the marketplace that has brought investor mindsets more in tune with what we’ve been saying over the last few months. We’ve also gotten a number of warnings signs over earnings growth, and more confirmation that retailer pain is only getting worse. That’s rather good news for the Simon Property Group (SPG) short position on the Select List.

With the prospects of further earnings revisions to be had in the coming weeks, which in our view will likely pressure markets further, we’ll be holding off adding any new call positions near term as we continue to examine potential short positions like General Motors (GM) and Simon Property Group (SPG). We’ll also be eying potential put positions as well. It also means that we’ll keep our inverse ETF positions intact as well; subscribers that have held off in adding these should revise those at current levels.

Before review our existing positions, a quick housekeeping item. The shifting market mindset that led to the worst day in the market for several weeks this past Tuesday stopped our the PowerShares DB US Dollar Bullish ETF (UUP) June 2017 $27 calls (UUP170616C00027000) on the Select List.

 

Shedding UPS calls?

Our UPS April 2017 $110 calls (UPS170421C00110000) calls have been all over the map the last few days due primarily to the market movement. While we continue to see UPS’s business as the missing link for the accelerating shift to digital commerce that is part of our Connected Society investing theme, given prospects for the market to get even bumpier in the days ahead, we’re going to cut our losses and exit the position with a 55 percent loss. While tempting to scale into the position, the fact that earnings expectations for the S&P 500 are likely to come down in the coming weeks means we’d be fighting the tide on this one.

 

Still bearish on General Motors shares

Last week we added a short position on General Motors (GM) shares given rising concerns over consumer debt levels and a pick up in auto subprime loan defaults as the Fed inched up interest rates. Yesterday we were reminded of this when Fitch Rating published its new U.S. Auto Asset Quality Review report that showed its view that auto loan and lease credit performance will continue to deteriorate in 2017. The report goes on to note that in response to deteriorating asset quality banks are starting to tighten underwriting standards once again, which could either lead to fewer auto loans, which would be bad for auto sales, or the financing arms of car companies, like General Motors, taking on more speculative loans — not exactly a good thing for the company balance sheet given the data we are seeing.

Making matters a little worse, we’re seeing a glut of used cars come onto the market. That trend will intensify as Americans will return 3.36 million leased cars and trucks this year, another jump after a 33 percent surge in 2016, according to J.D. Power.

That combination led financing company Ally Financial (ALLY) to slash its 2017 earnings forecast earlier this week. Back in January, the company expected to deliver EPS growth near 15 percent this year. Now the company sees its earnings rising as little as 5 percent this year.

  • Against that backdrop, we’ll continue to keep our short position in General Motors (GM), with a price target of $30. 
  • The shares have already fallen more than 7 percent in the last week, which has us moving our buy stop order down to $40 from $42. 
  • As the shares continue to move lower, we’ll look to revisit our buy-stop loss further with a goal of using it to lock in position profits. 

 

Sears and Payless spell more pain for Simon Property Group

Thus far our short position in Simon Property Group (SPG) has returned more than 9 percent over the last few weeks. Over the last few days, a few new data points bolstered our confidence in the underlying thesis for this short position. First, Wells Fargo has turned bearish on retailer noting that, ““increasingly clear that retail is under significant pressure” adding that store traffic remains weak and is likely to get softer this quarter due to the timing of Easter this year. Worse yet, markdown rates are not only elevated on an annual basis, but also getting sequentially worse. Those remarks were followed by investment firm Cowen sharing its latest retail channel checks for March that came in worse than expected. Clearly more pressure ahead for brick & mortar retailers.

The real blow for SPG shares came in Sears’s (SHLD) 10-K filing in which the company said, “substantial doubt exists related to the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.” We’ve long known that Shield was a company struggling to identify what it was as our Connected Society investment theme has transformed where and how people shop. The issue for Simon Property Group is Sears is a key anchor tenant across a number of its properties. Paired with other store closings from Macy’s (M), JC Penney (JCP) and a growing list of others, we see more pressure ahead on SPG’s business model. By the way, this is a great reminder as to how useful company filings, like 10-Ks and 10-Qs, can be.

That pressure now includes prospects per Bloomberg that Payless (PSS) is likely to file for bankruptcy next week. As you’ll hear us talk on our Cocktail Investing Podcast coming out later today, given inroads by Amazon (AMZN) and Zappos in the shoe market, we’re somewhat surprised that Payless has lasted this long.

  • With retail pain likely to intensify, we continue to have a bearish view on SPG shares. Our price target remains $150. 
  • With shares moving lower in recent weeks, we are adjusting our buy stop order to $190 from $200. 
  • As the shares move lower, we’ll continue to ratchet down this buy stop order as well. 

 

The Fed Hikes Rates, But We’re Positioning for the Coming Fallout

The Fed Hikes Rates, But We’re Positioning for the Coming Fallout

Key Points from this Alert

The big question that’s been overhanging the market this week was cleared up yesterday when the Fed announced the next upward move in interest rates, something the stock market has been increasingly expecting over the last several weeks. In looking at the Fed’s new forecasts compared to those issued three months ago, there were no material changes in the outlook for GDP, the Unemployment Rate, or expected inflation.

We find the Fed’s action yesterday rather interesting against that backdrop, especially given its somewhat lousy track record when it comes to timing its rate increases —  more often than not, the Fed tends to raise interest rates at the wrong time. This time around, however, it seems the Fed is somewhat hellbent on getting interest rates back to normalized levels from the artificially low levels they’ve been at for nearly a decade. Even the language with which they announced the rate hike — “In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 3/4 to 1 percent” — makes one wonder exactly what data set they are using to base the decision.

The thing is, recent economic data hasn’t been all that robust. Yesterday morning, the Fed’s own Atlanta Fed once again slashed its GDPNow forecast for 1Q 2016 yesterday to 0.9 percent from 1.2 percent last week and more than 3.0 percent in January. That’s a big downtick from 1.9 percent GDP in 4Q 2016. Given the impact of winter storm Stella, particularly in the Northeast corridor, odds are GDP expectations will once again tick lower as consumer spending and brick & mortar retail sales were both disrupted. As Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins pointed out yesterday, real average hourly earnings decreased 0.3 percent, seasonally adjusted, year over year in February.

Despite that lack of wage growth, we have seen inflation pick up over the last several months inside the Purchasing Managers’ Indices published by Markit Economics and ISM for both the manufacturing and services economies as well as the Producer Price Index. Year over year in February, the Producer Price Index hit 2.2 percent, marking the largest 12-month increase since March 2012.

Turning to the Consumer Price Index, the headline figure rose 2.7 percent this past February compared to a year ago, making it the 15th consecutive month the 12-month change for core CPI was between 2.1 percent and 2.3 percent. We’ve all witnessed the rise in gas prices, up some 18 percent compared to this time last year, and while there are adjustments to strip out food and energy from these inflation metrics, the reality is food and energy are costs that both businesses and individuals must bear. Rising prices for those items impact the consumers’ ability to spend, especially if wages are not growing in tandem, and they also eat into the margins for a business — spending more money to light and heat facilities and gas up vehicles.

It would seem the Fed is caught once again between a rock and a hard place — the economy is slowing and inflation appears to be on the move. The economic term for such an environment is stagflation. In looking to get a handle on stagflation the Fed is walking a thin line between trying to get a handle on inflation, while not throwing cold water on the economy as it continues to target two more rate hikes this year.

Once again, we find ourselves rather relieved that we don’t have Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen’s job. The renewed “commitment” by the Fed bodes well for interest rate sensitive companies such as banks like Wells Fargo (WFC), Citigroup (C) and Bank of America to name a handful, as well as Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLF) shares.

 

Car Loan Pain Point Data Brings Us to Our Key Move for the Day

While higher interest rates might be a positive for financials, at the margin, however, it comes at a time when credit card debt levels are approaching 2007 levels as are adjusted rate mortgages and auto loans, particularly subprime auto loans. Even before the rate increase, data published by S&P Global Ratings shows US subprime auto lenders are losing money on car loans at the highest rate since the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis as more borrowers fall behind on payments.

In 4Q 2016, the rate of car loan delinquencies rose to its highest level since 4Q 2009, according to credit analysis firm TransUnion (TRU). The auto delinquency rate — or the rate of car buyers who were unable make loan payments on time — rose 13.4 percent year over year to 1.44 percent in 4Q 2016 per TransUnion’s latest Industry Insights Report. That compares to 1.59 percent during the last three months of 2009 when the domestic economy was still feeling the hurt from the recession and financial crisis. And then in January, we saw auto sales from General Motors (GM), Ford (F) and Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) fall despite leaning substantially on incentives.

Over the last six months, shares of General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler are up 19 percent, 4.5 percent and more than 70 percent, respectively. A rebound in European car sales, as well as share gains, help explain the strong rise in FCAU shares, but the latest data out this morning shows European auto sales growth cooled in February.

So what’s an investor in these auto shares to do, especially if you added GM or FCAU shares in early 2016? Do the prudent thing and take some profits and use the proceeds to invest in companies that are benefitting from multi-year tailwinds such as Applied Materials (AMAT), Dycom Industries (DY) or Universal Display (OLED) like we have on the Tematica Select List.

For more aggressive investors, like those of us here at Tematica Pro, we’re adding shares to General Motors (GM), which are currently trading at 6.1x 2017 earnings that are forecasted to fall to $6.02 per share from $6.12 per share in 2016, with a Sell rating and instilling a short position on the Tematica Pro Investment List.

While some may see that low P/E ratio, we’d point out that GM shares are trading near their 52-week high and peaked at 6.2x 2016 earnings and bottomed out at 4.6x 2016 earnings last year. Despite the soft economic data that shows enthusiasm and optimism for the economy, the harder data suggests we are more likely to see GM’s earnings expectations deteriorate further. And yes, winter storm Stella likely did a number of auto sales in March.

  • We are adding GM shares to the Tematica Pro Investment List with a Sell rating and a short position.
  • Our price target is $30, which offers a return of 19 percent from last night’s market closing price of $37.09. 
  • Because this is a short position we will be setting a protective buy stop order to limit potential capital losses in this position at $42
Closing out Trinity Calls

Given the data that points to a slowing economy this quarter, we are going to throw in the towel on the call position in Trinity Industries — the Trinity Industries (TRN) April 2017 $30 calls (TRN170421C00030000) this morning. Even though railcar traffic has been improving, the overall economic tone of the near-term is likely to be a headwind to new railcar orders and we think it’s best to cut our losses now at a 75 percent loss rather than see the calls fall even further.

We’ll continue to keep our eyes on both rail traffic as a barometer of the domestic economy, and a future position in Trinity shares and calls as well.

 

Feb Retail Sales Confirm our Short Position in Simon Properties Group…

In addition to the Fed Rate hike, yesterday also brought the February Retail Sales Report. We shared our view on that yesterday, but in a nutshell, it was more pain for department stores and clothing retailers as well as those for electronics & appliances as Nonstore retail continued to take consumer wallet share. No surprise, given the commentary from the likes of hhgregg (HGG) and JC Penney (JCP), both of which have announced store closings, joining the ranks of Sears (SHLD), Kohl’s (KSS), and Macy’s (M). Surely Stella is going to put a crimp in March brick & mortar sales for retailers with heavy exposure to the Northeast, including Lululemon (LULU), Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF), and Urban Outfitters (URBN). What those all have in common is they tend to be mall-based retailers.

Simply another set of woes for mall REITS like our Simon Property Group (SPG). Even ahead of this, Morningstar Credit Ratings analyzed the commercial mortgage-backed-securities (CMBS) debt load on malls with exposure to J.C. Penney, and found that as a collateral tenant, CMBS exposure to J.C. Penney totals $16.43 billion. Remember JC Penney is closing 140 plus stores and that CMBS debt load doesn’t take into account other anchor store closings from Macy’s, Sears or some other.

While we’re up 7 percent in our Simon Property Group (SPG) short position, we will remain patient with this short position as we see far more to be had with brick & mortar retail pain. 

  • We have a Sell recommendation on shares of Simon Properties Group (SPG) and a short position on the Tematica Select List.
  • Our price target on SPG shares is $150 and we have a protective buy stop order to limit potential capital losses in this position at $200.

 

Feb Retail Sales also confirms our bullish view on United Parcel Service calls.

As we mentioned above, Nonstore retail sales continued to climb year over year in February and we simply see no slowdown in this shift as Amazon (AMZN) and others continue to expand their offering while brick & mortar retailers from Wal-Mart (WMT) to Under Armour (UAA) look to catch up.