Millions of Americans are just one paycheck away disaster

Millions of Americans are just one paycheck away disaster

Every few months we receive the results of another study or survey that remind us of the worrisome financial state for a number of Americans. While we take no pleasure in these Middle-class Squeeze confirmation points, they are fodder for companies that either help consumers get a grip on escalating debt levels that sap disposable income or those like Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale help consumers stretch their remaining disposable spending dollars.

A new study from NORC at the University of Chicago, an independent social research institution, found that 51% of working adults in the United States would need to access savings to cover necessities if they missed more than one paycheck.

“The 2019 Prosperity Now Scorecard shows that too many families are either struggling to make ends meet, or are just one emergency away from a financial disaster,” it said.

A separate survey from home repair service HomeServe USA found that almost 1 in 5 Americans (19%) reported having no money set aside for dealing with the costs of an unexpected emergency expense. That report said 31% of Americas don’t have at least $500 set aside to cover an unexpected expense.

Source: Millions of Americans are just one paycheck away from ‘financial disaster’ – MarketWatch

WEEKLY ISSUE: Reversing Course on Lending Club Calls

WEEKLY ISSUE: Reversing Course on Lending Club Calls

Key points inside this issue

The outlook for earnings continues to wane even as the trade-related market melt-up continues

Domestic stocks continued to trend higher last week as the December-quarter issues that plagued them continued to be dialed back. Said another way, the expected concerns — the Fed, the economy, the government shutdown, geopolitical issues in the eurozone, and U.S.-China trade talks — haven’t been as bad as feared a few months ago.

In recent weeks, we have seen the Fed take a more dovish approach and last week’s data, which included benign inflation numbers and fresh concerns over the speed of the economy following the headline December Retail Sales Report and Friday’s manufacturing-led contraction in the January Industrial Production Index, reaffirm the central bank is likely to stand pat on interest rate hikes. We see both of those reports, however, feeding worries over increasing debt-laden consumers and a slowing U.S. economy. 

Granted, economic data from around the globe suggest the U.S. economy remains one of the more vibrant ones on a relative basis, which also helps explain both the melt-up in both the domestic stock market as well as the dollar. On Thursday we learned that economic growth in the eurozone was basically flat on a sequential basis in the December quarter, rising a meager 0.2%. Year-over-year growth stood at just 1.2% for the final quarter of 2018. This came after news that the eurozone economic powerhouse that is Germany had no growth itself in the fourth quarter after a contraction of 0.2% in the third quarter. Italy experienced its second consecutive quarter of economic contraction, putting it in a technical recession.

 

All of this put further downward pressure on the euro versus the U.S. dollar, which means dollar headwinds remain for multinational companies. And we still have another major headwind that is the lack of any Brexit deal. With three pro-EU Conservatives having resigned this morning from Prime Minister Theresa May’s party to join a new group in Parliament, there is no an even slimmer chance of Brexit deal being put in place ahead of next week.

So, what has been fueling the rebound in the stock market?

Among other factors, the deal to avoid another federal government shutdown, which was followed by the “national emergency” declaration that will potentially give President Trump access to roughly $8 billion to fund a border wall. We’ll see how this all plays out in the coming days, alongside the next step in U.S.-China trade talks that are being held this week in Washington. While “much work remains” on the working Memorandum of Understanding, trade discussions last week focused on several of the larger structural issues that we’ve been more concerned about — forced technology transfer, intellectual property rights, cyber theft, and currency.

Early this morning, it’s being reported that President Trump is softening on the March 1 phase in date for the next round of tariff increases, which is likely to give the market some additional trade optimism and see it move higher. We remain hopeful, but we expect there to be several additional steps to go that will set the stage for any final agreement that will likely be consummated at a meeting between Presidents Trump and Xi. And yes, the final details will matter and will determine if we get a “buy the rumor, sell the news” event.

Even as the trade war continues at least for now, we continue to see companies positioning themselves for the tailwinds associated with Living the Life and New Global Middle-class investing theme opportunities to be had in China. If you missed a recent Thematic Signal discussing how Hilton (HLT) is doing just that, you can find it here.

And then there are earnings

Over the last several weeks, we’ve been tracking and sharing the declining outlook for S&P 500 earnings for 2019. As we closed last week, roughly 80% of the S&P 500 companies had reported their quarterly earnings and issued outlooks. In aggregating the data, the new consensus calls for a 2.2% year-over-year decline in earnings for the current quarter, low single-digit earnings growth in the June and September quarters, and 9.1% growth in the December quarter. In full, the S&P 500 group of companies are now expected to grow their collective 2019 EPS by 5% to $169.53, which means that as those expectations have fallen over the last several months, the 2019 move in the market has made the stock market that much more expensive.

In my view, we are once again seeing a potentially optimistic perspective on earnings for the second half of the year. While a U.S.-China trade deal and infrastructure spending bill could very well lead to a better second half of 2019 from an earnings perspective, the unknown remains the vector and velocity of the rest of the global economy.  As discussed above, the US is looking like the best house on the economic block, but as I share below there are valid reasons to think that it too continues to slow.

 

Last week I touched on a Thematic Signal about the record level of auto loan delinquencies, and in the last few days, we’ve learned that student-loan delinquencies surged last year, hitting consecutive records of $166.3 billion in the September 2018 quarter and $166.4 billion in the December 2018 one. I’ve also noticed an uptick in credit-card delinquencies this past January as companies ranging from American Express (AXP) to JPMorgan (JPM) and other credit card issuers reported their monthly data. What I find really concerning is this record level of delinquencies is occurring even as the unemployment rate remains at multi-year lows, which suggests more consumers are seeing their disposable income pressured. While this isn’t a good sign for a consumer-led economy, it certainly confirms the tailwind associated with our Middle-class Squeeze investing theme.

 

Tematica Investing

 December Retail Sales shock some, confirm Costco and others

December Retail Sales have been published by the Commerce Department and to say the results were different than most were expecting is an understatement. And that’s even for those of us that were watching data of the kind I mentioned above.  Normally, holiday shopping tends to build as we close out the year, but according to the report, consumers pulled back in December as monthly retail sales fell 1.3% compared to November.

Yes, you read that right – they fell month over month, but as we know that is only one way to read the data. And while sequential comparisons are helpful, they do little to help us track year over year growth. From that perspective, retail sales in December 2018 rose 2.1% year over year with stronger gains registered at Clothing & Clothing Accessories Stores (+4.7%), Food Services & Drinking Places (+4.0%), Nonstore retailers (+3.7%) and Auto & other motor vehicles (+3.4%). That’s not to say there weren’t some sore spots in the report – there were, but there are also the ones that have been taking lumps for most of 2018. Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, & book stores fell 13% year over year in December, bringing the December quarter drop to 11% overall. Department Stores also took it on the chin in December as their retail sales fell 2.8% year over year. These declines are largely due to the accelerating shopping shift to digital from brick & mortar that are associated with our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.

Despite the headline weakness, I once again see the report as confirming for Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) and to a lesser extent Select List resident Alphabet (GOOGL) given its Google shopping engine. Not only is Amazon benefiting from the accelerating shift to digital commerce, but also from its own private label efforts, which span basic electronic accessories to furniture and apparel. It goes without saying that comparing the December Retail Sales report with Costco Wholesale’s (COST) monthly same-store sales reports shows Costco continues to win consumer wallet share.

 

As a reminder, Costco’s December same-store sales rose 7.5% in December (7.1% excluding gasoline prices and foreign exchange) and 6.6% in January (7.3%). And it remains on path opening new warehouse locations with 768 exiting January, up 3.0% year over year. That should continue to spur the company’s high margin membership fee income in the coming quarters. My suspicion is others are catching onto this given the 7% increase in COST shares thus far in 2019, the vast majority of which has come in the last week. We’ll continue to hold ‘em.

  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $2,250.
  • Our price target on Alphabet (GOOGL) shares remains $1,300.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $250.

 

Turning to this week’s data

This week’s shortened trading week brings several additional key pieces of economic data. And following the disappointing December Retail Sales report, these reports are bound to be closely scrutinized as the investment community looks to home in on the speed of the domestic economy. 

In addition to weekly mortgage applications, and oil and natural gas inventory data, tomorrow we’ll also get the December Durable Orders report and January Existing Home sales data. Given the drop-off in mortgage applications of late as well as weather issues, it’s hard to imagine a dramatic pick-up in the housing data since the end of 2018. Rounding out the economic data will be our first February look at the economy with the Philly Fed Index.

 Speaking of the Fed, today we’ll see the release of the Fed’s FOMC minutes from its January meeting. Considering the comments emanating from Fed heads lately as well as the lack of inflation in the January CPI and PPI data, there should be few surprises in terms of potential interest rate hikes in the near term. The looming question is the speed at which the Fed will normalize its balance sheet, which likely means that will be an area of focus as investors parse those minutes.

 

Here come Universal Display and Mobile World Congress 2019

As long as we’re looking at calendars, after Thursday’s market close Select List resident Universal Display (OLED) will report its quarterly results. To say the shares have found some legs in 2019 would be a bit of an understatement given their resurgence over the last several weeks.

 

We know Digital Lifestyle Select List company Apple (AAPL) has shared its plans to convert all of its iPhone models to organic light emitting diode displays by 2020, and that keeps us in the long-term game with OLED shares. Given the current tone of the smartphone market, however, we could see Universal Display serve up softer than expected guidance.

We’ll continue to hold OLED shares for the duration and look for signs that other device companies, including other smartphone vendors but other devices as well, are making the shift to organic light emitting diodes next week during Mobile World Congress 2019 (Feb. 25-28). The event is a premier one mobile industry as it tends to showcase new devices and technologies, and as you might imagine means a number of announcements. This means it’s not only one to watch for organic light emitting diode adoptions, but we are also likely to see much news on 5G virtual reality and augmented reality, key aspects of our Disruptive Innovators investing theme, as well. And with 5G in mind, we could very well hear of more 5G network launches as well, which means keeping my Nokia (NOK) and Digital Infrastructure ears open as well as my Digital Lifestyle ones.

  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) shares remains $125.
  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50.

 

Tematica Options+

Last week we added a Middle-class Squeeze position with Lending Club (LC) March 2019 4.00 calls (LC190315C0000400)to the Select List, and despite the move higher in recent days ahead of the company’s earnings report last night, the calls were little changed. While LendingClub reported a 35% increase in personal loan applications in 2018 to more than 14 million with double-digit growth in both loan volumes and revenue it served up softer than expected December quarter results and guided the first half of 2019 below expectations. It continues to expect positive earnings in 2019, but that’s not expected to happen now until the second half of the year.

Given the March strike data associated with the LendingClub calls, combined with last night’s developments, odds are the shares will not rebound in such time as to make it worth holding onto them. As such, we will look to limit our losses on the trade, shedding them today at market.

 

Del Frisco’s to report on March 12

Turning to the Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) September 20, 2019, 10.00 calls (DFRG190920C00010000)that closed last night at 1.00, up more than 65% from our 0.60 entry point two weeks ago, the company has announced it will report its December quarter results on March 12. Because the company pre-announced it results in early January, the quarterly results won’t be much of a surprise. In my opinion, the company has stretched out its reporting timetable in order to evaluate potential bids. We know the company has beefed up its Board of late with an eye to maximizing a would be takeout transaction, and with ample private equity and corporate cash on the sidelines, odds are rather good that Del Frisco’s won’t be a stand-alone public company by this time next year.

 

Weekly Issue: Streaming Services and the Middle Class Squeeze

Weekly Issue: Streaming Services and the Middle Class Squeeze

Key points inside this issue

  • Stocks continue to melt higher on hopes, but details will matter in the end
  • Our price target on Middle-Class Squeeze company Costco Wholesale (COST) remains $250.
  • Netflix: Mark your calendars for Apple and Disney events
  • Taking a look at LendingClub (LC) shares as consumer debt climbs

 

Sorry, we’re a day late with your weekly issue. I’m just back from InsideETFs 2019, the industry event for the exchange-traded (ETF) industry. This isn’t the first time I’ve attended the event, and attendees continue to hear about the uptake of ETFs, as well as the growing number of differentiated strategies to be had. Some, in my opinion, are faddish in nature, looking to capture assets even though their strategies may not be ones that survive more than a few years. We’ve got a long issue this week, so I’ll suffice to say that such ETFs are not thematic investing, but rather trend investing and we’re already starting to see several of those older trend products being repositioned to something else.

As we close out this week, we’ll be halfway through the first quarter of 2019. Hard to believe, as we have yet to go through the swarm earnings reports from retailers, but it’s true. Given what appears to be the rollbacking of items that weighed on the stock market during the last few months of 2018, we’ve seen all the major stock market indices rebound hard, even though the global economy continues to slow. Once again, this has made the US the best house in the neighborhood, which has likely bid up assets and made the dollar a headwind to multinational companies in the process. As we are fonding of saying, the devil is in the details and that includes any would be progress on US-China trade and Congress with immigration reform. We remain cautiously optimistic, especially on the China trade front, but recognize that more time is likely to be needed until a Trump-sized “big deal” can be reached.

As we get set for the second half of the quarter, we here at Tematica will continue to not only watch the data and our Thematic Signals to assess what’s the next likely step for the market from here, but also the happenings in Washington on trade and infrastructure.

 

Tematica Investing

Odds are, the Thematic Leaders have seen some lift from the sharp rebound in the market thus far in 2019. As we can see in the chart above, several of them are going gangbusters, including Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), Netflix (NFLX), Alibaba (BABA) and Axon Enterprises (AXXN). This morning we’ll get the first Retail Sales report since before the federal government shutdown, and in my view, it will more than likely continue to show what it did during all of 2018 – digital shopping taking share and Middle-Class Squeeze leader Costco Warehouse (COST) continuing to win consumer wallet share.

On a reported basis, Costco’s January same-store sales rose 6.6% (7.3% excluding the impact of gasoline prices and foreign exchange). Exiting the month, Costco operated 768 warehouse locations vs. 746 this time last year, a 3% year over year, which reflects its stated path to open more locations in 2019, allowing for the steady growth of its high margin membership fee revenue stream. In my view, this lays the groundwork for a favorable earnings report from Costco on March 7, which is also when it will publish its February sales results.

  • Our price target on Middle-Class Squeeze company Costco Wholesale (COST) remains $250.

 

Netflix: Mark your calendars for Apple and Disney

While we have our calendars out and are marking them for that upcoming Costco date I mentioned early, let’s also circle March 25th, which is the rumored date of Apple’s next event. Per the Apple rumor mill, the company will not only showcase its new news subscription service (say that three times), but also unveil its video service as well. This video service falls into the category of one of the best, worst kept secrets, given the number of deals it has inked for original shows and movies. The news subscription service, which is expected to be called Apple News Magazines, comes after Apple acquired Texture, the would-be Netflix (NFLX) of magazines last year.

While we could see a new device or two, this event will be focused primarily on Apple’s Services business, which it is using to further its position inside our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.  Much like Proctor & Gamble’s (PG) Gillette razor blade business, I would not be surprised if Apple adopts a similar mindset with its devices being the razor that gets replaced periodically, while its far more profitable Services business is the one that people consume on a frequent basis.

Soon after Apple’s event, Disney will hold its annual Investor Day on April 11th at which it is expected to unveil its much discussed, but yet to be seen Disney streaming service dubbed Disney+. Given its robust library of films, content, and characters, Disney should not be underestimated on this front, and in my view much like Apple and its Services business, success with Disney+ could change the way Wall Street values DIS shares. Key items to watch will be the Disney+ price point, original content rollout, and subscriber growth.

Stepping back, if one were to argue that we are on the path to a crowd of streaming services between Netflix, Amazon (AMZN), Hulu, CBS, NBC, AT&T (T), and now Apple and Disney, I would have to agree. In many ways, we’re heading for cable-TV without the cable box, but on an ala carte basis. While we’ve argued that consumers will go to where there is great content, the more streaming services there are the more likely we see the proliferation of good or not so good content. The risk they run is that just like cable channels that need to be filled with content, so too will their streaming services. Also too, one unknown is how many services will a person subscribe to? Past a certain point, consumers will balk, especially if all they’ve succeeded in doing is replicating that high cable bill they sought to originally sought to escape.

Needless to say, I’ll be watching the unveiling and uptake of these new services from Apple and Disney with an eye for what it may mean for Digital Lifestyle company Netflix (NFLX). One interesting item to watch will be to see what is actually included in the Disney and Apple services at launch and over time. Both companies are rumored to be working on streaming gaming services as are Microsoft (MSFT) and Alphabet (GOOGL), which to date is something Netflix has resisted at least publicly. If Apple were to bundle a gaming, video and news service along with Apple Music into one digital content bundle, that would offer some consumer wallet leverage over other single, stand-alone services.

 

Taking a look at LendingClub shares

Earlier this week, Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins posted a Thematic Signal for our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme following the news that a record 7 million Americans are 90 days or more behind on their auto loan payments. Lenore went on to show some additional data that consumer loans from banks are in contraction mode, which as we know is a sign the US economy is not going gangbusters.

What we are seeing is the consumer looking to get their financial house in order, most likely after ringing up credit card, auto loan and student debt over the last several quarters. A new report from LendingTree (TREE) points to total credit card debt having climbed to more than $1 trillion in under five years, with more people using personal loans to manage existing debt. This has led the amount owed on personal loans to double what it was five years ago and the number of outstanding loans to rise some 50% in the last three years. According to the report’s findings, managing existing debt was the most popular reason for a personal loan, representing 61% of all loan requests in 2018. Of that percentage, 39% of borrowers plan to use their loans to consolidate debt, while 22% planned to use it to refinance credit cards.

From a stock detective’s point of view, the question to ask is what company is poised to benefit from this aspect of our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme?

One candidate is LendingClub (LC), which operates an online credit marketplace that connects borrowers and investors in the US. It went public a few years ago and was heralded as a disruptive business for consumers and businesses to obtain credit based on its digital product offering. That marketplace facilitates various types of loan products for consumers and small businesses, including unsecured personal loans, unsecured education and patient finance loans, auto refinance loans, and unsecured small business loans. The company also provides an opportunity to the investor to invest in a range of loans based on term and credit.

Last year 78% of its $575 million in revenue was derived from loan origination transaction fees derived from its platform’s role in accepting and deciding on applications on behalf of the company’s bank partners. More than 50 banks—ranging in total assets of less than $100 million to more than $100 billion—have taken advantage of LendingClub’s partnership program.

LendingClub’s second largest revenue stream is derived from investors fees, which include servicing fees for various services, including servicing and collection efforts and matching available loans with capital and management fees from investment funds and other managed accounts, gains on sales of whole loans, interest income earned and fair value gains/losses from loans held on the company’s balance sheet.

In the past LendingClub was tainted with uncertainty given several investigations, but in mid-December, it settled with the SEC and DOJ, with the SEC stating:

“The SEC’s Enforcement Division determined not to recommend charges against LendingClub Corporation, which promptly self-reported its executives’ misconduct following a review initiated by its board of directors, thoroughly remediated, and provided extraordinary cooperation with the agency’s investigation.”

The SEC’s comments are a positive affirmation of the company’s internal procedures and policies, which also helps reduce the potential negative impact from the still-remaining Federal Trade Commission complaint. The FTC’s complaint against LendingClub charged it has misled consumers and has been deducting hidden fees from loan proceeds issued to borrowers.

Those recent developments have improved the company’s risk profile at a time when its core business has been growing given Middle-Class Squeeze pains being felt by more consumers. According to data TransUnion, subprime personal loan balances have been climbing since 2014 and are forecast to increase 20% this year to a record $156.3 billion.

Here’s the thing, the year-end shopping season isn’t just for shopping,  it’s also the seasonally strongest time of year for subprime loan originations, which according to TransUnion rose to 5 million loans at the end of 2018. That sets up what is likely to be a favorable December quarter earnings report from LendingClub when it issues those results next week (Tuesday, Feb. 19). The thing is I continue to see far more upside to be had with Middle-Class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale, which is not only growing its very profitable membership fee income stream the company is also a dividend payer.

 

Weekly Issue: Another company poised to benefit from the Middle Class Squeeze

Weekly Issue: Another company poised to benefit from the Middle Class Squeeze

Key points inside this issue

Sorry, we’re a day late with your weekly issue. I’m just back from InsideETFs 2019, the industry event for the exchange-traded (ETF) industry. This isn’t the first time I’ve attended the event, and attendees continue to hear about the uptake of ETFs, as well as the growing number of differentiated strategies to be had. Some, in my opinion, are faddish in nature, looking to capture assets even though their strategies may not be ones that survive more than a few years. We’ve got a long issue this week, so I’ll suffice to say that such ETFs are not thematic investing, but rather trend investing and we’re already starting to see several of those older trend products being repositioned to something else.

As we close out this week, we’ll be halfway through the first quarter of 2019. Hard to believe, as we have yet to go through the swarm earnings reports from retailers, but it’s true. Given what appears to be the rollbacking of items that weighed on the stock market during the last few months of 2018, we’ve seen all the major stock market indices rebound hard, even though the global economy continues to slow. Once again, this has made the US the best house in the neighborhood, which has likely bid up assets and made the dollar a headwind to multinational companies in the process. As we are fonding of saying, the devil is in the details and that includes any would be progress on US-China trade and Congress with immigration reform. We remain cautiously optimistic, especially on the China trade front, but recognize that more time is likely to be needed until a Trump-sized “big deal” can be reached.

As we get set for the second half of the quarter, we here at Tematica will continue to not only watch the data and our Thematic Signals to assess what’s the next likely step for the market from here, but also the happenings in Washington on trade and infrastructure.

 

Tematica Investing

Odds are, the Thematic Leaders have seen some lift from the sharp rebound in the market thus far in 2019. As we can see in the chart above, several of them are going gangbusters, including Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), Netflix (NFLX), Alibaba (BABA) and Axon Enterprises (AXXN). This morning we’ll get the first Retail Sales report since before the federal government shutdown, and in my view, it will more than likely continue to show what it did during all of 2018 – digital shopping taking share and Middle-Class Squeeze leader Costco Warehouse (COST) continuing to win consumer wallet share.

On a reported basis, Costco’s January same-store sales rose 6.6% (7.3% excluding the impact of gasoline prices and foreign exchange). Exiting the month, Costco operated 768 warehouse locations vs. 746 this time last year, a 3% year over year, which reflects its stated path to open more locations in 2019, allowing for the steady growth of its high margin membership fee revenue stream. In my view, this lays the groundwork for a favorable earnings report from Costco on March 7, which is also when it will publish its February sales results.

  • Our price target on Middle-Class Squeeze company Costco Wholesale (COST) remains $250.

 

Netflix: Mark your calendars for Apple and Disney

While we have our calendars out and are marking them for that upcoming Costco date I mentioned early, let’s also circle March 25th, which is the rumored date of Apple’s next event. Per the Apple rumor mill, the company will not only showcase its new news subscription service (say that three times), but also unveil its video service as well. This video service falls into the category of one of the best, worst kept secrets, given the number of deals it has inked for original shows and movies. The news subscription service, which is expected to be called Apple News Magazines, comes after Apple acquired Texture, the would-be Netflix (NFLX) of magazines last year.

While we could see a new device or two, this event will be focused primarily on Apple’s Services business, which it is using to further its position inside our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.  Much like Proctor & Gamble’s (PG) Gillette razor blade business, I would not be surprised if Apple adopts a similar mindset with its devices being the razor that gets replaced periodically, while its far more profitable Services business is the one that people consume on a frequent basis.

Soon after Apple’s event, Disney will hold its annual Investor Day on April 11th at which it is expected to unveil its much discussed, but yet to be seen Disney streaming service dubbed Disney+. Given its robust library of films, content, and characters, Disney should not be underestimated on this front, and in my view much like Apple and its Services business, success with Disney+ could change the way Wall Street values DIS shares. Key items to watch will be the Disney+ price point, original content rollout, and subscriber growth.

Stepping back, if one were to argue that we are on the path to a crowd of streaming services between Netflix, Amazon (AMZN), Hulu, CBS, NBC, AT&T (T), and now Apple and Disney, I would have to agree. In many ways, we’re heading for cable-TV without the cable box, but on an ala carte basis. While we’ve argued that consumers will go to where there is great content, the more streaming services there are the more likely we see the proliferation of good or not so good content. The risk they run is that just like cable channels that need to be filled with content, so too will their streaming services. Also too, one unknown is how many services will a person subscribe to? Past a certain point, consumers will balk, especially if all they’ve succeeded in doing is replicating that high cable bill they sought to originally sought to escape.

Needless to say, I’ll be watching the unveiling and uptake of these new services from Apple and Disney with an eye for what it may mean for Digital Lifestyle company Netflix (NFLX). One interesting item to watch will be to see what is actually included in the Disney and Apple services at launch and over time. Both companies are rumored to be working on streaming gaming services as are Microsoft (MSFT) and Alphabet (GOOGL), which to date is something Netflix has resisted at least publicly. If Apple were to bundle a gaming, video and news service along with Apple Music into one digital content bundle, that would offer some consumer wallet leverage over other single, stand-alone services.

 

Taking a look at LendingClub shares

Earlier this week, Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins posted a Thematic Signal for our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme following the news that a record 7 million Americans are 90 days or more behind on their auto loan payments. Lenore went on to show some additional data that consumer loans from banks are in contraction mode, which as we know is a sign the US economy is not going gangbusters.

What we are seeing is the consumer looking to get their financial house in order, most likely after ringing up credit card, auto loan and student debt over the last several quarters. A new report from LendingTree (TREE) points to total credit card debt having climbed to more than $1 trillion in under five years, with more people using personal loans to manage existing debt. This has led the amount owed on personal loans to double what it was five years ago and the number of outstanding loans to rise some 50% in the last three years. According to the report’s findings, managing existing debt was the most popular reason for a personal loan, representing 61% of all loan requests in 2018. Of that percentage, 39% of borrowers plan to use their loans to consolidate debt, while 22% planned to use it to refinance credit cards.

From a stock detective’s point of view, the question to ask is what company is poised to benefit from this aspect of our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme?

One candidate is LendingClub (LC), which operates an online credit marketplace that connects borrowers and investors in the US. It went public a few years ago and was heralded as a disruptive business for consumers and businesses to obtain credit based on its digital product offering. That marketplace facilitates various types of loan products for consumers and small businesses, including unsecured personal loans, unsecured education and patient finance loans, auto refinance loans, and unsecured small business loans. The company also provides an opportunity to the investor to invest in a range of loans based on term and credit.

Last year 78% of its $575 million in revenue was derived from loan origination transaction fees derived from its platform’s role in accepting and deciding on applications on behalf of the company’s bank partners. More than 50 banks—ranging in total assets of less than $100 million to more than $100 billion—have taken advantage of LendingClub’s partnership program.

LendingClub’s second largest revenue stream is derived from investors fees, which include servicing fees for various services, including servicing and collection efforts and matching available loans with capital and management fees from investment funds and other managed accounts, gains on sales of whole loans, interest income earned and fair value gains/losses from loans held on the company’s balance sheet.

In the past LendingClub was tainted with uncertainty given several investigations, but in mid-December, it settled with the SEC and DOJ, with the SEC stating:

“The SEC’s Enforcement Division determined not to recommend charges against LendingClub Corporation, which promptly self-reported its executives’ misconduct following a review initiated by its board of directors, thoroughly remediated, and provided extraordinary cooperation with the agency’s investigation.”

The SEC’s comments are a positive affirmation of the company’s internal procedures and policies, which also helps reduce the potential negative impact from the still-remaining Federal Trade Commission complaint. The FTC’s complaint against LendingClub charged it has misled consumers and has been deducting hidden fees from loan proceeds issued to borrowers.

Those recent developments have improved the company’s risk profile at a time when its core business has been growing given Middle-class Squeeze pains being felt by more consumers. According to data TransUnion, subprime personal loan balances have been climbing since 2014 and are forecast to increase 20% this year to a record $156.3 billion.

Here’s the thing, the year-end shopping season isn’t just for shopping,  it’s also the seasonally strongest time of year for subprime loan originations, which according to TransUnion rose to 5 million loans at the end of 2018. That sets up what is likely to be a favorable December quarter earnings report from LendingClub when it issues those results next week (Tuesday, Feb. 19). The thing is I continue to see far more upside to be had with Middle-Class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale, which is not only growing its very profitable membership fee income stream the company is also a a dividend payer.

 

Tematica Options+

 

Adding a call option play on Lending Club

While we aren’t adding Lending Club shares to the Thematic Leaders, we will look to capitalize on the opportunity ahead of the company’s December quarter earnings report by adding the Lending Club (LC) March 2019 4.00 calls (LC 190315C0000400)that closed last night at 0.10. Given the tight trading pattern of these calls, I’m not recommending a stop loss level just yet, but as they trend higher I plan to do so.

 

Boosting the stop loss on our Del Frisco’s calls

The September 2019 10.00 calls for Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) calls that we added last week climbed more than 58% over the last several trading sessions. While we’ll continue to hold these calls as Del Frisco’s continues to review potential takeout bids, we will boost our stop loss on the calls from 0.30 to 0.60, which also happens to be our entry point.

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Adding back a specialty contractor to Select List

WEEKLY ISSUE: Adding back a specialty contractor to Select List

 

  • We are issuing a Buy on Dycom Industries (DY) shares with a $125 price target as part of our Connected Society investing theme.
  • We are adding LendingClub (LC) shares to the Tematica Investing Contender List and will revisit the shares following the resolution of the current FTC complaint.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) and Amazon (AMZN) shares remain $210 and $1,750, respectively.
  • Our long-term price target on shares of Applied Materials (AMAT) remains $70.

As we inch along in the second half of the current quarter, the stock market is once again dealing with the flip-flopping on foreign trade. Last week there appeared to be modest progress between China and the US but following comments from President Trump on the pending summit with North Korea and “no deal” regarding China’s bankrupt ZTE, trade uncertainty is once again gripping the markets. Several weeks ago, I cautioned we were likely in for some turbulent weeks – some up some down – as these negotiations got underway. In my view, there will be much back and forth, which will keep the stock market on edge. I’ll continue to utilize our thematic lens and look for compelling long-term opportunities in the coming weeks, just like the one we are about to discuss…

 

Adding back shares of Dycom (DY) to the Tematica Investing Select List

Late last summer, we exited our position in specialty contractor and Connected Society food chain company Dycom Industries (DY) that serves the mobile and broadband infrastructure markets. Yesterday, following an earnings miss and reduced guidance from the company, its share dropped 20% to $92.64. The reason for the miss and outlook revisions stemmed from weather-related concerns during the February and March months as well as protracted timing associated with key next-gen network buildouts.

Clearly disappointing, but we have seen such timing issues before in the buildouts of both 3G and 4G/LTE networks before. In today’s stock market that double disappointment hit DY shares, no different than it has other companies that have come up short this earnings season.

We’ve often used pronounced pullbacks in existing positions to sweeten our average cost basis, and today we’re going to use this drop in DY shares to add them back to the Tematica Investing Select List.

Why?

Two reasons.

First, the inevitability of 5G network deployments from key customers (AT&T) and Verizon (VZ). Those two alongside their competitors have Sprint (S) and T-Mobile (TMUS) have committed to launching 5G networks by year-end, with a buildout to a national footprint to follow over the ensuing quarters. AT&T and Verizon accounted for 24% and 16% of the quarter’s revenue with Comcast (CMCSA) clocking in at just under 22% and Centurylink (CTL:NYSE) around 12%. This positions Dycom extremely well not only for the pending 5G buildout, but also the gigabit fiber one that is underway at cable operators like Comcast. Amid the timing disruptions with AT&T and Centurylink that led to the earnings disappointment and outlook cut, Dycom called out solid progress with Verizon, as its revenue rose more than 80% year over year. There’s also an added bonus – Dycom has little exposure to Sprint and T-Mobile, which are planning to merge and based on what we’ve seen in the past that means spending cuts are likely to be had as they consolidate existing assets and capital expansion plans.

Here’s the thing, while it is easy to get caught up in yesterday’s DY share price drop, it’s akin to missing the forest for the trees given the network upgrades and next-gen buildouts that will occur not over the coming months, but over the coming quarters.

Dissecting Dycom’s quarterly earnings and revised outlook that calls for EPS of $1.78-$1.93 in the first half of the year, to hit its new full-year target EPS of $4.26-$5.15 it means delivering EPS of $2.98-$3.22 in the back half of the year. In other words, a pronounced pick up in business activity that likely hinges on a pickup in network buildout activity from its customers.

I do expect Wall Street price target revisions and analyst commentary to weigh on DY shares in the near-term. Even I am cutting my once $140 price target for the shares to $125. That $140 target was based on 2019 EPS of $7.10 per share and given the company’s comments yesterday I expect 2019 EPS forecasts to be revised down to the $6.00-$6.50 range.

As the 5G buildout gets under way, the reality is that several quarters from now, such EPS and price target cuts could prove to be conservative, but I’d rather be in the position to raise our price target as the company beats EPS expectations. That revised 2019 EPS range derives a price target for DY shares of $120-$130. For now, we’ll split the difference at $125, which still offers almost 35% upside from current share price levels.

  • We are issuing a Buy on Dycom Industries (DY) shares with a $125 price target as part of our Connected Society investing theme.

 

Putting LendingClub shares onto the Contender List

As team Tematica has been discussing over the last several weeks in our writings and on our Cocktail Investing Podcast, we’re seeing increasing signs of inflation in the systems from both hard and soft data points. This likely means the Fed will boost rates four not three times in 2018 with additional rate hikes to be had 2019. That’s what’s in the front windshield of the investing car, while inside we are getting more data that points to a stretched consumer.

  • Per the May 2018 Consumer Debt Outlook report from Lending Tree (TREE), Americans are on pace to amass a collective $4 trillion in consumer debt by the end of 2018. This means Americans are spending more than 26% of their income on consumer debt, up from 22% in 2010 with the bulk of that increase due to non-house related borrowing.
  • The Charles Schwab’s (SCHW) 2018 Modern Wealth Index that reveals three in five Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.
  • A new report from the Federal Reserve finds that 40% of Americans could not cover an unexpected $400 expense and 25% of Americans have no retirement savings.

 

As consumer debt grows, it’s going to become even more expensive to service as the Fed further increases interest rates. On its recent quarterly earnings conference call, LendingClub’s (LC) CFO Tom Casey shared that “Borrowers are starting to see the increased cost of credit as most credit card debt is indexed to prime, which has moved up 75 basis points from a year ago…We have observed a number of lenders increase rates to borrowers…We know that consumers are feeling the increase in rates.”

Again, that’s before the Fed rate hikes that are to come.

The bottom line is it likely means more debt and higher interest payments that lead to less disposable income for consumers to spend. Unfortunately, we see this as a tailwind for our Cash-strapped Consumer investing theme as well as a headwind for consumer spending and the economy. We’ve seen the power of this tailwind in monthly retail same store sales from Costco Wholesale (COST), which have simply been off the charts, and in monthly Retail Sales reports that show departments stores, sporting goods stores and others continue to lose consumer wallet share at the expense of non-store retailers like Amazon (AMZN). The drive is the need to stretch what disposable spending dollars a consumer has.

The reality is, however, that those that lack sufficient funds will seek out alternatives. In some cases that means adding to their borrowings, often times at less than attractive rates.

With that in mind, above I mentioned LendingClub. For those unfamiliar with the company, it operates an online credit marketplace that connects borrowers and investors in the US. It went public a few years ago and was heralded as a disruptive business for consumers and businesses to obtain credit based on its digital product platform. That marketplace facilitates various types of loan products for consumers and small businesses, including unsecured personal loans, unsecured education and patient finance loans, auto refinance loans, and unsecured small business loans. The company also provides an opportunity to the investor to invest in a range of loans based on term and credit.

Last year 78% of its $575 million in revenue was derived from loan origination transaction fees derived from its platform’s role in accepting and decisioning applications on behalf of the company’s bank partners. More than 50 banks—ranging in total assets of less than $100 million to more than $100 billion—have taken advantage LendingClub’s partnership program.

LendingClub’s second largest revenue stream is derived from investor fees, which include servicing fees for various services, including servicing and collection efforts and matching available loans with capital and management fees from investment funds and other managed accounts, gains on sales of whole loans, interest income earned and fair value gains/losses from loans held on the company’s balance sheet.

The core loan origination transaction fee business along with the consensus price target of $5.00, which offers compelling upside from the current share prices, has caught my interest. However, there is one very good reason for why I am recommending we wait on LC shares.

It’s because the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed a complaint against LendingClub, charging that it has misled consumers and has been deducting hidden fees from loan proceeds issued to borrowers. Moreover, as stated in the FTC’s complaint, Lending Club recognized that its hidden fee was a significant problem for consumers, and an internal review by the company noted that its claims about the fee and the amount consumers would receive “could be perceived as deceptive as it is likely to mislead the consumer.”

Given the potential fallout, which could pressure LC shares, we’ll sit on the sidelines with LendingClub and look for other companies that are positioned to capitalize on this particular Cash-strapped Consumer pain point.

  • We are adding LendingClub (LC) shares to the Tematica Investing Contender List and will revisit the shares following the resolution of the current FTC complaint.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) and Amazon (AMZN) shares remain $210 and $1,750, respectively.

 

Sticking with shares of Applied Materials

Last week Disruptive Technology company Applied Materials (AMAT) reported quarterly results that once again topped expectations but guided the current quarter below expectations. As I mentioned above with Dycom shares, the current market mood is less than forgiving in these situations and that led AMAT shares to give back much of the gains made in the first half of May.

The shortfall relative to expectations reflected reported weakness in high end smartphones, which is slowing capital additions for both chips and organic light-emitting diode display equipment. This is the latest in a growing number of red flags on smartphone demand, which in my view is likely to be the latest transition period in the world of smartphones. For those wondering about our Apple (AAPL) shares, the company already issued a sequentially down iPhone forecast when it reported its own earnings several weeks back as it upsized its own buyback program.

Again, looking back on my Dycom comments above, mobile carriers are about to embark on building out their 5G networks, which will drive incremental RF semiconductor chip demand as well as drive demand for new applications, such as semi-autonomous and autonomous cars. I see 5G devices with near broadband data speeds driving the next smartphone upgrade cycle. When that happens, there are also other technologies, such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and virtual reality that will be moving into a greater number of these and other devices. On its earnings call, Applied shared it’s starting to see ramping demand for artificial intelligence, big data a cloud related applications. I see more of this happening in the coming quarters… again, the long-term forest vs. the quarterly tree… and I haven’t even mentioned the internet of things (IoT).

Another driver I’m watching for Applied’s semi-cap business is the ongoing buildout of in-China semiconductor capacity. The item to watch for this is The National Integrated Circuitry Investment Fund, which represents the Chinese government’s primary vehicle to develop the domestic semiconductor supply chain and become competitive with the U.S.  chip industry leader the US. That fund is reportedly closing in on an upsized 300 billion-yuan fund ($47.4 billion) fund vs. the expected 120 billion-yuan ($18.98 billion) to support the domestic chip sector. As we have seen in the headlines with ZTE as well as the Broadcom (AVGO) bid for Qualcomm (QCOM), the semiconductor industry has taken a leading role in the current U.S.-China trade conflict. As I continue to watch these trade discussions play out, I’ll only be assessing implications for the National Integrated Circuitry Investment Fund and our Applied Materials shares.

In terms of organic light emitting diode displays and revisiting shares of Universal Display (OLED), the industry is still in a digestion period given the capacity ramp for that technology and the smartphone transition I touched on above. We’ve got OLED shares on the Tematica Investing Contender List and I’ll be watching them and signs of ramping demand as we move through the summer months.

While we wait, I expect Applied will continue to put its robust share repurchase program to use. As we learned in its quarterly earnings report last week, during the quarter, Applied used $2.5 billion of its $8.8 billion share repurchase authorization to repurchase 44 million shares, roughly 4% of the outstanding share count coming into the quarter. I suspect that once the post-earnings quiet period is over, Applied will be putting more of that program to work. I see that as limiting downside from current levels.

Finally, a quick reminder that come June, Applied will be paying its first $0.20 per share dividend.

  • Our long-term price target on shares of Applied Materials (AMAT) remains $70.
  • As we monitor signs of organic light emitting diode display demand, we continue to have shares of Universal Display on the Tematica Investing Contender List