WEEKLY ISSUE: Trade Concerns and Tariffs Continue to Hold Center Stage

WEEKLY ISSUE: Trade Concerns and Tariffs Continue to Hold Center Stage

Key Points From This Week’s Issue

  • News from Harley Davidson (HOG) and Universal Stainless & Alloy Products Inc. (USAP) confirm tariffs and rising costs will be a hotbed of conversation in the upcoming earnings season.
  • That conversation is likely to lead to a major re-think on earnings growth expectations for the back half of 2018.
  • We are closing out our position in Corning (GLW) shares;
  • We are closing out our position in LSI Industries (LYTS) shares;
  • We are closing out our position in shares of Universal Display (OLED).


Trade concerns and tariffs taking center stage

As we saw in Monday’s stock market, where the four major U.S. market indices fell from 1.3% to 2.1%, trade wars and escalating tariffs increasingly are on the minds of investors. Something that at first was thought would be short-lived has grown into something far more pronounced and widespread, with tariffs potentially being exchanged among the U.S., China, the European Union, Mexico and Canada.

In last week’s issue of Tematica Investing, shared how the Tematica Investing Select List has a number of domestically focused business, such as Costco Wholesale (COST), Habit Restaurants (HABT) and recently added Farmland Partners (FPI) to name a few. While the majority of stocks on the Select List traded down with the market, those domestic-focused ones are, generally speaking, higher week over week. Hardly a surprise as that escalating tariff talk is leading investors to safer stocks like a horse to water.

I cautioned this would likely be a longer than expected road to trade renegotiations, with more than a helping of uncertainty along the way that would likely see the stock market gyrate like a roller coaster. That’s exactly what we’ve been seeing these last few weeks, and like any good roller coaster, there tends to be an unexpected drop that scares its riders. For us as investors that could be the upcoming June quarter earnings season.

As we prepare to exit the current quarter, there tend to be a handful or more of companies that report their quarterly results. These tend to offer some insight into what we’re likely going to hear over the ensuing months. In my view, the growing question in investors’ minds is likely to center on the potential impact in the second half of 2018 from these tariffs if they are enacted for something longer than a short period.

Remember that earlier this year, investors were expecting earnings to rise as the benefits of tax reform were thought to jumpstart the economy. While GDP expectations for the current quarter have climbed, the growing concern of late is the cost side of the equation for both companies and consumers. We saw this rear its head during first-quarter earnings season and the widening of inflationary pressures is likely to make this a key topic in the back half of 2018, especially as interest costs for businesses and consumers creep higher.


Harley Davidson spills the tariff beans

Well, we didn’t need to wait too long to hear companies talk on those tariff and inflation cost concerns. Earlier this week Harley-Davidson Inc. (HOG) shared that its motorcycle business will be whacked by President Trump’s decision to impose a new 25% tariff on steel imports from the EU and a 10% tariff on imported aluminum.

For Harley-Davidson, its duty paid on imported steel and aluminum from the EU will be 31%, up from 6%. The impact is not small potatoes, considering that the EU has been Harley’s second-largest market, accounting for roughly 16% of total sales last year. On an annualized basis, the company estimates the new tariffs will translate into $90 million to $100 million in incremental costs. That would be a big hit to the company’s overall operating profit, as its annualized March quarter operating income was $254.3 million. With news like that it’s a wonder that HOG shares are down only 6.5% or so this week.

Meanwhile, Universal Stainless & Alloy Products Inc. (USAP), a company that makes semi-finished and finished specialty steel products that include stainless steel, tool steel and aircraft-quality low-alloy steels, announced this week it would increase prices on all specialty and premium products by 3% to 7%. Universal Steel also said all current material and energy surcharges will remain in effect.


What does it mean for earnings in the 2Q 2018 quarterly reporting season?

What these two companies have done is set the stage for what we’re likely to hear in the coming weeks about challenges from prolonged tariffs and the need to boost prices to contend with rising input costs, which we’ve been tracking in the monthly economic data. In our view here at team Tematica, this combination is likely to make for a challenging June quarter earnings season, which kicks off in just a few weeks, as costs and trade take over the spotlight from tax cuts and buybacks.

Here’s the thing – even as trade and tariff talk has taken center stage, we have yet to see any meaningful change to the 2018 consensus earnings forecast for the S&P 500 this year, which currently sits around $160.85 per share, up roughly 12% year over year. With up to $50 billion in additional tariffs being placed on Chinese goods after July 6, continued tariff retaliation by China and others could lead to a major reset of earnings expectations in the back half of 2018.

If we get more comments like those from Harley Davidson and Universal Stainless, and odds are that we will, we could very well see those results and comments lead to expectation changes that run the risk of weighing on the market.  We could see management teams offer “everything and the kitchen sink” explanations should they rejigger their outlooks to factor in potential tariff implications, and their words are likely to be met with a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality by investors. That’s especially likely with the CNN Money Fear & Greed Index back in the Fear zone from Greed just a week ago.

I’m not the only one paying attention to this, as it was reported that Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell remarked that some business had put plans to hire or invest on hold because of trade worries and that “those concerns seem to be rising.”

Now there is a silver lining of sorts. Given the upsizing of corporate buyback programs over the last few months due in part to tax reform, any potential pullback in the stock market could be muted as companies scoop up shares and pave the way for further EPS growth as they shrink their share count.

I’ll continue to be vigilant with the Select List in the coming days so we’ll be at the ready to make moves as needed.


Doing some further Select List pruning

As we get ready for the 2Q 2018 earnings season that will commence with some fervor after the July 4th holiday, I’m going to take out the pruning shears and put them to work on the Tematica Investing Select List. As I mentioned above, odds are we will see some unexpected cautionary tales to be had in the coming weeks, and my thinking is that we should get ahead of it, remove some of the weaker positions and return some capital to subscribers that we can put to work during 3Q 2018. With that in mind, I am removing Corning (GLW), LSI Industries (LYTS), and Universal Display (OLED) from the Select List. in closing out these positions, I recognize they’ve been a drag on the Select List’s performance of late but we’ll also likely eliminate any further weight on the rest of the Select List.

  • We are closing out our position in Corning (GLW) shares;
  • We are closing out our position in LSI Industries (LYTS) shares;
  • We are closing out our position in shares of Universal Display (OLED).


WEEKLY ISSUE: The Cherry on Top of Apple’s Quarter Earnings Beat

WEEKLY ISSUE: The Cherry on Top of Apple’s Quarter Earnings Beat


Key Points from this Alert:

  • After March quarter earnings that shut down the doomsayers, an upsized capital return program and ahead of the upcoming WWDC 2018 event in June, our price target on Apple (AAPL) shares remains $200.
  • What’s the Fed likely to say later today?
  • We are scaling into AXT (AXTI) shares on the Tematica Investing Select List at current levels and keeping our long-term $11 price target intact.
  • We are also adding to our position in LSI Industries (LYTS) shares at current levels, and our price target remains $11.


Apple delivers for the March quarter and upsizes its capital return program

Last night in aftermarket trading, Apple (AAPL) shares popped more than 3% after closing the day more than 2% higher as Apple delivered a March quarter that was a sigh of relief to many investors. More specifically Apple served up results on the top and bottom line that were ahead of expectations, guided current quarter revenue ahead of expectations and upsized not only its share repurchase program, but its dividend as well. Heading into the earnings report, investors had become increasingly concerned over iPhone shipments for the quarter, particularly for the iPhone X, following recent comments on high-end smartphone demand from Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM), Samsung and others. That set a low sentiment bar, which the company once again walked over.

What Apple delivered included iPhone shipments modestly ahead of expectations – 52.2 million vs. 52.0 million – and an average selling price that fell $70 to $729. Down but certainly not the disaster that many had fretted for the iPhone X. iPad shipments were also stronger than expected and Apple continued to grow its Services business with Mac sales in line with analyst forecasts. Looking at the Services business, Apple is well on track to deliver on its $50 billion revenue target by 2021 and that’s before we factor in what’s to come from its recent acquisitions of Shazam and Texture as well as its burgeoning original content moves. In my view, that original content move, which replicates a strategy employed by Netflix (NFLX) and Amazon (AMZN), will make Apple’s already incredibly sticky devices even more so.

Think of it as Tematica’s Content is King investing theme meets Connected Society and Cashless Consumption… and yes, I need a better name for that three-pronged tailwind combination.

On the guidance, Apple put revenue ahead of consensus expectations and signaled a modest dip in gross margins due to the memory pricing environment. Even so, the sequential comparison for revenue equates to a quarter over quarter drop of 12.5%-15.5%, which likely reflects a mix shift in iPhones toward non-iPhone models. Pretty much as expected and far better than the doomsayers were predicting.

The bottom line on the March quarter results and June quarter outlook was investors fretted about the iPhone X to an extreme degree… an overreactive degree… forgetting the company has a portfolio of iPhone products as well as other products and services. Some may see the report as giving investors a sigh of relief, but I see it more as a reminder that investors should not count Apple out as we move into an increasingly digital lifestyle.

Is the company still primarily tied to the iPhone? Yes, but it is more than just the iPhone and that is something that will become more apparent in the coming year. We’re apt to see more of that in a month’s time at the company’s annual World-Wide Developer Conference, which several months later will be followed by what continues to sound like an iPhone product line up with refresh with several models at favorable price points.

The added cherry on top of the company’s meet to beat quarter and outlook was the incremental $100 billion share repurchase program and the 16% increase in the dividend. That dividend boost brings the company’s annual dividend to $2.92 per share, which equates to a dividend yield of 1.7%. Looking at dividend yields over the last few years applied to the new dividend supports our $200 price target for Apple shares.

  • After March quarter earnings and ahead of the upcoming WWDC 2018 event in June, our price target on Apple (AAPL) shares remains $200.


What’s the Fed likely to say later today?

While many were focused on Apple’s earnings, others, like myself, were also getting ready for the Fed’s latest monetary- policy meeting, which concludes today. Market watchers expect the FOMC to leave interest rates unchanged, but recent data (as well as some comments that company executives have made this earnings season) suggest that we’re seeing a pickup in U.S. inflation.

For example, Caterpillar (CAT) last week shared that its margins likely peaked during the first quarter due to rising commodity prices, most notably steel. Meanwhile, the April IHS Markit Flash U.S. Composite Purchasing Managers Index report last week showed that average prices for goods and services “increased solidly. The rate of input price inflation was the quickest since July 2013.”

And on the manufacturing side, the report noted that “price pressures within the factory sector intensified, with the rate of input-cost inflation picking up to the fastest since June 2011.” Markit also wrote that the services sector “witnessed its average cost burdens climbing month over month as well.”

We also learned just this week that the U.S. Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index (which happens to be the Fed’s preferred inflation metric) rose 2.4% year over year. While that’s down a few ticks from February’s 2.7%, the PCE came in well above the Fed’s 2% inflation target for the second month in a row.

And lastly, the April ISM Manufacturing Index’s price component edged up to 79.3 from 78.1 in March, easily marking 2018’s highest level so far.

All of these figures have likely caught the Fed’s eyes and ears. Make no mistake about it — the central bank will review them with a fine-toothed comb. The FOMC came out of its last policy meeting rather divided as to the number of rate hikes it expects for 2018. Some FOMC members preferring the three hikes that markets widely expect, but others on the committee increasingly leaned toward four.

In the grand scheme of things, four vs. three rate hikes isn’t a “yuge deal” (as President Donald Trump would say). In fact, more investors are likely expecting the higher numbers of hikes given the recent inflationary economic data. But that’s just the investor base. Odds are that any language in the FOMC’s post-meeting communique that points to an upsized pace of rate hikes is bound to catch the mainstream media and others off-guard.

And one way or another, the Fed’s comments are bound to make the wage data that we’ll be getting in this Friday’s U.S. April jobs report a key focus. A hotter-than- expected headline number will boost the odds that we’ll see a fourth rate hike this year.

But between now and then, expect to see lower-than-usual trading volumes as investors wait to see the latest economic figures while also digesting this week’s litany of earnings reports. Things could get a little wonky, as investors reset expectations for corporate earnings and FOMC hikes, but I’ll continue to let our thematic tailwinds be our guide.


Scaling into AXTI (AXTI) shares …

Last week was a challenging one for shares of AXT Inc. (AXTI) and LSI Industries (LYTS), and while that is painful and frustrating in the near-term, I view this as an opportunity to scale deeper into both positions at better prices. The silver lining is this will improve our cost basis for the longer term.

With regard to AXT, the smartphone industry has been currently transfixed on comments from Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM), Samsung and SK Hynix that all warned on demand for high-end smartphones. As we saw last night, those comments were not necessarily indicative of Apple’s iPhone shipments for the March quarter and as I pointed out above Apple has a portfolio of smartphones and a growing services business. Also, given comments from mobile infrastructure company Ericsson (ERIC) and chip-supplier Qualcomm (QCOM), 5G smartphones should be hitting in 2019, which we see fostering the beginning of a major upgrade cycle for the iPhone and other vendors.

This is a great example of focusing on the long-term drivers rather than short-term share-price movement. Later this week two of AXT’s customers — Skyworks Solutions (SWKS) and Qorvo (QRVO) — will report their quarterly results. I expect those reports to reflect the short-term concerns as well as the longer-term opportunity as wireless connectivity continues to move past smartphones. With AXT’s substrates an essential building block for the RF semiconductors, let’s remain patient as I keep our long-term price target at $11, following the company’s first-quarter 2018 results that beat expectations but also call for sequential improvement in both revenue and earnings per share.

  • We are scaling into AXT (AXTI) shares on the Tematica Investing Select List at current levels and keeping our long-term $11 price target intact.


… and buying more shares of LSI Industries (LYTS) as well

Now let’s turn to LSI Industries. Concerns about a sudden management change last week, just days ahead of the company’s quarterly earnings report, led LYTS shares to plummet 20% but rebound a bit later in the week even as LSI reported March-quarter results that missed both top-line and bottom-line expectations. While the search for a new CEO is underway, what was said during the earnings conference call was favorable, in my opinion, and supports my thesis on the shares.

First, let’s tackle the elephant in the room that is the sudden CEO departure. As one might expect, such a late in the quarterly reporting game resignation is bound to jar investors, but the near 29% move lower over the ensuing few days was more than extreme. That said, a sudden CEO departure raises many questions, and when it’s in a market that has been registering Fear on the CNNMoney Fear & Greed Index, investors tend to a shoot first and ask questions later mentality.

What I saw on the earnings conference call was a calm management team that is looking for a next-generation CEO. What I mean by that is one that understands the changes that are happening in the lighting market with increasing connectivity in lighting systems and signage. This to me says the desired CEO will be one with a technology background vs. one with a legacy lighting background. Much the way the lighting technology being used is being disrupted with LEDs and soon OLEDs, LSI needs a forward-thinking CEO, not one that only thinks of traditional light bulbs.

Second, the company’s lighting business is nearing the end of its transition to light- emitting diodes (LEDs) from traditional lighting solutions. During the March quarter, LSI’s LED business grew 14% year over year to account for 92% of the segment vs. roughly 80% in the year-ago quarter. Despite that success, the legacy lighting business continues to decline, with sales of those products falling by more than 55% year over year in the March quarter.

With one more quarter left in its transition to LEDs, the weight of the legacy lighting business likely won’t be a factor much longer, and that should allow the power of the LED business to benefit the bottom line. The LED business is riding the combined tailwinds of both environmentally friendly green technology as well as the improving nonresidential landscape.

Alongside its earnings report, LSI’s Board of Directors declared a regular quarterly cash dividend of $0.05 per share that is payable May 15 to shareholders of record as of May 7. The annualized dividend equates to LYTS shares offering a dividend yield of 3.4% at recent levels, well above its historical range of 1.5%-2.5% over the 2015-2017 period. Applying those historical dividend yields to the current annualized dividend yields a share price between $8-$13. The stock market liked this as LYTS shares rallied some 10% over the last several days, but we still have ample upside to my long-term $11 price target.

This tells me that there is much further to go fro LYTS shares in the coming months as LSI finds a CEO and gets its story back on track. Let’s remain patient with this one.Helping with that patient attitude was yesterday’s March Construction Spending Report, which revealed private nonresidential construction rose 3.8% year over year for the month on a non-seasonally adjusted basis.

  • We are adding to our position in LSI Industries (LYTS) shares at current levels, and our price target remains $11.



WEEKLY ISSUE: Amid an air of uncertainty we revisit a Cashless Consumption player

WEEKLY ISSUE: Amid an air of uncertainty we revisit a Cashless Consumption player



  • We are issuing a Buy on USA Technologies (USAT) shares and adding them back to the Tematica Investing Select List with a $12 price target.
  • Our price target on LSI Industries (LYTS) shares remains $11
  • Our price target on Paccar (PCAR) shares remains $85 and offers 25% upside from current levels.


Despite the swings up and down that we’ve seen in the stock market over the last several weeks, it might surprise you know the S&P 500, my preferred barometer of the domestic stock market, has moved down all of 1.4% over the last two months. As you know during those weeks we shed shares in both Universal Display (OLED), which have gone on to fall further, and Facebook (FB), while we added GSV Capital (GSVC) shares to the Tematica Investing Select List with a Buy rating and an $11 price target.

As I wrote this past weekend in the Toronto Sun – yes, we are spreading the thematic word to our northern neighbors – I expect the air of uncertainty of the last few weeks to result in lukewarm guidance. This will likely cause a rethink by investors given the herd’s expectation for more than 18% EPS growth by the S&P 500 this year. To say that’s aggressive even in the face of tax reform benefits to be had is an understatement. I suspect we’ll have several opportunities for the Select List in the coming weeks. In the meantime, buckle up for the fun begins early next week.



Facebook’s Zuckerberg in the hot seat

Yesterday, Facebook was a hot topic given CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony to the Senate. As expected, Zuck offered up his mea culpa, once again promised to “do more” to address the company’s shortcomings when it comes to user data and privacy. While FB shares have traded higher, parsing Zuck’s comments to add more security personnel and do more, what it means is higher costs to eliminate existing and potential bad actors from its content partners. I made this point on the Intelligence Report with Trish Regain on Fox Business yesterday. This point was hammered home in this week’s Cocktail Investing podcast, in which I spoke with Interos Solutions Jennifer Bisceglie (Ep 59: Exposing the Supply Chain Security Nightmare).

Given the privacy concerns, we’re apt to see another drop in the company’s US user metrics as well as a dip in its revenue stream as advertisers backed away from Facebook. Here’s the thing, over the last 30-60 days, we’ve seen no meaningful change in revenue and EPS expectations for 1Q 2018 and 2Q 2018 for Facebook. When the company reports its quarterly results on April 25th, however, more than likely we will see some hit to its metrics and hear about the need to ramp spending in order to restore user trust. The company also needs to show the resiliency of its advertising dominated revenue stream.

What this means is just because Facebook shares have rebounded since we scuttled them a few weeks ago, there is another shoe to drop. My recommendation is we remain on the sidelines until we have a far better understanding of the financial implications to be had.



Adding back USA Technologies shares to the Select List

Last October we exited half of our position in Cashless Consumption play USA Technologies (USAT), with an 81% win, and were stopped out of the balance in February with a 67% gain. As a reminder, USA Technologies provides wireless networking, cashless transactions, asset monitoring, and other value-added services in the United States and internationally primarily through kiosks and unattended retail. All in all, the position was in USAT shares was a great investment in 2017 and early 2018, especially since the returns crushed the move in the S&P 500. I’ve kept tabs on the shares given the continued growth to be had in mobile payments and USA’s potential to be a takeout candidate.

Recently it was announced that mFoundry was getting acquired by Fidelity National Information Services (FIS), a banking and payment provider that works with some 14,000 banks worldwide, for $120 million. Monday night it was announced that point-of-sale system company VeriFone (PAY) is being acquired in a $3.4 billion deal led by private equity firm Francisco Partners and Canada’s British Columbia Investment Management Corp. Under the terms of the deal, VeriFone shareholders would receive $23.04 in cash for each share, representing a roughly 54% premium to the company’s Monday closing price of $15.

M&A activity and consolidation is a sign that an industry is beginning to mature, with larger players and financial players gobbling up technologies and products to round out their capabilities and offerings. I’ve long seen USA Technologies as company prominently riding our Cashless Consumption investing theme, but one that is bound to show up on M&A radar screens. With its revenue slated to reach roughly $175 million next year, up from $104 million in 2017, with positive EPS, this could happen sooner than previously expected.

I suspect two recent publications will help spur on this likelihood. First is “Intelligent Vending Machine Market – Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Trends, Growth and Forecast 2018 – 2025” — that calls for the global intelligent vending machine market to increase at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 38.24% during the period 2017-2021. The second is a forecast published by Statista that shows more than 140% per annum growth for mobile point of sales to $1.3 trillion in 2022 up from $230.8 billion in 2017. Digging into this forecast, we see it reflects a combination of rising consumer adoption over the coming years as well as solid growth in transaction value per user.

On the merits of my original $12 price target, I see more than 35% upside in the shares on a fundamental basis. As mobile payments activity continues to grow, and USAT continues to expand its install base across vending, kiosk and other retail applications, I’ll look to revise my price target. Any additional upside to be had from a takeout offer, well that would just be gravy.

  • We are issuing a Buy on USA Technologies (USAT) shares and adding them back to the Tematica Investing Select List with a $12 price target.



Checking in on LSI Industries and Paccar

Each month there is a plethora of data released, some of it industry specific and some of it company specific. Recent industry data for both the construction and the truck industry are bullish for our positions in LSI Industries (LYTS) and Paccar (PCAR). Let me explain…

Year to date, shares of LSI Industries are up more than 15%, well ahead of the major market indices. I chalk this up to the favorable monthly data we’ve got in the form of the Architectural Billings Index (ABI) and construction data. In the February ABI reading marked the fifth consecutive monthly increase and the 11th monthly increase in the last 12 months. As a reminder, the ABI is a leading indicator of construction activity. Add to that the favorable February construction report that showed nonresidential construction rebounded in January following several weeks of severe cold and winter weather. As we finally put the winter weather behind us, I expect to see a pickup in nonresidential construction that reflects the ABI index. I see this as setting a favorable base for LSI’s lighting solutions, which is benefitting from the added tailwind associated with green construction that favors light-emitting diode solutions.

  • Our price target on LSI Industries (LYTS) shares remains $11


On a year to date basis, shares of heavy and medium duty truck company Paccar (PCAR) are down slightly, and we’re essentially flat form our mid-February addition to the Select List. Here too, the data has been more than favorable. Last week,

Late Wednesday, it was reported by FTR Transportation Intelligence that first-quarter 2018 orders for heavy-duty trucks came in at 133,900 — a 98% gain year over year and the highest level since 2006. Orders for medium-duty Class 5-7 trucks topped 84,700 for the first quarter, a 20.4% increase compared with the same period a year ago.

I expect this to lead to not only a favorable 1Q 2018 earnings report for Paccar but an upbeat outlook as well. During the upcoming earnings season, I’ll be looking for re-affirming comments for Paccar in the form of rising freight costs due to tight truck industry capacity at food and other consumer-related companies.

  • Our price target on Paccar (PCAR) shares remains $85 and offers 25% upside from current levels.



Boosting our price target on LSI Industries

Boosting our price target on LSI Industries


Our shares of LSI Industries (LYTS) on the Tematica Investing Select List are popping today following a solid earnings beat for the companies December quarter and raised bottom line expectations for the coming year due in part to the benefits of tax reform. With that benefit, which is based on a consolidated tax rate of 29% vs. 34% for 2017, we are boosting our price target on LYTS shares to $11 from $10, which keeps the shares a Buy rating despite this morning’s 15% move higher. We’re more than happy to take that 15% move as it brings the return thus far on LYTS shares to just under 14%.

As I mentioned above, the earnings beat was partly due to tax reform. The other part was the stronger than expected operating performance as revenue for the quarter rose 7.7% year over year to $92.3 million, well ahead of the $88.5 million “consensus” expectation formulated by all two of the Wall Street analysts that follow the shares. More impressive was the sharp improvement in operating profit that rose significantly higher year over year as its operating margins climbed to roughly 4.9%, up from 3.3% in the year-ago quarter. This continues the trend of year over year margin improvement, which bodes well for incremental EPS growth in the coming quarters, even before we factor in the company’s new tax rate.

Once again, we are seeing that stocks under covered by Wall Street analysts offer opportunity, provided the fundamentals and other data points support the investment thesis. As a reminder, LSI remains well-positioned with its lighting solutions as non-residential construction activity continues to rise in the coming quarters. Comments from construction equipment heavy weight Caterpillar (CAT) are certainly comforting in this regard as it “expects improvement in North American residential, non-residential and infrastructure. The outlook does not include any impact from a potential U.S. infrastructure bill.”

I continue to see the rebuilding of US infrastructure as pouring gasoline on non-residential contraction and LSI’s business. I continue to wait for more formal details to emerge out of Washington on this, but between now and then, I’ll continue to look for additional confirming data points as the December quarter earnings season heats up.

  • We are boosting our price target on LSI Industries (LYTS) to $11 from $10


Winter weather slows construction, but rebuilding is the longer-term story

Winter weather slows construction, but rebuilding is the longer-term story

Last week shares in Tematica Select List company LSI Industries (LYTS) fell roughly 1% compared to the upward moves in the overall market. I attribute that move lower to the weaker than expected December Housing Starts report. I can understand the sympathy on the fall off as many scrutinize the shortcoming in this latest construction report, but we’d remind subscribers that LSI’s business is heavily, heavily skewed toward non-residential construction. By comparison, the Housing Starts reports discusses just that – housing, for both single-family and multi-family structures.

Given the differences in the types of construction we aren’t likely to see much correlation between the non-residential and residential construction data. That being said, we know that good weather offers a more favorable construction environment, while bad weather can hamper construction activity be it residential or non-residential.

With that in mind, peering into the December Housing Starts reports shows a sharp fall in residential construction activity in the Northeast and South, both of which were hit with and are being hit with severe winter weather. A corroborating indicator of this was found in yesterdays’ December Industrial Production report that showed a sharp pick up in utility activity as consumers looked to stay warm. Given the weather thus far in January that has featured winter storms and near record or new record lows in much of the country, odds are weather will continue to impact construction activity in the current quarter.

Now let’s circle back to our LYTS shares.

In a few days, we’ll get the December Architectural Billing Index, and odds are it’s going to see some weather impact as well. Soon after, on Jan. 25, LSI will report its December quarter results and we would be shocked if there was no impact on its December quarter or if it didn’t factor into its outlook for the current quarter. Currently, LYTS shares are hovering close to our $6.73 entry point on the Select List, and we’d look to scale into the position below $6.25 should that come to pass late next week.

We continue to see LSI’s business benefitting from post-hurricane rebuilding efforts as well as incremental spending to be had as part of President’s Trumps initiative to rebuild US infrastructure. With Washington trying to once again sort out a measure to prevent the government from shutting down, we suspect those infrastructure details to emerge in the next week to 10 days, ahead of the next State of the Union Address on Jan. 30. If the announcement comes ahead of LSI’s earnings report, we would expect the company to discuss how its business will benefit, putting the concern over the January weather in the rear view mirror.

  • Our price target on LSI Industries (LYTS) shares remains $10.



November construction spend and ABI index data are positives for LSI Industries

November construction spend and ABI index data are positives for LSI Industries

Yesterday we received a rather favorable November Construction Spending report. I continue to see the overall improvement in nonresidential spending, — due in part to post-hurricane rebuilding efforts — benefiting the shares of Tematica Investing Select List resident LSI Industries (LYTS) in the weeks to come. Also in the coming weeks, President Trump is set to unveil his rebuilding US infrastructure framework and in my view, this is a likely catalyst to drive LYTS shares higher.

Now let’s recap yesterday’s report from the Census Bureau…

Per the report, November Construction Spending rose 0.8% month over month and 2.4% year over year, continuing the string of improvement that began in August. Breaking the report down, private residential construction rose 1.0% month over month while private nonresidential construction rose 0.6%, a sharp tick higher compared to the modest contraction in October due primarily to a boost in commercial spending (+4.6% month over month. Turning to public construction, nonresidential spending increased 0.9% in November as office spending grew 5.5% and transportation spending rose 3.7%.

Aside from the upbeat view on nonresidential construction offered by this report, I also like that it backs up the recent Architecture Billings Index (ABI) reading for November that hit 55.0 for the month, its strongest reading for 2017. I look at a number of these indices, and it always helps to understand what each’s particular reference scoring system in mind. In the case of ABI, an index score of 50 represents no change in firm billings from the previous month, a score above 50 indicates an increase in firm billings from the previous month, and a score below 50 indicates a decline in firm billings from the previous month.

  • Our price target on LSI Industries (LYTS) shares remains $10.


Weekly Issue: Black Friday, Tax Reform and Boosted Dividends in Time for the Holidays

Weekly Issue: Black Friday, Tax Reform and Boosted Dividends in Time for the Holidays

Black Friday Through Cyber Monday Provide Confirming Data Points for Amazon (AMZN) and UPS Positions

Earlier this week, we not only issued our Tematica Investing thoughts on the holiday shopping weekend, which was very confirming for our Connected Society investment theme thesis on both Amazon (AMZN) and United Parcel Service (UPS), it was also the topic of conversation between Tematica’ Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins and myself on this week’s earlier than usual Cocktail Investing Podcast. As a reminder, we see United Parcel Service as the sleeper second derivative play on the shift to digital shopping this holiday season and beyond.

Per data published by GBH Insights, on Black Friday alone, Amazon garnered close to half of all online sales, which set new record levels on Thanksgiving as well as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. As we learned yesterday, this year’s Cyber Monday was the biggest sales day for online and mobile ever in the US as online sales hit $6.59 billion, up 16.8% year over year. As Lenore and I discussed on the podcast, spending on mobile devices continued to take share from desktop and in-store spending during Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and that also happened on Cyber Monday as mobile sales broke a new record by reaching $2 billion.

Yesterday, Amazon issued a press release sharing it was the “’best-ever’ holiday shopping weekend for devices sold between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. After reviewing the data and prospects for Amazon’s business this holiday season as it benefits in part from its expanding private label brand business as well as the even greater than expected shift to digital commerce this holiday shopping season, we are boosting our price target on AMZN shares to $1,400 from $1,250. While some may focus on the implied P/E of 175x expected 2018 EPS of $7.98 for our new price target, it equates to a price to earnings growth (PEG) rate of roughly 1.0% as Amazon is set to grow its EPS by a compound annual growth rate of just over 184% over the 2015-2018 period. Even if 2018 expectations are a tad aggressive, after taking a more conservative 2018 view our new $1,400 price target equates to a PEG ratio between 1.1-1.3x, which we find more than acceptable from a risk to reward perspective.

  • We are boosting our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares to $1,400 from $1,250.
  • Our price target on United Parcel Service (UPS) remains $130.


Market Moves Higher Ahead of Senate Vote on Tax Reform

The major market indices continued to move higher as the Senate Budget Committee approved the Senate’s tax plan yesterday, which brings it to an expected floor vote tomorrow. This inches the prospects for potential tax reform happening by the end of 2017 a bit higher, although while we remain optimistic we here at Tematica continue to see far greater odds of tax reform happening in 2018 as the House and Senate bills close their respective gap. While both bills cut taxes on businesses and individuals, they differ in the scope and timing of those cuts.

As enthusiasm has gained for tax reform, smaller cap stocks have rallied, as small-caps tend to have greater U.S. exposure in revenue and profit mix compared to bigger, multi-national stocks. The small-cap laden Russel 2000 is up more than 1% this week alone and has risen roughly 2.8% over the last month beating out the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500 and even the Nasdaq Composite Index. That small-cap climb, combined with the influence of our thematic tailwinds led the USA Technologies (USAT), AXT Inc. (AXTI) and LSI Industries (LYTS) to rise even faster than the Russell. Over the last month, they’ve risen more than 30%, 18%, and 5% respectively and over the last few weeks, we’ve trimmed back USAT and AXTI shares, booking meaningful wins, while offsetting those gains by closing out positions that have been lagging.

As tax reform lumbers forward, we’ll continue to monitor developments and what they mean for both the market and the Tematica Investing Select List.



Dividend Dynamo Company McCormick Does it Again

Call me old-fashioned, but I love dividends and I love companies that have the ability to raise their dividends even more. When a company boosts its dividend, it tends to result in a step function move higher in its stock price. If it’s a serial dividend raiser, or as I like to call them a dividend dynamo company, we tend to get a hefty 1-2 combination punch of a step higher in the stock price as well as higher dividend payments. Boom!

We’ve got several such companies on the Tematica Investing Select List, and this week McCormick & Co. (MKC) once again boosted its quarterly dividend. This new 10% increase to $0.52 per share marks the 32nd consecutive year that McCormick has increased its quarterly dividend and offers us even greater comfort with our $110 price target. With regard to this new dividend, it is payable on January 16 to shareholders of record on December 29 – mark your calendars!

  • Our price target on McCormick & Co. (MKC) shares remains $110


What We’re Watching For Over the Coming Days

During the next several days, as we exit November a number of economic data points will start to roll in, as well as other key data points such as retailer monthly same-store sales figures. Amid the number of economic reports to be had, we’ll be parsing the October construction spending report and what it means for both non-residential construction activity and shares of LSI Industries (LYTS). The shares have been an “under the radar” mover on a week to week basis, but since adding the position to the Tematica Investing Select List in mid-September are up more than 5%. As August-September hurricane-related construction rebounds, we continue to see further upside ahead for LYTS shares.

  • Our price target on LSI Industries (LYTS) remains $10.


While we are understandably bearish on the vast majority of brick & mortar retailers, we remain upbeat with Costco Wholesale (COST) given its higher-margin membership fee income stream. Over the last several months, Costco’s monthly same-store sales reports have shown it is not suffering at the hands of Amazon at all, but rather in keeping with our Cash-Strapped Consumer investing theme, it continues to take consumer wallet share. As Costco shares it November data, we’ll be sure to break it down and assess what it means for our $190 price target.

  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) remains $190.


With Guilty Pleasure MGM Resorts (MGM) shares on the Select List, we’ll also be on the lookout for November gaming data pertaining to Nevada as well as Macau. As we mentioned recently, we are heading into one of the slower seasons for the Las Vegas strip and MGM continues to renovate several choice properties with expectations of reopening them in 1Q 2018. We’ll continue to be patient, and if the opportunity presents itself opportunistic as well given our $37 price target. On the housekeeping font, MGM’s next quarterly dividend of $0.11 per share should arrive in mid-December.

  • Our price target on MGM Resorts (MGM) shares remains $37.



Weekly Issue: More trimming and more gains, this time with AXTI shares

Weekly Issue: More trimming and more gains, this time with AXTI shares


  • We are trimming back our position in AXT Inc. (AXTI), which closed last night more than 60% above our mid-June entry point. we are selling one-third of the position, which lets us book some fantastic gains, but also leaves ample exposure on the Tematica Investing Select List. As we make this trade we’re also adding a stop loss at on AXTI at $8.25, which ensures a minimum return near 27% on the remaining shares.
  • Prepping for the official start of the 2017 holiday shopping season
  • Waiting on Tax reform and what it may mean for small-cap cap stocks
  • Applied Materials (AMAT) offers bullish outlook on Mad Money

Note: We’re bringing the weekly Tematica Investing issue to you a day earlier than usual given the likelihood that a significant number of subscribers will, like many, many other folks, be traveling tomorrow ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. Usually, the day before and after Thanksgiving see lower than usual trading volumes as investors and traders look to turn the holiday into an unofficial four day weekend. As we digest our turkey, trimmings and that extra piece of pie, Team Tematica will be analyzing the Black Friday data, reporting our findings on Monday.  

From all of us here at Team Tematica, we wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving! And if you see Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins on Fox Business this Friday remember that pickles and pecan pie do not mix well together on Thanksgiving.


More trimming and more gains, this time with AXTI shares

Over the last week, we’ve done some trimming and pruning to the Tematica Investing Select List, shedding shares in USA Technologies (USAT) and Universal Display (OLED), while offsetting those gains by exiting Nuance Communications (NUAN), Teucrium Corn Fund (CORN) and ProShares Short S&P 500 ETF (SH) shares. You can see the details here  in case you missed it.

Today we are back at the trimming again, but this time with Disruptive Technologies company AXT Inc. (AXTI) following yesterday’s 12% gain in the shares, which closed just 5% below our $11 price target. That rapid move brought the positon’s return to more than 60% as of last night’s close since we added the shares to the portfolio in mid-June.

Do we see additional upside in the shares as 5G mobile networks are deployed and high-speed broadband deployments in data centers, wireless backhaul, and other applications grow in the coming quarters? We sure do, but we also are prudent investors. As such, we are trimming the AXTI position back, which returns a hefty slug of the capital deployed from when we originally added the shares, while keeping ample exposure to capture additional upside in the coming quarters.

In short, while we are making a prudent move today, we’re going to let this winner run given the favorable fundamentals, and over the coming days, we’ll look to crunch the numbers to determine additional upside to be had from current levels.

  • We are trimming back our position in AXT Inc. (AXTI), which closed last night more than 60% above our mid-June entry point.
  • We are selling one-third of the position, which lets us book some fantastic gains, but also leaves ample exposure on the Tematica Investing Select List.
  • Our $11 price target is under review.
  • As we make this trade we’re also adding a stop loss at on AXTI at $8.25, which ensures a minimum return near 27% on the remaining shares.


Prepping for the official start of the 2017 holiday shopping season

As I noted above, later this week as Thanksgiving 2017 fades we’ll see the 2017 holiday shopping season heat up. Several weeks ago, I shared several forecasts all of which call for 2017 holiday shopping to rise 3.5% to 4.5%, with digital commerce sales poised to grow multiples faster, leading companies such as Amazon (AMZN) and United Parcel Service (UPS) to win consumer wallet share.

As this shopping shift is occurring, we are also seeing Amazon build its own private- label offerings across a growing number of categories, including sportswear, electronics, and accessories to kitchenware. This is placing additional pressure on bricks-and-mortar names such as J.C. Penney (JCP) and Sears (SHLD) — the shares in those two companies are down 55%-60% year to date. There, of course, is more than enough reason to think there will be even more pain on the way as traditional retail businesses are pumping up the use of discounts to win business, which should further pressure margins.

In a survey conducted by the Berkley Research Group of more than 100 high-level retail executives in October, 64% of the respondents said they expected promotions to play a more significant role in overall sales during the 2017 holidays. What this tells me is there is more trouble ahead for retail as these companies sacrifice profits to win revenue — not exactly a sustainable business model and one that tends to lead to declining earnings per share.

I’ll be back early next week to share my observations on the weekend holiday shopping activity as well as Cyber Monday, and what it all means for positions on the Tematica Investing Select List.

  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $1,250
  • Our price target on United Parcel Service (UPS) is $130.


Waiting on Tax reform and what it may mean for small-cap stocks

Last Friday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC that he expects a GOP tax cut bill to be sent to President Donald Trump to sign by Christmas. As I shared last week, there are several differences between the tax bill passed by the House late last week and the proposed one by the Senate. With both the House and Senate not in session this week, I don’t expect much movement on tax reform, but that means there are four weeks for the House and Senate to put forth a bill together to reach the president’s desk in time for Christmas. While I’m hopeful, the reality is the next few weeks will tell us how probable this is.

As we’ve seen over the last few weeks, small-cap stocks are likely to ebb and flow over the next few weeks based on the meat of tax reform and whether it will be passed for 2018 or not until 2019. On the Tematica Investing Select List we primarily have large-cap stocks, which are defined as companies with a market capitalization value of more than $10 billion, and two mid-cap stocks in the form of Universal Display (OLED) and Trade Desk (TTD) shares. We do, however, have three small-cap stocks – USA Technologies (USAT), AXT Inc. (AXTI) and LSI Industries (LSI), which means Team Tematica will be on the case as it pertains to tax reform over the next few weeks.


Applied Materials (AMAT) offers bullish outlook on Mad Money

Last Friday, Applied Materials (AMAT) President and CEO Gary Dickerson appeared on CNBC’s Mad Money and discussed several aspects of our Connected Society and Disruptive Technologies investing themes and how they are powering the company’s semiconductor capital equipment business. Dickerson also role in artificial intelligence and big data.


I see Dickerson’s comments echoing our multi-faceted and multi-year thesis on Applied shares. The next proof point to watch for ramping organic light emitting diode display demand will be the next iteration the global consumer electronics and consumer technology tradeshow that is CES 2018, which runs from January 8-12, 2018. In the coming weeks, we’ll begin to hear more about the various consumer electronic items that will be previewed and debuted at the show, and we expect a smattering of organic light emitting diode display TVs. Already we’re hearing LG will launch a full line up of OLED TVs in 2018, and that OLED TVs are expected to see a meaningful price reduction, which could foster greater consumer adoption. I see both as positives for not only AMAT shares but also Universal Display (OLED) shares.

  • Our price target on Applied Materials (AMAT) shares is $70
  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) shares is $225


Last week’s Cocktail Investing podcast –
The Rise in our Rise & Fall of the Middle Class investing theme

If you missed last week’s podcast — and shame on you if you did — Lenore Hawkins and I did a deep dive on what’s driving the Rise in our Rise & Fall of the Middle Class investing theme. From sharing why this is happening to what the implications are, we tackle it all. In an upcoming podcast, we’ll be giving the same treatment to the Falling Middle Class in this investing theme, but my advice is listening to last week’s will offer not only some great context, but you’ll also learn why to this day Lenore shuns pecan pie. Download it now for some great entertainment during your holiday travels.

WEEKLY ISSUE: Some Underperformers Set to Come out from the Shadows

WEEKLY ISSUE: Some Underperformers Set to Come out from the Shadows

Monday was one of those sort-of holidays that saw banks, the post office and schools closed, but domestic stock markets and a number of other businesses open. The result was once again a more subdued start to the week that leads into what is poised to be a focal point for the stock market as 3Q 2017 earnings kickoff. Over the last several days, we saw through earnings from restaurant company Darden (DRI) and Cal-Maine Foods (CALM) and this week the negative 2017 reset from coatings company Axalta Coating Systems (AXTA). This tells me that not only has Wall Street underestimated the impact of September’s hurricane trifecta — a fact we saw in last Friday’s September Employment Report — but it has likely overestimated the current speed of the economy as well.

The next few days will give way to several economic reports that will more fully shine a light on the true speed of the economy, and they will help set the table for what is to come over the next few weeks as literally thousands of companies report. As subscribers, you know through our weekly Thematic Signals and our Cocktail Investing Podcast that I co-host with our Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins, we are constantly scrutinizing data points with our thematic lens and assessing the market.

Now let’s take a look at our overall market view, which is one of the key backdrops when it comes to investing – thematic or otherwise. As we shared on last week’s podcast, the domestic stock market continues to grind its way higher ahead of 3Q 2017 earnings. This march higher is being fueled in part by the return of investor greed as measured by CNNMoney’s Fear & Greed Index. The question we are increasingly pondering is what are those late to the party seeing that allows them to get comfortable with enough upside to now jump into a market that is trading at more than 19x expected 2017 earnings?

With the market priced to perfection and expectations running high, odds are we are bound to see some disappointment. The fact that margin debt is running at record levels is not lost on us here at Tematica, and it has the potential to exacerbate any near-term bump or pullback in the market.

This has us holding steady with the Tematica Select List, but it doesn’t mean we are being idle. Rather, we are scrutinizing contenders and revisiting price points at which we would scale into existing positions. Not quite our 2017 holiday shopping list, but one that as we approach Halloween could be ripe for harvesting.



Checking in on some of our outperformers

We’ve benefitted from this push higher as the Select List’s positions in LSI Industries (LYTS), Amplify Snacks (BETR), USA Technologies (USAT), Amazon (AMZN), Alphabet (GOOGL) and International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) have outperformed the month to date move in the S&P 500. With USAT shares, this has them closing in on our $6.50 price target, while the others have ample upside to our respective price targets.

We continue to rate these stocks as follows:

  • Our price target on LSI Industries (LYTS) remains $10.00
  • Our price target on Amplify Snacks (BETR) remains $10.50
  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) remains $1,150
  • Our price target on Alphabet (GOOGL) remains $1,050

With USA Technologies (USAT) shares, we will continue to keep them on the Select List and as we reassess our Thematic Signals and other data points for additional upside to be had relative to our $6.50 price target.

The same is true with International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), given the accelerating shift away from sugar toward food that is good for you vs. the modest upside to our current $150 price target.


It’s not all bad news for the underperformers however

While we like to focus on the outperformers, we tend to spend as much, if not more time, on the ones that are underperforming. Currently, that means shares of Costco Wholesale (COST), Nokia (NOK), MGM Resorts (MGM) and recently added United Parcel Service (UPS).

In reverse order, shares of Connected Society derivative company UPS shares came under pressure following comments that Amazon is once again flirting with expanding its own logistics business. While this may happen, it will take years to replicate the hub and spoke to home delivery service currently offered by UPS that is poised to benefit from the accelerating shift to digital commerce this holiday shopping season. We remain bullish on this position and expect the shares to rebound as we move into the 2017 holiday shopping season. We will look to scale into UPS shares closer to $110 should such a pullback in the shares emerges this earnings season.

Shares of Guilty Pleasure company MGM Resorts continue to languish following the recent Las Vegas shooting. In our view, it will take some time for the perception of the business to recover. As that time elapses, we’ll look to improve our cost basis following the better than expected August Nevada gaming data. Below $30 is where we are inclined to make our move, and our price target stands at $37.

We continue to see favorable data on 5G testing and deployments that bode very well for Nokia’s intellectual property business as well as its communications infrastructure business. Much like MGM shares we will be patient and look to opportunistically improve the cost basis on this Disruptive Technologies Select List position.

We have a more detailed look at Cash-Strapped Consumer company Costco down below, but as you’ll soon read we continue to favor the shares despite some concerning developments.


So, what’s up with Costco Wholesale?

As we mentioned above Costco is one of the recent underperformers and it comes following last week’s better than expected quarterly earnings results. The issue is that its the earnings call Costco shared that it is seeing a slowdown in membership rates, which Wall Street took to mean “Here comes Amazon!” While we agree that Amazon is set to continue disrupting traditional retail as it leverages Whole Foods into grocery and meal kits, and continues to focus on apparel, Costco’s issue is it opened 16 new warehouses during the first 9 months of its recently completed fiscal year, so odds are it would see some slowing in membership growth.

For those not convinced that Costco’s business is thriving we would point out the following:

  • September 2017: Net sales up 12%
  • August 2017: Net sales up 10.0% year over year with comparable stores sales up 7.3% (up 5.9% excluding gasoline prices and foreign exchange)
  • July 2017: Net sales up 8.8 percent year over year with comparable store sales up 6.2% (up 5.3% excluding gasoline prices and foreign exchange)
  • June 2017: Net sales up 7.0% year over year with comparable store sales up 6.0% (up 6.5% excluding gasoline prices and foreign exchange)

Looking at that data, we see Costco not only as a company that has continued to improve net sales month over month, but one that is hardly suffering the same fate as traditional brick & mortar retailers. Moreover, we would point out the company had 741 warehouses in operation during the August 2017 quarter, up from 715 a year ago. This led to a 13% increase in its high margin Membership Fee revenue, which accounted for nearly all of its net income during the quarter.

As we have said before, the power in Costco’s business model is the warehouses and membership fee income, and we see this continuing to be the case. As part of our Connected Society theme, we will continue to monitor consumer acceptance of delivered grocery. This includes Costco’s new two-day delivery services for both dry groceries and fresh foods that will be free for online orders exceeding $75 from 376 U.S. Costco stores. Unlike many brick & mortar retailers, Costco is not standing around and watching its competitors outflank it, rather it is responding. To us, this suggests the recent pullback is overdone.

  • We continue to have a Buy on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares, and our price target remains $190.