More retailers are pivoting to capture the “thrift shift”

More retailers are pivoting to capture the “thrift shift”

When not just one company but a growing number of them make a conscious decision to pivot the merchandise they offer to consumers, to borrow a term from the game of poker, it’s a pretty big tell. The shift we are talking about is the move to selling used clothing, which takes a page right out of the Poshmark playbook and is in tune with our Middle-class Squeeze investing theme.

The more meaningful question is the why as in why are these companies doing this and doing it now?

We at Tematica have been sharing economic and other data that points to not only the continued climb in consumer debt levels but now banks ranging from Citibank to Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Capital One have announced rising credit card delinquency rates. We’ve long said that rising debt levels would sap consumer disposable income as interest costs associated with that rising debt level take hold.

At the same time, retailers of apparel and especially department stores remain under attack from digital commerce as well as private label brand initiatives at not only Amazon, but also Walmart and Target.

As we like to say, a pain point generally gives rise to a solution. Sometimes that solution arises quickly and other times not so much. But in the case of the apparel and our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme, we are seeing several solutions unfold.

Above we mentioned Poshmark, a company that sits at the intersection of our Digital Lifestyle, Digital Infrastructure and Middle-class Squeeze investing themes and while it has garnered a significant user base and following it isn’t the only company looking to attack the market for monetizing one’s wardrobe. Online marketplace Depop counts more than 15 million users that tap into its marketplace to buy and sell clothes. And for those thinking the used clothing market isn’t for higher-end and luxury items, offerings from TheRealReal (REAL) and Farfetch (FTCH) should get you to think again.

Aside from the business pivot, Macy’s, JC Penney and others could also be looking to get a valuation multiple bump by wading into the used clothing market. Shares of Farfetch are trading at more than 3x expected 2019 sales, multiples ahead of the 0.2x price to sales valuation currently accorded to Macy’s shares. And for those wondering, that valuation is even lower at JC Penney. In order to get that multiple pop, Macy’s and JC Penney will both have to cross the digital shopping chasm, something Macy’s has been far more successful at than JC Penney.

Macy’s Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. this past week unveiled partnerships with resale marketplace thredUp Inc. to sell used clothes and accessories in some of their stores. Outdoor brand Patagonia plans to open a temporary store in Boulder, Colo., this fall dedicated to selling pre-owned goods, its first such location.

Thrifting is gaining traction as shoppers have grown more bargain conscious and concerned about the environmental impact of fashion, particularly the throwaway clothing model popularized by fast-fashion chains.

“We looked deeply at Generation Z consumers, and recommerce came up over and over again,” Macy’s Chief Executive Jeff Gennette said in an interview, referring to theburgeoning resale market. “It’s not a downside that something has been preowned.”

Thorsten Weber, chief merchandising officer of Stage Stores Inc.,

Other chains, including Bloomingdale’s, which is owned by Macy’s, Urban Outfitters Inc.and Ann Taylor, are taking a slightly different approach by launching services that let shoppers rent clothes instead of buying them. Customers can even rent home décor at West Elm, which has partnered with Rent The Runway Inc. for the program.

Source: On Second Thought, Traditional Retailers Make Room for Used Clothes – WSJ

Macy’s furniture business is reaping the benefits of virtual reality

Macy’s furniture business is reaping the benefits of virtual reality

When a smart company gets challenged in its core business, it tends to pull the stops out to protect other lines that it has. In the case of Macy’s, which alongside other brick & mortar retailers, has been feeling the pain of Amazon as well as the shift to Direct to Consumer models on the part of branded apparel and retail, it is has opted to embrace virtual reality to improve the furniture shopping experience. We’ve seen other retailers ranging from Ikea to Sephora bringing virtual reality to its shoppers, and at Macy’s, it’s having a positive impact – the company found that VR-influenced furniture sales increased by more than 60% versus non-VR furniture sales and decreased returns to less than 2%.

One has to wonder if this aspect of our Disruptive Innovators investing theme means the death of the tape measure, especially since Apple has added “an app for that” with its latest iOS.

 

Macy’s is going all out for virtual reality with what it called the “largest VR rollout in retail history.”

The department store giant is deploying VR technology to boost customer confidence in furniture purchases and help shoppers make better buying decisions. The program also allows the retailer to offer a full range of furniture in a dramatically smaller space.

Macy’s is partnering with Marxent on the initiative, and the technology is now in place in some 70 Macy’s stores nationwide. The companies expect to add the “Macy’s VR furniture experience” to another 20 locations by January 2019.

 

Source: Macy’s reduces return rates with help of virtual reality technology |Chain Store Age

Lord & Taylor teams with Walmart to drive digital commerce sales

Lord & Taylor teams with Walmart to drive digital commerce sales

It’s starting to accelerate, the shift to digital commerce from brick & mortar that is part of our Connected Society investing theme, and it’s giving way to some interesting partnerships and business models. In this case, it’s Walmart, traditionally a retailer that meshes with our Cash-Strapped Consumer investing theme, partnering with Lord & Taylor, a retailer that spans our Rise & Fall of the Middle Class and Affordable Luxury themes. Both are looking to leverage the other to drive traffic and sales, but the new business model resembles the “store within a store” model being utilized by Macy’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Given that Lord & Taylor will keep its own e-commerce platforms, it seems this linkage with Walmart.com is more a test-bed for Lord & Taylor, while Walmart hopes to court other retailers and branded apparel as it looks to position itself firmly against Amazon.

One way or another, odds are this is just the beginning for these kinds of linkages and tie-ups.

 

Walmart and Hudson’s Bay-owned department store Lord & Taylor just announced an interesting partnership — Lord & Taylor will start selling its catalog of high-end fashion merchandise on Walmart.com this Spring.Of

Lord & Taylor will have its own “flagship store” on Walmart.com — which essentially will be a section on Walmart’s website dedicated to goods sold by Lord & Taylor.

For Walmart, this partnership is a way to drive traffic from customers looking for high-end items that otherwise may not be shopping on Walmart.com.

And for Lord & Taylor, the deal is also about traffic — department stores are struggling, and opening a store on Walmart.com will give them a bunch of new eyeballs (and potential shoppers) they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. It’s almost like the modern-day version of renting retail space on 5th Avenue in NYC. Lord & Taylor will keep their existing e-commerce site at lordandtaylor.com, so this new store is really just to attract new customers that wouldn’t otherwise shop with them online.

 

Source: Lord & Taylor will start selling on Walmart.com | TechCrunch

Off-price retailers – another thorn in the side of department stores

Off-price retailers – another thorn in the side of department stores

A new report from Moody’s reinforces the negativity surrounding department stores like Macy’s (M), JC Penny (JCP) and Nordstrom (JWN). Unlike most that focus on the shift to digital commerce that is part of our Connected Society theme, Moody’s adds a perspective that meshes extremely well with our Cash-Strapped Consumer and Rise & Fall of the Middle Class investing themes — consumers embracing off-price retailers such as TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and HomeGoods all of which are part of TJX Companies (TJX) as well as Ross Stores (ROST).

One interesting observation is the expanding footprint of these off-price retailers beyond apparel and into home products, which offers additional challenges to Macy’s and other department stores that have home products and furnishings. This move also means additional challenges for Pottery Barn (owned by William-Sonoma (WSM)), privately held Crate and Barrell and Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY).

Off-price retailers will remain among the top performers in the U.S. retail industry during the next 12 to 18 months.

That’s according to a new report from Moody’s Investors Service. The outlook is not as positive for department stores, which will continue to struggle as they seek to level the playing field with both off-price and online vendors.

Moody’s expects operating income in the off-price sector to grow 6.9% in 2017 and 5.4% in 2018. Department stores will see operating income decline 9.3% this year and 2.7% in 2018.

“Off-price retailers continue to outperform other sectors of the U.S. retail industry largely because they offer the kind of lower-cost, higher-value products and shopping experience many consumers are looking for,” said Moody’s analyst, Christina Boni. “Off-price stores are far outstripping department stores, which in contrast are still struggling with outmoded formats and supply chains that can’t keep pace with customer demand.”

Despite their lack of e-commerce penetration, off-price retailers have succeeded where department stores have foundered due to their focus on delivering major label brands at significant discounts to value-hungry consumers, Moody’s said. Off-price vendors also outperform the broader universe of U.S. apparel-focused retailers.

While apparel sales make up the bulk of their sales, off-price retailers have been increasing their product mix in the higher-growth and less competitive home products category. Moody’s estimates that home product sales at off-price stores grew 9.9% in 2016, compared with 7.8% for the off-price sectors overall growth.

Source: Moody’s: No letup in sight to off-price growth |Chain Store Age

May Data From ADP and Challenger Offer Confirmation for Several Tematica Select List Positions

May Data From ADP and Challenger Offer Confirmation for Several Tematica Select List Positions

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Thematic Tailwinds and Headwinds Drive February Retail Sales 

Thematic Tailwinds and Headwinds Drive February Retail Sales 

This morning the US Department of Commerce published its February Retail Sales report, which was in line with expectations growing 0.1 percent compared to January. This report is always an interesting read due in part to the fact that we can look at the data a number of ways — month over month, year over year, and three-month comparisons on a trailing and year over year basis. As you can imagine, this can lead to quite a bit of confusion when trying to puzzle together exactly what the investing signal is coming out of that retail report noise.

Here’s our take on it featuring the thematic lens that we hang our hat at here at Tematica . . .

February 2017 vs. January 2017

Month over month retail sales climbed by 0.1 percent, in line with expectations. The four categories that saw faster spending growth than the average were furniture (+0.7 percent), building materials (+1.8 percent), health & personal care stores (+0.7 percent) and nonstore retailers (+1.2 percent). The sequential increase in building material demand, as well as furniture, fits with the mild winter weather that led to a pickup in construction employment and a stronger than seasonal pickup in housing starts.

The continued tick higher in health & personal care stores ties with our Aging of the Population investing theme. We continue to see this category rising faster than overall retail spending as the first baby boomers turn 70 this year with another 1.5 million each year for the next 15 years. The scary part is of these baby boomers, roughly only 50 percent have saved enough for retirement, which touches on our Cash Strapped Consumer investing theme.

Finally, we once again see Nonstore retailers taking consumer wallet share in February, which comes as no surprise as Amazon and other retailers continue to expand their service offerings and geographic footprints, while other traditional brick & mortar retailers focus on growing their direct to consumer business. In short, our Connected Society investing theme continues to transform retail.

Month over month weakness was had at electronics & appliance stores, clothing, and department stores. Compared to January gasoline station sales ticked down modestly as well, which we attribute to the essentially flat gasoline prices month over month per data from AAA.

 

February 2017 vs. February 2016

Year over year February Retail Sales excluding autos and food rose 5.9 percent led by a 19.6 percent increase in gasoline station sales, a 13.0 percent increase in Nonstore retail, a 7.3 percent rise in building materials, a 7.0 percent increase at health & personal care stores. Without question, the rise in gasoline station sales reflects the year over year 18 percent increase in gas prices per AAA data, while the milder winter we discussed earlier is likely pulling demand forward in construction and housing — we’ll look for February and March housing data to confirm this. The rise in gas prices reflects OPEC oil production cuts, which serves as a reminder that oil and other energy products are part of our Scarce Resource investing theme — there is only so much to be had, and production levels dictate supply.

As far as the year over year increase in health & personal care goes, it’s the same story — the Aging of the Population as Father Time is a tough customer to beat no matter how people embrace our Fountain of Youth investing theme. Finally, and certainly no surprise is the continued increase in Nonstore retail sales. Candidly, we see no slowdown in this Connected Society shift — all we need to do is look at the evolving shopping habits of the “younger” generation.

The two big declines were had were…. no surprise….. electronic & appliance stores, which fell 6 percent year over year, and department stores, which dropped 5.6 percent compared to February 2016.  With hhgregg (HGG) closing a good portion of its stores and JC Penney (JCP) recently announcing even more store closures, the results of these two categories, which are likely feeling the heat from Amazon (AMZN) in particular and others benefiting from the Connected Society tailwind, the results from these two categories is anything but surprising.

If we look at the three month rolling average on both a sequential and year over year basis, the leaders remained the same — building materials, gasoline stations, Nonstore retail and health & personal care. Behind each of these there is a clear thematic tailwind, even construction and housing, which is has historically been a beneficiary of the rising aspect of our Rise & Fall of the Middle Class investing theme. We’ll have a better sense of that with tomorrow’s February Housing Starts and Building Permits report.

And just in case anyone was holding out hope for electronics & appliance stores and department stores, the three-month rolling averages showed continued declines on both on a sequential and year over year basis. Nothing like a thematic headwind to throw cold water on your business.

The question to us is whether we will see more M&A chatter like we saw several weeks back with Macy’s (M) and more recently with Hudson Bay (TSE:HBC) being interested in Neiman Marcus. We can understand one company picking off well-positioned assets that might improve its overall customer mix, but we suspect there will be a number of companies left standing with no dance partners when this game of retail musical chairs is over. That means more companies going the way of Wet Seal than not, which means pain for mall REIT companies like Simon Property Group (SPG).

Before we go, we have to mention the piece by Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist, better known on the Cocktail Investing Podcast as the High Priestess of Global Macro, Lenore Hawkins, which  called out the lack of weekly, year over year wage growth in February. Paired with higher prices, such as gas prices and others, that are leading to a pickup in reported inflation, it tells us our Cash-strapped Consumer investing theme has more room to go.

Hat tip to Lenore Hawkins, who added her special sauce and insights to this viewpoint. 

Note: Tematica’s subscription trading service, Tematica Pro, has a short position in SPG shares. 

 

Tematica’s Take on the February Jobs Report, and What It Means for the Fed and Stocks

Tematica’s Take on the February Jobs Report, and What It Means for the Fed and Stocks

This morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics published the February Employment Report. One of the last few indicators economists, market watchers and the Fed will get ahead of next week’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting came in better than expected on several fronts. Over the last few week’s we’ve seen a rising expectation for a March rate hike, but more recently we’ve gotten conflicting signals in a variety of data points. While the February reports for the both the Producer and Consumer Price Indices and Retail Sales will be published early next week, barring any major snafus in those reports the February Employment Report clears the way for the Fed to nudge interest rates higher next week.

 

The details of the February Employment Report how it stacked up against expectations

 

 

Nonfarm payrolls came in at 235K besting expectations for 190K-200K depending on the source, and the Unemployment rate held steady at 4.7 percent.  A nice beat, but job growth slipped month over month compared to the 238K revised number of jobs created in January. Overall payrolls are up around 1.6 percent over the past year as we’ve seen the 12-month trend slowing over the past few years, which is to be expected in the later stages of this cycle. Job gains were reported in in construction, private educational services, manufacturing, health care, and mining, which was offset by job losses in retail.

 

 

In looking at several other metrics in the report, the Labor Force Participation Ratio edged up a tick month over month to hit 63.0 percent in February and we saw another sequential decline in the Not in Labor Force category. The percent of Americans actually working has reached 60 percent for the first time since 2009. In our view, those metrics are moving in the right direction.

 

We also like seeing the median duration of unemployment has been continually declining since its peak in 2010. Today that number has dropped to around 10 weeks.

 

 

Since the recovery, job growth has been concentrated primarily in lower-paying jobs in sectors such as retail, hospitality, education and food service. Recently we have seen higher-paying sectors such as manufacturing and construction posting material gains. While every sector outside of retail and utilities experienced gains, manufacturing grew 28,000, the largest increase in that sector since August 2013. Construction also surged by 58,000 jobs which was the biggest gain since March 2007 and has now added 177,000 to payroll in the past six months, a likely positive sign for housing.

If we were to pick one fly in the jobs report ointment it would be the sharp increase in the number of people with multiple jobs, which climbed to 5.3 percent of total employed, up from 5.0 percent a year ago. To us, this signals that more people are under the gun when it comes to helping make ends meet due to higher health care costs, soaring student debt levels or the need to boost savings levels, especially for retirement. From a thematic perspective, we see the pick up in multiple jobholders as a confirming data point for our Cash-strapped Consumer investing theme. More about that in a few paragraphs.

 

So what do all these employment “tea leaves” tell us about what the Fed might be thinking?

As Team Tematica discussed on this week’s Cocktail Investing Podcast, retail job losses were anticipated given the growing number of store closing announcements over the last several weeks from the likes of  Macy’s (M), Kohl’s (KSS), JC Penney (JCP), hhgregg (HGG), Crocs (CROX) and others. All of these companies are contending with the downside of our increasingly Connected Society that has consumers increasingly shifting toward digital shopping.  Given the relatively mild winter weather, the pick up in construction work likely bodes well for the housing market, which is one we keep tabs on as part of our Rise & Fall of the Middle Class investing theme. From an exchange traded fund perspective, the mix of jobs created in February likely means a higher share price for SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF (XHB) and PowerShares Dynamic Building & Construction Portfolio ETF (PKB) are to be had while SPDR S&P Retail ETF (XRT) get left behind.

As Tematica’s Chief Investment Officer, Chris Versace, reminds his graduate students at the NJCU School of Business, the Fed has a dual mandate that focuses on the speed of the economy AND inflation. The one item that is bound to catch the Fed’s attention is wage growth, which rose even though hours worked remain unchanged in February vs. January. Per the report, “In February, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 6 cents to $26.09, following a 5-cent increase in January.”

While that wage growth likely reflects some impact from rising minimum wages, the mix shift in job creation toward higher paying jobs in mining, construction and manufacturing and away from lower-paying retail jobs was the primary driver. If we had to guess the one line item that could get some attention at the Fed, it would be the combined January-February wage growth, which equates to a 2.8 percent increase year over year – near the fastest pace of growth during the current expansion, and better than the expected 2.7 percent, but still well below the rate of growth prior to the financial crisis.

However, on a monthly basis, average hourly earnings for private-sector workers rose 0.2 percent during February, which was below expectations for 0.3 percent. If we dig a bit deeper, that 2.8 percent year-over-year growth is an overall number. Wages for nonsupervisory and production employees comprise about 80 percent of the workforce and that group saw their hourly and weekly wages rise by about 2.48 percent on a year over year basis – this group isn’t getting quite the gains that their supervisors are enjoying. Additionally, this metric is not adjusted for inflation and guess what….the most recent inflation rate as measured by the consumer price index was (drum roll) … 2.5 percent. So post-inflation, no real gains. Once we again, it pays to read more than just the headlines when deciphering a report like this.

That being said, in our view, this month Employment Report helps pave the way for the Fed to nudge interest rates higher next week. We expect financials, including shares of banks such as Wells Fargo (WFC), Bank of America (BAC) and Citigroup (C) to name a few to trade higher today and lead the market higher. It goes without saying that means Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLF) shares are likely to trade higher.

As the likelihood of higher interest rates are upon us, we have to consider what the incrementally higher borrowing costs could mean to consumers that have taken on considerably more debt in 2016? Team Tematica touched on this and what it likely means in this week’s podcast. While we’ve seen decent wage growth thus far in 2017, a new study from WalletHub shows that “US consumers racked up $89.2 billion in credit card debt during 2016, pushing outstanding balances to $978.9 billion, which is roughly $3 billion below the all-time record set in 2007.” This would certainly help explain the year over year increase in multiple jobholders we talked about several paragraphs above.

For an economy whose growth is tied rather heavily to consumer spending, higher interest rates could crimp the health of that economic engine when consumers start to look at their credit card interest rates. Add in higher gas prices and odds are Cash-strapped Consumers will be with us once the euphoria of today’s February Employment Report dies down. We’ll be watching credit card transaction levels at Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA) to gauge consumer debt levels and whether average transaction sizes are shrinking.

— Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist, Lenore Elle Hawkins contributed to this article.