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

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

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

Key points inside this issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to watch this week

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

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

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

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

Earnings this week

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

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

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

 

Economic data this week

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

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

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

 

The Thematic Aristocrats?

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

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

I’ll have more as I refine that list.

Looking past this week’s market relief rally

Looking past this week’s market relief rally

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

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

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

 

Axon’s – September quarter earnings and an upgrade

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

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

 

Disney earnings on deck tonight

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

 

Del Frisco’s earnings to follow next week

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

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

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

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

 

What to Watch Next Week

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

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

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

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

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

Retail Sales Data for the Month of May Confirms Several Thematic Investment Themes

Retail Sales Data for the Month of May Confirms Several Thematic Investment Themes

This morning we received the May Retail Sales Report, which missed headline expectations (-0.3% month over month vs. the +0.1% consensus) as well as adjusted figures that exclude autos sales for the month (-0.3% month over month vs. +0.2% consensus). Despite the usual holiday promotional activity, retail sales in May were the weakest in 16 months due in part to lower gasoline prices, which had their biggest drop in over a year. In our view, the report confirms the challenging environment for brick & mortar retailers, despite those lower gas prices, while also affirms our decision not to participate in the space with the Tematica Select List as there were some bright spots below that headline miss.

Almost across the board, all retail categories were either essentially flat or down in May compared to April. The exception? Nonstore retail sales, clothing, and furniture — and nonstore obviously mostly comprised of online retailers since the Sears catalog isn’t in the mailbox too often these days. Comparing May 2017 retail sales to year-ago levels offers a different picture – nearly all categories were up with a couple of exceptions, the most notable being department stores. Again, more confirmation to the “why” behind recent news from mainstays of U.S. mall retailers like Macy’s (M), Michael Kors (KORS), Gymboree Corp. (GYMB) and Sears (SHLD).

Some interesting callouts from the report include that year over year, nonstore retail sales rose 10.2% percent, which brings the trailing 3-month year over year comparison for the category to 11.4%. This data simply confirms the continued shift toward digital commerce that is part of our Connected Society investing theme and is a big positive for our positions in Amazon (AMZN), Alphabet (GOOGL) and United Parcel Service (UPS).

We only see this shift to digital accelerating even more as we head into Back to School shopping season in the coming weeks and before too long the year-end holiday shopping season. While it is way early for a guesstimate on year-end holiday spending, eMarketer has published its view on Back to School spending this year and calls for it to grow 4 percent year over year to $857.2 billion. If that forecast holds, it will mean Back to School spending will account for roughly 17 percent of eMarketer’s 2017 retail sales forecast for all of 2017.

Not ones to be satiated with just the headlines, digging into the report we find more confirmation for our Connected Society investing theme – eMarketer sees e-commerce related Back to School shopping growing far faster, increasing 14.8% to $74.03 billion in 2017. As we like to say, perspective and context are essential, and in this case, should that e-commerce forecast hold it would mean Back to School e-commerce sales would account for 8.6% of total retail sales (online and offline) for the period, up from 7.8% last year.

 

The Connected Society Won’t Be the Only Theme In Play for Back to School Shopping

Given the last several monthly retail sales reports, as well as the increasing debt load carried by consumers, we strongly suspect our Cash-strapped Consumer theme will also be at play this Back to School shopping season, just like it was last year. In its 2016 findings, the National Retail Federation found that “48% of surveyed parents said they were influenced by coupons, up five percentage points from the prior year, while others said they planned to take advantage of in-store promotions and advertising inserts, and 53% said they would head to discount stores to finish prepping for the new school year.”

With consumer credit card debt topping $1 trillion, consumers are likely to once again use coupons, shop sales and hunt for deals, and that bodes very well for the shift to digital shopping. With Amazon increasingly becoming the go-to destination for accessories, books and video, computers and electronics, office equipment, sporting goods and increasingly apparel, we see it continuing to gain wallet share over the coming months.

 

Food with Integrity Theme Seen in Retail Sales Report As Well

Getting back to the May Retail Sales report, another positive was the 2.2% year on year increase in grocery stores compared to data published by the National Restaurant Association that paints a rather difficult environment for restaurant companies. The latest BlackBox snapshot report, which is based on weekly sales data from over 27,000 restaurant units, and 155 brands) found May was another disappointing month for chain restaurants across the board. Per the report, May same-store sales were down -1.1% and traffic dropped by 3.0% in May. With that in mind, we’d mention that last night Cheesecake Factory (CAKE) lowered its Q2 same restaurant comp guidance to down approximately -1%. This is a reduction from prior guidance of between 1% and 2%.

Stepping back and putting these datasets together, we continue to feel very good about our position in Food with Integrity company Amplify Snacks (BETR), as well as spice maker McCormicks & Co (MKS) as more people are eating at home, shopping either at grocery stores or online via Amazon Fresh and other grocery services. Paired with the shifting consumer preference for “better for you” snacks and food paves the way for Amplify as it broadens its product offering and expands its reach past the United States. As we shared in yesterday’s weekly update, United Natural Foods (UNFI) should also be enjoying this wave, but the company recently lowered its revenue guidance, so we’re putting UNFI under the microscope as we speak and we could very well be shifting our capital soon.

 

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

This morning we received the Challenger Job Cuts Report as well as ADP’s view on May job creation for the private sector. While ADP’s take that 253,000 jobs were created during the month, a nice boost from April and more in line with 1Q 2017 levels, we were reminded that all is not peachy keen with Challenger’s May findings. That report showed just under 52,000 jobs were cut during the month, a large step up from 36,600 in April, with the bulk of the increase due unsurprisingly to retail and auto companies.

As Challenger noted in the report, nearly 40% of the May layoffs were due to Ford (F), but the balance was wide across the retail landscape with big cuts at Macy’s (M), The Limited, Sears (SHLD), JC Penney (JCP) and Lowe’s (LOW) as well as others like Hhgregg and Wet Seal that have announced bankruptcy. In total, retailers continued to announce the most job cuts this year with just under 56,000 for the first five months of 2017. With yesterday’s news that Michael Kors (KORS) will shut 100 full-price retail locations over the next two years, we continue to see more pain ahead at the mall and fewer retail jobs to be had.

Sticking with the Challenger report, one of the items that jumped out to us was the call out that,

“Grocery stores are no longer immune from online shopping. Meal delivery services and Amazon are competing with traditional grocers, and Amazon announced it is opening its first ever brick-and mortar store in Seattle. Amazon Go, which mixes online technology and the in-store experience, is something to keep an eye on since it may potentially change the grocery store shopping experience considerably, “

 

In our view, this means the creative destruction that has plagued print media and retail brought on by Amazon (AMZN) is set to disrupt yet another industry, and it’s one of the reasons we’ve opted out of both grocery and retail stocks. The likely question on subscriber minds is what does this mean for our Amplify Snack Brands (BETR) position? In our view, we see little threat to Amplify’s business; if anything we see it’s mix of shipments skewing more toward online over time. Not a bad thing from a cost perspective. We’d also note that United Natural Foods (UNFI) is a partner with Amazon as well.

  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) remains $1,100 and offers more than 10% upside from current levels.
  • Amplify Snack Brands (BETR) has an $11 price target and is a Buy at current levels.
  • Our target on United Natual Foods (UNFI) is $65, and the recent pullback over the last six weeks enhances the long-term upside to be had.

We’d also note comments from Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) that its recent cybersecurity attack hit most Chipotle restaurants allowing hackers to steal credit card information from customers. In a recent blog post, Chipotle copped to the fact the malware that it was hit with infected cash registers, capturing information stored on the magnetic strip on credit cards. Chipotle said that “track data” sometimes includes the cardholder’s name, card number, expiration date and internal verification code. We see this as another reminder of the down side of what we call both our increasingly connected society and the shift toward cashless consumption. It also serves as a reminder of the long-tail demand associated with cyber security, and a nice confirmation point for the position PureFunds ISE Cyber Security ETF (HACK) shares on the Tematica Select List.

  • Our price target on PureFunds ISE Cyber Security ETF (HACK) shares remains $35.

 

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.