Apple’s negative pre-announcement serves as a reminder to the number of risks that have accumulated

Apple’s negative pre-announcement serves as a reminder to the number of risks that have accumulated

 

We are “breaking in” to share my thoughts with you on the implications of Apple’s (AAPL) downside December quarter earnings news last night. Quickly this is exactly of what I was concerned about in early December, but rather than take a victory lap, let’s discuss what it means and what we’re going to do. 

Last night we received a negative December quarter earnings preannouncement from Apple (AAPL), which is weighing on both AAPL shares as well as the overall market. It serves as a reminder to the number of risks that have accumulated during the December quarter – the slowing global economy, including here at home; the US-China trade war; Brexit and other geopolitical uncertainty in the eurozone; the strong dollar; shrinking liquidity and a Fed that looks to remain on its rate hike path while also unwinding its balance sheet. Lenore Hawkins and I talked about these at length on the Dec. 21 podcast, which you can listen to here.

In short, a growing list of worries that are fueling uncertainty in the market and in corporate boardrooms. When the outlook is less than clear, companies tend to issue conservative guidance which may conflict with Wall Street consensus expectations. In the past when that has happened, it’s led to a re-think in growth prospects for both the economy, corporate profits and earnings, the mother’s milk for stock prices.

These factors and what they are likely to mean when companies begin issuing their December quarter results and 2019 outlooks in the coming weeks, were one of the primary reasons we added the ProShares Short S&P 500 (SH) shares to our holdings in just under a month ago. While the market fell considerably during December, our SH shares rose 5% offering some respite from the market pain. As expectations get reset, and odds are they will, we will continue to focus on the thematic tailwinds and thematic signals that have been and will remain our North Star for the Thematic Leaders and the larger Select List.

 

What did Apple have to say?

In a letter to shareholders last night, Apple CEO Tim Cook shared that revenue for the quarter would come in near $84 billion for the quarter vs. the consensus estimate of $91.5 billion and $88.3 billion, primarily due to weaker than expected iPhone sales. In the letter, which can be read here, while Apple cited several known headwinds for the quarter that it baked into its forecast such as iPhone launch timing, the dollar, supply constraints, and growing global economic weakness, it fingered stronger than expected declines in the emerging markets and China in particular.

Per the letter, most of the “revenue shortfall to our guidance, and over 100 percent of our year-over-year worldwide revenue decline occurred in Greater China across iPhone, Mac, and iPad.”

Cook went on to acknowledge the slowing China economy, which we saw evidence of in yesterday’s December Markit data for China. Per that report,

“The Caixin China General Manufacturing PMI dipped to 49.7 in December, the first time since May 2017 that the reading has been below 50, the mark that separates expansion from contraction. The sub-index for new orders slid below the breakeven point of 50 for the first time since June 2016, reflecting decreasing demand in the manufacturing sector.”

In our view here at Tematica, that fall in orders likely means China’s economy will be starting off 2019 in contraction mode. This will weigh on corporate management teams as they formulate their formal guidance to be issued during the soon to be upon us December quarter earnings season.

Also, in his letter, Cook called out the “rising trade tensions with the United States”  and the impact on iPhone demand in particular.

In typical Apple fashion, it discussed the long-term opportunities, including those in China, and other positives, citing that Services, Mac, iPad, Wearables/Home/Accessories) combined to grow almost 19% year-over-year during the quarter with records being set in a number of other countries. While this along with the $130 billion in cash that Apple has on its balance sheet exiting the December quarter, bode well for the long-term as well as its burgeoning efforts in healthcare and streaming entertainment, Apple shares came under pressure last night and today.

 

Odds are there will more negative earnings report to come

In light of the widespread holding of Apple shares across investor portfolios, both institutional and individual, as well as its percentage in the major market indices, we’re in for some renewed market pressure. There is also the reality that Apple’s decision to call out the impact of U.S.-China trade will create a major ripple effect that will lead to investors’ renewed focus on the potential trade-related downside to many companies and on the negative effect of China’s slowing economy.

In recent months we’ve heard other companies ranging from General Motors (GM) to FedEx (FDX) express concerns over the trade impact, but Apple’s clearly calling out its impact will have reverberations on companies that serve markets tied to both the smartphone and China-related demand. Overnight we saw key smartphone suppliers ranging from Skyworks Solutions (SWKS) and Qorvo (QRVO) come under pressure, and the same can be said for luxury goods companies as well. We’d note that Skyworks and Qorvo are key customers for Select List resident AXT Inc (AXTI, which means if we follow the Apple revenue cut through the supply chain, it will land on AXT and its substrate business.

All of the issues discussed above more than likely mean Apple will not be the only company to issues conservative guidance. Buckle up, it’s going to be a volatile few weeks ahead.

 

Positives to watch for in the coming weeks and months

While the near-term earnings season will likely mean additional pain, there are drivers that could lift shares higher from current levels in the coming months. These include a trade deal with China that has boasts a headline win for the US, but more importantly contains positive progress on key issues such as R&D technology theft, cybercrimes and the like – in other words, some of the meaty issues. There is also the Federal Reserve and expected monetary policy path that currently calls for two rate hikes this year. If the Fed is data dependent, then it likely knows of the negative wealth effect to be had following the drop in the stock market over the last few months.

Per Moody’s economist Mark Zandi, if stocks remained where there were as of last night’s close, it would equate to a $6 trillion drop in household wealth over the last 12-15 months. Per Zani, that would trim roughly 0.5% to 2019 GDP – again if the stock market stayed at last night’s close for the coming weeks and months. As we’re seeing today, and given my comments about the upcoming earnings season, odds are that 2019 GDP cut will be somewhat larger. That would likely be an impetus for the Fed to “slow its roll” on interest rates or at least offer dovish comments when discussing the economy.

Complicating matters is the current government shutdown, which has both the Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis closed. Even though there will be some data to be had, such as tomorrow’s December 2018 Employment Report from the Labor Department, it means the usual steady flow of economic data will not be had until the government re-opens. No data makes it rather difficult to judge the speed of the economy from all of us, including the Fed.

Given all of the above, we’ll continue to keep our more defensive positions companies like McCormick & Co. (MKC), Costco Wholesale (COST), and the ProShares Short S&P 500 shares intact. We’ll continue to watch input costs and what they mean for corporate profits at the margin – case in point is Del Frisco’s (DFRG), which is benefitting from not only falling protein costs but has been approached by an activist investor that could put the company in play. With Apple, Dycom Industries (DY), and AXT, we will see 5G networks lit this year here in the US, which will soon be followed by other such networks across the globe in the coming years. Samsung, Lenovo/Motorola and others have announced 5G smartphones will be shipping by mid-2019, and we expect Apple to once again ride that tipping point in 2020. That along with its growing Services business and other efforts to increase the stickiness of iPhone (medical, health, streaming, payments services), keeps us long-term bulls on AAPL shares.

When not if but when, the stock market finds its footing, which likely won’t be until after the December quarter earnings season at the soonest, we will look to strategically scale into a number of positions for the Thematic Leaders and the Select List.

 

Weekly Issue December 17 2018

Weekly Issue December 17 2018

Key points inside this issue:

  • The Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey surprises the market
  • Costco stumbles, but it is far from down and out
  • Thematic confirmation had in the November Retail Sales Report
  • Digging into Friday’s other economic reports
  • What to watch this week
  • Holiday Housekeeping

The Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey surprises the market

What looked to be shaping up as a positive week for the stock market turned on its head Friday following renewed concerns over the pace of the global economy. As we’ve talked about recently, the vector and velocity of the latest economic reports suggest a slowing economy and that is fueling questions over the top and bottom-line growth prospects for 2019.

Tossing some logs on the that fire late last week was the new survey findings from the Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey that showed almost half (48.6%) of US chief financial officers believe the United States will be in recession by the end of next year while 82% of CFOs surveyed believe that a recession will begin by the end of 2020. That’s quite different than the Wall Street consensus, which per The Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecasting Survey sees the speed of the economy slowing from 3.5% in the September 2018 quarter to 2.5% in the current one to 2.4% in the first half of 2019 followed by 2.2% in the back half of the year.

This revelation has added to the list of concerns that I’ve been discussing of late and adds to the growing worries over EPS growth prospects in 2019.

 

Costco stumbles, but it is far from out

Last Thursday night, Costco Wholesale (COST), our Middle-Class Squeeze Thematic Leader, reported an EPS beat by $0.05 per share for the quarter, but revenue came in a tad short at up 10.3% year over year, or $34.3 billion vs. the expected $34.66 billion. Same-store sales for the quarter rose 8.8% (+7.5% ex-gasoline and currency), which is well above anything we’ve seen for the September-November period per Friday’s November Retail Sales report save for digital shopping (Non-store retailers) and gas station sales – more on that shortly.

Despite the positive EPS, COST shares fell 8.6% on Friday.

The issue with Costco was the margin profile as reported operating income was essentially flat year over year. When combined with the top line increase vs. the year-ago quarter it means the company’s operating margin hit 2.7% vs. 3.0% in the year-ago quarter, and 3.2% this past August quarter. Part of the issue was the jump up in pre-opening expenses for new warehouse locations which rose by 6% quarter over quarter. The real culprit was the step up in merchandising costs, which climbed 10.8% year over year for the November quarter vs. 5.4% year over year in the September quarter. Clearly, Costco is seeing the impact of not only higher prices but also the impact of tariffs associated with the U.S.-China trade war.

Despite that, the core basics at the company – foot traffic, renewal rates, and membership growth – continue to fire on all cylinders. That to me makes Costco one of the best-positioned retailers, and the fact that its e-commerce business continues to blossom is positive as well. In all of 2019, Costco looks to open 20-23 net new warehouses, which equates to an increase of 2.5%-3.0% year over year. This will likely drive pre-opening expenses higher in the coming months, but given the favorable metrics associated with each new location over the medium to longer-term, we’ll take it, especially if the economy slows more than expected. Odds are that will drive more consumers to Costco than not.

  • Our long-term price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $250.

 

Thematic confirmation in the November Retail Sales Report

Looking over Friday’s November Retail Sales Report, core Retail Sales rose 4.0% year over year with strong performance as expected for Non-store Retailers (+10.8% year over year), Gasoline Stations (+8.2%) and Food Service & Drinking Places (+5.6%). To me, those first and third categories ring positive for our Digital Lifestyle and Living the Life investing themes. That means I see those as positive signs for our thematic and holiday shopping positioned companies, which includes the aforementioned Costco, but also Amazon (AMZN), United Parcel Service (UPS), McCormick & Co. (MKC), International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) and Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG).

Back to the November Retail Sales report, while the sequential overall retail comparisons came in either as expected or slightly better depending on the forecast one is looking at, what’s likely to catch the market’s attention is the sequential drop in year over year retail sales growth that was had in November. Again, year over year November retail sales growth rose 4.0%, which was down compared to the October year over year increase of 4.5%.

Given the growing amount of data that points to a slowing domestic economy, one that is driven meaningfully by the consumer, odds are market watchers will not love what they saw in those year over year comparisons. Add to it that a recent Gallup poll found that Americans plan to spend less on holiday gifts today than they expected back in October and less than they expected to spend in 2017. The $91 decline in expected spending since October is “one of the steeper mid-season declines, exceeded only by a $185 drop that occurred in 2008, as the Wall Street financial crisis was unfolding, and a $102 drop in 2009 during the 2007-2009 recession.”

Clearly, those latest data points weighed on the overall stock market last week, but those weren’t the only ones.

 

Digging into Friday’s other economic reports

The November Retail Sales report wasn’t the only set of key data that weighed on the market last Friday. The November Industrial Production Report showed a flat manufacturing economy following the modest dip in October. On the December Flash PMI reports, the U.S. hit a 19-month low for the month with softer new order growth, while “Lower oil-related costs contributed to the slowest rate of input price inflation since the start of the year.” Turning to the eurozone, its Composite Output PMI hit 51.3, down from 52.7 in November, and reached a four-year low. The Flash Manufacturing PMI data for Japan was better, as it rose to 52.4 for December up from 52.2 in November, but that is hardly what we would call a robust figure given the expansion/contraction line at the 50.0 level. While new orders activity improved in Japan, new export orders fell, signaling a change of direction, which supports the notion of a slowing global economy.

This data along with the back and forth on U.S.-China trade, Brexit developments, Italy budget concerns, protests in France, and the potential government shutdown have all raised investor uncertainty levels. We see this in the current “Extreme Fear” (9) reading on the CNN Business Fear & Greed Index, which is little changed over the last few weeks. We’ve seen this play out in the stock market as the number of stocks hitting new highs pales in comparison to hitting 52-week lows. As one likely suspects, we saw this play out in small cap stocks, which per the Russell 2000 last week, were once again the hardest hit of the major stock categories. Quarter to date, small cap stocks are down just under 17% quarter to date.

We saw a number of these concerns brewing as we exited September and entered the September- quarter earnings season. We have been careful in making additions to the Select List given what I’ve viewed as an environment that has been more skewed to risk than reward. Odds are that will continue to be the case between now and the end of the year, which means we will continue to be overly selective when it comes to deploying capital. For that reason, last week we added the ProShares Short S&P 500 ETF (SH) shares to our holdings to add some downside protection.

 

What to Watch This Week

Following last week’s rash of economic data, don’t ask me how or why but the Atlanta Fed saw fit to boost its GDP Now forecast for the current quarter to 3.0% from 2.4% last week. As subscribers know, I prefer the far more solid track record at the NY Fed and its Nowcast report, which now calls for the current quarter to be +2.4%, down from +2.44% last week. That’s in line with The Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecasting Survey, but again that Duke poll is likely to be in the forefront of investor minds this week as more data is had. This includes several pieces of housing data — the November Housing Starts & Building Permits as well as November Existing Home Sales and the October NAHB Housing Market Index — as well as the November Durable Orders Report and November Personal Income & Spending data.

As I mentioned above, the number of economic numbers suggesting the global economy continues to slow are growing, which likely gives the Fed far more room to issue dovish comments after next week’s all but done December rate hike. In recent weeks as the Fed has once again signaled it will more than likely remain data dependent in 2019, we’ve seen a change in the futures market, which is now pricing in less than 20 basis points of rate hikes next year versus over 55 basis points just a few months ago. But we have to consider the reason behind this slower pace of rate hikes, which is the suggestion by recent data that the economy is far from overheating, which also adds to the core question we suspect investors and the market are asking: how fast/strong will EPS growth be in 2019?

As we prepare for Fed Chair Powell’s remarks, it’s not lost on me that we could very well see a “buy the rumor, sell the news” event following the FOMC meeting next week.

Heading down the final stretch of 2018, I’ll be looking at well-positioned companies relative to our investment themes that have been hard hit by the quarter to date move in the market. As of Friday’s market close, the S&P 500 was down X% quarter to date, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index and the small-cap heavy Russell 2000 were down 14% and nearly 17%, respectively, on that basis. One of the criteria that I’ll be focusing on as I weed through this growing list of contenders is favorable EPS growth year over year relative to the S&P 500. And, yes, when I say that I do mean to “real” EPS growth due to rising profit margins and expanding dollar profits instead of those lifted largely by buyback activities.

With that in mind, I’ll be paying close attention to a number of key earnings reports coming at us next week. These include Nike (NKE), Carmax (KMX), ConAgra (CAG), General Mills (GIS), Micron (MU), FedEx (FDX) and Darden Restaurants (DRI). Inside these reports and company commentaries, I’ll be looking for data points that to confirm our investment themes, the question of inflation vs. deflation and where it may be, and a last-minute update from FedEx on digital commerce for this holiday shopping season that we are all in the thick of. Also, among those reports is Del Frisco’s competitor – The Capital Grill, which is owned by Darden. I’ll be paying extra close attention to that report and what it means for our DFRG shares.

 

Holiday Housekeeping!

And that brings us to our Housekeeping note, which is this – given the way the Christmas and New Year’s holidays fall this year, barring any unforeseen issues that will require our attention and immediate action, we here at Tematica will be in “get ready for 2019” mode. That means we’ll be using the quiet holiday time to review the Thematic Leaders as well as positions on the Select List to ensure we are well prepared for the coming months ahead.

As such, we’re likely to be back the week of January 7th, although I can’t rule out the urge to share some thoughts with you sooner. For example, if the Fed says something that rolls the stock market’s eyes later this week, I’ll be sure to weigh in and share my thoughts. The same goes for the Darden earnings report I mentioned above and what it may mean for our DFRG shares.

We will have a new podcast episode or two before then, and we will be sharing a number of Thematic Signals over the coming weeks – if only those confirming signs for our investment themes would take a break. I’m only kidding, but of course, I love how recognizable and relatable the themes are in and around our daily lives.

To you and your loved ones, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year! See you 2019!!

 

 

Weekly Issue: Investor anxiety continues

Weekly Issue: Investor anxiety continues

Key points inside this issue

  • As the investors grapple with anxiety over trade as well as the speed of economic and earnings growth, we’ll continue to hold ProShares Short S&P 500 (SH) shares.
  • Our price target on the shares of Guilty Pleasure Thematic Leader Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) remains $14.
  • Our price target on Middle-Class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $250.
  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $2,250

 

The stock market experienced another painful set of days in last week as it digested the latest set of economic data, and what it all means for the speed of the domestic and global economy. Investors also grappled with determining where the U.S. is with regard to the China trade war as well as the prospects for a deal by the end of March that would prevent the next round of tariffs on China from escalating.

There remain a number of unresolved issues between the U.S. and China, some of which have been long-standing in nature, which suggests a fix in the next 100+ days is somewhat questionable. This combination induced a fresh round of anxiety in the market, leading it to ultimately finish the week lower as the major indices sagged further quarter to date. In turn, that pushed all the major market indices into the red as of Friday’s close, most notably the small-cap heavy Russell 2000, which finished Friday down 5.7% year to date. For those keeping score, that equates to the Russell 2000 falling just under 15% quarter to date.

Last week we added downside protection to our holdings in the form of ProShares Short S&P 500 (SH) shares, and we’ll continue to hold them until signs of more stable footing for the overall market emerge. As we do this, I’ll continue to evaluate not only the thematic signals that are in and around us day-in, day-out, but also examine the potential opportunities on a risk to reward basis the market pain is creating.

 

Shares of Del Frisco’s get some activist attention

Late last week, our shares of Guilty Pleasure Thematic Leader Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) bucked the overall move lower in the domestic stock market following the revelation that activist hedge fund Engaged Capital has acquired a nearly 10% in the company with a plan to push the company to sell itself according to The Wall Street Journal. Given the sharp drop in DFRG shares thus far in 2018, down 52%, it’s not surprising to see this happen, and when we added the shares to our holdings, we shared the view that at some point it could be a takeout candidate as the restaurant industry continues to consolidate. In particular, Del Frisco’s presence in the higher end dining category and its efforts over the last few months to become a more focused company help explain the interest by Engaged.

In response, Del Frisco’s issued the following statement:

“Del Frisco’s is committed to maximizing long-term value for all shareholders. While we do not agree with certain characterizations of events or of our business and operations contained in the letter that we received from Engaged Capital, the Company values constructive input toward the goal of enhancing shareholder value. “

Compared to other Board responses this one is rather tame and suggests Del Frisco’s will indeed have a dialog with Engaged. Given the year to date performance in DFRG shares, odds are there are several on the Board that are frustrated either with the rate of change in the business or how that change is being viewed in the marketplace.

In terms of who might be interested in Del Frisco’s, we’ve seen a number of going private transactions in recent years led by private equity investors that re-tool a company’s strategy and execution or combine it with other entities. We’ve also seen several restaurant M&A transactions as well. Let’s remember too how on Del Frisco’s September quarter earnings conference call, the management team went out of its way to explain how the business performed during the last recession. That better than industry performance may add to the desirability of Del Frisco’s inside a platform, multi-branded restaurant company.

As much as we may agree with the logic behind Del Frisco’s being taken out, we’d remind subscribers that buying a company on takeout speculation can be dicey. In the case of Del Frisco’s, we continue to see a solid fundamental story. We are seeing deflation in food prices that bode well for Del Frisco’s margins and bottom line EPS. Over the last quarter we’ve seen prices in the protein complex – beef, pork, and chicken – move lower across the board. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) food price index, world food prices declined during the month of November to their lowest level in more than two years. We’re also seeing favorable restaurant spending per recent monthly Retail Sales reports, which should only improve amid year-end holiday dinners eaten by corporate diners and individuals.

We’ll continue to hold DFRG for the fundamentals, but we won’t fight any smart, strategic transaction that may emerge.

  • Our price target on the shares of Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) remains $14.

 

What to watch in the week ahead

As we move into the second week of the last month of the quarter, I’ll continue to examine the oncoming data to determine the vector and velocity of the domestic as well as global economy. Following Friday’s November Employment Report that saw weaker than expected job creation for the month, but year over year wage gains of 3.1% the Atlanta Fed continued to reduce its GDP forecast for the current quarter. That forecast now sits at 2.4%, down from 3.0% at the end of October.

With the sharp drove in oil prices has consumers feeling a little holiday cheer at the gas pump, odds are next week’s November inflation reports will be tame. The fact that world food prices per the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) food price index hit the lowest level since May 2016 also bodes well for a benign set of inflation data this week. Later in the week, we’ll get the November Retail Sales report, which should be very confirming for our holiday facing positions – Amazon (AMZN), United Parcel Service (UPS), McCormick & Co. (MKC) and Costco Wholesale (COST) – that given the kickoff of “seasons eatings” with Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday shopping season that clearly shifted to digital shopping.

That report will once again provide context for this shift as well as more than likely confirm yet again that Costco Wholesale (COST) continues to take consumer wallet share. Speaking of Costco, the company will report its quarterly results this  Thursday. Quarter to date, the company’s monthly same store sales reports are firm evidence it is winning consumer wallet share, and we expect it did so again in November, especially with its growing fresh foods business that keeps luring club members back. Aside from its top and bottom line results, I’ll be focused once again on its pace of new warehouse openings, a harbinger of the crucial membership fee income to be had in coming quarters.

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

We’ll end the economic data stream this week with the November Industrial Production report. Given the sharp fall in heavy truck orders in November, I’ll be digging into this report with a particular eye for what it says about the domestic manufacturing economy.

As discussed above, this week Costco will report its results and joining it in that activity will be several other retailers such as Ascena Retail (ASNA), DWS (DWS), American Eagle (AEO) and Vera Bradley (VRA). Inside their comments and guidance, which will include the holiday shopping season, I’ll be assessing the degree to which they are embracing our Digital Lifestyle investing theme. We’ll also see Adobe Systems (ADBE) report its quarterly result and I’ll be digesting what it has to say about cloud adoption, pricing and prospects for 2019. As we know, that is a core driver of Amazon Web Services, one of the key profit and cash flow drivers at Amazon (AMZN).

  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $2,250

 

Weekly Issue: Looking Around the Bend of the Current Rebound Rally

Weekly Issue: Looking Around the Bend of the Current Rebound Rally

 

Stock futures are surging this morning in a move that has all the major domestic stock market indices pointing up between 1.5% for the S&P 500 to 2.2% for the Nasdaq Composite Index. This surge follows the G20 Summit meeting of President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping news that the US and China will hold off on additional tariffs on each other’s goods at the start of 2019 with trade talks to continue. What this means is for a period of time as the two countries look to hammer out a trade deal during the March quarter, the US will leave existing tariffs of 10% on more than $200 million worth of Chinese products in place rather than increase them to 25%.  If after 90 days the two countries are unable to reach an agreement, the tariff rate will be raised to 25% percent.

In my view, what we are seeing this morning is in our view similar to what we saw last week when Fed Chair Powell served up some dovish comments regarding the speed of interest rate hikes over the coming year – a sigh of relief in the stock market as expected drags on the economy may not be the headwinds previously expected. On the trade front, it’s that tariffs won’t escalate at the end of 2018 and at least for now it means one less negative revision to 2019 EPS expectations. In recent weeks, we’ve started to see the market price in the slowing economy and potential tariff hikes as 2019 EPS expectations for the S&P 500 slipped over the last two months from 10%+ EPS growth in 2019 to “just” 8.7% year over year. That’s down considerably from the now expected EPS growth of 21.6% this year vs. 2017, but we have to remember the benefit of tax reform will fade as it anniversaries. I expect this to ignite a question of what the appropriate market multiple should be for the 2019 rate of EPS growth as investors look past trade and the Fed in the coming weeks. More on that as it develops.

For now, I’ll take the positive performance these two events will have on the Thematic Leaders and the Select List; however, it should not be lost on us that issues remain. These include the slowing global economy that is allowing the Fed more breathing room in the pace of interest rate hikes as well as pending Brexit issues and the ongoing Italy-EU drama. New findings from Lending Tree (TREE) point to consumer debt hitting $4 trillion by the end of 2018, $1 trillion higher than less five years ago and at interest rates that are higher than five years ago. Talk about a confirming data point for our Middle-class Squeeze investing theme. And while oil prices have collapsed, offering a respite at the gas pump, we are seeing more signs of wage inflation that along with other input and freight costs will put a crimp in margins in the coming quarters. In other words, headwinds to the economy and corporate earnings persist.

On the US-China trade front, the new timeline equates to three months to negotiate a number of issues that have proved difficult in the past. These include forced technology transfer by U.S. companies doing business in China; intellectual-property protection that the U.S. wants China to strengthen; nontariff barriers that impede U.S. access to Chinese markets; and cyberespionage.

So, while the market gaps up today in its second sigh of relief in as many weeks, I’ll continue to be prudent with the portfolio and deploying capital in the near-term.  At the end of the day, what we need to see on the trade front is results – that better deal President Trump keeps talking about – rather than promises and platitudes. Until then, the existing tariffs will remain, and we run the risk of their eventual escalation if promises and platitudes do not progress into results.

 

The Stock Market Last Week

Last week we closed the books on November, and as we did that the stock market received a life preserver from Federal Reserve Chair Powell, which rescued them from turning in a largely across-the-board negative performance for the month. Powell’s comments eased the market’s concern over the pace of rate hikes in 2019 and the subsequent Fed November FOMC meeting minutes served to reaffirm that. As we shared Thursday, we see recent economic data, which has painted a picture of a slowing domestic as well as global economy, giving the Fed ample room to slow its pace of rate hikes. 

While expectations still call for a rate increase later this month, for 2019 the consensus is now looking for one to two hikes compared to the prior expectation of up to four. As we watch the velocity of the economy, we’ll also continue to watch the inflation front carefully given recent declines in the PCE Price Index on a year-over-year basis vs. wage growth and other areas that are ripe for inflation.

Despite Powell’s late-month “rescue,” quarter to date, the stock market is still well in the red no matter which major market index one chooses to look at. And as much as we like the action of the past week, the decline this quarter has erased much of the 2018 year-to-date gains. 

 

Holiday Shopping 2018 embraces the Digital Lifestyle

Also last week, we had the conclusion of the official kickoff to the 2018 holiday shopping season that spanned Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, and in some cases “extended Tuesday.” The short version is consumers did open their wallets over those several days, but as expected, there was a pronounced shift to online and mobile shopping this year, while bricks-and-mortar traffic continued to suffer. 

According to ShopperTrak, shopper visits were down 1% for the two-day period compared to last year, with a 1.7% decline in traffic on Black Friday and versus 2017. Another firm, RetailNext, found traffic to U.S. stores fell between 5% and 9% during Thanksgiving and Black Friday compared with the same days last year. For the Thanksgiving to Sunday 2018 period, RetailNext’s traffic tally fell 6.6% year over year. 

Where were shoppers? Sitting at home or elsewhere as they shopped on their computers, tablets and increasingly their mobile devices. According to the National Retail Federation, 41.4 million people shopped only online from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday. That’s 6.4 million more than the 34.7 million who shopped exclusively in stores. Thanksgiving 2018 was also the first day in 2018 to see $1 billion in sales from smartphones, according to Adobe, with shoppers spending 8% more online on Thursday compared with a year ago. Per Adobe, Black Friday online sales hit $6.22 billion, an increase of 23.7% from 2017, of which roughly 33% were made on smartphones, up from 29% in 2017.

The most popular day to shop online was Cyber Monday, cited by 67.4 million shoppers, followed by Black Friday with 65.2 million shoppers. On Cyber Monday alone, mobile transactions surged more than 55%, helping make the day the single largest online shopping day of all time in the United States at $7.9 billion, up 19% year over year. It also smashed the smartphone shopping record set on Thanksgiving as sales coming from smartphones hit $2 billion.

As Lenore Hawkins, Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist, and I discussed on last week’s Cocktail Investing podcast, the holiday shopping happenings were very confirming for our Digital Lifestyle investing theme. It was also served to deliver positive data points for several positions on the Select List and the Thematic Leader that is Amazon (AMZN). These include United Parcel Service (UPS), which I have long viewed as a “second derivative” play on the shift to digital shopping, but also Costco Wholesale (COST) and Alphabet/Google (GOOGL). Let’s remember that while we love McCormick & Co. (MKC) for “season’s eatings” the same can be said for Costco given its food offering, both fresh and packaged, as well as its beer and wine selection. For Google, as more consumers shop online it means utilizing its search features that also drive its core advertising business.

As we inch toward the Christmas holiday, I expect more data points to emerge as well as more deals from brick & mortar retailers in a bid to capture what consumer spending they can. The risk I see for those is profitless sales given rising labor and freight costs but also the investments in digital commerce they have made to fend off Amazon. Sales are great, but it has to translate into profits, which are the mother’s milk of EPS, and that as we know is one of the core drivers to stock prices.

 

Marriott hack reminds of cyber spending needs

Also last week, we learned of one of the larger cyber attacks in recent history as Marriott (MAR) shared that up to 500 million guests saw their personal information ranging from passport numbers, travel details and payment card data hacked at its Starwood business. As I wrote in the Thematic Signal in which I discussed this attack, it is the latest reminder in the need for companies to continually beef up their cybersecurity, and this is a profound tailwind for our Safety & Security investing theme as well as the  ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK) shares that are on the Select List.

 

The Week Ahead

Today, we enter the final month of 2018, and given the performance of the stock market so far in the December quarter it could very well be a photo finish to determine how the market finishes for the year. Helping determine that will not only be the outcome of the weekend’s G-20 summit, but the start of November economic data that begins with today’s ISM Manufacturing Index and the IHS Markit PMI data, and ends the week with the monthly Employment Report. Inside those two reports, we here at Tematica be assessing the speed of the economy in terms of order growth and job creation, as well as inflation in the form of wage growth. These data points and the others to be had in the coming weeks will help firm up current quarter consensus GDP expectations of 2.6%, per The Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecasting Survey that is based on more than 60 economists, vs. 3.5% in the September quarter.

Ahead of Wednesday’s testimony by Federal Reserve Chair Powell on “The Economic Outlook” before Congress’s Joint Economic Committee, we’ll have several Fed heads making the rounds and giving speeches. Odds are they will reinforce the comments made by Powell and the November Fed FOMC meeting minutes that we talked about above. During Powell’s testimony, we can expect investors to parse his words in order to have a clear sense as to what the Fed’s view is on the speed of the economy, inflation and the need to adjust monetary policy, in terms of both the speed of future rate hikes and unwinding its balance sheet. Based on what we learn, Powell’s comments could either lead the market higher or douse this week’s sharp move higher in the stock market with cold water.

On the earnings front this week, we have no Thematic Leaders or Select List companies reporting but I’ll be monitoring results from Toll Brothers (TOL), American Eagle (AEO), Lululemon Athletica (LULU), Broadcom (AVGO) and Kroger (KR), among others. Toll Brothers should help us understand the demand for higher-end homes, something to watch relating to our Living the Life investing theme, while American Eagle and lululemon’s comments will no doubt offer some insight to the holiday shopping season. With Broadcom, we’ll be looking at its demand outlook to get a better handle on smartphone demand as well as the timing of 5G infrastructure deployments that are part of our Disruptive Innovators investing theme. Finally, with Kroger, it’s all about our Clean Living investing theme and to what degree Kroger is capturing that tailwind.

 

Weekly Issue: A Number of Our Thematic Leaders Well Positioned for the Holidays

Weekly Issue: A Number of Our Thematic Leaders Well Positioned for the Holidays

 

Normally we here at Tematica tend to shut down during the short week that contains Thanksgiving, but given all that is going on in the stock market of late, we thought it prudent to share some thoughts as well as what to watch both this week and next. From all of us here at Tematica, we wish you, your family, friends and love a very happy Thanksgiving!

Now let’s get started…

Key points in this issue

  • Despite the recent market pain, I continue to see a number of holdings being extremely well positioned for the holiday season including Amazon, Costco Wholesale (COST), United Parcel Service (UPS), McCormick & Co. (MKC) and both businesses at International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF).
  • I’ll continue to heed our Thematic Signals and look for opportunities for when the stock market lands on solid footing.
  • Later this week, Disney’s (DIS) latest family-friendly move, Ralph Breaks the Internet, hits theaters and we’ll be checking the box office tallies come Monday.
  •  Taking a look at shares of Energous Corp. (WATT), a Disruptive Innovator contender

 

The stock market so far this week…

There is no way to sugar coat or tap dance around it – this week has been a difficult slug ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday as the pressures we’ve talked about over the last two months continue to plague the market as the impact has widened out. Oil prices have continued to plummet, pressuring energy stocks; housing data continues to disappoint, hitting homebuilding stocks; and we’ve received more new of iPhone production cuts as well as potential privacy regulation that has rippled through much of the tech sector. Retail woes were added to the pile following disappointing results from Target (TGT) and L Brands (LB) that pressured those shares and sent ripples across other retail shares.

The net effect of the last few weeks has wiped out the stock market’s 2018 gains with both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 down roughly 1.0% as of last night’s market close. While the Nasdaq Composite Index is now flat for the year, the small-cap heavy Russell 2000 is firmly in the red, down 4.3% for all of 2018 as of last night.

The overall market moves in recent days have weighed on several constituents of the Thematic Leaders and the Select List, most notably Apple (AAPL), Amazon and Alphabet/Google (GOOGL). Despite that erasure, we are still nicely profitable those positions as well as AMN Healthcare (AMN), Costco Wholesale (COST), Disney (DIS), Alphabet (GOOGL), ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK), and several others. More defensive names, such as McCormick & Co. (MKC), and International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) have outperformed on a relative basis of late, which we attribute to their respective business models and thematic tailwinds.

As I describe below, the coming days are filled with events that could continue the pain or lead to a reprieve. As that outcome becomes more clear, we’ll either stay on the sidelines collecting thematic signals for our existing positions or take advantage of the recent market pain to scoop up shares in thematically well-positioned companies at prices we haven’t seen in months.

 

What to watch the rest of this week

As we get ready for the Thanksgiving holiday, we know before too long the official kick-off to the holiday shopping race will being. Some retailers will be open late Thursday, while others will open their doors early Black Friday morning and keep them open all weekend long. As we get the tallies for the shopping weekend, the fun culminates with Cyber Monday, a day that is near and dear to our hearts given our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.

Given the market mood of late, as well as the disappointing results from Target and L Brands earlier this week, we can count on Wall Street picking through the shopping weekends results to determine how realistic recently issued holiday shopping forecasts. The National Retail Federation’s consumer survey is calling for a 4.1% increase year over year this holiday season, which they define as November and December. The NRF’s own forecast is looking for a more upbeat 4.3%-4.8% increase vs. 2017.

Consulting firm PwC has a more aggressive view — based on its own survey, consumers expect to spend $1,250 this holiday season on gifts, travel and entertainment, a 5% increase year over year. One of the differences in the wider array of what’s included in the survey versus the NRF. In that vein, Deloitte’s inclusion of January in its findings explains why its 2018 holiday shopping forecast tops out among the highest at a 5.0%-5.6% improvement year over year. That Deloitte forecast includes a 17%-22% increase in digital commerce this holiday shopping season compared to 2017, reaching $128-$134 billion in the process. That’s a sharp increase but some estimates call for Amazon (AMZN) to increase its sales during the period by at least 27%.

I continue to see a number of holdings being extremely well positioned for the holiday season including Amazon, Costco Wholesale (COST), United Parcel Service (UPS), McCormick & Co. (MKC) and both businesses at International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF).

Also this week, Disney’s (DIS) latest family-friendly move, Ralph Breaks the Internet, hits theaters and we’ll be checking the box office tallies come Monday.

 

What to watch next week

As mentioned above, next week will bring us the full tally of holiday shopping results and begin with Cyber Monday, which means more holiday shopping data will be had on Tuesday. As we march toward the end of November, we’ll have several of the usual end of the month pieces of economic data, including Personal Income & Spending as well as New Home Sales and Pending Home Sales for October. We’ll also get the second print for the September quarter GDP, and many will be looking to measure the degree of revision relative to the initial 3.5% print.

As they do that, they will likely be taking note of the forward vector for GDP expectations, which per The Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecast Survey sees current quarter GDP at 2.6% with 2.5% in the first half of 2019 and 2.15% for the back half of 2019. Taking a somewhat longer view, that means the economy peaked in the June quarter with GDP at 4.2%, due in part to the lag effect associated with the 2018 tax reform, and has slowed since due to the slowing global economy, trade war,  strong dollar, and higher interest rates compared to several quarters ago. As tax reform anniversaries, that added boost to the corporate bottom lines will disappear and in the coming weeks, we expect investors will be asking more questions about the likelihood of the S&P 500 delivering 10% EPS growth in 2018 vs. 2017.

With that in mind, perhaps the two most critical things for investors next week will be the minutes to the Fed’s November meeting and the G20 Summit that will be held Nov. 30-Dec. 1. Inside the Fed minutes, we and other investors will be looking for comments on inflation and the speed of rate future rate hikes, which the market currently expects to be four in 2019. And yes, the December Fed policy meeting continues to look like a shoe-in for a rate hike. Per White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, US-China trade is likely to come to a head at the summit. If the speech given by Vice President Pence at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit – the United States “will not change course until China changes its ways” – we could see the current trade war continue. We’ll continue to expect the worst, and hope for the best on this front.

On the earnings front next week, there will be a number of reports worth noting including those from GameStop (GME), Salesforce (CRM), JM Smucker (SJM) and a number of retailers ranging from Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS) and Tiffany & Co. (TIF) to PVH (PVH) and Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF). Those retailer results will likely include some comments on the holiday shopping weekend, and we can expect investors to match up comparables and forecasts to determine who will be wallet share winners this holiday season. Toward the end of next week, we’ll also hear from Palo Alto Networks (PAWN) and Splunk (SPLK), which should offer a solid update on the pace of cybersecurity spending.

 

Taking a look at shares of Energous Corp. (WATT)

In our increasingly connected society, two of the big annoyances we must deal with are keeping our devices charged and all the cords we need to charge them. When I upgraded my iPhone to one of the newer models, I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of charging it wirelessly by laying it on a charging disc. Pretty easy.

I’m hardly alone in appreciating this convenience, and we’ve heard that companies ranging from Tesla Inc. (TSLA) to Apple Inc. (AAPL) are looking to bring charging pads to market. That means a potential sea change in how we charge our devices is in the offing, which means a potential growth market for a company that has the necessary chipsets to power one or more of those pads. In other words, if there were no such chipsets, we would not be able to charge wirelessly. This coming change fits very well inside our Disruptive Innovators investing theme.

Off to digging I went and turned up Energous Corp. (WATT) and its WattUp solution, which consists of proprietary semiconductor chipsets, software and antennas that enable radio frequency (RF)-based, wire-free charging of electronic devices. Like the charging disc I have and the ones depicted by Apple, WattUp is both a contact-based charging and at-a-distance charging solution, which means all we need do is lay our wireless devices down be it on a disc, pad or other contraption to charge them. In November 2016, Energous entered into a Strategic Alliance Agreement with Dialog Semiconductor (DLGNF), under which Dialog manufactures and distributes IC products incorporating its wire-free charging technology.

Dialog happens to be the exclusive supplier of these Energous products for the general market and Dialog is also a well-known power management supplier to Apple across several products, including the iPhone. Indeed, last week Dialog bucked the headline trend of late and shared that it isn’t seeing a demand hit from Apple after fellow suppliers Lumentum Holdings Inc. (LITE) and Qorvo Inc. (QRCO) cut guidance earlier this week.

On its September quarter earnings call, Dialog shared it was awarded a broad range of new contracts, including charging across multiple next-generation products assets, with revenue expected to be realized starting in 2019 and accelerating into 2020. I already can feel several mental carts getting ahead of the horse as some think, “Ah, Energous might be the technology that will power Apple’s wireless charging solution!”

Adding fuel to that fire, on its September quarter earnings conference call Energous shared that “given the most recent advances in our core technology” its relationship with its key strategic partner – Dialog – “has now progressed beyond development, exploration and testing to actual product engineering.”

If we connect the dots, it would seem that Energous very well could be that critical supplier that enables Apple’s wireless charging pads. Here’s the thing: We have yet to hear when Apple will begin shipping those devices, which also means we have no idea when a teardown of one will reveal Dialog-Energous solutions inside. Given that there was no mention of Apple’s wireless charging efforts at either its 2018 iPhone or iPad events, odds are this product has slipped into 2019. That would jibe with the timing laid out by Energous.

Based on three Wall Street analysts covering WATT shares, steep losses are expected to continue into 2019, which in my view suggests a ramp with any meaningful volume in the second half of the year. That’s a long way to go, and given the pounding taken by the Nasdaq of late, we’ll put WATT shares onto the Contender’s so we can keep them in our sights for several months from now.

 

 

Adding a defensive consumer play to the trade blotter

Adding a defensive consumer play to the trade blotter

Key points in this issue:

Over the last several days, we’ve seen a change of sorts in the stock market as high-flying stocks, including a number of technology ones, have come under pressure as investors re-think their growth prospects. That continued yesterday as shares of iPhone maker Apple (AAPL) became the latest one to dip into bear market territory with last night’s close following renewed concerns over the company’s device shipments in the near-term. This, in turn, has led to a few downgrades by Wall Street analysts, that at least in my view, are being somewhat short-sighted.

The same can be said with Amazon (AMZN), which has seen its shares tumble despite there being no slowdown in the shift to digital commerce. That move lower triggered our 60.00 stop loss for the Amazon (AMZN) January 2019 1,800.00 (AMZN190118C01800000) a few days ago. If you didn’t set that stop loss, the pain endured as those calls finished up last night at 36.50.

Now here’s the tough part to swallow – while we may be right in the long-term, the mood in the stock market will prevail in the short-term. And with several of the concerns I’ve talked about here as well as in Tematica Investing and on our podcast, Cocktail Investing, odds are the stock market will continue to be a volatile one.

This has led investors to what some call old economy stocks while others call it looking for the “retro” trade. While there can be some debate about what these phrases precisely are and what their business models may be, one way to interpret them centers on inelastic goods and services. In short, products that people will buy no matter what. In keeping with our Digital Lifestyle investment theme, in today’s world that includes mobile service, but most tend to think of consumable products such as paper goods, personal products, and the like as well as food. This does bleed over into several aspects of our Middle-class Squeeze investing theme.

From my perspective, we have some nice exposure given our positions in Costco Wholesale (COST) and McCormick & Co. (MKC) over at Tematica Investing. Those two, in particular, should benefit from the upcoming “season’s eatings.”

With Options+, however, we should look to capitalize on this “retro-trade” and do so in a way that is diversified, especially in today’s market where it seems any one company can take a hit. This combination has led me to the Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLP), which is as its name suggests is an ETF focused on consumer staples. Key holdings include Proctor & Gamble (PG) and Coca-Cola (KO) but also Walmart (WMT), Costco, McCormick, Colgate Palmolive (CL) and Altria (MO). For those keeping score, this ETF has several Thematic Leaders and Select List holdings among its constituents.

In keeping with our options focused investing strategy, rather than add shares in the ETF, I’m adding the Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLP) January 2019 58.00 (XLP190118C00058000) calls that closed last night at 0.51 to our Options+ trade blotter. The position’s timing will carry us through the holidays, allowing us to pick up that incremental holiday spend at Costco, Walmart, McCormick, and others. Given the current market mood, which is likely to last for at least a few more weeks, I’m setting a protective stop loss at 0.35.

 

Weekly Issue: We aren’t out of the woods just yet

Weekly Issue: We aren’t out of the woods just yet

Key Points from this Issue:

  • We are downgrading Universal Display (OLED) shares from the Thematic Leaders to the Select List and cutting our price target to $125 from $150. In the coming days, we will name a new Thematic Leader for our Disruptive Innovators investing theme.
  • Given the widespread pain the market endured in October, Thematic Leaders Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), Del Frisco’s (DFRG), Axon Enterprises (AXXN), Alibaba (BABA) and Netflix (NFLX) were hit hard; however, the hardest hit was Amazon (AMZN).

 

This week we closed the books on the month of October, and what a month it was for the stock market. In today’s short-term focused society, some will focus on the rebound over the last few days in the major domestic stock market indices, but even those cannot hide the fact that October was one of the most challenging months for stocks in recent memory. In short, the month of October wiped out most the market’s year to date gains as investors digested both September quarter earnings and updated guidance that spurred a re-think in top and bottom line expectations.

All told, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 5.1% for the month, making it the best performer of the major market indices. By comparison, the S&P 500 fell 6.9% in October led by declines in eight of its ten subgroups. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 9.2% and the small-cap focused Russell 2000 plummeted 10.9%. That marked the Nasdaq’s steepest monthly drop since it posted a 10.8% fall in November 2008. The month’s move pulled the Russell 2000 into negative territory year to date while for the same time period both the Dow and S&P 500 closed last night up around 1.5%.

We are just over halfway through the September quarter earnings season, which means there are ample companies left to report and issue updated guidance. Candidly, those reports could push or pull the market either higher or continue the October pain. There are still ample risks in the market to be had as the current earnings season winds down. These include the mid-term elections; Italy’s next round of budget talks with Brussels; upcoming Trump-China trade talks, which have led to another round of tariff preparations; and Fed rate hikes vs. the slowing speed of the global economy.

Despite the very recent rebound in the stock market, CNN’s Fear & Greed Index remains at Extreme Fear (7) as I write this – little changed from last week. What this likely means is we are seeing a nervous rebound in the market, and it will likely some positive reinforcement to make the late October rebound stick. As we navigate that pathway to the end of the year, we will also be entering the 2018 holiday shopping season, which per the National Retail Federation’s annual consumer spending survey should rise more than 4% year over year.

This combination of upcoming events and sentiment likely means we aren’t out of the woods just yet even though we are seeing a reprieve from the majority of October. As is shared below, next week has even more companies reporting than this week as well as the midterm elections. The strategy of sitting on the sidelines until the calmer waters emerge as stock prices come to us is what we’ll be doing. At the right time, we’ll be adding to existing positions on the Thematic Leaders and Thematic Select List as well as introducing new ones.

Speaking of the Thematic Leaders and the Select List, as the mood shifts from Halloween to the year-end shopping season,  we have several companies including Amazon (AMZN), United Parcel Service (UPS), Costco Wholesale (COST), Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG), McCormick & Co. (MKC) and Apple (AAPL) among others that should benefit from that uptick in holiday spending as well as our Digital Lifestyle, Living the Life and Middle-class Squeeze investing themes in the next few months.

 

UPDATES TO The Thematic Leaders and Select List

Given the widespread pain the market endured in October, we were not immune to it with the Thematic Leaders or companies on the Tematica Select List. Given the volatility, investor’s nerves it was a time of shoot first, ask questions later with the market – as expected – trading day to day based on the most recent news. I expect this to continue at least for the next few weeks.

The hardest hit was Amazon, which despite simply destroying September quarter expectations served up what can only be called a conservative forecast for the current quarter. For those that didn’t tune in to the company’s related earnings conference call, Amazon management flat out admitted that it was being conservative because it is too hard to call the second half of the quarter, which is when it does the bulk of its business during the frenetic holiday shopping season. I have long said that Amazon shares are one to hold not trade, and with the move to expand its private label product, move into the online pharmacy space as well as continued growth at Amazon Web Services, we will do just that. That conservative guidance also hit United Parcel Service (UPS) shares, but we see that as a rising tide this holiday season as digital shopping continues to take consumer wallet share this holiday shopping season.

Both Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), Del Frisco’s (DFRG), Axon Enterprises (AXXN), Alibaba (BABA) and Netflix (NFLX) have also been hit hard, and I’m waiting for the market to stabilize before scaling into these Thematic Leader positions. As we’ve moved through the current earnings season, comments from Bloomin’ Brands (BLMN), Del Taco (TACO), Wingstop (WING), Habit Restaurant (HABT) and others, including Chipotle, have all pointed to the benefit of food deflation. Chipotle’s Big Fix continues with progress had in the September quarter and more to be had in the coming ones. Del Frisco’s will soon report its quarterly results and it too should benefit from a consumer with high sentiment and lower food costs.

With Axon, the shares remain trapped in the legal volley with Digital Ally (DGLY), but as I pointed out when we added it to the Leaders, Axon continues to expand its safety business with law enforcement and at some point, I suspect it will simply acquire Digital Ally given its $30 million market cap. Turning to Alibaba (BABA) and Netflix (NFLX), both have been hit hard by the downdraft in technology stocks, with Alibaba also serving as a proxy for the current US-China trade war. In my opinion, there is no slowing down the shift to digital streaming that is driving Netflix’s business and its proprietary content strategy is paying off, especially outside the US where it is garnering subscriber growth at price points that are above last year’s levels. This is one we will add to as things settle down.

The same is true with Alibaba – there is no slowing down the shift to the Digital Lifestyle inside of China, and as Alibaba’s other business turn from operating losses to operating profits, I expect a repeat of what we saw with Amazon shares. For now, however, the shares are likely to trade sideways until we see signs of positive developments on trade talks. Again, let’s hang tight and make our move when the time is right.

 

Downgrading Universal Display shares to the Select List

Last night Thematic Leader Universal Display (OLED) reported rather disappointing September quarter results that fell well short of expectations and guided the current quarter below expectations given that the expected rebound in organic light emitting diode materials sales wasn’t ramping as expected despite a number of new smartphones using organic light emitting diode displays. On the earnings call, the company pointed out the strides being had with the technology in other markets, such as TV and automotive that we’ve been discussing these last few months but at least for the near-term the volume application has been smartphones. In short, with that ramp failing to live up to expectations for the seasonally strongest part of the year for smartphones, it speaks volumes about what is in store for OLED shares.

By the numbers, Universal now expected 2018 revenue in the range of $240-$250, which implies $63-$73 million for the December quarter vs. $77.5 million for the September quarter and $88.3 million in the year-ago one. To frame it another way, that new revenue forecast of $240-$250 million compares to the company’s prior one of $315- $325 million and translates into a meaningful fall off vs. 2017 revenues of $335.6 million. A clear sign that the expected upkeep is not happening as fast as was expected by the Universal management team. Also, too, the first half of the calendar year tends to be a quiet one for new smartphone models hitting shelves. And yes, there will be tech and consumer product industry events like CES, CEBIT, and others in 2019 that will showcase new smartphone models, but candidly we see these new models with organic light emitting diode displays as becoming a show-me story given their premium price points. Even with Apple (AAPL) and its September quarter earnings last night, its iPhone volumes were flat year over year at 46.9 million units falling short of the 48.0 million consensus forecast.

In my view, all of this means the best case scenario in the near-term is OLED shares will be dead money. Odds are once Wall Street computes the new revenue numbers and margin impact, EPS numbers for the next few quarters will be taken down and will hang on the shares like an anchor. Given our cost basis in the shares near $101, and where the shares are likely to open up tomorrow – after market trading indicates $95-$100, down from last night’s closing price of $129.65 – we have modest downside ahead. Not bad, but again, near-term the shares are likely range bound.

Given our long-term investing style and the prospects in markets outside of the smartphone, we’re inclined to remain long-term investors. That said, given the near-term headwinds, we are demoting Universal Display shares from the Thematic Leaders to the Select List. Based on revised expectations, we are cutting our price target from $150 to $125, fully recognizing the shares are likely to rangebound for the next 1-2 quarters.

  • We are downgrading Universal Display (OLED) shares from the Thematic Leaders to the Select List and cutting our price target to $125 from $150. In the coming days, we will name a new Thematic Leader for our Disruptive Innovators investing theme.

 

Clean Living signals abound

As we hang tight, I will continue to pour through the latest thematic signals that we see day in, day out throughout the year, but I’ll also be collecting ones from the sea of earnings reports around us.

If I had just read that it would prompt me to wonder what some of the recent signals have been. As you know we post them on the Tematica Research website but during the earnings season, they can get a tad overwhelming, which is why on this week’s Cocktail Investing podcast, Lenore Hawkins (Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist) and I ran through a number of them. I encourage you to give it a listen.

Some of the signals that stood out of late center on our Clean Living investing theme. Not only did Coca-Cola (KO) chalk up its September quarter performance to its water and non-sugary beverage businesses, but this week PepsiCo (PEP) acquired plant-based nutrition bar maker Health Warrior as it continues to move into good for you products. Mondelez International (MDLZ), the company behind my personal fav Oreos as well as other cookies and snacks is launching SnackFutures, a forward-thinking innovation hub that will focus on well-being snacks and ingredients. Yep, it too is embracing our Clean Living investing theme.

Stepping outside of the food aspect of Clean Living, there has been much talk in recent months about the banning of plastic straws. Now MasterCard (MA) is looking to go one further with as it looks to develop an alternative for those plastic debit and credit cards. Some 6 billion are pushed into consumer’s hands each year. The issue is that thin, durable card is also packed with a fair amount of technology that enables transactions to occur and do so securely. A looming intersection of our Clean Living, Digital Infrastructure and Safety & Security themes to watch.

 

Turning to next week

During the week, the Atlanta Fed published its initial GDP forecast of 2.6% for the current quarter, which is essentially in line with the same forecast provided by the NY Fed’s Nowcast, and a sharp step down from the initial GDP print of 3.5% for the September quarter. Following the October Employment Report due later this week, where wage growth is likely to be more on investor minds that job gains as they contemplate the velocity of the Fed’s interest rate hikes, next week brings several additional pieces of October data. These include the October ISM Services reading and the October PPI figure. Inside the former, we’ll be assessing jobs data as well as pricing data, comparing it vs. the prior months for hints pointing to a pickup in inflation. That will set the stage for the October PPI and given the growing number of companies that have announced price increases odds are we will some hotter pricing data and that could refocus the investor spotlight back on the Fed.

Next week also brings the September JOLTS report as well as the September Consumer Credit report. Inside those data points, we expect more data on the continued mismatch between employer needs and available worker skills that is expected to spur more competitive wages.  As we examine the latest credit data, we will keep in mind that smaller banks reporting higher credit card delinquency rates while Discover Financial (DFS) and Capital One (COF) have shared they have started dialing back credit spending limits. That could put an extra layer of hurt on Middle-class Squeeze consumers this holiday season.

Also, next week, the Fed has its next FOMC meeting, and while it’s not expected to boost rates at that meeting, we can expect much investor attention to be focused on subsequent Fed head comments as well as the eventual publication of the meeting’s minutes in the coming weeks ahead of the December meeting.

On the earnings front, following this week’s more than 1,000 earnings reports next week bring another 1,100 plus reports. What this means is more than half of the S&P 500 group of companies will have issued September quarter results and shared their revised guidance. As these reports are had, we can expect consensus expectations for those companies to be refined for the balance of the year. Thus far, roughly 63% of the companies that have issued EPS guidance for the current quarter have issued negative guidance, but we have yet to see any meaningful negative revisions overall EPS expectations for the S&P 500.

Outside the economic data and corporate earnings flow next week, we also have US midterm elections. While we wait for the outcome, we would note if the Republicans maintain control of the House and Senate, it likely means a path of less resistance for President Trump’s agenda for the coming two years. Should the Democrats gain ground, which has historically been the case following a Republican presidential win, it could very well mean an even more contentious 24 months are to be had in Washington with more gridlock than not. Should that be the case, expectations for much of anything getting done in Washington in the medium-term are likely to fall.

Yes, next week will be another busy one that could challenge the recent market rebound. We’ll continue to ferret out signals for our thematic lens as we remain investors focused on the long-term opportunities to be had with thematic investing.

 

 

 

 

Introducing The Thematic Leaders

Introducing The Thematic Leaders

 

Several weeks ago began the arduous task of recasting our investment themes, shrinking them down to 10 from the prior 17 in the process. This has resulted in a more streamlined and cohesive investment mosaic. As part of that recasting, we’ve also established a full complement of thematic positions, adding ones, such as Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and Altria (MO) in themes that have been underrepresented on the Select List. The result is a stronghold of thematic positions with each crystalizing and embodying their respective thematic tailwinds.

This culmination of these efforts is leading us to christen those 10 new Buy or rechristened Buy positions as what are calling The Thematic Leaders:

  1. Aging of the Population – AMN Healthcare (AMN)
  2. Clean Living – Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG)
  3. Digital Lifestyle – Netflix (NFLX)
  4. Digital Infrastructure –  Dycom Industries (DY)
  5. Disruptive Innovators – Universal Display (OLED)
  6. Guilty Pleasure – Altria (MO)
  7. Living the Life – Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG)
  8. Middle-Class Squeeze – Costco Wholesale (COST)
  9. Rise of the New Middle-Class – Alibaba (BABA)
  10. Safety & Security – Axon Enterprises (AAXN)

 

By now you’ve probably heard me or Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins mention how Amazon (AMZN) is the poster child of thematic investing given that it touches on nearly all of the 10 investing themes. That’s true, and that is why we are adding Amazon to the Thematic Leaders in the 11th slot. Not quite a baker’s dozen, but 11 strong thematic positions.

One question that you’ll likely have, and it’s a logical and fare one, is what does this mean for the Select List?

We wouldn’t give up on companies like Apple (AAPL), Alphabet (GOOGL), Disney (DIS), McCormick & Co. (MKC) and several other well-positioned thematic businesses that are on the Select List. So, we are keeping both with the Thematic Leaders as the ones that offer the most compelling risk-to-reward tradeoff and the greater benefit from the thematic tailwinds. When we have to make an adjustment to the list of Thematic Leaders, a company may be moved to the Select List in a move that resembles a move to a Hold from a Buy as it is replaced with a company that offers better thematic prospects and share price appreciation. Unlike Wall Street research, however, our Hold means keeping the position in intact to capture any and all additional upside.

Another way to look at it, is if asked today, which are the best thematically positioned stocks to buy today, we’d point to the Thematic Leaders list, while the Select List includes those companies that still have strong tailwinds behind their business model but for one reason or another might not be where we’d deploy additional capital. A great example is Netflix vs. Apple, both are riding the Digital Lifestyle tailwind, but at the current share price, Netflix offers far greater upside than Apple shares, which are hovering near our $225 price target.

After Apple’s Apple Watch and iPhone event last week, which in several respects underwhelmed relative to expectations despite setting up an iPhone portfolio at various price points, odds are the iPhone upgrade cycle won’t accelerate until the one for 5G. The question is will that be in 2019 or 2020? Given that 5G networks will begin next year, odds are we only see modest 5G smartphone volumes industry-wide in 2019 with accelerating volumes in 2020. Given Apple’s history, it likely means we should expect a 5G iPhone in 2020. Between now and then there are several looming positives, including its growing Services business and the much discussed but yet to be formally announced streaming video business. I continue to suspect the latter will be subscription based.  That timing fits with our long-term investing style, and as I’ve said before, we’re patient investors so I see no need to jettison AAPL shares at this time.

The bottom line is given the upside to be had, Netflix shares are on the Thematic Leaders list, while Apple shares remain on the Select List. The incremental adoption by Apple of the organic light emitting diode display technology in two of its three new iPhone models bodes rather well for shares of Universal Display (OLED), which have a $150 price target.

Other questions…

Will we revisit companies on the Select List? Absolutely. As we are seeing with Apple’s Services business as well as moves by companies like PepsiCo (PEP) and Coca-Cola (KO) that are tapping acquisitions to ride our Clean Living investing tailwind, businesses can morph over time. In some cases, it means the addition of a thematic tailwind or two can jumpstart a company’s business, while in other cases, like with Disney’s pending launch of its own streaming service, it can lead to a makeover in how investors should value its business(es).

Will companies fall off the Select List?

Sadly, yes, it will happen from time to time. When that does happen it will be due to changes in the company’s business such that its no longer riding a thematic tailwind or other circumstances emerge that make the risk to reward tradeoff untenable. One such example was had when we removed shares of Digital Infrastructure company USA Technologies (USAT) from the Select List to the uncertainties that could arise from a Board investigation into the company’s accounting practices and missed 10-K filing date.

For the full list of both the Thematic Leaders and the Select List, click here

To recap, I see this as an evolution of what we’ve been doing that more fully reflects the power of all of our investing themes. In many ways, we’re just getting started and this is the next step…. Hang on, I think you’ll love the ride as team Tematica and I continue to bring insight through our Thematic Signals, our Cocktail Investing podcast and Lenore’s Weekly Wrap.

 

 

Adding more Del Frisco’s to our plate following several bullish data points

Adding more Del Frisco’s to our plate following several bullish data points

Key points inside this issue

  • We are scaling into shares of Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) following several bullish data points from last week. Our price target for DFRG shares remains $14.
  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) remains $2,250
  • Our price target on United Parcel Service (UPS) shares remains $130
  • Our price target on Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) shares remains $550
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) remains $250
  • I am reviewing our current price target of $130 for shares of McCormick & Co.
  • Last week’s podcast – Lithium Ion Batteries: The Enabler of the Digital Lifestyle
  • Last week’s Thematic Signals

Last Friday we received a number of positive data points for restaurant spending, which coupled with the latest US Department of Agriculture report on falling beef prices has me using the recent weakness in our Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) shares to improve our cost basis. Since adding DFRG shares to the portfolio, they’ve fallen nearly 10% since the end of August and just over 3% since we added them to our holdings despite favorable economic and industry reports. Part of that downward pressure came from Stephens throwing in the towel on its bullish stance on the shares last Wednesday. It would appear that Stephens jumped the gun given the favorable data that emerged later in the week.

Let’s review all of those data points…

 

August Retail Sales

The August Retail Sales report saw its headline figure come in at +0.1% month over month missing expectations of +0.4% and marked the slowest gain since February suggesting persistently high gas prices could be taking a bite out of consumer spending. With prospects for higher gas prices ahead following last week’s greater than expected crude inventory drawdown reported by the Department of Energy and the greater than expected jump in Total Consumer Credit for January, it would appear that Middle-Class Squeeze consumers slowed their spending in August vs. July. Hat tip to Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist, Lenore Hawkins, and her coverage of those data points in last Friday’s Weekly Wrap. If I’m reading it, so should you.

Turning to the year over year view, August retail sales rose 6.2%, led by a more than 20% increase in gas station sales due to the aforementioned gas prices, and continued gains in Nonstore retailers (+10.4%) and food services & drinking places (+10.1%). Over the last three months, these last two categories are up 9.9% and 9.5% year over year, even as gas station sales are up nearly 21% by comparison. Those figures bode extremely well for our Digital Lifestyle positions in Amazon (AMZN) and United Parcel Service (UPS), our Clean Living holding that is Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, a Living the Life company.

The report also offered confirming context for our shares in Costco Wholesale (COST) as its August same-store sales handily beat those contained in the August Retail Sales report. Also inside this latest missive from the U.S. Department of Commerce, grocery store sales rose 4.3% year over year in August, which keeps me bullish on our shares of McCormick & Co. (MKC) even as they hover over our current $130 price target.

In terms of areas reporting declines in August Retail Sales Report, we continue to see pressure at Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, & bookstores (-3.9%) and Department Stores (-0.7%), continuing the trend of the last few months. With Amazon continuing to flex its business model as well as its own line of private label products, including fashion, sportswear, and apparel, as well as continued digital commerce gains at Walmart (WMT) and its Bonobos brand, we see these retail categories remaining challenged in the coming months.

 

August restaurant data from TDN2K

On Friday we also received figures from TDn2K’s Black Box Intelligence that showed August same-store restaurant sales rose +1.8%, the best highest since 2015. TDn2K’s data is based on weekly sales from over 30,000 locations representing more than 170 brands and nearly $70 billion in annual sales. More positives for our positions in Chipotle and Del Frisco’s. I’ll tuck this data point away as well as the July and eventual September one to compare them against same-store sales quarterly results for out two restaurant holdings.

 

US Department of Agriculture

The most recent data published on Friday by the US Department of Agriculture showed cow prices were down 13.6% year over year in July, continuing the trend of double-digit year over year declines that began this past May. I see this as confirmation of deflationary beef prices that bode well for both margins and EPS gains at both Del Frisco’s and to a lesser extent Chipotle.

Later this week, I’ll look for further confirmation of beef deflation leverage when Darden Restaurants (DRI), the parent of Capitol Grill reports its quarterly earnings.

 

Scaling into Del Frisco’s shares

The net result of these three Friday data points has me adding to our Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group shares at current levels. If our Chipotle shares were lower than our entry point, I’d be doing the same, but they aren’t – if they do fall below the $473 layer, all things being equal I’d look to repeat today’s actions but with CMG shares.

  • We are scaling into shares of Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) following several bullish data points from last week. Our price target for DFRG shares remains $14.
WEEKLY ISSUE: Taking Positions Off the Board and Reallocating Into Existing Positions

WEEKLY ISSUE: Taking Positions Off the Board and Reallocating Into Existing Positions

Key points from this issue

  • We are exiting the shares of Paccar (PCAR), which had an essentially neutral impact on the Select List;
  • We are exiting the shares of Rockwell Automation (ROK), which were a drag of more than 11% on the Select List;
  • We are exiting the shares of GSV Capital (GSVC), which in full returned a modest decline since we added the shares back in April.
  • We are scaling into shares of Applied Materials (AMAT) at current levels and keeping our long-term price target of $70 intact.
  • We are scaling into shares of Netflix (NFLX) at current levels and keeping our long-term price target of $500 in place.

 

After the S&P 500 hit an all-time high yesterday, if the stock market finishes higher today it will mean the current bull market will be 3,453 days old, which will make it the longest on record by most definitions. For those market history buffs, as of last night’s market close, it tied the one that ran from October 1990 to March 2000.

Even as the S&P 500 hit an all-time high yesterday thus far in 2018 it’s up 7.1%. By comparison, we have a number of positions on the Tematica Investing Select List that are up considerably more. Among them are Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Costco Wholesale (COST), ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK), Habit Restaurant (HABT), McCormick & Co. (MKC), and USA Technologies (USAT). Not that I’m prone to bragging, rather I’m offering a gentle reminder of the power to be had with thematic investing vs. the herd and sector-based investing.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been recasting our investing themes, which in some cases has given rise to a new theme like Digital Infrastructure, combined a few prior themes into the more cohesive Digital Lifestyle and Middle-Class Squeeze ones, and expanded the scope of our Clean Living theme. In the next few weeks, I’ll finish the task at hand as well as ensure we have a stock recommendation for each of what will be our 10 investment themes.

As part of that effort, I’m re-classifying USA Technologies (USAT) shares as part of our Digital Infrastructure investing theme. The shares join Dycom Industries (DY) in this theme.

 

Pruning PCAR, ROK and GSVC shares

Once we pass the approaching Labor Day holiday, we will be off to the races with the usual end of the year sprint. For that reason, we’re going to take what is normally the last two relatively quiet weeks of August to do some pruning. This will go hand in hand with the ongoing investment theme reconstitution that will eliminate the stand-alone Economic Acceleration/Deceleration and Tooling & Re-tooling investment themes. As such, we’re saying goodbye to shares of Paccar (PCAR) and Rockwell Collins (ROK). We’ll also shed the shares of GSV Capital (GSVC), which are going to be largely driven by share price movements in Spotify (SPOT) and Dropbox (DBX). As the lock-up period with both of those newly public companies come and go, I’ll look to revisit both of them with an eye to our Digital Lifestyle and Digital Infrastructure investing themes.

  • We are exiting the shares of Paccar (PCAR), which had an essentially neutral impact on the Select List;
  • We are exiting the shares of Rockwell Automation (ROK), which were a drag of more than 11% on the Select List;
  • We are exiting the shares of GSV Capital (GSVC), which in full returned a modest decline since we added the shares back in April.

 

Scaling into Applied Materials and Netflix shares

We’ll use a portion of that returned capital to scale into shares of Applied Materials (AMAT), which approached their 52-week low late last week following the company’s quarterly earnings report that included an earnings beat but served up a softer than expected outlook.

Applied’s guidance called for sales of $3.85-$4.15 billion vs. analyst consensus outlook of $4.45 billion. On the company’s earnings conference call, CEO Gary Dickerson confirmed worries that slower smartphone growth could cause chipmakers to rein in capital spending and reduce demand for chipmaking equipment in the near- term. That’s the bad news, the good news is Applied sees double-digit growth in 2019 for each of its businesses and remains comfortable with its 2020 EPS forecast of $5.08.

From my perspective, I continue to see the several aspects of our Disruptive Innovators investing theme – augmented and virtual reality, 5G, artificial intelligence, Big Data and others – as well as growing storage and memory demands for connected devices driving semiconductor capital equipment demands. There is also the rising install base of semiconductor capital equipment inside China, and with Apple turning to China suppliers over Taiwanese ones to contain costs it likely means a rebound in China demand when the current US-China trade imbroglio ends.

As we wait for that, I suspect Applied will continue to use its stock buyback program During its recently closed quarter, Applied repurchased $1.25 billion or 25 million shares of stock and the company has about $5 billion remaining in buyback authorization. Applied’s next quarterly dividend of $0.20 per share will be paid on Sept. 13 to shareholders of record on Aug. 23.

  • We are scaling into shares of Applied Materials (AMAT) at current levels and keeping our long-term price target remains $70 intact.

Turning to Netflix (NFLX) shares, they are down some just under 20% from where I first added them to the Select List several weeks ago. My thesis on the shares remains unchanged, and I continue to see its streaming video service and original content as one of the cornerstones of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme. Adding to the shares at current levels will serve to reduce our cost basis from just under $420 to just under $380.

  • We are scaling into shares of Netflix (NFLX) at current levels and keeping our long-term price target of $500 in place.