Cybersecurity confirmation in March quarter earnings

Cybersecurity confirmation in March quarter earnings

We are in the thick of the March quarter earnings season and following a week of Big Tech earnings that included Apple (AAPL), Alphabet (GOOGL), Facebook (FB), and Amazon (AMZN), the coming week will be an earnings barn burner for constituents in the Foxberry Tematica Research Cybersecurity & Data Privacy Index (FXBYCYBR). One of the key tentpole investment thesis underlying the Cybersecurity & Digital Privacy index should once again be confirmed – as our lives become increasingly connected with accelerating 5G deployments, the expanded scope of connected devices and the internet of things will fuel demand for cybersecurity solutions. The groundwork for what we will hear in the coming weeks reflects the number of high-profile attacks early in the March quarter, the quarterly results and commentary from the handful of index constituents that have recently reported their quarterly results, and newly published reports discussing developments in the cybersecurity market.

10 major attacks during the March 2021 quarter

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the digital transformation that was underway for many companies as the adoption of work and learn from home, greater interconnectivity, and the shift to the cloud, all led to a surge in cyberattacks. Findings from Forrester consulting revealed companies felt they “had become more vulnerable” to cyberattacks since the start of the pandemic as total cyber losses among the affected firms rose to $1.8 billion, a 50% increase compared to the prior year. [1] A separate report from Hiscox found companies in the UK and Europe doubled cybersecurity spending to combat the increase in cyberattacks during 2020[2] but a finding published in the 24th Annual Global CEO Survey from PwC shows 47% of CEOs are concerned with cyber threats, up from 46% in 2020.

That increase in concern is understandable given the number of high-profile attacks that occurred during the March 2021 quarter:[3]

  • Threat actors actively exploited four zero-day vulnerabilities in Microsoft’s (MSFT) Exchange Server that resulted in at least nine government agencies and 60,000 private companies in the US alone being affected by the attack.
  • Computer giant Acer Inc. (ACEYY) suffered a ransomware attack and was told to pay a ransom of $50 million.
  • A data breach at aircraft company Bombardier (BDRBF) resulted in the compromise of the confidential data of suppliers, customers, and around 130 employees located in Costa Rica.
  • A cyber-attack disrupted US cyber insurance firm CNA Financial Corp.’s (CNA) customer and employee services for three days with the company forced to shut down to prevent further compromise.
  • London-based Harris Federation suffered a ransomware attack and was forced to “temporarily” disable the devices and email systems of all the 50 secondary and primary academies that it manages.
  • Australian broadcaster Channel Nine was attacked, leaving the company unable to air its Sunday news bulletin and several other shows.
  • A ransomware attack against the internal IT systems at IoT device manufacturer Sierra Wireless (SWIR) led to the company halting production at its manufacturing sites.
  • Cybercriminals engineered an attack on a Florida water treatment facility seeking to poison the plant’s water supply by increasing the amount of sodium hydroxide to a potentially dangerous level.

And while those and other high-profile attacks garner media attention, 30,000 websites were hacked per day in 2020 and every 39 seconds there is a new attack somewhere on the web.[4] To combat the “growing cyber challenge” as the scale of the problem “continues to both change and grow,” businesses are allocating more resources, including a 39% increase in cybersecurity spending.[5] That increase is leading to favorable year-over-year revenue and earnings metrics that have already reported their March quarter results and is poised to do the same at those that have yet to do so.

March quarter earnings

According to Zacks, during April, more than 1,500 companies reported their quarterly results and among there were several favorable reports from index constituents. Several key themes were had including:

  • Revenue and EPS for the March quarter came in ahead of consensus expectations;
  • Upward revisions were had to financial guidance;
  • Warnings that the number of attacks continue to grow even as bad actors continue to innovate new attack strategies.

Check Point Technologies (CHKP) reported a March quarter beat with revenue up 5% year-over-year to $508 million, while EPS for the quarter rose 9% to $1.54. Deferred revenue for the quarter climbed 8% compared to the March 2020 quarter, reaching $1.458 billion.

Per the company: “As hackers continue to find new ways to exploit the pandemic’s disruption, Check Point Research warned organizations about a global surge in ransomware attacks, alongside increases in cyber-attacks targeting Microsoft Exchange Server vulnerabilities. This uptick included a 57% increase in organizations affected by ransomware during a 6-month period.”

March quarter results at F5 Networks (FFIV) topped expectations with revenue for the quarter up 10% year over year to $645 million. According to the company, it is seeing stronger than anticipated demand across the board as “Business and consumers increasing reliance on applications has accelerated all prior expectations about the pace of digital transformation… customers across the globe are scaling their digital assets faster, resulting in a growing demand for F5’s application security and delivery solutions.”

During the quarter, F5’s transition to a subscription-based model continued with record subscription volume leading subscriptions to account for 79% of its software revenue in the quarter vs. 73% in the year-ago period. Meanwhile, Systems revenue rose 17% year-over-year due to increases in “application traffic, the continued growth of systems-based security use cases as well as the emergence of 5G-driven service provider demand.”

When it reported its March quarter results, FireEye (FEYE) bested consensus expectations with $246.3 million in revenue, a 10% increase vs. the year-ago period, and boosted its 2021 guidance to $1.01-$1.03 billion vs. $941 million in 2020 and $889 million in 2019. During the quarter, the company’s annual recurring revenue climbed 9% to $643 million. Leading that charge was the company’s platform cloud subscription, managed services professional services that amounted to 69% of total billings in the quarter, up from 56% a year ago.

The March quarter also showed FireEye making progress on bagging larger deals as the number of products per customer continued to grow. During the quarter, the company closed 30 transactions greater than $1 million and more than 70% of those transactions included three or more products or solutions, and 60% included consulting services.

On the company’s earnings conference call, it shared its findings that “actors continue to innovate faster than the technologies customers are deploying to protect their networks and organizations are deploying to protect their networks. The attackers are learning new ways to circumvent conventional safeguards that cannot or do not learn from the frontlines in a timely manner.”

Later on in the call, FireEye added the following: “Nearly half of the 294 distinct malware families we observed in investigations last year were new and never seen before. More than 80% of these new malware families were not publicly available, meaning they were privately developed, and availability was restricted in some way. And 70% of all the malware families we observed were only found in a single intrusion set.”

Fortinet (FTNT) reported March quarter revenue that climbed 23.1% compared to the year-ago quarter reaching $710.3 million, nicely ahead of the consensus forecast. EPS for the quarter cruised past consensus expectations as well hitting $0.81 per share. Billings for the quarter jumped 27% year over year to $850.6 million while total deferred revenue exiting the quarter rose roughly 25% to $2.75 billion.

Cloud security solutions were a driving force in the company’s Service revenue, growing to $460 million during the quarter. Support and professional services revenue increased 21% to $210 million, while Fortinet’s subscription revenue grew 21% year-over-year and low-single-digit quarter-over-quarter gains to $255 million. For the current quarter, the company sees revenue of $733-$747 million, up 19%-21% year over year, and ahead of the $732 million consensus.

Upcoming constituent earnings reports

As the pace of quarterly earnings accelerates further in the coming weeks, with roughly 2,540 such reports to be had in May vs. 1,507 in April, a greater number of index constituents are slated to issue their latest quarterly results:

  • Tuesday, May 4: Commvault (CVLT), McAfee (MCFE)
  • Wednesday, May 5: CyberArk (CYBR), Radware (RDWR), Ping Identity (PING)
  • Thursday, May 6: NetScout Systems (NTCT), Cloudflare (NET)
  • Monday, May 10: Norton Lifelock (NLOK), SailPoint (SAIL)
  • Tuesday, May 11: Mimecast (MIME)
  • Thursday, May 13: Nice Ltd. (NICE), Tufin Software (TUFN)
  • Wednesday, May 19: Cisco Systems (CSCO)
  • Thursday, May 20: Palo Alto Networks (PANW), Splunk (SPLK)
  • Thursday, May 27: Okta (OKTA), Zscaler (ZS)

When we held the last webinar at the end of March, before the current earnings season got underway, we commented that the constituents of the Cybersecurity and Digital Privacy Index were poised to grow their aggregate revenue and EPS by more than 20% over the 2020-2022 period. As we tally the upcoming earnings reports, we’ll have a much better sense for the degree to which 2021 cybersecurity industry spending forecasts calling for year over year growth of 10% are conservative and how translates into even faster revenue and earnings growth for the basket of constituents. We continue to see consensus expectations for that basket moving higher over the coming quarters as the increasingly pervasive nature of attacks is once again realized while the combination of new technologies, new business models, and sadly new types of attacks expands the addressable market even further.

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[1] “Firms are Spending More on Cybersecurity To Combat Growing Threats” available at https://digit.fyi/firms-are-spending-more-on-cybersecurity-to-combat-growing-threats/

[2] IBID

[3] “10 Major Cyber Attacks Witnessed Globally in Q1 2021” available at https://securityboulevard.com/2021/04/10-major-cyber-attacks-witnessed-globally-in-q1-2021/

[4] “How Many Cyber Attacks Happen Per Day in 2020?” available at https://techjury.net/blog/how-many-cyber-attacks-per-day/

[5] “Firms are Spending More on Cybersecurity To Combat Growing Threats” available at https://digit.fyi/firms-are-spending-more-on-cybersecurity-to-combat-growing-threats/

Microsoft talks about privacy and transparency for Edge

Microsoft talks about privacy and transparency for Edge

Compared to several years ago, there are a number of internet browsers one can use on desktop, laptop, smartphone or a tablet to surf the web and do all of the digital things associated with Tematica’s Digital Lifestyle investing theme. While the more commone ones are Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Google’s Chrome, and Apple’s Safari, there have been functionality, compatibility as well as privacy concerns with those products. In fact, in a bid to protect our privacy and block data-grabbing ads and trackers, members of Team Tematica prefer to use Brave, Firefox and DuckDuckGo as well as NordVPN, Norton VPN and Cloudflare. Given all of that it, as well as Apple talking up how it values the privacy of its customers, it comes as little surprise that Microsoft would discuss its improved privacy with Edge, its new internet browser. Now to see what Google does…

Our browser privacy promise is to provide you with the protection, transparency, control and respect you deserve. To uphold commitments to give you transparency into Microsoft products, the Microsoft Edge team provided a privacy whitepaper that explains how Microsoft Edge features and services work and how each may affect your privacy. The goal of the Microsoft Edge team is to give you a full understanding into how your data is used, how to control the different features, and how to manage your collected data, so you have the info you need to make the right privacy decisions for you.

Source: Microsoft Edge Privacy Whitepaper – Microsoft Edge Development | Microsoft Docs

Weekly Issue: Key Developments at Apple (AAPL) and AT&T (T)

Weekly Issue: Key Developments at Apple (AAPL) and AT&T (T)

Key points inside this issue:

  •  Apple’s 2019 iPhone event – more meh than wow
  •  GameStop – It’s only going to get worse
  •  Elliot Management gets active in AT&T, but its prefers Verizon?
  •  California approves a bill that changes how contract workers are treated
  • Volkswagen set to disrupt the electric vehicle market

I’m going to deviate from the usual format we’ve been using here at Tematica Investing this week to focus on some of what’s happening with Select List residents Apple (AAPL) and AT&T (T) this week as well as one or two other things. The reason is the developments at both companies have a few layers to them, and I wanted to take the space to discuss them in greater detail. Don’t worry, we’ll be back to our standard format next week and I should be sharing some thoughts on Farfetch (FTCH), which sits at the crossroads of our Living the Life, Middle Class Squeeze and Digital Lifestyle investing themes, and another company I’ve been scrutinizing with our thematic lens. 

 

Apple’s 2019 iPhone event – more meh than wow

Yesterday, Apple (AAPL) held its now annual iPhone-centric event, at which it unveiled its newest smartphone model as well as other “new”, or more to the point, upgraded hardware. In that regard, Apple did not disappoint, but the bottom line is the company delivered on expectations serving up new models of the iPhone, Apple Watch and iPad, but with only incremental technical advancements. 

Was there anything that is likely to make the average users, not the early adopter, upgrade today because they simply have to “have it”? 

Not in my view. 

What Apple did do with these latest devices and price cuts on older models that it will keep in play was round out price points in its active device portfolio. To me, that says CEO Tim Cook and his team got the message following the introduction of the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max last year, each of which sported price tags of over $1,000. This year, a consumer can scoop up an iPhone 8 for as low as $499 or pay more than $1,000 for the new iPhone 11 Pro that sports a new camera system and some other incremental whizbangs. The same goes with Apple Watch – while Apple debuted a new Series 5 model yesterday, it is keeping the Series 3 in the lineup and dropped its price point to $199. That has the potential to wreak havoc on fitness trackers and other smartwatch businesses at companies like Garmin (GRMN) and Fitbit (FIT)

Before moving on, I will point out the expanded product price points could make judging Apple’s product mix revenue from quarter to quarter more of a challenge, especially since Apple is now sharing information on these devices in a more limited fashion. This could mean Apple has a greater chance of surprising on revenue, both to the upside as well as the downside. Despite Apple’s progress in growing its Services business, as well its other non-iPhone businesses, iPhone still accounted for 48% of June 2019 quarterly revenue. 

Those weren’t the only two companies to feel the pinch of the Apple event. Another was Netflix (NFLX) as Apple joined Select List resident Walt Disney (DIS) in undercutting Netflix’s monthly subscription rate. In case you missed it, Disney’s starter package for its video streaming service came in at $6.99 per month. Apple undercut that with a $4.99 a month price point for its forthcoming AppleTV+ service, plus one year free with a new device purchase. To be fair, out of the gate Apple’s content library will be rather thin in comparison to Disney and Netflix, but it does have the balance sheet to grow its library in the coming quarters. 

Apple also announced that its game subscription service, Apple Arcade, will launch on September 19 with a $4.99 per month price point. Others, such as Microsoft (MSFT) and Alphabet (GOOGL) are targeting game subscription services as well, but with Apple’s install base of devices and the adoption of mobile gaming, Apple Arcade could surprise to the upside. 

To me, the combination of Apple Arcade and these other game services are another nail in the coffin for GameStop (GME)

 

GameStop – It’s only going to get worse

I’ve been bearish on GameStop (GME) for some time, but even I didn’t think it could get this ugly, this fast. After the close last night, GameStop reported its latest quarter results that saw EPS miss expectations by $0.10 per share, a miss on revenues, guidance on its outlook below consensus, and a cut to its same-store comps guidance. The company also shared the core tenets of a new strategic plan. 

Nearly all of its speaks for itself except for the strategic plan. Those key tenets are:

  • Optimize the core business by improving efficiency and effectiveness across the organization, including cost restructuring, inventory management optimization, adding and growing high margin product categories, and rationalizing the global store base. 
  • Create the social and cultural hub of gaming across the GameStop platform by testing and improving existing core assets including the store experience, knowledgeable associates and the PowerUp Rewards loyalty program. 
  • Build digital capabilities, including the recent relaunch of GameStop.com.
  •  Transform vendor and partner relationships to unlock additional high-margin revenue streams and optimize the lifetime value of every customer.

Granted, this is a cursory review, but based on what I’ve seen I am utterly unconvinced that GameStop can turn this boat around. The company faces headwinds associated with our Digital Lifestyle investing theme that are only going to grow stronger as gaming services from Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet come to market and offer the ability to game anywhere, anytime. To me, it’s very much like the slow sinking ship that was Barnes & Noble (BKS) that tried several different strategies to bail water out. 

Did GameStop have its time in the sun? Sure it did, but so did Blockbuster Video and we all know how that ended. Odds are it will be Game Over for GameStop before too long.

Getting back to Apple, now we wait for September 20 when all the new iPhone models begin shipping. Wall Street get your spreadsheets ready!

 

Elliot Management gets active in AT&T, but its prefers Verizon?

Earlier this week, we learned that activist investor Elliot Management Corp. took a position in AT&T (T). At $3.2 billion, we can safely say it is a large position. Following that investment, Elliot sent a 24-page letter telling AT&T that it needed to change to bolster its share price. Elliot’s price target for T shares? $60. I’ll come back to that in a bit. 

Soon thereafter, many media outlets from The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal ran articles covering that 24-page letter, which at one point suggested AT&T be more like Verizon (VZ) and focus on building out its 5G network and cut costs. While I agree with Elliot that those should be focus points for AT&T, and that AT&T should benefit from its spectrum holdings as well as being the provider of the federally backed FirstNet communications system for emergency responders, I disagree with its criticism of the company’s media play. 

Plain and simple, people vote with their feet for quality content. We’ve seen this at the movie box office, TV ratings, and at streaming services like Netflix (NFLX) when it debuted House of Cards or Stranger Things, and Hulu with the Handmaiden’s Tale. I’ve long since argued that AT&T has taken a page out of others’ playbook and sought to surround its mobile business with content, and yes that mobile business is increasingly the platform of choice for consuming streaming video content. By effectively forming a proprietary content moat around its business, the company can shore up its competitive position and expand its business offering rather than having its mobile service compete largely on price. And this isn’t a new strategy – we saw Comcast (CMCSA) do it rather well when it swallowed NBC Universal to take on Walt Disney and others. 

Let’s also remember that following the acquisiton of Time Warner, AT&T is poised to follow Walt Disney, Apple and others into the streaming video service market next year. Unlike Apple, AT&T’s Warner Media brings a rich and growing content library but similar to Apple, AT&T has an existing service to which it can bundle its streaming service. AT&T may be arriving later to the party than Apple and Disney, but its effort should not be underestimated, nor should the impact of that business on how investors will come to think about valuing T shares. The recent valuation shift in Disney thanks to Disney+ is a great example and odds are we will see something similar at Apple before too long with Apple Arcade and AppleTV+. These changes will help inform us as to how that AT&T re-think could play out as it comes to straddle the line between being a Digital Infrastructure and Digital Lifestyle company.

Yes Verizon may have a leg up on AT&T when it comes to the current state of its 5G network, but as we heard from specialty contractor Dycom Industries (DY), it is seeing a significant uptick in 5G related construction and its top two customers are AT& T (23% of first half 2019 revenue) followed by Verizon (22%). But when these two companies along with Sprint (S), T-Mobile USA (TMUS) and other players have their 5G network buildout competed, how will Verizon ward off subscriber poachers that are offering compelling monthly rates? 

And for what it’s worth, I’m sure Elliot Management is loving the current dividend yield had with T shares. Granted its $60 price target implies a yield more like 3.4%, but I’d be happy to get that yield if it means a 60% pop in T shares. 

 

California approves a bill that changes how contract workers are treated

California has long been a trend setter, but if you’re an investor in Uber (UBER) or Lyft (LYFT) — two companies riding our Disruptive Innovators theme — that latest bout of trend setting could become a problem. Yesterday, California lawmakers have approved Assembly Bill 5, a bill that requires companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash to treat contract workers as employees. 

This is one of those times that our thematic lens is being tilted a tad to focus on a regulatory change that will entitle gig workers to protections like a minimum wage and unemployment benefits, which will drive costs at the companies higher. It’s being estimated that on-demand companies like Uber and the delivery service DoorDash will see their costs rise 20%-30% when they rely on employees rather than contractors. For Uber and Lyft, that likely means pushing out their respective timetables to profitability.

We’ll have to see if other states follow California’s lead and adopt a similar change. A coalition of labor groups is pushing similar legislation in New York, and bills in Washington State and Oregon could see renewed momentum. The more states that do, the larger the profit revisions to the downside to be had. 

 

Volkswagen set to disrupt the electric vehicle market

It was recently reported that Volkswagen (VWAGY) has hit a new milestone in reducing battery costs for its electric vehicles, as it now pays less than $100 per KWh for its batteries. Given the battery pack is the most expensive part of an electric vehicle, this has been thought to be a tipping point for mass adoption of electric vehicles. 

Soon after that report, Volkswagen rolled out the final version of its first affordable long-range electric car, the ID.3, at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show and is expected to be available in mid-2020.  By affordable, Volkswagen means “under €30,000” (about $33,180, currently) and the ID.3 will come in three variants that offer between roughly 205 and 340 miles of range. 

By all accounts, the ID.3 will be a vehicle to watch as it is the first one being built on the company’s new modular all-electric platform that is expected to be the basis for dozens more cars and SUVs in the coming years as Volkswagen Group’s pushed hard into electric vehicles. 

Many, including myself, have been waiting for the competitive landscape in the electric vehicle market to heat up considerably – it’s no secret that all the major auto OEMs are targeting the market. Between this fall in battery cost and the price point for Volkswagen’s ID.3, it appears that the change in the landscape is finally approaching and it’s likely to bring more competitive pressures for Clean Living company and Cleaner  Living Index constituent Tesla (TSLA)

 

A live concert in Fortnite shows why Netflix is right to be worried

A live concert in Fortnite shows why Netflix is right to be worried

We recently published a Thematic Signal in which we discussed the comment from Netflix management why it isn’t so worried about HBO, but rather Fortnite. If there was any doubt it was put to rest in the form a recent live concert held inside Fortnite that drew “25 times as many people that attended Woodstock in 1969.”

According to reports, that four-day music event that spanned August 15-18, 1969 in the Catskill Mountains attracted more than 400,000 people. Some simple math suggests the live concert in Fortnite attracted roughly 10 million people.

10 million!

Watching a concert inside a game!

What were those 10 million people not doing?

Watching Netflix, HBO, Hulu or another streaming video service.

Yes, Netflix is right to be worried over competitive streaming services that take eyeballs away from its content.

This makes the much-rumored streaming gaming services from Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft even more interesting as it could alter the Digital LIfestyle market shares and make for an even more challenging landscape for the existing video streaming services as well as those that are forthcoming from Disney, NBC, and Apple.

 

The wildly popular video game “Fortnite” made history yesterday with a live show by EDM artist Marshmello that reportedly drew millions of viewers — which, for context, would be 25 times as many people as attended Woodstock in 1969.

“It truly felt like a glimpse into the future of interactive entertainment,” wrote Nick Statt for The Verge, “where the worlds of gaming, music, and celebrity combined to create a virtual experience we’ve never quite seen before.

Source: Live Concert Inside “Fortnite” Drew More Viewers Than Woodstock

Weekly Issue: Verizon is bulls up on 5G, paving the way for a Disruptive Innovator Leader position

Weekly Issue: Verizon is bulls up on 5G, paving the way for a Disruptive Innovator Leader position

Key points in this issue:

  • As expected, more negative earnings revisions roll in
  • Verizon says “We’re heading into the 5G era”
  • Nokia gets several boosts ahead of its earnings report
  • USA Technologies gets an “interim” CFO
  • We are issuing a Buy on and adding the Nokia Corp. (NOK) April 2019 call options (NOK190208C00006500) that closed last night at 0.30 with a stop loss of 0.15 to our options playbook this week.
  • Treading carefully after stopping out of our Del Frisco’s call option

 

As expected, more negative earnings revisions roll in

In full, last week was one in which the domestic stock market indices were largely unchanged and we saw that reflected in many of our Thematic Leaders. Late Friday, a deal was reached to potentially only temporarily reopen the federal government should Congress fail to reach a deal on immigration. Given the subsequent bluster that we’ve seen from President Trump, it’s likely this deal could go either way. Perhaps, we’ll hear more on this during his next address, scheduled ahead of this weekend’s Super Bowl.

Yesterday, the Fed began its latest monetary policy meeting. It’s not expected to boost interest rates, but Fed watchers will be looking to see if there is any change to its plan to unwind its balance sheet. As the Fed’s meeting winds down, the next phase of US-China trade talks will be underway.

Last week I talked about the downward revisions to earnings expectations for the S&P 500 and warned that we were likely to see more of the same. So far this week, a number of high-profile earnings reports from the likes of Caterpillar (CAT), Whirlpool (WHR), Crane Co. (CR), AK Steel (AKS), 3M (MMM) and Pfizer (PFE) have revealed December-quarter misses and guidance for the near-term below consensus expectations. More of that same downward earnings pressure for the S&P 500 indeed. And yes, those misses and revisions reflect issues we have been discussing the last several months that are still playing out. At least for now, there doesn’t appear to be any significant reversal of those factors, which likely means those negative revisions are poised to continue over the next few weeks.

 

Tematica Investing

With the market essentially treading water over the last several days, so too did the Thematic Leaders.  Apple’s (AAPL) highly anticipated earnings report last night edged out consensus EPS expectations with guidance that was essentially in line. To be clear, the only reason the company’s EPS beat expectations was because of its lower tax rate year over year and the impact of its share buyback program. If we look at its operating profit year over year — our preferred metric here at Tematica — we find profits were down 11% year over year.

With today’s issue already running on the long side, we’ll dig deeper into that Apple report in a stand-alone post on TematicaResearch.com later today or tomorrow, but suffice it to say the market greeted the news from Apple with some relief that it wasn’t worse. That will drive the market higher today, but let’s remember we have several hundred companies yet to report and those along with the Fed’s comments later today and US-China trade comments later this week will determine where the stock market will go in the near-term.

As we wait for that sense of direction, I’ll continue to roll up my sleeves to fill the Guilty Pleasure void we have on the Thematic Leaders since we kicked Altria to the curb last week. Stay tuned!

 

Verizon says “We’re heading into the 5G era”

Yesterday and early this morning, both Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T) reported their respective December quarter results and shared their outlook. Tucked inside those comments, there was a multitude of 5G related mentions, which perked our thematic ears up as it relates to our Disruptive Innovators investing theme.

As Verizon succinctly said, “…we’re heading to the 5G era and the beginning of what many see as the fourth industrial revolution.” No wonder it mentioned 5G 42 times during its earnings call yesterday and shared the majority of its $17-$18 billion in capital spending over the coming year will be spent on 5G. Verizon did stop short of sharing exactly when it would roll out its commercial 5G network, but did close out the earnings conference call with “…We’re going to see much more of 5G commercial, both mobility, and home during 2019.”

While we wait for AT&T’s 5G-related comments on its upcoming earnings conference call, odds are we will hear it spout favorably about 5G as well. Historically other mobile carriers have piled on once one has blazed the trail on technology, services or price. I strongly suspect 5G will fall into that camp as well, which means in the coming months we will begin to hear much more on the disruptive nature of 5G.

 

Nokia gets several boosts ahead of its earnings report

Friday morning one of Disruptive Innovator Leader Nokia’s (NOK) mobile network infrastructure competitors, Ericsson (ERIC), reported its December-quarter results. ERIC shares are trading up following the report, which showed the company’s revenue grew by 10% year over year due primarily to growth at its core Networks business. That strength was largely due to 5G activity in the North American market as mobile operators such as AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ) and others prepare to launch their 5G commercial networks later this year. And for anyone wondering how important 5G is to Ericsson, it was mentioned 26 times in the company’s earnings press release.

In short, I see Ericsson’s earnings report as extremely positive and confirming for our Nokia and 5G investment thesis.

One other item to mention is the growing consideration for the continued banning of Huawei mobile infrastructure equipment by countries around the world. Currently, those products and services are excluded in the U.S., but the U.K. and other countries in Europe are voicing concerns over Huawei as they look to confirm their national telecommunications infrastructure is secure.

Last week, one of the world’s largest mobile carriers, Vodafone (VOD) announced it would halt buying Huawei gear. BT Group, the British telecom giant, has plans to rip out part of Huawei’s existing network. Last year, Australia banned the use of equipment from Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese supplier of mobile infrastructure and smartphones.

In Monday’s New York Times, there was an article that speaks to the coming deployment of 5G networks both in the U.S. and around the globe, comparing the changes they will bring. Quoting Chris Lane, a telecom analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein in Hong Kong it says:

“This will be almost more important than electricity… Everything will be connected, and the central nervous system of these smart cities will be your 5G network.”

That sentiment certainly underscores why 5G technology is housed inside our Disruptive Innovators investing theme. One of the growing concerns following the arrest of two Huawei employees for espionage in Poland is cybersecurity. As the New York Times article points out:

“American and British officials had already grown concerned about Huawei’s abilities after cybersecurity experts, combing through the company’s source code to look for back doors, determined that Huawei could remotely access and control some networks from the company’s Shenzhen headquarters.”

From our perspective, this raises many questions when it comes to Huawei. As companies look to bring 5G networks to market, they are not inclined to wait for answers when other suppliers of 5G equipment stand at the ready, including Nokia.

Nokia will report its quarterly results this Thursday (Jan. 31) and as I write this, consensus expectations call for EPS of $0.14 on revenue of $7.6 billion. Given Ericsson’s quarterly results, I expect an upbeat report. Should that not come to pass, I’m inclined to be patient and hold the shares for some time as commercial 5G networks launches make their way around the globe. If the shares were to fall below our blended buy-in price of $5.55, I’d be inclined to once again scale into them.

  • Our long-term price target for NOK shares remains $8.50.

 

USA Technologies gets an “interim” CFO

Earlier this week, Digital Lifestyle company USA Technologies (USAT) announced it has appointed interim Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Glen Goold. According to LinkedIn, among Goold’s experience, he was CFO at private company Sutron Corp. from Nov 2012 to Feb 2018, an Associate Vice President at Carlyle Group from July 2005 to February 2012, and a Tax Manager at Ernst & Young between 1997-2005. We would say he has the background to be a solid CFO and should be able to clean up the accounting mess that was uncovered at USAT several months ago.

That said, we are intrigued by the “interim” aspect of Mr. Goold’s title — and to be frank, his lack of public company CFO experience. We suspect the “interim” title could fuel speculation that the company is cleaning itself up to be sold, something we touched on last week. As I have said before, we focus on fundamentals, not takeout speculation, but if a deal were to emerge, particularly at a favorable share price, we aren’t ones to fight it.

  • Our price target on USA Technologies (USAT) shares remains $10.

 

Tematica Options+

The positive developments associated with Disruptive Innovator leader Nokia outlined above strongly suggest the company will deliver an upbeat December quarter earnings report, and will likely guide at least if line, if not higher, for 2019 given the accelerating 5G deployments and improving competitive landscape. That’s why we are adding the Nokia Corp. (NOK) April 2019 call options (NOK190208C00006500) that closed last night at 0.30 to our options playbook this week.

Not only does the timing on these calls capture this Thursday’s earnings report, but it also includes the next major mobile industry conference, the 2019 Mobile World Congress (MWC) that will be held in Barcelona from Feb. 25-28. Historically, during times of new mobile technology rollouts, MWC has been a hotbed of announcements. As we stand on the cusp of commercial 5G network deployments, odds are high that history will once again repeat itself.

While signs are bullish for 5G and Nokia, we as investors will want to limit our downside, which is why I’m setting a stop loss at 0.15 for this position.

 

Treading carefully after stopping out of our Del Frisco’s call option

On the housekeeping front, last night we were stopped out of our Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group call option. With the company evaluating its strategic options, we’ll carefully look to revisit a call option position in this company. This extra sense of caution follows the 20+% drop in GameStop (GME) shares following its Board’s decision to forego being taken private by private equity investors and remain both public and independent.

I would note that GameStop is hitting the headwind of our Digital Lifestyle theme as gamers increasingly shed physical formats over downloading games to their devices and consoles. As if that weren’t enough, I’m hearing reports that Apple, Google (GOOGL), Amazon (AMZN) and Microsoft (MSFT) are eyeing a streaming game service similar to what Thematic Leader Netflix (NFLX) has done for TV and movie content. I see this as another potential nail in the GameStop coffin, which means GME shares are one to avoid… at least in a long position.

 

 

Weekly Issue: As earnings season continues, the market catches a positive breather

Weekly Issue: As earnings season continues, the market catches a positive breather

Key points in this issue:

  • As expected, more negative earnings revisions roll in
  • Verizon says “We’re heading into the 5G era”
  • Nokia gets several boosts ahead of its earnings report
  • USA Technologies gets an “interim” CFO

 

As expected, more negative earnings revisions roll in

In full, last week was one in which the domestic stock market indices were largely unchanged and we saw that reflected in many of our Thematic Leaders. Late Friday, a deal was reached to potentially only temporarily reopen the federal government should Congress fail to reach a deal on immigration. Given the subsequent bluster that we’ve seen from President Trump, it’s likely this deal could go either way. Perhaps, we’ll hear more on this during his next address, scheduled ahead of this weekend’s Super Bowl.

Yesterday, the Fed began its latest monetary policy meeting. It’s not expected to boost interest rates, but Fed watchers will be looking to see if there is any change to its plan to unwind its balance sheet. As the Fed’s meeting winds down, the next phase of US-China trade talks will be underway.

Last week I talked about the downward revisions to earnings expectations for the S&P 500 and warned that we were likely to see more of the same. So far this week, a number of high-profile earnings reports from the likes of Caterpillar (CAT), Whirlpool (WHR), Crane Co. (CR), AK Steel (AKS), 3M (MMM) and Pfizer (PFE) have revealed December-quarter misses and guidance for the near-term below consensus expectations. More of that same downward earnings pressure for the S&P 500 indeed. And yes, those misses and revisions reflect issues we have been discussing the last several months that are still playing out. At least for now, there doesn’t appear to be any significant reversal of those factors, which likely means those negative revisions are poised to continue over the next few weeks.

 

Tematica Investing

With the market essentially treading water over the last several days, so too did the Thematic Leaders.  Apple’s (AAPL) highly anticipated earnings report last night edged out consensus EPS expectations with guidance that was essentially in line. To be clear, the only reason the company’s EPS beat expectations was because of its lower tax rate year over year and the impact of its share buyback program. If we look at its operating profit year over year — our preferred metric here at Tematica — we find profits were down 11% year over year.

With today’s issue already running on the long side, we’ll dig deeper into that Apple report in a stand-alone post on TematicaResearch.com later today or tomorrow, but suffice it to say the market greeted the news from Apple with some relief that it wasn’t worse. That will drive the market higher today, but let’s remember we have several hundred companies yet to report and those along with the Fed’s comments later today and US-China trade comments later this week will determine where the stock market will go in the near-term.

As we wait for that sense of direction, I’ll continue to roll up my sleeves to fill the Guilty Pleasure void we have on the Thematic Leaders since we kicked Altria to the curb last week. Stay tuned!

 

Verizon says “We’re heading into the 5G era”

Yesterday and early this morning, both Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T) reported their respective December quarter results and shared their outlook. Tucked inside those comments, there was a multitude of 5G related mentions, which perked our thematic ears up as it relates to our Disruptive Innovators investing theme.

As Verizon succinctly said, “…we’re heading to the 5G era and the beginning of what many see as the fourth industrial revolution.” No wonder it mentioned 5G 42 times during its earnings call yesterday and shared the majority of its $17-$18 billion in capital spending over the coming year will be spent on 5G. Verizon did stop short of sharing exactly when it would roll out its commercial 5G network, but did close out the earnings conference call with “…We’re going to see much more of 5G commercial, both mobility, and home during 2019.”

While we wait for AT&T’s 5G-related comments on its upcoming earnings conference call, odds are we will hear it spout favorably about 5G as well. Historically other mobile carriers have piled on once one has blazed the trail on technology, services or price. I strongly suspect 5G will fall into that camp as well, which means in the coming months we will begin to hear much more on the disruptive nature of 5G.

 

Nokia gets several boosts ahead of its earnings report

Friday morning one of Disruptive Innovator Leader Nokia’s (NOK) mobile network infrastructure competitors, Ericsson (ERIC), reported its December-quarter results. ERIC shares are trading up following the report, which showed the company’s revenue grew by 10% year over year due primarily to growth at its core Networks business. That strength was largely due to 5G activity in the North American market as mobile operators such as AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ) and others prepare to launch their 5G commercial networks later this year. And for anyone wondering how important 5G is to Ericsson, it was mentioned 26 times in the company’s earnings press release.

In short, I see Ericsson’s earnings report as extremely positive and confirming for our Nokia and 5G investment thesis.

One other item to mention is the growing consideration for the continued banning of Huawei mobile infrastructure equipment by countries around the world. Currently, those products and services are excluded in the U.S., but the U.K. and other countries in Europe are voicing concerns over Huawei as they look to confirm their national telecommunications infrastructure is secure.

Last week, one of the world’s largest mobile carriers, Vodafone (VOD) announced it would halt buying Huawei gear. BT Group, the British telecom giant, has plans to rip out part of Huawei’s existing network. Last year, Australia banned the use of equipment from Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese supplier of mobile infrastructure and smartphones.

In Monday’s New York Times, there was an article that speaks to the coming deployment of 5G networks both in the U.S. and around the globe, comparing the changes they will bring. Quoting Chris Lane, a telecom analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein in Hong Kong it says:

“This will be almost more important than electricity… Everything will be connected, and the central nervous system of these smart cities will be your 5G network.”

That sentiment certainly underscores why 5G technology is housed inside our Disruptive Innovators investing theme. One of the growing concerns following the arrest of two Huawei employees for espionage in Poland is cybersecurity. As the New York Times article points out:

“American and British officials had already grown concerned about Huawei’s abilities after cybersecurity experts, combing through the company’s source code to look for back doors, determined that Huawei could remotely access and control some networks from the company’s Shenzhen headquarters.”

From our perspective, this raises many questions when it comes to Huawei. As companies look to bring 5G networks to market, they are not inclined to wait for answers when other suppliers of 5G equipment stand at the ready, including Nokia.

Nokia will report its quarterly results this Thursday (Jan. 31) and as I write this, consensus expectations call for EPS of $0.14 on revenue of $7.6 billion. Given Ericsson’s quarterly results, I expect an upbeat report. Should that not come to pass, I’m inclined to be patient and hold the shares for some time as commercial 5G networks launches make their way around the globe. If the shares were to fall below our blended buy-in price of $5.55, I’d be inclined to once again scale into them.

  • Our long-term price target for NOK shares remains $8.50.

 

USA Technologies gets an “interim” CFO

Earlier this week, Digital Lifestyle company USA Technologies (USAT) announced it has appointed interim Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Glen Goold. According to LinkedIn, among Goold’s experience, he was CFO at private company Sutron Corp. from Nov 2012 to Feb 2018, an Associate Vice President at Carlyle Group from July 2005 to February 2012, and a Tax Manager at Ernst & Young between 1997-2005. We would say he has the background to be a solid CFO and should be able to clean up the accounting mess that was uncovered at USAT several months ago.

That said, we are intrigued by the “interim” aspect of Mr. Goold’s title — and to be frank, his lack of public company CFO experience. We suspect the “interim” title could fuel speculation that the company is cleaning itself up to be sold, something we touched on last week. As I have said before, we focus on fundamentals, not takeout speculation, but if a deal were to emerge, particularly at a favorable share price, we aren’t ones to fight it.

  • Our price target on USA Technologies (USAT) shares remains $10.

 

 

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Confirming Data Points for Apple and Universal Display

WEEKLY ISSUE: Confirming Data Points for Apple and Universal Display

Key points inside this issue:

  • The Business Roundtable and recent data suggest trade worries are growing.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $250.
  • Our price target on Apple (AAPL) and Universal Display (OLED) shares remain $225 and $150, respectively.
  • Changes afoot at S&P, but they still lag our thematic investing approach

 

While investors and the stock market have largely shaken off concerns of a trade war thus far, this week the stakes moved higher. The U.S. initiated the second leg of its tariffs on China, slapping on $200 billion of tariffs on Chinese imports of food ingredients, auto parts, art, chemicals, paper products, apparel, refrigerators, air conditioners, toys, furniture, handbags, and electronics.

China responded, not only by canceling expected trade talks, but by also implementing tariffs of its own to the tune of $60 billion on U.S. exports to China. Those tariffs include medium-sized aircraft, metals, tires, golf clubs, crude oil and liquified natural gas (LNG). Factoring in those latest steps, there are tariffs on nearly half of all U.S. imports from China and over 50% of U.S. export to China.

Should President Trump take the next stated step and put tariffs on an additional $267 billion of products, it would basically cover all U.S. imports from China. In terms of timing, let’s remember that we have the U.S. mid-term elections coming up before too long — and one risk we see here at Tematica is China holding off trade talks until after those elections.

On Monday, the latest Business Roundtable survey found that two-thirds of chief executives believed recent tariffs and future trade tension would have a negative impact on their capital investment decisions over the next six months. Roughly one-third expected no impact on their business, while only 2% forecast a positive effect.

That news echoed the recent September Flash U.S. PMI reading from IHS Markit, which included the following commentary:

“The escalation of trade wars, and the accompanying rise in prices, contributed to a darkening of the outlook, with business expectations for the year ahead dropping sharply during the month. While business activity may rebound after the storms, the drop in optimism suggests the longer term outlook has deteriorated, at least in the sense that growth may have peaked.”

Also found in the IHS Markit report:

“Manufacturers widely noted that trade tariffs had led to higher prices for metals and encouraged the forward purchasing of materials… Future expectations meanwhile fell to the lowest so far in 2018, and the second-lowest in over two years, as optimism deteriorated in both the manufacturing and service sectors.”

As if those growing worries weren’t enough, there has been a continued rise in oil prices as OPEC ruled out any immediate increase in production, the latest round of political intrigue inside the Washington Beltway, the growing spending struggle for the coming Italian government budget and Brexit.

Any of these on their own could lead to a reversal in the CNN Money Fear & Greed Index, which has been hanging out in “Greed” territory for the better part of the last month. Taken together, though, it could lead companies to be conservative in terms of guidance in the soon-to-arrive September quarter earnings season, despite the benefits of tax reform on their businesses and on consumer wallets. In other words, these mounting headwinds could weigh on stocks and lead investors to question growth expectations for the fourth quarter.

What’s more, even though S&P 500 EPS expectations still call for 22% EPS growth in 2018 vs. 2017, we’ve started to see some downward revisions in projections for the September and December quarters, which have softened 2018 EPS estimates to $162.01, down from $162.60 several weeks ago. Not a huge drop, but when looking at the current stock market valuation of 18x expected 2018 EPS, remember those expectations hinge on the S&P 500 group of companies growing their EPS more than 21% year over year in the second half of 2018.

 

Any and all of the above factors could weigh on corporate guidance or just rattle investor’s nerves and likely means a bumpy ride over the ensuing weeks as trade and political headlines heat up. As it stands right now, according to data tabulated from FactSet, heading into September quarter earnings, 74 of 98 companies in the S&P 500 that issued guidance, issued negative guidance marking the highest percentage (76%) since 1Q 2016 and compares to the five year average of 71%.

Not alarmingly high, but still higher than the norm, which means I’ll be paying even closer than usual attention to what is said over the coming weeks ahead of the “official” start to September quarter earnings that is Alcoa’s (AA) results on Oct. 17 and what it means for both the Thematic Leaders and the other positions on the Select List.

 

Today is Fed Day

This afternoon the Fed’s FOMC will break from its September meeting, and it is widely expected to boost interest rates. No surprise there, but given what we’ve seen on the trade front and in hard economic data of late, my attention will be on what is said during the post-meeting press conference and what’s contained in the Fed’s updated economic forecast. The big risk I see in the coming months on the Fed front is should the escalating tariff situation lead to a pick-up in inflation, the Fed could feel it is behind the interest rate hike curve leading to not only a more hawkish tone but a quicker pace of rate hikes than is currently expected.

We here at Tematica have talked quite a bit over consumer debt levels and the recent climb in both oil and gas prices is likely putting some extra squeeze on consumers, especially those that fall into our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme. Any pick up in Fed rate hikes means higher interest costs for consumers, taking a bigger bite out of disposable income, which means a step up in their effort to stretch spending dollars. Despite its recent sell-off, I continue to see Costco Wholesale (COST) as extremely well positioned to grab more share of those cash-strapped wallets, particularly as it continues to open new warehouse locations.

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

 

Favorable Apple and Universal Display News

Outside of those positions, we’d note some favorable news for our Apple (AAPL) shares in the last 24 hours. First, the iPhone XS Max OLED display has reclaimed the “Best Smartphone Display” crown for Apple, which in our view augurs well for other smartphone vendors adopting the technology. This is also a good thing for our Universal Display (OLED) shares as organic light emitting diode displays are present in two-thirds of the new iPhone offerings. In addition to Apple and other smartphone vendors adopting the technology, we are also seeing more TV models adoption it as well. We are also starting to see ultra high-end cars include the technology, which means we are at the beginning of a long adoption road into the automotive lighting market. We see this confirming Universal’s view that demand for the technology and its chemicals bottomed during the June quarter. As a reminder, that view includes 2018 revenue guidance of $280 million-$310 million vs. the $99.7 million recorded in the first half of the year.

Second, Apple has partnered with Salesforce (CRM) as part of the latest step in Apple’s move to leverage the iPhone and iPad in the enterprise market. Other partners for this strategy include IBM (IBM), Cisco Systems (CSCO), Accenture (ACN) CDW Corp. (CDW) and Deloitte. I see this as Apple continuing to chip away at the enterprise market, one that it historically has had limited exposure.

  • Our price target on Apple (AAPL) and Universal Display (OLED) shares remain $225 and $150, respectively.

 

Changes afoot at S&P, but they still lag our thematic investing approach

Before we close out this week’s issue, I wanted to address something big that is happening in markets that I suspect most individuals have not focused on. This week, S&P will roll out the largest revision to its Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS) since 1999. Before we dismiss it as yet another piece of Wall Street lingo, it’s important to know that GICS is widely used by portfolio managers and investors to classify companies across 11 sectors. With the inclusion of a new category – Communication Services – it means big changes that can alter an investor’s holdings in a mutual fund or ETF that tracks one of several indices. That shifting of trillions of dollars makes it a pretty big deal on a number of fronts, but it also confirms the shortcomings associated with sector-based investing that we here at Tematica have been calling out for quite some time.

The new GICS category, Communications Services, will replace the Telecom Sector category and include companies that are seen as providing platforms for communication. It will also include companies in the Consumer Discretionary Sector that have been classified in the Media and Internet & Direct Marketing Retail subindustries and some companies from the Information Technology sector. According to S&P, 16 Consumer Discretionary stocks (22% of the sector) will be reclassified as Communications Services as will 7 Information Technology stocks (20% of that sector) as will AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ) and CenturyLink (CTL). Other companies that are folded in include Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOGL), Disney (DIS), Twitter (TWTR), Snap (SNAP), Netflix (NFLX), Comcast (CMCSA), and DISH Network (DISH) among others.

After these maneuverings are complete, it’s estimated Communication services will be the largest category in the S&P 500 at around 10% of the index leaving weightings for the other 11 sectors in a very different place compared to their history. In other words, some 50 companies are moving into this category and out of others. That will have meaningful implications for mutual funds and ETFs that track these various index components and could lead to some extra volatility as investors and management companies make their adjustments. For example, the Technology Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLK), which tracks the S&P Technology Select Sector Index, contained 10 companies among its 74 holdings that are being rechristened as part of Communications Services. It so happens that XLK is one of the two largest sector funds by assets under management – the other one is the Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLY), which had exposure to 16 companies that are moving into Communications Services.

So what are these moves really trying to accomplish?

The simple answer is they taking an out-of-date classification system of 11 sectors – and are attempting to make them more relevant to changes and developments that have occurred over the last 20 years. For example:

  • Was Apple a smartphone company 20 years ago? No.
  • Did Netflix exist 20 years ago? No.
  • Did Amazon have Amazon Prime Video let alone Amazon Prime 20 year ago? No.
  • Was Facebook around back then? Nope. Should it have been in Consumer Discretionary, to begin with alongside McDonald’s (MCD) and Ralph Lauren (RL)? Certainly not.
  • Did Verizon even consider owning Yahoo or AOL in 1999? Probably not.

 

What we’ve seen with these companies and others has been a morphing of their business models as the various economic, technological, psychographic, demographic and other landscapes around them have changed. It’s what they should be doing, and is the basis for our thematic investment approach — the strong companies will adapt to these evolving tailwinds, while others will sadly fall by the wayside.

These changes, however, expose the shortcomings of sector-based investing. Simply viewing the market through a sector lens fails to capture the real world tailwinds and catalysts that are driving structural changes inside industries, forcing companies to adapt. That’s far better captured in thematic investing, which focuses on those changing landscapes and the tailwinds as well as headwinds that arise and are driving not just sales but operating profit inside of companies.

For example, under the new schema, Microsoft (MSFT) will be in the Communications Services category, but the vast majority of its sales and profits are derived from Office. While Disney owns ESPN and is embarking on its own streaming services, both are far from generating the lion’s share of sales and profits. This likely means their movement into Communications Services is cosmetic in nature and could be premature. This echoes recent concern over the recent changes in the S&P 500 and S&P 100 indices, which have been criticized as S&P trying to make them more relevant than actually reflecting their stated investment strategy. For the S&P 500 that is being a market-capitalization-weighted index of the 500 largest U.S. publicly traded companies by market value.

As much as we could find fault with the changes, we can’t help it if those institutions, at their core, stick to their outdated thinking. As I have said before about other companies, change is difficult and takes time. And to be fair, for what they do, S&P is good at it, which is why we use them to calculate the NJCU New Jersey 50 Index as part of my work New Jersey City University.

Is this reclassification to update GICS and corresponding indices a step in the right direction?

It is, but it is more like a half step or even a quarter step. There is far more work to be done to make GICS as relevant as it needs to be, not just in today’s world, but the one we are moving into. For that, I’ll continue to stick with our thematic lens-based approach.

 

Holograms are changing how doctors learn

Holograms are changing how doctors learn

 

There is only so much one can learn from a two-dimensional book, and that is prompting the use of holograms, one of the technologies inside our Disruptive Technologies investing theme, in educational settings. Given the many systems and their inner workings inside the human body, holograms are a natural fit with medicine, and in our view especially orthopedics, a growth industry associated with our Aging of the Population investing theme.

 

HoloPatient is one of a suite of educational applications developed by Pearson PLC, the London-based education company, for Microsoft Corp.’s HoloLens headset. When users press a button on the goggles, a three-dimensional, life-size patient avatar appears in a real-life classroom.Though neither mixed reality nor virtual reality—which immerses users in a fully virtual environment—is widespread in health-sciences programs, both are becoming more common. Recently, schools like Texas Tech, Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif., and the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha have invested in full-scale “simulation centers.” These facilities include mock hospital settings and technology like 360-degree video, interactive digital walls, virtual-reality and mixed-reality headsets and holographic-projection screens. (UNMC’s 192,000-square-foot facility is scheduled to open in 2019.)

Professors see the technology as a way to immerse students in otherwise inaccessible real-world settings in a relatively cost-effective and easily reproducible way. “Do I want my students to experience a patient fall? Absolutely not,” says Philip Greiner, director of SDSU’s school of nursing, describing a chronic hospital problem. But to prepare them for such a scenario, “I want to be able to reproduce that for every single one of my students.”

Source: How Holograms Are Helping Medical Training – WSJ

Weekly Issue: Looking for Trump-Proof Companies

Weekly Issue: Looking for Trump-Proof Companies

We exited last week with the market realizing there was more bark than bite associated with President Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. That period of relative calm, however, was short-lived as the uncertainty resumed in Washington yesterday in the form of changeups in the administration with Trump letting go Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just after agreeing to talks with North Korea, and more saber rattling with trade actions against China for technology, apparel, and other imports. This also follows Trump’s intervention in the proposed takeover of Qualcomm (QCOM) by competitor Broadcom (BRCM).

While many an investor will focus on the “new” volatility in the market, I’ll continue to use our thematic lens to look for companies that are “Trump-Proof” in the short-term. That’s not a political statement, but rather a reflection of the reality that the modus operandi of President Trump and his Twitter habit often cause significant swings in the market as the media attempts to digest and interpret his comments.

How will we find these so-called Trump-proof companies? By continuing to use our thematic lens to uncover well-positioned companies that are benefitting from thematic tailwinds that alter the existing playing field, regardless of the latest noise from Washington politicians.

At least for now, volatility is back in vogue and that is bound to drive headlines and other noise. I’ll continue to focus on the data, and if you read this week’s Monday Morning Kickoff you know we are in the midst of a whopper of a data week. While the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for February was in line with expectations, and on a year over year basis core rose 1.8% — the same as in January — which should take some wind out of the inflation mongers. This morning we have the February Retail Sales report, which in my view should once again serve up confirming data for our positions in Amazon (AMZN) and Costco Wholesale (COST), which continue to benefit from our Connected Society and Cash-strapped Consumer investing themes.  Later in the week, the February reading on Industrial Production should confirm the demands that are exacerbating the current heavy truck shortage here in the U.S. – good news for the Paccar (PCAR)shares on the Tematica Investing Select List.

 

 

An Update on Our Once Star Performer, Universal Display (OLED)

A few weeks ago, I shared an update on Universal Display (OLED) shares, which have been essentially treading water following the company’s December quarter results. Later today, the management team will be presenting at the Susquehanna’s Seventh Annual Semi, Storage & Tech Conference. Odds are the management team will reiterate its view on market digesting the organic light emitting diode capacity additions made over the last several quarters, but I expect they will also describe the growing number of applications that will come on stream in the next 3-6 quarters.  As of late February, Susquehanna had a positive rating on OLED shares with a price target of $200 and I suspect they will have some bullish comments following today’s presentation.

 

Considering the ripples to be had with the latest Connected Society victim, Toys R Us

Over the weekend we were reminded of the situation facing many brick & mortar retailers that are failing to adapt their business to ride our Connected Society investing theme. I’m referring to toy and game retailer Toys R Us, the one-time Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS) or Home Depot (HD) of its industry. Like several sporting goods retailers and electronic & appliance retailers such as Sports Authority, Sports Chalet, and HH Gregg that have gone belly up, if Toys R Us doesn’t get a last-minute lifeline or find a buyer it will likely file Chapter 7.

It’s been a rocky road for the one-time toy supermarket company as it entered bankruptcy in September, aiming to emerge with a leaner business model and more manageable debt. The company obtained a new $3.1 billion loan to keep the stores open during the turnaround effort, but results worsened more than expected during the holidays, casting doubt on the chain’s viability. The company entered this year with more than 800 stores in the U.S. — under both the Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us brands, but by January, it announced the shuttering of 180 locations.

The pending bankruptcy to be had at Toys R Us is but the latest in the retail industry, but it’s not likely to be the last. Claire’s Stores Inc., the fashion accessories chain with a debt load of $2 billion, is also preparing to file for bankruptcy in the coming weeks as is Walking Co. Holdings Inc.

What these all have in common is the increasing shift by consumers to digital commerce and the growing reliance on retailers for what is termed the direct to consumer (D2C) business model. Certain branded apparel, footwear, and other consumer product companies, like Nike (NKE) have embraced Amazon’s formidable logistics capabilities and this has benefitted our United Parcel Service (UPS) shares. As we have said before, and we recognize it sounds rather simplistic, when you order products online they have to get to where they are being sent. Hello UPS!

Now let’s consider the ripple effect of the pending Toys R Us bankruptcy.

When events such as this occur, there is a liquidation effect and a subsequent void. As we saw when Sports Authority went bankrupt, the businesses at Nike and Under Armour (UAA) were impacted by liquidation sales in the short term. At the same time, both lost the recurring sales associated with Sports Authority. Odds are we will see the same happen with Toys R Us with companies like Mattel (MAT) and Hasbro (HAS) taking it on the chin. In my view these companies are already struggling as teens, tweens and kids of all ages shift to digital games, apps and e-gaming, which are aspects of our Connected Society and Content

In my view these companies are already struggling as teens, tweens and kids of all ages shift to digital games, apps and e-gaming, which are aspects of our Connected Society and Content is King themes. When was the last time you saw an elementary schooler play with Ken or Barbie? More likely they are on an iPad or Microsoft (MSFT) Xbox while their older siblings are playing the new craze sweeping the nation – Fortnite. And yes, that it appears the rumors are true and Fornite will soon be available across Apple’s iDevices.

Looking at the financial performance of Mattel, not even the all mighty Star Wars franchise could save them from delivering declining revenue and earnings this past holiday shopping season. On the liquidation front, we are likely to see the toys businesses at Target (TGT) as well as Walmart (WMT) take the brunt of the blow. But here too this is likely just another hit as these two retailers have already been dealing with falling revenue at Mattel and Hasbro. Walmart is the largest customer for Mattel and Hasbro, accounting for about 20% of total sales for each toy maker. Both toy companies get nearly 10% of their revenue from Target too.

One of the investing strategies that I employ with the Select List is “buy the bullets, not the guns” which refers to buying well-positioned suppliers that serve a variety of customers. In situations like what we are seeing in the brick & mortar retail sector, we can turn that strategy upside down and uncover those companies, like Mattel and Hasbro, that we as investors should avoid given the multiple direct and indirect headwinds they are currently facing or about to.