Verizon’s 5G in 30 US cities by end of 2019

Verizon’s 5G in 30 US cities by end of 2019

As we enter Mobile World Congress 2019, arguably the mobile event of the year, 5G network and device launch details are coming into greater focus. Verizon is taking the early lead in the US staking out 5G to 30 cities in the US by the end of 2019. Of course, 30 cities is hardly national coverage, which means a continued deployment for this aspect of our Digital Infrastructure investing theme well into 2020 at least for the US if not into 2021. Factor in the competitive response from AT&T and the soon to be combined T-Mobile USA and Sprint, and it means the likely tipping point for 5G is looking increasingly like the second half of 2020. From an iPhone perspective, even though Samsung and Motorola have announced they will have devices ready by mid-2019,  this 5G network timetable means we should not be expecting any 5G news from Apple this year, but rather its annual iPhone event in September-October of 2020.

Verizon on Thursday said it’s working on deploying 5G to some extent in 30 U.S. cities by the end of 2019, another hint that the technology won’t appear in iPhones until 2020.

The first parts of Verizon’s 5G network should be up by mid-2019 though, since the carrier is the exclusive launch partner for the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G.

AT&T and T-Mobile are also working on 5G deployments. Neither carrier is expected to get very far by the end of 2019 however, owing to partly to lags in equipment. There are also relatively few 5G-ready devices on the market, offering little incentive to speed up.

Multiple reports have pointed to Apple waiting until 2020 to ship 5G-capable iPhones. The company’s preferred modem maker, Intel, is unlikely to have a 5G chip ready until that timeframe.

Source: Verizon says 5G coming to 30 US cities by end of 2019

Samsung ditching plastic packaging with environmentally sustainable materials, but who will pay for it?

Samsung ditching plastic packaging with environmentally sustainable materials, but who will pay for it?

One of the central aspects of our investment themes is the ensuing change in consumer behavior that can lead to a company changing its strategy or how it operates in order to attract that cohort of consumers. While it may not appear to be a big deal, Samsung changing the packaging on its products from smartphones to home appliances is at a minimum an attempt for it to get inline with the growing trend that is Environmental, Social and Governance.

While it may not be enough to say Samsung is riding our Clean Living investment theme, it does add to its switch in recent years to light emitting diode (LED) lit products and other environmentally friendly solutions.

Samsung Electronics said Sunday it will replace plastic packaging used for its bevy of products from mobile phones and tablets to home appliances and wearables with paper and other environmentally sustainable materials like recycled/bio-based plastics.

Samsung will start making the switch in the first half of the year. The company aims to only use paper packaging materials certified by forestry initiatives by next year. By 2030, Samsung says it plans to use 500,000 tons of recycled plastics and collect 7.5 million tons of discarded products (both cumulative from 2009).

For instance, the plastic trays used to hold mobile phones and tablets will be replaced with ones made from pulp. Samsung said it will also alter the phone charger design, swapping the glossy exterior with a matte finish and eliminating plastic protection films, reducing the use of plastics.

Plastic bags used to protect the surface of home appliances such as TVs, refrigerators, air conditioners and washing machines as well as other kitchen appliances will also be replaced with bags containing recycled materials and bioplastics. Bioplastics are made from plastic wastes and non-fossil fuel materials like starch or sugar cane.

In my view, the below is perhaps the most telling statement in this switch at Samsung, but the question is how will it respond in terms of pricing its products? Will Samsung seek to pass this incremental cost on or let it nibble into its profits?

The company will adopt more environmentally sustainable materials even if it means an increase in cost,” Gyeong-bin Jeon, head of Samsung’s Global Customer Satisfaction Center, said in a statement.

Source: Samsung is ditching plastic packaging | TechCrunch

New touch-integrated OLED screens could make 2019 iPhones thinner, lighter and cheaper

New touch-integrated OLED screens could make 2019 iPhones thinner, lighter and cheaper

We’ve long said that pain points tend to give way to solutions and that is potentially proving out in the smartphone market that has been grappling with the transition to organic light emitting diode displays, which has popped smartphone average selling prices. Given price-demand concerns for new iPhones and other smartphone models utilizing OLED displays, we’re hearing about another innovation being developed that should reduce the cost burden as well as enable thinner and lighter models in the coming quarters. Disrupting the disruptor as it were.

For Apple, this could be a very welcome solution that jumpstarts its iPhone business either ahead of or in tandem with the debut of 5G iPhone models. The question we’re pondering is how Apple, Samsung, and others will balance ASPs for smartphones using this potentially cheaper solution vs. margins on those devices?

 

A supply-chain report says that Apple will be using a new form of screen technology to make at least one of its 2019 iPhone models thinner and lighter — a trend Apple has bucked with recent flagship versions.

The report says that Apple has decided to use touch-integrated flexible OLED panels, which have a different construction to current iPhone screens …

Current screens use a separate touch-sensitive layer sitting on top of the display itself. By integrating touch-sensitivity into the OLED screen, it will allow devices to be somewhat thinner and lighter.

The report claims that the technology should be ready for use next year, but says that initial supplies will be constrained, suggesting that the new screens might be used only in next year’s highest-end model. However, as the tech is expected to be cheaper than a separate touch-sensitive layer, it is likely to be rolled out into all models as capacity increases in future years.

Source: Apple reported to use new touch-integrated OLED screens to make 2019 iPhone thinner and lighter – 9to5Mac

Adding downside protection and naming a new Thematic Leader

Adding downside protection and naming a new Thematic Leader

Key points inside this issue

  • As more investors reassess coming growth expectations, we are adding ProShares Short S&P500 (SH) to hedge both the Thematic Leaders and the Select List. While not a thematic position but one that will limit near-term downside, we will evaluate this position on as needed basis in the coming weeks.
  • Calling Nokia up to the Thematic Leaders
  • Adding Skyworks Solutions to the Contender’s List
  • Cannabis rumors swirl around Altria

 

Adding some downside protection with SH shares

It’s not often we get a mid-week break for the stock market, and the reason behind yesterday’s stock market closure was a solemn one. It did offer a respite from the wild swing we saw in the market between Monday and Tuesday, which resulted in a demonstrable move lower for all the major market indices. As I shared on Monday, despite the seeming forward motion on US-China trade, there remains much work to be done and a number of headwinds that, as expected, are leading investors to question 2019 EPS growth prospects.

Yesterday, China’s Commerce Ministry released a statement calling trade talks between Presidents Xi and Trump at the G20 Summit in Argentina “very successful.” The statement said the Chinese and U.S. trade and economic delegations will “actively advance the work of consultation” in 90 days in accord with “a clear timetable” and “road map” but offered little concrete details. Odds are this will add to the uncertainty that led Monday’s rally to finish the day off its highs and helped drive the market lower on Tuesday.

In my view, this will keep the market on pins and needles as we digest the coming economic data points to be had that I shared on Monday as well as those for next week that include November reports for inflation, Retail Sales and Industrial Production. As more investors question earnings growth prospects vs. the current stock market multiple, the risk is we could see more downside, especially if those same investors suspect tariffs will indeed be eventually raised to 25% from 10% along with further interest rate hikes. A recent survey of 500 institutional investors by Natixis showed that 65% see a change coming, with the biggest threats being geopolitical tensions and rising interest rates. Between the wage data to be had in Friday’s Employment Report and next week’s PPI and CPI reports, we also run the risk of seeing potentially hawkish comments following today’s latest Fed Beige Book. That report showed tariff driven price increases have spread more broadly through the U.S. economy.

As we get these and other data points ahead of the Fed’s essentially baked in the cake rate hike on December 19, I’ll continue to heed the Thematic Signals we collect each week. Given the market mood, however, I’m adding some downside protection to help insulate subscriber assets in the near-term in the form of ProShares Short S&P500 (SH), an inverse ETF for the S&P 500.

  • As more investors reassess coming growth expectations, we are adding ProShares Short S&P500 (SH) to hedge both the Thematic Leaders and the Select List. While not a thematic position but one that will limit near-term downside, we will evaluate this position on as needed basis in the coming weeks.

 

Samsung set to bring 5G into the prime time

Amid the trade news between the United States and China out of the G-20 summit, there was other news that we’ve been waiting on patiently. Subscribers know that one of our core investment thesis for our positions in Dycom Industries (DY),  AXT Inc. (AXTI), Nokia (NOK) and to a lesser extent Applied Materials (AMAT) shares is the deployment of 5G networks and devices. In the last few months, we’ve heard of beta rollouts from both AT&T Inc. (T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) as well as fixed wireless testing that could be a replacement for broadband to the home. The thing that has been missing is the to-date elusive announcement on a 5G smartphone that will ride 5G networks and their data speeds, something that will make the speed of the current 4G LTE network look something out of the dial-up days. If you remember those days, you know what I’m talking about — all that’s missing is the wonky connect garble noise.

Let me rephrase: That announcement was elusive until this past Monday when Verizon shared that smartphone users in the United States will be able to use Verizon’s 5G wireless network in the first half of 2019 starting with devices from Samsung. While details of the devices were scant — no models or price points — it is expected that Samsung will be revealing a proof concept this week at the annual Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) Snapdragon Summit in Maui, Hawaii. Given the location of the unveiling, it seems like a sure bet Qualcomm and its chipsets will be powering the device. No surprise, considering that Samsung long has been a core customer of Qualcomm.

The key point here is the largest smartphone company by volume will be debuting its first 5G market in the coming months.

 

Calling Nokia up to the Thematic Leaders

From our perspective, I see this development as confirming our view on a few levels. Operators are not ones to launch a network unless devices are available for them to monetize that network and all the investments that led to it. That’s a positive for Nokia as it confirms the pending multi-year upswing in 5G infrastructure demand is firmly in front of it, as is the opportunity for its IP licensing business. Second, given Verizon’s timetable of “the first half of 2019,” it means the supply chain soon will be firing up to deliver the components necessary for these devices, including the incremental number of RF (radio frequency) semiconductors needed for 5G. That means incremental wafer demand for AXT during what is a seasonally slow period for smartphones.

As a result, I am calling shares of Nokia up from the Select List to the Thematic Leaders to fill the Disruptive Innovatorsvoid. With Samsung, AT&T, and Verizon having now laid out a timetable for 5G deployments for both networks and devices, we now have a far firmer timetable for a pick up in demand for mobile infrastructure business as well as high margin licensing business. My price target on NOK shares remains $8.50.

  • We are adding Nokia (NOK) shares to the Thematic Leaders for our Disruptive Innovators investing theme. Our price target remains $8.50

 

Adding Skyworks Solutions to the Contender’s List

That incremental RF semiconductor demand for 5G I mentioned a few paragraphs above also means more power amplifiers, switches, filters and other components that will once again increase the dollar content per device for Skyworks Solutions (SWKS) and its competitors. We’ve owned SWKS shares before, and more recently they’ve been battered around as more signs of stalling smartphone demand have emerged leading suppliers to cut their forecasts.

I’ve no intention in jumping into that fray ahead of the seasonally slowest time of the year for smartphone demand – the first half of the calendar year. Rather, we’ll put a pin in SWKS shares, add them to the Contender List and look to revisit them as a Disruptive Innovator play as we either put the March quarter behind us or a new US-China trade deal is inked.

 

Cannabis rumors swirl around Altria

After we published Monday’s Tematica Investing issue, there was much chatter suggesting that Guilty Pleasure Thematic Leader Altria Group (MO) could be interested in acquiring Cronos Group (CRON), a Canadian cannabis company. That speculation sent CRON shares 11% higher on the day and also lifted MO.

As you know, I have held the view that Altria would look to diversify its business away from tobacco and ride the wave of cannabis legalization in the U.S. The key here is legalization across the entire U.S., which would ease manufacturing, distribution, sales and marketing efforts by Altria rather than being an ad-hoc effort. Until the federal ban is lifted, there are also issues with how a company such as Altria would deposit its revenue and profits.

For those looking at Cronos as a positive for Altria’s U.S. business, I think that is a bit presumptuous as the timing of U.S. cannabis legalization remains tenuous. A potential acquisition such as this, however, would give Altria a toehold in the cannabis space, which is legal in Canada, and allow it to learn the business and test market product for an eventual launch in the U.S. when the time is right.

For now, a potential acquisition of Cronos is just speculation, but in principle, it fits with our long-term view of where Altria is likely headed. Now we have to see what Altria does next.

 

 

Building on the Thematic Leaders with a call position in this Disruptive Innovator company

Building on the Thematic Leaders with a call position in this Disruptive Innovator company

Key points inside this issue:

In yesterday’s Tematica Investing, after recasting our investment themes over the last several weeks I unveiled the 11 Thematic Leaders, which are the best positioned thematic companies offering favorable risk-vs.-reward when it comes to their stock prices. To quickly recap, that’s one for each of our 10 investment themes with the 11thbeing Amazon (AMNZ), which has the greatest number of investment themes pushing on its businesses.

We’ve taken advantage of that building out process with our recent win with Costco Wholesale (COST) calls that garnered us a 56% return on the first slug we sold and more than 200% when we closed out the rest of the position. Unfortunately, the recent back and forth in the market following the news that President Trump would levy another round of tariffs on China led to our being stopped out of the second Costco Wholesale position that was the COST January 2019 250 calls as well as the Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) January 2019 500 calls. While we lost roughly 32% on that second Costco position, we eked out a very modest gain on the Chipotle ones.

We still have our new addition from last week, the Altria (MO) January 2019 65.00 (MO190118C00065000) calls which closed last night at 1.46, down from our 1.55 buy-in price last week. Over the coming weeks, we’ll primarily be cherry picking the Thematic Leaders for call option positions when appropriate. In the case that a potential call option position lacks sufficient trading volume, I’ll make a related thematic recommendation.

 

Adding a new call position in Universal Display

Just over a week ago, Apple (AAPL) held its Fall 2018 introduction of three new iPhones – the iPhone XS, iPhone XSMax and iPhone XR – and the latest Apple Watch. Two of those new iPhone models – the iPhone XS and iPhone XSMax – are employing organic light emitting diode displays as is the Apple Watch 4.  If we think back to last year, one of the reasons for Apple only incorporating organic light emitting diode display technology into the iPhone X was the industry shortage, which has been alleviated over the last few quarters as companies like Samsung and LG Display ramped their manufacturing capacity, something that helped boost the display manufacturing equipment at Applied Materials (AMAT).

Both Samsung and LG Display have been named as display suppliers for these new Apple products, and both Samsung and LG Display are customers as well as IP licensees with Universal Display (OLED). Early reviews for all three of these products have been favorable and initial orders for certain models are being reported at stock outs. Hardly a surprise when it comes to Apple, but in the coming weeks, it will boost production as it brings these devices to various geographic markets around the world.

Here’s the thing, there is more to the organic light emitting diode display story in the near-term that just Apple. In just a few weeks, on Oct. 9th, Google (GOOGL) will unveil its latest Pixel 3 smartphone, which is also expected to have that technology. In addition to smartphone models, the ZTE Axon 9 Pro, and Sony Xperia XZ23 will soon hit the market joining recent ones from Huawei, Samsung, Asus and Xiaomi – and they all will have some form of organic light emitting diode display.

We are also seeing more introductions of the technology into the TV market, with products from LG, Sony, Toshiba and Philips either having already launched in some markets or poised to be launched in the coming months. We are also starting to see the technology crack the automotive market, granted at the very high end. In early September, Bugatti announced that it will include the technology in its tail lights for its new Divo “hypercar.” A nice win for sure, but it will take some time for the technology to filter downstream the way technology tends to do in the automotive market.

The bottom line is we are starting to see the uptake in organic light emitting technology that was talked about earlier this year. It’s very positive for our Universal Display (OLED) shares, and that sets the company up for what is likely to be a very positive September quarter earnings report. We will leverage that likelihood by adding the Universal Display (OLED) January 2019 130.00 calls (OLED190118C00130000)that closed last night at 8.60 to our holdings. That time horizon allows for a full quarter’s impact of the new iPhone models as well as others, which happens to include the holiday shopping season. Given the time frame, we will set a wider than usual berth for our stop loss, which we will set at 4.00. As the underlying OLED shares move higher, propelling the OLED calls upward, I’ll look to prudently boost that stop loss.

New identification solutions being worked on for mobile payments

New identification solutions being worked on for mobile payments

We have long said one of the dark sides of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme is a tailwind for our Safety & Security theme, and a new report makes the case for the not only the reverse, but it also invokes our Disruptive Innovators one as well. I’m talking about mobile payments. With debit and credit card transactions, the security layer was a signature or a pin code, but those have been replaced with fingerprint recognition and with Apple’s iPhone X, face recognition dubbed by Apple as FaceID. This new report suggests we are poised to see new forms of security ranging from eye-based identification to blood pressure, especially as new forms of two-factor identification are launched by the likes of Samsung and others.

While we applaud the focus on greater, and potentially smarter, smartphone security, in part because a greater comfort level is likely to boost mobile payment usage, as users we would suggest solutions that do not add multiple steps that make the experience secure but cumbersome. We don’t think anyone wants to be the “the person” that leads to a back up in the line to get on the Tube in London, the subway in New York’s five boroughs or in the self-checkout line at your local grocery store.

 

A recent report by Juniper Research predicts that the biggest shift coming in the mobile payment security industry is a movement toward software-based methods for verification that rely on standard smartphone components.

“Mobile payment security will broaden hugely thanks to the implementation of pure software solutions,” remarked report author James Moar. “The key battle now will be to convince users, particularly those in Europe and North America, that these methods are just as secure as traditional hardware-based security.”

The company added that with the iPhone X, and other smartphones offering facial and eye-based identification, fingerprint sensors will decline as a proportion of smartphone biometrics hardware, from just over 95 percent in 2018 to below 90 percent by 2023.

Samsung, in particular, is working toward other areas of authentication, including a method that detects users’ blood pressure. According to a patent filed by the company, “the arterial conduction paths of different users are almost never identical.”  Samsung is reportedly looking into replacing static and hackable PINs and passwords, with a one-two authentication combo by pairing users’ blood pressure with their unique fingerprints.

Source: Fingerprint Scanner Tech To Grow 500 Percent | PYMNTS.com

With new antennas, Qualcomm signals 5G smartphones are coming “soon”

With new antennas, Qualcomm signals 5G smartphones are coming “soon”

We’re also looking for confirming data points for our investment themes, especially those that are poised to disrupt existing business models. In the case of 5G mobile technology, one of the meaningful questions is when we will see commercial deployments of both 5G networks and 5G devices. After all, a 5G network is pretty hard for AT&T or Verizon to monetize unless it has a service offering and that hinges on having 5G devices to deploy on its 5G network.

Today’s news that Qualcomm is shipping 5G antennas to its customers for testing and stands ready for “large-scale commercialization” likely means 5G devices are just quarters away instead of years away. As we move through 2Q 2018 earnings season, we’ll look for more timing signals for the launch of commercial 5G networks and devices.

 

Qualcomm today unveiled what it says is the world’s “first fully-integrated 5G NR mmWave and sub-6 GHz RF modules for smartphones and other mobile devices.” These are the QTM052 mmWave antenna module family and the QPM56xx sub-6 GHz radio frequency (RF) module, and they’ll pair with the company’s previously announced Snapdragon X50 5G modem — making next-gen phone networks a reality very soon.

If you recall, a bunch of major smartphone makers, including Samsung, LG, Sony, HTC and Xiaomi already said they’ll be working with Qualcomm, and most of them commited to delivering X50-powered phones by the first half of 2019. Those devices will likely use the new antenna and RF modules announced today. Qualcomm told Engadget it has already shipped samples out to its device partners, and will be working with them to figure out the best placement to minimize signal interference due to hand blocking.

According to the company’s statement, “a working mobile mmWave solution … was previously thought unattainable.” Now, however, Qualcomm said it is “ready for large scale commercialization,” which means we are that much closer to seeing 5G devices in the real world soon.

Source: Qualcomm’s 5G antennas are primed for next year’s phones

A new digital key standard could finally put your car key inside your iPhone

A new digital key standard could finally put your car key inside your iPhone

We as a people have been carrying many things in our pockets when we leave the house – first keys and wallet then keys, wallet and phone. As part of our Cashless Consumption investment theme we have seen mobile wallets begin to proliferate as well as apps like Apple Pay and PayPal that likely mean at some point we won’t have to carry our physical wallets – if only someone can figure out a digital driver’s license.

Before too long it seems we may be able to ditch the car keys as well, which will naturally be incorporated into our smartphones. We’ve already seen smartphone apps that unlock and lock doors as well as garage doors, which to us means car doors are inevitable. Of course, as this happens it also means another avenue of potential theft that will be a part of our Safety & Security investing theme.

The Car Connectivity Consortium, which counts Apple among its charter members, on Wednesday announced the publication of new “digital key” standard that allows drivers to actuate vehicle systems like door locks and the engine via an NFC-enabled smartphone.

With its technology, aptly dubbed the Digital Key Release 1.0 specification, the CCC aims to bringautomotive manufacturers and mobile device makers together to create an interoperable digital key standard.

The system operates in much the same way as first-party digital keys currently available from a handful of vehicle OEMs. Users with authenticated smart devices are able to lock, unlock, start the engine of and share access to a specific car. Unlike some remote control solutions that leverage Wi-Fi or Bluetooth communications, however, Release 1.0 appears intrinsically tied to short-range technology like NFC.

Relying on existing Trusted Service Manager (TSM) infrastructure, Release 1.0 allows carmakers to securely transfer digital key information to a smart device like a smartphone, perfect for car-sharing or fleet deployments. Specialized hardware like near-field communications chips and internal secure elements provide a high level of user protection.

According to a white paper outlining the technology’s architecture, Release 1.0 looks to create standardized interfaces between a car, a smart device’s NFC and Bluetooth Low Energy stack, secure element, first-party app, TSM, OEM backend and SE provider. OEMs are responsible for proprietary interfaces between their respective backends and the car.

As noted by the group, which focuses on developing mobile device-to-vehicle connectivity solutions, a number of carmakers already field proprietary digital key solutions, though the market is fragmented. A single unifying standard would not only enhance the customer experience, but provide manufacturers access to the latest security protocols and technological advancements, the CCC argues.

CCC charter member Audi is already using digital key technology in its vehicles, while Volkswagen, another charter member, said it plans to integrate the technology soon. Alongside Audi and Volkswagen, Apple, BMW, General Motors, Hyundai, LG Electronics, Panasonic and Samsung are listed charter members of the organization, while core members include ALPS, Continental Automotive, DENSO, Gemalto, NXP and Qualcomm.

The CCC says it is already working on a Digital Key Release 2.0 that should be completed by the first quarter of 2019. The second-generation technology will provide a standardized authentication protocol between the vehicle and a paired smart device, and will be fully with interoperability between difference smartphones and cars.

Source: Apple wants to replace your car keys with an iPhone

What does Vietnam’s growing middle class want? Air conditioning and electricity 

What does Vietnam’s growing middle class want? Air conditioning and electricity 

In the developed economies we tend to take a number of things for granted including ready access to food, water, infrastructure, and technology to name just a few. We can add another item to the list – air conditioning, and its one that is seeing growing demand in Vietnam in particular and Asia overall due to our Rising of the New Middle Class investing theme. While not quite a hard economic data point, refrigerators and washing machines are usually the first white goods to catch on in a developing market

This growth is also causing for a sharp increase in electricity demand, which is expected to double by 2040 – a clear sign the region will need to address is infrastructure as well.

Are some companies looking to capitalize on this demand shift that reflects Vietnam being the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia? In a word, yes. With a population of 93 million, among the highest in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Vietnam is seen as having a more promising air conditioner market than Malaysia and Thailand, whose markets are reaching maturity. With only about 17% of Vietnamese households owning an air conditioner last year, according to British research firm Euromonitor International, the market is expected to grow further.

 

 

Air conditioner manufacturers around the world are locking horns in Vietnam, whose market has become the second largest in Southeast Asia as rapid economic growth supports a burgeoning middle class.

Vietnam’s market for the cooling systems ranked as Asia’s eighth largest in 2011, excluding Japan and China, with about 660,000 units sold. But the country surpassed Thailand in 2015, and sales of 1.98 million units in 2016 lifted the nation into third behind India and Indonesia.

The Japan Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Industry Association reported that the global market grew 2.5% from 2011 to 2016, but surged 34.3% in Asia over that span, with Vietnamese sales tripling to 150 billion yen ($1.35 billion at current rates).

Rising wealth in Vietnam has fueled steep expansion in the air conditioner market. The country’s economy has been growing at the fastest clip in Southeast Asia, around 7% a year. Refrigerators and washing machines are usually the first white goods to catch on in a developing market, with a sharp increase in demand for air conditioners once gross domestic product per capita hits $3,000.

South Korea’s LG Electronics has invested $1.5 billion to raise production by 2028 at a factory in the northern city of Haiphong that makes displays and air conditioners. Japan’s Panasonicis increasing output at its Malaysian factory to expand supply to Vietnam.

Daikin and Panasonic each control about 25% of Vietnam’s air conditioner market, followed by LG, Samsung Electronics of South Korea and Sweden’s Electrolux. The popularity of Japanese brands is rising in Vietnam as consumers increasingly value energy efficiency and performance over low prices.

Source: Air conditioner makers battle for Vietnam’s red-hot market – Nikkei Asian Review

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

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

 

Key Points from this Alert:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What’s the Fed likely to say later today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Scaling into AXTI (AXTI) shares …

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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