Chico’s – if you can’t beat Amazon, join ’em

Chico’s – if you can’t beat Amazon, join ’em

We continue to hear about the retail apocolypse that is destroying brick & mortar retail. Each monthly Retail Sales report shows continued share gains by non-store retail sales, government speak for digital commerce, one of the core drivers of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme. Following the path blazed by Nike (NKE), Carter’s (CRI), Calvin Klein and even Sears (SHLD) – yes we said Sears – is selling Kenmore-branded appliances on Amazon in some markets, Chico’s FAS (CHS) is jumping on board.

For those unfamiliar with Chico’s it is a retailer of women’s “casual-to-dressy clothing, intimates, and complementary accessories” which sounds like something in the cross-hairs of Amazon’s own private label clothing effort. Some retailers like J.Jill (JILL) are looking to build their own digital commerce platform, but Chico’s move is less capital intensive and allows for it to leverage Amazon’s formidable logistis. Not a bad idea for a company whose top line appears to be stagnating.

 

Chico’s is the newest retailer to set up shop on Amazon. Beginning in mid-May, a select assortment of Chico’s brand merchandise will be available on Amazon. This includes the company’s core collections, Travelers, Zenergy athleisure, no-iron shirts, So Slimming pants and Chico’s jewelry.

All Chico’s merchandise will be eligible for free shipping through Amazon Prime. Chico’s FAS will maintain control of marketing, pricing and promotions for its products on Amazon.

Based on sales, additional Chico’s merchandise, such as White House | Black Market and Soma products, will likely be added in the future, according to the company.

Source: Chico’s partners with online giant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Food with Integrity Theme Seen in Retail Sales Report As Well

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

As earnings move into the fast lane, things are likely to get bumpier

As earnings move into the fast lane, things are likely to get bumpier

Key Points from this Alert

  • With market volatility picking up as earnings velocity takes off, we are keeping our inverse ETF position intact.
  • Recent data confirms our short bias on General Motors (GM) and Simon Property Group (SPG).
  • Today we are using a lackluster developer conference to scale into Facebook (FB) May 2017 $150 calls (FB170519C00150000) as we drop our stop loss to $0.75 from $1.00.

Over the last two weeks, we’ve seen the stock market bounce up and down with both oil and gold prices doing the same. The latest blow in oil prices comes following a report on Tuesday that “U.S. crude stockpiles fell less than expected in the latest week while gasoline stockpiles grew unseasonably” — not exactly something we want to hear as economists and others trim back their GDP forecasts.

Peering below the headlines, we saw the first dip in the manufacturing component of the monthly Industrial Production report in March. Even if we exclude the step-down in the production of motor vehicles and parts, March manufacturing output still declined. Furthermore, revisions to January and February meant manufacturing activity was weaker than previously thought.

Yes, we realize that we have been talking about this for several weeks, and while we take solace in knowing that once again the herd is catching up to us, we’re not exactly thrilled the latest data suggests there is more revising to be done. As this is happening, we are also seeing a drop in Fed interest rate hike expectations. Just a few weeks ago, 57 percent of traders expected the Fed to boost interest rates two more times this year. As of last night, that expectation fell to 36 percent according to CME Group’s FedWatch program.

Tracing back the market’s up and downs over the past month or so tells us investors continue to look for some direction, and in our view, the coming days are likely to offer the road map. The issue is, the road ahead may not be the one that most are hoping to take and its guide will be the plethora of earnings reports we get not just this week, but increasing pace over the next two weeks. Compared to some 300 reports this week — the vast majority of which will hit after tonight’s market close — next week has more than 990 companies reporting followed by another 1,269 during the first week of May.

As this pace picks up, we’re seeing more political drama unfold in Washington, and when we put it all together it tells us there is more risk to be had in the near-term than reward. While we recognize we are likely preaching to the choir at this point, the simple truth is corporate expectations needs to be reset given the economic climate and as that happens we are likely to see more wind taken out of the stock market’s sales.

 


In looking at the recent move in the Volatility Index (VIX), which recently hit its highest level since before the November election, the market is on edge as earnings ramp up. Adding to this is some new findings from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch monthly fund manager survey that shows some 83 percent of fund managers believe U.S. stocks are overvalued. As always we try to put data like this into perspective, and in doing so we find that 83 percent is a record number for data that reach back to 1999.

Now that certainly tells several things, but the one we are zeroing in on is the simple fact that in a nervous market, investors are likely to shoot first and ask questions later when faced with a barrage of earnings reports.

  • For these reasons, we will continue to stick with all of our inverse stock market ETFs — the ProShares Short S&P500 (SH), ProShares Short Russell 2000 (RWM) and ProShares Short Dow30 (DOG), all of which climbed higher over the last two weeks — for at least the next several weeks. 

 


 

Turning to Our Short Positions in
General Motors (GM) and Simon Property Group (SPG)

The March Retail Sales report confirmed our concern over the consumer’s ability and willingness to spend. The fact that 1Q 2017 was the worst quarter for restaurant traffic in three years is yet another confirming sign of that fact. As earnings reports roll in, we’ll take stock in what Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA)have to say about consumer spending, but with more than $1 trillion in consumer credit card debt, we are inclined to keep our short position in GM and SPG shares intact.

  • We continue to have a Sell rating on GM shares with a price target of $30. 
  • Our buy stop order on GM remains at $40. As the shares continue to move lower, we’ll look to revisit our buy-stop loss further with a goal of using it to lock in position profits.
  • With retail pain likely to intensify, we continue to have a bearish view on SPG shares. Our price target on SPG remains $150 and our buy stop order remains at $190.
  • As SPG shares move lower, we’ll continue to ratchet down this buy stop order as well. 

 


 

That Brings Us to Our One Long Position — Facebook

The Facebook (FB) May 2017 $150 calls (FB170519C00150000), closed last night at $1.10, modestly above our $1.00 stop loss level. The calls have traded off over the last two days and we can understand why. We have to say we were somewhat underwhelmed by this year’s annual developer conference, better known as F8, that spanned the last two days. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced a series of new features covering augmented reality, artificial intelligence bots, and more far-fetched plans to close the gap between humans and machines. In particular, Zuckerberg wants Facebook users to be able to “type with their brains and hear with their skin.”

If you thought you heard our eyes roll, you were correct.

Each of these announced initiatives will take Facebook time to develop and then, in turn, it will be even more time for them to have a meaningful impact on the company’s business model — far more time than we have with our May calls.

That said, given Alphabet’s (GOOGL) recent snafu with YouTube and advertisers, we suspect Facebook saw a bump in advertising that should help it keep its earnings beating track record intact. With the company set to report its 1Q 2017 earnings on May 3, we’ll use the recent pullback in the calls to scale into the position, reducing our cost basis along the way. As we do this, we will drop our protective stop loss to $0.75 as well.

The Data Says Steady as She Goes

The Data Says Steady as She Goes

Key Points from this Alert

  • With market volatility expected to pick up as we head into earnings, we’re keeping our inverse ETF positions in tact.
  • March auto sales data, as well as the growing concern over the consumer, have us keeping our short positions on both General Motors (GM) and Simon Property Group (SPG) shares.
  • While the Facebook (FB) May 2017 $150 calls (FB170519C00150000) calls dipped week over week, the two major catalysts behind the trade remain ahead of us. We continue to rate the calls a Buy.

We’re slowing inching our way closer toward 1Q 2017 earnings season, which, as we shared earlier this week, we think could bring a return of volatility to the stock market. We’ve read a lot of bullish commentary, with many pointing to the robust inflow of funds into ETFs during 1Q 2017 — $134.7 billion vs. 29.6 billion in inflows in 1Q 2016 – but we have to remember individual investors tend to stay on sidelines only to return to the market near the top.

Part of what’s to blame is the overly bullish talking heads, and in my readings, I found a great example of this. Financial firm LPL published the following commentary about 1Q 2017:

Although the S&P 500 Index just missed out on a five-month winning streak in March with a 0.04% loss, the good news is it still gained 5.5% in the first quarter.|

“This came out to the best quarter overall since the fourth quarter of 2015, and it was the best first quarter gain since 2013! Going back to 1950, this was the 25th time the S&P 500 gained 5% or more during the first quarter. The good news for the bulls is the returns after a big first quarter have been broadly stronger across the board.”

Now let’s dig into this…. there have been 67 years between 1950 and 2017, and doing some basic math we find 25/67 equals 37 percent. This means the “good news” for the bulls happens a little more than one-third the time. This also means that nearly two-thirds of the time, it doesn’t happen.

Just another example that we need to really dig into the data with context and perspective to understand what is really going on vs. what is being said. In doing so with this LPL commentary, we’ll be generous and say it has an overly bullish slant given the data. With the herd taking a bullish view despite the hard data we’ve been getting that calls for a rest in expectations for both 2017 earnings and GDP forecasts, we’ll continue to keep all three of our inverse ETFs in the Pro Select List.


Housekeeping!

Before we get to recapping our existing positions, we have a quick housekeeping reminder. As we mentioned in yesterday’s Tematica Investing, we’ll be using the market holiday next week to take a breather to get ready for the explosion in earnings reports that will begin the day after Easter. As such, your next regular issue of Tematica Pro will be April 20.

Rest assured that is something important comes along, we’ll be sure to issue a special alert.

 


March Auto Sales Confirm our Bearish View on GM 

March was supposed to be the month US auto sales rebounded from decreases in January and February. Instead, ample discounts were unable to spur demand for at the biggest automakers such as Ford (F), Fiat, and Toyota (TMC), and Honda (HMC), which all posted year over year declines. Sales incentives rose 13.4 percent in March, compared to a year earlier, to an average of $3,511 per vehicle, according to ALG. Making matters even worse, production is outpacing sales, which means auto dealers getting stuck with too many vehicles. Inventory levels hit 4.1 million units entering the month, the highest level since June 2004, according to Edmunds analysis based on Ward’s Auto figures.

General Motors faired a little better, with its US sales rising 2 percent year over year in March, but that was well below the consensus forecast that called for a +9.6 percent increase year over year.

As we look around us and see consumers saving more while others are grappling with rising bank card and subprime auto loan delinquencies, we continue to question the degree of new car demand. Adding to our concern is a new report from the Mortgage Bankers Association that showed the average size of a home loan was the largest in the history of its survey, which dates back to 1990. Another data point that points to Cash-strapped Consumers at a time when auto loan costs are ticking higher following the Fed’s two recent interest rate hikes.

GM will report its 1Q 2017 earnings on Friday, April 28 and as important as the rear view mirror quarterly results are, it will be the guidance that sets the tone for GM shares in 2Q 2017.

  • We continue to have a Sell rating on GM shares with a price target of $30. 
  • Our buy stop order on GM remains at $40. As the shares continue to move lower, we’ll look to revisit our buy-stop loss further with a goal of using it to lock in position profits. 

 


More Retail Pain Adds to Bearish Resolve on Simon Properties 

Next week will bring the March Retail Sales report, and based on what we’ve heard from retailers over the last few weeks paired with the data we’ve been sharing of late that shows our Cash-Strapped Consumer theme remains in full force, odds are it won’t be a pretty report. With Payless (PSS) and Bebe (BEBE) filing for bankruptcy and hhgregg (HGG) likely headed for liquidation, these are just the latest retailers that are dying on the vine. As we have learned this week, others are wounded including Urban Outfitters (URBN), shared its quarter to date sales are down in the mid-single digits, and Saks owner Hudson Bay (TSE:HBC) reported a drop in overall consolidated sales.

While Simon Property Group (SPG) rose modestly over the last week, we continue to be concerned over the shrinking customer landscape. We are also mindful that we will soon begin to see store closings from anchor tenants like Macy’s (M), JC Penney (JCP) and others. As those closings progress, we suspect investor sentiment will weigh on SPG shares.

  • With retail pain likely to intensify, we continue to have a bearish view on SPG shares. Our price target on SPG remains $150 and our buy stop order remains at $190.
  • As SPG shares move lower, we’ll continue to ratchet down this buy stop order as well.

 


Facebook continues to expand its footprint;
All eyes on April 18-19

Shares of this Connected Society investment theme social media company that is morphing into much more dipped modestly over the last several days, which reflected a similar move in the Nasdaq Composite Index. While Facebook lost out on its bid to stream the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package, we continue to see it benefitting from YouTube’s recent advertising snafu as branded companies ranging from AT&T (T) to Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) pull advertising spend.

That’s a nice development for FB shares as well as our Facebook (FB) May 2017 $150 calls (FB170519C00150000) calls, but we still have the two major factors ahead of us that led to our adding the call position to the select list. First, on April 18-19 is Facebook’s annual F8 Developer Conference at which we expect a number of updates and announcements from new monetization strategies to its plans for virtual as well as augmented reality and now payments.

That’s right, we said payments. Through its WhatsApp business, Facebook is launching digital payments in India, which happens to be WhatsApp’s largest market with more than 200 million users. Given the November 2017 ban on high-value currency notes in India as well as the country’s push into digital payments, we see WhatsApp as extremely well positioned for this. Forecasts have mobile payments growing to $2.57 billion in India by 2021, up from just $79 million this year, which would be awesome if it happened. Even if it falls short of that target, there is still phenomenal growth ahead that bodes well for our Facebook shares as well as the Facebook (FB) May 2017 $150 calls (FB170519C00150000) calls.

The second date to watch will be Facebook’s 1Q 2017 quarterly earnings that will be reported on May 3. Given its focus on monetization and mobile, Facebook has been handily beating expectations, and given the growing adoption of its platforms across the globe we see the company continuing that trend once again.

Adding more protection, but also taking advantage of YouTube’s misfortune

Adding more protection, but also taking advantage of YouTube’s misfortune

Key Points from this Alert

  • We are adding ProShares Short Dow30 (DOG) shares to the Select List with a price target of $$20, and should the shares trade below their 52-week low of $17.69 in the next several days we’re likely to scale into the position.
  • We are also adding the Facebook (FB) May 2017 $150 calls (FB170519C00150000) that closed last night at 1.85 to the select list. As we do that we’ll set a protective stop loss at 1.00. We’d be buyers of the calls up to the $2.25 level.
  • We continue to have a negative bias on both General Motors (GM) as well as Simon Property Group (SPG) shares. 

With all of two days left in the month of March and 1Q 2017, it certainly looks like March has been a sobering month for the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average as both indices have shed gains over the last few weeks. We tend not to pat ourselves on the back as we recognize that self-serving comments can be a little cheesy, but in this case, the concerns we laid out in February came home to roost in March. As we shared yesterday, the disconnect between stock prices, economic growth and earnings expectations remains and we think it’s going to be a very bumpy earnings season in just a few weeks.

 

As investors have come around to our view, we’ve seen a radical change in the CNN Money Fear & Greed Index, which closed last night at 34 (Fear) from 70 (Greed) just 30 days ago. Even though the Volatility Index has traded off the last few days, as you can see in the chart below it’s not too far off year to date lows.

 

Given the above, we’re going to hang on to our ProShares Short S&P500 (SH) and ProShares Short Russell 2000 (RWM) shares and add ProShares Short Dow30 (DOG) shares to the mix. DOG shares are an inverse ETF for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and are coming off their 52-week low given the strong move in the Dow over the last several months. As we saw in recent earnings reports from Nike (NKE), Target (TGT), FedEx (FDX), and last night LuluLemon (LULU), if this is what we’re in for it makes sense to add another layer of protection to the Select List.

  • We are adding ProShares Short Dow30 (DOG) to the Tematica Pro Select List.
  • Our price target on DOG shares is $20, and should the shares trade below their 52-week lows of $17.69 in the next several days we’re likely to scale into the position.

 

 

Getting back into Facebook calls

As we wrote yesterday in Tematica Investing, we see Facebook (FB) as a natural beneficiary of Alphabet’s (GOOGL) current bout of problems that centers on questionable YouTube content that has led to advertisers ranging from AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) to Volkswagen, Honda (HMC) and McDondald’s (MCD) to pull their ads from YouTube. Estimates put the potential revenue loss between $750 million to $1.25 billion, but we don’t think we’ll have a clear sense of the magnitude until we see how long those companies hold back their advertising spend with YouTube.

With several platforms at Facebook, including Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, that it continues to add increased functionality and monetization efforts, we see it as the natural beneficiary. This is especially the case given continued struggles at Twitter and Facebook adding features at Instagram that take aim at Snapchat (SNAP). As a reminder, Facebook continues to target live sporting events and other streaming capabilities, which could lead it to pick off TV advertising dollars. Finally, in a few weeks, Facebook will be holding its annual developer conference dubbed F8, which tends to be a showcase for new initiatives. Soon after the company will report its quarterly earnings and that has us eyeing the Facebook (FB) May 2017 $150 calls (FB170519C00150000) that closed last night at 1.85.

  • We’re adding those Facebook (FB) May 2017 $150 calls (FB170519C00150000) calls to the Select Listand as we do that we’ll set a protective stop loss at 1.00. We’d be buyers of the calls up to the $2.25 level.
  • As we do that we’ll set a protective stop loss at 1.00. We’d be buyers of the calls up to the $2.25 level.
  • We’d be buyers of the calls up to the $2.25 level.

 

 

Still bearish on General Motors and Simon Property Group shares

While both General Motors (GM) and Simon Property Group (SPG) shares traded modestly higher over the last few days, we continue to be bearish on both. The latest data show auto incentives have soared, particularly at General Motors, which is likely to eat into profits. With Americans missing bank cards payments at the highest levels since July 2013, the delinquency rate for subprime auto loans hitting the highest level in at least seven years and real wage growth remaining elusive, the outlook for consumer spending looks questionable. This includes auto sales as well as brick & mortar retailers.

We’ve written about issues at a number of such retailers, but we continue to hear about more being in trouble. The latest additions include Gymboree, Claire’s Stores, Ascena (ASNA), and Bebe Store (BEBE). Factor in the yet to be felt pain of store closing from Macy’s (M), Sears (SHLD) and J.C. Penney (JCP), and we continue to see more downside than upside with SPG shares.

  • We’ll continue to keep our short position in General Motors (GM), with a price target of $30. 
  • Our buy stop order on GM remains at $40. As the shares continue to move lower, we’ll look to revisit our buy-stop loss further with a goal of using it to lock in position profits. 
  • With retail pain likely to intensify, we continue to have a bearish view on SPG shares. Our price target on SPG remains $150 and our buy stop order remains at $190.
  • As SPG shares move lower, we’ll continue to ratchet down this buy stop order as well. 

 

As the market mood turns sour, we continue to favor our short positions

As the market mood turns sour, we continue to favor our short positions

Key Points from this Alert

  • With investors questioning the moves that have led the market higher over the last few months and revisiting earnings expectations for the S&P 500, we are counting our losses and exiting the United Parcel Service (UPS) April 2017 $110 calls (UPS170421C00110000) on the Tematica Select List.
  • More data points this week have added to our bearish view on General Motors (GM) shares, which have already fallen more than 7 percent since being added to the Select List. 
  • Similarly, investment firms turning increasingly negative on retail and a warning in Sears’s 10-K filing have us even more confident in the Simon Property Group (SPG) short position on the Select List.
  • With the market looking to get bumpy, our inverse ETF positions that are on the Select List are coming into favor as planned.

As we shared in yesterday’s Tematica Investing, spring has brought a shifting wind into the marketplace that has brought investor mindsets more in tune with what we’ve been saying over the last few months. We’ve also gotten a number of warnings signs over earnings growth, and more confirmation that retailer pain is only getting worse. That’s rather good news for the Simon Property Group (SPG) short position on the Select List.

With the prospects of further earnings revisions to be had in the coming weeks, which in our view will likely pressure markets further, we’ll be holding off adding any new call positions near term as we continue to examine potential short positions like General Motors (GM) and Simon Property Group (SPG). We’ll also be eying potential put positions as well. It also means that we’ll keep our inverse ETF positions intact as well; subscribers that have held off in adding these should revise those at current levels.

Before review our existing positions, a quick housekeeping item. The shifting market mindset that led to the worst day in the market for several weeks this past Tuesday stopped our the PowerShares DB US Dollar Bullish ETF (UUP) June 2017 $27 calls (UUP170616C00027000) on the Select List.

 

Shedding UPS calls?

Our UPS April 2017 $110 calls (UPS170421C00110000) calls have been all over the map the last few days due primarily to the market movement. While we continue to see UPS’s business as the missing link for the accelerating shift to digital commerce that is part of our Connected Society investing theme, given prospects for the market to get even bumpier in the days ahead, we’re going to cut our losses and exit the position with a 55 percent loss. While tempting to scale into the position, the fact that earnings expectations for the S&P 500 are likely to come down in the coming weeks means we’d be fighting the tide on this one.

 

Still bearish on General Motors shares

Last week we added a short position on General Motors (GM) shares given rising concerns over consumer debt levels and a pick up in auto subprime loan defaults as the Fed inched up interest rates. Yesterday we were reminded of this when Fitch Rating published its new U.S. Auto Asset Quality Review report that showed its view that auto loan and lease credit performance will continue to deteriorate in 2017. The report goes on to note that in response to deteriorating asset quality banks are starting to tighten underwriting standards once again, which could either lead to fewer auto loans, which would be bad for auto sales, or the financing arms of car companies, like General Motors, taking on more speculative loans — not exactly a good thing for the company balance sheet given the data we are seeing.

Making matters a little worse, we’re seeing a glut of used cars come onto the market. That trend will intensify as Americans will return 3.36 million leased cars and trucks this year, another jump after a 33 percent surge in 2016, according to J.D. Power.

That combination led financing company Ally Financial (ALLY) to slash its 2017 earnings forecast earlier this week. Back in January, the company expected to deliver EPS growth near 15 percent this year. Now the company sees its earnings rising as little as 5 percent this year.

  • Against that backdrop, we’ll continue to keep our short position in General Motors (GM), with a price target of $30. 
  • The shares have already fallen more than 7 percent in the last week, which has us moving our buy stop order down to $40 from $42. 
  • As the shares continue to move lower, we’ll look to revisit our buy-stop loss further with a goal of using it to lock in position profits. 

 

Sears and Payless spell more pain for Simon Property Group

Thus far our short position in Simon Property Group (SPG) has returned more than 9 percent over the last few weeks. Over the last few days, a few new data points bolstered our confidence in the underlying thesis for this short position. First, Wells Fargo has turned bearish on retailer noting that, ““increasingly clear that retail is under significant pressure” adding that store traffic remains weak and is likely to get softer this quarter due to the timing of Easter this year. Worse yet, markdown rates are not only elevated on an annual basis, but also getting sequentially worse. Those remarks were followed by investment firm Cowen sharing its latest retail channel checks for March that came in worse than expected. Clearly more pressure ahead for brick & mortar retailers.

The real blow for SPG shares came in Sears’s (SHLD) 10-K filing in which the company said, “substantial doubt exists related to the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.” We’ve long known that Shield was a company struggling to identify what it was as our Connected Society investment theme has transformed where and how people shop. The issue for Simon Property Group is Sears is a key anchor tenant across a number of its properties. Paired with other store closings from Macy’s (M), JC Penney (JCP) and a growing list of others, we see more pressure ahead on SPG’s business model. By the way, this is a great reminder as to how useful company filings, like 10-Ks and 10-Qs, can be.

That pressure now includes prospects per Bloomberg that Payless (PSS) is likely to file for bankruptcy next week. As you’ll hear us talk on our Cocktail Investing Podcast coming out later today, given inroads by Amazon (AMZN) and Zappos in the shoe market, we’re somewhat surprised that Payless has lasted this long.

  • With retail pain likely to intensify, we continue to have a bearish view on SPG shares. Our price target remains $150. 
  • With shares moving lower in recent weeks, we are adjusting our buy stop order to $190 from $200. 
  • As the shares move lower, we’ll continue to ratchet down this buy stop order as well. 

 

The Fed Hikes Rates, But We’re Positioning for the Coming Fallout

The Fed Hikes Rates, But We’re Positioning for the Coming Fallout

Key Points from this Alert

The big question that’s been overhanging the market this week was cleared up yesterday when the Fed announced the next upward move in interest rates, something the stock market has been increasingly expecting over the last several weeks. In looking at the Fed’s new forecasts compared to those issued three months ago, there were no material changes in the outlook for GDP, the Unemployment Rate, or expected inflation.

We find the Fed’s action yesterday rather interesting against that backdrop, especially given its somewhat lousy track record when it comes to timing its rate increases —  more often than not, the Fed tends to raise interest rates at the wrong time. This time around, however, it seems the Fed is somewhat hellbent on getting interest rates back to normalized levels from the artificially low levels they’ve been at for nearly a decade. Even the language with which they announced the rate hike — “In view of realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 3/4 to 1 percent” — makes one wonder exactly what data set they are using to base the decision.

The thing is, recent economic data hasn’t been all that robust. Yesterday morning, the Fed’s own Atlanta Fed once again slashed its GDPNow forecast for 1Q 2016 yesterday to 0.9 percent from 1.2 percent last week and more than 3.0 percent in January. That’s a big downtick from 1.9 percent GDP in 4Q 2016. Given the impact of winter storm Stella, particularly in the Northeast corridor, odds are GDP expectations will once again tick lower as consumer spending and brick & mortar retail sales were both disrupted. As Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins pointed out yesterday, real average hourly earnings decreased 0.3 percent, seasonally adjusted, year over year in February.

Despite that lack of wage growth, we have seen inflation pick up over the last several months inside the Purchasing Managers’ Indices published by Markit Economics and ISM for both the manufacturing and services economies as well as the Producer Price Index. Year over year in February, the Producer Price Index hit 2.2 percent, marking the largest 12-month increase since March 2012.

Turning to the Consumer Price Index, the headline figure rose 2.7 percent this past February compared to a year ago, making it the 15th consecutive month the 12-month change for core CPI was between 2.1 percent and 2.3 percent. We’ve all witnessed the rise in gas prices, up some 18 percent compared to this time last year, and while there are adjustments to strip out food and energy from these inflation metrics, the reality is food and energy are costs that both businesses and individuals must bear. Rising prices for those items impact the consumers’ ability to spend, especially if wages are not growing in tandem, and they also eat into the margins for a business — spending more money to light and heat facilities and gas up vehicles.

It would seem the Fed is caught once again between a rock and a hard place — the economy is slowing and inflation appears to be on the move. The economic term for such an environment is stagflation. In looking to get a handle on stagflation the Fed is walking a thin line between trying to get a handle on inflation, while not throwing cold water on the economy as it continues to target two more rate hikes this year.

Once again, we find ourselves rather relieved that we don’t have Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen’s job. The renewed “commitment” by the Fed bodes well for interest rate sensitive companies such as banks like Wells Fargo (WFC), Citigroup (C) and Bank of America to name a handful, as well as Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLF) shares.

 

Car Loan Pain Point Data Brings Us to Our Key Move for the Day

While higher interest rates might be a positive for financials, at the margin, however, it comes at a time when credit card debt levels are approaching 2007 levels as are adjusted rate mortgages and auto loans, particularly subprime auto loans. Even before the rate increase, data published by S&P Global Ratings shows US subprime auto lenders are losing money on car loans at the highest rate since the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis as more borrowers fall behind on payments.

In 4Q 2016, the rate of car loan delinquencies rose to its highest level since 4Q 2009, according to credit analysis firm TransUnion (TRU). The auto delinquency rate — or the rate of car buyers who were unable make loan payments on time — rose 13.4 percent year over year to 1.44 percent in 4Q 2016 per TransUnion’s latest Industry Insights Report. That compares to 1.59 percent during the last three months of 2009 when the domestic economy was still feeling the hurt from the recession and financial crisis. And then in January, we saw auto sales from General Motors (GM), Ford (F) and Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) fall despite leaning substantially on incentives.

Over the last six months, shares of General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler are up 19 percent, 4.5 percent and more than 70 percent, respectively. A rebound in European car sales, as well as share gains, help explain the strong rise in FCAU shares, but the latest data out this morning shows European auto sales growth cooled in February.

So what’s an investor in these auto shares to do, especially if you added GM or FCAU shares in early 2016? Do the prudent thing and take some profits and use the proceeds to invest in companies that are benefitting from multi-year tailwinds such as Applied Materials (AMAT), Dycom Industries (DY) or Universal Display (OLED) like we have on the Tematica Select List.

For more aggressive investors, like those of us here at Tematica Pro, we’re adding shares to General Motors (GM), which are currently trading at 6.1x 2017 earnings that are forecasted to fall to $6.02 per share from $6.12 per share in 2016, with a Sell rating and instilling a short position on the Tematica Pro Investment List.

While some may see that low P/E ratio, we’d point out that GM shares are trading near their 52-week high and peaked at 6.2x 2016 earnings and bottomed out at 4.6x 2016 earnings last year. Despite the soft economic data that shows enthusiasm and optimism for the economy, the harder data suggests we are more likely to see GM’s earnings expectations deteriorate further. And yes, winter storm Stella likely did a number of auto sales in March.

  • We are adding GM shares to the Tematica Pro Investment List with a Sell rating and a short position.
  • Our price target is $30, which offers a return of 19 percent from last night’s market closing price of $37.09. 
  • Because this is a short position we will be setting a protective buy stop order to limit potential capital losses in this position at $42
Closing out Trinity Calls

Given the data that points to a slowing economy this quarter, we are going to throw in the towel on the call position in Trinity Industries — the Trinity Industries (TRN) April 2017 $30 calls (TRN170421C00030000) this morning. Even though railcar traffic has been improving, the overall economic tone of the near-term is likely to be a headwind to new railcar orders and we think it’s best to cut our losses now at a 75 percent loss rather than see the calls fall even further.

We’ll continue to keep our eyes on both rail traffic as a barometer of the domestic economy, and a future position in Trinity shares and calls as well.

 

Feb Retail Sales Confirm our Short Position in Simon Properties Group…

In addition to the Fed Rate hike, yesterday also brought the February Retail Sales Report. We shared our view on that yesterday, but in a nutshell, it was more pain for department stores and clothing retailers as well as those for electronics & appliances as Nonstore retail continued to take consumer wallet share. No surprise, given the commentary from the likes of hhgregg (HGG) and JC Penney (JCP), both of which have announced store closings, joining the ranks of Sears (SHLD), Kohl’s (KSS), and Macy’s (M). Surely Stella is going to put a crimp in March brick & mortar sales for retailers with heavy exposure to the Northeast, including Lululemon (LULU), Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF), and Urban Outfitters (URBN). What those all have in common is they tend to be mall-based retailers.

Simply another set of woes for mall REITS like our Simon Property Group (SPG). Even ahead of this, Morningstar Credit Ratings analyzed the commercial mortgage-backed-securities (CMBS) debt load on malls with exposure to J.C. Penney, and found that as a collateral tenant, CMBS exposure to J.C. Penney totals $16.43 billion. Remember JC Penney is closing 140 plus stores and that CMBS debt load doesn’t take into account other anchor store closings from Macy’s, Sears or some other.

While we’re up 7 percent in our Simon Property Group (SPG) short position, we will remain patient with this short position as we see far more to be had with brick & mortar retail pain. 

  • We have a Sell recommendation on shares of Simon Properties Group (SPG) and a short position on the Tematica Select List.
  • Our price target on SPG shares is $150 and we have a protective buy stop order to limit potential capital losses in this position at $200.

 

Feb Retail Sales also confirms our bullish view on United Parcel Service calls.

As we mentioned above, Nonstore retail sales continued to climb year over year in February and we simply see no slowdown in this shift as Amazon (AMZN) and others continue to expand their offering while brick & mortar retailers from Wal-Mart (WMT) to Under Armour (UAA) look to catch up.

HHGregg’s Connected Society Pivot to Appliances Hasn’t Paid Off, Will Shut 40% of Locations

HHGregg’s Connected Society Pivot to Appliances Hasn’t Paid Off, Will Shut 40% of Locations

Most tend to focus on the Connected Society headwind that is rippling through brick & mortar retail apparel companies like Macy’s and Kohl’s, but there are other retailers that are being hit. Consumer electronics retailers, like Best Buy and HHGregg, have seen their business raked over the Amazon coals and pivoted to appliances, an already competitive landscape with Lowe’s, Home Depot, Sears, Sears Hometown and Wal-Mart. While HHGregg attempted to bob and weave against the Connected Society headwind that is serving as Amazon’s tailwind, it jumped from the frying pan into the fire as it traded one competitive landscape for another.

Struggling appliance and electronics retailer HHGregg is planning to close 88 of its weakest stores as part of an effort to stay afloat.The Indianapolis-based company on Thursday announced it would shutter stores in 15 states and close three distribution centers.

The closings, which do not include any Indiana stores, will be completed by mid-April and result in about 1,500 layoffs. HHGregg has about 5,000 employees.

HHGregg’s decision to eliminate 40 percent of its stores is the latest move in an increasingly desperate attempt to right the company’s course. It comes just three days after the New York Stock Exchange delisted HHGregg for failing to meet the minimum listing requirement.

The company in recent months has tried to reinvent itself as a high-end appliance store. It’s the seventh-largest appliance retailer in the U.S. behind  according to the consumer electronics trade publication Twice.

Source: HHGregg closing 88 stores amid bankruptcy rumors

Consumers Spend More in December, But Ouch Those Revolving Debt Levels Sure Could Hurt

Consumers Spend More in December, But Ouch Those Revolving Debt Levels Sure Could Hurt

This morning the US Bureau of Economic Analysis published its take on Personal Income & Spending for December. We’re rather fond of this monthly report given the data contained within and the implications for several of our investment themes, including Cash-strapped Consumers as well as Affordable Luxury and the Rise & Fall of the Middle Class. 

So what did the December report show?

Personal Income rose 0.3 percent, far faster than in November, but still below the 0.4-0.5 percentage gains registered in September and October. We saw the same pattern with Disposable Income (which is a better barometer for discretionary spending), as one would expect to see during the holiday shopping laden month of December.

That’s as good a segue as any to remind our readers that holiday shopping during November and December came in stronger than the National Retail Federation had forecasted. The final tally was a year over year increase of 4.0 percent compared to the NRF’s 3.6 percent forecast.

Now you’re probably saying to yourself, “How can that be given all the bad news that we’ve been hearing from Macy’s (M), Target  (TGT), Kohl’s (KSS), Sears (SHLD) and other brick and mortar retailers?”

To be honest, we doubt the average person would have thrown in the “other brick and mortar retailers” part, but we know our readers are smarter than the average bear.

The answer to that question is that non-store sales, Commerce Department verbiage for e-tailers like Amazon (AMNZ), eBay (EBAY) and digital Direct to Consumer business like those found at Macy’s, Under Armour (UAA), Nike (NKE) and other retailers, rose 12.6 percent year over year to $122.9 billion. We certainly like those stats as they confirm several aspects of our Connected Society investing theme, but we would argue a more telling take on the data is that non-store sales accounted for 19 percent of holiday shopping in 2016, up from 17 percent the year before. Nearly one-in-five shopping dollars was spent through online or mobile shopping.

We’ll get a better sense of this shift, which we only see as accelerating, later this week when both United Parcel Service (UPS) and Amazon report their quarterly results for the December quarter. Team Tematica will also be listening to Direct to Consumer comments from Under Armour and other apparel and footwear companies as they too report quarterly results over the next few weeks.

Now let’s take a look at December Personal Spending – it rose 0.5 percent, a tick higher than was expected. Given the NRF data above, it was rather likely we were going to get a better print vs. expectations.

In combining both the income and spending data for the month, we get the savings rate, which fell to 5.4 percent, a five-month low. Compared to a few years ago, that savings level looks rather solid even though it’s well below the longer-term trend line. What we do find somewhat disconcerting, given the prospects for the Fed to boost interest rates up to three times this year after only doing so just two times in the last two years, is the amount of revolving consumer debt outstanding. As evidenced in the graph below, those levels have continued to climb steadily higher during 2015 and 2016.

Should interest rates move higher in 2017, the incremental interest expense could crimp consumer wallets, reducing their disposable income in the process. To us, that could mean less Affordable Luxury or even Guilty Pleasure spending as more become Cash-strapped Consumers.