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.