The Magic 8-Ball Market

The Magic 8-Ball Market

Last week ended with equity markets taking another dive that accelerated into Friday’s close as the trade war with China intensified heading into its eighteenth month with China announcing that it will impose retaliatory tariffs on US goods. The S&P 500 closed down 2.5% for the third time this month. After the close President Trump launched a twitter storm to announce additional retaliatory tariffs in response to China’s. So that’s going well.

Investors face challenging times as the major market movers have simply been words (tweets) coming from politicians and bureaucrats, the prediction of which is akin to assessing the next missive from a Magic 8-Ball.

While many continue to talk about the ongoing bull market, the major US equity market indices have seen four consecutive weekly declines and are all in the red over the past year with the small cap Russell 2000 down well over 10%, sitting solidly in correction territory. On the other hand, this year has seen the strongest performance out of long-maturity Treasuries since at least 1987.


Source: Bespoke Investment Group

How many bull markets see the total return for the long bond outpace the S&P 500 by over 16%.

This comes at a time when the domestic economy is in it 121st month, the longest is post-war history, which means that many have not lived through a recession as an adult.


Yield Curve

As the adage goes, expansions don’t die of old age, but their footing becomes less sure over time and we are seeing signs of rockier terrain. One sign comes from the yield curve which has been flattening steadily since October 2018 with the spread between the 10-year and the 3-month falling from over 100 basis points to -39. The most widely watched part of the curve, between the 10-year and 2-year, has inverted four times in the past few weeks.


This 2-10 inversion is most closely watched as over the past 50 years it has preceded all seven recessions. Credit Suisse has found that on average a recession hit 22 months after the 2-10 inversion occurred.

The third of August’s four inversions came as Kansas City Federal Reserve President Esther George and Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker stated in a CNBC interview that they don’t see the case for additional interest rate cuts following the cut in July. Mr. Market was not looking to hear that.

This past week we also received the meeting minutes from the prior Fed meeting with led to July’s 25 basis point cut which gave the impression of a Fed far less inclined to cut than the market was expecting with most Fed participants seeing July’s cut as part of a recalibration but not part of a pre-set course for future cuts. Keep in mind that central bank rate cuts are a relative game and ECB officials have been signaling a high likelihood of significant accommodative measures at the September meeting, saying the ECB “will announce a package of stimulus measures at its next policy meeting in September that should overshoot investors’ expectations.”

Manufacturing

Another source of bumps on the economic road comes from the manufacturing sector, both domestic and international. A recent IHS Markit report found that the US manufacturing sector is in contraction for the first time in nearly a decade as the index fell from 50.4 in July to a 119-month low of 49.9 in August – readings below 50 indicate contraction.

According to the Institute for Supply Management, US manufacturing activity has slowed to a nearly three-year low in July. By August New Orders (a key leading indicator) had dropped by the most in 10 years with export sales falling to the lowest level since August 2009.

New business growth has slowed to its weakest rate in a decade, particularly across the service sector. Survey respondents mentioned headwinds from weak corporate spending based on slower growth expectations both domestically and internationally – likely caused by the ongoing trade war that got much, much worse this past week.

In a note to clients on August 11th, Goldman Sachs stated that fears of the US-China trade war leading to a recession are increasing and that the firm no longer expects a trade deal between the two before the 2020 US election. The firm also lowered its GDP forecast for the US in the fourth quarter by 20 basis points to 1.8%.

Global manufacturing has also been slowing, with just two of the G7 nations, Canada and France, currently showing expansion in the sector. In July, China’s industrial output growth slowed to the weakest level in 17 years.

Germany is seeing the most pronounced contraction with its manufacturing PMI dropping from 63.3 in December 2017 to 43.6 this month. German car production has fallen to the levels last seen during the financial crisis.

Overall, we see no sign of stabilization in global manufacturing as global trade volumes look to be rolling over, leaving the economy heavily dependent on growth in the Consumer and the Service sectors. Keep in mind that the last time global trade volumes rolled over like this was back in 2008.

The Consumer

The consumer is yet another source of bumps on the economic road. Ms. Pomboy’s tweet is perfect.

As for that debt, Citigroup recently reported that its credit-card delinquency rate had risen to 2.91% in July from 2.56% in June versus its three-month average of just 1.54%. With all the positive stock moves we’ve seen in retail, keep in mind that the story for many has been more about earnings than actual growth.

For example, Nordstrom (JWN) shares rose 21% after it delivered stronger-than-expected earnings, but that was off of weaker than expected revenue of $3.87 billion versus expectations for $3.93 billion. Nordstrom also slashed net sales guidance for the fiscal year as well as earnings guidance. Management forecast net sales for the year to decrease by about 2%. It previously estimated sales would be flat to 2% down. It also slightly lowered guidance on earnings per share to a range of $3.25 to $3.50, compared with the prior guidance of between $3.25 to $3.65. Did I mention shares rose 21%?

US Consumer sentiment fell to 92.1 in August, the lowest reading for 2019, versus expectations for 97 and down from 98.4 in July. If sentiment continues to degrade, how long will the consumer continue to load up credit cards in order to spend?

Debt

It isn’t just the consumer that is taking on more debt – yet more economic bumps. The federal government deficit rose by $183 billion to $867 billion during just the first 10 months of this fiscal year as spending grew at more than twice the rate of tax collections. The Congressional Budget Office expects the annual budget deficit to be more than 1 TRILLION dollars a year starting in 2022. Total public debt, which includes federal, state and local has reached a record 121% of GDP in 2019, up from 69% in 2000 and 43% in 1980.

Keep in mind that debt is pulling resources out of the private sector and at such high levels, fiscal stimulus becomes more challenging in times of economic weakness. The only time debt to GDP has been higher was after WWII, but back then we had relatively young population and a rapidly growing labor force compared to today.

I’ve mentioned before that I am concerned with the strengthening dollar. Dollar denominated on balance sheet debt is over $12 trillion with roughly an additional $14 trillion in off-balance sheet dollar denominated debt – that’s a huge short USD position. The recent resolution of the debt ceiling issue means that the US Treasury now needs to rapidly rebuild its cash position as I had been funding the government through its reserves. This means that we will see a drain on global liquidity from the issue of over $200 billion in Treasury bills.

I’ve also written many times in the past concerning the dangers that lie in the enormous levels of corporate debt with negative yielding corporate debt rising from just $20 billion in January to pass the $1 trillion mark recently – more bumps on the road.

Bottom Line

As I said at the start of this piece, this expansion is the longest in post-war history which doesn’t itself mean a recession is imminent, but it does mean that the economy is likely to be more vulnerable. Looking next at the economic indicators we see quite a few that also imply a recession is increasingly likely.

The President’s twitter storm in response to China’s tariffs and the continually rising geopolitical uncertainties that create a strong headwind to any expansions in the private sector only increase risks further. Perhaps by the time you read this piece some part of the rapid escalation of the trade war will have been reversed, as foreign policy has become increasingly volatile day-to-day, but either way, the view from here is getting ugly.

Weekly Issue: Trade and geopolitical issues make for a less than sleepy August 2019

Weekly Issue: Trade and geopolitical issues make for a less than sleepy August 2019

Key points inside this issue

  • Trade and geopolitical issues make for a less than sleepy August 2019
  • What to watch this week
  • Earnings this week
  • Economic data this week
  • The Thematic Aristocrats?

Uncertainty continued to grip the stock market last week as the U.S.-Chinese trade dispute once again took center stage. After the return of tariff talk week prior, the battle expanded this week to include a war of words between Washington and Beijing over the Chinese yuan’s devaluation.

The market ultimately shook that off, in part due to the renewed thought that the Federal Reserve could accelerate interest-rate cuts. But then stocks closed lower week over week after President Trump suggested Friday that trade talks with China set for next week might be canceled.

There’s also renewed geopolitical uncertainty — not just Britain’s Brexit process, but also a looming no-confidence vote against Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte that’s once again plunging Italy into political turmoil. And as if that wasn’t enough, over the weekend escalating tensions between Chinese authorities and protesters in Hong Kong were added to the mix, making for one big ball of uncertainty even bigger.

Meanwhile, global economic data continue to soften. This gives some credence to the notion that the Fed could become more dovish than Chairman Jerome Powell suggested during his July 31 press conference following the Federal Open Market Committee’s decision to cut rates. While I don’t expect anything near-term, down below we have a calendar date to mark even though I don’t think it will mean much in the way of monetary policy.

We’re seeing confirming signs for the economic data in oil and copper prices, both of which have been mostly declining of late. Not exactly signs of a vibrant and growing global economy.

Odds are that as we head into summer’s final weeks, stocks will be range-bound at best as they trade based on the latest geopolitical headlines. And odds are there won’t’ be any newfound hope to be had on the earnings front. With 90% of S&P 500 stocks already reporting second-quarter results, it looks like we’ll see another year-over-year decline in quarterly average earnings. For the full year 2019 those earnings are only growing at a 2.5% annual rate, but if President Trump goes forth with the latest round of announced tariffs, odds are those expectations could come down in the coming weeks – more on that below.

All in all, barring any meaningful progress on US-China trade, which seems rather unlikely in the near-term, at best the stock market is likely to be rangebound in the coming weeks. Even though much of Wall Street will be “at the beach” the next few weeks, odds are few will be enjoying their time away given the pins and needles discussed above and further below.

What to watch this week

We have three weeks until the Labor Day holiday weekend, which means we’re entering one of the market’s historically slowest times. There’s typically lower volume than usual, as well as low conviction and wishy-washy moves in the market.

Traditionally, a more-sobering look emerges once Wall Street is “back from the beach” following the Labor Day holiday. This tends to bring a sharper picture of the economy. There are also ample investor conferences where companies update their outlooks as we head into the year’s last few months.

But as we saw this past week, geopolitical and trade tensions could make the next few weeks much more volatile than we’ve seen in the past. As we navigate these waters, we’ll continue to assess what this means for earnings — particularly given that analysts don’t expect the S&P 500 companies to see year-over-year earnings-per- share growth again until the fourth quarter. In my view that puts a lot of hope on a seasonally strong quarter that could very well be dashed by President Trump’s potential next round of tariffs. I say this because retailers now face the 10% tariffs set to go into effect on September 1, which will hit apparel and footwear, among other consumer goods.

The risk is we could very well see 2019 turn into a year with little to no EPS growth for the S&P 500, and if factor out the impact of buybacks it likely means operating profit growth had at the S&P 500 is contracting year over year. We’ll know more on that in the coming weeks, but if it turns out to be the case I suspect it will lead many an investor to question the current market multiple of 17.6x let alone those market forecasters, like the ones at Goldman Sachs, that are calling for 3,100 even as their economists cut their GDP expectations.

Earnings this week

This week will have the slowest pace of earnings releases in about a month, with only some 330 companies issuing quarterly results. That’s a sharp drop from roughly 1,200 such reports that we got last week.

Among those firms reporting numbers next week, we’ll see a sector shift toward retail stocks, including Macy’s (M), J.C. Penney (JCP) and Walmart (WMT). Given what I touched on above, I’ll be listening for their comments on the potential tariff impact as well as comments surrounding our Digital Lifestyle and Middle-class Squeeze investing themes, and initial holiday shopping expectations.

This week’s earnings reports also bring the latest from Cisco Systems (CSCO), Nvidia (NVDA), and Deere (DE). Given how much of Deere’s customer base sells commodities like U.S. soybeans (which China has hit with tariffs), we’ll carefully listen to management’s comments on the trade war. There could be some tidbits for our New Global Middle-class theme from Deere as well. With Cisco, we could hear about the demand impact being generated by 5G network buildouts as well as the incremental cyber security needs that will be needed. These make the Cisco earnings conference call one to listen to for our Digital Infrastructure and Safety & Security investing themes.

 

Economic data this week

On the economic front, we’ll get July reports for retail sales, industrial production and housing starts, as well as the August Empire Manufacturing and Philly Fed surveys. Given the importance of the consumer, the July Retail Sales will be one to watch and I for one expect it to be very bullish for our Digital Lifestyle investing theme if and only if because of Amazon’ 2019 Prime Day and all the other retailers that tried to cash in on it. I suspect, however, the report will reveal more gloom for department stores. All in all the week’s economic data points will help solidify the current quarter’s gross domestic product expectations, which are sitting at 1.6%-1.9% between the New York and Atlanta Fed.

Based on what we’ve seen of late from IHS Markit for Japan, China and the Eurozone, that still makes America the best economic house on the block. Granted, the U.S. vector and velocity are still in the down and slowing positions, but we have yet to see formal signs of a contracting domestic economy. As Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins pointed out in her most recent assessment of things, we’ll need to keep tabs on the dollar for “The deflationary power of a strengthening US dollar strength in the midst of slowing global trade and trade wars just may overpower anything central banks try.”

Odds are that as the latest economic figures hit, especially if they keep the economy’s recent vector and velocity intact, we will see more speculation on what the Fed might do next. While there’s no Fed interest-rate meeting scheduled for August, the Kansas City Fed will hold its widely watched annual Jackson Hole symposium Aug. 22-24 in Wyoming. The central bank doesn’t usually discuss monetary-policy plans at this event, but as noted above, we aren’t exactly in normal times these days.

 

The Thematic Aristocrats?

Given the recent market turbulence as prospects for more of the same in the coming weeks, I’m sitting back and building our shopping list for thematically well-positioned companies. Given the economic data of late and geo-political uncertainties as well as Lenore’s comments on the dollar, I’m focusing more on domestic-focused, inelastic business models that tend to spit off cash and drive dividends. In particular, I’m looking at companies with a track record of increasing their dividends every year for at least 10 years. And of course, they have to have vibrant thematic tailwinds at their respective back.

Perhaps, we can informally call these the “Thematic Aristocrats”?

I’ll have more as I refine that list.

WEEKLY ISSUE: Uncertainty is back, but we’re thematically prepared

WEEKLY ISSUE: Uncertainty is back, but we’re thematically prepared

Key points inside this issue:

  • The Fed, Trump, tariffs and the data bring uncertainty back to the market
  • What it means for investors
  • We will continue to hold Disney (DIS), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN) and AT&T (T) shares.
  • What to watch this week

The Fed, Trump, tariffs and the data bring uncertainty back to the market

Between the number of S&P 500 companies reporting last week to the Fed’s FOMC meeting and the pieces of economic data coming at us, we knew it was going to be a busy and potentially volatile week. What few saw coming was the attempt by Fed Chairman Powell to give the market the 25 basis point rate cut it was expecting and regain the position of the market not knowing exactly what the Fed’s next move might be. But then we received the July ISM Manufacturing Index and the July IHS PMI data for the four global economic horsemen (China, Japan, the eurozone and the US). In aggregate those data points signaled the continued slowdown in the global manufacturing economy.  

Granted, the sequential pick up in the July ADP Employment Report fostered the view the domestic economy hasn’t frozen over just yet, but Friday’s July Employment Report reveled slower job creation month over month. 

Normally, economic data like we’ve received in the back half of last week would be enough to ignite the market doves and stoke the view that another rate cut by the Fed was more likely before we exit 2019. And it was that view that led the major market indices higher on Thursday, that was until President Trump did something that arguably next to no one saw coming – announced another layer of tariffs on China that would go into effect on September 1. The implications of that move, which would likely lead to yet another trimming of forecasts for both the economy and earnings, pulled the market lower on Thursday afternoon. 

And on Friday morning, China responded by saying while it does not want a trade war, its not afraid to fight one. Soon thereafter, President Trump is “open to delaying or halting the 10% tariff on September 1” if China were to take action between now and then. Remember, we shared our concern that trade talks could devolve into playground taunting and fighting. Well, we are there and sticking with the analogy, it’s likely going to keep the stock market on the uncertainty teeter totter for the next few weeks. 

If some were hoping for a more normal August for stocks following this week’s Fed meeting, we’re sorry to say that’s not likely to happen. In the past we’ve shared several analogies about investing – it’s not crock pot cooking, you can’t fix it and forget it or investing is not a like a photo, i.e. snapshot in time, but much like a good film it’s an evolving story. As this latest chapter begins to unfold, it will be mean assessing and re-assessing expectations as new developments are had and their ripple effects determined.

What it means for investors

Odds are this will uncertainty will result in the usual back and forth for the market in the coming weeks, which will also see the usual end of summer low trading volumes. While a good chunk of Wall Street is at the beach, I’ll remain vigilant and continue to leverage our thematic lens.

More than likely, we will see the herd once again focus on domestically focused as well as inelastic business models as it looks for ports of safety. We’ve have a number of these among the Thematic Leaders and the Tematica Select ListChipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), Dycom Industries (DY), Costco Wholesale (COST), Axon Enterprises (AAXN), AT&T (T), and USA Technologies (USAT). Unlike the shoot from the hip go to choice of the herd that tends to zero in on electric utilities that group of six have the added benefit of thematic tailwinds propelling their respective businesses.

As August drips by, I’ll continue to look for thematically well positioned companies that offer favorable risk to reward tradeoffs in terms of share prices as I look to position us for what lies ahead. In the meantime, I would recommend subscribers catch the August 5, 2019 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek as the cover story focuses the coming streaming video war that I’ve talked about both here and on the Thematic Signals podcast. The author likens it to “The Hunger Games”, and in many respects I can see why that is a good comparison.

While we were recently stopped out of Netflix (NFLX), I’ll remind you that among the Thematic Leaders and Tematica Select List we have several companies — Disney (DIS), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), and AT&T in particular – that are focusing on this market. Each brings their own particular set of strengths ranging from content to addressable customer base, but all three have other businesses besides streaming video to drive profits and cash flow that can fund their respective streaming businesses.

  • We will continue to hold Disney (DIS), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN) and AT&T (T) shares.

What to watch this week

After all the happenings for last week that I described above, this week looks to be yet another frenetic one for corporate earnings with more than 1,100 reports to be had, but the pace of June quarter earnings begins to slow and we face a lighter economic data schedule as well. And to be clear, even though we will face a plethora of June quarter reports, let’s remember that exiting this week roughly 78% of the S&P 500 has reported and next week another 13% of that group will be doing so. What this means is the vast majority of reports next will have far less of an impact on the market. This doesn’t diminish them from an ownership of data and information perspective, but rather a smaller impact is likely on earnings revisions and trading ranges. 

Corporate earnings to watch

In terms of which reports I’ll be focusing on this week, it should come as little surprise that they are the ones touching our various investment themes. Here’s my short list:

  • Monday, August 5: Tyson Foods (TSN), International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), Insulet (PODD) and ShakeShak (SHAK). 
  • Tuesday, August 6: Tenneco (TEN), ADT (ADT), AMN Healthcare (AMN), Comscore (SCOR), LendingClub (LC), Disney (DIS), 
  • Wednesday, August 7: CVS Health (CVS:NYSE), CyberArk (CYBR), Physicians Realty Trust (DOC), Darling Ingredients (DAR), Skyworks (SWKS), Tivity Health (TVTY), 
  • Thursday, August 8: Activision-Blizzard (ATVI:), Alarm.com (ARLM), Dropbox (DBX), Synaptics (SYNA:Nasdaq), Uber (UBER) 
  • Friday, August 9: US Concrete (USCR)

Economic data to watch

Before we tackle the coming week’s economic data, I’ll mention GDP expectations from the Atlanta Fed and New York Fed started last week off between 2.0%-2.2% and as we exited the week those expectations sat at 1.6%-1.9%. As I touched on above, the employment data we received last week pointed to a still growing economy but the take on the manufacturing economy per the July ISM Manufacturing Index and the July US IHS Markit PMI data pointed to a slowing domestic manufacturing one. 

We have only a handful of meaningful economic data coming at us this week in the form of the July inflation reports and ISM’s July reading on the US service economy. Given our pension for looking at other data set in addition to the formal economic data, we here at Tematica will be on the lookout for the last Cass Freight Index and other truck tonnage figures as well as the weekly railcar loading data. Those have been signaling the slowdown we’ve seen in the government produced economic data, and as such we’ll keep a close watch on them in order to stay one step ahead of the herd. 

Should the coming economic data be continue to disappoint relative to expectations and signal the vector and velocity of the domestic economy is down and even slower than recent revisions suggest, odds are the market will increasingly expect another Fed rate cut sooner than later. Our concern, however, is the intended effect of this week’s rate cut and another one should it come to pass on business investment could be muted by the continued trade uncertainty and weakening global economy. As we’ve seen with falling mortgage rates that didn’t stimulate demand earlier this year, in the near-term businesses may stay on the sidelines given the trade and economic uncertainties despite more favorable interest rates.


More troubling signs at retailers as earnings fall 24% 

More troubling signs at retailers as earnings fall 24% 

As we wind up the most recent barrage of quarterly earnings, we are being left with a sour taste in our collective mouths thanks to retailers, particularly those focused on apparel. While some data points to those mall-based retailers, like The Gap being hard hit, other data suggests retailers are not matching consumer preferences either for the apparel they have or investing in their digital shopping platforms. While the former points to the fickleness of the consumer, or the tone-deaf ears of certain retailers, the latter indicate that not all retailers have accepted the growing importance of digital commerce that is a key tenant of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.

Is it easier to blame the weather and other items in the short-term for a failed strategy? Sure it is, but the real drivers of falling retailer results will come out in the coming quarters. Those like Target, Walmart and Costco that have been investing in digital commerce are likely to thrive while those that haven’t will likely disappoint further as Amazon begins free one-day shipping for Prime customers. 

Clothing retailers like the Gap, Canada Goose and Abercrombie & Fitch are all experiencing troubling sales reports, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Great Recession a decade ago, according to a report by CNBC.

Many companies are blaming the weather, slow traffic at malls, bad promotions and product blunders. With the industry as a whole struggling, the S&P 500 Retail ETX was down 2 percent on Friday (May 31), and has dropped almost 13 percent in May, which sets it up to be the worst period since November of 2008, when it lost 20.25 percent.

As a group, apparel retail earnings are down 24 percent, although earnings had been growing since Q3 of 2017. In Q1 of 2018, earnings gained 26 percent. In Q1 of 2008, earnings fell 40 percent.

“These are all mall-based retailers experiencing traffic issues,” Retail Metrics Founder Ken Perkins said. “The consumer is holding up … sentiment numbers have been really high.” The problem, he said, is that some companies aren’t investing in attracting customers to their stores and websites.

There are some bright spots. Target and Walmart both had good first quarters, and have been investing in apparel, with positive results.

“It’s not that people are buying fewer clothes,” CGP president Craig Johnson said. They’re going to different places, he said, and some older companies, like Chico’s and Talbots, which are “classic, women’s, missy retailers,” are victims of changing popular culture and taste.

“The demand for that product is a fraction of what it used to be a generation ago. Women aren’t dressing like that,” he said.

Another issue facing the industry is the threat of tariffs, which could worsen the outlook.

There’s the consideration of a 25 percent tax on clothing and footwear from China, and many companies haven’t factored in the effect this could have. There’s also the possibility of a 5 percent duty on Mexican imports on June 10, which would raise to 25 percent by October.

Source: Retail Clothing Sales Down 24 Percent | PYMNTS.com

Weekly Issue December 17 2018

Weekly Issue December 17 2018

Key points inside this issue:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Costco stumbles, but it is far from out

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thematic confirmation in the November Retail Sales Report

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

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

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

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

 

Digging into Friday’s other economic reports

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

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

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

 

What to Watch This Week

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

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

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

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

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

 

Holiday Housekeeping!

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Stock Market Last Week

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

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

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

 

Holiday Shopping 2018 embraces the Digital Lifestyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Marriott hack reminds of cyber spending needs

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

 

The Week Ahead

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

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

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

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Confirming Data Points for Apple and Universal Display

WEEKLY ISSUE: Confirming Data Points for Apple and Universal Display

Key points inside this issue:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also found in the IHS Markit report:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Today is Fed Day

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

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

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

 

Favorable Apple and Universal Display News

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

So what are these moves really trying to accomplish?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Middle-class Squeeze recipe: Flat real wage growth with prices poised to move higher

A Middle-class Squeeze recipe: Flat real wage growth with prices poised to move higher

We’ve been witnessing inflationary pressures in the monthly economic data over the last several months. Some of this has been higher raw material due in part to trade tariffs and other input costs, such as climbing freight costs, as well as the impact of increased minimum wages in certain states. Habit Restaurant (HABT) noticeably called out the impact of wage gains as one of the primary drivers in its recent menu price increase.

This June 2018 earnings season, we’ve heard from a growing number of companies – from materials and food to semiconductor and restaurants –  that contending with inflationary pressures are looking to pass it through to consumers in the form of higher prices as best they can. The thing is, wage growth has been elusive for the vast majority of workers, especially on an inflation-adjusted basis. Keep in mind that is before we factor in the inflationary effect to be had if these escalating rounds of trade tariffs are in effect longer than expected.

As these price increases take hold and interest rates creep higher, it means consumer spending dollars will not stretch as far as they did previously.  Not good for consumers and not good for the economy but it offers support for the Fed to boost rates in the coming quarters and keeps our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme in vogue.

 

U.S. average hourly earnings adjusted for inflation fell 0.2 percent in July from a year earlier, data released on Friday showed, notching the lowest reading since 2012. While inflation isn’t high in historical terms, after years of being too low following the 2007-2009 recession, its recent gains are taking a bigger bite out of U.S. paychecks.

“Inflation has been climbing and wage growth, meanwhile, has been flat as a pancake,” said Laura Rosner, senior economist at MacroPolicy Perspectives LLC in New York. “In a very tight labor market you would expect that workers would negotiate their wages to at least keep up with the cost of living, and the picture tells you that they’re not.”

Source: American Workers Just Got a Pay Cut in Economy Trump Calls Great – Bloomberg

Silver Screen

Coming soon to theaters: higher prices. Movie theater operator Cinemark Holdings Inc. plans to pass costs along to customers, partly due to seating upgrades.

“Our average ticket price also increased 3.7 percent to $8.08, largely as a result of inflation, incremental pricing opportunities associated with recliner conversions, and favorable adult-versus-child ticket type mix,” said Chief Financial Officer Sean Gamble. “As we’ve continued to roll out recliners, our general tactic has been to go forward with limited pricing upfront and then when we see the demand opportunity increase there, and I’d say there’s still — we still believe there is further opportunity as we look to the back half of this year and forward in that regard.”

To be fair, movie ticket prices have been marching steadily higher in recent years. But theaters aren’t the only ones planning to pass on costs.

Sugar Boost

The maker of Twinkies and Ding Dongs wants to charge more for its sugary snacks.

“We will implement a retail price increase and incremental retailer programs to help offset the inflationary headwinds we and others in the industry are experiencing,” Hostess Brands Inc. Chief Executive Officer Andrew Callahan said on a call, explaining that the company is researching how to do so without choking off growth. The majority of the change will come in 2019, he said.

Bubble Wrap

Sealed Air Corp., the maker of Bubble Wrap and other packaging materials, is trying “to do everything we can operationally to keep our freight costs low,” Chief Financial Officer William Stiehl said in apresentation. “Where I’ve been very happy with the company’s success is our ability to pass along price increases to our customers for our relevant input cost.”

Steel Prices

Tariffs are hitting home at Otter Tail Corp.’s metal fabrication unit BTD, but leadership doesn’t sound especially concerned. Thank pricing power.

“We do not anticipate higher steel prices from tariffs having a significant impact on BTD’s margins as steel costs are largely passed through to customers,” Chief Executive Officer Charles MacFarlane said on a call. “BTD is working to enhance productivity in a period of increased volume and tight labor markets.”

Tariff Tag

The trade impact pass-through is equally real at semiconductor device maker Diodes Inc.

“Products that we import into the U.S. from China, all of those products are going to be ultimately affected by the tariffs,” Chief Financial Officer Richard White said on a call. Between U.S. levies that began July 6 and additional rounds planned to follow, “it’s about $3.6 million per quarter, but we plan to pass these tariff charges on to our customers.”

Home Costs

Housing developer LGI Homes Inc. is “consistently” seeing sales price increases as costs bump higher — a sign that pricing power exists even in big-ticket markets like housing.

“We’re able to and need to raise our prices to keep our gross margins consistent,” Chairman Eric Lipar said on a call. “In the market that we’re in, which I’d characterize as a good, solid, strong demand market with a tight supply of houses and the labor challenges, the material challenges that we all face, we see at least for the next couple quarters, that trend continuing. Prices are going to have to increase on a same-store basis if you will in order to offset increased costs.”

“We’re dealing with a higher monthly payment for the buyer now because of the rising interest rates from nine months ago. Demand seems to be there,” he said, adding that the company may need to examine ways to address the situation. “Rather than reducing the price, we may have to look at smaller square footages. The buyer may have to choose.”

People Problems

Not everyone is finding opportunities to pass along costs: Civitas Solutions Inc., a health and human services provider that caters to those with disabilities and youth with behavioral or medical challenges, is seeing slimmer margins.

“The number of people that are exiting the company are still a concern to us and I think it’s driven largely by the full, robust economy,” Chairman Bruce Nardella said on a call, citing workers seeing opportunities to leave to get higher wages. “Over the last two years, our margins have eroded because of that labor pressure.”

Pizza Pain

As if a leadership feud and sales slump weren’t problematic enough, pizza chain Papa John’s International Inc. also has to deal with wage pressures and rising costs. It’s responding by attempting to eke out efficiency gains, rather than by raising prices, to defend its margins.

“We have employed third party efficiency experts to review the potential for improvements within our restaurants,” Chief Executive Officer Steve Ritchie said on a call. “They are also conducting time and motion studies. Their work will directly supplement the work we are doing within our restaurant design of the future.”

Addressing Pressures

As some companies maintain profits by pushing costs to customers, Flowers Foods Inc., the maker of Tastykake pastries and Mi Casa tortillas, is finding work-arounds. It increased prices in the first quarter to help offset input inflation, but has also eaten some of the cost.

“Our margins were impacted by inflationary pressures from higher transportation cost, a tight labor market, and increasingly volatile commodity markets,” Chief Executive Officer Allen Shiver said on a call. “To address these inflationary pressures, we are aggressively working to capture greater efficiencies and cost reductions.”

 

Source: Inflation Is Coming to Theater Near You as U.S. Companies Flex Pricing Power – Bloomberg

Weekly Issue: Booking a Tasty Gain in this Guilty Pleasure Stock

Weekly Issue: Booking a Tasty Gain in this Guilty Pleasure Stock

Key points inside this issue

  • Earnings continue to roll in as trade tensions remain and economic data is in conflict.
  • We are selling half the position in Habit Restaurant (HABT) shares on the Tematica Investing Select List, booking a hefty win in the process, and boosting our price target on the remaining shares to $16 from $12.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $230
  • Our price target on United Parcel Service (UPS) shares remains $130.

 

We are now more than one-third of the way through the September quarter, and firmly into the month of August, a time that is traditionally one of the slowest times of the year. Corporate earnings for the June quarter continue to come in and the United States has reimposed sanctions on Iran with additional measures potentially later this year as the Trump administration looks to pressure the Tehran regime to negotiate or step aside.

In response to President Trump instructing U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer to consider raising proposed tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods to 25% from 10%, the Chinese government on Friday shared a list of 5,207 U.S. products (meat, coffee, nuts, alcoholic drinks, minerals, chemicals, leather products, wood products, machinery, furniture and auto parts) on which it would impose tariffs between 5% to 25% if the U.S. followed through on proposed tariffs.

The stock market’s performance this week suggests it is shrugging off some of these geopolitical concerns, however, the longer they play out the more likely we are to see them have an impact to earnings expectations. The word “tariff” was mentioned 290 times in S&P 500 conference calls in the first quarter. So far this quarter that number is up to 609, and we have yet to finish the current season. We take this to mean that while many are hopeful when it comes to trade, companies are factoring potential pain into their planning. This could set the stage for a stronger finish to the year if the president is able to deliver on trade. We’ll continue to watch the developments and position the our holdings in the Tematica Select list accordingly.

As we move through the dog days of summer, I’ll continue to chew through the data and heed the messages from all the thematic signals that are around us each and every week.

 

Taking some profits in Habit after a smoking run

Even ahead of last week’s better than expected June quarter results, our shares of Habit Restaurant (HABT) have been rocking and rolling as they climbed just shy of 60% since we added them to the Tematica Investing Select List in early May.

Helping pop the shares over the last few days, Wall Street analysts boosted their forecasts for Habit following strong top and bottom line June quarter results that were driven by several pricing factors and better-than-expected volume, and an outlook that was ahead of expectations. On the pricing front, there were two items worth mentioning. First was the 3.9% increase taken in mid-May to offset California labor pressures, followed by the premium pricing associated with third-party delivery with the likes of DoorDash. As Habit rolls out third-party delivery in other locations and with other partners, such as Seamless with whom it is currently in testing, we are likely to see further pricing benefits that should drop to the bottom line.

Underlying this, our core thesis for the company, which centers on Habit’s geographic expansion outside of its core California market, remains intact. During the June quarter, it opened seven new company-operated restaurants, three of which were drive-thrus. While there were no new East Coast locations during the quarter, Habit remains committed to opening a total of 30 new locations in 2018 with 20% of them on the East Coast — one of which will be right near Tematica in Northern Virginia! Franchisees will add an additional seven to nine locations in 2018, with recently opened ones including Seattle and the second location in China.

In response, we are going to do two things. First, I am boosting our price target for HABT shares to $16, which offers modest upside from the current share price. As we do this, we will prudently book some of those hefty profits to be had given the move in the shares over the last three months, which has them in overbought territory. We will do this by selling half the HABT position on the Tematica Investing Select List, and keep the other half intact to capture the incremental upside. I’ll also continue to monitor the company to gauge its progress relative to revised expectations to determine if another beat is in the cards.

  • We are selling half the position in Habit Restaurant (HABT) shares on the Tematica Investing Select List, booking a hefty win in the process, and boosting our price target on the remaining shares to $16 from $12.

Costco shares get another boost

I recently boosted our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares to $230 from $220. Over the last few weeks the shares have climbed, bringing their return on the Tematica Investing Select List to more than 40%. Yesterday a similar move was had at Telsey Advisory Group (TAG), which raised its COST price target to $230 from $220. The similarities don’t end there as TAG also sees Costco to be a share gainer that should see double-digit growth in earnings per share this year. I’ve said it before, and odds are I’ll say it again, I love it when the herd comes around to our way of thinking.

Later this week, we should receive Costco’s July same-store sales metrics, which should confirm continued wallet share gains but also update us as to the number of open warehouse locations. As a reminder, more open warehouses drive the high margin membership fee income that is a key driver of Costco’s EPS.

  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $230

 

UPS keeps on trucking

Quarter to date, our shares of United Parcel Service (UPS) have soared 13%, bringing the return for us to more than 18%. In my view, the company is clearly benefiting from the improving economy and consumer spending, particularly that associated with our Digital LifeStyle investing theme. As we head into the thick of Back to School spending, let’s remember that UPS is well positioned to benefit not only from Amazon’s (AMZN) Prime Day 2018 but also march toward the year-end holiday spending bonanza that spans from Halloween through New Year’s. Over the last several years, we’ve seen digital shopping win a growing piece of consumer wallets and I see no reason why that won’t continue yet again this year.

  • Our price target on United Parcel Service (UPS) shares remains $130.

 

Weekly Issue: Trade Meetings and Earnings Reshape Market Outlook

Weekly Issue: Trade Meetings and Earnings Reshape Market Outlook

Key points from this issue:

  • Earnings from Boeing (BA) and General Motors (GM) signal markets will trade day-to-day as trade meetings and earnings season heat up.
  • Our price target on Dycom Industries (DY) shares remains $125
  • Our AXTI price target remains $11.
  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50
  • Our long-term price target for Farmland Partners (FPI) shares remains $12.
  • As we head into the seasonally strong second half of the year for United Parcel Service (UPS), our price target on the shares remains $130.

 

This week we’ve moved into the meaty part of 2Q 2018 earnings season, and so far, we’ve seen a number of companies beat top and bottom line expectations. Some market observers will point out that some 20%-25% of the S&P 500 group of companies are in that boat, and are declaring “victory” for the market. With today’s earnings from Boeing (BA) that and General Motors (GM), the market is trending lower as Boeing’s outlook falls short of Wall Street expectations while GM cut its outlook due to higher commodity prices. As you probably guessed, one of the culprits for GM is higher aluminum and steel prices.

My take on that is with 75%-80% of the S&P 500 yet to report, that claim while it could prove to right, it also could be a bit premature. As I shared with Oliver Renick, host at the TD Ameritrade Network a few days ago, we’ve only started to see the impact of initial trade tariffs and if the international dance continues we could see far more tariff jawboning put into action.

Consider a tweet from President Trump this morning that suggests a tariff follow through is possible.

 

 

But last night Trump tweeted a path forward to eliminating tariffs and other trade barriers between the Eurozone and the US ahead of his meeting today with the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker today to discuss trade, including tariffs on autos.

It would appear Trump is attempting to keep his negotiating opponents off balance in the hopes of improving trade relations from a US perspective. But it also seems that others have read Trump’s Art of the Deal by now as according to EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, the Commission is also preparing to introduce tariffs on $20 billion of U.S. goods if Washington imposes trade levies on imported cars.

While I would love to see some forward progress coming out of these talks, but just like with China the probability is rather low in my opinion. Much like with the China trade talks, things have escalated so that both sides will be looking to claim some victory to report back to their countrymen and women.  This likely means that as we migrate over the next few weeks of earnings, we will have to continue to watch trade developments, especially if more recent and wider spread tariffs wind up being enacted.

With more on the earnings and trade to be had in the coming days, we should be ready for day-to-day moves in the market, which will make it challenging for traders and options players. As they struggle, we’ll continue to take a longer-term focus, heeding the signals to be had with our thematic investing lens. Now, let’s get to some updates and other items…

 

Checking in on 5G spending from Verizon and AT&T

With both Verizon Communications (VZ) and AT&T (T) reporting June quarter results yesterday, I sifted through their comments on several fronts but especially on 5G given our positions in mobile infrastructure and licensing company Nokia (NOK), specialty contractor Dycom (DY) as well as compound semiconductor company AXT Inc. (AXTI). The nutshell take is things remain on track as both carriers look to launch commercial 5G networks in the coming quarters.

Verizon delivered solid quarterly results, buoyed by its core wireless business that added 531,000 net retail postpaid subscribers, which included 398,000 postpaid smartphone net adds. We’ve talked about how sticky mobile service is with consumers as smartphones are increasingly a life link for their connected lives so it comes as little surprise that Verizon’s customer loyalty remains strong with the quarter marking the fifth consecutive period of retail postpaid phone churn at 0.80 percent or better.

In terms of capital spending, a figure we want to watch as Verizon gets ready to launch its commercial 5G network, the company shared its 2018 spend will be at the lower end of its previously guided range of $17.0-$17.8 billion. Now here’s the thing, the mix of spending will favor 5G, which confirms the bullish comment and tone we shared last week from Ericsson (ERIC) on the North American 5G market.

With AT&T, its net capital spending in the June quarter slipped to $5.1 million, down from roughly $6 million in the March quarter but the company shared it will spend roughly $25 billion in all of 2018. Doing some quick math, we find this spending is weighted to the back half of 2018, which likely reflects investments in its 5G network as well as the new first responder network, FirstNet, it is building. During the earnings call, management shared the company now has 5G Evolution in more than 140 markets, covering nearly 100 million people with a theoretical peak speed of at least 400 megabits per second with plans to cover 400 plus markets by the end of this year. In terms of true 5G, trials are progressing and AT&T is tracking to launch service in parts of 12 markets by the end of this year.

That network spend and 5G buildout bodes well for both our Dycom shares.

  • Our price target on Dycom Industries (DY) shares remains $125

 

In addition, a few days ago mobile chip company Qualcomm (QCOM) shared that its 5G antennas are ready from prime time. More specifically, Qualcomm is shipping 5G antennas to its device partners that include Samsung, LG, Sony (SNE), HTC and Xiaomi among others for testing. Moreover, Qualcomm said it stands ready for “large-scale commercialization” which likely means 5G devices are just quarters away instead of years away.

We’d note those device partners of Qualcomm’s mentioned above have all announced plans to bring initial 5G powered phones to market during the first half of 2019. That means the supply chain will be readying power amplifiers and switches that will enable these devices to communicate with the 5G networks, which bodes well for incremental compound semiconductor substrate demand at AXT. Because 5G is being viewed as an “access technology” that will move mobile broadband past smartphones and similar devices, I continue to see this as a positive for the higher margin licensing business at Nokia as well.

As a reminder, AXT will report its quarterly results after tonight’s market close, and expectations for its June quarter are clocking in at $0.08 per in earnings on $26.1 million in revenue, up 60% and roughly 11% year over year.

  • Our AXTI price target remains $11.
  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50

 

Farmland Partners fights back

A few weeks ago, we shared not only our long-term conviction for Farmland Partners (FPI) shares but also prospects for continued drama in the coming months. Well, let’s say we’re not disappointed as this morning the company filed a lawsuit in District Court, Denver County, Colorado against “Rota Fortunae” (a pseudonym) and other entities who worked with or for Rota Fortunae in conducting a “short and distort” scheme to profit from the sharp decline in Farmland’s stock price resulting from false and misleading posting on Seeking Alpha. Farmland is seeking damages and injunctive relief for defamation, defamation by libel per se, disparagement, intentional interference with prospective business relations, unjust enrichment, deceptive trade practices, and civil conspiracy.

Are we surprised? No, especially since the Farmland management team signaled it would be moving down this path. While this will likely result in some incremental noise, we’ll continue to focus on the business and the long-term drivers of the agricultural commodities that drive it.

  • Our long-term price target for Farmland Partners (FPI) shares remains $12.

 

Paccar delivers on the earnings front, boosts its dividend

Tuesday morning, heavy and medium duty truck company Paccar (PCAR) delivered strong June quarter results, beating on both the top and bottom line. For the quarter, Paccar reported earnings of $1.59 per share, $0.16 better than the $1.43 consensus on revenues that rose more than 24% year over to year to $5.47 billion, edging out the $5.39 billion that was expected. The strength in the quarter reflects not only rising production and delivery levels that reflect the pick up in truck orders over the last 6-9 months, but also the ripple effect had on the company’s high margin financing business. Also too, as truck up time increases as does the number of Paccar trucks in service, we’ve seen a nice pick up in the company’s Parts business that carries premium margins relative to the new truck one.

During the quarter, Paccar repurchased 1.21 million of its common shares for $77.2 million, completing its previously authorized $300 million share repurchase program. The Board of Directors approved an additional $300 million repurchase of outstanding common stock earlier this month and given the current share price that is below that average repurchase price we suspect this new program will be put to use quickly. Also during the quarter, Paccar boosted its quarterly dividend to $0.28 per share from $0.25, and management reminded investors of the company’s track record of delivering quarterly and special dividends in the range of 45-55% of net income.

Given 111% year over year growth in the new heavy truck orders throughout the U.S. and Canada during the first half of 2018, we continue to be bullish on PCAR shares as we head into the second half of 2018. Even so, we’ll continue to analyze the monthly truck order data as well as freight indicators and other barometers of domestic economic activity to assess the continued strength in new truck demand. In the coming months, we expect long-time followers of Paccar will begin to focus on the potential year-end special dividend the company has issued more often than not.

  • Our price target on Paccar (PCAR) shares remains $80.

 

A quick note on United Parcel Service earnings

Early this morning, United Parcel Service (UPS) beat estimates by a penny a share, with an adjusted quarterly profit of $1.94 per share. Revenue beat forecasts, as well, boosted by strong growth in online shopping – no surprise to us given our Digital Lifestyle investing theme. UPS will host a conference call this morning during which it will update its outlook for the back half of the year, and that should help quantify the year over year growth in Amazon’s (AMZN) Prime Day 2018 ahead of its earnings report later this week.

  • As we head into the seasonally strong second half of the year for United Parcel Service (UPS), our price target on the shares remains $130.