Can The Santa Experience Save Brick-And-Mortar Retail This Holiday Season?

Can The Santa Experience Save Brick-And-Mortar Retail This Holiday Season?

This is a quaint idea, but as the data published by ShopperTrak for Black Friday 2019  showed there is no putting the digital shopping genie back in the bottle, especially not after companies like Target and Walmart have ramped up their digital commerce efforts to battle Amazon.

Some holiday traditions are easy to explain — things like wrapping presents, drinking hot chocolate and baking cookies are all neatly summed up with the knowledge that the vast majority of people like opening presents and eating cookies.

Source: Can The Santa Experience Save Brick-And-Mortar Retail This Holiday Season?

Doubling Down on Digital Infrastructure Thematic Leader

Doubling Down on Digital Infrastructure Thematic Leader

Key point inside this issue

  • We are doubling down on Dycom (DY) shares on the Thematic Leader board and adjusting our price target to $80 from $100, which still offers significant upside from our new cost basis as the 5G and gigabit fiber buildout continues over the coming quarters.

We are coming at you earlier than usual this week in part to share my thoughts on all of the economic data we received late last week.

 

Last week’s data confirms the US economy is slowing

With two-thirds of the current quarter behind now in the books, the continued move higher in the markets has all the major indices up double-digits year to date, ranging from around 11.5-12.0%% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 to nearly 18% for the small-cap heavy Russell 2000. In recent weeks we have discussed my growing concerns that the market’s melt-up hinges primarily on U.S.-China trade deal prospects as earnings expectations for this year have been moving lower, dividend cuts have been growing and the global economy continues to slow. The U.S. continues to look like the best economic house on the block even though it, too, is slowing.

On Friday, a round of IHS Markit February PMI reports showed that three of the four global economic horsemen — Japan, China, and the eurozone — were in contraction territory for the month. New orders in Japan and China improved but fell in the eurozone, which likely means those economies will continue to slug it out in the near-term especially since export orders across all three regions fell month over month. December-quarter GDP was revealed to be 2.6% sequentially, which equates to a 3.1% improvement year over year but is down compared to the 3.5% GDP reading of the September quarter and 4.2% in the June one.  Slower growth to be sure, but still growing in the December quarter.

Before we break out the bubbly, though, the IHS Markit February U.S. Manufacturing PMI fell to its lowest reading in 18 months as rates of output and new order growth softened as did inflationary pressures. This data suggest the U.S. manufacturing sector is growing at its slowest rate in several quarters, as did the February ISM Manufacturing Index reading, which slipped month over month and missed expectations. Declines were seen almost across the board for that ISM index save for new export orders, which grew modestly month over month. The new order component of the February ISM Manufacturing Index dropped to 55.5 from 58.2 in January, but candidly this line item has been all over the place the last few months. The January figure rebounded nicely from 51.3 in December, which was down sharply from 61.8 in November. This zig-zag pattern likely reflects growing uncertainty in the manufacturing economy given the pace of the global economy and uncertainty on the trade front. Generally speaking though, falling orders translate into a slower production and this means carefully watching both the ISM and IHS Markit data over the coming months.

In sum, the manufacturing economy across the four key economies continued to slow in February. On a wider, more global scale, J.P. Morgan’s Global Manufacturing PMI fell to 50.6 in February, its lowest level since June 2016. Per J.P. Morgan’s findings, “the rate of expansion in new orders stayed close to the stagnation mark,” which suggests we are not likely to see a pronounced rebound in the near-term. We see this as allowing the Fed to keep its dovish view, and as we discuss below odds are it will be joined by the European Central Bank this week.

Other data out Friday included the December readings for Personal Income & Spending and the January take on Personal Income. The key takeaway was personal income fell for the first time in more than three years during January, easily coming in below the gains expected by economists. Those pieces of data not only help explain the recent December Retail Sales miss but alongside reports of consumer credit card debt topping $1 trillion and record delinquencies for auto and student loans, point to more tepid consumer spending ahead. As I’ve shared before, that is a headwind for the overall US economy but also a tailwind for those companies, like Middle-class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale (COST), that help consumers stretch the disposable income they do have.

We have talked quite a bit in recent Tematica Investing issues about revisions to S&P 500 2019 EPS estimates, which at last count stood at +4.7% year over year, down significantly from over +11% at the start of the December quarter. Given the rash of reports last week – more than 750 in total –  we will likely see that expected rate of growth tweaked a bit lower.

Putting it all together, we have a slowing U.S. and global economy, EPS cuts that are making the stock market incrementally more expensive as it has moved higher in recent weeks, and a growing number of dividend cuts. Clearly, the stock market has been melting up over the last several weeks on increasing hopes over a favorable trade deal with China, but last week we saw President Trump abruptly end the summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un with no joint agreement after Kim insisted all U.S. sanctions be lifted on his country. This action spooked the market, leading some to revisit the potential for a favorable trade deal between the U.S. and China.

Measuring the success of any trade agreement will hinge on the details. Should it fail to live up to expectations, which is a distinct possibility, we could very well see a “buy the rumor, sell the news” situation arise in the stock market. As I watch for these developments to unfold, given the mismatch in the stock market between earnings and dividends vs. the market’s move thus far in 2019 I will also be watching insider selling in general but also for those companies on the Thematic Leader Board as well as the Tematica Select List. While insiders can be sellers for a variety of reasons, should we see a pronounced and somewhat across the board pick up in such activity, it could be another warning sign.

 

What to Watch This Week

This week we will see a noticeable drop in the velocity of earnings reports, but we will still get a number of data points that investors and economists will use to triangulate the speed of the current quarter’s GDP relative to the 2.6% print for the December quarter. The consensus GDP forecast for the current quarter is for a slower economy at +2.0%, but we have started to see some economists trim their forecasts as more economic data rolls in. Because that data has fallen shy of expectations, it has led the Citibank Economic Surprise Index (CESI) to once again move into negative territory and the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow current quarter forecast now sat at 0.3% as of Friday.

On the economic docket this week, we have December Construction Spending, ISM’s February Non-Manufacturing Index reading, the latest consumer credit figures and the February reports on job creation and unemployment from ADP (ADP) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With Home Depot (HD) reporting relatively mild December weather, any pronounced shortfall in December Construction Spending will likely serve to confirm the economy is on a slowing vector. Much like we did above with ISM’s February Manufacturing Index we’ll be looking into the Non-Manufacturing data to determine demand and inflation dynamics as well as the tone of the services economy.

On the jobs front, while we will be watching the numbers created, including any aberration owing to the recent federal government shutdown, it will be the wage and hours worked data that we’ll be focusing on. Wage data will show signs of any inflationary pressures, while hours worked will indicate how much labor slack there is in the economy. The consumer is in a tighter spot financially speaking, which was reflected in recent retail sales and personal spending data. Recognizing the role consumer spending plays in the overall speed of the U.S. economy, we will be scrutinizing the upcoming consumer credit data rather closely.

In addition to the hard data, we’ll also get the Fed’s latest Beige Book, which should provide a feel for how the regional economies are faring thus far in 2019. Speaking of central bankers, next Wednesday will bring the results of the next European Central Bank meeting. Given the data depicted in the February IHS Markit reports we discussed above, the probability is high the ECB will join the Fed in a more dovish tone.

While the velocity of earnings reports does indeed drop dramatically next week, there will still be several reports worth digging into, including Ross Stores (ROST), Kohl’s (KSS), Target (TGT), BJ’s Wholesale (BJ), and Middle-class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale (COST) will also issue their latest quarterly results. Those reports combined with the ones this week, including solid results from TJX Companies (TJX) last week should offer a more complete look at consumer spending, and where that spending is occurring. Given the discussion several paragraphs above, TJX’s results last week, and the monthly sales reports from Costco, odds are quite good that Costco should serve up yet another report showcasing consumer wallet share gains.

Outside of apparel and home, reports from United Natural Foods (UNFI) and National Beverage (FIZZ) should corroborate the accelerating shift toward food and beverages that are part of our Cleaner Living investing theme. In that vein, I’ll be intrigued to see what Tematica Select List resident International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) has to say about the demand for its line of organic and natural solutions.

The same can be said with Kroger (KR) as well as its efforts to fend off Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) and Walmart (WMT). Tucked inside of Kroger’s comments, we will be curious to see what the company says about digital grocery shopping and delivery. On Kroger’s last earnings conference call, Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen shared the following, “We are aggressively investing to build digital platforms because they give our customers the ability to have anything, anytime, anywhere from Kroger, and because they’re a catalyst to grow our business and improve margins in the future.” Now to see what progress has been achieved over the last 90 or so days and what Kroger has to say about the late-Friday report that Amazon will launch its own chain of supermarkets.

 

Tematica Investing

As you can see in the chart above, for the most part, our Thematic Leaders have been delivering solid performance. Shares of Costco Wholesale (COST) and Nokia (NOK) are notable laggards, but with Costco’s earnings report later this week which will also include its February same-store sales, I see the company’s business and the shares once again coming back into investor favor as it continues to win consumer wallet share. That was clearly evident in its December and January same-store sales reports. With Nokia, coming out of Mobile World Congress 2019 last week, we have confirmation that 5G is progressing, with more network launches coming and more devices coming as well in the coming quarters. We’ll continue to be patient with NOK shares.

 

Adding significantly to our position in Thematic Leader Dycom Industries

There are two positions on the leader board – Aging of the Population AMN Healthcare (AMN) and Digital Infrastructure Dycom Industries (DY) – that are in the red. The recent and sharp drop in Dycom shares follows the company’s disappointing quarterly report in which costs grew faster than 14.3% year over year increase in revenue, pressuring margins and the company’s bottom line. As we’ve come to expect this alongside the near-term continuation of those margin pressures, as you can see below, simply whacked DY shares last week, dropping them into oversold territory.

 

When we first discussed Dycom’s business, I pointed out the seasonal tendencies of its business, and that likely means some of the February winter weather brought some added disruptions as will the winter weather that is hitting parts of the country as you read this. Yet, we know that Dycom’s top customers – AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ), Comcast (CMCSA) and CenturyLink (CTL) are busy expanding the footprint of their connective networks. That’s especially true with the 5G buildout efforts at AT&T and Verizon, which on a combined basis accounted for 42% of Dycom’s January quarter revenue.

Above I shared that coming out of Mobile World Congress 2019, commercial 5G deployments are likely to be a 2020 event but as we know the networks, base stations, and backhaul capabilities will need to be installed ahead of those launches. To me, this strongly suggests that Dycom’s business will improve in the coming quarters, and as that happens, it’s bound to move down the cost curve as efficiencies and other aspects of higher utilization are had. For that reason, we are using last week’s 26% drop in DY shares to double our position size in DY shares on the Thematic Leader board. This will reduce our blended cost basis to roughly $64 from the prior $82. As we buy up the shares, I’m also resetting our price target on DY shares to $80, down from the prior $100, which offers significant upside from the current share price and our blended cost basis.

If you’re having second thoughts on this decision, think of it this way – doesn’t it seem rather strange that DY shares would fall by such a degree given the coming buildout that we know is going to occur over the coming quarters? If Dycom’s customers were some small, regional operators I would have some concerns, but that isn’t the case. These customers will build out those networks, and it means Dycom will be put to work in the coming quarters, generating revenue, profits, and cash flow along the way.

In last week’s Tematica Investing I dished on Warren Buffett’s latest letter to Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) shareholders. In thinking about Dycom, another Buffett-ism comes to mind – “Opportunities come infrequently. When it rains gold, put out the bucket, not the thimble.” Since this is a multi-quarter buildout for Dycom, we will need to be patient, but as we know for the famous encounter between the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race.

  • We are doubling down on Dycom (DY) shares on the Thematic Leader board and adjusting our price target to $80 from $100, which still offers significant upside from our new cost basis as the 5G and gigabit fiber buildout continues over the coming quarters.

 

As the pace of earnings slows, over the next few weeks I’ll not only be revisiting the recent 25% drop in Aging of the Population Thematic Leader AMN Healthcare to determine if we should make a similar move like the one we are doing with Dycom, but I’ll also be taking closer looks at wireless charging company Energous Corp. (WATT) and The Alkaline Water Company (WTER). Those two respectively fall under our Disruptive Innovators and Cleaner Living investing themes. Are they worthy of making it onto the Select List or bumping one of our Thematic Leaders? We’ll see…. And as I examine these two, I’m also pouring over some candidates to fill the Guilty Pleasure vacancy on the leader board.

 

 

Adding two Middle-class Squeeze call option positions ahead of earnings this week

Adding two Middle-class Squeeze call option positions ahead of earnings this week

Key point inside this issue

We are coming at you earlier than usual this week in part to share my thoughts on all of the economic data we received late last week, but also to share a new call option trade with you. The timing on that trade is important because the underlying company will report its quarterly results after Tuesday’s (March 5) market close. With that said, let’s get to the issues at hand…

 

Last week’s data confirms the US economy is slowing

With two-thirds of the current quarter behind now in the books, the continued move higher in the markets has all the major indices up double-digits year to date, ranging from around 11.5-12.0%% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 to nearly 18% for the small-cap heavy Russell 2000. In recent weeks we have discussed my growing concerns that the market’s melt-up hinges primarily on U.S.-China trade deal prospects as earnings expectations for this year have been moving lower, dividend cuts have been growing and the global economy continues to slow. The U.S. continues to look like the best economic house on the block even though it, too, is slowing.

On Friday, a round of IHS Markit February PMI reports showed that three of the four global economic horsemen — Japan, China, and the eurozone — were in contraction territory for the month. New orders in Japan and China improved but fell in the eurozone, which likely means those economies will continue to slug it out in the near-term especially since export orders across all three regions fell month over month. December-quarter GDP was revealed to be 2.6% sequentially, which equates to a 3.1% improvement year over year but is down compared to the 3.5% GDP reading of the September quarter and 4.2% in the June one.  Slower growth to be sure, but still growing in the December quarter.

Before we break out the bubbly, though, the IHS Markit February U.S. Manufacturing PMI fell to its lowest reading in 18 months as rates of output and new order growth softened as did inflationary pressures. This data suggest the U.S. manufacturing sector is growing at its slowest rate in several quarters, as did the February ISM Manufacturing Index reading, which slipped month over month and missed expectations. Declines were seen almost across the board for that ISM index save for new export orders, which grew modestly month over month. The new order component of the February ISM Manufacturing Index dropped to 55.5 from 58.2 in January, but candidly this line item has been all over the place the last few months. The January figure rebounded nicely from 51.3 in December, which was down sharply from 61.8 in November. This zig-zag pattern likely reflects growing uncertainty in the manufacturing economy given the pace of the global economy and uncertainty on the trade front. Generally speaking though, falling orders translate into a slower production and this means carefully watching both the ISM and IHS Markit data over the coming months.

In sum, the manufacturing economy across the four key economies continued to slow in February. On a wider, more global scale, J.P. Morgan’s Global Manufacturing PMI fell to 50.6 in February, its lowest level since June 2016. Per J.P. Morgan’s findings, “the rate of expansion in new orders stayed close to the stagnation mark,” which suggests we are not likely to see a pronounced rebound in the near-term. We see this as allowing the Fed to keep its dovish view, and as we discuss below odds are it will be joined by the European Central Bank this week.

Other data out Friday included the December readings for Personal Income & Spending and the January take on Personal Income. The key takeaway was personal income fell for the first time in more than three years during January, easily coming in below the gains expected by economists. Those pieces of data not only help explain the recent December Retail Sales miss but alongside reports of consumer credit card debt topping $1 trillion and record delinquencies for auto and student loans, point to more tepid consumer spending ahead. As I’ve shared before, that is a headwind for the overall US economy but also a tailwind for those companies, like Middle-class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale (COST), that help consumers stretch the disposable income they do have.

We have talked quite a bit in recent Tematica Investing issues about revisions to S&P 500 2019 EPS estimates, which at last count stood at +4.7% year over year, down significantly from over +11% at the start of the December quarter. Given the rash of reports last week – more than 750 in total –  we will likely see that expected rate of growth tweaked a bit lower.

Putting it all together, we have a slowing U.S. and global economy, EPS cuts that are making the stock market incrementally more expensive as it has moved higher in recent weeks, and a growing number of dividend cuts. Clearly, the stock market has been melting up over the last several weeks on increasing hopes over a favorable trade deal with China, but last week we saw President Trump abruptly end the summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un with no joint agreement after Kim insisted all U.S. sanctions be lifted on his country. This action spooked the market, leading some to revisit the potential for a favorable trade deal between the U.S. and China.

Measuring the success of any trade agreement will hinge on the details. Should it fail to live up to expectations, which is a distinct possibility, we could very well see a “buy the rumor, sell the news” situation arise in the stock market. As I watch for these developments to unfold, given the mismatch in the stock market between earnings and dividends vs. the market’s move thus far in 2019 I will also be watching insider selling in general but also for those companies on the Thematic Leader Board as well as the Tematica Select List. While insiders can be sellers for a variety of reasons, should we see a pronounced and somewhat across the board pick up in such activity, it could be another warning sign.

 

What to Watch This Week

This week we will see a noticeable drop in the velocity of earnings reports, but we will still get a number of data points that investors and economists will use to triangulate the speed of the current quarter’s GDP relative to the 2.6% print for the December quarter. The consensus GDP forecast for the current quarter is for a slower economy at +2.0%, but we have started to see some economists trim their forecasts as more economic data rolls in. Because that data has fallen shy of expectations, it has led the Citibank Economic Surprise Index (CESI) to once again move into negative territory and the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow current quarter forecast now sat at 0.3% as of Friday.

On the economic docket this week, we have December Construction Spending, ISM’s February Non-Manufacturing Index reading, the latest consumer credit figures and the February reports on job creation and unemployment from ADP (ADP) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With Home Depot (HD) reporting relatively mild December weather, any pronounced shortfall in December Construction Spending will likely serve to confirm the economy is on a slowing vector. Much like we did above with ISM’s February Manufacturing Index we’ll be looking into the Non-Manufacturing data to determine demand and inflation dynamics as well as the tone of the services economy.

On the jobs front, while we will be watching the numbers created, including any aberration owing to the recent federal government shutdown, it will be the wage and hours worked data that we’ll be focusing on. Wage data will show signs of any inflationary pressures, while hours worked will indicate how much labor slack there is in the economy. The consumer is in a tighter spot financially speaking, which was reflected in recent retail sales and personal spending data. Recognizing the role consumer spending plays in the overall speed of the U.S. economy, we will be scrutinizing the upcoming consumer credit data rather closely.

In addition to the hard data, we’ll also get the Fed’s latest Beige Book, which should provide a feel for how the regional economies are faring thus far in 2019. Speaking of central bankers, next Wednesday will bring the results of the next European Central Bank meeting. Given the data depicted in the February IHS Markit reports we discussed above, the probability is high the ECB will join the Fed in a more dovish tone.

While the velocity of earnings reports does indeed drop dramatically next week, there will still be several reports worth digging into, including Ross Stores (ROST), Kohl’s (KSS), Target (TGT), BJ’s Wholesale (BJ), and Middle-class Squeeze Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale (COST) will also issue their latest quarterly results. Those reports combined with the ones this week, including solid results from TJX Companies (TJX) last week should offer a more complete look at consumer spending, and where that spending is occurring. Given the discussion several paragraphs above, TJX’s results last week, and the monthly sales reports from Costco, odds are quite good that Costco should serve up yet another report showcasing consumer wallet share gains.

Outside of apparel and home, reports from United Natural Foods (UNFI) and National Beverage (FIZZ) should corroborate the accelerating shift toward food and beverages that are part of our Cleaner Living investing theme. In that vein, I’ll be intrigued to see what Tematica Select List resident International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) has to say about the demand for its line of organic and natural solutions.

The same can be said with Kroger (KR) as well as its efforts to fend off Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) and Walmart (WMT). Tucked inside of Kroger’s comments, we will be curious to see what the company says about digital grocery shopping and delivery. On Kroger’s last earnings conference call, Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen shared the following, “We are aggressively investing to build digital platforms because they give our customers the ability to have anything, anytime, anywhere from Kroger, and because they’re a catalyst to grow our business and improve margins in the future.” Now to see what progress has been achieved over the last 90 or so days and what Kroger has to say about the late-Friday report that Amazon will launch its own chain of supermarkets.

 

Tematica Investing

As you can see in the chart above, for the most part, our Thematic Leaders have been delivering solid performance. Shares of Costco Wholesale (COST) and Nokia (NOK) are notable laggards, but with Costco’s earnings report later this week which will also include its February same-store sales, I see the company’s business and the shares once again coming back into investor favor as it continues to win consumer wallet share. That was clearly evident in its December and January same-store sales reports. With Nokia, coming out of Mobile World Congress 2019 last week, we have confirmation that 5G is progressing, with more network launches coming and more devices coming as well in the coming quarters. We’ll continue to be patient with NOK shares.

 

Adding significantly to our position in Thematic Leader Dycom Industries

There are two positions on the leader board – Aging of the Population AMN Healthcare (AMN) and Digital Infrastructure Dycom Industries (DY) – that are in the red. The recent and sharp drop in Dycom shares follows the company’s disappointing quarterly report in which costs grew faster than 14.3% year over year increase in revenue, pressuring margins and the company’s bottom line. As we’ve come to expect this alongside the near-term continuation of those margin pressures, as you can see below, simply whacked DY shares last week, dropping them into oversold territory.

 

When we first discussed Dycom’s business, I pointed out the seasonal tendencies of its business, and that likely means some of the February winter weather brought some added disruptions as will the winter weather that is hitting parts of the country as you read this. Yet, we know that Dycom’s top customers – AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ), Comcast (CMCSA) and CenturyLink (CTL) are busy expanding the footprint of their connective networks. That’s especially true with the 5G buildout efforts at AT&T and Verizon, which on a combined basis accounted for 42% of Dycom’s January quarter revenue.

Above I shared that coming out of Mobile World Congress 2019, commercial 5G deployments are likely to be a 2020 event but as we know the networks, base stations, and backhaul capabilities will need to be installed ahead of those launches. To me, this strongly suggests that Dycom’s business will improve in the coming quarters, and as that happens, it’s bound to move down the cost curve as efficiencies and other aspects of higher utilization are had. For that reason, we are using last week’s 26% drop in DY shares to double our position size in DY shares on the Thematic Leader board. This will reduce our blended cost basis to roughly $64 from the prior $82. As we buy up the shares, I’m also resetting our price target on DY shares to $80, down from the prior $100, which offers significant upside from the current share price and our blended cost basis.

If you’re having second thoughts on this decision, think of it this way – doesn’t it seem rather strange that DY shares would fall by such a degree given the coming buildout that we know is going to occur over the coming quarters? If Dycom’s customers were some small, regional operators I would have some concerns, but that isn’t the case. These customers will build out those networks, and it means Dycom will be put to work in the coming quarters, generating revenue, profits, and cash flow along the way.

In last week’s Tematica Investing I dished on Warren Buffett’s latest letter to Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) shareholders. In thinking about Dycom, another Buffett-ism comes to mind – “Opportunities come infrequently. When it rains gold, put out the bucket, not the thimble.” Since this is a multi-quarter buildout for Dycom, we will need to be patient, but as we know for the famous encounter between the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race.

  • We are doubling down on Dycom (DY) shares on the Thematic Leader board and adjusting our price target to $80 from $100, which still offers significant upside from our new cost basis as the 5G and gigabit fiber buildout continues over the coming quarters.

 

As the pace of earnings slows, over the next few weeks I’ll not only be revisiting the recent 25% drop in Aging of the Population Thematic Leader AMN Healthcare to determine if we should make a similar move like the one we are doing with Dycom, but I’ll also be taking closer looks at wireless charging company Energous Corp. (WATT) and The Alkaline Water Company (WTER). Those two respectively fall under our Disruptive Innovators and Cleaner Living investing themes. Are they worthy of making it onto the Select List or bumping one of our Thematic Leaders? We’ll see…. And as I examine these two, I’m also pouring over some candidates to fill the Guilty Pleasure vacancy on the leader board.

 

Tematica Options+

One of the key takeaways over the last few issues has been the growing consumer spending headwind that has become increasingly evident across the December Retail Sales report, falling Personal Income data and increasing delinquencies. At the same time, we learned that despite mild December weather Home Depot (HD) missed earnings expectations and set the bar lower. Macy’s (M) reported uninspiring results and guidance while Nordstrom missed quarterly revenue expectations and L Brands (LB), the home of Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body works.

Meanwhile, last week TJX Companies (TJX), the parent of TJ Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, and HomeSense, reported same-store comp sales of 6% for its most recent quarter as store traffic surged. The company also boosted its quarterly dividend by 18% and announced plans to upsize its share buyback plan to $1.75-$2.25 billion.

Quite a different story. Also last week, the Gap (GPS), a company that in my view has been lost for quite some time, announced it was splitting into two companies. One will house its Gap and Banana Republic lines, while Old Navy, a business that fits the mold of our Middle-class Squeeze investing theme, will stand on its own.

Then there is Thematic Leader Costco Wholesale, which has been simply taking consumer wallet share as it opens additional warehouse locations. Excluding the impact of gas prices and foreign exchange, Costco’s US same store sales climbed 7.1% year over year in December and 7.3% in January.

In my view, all of this sets up very well for solid earnings reports from both Ross Stores, which will issue those results after the market close on Tuesday (March 5), and Costco, which reports after the close on Thursday (March 7). To capture the upside associated with these reports, we will add the following call option positions:

 

Note the corresponding stop losses. These are tighter than usual because these are earnings related trades, and as we’ve seen of late guidance is as important as the rear-view quarterly results. These stops will help us limit that downside risk.

With regard to our Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) September 20, 2019, 10.00 calls (DFRG190920C00010000) and Nokia Corp. (NOK) December 2019 7.00 calls (NOK191220C0000700), we will continue to hold them. The Del Frisco’s calls traded off last week and finished the week at 0.85, which is rather close to our 0.80 stop loss. This will bear watching and should we get stopped out, while we’ll net a 33% return should it happen soon than later, I may be inclined to jump back into a DFRG call position ahead of the company’s March 12 earnings report.

 

 

Weekly Issue: A Number of Our Thematic Leaders Well Positioned for the Holidays

Weekly Issue: A Number of Our Thematic Leaders Well Positioned for the Holidays

 

Normally we here at Tematica tend to shut down during the short week that contains Thanksgiving, but given all that is going on in the stock market of late, we thought it prudent to share some thoughts as well as what to watch both this week and next. From all of us here at Tematica, we wish you, your family, friends and love a very happy Thanksgiving!

Now let’s get started…

Key points in this issue

  • Despite the recent market pain, I continue to see a number of holdings being extremely well positioned for the holiday season including Amazon, Costco Wholesale (COST), United Parcel Service (UPS), McCormick & Co. (MKC) and both businesses at International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF).
  • I’ll continue to heed our Thematic Signals and look for opportunities for when the stock market lands on solid footing.
  • Later this week, Disney’s (DIS) latest family-friendly move, Ralph Breaks the Internet, hits theaters and we’ll be checking the box office tallies come Monday.
  •  Taking a look at shares of Energous Corp. (WATT), a Disruptive Innovator contender

 

The stock market so far this week…

There is no way to sugar coat or tap dance around it – this week has been a difficult slug ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday as the pressures we’ve talked about over the last two months continue to plague the market as the impact has widened out. Oil prices have continued to plummet, pressuring energy stocks; housing data continues to disappoint, hitting homebuilding stocks; and we’ve received more new of iPhone production cuts as well as potential privacy regulation that has rippled through much of the tech sector. Retail woes were added to the pile following disappointing results from Target (TGT) and L Brands (LB) that pressured those shares and sent ripples across other retail shares.

The net effect of the last few weeks has wiped out the stock market’s 2018 gains with both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 down roughly 1.0% as of last night’s market close. While the Nasdaq Composite Index is now flat for the year, the small-cap heavy Russell 2000 is firmly in the red, down 4.3% for all of 2018 as of last night.

The overall market moves in recent days have weighed on several constituents of the Thematic Leaders and the Select List, most notably Apple (AAPL), Amazon and Alphabet/Google (GOOGL). Despite that erasure, we are still nicely profitable those positions as well as AMN Healthcare (AMN), Costco Wholesale (COST), Disney (DIS), Alphabet (GOOGL), ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK), and several others. More defensive names, such as McCormick & Co. (MKC), and International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) have outperformed on a relative basis of late, which we attribute to their respective business models and thematic tailwinds.

As I describe below, the coming days are filled with events that could continue the pain or lead to a reprieve. As that outcome becomes more clear, we’ll either stay on the sidelines collecting thematic signals for our existing positions or take advantage of the recent market pain to scoop up shares in thematically well-positioned companies at prices we haven’t seen in months.

 

What to watch the rest of this week

As we get ready for the Thanksgiving holiday, we know before too long the official kick-off to the holiday shopping race will being. Some retailers will be open late Thursday, while others will open their doors early Black Friday morning and keep them open all weekend long. As we get the tallies for the shopping weekend, the fun culminates with Cyber Monday, a day that is near and dear to our hearts given our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.

Given the market mood of late, as well as the disappointing results from Target and L Brands earlier this week, we can count on Wall Street picking through the shopping weekends results to determine how realistic recently issued holiday shopping forecasts. The National Retail Federation’s consumer survey is calling for a 4.1% increase year over year this holiday season, which they define as November and December. The NRF’s own forecast is looking for a more upbeat 4.3%-4.8% increase vs. 2017.

Consulting firm PwC has a more aggressive view — based on its own survey, consumers expect to spend $1,250 this holiday season on gifts, travel and entertainment, a 5% increase year over year. One of the differences in the wider array of what’s included in the survey versus the NRF. In that vein, Deloitte’s inclusion of January in its findings explains why its 2018 holiday shopping forecast tops out among the highest at a 5.0%-5.6% improvement year over year. That Deloitte forecast includes a 17%-22% increase in digital commerce this holiday shopping season compared to 2017, reaching $128-$134 billion in the process. That’s a sharp increase but some estimates call for Amazon (AMZN) to increase its sales during the period by at least 27%.

I continue to see a number of holdings being extremely well positioned for the holiday season including Amazon, Costco Wholesale (COST), United Parcel Service (UPS), McCormick & Co. (MKC) and both businesses at International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF).

Also this week, Disney’s (DIS) latest family-friendly move, Ralph Breaks the Internet, hits theaters and we’ll be checking the box office tallies come Monday.

 

What to watch next week

As mentioned above, next week will bring us the full tally of holiday shopping results and begin with Cyber Monday, which means more holiday shopping data will be had on Tuesday. As we march toward the end of November, we’ll have several of the usual end of the month pieces of economic data, including Personal Income & Spending as well as New Home Sales and Pending Home Sales for October. We’ll also get the second print for the September quarter GDP, and many will be looking to measure the degree of revision relative to the initial 3.5% print.

As they do that, they will likely be taking note of the forward vector for GDP expectations, which per The Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecast Survey sees current quarter GDP at 2.6% with 2.5% in the first half of 2019 and 2.15% for the back half of 2019. Taking a somewhat longer view, that means the economy peaked in the June quarter with GDP at 4.2%, due in part to the lag effect associated with the 2018 tax reform, and has slowed since due to the slowing global economy, trade war,  strong dollar, and higher interest rates compared to several quarters ago. As tax reform anniversaries, that added boost to the corporate bottom lines will disappear and in the coming weeks, we expect investors will be asking more questions about the likelihood of the S&P 500 delivering 10% EPS growth in 2018 vs. 2017.

With that in mind, perhaps the two most critical things for investors next week will be the minutes to the Fed’s November meeting and the G20 Summit that will be held Nov. 30-Dec. 1. Inside the Fed minutes, we and other investors will be looking for comments on inflation and the speed of rate future rate hikes, which the market currently expects to be four in 2019. And yes, the December Fed policy meeting continues to look like a shoe-in for a rate hike. Per White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, US-China trade is likely to come to a head at the summit. If the speech given by Vice President Pence at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit – the United States “will not change course until China changes its ways” – we could see the current trade war continue. We’ll continue to expect the worst, and hope for the best on this front.

On the earnings front next week, there will be a number of reports worth noting including those from GameStop (GME), Salesforce (CRM), JM Smucker (SJM) and a number of retailers ranging from Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS) and Tiffany & Co. (TIF) to PVH (PVH) and Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF). Those retailer results will likely include some comments on the holiday shopping weekend, and we can expect investors to match up comparables and forecasts to determine who will be wallet share winners this holiday season. Toward the end of next week, we’ll also hear from Palo Alto Networks (PAWN) and Splunk (SPLK), which should offer a solid update on the pace of cybersecurity spending.

 

Taking a look at shares of Energous Corp. (WATT)

In our increasingly connected society, two of the big annoyances we must deal with are keeping our devices charged and all the cords we need to charge them. When I upgraded my iPhone to one of the newer models, I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of charging it wirelessly by laying it on a charging disc. Pretty easy.

I’m hardly alone in appreciating this convenience, and we’ve heard that companies ranging from Tesla Inc. (TSLA) to Apple Inc. (AAPL) are looking to bring charging pads to market. That means a potential sea change in how we charge our devices is in the offing, which means a potential growth market for a company that has the necessary chipsets to power one or more of those pads. In other words, if there were no such chipsets, we would not be able to charge wirelessly. This coming change fits very well inside our Disruptive Innovators investing theme.

Off to digging I went and turned up Energous Corp. (WATT) and its WattUp solution, which consists of proprietary semiconductor chipsets, software and antennas that enable radio frequency (RF)-based, wire-free charging of electronic devices. Like the charging disc I have and the ones depicted by Apple, WattUp is both a contact-based charging and at-a-distance charging solution, which means all we need do is lay our wireless devices down be it on a disc, pad or other contraption to charge them. In November 2016, Energous entered into a Strategic Alliance Agreement with Dialog Semiconductor (DLGNF), under which Dialog manufactures and distributes IC products incorporating its wire-free charging technology.

Dialog happens to be the exclusive supplier of these Energous products for the general market and Dialog is also a well-known power management supplier to Apple across several products, including the iPhone. Indeed, last week Dialog bucked the headline trend of late and shared that it isn’t seeing a demand hit from Apple after fellow suppliers Lumentum Holdings Inc. (LITE) and Qorvo Inc. (QRCO) cut guidance earlier this week.

On its September quarter earnings call, Dialog shared it was awarded a broad range of new contracts, including charging across multiple next-generation products assets, with revenue expected to be realized starting in 2019 and accelerating into 2020. I already can feel several mental carts getting ahead of the horse as some think, “Ah, Energous might be the technology that will power Apple’s wireless charging solution!”

Adding fuel to that fire, on its September quarter earnings conference call Energous shared that “given the most recent advances in our core technology” its relationship with its key strategic partner – Dialog – “has now progressed beyond development, exploration and testing to actual product engineering.”

If we connect the dots, it would seem that Energous very well could be that critical supplier that enables Apple’s wireless charging pads. Here’s the thing: We have yet to hear when Apple will begin shipping those devices, which also means we have no idea when a teardown of one will reveal Dialog-Energous solutions inside. Given that there was no mention of Apple’s wireless charging efforts at either its 2018 iPhone or iPad events, odds are this product has slipped into 2019. That would jibe with the timing laid out by Energous.

Based on three Wall Street analysts covering WATT shares, steep losses are expected to continue into 2019, which in my view suggests a ramp with any meaningful volume in the second half of the year. That’s a long way to go, and given the pounding taken by the Nasdaq of late, we’ll put WATT shares onto the Contender’s so we can keep them in our sights for several months from now.

 

 

Targeting the Middle-class Squeeze, Target unveils Smartly, but will it work?

Targeting the Middle-class Squeeze, Target unveils Smartly, but will it work?

 

When a company brings out a new product line, more than likely it is looking to tap into a demand channel in order to grow revenues, its consumer base or both. What we see with the new consumer staple brand, Smartly, that is being launched by Target is an attempt to catch the tailwind associated with our Middle-class Squeeze investing theme. That theme focuses on cash-strapped consumers that facing tepid wage gains or rising costs and pressured disposable income are changing where they buy the products they need and in some cases sacrificing well-known brands for more affordable prices. It’s what made the Dollar Shave Club such a thorn in the side of Proctor & Gamble’s Gillette razor and razor blade business.

With Target, odds are they are trying to use Smartly to lure cost-conscious shoppers back into their locations, hoping it can convert the traffic into buyers of other items. It sounds a lot like the loss leader strategies of yore, but even in those cases the question is will the traffic (if it comes) convert to buyers? The jury is out on that for now.

 

Target Corp. is wading into a new territory: $1 toiletries.

The Minneapolis-based retailer said it is planning to launch a new brand for consumer staples called Smartly with more than 70 products, including razors, toilet paper and dish soap, mostly priced under $2. The products will be offered at stores and online in mid-October.

Mark Tritton, Target’s chief merchandising officer, said the new line of consumer staples is an attempt to compete with generic brands at drugstores and discount chains. “It’s about showing people that I don’t have to go to Aldi or I don’t have to go to Dollar General to find what I’m looking for,” he said in an interview.

Meanwhile, the market for generic consumer staples has become more crowded. Last year, Brandless, a San Francisco-based startup, began selling staples such as fluoride-free toothpaste and dish soap, priced at $3. German grocer Aldi has also been opening more locations in the U.S. and gaining traction by selling a pared-down selection at rock-bottom prices.

The competition has forced players such as Walmart to revamp their brands. In 2016, the big-box chain scrapped a discount store brand in sparse blue packaging called Price First as part of a wider reworking of all its private-label products. The company now sells its lowest-priced groceries under Great Value and toiletries under Equate, with boxes and bottles more reminiscent of traditional brands.

Source: Target’s Answer to Discounters Is an Even Cheaper Store Brand – WSJ

Recasting Our Rise and Fall of the Middle Class and Cash-Strapped Consumer Themes

Recasting Our Rise and Fall of the Middle Class and Cash-Strapped Consumer Themes

 

KEY POINTS FROM THIS POST

  • As we recast our Rise & Fall of the Middle Class into two themes – the New Middle Class and the Middle-Class Squeeze, which also folds in our Cash-Strapped Consumer theme, we are calling out Costco Wholesale (COST) shares as a top Middle-Class Squeeze pick, reiterating our Buy rating on the shares, and bumping our price target from $210 to $220.

At the end of yesterday’s Tematica Investing issue, I mentioned how at Tematica we are in the process of reviewing the investing themes that we have in place to make sure they are still relevant and relatable. As part of that exercise and when appropriate, we’ll also rename a theme.  Our goal through this process is to streamline and simplify the full list of 17 themes.

Of course, first up is our Rise & Fall of the Middle-Class theme that we are splitting into two different themes — which I know doesn’t sound like an overall simplification, but trust me, it will make sense. As the current name suggests, there are two aspects of this theme — the “Rise” and the “Fall” part. It can be confusing to some, so we’re splitting it into two themes. The “Rise” portion will be “The New Global Middle Class” and will reflect the rapidly expanding middle-class markets particularly in Asia and South America. On the other hand, the “Fall” portion will be recast as “The Middle Class Squeeze” to reflect the shrinking middle class in the United States and the realities that it poses to our consumer-driven economy.

As we make that split, it’s not lost on us here at Tematica that there is bound to be some overlap between The Middle-Class Squeeze and our Cash-Strapped Consumer investing theme given that one of the more powerful drivers of both is disposable income pressure and a loss of purchasing power. As such, as we cleave apart The Middle-Class Squeeze we’re also incorporating Cash-Strapped Consumer into it. It’s repositionings like this that we’ll be making over coming weeks, and while I hate to spoil a surprise as we say good bye to one or two themes, we’ll be saying hello to new one or two as well.

 

 

Why America’s Middle Class are Feeling the Squeeze

As both I and Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist, Lenore Hawkins, have been sharing in our writings as well as our collective media hits, we’re seeing increasing signs of inflation in the systems from both hard and soft data points and that recently prompted the Fed to boost its interest rate forecast to four hikes this year, up from three with additional rate hikes in 2019. That’s what’s in the front windshield of the investing car, while inside we are getting more data that points to an increasingly stretched consumer that is seeing his or her disposable income under pressure.

According to LendingTree’s May 2018 Consumer Debt Outlook, Americans owe more than 26% percent of their disposable personal income on consumer debt, up from 22% in 2010. And just so we are clear, LendingTree is defining consumer debt to include non-mortgage debts such as credit cards, personal loans, auto loans, and student loans. These outstanding balances of consumer credit, per LendingTree, have been growing at a steady rate of 5% to 6% annually over the last two years, and this has it to forecast total consumer debt to exceed $4 trillion by the end of 2018.

Part of the reason consumers have been turning to debt is the lack of wage growth. Even as tax reform related expectations have been running high for putting more money in consumer pockets data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed compensation for civilian workers rose 2.4% year over year in the March quarter. By comparison, gas prices have risen more than 24% over the last 12 months, and the average home price in the US was up more than 11% in April 2018 vs. April 2017. So, while wages have moved up that move has paled in comparison to other costs faced by consumers.

Then there’s the data from Charles Schwab’s (SCHW) 2018 Modern Wealth Index that finds three in five Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. According to other data, consumers more than three months behind on their bills or considered otherwise in distress were behind on nearly $12 billion in credit card debt as of the beginning of the year — an 11.5 percent increase during Q4 alone.

And it’s not just the credit card debt — mortgage problem debt is up as well, 5.2% to $56.7 billion.

As that debt grows, it’s going to become even more expensive to service. On its recent quarterly earnings conference call, Lending Club’s (LC) CFO Tom Casey shared that “Borrowers are starting to see the increased cost of credit as most credit card debt is indexed to prime, which has moved up 75 basis points from a year ago…We have observed a number of lenders increase rates to borrowers…We know that consumers are feeling the increase in rates.”

And that’s before the Fed rate hikes that are to come.

The bottom line is it likely means more debt and higher interest payments that lead to less disposable income for consumers to spend.

 

More US consumers getting squeezed

All of this points to an already stretched consumer base that has increasingly turned to debt given that real wage growth has been tepid at best over the past decade. And this doesn’t even touch on the degree to which the American consumer is under-saved or has little in the way of an emergency fund to cover those unforeseen expenses. Per Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 Planning & Progress Study, which surveyed 2,003 adults:

  • 78% of Americans say they’re ‘extremely’ or ‘somewhat’ concerned about not having enough money for retirement. Another 66 percent believe that they’ll outlive their retirement savings.
  • 21% of Americans have nothing at all saved for the future, and another 10 percent have less than $5,000 saved or invested for their golden years.

Adding credence to this figures, Bankrate’s latest financial security index survey, showed that 34% of American households experienced a major unexpected expense over the past year. But, only 39% of survey respondents said they would be able to cover a $1,000 setback using their savings. Other findings from Bankrate, based on data from the Federal Reserve, showed that those Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 that have retirement savings only have a median of $120,000 socked away. A similar 2016 GOBankingRates survey found that 69 percent of Americans had less than $1,000 in total savings and 34 percent had no savings at all.

Nearly 51 million households don’t earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, childcare, healthcare, transportation and a cell phone, according to a study by the United Way ALICE Project. That’s 43% of households in the United States.

As the New Middle Class in the emerging economies like China, India and parts of South America continue to expand, it will drive competitive world-wide pressures for food, water, energy and other scarce resources that will drive prices higher given prospects for global supply-demand imbalances.

 

Middle-Class Squeeze pain brings opportunity with Costco and others

What this tells us is that there is a meaningful population of Americans that are in debt and are not prepared for their financial future. In our experience, pain points make for good investment opportunities. In the case of the Middle-Class Squeeze investment theme, it means consumers trading down when and where possible or looking to stretch the disposable dollars they do have.

It’s no coincidence that we’re seeing a growing move toward private label brands, not only at the grocery store for packaged foods and beverages but by the likes of Amazon (AMZN) as well. We’re also seeing casual dining and fine dining restaurant categories give way to fast casual, and as one might expect the data continues to show more Americans eating at home than eating out.

From my perspective, the best-positioned company for the Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme is Costco Wholesale (COST). By its very nature, the company’s warehouse business model aims to give consumers more for their dollar as Costco continues to improve and expand its offering both in-store and online. To me, one of the smartest moves the company made was focusing not only on perishable food but on organic and natural products as well. That combination keeps customers coming back on a more frequent basis.

Let’s remember too, the secret sauce baked into Costco’s business model – membership fees, which are high-margin in nature, and are responsible for a significant portion of the company’s income. As I’ve shared before, that is a key differentiator compared to other brick & mortar retailers. And Costco looks to further expand that footprint as it opens some 17 more warehouse locations in the coming months.

I’ll continue to monitor Costco’s monthly sales reports, which have clearly shown it taking consumer wallet share, and juxtaposing them against the monthly Retail Sales report to confirm those wallet share gains.

  • As we recast our Rise & Fall of the Middle Class into two themes – the New Middle Class and the Middle-Class Squeeze, we are calling out Costco Wholesale (COST) shares as a top Middle-Class Squeeze pick, reiterating our Buy rating on the shares, and bumping our price target from $210 to $220.

 

Examples of companies riding the Middle-Class Squeeze Tailwind

  • Walmart (WMT)
  • Amazon (AMZN)
  • McDonald’s (MCD)
  • Dollar Tree (DLTR)
  • TJX Companies (TJX)
  • Ross Stores (ROST)
  • Kohl’s (KSS)

Examples of companies facing the Middle-Class Squeeze Headwind

  • Dillard’s (DDS)
  • JC Penney (JCP)
  • Macy’s (M)
  • Target (TGT)
  • Gap (GPS)
  • Red Robin (RRGB)

Again, those are short lists of EXAMPLES, not a full list of the companies benefitting or getting hit.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be revisiting our investment themes, both the ones being tweaked as well as the ones, like Safety & Security, that are fine as is.

WEEKLY ISSUE: Trade and Tariffs, the Words of the Week

WEEKLY ISSUE: Trade and Tariffs, the Words of the Week

 

KEY POINTS FROM THIS WEEK’S ISSUE:

  • We are issuing a Sell on the shares of MGM Resorts (MGM) and removing them from the Tematica Investing Select List.
  • While the markets are reacting mainly in a “shoot first and ask questions later” nature, given the widening nature of the recent tariffs there are several safe havens that patient investors must consider.
  • We are recasting several of our Investment Themes to better reflect the changing winds.

 

Investor Reaction to All the Tariff Talk

Over the last two days, the domestic stock market has sold off some 16.7 points for the S&P 500, roughly 0.6%. That’s far less than the talking heads would suggest as they focus on the Dow Jones Industrial Average that has fallen more than 390 points since Friday’s close, roughly 1.6%. Those moves pushed the Dow into negative territory for 2018 and dragged the returns for the other major market indices lower. Those retreats in the major market indices are due to escalating tariff announcements, which are raising uncertainty in the markets and prompting investors to shoot first and ask questions later. We’ve seen this before, but we grant you the causing agent behind it this time is rather different.

What makes the current environment more challenging is not only the escalating and widening nature of the tariffs on more countries than just China, but also the impact they will have on supply chain part of the equation. So, the “pain” will be felt not just on the end product, but rather where a company sources its parts and components. That means the implications are wider spread than “just” steel and aluminum. One example is NXP Semiconductor (NXPI), whose chips are used in a variety of smartphone and other applications – the shares are down some 3.7% over the last two days.

With trade and tariffs being the words of the day, if not the week, we have seen investors bid up small-cap stocks, especially ones that are domestically focused. While the other major domestic stock market indices have fallen over the last few days, as we noted above, the small-cap, domestic-heavy Russell 2000 is actually up since last Friday’s close, rising roughly 8.5 points or 0.5% as of last night’s market close. Tracing that index back, as trade and tariff talk has grown over the last several weeks, it’s quietly become the best performing market index.

 

A Run-Down of the Select List Amid These Changing Trade Winds

On the Tematica Investing Select List, we have more than a few companies whose business models are heavily focused on the domestic market and should see some benefit from the added tailwinds the international trade and tariff talk is providing. These include:

  • Costco Wholesale (COST)
  • Dycom Industries (DY)
  • Habit Restaurants (HABT)
  • Farmland Partners (FPI)
  • LSI Industries (LYTS)
  • Paccar (PCAR)
  • United Parcel Services (UPS)

We’ve also seen our shares of McCormick & Co. (MKC) rise as the tariff back-and-forth has picked up. We attribute this to the inelastic nature of the McCormick’s products — people need to eat no matter what — and the company’s rising dividend policy, which helps make it a safe-haven port in a storm.

Based on the latest global economic data, it once again appears that the US is becoming the best market in the market. Based on the findings of the May NFIB Small Business Optimism Index, that looks to continue. Per the NFIB, that index increased in May to the second highest level in the NFIB survey’s 45-year history. Inside the report, the percentage of business owners reporting capital outlays rose to 62%, with 47% spending on new equipment, 24% acquiring vehicles, and 16% improving expanded facilities. Moreover, 30% plan capital outlays in the next few months, which also bodes well for our Rockwell Automation (ROK) shares.

Last night’s May reading for the American Trucking Association’s Truck Tonnage Index also supports this view. That May reading increased slightly from the previous month, but on a year over year basis, it was up 7.8%. A more robust figure for North American freight volumes was had with the May data for the Cass Freight Index, which reported an 11.9% year over year increase in shipments for the month. Given the report’s comment that “demand is exceeding capacity in most modes of transportation,” I’ll continue to keep shares of heavy and medium duty truck manufacturer Paccar (PCAR) on the select list.

The ones to watch

With all of that said, we do have several positions that we are closely monitoring amid the escalating trade and tariff landscape, including

  • Apple (AAPL),
  • Applied Materials (AMAT)
  • AXT Inc. (AXTI)
  • MGM Resorts (MGM)
  • Nokia (NOK)
  • Universal Display (OLED)

With Apple we have the growing services business and the eventual 5G upgrade cycle as well as the company’s capital return program that will help buoy the shares in the near-term. Reports that it will be spared from the tariffs are also helping. With Applied, China is looking to grow its in-country semi-cap capacity, which means semi- cap companies could see their businesses as a bargaining chip in the short-term. Longer- term, if China wants to grow that capacity it means an eventual pick up in business is likely in the cards. Other drivers such as 5G, Internet of Things, AR, VR, and more will spur incremental demand for chips as well. It’s pretty much a timing issue in our minds, and Applied’s increased dividend and buyback program will help shield the shares from the worst of it.

Both AXT and Nokia serve US-based companies, but also foreign ones, including ones in China given the global nature of smartphone component building blocks as well as mobile infrastructure equipment. Over the last few weeks, the case for 5G continues to strengthen, but if these tariffs go into effect and last, they could lead to a short-term disruption in their business models. Last week, Nokia announced a multi-year business services deal with Wipro (WIT) and alongside Nokia, Verizon (VZ) announced several 5G milestones with Verizon remaining committed to launching residential 5G in four markets during the back half of 2018. That follows the prior week’s news of a successful 5G test for Nokia with T-Mobile USA (TMUS) that paves the way for the commercial deployment of that network.

In those cases, I’ll continue to monitor the trade and tariff developments, and take action when are where necessary.

 

Pulling the plug on MGM shares

With MGM, however, I’m concerned about the potential impact to be had not only in Macau but also on China tourism to the US, which could hamper activity on the Las Vegas strip. While we’re down modestly in this Guilty Pleasure company, as the saying goes, better safe than sorry and that has us cutting MGM shares from the Select List.

  • We are issuing a Sell on the shares of MGM Resorts (MGM) and removing them from the Tematica Investing Select List

 

Sticking with the thematic program

On a somewhat positive note, as the market pulls back we will likely see well-positioned companies at better prices. Yes, we’ll have to navigate the tariffs and understand if and how a company may be impacted, but to us, it’s all part of identifying the right companies, with the right drivers at the right prices for the medium to long-term. That’s served us well thus far, and we’ll continue to follow the guiding light, our North Star, that is our thematic lens. It’s that lens that has led to returns like the following in the active Tematica Investing Select List.

  • Alphabet (GOOGL): 60%
  • Amazon (AMZN): 133%
  • Costco Wholesale (COST) : 30%
  • ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK): 34%
  • USA Technologies (USAT): 62%

Over the last several weeks, we’ve added several new positions – Farmland Partners (FPI), Dycom Industries (DY), Habit Restaurant (HABT) and AXT Inc. (AXTI) to the active select list as well as Universal Display (OLED) shares. As of last night’s, market close the first three are up nicely, but our OLED shares are once again under pressure amid rumor and speculation over the mix of upcoming iPhone models that will use organic light emitting diode displays. When I added the shares back to the Select List, it hinged not on the 2018 models but the ones for 2019. Let’s be patient and prepare to use incremental weakness to our long-term advantage.

 

Recasting Several of our investment themes

Inside Tematica, not only are we constantly examining data points as they relate to our investment themes we are also reviewing the investing themes that we have in place to make sure they are still relevant and relatable. As part of that exercise and when appropriate, we’ll also rename a theme.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing these repositions and renamings with you, and then providing a cheat sheet that will sum up all the changes. As I run through these I’ll also be calling out the best-positioned company as well as supplying some examples of the ones benefitting from the theme’s tailwinds and ones marching headlong into the headwinds.

First up, will be a recasting of our Rise & Fall of the Middle-Class theme.  As the current name suggests, there are two aspects of this theme — the “Rise” and the “Fall” part. It can be confusing to some, so we’re splitting it into two themes.  The “Rise” portion will be “The New Global Middle Class” and will reflect the rapidly expanding middle class markets particularly in Asia and South America. On the other hand, the “Fall” portion will be recast as “The Middle Class Squeeze” to reflect the shrinking middle class in the United States and the realities that poses to our consumer-driven economy.

We’ll have a detailed report to you in the coming days on the recasting of these two themes, how it impacts the current Select List as well as other companies we see as well-positioned given the tailwinds of each theme.

 

 

Target adds AR, but still focused on stores

Target adds AR, but still focused on stores

Target has been one of those retailers that in our view has been lost between the shift to digital commerce offerings from Amazon (AMZN) and club/warehouse ones from Costco Wholesale (COST) and others. What we find interesting is how Target continues to baby step its way into the Connected Society with GPS maps being deployed for its stores and augmented reality (AR) applications for certain products.

Then again, when a CEO continues to focus the business model on the old way of doing business – retail sales in stores – rather than the business model that consumers are embracing (as evidenced by the monthly retail sales data), it’s bound to be messy. Change is hard, especially given Target’s store count, but Costco and Walmart (WMT) have found digital religion, why not Target?

Target is taking on the beauty market, bringing in augmented reality (AR) to develop its Target Beauty Studio.

A collaborative project with Perfect Corp.’s YouCam Makeup app will allow customers in 10 stores the opportunity to “try on” different shades of makeup using a digital screen before they make a purchase. While Target plans to bring the technology to more stores this year, it still plans to offer in-store beauty experts.

The news follows comments from , who has said he still believes the brand’s brick-and-mortar stores are central to its strategy — even with increasing eCommerce sales.“The winning retailers of the future are going to combine great physical assets with the ease that comes along with that digital interaction,” Cornell told CNBC in February.

“For the foreseeable future, the majority of U.S. retail sales will still take place at stores,” according to Target CEO Brian Cornell.

In addition to investments in its stores, Target has been rolling out delivery services in Florida and Minnesota after acquiring Shipt in 2017.  The purchase “significantly accelerates” its digital fulfillment efforts, the company said at the time, and could bring same-day delivery to approximately half its stores in early 2018.

Source: AR, Men’s Products Come To Target’s Beauty | PYMNTS.com

Trade Alert: Adding AMAT Calls Before Earnings

 

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ALERT

  • Heading into Applied Material’s quarterly earnings report tomorrow night, we’re adding the Applied Materials (AMAT) June 55.00 calls (AMAT180622C00055000)that closed last night at 2.04. As we do this, we’re setting a stop loss at 1.50 for the options.
  • We continue to have a short position in Funko (FNKO) shares, and our buy stop level remains at $10.00
  • If Target shares (TGT) breach our $75.00 buy stop level, we’ll step to the side with short trade and re-assess adjusted downside to had with the shares in the coming weeks.
  • Housekeeping: We were stopped out of Cummins Inc. June 2018 150.00 calls (CMI180615C00150000) earlier this week.

 

We are coming to you a day earlier than usual with Tematica Options+ for a few reasons this week. First, I’ll be traveling but second, I want to give subscribers enough time to get our new recommendation before the underlying company reports its quarterly earnings after tomorrow night’s close. With that in mind, let’s cut the chit-chat and get to it.

Adding a call option play on Applied Materials (AMAT)

Regular readers of Tematica Investing now we’ve had a long-term position in Applied Materials (AMAT), which I see as a Disruptive Technologies company given the combination of its semiconductor capital equipment and display business. With regard to the core semiconductor capital equipment business, I continue to see longer-term opportunities for it associated with a number of emerging technologies and applications (growing memory demand, 5G chips sets, 3D sensing, smarter automobiles and homes, and augmented reality to virtual reality and the Internet of Things) that will drive incremental chip demand in the coming years.

I’m also hearing that China’s state-backed semiconductor fund, The National Integrated Circuitry Investment Fund, is closing in on an upsized 300 billion-yuan fund ($47.4 billion) fund vs. the expected 120 billion-yuan ($18.98 billion) to support the domestic chip sector. This buildout was one of my focal points behind adding AMAT shares to the Tematica Select List over a year ago.

As the current earnings season got underway, we heard very positive commentary on the semiconductor capital equipment market from several competitors, including Lam Research (LRCX). This lays the groundwork for an upbeat report despite the softness we are seeing in the organic light emitting diode display market over the last few months and are expected to in the near-term.

For Applied, expectations call for it to deliver EPS of $1.14 on revenue of $4.45 billion after tomorrow night’s close. For those at home keeping score, those figures are up 44% and 26%, respectively, on a year over year basis. Aside from the positive competitor commentary, let’s remember that Applied had $8.8 billion remaining under its share repurchase program coming into its most recent quarter. Given the volatility of AMAT shares over the last several weeks, odds are the company put that program to work, which would shrink its share count for the quarter and for upcoming ones. In other words, there is a high probability of very favorable EPS comparisons to be had tomorrow night and a boost to the company’s EPS outlook relative to expectations.

 

Checking in on Funko shares

Shares of pop culture company Funko (FNKO) moved against us last week following modestly better than expected quarterly earnings. It appears my thesis for our short position – the negative impact to be had from the Toys R Us bankruptcy and liquidation sales – is taking longer to play out than expected. At the same time, FNKO shares have moved deep into overbought territory. I counsel patience with this position, especially coming out of yesterday’s April Retail Sales report that showed continued weakness in the line item that corresponds to Funko’s business — Sporting goods, hobby, book & music stores.

With real wages largely unchanged, rising gas prices and debt servicing taking a bigger bite out of disposable income, I’m inclined to keep our sort position on this business that hinges on discretionary spending intact. If the market continues to move higher in the near-term, the risk we run is we could get stopped out of FNKO shares.

  • We continue to have a short position in Funko (FNKO) shares and our buy stop level remains at $10.00

 

Watching our Target short

Also spinning out of the April Retail Sales report, general merchandise stores, like Target (TGT), continued to lag overall retail sales gains during the month and over the last three month. Despite that loss of wallet share, Target shares are trading up today in tandem with Macy’s (M), which reported better than expected bottom line results. Even after stripping out the positive impact of tax reform and share buybacks, Macy’s pre-tax income was still up more than expected but let’s remember that Macy’s has a robust online business – very different than Target.

If Target shares (TGT) breach our $75.00 buy stop level, we’ll step to the side with short trade and re-assess adjusted downside to had with the shares in the coming weeks.

 

Housekeeping!

Earlier this week we were stopped out of Cummins Inc. June 2018 150.00 calls (CMI180615C00150000). I continue to hear more this earnings season over the rising transportation costs and rising new truck orders. I’ll keep this on the back burner and look to re-engage in the coming weeks.

 

 

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Covering Facebook and Deploying into New Call Position

WEEKLY ISSUE: Covering Facebook and Deploying into New Call Position

 

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ISSUE:

  • We are closing out the short position in Facebook (FB) shares on the Tematica Options+ Select List.
  • We will use a portion of the returned capital to scale into our MoneyOnMobile (MOMTD) position, which at current levels will improve our cost basis.
  • We continue to have our short positions for both Target (TGT) and Funko (FNKO) shares.
  • We are adding the Wayfair (W) June 80 calls (W180615C00080000) that closed last night at 2.20. As we do this, we’ll set a stop loss at 1.10 to limit downside risk. On the buying front, subscribers should look to scoop up these calls below 2.20 and up to 2.85.

 

This week I’m introducing a new position for the Tematica Options+ Select List, but before I do so we are going to cover the short position in Facebook (FB) shares, which will generate a modest loss of just under 7%. With the company’s quarterly results now in the rearview mirror that showed little impact over the recent privacy and usage concerns, and an upbeat F8 meeting this week (Facebook’s equivalent of Apple’s annual WWDC event), closing the short in the shares is the prudent move.

We’ll use a portion of those proceeds to scale into MoneyOnMobile (MOMTD) shares, which are down some 40% from our initial buy even though the fundamentals and thesis surrounding the underbanked in India remain. We’ll also continue to keep our short positions on Target (TGT) and Funko (FNKO) intact.

Quickly with Funko, not only has the recent upward move in the share price led to the shares being overbought, but it looks very much like that upward move is being fueled by rising short interest in the shares. That means more investors are recognizing what we have – the combination of pain to be had from the Toys R Us bankruptcy and liquidation are poised to hit the company’s business.

  • We are closing out the short position in Facebook (FB) shares on the Tematica Options+ Select List.
  • We will use a portion of the returned capital to scale into our MoneyOnMobile (MOMTD) position, which at current levels will improve our cost basis.
  • We continue to have our short positions for both Target (TGT) and Funko (FNKO) shares.

Adding a new call option position in Wayfair

When the majority of consumer think of the digital commerce aspect of our Connected Society investing theme, likely more than not they think of Amazon. Given the success Amazon has had, and I think it will continue to have who can blame them? There are, however, other companies that are tapping into the accelerating shift in consumer shopping toward digital commerce.

One example is Costco Wholesale (COST) and another is Walmart (WMT), but one that receives far less fan-fair and has a far greater business exposure to digital commerce is Wayfair (W). For those unfamiliar with Wayfair, this e-commerce company offers approximately 10 million products for the home sector under various brands. It offers a selection of furniture, décor, decorative accents, housewares, seasonal décor, and other home goods through its sites, that include such as Wayfair, Joss & Main, AllModern, DwellStudio, Perigold, and Birch Lane.

When Wayfair reported its March quarter results this week it showcased a 33% year over year increase in active customers to 11.8 million and a 48% increase in direct retail revenue, which represents 99% of its revenue stream. The company also reported a nice year over year increase in its average orders size to $236 from $223 a year ago. And here’s the statistic that really jumped out at me — repeat customers placed 64.3% of total orders in 1Q 2018, compared to 60.4% in 1Q 2017. Put it all together and this tells us that even as the company is winning new customers, repeat customers are ordering more products across Wayfair’s various consumer facing web properties. To me, that sounds a lot like Amazon and its users.

These metrics led Bank of America Merrill Lynch to up its price target on Wayfair shares to $95 from $90, offering 28% upside from current levels. While we could add the share as a long position, and I may make that recommendation in Tematica Investing in the coming weeks, the June 80 calls offer far better upside and a far smaller capital outlay. As we add the Wayfair (W) June 80 calls (W180615C00080000) that closed last night at 2.20, we’ll set a stop loss at 1.10 to limit downside risk. On the buying front, subscribers should look to scoop up these calls below 2.20 and up to 2.85.

  • We are adding the Wayfair (W) June 80 calls (W180615C00080000) that closed last night at 2.20. As we do this, we’ll set a stop loss at 1.10 to limit downside risk. On the buying front, subscribers should look to scoop up these calls below 2.20 and up to 2.85.