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.


WEEKLY ISSUE: Companies continue to serve up weaker guidance

WEEKLY ISSUE: Companies continue to serve up weaker guidance

Key points inside this issue

  • The outlook for earnings continues to wane even as the trade-related market melt-up continues.
  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $2,250.
  • Our price target on Alphabet (GOOGL) shares remains$1,300.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $250.
  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) shares remains $125.
  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50

 

The outlook for earnings continues to wane even as the trade-related market melt-up continues

Domestic stocks continued to trend higher last week as the December-quarter issues that plagued them continued to be dialed back. Said another way, the expected concerns — the Fed, the economy, the government shutdown, geopolitical issues in the eurozone, and U.S.-China trade talks — haven’t been as bad as feared a few months ago.

In recent weeks, we have seen the Fed take a more dovish approach and last week’s data, which included benign inflation numbers and fresh concerns over the speed of the economy following the headline December Retail Sales Report and Friday’s manufacturing-led contraction in the January Industrial Production Index, reaffirm the central bank is likely to stand pat on interest rate hikes. We see both of those reports, however, feeding worries over increasing debt-laden consumers and a slowing U.S. economy. 

Granted, economic data from around the globe suggest the U.S. economy remains one of the more vibrant ones on a relative basis, which also helps explain both the melt-up in both the domestic stock market as well as the dollar. On Thursday we learned that economic growth in the eurozone was basically flat on a sequential basis in the December quarter, rising a meager 0.2%. Year-over-year growth stood at just 1.2% for the final quarter of 2018. This came after news that the eurozone economic powerhouse that is Germany had no growth itself in the fourth quarter after a contraction of 0.2% in the third quarter. Italy experienced its second consecutive quarter of economic contraction, putting it in a technical recession.

 

All of this put further downward pressure on the euro versus the U.S. dollar, which means dollar headwinds remain for multinational companies. And we still have another major headwind that is the lack of any Brexit deal. With three pro-EU Conservatives having resigned this morning from Prime Minister Theresa May’s party to join a new group in Parliament, there is no an even slimmer chance of Brexit deal being put in place ahead of next week.

So, what has been fueling the rebound in the stock market?

Among other factors, the deal to avoid another federal government shutdown, which was followed by the “national emergency” declaration that will potentially give President Trump access to roughly $8 billion to fund a border wall. We’ll see how this all plays out in the coming days, alongside the next step in U.S.-China trade talks that are being held this week in Washington. While “much work remains” on the working Memorandum of Understanding, trade discussions last week focused on several of the larger structural issues that we’ve been more concerned about — forced technology transfer, intellectual property rights, cyber theft, and currency.

Early this morning, it’s being reported that President Trump is softening on the March 1 phase in date for the next round of tariff increases, which is likely to give the market some additional trade optimism and see it move higher. We remain hopeful, but we expect there to be several additional steps to go that will set the stage for any final agreement that will likely be consummated at a meeting between Presidents Trump and Xi. And yes, the final details will matter and will determine if we get a “buy the rumor, sell the news” event.

Even as the trade war continues at least for now, we continue to see companies positioning themselves for the tailwinds associated with Living the Life and New Global Middle-class investing theme opportunities to be had in China. If you missed a recent Thematic Signal discussing how Hilton (HLT) is doing just that, you can find it here.

And then there are earnings

Over the last several weeks, we’ve been tracking and sharing the declining outlook for S&P 500 earnings for 2019. As we closed last week, roughly 80% of the S&P 500 companies had reported their quarterly earnings and issued outlooks. In aggregating the data, the new consensus calls for a 2.2% year-over-year decline in earnings for the current quarter, low single-digit earnings growth in the June and September quarters, and 9.1% growth in the December quarter. In full, the S&P 500 group of companies are now expected to grow their collective 2019 EPS by 5% to $169.53, which means that as those expectations have fallen over the last several months, the 2019 move in the market has made the stock market that much more expensive.

In my view, we are once again seeing a potentially optimistic perspective on earnings for the second half of the year. While a U.S.-China trade deal and infrastructure spending bill could very well lead to a better second half of 2019 from an earnings perspective, the unknown remains the vector and velocity of the rest of the global economy.  As discussed above, the US is looking like the best house on the economic block, but as I share below there are valid reasons to think that it too continues to slow.

 

Last week I touched on a Thematic Signal about the record level of auto loan delinquencies, and in the last few days, we’ve learned that student-loan delinquencies surged last year, hitting consecutive records of $166.3 billion in the September 2018 quarter and $166.4 billion in the December 2018 one. I’ve also noticed an uptick in credit-card delinquencies this past January as companies ranging from American Express (AXP) to JPMorgan (JPM) and other credit card issuers reported their monthly data. What I find really concerning is this record level of delinquencies is occurring even as the unemployment rate remains at multi-year lows, which suggests more consumers are seeing their disposable income pressured. While this isn’t a good sign for a consumer-led economy, it certainly confirms the tailwind associated with our Middle-class Squeeze investing theme.

 

Tematica Investing

 December Retail Sales shock some, confirm Costco and others

December Retail Sales have been published by the Commerce Department and to say the results were different than most were expecting is an understatement. And that’s even for those of us that were watching data of the kind I mentioned above.  Normally, holiday shopping tends to build as we close out the year, but according to the report, consumers pulled back in December as monthly retail sales fell 1.3% compared to November.

Yes, you read that right – they fell month over month, but as we know that is only one way to read the data. And while sequential comparisons are helpful, they do little to help us track year over year growth. From that perspective, retail sales in December 2018 rose 2.1% year over year with stronger gains registered at Clothing & Clothing Accessories Stores (+4.7%), Food Services & Drinking Places (+4.0%), Nonstore retailers (+3.7%) and Auto & other motor vehicles (+3.4%). That’s not to say there weren’t some sore spots in the report – there were, but there are also the ones that have been taking lumps for most of 2018. Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, & book stores fell 13% year over year in December, bringing the December quarter drop to 11% overall. Department Stores also took it on the chin in December as their retail sales fell 2.8% year over year. These declines are largely due to the accelerating shopping shift to digital from brick & mortar that are associated with our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.

Despite the headline weakness, I once again see the report as confirming for Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) and to a lesser extent Select List resident Alphabet (GOOGL) given its Google shopping engine. Not only is Amazon benefiting from the accelerating shift to digital commerce, but also from its own private label efforts, which span basic electronic accessories to furniture and apparel. It goes without saying that comparing the December Retail Sales report with Costco Wholesale’s (COST) monthly same-store sales reports shows Costco continues to win consumer wallet share.

 

As a reminder, Costco’s December same-store sales rose 7.5% in December (7.1% excluding gasoline prices and foreign exchange) and 6.6% in January (7.3%). And it remains on path opening new warehouse locations with 768 exiting January, up 3.0% year over year. That should continue to spur the company’s high margin membership fee income in the coming quarters. My suspicion is others are catching onto this given the 7% increase in COST shares thus far in 2019, the vast majority of which has come in the last week. We’ll continue to hold ‘em.

  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $2,250.
  • Our price target on Alphabet (GOOGL) shares remains $1,300.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $250.

 

Turning to this week’s data

This week’s shortened trading week brings several additional key pieces of economic data. And following the disappointing December Retail Sales report, these reports are bound to be closely scrutinized as the investment community looks to home in on the speed of the domestic economy. 

In addition to weekly mortgage applications, and oil and natural gas inventory data, tomorrow we’ll also get the December Durable Orders report and January Existing Home sales data. Given the drop-off in mortgage applications of late as well as weather issues, it’s hard to imagine a dramatic pick-up in the housing data since the end of 2018. Rounding out the economic data will be our first February look at the economy with the Philly Fed Index.

 Speaking of the Fed, today we’ll see the release of the Fed’s FOMC minutes from its January meeting. Considering the comments emanating from Fed heads lately as well as the lack of inflation in the January CPI and PPI data, there should be few surprises in terms of potential interest rate hikes in the near term. The looming question is the speed at which the Fed will normalize its balance sheet, which likely means that will be an area of focus as investors parse those minutes.

 

Here come Universal Display and Mobile World Congress 2019

As long as we’re looking at calendars, after Thursday’s market close Select List resident Universal Display (OLED) will report its quarterly results. To say the shares have found some legs in 2019 would be a bit of an understatement given their resurgence over the last several weeks.

 

We know Digital Lifestyle Select List company Apple (AAPL) has shared its plans to convert all of its iPhone models to organic light emitting diode displays by 2020, and that keeps us in the long-term game with OLED shares. Given the current tone of the smartphone market, however, we could see Universal Display serve up softer than expected guidance.

We’ll continue to hold OLED shares for the duration and look for signs that other device companies, including other smartphone vendors but other devices as well, are making the shift to organic light emitting diodes next week during Mobile World Congress 2019 (Feb. 25-28). The event is a premier one mobile industry as it tends to showcase new devices and technologies, and as you might imagine means a number of announcements. This means it’s not only one to watch for organic light emitting diode adoptions, but we are also likely to see much news on 5G virtual reality and augmented reality, key aspects of our Disruptive Innovators investing theme, as well. And with 5G in mind, we could very well hear of more 5G network launches as well, which means keeping my Nokia (NOK) and Digital Infrastructure ears open as well as my Digital Lifestyle ones.

  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) shares remains $125.
  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50.

 

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Reversing Course on Lending Club Calls

WEEKLY ISSUE: Reversing Course on Lending Club Calls

Key points inside this issue

The outlook for earnings continues to wane even as the trade-related market melt-up continues

Domestic stocks continued to trend higher last week as the December-quarter issues that plagued them continued to be dialed back. Said another way, the expected concerns — the Fed, the economy, the government shutdown, geopolitical issues in the eurozone, and U.S.-China trade talks — haven’t been as bad as feared a few months ago.

In recent weeks, we have seen the Fed take a more dovish approach and last week’s data, which included benign inflation numbers and fresh concerns over the speed of the economy following the headline December Retail Sales Report and Friday’s manufacturing-led contraction in the January Industrial Production Index, reaffirm the central bank is likely to stand pat on interest rate hikes. We see both of those reports, however, feeding worries over increasing debt-laden consumers and a slowing U.S. economy. 

Granted, economic data from around the globe suggest the U.S. economy remains one of the more vibrant ones on a relative basis, which also helps explain both the melt-up in both the domestic stock market as well as the dollar. On Thursday we learned that economic growth in the eurozone was basically flat on a sequential basis in the December quarter, rising a meager 0.2%. Year-over-year growth stood at just 1.2% for the final quarter of 2018. This came after news that the eurozone economic powerhouse that is Germany had no growth itself in the fourth quarter after a contraction of 0.2% in the third quarter. Italy experienced its second consecutive quarter of economic contraction, putting it in a technical recession.

 

All of this put further downward pressure on the euro versus the U.S. dollar, which means dollar headwinds remain for multinational companies. And we still have another major headwind that is the lack of any Brexit deal. With three pro-EU Conservatives having resigned this morning from Prime Minister Theresa May’s party to join a new group in Parliament, there is no an even slimmer chance of Brexit deal being put in place ahead of next week.

So, what has been fueling the rebound in the stock market?

Among other factors, the deal to avoid another federal government shutdown, which was followed by the “national emergency” declaration that will potentially give President Trump access to roughly $8 billion to fund a border wall. We’ll see how this all plays out in the coming days, alongside the next step in U.S.-China trade talks that are being held this week in Washington. While “much work remains” on the working Memorandum of Understanding, trade discussions last week focused on several of the larger structural issues that we’ve been more concerned about — forced technology transfer, intellectual property rights, cyber theft, and currency.

Early this morning, it’s being reported that President Trump is softening on the March 1 phase in date for the next round of tariff increases, which is likely to give the market some additional trade optimism and see it move higher. We remain hopeful, but we expect there to be several additional steps to go that will set the stage for any final agreement that will likely be consummated at a meeting between Presidents Trump and Xi. And yes, the final details will matter and will determine if we get a “buy the rumor, sell the news” event.

Even as the trade war continues at least for now, we continue to see companies positioning themselves for the tailwinds associated with Living the Life and New Global Middle-class investing theme opportunities to be had in China. If you missed a recent Thematic Signal discussing how Hilton (HLT) is doing just that, you can find it here.

And then there are earnings

Over the last several weeks, we’ve been tracking and sharing the declining outlook for S&P 500 earnings for 2019. As we closed last week, roughly 80% of the S&P 500 companies had reported their quarterly earnings and issued outlooks. In aggregating the data, the new consensus calls for a 2.2% year-over-year decline in earnings for the current quarter, low single-digit earnings growth in the June and September quarters, and 9.1% growth in the December quarter. In full, the S&P 500 group of companies are now expected to grow their collective 2019 EPS by 5% to $169.53, which means that as those expectations have fallen over the last several months, the 2019 move in the market has made the stock market that much more expensive.

In my view, we are once again seeing a potentially optimistic perspective on earnings for the second half of the year. While a U.S.-China trade deal and infrastructure spending bill could very well lead to a better second half of 2019 from an earnings perspective, the unknown remains the vector and velocity of the rest of the global economy.  As discussed above, the US is looking like the best house on the economic block, but as I share below there are valid reasons to think that it too continues to slow.

 

Last week I touched on a Thematic Signal about the record level of auto loan delinquencies, and in the last few days, we’ve learned that student-loan delinquencies surged last year, hitting consecutive records of $166.3 billion in the September 2018 quarter and $166.4 billion in the December 2018 one. I’ve also noticed an uptick in credit-card delinquencies this past January as companies ranging from American Express (AXP) to JPMorgan (JPM) and other credit card issuers reported their monthly data. What I find really concerning is this record level of delinquencies is occurring even as the unemployment rate remains at multi-year lows, which suggests more consumers are seeing their disposable income pressured. While this isn’t a good sign for a consumer-led economy, it certainly confirms the tailwind associated with our Middle-class Squeeze investing theme.

 

Tematica Investing

 December Retail Sales shock some, confirm Costco and others

December Retail Sales have been published by the Commerce Department and to say the results were different than most were expecting is an understatement. And that’s even for those of us that were watching data of the kind I mentioned above.  Normally, holiday shopping tends to build as we close out the year, but according to the report, consumers pulled back in December as monthly retail sales fell 1.3% compared to November.

Yes, you read that right – they fell month over month, but as we know that is only one way to read the data. And while sequential comparisons are helpful, they do little to help us track year over year growth. From that perspective, retail sales in December 2018 rose 2.1% year over year with stronger gains registered at Clothing & Clothing Accessories Stores (+4.7%), Food Services & Drinking Places (+4.0%), Nonstore retailers (+3.7%) and Auto & other motor vehicles (+3.4%). That’s not to say there weren’t some sore spots in the report – there were, but there are also the ones that have been taking lumps for most of 2018. Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, & book stores fell 13% year over year in December, bringing the December quarter drop to 11% overall. Department Stores also took it on the chin in December as their retail sales fell 2.8% year over year. These declines are largely due to the accelerating shopping shift to digital from brick & mortar that are associated with our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.

Despite the headline weakness, I once again see the report as confirming for Thematic King Amazon (AMZN) and to a lesser extent Select List resident Alphabet (GOOGL) given its Google shopping engine. Not only is Amazon benefiting from the accelerating shift to digital commerce, but also from its own private label efforts, which span basic electronic accessories to furniture and apparel. It goes without saying that comparing the December Retail Sales report with Costco Wholesale’s (COST) monthly same-store sales reports shows Costco continues to win consumer wallet share.

 

As a reminder, Costco’s December same-store sales rose 7.5% in December (7.1% excluding gasoline prices and foreign exchange) and 6.6% in January (7.3%). And it remains on path opening new warehouse locations with 768 exiting January, up 3.0% year over year. That should continue to spur the company’s high margin membership fee income in the coming quarters. My suspicion is others are catching onto this given the 7% increase in COST shares thus far in 2019, the vast majority of which has come in the last week. We’ll continue to hold ‘em.

  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $2,250.
  • Our price target on Alphabet (GOOGL) shares remains $1,300.
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $250.

 

Turning to this week’s data

This week’s shortened trading week brings several additional key pieces of economic data. And following the disappointing December Retail Sales report, these reports are bound to be closely scrutinized as the investment community looks to home in on the speed of the domestic economy. 

In addition to weekly mortgage applications, and oil and natural gas inventory data, tomorrow we’ll also get the December Durable Orders report and January Existing Home sales data. Given the drop-off in mortgage applications of late as well as weather issues, it’s hard to imagine a dramatic pick-up in the housing data since the end of 2018. Rounding out the economic data will be our first February look at the economy with the Philly Fed Index.

 Speaking of the Fed, today we’ll see the release of the Fed’s FOMC minutes from its January meeting. Considering the comments emanating from Fed heads lately as well as the lack of inflation in the January CPI and PPI data, there should be few surprises in terms of potential interest rate hikes in the near term. The looming question is the speed at which the Fed will normalize its balance sheet, which likely means that will be an area of focus as investors parse those minutes.

 

Here come Universal Display and Mobile World Congress 2019

As long as we’re looking at calendars, after Thursday’s market close Select List resident Universal Display (OLED) will report its quarterly results. To say the shares have found some legs in 2019 would be a bit of an understatement given their resurgence over the last several weeks.

 

We know Digital Lifestyle Select List company Apple (AAPL) has shared its plans to convert all of its iPhone models to organic light emitting diode displays by 2020, and that keeps us in the long-term game with OLED shares. Given the current tone of the smartphone market, however, we could see Universal Display serve up softer than expected guidance.

We’ll continue to hold OLED shares for the duration and look for signs that other device companies, including other smartphone vendors but other devices as well, are making the shift to organic light emitting diodes next week during Mobile World Congress 2019 (Feb. 25-28). The event is a premier one mobile industry as it tends to showcase new devices and technologies, and as you might imagine means a number of announcements. This means it’s not only one to watch for organic light emitting diode adoptions, but we are also likely to see much news on 5G virtual reality and augmented reality, key aspects of our Disruptive Innovators investing theme, as well. And with 5G in mind, we could very well hear of more 5G network launches as well, which means keeping my Nokia (NOK) and Digital Infrastructure ears open as well as my Digital Lifestyle ones.

  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) shares remains $125.
  • Our price target on Nokia (NOK) shares remains $8.50.

 

Tematica Options+

Last week we added a Middle-class Squeeze position with Lending Club (LC) March 2019 4.00 calls (LC190315C0000400)to the Select List, and despite the move higher in recent days ahead of the company’s earnings report last night, the calls were little changed. While LendingClub reported a 35% increase in personal loan applications in 2018 to more than 14 million with double-digit growth in both loan volumes and revenue it served up softer than expected December quarter results and guided the first half of 2019 below expectations. It continues to expect positive earnings in 2019, but that’s not expected to happen now until the second half of the year.

Given the March strike data associated with the LendingClub calls, combined with last night’s developments, odds are the shares will not rebound in such time as to make it worth holding onto them. As such, we will look to limit our losses on the trade, shedding them today at market.

 

Del Frisco’s to report on March 12

Turning to the Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) September 20, 2019, 10.00 calls (DFRG190920C00010000)that closed last night at 1.00, up more than 65% from our 0.60 entry point two weeks ago, the company has announced it will report its December quarter results on March 12. Because the company pre-announced it results in early January, the quarterly results won’t be much of a surprise. In my opinion, the company has stretched out its reporting timetable in order to evaluate potential bids. We know the company has beefed up its Board of late with an eye to maximizing a would be takeout transaction, and with ample private equity and corporate cash on the sidelines, odds are rather good that Del Frisco’s won’t be a stand-alone public company by this time next year.

 

Adding downside protection and naming a new Thematic Leader

Adding downside protection and naming a new Thematic Leader

Key points inside this issue

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

 

Adding some downside protection with SH shares

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

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

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

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

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

 

Samsung set to bring 5G into the prime time

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

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

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

 

Calling Nokia up to the Thematic Leaders

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

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

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

 

Adding Skyworks Solutions to the Contender’s List

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

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

 

Cannabis rumors swirl around Altria

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

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

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

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

 

 

Weekly Issue: The Need for Even More Downside Protection

Weekly Issue: The Need for Even More Downside Protection

Key points inside this issue

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

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

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

As I mentioned above, it looks like the market will continue to sea saw and my response is to add some downside protection in the form of the ProShares Short S&P 500 Jan 2019 30.00 calls (SH190118C00030000) that closed on Tuesday at 0.55. Given the potential for the market to whipsaw of late, I’m setting a stop loss for this position at 0.35.

Over the coming days, I’ll continue to look for other ways to add downside protection. On the long side, I’m likely to hold off adding a new position until the market is on steadier footing. As Warren Buffett has advised, the first rule of investing is, don’t lose money. The second rule is, don’t forget rule number one, and both mean it would be prudent to be cautious in the near term, hence this new downside protection call position.

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: 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.

 

 

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.

 

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Taking a Last Sip from Our Venti Latte as We Head into the Summer

WEEKLY ISSUE: Taking a Last Sip from Our Venti Latte as We Head into the Summer

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ALERT:

  • We are issuing a Sell on Starbucks (SBUX) shares and removing them from the Tematica Investing Select List.
  • We are trimming our position in USA Technologies (USAT) shares, selling half the position on the Tematica Investing Select List and keeping the other half in play to capture any potential additional upside.
  • Heading into this week’s Costco (COST) earnings call, our price target is $210.
  • Heading into Apples 2018 WWDC event next week, our price target on Apple (AAPL) shares remains $200.
  • While we watch for a potential Las Vegas strike, our longer-term price target for MGM remains $39.
  • We continue to have a Buy rating and an $85 target for Paccar (PCAR) shares
  • With data points confirming a pick-up in business investment, we continue to have a Buy rating and a $235 price target for Rockwell Collins (ROK) shares.

 

Coming into this shortened week for the stock market following the Memorial Day holiday, we’ve seemingly traded one concern for another. I’m talking about the shift in investor focus that has moved from the pending June 12 meeting between the US and North Korea to renewed concerns over Italy and what it could mean for the eurozone and the euro as well as the overall stock market and the dollar. In last week’s Weekly Wrap, I thought Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist, Lenore Hawkins, did a bang-up job summing up the situation but as we entered this week it pivoted once again, pointing to the likelihood of new elections that could pave the way for anti-euro forces.

This fresh round of uncertainty led the market lower this week, pulling the CNN Money Fear & Greed Index back into Fear territory from Neutral last week. Not surprising, but as investors assess the situation odds are US stocks, as well as the dollar and US Treasuries, will be viewed as ports of safety. That realization likely means the short-term turbulence will give way to higher stock prices, especially for US focused ones. Multinational ones will likely see a renewed currency headwind given the rebound in the dollar as well as the new fall in the euro.

I’ll continue to keep close tabs on these developments and what they mean for not only our thematic lens, but also for the Tematica Investing Select List. Expect to hear more about this on our Cocktail Investing podcast as well.

 

Cutting Starbucks shares from the Tematica Investing Select List

Given our thematic bent, we tend to be investors with a long-term view and that means it takes quite a bit for me to remove a company from the Tematica Investing Select List. Today, we are doing that with Starbucks (SBUX) and for several reasons. As I just mentioned above, this multinational company will likely see currency headwinds return that will weigh on its income statement.

At the same time, the company has been underperforming of late in same-store sales comparisons, which have slipped to the low single digits from mid-single digits in 2013-2016. The decline has occurred as Starbucks has reaped the benefits of its improved food offering over the last several quarters, and its new beverage offerings of late have underwhelmed. In the March quarter, if it weren’t for price increases, its same-store sales would have been negative.

While I still go to Starbucks as does the rest of team Tematica, the reality is that we are not spending incremental dollars compared to last year outside of a price increase for our latte or cappuccino. Said a different way, Starbucks needs to reinvigorate its product line up to win incremental consumer wallet share. In the past, the company had new beverages and then the addition of an expanded food and snack offering to deliver favorable same-store comparisons. Now with a full array of beverages, food and snacks, the question facing Starbucks is what’s next?

It’s this question as well as the simple fact that the closure of its stores yesterday to deliver racial tolerance training to its employees will weigh not only on same-store sales comps for the current quarter but hit profits as well. Keep in mind too that we are heading into the seasonally slower part of the year for the company.

Taking stock of Starbucks stock, my view is let’s take the modest profit and dividends we’ve collected over the last 24 months and move on.

  • We are issuing a Sell on Starbucks (SBUX) shares and removing them from the Tematica Investing Select List.

 

Trimming back our position in USA Technologies

Since adding shares of USA Technologies (USAT) back to the Tematica Investing Select List in early April, they have risen more than 50%, making them one of the best performers thus far in 2018. While the prospects for mobile payments remains vibrant and we are starting to see some consolidation in the space, I’m reminded of the old Wall Street adage – bulls make money, bears make money and pigs get slaughtered.

Therefore, we will do the prudent thing given the sharp rise in our USAT shares in roughly a handful of weeks – we will trim the position back, selling half the position on the Tematica Investing Select List and keep the other half in play to capture the additional upside. As we do this, we are placing our $12 price target under review with an upward bias. That said, we would need to see upside near $16 to warrant placing fresh capital into the shares.

  • We are trimming our position in USA Technologies (USAT) shares, selling half the position on the Tematica Investing Select List and keeping the other half in play to capture the additional upside.

 

Prepping for Costco earnings later this week

After the market close on Thursday (May 31), Costco Wholesale (COST) will report its latest quarterly earnings. Consensus Wall Street expectations are for EPS of $1.68 on revenue of $31.59 billion.

Over the last several months, the company’s same-store sales show it gaining consumer wallet share as it continued to open additional warehouse locations, which sets the stage for favorable membership fee income comparisons year over year. Exiting April, Costco operated 749 warehouse locations around the globe, the bulk of which are in the U.S. and that compares to 729 warehouses exiting April 2017. The number of Costco locations should climb by another 17 by the end of August and paves the way for continued EPS growth in the coming quarters.

  • Heading into this week’s earnings call, our price target is $210 for Costco (COST) shares

 

Updates, updates, updates, updates

Apple (AAPL)                                                                       
Connected Society

Next Monday Apple will hold its 2018 World-Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), which historically has been a showcase for the company’s various software platforms. This year it’s expected to feature iOS 12, the next evolution in its smartphone and tablet software. Recently it was hinted that Apple will unleash the full power of Near Field Communication capabilities found in those chipsets, which have been inside the iPhone since the iPhone 6 model.

In my view, this is likely to be but one of the improvements shared at the event. Those hoping for a hardware announcement are likely to be disappointed, but we never know if we’ll get “one more thing.”

  • Heading into next week’s 2018 WWDC event, our price target on Apple (AAPL) shares remains $200.

 

MGM Resorts International (MGM)
Guilty Pleasure

Quarter to date, shares of gaming-and-resort company MGM have come under pressure but our position in them is down only modestly. I’m putting MGM shares on watch this week following a vote by Las Vegas casino workers to strike when their contract expires at the end of May. I see that vote as a negotiating tactic with dozens of casino and resort operators, akin to what we’ve been seeing emanating from Washington these last few months.

I’ll continue to watch for a potential resolution and what it could mean for margins and EPS expectations. We’ve been patient with MGM shares, but if a strike ensues I’m apt to exit the position and fish in more fruitful waters for this investment theme of ours.

  • While we watch for a potential Las Vegas strike, our longer-term price target remains $39.

 

Paccar (PCAR)
Economic Acceleration/Deceleration

Over the last month, shares of this heavy-duty and medium-duty truck manufacturer have traded sideways. According to the most recent data point from the Cass Freight Index, shipment rose just over 10% year over year in April. That sets the stage for a favorable April reading for the American Trucking Associations’s For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index that rose 6.3% year over year after increasing 7.7% in February on the same basis.

At the same time, we continue to hear from a growing array of companies that they are facing rising costs due in part to surging trucking rates. Coca-Cola (KO) recently reported a 20% year-over-year increase in freight expense. Procter & Gamble (PG), Hasbro, Inc. (HAS), Danone SA, and Nestle SA also reported higher transportation costs and Unilever (UL) expects high-single-digit to high-teens increases in U.S. freight costs in the coming quarters. All of this confirms the current truck shortage that is fueling robust year-over-year growth in new orders for medium and heavy-duty trucks. Next week, we should get the May data and I expect the favorable year over year comparisons to continue.

As production rises to meet demand, we see a positive impact on Paccar’s business on both the top and bottom lines. Our $85 price target equates to just under 15x current estimated 2018 EPS, which has crept up by a few pennies over the last several weeks to $5.69 per share vs. $4.26 in 2017.

  • We continue to have a Buy rating and an $85 target for Paccar (PCAR) shares

 

Rockwell Automation (ROK)
Tooling & Re-Tooling

Our thesis on Rockwell Automation has focused on the expected pick-up in business investment and capital spending following tax reform last year. As the March quarter earnings season winds down, data collected by Credit Suisse reveals spending on factories, equipment and other capital goods by companies in the S&P 500 is expected to have risen to $166 billion during the quarter, up 24% year over year. That’s the fastest pick-up in capital spending since 2011 and marks a March-quarter record since Credit Suisse started collecting the data in 1995.

That year over year increase is roughly in line with the year over year increase in March 2018 U.S. manufacturing technology orders according to data published in the U.S. Manufacturing Technology Orders report from The Association For Manufacturing Technology (AMT). For March quarter in full, AMT’s data points to a 25% year over year improvement, which is in line with Credit Suisse’s capital spending assessment.

Based on these prospects, as well as statistics for the average age of private fixed assets that reveal the average age of U.S. factory stock is near 60 years old, it appears AMT’s 2018 forecast that calls for a 12% increase in US orders of manufacturing equipment compared to 2017 is looking somewhat conservative.

I’ve also noticed that over the last several weeks 2018 EPS expectations for Rockwell have inched up to $7.87 per share from $7.79, while 2019 expectations have moved higher to $8.81 per share from $8.73. I see those upward movements as increasing our confidence in our $235 price target for ROK shares.

  • With data points confirming a pick-up in business investment, we continue to have a Buy rating and a $235 price target for Rockwell Collins (ROK) shares.