Weekly Issue: Verizon is bulls up on 5G, paving the way for a Disruptive Innovator Leader position

Weekly Issue: Verizon is bulls up on 5G, paving the way for a Disruptive Innovator Leader position

Key points in this issue:

  • As expected, more negative earnings revisions roll in
  • Verizon says “We’re heading into the 5G era”
  • Nokia gets several boosts ahead of its earnings report
  • USA Technologies gets an “interim” CFO
  • We are issuing a Buy on and adding the Nokia Corp. (NOK) April 2019 call options (NOK190208C00006500) that closed last night at 0.30 with a stop loss of 0.15 to our options playbook this week.
  • Treading carefully after stopping out of our Del Frisco’s call option

 

As expected, more negative earnings revisions roll in

In full, last week was one in which the domestic stock market indices were largely unchanged and we saw that reflected in many of our Thematic Leaders. Late Friday, a deal was reached to potentially only temporarily reopen the federal government should Congress fail to reach a deal on immigration. Given the subsequent bluster that we’ve seen from President Trump, it’s likely this deal could go either way. Perhaps, we’ll hear more on this during his next address, scheduled ahead of this weekend’s Super Bowl.

Yesterday, the Fed began its latest monetary policy meeting. It’s not expected to boost interest rates, but Fed watchers will be looking to see if there is any change to its plan to unwind its balance sheet. As the Fed’s meeting winds down, the next phase of US-China trade talks will be underway.

Last week I talked about the downward revisions to earnings expectations for the S&P 500 and warned that we were likely to see more of the same. So far this week, a number of high-profile earnings reports from the likes of Caterpillar (CAT), Whirlpool (WHR), Crane Co. (CR), AK Steel (AKS), 3M (MMM) and Pfizer (PFE) have revealed December-quarter misses and guidance for the near-term below consensus expectations. More of that same downward earnings pressure for the S&P 500 indeed. And yes, those misses and revisions reflect issues we have been discussing the last several months that are still playing out. At least for now, there doesn’t appear to be any significant reversal of those factors, which likely means those negative revisions are poised to continue over the next few weeks.

 

Tematica Investing

With the market essentially treading water over the last several days, so too did the Thematic Leaders.  Apple’s (AAPL) highly anticipated earnings report last night edged out consensus EPS expectations with guidance that was essentially in line. To be clear, the only reason the company’s EPS beat expectations was because of its lower tax rate year over year and the impact of its share buyback program. If we look at its operating profit year over year — our preferred metric here at Tematica — we find profits were down 11% year over year.

With today’s issue already running on the long side, we’ll dig deeper into that Apple report in a stand-alone post on TematicaResearch.com later today or tomorrow, but suffice it to say the market greeted the news from Apple with some relief that it wasn’t worse. That will drive the market higher today, but let’s remember we have several hundred companies yet to report and those along with the Fed’s comments later today and US-China trade comments later this week will determine where the stock market will go in the near-term.

As we wait for that sense of direction, I’ll continue to roll up my sleeves to fill the Guilty Pleasure void we have on the Thematic Leaders since we kicked Altria to the curb last week. Stay tuned!

 

Verizon says “We’re heading into the 5G era”

Yesterday and early this morning, both Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T) reported their respective December quarter results and shared their outlook. Tucked inside those comments, there was a multitude of 5G related mentions, which perked our thematic ears up as it relates to our Disruptive Innovators investing theme.

As Verizon succinctly said, “…we’re heading to the 5G era and the beginning of what many see as the fourth industrial revolution.” No wonder it mentioned 5G 42 times during its earnings call yesterday and shared the majority of its $17-$18 billion in capital spending over the coming year will be spent on 5G. Verizon did stop short of sharing exactly when it would roll out its commercial 5G network, but did close out the earnings conference call with “…We’re going to see much more of 5G commercial, both mobility, and home during 2019.”

While we wait for AT&T’s 5G-related comments on its upcoming earnings conference call, odds are we will hear it spout favorably about 5G as well. Historically other mobile carriers have piled on once one has blazed the trail on technology, services or price. I strongly suspect 5G will fall into that camp as well, which means in the coming months we will begin to hear much more on the disruptive nature of 5G.

 

Nokia gets several boosts ahead of its earnings report

Friday morning one of Disruptive Innovator Leader Nokia’s (NOK) mobile network infrastructure competitors, Ericsson (ERIC), reported its December-quarter results. ERIC shares are trading up following the report, which showed the company’s revenue grew by 10% year over year due primarily to growth at its core Networks business. That strength was largely due to 5G activity in the North American market as mobile operators such as AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ) and others prepare to launch their 5G commercial networks later this year. And for anyone wondering how important 5G is to Ericsson, it was mentioned 26 times in the company’s earnings press release.

In short, I see Ericsson’s earnings report as extremely positive and confirming for our Nokia and 5G investment thesis.

One other item to mention is the growing consideration for the continued banning of Huawei mobile infrastructure equipment by countries around the world. Currently, those products and services are excluded in the U.S., but the U.K. and other countries in Europe are voicing concerns over Huawei as they look to confirm their national telecommunications infrastructure is secure.

Last week, one of the world’s largest mobile carriers, Vodafone (VOD) announced it would halt buying Huawei gear. BT Group, the British telecom giant, has plans to rip out part of Huawei’s existing network. Last year, Australia banned the use of equipment from Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese supplier of mobile infrastructure and smartphones.

In Monday’s New York Times, there was an article that speaks to the coming deployment of 5G networks both in the U.S. and around the globe, comparing the changes they will bring. Quoting Chris Lane, a telecom analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein in Hong Kong it says:

“This will be almost more important than electricity… Everything will be connected, and the central nervous system of these smart cities will be your 5G network.”

That sentiment certainly underscores why 5G technology is housed inside our Disruptive Innovators investing theme. One of the growing concerns following the arrest of two Huawei employees for espionage in Poland is cybersecurity. As the New York Times article points out:

“American and British officials had already grown concerned about Huawei’s abilities after cybersecurity experts, combing through the company’s source code to look for back doors, determined that Huawei could remotely access and control some networks from the company’s Shenzhen headquarters.”

From our perspective, this raises many questions when it comes to Huawei. As companies look to bring 5G networks to market, they are not inclined to wait for answers when other suppliers of 5G equipment stand at the ready, including Nokia.

Nokia will report its quarterly results this Thursday (Jan. 31) and as I write this, consensus expectations call for EPS of $0.14 on revenue of $7.6 billion. Given Ericsson’s quarterly results, I expect an upbeat report. Should that not come to pass, I’m inclined to be patient and hold the shares for some time as commercial 5G networks launches make their way around the globe. If the shares were to fall below our blended buy-in price of $5.55, I’d be inclined to once again scale into them.

  • Our long-term price target for NOK shares remains $8.50.

 

USA Technologies gets an “interim” CFO

Earlier this week, Digital Lifestyle company USA Technologies (USAT) announced it has appointed interim Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Glen Goold. According to LinkedIn, among Goold’s experience, he was CFO at private company Sutron Corp. from Nov 2012 to Feb 2018, an Associate Vice President at Carlyle Group from July 2005 to February 2012, and a Tax Manager at Ernst & Young between 1997-2005. We would say he has the background to be a solid CFO and should be able to clean up the accounting mess that was uncovered at USAT several months ago.

That said, we are intrigued by the “interim” aspect of Mr. Goold’s title — and to be frank, his lack of public company CFO experience. We suspect the “interim” title could fuel speculation that the company is cleaning itself up to be sold, something we touched on last week. As I have said before, we focus on fundamentals, not takeout speculation, but if a deal were to emerge, particularly at a favorable share price, we aren’t ones to fight it.

  • Our price target on USA Technologies (USAT) shares remains $10.

 

Tematica Options+

The positive developments associated with Disruptive Innovator leader Nokia outlined above strongly suggest the company will deliver an upbeat December quarter earnings report, and will likely guide at least if line, if not higher, for 2019 given the accelerating 5G deployments and improving competitive landscape. That’s why we are adding the Nokia Corp. (NOK) April 2019 call options (NOK190208C00006500) that closed last night at 0.30 to our options playbook this week.

Not only does the timing on these calls capture this Thursday’s earnings report, but it also includes the next major mobile industry conference, the 2019 Mobile World Congress (MWC) that will be held in Barcelona from Feb. 25-28. Historically, during times of new mobile technology rollouts, MWC has been a hotbed of announcements. As we stand on the cusp of commercial 5G network deployments, odds are high that history will once again repeat itself.

While signs are bullish for 5G and Nokia, we as investors will want to limit our downside, which is why I’m setting a stop loss at 0.15 for this position.

 

Treading carefully after stopping out of our Del Frisco’s call option

On the housekeeping front, last night we were stopped out of our Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group call option. With the company evaluating its strategic options, we’ll carefully look to revisit a call option position in this company. This extra sense of caution follows the 20+% drop in GameStop (GME) shares following its Board’s decision to forego being taken private by private equity investors and remain both public and independent.

I would note that GameStop is hitting the headwind of our Digital Lifestyle theme as gamers increasingly shed physical formats over downloading games to their devices and consoles. As if that weren’t enough, I’m hearing reports that Apple, Google (GOOGL), Amazon (AMZN) and Microsoft (MSFT) are eyeing a streaming game service similar to what Thematic Leader Netflix (NFLX) has done for TV and movie content. I see this as another potential nail in the GameStop coffin, which means GME shares are one to avoid… at least in a long position.

 

 

Weekly Issue: As earnings season continues, the market catches a positive breather

Weekly Issue: As earnings season continues, the market catches a positive breather

Key points in this issue:

  • As expected, more negative earnings revisions roll in
  • Verizon says “We’re heading into the 5G era”
  • Nokia gets several boosts ahead of its earnings report
  • USA Technologies gets an “interim” CFO

 

As expected, more negative earnings revisions roll in

In full, last week was one in which the domestic stock market indices were largely unchanged and we saw that reflected in many of our Thematic Leaders. Late Friday, a deal was reached to potentially only temporarily reopen the federal government should Congress fail to reach a deal on immigration. Given the subsequent bluster that we’ve seen from President Trump, it’s likely this deal could go either way. Perhaps, we’ll hear more on this during his next address, scheduled ahead of this weekend’s Super Bowl.

Yesterday, the Fed began its latest monetary policy meeting. It’s not expected to boost interest rates, but Fed watchers will be looking to see if there is any change to its plan to unwind its balance sheet. As the Fed’s meeting winds down, the next phase of US-China trade talks will be underway.

Last week I talked about the downward revisions to earnings expectations for the S&P 500 and warned that we were likely to see more of the same. So far this week, a number of high-profile earnings reports from the likes of Caterpillar (CAT), Whirlpool (WHR), Crane Co. (CR), AK Steel (AKS), 3M (MMM) and Pfizer (PFE) have revealed December-quarter misses and guidance for the near-term below consensus expectations. More of that same downward earnings pressure for the S&P 500 indeed. And yes, those misses and revisions reflect issues we have been discussing the last several months that are still playing out. At least for now, there doesn’t appear to be any significant reversal of those factors, which likely means those negative revisions are poised to continue over the next few weeks.

 

Tematica Investing

With the market essentially treading water over the last several days, so too did the Thematic Leaders.  Apple’s (AAPL) highly anticipated earnings report last night edged out consensus EPS expectations with guidance that was essentially in line. To be clear, the only reason the company’s EPS beat expectations was because of its lower tax rate year over year and the impact of its share buyback program. If we look at its operating profit year over year — our preferred metric here at Tematica — we find profits were down 11% year over year.

With today’s issue already running on the long side, we’ll dig deeper into that Apple report in a stand-alone post on TematicaResearch.com later today or tomorrow, but suffice it to say the market greeted the news from Apple with some relief that it wasn’t worse. That will drive the market higher today, but let’s remember we have several hundred companies yet to report and those along with the Fed’s comments later today and US-China trade comments later this week will determine where the stock market will go in the near-term.

As we wait for that sense of direction, I’ll continue to roll up my sleeves to fill the Guilty Pleasure void we have on the Thematic Leaders since we kicked Altria to the curb last week. Stay tuned!

 

Verizon says “We’re heading into the 5G era”

Yesterday and early this morning, both Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T) reported their respective December quarter results and shared their outlook. Tucked inside those comments, there was a multitude of 5G related mentions, which perked our thematic ears up as it relates to our Disruptive Innovators investing theme.

As Verizon succinctly said, “…we’re heading to the 5G era and the beginning of what many see as the fourth industrial revolution.” No wonder it mentioned 5G 42 times during its earnings call yesterday and shared the majority of its $17-$18 billion in capital spending over the coming year will be spent on 5G. Verizon did stop short of sharing exactly when it would roll out its commercial 5G network, but did close out the earnings conference call with “…We’re going to see much more of 5G commercial, both mobility, and home during 2019.”

While we wait for AT&T’s 5G-related comments on its upcoming earnings conference call, odds are we will hear it spout favorably about 5G as well. Historically other mobile carriers have piled on once one has blazed the trail on technology, services or price. I strongly suspect 5G will fall into that camp as well, which means in the coming months we will begin to hear much more on the disruptive nature of 5G.

 

Nokia gets several boosts ahead of its earnings report

Friday morning one of Disruptive Innovator Leader Nokia’s (NOK) mobile network infrastructure competitors, Ericsson (ERIC), reported its December-quarter results. ERIC shares are trading up following the report, which showed the company’s revenue grew by 10% year over year due primarily to growth at its core Networks business. That strength was largely due to 5G activity in the North American market as mobile operators such as AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ) and others prepare to launch their 5G commercial networks later this year. And for anyone wondering how important 5G is to Ericsson, it was mentioned 26 times in the company’s earnings press release.

In short, I see Ericsson’s earnings report as extremely positive and confirming for our Nokia and 5G investment thesis.

One other item to mention is the growing consideration for the continued banning of Huawei mobile infrastructure equipment by countries around the world. Currently, those products and services are excluded in the U.S., but the U.K. and other countries in Europe are voicing concerns over Huawei as they look to confirm their national telecommunications infrastructure is secure.

Last week, one of the world’s largest mobile carriers, Vodafone (VOD) announced it would halt buying Huawei gear. BT Group, the British telecom giant, has plans to rip out part of Huawei’s existing network. Last year, Australia banned the use of equipment from Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese supplier of mobile infrastructure and smartphones.

In Monday’s New York Times, there was an article that speaks to the coming deployment of 5G networks both in the U.S. and around the globe, comparing the changes they will bring. Quoting Chris Lane, a telecom analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein in Hong Kong it says:

“This will be almost more important than electricity… Everything will be connected, and the central nervous system of these smart cities will be your 5G network.”

That sentiment certainly underscores why 5G technology is housed inside our Disruptive Innovators investing theme. One of the growing concerns following the arrest of two Huawei employees for espionage in Poland is cybersecurity. As the New York Times article points out:

“American and British officials had already grown concerned about Huawei’s abilities after cybersecurity experts, combing through the company’s source code to look for back doors, determined that Huawei could remotely access and control some networks from the company’s Shenzhen headquarters.”

From our perspective, this raises many questions when it comes to Huawei. As companies look to bring 5G networks to market, they are not inclined to wait for answers when other suppliers of 5G equipment stand at the ready, including Nokia.

Nokia will report its quarterly results this Thursday (Jan. 31) and as I write this, consensus expectations call for EPS of $0.14 on revenue of $7.6 billion. Given Ericsson’s quarterly results, I expect an upbeat report. Should that not come to pass, I’m inclined to be patient and hold the shares for some time as commercial 5G networks launches make their way around the globe. If the shares were to fall below our blended buy-in price of $5.55, I’d be inclined to once again scale into them.

  • Our long-term price target for NOK shares remains $8.50.

 

USA Technologies gets an “interim” CFO

Earlier this week, Digital Lifestyle company USA Technologies (USAT) announced it has appointed interim Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Glen Goold. According to LinkedIn, among Goold’s experience, he was CFO at private company Sutron Corp. from Nov 2012 to Feb 2018, an Associate Vice President at Carlyle Group from July 2005 to February 2012, and a Tax Manager at Ernst & Young between 1997-2005. We would say he has the background to be a solid CFO and should be able to clean up the accounting mess that was uncovered at USAT several months ago.

That said, we are intrigued by the “interim” aspect of Mr. Goold’s title — and to be frank, his lack of public company CFO experience. We suspect the “interim” title could fuel speculation that the company is cleaning itself up to be sold, something we touched on last week. As I have said before, we focus on fundamentals, not takeout speculation, but if a deal were to emerge, particularly at a favorable share price, we aren’t ones to fight it.

  • Our price target on USA Technologies (USAT) shares remains $10.

 

 

 

Weekly Issue: Thematic M&A and Adding Back a Digital Infrastructure Position

Weekly Issue: Thematic M&A and Adding Back a Digital Infrastructure Position

Key points inside this issue

  • Despite the stock market’s year to date gains, concerns remain for December quarter earnings season
  • Thematic M&A was rampant in 2018
  • Our price targets on AMN Healthcare (AMN), Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and Netflix (NFLX) remain $75, $550 and $500, respectively.
  • Putting shares of Guilty Pleasure thematic leader Altria (MO) on watch
  • We are issuing a Buy on and adding back shares of Digital Infrastructure company, USA Technologies (USAT), to the Tematica Select List with a price target of $10.

 

Despite the stock market’s year to date gains, concerns remain for December quarter earnings season

Over the last week, stocks continued to move higher placing all the major domestic stock market averages higher. Quite the turn from what we saw in much of the December quarter that evaporated all of 2018’s gains. Part of the rebound reflects the harsh beating that many stocks received as investors came to grips with the various factors that I’ve been discussing here over the last two months. The down and dirty summation of those factors is this: the global economy continues to slow and it is raising questions over not only GDP prospects for the coming year but also earnings.

Stoking those earnings growth concerns were negative pre-announcements from Apple (AAPL), Samsung, LG, Macy’s (M), Target (TGT) and Kohl’s (KSS) over the last two weeks. That combination points to slower smartphone demand, but I continue to see it picking up in the coming quarters as the Disruptive Innovation that is 5G ripples its way across our Digital Infrastructure and Digital Lifestyle investing themes.  This week we can add Delta Airlines (DAL), Dialog Semiconductor (DLGNF), Nordstrom (JWN), Electronics for Imaging (EFII), Sherwin Williams (SHW) and Ford Motor Company (F) to that list as well as earnings misses from Wells Fargo (WFC), BlackRock (BLK) and others. Not exactly a vote of confidence for the December quarter earnings season.

Adding fuel to the uncertainty, this morning rail company Genesee & Wyoming (GWR) reported traffic volumes for December fell 4.8% year over year. That piles on the limited data we are getting, which included the January reading for the Empire State Manufacturing Survey General Business Conditions Index that fell to 3.9 from 11.5 in December. That drop was led by a deceleration in new orders, inventories, and the number of employees. The survey’s six-month outlook also dropped, falling to 17.8 from 30.6 last month. These data points fit the view that there is a slowdown in manufacturing activity, which has piqued concerns about a broader slowdown in economic activity unfolding in 2019.

On top of that, yesterday Sen. Chuck Grassley said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer saw little progress on “structural issues” in last week’s talks with China. These issues include intellectual property, stealing trade secrets, and putting pressure on corporations to share information with the Chinese government and industries. These issues are the very ones I was concerned about in terms of the trade negotiations. With China cutting its growth forecast some days ago to 6% from 6.5% and more data pointing to that economy cooling, there is likely room for the trade talks to include those issues, but my concern remains the ticking timeline until tariffs jump further. If that comes to pass, it would be another headwind to the global economy and corporate earnings for the coming quarters.

Given all of that, I remain concerned with the December quarter earnings season that will kick into gear next week and what it could do for the stock market’s recent rebound. We’ll continue to keep the long position in ProShares Short S&P 500 (SH) in play as we watch and listen to the thematic signals we see. One great thematic signal this week for our Guilty Pleasures investing theme is that Pizza Hut, owned by Yum Brands (YUM) is expanding beer delivery to 300 restaurants across seven states later this month. Amazing to think that only now Pizza Hut is realizing one of the great culinary pairings of Pizza and beer as it looks to offer customer one-stop shopping as well as capture that incremental revenue and profits. Odds are there will be some element of our Digital Lifestyle theme at play, given the push toward mobile orders we are seeing across the restaurant industry. Now to see what beer they offer… hopefully, it will be more than just the big brand beers like Budweiser.

Another signal that points to the bleeding over of our Digital Lifestyle, Disruptive Innovators and Aging of the Population themes is the partnering between Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) and Microsoft (MSFT). Over the next several years, the two will research and develop new methods of delivering healthcare services through digital devices, including virtually connecting people with Walgreens stores.

We at Tematica see thematic signals for our 10 investing themes practically everywhere… and that means we will continue using them to build and refine our investing mosaic in the days, weeks and months ahead. As we navigate the next few weeks, we may have a change or two on the Thematic Leaders and a few companies that make it onto the Contender List for when the stock market finds its footing.

 

Thematic M&A was rampant in 2018

Over the last two weeks, we here at Tematica have been reviewing the thematic database of more than 2,400 stocks that we’ve ranked based on their exposure to our 10 investment themes. That was no small project let me tell you, and it was a key initiative for 2018. In looking back over that body of work, I noticed more than a dozen companies that were in the database at the start of last year had been acquired during the second half of 2018. Here’s a short list of what I’m talking about:

As you can see, the acquisition activity was spread across a number of our themes and included both strategic and financial buyers. In each case, the buyer looked to fill a competitive hole be it a product, market or technology. That’s the classic finance take on it, but we know those buyers were looking to solidify their exposure to the thematic tailwinds that are powering their businesses or in some cases expose themselves to another one.

Are we likely to see more thematically based M&A in the coming months?

My view is yes, particularly as the global economy slows and companies look to deliver top and bottom line growth be it on an organic or acquired basis.

Adding back shares of Digital Infrastructure company USA Technologies

Today I am calling shares of mobile payments company, USA Technologies (USAT),  back onto the Tematica Select List following news earlier this week about the results of an internal investigation into its accounting practices. You may recall that last year, USAT shares were a high flyer for the Select List. However, upon learning that the USAT board would conduct an internal investigation into the accounting of certain of its present and past contractual arrangements and its financial reporting controls and would miss filing the company’s 10-K, we smartly jettisoned the shares near $10.25 last September.

We had been trimming the position at higher levels near $14 in the preceding months, but in light of those developments we “got out of Dodge”, so to speak, and did not stick around for the free fall to $3.44 by early December. While we continued to see growing adoption of mobile payments, especially at USAT’s core market of vending machines and unattended retail, we also saw the stock price pain associated with these investigations and potential financial restatements. “No thanks” was my thinking.

The company on Monday announced both the findings of its internal investigation and remedial actions to be implemented by the board. It also shared that it is working to file its 10-K as soon as possible and disclosed the departures of both its chief financial officer (CFO) and chief services officer (CSO). In tandem with those announcements, USAT also shared it is in negotiations for a new CFO.

In terms of the investigation and the planned responses, the company’s Audit Committee found that, for certain transactions, USAT had prematurely recognized revenue and, in some cases, the reported number of connections associated with the transactions under review. The committee went on to recommend the company enhance its internal controls and its compliance and legal functions; expand its public disclosures; and consider appropriate employment actions related to certain employees as well as splitting the roles of chairman and CEO.

These measures, along with the departure of the CFO and CSO, are not surprising, but they do put USAT on the path to restoring investor confidence in its reporting. While this investigation was happening the market for mobile payments continued to be on a tear as companies such as PepsiCo (PEP) inked a new five-year agreement with USAT.

Clearly, there is more work to be completed, and there is the risk that we are re-entering these shares on the early side. However, as we have seen in the past, as these clouds lift investors will focus on the tailwinds of the business, which in this case are centered on mobile payments and are improving. Therefore, we will resume ownership of USAT shares and look to scale on potential stock price weakness when the company formally restates its revenue and other key metrics. Better a bit early than too late is my thinking on this one.

Our previous price target on USAT shares was $16. However, we should prudently assume that several of the underlying financial metrics will be restated lower. Consequently, I’m taking a haircut relative to our prior target and putting out a new price target of $10. As the company releases its updated financials, I’ll look to fine-tune that price target as needed

  • We are issuing a Buy on and adding back shares of Digital Infrastructure company, USA Technologies (USAT), to the Tematica Select List with a price target of $10.

 

The Thematic Leaders

As the stock market moved higher week over week as of last night’s close, we saw several Thematic Leaders move higher. These included Aging of the Population leader AMN Healthcare (AMN), and Clean Living leader Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) as well as Thematic King Amazon (AMZN). The big winner, however, was Digital Lifestyle leader Netflix (NFLX), which yesterday announced it would boost prices for its monthly memberships by 13% to 18%. This marks the company’s biggest price increase and I suspect was well thought out by the management team, given the increasingly competitive playing field. That price increase should drive Wall Street’s revenue expectations higher and improve its ability to not only spend on proprietary content but also its ability to service its quarterly debt costs.

  • Our price targets on AMN Healthcare (AMN), Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and Netflix (NFLX) remain $75, $550 and $500, respectively.

 

Putting Altria shares on watch

Even though we’re just a few weeks into 2019, shares of Guilty Pleasure leader Altria have been underperforming on both an absolute basis and a relative one compared to the S&P 500. Weighing the shares down are questions over its ability to recoup the $12.8 billion investment for a 35% stake, in e-vapor market leader Juul Labs (JUUL). While this is part of the company’s efforts to reposition itself, given prospects for continued declines in its core tobacco market, complicating things is the FDA’s move to stub out youth access to e-vapor and flavored cigarettes.

Odds are this will take several years to come about but it raises questions as to whether Altria is trading one shrinking market for another. Candidly, I would have preferred Altria take that $12.5 billion and spread it across several cannabis investments. I’ll continue to be patient for now with this thematic leader, however, I’ll be looking at several in the coming days that could offer a far better risk to return tradeoff.

 

Weekly Issue: Revisiting a Thematic High Flyer

Weekly Issue: Revisiting a Thematic High Flyer

Key points inside this issue

  • Despite the stock market’s year to date gains, concerns remain for December quarter earnings season
  • Thematic M&A was rampant in 2018
  • Our price targets on AMN Healthcare (AMN), Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and Netflix (NFLX) remain $75, $550 and $500, respectively.
  • Putting shares of Guilty Pleasure thematic leader Altria (MO) on watch
  • We are issuing a Buy on and adding back shares of Digital Infrastructure company, USA Technologies (USAT), to the Tematica Select List with a price target of $10.
  • We are issuing a Buy on and adding the USA Technologies (USAT) March 2019 7.50 calls (USAT190315C00007500) that closed last night at 0.42 to the Tematica Select List with an initial stop loss at 0.20

 

Despite the stock market’s year to date gains, concerns remain for December quarter earnings season

Over the last week, stocks continued to move higher placing all the major domestic stock market averages higher. Quite the turn from what we saw in much of the December quarter that evaporated all of 2018’s gains. Part of the rebound reflects the harsh beating that many stocks received as investors came to grips with the various factors that I’ve been discussing here over the last two months. The down and dirty summation of those factors is this: the global economy continues to slow and it is raising questions over not only GDP prospects for the coming year but also earnings.

Stoking those earnings growth concerns were negative pre-announcements from Apple (AAPL), Samsung, LG, Macy’s (M), Target (TGT) and Kohl’s (KSS) over the last two weeks. That combination points to slower smartphone demand, but I continue to see it picking up in the coming quarters as the Disruptive Innovation that is 5G ripples its way across our Digital Infrastructure and Digital Lifestyle investing themes.  This week we can add Delta Airlines (DAL), Dialog Semiconductor (DLGNF), Nordstrom (JWN), Electronics for Imaging (EFII), Sherwin Williams (SHW) and Ford Motor Company (F) to that list as well as earnings misses from Wells Fargo (WFC), BlackRock (BLK) and others. Not exactly a vote of confidence for the December quarter earnings season.

Adding fuel to the uncertainty, this morning rail company Genesee & Wyoming (GWR) reported traffic volumes for December fell 4.8% year over year. That piles on the limited data we are getting, which included the January reading for the Empire State Manufacturing Survey General Business Conditions Index that fell to 3.9 from 11.5 in December. That drop was led by a deceleration in new orders, inventories, and the number of employees. The survey’s six-month outlook also dropped, falling to 17.8 from 30.6 last month. These data points fit the view that there is a slowdown in manufacturing activity, which has piqued concerns about a broader slowdown in economic activity unfolding in 2019.

On top of that, yesterday Sen. Chuck Grassley said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer saw little progress on “structural issues” in last week’s talks with China. These issues include intellectual property, stealing trade secrets, and putting pressure on corporations to share information with the Chinese government and industries. These issues are the very ones I was concerned about in terms of the trade negotiations. With China cutting its growth forecast some days ago to 6% from 6.5% and more data pointing to that economy cooling, there is likely room for the trade talks to include those issues, but my concern remains the ticking timeline until tariffs jump further. If that comes to pass, it would be another headwind to the global economy and corporate earnings for the coming quarters.

Given all of that, I remain concerned with the December quarter earnings season that will kick into gear next week and what it could do for the stock market’s recent rebound. We’ll continue to keep the long position in ProShares Short S&P 500 (SH) in play (although our option call on those shares was stopped out) as we watch and listen to the thematic signals we see. One great thematic signal this week for our Guilty Pleasures investing theme is that Pizza Hut, owned by Yum Brands (YUM) is expanding beer delivery to 300 restaurants across seven states later this month. Amazing to think that only now Pizza Hut is realizing one of the great culinary pairings of Pizza and beer as it looks to offer customer one-stop shopping as well as capture that incremental revenue and profits. Odds are there will be some element of our Digital Lifestyle theme at play, given the push toward mobile orders we are seeing across the restaurant industry. Now to see what beer they offer… hopefully, it will be more than just the big brand beers like Budweiser.

Another signal that points to the bleeding over of our Digital Lifestyle, Disruptive Innovators and Aging of the Population themes is the partnering between Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) and Microsoft (MSFT). Over the next several years, the two will research and develop new methods of delivering healthcare services through digital devices, including virtually connecting people with Walgreens stores.

We at Tematica see thematic signals for our 10 investing themes practically everywhere… and that means we will continue using them to build and refine our investing mosaic in the days, weeks and months ahead. As we navigate the next few weeks, we may have a change or two on the Thematic Leaders and a few companies that make it onto the Contender List for when the stock market finds its footing.

 

Thematic M&A was rampant in 2018

Over the last two weeks, we here at Tematica have been reviewing the thematic database of more than 2,400 stocks that we’ve ranked based on their exposure to our 10 investment themes. That was no small project let me tell you, and it was a key initiative for 2018. In looking back over that body of work, I noticed more than a dozen companies that were in the database at the start of last year had been acquired during the second half of 2018. Here’s a short list of what I’m talking about:

As you can see, the acquisition activity was spread across a number of our themes and included both strategic and financial buyers. In each case, the buyer looked to fill a competitive hole be it a product, market or technology. That’s the classic finance take on it, but we know those buyers were looking to solidify their exposure to the thematic tailwinds that are powering their businesses or in some cases expose themselves to another one.

Are we likely to see more thematically based M&A in the coming months?

My view is yes, particularly as the global economy slows and companies look to deliver top and bottom line growth be it on an organic or acquired basis.

 

Tematica Investing

Adding back shares of Digital Infrastructure company USA Technologies

Today I am calling shares of mobile payments company, USA Technologies (USAT),  back onto the Tematica Select List following news earlier this week about the results of an internal investigation into its accounting practices. You may recall that last year, USAT shares were a high flyer for the Select List. However, upon learning that the USAT board would conduct an internal investigation into the accounting of certain of its present and past contractual arrangements and its financial reporting controls and would miss filing the company’s 10-K, we smartly jettisoned the shares near $10.25 last September.

We had been trimming the position at higher levels near $14 in the preceding months, but in light of those developments we “got out of Dodge”, so to speak, and did not stick around for the free fall to $3.44 by early December. While we continued to see growing adoption of mobile payments, especially at USAT’s core market of vending machines and unattended retail, we also saw the stock price pain associated with these investigations and potential financial restatements. “No thanks” was my thinking.

The company on Monday announced both the findings of its internal investigation and remedial actions to be implemented by the board. It also shared that it is working to file its 10-K as soon as possible and disclosed the departures of both its chief financial officer (CFO) and chief services officer (CSO). In tandem with those announcements, USAT also shared it is in negotiations for a new CFO.

In terms of the investigation and the planned responses, the company’s Audit Committee found that, for certain transactions, USAT had prematurely recognized revenue and, in some cases, the reported number of connections associated with the transactions under review. The committee went on to recommend the company enhance its internal controls and its compliance and legal functions; expand its public disclosures; and consider appropriate employment actions related to certain employees as well as splitting the roles of chairman and CEO.

These measures, along with the departure of the CFO and CSO, are not surprising, but they do put USAT on the path to restoring investor confidence in its reporting. While this investigation was happening the market for mobile payments continued to be on a tear as companies such as PepsiCo (PEP) inked a new five-year agreement with USAT.

Clearly, there is more work to be completed, and there is the risk that we are re-entering these shares on the early side. However, as we have seen in the past, as these clouds lift investors will focus on the tailwinds of the business, which in this case are centered on mobile payments and are improving. Therefore, we will resume ownership of USAT shares and look to scale on potential stock price weakness when the company formally restates its revenue and other key metrics. Better a bit early than too late is my thinking on this one.

Our previous price target on USAT shares was $16. However, we should prudently assume that several of the underlying financial metrics will be restated lower. Consequently, I’m taking a haircut relative to our prior target and putting out a new price target of $10. As the company releases its updated financials, I’ll look to fine-tune that price target as needed

  • We are issuing a Buy on and adding back shares of Digital Infrastructure company, USA Technologies (USAT), to the Tematica Select List with a price target of $10.

 

The Thematic Leaders

As the stock market moved higher week over week as of last night’s close, we saw several Thematic Leaders move higher. These included Aging of the Population leader AMN Healthcare (AMN), and Clean Living leader Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) as well as Thematic King Amazon (AMZN). The big winner, however, was Digital Lifestyle leader Netflix (NFLX), which yesterday announced it would boost prices for its monthly memberships by 13% to 18%. This marks the company’s biggest price increase and I suspect was well thought out by the management team, given the increasingly competitive playing field. That price increase should drive Wall Street’s revenue expectations higher and improve its ability to not only spend on proprietary content but also its ability to service its quarterly debt costs.

  • Our price targets on AMN Healthcare (AMN), Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and Netflix (NFLX) remain $75, $550 and $500, respectively.

 

Putting Altria shares on watch

Even though we’re just a few weeks into 2019, shares of Guilty Pleasure leader Altria have been underperforming on both an absolute basis and a relative one compared to the S&P 500. Weighing the shares down are questions over its ability to recoup the $12.8 billion investment for a 35% stake, in e-vapor market leader Juul Labs (JUUL). While this is part of the company’s efforts to reposition itself, given prospects for continued declines in its core tobacco market, complicating things is the FDA’s move to stub out youth access to e-vapor and flavored cigarettes.

Odds are this will take several years to come about but it raises questions as to whether Altria is trading one shrinking market for another. Candidly, I would have preferred Altria take that $12.5 billion and spread it across several cannabis investments. I’ll continue to be patient for now with this thematic leader, however, I’ll be looking at several in the coming days that could offer a far better risk to return tradeoff.

 

Tematica Options+

Adding a call position on the shares of USA Technologies

Above I added shares of USA Technologies back to the Tematica Select List given the upside to be had as the company continues to put its accounting and revenue recognition behind it. The next key steps will be filling the CFO role and getting its 10-K filed. Those two catalysts should help restore investor confidence and drive the shares higher in the process.

To capitalize on that likelihood, we are adding the USA Technologies (USAT) March 2019 7.50 calls (USAT190315C00007500) that closed last night at 0.42 and expire on March 15. These calls have a wider than usual trading berth, which has me setting our stop loss somewhat wider than usual at 0.20. As the calls move higher, I’ll look to boost that stop loss level.

 

Stopped out of SH calls, and sticking with DFRG calls

With the S&P 500 continuing to notch another move higher over the last week, we were stopped out of the ProShares Short S&P 500 Jan 2019 30.00 calls (SH190118C00030000) at 0.35. While we experienced a hefty loss given the 0.76 entry point, that stop-loss helped minimize our losses given those calls closed last night at 0.25.

We continue to be in the green with our Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG) June 2019 10.00 (DFRG190621C00010000) calls, which closed last night up 20% from our buy-in price last week. With the company having formally put itself in play recently, which included the Board forming a review committee for potential bids, we will continue to hold these calls.

 

 

Introducing The Thematic Leaders

Introducing The Thematic Leaders

 

Several weeks ago began the arduous task of recasting our investment themes, shrinking them down to 10 from the prior 17 in the process. This has resulted in a more streamlined and cohesive investment mosaic. As part of that recasting, we’ve also established a full complement of thematic positions, adding ones, such as Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and Altria (MO) in themes that have been underrepresented on the Select List. The result is a stronghold of thematic positions with each crystalizing and embodying their respective thematic tailwinds.

This culmination of these efforts is leading us to christen those 10 new Buy or rechristened Buy positions as what are calling The Thematic Leaders:

  1. Aging of the Population – AMN Healthcare (AMN)
  2. Clean Living – Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG)
  3. Digital Lifestyle – Netflix (NFLX)
  4. Digital Infrastructure –  Dycom Industries (DY)
  5. Disruptive Innovators – Universal Display (OLED)
  6. Guilty Pleasure – Altria (MO)
  7. Living the Life – Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group (DFRG)
  8. Middle-Class Squeeze – Costco Wholesale (COST)
  9. Rise of the New Middle-Class – Alibaba (BABA)
  10. Safety & Security – Axon Enterprises (AAXN)

 

By now you’ve probably heard me or Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins mention how Amazon (AMZN) is the poster child of thematic investing given that it touches on nearly all of the 10 investing themes. That’s true, and that is why we are adding Amazon to the Thematic Leaders in the 11th slot. Not quite a baker’s dozen, but 11 strong thematic positions.

One question that you’ll likely have, and it’s a logical and fare one, is what does this mean for the Select List?

We wouldn’t give up on companies like Apple (AAPL), Alphabet (GOOGL), Disney (DIS), McCormick & Co. (MKC) and several other well-positioned thematic businesses that are on the Select List. So, we are keeping both with the Thematic Leaders as the ones that offer the most compelling risk-to-reward tradeoff and the greater benefit from the thematic tailwinds. When we have to make an adjustment to the list of Thematic Leaders, a company may be moved to the Select List in a move that resembles a move to a Hold from a Buy as it is replaced with a company that offers better thematic prospects and share price appreciation. Unlike Wall Street research, however, our Hold means keeping the position in intact to capture any and all additional upside.

Another way to look at it, is if asked today, which are the best thematically positioned stocks to buy today, we’d point to the Thematic Leaders list, while the Select List includes those companies that still have strong tailwinds behind their business model but for one reason or another might not be where we’d deploy additional capital. A great example is Netflix vs. Apple, both are riding the Digital Lifestyle tailwind, but at the current share price, Netflix offers far greater upside than Apple shares, which are hovering near our $225 price target.

After Apple’s Apple Watch and iPhone event last week, which in several respects underwhelmed relative to expectations despite setting up an iPhone portfolio at various price points, odds are the iPhone upgrade cycle won’t accelerate until the one for 5G. The question is will that be in 2019 or 2020? Given that 5G networks will begin next year, odds are we only see modest 5G smartphone volumes industry-wide in 2019 with accelerating volumes in 2020. Given Apple’s history, it likely means we should expect a 5G iPhone in 2020. Between now and then there are several looming positives, including its growing Services business and the much discussed but yet to be formally announced streaming video business. I continue to suspect the latter will be subscription based.  That timing fits with our long-term investing style, and as I’ve said before, we’re patient investors so I see no need to jettison AAPL shares at this time.

The bottom line is given the upside to be had, Netflix shares are on the Thematic Leaders list, while Apple shares remain on the Select List. The incremental adoption by Apple of the organic light emitting diode display technology in two of its three new iPhone models bodes rather well for shares of Universal Display (OLED), which have a $150 price target.

Other questions…

Will we revisit companies on the Select List? Absolutely. As we are seeing with Apple’s Services business as well as moves by companies like PepsiCo (PEP) and Coca-Cola (KO) that are tapping acquisitions to ride our Clean Living investing tailwind, businesses can morph over time. In some cases, it means the addition of a thematic tailwind or two can jumpstart a company’s business, while in other cases, like with Disney’s pending launch of its own streaming service, it can lead to a makeover in how investors should value its business(es).

Will companies fall off the Select List?

Sadly, yes, it will happen from time to time. When that does happen it will be due to changes in the company’s business such that its no longer riding a thematic tailwind or other circumstances emerge that make the risk to reward tradeoff untenable. One such example was had when we removed shares of Digital Infrastructure company USA Technologies (USAT) from the Select List to the uncertainties that could arise from a Board investigation into the company’s accounting practices and missed 10-K filing date.

For the full list of both the Thematic Leaders and the Select List, click here

To recap, I see this as an evolution of what we’ve been doing that more fully reflects the power of all of our investing themes. In many ways, we’re just getting started and this is the next step…. Hang on, I think you’ll love the ride as team Tematica and I continue to bring insight through our Thematic Signals, our Cocktail Investing podcast and Lenore’s Weekly Wrap.

 

 

Special Alert – Exiting shares of USA Technologies (USAT)

Special Alert – Exiting shares of USA Technologies (USAT)

Key point inside this special alert

  • We are issuing a Sell and removing USA Technology (USAT) shares from the Tematica Investing Select List. As we close out the position, we’d note a gain of 17% was had with the shares.

This morning shares of Digital Infrastructure company USA Technologies are getting hammered, yes hammered, on the news the company it is conducting an internal investigation into the accounting of certain of its present and past contractual arrangements and financial reporting controls. As a result, the company said it would not file its Form 10-K annual report with the SEC by the Sept. 13 deadline, but it will file a Form 12b-25 notification of late filing, to provide it with a 15-day extension.

As the trite saying goes, I’ve seen this movie before and there tend to be at least two issues at work. The first is management credibility, which has clearly been called into question. The second is the actual findings of the investigation, which could range from a restatement of past financials and re-jiggered expectation to a management change. All of those are likely to add an extra layer of uncertainty into the equation, which likely means the shares will be rangebound for a protracted period of time.

I’d rather leave with our profits intact and focus on the opportunity to be had with the several new thematic additions we’ve made over the last few weeks.

  • We are issuing a Sell and removing USA Technology (USAT) shares from the Tematica Investing Select List. As we close out the position, we’d note a gain of 17% was had with the shares.
WEEKLY ISSUE: Taking Positions Off the Board and Reallocating Into Existing Positions

WEEKLY ISSUE: Taking Positions Off the Board and Reallocating Into Existing Positions

Key points from this issue

  • We are exiting the shares of Paccar (PCAR), which had an essentially neutral impact on the Select List;
  • We are exiting the shares of Rockwell Automation (ROK), which were a drag of more than 11% on the Select List;
  • We are exiting the shares of GSV Capital (GSVC), which in full returned a modest decline since we added the shares back in April.
  • We are scaling into shares of Applied Materials (AMAT) at current levels and keeping our long-term price target of $70 intact.
  • We are scaling into shares of Netflix (NFLX) at current levels and keeping our long-term price target of $500 in place.

 

After the S&P 500 hit an all-time high yesterday, if the stock market finishes higher today it will mean the current bull market will be 3,453 days old, which will make it the longest on record by most definitions. For those market history buffs, as of last night’s market close, it tied the one that ran from October 1990 to March 2000.

Even as the S&P 500 hit an all-time high yesterday thus far in 2018 it’s up 7.1%. By comparison, we have a number of positions on the Tematica Investing Select List that are up considerably more. Among them are Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Costco Wholesale (COST), ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK), Habit Restaurant (HABT), McCormick & Co. (MKC), and USA Technologies (USAT). Not that I’m prone to bragging, rather I’m offering a gentle reminder of the power to be had with thematic investing vs. the herd and sector-based investing.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been recasting our investing themes, which in some cases has given rise to a new theme like Digital Infrastructure, combined a few prior themes into the more cohesive Digital Lifestyle and Middle-Class Squeeze ones, and expanded the scope of our Clean Living theme. In the next few weeks, I’ll finish the task at hand as well as ensure we have a stock recommendation for each of what will be our 10 investment themes.

As part of that effort, I’m re-classifying USA Technologies (USAT) shares as part of our Digital Infrastructure investing theme. The shares join Dycom Industries (DY) in this theme.

 

Pruning PCAR, ROK and GSVC shares

Once we pass the approaching Labor Day holiday, we will be off to the races with the usual end of the year sprint. For that reason, we’re going to take what is normally the last two relatively quiet weeks of August to do some pruning. This will go hand in hand with the ongoing investment theme reconstitution that will eliminate the stand-alone Economic Acceleration/Deceleration and Tooling & Re-tooling investment themes. As such, we’re saying goodbye to shares of Paccar (PCAR) and Rockwell Collins (ROK). We’ll also shed the shares of GSV Capital (GSVC), which are going to be largely driven by share price movements in Spotify (SPOT) and Dropbox (DBX). As the lock-up period with both of those newly public companies come and go, I’ll look to revisit both of them with an eye to our Digital Lifestyle and Digital Infrastructure investing themes.

  • We are exiting the shares of Paccar (PCAR), which had an essentially neutral impact on the Select List;
  • We are exiting the shares of Rockwell Automation (ROK), which were a drag of more than 11% on the Select List;
  • We are exiting the shares of GSV Capital (GSVC), which in full returned a modest decline since we added the shares back in April.

 

Scaling into Applied Materials and Netflix shares

We’ll use a portion of that returned capital to scale into shares of Applied Materials (AMAT), which approached their 52-week low late last week following the company’s quarterly earnings report that included an earnings beat but served up a softer than expected outlook.

Applied’s guidance called for sales of $3.85-$4.15 billion vs. analyst consensus outlook of $4.45 billion. On the company’s earnings conference call, CEO Gary Dickerson confirmed worries that slower smartphone growth could cause chipmakers to rein in capital spending and reduce demand for chipmaking equipment in the near- term. That’s the bad news, the good news is Applied sees double-digit growth in 2019 for each of its businesses and remains comfortable with its 2020 EPS forecast of $5.08.

From my perspective, I continue to see the several aspects of our Disruptive Innovators investing theme – augmented and virtual reality, 5G, artificial intelligence, Big Data and others – as well as growing storage and memory demands for connected devices driving semiconductor capital equipment demands. There is also the rising install base of semiconductor capital equipment inside China, and with Apple turning to China suppliers over Taiwanese ones to contain costs it likely means a rebound in China demand when the current US-China trade imbroglio ends.

As we wait for that, I suspect Applied will continue to use its stock buyback program During its recently closed quarter, Applied repurchased $1.25 billion or 25 million shares of stock and the company has about $5 billion remaining in buyback authorization. Applied’s next quarterly dividend of $0.20 per share will be paid on Sept. 13 to shareholders of record on Aug. 23.

  • We are scaling into shares of Applied Materials (AMAT) at current levels and keeping our long-term price target remains $70 intact.

Turning to Netflix (NFLX) shares, they are down some just under 20% from where I first added them to the Select List several weeks ago. My thesis on the shares remains unchanged, and I continue to see its streaming video service and original content as one of the cornerstones of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme. Adding to the shares at current levels will serve to reduce our cost basis from just under $420 to just under $380.

  • We are scaling into shares of Netflix (NFLX) at current levels and keeping our long-term price target of $500 in place.

 

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: Scaling deeper into Dycom shares

WEEKLY ISSUE: Scaling deeper into Dycom shares

Key points from this issue:

  • We are halfway through the current quarter, and we’ve got a number of holdings on the Tematica Investing Select List that are trouncing the major market indices.
  • We are using this week’s pain to improve our long-term cost basis in Dycom Industries (DY) shares as we ratchet back our price target to $100 from $125.
  • Examining our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme and housing.
  • A Digital Lifestyle company that we plan on avoiding as Facebook attacks its key market.

 

As the velocity of June quarter earnings reports slows, in this issue of Tematica Investing we’re going to examine how our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme is impacting the housing market and showcase a Digital Lifestyle theme company that I think subscribers would be smart to avoid. I’m also keeping my eyes open regarding the recent concerns surrounding Turkey and the lira. Thus far, signs of contagion appear to be limited but in the coming days, I suspect we’ll have a much better sense of the situation and exposure to be had.

With today’s issue, we are halfway through the current quarter. While the major market indices are up 2%-4% so far in the quarter, by comparison, we’ve had a number of strong thematic outperformers. These include Alphabet (GOOGL), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), AXT Inc. (AXTI), Costco Wholesale (COST),  Habit Restaurant (HABT), Walt Disney (DIS), United Parcel Service (UPS), Universal Display (OLED) and USA Technologies (USAT).  That’s an impressive roster to be sure, but there are several positions that have lagged the market quarter to date including GSV Capital (GSVC), Nokia (NOK), Netflix (NFLX), Paccar (PCAR) and Rockwell Automation (ROK). We’ve also experienced some pain with Dycom (DY) shares, which we will get to in a moment.

Last week jettisoned shares of Farmland Partners (FPI) following the company taking it’s 3Q 2018 dividend payment and shooting it behind the woodshed. We also scaled into GSVC shares following GSV’s thesis-confirming June quarter earnings report, and I’m closely watching NFLX shares with a similar strategy in mind given the double-digit drop since adding them to the Tematica Investing Select List just over a month ago.

 

Scaling into Dycom share to improve our position for the longer-term

Last week we unveiled our latest investing theme here at Tematica – Digital Infrastructure. Earlier this week, Dycom Industries (DY), our first Digital Infrastructure selection slashed its outlook for the next few quarters despite a sharp rise in its backlog. Those shared revisions are as follows:

  • For its soon to be reported quarter, the company now sees EPS of $1.05-$1.08 from its previous guidance of $1.13-$1.28 vs. $1.19 analyst consensus estimate and revenues of $799.5 million from the prior $830-$860 million vs. the $843 million consensus.
  • For its full year ending this upcoming January, Dycom now sees EPS of $2.62-$3.07 from $4.26-$5.15 vs. the $4.63 consensus estimate and revenues of $3.01-$3.11 billion from $3.23-$3.43 billion and the $3.33 billion consensus.

 

What caught my eyes was the big disparity between the modest top line cuts and the rather sharp ones to the bottom line. Dycom attributed the revenue shortfall to slower large-scale deployments at key customers and margin pressure due to the under absorption of labor and field costs – the same issues that plagued it in its April quarter. Given some of the June quarter comments from mobile infrastructure companies like Ericsson (ERIC) and Nokia (NOK), Dycom’s comments regarding customer timing is not that surprising, even though the magnitude to its bottom line is. I chalk this up to the operating leverage that is inherent in its construction services business, and that cuts both ways – great when things are ramping, and to the downside when activity is less than expected.

We also know from Ericsson and Dycom that the North American market will be the most active when it comes to 5G deployments in the coming quarters, which helps explain why Dycom’s backlog rose to $7.9 billion exiting July up from $5.9 billion at the end of April and $5.9 billion exiting the July 2017 quarter. As that backlog across Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Windstream and others is deployed in calendar 2019, we should see a snapback in margins and EPS compared to 2018.

With that in mind, the strategy will be to turn lemons – Monday’s 24% drop in DY’s share price – into long-term lemonade. To do this, we are adding to our DY position at current levels, which should drop our blended cost basis to roughly $80 from just under $92. Not bad, but I’ll be inclined to scale further into the position to enhance that blended cost basis in the coming weeks and months on confirmation that 5G is moving from concept to physical network. Like I said in our Digital Infrastructure overview, no 5G network means no 5G services, plain and simple. As we scale into the shares and factor in the revised near-term outlook, I’m also cutting our price target on DY shares to $100 from $125.

  • We are using this week’s pain to improve our long-term cost basis in Dycom Industries (DY) shares as we ratchet back our price target to $100 from $125.

 

Now, let’s get to how our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme is hitting the housing market, and review that Digital Lifestyle company that we’re going to steer clear of because of Facebook (FB). Here we go…

 

If not single-family homes, where are the squeezed middle-class going?

To own a home was once considered one of the cornerstones of the American dream. If we look at the year to date move in the SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF (XHB), which is down nearly 16% this year, one might have some concerns about the tone of the housing market. Yes, there is the specter of increasing inflation that has and likely will prompt the Federal Reserve to boost interest rates, and that will inch mortgage rates further from the near record lows enjoyed just a few years ago.

Here’s the thing:

  • Higher mortgage rates will make the cost of buying a home more expensive at a time when real wage growth is not accelerating, and consumers will be facing higher priced goods as inflation winds its way through the economic system leading to higher prices. During the current earnings season, we’ve heard from a number of companies including Cinemark Holdings (CNK), Hostess Brands (TWNK), Otter Tail (OTTR), and Diodes Inc. (DIOD) that are expected to pass on rising costs to consumers in the form of price increases.
  • Consumers debt loads have already climbed higher in recent years and as interest rates rise that will get costlier to service sapping disposable income and the ability to build a mortgage down payment

 

 

And let’s keep in mind, homes prices are already the most expensive they have been in over a decade due to a combination of tight housing supply and rising raw material costs. According to the National Association of Home Builders, higher wood costs have added almost $9,000 to the price of the average new single-family since January 2017.

 

 

Already new home sales have been significantly lower than over a decade ago, and as these forces come together it likely means the recent slowdown in new home sales that has emerged in 2018 is likely to get worse.

 

Yet our population continues to grow, and new households are being formed.

 

This prompts the question as to where are these new households living and where are they likely to in the coming quarters as homeownership costs are likely to rise further?

The answer is rental properties, including apartments, which are enjoying low vacancy rates and a positive slope in the consumer price index paid of rent paid for a primary residence.

 

There are several real estate investment trusts (REITs) that focus on the apartment and rental market including Preferred Apartment Communities, Inc. (APTS) and Independence Realty Trust (IRT). I’ll be looking at these and others to determine potential upside to be had in the coming quarters, which includes looking at their attractive dividend yields to ensure the underlying dividend stream is sustainable. More on this to come.

 

A Digital Lifestyle company that we plan on avoiding as Facebook attacks its key market

As important as it is to find well-positioned companies that are poised to ride prevailing thematic tailwinds that will drive revenue and profits as well as the share price higher, it’s also important to sidestep those that are running headlong into pronounced headwinds. These headwinds can take several forms, but one of the more common ones of late is the expanding footprint of companies like Alphabet (GOOGL), Amazon (AMZN) and Facebook (FB) among others.

We’ve seen the impact on shares of Blue Apron (APRN) fall apart over the last year following the entrance of Kroger (KR) into the meal kit business with its acquisition of Home Chef and investor concerns over Amazon entering the space following its acquisition of Whole Foods Market. That changing landscape highlighted one of the major flaws in Blue Apron’s subscription-based business model –  very high customer acquisition costs and high customer churn rates. While we warned investors to avoid APRN shares back last October when they were trading at north of $5, those who didn’t heed our advice are now enjoying APRN shares below $2.20. Ouch!

Now let’s take a look at the shares of Meet Group (MEET), which have been on a tear lately rising to $4.20 from just under $3 coming into 2018. The question to answer is this more like a Blue Apron or more like USA Technologies (USAT) or Habit Restaurant (HABT). In other words, one that is headed for destination @#$%^& or a bona fide opportunity.

According to its description, Meet offers  applications designed to meet the “universal need for human connection” and keep its users “entertained and engaged, and originate untold numbers of casual chats, friendships, dates, and marriages.” That sound you heard was the collective eye-rolling across Team Tematica. If you’re thinking this sounds similar to online and mobile dating sites like Tinder, Match, PlentyOfFish, Meetic, OkCupid, OurTime, and Pairs that are all part of Match Group (MTCH) and eHarmony, we here at Tematica are inclined to agree. And yes, dating has clearly moved into the digital age and that falls under the purview of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme.

Right off the bat, the fact that Meet’s expected EPS in 2018 and 2019 are slated to come in below the $0.39 per share Meet earned in 2017 despite consensus revenue expectations of $181 in 2019 vs. just under $124 million in 2017 is a red flag. So too is the lack of positive cash flow and fall off in cash on the balance sheet from $74.5 million exiting March 2017 to less than $21 million at the close of the June 2018 quarter. A sizable chunk of that cash was used to buy Lovoo, a popular dating app in Europe as well as develop the ability to monetize live video on several of its apps.

Then there is the decline in the company’s average total daily active users to 4.75 million in the June 2018 quarter from 4.95 million exiting 2017. Looking at average mobile daily active users as well as average monthly active user metrics we see the same downward trend over the last two quarters. Not good, not good at all.

And then there is Facebook, which at its 2018 F8 developer conference in early May, shared it was internally testing its dating product with employees. While it’s true the social media giant is contending with privacy concerns, CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared the company will continue to build new features and applications and this one was focused on building real, long-term relationships — not just for hookups…” Clearly a swipe at Match Group’s Tinder.

Given the size of Facebook’s global reach – 1.47 billion daily active users and 2.23 billion monthly active users – it has the scope and scale to be a force in digital dating even with modest user adoption. While Meet is enjoying the monetization benefits of its live video offering, Facebook has had voice and video calling as well as other chat capabilities that could spur adoption and converts from Meet’s platforms.

As I see it, Meet Group have enjoyed a nice run thus far in 2018, but as Facebook gears into the digital dating and moves from internal beta to open to the public, Meet will likely see further declines in user metrics. So, go user metrics to go advertising revenue and that means the best days for MEET shares could be in the rearview mirror. To me this makes MEET shares look more like those from Blue Apron than Habit or USA Technologies. In other words, I plan on steering clear of MEET shares and so should you.

 

 

WEEKLY ISSUE: The Potential Impact Tariffs Will Have on 2nd Half Earnings

WEEKLY ISSUE: The Potential Impact Tariffs Will Have on 2nd Half Earnings

 

Given the way the Fourth of July holiday falls this year, we strongly suspect the back of the week will be quieter than usual. For those reasons, we’re coming at you earlier than usual this week. And while we have your attention, Tematica will be dark next week as we recharge our batteries ahead of the 2Q 2018 earnings onslaught that kicks off on July 16.

With the housekeeping stuff out of the way, let’s get to this week’s issue…

Closing the bookS on 1Q 2018

Last Friday, we closed the books on the second quarter, and while it’s true all four major US stock market indices delivered positive returns, the last three months were far more volatile than most expected back in January. Year to date, the Dow Jones Industrial Average remains modestly in the red and the S&P 500 modestly in the green. By comparison, despite being overshadowed in the second quarter by the small-cap heavy Russell 2000, the Nasdaq Composite Index finished the first half of the year with a 9% gain.

From a Tematica Investing Select List perspective, there we a number of outperformers to be had including Alphabet (GOOGL), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Costco Wholesale (COST), ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK), McCormick & Co. (MKC), USA Technologies (USAT). To paraphrase one of team Tematica’s favorite movies, Star Wards, our themes are strong with those companies. As much as we like the accolades to be had with performing positions, there are ones such as Dycom Industries (DY), Nokia (NOK), AXT Inc. (AXTI) and Applied Materials (AMAT) that had a challenging few months but they too should be seeing the benefits of thematic tailwinds in the coming months.

During the quarter, we did some fine tuning with the Select List, adding shares of GSV Capital (GSVC), Habit Restaurant (HABT) and Farmland Partners (FPI). We also shed our positions in Starbucks (SBUX), LSI Industries (LYTS), Corning (GLW) and International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) during the second quarter. In making those moves, we’ve enhanced the Select List’s position for the back half of 2018 as the focus for investors centers on the impact of trade and tariffs on revenue and earnings. Let’s discuss…

 

First Harley Davidson, then BMW and General Motors

Last week we were reminded that trade wars and escalating tariffs increasingly are on the minds of investors. Something that at first was thought would be short-lived has grown into something far more pronounced and widespread, with tariffs potentially being exchanged among the U.S., China, the European Union, Mexico and Canada. As we discussed Harley-Davidson (HOG) shared that its motorcycle business will be whacked by President Trump’s decision to impose a new 25% tariff on steel imports from the EU and a 10% tariff on imported aluminum.

We soon heard from BMW (BMWG) that U.S. tariffs on imported cars could lead it to reduce investment and cut jobs in the United States due to the large number of cars it exports from its South Carolina plant. Soon thereafter, General Motors (GM) warned that if President Trump pushed ahead with another wave of tariffs, the move could backfire, leading to “less investment, fewer jobs and lower wages” for its employees. Then yesterday, citing a state-by-state analysis, the new campaign argues that Trump is risking a global trade war that will hit the wallets of U.S. consumers,  the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shared it would launch a campaign to oppose Trump’s trade tariff policies.

With up to $50 billion in additional tariffs being placed on Chinese goods after July 6, continued tariff retaliation by China and others could lead to a major reset of earnings expectations in the back half of 2018. And ahead of that potential phase-in date, Canada’s foreign minister announced plans to impose about $12.6 billion worth of retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods beginning yesterday. Not all companies may swallow the tariffs the way Harley Davidson is choosing to, which likely means consumers and business will be paying higher prices in the coming months. That will show up in the inflation metrics, and most likely lead to the Fed being more aggressive on interest rate hikes than previously thought.

As part of our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme, a growing number of consumers are already seeing their buying power erode, and if the gaming out of what could come it means more folks will be shopping with Amazon (AMZN) and Costco Wholesale (COST) and consumer McCormick & Co. (MKC) products.

 

Falling investor sentiment sets the stage for 2Q 2018 earnings

All of this, is weighing on the market mood and investor sentiment as we get ready for the 2Q 2018 earnings season. Remember that earlier this year, investors were expecting earnings to rise as the benefits of tax reform were thought to jumpstart the economy and if Harley Davidson is the canary in the coal mine, we are likely going to see those expectations reset lower. We could see management teams offer “everything and the kitchen sink” explanations should they rejigger their outlooks to factor in potential tariff implications, and their words are likely to be met with a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality by investors.

Helping fan the flames of that investor mindset, the Citibank Economic Surprise Index (CESI) has dropped into negative territory. We’ve discussed this indicator before as has Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins, but as a quick reminder CESI tracks the rate that U.S. economic indicators come in better or worse than estimates over a rolling three-month period. When indicators are better than expected, the CESI is in positive territory and when indicators disappoint, it is negative.

As Lenore pointed out in last week’s Weekly Wrap:

While the CESI has just dropped into negative territory, let’s add some context and perspective — the index has had an impressive run of 188 trading days of positive readings, the longest such streak by 37 days in the 15-year history of the index. Now some of that reflects the enthusiasm surrounding tax reform and its economic prospects from the start of the year, but economic reality is now hitting those earlier expectations. Odds are the reality as seen through the trade and tariff glasses will continue to weigh on the CESI in the coming weeks, adding to investor anxiety.

I’d point out the level of anxiety hit Fear last week on the CNNMoney Fear & Greed Index, down from Neutral a month ago. But there is reason to think it will not rebound quite so quickly…

 

Here’s the question investors are pondering

The growing question in investors’ minds is likely to center on the potential impact in the second half of 2018 from these tariffs if they are enacted for something longer than a short period. While GDP expectations for the current quarter have climbed, the concern we have is the cost side of the equation for both companies and consumers, thanks in part to Harley-Davidson’s recent comments.

We have yet to see any meaningful change to the 2018 consensus earnings forecast for the S&P 500 this year, which currently sits around $160.85 per share, up roughly 12% year over year. But we will soon be entering second-quarter earnings season and could very well see results and comments lead to expectation changes that run the risk of weighing on the market. Given the upsizing of corporate buyback programs over the last few months due in part to tax reform, any potential pullback could be muted as companies scoop up shares and pave the way for further EPS growth as they shrink their share count. That means we’ll be increasingly focused on the internals of earnings reports as well as new order and backlog metrics.

There are roughly a handful of companies reporting this week, and next week sees a modest pick-up in reports, with roughly 25 companies issuing their latest quarterly results. It’s the week after, that sees the number of earnings reports mushroom to more than 220. We’ll enjoy the slower pace over the next two weeks as we get ready for that onslaught, but we will be paying close attention to comments on potential tariff impacts in the second half of 2018 and what that means for earnings expectations for both the market as well as companies on the Select List.

 

 

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.