The Economic Data calendar for the week of the 10th of January through the 14th is full of critical releases and events. Attached below is a snapshot of some (though far from all) of the headline numbers that we will be focused on.
Conclusion: Global CPI measures are not apples-to-apples and may provide a leading indicator as to the nations where monetary policy will tighten the quickest in 2011.
We looked at the CPI breakdowns for the largest ten countries in the world by population with a specific focus on the contribution from food and beverages as a percentage of CPI to better understand the implications of rising food commodity prices. Below we’ve outlined these contributions of food and beverage to CPI by country:
Contribution of food and beverage to CPI by %
China – 33%
India – 14%
United States – 16%
Indonesia – 36%
Brazil – 23%
Pakistan – 40%
Bangladesh – 59%
Nigeria – 50%
Russia – 38%
Japan – 26%
As can be seen, the differences between countries are quite dramatic. Now, obviously, population is only relevant to a point and to the extent we want to consider an increase in inflation, and subsequent tightening of monetary policy, the size of the economy matters as well, especially as we consider the potential impact to slowing global growth. As it relates to interest rates, most federal banking authorities look at CPI as key measure of inflation from which to set interest rate policy. Assuming food input costs stay flat, or increase, CPI comparisons will continue to drive high inflationary numbers based on easy y-o-y compares. As a leading indicator for which countries will implement tighter monetary policy over the coming quarters, those countries that have the highest percentage of commodities in their measure of CPI is a good place to start.
The other issue to consider is social unrest related to inflation, a tail risk that needs to be seriously considered. Especially given the dramatic gains in food priced we are seeing, such at the 52% gain in corn last year and the 47% gain in grain prices. We are already starting to see some unrest globally and, in fact, have seen some riots in Algeria. The picture below was taken in the Algerian capital as hundreds of youths protested and clashed with police. According to reports from Algeria, “The cost of flour and salad oil has doubled in recent months, reaching record highs. A kilogram of sugar, which a few months ago cost 70 dinars, is now 150 dinars (£1.28).” No doubt we will see more such scenes in the coming year.
While we wouldn’t expect inflation riots in the U.S. due to higher food prices, food inflation is becoming a more pertinent issue domestically with the growth in Americans using food stamps. In the chart below, prepared by Rory Green from our Restaurant Team, the trend is quite clear. An increasing amount of low income Americans are depending on a fixed amount of food stamps to subsist. As food prices go up, these food stamps buy less food, which squeezes the low end consumer. Currently, 43.2MM Americans are in the Federal Food Stamp Program. For those Americans, I’m guessing food is more than 16% of their budget.
Daryl G. Jones
This note was originally published at 8am on January 07, 2011. INVESTOR and RISK MANAGER SUBSCRIBERS have access to the EARLY LOOK (published by 8am every trading day) and PORTFOLIO IDEAS in real-time.
“Man’s life is brief and transitory, literature endures forever.”
I’m in the middle of reading Rory Stewart’s The Places In Between where he tells the risk management story of walking alone across Afghanistan. He ends one of his chapters with that quote. It got my attention.
It should have. Every morning, day, and night, we market people walk alone with our P&L. We can’t drop our track record on someone else’s lap. We can’t pretend it’s not there either. No matter where we go, there it is…
That’s not life, but it’s certainly a big part of mine. Within that part, there certainly are a lot of places in between. All the while, I suppose I’m challenged with building bridges in a lot of those places between market prices and Transitory Expectations.
From a US-centric stock market investor’s perspective, expectations for this morning’s US Employment Report are extremely elevated. From a Global Macro investor’s perspective, from Indonesia getting tagged for a -2.8% loss overnight on inflation concerns to Gold testing 5-week lows, there’s a lot more going on.
That’s not to say that a Transitory Expectation for a US-centric economic data point doesn’t matter to Global Macro Risk Managers. It does this morning. Big time. But what exactly are those expectations and how can we proactively prepare to profit from them?
In an intraday note yesterday titled “Government Whispering”, this is how we framed it up:
Where are we at on estimates versus expectations:
In terms of what an improving (in the very short term) US jobs picture actually means for the interconnected macro markets:
That’s the thing about Transitory Expectations in markets – by the time consensus realizes what they are, they’ve moved onto the next.
The key, in both Global Macro risk management and in life, may very well be to live in the moment. I’m not Buddhist, but I do respect the thought process behind the principle of playing the game that’s in front of you. After this morning’s US Employment Report is printed, that game is gone.
Post the 830AM EST report, I think US-centric investors will be forced to face the fiddle on the Expectations Mismatch between what they think the US Consumer is doing now versus what the US Consumer did in November to early December.
While everybody was pumping up Transitory Expectations of tax cuts and QG2 into their year-end Consumer Discretionary portfolios, evidently there was this little critter called reality toiling in the night.
At first, the Consumer Discretionary bulls said Best Buy’s (BBY) collapse was “secular” to their business. Then they said that McDonald’s (MCD) breaking down was due to some hedgies rotating into Best Buy because, I guess, Ackman was going to charge 2 and 20 to buy that one low. Now they’re saying that a broad based selloff in the Consumer Discretionary sector yesterday was due to the snow?
Here’s what some major US-centric Consumer Discretionary names (I mean names with market cap) did yesterday:
I guess, with the Consumer Discretionary sector being the top US Sector performer in 2010 at +25.7%, bullish Transitory Expectations were a little off…
Back to the Global Macro risk management picture of Global Growth Slowing as Global Inflation Accelerates, most Asian and European stock markets have been sufficiently adjusting their bullish expectations to the downside all week. Last night, in addition to Indonesia trading down a ton, India was down -2.4%, Thailand lost -1.4%, and Taiwan was down -1.1%. After closing down -17.4% in 2010, Spain is already down -2.7% for 2011 to-date.
If the US stock market perma-bulls want to tell me that all of Asia and parts of Europe are slowing because US growth is strengthening, they can go do that. But they may very well have to adjust their Transitory Expectations after the last lagging bullish economic data point from Q4 is out of the way.
My immediate term support and resistance levels for the SP500 are now 1264 and 1280, respectively. Yesterday, I raised 3% cash, taking our allocation to US Cash back up to 52% in the Hedgeye Asset Allocation Model by selling our 3% position in Healthcare (XLV) on strength. We remain long the US Dollar via the UUP and short Gold (GLD).
Best of luck out there today,
Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer
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Today, the BLS released its monthly jobs report showing that the U.S. economy added only 103,000 jobs this December, compared with the median forecast of 150,000 according to Bloomberg Estimates.
November payrolls showed a revised 71,000 increase (previously 39,000) with October payrolls up a phony 210,000 in revision (previously 172,000). The October revision would have been reported as a gain of 190,000, if the BLS consistently reported its monthly recasting of seasonal factors.
While the unemployment rate released today, 9.4%, came in well below expectations, the primary reason for this is that the labor force in America has plunged (decreased by 434,000) to a fresh 25 year low. Where is the unemployed population going? More importantly 260,000 Americans dropped out of the labor force entirely. This means that the Obama economy is now driving Americans out of the labor force faster than it is bringing them in.
This is akin to governments with net emigration (Ireland, for instance) publishing unemployment rate figures that do not accurately reflect the true extent of the decline in employment opportunities for their citizens. The chart below indicates how unemployment rate would look if the labor force participation rate were maintained at the average from January 2000 through December 2010. Clearly the declining participation rate is having a dramatic impact on the numbers.
Cronyism is alive and well in Washington. The remaking of the Obama administration and his investments is interesting to say the least. How do the following three nuggets augur for the promise of “change”:
The dependence on close relationships between business people and government officials is a tight as ever, but our economy can’t generate any jobs and consumers are facing a severe squeeze on their wallets as inflation goes higher.
Keith provides ample volume on the topic of inflation each day via The Early Look. Today, however, we have heard Ben Bernanke on inflation and other matters as he testifies with the Senate Budget Committee in Washington. On the subject of inflation, Bernanke once again downplayed concerns, stating plainly that, “inflation is 1% including food and fuel”. When you decide what the weightings are to comprise a number, you can make that number whatever you want it to be. Keith has had several thoughts on inflation during the testimony that he communicated over his @keithmccullough twitter account that I think are worth sharing:
Rounding out the government’s TV campaign today was President Obama, commenting on the job growth trend being “clear” and to some extent he is correct given the gains in private sector jobs over the past twelve months. However, the rate of growth is still indicating fragility in the economy and hesitancy on the part of corporations to accelerate hiring further. Retail sales results for December and ABC consumer confidence have both lent credence to this hesitancy. Whispers of 580k may abound, but those running P&L’s, not Bernanke or even Obama, will decide whether or not to accelerate hiring in the broader economy.
Here’s a step back and post mortem on LIZ. Relative to the underlying fundamentals, this is overdone. But the company has not yet earned the benefit of the doubt from anyone. The irony is that the stock has changed more than the story has.
This LIZ blow-up today requires a big step back and post mortem for us. While not in the Hedgeye Virtual Portfolio, I (McGough) have definitely been a bull on LIZ with the stock as a single-digit midget despite the magnitude of challenges facing the industry in 2011.
The crux of our case has been that after 4-years of missing numbers (and releasing more earnings miss press releases than there were quarters) the company would finally start to harvest its investments of the past 2-years and would face positive earnings revisions on dramatically reduced working capital needs while the rest of retail went the other way.
The bottom line is that there was definitely a downturn in our expectations at Lucky, and to a lesser degree, Mexx. But the best way I can characterize this event is that it’s a ‘higher quality miss.’ “C’mon McGough, admit you’re wrong and throw in the towel on this dog.” I’ve had 3 such conversations over the past 12 hours where I heard these words.
But let’s tear it down and see what’s changed.
Liz Wholesale/JC Penney:
Liz Outlets: The company is nearly out of its 87 money losing Liz Claiborne branded outlet stores in the United States and Puerto Rico. These have been a major earnings and working capital drag. Think about it, with inventory poorly placed by multiple divorces between LIZ and Department Stores, the outlets have borne the brunt. That’s almost over. No change here in thesis.
Consumer Direct Brands:
This is where it gets dicey. I’ve got to check through 12 years of notes to confirm, but I think that this is the first time LIZ has ever called out bad weather as being the key contributing factor. In fact, it’s probably the first time in McComb’s life he’s used it.
Unfortunately, this is impossible for us to validate and/or quantify. What I’ll give ‘em is that all it takes is a simple Google search to find all the videos and news releases discussing the ‘paralyzed’ consumer in Western Europe. I’d argue that even a paralyzed consumer will make sure that they get the best product/value regardless of weather. But changes in consumer confidence rarely occur to a magnitude that would support a 16% negative diversion from one month to another.
The irony here is that in looking at the underlying comp run rate for all Liz concepts, they all improved on the margin, except for Mexx, and Mexx only eroded by 200-300bps. If management is not flat-out lying about the snow factor, then this really is not that bad.
The question is whether the company deserves the benefit of the doubt between now and its 4Q call on February 17th at which time management will provide January trends to determine just how much of the shortfall in December was due to weather vs. product?
For a levered small cap stock over such a short duration, the answer is probably ‘No.” But is there enough for us to take this thing out behind the barn an pop a cap in it? Definitely not.
In fact, after the Feb 17 call, we’ll have better disclosure on the size, profitability and return characteristics of the partner brands and exit of the outlet stores – which we think will be a positive surprise.
Keep in mind that 4 out 5 investor conversations I have on Liz include questions around liquidity. People ask about LBOs on JCP, American Eagle, Carter’s and other peaky margin companies. But they don’t breach the topic on LIZ. Are they asking me about the math as to how you get the Liz Claiborne brand for free at the current price? No. This is completely backwards.
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