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Obama’s Foreign Policy . . . Bush Doctrine Take Two?

Conclusion:  Last night President Obama began to define his foreign policy in more detail following the U.S. military’s involvement in the Libyan no-fly zone.   Ironically, the Obama doctrine sounds a bit like the Bush doctrine, albeit a little less granular.  The fiscal risk is that we could be entering a phase whereby military spending ramps up with ambiguous goals, which is negative for the deficit and U.S. dollar.

 

“Well, this is a new Obama doctrine that you act on threats, remember that’s what George Bush did.”

- Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio)

 

President Bush’s foreign policy wasn’t fully defined until certain events helped him define it.  Specifically, the events were the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil on September 11th, 2001.  Shortly thereafter, President Bush began to outline the Bush doctrine in a speech to a joint session of Congress on September 20th, 2001 with this statement:

 

“We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”

 

The Bush Doctrine was eventually codified in a document, the National Security Strategy of the United States, which was published on September 17, 2002 and stated:

 

“To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense. The United States will not resort to force in all cases to preempt emerging threats. Our preference is that nonmilitary actions succeed. And no country should ever use preemption as a pretext for aggression.”

 

While Bush’s speech to the joint session more broadly defined enemies and threats to the United States, the National Security Strategy of the United States took the Bush Doctrine to the next level and emphasized the concept of preemptive action against threats.

 

Based on his speech yesterday, President Obama appears to be maintaining the concept of preemptive activity, though he frames the preemptive actions in Libya with a humanitarian justification, rather than a specific threat to the United States. Specifically, the “refusing to wait” language in his speech from last night, which is quoted below, is a preemptive doctrine by another name.  As President Obama said last night:

 

"To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and — more profoundly — our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are.  Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."

 

This is an about-face from the views of Senator Obama, while a candidate for the Presidency, when he stated on the campaign trail in 2007:

 

“The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

 

Of course it is somewhat trite to “YouTube” candidate Obama.  Obviously, being President has different rules and responsibilities versus being a candidate.  In a campaign, the objective is to get elected, while as a President, in theory, the objective is to make the best decision for your nation.

 

While no doubt President Obama and his cabinet will further clarify the Obama Doctrine and their collective foreign policy actions in the coming weeks and months, a key risk, both with our allies and for that matter with our enemies, is that the Obama Doctrine remains ambiguous.  In aggregate, the key questions of:  when, where, and why the United States will intervene in foreign conflicts still need to be clarified.

 

(In fact, the name of the operation in Libya is itself ambiguous:  Operation Odyssey Dawn.  Whether you disagreed or agreed with President Bush’s foreign policy, the objectives of Operation Iraqi Freedom were, at least, obvious.)

 

While the speech last night was certainly a step towards clarity on the Obama administration’s foreign policy objectives, Romesh Ratnesar probably summed up the last couple of months of Obama’s foreign policy best when he wrote on March 21st in Time Magazine:

 

“He supported pro-democracy forces in Egypt and nudged out a regime the U.S. had backed for decades, but has been unwilling to do the same in Bahrain or Yemen. In Libya, his Administration was against armed intervention to stop Muammar Gaddafi before Obama was for it. American warplanes carried out the initial wave of strikes on Tripoli, but Obama's aides insist that Washington is merely following the Europeans' lead. U.S. officials were reticent for days as the nuclear crisis in Japan worsened, then declared the situation to be even direr than the Japanese government had let on.”

 

To be fair to President Obama, the popular unrest and regime change in the Middle East, as we’ve written, has accelerated at a pace no one could have anticipated.  Over the coming weeks and months, President Obama and his cabinet will have the opportunity to refine and clarify their foreign policies, but if the Obama administration is indeed adopting the preemptive philosophy of the Bush doctrine, it will come at a cost.

 

In the chart below, we’ve outlined defense spending as percentage of GDP and as a percentage of the federal budget going back to the early 1970s.  The Clinton presidency was relatively peaceful with limited overseas conflict and therefore defense spending dropped dramatically during that era.  Coincident with this drop in spending, although obviously not the only factor, the federal deficit dropped from -$290BN in 1992 to a surplus of +$125BN in 1999.  In that same period, defense spending dropped in real dollars from $319BN to $276BN.

 

With the advent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense spending accelerated dramatically under President Bush and by his last year in office was $612BN.  In Obama’s first year in office, 2009, defense spending accelerated again to $655BN.

 

The risk of an ambiguous and increasingly proactive foreign policy, as evidenced by adding troops to Afghanistan, leading the no-fly zone in Libya, and announcing a foreign policy that is predicated on “refusing to wait”, is that President Obama will continue to grow defense spending during his Presidency.  Increasing defense spending, will only lead to an accelerating deficit and with a growing deficit come associated implications.

 

Daryl G. Jones

Managing Director

 

Obama’s Foreign Policy . . . Bush Doctrine Take Two? - 1


MACAU MASS MOSTLY ABOUT CHINA GDP

Some consternation surrounding relatively weak visitation rates but GDP has mattered most.

 

 

Macau visitation grew 5.2% in February and only 1.4% in January.  Yet, Mass revenue increased 19% and 36%, respectively.  Should we even care about visitation?  Probably, but not necessarily over the near term.

 

We’ve run the regressions and at first blush, it appears that visitation is highly correlated with Mass gaming revenues.  Makes sense.  However, when China GDP is thrown into the equation, visitation loses its significance.  GDP and visitation are auto-correlated but GDP is by far the dominant variable.  The R Square with just GDP is 0.71 versus only 0.50 with just visitation.  With a multi-variable regression including both variables, the R Square rises to 0.77.  Moreover, the visitation coefficient is only 0.29 so a 1% increase in visitation drives only a 0.29% increase in Mass revenues – barely worth mentioning.

 

MACAU MASS MOSTLY ABOUT CHINA GDP - macau

 

We do question if this relationship will hold over the long term.  It’s hard to imagine that spend per visitor can continue to grow at the current pace.  We believe long-term Mass growth will be sizable but not at current levels.  The long term pace we see is China GDP plus visitation:  7-10% GDP plus 5-10% visitation.  That would alter the current equation considerably but seems reasonable since Macau has barely tapped the provinces outside of Guangdong.  At some point, the fine people of Guangdong won’t be able to increase their gaming spend at a multiple of their wealth growth as they appear to be doing currently.

 

For now, however, Mass looks like it is on track for another 20% plus growth month in March, despite a 32% comparison last March.  The GDP multiplier should hold over the near term.


JOIN US FOR COCKTAILS THIS THURSDAY, MARCH 31ST

JOIN US FOR COCKTAILS THIS THURSDAY, MARCH 31ST - 1


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Consumption Cannonball Update: De-Unionizing

Conclusion: The tea leaves from early State budget battles continue to support our view that negative growth in State and local government employment and/or employee income will be a drag on the economy in 2H11 and beyond. In addition, we refresh our intermediate-term Consumption Cannonball thesis below.

 

The following chart comes by way of our Healthcare team, which has been closely monitoring the progression in State & municipal budget battles to ascertain their impact on consumption growth throughout the broader economy. If there is one key call-out to make, it’s that Labor Unions are growing financially weaker at an accelerating pace – meaning that their power in negotiating with the many newfound, fiscally hawkish State legislatures grows increasingly limited.

 

Consumption Cannonball Update: De-Unionizing - 1

 

The key takeaway here as it relates to the ongoing budget battles playing out across the nation is that State and local government employees, which are highly unionized relative to their private sector counterparts (36% vs. 15%), are negotiating from a position of marginal weakness. That means they’ll likely have to cave in to legislative demands to limit collective bargaining and front more of their incomes to help pay for burgeoning healthcare costs, as the threat of outright termination is as strong as it has been in many, many years.

 

Any threat to State and local government employee compensation is negative for aggregate household consumption growth – either through higher savings rates or lost wages resulting from layoffs – particularly given that they are generally compensated at higher rate relative to private sector employees.

 

Per a December report out of the BLS, wages and salaries for State & local government employees averaged $26.25 per hour vs. $19.68 per hour for private sector workers. In addition, State & local government employee benefits outpace those received by private sector employees by $5.65 per hour worked ($13.85 vs. $8.20). A recent study by USA Today found this to be true in 41 States (including D.C.).

 

All told, while the recent “successes” in negotiating with labor unions is positive for the financial health of States like NY and WI* (pending judge approval), successful negotiations with labor unions on a national scale will more than likely produce a drag on near-term consumption growth – particularly in the back half of the year.

 

Replacing this demand will have to come from a commensurate pickup in private sector employment and/or wage growth – two things we don’t see happening in an environment of slowing growth.

 

Consumption Cannonball Update: De-Unionizing - 2

 

Given that we’re at the top of another US economic cycle, we wouldn’t be surprised to see more near-term improvement in private payrolls and the unemployment rate, which is notorious for being the most lagging of all economic indicators. Over the intermediate-term, however, we don’t see domestic or global growth coming in at high enough rate for meaningful improvement in the US labor situation. GDP and PCE comparisons remain extremely difficult to surmount in the absence of this much needed improvement.

 

Consumption Cannonball Update: De-Unionizing - 3

 

Consumption Cannonball Update: De-Unionizing - 4

 

While consensus focuses on lagging indicators, such as Friday’s unemployment report, keep your eyes on the leading indicators of market prices, housing prices, the yield curve, and consumer and business confidence – all of which are going the wrong way for growth bulls. Alongside Housing Headwinds II, the Consumption Cannonball is alive and well…

 

Darius Dale

Analyst

 

Consumption Cannonball Update: De-Unionizing - 5

 

Consumption Cannonball Update: De-Unionizing - 6


Osborne’s 2011 Budget and UK Outlook

Positions in Europe: Long British Pound (FXB); Short Spain (EWP)

 

Below we update our outlook on the UK economy in light of Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s 2011 Budget release last week. We believe that the budget largely stays the course on deficit spending, which should be a bullish catalyst for the GBP-USD and continue to support the country’s credit market outperformance; however, we caution that the decision to raise taxes on energy producers is a competitive drag worth consideration. We continue to believe that while the UK’s austerity programs are positive for its longer term economic outlook, over the near to medium term we expect the UK economy to underperform its fiscally stronger European peers (Germany, Sweden, Poland).

 

 

Budget Direction

 

Last Wednesday Osborne presented the UK’s 2011 Budget; notably the budget stayed the course on deficit spending and emphasized making the UK a more competitive country by attracting investment and promoting a higher skilled and better educated work force.

 

Very plainly Osborne addressed the ails of the economy and its peoples, recognizing that:

  • Higher food and energy prices are squeezing consumers (unlike The Bernank) and relief must be given. He offered marginal income tax reductions (primarily for low income earners and a child tax credit) and relief at the pump by cutting the fuel tax by one penny per liter this year.
  • The UK has dropped from 4th to 12th place in the global competitiveness league, and therefore he offered:
    • Funding for 12 new University Technical Colleges
    • The creation of a new work experience program to benefit  20K young people and funding for 40K new apprenticeships to tackle youth unemployment
    • To improve competitiveness Osborne also called for a reduction in the corporate tax rate (currently the 6th highest in the world) starting this April by 2%, and by 1% in each of the following three years.  (Effectively from 28% to 23% over 4 years)

On economic fundamentals, Osborne noted:

  • Annual GDP for 2011 will be revised down to 1.7% versus the previous estimate of 2.1% and improve to 2.5% in 2012.
  • Inflation is expected to remain between 4-5% for most of 2011, before dropping to 2.5% in 2012.
  • The country stands for credibility on the global marketplace, with 10YR interest rates at 3.6%, near Germany’s rate, and far from the 12.5% in Greece or 10% in Ireland.

On taxes of oil production profits in the UK:

  • Osborne called for profits to be taxed at 62% from 50% to pay for a lower consumer tax on gas.
  • The supplementary charge levied to oil and gas production was raised from 20% to 30%.

Overall the tone of the budget was positive: Osborne sized up the country’s growth deficiencies and proposed measures to return the country to a more competitive state. However, on the point of taxing profits of oil companies invested in the UK, we caution that Osborne may be swinging the pendulum too aggressively in requiring oil companies to subsidize gas prices in the present environment of inflated energy prices. 

 

And the repercussion of this decision may be more than Osborne had in store. Yesterday, Statoil put on hold a $10 Billion plan to develop the Mariner and Bressay fields in the UK, with CEO Peter Mellbye saying the new taxes are “tremendously negative” and that he’ll have to reconsider the project.

 

 

Fundamental Landscape

 

Of the high frequency data we follow, we’ve not seen any major inflection points from trend in the UK data over the last months. The final reading of Q4 GDP was -0.5% quarter-over-quarter and the most present threat to future numbers remains inflation, which, as reflected by the CPI, continues to trend higher.  The most currently February reading is +4.4% Y/Y.  PPI input costs are running at 14.6% Y/Y, suggesting that these costs too must be passed on to the consumer.  The BoE continues to remain in the precarious situation that it needs to act to combat inflation by raising rates, however fears that a hike could stymie growth. At present, the BoE continues to lean dovish on a hike. 

 

UK retail Sales fell 80bps in February versus the previous month, which we think is representative for the months ahead now that we are out of the holiday period and the consumer is faced with a higher VAT (see chart below).

 

We’re seeing confirmation of this malaise vis-à-vis consumer confidence surveys.  According to Nationwide, consumer confidence fell to 38 in February versus 48 in January, which is the lowest reading since the survey began in 2004.

 

On the unemployment picture, the rate continues to tick higher, adding 10bps month-over-month in January to 8.0%, however the jobless claims figure improved remarkably, falling 10K versus expectations for a 2K gain in February.

 

The housing market data also fails to impress across multiple surveys.

 

 

GBP and Gilt Strength

 

Despite our negative outlook on the UK economy over the intermediate term, we continue to see strength in the GBP-USD and the credit market which we think is a function of the UK’s fiscal sobriety to issue austerity and cut the deficit versus, in particular, the US’s fiscal irresponsibility and USD debauchery.  We’re currently long the currency via the etf FXB. We covered our short position in Italy (EWI) today and remain long Spain (EWP) in the Hedgeye Virtual Portfolio.

 

Matthew Hedrick

Analyst

 

Osborne’s 2011 Budget and UK Outlook - retail sales uk


R3: ANF, China vs. CAFTA, HOTT, HIBB, BKS

 

R3: REQUIRED RETAIL READING

March 29, 2011

 

 

 

 

RESEARCH ANECDOTES

  • The belief that ‘any press is good press’ is just not reality – case in point, ANF’s new “Ashley” bikini…a padded top for girls starting at age 7. In fact, after releasing the product on its Abercrombie Kids website over the weekend, the company removed “push-up” from its description. No stranger to controversial marketing tactics including the infamous Quarterly, which reappeared briefly last year, the company has taken its edginess down from 20s, to teens, and now to 7-year olds. 
  • Add Hot Topic to the growing list of companies that will no longer report monthly sales. Among additional changes at the corporate level, the company’s CEO Lisa Harper has taken over primary merchandising responsibilities. While reflecting on the turnaround underway relative to her experience at Gymboree, Harper highlighted the task ahead is less structural a la GYMB and more about merchandising, planning, and product with a clear focus on turnover.
  • Texas-based sporting goods retailer Academy Sports will be celebrating the grand opening of its first store in the state of Georgia with a 70,000 sq. ft. store in Atlanta this Friday, April 1st. While Hibbett Sports may prefer the date to have greater meaning, the reality is Academy has become a better competitor in recent years compared to its historical position as the industry’s low-cost player. With both DKS and HIBB both focused on expanding westward, Academy’s latest move may stifle the company’s progress as it looks to secure its core markets.

OUR TAKE ON OVERNIGHT NEWS

 

Cotton Prices Expected to Fall in 2011 - Cotton prices are expected to plunge 51% to $1 a pound by Dec. 31, according to the median in a Bloomberg survey of 14 analysts and traders. Farmers around the world are planting more cotton to profit from high prices. Cotton rose to $2.197 on March 7, the highest in 140 years of trading in New York, after flooding in Australia and Pakistan and freezes in China ruined crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that cotton crop output may rise 11% next year (beginning August 1), compared with a 3% gain this year. Analysts are predicting that production will increase from most of the world’s major cotton producers this year, and that the U.S. will plant more than 13 million acres of cotton this season, up from 11 million acres last year.Hedge funds are already cutting bets on higher prices by the most in three years, the report indicated.<SportsOneSource>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: As Manny Chirico of PVH noted this morning, brand manufacturers are only seeing spot rates starting to come down, but there has not been any buying actually taking place just yet. Weighted average cost could, and should, go up even as cotton retreats. Best case, we think that a better planting cycle helps 2013. Do you want to invest based on 2013 numbers? Didn’t think so…

  

Chinese Industry Slammed by Rising Costs - Higher labor and materials costs, and the maturing of its economy have pummeled the Chinese apparel and textile production industry in recent months, leading to mass factory closures, cost control measures and a certainty of higher prices to come for customers. Factories across the manufacturing zone in the Pearl River Delta and on the eastern seaboard have reported cutbacks and closings in the past six months, largely due to soaring cotton prices and the increased salary and benefit demands to attract workers. Factory bosses now say they expect a streamlined, more efficient and higher-end production chain to emerge, but the transition period will be difficult. In short, big changes lie ahead for the world’s largest maker and exporter of apparel.<WWD>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: Consistent with what we heard out of Li-Ning last week suggesting labor cost increases of +10%-15% are not a near-term aberration, but rather a trend that will continue ‘in coming years.’

 

Central America Warming Up to CAFTAIn the five years since the Central American Free Trade Agreement was implemented, U.S. and European apparel brands and retailers have faced sourcing challenges but are now said to be looking to increase business in the region. While the recession hit Central America hard and led to a decrease in U.S. apparel import volume in 2009 and created an uncertain business climate for the seven CAFTA countries, trade has begun to bounce back in the past year and companies are now exploring new investment opportunities. Central America’s apparel and textile industry could attract significant apparel investment by 2015 as U.S. and European brands shift activities to offset deepening sourcing woes in Asia, industry experts said. <WWD>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: There has been a clear shift in focus by many retailers that have started to look beyond China to both Central and South America as alternative export markets. Increased labor rates have closed the gap and with transportation costs also starting to weigh on margins, proximity matters. VF has had a clear relative advantage here in recent quarters as one of the few brand manufacturers with Mexican-based production. The problem is that capacity in Asia vs. Central America is 20 to 1.

 

Borders Liquidators Squeeze Cash From Doomed Stores - At the Borders Group Inc. store on Broadway near Wall Street, box sets of Stieg Larsson’s best- selling “Millennium” trilogy, including the “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” sat on a table near the door last week on sale for $69.39 -- a liquidation markdown of 30 percent. The set costs half as much on Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN)’s website, where it was listed for $34.58 -- with free shipping. Amazon’s Kindle e-book editions were even less, priced at $27.97. At Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s website, the three books sold for $34.96. Borders, the second-largest U.S. bookstore chain after Barnes & Noble Inc. (BKS), filed for bankruptcy last month after management shuffles, firings and debt restructuring failed to combat falling book sales and competition from Amazon and Wal-Mart. It pledged to shutter about a third of its stores. <Bloomberg>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: Creditors have recently rallied for BGP, but the downward thrust of this business has it heading inevitably South.

 

Carven Opens First Store Having in four seasons resuscitated dormant French fashion house Carven, designer Guillaume Henry now holds the keys to the brand’s first women’s wear store under his tenure, at 36 Rue Saint Sulpice on the Left Bank here. Its doors open today.  The boutique, once the spot of a 19th-century brothel, has had numerous lives before becoming a Carven store. “I stumbled across this boutique by chance and thought, this is perfectly situated in the heart of Saint Germain and opposite the Saint Sulpice church,” said Henry. Eric Chevallier — who is also responsible for visual merchandising at Paris’ concept store Colette — was called in to design the Carven space. “I wanted to use all the codes that are emblematic of Paris daily life,” he explained, while standing with Henry in the pristine, home-like 800-square-foot store.  <WWD>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: Best known stateside as one of the featured brands at Barneys’ stores this season, selling the brand’s fragrance license last year was probably the right move in hindsight enabling management to focus on continuing to build brand momentum.

 

EU Law Could Choke E-Commerce Startups - It's an old story in Europe: ham-fisted regulation stunting growth and innovation. This time it's new legislation that could affect the e-commerce industry. A proposed EU directive will  change online return policies, which could end up hurting ecommerce startups. The bill is not yet final, with many more steps before eventual passage in June, but here's where it stands today: Customers would get 14 days, instead of 7 days currently in most European countries, to return goods, with a further 14 days to send them back. Crucially, the merchant would have to give customers a full refund even before receiving the goods to ensure they're not damaged.  For any order over 40 euros, the merchant would have to offer free returns. Merchants would have to offer shipping and free returns across all European countries. The law would hammer e-commerce startups' margins and raise prices. <BusinessInsider>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: Clearly an effort to maintain the highly fragmented nature of European markets – this regulation would debilitate retailer’s profitability in the e-commerce channel. In addition to the swallowing the shipping cost – a factor many domestic retailers are coping with – the full refund before receipt policy would require added staff and costs to recover returns that been damaged or used in the process.

 

 


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