“I bear a charmed life.”
How bearish are you? I know I’m bearish at a price, but I don’t think I am Bearish Enough. Some people on the Street might say they are bearish – but unless they run their own firm, I highly doubt they are bearishly positioned.
When I say Bearish Enough, I don’t mean whatever being “underweight” means. I mean having either 50-75% of your assets in cash and/or running with a net exposure of -20-30% net short. Those are not consensus positions. Neither, in most cases, are they allowed.
Does the market owe us a return? Do we have to chase yield? Or is this the biggest failure that hasn’t yet been realized by the institutionalization of our industry that’s coming down the pike – Too Big To Perform?
These are serious questions associated with a serious problem that has not been fixed alongside this +98% two-year inflation of the US stock market. When I started in the hedge fund business 12 years ago, the correlation of returns between funds was approximately 0.3-0.4. We made money in down markets (2000-2002). We didn’t whine. Since 2007, returns have reverted to the mutual fund industry’s 0.7-0.8. That’s a problem. It’s called over-supply.
In his illuminating interview with CNBC earlier this week, hedge fund pioneer Michael Steinhardt made this point in a way that only a man (without a boss) who has been in the hedge fund business since 1967 could - “it aint an elite business anymore.”
No matter where you go this morning, there it is - a massively understated correlation risk to global markets – the risk of everyone doing the same thing … at the same time…
Qualitatively, anyone who has managed real-time market risk prior to 2008 gets this. Quantitatively, for those of you who are new to this globally interconnected game of risk, here is some data to chew on this morning:
When we talk about ever, no matter whether it is in terms of leverage, asset class concentration, or net exposure, we think of ever as a very long time. I’m obviously in the business of getting paid by the industry, so I have no compensation incentive to walk you through this over-supply problem other than being right.
When I think about an investment and/or risk management idea (they aren’t the same things), my team’s baseline model has 3-factors: Supply, Demand, and Price (I learned that running a grass cutting business in Thunder Bay, not at Yale). Using that simple framework, this over-supply call and its related risks to market prices is a trivial one to grasp.
That said, as a practical matter, it’s not always easy to hedge this industry’s oversupply/correlation exposure in your portfolio. However, not having an easy answer to a big problem doesn’t mean that the underlying risk associated with that problem ceases to exist. Remember, the market doesn’t owe us anything. That’s why markets crash.
I’m not calling for a crash this morning, but I am explicitly flashing amber lights. I called for a correction and the heightening probability of a crash in mid-February – and I got both. The 6.5% correction came in US Equities. The crash came in Japan.
Now before you jump out of your screen at me on Japan – don’t worry, I get it - natural disasters aren’t things that you can “make calls” on. However, what you can do, from a risk management process perspective, is make calls on the increasing or decreasing probabilities that a person, company, or country is putting itself in to crash. Anyone want to be levered long of Charlie Sheen because he’s going up?
That’s been the slow moving train wreck associated with 1,000,000,000,000,000 YEN in Japanese sovereign debt (that’s what a quadrillion looks like in real-life). That’s Portugal this morning. That’s a debt-financed-deficit movie coming to an American theatre near you.
Everyone knows this now. That’s progress. Not everyone is allowed to be positioned for it. That’s risk.
I have a 27-factor Global Macro risk management model that dynamically re-weights for real-time market price, correlation, and volatility risks. I can show you the heat that’s associated with seeing what I see – it’s right here on my screen. If you want to shrug it off because you don’t understand it – that’s cool. I didn’t in Q2 of 2008 when I went to 96% cash. And I sure as heck won’t now. I started this firm so that I could be allowed to make these calls.
The most important question I need to ask myself on the way to my danger zone SP500 price level of 1, is why am I only in 43% cash today?
The last time I signaled this risk (February 14th, 2011), weekly sentiment on the Bear side of the II Bullish/Bearish survey had dropped -31% in a week to register a reading of 18% (in other words, only 18% of the pros in the survey admitted they were bearish in mid-February). Three weeks later, the SP500 lost -6.39% of its price inflation.
This week’s drop in weekly Bear sentiment (week-over-week) was -32%. Only 15.7% of the Bears are left. How charming…
My immediate-term support and resistance levels for oil are now $106.16 and $110.98, respectively. My immediate-term support and resistance levels for the SP500 are now 1325 and 1342, respectively.
Best of luck out there today,
Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer
This note was originally published at 8am on April 04, 2011. INVESTOR and RISK MANAGER SUBSCRIBERS have access to the EARLY LOOK (published by 8am every trading day) and PORTFOLIO IDEAS in real-time.
“Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing that we see too late the one that is open.“
-Alexander Graham Bell
Finally, we’re here. This week we’re finally going to see US Professional Politicians face the door that’s closing on their conflicted and compromised careers of debt-financed-deficit-spending. This isn’t the time to give into their fear-mongering. This is going to open he door for a generational opportunity in America. This is great news.
On Friday, the stop-gap bill to keep the US Government open for business expires. With $14,272,778,776,442 in US Debt + another $55,800,000,000,000 in unfunded Medicare and Medicaid liabilities, I say shut these politicians down. The biggest risk to America today isn’t what’s happening in the Middle East or Japan – it’s the 112th Congress.
And no, Mr. Jaime Dmon, we don’t measure America’s risk solely in terms of the price of its stocks and bonds. America is bigger than that. America is a place that puts a higher multiple on liberty than it does the sustainability of your earnings. America is a place where The People who stand up for the truth will be heard.
From a fiscal and monetary policy perspective, the sad truth about last week in Global Macro markets was more of the same. The US Dollar Debauchey continued – and, as a result, The Inflation that’s priced in US Dollars pushed higher.
With the US Dollar Index closing down for the 10th week out of the last 14, here’s what else happened to prices week-over-week:
US Equities ralliedto another long-term lower-high because, well… as Gordon Gekko might say, debt-financed-deficit spending “is good”…
Until it isn’t.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly. It was all good for Greek Equities too … until the Free-Moneys-Forever monetary policy of the European Central Bank (ECB) stopped playing the music.
With the ECB set to raise interest rates on Thursday, Euroe’s currency and interest rates continue to strengthen. This is great news for the conservative Euro dweller who has cash in that old tickle trunk that we old fashioned folks call a savings account. It’s really bad news for the Greek Gekkos out there who are laden with deficits and debts.
Greece’s stock market is down another -2.1% this morning, taking its cumulative swoon to -12.9% since what Wall Street called the “reflation” trade sarted to morph into The Inflation problem on February the 18th. Interestingly, but not ironically, that was the same day that the SP500 peaked for 2011. This should remind us all that what goes up with Big Government’s help, can come down – and quickly.
If you want to look at The Inflation being priced into Global Market prices for the YTD, it’s pretty straight forward: TOP Global Stock Market YTD = Russia +17.2% versusBOTTOM Global Stock Market YTD = Egypt -23.0%.
I know - which one of the affluent American Senators of the Fiat Republic really cares about starving young people in the Middle East or the 44,000,000 Americans (new all-time high) on food stamps anyway? Social revolutions be damned. Obama’s got the guns.
In the US stock market, The Inflation trade continues to be the only one that’s really getting people paid: S&am;P Sector Performance YTD: Energy (XLE) = +17.2% versus Consumer Staples (XLP) = +2.6%.
Of course, everyone on Wall Street and in Washington knows this – we just don’t like to talk about it so plainly. The Inflation is a policy to get the stock market “going” – The Bernank has all but told you that. Now it’s time for us to start dealing with its unintended societal consequences.
In the edgeye Asset Allocation Model, I drew down my Cash position week-over-week. Here are the allocations ahead of this week’s trading:
That’s right. At this stage of the game, I have the same policy as The Bernank in trusting the 112th Congress with The Inflation – ZERO. That’s marked-to-market with a zero percent allocation to US Equities until the US Dollar stops being debased. If it takes a Shutdown of these professional politicians and the storytelling they employ – so be it. In the long-run, wersquo;ll all be better off with them just stopping what they’ve been doing anyway.
My immediate-term support and resistance levels for the SP500 are now 1314 and 1339, respectively.
Best of luck out there today,
Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer
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Ruby Tuesday has many issues, this quarter is just the most recent, but none is more exigent than the reality that for the past year the company has done so much to de-emphasize the company’s core business. The predominant mode of thought has been for Ruby Tuesday to diversify from its traditional offerings into a trendier “fast casual” concept. The implications of this strategy are obvious and this quarter shows it.
RT also is highlighting the risks for companies that are operating in the quadrant of the Hedgeye Restaurant Quadrant chart called NIRVANA. In order to maintain NIRVANA, and the premium multiple that typically goes with it, the company in question must be operating with positive same-store sales and improving margins; a feat that requires flawless execution and strong business model.
Management attributed the disappointing quarter to bad weather in December and January, compounded by weak trends in the Bar and Grill space. And added that they recently experienced some non-weather related issues in the south, which is most likely due to gas prices being significantly higher year-over-year and tracking like 2008. If I can rephrase management’s commentary, what they really meant to say was that a national competitor (Chili’s) in the Bar and Grill space has woken up from a deep slumber!
Ruby Tuesday posted a disappointing quarter for 3QFY11. Adjusted EPS of $0.24 was more than 23% below the consensus number of $0.31 (although management said that the weather dilution impact was estimated at $0.03-$0.04 per share in the quarter, putting them flat with last year). Revenues were roughly in line, surprisingly, as new unit growth was negligible and comps came in at -1.2% versus consensus at +1.9%. Restaurant operating margin came in at 16.5% versus StreetAccount consensus at 19.3% and 19.5% last year. The 250 bps decline year-over-year prior year due to the challenge of managing food and labor and brand investments with disappointing same-store sales.
Weather had an impact on the quarter but, it is important to remember, was also a factor last year. Then, the brand simply performed better and the company managed through weather-related issues. Management kicked off its commentary on the 3QFY10 by stating that the quarter was the “best sales quarter in the last three years even with the paralyzing winter storms in many of the markets in each month of the quarter and despite lapping the start of our improving trends in last year’s” third quarter.
For many restaurant companies, not just this one, weather is an excuse only when you need it! There is a risk of overstating the importance of the storms and missing other important factors.
Firstly, even adjusting for management’s estimation of the weather impact, two-year average trends sequentially slowed for the first time since summer ’09 (20 basis-point slowdown from 4QFY10 to 1QFY10). That management failed to answer a question regarding the traffic and check components of the -1.2% comp was a little unnerving.
Secondly, Ruby Tuesday’s business is being heavily impacted by exogenous factors. During the call there was repeated emphasis by management of the impact from higher gasoline prices and competitor initiatives (Chili’s $6 lunch, Olive Garden’s $6 lunch) as evidence that RT is suffering from a meaningful loss in market share decline. Specifically, management said, “where lunch is a little bit softer is actually Chili's $6 lunch, Olive Garden's been pounding $6 lunches also, and so that always affects a little bit when everybody's on the compelling value rampage.” To combat this pressure, management intends to roll out small plates (i.e. a form a discounting) to improve traffic trends. Almost without exception, it leads to an average check problem (à la CAKE ) and I believe this is also the case for RT.
Lastly, RT’s margins were very disappointing and management expects margins to recover from here. I am not as confident as they sound. Incidentally, during the call when pressed on margin guidance, they didn’t really seem too confident at all! Coming in at 17% (excluding the franchise acquisition gains and losses and guarantee charges), restaurant operating margins declined 250 basis points year-over-year.
Going forward, management is anticipating restaurant operating margins to be flat which implies a sequential improvement in ROP margins of ~250 basis points following the sequential decline, this quarter, of the same magnitude. Additionally, it is worth noting that this quarter’s decline in ROP Margin was exacerbated by a more difficult compare that will be more difficult in 4Q. Therefore, I believe that management’s guidance of flat ROP margins appears to be aggressive.
RT did lower guidance significantly in several areas, however. EPS guidance for FY11 is now $0.74 to $0.82 from $0.76 to $0.86 and same-store sales are projected to come in at flat-to-+1% whereas previous guidance was for “flat-to-+2%”.
The core Ruby’s Tuesday business is a third-tier casual dining brand that will always have a difficult time competing against the two national brands of Chili’s and Applebee’s. We remain bullish on what Chili’s is doing to revitalize it business. As such, it important to realize that Chili’s and other casual dining concepts are taking share from RT and there is no reason to believe that this effect was isolated to this past quarter. Gasoline prices are high, likely to be even higher come summer, and the customer is being more selective in spending discretionary dollars. The market share gainers are concepts like Chili’s and I see Ruby Tuesday as a brand that will continue to lose ground. Look for sentiment to shift in this direction also. EAT has plenty of room to run in the sentiment stakes. Names like RT and TXRH are bound to attract some skeptics over the next few quarters.
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