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Getting to the Puck

This note was originally published at 8am on April 18, 2011. INVESTOR and RISK MANAGER SUBSCRIBERS have access to the EARLY LOOK (published by 8am every trading day) and PORTFOLIO IDEAS in real-time.

“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

-Wayne Gretzky

 

Late last week Keith and I were in Boston meeting with clients on the eve of the beginning of the Boston / Montreal first round playoff series.  While Bostonians and hockey fans around the world are gearing up for the beginning of the NHL playoffs, money managers, as usual, are contemplating portfolio positioning for the upcoming months.

 

Whether your strategy involves bottom-up company analysis, top-down economic analysis, or a healthy dose of both, the objective is the same: to anticipate where the Investment Puck is going ahead of the competition.  To borrow from Mr. Gretzky, good money managers play the market where it is, great money managers play the market where it is going to be.

 

Currently, from a macro perspective, the primary focus of many money managers is attempting to determine the timing of the next move in monetary policy.  Given the high correlation between U.S. monetary policy, the U.S. dollar, and many global asset classes, this is the key area to focus.

 

To emphasize this point, in the Chart of the Day attached below, we show the correlation of Federal Reserve Treasury Purchases with the CRB index, which highlights the high correlation to loose U.S. monetary policy and inflation of many U.S. dollar-based commodities. 

 

While “fundamental” supply and demand certainly matters, if you are invested in oil, or oil related equities, keep one market quote front and center: the U.S. Dollar Index.  Over the past three months, the correlation between the U.S. dollar index and WTI Crude Futures is -0.86, while the correlation between the U.S. Dollar Index and Brent Crude Futures is -0.91.  Dollar down continues to equal oil up, and decidedly so.

 

In our presentation late last month titled, What’s Next For Oil?, we highlighted turmoil in the Middle East as a key factor supporting the price of oil.  Indeed, violence in Libya continued to escalate this weekend as the recent U.S. led NATO intervention so far seems largely ineffectual.  According to British Prime Minister Cameron this weekend:

 

“We have to ask ourselves, what more can we do to protect civilian life and to stop Qaddafi’s war machine unleashing such hell on his own people.”

 

With an unknown outcome Libyan oil production remains well below its full output of 1.8MM barrels per day, which supports oil prices.

 

On the other side of the ledger for oil, there are mounting bearish supply and demand data points.  Specifically, according a recent report from the International Energy Administration, oil consumption grew 2.6% year-over-year in Q1 2011.  This was a sequential slowdown from 4.1% year-over-year growth in consumption in Q4 2010.  Further, the IEA now expects oil consumption to grow 1.6% year-over-year in all of 2011 versus 3.4% for 2010.  In addition, crude oil stocks in the United States grew 0.5% year-over-year, which is near decade highs.  With the price of gasoline up 24.6% year-over-year, oil stocks should continue to build.

 

If you don’t believe the oil market is oversupplied in the short term, take it from the Saudis. This weekend the Saudi Oil Minister said the following in a press conference:

 

“The market is overbalanced ... Our production in February was 9.125 million barrels per day (bpd), in March it was 8.292 million bpd. In April we don't know yet, probably a little higher than March. The reason I gave you these numbers is to show you that the market is oversupplied."

 

This morning China increased the reserve ratio for their banks by 50 basis points to 20.5% and pledged there is more to come.  So unlike The Bernank who attempts to manage monetary policy via a press conference (according to the top article on Bloomberg this morning), the Chinese continue to proactively combat inflation.

 

Chinese tightening is incrementally bearish for commodities, to argue different is simply story telling. (Interestingly, the Chinese equity market closed up +23 basis points despite this incremental tightening, which is positive for our long Chinese equity position in the Virtual Portfolio.)

 

As bearish supply and demand data points continue to mount for oil and other U.S. dollar based global commodities, the increasing focus is on determining the direction of the U.S. dollar, which will be driven by U.S. monetary policy. So, where do we stand on the direction of monetary policy?  To some extent, it will depend on the data. 

 

We are quite confident housing has another leg down (email sales@hedgeye.com if you are an institutional prospect and want to talk to our Financials Sector Head Josh Steiner about his 100+ page negative thesis on housing).  Further, employment is seeing anemic improvement, which is mostly being driven by people leaving the workforce and will not see much improvement with U.S. GDP growth likely to come in lower than expected this year.  On both of these key fronts, Chairman Bernanke will have plenty of cover to keep rates low for an “extended period”.

 

Ironically, government CPI, which is not the best proxy for inflation in our estimation, may actually be the thorn in The Bernank’s side.  As we highlighted in our Q2 Theme presentation, CPI compares are set to get very easy in the United States.  In fact, June CPI last year was +1.1%, which is really the beginning of the easy comps.  Starting this summer it is likely that we see government reported data that looks inflationary and will make it difficult for The Bernank to remain perpetually dovish. 

 

As monetary policy begins to tighten in the U.S. and theoretically strengthen the U.S. dollar, the music will likely stop for the commodity rally in the intermediate term. This will create an investment opportunity of another kind if you are at the Investment Puck.  And as famed U.S. Olympic Coach Herb Brooks once said:

 

“Great moments are born from great opportunities.”

 

Keep your head up and stick on the ice,

 

Daryl G. Jones

Managing Director

 

Getting to the Puck - Chart of the Day

 

Getting to the Puck - Virtual Portfolio


THE HEDGEYE DAILY OUTLOOK

TODAY’S S&P 500 SET-UP - April 20, 2011

 

As we look at today’s set up for the S&P 500, the range is 17 points or -0.93% downside to 1318 and +0.35% upside to 1335.

 

SECTOR AND GLOBAL PERFORMANCE

 

THE HEDGEYE DAILY OUTLOOK - levels 421

 

THE HEDGEYE DAILY OUTLOOK - daily sector view

 

THE HEDGEYE DAILY OUTLOOK - BEST PERFORMING GLOBAL

 

THE HEDGEYE DAILY OUTLOOK - WORST PERFORMING GLOBAL

 


COMMODITY/GROWTH EXPECTATIONS:

 

THE HEDGEYE DAILY OUTLOOK - daily commodity view

 

 

CURRENCIES:

 

THE HEDGEYE DAILY OUTLOOK - daily currency view

 


EUROPEAN MARKETS:

 

THE HEDGEYE DAILY OUTLOOK - BEST PERFORMING EURO

 

THE HEDGEYE DAILY OUTLOOK - WORST PERFORMING EURO

 

 

ASIA-PACIFIC MARKETS:

 

THE HEDGEYE DAILY OUTLOOK - BEST PERFORMING ASIA

 

THE HEDGEYE DAILY OUTLOOK - WORST PERFORMING ASIA

 

 

MIDDLE EAST MARKETS:

 

THE HEDGEYE DAILY OUTLOOK - MIDEAST PERFORMANCE

 

 

Howard Penney

Managing Director


MAR: NOT THEIR BEST BUT COULD’VE BEEN WORSE

MAR still fell short despite the recent pre-announcement.  Q2 guidance was worse than consensus but not by much.

 

 

MAR’s discounted relative valuation and the recent negative sentiment surrounding the name could keep the stock afloat following today’s earnings miss.  Guidance could’ve been worse, quite frankly.  We think most lodging companies will struggle to make current Q2 consensus estimates.  Indeed, MAR gave Q2 guidance of $0.34-0.38, below the Street at $0.39 but we think the low end of that range is probably more appropriate.

 

Despite the company’s recently revised lower guidance, Q1 results still missed consensus EBITDA by 5% and EPS by a penny.  Q1 also fell short of our EBITDA estimate by 3% and came out a penny short of our EPS estimate.  Here is the detail:


1Q DETAIL

  • System-wide RevPAR growth came in a little below management’s revised down guidance:
    • The company expects its worldwide systemwide 1Q RevPAR to increase approximately 7%, at the low end of the company's 7 to 9% 1Q guidance”
  • Total fee revenue was $9MM or 3% below our estimate with most of the miss coming from opaque incentive fees
    • Base fees were just slightly below our estimate and franchise fees were $2MM light or 2% below our estimate
    • Incentive fees of $42MM which only grew 5% YoY, missed our estimate by 15%. In 2010 incentive fees grew 18% and 1Q2010 was an easy comp, since incentive fees fell 7% YoY.
    • Fee revenue of $279MM came in $1MM below the low end of management’s original guidance
  • Owned, and leased, corporate housing and other revenue fell 11.5% below our estimate but margins came in $4MM higher. 
    • While MAR didn’t disclose the branding and termination fees in the quarter, they did attribute the increase in margins primarily to higher branding and termination fees which have 100% margins. Excluding those fees, we believe owned and leased margins would have been negative.
    • Owned gross margins of $20MM came in at the low end of management’s initial guidance
  • While timeshare contract sales were disappointing (and in our opinion, the most important indicator and predictor of business health), segment results managed to handily beat our expectations.  This is partly attributed to the elimination of losses from the residential and fractional business that dragged down comparative results in 1Q2010.
    • Segment results of $35MM came in at the low end of management’s initial guidance

 GUIDANCE: CAN YOU SAY BACK END LOADED?

 

Q2 2011:

  • RevPAR is largely in-line with street expectation
  • Guidance of $0.34-0.38 falls short of the Street’s $0.39.  Low end of that range is more likely in our opinion.

FY2011:

  • Guidance was largely unchanged aside from:
    • Fee revenue guidance as taken down by $5MM from prior guidance
    • “Compared to full year guidance issued in February 2011, the company expects stronger performance at European owned and leased hotels and higher termination fees, offset by a $10 million decline in results in Japan.”
    • Adjusted EBITDA $15MM lower
    • SG&A was $15MM higher

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CMG: ANOTHER IMPRESSIVE – ALBEIT IMPERFECT – QUARTER

Chipotle posted 1Q11 earnings after the market close.  Comps once again were strong, and EPS came in slightly above expectations.  Margin contraction, showing up for the first quarter since 4Q08, was what stood out most.

 

CMG once again topped street expectations, printing 1Q11 diluted earnings of $1.46 per share and 12.4% comparable restaurant sales growth versus consensus at $1.44 and 9.4% for EPS and comparable restaurant sales, respectively.  However, unlike the previous eight quarters, this 1Q11 raised some clear issues for the company: slowing sales trends and accelerating inflation.

 

Management maintained its prior guidance of 135-145 new restaurant openings for 2011 and an effective tax rate of approximately 38.3%, however, full year comparable restaurant sales growth guidance was raised to “mid-single digit growth” from “low single digit growth” a couple of months ago. 

 

 

Comparable-restaurant sales growth

 

As the chart below indicates, comparable restaurant sales grew 12.4% in 1Q11.  This implies sequential growth in the two-year average trend of 110 basis-points.  The comp was primarily driven by traffic during the quarter, with price adding 0.7%.  Also contributing to the top-line growth was an online promotion ran in conjunction with the America’s Next Great Restaurant television show where customers who viewed a video promotion could visit Chipotle and receive two burritos for the price of one.  In excess of a million customers visited Chipotle restaurants to redeem the offer.  Management estimated that the promotion, running for two weeks, added nearly 1% to the overall comp in 1Q.

 

While management raised guidance from “low” to “mid” single digit growth for the year, 1Q comparable restaurant sales growth was so far in excess of guidance that the increase in annual guidance does not alter my view on where comps will likely be for the remainder of the year.  Maintaining two-year average trends roughly flat with the trend in 1Q (excluding the online promotion) over the next three quarters implies a steep step-down in comparable restaurant sales growth over the remainder of the year. 

 

However, it is worth noting that assuming these two-year average trends going forward could prove aggressive.  The one-year comps required to such a trend would imply comparable restaurant sales growth of roughly 7% for the year.  Furthermore, management struck a cautious tone on the earnings call when addressing the top line.  Firstly, compares become progressively more difficult over the next three quarters, as management pointed out.  Secondly, most of the effective 0.7% price increase that was on the menu in 1Q rolls off during 2Q.  A price increase in the Pacific region stores, including California, of about 4.5% has brought menu prices there in line with the rest of the country.  The Pacific region has the highest cost of business for CMG than any other region.  Although prices have been increased in this market, management stressed that the company plans to wait until the third quarter to assess the impact of inflation and customer reactions to a possible price increase.

 

CMG: ANOTHER IMPRESSIVE – ALBEIT IMPERFECT – QUARTER - cmg pod 1 est

 

 

Inflationary headwinds starting to move the needle

 

Management maintained its cautious tone when transitioning to discussing costs.  Food costs are obviously front-and-center for restaurant companies at present but, given CMG’s largely unlocked commodity basket, the topic is particularly pertinent for this stock.  During the first quarter, food, beverage and packaging costs increased to 32% of sales (roughly 175 basis points year-over-year).  Sequentially, food costs increased approximately 100 basis points, as a percentage of sales, and management estimates that about 60 basis points of this was due to higher tomato and produce costs due to the freeze in Mexico and Florida.   The remaining 40 basis points relates to underlying inflation in items such as beef, chicken and avocados. 

 

While the effects of the freeze in Mexico and Florida will fade as we roll through the year, other factors will “more than offset” this benefit in the second quarter, according to management.  The most significant pressure that was highlighted was on avocados which, it was estimated, will add 50 to 60 basis points to food costs during 2Q due to a lower harvest than expected.

 

As the company considers its options on price in the third quarter, depending on how commodity costs impact margins over the summer months, it is important to note that the current growth in comparable restaurant sales is driven almost entirely by traffic.  The extent to which a price increase adversely impacts traffic will obviously require the close attention of management.   Clearly if management’s concerns around commodity costs are well-founded, the likeliness of a price increase seems to have heightened significantly since the 4Q10 earnings call.

 

One interesting aside is that corn prices, highlighted by CMG as a driver of meat prices during the 3Q10 earnings call, continue higher.  During the last earnings call corn was trading at $7 per bushel, currently the grain is trading at $7.43 per bushel. 

 

 

Labor cost uncertainty

 

Chipotle has generated plenty of headlines this year due to an ongoing federal investigation into the company’s hiring practices.  Clearly I do not know how that will flush out, but the hiring and retraining of new employees, immigration experts, improved software systems to monitor documentation of workers, and other related expenses are not likely to help labor margins.  It is encouraging to hear of new kitchen initiatives that will be margin accretive from an energy and labor perspective, but there is clearly some uncertainty surrounding the potential outcomes of the current investigation.  Management was reluctant to even address a “worst-case scenario” outcome of the labor scandal.

 

CMG: ANOTHER IMPRESSIVE – ALBEIT IMPERFECT – QUARTER - cmg pod2

 

 

Timing the 2011 Headwinds

 

During the 3Q10 earnings call, management stated that margins at CMG can be maintained “so long as we continue to see some comp growth – and we typically need something mid-single digit – generally with normal inflation”.  1Q11 saw margins roll decline year-over-year with a better-than-expected comparable sales number of +12.4%.  With a far tougher compare in 2Q (8.7% in 2Q10 versus 4.3% in 1Q10), comps will likely slow significantly and – as management highlighted – commodity pressures will almost certainly be greater.   I would expect 2Q food costs, as a percent of sales, to increase by 200-300 basis points versus the year prior. 

 

With slowing comparable restaurant sales and increasing costs, the decision to pass on price to the customer is a momentous one.  Management assumed a confident tone when assuring investors and analysts on the earnings call that Chipotle has pricing power, and that independent surveys support that view, but this is difficult to know until the price increase is implemented.  The impact may vary from market to market and much could depend on the macro environment at the time.  With gas prices and consumer confidence going in the wrong direction – up and down, respectively – it is certainly a risk.  Following  a couple of years of stellar performance and a seemingly teflon business model currently being awarded a 19.5x cash flow multiple by the street, CMG is playing a high-stakes game.

 

Howard Penney

Managing Director

 


Read-Throughs from Singapore's Upcoming Election

Conclusion: We expect recent concessions to help return the PAP to power with a sweeping majority. Moreover, we expect further sheltering of the Singaporean consumer/voter in the form of additional tightening via currency revaluation. Given, we remain bullish on the Singapore dollar for the intermediate-term TREND.

 

Position: Bullish on the Singapore Dollar for the intermediate-term TREND and long-term TAIL.

 

Yesterday, it was announced that Singapore will hold general elections on May 7, which came as a slight surprise to us, given that they could, in theory, be held anytime before February 2012. Less surprising, however, is Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President S.R. Nathan’s decision to dissolve parliament in an effort take advantage of Singapore’s robust 1Q11 economic growth rate(s) to subtly influence an increasingly less content voter base to re-elect their party to power.

 

This may turn out to be a shrewd move, given the consensus view of “uncertainty” surrounding the global economy. From our vantage point, however, there’s nothing uncertain about it – the dominant macro theme we’ve maintained since just before the beginning of the year is that “growth is slowing as inflation accelerates”. Our quantitative models have Singaporean GDP growth slowing in 2Q11 and the trend in Singaporean CPI accelerating into the early summer.

 

To a large extent, Singaporean officials agree with these forecasts; the central bank’s 2011 CPI estimate was recently revised up to the upper end of the 3%-4% range and the somewhat hasty call to hold the election in the next few weeks tells us that they think growth is setup to slow from here as well. At the bare minimum, they don’t have a near-term acceleration in their GDP forecast; if they did, they would’ve likely scheduled the election for a later date.

 

To protect their party’s current 46-year stranglehold of the city-state’s officialdom, the People’s Action Party (PAP) is doing what it can to “buy votes” in the form of cash handouts (see: February’s “Growth Dividend”) and accommodative rhetoric (see: recent immigration concessions). All in, 87 parliamentary seats will be contested in the upcoming vote; 82 are currently held by PAP lawmakers. Moreover, the party won the 2006 election with 67% of the vote – down from 75% in 2001. Any further erosion in their margin of victory could potentially force the PAP to favor more populist legislation, on the margin.

 

Regarding the key election issue of immigration specifically, the PAP has recently hinted that it would slow the intake of immigrants, which, on the margin, is bearish for Singapore’s long-term growth potential, given that tax incentives aimed at highly-educated foreigners have helped Singapore grow its population by nearly 20% in the last five years alone. On the flip side, disgruntled natives have made their complaints about crowded public transportation, increased competition for labor, and less prime housing availability as loud as ever in recent months. Accelerating consumer prices is also something the government will have to continue to address, likely through tighter monetary policy.

 

Net-net, we expect recent concessions to help return the PAP to power with a sweeping majority. Moreover, we expect further sheltering of the Singaporean consumer/voter in the form of additional tightening via currency revaluation. Given, we remain bullish on the Singapore dollar for the intermediate-term TREND – particularly against the USD, which is currently hinting at a crash in the coming months. Stay tuned.

 

Darius Dale

Analyst

 

Read-Throughs from Singapore's Upcoming Election - 2


Europe: Sweden Hikes Rate as PIIGS Tumble

Positions in Europe: Long British Pound (FXB)

 

Sweden raised its benchmark repo rate 25bps today to 1.75%, the sixth time since July 2010. Today’s hike further confirms the proactive policy measures taken by Sweden’s central bank (Riksbank) and government to in particular control inflation and spur investment. (Please see our note on 4/15 titled “Sweden in the Sweet Spot” for our fundamental take on the country).  The Swedish Krona reacted favorably to the hike, rallying against all major currencies this morning and to its strongest level against the USD since August ‘08!  As the chart below presents, we’ve seen associated strength in the Krona vs the USD with every rate hike since July 2010, a trend we’d largely expect to continue throughout the year.

 

Europe: Sweden Hikes Rate as PIIGS Tumble - Sweden1

 

 

-We continue to express the severe turn we’ve seen in the capital markets of Europe’s peripheral countries while also noting a slight negative inflection in the data from Europe’s larger (and fiscally sober) countries like Germany, France, and the Netherlands.

 

Yields Ramp for PIIGS

 

Today both Spain and Portugal issued debt. Recent weeks have shown a strong reversal in the trend we saw in early 2011 of PIIGS issuing debt at lower yields than previous auctions, largely a response to the commitment from China and Japan to buy European debt.

 

Spain sold €3.4 billion of treasury bonds at auction today and the 10YR yield jumped to 5.472% versus 5.162% in March. Interestingly, Portugal issued €320 million of six-month bills today at nearly the same yield as Spain’s 10YR, or 5.529% versus 5.117% on April 6.

 

The clear take-away here is the risk premium imbedded in owning Portugal’s debt, which should continue to heighten as the size and structure of an EU/IMF-led bailout of Portugal remains at large, and given the election results in Finland that saw the euro skeptic/anti-bailout parties take voting share (for more see our post on 4/18 “European Risk Monitor: Peripheral Risk Pops as Finnish Elections Inflect”). As a calendar catalyst to monitor, the expectation is for a bailout of Portugal in mid-May, ahead of the June 5 election date set by the current interim government.

 

A familiar chart of 10YR bond yields of the PIIGS (below) continues to be telling of the debt refinancing headwinds these countries are bumping against. Greece’s 10YR hockey stick yield is now at 14.65%!

 

Europe: Sweden Hikes Rate as PIIGS Tumble - yieldsheut

 

 

Data Drag

 

Yesterday Reuters issued its initial April reading of Manufacturing and Services PMI for Germany, France and the Eurozone. A notable call-out is the inflection in the German Services PMI number, registering 57.7 in April versus 60.1 in March.  We called for the German Services number to mean revert in a post titled “Germany’s Marginal Turn” on 4/12, with the tag-line that the 60 line is a historically heavy resistance level.  Eurozone Services also declined month-over-month, falling to 56.9 in April versus 57.2 in March.

 

We think the inflection in some of the high frequency data is a reflection of the marginal slowing in European growth expectations (especially in Germany) and that the slight dip or deceleration in consumer and business confidence reflects inflationary pressures and continued macro volatility, including sovereign debt contagion in Europe, instability in MENA and around Japan’s nuclear reactor(s) and rebuild, and US political indecision regarding its debt and weak USD policy.

 

Of note, tomorrow we get German business expectations from the IFO survey. The March figure turned down to 106.5 vs 107.9 in February. We think we’re likely to get a lower April figure.

 

 

Currency Positioning

 

We have a positive bias on both the EUR and GBP versus the USD due primarily to USD weakness. Due to the strong daily push/pull headline risk in Europe on the common currency, we view the EUR-USD as a trade to monitor on a daily basis. That said, we have a bullish immediate term outlook on the EUR-USD, with TRADE levels at $1.42 - $1.45, and think that Portugal, like Greece and Ireland, will be bailed out by the EU/IMF, which is increasingly being priced in.

 

The Bank of England continues to signal a hawkish stance on interest rates, however has not come off its 0.50% benchmark rate. The most recent BoE minutes show 6 votes against to 3 votes for a rate hike. Importantly, BoE head King recognizes inflationary threats to the economy, a position ignored by Ben Bernanke at the Fed, and in our opinion a major dislocating factor feeding USD weakness.

 

Besides our long position in the British Pound (FXB), we have no other current European country or currency position in the Hedgeye Virtual Portfolio. We covered our short position in Spain (EWP) on weakness on 4/18 for a TRADE, but remain bearish on the country’s outlook over the long-term TAIL.

 

Matthew Hedrick

Analyst


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