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Our upside target level for the S&P 500 in the near term is 1030.64 provided that the index can hold above 952. We remain 75% cash and 25% equities but will look to selectively increase our equity position if the S&P 500 remains above our support level through the week.

Current volatility has forced us to keep our target levels exceptionally wide. To put the present situation in historical context we calculated the intraday spread between low and high for the cash S&P as a percentage of the prior session’s close since November of 1984: 34.21% of all days with moves that exceeded 5% were in calendar 2008 and 31.58% were in sessions after September 17th of this year.

PS -For those who are superstitious: 55.26% of moves that were 5% or greater happened on days in the month of October.

Andrew Barber

SBUX - Coffee Advertising Wars

Over the next 12-months Starbucks will be forming a new advertising strategy – they have no choice. Starbucks is a great brand and the world needs to hear it. Unfortunately, this is real weakness fir the company. In fact, SBUX’s most recent AD agency told the company they don’t want to do business with them anymore.

Yesterday, Dunkin’ Donuts fired a shot at Starbucks by saying that it beat SBUX in a recent national blind taste test (for more details, visit www.dunkinbeatstarbucks.com), and SBUX has no real way of responding. I’m sure management at Starbucks doesn’t feel the need to respond, but the company needs to be on TV reassuring customers what the brand stands for.

At some point in 2009, MCD will be on TV talking about the company’s coffee initiative. Taken together McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts will be spending a significant amount of money promoting their respective brands. Starbucks can’t sit on the side lines. Going forward the Starbucks brand will need to have a competitive voice in the advertising world.

Lastly a small, global coffee icon is starting to accelerate its growth plans. The Juan Valdez Cafe chain is now selling coffee at 101 stores across Colombia, as well as stores in New York, Seattle, Philadelphia, Santiago, and Spain. According to press reports the company plans to add 500 more shops across the U.S., Latin America and Europe by 2010.

Taking The Shots

“You’ll miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”
-Wayne Gretzky

After seeing Warren Buffett quote Gretzky last week, I guess the barn doors have been opened for we men of the ice to start quoting the man they call “The Great One” in investment letters! Life is definitely too short not to take the shots. Amen.

Some people opted to move to cash, at the market’s bottom. Clearly, they wanted out of the game when most did. We don’t need to pay them 2 and 20 for that. If you want to be in this game, you better have a process. We have one that allowed us to take our shots buying stocks on October the 10th when they “V” bottomed. The SP500’s intraday low was 839 and the closing price for the history books found the back of the net at 899. From the intraday low to yesterday’s closing high of 985, “Mr. Market” has given us a plump +17.4% gain. From that closing low to closing high, the SP500 has issued us a +9.6% return in 6 trading days. If you don’t “trade”, maybe these moves aren’t of interest. Or are they?

Stylistically, it has always fascinated me to hear how different investors in this business are this type of guy or that type of gal. “Value”, “Growth”, “Momentum”, “Butterfly Wing Nut”… it’s all out there. We’re in the business of being the guys and gals who are right. Do your own research. Be your own process. Sell high, buy low. This is only as complicated as you are pretending to make it.

We fortuitously covered a lot of our shorts in the morning yesterday. In the last week, we have covered many of our country ETFs (India, Japan, Austria), and locked in gains on our higher beta shorts. Days like yesterday, with the SP500 +4.8%, and Chinese ETFs trading 2x that beta, can wreak havoc on portfolios that have beta mismatch. In English, that means you think you are hedged, but your shorts have higher betas than your longs, and they squeeze you to the point of not being able to realize a positive return on an up day. It used to happen to me all the time. Trust me, it sucks.

Math is a wonderful thing. It allows us to manage away from embedded portfolio risks like beta mismatching. It also helps us monitor sentiment in a more systematic way. Yesterday’s move in both volatility and credit spreads were critical macro factors that had us move to a longer position in the morning. The VIX (volatility index) closed at 52.95 yesterday - that’s a 24% drop from where we started buying stocks! You don’t need a PhD in math to know that that matters. Nor do you need one to realize that the TED spread (3mth Treasuries vs. 3mth LIBOR) has narrowed by almost 150 basis points in the last 6 trading days. Combined, these factors are very bullish.

This morning, rather than spend your time reading the Wall Street Journal’s page 1 article about “China’s slowdown less likely to stave off a world recession”, I think you are best served to proactively monitor the global factors at work within this increasingly interconnected global market place. I guess yesterday’s history report woke someone at News Corp up to the fact that China has slowed – hello, “McFly”, yesterday’s GDP report was the 5th consecutive quarter of slowing. This is not new. Markets are discounting mechanisms of future events, not historical ones. China has already lost almost 70% of its value from this time last year.

Yesterday, we issued an intraday note to our ‘Research Edge’ Macro clients titled “Chinese GDP Outlook: Are We Bullish Enough” (www.researchedgellc.com, 10/20), and I guess it’s only fitting that this note was effectively the antithesis of the WSJ’s this morning. It would be hard to be as bearish as we were on Asia 9 months ago, so now we get to be that guy who is annoying the shorts, rather than being the bear annoying the bulls. This business is only as complicated as you want to make it. Sell high, buy low.

Our SP500 model remains in a negative intermediate “Trend” position, but is building positive immediate term “Trade” momentum. Provided that the SP500 can hold and close about the 952.11 line, it’s still safe to be partially invested in US stocks. Our math says that the US market has another +6% upside from yesterday’s close. As prices and fundamental data points change, we will. This complex system of market factors maintains an underlying simplicity in its behavior. Rather than arguing about whether you are a “value” or “growth” guy, now is definitely a good time to consider the guys and gals who have a process that’s allowing them to take the shots, and score.

Best of luck out there today,

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India: "The I in BRIC"

A surprise rate cut is too little too late…

The Reserve Bank of India’s rate cut today sparked a rally in the Indian equity markets that quickly lost steam as the session continued. The rate cut indicates that newly installed governor Duvvuri Subbarao is focused on preventing a further growth slowdown, rather than staving off inflationary pressures. Although the recent WPI figures have shown signs of a slowing trajectory and commodity prices have collapsed, inflation is in double digit territory year-over-year and further declines in the rupee, caused by this rate cut, will only increase inflation.

In addtion, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is laying the ground work for increased public spending in an attempt to maintain favorable public opinion in the face of deteriorating economic circumstances. Supported by leftists in parliament he intends to launch $49 Billion in additional rural work programs and subsidies. In our view, this proprosed dramatic expanding of government programs can only have a negative impact on the Indian economy, longer term.

We continue to have a short bias on India’s stock market and will re-short the India Fund (IFN) if it reaches our immediate term target of $23.65. This assumes that we will be able to short Indian stocks. The Indian media is reporting that regulators there are examining the practice of short selling of Indian securities by foreign investors and have asked all FIIs to disclose their stock loan practices.

Ah – there’s nothing quite like a socialist bureaucracy, is there!

Andrew Barber


Global Coffee Prices spun into a nose dive in the late 80’s after the collapse of the International Coffee Agreement. As major US household brands like Sara Lee and Kraft shifted rapidly to lower quality Robusta and other cheaper grades South East Asian producers began to ramp up production dramatically. Nowhere was this more pronounced than in Vietnam, which is among the largest global suppliers today after less than a decade of rapidly increasing export levels.

Prices for Vietnamese exporters have fallen dramatically over the past month, with the Vietnam Coffee and Cocoa association reporting average levels of $1,700 USD per metric ton vs. $2,500 in February. Anecdotal reports suggest that there has been a pronounced decrease in buyers from Western Europe and the US combined with a sudden collapse of credit facilities for local brokers and traders.

Vietnam’s presence as a low cost provider complicates the global coffee picture. Although they are primarily producing the less desired Robusta variety they have tremendous capacity and miniscule labor costs.

Andrew Barber


The report from the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Columbia cites an anticipated cyclical decrease in Brazilian production as Brazilian coffee fields enter the less productive second year of their two year grow cycle and an expected 2% increase in global consumption that they predict will cause a shortfall of as much as 10 million bags (down from an estimated 7 million bag surplus for this year). Put simply, Columbian growers are betting that the recent explosion in premium grade coffee consumption in markets like China will continue as the availability to consumers increases despite a weaker economic situation. This sounds like a decent assumption to us based on historical precedents –in periods of economic and political turmoil, coffee drinkers in western nations have proven to be resilient and resourceful, but we still view bullish reports from producer associations with a degree of suspicion.
  • Longer term, South American academics warn of potential production declines as rising fertilizer costs have seen independent farmers skimping in recent cycle. Agricultural experts say that the full consequences could be felt in crop yields in 2010 and 2011. In Brazil a report from the Cooperaiso coffee cooperative suggests that fertilizer sales are likely to fall by 20% over this crop year because of price levels, while the Columbian Government has earmarked subsidy funds to try and prevent declines in use by farmers there.
  • Andrew Barber

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