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Great Numbers. Don't Get Used To It.


Not much negative to say about today’s sales numbers.  Even though we can say “yeah, everybody was expecting June to be great,” the fact of the matter is that retail is trading up nearly 3x the rest of the market.  


On one hand, we need to look back to May, where the number of misses outweighed the number of beats by a factor of 2 to 1. With that, we’d argue that company-set expectations were on the low side. But on the flip side, we cannot ignore the fact that actual sales activity (which could care less about expectations) accelerated on a 1, 2 and 3-year basis.


Staying true to our process, anytime we get new datapoints we need to go back, challenge and stress test our thesis. That thesis – which we’ve been quite vocal about – is that margins will be down 4.5 points for the industry for 2H11 into 2012, and that this is not represented in estimates.  


When all is said and done, our answer is that there’s no change to our thesis. We’re still negative on this group, and as more bears throw in the towel, we think that it’s a better shot to short bad businesses at better prices.


Why? As we outline below (our Retail Fuel note from Tuesday), 2H10 saw a meaningful improvement in the Consumer’s bill of health (not cured, but out of the ICU). Average weekly earnings rose materially, unemployment – though still high -- posted a 150bp improvement in its delta. And despite the fact that raw material prices were going ballistic, it wasn’t represented in the price of the product that we buy at the mall or online. In 2H11, we’re unlikely to see the same improvement in unemployment – in fact the yy delta has started to erode. Inventories at retail are rising out of necessity, as retailers simply cannot grow their respective top lines anymore after 3 years of taking down inventories to unsustainable levels. Most importantly, these inventories will represent the raw material costs we started to see in 4Q of last year.  Are there companies who are ‘locked in’ at better prices? Yes. But that’s the most common rebuttal I hear about our JCP call. Margins have two components, my friends. When a company thinks that they’re ok because of certainty on the cost side, that’s when we should worry. Costs are manageable. Lower demand, stiffer competition, and forced promotional activity to clear inventories are not. With 9 out of 10 earnings misses, it is the latter that spurs the guide-down.


SSS Callouts: 

  • The higher-end luxury stores continue to outperform. Within the department stores, JCP +2%, SSI +1.8%, and BONT -0.9% underperformed the higher-end with Neimans up +12.5%, Saks +11.9%, JWN +7.9%, M +6.7%.
  • Discounters were again the strongest performing segment of retail for the fifth consecutive month as expected against easier compares on a relative basis a trend that reverses in July. Additionally, the 2-year trends by channel reflect a significant contraction in the performance spread suggesting that the value gap present in recent months may be deteriorating putting significant pressure on margins in the process.
  • JCP was the clear negative callout coming in below expectations. While the rest of the retail reported strong June sales, JCP cited a softer environment resulting in higher promotional activity. Brand highlights were scant for the second consecutive month with Sephora the key callout and a mention of Liz Claiborne as a strong driver in women’s apparel. Internet sales continue to slow sequentially to 2.2% from 2.8% in May. Inventories remain a primary callout. After failing to mention inventories altogether last month, the company noted levels are “appropriate for expected sales trends,” a comment that holds little credibility made in the same month the company just missed expectations.
  • Category performance shifted towards a higher propensity for discretionary spending in the quarter with more retailers highlighting jewelry and accessories (SKS, JCP, COST, SSI, ROST, KSS). Consistent with last month, grocery/food was highlighted as the top performing category at both COST and TGT in addition to positive mention at BJs. Women’s apparel (JCP, COST, ROST, KSS, TJX) was another particularly strong category during June.
  • TGT was one of the standouts in June coming in well above expectations with comps accelerating on both a 1yr and 2yr basis driven by continued strength in the critical grocery category. We continue to expect a reacceleration in the top-line over the next 12-months. The sole question mark for us revolves around how much of this is driven by the 5% Rewards program, or an increased shift to consumables (P-Fresh). Fortunately, the extreme bearishness we come across on the Street is thinking the same. After being negative on TGT for most of the past year, we continue to incrementally warm up to it.
  • COST confirmed that inflation continues to creep higher with both fresh foods and food and sundries both now up in the MSD range. Gas also contributed just over +3% and +3.8% to SSS for both COST and BJ respectively. Our view is that this will continue to add to the pain as the retailers choose to capture consumables inflation costs at the expense of discretionary product margins. (i.e can’t take up price on milk, eggs, and chicken – so look to extract margin in categories like underwear, shirts, toys, etc…).
  • Weekly trends were largely positive across all five weeks with few individual callouts. Due to the timing of Independence Day, which added an extra selling day COST highlighted a 2%-3% benefit in June and the expectation for a negative 3%-4% impact in July.
  • On a regional basis, results were consistently strong across the Northeast (GPS, Neiman, TJX, KSS, JCP) and Southeast (BJ, Neiman, SSI, COST, JWN) with Texas receiving several callouts alone from ROST, COST, and Neimans. Similar to last month, the Midwest was the most varied with TGT, KSS, SSI, and COST noting stronger sales while GPS and TJX highlighted weaker trends likely driven by specific geographic exposure to floods and tornadoes that occurred in June.

Great Numbers. Don't Get Used To It. - SSS Total 7 11


Great Numbers. Don't Get Used To It. - SSS Comps 1yrChan 7 11


Great Numbers. Don't Get Used To It. - SSS Comps 2yrChan 7 11


"Retail Fuel" (7/5/11)

For further context, here's our note from Tuesday:


Before looking forward, let’s set the context as to where we stand today, and what we’ve been fed over the past year at a Macro level.  


As important as things like weather and calendar shifts are, let’s start off with a couple of bigger picture points about the Macro climate ‘then versus now.’

  1. Gross Personal Income was running at about 2.5% compared to about 4.5% today. That’s a function of slightly lower unemployment and marginally higher nominal wage. (positive point)
  2. The two main levers that account for the delta between Gross Income and Personal Consumption pretty much wash each other out.
    1. The consolidated personal tax rate has risen above 10% vs 9.1% this time last year. (negative point)
    2. The personal savings rate, which had been running at 6.1%, has since trended back to 5%.
  3. When we look at what we call ‘essential spending’ (food, energy, healthcare), we’ve seen growth go from 2.6% last year up in nearly a straight line to around 4.3% today.
  4. All that’s left goes into the ‘discretionary spend’ bucket which is far more volatile.  This stood at a healthy 7.5% a year-ago – a level that remains today (at least for now).
  5. Based on our read out of POS data (NPD, SportscanINFO), sales for the month of June were pretty much middle of the road. Apparel decelerated over the course of the month, albeit still positive. Footwear unit growth accelerated, though it the direct result of slightly lower price points. Overall there are nit picks here and there, but the trend overall is unremarkable.

What’s Next?

  1. We think that sales day will be another domino to tip as it relates to giving additional datapoints to the Street about margin weakness – especially as it relates to earnings season beginning for the vendors in 2 weeks. This has been our call (4.5 Below – 450bos of margin weakness beginning in 2H) and we’re sticking with it.
  2. The consumer’s top line – believe it or not – strengthened materially beginning in July of last year. Personal income growth accelerated over 3% -- -and hasn’t looked back. Now we go against that in 2H. Perhaps it stays at that level. But our point is that the yy delta helped out so many in retail – and that’s no longer there.
  3. Could we get a few bps of tax relief to buoy spending? Maybe. But not over 100bp. It’s simply not there – even with the political calendar heating up.
  4. Is the consumer going to draw the personal savings rate back down to 2-3% to free up a few points of spending? It’s possible – especially given US consumer spending habits. This is the biggest area where we could be wrong with our call in 2H. But that will make the setup for 1H12 very grim – i.e. low taxes, trough savings rate, with interest rates nowhere to go but up. That’s the ultimate defensive position for the consumer.
  5. Check out the weekly average earnings chart below. There was a whole lot of nothing until May 2010, until growth accelerated meaningfully – peaking in October, and remained at healthy levels throughout year-end. We’ve got to comp against this.



We all know that ‘the cotton trade is dead.’ That’s been the consensus for 7 months now. But we still think that the ‘earnings trade’ is very much alive. Remember that cotton, oil and other raw materials generally have a 9-12 month lead time. That means that what is selling today was procured last summer/early fall of last year. That’s precisely when costs started their precipitous ascent. We’ll have to deal with this for the next year at a minimum. Likely longer. We still don’t think we’re looking at a recovery until 2013 in this space.

Governor Carney Will Stop the Inflation Puck

Conclusions:  The prudent Governor Carney of the Bank of Canada will continue to raise rates, which should lead to strength in the Loonie versus the U.S. Dollar, especially given the Fed’s Indefinitely Dovish policy.


Position: Long the Canadian dollar (FXC).


Last week we wrote an Early Look note titled, “Pax Canadiana”.  While the title was in some jest given that the note was written on July 1st, or Canada Day, it did lay out some key long term trends that will drive Canadian economic growth for decades to come.  Interestingly, the trend of global warming (even if just cyclical), is a key component of this as it will attract immigrants and broaden Canada’s agriculture markets.  While these long term trends will likely support the Canadian dollar over the coming decades, in the short term the facts that underscore our long position in the Loonie are simply: higher interest rates, fiscal health, and economic stability.


In contrast to many central bankers around the world, Governor Mark Carney of Canada is actually widely respected by his fellow countrymen.  In fact, a recent poll in the Canadian version of Reader’s Digest actually ranked Carney as the Most Trusted Canadian.  From our perspective, while we are a little concerned that he is a former back-up goalie from Harvard, we actually believe he is a pragmatist that will do the right thing as it relates to inflation.


Earlier this year in a speech in Calgary to the Inter-American Development Bank, Governor Carney made the following comments:


Monetary policy has to deal with inflationary pressures first and foremost . . . . There are undoubtedly downside risks in the global economy. But if one is dominated by those short-term risks, then you're not going to do the things that are necessary to rebalance the global economy and to sustain it over the mid-to-long term."


In this statement, and other public statements, Carney has been crystal clear about his marching orders, which are first and foremost to stop inflation.  Indeed, he has actually followed through on his mission and has raised interest rates three times in the last year, though the Bank of Canada has been on hold since September of 2010. 


Below we’ve charted Canadian CPI going back a year, which highlights the recent acceleration of inflation in Canada.  In May, Canadian CPI was +3.7%, an acceleration from April at 3.3% and a three month high.   While gasoline was a major component of this increase, CPI ex-gasoline was still up 2.4% in May versus 2.2% in April ex-gasoline.   Given that the Bank of Canada’s target is to keep inflation in the midpoint of a 1 – 3% range, it seems unlikely that the Bank of Canada will be on hold much longer.  In terms of catalysts, the next monetary policy decision dates are July 19th, September 7th, and October 25th.


Governor Carney Will Stop the Inflation Puck - 1


From a fiscal perspective, we are comfortable being long the Loonie given the relative fiscal health of Canada versus, really, much of the Western world.  In fact, Canada has the lowest debt-to-GDP and deficit-to-GDP ratios in the G-8.  Further, the current Canadian budget is expected to be balanced by 2015. The difference in these metrics versus the United States is simply staggering.  Currently, there is no credible plan in place to ever balance the U.S. budget.  So, from a relative fiscal health perspective the Loonie continues to look very compelling.


Finally, while there can be no doubt that the Canadian economy is inextricably tied to the U.S. economy  (estimates suggest that the U.S. accounts for more than 70% of Canadian exports and more than 60% of Canada imports), the economies are showing some recent decoupling.  In the two charts below, we show this in both GDP and unemployment.  For the first time in forty years, Canadian unemployment is lower than American unemployment, and has been sustainably.  Further, Canadian GDP growth is beginning to outpace American economic growth rates.


Governor Carney Will Stop the Inflation Puck - 2


Governor Carney Will Stop the Inflation Puck - 3


In summation, the collective confluence of a healthier economy, solid fiscal healthy, and a prudent Central Banker who is focused on fighting inflation, should lead to a strong Loonie both against the U.S. Dollar and general currency baskets.


Daryl G. Jones

Director of Research

ECB Hikes 25bps; Trichet Folds Portugal Further into Socialized ECB Framework

Positions in Europe: Long Germany (EWG); Covered Spain yesterday (EWP)

Today the ECB announced that its Main Refinancing Rate would be raised 25bps to 1.50%, yet the attention of the press conference that followed was focused squarely on the implications of Moody’s credit downgrade of Portugal to junk (on Tuesday) and the fiscal states of Greece et al that teeter on default.


What’s our take-away from today meeting?  From Trichet’s comments it’s increasingly clear just how far the ECB (or more broadly Troika that includes the IMF and EU group) is willing to step in to subsidize member nations, either in the form of borrowing from the ECB, through additional bailout packages, and/or concessions on debt repayments to avoid the nasty words of default/restructuring at all costs. [And this should act as a support for the EUR vs major currencies over the near to intermediate term, more below on our levels].


Importantly, today Trichet announced that Portugal would join the club of Greece and Ireland that have special privileges to post debt that is rate junk as collateral when borrowing from the ECB window. Questions quickly turned to the possibility that any or all of the main credit rating agencies could rate a peripheral country’s credit “in default”, while Trichet states that a default of any member nation is not possible.


The rub here is an obvious one, especially considering that credit ratings agencies have already stated that under their technical definitions a rating of “default” would be issued if any sovereign debt is restructured (or re-profiled). And as we know, over recent days plans have been floated from France and Germany to voluntarily “restructure” the Greek debt holdings of its banks, including by extending repayment on shorter term paper (5 years or less) to 30 year maturities. Hummm….


It’s important to note that while the ECB’s official mandate is to regulate price stability, preservation of the Eurozone remains the ECB’s highest call, yet the disconnect is that no European central authority has control over the fiscal policy of any member nation. This leads to a game of finger pointing between the ECB and individual governments over fiscal consolidation (or austerity programs) to fix grossly imbalanced budgets, that is compounded by the downgrades in a country's credit rating by the agencies, all of which erodes investor confidence, exacerbates contagion and leads to the game of providing short-term fiscal band-aids to one country after the next, before seconds are handed out after they creep up once again.


With respect to the volatility that a downgrade from a credit rating can have on a country, just yesterday in Berlin Finance Minister Schaeuble said there's a need to "break up" the dominance of the big three rating companies, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called for an independent European rating company to be set up. This debate is in the early innings, yet it's important to note that push back on the big three is being voiced by a major player like Germany.


Inflation Fighting

Returning to the only agenda that Trichet really wanted to speak of, the 25bp hike should help mitigate some of the inflationary pressures the region has seen over the intermediate term. Eurozone CPI in June measured 2.7% year-over-year, above the Bank’s mandate of the 2% level. We’re calling for the ECB to be on hold for further hikes into year-end as Deflation of the Inflation plays out global, but particularly in the US and Europe as comps get more favorable and energy and food costs come in.



As we noted above, Troika has made it very clear that it will backstop any European country that faces the threat of a default/restructuring.  This, we believe, is a critical point that should lend support to the common currency. Yet as we get incrementally more bullish on the USD, we’ll be focused on the intermediate term TREND line (3 months or more) of $1.43, a critical momentum line that the pair is just holding above intraday.  Below we chart our TRADE levels (3 weeks or less) on the EUR-USD, which is $1.41 to $1.45.


ECB Hikes 25bps; Trichet Folds Portugal Further into Socialized ECB Framework - EUR CHART HEUT



To say the least, we’re very cautious on owning European countries on the long or short sides. To the latter, we think there’s more downside from here for the capital markets of the periphery. We remain long Germany (via the etf EWG) in the Hedgeye Virtual Portfolio, a position that has worked well for us over the last two years. We’re however cautious on Germany as the high frequency data has slowed in recent months and contagion, even for a fiscally sober country like Germany, is a pressing threat. The DAX has outperformed the S&P500 for the balance of the year, at 8.2% YTD. We covered our short position in Spain (EWP) yesterday. 


Matthew Hedrick



More comments by the Transportation Secretary but let’s be realistic.



We were just in Macau last week, a few days after Transportation Secretary Lau Si lo made his first comments regarding MPEL to stick to its original 2008 plans for Macau Studio City.  Well, Mr. Lau made some more comments that seem to be spooking investors this morning.


While there may be concern among US investors, there doesn’t seem to be much concern in Macau.  It is our understanding that the government approached many of the operators about taking over the project and gave assurances about gaming tables at the site.  Lawrence Ho and MPEL had first dibs on the project and they took it.  Would they really buy out ESun and commit capital to this project without a casino?  Come on.


We think the government is just publicly showing its power.  They certainly want to retain most of the original plan since it contained many appealing entertainment options and want to ensure those get developed.  MPEL is completely on board with the original design including the Studio.  The government is smart enough to know that MSC doesn’t get done without a casino.


Q2 looks very strong for MPEL and we are expecting a significant beat over consensus EBITDA of $146 million.  As much as $180 million is possible in our opinion.  We will have a better estimate after we go through the June property detail we just received this morning.


Initial Claims Remain Elevated

Initial jobless claims fell 10k last week (14k after the revision) to 418k.  Rolling claims edged down by 3k to 423k.  This week's decline keeps rolling claims in the same band they've occupied for the last eight weeks, still far from the levels required to see unemployment improve.  


On a separate note, USA Today noted earlier in the week that regulators are increasing the pressure to combat fraudulent claims.  The Labor Department estimated that 12% of claims were fraudulent in the 12 months ended March 2011, up from 11% the prior year and roughly 9% in 2008.  Increased scrutiny of these claims could result in a small reduction in the level of claims going forward.   














Bankruptcies Fall 5% YoY in June

Bankruptcy data shows that consumer filings fell 5% YoY in June (compared to -16% YoY in May).  Lower bankruptcies are a positive signal for net charge-offs, since credit card debt is charged-off when a borrower declares bankruptcy without ever being marked as delinquent.




Bankruptcies are not far out of line with their long-term average levels, as the chart below demonstrates.  (The law change in 2005 pulled bankruptcies forward dramatically; this data is shown with a break in the y-axis.)




Spreads Widen Slightly to Begin 3Q

The 2-10 spread, which we track as a proxy for bank margins, widened 5 bps in the first week of the quarter.  






Financial Subsector Performance

The chart below shows the price performance of subsectors over four durations.




Joshua Steiner, CFA


Allison Kaptur


Notable news items and price action from the restaurant space, as well as our fundamental view on select names.




This morning, jobless claims were above 400k yet again, coming in at 418k.  While this was in line with consensus at 420k, it shows that the employment scenario is still far, far away from improving meaningfully.  4-week rolling claims declined slightly week-over-week but remain elevated at 425k. 


TALES OF THE TAPE: KKD, SBUX, MCD, CPKI - jobless claims77



Wheat prices dropped again yesterday as U.S. weather improved and Russia moved to resume its exports.



  • KKD’s largest holder Mohamed Abdulmohsin Al Kharafi & Sons files form 144; registers to sell 2.3M shares.
  • SBUX was downgraded at Goldman Sachs to Neutral from the Conviction List.  YUM was downgraded to sell on China uncertainty while the restaurant space was downgraded to Neutral from “Attractive” on valuation.
  • SBUX price target was target raised at Credit Suisse to $46 from $44. FY11 EPS lowered to $1.54 from $1.55 v. Reuters $1.50 and FY12 EPS reduced to $1.92 from $1.97 v. Reuters $1.80.
  • SBUX Baristas at outlets in Chile plan to strike on Thursday because their wages are so low that they cannot afford to buy lunch, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. This would mark the first strike at a Starbucks-owned store in Chile.
  • MCD is rated Buy by Bank of America, the price target was raised to $96 from $85.


  • CPKI’s acquirer, Golden Gate Capital, has completed the tender offer for California Pizza Kitchen.




Howard Penney

Managing Director


Rory Green


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