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INVESTNG IN THE DELTA

“Go west young man” – John Soule, 1851

Horace Greeley may not have coined this phrase but he certainly popularized it. That was in the second half of the 19th century. The first half of the 21st century is a very different time. My advice to our junior generation would be to “Go East Young PERSON” or at least look Eastward. One has to be politically correct here in the west, but not in China where capitalism is not an evil word.

So if you’re a young capitalist, go where you can be you. There is no shortage of opportunities. As reported by the China Daily there is a paucity of individuals with global financial experience, particularly in the investment arena. Shanghai banks are looking to Wall Street to fill that void.

I’m not suggesting China is actually a freer economy than the USA, yet. But on the margin, we are moving more towards socialism and China is moving the right way. Yes, China is an authoritarian regime and no, the country is not free.

But we invest in deltas here at Research Edge and the China delta is now positive. Keith was on the correct side of the China trade for most of this year and I’ve been negative on Macau, but when facts change, we change. One theme you will be hearing from us is China’s transformation from an industrial based economy to one that is based on consumption. Singapore made this transition and now generates per capita consumption 15x the rate of China. Now that is a huge potential delta.

In my narrow world of gaming, lodging, and leisure, it’s the Pearl River Delta that matters. Macau resides on this Delta and will continue to benefit from the capitalist delta sparking mainland China. One casino market, serving over a billion people with rapidly rising incomes and a cultural propensity to gamble; if there is one other gaming market with a decent growth profile, I’d like to know.

Here in the US, notwithstanding the recent government interference in our free markets, I see many signs of a leftward economic shift in our country. Not to be outdone by the free spending Bush administration and Republican congress, Democrats will have their own agenda to pursue, rather easily under Obama I might add. Get ready for a curbing of free trade, windfall taxes on profitable industries, higher overall taxes and even more spending, nationalized healthcare, government interference in mortgage contracts, equal pay legislation, onerous environmental restrictions, prescription drug controls, higher minimum wage, etc.

I’m making a purely economic argument. I’ll leave the discussion of whether there are social benefits that may accrue from some or all of those initiatives to Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly to argue about. What I can say with some certainty is that a socialist agenda is bad for business, it’s bad for the economy, and it’s bad for the stock market.

Two other items I haven’t mentioned yet are more near and dear to my sectors: regulation and union power. Look, I’m all for regulation. Regulation of the government, that is. We could’ve used that earlier this decade with Fannie and Freddie but that was thwarted at every turn by Barney Frank-Lin Raines and “their” band of “ownership society” boosters, Democrats and Republicans alike.

The union issue is a big one, although I don’t know if executives and investors fully grasp it. We have written extensively on the prospects and ramifications of “The Employee Free Choice Act”. People don’t know this but the original name was “The Act To Eliminate The Cornerstone Of Our Democracy: The Secret Ballot”. That was too long so I see why they went with the shorter name.

Unions will prosper under Democratic control and “The Act” is a major tool of that newfound prosperity. The Employee Free Choice Act will be at the top of the 2009 legislative agenda. It will pass and it will affect businesses, particularly consumer businesses. In an environment with declining consumer spending, higher labor costs will deliver a near fatal blow to many companies.

The choice seems pretty clear. One can invest in a socializing market priced for capitalism or a capitalizing market priced for socialism. I think you know where we stand.
Originally posted on the Hedgeye's Early Look portal

COLM: Key Market Share Trends

Per my prior post, here are supporting charts showing key trends.

1) Total athletic apparel is hardly knocking the cover off the ball, but is at a flattish rate versus -20-30% 3 months ago.

2) Outerwear has started off the year better than last year at retail – without price point degradation.

3) Footwear (17% of sales) remains a disaster.

COLM: Risk/Reward Is Shaping Up Nicely

Here’s some irony for you… Yesterday I was in my office reviewing top line and cash flow trajectories for all the companies I track in retail. One that stood out to me as a potential positive inflection was Columbia Sportswear. No, the irony is not that I’ve been a perpetual bear on this model, but that about an hour later Keith (who has the uncanny ability to call key stock levels on a massive number of tickers) sent me an email saying ‘COLM looks like a lay-up under $30 – long side.’

Mark my words, COLM WILL miss the quarter and management WILL guide down. I’m at $1.75 for 2H08 EPS vs. the Street at $2.01. But with short interest at an all time high of 33% of the float, do you think that just MAYBE the market knows this?

Also, I like the fact that trends in the channel are picking up for COLM at a point when the company is just beginning to anniversary 4 quarters of extremely tough EBIT margin compares. It is gaining share on the margin from VFC’s The North Face, and its US Outdoor division (36% of sales and nearly 50% of cash flow) has picked up since COLM last issued guidance. The kicker for me is the P&L compares are so rough, in part, due to a meaningful increase in SG&A spend to up the ante on product and marketing – something I have long knocked this company for. SG&A ratio will have gone from 28% to 34% over 3 years. That’s the exact level that this company needs to kick start growth.

If I assume that EBITDA is down another 20% in 2009, I get to sub-7% margins and a 5.6x EBITDA multiple. That’s not cheap relative to some other names in the space (esp one with 22% of sales in Europe), but with margins having gone from 16% to 7% over 3 years as COLM repeatedly shot itself in the foot, I think that the risk/reward is starting to point higher as it relates to cash flow. Heck, at this point a simple factor like a cooler than expected winter would get the cash flowing.

Please see our COLM margin walk below for detail on the progression of key P&L components. See our follow up post for key market share trends in key categories.

Early Look

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SEA CHANGE: HONG KONG TRIMS YUAN HOLDINGS

History and geography have always led Hong Kong’s merchants to be pragmatic traders. Invasion, colonial rule, war and natural disasters have been reoccurring themes over the course of five centuries of almost uninterrupted trade on the Island. This trade resilience is a testament to remarkable timing skill.

The most recent figures released by the special district’s monetary authority suggest that -ever pragmatic, Hong Kong’s residents have been limiting their additions in Yuan holdings as the currency begins to slow in trajectory due to intervention and the cooling of global growth expectations.

Andrew Barber
Director

EYE ON PUTIN POWER: COLD WIND BLOWING FROM THE EAST

Belarus today became the fifth nation to appeal to the IMF for help as the credit meltdown continues to knock small, leveraged economies over like dominoes.

As the crisis spreads, the division between pro Russian and pro Western states is becoming increasingly pronounced. Anti-Russian former Soviet states Belarus and the Ukraine –as well as former satellite Hungary, have been relatively warmly received as they reach westward for help. The aid pledged by the western powers to help Georgia rebuild after this summer’s conflict now exceeded $4 Billion.

Meanwhile the much heralded Russian loan for Iceland has, as of yet, failed to materialize and the flight of capital from Moscow banks continues. The Russian Navy –which looks about as seaworthy as the Russian stock market, arrives in Venezuela just in time to see their South American comrades sink into the abyss as plummeting oil prices bankrupt Higo Chavez’s grand socialist experiment.

The Pro Russian block is experiencing a rapid reversal of fortune as credit replaces oil as the most coveted commodity on earth. The large financial Infrastructure of the US, EU & Japan have been weakened dramatically, but they remain the undisputed strong hands at the poker table.

If these trends continue the Threat to Putin’s global influence are considerable. That is not a positive data point for stability.

Andrew Barber
Director

PFCB – A New Risk Factor in the 10Q

I just finished reading the PFCB and noticed that the company added a new risk factor to its 10Q. PFCB is now specifically talking about new stores taking more time to reach maturity. I can only conclude that management is seeing a “new” trend in the stores it has opened recently. Not that we need to find another negative for a casual dining company, it’s an interesting development. This also help explain why they reduced new store openings again!

The following is the new text from the 10Q filed yesterday:

“As of June 29, September 28, 2008, there have been no material changes to these risk factors. factors other than the change of the following.

Failure of our existing or new restaurants to achieve predicted results could have a negative impact on our revenues and performance results as well as result in impairment of the long-lived assets of our restaurants.

We operated 182 full service Bistro restaurants, 165 quick casual Pei Wei restaurants as of September 28, 2008, 48 of which opened within the last twelve months. The results achieved by these restaurants may not be indicative of longer term performance or the potential market acceptance of restaurants in other locations. We cannot be assured that any new restaurant that we open will have similar operating results to those of prior restaurants. Our new restaurants commonly take several months to reach planned operating levels due to inefficiencies typically associated with new restaurants, including lack of market awareness, inability to hire sufficient staff and other factors. The failure of our existing or new restaurants to perform as predicted could negatively impact our revenues and results of operations as well as result in impairment of long-lived assets of our restaurants.”

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