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FOOD STAMPS TAILWIND FOR YUM?

The restaurant industry has been lobbying for a loosening of restrictions on food stamp recipients’ food purchasing options.  YUM is regularly called out in media reports on the issue so we decided to call the company to get a better understanding of the issues.

 

BACKGROUND

 

We recently reached out to senior vice president and chief public affairs officer at Yum! Brands, Jonathan Blum, to discuss the topic of food stamps.  He provided us with some insight on the company’s efforts to help bring about a modification to the Farm Bill that would allow a portion of food stamp recipients to use their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards at restaurants. 

 

Contrary to the overly-simplified headlines of late, the action YUM and others are pushing for would not result in restaurants accepting food stamps across the board.   Rather, under the modification to the Farm Bill that the restaurant coalition is promoting, only participants classified as homeless, elderly, or disabled (HED) would be allowed to use food stamps to buy “hot, prepared food”.  The origins of what is officially named the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program prohibited, among other things, the purchase of hot, prepared meals.  Federal regulatory changes in 1978 provided states with the option to allow elderly and disabled food stamp households to use food stamps at restaurants.  In 1996, the program was expanded to include homeless food stamp households. 

 

Thus far only Michigan, Arizona, and California (in certain urban centers only) have opted to allow HED program participants to purchase food at approved restaurants (restaurants in these states still have to apply to the state for authorization).  The coalition within the restaurant industry that is agitating for change, including YUM, is arguing that the rule disallowing the purchase of hot, prepared foods is antiquated given that restaurants are now visited far more frequently by the general public than in the mid 20th century when the program was kicked off.  Furthermore, for elderly and disabled participants in particular, allowing access to prepared, affordable, possibly delivered food makes sense, according to YUM (and we would agree).

 

HURDLES

 

Mr. Blum’s hope is that a modification to the Farm Bill can be brought about in the next thirty days.  It seemed to us from his tone and general commentary that achieving that goal may be difficult for several reasons. 

 

Firstly, mobilizing the federal government to focus on an issue so small relative to other concerns is a challenge.  Secondly, the modification’s effect of moving the power of authorization from states to the Federal government (restaurants would apply to the Federal government, not the states) could be adding a political component to the debate.  It certainly makes sense that it would, given the heightening skepticism of centralized power in this country. 

 

The alternative, if left with the status quo, is for restaurant companies to appeal to individual states to take advantage of the exemption for HED participants, as Michigan, California, and Arizona have done.  Mr. Blum told us that that was likely not worth the effort, despite the 45.2 million people currently registered as participants in the program and the $74 billion of expenditure, annually, that that represents.  To be clear, a modification of the current law would not represent $74 billion of revenue for the restaurant industry but would likely distribute that money differently than it is currently being spent.  In certain, mainly urban, areas of the three states currently allowing HED SNAP participants to spend their allowance at restaurants, YUM is seeing sales improve in the MSD range.  While Florida and Rhode Island are running pilots, there is no sign of any other states following suit, according to Mr. Blum. 

 

CONCLUSION

 

While not privy to any significant insights into the legislative process surrounding this particular issue, we believe that the coalition lobbying for this modification to the Farm Bill are up against difficult headwinds.  The first, as we wrote above, being that the Federal government is proving difficult to mobilize for the lobbyists.  Secondly, given that the modification would involve a ceding of control by states to the federal government of which restaurants would be allowed to accept EBT cards as payment for food, we believe that the current political mood in Washington – one of smaller government and less federal power – may impede the coalition's progress. 

 

We will continue to monitor this issue closely given that it would represent a possible sales boost for YUM’s ailing U.S. business if things were to change.  As the chart below shows, the number of people depending on this program has been growing steadily for some time, despite the slowdown in June from May (the first month-over-month decline since 2008).  There may come a point where states begin to expand options for the growing ranks of participants in the program, even if the federal government does not move to modify the Farm Bill, as YUM hopes.

 

FOOD STAMPS TAILWIND FOR YUM? - foodstamps

 

 

Howard Penney

Managing Director

 

Rory Green

Analyst




investing ideas

Risk Managed Long Term Investing for Pros

Hedgeye CEO Keith McCullough handpicks the “best of the best” long and short ideas delivered to him by our team of over 30 research analysts across myriad sectors.

Long of Indonesia

Conclusion: We’ve taken advantage of the opportunity presented via lower prices to invest in a great long-term idea.

 

Late yesterday afternoon, we initiated a long position in Indonesian equities in the Hedgeye Virtual Portfolio. We’ve been bullish on Indonesian equities since 3Q10 and we continue to expect the steady performance out of the Indonesian economy that we have come to know over the last few quarters. And with the world’s fourth-largest population and strong demographic tailwind (Indonesia’s labor force is set to expand +20% over the next 20 years), Indonesia’s bullish long-term TAIL story remains intact. As such, we’ve taken advantage of the opportunity presented via lower prices to invest in a great long-term idea.

 

Much like the Philippines, which we are also long of on the equity front in the V.P., Indonesia draws our admiration for being a relatively defensive play amid an uncertain at best Global Macro backdrop.

 

Indonesian economic growth is stable: real GDP growth came in flat in 2Q at +6.5% YoY and our models point to a flat-to-slightly-down outlook for 2H (vs. “down-to-down-a lot” in many other major economies).  Though an absolute acceleration in GDP remains the most supportive catalyst in our models, we also like countries where economic growth is accelerating on a relative basis to vs. the rest of the world. Indonesia certainly fits the latter of those setups quite well:

 

Long of Indonesia - 1

 

Though up marginally in August, consumer price inflation has slowed to +4.8% YoY, coming in from the January peak of +7% YoY:

 

Long of Indonesia - 2

 

Core inflation, which has accelerated to a 26-month high of + 5.2% YoY in Aug, remains a key concern. Coupled with a our model’s outlook for Indonesian headline inflation (marginally higher over the next two months), we think Bank Indonesia will be forced to maintain rates on hold and perhaps introduce a hawkish lean in their statement – depending on the absolute level of inflation. Still, even adopting our model’s most inflationary estimates would leave CPI well within the central bank’s target of 5% +/- 100bps – meaning that we’re unlikely to see any tightening over the intermediate term.

 

For reference, Bank Indonesia’s Reference rate (currently at 6.75%) has been on hold since February; moreover, their recent commentary suggests they are perhaps more concerned about the [global] risks to Indonesian economic growth than a measured and sustained pickup in inflation:

 

“Bank Indonesia has room to cut its benchmark rate if inflation behaves.” – Hartadi Sarwono, Bank Indonesia Deputy Governor

 

“Policymakers are ready to adjust the rate and mix monetary policy toward loosening if price gains slow and the economy expands less than expected due to a global slowdown.” – Perry Warjiyo, Bank Indonesia Director of Economic Research

 

In addition to having an ace in the hole on the monetary policy front, Indonesia’s fiscal positioning also remains supportive should it become necessary. With a small and improving deficit/GDP ratio of -2.1% and a incredibly healthy debt/GDP ratio of 26.9%, Indonesia isn’t in a box as it relates to being able stimulate its economy should it become necessary as a function of the global growth outlook deteriorating further. Though we’re certainly not ever going to be labeled proponents of Keynesian “countercyclical” policy, even us football and hockey players can recognize the profound effects “stimulus” has on stock markets.

 

Long of Indonesia - 3

 

Long of Indonesia - 4

 

One key risk we see to holding Indonesian [and other emerging market] equities, is on the currency front. Should Bank Indonesia make due on their promise to “loosen” monetary policy, we could see the rupiah come under continued pressure vs. the USD (down -2.5% over the last five trading days alone). To that effect, the central bank intervened yesterday in the country’s FX and bond markets to stop the bleeding, so to speak. The meaningful backup in Indonesia’s sovereign debt yields (2yr up +47bps wk/wk; 10yr up +59bps wk/wk; and 30yr +27bps wk/wk) isn’t a result of renewed inflation/tightening speculation (1yr on-shore interest rate swaps down -90bps wk/wk). Rather, we view it as foreign investors exiting the market en masse, as both Indonesia’s equity and bond markets are subject to a great deal of Winner’s Risk as a result of their outperformance over the last year.

 

A hockey stick in the country’s external debt burden also remains a risk to the currency – particularly if Indonesian corporations are forced to buy USD/EUR/JPY by selling the IDR to meet debt service requirements. External debt growth, both on a public and private level, has accelerated to roughly +22% YoY and each segment is growing at the highest rate on record, which dates back to 2004:

 

Long of Indonesia - 5

 

As it currently stands we don’t see a re-do of the ’97 Asian Financial Crisis, but if the Indonesian equity market blows through its long-term TAIL of support (less than 1% below), we’d argue that the risk of a larger-scale external debt crisis is definitely in play. Still, our positioning indicates that we have confidence that this critical quantitative line will hold and, as such, we have chosen to go long the IDX in our Virtual Portfolio.

 

Darius Dale

Analyst

 

Long of Indonesia - 6 


JCP: COVERING

 

Keith’s booking his eight gain covering JCP in the virtual portfolio since May with the sock holding its TRADE line of support at $26.13 for the first time in a while. Our thesis remains unchanged.

 

Ackman’s comments this morning reaffirm our bearish position over the immediate term. He’s betting on Ron Johnson to improve the retail experience, which may well play out – in 2015. In the meantime, it’s going to take both capital and time – not good for the stock over the immediate-term TRADE or intermediate-term TREND.

 

For more info on our thesis, see our Black Book, “JCP: What Ackmanists Are Missing.”

 

JCP: COVERING  - JCP VP 9 15 11

 

 


GROCERY BILLS STILL GROWING FASTER THAN RESTAURANT CHECKS

On a sequential basis, YoY food at home CPI inflation increased by 60 basis points to 6% versus the 10 basis point gain in food away from home CPI inflation increasing 10 basis points to 2.7%.

 

Food inflation is now the most important household expense, according to WMT’s commentary during its 8/16 earnings call. Food prices, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI data released this morning continues to accelerate higher.  In August, food at home CPI increased to 6% on a year-over-year basis from 5.4% in July.  We are including two charts to illustrate food costs trends and food cost trends versus core inflation.  One callout we would make is that, the spread between food at home inflation and core inflation widened month-over-month while the spread between food away from home and core inflation narrowed.

 

Grocers like Whole Foods, where the customer is more loyal and willing to pay higher prices, are reporting no problems passing price through but other concepts where the price elasticity of demand may be higher will likely see more attrition as they look to protect margin.  To the extent that grocery inflation continues to outstrip price increases in restaurants, it should be a positive for comparable sales trends at restaurant chains.  Whether or not restaurant margins can withstand the pressure or not, however, remains to be seen.

 

GROCERY BILLS STILL GROWING FASTER THAN RESTAURANT CHECKS - food at home vs food away from home

 

GROCERY BILLS STILL GROWING FASTER THAN RESTAURANT CHECKS - food at home spread vs food away spread

 

 

Howard Penney

Managing Director

 

Rory Green

Analyst

 

 


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