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PSS: Cheap w/o a Catalyst

 

Uninspiring fundamental results the quarter after a significant shift in strategy (i.e. aggressive store closures) is enacted is to be largely expected, but the reality is that PSS’ stock remains a waiting game for investors. We still think the break-up value is ~20%+ higher, but with the company under strategic review we need to have better confidence in a sale either in part or whole, or that a new CEO will raise the bar to take our estimates meaningfully higher. Until then, break-up value math is a simple smokescreen.

 

But the biggest question that we increasingly think needs to be answered is whether or not the Core Payless business deserves to exist at all. To determine a real margin of safety here, we have to evaluate the NPV assuming that it does not. 

 

But we all know that we can’t simply make pretend that the business goes away with a special charge or two. It would be a painful exercise of absorbing losses in the Payless in order to get to the optimal store count. The question is whether that store count is 3,500, 2,500, 1,000, 500, or zero.  We don’t think it’s zero. There are some Payless stores running at a margin well above 20%. But it’s probably not a number starting with a 3 – and perhaps not even a 2.

 

We don’t have the answer to this yet, and there’s no doubt that anyone that would step in as a buyer for the company would need to have done the work, or if there have been offers for PLG, then PSS will need that level of comfort for the Payless business that remains.

 

In looking at Q3 results, sales were mixed with domestic Payless coming in lighter than expected with comps down -4.5% along with a deceleration in International Payless offset in part by PLG wholesale coming in strong. A major point is that PLG accounted for 78% of aggregate operating profits in the quarter.

 

The biggest delta in the quarter is on the gross margin line coming in down -524bps reflecting the company’s new pricing strategy – offering more moderate price points. The issue here is that the strategy was implemented on legacy product purchased prior to the new strategy and intended to have a higher initial price (i.e. a great exercise in finger-pointing). We are reducing our gross margin estimates to down -325bps in Q4 as this disconnect will weigh on margins near-term and through Q1 in addition to reflecting like product cost increases of +10%.

 

While near-term fundamentals are mediocre at best, there is early (and we stress early) evidence to suggest the company’s new strategies are starting to show signs of progress. After a weak start in August, domestic Payless sales improved through the quarter from down high single-digits to flatish in response to the sharper pricing. While hardly a trend, it’s a trajectory worth noting. In addition, the company ramped the number of store closures by year-end to 350 from 315 of 475 over next 3-years as well as cut the associated costs (lease terminations, severance, etc.) to $25mm-$30mm reducing the high end of the range by $5mm. Taking the pain now is a positive and should accelerate the timing of a turn in profitability.

 

Assuming PSS continues to operate as it exists today (including store closures), we’re shaking out at $0.70 for F11 EPS and $1.14 for F12 EPS. This stock typically trades at 10-12x EPS and 5-7x EBITDA, which suggests a modest premium to where it is now. We get to a valuation of $12-$17 based on our bear case breakup analysis and can justify a valuation of the PLG business in the mid-teens to low 20s alone suggesting decent support at current levels, but we need better confidence in a sale either in part or whole, or that a new CEO will raise the bar to take our estimates meaningfully higher before we get more constructive on the name.

 

Below is the detailed analysis of the three potential outcomes noted above from our August 25thpost “PSS: The Decision Tree”

 

PSS: Cheap w/o a Catalyst - Family FW Comp Table

 

PSS: Cheap w/o a Catalyst - Family FW Comp Charts

 

PSS: Cheap w/o a Catalyst - PSS SIGMA

 

Our Take on Strategic Review Outcomes (from 8/25):

 

1) An all out sale of the company:

  • This is the least likely of the three scenarios given the disparate characteristics of two business that would ultimately attract different buyers.
  • The high fixed cost and real estate intensive nature of the domestic Payless business is best suited for a financial buyer. One with a Ron Johnson-like 7-year duration that can take control, absorb losses, and slowly but surely take the store count meaningfully.
  • Another possibility is a large property owner like a strip-mall REIT that is better equipped to utilize the company’s store base and either take out/take down the leases, or flip them to a more profitable concept. But these companies are hardly cash-rich right now.
  • Based on our breakup analysis, we get to a valuation of $3-$6 per share for the ‘core’ payless business (both domestic and international) taking debt into account and $9-$11 per share for the PLG business on our bear case assumptions. $3-6 + $9-11 = $12-$17. Using less than heroic assumptions, we can get a valuation for the PLG business in the mid-teens to low-20s alone.

2) A sale of some part of the company:

  • This is a distinct possibility, but the company is less likely to sell off PLG in its entirety as the company’s key growth engine.
  • Saucony and Sperry are the most likely candidates and both could see interest from both financial and strategic buyers.
  • Re Saucony:
    • VFC could buy it in a heartbeat. It’s small enough that they can do this side by side Timberland.
    • Adidas makes sense. They’ll do anything to get into the technical running market. They’d rather buy Asics, but if the price is right it can happen.
    • Why not Li&Fung? Li Ning? Yue Yuen? Li&Fung has stated flat out that it wants to buy brands to leverage its scale. Yue Yuen has diversified into retail. Moving into the content side of the equation would definitely leverage its manufacturing base.
    • New Balance, Asics, and Under Armour are all out.
    • Nike wouldn’t touch it with a twenty foot pole. The irony is that Nike does not do well at all in the technical running category – despite the fact that it views its birthright to be rooted in running (watch the movie ‘Without Limits’ or ‘Pre’). An interesting angle on Nike’s running share… it has about 35% share in the running space. But count the number of swooshes on the feet of the first 20 finishers of the Chicago marathon. You’ll see far fewer than 35%. Nonetheless, the factoid here is that as long as Nike THINKS it can dominate this category (which it does) it won’t buy anyone else. It’s a strategy that has paid off for shareholders, by the way.
  • Re Sperry:
    • A financial buyer is more likely. This brand is strong enough to be a stand-alone company – and even a public one.
    • On the strategic side, there’s everyone from VFC, to JNY, to the same Asian acquirers that we think are going to make their way into this market.
  • We’ve already hit on the valuations above, however in breaking out PLG further, Stride Rite and Keds are worth $1-$2 per share with Saucony and Sperry valued at $9-11 with slightly more than half of the value attributed to Saucony at $5-$6.
  • There are no structural impediments that would prohibit a carve out of PLG from happening. However, carving out a single brand within PLG would be a bit more difficult in terms of integrated back office functions. Consider the following…
    • It took the company a very very long time to integrate some of the back-end infrastructure (consolidated 2DCs and a manufacturing facility) and pulled roughly $25mm of SG&A out, but the PLG brands still operate independently to a large extent.
    • The entire PLG team still operates out of their own HQs in Lexington, MA.  
    • It wasn’t until Q2 that only some of the PLG stores were hooked into the same PeopleSoft financial systems that the core domestic Payless business uses and in a similar fashion, the retail systems that count traffic/store metrics are also still largely independent from one another.

3) No sale at all. Instead, the company names a new CEO and gets to work on closing stores:

  • Business as usual is probably the most likely outcome as the company completes its strategic review process.
  • Assuming an asset sale does not occur, who PSS hires as the new CEO will be the most important near-term catalyst. (positive or negative)
  • The board wasted no time in getting a plan in place to aggressively reduce underperforming stores, which is the most significant positive development to come out of Q2 results.
    • In total, the company expects to close approximately 475 stores (~400 Payless & ~75 Stride Rite) over the next 3-years with 300 closings by year-end with most coming after the holidays.
    • We are modeling approximately 60 store closures in Q3 and another 255 at the end of Q4.
    • With roughly $110mm in revenues associated with these stores, we expect closures to impact revenues by $5mm in Q3 and ~$15mm in Q4. The greatest hit to revenues will come in F12 (~$75mm) given the timing of closures in F11.
    • Additionally, there are $25-$35mm in costs (lease terminations, severance, etc.) associated with these closings, the bulk of which are expected to be realized in the 2H F11. Of course, the Street will strip these costs out as being non-recurring – even though they represent real cash going out the door, and PSS making up for poor decisions made in years past. Nonetheless, on an ‘adjusted’ basis, we’re likely to see far better comparision starting in 1Q12.
    • Lastly, the net benefit of these actions are expected to improve EBIT by $18-$22mm once all closures are completed. We’re modeling in an incremental $0.15 in F12 EPS as a result of these actions.

 


THE M3: EMPLOYMENT SURVEY, 2012 FORECAST, SJM THEME PARK

The Macau Metro Monitor, November 22, 2011

 

 

GOVT EXPECTS MOP85 BILLION IN DIRECT TAXES FROM GAMING IN 2012 Macau Business

The Macau government is expecting to rake in MOP85 billion (US$10.6 billion) in 2012 as revenue from direct taxes on gaming. Local officials say they are expecting the city’s casinos to post an average monthly gross gaming revenue of MOP20 billion for the year.  For 2012, the industry consensus is that the local casinos will post a year-on-year growth of 15 to 20%.  Estimated government expenditure for 2012 stands at MOP77.4 billion while revenue is projected to go up to a record MOP115.2 billion.

 

SJM HAS NO PLAN TO ABANDON PONTE 16 THEME PARK Jornal do Cidadao,

Angela Leong, Executive Director of SJM Holdings, stressed that the company had not abandoned the plan to construct the Ponte 16 theme park in the O Porto Interior area, which was announced in 2002.  She said the company could not get things done without support from the government and the public.

 

EMPLOYMENT SURVEY FOR THE 3RD QUARTER 2011 DSEC 

Total labor force was 344,000 in 3Q 2011, comprising 335,000 employed and 8,900 unemployed.  Analyzed by industry, 24.7% of the employed were engaging in Recreational, Cultural, Gaming & Other Services.



“YOU TALKIN’ TO ME”

Taxi data suggests a strong October for Strip gaming volumes (ex Baccarat).  

 

 

The Nevada Taxicab Authority recently reported that October taxi trips increased 8.2% YoY.  A couple of weeks earlier, McCarran Airport reported the busiest single month for taxi traffic in the airport’s 63-year history as the taxi count was 322,322.  These two data points bode well for non-baccarat gaming volumes in October.  Of the gaming metrics—Slot Volume, Table Volume, Baccarat Volume, Total Volume ex Baccarat, and Total Volume—total volume ex Baccarat has the highest correlation with the taxi data.  This is not surprising as baccarat players are usually chauffeured to the Vegas casinos. 

 

The chart below shows year-on-year change for Vegas taxi trips and total volume ex Baccarat from January 2000 to Sept 2011.  Correlation was 0.65 and the t-stat was 9.7, which signals that the variable is very statistically significant.  Assuming Lady Luck is steady and baccarat doesn’t swing around too much, October could be a decent month in Vegas.

 

“YOU TALKIN’ TO ME” - taxi trip


Early Look

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Winners vs Whiners

This note was originally published at 8am on November 17, 2011. INVESTOR and RISK MANAGER SUBSCRIBERS have access to the EARLY LOOK (published by 8am every trading day) and PORTFOLIO IDEAS in real-time.

“What is even worse is a terrifying uniformity of opinions and reasoning.”

-Siegmund Warburg

 

Coming out of WWII, that’s how Warburg explained the difference between his thought process and that of the American bankers he competed with (they didn’t like that). According to Niall Ferguson, “…at times Warburg could lapse into an almost blimpish anti-Americanism…” (High Financier, page 167)

 

I’m definitely not anti-American. In fact, at this point I think I can make the argument that I love this country as much as my own. That said, I am anti-groupthink and anti-Old Wall Street. As Warburg said, at American banks “even those who are outstandingly intelligent change their views according to the movement of the Stock Exchange.”

 

On that score, just fyi, the US stock market is not the US economy. A lot of people on Old Wall Street disagree with me on that – and if you can’t tell already, I really want to have this debate in the arena of American public opinion!

 

Strong Dollar = Strong America. Period.

 

That doesn’t mean that the US Dollar has to go up and the stock market down for me to be right on this. On the contrary, I think this country will only get it really right when both its currency and stock markets are going up together. That’s when the 99% get paid.

 

Keynesians already have their hands up in the air before the Yale-Harvard Game this weekend reading this – ‘but, but, what about exports – how do we compete with the Chinese if our currency is strong?’

 

Stop whining and start winning.

  1. The US Economy isn’t an export economy anymore – get over it
  2. US Consumption = 71% of US GDP - this is a service and consumption economy
  3. Strong Dollar = higher purchasing power for Americans where it matters

American winners like Ford, Microsoft, and Apple didn’t become the leaders of innovation and job creation on some cochamamy central plan for a weak currency. They did it by dealing with the globally interconnected game that they were in, and finding a way to win.

 

Back to the Global Macro Grind

 

First, let me start with what’s been winning for us here in November – our Global Macro call for King Dollar. Here’s how the Hedgeye Asset Allocation Model is positioned for this morning’s open:

  1. CASH = 52%
  2. FIXED INCOME = 24% (Long-term Treasuries, Treasury Flattener, and Corporate Bonds – TLT, FLAT, and LQD)
  3. INT’L CURRENCY = 12% (US Dollar – UUP)
  4. US EQUITIES = 6% (Utilities and Healthcare – XLU and XLV)
  5. COMMODITIES = 6% (Gold – GLD)
  6. INT’L EQUITIES = 0%

I started the week at 0% asset allocation to US Equities as I came into the week short the SP500 (SPY).

 

Yesterday, I did what the process told me to do: started buying Healthcare (XLV), and sold some Fixed Income exposure (which was oversized to start the week at 30%, with my max being 33% to one asset class).

 

By Global Macro position, here’s what I am thinking as of last price:

  1. TLT – Growth Slowing, globally, is going to continue to have an impact on US Growth Slowing. Immediate-term target for UST 10-year yields is 1.98% so that means it’s time to take my time selling some bonds and buying some stocks (see Chart of The Day).
  2. FLAT – Growth Slowing. Period. We’ve had this position on since February of 2011, so the buy-and-hold crowd can give me a golf clap for having the conviction to stay with our highest conviction idea relative to consensus in January 2011.
  3. LQD – Are Corporate balance sheets “flush with cash” – no doubt, but some of them are flush with debt too – so we want to be careful with this position as the US bankruptcy cycle accelerates (see chart of American Airlines – AMR).
  4. UUP – Domestically, we think the US Presidential cycle puts Bernanke in a box. Internationally, we think the Europeans are going to cut rates alongside most central bankers in Asia and Latin America. Strong Dollar = Strong America.
  5. XLU – next to owning the top performing major currency in November (USD), we want to continue to have exposure to American cash dividend yields. This is the highest dividend yielding S&P Sector ETF and remains in a Bullish Formation in our model.
  6. XLV – buying it right is what matters most here (yesterday was a good re-entry point), but our Healthcare Team is bullish on the intermediate-term TREND outlook for consumption oriented domestic Healthcare stocks (think dental and Strong Dollar).
  7. GLD – again, you want to buy it right and manage your risk around what looks to be a relatively predictable range ($167.21-$175.98). As long as real-interest rates on American savings accounts remain negative, Gold works for absolute return.

I know it terrifies Old Wall Street to think that we can be as bearish as we’ve been on Growth Slowing, but still find a way to make money on it on the long side. Ray Dalio has done it in both 2008 and 2011 and so have we. Winners win.

 

Being perma bullish or bearish isn’t a risk management process; neither is hope for the next Big Government Intervention. I think we are having a generational moment in this country where the winners can take this country’s leadership reigns back from the whiners.

 

That’s the long-term America I think we can all believe in.

 

My immediate-term support and resistance ranges for Gold, Oil, France, Germany, and the SP500 are now $1748-1808, $97.69-102.11, 3003-3089, 5802-5926, and 1224-1252, respectively.

 

Best of luck out there today,

KM

 

Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer

 

Winners vs Whiners - Chart of the Day

 

Winners vs Whiners - Virtual Portfolio



Powerful Turbulence

“In a time of turbulence and change, it is more true than ever that knowledge is power.”

-John F. Kennedy

 

Contextualizing market moves within the scope of Global Macro fundamentals is as critical right now as it’s ever been. That’s why we built a firm around our multi-factor, multi-duration, Global Macro risk management process.

 

Every morning we wake up at the same time and do the same thing. We Embrace Uncertainty. Functionally, what that means is that price, volatility, and volume factors strike our models on a real-time basis – and we accept them for what they are.

 

Much like the rain and tide pounding the contour of an ocean line, what you end up seeing is what you get – patterns. Time and patterns create a series of probabilities, scenarios, and ranges. This is how we apply Chaos Theory to markets.

 

Back to the Global Macro Grind

 

This morning’s embrace of uncertainty issued me a not-so-friendly risk management kiss. I’m in a hotel room on the road – and that’s not cool coming from a laptop. But I guess that’s too bad for me – the market doesn’t care about how I am positioned.

 

I am long the US Dollar and short the Euro.

 

The Germans decided to support the Euro this morning by telling the rest of the world’s Bailout Beggars to go pound sand. This isn’t the kind of sand in Benoit Mandelbrot’s fractal model (falling one grain at time). This is the big beachhead of fluffy expectations stuff.

 

“We don’t have any new bazooka to pull out of the bag… we see no alternative to the policy we are following… we need to tell markets very clearly – and this must be done soon – that there is no other way forward than the one we’re pursuing.” –Michael Meister

 

Meister, one of Merkel’s senior guys, went on to add that if Italian and the French central planners don’t like that, they can go pound some more sand, and “sit tight through the turbulence.”

 

The Euro finally bounced on that (I know – how dare the Germans defend the common currency and purchasing power of their people!), rallying straight back up to an immediate-term TRADE zone of resistance ($1.35-1.36).

 

In turn, the US Dollar sold off, holding immediate-term TRADE support of $77.07 (US Dollar Index).

 

Thankfully, it will take more than one morning, week, or month of Powerful Turbulence to take me out of this globally interconnected game of risk. Pursuing its outcomes is what I love to do. And I love being long our King Dollar theme on red.

 

Dollar Down = reflation of some of yesterday’s deflation. Dollar up = Deflates The Inflation.

 

Since 71% of US GDP = Consumption, that’s what we need to see more of to bring growth back in the country – not another super-committee of central planners. Newt has that part of it right.

 

Strong Dollar = Strong America. Period.

 

While that may create some Powerful Turbulence in the stock market in the short-run, in the long-run most of our children and grandchildren won’t be dead.

 

The short-run performance of the stock market doesn’t reflect the long-term health of the country – full employment and price stability do.

 

US stocks are down -12.5%, -7.6%, and -5.6% from their April, October, and November highs, respectively. Volatility (VIX) is up +120% since April’s SP500 price of 1363. Unemployment in America hasn’t moved off of 9%.  

 

Having learned the 1920s lessons of structural unemployment and price volatility the hard way, maybe there’s a part of this that the Germans have right for the long-run too.

 

My immediate-term support and resistance ranges for Gold, Oil, German DAX, and the SP500 are now $1, $95.35-98.42, 5, and 1186-1203, respectively.

 

Best of luck out there today,

KM

 

Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer

 

Powerful Turbulence - Chart of the Day

 

Powerful Turbulence - Virtual Portfolio


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