Shorting the Aussie Dollar: Trade Update

Conclusion: While some factors remain supportive, our interpretation of and outlook for key fundamentals are indicating further downside in the AUD/USD exchange rate over the intermediate term.


Position: Short the Australian dollar (FXA); Long the U.S. dollar (UUP).


This morning in our Virtual Portfolio Keith re-shorted our favorite way to play our compendium of active Global Macro themes within the Asian FX landscape – the Aussie dollar. We’ve been making this call since 2Q throughout a collection of research notes (hyperlinked below) and the AUD has generally underperformed other Asia-Pacific currencies vs. King Dollar throughout various durations within the last six months. To recap, our bearish thesis is fivefold:

  1. Slower Growth domestically and in key export markets (Asia accounts for ~70% of Australian exports) will weigh on expectations for tighter monetary policy and potentially degrade fiscal metrics. Domestic manufacturing, services, and labor market activity all remain extremely subdued;
  2. A Deflating of the Inflation in Australia’s reported inflation and inflation expectations (both market-based and central bank targets) will lead the RBA to incrementally ease monetary policy and erode Australia’s real yield advantage relative to the U.S.;
  3. A Deflating of the Inflation across Australia’s key exports (commodities account for ~60%) will reduce Australia’s terms of trade and coincide with a pullback in international demand for Australian exports and, hence, the Aussie dollar;
  4. Domestic Housing Headwinds (all-time low mortgage demand perpetuating falling prices) will act as a long-term drag on economic activity and consumer confidence; and
  5. A potential Correlation Crash and Liquidity Risk are two key quantitative and behavior factors that could weigh on the Aussie dollar in the event of a USD-breakout. The AUD/USD rate continues to trade with a positive correlation to the S&P 500 with an r² north of 0.90 on both our immediate-term TRADE and long-term TAIL durations. Additionally, the AUD is the best-performing currency vs. the USD since the Mar ’09 bottom (nearly +60%) and mean reversion remains a risk if underperforming FX investors turn to the Aussie dollar as a potential source of liquidity (see: chart of gold).

On a supportive note, Australia’s solid fiscal positioning (debt/GDP < 30%; deficit/GDP < 5%), a continued drive towards achieving a balanced budget over the medium term, and the sovereign’s AAA status will continue to keep a bid for the Aussie dollar – especially in an environment of elevated sovereign debt risk. That said, however, we expect the marginal buyer/seller of Aussie dollars to continue demanding lower price points for the currency as our interpretation of and outlook for key fundamentals are indicating further downside in the AUD/USD exchange rate over the intermediate term.


Related research notes covering each of the five aforementioned factors in greater detail:

Darius Dale

Senior Analyst


Shorting the Aussie Dollar: Trade Update - 1


According to Keith’s quantitative models, KONA is breaking down.


From a fundamental perspective, we have lost confidence in the company’s ability hit the numbers and the recent departure of the CFO, Mark Robinow, does not reassure us.  There have been a string of departures from the executive suite. Confusion surrounding the overall direction of the company is evident in the two latest announcements.

  1. Upon the departure of the CFO, the company announced a share repurchase program of up to $5 million of the company’s outstanding common stock.
  2. In early December, the company announced the appointment of Marci Rude as VP of Development.

While the company is currently generating cash (and has $5 million in cash on hand), it only spent $1.9 million in capital spending over the past twelve months.  This is down considerably from the $12 million invested in new stores in 2009 and $17 million in 2008.  If the company bringing Mr. Rude on board in a development role is an indication that capital spending it about to ramp up again, we would question the prudence of the Board in authorizing a $5 million share repurchase program.


The new CEO, Michael A Nahkunst, said “The company is initiating this repurchase program in the best interests of its stockholders, as we believe our common stock represents an attractive value.” We would contend that buying back stock does not necessarily create shareholder value but rather, in this case, the announcement was merely a defensive move given the departure of the CFO.  The disruption in the senior management team over the past six months will create a disruption in the financial performance of the company. 


As the chart below illustrates, the share price has broken the TAIL line at $5.41.  From both a quantitative and a fundamental perspective, our view on KONA is negative.





Howard Penney

Managing Director


Rory Green




Dunkin’ Brands was shorted moments ago in the Hedgeye Virtual Portfolio as the stock is approaching the immediate term trade level of resistance.  Our fundamental view on the stock remains bearish despite positive sell-side research emerging yesterday along with an investor presentation from the company.


Dunkin’ is trading up today on Jeffries’ initiation with a Buy rating and a price target of $30.  The company also released an investor presentation which, in our view, provided no evidence that our fundamental thesis is flawed.  The presentation focuses largely on the same themes: lack of penetration outside the Northeast, comparable restaurant sales growth, and product innovation.  Where the disclosure is still lacking is in unit growth: what is the backlog and what is the company’s confidence level that 500 stores will be opening annually by 2013 in order to double the store base over the next twenty years?  As we wrote on 11/29, “WHAT DOES DNKN RUN ON?”, the investor relations section of the Dunkin’ Brands website provides scant evidence of the backlog that we believe will be required to ramp up unit growth sufficiently.  While comps are important for the company, the franchised business model will depend more on unit growth than comps to reach its EPS growth goal.


Per Keith’s quantitative model, DNKN is approaching immediate term TRADE level resistance.  Positive research reports and company presentations that are, in our view, focusing on the less relevant metrics while ignoring the crucial one are not going to provide sustainable support for this name.  Given the rich valuation the stock is trading at versus more attractive growth stories like YUM, we are remaining negative from a fundamental perspective.


DNKN: TRADE UPDATE - dnkn levels



Howard Penney

Managing Director


Rory Green


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Process: SP500 Levels, Refreshed

POSITION: Long Healthcare (XLV), Long Consumer Discretionary (XLY)


Our call yesterday was to buy the SP500 if it held our immediate-term TRADE support (1232). Our call was also to sell it if it failed at our immediate-term TRADE line of resistance (1249). We did both.


Don’t fight us – it’s just the process of managing the risk implied in our range (I explained that in more detail in this morning’s Early Look).


While the long-term TAIL (1270) of resistance for the SP500 insulates managing the broader 1 range of risk, our process attempts to get in there and make a call on the shorter-term durations. I realize that’s not for everyone. But it’s what we do well. So we’ll do more of it.


As a reminder, across all 3 of our risk management durations, here are the key lines we’re focused on: 

  1. TAIL = 1270
  2. TRADE resistance = 1249
  3. TRADE support = 1232 

Manage your gross and net exposures around these ranges instead of being forced to chase beta.



Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


Process: SP500 Levels, Refreshed - SPX






Chain Store Sales


The post Black Friday sales decline continues with the ICSC index falling -0.1% on top of the prior week’s 2.3% decline. The index has now fallen 3 of the last 4 weeks.  The year-over-year growth declined to 2.9% from 3.8% last month.  Since there were apparently no weather issues and the survey suggests that more shopping has been completed than at this point last year, sales trends are likely to slow further.



Small Business Optimism


The National Federation of Independent Business index rose from 90.2 to 92 for November driven by better U.S. consumer spending and credit conditions. This is the third consecutive monthly gain and puts the index at its highest since February 2011; although the index remains 2-points lower than where it started the year. Most of the details are improving from depressed levels; hiring plans and sales expectations showed improvement between October and November.



Comments from CEO Keith McCullough


Our call yesterday for a Short Covering Opportunity only remains relevant from the level we made it at – manage your risk on green today:

  1. CHINA – certified train wreck in Chinese stocks didn’t stop overnight w/ the Shanghai Comp down another -1.9% to -19.9% YTD finally moving it to an immediate-term TRADE oversold signal in my model. Chinese Exports to Italy in NOV down -23% y/y! (not a typo)
  2. European Data – first morn in what seems like forever (10 months) where my entire data run on Europe was not a another sequential deterioration – better than toxic is still awful, but German ZEW up for the 1st time in 10mths to -53.8 (vs -55.2) and the UK inflation print stopped going up (+4.8% NOV vs +5.0% OCT). European Stagflation remains.
  3. COMMODITIES – last Thursday I cut my asset allocation to commodities back down to 0% after the ECB press conf as I thought the EUR/USD was going to unwind again – get that USD direction right and you get Commodities right – Oil, Copper, Corn, etc all have broken TAILS and Gold continues to break down this morning (new Gold range = 1 w/ TREND resistance = 1743)

I’m long SPY and holding my longest net long position of Nov/Dec. I doubt I overstay my welcome.






THE HBM: DNKN, PEET, SBUX, PNRA, EAT - subsector fbr




DNKN: Dunkin’ Brands released an investor presentation this morning on the back of yesterday’s positive initiation from Jeffries (“Buy”, PT $30). Both the presentation and the initiation were bereft of any details on the all important backlog.  To hit the company’s long-term target EPS growth of 15%+, unit growth needs to pick up and we are not seeing sufficient evidence of this yet.


PEET: Peet’s Coffee was initiated “Buy” at Jeffries.


SBUX: Starbucks was initiated “Buy” at Jeffries.


SBUX: Starbucks was reiterated “Overweight” at JP Morgan.


PNRA: Panera Bread was initiated “Buy” at Jeffries.





EAT: Brinker President of Global Business Development, Carin Stutz, has left the company in order to take over as president and CEO of Illinois-based COSI from January 1.


THE HBM: DNKN, PEET, SBUX, PNRA, EAT - stocks 1213



Howard Penney

Managing Director


Rory Green



Incredibly Hobbled

This note was originally published at 8am on December 08, 2011. INVESTOR and RISK MANAGER SUBSCRIBERS have access to the EARLY LOOK (published by 8am every trading day) and PORTFOLIO IDEAS in real-time.

 “I can believe anything, provided it is quite incredible.

-Oscar Wilde 


Heading into tomorrow’s highly anticipated two-day EU Summit, Wilde’s pithy quote reminds us that Eurocrats have a tall order to impress the market with policy that will revert the direction of Europe’s 19 month-old sovereign debt and banking crisis. Below we caution that tomorrow’s results will likely disappoint investors’ expectations. Why?


If we’re right that the focus of tomorrow’s resolutions are largely centered on the topic of a fiscal union, either for the EU’s 27 countries or the Eurozone’s 17, we don’t think that the creation of another (likely bureaucratic) organization to monitor and impose budget restrictions will be the “bazooka” around which markets will see a sustained rally. Over the last decade we’ve seen the utter inefficiency of a somewhat similar program in the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact—a budget agreement issued in 1997 that limited member states to public debt (as a % of GDP) to 60% and deficit to 3%— as the majority of countries (including Germany) breached its mandates. 


Further, beyond how a “hands-on” Fiscal Union 2.0 is going to make up for the shortcomings of the Stability and Growth Pact, it’s unclear how Eurocrats will address the pressing question:  if peripheral European countries can’t grow and can’t fund themselves with rising credit spreads, and therefore can’t balance their budgets no matter how much austerity is delivered; aren’t allowed to default (Greece); and can’t individually adjust monetary policy, 1.) how do weak states get out of this vortex? and 2.) what’s the benefit to weaker states to be bound in the Eurozone?


If we take the view that major Eurocrat actors (including Merkel, Sarkozy, and Draghi) strive to preserve the fabric of the Eurozone, we believe Eurocrats largely have their hands tied as they don’t have the facilities (firepower) to adequately answer the questions above.  We estimate that European banks and the sovereigns need a funding facility to the tune of $2 to 3 Trillion (or $1.25 to 1.75T to recapitalize banks and $0.75 to 1.25T to fund future sovereign deficits) to address bailout and funding assistance needs.


Key factors that will continue to challenge issuing a “bazooka”:

1.)    The ECB, unlike the Fed, cannot print money to leverage/expand the EFSF

2.)    Merkel and ECB stand against the issuance of Eurobonds

3.)    We don’t see it in China’s interest to run in with a blank check to “save” Europe

4.)    The current EFSF has a mere €250 Billion left to address sovereign and banking concerns

5.)    The IMF only has €385 Billion in lending capabilities

6.)    Fiscal Union 2.0 will require treaty changes and a united voices across at least 17 countries


Should we not get any positive discussion on points 1-3 on Friday, which we think is highly likely, we do not expect capital markets or the EUR-USD to lift into a sustained rally (see chart below of our EUR-USD levels; we’d short any rally around $1.36 and don’t see a next material line of support until the previous low of $1.19).  It’s more probable that the ECB reiterates its ardent position that its sole mandate is price stability; Merkel says she is unwilling to see German funding costs rise; and the “value” of assets on the chopping block for the Chinese is unclear.


Under such a scenario, particularly in which there’s no talk or action specific to ECB backstop involvement or the issuance of Eurobonds, we’d expect the ECB’s secondary bond purchasing program, the Securities Market Program (SMP), to take on a larger role to fill waning demand for PIIGS paper. For context, last week the SMP bought €3.7 Billion versus €8.6 Billion in the previous week to take its total since May 2010 to €207 Billion.


Ultimately, we think this leaves the region in a tenuous position. First, the SMP is intended to only be a “temporary” program. Second, it will force the SMP to take on a much larger role to meet the demand of PIIGS issuance, or put an artificial bid that alone may not drive down sovereign yields.


More Risks on the Horizon Without ECB Support

While we view the actions of ratings agencies as lagging indicators, Monday’s move by Standard & Poor’s to place the ratings of 15 Eurozone nations on CreditWatch negative and Tuesday’s announcement that the EFSF’s AAA rating is being placed on CreditWatch negative adds one more bee in the Eurocrats’ bonnet ahead of Friday.  S&P said that ratings could be cut up to one notch for Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Luxembourg – and by up to two notches for everyone else (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, and Malta.)  (Note: Greece was spared, and Cyprus remains on negative watch.)


While S&P said it would review the ratings following the Summit, the warning portends negatively for the EFSF, a facility that is built around its AAA status. Should downgrades come to Germany and France, its main contributors at 28% and 22%, respectively, we’d expect funding costs to rise, which negates the very purpose of this facility, and once again (negatively) refocuses the eye on the undercapitalized programs to fund imbalanced sovereigns and banks. 


Expect insolvent banks in this environment to struggle to raise money on the secondary market. This will elevate risk as sovereigns are now less capable to back their struggling banks, and the EFSF is far undercapitalized. Here we think French and German banks will be critical to watch. Along those lines, the European Banking Authority will publish updated stress tests at 12pm EST today to review how much capital lenders should raise to absorb losses from Eurozone bonds. We’ll reiterate that if countries truly mark their sovereign holdings to market, we think the capital raise will need to be substantially larger than the Q2 published result of €106 Billion to reach a 9% core Tier 1 capital by mid-2012.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel said to her Parliament on Dec. 2, 2011: "Resolving the sovereign debt crisis is a process, and this process will take years." If Europe’s currency union is here to stay, beware of the lofty expectation that Friday will bring quick-fixes to years of fiscal and banking imbalances and excesses, as well as cultural differences that divert priorities as Europe will once again need to find a united voice on fiscal union.


Unfortunately, should Friday’s Summit come up short of expectations, there’s nothing currently on the calendar in terms of summits or major catalysts into year-end around which markets could get behind.  


Hobble on.


Matthew Hedrick

Senior Analyst


Incredibly Hobbled - EL EUR


Incredibly Hobbled - VP 12.8