Chinese Retail sales data for December showed a decline to 19% year-over-year, the slowest rate of growth since November 2007, as shoppers in China start to show some of the same reluctance to spend as consumers globally. Visually, the chart below illustrates a divergence between one, two and three year change in growth rates that is pronounced and distressing. By stepping back and doing a common sense gut-check however, 19% Y/Y starts looking very positive on the margin while continuing to support the investment thesis of relative strength. On a pound-for-pound basis, the impact of easing and other stimulus packages could have greater effect on retail sales in China, where consumers are less burdened by personal debt.

This is not a contrarian view. Reports in the Wall Street Journal and International Herald Tribune this morning commented on Wal-Mart and other large retail chains’ plans to continue expansion on the mainland in 2009 –clearly 19% year-over-year is also enough to motivate them to invest in China.

Our China thesis holds that growth there will be helped tremendously by increasing domestic demand, as it will in derivative economies like Taiwan where exports to the mainland account grew to almost 20% of total exports BEFORE the recent political “panda diplomacy” thaw took effect.

Andrew Barber


Casual dining comparable sales fell 8.9% in December with traffic down 9.9%, making it the worst month of the year. These numbers are particularly discouraging because people had reason to go out in December as they did their holiday shopping, which typically translates into increased dining out. Looking forward, it would seem that people have less reason to go out in January. Brinker stated on its fiscal 2Q09 earnings call this morning that after a weak start to January, however, that it has seen its own sales trends improve and “start to firm up” in the last two weeks. Although two weeks do not make a trend, on the margin, Brinker’s seeing some recent stabilization is a positive as it relates to the deteriorating casual dining results in December.


Today’s GDP contraction data was expected. The 6.8% figure for Q4 was in line with median estimates, but it was still disappointing for the glass half full crowd who were hoping for just a little bit more and have run for the exits -sending FXI, which we are long, down over 5%. We do not use hope as part of our process and we are retaining our long bias.

As we all know, the Q4 meltdown spurred a sharp contraction in trade globally and regardless of relative strength China could not avoid the pain, even if they are better off than many of their neighbors (Korea for instance, which we are short via the EWY ETF, printed numbers showing a 5.6% contraction in GDP and an 11.9% contraction in exports). We knew the backdrop for all of this was in the cards, but that is looking in the rear view mirror. In the here and now, a 4 trillion Yuan spending package is just starting to trickle through the system and the five cuts in the key lending rate, initiated in Sept. are just starting to nudge the Dragon.

It is critical to remind ourselves that China is still a communist nation –as such the party leaders are very aware that they must stem job losses and rescue symbolic industries in order to sustain the minimal rate of economic growth assumed to prevent internal social problems. Critics of some of our work on China often point out, correctly, that there is a good deal of “massaging” in reported Chinese economic data -but you can’t fool your hungry people with fake data (something that Christina Kirchner is discovering too late in Argentina).

These leaders don’t run for election, they don’t need to build consensus and they don’t have to apologize for bending rules. To achieve the growth levels they need, the Chinese government will use ANY and ALL tools at their disposal -including shrugging off any protests by team Obama over currency manipulation no matter how loud.

We are Watching China and its derivative economies closely and as always will be looking to change our exposure as data points present themselves.

Andrew Barber

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From IGT’s conference call:

Analyst question: Why were domestic product sales better than I expected?
My answer: Because you don’t do the work.

Industry unit sales were up around 40% in the December quarter based on our exhaustively detailed schedule of new casinos and expansions. Clearly, the sell side doesn’t maintain this incredibly useful database.

All the slot guys will have a strong December quarter in terms of slot sales. I was actually very happy to hear this question because if the analysts didn’t know that Q4 slot sales were going to be good, then they certainly don’t know that 1H CY2009 slot sales will be awful. We project industry unit sales to new and expanded casinos to fall 40% and 70% in FQ1 and FQ2 2009, respectively.

Yeah but replacement demand is facing an easy comp from 2008 so that will pick up some of the slack, right? Wrong. IGT’s CEO, TJ Mathews, clearly stated that industry replacement demand will be lower in 2009 than 2008 due to capex cutbacks by the operators.

So with these industry dynamics, how does WMS meet the 10% revenue growth projections? More market share gains? WMS market share would have to almost double from its recent 15-20% to make the consensus revenue projections for 1H CY2009. WMS market share has actually trended lower the last 2 quarters. How about gaming operations? Slot play is trending lower, not higher, due to the economy. I wouldn’t bet on gaming ops beating consensus expectations.

IGT’s quarter essentially confirmed our thesis that slot sales, while strong in Q4 CY2008, will be down considerably in 1H CY2009. This is not good for WMS.

How does WMS grow revs 10% in 1H CY2009 in this environment?
What have you done for me lately?


European industrial orders declined by 26.2% in November on the year and -4.5% on the month, signaling another massively negative data nail in the Euro zone coffin. This was the largest single month drop since the Euro was introduced a decade ago.

On a relative basis there was plenty of pain to go around with orders declining for Germany, France and Italy by 29.3%, 27.7% and 27.2% respectively.

The sector hardest hit was transport equipment (including ships and railways) which fell 46% Y/Y -a quick look at the Baltic Dry Index will make it very clear that new ship orders will not be staging a comeback anytime soon. Orders for metals and machinery dropped 28% and 24% Y/Y respectively.

The EU officially expects the economy of the 16 nations that use the euro to shrink 1.9% this year. With European economic confidence at a record low and services and manufacturing activity contracting for a seventh month in December, this data point suggests that might be wishful thinking.

We will keep our eye on the Eurozone economies looking for trading opportunities (we are short the UK via the EWU ETF currently, but that is a different, and even worse, story altogether).

Matt Hedrick

Andrew Barber

US Employment: Nasty Data Point, On The Margin

Initial jobless claims came in at 589,000 this morning (up from 527K in the prior week - an upwards revision from 524k) and almost 7k higher that the 4 week moving average of 519,250. Everything that matters in our macro models happens on the margin and, on the margin, this is bad.

Looking at the chart below, this data point puts the thesis of making lower highs in US weekly claims under assault, for now… next week we’ll get the river card.

In between now and then, I expect the SP500 to give the Bear camp the benefit of the doubt. I have downside support for the SP500 at 799 (5% lower than yesterday’s close.)

Keith R. McCullough
CEO & Chief Investment Officer

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