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Biden Breaks Bread: Watch Out Mr. Corporate Greed!

Obama just finished a press conference introducing Joe Biden as the leader of his new task force for the middle class. Biden then welcomed "organized labor" back to the White House.

Unionization is what it is. It's not additive to corporate operating margins. Welcome to The New Reality.

Shout out to all the Gordon Gekko's out there!
KM

US Consumer Sentiment Deltas

The US stock market’s immediate term reaction to the University of Michigan number is the right one – provided that the SP500 closes below 839 today, this sentiment data point will support my immediate term bear case that we can test SP500 804.

Everything that matters to our macro model happens on the margin. The delta in today’s Michigan survey was, albeit marginally, negative. The math of a 61.2 report versus a 61.9 report on October 16th (see my note from that report attached below) is what it is – however so marginally so…

This negative delta lines up with both Obama’s approval ratings falling and the weekly ABC/Washington Post number deteriorating on a week over week basis. Effectively, these sentiment reading seem to be tracking the stock market – which, alongside the US$, continues to be amongst the most stealth economic leading indicators I have at my disposal.

Both the Michigan sentiment report and Obama’s Rasmussen approval rating bottomed at 55 and 60% respectively in November (see chart from last week’s note measuring the delta of that sentiment bottom). THE QUESTION now is will these sentiment reversals decelerate at a lesser rate and lock in higher lows versus those of November? We are data dependent, so we will let the math tell us, rather than guess…

Historically (1st chart below) all the way back to 1958, Sentiment washouts have occurred under the 60 line in the Michigan Survey. So if we go into the 50 readings again, remember that that drowning feeling you may have is not a unique one – the November reading of 55 marked the SP500 sentiment bottom of 752.

Keith R. McCullough
CEO & Chief Investment Officer

Hustle While You Wait

Hustle While You Wait - asset allocation013009

“Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.”
-Thomas Edison
 
The Chinese stock market has been closed all week for the Chinese New Year – the Year of The Ox. Leaders born in the Year of the Ox are patient, speak little, and inspire confidence in people. The glory days of the reactive crackberry data point managers are waning. Obama should think twice about promoting that perceived risk management device. It can polarize your thoughts.
 
I always tell my team that sometimes the best decision they can make in their stocks is to do nothing. This certainly doesn’t imply that they should work less hard. It most definitely suggests that they should focus on working smarter. Thomas Edison’s process and track record speaks for itself – you can indeed hustle while you wait.
 
I sold into CNBC’s crackberry “breaking news rally” on Wednesday because it was based on hope. Hope is not an investment process – particularly when driven by a producer/preacher who is paid to be perpetually bullish. Fortunately, I took the Cash position up in our Asset Allocation model to 82% on that move, and now I own the liquidity I need to take advantage of this manic media’s colossal misinterpretation of an “event” that has yet to occur.
 
On weakness I’ll be a buyer, but a patient one. The US Dollar continues to rise this morning and this will continue to pressure commodities and US stocks alike. Remember, without a breakdown in their dollars, Americans will be paid to save them, rather than invest them – as the bond market breaks down, yields on cash savings continue to climb. I invested 3% of that cash yesterday in Brazilian equities. Now I have a 79% position in cash, which on a day like yesterday helped me close up on the day – during an Illiquidity Crisis, cash remains king.
 
Not all cash is the same however – ask Europe’s levered long wanna be power broker, Vladdy Putin, what’s in his wallet? The Ruble is getting pounded this week, and falling to its lowest level in 11 years. The Russian Trading System Index, meanwhile, continues to wallow in concert with the world’s ‘no more KGB boy’ in my portfolio vote, trading down again this morning to 529. This is the only major stock market in the world that is trading below its October/November Liquidity Crisis lows. What we have now folks, is a failure to communicate – for those having their own Illiquidity Crisis that is… marking your levered long positioning to market is a nasty de-leveraging process. That’s the ruble; that’s Blackstone; that was Lehman Brothers.
 
Those investors who bought into the idea that the “Bad Bank Bailout” was going to warm the hearts and minds of those group-thinking financial czars in the Swiss Alps have to think that through now, all weekend long… and yes, that’s going to be a painful mental exercise. Hustling to buy the futures on Wednesday didn’t pay. Since the US market trades on price momentum, forced buyers turned forced sellers will be forced to do the required reading on what actually happened to 747 US banking thrifts between 1 (they went to zero).
 
We don’t need “no drama” Obama to remind us that some people in our business behaved “shamefully.” C’mon Man, this isn’t new. Some people on Wall Street have always behaved without responsibility. The only difference between now and then are that the rules of the game are changing – transparency and accountability will rule as we re-regulate those who need to be regulated. If you are someone, as the frenchie goalie in Paul Newman’s “Slapshot” said, “gets de penalty… and has to go to de box for 2 mee-nutes… and feel shame.” Guess what? You are finally going take that long overdue time off in the sin bin.
 
The #1 story on Bloomberg this morning is titled “Wall Street Bonuses May Go By The Way of The Dodo.” The WSJ is breaking news that both Morgan Stanley and Goldman are getting ready for another round of job cuts. I have the Street firing out their resumes into my system faster than NYC reporters chased Madoff back into his apartment. This is The New Reality. Wall Street is going to be rebuilt. Everything starts with a handshake and trust.
 
Corporate Executives of America, who aren’t yet working for state government enterprises, my advice to you is this: stop trading your expense line for your personal compensation structure – just stop. Take a step back before you make your next round of job cuts and think. If you didn’t think when you decided to build capacity at a cyclical top, or God forbid buy back your stock at the same time – now is your time to not make the same mistake twice. Just stop. Think about what you are doing. Proactively manage your business. If you don’t, my research team will You Tube you.
 
Companies that fit the bill on the fiduciary mismanagement of their shareholder’s capital and livelihood of their workers beware. In the past few weeks I have added Caterpillar, Coach, and Target to the list of those that should feel shame on this score – these guys all bought the top and are now selling the bottom. This isn’t just about Wall Street – this is about America. Wall Street has taken their turn with the flashlights in their eyes. Corporate America  - you are next.
 
If the SP500 breaks the 839 level, I have 804 as next support. Be patient, and wait for your opportunities. That’s what winners do. This is purely a Darwinian exercise at this stage of the game. The strong will get stronger – and remember, “everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.”
 
Have a great weekend.

Hustle While You Wait - etfs013009


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COLM: Guidance is Too Low

Score one for our process here at Research Edge. Alone, I liked how the risk/reward was shaping up. From a timing standpoint, Keith wanted to wait for the print. I think guidance is low. You may get your shot…
This quarter was a mess for COLM. Yeah, the company beat when stripping out asset impairment and tax charges (on a clean basis it came in at $0.72 vs. the Street at $0.64). But earnings were still down from $1.12 last year, and guidance for 1Q was nothing short of abysmal. Also, COLM wrote off $25mm associated with Pacific Trail and Montrail – to brands that it bought in 2006 for $35mm for 1x revenue. Now they’re worth $10mm combined?? C’mon guys, this is only a hair less embarrassing that Vikram Pandit writing off the value of his Old Lane hedge fund after selling it to Citigroup and becoming CEO.

My problem here is that I really can’t get to a number as low as what COLM is guiding in the upcoming quarter. $0.04-$0.08 vs. $0.56 in ’08 and $0.71 in ‘07? I don’t think so. Even though sales are punk (as the backlog reported 3 months ago told us), inventories are about in line, FX pressure on the top line has the reverse effect on SG&A, COLM anniversaries 1H marketing send on product launches, and begins o benefit from recent corporate headcount cuts. I need to assume that revenue is down mid-high teens or that pricing is off disproportionately with current inventory levels to get to the assumptions that COLM threw out there.

I’m getting to near $0.25 for 1Q, and $2.75 for the year. My sense is that the Street will come in at about $0.10 and $2.10, respectively. If we see the stock head into the mid-high $20s, this might shape up to be one of my favorite names.

MACAU: A BRUTAL JANUARY

The impact of Rolling Chip credit crunch is now very apparent. The South China Morning Post cited a government source in reporting that gaming revenues fell 30% in January 2009 vs. January 2008. January will be the first of many months of significant declines as the junkets flooded the market with credit last year. Of course, the mass market segment is not there to pick up the slack as significant visa restrictions remain in mainland China.

WYNN and LVS are the two US operators most exposed to Macau. As we’ve been forecasting in our posts, both are likely to report disappointing Q4s in the coming weeks and estimates are coming down. Invest at your own peril.


WMS: PUSHING OUT THE PAIN

Maybe my assessment is unique, but management seemed less confident than I’ve heard them in a while. I believe they have reason to be.

WMS put up a very respectable FQ2 last night, but not nearly as strong as we had predicted. The whisper numbers also appeared to be higher than the $0.36 that was posted. Disappointing unit sales and recurring revenue placements offset strong pricing.

While FQ3 (March) revenue guidance of $178-185 million fell short of the $188 million consensus projection, I don’t believe it is low enough. WMS will struggle to generate $170 million, in my opinion. The company is generating significant growth in itS gaming operations but the problem is twofold. First, industry wide slot shipments to new casinos and expansions will decline 70% in the March quarter. Second, very few casinos are buying slots and as IGT indicated on their conference call, replacement demand will be lower in 2009 than 2008.

WMS could see domestic slot shipments slip from 5,700 in FQ2 to 3,000 in FQ3. Slot sales are still the company’s largest business so how can total revenues increase sequentially with such a large drop off in this segment? I just don’t see it. The June quarter could be even more at risk. By implicitly lower FQ3 revenue guidance, WMS back-ended loaded the year as annual revenue guidance remained at $712-718 million. June replacement will once again be awful and industry wide slot shipments to new casinos and expansions should be down 40%. The EPS impact of our projected revenues shortfalls could be $0.04 and $0.08 in the March and June quarters, respectively.

No doubt most of the sell side analysts will blindly adjust their revenue estimates perfectly in line with management’s guidance. This sets the company up for its first earnings miss in years.

Revenue guidance unlikely to be met

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