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YUM - IF I ONLY KNEW THEN WHAT I KNOW NOW…

I’m confident that China will provide YUM with unit growth for a long time. I’m also confident that the current rate of growth is not sustainable into 2010. We also now know that MCD is getting aggressive with its discounting in China. This will not be good for industry profitability.

We all know now that SBUX was growing too aggressively in the U.S. Some of us had questioned the company’s growth trajectory when it started to experience sales cannibalization from new openings. At that time, SBUX management continued to defend its growth despite some level of cannibalization.
Analyst question and management response from SBUX’s fiscal 3Q07 earnings call:

Analyst: On your comment on slowing the U.S. store growth modestly, you mentioned cannibalization as one of the issues. Historically when you've opened new stores, you've always typically cannibalized existing stores. Is the difference now that the stores that were cannibalized, were they not ramping up as much, or is it just the new stores aren't I guess opening at the same type of volumes?

Management: If you look at the cannibalization factor today as we did several years ago, and it's more in pockets than it is across the company, but, we're seeing in these pockets certain cannibalization dependent upon where those stores are located. But we don't see this as an issue that basically overrides the opportunities that we see for continuing our growth.

As we go forward, we're going to continue to infill markets where the opportunities exist, factoring in some form of potential cannibalization in our plans, whether they are total overall revenue or 3% to 7% comps.

And again on its fiscal 4Q07 earnings call:

Analyst…just on the U.S. unit growth topic and cannibalization, I think you’ve noted in the past some pockets of likely cannibalization across the U.S. but not the driver to further slowing your unit growth. I’m just wondering if you could talk about the magnitude of potential cannibalization.

Management: On the store count, we had reduced the U.S. slightly this year, but when we look at this traffic softening, we’re looking at it from an economic environment as we see it all across the retail industry. And our perspective, the saturation comments are overblown. Our perspective hasn’t changed. We’re still opening new stores knowing that the surrounding stores will experience some level of pressure but also the understanding of the convenience that will drive the customer frequency. And we’ve said once, we’ve said quite a few times that we just need to be where the customer is, so again we’re balancing that and this little pause in ’08 will give us a chance to recalibrate, look at this, and continue to grow towards the 10,000 stores.

Only one quarter later, SBUX announced its plan to slow its U.S. growth and to close 100 underperforming stores in the U.S. in an effort to “potentially reduce cannibalization of existing stores.” And, that was just the beginning!!

Based on SBUX’s defensive comments from late 2007 and performance since then, you can understand why I am concerned by YUM management’s statements yesterday justifying its continued aggressive unit growth in China:

YUM Management’s comments on cannibalization – 4Q08 : Again, in the China division we opened up 500 units in 2008 and our plans are for high growth again in 2009 across all tier cities. The growth continued to be strong. That is one of the things we look at whether we look at the performance. We assume a sales transfer, some sales transfer will occur and despite that, we have great returns. We often do want to cannibalize ourselves so to speak in places we have a very high performing restaurant we almost need to take some of the sales off with that built into our business plan as well. As we open up new units on average, just for people who look at us, we start out at a rate that is lower than our total sales average because we do go into some smaller tier cities that have high returns but then grow quicker over time is how we have seen those markets perform and obviously as we go into a share of the city you see some sales transfer there. So far we have not seen anything unusual or different on actual sales transfer versus our projected sales transfer. So again all systems are a go on the new unit front. We are very confident about our model we get great returns. We keep going as long as we keep getting great sites and great trade zones.

Sound familiar?

I’m not saying there are no growth opportunities for YUM in China. It’s the rate of growth that I am questioning, and right now they are pushing the envelope of growth in China. YUM’s aggressive growth posture is also occurring at a time when the competition is getting more aggressive with discounting. Yesterday, McDonald's offered its biggest price discounts in China as it faces slower sales trends in a slowing economy.

MACAU: JAN COULD’VE BEEN WORSE

Total Macau Baccarat revenue declined 19% YoY in January but increased 12% sequentially from December 2008 due to seasonality. The YoY decline was isolated in the Rolling Chip (RC) business which fell 26%. RC turnover also declined 26% so there were no hold issues there. Surprisingly, Mass Market (MM) revenue actually increased 5%.

The lack of credit available to RC players continues to drive Macau revenues lower. The junkets flooded the market with credit in the first half of 2009 making upcoming comparisons very difficult. The MM business has picked up some of the slack although visa restrictions have limited the impact. From a long term perspective, the relative strength of the MM is encouraging since a) visa restrictions could be loosened, and b) margins are considerably higher in MM than RC.

In terms of market share, MGM gained an impressive 400 bps of total market share sequentially and improved its share on both segments. Wynn Macau also performed well on a relative basis. It gained modest market share (200 bps) and put it back at the average levels experienced in 2008 after several months of declines. Finally, Galaxy used market leading junket commission rates to gain 300 bps of market share in RC. LVS was the clear loser in market share with Sands Macau and The Venetian losing approximately 400 and 300bps, respectively, of total share sequentially.

Net/net the month could’ve been worse. There is no remedy for the tough RC comps but any growth in MM is encouraging.

MGM, WYNN, and Galaxy improved
RC in rough shape

RL: Imagine If The Numbers Were Bad?

If you have the luxury of being at a shop where you can actually invest in a company instead of renting a stock, how could you NOT look at RL here?
To call a -2% EPS decline a victory is hardly appropriate, but I’ll give RL props for managing through this sucker. When business gets bad, a company can proactively drive its model, or simply sit back and hope. Hope is neither and investment nor management process. Ralph and team ‘get it’ in this regard. Yes, a 13.5% retail comps stinks. But with horrific results from Tiffany, Burberry, Nordstrom, Saks, Guess?, Coach and just about everyone else tied to the high end consumer, I don’t think that the sales numbers came as a big surprise.

Now let’s talk guidance…

RL beat the quarter by $0.19 but took down the year (ending March) by $0.15. Yes, this means that 4Q needs to be down by 65%. I rarely follow any management team's guidance (except on basic items like tax rate and capex), but I’ll always plug assumptions into my model necessary to hit the guidance that the company gives the Street. I absolutely, positively cannot get anywhere near RL’s 4Q guidance. They’re suggesting a range of $0.28-$0.43. The lowest number I can get to is $0.52 – yes that’s 50% above guidance. And yes, I am assuming comps -20%, retail margins -500bps and wholesale growth declining by 15% sequentially with margins off 400bps.

If numbers come in as bad as the company guided, then 'The Question' will not be about comps and margins, it will be about brand relevancy. I firmly believe that question will not need to be asked.

I think RL puts up a number close to $4.10 this year, pushes through $4.50 in FY10 (Mar), and has near $6ps in economic-rebound earnings power. I know people will think I am nuts for attempting to talk about anything ‘post recession,’ but the reality is that key global growth drivers are coming board over 2 years in some form regardless of what the economy says. Even looking at next year, however, RL is at 8.5x earnings and 4x EBITDA! For those who have the luxury of being at a shop where you can actually invest in a company instead of renting a stock, how could you NOT look at RL here?


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Break the Buck

This could possibly be the most unpatriotic post I have ever written. The dollar is critical to many investment themes within the current RE Macro models, and it’s currently flashing bright red to us. The lynchpin to market sentiment is the financials. As I said last week (see Hedgeye’s Early Look: Rust – 1/23/09), the debate over the status of some financial service firms reminds me of last year’s debate over whether GM was bankrupt or not! Of course, it was bankrupt, and yes, the government is running our largest financial institutions.

In the short run, the ever bigger US Government socialist stimulus plans and government bailout expeditions are going to be good for the stock market. As the government transfers “risk” from the balance sheets of our defunct financial institutions to its own balance sheet, it will be good for whatever financials remain and therefore, good for market psychology. But everything has its price!

Unfortunately, the deterioration in America’s balance sheet has severe implications on how the world views the US dollar. The more we show the world that we are willing to socialize our financial system, the less the US Dollar will be worth. There is a price to pay for the lack of accountability in the US financial system and that will result in a devalued US dollar. Year-to-date the U.S. dollar index (UUP) is up 5% and the S&P 500 has declined nearly -8%. The bulk of the decline in the S&P 500 has been driven buy the -29% decline in the XLF – Financials.

Over the years, mismanaged countries have had to de-value their currency in order to pay for the sins of the past. While there is a psychological impact associated with devaluation as a cheaper US dollar could be perceived as a sign of weakness, a devaluation of the US dollar would boost aggregate demand in the economy. This would help in the effort to fight rising unemployment. In addition, a decline in the value o f the dollar would help increase the value of assets in the US. In the end, an efficient way to clean up the toxic assets inherent in the US financial system is to create a cheaper dollar.

Keith continues to emphasize the fact that stocks cannot go up if the dollar is rising. The market knows that the quickest way to fix America’s problems is to print more of our currency so if the dollar goes down, stocks will rally. At the time of writing this missive the S&P is down -0.7% and the US$ is up +0.75%. This is The New Reality.


BREAK THE BUCK

This could possibly be the most unpatriotic post I have ever written. The dollar is critical to many investment themes within the current RE Macro models, and it’s currently flashing bright red to us. The lynchpin to market sentiment is the financials. As I said last week (see Hedgeye’s Early Look: Rust – 1/23/09), the debate over the status of some financial service firms reminds me of last year’s debate over whether GM was bankrupt or not! Of course, it was bankrupt, and yes, the government is running our largest financial institutions.

In the short run, the ever bigger US Government socialist stimulus plans and government bailout expeditions are going to be good for the stock market. As the government transfers “risk” from the balance sheets of our defunct financial institutions to its own balance sheet, it will be good for whatever financials remain and therefore, good for market psychology. But everything has its price!

Unfortunately, the deterioration in America’s balance sheet has severe implications on how the world views the US dollar. The more we show the world that we are willing to socialize our financial system, the less the US Dollar will be worth. There is a price to pay for the lack of accountability in the US financial system and that will result in a devalued US dollar. Year-to-date the U.S. dollar index (UUP) is up 5% and the S&P 500 has declined nearly -8%. The bulk of the decline in the S&P 500 has been driven buy the -29% decline in the XLF – Financials.

Over the years, mismanaged countries have had to de-value their currency in order to pay for the sins of the past. While there is a psychological impact associated with devaluation as a cheaper US dollar could be perceived as a sign of weakness, a devaluation of the US dollar would boost aggregate demand in the economy. This would help in the effort to fight rising unemployment. In addition, a decline in the value o f the dollar would help increase the value of assets in the US. In the end, an efficient way to clean up the toxic assets inherent in the US financial system is to create a cheaper dollar.

Keith continues to emphasize the fact that stocks cannot go up if the dollar is rising. The market knows that the quickest way to fix America’s problems is to print more of our currency so if the dollar goes down, stocks will rally. At the time of writing this missive the S&P is down -0.7% and the US$ is up +0.75%. This is The New Reality.

Howard W. Penney
Managing Director

SP500 Levels Into The Close...

The combination of a strengthening US Dollar and US hedge fund rumor mill are tough winds for the US stock market to stand in front of today. That said, the SP500 is setting up to make another higher low versus that of November 2008. Don’t miss covering your shorts on the way down.

There is an important breakout “Trade” line in the SP500 at 839, and you saw some serious pin action around that line today – first on the breakout above it, then on the breakdown intraday below it – we have outlined that line as the dotted green one in the chart below.

Aggressively buying/covering on the SP500 811 line is my game plan. Hopefully, we get a real nasty jobless claims number before the open tomorrow that can take us there. What is bad for the buck is good for stocks.
KM

Keith R. McCullough
CEO & Chief Investment Officer

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