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The Sovereigns

Pay attention to what they do, not what they say…

I feel like I am watching Survivor. Yesterday, it was Goldman cutting estimates on Lehman; this morning, it is Citigroup cutting estimates on Goldman and Lehman; and for the last few weeks we’ve had 9 other analysts cutting numbers on all of these would be financial “innovation” kings. What an embarrassing mess.

Yesterday we called this “Macro Time” and it’s nice to see that Dick Fuld and John Thain are on board with the investment theme. After doing their best to tell us everything other than what we needed to know, these two are flying across the world in a final attempt to sell their wares to Asian governments. Remember Wall Street’s “Sovereign Fund” calling card theme from the “its global this time” 2007 highs? Well, this one is back, in full force.

How do you think this Asian story ends? Thain is cozying up to Singapore, and Fuld is allegedly crawling to the Koreans. That first slug of $5B in stock that Merrill sold to Temasek (Singapore’s Government Investment Company) was in December of 2007, and the latest wet Kleenex MER paper they sold to the folks in ‘Sea Town’ brings Temasek’s ownership close to the 10% line, which requires regulatory approval. The scary part about all of this is that it’s exactly what the investment banks did to the Middle Eastern “Sovereigns” right before oil prices tanked. Trying to plug Asian governments with toxic paper just as Asian economic growth is slowing smells all too familiar.

You see, this entire “liquidity” trade hinges on inflation. There are two interconnected parts to it: 1. Oil and 2. Global Growth. These are primary ways that Middle Eastern and Asian “Sovereigns” get richer. The problem, of course, is that the US government cannot afford importing inflation or devaluing the US Dollar anymore. They can’t afford much of anything really. They need liquidity, and every day that Oil declines or Global Growth slows further, the “Sovereigns” have less of it to give.

Don’t worry though. Fuld, Pandit, Thain, and Paulson are going to get in a room, close the doors, and hammer this out. Right. Right…

This is why credit spreads continue to widen. The TED Spread that we keep focusing on in the Portal is screaming counterparty risk. The spread between 3 month US Treasuries and 3 month LIBOR this morning has blown out to +113 basis points. Why? Well, Asian markets are telling you that they don’t like the smell of Fannie or Fuld’s paper anymore. The Asians do in fact have live quotes and charts of FNM and LEH. Now, they too are running for the exits.

We’re short Japan, but we should really be short everything in Asia. This morning China reversed for another -3.6% down day. India broke short term support, dropping another -3%. Stocks from Hong Kong to Thailand lost another 2-3% of their value, and Pakistan has dropped right back into its dark cesspool, falling -6.4% in the last 48 hours. Asian inflation is accelerating alongside social unrest, as Asian economic growth is decelerating.

As Sherlock Holmes appropriately stated, “there is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact”, and I don’t see any way for the US Financial systems to absorb a protracted global economic slowdown. Not at this juncture at least.

This will crush corporate earnings levered to international growth, but also remove the only liquidity valve that American central and investment bankers have left – the “Sovereigns”. I wrote it on July 31st. I’ll print it again this morning, and tomorrow too. I am 85% in cash, waiting patiently to see this play out.

Good luck out there today,

Fannie (FNM): Where's Paulson's BUY BACK?!?

FNM lost another -27% of its value today. Now we're seeing why credit spreads continue to widen. If Hank Paulson and the US Treasury has Fannie's back, is that clearing price $3/share? Next Support is $3.15.
  • Freefalling Fannie
chart courtesy of stockcharts.com

YUM: Levering Up To Get Paid?

Tops are processes, not points, and Howard Penney has had this one right. Evidently YUM's management team is going to do good on their word and deliver “10% earnings growth”, but they are going to have to lever up to get that share count down!

Moody's downgraded their unsecured rating on YUM's bank facility today, and I am downgrading my view on this stock's support level.
  • Breaking $36.61 was a material negative event here. Next support is $34.09.
chart courtesy of stockcharts.com

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WYNN: Don't Buy the 50 Day Line!

WYNN has been breaking down since August 12th, and it doesn’t stop here. After breaking the $95.60 line, I have this stock in negative quantitative territory on both an immediate term "Trade" and intermediate term "Trend" basis.
  • The 50 day moving average is where the masses think it is going to find support. That price, as a reference point it $91.25. My model sees WYNN's next support at $84.22.

RISK, Part II: Charting Complacency

We have charted an inverse VIX with the S&P 500. Identifying complacency is a timing exercise. The recent correlation here is what it is.

Keith McCullough

Andrew Barber

CKR – Building Momentum

CKR posted solid period 7 same-store sales growth at both Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, up 4.2% and 1.4%, respectively, closing out 2Q up 3.8% at Carl’s Jr. and up 3.3% at Hardee’s. Both concepts experienced sequentially better 2-year average trends in 2Q from 1Q (100 bp improvement at Carl’s Jr. and 250 bps better Hardee’s). CKR will break out the contribution from price and traffic when it reports its 2Q09 results, and as I mentioned in my post on July 22 (The Pricing Balancing Act Continues), the company has been raising its prices a little more aggressively (up 4% in 1Q09). We will have to wait to see how this has impacted CKR’s traffic trends.
  • CKR also provided restaurant operating cost guidance for 2Q and expects restaurant operating margins to be up 20-50 bps year-over-year. The company is facing an easy comparison from last year when restaurant margins fell 300 bps (primarily as a result of higher food costs), but margins growing YOY is favorable, nonetheless, as CKR’s margins have declined for the last 6 quarters. For reference, the company is also facing as easy comparison in 3Q as margins were down 190 bps in 3Q08 on a consolidated basis (down 260 bps at Hardee’s).
  • These favorable year-over-year restaurant margins should translate into expanding operating margins as the company has communicated that it is focused on reducing its G&A expenses, which have been criticized as being too high (Ramius LLC, me). CKR’s operating margins grew YOY in 1Q for the first time in 5 quarters (up 40 bps), and management stated on its last earnings call that the lower levels of G&A in 1Q would be an appropriate run-rate going forward. The company highlighted that it will see about a $1 million increase in its share-based compensation (included in G&A) in 2Q, but that the level of increase will be only slightly more than what the company experienced in 1Q.

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