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FedEx: Countering Negative Narratives, Bears Lost in the Weeds

Takeaway: Bears seem lost in quarterly minutia and badly structured regressions.

FedEx: Countering Negative Narratives, Bears Lost in the Weeds

 


Summary

 

Below, we respond to some of the criticism that FDX has received from the traditional sell-side following FY3Q earnings.  Broadly, we are suspicious of anyone who thinks it is useful to write a report detailing how their model differed from actual results.  More specifically, we think the negative reports have gotten the timing and magnitude of the FDX opportunity wrong.  We think they have gotten bogged down in quarterly detail and meaningless regressions.  Below, we respond to these details and try to place them in the context of the broader FedEx value opportunity.  If we have missed key points of the bear thesis, feel free to let us know.

 


Bears Missing the Broader Opportunity

 

Stepping back, the value opportunity in shares of FedEx is clear, at least to us.   The market ascribes little value to any FDX business other than FedEx Ground, in our view.  This is odd, for example, because the market does not appear to ignore the value in UPS’s express revenue or its competitively disadvantaged ground revenue.  While there are probably better ways to show it, FDX currently trades at an EV/Sales of 0.67 while UPS trades at 1.56.  In our view, the primary differences are the multi-decade low margin at FedEx Express and a persistent rich valuation given to shares of UPS since its IPO (and, no, not leases).

 

There is no structural reason that the FedEx Express division cannot match competitor’s margins over the next few years, in our view.  Capital spending and management focus are now being directed toward that end, and faulting management for not doing it sooner is pointless.  The FedEx Express division has ~$27 billion in revenue and produces little income relative to its potential.  It flies expensive, outdated aircraft and maintains excess capacity, both of which are fixable.  The division could also get a margin boost, we think, from better balancing its network through a TNT acquisition.  Deutsche Post was able to improve its express margins from much, much worse levels in a few years.  If Deutsche Post can do it, anyone can, right?  Importantly, the express industry is highly consolidated and is, excepting an unlikely-to-reoccur >300% increase in fuel prices in the last decade, structured for very solid returns. 

 

FedEx Ground enjoys a substantial competitive advantage from its non-unionized labor force, among other factors, which has allowed it to steadily take market share.  There is little reason to expect that to stop, in our view, which is to say we expect FedEx Ground to eventually take UPS’s spot as the largest ground delivery service in the U.S.  (Has a heavily unionized company facing non-union competition in the U.S. ever succeeded?)  Given the e-commerce driven prospects for package volume growth, FedEx Ground is likely to remain a valuable franchise. 

 

Too much data can be toxic to clear thinking.  While we do not precisely subscribe to the cocktail napkin requirement, a great value opportunity can rapidly get lost amidst 20 basis points here and 15 basis points there.  Business and economic results are noisy, so we look for very large value opportunities relative to the uncertainty in our estimates.  FedEx Express margins are running at over 700 basis points behind UPS, by our estimates.  That is quite large.  Our bull case valuation for FDX tops out around $180/share, with a conservative base case valuation in the $130-$150 range.  Most importantly, our bear case shows little downside from current levels – an asymmetry even bearish reports agree with.  We think that is the signal amidst all of the noise.

 

 

Bearish Minutia: FedEx Ground

 

  • Lack Gains from Scale/Margins Weaker:  Those negative on FedEx have correctly pointed out that FY3Q2013 Ground margins were sequentially weaker.  Somewhat correctly, they highlight the prior period lack of clarity on the change in self-insurance accruals (annoying, yes, but you can see the reduced current and non-current self-insurance accruals in the 10-Ks, and those reductions fall almost directly to the operating income line. By our estimates, the companywide impact was an added $30-$40 million in fiscal 2012.  It was not allocated to Ground, though, and the company should do better than that, in our view.)  They also highlight that increased scale has recently not driven higher margins.   But, does any of this matter? 
    • Current High Teens Margins Are Great:  In 2007, FedEx Ground had a 13.5% operating margin and 2012 was a peak at 18.4%.  Reduced spending on the independent contractor realignment and greater scale likely drove the gains.  In a few quarters, margins can bounce around, but the trend is generally favorable.
    • Mix Will Lower Margins (but in a good way):  SmartPost and other e-commerce related services have lower margins – at least for now.  These are the fastest growing components of Ground.  We do not expect margin expansion at Ground because of this mix shift.  These low cost services are market expanding, much the way the drop in time definite service prices were in the 1970sIf an investor has an issue with FedEx Ground’s margins vs. market expansion, we would expect that they are heavily short ground services customer AMZN.
    • Why is 20% Needed?  The fixation on 20% margins seems odd.  We find FDX to be undervalued without assuming 20% Ground margins.
    • Ground Value Proposition b/t FDX and UPS Converging?  FedEx Ground is roughly half the size of UPS’s ground service and yet has equivalent margins.  FedEx Ground moves packages faster – and has been getting even faster.  To the extent that FedEx is bundling air and ground to increase channel density, the issue is the empty space/lack of channel density (i.e. excess air capacity, which is being addressed), not the value proposition offered by FedEx Ground.
    • Ground Margin Gains Will Slow:   Of course FedEx Ground margin gains will slow.  Much of the margin improvement since 2006 related to the need to restructure its independent contractor model.  As that spending dissipated, margins popped.  See here for a summary and replay of our expert call on FedEx Ground’s independent contractor model.  This is also covered in our Express & Courier Services black book.  Presenting a regression on per piece cost vs. volume without factoring in the origin of prior margin gains (e.g. completing the spending to restructure the IC model, which doesn’t relate to volumes or scale) is problematic and misleading.  Scale is far from the only or most important factor driving average cost per piece at FedEx Ground. 

 

FedEx Express

 

  • Express Margins Weak: That FedEx Express margins are weak is the point of our FDX long thesis.  If Express margins were not weak, the stock price would be much higher and we would be writing about lawnmower engines (BGG) instead of FedEx.  That said, the margins were sequentially weaker last quarter.  Does this matter?
    • They Didn’t Tell Us To Expect Margin Improvement:  FDX management said we should start to see the benefits in FY4Q 2013, which is this quarter, not last quarter.  See here for how we were not “in” FDX for last quarter’s results.
    • Tougher Environment for Restructuring?  We look to buy structurally sound/competitively advantaged cyclical stocks when their industry is at or near a trough, as we think the Express industry is now.  We look to sell when the industry is peaking (~2005 for the Express industry).  The weak Express market is unlikely to add to either the restructuring burden or the investor performance burden.  If one buys into strong cyclical markets, one will end up buying peaking cyclicals – like FDX in 2005 or CAT in the middle of last year, in our view.
    • Lower Bar for Restructuring Guidance:  The $1.6B in restructuring benefit for FedEx Express is to be measured from FY2013 levels.  FY2013 could be lower by $50-$100 million relative to prior expectations.  Does anyone think that $1.5 billion in Express cost reductions wouldn’t be huge for FDX’s share price?
    • TNT Possible:  It is possible that FDX is orienting the Express restructuring around a potential TNT acquisition, lowering margins near-term for a positive long-term transaction.  Most analysts do not address the potential of a TNT transaction.
    • Breaking Eggs:  Last quarter, FedEx started the process of the Express restructuring, which is disruptive, but did not receive the cost reduction benefits.
    • How Patient Are Investors?  We would point out that UAL has been “integrating” United and Continental for several years now.  Yet, first quarter adjusted, ex-fuel CASM is supposed to increase double digit.  After billions in restructuring and integration-related charges, investors have not lost hope in UAL’s cost reductions, even though we think they should.  Giving up on the FDX restructuring now is absurd, in our view.  The FedEx Express restructuring has not produced results because it has not really started, as of FY3Q results. 

 

Valuation

  • Guessing About Multiples:  Will FedEx ‘deserve’ a lower multiple once margins are higher?  Just asking the question sounds odd.
    • Backfilling P/Es:  Some have suggested that when FDX completes its restructuring, it should have a lower multiple.  They then proceed to pick a P/E number out of a hat that supports their bearish conclusion, with a narrative rationale for the arbitrary target P/E.  There is no reason to pick a P/E, since explicit discounted cash flow valuations can be generated that include return on capital, capital spending and market growth assumptions. 
    • Winners Win:  We would wager that if FedEx can execute on its restructuring, it is likely to have a higher multiple because it will be seen as a good company with a management team that can execute.  Of course, that’s another unsupportable narrative, but one that better matches our view... 
    • Argue Specifics:  We have presented the assumptions behind our scenario-based discounted cash flow valuations.  We think these valuations provide a “reasonable range” for FDX’s fair value in a framework that is consistent with how we look at the investment alternatives.  This approach allows the reader to disagree with, say, the reasonable range for long-term revenue growth at FedEx Ground (maybe 2% to 5%, but not 12%), instead of saying that the PE should be at a 20% discount to its 10-year average, whatever that means. 
    • Downside Limited:  Bears acknowledge that there is little valuation downside from current levels.  They just choose not to believe in the upside from a restructuring that has yet to flow through to a single earnings report and has been successfully executed by a competitor (DHL) in recent years. 

Correction In The KOSPI

41% of the KOSPI index, which is South Korea's major stock index, is comprised of tech/industrial companies that compete head-to-head with Japanese manufacturers. As a result of the Bank of Japan's recent announcement that it would be injecting $1.4 trillion in stimulus into the economy, the KOSPI has been hammered, dropping -1.6% overnight into today after breaking its TREND line of support at 1975 yesterday; it's down -3.5% year-to-date. The burning of the Japanese Yen by the Bank of Japan certainly doesn't help Korea's situation in any way shape or form. 

 

Correction In The KOSPI - KOSPI


Consumption Through Commodities

Over the last 8 weeks, the US dollar has appreciated in value at an impressive clip. In turn, commodity prices have fallen considerably in tandem with the dollar's appreciation. Most notably, corn, copper and crude oil prices have dropped in price significantly, which is a boon for the American consumer. Lower gas prices and lower food prices are what help drive consumption and in the end, more consumption = more growth, which helps with corporate earnings.

 

Consumption Through Commodities - image001


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Payroll Data Reflects March Deceleration

Takeaway: Today’s Payroll data agreed with the sequential softening in other labor market indicators. Sequestration impacts will remain a wildcard.

Today’s Payroll data confirmed the sequential deceleration observed in both the ADP and NSA Jobless claims numbers earlier in the week.  On balance, the labor market trends for March have followed the broader trends in the domestic macro data (ISM, PMI, Auto’s) where strong January and February numbers have been chased by been sequentially weaker March reports. 

 

Below we provide a summary review of the March employment trends observed across both the Current Population Survey (Household Survey), which drives the Unemployment Rate, and the Establishment Survey (CES) which drives the NFP Number.

 

Non-Farm Payrolls (Establishment Survey):  NonFarm Payrolls rose 88K in March on expectations of 190K and 268K prior (revised from 236) with y/y growth slowing 10bps sequentially to +1.4%.   Private payrolls rose 95K on expectations of 200K and 254K prior (revised from 246) with y/y growth slowing 10bps sequentially to +1.8%.   

 

Household Employment:  BLS’s Household survey of employment showed total employment declining 206K sequentially with y/y employment growth decelerating 10bps sequentially to +0.9%.

 

Unemployment Rate:  The Unemployment rate dropped to 7.6% from 7.7% m/m.  The decline was principally a function of the 496K drop in the Civilian labor Force which was comprised of a 206K m/m decline in total Employed and a 290K m/m decline in total Unemployed.  The greater decline in total Unemployed drove the improvement in the Unemployment rate despite the sequential weakening in the payroll data. 

 

Labor Force Participation:  The Labor Force Participation rate (LFPR) declined to 63.3% in March, the lowest level since May of 1979.  As a reminder, the LFPR = Total Labor Force (Employed + Unemployed)/Civilian Non-institutional Population.  The Civilian non-institutional population was up +167K m/m  (+1.0% y/y) while the total Labor Force declined by 496K (+0.2% y/y).  A lower numerator and higher denominator = a lower Labor Force Participation Rate. 

 

Employment By Age:  With the exception of the 55-64 year old cohort, employment growth across all age buckets decelerated sequentially in March.  The ongoing barbell recovery in employment remains the story as employment growth within the 20-34 YOA & 55-64 YOA age demographics remains positive while 35-44 and 45-54 year olds remain mired in negative employment growth according to BLS Household survey data. 

 

Part-Time & Temp Employment: Part-time employment (household survey) declined by 127K m/m while Temp employment growth (establishment survey) rose 20K in March. The growth trend across both series continues to be one of deceleration.  Is this good or bad?  Generally, it depends on where you are in the cycle.  Historically, increased part-time and temp hiring out of an economic trough would be viewed positively as businesses tepidly increase labor into signs of a fledgling demand recovery with the expectation that growth in PT and temp workers acts as a temporal gateway to increased FT employment gains.   We’d argue that we are out of trough conditions and, from here, to the extent growth in full-time employment can displace growth in part/temp employment and business can gain some further fiscal policy clarity into mid-year (post sequester, debt ceiling, budget resolution) consumption growth stands to benefit as workers gain health/retirement benefits, weekly wages rise, and confidence/clarity around future income supports marginal spending decisions. 

 

State & Local Gov’t Employment:  After a four year run of negative growth, state & local government employment growth continues to stagnate just below the zero line – coming in at -0.1% y/y in March.  Collectively, states expect continued tax revenue growth in 2013 with total General fund revenues expected to surpass the 2008 peak in nominal terms. The continued recovery in revenues should be a tailwind for employment and investment, however, sequestration and uncertainty around impending fiscal policy decisions at the federal may be weighing on hiring decisions at the state/local gov’t level currently.  

 

Sequestration:  Anecdotally, consensus seems to be largely sitting on the CBO’s estimate for approximately 400K in direct employment cuts with an multiplier impact of ~100-150K over calendar 2013.  Taking these estimates at face value, a smoothed impact would equate to an ~50K headwind to Claims & Nonfarm payrolls on a monthly basis.  Actual cuts will invariably be more lumpy and while the impacts should be concentrated in 2Q/3Q, trying to handicap the impact on any given economic report is largely intractable.  This reality increases the open-the-envelope risk on domestic econ data and sets up the potential for some negative sticker shock if some concentrated bolus of impact happens to flow through a particular release.  

 

BLS Household Survey Data


Payroll Data Reflects March Deceleration - Unemployment Rate

 

Payroll Data Reflects March Deceleration - CPS vs CES 040513

 

Payroll Data Reflects March Deceleration - Employment by Age 040513

 

Payroll Data Reflects March Deceleration - LFPR vs Unemployment Rate Monthly 040513

 

Payroll Data Reflects March Deceleration - Part time Employment 040513 

 

Payroll Data Reflects March Deceleration - CNP 040513

 

 

BLS Establishment Survey Data  

 

Payroll Data Reflects March Deceleration - NFP 040513

 

Payroll Data Reflects March Deceleration - Ave Weekly Hours 040513

 

Payroll Data Reflects March Deceleration - State   Local Gov t 040513

 

Payroll Data Reflects March Deceleration - Temp Employment 040513

 

 

Christian B. Drake

Senior Analyst 

 

 

 


PNRA HYPE MAKES IT SHORTABLE

Panera Bread’s stock has been upgraded two times in as many days and the stock has soared in response.  We believe there is an opportunity to short PNRA at current levels for a trade (three weeks or less).

 

Fundamental Setup Less Positive (summary bullets)

  • Traffic trends suggest that the consumer may be tiring of consistent price increases at Panera Bread
  • Comp sales growth has become increasingly dependent on mix
  • Total revenue growth continues to slow from the peak in 3Q11.  4Q13’s figure will be skewed because of an extra week
  • Same-restaurant sales, margin guidance at risk
  • Earnings estimates revisions unlikely to go higher absent sales acceleration
  • Valuation is likely stretched at current levels

 

Traffic Trends

 

As the chart below illustrates, Panera’s traffic trends have been decelerating over the last three quarters.  Embedded in some of the optimism in recent upgrades has been an idea that easier comparisons may play a part in better traffic trends in 2013. Traffic trends may improve sequentially but we see the 4Q traffic number, against an easy comparison, as an indication that Panera could have a traffic problem.

 

PNRA HYPE MAKES IT SHORTABLE - pnra traffic growth

 

 

Revenue Growth

 

Along with traffic trends, total revenue growth has been decelerating for the three quarters,  If this trend continues, we believe that the multiple implied in the stock’s price could compress (more below).

 

PNRA HYPE MAKES IT SHORTABLE - pnra revenue growth

 

 

Comparable Sales Trends

 

The company has guided to company-owned same-store sales growth of 4.5% to 5.5% for fiscal 2013 and 4.0% to 5.0% for 1Q13. Consensus expectations are for the company to post 4.3% same-store sales and sequential improvement thru the balance of 2013. We believe there is sufficient risk to traffic expectations to bet against the sequential improvement that the Street is forecasting.

 

PNRA HYPE MAKES IT SHORTABLE - pnra sss components

 

 

Earnings

 

Earnings revision growth has slowed and, absent meaningful acceleration in sales trends, there may be no additional upside to estimates.  The company is guiding to 2013 EPS growth of 17-19%, inclusive of the 53rd week impact.

 

PNRA HYPE MAKES IT SHORTABLE - PNRA EEG

 

 

Valuation

 

We don’t anticipate any catalyst materializing to drive PNRA’s multiple higher over the next year.  Particularly if our concerns about traffic growth are well-founded, it could be difficult to argue for a higher multiple.  The last time the stock was trading a turn higher than current levels, on an EV/EBITDA basis, the company was posting high-single-digit same-restaurant sales growth and low-single-digit traffic trends.  If traffic trends don’t accelerate, we believe that the multiple has significant downside.

 

 

 

 

Howard Penney

Managing Director

 

Rory Green

Senior Analyst


Buyem: SP500 Levels, Refreshed

Takeaway: I bought this SPY on my line. I also bought the US Dollar (UUP) again today. The SPY vs USD correlation = ) +0.84 right now.

POSITIONS: 19 LONGS, 8 SHORTS @Hedgeye

 

We are well aware that this week’s news on the jobs front (both NSA Rolling Claims and the Monthly Jobs Report) weren’t good; at least not as good as the employment news has been. That’s now another market opportunity – what if next week’s jobless claims improve?

 

What if the mortgage rate for a 30yr falls back to where it was 3 months ago? What if the US Dollar continues to strengthen? What if Oil prices continue to fall? Plenty of questions to answer for tomorrow as people are forced to react to what’s now old news today.

 

Across our core risk management durations, here are the lines that matter to me most:

 

  1. Immediate-term TRADE resistance = 1575
  2. Immediate-term TRADE support = 1540
  3. Intermediate-term TREND support = 1502

 

In other words, A) we held TRADE support (1540) this morning and B) I’m giving you a higher (all-time) high of resistance (1575). I am only giving you these because my quant model gave them to me. I do what she says.

 

I bought this SPY on my line. I also bought the US Dollar (UUP) again today. The SPY vs USD correlation = ) +0.84 right now. So if the US Dollar makes another higher-low here and VIX makes another lower-high, you know what to do.

 

Enjoy your weekend,

KM

 

Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer

 

Buyem: SP500 Levels, Refreshed - SPX


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