Editor’s Note: We have made some changes to your Investing Ideas newsletter this week to serve you better. We have added a section called Investing Ideas Updates, which incorporate the latest comments from our research team’s Investing Ideas’ stocks. We have also included links to the latest Stock Reports, which discuss each Investing Idea stock in detail.
CURRENT INVESTING IDEAS
CAG, DRI, FDX, HOLX, MPEL
INVESTING IDEAS UPDATES
- CAG: Consumer Staples sector head Rob Campagnino (@HedgeyeStaples) says ConAgra’s earnings “disappointment” – they reported $0.55, a penny less than consensus – is a high-quality problem. The company continues to do the right thing, increasing their marketing spend in their core business by a third, and maintaining full-year earnings guidance. (Please click here for the latest CAG Stock Report.)
- HOLX: Health Care sector head Tom Tobin (@HedgeyeHC) sees new replacement of diagnostic mammography units for the first time since late 2008. Hologic is poised to ride the crest of this replacement cycle wave, which Tobin believes is the start of a long-term growth trend in this critical health technology. As the recognized leader in accurate detection of cancers, and elimination of false positive results, HOLX should benefit from additional insurance spending under the Affordable Care Act. (Please click here for the latest HOLX Stock Report.)
- DRI: Restaurants sector head Howard Penney (@HedgeyeHWP) says casual dining trends should improve as housing continues to strengthen – housing mirrors the formation of new family units, and families eat out. Darden’s quarterly earnings beat Wall Street expectations, though on a double-digit revenue decline. (Please click here for the latest DRI Stock Report.)
- FDX: Industrials sector head Jay Van Sciver (@HedgeyeIndstrls) says with margins at a 30+ year low, and trailing the competition by as much as 7%, FedEx has abundant opportunities for cost reductions. Meanwhile, FedEx Ground continues to take market share from UPS. In a breakup, either the Ground or Express could be worth more than the whole company trades for today. (Please click here for the latest FDX Stock Report.)
- MPEL: Gaming, Lodging & Leisure sector head Todd Jordan (@HedgeyeSnakeye) says recent highs in this stock should not fool investors: Melco Crown Entertainment continues to be misperceived. Jordan says management has done an effective job and multiple expansion should take the stock higher, reflecting the more stable reality of this company. (Please click here to see the latest MPEL Stock Report.)
MACRO THEME OF THE WEEK: THE BAD NEWS BULLS
Hedgeye CEO Keith McCullough (@KeithMcCullough) wrote Friday morning, “We are well aware that this week’s news on the jobs front (both Non-Seasonally-Adjusted 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?”
McCullough warns Friday’s market downdraft, triggered by weak non-farm payrolls, could be a head fake. The S&P index held Keith’s support levels (using his proprietary quantitative models) and signaled a higher overhead resistance level. What if oil prices continue to fall? What if the dollar continues to strengthen? What if mortgage rates get pushed back down again?
THE GOOD NEWS Call it “not as bad as you thought news.” Financials sector head Josh Steiner says the labor market looks much softer than it really is. Labor statistics are confusing right off the bat, because More Jobs is not at all the same as Less Unemployment – Friday’s non-farm numbers highlights the lopsided relationship between the measures.
Looking at some key measures of GDP at year-end 2012, there are upward trends in overall demand for US products, both domestic and for export, and increased domestic investment. The Government component of GDP was flat to slightly down, perhaps partly related to the Sequester. Hedgeye has said the Sequester is fundamentally positive because it cuts government spending. The markets seem to agree, driving recent strong action in both the Dollar and US equities. Against this, Thursday’s Initial Jobless Claims number was widely viewed as a negative surprise, while Friday’s non-farm payrolls report added to fears the recovery is running out of steam.
THE BAD NEWS Analysts generally track Initial Jobless Claims using seasonally-adjusted figures. On that basis, this week’s Claims number was pretty dismal. Steiner favors non-adjusted figures, and using these, Steiner says Initial Claims continued to improve, if only mildly. Steiner notes that Easter came early this year – March instead of April – throwing off seasonally-adjusted comparisons in everything from employment, to food and entertainment, to retail and beyond. So there’s Bad News, and Less Bad News: the seasonally-adjusted figures looked awful, while the non-adjusted figures were still trending slightly positive over last year. Friday’s report shows labor growth is cooling, but one statistic does not a bear market make.
SECTOR SPOTLIGHT: INDUSTRIALS
Industrials sector head Jay Van Sciver highlights private equity in a sector that is generally neglected by big money. He cautions that KKR’s buyout last month of industrial pump maker Gardner Denver shouldn’t be read as open season across the sector, but there may be some momentum. “The best LBO shops in the industrials sector go after idiosyncratic deals,” writes Van Sciver. A highly cyclical sector “can be death sentences for highly leveraged entities,” he writes. Think of paying $75 million a year for a star outfielder, then seeing him bat 0 for 30. You’re sure you’ll get your money’s worth some day.
But the waiting…!
Two additional factors in favor of private equity deals in industrials: it’s an unlikely sector, which means there may be hidden value waiting to be discovered, and there is some $1 trillion in Private Equity cash waiting to be invested. Unlike you and me, PE managers can’t sit on their cash. They charge investors a 2% management fee, even on uninvested funds. You’d better believe there’s pressure to put that money to work.
Other items from the sector:
- Recent manufacturing and rail data flash a slowdown in March, after rapid growth in January-February. This may lead companies to issue conservative guidance for the current quarter.
- Early truck tonnage stats show an upswing after a poor showing last year. Continued growth in the sector could somewhat mitigate the dour outlook from manufacturing and rail – but a downturn will be seen as confirmation.
- Factory orders, while probably priced into the markets, are further confirmation of stabilization in industrial activity, after a poor 2012.
- North American agricultural equipment sales appear well above replacement demand, indicating the sector may be immune to stimulus from agricultural prices.
- Housing activity continues strong, which continues to bolster Van Sciver’s bullish view on outdoor power equipment.
- Last, but not least – domestic airlines are supposed to be “reaping the benefits of consolidation through strong pricing.” Van Sciver says they are really just repeating the tired old narrative of “We’ve changed! We’ve restructured! We’ll make lots more money now!” We remind our readers that the corollary is: “Unless we don’t.”
INVESTMENT TERM: GUIDANCE
The SEC requires public companies to make “full and fair disclosure” of material information. In the past, senior executives would have a “one-on-one” their favorite Wall Street analyst – whose research would magically have the best projection of the company’s earnings. Now many companies issue Guidance, a public disclosure of management estimates of future revenues, expenses and earnings.
This is an improvement, but still far from perfect. There’s a “guidance game,” where certain companies always come in with actual earnings reports that are just a little bit better than their guidance. There are special cases, such as publicly traded oil & gas Master Limited Partnerships who provide guidance on how much they expect to distribute to shareholders. Again, distribution targets can be met from sources other than actual business revenues, further muddying the accounting waters. And there are companies that miss their guidance numbers altogether – though note that Wall Street only calls it a “miss” if the actual earnings are below the guidance levels. Apparently investors don’t mind if companies use accounting skullduggery, as long as their stock prices go up.
While guidance is intended to level the playing field, note that the biggest investors can still purchase an edge, as reported in the Financial Times (April 1st, “US Research Highlights ‘Cash For Access’ Risks.”) Citing an academic study released in January, the article says some hedge fund managers “are paying as much as $20,000 an hour to meet a chief executive,” and “informed hedge fund managers… typically generated an excess return of 3.7 per cent in the month following a meeting with management.” This practice, known in the trade as “corporate access,” indicates the SEC still has a way to go in the realm of Full and Fair Disclosure.
The Wall Street Journal called attention to trends in guidance (April 1st, “Investors Ignore Negativity at Their Peril”) noting that, though the S&P 500 had recouped all its bear market losses, “people in the market with legal inside information are surprisingly cautious.” FactSet reports the highest ratio of companies in the S&P 500 issuing negative guidance (over 3 ½ to 1) since they started keeping records, in 2006. And though analysts’ earnings outlooks for these companies has ratcheted down considerably, the average stock price for companies issuing negative guidance is practically unchanged – half of them actually went up in the days immediately following negative guidance announcements. There seem to be excessive upside reactions when companies issue positive guidance (Netflix stock was up over 60% following enthusiastic guidance) and not enough of a negative reaction to downward guidance.
We expect most companies issuing negative guidance to report within – or slightly better than – the range of expectation. Earnings guidance is what management wants you to think of their company right now. While you don’t have to agree with them, you shouldn’t ignore them.