Japanese industrial output for March was a sequential improvement


Japanese equities rallied on the back of the broad US rally and March Industrial Output data, which came in well above economist estimates at a 1.6% improvement over February -the first sequential monthly improvement in 6 months. The chart below illustrates the same data on an absolute and year-over-year basis, which paints a decidedly less enthusiastically bullish picture.


Clearly output improved on the margin, just as slamming into the canyon floor is finding a bottom -but our thesis  on Japan remain s eth same. The anemic stimulus package that Aso's government has formulated will not be enough to offset external demand, and waiting for US consumer demand to return (or Chinese consumer demand to develop) for exports like high-end automotive will take a good while.   Still, Aso's trade mission to Shanghai today reflects Japan's commitment to working with the Client, and every indication is that Chinese appetite for heavy equipment is surging, a massive positive for heavy industrials. Clearly the glass-half-full crowd will find reason enough to be positive.


Tactically, Keith covered our EWJ short heading into last night's data (excellent trade on his part) and we will look to re-short higher in the near term unless the Yen declines and provides exporters with greater breathing room or the broad economic data provides more significant bullish signals.


Andrew Barber




The anti-SBUX commentary will fall into two buckets (1) in 2Q09 same-store sales trends declined 8% and on 2-years basis sales trends continues to decline and (2) McDonald's move into the premium coffee segment is going to hurt SBUX when they go on national TV. Importantly, Starbucks proved this quarter that there are significant costs the company can cut to help stabilize margins. It will be hard for any anti-SBUX commentary to say "even with the cost cutting the company can't make the numbers."



I don't care how negative people are the Starbuck's, the core of the business model is very healthy and is showing very sustainable trends that that was not there three to six months ago. For the past two quarters the company has posted sequential improvements in operating margins, and will report year-over-year improvement in 3Q and 4Q of 2009. This is directly attributable to the progress SBUX has made on its cost cutting initiatives. In 2Q09, SBUX delivered $120 million in cost savings, exceeding the $100 million target. For the balance of the fiscal 2009, SBUX has cost savings of approximately $150 million in 3Q09 and $175 million in 4Q09.


On a consolidated basis (excluding restructuring charges), 2Q09 operating margin was 8.3% versus 8.4% last year. Operating margin in Q2 improved sequentially by 20 basis points from 1Q09. In the U.S. operating margin for 2Q09 was 10.9% versus 11.5% last year (excluding restructuring charges) and internationally 2Q09 operating margins were 4.8% versus 5.1% last year.


A very powerful trend in margins!




The Starbucks critics will be loud and clear that the top line trends are weak and getting weaker. Admittedly, the top line trends remain an issue for the company, but I contend that it's not terminal and many people overstate the impact McDonald's will have on the business. Don't get me wrong; the issues Starbucks faces are far from trivial and McDonald's is a great competitor, but to think that Starbucks is not fixable is crazy. There are a lot of high-end retailers that are not doing well today, but the Starbucks basic drip coffee is anything but expensive at around $1.65 for a 12oz cup.


In order to sustain continued stock price appreciation, SBUX cannot rely on cost saving initiatives alone, but the company has bought themselves some time. Investors will expect to see a turnaround in sales to solidify the turnaround. While comparisons do get significantly easier as we move into 2H09, the company finally announced last night that it will launch a multi-million dollar advertising campaign focused on the quality, value and the values that Starbucks offers. The timing of the Starbucks advertising campaign will pre-empt the national launch of McDonald's premium coffee. Given the cost of media today, it's a great time for Starbucks to be launching a national advertising campaign.


Also, beginning May 5th Starbucks will offer a Grande iced coffee for less than $2. This is an important step to extend value to the Starbucks customers in an attempt to build transactions. Lastly, the company will fine tune its menu prices in several key markets to better align geographic COGS and labor issues. This will result in minor changes to prices, that that will lower prices on some of our more popular items such as tall lattes and slightly increase prices on larger and more labor intensive beverages.


The rate of decline in Starbucks same-store sales is slowing!




In 2Q09 SBUX reduced our short-term borrowings from $290 million to $226 million and does not need to seek an amendment to their credit facility. The potential amendment was driven by the lease termination costs associated with the decision to close another 300 underperforming stores. Starbucks said last night that the impact from lease exit costs for the balance of fiscal 2009 will be lower than previously expected, thus they are no longer pursuing the necessary amendment.


Capital expenditures for the first six months were $237, down from the $505 million in capital spending last years. In 1H09 SBUX generated $715 million in cash from operations and $479 million in free cash flow.




With the stock up nearly 45% this year valuation has improved, but the sentiment on the stock has not. As top line momentum begins to improve the flow-thru to EPS will be even greater, given the new cost structure of the company. At current levels and no change in estimates there is 11-23% upside to the stock.




VFC: EPS and Inventory Still Too High

We've been negative on this one for a while, though admittedly wish we were louder into this earnings report.  Anyone who thinks that a global company with a portfolio of core cash flow generators layered with younger growth brands could escape the worldwide recession is out to lunch.  Now it's time for VFC to play catch up with the rest of their apparel brethren and take their lumps on margins while aggressively cutting inventories. 


The Street has cut numbers substantially for the next quarter, but the full year appears to be settling out in the middle of management's provided range of $4.70 to $5.00.  We think these numbers are still too high.  We're getting to something closer to $4.50.  The inventory clearing process (while ultimately positive for FCF) will hurt gross margins big time over the next couple of quarters.  With 50% of the problem lying in the European denim business, we think it will take some time to work through the inventory.  Last time we checked there weren't many major off-pricer's in Eastern Europe or Scandinavia.  Admittedly, 4Q is still a toss-up at this point given the easy margin and topline compares that resulted from the most volatile shopping season on record - but we don't have the confidence that management can proactively drive the entire portfolio this far out when it has so much on its plate. 


However, a couple of points are clear to us:


Inventories are coming down (-4% in Q1, should be -10% for the year) but it will take some time to get to manageable levels. Along the way, there will be gross margin pressure that likely persists throughout the remainder of the year. It does not take much GM% erosion to get to management's guidance. But forced inventory reduction could easily take out an extra point or two. Remember, VFC has been an apparel conglomerate for a number of years disguised as a growth company. Meaningful inventory reductions have not been part of the equation here for a long time.


Newer brands are finally showing signs of weakness as evidenced by a decline in 7 For All Mankind, negative sales in the outdoor segment, and negative mid single- digit comps in the newly-built retail operation.


Cost savings remains on track, but even cutting $100mm this year cannot offset leverage loss on the top line. This is not the kind of company where it pays to cut costs in a meaningful way. Portfolios of retail past (the JNY's and LIZ's of the world) virtually destroyed their respective businesses by cutting too much muscle.


While not the biggest takeaway from the quarter, we found it interesting that 7 For All Mankind reported sales declines, even with new store growth helping to grow the topline. We're not sure if it makes sense to continue to roll out high cost retail flagships when customers don't seem as interested these days in $200+ denim. We realize the brand is still evolving but it's never a great sign when a growth vehicle stops growing. Unfortunately, the success of The North Face is extremely difficult to replicate...


We wonder how quickly VFC can layer on acquisitions to offset the focus and reality of slowing core brands and maturing young brands? Is the long rumored DC shoe deal going to re-emerge? It better... (and at a fire-sale price).

VFC: EPS and Inventory Still Too High  - vfc sigma

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We wrote about the potential for a big quarter in our note "ASCA: INCENTIVE TO BLOW OUT Q1".  However, the quarter was even better than our most optimistic scenario.  Property EBITDA beat us at every property and increased YoY at every property, save East Chicago.  Competing with Harrah's used to be a tough business.  All together, corporate EBITDA increased 21%.  We're in a recession?




Margins were the story as revenues were just flattish.  Certainly, ASCA had an incentive to beat the quarter, as we discussed in the 4/12/09 note.  ASCA will be in the market to raise subordinated debt or extend the maturity of its credit facility.  The current credit facility expires in November of 2010.  Our thesis was that the credit markets needed to be pried open and a big quarter would be a good start.  Regional gaming credits trade at a big spread to other similarly leveraged consumer sectors because they are, well, gaming.  MGM, Station, Harrah's, etc. continue to weigh on the sector.  The "collusion" of strong regional gaming earnings releases (ASCA, PENN, PNK) could change that.


ASCA closed up 21% on the day, and rightfully so.  We are now projecting EPS and EBITDA of $1.48 and $379 million, respectively, for 2010.  We took a hack at EV/EBITDA as a valuation tool (4/20/09 - "GAMING REGIONALS:  THE FALLACY OF EV/EBITDA") since it doesn't incorporate refinancing risk or increasing cost of debt for companies with nearer term debt maturity or covenant issues.  For ASCA we've incorporated the incremental borrowing costs of a refinancing into our 2010 estimate so we will look at both EV/EBITDA and FCF yield for the stock.


After the big move in the stock and a significant hike in our EBITDA and FCF estimates, the stock looks like it is valued pretty close to perfection.  EV/EBITDA and FCF yield on our 2010 projections is 6.6x and 14%, respectively.  In the 4/20/09 note we pegged fair value at 6.9x and 15%, respectively.  Multiples could go higher and we are open to debate, but we'll sit tight for now.

Can’t Ignore These Crummy Data Points

Apparel took a nosedive in the sporting goods channel over the past week based on the latest SportscanINFO numbers. I'm quite surprised, actually, given that the trend has been so strong in the 5 weeks prior.


Can’t Ignore These Crummy Data Points - Footwear Apparel   Chart


This is not a 'sample issue' as the numbers also rolled over for footwear according to NPD (released late afternoon). The calendar lines up well - so no Easter issues, and weather does not appear to have been a major factor. The last biggie we looked for is a sample issue whereby a retailer (like Joe's, etc...) went bust and skewed the sample. But no dice on that front.


Bottom line? It was a lousy week. Period.


Can’t Ignore These Crummy Data Points - Sports Apparel Categories Table

Squeezy Eats Last: SP500 Levels, Refreshed...

We can't say that we didn't warn the shorts - now we'll make some sales into their bids to cover as we surpass this morning's immediate term call for SPX 877 and push towards my refreshed immediate term target of 881 (dotted red line). Some people call this trading - I call it proactively managing predictable risk.


Higher highs are bullish, and the levels of support that I am looking at below (green lines in the chart) are also manifesting into higher lows (bullish). Alongside a US Dollar and Volatility Index (VIX) that are breaking down, this is all good, provided that you are a buyer of down moves associated with the Swine and the Stress...


Chasing on the long side or covering your shorts up here is not what I'd be doing. Trade the range with a bullish bias. Keep it tight. Stay disciplined on your levels.


Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


Squeezy Eats Last: SP500 Levels, Refreshed...  - sp500n

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