Europe: It's Getting Interesting

(Editor's note: Below is a brief excerpt from Hedgeye CEO Keith McCullough's conference call with investors earlier this morning. For more information on how Hedgeye can help you, please click here.)

Europe Across-The-Board

I am interested in buying Germany here. Have not done that yet. We went with the UK index instead.


Europe: It's Getting Interesting - hed1


The UK index is interesting—I had a lot of questions on that yesterday because it’s obviously not all the UK. It’s kind of a back-door way to play this broadening theme of Europe—I wouldn’t say “recovering,” I would say "not going to hell in a hand basket." That’s the most appropriate way to describe what’s going on there right now.


If you’re just to look at this mathematically, which is the slope of the line—you can characterize something with words however you want—but the slope of the line has stabilized in Europe. In the big places. Over in the UK, it’s actually accelerating. And that’s just the point. That’s why those markets are interesting.


That’s also why the bond markets are not interesting. In fact, they look like shorts. Whether you look at the the German bond market, or the UK bond market, they look like hell. They look like the US bond market does because again, rates are rising. And it’s not just in the US, because these things follow the slope of growth which at a bare minimum in Europe is not slowing anymore, which is of course bullish on the margin if you’re looking at the slope of the line. 


Over the past year, DRI has underperformed the S&P 500 and the XLY by 26.9% and 39.3%, respectively.  These numbers make DRI the second worst performing casual dining company, only behind BJRI, during this period.


Since the end of FY12, DRI has lowered its annual guidance 3 times.  A consistent lowering of guidance indicates that management does not have a feasible plan to fix the company and, given the current industry conditions, things may be getting worse before they get any better.


Below we run through three signs that suggest management is struggling to fix the company and lead us to believe that they will lower guidance moving forward and could, potentially, announce a restructuring charge:

  1. Shrimp prices are up +56% YoY
  2. The company has supply chain issues
  3. July and August sales trends look to be well below industry trends


Shrimp Prices – Urner Barry’s White Shrimp Index has shrimp priced at around $6 a pound, up +56% YoY and approaching an all-time high.  The main culprit:  the emergence of a disease that has severely reduced shrimp output in China, Thailand and Vietnam.



Supply Chain Issues – In late June and early July, the FDA linked the outbreak of a rare parasite found in Iowa and Nebraska to a salad mix produced by Taylor Farms de Mexico.  This salad mix was served at an undetermined number of Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants in these two states. 


Since that time, nearly 500 people have been sickened in 16 states, while at least 30 more have been hospitalized.  While DRI has not been linked to all the foodborne illness incidents, its initial association with the outbreak was not good news for company.  We can only wonder whether all of the DRI cost cutting initiatives, particularly in its supply chain, led to this unfortunate incident.



Sales Trends – DRI’s discounting strategy began to move the needle on traffic in 4Q13, but it came at the expense of margins.  We believe there is a potentially disastrous situation brewing in FY1Q14, whereby DRI’s discounting efforts are not having the desired impact on traffic, causing a more severe blow to margins than expected.  This scenario, combined with significantly higher food inflation in FY14, leads us to believe DRI could be looking at significantly lower earnings in FY14.



Restructuring Charge

As we have said many times before, DRI is being mismanaged, plain and simple.  DRI’s 4Q13 earnings call underscored our argument that the company needs a shakeup in the C-Suite.  When approximately $1 billion in annual operating cash is not being put to productive use and a company’s leadership team consistently disappoints, this suggests that they do not have the ability to turn the company around. 


That said, we believe DRI’s performance over the past five years has been consistent with that of a mismanaged business and one that will need a massive undertaking to fix.  In the end, this may include rationalizing the assets of the business.


Hedgeye’s Take – The sum of the parts is greater than the whole, at Darden, and we believe there is a striking opportunity for an activist to enter the fray, unlock value and, ultimately, benefit shareholders.













Howard Penney

Managing Director


Bullish on the Union Jack

This note was originally published August 16, 2013 at 09:45 in Macro

  • Bullish position on the UK (etf: EWU) and Germany (EWG) remains.
  • Eurozone fundamentals inching higher; investor sentiment improving on weak comps. On a relative basis the Eurozone is well below its historical growth average and churning only modestly higher as deep structural imbalances and the lack of credit drag on growth.
  • We underline the significance of Eurocrat and ECB resolve to lend support to the region and markets (at all costs), which, along with marginally better data, should continue to support Eurozone capital market performance.

Bullish on the Union Jack - uk7 

UK’s Island Economics

In support of our fundamental bullish call on the UK economy since our June 11th European update presentation titled “Where Does Europe Go From Here”, yesterday the UK printed a strong Retail Sales figure of 3.0% in July year-over-year (exp. 2.4%) vs 1.9% JUN.


The print and the down move in the FTSE100 yesterday prompted us to add the UK via the etf EWU to our real-time portfolio positions on the long side.


Bullish on the Union Jack - hed1


Bullish on the Union Jack - z. uk retail and IP


Our outlook on the UK is data and price dependent and hasn’t changed: we expect to see outperformance from the UK economy versus many of its European peers due to its decision to issue austerity earlier in the fiscal consolidation cycle. We are now seeing stronger signs of improved consumer sentiment, and expect PMI readings to maintain their level above the 50 line (expansion) into year-end. Beyond retail sales, industrial production and housing figures have improved year-to-date, and while wage volatility and sticky stagflation persist, we view reductions in the saving rate as another indicator of improved sentiment.  Further, we’re bullish on the changing of the guard at the BOE to Mark Carney – while it’s up for argument on just how effective tying monetary policy to the unemployment rate is, we like the Bank’s move towards a more transparent state to better manage and guide expectations.


Bullish on the Union Jack - z. uk cpi


Bullish on the Union Jack - z. uk house prices


Bullish on the Union Jack - z. uk savings rate



Eurozone Inching Higher


The big news this week was a better-than-expected first print of Q2 GDP out of the Eurozone, a follow-on to improving fundamental data out of the Eurozone in recent weeks.


The Eurozone’s +0.3% Q2 GDP rise marked the end of an 18 month recession (cheer!), and the figure beat our expectations for only modest improvement over Q1 (consensus was at +0.2%), especially in a quarter that was hampered by bad weather (including serious flooding throughout central Europe), continued misdirection in economic leadership from France’s Hollande (France has the second largest economy behind Germany in the Eurozone), and continued political strife in Italy, Spain, and Portugal.


Bullish on the Union Jack - z. eurozone gdp


Clearly the data is looking better.  Germany and France also beat Q2 GDP expectations. Germany reported growth of +0.7% Q/Q (+10bps above expectations) versus 0.0% in Q1 and France rose +0.5% Q/Q (+30bps above expectations) vs -0.2% in Q1. Add to this performance PMI figures that have improved across the region over the last 3-5 months (reaching over the 50 line in the last 1-2 readings) and improvement in sentiment readings across the core and periphery.


Bullish on the Union Jack - z. pmis


Risk Spreads are dropping to new lows. Also, 10YR Spanish and Italian bonds are trading at their tightest spreads over comparable German paper in more than two years at ~252bps and 235bps, respectively.


Bullish on the Union Jack - z. 10 spreads



Not All Is Rosy

What’s our read?  While there’s optimism to be had on improving data, GDP was still down -0.7% year-over-year in Q2 and we expect a very slow churn higher in Eurozone GDP in the balance of 2013. Certainly GDP will remain well below the pre-crisis average of 2.1% (since 2000) as the region hits the reset button on standards of spending and lending as budgets are readjusted at the government and household levels.  We maintain our call for 2013 GDP between -0.8% and -0.6% year-over-year.

Beyond struggling to reset spending and lifestyles habits, here are some significant hurdles that we expect will continue to weigh on Eurozone GDP:

  • The slim availability of credit, in particular to the small and medium sized businesses, the core drivers of growth and employment (see chart below on ECB Loans to Non-Financial Corporations and Households as proxy—at or near all-time lows)
  • Diminished credit quality of banks, especially across the periphery, as they report increasing non-performing loans
  • Further bank write-downs of non-performing assets
  • Labor market reforms slow to enact or institute at all
  • A protracted unemployment overhang, especially youth unemployment across the periphery, that will limit consumer spending and confidence
  •  Political uncertainty, in Italy, Spain, and Portugal, to weigh on budget reforms and confidence

Bullish on the Union Jack - z. ecb lending


To throw out a couple anecdotes from the media stories we’ve recently come across that paint a still subdued outlook, we include:

  • The WSJ reported that auto sales in Europe are so bad that less than half the factories in the region operate at the minimum 75% of capacity needed to break even. It said that those operating below that level are mostly located in Italy, France, and Spain whose economies have been hit by the crisis. The article noted that governments in Western Europe are worried about seeing more workers join the ranks of the unemployed and that unions are aggressively protecting jobs, while the courts have also been sympathetic. The paper said that because of this, auto makers are losing billions of euros a year by retaining workers and factories they no longer need.
  • A poll by ING-DiBa AG and the University of Hohenheim shows that only 17% of Germans believe that the worst of the Eurozone crisis is over, while 91% think that the crisis will still go on for a long time. Only 10% of Germans believe that politicians are being honest with citizens regarding Eurozone issues.


Concluding Thoughts


Our call remains that into Q4 we expect European PMIs to hover around the 50 line (ups and downs) but not to show a material breakout given the very weak structural issues that we do not see inflecting materially over the intermediate term, including weak credit conditions, high unemployment, alongside political uncertainty at the country level – Italy, Spain, and France in particular.  We continue to be fundamentally bullish on German and the UK equities, so should we see any outperformance from PMIs, we think it could come from these two countries.


As it relates to the capital markets, we think a much larger force versus marginal improvement in fundamental data is the political resolve of the Eurocrats and Draghi to lend fund if needed (back-pocket OMT ready) and prevent any country from leaving the Eurozone, which we think can continue to stabilize and push markets higher. Already we’re seeing domestic and international investors become increasingly confident in Draghi’s heavy hand and buying distressed asset, for example housing in Spain and bank debt across the periphery, as the EU banking system slowly continues to heal.      


Enjoy the weekend!


Matthew Hedrick

Senior Analyst

Morning Reads on Our Radar Screen

Takeaway: A quick look at some stories on Hedgeye's radar screen.

Keith McCullough – CEO

Alpha Hunter James Rickards on Gold and the U.S. Dollar (via All About Alpha)

Sales of U.S. Existing Homes Rise to Highest Since 2009 (via Bloomberg)

Indian stocks plunge 11% in a month (via CNNMoney)

Syria conflict: 'Chemical attacks' kill hundreds (via BBC)


Morning Reads on Our Radar Screen - bullbear


Daryl Jones – Macro

Abandoned Dogs Roam Detroit in Packs as Humans Dwindle (via Bloomberg)


Jonathan Casteleyn – Financials

Goldman’s Options Error Shows Peril Persists After Knight (JC note: A $100 MM loss has a small impact on $GS - would be just $0.71 per share on a tangible book value of $140 per share  via Bloomberg)

Bond Trading Hampered as Buyers Retreat to Crowded Exits (JC note: Bond market illiquidity is a huge risk for fixed income investors - we highlighted it in our rollout via Bloomberg)


Brian McGough – Retail

PetSmart 2Q profit tops Street, lifts outlook (BM note: PETM maintains its streak of being the only retailer to never comp down -- ever. 'Ever' is a long time. If you know of others, let me know. via AP)


Matt Hedrick – Macro

Europe Prepares for More Greek Aid as German Election Approaches (via Bloomberg)


Client Talking Points


At the recent US Dollar lows in June ($79.11 is the long-term TAIL risk line of support), the Yen tested 94 vs USD and the S&P 500 was probing 1575. A lot changed in a hurry come the beginning of July, and the USD strengthening off those higher all-time-lows was a big driver of that. Bottom line here right now is the USD needs to hold $79.11 to keep buying US Equity corrections. We continue to keep a close eye on this.


One of my key weekly looks on sentiment is probing its June lows all of a sudden too (that’s actually bullish). This morning’s Bull/Bear Spread is +2170; that’s down -34% from when it peaked at +3310 in the first week of August as the S&P 500 and Russell made all-time highs. Bulls have dropped to a shockingly low level of 43.3%. Professional market top calling? It is still in vogue


Got #AsianContagion? It’s officially a race to the bottom for the Rupee (India) vs the Rupiah (Indonesia). Growth continues to slow as currency-adjusted inflation accelerates in these countries. What's the message here? Don’t buy those equity markets. Don't do it. India was down -1.9% overnight. It is now down -11.8% since July 23 and -6.7% year-to-date.

Asset Allocation


Top Long Ideas

Company Ticker Sector Duration

WWW is one of the best managed and most consistent companies in retail. We’re rarely fans of acquisitions, but the recent addition of Sperry, Saucony, Keds and Stride Rite (known as PLG) gives WWW a multi-year platform from which to grow. We think that the prevailing bearish view is very backward looking and leaves out a big piece of the WWW story, which is that integration of these brands into the WWW portfolio will allow the former PLG group to achieve what it could not under its former owner (most notably – international growth, and leverage a more diverse selling infrastructure in the US). Furthermore it will grow without needing to add the capital we’d otherwise expect as a stand-alone company – especially given WWW’s consolidation from four divisions into three -- which improves asset turns and financial returns.


Gaming, Leisure & Lodging sector head Todd Jordan says Melco International Entertainment stands to benefit from a major new European casino rollout.  An MPEL controlling entity, Melco International Development, is eyeing participation in a US$1 billion gaming project in Barcelona.  The new project, to be called “BCN World,” will start with a single resort with 1,100 hotel beds, a casino, and a theater.  Longer term, the objective is for BCN World to have six resorts.  The first property is scheduled to open for business in 2016.


Health Care sector head Tom Tobin has identified a number of tailwinds in the near and longer term that act as tailwinds to the hospital industry, and HCA in particular. This includes: Utilization, Maternity Trends as well as Pent-Up Demand and Acuity. The demographic shift towards more health care – driven by a gradually improving economy, improving employment trends, and accelerating new household formation and births – is a meaningful Macro factor and likely to lead to improving revenue and volume trends moving forward.  Near-term market mayhem should not hamper this  trend, even if it means slightly higher borrowing costs for hospitals down the road.

Three for the Road


Seeing clients in CA yesterday, biggest risk discussion centered on whether USD can hold its June lows vs Yen @KeithMcCullough


"Courage is fear holding on a minute longer."

- General George Patton 


Crash or correction? The S&P 500 and Russell 2000 both closed -3.3% from their all-time highs yesterday, while the Nasdaq closed -2.1% from its year-to-date high.

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