“In faith there is profit.”
In blind faith (in government and/or your research process), there are also losses. So make sure you keep moving out there. The history of your money in public markets is that politicians and/or Mr. Market are always looking to take it away.
The aforementioned quote comes from an epic chapter in the late Jack Weatherford’s The History of Money titled “Knights of Commerce”, where he chronicles the history of The Knights Templars who, at one point, “became businessmen who ran the world’s greatest national banking corporation.” (pg 65)
Then along came a French plunderer (King Philip IV) and that was about it for the Knights. “Phillip took the management of his finances out of the hands of the Templars and established the Royal Treasury at the Louvre… Philips desperate need for money arose after he tried a trick that Nero had pulled a thousand years earlier: he debased the silver currency of his realm.” (pg 68)
Back to the Global Macro Grind…
Both Gold (-1.6% to -20% YTD) and Silver (-2% to -26% YTD) are being debased (again) this morning. So you have to be careful in defining what you think “money” is. In the intermediate-term, the value of all moneys is cyclical. And you have to risk manage that.
Or at least that’s how I roll. I don’t really trust that the value of anything that trades on anything that is attempted to be centrally planned has a super secret biblical “value.” Every morning we wake up to politicians trying to mess with our profit plan.
The plan remains that the plan is going to change – and with that, let’s get on with our day. Here’s this morning’s setup:
- US Equities = immediate-term TRADE overbought within a bullish intermediate-term TREND
- Japanese, German, and British Equities = immediate-term TRADE overbought within bullish TRENDs
- Government Bonds (Treasuries, JGBs, Bunds, and Gillts) = immediate-term TRADE oversold within bearish TRENDs
In other words, being long stocks (and short bonds) for the last few weeks has been fantastic – so take some profits.
While it’s a pretty straight forward communication process to tell you when I am buying things while people are freaking out on red, sometimes I confuse people when I then turnaround and sell some of what I bought.
I don’t take offense to that as I am often confusing myself! That’s where embracing the uncertainty (signals) in my process leaves me at this stage of my career. I listen to the risk management signals before I listen to the little squirrels in my head.
To boil this process down to the bare Mucker bones:
- When a stock, bond, currency, or commodity is immediate-term TRADE overbought, I sell some
- When a stock, bond, currency, or commodity is immediate-term TRADE oversold, I buy some
That’s it. So easy a hockey player can do it.
And by making every mistake I make out loud for the last 5 years (over 2,000 long/short positions #timestamped on a spreadsheet in the public domain), it’s helped me learn how to make less mistakes faster.
No, that doesn’t mean I won’t make a big mistake like I did yesterday (I should have sold Restoration Hardware (RH) on the immediate-term TRADE overbought signal into the print, and bought it back on the red reaction).
It just means that I usually understand what I did wrong and why.
What makes this whole “taking profits” exercise all the more confusing is this un-cooperative little critter called research. I’ve built my entire research team (27 analysts) on a platform that is looking to make intermediate to long-term calls on stocks, bonds, currencies, and commodities. That means (sometimes) the immediate-term signal conflicts with the longer-term picture.
You bet it does. I don’t care if you are a day trader or someone who has bought and held since Nero. What is happening right here, right now, affects you in some way, shape, or form. If it doesn’t, you aren’t reading this anyway.
Back to the RH example. Brian McGough’s long-term view on Restoration Hardware (RH) is that the company will earn $8.00/share. So, even if the signal said it was immediate-term TRADE overbought at $80, why would I sell some of that? Well, that’s pretty straightforward too. Because it just had a 12% down day after signaling immediate-term TRADE overbought!
The risk management lesson here is that there is only a chance to take profits if you have faith that your process is repeatable. You have to understand why you make every move. Otherwise you’re just guessing. And one day, Mr. Market will take all those profits away.
Our immediate-term Risk Ranges are now as follows (we have 12 Big Macro ranges in our Daily Risk Range product too):
UST 10yr Yield 2.86-3.03%
Best of luck out there today,
Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer
Darden is being mismanaged, plain and simple.
DRI is scheduled to report 1QFY14 earnings on 9/20 and expectations across the board have been reduced significantly for the quarter. The only question that remains is: how bad is bad? The current FY14 EPS consensus estimate is $2.99 on Bloomberg. We could easily get our model down to $2.50. And, unfortunately, the company needs to pay a $2.25 dividend, which makes earning anywhere near $2.50 a real problem.
We continue to believe 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 benefit holders of the company’s stock.
There have been four times in my career when I have seen a company in desperate need of a major overhaul. In all four cases, I wrote extensively about the issues, much to the ire of management. Darden and its problems are no different!
The following companies have undergone major corporate overhauls that have led to significant improvements in shareholder value:
- McDonald’s (2002): MCD formulated the “Plan to Win” in 2002, which later became a template for success at Brinker.
- Wendy’s (2004): The sum-of-the-parts were greater than the whole!
- Starbuck’s (2008): With Schultz back at the helm, SBUX focused on attacking the middle of the P&L and improving the guest experience.
- Brinker (2010): Facing an industry in the midst of a secular decline, senior management formulated a plan to win, which entailed attacking the middle of the P&L and driving traffic.
- Darden (2013): Will the current management team recognize the need for a major restructuring?
We are of the view that DRI is in a secular decline and, until management makes significant changes, we will continue to see erosion in the earnings power of the company. We believe it is best to wait for these significant changes to occur before we get more aggressive on the LONG side.
Low-Hanging, Bountiful, Fruit
Looking at the four prior examples of past significant corporate action, it is clear that these companies had similar traits. Specifically, each company had low-hanging fruit and the potential to create significant value for shareholders. Many of these are similar to the opportunities we currently see in Darden:
- Tremendous cash flow potential
- Huge real estate value
- Non-core, under-utilized assets that can be sold at rich valuation
- Core assets represent a classic reorganization opportunity
- Market’s valuation of the whole is far below what we believe the sum-of-the-parts would represent in a reorganization or breakup
- G&A rationalization opportunities
DRI’s Biggest Problem – It’s Too Big, Too Complex, To Perform
- This company has over 2,000 restaurants spread out among 8 separate concepts
- Olive Garden and Red Lobster account for roughly 75% of total revenues
The Complexity Has Led To A Bloated Cost Structure
DRI management has contended for years that its multi-concept structure creates operational efficiencies. But, a closer look at the numbers suggests the exact opposite. The average unit volume of DRI’s big three brands is $3.68, which is 23% larger than the average unit volume of EAT’s core brand, Chili’s.
- Restaurant level margins for DRI are 32% larger than EAT’s and 17% larger than the average of its casual dining peers
The math is quite simple. If DRI generates more revenues per store and has higher margins per store than its competitors, then it should generate higher operating profit margins as well. But, this isn’t the case. The only real explanation we can find for DRI’s lower operating margins is a bloated G&A cost structure.
- DRI’s operating margins over the TTM are 7.5%, which is 27.2% below EAT’s and 3.7% below the average of its casual dining peers
- If DRI were to cut G&A by 200 bps, and achieve 9.5% in operating margins, the company would generate an additional $1.10 in earnings per share
Our Vision Of The New DRI
Below we offer our view of what the new Darden should look like. We believe the company should be broken up into three segments – Seafood, Steak and Italian. Yard House should be spun off and taken public and Bahama Breeze should be sold. This would leave each of DRI’s three operating segments with a large brand, in addition to a smaller one in order to help, over time, improve the growth profile of the company. Additionally, each company would finally be able to focus and zero in on their operations, which, we believe, would allow for a more streamlined operating structure.
It’s Only A Matter Of Time – Restaurants Are An Attractive Sector For Activists
- McDonald’s (2006): Real estate was the fulcrum of Bill Ackman’s thesis, but better operating performance, including new management, and capital allocations decisions were the real drivers of returns. The company sold off non-core assets.
- Wendy’s (2008): Real estate was, once again, the anchor of the thesis here, but the business was also undervalued. The company, under the influence of Trian Fund Management’s Nelson Peltz, sold off non-core assets.
- Applebee’s (2006): Breeden Capital Management threatened a proxy contest at the 2007 Annual Meeting of Stockholders, which ultimately was settled with two board seats being opened up for the activist entity. The company was sold following a period of lackluster returns.
- Cracker Barrel (2005): Nelson Peltz, again, held real estate central in his thinking on taking the company private. In 1Q06, the company’s board authorized the use of proceeds from a sale of Logan’s Roadhouse to fund a modified “Dutch Auction” tender offer for $250mm of the company’s common stock (roughly 35% of common shares outstanding).
- Cracker Barrel (2011): Biglari Holdings contested two proxy battles, but has failed to secure any board seats. Pressure from Sardar Biglari led to the replacement of CBRL’s CEO and the stock price has appreciated significantly since BH first took a stake in October 2011, rising from $45 to over $100 a share today.
- DineEquity (2012): Marcato Capital Management suggested a dividend payment in order to maximize its equity value. The company announced a $0.75 quarterly dividend and a $100mm share repurchase, which amounted to 8% of equity value. Richard “Mick” McGuire of Marcato was previously an analyst at Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management.
Piecing It All Together
- The current outlook for DRI is dire and we suspect that 1Q14 results will be a disaster
- There is no cohesive plan to fix the asset base and address significant inefficiencies
- As we have seen many times before, continuing deterioration will lead ultimately lead to intervention, in one form or the other
- Given the current trends, the dividend, which was once an asset, could become a liability
- We know how this is going to end, the only question is when?
The total percentage of successful long and short trading signals since the inception of Real-Time Alerts in August of 2008.
LONG SIGNALS 80.43%
SHORT SIGNALS 78.34%
The KKD management team touched upon each of the three key tenets to our bullish thesis at the C.L. King & Associates Best Ideas Conference this morning. We continue to have a favorable view of KKD’s international growth opportunity, accelerating U.S. unit growth, and the financial profile of the company. For a more in-depth analysis of these topics, we suggest you revisit our note “KKD: Room to Run.”
The presentation largely highlighted management’s growth strategy, which includes a plan to expand to 900 international stores and 400 domestic stores by FY17E. We believe KKD will be able to reach this target and will do so while driving strong financial returns, especially as the smaller format shops begin to resonate with the franchisee community. Management also acknowledged their commitment to increasing beverages as a percentage of sales mix. Loyalty initiatives are not expected to provide a lift until calendar 2015.
Although KKD reported 2Q14 results that were disappointing to some, we remain comfortable with our thesis. In fact, despite a miss on the bottom line, we thought KKD had a good quarter and one that was in-line with our expectations. The company managed to grow both revenues (+10.4%) and same-store sales (+10%) in the quarter – both impressive numbers, in our opinion.
The one point of contention we hear from some of our counterparts concern difficult same-store sales comparisons on the road ahead. As everyone already knows, this is true, but, we believe management will be able to weather these difficult comps without ceding much sales momentum.
Highlighted by the chart below, KKD generates some of the best returns on incremental invested capital in the restaurant space. This, in addition to its capital-light model and accelerating franchise unit development, should allow for high returns to continue well into the foreseeable future.
Below are links for the presentation materials and a replay of the conference call we held today with Dr. Deborah Kennedy titled "Are Energy Drinks Harmful?"
Materials: CLICK HERE
Podcast: CLICK HERE
The call was very well received and we encourage you to take the time (one hour in length including a Q&A session) to listen to Dr. Kennedy's passion about the health considerations surrounding energy drinks.
We will also be providing a summary of the call.
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