“The Fed is the greatest hedge fund in history.”
That’s what Buffett told students at Georgetown University yesterday. He was trumpeting “how much money” the Fed makes: “it’s generating $80 billion or $90 billion a year probably… and that wasn’t the case a few years back.”
Now isn’t that just fantastic. One of the greatest financial minds in US history is now marketing a political message that is about as anti Benjamin Franklin as it gets. Anti-savings that is. Where in God’s good name do you think these said “profits” come from?
They come out of American savings accounts. Even the Fed itself (St. Louis Fed) reminds us that the “growth rate of real GDP has been higher on average when the personal savings rate is rising than when it is falling (Gilder, pg 72).” The Founding Fathers wanted our children to respect their piggy banks, not some un-elected money printer clipping our hard earned coins.
Back to the Global Macro Grind…
As George Gilder goes on to absolutely nail this topic in his new book, Knowledge and Power, “the entrepreneur is the savior of the system because he capitalizes himself. He is his own most important capital… socialists believe their mission is to seize capital for the masses…” (Gilder, pg 77)
That’s what Mr. Buffett should be marketing. It’s time to get our money out of the Fed’s hands and back into the hands of The People. We know how to generate returns. We’re the ones who are going to be doing the hiring when we make money. All the Fed’s “profits” do at this point is tax the American consumer. It’s called Down Dollar driven inflation. It’s regressive.
Moving on… where the rubber meets the road here is in terms of the purchasing power of your hard earned currency. While I was disgusted with Bernanke’s decision to debauch the Dollar again this week, that doesn’t mean he’s going to win this war for good. In the last 24 hours, both the data (economic gravity) and Mr. Market are fighting back:
- US Dollar Index is up +0.2% this morning to $80.41 (holding long-term TAIL risk support of $79.11)
- Gold and Silver are down -1% and -2.4%, respectively (both are still bearish TREND and TAIL in our model)
- Oil (Brent) failed to breakout above our immediate-term TRADE resistance line of $110.94/barrel
Economic data? Yes, as in the stuff Bernanke has un-objectively ignored since almost every high-frequency US economic data series we follow started to accelerated in July.
- JOBS: non-seasonally adjusted rolling US Jobless claims hit yet another YTD low (-16.4% y/y) yesterday!
- ORDERS: the Philly Fed’s “New Order” component ripped a +21 SEP vs +5 in AUG
- HOUSING: US Existing Home Sales hit a 6-month high yesterday
Now most Fed apologists (which are mostly those who get paid by A) Government Power and/or B) Down Dollar) will whine about the impact of #RatesRising on the “housing’s recovery” instead of focusing on what really drives housing demand – confidence.
Although US Savings are at generational lows, US Net Worth is currently tracking at an all-time high. We’d argue that’s been largely driven by real (inflation adjusted) #GrowthAccelerating more so than anything else. US Home Prices up +12.4% y/y obviously helps, but the demand for housing won’t be impacted until the 30-yr mortgage rate blows through 6% (it’s at 3.79% today, get over it).
In other words, the greatest threat to US growth recovering is the government intervening in the economic cycle. There has never been a sustained US economic recovery that didn’t coincide with:
1. Strengthening US Dollar
2. Rising US Interest Rates
Why doesn’t every discussion about the Fed start and end with that?
While Buffett might love the impact Bernanke has on his P&L (fat net interest margins are driven by marking the short-end of the curve at 0% - that pays insurance companies (Berkshire) in size), I’d like to remind him that the “greatest hedge fund manager in history” is also the only un-elected central planner in US history to attempt to ban the economic cycle.
What is an economic cycle?
$USD/Interest Rates Higher --> Energy/Commodities/Inflation lower --> Real Consumption Growth Higher --> Pro-Growth Equities Higher
With all due respect Mr. Buffett, why don’t you and your pal, Mr. President, want the rest of us “middle classers” to have that?
Sadly, there are very few leaders in Washington who have my back on this. That’s one of the reasons why I have the highest CASH position in the Hedgeye Asset Allocation Model since July 23rd. I don’t trust this rally to all-time highs anymore.
The biggest thing Bernanke lost this week was whatever was left of the trust I had in someone at the Fed doing the right thing. The timing was perfect. And he chose politics instead. If growth slows from here, Gold help him. Because history won’t.
Our immediate-term Risk Ranges (we have 12 of them in our Daily Risk Range product) are now:
UST 10yr Yield 2.70-2.81%
Best of luck out there today,
Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer
TODAY’S S&P 500 SET-UP – September 20, 2013
As we look at today's setup for the S&P 500, the range is 21 points or 0.77% downside to 1709 and 0.44% upside to 1730.
CREDIT/ECONOMIC MARKET LOOK:
- YIELD CURVE: 2.42 from 2.42
- VIX closed at 13.16 1 day percent change of -3.16%
MACRO DATA POINTS (Bloomberg Estimates):
- 11am: Fed to purchase $1.25b-$1.75b in 2036-2043 sector
- 12:30pm: Fed’s George speaks on economy in New York
- 12:40pm: Fed’s Tarullo speaks on regulation in New Haven
- 12:55pm: Fed’s Bullard speaks on economy, monetary policy
- 1:45pm: Fed’s Kocherlakota speaks in New York
- 1pm: Baker Hughes rig count
- House Republicans to vote on spending measure to keep govt funded for 2 1/2 months after Sept. 30 while cutting finances for Obama’s health-insurance overhaul plan
- 9am: Congressional Black Caucus legislative conference, with speakers incl. Reps. Donna Edwards, D-Md.; John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich., Rev. Al Sharpton
- 10am: Ron Paul, Reps. Thomas Massie, R-Ky.; Steve Stockman, R-Texas, address Campaign for Liberty’s Political Action Conf.
- 1:45pm: President Obama speaks in Kansas City, Mo., on progress made since financial crisis 5 yrs ago
WHAT TO WATCH:
- Google said to mull anonymous identifiers to replace cookies
- Advertisers voice concerns on replacement of cookies: WSJ
- CFTC sought admission of wrongdoing, fine of $100m, NYT says
- Warren says JPMorgan admission may deter future wrongdoing
- JPMorgan backs withdrawal limits for money-market funds
- Auto co. lending practices probed for bias by U.S. agencies
- European Medicines Agency monthly announcements expected ~7am
- NYSE holding conf. call at close; expects increased activity
- California online health exchange seen ready for Oct. start
- Alabama Power must face U.S. coal plant suit: Appeals Court
- RSA warns customers not to use product that has NSA flaw: WSJ
- U.S. revives clean energy loan gurantee program, NYT says
- AMR-US Airways merger risk seen ebbing as LCC shares rally
- Empire State Bldg. REIT seeks more than $1b in IPO
- Icahn says stocks, real estate overvalued by Fed’s practices
- German Election, U.S. Budget, Syria, UN: Wk Ahead Sept. 21-28
- Darden Restaurants (DRI) 7am, $0.70
COMMODITY/GROWTH EXPECTATION (HEADLINES FROM BLOOMBERG)
- Gold Cuts Weekly Advance on Slowing Physical Demand, U.S. Data
- Gold Traders Most Bullish in Three Weeks After Fed: Commodities
- Copper Heads for Biggest Weekly Rally in a Year After Fed
- Palm Imports by India May Rise to Record on Oilseed Shortage
- Onion Shortage Seen Worsening in India as Rain Delays Crop
- Soybeans Drop to Four-Week Low as U.S. Crops Seen Evading Damage
- Palm Oil Futures Post Second Weekly Drop as Ringgit Strengthens
- WTI Set for Second Weekly Loss on Libya Restart; Brent Advances
- NGLs Rebound as Shale Boom Spurs Record Exports: Energy Markets
- Freeport Expansions to Boost Copper Sales by 1b Pounds, CEO Says
- Rubber Pares Weekly Rally as Crude Oil’s Decline Cuts Appeal
- Stanchart Sees Higher Commodity Prices Into 2014 on Recovery
- Gold Meeting Breaks Mold as More Investors Seek Value in Miners
- Copper Heads for Biggest Weekly Advance in a Year: LME Preview
- Glencore Selling Bonds in Europe Amid Best Returns in Ten Weeks
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Our initial review of the FDX 10-Q shows some interesting inclusions and exclusions. To the negative side, the Intercompany expense reshuffling away from FedEx Express is not clarified. There is also a disclosure that some salary increases had been delayed until FY2Q. On the favorable side, the detail provided around the fuel surcharge lag suggests a greater impact than we initially assumed. Further, the Express review dropped some of the negative language around the IP/IE trade down. On balance, the 10-Q was not as favorable for our outlook as the earnings release, but that is fairly normal and we remain positive on the long-term potential for shares of FDX.
Intercompany Cost Allocation
The segment income statements show a $42 million in the Intercompany expense line decline at FedEx Express, along with allocation increases at Ground and Freight. That represents a significant, potentially non-operating tailwind for the Express margin through expense reshuffling among segments. We were looking for the 10-Q to provide some clarity and, yes, we should have questioned this item on the earnings call. Instead, the 10-Q includes new cautionary language on intercompany cost allocation: “our allocation methodologies are refined as necessary to reflect changes in our businesses.” It is very difficult to determine either the reason for or the appropriateness of the cost reshuffling away from FedEx Express. The size of the change in the quarter is not that far off the total YoY margin improvement, so it is not an item to let slide.
(We have pinged the company for background, but the 10-Q was released after business hours and we will follow-up as needed.)
Salary Increase Delay
There was also a disclosure that FedEx Express benefited from “the deferral of annual salary increases from the first quarter of 2014 to the second quarter of 2014 for many of our employees.” This was not quantified in the 10-Q and we have asked for additional background. We suspect that it is not a sequential positive for FY 2Q 2014, but the magnitude is likely to be more modest than the change in intercompany cost allocation.
Express: Fuel Surcharge Lag Impact, Maintenance Holiday, Pension & Depreciation
The fuel surcharge lag appears somewhat larger than our initial expectations, leaving the underlying margin better, all else equal as presented. This likely more than offset the benefit of the lower pension expense ahead of the new USPS contract. (The USPS contract was filed along with the 10-Q for weekend reading.) The higher depreciation expense looks to have been more than offset by lower maintenance, in part due to the 'maintenance holiday' provided by new aircraft. Lower headcount also contributed. The maintenance holiday will likely persist for some time, while the headcount contribution should improve as the voluntary severance program progresses this fiscal year.
Trade Down Toned Down
The 10-Q language around the trade down turned less negative, echoing managements’ comments that International Economy can be good business. Language used in FY3Q 2013 such as “shifts in demand from our priority international services to our economy international services and lower rates resulted in declines in package yields…” has been replaced with more muted language, like the shifts “continue to impact this business”. We estimate that the accelerated IP to IE mix shift in the quarter was not nearly as negative for margins as it had been during FY13.
FedEx repurchased 2.8 million shares in the quarter at attractive prices, similar to 1Q FY13. It is noteworthy, in part because FDX received a downgrade today from an analyst that would turn more positive if the company used its excess cash to pay higher dividends or buy in shares. But FDX did buy in shares, so we fail to reconcile the analyst’s view of capital allocation with the downgrade. That said, we like how FedEx focuses on running the business instead of promoting its buy backs.
There are a number of other items, including an update on the Independent Contractor litigation generally showing progress. Please follow-up on any specific items of interest.
On Balance: We still expect FedEx to improve the Express segment margin, eventually matching competitors in this well-structured industry. As the Express margin grinds higher, we would look for the market to place a higher value on the segment. The margin expansion will need to have more substance than cost shuffling between segments and time periods. We see specific items, such as refleeting, headcount reductions, network alignment and facility consolidation, that should help drive sustainable profit improvement. We also still think FDX should by TNT. We will continue to look for progress on those items through fiscal 2014.
Jay Van Sciver, CFA
HEDGEYE RISK MANAGEMENT
111 Whitney Avenue
New Haven, CT 06510
Caribbean discounting continued through FQ1 2014 while European pricing was mixed.
Below are some observations from our proprietary pricing survey for CCL, RCL, and NCLH. We analyze YoY trends, as well as relative trends, which are determined by pricing compared to the last earnings/guidance date for a cruise operator i.e. CCL: 6/25; RCL: 7/25; NCLH: 7/29. For a more detailed analysis, please contact us at .
- CCL: Heavy discounting in the Caribbean extended to FQ1 2014. Early signs point to a brand pricing recovery starting in late FQ2. However, Wave Season will dictate the health of the Caribbean market where higher capacity and a very competitive promotional environment exist. Europe remains steady.
- RCL: Given the strength in European pricing, we believe it’s enough to offset the Caribbean weakness. RCL should meet or exceed its FY 2013 guidance. Surprisingly weak 2014 pricing across most brands has us worried, however. FQ2 comps are nowhere near as easy as CCL and pricing in that quarter looks weak in the Caribbean.
- NCLH: Close-in Caribbean pricing was lower in September. Breakaway and Getaway maintained nice price premiums.
Caribbean – Carnival brand
- FQ4 close-in pricing remained lower in the double digits YoY, though continued to improve MoM
- FQ1 2014 is a red flag as pricing dipped even lower in the last month and the trend was negative
- However, FQ2 2014 pricing had made a full U-turn in the last two months and was modestly higher
- Early FQ3 2014 pricing was nicely higher with positive pricing trend
- Costa’s pricing for the upcoming quarters had been relatively stable. We estimate overall Costa FQ4 2013 YoY pricing was +20%. The pricing trend was slightly positive for FY 2014.
- Overall, Royal Princess pricing improved in September
- AIDA FQ4 2013 pricing in the Western Europe/Med remained lower. Pricing trend was flat for 2014.
- Holland America summer 2014 pricing was modestly higher in Alaska, though pricing trend deteriorated in September. Princess pricing was nicely higher in the double digits YoY.
Asia, Mexico, South America
- Costa and Holland America’s FQ1 2014 pricing trend were flat. Princess’s pricing for its sparse itineraries was higher for FQ2 2014.
- Carnival brand pricing for FQ4 and FQ1 2014 worsened, while FQ2 pricing turned nicely higher
- Princess discounted prices by a significant amount in September
- South America
- Costa’s pricing trend was modestly higher. Holland America continued its struggles with FQ4 pricing down significantly and FQ2 2014 pricing slightly lower. Princess’s FQ1 pricing trend turned negative in September.
- RC brand: YoY pricing worsened slightly for FQ4, FQ1 and FQ2 periods.
- Celebrity: Pricing slightly improved from lower prices in August for FQ4 but FQ1 prices were unchanged
- Pullmantur: Flat pricing trend for FQ1, however significant discounting for FQ2 itineraries
- RC brand: FQ4 close-in pricing remain very strong but FQ2 2014 pricing was -17% YoY
- Celebrity: Major red flag for FQ2 2014 as pricing remained lower substantially and pricing trend was negative.
- Azamara: 2014 pricing was flat
- Pullmantur: FQ2 2014 pricing was hit by substantial discounting. Flat pricing for 2H 2014.
- RC brand & Celebrity: Pricing down double digits YoY for Q2 2014
Asia and South America
- RC brand & Celebrity: Pricing was nicely higher
- Azamara: Flat pricing
- South America
- Celebrity: Sparse itineraries flat for Q1 2014 but pricing was slightly higher
- Close-in FQ4 pricing was modestly weaker in September. FQ 2014 pricing trend was slightly positive.
- Breakaway: steady pricing, maintained 35-40% pricing premium over Gem
- Getaway: steady pricing with 50%-60% pricing premium over Epic and Sun
- Steady pricing for 2014
- Slightly positive close-in FQ4 pricing Flat pricing for FQ2 2014.
LINN Energy (LINE, LNCO) filed its 4th amended S-4 (LINN/BRY merger proxy) with the SEC on 9/18/2013.
The new S-4 has plenty of new terminology, methodology, and disclosure, though the distribution remains intact. But LINN’s credibility, particularly with respect to maintenance CapEx, likely does not. The outcome of ongoing SEC inquiry remains uncertain, as does the LINN/BRY merger. Below we highlight the key takeaways from the new filing.
On the Ongoing SEC Inquiry...
- “The SEC staff is investigating whether any violations of federal securities laws have occurred” (pg. 208). That is new language.
- New disclosure regarding the ongoing SEC inquiry states that a restatement of financials is possible (our emphasis): “LINN and LinnCo are unable to predict the timing or outcome of the SEC inquiry or estimate the nature or amount of any possible sanction or enforcement action the SEC could seek to impose, which could include fines, penalties, damages, sanctions, administrative remedies and modifications to LinnCo and LINN’s disclosure, accounting and business practices, including a prohibition on specific conduct or a potential restatement of LINN’s or LinnCo’s financial statements, any of which could be material” (pg. 46). That is also new language.
- LINN’s high legal expenses are not going away soon: “LinnCo and LINN’s legal expenses incurred in defending the lawsuits and responding to the SEC inquiry have been significant and LinnCo and LINN expect them to continue to be significant in the future” (pg. 47).
Changing Everything and Nothing...
- In a move that could eventually reverberate across the MLP space, LINN will no longer use the non-GAAP terminology “maintenance capital expenditures” and “distributable cash flow.” Perhaps a small step in the right direction for this sector.
- LINN has changed how it calculates adjusted EBITDA, and has restated the prior period numbers. LINN no longer includes adjustments for cash flows from A&D between the effective and closing dates, and will also deduct the premiums paid for put options that settled during the period. As a result, 2Q13 adjusted EBITDA falls 10% from $362MM to $326MM, and 2012 adjusted EBITDA falls 16% from $1,402MM to $1,172MM. This will allow investors to more appropriately value LINN Energy on an EBITDA basis, and compare that valuation to other E&Ps that do not account for derivatives in this way.
- Given that the reductions in adjusted EBITDA would flow directly to the distribution, LINN has changed its methodology for determining distributions. It will now start with GAAP cash flow from operations, make discretionary adjustments to that figure including premiums paid, changes in working capital, and, “Discretionary reductions for a portion of oil and natural gas development costs,” which takes the place of “maintenance CapEx.”
- LINN has changed non-GAAP terminology, methodology, and disclosure – but the end result is the same. LINN still arrives at the exact same number that it previously called “distributable cash flow;” will continue to benefit from past premiums paid; has the methodology in place benefit from future premiums paid; and has only changed what it calls “maintenance CapEx,” not how it’s calculated. The changes and new disclosures are a blow to the Company’s credibility, and investors are, on the margin, better equipped to decide for themselves whether or not LINN’s distribution is an accurate representation of its economic reality, however, if this is enough to satisfy the SEC, it is doing investors a disservice, in our view.
Good Riddance Maintenance CapEx, Hello “Discretionary Reductions…”
- We presume that the SEC was not on board with LINN using the term “maintenance capital expenditures” without it actually maintaining anything. LINN also noted that, “Unlike many publicly traded partnerships, LINN’s limited liability company agreement does not include the concept of “maintenance capital expenditures,” but LINN has historically used this term because of its broad market acceptance among publicly traded partnerships, analysts and investors as a way of distinguishing between different types of capital expenditures for purposes of distribution payment” (pg. 235).
- Because we know that our readers enjoy a good laugh, we quote LINN’s new disclosure around, “Discretionary reductions for a portion of oil and natural gas development costs” with our emphasis:
“In determining the amount of cash that it distributes to its unitholders, LINN makes an estimate at the end of each year of the amounts (which LINN refers to as discretionary reductions for a portion of oil and natural gas development costs) that LINN believes will be necessary during the following year to offset natural declines in its existing cash producing assets through drilling and development activities. In determining this portion of oil and natural gas development costs, management evaluates historical results of LINN’s drilling and development activities based on periodically revised and updated information from past years to assess the costs, adequacy and effectiveness of such activities and future assumptions regarding cost trends, production and decline rates and reserve recoveries. However, LINN’s management does not conduct an analysis to evaluate historical amounts of capital actually spent on such drilling and development activities. LINN’s ability to pursue projects with a view toward offsetting natural declines in its existing cash producing assets through drilling and development activities is limited to its inventory of development opportunities on its existing acreage position. Management’s estimate of this discretionary portion of its oil and natural gas development costs does not include the historical acquisition cost of projects pursued during the year or the acquisition of new oil and natural gas reserves. Moreover, LINN’s assumptions regarding costs, production and decline rates and reserve recoveries may prove incorrect. If LINN is unable to offset natural declines in its existing cash producing assets from this discretionary portion of its oil and natural gas development costs, LINN’s net cash provided by operating activities could be reduced, which could adversely affect its ability to pay a distribution at the current level or at all. Furthermore, LINN’s existing reserves, inventory of drilling locations and production levels will decline over time as a result of development and production activities. Consequently, if LINN were to limit its total capital expenditures to this discretionary portion of its oil and natural gas development costs and not complete acquisitions of new reserves, total reserves would ultimately decrease over time, resulting in an inability to sustain production at current levels, which could adversely affect LINN’s ability to pay a distribution at the current level or at all” (pg. 51).
“[They] represent discretionary reductions for a portion of oil and natural gas development costs, an estimated component of total development costs, which are amounts established by the board of directors at the end of each year for the following year, allocated across four quarters, that are intended to offset natural declines in LINN’s existing cash producing assets during the year as compared to the prior year. The portion of oil and natural gas development costs includes estimated drilling and development costs associated with projects to convert a portion of non-producing reserves to producing status. However, the amounts do not include the historical cost of acquired properties as those amounts have already been spent in prior periods, were financed primarily with external sources of funding and do not affect LINN’s ability to pay distributions in the current period” (pg. 237).
- Most investors and analysts believe that maintenance CapEx represents the capital required to maintain production and reserve volumes over time, but LINN is telling us, flat out, that this measure does NOT represent that, as we demonstrated in our prior research. As a reminder, we believe that that number would be over $1B per year; and if LINN deducted that amount from operating cash flow, the entire distribution would be wiped out. Further, LINN is telling us that the number is, essentially, made up. It is an estimate that LINN does not reconcile to actual results. Given its importance in calculating distributions, and valuing the equity (for many), this is concerning.
- What investors should take away from this new disclosure is that LINN needs to raise additional capital (or cut the distribution) just to keep production and reserves from declining. We always believed this to be the case, but now LINN has disclosed it.
- We also now know for sure that LINN’s maintenance CapEx:
- Does not include the cost of acquiring undeveloped reserves and acreage;
- Only takes into account offsetting some production decline, not maintaining other PP&E (as of the 6/30/2013 balance sheet, LINN had $534MM gross and $443MM net other PP&E).
- What remains unclear is what production decline LINN is attempting to offset when estimating maintenance CapEx at the end of each year for the following year. It appears that it is not pro forma production at YE, but actual production in the prior year (pg. 237). Given that 2013 actual production will be ~804 MMcfe/d (ex. Berry), up 20% over the 2012 production rate of 671 MMcfe/d, should we expect LINN’s maintenance CapEx to step change higher in 1Q14? This has not been the case in prior years, but the additional disclosure around the methodology suggests that this could be the case. Further, it remains unclear how LINN’s disappointing Hogshooter wells in early 2013 will impact 2014 maintenance CapEx relative to 2013. This could be another problem, as LINN has diverted capital away from those high IP rate locations. Perhaps these are moot points because LINN will just say the number is whatever it wants?
It’s Strange to Us That…
- The SEC is not OK with LINN deducting premiums paid and adding back cash flows from A&D activity in adjusted EBITDA, but is OK with LINN doing this when determining distributions (pgs. 329, 237/8).
- LINN no longer uses “distributable cash flow” or “maintenance capital expenditures,” but management’s 2012 quantitative performance measures stated in the S-4 still rely upon of these metrics (pg. 298).
- LINN has changed how it calculates adjusted EBITDA and the prior period numbers, but the fairness opinions of the bankers, which relied upon, in part, the old adjusted EBITDA numbers, have not changed.
- LINN’s board of directors “has considered current shortfalls” in available cash versus distributions, but “has decided to maintain the distribution at its current level” (pg. 236).
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