MW: A Buyer not a Seller

Men's Wearhouse reported 1Q EPS of $0.10 vs. 1Q08 EPS of $0.20 and far better than the Street which was looking for a breakeven quarter.  Results were better across the board with same store sales coming in above expectations, gross margins less bad, and SG&A expenses well controlled.   Perhaps the most surprising factor in the upside was the gross margin line, which was under considerable pressure in 4Q08 due to the company's decision to BOGO suits.  Offsetting this margin pressure was a solid performance from the company's tuxedo business, which grew by 1.7% in the quarter and helped to offset merchandise margin declines in the core retail business.  Overall, a solid performance and yet another example of "stabilization" in the marketplace.


More interesting than the 1Q results is the company's bid of $67 million for Filene's Basement (out of bankruptcy).  The company actually delayed its quarterly conference call as it awaits final court approval on the offer.  Remember, that only a few weeks ago (see our note: Activism Brewing?) we pointed to a new change in control clause in the proxy which essentially gave executives added compensation if the company were to be acquired - the same type of clause used to scare away activists.  Now it goes ahead and bids for Filene's. Interesting narrative.  The purchase price includes 17 of 20 leases, inventory from a total of 25 locations, leases on the headquarters and distribution facility, as well as the Filene's Basement trade name. 


MW's strategy is historically rooted in EDLP.  If you think about it, an off-price chain presents unique opportunities for the company as it diversifies the customer base with a heavier focus on women, offers a channel to clear goods from the namesake chain, and potentially gives the company a growth vehicle for the future.  Additionally, with the success of off-pricers lately (take a look at a ROST or TJX chart), the severe mismanagement of Filene's Basement over the past few years, and the fact that there is still a deep heritage associated with the brand, this might end up being the type of ownership structure that can give Filene's Basement another chance. 


If there is one thing to hope for (admitting that 'hope' is not an investment process), it's that MW brings back the automatic markdown system that actually made Filene's Basement an icon in the industry for so many years.  Yes, it actually was 'iconic' in the retail landscape of yesteryear. This is the type of differentiator that can make this small, regional off-price retailer stand out from the rest of the pack.  For those of you unfamiliar with the automatic markdown system, give us a call and we'll walk you through a quick recap in retail history.  In the meantime, it's probably worth switching gears to focus on MW's plans for growth rather than who might be buying them.


Eric Levine


Need A Job?


We had a number of inquiries about our unemployment post yesterday. A lot of readers asked us why we seemed to be suggesting that US Job losses were decelerating while at the same time the unemployment rate was accelerating , and how the math behind that observation worked. 


The math is actually very straightforward: This divergence between measures of employment stems from differences in the methodology used by the government to calculate different figures, combined with cultural and psychological inflections.


The Current Population Survey (the monthly survey of 60,000 US households used to calculate the unemployment rate) classifies people in one of three ways: "Employed", "Unemployed" or "Not in the Labor Force". Unemployed people are defined as: jobless, looking for jobs, and available for work. This means that those not looking for work and not available for work are counted as "Not in the Labor Force" even if they have no current source of income. Meanwhile, payroll data is collected through a business survey of wages paid and Initial Claims are calculated through a count of new state benefits applications.


During periods of increasing layoffs, a phenomenon sometimes occurs in which the first wave of individuals who lose their jobs do not feel compelled to begin looking for new employment until after successive waves of additional individuals entering the market has created greater competition for available positions.  I'll use myself as an example: In early  2001 when I was laid off by an investment bank I decided to kick back with my (by the standards of 29 year old) considerable savings and take the summer off while I recharged the batteries and considered my next move.


As such, an initial wave of unemployed workers like my 29 year old self are sometimes less likely to identify themselves as actively seeking employment immediately than people who lose their jobs at a later time will, and those initial individuals respond to increasing competition later by re-entering the market and identifying themselves as seeking a job. I'll use myself as an example again, as the NYC finance job situation deteriorated post 9/11; I was suddenly energized in my job search and began looking aggressively.


In the charts below you can see how payroll data began to show improvement while the unemployment rate was still climbing during periods of increased job loss during 1990-92 and 2001-03 and how the current cycle seems to be indicating a similar pattern (at an accelerated rate and trajectory).


Andrew Barber



Need A Job? - employment1


Need A Job? - employment2

Burning The Buck


From the authors of Breaking The Buck, we now have the sequel - Burning It!


In the short run, this is going to stoke REFLATION. In the long run, the US Dollar's stature as the world's reserve currency will be dead. In the chart below, we have broadened the duration associated with this debate. Andrew Barber has illustrated our new long dated duration - we're calling this the "TAIL" line of resistance ($81.62).


You learn a lot about markets and their pressure points by watching what they do intraday. Yesterday was a critical day on this score for the US Dollar. In the face of heightened (realistic) concerns about an eventual rate hike, the Dollar rallied +3.5% from its recent lows (see chart). As the Dollar rallied, the REFLATION trade (globally) fizzled. We saw petrodollar markets like Russia and Saudi Arabia correct between 5-11% from their respective peaks in very short order.


Importantly however, the Buck backed off at the immediate term TRADE line of resistance ($81.36) and has subsequently started to break down again. If yesterday's intraday reversal of the buck's bid was important, today's follow through selling is critical.


As of 11AM EST, the US Dollar Index is down another -0.85% at $80.13. This is good for the anyone levered to the REFLATION trade. What has come down in the last few trading sessions, globally, is preparing to launch higher again.


Are there fundamental data points supporting this renewed crisis in the credibility of America's currency? Consider the following points of rhetoric that we're amplified in my notebook in the last 48 hours:


  • 1. The IMF's Lipsky said a "new reserve currency is possible"
  • 2. The World Bank's President, Zoellick, said "China may diversify"
  • 3. Timmy Geithner is back on American soil, being YouTubed


The Buck Is Burning. Trade the implications surgically.



Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


Burning The Buck - burning


I have been chiding Burt Vivian about his sourpuss attitude when speaking to the street. Right now, few restaurant companies are "kicking ass" so there is part of Burt's commentary that is born out of the reality of today's economic climate. But anyone who has heard him recently knows that he takes cautious commentary to a whole different level than other restaurant industry executives.

Is his overly cautious tone having an impact on the stock? It sure looks like it!

I have been cautious on the casual dining names for the better part of a month as we head into 2Q09, with many companies facing stimulus headwinds. While the group has been churning in a tight range, I'm less convinced there is any real reason for them to go down.




I'm now becoming a bigger believer that for most restaurant companies, the top line is not that relevant - to a point. In 2Q09, if a company misses top line expectations, but can beat earnings by a significant margin, the stock is not going down. Even on a lower sales base operating margins are rising, which implies that cash is growing. The mature casual dining companies that have whittled growth capital to a minimum are gushing cash! On this basis the stocks are cheap!

The mature casual dining names always seem to move in a pack and there rarely is there a "best in class" company. For years, it seemed like PF Chang's (PFCB) and The Cheesecake Factory (CAKE) have been on the same trajectory. Both companies have been living the same life cycle and benefiting from the same industry trends. Still today the companies seem to parallel each other, yet a significant discrepancy exists that is not easy to reconcile and definitely worth a closer look.

I'm not sure a pair trading these two will work on the margin; they're either both going to keep working higher or they both won't. The Research Edge Quant model's set up is bullish for both companies, not including the short interest factor. The short interest factor is off the charts for PFCB!

The set ups look like PFCB is trading at 6.1x EV/EBITDA versus CAKE at 7.9x. The short interest for PFCB is an astounding 40.1% and only 14% for CAKE. The consensus has voted and PFCB is going down hard! I'm not convinced that there is a smoking gun at PFCB. For every improvement in PFCB's cash flow multiple is $5.66 of upside.

While still relatively small in size, PFCB is a mature restaurant company throwing off lots of cash. Like many restaurant companies, the slower, more controlled growth is having a significant impact on the company's financials. I have always used a company's return on incremental capital as an initial screen to understand where the company is going with its cash. Is a company reinvesting its cash to generate the best return for shareholders? On this metric PFCB is killing the competition.




Both concepts experienced a nice improvement in 2-year same-store sales trends in 1Q09 with PFCB having seen slightly better earnings revisions over the past three months at 35% (25% for CAKE). Both companies run the risk of a sequential deceleration in same store sales trends, but I don't think that really matters for either company. Margins are improving on the back of cost cuts, pricing and lower inflation. My model is coming up with estimates for 2Q09 and for FY2009 that are significantly better that consensus estimates.

Where is the negative catalyst? Or is Burt to blame for the discount valuation?

What do you think the shorts are going to do when Burt Vivian gets up in front of the investment community and his sourpuss face is gone?


The Golden Rule

"I followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make memorandum of it without fail."
-Charles Darwin
Darwin's Golden Rule is one that needs to be rigorously applied to The New Reality of global finance. Global markets, across countries and asset classes, are as interconnected as they have ever been. Those who get this will triumph as the horse and buggy whip investment structures of levered long cycles past continue to collapse.
I have learned many a lesson in a compressed period of time in this business by simply using live ammo. I learn by making mistakes. I then force myself to un-learn, and re-learn. That's it - that's what I do.
What it is that other people do, isn't entirely clear. In many cases investment mandates aren't real-time and objective - but we must thank God for the blessings associated with mental inflexibility. Without that, market's would actually have a chance at being efficient across all durations, and there wouldn't be any market "calls" left to make!
Last week, I wrote an Early Look titled "ZERO" - as in I took my position in US Equities to zero. On balance, that position didn't hurt me - but it really didn't help me either. The YTD high for the SP500 came at the close of trading on June 2nd, so I wasn't there holding the bag of levered long exposure after a +40% trough-to-peak short squeeze of generational proportions... but I don't think I made anyone any money last week either. I don't aspire to be average - and that's all my "ZERO" call was.
Yesterday, the market touched my immediate term support level of 927, so I started covering and buying. Having any position in this increasingly correlated market place of global macro factors should never be perpetual. My "ZERO" position turned out to last all of a week.
The Golden Rule, in simpleton hockey speak, boils down to a very basic premise. One of my mentors in life, Coach Tim Taylor, called this "moving your feet." As the factors around you are changing, you have to be changing with them. If you stop moving your feet (and you have the puck), prepare those risk management models - because there is a heightening probability of your getting run over.
We'll see how Sidney Crosby's feet are moving tonight in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals - my proactive prediction is that they'll being moving real fast. But what about the group-thinkers of Wall Street's braintrust? In the last 3 days of US fixed income trading, plenty of cost of capital assumptions have changed... and no one seems to want to do anything but limit their career risk in addressing them.
What does that mean? Oh, that's the little thing called nodding that some people in our business do in meetings when their bosses have a stagnant investment point of view. Trust me, I got fired for being too bearish in Q3 of 2007 - I don't do nodding.
This morning's groupthink is glaring. If I have seen one article quoting someone with a title in this business about Bernanke not raising interest rates, I have seen 100 - and that's probably only because I only have one set of eyes. Fifteen out of the 16 "primary dealers" of the US Federal Reserve don't think the Fed hikes rates in 2009. That's about the same number of soothsayers in De Geithner Club who didn't see a stock market crash coming in 2007. Can they afford to think he might hike?
What are some of the critical facts that have me getting invested in REFLATION again, at a price?
1.      Chinese stocks on the Shanghai Stock Exchange powered forward again last night, closing at fresh YTD highs of +53.1%

2.      Dr. Copper, who has an 88% correlation to China's stock market in 2009 , is hitting higher-highs this morning at $2.31/lb (that's +64% YTD)

3.      The US Dollar faded like a sell side strategist trying to call the SPYs right at long term TAIL resistance of $81.72 yesterday, re-igniting REFLATION

4.      Oil prices have shot up over +2% in the last 24hrs (Gartman shorted oil yesterday on the pullback, sorry man)

5.      Russian equities (which anchor on Chinese demand and Oil prices) are trading up almost 1% again this morning, taking them to +75.3% YTD

6.      3-month LIBOR, which has gone down, literally weekly for months, bumped up this morning for the 1st time - on the margin this matters

I have 27 factors that change dynamically in my macro model, so I could go on and on... but the bottom line is that I make moves in terms of both Asset Allocation and virtual long/short positions as the facts change. Sometimes these facts and correlated factors change quickly, sometimes they don't. But the Golden Rule remains - "whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make memorandum of it without fail."
With a highly incentivized (and politicized) US Financials system geared towards letting Piggy Bankers get paid via a US Dollar collapse (nice to see Timmy is back in the USA and JP Morgan's stock riding higher into yesterday's close in the advent of a morning headline "10 Banks Allowed To Payback TARP"!), I get where I need to move next - being longer of things that can REFLATE. All the while I can maintain a "ZERO" level of trust in the said leaders running this US stock market joint.
My immediate term upside target for the SP500 is now a higher-high at 963. I'm bumping up immediate term support to 928. Trade the range.
Best of luck out there today,


EWA - iShares Australia- EWA has a nice dividend yield of about 5% on the trailing 12-months.  With RBA rate cuts showing signs of working and a commodity based economy with proximity to China's reacceleration, there are a lot of ways to win being long Australia.

FXA -CurrencyShares Australian Dollar Trust-Thanks to recovering Chinese demand for commodities, the sure handed management of RBA Governor Glenn Stevens and comparatively modest consumer debt levels -Australia's GDP continued to expand in Q1 while other industrialized economies saw double digit declines.  As with Canada, we like the Australian economy as an offset to the toxic US balance sheet.  

XLV - SPDR Healthcare-Healthcare looks positive from a TRADE and TREND duration. We bought XLV on 6/08 to get long the safety trade.

EWC - iShares Canada- We want to own what THE client (China) needs, namely commodities, as China builds out its infrastructure. Canada will benefit from commodity reflation, especially as the USD breaks down. We're net positive Harper's leadership, which diverges from Canada's large government recent history, and believe next year's Olympics in resource rich British Columbia should provide a positive catalyst for investors to get long the country.   

XLE - SPDR Energy- We bought Energy on 6/05. We think it works higher if the Buck breaks down.  Bullish TRADE and TREND remain.

CAF - Morgan Stanley China Fund- A closed-end fund providing exposure to the Shanghai A share market, we use CAF tactically to ride the wave of returning confidence among domestic Chinese investors fed by the stimulus package. To date the Chinese have shown leadership and a proactive response to the global recession, and now their number one priority is to offset contracting external demand with domestic growth.

TIP- iShares TIPS - The iShares etf, TIP, which is 90% invested in the inflation protected sector of the US Treasury Market currently offers a compelling yield on TTM basis of 5.89%. We believe that future inflation expectations are currently mispriced and that TIPS are a compelling way to own yield on an inflation protected basis, especially in the context of our re-flation thesis.

GLD - SPDR GOLD -We bought more gold on 5/5. The inflation protection is what we're long here looking ahead 6-9 months. In the intermediate term, we like the safety trade too.

UUP - U.S. Dollar Index - We believe that the US Dollar is the leading indicator for the US stock market. In the immediate term, what is bad for the US Dollar should be good for the stock market. Longer term, the burgeoning U.S. government debt balance will be negative for the greenback.

XLU - SPDR Utilities - As long term bond yields breakout to the upside, Utility investments are the relative yield loser.

EWW - iShares Mexico- We're short Mexico due in part to the repercussions of the media's manic Swine flu fear.  The country's dependence on export revenues is decidedly bearish due to volatility of crude prices and when considering that the country's main oil producer, PEMEX, has substantial debt to pay down and its production capacity has declined since 2004. Additionally, the potential geo-political risks associated with the burgeoning power of regional drug lords signals that the country's economy is under serious duress.


The Las Vegas locals market posted its third straight "better than bad" month where gaming revenues fell in the single digits.  While this isn't a same store decline - Station's Aliante and The M Resort opened in 2009 - the sequential trends are encouraging.  The 6 month moving average pivoted upward in April and comparisons ease, for the most part, as we work through the year. 


WRITING OFF LV LOCALS FOR 2009? - lv locals april delta chart


BYD is the big public traded entity in the Las Vegas locals market.  The negative thesis on BYD continues to center around the prospects for the Locals market.  We've all but written off 2009 and have instead focused on 2010.  Our contention is that population growth will likely boost 2010 gaming revenues into positive territory despite the obvious economic issues.  For 2009, we project a 13% decline in BYD's LV Locals revenues.  Obviously, if current trends continue, BYD's LV revenues could exceed our estimate.

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