D.C.'s Delusion

This note was originally published at 8am on October 07, 2013 for Hedgeye subscribers.

“The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion.”

-Stephen Greenblatt


That’s one of the best quotes from one of my favorite books this year, The Swerve. “Nature ceaselessly experiments… the swerve is the source of free will…” (pg 189). But your boys Bernanke, Boehner, and Obama will have none of that.


Nope. No more nature, gravity, or truth – it’s all about partisan fear-mongering for political gain. And if you don’t like it, too bad – even buying Gold won’t save you now.


The cover of The Economist this week says “No Way to Run A Country”, the US stock market says US Equity Futures down 17 handles this morning, and the bond market? Well, it doesn’t care about this whole “default” thing. Delusion reigns in D.C. instead.


Back to the Global Macro Grind


This remains the 1st US stock market correction of 2013 that I haven’t been buying on red. Friday was only the 3rd up day for US equities in the last 12 (when Bernanke wrongly decided to Burn The Buck by not tapering).


Down Dollar + Rates Down = US Stocks Down - that’s precisely what you’ll see again this morning. From a US growth expectations perspective, that’s not good.


Some might argue that US futures down 17 is a “capitulation” signal – but context, when considering the emotion of it all, is always critical. At 1671 (my next line of immediate-term TRADE support), this will only be a -3% correction from the SP500’s all-time closing high. That’s hardly a capitulation. That’s a start.


Moreover, it’s important to realize that growth “Style Factors” in our model have barely corrected at all:

  1. LOW YIELD STOCKS (i.e. growth stocks) are still +32.2% YTD (vs High Yield Stocks +11%)
  2. TOP 25% EPS GROWTH (by SP500 quartile) = +28.8% YTD

Then you have all the 2013 US Growth Pain Trades:

  1. HIGH SHORT INTEREST stocks (by SP500 quartile) = +24.9% YTD
  2. HIGH BETA STOCKS = +25.0% YTD
  3. SMALL CAPS (Russell2000) = +27.0% YTD

In other words, given Bernanke re-established his Policy To Inflate (via Down Dollar) and D.C. has gone full gong show at the same time, the US #GrowthAccelerating style factor embedded in Friday’s closing prices is almost absurdly high!


Then there’s Institutional Investor sentiment:

  1. TREASURIES: there’s still a net short position (futures/options data) of -57,902 contracts in 10Y Treasuries
  2. SP500: there’s a net long position of +10,393 in SPY (vs. the 6mth avg of +6,397)
  3. II Bull/Bear Survey: ramped +93%! last week (to the bullish side) from the AUG low

That’s right. By my scorecard, US institutional sentiment just got completely whipsawed again. At the late AUG lows, there were only 37% of investors in the Bull/Bear survey who admitted they were “bullish”, then the SP500 proceeded to rip them a +100 handle move to an all-time closing high in SEP. #wonderful


Now, after chasing growth expectations into the SEP highs, Wall Street is caught off-sides again this morning – too long = wrong. So watch the relationship between US Equity performance and US Equity volatility (VIX) from here. I’m already net short in our #RealTimeAlerts signaling product (6 LONGS, 7 SHORTS), but I’d get really net short on a VIX breakout > 18.98.


For front-month fear (VIX), 18.98 is our TREND line of resistance. The corollary to that line = SP500 TREND support of 1660. We haven’t seen either of those lines violated (the wrong way, respectively) since November of last year. And I have no delusions that the #1 risk to growth has always been what’s on your screen this morning – government.


Our immediate-term Global Macro Risk Ranges are now:


UST 10yr Yield 2.60-2.68%

SPX 1671-1704

Nikkei 13821-14269

VIX 15.64-18.21

USD 79.81-80.85

Brent 107.81-108.97


Best of luck out there this week,



Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


D.C.'s Delusion - Chart of the Day


D.C.'s Delusion - Virtual Portfolio


Takeaway: PNRA remains on the Hedgeye Best Ideas list as a SHORT.

First, we'd like to say that we do not believe management has adequately recognized the seriousness of the situation they find themselves in.  Therefore, it goes without saying that, in our opinion, earnings estimates are too high for the remainder of 2013 and 2014.


We’ve recently spoken to an unnamed industry insider in order to clarify our understanding of the cycle that many companies in the restaurant industry tend to go through.  Typically, when a concept gets in trouble, the management team’s decision-making process tends to follow a certain pattern:

  1. Overconfidence – The concept loses its value proposition when management raises prices too aggressively or lowers the quality of food.
  2. Stage 1 Denial – Consumers catch on and begin to frequent the concept less often.  Traffic begins to decline and management usually begins to blame the weather or another external event.
  3. Stage 2 Denial – In an effort to avoid the inevitable and appease the street, management begins to accelerate growth through the form of new unit acceleration or the acquisition of new brands.  Normally, the core business continues to deteriorate alongside a decline in ROIIC (return on incremental invested capital).
  4. Stage 1 Panic – Analysts begin to catch on and management responds by slowing new unit growth, although often not by enough.  The core business continues to decline, as senior management begins to replace the operating team.  Simultaneously, the search for a new advertising agency begins.
  5. Stage 2 Panic – Now it really begins to get ugly, as management sacrifices margins to increase customer counts by implementing a deep discounting strategy.  It then becomes clear that major changes need to be made across the enterprise.
  6. The Healing Process – Management decides to stop growth and attack the middle of the P&L.

Starbucks, Brinker, and McDonald’s are all companies that have successfully worked their way through this cycle, as management from their respective companies aggressively cut CapEx and began to grow it very conservatively for the next few years.  By slowing growth and attacking the middle of the P&L, EBITDA began to consistently increase in each situation.  In our view, SBUX and EAT are currently two of the best managed companies in the restaurant space.  DRI, on the other hand, is a company which, similar to PNRA, is currently going through this cycle (Stage 2 Panic).  But, unlike DRI, PNRA is in the early stages.


While 2Q was a disaster for PNRA and a number of analysts have downgraded the stock recently, we are sticking with our short thesis.  We believe the stock will continue to underperform until the healing process begins.  Last quarter, management warned investors that 2013 would be more volatile than expected and that this trend should continue for the next 3-4 quarters.  Looking past 3Q13, we believe the challenges the company faces will extend into 2014.  How far into 2014 these challenges will persist depends on how management reacts to them.


PNRA: STAGE 1 DENIAL - pnra sss



On the 2Q13 earnings call, management lowered the 2013 outlook to properly reflect the operational improvements they are making.  Management’s guidance for 3Q13 EPS was between $1.32-1.36, and the street is coming in at $1.35.  Given the likelihood of a top-line miss, we believe the street is giving the company the benefit of the doubt, which could lead to further disappointment when the company reports on Tuesday. 


PNRA: STAGE 1 DENIAL - pnra operating margin


PNRA: STAGE 1 DENIAL - pnra rlmn



With the company trying to drive incremental throughput, we believe that an EPS miss could come from incremental labor costs.  Current consensus expectations are for labor costs to be up 11 bps y/y, which is, in our opinion, generous.  Given sluggish sales trends, limited pricing power, and the need for incremental investments, we believe labor costs will be higher than the street is expecting.




PNRA: STAGE 1 DENIAL - pnra cogs


PNRA: STAGE 1 DENIAL - pnra other exp



Looking out to 4Q, it is difficult to tell whether PNRA will be able to hit the numbers, particularly given the company will have an additional week this year.  The street is coming in at $2.09, or 19% EPS growth, on 19% revenue growth, while management has guided to $2.05-2.11.  Given the early reads on October sales trends, we suspect it will be challenging for PNRA to accelerate SSS in 4Q.


Admittedly, the biggest risk to being short PNRA is that it appears to be a consensus short.  The sell-side has turned on the company.  Only 57% of analysts have PNRA rated a Buy and short interest in the stock is at 6.3% of the float, which is one of the highest in the QSR space.




Howard Penney

Managing Director







Two casino operators have faced questions from Massachusetts regulators about their operations in Macau at hearings for casino licences.  There were candid exchanges between Massachusetts Gaming Commission officials and executives of Wynn Resorts Ltd.  Commissioner Gayle Cameron told Wynn Resorts chairman Steve Wynn there was illegal activity in all casinos, including the company’s casino here.  “Macau is a legitimate place. They’re not gangsters or bums, they’re businessmen,” Wynn said.


MGM Resorts International says its chances of getting a licence will not be affected by ties to Pansy Ho Chiu King.



Macau CPI for September 2013 increased by 6.12% YoY or 0.77% MoM.

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October 21, 2013

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October 21, 2013 - 10yr

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October 21, 2013 - euro

October 21, 2013 - pound

October 21, 2013 - oil

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October 21, 2013 - VIX

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October 21, 2013 - gold

October 21, 2013 - copper

The Scarcest Commodity

“Ideas are incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.”

-Thomas Jefferson


One of the biggest push-backs I’ve been getting from both US stock market bulls and bears throughout the 2nd half of 2013 is one and the same – “I can’t buy that up here – I missed the move.” And my response continues to be that Mr. Market doesn’t care about what you did or did not miss. The market’s price is both dynamic and non-linear. As Jesse Pinkman would say, ‘it’s evolution, yo.’


Pinkman is not Jefferson. The aforementioned quote comes from a great book on the evolution of entropy economics that I’m still reviewing: George Gilder’s Knowledge And Power. If you are a growth investor (and/or you just want to be long growth as a Style Factor right now), read Chapter 10: “Romer’s Recipes and Their Limits” (Paul, not that raging Keynesian, Christina Romer).


“Still, change keeps coming, fueled by technology, as Romer’s 1990 paper reminded the economics fraternity. As productivity grows, technology keeps freeing people. And this … really is, in some sense, the scarcest commodity: the power of the human intellect.” (Knowledge and Power, page 96)


Back to the Global Macro Grind


BREAKING: the Global Macro call of 2013 is basically baked into the cake. You were either long growth, or you were not. With the Russell 2000 closing at another all-time high on Friday (1114 = +31.2% YTD), long virtually anything growth has absolutely pulverized the #EOW (end of the world) “new normal” thing (Gold, Bonds, Utilities, etc.).  


In terms of 2013 US Equity Market Style Factors, here’s how awesome growth, as a style, looks at the all-time highs:

  1. LOW YIELD (i.e. growthier stocks) = +35.2% YTD (vs High Yield Div stocks +14.9%)
  2. TOP 25% EPS GROWTH (Top Quartile of SP500) = +34.1% YTD (vs Bottom 25% = +20.8%)
  3. TOP 25% SALES GROWTH (Top Quartile) = +31.4% YTD
  4. HIGH BETA = +30.5% YTD



To be clear, growth (as an investing style) can be very frustrating to A) embrace and B) capitalize upon. I think the reasons for that are bountiful (it’s called a cycle), but here are three big ones:

  1. STYLE: Growth Investing hasn’t worked like this since the 1990s – and few were positioned for an early 1990s style US recovery
  2. CYA: many equity investors are still fighting the last war of getting smoked in 2008 – consensus is long yielding income, not growth
  3. MULTIPLE EXPANSION: expensive gets more expensive on the way up

That last one is really tough for people to swallow, primarily because there are just so many people managing money these days. How many people do you know short stocks because they’re “expensive”?


I’d argue that part of Carl Icahn’s resurgence as an activist has a lot to do with being mucho long Style Factors 4 and 5 (HIGH BETA + HIGH SHORT INTEREST). With what was working locked into his sights, all he needed was Bill Ackman pumping those factors live @CNBC.


How many investors break the market down by Style Factors?


I’d say a lot fewer than you might think. And, to a degree, this makes Institutional Investing a lot like Moneyball was before Billy Beane did Moneyball. In the end, a chubby 1st baseman with a high on base % beats a pretty boy “highly concentrated” activist long ball hitter.


So what if my writing this note top-ticks growth vs. slow growth for 2013?

  1. That could very well happen – the performance divergences between growth and slow growth styles is at its YTD high
  2. That could very well not happen – if you started short selling growth in 1995 or 1996, let me know how that went by 1999

This is why the 1994 Global Macro Market metaphor (bond market blew up) really matters to me. As you can see in the Chart of The Day:

  1. Utilities (XLU) = -17.4% in 1994, 0.2% in 1996, -12.8% in 1999
  2. Tech (XLK) = +19.1% in 1994, +43.3% in 1996, +78.4% in 1999

How many investors are positioned for 2013 being 1993? How about 1995?


I don’t know if this is the top of growth investing. If it is, it ends with the Twitter IPO. But I do know that The Scarcest Commodity out there right now is being a raging growth bull. And that’s all I have to say about that.


Our immediate-term Global Macro Risk Ranges are now:


UST 10yr Yield 2.58-2.69%



VIX 11.55-15.19
USD 79.21-80.28

Gold 1


Best of luck out there today,



Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


The Scarcest Commodity - Chart of the Day


The Scarcest Commodity - Virtual Portfolio


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