TODAY’S S&P 500 SET-UP – December 4, 2013
As we look at today's setup for the S&P 500, the range is 31 points or 0.62% downside to 1784 and 1.11% upside to 1815.
CREDIT/ECONOMIC MARKET LOOK:
MACRO DATA POINTS (Bloomberg Estimates):
WHAT TO WATCH:
COMMODITY/GROWTH EXPECTATION (HEADLINES FROM BLOOMBERG)
The Hedgeye Macro Team
This note was originally published at 8am on November 20, 2013 for Hedgeye subscribers.
“Unlike an inexorable, Newtonian “great machine”, the economy is not a closed system.”
That’s a quote from the end of lucky chapter 13 of one of the best markets/economics books of 2013, Knowledge and Power, by George Gilder. I like this book because it’s the precise opposite of what your central planning overlords @FederalReserve think.
Yesterday, at the Keynesian-economics-Club-of-Washington-D.C. event, Ben Bernanke proclaimed his mystery of faith to his head nodders: “the surest path to recovery” is for the Fed to do more (read: no taper).
Right, right. It’s a good thing he’s sure.
Back to the Global Macro Grind…
This, of course, is the basic divide between how most of us market-practitioners think about markets/economies versus some un-elected and unaccountable academic theorist does. Core to Fed group-think is certainty whereas what we do is embrace uncertainty.
Markets and economies aren’t some theoretical “great machine” that behaves in “equilibrium.” Markets and economies are dynamic and non-linear. Anyone who has studied history understands that.
I’ve been on the road seeing clients in Los Angeles and San Francisco this week. I’ll be in Vegas tonight and Phoenix tomorrow. No matter where I go, I get the same feedback from market-practitioners about Fed policy – uncertainty.
At the same time, these dudes (and dudettes) backslapping one another at the Fed think that they have this completely under control. At one point yesterday, Bernanke said that his “forward rate guidance is helping the economy.”
Taper, no-taper, taper, no taper, maybe-taper, no taper, change goal posts on taper, don’t taper…
It’s a certified circus at this point.
The smartest investors I meet with have the humility to tell people that they have no idea how this ends. So that’s comforting, right? Not only one of the sharpest clients we have, but one of the best performers in 2013 YTD, summarized that this he-said-she-said-taper-talk thing has given him a tremendous amount of conviction in one position – cash.
“Keith, with all of the illiquidity and policy risk factors building out there, I really like cash.”
After effectively day-trading Yellen’s predictable behavior last week, I’ve gone from 48% cash in the Hedgeye Asset Allocation Model to 60% this morning. But I was at 66% cash yesterday morning, and bought-the-damn-bubble in a few things on red again yesterday.
Day-trading? Yep. I have no problem with that. Do you? #GetActive
I realize its below these uber intellectual types at the “Economics Club of Washington” to risk manage (read: trade) the market risk they are superimposing on us every day. And I kind of like that. Maybe they’ll label me a lower-class-trader, or something like that.
What’s my call? It’s been a fantastic year to be long US #GrowthAccelerating (from 0.14% GDP with the SP500 at 1360 in Q412 to 2.84% GDP Q313 and US stocks at all-time highs), and now, on up days, it’s time to raise cash.
Looking at both real-time market indicators (Russell2000 growth has been making lower highs since locking in its all-time high on October 29th) and high-frequency economic data, it appears to us that the slope of the line on US growth is peaking.
Since what happens on the margin matters most, if and when the US economy slows (from here) to say 2% (or 1.6%, which is now the downward bound in our GIP model for US GDP Growth in 2014), what do you think the top performing Style Factor in US Equities (GROWTH) is going to do?
No worries, you don’t have to guess – that style factor is already starting to do what you should expect it to do – slow. As US equity market momentum slows (on lower and lower volumes), both the Fed and its nodders are going to get lulled to sleep.
Moreover, I think the Fed will cheer on the #GrowthSlowing data as more reason not to taper… and, in doing so, they’ll suck in every last lemming who hasn’t been long US stocks in 2013 to buy the bubble.
How messed up is that? I have no idea on timing, but oh how this “great machine” of Keynesian certainty is going to fall.
Our immediate-term Risk Ranges are now as follows:
UST 10yr Yield 2.67-2.81%
Best of luck out there today,
Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer
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Takeaway: We're surprised at how many people are hanging on to the stale bear case on JCP. At least acknowledge that things are improving.
CNBC is going to have a tough time carting out a bull on JC Penney. Hedgeye retail analyst Brian McGough is the only one. And he's nailing it.
The stock market pinata turned the tables on JCP bears after the bell, pulling a double-digit same store sales rise out of the bag for November. The stock surged higher and was the most actively traded in the after-hours session.
As McGough wrote in a note to clients earlier this evening, "We're surprised at how many people are hanging on to the stale bear case. At least acknowledge that things are improving." McGough says he is the first to admit that it's only a partial window into the quarter. But, as he says, "This news validates three core parts of our JCP thesis."
The news gets worse for JCP bears.
Hedgeye CEO Keith McCullough points out that there's no resistance to the TAIL (mean reversion) line of $14.61. That represents 40-50% upside.
(Click here to subscribe to Keith McCullough's Real-Time Alerts. As of this writing, he has registered a remarkable seventeen winning trades in a row.)
Takeaway: We're surprised at how many people are hanging on to the stale bear case on JCP. Seriously, at least acknowledge that things are improving.
Great news out of JC Penney this evening, as the company reported a 10.1% comp in November. We admit that it's only a partial window into the quarter. But, this validates three core parts of our JCP thesis.
*Our research is based in part on our survey work -- which suggested last month (before KSS missed and JCP beat 3Q) that JCP was regaining share, and that KSS was likely the biggest donor. We've updated our survey, and will be ready to share our insight (and incremental trends from our last survey) early next week. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in the results.
BEARS ARE STILL GROWLING
We've gotten a lot of feedback from bears this evening -- including 1) 'they were up against an easy comp' and 2) 'we don't know inventory levels or gross margins.' The latter point is true. We don't know margins. But we have a rather strong sense that they were better than last year. We still think that a return to the mid-high 30s Gross Margin is likely -- from the depths of the 22% where Johnson forced them. We need to keep in mind that Gross Margin is one of the easiest lines to destroy on the P&L over a short period of time (i.e. Ron Jon eliminating $2.5bn of 48% GM private label). But unlike other industries, in retail it is also the one line where you can shake the etch-a-sketch clean and return to meaningfully higher levels over a 12-18 month time period.
As it relates to the bears' 'it's irrelevant -- it was an easy comp' argument, we think that's an absolutely ridiculous point. The reality is that last year JCP lost a tremendous amount of market share -- $4.3bn to be exact. And now it's taking it back. When they take it back from KSS -- who we estimate stole $800mm in sales -- is KSS going to say…'that's ok, we took a lot of share last year, so it's ok if our sales are down.' Yes, we know how ridiculous that sounds. But the reality is that JCP is growing 3-5x ahead of its competitors. And that can't be glossed over.
Here's A Chart That Shows Us Who Took The Most Share From JCP. As Noted, Our Updated Survey Hits Next Week and We Will Be Able To See Incremental Trends
HERE'S ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS AS IT RELATES TO OUR BULL CASE
First, as a precursor, we need to reiterate that we are in no way perma bulls on JCP (we're not 'perma' on anything). We were short this name at $42 when Ackman was parading around his $12 in earnings thesis. We turned positive earlier this year when we thought perception of fundamentals as well as sentiment had overshot on the downside.
As it relates to earnings power, let’s keep an important factor in mind…JCP is operating at $100 per square foot. That’s embarrassing. Kohl’s, which we think has structural issues and has been at the top of our short list – is running close to $210/sq ft. Before Johnson worked his magic, JCP peaked at $190 per foot.
Our point here is that we don’t have to assume that JCP becomes a great retailer. We don’t have to even believe that it will be an average retailer. It can remain in the lower quartile – a notch above Sears even – and operate at $140/square foot. And it can get there by simply fixing some of the factors that Johnson damaged during his triumphant reign.
Alongside $140/square ft., our other key assumption is that Gross Margins get back to 37%, which we think is very doable – despite the severe pushback we get on this assumption. Ron Johnson decimated JCP’s private label brands, which cost the company about $1bn in gross profit – that’s what happens when you remove $2.5bn in sales at a 48% gross margin and substitute that with $900mm at a 33% gross margin.
Here are some of our recent clips from HedgeyeTV. Comments are welcome, as always.
Here's Our Note After JCP Surprised on the Upside With 3Q Results Last Month
JCP: The Bear Case Just Shrunk
Takeaway: This is going to be the Q where people look back and say “yeah, that was the point where I should have realized JCP is a viable entity.”
The list of ‘what’s changed’ to our thesis on JCP in the wake of its print is a very short one. In fact, it’s nonexistent. Were there questions that emerged that we need to get answered? Of course there were. That’s what happens when a company loses $1.94 per share. But far more questions were answered than were raised. Here’s some of our thoughts.
In the end, this is going to be the quarter where people look back and say “yeah, that was the point where I realized JCP wasn’t going under”. We know that this isn’t a major bullish statement, but it certainly removes the most bearish case being throw around – and that’s the case that nearly every short is banking on (and yes, JCP remains one of the most heavily shorted stocks in the S&P). People are still going to have to buy in to the premise that this company can see an acceleration in sales/square foot to a level that can sustain a respectable earnings level. We think JCP pierces through $120/ft in 2015 – which will mark its break-even year. That might not sound too enticing – after all, we all like for companies to make money instead of simply not lose money. But the consensus is at a loss of $1.18 that year, and we think that estimates will need to come up materially.
Takeaway: Department stores crushed it with 70% growth.
Editor's note: Hedgeye Retail Sector Head Brian McGough shares some of his thoughts on Cyber Monday.
Takeaway: Some interesting color here by IBM. Department stores crushed it with 70% growth, which is great, because they fell flat on their face as it relates to in-store shopping. Let's also put the dot.com spend into perspective…most stores are coming off an fairly low level of spending online. About 10% of total retail sales originate on-line, but department stores are only about 7% (despite the fact that virtually everything they sell is e-commerce friendly). Big sign of failure to capitalize on an opportunity, but also a big opportunity from here. JC Penney, for example, lost about $500mm in dot.com sales over the past two years (thanks RonJon), or about a third of its internet business. We think it gets it back within 2-3 years.
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