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Life and Light

This note was originally published at 8am on March 11, 2014 for Hedgeye subscribers.

“The life and light of a nation are inseparable.”

-James A. Garfield


That’s the opening quote to a fantastic US #history book I cracked open this past weekend: Destiny of The RepublicA Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a US President, by Candice Millard of Kansas City, Missouri.


After serving only 200 days as President of the United States (MAR-SEP of 1881), Garfield was shot by a whacko loser by the name of Charles Guiteau. Not unlike many of us, Garfield never thought of himself as part of a “class.” While he was raised poor, he empowered himself with the light of self-education. He was one of the smartest Presidents America has ever had.


Being “smart” isn’t a big differentiator in this profession. On paper, I don’t really know anyone who is dumb. But thinking that an un-elected-central-planning-bureau can smooth our economic lives and provide us with a pre-18th century enlightenment is. While hope is not a risk management process, that’s all I have left that America’s currency finds her footing.


Back to the Global Macro Grind


As I alluded to in yesterday’s Early Look, 1870-1913 was one of the best economic periods in American history for a reason. The US understood the value of owning what was becoming the world’s reserve currency. There was no Federal Reserve to devalue it.


Life and Light - 567


Fast forward 100 years, and we have ourselves quite a scene to observe in global macro markets every day. Places like Argentina (who had the same standard of living as the US in 1920), missed having Presidential periods of sustained real (inflation adjusted) economic growth like 1983-1989 (Reagan) and 1993-1999 (Clinton) where the value of America’s currency rose with interest rates.


Our Global Macro Theme of 1H13 of #StrongDollar + #RatesRising is gone now. And, on many levels, that’s just a sad thing. It provided for what George Gilder recently coined as “information surprise” in the US economy. It was the life and light that the current @FederalReserve isn’t allowed to understand.


In case you are thinking about moving to another country, here’s what’s headline news around the world this morning:


1. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key, is calling for a new country flag to represent the “end of the colonial era”

2. Swedish Consumers are enjoying #StrongCurrency Tax Cuts (Consumer Prices, CPI, -0.2% y/y for FEB)

3. UK Industrial Production #GrowthAccelerating to +2.9% y/y as the British Pound tests fresh 3yr highs


In other words, there is plenty of life and light in this world. You just have to stop navel-gazing politically in the US and realize that countries are racing against America as she always has against them.


But why do these headlines matter? What do these countries currently have in common?


1. NEW ZEALAND’s #StrongCurrency Policy (the Kiwi) has generated some of the strongest real GDP growth rates in the non-EM world. Consumer Confidence (which tracks the strength of a country’s currency) is testing all-time highs.

2. SWEDEN, while still recovering from its loss to the Canadian hockey team in the Gold medal game @Sochi, continues to reap the rewards of having a currency that can’t be devalued by some Japanese bureaucrat

3. UNITED KINGDOM continues to remind all those who followed in the footsteps of a raging Keynesian policy to devalue the Pound that real-inflation-adjusted economic-growth in the UK has accelerated alongside the purchasing power of its people


Don’t worry, all is not yet lost. But the US stock market’s volume could be. At the all-time highs in the SP500, volume has been as dead as a doornail. In both monetary policy and in market interest (CNBC ratings at all-time lows), the US is starting to emulate Japan. The land of the rising sun and “forward rate guidance” (Japan) saw its stock market volume hit 5 month lows last night too.


What if the life and the light were to just leave? And I mean literally. What if enough of us get what’s going on to simply not show up as the last lemming to buy the all-time bubble high from someone else who doesn’t call the all-time high price bubbly? What if all there is left is the last short seller covering his shorts high after shorting the January lows?


What if?


If, if, then statements aren’t new to evolution. Neither were they new (yesterday) to a part of this world (Latin America) that has tried, tried, and tried again to devalue its currencies as the best path to political power and prosperity.


Argentina, Brazil, Chile (Equities) were all down -1.2-1.6% yesterday as hedge funds continue to race to get net longer of a US stock market they got way too short of only a month ago (-80,000 net short futures/options contracts in Index +E-mini).


Latin American Equities (MSCI Index) are down almost -10% YTD as its people deal with unsustainable debt levels, deficit spending, and failed Policies To Inflate their way out of it via currency devaluation. The purchasing power and currency of The People are inseparable.


Our immediate-term Global Macro Risk Ranges are now as follows (Top 12 Daily Trading Ranges is a separate subscription product):


SPX 1864-1891

Bovespa 44566-47451

USD 79.38-80.11

Pound 1.66-1.68

Brent 106.93-110.61

Gold 1321-1355


Best of luck out there today,



Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


Life and Light - Chart of the Day


Life and Light - Virtual Portfolio

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TODAY’S S&P 500 SET-UP – March 25, 2014

As we look at today's setup for the S&P 500, the range is 38 points or 0.94% downside to 1840 and 1.11% upside to 1878.                       










THE HEDGEYE DAILY OUTLOOK - 10                                                                                                                                                                  



  • YIELD CURVE: 2.30 from 2.30
  • VIX closed at 15.09 1 day percent change of 0.60%

MACRO DATA POINTS (Bloomberg Estimates):

  • 7:45am  ICSC weekly retail sales
  • 8:55am: Redbook weekly retail sales
  • 9am: House Price Index m/m, Jan., est. 0.6% (prior 0.8%)
  • 9am: S&P/Case Shiller Home Price report
  • 20 City m/m, Jan., est. 0.60% (prior 0.76%)
  • 10am: Consumer Confidence, March, est. 78.5 (prior 78.1)
  • 10am: Richmond Fed Manufacturing, March, est. 4 (prior -6)
  • 10am: New Home Sales, Feb., est. 445k (prior 468k)
  • 4pm: Fed’s Lockhart speaks in Atlanta
  • 4:30pm: API weekly oil inventories
  • 7pm: Fed’s Plosser speaks in New York


    • President Obama holds press conference in Netherlands while attending Nuclear Security Summit
    • House Foreign Affairs Cmte will take up H.R. 4278, which offers support to Ukraine, codifies sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian individuals deemed corrupt, responsible for crisis
    • Supreme Court may issue opinions, hears religious exemption arguments for cos. re: Obamacare contraceptive mandate
    • 8am: Peter Visclosky, D-Ind., U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi at Congressional Steel Caucus state of steel industry hearing
    • FY2015 budget hearings/panels:
    • 10am: Senate Foreign Relations Cmte: Sec. of State John Kerry
    • 10am: House Armed Svcs Cmte: Army Sec. John McHugh, Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno
    • 10am House Approps panel: Navy Sec. Ray Mabus, Chief of Naval Ops Jonathan Greenert, Marine Corps Commandant James Amos
    • 1:30pm: House Appropriations panel: Interior Sec. Sally Jewell
    • 2pm: House Appropriations panel: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Ajit Pai
    • 10am: Lithuanian Energy Minister Jaroslav Neverovic expected to request at Senate Energy Cmte hearing to speed opening of LNG exports from U.S. to NATO members
    • 1:30pm: House Energy and Commerce subcmte on energy and power to hold hearing on H.R. 6, designed to speed natural gas exports to WTO countries
    • U.S. Election Wrap: Nate Silver Says GOP May Take Senate


  • Russia excluded from G-8 as leaders warn of more sanctions
  • Senate Republicans seek to void IMF money in Ukraine aid package
  • Candy Crush maker King Digital seeks $533m in IPO
  • German business confidence falls for first time in 5 months
  • Sanofi said to join bidders for Merck’s consumer-health unit
  • GM recall accused of missing Cobalts with faulty switch
  • GM CEO to testify before Congressional panel on recall
  • Senate, House cmtes examine intl energy trade, LNG exports
  • Vivendi is said to seek improved SFR bid from Drahi’s Altice
  • Lawmakers said to agree on ending NSA phone-records program
  • SEC probing bond dealings by banks in loan securities: WSJ
  • Google Glass products coming from Ray-Ban, Oakley Maker
  • Box files to raise $250m in cloud-storage shr sale
  • Brazil’s credit rating cut to BBB- by S&P on sluggish growth


    • Carnival (CCL) 9:15am, ($0.08) - Preview
    • Five Below (FIVE) 4:01pm, $0.45
    • G-III Apparel (GIII) 7am, $0.49
    • HD Supply Holdings (HDS) 6am, ($0.03)
    • Legacy Oil + Gas (LEG CN) post-mkt, C$0.02
    • McCormick (MKC) 6:30am, $0.58
    • Neogen (NEOG) 8:45am, $0.18
    • PVH (PVH) 4:02pm, $1.42
    • Steelcase (SCS) 4:01pm, $0.17
    • Walgreen (WAG) 7:30am, $0.93 - Preview


  • Gold Rebounds From One-Month Low as Ukraine Concern Spurs Demand
  • WTI Reaches $100 Before U.S. Crude Stockpile Data; Brent Steady
  • Meat Eaters Gulp Record Costs Before Grilling Peak: Commodities
  • Iraq Buys $1.56 Billion of Gold for Biggest Purchase in 3 Years
  • Anglo American Halts Bronces Copper Mine Amid Protests in Chile
  • Miners Face Congo Conflict History Seeking Tin Without Warlords
  • Soybeans Extend Advance as U.S. Inventories Seen at 10-Year Low
  • Coffee Gains in London as Vietnam Slowing Sales; Cocoa Declines
  • Ex-Noble Trader Banga Moves Into Coal Calling Market Bottom
  • Crimea Spat Pushes Russian Energy to China, Away From Europe
  • Punishing Putin Fuels an Energy-Export Drive in U.S. Congress
  • Brazil Drought Rewards Coffee Hoarders Selling at Two-Year Highs
  • Booming U.S. NGL Exports Idled With Houston Channel Closed
  • China’s Gold Imports From Hong Kong Increase on Import Quotas

























The Hedgeye Macro Team














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POLL OF THE DAY RECAP: Is Mother Nature to Blame?

Blame it on the weather” seems to have quickly become the consensus mantra to explain away the recent lackluster performance of many companies. Just last week, Fed chief Janet Yellen joined the chorus saying that harsh winter weather may have had a negative impact on recent economic data.


We wanted to know how people outside the Fed and Old Wall assessed the situation in our Poll of the Day. So we asked: Is the weather to blame for the lackluster performance of companies or is it an excuse?


At the time of this post, 67.5% of respondents picked EXCUSE with 32.5% chose WEATHER.


One voters who wasn’t buying the  weather EXCUSE asked “Come on. Did the dog eat your homework, too?”


Another commenter said, “No one ever cites good weather as the reason for accelerating sales growth and expanding operating margins. CEOs/CFOs take all the credit during good times and are quick to defer to extenuating circumstances during bad times. A shame really...”


Over in the “Blame Mother Nature” camp, Hedgeye Managing Director Moshe Silver said WEATHER was to blame arguing, “People's perceptions about weather patterns have changed. After Katrina and Sandy, people fear that the "storm of the century" will be more like the storm of the week. The internet is full of reports of solar activity unlike anything earth has experienced for 1,000 years and how it creates extreme weather conditions. Real or not, it's got people spooked; changing consumption patterns are to be expected. This is just the beginning.”


One voter who blamed  WEATHER wrote, “Because I wasn't even able to get to work; forget about a shopping mall or even Home Depot for a shovel.”


Another blame the WEATHER voter added, “Look, the U.S. economy isn't exactly firing on all cylinders. I get it. But to suggest that the weather hasn't played a significant role in curbing consumer spending strains credulity. Have you been outside lately?”


One thing is for sure, it will take more than a few months of frosty temperatures to truly know if weather was the culprit for this period of slow growth. 


Video | $LULU: Turning the Corner?



Hedgeye Retail sector head Brian McGough explains why he is turning positive on the margin on Lululemon.


Midstream MLPs: Maintenance CapEx Naughty List

With the 4Q13 results in the books, we’ve updated our Midstream MLP Maintenance CapEx Comp Table. 


First, some color on the issue…


The widely-held opinion among MLP investors, analysts, bankers, and management teams is that net income doesn’t matter because depreciation, depletion, and amortization (DD&A) is a non-cash expense (and only cash expenses matter).  At the simplest level, “Maintenance Capital Expenditures” (M-CapEx) is substituted for DD&A, and MLPs are evaluated and valued based on “Distributable Cash Flow,” rather than net income or earnings.


With respect to that prevailing opinion, our view echoes Warren Buffet’s:


“Trumpeting EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) is a particularly pernicious practice.  Doing so implies that depreciation is not truly an expense, given that it is a “non-cash” charge.  That’s nonsense.  In truth, depreciation is a particularly unattractive expense because the cash outlay it represents is paid up front, before the asset acquired has delivered any benefits to the business.  Imagine, if you will, that at the beginning of this year a company paid all of its employees for the next ten years of their service (in the way they would lay out cash for a fixed asset to be useful for ten years).  In the following nine years, compensation would be a “non-cash” expense – a reduction of a prepaid compensation asset established this year.  Would anyone care to argue that the recording of the expense in years two through ten would be simply a bookkeeping formality?” (BRK 2002 Annual Report).


M-CapEx is now a hotly-debated topic in the MLP sector, as it should be.  Because there’s no simple, “right” answer, most default to simply plugging the management’s number into their models, and then projecting future M-CapEx consistent with it (usually as a % of adjusted EBITDA (another dubious management metric)).  And as we have little insight as to how management calculates (or even defines) M-CapEx (no reconciliation back to GAAP Capital Expenditures), it’s difficult to evaluate the appropriateness of what management is giving us.  In short, MLPs can essentially give us any M-CapEx number they want, it’s difficult for investors and analysts to scrutinize the metric given the lack of transparency, clarity, and disclosure (which is why most don’t even bother to), and MLP managements (especially those with Incentive Distribution Rights) are incentivized to give a M-CapEx as low as is palatable to the sell-side (and this seems to be very low), at least in the short-term.


Buffet gives the best definition of M-CapEx that we’ve heard:


“…the average annual amount of capitalized expenditures for plant and equipment, etc. that the business requires to fully maintain its long-term competitive position and its unit volume.”


He goes on:


“Most managers probably will acknowledge that they need to spend something more than [DD&A] on their businesses over the longer term just to hold their ground in terms of both unit volume and competitive position. When this imperative exists - that is, when [Maintenance CapEx] exceeds [DD&A] - GAAP earnings overstate owner earnings. Frequently this overstatement is substantial” (BRK 1986 Annual Report).


Clearly Buffet doesn’t talk to many MLP management teams, because Midstream MLP M-CapEx equaled only 28% of DD&A in 2013!


Bruce Greenwald (Professor of Finance and Asset Management at Columbia Business School) defines M-CapEx as the capital cost of keeping revenues flat, relying upon the ratio of gross-PP&E-to-revenues over the prior seven year period (see these notes for more on his method).  One could perform a similar calculation using a below-the-line figure like EBIT.


Note how neither of these definitions have anything to do with keeping assets "safe" or "compliant"...



In our view, the vast majority of MLPs screen as highly aggressive with their M-CapEx figures.  In 2013 there was not one large midstream MLP with M-CapEx higher than DD&A, and the average was only 28% (down from 34% in 2012). 


We believe that M-CapEx vs. DD&A and PP&E are the best metrics when screening for potential aggressive accounting, because the comparison is going to be apples-to-apples across companies, as well as internally consistent.  M-CapEx as a % of EBITDA is less useful for two reasons: 1) the definitions of EBITDA and/or adjusted EBITDA vary from one MLP to another, and 2) this measure does not control for differences in returns on capital or EBITDA margins among companies; all else being equal, a higher EBITDA margin MLP will screen as more aggressive than a lower EBITDA margin MLP in an M-CapEx vs. EBITDA ranking.


To the argument that DD&A is irrelevant because, “The book useful life is understated,” we say: “Show me.”  We have not seen an instance of a natural gas processing plant or long-haul pipeline installed 25 to 35 years ago that has not received significant capital expenditure (in excess of its depreciation) since, and is still in proper working order.  We fully appreciate that book useful lives can be, and often are, extended, but not without major capital expenditure over time.  While the timing of the capital expenditure will be lumpy and difficult to predict, it will come (or the assets will be abandoned/scrapped).  For instance, Enbridge (ENB, EEP) recently announced that it will replace its Line 3 crude oil pipeline after 46 years in service; the line replacement will cost $7 billion, and Enbridge IR noted to us that, “…the replacement cost of the infrastructure is significantly greater than the sum of its original cost and collective subsequent investments made to the pipeline.”   Given the impact of inflation on the replacement cost of long-lived, fixed assets, this really is not surprising.




Why this matters…


The short-term consequence is that MLP investors, today, are discounting decades of future “distributable” cash flows that are likely to be significantly in excess of future “free” cash flows, lending to widespread and substantial equity overvaluation.


The longer-term consequence is that, at some point, CFFO growth will slow (and possibly cease and/or go negative), while the MLP has a large, externally-financed “growth” CapEx budget.  By this stage, returns on incremental “growth” CapEx are below the cost of capital (and perhaps negative), and the coming dilution is obvious to all.  The more aggressive the MLP is with M-CapEx today, the more acute this risk is.    


Here is our updated 2013 Comp Table, followed by some takeaways below:


Midstream MLPs: Maintenance CapEx Naughty List - kk1

(click for printable PDF)


Comp Table Takeaways

  • The group already screened aggressive in 2012, with M-CapEx / DD&A at only 34%, but got more aggressive in 2013, as the ratio fell to 28%.  In 2013, aggregate DD&A increased 22% YoY while aggregate M-CapEx increased only 2%.  Average PP&E increase 27% YoY in 2013, and the M-CapEx-implied useful life of this PP&E (M-CapEx / Average PP&E) in 2013 was 77 years, a 24% increase from 62 years in 2012.  (The average book useful life (DD&A / Average PP&E) was 22 years in 2013, up from 21 years in 2012.) 
  • The Gatherers and Processors (G&Ps) screen most aggressive, with MWE, CMLP, XTEX, SXE, APL, and RGP all near the top of the list.  In our view, this is likely because many of them have invested heavily in new G&P infrastructure in recent years, assigned all of that CapEx to “expansion” or “growth,” and do not include a reserve for the eventual “replacement,” “refurbishment,” or "turnaround" of these fixed assets in their M-CapEx calculation.  Even if “the assets are new,” they will need to be refurbished or replaced, at which point the cash expenditure is likely to be in excess of the accrued depreciation charge given capital cost inflation.  Just as a refining MLP includes a "replacement" or "turnaround" capital reserve in DCF, we see no reason why a natural gas processing plant shouldn’t have one as well.  (Note: this is what depreciation is for!)
  • Absolute M-CapEx down YoY is a red flag, in our view, unless the MLP was a net seller of assets.  WPZ (-37%), SXE (-35%), OILT (-22%), EPD (-20%), GEL (-19%), and XTEX (-18%) screen as most aggressive on this measure in 2013.
  • M-CapEx as a % of DD&A down YoY is a red flag, in our view.  This implies that PP&E increased while M-CapEx decreased.  This was the case for 74% of the MLPs in this group, and the group was -17% YoY on this metric, on average.  SXE (-62%), TLLP (-57%), SXL (-44%), WPZ (-40%), OILT (-39%), and APL (-38%) screen as most aggressive.  OKS (+42%), PAA (+33%), BPL (+25%), and RGP (+25%) were the big MLPs with this metric screening less aggressive in 2013 than it did in 2012.
  • MWE’s 2013 M-CapEx implies a useful life of 351 years!  And this PP&E is largely processing and frac plants…  Amazing.  MWE is, by far, the most aggressive midstream MLP on this measure.
  • WPZ’s 2013 YoY change in M-CapEx is particularly notable.  PP&E and DD&A were up YoY, yet M-CapEx fell from $403MM in 2012 to $255MM in 2013...  That strikes us as questionable...
  • For the second consecutive year, SEP screens least aggressive by a wide margin. 
  • Among the G&Ps, EQM screens least aggressive by a wide margin.


Kevin Kaiser

Managing Director

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