Eye on Vietnam: Notes From Ground Zero

Our COO and the head of our Hong Kong office, Michael Blum, recently visited Saigon and relayed to us some of his anecdotal thoughts from the trip.  As many of you know, Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh City, is the largest city in Vietnam with a population of 7,123,340, which is ~90% ethnic Vietnamese.  While the city accounts for only 0.6% of the land area and 7.5% of the population of Vietnam, it accounts for over 20% of the GDP.


Vietnam is still a relatively poor country with purchasing power of ~$3,300 per capita; it has also had one of the highest growth rates globally over the past decade.  The country’s primary industries are: manufacturing, information technology, and agriculture.  The country also has one of the most open economies in Asia with two way trade estimated to be ~160% of GDP, more than twice that of China and four times India.


Michael’s notes are below:


Saigon is bustling. The new Intercontinental Hotel, located opposite of the US Consulate, will open its 300 rooms in the coming weeks – a small hotel by most standards these days. Yet in Saigon, they are much needed, even though the country’s economy has seen a rollercoaster ride since I last visited in early 2007. The manager of a nearby 5-star hotel says to me:  “Under normal circumstances, the competition might depress occupancy but there is a lack of luxury rooms in Saigon – I’m not expecting any adverse impact on my business.”


Traffic around town is at a point where getting from A to B is a challenging task. The city is known as the world’s capital of the motorbike. Everybody seems to be up-grading their motorbikes to newer, bigger and better models – even the old lady has traded her bicycle in for a motorized version. The local BMW dealer is doing well and I hear that the newly affluent class has taken a fancy to Harley Davidson.


While inflation has hit the local population very hard, Saigon has become much more commercial, more colorful and more international and the population has grown. All of the international fashion brands are now present. There are cafes everywhere, small stores crowd every inch of street front property and upscale restaurants do very well. Just a few years ago, they were quiet refuges. Now, reservations are essential. And everyone wants to get paid in USD – even though technically illegal unless you are a specially licensed 5-star hotel – to have a stable currency against the 30+% inflation of the Dong.


Yet for the expatriate community here, however small it may be, Saigon is a boring place. “There is no theater, no ballet, no opera. We only recently got a somewhat nice movie theater but it doesn’t show many movies from overseas. A concert by an international performing artist is unthinkable.”


An overseas Vietnamese contact of mine, who returned to Saigon 9 years ago explains: “There are only two things the Government still controls: access to land and culture. If they let go of either, their days are numbered. They know this and so it will never happen – the last instruments of power.”


Saigon’s first luxury condominium tower is going up not far from the Opera House near the Saigon River. At US$8,000 per square meter, the developer will start selling units in the coming weeks – the highest price ever achieved in Vietnam. Two years ago, they would have gotten bribed by buyers to get access to a unit. In this market, they expect to sell out – “but it will take a few weeks work.” Target market: The newly affluent generation of Vietnamese. One of the partners tells me: “You can’t invest in Vietnam based on the math that works elsewhere. We looked at various pieces of land 10-years ago. The prices were so high, we could not justify the investment. No matter what we would have bought then, today’s price is at least 10x higher. Had we built this tower in Singapore, we would probably achieve just short of US$20,000 per square meter. But GDP per capita in Singapore is well over US$30,000, here it is right only around US$1,000.”


The stock market crash has also taken its toll. No one has raised any money in recent memory to invest in Vietnam I am told. Many local funds had to fire large portions of their staff or close down. Even the most renowned investment firms were at the brink of collapse. But the market has rallied 50% this year. Can it do more? Everyone hopes so – the fall was a steep one.




Daryl G. Jones
Managing Director

Slouching Towards Wall Street… Notes for the Week Ending Friday, August 21, 2009

The China Syndrome – Are ETF Investors Buying A HOG In A Poke?




Ready To Rumble? – ETFs: How Not To Regulate




Intelligent Design


If we did ten things, and nine were bad and were disclosed by the newspapers, we would be over.

          - Mao Zedong


Invesco, the managed money giant with a reported $403 billion under management, is well known for its PowerShares ETFs.  Under their registered promotional announcement, according to their website, they are “leading the intelligent ETF revolution.”  Just how “intelligent,” we are now finding out. 


We have been casting about for a fitting metaphor for ETFs.  Now we believe we have one: ETFs are the financial markets equivalent of Intelligent Design.  Intelligent Design proponents bamboozle their way into the dialogue through the ruse of misappropriating a term of art, and repackaging it in its common usage.  They say that the Theory of Evolution is “only a ‘Theory’”, which therefore must be forced to yield the floor to other “Theories.”  By taking the word Theory – used in its scientific meaning as a commonly-accepted mechanism which, though perhaps not fully understood, is widely agreed to contain basic truth about how a phenomenon works – and putting it into its common usage, where it means “something we’re not quite sure about at all, but we hope it might explain some of what goes on”, they undermine the debate, grab headlines, and so far have managed to come perilously close to forcing their will on the nation.  The fact that they manage to be taken as serious debate partners at all is a testament to the rampant ignorance of a nation that would rather read Twitter than Dickens. Not that we are measurably worse in that department than most other cultures – but this happens to be the culture in which we live, work and pay taxes, and so our country’s foibles strike closer to the heart.


In a parallel testament to the ignorance of the investing public, and of those charged with protecting them, ETF issuers have achieved the mass retailization of a sophisticated institutional product, right under the noses of the regulators.  Gee, who’d a’ thought?


These are “Funds” that “Trade” on an “Exchange.”  That makes them securities.  And since they trade in units called “Shares”, and since their shares trade on exchanges and are bought and sold in a two-sided market, they are really just like common stocks.




In a rare and marvelous exercise of backwards-think, the regulators managed to convince themselves that ETFs walk like anything but a duck.  Rather than viewing ETFs as a single-share unit instrument that actually comprises a synthetic contract used in sophisticated, algorithm-driven arbitrage programs, regulators have benignly treated ETFs as nothing more than misunderstood common stocks.  The investing public was duly led to the trough, with the result that a fair number of them have been scratching their heads at instruments that appear to be tracking something very different from the indexes they were supposed to be tied to.


Now, just when we thought we had seen it all, our detector has come across yet another potential land mine in the investors’ portfolio.  (Actually, we do not think we have Seen It All.  The creativity and genius of even minor scam artists is astonishing – to say nothing of the frenzied gullibility of the investing public, who literally have wagered their own lives and the lives of their children yet unborn on nonsense as diverse as tulip bulbs, international postage coupons, and Bernie Madoff’s decades of “too good to be true” steady market-beating performance.)


A product which may be far more “revolutionary” than Invesco realized is the PowerShares Golden Dragon Halter USX China ETF, a mouthful whose ticker symbol is PGJ.  Launched in December of 2004, the fund seeks to replicate the return “of an equity index called the Halter USX China index(SM). The fund normally invests at least 80% of total assets in equity securities of companies deriving a majority of their revenues from the People's Republic of China.”  (Yahoo! Finance)


The Halter China Index was created by Tim Halter, head of Halter Financial Group.  This fact was not immediately obvious because the website for Halter Financial does not feature a drop-down titled “Management”.  Indeed, we searched in vain for anyone’s name on the website.  We admit to being technologically behind the times, and impatient to boot, but it struck us as odd that the founder of a firm that bears his own name would not feature himself prominently on his own website.


Another odd item: Halter’s website has two URL addresses.  One is “”.  The other is “”.  Halter has built a specialty niche business taking Chinese companies public in the US market by merging them into public shells.  They have even trademarked a concept they call the Alternative Public Offering – a combination of a reverse merger and a PIPE capital raise.


So far, so creative. Halter’s website describes their on-the-ground approach to Chinese investing – they opened an office in Shanghai in 2002 – and proudly lists the companies they have brought into the public marketplace in the US.  A peruse of this list, cross-referenced through Google, turns up one or two tidbits that we found curious.  We hasten to point out (our lawyers will like this) that we are not accusing Halter of any impropriety.  But the structure of their fund raises potentially troubling questions for ETFs in general.


Among the quaint features that emerge is an apparent nexus between Halter’s activities and a gaggle of smaller Texas businesses (Halter is based in Dallas) including a leather factory, a building contractor, and a female bodybuilder who is apparently somewhat successful on the local circuit.


In September of 2005, Strong Techincal, Inc filed an SEC Form 424B3,  disclosing that Halter Capital Corporation had acquired a controlling interest in Strong’s shares (82.4%) and that all previous business activities of Strong Techincal were discontinued, thus creating a public shell.


That company – renamed Zhongpin – now trades on the Nasdaq under the symbol HOGS.  Yahoo! Finance reports it closed on Friday 21 August at 11.37, down fractionally on the day, on volume of over 255,000 shares – late-August trading no doubt partly responsible for the volume coming in substantially shy of their three-month average of over 326,000 shares (all data taken from Yahoo! Finance).  The Top Mutual Fund ownership data available lists PowerShares Golden Dragon Halter ETF as number eight out of the top ten fund holders of Zhongpin shares.  The position shown on Yahoo! is only 79,000 shares, or 0.29% of the total outstanding.


We wonder about the activities of a financial firm that takes Chinese companies public through reverse mergers, then puts those same companies into an index it manages, which may automatically require those shares to be purchased by an ETF tied to its index.  ETFs are required to post positions, but not all of them.  The prospectus we found on the PowerShares website lists the top 30 positions in the Golden Dragon ETF (ticker PGJ).  Needless to say, at a market value of some $650,000, PGJ’s position in HOGS is not material to either HOGS itself (market cap in excess of $330 million) or to the ETF.  Neither HOGS nor PGJ, with reported assets in excess of $383 million, will not feel a ripple from a fluctuation in a position of that size.


On the other hand, due to the opacity of the lower capitalization end of the ETF structure, we have no way of knowing how many of Halter’s own reverse mergers may be held in the ETF managed based on its index.  Membership in Halter’s China index requires only a $50 million market capitalization.  This permits highly illiquid securities to be included in the Index, and thus bought for the ETF.  A quick comparison of Halter’s own website – which lists tombstones for a number of their deals – with the Halter USX China Index website reveals that a number of the companies held in the Index were Halter deals.


As we have previously noted – see last week’s discussion of natural resources ETFs – creation and liquidation trades rely on instant liquidity.  It is entirely possible that a fund such as Golden Dragon would seek to satisfy its liquidity requirements by trading the top tier of its most liquid stocks, while not touching the essentially illiquid shares in its basement.  Indeed, selling out of stock for which there is not a sufficient bid might be deemed not in the interest of shareholders of the fund.  Thus, if Halter were in fact to put their own illiquid reverse merger stocks into their Index – and they were then bought into the ETF – this could have the effect of permanently locking away a portion of the float.  Or of creating liquidity for sellers in an otherwise illiquid market.


In any event, the fund would likely not be out of those positions for long.  The Golden Dragon ETF’s assets appear to have climbed substantially this year as China gained investor visibility.  Our very inexact eyeballing of their figures indicates their assets are up by more than a third since the first quarter.  An insignificant million-dollar trade for a fund approaching $400 million in assets could have a meaningful impact on the shares of a company with only $50 million in capitalization.


We are hardly the first ones to note this phenomenon.  An article appeared in Barron’s a couple of years back (28 October 2006, “China Funds’ Shell Game”) which contains the following paragraph:


“Barron’s review of the index unearthed conflicts that ought to give fund investors pause.  The shares of at least one of these companies rose in value after entering the index, but as the stock gained, Halter and his family were selling.”


For all the digging Barron’s claims to have done, the article makes for fairly tepid reading and fails to come up with a smoking firecracker.


Frankly, while we are mindful of the potential for abuse in a set of small, interconnected businesses, we would rather not see regulators spending inordinate amounts of time going after the Halter Financials of the world.  While we have no concrete evidence to suggest they are doing something they should not, the fact that they have rolled into their own Index shares of companies for which they were the banker, and that those shares are now bought by an ETF based on that Index, doesn’t pass our smell test.


A read through the PGJ prospectus, available on the PowerShares website, does not mention that Halter is the banker for a number of companies held in the Index.  If, as Barron’s indicated, there are Halter personal or family holdings of any of these issues, it appears not to be disclosed.


We believe all this to be legal, by the way, which is an indictment not of Halter and their business, but of a legislative and regulatory regime that actively promotes the cloaking of critical information. 


Indeed, Halter Financial may legitimately have a different problem, which is the appearance of conflict of interest by virtue of having succeeded.  If, in fact, they really did set up a Shanghai office, get to know local businesses, gain tremendous insight into the Chinese economy and marketplace, win the trust of local business leaders and government officials, and create an unassailable niche in the US securities markets by bringing Chinese companies public with a minimum of expense – if so, then Halter may be a victim of their own success.  If they have in fact done all this, Halter may be the only firm that truly understands its markets.  If so, they may find themselves faced with a dilemma: to put their own companies into their Index – trading names they know intimately – or step back from that and go with lesser quality issues.


If so.  And if not…


The SEC and Congress are apparently not troubled by the fact that investors can take a shot on an index, while simultaneously creating liquidity for entities with an undisclosed direct interest in that index.  Undisclosed, we repeat, because it is not required to be disclosed.   We wonder what lessons PGJ’s bigger siblings have drawn from this.  We fear the flap over the CFTC wanting to limit commodities trading by ETFs may be the tip of an iceberg – and the wrong iceberg, at that.  We invite the CFTC to look into links between ETF managers, the traders who fill their orders, and the downstream interests that stand to gain as contracts or physical commodities are bought and sold.


We would invite FINRA and the SEC to do the same – except they have clearly already looked at this structure and determined that everything’s cool.  ‘Cause otherwise, well you just know they would do something about it.


Intelligent Design?  We call it downright Brilliant.




Dumb Design


I have a very strict gun control policy: if there’s a gun around, I want to be in control of it.

                   - Clint Eastwood


Followers of market statistics have noted a record divergence between the price of oil and that of natural gas.  This week, market watchers were also treated to the news that “A hedge fund has made a large, eye-catching bet that natural gas prices will triple…” (Financial Times, 20 August, “Fund Bets Millions On Tripling Of Gas price”).  Taking a moment to parse this story, we wish to point out that the purchase of six month, out of the money call options does not mean that the buyer is betting gas prices will reach or exceed the strike price.  For a newspaper of the stature of the FT to suggest otherwise is sloppy reporting, at best - or fear mongering (could the FT be long natural gas?).


That being said, we think it worthy of note that someone is scooping up January and February contracts at the same time that the CFTC is clamping down on ETF trading in the underlying commodity. 


As we have predicted, the price of the natural gas ETF – the now notorious UNG – has diverged sharply from the underlying commodity.  The Wall Street Journal (22 August, “Small Investors Face Big Hit In ETF Push”) reports “UNG is trading at a 16% premium to gas futures because investors are willing to pay extra for the ability to expose their portfolios to the commodity.”  The article quotes UNG as stating they already own “about a fifth of certain benchmark gas contracts.”


The same WSJ article discusses the CFTC’s stated objective of protecting end consumers of the commodities in question.  Restricting ETF access to these markets will have the effect of raising expenses within funds, even as their investable asset base becomes limited to funds on hand.


The Journal article points out that these once-proud ETFs will then trade more like closed-end funds which, as the article says, “would render the instruments less desirable, because prices of the shares of closed funds tend to deviate from price moves in the underlying commodity.”


How are the mighty fall’n!


It would appear that, in their zeal to protect the consumer (read: the people buying natural gas for industrial use) the CFTC is whacking the consumer (read: the people who invest in ETFs for portfolio diversification, or as a commodity hedge against stock market declines).


Enter CFTC commissioner and long-time Washington pro Bart Chilton.  “The Commission has never said ‘You aren’t tall enough to ride,’ Mr. Chilton said.  “I don’t want to limit liquidity, but above all else, I want to ensure that prices for consumers are fair and that there is no manipulation – intentional or otherwise.”


This has all the makings of a World Wrestling Federation Smackdown Tag Team free-for-all.  In one corner, the Feds are fighting amongst themselves over who gets to regulate the markets – like in the world of pro wrestling, being on the same team doesn’t mean you don’t also make it with each other’s guys when the other woman’s back is turned.  CFTC Chair Gensler is applying the hair-pull to SEC Chair Schapiro, stepping up to regulate the untamed ETFs – which, since they are “shares” that “trade” on an “exchange” might actually be the bailiwick of the SEC, watchdog of the securities markets.


In this corner, the ETF industry – a team of musclebound giants who always charge their opponents in unison.  They never bother to tag up, they just all jump into the melee together.  When you are that big, the referee doesn’t challenge you.


Stuck in between all this sweat and spandex and steroid-generated muscle, the investor is staggering dazed around the canvas.  We may not be tall enough to ride, but we are apparently big enough to get tossed repeatedly from the back of what was sold to us a the gentlest horse in the stable.


Commissioner Chilton refers to “manipulation – intentional or otherwise.”  We always thought that manipulation required intention.  We carry no license to practice law, but we think if ou are a victim of your own success, then you keep taking advantage of market inefficiencies until you – or someone else – chokes.  Then, goes the theory, the inefficiencies go away and you have to come up with something else.


If it is “otherwise” – i.e. not intentional – then it is not manipulation.  For a senior regulator to make such a clearly false statement looks like a danger signal.  The CFTC is not out to regulate improper, or excessive trading in the instruments it oversees, but is out to “fix” the marketplace.  This, of course, is the ultimate in manipulation.  


Still, we recognize that Chairman Gensler is in a bind.  The SEC won’t do its job of unknotting the relationships in the ETF world, to make sure the engine runs clean.  The SEC can not step in and regulate the commodity or futures markets, and they apparently will not force full and transparent disclosure on the ETFs, nor have they acknowledged strongly enough the fact that ETFs frequently do not do what they are supposed to.


Investors can not clean up the market.  The theory of market efficiency presupposes that someone out there wakes up one day and recognizes that things are not working out as advertised, but surely we all recognize that it doesn’t work that way.  With fifty million adult Americans functionally illiterate – and with the ones who can read working either on Wall Street or in Washington – it should be clear by now that this B-School theory looked great on paper (assuming you were one of the minority of Americans who could actually understand what it said), but that it won’t work in reality.


Gensler, Schapiro, Chilton et all – they all have their political masters to serve.  We are not worried about Gensler – a former Goldman partner – and Chilton has deep roots in both the farm lobby and the Washington establishment.  Neither of these gentlemen will worry about where their family’s next meal is coming from.


Chairman Schapiro, on the other hand, still has a tough row to hoe.  She constantly risks being tarnished with the Madoff brush, should anything big come up on her watch – and she’s getting precious little help from the Obama Administration.  Rather than standing up to Congress and making them give the SEC substantial new resources, President Obama appears to be using Schapiro to advance a political agenda aimed at giving trade unions the ability to interfere directly in the management of companies they work for.  We thought one shareholder, one vote was a fine idea.  The problem is that, when pitting the labor unions against entrenched boards of directors and mega-star CEO/Chairmen, it is difficult to ascertain who is more corrupt and less capable ofr actually making an intelligent business decision.


While all this is going on, the financial titan tag teamers continue their time and continue to suck up assets until the Next Big Thing comes along.  By the way, once ETFs are no longer the flavor of the month, bet on all the big managers filing to change their fund structures.  This will no doubt be a satisfactory solution and will be announced as a triumph for the investor.  The best way to make bad securities go away is to pass a law saying that they are now good securities.  This will get the masses to put down their pitchforks for at least a fortnight, and serves the politically important end of making it look like the SEC and CFTC have accomplished substantial change, without either entity actually having done anything.  We watch for ETFs to start to convert to some now fund structure, with the joint blessing of the SEC and the CFTC.


Meanwhile, this monumental brawl looks even less like WWF Smackdown, and more like a desperate barroom fight where someone has dropped a pistol.  Everyone is clutching at the gun.  Sooner or later, it’s bound to go off.


Moshe Silver

Chief Compliance Officer


Chart of The Week: Monkey See, Monkey Do...

I get a tremendous amount of feedback (mostly positive) about staying with this important macro call that we established in Q2. Initially we coined it Breaking The Buck. In Q3 we changed it to Burning The Buck (we update our 3 core Global Macro Themes quarterly).  I understand that macro inverse correlations like this aren’t perpetual. But they sure are profitable while they last.


In the chart below, Andrew Barber and I have shown what the last 7 weeks have looked like from the perspective of this simple 2-factor setup (SP500 versus the USD Index). For economists, hindsight like this is always crystal clear – but we wanted to show it in to your inbox this morning so that you can put it in front of the next economist/strategist that comes into your office and tells you this can’t be this simple.


In chaos theory, you take a dynamic/complex system and find deep simplicity in underlying patterns. That’s all this is – its math. As soon as the crowding out effect starts to erode the returns associated with a US Government sponsored Dollar devaluation, I will change my stance. For now… Monkey see, Monkey do…



Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


Chart of The Week: Monkey See, Monkey Do...  - sp11


Chart of The Week: Monkey See, Monkey Do...  - sp22


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24 AUGUST 2009





Every day, I feel honored and privileged to put on my Research Edge jersey and compete along with my teammates. They make me better every day, and hopefully, I occasionally reciprocate.  This morning I need to direct you towards Keith’s Early Look.  He sets the stage with a look at Merlin Olsen’s approach to his NFL career. He played for the same team for his entre 15 year career, made it to the pro bowl in all but his last, and never missed a game. Every morning his feet were on the floor, with no days off, and no excuses. You’ve got to either a) admire that, or b) pray that you are not competing against it.


This applies quite well to being a retail analyst in these fleeting days of summer. Everyone else is getting over the earnings season hangover for companies on a Calendar FY. For retailers, the hangover is in full force.


Last week was a busy one, and this will be too. One of the biggest thematic call outs thus far has been in the sporting goods sector.  With results out of DKS, FL, and HIBB, we got a nice snapshot into where this industry stands. Bottom line is that inventory is building across the board. Not good. Retailers are shifting to lower-price performance shoes, and are giving new brands a shot. KSWS, PSS and UA stand out on the positive side. Nike and DKS are Neutral to negative. FL and HIBB are scary.


There’s another dozen retailers reporting this week. Our feet, as always, will be on the floor helping members of our exclusive network win.




Some Notable Call Outs


  • As Ann Taylor looks to improve its merchandising, while at the same time cutting inventory levels dramatically (down 30%/square foot), it is finding that its customer has become accustomed to buying on promotion. Even with lower ticket prices, the customer is not meaningfully responding to such price cuts. As result, the merchandising strategy on a go forward basis will include much more planned ticket promotions that highlight “before and after “ pricing.


  • Following a mid-teens same store sales decline in its US division, Footlocker is looking to change its footwear mix in an attempt to boost sales. Management hopes to insert “value” in the assortment through the addition of more moderate priced footwear. Expect Footlocker to make an “aggressive” push in brands like K-Swiss and in product categories that include classic tennis and white shoes. Heightened promotional activity is also likely as the company looks to drive traffic and adjust inventory levels to current demand.


  • Technical running shoes remain the bright spot in an otherwise challenging athletic footwear environment. Hibbett Sports highlighted that its technical running category actually comped positively in 2Q. Additionally, it is one of the few categories that is being planned up for the remainder of the year.





-The New Normal for vendors and retailers- Even as vendors and retailers continue to struggle with non-shopping consumers, declining sales and a near-term outlook that remains uncertain, the outlines of the world beyond the economic downturn are coming into focus. And the result can be summed up in one phrase: Less will be more. The NPD Group estimates that 12% of vendors will not survive the recession and nearly 20% will abandon expansion strategies and retrench, focusing on their core products and markets. There will be fewer consumers, which will mean fewer stores, fewer collections, fewer products per collection and lower inventories. That will be what will be required to adapt. But to survive, vendors and retailers will have to ensure there is less duplication, faster turnarounds and more exclusive, innovative product to excite shoppers. Here, WWD canvasses manufacturers, analysts and consultants on the key factors that will drive the age of the New Normal.  INVENTORY REDUCTIONS - Retailers are cutting inventories by 15% or more from a year ago, meaning reduced orders for vendors, as well. Small manufacturers are the most vulnerable as merchants stick with tried-and-true labels to lure reluctant shoppers back into their stores. SELLING OUT - For the retailer, it’s a balancing act between creating demand and disappointing the customer. Although stores are counting on being able to reorder midseason, that may not be possible, especially on fashion goods, since vendors have cut back as well so as not to be stuck with excess merchandise. MARKDOWNS - Full price doesn’t mean much anymore in light of in-season discounts that can hit 70 to 80 percent. NPD reports that 52% of all merchandise is now sold at promotional pricing — five years ago, 52% was sold at full price. The risk of such deep discounting is that original selling prices become meaningless and that, even once the economy recovers, consumers will resist paying full price. BUYING CLOSER TO NEED - With retailers clamoring for faster turnaround, can vendors answer the call? Fashion firms say anything less than eight weeks is impossible to achieve due to the demands of the production schedule. VERTICALIZATION - Department stores have been losing market share nearly every year since 2003, and that trend is expected to accelerate this year. According to NPD’s Cohen, department stores, which account for 16 percent of fashion sales, have been losing about 0.5 percent a year, and he expects they could lose up to a full point as mass merchants and lower-priced retailers gain consumer attention during the recession.  <>


-Good news: Sales of men’s underwear are up so far this year - If Alan Greenspan’s theory is correct, the economy may have turned the corner. The economist and former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board famously kept tabs on sales of men’s undergarments, which he believed could accurately predict swings in consumer spending. Unlike coats or sportswear, underwear sales tend to be unmoved by the vagaries of trends or seasonal spending. Greenspan, who articulated his theory of “briefonomics” more than 15 years ago to then-CBS reporter Robert Krulwich, saw in this stability a winning economic indicator. “On those few occasions where [sales] dip, that means that men are so pinched that they are deciding not to replace underpants,” According to The NPD Group, sales of men’s underpants are up 4.7 percent for the first half of the year, even as the men’s wear business overall continues to stagnate, falling 5.2% during the same period. But even if underwear is an economic groundhog, the rest of apparel has a way to go before it will enjoy comparative gains. For the same six-month period, sales of tops tumbled 8.8%; tailored clothing dipped 5.2%. Apparel accessories slumped 4.4%. Only sleepwear and fleecewear posted gains, surging 11.7% and 14.4%, respectively.  <>


-Direct Foreign Investment in China fell 36% in July - Despite deep declines in foreign investment, analysts say the textiles and apparel industry is bound to recover and begin seeing new investment as soon as the world’s economy gets back on its feet. The Chinese government last week released new figures showing the country’s foreign direct investment, or FDI, fell by 35.7% in July from the same month a year ago. The decline marked a continuing pattern that began with the onset of the credit crunch last fall, with 10 months in a row of falling foreign direct investment in China. Although the government has been pushing long-term economic development for more homegrown innovation and domestic consumer demand to wean itself off a reliance on exports, China remains heavily dependent on foreign direct investment. “We still need a lot of foreign investment, that’s for sure,” said Lu Yayong, of the China Research Center of Foreign Direct Investment. “With too little capital invested in private businesses and the country’s high savings rate, foreign investment is very important for the development of this economy. <>


-The U.S. International Trade Commission voted to find a trade remedy case involving textile products and Chinese quotas - The U.S. International Trade Commission voted unanimously on Friday to move forward with the first trade remedy case involving textile products from China since quotas were lifted at the end of last year. The ITC found that imports of “narrow woven ribbon with woven selvage” from China and Taiwan injured or posed a threat of injury to domestic companies. The ruling clears the way for the Commerce Department’s Import Administration to move ahead with its parallel investigation. The products covered by the decision include certain woven ribbon used for embellishing apparel or decorative purposes like gift wrapping. <>


-For retailers these days, liquidity is the name of the game - To reduce losses — and improve their bottom lines — retailers across categories are seeking out ways to improve cash flow. And in this economic climate, all areas of the business are prime targets for potential savings. “Inventory is No. 1,” said Paul Erickson, SVP of RMSA Retail Solutions, a consulting firm. “And the faster you sell it, the better your cash flow.” Though that may sound obvious, Erickson, who often gives seminars on the topic, advises that independent retailers turn, or sell, their entire inventory at least three times a year. But how do you do that? For many retailers, reducing inventory levels has helped. DMM of footwear at DTLR, which has 66 athletic stores throughout the East Coast, said that while he can’t stop buying completely, his approach is different now. Such opportunities, he said, include looking for deals from vendors, who may be receiving cancelled or returned orders that they are willing to resell for a better price. And now more than ever, such arrangements between retailers and vendors can help a store’s cash-flow situation. <>


-L.L.Bean announced the March 2010 launch of L.L.Bean Signature, a sportswear collection for men and women - The company has tapped Alex Carleton, the founder of fashion label Rogues Gallery, as the L.L.Bean Signature creative director. The company said the L.L.Bean Signature will be rooted in L.L.Bean tradition. Carleton plans to take iconic L.L.Bean style elements from different decades and juxtapose them with innovative, modern designs to create updated fit and style for the new label. “L.L.Bean Signature will take the best of Bean and re-interpret it in a fresh new way,” said Chris Vickers, vice president of L.L.Bean Signature. <>


-UK's Debenhams demands better supplier terms - The department store group wrote to some of its suppliers last month, demanding that they meet its “minimum standard payment terms” by August 4. The new terms moved the payment timetable from 60 days to 65 days, according to The Daily Telegraph. Retailers extend payment terms to enable them to have cash in their bank for longer. Payment terms have been moved from around 30 days to up to 90 days over the last decade. Debenhams declined to confirm the terms it demanded. However, it said that the changes were requested to a “minority” of suppliers so that they could be bought in to line with its other suppliers. A spokesman said: “A letter has gone to a minority of our suppliers who do not comply with the company’s minimum standard payment terms. Payment terms remain unchanged for the majority of suppliers.” Like-for-like sales at Debenhams fell by 0.8% over the 12 weeks to May 23, meaning that the department store has taken market share from rivals. It also improved its gross margin by 90 basis points. <>


-Christopher & Banks eyes the holiday season with a multichannel strategy - New online gift centers on the women’s apparel retailer’s e-commerce sites are increasing click-through rates while also expanding product offerings in stores, where shoppers can check computer monitors for suggested gift arrangements. <>


-Nike Inc., Tommy Hilfiger USA Inc. and Diesel USA Inc. hurt by confessed Ponzi scheme operator Marc Dreier - On Aug. 19, Judge Jed Rakoff, of U.S. District Court in Manhattan ordered that Dreier also pay restitution to his victims. Hedge funds Elliot Associates LP and Fortress Investment Group topped the list, owed $99.9 million and $84.4 million, respectively. However, Rakoff also ordered that Dreier make good with smaller investors including apparel firms Nike, owed $243,124; Coogi Partners LLC, owed $47,650, and Adidas America Inc., owed $6,258. The 24-name list included a handful of other fashion firms owed less than $5,000, such as Tommy Hilfiger, Diesel, Seven For All Mankind, Rock & Republic Enterprises Inc. and Nautica Apparel Inc. Court records did not immediately make clear how Dreier is to pay back his victims, though Rakoff ordered, in a July 17 ruling, that he forfeit millions of dollars worth of cash and property. The 10-page list of assets included bank accounts, homes in the Hamptons and West Indies, an Aston Martin and a collection of contemporary art that featured works by Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. <>


-Lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit  appeals judge' dismissal of case on SHLD and its chairman, Edward Lampert - Former Kmart investors filed the suit against Lampert and onetime Kmart chief executive officer Julian Day in 2006. The lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit that had accused Sears Holdings Corp. and its chairman, Edward Lampert, of securities fraud said Friday they would appeal a judge’s dismissal of the case. Former Kmart investors filed the suit against Lampert and onetime Kmart chief executive officer Julian Day in 2006, but a judge threw the case out last month.  <>


-Despite discouraging sales trends in much of the footwear industry, there was an increase in visitor attendance - The mood at the Atlanta Shoe Market, held here Aug. 14-16, was one of optimism, as visitor attendance jumped 16 percent from last year. Among the retailers touring the aisles were regulars such as Belk, Peebles, Shoe Carnival and Shoe Show, and newcomers Boscov’s and Von Maur. Independent store owners reportedly came from across the Southeast, as well as more distant areas including the Midwest, Southwest, New England and Caribbean. Exhibitor attendance, meanwhile, rose 6 percent year-over-year, with new brand additions including The North Face, Toms Shoes, Dolce Vita and Members Only. While pricing continued to be a factor, buyers at the Atlanta Shoe Market said they were on the hunt for uniqueness. <>


-Women’s footcare accessories brand Foot Petals, has big plans for the coming months - Despite a rocky economy, Tina Aldatz, president of women’s footcare accessories brand Foot Petals, has big plans for the coming months. The Long Beach, Calif.-based company has developed into a $9 million business, and Aldatz expects to more than double that number by 2011 through a series of initiatives, including an exclusive and nationwide partnership with Target, a footwear license and concentrated international growth. “ Here at home, where Foot Petals can be found in nearly 5,000 stores and about 100 online retailers, Aldatz has teamed up with Target to create small shop-in-shops in the shoe departments at all the chain’s 1,700 locations, beginning February 2010. The company has been selling its accessories in specialized colors and shapes to Target since 2007 under the exclusive Fab Feet name. <>


-American Apparel is announcing the launch of larger and more elaborate kids and babies lines of clothing - Responding to countless requests from customers and employees for American Apparel in youth sizes, the company has translated dozens of its adult styles for the children's lines, as well as incorporating new colors and designs. "We've received so many letters from parents asking us to 'shrink down' some of the signature styles for their kids. The ones we started with are  simple, practical, fun solutions for parents short on time; they already know the styles and how comfortable they are. We've been looking forward to building this part of our line and are very happy to have answered this demand," said Marsha Brady, a creative director for American Apparel. American Apparel currently sells the kids and baby lines at more than 70 US retail locations, several international shops, and online from its e-commerce site. As the company's target customer has matured and begun to include larger numbers of parents, there has been an increased retail and wholesale demand for American Apparel basic styles in children's sizes. In expanding in this area, the company also has an opportunity to reach out to a consumer who may not otherwise have shopped at American Apparel.  <>


-When James Blake takes the court at the US Open in a couple weeks, he’ll be wearing his new Fila line. But unlike any athlete before him, the logo doesn’t spell out his initials or show a symbolic silhouette. Instead, Blake’s logo is “TR,” and the line is called Thomas Reynolds, the first and middle name of his late father. “I wanted to be part of something that wouldn’t necessarily have to always be tied to me and be more about the spirit that father embodied,” Blake said. Fila will help capture the lessons instilled in James by Blake’s father, who died in 2004, through print ads and through hang tags on the line. While some might think that having a brand modeled after a player's family member is a risk, Blake's agent Carlos Fleming views it from a different perspective. Golf, fitness and leisurewear are the next up for the Thomas Reynolds brand if everything proceeds as planned. <>



RESEARCH EDGE PORTFOLIO: (Comments by Keith McCullough): AMZN

08/21/2009 10:38 AM


I've been looking for an out in this position, and what else can I say - I'm out. Selling green. KM





WMT: James Breyer, Director, purchased 5,000shs ($257k) increasing total common holdings by nearly 10%.



  • Paul Sweetenham, SEVP, Group President – Europe, sold 11,070shs ($391k) after exercising the right to buy 12,500shs, less than 20% of total common holdings.
  • Jerome Rossi, SEVP, Group President, sold 41,250shs ($1.5mm) after exercising the right to buy 41,250shs, roughly 50% of total common holdings pursuant to 10b5-1 plan.


TRLG: Joseph Coulumbe, Director, sold 2,000shs ($44k) less than 10% of total common holdings.


Sequentially, McCarran YoY traffic improved to -9.3%. However, high slot hold and strong table volume last year in July could cause July gaming revenues to fall 14% per our model.



McCarran Airport experienced a 9.3% year-over-year drop in passenger traffic in July.  The decline was better than June’s 11.4%.  On a revenue basis, we expect the decline to be worse than the airport traffic would indicate due to high slot hold and abnormally high table drop in July, 2008.  We project a 14% decline in gaming revenues.  Nevada will release those numbers in a couple of weeks.




Gaming revenues appear to be stabilizing, albeit at a pretty low level.  Nonetheless, one would expect the increase in automobile traffic from California (due to low gas prices) to have a greater offsetting impact.  Automobile traffic has increased three straight months and likely did so again in July.  However, as we’ve been writing about, the favorable gas price comparison will reverse in November culminating in a 50% YoY increase in late December.  This is certainly a bigger issue for the regional gaming companies but will also negatively affect visitation to the Strip later this year.


Looking ahead, August and September look to be difficult comparisons.  Gaming revenues declined only 7.2% and 4.8%, respectively, in those two months. 



Prepared For Pain

“One of life’s most painful moments comes when we must admit that we didn’t do our homework, that we are not prepared.”

-Merlin Olson


Same jersey for 15 years in the NFL. Same process every day. Same expected results. Merlin Olson played for the Los Angeles Rams for all 15 of those years. He made it to the Pro Bowl in every year but his last. He never missed a game.


For those of you who have played competitive sports, you know how impressive this man’s tolerance for pain must have been. Every morning, his feet were on the floor, expecting to play. No days off. No excuses. He was prepared for pain.


While we get compensated like them, we generally do not attack the professional game of investing like professional athletes do. Rarely, if ever, are our every moves You Tubed by an instant replay. This, of course, presents our daily exercise of debunking global macro a tremendous opportunity to be transparent.


A lot of people are giving lip service to transparency right now. They should. It finally matters. In principle, transparency is what is going to matter to The Client in this business going forward. Whether that Client is China or a high-net worth American, you had better do your homework or be prepared for pain.


What is it that you do? That’s the most relevant question of asset management for the foreseeable future. This market’s generational short squeeze is going to expedite The Clients getting some answers. We, as an industry, are evolving. This is good.


In the aftermath of Bernanke pandering in Jackson Hole on Friday and continuing to Burn The Buck, the US stock market hit another YTD high. At 1,026 in the SP500 we are now staring at a +52% rally from the March 9th, 2009 low. Let’s think about that return again: +52%!


In The New Reality, fact based context is going to be critical. While the manic monkeys made up stories as to why we were going to crash every day that we were down in the last 4 months, guess what – we didn’t. The only larger modern day stock market move that the Americans have seen since this +52% rally, was the crash of 2007-2008. That move was -57% from the peak. There is now only a 500 basis point spread between these two crashes versus consensus expectations. For some, both were painful.


The beauty of this game is that it waits for no one. The global market couldn’t care less if I’d like to spend time on the beach with my family. It is as interconnected as it has ever been, and it will mark itself to market every day. Per some pundits, China was “crashing to a bear-market low” – until we saw a cumulative +7.2% three-day move come with last night’s Shanghai Composite Index close, that is…


In the US, I hear a lot of talk about “low volumes”, but that doesn’t do The Client any good. In fact, that excuse, when considered next to the actual score of the game, has no relevance to The Client whatsoever. It’s an excuse. Can you imagine Merlin Olson explaining away the last game of his career (the NFC Championship game at Minnesota in 1976) as weather or volume related? C’mon, let’s get real here. By the way, Friday’s new high came on accelerating daily volume (+11% versus Thursday’s volume).


The New Reality remains. In the immediate term, when the US Dollar goes down (like it did on Friday), everything priced in those Dollars will continue to go up. In 6 out of the last 7 weeks, the US Dollar has been down. In 6 out of the last 7 weeks, the SP500 has been up. There is a deep simplicity to chaos theory. That’s math, not fiction.


Dominating inverse correlations in global macro like this aren’t perpetual. But you will experience the Pain Trade if you claim that they don’t matter while they are dominating. Understanding that when it’s sunny out, some people in this business will still say it’s raining. That is what it is. There is very little responsibility in recommendation any more.


Goldman Sachs is getting a little ribbing from their pals at the WSJ this morning for giving “tips” to preferred clients in what Goldman calls their weekly “Trading Huddle.” As with everything the house of the Almighty One creates, I am certain that there is a perfectly theoretical explanation for this. Rather than whine about it this morning, just look at their “conviction” buy list versus their other “buys” for what they are – this is what they do.


What I do is show everything I do real-time. No, there is no super secret sauce associated with my playbook. Every sale that I made into Friday’s strength (Germany (EWG), Canada (EWC), Healthcare (XLV), etc…). Every sale was probably a little early. Every time stamp is up there on our portal. It ticks, like a game clock and the score should.


What is it that I’ll be doing this morning? More selling. No, not because a squeezed man named Roubini is reminding me of some “L” or “W” shaped economic pattern. I’m selling because I know the value of realizing victory. I know the difference between a real W or an L. And I don’t need the other team’s “trading huddles” to give me a conviction play versus every other play I plan on running.


We’ll be running it straight up the middle this morning - selling and preparing for pain. The SP500 will be overbought as we approach my intermediate term TREND target of 1,041.


Best of luck out there this week,






EWZ – iShares BrazilPresident Lula da Silva is the most economically effective of the populist Latin American leaders; on his watch policy makers have kept inflation at bay with a high rate policy and serviced debt –leading to an investment grade credit rating. Brazil has managed its interest rate to promote stimulus. Brazil is a major producer of commodities. We believe the country’s profile matches up well with our reflation call.


XLK – SPDR TechnologyTech and Healthcare remain the two sectors most primed for accelerating M&A activity in Q4. Both look great from an intermediate term TREND perspective, but at a price.


QQQQ – PowerShares NASDAQ 100We bought Qs on 8/10 and 8/17 to be long the US market. The index includes companies with better balance sheets that don’t need as much financial leverage.


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.


CYB – WisdomTree Dreyfus Chinese Yuan The Yuan is a managed floating currency that trades inside a 0.5% band around the official PBOC mark versus a FX basket. Not quite pegged, not truly floating; the speculative interest in the Yuan/USD forward market has increased dramatically in recent years. We trade the ETN CYB to take exposure to this managed currency in a managed economy hoping to manage our risk as the stimulus led recovery in China dominates global trade.


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. We believe that future inflation expectations are currently mispriced and that TIPS are a efficient way to own yield on an inflation protected basis, especially in the context of our re-flation thesis.


GLD – SPDR Gold - Buying back the GLD that we sold higher earlier in June on 6/30. In an equity market that is losing its bullish momentum, we expect the masses to rotate back to Gold.  We also think the glittery metal will benefit in the intermediate term as inflation concerns accelerate into Q4. 





XLP – SPDR Consumer Staples – We shorted XLP on a bounce on 6/21. One way that investors chase a bearish USD is buying international FX leverage in global consumer staples. Shorting green.


DIA  – Diamonds Trust- We shorted the financial geared Dow on 7/10, 8/3, and 8/21. 


EWJ – iShares Japan –We’re short the Japanese equity market via EWJ on 5/20. We view Japan as something of a Ponzi Economy -with a population maintaining very high savings rate whose nest eggs allow the government to borrow at ultra low interest levels in order to execute stimulus programs designed to encourage people to save less. This cycle of internal public debt accumulation (now hovering at close to 200% of GDP) is anchored to a vicious demographic curve that leaves the Japanese economy in the long-term position of a man treading water with a bowling ball in his hands.



SHY – iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bonds – If you pull up a three year chart of 2-Year Treasuries you'll see the massive macro Trend of interest rates starting to move in the opposite direction. We call this chart the "Queen Mary" and its new-found positive slope means that America's cost of capital will start to go up, implying that access to capital will tighten. Yields are going to continue to make higher-highs and higher lows until consensus gets realistic.

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