The Week Ahead

The Economic Data calendar for the week of the 18th of January through the 22nd is full of critical releases and events.  Attached below is a snapshot of some (though far from all) of the headline numbers that we will be focused on.


The Week Ahead - HH1

The Week Ahead - HH2

The People’s Seat

“Well, with all due respect, it’s not Ted Kennedy’s seat, and it’s not the Democrats’ seat, it’s the people’s seat.”

-Scott Brown, Republican candidate for United States Senate


A few days ago we posted a note on President Obama and touched upon the special election for the late Senator Kennedy’s seat.  We noted that Republican candidate Scott Brown seemed to be making some decent headway in the liberal bastion of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 


Polls out in the last 48 hours seem to further support the potential for Brown to surprise the punditry.   In fact, a poll out this morning from Suffolk University suggested that Brown had the support of 50 percent of the voters, while Democrat Martha Coakley had the support of 46 percent. 


The implications of this race obviously goes far beyond just the fine Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  This race, in fact, is important for the balance of the power in the United States Senate.  With this loss, the Democrats would no longer have the filibuster proof majority of 60 votes.  This of course has implications for some of the President’s primary agenda items.


From an investment theme perspective, the idea of less control for the Democrats is positive for the U.S. Dollar and supports our call for a Buck Breakout in Q1 2010.  This isn’t a political point, but with less than 60 votes in the Senate it becomes more difficult for the Democrats to move forward with their agenda, which is naturally more left wing in nature, and realistically more expensive.  Perversely, a government that can do less, is probably positive for the U.S. dollar.


One of our Hedgeye contacts on the ground in Massachusetts sent us the following note as it relates to this race:


“I just read your piece from yesterday.  It is insane up here in socialism land.  I think many still have the fear in the back of their mind that it is a Democrat’s seat and always will be but polls have this guy winning now.  Most feel he caught her and the lead will grow.  The state has been engrossed in this race for a couple of weeks now and he’s not picking up steam, that horse left the barn last week, it is like a tidal wave of support up here for Brown.


This race is the topic of every conversation and the Scott Brown support is overwhelming.  It is strange, it feels like you are an interloper heard round the world type of deal.


I think he is going to win this thing and even if he does not win, the damage has been done.“


There are potentially some serious investment implications based on this race and the potential for a shift of power in the Senate.  Implications for the Buck Breakout, but also specific sectors.  As our Financials Sector Head noted when I forwarded him the above note:


“Wow, I had no idea this guy had that much momentum …. This would be HUGE for financials if this guy won.”






Daryl G. Jones
Managing Director

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The three biggest unknowns in the quarter relative to my estimates are, most obviously, top-line trends, the margin impact from current promotions and the level of investment needed to support changes at Chili’s (any change under the new direction at Chili’s). 


EAT is scheduled to report fiscal 2Q10 earnings next week on Wednesday, January 20th before the market opens.  My ESP estimate of $0.22 is in line with the street and my comparable sales expectations of -4% at Chili’s and on a blended basis are only slightly better than consensus estimates of -4.2% and -4.3%, respectively.  It is important to remember that Todd Diener, the former president of Chili's Grill & Bar and On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina left the company in the middle of the quarter.  The timing of his departure was odd and may have caused some dislocation within the Chili’s and On The Border systems during the quarter.


The three biggest unknowns in the quarter relative to my estimates are, most obviously, top-line trends, the margin impact from current promotions and the level of investment needed to support changes at Chili’s (any change under the new direction at Chili’s). 


Sales: Management did not provide any comments on how the quarter started out from a top-line perspective on its last earnings call and did not reiterate its prior full-year same-store sales guidance of -2% to -4%. 


Although we have not learned too much from Brinker, specifically, we have gotten a few industry data points that give us some idea of how the casual dining industry fared during calendar 4Q09 (EAT’s fiscal 2Q10).  We know that through November, casual dining same-store sales, as measured by Malcolm Knapp, improved by nearly 90 bps, on a 2-year average basis, from calendar 3Q09.  Brinker outperformed the Knapp benchmark during its last reported quarter by 80 bps on a 1-year basis (reversing the two prior quarter of underperformance) and by nearly 90 bps on a 2-year average basis.  Since November, we have heard a few companies talk about challenging weather in December.  We have also heard quite a few comments about recent regional underperformance in Texas, which is an important market for Brinker, representing about 18% of the company’s restaurant base (about 17% for Chili’s and 25% for On The Border).  Much of this weakness in Texas can be attributed to tougher YOY comparisons as Texas held up much longer than other parts of the country in late 2008, but it will have an impact on EAT’s trends, nonetheless.


Brinker management did not provide a quantitative look at October on its 1Q10 earnings call, but it did say that it was again running its 3 Courses for $20 promotion at Chili’s in October after taking a brief pause from offering it in September.  For reference, Chili’s first started offering 3 for $20 in late July, continued it through August and then stopped offering it in September so that the company could make some adjustments to the promotion.  Brinker’s same-store sales in July were -8.8% (from down low double digits prior to the promotion), -3.1% with the offering in August and -5.4% in September.  The sequential improvement in trends in 1Q10 and subsequent fall off seem to be driven largely by the timing of the promotion (though July was a rough month for much of the casual dining industry) as EAT’s year ago comparisons in the July through September timeframe were not too different and actually got slightly easier in September by about 100-150 bps. 


Based on the better performance with the promotion in place in 1Q10, my -4.0% 2Q10 same-store sales estimate for Chili’s does assume about 40 bps of sequential improvement on a 2-year average basis.  Again, Mr. Diener’s leaving may put my numbers at risk, particularly if his leaving was not by choice and signals that business trends may not have been improving under his direction.


Restaurant-level margins:  EAT’s restaurant-level margins declined more than30 bps during the first quarter after improving in the prior two quarters.  The company’s promotions, particularly 3 for $20 at Chili’s and Today and Tomorrow at Maggiano’s, were largely responsible for the increased pressure on margins.  Helping margins in 2Q10 relative to 1Q10 is the fact that management guided to less food cost inflation during the quarter and had relatively good visibility on these costs as the company was locked in on a significant portion of its costs through the end of the calendar year.


Although the margin impact of 3 for $20 could be greater during fiscal 2Q10 due to the fact that the promotion was available for most of the quarter, management did say that the second introduction of the promotion (after stopping the offering in September) would yield better margins.  EAT’s CFO Chuck Sonsteby said, “Well, we are trying to get a little bit smarter after having the experience of going through it one time. So we are working hard on getting the labor back in line. This is the second time our operations team has had a chance to go through this promotion. So that replication is going to help them a little bit more trying to gain that back. So we would anticipate both some changes to the menu and also some labor efficiencies will help us a little bit more in terms of profitability this time around.”  Specifically, management stated that Chili’s will not require the same level of incremental traffic to hits its margin targets as compared to when it offered the promotion during the first quarter.  So the question is to what extent Chili’s will become more efficient with its execution of the 3 for $20 offering during the second quarter and mitigate pressure on margins.


Revitalization at Chili’s:  Management stated that as the next phase of menu enhancements at Chili’s start to roll into the system that the company would incur approximately $0.01-$0.02 of one-time investment costs for “things such as training, small pieces of equipment needed to efficiently produce certain products, and other smaller items utilized in the preparation or delivery of the new menu items.”  These costs are expected to primarily hit the P&L during the second quarter, with a small amount in 3Q10 as well.  The exact timing of these costs will matter to the bottom line in 2Q10, but more important, I question whether the level of investment will remain unchanged under the direction of Wyman Roberts, the new president of Chili's Grill & Bar and On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina.









1Q10 Theme: RATE RUN-UP

Essentially we have traversed the nasty part of the “GREAT RECESSION” and we are on the path to recovery.  We have moved from a 3Q09 theme of “REFLATION ROTATION” to “RATE ROTATION” in 4Q09 and now we believe that interest rates are headed higher.  One of our key themes headed into 1Q10 is “RATE RUN-UP”:


(1)    The FED is behind the curve and the next few data points on the US economy and employment will drive interest rates higher. 


(2)    Inflation is evident in a number of places, but primarily reflects the effects from higher energy prices.


(3)     Feeding the rich at the trough of the Yield spread.


The consensus believes (and it is likely true), that there are some factors supporting the USA economic recovery that are of temporary nature.  There is no denying that the financial “crisis” is behind us and that the economy is on more solid footing.  SO why does the Fed maintain rates at a “crisis” level?


Current street expectation for an increase in the FED funds target rate is not until 3Q10.  Our view is that FED will likely be changing its policy statement at the next meeting and that an actual interest rate increase is not far behind.


One of the biggest issues with the current interest rate policy is that it is feeding the rich and starving the poor.  The yield spread (10-year minus 2-year Treasury yields) is trading at 281 basis points wide and peaked out at +288 basis points wide on January 11, 2010.  The spread is killing the average American’s saving account and is providing the best ever environment for Investment Banking Inc. to print money. 


While the next few data points on jobs and the economy will point to improved growth, the underlying pace of growth is still in question.  Clearly manufacturing is getting a boost from inventory corrections and pent up demand; the upward trend in industrial production, ISM, capacity utilization, and new orders for nondefense capital goods all look strong. But consumers sentiment is not improving and his/her balance sheets are not financially sound.  


All in, the net-net  impact has been to stem the pace of job losses and, if temporary help and the census hiring trends is a leading indicator, set the stage for and improvement in the unemployment rate and the potential for actual gains in nonfarm payrolls in the months ahead.   In the short run, interest rates are headed higher, but all of this is setting the stage for a challenging 2H10 given the likelihood that growth slows as government stimulus will eventually come to an end. 


Howard Penney

Managing Director


1Q10 Theme: RATE RUN-UP - hp11


1Q10 Theme: RATE RUN-UP - hp12



For the eight day this year the S&P was up on the day, rising 0.24%.  Volume was very light on the NYSE, declining 8% sequentially and 54% below the average daily volume for 2009.  With INTC reporting earnings last night and JPM expected shortly, earnings season is about to get into full swing. 


On the MACRO front the market largely ignore bad news, as yesterday’s performance came despite an unexpected decline in December retail sales.  In fact the Consumer Discretionary was the third best performing sector yesterday.  Within the XLY, retail stocks underperformed with the S&P Retail etf down 0.82%. 


The MACRO calendar was the headwind for the group after retail sales fell 0.3% month-to-month in December vs. consensus expectations for a 0.5% increase.  The big category decliners included autos (-0.8%), general merchandise (-0.8%), food/beverages (-0.8%) and clothing (-0.6%). 


The best performing sector yesterday (for the second day in a row) was Healthcare (XLV).  Within the XLV, managed care was a bright spot with the HMO +1.4%, despite reports of progress in terms of merging healthcare reform legislation from the Senate and the House.


Surprisingly, the XLF (the second best performing sector yesterday) was able to shake off the formal announcement from the Obama administration regarding its bank tax proposal.  Within the XLF, the bank stocks extended its two day rally up 1.64%. Also, the regional bank names continued to outperform with the KBW Regional Bank etf up 3.05%.


While not one of the top three performing sectors, Technology (XLK) outperformed the S&P 500 for a second straight day.  A big chunk of support came from the software group, with the S&P Software Index up 1.69%.  Outside of software, the SOX declined 0.6%.  INTC rallied 2.5% ahead of its Q4 results and is trading 3% higher in early trading after blowing out 4Q numbers. 


Parts of the RECOVERY trade underperformed yesterday.  Yesterday, Energy (XLE) outperformed, but the Materials (XLB) was the worst performing sector on the day.  Metals, mining and Chemical stocks were the worst performing stocks in the etf. 


The range for the S&P 500 is 10 points or 0.6% (1,141) downside and 0.2% (1,151) upside.  At the time of writing the major market futures are trading lower on the day.    


Yesterday, the CRB index closed lower 0.25% on the back of a decline in Energy, Grains and Precious Metals.  Livestock and Industrial commodities traded higher on the day.     


Copper stockpiles advanced 1.8% in Shanghai this week to the highest level in almost a month, according to the Shanghai Futures Exchange.   In early trading today Copper is trading lower, after declining 0.37% yesterday.  The Hedgeye Risk Management Quant models have the following levels for COPPER – buy Trade (3.33) and Sell Trade (3.49).


In early trading Gold is trading down about 1% to 1,131.  The Hedgeye Risk Management models have the following levels for GOLD – buy Trade (1,119) and Sell Trade (1,154).


Yesterday, crude oil traded lower for the fourth day in a row and is trading down 1% in early trading today.   Oil has traded down about 5% this week.  The Hedgeye Risk Management models have the following levels for OIL – buy Trade (77.10) and Sell Trade (81.72).


Howard Penney

Managing Director















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