Takeaway: No fundamental change to thesis. WTW just isn't interesting anymore.
We shorted WTW back in January 2014 when the jury was still out on its questionable prospects within a rapidly evolving industry. That debate is over. Now it's just a question of whether the company will go bankrupt.
As a reminder, WTW is dangerously approaching the point where it costs more to acquire its members than the gross margin it earns from them. If that ever happens, it’s basically game over. WTW’s 2015 target of $290M in cash can only go so far with an annual debt service of roughly $120M. For more detail, see the note below.
WTW: Chapter 11?
02/27/15 08:46 AM EST
Let us know if you have any questions or would like to discuss in more detail.
Hesham Shaaban, CFA
Takeaway: Please join us for our call Thursday, July 23rd at 1:00pm EDT. Dialing instructions will be published Thursday morning.
We will be hosting our quarterly INTERNET FOCUS LIST Update Call this Thursday. We will be reviewing the major themes and incremental developments to our Best Idea Short theses (YELP, P), our Short thesis on TWTR, and our Bearish thesis on BABA (covered). The emphasis of this call will be to highlight our view over various durations as well as the upcoming catalyst calendar; identifying the major risks and catalysts to each position over the near-to-intermediate term. In addition, we will preview our new Best Idea Long thesis on LNKD ahead of our upcoming Blackbook.
Please join us for our call Thursday, July 23rd at 1:00pm EDT. Dialing Instructions will be published Thursday morning.
KEY TOPICS WILL INCLUDE
- Review of major themes and incremental developments to our thesis on YELP, P, TWTR, and BABA.
- Highlighting our view over various durations as well as the upcoming catalyst calendar: Risks & Catalysts to each position over the NTM.
- We will also provide an overview of our new Best Idea Long thesis on LNKD.
Hesham Shaaban, CFA
After nearly two months under water, the benchmark S&P 500 has finally made a new all-time high. While optically impressive, there are a myriad of quantitative signals underneath the hood that do not support chasing the market here.
Immediate-term TRADE Duration Risk: The SPX is at the top end of its immediate-term risk range of 2,091-2,130.
With nearly 2% downside, 0% upside and the VIX nearing the low end of our 11.29-14.59 immediate-term risk range, investors would do well to book gains in U.S. equities here (i.e. reduce gross and/or tighten net exposures). As Keith highlighted on today’s Macro Show, if 2,091 breaks, there’s no support to 2,035.
Intermediate-term TREND Duration Risk: Our Tactical Asset Class Rotation Model (TACRM) is now generating a “DECREASE Exposure” signal for U.S. equities. Currently, TACRM is generating a commensurate bearish signal for each of the six primary asset classes tracked by the model (slide 6).
Sell everything? As predicted in our previous refresh, the recent bullish-to-bearish reversals in Emerging Market Equities, Foreign Exchange and Commodities were, in fact, a harbinger for similar breakdowns across the Domestic and International Equities asset classes. Our recent decision to add SPY to the short side of our thematic investment conclusions confirm how we are thinking about this risk in real time. At the bare minimum, it implies investors would do well to reduce their gross exposure and/or tighten up their net exposure to global asset markets.
CLICK HERE to learn more about TACRM, what these signals imply and how best to incorporate them into your investment process.
Long-term TAIL Duration Risk: Market breadth is broadly deteriorating and in dangerous territory.
One of the conventional “isms” of stock market analysis is that benchmark indices tend to peak very late into the economic cycle – well after broad-based signs of deterioration have emerged at the single-stock level.
In the face of a #LateCycle slowdown, benchmark indices are able to continue higher due to the fact that investors increasingly crowd into large-caps and/or stocks that have idiosyncratic growth opportunities that are less tethered to the [deteriorating] economic cycle, at the margins. Ultimately the cycle always prevails (see: 2000-2002 or 2007-2009), but positive absolute returns can be sourced from an increasingly narrow group of stocks and/or style factors well into the start of any given bear market.
Source: Bloomberg L.P.
Source: Bloomberg L.P.
There’s a number of ways to measure market breadth on a trending basis (e.g. % of stocks making new highs, % of stocks correcting, % of stocks crashing, etc.), but for the sake of simplicity we track the percentage of stocks below their respective 50-day and 200-day moving averages in the Russell 3000 Index – which, at covering about 98% of the investable public equity market, makes it the broadest measure of the U.S. stock market.
On this measure, broad U.S. equity market breadth is as poor as it has been at any local peak since 10/9/07 – the previous cycle’s all-time high closing price for the SPX – surpassing the deterioration we saw at the 5/21/15 high, which was very much on par with the 7/19/07 local peak.
October 9th, 2007:
May 21st, 2015:
July 19th, 2007:
While not useful as a timing indicator, the aforementioned deterioration does imply the duration and scope for prospective returns are substantially worse than many investors may assume given consensus expectations for the length and strength of the current economic cycle, which we can loosely infer from consensus expectations for U.S. monetary policy.
Checking back in with TACRM, we are seeing market leadership increasingly concentrated amongst the exact style factors we’d expect to outperform in the latter innings of an economic and market cycle: large-caps (defensive safety and dividends), healthcare (increased consumption and the ability to maintain pricing power during economic downturns) and growth (many biotech and new tech companies don’t have earnings to speak of, therefore investors don’t have to worry about earnings misses derailing the momentum of the respective charts).
All told, we hope you find these quantitative signals helpful with respect to your individual investment mandate. As always, feel free to email us with questions.
Best of luck out there,
By Moshe Silver
The SEC trumpets its latest investor protection enforcement actions (Litigation Release 23303 / July 14) charging 34 individuals and entities with manipulating microcap stocks. Among the alleged perpetrations, the activities of one Harold Bailey “B.J.” Gallison II caught our eye.
Call us cynical, but we’ve been around this industry a long time. In fact, we were already seasoned professionals back in 2000 when the SEC brought fraud charges that resulted in said B.J. Gallison being sentenced to five years in prison.
This week’s SEC 67-page complaint describes Gallison as “a repeat securities law violator,” citing his “extensive regulatory history” back to 1996. Gallison, now 57, is charged with running a brokerage operation out of Costa Rica that facilitated fraud by providing “anonymity to customers who sought to manipulate the market for microcap stocks in the US,” including shares in a company with the imposing name of Warrior Girl.
Details of the alleged fraud include such Hollywoodesque monkeyshines as having US-based fraudsters posting fake background photos on their Skype accounts to give the impression they were located in Costa Rica – rather than sitting in an apartment in Spokane, WA, where they were not registered and therefore not eligible to run stock orders for US customers. The press release alleges some $5 million in purported illicit gains from only two of these activities; the full extent of customer losses may never be determined.
The bottom line is that every dollar fraudulently obtained by such activities is an after-tax dollar taken right out of the pocket of a private investor. And, given that these frauds have been around for decades, it continues to be the least sophisticated investors who get caught in them – read: the least well educated and the least affluent. The $5 million or so referenced in today’s press release likely represents serious pain for families who can ill afford the losses.
Once there were two people who decided to go into business together: one of them had money, the other had experience. A year later, the positions were reversed. Welcome to our world.
For all the Commission’s turning up the heat, we find it not so comforting to know that a convicted stock fraudster continues to ply his trade over a decade after his last case came to light. The prosecutor in the 2000 case told news media at the time that Gallison showed open contempt for regulatory efforts to block his activities, and he predicted that Gallison would continue to run his illicit activities from his prison cell (Take that, El Chapo!) It is not clear whether any measures were put in place to hinder or even surveil Gallison’s activities subsequent to his being released from prison. We’d guess not.
It is worth quoting verbatim from the SEC release:
“ ‘This case demonstrates the Commission’s resolve to relentlessly pursue the villains behind these microcap fraud schemes wherever in the world they may be hiding,’ said Andrew M. Calamari, Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office. Michael Paley, Co-Chair of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Microcap Fraud Task Force, added: ‘This case presents an excellent example of the capacity the Microcap Fraud Task Force has developed to pierce the layers of sham entities and nominee accounts that predators employ to harm investors and evade detection by law enforcement.’ ”
We are not aware of any serious effort either by law enforcement or by academics to calculate how much money is lost by small investors who get caught up in these scams, but our best estimate is: lots and lots. It may be a cheap shot to go after the Commission for cases such as this, but with Gallison on their radar as far back as 1996 – and with him having done jail time for essentially the same activities – we wonder where the Justice Department is on such cases – not to mention apparent lack of international coordination, though it is well known that such frauds are routinely perpetrated from offshore – and we wonder equally what yardstick the SEC is using to measure their “relentless resolve.”
The SEC is asking for the usual: disgorgement and restitution. We’re not sure where that money is supposed to come from, nor how far the law will punish Gallison and his cronies if they are convicted. If you had the opportunity to buy shares in Warrior Girl and didn’t, this would be a good moment to wipe your brow and praise Divine Providence. If you did buy shares in Warrior Girl, we suggest you seek solace in the relentless resolve of the federal agency.
And don’t do it again.
Moshe Silver is a Managing Director at Hedgeye Risk Management and author of Fixing a Broken Wall Street.
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