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Slouching Towards Wall Street… Notes for the Week Ending Friday, November 13, 2009

Shopping Spree


Far be it from us to be so cynical as to attribute crass economic motivation to regulators, who are bound by the notions of transparency and market integrity.


The Wall Street Journal (14-15 November, “A Capital Plan For The Insurance Industry”) reports that the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) is taking ratings of asset-backed securities out of the hands of the ratings agencies.  Their stated concern is that, with some 18,000 mortgage-backed issues slashed from A down to CCC, insurance companies will shop for ratings in an effort to mitigate their capital requirements. 


This scenario is, of course, nothing more than a rinse-and-repeat of the way the world got into this mess in the first place – where issuers, not investors, paid for ratings, and where ratings agencies had to award investment-grade ratings merely to stay competitive.


The American Council of Life Insurers, says the article, estimates “the low ratings have boosted capital charges for insurers by about $9 billion.”


The states and the federal government are locked in a winner-take-the-disgusting-leavings bout over who will regulate which aspects of the financial marketplace, and the NAIC’s push to set a standard for ratings hits two nails squarely on the head.  One, is that it challenges the clearly self-serving process of issuers and buyers seeking their best deal from ratings agencies; the other is that it flexes muscles at the state level, where insurance is regulated, and may block anything less than a full frontal assault by Congress.  With enough on their plates, and ample opportunities to repeat past mistakes, Washington may choose not to join this battle.


The NAIC’s action will play well on Main Street, as the Association can claim they are removing the conflict of interest from the rating process.  But their targeted outcome is also to reduce capital requirements at the insurers they regulate, which means it should play quite well on Wall Street. Since the SEC has not managed to keep the ratings business free of conflict, we would not be at all upset if the NAIC will.  Indeed, one could argue it was their job all along, and they failed miserably.  This still begs the question of who it is the regulators are protecting.  We suspect they are trying to strike a balance between regulatory overhaul, and not killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.


From the political side, we agree with the Journal that this action looks “rushed.”  We are all for the regulators regulating the marketplace, but regulators need a thriving marketplace, otherwise they will themselves be out of a job.  Penetrating study will be required to determine where the NAIC finds the balance between assuring the public of a safe market for investing, and assuring market participants that they will stay in business.  Who will regulate the regulators? 




Cuckoo For CoCos?


The latest regulatory trial balloon being floated in the financial press is the CoCo – the contingent convertible bond.  This new-fangled instrument appeared at its coming-out party on the arms of no less a beau than Lloyds Bank.  The debutante was wearing a tattered dress, but smiling nonetheless.


Lloyds Banking Group has offered to exchange some $11 billion of debt into CoCos, a form of subordinated debt that morphs into common equity – generally at the worst possible time, and without the bondholder’s consent. 


What is this odd beast, and how does it work?  As described in the Financial Times (13 November, “A Staple Diet Of CoCos Is Not A Panacea To Bank Failures”) “What differentiates them from a normal convertible bond is that the trigger is a regulatory flashpoint, not an asset price swing.”  This allows banks to “strengthen their capital base in a crisis, without tapping taxpayer funds, or going to the markets.”


Simple English:  when a bank’s capital ratio goes down to the point that it can no longer sustain the total debt it has issued, your chunk of that debt automatically converts to equity.  Voila!  No more nasty debt clogging up the bank’s balance sheet, no fresh injection of capital needed, and no risk of default.


Pardon us, but this looks like a total win for the banks and the leading edge of significant regulatory caving-in.  The CoCo is essentially a bond which, instead of a covenant, is issued together with a put to the bondholders.  In the Lloyds case, the exchange is being offered at a discount of more than 50% of face value to holders of subordinated debt.  One might argue that, in the current climate, subordinated debt holders are lucky to be offered anything at all – the bonds in question are no longer paying.  Still, in the good old days bondholders were protected by covenants, and banks had to maintain capital, or go to court to prove why they should not pay out on their obligations.  The risk of bond defaults, with reputational damage and the looming threat of bankruptcy, were all seen as protections for those pieces of paper whose very name means “obligation”.


Enter the CoCo, which permits the bank to automatically convert its “obligation” into “equity”.  “Equity,” we should point out, means “what is fair,” which can be very good.  It can also be very, very bad.  If there is an obligation of the bank that it pay its bondholders, the shareholders will get what’s left over.  That is fair.  And if there’s nothing left over, well, that’s fair too.


The Basel-centered regulatory regime is considering promoting CoCos across Europe and the US.  New York Fed president William Dudley recently said (Financial Times, 12 November, “Wall Street And Fed In Discussions Over CoCos”) that “the worst aspects of the banking crisis might have been averted” through the use of “contingent capital buffers.” 


This looks to us like a stupendously dreadful idea and all sorts of words come to mind.  Slippery Slope – the looming regulatory change permitting banks to all but dispense with capital requirements.  Moral Hazard – the notion that an obligation will no longer be “really” an obligation, but only an obligation as long as the bank feels like it.


This further feeds the bifurcation of the marketplace, as strong participants, major financial institutions, will insist on, and receive, guaranteed obligations with actual capital reserves underpinning them.  Meanwhile weaker investors will increasingly be cashed out with the corporate equivalent of a Pay In Kind transaction.


All of this means that legislation to promote the use of CoCos will probably be implemented soon, as the world’s regulators are desperate to be seen as doing something.  And it looks set to create a splendid new government loophole that will allow banks to issue bonds without additional capital requirements.


In the case of the Lloyds bonds, they are already in trouble.  Swapping subordinated debt which will not be paid off anyway, with a junior-junior obligation on its way to converting to equity looks like prolonging the agony.  But investors and issuers alike are notoriously reluctant to switch off life support, especially if it means a capital impairment for the bank.  In the world of financial services, where everything comes down to convincing someone else to buy something, it is easier to sell a loser a new piece of paper that, one day, will convert to yet another piece of paper than to say “Ooops.  Guess that didn’t work out.”


Forgive our ignorance, but to us the CoCo looks like a pre-guaranteed default.  It gets the government off the hook for at least that piece of the bank’s capital, and it puts the bondholder well on notice.  “Don’t say we didn’t warn you.”  This looks like a regulatory cop-out of staggering proportion, which guarantees it will be implemented.  If the whole world agrees to undermine bank capital requirements, does that make it OK?


If a bond covenant is like a prenuptial agreement, the CoCo is like asking the bride to waive alimony and child support before ever she walks down the aisle.


Would you buy a used bank balance sheet from this regulator?




The Gang That Couldn’t Prosecute Straight




That was the word last week at the US Attorney’s office in Brooklyn, when a jury acquitted Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin on all counts relating to alleged fraud in the Bear Stearns hedge funds they managed in spectacularly unsuccessful fashion.


We wonder whether the prosecutors really believed that tossing inflammatory emails in front of a jury would sway them all the way to a guilty verdict.  A criminal fraud conviction is serious stuff, and the penalties are awful.  Twelve common citizens commonly rise to uncommon heights when given responsibility for a person’s freedom.  Here it would appear they took this responsibility quite seriously. 


We know enough of the practice of law to recognize that intent is devilishly hard to prove.  We wonder why the prosecutors did not tailor a more subtle case.  Surely the argument could be made that a hedge fund manager’s not sharing his existential concerns about the portfolio with investors can be termed a cover up.  One need look no further for motive than the desire to be allowed to continue to run the hedge fund and continue to draw a management fee.


The only explanation we can come up with is the prosecutors believed they could win on the crest of a wave of public outrage.  That this first case, combining as it did two such hated terms – “Bear Stearns” and “hedge fund” – would bring the jury’s blood to a boil.  If the government had won its case on sheer emotion, they could have established a prosecutorial benchmark that would have Wall Street running scared, and would be juicing defense lawyers’ fees.


Boy, did they get it wrong.  The jurors seem to have felt the US Attorney’s office was trying to dupe them by culling lines from emails.  Jurors who were interviewed after the verdict pointed to the isolation of phrases taken out of context from longer emails.  One juror spoke of Cioffi and Tannin as captains who were willing to go down with the ship.  Another praised their dedication and self sacrifice, pointing to email exchanges at 4:00 AM.  Fraudsters sleep at night, was the implication.  Honest guys don’t.  Perhaps the bluntest of all was the juror who praised Cioffi and Tannin for their tireless devotion to their investors.  If I had money, said this juror, I’d invest with them today.


Even assuming the US Attorney’s office truly believed in this case, it appears poor tactics to bring a case that changes the game, but is hard to win.  One might wonder whether the taxpayer, the investing public and the world’s financial markets have been ill served by prosecutors trying to win a case of such magnitude.


The SEC is in the on-deck circle, preparing to bring their civil case.  In the aftermath of the not guilty finding, we think they may have some difficulty.  And with Judge Rakoff’s lambasting of their process in the Galleon matter as a backdrop, the SEC might find courts and juries increasingly ill disposed towards the multiple-bites-of-the-apple approach.  To the lay person it walks, waddles and quacks like a double-jeopardy duck.


The SEC might do best to use this case to establish parameters for negligent behavior.  This could have some real utility and set the ground rules for what is sure to be an increasing flow of cases.  If the SEC’s case is going to rest on damages – you lost people’s money, you have to pay it back – then it becomes a business decision by Cioffi and Tannin, and by whatever remaining Bear entities might be drawn into the litigation.  This would result in a cash settlement with no admission of wrongdoing.  If Tannin and Cioffi really did bad things, then the government needs to get more.  But if Tannin and Cioffi really just messed up, then panicked, then messed up again, what will it take for the SEC to walk away from this case?  Nobody likes to look like a wuss.  There will be public clamoring for blood.  The question is starting to look like – will it be Bankers’ blood, or Regulators’?


It is a well-established principle in securities litigation that there is no law against being stupid.  Prosecutors and the SEC alike would do well to remember that.  And while it may be uncharitable to point out, there is no law against regulators or prosecutors being stupid either.


Caveat… everybody.




Your Arms Too Short To Box With Blankfein


We are as staggered as the next person at the scope of Goldman’s influence in the world.  Indeed, we have been known to take a cheap shot at them ourselves – though we draw the line way before the “giant face-sucking squid” metaphor.  Still, in the cold light of day it is a toss-up as to whether we would sleep better at night if Goldman were completely in charge of this country, or if it never existed in the first place.


Goldman is easy to hate.  They are big, they are successful, and they are everywhere because they really do most things better than most of their competitors most of the time.


In the context of bombast and outright wrong information swirling through the media, we are disappointed that Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein now wishes to retract his “obviously ironic, throwaway response” (Bloomberg, 12 November, “Blankfein invokes God And Man At Goldman Sachs”) when he told the Times of London that he is “doing God’s work.”


We like to think Blankfein was not kidding, and we also wish the Times had been less jovial and gone deeper in their reporting.  Given the level of access they enjoyed – including a one-on-one with Blankfein himself at the firm’s headquarters – and the almost 7,000 words the Sunday Times of London devoted to it, the readership was not well served by the time and effort it took to read the tongue-in-cheek piece.  There is nothing new in the fact that Goldman Sachs has lots of money, nor are we shocked that Mr. Blankfein does not come across as rivetingly fascinating.



Let’s face it, the venom and vitriol directed at Goldman comes from two things: they are supremely successful, and they have fostered a profound culture of graduating into the public sector – where former employees have been no less successful than they were at banking or trading.


Clearly, the authors of the piece had their fun.  We can practically feel the pangs of excitement as they typed out such words as “The biggest swinging dicks in the financial jungle.”  But that is not journalism.


The Times appears to have been granted unprecedented access to Goldman and its executives, a gift they largely squandered.  In the end, the piece is conversational, fun and ultimately lightweight.  It is nowhere near mean enough to make us hate Goldman, nor informative enough to make us see the firm in a new light.


And it perpetuates the notion that federal money somehow “saved” Goldman Sachs. 


We recognize that, in the Total Forget world of Wall Street, one year is a very long time.  Secretary Paulson proposed the TARP at the end of September of last year.  The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act was passed in October of 2008.


We do not make light of the depth or extent of the crisis.  But if the financial markets had been thrown to the wolves, there are certain firms that would have nonetheless survived.  Indeed, we suspect the deeper threat was not to the existence of Goldman Sachs, but that Secretary Paulson truly believed there was an imminent threat of social unrest and that he acted more to prevent the imposition of martial law, than to prevent a capital impairment at his alma mater.


Those who castigate Goldman these days forget that Goldman – as well as JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley – took the TARP monies under duress.  We understand the unanswered questions about why Goldman’s AIG trades got paid in full, about how Blankfein showed up in the room when the government was preparing to administer the coup de grace  to Lehman.  But it is simply not accurate to state that Goldman only survived thanks to taxpayer money.


Reports and analysis coming out of Washington at the time painted Hank Paulson as insisting on total control over the financial system.  Given the inherent conflicts in Washington, and their propensity to dither as they wonder How This Will Play Back Home, Paulson emerged as the likeliest candidate to get anything accomplished.  Indeed, he was the only one not conflicted.  He had already cashed out his Goldman holdings, and with the coming change of administration he was soon to be out of a job at all events.  Congress, the Senate, and Chairman Bernanke all were under political pressure to not make obvious mistakes – to not take actions that might impair their ability to continue in their jobs.  Paulson was the logical choice to take control.


In order to do that, he had to bring the banks to heel.  All the banks.  Jamie Dimon, one of the most capable financial Chief Executives in history, tried to turn down the TARP funds.  Goldman and Morgan too demurred.


But Secretary Paulson insisted on an airtight program.  He was taking direct control of the banking sector and insisted on complete cooperation.  In the end, they all dutifully took their checks.  What this accomplished was not to “bail out” Goldman, Morgan, and JP Morgan, but created a regulatory handcuff that tied them to the program.  It is well and good to carp that Goldman made out “like bandits” in the aftermath of TARP.  But no one should lose sight of the fact that they might not have.


Far from being “saved” by taxpayer largesse, Goldman has a long history of putting substantial sums aside, even as it pays out $20 billion in bonuses this year.  The London Times piece says Goldman has $1 trillion in assets.  Much of that is in what was long ago established as the partnership’s Rainy Day fund.


If AIG had not paid off, if TARP monies had not flowed through, and if the firm had not been permitted to switch charters and become a bank literally overnight, then Goldman would no doubt have to dip into that fund.  They would perhaps not be paying record bonuses.  They would perhaps be restructuring and staring at lean times.  But it is a stretch to claim they would be out of business.


Saving money is radical/  Fiscal conservatism and anti-profligacy in major investment banks is not sexy and gets brushed aside by the press in their hunger for a story.  On examination, the press may have the sizzle, but Goldman’s got the steak.


Here’s another thing Goldman does: they mark their positions to the market for risk purposes.  CEO Blankfein has spoken publicly in defense of mark to market accounting.  And surprise!  His firm considers it the appropriate way to manage risk position by position on a daily basis.


As to “doing God’s work,” we are reluctant to defend a statement when its author seeks to disavow it.  But you can’t deny the critical role played by Goldman in keeping the US marketplace liquid, active and dominant.  Do they pay themselves very, very well for the service they provide the rest of us?  Yes.  And, as neither the rules nor the nation’s morality has changed, they continue to be entitled to it.


We are not sure why Blankfein said that he was doing God’s work, what he thought he meant when he said it, and why he now seeks to make it go away.  Looking at Goldman’s phenomenal history of success, if we were God, we couldn’t wish for a better teammate.



Moshe Silver

Chief Compliance Officer



Dear Ben,


The President of the United States is in Asia this week and the two largest economies in that region are sending a clear message – STOP THE MADNESS.  Stop pandering and raise interest rates now!


If nothing else, this week the news flow out of Asia will provide some great GLOBAL MACRO theatre.


In very quiet trading the S&P 500 finished higher by 0.6% on Friday.  For the week the S&P 500 closed up 2.3%.  The market was supported by renewed dollar weakness, although the sectors that benefitted the most from the GLOBAL RECOVERY trade underperformed. The dollar sank by 0.5% and the VIX declined by 3.6% on the day.


The biggest area of concern seemed to be the MACRO calendar, as consumer sentiment fell for a second straight month in November. The University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index fell to 66 in the November from 70.6 in October, versus consensus expectations of 71.  Not surprisingly, expectations for personal finances and employment also deteriorated in November, as did the indexes measuring buying conditions for large household goods, houses and vehicles.


The Financials (XLF) sector was the worst performer declining 0.2% on Friday; the XLF was the only sector down on the day.  The banking finished lower for a second straight session, with the large-cap names such as Wells Fargo and JP Morgan were among the laggards.  It's notable that both the Financial and Materials (XLB) underperformed on Friday, as they are the two sectors of the market that have provided significant upside leadership since the March lows.


The three best performing sectors were Consumer Discretionary (XLY), Technology (XLK) and Utilities (XLU).  Despite the disappointing consumer sentiment data, the consumer discretionary sector was the best performer today as Retail was a bright spot.  Earnings helped lift some of the name and both DG and RUE rallied following their respective IPOs.


Today, the set up for the S&P 500 is: TRADE (1,074) and TREND is positive (1,039).   The Research Edge quantitative models have 9 of 9 sectors in the S&P 500 positive on TREND and 7 of 9 sectors are positive from the TRADE duration.  Two of the sectors that benefit the most from the lower dollar – Financials and Materials - are broken on the TRADE duration.   


The Research Edge Quant models have 2% upside and 2% downside in the S&P 500.  At the time of writing the major market futures are poised to open up small to the upside. 


The Research Edge MACRO Team







November 16, 2009





H&M sits near the top of my list of companies I track to keep a pulse on global discretionary spending. Many people underestimate how truly massive and relevant H&M is. But with sales of US$11bn, it compares to Gap, Inc at $15bn. While slightly smaller on the top line, its $2.6bn in EBIT dwarf’s Gap’s $1.6bn. Aside from being one of the largest, most profitable and highest-return apparel companies in the world, it is clearly the most diverse, as evidenced in the first exhibit below.  That’s why the headline comp delta improvement for October was interesting to me.  


The company highlighted Scandinavia, Central Europe, and Asia as geographic outperformers while France, Spain, and the US had another weak month. This ties in perfectly with what we’re hearing from Matt Hedrick (our Europe guru on our Macro team) in that consumption is picking up across the region, however we’ve yet to see substantial pick-up from the region’s largest economies. The UK reports October Retail Sales this Thursday, which is an important gauge from a Macro perspective. Based on H&M’s results, it does not sound like Western Europe is turning around meaningfully just yet…












Some Notable Call Outs


  • JC Penney provided some additional insights into its recent licensing partnership with Liz Claiborne. The namesake brand will be available in Penney stores for the Fall 2010 selling season. The brand is expected to span 30 product categories throughout the store. When surveyed, consumers indicated that Liz Claiborne was among their top three preferred brands, no matter where these customers chose to shop. Management was very enthusiastic for the potential growth of the brand, and indicated that they expect it to double in size over a five year period.


  • ANF management was quick to point out that they believe they may have swing the pendulum too far on tight inventory management. As a result, key product categories like denim have been negatively impacted by overly conservative inventory plans. Fashion items, which have sold well, are also unable to make a substantial impact on overall topline results given the low inventory commitments made to “trend” items.


  • Score one for Under Armour and the company’s endorsement of Milwaukee Buck rookie, Brandon Jennings. Jennings is the only NBA player currently endorsed by Under Armour and was the first player picked to wear the company’s prototype basketball shoes. While the rollout of the basketball line is still TBD, we can’t ignore the success of Jennings so far. While he was already the leading scorer on the Bucks and one of the leading rookies in the league so far this year, the attention on Jennings is sure to elevate with his 55 point performance on Friday night (just his 7th game ever in the NBA!). Jennings performance puts him in elite company becoming the first player to score 50 points in the fewest amount of games and also surpassing Lew Alcindor’s franchise record for scoring the most points as rookie. With this success, we wonder how long it will be before the UA hoops collection finally makes its way into retailers.




Obama to Seek Increased Trade in Asia - Speaking during his first trip to Asia since taking office, President Obama indicated over the weekend that the U.S. will seek to increase its engagement in trade in the region. Obama announced Saturday the U.S. will work with Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, Peru, Brunei Darussalam, New Zealand and Chile to shape a broader regional agreement out of the existing Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade area. Obama also indicated that the administration would engage South Korea in talks to work through outstanding issues keeping the stalled U.S.-Korea free trade agreement from moving forward, and pledged to continue working aggressively on the Doha Round of trade negotiations. “We’ve increased our exports to Asia at a healthy rate over the last decade, but not as much as other regions have — and we intend to change that,” Obama said. He delivered his remarks early in a weeklong trip that includes stopovers in Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea. <wwd.com>


U.S. Demand May Take Until Next Year to ‘Regenerate,’ Li & Fung Says - U.S. consumer demand may take until the middle of 2010 to “regenerate,” and it’s unlikely China can fill the gap as the global economy recovers, said Victor Fung, chairman of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. supplier Li & Fung Ltd. “The slide in retail sales has been arrested, but I think it may take a little while before demand will regenerate,” Victor Fung said in an interview in Singapore Nov. 14. “We will look toward the middle of next year for that to come back up, before you can see a perceptible pick up in demand.” Sales at U.S. stores open at least a year rose 1.1 percent in September, the first increase in 13 months, as discounts drew shoppers back to shops. Li & Fung, founded in China in 1906 near the end of the Qing Dynasty, is accelerating efforts to buy makers of clothing, cosmetics, home products, accessories and shoes as retailers increase reordering. <bloomberg.com>


Downside of U.S. Economic Recovery Is Swelling of Trade Gap - The U.S. economic expansion that began last quarter has a downside: the trade deficit will probably swell as imports jump. Purchases of goods made overseas climbed 5.8 percent in September to $168.4 billion, the Commerce Department reported today in Washington. The gain was the biggest since 1993 and reflected growing demand for crude oil, automobiles, metals, machines and even artwork. The figures illustrate the challenge faced by world leaders as they try to rebalance global growth away from American consumption and toward demand in emerging markets. President Barack Obama today began an eight-day trip focusing on trade that will take him from Singapore to Korea. <bloomberg.com>


Walmart Extends AA Rating Benefits to Apparel Vendors - Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, said it’s allowing more than 1,000 apparel companies to benefit from its high credit rating and arrange financing after CIT Group Inc. filed for bankruptcy. Walmart wrote a letter to its apparel makers on Nov. 2, a day after CIT’s bankruptcy filing, saying they can “take advantage of Walmart’s AA credit rating to secure financing to manufacture and deliver products for our stores,” John Simley, a company spokesman, said today by telephone. The retailer is working with Wells Fargo & Co. and Citigroup Inc. to have them pay vendors between 10 and 15 days from receipt of goods in Walmart stores, the letter said. The banks can provide the funding at attractive rates with the understanding that Walmart will pay them directly and on a timely basis, Walmart said. <bloomberg.com>


China, Japan Say Fed’s Low Rates Fueling Speculation - Financial officials in Japan and China, Asia’s two largest economies, warned the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate policy risks spurring speculative capital that may inflate asset prices and derail the global economic recovery. Emerging economies “might overheat and experience financial turmoil,” Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said in Tokyo today. Low rates and the dollar’s depreciation present “new, real and insurmountable risks to the recovery of the global economy,” Liu Mingkang, China’s top banking regulator, said yesterday. The comments reflect concern that the Fed’s pledge to keep rates near zero for an “extended period” may lead to a repeat of the financial crisis. MSCI’s emerging-markets stock index has risen 71 percent this year and Asian countries from Singapore to South Korea are trying to rein in surging real-estate prices. <bloomberg.com>


China, Vietnam Gain as Imports Fall in Sept. - Textile and apparel imports to the U.S. from China and Vietnam increased in September, but shipments from the other top suppliers continued to decline. The Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel said Friday that imports from China gained 3.2 percent to 2.2 billion square meter equivalents, driven by a rise in apparel shipments. Apparel imports from China grew 12.1 percent to 1.1 billion SME, and textile shipments fell 4.4 percent to 1.1 billion SME. Textile imports from Vietnam helped propel an increase in total textile and apparel shipments of 14.3 percent to 199 million SME. Textile shipments to the U.S. from Vietnam spiked 116.8 percent in September to 54 million SME; apparel imports dipped 3 percent to 144 million SME. Vietnam was also the only top textile and apparel supplier to increase shipments to the U.S. for the year-to-date period, rising 20.5 percent to 1.6 billion SME. <wwd.com>


H&M's October sales drop but Jimmy Choo range is a success - H&M sales were worse than expected in October, down 3% on a like-for-like basis. The Swedish fashion giant said that sales in Scandinavia, Central Europe and Asia were satisfactory during October but that the performance in other markets including France, Spain and the US continued to be weaker. Total sales across the group grew 7% in October compared to the same month the previous year. The results came as H&M opened its doors to its latest designer collaboration, this time with Jimmy Choo which drew crowds across the country this weekend. H&M said it was “delighted” with the launch of the much-hyped range. There were long queues outside of the 19 stores in the UK and Ireland that carried the collection, which launched at 9am on Saturday morning. <drapersonline.com>


Japan Q3 GDP Grows Faster Than Expected - Japan’s third-quarter gross domestic product grew at a faster-than-expected rate but longer-term concerns about the health of the economy and deflation persist. Japan’s real GDP rose 1.2 percent in the July to September period from the prior quarter, the Cabinet Office said Monday. That figure reflects 4.8 percent growth on an annualized basis for the world’s second-largest economy. Stimulus measures, both in Japan and other countries, are considered responsible for much of the jump. Japan officially emerged from recession in the second quarter of the year.  GDP for the April to June period rose 0.7 percent, revised downward from an original estimate of 0.9 percent growth. Still, concerns about Japan’s job market and overall economic health linger. The government is preparing to declare that the Japanese economy is in official deflation, according to a Cabinet Office spokeswoman. <wwd.com>


European October Consumer Prices Fall for Fifth Month - European consumer prices declined for a fifth month in October as rising unemployment discouraged household spending. Prices in the 16-nation euro region declined 0.1 percent from a year earlier after falling 0.3 percent in September, the European Union statistics office in Luxembourg said today. That matched an initial estimate published on Oct. 30 and the median forecast of 35 economists in a Bloomberg survey. In the month, consumer prices rose 0.2 percent. European companies have been forced to cut prices and eliminate jobs to survive the worst global recession in more than six decades. While the region’s economy returned to growth in the third quarter, rising unemployment has undermined consumer spending. <bloomberg.com>


Q&A With Jones Apparel Group: "We can't keep [enough] boots in stock" - “We really [have been] focused on getting the house in order and getting the core brands running well,” Card said in a recent interview. “The economy is still tough, and it’s a tough period to operate in, but we’re still doing as well as we can — and better than others. We’re well positioned for when the recovery really starts to take hold.” Meanwhile, as other companies have scaled back on new initiatives, Jones continues to invest in growth, this year launching Rachel Rachel Roy, an exclusive contemporary brand at Macy’s; a Vintage America collection within its Nine West brand; and the Shoe Woo retail concept, which offers a multibrand approach to footwear shopping. In the last few weeks, in particular, footwear has been a bright spot for the firm, thanks to brisk boot sales. “We can’t keep boots in stock,” Card said at last week’s Women’s Wear Daily CEO Summit. “[Shoppers] are buying boots like there’s no tomorrow. When consumers see an item they really want, [they’re buying it].” <wwd.com>


GM to start repaying loans soon - General Motors Co. will announce on Monday it plans to start repaying a $6.7 billion loan to the U.S. Treasury by year-end due to modest operating improvements, a source knowledgeable about the situation said. GM, due to unveil its first post-bankruptcy earnings report on Monday, will begin making $1 billion quarterly installments on the loan on December 31. At the same time, the automaker also will start repaying a $1.4 billion loan to Canada at a rate of $200 million per quarter. GM was not required to make any payments on the U.S. loan before it matured in July 2015, but better-than-expected vehicle sales will let it start repayments much sooner than expected. <canada.com>


American Apparel to Supply US Navy Task Force Uniform Items - American Apparel in Selma, AL received a maximum $8.1 million firm-fixed-price with indefinite-quantity contract to supply items for the US Navy Task Force Uniform (TFU). The original Navy TFU contract was awarded to Wellstone Apparel in 2007; American Apparel purchased Wellstone in 2009. The Navy TFU was redesigned in 2006 to provide a single working uniform for all ranks… The BDU-style working uniform, designed to replace 7 different styles of working uniforms, is made of a permanent press 50/50 nylon and cotton blend. The working TFU includes several cold weather accessories, such as a unisex pullover sweater, a fleece jacket, and a parka. <defenseindustrydaily.com>


Cherokee Heads to Retailer in China - RT Mart Stores, a division of Ruentex Industries Limited, has signed an exclusive international license deal with Cherokee. The multi-year agreement covers a complete range of categories, including men's, women's and children's clothing, footwear and accessories, as well as home textiles. "RT Mart, with its retail knowledge, merchandising and sourcing expertise, creates an ideal partnership for Cherokee in China," says Larry Sass, executive vice president of Cherokee. "By developing distribution in China, we have now achieved another significant goal in our 'world brand' strategy and are proud to have licensed Cherokee in more than 20 countries and five continents. Over the coming months, we plan to build upon our strategy throughout Asia, as well as Australia, Europe, Russia and Latin America." <licensemag.com>


TSA Hires Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Strategy Officer - The Sports Authority appointed industry veteran Jeffrey Schumacher to oversee all marketing, advertising, private brand strategy, digital/eCommerce, corporate and business development strategy. Schumacher, who currently serves as a Partner in McKinsey & Company's North American Marketing and Sales Practice, brings more than 15 years of industry experience in marketing, advertising, sales and brand/retail strategy. Schumacher's appointment to Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Strategy Officer is effective November 16, 2009. <sportsonesource.com>





COH: Michael Tucci, President-N. American Retail, sold 92,000 shares after exercising options to buy 75,000 shares for a net gain of $1.8mm.


BBY: Bradbury Anderson, Vice Chairman, sold 51,000 shares after exercising options to buy 30,000 shares for a net gain of $1.4mm.


TUES: Madison Dearborn Partners, 10% Owner, sold 10,300 shares for a gain of $31k.


SHOO: Peter Migliorini, Director, sold 7,500 shares after exercising options to buy 7,500 shares for a net gain of $188k.


FOSL: Jennifer Pritchard, Divisional President, sold 4,000 shares for a gain of $124k.


NFLX: Reed Hastings, CEO, sold 10,000 shares after exercising options to buy 4,500 shares for a net gain of $583k.


ANN: Gary Muto, President-LOFT, sold 6,500 shares for a gain of $91k.



The Client's Trust

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
-Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway was an American veteran of World War I. He was a writer and a journalist. He was well known for developing protagonists in his fictional writing who were, per Wikipedia, “stoical men who exhibit an ideal described as grace under pressure.”
President Obama, now that the Chinese have preemptively attacked your currency policy ahead of this week’s meetings, we all sincerely hope you are the non-fictional character who is up for the task. This is no time for prepared speeches. This is your time to face The Client and her investments in America.
Ahead of Tuesday’s meetings with China, here are two explicit shots across America’s bow:
1.       “The continuous depreciation in the dollar, and the U.S. government’s indication, that in order to resume growth and maintain public confidence, it basically won’t raise interest rates for the coming 12 to 18 months, has led to massive dollar arbitrage speculation”
- Liu Mingkang (Chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission)
2.       “I’m scared and leaders should look out… America is doing exactly what Japan did last time”
- Donald Tsang (Chief Executive of Hong Kong)
Memories on Wall Street may very well last as long as a crackberry minute, but the views of The Client (China) imply that she has not lost her historical perspective. One of the major contributors to the 1997 Asian Crisis was Japan’s ZERO percent policy. Asia remembers.
Do we remember? Do we care? Do we have a proactive plan to stay ahead of the predictable risks embedded in debt driven devaluation? Or are we simply going to react to the outcomes associated with our compromised monetary policy decisions, AFTER the fact?
Ben Bernanke probably won’t answer any of these questions tonight at the Economic Club of New York. The home crowd will be choke full of NYC bankers and carry trading financiers alike. Provided that he doesn’t take any of the aforementioned Chinese criticism to heart, Ben should be just fine. No one in the Levered Long or Piggy Banker room needs to be veering from the path of the willfully blind just yet - not into year-end bonus time.
Or do they? Re-read these Chinese comments! These are as aggressive as they get. Our Hedgeye agent in China is inching towards slipping an Indian proverb under Obama’s hotel room door ahead of these meetings: “listen or thy tongue will keep thee deaf.”
China has once again flat-out dismissed how “deeply” Obama’s Chief Squirrel Hunter feels about anything US Currency. There was no credibility in Timmy Geithner’s “strong dollar” policy rhetoric while speaking in Asia last week. As a result, there is once again no bid for Burning Bucks this morning.
Is the Buck Bombed Out or setting up to Burn again? This is THE question for the US stock market, and anything priced in US Dollars this week. There are 3 critical events that will determine the US Dollar’s direction from here:
1.      Bernanke’s ‘In De Club’ NYC banker speech tonight
2.      President Obama’s response to Chinese currency attacks
3.      The US Consumer Price Inflation report on Wednesday
If you follow the intermediate term TREND line of American political pandering, you’ll be betting on carry trading (Burning Buck) into and out of events 1 and 2. That’s what global markets are already doing this morning. The US Dollar is re-testing her YTD lows, trading down -0.35% to $75.07. Yes, these are all marked-to-market, real-time.
Event #3 will be very interesting to see play out. For now, I am not short the US Dollar into that print. When it comes to reported deflation, contrary to narrative fallacy belief, the lows of reported deflation here in the US came with the July 2009 CPI report of -2.1%.
I say narrative fallacy (Taleb) belief because that’s all the Great Depressionista storytelling was. It is both shocking and saddening all at once to see that American politicians have used Bernanke’s academic studies as a backstop to get the Debtors, Bankers, and Politicians paid.
A lot of people tell me that the Dollar Down call from here is consensus. After covering my short position in the US dollar last week, I implicitly agree with that – but only in the immediate term. In the intermediate to long term however, both my quantitative resistance levels and the politicized headwinds for the credibility of America’s currency remain bearish.
President Obama, now is your time to build The Client’s Trust. Shake those hands firmly, listen, and understand.
My immediate term TRADE lines of support/resistance for the SP500 are now 1074 and 1116.
Best of luck out there today,




FXE – CurrencyShares Euro TrustWe bought the Euro on 11/12 on a down move against our short position in the British Pound. A bullish formation in the Euro remains and we think the ECB could hike before the Fed does.

EWT – iShares Taiwan
With the introduction of “Panda Diplomacy” Taiwan has found itself growing closer to mainland China. Although the politics remain awkward, the business opportunities are massive and the private sector, now almost fully emerged from state dominance, has rushed to both service “the client” and to make capital investments there.  With an export industry base heavily weighted towards technology and communications equipment, Taiwanese companies are in the right place at the right time to catch the wave of increased consumer spending spurred by Beijing’s massive stimulus package.

XLU – SPDR Utilities
We bought low beta Utilities on discount on 10/20. TRADE and TREND bullish.

GLD – SPDR Gold We bought back our long standing bullish position on gold on a down day on 9/14 with the threat of US centric stagflation heightening.   

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.


EWY – iShares South Korea South Korea has joined Japan in the ominous position of broken TREND and TRADE. This is not China or Taiwan. This is an early cycle economy that we want to be short against China/Taiwan.

XLI – SPDR Industrials We shorted Industrials again on 11/9 on the up move as the US market made a lower-high.  This is the best way for us to be short the hope of a V-shaped recovery.   

EWU – iShares UK Despite areas of improvement, broader fundamentals remain shaky in the UK: government debt continues to expand, leadership in critical positions lacks, and the country’s leverage to the banking sector remains glaringly negative.  Q3 saw its GDP contract by -0.4%. Further bank stimulus and the BOE’s increase in its bond purchasing program suggest that this will not end well.

XLY – SPDR Consumer Discretionary We shorted Howard Penney’s view on Consumer Discretionary stocks on 10/30. TRADE and TREND bullish.  

FXB – CurrencyShares British Pound Sterling
The Pound is the only major currency that looks remotely as precarious as the US Dollar. We shorted the Pound into strength on 10/16.

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.

Buy-Side Firms Re-Examine Expert Network Relationships


As we discussed last week, GC reported EBITDA of $34MM and margins of 35.6%, beating Street estimates by 12% on EBITDA and margins by 450 bps and our estimates by $700k and 200bps, respectively.   Revenues came in light, primarly due to continued general economic malaise.


The three ongoing redevelopment projects - additional slots at View Royal and at Georgian Downs and the opening of the parcade and Canada Line station at River Rock - were completed on time and on budget.  Initial results from the Canada line opening and expansion at Georgian Downs were positive, while View Royal has yet to see a pick up in gaming volumes as a result of the expansion.  The British Columbia Lottery Commission (BCLC) is also in the process of refreshing many of GC's old and underperforming slots.  As a reminder, in BC the BCLC is responsible for buying slots which comes at no cost to GC.


Now that it looks like Great Canadian has gotten its (finally) cost structure under control, it's all about topline growth, which unfortunetely is highly leveraged to what the BC economy does.  We do expect a lift from the Winter Olympics, but management needs to keep its focus on existing operations rather than straying down the familiar expansion path.





River Rock

  • River Rock revenues declined by 12% y-o-y, driven by lower gaming and hospitality revenues.  Excluding table hold, which was comping against a high 24.8% hold in 3Q08, drop fell 4% and slot handle fell 5% (a relative improvement from the 16% y-o-y drop experienced in 2Q09).
  • Costs decreased by 26%, spread over promotional spend, HR, property, marketing, and administration; resulting in 10% y-o-y expansion in EBITDA margins to 48.4%.
  • River Rock should benefit from a slot refresh and expansion that will add roughly 150 slots. The product slots at River Rock haven't been updated in over five years. 


  • While table drop was flat y-o-y, slot handle fell 20% for the second sequential quarter, resulting in a 9% y-o-y decline in revenues at the property.  Hospitality revenues actually held up well at the property and were up 10% y-o-y.
  • Costs decreased 15%, resulting in 360 bps of EBITDA margin improvement to 48.4%.
  • The property looks to be losing some market share to its revamped nieghbor Grand Villa. Grand Villa's contribution to the Local Goverment Share of Provincial Casino and Community Gaming Centre Revenues grew 12% y-o-y in 3Q09 and 14% 2Q09 (y-o-y).   

Vancouver Island

  • While table drop declines were less bad this quarter, falling 13% (vs 25% in the 1H09), slot handle fell 10% y-o-y, showing no benefit from the incremental slots added at View Royal.  The increased FDC revenues softened the y-o-y decline to 6% at the Vancouver Island properties
  • The 17% decline in costs at the property helped grow EBITDA 5% and improve margins by 560 bps

Nova Scotia

  • Table drop only fell 2% y-o-y but there was a difficult hold comparison to 3Q08 resulting in an 8% table revenue decline.  Coin in was down 5%, showing no improvement over 2Q09
  • It appears that there were about 100 slots removed from the Nova Scotia properties
  • Costs declined another 200k sequentially, or 16% y-o-y, and look like they will remain at these levels barring another drop off in demand.
  • EBITDA decreased 7% but margins increased by 120 bps to 33.3%

BC Racinos (Hastings, Fraser, TBC)

  • Gaming revenues increased 2% due to the slot additions to Hastings and higher slot win, while racetrack revenues fell 12%
  • Revenue weakness was more than offset by an 18% reduction of costs which resulted in a 67% EBITDA increase and 10.4% expansion in margins

Georgian Downs

  • Gaming revenues increased 3.4% y-o-y compared to being flat y-o-y last quarter.  Seems too early to tell whether the slot addition will be accompanied by more demand.
  • Costs fell 18% y-o-y resulting in 24% EBITDA growth and 10.5% margin expansion to 50%

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