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US STRATEGY – CONSUMER CENTRIC WEEK

On the MACRO front we will be getting important data points as to the health of the consumer.  Specifically, we are looking at data on Housing (existing home sales and Case Shiller), unemployment and consumer confidence.     

 

Last week the S&P declined for three consecutive days and the dollar index rose on Thursday and Friday.  On Friday the S&P 500 declined 0.3% and finished the day off the worst levels of the day.  Once again the headwinds were strong for the REFLATION/RECOVERY trade with the bounce in the dollar.  The Dollar Index rose 0.48% on Friday.   

 

The MACRO calendar was quiet on Friday, but there were some disappointing earnings in the Technology and Homebuilding groups.  At 10am today we will be getting some housing data, with the Existing home sales trends.  According to Bloomberg, sales of existing U.S. homes are expected to rise 2.3% from September to a 5.7 million annual rate. 

 

The data flow over the past month does not support an upside surprise in existing home sales, so the chances that the consensus estimates are too aggressive are high.  Last week mortgage applications declined 2.5% to the lowest level in 12 years.  It was reported yesterday that mortgage delinquencies rose to a seasonally adjusted rate of 9.6% at the end of the 3Q09. 

 

On Friday, the VIX declined 1.9% and 5.0% over the past week. 

 

Three sectors increased on Friday – Healthcare (XLV), Utilities (XLU) and Consumer Staples (XLP).  The best performing sector was Healthcare, up 0.7%.   Healthcare was the beneficiary of a rotation into low BETA defensive sectors of the market.  On Friday the big upside came from the pharma group. 

 

The worst performing sectors were Energy (XLE), Financials (XLF) and Consumer Discretionary (XLY). Last week was a tough one for sectors with leverage to the global RECOVERY theme.   Both Financials and Energy are the only two sectors broken on the TRADE duration.  The Energy (XLE) was the worst performer today as another bounce in the dollar weighed on commodities and commodity equities. December crude on Friday settled ($0.63) at $76.83 a barrel.

 

The Consumer Discretionary (XLY) underperformed relative to the broader market, as Housing and Media stocks weighed on the ETF.   The worst performing Media names were Gannett and CBS Corporation.  The Oprah news clearly was influencing the performance of CBS on Friday. 

 

Next to Energy the Financials are significantly underperforming.  Over the past month the XLF is down 3.8%, while the XLE is down 4.7%.  The Banking sector has generally led the group lower and put in a mixed performance on Friday.  Although, once constant is the high RISK groups such as the mortgage insurers and the GSEs continue to underperform. 

 

From a risk management standpoint, the ranges for the S&P 500, USD Index and the VIX are seen in the charts below.  The range for the S&P 500 is 36 points or 2% upside and 1% downside.  At the time of writing the major market futures are poised to open to the upside.

 

Howard Penney

Managing Director

 

US STRATEGY – CONSUMER CENTRIC WEEK - sp23

 

US STRATEGY – CONSUMER CENTRIC WEEK - usd23

 

US STRATEGY – CONSUMER CENTRIC WEEK - vix23

 



The GAME

According to Wikipedia:

 

“The Game (always capitalized) is a name given to the football game between Harvard University and Yale University. As of 2008, the Harvard Crimson and Yale Bulldogs have met 125 times beginning in 1875, when American football was evolving from rugby. The Harvard-Yale game is played in November at the end of the football season, and the venue alternates between Harvard Stadium and the Yale Bowl. As of 2008, Yale leads the series 65-52-8. The 2009 Game will take place on November 21, 2009.”

 

The culmination of the college football season begins this weekend with games between traditional rivals.  For the hockey heads at Research Edge, that means the Yale-Harvard football game.  While these two teams are not as competitive as they were back in the 50s and 60s with the likes of Brian Downling, Calvin Hill, and Hank Higdon, it should be a competitive battle and great day, nonetheless.

 

The newest member of our team, Darius “Sunny D” Dale, is a former offensive lineman for the Bulldogs.  Unfortunately, Yale’s gridiron loss is our gain.  And while the loss of stalwart Dale has led to some offensive line issues this season for the team,  Sunny D has been blocking and tackling very effectively within the confines of 111 Whitney.  In fact, since Sunny D joined our team, Brian McGough hasn’t been sacked once!

 

Ahead of this weekend, and as a sign of school pride, I wanted to highlight a couple of quotes from two famous Yale practioners of the dark science of economics.  The first, Irving Fisher, is of course a well known academic whose theories are finally coming back into vogue well after his death.  The other would probably not call himself an economist, but as one of the most successful short seller of the modern era, we think Jim Chanos is likely worthy to be held in the same category as some of the great economists of our times.

 

In a speech he gave to the Virginia Value Investing Conference titled, “Ten Lessons From The Financial Crisis That Investors Will Soon Forget (If They Haven’t Already!”, Chanos made some adroit points.  We wanted to highlight a few:

 

1. Borrowing Short and Lending Long is Still a Bad Idea – Duration gaps create a mismatched book and short term funding can always be rolled, except in a credit crisis.

 

2. Too Big to Fail = Too Big to Exist – State sponsored entities are given an unfair advantage and implied government backstop encourages excessive risk taking.

 

3. Capitalism on the Upside and Socialism on the Downside is a Bad Policy – Hands off regulation, until Wall Street needs a hand. All bailouts are not created equal.

 

4. Quantitative Easing (‘Helicopter Finance’) Has a Cost – Zombie banks financed with cheap money only prolong the problems.

 

5. Insurance Without Reserves is Not Insurance – Owning hedges does not mean you are hedged as there is counter party risk.

 

Back on March 5, 2009, we wrote a note titled, “Eye On The Fish: Irving Fisher Revisited”.  In that note we wrote:

 

“Fisher wrote in “The Debt-Deflation Theory of Great Depressions” that there are two dominant factors in great booms and depressions, “namely over-indebtedness to start with and deflation following soon thereafter.”   A recent report by the Bank Credit Analyst, suggested that current non-financial institution debt in the U.S. is at 190% of GDP versus 160% just prior to the start of the Great Depression.  While we haven’t stress tested the 190% number, we do believe that it is directionally correct.  As Fisher goes on to write, while “over-investment and over-speculation are often important; they would have far less serious results were they not conducted with borrowed money.”  Thus the high debt level only serves to amplify the typical business cycle.

 

Many of our clients have asked about our thesis that the US dollar needs to go down for the stock market to go up.  Partially this is driven by observations.  We use price rule as a primary factor in much of our work and we have observed that the market and the dollar are inversely correlated, or have been for the last 3+ months.  The derivative question is obviously, why is this so? In our view, it is that the market understands basic Fisher economics.  Specifically, we have an emerging debt asset / imbalance that can only be solved by re-flating assets.”

 

Fast forward to November 20th, 2009 (today), and it’s safe to assume that ‘He Who Sees No Bubbles’ (Bernanke) and the Squirrel Hunter (Geithner) have inflated us out of the so called Depression.  Unfortunately, while assets are being inflated as Fisher would have recommended, the debt issue is only accelerating.  The Fed’s balance sheet liabilities, which is a broad gauge of its lending to the financial system, expanded to $2.19 trillion this week, which is the highest since December 31st, 2008.  Most concerning, the Fed now holds $847 billion in mortgage backed securities. Yikes!

 

Enjoy the weekend. Go Bulldogs!

 

Daryl G. Jones
Managing Director

 


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THE WEEK AHEAD

The Economic Data calendar for the week of the 23rd of November through the 27th 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 - Nov23 A

THE WEEK AHEAD - Nov23 B


CAKE – THE ACQUIRER OR THE ACQUIRED?

Yesterday, CAKE’s CFO Doug Benn made what I thought were some interesting comments about restaurant acquisitions in response to a question at an investor conference.  When reading Mr. Benn’s response below, it is important to remember that he is speaking from experience as he was the CFO of RARE when it was acquired by Darden in October 2007.

 

Question:  Strategically how does the company think about acquisitions going forward, does that become a more important element over the next couple of years or...

 

Answer:  I think capital allocation is the big question for us, I think next year it’s going to be rather easy, we have $125 million with debt, there is a guaranteed result when you pay down your debt, you know exactly what's going to happen, and then after that there is only the limited number of things that you can do.  The company is going to generate substantial free cash flow, acquisitions would be something that we would consider, but be very careful about generally in our industry, maybe in a lot of industries, but certainly in the restaurant business, the acquirer is not the one that makes well in this acquisition, so you got to be very careful, you're either buying a company that is in trouble when you have to fix it and you got a good deal on it or you're potentially overpaying for something that's working very well. It's something that we would look at, but not something that's imminent at all.

 

I understand that this was merely an off-the-cuff remark and I may be reading too deeply into his comments, but I find this response to be somewhat telling of how Mr. Benn feels about RARE’s decision to sell out to Darden and subsequently, how he feels about Darden now.  He says that the “acquirer is not the one that makes well,” which in my scenario would be Darden.  He does not say it but that might imply that it is the acquired company that makes out well in the deal, which again, in my scenario points to RARE.  In selling to Darden, RARE received a premium multiple just as trends at LongHorn were beginning to soften.  Trends have obviously deteriorated further since then so what did Darden get out of the deal?

 

Again, this is just my interpretation of what he was saying!  But, I do think Mr. Benn makes a valid point.  Restaurant acquisitions/mergers do not typically make a lot of sense because like he said, companies are often forced to overpay for assets or buy underperforming assets that require a lot of money to fix (if they can be fixed at all).

 

Regarding CAKE, I think Mr. Benn’s less than positive view of restaurant “acquirers” means we don’t have to worry about the company making any acquisitions any time soon.  Instead, CAKE’s future earnings growth will come from a return to positive same-store sales growth and new unit growth as he outlined in his presentation yesterday.  This growth plan may not bring about immediate results as it relies on increased consumer spending and job growth, but I think an acquisition would only complicate matters both in the near-term and long-term. 

 


Reflation Rotation: Dollar Bullish ...

No matter where you go, there that stubborn ole inflation data is. ..

 

‘He Who Sees No Bubbles’ (Bernanke) will continue to have to face both pending inflation data and continued populist pressures to arrest it.

 

A lot of people are asking me why the US Dollar has strengthened in the last few days. While it has been ignored by Bernanke, that certainly doesn’t mean this continued REFLATION in the CPI data ceases to exist.

 

In the chart below, Matt Hedrick and I show what we have been calling for – a Reflation Rotation in the reported Consumer Price Inflation data. The green arrow is what sucked Bernanke into this Great Depressionista narrative. The red arrow is how wrong he has been in forecasting The New Reality. Burning the Buck is, in the end, inflationary. Here are the facts:

  1. October CPI was reported sequentially higher than last month by +0.3%
  2. October CPI was reported at -0.2% year-over-year
  3. July CPI remains the low for this cycle of reported “deflation” at -2.1% (hardly a Great Depression in prices)

Notwithstanding that the calculation for America CPI is ridiculous (they have changed it 9x since 1996), if I accept the Federal Government’s word for it, I still see a rotation from deflation to inflation, using their numbers!

 

On the margin, for those who are not paid to be willfully blind, this chart is hawkish.

 

On the margin, hawkish inflation data is bullish for the US Dollar as ‘He Who Sees No Bubbles’ claims to be “data dependent.”

KM

 

Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer

 

Reflation Rotation: Dollar Bullish ...  - cpi

 


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