I can’t seem to shake the bearish mentality!


The past three months have been kind to most restaurant stocks, especially casual dining.  Clearly, I have not been bullish enough, but I keep seeing macro data points that leave me concerned that any sequential improvement in restaurant demand has been driven by easy comparisons rather than any real improvement in underlying demand.  The current unemployment picture has clearly hurt the QSR names, but spared casual dining from seeing trends get any worse on a 1-year basis. 


The charts below, however, keep me up at night.  The consumer is still retrenching.  I know everybody needs to eat, but you can eat three meals a day at MCD for less than $12.  Knowing that more than 60% of casual dining meals (probably higher) are put on a credit card, the current trends in revolving credit don’t support a sustained recovery in casual dining. 



RESTAURANTS - TRYING TO SEE SOME GOOD - knapp vs consumer credit outstanding


RESTAURANTS - TRYING TO SEE SOME GOOD - knapp vs consumer credit outstanding 2 yr


Howard Penney

Managing Director

Keeping an Eye on Yue Yuen

Keeping an Eye on Yue Yuen


As the epicenter for many brands in the global supply chain for athletic and casual footwear, there are some meaningful category, geographic, and input cost callouts from Yue Yuen’s Q.


Total sales growth for Yue Yuen improved sequentially on the 1 year and 2 year.  Order flow marked a bottom in Q4 09 (September) at -6.1% (inventories down 8%) and rebounded in December’s Q1 10 at -3.4%.  Compares for the rest of the year are easy due to the sharp drop in sales in Q2 09.  Yue Yuen expects order flow from its brand name customers to be stable going forward and believes global consumer demand for athletic and casual shoes as well as athletic apparel will be reinvigorated by the World Cup.


Athletic shoes, which represent about 68% of wholesale sales, were at their weakest levels in Q4 09 at -15%.  Only shoe components came in weaker. These numbers have proven to be a lagging indicator to US footwear sales, so we’re not surprised by the weakness. In fact, we’d be alarmed if the numbers started to tick up meaningfully, as it would suggest that sales to the wholesale channel are picking up without us having seen the order flow on the front end. That would concern us as it relates to speculative inventory.  Casual and outdoor shoes sequentially improved in Q4 and performed as the only positive wholesale category in Yue Yuen’s portfolio.  Strong growth in Chinese retail at 17.4% from 9.8% in Q3 09 helped drive company topline to a sequential improvement.


Yue Yuen is banking on steady Chinese growth in athletic apparel and footwear from the increasing interests of the Chinese consumer in athletic lifestyle apparel and footwear.  South America, Europe, and the US remain weak while China and Asia continue to grow.  Revenue distribution amongst categories and geographies has been undergoing a dramatic shift as the Chinese athletic footwear and apparel market quickly surpasses the ailing US consumers.  US revenue has fallen from over 50% of Yue Yuen’s sales in 2002 to 31% in while Asian sales (over 90% is greater China) have grown from 14% to 39% over the same time period.  The growth in China’s slice of pie has been driven by Yue Yuen’s focus on retail where the company has over 10,000 points of distribution from its joint ventures and directly operated retailers.  Yue Yuen captured the emergence of the Chinese consumer as their retail business was less than 1% of sales in 2002, and is now greater than 20%.  Yue Yuen is positioned well for growth as the global emphasis shifts away from the US. 


The company cautioned that wages, commodities, currencies, and global responsibilities continue to pressure profits.  Minimum wage increases for factory workers is occurring across all of Asia and commodity prices are threatening margins.  The potential appreciation of the Renminbi, which has been demanded by developing countries, would hurt the manufacturing side of Yue Yuen’s business as FX will become a serious headwind.  They’ve been noting this for a while now, and the tone has not changed meaningfully – so there’s not much here that is new to us as it relates to our broader thesis.


-Zach Brown



Keeping an Eye on Yue Yuen - 1


Keeping an Eye on Yue Yuen - 2


Keeping an Eye on Yue Yuen - 3


Keeping an Eye on Yue Yuen - 4






Over the past two days we have gotten some incremental data points on the US housing market, none of which leaves me convinced that a real turn in housing is near.  Regarding today’s Case-Shiller news, I’m not going to get too excited about a statistically insignificant data point.


Based on the Case-Shiller data, the worst of the housing market is over with home prices, as reflected by the 20-City Composite, rising in November for the sixth consecutive month (on a seasonally adjusted basis).  The S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index increased 0.2% from last month, after a 0.3% rise in October.  Year-over-year, the index was down 5.3% from November 2008; the smallest year-over-year decline in two years.


The fact that the worst for the housing market is in the rear view is not new news and has certainly been discounted by the 62% increase in the S&P 500 since March 9, 2009.


Our “HOUSING GONE WILD” post from yesterday discusses the decline in the December existing home sales number.  This falloff in home sales, combined with other factors, which we outline below, strengthens our conviction that job growth will be the lifeblood of any sustained “recovery” in housing.


Outside of recent demand driven by tax credits, there is clearly underlying softness in the housing market.  Though it may try, the government cannot afford to support the market in perpetuity. 






If aggregate demand is not sufficient, there could be significant excess capacity in the market.  Census data shows that household formation has been slowing meaningfully over the past number of years and we believe that 2010 will fall in line with that trend. 




In addition, there has been an increase in rental households in the United States.  Home ownership is likely to become less of an option in the future with access to capital tightening and the cost of it increasing.  The chart below illustrates the boost in rental households in the United States since 2005.  As a percentage of total households, rental properties are still not at 1999 levels (red line in chart). 


HOUSING – GOVERNMENT SUPPORT VS GRAVITY - rental units as   of total


Any change in the level of immigration into the U.S. would impact overall demand for houses and we have heard, anecdotally, from some restaurant companies that people are leaving as jobs disappear.  Specifically, in reference to regional QSR demand trends, CKR management stated, “So it's really a state-by-state issue and illegal immigrants leaving one state for another state will hurt the restaurant business in the state they leave, not because we can't employ them but, I mean, where do you think those guys eat? They are late farm laborers and construction workers and you've got severe unemployment in certain Western states which will impact June…”


Supporting CKR’s comment, the Brookings Institute recently reported that the number of arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border, which is an indication of illegal crossing activity, dropped by more than 23% in 2009 to a 34-year low point.  The article attributes the lower number to “precipitously declining economic opportunity combined with beefed-up enforcement.”




Building permits seem to be indicating a possible increase in construction going forward.  Should this come to pass, it could add further stress to an already fragile market that has been leaning on Uncle Sam’s crutch.  In addition, inventory growth in recent years will continue to burden the market (as illustrated in the second chart below).






While housing inventory growth has slowed, the tsunami of inventory that came online in the years before the crash has not been absorbed.  In addition, there is the unquantifiable SHADOW INVENTORY, which reflects those homes that are on the balance sheets of financial institutions.  Although we have seen a decline in inventory, mortgage delinquencies as a percentage of total loans continue to rise.




Consumer appetite is certainly not going to meet this supply with unemployment at 10% and credit card debt data indicating a consumer that is hunkering down (as shown below).  Complicating this fact further is our “RATE RUN-UP” theme.  We believe the Fed is behind the curve and that 30-year mortgage rates are going higher.  The simple math behind a median home price of $178,300 at a rate of 5.11% yields a monthly interest payment of $759; at 6%, the monthly payment is $892 (17% higher) and at 6.2%, the monthly payment is $921 (21% worse).


Increasing jobs is the only way to get the economy weaned off government life support.




Howard Penney

Managing Director


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Political Winds

Last night Keith and I attended a fundraiser for Chris Dudley, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor of Oregon.  For us it was less about being politically partisan, but more about supporting friends and keeping our Hedgeyes on the political process.   While I was impressed with Chris last night, the more interesting point was the nature of his candidacy and its potential implications for additional races in midterm elections.  Chris is a Republican, but he is also the consummate non-politician.  He has never run for or held political office, though he has had successful careers in sports as an NBA basketball player, in business as a financial advisor, and in the non-profit world with his work supporting Type 1 Diabetes.


Time will tell whether Chris wins or is successful as a governor, but to the extent that candidates like Chris Dudley are increasingly successful it is likely a positive sign for the political process.  The electorate is clearly becoming disenfranchised with the career politician and voting for the party that they are “supposed to vote for”, as we saw with Scott Brown’s win in the Massachusetts Senate race.  While that win was primarily a vote against healthcare, it was also a vote against the said political establishment.  A former NBA player like Chris Dudley doesn’t necessarily represent a populist candidate, but he likely does represent what the electorate will be increasingly looking to support in this age of massive government distrust.


The next couple of days are a veritable Super Bowl of Politics and will provide us further insight into the current direction of the political winds in this country.  The major event will of course be President Obama’s State of the Union address tomorrow night.  As Keith wrote earlier this week, Obama needs a win.  While he likely won’t garner a major victory from this address, the speech will of course be an opportunity for him to set the tone for the upcoming year and potentially regain some momentum.  Over the last two days the Gallup poll has measured President Obama’s disapproval rating at 47%, which is the worst of his Presidency.  Most notable is how split his approval rating is among party lines.  According to a release yesterday from Gallup:


“The 65 percentage-point gap between Democrats' (88%) and Republicans' (23%) average job approval ratings for Barack Obama is easily the largest for any president in his first year in office, greatly exceeding the prior high of 52 points for Bill Clinton.”


Perversely a President Obama that continues on the current path, which is clearly disenfranchising both Independents and Republicans, will likely lose substantial ground for his party in the midterms, but will be good for the Buck Breakout.  This administration is more and more so being viewed as bad for the U.S. economy and by default the dollar. So the less power for the Obama administration, the better for the buck.


Earlier in the day tomorrow, both Hank Paulson and Tim Geithner will testify before the House Oversight Committee.  The focus will clearly be on Secretary Geithner and his perceived favoritism to the Piggy Bankers of Wall Street. The anti-banking sentiment, whether the profits created from the bailout are the bankers fault or not, is clearly popular politically.  As a result, both Geithner and Paulson should expect some political grandstanding in Congress tomorrow.  Ultimately, President Obama will be forced to decide how long he is going to support Geithner and how long he will accept his Treasury Secretary as a drag on his approval rating. 


The other key event is of course the ongoing Federal Reserve’s two-day monetary policy meeting, which ends tomorrow.  To some extent this meeting will take a back seat to the ongoing controversy surrounding whether Chairman Bernanke will be reconfirmed.  His term expires this Sunday, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated that Bernanke’s confirmation vote for a second term could come either Thursday or Friday.  While it seems that Bernanke will be confirmed, he is, much like Timothy Geithner, coming to represent the jobless recovery that benefitted the banks, but not the masses. (Currently job seekers outnumber job openings by a six to one margin.)


President Obama has an economic team that has a long history of working with the financial sector, and has implemented policy as if there were a part of the sector.  While President Obama is now backtracking and trying to aggressively regulate the banks, this too is receiving mixed reviews.  Last night Chris Dudley was asked about the President’s new proposed banking regulations and his response was basically that voters will see through this intention. In effect, “you can’t regulate banks after they have paid you back.”  He has a good point-- the opportunity to regulate, or re-regulate, was a year ago, when the U.S. government was bailing out the banking system and the system was indebted to the government.  This, ironically, was exactly what Paul Volcker recommended.  Of course, Obama wasn’t listening to him then.  Over the next few days, we will all be listening and watching.



Daryl G. Jones
Managing Director


The Freight Cost Tailwind Fade

The Freight Cost Tailwind Fade


It’s likely we’ll be observing a change in tone this earnings season, as management teams discuss the puts and takes on gross margin guidance.  While the majority of gross margin improvement has been the result of prudent inventory management and historically low clearance levels, freight costs have also been on the decline over this past year.  For a glimpse into the early freight headwind, we take a look at Celadon Group, a large domestic truckload carrier that services a wide range of companies including Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble, and Phillip Morris.


Celadon Group’s reported results suggest freight costs are on the rise.  Representing a wide range of industries,  Celadon transports tobacco, consumer goods, automotive parts, home products and fixtures, lawn tractors and assorted equipment, light bulbs, and various engine parts with in the US, Canada, and Mexico.  The steady rise in fuel costs as a percent of revenue since Celadon’s Q3 ‘09 (calendar qtr Q1 ‘09) and the sequential increase in fuel costs since October ‘09 suggests that the freight tailwind is drawing to a close.  Retailers and wholesalers are likely to use rising freight costs as one reason to temper gross margin expectations in the coming year.  In the absence of accelerating top line growth, this could be a topic that continues to build and adds pressure to robust earnings growth expectations.  With so much focus on prices at the pump and the negative impact on the consumer wallet, it might be time to shift focus to the cost of goods.


The Freight Cost Tailwind Fade - 1


The Freight Cost Tailwind Fade - 2




China macro variables drive an incredibly high R Square with VIP volume in Macau.



It makes sense that as a discretionary consumer source, VIP revenue in Macau would be tied to Chinese macro variables.  However, we didn’t expect this level of correlation.  We regressed VIP Rolling Chip (volume) against a number of China macro variables.  The most powerful and statistically significant variables were GDP and interest rates.  This regression produced an R Square of 0.97 and both variables were statistically significant.  In other words, y-o-y change in GDP and sequential interest rate moves explained 97% of the change in VIP volume.  The correlations can be seen in the chart below.




The strong relationship between these variables is disconcerting considering the China view of our Hedgeye macro team.  They have been calling a sequential slowdown in GDP and liquidity for China.  It is becoming increasingly apparent that they may be right.  So far we haven’t seen a slowdown in Macau’s VIP segment.  Through January 20th, Macau gaming revenues were reportedly up 67% for the month.  That rate of growth will slow in the last two weeks of the month since Chinese New Year fell in January (26th to 28th) of 2009 but will occur in mid-Feb this year.


To be clear, the Mass business is also tied to the China macro variables as can be seen in the chart below.  However, the betas driving VIP are much larger and statistically more significant.  So who is at risk?  In terms of companies whose stocks are traded on US exchanges MPEL and WYNN are most exposed in that order and LVS while still generating a significant portion of its revenues VIP, is more of a Mass operator particularly in terms of profits. 



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