Charting US Healthcare's Risky Waters

There is a chart and there is a catalyst.


President Obama has already put the calendar catalyst for Republicans and Democrats to break bread on the table. That’s set for February 25th.


In the chart below, we outline what my Hedgeyes call the Shark Line. That’s the line where those shorting the Healthcare Sector ETF (XLV) either eat or get eaten. We are dancing on the water’s edge of that line today. For the XLV that’s $30.63. Either way, the next move from here should be big.


Importantly, in our 9 sector S&P Sector Risk Management Model, the US Healthcare Sector is the only holdout. This is the only sector that has yet to break its intermediate term TREND line.


Watch this line closely, and beware of the shark.



Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


Charting US Healthcare's Risky Waters - xlv

Oil and Fiscal Policy

Yesterday Chairman Bernanke (He Who Now Sees Bubbles) outlined his plan to retreat from historically low interest rates and loose fiscal policy.  While he set no real time table, he did indicate that he will be ready to tighten fiscal policy when appropriate.  Uniquely, Bernanke outlined some policies which would not strictly be that of increasing interest rates.


Below we’ve charted oil versus the fed funds rate going back almost 30-years.  Our immediate reaction is that the tightening of fiscal policy would be negative for the price of oil, and most commodities.  The chart actually tells a slightly different story.


In our date set there are three key period of tightening fiscal policy. They are as follows:


-From 11/28/1986 to 6/3/1989, the Fed Funds Target Rate was increased from 5.875% to 9.625%, which is an increase of 375 basis points.  Over the same time period, oil increased in price from $15.00 per barrel to $19.90 per barrel, which is an increase of 32%;


-From 1/31/1994 to 7/31/1995, the Fed Funds Target Rate was increased from 3.0% to 6.0%, which is an increase of 300 basis points.  Over the same time period, the price of oil increased from $15.19 per barrel to $17.40 per barrel, which is an increase of 15.4%; and finally


-From 5/31/2004 to 8/31/2007, the Fed Funds Target Rate was increased from 1.0% to 5.25%, which is an increase of 425 basis points.  Over the same time period, oil almost doubled in price going from $39.88 per barrel to $74.40 per barrel.


This is obviously a very simplistic analysis that is based on one factor, the Fed Funds Target Rate.  But the last 30-years of history definitely implies that a decline in the price of oil over the duration of an increase in interest rates, or any tightening of fiscal policy, is far from a foregone conclusion.  In fact, history suggests just the opposite--that the price of oil will increase.  Clearly, though, underlying GDP growth in these periods is another primary determinant and oil price should only slow when an interest rate increase begins to meaningfully slow global growth.


Daryl G. Jones

Managing Director


Oil and Fiscal Policy - djmacro



In preparation for the LVS Q4 earnings release next week, we've prepared a "Youtube" highlighting forward looking commentary from the Q3 conference call.



Forward looking commentary for Macau

  • “Through the first 26 days of October, we have made approximately $100 million of adjusted property EBITDAR across our Macau properties, which represents the strongest monthly operating performance in our five-year operating history in Macau.”


Forward looking commentary for Vegas

  • “While the third quarter’s results in Las Vegas reflected the economic environment, unusually low table game hold, and a challenging summer room rate environment, table volume and our slots strategy do show some encouraging trends. And the execution of our cost savings programs has positioned us to deliver improved operating margins and cash flows as the economy recovers”
  • “We just completed the best quarter in our history with respect to booking new group room nights in Las Vegas and today, we have more group room nights on the books of 2010 than we expect to realize in all of calendar 2009. FIT rates are also beginning to firm, particularly on the weekends.”
  • “Technology, pharmaceutical, fast food, consumer segments and even certain segments of the financial sector are increasingly booking business for 2010 and 2011.”
  • “In the last three months, we booked over 300,000 group rooms for 2010”
  • Group nights on the books for 2010: “It’s going to be 178,000 just in January, February; 91,000”
  • “We have been gradually raising our rates and expect to see rates continue strengthen throughout 2010 and 2011.”
  • ADR on forward group bookings: “Rate is still challenged, let’s not be confused, we are still not seeing the rates we saw ’06, ’07, before what happened last summer and fall”
  • “We are seeing a lessening of attrition…in fact, it's a non-event as we move forward.”
  • “Our goal is 800,000 nights in ’10 and grow it up higher in ’11. And hopefully the rate will follow as well.”
  • “I wish we pushed the FIT rates up and wholesale better, but so far it’s been difficult and obviously, City Center will put more pressure on those segments as we come into 2010 period.”
  • Slot hold: “And modeling forward, we can use high 7% to hold percentage?” Response: “Yes, we can.


Macau Business 

  • “The Venetian Macao rolling chip volume was a healthy $9.1 billion during the third quarter and we also continue to grow our direct VIP play. This higher margin business, which does not require the services of a gaming promoter, represented a record 19% of our rolling volume for the quarter and contributes to the higher margins on our VIP play overall.”
  • Sands: “Our direct rolling play, as a percentage of total rolling play, also increased during the quarter, reaching 11.6% of total rolling play.”
  • Four Season: “Our 19 Piaza mansions came online during the quarter and have particularly been valuable in generating direct rolling play. Nearly 50% of our $2.2 billion in roll volume during the quarter came through this direct channel.”
  • “The only thing I can say is that we are preparing to sell them. We’ve had some inquiries from Japan and from Korea. The apartment sales are based on a co-op situation as opposed to a strata title, which has a deed associated with this, which causes us a little bit of concern because it’s not quite understood in Asia. We anticipate getting that strata title at some point in time in the near future, which will make it easier, but we have already been in contact with a number of people in Japan and Korea and have some inquiries about those sales. We are pretty optimistic about it.”
  • Commission cap enforcement?: “There are penalties apparently in the legislation. They are not quite in yet. There has been a couple of some - some people have indicated there is some - a little bit of waffling.”



  • Nickname for Singapore: “No, that’s the money maker.” “We’ll call that a gold - a diamond mine.”
  • “We think that - we believe - we have reasons to believe - we can’t get into the reasons, we have reasons to believe that very few, if any, junket revenues, particularly of the Macau-style junket reps, with a share of 45%, 44% of the gross income will be allowed or will be licensable in - or will want to be licensed in Singapore. We are gearing up for very strong direct credits, a direct play if not all of it.”


Other Commentary

  • “We have effectively completed the implementation of our $500 million cost savings program. We consider the savings achieved to be permanent and we will continue to strive for cost effectiveness in the future.”



"Expedia today is announcing the inauguration of a dividend policy. Nothing otherwise could demonstrate our belief in the enduring strength of our business models and the sustainability of our cash flows as becoming a dividend paying company,"

- Barry Diller, Expedia, Inc.'s Chairman and Senior Executive



  • We are not concerned about their hotel inventory in an upturn
  • Have a history of doing well in a rising ADR environment
  • Not saying they are cyclical per say, just that they can generate good results in both up and downturns
  • Supplier margins are the most important driver of margins in the long term
  • Q12010 marketing will return to normal seasonality patterns and will be materially up y-o-y- faster than OIBA (operating income before amortization) growth
  • Expect full year FCF to be in line or better than OIBA growth



  • International and Europe booking patterns?
    • Fairly stable throughout the quarter bookings.  ADR's got better throughout the quarter though and see those trends continuing in Jan
  • They are continuing to gain level in their marketing expenditures. They are getting much better on data collection and improving spend efficiency. CPT (commission per transaction) trends have been quite positive, but expect that to become less of a benefit going forward. Also shifted some channels of marketing to less expensive ones. 2010 comps are difficult though - so they will reinvest more in the brand and there they will have some marketing deleverage in the 1H2010.
  • Expecting OIBA growth north of 9% in 2010
  • Expecting some level of volume impact as ADRs shift, but expect strong inventory in any environment
  • Growing room nights in a negative ADR environment puts margin pressure on their business
    • since they get less $$ per transactions but similar costs
  • Booking window?
    • Saw it lengthen slightly in the first quarter, no real change in the 4Q. 
  • There was a slight mix shift into air vs. hotel and that impacted their margins a bit. Expect air fares to be flattish to slightly up going forward. Air fare was down 4% in Q4 and 18% in Q3
  • Cruise business has lower margin but higher OIBA
  • Anticipate margins to be flat to slightly up, when air fare goes up that negatively impacts their margins
  • Improvement in fares and ADRs?
    • RevPAR improvement is due to a combination of easy comps and their comps where probably easier than industry and the fundamentals are also getting better. Egencia is showing nice growth due to business travel growth and new account additions
    • Hotwire continues to perform very well but they are seeing weakness on the car side, as fleet sizes have decreased. On the hotel side its still very strong - up over 30% in the Q
  • Air volumes & over ride payments? Their revenues are 80% based on volumes and 20% are due to higher prices.  So they don't expect to see big changes in revenue per ticket
  • Too early to tell if their new marketing campaign is having a positive impact yet, but they have seen an increase in google searches
  • Packages saw 33% transaction growth, an acceleration from 3Q but total $ only increased by 16%.  Obviously the disconnect was from lower ADRs
  • FX had a large impact on their business in this quarter, but the Q1 benefit won't nearly be as large
  • Doesn't know why Travelport pulled their IPO, but they will likely keep working with GDS's (Sabre, Amadeus and Travelport)
  • Who are they gaining share from?
    • Hard to tell since they are the first OTA to report. Its probably coming from offline travel agencies and maybe a little from other OTA's
  • Dividend?
    • Had excess cash flow and now they renewed their R/C so dividend is the start or returning cash to shareholders
  • Have 16,000 agency hotels and vast majority of those are in Europe.  Overall added 22% to merchant inventory
  • Spain is a target for them - think that their penetration is a bit low there.  They are continuing to acquire inventory in Eastern Europe. Expect to add 8-9k hotels in 2010
  • Taking TripAdvisor public? 
    • Fundamental reason to take them public is if TripAdvisor was suffering inside of Expedia - and that's not the case. They are run separately 
    • TripAdvisor also provides EXPE with a great hedge again marketing costs
    • Expect it to increase as a % of the company
  • M&A in Asia
    • Like putting small amounts of money to work in Asia given the high risk/high return nature of the opportunities
  • Will start lapping the elimination of fees in the US around Q1 and therefore expect more growth in the business in Q1 & Q2 in volume.  Q1 will be the most difficult comp. Will have a very modest increase in air revenues


Position: We are bearish on housing as we get closer to 2Q10 and short TOL. 


Stories like the one in the WSJ yesterday are scary and a reminder that most home builders don’t have a macro process and seemly ignore reality.


From the WSJ - “Spec houses rise as builders bet on buyers before tax credit ends - home builders are ramping up speculative construction to attract last-minute home buyers who want to tap a soon-to-expire tax credit.”


From a MACRO perspective the housing market is going to face headwinds for years, despite the fact that supply of homes have come down during the recession.  We don’t need more new homes and the ones being built should not be done on speculation. 


The MACRO headwinds include:


(1)    Slowing household formation - slowest level in 15 years




(2)    Rising interest rates - Conventional mortgage rates are at 5% right now - right around their all-time low. If rates were to back-up to 6%, a 100 bp move, this would lead to a 10.5% decline in affordability for borrowers, which equates to a comparable drop in home prices.




(3)    The potential number of foreclosed homes is high and rising -




I understand that if you are in the business of selling homes you can’t make money if you are not selling any.  Taking increased risk in this environment only seems to be a losing strategy.  Some of the small builders seem to suggest that “builders lost sales because they didn't have enough houses to satisfy a flurry of demand from buyers looking to take advantage of a federal tax credit for first-time buyers before they expired on Nov. 30.”


The seasonal pattern of home sales suggests that those buying homes will wait until the last few months of the new program in March and April.  The current credit, which offers first-time buyers up to $8,000 and repeat purchasers up to $6,500, applies only to deals signed by April 30 and closed by June 30, 2010.


Fortunately, Pulte Homes Inc and KB Home have a different view of building spec homes in the current environment.  Not surprisingly, the biggest builders got caught with a lot of inventory just as the current downturn started. 

Our bearish stance on housing is expressed by being short TOL.




Howard Penney

Managing Director



Debasing Greenspan Groupthink

Over the course of the last year, Glenn Stevens at the Reserve Bank of Australia has thrown down the gauntlet against Greenspan Groupthink. Rather than choosing to live in fear of his government’s conflicted politics, he has proactively raised interest rates alongside a real-time market recovery.


Many US centric equity market investors live in fear of rate hikes, primarily because there is a cowardice that comes from the top. The Australian citizenry is seeing the rewards born out of confident leadership to put a real rate of return into their hard earned savings accounts.


Rather than wait for a lagging economic indicator like the unemployment rate to rollover (Bernanke), a confident Stevens has raised interest rates 3 times, taking benchmark rate in Australia to 3.75%. In the face of those rate hikes, we saw the January unemployment rate in Australia ROLL OVER!


This morning’s payroll adds in Australia were 3-times higher than consensus expected, and the unemployment rate dropped from 5.5% to 5.3% on a month-over-month basis.


Washington/Greenspan Groupthink is being taught a lesson from China and Australia. I humbly suggest America starts learning. Evolution of thought processes is a critical aspect to long term success, particularly when working within the spheres of a social science like economics.


Well done Sir Stevens. Well done.



Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


Debasing Greenspan Groupthink  - aussiu


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