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What Are You Reading?

What Are You Reading?

 

While we tend to incorporate a fair number of athletic references in our research notes, the Hedgeye Risk Management team is also a bit on the nerdy side and we quite enjoy reading.  In fact, our CEO actually reads a book every ten days.  (If he speeds it up a little, he may catch me some day!)

 

 For your enjoyment and interest, below we’ve listed some of our current favorite book recommendations.  These selections are from all members of our team, from research to technology, and all parts in between.  Each team member also wrote a brief note as to why they enjoyed the book and why they believe it is important to read.

 

We hope you will enjoy the list.  And please do forward us your recommendations.

 

Best,

 

Daryl G. Jones

Managing Director

 

 

1. “A Whole New Mind” - by Dan Pink
The book argues that the future of global business belongs to the right-brainers; it’s counter to what most companies accept as the “standard”.

 

2. “Extreme Programming Explained” – by Kent Beck
Brilliantly short approach to software development that addresses technical, managerial, and people issues.  Technical brilliance aside takes in to effect people at all parts of the process, as opposed the plug and play replaceable parts that most processes account for, better than the kinder, gentler 2nd edition in that his response is more extreme, and thus harder to maintain.

 

3. “Three Cups of Tea” – by Greg Mortensen

Really interesting glimpse into what's going on in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Book is uplifting and inspiring in what an organization is trying to do for education there. 

 

4. “The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology and Everyday Life” – by Robert Wright

What’s not to love about a book that provides a scientific justification for cheating?  On a serious note, this is fascinating book that provides the genetic background to much of our instinctive behaviors.  Rooted in early Darwinian research, the book posits, and maybe rightly so, that perhaps we humans are nothing more than moral animals.

 

5. “The Education of a Speculator” – by Victor Niederhoffer

This is one of the few accounts from a global macro risk manager that actually tells you what it is that we men and women of the early morning macro shift actually do. Niederhoffer checks all of the boxes that resume chasers want to see (Harvard B.A. in stats/economics; Ph.d. from University of Chicago). At the same time he was a world class athlete (champion squash player) and someone the "he's smart" crowd can't deny (worked for Soros, managing all of fixed income and FX from 1). He's also blown up, which helps show what real experienced risk managers need to have learned firsthand. He's a renaissance man.

 

6. “The Next Asia” – by Stephen Roach

Roach is Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and a keen analyst of the world’s economic situation.  The book is a collection of columns, small essays, postings, research notes etc going back to 2007, when this all started breaking out, and Roach clearly explains the underlying mechanisms of the financial crisis.  The book was a disappointment to its publisher because the press didn’t get enthusiastic about something that was “just a collection of old columns.”  Consequently, the book did not sell really well, which is too bad.  It is a crystal clear analysis of a highly complex situation, presented in plain English and full of insights that should shape our view of what is going on in the world today.  The pieces are short – usually no more than 3 pages – so they make convenient reading.  It’s a great history book for the intelligent non-professional who wants to understand how this whole mess happened.  And it’s a useful antidote to the professionals’ propensity to solipsism.

 

7. “Market Wizards: Interviews with Top Traders” – by Jack Schwager

Crux: I've always thought the best way to learn anything is to learn from those who know it best. Who better to learn investing from than some of the most successful traders in history. This book is a compendium of interviews with legendary traders and investors. What I like best about the book is that the common denominator of the interviewees has nothing to do with their approach to trading or investing - they have wildly different durations and use different instruments and have completely different approaches. What they seem to share in common, however, is a very strong sense of risk management and a core set of investing or trading principles that they stick to throughout their career. This proves that there is no one right or wrong way to be successful at investing. Rather, you need to have a process that is consistent with your beliefs and a risk management approach that keeps losses to a minimum.

 

8. “Manchild in the Promised Land” – by Claude Brown

It’s very compelling story about a ghetto kid growing up in Harlem in the 50’s and making his way to college though a childhood of crime.

 

9. “The Places In Between” – by Rory Stewart

In 2002, immediately after the fall of the Taliban, Stewart set out to cross Afghanistan on foot.  The book can take its place on the shelf alongside the best of his British Adventurer forebears – TE Lawrence and Wilfred Theisiger (Lawrence: Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Thesiger: Arabian Sands.  These are must-read books if you want to know about the world we live in today.  Thesiger was the first European to document a crossing of the Empty Quarter – the Arabian desert – and he tells his tale quite well.  Lawrence is a brilliant stylist, possibly very heavily coached by GB Shaw, whom he credits with helping out with the MS.)  Unlike the news reports of the Afghan war, this is personal experience of the places and people of Afghanistan, coupled with striking insights into the history of the place, and of human nature in general.  It puts the Afghan war – and with it, our perceptions of humanity – in a whole new context.  As with the writings of Thesiger and Lawrence, once you read this book you will never look at this part of the world the same way again.

 

10. "A Short History of Nearly Everything" – by Bill Bryson

This ranks as the greatest book ever written. Over the course of 500 pages, Bryson explains in funny and laymen's terms what amounts to the entire scientific knowledge our species has acquired and how it came to acquire it. Required reading for any enlightened individual.

 

11. “Fooled by Randomness” – by Nassim Taleb 

It gives a great insight into misconceptions in business, investing, and life caused by people not recognizing randomness and the role it plays in those spheres. At present, with politicians piling debt upon debt, a trick that has been tried before, Taleb's passage on man's tendency to "denigrate history" (not learn from others' experiences) is particularly telling.

 

12. “About Grace” – by Anthony Doerr

Themes of long cycle natural phenomenon alongside a personal story of loss and renewal.

 

13. “You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto” – by Jason Lanier

Provides a less optimistic view point of new media.

 

14. “The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master ”  - by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas.

This book speaks to me about what software development is all about: all the categories of skills and tools needed.

 

15. “Guns, Germs and Steel” – by Jared Diamond

It is seldom that I find a book that starts from a simple premise and profoundly shifts my world views, and the record of how relative events across the world occurred in the same timeframe.  Although China was not well covered in his analysis, and can challenge some of the main points, the breadth of the work makes it stand in my opinion as one of the best recent books I have read.

 

16. “The Great Gatsby” – by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The range of human spirit.  However flawed; it’s colorful.  Glass houses being so alluring yet so fragile.  How prestige is a mirage and the people who hide behind society are sometimes the weakest characters.  The struggle to survive and succeed more interesting than the success in and of itself.  The curse of being a human being.  “Wanting” can destroy.

 

17. "Quasars, Redshifts, and Controversies" – by Halton Arp

In essence, astronomer Halton Arp identifies many irregular galaxies and forms a theory about their properties, but this theory accumulates more and more evidence against it.  Blindsided by selection effect, he battens down the hatches and concludes that the problem is with the scientific establishment, not with his research.  This is true for a handful of scientists/schools every hundred years - Copernicus, Galileo, Einstein, etc. - and the rest of the time the proponents are quacks.  Arp propels himself into the latter category, despite a hugely successful early career.

 

18. “Atlas Shrugged” – by Ayn Rand

The lessons of Atlas Shrugged are timeless.  Through a captivating fictional story, the destructive impact of government is exposed.  The book is more relevant now than when it was written in the 1950s. 

 

19. “Cod” - by Mark Kurlansky

Cod is a story of exploration and ambition around a topic near and dear to me: food.  Cod takes us on the multi-century journey of the dance between two species: man and cod. From 14th century Basque fisherman crossing the Atlantic in open boats to chase a prized commodity, to evolving markets and tastes over time, and through the complex interplay of global forces even today. A thoughtful, data-driven, and well-written case study on a dying industry, with crisp lessons on human nature, resource depletion and the market’s unstoppable force. 

 

20. "Salt" – by Mark Kurlansky

Reminds us that in a world so complex, when you look back at why or how we get to where we are today...the answer can be so simple.

 

21. "State of Fear"- by Micahel Crichton

For the prologue alone, I believe that Michael Crichton reveals the depths to which group think can betray society.

 

22. “Lone Survivor” – by Marcus Lutrell

Amazing story of pride, promise, and unbreakable will that provides invaluable perspective to any challenge.

 

23. “The Alchemist” – by Paulo Coelho 

Story of a young Spanish boy on a mission to fulfill his Personal Legend (Destiny) and find his Treasure (Fulfillment).  The book depicts the transformation of innocent and pure youthful dreaming into an optimistic reality of achievement.  The boy is led by the signs of the universe and the guidance of great kings and alchemists with some obstacles along the way but finds that in the end of his epic journey that the fulfillment of his dream was the journey itself.   

 

24. “The Accidental Billionaire” – by Ben Mezrich 

The story of two socially awkward Ivy leaguers, trying to increase their chances with the opposite sex, ended up creating FACEBOOK.  Harvard boys with a mathematic background and less-than-smooth approach with the female population.  They just wanted to meet some girls.  

 

25. “Hatchet” – by Gary Paulsen 

Hatchet is the story of a boy named Brian. On a trip to the Canadian oilfields to spend the summer with his dad, the pilot of the Cessna he is traveling in suffers a heart attack and dies. Brian must land the plane in the forest. Brian learns to exist in this wilderness. He faces many dangers including  hunger, animal attacks, and even a tornado. This book gives the reader a better understanding of what it is like to survive in an untamed land.


STRIP A LITTLE BETTER THAN WE PROJECTED

Gaming revs on the Strip fell 3%, better than our estimate of a 6% drop, owing to higher slot hold percentage. With CityCenter open and -15% comp, the Strip should be doing better.

 

 

Aside from a little higher than expected slot hold, there is not a lot unusual about the January Strip gaming revenues.  Due to the timing of Chinese New Year, Baccarat volume actually fell 6% y-o-y but a higher hold percentage drove Baccarat revenues up 13%.  Overall table hold percentage was normal at 11.8%.

 

January of 2009 was a horrible month with total gaming revenues down 15%.  The January 2010 2-year comp was down 17%.  The good news, at least for appearances, is that February faces the easiest comp of the year.  February 2009 Strip revenues fell 23%.


PSS: Enjoy The Selloff, Prepare to Act

PSS: Enjoy The Selloff, Prepare to Act

 

Nice beat, though comp was weak for all the right reasons. This story is on track…period.

 

As we expected, PSS beat the quarter. We highlighted in our note yesterday the assumptions behind our ($0.10) estimate, and how a loss starting with a 2-handle (the Street was at a loss of $0.26) was not in the cards even if we flexed on some key assumptions. With a print of ($0.18), there was little that came from the event that we found surprising.

 

In fact, the company’s gross margins and SG&A were in line with our model. The entire deviation was on the comp line, which came in well below our estimate. The bottom line there is that the 3Q Oprah promotion pulled forward more inventory than we modeled. So margins were huge in 4Q, but the company simply did not have enough ‘stuff’ to sell.

 

So let’s step back for a minute. The crux of why we like PSS is that a) the company increasingly owns both content and distribution, b) some big competition (WMT) is de-emplasizing the footwear business, c) PSS has made structural changes in its model that increases speed to market, d) it finally has the systems in place to be in touch with the right consumers – and market the right product to them in the right channels, e) can, and will, both drive higher AURs on top of increased traffic. Ultimately, the consensus estimates are too low – as proved this quarter.

 

When I look at this quarter, I poke and prod to see what parts of this thesis were proved wrong. Really, there’s nothing. The company nailed the product, but did not have enough. That’s their biggest miss. I’m ok with that, as it has no bearing in next years’ earnings. I’d be concerned if comps were high but gross margins took a nosedive because PSS missed trends and had too much inventory. That absolutely did not happen.

 

Will there be more bumps and scrapes along the way here? Of course there will be. But I still think that the Street’s estimates are likely to come out 20% too low for next year. At the same time, having just passed an important yy hurdle, momentum on both the top line and operating margin is strong for the next few quarters. Any meaningful sell-off here is a great opportunity to step back in on one of the few solid stories in retail.

 

-Brian McGough

 

 

PSS: Enjoy The Selloff, Prepare to Act - PSS image 1 revenue table

 

PSS: Enjoy The Selloff, Prepare to Act - PSS image 2 Margins

 

 

REVIEW OF THE QUARTER

 

Reported EPS: -$0.18

Clean EPS: -$0.19

Street: -$0.26

Hedgeye: -$0.10

 

Summary

  • Revenue: +3.3%
    • Comps: +0.7%
    • PLG: -13.6% (-18.3% wholesale, +1.8% retail)
    • Expiration of the Tommy Hilfiger adultwear license

 

  • Gross Margin: +467 bps
    • Improvement due to double-digit percentage reduction in product costs from commodity prices and leveraging size and scale of global supply chain. Lower markdowns due to clean and light inventory position, higher sales which leveraged fixed costs such as occupancy, and lower freight and distribution costs related to the new distribution centers being fully operational along with the closure of the Topeka distribution center in Q2 09.

 

  • SG&A: +3.7%, +13 bps
    • Higher incentive compensation and PLG investments was nearly offset by payroll and other spending.

 

  • EBIT: +454 bps

 

  • CF/BS:
    • Inventories: -10%
    • Cap Ex: $84 (down $45 due to completed spending in previous year)
    • Cash: increase in cash was driven by lower working capital and higher earnings from stronger operating performance.
    • Debt: Net debt at the end of 2009 was $456 mm lower by 208 mm. Repaid an incremental $40 mm of long-term debt during 4Q. Paid down $22 mm on 8.25 senior sub board

 

Guidance

  • Tax: 20%, higher than 2009
  • D&A: $140
  • Cap Ex: $100 (increase of $16 mm, over half spending from stores and incremental IT projects)
  • Inventory: will be higher driven by sales growth
  • 2010 Stores: -15 net [-60 stores domestic, +25 stores international (Columbia additions), +20 stores in PLG (Stride Rite additions and Sperry retail concept)]
  • Working Cap: 2010 networking capital is expected to be a use of cash due primarily to increases in inventory and accounts receivable as a result of sales growth
  • SG&A: goal is to lower operating costs, but
  • GM/Occupancy: 1/5 of stores come up for renewal in 2010

 

Q&A

  • Product Costs: Costs will be down mid single digits in 1H, which is less than Q4.  There maybe costs that could turnaround from a positive to a negative in 2H but don’t have much insight on this yet.
  • PLG Retail: some prices were too low, PLG retail expansion and turnaround is taking longer than expected due to not changing the management fast enough, but now that it’s in place strategy in motion.
  • Boots: underplayed boots in 4Q and by the time it came to replenish, it was too late in the game to safely replenish.  Ran out of boots in Q4 which hurt total sales.  Boots will not be a play in Q1 or Q2 at PSS.
  • CRM: Effects of CRM worth the investment and continue to invest.
  • Economy: unemployment is still 1/10 in the US so this economic situation is not over, people aren’t as afraid so there are some changes, but some sectors are still materially impacted. 
  • Toning/Fitness Category: consumer response is great, but there won’t be a material impact until they fully catch up with the trend.  Every style developed is winning, demand is high and price sits well with consumer.  Its in all doors. 
  • The Oprah Impact: hurt the inventories by 60 days so that impacted for quite a while.  Oprah impact was about $19.9 - $20 mm on revenue. 
  • ASPs: planned on fairly tight, relatively small increase. Based on just how the consumer traffic is out there, it might be something where PSS might want to take it up a tick more, than where it is now. Still working on engineering the prices. Really increased value scores and pricing scores in the second half of the year.  
  • Relationship with brands in wholesale and other retailers: announcing later a new relationship with one of PSS’s brands and another retailer.  Planned to be a great American brand.  Very happy when PSS brands find the perfect home with a winning retailer.  
  • Easter Impact: there will be an impact from an earlier Easter for Payless especially.   
  • Stride Rite: placed the good better best strategy in December and started seeing benefits in Q1. 

 

PSS: Enjoy The Selloff, Prepare to Act - PSS SIGMA

 

 

 


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RRGB – REAL TIME NOTES FROM THE PRESENTATION

RRGB is up 20% since reporting 4Q09 results, which to remind, the company missed EPS expectations, reporting $0.10 versus the street’s $0.15 estimate.  Same-store sales came in at -10.5%, better than the street’s -11.1% estimate, but -10.5% is not anything to get excited about and implied a continued sequential decline in 2-year average trends.

 

Yes, the entire FSR group has traded higher and RRGB’s short interest is high at 18.2% relative to the FSR group’s average of 14.4%.

 

Investors seem to be pricing in the fact that the new advertising will definitely work…assuming the company will achieve positive comps in 2010 (guidance of  +2.4% to 3.4%) and will get the necessary return on the significant increase in investment behind advertising (doubling total marketing spending in 2010 to $31M from $15.2M in 2009 and increasing television spending to $16M-$17M from $2.3M).

 

Or are investors just really happy with the governance changes brought on by the Clinton Group?  RRGB announced that it signed a standstill agreement with Clinton Group and Spotlight Advisors on March 4th.

 

The fact that RRGB is trading at 5.9x NTM EV/EBITDA relative to the FSR group’s average 7.5x multiple signals that investor confidence is not as high as recent stock performance implies.  More tales of the tape…

 

Notes from the presentation:

 

Broad consumer appeal and an exceptional experience

Menu has not changed dramatically since the restaurant was first started

Unique brand positioning

  • Attract teens
  • High income women
  • Between casual and fast casual
  • Equal distribution between lunch and dinner (49% lunch)
  • 37 min lunch, 42 min dinner

Menu is heavily influenced by children

Strong brand loyalty

  • 55% at 75k and above category, high income

 

California, Arizona concentration

Working on brand awareness in new markets such as East coast and Mid West

 

Developing 11-13 new company restaurants

  • Proceeds from operating cash flow
  • Using FCF to pay down debt

 

Using TV  advertising

  • Brand awareness scores improved significantly

 

Did not use TV in 2009, used coupons, digital, and direct marketing

Guest count in 2009 declined

  • Did market research and found that brand awareness was lacking
  • Needed to get back on TV
  • Need to offer value
  • Stress variety in menu, not just about burgers

 

2010 marketing

  • Brand awareness
  • Value
  • Variety

 

4Q09 campaign was tested in 10 markets

  • SSS was lifted 900 bps during three week period in those markets

 

Spring, summer, and fall campaigns

  • Spring
    • Burger and Salad at discounted prices

 

4Q LTO mix was 10%

  • 90% still offering off the menu
  • 300 bps price mix hit from promotional items
  • Other items still remain on the menu

 

Bounce back coupon to bring guests back

Increasing gift card program

 

New units:

NRO AUVs are 80% of comps…not dropping further than existing restaurants

  • 500 bps improvement in margin from 2007 class to 2009 class
  • Maturity curve is faster for new units

Reduction in construction cost

  • 2006 = 2.5m
  • 2010 = <2m

 

Financial Review:

 

Sales mix:

80% food, 20% beverage.

14% non alcohol. Non alcohol is just as profitable

60% of sales are from burgers

 

Commodity costs:

Not contracted for beef or cheese

Commodity basket is expected to deflate 2.5% pre promotional item impact

 

Despite top-line pressure

  • Operating cash flow only down 1%
    • Using it to pay down debt

FY10 Guidance

  • Positive SSS of 2.4% to 3.4%
    • Breakeven of media +50-100 bps of profit
    • $2.30 of revenue lift for each dollar of spend
  • 887 to 895m in revenue
  • 11-13 units
    • One is open, four being constructed, rest in the back end of the year
  • Franchise partners building 4/5 units, 1 under development
  • G&A flat year over year excl bonus expense
  • Incremental marketing spend of 14-15m dollars in 2010 (TV)
    • 16-17m in total
  • Tax rate 19%
  • Capex of 35-40m
    • 22-26 from new unit development (2m per build)
    • 3m in corporate infrastructure
    • Remainder in maintenance
  • Leverage max ratio is 2.5x, at 2.13x 2009
    • Expecting to maintain safe margin

 

Howard Penney

Managing Director


FL: Camping Out at the Mall

We attended Foot Locker’s analyst meeting and came away with essentially the same view we walked in with.  There is still a great opportunity ahead for the company and the shares.  On the flip side, it was clear that management, including CEO Hicks, is not going to offer up every possible detail, strategy, and plan on a silver platter.  After all, there is a process here that is unfolding in front of us.  One in which management has to earn the Street’s attention through results, not lip service.  And one in which expectations are being set with a goal to exceed them.

 

What we heard was a broad based plan that was largely in-line with every bit of research we’ve put out over the past few months leading up to this strategic “unveiling”.  There is no need to rehash the finer or broader points of the company’s publicly available PowerPoint slides.  The broad objectives that we set out to examine in detail are the same objectives management is focused on.  These include: improving assortments and differentiating the company sub-brands, developing and growing a meaningful apparel business, improving the in-store and online shopping experience, focusing on growth where it makes sense, increasing productivity (both sales and inventory), and building a team to drive results. 

 

None of this is surprising or for that matter overly complex.  Executing each of these points after years of risk aversion and lack of change is really what matters.  For more details, take a look at our recently published Black Book or listen to a replay of our recent conference call on the subject (call or email us if you need details).  To be fair, not everything we heard was already known or predicted before today’s meeting.  A couple of details emerged that were in fact incremental:

 

  • Management indicated that while apparel is a small percentage of the company’s overall product mix, its poor performance resulted in 50% of the overall decline in revenues over the past few years.  Now that’s just bad.  On the flip side, this also accentuates the opportunity to upgrade apparel.  The benefits of a positive mix shift driven by an improved apparel offering are key to both productivity gains and gross margins.
  • Management acknowledged that the company’s image as a basketball dominated retailer needs to change.  This will come in the form of two initiatives.  First, eliminate unproductive basketball SKU’s and fill the product vacancies with other highly productive footwear (i.e running). Second, actually step up development of House of Hoops, but in a targeted manner.  This puts an emphasis on basketball in markets that warrant it, not just in a wholesale, homogenous manner.
  • Marketing is likely to become a bigger part of the equation.  Management will look to become more efficient with existing marketing spend, but will also step-up incremental spending as well.  This is likely more of a 2011 event, but should it should be noted that management is focused on making marketing investments to drive sales and productivity.  While not specifically addressed, we still believe there is substantial savings coming from the company’s catalog costs alone.  Importantly, any increase in marketing will not occur until noticeable product adjustments have been made.
  • Capex is also trickling higher over the next few years, likely towards a $140 million run-rate (currently $110 million).  This will drive an improved in-store experience (i.e. remodels, refixturing) but also 60 new stores per year, primarily in Europe.  Importantly, the company’s dividend remains fully intact and share repurchase is also on the table to put excess cash to work.
  • While no formal commitment was made to a near-term timetable, it sounded like there will be noticeable product enhancements in place for back-to-school.  Footwear is likely to see more meaningful brand additions and editing, while apparel may only be moderately impacted.  From a sub-brand perspective, Lady Foot Locker is ahead of the overall chain in its efforts to upgrade its apparel to a more performance oriented presentation.  Nike was highlighted as an important part of Foot Locker’s model, but no specifics were given on any near term product/marketing partnerships.  We continue to believe these two are working closely together to potentially use a portion of the store base as a Nike only platform, as well as to develop exclusive programs for each sub-brand.

 

Overall we liked what we heard.  Yes, there is always an appetite for more details and specifics.   An effort to monitor real changes will require frequent visits to each of the company’s retail brands over the next several months.  As the process to differentiate and upgrade product within the organization unfolds, it should become very clear that the company is making strides towards no longer competing with itself.  Unfortunately, this will not take place overnight.  The biggest risk in the near-term in our view is not if comps remain positive mid single digits, but rather how much hype is building.  In our view, the five year plan is one that it is likely achieved in three years or less.  It’s just less clear what is realistic to expect over the next few months.  For this, we’ll just have to camp out at the mall and report back on the efforts underway.

 

Eric Levine

Director


FINANCIALS: POLITICS MOVING BACK TO THE FRONT BURNER

The Following note was published by Joshua Steiner Head of Financials at Hedgeye Risk Management.

 

 

With Healthcare reform taking up all the oxygen in the District, we thought it worthwhile to point out that there is significant progress being made behind the scenes on Financial reform. After weeks of delay, the Financial Times reports that Senate Banking Committee Chairman Dodd (D-CT) and Senator Corker (R-TN) seem to be winding down their backroom horsetrading, and a financial reform bill may be introduced later this week. The latest iteration holds that the Federal Reserve will cede regulatory oversight of all but the top 23 bank holding companies (those with >$100B assets) to a new agency to be born out of a merger of the OCC and OTS. This will affect some 4,950 banks. Separately, the Fed will also cede oversight of all state chartered banks to the FDIC (a further 874 banks). Our take? The Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) is known in the industry for being a weaker regulator than the Fed. From a systemic risk management standpoint, we think this move is incongruent with the goal of imposing stronger industry regulatory oversight. In other words, in the long run this is a bad idea. That said, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) is a strong regulator, so it's unclear what this new, merged super-regulator will look like. While Fed Chairman Bernanke cannot be pleased about losing such a significant portion of his organization's mandate, he must be breathing a sigh of relief that he gets to keep the too-big-to-fail banks under his purview - a clear compromise by Chairman Dodd. Conclusion: this represents no change for the big banks, and a potential positive for the rest of the sector (softer regulator).

 

Regarding the so-called Volcker rule, Senator Dodd has been a staunch roadblock to its inclusion in any legislation coming out of his committee. He's acquiesced to include some vague language around proprietary trading that will give regulators some theoretical power to curb banks proprietary trading activities on the margin, but we think it amounts to little real change on this front. Conclusion: a positive as this is unlikely to inhibit proprietary activities by any banks.

 

The Consumer Financial Protection Agency, arguably the single most important element of the reform legislation has been reduced from being a standalone agency to being the Bureau of Financial of Protection within either the Fed or Treasury. Clearly the banks would prefer if it were housed within the Fed. Chairman Dodd, as recently as last week, had indicated a willingness to house the division within the Fed, however pushback from House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) may result in a compromise whereby the division is housed within the Treasury - not as good for banks as if it were at the Fed, but not nearly as bad as if it were a standalone agency. For reference, Senator Shelby (R-AL) would like to see consumer protection manifest as a watchdog agency within the FDIC. Conclusion: a modest negative for the banks, but relative to expectations a neutral to positive development.

 

Separately, we think it's also worth pointing out that republicans have been quietly gaining steam in the polls ahead of the midterm elections this November. While it's still more likely than not that Democrats retain majorities in both the House and Senate, we think the following charts capture the changing momentum pretty well. The first chart shows the Intrade contract on Democrats maintaining a majority of the House of Representatives, while the second chart shows the contract for Democrats maintaining a majority of the Senate. For the House, odds that Democrats will remain in the majority after this Fall have fallen from 85% to 55% since early last year. For the Senate, odds of Democrats maintaining a majority have fallen from 95% to 65% in just the last few months.

 

FINANCIALS: POLITICS MOVING BACK TO THE FRONT BURNER - fin1

FINANCIALS: POLITICS MOVING BACK TO THE FRONT BURNER - fin2

 

While we're not yet calling for a change in control of Congress this Fall, the probability of it happening is clearly rising. With that in mind, here's a look at how Financials performed (and the market more generally) on the heels of the last time Republicans took control of both Houses of Congress while a Democrat was President.

 

FINANCIALS: POLITICS MOVING BACK TO THE FRONT BURNER - fin3

 

Joshua Steiner, CFA


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