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INITIAL CLAIMS IMPROVE SEQUENTIALLY, BUT REMAIN ELEVATED

We take the data on its merits as it comes in. Initial claims fell 7k last week to 444k from 451k (revised up 3k). This brought the rolling four-week average down by 5k to 458.5k. While this marks the third consecutive week of improvement the fact remains that at 444k, claims are still where they were in late 2009, 4-5 months ago. We've been highlighting for the last few weeks the fact that a divergence has emerged between claims and XLF performance. For now that remains the case, although XLF has given back 6.6% in the last 15 trading days, so the divergence appears to have narrowed (albeit for unrelated reasons, i.e. Greece/EU concerns).

 

We remain concerned that without significant improvement in claims, a leading indicator, there can be no meaningful improvement in unemployment, a lagging indicator. By extension, without improvement in unemployment it will be difficult for credit costs to return to what are considered "normalized" levels. At a minimum, a return to those normalized levels will be delayed. Remember, for unemployment to fall meaningfully, initial claims need to fall to a sustained level of 375-400k. We remain 45-70k above that level - roughly where we've been for five months now.

 

As a reminder around the census, we had been bullish on the lift the census would add going into its peak employment months.  However, now that we're into May, it's time to start focusing on the drag it will create on the backside.  

 

INITIAL CLAIMS IMPROVE SEQUENTIALLY, BUT REMAIN ELEVATED - rolling

 

The following chart shows the raw claims data.

 

INITIAL CLAIMS IMPROVE SEQUENTIALLY, BUT REMAIN ELEVATED - reported

 

The following chart shows the census hiring timeline.  If the past two cycles are an appropriate model for this year's census, we should start to see Census employment draw down as we move into June, creating a headwind for employment.

 

INITIAL CLAIMS IMPROVE SEQUENTIALLY, BUT REMAIN ELEVATED - census chart

 

Joshua Steiner, CFA

 

Allison Kaptur


INITIAL CLAIMS IMPROVE SEQUENTIALLY, BUT REMAIN ELEVATED

We take the data on its merits as it comes in. Initial claims fell 7k last week to 444k from 451k (revised up 3k). This brought the rolling four-week average down by 5k to 458.5k. While this marks the third consecutive week of improvement the fact remains that at 444k, claims are still where they were in late 2009, 4-5 months ago. We've been highlighting for the last few weeks the fact that a divergence has emerged between claims and XLF performance. For now that remains the case, although XLF has given back 6.6% in the last 15 trading days, so the divergence appears to have narrowed (albeit for unrelated reasons, i.e. Greece/EU concerns).

 

We remain concerned that without significant improvement in claims, a leading indicator, there can be no meaningful improvement in unemployment, a lagging indicator. By extension, without improvement in unemployment it will be difficult for credit costs to return to what are considered "normalized" levels. At a minimum, a return to those normalized levels will be delayed. Remember, for unemployment to fall meaningfully, initial claims need to fall to a sustained level of 375-400k. We remain 45-70k above that level - roughly where we've been for five months now.

 

As a reminder around the census, we had been bullish on the lift the census would add going into its peak employment months.  However, now that we're into May, it's time to start focusing on the drag it will create on the backside.  

 

INITIAL CLAIMS IMPROVE SEQUENTIALLY, BUT REMAIN ELEVATED - rolling

 

The following chart shows the raw claims data.

 

INITIAL CLAIMS IMPROVE SEQUENTIALLY, BUT REMAIN ELEVATED - reported

 

The following chart shows the census hiring timeline.  If the past two cycles are an appropriate model for this year's census, we should start to see Census employment draw down as we move into June, creating a headwind for employment.   

 

INITIAL CLAIMS IMPROVE SEQUENTIALLY, BUT REMAIN ELEVATED - census chart

 

Joshua Steiner, CFA

 

Allison Kaptur


Catching the Contagion

“Prediction is very difficult, especially when it is about the future.”

-Niels Bohr

 

Keith has taken his young lad, wife, and daughter up to his ancestral home of Thunder Bay, Ontario, so I’ve been handed the baton on the Early Look.  In a similar spirit, I thought I’d quote someone from the land of my ancestors, Denmark.

 

One would think that Niels Bohr was a Danish version of Yogi Berra given the quote above.  In fact, Niels Bohr was a physicist.  Well, much more than a physicist really, Bohr was the Nobel Prize winner in Physics in 1922 for developing the Bohr model of the atom.  

 

The man basically discovered how the most discrete parts of life work, and for such fine work his home country put him on a postage stamp, put him on the 500 kroner bill, had two elements named after him, and, get this, he even has an asteroid named after him.  (As an aside, I’m starting  to think my good friend and 12-time Olympic medalist in swimming, Jenny Thompson, got the raw end of the deal when she only got a swimming pool in her hometown named after her.)

 

Bohr also developed the principle of complementary, which states that “items could be separately analyzed as having several contradictory properties.”  As we stare at our screens this morning trying to predict the future, this might have been his most valuable contribution.

 

While Europe is up small this morning, Asian got pounded over night.  China is down more than 4% to a 8-month low and the Nikkei in Japan is down almost 3.5% (after a holiday earlier this week), its largest single day decline in over a year. 

 

Yes, friends, the world is starting to have a freak out moment about sovereign debt.  Global markets are getting pounded, Spain is seeing its cost of debt rise to levels not seen since the global financial crises of 2008, and Moody’s has piled on this morning saying contagion could threaten banks in “Portugal, Spain, Italy, Ireland and the U.K.”.  While I woke up with a cold, the world, it seems, has Caught the Contagion.

 

When the world is freaking out though, it’s best to go back to science and facts when trying to predict the future.  As it relates to the immediate term future, I’m going to focus on Bohr’s principle of complementary.  These freak outs usually create the best buying opportunities, and within the European Union our favorite set up of long Germany and short Spain is one to focus on as they have “very contradictory properties”.

 

I’ve asked our European Analyst Matt Hedrick to provide a brief overview of some key economic metrics for these two countries, which are outlined below.

 

On Spain:

  1. Spain’s unemployment rate is north of 20%, which is almost 2x the EU average.  The unemployed consists largely of recent immigrants (unemployment rate closer to 35%) and construction workers, which will be difficult to re-employ, and thus will keep unemployment high for some time.
  2. Spain’s budget deficit-to-GDP was 11.2% at the end of last year and has expanded this year.  This is well beyond the danger zone of 10%, which typically highlights the increased potential for a debt default and increased borrowing costs.
  3. Spain’s economy at its peak was more than 20% driven by construction and real estate, which will not rebound any time soon.  As a result, growth in the “recovery” has been anemic and GDP is expected to decline -0.4% in 2010.

On Germany:

  1. German unemployment has held steady in the low 8% level over the past 12 months, with recent improvement coming in last two months, falling to 8.0% in March and 7.8% in April. This outperformance over the Eurozone average (currently at 10%) is due to the success of the government’s short-time work program (Kurzarbeit), which buffered the impact of the economic downturn on unemployment.
  2. Germany’s budget deficit stands at 3.5% of GDP.  We see this low figure as an extreme advantage, especially as the cost of capital rises for European states over the medium term. 
  3. The decline of the Euro versus the USD stands to boost Germany’s large export base. Year-to-date the Euro is down 10.8% versus the USD. While GDP is forecast to grow under 2% this year, we expect Europe’s largest economy to outperform, especially as many of its peers are mired in sovereign debt.  

While the points above are somewhat of a science in and of themselves, we’ve also represented this Sovereign Dichotomy in our Chart of the Day attached below.  This chart outlines the divergences of unemployment in the two countries.  Spain’s unemployment parallels that of economic leaders like Sudan and the West Bank, while German unemployment is amongst the lowest in the industrialized world and improving.

 

When the world Catches the Contagion, volatility will spike (as it has) and investors sell stocks, assets classes and countries indiscriminately.  A quick application of Bohr’s principle of complementary tells the science-fearing team at Hedgeye one thing, not all members of the European Union are created equal.

 

“Prediction is very difficult” . . . especially when we make it so.

 

Keep your head up and stick on the ice,

 

Daryl G. Jones

Managing Director

 

Catching the Contagion - Spain v Germany Unemployment

 


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THE M3: LABOR RESTRICTIONS, ONLY LOCALS AT SINGAPORE'S CASINOS

The Macau Metro Monitor, May 6th, 2010

 

MACAU LABOR RESTRICTIONS TO DRIVE UP CONSTRUCTION BILLS-CONTRACTOR WSJ

 

Sundart International Holdings Ltd., a major fitting-out contractor, said that a curb on foreign labor could lead to higher costs for casino operators building in Macau.  Sundart is in talks to negotiate with Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd. to raise the value of its contract to fit out the company's HK$14.1 billion casino project by an estimated 10% or more as a result of the labor shortage, Chairman William Chan said Wednesday.  Sundart will need to increase pre-fabrication work in factories in mainland China to fulfill its obligations, said Chan, but this will require more planning and precise engineering, commanding a higher contract price.  The target size of Sundart's contract with Galaxy is HK$500 million-HK$600 million versus the estimated HK$1 billion in total it will cost to fit-out the company's Cotai project.

 

The proposal to limit nonresident labor causes "more headache," said Chan, "but this is not the first time we have faced this."  Macau is the most challenging operating environment for the contractor, which also does work in mainland China, Hong Kong and Qatar, said Chan.  Sundart is also bidding for work on Sands China's expansion project on Cotai, but the process of fitting-out the project is still in the "planning stage," said Chan.


EARLY GLITCHES FOR SINGAPORE'S CASINOS Asia Sentinel, The Strait Times

Citing a number of analysts, the bulk of the gamblers at the two casinos are Singaporean citizens and permanent residents, who have to pay a S$100 ($72) daily or S$2,000 ($1,435) annual levy to play the tables.  A recent report by Bank of America-Merrill Lynch noted that they make up 50% to 60% of RWS' casino patrons.  Of this lot, nine in 10 pay the $100 levy for a 24-hour turn at the tables, with one in 10 forking out the $2,000 annual fee.  This could be a concern since local players are mostly gambling relatively small amounts, a contrast from the high-rolling Chinese officials and businessmen who flock to Macau, even if strict Singapore regulations have made it difficult for them to bring in these high rollers.

 

In the meantime, the Marina Bay Sands ran into an embarrassing series of glitches on its opening --delays, management shake-ups, staff woes, construction problems and now the latest salt to be rubbed into the wound – threats of legal action by organizers of the Inter-Pacific Bar Association (IPBA) Conference, the first event it hosted after opening on April 27.


US STRATEGY - VERTIGO

For the past two days, the pattern of the move to the downside is clearly more aggressive than that of the recent push higher. On Wednesday, US stocks were weaker for the second straight day; the S&P declined 0.66%.European sovereign credit contagion concerns remained the big headwind for stocks today, as the RISK AVERSION trade is continues to press on. The VIX was up 4.4% yesterday and now up 14% for the week.

 

The Dollar index was up 0.94% yesterday and is up 2.69% this week.

 

On the MACRO front, the labor market is providing some positive economic momentum in the US and the focus will shift to the April payrolls data due out on Friday. Yesterday, ADP private employment was up 32,000 last month, slightly above the 30K consensus. In addition, February and March were revised up a cumulative 69,000. Services sector payrolls rose 50,000 in April following a 54,000 gain in March, while manufacturing payrolls were also a bright spot, up 29,000 on the back of a revised 19,000 increase in March.

 

Also on the MACRO calendar, ISM non-manufacturing was unchanged at 55.4 in April vs. a Bloomberg survey of 56.0. The bulk of the core components were also little changed on the month, but the takeaways from the report are still consistent with the recovery momentum theme. The pace of improvement is slowing, however.

 

While the labor market is providing some positive momentum to the RECOVERY trade, the China tightening concerns are rattling the Chinese market and providing a headwind to the RECOVERY trade. Last night, the Shanghai Composite Index finished down 4.1% and is now down 16.4% for the year-to-date.

 

The Hedgeye Risk Management Models have all nine S&P sectors broken on TRADE.

 

For the second day in a row, the low beta sectors (Healthcare (XLV), Utilities (XLU) and Consumer Staples (XLP) were the best performing sectors. Both the XLP and the XLU were up on the day.

 

Two of the three worst performing sectors were the Industrials (XLI) and Materials (XLB). Declining commodities and a strong dollar are providing a significant headwind for the group. A big laggard in the XLI was GE trading down 2.6% yesterday. Yesterday, crude dropped 3% and is now down 7.3% over the past three days.

 

Another notable laggard was Consumer Discretionary (XLY). Within the XLY, Media names were notable laggards on the back of disappointing fiscal Q4 guidance out of NWSA, and TWX missed on the top-line. Gaming, lodging and Restaurant stocks also came under pressure. Also, the bulk of the stocks leveraged to the housing sector underperformed again today with the S&P 500 Homebuilding index down 3.6%.

 

In early trading, equity futures are trading above fair value as European markets look to have stabilized, while Asia was much weaker. Today sees a further raft of corporate earnings with weekly jobless numbers. As we look at today’s setup, the range for the S&P 500 is 32 points or 0.5% (1,160) downside and 2.2% (1,192) upside.

 

Today’s MACRO events: 

  • MBA Mortgage Applications
  • April Challenger Job Cuts
  • April ADP Employment
  • April ISM Non-Manufacturing Composite 

Howard Penney

Managing Director


Death of FL Greatly Exaggerated

In advance of today’s Nike analyst day, it’s first meeting in three years, there was much speculation about an unveiling of a major company-owned retail rollout.  Taking this a bit further, there was also a belief that this announcement would be detrimental to Footlocker and its efforts to ultimately compete with Nike, it’s largest vendor.  Now that the presentation is complete, we remain confident that this speculative threat in the domestic market was greatly exaggerated.

 

The bottom line here is that Nike plans to add 280 stores, of varying formats, sizes, and product offerings on a GLOBAL basis over the next five years.  Management went on to further clarify that the North American market will likely see less owned-retail growth as Nike is mindful of an already advanced wholesale/retail partnership network here.  Overall, we heard nothing that would impair Foot Locker’s ability to achieve and potentially surpass its EBIT margin goals of 7.5+% over the next few years. 

 

Importantly, there were subtleties that stood out that may benefit FL and its relationship with Nike.  First, we heard a thorough discussion about the company’s sophisticated tools which allow Nike to analyze specific markets and potential sales opportunities across all points of distribution (not just Nike owned stores).  Secondly, we also heard the mention of House of Hoops as an example of how they can work with a partner to specifically target a local market with a very specific product offering and merchandising message.  While these are just little anecdotes, we continue to believe this is indicative of the positive transformation in the relationship and collaboration between the two companies.

 

Overall, our view on Foot Locker remains unchanged and favorable following what we heard today.  Nike’s product driven initiatives and investments in infrastructure will benefit the 3,500 unit chain well beyond the potential challenges Foot Locker may face from an uptick in Nike owned retail.  Importantly, the speculative threat centered on massive retail growth was overdone.

 

Eric Levine

Director


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