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TALES OF THE TAPE

There are plenty of reasons for optimism and pessimism.  Optimism is winning for now

 

Looking at the price action yesterday, I had to scratch my head.  MSSR and MRT were up on big volume following their earnings releases the day prior.  Although McCormick and Schmick’s saw a 100 bp improvement in two-year average same-store sales, the 4% decline in comps was below expectations.  Furthermore, guidance for the year was lowered across the board; revenue guidance was lowered by $10 million and EPS guidance was lowered by 5 cents on both sides of the range.  Management said that the guidance revision was “based upon the impact of the Gulf oil spill on the second quarter and the uncertainty of the potential effect the publicity centered around the Gulf oil spill may have on our business for the second half of the year”.  Since the earnings call, there have been several positive news items emerge about the progress being made to “kill” the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico.  With certain areas of the Gulf of Mexico being given permission to resume commercial fishing, perhaps this incrementally positive news is being taken on board by investors.  However, public perception of Gulf sea food safety will likely take some time to recover, irrespective of FDA assurances. 

 

MRT saw a deceleration in two-year average top line trends when adjusted for the 2% Easter-related calendar shift.  The 7.1% headline number certainly was an upside surprise, and the 5.1% underlying comp was about in line with Street expectations.  In terms of the guidance management provided, however, it seems that they might have a difficult time meeting it.  3Q and fiscal year guidance assumes significant improvement in two-year average trends.  To accomplish a 4% same-store sales number in 3Q (the low end of the +4% to +6% guidance), two-year trends need to sequentially improve 310 bps from the 7.1% print (410 bps from the underlying 5.1%).  The low end of the full year +4% to +6% comp guidance target will require an additional 400 bps in two-year average trend improvement in 4Q. 

 

Despite the +7% to +8% same-store sales growth during the last two weeks of July, the recent choppy nature of sales at MRT (as described by management during the earnings call) is a reason for concern.  Based on management commentary during their recent earnings call, there is nothing specific that seems to support the notion that comps will level out at a strong level rather than the “soft” levels seen in late June and early July.  It is possible that there are initiatives or strategies that management did not disclose, but as yet the source of their confidence is unclear.  It is possible that the improvement in business travel reported by some lodging companies, and cited by Morton’s, has buoyed investor sentiment toward companies with exposure to this group.  The relative outperformance of PFCB yesterday lends credence to this view – about 30% of the Bistro’s tickets are driven by business spending.

 

In other news, an article on nrn.com entitled “Consumer Rank Favorite Restaurant Chains” had some interesting data points on the consumer.  Specifically, the article says that the Market Force survey indicates that one in four consumers plan on eating out more in the coming months and they are driven to brands showcasing strong consumer service elements. 

 

 TALES OF THE TAPE - stocks 85

 

Howard Penney

Managing Director

 

 

 

 


INITIAL CLAIMS RISE 19K - NO SIGNS OF PROGRESS

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs .... Still No Signs of Progress

Initial claims rose by 19k last week to 479k (rising 22k net of the revision).  Rolling claims came in at 458.5k, a rise of 5.25k over the previous week. This is the largest increase in the rolling series since early April, but it still remains in the range of 450-470k that it has occupied for all of 2010. Ultimately, we are still looking for initial claims in the 375-400k range before unemployment meaningfully improves. 

 

Our firm is of the strong view that US economic growth is going to slow markedly in the back half of this year and into 2011. We think this will keep a lid on new hiring activity and will keep cost rationalization paramount in the minds of C-suite executives. All of this raises the risks that a prospective slowdown in GDP will precipitate an incremental slowdown in hiring/pickup in firings, which will, in turn, further pressure growth. We continue to look to claims as the best indicator for the job market, as they are real time and inflections in the series have signaled important turning points in the market in the past.

 

INITIAL CLAIMS RISE 19K - NO SIGNS OF PROGRESS - rolling

 

INITIAL CLAIMS RISE 19K - NO SIGNS OF PROGRESS - raw

 

As a reminder, May was the peak month of Census hiring, and it will remain a headwind through the September data as the Census continues to wind down.

 

INITIAL CLAIMS RISE 19K - NO SIGNS OF PROGRESS - census chart

 

Joshua Steiner, CFA

 

Allison Kaptur


THE DAILY OUTLOOK - JUST CHARTS

As we look at today’s set up for the S&P 500, the range is 16 points or 1% (1,116) downside and 0.4% (1,132) upside.

 

THE DAILY OUTLOOK - JUST CHARTS - S P

 

THE DAILY OUTLOOK - JUST CHARTS - VIX

 

THE DAILY OUTLOOK - JUST CHARTS - DOLLAR

 

THE DAILY OUTLOOK - JUST CHARTS - OIL

 

THE DAILY OUTLOOK - JUST CHARTS - GOLD

 

THE DAILY OUTLOOK - JUST CHARTS - COPPER


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WMS: REFRAMING THE R&D DEBATE

Digging deeper into the incremental R&D

 

 

The vagaries of GAAP accounting force companies to expense Research and Development expenses as incurred.  In the slot industry, some R&D is indeed maintenance but much of it benefits future periods and could be considered investment spend.  WMS fell 3% yesterday – it was actually down more than 6% at one point – due in part to guidance for higher R&D reducing EPS by $0.10-0.12 in FY2011.

 

Would anyone care if R&D expenses were capitalized and WMS jacked them up by $10m?  Think about it.  Applying a 20x multiple on the $0.10 FY2011 hit yields $2 in value loss versus $0.17 ($10m divided by 58m shares) in stock value if R&D was accounted for as investment spend – and that would assume zero ROI.  So the real question is whether the incremental R&D is recurring, i.e. maintenance, or is it true investment?.  We think the latter.

 

While management was a little stingy with details of the incremental R&D spend, we’ve got some juice:

 

Incremental R&D

  • $10m step up has to do with networked gaming – WageNET
  • WMS has gotten a very favorable response to the WageNET products that are a few years out.  Customers want the products sooner rather than later. 
  • Essentially accelerating the commercialization of WageNET
  • Being opaque for competitive reasons (but some of it is what they’ve talked about like cashless account-based wagering)
  • Opening India too, so they can work around the clock
  • Won’t see a revenue benefit for 12-15 months

WMS has no debt and operating cash flow is finally ramping.  The beauty of the model is that they can grow and still generate positive cash flow.  The high class problem is where to spend it.  Share buyback?  Yes - $300 million worth.  Invest in the business?  Yes - $10m incremental in R&D and $40m in incremental Capex for Italy, leased games, and growing/refreshing the participation base.  Rather than detracting from value, these expenditures will generate future ROI and should be accounted for as such.


INITIAL CLAIMS RISE 19K - NO SIGNS OF PROGRESS

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs .... Still No Signs of Progress

Initial claims rose by 19k last week to 479k (rising 22k net of the revision).  Rolling claims came in at 458.5k, a rise of 5.25k over the previous week. This is the largest increase in the rolling series since early April, but it still remains in the range of 450-470k that it has occupied for all of 2010. Ultimately, we are still looking for initial claims in the 375-400k range before unemployment meaningfully improves. 

 

Our firm is of the strong view that US economic growth is going to slow markedly in the back half of this year and into 2011. We think this will keep a lid on new hiring activity and will keep cost rationalization paramount in the minds of C-suite executives. All of this raises the risks that a prospective slowdown in GDP will precipitate an incremental slowdown in hiring/pickup in firings, which will, in turn, further pressure growth. We continue to look to claims as the best indicator for the job market, as they are real time and inflections in the series have signaled important turning points in the market in the past.

 

INITIAL CLAIMS RISE 19K - NO SIGNS OF PROGRESS - rolling

 

INITIAL CLAIMS RISE 19K - NO SIGNS OF PROGRESS - raw

 

The table below shows the stock performance of each Financial subsector over four durations. 

 

INITIAL CLAIMS RISE 19K - NO SIGNS OF PROGRESS - subsector perf

 

Below we show the correlations between initial claims and each of the 30 Financial Subsectors. We have refreshed this table to reflect prices through the end of July. Using this updated measure, Credit Card and Payment Processing companies remain the most correlated to initial claims, with R-squared values of .63 and .65 over the last year, respectively. Surprisingly, some subsectors show a positive correlation coefficient to initial claims - i.e. Financials that go up as unemployment claims go up.  These names are concentrated in the Pacific Northwest Banks and Construction Banks, though these correlations are usually not very high.  

 

INITIAL CLAIMS RISE 19K - NO SIGNS OF PROGRESS - init. claims subsector correlation analysis as of 8.4.10

 

Astute investors will note that in some cases the R-squared doesn't seem to reconcile with the square of the correlation coefficient. This is a result of finding the correlation and then averaging. For example, Pacific Northwest Banks have an average correlation coefficient of .33 and an average R-squared of .52 (with CACB, CTBK, FTBK, and STSA strongly positively correlated and UMPQ strongly negatively correlated). The different directions have the effect of canceling out each other out when finding the average correlation coefficient, but do not cancel out when finding the average R-squared. 

 

The following table shows the most highly correlated stocks (both positively and negatively correlated) with initial claims. Note that the top 15 negatively correlated stocks have a much stronger correlation on average than the top 15 positively correlated stocks - as you would expect, given that most of the Financial space is pro-cyclical. 

 

INITIAL CLAIMS RISE 19K - NO SIGNS OF PROGRESS - init. claims company correlation analysis as of 8.4.10

 

As a reminder, May was the peak month of Census hiring, and it should now be a headwind through September as the Census continues to wind down.

 

INITIAL CLAIMS RISE 19K - NO SIGNS OF PROGRESS - census chart

 

Joshua Steiner, CFA

 

Allison Kaptur


The Cliffs of Insanity

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”
- Galileo Galilei

 

The penalties for non-consensus thinking were harsher 400 years ago. In 1610 Galileo published his observational studies of the moons of Jupiter as evidence in support of Copernicanism and a heliocentric model of the solar system. At the time, most astronomers still believed in a geocentric model and considered a heliocentric model outrageous. Galileo’s work was derided by many of his contemporaries and, ultimately, Galileo was brought before the Roman Inquisition for heresy, tried, found guilty and forced to spend the rest of his life under house arrest.

 

Fortunately in today’s world the penalties for having a non-consensus view generally aren’t as severe. That said, it can still take a long time for certain entrenched assumptions to change and evolve, which brings us to the subject of today’s Early Look. One such entrenched assumption in the investment community today is that home prices are unlikely to fall materially from here.

 

For those unfamiliar, our view on housing is bearish and our argument relies principally on supply and demand data, and the imbalances that exist between them. Our analysis has sought to both measure and quantify the effects of dislocations in supply and demand in housing and the lagged effects these imbalances have on home prices. Our conclusion is that based on the current supply and demand imbalance, prices will be 15-20% lower in 12-18 months on a national basis. This is an overly simplistic summary of a 100+ page presentation we’ve assembled on the subject, but below we present just a few of the facts worth considering.

 

Consider the following. There are currently 3.99 million homes on the market for sale as of the end of June. Existing home sales were 5.37 million (seasonally adjusted annualized rate) in June, which equates to 8.9 months of supply. This is disingenuous, however, as June existing home sales represent April contract activity. We know that post-April pending homes sales are down over 30% through May and June. As such, we would expect a comparable decline in existing home sales once the data rolls through on a lag later this month. In other words, existing home sales for July/August will be in the ~4 million range, which will be a wake-up call to the Panglossian bulls. Assuming inventory remains around 4 million this will equate to ~12 months of supply. The market is often considered in equilibrium when inventory is 5-6 months of supply. For reference, 12 months will be the highest amount of supply seen since the housing downturn began. This 12 months figure does not include shadow inventory, which likely represents an additional 4.2 to 6.0 million homes (according to estimates from the Mortgage Bankers Association, the Federal Government’s HAMP Program, and Lender Processing Services, the largest mortgage default processor in the country.)

 

Laurie Goodman, a Senior Managing Director with Amherst Securities, one of the leading providers of mortgage data analytics, recently published a paper in the Financial Analysts Journal entitled “Dimensioning the Housing Crisis” in which she submits that from the beginning of the crisis (YE06) through today there have been 1.5 million homes liquidated through foreclosure and short sale. During this timeframe, depending on which housing series you use, home prices have fallen 20-35% nationally. Using conservative assumptions, she concludes that a further 11-12 million homes will be liquidated in coming years. If 1.5 million liquidations coupled with broader supply/demand imbalances triggered 20-35% downside in home prices, consider what 11-12mn liquidations will do amid a more severe underlying supply/demand imbalance.

 

While the government has intervened over the past 18 months to try and arrest the rate of decline in home prices, we think their efforts have merely kicked the can down the road and have done little to alter the underlying nature of the problem. Ultimately, the pressure from foreclosures will outstrip the government’s ability to hold back the supply.

 

Touching briefly on the demand side of the equation, demand for mortgages as measured by the MBA Purchase Index has been steadily falling for the last five years.  After averaging 471 in 2005, the Purchase Index fell to 264 in 2009 (-44%).  2010 to date is down to 209 (-55%).  The month of July averaged just 170, a 64% decline from 2005.  For reference, 2010 year-to-date demand is consistent with demand last seen in 1, while July demand is consistent with levels last seen in 1995. 

 

It seems obvious to us that home prices are headed materially lower from here, yet many people – most in fact – don’t agree. There are a host of reasons we’ve had explained to us why home prices shouldn’t go down from here. The most oft-cited is the demographics argument, namely that there should be solid net new household formation over the next several years that will drive marginal demand for homes high enough to absorb existing supply, shadow inventory and whatever other pressures might come down the road.

 

It’s foolish to dismiss criticism out of hand without first thinking it through – especially when multiple investors are telling you the same thing. To that end, we’ve analyzed the core of the argument that household formation is set to take off, and what we’ve found is quite interesting. The chart at the end of this report shows data that we don’t think many people are aware exists. It represents real household formation rates through June 2010. We have the data monthly – not many people do. What is striking is that it shows that in the first half of 2010 the number of households in the US actually shrank. This is the first time this has happened since the data series began, and our data goes back to the 1950s. Moreover, negative growth in 1H10 follows anemic growth in 2008 and 2009.

 

Why is this? Normally, some 60% of net new household formation occurs in the 20-29 year old demographic. It’s typically at this age when a young person moves away from home and, in doing so, a new household is created. The catch is that unemployment is at 9.5% nationally, and the unemployment rate for this age cohort is well into the teens. Remember, household formation is a derivative of confidence, which itself is merely an extension of the employment environment. This lack of confidence must be having a profound effect across the country for the number of households to actually be shrinking.

 

Will this change? The relationship between the economy and household formation is reflexive, to borrow a philosophical concept from George Soros. That is to say, when times are good household formation drives the economy amid a virtuous cycle, but when times are bad the economy will suppress household formation, which, in turn, feeds back negatively into the economy in a vicious cycle. The latter is the dynamic that exists today.

 

Our firm is of the strong view that US economic growth is poised to decelerate meaningfully in the back half of the year and into 2011, which will keep a lid on hiring. This will in turn keep the lid on household formation, the one credible case for a pick-up in housing demand.

 

Josh Steiner
Managing Director

 

The Cliffs of Insanity - JSEL


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