A Compelling Case for This Retail Discounter
By George Leong for Daily Gains Letter | Aug 1, 2014
There is a lot of hurt out there in the retail sector as consumers have yet to come back in full force. The soft consumer sentiment has impacted retailers across the board, from the specialty retailers to department stores. Even the discount and big-box stores, which are pretty resilient when spending declines, are hurting at the register.
Consequently, we saw a consolidation in the discount sector after Dollar Tree, Inc. (NASDAQ/DLTR) decided to snap up rival Family Dollar Stores, Inc. (NYSE/FDO) in a cash and stock deal valued at $8.5 billion, or about $74.00 per share.
I last talked about picking up a company like Family Dollar Stores in April as an investment opportunity when the stock was trading at $58.31.
Now for both companies, the merger makes a whole lot of sense, especially at a time when consumers are tighter with their spending habits. The merger will likely mean eliminating overlapping stores in the same vicinity, since there will be 13,000 stores in the network.
At the smaller end of the spectrum, a discounter that is an investment opportunity and worth a look is Five Below, Inc. (NASDAQ/FIVE), which has a share price of $35.27 and a market cap of $1.94 billion. The stock debuted on July 19, 2012 at $26.05, but has reported several soft quarters, which drove some investors to the exits. Yet at just above its 52-week low of $33.94, the stock offers a decent contrarian investment opportunity for speculators.
With Five Below down over the past 52 weeks, compared to a 17.39% advance by the S&P 500, there could be a good investment opportunity here…. Read More
So Long, U.S. Consumer: Why I’m Looking to China for Profits
By George Leong for Daily Gains Letter | Jun 20, 2014
It’s amazing how analysts try to spin numbers that are horrible. For instance, retail sales edged up 0.3% in May, which is not something to get excited about; however, analysts have been spinning this news, saying that the poor May reading is simply a result of the upward revision in the April reading to 0.5%.
Now, I’m not sure what your thinking is, but my view is that both numbers stink and they foreshadow an economy in which consumer spending is scarce.
My excitement lies 10,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean in China, where the country’s government, under President Xi Jinping, is aggressively trying to encourage consumers to spend. This is contrary to what has happened in past decades, when the massive Chinese economic engine was fueled by manufacturing and foreign investment. Both are still prevalent, but the government also understands that it must drive up domestic consumer spending in order to lessen the impact of slower growth around the world, which has a direct impact on China.
In other words, China wants its consumers to spend the country out of the current stalling, which, at around 7.5% gross domestic product (GDP) growth, is still way ahead of the U.S. and other Western countries. The reality is that with a population of 1.3 billion people and a middle class of approximately 300 million, the potential is significant. Plus, the middle class in China has money to spend, unlike here in America, where people are struggling, just making ends meet.
In May, China’s retail sales surged 12.5% year-over-year to $349 billion, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. This followed growth … Read More
Consumer Spending Growth in February Bad Sign for Investors?
By Moe Zulfiqar for Daily Gains Letter | Apr 1, 2014
The United States Census Bureau reported consumer spending in the U.S. economy—adjusted for price fluctuation—increased by 0.2% in February from the previous month. In January, consumer spending increased by 0.1% after seeing a decline in December. (Source: “Personal Income and Outlays, February 2014,” United States Census Bureau web site, March 28, 2014.)
This sent a wave of optimism through the markets. We heard consumer spending is going higher; therefore, the U.S. economy will improve. Buy and buy some more, or you will miss out on future gains was what we were told.
However, I don’t think much thought was given to the increase in consumer spending compared to the previous years. Please look at the chart below. It shows the percentage change in the personal consumption expenditure each February over the last four years.
Change from Previous Month
Data source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis web site,
last accessed March 28, 2014.
There’s a clear trend. The percentage change in consumer spending this past February is the lowest since 2011. But if we were to extend this chart to include the change in consumer spending from December to February, this February saw the lowest percentage change since the same period in 2009 and 2010. This shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Going forward, it looks like consumer spending might even decline further. You have to understand that consumers have to be willing to spend; they have to be optimistic to buy. I look at consumer sentiment as one indicator of consumer spending, and it’s not looking very promising at … Read More
Sin Stocks Posting Impressive Gains in Struggling U.S. Economy
By John Whitefoot for Daily Gains Letter | Mar 20, 2014
As the investing adage of the day goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get eating, smoking, and drinking.” And there’s plenty of tough economic data out there to send people into the arms of their favorite vices and sin stocks.
In a nutshell, U.S. unemployment has improved year-over-year to 6.7%, but the improved numbers are the result of an increase in low-wage-paying part-time retail jobs. The underemployment rate remains high near 13%, as does the long-term unemployed at 2.3%. And despite the soaring S&P 500, wages haven’t really budged in years.
In January, new orders for manufactured durable goods fell one percent, or $2.2 billion, to $225 billion—the third decrease in the last four months. Not surprisingly, retail sales, which account for about 30% of consumer spending, rose just 0.2% in February after two straight months of declines.
March consumer sentiment data missed forecasts, falling from 81.6 in February to 79.9—the lowest level in four months and the eighth miss in the last 10 months. This trickled down to February auto sales, which flat-lined year-over-year to 1.19 million and sat on the low end of annualized auto sales estimates of 15.34 million. Even January housing data were weak.
I realize most economists are blaming the weak U.S. economy on the bad winter weather, but I’m not so sure. And I’m certainly not alone. Even Stephen Poloz, the governor of the Bank of Canada, says it’s hard to believe that the recent economic slowdown is all due to the weather. (Source: “Loonie falls on Stephen Poloz’s gloomy forecast for growth,” The Canadian Press, March 18, 2014.)
The tough economic … Read More
How to Profit from the Two Things Consumers Can’t Do Without
By John Whitefoot for Daily Gains Letter | Mar 18, 2014
Another month of cold weather is being blamed for the most recent weak consumer confidence numbers. Consumer confidence levels for the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index fell from 81.6 in February to 79.9 in March—the lowest level in four months. (Source: Lange, J., “U.S. consumer sentiment slips; bad weather eyed,” Reuters, March 14, 2014.)
Economists had forecast March consumer confidence levels to climb to 82. Instead of celebrating a barely there increase, economists are waxing eloquence on the two-percent decline and two-point gulf between expectations and reality.
In spite of living in North America and having to deal with the cold winter weather that affects most of us, analysts still expected consumer confidence to improve in March…and they seem surprised that it didn’t.
Analysts basically think consumers are too depressed by the weather to shop. This would, of course, bolster their opinion that the U.S. economy is only temporarily stuck and sunnier skies will prevail.
But who can say, really? March’s weak consumer confidence numbers mark the eighth miss in the last 10 months. In all of 2013, consumer confidence numbers beat forecasts only three times.
Maybe the weather can’t take all the blame. In spite of the winter storms, the average U.S. temperature for January was normal, with the warmer West Coast weather offsetting the cooler East Coast weather. The average was 30.3 degrees Fahrenheit, which is only 1/10 of a degree below normal for the month. Things weren’t much different in February and consumer confidence levels actually increased to 81.2 from a projected 80.6. (Source: “National US temperature for January normal despite winter storms,” The Guardian, February … Read More
Three Airline Stocks I Think Are Ready to Rebound
By John Whitefoot for Daily Gains Letter | Mar 17, 2014
Thanks to a number of different factors, airline sector stocks have been on a tear. And thanks to an inverse relationship with the price of oil, strengthening consumer sentiment, the expected increase in business travel, and the (eventual) arrival of spring and summer, the airline sector looks poised for further gains.
Oil prices experienced sharp gains between 2007 and mid-2008, subsequently tanking in step with the stock market and bottoming in early 2009. Since 2010, oil prices have risen in the shadows of the sputtering U.S. economy—neither soaring nor really pulling back.
That said, oil futures slid last week immediately after weekly data came out that showed U.S. crude oil supplies were up more than forecast. Analysts had expected crude oil inventories to climb from 1.4 million barrels in the last week of February to 2.1 million barrels for the week ended March 7. Instead, oil inventories surged to 6.2 million barrels. (Source: “Summary of Weekly Petroleum Data for the Week Ending March 7, 2014,” U.S. Energy Information Administration web site, March 12, 2014.)
Oil prices are also down after the U.S. said it would hold its first test sale of crude oil from its emergency stockpile since 1990. While the government insists its modest offering of 5.0 million barrels of crude is a result of the dramatic increase in domestic crude oil production…others think it might be a subtle nod to Russia. The markets don’t seem to care either way. Oil prices are down 6.5% since the beginning of March, trading near $98.00 per barrel.
Now granted, the price of crude oil will rebound. That said, the airline sector … Read More
Should Investors Leave Auto Stocks Behind This Spring?
By John Whitefoot for Daily Gains Letter | Mar 6, 2014
According to Wall Street, the cold winter weather is responsible for holding back an economy that’s just itching to take hold. And as we’ve recently learned, when it comes to poor earnings and revenues, nothing makes for a better excuse than the weather. After all, the cold harsh winter that has blanketed much of North America doesn’t care how much money you make.
But while the cold winter weather might not care what area code people live in, the feeling is mutual—people in the wealthy area codes don’t care about the cold weather either, especially when it comes to auto sales.
February auto sales figures came in earlier this week, and it’s as if auto sales have flat-lined. Overall, February auto sales were unchanged year-over-year at 1.19 million for an annualized auto sales rate of 15.34 million—at the low end of the estimated 16 million the industry expects to sell in 2014. (Source: “U.S. Market Light Vehicle Deliveries February 2014,” Motor Intelligence web site, March 2, 2014.)
Leading the February auto sales’ non-event are the “Big 8” (General Motors Company; Ford Motor Company; Toyota Motor Company; Chrysler Group LLC, Honda Motor Co., Ltd.; Hyundai Motor Company/Kia Motors Corp.; Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.; and Volkswagen AG), which accounted for 1.06 million units, or 89% of the month’s sales.
Nissan and Chrysler were the only two Big 8 automakers to report year-over-year growth. Nissan reported year-over-year auto sales growth of 15.8%—ahead of analysts’ predictions of 12%. And Chrysler reported another solid month with auto sales up 11%—analyst forecasts were expecting an 8.8% increase. Chrysler surprised to the upside in January with an … Read More
Limit Losses, Boost Gains with These Staple ETFs
By Moe Zulfiqar for Daily Gains Letter | Feb 27, 2014
Consumer spending is highly correlated with consumer sentiment. It makes sense that when consumers believe their jobs are in trouble or they won’t have enough money going forward, they pull back on their spending and only buy what they need. On the contrary, if they believe all is well—they expect a raise at work and have savings—they will go out and buy things they want. This phenomenon increases consumer spending.
As it stands, consumer confidence in the U.S. economy is decreasing, which suggests consumer spending will be in trouble.
Let me explain…
The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index tracks how consumers are feeling in the U.S. economy. The Board asks individuals how they currently feel about the current state of the U.S. economy, their jobs, and so on and if they believe things will change in the next little while.
In February, we found that the index declined 1.6% from the previous month. The Consumer Confidence Index sits at 78.1 this month compared to 79.4 in January. (Source: “The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index Declines Moderately,” The Conference Board web site, February 25, 2014.)
The Conference Board Expectations Index, which tracks what consumers think will happen in the next six months, also dropped significantly. This index stood at 75.7 this month, down 6.3% from 80.8 in January.
These aren’t the only indicators that suggest consumer confidence in the U.S. economy is declining. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index suggests the same. This weekly index is based on how consumers feel about the U.S. economy, their personal finances, and their buying plans.
In its latest results, the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index stood … Read More
How to Prepare for the Stock Market Sell-Off I’ve Been Warning About
By Sasha Cekerevac for Daily Gains Letter | Feb 7, 2014
Well, that didn’t take long! Just a few weeks ago, I wrote an article stating that investors should begin to worry about the lofty level of the stock market. Since that time, the S&P 500 has dropped by more than five percent in less than two weeks.
This market correction won’t be a surprise to my readers, as I have been suggesting investment strategies that can help prepare your portfolio for a large downswing in the market for some time now.
When I wrote the article in late January, the S&P 500 was surging, even though the preliminary Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment dropped month-over-month. Since then, we have seen additional data coming from China showing that its economy is beginning to slow.
The Markit/HSBC China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for January was 49.6, much weaker than expected. (A PMI data point below 50 denotes a contraction in activity.) While many analysts have been expecting China to begin accelerating, this recent data is a dose of reality, as manufacturing jobs in China dropped for the third consecutive month. (Source: “HSBC China Manufacturing PMI,” Markit Economics, January 30, 2014.)
I know what you’re thinking; “Why should investors in the S&P 500 care about what happens in China?” A market correction doesn’t occur based on a single event. When you’re trying to develop investment strategies, especially if you are considering the potential for a market correction in a large index, such as the S&P 500, you have to take many factors into account, as if you’re working on a jigsaw puzzle.
First ask yourself, what are the positive … Read More
Why January Auto Sales Point to Bleak Future for U.S. Economy
By John Whitefoot for Daily Gains Letter | Feb 5, 2014
Despite assurances from analysts, economists, and central bankers, the U.S. economy isn’t faring so well—and the markets are finally beginning to see what we’ve been warning about in these pages all last year.
For sustainable growth, the U.S. economy needs to be reporting consistently strong fiscals. But it isn’t. For starters, the key stock indices, a reflection of the U.S. economy, have extended their sharp January losses. The S&P 500 is down 5.6% year-to-date, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has lost more than seven percent of its value so far this year, the NYSE is down roughly six percent, and the NASDAQ is in the red by four percent.
Every quarter since the beginning of 2013, an increasingly larger number of S&P 500-listed companies have revised their quarterly earnings lower. During the first quarter of 2013, the number stood at 78%. This time around, 81% of S&P 500 companies have revised their first-quarter earnings lower.
Why the big losses? That depends on whom you talk to. The Bank of America, without even a hint of a smirk, blames the much colder-than-expected weather for the weak U.S. economy, meaning the U.S. economy and global markets are performing poorly because of a snow storm…
I suggest the U.S. economy is doing poorly and the U.S. markets are tanking for entirely different reasons. For starters, the U.S. economy needs steady jobs and earnings growth. Instead, the U.S. economy is facing high unemployment and stagnant wages. For the week ended January 25, jobless claims jumped more than forecast to a seasonally adjusted 348,000.
And a record number of Americans rely on food stamps. Interestingly, … Read More
Why This Chart Should Worry Investors
By Sasha Cekerevac for Daily Gains Letter | Jan 24, 2014
Every day it seems as though the S&P 500 makes a new high. This strong performance over the past year is creating complacency, as more retail investors are piling into the market.
However, I would certainly urge caution, especially for any new capital being put to work at these lofty levels. With earnings season upon us, we’ve already seen several sectors in the S&P 500 get hit significantly, especially retail stocks.
We keep hearing about resilience among Americans, but consumer sentiment is not as strong as many analysts believe. This is why I wasn’t surprised when retailers disappointed.
One of the common arguments I hear about the S&P 500 is that the market is not expensive historically. I disagree with this argument, and add that the underlying fundamental strength of the U.S. economy, built on consumer sentiment, is far weaker than most people believe.
Regarding the valuation level of the overall stock market, best represented by the S&P 500, an interesting data point comes from Professor Robert Shiller of Yale University, whose research shows that U.S. stocks currently trade at a 25.4 multiple of the cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio—far above the historical average. (Source: The Economist, January 4, 2014.)
Now, it would make sense for investors to pay a premium for S&P 500 companies if the economy and consumer sentiment were accelerating, But this is not the case.
Profit growth by the S&P 500 companies is decelerating. For the third quarter, total profits by corporations in America were $39.2 billion, down from a $66.8-billion increase in corporate profits during the second quarter. (Source: Ibid.)
Not only are companies within the … Read More
Three Bullish ETFs for an Increasingly Optimistic Eurozone
By John Whitefoot for Daily Gains Letter | Oct 25, 2013
Despite Congress miraculously pulling the U.S. back from the brink of destruction by temporarily raising the debt ceiling and ending the U.S. government shutdown, Americans continue to be a pessimistic bunch. But can you blame us?
According to Gallup’s U.S. Economic Confidence Index, consumer sentiment remains in negative territory. After falling to -39 during the recent standoff in Washington, U.S. economic confidence has improved to -36. To use the term “improved” is being generous; in late May, the index was at -3. (Source: “U.S. Economic Confidence Index [Weekly],” Gallup web site, October 14, 2013.)
While the brinksmanship in Washington is (temporarily) over, our pessimism isn’t. According to another poll, 71% said economic conditions right now are poor, while just 29% said economic conditions are good—the lowest level of the year. Now granted, it takes time for economic confidence to return; following the debt negotiations in 2011, it took economic confidence five months to recover. (Source: Steinhauser, P., “CNN Poll: After shutdown, America is less optimistic about economy,” CNN web site, October 22, 2013.)
Unfortunately, it could be worse this time, thanks in large part to high unemployment and stagnant income and wages. And there’s also the fact that Washington only agreed to fund the government through to January 15, 2014 and extend the debt ceiling through February 7, 2014. Americans can’t get too optimistic about the economy knowing the government is just taking time to reload.
Fortunately, there are economic lands where optimism is blooming in light of real economic change. Economic optimism in the eurozone improved for the fifth straight month and hit a two-year high in September. The … Read More
Back-to-School Season Disappointing for Retail Sector
By John Whitefoot for Daily Gains Letter | Sep 9, 2013
Students aren’t the only ones unhappy this back-to-school season. U.S. companies in the retail sector, which rely on back-to-school shoppers to propel their mid-year sales, are also despondent. Perhaps not surprisingly, August’s bearish consumer sentiment reading of 80.0 has translated into tepid spending on everything back-to-school, including clothing, backpacks, shoes, notebooks, and laptops. (Source: “U.S. consumer sentiment weakens in August,” Reuters, August 16, 2013.)
August sales in U.S. chain stores climbed a modest 3.7% year-over-year; that’s up a sliver from July’s 3.5% gain, but down significantly from the six-percent gain reported in August 2012. While some U.S. retail sector stocks reported stronger-than-expected August sales, many had to resort to slashing prices to get there. The Gap, Inc. (NYSE/GPS), one of the biggest apparel metrics, said August sales were up three percent. (Source: “August Chain-Store Sales Post Gain of 3.7%,” ICSC.org, September 5, 2013.)
Next to the winter holidays, the back-to-school season (which runs from mid-July to mid-September) is the second-biggest period for shopping. And in an effort to boost mediocre revenues in the third quarter (ended September 30), many stores in the retail sector are expected to continue offering even steeper discounts.
While back-to-school sales are not the most reliable predictor for how the American retail sector will do during the November and December shopping seasons (which can account for 40% of annual sales), they are a good reflection of ongoing consumer confidence—and the American economy as a whole.
Sure, the average American homeowner has (apparently) seen their personal wealth increase as a result of a slightly improving housing market, but that’s all on paper. Most Americans are faced with … Read More
Consumer Confidence Increases: Will the Stock Market Follow?
By Moe Zulfiqar for Daily Gains Letter | May 21, 2013
In May, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s preliminary consumer sentiment index, an early gauge of consumer confidence in the U.S. economy, registered at 83.7, up from 76.4 in April. This is the highest the index has been since July of 2007. Economists were expecting the index to register at 78. (Source: Schnurr, L., “May consumer sentiment highest in nearly six years,” Reuters, May 17, 2013.)
Why is consumer confidence important? It is often said that consumer confidence can be a good indicator of where the key stock indices in the U.S. are headed next. The reasoning behind this is that the U.S. economy thrives on consumer spending—meaning the more Americans spend, the more the economic growth.
If consumers are pessimistic, they will spend less. Think of it this way: if you find that businesses in the industry you work in are cutting jobs—say, because of recession—would you be spending as much? Or would you hoard and save as much as you can? This phenomenon may result in lower corporate profits and a decline in the stock market.
Similarly, if consumers are confident—for example, they think their jobs are going to be there for a while—they will not be hesitant to spend, meaning higher profits leading to a higher stock market.
Take a look at the chart below:
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
Consumer confidence (red line in the chart above) and the stock market/S&P 500 (green line) seem to be heading in similar directions. Looking at the chart above, the hypothesis that the stock market goes higher as the consumer sentiment increases seems to be true. The S&P 500 and consumer … Read More