Archive for the ‘Consumers’ Category

Everyone is weighing in on Coronavirus prognostications.

I will try to keep mine to just the ones I feel are fairly unique.

My theme?  We couldn’t be better prepared for exactly the crisis we’re going to be going through.

*  This isn’t like the last two great crashes.

The 2001 “Dotcom Crash” was based on massive valuations with zero profits — and in many cases, zero revenues.

The 2008 “Great Recession” crash was based on artificially pumped up real estate prices, not real productivity gains.  (It was also exacerbated by skyrocketing oil prices, due to political, not fundamental, issues… and had twice the unemployment we have now.)

Whatever we’re calling 2020 — The Corona Crash? — we’re starting with real businesses, with real revenue growth, making real profits, involved in real productivity gains, historically low unemployment, and extraordinarily low oil prices.

In other words, we’re already starting with a much stronger hand.

*  Ironically, many of the productivity gains of the last decade involve remote technologies, i.e., letting employees work from home, ordering pretty much anything online, and, as important, socializing from a far.

So, in many ways, the last decade or two has been great practice for this exact situation:  Remote working, remote living, and social distancing.

*  Not only are the remote technologies in place, but the entire millennial generation prefers to socially distance.

Half the time millennials have their heads buried in their phones — even when they’re sitting right next to each other.  So do you really think they care whether they’re in the same room or a different state?  Not at all.

*  While older generations panic about bailouts and handouts and such, the entire millennial generation knows nothing but bailouts and handouts.

So do millennials think we’re in a crisis?  Absolutely not.  Feels pretty normal to them, like it’s just something we go through every once in a while.  What’s the fuss?

*  And finally:  The market needed to be popped.  Markets aren’t supposed to go straight up, like they did almost the entire month of February.

So we’re down 20%?  I can easily make the case we were 30% overvalued.  Because markets aren’t supposed to go straight up.

I’m not saying it’s not going to be rough, but I am saying we seem to be particularly prepared for this crisis.  It’s like a lot of what we need to do is already done.

We’ll see.

There’s a lot of noise in the market.

But there’s usually a lot of noise.

By definition — at any point in time — 50% of people think there’s enough bad in the market to sell their shares to the other 50% who thinks there’s good.

Can’t have a market otherwise.  That’s why I always scoff when someone refers to “easy” trading periods.  It’s never easy.

What helps guide you through the noise is whether your fundamental investment thesis is still intact.

Is mine?  I think the two biggest drivers of corporate profits — which drive the market — are the price of oil and interest rates.  Let’s see where they stand:

* While oil took a little run to the upside, I wouldn’t call it misbehaving.  In fact, it’s shed much of its 2018 gain

* Interest rates are spooking everyone… but 10-year is sneaking back down… and Trump’s on fire about the Fed messing things up — so much so that a few Fed governors have had to reiterate that they won’t, uhm, mess things up (i.e., “will still be accommodative for quite a while”)

* Sentiment is negative.  While that’s not comfortable, as a contrarian I prefer this

So, for me, at least right now, the noise is… just noise… and what we’re seeing is some healthy “letting some air out of the balloon”… which we like… so it doesn’t pop.

 

P.S.  A great example of “noise” was Caterpillar earnings.  They beat top & bottom line.  But everyone was fretting about China and tariffs… and the stock got pounded… even though if you read their commentary, you find CAT itself wasn’t so worried about the effect of China or tariffs on its business.  Here’s some commentary from their 10/23/18 earnings call:

* CATERPILLAR SAYS FEEL GOOD ABOUT EQUIPMENT DEMAND IN CHINA NEXT YEAR

* CATERPILLAR SAYS EXPECT BUSINESS TO CONTINUE TO IMPROVE IN 2019 VERSUS 2018

* CATERPILLAR SAYS CONTINUE TO EXPECT INDUSTRY SALES IN CHINA FOR 10-TON-AND-ABOVE EXCAVATORS TO BE UP ABOUT 40 PERCENT FOR THE FULL YEAR

* CATERPILLAR SAYS EXPECT IMPACT OF 25 PERCENT IMPORT TARIFF ON ADDITIONAL $200 BILLION CHINESE GOODS TO BE ‘QUITE MINOR’

These are all good things, right?!

No one is really talking about what could potentially be MIND BLOWING at tomorrow’s big Apple announcement.

Sure, lots of talk about the next rev of iPhones.  And bigger iPads.  But Apple TV is relegated to back-of-the-bus stuff.

Why?  Because everyone had been expecting either (1) an actual Apple TV set, or (2) that whole “skinny” bundle cord-cutting thing… so they’re all somewhat disappointed.

But I think — rather, I’m hoping — everyone has it wrong.

And that is that Apple has created a product that will let Apple do to the TV experience that they did to the cell phone experience… and that is completely redefine what we expect from TV.

How will they do this?  By announcing “iOS TV”… essentially unleashing their 11 million or so iOS programmers on TV.

That would change the face of TV as we know it.

It’s been a really long time coming (here and here).  But, in about 24 hours, we could be saying once again, “Do you want to do this with your TV set?  Yep, there’s an app for that!”

Right.

Not for the faint of heart.

On days like Thursday and Friday — where the market was pounded into oblivion — it’s good to take a step back and test popular thinking.

There are two themes driving the market:  China and oil.

China

China is slowing down.  Which businesses are affected?  Certainly the infrastructure businesses.  The fall out?  The commodity free fall.  (Yet another thing pressuring oil downward.)  What about Chinese consumers?  Not so much, China is still growing at 6-7% — considered hypergrowth for just about everyone else — so obviously the Chinese working class is still benefiting.  Remembering that the ills in the Shanghai stock market only affects 1 in 10 Chinese consumers… which (I’m concluding something obvious for emphasis) leaves 9 of 10 unaffected by the volatility… and I suspect consumer spending in China probably feels like Silicon Valley restaurants during the last two stock market crashes:  Still packed.

Oil

Oil is going down, which some people think is bearish because they believe it’s an indication that the world has stopped growing.  I won’t say that’s a good thing…

… but cheaper energy prices means more money in everyone’s pocket… which means everyone can buy more things… like highly desirable iPhones and such… and that means higher corporate profits…

… which is a great thing.

So, weird to me that people are weirded out by falling oil prices… that’s something to celebrate.

BTW, falling oil prices are less a function of lessening demand and more a function of greater supply.  We’re producing more than the world needs right now, no wonder oil prices are coming down.

More Responsible At Home?

On top of all of this, U.S. consumers seem to be acting more responsibly… check a news item that seems to have slipped through the cracks on Friday:

The national average FICO score is now 695 — the highest it has been in at least a decade, according to the latest analysis from Fair Isaac Corporation, the score’s creator.

In Summary

I disagree with the major themes driving the market.

The Chinese consumer isn’t history.

Lower oil prices are good for everyone except for those in the oil business (sorry oil business!).

And, as painful as it is to say, blowing off steam isn’t the worst thing in a bull market that’s lasted as long as this one… in fact, it’s kinda healthy.