Archive for the ‘Consumers’ Category

This is not a Reuters headline you want to wake up to… being put on a Chinese “unreliable entity list.”

Looks like we’re heading for a showdown between everyone’s favorite American president and everyone’s favorite Chinese Communist Party.

And, unfortunately, Apple (AAPL) may be caught in the middle.

Ouch.

Apple reporting earnings yesterday.

They beat significantly lowered expectations on top & bottom line.

How excited were analysts?  Not very.  Only a few upgraded price targets (a bearish sign), and then only by small amounts (also a bearish sign).

AAPL tried to rally… but couldn’t make it over $300… and fell back for a loss on the day.

There’s a reason why 80% of analysts CUT price targets going into earnings… because the virus has really bashed Apple. 

Here is the perspective:

Apple’s guidance for this quarter was a revenue range of $63b to $67b.

From Apple’s conference call yesterday, Tim Cook said:

Based on Apple’s performance during the first five weeks of the quarter, we were confident we were headed toward a record second quarter. At the very high end of our expectations.

That means they were on track for $67b.  But actually it probably means they were on track for $68b to $70b… since Apple is notorious for sandbagging guidance.

But, with the virus, they only logged $58b in revenues.  (Still a huge number, btw.)

Assuming even revenue distribution through the quarter, the $67b would have been about $22.3b per month… so theoretically the $58b was $22.3b + $22.3b + $13.4b, since the bulk of the virus problems hit in March.

So… if we take $13.4b as what they did in March… and assume an “uptick” for April (as Cook called it in the earnings call)… and assume things don’t really open up in U.S. or Europe until June… and assume a “normal” June… we could guess revenues might be $14b + $14b + $22.3b or about $50b…

… that’s if everything opens up in June and things go back to the “happy go lucky!” good times of Janurary.

Hello?  Are any of the Apple fanboys bidding up AAPL listening?  That’s still a big-ass revenue contraction… like 30% below a ballpark of what their pre-virus performance might have been… when the stock was hitting an all-time high of $327.85.

So why is AAPL currently trading just 10% below that now?

Because the reality of the next 1-2 quarters hasn’t sunk in for Apple investors yet.

Seems to me my simple, back-of-the-envelope hack calculations suggest AAPL should be down another 20%… or <$240.

And that’s not even including what happens if we see a second wave of infections… or if the market, which shot up in April, naturally cycles down 5-10% in May.

My 2 cents.

I’m a contrarian. It’s my observation that when everyone thinks one thing, the real, outsized opportunity is the other.

But what happens when everyone thinks one thing… but the market is thinking quite another?

Take AAPL. From a low of around $212 a month ago, it’s powered its way to almost $290. More impressively, just about 12% from its all-time high.

Heck, if you went way out on a limb, you could probably say that’s even within a normal trading range.  “Has the whole world stopped?  We didn’t notice!”

But all through this romp upwards, most Apple analysts have been decidedly negative.

Out of about 30 analyst moves in the last two months, a whopping 80% of them were downgrades.

To put this in context, Intel analysts were split 50/50 between upgrades and downgrades going into their earnings last Thursday.  So, relatively speaking, 80/20 to the negative side is a big spread.

 

 

As important, some of the AAPL downgrades were double downgrades… that is, a second price-target cut within just a few weeks.

So what’s the contrarian play here? Go against analysts and buy?  Or go against the market and short?

I think you go against the market. That’s the bigger “everyone” in this case.

Going against the market also seems, well, more rational to me.  I love Apple but I think the current market enthusiasm seems excessive given our uncertain environment:  Uncertain when lock-downs will end… uncertain that people will want to congregate at Apple Stores when they do… uncertain when we’ll see a vaccine… uncertain that a 2nd, or even 3rd, inflection wave may hit… and so on.

This uncertain environment is awesome for a select number of businesses… say Amazon and Netflix… but could be less kind to a (mostly) consumer hardware company like Apple.  Not that I’m not saying people can live without their iPhones — they can’t — but I am saying they may be less quick to buy $1,000 upgrades.

No doubt, what makes going against Apple scary is it’s one of a handful of companies that has the business levers to manage its way around a crisis like this.  And they are notorious for pulling rabbits-out-of-hats.

Still, a V-shaped recovery?  THE ENTIRE WORLD HAS SHUT DOWN.  Does a (mostly) consumer hardware company merit trading anywhere near an all-time high?  Does the market merit trading anywhere near an all-time high?  Somewhere in this equation there has to be some p-a-i-n.

I’m not the first person to say there’s a good chance we’ll see another downdraft.  So if Apple does surprise to the upside, AAPL could still take a tumble along with the rest of the market.  Nice to have a backup scenario in this situation.

P.S. A couple of other quick AAPL trading comments:

  • While Apple has done a terrific job moving into services, these are still only about 20% of company’s revenues. Meaning, Apple is still mostly a hardware company.
  • Intel, also a hardware company, has had a similar run-up as AAPL. Last Thursday INTC blew away their numbers, benefitting from the Coronavirus “work at home” situation. Apparently, with mobile being such a huge focus the last few years, home desktop machines have been ignored and needed updating.
  • In contrast, you don’t need to upgrade your iPhone to work at home.
  • One last data point: Even though Intel blew out numbers, INTC finished flat for the day.

Dow is a hair away from 24,000 as I write this.  Nasdaq a shade over 8,500.  We’re back to being closer to the top than the recent bottom.

Today’s action felt like it’s really, truly going to be a V-shaped recovery… that we should be back at our old highs in no time at all.

But… b-e-w-a-r-e.

Because it was just a few weeks ago that it felt like the crashing would really, truly never end.

And that’s what happens during a crisis… the mania swings in both directions.

Don’t get me wrong:  We have a lot going for us in this crash.  Oil is really low… and that’s my #1 requirement for an advancing economy.  Companies headed into this crisis with a lot more going for them, too (i.e., real growth, real revenues, and real profits).  And lots of technology companies are going to absolutely thrive in this crisis, for example, Amazon, Netflix, DoorDash… anything to do with the cloud… and so on.

And, critically, the government has backstopped everything with TRILLIONS in bailout money.  (“Oh, yeah, that.”)

But let’s call a few spades spades here:  THE ENTIRE WORLD JUST STOPPED!  That’s going to affect many, many more companies than will benefit.  Stocks ran up waaay too much before the crash, too, so even without a crash, they needed a 10-20% correction just to whack them back in line.  And — most significantly — no one really knows when we go back to normal.

This last point is the key.

This V-shaped rally — where stocks go straight down, then go straight back up, forming a “V” pattern — is almost entirely predicated on us getting back to normal soon.

As in, investors already know this quarter is going to be a disaster, but they think they might have the next one in the bag.

But what about the next quarter?

If I’m the CEO or CFO responsible for offering public company forward guidance… in this environment… there’s no way I’m touching that with a 10-foot pole.  That’s a guaranteed lawsuit just waiting to happen.

So, unless I’m one of the handful of companies that are crushing it during this crisis, there’s no way I’m going to be even the slightest bit optimistic about the future.  Because everything is uncertain.  How long this will last.  What the 2nd wave looks like.  Or the 3rd.  Or if people really are developing immunity.  And so on.

So I either give the biggest low-ball guidance in history — or what is happening more and more — I simply refuse to offer any forward guidance.

That’s when the next shoe drops.

When analysts and investors see this negativity… then try to understand this negativity… then realize they’re now really, truly flying blind… that’s when the rug gets pulled out from under them…

… and the market, too.

Because that’s not going to feel like “soon.”  That will, for a period, feel just like FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt).

It’s inevitable.

Because mania is inevitable.

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.