April Showers

Below the shifting landscape that debates the notion as to whether tariffs are a negotiating ploy or the real deal, some pig farmers are now operating at a loss of thousands of dollars per week (futures markets have priced in tariffs) and soybean growers are considering whether to reduce their plantings to avoid the same fate.  Meanwhile the impact on our NAFTA partners is also being considered across the borders.  Canada can increase their soybean and pork sales to China but the net impact will still be negative to them considering the magnitude of trade volumes.  Mexico is expanding ties to China in an effort to mitigate the ‘Trump’ effect.  All the while, the administration has to be aware that China holds the ultimate ‘trump’ card in the debt held.  Some bearish views posit US interest rates could rise to 14% if China ceases their bond purchases.

With these headlines staring at us, it would be excusable to have missed some of the underlying news – one being in healthcare.  Two of my companies made the news this past week with possible or rumored deals; Shire (SHPG) and Humana (HUM).  Takeda’s interest in Shire has all the appearances of industry consolidation, Wal-Mart and Humana’s discussions are more along the lines of being one of the last gorillas.

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The Big Boys are Playing

I was starting to wonder when – not if – and how the big guns would start deploying their cash stash.  Most have investors to answer to and it has been a relatively quiet year so far – so it must be time to begin prowling for deals to bake and pots to stir.

First out of the chutes was the kingpin Warren fresh off the aborted Unilever deal.  Leaving 3G in his dust, last week he ran one from his playbook that worked before.  This time the victim being Home Capital Group which required a cash infusion following a run on deposits.  His $C2B 9.0% loan is at better terms than the one currently in place provided by the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan.  He’s also getting a discounted share price on a stake that could equal 38%.  The advisors were RY and BMO in which I’m long both.  As an aside … if the US dollar weakens further, profits could be booked on the FX angle as well.

Then only this morning he announced a 9.8% stake in Store Capital.  This one should provide support for REITs in general while (at least on paper) be an investment that meets his standards for playing nice.

This morning brought the announcement that Dan Loeb’s Third Point has amassed a 1.3% stake in Nestlé.  This appears to be a ploy to pressure the company to create ‘shareholder value’ by shedding assets and taking on debt.  It could be argued that Nestlé’s stake in L’Oreal is a slight hedge against commodity pricing and their conservative nature is an asset rather than liability.  I see this as more of an attempt at greenmail with minimal risk.  If pundits are correct, the Swiss Franc should get stronger versus the US dollar this year.  If so, even without spurring corporate change, profits could be booked on the currency.

In today’s most twisted play, the title goes to Tiger Global who reportedly have shorted Tesco plc while being long Amazon.  Not a bad call with Amazon’s Whole Foods announcement last week hurting grocery retailers.  But if the FT report is correct and this position was initiated in January, one has to wonder if they were privy to inside information?  Especially when initiated anonymously through an offshore entity?

So much for this week’s questions … and onward toward month end.

Some Cracks Begin To Form?

Naysayers of this market (of which I include myself to a degree) have been voicing a concern regarding market valuations.  When reviewing my February results I noticed the average size of  dividend increases was lagging last years’ pace (12.3% in 2016 vs. 7.96% YTD 2017).  One could say it’s too early to make an assessment and that could be true.  But it could also be said that companies are being cautious due to uncertainty in regulations, taxes, inflation and economic growth.  If this were a one-off issue, that would be one thing.  On the other hand I’m starting to see some parallels to times when bubbles existed.

Exhibit #1 – SNAP

When was the last time an IPO was launched successfully with an increased price, profitability uncertain, a twelve month lockup for outside investors and founder retention of roughly 88% of the voting rights?  If so inclined, the safest play is through Comcast (CMCSA)’s roughly 5% ownership of Class A shares.  Can we say dot-com revisited?

Exhibit 2 – Target

Target (TGT – #19) whiffed on earnings and guidance last week.  On one of Lanny’s posts, my comment How many were blindsided by TGT’s report yesterday, how many updated their forward estimates and how many incorporated the fact (illustrated by mgmt) that a turn around was (minimally) two years out and would incur additional costs in store conversions and IT expense?  raised the question Did you, by any chance, seize the opportunity, by the way, at TGT? Or waiting for some dust to settle?. 

The short answer is no and not likely near term.  All retailers are struggling against Amazon (AMZN).  I have exposure to Wal-mart (WMT) through a trust I manage.  WMT is about a year ahead of TGT via their Jet acquisition but still significantly lag AMZN.  The good news is TGT now recognizes a problem.  My question surrounds their execution (and time required).  Yet several bloggers bought this dip.  They may be correct but this one currently carries more risk than reward in my book.

Exhibit 3 – Caterpillar

It’s always disconcerting to have Federal agents raiding corporate offices.  To have it broadcast live on television raises the stakes.  Caterpillar (CAT – #32) experienced this treatment last week.  Not overly surprising as CAT has been embroiled in a dispute with the IRS regarding alleged shifting of profits offshore to a Swiss subsidiary.  What I found interesting was that FDIC regulators participated … which perhaps raises a new question of money laundering?

Exhibit 4 – Costco

Sliding back to the retail space, we have another DGI darling illustrating how customer loyalty should be rewarded.  Costco (COST- #156) reported Y/Y revenue growth due only to new stores and membership fees.  Their response?  Let’s boost revenue growth by raising membership fees further!  Talk about a counter-intuitive response.

These are but a few reasons I believe this market warrants an abundance of caution.

Long: CMCSA, WMT (trust).  Ranking based on DGI popularity list.

2015: What Went Right

Yesterday I published a post where I referenced an article by Bespoke Investment Group. During this season of reflection of the past year and anticipation of the one to come – aka goal setting – I figured further analysis of their article and its relationship to the DGI community might be warranted.

First I need to address the caveats:

  • Only publicly disclosed data culled from portfolios in my Blog Directory were used. If your blog is not listed, your data was not included.
  • My data only reflects a snapshot in time. Once entered in my database I generally make no updates.
  • I make no guaranty as to the accuracy of the data either through input errors, processing errors, or the legitimacy of the source data. Meaning, use at your own risk – or you get what you pay for.

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Methods To My Madness Pt 3

My final post to this series is probably the least defined and most speculative post I’ve composed.  Many have attempted before and I’m sure many will follow, but the topic Cord Cutting and how to profit from it is filled with politics, regulation, evolutionary technology, disruptive practices and good old fashioned corporate greed coming together to create a minefield to negotiate for those seeking answers.

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