Posts

September 9, 2019

Global Market Comments
September 9, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(MARKET OUTLOOK FOR THE WEEK AHEAD, or SAVED BY A HURRICANE)
(FXB), (M), (XOM), (BAC), (FB), (AAPL),
 (AMZN), (ROKU), (VIX), (GS), (MS),

 

August 22, 2019

Global Market Comments
August 22, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:


(WHAT THE NEXT RECESSION WILL LOOK LIKE),

(FB), (AAPL), (NFLX), (GOOGL), (KSS), (VIX), (MS), (GS),
(TESTIMONIAL)

What the Next Recession Will Look Like

The probability of a recession taking place over the next 12 months is now ranging as high as 40%. If the trade war with China escalates, you can mark that up to 100%.

And here’s the scary part. Bear markets front-run recessions by 6-12 months, i.e. now. The bear case is now more persuasive than at any time in the last decade.

We’ll get a better read when the Chinese announce their retaliation for the last American escalation of tariffs on September 1, or in eight trading days. The timing couldn’t be worse. The bad news will come over the US three-day Labor Day weekend, allowing market volatility (VIX) to bunch up, setting up an explosive Tuesday, September 3 opening.

So, it’s time to start asking the question of what the next recession will look like. Are we in for another 2008-2009 meltdown, when friends and relatives lost homes, jobs, and their entire net worth? Or can we look forward to a mild pullback that only economists and data junkies like myself will notice?

I’ll paraphrase one of my favorite Russian authors, Fyodor Dostoevsky, who in Anna Karenina might have said, “all economic expansions are all alike, while recessions are all miserable in their own way.”

Let’s look at some major pillars in the economy. A hallmark of the last recession was the near collapse of the financial system, where the ATMs were probably within a week of shutting down nationally. The government had to step in with the TARP, and mandatory 5% equity ownership in the country’s 20 largest banks.

Back then, banks were leveraged 40:1 in the case of Morgan Stanley (MS) and Goldman Sachs (GS), while Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns were leveraged 100:1. In that case, the most heavily borrowed companies only needed markets to move 1% against them to wipe out their entire capital. That’s exactly what happened. (MS) and (GS) came within a hair’s breadth of going the same way.

Thanks to the Dodd Frank financial regulation bill, banks cannot leverage themselves more than 10:1. They have spent a decade rebuilding balance sheets and reserves. They are now among the healthiest in the world, having become low margin, very low-risk utilities. It is now European and Chinese banks that are going down the tubes.

How about real estate, another major cause of angst in the last recession? The market couldn’t be any more different today. There is a structural shortage of housing, especially at entry-level affordable prices. While liar loans and house flipping are starting to make a comeback, they are nowhere near as prevalent a decade ago. And the mis-rating of mortgage-backed securities from single “C” to triple “A” is now a distant memory. (I still can’t believe no one ever went to jail for that!).

And interest rates? We went into the last recession with a 6% overnight rate and 7% 30-year fixed rate mortgage. Now, overnight rates are at 2.25% and the 30-year is at 3.6% with both falling like a stone. It’s hard to imagine a real estate crisis with rates at zero and a shortage of supply.

The auto industry has been in a mild recession for the past two years, with annual production stalling at 16.8 million units, versus a 2009 low of 9 million units. In any case, the challenges to the industry are now more structural than cyclical, with new buyers decamping en masse to electric vehicles made on the west coast.

Of far greater concern are industries that are already in recession now. Energy has been flagging since oil prices peaked seven years ago, despite massive tax subsidies. It is suffering from a structural over supply and falling demand.

Retailers have been in a Great Depression for five years, squeezed on one side by Amazon and the other by China. A decade into store closings and the US is STILL over stored. However, many of these shares are already so close to zero that the marginal impact on the major indexes will be small.

Financials and legacy banks are also facing a double squeeze from Fintech innovation and collapsing interest rates. There isn’t much margin in a loan where the customer is paying only 3.6%, and 2% in a year. All of those expensive national networks with branches on every street corner will be gone in the 2020s.

And no matter how bad the coming recession gets, technology, now 26% of the S&P 500, will keep powering on. Combined revenues of the four FANGs in Q2 came in at $118.7 billion and earnings were at $26.5 billion. That leaves a mighty big cushion for any slowdown. That’s a lot more than the “eyeballs” and market shares they possessed of a decade ago.

So, netting all this out, how bad will the next recession be? Not bad at all. I’m looking at a couple of quarters small negative numbers. Then the end of the China trade war, which can’t last any more than 18 months, and ultra-low interest rates, will enable recovery and probably another decade of decent US growth.

The stock market, however, is another kettle of fish. While the economy may slow from a 2.2% annual rate to -0.1% or -0.2%, the major indexes could fall much more than that, say 30% to 40%. Don’t forget, we already saw a horrendous 20% swan dive in the run-up to last December.

Earnings multiples are still at a 17X high compared to a 9X low in 2009. Shares would have to drop 47% just to match the last low, and earnings are already falling. Equity weightings in portfolios are high. Money is pouring out of stock funds into bond ones.

Corporations buying back their own shares have been the principal prop from the market for the past three years. Some large companies, like Kohls (KSS), have retired as much as 50% of their outstanding equity in ten years.

So get used to the high market volatility (VIX) we have seen in August. It could be only the trailer for the main show.

 

 

 

 

The Next Bear Market is Not Far Off

July 15, 2019

Mad Hedge Technology Letter
July 15, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(HOW SOFTBANK IS TAKING OVER THE US VENTURE CAPITAL BUSINESS),
(SFTBY), (BABA), (GRUB), (WMT), (GM), (GS)

How SoftBank is Taking Over the US Venture Capital Business

The man with the 300-year vision – Softbank’s Masayoshi Son.

He is the sole force exerting stultifying pressure on the venture capitalists of Silicon Valley.

What a ride it has been so far.

His $100 billion SoftBank Vision Fund has put the Sand Hill Road faithful in a tizzy – utterly revolutionizing an industry and showing who the true power resides with.

He has even gone so far as to double down on his exploits by claiming that he will raise additional $100 billion fund every few years and spend $50 billion per year.

This capital logically would flow into what he knows best – technology and the best technology money can buy.

Lately, Son said it best of the performance of the Vision Fund saying, “Results have actually been too good.”

So good that after this June, Son changed his schedule to spend 3% of his time on his telecom business down from 97% before June.

His telecommunications business in Japan has turned into a footnote.

It was just recently that Son’s tech investments eclipsed his legacy communications company.

Son vies to rinse and repeat this strategy to the horror of other venture capitalists.

The bottomless pit of capital he brings to the table predictably raises the prices for everyone in the tech investment world.

Son’s capital warfare strategy revolves around one main trope – Artificial Intelligence. 

He also strictly selects industry leaders which have a high chance of dominating their field of expertise.

Geographically speaking, the fund has pinpointed America and China as the best sources of companies. India takes in the bronze medal.

His eyes have been squarely set on Silicon Valley for quite some time and his record speaks for himself scooping up stakes in power players such as Uber, WeWork, Slack, and GM (GM) Cruise.

Other stakes in Chinese firms he’s picked up are China’s Uber Didi Chuxing, China’s GrubHub (GRUB) Ele.me and the first digital insurer in China named Zhongan International costing him $500 million.

Other notable deals done are its sale of Flipkart to Walmart (WMT) for $4 billion giving SoftBank a $1.5 billion or 60% profit on the $2.5 billion position.

In 2016, the entire venture capitalist industry registered $75.3 billion in capital allocation according to the National Venture Capital Association.

This one company is rivalling that same spending power by itself.

Its smallest deal isn’t even small at $100 million, baffling the local players forcing them to scurry back to the drawing board.

The reverberation has been intense and far-reaching in Silicon Valley with former stalwarts such as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers breaking up, outmaneuvered by this fresh newcomer with unlimited capital.

Let me remind you that it was once considered standard to cautiously wade into investment with several millions.

Venture capitalists would take stock of the progress and reassess if they wanted to delve in some more.

There was no bazooka strategy then.

SoftBank has promised boatloads of capital up front even overpaying in some cases in order to set the new market price.

Conveniently, Son stations himself nearby at a nine-acre estate in Woodside, California complete with an Italianate mansion he bought for $117.5 million in 2012.

It was one of the most expensive properties ever purchased in the state of California, even topping Hostess Brands owner Daren Metropoulos, who bought the Playboy Mansion from Hugh Hefner in 2016 for $100 million.

If you think Son is posh – he is not. He only fits himself out in the Japanese budget clothing brand Uniqlo. He just needed a comfortable place to stay and he hates hotels.

SoftBank hopes to cash in on its $4.4 billion investment in WeWork, an American office space-share company, proclaiming that WeWork would be his “next Alibaba.”

The company plans to shortly go public.

Son continued to say that WeWork is “something completely new that uses technology to build and network communities.”

Other additions to SoftBank’s dazzling array of unicorns is Bytedance, a start-up whose algorithms have fueled shot form video content app TikTok.

The deal values the company at $75 billion.

They have been able to insulate themselves from local industry giants Tencent and Alibaba.

Son has revealed that the Vision Fund’s annual rate of return has been 44%.

Cherry-picking off the top of the heap from the best artificial intelligence companies in the world is the secret recipe to outperforming your competitors.

At the same time, aggressively throwing money at these companies has effectively frozen out any resemblance of competition. Once the competition is frozen out, the value of these investments explodes, swiftly super-charged by rapidly expanding growth drivers.

How can you compete with a man who is willing to pay $300 million for a dog walking app?

This genius strategy has made the founder of SoftBank the most powerful businessman in the world.

Son owns the future and will have the largest say on how the world and economies evolve going forward.

June 4, 2019

Global Market Comments
June 4, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26 SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA STRATEGY LUNCHEON)
(TEN UGLY MESSAGES FROM THE BOND MARKET),
(TLT), (TBT), (USO), (GLD), (GS), (SPY)

March 25, 2019

Mad Hedge Technology Letter
March 25, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(APPLE’S BIG PUSH INTO SERVICES)
(AAPL), (GS), (NFLX), (GOOGL), (ROKU)

Apple’s Big Push Into Services

The future of Apple (AAPL) has arrived.

Apple has endured a tumultuous last six months, but the company and the stock have turned the page on the back of the anticipation of the new Apple streaming service that Apple plans to introduce next week at an Apple event.

The company also recently announced a partnership with Goldman Sachs (GS) to launch an Apple-branded credit card.

In the deal, Goldman Sachs will pay Apple for each consumer credit card that is issued.

These new initiatives indicate that Apple is doing its utmost to wean itself from hardware sales.

Effectively, Apple’s over-reliance on hardware sales was the reason for its catastrophic winter of 2018 when Apple shares fell off a cliff trending lower by almost 35%.

This new Apple is finally here to save the day and will demonstrate the high-quality of engineering the company possesses to roll out such a momentous service.

Frankly speaking, Apple needs this badly.

They were awkwardly wrong-footed when Chinese consumers in unison stopped buying iPhones destroying sales targets that heaped bad news onto a bad situation.

I never thought that Apple could pivot this quickly.

Apple’s move into online streaming has huge ramifications to competing companies such as Roku (ROKU).

In 2018, I was an unmitigated bull on this streaming platform that aggregates online streaming channels such a Sling TV, Hulu, Netflix and charges digital advertisers to promote their products on the platform through digital ads.

I believe this trade is no more and Roku will be negatively impacted by Apple’s ambitious move into online streaming.

What we do know about the service is that channels such as Starz and HBO will be subscription-based channels that device owners will need to pay a monthly fee and Apple will collect an affiliate commission on these sales.

Apple needs to supplement its original content strategy with periphery deals because Apple just doesn’t have the volume to offer consumers a comprehensive streaming product like Netflix.

Only $1 billion on original content has been spent, and this content will be free for device owners who have Apple IDs.

Apple’s original content budget is 1/9 of Netflix annual original content budget.

My guess is that Apple wants to take stock of the streaming product on a smaller scale, run the data analytics and make some tough strategic decisions before launching this service in a full-blown way.

It’s easier to clean up a $1 billion mess than a $9 billion mess, but knowing Apple and its hallmarks of precise execution, I’d be shocked if they make a boondoggle out of this.

Transforming the company from a hardware to a software company will be the long-lasting legacy of Tim Cook.

The first stage of implementation will see Apple seeking for a mainstay show that can ingrain the service into the public’s consciousness.

Netflix was a great example, showing that hit shows such as House of Cards can make or break an ecosystem and keep it extremely sticky ensuring viewers will stay inside a walled pay garden.

Apple hopes to convince traditional media giants such as the Wall Street Journal to place content on Apple’s platform, but there has already been blowback from companies like the New York Times who referenced Netflix’s demolition of traditional video content as a crucial reason to avoid placing original content on big tech platforms.

Netflix understands how they blew up other media companies and don’t expect them to be on Apple’s streaming service.

They wouldn’t be caught dead on it.

Tim Cook will have to run this race without the wind of Netflix’s sails at their back.

Netflix has great content, and that content will never leave the Netflix platform come hell or high water.

Apple is just starting with a $1 billion content budget, but I believe that will mushroom between $4 to $5 billion next year, and double again in 2021 to take advantage of the positive network effect.

Apple has every incentive to manufacture original content if third-party original content is not willing to place content on Apple’s platform due to fear of cannibalization or loss of control.

Ultimately, Apple is up against Netflix in the long run and Apple has a serious shot at competing because of the embedment of 1 billion users already inside of Apple’s iOS ecosystem that can easily be converted into Apple streaming service customers.

If you haven’t noticed lately, Silicon Valley’s big tech companies are all migrating into service-related SaaS products with Alphabet (GOOGL) announcing a new gaming product that will bypass traditional consoles and operate through the Google Chrome browser.

Even Walmart (WMT) announced its own solution to gaming with a new cloud-based gaming service.

I envision Apple traversing into the gaming environment too and using this new streaming service as a fulcrum to launch this gaming product on Apple TV in the future.

The big just keep getting bigger and are nimble enough to go where internet users spend their time and money whether it’s sports, gaming, or shopping.

Apple is no longer the iPhone company.

I have said numerous times that Apple’s pivot to software was about a year too late. 

The announcement next week would have been more conducive to supporting Apple’s stock price if it was announced the same time last year, but better late than never.

Moving forward, Apple shares should be a great buy and hold investment vehicle.

Expect many more cloud-based services under the umbrella of the Apple brand.

This is just the beginning.

 

 

 

January 17, 2019

Mad Hedge Technology Letter
January 17, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(WHY FINTECH IS EATING THE BANKS’ LUNCH),
(WFC), (JPM), (BAC), (C), (GS), (XLF), (PYPL), (SQ), (SPOT), (FINX), (INTU)

Why FinTech is Eating the Banks’ Lunch

Going into January 2018, the big banks were highlighted as the pocket of the equity market that would most likely benefit from a rising rate environment which in turn boosts net interest margins (NIM).

Fast forward a year and take a look at the charts of Bank of America (BAC), Citibank (C), JP Morgan (JPM), Goldman Sachs (GS), and Morgan Stanley (GS), and each one of these mainstay banking institutions are down between 10%-20% from January 2018.

Take a look at the Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLF) that backs up my point.

And that was after a recent 10% move up at the turn of the calendar year.

As much as it pains me to say it, bloated American banks have been completely caught off-guard by the mesmerizing phenomenon that is FinTech.

Banking is the latest cohort of analog business to get torpedoes by the brash tech start-up culture.

This is another fitting example of what will happen when you fail to evolve and overstep your business capabilities allowing technology to move into the gaps of weakness.

Let me give you one example.

I was most recently in Tokyo, Japan and was out of cash in a country that cash is king.

Japan has gone a long way to promoting a cashless society, but some things like a classic sushi dinner outside the old Tsukiji Fish Market can’t always be paid by credit card.

I found an ATM to pull out a few hundred dollars’ worth of Japanese yen.

It was already bad enough that the December 2018 sell-off meant a huge rush into the safe haven currency of the Japanese Yen.

The Yen moved from 114 per $1 down to 107 in one month.

That was the beginning of the bad news.

I whipped out my Wells Fargo debit card to withdraw enough cash and the fees accrued were nonsensical.

Not only was I charged a $5 fixed fee for using a non-Wells Fargo ATM, but Wells Fargo also charged me 3% of the total amount of the transaction amount.

Then I was hit on the other side with the Japanese ATM slamming another $5 fixed fee on top of that for a non-Japanese ATM withdrawal.

For just a small withdrawal of a few hundred dollars, I was hit with a $20 fee just to receive my money in paper form.

Paper money is on their way to being artifacts.

This type of price gouging of banking fees is the next bastion of tech disruption and that is what the market is telling us with traditional banks getting hammered while a strong economy and record profits can’t entice investors to pour money into these stocks.

FinTech will do what most revolutionary technology does, create an enhanced user experience for cheaper prices to the consumers and wipe the greedy traditional competition that was laughing all the way to the bank.

The best example that most people can relate to on a daily basis is the transportation industry that was turned on its head by ride-sharing mavericks Uber and Lyft.

But don’t ask yellow cab drivers how they think about these tech companies.

Highlighting the strong aversion to traditional banking business is Slack, the workplace chat app, who will follow in the footsteps of online music streaming platform Spotify (SPOT) by going public this year without doing a traditional IPO.

What does this mean for the traditional banks?

Less revenue.

Slack will list directly and will set its own market for the sale of shares instead of leaning on an investment bank to stabilize the share price.

Recent tech IPOs such as Apptio, Nutanix and Twilio all paid 7% of the proceeds of their offering to the underwriting banks resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

Directly listings will cut that fee down to $10-20 million, a far cry from what was once status quo and a historical revenue generation machine for Wall Street.

This also layers nicely with my general theme of brokers of all types whether banking, transportation, or in the real estate market gradually be rooted out by technology.

In the world of pervasive technology and free information thanks to Google search, brokers have never before added less value than they do today.

Slowly but surely, this trend will systematically roam throughout the economic landscape culling new victims.

And then there are the actual FinTech companies who are vying to replace the traditional banks with leaner tech models saving money by avoiding costly brick and mortar branches that dot American suburbs.

PayPal (PYPL) has been around forever, but it is in the early stages of ramping up growth.

That doesn’t mean they have a weak balance sheet and their large embedded customer base approaching 250 million users has the network effect most smaller FinTech players lack.

PayPal is directly absorbing market share from the big banks as they have rolled out debit cards and other products that work well for millennials.

They are the owners of Venmo, the super-charged peer-to-peer payment app wildly popular amongst the youth.

Shares of PayPal’s have risen over 200% in the past 2 years and as you guessed, they don’t charge those ridiculous fees that banks do.

Wells Fargo and Bank of America charge a $12 monthly fee for balances that dip below $1,500 at the end of any business day.

Your account at PayPal can have a balance of 0 and there will never be any charge whatsoever.

Then there is the most innovative FinTech company Square who recently locked in a new lease at the Uptown Station in Downtown Oakland expanding their office space by 365,000 square feet for over 2,000 employees.

Square is led by one of the best tech CEOs in Silicon Valley Jack Dorsey.

Not only is the company madly innovative looking to pounce on any pocket of opportunity they observe, but they are extremely diversified in their offerings by selling point of sale (POS) systems and offering an online catering service called Caviar.

They also offer software for Square register for payroll services, large restaurants, analytics, location management, employee management, invoices, and Square capital that provides small loans to businesses and many more.

On average, each customer pays for 3.4 Square software services that are an incredible boon for their software-as-a-service (SaaS) portfolio.

An accelerating recurring revenue stream is the holy grail of software business models and companies who execute this model like Microsoft (MSFT) and Salesforce (CRM) are at the apex of their industry.

The problem with trading this stock is that it is mind-numbingly volatile. Shares sold off 40% in the December 2018 meltdown, but before that, the shares doubled twice in the past two years.

Therefore, I do not promote trading Square short-term unless you have a highly resistant stomach for elevated volatility.

This is a buy and hold stock for the long-term.

And that was only just two companies that are busy redrawing the demarcation lines.

There are others that are following in the same direction as PayPal and Square based in Europe.

French startup Shine is a company building an alternative to traditional bank accounts for freelancers working in France.

First, download the app.

The company will guide you through the simple process — you need to take a photo of your ID and fill out a form.

It almost feels like signing up to a social network and not an app that will store your money.

You can send and receive money from your Shine account just like in any banking app.

After registering, you receive a debit card.

You can temporarily lock the card or disable some features in the app, such as ATM withdrawals and online payments.

Since all these companies are software thoroughbreds, improvement to the platform is swift making the products more efficient and attractive.

There are other European mobile banks that are at the head of the innovation curve namely Revolut and N26.

Revolut, in just 6 months, raised its valuation from $350 million to $1.7 billion in a dazzling display of growth.

Revolut’s core product is a payment card that celebrates low fees when spending abroad—but even more, the company has swiftly added more and more additional financial services, from insurance to cryptocurrency trading and current accounts.

Remember my little anecdote of being price-gouged in Tokyo by Wells Fargo, here would be the solution.

Order a Revolut debit card, the card will come in the mail for a small fee.

Customers then can link a simple checking account to the Revolut debit card ala PayPal.

Why do this?

Because a customer armed with a Revolut debit card linked to a bank account can use the card globally and not be charged any fees.

It would be the same as going down to your local Albertson’s and buying a six-pack, there are no international or hidden fees.

There are no foreign transaction fees and the exchange rate is always the mid-market rate and not some manipulated rate that rips you off.

Ironically enough, the premise behind founding this online bank was exactly that, the originators were tired of meandering around Europe and getting hammered in every which way by inflexible banks who could care less about the user experience.

Revolut’s founder, Nikolay Storonsky, has doubled down on the firm’s growth prospects by claiming to reach the goal of 100 million customers by 2023 and a succession of new features.

To say this business has been wildly popular in Europe is an understatement and the American version just came out and is ready to go.

Since December 2018, Revolut won a specialized banking license from the European Central Bank, facilitated by the Bank of Lithuania which allows them to accept deposits and offer consumer credit products.

N26, a German like-minded online bank, echo the same principles as Revolut and eclipsed them as the most valuable FinTech startup with a $2.7 Billion Valuation.

N26 will come to America sometime in the spring and already boast 2.3 million users.

They execute in five languages across 24 countries with 700 staff, most recently launching in the U.K. last October with a high-profile marketing blitz across the capital.

Most of their revenue is subscription-based paying homage to the time-tested recurring revenue theme that I have harped on since the inception of the Mad Hedge Technology Letter.

And possibly the best part of their growth is that the average age of their customer is 31 which could be the beginning of a beautiful financial relationship that lasts a lifetime.

N26’s basic current account is free, while “Black” and “Metal” cards include higher ATM withdrawal limits overseas and benefits such as travel insurance and WeWork membership for a monthly fee.

Sad to say but Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and the others just can’t compete with the velocity of the new offerings let alone the software-backed talent.

We are at an inflection point in the banking system and there will be carnage to the hills, may I even say another Lehman moment for one of these stale business models.

Online banking is here to stay, and the momentum is only picking up steam.

If you want to take the easy way out, then buy the Global X FinTech ETF (FINX) with an assortment of companies exposed to FinTech such as PayPal, Square, and Intuit (INTU).

The death of cash is sooner than you think.

This year is the year of FinTech and I’m not afraid to say it.