Global Market Comments
June 23, 2020
(HERE ARE THE FOUR BEST PANDEMIC-INSPIRED TECHNOLOGY TRENDS),
(AMZN), (CHWY), (EBAY), NFLX), (SPOT), (TMUS), (ATVI), (V), (PYPL), (AAPL), (MA), (TDOC), (ISRG), (TMDI)
Global Market Comments
June 23, 2020
(HERE ARE THE FOUR BEST PANDEMIC-INSPIRED TECHNOLOGY TRENDS),
(AMZN), (CHWY), (EBAY), NFLX), (SPOT), (TMUS), (ATVI), (V), (PYPL), (AAPL), (MA), (TDOC), (ISRG), (TMDI)
Global Market Comments
April 15, 2020
(GOODBYE TO THE OLD WORLD, HELLO TO THE NEW)
(TGT), (WMT), (ZM), (NFLX), (PYPL), (SQ), (AMZN), (MSFT)
With the ongoing impacts of coronavirus, our world is suddenly changing beyond all recognition.
The WWII comparisons here are valid. Just as technological innovation accelerated tenfold from 1941-1945, bringing us computers, penicillin, jet engines, and the atomic bomb, the same kind of great leaps forward are happening now.
The end result will be a faster rate of innovation and economic growth, greater corporate profits in the right industries, and a hugely performing stock market. It perfectly sets up my coming Golden Age and the next Roaring Twenties.
Living in Silicon Valley for the last 25 years, I have gotten pretty used to change. But what is happening now is mind-boggling.
The bottom line for the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic has been to greatly accelerate all existing trends. The biggest one of these has been the movement of the economy online, which has been taking place since the eighties. Except that it is now happening lightning fast. Business models are hyper-evolving.
Legacy brick and mortar companies must move online or perish, as much of the restaurant business is now doing. Target (TGT) and Walmart (WMT) have accomplished this. Those with feet in both worlds are closing down their physical presence and going entirely digital. Pure digital companies, like Zoom (ZM), Netflix (NFLX), PayPal (PYPL), and Square (SQ) are booming.
The side effect of the virus may be to move an even greater share of America’s business activity to the San Francisco Bay area and Seattle. Almost all tech companies here are hiring like crazy. Amazon has announced plans for hiring a staggering 175,000 since the epidemic started, as millions shift to home delivery of everything.
The productivity of tech is also growing by leaps and bounds. Since everyone is working at home, no one wastes two hours a day commuting. Meetings in person are a thing of the past. Everything now happens on Zoom.
The whole mental health industry is now conducted on Zoom. So is much of non-Corona related medicine. And I haven’t seen my accountant in years. I think he died, replaced by a younger, cheaper clone.
Even my own Boy Scout troop has gone virtual. The National Council is offering 58 online merit badges, including Railroading, Stamp Collecting, and Genealogy (click here for the full list).
The stock market has noticed and several tech companies like Microsoft (MSFT) and Amazon are showing positive gains for 2020. Many legacy companies see share prices still down 80% or more. Sector selection for portfolio mangers has essentially shrunk from 100 to only 2: tech/biotech and healthcare.
Business models are evolving at an astonishing rate. Who knew the yoga instructor in Chicago was much better than the one down the street, thanks to Skype.
Education is now entirely online and much of it may never go back to school. My kids are totally comfortable in this new world. They have been social distancing since I bought them their own iPhones five years ago.
Now, if I can only figure out how to do my own haircut, the third most searched term on Google. It’s longer than at any time since the summer of love in 1967.
These are just a few of the practical impacts of coronavirus. The social changes are equally eye-popping.
While death rates are soaring, crime has fallen by up to 75%. So have deaths from car accidents. Alcohol and domestic abuse have gone through the roof. Drug addiction is plummeting because dealers are afraid to go out on the street.
There are many lessons to be learned from this crash. Too many companies drank the Kool-Aid and assumed business conditions would remain perfect forever.
Let’s call a spade a spade. The year 2019 and the first two months of 2020 were the bubble top. All the growth in stock prices then were pure fluff.
That means you didn’t need costly reserves ran on thin margins, borrowed like crazy at artificially low-interest rates, and kept endlessly buying back your own stock and paying generous dividends.
Manufacturers didn’t need inventories, counting on a seamless, global supply chain to keep assembly lines running. “Just in time” has switched to “just-in-case.” Companies are going to have to keep enough inventories in the warehouse to guard against future disease-driven disruptions. This will raise costs and shrink profits.
It’s really hard to see how entire industries are going to come back. Cruise ships were packing guests onboard like sardines in a can to make money. I bet it will be a while before you sit at a crowded casino blackjack table. Want to stand in line at a popular chain restaurant?
Airlines have become the poster boy for the evils of bubblicious management. They flew full most of the time, seating their customers shoulder to shoulder, yet their net profit per fight depended on selling that last economy class seat.
The industry spent $50 billion in dividends and the buyback of shares that are now largely worthless, while senior management laughed all the way to the bank. They were the only industry to actually list a global pandemic as a major risk to their business in their SEC filings.
Now they want a government bailout at your expense.
As for me, I am looking forward to this brave new world. Until then, I’ll be spending my afternoons getting in shape hiking in the High Sierras, long hair and all. I’m the only one up here. Maybe it will scare the mountain lions away.
Tech shares are hoping to stage a rebound after the coronavirus-fueled rout that saw the Nasdaq’s 2-day drop by 6.38%, which is its worst since June 2016.
Readers can now pencil in a fresh readjustment to growth expectations of zero to low single digits in tech shares for fiscal year of 2020.
That is why Thursday morning was greeted by another 3% drop at the open – proceed with caution to not get trapped in the proverbial dead cat bounce vortex in the short-term.
A major tech consolidation could take place because let’s get real, the unpredictability is having a major impact on technology companies and uncertainty is a substantial input in heightened risk.
What are the realistic scenarios that are still left on the table?
Firms trading on the Nasdaq will slash price targets and profit estimates that could uncoil another leg down in the Nasdaq index.
In fact, it has already happened as PayPal (PYPL), Microsoft (MSFT), and Apple (AAPL) issued revenue warnings saying they do not expect to meet their revenue goals because of the coronavirus.
On an operational level, softness is what I see when delving into the semantics of Amazon (AMZN) whose ranking algorithm demotes product sellers who go out of stock.
The coronavirus has crippled supply chains, and to avoid a lack of stock, sellers are raising prices to slow sales, while planning to move production to other countries.
This is on top of the backbreaking supply problems that companies face because of the ill-effects of the trade war.
If the Amazon algorithm punishes the seller, once stock is replenished, they must overspend on advertising to climb back to the top of product searches.
The surveys I have taken out with Amazon sellers in the last few days show a precarious situation where sellers are stretched to the limit relying on numerous uncertain variables that are completely out of their control,
Even if the local government allows Chinese factories to restart, it will be understaffed while workers from other provinces self-quarantine.
The third-party marketplace accounts for more than half of Amazon’s retail sales with a robust base of manufacturers and sellers in China.
Google (GOOGL) and Microsoft are accelerating efforts to shift hardware production to Southeast Asia amid the worsening coronavirus outbreak, opening factories in Vietnam and Thailand as well.
Google is set to begin production of the Pixel 4A smartphone and also plans to manufacture its next-generation flagship smartphone called the Pixel 5 in Vietnam.
Google is also on the verge of building factories in Thailand for “smart home” related products, including voice-activated smart speakers like the Nest Mini.
Google and Microsoft’s plans are a giant shift away from their prior generation-long China manufacturing strategy and the coronavirus has only supported a strategy to remove China as a core manufacturing hub.
It is getting so bad in China that they are evaluating the feasibility and cost implications to uninstall some production equipment and ship it from China to Vietnam, literally packing up and taking their show on the road.
The have already initiated the process by asking a key sourcing contact to convert an old Nokia factory in the northern Vietnamese province of Bac Ninh to handle the production of Pixel phones.
Data center server production was also rerouted to Taiwan last year.
The coronavirus threat is only speeding up the move into South East Asia and Google and Microsoft hope to avoid the geopolitical risk in the region.
Remember that all of this rejigging of production will add costs and only the biggest can absorb mega hits to the balance sheets.
As for the coronavirus, business is becoming more complicated as the ban on Chinese nationals and flights from China could build barriers to business, and now South Korea has joined the list.
Korea’s Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest smartphone maker, has operated a smartphone supply chain in northern Vietnam for years but still relies on some components made in China.
While there are many moving parts, the average investor needs to wait on optimal entry points.
Japan announced school shutdowns for a month and tech shares have only priced in the coronavirus eventually entering the U.S., but if there are mass shutdowns of American cities and schools, then tech shares will see another stinging sell-off.
The contagion could eventually lead to the Olympics in Tokyo being canceled, high-profile corporate management getting infected, and the Chinese economy being sidelined for most of 2020.
All of these events are highly negative to the global economy which is why potential risks have exploded through the roof in such a short time.
Slinging mud at the wall will not work in times like this, but this does have the makings of a once-in-a-year entry point into tech shares.
Last year was the year of Fintech and 2020 is the year when this industry goes into overdrive.
Let’s take a look at one of my top choices, PayPal (PYPL).
Millennials are the primary customer demographics to the main platform, but the attractiveness of peer-to-peer payment system Venmo is gaining momentum.
PayPal should be on a short list of fintech stocks for investors and there is certainly more room to run for the share price.
Last quarter’s numbers of 9.8 million net new actives mean that PayPal now has 295 million active accounts across all platforms.
Engagement continues to be a bright spot growing by 9% to almost 40 transactions per active account.
Mobile is a major contributor to success with 172 million consumers and 13.8 million merchants.
Venmo processed more than $27 billion in volume for the quarter, growing 64%.
They are doing $300 million in payments per day and an annual run rate that now exceeds $100 billion.
The Venmo team recently inked a deal with Synchrony to provide a Venmo credit card.
Credit products continue to be another gateway to more success with new consumer installment plans in the United States and Germany which allow PayPal customers to pay with streamlined monthly payments.
This capability is already leading to incremental sales and led to signing a long-term strategic partnership agreement with Citi Australia to develop consumer credit products for PayPal’s customers in Australia.
Additional relationships were further expanded with Walmart launching PayPal Checkout as the sole payment instrument for its online grocery business in Mexico.
In Japan, PayPal is one of the official partners for the Japanese government’s plan to promote cashless payments throughout the country.
PayPal now offers account linking through mobile devices with Capital One and PNC Bank in the United States.
If you thought their international strategy stopped there, there are other irons in the fire.
PayPal became the first non-Chinese payments company to be licensed to provide online payment services in China.
They announced in September that the People’s Bank of China has approved a 70% equity interest in GoPay, a license provider of online payment services.
China is a tricky revenue proposition and it’s not guaranteed to flourish on the mainland, but this shows the pro-active way that PayPal seeks to expand its total addressable market and long-term growth prospects.
The license enables PayPal to expand upon relationships with existing partners like China Union Pay and AliExpress and forge fresh partnerships with China’s financial institutions and technology platforms.
PayPal’s success has so far depended on innovation and acquisitions – I fully expect this trend to continue in 2020.
PayPal announced it was buying shopping and rewards platform Honey Science Corporation for $4 billion.
This year is the beginning of another compelling one-year bull case aided in part by higher expectations from those diverse set of partnerships, such as with MercadoLibre Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc., along with PayPal’s pricing, Honey online coupon transaction, and Venmo monetization.
I anticipate further sustained overperformance in margin expansion as well.
I expect an overall payments industry-wide volume growth of 11% in 2020 and PayPal will grow into its position in a still healthy broader economy.
Payment sector operating metrics, from credit card volume growth, to enterprise IT budget growth, to U.S. employment growth, are robust supporting the bull case for PayPal in 2020.
Aside from PayPal, my alternative favorites in the payments space that could see anywhere from 7%-20% share appreciation in 2020 are Square (SQ), Mastercard Inc. (MA), and Visa Inc. (V)
It is likely that 2020 will signal a new decade of super growth for the digital payments market.
And I expect PayPal to increase its solid footprint in web, in mobile app platforms, and in retail stores globally through organic growth, acquisitions, and partnerships.
PayPal’s profitable business model and pro-active management will help the share price reach new highs.
However, not only for fintech stocks, but the overall market is ripe for some profit-taking in the short-term because of the recent melt-up.
First, Apple (APPL) collaborates with Goldman Sachs’ (GS) offering of a credit card even giving credit access to subprime borrowers.
And now Google (GOOGL) has its eyes on the banking industry — specifically, it’ll soon offer checking accounts.
In a copycat league where anything and everything is fair game, we are seeing a huge influx of big tech companies vie for the digital wallets of Americans.
The project is aptly named Cache and accounts will be handled by Citibank (C) and a credit union at Stanford.
Google’s spokesman shared with us admitting that Google hopes to “partner deeply with banks and the financial system,” and further added, “If we can help more people do more stuff in a digital way online, it’s good for the internet and good for us.”
I would disagree with the marginal statement that it would be good for us.
Facebook (FB) is now offering a Pay option and how long will it be until Amazon (AMZN), Microsoft (MSFT), and others throw their name into the banking mix.
I believe there will be some monumental failures because it appears that these tech companies won’t offer anything that current bank intuitions aren’t offering already.
Moving forward, the odd that digital banking products will become saturated quickly is high.
Let’s cut to the chase, this is a pure data grab, and not in the vein of offering innovative services that force the consumer down a revolutionary product experience.
As the consumer starts to smarten up, will they happily reveal every single data point possible to these tech companies?
Big tech continues to be adamant that personal data is secure with them, but their track records are pitiful.
Even if Google doesn’t sell “individual data”, there are easy workarounds by just slapping number tags on aggregated data, then aggregated data can be reverse-engineered by extracting specific data with number tags.
The cracks have already started to surface, Co-Founder of Apple Steve Wozniak has already claimed that the credit algorithm for Apple’s Goldman Sach’s credit card is sexist and flawed.
Time is ticking until the first mass data theft as well and let me add that the result of this is usually a slap on the wrist incentivizing bad behavior.
I believe big tech companies should be banned from issuing banking products.
Only 4% of consumers switched banks last year, and a 2017 survey by Bankrate shows that the average American adult keeps the same checking account for around 16 years.
As anti-trust regulation starts to gather more steam, I envision lawmakers snuffing out any and every attempt for big tech to diversify into fintech.
It’s fair to say that Google should have done this 10 years ago when the regulatory issues were nonexistent.
Now they have regulators breathing down their necks.
Let me remind readers that the reason why Facebook abandoned their digital currency Libra was because of the pressure lawmakers applied to every company interesting in working with Facebook’s Libra.
Lawmakers threatened Visa and Mastercard that they would investigate every part of their business, including the parts that have nothing to do with Facebook’s Libra, if they went ahead with the Libra project.
The most telling insight comes from the best tech company Microsoft who has raised the bar in terms of protecting their reputation on data and trust.
They decided to stay away from financial products like the black plague.
Better to stay in their lane than take wild shots that incur unneeded high risks.
When U.S. Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat on the Senate panel that oversees banking, was asked about Google and banking, he quipped, “There ought to be very strict scrutiny.”
Big tech is now on the verge of getting ferociously regulated and that could turn out positive for the big American banks, PayPal (PYPL), Visa (V), Mastercard (MA) and Square (SQ).
I heavily doubt that Google will turn Cache into a meaningful business unless Google offers some jaw-dropping interest rates or elevated points to move the needle.
Google has canceled weekly all-hands meetings because of the tension between staff members and Facebook is also just as dysfunctional at the employee level.
Whoever said it’s easy to manage a high-stake, too-big-to-fail tech firm?
Even with all the negativity, Google is still a cash cow and if regulatory headwinds are 2-3 years off, they are a buy and hold until they are not.
The recent tech rally, after the rotation to value, has seen investors flood into Apple, Microsoft, and Google as de-facto safe haven tech plays.
Global Market Comments
October 17, 2019
(UPDATING THE MAD HEDGE LONG TERM MODEL PORTFOLIO),
(USO), (XLV), (CI), (CELG), (BIIB), (AMGN), (CRSP), (IBM), (PYPL), (SQ), (JPM), (BAC), (EEM), (DXJ), (FCX), (GLD)
Global Market Comments
October 9, 2019
(HOW FINTECH IS EATING THE BANKS’ LUNCH),
(BAC), (C), (WFC), (SQ), (PYPL),
(WCAGY), (FISV), (INTU), (BABA),
It was another dreadful DAY for the banks. All bank shares are now down in 2019 with the sole exception of JP Morgan, which is up a modest 10% since January 1. Although their core business is good, the share price hasn’t even bothered to mail it in.
So, I thought it would be time to take another look at what is disrupting the 200-year-old business model of this sector. And that would be Fintech, shorthand for Financial Technology.
To say that fintech was gobbling up the financial industry’s lunch would be a vast understatement. But here’s the problem. Fintech is taking over the world one transaction at a time in an industry that sees billions of transactions a year. The change is almost invisible. If someone were blowing up bank branches on a large scale this would be a far easier trend to see, but the net effect is the same.
The potential market is enormous. While the world’s physical money totals $5 trillion, actual assets controlled by banks today total a staggering $90 trillion.
Why this is all happening now is due to a confluence of several independent technologies. The number of people on the Internet has soared from 1.8 billion in 2010 to 4 billion today, to 8 billion by 2024.
Smartphone usage is diffusing at a similar rate. The roll out of 5G wireless assures that all communications will occur seamlessly, quickly, including financial transactions. Blockchain is enabling encryption on an industrial scale.
This has enabled the rise of a number of online firms over just the last few years that are rapidly taking over a number of traditional banking functions.
So far, the greatest impact has been overseas. Many countries that lack banking infrastructure are leapfrogging straight to mobile. It makes a ton of sense. Poor countries lack the capital to build expensive branch networks to raise fund, and the expertise on how to invest the deposits once in hand.
Good Money (https://goodmoney.com ) is an example of the new online banks that have burst onto the scene. The company offers depositors a generous 1.8% interest rate on overnight funds. Legacy banks are still paying close to zero, even though the Fed has raised rates seven times in three years.
US banks charge an average of $400 in fees a year for a full-service account. Good Money charges nothing.
You will never know where the money goes when you place it with Citibank (C), Bank of America (BAC) or Wells Fargo (WFC). At Good Money, you can specify that your funds be lent to a certain industry or even a specific company. While this means nothing to you or me, it is important issue to oriented Millennials.
Such efforts are called Crowdlending. It first took off in the US with startups like Prosper and Lending Club in the mid 2000s. We’re not talking small potatoes here, or a market that might develop someday. In 2018, some 22,000 businesses extended $380 billion in such loans.
There are other big markets ripe for disruption. I had to pay a Filipino developer $500 for some work he did on my website. Wells Fargo wanted to charge me $50 and the wire transfer would have taken a week. An outfit called Payoneer, Israel-based, did it for $5 and it took 5 seconds.
Wire transfer fees are in fact a global industry worth billions of dollars a year that is there for the taking. The SWIFT international transfer network alone processes some 24 million transactions per day.
It may not surprise many of you that China already has a huge lead in this area. It’s logical since their established banking system is primitive at best. China has three times more mobile phones than the US, five times more Internet customers, sees 10 times more eat-out orders, and 50 times more mobile transactions. In a future where data is currency, this is huge.
Ant Financial, an affiliate of Alibaba (BABA), is in the forefront, facilitating an eye-popping $8 trillion worth of transactions in 2017. Using artificial intelligence to scour public records for past borrowing, income, education, web surfing preferences, and even political leanings, smart finance can use artificial intelligence to gin up a quickie FICO score and generate a new $200 micro loan in as little as eight seconds.
Bank of America eat your heart out.
What gives the Chinese such an advantage here is their huge market, with some 800 million online participants. The money Ant Financial makes isn’t important now. It’s the digitized data they’re collecting and the way it can be manipulated with artificial intelligence. That gives them immense market power. Remember, in the new world, data is the new currency and the Chinese are creating more than we ever will.
The problem with early, under-the-radar but broad-ranging trends, it can be tough to flesh out pure investment plays. Listed liquid tradable stocks are few and far between. You can simply go out and buy Square (SQ) and PayPal (PYPL) and you’d be half the way there in getting some good exposure.
Here’s the problem with that plan. PayPal has tripled in the last two years, while Square has gone ballistic with a 2,000% gain. I expect further appreciation from here, but those ships have already sailed.
A better way to participate might be the Global X Fintech Thematic ETF (FINX), granted you have all the usual problems with specialized ETFs here such as liquidity, high management fees, and tracking error. But you do get exposure to a number of companies that are either domiciled abroad or are not yet publicly listed.
The five largest holdings of (FINX) include Square (SQ), Wirecard AG (WCAGY), Temenos Group AG, Fiserve Inc (FISV), and Intuit (INTU).
You could also simply buy Alibaba. However, as long as America’s trade war with China continues, all Chinese stocks will perform poorly. Given the stubbornness of both sides, the earliest that can happen is January, 2021.
To learn more about (FINX), please go to the manager’s website by clicking here.
This is not your father’s Western Union (WU).
Western Union (WU), the payment remittance service, is a legacy company that is going to harvest the most from a full migration to digital.
That is exactly what is currently happening.
Part of the 25% gain in the stock this year is a nod of approval in the direction the company is heading to.
At its most recent investors’ day presentation, the firm boosted its positive earnings guidance, which was primarily driven by its growth strategy on different verticals.
Western Union’s revamped growth strategy is buttressed by its ability to meet increasing demand from global consumers and businesses for fast and reliable cross-border money transfer and payment solutions.
The company is shying away from the brick-and-mortar operations of yore and choosing a strategy that leverages Western Union’s continued investment in key capabilities such as digital, real-time account payout, compliance, and artificial intelligence.
These nice additions have positioned the company to show strength in one of the most holistic and versatile payment engines in the world.
Western Union has its eyes set on expanding its core consumer-to-consumer business as well as other payment segments where global organizations can utilize its cross-border solutions to expand into fresh markets or better serve existing customers.
Western Union predicts a 23% operating margin by 2022 and a low-double-digit EPS CAGR through 2022.
The operating margin and EPS targets presume a 2020-2022 revenue CAGR of 2% to 3%, compared with the 2019 revenue base excluding divestitures.
The revenue ramp up signals growth in consumer money transfer, driven by its website westernunion.com and other third-party digital services and mid-single-digit growth from Business Solutions.
Operating profit margin and EPS targets also reflect $150 million in total annual savings expected by 2022.
The company expects to succeed in operating efficiencies from initiatives aimed at optimizing commissions and reducing third-party spending.
These initiatives will boost the bottom line an extra $50 million in annual savings to operating profit by 2022.
From 2020 to 2022, Western Union expects to extract more than $3 billion of operating cash flow and return approximately $2.5 billion to $3 billion to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases.
The company is a cash cow and attractive for many traditional investors who value this type of cash flow.
Other pathways to higher revenue include partnerships that provide customized payments solutions to organizations such as e-Commerce businesses expanding into emerging markets, end-to-end cross-border solutions to third-party organizations to solve consumer money transfer needs, and cross-border services, such as foreign exchange and cash management.
Slagging off the brick-and-mortar payments model for the digital platform is the low-lying fruit here and Western Union has a phase of overperformance in them before they will be thwarted with substantial revenue resistance.
Could this one day turn into a legitimate and mature fintech payment platform such as PayPal Holdings (PYPL) and Square (SQ)?
Offering low cost and efficient services is the first step in the right direction and I can say I’ve seen weirder things happen in the world.
Western Union certainly is in a position of strength as it cruises into the first innings of its digital migration and I believe there is more room to run for the stock until $30.