May 21, 2019

Mad Hedge Technology Letter
May 21, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:


Huawei Hits the Fan

If you ever needed a signal to stay away from chip stocks short-term, then the Huawei ban by the American administration was right on cue.

Huawei, the largest telecommunications company in China, is heavily dependent on U.S. semiconductor parts and would be seriously damaged without an ample supply of key U.S. components

The surgical U.S. ban may cause China and Huawei to push back its 5G network build until the ban is lifted while having an impact on many global component suppliers.

The Chinese communist party has exhibited a habit for retaliation and could target Apple (AAPL) who is squarely in their crosshairs after this provocative move.

At a national security level, depriving Huawei of U.S. semiconductor components now is still effective as China’s chip industry is still 5 years behind the Americans.

China has a national mandate to develop and surpass the U.S. chip industry and denying them the inner guts to build out their 5G network will have long-lasting ramifications around the world.

Starting with American chip companies, they will send chip companies such as Micron (MU) and Nvidia (NVDA) into the bargain basement where investors will be able to discount shop at generational lows because of a monumental drop in annual revenue.

Even worse for these firms, Huawei anticipated this move and stocked itself full of chips for an extra 3 months, meaning they were not going to increase shipments in a meaningful way in the short-term anyway.

This kills the chip trade for the rest of the first half of 2019, and once again backs up my thesis in avoiding hardware firms with Chinese exposure.

Alphabet (GOOGL) has cut ties with cooperating with Huawei and that means software and the apps that are built around the software too.

Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps and Chrome will be removed from future Huawei smartphones, and even though this doesn’t amount to much in mainland China, this is devastating for markets in Eastern Europe and Huawei smartphone owners in the European Union who absolutely rely on many of these Google-based apps and view Chinese smartphones as a viable alternative to high-end Apple phones.

Users who own an existing Huawei device with access to the Google Play Store will be able to download app updates from Google now, but these same users will not consider Huawei phones in the future when the Google Play Store is banned forcing them to go somewhere else for the new upgrade cycle.

The fallout further bifurcates the China and American tech ecosystems.

I would argue that China had already banned Google, Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR), and marginalized Amazon (AMZN) before the trade war even started.

The American government is merely putting in place the same measures the Chinese communist party has had in place for years against foreign competition.

The recent ban on Huawei was a proactive response to China backing away from negotiations that they already had verbally agreed upon after hawks inside the Chinese communist party gained the upper hand in the tireless fight against the reformist.

These hawks want to preserve the status quo because they benefit directly from the current system and economic structure in place.

The American administration appears to have taken on an even more aggressive tone with the Chinese, as the resulting tariffs are putting even more stress on the Chinese hawks.

However, there is only so much bending they can do until a full-scale fissure occurs and debt rated “A” which is its third-highest classification has recently been slashed to a negative outlook as the tariff headwinds pile up.

The U.S. administration could further delve into its party bag by rebanning Chinese tech firm ZTE who almost folded after the first ban of U.S. semiconductor components.

The U.S. administration is emboldened to play the hand they have now because as long as Chinese tech need U.S. chips, the ball is in the American’s court and going on the offensive now would be more effective than if they carried out the same strategy in the future.

China is clearly attempting to delay the process enough to get to the point where they can install their own in-house chips and can say adios to America and the chips they currently rely on.

It’s doubtful at the current pace of escalation if China can survive until that point in time.

How will China react?

Massive easing and dovishness by the Chinese central bank will be needed to maintain stability and remedy the economy.

The manufacturing sector will face another wave of mass layoffs and debt pressures will inch up.

Chinese exports will get slashed with international corporations looking to move elsewhere to stop the hemorrhaging and rid itself of uncertainty.

Many Chinese tech companies will have entire divisions disrupted and even shut down because of the lack of hardware needed to operate their businesses.

Imagine attempting to construct a smartphone without chips, almost like building a plane to fly without wings.

This is also an easy to decode message to corporate America letting them know that if they haven’t moved their supply chains out of China yet, then time is almost up.

Going forward, I do not envision any meaningful foreign tech supply chain that could survive operating in mainland China because nationalistic forces will aim for revenge sooner or later.

There are many positives to this story as the provocative decision has been carried out during a time when the American economy is fiercely strong and firing on all cylinders.

Unemployment is spectacularly low at 3.6%, the lowest rate since 1969, while wage growth has accelerated to 3.8% annually up from 3.4%.

The robust nature of the economy has led to stock market performance being incredibly resilient in the face of continuous global headline risk.

The positive reactions are in part based on the notion that investors expect the Fed Governor Jerome Powell to adopt an even more dovish stance towards rates.

It’s almost as if we are back to the bad news is good news narrative.

Each dip is met with a furious bout of buying and even though we are trudging along sideways, for the time being, this sets up a great second half of the year as China will be forced to fold or face mass employment or worse offering at least a short-term respite for investors to go risk on.

As for the chip sector, high inventories on semiconductor balance sheets and in the channel will continue, as well as weak end demand in nearly every semiconductor end market meaning a once-in-a-generation magnitude of memory oversupply.

The trade war will most likely turn for the worse giving investors even more beaten down prices that will turn into great entry points when the time is ripe.




May 1, 2019

Mad Hedge Technology Letter
May 1, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:


Alphabet’s Big Miss

What comes up must come down, you didn’t expect Alphabet’s stock to explode on this earnings report, did you?

Alphabet shares have gone up in a straight line since the beginning of the year, and only a robust beat on the bottom and top line with raised guidance was going to push this stock to higher highs.

Chances of that were low.

I wouldn’t classify Q1 as an awful quarter, but Alphabet was in need of a reset and culling a few hogs from the litter is not always a bad thing.

Shares retraced more than 8% in trading which could be the beginning of a brief but much-needed mini earnings tech recession.

Tech shares have carried the load this year, every continent on the globe wishes they had a tech sector like America does.

Google still has its digital ad duopoly intact and results were driven by ongoing strength in mobile search along with important contributions from YouTube followed by Google Cloud.

Revenues of $36.3 billion, up 17% YOY did not capture the imaginations of investors and this was graded as a big miss by over $1 billion.

This signals a sharp deceleration from Q1 2018 when Alphabet posted revenue growth of 26% YOY.

Growth of over 20% cut down to the high teens is a big deal in the tech world for growth names, and this puts a cap on the price trajectory for the short-term.

Cost per click on Google properties was down 19% YOY which was extremely disappointing even though paid clicks on Google properties were up 39% YOY which somewhat softens the blow.

Most crucially, there is nothing structurally wrong with Alphabet and investors must galvanize themselves around this salient point.

Execution risk reared its ugly head with CFO of Alphabet Ruth Porat explaining “while YouTube clicks continue to grow at a substantial pace in the first quarter, the rate of YouTube click growth rate decelerated versus a strong Q1 last year, reflecting changes that we made in early 2018 which we believe are overall additive to the user and advertiser experience.”

Alphabet pulled a Twitter (TWTR), forgoing short-term profits to focus on maintaining the reputation of the platform and eradicating lingering problems with the algorithm.

The algorithm facelift will make the platform more attractive to digital advertisers going forward as their brand risk is mitigated by Alphabet optimizing their algorithms.

More specifically, this would mean identifying certain unpalatable content that needs to be flat-out removed, and certain ads that should not be bundled with certain content.

More advertisers will slash YouTube ad budgets if they aren’t satisfied with the overall product experience and cannot accumulate positive user feedback.

Getting into the weeds makes us aware that costs aren’t overly exorbitant this time around.

Total traffic acquisition costs (TAC) were $6.9 billion, 22% of total advertising revenues and up 9% YOY but down from 2% YOY from Q1 2018 reflecting a favorable revenue mix shift from network to sites as well as a decrease in the network TAC rate.

Alphabet’s TAC rate rose from the impact of the ongoing shift to mobile, which manifests with higher TAC, but was offset by the growth in TAC free sites revenue driven by YouTube.

The European Commission (EC) and its decision that certain contractual provisions in agreements that Google had with AdSense for Search partners infringed European competition law and the associated €1.5 billion fine with it didn’t help quarterly performance.

The fine, in no shape or form, is a threat to Google’s dominance in Europe.

The Google cloud services 9 of the world’s 10 largest media companies, 7 of the 10 largest retailers and more than half of the 10 largest companies in manufacturing, financial services, communications, and software.

Some of the companies that will join the Google Cloud are American Cancer Society and McKesson in health care, media and entertainment companies like USA TODAY and Viacom, consumer packaged goods brands like Unilever, manufacturing and industrial companies like Samsung, logistics company UPS and public sector organizations like Australia Post.

The expansion of 2 new Cloud regions in Seoul and Salt Lake City which will open in 2020 will help build on the footprint of 19 Cloud regions and 58 data centers around the world.

Alphabet missed badly on the top line, but comps from last year because of the strength of YouTube would have been hard to eclipse.

Bask in the glory of the reset in price – now it’s time to play Alphabet from the long side.

Moving forward, Alphabet has many levers to pull as CEO of Tesla Elon Musk’s rallying cry for the evolution of self-driving cars means that Waymo would reap the benefits first in automated vehicle technology.

Alphabet also has a few tools left in their toolkit such as monetizing Google Maps through selling digital ads on the Maps interface.

I expect a slow grind up for the rest of the year because Alphabet can brandish many weapons with little resistance in front of them, it’s up to them to execute.





April 25, 2019

Mad Hedge Technology Letter
April 25, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(TWTR), (FB)

The Resilience of Twitter

Twitter’s (TWTR) earnings offer a rough snapshot into the health of current internet users and Twitter pulling off a strong quarterly performance is a strong indication of how tech earnings as a whole will pan out.

Readers of the Mad Hedge Technology Letter know well that CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey is one of my favorite tech CEO’s in the valley and I believe he should be leading Apple instead of Twitter and Square.

Twitter had an ideal quarter smashing estimates by surpassing every meaningful metric.

This company has turned the corner and has become the choir boy of social media in relative terms.

Purging the bots in the summer of 2018 was the right move in hindsight, and the performance in the first quarter vindicates Dorsey in making the tough decisions to clean out its system.

As Twitter grows in its Daily Active Usership (DAU), they risk becoming too large to regulate and grabbing back control over their model was the smart thing to do at the time.

Twitter has shifted from emphasizing Monthly Active Users (MAUs) to Daily Active Users (DAUs) in a sign of intent preferring to become integrated with users on a daily basis.

Total revenue of $787 million was up 18% YOY batting away any whispers that the company could be decelerating.

Another bonus was the diversity in ad revenue with 46% coming from the international segment signaling to investors that Twitter is not over-reliant on American Tweets.

American ad revenue rose 26% compared with international ad revenue rising just 10% showing that if you do social media properly instead of hatching cunning plans, it is still a growth business at its core.

The company has started to rev up profitability by reporting first-quarter earnings per share of 37 cents crushing the consensus of 15 cents.

The healthy trajectory of the company is summed up by its rise in Daily Active Users to 134 million, an increase of 11% YOY in an environment where Twitter’s competitors aren’t growing at all.

The concerns that I had about last quarter’s tech earnings report had more to do with forward guidance than the past quarter’s performance because of the supposed deceleration of the global economy.

Twitter passed with flying colors predicting next quarter’s revenue should come in between $770 million to $830 million and operating income between $35 million to $70 million.

Dorsey sees no let down in the coming quarters as the domestic economy will attempt to push its way into its 11th year of expansion.

Headcount is estimated to rise 16% in 2019 after a 2018 where staff grew by 18%.

Total ad engagements increased 23% resulting from higher ad impressions and improved clickthrough rates (CTR) across most ad formats.

Cost per ad engagement (CPE) decreased 4% due to like-for-like price decreases across most ad formats because of an improved CTR which results in advertisers achieving the same number of engagements at a lower price, and a mix shift toward video ad formats that have lower CPEs and higher CTRs.

CPE can differ from one period to another based on geographical performance, ad formats, campaign objectives, and auction dynamics.

Just as important, the customer experience for advertisers is always improving with enhancements to Twitter’s ad platform and ad formats.

Twitter is committed to delivering better relevance making it simpler for advertisers to declare their objective, initiate a campaign, and measure performance.

The possible destructive black swan strongly hovering over social media and its business model is the threat of data privacy and the subsequent regulation to it.

Facebook (FB) and less so Twitter have been dragged into the data privacy debacle, but I believe Twitter has made the moves to get the monkey off their back for at least the next two quarters.

They have also benefitted from being more conservative in how they handle data and from the bulk of tweets being parts of public discourse instead of personalized baby photos.

The structure of Twitter has led to less chaos than Facebook, and Twitter tightening the amount of acceptable mainstream topics even more will close more loopholes into the extreme parts of society that want to disperse content through Twitter.

Twitter is taking a more proactive approach to reducing abuse on the platform and its effects in 2019 with the aim of reducing the burden on victims of abuse and, where possible, taking action before abuse is reported.

As a result, enhancements in Q1 revolved around proactive detection of rule violations and physical, or off-platform, safety — including making it easier to report Tweets that share personal information, helping Twitter remove 2.5 times more of this type of content.

Twitter has also deployed upgraded machine-learning models to detect potential policy violations enabling Twitter to pinpoint Tweets to agents for review, proactively.

The result is Twitter removing more abusive content with better efficiency.

The data backs up Twitter’s abuse prevention initiative with approximately 38% of categorized abuse proactively detected.

Twitter has been profitable for a string of quarters now, responded well to looming regulation fears, and as long as the economy chugs along at its current rate, I believe Twitter will outperform the rest of tech and the domestic economy.

The short-term health of social media also opens the path for Facebook to continue the positive momentum as the summer approaches. 

Wait for an entry point on the dip to buy Twitter.






April 15, 2019

Mad Hedge Technology Letter
April 15, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:


Reaching Peak Social Media

America is full – that is what domestic social media growth is telling us.

The once mesmerizing service that captured the imagination of the American public has soured in the country that created it.

Online advertising consultant issued a report showing that Snapchat (SNAP), the worst of the top social media outlets, will lose users in 2019.

The 77.5 million users forecasted by the end of 2019 represents a 2.8% YOY decrease.

This report differs greatly from the report eMarketer issued just past August showing that Snapchat was preparing for a rise of 6.6% YOY in 2019.

The delta, rate of change, represents a massive downshift in expectations and the sentiment stems from the widespread saturation of social media assets.

Market penetration has run its course and the players have run out of bullets mainly targeting Generation Z.

These platforms have given up on baby boomers and Snap feels that pursuing the millennial demographic would be an exercise in futility.

Even more disheartening is that between 2020-2023, there will be only a minor uptick of user growth by 600,000 users clamping down on the impetus of a comeback of sorts shackling the business model.

The trend is not mutually exclusive to Snap, Twitter or Facebook, social media as a group will only expand the overall user base by 2.4% in 2020 hardly satisfying the appetite for growth that these companies publicly advertise.

Remember that much of Instagram’s growth originates from borrowing Snapchat users by way of copying their best features.

Even with this dirty tactic, growth seems to be petering out.

Snap’s shares have made a nice double after peaking shortly over $25 after the IPO.

But the double was a case of investors believing that management and execution had hit rock bottom – the proverbial dead cat bounce in full effect.

Now investors will pause to reassess whether there is another reasonable catalyst to drive the stock higher.

First, investors will need to ask themselves, is Snap in for another double?

Absolutely not.

So where does Snap go from here?

I believe they will borrow from the playbook of Mark Zuckerberg and attempt to emphasize supercharging average revenue per user (ARPU).

Whether the company arrives at this conclusion by chance or strategy, they must confront the reality that there are almost no other levers to pull if they want to perpetuate this growth story.

M&A is also off the table because the company is burning through cash.

Facebook’s (ARPU) came in at $7.37 last quarter indicating how Snap needs to make substantial headway in this metric with last quarter’s paltry (ARPU) at $2.09.

Essentially, management will conclude that each user isn’t absorbing enough ads because of declining user engagement.

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel will need to improve the pricing power charging advertisers at higher rates.

Obviously, the lack of an attractive platform resulting from poor execution and engineering problems needs a quick turnaround.

It’s not all smooth sailing for Facebook either, they keep chopping and reshaping strategy by the day attempting to minimize costs as the regulation burdens rot at the bottom line.

On the bright side, regulation hasn’t been as bad as initially thought – usership hasn’t dropped by orders of magnitudes.

In fact, Facebook’s users have shown a resurgent indifference to Facebook chopping up their data and repackaging it to 3rd parties, meaning Facebook has come through rather unscathed in the face of a PR storm.

There have even been recent reports of Zuckerberg being persuaded to start paying journalists for original content, a vast pivot for his hyped-up propaganda machine of being in the distribution business.

Juicing up (ARPU) is the lowest hanging fruit on offer for Snapchat and Facebook right now, overperforming in this sphere will improve financials and keep the mosquitoes away while affording them time to ponder how to reaccelerate user growth.

One outsized negative trend is that 90% of user growth appears to originate from undeveloped nations with a lack of discretionary spending power showing that this strategy has its limits.

Searching for another tool in its toolkit will redefine Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook as we know it.

I would even classify it as an existential crisis.

Instagram have bought Facebook the most time to readjust its future direction highlighting that stealing Snapchat’s audience is still effective, expecting user growth to climb to 106.7 million US users, up 6.2% from 2018.

Instagram will continue its expansion by adding nearly 19 million new US users by 2023, but as much as it adds to its new social media asset, Facebook will be struggling for new net adds.

Snapchat is in dire straits and the stock market bubble could support the share price for up to another 8-12 months, but when the guillotine drops on Snapchat, the blood will smatter everywhere.

The company also plans to introduce a gaming service to take advantage of the popularity with its core users, Generation Z.

This should be the trick that breathes life into operating margins and (ARPU) which is why I believe the stock will hold up for the next period of time.

But with the gaming initiatives also comes rampant competition with the likes of Alphabet (GOOGL) and don’t forget Fortnite is still the 800-pound gorilla.

These trends also bode negatively for Pinterest (PINS) who might be going public as the last shot of tequila is downed at the after party.






March 18, 2019

Mad Hedge Technology Letter
March 18, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(GOOGL), (NFLX), (FB), (TWTR), (DIS)

Why Alphabet is the best FANG to Buy Now

Why am I bullish on Alphabet (GOOGL) short-term?

Video has muscled its way to the peak of the digital content value chain.

If you don’t have video streaming, then you are significantly depriving yourself of the necessary ammunition capable of battling against legitimate content originators. 

The optimal type of content is short form yet engaging.

Interesting enough, the format method integrated into systems of Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR) has experienced unrivaled success.

They have been leaning on this model as growth levers that will take them to the next stage of revenue acceleration and rightly so.

This has seen smartphone apps such as Instagram become game-changing revenue machines destroying all types of competition.

The x-factor that stands out in Instagram’s, Facebook’s, YouTube’s model is that it’s free and they do not absorb heavy expenses from content creation. 

It’s certainly cheap when the user is the product.

Google’s YouTube service has morphed into something of a phenomenon.

Its interface is easy to use, and followers have a simple time navigating around its platform. 

Familiar news outlets such as Sky News, Bloomberg News, and even CNBC news have recently installed their live feeds on YouTube’s main platform scared of losing aggregate eyeballs.

And even more intriguing is that YouTube has become a legitimate competitor to Netflix’s (NFLX) online video streaming platform.

YouTube has sensed the outsized pivot to their free platform and has double down hard by installing 5-second ads at the front end and middle of videos.

Of Alphabet’s total $39.3 billion revenue pocketed in Q4 2018, ads constituted 83% or an astounding $32.6 billion.

I feel that Alphabet shares are currently undervalued, and I believe that we will see outperformance from Alphabet shares for the rest of 2019 based on YouTube’s performance relative to expectation.

YouTube’s ever-growing presence showing up in the top line will offer the growth investors desire to pile into these shares as the company wrestles with future projects such as Waymo.

That’s not to say that their traditional advertisement business of Google Search is failing.

Investors can expect continuous 20% to 25% growth in this cash cow business, but the reason why Alphabet share has not been able to break out is that investors have baked this into the pie.

Therefore, YouTube is really the X Factor and will take them to this new promised land with shares surging past the $1,250 mark and more importantly, staying at that level.

YouTube brought in about $15 billion in 2018 and that consisted of about 10% of Alphabet’s total annual revenue.

However, the company is just scratching its surface of what it can accomplish with this fast-growing revenue driver and I can extrapolate this growth segment turning into 20% or 25% of the company’s annual revenue in the next few years.

Google does not strip out YouTube revenue in its reporting, therefore, it’s difficult to put my finger on exactly how much YouTube is carving out in terms of revenue.

I can also assume that if Netflix continues to raise the cost of monthly subscription, this strategy will directly hurt its revenue acceleration ability as it relates to competing with Google’s YouTube because YouTube’s free service is demonstrably attractive to viewers hoping to discover high-quality content relative to a $20 per month Netflix subscription.

I do agree that Netflix is a great company and a great stock, but as they slowly raise the price of content, this will gift YouTube a huge chunk of Netflix’s marginal audience freeing itself from the shackles of Netflix’s price rises.

At some point, online video streaming will become as expensive as the cable bundles now, and at that point, we know that saturation is imminent boding negative for Netflix.

What I do envision in the short-term future are consumers in America will pay into several unique bundles such as Netflix, maybe Disney (DIS), ESPN and merely stick with these as their base content generators as more consumers cut their cord and hard pivot from traditional cable packages that are becoming less appealing by the day.

And don’t forget that at some point, Netflix will have to demonstrate profitability and the huge cash burn that permeates throughout the business will be exposed when subscription growth starts to fade away.

In every possible variant, YouTube will become an outsized winner in the media wars because the quality of the free content keeps improving, the cost for consumers stays at 0, and their best of breed ad tech migrating from their Google search into YouTube just keeps getting more surgical and efficient.

Not only are the positive synergies from the best of breed ad tech aiding YouTube’s model, but just think about YouTube having access to the Google cloud and saving expenses by accessing this function to store data onto the Google Cloud.

If this was a standalone service, they would have to subcontract cloud storage functions to third-party cloud company causing the content service to spend millions and millions of dollars per year in expenses.

This would have the potential of crushing the bottom line.

That is just one example of the synergies that Google can take advantage of with YouTube under its umbrella of assets.

And think about self-driving vehicles, Google could potentially equip YouTube as a pre-programmed application inside of autonomous vehicle platform tech with YouTube popping up on the multiple screens.

I assume that there will be multiple screens inside of cars with self-phone driving technology because of the lack of driving required.

The worst maneuver that Alphabet could do right now is spinoff YouTube into its own company, and if that happens, YouTube won’t be able to take advantage of the various synergies and benefits of being an Alphabet asset.

We are just scratching the surface of what YouTube can accomplish, and I believe this upcoming overperformance isn’t in the price of the stock yet.

If the Fed continues its “patient” strategy towards interest rates at a macro level, Alphabet will easily soar past $1,250 and it can easily gain another 10% in 2019.

If any “regulation” risk as a result of extremist content rears its ugly head, buy shares on the dips because the algorithms are in place to eradicate this material and any fine will be manageable.