RF's Financial News

RF's Financial News

Sunday, November 26, 2017

This Week in Barrons - 11-26-2017

This Week in Barrons – 11-26-2017:

“Is this the last Black Friday sale…ever?”

   A recent survey by the National Retail Federation found that 59% of shoppers plan to shop online this year.  That would make 2017 the first year that online shopping was the most popular choice.  Robert Schultz (S&P’s chief retail sector credit analyst) said: "This year the holiday season is more important than ever for stores like Wal-Mart and Target – because they are struggling to stay relevant.”  A record number of store closures (6,735) have already been announced this year, and over 620 retail bankruptcies.  That's more than triple the tally for 2016.  Prominent names such as Toys R Us, Gymboree, Payless Shoes, and RadioShack have all filed this year, and Sears (which owns both the iconic Sears and Kmart chains) has said that there is “substantial doubt” it can remain in business.  Even if all the troubled retail brands make it to the 2018 holiday season, there's a good chance many of their stores won't.  “Store closings will rise next year to about 9,000 as retailers shift their investment to online”, says Michael Dart, author of Retail's Seismic Shift.  "Even those retailers who have survived reasonably well are rationing their cost structure and closing stores," he said.  Factually this retail apocalypse is happening with a strong economy.  If the economy encounters even a minor bump in the road, things could quickly go from bad to worse for struggling retailers.  Any kind of economic downturn or an uptick in interest rates, and their debt becomes unsustainable.
   So maybe we need to start analyzing retail stocks thru a prism of cultural change?  Amazon is preaching a new calculus to corporate boardrooms – where profits are ‘so yesterday’.  Maybe it’s all about vision and great storytelling.  After all, Amazon (despite posting just a handful of profitable quarters in its 20-year history) is the fourth-largest public company in the world.  And now, maybe it’s time for all the others to change their game.  NYU business professor Scott Galloway argues that Jeff Bezos (the founder of Amazon) has created a playing field so tilted in his company’s favor – others really don’t stand a chance.  “Jeff’s ability to paint an extraordinary vision and register steady progress against that vision is being rewarded with the cheapest capital in the history of business,” says Galloway.  And it’s that steady flow of cheap capital that has allowed Amazon to do a bunch of extraordinary things that would have doomed most companies.  It allowed it to start: a cloud-computing business, a movie studio, a consumer electronics business, a shipping company (road, sea and air), a battery company, and now a clothing company.
   Bezos recently told shareholders that the goal is to “experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight.”  It’s clearly working, and other companies (that don’t compete directly with Amazon) are starting to get the same leeway.  Amazon (since its IPO) is up almost 52,000%.  $10,000 invested in Amazon when it IPO’d would be worth $5.2m today.  If you’re cut from the fundamental cloth, then all I can say is that you don’t have to like Amazon’s new rule set for retail – to buy its stock on $50 to $100 pullbacks.
   As well as Amazon plays the game with ‘vision’, Palo Alto Networks (PANW) plays the game with accounting.  Last week PANW released earnings to which Wall Street went nuts – the stock gaining over $10 / share.  Yet, if you look at their actual income statement, you will find creativity at its finest.  Using GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) – which is the legal way of doing the books and paying taxes, PANW lost $0.64 / share.  But instead, PANW released a non-GAAP pro-forma earnings statement showing that they ‘magically’ MADE money at the rate of $0.74 / share.  How long can this chicanery go on?  As long as Wall Street allows it.
   Take Tesla – or as MJP put it: “The world’s largest ‘KickStarter’ campaign.”  It’s burning through cash at the rate of $8,000 a minute / $4B per year as it tries to ramp up Model 3 production.  If that spending spree continues, the company will exhaust its current cash on Monday, Aug. 6, 2018 at 2:17 a.m. Eastern Time.  Tesla is already utilizing more of its revolving credit facilities than ever before.  And the bond market is not likely to alleviate its financial position as investors who bought $1.8B of Tesla bonds 3 months ago remain underwater.

   And then there’s Uber.  Just imagine the movie about its growth and demise.  If I were Uber’s new CEO, I would be so jealous of Meg Whitman moving on from running HP.  After all, New York's attorney general just launched another investigation into Uber as it was discovered that 57m Uber users and drivers had their personal info hacked last year.  And to add insult to injury, the company's employees paid the hackers $100,000 to keep it a secret and delete the data.  Hackers gained access to usernames, names, driver’s license numbers and mobile phone numbers.  The hack occurred in 2016, and the company has hidden the information from the public until now.  According to Uber:  "At the time of the incident, we took immediate steps to secure the data and shut down further unauthorized access by the individuals.”  But where’s the turnaround at Uber?  Last summer, the appointment of a new CEO was supposed to mark the beginning of a new chapter, but we keep finding more horror stories at every turn.  Combine this with sexual misconduct and them being stripped of their license to operate in London due to the lack of corporate responsibility – and I’m beginning to think that Uber ain’t gonna make it.
   The early returns for Black Friday weekend are good, and are expected to exceed those of 2016.  According to Customer Growth Partners (a shopper traffic monitoring group) store crowds in many locations around the country were reported to be strong.  The economic environment appears to be in solid territory due to a strong labor market, lower unemployment, high consumer confidence, rising home prices, and a vibrant stock market.  Consumers are also spending on big-ticket items such as cars, home renovations, and appliances, among other categories.  So if this was the Last Black Friday – it should be one to remember.

The Market:

“GE … we bring good things to light.”

   Last week I was looking for a changing of the guard back to small caps leading the way higher.  The indexes started slowly this week, with the IWM and SPY drifting higher, but the QQQ was lagging.  By Tuesday all that changed with 3 moving higher, and the QQQs taking the lead into the weekend.  What does this mean for the coming week?  For the S&Ps, all of the moving averages are stacked and moving higher, the MACD is crossing upward showing a ‘buy’ signal, and even the Bollinger Bands are showing more room to the upside.  Elsewhere, gold is consolidating, while crude oil continues its march higher.  The U.S. dollar is renewing its downtrend trend which is good for the global markets because for every 1% rise in the U.S. dollar – the world economy suffers a 0.7% decline in global GDP.   Volatility is low – keeping the bias to the upside for equities.  The S&Ps (SPY) appear to be the strongest, with the NASDAQ (QQQ) at resistance, and the small caps (IWM) consolidating.  SocGen thinks that: “The S&P has reached our target for the end of this cycle, and is now entering expensive territory.  On all metrics, U.S. equities are trading at levels only seen during the late-90s bubble.  Since Trump's election, the U.S. equity market has risen 24%, but only half of this came from earnings growth.  According to our calculations, the U.S. equity market is already pricing in tax reform.  The rise in bond yields and FED repricing should be headwinds against further US equity increases.”  I have a feeling that the closer we get to the mid-December FED rate hike – the more we're going to see analysts suggesting that our bull market is in need of a rest. 
   I put together a preliminary list of my surprise winners and losers for 2017.  The top 3 winners thus far are:
-       #3 Amazon (AMZN) - First, it reported $43.7B in revenue this quarter, which is an awe inspiring standalone number.  It also showed 34% year-over-year growth (29% without Whole Foods).  AWS (Amazon's cloud computing service) brought in $1.2B in operating profit, making up for the $900m loss from Amazon's international segment.  As long as AWS keeps growing at a 40%+ rate, Amazon is good-to-go.
-       #2 Intel (INTC) - A strong quarter from an underpriced company is always a good recipe for a nice pop in the share price.  Notwithstanding the competition, the semiconductor giant proved its ability to grow despite competitive headwinds from NVDA and AMD.
-       #1 Wal-Mart (WMT) - Those calling for the demise of brick-and-mortar retail have wildly underestimated Wal-Mart’s resolve to remain on the map.  Comparable sales (the key metric for companies with physical locations) rose the most in eight years.  If that wasn't enough, Walmart reported a 50% jump in online sales, proving to the world that it can and will adapt to the new e-paradigm.

The top 3 losers are:
-       #3 Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) - Ever since sanitary issues began plaguing Chipotle in 2015, the Mexican restaurant chain hasn't been the same.  The e-coli outbreak (which erupted two years ago) continues to have an adverse effect on Chipotle's share price, and continues to prevent it from re-establishing itself as an appealing destination for consumers.
-       #2 Under Armour (UA) – This exercise apparel and footwear specialty chain – is in big trouble.  Its largest segment is North America, and unfortunately, the NA sportswear retail environment has U.S. consumers reining in spending and long-established names like Nike and Adidas regaining their dominance.  It could take a year or more for Under Armour to regroup.
-       #1 General Electric (GE) - There's no way to soften this – GE is a chaotic disaster.  Key executives (including the company's chairman) left unexpectedly, earnings disappointed, and their dividend was cut in half.  This international infrastructure and technology company is going through a substantial restructuring that will include the divestiture of various divisions.  I’d wait to see what the final, slimmed-down version of the company actually looks like before even thinking of investing.

   Even though stock markets around the world are in a bull run, their returns pale in comparison to the cryptocurrencies.  Wealth managers will soon be forced to invest a portion of their assets in digital currencies.  Here are the top 3 concerns I hear from investors about Bitcoin:
-       #1 Bitcoin is anonymous - False.  Many people believe that Bitcoin's anonymous nature makes it perfect for money laundering and other illegal activities, when (in reality) there are other currencies far more anonymous than Bitcoin – including ‘cash’.  Bitcoin operates using a technology called blockchain.  Every transaction that takes place on the Bitcoin network is recorded on the blockchain.  If you do a transaction under a fake name, you may be able to keep your identity secret, but the minute your identity is revealed – it will be known to the world along with all your transactions.
-       #2 Bitcoin has no intrinsic value – True and False.  It is true that no government entity or banks ‘back-stop’ Bitcoin.  But that doesn't mean it doesn't have value.  In fact, the lack of centralized support actually is one of Bitcoin's intended strengths.  When Bitcoin was introduced in 2008, it was established so that its token would provide a decentralized form of currency that was NOT connected to any government entity or bank.  It’s purely a ‘peer-to-peer’ version of electronic cash that will allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution.  Today, countries and individuals are actively using Bitcoin as both a currency and a store of value.  As Bitcoin matures, it will become clearer as to whether the token is actually ‘digital gold’ or a currency – but what really gives Bitcoin its value is its network.
-       #3 Bitcoin isn’t safe – True and False.  It depends upon what you mean by ‘safe’.  Over the course of Bitcoin's life, about 25% of the bitcoins in circulation have been lost or destroyed.  This has happened because often people store bitcoins in hardware wallets or on hard drives that have met unfortunate ends.  One gentleman spent hours rifling through miles of garbage in the hopes of finding a tossed hard drive that housed over $9m in Bitcoin.  Talk about having a bad day.  So yes, it’s true that you could accidentally lose or destroy your bitcoin investment.  There are a lot of resources to help you avoid such a fate.  Another safety issue is hacking and digital security.  In 2011, the Mt. Gox breach saw a thief steal over 850,000 bitcoins.  Since then, you can store your digital currency investments in a wide range of software and hardware wallets – each equipped with its own security measures.  Coinbase (for example) comes with two-factor authentication.  No one can tell you that investing in digital currency is 100% safe – to do so would be to ignore the tremendous volatility and the infancy of the space.  That said, with Bitcoin and other digital currencies raking in triple-digit gains in under 11 months of this year – people are willing to take that risk.  It's also worth noting that almost $25B in credit card fraud was reported in 2016, with 46% of all Americans being impacted – so ‘money’ is not any safer. 

   If you’re looking for a bio-tech company that hasn’t seen a lot of love in a while – then Curis (CRIS) is for you.  It’s focus is on the development and commercialization of innovative drug candidates for the treatment of human cancers.  CRIS fell below the $1.00 mark on November 14, and finished at $0.8984 on November 24.  The analysts have an upbeat prognosis, and forecast the stock price to be in the $3.50 to $7.00 range over the next 12 months.  The boost is due to their strong pipeline, and their plans to conduct research programs both internally and through strategic collaborations.
   And don’t look now but the largest ‘weed’ merger could be on the horizon.  Canadian-based medical pot producer Aurora Cannabis (ACBFF) surprised investors last week with an unsolicited bid to acquire rival CanniMed Therapeutics (CMMDF).  Aurora Cannabis is after increased medical marijuana exposure.  Apart from chasing the recreational weed legalization, the company wants to keep pace with industry giant Canopy Growth (TWMJF).  The completion of Aurora’s Aurora Sky project is expected by mid-2018, and that would make Aurora the largest and most automated pot growing facility in the world – capable of producing more than 100,000 kilograms of dried cannabis annually.  Aurora will use this scale to reduce their costs of growing marijuana. 
   Each year, between Nov. 20th and December 4th, the market generally moves higher, and thus far this one is following the same playbook.  After December 4th, however, things get ‘iffy’.  That is to say, some years the market continues higher, and some it begins to roll over.  Because there's still so much Central Bank liquidity in the system, I don't suspect that a ‘roll-over’ is in the cards.  But, I also think that once this year draws to a close, a lot of fund managers are going to be willing to pare down their exposure, and we could see some rocky times in 2018.


   Questions from the mail bag:
   What do Futures Markets mean for Bitcoin?  A bitcoin futures contract is a forward agreement to purchase or sell a specific amount of bitcoin, within a specified time frame for a set price.  So, if you buy a 30-day bitcoin futures contract at a set price of $10,000 / BTC – you are agreeing to purchase the coin at the contracted rate ($10,000) on the agreed upon date.  The same goes for selling.  Futures markets are the exact opposite of spot markets.  Spot trades occur immediately, where futures contracts are scheduled in the ‘future’.  Factually, there is a lot of money to be made (and lost) playing the ‘spread’ between the futures price and the spot market price.  Future markets will give bitcoin a more mainstream exposure, and it could help to calm bitcoin’s price volatility.  But honestly, bitcoin futures are being offered in response to customer demand.  Bitcoin, like gold, is a perfect non-correlated asset to be added to an investment portfolio – as a hedging mechanism.  I (for one) am not surprised that there is such overwhelming demand for bitcoin futures from traders.  Now, every trader is going to have the option to invest right there on their screen without having to do the work of buying and securing bitcoin on a separate platform.
   In a sign of growing mainstream acceptance, digital currency exchange Coinbase now boasts more accounts (13m) than brokerage firm Charles Schwab (10.6m).  I’m sure that the amount of assets controlled by Schwab vastly exceeds that of Coinbase users; however, the user number does reflect adoption.  Regardless of bullish or bearish expectations, the reality is that Bitcoin is gaining traction amongst members of the general public.  This is further demonstrated by the offering of futures by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and the CBOE, the proliferation of crypto hedge funds, and the embrace of Bitcoin in cash-strapped countries.

   BTC/USD ($8,980) – Bitcoin has its sights on $9,000 – showing that the momentum is intact and buyers are willing to step in on every dip.  BTC broke above its ascending channel (see top left chart), and I’m anticipating a move to $9,969 assuming it remains above $8,600.  For fresh trades, the risk to reward ratio is not favorable as the stop loss is deep – so I’d await a pullback before committing fresh capital.  My bullish view will be invalidated if the digital currency turns down from the channel resistance line and breaks below $7,400 levels. Until then, the uptrend in Bitcoin remains intact.
   ETH/USD ($475) – For the past 3 days Ethereum has been on fire – breaking out of its channel (see top right chart) to the upside.  Assuming it can hold the breakout, I’m looking at a rise to the 1.272 extension of $652, and potentially to the 1.618 extension closer to $800.  However, it is unlikely to be a straight shot to these levels.  We should see a pullback towards the $420 levels in the next few days, and this would be the buying opportunity.
   LTC/USD ($88.79) – Like Ethereum, Litecoin has been steadily rising for the past several days – and has broken thru its upward channel.  It has nicely blown past the selling at the $72 and $80 levels, and is again shooting for the 1.272 and 1.618 extensions before consolidating.  However, we may see another two to three days of consolidation at the current levels, as this is the final resistance before the virtual currency can continue to make new lifetime highs.
   DASH/USD ($623) – Dash has found a place in our analysis based on its stupendous run, which has propelled its market cap. to just under $4.8B – making it the fifth largest coin by market capitalization.  Its immediate target is $650, above which a move to $729.8 is also possible.  As the risk to reward ratio is not attractive, I don’t recommend a fresh trade at the current levels at the moment.
   Over the next several weeks, I’m looking for moves higher in ZCash (ZEC) and Lisk (LSK).

Bullish: (Sell PCS = Sell a Put Credit Spread)
-       Abbott Labs – ABT (56.13) – Sell PCS, Dec 8th: -55 / +53, $0.26,
-       Aurora – ACBFF (5.66) – Long Stock from $2 / share,
-       Adobe – ADBE (184.46) – Sell PCS, Dec 1st: -177.5 / +175, $0.30,
-       App. Materials – AMAT (57.90) – Sell PCS, Dec 1st: -56 / +54, $0.30,
-       Credit Accept - CACC (288.46) – Sell PCS, Dec 15th: -280 / +270, $2.25,
-       Caterpillar – CAT (137.39) – Sell PCS, Dec 15th: -135 / +132, $0.51,
-       First Solar – FSLR (60.83) – Sell PCS, Dec 1st: -59 / +57, $0.32,
-       Google – GOOGL (1056.52) – Sell PCS, Dec 1st: -1042.5 / +1042, $0.50,
-       Lam Res. – LRCX (216.83) – Sell PCS – Dec 15th: -210 / +207.5, $0.57,
-       Micron – MU (49.68) – Sell PCS, Dec 1st: -47.5 / +45, $0.35,
-       Netflix – NFLX (195.75) – Sell PCS – Dec 8th: -190 / +187.5, $0.49,
-       UnitedHealth – UNH (212.51) – Sell PCS – Dec 8th: -207.5 / +205, $.50,
-       VM Ware – VMW (124.22) – Sell PCS – Dec 1st: -118 / +116, $0.36,
-       Zebra Tech - ZBRA (109.13) – Sell PCS – Dec 15th: -105 / +100, $0.70,

My Crypto-Currency holdings include (from largest to smallest):
-       Ethereum (ETH), Litecoin (LTC), Bitcoin Cash (BCH), Bitcoin (BTC), ZCash (ZEC), Lisk (LSK), Ripple (XRP), Monero (XMR), and Dash (DASH).

To follow me on StockTwits.com to get my daily thoughts and trades – my handle is: taylorpamm. 

Please be safe out there!

Expressed thoughts proffered within the BARRONS REPORT, a Private and free weekly economic newsletter, are those of noted entrepreneur, professor and author, R.F. Culbertson, contributing sources and those he interviews.  You can learn more and get your subscription by visiting:

Please write to Mr. Culbertson at: <rfc@culbertsons.com> to inform him of any reproductions, including when and where copy will be reproduced. You may use in complete form or, if quoting in brief, reference <http://rfcfinancialnews.blogspot.com/>.

If you'd like to view RF's actual stock trades - and see more of his thoughts - please feel free to sign up as a StockTwits follower -  "taylorpamm" is the handle.

If you'd like to see RF in action - teaching people about investing - please feel free to view the TED talk that he gave on Fearless Investing:

Startup Incinerator = https://youtu.be/ieR6vzCFldI

To unsubscribe please refer to the bottom of the email.

Views expressed are provided for information purposes only and should not be construed in any way as an offer, an endorsement, or inducement to invest and is not in any way a testimony of, or associated with Mr. Culbertson's other firms or associations.  Mr. Culbertson and related parties are not registered and licensed brokers.  This message may contain information that is confidential or privileged and is intended only for the individual or entity named above and does not constitute an offer for or advice about any alternative investment product. Such advice can only be made when accompanied by a prospectus or similar offering document.  Please make sure to review important disclosures at the end of each article.

Note: Joining BARRONS REPORT is not an offering for any investment. It represents only the opinions of RF Culbertson and Associates.


Alternative investment performance can be volatile. An investor could lose all or a substantial amount of his or her investment. Often, alternative investment fund and account managers have total trading authority over their funds or accounts; the use of a single advisor applying generally similar trading programs could mean lack of diversification and, consequently, higher risk. There is often no secondary market for an investor's interest in alternative investments, and none is expected to develop.

All material presented herein is believed to be reliable but we cannot attest to its accuracy. Opinions expressed in these reports may change without prior notice. Culbertson and/or the staff may or may not have investments in any funds cited above.

Remember the Blog: <
Until next week – be safe.

R.F. Culbertson