Company Notes Digest 2.19.16

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Each week we read dozens of transcripts from earnings calls and presentations as part of our investment process. Below is a weekly post which contains some of the most important quotes about the economy and industry trends from those transcripts. Click here to receive these posts weekly via email.

This Week’s Post: Objects in Mirror…

The FOMC seems to believe that financial markets are not accurately reflecting the strength of the economy, but it looks like the committee prefers to err on the side of caution.  Even though many CEOs appear to agree with the Fed’s assessment, financial market conditions have tightened enough to generate caution.  The question remains whether that caution will be enough to cause a broader slowdown.

The Macro Outlook:

According to a number of FOMC participants, financial markets aren’t reflecting economic developments

“a number of participants noted that the large magnitude of changes in domestic financial market conditions was difficult to reconcile with incoming information on U.S. economic developments.” —FOMC Minutes

Industries that would typically be first to feel recession are holding up

Advertising markets remain robust

“advertising is as robust as we’ve seen in a long time…back in ’08, we saw it coming, we saw it coming. It was there in bright, shining lights. We’re not seeing anything remotely resembling that now.” —CBS CEO Les Moonves (Broadcast TV)

The sky is not falling for Marriott

“what we see is, again, reasonably encouraging. The sky is not falling when we look at our data” —Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson (Hotels)

Business is strong in Las Vegas

“With regard to Las Vegas, January was terrific and Super Bowl and February are off to a roaring start…as of now business is pretty good in the United States” —Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn (Casinos)

Wages are rising for many low income workers

“on February 20, we’ll raise the starting wage to at least $10 per hour for hourly associates hired before January 1, 2016.” —Walmart US CEO Greg Foran (Big Box Retail)

“we are expecting inflationary headwinds in 2016, primarily as it relates to our labor costs” —Potbelly CFO Michael Coyne (Restuarants)

There are even signs of strength in China

“what is interesting is to say that January in Macau…was our best month in a long time. Happy to say so. And Chinese New Year is in progress, but early in the week, a little too soon to say, the mass component clearly looks a little stronger than in the past.” —Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn (Casinos)

“Obviously, we’ve been bombarded with news about the Chinese economy over the last couple of quarters. Most of it not very positive in what we read in the papers here…I think we see in our industry and certainly at Marriott, stronger performance in China than you might expect from reading that newspaper…what we see so far in 2016 continues to make us quite positive about China.” —Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson (Hotels)

If the economy is strong, then what is going on with financial markets?

FOMC participants said it may be a function of valuation

“A couple of participants pointed out that the recent decline in equity prices could be viewed as bringing equity valuations more in line with historical norms. Additionally, a few participants cautioned that valuations in CRE markets should be closely monitored.” —FOMC Minutes

Will the volatility affect the real economy? Vornado’s CEO thinks so

“asset prices are high, well past the 2007 peak…With many sectors of the economy decelerating we have experienced a period of high volatility in both the credit markets and the equity markets, this will of course have some effect on the real-estate markets.” —Vornado CEO Steven Roth (REIT)

Financial market stress is impacting companies’ ability to access credit markets

“The decision to delay the spin, as we have previously stated, is the sudden disruption in the debt markets. This is a market-driven decision. We understand that the debt markets have not been like this since 2008. We expect to complete the spin once market conditions are favorable.” —Community Health Systems CEO Wayne T. Smith (Hospitals)

“The market liquidity has tightened up a fair amount in the last six months and certainly we were pretty conservative” —Dish CEO Charlie Ergen (Telecom)

“The unsecured and CMBS debt markets are getting a little jumpy.” —Vornado CEO Steven Roth (REIT)

Companies are planning more conservatively

“I think we’re all living in very uncertain times. And so, while we’re not seeing any specific macroeconomic indicators yet, we all realize that if the current uncertainty gets elongated and last for an extended period of time, we will see potentially impact on customers buying psyche and sales cycles, et cetera, budget sensitivity. So with an abundance of caution, we’ve baked in a bit of the challenging economic cycle into our estimate as well.” —Rackspace CEO Taylor Rhodes (Cloud Support)

“What’s changed between then and now, I think, we look at a world in which there’s obviously more anxiety in the marketplace…and as a consequence, we’ve been a bit more conservative in the forecast that we provided.” —Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson (Hotels)

If things keep going the way they are it’s tough to see how we won’t get a recession

“if there is a recession in America, and it is hard to see why there won’t be if we keep going the way we are, then Las Vegas will ultimately reflect whatever is going on in the rest of the United States. It always has…So I don’t want you to construe my remarks about a healthy January and a promising February to mean that we’re running counter to anything else you’re seeing. We’re just lucky, that’s all. Just luck, we’re holding high. I don’t want to make too much of it.” —Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn (Casinos)

You really can’t tell anything about the economy until March though

“January, February is always a little bit soft in the first quarter and March really is kind of indicative of what we were going to see basically in the second quarter. So I think we will always be a little bit conservative on our guidance in the first quarter…the telling point [is] really in the month of March.” —Reliance Steel CEO Gregg Mollins (Steel Distributor)

And if things do get dicey, everyone expects the Fed to ride to the rescue

“I believe and most commentators believe [that volatility] will cause an extension of the low interest rate, easy money environment that we have found ourselves in for years and years now…the interest rate environment and the wall of liquidity which still exists, is an anchor on keeping pricing firm.” —Vornado President Mitchell Schear (REIT)

Case in point:

“they agreed that uncertainty had increased, and many saw these developments as increasing the downside risks to the outlook…Several participants noted that monetary policy was less well positioned to respond effectively to shocks that reduce inflation or real activity than to upside shocks, and that waiting for additional information regarding the underlying strength of economic activity and prospects for inflation before taking the next step to reduce policy accommodation would be prudent” —FOMC Minutes

International:

Hedging only delays the impact of currency moves on EPS

“hedging only delays the EPS impact…even if and when currencies stabilize completely, there will always be the following year EPS challenge of anniversarying non-operating hedge gain.” —Fossil CFO Dennis Secor (Apparel)

In most cases hedging currency is so expensive that you’re better off assuming the risk

“to be quite honest in many cases the costs of those hedge are so prohibitive that it’s really better off to stick with the risk.” —Marriott CFO Kathleen Oberg (Hotels)

Copa Airlines isn’t seeing an impact on passenger traffic from the Zika virus

“so far, we have not seen an impact…most of our passengers originate in Latin America so the Zika scare is not such a big deal. We’re already living in Latin America.” —Copa CEO Pedro Heilbron (Airline)

Financials:

T-Mobile and Cabela’s each mentioned signs of weakening credit quality

“During the quarter, we saw a shift in the trends in delinquencies. Greater than 30-day delinquencies were 0.82% as compared to 0.68% a year ago, greater than 60-day delinquencies were 0.51% as compared to 0.41% a year ago…we’re certainly not alarmed by it, but we think we’ve reached the trough of charge-offs and we expect them to go up.” —Cabela’s CFO Ralph Castner (Sporting Goods)

“the increase was a function of a shift to subprime during…the prior year…we’ve taken several steps that have tightened credit for subprime during the first quarter of this year to counteract that phenomena that we saw in the prior year. So, yeah, we are very focused on this issue” —T-Mobile CFO J. Braxton Carter (Telecom)

The FOMC unanimously agreed that a cap should be reintroduced on repurchases at some point

“participants reiterated that the Committee expects to phase out the facility when it is no longer needed to help control the federal funds rate, and they unanimously expressed the view that it would be appropriate to reintroduce an aggregate cap on ON RRP operations at some point.” —FOMC Minutes

Consumer:

Competitors are feeling an impact from McDonald’s all day breakfast

“we experienced the effects of both the heightened competitive focus on value and the impact of McDonald’s all-day breakfast, primarily between the hours of 10:30 a.m. to noon.” —Jack in the Box CEO Leonard Comma (Restaurant)

E-commerce is growing rapidly in China

“And talking about online channels in China, ecommerce is of extreme importance and we have heavily engaged with this. And already 50% of our sales in petcare goes via ecommerce in China, 30% in coffee, 30% also infant formula.” —Nestle CEO Paul Bulcke (Packaged Foods)

“We expect to focus primarily on e-commerce. That is the most rapidly growing path to market in China.” —iRobot CEO Colin Angle (Consumer Robotics)

Technology:

Amazon is destroying its competition in cloud

“We found that as Amazon really leveraged their strengths, which are pouring capital under their product, building their developer ecosystem, training people on APIs, et cetera, they really picked up a lot of momentum that took public cloud apps further and further into their model. And that was a – just – you’ve seen them, right, they’re a tornado. So we think that was an impact that was larger to our public cloud than we anticipated at the time.” —Rackspace CEO Taylor Rhodes (Cloud Support)

True 5G probably isn’t coming until 2020

“One competitor has pushed out and talked about, I think in a somewhat misleading fashion, about consumer 5G…when you think about 5G in a smartphone, you’re talking a 2020 story. And nobody that understands the technical space and where we are with standardization would really tell you anything different.” —T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray (Telecom)

Digital advertising may be generating disappointing ROIs

“I think there’s no question that there’s a bit of noise out there about digital advertising not having quite the same ROI as we do, as broadcast…In addition, you see things from programmatic, and you hear noise that maybe not everybody recorded is really a person. It’s a machine.” —CBS CEO Les Moonves (Broadcast TV)

Healthcare:

It’s been a slow flu season

“a slower flu season created a headwind to our Cold, Cough and Flu business this quarter.” —Walmart US CEO Greg Foran (Big Box Retail)

“Our volumes, including emergency room visits, were lower than expected in the quarter as compared to a year ago, mainly attributable to the lack of flu and respiratory illness which we historically see during this period.” —Community Health Systems CEO Wayne T. Smith (Hospitals)

Express Scripts may be interested in investing more in the Healthcare IT space

“I think HCIT, there’s a lot of fragmentation there. We obviously have a lot of internal capabilities that we can invest in, but as we look out both from a payer and a provider standpoint, there may be some interest there.” —Express Scripts President Tim Wentworth (PBM)

Industrials:

Autos and aerospace are still considered strong markets

“Demand for automotive, which we service mainly through our toll processing operations in the U.S. and Mexico, was strong throughout the year; a trend we expect to continue in 2016.” —Reliance Steel CEO Gregg Mollins (Steel Distributor)

“I’ll begin with aerospace, which continues to be one of our strongest end markets for us, due to its relatively stable pricing and strong demand trends.” —Reliance Steel EVP William Sales (Steel Distributor)

30% of PG&E’s power is supplied by renewable resources

“In 2015, nearly 30% of PG&E’s electric deliveries came from qualifying renewable resources, and even more meaningfully nearly 60% of the energy that we delivered was carbon free.” —Pacific Gas & Electric CEO Anthony Earley (Utility)

Materials, Energy:

Distressed assets that are for sale in the mining space are distressed for a good reason

“Right now, there is distressed assets that are out there and they’re distressed for a good reason; high costs, low quality, no infrastructure, people trying to get rid of – I was going to say get rid of their trash, but I could never say that…there are some very good assets in what you’d probably describe as distressed balance sheets, and they’re not on the market as yet.” —Rio Tinto CEO Sam Walsh (Iron Ore)

Most mining CEOs speak favorably about copper

“Certainly in the area of copper, as Chris said, if there was an attractive project in that area, that could be of interest to us, at the right price or right value.” —Rio Tinto CEO Sam Walsh (Iron Ore)

Miscellaneous Nuggets of Wisdom:

Focus on the bottom line not just the top line

“We tend to be very fastidious about having all of our games be profitable. We don’t pay so much attention to the top line as we do to the bottom line…we try to maximize every foot of the casino with one metric in mind, contribution of EBITDA per foot.” —Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn (Casinos)

“We’re not as focused on the number of subscribers we have, we’re a bit more focused on the actual profitability of the subscribers.” —Dish CEO Charlie Ergen (Telecom)

Know what your customers want and give it to them

“We know who our customers are, we know what they want. And we’re going to try and figure out a better way to give it to them. That’s my ace in the hole. That is my secret.’ —Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn (Casinos)

Having a headquarters off the beaten path can be a competitive advantage

“One last aspect of the secret behind Hormel Foods that I’d like to share with you really relates to our team, where we are — I mentioned to you we’re in a small town in Minnesota; we’re little bit of a throwback in that regard. When someone joins our organization, they tend to join it for a life and indeed our average tenure of our officer team at Hormel Foods is 26 years, that’s not 26 years of industry experience, that’s 26 years of experience at Hormel, which I think does make it somewhat unique in the industry.” —Hormel Foods CEO Jeff Ettinger

When times are lean, you may have to sacrifice profitability so as not to cut into muscle

“Let me give you also a little bit of the strategic view that we have when it comes to expenses…we are going to maintain underwriters even if the market might cause us to reduce underwritings…I am not going to give my underwriters to the competition.” —Arch Capital Group CEO Dinos Iordanou (Reinsurance)

Doing what’s right for the long term sometimes means being penalized in the short term

“We’re making money over long period of time. We’re very fortunate in that regard because we don’t feel any pressure for short-term gains, right? And so we can make long-term decisions…sometimes we’re penalized in the short-term stock price for that, but that’s a small price to pay if you’re doing the right thing for your shareholders long term.” —Dish CEO Charlie Ergen (Telecom)

Full transcripts can be found at www.seekingalpha.com