Company Notes Digest 7.24.15

posted in: Notes | 0

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.

The Macro Outlook:

Macroeconomic events continue to be a major theme in 2015

“macroeconomic events continue to be a major theme in 2015” —Abbott Labs (Healthcare)

The currency impact is as bad as anyone feared

“I think the impact on us from currency this quarter is probably as great as anything I’ve seen. It’s everything that everybody wrung their hands about back in December and January, as companies struggled to give guidance, and we wrung our hands too.” —Abbott Labs (Healthcare)

Energy and industrial companies are struggling the most

“We now have a more cautious outlook on spending in energy and industrial and the ability of our Valves & Controls segment to navigate this more difficult environment in 2015.” —Pentair (Industrial)

But retailers are de-stocking inventories too thanks to softer than expected sales

“we experienced a slowdown [in intermodal] later in the quarter due to relatively high retail inventory levels and softer than expected retail sales.” —Union Pacific (Railroad)

It certainly seems like we’re facing more deflationary pressure than inflation

“The entire industry has more than enough capacity. We’ve got a strong dollar to contend with…I’m quite happy with the fact we’ve been able to more or less beat or meet retail CPI around the world in price realization the last few years.” —Caterpillar (Heavy Machinery)

And deflation can reinforce weak demand trends

“[OEMs] have seen prices going down, so they’re being more conservative on their buys…we’re just seeing the OEMs reduce their buying patterns.” —Reliance Steel (Steel Distributor)

In North America it feels like there’s a step back for every step forward

“In North America, it feels as though every step that we make forward there is one step back.” —Unilever (Consumer Packaged Goods)

The rest of the world isn’t doing so great either.


The global economy remains uneven

“The global economic recovery remains uneven. Given the continued slowdown of the Chinese economy, the prospective U.S. tightening cycle…and the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Greece…Additionally, many emerging markets, large and small, remain challenged” —Coca Cola (Beverages)

Overall consumer demand is still weak

“Overall, consumer demand is still weak. And it is no surprise that the IMF recently once more lowered its global forecast. Emerging market growth continues to be below historic levels.” —Unilever (Consumer Packaged Goods)

Europe is a mixed picture

“Europe is still somewhat mixed picture, with some markets performing very well, and others struggling to make headway. On the whole, Europe is continuing on its path of slow and patchy progress, not unlike the recovery we saw in the U.S. following the Great Recession.” —Manpower (Temp Staffing)

Caterpillar’s construction business was down heavily in Latin America and Asia

“Construction Industries, which was down 18% and down in all regions. Latin America was the most significant decline, down 47%, and that was mostly a result of weak demand in general, and in particular Brazil…Asia-Pacific region was down 30%, with much of that decline in China and Japan.” —Caterpillar (Heavy Machinery)

Brazil is in its worst recession since 1990

“Brazil, I believe, is in the worst recession since 1990…the slowdown in Brazil is real. That country is in a recession.” —Unilever (Consumer Packaged Goods)

General Motors has seen lingering headwinds in China in June and July

“the potential recovery from the current reaction to the volatilities in the stock market. Clearly, June and thus far in July there’s been pretty significant headwinds on a year-over-year basis. We don’t anticipate that that is going to continue through the year, but that is something we’re going to have to monitor.” —General Motors (Automotive)

But most people seem to agree that the Chinese stock market decline is contained to institutional investors

“What happened to the recent stock market…was a lot of institutional investors who had come in at the end of this enormous run…I think it will show up a little bit in consumer confidence in the months to come and…we’re building that into our plans.” —Unilever (Consumer Packaged Goods)

And in the long term, the rise in China’s middle class is continuing

“The rise of the middle class there is continuing, and it is transforming China….for all of us that travel there so much, with every trip you can see this occurring” —Apple (Consumer Electronics)


Against a soft economic backdrop, financial markets march to their own beat

The current market for acquisitions is frothy if not irrational

“we continue to see a deal market where the valuations are frothy. Some could argue are irrational, so we’re not going to participate at that level.” —Nasdaq (Exchange)

Prices are highly dependent on interest rates

“The opportunity to access capital in today’s historically low interest rate environment is another significant contributor to the rationale and value creation of the acquisition” —Lockheed Martin (Defense)

And true frothiness is probably being hidden from public markets. Nasdaq has a private marketplace that now lists 100 companies

“we added 25 companies to NPM in the second quarter expanding the user base by one-third. NPM now has over 100 customers worldwide, including leading companies such as Pinterest, DocuSign and Business Insider to name a few. And it is still very early days.” —Nasdaq (Exchange)

The prices that Private Equity is paying for insurance agencies are comical to Brown and Brown

“we’re starting to see private equity buy private equity, which I think is many times an indication of a frothy environment…it’s very interesting, sometimes it’s challenging, sometimes comical, but we keep going…typically people buy emotionally and justify it intellectually” —Brown and Brown (Insurance Broker)

Meanwhile active traders, using derivatives and margin debt, are making up a higher and higher percentage of trade volume

“Margin loans are also at record levels and client cash as a percentage of total client assets remains near historic lows. In light of this low volatility in the equity markets, clients are increasingly turning to trading derivatives which were a record 44% of trades per day in the quarter and up 15% year over year.” —TD Ameritrade (Retail Brokerage)

There’s enough risk out there without having to worry about black swans like cyber attacks

“I think that security is a very-very big issue and I’m not as much worried about ourselves but I’m worried about the entire infrastructure…I’m afraid of what would happen if the whole Internet came down or if the banks operation got disrupted or all kinds of things can happen.” —Interactive Brokers (Broker)

Brown and Brown and Ace both saw a softening insurance market

“we, like the entire industry, continued to experience headwinds related to the rate declines. The downward pressure on rates continued to be driven by good overall loss experience, minimal weather related events and a significant amount of excess capital in the market chasing returns. We expect this trend to continue unless there is a material change in one or all of these factors.” —Brown and Brown (Insurance Broker)

“The underwriting environment continued to soften in the quarter for our commercial P&C business globally.” —ACE (Property and Casualty Insurance)

Investment managers are increasingly outsourcing their back offices

“We do actually see it as a long term trend where investment managers in general are really trying to focus on their investment management process and less focused on providing — doing the mid-office and back office services internally. We do see it as a long term trend.” Bank of New York Mellon (Trust Bank)

American Express is a rare financial company that is hurt in a rising rate environment

“We of course are unusual in that raising rate environment in isolation if you hold everything out steady, is a negative for us” —American Express (Payments)


McDonalds is trying to win customers back by getting the basics right

“we are enhancing the customer service experience. This starts with the basics. We have reduced the number of menu items in restaurants to make it easier for teams to deliver better service. We are improving the speed of our drive-throughs with simplified menu boards…I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that toasting of buns, better searing of beef, taking care of the dressings and the packaging and the rest of it, that gets noticed by customers.” —McDonalds (Restaurants)

Chinese consumers are moving online rapidly

“there’s obviously an enormous potential in total China still. But what you really see is a rapid shift away from traditional retail…moving rapidly to online” —Unilever (Consumer Packaged Goods)

Sheldon Adelson hinted that there may be a new opportunity for a casino in Japan

“There’s a lot of conjecture about what a new development opportunity in an emerging market like Japan or somewhere else in the Far East.  We’re keeping our powder dry so we can go after that aggressively.” —Las Vegas Sands (Casinos)


Apple didn’t release sales results for the watch but did say that 97% of customers are satisfied with it

“Market research from Wristly measured a 97% customer satisfaction rate for Apple Watch and we hear from people every day about the impact it’s having on their health, their daily routines, and how they communicate. Our own market research shows that 94% of Apple Watch owners wear and use it regularly, if not every day.” —Apple (Consumer Electronics)

Tim Cook thinks that the iPhone still has plenty of legs

“We think the phone has a lot of legs to it. I mean, many, many, many years. There’s tons of innovation left at the phone. I think we’re in the early innings of it, not in the late innings, and I think the market rate of growth over the long haul will also be impressive.” —Apple (Consumer Electronics)

Only 27% of the installed base has upgraded so far

“In terms of the percentage of customers that have upgraded to a 6 and 6 Plus versus that have not upgraded, it’s 73%, or meaning that 27% of the installed base of customers prior to the launch of 6 and 6 Plus have now upgraded.” —Apple (Consumer Electronics)

And the smartphone market is still growing

“Cumulative smartphone unit shipments are forecast to be more than 8.5 billion between 2015 and 2019, according to IDC” —Qualcomm (Semiconductors)

Apple is the only company making money in smartphones

“With respect to the low tier, I think the entire industry is actually challenged in terms of making money at the low tier.” —Qualcomm (Semiconductors)

However, Verizon doesn’t expect to see the same volume for mobile phones this 4th quarter as the last one

“I just don’t see that the next iconic device is going to be substantially different and therefore, I don’t see that – and this is just me speaking, I don’t see the volume there in the fourth quarter that we had last year from a total iconic change of the 6 and the 6 Plus.” —Verizon (Telecom)

Yahoo wants to participate in mobile search

“Mobile search is key to Yahoo!’s future. Search is half of our business. Users are more and more transitioning from desktop search to mobile search and we think it is fertile ground for innovation.” —Yahoo (Media)

But 30% of search on mobile phones is related to location

“when people search on their mobile phones, they’re looking for immediacy and action. In fact, 30% of mobile queries are related to location and our efforts around local search are helping consumers to find relevant information fast.” —Google (Internet)


A lot of small employers are still not prepared for ACA implementation

“relative to ACA, is I believe that many small employers are all over the board in terms of their preparation, some are behind and being – getting ready for next year, some are on their way and some are already there.” —Brown and Brown (Insurance Broker)

There will probably be price increases on public exchanges because of unfavorable loss experiences

“a number of those exchanges are experiencing rate increases and they will continue to experience rate increases, we believe, because of the unfavorable loss experience many of them have had over the last year due to the number of people in those pools.” —Brown and Brown (Insurance Broker)

Materials, Industrials, Energy:

This oil market is damn tough

“To sum things up, this is a damn tough market, one of the toughest ones that I have ever been through. And I don’t believe anyone on the call can accurately predict when commodity prices will rebound and rig counts will recover in the U.S. or the international markets, and neither can I.” —Halliburton (Oil services)

Schlumberger thinks that rig count has bottomed but recovery will be slow

“We do believe that the North American rig count has now reached bottom, but that we will only see a slow increase in drilling and completion activity in the second half of the year, which will not make any material dent in the massive overcapacity that has been created. This again means that there will be little to no improvement in pricing levels and, hence, the market will still remain very challenging for the foreseeable future.” —Schlumberger (Oil Service)

Core Labs sees a V shaped recovery as supply and demand balance out

“Core believes that worldwide crude oil supply and demand markets are well on their way to a balance at year-end, 2015…Core sees the V-shape recovery, led by higher commodity prices and followed by worldwide drilling activities, starting to increase in early 2016.” —Core Labs (Oil Service)

Demand is still growing

“global oil demand growth continues to strengthen, with the IEA having revised its 2015 estimate up to 1.4 million barrels per day during the second quarter. ” —Schlumberger (Oil Service)

On the supply side, OPEC is battling US producers for market share

“On the supply side of the oil markets, the global market share battle between OPEC and the high-cost producers is still playing out” —Schlumberger (Oil Service)

But Middle Eastern producers may be pushing supply as far as they can

“If we look at just production levels in the Middle East, you have all countries producing at, what we would think, would be maximum amounts of the amount that they can prove, very little spare capacity there. These are carbonate reservoirs. One of the dangers of producing maximum amounts, from carbonate reservoirs, is you start drawing larger amounts of water. And we would think, at the levels at which we see production throughout the Middle East, that they would be in danger if they continue with those levels, for producing larger amounts of water.” —Core Labs (Oil Service)

The biggest negative for oil may be that psychology is still not washed out. This analyst question shows that people are still modeling higher prices

“regarding the international outlook for 2016…if we are in a $65 Brent world, what would your preliminary thoughts…” —Schlumberger (analyst question)

Halliburton would also rather carry extra expenses than cut them. A sign that they haven’t capitulated?

“the cost to carry something ultimately outweighs the cost to have to replace it, go out and get people, retrain those people, rebuild your infrastructure and all of that. So it’s a decision I made. It’s on me if you disagree with it, but I think that it’s easily defendable” —Halliburton (Oil Service)

Miscellaneous Nuggets of Wisdom:

Focus on product

“we think if we do a great job with the product that people will be willing to spend more because they get so much more out of it. And I think you can look at the results on the iPhone and see that in action…We don’t do the MBA analysis of there’s only X people buying in a price band and therefore we can only get X minus Y percent. That’s not the way we’ve ever looked at it. If we did, we wouldn’t be shipping any products.” —Apple (The House that Jobs Built)

Solving problems will lead to sales

“Google’s goal is to develop great new services that significantly improves the lives of as many people as possible. Solving problems for users at scale ultimately results in monetization opportunities.” —Google (The Internet)

High gross margin businesses can end up overspending on sales and marketing

“one of the keys in business apps is you can always get into the trap of overspending in sales and marketing and not having long-term leverage at all. One of the things I feel very good about our position is how do you really build a long-term profitable business; that’s front and center to me. So we will not overspend there in sales and marketing because we do believe the products” —Microsoft (Enterprise Technology)

Even recurring revenue businesses will deteriorate over time without new equipment orders

“we’ve seen a continued erosion of Otis market share as we have pursued margin expansion, and I think we have taken margin expansion to the point now where we’re not terribly competitive based on new equipment pricing. And quite frankly, you’ve got to feed the service business with new equipment orders.” —United Technologies (Industrial Conglomerate)

Just because you have brand awareness doesn’t mean you’re going to be flooded with orders

“it’s not a one way ticket to all the sudden you’ve arrived but there is a lot of work for us to be done…one thing I learned a long time ago…the first time an Under Armour logo popped up on the front cover of USA Today’s sports page and I thought I was walking the office and the place to be flooded with orders it’s just not the way it goes.” —Under Armour (Sports Apparel)

First mover advantage isn’t that important if you know how to execute

“we used to pay a lot of attention to the first mover advantage theory. When we were partnered with McDonald’s, they were telling us how important it was in their development. Although, if you look at our history and our sales trends when we come into markets and we’re not the first mover, we definitely pass them, I mean, California is the best example where we had two big competitors, and we severely lagged behind them. Over time though, through great execution and through a great people culture and sharing with our customers what makes Chipotle food special, we quickly took the lead.” —Chipotle (Burritos)

Quotes of the week come from Kevin Plank:

“being aggressive, young and fearless can be a deadly combination.” —Under Armour (Sports Apparel)

“brands are built on consistency, consistency is built in trust and trust is built in drops and is lost in buckets.” —Under Armour (Sports Apparel)

Full transcripts can be found at