Lombardi: Stock Market Commentary & Forecasts, Financial & Economic Analysis Since 1986

Retailers

Companies that cater to the public by selling various goods are called retailers. This encompasses both large and small stores. Investors look at fashion trends, sales per square feet, the potential to open more stores, inventory levels, and same-store sales data, as well as the ability of retailers to generate loyalty among their customers. Looking at them as a whole, retailers can provide a general idea about consumer spending. If they are selling more, it is considered to be a good sign; when they are selling less, it means consumers are struggling, and there may be rough roads ahead for the economy.

Movie Tickets and New Homes: Why They Are Both in Trouble

By for Profit Confidential

The Untold Story of the Pinned-Down U.S. ConsumerIn 2013, consumer spending accounted for 67% of U.S. gross domestic product. (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis web site, last accessed April 2, 2014.) It’s plain and simple: economic growth cannot be achieved unless consumers are spending.

And unfortunately, higher prices and lower discretionary spending are putting the brakes on consumer spending here in 2014.

The Motion Picture Association of America says box office sales in the U.S. economy came in at $10.9 billion in 2013—up only one percent from 2012 and up just three percent from 2009. But here comes the kicker: the sales increase was due to higher ticket prices. The number of tickets sold for Hollywood movies in 2013 was down 1.5% from 2012 and six percent from 2009! (Source: Motion Picture Association of America, Inc., March 25, 2014.)

And the U.S. housing market is getting into trouble, too, as consumer spending pulls back. The chart below is of new-home sales in the U.S. economy from the spring of 2012 until now.

Houses Sold - New One Family ChartChart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com

You will quickly see from the chart that new-home sales in the U.S. economy peaked in late 2012/early 2013 and have come down since. Existing-home sales are also under stress and well below their post-Credit Crisis peak.

Why does the housing market matter? When homebuyers move into their new homes, they buy things like lawnmowers, appliances, furniture, and more. With home sales declining, it suggests consumer spending on these items will not be robust in 2014.

Dear reader, consumer spending patterns in the U.S. economy show troubling trends in the making. Sure, I talked today about how movie tickets … Read More

Will the U.S. Escape the Rapid Inflation That Usually Follows Massive Money Printing?

By for Profit Confidential

Proof Growth in Money Supply Not Spurring GDP GrowthIs the Federal Reserve ignoring the very basic law of economics…the law of diminishing marginal utility? You remember that term from economics in high school. The law of diminishing marginal utility states that the more of something you have, the lesser its impact on you.

The Fed has been printing money in hopes of stimulating growth in the U.S. economy. As the Fed printed more paper money, its balance sheet grew to over $4.0 trillion.

Below, I’ve made a table that looks at gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the U.S. each year since 2009, and where the balance sheet of our central bank stood at the end of each year.

In the table below, you will notice something interesting; aside from 2009, there is no real correlation between the increases in the assets (paper money printed) on the Fed’s balance sheet and GDP growth. In fact, after all the money the Fed has printed, the U.S. economy grew last year at its slowest pace since 2011.

U.S. GDP Growth vs. Growth in Size of Fed Balance Sheet

Year YOY Change
in GDP
Fed Balance Sheet (Trillions) YOY Change in Balance Sheet
2009 -2.80% $2.08 73.44%
2010 2.50% $2.31 11.21%
2011 1.84% $2.74 18.58%
2012 2.77% $2.86 4.36%
2013 1.87% $3.47 21.33%

Data source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis web site,
last accessed April 1, 2014.

The Federal Reserve predicts the U.S. GDP in 2014 will increase between 2.8% and three percent; that’s a jump of about 50% since 2013. (Source: Federal Reserve, March 19, 2014.) I believe this to be way too optimistic. (And as we … Read More

Analyst Downgrade on This Retailer Creates Opportunity?

By for Profit Confidential

Top Retailer Surprises the Street with Great NumbersRetail is a tough business to be in and always difficult as an investor. Williams-Sonoma Inc. (WSM) took off after the company beat Wall Street consensus and increased its quarterly dividend by six percent on the back of 4.3 million repurchased shares in fiscal 2013.

The stock moved 10% higher on the day of the company’s earnings report, and it broke out of an eight-month price consolidation.

Williams-Sonoma also operates the “Pottery Barn” and “West Elm” retailers, and is pretty much a unique story in specialty merchandising in terms of its operational success.

Over the last month, a number of Wall Street analysts reduced the company’s earnings expectations for this fiscal year and next. But the company did have good operational success in its fiscal fourth quarter of 2013, with a 10.4% gain in comparable revenue growth among its five retail divisions, with particular strength at West Elm.

Earnings per share increased 8.7% in the fourth quarter, and the dividend increase really pleased investors.

Operationally, Pottery Barn is the company’s largest revenue generator, about double the revenues generated from Williams-Sonoma-branded stores at $1.9 billion last year.

In the fiscal first quarter of 2014, the company expects comparable total sales to grow between four and six percent. The company has been conservative with previous forecasts; many companies have a tendency to lowball their outlooks to make “outperformance” easier.

Williams-Sonoma’s long-term track record is solid, however, and it’s been a good performer on the stock market. Its 20-year chart is featured below:

WSM Williams Sonoma, Inc. NYSE Chart

Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com

The company is doing better than a lot of other retailers, and management said that it … Read More

Reaching the Point of Maximum Optimism

By for Profit Confidential

Bear Market Twists News to Lure in More InvestorsThis past Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 175,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy in the month of February. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 7, 2014.)

The way the media reported it…

“Friday’s jobs market report caught the market by surprise,” was what most media outlets were telling us via their untrained reporters. The expectation was an increase of 149,000 jobs in February (after a dismal December and January jobs market report) and so the usual happened—stocks went up and gold went down on a jobs market report that was only slightly better than what was expected.

The consensus, from what I read, is that the jobs market in the U.S. economy is getting better. Of course, I think of this as hogwash. And as I’ll tell you in a moment, this is the kind of misinformation that is characteristic of what happens in a bear market in stocks, not a bull market.

Within February’s jobs market report, we find:

The long-term unemployed (those who have been out of work for six months or more) accounted for 37% of all the unemployed in the U.S. economy. The longer a person is unemployed—likely because that person has not been re-trained for the jobs market—the less likely it is that person will eventually find work.

Today, once a person becomes unemployed in the U.S. economy, that person remains unemployed for an average of 37 weeks! This number remains staggeringly high. Before the financial crisis, this number was below 15 weeks. (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis web site, last accessed March 7, 2014.)

When you have a … Read More

Important Message Retailers Are Sending Us About the Economy

By for Profit Confidential

Consumer Spending Hits Trouble TerritoryConsumer spending in the U.S. economy is highly correlated to consumer confidence. If consumers are worried about the economy, they pull back on their spending.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index decreased by 1.63% in February from January. (Source: Conference Board, February 25, 2014.) And we see the corresponding pullback on consumer spending in weak U.S. retail sales.

Macy’s, Inc. (NYSE/M) reported a decline of 1.6% in revenue in its latest quarter—which includes the holiday season. For its just-completed fiscal year, company revenues were up by only 0.9%. (Source: Macy’s, Inc., February 25, 2014.)

Sears Holdings Corporation (NASDAQ/SHLD) reported a decline of 12.6% in revenues in its latest quarter. Yes, I know this company is having problems; but a drop in revenue of 12.6% for a retail giant like this—and during the holiday shopping season—is an indicator that consumer spending is very weak. (Source: Sears Holdings Corporation, February 27, 2014.)

Target Corporation (NYSE/TGT) reported revenues fell by 3.8% in its last fiscal quarter. (Source: Target Corporation, February 26, 2014.)

Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE/BBY) is in a very similar situation. The company reported a decline of more than three percent in revenues for its latest quarter. And for the 12 months ended February 1, 2014, Best Buy’s revenues fell 3.4%. (Source: Best Buy Co., Inc., February 27, 2014.)

The retailers I just mentioned are just a few of the many retailers that reported a decline in their revenues in the last quarter of 2013, which suggests consumer spending is in troubling territory.

My point is that those companies that are closest to consumer spending—the big American retailers—are giving us a … Read More

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Movie Tickets and New Homes: Why They Are Both in Trouble

By for Profit Confidential

The Untold Story of the Pinned-Down U.S. ConsumerIn 2013, consumer spending accounted for 67% of U.S. gross domestic product. (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis web site, last accessed April 2, 2014.) It’s plain and simple: economic growth cannot be achieved unless consumers are spending.

And unfortunately, higher prices and lower discretionary spending are putting the brakes on consumer spending here in 2014.

The Motion Picture Association of America says box office sales in the U.S. economy came in at $10.9 billion in 2013—up only one percent from 2012 and up just three percent from 2009. But here comes the kicker: the sales increase was due to higher ticket prices. The number of tickets sold for Hollywood movies in 2013 was down 1.5% from 2012 and six percent from 2009! (Source: Motion Picture Association of America, Inc., March 25, 2014.)

And the U.S. housing market is getting into trouble, too, as consumer spending pulls back. The chart below is of new-home sales in the U.S. economy from the spring of 2012 until now.

Houses Sold - New One Family ChartChart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com

You will quickly see from the chart that new-home sales in the U.S. economy peaked in late 2012/early 2013 and have come down since. Existing-home sales are also under stress and well below their post-Credit Crisis peak.

Why does the housing market matter? When homebuyers move into their new homes, they buy things like lawnmowers, appliances, furniture, and more. With home sales declining, it suggests consumer spending on these items will not be robust in 2014.

Dear reader, consumer spending patterns in the U.S. economy show troubling trends in the making. Sure, I talked today about how movie tickets … Read More

Will the U.S. Escape the Rapid Inflation That Usually Follows Massive Money Printing?

By for Profit Confidential

Proof Growth in Money Supply Not Spurring GDP GrowthIs the Federal Reserve ignoring the very basic law of economics…the law of diminishing marginal utility? You remember that term from economics in high school. The law of diminishing marginal utility states that the more of something you have, the lesser its impact on you.

The Fed has been printing money in hopes of stimulating growth in the U.S. economy. As the Fed printed more paper money, its balance sheet grew to over $4.0 trillion.

Below, I’ve made a table that looks at gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the U.S. each year since 2009, and where the balance sheet of our central bank stood at the end of each year.

In the table below, you will notice something interesting; aside from 2009, there is no real correlation between the increases in the assets (paper money printed) on the Fed’s balance sheet and GDP growth. In fact, after all the money the Fed has printed, the U.S. economy grew last year at its slowest pace since 2011.

U.S. GDP Growth vs. Growth in Size of Fed Balance Sheet

Year YOY Change
in GDP
Fed Balance Sheet (Trillions) YOY Change in Balance Sheet
2009 -2.80% $2.08 73.44%
2010 2.50% $2.31 11.21%
2011 1.84% $2.74 18.58%
2012 2.77% $2.86 4.36%
2013 1.87% $3.47 21.33%

Data source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis web site,
last accessed April 1, 2014.

The Federal Reserve predicts the U.S. GDP in 2014 will increase between 2.8% and three percent; that’s a jump of about 50% since 2013. (Source: Federal Reserve, March 19, 2014.) I believe this to be way too optimistic. (And as we … Read More

Analyst Downgrade on This Retailer Creates Opportunity?

By for Profit Confidential

Top Retailer Surprises the Street with Great NumbersRetail is a tough business to be in and always difficult as an investor. Williams-Sonoma Inc. (WSM) took off after the company beat Wall Street consensus and increased its quarterly dividend by six percent on the back of 4.3 million repurchased shares in fiscal 2013.

The stock moved 10% higher on the day of the company’s earnings report, and it broke out of an eight-month price consolidation.

Williams-Sonoma also operates the “Pottery Barn” and “West Elm” retailers, and is pretty much a unique story in specialty merchandising in terms of its operational success.

Over the last month, a number of Wall Street analysts reduced the company’s earnings expectations for this fiscal year and next. But the company did have good operational success in its fiscal fourth quarter of 2013, with a 10.4% gain in comparable revenue growth among its five retail divisions, with particular strength at West Elm.

Earnings per share increased 8.7% in the fourth quarter, and the dividend increase really pleased investors.

Operationally, Pottery Barn is the company’s largest revenue generator, about double the revenues generated from Williams-Sonoma-branded stores at $1.9 billion last year.

In the fiscal first quarter of 2014, the company expects comparable total sales to grow between four and six percent. The company has been conservative with previous forecasts; many companies have a tendency to lowball their outlooks to make “outperformance” easier.

Williams-Sonoma’s long-term track record is solid, however, and it’s been a good performer on the stock market. Its 20-year chart is featured below:

WSM Williams Sonoma, Inc. NYSE Chart

Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com

The company is doing better than a lot of other retailers, and management said that it … Read More

Reaching the Point of Maximum Optimism

By for Profit Confidential

Bear Market Twists News to Lure in More InvestorsThis past Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 175,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy in the month of February. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 7, 2014.)

The way the media reported it…

“Friday’s jobs market report caught the market by surprise,” was what most media outlets were telling us via their untrained reporters. The expectation was an increase of 149,000 jobs in February (after a dismal December and January jobs market report) and so the usual happened—stocks went up and gold went down on a jobs market report that was only slightly better than what was expected.

The consensus, from what I read, is that the jobs market in the U.S. economy is getting better. Of course, I think of this as hogwash. And as I’ll tell you in a moment, this is the kind of misinformation that is characteristic of what happens in a bear market in stocks, not a bull market.

Within February’s jobs market report, we find:

The long-term unemployed (those who have been out of work for six months or more) accounted for 37% of all the unemployed in the U.S. economy. The longer a person is unemployed—likely because that person has not been re-trained for the jobs market—the less likely it is that person will eventually find work.

Today, once a person becomes unemployed in the U.S. economy, that person remains unemployed for an average of 37 weeks! This number remains staggeringly high. Before the financial crisis, this number was below 15 weeks. (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis web site, last accessed March 7, 2014.)

When you have a … Read More

Important Message Retailers Are Sending Us About the Economy

By for Profit Confidential

Consumer Spending Hits Trouble TerritoryConsumer spending in the U.S. economy is highly correlated to consumer confidence. If consumers are worried about the economy, they pull back on their spending.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index decreased by 1.63% in February from January. (Source: Conference Board, February 25, 2014.) And we see the corresponding pullback on consumer spending in weak U.S. retail sales.

Macy’s, Inc. (NYSE/M) reported a decline of 1.6% in revenue in its latest quarter—which includes the holiday season. For its just-completed fiscal year, company revenues were up by only 0.9%. (Source: Macy’s, Inc., February 25, 2014.)

Sears Holdings Corporation (NASDAQ/SHLD) reported a decline of 12.6% in revenues in its latest quarter. Yes, I know this company is having problems; but a drop in revenue of 12.6% for a retail giant like this—and during the holiday shopping season—is an indicator that consumer spending is very weak. (Source: Sears Holdings Corporation, February 27, 2014.)

Target Corporation (NYSE/TGT) reported revenues fell by 3.8% in its last fiscal quarter. (Source: Target Corporation, February 26, 2014.)

Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE/BBY) is in a very similar situation. The company reported a decline of more than three percent in revenues for its latest quarter. And for the 12 months ended February 1, 2014, Best Buy’s revenues fell 3.4%. (Source: Best Buy Co., Inc., February 27, 2014.)

The retailers I just mentioned are just a few of the many retailers that reported a decline in their revenues in the last quarter of 2013, which suggests consumer spending is in troubling territory.

My point is that those companies that are closest to consumer spending—the big American retailers—are giving us a … Read More

These Two Indicators Say U.S. GDP is Already Declining in 2014

By for Profit Confidential

2014 Worst Growth Year for World Economies Since 2009In 2013, the U.S. economy, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), rose at an average rate of 1.9% compared to 2.8% in 2012. And as it stands, GDP may slow further in 2014.

What makes me think this?

In January, U.S. industrial production declined by 0.3% from the previous month. This was the first decline in production since August of 2013. Production of automotive products in the U.S. economy declined by 5.15%, and appliances, furniture, and carpeting production declined by 0.6% in the month. (Source: Federal Reserve, February 14, 2014.)

And factories in the U.S. economy just aren’t as busy as they used to be. The capacity utilization rate, a measure of companies using their potential production, was 78.5% in January. The average rate between 1979 and 2013 has been 80.1%. While a difference of two percent in factory utilization isn’t a big number, because overhead is often fixed in factories, a two-percent decline in production is a big deal.

Then there’s the inventory problem; inventories in the U.S. economy continue to increase. In December, inventories at manufacturers increased by another 0.5% to $1.7 trillion. From December 2012, they have increased by 4.4%. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau, February 14, 2014.)

We have a situation in the U.S. economy today where factories are working at lower capacity than they have historically, while business inventories are rising—two bad omens for the economy; hence, you can see why I’m concerned about economic growth in 2014.

It’s a domino effect…

Inventories increasing suggest consumer demand is stalling. Examples of consumer spending declining in the U.S. economy are many. As I have … Read More

The “Big Thing” for Companies This Year

By for Profit Confidential

Here Come the Job CutsLast year, the “big thing” with companies was buying back their shares to boost per-share corporate earnings. In 2013, share buybacks hit their pre-financial crisis high. If big public companies didn’t buy back so much of their own stock in 2013, per-share corporate earnings just wouldn’t be that great.

This year, I expect share buybacks to continue at the pace we saw in 2013. Another “big thing” companies will do this year will be labor force reductions (cost-cutting) to make corporate earnings look better in light of generally weaker sales.

Companies have already started to lay out their plans for employee cuts…

Intel Corporation (NASDAQ/INTC) said it will be reducing its workforce by 5,000 this year. Here’s what the company spokesman, Chris Kraeuter, had to say: “This is part of aligning our human resources to meet business needs.” (Source: Randewich, N., “Intel to reduce global workforce by five percent in 2014,” Reuters, January 17, 2014.) Intel had flat fourth-quarter 2013 corporate earnings.

Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE/HPQ), another major company in the key stock indices, is taking a similar approach. In 2014, it is expected to cut its workforce. According to its long-term restructuring plan, 34,000 jobs, or 11% of the total workforce, will disappear.

And job cuts aren’t just happening at companies in the personal computer (PC) industry…

We see this phenomenon occurring across the board. Companies in the retail sector are struggling as well. Macy’s Inc (NYSE/M) said it will be reducing its labor force to lower costs. As part of the company’s cost-cutting program to boost corporate earnings, it will be eliminating about 2,500 jobs in 2014. (Source: … Read More

What I Learned About Retail Stocks While Shopping in South Florida

By for Profit Confidential

Top Retail Stocks to Watch in the New YearI’m not a shopper by any means but I just got back from my annual trip to South Florida where I was able to take a look at the retailers that appear to be attracting tons of traffic in the retail sector.

First of all, the big-time shopping mall in the Orlando area is the “Premium Outlets” mall chain. The operator of these discount outlet malls across America (which recently expanded into Canada), Simon Property Group, Inc. (NYSE/SPG), is a very interesting play on the retail sector. In each mall, there are often many more than 100 retailers from the top brand-name retail stocks in America.

As I walked around the mall, I noted what retailers were popular based on each store’s traffic and the buying frenzy inside. Remember, consumer spending drives the economy and overall gross domestic product (GDP) growth, so business in the retail sector can be quite telling.

One of the top retailers was NIKE, Inc. (NYSE/NKE), which is a major attraction in the mall and one of the top stocks in the retail sector. While Under Armour, Inc. (NYSE/UA) has been increasing its market share, I continue to feel that NIKE is the “Best of Breed” in the sports apparel business in the retail sector.

In the youth apparel area, The Gap, Inc. (NYSE/GPS) was a major focal point in the mall, along with Banana Republic, which The Gap also operates. In the youth and early adult clothing market, The Gap has been successful in turning around its business over the past decade and is now a good pick to consider in the retail sector…. Read More

U.S. Retailers’ Dwindling Fortunes a Signal of Economic Slowdown Ahead?

By for Profit Confidential

economic slowdownWhen retailers in the U.S. economy warn about their sales being in a slump or start to forecast rough roads ahead, it should be a warning to investors of an economic slowdown ahead. The logic behind this is very simple: Retailers in the U.S. economy show trends about consumer spending; if retailers are worried, it means consumer spending is in trouble.

One way to get an idea about bleak consumer spending is by looking at what happens during the peak buying seasons. In the most recent peak buying season, being the back-to-school shopping season, retailers in the U.S. economy were only able to lure in customers by slashing their already low prices.

The president of Retail Metrics (a company that provides estimates of same-store sales), Ken Perkin, said, “They [discounts] seem to be above the norm. That was emblematic of just the lack of demand for back-to-school.” (Source: “U.S. retailers rely on deep discounts to win back-to-school shoppers,” Reuters, September 5, 2013.)

In the very recent past, we have heard from retailers like Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE/WMT) and Macy’s, Inc (NYSE/M) about how they are struggling with their sales. And that’s a problem when you have both low-end and higher-end retailers facing similar customer demand issues.

The Cato Corporation (NYSE/CATO) is an apparel and accessory chain founded in 1946. The company reported its same-store sales in August were down two percent compared to the same period a year ago. The CEO of the company, John Cato, said, “August same-store sales were within our range of expectations and consistent with our current trend. We remain cautious in regard to the remainder … Read More

All Eyes on Retail Stocks

By for Profit Confidential

Women’s retailer The Talbots, Inc. (NYSE/TLB) axed its sales estimate for the third quarter and 2010 to negative growth. This is not encouraging, but may be more store-specific than industry-wide; yet, given the current mood in the retail sector, there could be some tough times ahead.

Stock Chart Says Very Merry Christmas for Retailers this Year

By for Profit Confidential

Two very important parts of the economy, both dealing with consumers, are “heating up” and I want my readers to know about them.

Once the government’s “cash for clunker” program to spur U.S. car sales ended, many auto analysts were concerned that car sales would plummet. The opposite occurred.

The Great Crash of 2014

A stock market crash bigger than what happened in 2008 and early 2009 is headed our way.

In fact, we are predicting this crash will be even more devastating than the 1929 crash…

…the ramifications of which will hit the economy and Americans deeper than anything we’ve ever seen.

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Many investors will find our next prediction hard to believe until they see all the proof we have to back it up.

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