Tomaeto Tomahto

Facebook is set to report earnings today after market close. Recent sentiment has been very bullish, however, with the fall of Apple, Google, and Microsoft; the market is now second guessing itself.

Put action has greatly increased in the last couple days and investors are seeing a true divergence in opinion.

And it is not just showing up in mainstream media. The charts, and subsequent interpretations, are showing the same mixed signals.

IBD sees a cup and handle consolidation pattern with a $117.09 buy point. A bullish pattern. We will call this the Tomaeto. 😉

ibd-fb

Yay! If it does indeed surprise.

Another stock and chart analysis site comes to a much different conclusion. A multiple top bearish pattern. We will call this one the Tomahto.

finviz-fb

Ahh!! If it does indeed crash.

So which one will it be?

Potaeto or Potahto?

It Started With A Falling Apple

Bad Apple

Last week (Friday to be exact) a report was published that Apple was extending its iPhone production cut into next quarter due to slowing sales.

The stock promptly fell 1%.

Being the eternal optimist and believer in all the better human qualities, I questioned the timing of this report being released the afternoon of expiration Friday.

I thought to myself, gee, somebody just made a ton of money.

Just lucky I guess.

But, sometimes I know the start of a pattern when I see one, so I place some puts on the good ‘ol Apple.
This was in fact contrary to some of my other partial positions in other techie stocks like Microsoft. I also had my eye on Citrix and Amazon.

Just in case you missed it, there is a movement afoot in the tech world, it’s called the cloud.

Apple is in the cloud with music and storage of information but not like the others. Their bread and butter is in the iPhone.

I was cautiously optimistic on the cloud.

Then VMware had a blowout quarter and so I decided it was safe to go into the cloud a little deeper. Citrix rewarded handsomely. Great! This is working out perfectly.

I thought.

Cloud-money

The cloud is looking good!

Then today happened.

Google and Microsoft both missed, badly. One commentator said it felt like having the rug pulled out from under you. To make matters worse, other big names missed too. Visa and Starbucks.

So, now I’m thinking that it was a good thing I held off on Amazon.

This reporting season could get uglier before it gets better. Sure, you are going to have some winners like VMware, Citrix, ServiceNow, etc. But perhaps the pundits were right about this being the worst reporting season in years and setting the expectation bar as low as they have.

If folks were looking for the catalyst for a pull-back, proof in the pudding as they say, they just may have found it with Google, Microsoft and, remembering where it all started, Apple.

How To Invest In Online E-commerce

Mobile Wins.

Mobile devices outnumber people.

It’s no secret that the PC has, or at least is, gone the way of the dinosaurs.  Mobile devices are lighter, pack enough power, and do everything – if not more – than a PC can.   We take them everywhere with us.  They have transformed the way we interact with people and with the rest of the world on a daily basis.

Then and Now

Going, Going, Gone are the days of paper coupons, receipts, money, payments, hard copy documentation.  OK, all that is not completely gone, after all, I can pull coupon fliers out of my US snail mail box at least every weekend.  But more and more people and consequently more and more companies are going to the virtual world to do business.

There’s an App for that.

However, it is not enough for companies to simply have a web site or an app.  To be successful, a company needs a mobile strategy which fits their current business and customer base.  An app or a website is not a mobile strategy.

The most successful mobile strategies use a combination of apps, websites, and promotions, all designed to enhance the customer online experience and keep loyal and returning customers.  Many of the big names do this very well such as Amazon, EBay, Starbucks, Target, etc.  They have great loyalty programs and well defined strategies.

But not every company has traditional interactive loyalty apps.

sitsquat

Some utilize games to keep people engaged, others provide information designed to keep their product and services in mind.

One of the more interesting apps I came across while researching mobile strategies by companies was one by Charmin called sit or squat.

It is a crowd sourcing app in which user’s rate bathroom facilities on cleanliness.

So if you happen to find yourself suddenly needing to use the facilities while doing all your Black Friday shopping or traveling to relatives; you can use this app to find the nearest, cleanest and highest rated bathroom facility.

All brought to you by Charmin.

 

Trust me.

When it comes to loyalty programs, many of the traditional keys to success are the old tried and true components of good customer service, interactive ease of use, and most importantly customer trust.  So far, successful marketing strategies such as loyalty programs which anybody can sign up for and use have proven to be more profitable than individual payment options.  There are two hurdles that I see with investing in e-payment options.  First and foremost is trust.  Many people are concerned about security breaches and data integrity with online retail.  There have been great advances in online transaction security but the rate of adoption by institutions varies widely.  The second hurdle is accessibility and ease of use.  On a very basic level not everyone can use each and every option out there.  For instance, almost every major financial institution, smartphone provider (LG, SAMSUNG, GOOGLE, APPLE) as well as individual payment process companies like PayPal, either have – or are coming out with – their own payment app.

Each and every one of these face the exact same problems.  Customer acceptance, trust and accessibility.

Follow the money.

I had one person ask me recently if buying a stock like Apple because Apple Pay is gaining in both popularity and distribution was a good idea or if another like PayPal might be better.  That is an excellent question.  My answer was this.  Comparing Apple to PayPal is not comparing Apples to Apples.

PayPal and Apple are totally different companies.

My advice to him was to ignore all the different e-wallet/e-pay options out there and buy Apple because of its brand, product line and strategy.

But if he was looking for just an ecommerce play, PayPal might be a good choice.  I like the fact that it is platform independent.  It can be used online, at the sales terminal at stores, or even between people.  Anybody can use it.

Another investment option which I have been closely following are companies which handle these financial transactions, no matter which platform or location they are initiated from.  Two such companies are Total System Services (TSS), Global Payments (GPN).

In addition, I would consider the two major credit/debit card companies out there, Visa and MasterCard.  After all, products like Apple Pay, though i-product dependent, are tied to cards you already use.  So Visa and MasterCard would be good choices for benefiting from more and more virtual payment options.

And there is one last company to consider as you are out and about this holiday season shopping, visiting friends and relatives, looking for the highest rated Charmin bath room, and ultimately returning some gifts as well; and that is BlackHawk Networks (HAWK).  They provide all those nice prepaid gift, telecom, and debit cards; and related payment services that almost everybody uses at least once during this holiday season.

Until next time, Happy Holidays and be careful shopping and traveling out there.

You Got To Have Sole

Nike

Several years ago I hired an employee where I worked who, as I later discovered, owned over 100 pairs of Nike shoes.  He had three closets full of them.  Two at his house and one at his mother’s.  Of course he never wore all of them.  In fact, most of them, he never wore at all.  Some he wore only once and then put away.  Some he occasionally sold on eBay, but most – he just collected.

This was so alien to me.  When I think of going out to buy a pair of sneakers, I look to buy them because I, or one of my kids, need a pair of sneakers.  Not because I feel compelled to own the latest and greatest model that just came out.  And I certainly don’t think about spending hundreds of dollars on a pair of sneakers.  I think of going to the local Walmart or Payless shoe store.

This person was, and still is, a huge sports fan.  He followed basketball, which explains why he was so hooked on Nike shoes.   Since the early 90’s, Nike has infiltrated amateur and collegiate sports and has successfully hooked millions and multiple generations of sports fans.  Of course, their tactics came under scrutiny and if you ever want to see a great documentary on how amateur sports, and college sports in particular, has become such a business – and in some ways – a racket, you need to watch the ESPN 30 for 30 series called Sole Man.

I highly recommend it.

Being a sports fan myself, I knew companies endorsed athletes and athletes had signature shoes and clothing lines.  But seeing firsthand how pervasive this phenomena is within certain cultures and segments of the population and how fanatical certain consumers can be; it was a real eye-opener for me and really was the first time I started taking Nike seriously as an investment idea.

It was at about this time that Nike also released their five year global growth strategy.

In this publication Nike outlined their goals for expanding into global markets.  One of the key features was something called DTC, Direct To Consumer, marketing.  This segment includes brand name Nike storefronts and the Nike.com online store.  The DTC line of business has higher margins because Nike does not have to share revenues with middle men or third parties.  Over the years they have very successfully leveraged their brand and high end merchandise to market directly to their loyal consumer base both here in the states and around the world.

BTW, the employee I mentioned earlier, he purchases over 90% of his shoes either online from Nike.com or from one of their storefronts.  The others, he gets from eBay.

Nike has been very successful implementing this DTC model.  So who else has a similar strategic model?   Two companies which immediately come to mind are Apple and Ulta.  Both companies can be considered specialty retailers with high end products and name recognition.  Both companies have brand name brick and mortar storefronts.  Both companies have a well-established online presence and a loyal, if not somewhat fanatical in the case of Apple, fan base.  I constantly keep these companies on my ready list and often purchase or add to positions during weakness.

With this information in mind, I am going to expand my research for companies implementing a similar DTC strategy.

I curious if anybody else knows of similar companies with similar DTC strategies.

Trivia:

During my research online of Nike, I came across this interesting fact.

Most of the sneakers sold in the U.S. are made outside the country, usually in places where cheap labor is easily available. However, the cheap labor costs are usually offset by the fact that shoe companies have to pay a 37.5% tariff on sneaker imports. Nike, however, seems to have found a way around this problem for its Converse brand. How has Nike done this? By proving that Converse shoes are actually slippers. Nike did this by creating a process for the manufacture of Converses that makes its shoes slippers in the eyes of the law. Under U.S. law, sneakers are defined as footwear having a rubber sole, while slippers are defined as footwear with a fuzzy sole. Converses are manufactured in such a way that they have a rubber sole covered by a fuzzy layer which quickly wears off when the sneakers are actually worn.  As a result, the company has been able to keep the average unit price of its Converse shoes down to $55 since slippers are only subject to an import tariff of 3%.

It seems Nike is also innovators of loopholes as much as they are with shoes.

Made In China

MADE-IN-CHINA

When the government of the second largest economy in the world decides to devalue its currency, people, companies, and indeed the entire world notice.  That is what happened this past week when China devalued its currency, the yuan.

But what does that really mean?  And how does it affect the rest of us?

 

Cheaper Imports, More Expensive Exports – for us.

For stuff made in China, a weakened yuan is your friend. When the yuan falls in value, goods imported from China become cheaper. And China makes a lot of things from cars and computers to clothing and furniture. Conversely, businesses will find it more expensive to sell their goods to China.

 

  • China is a huge market for both technology and luxury brands. The slowdown in China was already a worry. A devalued currency will cut further into their earnings.
  • Companies that make chips for mobile phones do a lot of their business — sometimes most of it — in China.
  • For some tech companies like Apple the effects are two way. It manufactures its phones in China, so presumably it will be able to buy its hardware for a lower price. However, Apple sells iPhones in China too, and the currency move makes iPhones more expensive to ordinary Chinese consumers. Investors took the news as an overall negative.
  • Companies that sell raw materials in China sank. China has been a big customer for companies that mine iron ore, copper and aluminum, among other metals. The fear is that a weaker yuan will drive up the cost of raw materials at a time when demand is already depressed.
  • For companies that purchase most of their goods from China, such as Walmart, their cost of doing business could go down, and therefore those savings would be passed on to the consumer.

 

Lower Interest Rates

The Federal Reserve is poised to raise historically low interest rates as employment returns to healthier levels. A stronger dollar against the yuan could depress inflation because Chinese goods are cheaper.

 

  • The Fed could hold off on upping rates this fall because it already is worried about inflation being too low.
  • Those with mortgages rates, or looking to buy a home, explicitly tied to base rate moves would benefit.
  • Income investors and savers looking for more interest — not as much.

 

Cheaper Gas

China, consumes a lot of oil, second only to the U.S. However, oil prices are denominated in dollars, so a devalued yuan means China’s purchasing power is reduced, which could prompt the Chinese to spend less on oil-based products.

 

  • That reduction in demand could lower prices, an upside for American drivers.
  • For stocks and investors who follow the price of oil, the price is going down.