The retail sector had a terrible 2017, the “retailpocalypse”, only to recover and have a strong bounce back in the first half of last year. Now things are looking bleak once again. Top retailers like Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters have already fallen 25%+ in the last year. Each business has its own issues, but the general trend in the sector has been bearishness. Some may think with valuations very low it is a good time to buy in. Think again. Retailers are having to invest heavily to update their models and offerings in the face of digital disruption to the industry. Further, tariffs from the trade war will wound the sector.
FINSUM: The bruising period retail has been going through is not over and it does not seem like a wise time to invest.
Where is the economy headed? Investors seem to be torn at the moment. On the one hand they seem to feel that the economy must be headed south because of the long running expansion and recent inversion, but on the other, there is little data to really back up that claim. Accordingly, every new piece of economic data is being closely watched right now. The newest in is retail sales, which had fallen a bit recently. Today, though, is a different story, with March retail sales seeing their biggest jump in 18 months, rising 1.6% month on month.
FINSUM: Seeing evidence that consumers still look healthy is a testament to the fact that the underlying economy still looks strong.
Are you looking to find a good investment thesis for Amazon? Look no further than their growing private label business, which could prove a catalyst for expanding margins and share price growth. According to an analyst at Suntrust Robinson Humphrey, “The rise of private labels and exclusives is one of the least understood/most under-appreciated trends within Amazon”. He continued, “This strategy should strengthen the flywheel effect of proprietary offerings/better user experience/higher retention/spend/share gain, and should prove accretive to margins over time”. The profit margins on own-branded products are 7-15% higher than on other branded products.
FINSUM: Because of their huge user base, Amazon is in a good position to benefit from selling their own brand, as they have a ready audience. This will likely improve overall margins as the business expands.
Retail stocks are in a tenuous position. They thrived to begin 2018, and for three quarters rolled to solid gains. Then in the fourth quarter they got rocked despite the fact that they had been gaining momentum from healthier consumer spending and a stronger than expected holiday shopping season. So what to do? Jefferies says it is time to buy the dip, based on the fact that “The consumer is strong, Amazon isn’t killing retail, the Federal Reserve is more dovish, oil down, first-half weather compares easy, free cash flow piling up, margins are moving up and consumer discretionary stocks are cheap on absolute and relative basis”. Check out these names: Gap, American Eagle Outfitters, Five Below, Foot Locker, Kohl’s, Urban Outfitters, Under Armour, Tapestry, and Lululemon Athletica.
FINSUM: Our view is that at some point soon (has it already happened?), ecommerce and brick and mortar are going to fall into equilibrium. When that happens, it will be good for traditional retailing stocks.
Walmart has taken a pounding this year. The stock is down 8.4% even though it has seen solid earnings performance. The reason why? Shares first got beat up early in 2018 when investors worried its digital strategy wasn’t taking hold. Then in the middle of the year worries about margins cropped up. Finally, in November, shares saw losses even though Walmart beat earnings and raised payouts. Interestingly, the shares were a counterpoint to the rest of retail, which saw gains for much of the year.
FINSUM: We think Walmart is a great buy. It has good same store sales momentum and its ecommerce operation is growing rapidly. This seems like a good buying opportunity to us, especially as the brand sells consumer staples, which will hold up even in an economic downturn.