Thursday, August 6, 2009

Same Store Sales Growth

Catchy title, eh?

I saw this chart in the Wall Street Journal Today and it really crystallized an idea in my head that I have held for a long while. So let me first start off by describing what same store sales are and why this chart is great, except I would have it do one additional calculation column.

There is not really a great definition, more of what it is not and then a nebulous gray area that remains is what it is. So here is my ad-hoc definition: A store that has been open for a year, then compares their month on month figures and this shows the same store sales growth or decay. So if I open a new Starbucks on July 1, 2008, I will not be able to do this analysis until the end of July 2009. If I open on the 15th of July the first month that I could do this comparison would be August '08 versus August '09.

What does it consist of? Well it is sales, which is another name for revenues, which are prices paid for merchandise times the number of items sold. So just two dimensions prices and volume.

If you followed the link you would see my chart is slightly different than the Journal's chart. See I broke the Same Store Sales growth into its two components so that it could be easier to decipher. Now we can see who dropped their prices to maintain their revenues and if anyone followed any other strategy.

So look at Aeropostle and BJ's. Two different strategies are afoot. BJ's kept their pricing the same and their volume suffered but they maintained positive growth. Aeropostle dropped their pricing by 7% but more than made up for it in pushing volume through.

Pricing is probably the more important story at thi spoint. It is almost a given that the US consumer will be tightening the belt until there are better economic winds blowing across the land. However, prices that fall portend deflation because it relies upon the consumers to spend. If consumers do not spend it is because they have less employment or are more cautious about the future (thus, saving more.)

I am going to follow up on this more at length and will probably grab these firms latest figures to do a quick DuPont analysis to see how these figures compare to their strategy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Serial Correlation

So I am looking at the S&P500 index for the year. The index is currently up about 10% on the year. I am looking at my own investment portfolio and it is only up about 0.3%, should I be worried that I am losing my touch. Have I lost the alpha control on trading the index? No and no is the resounding reply.

Here is why.

What this two tables show is the return of the S&P and then below the return of the trading strategy. Then the following table tracks your investment dollar from the beginning of 2000 to the current date. So it shows that I have missed out on the rally from the March lows, but it also shows that I missed the carnage in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2008. Meanwhile in bull years I lead in 4 out of the 5 years of the sample.

The main point is that one cannot be remiss if one misses out on the beginning of a market run. You must stick to your plan and trade your plan only. When you start deviating to "correct" your trades to what you are seeing in the market is when you will really start to lose money. That is why I like to look at this chart and know that my money grew 60% over the past 9 1/2 years and a buy and holder of the S&P 500 has lost 20%. It steadies my feet when I want to start buying options to lever and catch up.

King of the castle

This piece was submitted by Lune on Naked Capitalism's blog. I would recommend the whole article and tracking back to the original posting as well. Here is the most germane portion, the rest of the rhetoric just supports this thesis.

Anyone who watches Congress go about its business will note a certain bipolar proclivity to its actions: it will snooze as important issues fester; then, at a seemingly random moment, it will wake up, and, after a frenzy of hearings, speeches, and negotiations, it will write and pass enormous bills faster than a harlequin ghost-writer on crack.

The public is therefore left cursing Congress for its laziness and inaction, then cursing it for its hasty decisions and rushed, poorly thought-out laws. There seems to be no in-between.

The reality is that getting a bill passed is somewhat akin to laying siege to a castle (the castle being Congress and the policy advocates being the marauders). A successful siege campaign in the Middle Ages could last years, and consisted of a slow grinding down of the inhabitants of the castle while building your siege weapons, training your forces, and probing the walls for weaknesses. Then, when a weakness was found (or created), all of a sudden, your forces would rush in, a huge, noisy battle would ensue, and very quickly, you'd either become the king of the castle, or be dead with your head proudly displayed on a pike.

For someone watching just the castle, it can appear like years of humdrum tedium interrupted by sudden, random chaos.
The legislative process is a little like that (although being more civilized, we've replaced the pike with a symbolic skewering on the late night comedy shows).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

History doesn't repeats it rhymes, correlations abound?

Just reading through Gluskin-Sheff's Chief Economist David Rosenberg musings on the market. The whole report is worth the read, you will have to register with the firm though.

The salient point, at least as far as this post is concerned is about how this latest burst in the S&P500 index is reminiscent of 2001 and 2002.

Then: Big 3 unleash 0% financing to bring about car sales. Annualized sales jump from 16.1 million units to 21.7 million units in just one month!

Now: Government let's Cash for Clunkers rip and car sales jump from a run rate of 9.2 million units to 11.2 million.

However, as Rosenberg points out this does little to build actual demand, while it seems that demand is increasing what occurs under the headline numbers is that sales are brought forward from the future. Say Consumer Bob was going to buy a car once he received his annual bump in salary in December. Now that the program is in force he would be wise to take the 4,500 the government was offering, plus what ever other rebates the manufacturers are offering to clear inventory for the new model year that begins in October. So his consumption from December is moved up. It did not create a new job and hence a new salaried person to purchase a car, or a recently minted 16 year old to stop riding the cheese wagon. So what happens once the demand is brought forward, it just leaves a lumpy distribution of sales.

Take this hypothetical say the new normal is for 12 million cars a year. So that is 1 million a month. With the new incentive structure fomented by the federalis instead of having a constant million a month, it instead
Jan- 1.0
Feb- 1.0
March- 1.0
May- 1.0
June- 1.0
July- 1.9
Aug- 1.6
Sept- 1.7
Oct- 0.4
Nov- 0.1
Dec- 0.3

So that all that ends up happening is that we have positive numbers now and then negative surprises later. So GDP looks good in the 3rd quarter but against all expectations worse in the 4th quarter. This leads to worry and the market falls again. But let's look and see what happened back in 2001/2

• 2001Q3: -1.1%
• 2001Q4: +1.4%
• 2002Q1: +3.5%
• 2002Q2: +2.1%
• 2002Q3: +2.0%
• 2002Q4: +0.1%

Just as it was written. The temporary boost then faded and the market lows were not reached until 2003. So will it happen again? Not sure, history doesn't repeat itself but America has placed itself into a very similar situation. Just a quick example, imagine that the government stimulus is akin to taking a child who just fell off his bike and attaching training wheels. Once the stimulus/training wheels comes off what happens, well the government and the Federal Reserve hopes that the economy/child will propel itself, but he may just end up in the hedge again.

I''l close with a direct quote from Rosenberg "The asset deflation, which included housing this time around, has been three times more intense (than 2001/2) and coupled with a broken-down credit market. It is vital as we go through this intermittent period of auto-related spending and output activity, to recall that similar period seven years ago and what we learned was that sustainability proved to be elusive."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Fun with Numbers

As the S&P 500 index races above 1,000 we have now reached a 50% re-tracement from the low of 666. The upbeat GDP report had GDP coming in better than expectations of -1.5% instead it was -1% on an annualized basis. So SPY goes wild!

However, is there more to this than meets the eye? Let us consider that also in this GDP report that the 1st quarter GDP was revised downwards from -5.5% annualized to -6.4%. 2008 had revisions in the first half with 1Q08 from 0.9% to -0.7%; 2Q08 from 2.8% to 1.5%. So taking the 3Q08 as -2.7% and 4Q08 as -5.4% we have a complete series in which to compare.

Thought experiment. Take 01/01/2008 as 100 and follow the path of the revised statement and compare it to the path of the original statement. Where is the ending point? Well 1st off all these statistics are annualized so we have to divide each by 4 and then we can grow or contract in a linear fashion.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words here is the enormous gap just exposed by the revision.

So the economy is about 4% worse than we thought and yet the rally. Baffling. But as a wise French queen once said, "let them eat cake!"