The Weekly Summary
The lull between quarterly corporate confessions is almost over. A week from now, this space will start filling up with Earnings Previews, Earnings Reviews and all the associated updates that investors need to get through another headline-rich season. As we’ve pointed out repeatedly, expectations for this cycle are extremely low, raising the odds that most of our key companies will hit their numbers or deliver an upside surprise.
Applying that across the market suggests that it doesn’t take a whole lot of upside surprise to give the S&P 500 a thin pulse of year-over-year growth. That’s what we want to finally push the index past last year’s peak. Otherwise, only a decisive breakthrough on trade negotiations with China will do the trick. We aren’t concerned because we never recommend that any BMR subscriber simply buy the market as a whole. In our view, that’s the lazy lowest-common-denominator approach, giving investors exposure to the “random walk” of the economy as a whole and holding onto obvious weakness and underweighting equally obvious strength.
Buying the market forced investors to hold the ailing Energy sector for years following the 2014 Oil crash, for example. It’s just not what we do. But it is nice to see that both the S&P 500 and our stocks gained ground in near-unison last week. We’ve outperformed for so long that it’s only natural that the market gets a little time to catch up.
Of course it wasn’t an easy week. The mood started looking a little ugly on Thursday when investors pulled money out of “risk” assets (like the Aggressive stocks we love so much) ahead of Friday morning’s closely watched Labor Department report. They were afraid the numbers would reveal the “recession” that so many people have talked about in the wake of the federal government shutdown and slightly sluggish economic growth.
As it turns out, those who retreated to the sidelines were wrong. The numbers were great. If there’s a recession brewing, nobody told the people who are committing to hire people for the long term. Personnel budgets aren’t frozen. Mass layoffs are not happening. Stocks rallied on the news Friday and the market appears positive for the coming week.
There’s always a bull market here at The Bull Market Report! This week's Big Picture compares our wild quarter to the market on a sector-by-sector basis, revealing an almost embarrassing number of points where we were ahead of the curve. Gary Jefferson takes a hard look at why what should be good news for stocks turns into bad headlines. We’ve also got updates on a few recommendations that have been quiet lately, including Cloudera, Shutterstock, Nutanix, Square, Akamai and Twitter. Finally, the High Yield Investor reminds us all that Real Estate isn’t just about the dividends. Our REITs can be dynamic companies in their own right.
Key Market Measures (Friday’s Close)
BMR Companies and Commentary
The Big Picture: Sector Sweet Spots
With the best quarter in nearly a decade driving the taste of the 4Q18 correction out of the market’s mouth, this is a great time to take a step back and refresh our strategic view of which themes are working and which are still struggling to find their footing.
Start at the top with Technology, where the sector as a whole is up a thrilling 22% in the last three months. You know we’re deeply committed to these stocks, from the gigantic FAAAM (minus Facebook for the time being, of course) down to the more speculative names that dominate the Aggressive list. Our High Technology portfolio in between is up 33% YTD, largely because we’ve avoided most of the laggards that will always circulate in any sector.
Admittedly, a lot of the biggest stocks we associate with Silicon Valley have now been reassigned to other sectors like Communications (where Alphabet, Twitter and Facebook now reside) and Consumer Discretionary (which Amazon rules). Those themes are up 18% and 15% YTD, respectively, largely driven by their gigantic Tech constituents. We are, however, pleased to see our sole brick-and-mortar Retail recommendation Dollar Tree (DLTR: $106, up 1%) breaking 52-week records, practically keeping up with Amazon itself.
Otherwise, a lot of sectors are doing fairly well but remain largely off limits to BMR subscribers while we gauge the impact of tough talk around global trade. The Industrials, Basic Materials and Consumer Staples groups are in this category, and we’re only remotely regretting our posture on the sidelines where a few of the key Industrials are concerned – the other two sectors aren’t keeping up with the S&P 500, let alone our stocks.
Likewise, the Utilities and Financials are far from impressive so far this year. We never expect the Utilities to soar, and when the Banks come back, we have the Financial Select Sector (XLF: $27, up 3%) to provide broad exposure without forcing any bets for or against any stock in particular. In any event, this Exchange-Traded Fund is beating the sector as a whole, up 12% YTD.
Real Estate is hot, up 17% as the rate outlook cools. Our REIT portfolio is tracking that heat nicely. Healthcare is a little lukewarm, but with a 13% average return from our high-conviction recommendations, we’re in the hot spots. Finally, Energy has been unexpectedly huge, as 19% YTD performance on our US Energy ETF (IYE: $37, up 2%) demonstrates.
And while we don’t like to brag, we were curious to see how well our stocks fared against the S&P 500 and its 15% YTD gain. In the aggregate, the BMR universe has gained 20% over the past three months. We’ll keep working to fill in the gaps and pivot to the new sweet spots when they emerge.
Cloudera (CLDR: $11,11, up 2% -- all returns are for the week)
After the recent $5.2 billion all-stock merger with Hortonworks, the all-new Cloudera is primed to become a go-to player in the Cloud market. Granted, we don’t expect the company to overtake Amazon’s AWS any time soon, but that’s not the goal. Just snapping up a small amount of business will be enough to send this $3 billion company skyrocketing, and as management reminded us on the recent conference call, Amazon isn’t so much a competitor as a marketing partner and in some sense a customer.
The stock has basically been flat YTD, largely due to confusion around the first revenue outlook released after the merger. Were the numbers high or low? Should investors feel cheated or not? We were braced for significant noise as two long-time rivals align their interests and accounting systems, so as far as we were concerned management’s early revenue targets for 2019 didn’t really carry a lot of weight.
Instead, we simply carried our legacy forecasts for both companies through and came up with $900 million as a pure “sum of the parts” estimate for the coming year. That’s what we got once you adjust for $65 million getting pushed back to 2020 after fine-tuning for differences in the two companies’ billing cycles. If anything, Cloudera hints that the final number may come in at $855 million, which turns into $920 million when you factor that $65 million back into the math. That’s actually above what we projected for Cloudera and Hortonworks on their own.
Sooner or later, that cash will flow. The only question is which quarter the accountants will place it in. And either way, when you’re dealing with companies that together booked $480 million in revenue in 2018, it’s far from the end of the world if we have to defer the $65 million and accept 87% growth instead of the 91% we expected.
Other people point to the $966 million projection that management put forward back in the November merger filings as a reason to be disappointed. Those of us who were actually on the conference call know that Cloudera has an answer for that as well. It’s an accounting illusion left over from the legacy Hortonworks system. Combining the accounting calendars “cost” the company $125 million in the current year, as that number will be moved to 2020, turning what was once a $966 million target into the $840 million the new guidance provided. Those sales aren’t lost. The customers are real. The money will materialize in 2020 and beyond.
Every merger produces a lot of noise around projections and trailing comparisons. Cloudera hasn’t been the best at explaining things when it comes to cutting through that noise. Management doesn’t have a long track record with Wall Street . . . the IPO was barely two years ago, and since then guidance and even reporting dates have been a little less well rehearsed than we like. But when they’re doing the hard day-to-day work of nurturing something like 90% growth (whether it’s 87% or 91% in the end), we’ll put up with a few glitches along the way.
Cloudera has already inked partnership deals with the likes of IBM, Oracle and Intel, which is still a strategic investor. A savage competitor has been absorbed now that Hortonworks and its technology are on the same team. And while Amazon is often considered a start-up killer in the Cloud, those who actually paid attention to the call know management’s response.
“Who’s our No. 1 competitor? It’s Amazon. Not Amazon the company as Amazon is a partner. But it’s Amazon’s house offerings in the data management analytic space and we believe we are well-positioned to compete against them.”
BMR Take: When you’re less worried about mighty Amazon stealing your customers than you are about getting the giant to use your technology for its internal computing applications, you’re not actually worried. Cloudera was worried about Hortonworks. That threat is gone. Now management is looking to convince Amazon to use more Cloudera systems in its own Cloud platform, the one that everyone from Jeff Bezos on down uses for company business. When that happens, we will see a big bump in revenues and less fretting over competition.
Square (SQ: $75, flat)
Last quarter was great, with adjusted revenue (the kind that counts here, factoring out transaction fees paid to other companies) soaring 65% to $465 million. That’s 8% growth quarter to quarter and while we’re looking for that sequential comparison to flatten out a little in 1Q19, it’s hard to argue with a company that’s raising the top line by at least 50% every 12 months.
While it’s true that the revenue trend no longer points straight up on a 20% quarter-to-quarter slope, that’s to be expected when you’re dealing with what’s now a $30 billion market cap company. Now the focus shifts to earnings, which expanded 75% last year and are on track to boom another 60% this year. Not coincidentally, the stock rose over 40% in 2018 and we’re up another 33% YTD.
Profitability at this scale proves the business model, and indeed Square’s focus on small business is paying off. One knock on the company is that most of its business is generated in the United States, but CEO Jack Dorsey and company are looking to change that. We see global diversification as a major growth opportunity for Square, and the company has the cash to make an acquisition to help fuel global growth if necessary.
BMR Take: It’s hard to believe we launched coverage of Square at $17 two short years ago. This has been a phenomenal growth story and it is far from over. As more and more merchants shift to cashless payments globally, expect those revenue growth numbers to continue to move substantially higher.
Akamai (AKAM: $74, up 3%)
With the stock up 21% this year, Akamai has a little heavy lifting to do before it gets back to last summer’s levels. We think it can happen. At a $12 billion market cap, this is a growing company making the leap from a legacy dotcom Media business to a more sophisticated Cloud Computing platform that incorporates Data Security, Storage and other hot services into existing commercial relationships.
Business is booming. Akamai is coming off last year’s 40% earnings spike to a more sustainable 12% growth rate here in 2019. That’s enough to leave the S&P 500 and even the dynamic Technology sector in the dust. And the company is pulling off these feats on a relatively subdued pulse of revenue – this is less about top line expansion than shifting from sluggish low-margin businesses into more exciting opportunities.
But don’t expect any major swings for the fences. Management’s experience inclines them toward a slow-and-steady approach. The company has averaged 12% earnings growth over the past five years as margins gradually expand. Akamai isn’t a potential double in 18 months like Square; it’s the tortoise, not the hare.
BMR Take: Akamai currently commands a valuation around 3.5X its $3.5 billion book value, 4X revenue and 18X earnings. Factoring in the growth rate, that’s a bargain across all metrics. If our revenue forecast is too low, suddenly the tortoise becomes the hare. Our Target is $100, our Sell Price is $65 and we believe we might see our Target his sometime later this year.
Shutterstock (SSTK: $47, up 2%)
As one of our little Aggressive recommendations, Shutterstock is all about growth moving the needle on what’s currently not even a $2 billion market capitalization. While that needle isn’t moving fast yet, there isn’t a lot of reason to complain about a stock that’s up 32% YTD.
It doesn’t even take a lot of growth. Earnings rebounded 35% last year on a 12% improvement in revenue. Shutterstock is now booking $625 million a year on the top line, which is nothing to scoff at, and we’re confident that the sales trend will continue at roughly this rate for years to come.
And this is the point where efficiencies of scale create dramatic upside surprises. Shutterstock has been courting enterprise clients, and 4Q18 saw revenue from corporate customers come in 12% above the previous year’s level, only a slight deceleration from 3Q18’s 14% expansion on the enterprise side. Meanwhile, even though management keeps investing in new high-tech systems to wrap around the core Stock Photo licensing business, margins have remained steady behind the increased capital expenditures.
BMR Take: Scale is the key to this company. Every $1 in revenue last year turned into $0.08 in profit. We expect to see that basic calculation remain true this year. Management ultimately wants to see that $0.08 become $0.11 one of these days, in which case 12% revenue growth can unlock enormous year-over-year upside. That’s why we love these little companies. The downside risk here is minimal and there’s plenty of upside potential.
Twitter (TWTR: $35, up 6%)
We’re off to an excellent start this year, up 21% YTD. Twitter is a $25 billion company and owns roughly 5% of the Social Media marketplace, and enjoys its fame as presidential communications medium of choice. There’s plenty of opportunity for growth, both for the company and the stock.
Last year was a great year for Twitter. Profit doubled, hitting $660 million on overall revenue of $3 billion. This year we’re steeled for a little margin erosion so any earnings growth at all will be a welcome surprise for a stock that’s already doing extremely well. All it takes is for revenue to ramp up 15% instead of the 14% our projections tell us to expect, and that’s not unreasonable. Most of Twitter’s revenue comes from advertising. That business line is expected to pick up speed over the coming quarters as the company boosts its international presence.
That’s especially good news for Twitter. Where granting corporate customers access to user data remains a cornerstone of rival Facebook’s business model, this company is all about the ads. As a result, regulatory pressure is not an issue here like it is for Mark Zuckerberg. Twitter isn’t facing the same bipartisan political chill, so it doesn’t need to invest as much in new systems to keep Washington and Brussels happy.
BMR Take: Again, Twitter is only 5% of the Social Media world right now. All the company needs is to exploit some chinks in Facebook’s armor and its advertising revenue can double in short order. Meanwhile the underlying business is finally stable. We like Twitter for continued steady gains this year, with the potential of a huge boost if Facebook takes a regulatory wallop. Our Target is $36, hopefully soon to be raised, and we are hereby raising our Sell Price to $29.
Nutanix (NTNX: $37, down 2%)
One of our rare upsets, Nutanix was up 20% YTD before management confessed that efforts to expand the sales team are moving more slowly than anyone hoped. As a result, revenue in the current quarter is tracking as much as $50 million below our $340 million target and that 20% YTD gain has turned into a net 10% retreat.
We aren’t concerned for the long run because this is a short-term bump (literally a speed bump) with clear causes and concrete solutions. The market for Cloud Storage devices hasn’t stalled or even slowed. All Nutanix needs to do to claim its rightful share is to hire more people. That’s not a bad problem to have.
Digging in, the biggest challenge management faces is where to allocate resources within the sales cycle. Upselling existing customers is easy but more attention to simply generating leads that can become future customers would help a lot here. That’s what that expanded sales team will do.
In the meantime, it isn’t a fatal flaw. Nutanix is still growing 10% a year as existing customers buy more products, convert to more lucrative Software relationships and tell their friends how great the “hyperconverged” next level of the Cloud is compared to now-outdated iterations from just a few years ago.
We applaud management for being forthright about their concerns, especially when the previous quarter was better than expected. It would have been easy to bask in the beat and remain silent for another three months about the shadows around the outlook. That’s why this company is still in the BMR universe where others with more systemic problems are gone.
BMR Take: We’re willing to give Nutanix another couple of quarters to iron out its operation. After all, long-term BMR subscribers have doubled their money here over the last two years, so even if the stock grinds for a few months, you should still be ahead of the market as a whole. Remember, this is a company that grew revenue 63% in 2017 and 32% in 2018, so management isn’t shy about success and knows how to win.
A Word From Gary Jefferson
Jefferson Financial Group
First Vice-President, Investments
UBS Financial Services, Inc.
Long-term investors have once again been properly rewarded by the market, although it has been an excruciatingly volatile rollercoaster ride. Around this time last year, stocks were struggling to recover from a fairly severe selloff. Then, Wall Street provided what looked like a great rally only to totally collapse in the fourth quarter of 2018.
After the "flash" bear market that followed, the market has now ended the first quarter of 2019 with one of the best performances in many years. The toughest thing to understand about these volatile moves is the fact that when stocks fall, they almost always fall much faster than they recover.
That is because of simple mathematics. If the market falls 20%, it has to rise by 25% just to get back to "even.” A 25% move up in the market in any one year doesn't happen frequently, so it usually takes more than a year to recover from a 20% decline.
Another tough thing for investors to understand is why such volatility exists, with huge moves up, then down, then up again. A lot of the blame falls on "perception.” Bad news becomes good when reported and good news becomes bad. Since most developments in the real world are actually positive, this means that most of the headlines will be negative or at best ominous.
This leads to paradoxes. When the Fed was raising rates, that was bad news, starving the economy of the liquidity required for go-go growth. Now the Fed is not going to raise rates, so we hear that the economy is falling off a cliff. What in the world is an investor supposed to believe?
Last year, raising rates indicated a strong economy and that was a clear green light. Then suddenly, the narrative pivoted to rate hikes choking the economy to the point of recession: red light. So when the Fed says it isn't going to raise rates after all, the pundits can’t have it both ways.
Either the U.S. economy is going to defy the rest of the world and stay strong, taking stocks even higher and giving the Fed room to keep tightening, or we’ll see the rate cuts begin. We’ll know when we see it. In the meantime, it’s all media noise driving program trading.
The bottom line still remains the same: The economy is chugging along, unemployment is near record lows, and inflation is not a problem. The market has a perfect 100% track record of going up an average of 17% the year after midterm elections. That's this year. And the recent “near” yield curve inversion is not a signal to sell. Historically, most inversions correspond to a 35% gain for the S&P 500 in the following 16 months. No matter what the noise level or how severe the volatility, there's a high probability for a banner year this year.
The High Yield Investor
By John Freund
VP of High Yield
The Bull Market Report
We talk a lot about dividend sustainability. Now let’s flex a little to focus on our most dynamic High Yield companies from a revenue growth perspective. After all, not every BMR recommendation can pay a 12% yield right away. Some need to grow their businesses to the point where management is comfortable authorizing a higher dividend . . . and in that scenario, odds are good that the stocks will rise, compensating shareholders in that direction.
The REIT portfolio is where you’ll find those stocks. Closed End Funds tend to be more, well, closed in terms of their ultimate growth potential. They collected their assets and are now coaxing cash flow out of them to return to investors. But in Real Estate, a small fortune can turn into a larger one as long as management picks the right properties and deploys the right business model.
Let’s start with Omega Healthcare Investors (OHI: $37, down 2%, Yield = 7.0%). Omega is emerging from a better-than-expected restructuring year so the growth projections will naturally look strong. After all, after two of the company’s nursing home operators suffered severe setbacks (one went bankrupt), the immediate future is going to be brighter than the past, when Omega had to take over working facilities with little notice and either find other operators to take over the leases or sell the assets entirely.
Luckily for investors, Omega is run by perhaps the best management team in the Healthcare REIT landscape. These are the people who steered the company through both the Great Recession and the REIT apocalypse that played out in the wake of the Medicare Part D fiasco of the early 2000s. They’ve weathered the worst historical conditions for their particular combination of Real Estate and Healthcare and come back stronger than ever, making sure that the business and the balance sheet can endure any reasonable amount of strain.
Granted, Omega had to accept a 3% downtick in rent last year, but that balance sheet ensured that even in extremity it could spend $600 million in cash to buy MedEquities Realty Trust without stressing a $1.2 billion line of credit. The deal bolts 34 properties onto Omega’s Skilled Nursing portfolio, adding exposure in niche areas like Medical Offices, In-Patient Rehab and Acute Care.
Even now, Omega maintains one of the healthiest asset-to-debt ratios in the business, with $1.75 in property and cash to back up every $1 it owes. As a result, the company leads the industry with a BBB- credit rating, which management exploits to borrow on better terms than most of its competitors get. Capital was never a concern during last year’s restructuring program and thanks to that, the turnaround was faster than most expected.
All of these factors tie into the revenue growth story. Acquisitions are an obvious way to translate cash into wider operations and Omega has plenty of cash and credit available. Add it all up, we’re looking for last year’s 3% revenue dip to turn into 7% annualized growth for at least the next few years. By 2023 (not far away from an investment perspective), this company could easily be bringing in 30% more rent than it did last year, which is lightning expansion in REIT country, easily twice as fast as the economy as a whole can grow over that period.
That’s exactly the kind of realistic growth curve we want to see from our “faster” REITs. And since Omega has also cut costs by offloading several underperforming properties, we’re looking for significant improvement on the bottom line as well. From year to year, this company can easily add another $0.10 per share in quarterly Funds From Operations to its profile, which is enough to get the dividend rising again. Four years ago, Omega paid $0.53 per share and now pays $0.66. Investors have seen their quarterly checks climb 25% over that period of time, so if the trend continues it won’t be shocking to see continued upside from that direction.
Likewise, it’s no surprise that the stock is up 8% on the year. Once-skeptical investors have now seen the light and understand that Omega is in a prime position to keep growing. The company is flush with cash, has a new acquisition to digest and has shaken weak operators out of its system. With the worst behind it, a bold future awaits.
Another Healthcare REIT that’s in great shape to grow revenue this year is Welltower (WELL: $77, down 1%, Yield = 4.5%). As with Omega, Welltower has a long-term demographic edge in the form of an aging U.S. population and improving life expectancies, practically guaranteeing that Senior Housing facilities will remain full for decades to come.
As the largest Healthcare REIT in the world, Welltower owns nearly 1,000 of these facilities along with 600 other Medical properties. Management has made a point of operating in urban locales where a large pool of seniors provides both expendable income and the population density to provide care efficiently. That’s critical for this company because it actively manages its properties itself, deciding where and how to make improvements and keep the facilities competitive. In markets where potential tenants have a range of care options, this translates into more revenue per occupied bed ($6,700 a month versus an industry average of $4,700).
Thanks to this aggressive business model, Welltower is already growing fast and has the momentum to keep doing it for the foreseeable future. Overall revenue hit $4.7 billion last year, up 9% from 2017. This year we’re looking for 7% growth (again, stupendous in REIT land) as an additional $300 million flows into the top line. If only a few pennies per share reaches the bottom line every quarter, the dividend should keep climbing, which is all we need here.
Like Omega, management is a key differentiator. The Welltower team has made some spectacular strategic decisions over the last few years, including $14 billion worth of asset sales since 2014. Yes, they’ve been shrinking the portfolio in order to accumulate the resources they’ll need to move the company forward in a more attractive direction. Skilled Nursing is out after the $4 billion sale of Genesis Healthcare and another $3 billion in smaller divestments in that space.
With the cash, Welltower has started buying large property portfolios, stripping the good assets and letting the rest go at a good price. Last summer, the REIT purchased Quality Care Properties for $2 billion, quickly disposed of the underperforming properties and locked in a 15-year operating deal with ProMedica, one of the nation’s strongest and most dependable Healthcare systems in the Midwest. A slew of other acquisition announcements, including big names like a John Hopkins facility, followed.
Management has committed over $2.5 billion to purchase Senior Housing and Medical Office buildings across the nation. As always, thanks to the asset sales and strategic acquisitions, 90% of the portfolio remains located in America’s Top 30 urban locales where the 85+ age segment is growing 5-10 times as fast as the national average.
Welltower has positioned itself to take advantage of the demographic tailwinds. The fat has been cut across the board, leaving only the strongest-performing assets on the books. This is all thanks to management’s capabilities. Other investors see the writing on the wall, which is why the stock is up 13% YTD and a healthy 30% for BMR subscribers in its first year in our universe.
Outside the Healthcare segment, Office Properties Income Trust (OPI: $29, up 5%, Yield = 7.9%) got an in-depth review in last week’s News Flash but we want to highlight it here as one of our strongest REIT growth prospects.
While the merger took investors by surprise, Office Properties has recovered 7% YTD so the tide may finally be turning now. Last year was terrible for both of the constituent companies, which is why the trailing comparisons are so easy. However, expiring leases and new negotiations hint at more than a technical turnaround on the horizon. As far as we can see, revenue for 2019 is tracking 55% above what the old Government Properties could count on as a separate entity, translating into a $660 million run rate. This is truly the next-level operation management promised us was coming.
Admittedly, it’s going to take time for that operation to grow into the dividend the old Government Properties maintained, but even our worst-case math indicates that the company won’t pay any less than $0.55 per quarter for years to come. Management could distribute at least $0.80 per quarter without straining projected cash flow. The fact that they’re not doing it yet tells us that they’d rather reinvest that money in becoming a bigger player in the REIT business . . . last year’s merger was only the first taste of more deals to come. Let’s hope they are more progressive and positive than the last merger.
In the meantime, while $104 million in revenue reflected a 3% YOY decline in the recent quarter, the outcome still came in 8.5% above our expectations. The new Office Properties evidently booked $9 million more rent than we hoped, and that’s not including all of the Select Income cash flow that got left out of the numbers this time around.
With the merger complete, Office Properties is laser-focused on disposing of underperforming assets inherited from both sides of its corporate “family.” Three dozen buildings are earmarked for sale and should generate about $700 million in liquidity to pour back into better-performing assets in the portfolio.
With funds from operations that cover the dividend and then some, Office Properties is on stable ground. We’re expecting a real push from management over the coming year, which admittedly will be a make-or-break time for the stock as far as we’re concerned. That said, we’re seeing a lot of positive indicators here. Our recommendation stands: If you’re new to the company, it’s worth considering as a place to allocate some of your High Yield funds. And for those of you who’ve held on, we see the dividend climbing back toward the levels the old Government Properties paid as long as it could. That’s what growth is all about.
Todd Shaver, Founder and CEO
The Bull Market Report