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July 17, 2019

Johnson & Johnson Starts The Season Strong

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ: $133, down 1% this week) has been known to drop as much as 4% in the wake of a perfectly solid quarterly report, so yesterday's relatively minor retreat wasn't a real shock. The important thing is to take the long view.

First, the historical numbers remain healthy. Revenue only dipped 1% to $20.5 billion from last year's $20.8 billion. Our math suggested a deeper drop to $20.3 billion, so an extra $200 million more than we thought coming in last quarter counts as a win. The ailing Medical Device unit held up a little better than we expected, with 7% lower sales almost perfectly balanced against a stronger pulse in Consumer Products and Pharma. Excluding the impact of a weak Chinese yuan and strong U.S. dollar, Johnson & Johnson eked out a little bona fide revenue growth.

Management is confident that Medical Devices are turning around thanks to a revitalized product line in Optical and Cardio equipment along with robust hip replacement sales. In the other categories, a wide range of cancer, hypertension and behavioral drugs did well, creating a fertile sales environment for new therapies coming out of the pipeline soon.

Earnings came in at $2.58 per share, nicely above our $2.46 target. It's great to see our first report of the 2Q19 season give us a number that large, especially when the market as a whole is steeled for a slight earnings decline. If our other recommendations can deliver anything like this, it's going to be a great quarter.

Guidance also improved. Management is now tentatively promising up to 4% sales growth for the full year, which implies more than a little acceleration in the next six months. (Drugs and biotech products are the key drivers of this.) While the earnings target didn't budge, the fact that they're still contemplating up to 6% growth on that side is a good show of confidence.

We like these numbers. And while the market seems more concerned with litigation at this point, management continues to assert complete confidence in decades of Johnson & Johnson product testing. They haven't set money aside for anticipated lawsuit settlements. Legal expenses dropped to $190 million last quarter, down a full 85% from 4Q18.

All these fundamentals are going the right way. And if history is any guide, it might take a few weeks for the stock to start moving in the same direction. That's all we want. Johnson & Johnson will never be a fast stock, but it is extremely reliable.

And on the opposite extreme, we'll see you tomorrow morning with the numbers from Netflix. That one could get a little wild, but for now, we're looking forward to clarity.

 

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July 15, 2019
Bull Market Report Investor Notes: July 15, 2019

Bull Market Report Investor Notes: July 15, 2019

We all got to a week to brag about, with the S&P 500 and Dow industrials pushing through long-awaited milestones (3,000 and 27,000, respectively) and our universe keeping track with another 1.2% net gain. The broad market is finally catching up a little. They’re welcome to share the fun.

At this point the biggest threats to the rally revolve around investor nerve. After another year punctuated with harrowing slides and slightly slower recoveries, the index funds now have 8% to show for the trailing 12 months. That’s roughly what we expect from the market in a typical year. (Our active and closed positions have done a whole lot better in the aggregate, but you know how well you’re doing. If you’re disappointed, let us know. Write us at Info@BullMarket.com )

The danger is that investors simply won’t tolerate average historical returns in exchange for one of the most volatile rides in recent memory. Nerves are still a little frayed after last year’s slide took 20% away from portfolios between Labor Day and Christmas. However, in the absence of new fear factors, we suspect the mental bruises have healed and people are eager to get back to work accepting new records.

Yes, we’re finally back in full Bull Market mode after months of dithering over trade and Fed policy. Now it’s clear that the Fed isn’t going to keep fighting to preserve some abstract higher interest rate objective. Minimal inflation gives them room to take one of last year’s tightening moves away and leave us all with a reversion to more accommodative monetary policy in its place. And as for trade, a return to the status quo is evidently enough to earn applause. We know now what current tariffs mean for our companies. As long as the situation doesn’t degenerate, stocks now reflect all foreseeable downside.

Meanwhile, we’re three months closer to a resolution, whatever shape it takes. Corporate executives have had another quarter to pivot their supply relationships out of China into places like Korea, Japan, Taiwan and especially Vietnam, where we’re told the factories are full of U.S. products ready to ship to our stores free from tariffs. The Chinese domestic market hasn’t closed to our products. If anything, rolling back sanctions on Huawei should boost sales for U.S. Semiconductor manufacturer in the remainder of the year and beyond.

Earnings season starts this week with the first of the big Banks. From there, we’ll see hundreds of concrete examples of how well (or less likely, how badly) every company is bearing up under the current rate environment and trade regime. The rate environment is about to get better, starting with the Fed’s next meeting looming at the end of July. The trade regime has at least stabilized. What other risk factors can get in the way of the rally? We’re open to suggestions. If you’re nervous about anything, you know where to reach us.

There’s always a bull market here at The Bull Market Report! Our Earnings Previews start this week, which only subscribers get, but we're giving you a taste of our thoughts on Johnson & Johnson, which reports tomorrow. The Big Picture is all about the Fed.

Key Market Measures (Friday’s Close)

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BMR Companies and Commentary

The Big Picture: Breathing Room For The Yield Curve

We’ve been fielding concerns about the Treasury yield curve since December, when middle-maturity government debt started to pay lower interest rates than shorter-dated counterparts. That’s an unusual situation because normally investors wait longer to get their money back, and naturally demand bigger yields.

The good news is that with the Federal Reserve likely to cut overnight lending rates in a few weeks, the curve is now unwinding what initially looked like an ominous recession pattern. While we’re still in an environment where 3-year Treasury yields are lower (1.81%) than 1-month bills (2.16%) and everything in between, at least the ends of the curve are moving in the right direction again now. A rate cut can make things better and relieve the recession pressure.

Back in March, most Treasury rates were clustered in an extremely tight band between 2.41% and 2.52%, with very little visible logic keeping the lowest rates on the short end and the highest ones reserved for longer-term debt. Investors got less from 5-year notes than 1-year bills, while 1-month bills paid more than 3-year notes. The most ominous thing of all was the extremely narrow spread between all of these maturities, hinting that the bond market had effectively given up on higher rates before 2026 at the earliest.

Since the Fed has historically needed to tighten as the economy expands, scenarios when rates have peaked generally point to a recession ahead. Similar yield curve inversions preceded all previous recessions in living memory, so this one gave the doomsday theorists plenty to talk about.

However, not every inversion foreshadows a recession, especially when the abnormal rate relationships only apply across part of the curve. This time around, the weight on investors’ minds was all about the dynamics of the curve itself and not the underlying economy. The Fed is tackling that confusion at the source.

Last year we heard persistent complaints that 3% is a hard ceiling for 10-year bond yields. Whenever long-term rates got that high for an extended period, stock investors got nervous and fled to the relative safety of bonds, pushing prices up and bringing the yields back down to “tolerable” levels.

(Remember, prices and yields always move in opposite directions, whether you’re dealing with Treasury bonds or our dividend-oriented recommendations. Buying low locks in a high effective return. Buying high locks in less real income.)

But while the far end of the yield curve became capped at 3%, the Fed kept pulling the near end up 0.25% per quarter throughout last year, compressing what was once 1.50% of room between the extremes to barely 0.48% today. After all, when the Fed makes overnight borrowing 0.25% more expensive, the rates on longer-dated loans need to go up too. That’s exactly what happened. Since the end of 2017, the Fed raised the overnight rate from 1.25% to 2.50% and 1-month Treasury yields moved up from 1.29% to peak at 2.51%.

Meanwhile, 10-year yields remained stalled at 3.0% and dipped to 2.0% when the market shuddered, forcing every point on the curve in between to flatten out or even drop below overnight rates. That’s just the return investors were willing to accept in exchange for relative safety. They weren’t looking for big interest. All they wanted was a secure place to park their funds.

Since the Fed acknowledged that it’s willing to not only “be patient” about future rate hikes but actively cut in order to keep the economy on track, the short end has plunged 0.35% to 2.16%, and a month from now it will be even lower. Longer-maturity bond rates have dropped too, but not as much. There’s now a fraction of a point more room between the extremes.

The curve is getting steeper again in the right direction, with the near end dropping and the far end staying roughly where it was. If 3.0% was the ceiling on the far side, evidently the only way to buy a little breathing space was to reduce pressure on shorter-term rates. That’s the only part the Fed controls, and it’s doing so now.

What this means for us is simple. First, as bond rates start declining again, investors need to look elsewhere to earn real income. That’s constructive for our High-Yield recommendations that pay a lot higher rates in exchange for what we consider only fractionally higher risk.

In general, lower bond yields support higher earnings multiples. Old-school valuation techniques suggest that a stock worth 13X earnings in a 3% world can go all the way to 20X when the Treasury market pays just 2%. We don’t anticipate huge moves from the Fed, but if you were worried about stocks getting frothy, the story is about to change.

And needless to say, cheaper money helps corporate executives dream a little bigger. They can fund larger and more transformative acquisitions or simply borrow enough to buy back more stock. Those with relatively weak balance sheets (we can’t think of any on the BMR list) get a second chance to clean things up before their debt starts choking them.

Throughout the process, consumers can keep spending without feeling the drag when the monthly bills come in. Lower rates are a boon for housing and auto markets. In a struggling economy, that’s the cushion that keeps the wheels turning. When the only apparent problems are tensions overseas and a persistent absence of inflation at home, the bulls get plenty of room to run.

Sooner or later recessions become inevitable. But with the Fed on the move, the yield curve now looks more like what we experienced in 1998 than any real pre-recession rate shock. Back then, Alan Greenspan jumped to correct a partial inversion in the face of tensions overseas. It took 33 months for the economy to contract. Investors who bailed out on stocks on the first glitch on the curve missed out on a 50% move higher and had plenty of time to reposition themselves when it was clear that the party was finally over.

The party’s not over yet. We might have years to let our winners ride. Either way, we’ll be watching . . . and the Fed is alert as well.

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Earnings Preview: Johnson & Johnson (JNJ: $134, down 4%)

Earnings Date: Tuesday, 8:00 AM ET

Expectations: 2Q19
Revenue: $20.3 billion
Net Profit: $6.6 billion
EPS: $2.44

Year Ago Quarter Results
Revenue: $20.8 billion
Net Profit: $6.1 billion
EPS: $2.10

Implied Revenue Decline: 2%
Implied EPS Growth: 16%

Target: $150
Sell Price: We would not sell Johnson & Johnson.
Date Added: July 6, 2018
BMR Performance: 10%

Key Things To Watch For in the Quarter

Reports of a potential criminal investigation into the company’s talcum powder testing rocked the market on Friday, but we’ve seen similar headlines over the years and none of them have kept the company down for long. Even when judges have awarded massive damages to people who say they developed cancer after using Johnson powder, the judgments keep getting thrown out on appeal. The overhang just hasn’t turned into material financial liability yet.

Granted, legal costs have become a perpetual drag on Johnson & Johnson’s results, so we’ll be watching those figures Tuesday morning. Last quarter the company spent $400 million on lawyers. If that’s the status quo for the foreseeable future, the expense is built into the regular SEC statements now. Instead, we’re open to an upside surprise as management uses its $14 billion in cash (with another $4.5 billion coming in every quarter) to keep shareholders on deck.

The dividend has climbed to $0.95 per share, so short of a Boeing-style PR disaster we aren’t looking for a huge bump on the quarterly distribution here. However, buybacks are another story. We estimate that Johnson & Johnson has bought and retired 300 million shares over the past year, boosting its per-share earnings growth even as overall performance has been a little less impressive. There’s easily enough cash here to soak up another 200 million shares over the next 12 months.

But we’re not convinced Johnson & Johnson needs that much help in the long run. Sentiment may be skittish when the legal headlines get intense, but the fundamentals keep ticking forward, year after year. A slight revenue retreat this time around is all about the struggling Medical Device unit, which accounts for 30% of the company and keeps stealing focus from persistent growth from the much-better-performing Pharmaceutical operation. Factor out Medical Devices and the impact of a strong dollar and Johnson & Johnson is growing the top line about as fast as the market as a whole.

That’s all we really need this gigantic company to do. We’re here to capture that  2.8% yield while the giant keeps absorbing vibrant new Consumer and Medical brands and letting weaker operations go. The odds of that narrative adding up to big rewards over the long term are heavily weighted in our favor.

NOTE: In our weekly paid subscription Newsletter, we do between 5 and 7 SnapShots and also support regular Research Reports. The last three stocks we recommended are already up 5% apiece. Plus, we have the Weekly High Yield Investor, whereby we discuss the 17 stocks in our High Yield and REIT Portfolios.

And to top it all off, we send News Flashes each day during the week. Got a question about any stock on the market? We'll answer. So if your favorite stock reports earnings or there is significant news, you will hear about it here first. If you want the whole picture, join the thousands of Bull Market Report readers who are making money in the stock market and subscribe here:

www.BullMarket.com/subscription

It’s only $249 a year, and later this year we will be raising it to $499 or even $999 a year, it is just THAT valuable. But we will lock you in for life at this lower price. 

Good Investing,

Todd Shaver, Founder and CEO
The Bull Market Report
Since 1998

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July 8, 2019
Bull Market Report Investor Notes: July 8, 2019

Bull Market Report Investor Notes: July 8, 2019

When holidays break up the market week, a lot of investors simply check out until developments get more interesting. This was not one of those weeks. In the wake of an epochal Federal Reserve meeting and a make-or-break thaw on trade talks, nobody wanted to get trapped on the sidelines while all the fun was happening on Wall Street.

The S&P 500 is now not only breaking records on a regular basis but nudging toward the psychologically important 3,000-point line we suspected it could conquer before trade policy clouded the picture. The Nasdaq is back above 8,000 and even the rarefied Dow industrials, hamstrung by setbacks for many of its bellwether constituents, looks set to crack 27,000 for the first time in history.

As this past week demonstrates, investors have a right to be thrilled. BMR recommendations climbed 2.3%, eclipsing all the major indices as stocks on our list that once looked a little tired got a second wind.

With the exception of our most defensive Healthcare and High Yield portfolios, just about every major segment of the BMR universe beat the market. The core Stocks For Success group gained 3.0% and Technology jumped 3.4%, but even when you get down to the volatile Aggressive portfolio most of our names are in the money and ahead of the game.

We also got outside confirmation of that outperformance this week. First, our submission to this year’s MoneyShow Top Stock Picks competition did better than any of the other 100 participating market watchers put forward. Yes, we gave them Roku (ROKU: $98, up 8% this week), which has climbed so fast that we’re once again approaching triple-the-money returns there since 14 months ago when we added it, and we came out #1 in the competition! We still love this stock. It’s hard not to, when it’s up another 22% since the MoneyShow numbers were compiled at the end of June.

But victory is not just about one stock. Counting dividends, our active universe is up 35% YTD, which is great even by our standards. For comparison, the S&P 500 is up 19% over the same period and is in the throes of its biggest rally since 1997. However, in a year when only two mutual fund managers on prestigious lists scored even 3 percentage points better than we did, it’s nice to see that we’re not only delivering absolute numbers but staying far ahead of the pack.

In this position, our strategy revolves around expanding the lead and resisting the urge to change what clearly isn’t broken. Our recommendations are working. The ones that fizzled are gone, replaced with the most attractive stocks the market gives us in the present. As the economy shifts, we’ll shift with it. For now, no course correction is required.

Earnings are coming. The trade situation has stopped escalating to the downside. Everyone hopes the Fed will cut interest rates at the end of the month, especially after Friday’s unemployment number came in a little higher than expected. Jay Powell will give us some hints in his Congressional testimony later this week. And our companies are still racking up cash a lot faster than the market as a whole.

There’s always a bull market here at The Bull Market Report! The Big Picture takes advantage of the last lull before earnings season (our Previews start next week, which only subscribers get) and then it's good to check in on one of our biggest and steadiest stocks.

Key Market Measures (Friday’s Close)

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BMR Companies and Commentary

The Big Picture: Get Ahead Of The Earnings Crush

It happens every 90 days with the big Banks officially starting the 2Q19 earnings season. We’ll see this next Monday, which means this is the last Bull Market Report before the flow of Previews and Reviews starts up again next week. As such, we have an opening here to provide a few strategic notes that will apply throughout the cycle.

First, in terms of timing, you can expect our season to start relatively calmly with Johnson & Johnson the morning of July 16 followed fast by Netflix (NFLX: $381, up 4%), The Blackstone Group (BX: $47, up 6%) and mighty Microsoft (MSFT: $137, up 2%). Every one of them will go a long way toward setting the tone for the market as a whole to follow, with the Technology names likely to grab more than their share of headlines. We’ll say more about them all in the days leading up to their numbers.

The real fun starts the week after, when almost 25% of our recommendations that report quarterly results are on the calendar, and then we wrap up July with a surge of 20 BMR companies crowded into a five-day period. After that, the flow tapers down fast. While we’ll keep reading 10-Q filings through early September, they’ll be more about weighing stock-specific nuances than figuring out the broad strokes.

For us, the broad strokes will be in place after July 30 with numbers from Apple (AAPL: $204, up 3%). Three weeks from now, we’ll have a pretty good sense of how our entire universe did last quarter and the business conditions their management teams see ahead. From there, we can extrapolate most of what’s going on elsewhere and then, if the numbers are as good as we expect, we’ll have 10 weeks to ride the wave.

That’s what every earnings season is all about. The day the 10-Q gets filed, we have absolute certainty on how well the company did in the trailing period. When our projections deviate from that reality, we adjust, and when that revised outlook changes investors’ sense of what the company is worth, the stock goes up or down in response.

But then the quarterly clock starts ticking again. The farther from that moment of 10-Q clarity we are, the more room Wall Street’s targets get to drift away from corporate reality. Eventually that drift reaches the point of maximum uncertainty and investors are more likely than ever to miss crucial clues that can sink or surge the stock.

We prefer to get most of our uncertainty out of the way as early in the cycle as we can. That way, we know what’s going on inside our stocks before other investors figure it out. If we need to raise our Targets or pivot out of a stock that’s finally hit a cash flow wall, we can do it while Wall Street is still off balance and under a cloud of suspense. And the market’s map of the new quarter’s winners fills in, we’re in a better position to make the first moves.

A few weeks from now, we’ll know which moves (if any) to make. For now, we already recommend all the stocks we can’t resist. There isn’t a lot of sizzle out there that isn’t already in the BMR portfolios. The market as a whole is still looking at 2% earnings deterioration this quarter, with growth not coming back until the end of the year. The BMR universe, on the other hand, remains on track to deliver 3% growth.

Our earnings targets have actually come up a little over the last three months. Despite all the noise distracting Wall Street since April, the signal is brighter than ever. Remember, most of our stocks have nothing to do with China. And they’re expanding sales fast enough to fight rising labor costs and other pressures on the bottom line. We’re in the hot spots. As they demonstrate that heat over the next few weeks, it’s likely that other investors will start jumping to our end of the market instead of the other way around.

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Johnson & Johnson (JNJ: $141, up 1%)

Aside from being an industry Blue Chip, this is one of the most dependable companies in existence – one of only two companies with a AAA credit rating (the other is Microsoft, another BMR pick). For reference, the United States government has a AA+ rating, so Johnson & Johnson is actually more creditworthy than the federal government.

J&J is a truly diversified Healthcare company, with a major Pharma presence. The company has a strong pipeline of drugs, with the FDA’s recent approval of Darzalex in combination with a Celgene drug for multiple myeloma patients adding another potential large revenue driver. Darzalex is already a blockbuster drug ($2 billion in sales last year), and now it can expand its market share (experts are predicting as much as $3 billion in revenue for 2019).

On top of that, the company announced plans for a Drazalex follow-up by partnering with Genmab (whom they partnered with on Darzalex) to create Hexabody-CD38. The beauty of the deal is Genmab will spend the upfront time and resources to prove that Hexabody has market potential, and only then will Johnson & Johnson decide whether to license the product. Thus there is limited downside here for J&J, and the company could land yet another multiple myeloma blockbuster like Darzalex.

The 1Q19 numbers were just okay, with U.S. sales up 2% YoY to $10 billion, while international sales fell 2% to $10 billion. The $20 billion in revenue per quarter has remained steady throughout the year, and illustrates just how consistent and dependable J&J is. With a $370 billion market cap in the Healthcare space, we’re not looking for massive growth here, just safe, consistent performance.

BMR Take: The stock is up 10% YTD, and the dividend of 2.7% is one of the most bankable in existence. That’s important given the overall market volatility. Remember, Healthcare is a defensive sector that’s primed to outperform during market downturns. Right now though, we’re looking at slow and steady growth for J&J, which is exactly what we expect. This is one of the few companies we would not sell here at BMR.

NOTE: In our weekly paid subscription Newsletter, we do between 5 and 7 SnapShots and also support regular Research Reports. The last three stocks we recommended are already up 5% apiece. Plus, we have the Weekly High Yield Investor, whereby we discuss the 17 stocks in our High Yield and REIT Portfolios.

And to top it all off, we send News Flashes each day during the week. Got a question about any stock on the market? We'll answer. So if your favorite stock reports earnings or there is significant news, you will hear about it here first. If you want the whole picture, join the thousands of Bull Market Report readers who are making money in the stock market and subscribe here:

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It’s only $249 a year, and later this year we will be raising it to $499 or even $999 a year, it is just THAT valuable. But we will lock you in for life at this lower price. 

Good Investing,

Todd Shaver, Founder and CEO
The Bull Market Report
Since 1998

Subscribe HERE:

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Just $249 a year, soon to go up to $499. But you are guaranteed the SAME PRICE forever.