If you were one of the myriad analysts, next-in-rotation fund managers, tech commentators, et al paraded across the financial/business media over this past week – you had a good week. The narrative of “earnings beats” together with the so-called “relief rally” emanating via the French elections helped propel the argument.
However, if one (once again) peered passed the headlines of Non-GAAP reporting alchemy that would make Issac Newton envious one could clearly see that all was not “gold.”
Both Amazon™, and Alphabet™ (aka Google™) beat handily, and yet, a few questions emerged via my reasoning. First:
Has Google Ad revenue benefited from an increasing advertising pie? Or, are we seeing the first hints of rotation from platform to platform as advertisers dump one for another in a desperate attempt to obtain some form of return for their social or digital ad dollars?
It’s possible it could be the latter, and if so it spells “it’s different this time” just like it has before. i.e., circa early 2000.
The reasoning for this is simple: Twitter™.
As I have stated on more occasions than I can count, the one company to watch for clues into what is the entire “tech” or “Silicon Valley” health of the “ads for eyeballs” model is Twitter. And this once songbird of everything that was/is “The Valley” did something that is the anathema of what is presumed to be the “holy of holies” metric for the entire genre. To wit:
- It reported a surge in “ad engagement.”
- They increased their monthly active users to 328 million, up 7 million beating expectations.
- And this resulted in a first ever 8% LOSS of advertising revenue.
But not too worry, for this is reported as an earnings “Beat” when using Non-GAAP metrics. Yes, declining (again – declining!) ad revenue is reported as “Good News!” The only person I can see with more wonderment across his face than the ghost of Sir Issac is that of Bernie Madoff as he watches all this from a cell wondering “And I’m in here for what precisely?”
Then, of course, there’s Amazon.
After disappointing reports over the past two quarters Amazon (once again) rocketed to new heights as the headlines of “Beat”, “Smashed” and every other exclamation known-to-man was used to report it raced across the media. And yet, if you looked closely, again, there are a few issues contained within that should make those who are closing their eyes and hitting the “Buy” button horns-over-hooves concern.
- Guidance for operating income in Q2 is expected to be between $425 Million and $1.075 Billion compared with the $1.3 Billion in the same quarter last year.
- Amazon’s total operating income was $1 Billion for this Qtr. AWS (i.e., their web services) made up $890 Million of this. That means nearly all of Amazon’s operating income was generated via the division most people who use Amazon haven’t even a clue exists. (I’ll add to that most 401K holders also.)
- This puts their Current P/E ratio at near 190 times earnings (187.4 via Morningstar™ as of 4/27/17)
Moreover, as I posed the idea of “What if?” into the “ads for eyeballs” assumptions earlier; what does one takeaway when viewing the current rocket ship ride of Amazon? For if personal spending is supposedly DOA as was reported via the latest GDP report (e.g., worst since 2009) and GDP is now reported to be an abysmal 0.7% (not a typo) what’s fueling this?
Hint: It’s an outlier, or said differently: It’s nothing but what’s known as a “Momo Play.” To view it as anything representative, or as a “gauge” of current economic health (As I heard many a talking-head try) is as I’ve stated before – an abject lesson for wanting to be blissfully, ignorant. (Always remembering this is my opinion, for who knows where this “rocket ship” can travel.)
So with the above for context the issue at hand is: “Now what?”
The real trouble, in my estimation, lies with precisely where we might be in regards to “the markets.” By all rational objective reasoning, backed with the lessons which should be held front-and-center from not just the dot-com crash, but also the financial crisis of ’08. One can’t shake the feeling that we’re precisely (once again) on that knife’s edge. And just the mere fact of the “markets” precariously balancing on that “edge” is beginning to draw blood. The tell-tale signs are everywhere. Below are only a few of the ever-growing list…
- How does a GDP report of less than 1% allow any sane person to state, “Improving economy?” Trick question, it doesn’t unless you work on, or report on/for Wall Street.
- How does the reflation trade transfer into a better economic outlook when all of the proposals so far have resulted in DOA status?
- Explain the reasoning why U.S. “markets” rally off the news of a French primary, all the while its own Navy has sent an armada to the Korean peninsula threatening a nuclear standoff? “Bueller?”
- What data (or better yet – logic) is the Federal Reserve using that warrants hiking rates twice in 90 days into an abysmal GDP report when its main reasoning for any/all monetary policy protocols are supposedly “data dependent?”
- If one of the reasonings behind the Fed. hiking was to allow for the cutting if (or when) there was another emergency: How does that happen when the $Dollar is currently going in the exact opposite direction than it should as it hikes? Does that not imply the Fed. could by that very fact be the catalyst of a run n the $Dollar?
- And if so? What then?
These are just a few of the very real questions that are now permeating the once “it’s different this time” argument for belief. The problem with it is – that’s what always gets said right before reality comes roaring back with a vengeance.
I can’t make this point enough: Only since the election of Donal Trump the “markets” have been on a rocket ride straight up. Before that moment (i.e., October) the Fed. Chair herself was musing the idea that the only way to heal the lasting effects still within the economy was to possibly run a “high pressure” policy stance. (i.e., uber-dovish)
That “ride” has (once again) allowed for the proclamation of the NASDAQ™ hitting never before seen in human history highs. (e.g., 6000+) All against a backdrop of declining GDP, along with declining revenue and more from many of its once star players. All while not accounting for (in my opinion) the effects of those 2 rate hikes. These have yet to be both factored, as well as felt, in the current “market.”
As of right now the “hopium” trade that is a direct result of the Trump “reflation” trade is still self-propelling – but it’s quickly running out of fuel as evidenced by not only none of the campaign promises being passed (i.e., Obamacare repeal and others) but a 1 week resolution was needed as to not shut the government down.
And the “markets” closed where?
Hint: Right back to where they were before when I stated “You are here.” And things have not gotten better, as a matter of fact, they are worse – far worse. (e.g., Unless you are one of those who like to buy-the-potential-nuclear-war-dip that is. And if so, take solace in your decisions, because the President keeps suggesting the idea is closer by the day.)
What the Fed. has unleashed into the “markets” via their ever evolving iterations of QE and its ever grateful HFT frontrunning brethren (see the now resigned Richmond Fed. president Lacker for clues) has been the only fuel as to power the markets where they now stand. What they’ve also done in unison is make everyone oblivious to the inherent dangers within.
Hedging and more has been a fool’s errand, and for many, an abject lesson in not only losing money, but status. (See the Hedge Fund industry for clues.) However, what might be even more indicative of that intervention is none other than the tech space, with all its unicorns, deca-corns, and even super-corns (yes, that’s now an actual term in “The Valley”) suddenly coming up lame in the unicorn stables of “Cha-ching!” Not to mention the IPO disasters and disappearance of those “Crushing it!” stock valuations. (See Snapchat™ for clues.)
This is where the beginning signs for caution are raised for anyone paying attention. And they are there – in spades. But there are also other areas to watch that help back up the hypothesis. And one of the first to show stress when things are not going as well as planned in “tech” land is: The Russell 2000™ e.g., the small business index.
The Russell is not only not showing the exuberance of the others, it’s beginning to show all the signs of rolling over. That is something to take notice in conjunction with the tech sector as it hits ever higher highs. How that dichotomy resolves is anyone’s guess at this moment. But trying to ascertain any clues is of a paramount importance in my opinion.
Another key earnings report that may give far more light than anyone estimates is coming up on Wednesday. That, of course, is Facebook™.
As of today all the estimates are that they’ll handily beat and some analysts are raising their targets. It’s very well they could, especially in today’s world of earnings reporting alchemy. However, one thing which caught my attention was the sudden touting a few weeks back that they had hit “5 Million advertisers.” Small businesses noted as the “key driver.”
“Sound great!” many are saying, and, in-truth, it is a worthy milestone. However, I see the timing as possibly a little suspect, here’s why… (I make this point for it has become near laughable how nearly all upcoming “tech” earnings reports now suddenly coincide with an ever-growing list of preceding announcements of grandiose ideas that are alluded to be right around the corner (like next week!) of flying cars, self driving trucks, rocket rides to space, virtual reality, just to name a few.)
Facebook as of late has been in the news with nothing but negative reports with a slew of horrendous acts being broadcast via their platform. e.g., Rape, kidnapping, beatings, and others. One of the concerns over all this (apart from the issue itself) was a possible backlash from potential advertisers. And who could blame them, and there lies the possible rub…
As I implied with the sudden “5 million” hoopla, what I’m asking is this: Is the addition of these stated 1 million plus new small business advertisers a replacing (therefore a diversion as to squash attention) for the potential of 1 or 2 (or more) large buyers who may have pulled ads?
In other words, if they’ve added so many “new” small business users – shouldn’t the ad revenue explode this report with all things being equal? I believe this is the metric to watch for.
How the numbers break down should be interesting. Google showed its own problem (via Youtube™) seemed to have been a one-off with no real impact. That said, I don’t think that comparison is the same for Facebook should the numbers show otherwise.
We shall see.
If there is a “hiccup” in Facebook’s reporting, coinciding with a realization that the reflation trade is all but DOA along with much of the legislation that was supposed to make it so. I believe we could be in for a very, very, interesting week ahead.
Then again, if a nuclear showdown does persist even more so than today?
I guess the “Buy The Nuclear Annihilation Dip” nonsense is back on.
© 2017 Mark St.Cyr