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from Counterparties:

MORNING BID – Retail therapy

All that’s left for investors now when it comes to earnings season is the shouting, but if the rest of the retailers post results anything like Kate Spade did on Tuesday, the shouts will be screams of terror rather than anything that assuages investors over the state of the overall economy. Kate Spade’s executives went into some detail on its conference call as to the nature of its margins shortfall – which Belus Capital chief equity strategist and longtime retail analyst Brian Sozzi said are not likely to improve until the middle of 2015 – and the company then did itself no favors by declaring that it wouldn’t be discussing the margin issues any further on the call. (Craig Leavitt, the CEO, violated that rule to some degree, but basically, investors don’t like it when you tell them flat-out that you’re not going to talk about your problems, and when you’re a company with a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 77.5 and a price-to-book value of 119, that’s going to be particularly true.)

Other luxury retailers have noted their own problems with attracting customers at this time, including Michael Kors Holdings, which saw its own shares stumble of late after also warning of margin pressures due to expansion in Europe, but at least Kors has a forward P/E ratio around 19, which puts it in line with peers like Coach and Ralph Lauren.

After Macy’s, which reported this morning - and put some ugly numbers out there

Wal-Mart has trailed the S&P for the last several years.

Wal-Mart has trailed the S&P for the last several years.

- the next big retailers out of the gate are Kohl’s, Nordstrom and Wal-Mart, and of course they’re all over the map when it comes to big retailers; Nordstrom profiles a bit more like Coach and Kate Spade in terms of clientele, but they’re a big department store, so not really comparable at all. Nordstrom’s growth, though, is expected to come from the Nordstrom Rack outlet stores, with same-store sales estimates for the entire company at 3.3 percent, but a 1.2 percent decline expected in the full-line sales, according to Thomson Reuters data.

from Breakingviews:

Memo to Wall Street: more Ace Greenberg please

By Antony Currie

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Wall Street needs more leaders like Alan “Ace” Greenberg. The onetime Bear Stearns boss, famed for his pithy missives to staff, died on Friday. He was 86. Though he was no longer in charge, the firm’s 2008 collapse is a notable blemish on an otherwise illustrious career. The industry could use more of Greenberg’s scrappy PSD: poor, smart and driven.

from Breakingviews:

Investors beware: France will get more erratic

By Pierre Briançon

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The French government didn’t have to buy a 20 percent stake in Alstom. It could have smugly observed that its intervention in the acquisition of the French engineer’s energy assets by General Electric had yielded some success. Pressure from Paris forced GE to rework its offer, giving France a decisive say in the future of Alstom’s nuclear business. With that concession secured, there was no good reason to buy out Alstom’s main shareholder, construction-to-telecom conglomerate Bouygues.

from Counterparties:

MORNING BID – The first step is a Lulu

It will be interesting to see if the spiral that yogawear retailer Lululemon Athletica has found itself in over the last year is one that can be arrested. Companies rise and fall often in this world, but the U.S. stock market’s history is littered with retailers that went into a tailspin after series of missteps that turn once-interesting investments into a veritable death trap for investors, and result in the kind of drop that benefits mostly short-sellers, late-night comedians and eventually restructuring lawyers.

It’s particularly rough for companies that inspire cult-like followings, be they as a stock or as a retail purchase, as markets eventually become saturated, competitors jump into the fray, and investors go forth and look for the next big thing to occupy their time. And a stock like Lululemon, which quintupled between late 2010 and early 2012, is kind of the definition of a cult stock. That’s well and good when earnings keep going, which kept the stock price in a range (albeit elevated) through December 2013, but those days are over.

from Breakingviews:

Harvard could get smarter about its endowment

By Richard Beales

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Harvard University could get smarter about its $33 billion endowment. Jane Mendillo, who has managed the Ivy League university’s portfolio for six years, is leaving at the end of 2014. Her predecessor is partly to blame for crisis losses, but Harvard nevertheless seems to have overpaid for mediocre returns.

from The Great Debate:

What’s a leveraged ETF and what makes it dangerous?

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Larry Fink is sounding the alarm. The chairman and CEO of $4.4 trillion asset manager BlackRock is worried about leveraged ETFs (exchange-traded funds). Fink thinks they could “blow up the industry.” His statement is a little unclear, but the industry he's referring to is probably ETFs themselves, not the global financial system.

Blackrock is itself a huge player in ETFs, but Fink says they'll never get into leveraged version of the financial instruments.

from Counterparties:

MORNING BID – All bonds, all the time

There’s nothing dull these days about the bond market, which is exhibiting an unforeseen, profound level of strength that’s spread through the various asset classes on the fixed income side, and that continues to remain unexpected for the most part.

As of Wednesday the Barclays US Aggregate Index had notched a year-to-date return of 3.62 percent; the 10-year-plus index was up a crazy 9.39 percent, and the Barclays Intermediate High Yield Index was up 4.05 percent. Looking at one of their competitors, the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch Corporate Index has so far netted a 5.39 percent return year-to-date while the Merrill High Yield CCC and Lower Index is up 4.45 percent. So that’s pretty solid returns across the board – comparing favorably with the S&P 500’s total return of 4.3 percent so far this year. Explaining how it’s all happening in the bond market is the more difficult task, but let’s give it a whirl.

from Breakingviews:

M&A targets can get stiffed when they “go shop”

By Reynolds Holding
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Shopping ’til you drop doesn’t really work for merger targets. The so-called “go shop” strategy of seeking higher bids after signing up a buyer is designed to ensure top dollar is paid. More often, it leads to final prices that are lower than they otherwise would be, new research suggests. Tweaks to deals like Media General’s buyout of Lin Media may mean sellers are wising up, though, portending better value for shareholders.

from Breakingviews:

Hedge fund customers’ yachts washing further away

By Martin Hutchinson
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Hedge fund customers’ yachts are washing further away. The flood of money – now $2.7 trillion – in hedge funds has squashed returns below public stock markets. Private equity doesn’t seem to be doing much better. Investors beware.

from Breakingviews:

Rob Cox: The worry now is a brewing M&A bubble

By Rob Cox
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Stop worrying about the tech bubble – there may be an even bigger one inflating beyond the confines of Silicon Valley. The corporate urge to merge has gone into global hyper-drive this year. Deal activity has surged as investors egg companies on and bid up the shares of acquirers well beyond mathematical explication, or prudence. As new metrics from interested parties are trotted out to justify the irrational, it’s time to exercise caution.

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