MORNING BID – But I never could find…(sha na na na, sha na na na na)

Feb 7, 2014 14:05 UTC

An odd jobs report sets the tone for what’s likely to be another choppy day in the markets – stock futures plunged, briefly, after the Labor Department said nonfarm payrolls grew by just 113,000, but the household survey saw a drop (again) in the unemployment rate to 6.6 percent on a big gain in jobs in that survey. An odd decline of 29,000 in government payrolls offset the overall about-at-trend-but-let’s-not-kid-ourselves-about-this-being-awesome 140,000 or so gains in the private jobs market, so there’s a little bit to like, some to shake one’s head at, and still more to wonder about how many people didn’t get to work because their feet froze to the ground when they tried to get into their cars.

(More seriously on that point – the establishment survey doesn’t get some kind of massive job loss just because of a storm on a particular day of surveying, so it’s not as if a snowstorm destroys job growth, so let’s not overstate the weather issue here. It’s a factor, but don’t look for a revision to +300,000 or something.)

The activity in equity futures, however, seems to point to where we’ve been all along: jobs growth, factory activity and overall economic figures are just enough to put a brake on getting any kind of incipient rally and keeping the buyers less motivated right now, though the shallow correction we’ve seen so far appears to have hit a stopping point for the time being. Futures bottomed out around 1758 on the S&P E-Minis, a few points below the level the market had been sitting at before the downdraft that took futures to about 1730 for a few days. Stocks recovered from that level and now appear content to hang out around 1760 or so or even a bit higher, while the bond market is doing something similar – a quick post-jobs rally that took yields down to about 2.64 percent on the 10-year before the buyers eased off the throttle, lifting yields again to around 2.67 to 2.70 percent. Absent more emerging markets turmoil – and this appears to have been somewhat stemmed in the last few days, though maybe that’s just because we haven’t had bad news from China in the last day or two – these levels might end up prevailing for some time.

The jobs number of course raises the usual back-and-forth about whether the Fed might decide to accelerate or decelerate its schedule for winding down stimulus, but with the Federal Reserve – and especially with a new chair coming in – predictability when it comes to this policy is probably the preferred course of action. There’s enough weather-related shenanigans and uncertainty about global growth offsetting the relatively solid economic figures for the Fed to not want to jolt markets, and the Fedsters have been talking pretty tough on this one, essentially making it clear that this wind-down will become the equivalent of stock buyback programs: They continue, no matter what, unless something drastic happens to alter that expectation.

While we’re on the subject of buybacks, Apple is upping the ante on its own share repurchase schedule, succumbing to some of the pressure from the likes of Carl Icahn and others who have demanded the company boost shareholder returns in the absence of real spending plans. And of course, Apple has a ton of cash on hand, and they’re generating enormous profits even if they’re not the growth engine they had been in the past. It’s a bit early to say that the company should be lumped in with the likes of Exxon or IBM – gigantic businesses mostly notable now for moving money around, using up their free cash flow (and then some, thanks to low borrowing costs) for buying back their own shares.

Some analysts, notably Tobias Levkovich of Citigroup, have done studies that show that serial repurchasers – those who are steadily reducing their outstanding share count (share shrinkers, to come uncomfortably close to a Costanza-ism here) – have been better performers in the stock market over the last decade, with a total return of about 550 percent coming into the year compared with the S&P, which is up about 200 percent since the beginning of 2003. From a shareholder perspective, that works as long as these companies are so entrenched that their products deliver big sales at steady margins; once they fall behind, though, look out.

MORNING BID – The selloff continues in emerging markets

Jan 27, 2014 14:00 UTC

It takes a lot to overshadow the heart of earnings season and a Federal Reserve meeting but the rout in emerging markets has managed to make that happen. This week is an important one. As my Reuters London colleague Mike Dolan pointed out, it will go a long way toward determining whether this is a rapid hot-money flight that gets stemmed after a brief correction or the start of a prolonged rout.

Fund withdrawals in recent weeks have shown a steady pullback from the emerging markets, though strategists at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch believe a “contagion” point hasn’t been reached yet – that would take several more weeks of similar outflows. It remains to be seen whether that will happen or not.

Already some managers, including those interviewed by Reuters’ David Randall and Ashley Lau in a ‘How to Play It’ piece over the weekend, are starting to see buying opportunities in the countries that are less dependent on external funding and a bit less messed up in the whole “governing” thing (no, Argentina, not you, you’re pretty messed up).

The selling has continued through Monday, although for now it appears U.S. futures are inclined to move higher, though one never knows ahead of key earnings releases this week. A report overnight on capital shortfalls for European banks is also not helping sentiment in the developed world, so if anything, U.S. markets might be inclined to fade a quick rally at the open just to avoid exposure at a time when the weakest hands in the market seem to be driving the action.

Which of course leaves the Fed. There’s been rumblings that the central bank ought to pay more attention to its effects worldwide, but of course that would take the existing “Fed put” and turn into a global insurance wrap inviting people to buy stocks and punish savers in fixed income. So while there’s some concern that the Fed would elect to hold off on more cuts to its stimulus, that just doesn’t seem like a logical choice. The moral hazard is too great, even considering how much credibility the central bank lost through the Greenspan years and most of Bernanke’s.

MORNING BID: The deepening EM selloff

Jan 24, 2014 16:01 UTC

The contagion is building. Major world markets are taking it on the chin, U.S. stocks have slumped, and major asset managers in Europe are seeing shares fall, with some citing corporate exposure to emerging markets in general and Spanish exposure to Latin America in particular.

Safe havens – from Treasuries to gold to the yen and Swiss franc – are way up. And really, while specific country issues are in play here, (Argentina is, well, Argentina), the removal of liquidity on one side of the world and a slowing economy on the other is enough to shake out some long-held notions of what’s going to be the environment.

Coming into the year, a prevalent view was that 2014 would work out as something similar to 2013; stock multiples would rise more, bond prices would fall, keeping yields higher, and investors would keep moving money into stocks, with the primary analysis being something along the lines of, “What else ya gonna do?” But January has, if anything, been a lesson in debunking just about all of the preconceived notions the market held onto at the end of last year.

U.S. stocks still haven’t done all that badly. Bond yields are lower, though, which wasn’t expected, and that comes at a time when fund managers are operating with some pretty dug-in ideas. As Bank of America-Merrill Lynch put it in a comment Thursday: “No one thinks stock markets will fall this year; our January survey revealed just 6% of investors believe bond yields will decline in 2014 and the level of distaste for Emerging Markets was tangible.”

Merrill itself falls into this category; they’re on the bullish side too, with their preferences being the US, Japan, real estate and high yield, relative to commodities, emerging markets and bonds. So those bets are being tested as well.

It’s not enough to say that what’s happening represents some kind of comeuppance from all of those who have gotten fat and happy on the market’s extended gains. After all, plenty of people dislike emerging markets, and they’re still dropping regardless of sentiment (and regardless of the usual contrarian “it’s gonna end!” type opinions starting to emerge, tentatively).

The pain trade is really rewarding investors by going into the bond market. The world economy does seem to be improving – though a weak Chinese manufacturing survey set off a cascade of selling across emerging markets that roped in some of the world’s weakest sisters already dealing with their own issues (Turkish lira, Russian ruble, South American bond markets, particularly Argentina and Venezuela.)

The selling has resulted in a bit of soul-searching. Manik Narian, emerging markets strategist at UBS in London, told Reuters’ Sujata Rao-Coverley that, “until now, there has been a lot of dedication shown by institutional investors in EM debt but possibly that’s being shaken now. There are signs it’s becoming a more broad-based move.”

The removal of liquidity figures to be an ongoing theme throughout the year, and that’s going to hit the more vulnerable markets – those nations with ugly balance-of-payments statements that reflect importing capital to pay for domestic spending.

It’s what felled Iceland a few years back, and looks to hurt Argentina once again, prompting the country to try to stop defending the peso, causing the worst one-day drop since 2002 on Thursday. (The economy minister said today that it wouldn’t allow it to continue to devalue, so file that under “Empty Threat of the Day.”)

The real question is how far the selling goes, how far developed market selloffs will go, and whether those looking for disaster are finally being vindicated.

MORNING BID – Microsoft and opportunities

Jan 23, 2014 14:01 UTC

The parade of earnings releases continues Thursday, with bellwethers ranging from McDonald’s to Microsoft on tap. Discount airline Southwest was out before the bell, and Starbucks, Intuitive Surgical and Federated Investors are all due after the closing bell.

The technology industry’s equivalent of a boring utility, Microsoft is more of a candidate for lively activity this time around, as the software giant looks for a new chief executive, a task many investors had expected to be done by now. The company’s sales of its Windows product are expected to have been weak in the fourth quarter and its new Xbox also left some people nonplussed.

How much a new CEO is worth to a company is debatable. Those that look good from an initial glance can turn into a Ron Johnson-at-J.C. Penney-style disaster, while less-heralded types can do a lot without great fanfare. Either way, buying or selling the stock based on such an announcement is the functional equivalent of grading a football team’s draft picks on the day of the draft.

Whomever ends up taking on the job might be looking at an interesting opportunity. The stock, which seems condemned to forever trade between $28 and $36 a share, looks undervalued from Starmine’s perspective, which puts an intrinsic value of about $44 on the shares. The company falls squarely inside a theme Goldman Sachs has been noting for some months – if capital expenditures pick up in 2014, Microsoft is one of those companies that would be expected to spend more money.

It has, on balance, shown pretty high returns on invested capital over the years, but of late, it’s been spending less. Goldman puts the ratio of its capex spend to depreciation at 4.8, compared with a five-year average of 7.5. It’s been too content, instead, to reduce its share float, gobbling up shares through buybacks, paying big dividends to investors, and little else. Additional buyback authorizations would be a surprise for this report after a big one in September, but any commentary on that is probably welcomed.

Even in a world where stocks far and wide are outstripping what many investors see as what they’re worth, Microsoft stands out: A forward price-to-earnings ratio of 13, lower than the overall market’s 15-and-change and below the company 10-year median of 13.6.

That’s a median that encompasses some leaner years for the Redmond, Wash.-company, but the overall profile hasn’t changed too much. It’s managed to hold the line on margins as well, which is saying something, given expectations that margins have definitely topped out by now on an overall basis.

MORNING BID – Netflix, and a bear’s lament

Jan 22, 2014 17:27 UTC

The week opened with the earnings of a number of high-profile corporate names that disappointed investors. Most notable of these was International Business Machines, which really ought to be called International Buyback Machines, given Big Blue’s penchant for driving earnings through financial engineering rather than, y’know, the real kind of engineering.

IBM fell short on revenue estimates, saw shrinking demand in part because of reduced government spending (China’s government, not the US), yet exceeded net income estimates because of – what else – a lower tax rate, now at 11 percent vs 14 pct a year ago.

Margins continue to shrink – the pre-tax margin for the fourth quarter dipped to 25.1 percent from 26.7 percent a year ago. So, in some ways, it’s a microcosm of the recent earnings trend – cost-cutting, relying on government largesse, moving money around, and making per-share earnings look better by just changing the whole “per share” thing.

IBM’s not the only company that mirrors the S&P 500 writ small. Another is Netflix, the streaming media company that was the S&P 500′s best performer in 2013 and reports earnings after Wednesday’s close.

The bear case is pretty much handled by pointing at a chart of the stock rocketing into the stratosphere, looking into the TV cameras, and saying “Seriously?” Which is pretty much how some of the bearish types on Wall Street think of the entire market right now, believing they’re the only sane ones on earth while everyone else is crazy.

But we know how that goes when it goes wrong, and with Netflix, all those bets against it went wrong all year – causing short interest on the name to dip from the mid-20 percent area to a miniscule 0.93 percent of the float, according to Markit, which puts it in ExxonMobil territory.

Analysts expect a gain of about 2 million U.S. subscribers, and Wall Street forecasts net income of $41 million, five times the $8 million it recorded a year earlier.

The expectations at least remain positive, so that’s something. But there’s an irony here – the stock more than tripled in 2013, and from an intrinsic value basis, ranks as one of the worst in Starmine’s greater universe: The $330 price in the market should be closer to $61 a share, according to Starmine, as its forward price-earnings ratio currently stands at about 83, when it warrants somewhere around a 19 P/E.

The idea that the overall market is just as overvalued as Netflix doesn’t quite pass the smell test. You can hear the bear’s lament in the discussion of the broad market just as can be heard in the NFLX discussion – one that waned as the stock kept rising.

MORNING BID – Short Stack

Jan 21, 2014 14:57 UTC

The week brings a slew of earnings, and then anticipation of the following week, which will bring the Federal Reserve’s last meeting chaired by Ben Bernanke, with media reports already starting to concentrate on the Fed and look past results a bit.

That’s a mistake, of course – the outlook for corporate America vs. a predetermined outcome from the central bank is a no-brainer – but the Fed’s continued exit underpins the shifting sentiment in the market right now.

That is, short sellers are starting to feel a bit more confident, even if the market isn’t at a point where wholesale short bets are being rewarded (if you bet correctly, say, on JC Penney, you’re aces).

As Reuters’ Rodrigo Campos and Sam Forgione wrote in a story over the weekend, Credit Suisse’s prime services group shows the funds with a long-short bias are still leaning long, though a bit less than in the last week (55 percent, which is still bullish). (Full Story)

Notably, though, the market’s 20-day moving average for the S&P 500′s average daily trading range has dropped below six-tenths of a percentage point, which is about as dull as one can get when it comes to the markets. That’s data from Mike O’Rourke of JonesTrading, who also points out that such dead time (the time when it’s also impossible to go short) either ends up in a breakdown or a breakout in shares.

Right now, one would have to bet on the former; the forward price-to-earnings ratio sits around 15 and change right now – about at the historic average or so, and at a time when an increase in multiples seems a bit far-fetched.

If there is going to be volatility, it’s going to come as a result of the surprises we see in the earnings data.

The pattern has oddly reversed this time out: More companies are beating on revenue rather than earnings, with just half of the companies that have reported exceeding earnings estimates.

Some of that is because revenue expectations have been damped dramatically; the expectation is for just a 0.5 percent rise in revenue, which is pretty much the coffee-and-donuts budget at most major companies.

For earnings, though, the forecast was for a 7 percent increase, which may be a bit too lofty. StarMine has Noble Corp, Crown Castle, Lockheed Martin and Textron pegged as those that may miss current forecasts, while they see Travelers and Teradyne as more likely to beat estimates.

Other bellwethers include Texas Instruments, good as a barometer for overall chip activity given their technology is used all over the place, Johnson & Johnson, Verizon, and Netflix. The latter has been a target of shorts in the past, until the last remaining short seller of the name, bankrupt and penniless, moved to an ashram or something.

MORNING BID – Let’s be careful out there

Jan 17, 2014 13:26 UTC

The first couple of weeks of the year have caused some investors to examine the hyper-bullishness that closed out 2013 – the most successful year for equity-market investing in more than 15 years. Still, a few weeks of softness this year didn’t stop the S&P 500 from hitting a new record Wednesday, however briefly.

Short of the perma-bears, who only see the market as a walking disaster, some notes of caution have rung from those who expect stocks to continue higher, yet struggle through what’s been a mixed start to earnings season.

If anything, the results so far indicate investors are going to have the bull thesis tested, from chipmaker Intel’s middling numbers, outlook for flat 2014 revenue and margins and no sign of that capex everyone had looked for, to the inevitable correction in Best Buy, one of the best performers of 2013 (second in the S&P, with only Netflix exceeding it).

Interactive Brokers strategist Andrew Wilkinson noted in commentary Thursday that the options market never saw the 29-percent drop coming, with some contracts putting a robust 2-percent chance of such an occurrence ahead of time.

On a broader basis, Goldman Sachs strategists noted early in the week that they’re concerned with investor sentiment, hearing many people are looking for further multiple expansion – along the lines of 17 or 18 times forward earnings. And that’s at a time when historical figures suggest price-to-earnings ratios are already relatively high and such expansion would push the S&P into ranges not seen since the tech bubble of 1997-2000.

That doesn’t mean it can’t go higher, but they point out that on a cyclically adjusted price-earnings ratio, the S&P is 30 percent overvalued in terms of operating earnings per share and 45 percent overvalued using as-reported earnings. (Which is all the more surprising, given Goldman sees sales beating the consensus in 2014 – just that it’s not going to translate into gains for equities.)

Even the bulls are a bit on the back foot. Tobias Levkovich, Citigroup’s equity strategist, sees a good year ahead, but without a correction in two years, he cautions that bull markets will still have times where they turn ugly, even for a while.

“Chasing the tape simply on the basis of momentum may not be a good strategy since expecting another 25 percent to 30 percent appreciation in 2014 seems rather excessive,” he wrote this week, “especially with euphoric investor sentiment readings.”

Yes, that means all of you.

MORNING BID – Only a dream in Rio

Jan 15, 2014 17:35 UTC

Among the BRIC nations, Brazil’s the one that’s been repeatedly whacked with a brick in the last couple of years, seeing its currency depreciate and its stock market trashed as it steadily ratchets up interest rates to an expected 10.25 percent this evening (or perhaps even 10.50 percent).

Most emerging nations were hit hard in the last year as the Federal Reserve announced it would start changing its strategy toward reduced bond buying, which will reduce some liquidity among dealers and result in less cash sloshing around in the vast ocean of world markets.

The last year was a rough one for Latin America overall, with most major averages sinking anywhere from 25 to 35 percent, but Brazil was in the unlucky position of already being kicked when it was down.

The MSCI Brazil Index now posts just a 4.1 percent return (annualized) over the past five years, which compares unfavorably with the other BRIC giants of China, India or Russia, to say nothing of Indonesia, Korea, Mexico or Peru.

So like Joe Btfsplk of the Li’l Abner comic, always walking with a dark cloud following him around (nobody got that reference to a Depression-era comic strip? Ok, never mind), Brazil has been faced with the poor choices of letting inflation get out of hand or continuing to try to pull a Volcker-style situation out of one’s hat, breaking inflation’s back in a way that somehow still results in things getting better later.

The IPCA consumer price index rose nearly 6 percent in 2013, as price increases have outpaced expectations for four years running (economic predictions in Brazil being about as accurate as they are in the United States).

Optimism in Brazil has dimmed of late, falling for the first time since the 2009 global financial crisis, according to public polling firms there.

The inflation problem is likely to get worse, according to Brown Brothers Harriman researchers, who said controlled prices were up just 1.5 percent in 2013 – meaning all other prices rose at more than a 7 percent clip in that year – adding “it’s likely that the pass-through impact from the weaker currency has not yet shown up fully in the numbers.” So, they’re forecasting a bump in the Selic rate to 10.5 percent from 10 percent, rather than the half-measure implied by a quarter-point hike.

Whether that brings back investors is another story: Latin American flows have been weak all year, according to Lipper data. The region hasn’t seen steady inflows since 2009, and that didn’t change in 2013, with more outflows.

The weakening real and slipping equity market would seem to provide an opportunity – this is, after all, the world’s seventh largest economy, as the World Bank says.

Years of rapid growth, though, have given way to the more recent 2 to 2.5 percent rate of growth, fine for a fully developed economy like the US (ok, it’s not, but work with me), but not so much for a faster-growing nation, and 2013 saw more than $12 billion in net forex outflows, the worst in a decade.

With Brazil’s current account deficit large and growing ($54 billion at the end of 2012, ranking it seventh worldwide), if sentiment turns even further from emerging markets, it’s Brazil, already getting hit this year, that could get it worse.

MORNING BID: Financially Speaking

Jan 14, 2014 13:54 UTC

This earnings season is front-loaded, per usual, with financial companies, which bring out the big guns this week (JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, American Express, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs), at a time when valuations are under a bit more scrutiny for a few reasons.

For one, the outperformance of financial shares throughout 2013 has been based, in part, on expectations of more lending activity (not just in the shadow banking system, which has seen a pickup since 2012, according to KBW, but also in bank lending). Improved economic growth in the U.S. provides a bit of a lift as well, in terms of net interest margin to big lenders.

Over the past 12 months, diversified financials have surged 38 percent, insurance names are up 40 percent, and banks 35 percent, so most industries in this sector – with real estate a noted exception – have been running strongly for some time.

And yet, per Goldman Sachs data, the financials sport a 14.4 price-to-earnings ratio, making it one of the less pricey of the 10 industry sectors in the S&P 500.

JP Morgan, the first out of the gate, has been consistent in exceeding estimates – and it did the same on Tuesday. Goldman Sachs, which beats 87 percent of the time, and Bank of America, 73 percent, per Birinyi Associates, dating to 2003, also tends to come out on top of expectations. Starmine, to a man, sees these guys as undervalued across the board, with none of the big four even trading at their overall intrinsic value, which looks at the growth expectations 10 years out.

So, what holds things back?

Well, revenue is nothing special. The sector is expected to post sales of $269.2 billion in the fourth quarter, down from $308 billion a year earlier, according to KBW, and particularly in the life and health insurance industries and industrial REITs sector, which would drag things down even further.

Wells Fargo seems to have hung in there reasonably well with an old formula: cut costs. The bank chopped thousands of jobs in its home-loan business, and so profits were up. Analysts were already getting more optimistic on the nation’s largest home lender – the company saw its earnings estimates rise by 0.9 percent in the last 30 days, according to Starmine, something the likes of JPM, Capital One, SunTrust, Citigroup and Bank of America haven’t managed (they’re all seeing estimates fall). Meanwhile, CoreLogic notes that home prices rose by 11.8 percent year-over-year through November, which helped the quality of the company’s home equity loans.

In its third quarter, Wells saw its lowest quarterly loan-loss rate in at least nine years, so it was able to reduce the cash it set aside to cover those loans – boosting profits. It repeated that trick in the fourth quarter, releasing $600 million in reserves as charge-offs fell to a 0.47 percent rate.

It’ll be interesting to see whether other large lenders, such as Suntrust, can do the same, or if investors show any enthusiasm about this at all: Wells Fargo shares are a touch lower in pre-market action after trailing the KBW Bank Index last year.

Morning Bid: Dollar Bills and Dollar Bulls

Jan 9, 2014 13:58 UTC

The dollar’s performance hasn’t been anything to write home about in the last few years. It has weakened against major currencies like the euro and the Swiss franc, and been held back by lower interest rates thanks to the Federal Reserve’s triple-dose of quantitative easing, but there’s been a turn of late, though it’s too early to say whether it will have lasting power.

In 2013, the dollar was at least better than the yen, amassing a 35 percent move against the Japanese currency, which countered the Fed’s QE with Abenomics and a massive monetary dose of its own.

Now in 2014, the U.S. dollar index – measuring the dollar against six currencies, including the euro, yen, and pound – has reached a six-week high, and those expecting a steady move higher in interest rates wouldn’t be out of line to expect the dollar to appreciate, along with bond yields. It didn’t happen in 2013, which is sort of counterintuitive – higher rates would seem to be a boon for the buck, but the volatility exhibited in the Treasury market was too much for the dollar types.

That’s probably not going to be the case this year, according to Jens Nordvig, strategist at Nomura. He notes that if volatility is relatively low as rates go up, that’ll support dollar appreciation against the big currencies, other than yen. His firm is also going short the euro against the Mexican peso, with the latter benefiting from U.S. growth and the former still struggling.

Flows into the U.S. from overseas have been strengthening, which helps the dollar story, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see additional strength in the greenback if jobs figures are better than anticipated, as suggested by the ADP figures (even though they come with their own problems).

The dollar’s gains come at a time when long dollar bets have fallen to their lowest levels since November, perhaps out of concern the recent run has been fueled by too much optimism.
Speculators are net short in the yen, Aussie, and Canadian dollar, but they’re still long the euro, pound, Swiss franc, peso and the New Zealand dollar (known as the kiwi, or the “Peter Jackson,” if you’re into Tolkien).

The jobs data could force more of those positions in the direction of the U.S. currency. Oddly, the steady rise in U.S. rates wasn’t much of a catalyst for the dollar in the mid-1990s, and it was only later that the dollar picked up, Morgan Stanley researchers noted in a recent report.

While various emerging markets aren’t the disasters they were in the 1990s, the private sector depends a lot on dollar funding. And if borrowing costs are rising and growth isn’t quite what it was, those flows aren’t going to be robust as in the past – particularly with the Fed cutting its massive stimulus. Taken in total, it bodes well for the buck, but only if there’s an ongoing sense of improvement, which will be something to watch for on Friday.

RETAILERS, DISCOUNTS AND DEMAND
The last of the same-store sales figures, meanwhile, are coming out, including the likes of Costco, The Gap and L Brands, and all of the good cheer reported at this higher level (better consumer spending and hiring trends, more positive sentiment) seems to have eluded the retailers. Indeed, they mostly say things stink, either because of surprises in the calendar, cold weather (and it’s been damned cold, so we’ll let that one go), and lots of promotions that promise almost everything just to lure people into the store.

Consumer discretionary shares were among the best performers in the S&P 500 last year, but repeating that trick won’t be easy. L Brand cut its earnings forecast for the holiday quarter after its lousy numbers, and Family Dollar and Zumiez also cut estimates in response to their weak showing.  One thing we’re sure of – few are going the JC Penney route, in tersely saying that the company is “pleased with its performance for the holiday period, showing continued progress in its turnaround efforts,” without offering, y’know, any numbers or anything.

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