Feb 14, 2019

Axios Markets

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I wrote this about Valentine's Day 6 years ago and I stand by it (though I admit to being a bit of a pedant in those days). Bah humbug.

Situational awareness:

  • President Trump is considering pushing back the deadline for imposition of higher tariffs on Chinese imports by 60 days if the two countries are close to a deal. (Bloomberg)
  • J.P. Morgan will test "JPM Coin," an internal cryptocurrency backed by the U.S. dollar, to move a tiny fraction of its $6 trillion wholesale payments business. (CNBC)
  • The White House is drafting an executive order targeted at Huawei that could ban Chinese companies from selling equipment for use in U.S. telecom networks. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Malaysia "will not compromise" with Goldman Sachs on the 1MDB scandal, the president of Malaysia's ruling party said Wednesday. Goldman Sachs issued a retort, saying the bank never held the money and accusing members of the Malaysian government of lying to the bank. (Bloomberg)
1 big thing: A drag on earnings expectations

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Medical device and equipment makers are nearly 5 times more likely to have lowered profit expectations for this year than the rest of the S&P 500, Axios' Courtenay Brown and Bob Herman report.

By the numbers: Of the 26 health care device and equipment makers in the S&P 500, 11 missed Wall Street's guidance expectations for 2019, according to FactSet.

  • The sector only accounts for 5% of the S&P 500, yet they represent 20% of all companies that gave downbeat forecasts — second only to tech.

The big picture: Many of these companies, which sell products that help keep people alive like heart valves, IV bags and dental equipment, make sizable portions of their revenues abroad.

  • Six of the 11 companies that missed on guidance make at least 50% of their revenue abroad.
  • For example, Waters, which makes laboratory software and equipment, booked 80% of last year's sales outside of the U.S.

What they're saying: As fears of an earnings recession this year stir, these executives are blaming the strong U.S. dollar for less-than-expected profits in upcoming quarters.

  • "I know the world worries about the volatility of [emerging] markets and the reliability of those markets, and in particular, currency. And we're all going to live with currency if we're a multinational company, and I don't think we're any different." — Miles White, Abbott Labs CEO
  • "As you see the dollar continue to strengthen, not only against the euro .... But it's pretty much against every other currency around the world. And so that's a little bit worse." — Chris Reidy, CFO of BD

Dion's thought bubble: While the dollar has remained strong against other developed market currencies this year, it has tumbled against currencies from emerging markets. The South African rand, Brazilian real and Russian ruble all surged more than 4% against the greenback in the first 6 weeks of 2019.

  • PineBridge chief economist Markus Schomer tells Axios the problem is that it's not a strong U.S. economy pushing the dollar higher, it's that many of these countries' currencies are weakening because of slowing demand.
  • "That's why the dollar is rising," he says. "Currency is a reflection of that."

Be smart: A guide-down of one quarter's worth of earnings doesn't change the necessity, market power or overall profitability of these companies. It reflects some of the volatility that comes with selling medical products in other, more regulated health care systems overseas.

1 bonus chart: How the stocks stack up
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Data: FactSet; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Despite the large number of medical device companies issuing profit estimates below Wall Street estimates for the current quarter, the shares of these companies have produced strong gains.

  • The handful of stocks performed seven times better than the S&P 500 in the past year, an analysis from FactSet shows.
2. The rise of non-alcoholic beer

Last year was the best in a decade for Heineken, the world’s second-largest beer maker. One of the big drivers was its alcohol-free Heineken 0.0, which was launched in the summer of 2017, and is now seeing sales grow at a double-digit clip.

Somehow, defying the laws of reason and good sense, alcohol-free beer has become an important segment of the beer market, per Wall Street Journal's Carol Ryan.

The big picture: While non-alcoholic beers make up just 5% of beer volume sold worldwide, the category has grown at 3.9% on average for the past 5 years compared with 0.2% for traditional beer. A report from GlobalData finds that non-alcoholic beer is the fastest growing segment of the beer market, just ahead of strong beer.

Budweiser maker AB InBev says it plans to generate at least one-fifth of its global beer sales from low-or-no alcohol brands by the end of 2025.

  • "You could expect 10 to 15 years down the road this would be more or less the global trend," senior Heineken brand director Gianluca Di Tondo told Reuters when it launched Heineken 0.0.

How it works: The popularity is apparently the result of a confluence of increased health consciousness among younger consumers and FOMO.

  • "Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their alcohol intake and see low-alcohol and alcohol-free variants as a healthier alternative, while still allowing for participation in traditional cultural events," Andrew Curran, Beverage Analyst for Canadean, told Food&Wine in 2017.

Details: It's also the result of growing popularity in places like the Middle East where alcoholic beverages are prohibited by law. The Middle East now accounts for almost a third of worldwide sales by volume of non-alcoholic beer.

  • Despite overall beer declines between 2011 and 2016, consumption of non-alcoholic beer in Germany increased 43%, according to Euromonitor International. In China, about 30% of the new beers launched in 2016 were non-alcoholic, according to market research firm Mintel.

Surprise: While non-alcoholic beer has traditionally been seen as a replacement for alcoholic beer, today, one in five low-or-no-alcohol products sold is replacing a soft drink, according to a recent UBS survey.

3. Esports are paying off big
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Reproduced from Newzoo; Chart: Axios Visuals

The global video game landscape looks to be moving from the American model to the Asian model as esports pushes into more and larger revenue streams.

Axios' Sara Fischer reports that the esports market is expected to surpass $1 billion this year — a 27% increase from last year — thanks to the explosive growth of brand sponsorships and media rights, according to the latest forecast from esports data company Newzoo.

Why it matters: The esports explosion is also proving a major money-maker for stock market investors who are betting on the video game space, provided they back the right horse.

Be smart: The North American esports market is by far the largest, representing roughly 40% of the global market. China, whose tech giants invest heavily in building esports businesses and culture, is set to overtake western Europe as the second-largest region in terms of revenues this year.

Go deeper: Shares of video game makers slid last week after Electronic Arts (EA) and Take-Two Interactive delivered disappointing results.

EA has bounced risen more than 20% since then, thanks largely to the success of "Apex Legends," which drew 10 million players in its first week.

  • The game employs the Asian model and is free to play, offering players the opportunity to pay for upgrades like skins, finishers and weapons.
  • It follows the success of "Fortnite," which has ridden the free-to-play model to more than 200 million registered users.

Previous attempts at such a model in the U.S. had seen disastrous results. EA's "Star Wars: Battlefront II" faced so much criticism for giving advantages to players who paid to improve powers that EA pulled all of the so-called microtransactions from the game.

Where it stands: The embrace of the Asian gaming style means that investors like Lazard Asset Management's Peter Gillespie, who were betting on the superior growth and revenue dynamics of the Asian model, can now potentially invest in that same growth story in the U.S.

4. 1 wrong thing
Screenshot from Joe Weisenthal's Twitter feed. (H/T Courtenay Brown)

It turns out even algos make mistakes.

From Bloomberg: "Auris Medical Holding AG got a surprise boost to its stock price Wednesday as investors mistakenly bought shares of the drug developer after Johnson & Johnson agreed to buy a similarly named robotics company for $3.4 billion."

  • Auris Medical (ticker: EARS) closed 9% higher after rising as much as 30% during the day. It closed at about 3.3 cents a share.

It's not the first time Auris Medical has gotten a boost from Auris Health, Bloomberg says.

  • "The last time the stock rose more than that was Jan. 23, when Bloomberg News first said that J&J was pursuing an acquisition of closely held Auris Health Inc."

History: The Ishango and Lebombo bones are two of the oldest mathematical instruments ever discovered.

The Lebombo bone, which dates back to 35,000 B.C. in southern Africa, was a baboon fibula used as a measuring device with 29 distinct markings used to track lunar cycles. It is considered the oldest known calendar.

The Ishango bone, dating back to 20,000 B.C. in western Africa, was a baboon fibula with separate inscriptions separated into clustered markings that are all odd numbers, with the a left column containing the prime numbers between 10 and 20. The right column contains the added and subtracted numbers to equal the prime numbers.

The Ishango bone has been called "the oldest testimonial of numerical calculus" in human history.