CWS Market Review – February 24, 2017

CWS Market Review

February 24, 2017
“90% of the people in the stock market, professionals and amateurs alike,
simply haven’t done enough homework.” – William J. O’Neil

You can’t keep a good market down! The Dow has now risen for 10 days in a row, which is the longest winning streak in 30 years. Not only that, but the bull continues to be unusually calm. The S&P 500 has now gone 91 days in a row without a 1% down day.

Can the market sustain this pace? The answer is no, but it’s a tough game predicting exactly when the bull needs to take a rest. Our strategy continues to be: focus on high-quality stocks, and don’t get scared out of them. I’m pleased to see that our Buy List is already up 6% for the year. Thanks to a strong earnings report, Moody’s just became our first 20% winner on the year.

In this week’s CWS Market Review, I’ll go over our recent earnings reports. We had some good ones like Moody’s, but also some disappointing ones like Hormel and Wabtec. I’ll go over them all in a just a bit. I’ll also bring you up to speed on the latest economic news. There’s a decent chance the Federal Reserve will raise rates again sometime soon. We also got dividend increases from Danaher and Cinemark. But first, let’s spend a few seconds on this week’s Fed minutes.

The Federal Reserve May Strike Soon

The Federal Reserve had a two-day meeting on January 31 and February 1. At the time, I told you not to expect them to make any moves on interest rates. I was right, and the Fed left rates unchanged.

This week, however, the Fed released the minutes from that meeting, and they indicated that some members want to see rates go up soon. This is important because higher rates can kill any rally, even one as durable as the current bull.

Like many things economic, the minutes aren’t very clearly written. All we know is that “many” members want to see rates go up “fairly soon.” How many is “many” and how soon is “fairly”? That I’m afraid that’s left shrouded in the mystery that only economists can penetrate.

For us who live in the real world, we can make some reasonable guesses and assume it comes down to the Fed’s next two meetings. The central bankers get together again on March 14-15, and then again on May 2-3. The futures market now thinks there’s a 38% chance of a rate hike in March, and a 63% chance of a hike in May. That latter figure is up from 49% at the start of this month.

The Fed always says they want to be flexible and focused on the data. While the Fed raised rates in December, the latest inflation data suggests that the rise in consumer prices completely negated the rate increase. So it may be time for another. Plus, there are now clear signs that the economy is getting better. This week, we learned that existing home sales rose to a 10-year high. Also, the four-week moving average on initial jobless claims dropped to a 43-year low.

What does this mean for investors? I continue to believe that investors should be defensive over the next several weeks. I don’t expect the market to crash, but Wall Street’s calmness won’t last forever. Interestingly, the S&P 500 Tech Sector Index just snapped a 15-day winning streak. Like other record streaks, it had never happened before. Then it ended.

Now let’s look at our recent Buy List earnings reports.

Six Buy List Earnings Reports

We had two earnings reports last Friday. First up, JM Smucker (SJM) reported fiscal Q3 earnings of $2 per share. That’s down from $2.05 per share a year ago, but it matched Wall Street’s forecast on the nose. Quarterly sales fell 5%.

Smucker said they’ve been working hard to control costs, so the sales shortfall didn’t hurt the bottom line. The bad news is that Smucker lowered the high end of their full-year EPS forecast by a nickel per share. The company now sees 2017 earnings ranging between $7.60 to $7.70 per share. This is for the fiscal year that ends in April.

Here’s what’s interesting. The stock dropped at Friday’s open to about $130 per share from $138 at last Thursday’s close. SJM then rallied during the day on Friday to $136 by the closing bell. The shares then gapped up to $143 on Monday, probably due to Kraft Heinz backing out of its mega-merger deal with Unilever. That has to put Smucker in play. I’m raising my Buy Below on Smucker to $146 per share.

Also on Friday, Moody’s (MCO) said that it earned $1.23 per share for Q4. That was nine cents better than expectations. Quarterly revenues rose 8.8% to $942.1 million, which also beat expectations. The earnings, I should add, are adjusted for a big check the company had to send the Justice Department to settle its legal problems. I’d glad that’s now behind them.

For 2017, Moody’s said they expect earnings between $5 and $5.15 per share, which doesn’t include a 15-cent per share accounting benefit. Wall Street had been expecting $5.07 per share. That’s pretty good growth. For 2016, Moody’s made $4.81 per share.

The stock is already a 20% winner for us this year. This week, I’m lifting my Buy Below on Moody’s to $119 per share.

Big Earnings Miss from Wabtec

Wabtec (WAB) gave us disappointing news on Tuesday. The rail-service company said they made 81 cents per share for Q4, which was 13 cents below estimates. This is their second soggy earnings report in a row.

Even the CEO said the earnings were “disappointing.” The problem is that the freight-rail sector continues to be soft. Also, it’s been more difficult for WAB to close the deal for Faiveley Transport than they expected. For the year, WAB earned $3.34 per share, which was below the company’s forecast of $3.45 to $3.50 per share.

Earnings, likewise, missed the mark, coming in at $3.34 per share, which was below its guidance of $3.45 to $3.50 per share. Despite the rough year in 2016, Wabtec sees things getting better this year. They expect full-year earnings to range between $3.95 and $4.15 per share.

The shares have now shed 11% since Monday’s close. I’m lowering my Buy Below on Wabtec to $84 per share.

Three More Earnings Reports on Thursday

On Thursday, we had three more earnings reports. Hormel Foods (HRL) posted fiscal Q1 earnings of 44 cents per share, which was one penny shy of estimates. The Spam stock also lowered its full-year guidance to $1.65 to $1.71 per share. That’s a decrease of three cents to both ends of the range. Hormel cited “challenging market conditions in the turkey industry.”

For Q1, Jennie-O Turkey sales rose 13%, but segment profits fell 25%. Overall sales fell 0.5% to $2.28 billion. Despite the earnings miss, this was Hormel’s 15th record quarter in a row.

“We are tempering our full-year outlook for the Jennie-O Turkey Store segment given the shortfalls in the first quarter and the expected continuation of pricing pressure due to low commodity turkey prices. Improvements in our other segments are expected to offset some of the earnings headwinds from Jennie-O Turkey Store,” Snee said.

Shares of Hormel lost 5.4% on Thursday. These results are disappointing, but I’m not too concerned about a minor drop in outlook from a company like Hormel. They’ll be fine. Hormel is a buy up to $37 per share.

Also on Thursday, Cinemark (CNK) reported Q4 earnings of 66 cents per share, which demolished Wall Street’s estimates of 44 cents per share. Quarterly revenues slipped a bit to $700.9 million.

“It was a banner year for the North American industry box office, achieving its 4th all-time high in the past 5 years,” stated Mark Zoradi, Cinemark’s Chief Executive Officer. “Cinemark’s domestic operations outperformed the North American industry box office by 100 basis points, and globally we set numerous records, including total revenues of nearly $3 billion, net income of $255 million and Adjusted EBITDA of more than $706 million. Furthermore, our ability to increase our dividend, while continuing to actively invest in growth initiatives, is indicative of the consistent strength of our balance sheet, as well as our confidence in Cinemark.”

For the year, CNK’s revenues increased 2.3% to $2.92 billion. Earnings per share came in at $2.19 compared to $1.87 for 2015. They also have ambitious plans for this future: CNK wants to open eight new theaters this year.

Cinemark also raised its quarterly dividend from 27 to 29 cents per share. The new dividend will be paid on March 20 to stockholders of record on March 8. I’m raising my Buy Below on Cinemark to $46 per share.

Our final earnings report for this season came from Continental Building Products (CBPX). The company earned 31 cents per share last quarter, which was four cents more than Wall Street had been expecting. Quarterly revenue rose 7.1% to $118.2 million, which also topped estimates.

Looking through the numbers, Continental had a solid year in 2016. Of course, what matters to us is 2017 and beyond. The company provided guidance on several performance metrics, but not on EPS. The company earned $1.08 per share last year. I think the company can earn as much as $1.35 per share this year. The stock could turn out to be one of our big winners this year.

Two Buy List Reports Next Week

Just two more Buy List earnings reports next week, but these are for companies with quarters that ended in January. After them, I promise we won’t have much in the way of earnings for several weeks.

Ross Stores (ROST) is due to report fiscal Q4 earnings on Tuesday, February 28. This will be for the key holiday-shopping season. In November, Ross had a very good earnings report for Q3. However, they offered somewhat tepid guidance for Q4. I know Ross likes to set expectations low. That always makes the earnings “beats” look that much more impressive.

For Q4, Ross sees comparable-store sales growth of just 1% to 2%, and earnings per share ranging between 72 and 75 cents per share. Since Ross has already made $2.06 per share for the first three quarters, that works out to full-year earnings of $2.78 to $2.81 per share. That would be an increase of 11% to 12% over last year’s profit of $2.51 per share.

Also on Tuesday, HEICO (HEI) is due to report. The company had a great year in 2016, and it was our top-performing stock. For 2017, HEICO sees net sales growth of 5% to 7% and net income growth of 7% to 10%. That works out to an EPS range of $2.45 to $2.52. Wall Street expects quarterly earnings of 54 cents per share.

Before I go, I wanted to mention that Danaher (DHR) raised its quarterly dividend from 12.5 cents to 14 cents per share. The new dividend is payable on April 28 to holders of record on March 31. DHR is a buy up to $87 per share.

That’s all for now. Next week will be a busy one for economic reports. The durable-goods report comes out on Monday. On Tuesday, the government will revise its report on Q4 GDP. Then on Wednesday, we’ll get reports on consumer income and spending, plus the ISM Index. Be sure to keep checking the blog for daily updates. I’ll have more market analysis for you in the next issue of CWS Market Review!

– Eddy

Image
Named by CNN/Money as the best buy-and-hold blogger, Eddy Elfenbein is the editor of Crossing Wall Street. His free Buy List has beaten the S&P 500 eight times in the last ten years. This email was sent by Eddy Elfenbein through Crossing Wall Street.
2223 Ontario Road NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA

Surging #bitcoin, new #Nokia phones, #Uniqlo effect

Good morning, Quartz readers!

WHAT TO WATCH FOR TODAY AND OVER THE WEEKEND

A Snap IPO test run. Traders will send sample orders to the New York Stock Exchange Saturday in an effort to test the system for bugs and glitches. The NYSE is hoping to avoid another WTF moment like Facebook’s chaotic IPO in 2012.

Indonesia’s president visits Sydney. Joko Widodo will meet with Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull on Saturday, Widodo’s first visit since being elected in 2014. US president Donald Trump’s criticism of Australia may help ease some longstanding tensions between the two countries as they seek to strengthen regional ties.

Nokia shows off new phones. The Finnish company will livestreamthe unveiling of new Android smartphones from the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona on Sunday. Consumers are alsoanticipating a revamp of the iconic and “indestructible” Nokia 3310.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING

Rex Tillerson had a tense time in Mexico. The visit by US secretary of state and Homeland Security chief John Kelly was meant to smooth relations between the two countries. Instead, it highlighted the tension (paywall) between them.

Bitcoin hit an all-time high. It rose 3.1% to $1,164.10 as investors speculated the Trump administration would relax rules governing digital currencies, and reacted to the general uncertainty created by new US president. Another factor: an upcoming decision on the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust. If approved, the exchange-traded fund could lure more investors to bitcoin.

Alphabet sued Uber and its autonomous-trucking subsidiary Otto. Google’s parent said over 14,000 confidential files, including key Lidar designs, were stolen from its self-driving car unit, Waymo, and used to fast-track Uber’s self-driving technology. Lidar uses light pulses reflected off objects to gauge their position on the road.

Malaysian police said Kim Jong-nam was killed by VX nerve agent. The widely banned substance is classified as a chemical weapon, with a fraction of a drop being enough to fatally disrupt the nervous system. The estranged brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was killed on Feb. 13 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

QUARTZ OBSESSION INTERLUDE

Akshat Rathi imagines life on seven newly discovered exoplanets. “We don’t know if any of Trappist-1’s planets have moons, but they likely don’t need them for the view. On the third rock from the dim star, the second rock would look twice the size our moon looks to Earthlings and the remaining planets could line up to create a view that even science-fiction authors haven’t imagined.”Read more here.

MATTERS OF DEBATE

Trump’s war on the press is strategic. Branding critics as dishonest is the same technique that won him the election.

Being shy is actually an advantage. Shyness allows for the kind of inventive thinking and creativity that eludes extroverts.

Uniqlo killed Japanese street style. Tokyo’s famous Harajuku fashion has been co-opted and commercialized by corporations, celebrities, and attention-seekers.

SURPRISING DISCOVERIES

Snail venom is an opioid alternative. One compound in crown snails’ poisonous venom can block nerve pain for patients undergoing cancer treatment.

The US deports so many people it has its own airline service.ICE Air Operations has flown hundreds of thousands of immigrantssince 2006.

Lucille Ball’s mom is featured on the laugh track for Frasier.Her signature chuckle can also be heard on The Beverly Hillbillies.

There’s a code of ethics for photo retouchers. The five-part oathencourages the promotion of healthy body image.

New Jersey replaced its bail system with an algorithm. It mathematically assesses the risks of defendants fleeing or committing violent crimes before trial.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, snail venom, and laugh tracks to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter for updates throughout the day or download our apps for iPhone and Android.

“Ultracool” exoplanets, a test for Labour, sex breaks at work

Good morning, Quartz readers!

WHAT TO WATCH FOR TODAY

The UK’s Labour party is challenged in a traditional stronghold. In a by-election the Conservatives have a good chance of winning Copeland, a constituency in the northwest that has voted Labour for about 80 years. A loss would suggest trouble in the heartlands for Labour and put more pressure on its unpopular leader Jeremy Corbyn. Unlike the party, Copeland voted to leave the EU.

Baidu releases earnings. The Chinese search giant will disclose fourth-quarter and fiscal-year earnings after the bell, following a jump in profit last quarter. Investors are on the lookout for impacts from regulatory changes and new investments, as well as an update on Baidu’s artificial intelligence efforts.

Rex Tillerson is in Mexico. The US secretary of state, along with Homeland Security chief John Kelly, is meeting with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto to discuss border security, law enforcement, and trade during a two-day visit. The duo will aim to smooth tensions between the two countries.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING

NASA discovered seven “ultracool” exoplanets. The Earth-sized, rocky planets are orbiting Trappist-1, a star just 39 light years away. The discovery will change the way scientists search for signs of life across the galaxy.

Tesla beat expectations. The electric car company posted a smaller-than-expected loss for the fourth quarter, and $2.28 billion in revenue (versus a forecast of $2.13 billion). Tesla is still bleeding money—it lost $448 million from operating activities in the quarter—but says deliveries of its Tesla X and Model 3 cars are on track.

ExxonMobil reported a major reduction in its proven oil reserves. They were down to 20 billion barrels at the end of 2016, a drop of 19.3% from a year earlier. The biggest culprit: an oil-sands development in western Canada that’s become impossible to profitably harvest amid low energy prices.

The Fed feels good about rate hikes. Minutes from the US Federal Reserve’s Jan. 31-Feb. 1 meeting showed many officialsexpressing confidence in raising interest rates again “fairly soon.” The Fed last raised rates in December, only the second increase in a decade.

The Bank of Korea held interest rates steady. The country’s central bank made no change for the eighth straight month, providing a bit of stability to a nation wracked by political scandals and worried about its unpredictable neighbor to the north.

QUARTZ OBSESSION INTERLUDE

Marc Bain on China’s love of Ivanka Trump. “Companies in the US are grappling with how to handle Ivanka Trump’s fashion brand, which has become heavily politicized and faces ongoing boycotts over the policies of Trump’s father, US president Donald Trump. But among Chinese firms, a race is on to cash in on the US first daughter’s rising profile.” Read more here.

MATTERS OF DEBATE

Selfies are modern art. The photos offer insight into our efforts tocreate and present an authentic self.

Workers should get breaks for sex. A Swedish politician is advocating for the ultimate office perk.

Pakistan is on the up and up. Improved security, relative political stability, and a growing middle class are driving an economic awakening.

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SURPRISING DISCOVERIES

The broccoli of the future knows no season. Scientists are developing a new line of the vegetable that can grow year-round.

There is a US national standard for dry martinis. They must be made of 86-proof (at least) English or American gin, and dry vermouth, preferably French (pdf).

It’s illegal to be a rhesus macaque in Japan. A zoo killed 57 of its snow monkeys after discovering they had been crossbred with the banned species.

Sweden’s government would like to collect fewer taxes. Since the central bank lowered interest rates, the country has seen a spate of overpayments (paywall).

There’s a school for adulting. Would-be grownups can learn how to manage their finances and fold their fitted sheets.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, superfoods, and dry martinis to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter for updates throughout the day or download our apps for iPhone and Android.

#Brexit advances, #SpaceX’s historic launch, #robot taxes

Good morning, Quartz readers!

WHAT TO WATCH FOR TODAY

Next Brexit steps. Britain’s House of Lords will begin debating the Brexit bill after it passed in the House of Commons two weeks ago. While the House of Lords is not expected to block the proposed legislation entirely, it could force prime minister Theresa May to do more to guarantee the rights of EU citizens.

The EU talks diplomacy, trade, and Greece. US vice president Mike Pence meets with EU leaders in Brussels to discuss the implications of the Trump administration’s “America first” policies. Meanwhile eurozone finance ministers will meet to discuss Greece’snext bailout loan, and a European Parliament delegation arrives in Mexico for trade talks.

It’s Presidents’ Day in the US. Financial markets are closed for thepublic holiday, as are most banks and public schools.

OVER THE WEEKEND

The US tried to reassure Europe. At a security summit in Munich dominated by discussions of “fake news,” Pence emphasized his country’s commitment to its European allies, while German chancellor Angela Merkel called for global cooperation. Europeans, meanwhile, were baffled by US president Donald Trump’s reference to a nonexistent “night of terror” in Sweden at a rally in Florida on Saturday.

Kraft Heinz let go of Unilever. American food giant Kraft Heinzannounced it was withdrawing a $143 billion bid to acquire Anglo-Dutch consumer products company Unilever 48 hours after making it public. The bid could have resulted in the world’s largest foodcompany but it was quickly rejected by Unilever.

China punished North Korea… In a move that will bolster UN sanctions, China announced it would suspend coal imports from North Korea until the end of the year, an expression of its frustration over the country’s nuclear missile development. North Korea was China’s fourth-largest supplier of coal last year.

… And Malaysia recalled its ambassador from North Korea “for consultations.” It also summoned Pyongyang’s envoyfollowing his comments that Malaysia had “something to conceal” regarding the death last week of Kim Jong-nam—the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un—in Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Until now Malaysia has had surprisingly cozy ties with Pyongyang.

SpaceX had a successful and historic launch. A day after its launch was postponed with 13 seconds left on the clock, a Falcon 9 rocket took off from Kennedy Space Center at 9:38am ET on Sunday from a pad that hadn’t seen a liftoff in six years. NASA described the launch, which will deliver supplies to the International Space Station, as the beginning of a new phase of American operations in space.

Japan’s manufacturing activity expanded at the fastest pace in almost three years. A private survey for January suggested overseas demand has rebounded strongly. But some economists warned that growing US protectionism could threaten the export-focused economy.

QUARTZ OBSESSION INTERLUDE

Alison Griswold on why Uber has absolutely no good reason for keeping tipping out of its app. “Uber hasn’t abstained from tipping because it’s the ‘right thing’ to do, as famed restaurateur Danny Meyer explained when he debuted a no-tipping policy at The Modern, a pricey dining spot in midtown Manhattan. Uber cuts prices relentlessly and has fought tooth and nail in court to avoid classifying its drivers as employees, a status that confers both minimum-wage protection and benefits. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is no Danny Meyer.” Read more here.

MATTERS OF DEBATE

The US is forgetting the lessons of World War II. The same fear-based rhetoric that was used to intern Japanese Americans 75 years ago is now being used to justify far-reaching immigration orders.

Robots should pay taxes. The money would help slow down automation and fund other types of employment, Bill Gates argues.

Addressing racism in the arts is a risk worth taking. Privileged artists like Marc Jacobs and Adele help level the playing field by acknowledging the frequently sidelined.

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SURPRISING DISCOVERIES

There’s a Swedish company with no one in charge. The staff at software firm Crisp makes decisions during four-day meetings held a few times a year.

It’s been over a century since a US president sported facial hair. Leaders of the free world have bristled at the idea since 1913.

Havana’s international book fair is a massive party. A nearly 100% literacy rate and a turnout of half a million people make the annual event anything but bookish.

Smokers in Indonesia are defending their right to light up. They insist that stricter tobacco regulation is part of a culture war waged by the West.

Researchers have discovered new microbial life-forms trapped in crystals. The still-viable organisms from deep inside a Mexican cave are believed to be up to 50,000 years old.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, cave microbes, and presidential facial hair to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter for updates throughout the day or download our apps for iPhone and Android.

Weekend edition—#Israel-#Palestine, migrant microbiomes, #Churchill on aliens

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What’s Donald Trump’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Your guess is as good as ours.

This week the US president appeared to ditch a 20-year-old tenet of American policy—that for peace to come, the Palestinians must get their own independent state alongside Israel. But, as has happened on other issues, his own officials immediately appeared to contradict him: First his UN ambassador, then even his hawkish nominee for ambassador to Tel Aviv, insisted that a two-state solution is still the goal. Trump has also vacillated about Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank and whether to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

The sad truth is that little of this matters. Once touted as the key to Middle Eastern harmony, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now a sideshow to the vastly bloodier ones in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Moreover, both doves and hawks increasingly agree that the peace process in its current form is dead. Israel has been an intransigent peace partner, but the Palestinians, split between warring leaderships in Gaza and the West Bank, are in no condition to conclude a deal either. Whatever the Trump administration’s ultimate stance, it’s unlikely to make things either much better or much worse.

The main thing to take from this week’s statement is that, as with other foreign-policy issues—“One China,” Crimea, NAFTA—the White House is making things up on the fly, casually discarding US policies crafted over decades and then backtracking when it meets resistance. This kind of behavior may be giving Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who uses unpredictability as a deliberate policy tool, a taste of his own medicine (paywall). But it doesn’t make for good foreign relationships, a strong United States, or a safe world.—Gideon Lichfield

SOME THINGS ON QUARTZ WE ESPECIALLY LIKED

The identity politics of using a foreign name. An act of vandalism at New York’s Columbia University against foreign students has revived a debate about whether Chinese people should adopt English first names when interacting with Westerners. Zheping Huang recounts his own experiences of being “James”, “Peter”, and “William”, and argues that sticking to your Chinese name allows others to know the real you.

What migrants can teach us about microbiomes. Immigrant communities offer an almost perfect case study of how gut bacteria can be contagious. Katherine Ellen Foley writes about an effort to understand how microbiomes change when humans move, warping to match those of the new communities around them.

On the quandary of being pro-NAFTA and pro-Trump. Gerry Schwebel is a NAFTA champion but also a Trump supporter. He tells Ana Campoy that the trade agreement has done tremendous good for his native Texas, and that he hopes the president will consider its benefits. But as Tim Fernholz argued last week, perhaps he needn’t worry; Trump is likely to make only cosmetic changes to the trade pact.

How 1980s marketing created Silicon Valley’s gender gap. In the 1970s and early 1980s men and women were on their way to parity in computer-science enrollments. So why is there now such a gender gap in tech? TL Andrews argues that computer-game marketing that targeted boys gave rise to a male computing culturethat continues today.

The scientific concepts you need to understand US politics in 2017. With the new White House’s antipathy to science, it will this year play a more prominent role in American public discourse than ever. Our science writers have put together a compendium of the issues—such as skepticism, latrogenesis and clean coal—that will drive this year’s debates.

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FIVE THINGS ELSEWHERE THAT MADE US SMARTER

Virtual healing for real-world pain. Second Life was a virtual online utopia when it launched in 2003, but its membership dropped as users migrated to Facebook and 3D virtual reality. Yet as Kristen French explores for Backchannel, disabled people remain a passionate community on Second Life, which supports relationships, social interactions, and even healing in ways the real world can’t.

Fake news by fake Ukrainians. Before Brexit and before Trump, there was a low-turnout referendum in the Netherlands on an EU-Ukraine trade agreement. Foreshadowing disinformation tactics that would later blossom elsewhere, Andrew Higgins of the New York Times tells the fascinating backstory of fake news, shadowy interest groups, and suspicions that Moscow had a hand in tilting the vote in its favor.

An intimate look at a Cold War extravagance. Jack Barsky, né Albrecht Dittrich, spent 29 years as a Soviet sleeper agent in the United States. He recounts his journey to Shaun Walker for the Guardian—from a small town in East Germany to membership in the vaunted “illegals” program of planting long-term sleeper agents, and ultimately, American citizenship.

Winston Churchill on alien life. Archivists have unearthed an unpublished 1939 essay by Britain’s soon-to-be prime minister on astronomy and the probability of life around other stars. Mario Liviogot a look at it, and writes in Nature that it was not only remarkably prescient but shows Churchill’s close relationship with science—a rarity in today’s political leaders.

Facebook’s new mission: Mend the world. CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s public letter, “Building Global Community,” in a remarkable break with the past, appears to recognize the harm—echo chambers, hate-mongering, and so on—that has been done through Facebook. Buzzfeed’s Alex Kantrowitz and Mat Honaninterview him and find “one intense human being” determined to use his awesome power for good instead.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Second Life avatars, and Churchill essays to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day, or download our apps for iPhone and Android.

CWS Market Review – February 17, 2017

CWS Market Review

February 17, 2017
 
“In finance, everything that is agreeable is unsound and everything that is sound is disagreeable.” – Winston Churchill

Recently, I’ve told you that I’ve become more bearish on the stock market in the short term, and that I expect a difficult period for February and March. So far, I’m relieved to say that I’ve been dead wrong. The stock market continues to wander higher. On Wednesday, the Dow, Nasdaq and S&P 500 all closed at all-time highs. For the first time in 25 years, the three indexes made five consecutive new highs together.

If I had told you that North Korea would launch a missile and that the National Security Advisor would resign, how do you think the market would have behaved? Now we know the answer. Wall Street continues to be as calm as could be, and quite optimistic as well.

This week, Janet Yellen went to Capitol Hill to testify on the economy and monetary policy. But that wasn’t the biggest economic news this week. Instead, we learned that in January, inflation has its biggest surge in four years. Last month, consumer prices rose at an annualized rate of 6.8%—and it wasn’t all due to gasoline. I’ll tell you what it means for us and our portfolios.

Later on, I’ll review the latest earnings report from Express Scripts. The pharmacy-benefits manager beat estimates, but guidance was a wee bit weak. I’ll go over the details. I’ll also highlight a bunch more earnings reports coming our way next week. But first, let’s take a closer look at the recent uptick in inflation.

Inflation Soars in January—What Does It Mean for Us?

On Wednesday, the Labor Department said that consumer prices rose by 0.6% last month. That’s twice what economists had been expecting. In the last year, inflation has been running at 2.5%. January’s report was the highest rate in four years. Annualized, consumer prices rose by 6.8% last month.

About half of the increase was due to higher gasoline prices, but there are other factors as well. Clothing prices, for example, rose strongly last month. If we look at “core inflation,” which strips away our food and energy prices, then we see that inflation rose by 0.3% last month, or 3.76% annualized. Still, that’s the highest rate in more than 10 years.

Does this mean that inflation is on the upswing? Frankly, it’s too early to say. With econ numbers, we always want to look at the trend instead of single points of data. I suspect that it’s not a resurgence of inflation, but I’m open to being convinced.

More importantly, inflation is now running above the Fed’s 2% target. In fact, the increase in inflation essentially nullified the Fed’s December rate hike. I’ve said that I’ve been a doubter about the Fed’s aggressive hike-rate forecast for this year, but if inflation pressures persist, then it may come about. I would expect their next rate increase to come in June.

This week, Janet Yellen went to Capitol Hill to testify on the economy. Regarding the stock market’s recent surge, she said, “I think market participants likely are anticipating shifts in fiscal policy that will stimulate growth and perhaps raise earnings.” I have to agree, and this is important because it means the Fed is no longer pulling the market along.

Fortunately, the long-end of the bond market is still relatively calm. The yield on the 10-year Treasury climbed 2.5% after the CPI report, but that’s still pretty tame. Earlier this week, the yield on the one-month Treasury got up to 0.53%. Obviously, that’s not a lot but it’s a nine-year high. The message is clear that interest rates are on the way up, but we’re a long way from them being real competition to stocks.

Other interesting economic news this week is that small-business optimism continues to rise. We saw big jumps after the election, and it’s now at a 12-year high. Retail sales did well last month. We saw a seasonally adjusted increase of 0.4%. Interestingly, the figure for December was revised higher to 1% growth. That’s very good for one month.

Express Scripts Is a Buy up to $74 per Share

After the closing bell on Tuesday, Express Scripts (ESRX) reported their Q4 earnings. This was a closely watched report for people following the issue of drug pricing. There’s been a growing war of words between drug makers and pharmacy-benefits managers about who’s really responsible for the increase in drug prices. ESRX’s CEO, Tim Wentworth, has recently pushed back at criticism of PBMs, and I think he’s right to do so.

Now to the earnings report. For Q4, Express Scripts earned $1.88 per share. That beat estimates by one penny per share. For the year, Express earned $6.39 per share, which is a nice 16% increase over 2015. Earlier, Express had said that its full-year total would range between $6.36 and $6.42 per share. Overall, this was a solid year for the company.

“We delivered another year of successful performance, not only through financial results, but by providing innovative solutions to help our patients and clients drive healthier outcomes and lower drug trends,” said Tim Wentworth, CEO and President. “In a year when the focus on drug pricing has never been greater, Express Scripts has held the 2016 growth rate in drug unit costs to 2.5% and lowered the patients’ share of total drug costs per prescription. The fundamentals of our business remain strong as our clinical focus and unwavering alignment with clients enables us to lead the industry in developing innovative value-based solutions that our country needs.”

Quarterly revenue came in at $24.86 billion, which was below estimates. For Q1, Express said it expects earnings between $1.30 and $1.34 per share. The Street had been expecting $1.35 per share. For the whole year, they see EPS ranging between $6.82 and $7.02 per share. That means the stock is going for about 10 times this year’s earnings. Express Scripts remains a buy up to $74 per share.

Four Buy Earnings Reports Next Week

I’m writing this early on Friday. Later today Moody’s (MCO) and Smucker (SJM) are due to report. Moody’s is our #2 performing stock for the year, with a YTD gain of 16.9%. On a side note, I always find it interesting that I never know what the top performers will be, and it’s usually a big surprise. Wall Street expects earnings of $1.24 per share. I’ll probably raise my Buy Below on Moody’s, but I want to see the earnings report first.

Also, Smucker will be reporting. However, their earnings reporting period ended in January. The company estimates full-year earnings (ending in April) coming in between $7.60 and $7.75 per share, “with a bias toward the middle to high end of the range.”

On Tuesday, February 21, Wabtec (WAB) is scheduled to report Q4 earnings. The rail-services company had a weak Q3 report. They also lowered full-year guidance. I think 2017 will be a much better year for them. Wall Street expects earnings of 93 cents per share.

Then on Thursday, February 23, we’ll get our final two earnings reports for this cycle as Cinemark (CNK) and Continental Building Products (CBPX) are due to report. The movie-theater chain has been doing a brisk business lately. Wall Street expects earnings of 43 cents per share. Three months ago, Continental missed earnings, but I expect a rebound. Wall Street is looking for Q4 earnings of 27 cents per share.

Also on Thursday, Hormel Foods (HRL) will report earnings, but they’re another stock on the January cycle. The Spam stock has delivered 14 record quarters in a row, and I expect to see #15. Wall Street expects Q1 earnings of 45 cents per share. Hormel gave 2017 guidance of $1.68 to $1.74 per share. The company also recently raised its dividend for the 51st year in a row.

Buy List Updates

Before I go, let me add a quick note on Cerner (CERN). In last week’s issue, I mentioned that their earnings report matched expectations. In Friday’s trading, just after I sent the newsletter, the stock got punished by traders. The market then had second thoughts, and Cerner rallied this week, and it made back everything it lost. The lesson here is not to worry too much over the stock market’s initial reaction to things. Traders prefer to sell first and ask questions later. This actually works to the advantage of us who are in it for the long haul.

Also, Sherwin-Williams (SHW) raised their dividend by one whole penny! The quarterly dividend went from 84 to 85 cents per share. Obviously, that’s not a big increase but this is Sherwin’s 38th straight year of raising its dividend. That’s a streak I like. The stock is up 15.8% on the year for us.

That’s all for now. The stock market will be closed on Monday in honor of George Washington’s birthday. The NYSE is a bit old school on such matters. They make it clear that it’s Washington’s Birthday, not President’s Day. There’s not much in the way of economic news next week. The existing home-sales report is on Wednesday. Then in Friday, the new homes sales report comes out. Be sure to keep checking the blog for daily updates. I’ll have more market analysis for you in the next issue of CWS Market Review!

– Eddy

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Named by CNN/Money as the best buy-and-hold blogger, Eddy Elfenbein is the editor of Crossing Wall Street. His free Buy List has beaten the S&P 500 eight times in the last ten years. This email was sent by Eddy Elfenbein through Crossing Wall Street.
2223 Ontario Road NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA

#Trump’s bizarre press conference, #Samsung scandal, cat wine

Good morning, Quartz readers!

WHAT TO WATCH FOR TODAY AND OVER THE WEEKEND

Mike Pence talks to NATO. Amid growing uncertainty about the transatlantic alliance, the US vice president will talk about “how to deepen and strengthen” NATO at the Munich Security Conference. German chancellor Angela Merkel will give an address defending international cooperation.

Hollywood renegotiates its deal with China. For the first time in five years, US studios will have a chance to seek a higher percentage (paywall) of box office revenues. Hollywood is betting that China will soon surpass the United States.

SpaceX launches a Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday. The mission, taking off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, will carry a Dragon supply ship to the International Space Station. The launch is scheduled for about 10am EST, weather permitting.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING

Donald Trump held a bizarre press conference… In what might go down as the most unhinged public appearance ever by an American president, Trump vacillated between boastful belligerence and attempts to wheedle the press into being kinder to him. Among other things, he suggested that blowing up a Russian ship operating off the US coast (legally, it turns out) would help his ratings.

…And failed to lure a retired US Navy vice admiral to the role of national security adviser. Robert Harward was widely tipped for the post after Trump fired Michael Flynn on Monday. Harward cited family and financial commitments, but concerns that he wouldn’t have full say over the composition of his staff were reportedly also a factor.

South Korea issued an arrest warrant for Samsung’s boss. A Seoul court approved prosecutors’ requests to detain vice chairman and heir apparent Lee Jae-yong for his role in a presidential bribery scandal. Prosecutors, whose earlier warrant request was denied, will have 20 days to indict Lee (paywall).

Trump picked a new labor secretary nominee. Alexander Acosta, who would be the only Hispanic in the cabinet if confirmed, is a former assistant attorney general for civil rights. Previous nominee Andrew Puzder removed himself from consideration in the wake of domestic violence allegations. In 2011 Acosta stressed the importance of protecting the civil rights of Muslim Americans.

QUARTZ OBSESSION INTERLUDE

Alison Griswold on Facebook’s vast ambitions for job ads.“Facebook’s users include LinkedIn’s ‘thought leaders’ and white-collar professionals, but they’re also people seeking hourly positions, part-time work, and other opportunities that they’d probably find on sites like Monster, Indeed, or Craigslist long before LinkedIn.” Read more here.

QUARTZ MARKETS HAIKU

Confidence is high
Our household debt is higher
It’s all very weird.

MATTERS OF DEBATE

The chaos of the industrial revolution is about to return. The rise of automation and political uncertainty could send the global economy into chaos.

The myth of the alpha male is destroying relationships.Respect and self-esteem are eroded by unequal partnerships at work and home.

AI’s most important advantage over humans is confidence. By sparring with AlphaGo, researchers are learning how an algorithm thinks.

SURPRISING DISCOVERIES

NASA just awarded cash prizes in its “Space Poop Challenge.”The winner created a way for astronauts to change their diapers in a spacesuit.

The Bank of England is sticking with new banknotes made with of animal fat. A redesign to satisfy vegetarians was deemed too costly.

Wine for cats is making a splash. Nonalcoholic bottles with added catnip are the latest craze (paywall) in humanizing animals.

A pizza mogul covered the rent for a US civil rights icon. The recently departed Little Caesars boss paid for Rosa Parks’ Detroit apartment for 11 years.

Your face is probably more primitive than a Neanderthal’s.Modern humans have changed very little over the last half million years.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, space diapers, and fatty bank notes to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter for updates throughout the day or downloadour apps for iPhone and Android.