Change. It comes with or without invitation, bringing with it winners and losers, triumphs and tragedies. The overwhelming trends that will kick off the new year are the return of unemployment to historical levels and the sudden, 50% drop in the price of oil. Over the past weeks, I’ve pointed out the positive side of all this, which mostly comes down to an empowered US consumer, and mentioned companies and industries that will benefit from this, of which, as you can imagine, there are a great many.
But no change is a positive for everyone, hence the incredibly choppy US stock market over the past week and the surge in volatility, as measured by the VIX. Investors know that cheap oil means good things for the stock market in the long term, but that isn’t enough to overcome the uncertainty that necessarily pulls money out of stocks as powerful institutional traders hedge and cover.
Expect a powerful January effect this year as money flows back into the market, but when the euphoria dies down, a number of very powerful US companies may find themselves dying down with it. Treat the following ideas as just that, and do your own research before making any move on the stock market.
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These six Stocks will fail in 2015
Kelly Services (KELYA)
There’s a decreasing amount of money to match the jobs; no one wants to work with the employees; no one wants to hire. I know I’m going to get grief for suggesting this, but is it any wonder that so many Americans have jobs that are beneath their potential when the largest job placement organizations take such a cookie-cutter approach to finding jobs? Kelly and other job services companies seem to excel at matching lowest-level job expectations with explicitly trained skills and experience only. These organizations have proven incompetent at matching creative potential with unrealized needs and incapable of matching vision with vision.
Upward job mobility will be a key trend in 2014, and if Kelly Services could help in that effort, it would have done so already. Instead, the company has been in decline since mid-2013. Expect employers and employees alike to continue to abandon this sinking ship. Even LinkdIn (LNKD), which I am not bullish on, is a better service for person-to-person employment needs.
A shortage of french-fries in Japan has focused attention once again on the general undesirability of this company’s fat-and salt-rich, factory made, pre-fried, flash-frozen approximations of food products. Bill Ackman has also recently weighed in, suggesting that the company could be run better. One may assume that a run to take over the company by Pershing Square Capital may be in the works, but I would caution against doing so based on the fundamentals.
McDonalds has recently become a company in both earnings and revenue decline, yet MCD stock has lost only about 10% of its value, and the company maintains a trailing P/E Ratio of 18. That’s not bad for a mature company with slow growth, but the valuation ignores the very real trend of American consumers deserting the chain for other options. Those options include Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), a company in which McDonalds once held a sizeable stake that has since been foolishly sold. Chipotle has done its share of the damage, but there are a growing number of other fast-casual chains waiting to pounce as well.
This one should be clear to any growth investor. When did anyone ever get rich betting on the waning tide?
Pepsico is in trouble for most of the same reasons as McDonalds, although with revenue growth of 1%, it has not quite tipped into actual decline – yet. Here’s why it is about to do so: 7% of PepsiCo’s revenue comes from Russia, and with Russia in active, virulent implosion, that ain’t good. The last time this happened, back in 1989, Gorbachev chose to allow the Soviet Union to peacefully cease to exist. Whether Putin intends war or peace is not yet known, but he undoubtedly becomes more and more dangerous as he has less and less to lose. It now looks frightfully unfortunate that PepsiCo jumped on this sinking boat intentionally, back in 2010, by buying Wimm-Bill-Dann Foods, a Russian dairy and juice distributer, for $5 billion.
Pepsico has a price-to-earnings ratio of 21, which is not the P/E of a rising tech company, but at least suggests that PepsiCo is a sure winner, which it surely is not.
This one gets my vote for silliest late-year surge. One good earnings report (which actually wasn’t as good as the company’s year-ago report) isn’t worth much against macro-economic trends, and the undeniable, overwhelming macro-economic trend is the empowering of the American consumer. That empowerment comes from the upward job mobility mentioned above, and, of course, from cheaper oil and the resultant fall of food prices. As in era’s past, the empowered American consumer will place less value on deep, deep discounts and more value on full, full service.
Examine Walmart’s strategies over any period of time, and you’ll see a company woefully unprepared for such a shift. This company only has one trick, lowering prices, so when it begins to lose customers to chains offering better service, how do you think it will respond? That’s right, by lowering its prices, even if it has to cut back on services to do so. Walmart is going to get itself into trouble this year, and where will it turn for friends when it does so? The company hasn’t exactly built up a great store of good-will.
At $275 billion, Walmart may be worth as much or more today as it ever will be again.
Anadarko Petroleum (APC)
There’s no way to avoid the conclusion that a 50% drop in oil prices will be bad, if not disastrous, for oil producers. Anadarko is America’s largest independent driller. As with most fracking companies, it was initially weighted heavily towards natural gas but has, over the last few years, moved increasingly into oil as well.
How badly will a 50% fall in oil prices hurt? Well, given the company’s current trailing twelve-month operating margin of 23%, it seems reasonable to conclude that if it continues operating, it will do so at a loss. Now trading at $80, APC stock has fallen 30% since the beginning of oil’s price decline, but that means it has fallen considerably less than the stock in other American drillers, such as Chesapeake Energy (CHK), which has already fallen from $29 to $19.
If you aren’t convinced fracking is going to suffer severely from the fall in oil prices, check out the recent performance of US Silica Holdings (SLCA). US Silica is the perfect canary in the coal mine because it supplies fracking companies with silica sand that is essential to the process. Since oil’s midsummer peak, SLCA has fallen from $71.91 to $26.64. Whether Anadarko’s fall will prove similarly dramatic, I can’t say, but I’m convinced it isn’t over yet.