Retail Survivors Have Explosive Upside

January 8, 4:00 pm EST

Heading into the end of last year, we talked about the regulatory scrutiny starting to emerge toward the big tech giants (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google… Tesla, Uber, Airbnb…) – and the risk that the very hot run they’ve had “could be coming to an end.”

These companies have benefited from a formula of favor from the Obama administration, which included regulatory advantages and outright government funding (in the case of Tesla). That created a “winner takes all” environment where this group of startups and loss-laden ventures, some with questionable business models, were able to amass war chests of capital, sidestep enduring laws, and operate without the constraints of liabilities (including taxes, in some cases) that burdened its competitors.

With the screws now beginning to tighten, under a new administration, and with the tailwinds of economic stimulus heading into the new year, I thought 2018 may be the year of the bounce back in the industries that have been crushed by the internet giants.

Among the worst hit, and left for dead industry, has been retail.

Last year, retail stocks looked a lot like energy did in the middle of 2016. If you were an energy company and survived the crash in oil prices to see it double off of the bottom, you were looking at a massive rebound. Some of those stocks have gone up three-fold, five-fold, even ten-fold in the past 18 months.

Similarly, if you’re a big-brand bricks and mortar retailer, and you’ve survived the collapse in global demand–and a decade long stagnation in the global economy–to see prospects of a 4% growth economy on the horizon, there’s a clear asymmetry in the upside versus the downside in these stocks. These are stocks that can have magnificent comebacks.

Remember, back in November we talked about the comeback underway in Wal-Mart and the steps it has made to challenge Amazon (you can see that again, here). In support of that thesis, the earnings numbers that came in for retail for the third quarter were strong. And now we’re getting a glimpse of what the fourth quarter will look like, as several retailers this morning reported strong holiday sales, and upped guidance on the fourth quarter.

Just flipping through a number of charts on retail stocks, the bottom appears to be in on retail – with many bottoming out in the September-November period last year. Since then, to name a few, Ralph Lauren is up 26%, Michael Kors is up 36%, Under Armour is up 42% and Footlocker is up 64%. The survivors have been comebacks as they’ve weathered the storm and now are blending their physical presence with an online presence.

By the time you get a ETF designed to bet against the survival of bricks and mortar retail, the bottom is probably in. That ETF, the Decline Of The Retail Store (EMTY), launched on November 17 and has gone straight down since.

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