Transitioning from Transitory to Tactical
In our commentary from the week of June 21, 2021, we offered the following thoughts concerning Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s description of inflation as being “transitory”:
Poor Jerome Powell probably listens to the opening of Eric Clapton’s song “Pretending” every morning and wonders “how many times must we tell the tale”, and then “how many times do we have to fall” after the market stumbles whenever the Fed tries to come clean about the need to normalize monetary policy.
Apparently telling the tale for almost 6 months was long enough, as the Chairman told Congress on Tuesday that it’s “probably a good time to retire that word.” The market responded with a steep sell-off, adding to the losses absorbed on Black Friday, as it seems clear that the Fed is now considering a faster tapering to its asset purchase program, shifting gears to tighter monetary policy.
The next morning the market rallied, with investors viewing the recent declines as a buying opportunity, but a report of an Omicron variant case in California pushed stocks down sharply into Wednesday’s close. For almost two years COVID-19 news has been the primary driver of the markets, during which time there has been tremendous uncertainty and differences of opinion concerning the likely future path of the virus. The current optimistic view, that we embrace, is that Omicron could be the highly transmissible yet milder variant that crowds out the more severe variants.
The November Jobs report on Friday added to the confusion, as the headline number of a 210,000 gain in nonfarm payrolls fell way short of the consensus estimate of 573,000. The unemployment rate, on the other hand, fell to 4.2% from 4.6% and the labor force participation rate increased, suggesting a tightening labor market. The market rallied in the morning, perhaps based on the theory that the soft headline number would put pressure on the Fed to reconsider its plans to tighten money supply, but a selling wave in the afternoon left the S&P 500 down 1.22%, the Nasdaq down 2.62%, and the Russell 2000 down 3.86% as small caps continued to perform the worst. We think there are some terrific bargains in small caps after the recent 10% decline in the Russell, as many babies are getting thrown out with the bathwater. The Volatility Index, which is also viewed as the “Fear Index,” surged 26.8%, although still is at a much lower level than at the beginning of the year.
The yield on the Ten-Year Treasury dropped almost 20 basis points to 1.34%, representing one of the steepest weekly drops in the past few years. Both the Dollar and Gold held firm, while Oil continued its recent slide. Taken in its entirety, these markets seem to be suggesting an upcoming economic slowdown.
Omicron developments will likely continue to create volatility in the markets, as scientists track its spread, severity, and resilience to the existing vaccines.
Friday will be an active day for economic data, with both inflation and consumer confidence reports scheduled for release. The consensus is for a hot 6.7% year-over-year jump in the Consumer Price Index, and a cold 66 reading for the Consumer Sentiment Index.
Stocks on the Move
+16.6% Build-A-Bear Workshop Inc (BBW) is an interactive and entertainment mall-based retailer that invites guests of all ages to create their own customized stuffed animals with clothing, shoes, and accessories through a bear-making process. Last week, Build-A-Bear crushed earnings estimates with Q3 results of $0.38/share and revenue of $95.13M (+27.3% Y/Y). This represented the third straight quarter of record-setting profit as consolidated e-commerce demand increased and many third-party retail stores have reopened. The Company also raised its FY2021 guidance and declared a special dividend of $1.25/share.
BBW is a 3.2% position in the North Star Micro Cap Fund.
-12.4% Sharps Compliance Corp (SMED) operates as a provider of waste management services. The Company offers containment, transportation, treatment, and tracking of medical waste, and the disposal of unused medications as well as other used health care materials. There was no significant company news last week.
SMED is a 0.3% position in the North Star Micro Cap Fund.
-16.0% Blue Bird Corporation (BLBD) designs and manufactures school buses and commercial buses for school districts, large national fleets, businesses, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. There was no significant company news last week.
BLBD is a 1.8% position in the North Star Micro Cap Fund and a 0.9% position in the North Star Opportunity Fund.
-15.6% Sono Group N.V. (SEV) manufactures and sells electric cars with integrated solar cells and panels. In addition, the Company monetizes its variable battery technology for integration in numerous types of vehicles, including buses, trucks, camper vans, trains, and boats, as it aims to reduce carbon emissions and provide clean and affordable transportation for the masses. There was no significant company news last week.
SEV is a 1.1% position in the North Star Opportunity Fund.
-10.7% Turtle Beach Corporation (HEAR) operates as a sound technology company. The Company designs and markets audio peripherals for video game consoles, personal computers, and mobile devices. There was no significant company news last week.
HEAR is a 4.3% position in the North Star Micro Cap Fund and a 2.0% position in the North Star Opportunity Fund.
-18.0% Escalade Inc (ESCA) manufactures and sells specialty sporting goods. The Company is the world’s largest producer of tables for table tennis under the Ping-Pong and STIGA brands; its other products include hockey and soccer tables, play systems, archery, darts, soccer nets, and fitness equipment. There was no significant company news last week.
ESCA is a 3.1% position in the North Star Micro Cap Fund and a 3.2% position in the North Star Dividend Fund.
-18.2% 1-800-Flowers.Com Inc (FLWS) is an e-commerce provider of floral products and gifts. The Company’s product offerings include fresh-cut and seasonal flowers, plants, floral arrangements, home and garden merchandise, and gift baskets. There was no significant company news last week.
FLWS is a 2.6% position in the North Star Micro Cap Fund.
-12.3% ARC Document Solutions Inc (ARC) provides large format document reproduction and printing services, mainly to architectural, engineering, building operator, and construction firms. There was no significant company news last week.
ARC is a 1.3% position in the North Star Micro Cap Fund.
-11.4% AstroNova Inc (ALOT) designs, develops, manufactures, and distributes a broad range of specialty printers and data acquisition and analysis systems, including both hardware and software. Its target markets are apparel, automotive, avionics, chemicals, computer peripherals, and communications. There was no significant company news last week.
ALOT is a 1.1% position in the North Star Micro Cap Fund.