Connecting the Dots

The Ticking Time Bomb of the Strong US Dollar

October 28, 2014

Get used to the headlines like the one below. You’re going to hear hundreds of US multinational companies blame their profit shortfalls on the strong dollar.

Revenue Miss #1: Lockheed Martin rose sharply after reporting better-than-expected quarterly profits. However, their $11.11 billion of sales for the quarter missed the $11.28 billion forecast and was a 2% year-over-year decline from Q3 2013.

Revenue Miss #2: eBay earned one penny more than expected, but its revenues of $4.35 billion missed expectations for $4.37 billion.

Revenue Miss #3: SanDisk reported better-than-expected profits, but its revenue of $1.75 billion was a little short of the $1.76 billion forecast. More importantly, SanDisk told Wall Street to lower its Q4 revenue expectation to between $1.8 billion to $1.85 billion, below estimates of $1.88 billion.

Revenue Miss #4: IBM, which I lambasted a couple weeks ago, delivered $22.4 billion of sales, a pathetic 3% year-over-year decline and below the $23.37 billion consensus forecast.

Revenue Miss #5: Wall Street liked a better-than-expected profit report from General Motors. GM beat profit expectation by two cents, but revenues did not fare as well; GM had $39.3 billion of quarterly revenues, but Wall Street analysts had forecasted sales of $39.5 billion.

Revenue Miss #6: Coca-Cola, the world’s largest beverage maker, said that net income for its Q3 ended September 26 was $2.1 billion, or 48 cents a share—down from $2.4 billion, or 54 cents a share, a year earlier.

Coca-Cola reported quarterly revenue of $12 billion, a flat performance from the previous quarter. Year to date, the company’s reported revenue is down 1.9% from 2013.

COKE also expects fluctuations in foreign currency exchange rates to have an unfavorable impact on its 2015 results.

Those currency losses are tucked away in the “Other Income (loss)” line of the income statement. The currency effect on operating income will equal 7% in the fourth quarter, and 6% for the full year.

COKE estimates that the strong dollar will reduce its profits by 6% over the next year!

And to make sure that COKE paints itself in the best possible light going forward, it will start using “profit before tax” rather than “operating income” as a primary metric to track profitability.

I could go on, but I think the above examples show there’s a lot of financial engineering going on behind the scenes to meet profit expectations. A serious underlying revenue slowdown is running through corporate America.

The common theme for all these revenue-challenged companies is a heavy dose of foreign sales. Those foreign sales are being negatively affected by a strong US dollar.

The US dollar has been on fire, but instead of helping corporate America, it hurts US multinational companies in two painful ways:

Top Line Pain: A strong dollar raises prices for foreign customers and those higher prices can negatively affect demand.

Bottom Line Pain: The value of overseas sales declines when translated back into US dollars.

The result is a double-whammy of profit pressure. How much of a whammy? Experts say a 1% move in the dollar can have a 2% impact on the earnings of the S&P 500 companies.

When I connect the dots, I see an explosion in the number of companies that will soon report worse-than-expected results, which they will blame on the strong dollar.

You’d be wise to take a close look at the stocks in your portfolio and jettison any that look vulnerable.

Better yet, if you have some speculative capital, there are big profits to be made by betting against—through short sales, inverse ETFs, and/or put options—those ticking time bombs.

Tony Sagami
Tony Sagami

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