Reverse the Curse: Negative Retail ETF Gives Bullish Call on Retail

Have you heard about the Time Magazine Cover Curse? Speculation goes that appearing on the cover of Time Magazine is a precursor of doom.

I know this sounds silly, but there is some evidence to support this notion.  The appearance on the magazine cover has sometimes represented the peak of popularity of the person, company, or trend featured.

The notorious cover jinx proved clairvoyant in 1999 when Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos was appointed Man of the Year. In the following two years, a bear market demolished most internet stocks. At the peak in 1999, Amazon traded above $100 and within a year was under $20

Even ivy league professors put some faith in this odd magazine cover predictor. Princeton economist Paul Krugman once stated that for “whom the Gods would destroy would first put on the cover of Business Week.”

I think this might be happening with the introduction of a new ETF.

The introduction of ProShares Decline of the Retail Store ETF in late November might be just the bullish indicator retail stock investors are looking for.

This ETF, with the clever ticker EMTY (get it? Empty stores?), is an inverse ETF. This means that it rises when an index declines. This ETF tracks the performance of 56 traditional retail stocks. When and if the price of these stocks drops, this ETF will rise accordingly.

Just as appearing on the cover of Time might predict calamity, the introduction of a bearish retail ETF might predict a bullish turn for this group.

Since its November 16 open, the ETF is down 16%. It hit its high in the first ten minutes of trading.

ProShares describes the ETF as a perfect way to play the disruption in brick and mortar retail stores. The problems plaguing retail stores are not new. The spread of Amazon’s (NSDQ: AMZN) tentacles into every corner of consumer goods is well documented.

At least 30 major retailers filed for bankruptcy in the past three years. Hundreds of smaller chains found themselves in the same sinking boat.

As a contrarian, I see the tornado of bankruptcies as a positive sign for the retail group. With many of the more aggressive players in the retail space gone, those left standing do not need to be as aggressive with markdowns and sales.

Also, years of declining profits schooled retailers in the lesson of holding too much inventory. Many smart retailers entered this holiday season with much less inventory than usual. Less product in the stockroom allows them to be more frugal with discounts, allowing sales to deliver higher profits.

Many retailers are already reporting improved sales and profits and their stocks reflect that success. Kroger (NYSE: KR) is up 40% since its October low. Gap Inc. (NYSE: GPS) is up 55% due to improved sales and heavyweight Walmart (NYSE: WMT) is up 42% this year due to reliable sales growth.

In my Profit Catalyst Alert service, I’ve been tiptoeing into retail trades. In the past two weeks, subscribers booked gains of 40-50% for two recommendations. I think 2018 will be a prosperous year for retail stocks and will take the introduction of the EMTY ETF as a good omen.

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