Monthly Archives: January 2015

Barracuda: Zacks’ Bear of the Day Play

Earnings estimates have fallen for Barracuda Networks (CUDASnapshot Report) following its fiscal 2015 third quarter results on January 8. The declines in consensus estimates for both this year and next have been significant enough to send the stock to a Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sell).

While shares of Barracuda have pulled back since the report, it doesn’t exactly look like a value here at more than 300x forward earnings.

Barracuda Networks, Inc. provides storage and security solutions. Its products address security threats, enhance network performance, and protect and store data. The company is headquartered in Campbell, California and was founded in 2003. It has a market cap of $1.8 billion.

Third Quarter Results

Barracuda Networks reported its fiscal 2015 Q3 results on January 8. Adjusted earnings per share (but including stock-based compensation expense) came in at a loss of 3 cents, missing the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 2 cents. Excluding stock option expense, the company beat earnings expectations.

Revenue was in-line with consensus at $70.4 million and up 19% year-over-year. Total active subscribers grew 19% to over 234,900. Subscription revenue, which accounted for 71% of total revenue in the quarter, increased 21%.

Barracuda spent nearly 22% of revenue on research and development. Meanwhile, operating cash flow increased 15% year-over-year to $12.2 million.

Estimates Falling

Following the Q3 report, analysts lowered their earnings estimates for both fiscal 2015 and 2016 (again, this includes stock-based compensation expense). This sent the stock to a Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sell).

The 2015 Zacks Consensus Estimate is now $0.06, down from $0.12 before the Q3 report. The 2016 consensus declined from $0.22 to $0.12 over the same period.

Lofty Valuation

Shares of Barracuda are down about 13% since the Q3 report, but it doesn’t look like a value here. The stock trades at a rich 308x 12-month forward earnings. And its enterprise value to cash flow ratio is a lofty 135x.

The Bottom Line

With negative earnings momentum and lofty valuation, investors should consider looking elsewhere for now.

Todd Bunton, CFA is a Stock Strategist for Zacks Investment Research and Editor of the Income Plus Investor and Surprise Trader services.

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Alaska Air: Zacks’ Bull of the Day Play

Alaska Air Group (ALKSnapshot Report) recently delivered strong fourth quarter results thanks to solid traffic and lower fuel costs. Analysts continued to raise their estimates for Alaska Air following the report, sending the stock to a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

While shares of ALK have soared the last few months, the valuation picture still looks reasonable, leaving plenty of upside potential left in the stock.

Alaska Air Group owns Alaska Airlines, which, together with its partner regional airlines, serves more than 100 cities through North America.

Fourth Quarter Results

Alaska Air delivered solid fourth quarter results on January 22. Adjusted EPS soared 71% year-over-year to $0.94, beating the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $0.91. Like many other airlines, Alaska benefited from lower oil prices. Economic fuel cost per gallon fell 18% year-over-year to $2.64, and total operating expenses declined slightly.

Total operating revenue was more-or-less in-line with consensus at $1.306 billion. It was an 8% increase from the same quarter last year. Revenue passenger miles (traffic) climbed 9.5%, but available seat miles (capacity) increased at a 10.6% clip. This led to a one percentage point decline in the load factor to 83.4%.

Alaska Air generated over $1.0 billion in operating cash flow and $344 million in free cash flows in 2014, which allowed the company to buy back 7.3 million shares of stock for $348 million. Alaska Air also announced a whopping 60% increase in its quarterly dividend to $0.20 per share. It currently yields 1.1%.

Estimates Rising

Following strong Q4 results, analysts revised their estimates significantly higher for both 2015 and 2016. This sent the stock to a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

You can see the nice upward trajectory in estimates in the company’s “Price, Consensus & EPS Surprise” chart:

This strong earnings momentum isn’t exclusive to Alaska Air. In fact, the ‘Transportation – Airline’ industry boasts 12 Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) stocks and ranks as the top industry out of 265 that Zacks ranks based on earnings momentum.

Valuation

Along with rising estimates has come a rising stock price. Shares of ALK have gained an eye-popping 74% since mid-October. But the valuation picture still looks reasonable. Shares trade at less than 12x 12-month forward earnings. And its enterprise value to operating cash flow ratio is a respectable 8x.

The Bottom Line

With earnings estimates continuing to rise and valuation still reasonable, shares of Alaska Air could continue to soar.

Todd Bunton, CFA is a Stock Strategist for Zacks Investment Research and Editor of the Income Plus Investor and Surprise Trader services.

Freeport McMoran; Zacks’ Bear of the Day Play

Snakebit: adjective \-,bit\ – having bad luck: very unlucky

You can add another definition to the word snakebit here, and it’s not the phrase “Bear of the Day” which this snakebit stock is. No, you only need to add the company name, Freeport McMoran Copper & Gold (FCX). As if it wasn’t bad enough to be a gold miner over the course of the last couple of years, FCX tried, in vain, to hedge its metals exposure by getting into another very popular commodity. Unfortunately for FCX when it chose to diversify away from gold and copper into oil, it did so when Brent was at $109 and West Texas was at $86. In case you haven’t been paying much attention as of late, oil is trading in the $40s.

Surprising to some may be the fact that gold has been staging a bit of a rally in the face of all this. While the US dollar continues to flex its muscle and bring the commodities space to its knees, the base metal has begun to creep up slowly. But the increase in gold’s price has yet to be reflected in analysts’ opinions of Freeport.

Quite the opposite actually as over the last 60 days, ten analysts have dropped their estimates for the current year while only a single analyst has pushed higher. The activity has helped to suppress consensus estimates down to $1.85 from the lofty expectations for $2.65. The story next year looks very similar as well. Six analysts have brought estimates down, helping consensus dip down to $3.78 from expectations of $5.08 just 90 days ago. The recent quarterly miss isn’t doing much to bolster the stock either. FCX came in 25 cents per share for the quarter ending 12/2014, 10 cents shy of the Zacks Consensus at 35 cents.

As you can imagine, traders haven’t been nice to FCX. After reaching a 52-week high of $39.32 in July 2014 FCX ran out of buying momentum. After stochastic switched from overbought ahead of the high, there was a bearish cross then a subsequent drop below the 25 day moving average shifted by 5 days (25×5). Since that first dip below, FCX has only managed to pop above the 25×5 on November 21st, but couldn’t manage to stay above it for more than a few days. Now you’ve got an extremely oversold FCX that’s dragging its knuckles down at $17.42, off 63% from the highs just a few months ago.

Investors looking to gain more exposure to the metals and mining industry should take a closer look at Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) stocks Alcoa (AAAnalyst Report) and Thompson Creek (TCSnapshot Report).

Electronic Arts: Zacks’ Bull of the Day Play

I was in the game a long time ago. Like years ago, on this one. Since I first picked up a Genesis controller and played the original NHL Hockey I was a big fan of today’s Bull of the Day, Electronic Arts (EAAnalyst Report). I even had it as one of my stock picks in Momentum Trader. Unfortunately one of my mandates in the service is I avoid the risk of earnings reports. Good news for anyone holding through earnings is that Electronic Arts killed it.

For the quarter, revenue came in at $1.428 billion, well above guidance for $1.275 billion. Further, EPS came in at $1.22 whereas EA’s guidance for the quarter was 90 cents. This bullish quarter was enough to change EA’s full year guidance from a previously expected $4.175 billion to $4.253 billion and EPS up from $2.05 to $2.35 per share.

This really was the quarter where the next generation consoles made their way into people’s homes. Shortly after the initial launches of the Xbox One and Playstation 4, the consoles didn’t catch on like their manufacturers had expected. There wasn’t enough of a catalyst for gamers to transition from the previous generation of consoles. But as prices came down on both units and gaming graphics caught up, more and more gamers made the jump.

When you migrate to a new console you need to go back and buy new games. This migration helped spur demand for EA’s famous franchise titles such as FIFA, NHL, Madden NFL and Battlefield. Being the closet turbo-nerd that I am, I can tell you that some of these new titles are nothing short of epic. The game play is amazing and the graphics are spectacular. Of course, I’m a PC gamer myself so I’ve been buying EA games all along. I may even start up Titanfall once I finish up this article.

Electronic Arts has been a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) for several weeks now and sits atop the Toys/Game/Hobby industry that ranks in the Top 24% of our Zacks Industry Rank. A big part of the reason for the bullish stamp of approval from us is the recent earnings estimate revisions to the upside ahead of the earnings report we just saw. Two analysts raised their estimates for next year, pushing consensus up from $1.93 to $1.97. This year’s revisions were just as bullish with one analyst raising estimates and moving the Zacks Consensus up to $1.70. You can bet that with EA’s guidance coming in much higher for the current year that analysts are likely to revise to the upside ahead of Q4’s report in May.

Yesterday the reaction to the news was decidedly bullish with the stock up over 10% on the session. This really was just a continuation from a bullish pattern we’ve seen since the gap up following the Q2 numbers when the stock jumped to $39. Since then the stock has been locked in an uptrend along its 25 day moving average shifted by 5 days (25X5). The breakout above $50 on good volume during a down day in the market gives this stock a ton of relative strength and some strong technicals.

Schlumberger : Zacks’ Bear of the Day Play

Despite a better-than-expected earnings report, Schlumberger Corporation (SLBAnalyst Report) announced job cuts and is still seeing falling earnings estimates for 2015 and 2016 due to the oil price plunge. This Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sell) is expected to see earnings contract in 2015.

Schlumberger is one of the largest energy project management companies in the world, working in 85 countries.

A Beat in Q4 But…

On Jan 15, Schlumberger reported its fourth quarter results and surprised by beating the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 3 cents. Earnings were $1.50 versus the consensus of $1.47.

Full year revenue jumped 7% to $48.6 billion. North America was strong as revenue rose 16% while International Area growth was just 4%.

It has exposure to every geopolitical event globally as well as the fall in oil prices. But the company considers its business to be diverse enough to withstand shocks in some areas, including the international sanctions in Russia and unrest in Libya and Iraq.

A a sign of strength, it raised its dividend 25% as of Apr 10, 2015 but it also said it was taking a $296 million charge for 9,000 job cuts due to the changes in oil prices.

Looking for Opportunities

Despite oil weakness, Schlumberger is thinking longer term and looking for opportunities.

On Jan 20, it announced it was acquiring a 45% stake in Russia’s Eurasia Drilling Co. Ltd. for $1.7 billion. Eurasia, which is currently trading on the London exchange, has seen its shares plunge 71% as oil has declined and the economic sanctions against Russia have tightened.

Schlumberger is paying a premium over the recent publicly traded price, at $22 a share, but this is still far below what shares were previously.

Eurasia is Russia’s largest provider of drilling services.

Estimate Cuts Lead to Zacks #5 (Strong Sell) Rank

Despite Schlumberger’s stronger-than-expected quarter, analysts are still gloomy about 2015.

The reality is that oil prices ARE down significantly and it’s going to impact earnings.

13 estimates have been cut for 2015 in just the last week pushing the 2015 Zacks Consensus down to $4.25 from $6.39 just 90 days ago.

That’s earnings contraction of 23% compared to 2014 when the company made $5.57 a share.

Because of the agreement among the analysts on the earnings cuts, the Zacks Rank has fallen to a #5 (Strong Sell).

Have Shares Hit a Bottom?

Shares peaked with oil prices in July of last year and have been falling ever since.

The earnings report seemed to set a floor. It has also helped that oil prices have, at least temporarily, found support around $45 a barrel.

But 2015 looks to be rough for the oil and gas industry. There’s no telling what will happen next which makes investing in this sector very risky.

Schlumberger is trading with a forward P/E of 19.7 which isn’t exactly cheap for a company that has seen its share price already plunge.

If you MUST buy a stock in this sector, you should consider Transocean Partners (RIGPSnapshot Report), an offshore drilling rig company. It’s one of the few Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) stocks in the industry.

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Tracey Ryniec is the Value Stock Strategist for Zacks.com. She is also the Editor of the Insider Trader and Value Investor services. You can follow her on twitter at @TraceyRyniec.

Wabash National: Zacks’ Bull of the Day Play

Wabash National Corporation (WNCSnapshot Report) recently raised its 2014 full year guidance as business remained strong. This Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) is expected to grow earnings by the double digits in both 2014 and 2015.

Wabash National, headquartered in Indiana, makes semi trailers and liquid transportation systems, including dry freight vans, refrigerated vans, platform trailers, liquid tank trailers, intermodal equipment and engineered products.

Raised Full Year Guidance

On Jan 14, ahead of its earnings announcement on Feb 3, Wabash National announced it was raising its full year guidance.

Its previous guidance for new trailers was 54,500 to 56,000 for the year. But due to stronger than anticipated customer pick-ups in all areas of the business, full year new trailer shipments exceeded 57,300.

Net sales jumped 14% to $1.86 billion.

Wabash anticipated earnings to be in the range of $0.83 to $0.85. The Zacks Consensus has been looking for $0.79.

As a result of the guidance, analysts moved to raise full year estimates. 6 were up since January 14 which pushed the Zacks Consensus up to $0.86, or 1 penny above the guidance range.

That is earnings growth of 22.1%.

The analysts are also bullish about 2015 before the earnings results and confence call. 5 estimates have been raised for 2015 since January 14.

Analysts expect another record year with earnings growing 16.1%.

Shares Moving Higher in 2015

This is a company that just goes about its business in America’s heartland without any glory. Yet its fundamentals are very solid, including a strong backlog.

Shares have been trending higher in 2015 but are still under the highs of 2014.

Still, it trades with an attractive valuation as its forward P/E is just 12.8. That is well under the average of the S&P 500 of 17.1.

Wabash also has a price-to-sales ratio of just 0.5. A P/S ratio under 1.0 usually indicates a company is undervalued.

And with its earnings growth but low P/E, it also has a PEG ratio of 0.6. It’s rare to find both value and growth in the same company. That’s a powerful combination.

If you’re looking for value and growth plus a bullish 2015 outlook, Wabash National is one to keep on your short list.

Want More of Our Best Recommendations?

Zacks’ Executive VP, Steve Reitmeister, knows when key trades are about to be triggered and which of our experts has the hottest hand. Then each week he hand-selects the most compelling trades and serves them up to you in a new program called Zacks Confidential.

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Tracey Ryniec is the Value Stock Strategist for Zacks.com. She is also the Editor of the Insider Trader and Value Investor services. You can follow her on twitter at @TraceyRyniec.

Regions Financial: Zacks’ Bear of the Day Play

Based in Birmingham, AL, Regions Financial Corporation (RFAnalyst Report) is a financial holding company that provides retail and commercial banking, trust, securities brokerage, mortgage and insurance products and services.

The bank missed its fourth quarter earnings estimates recently and negative earnings momentum sent the stock to Zacks Rank # 5 (Strong Sell).

Fourth Quarter Earnings Miss

The bank reported its Q4 2014 results on January 20. Earnings from continuing operations came in at $0.14 per share, missing the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 7 cents.

Lower revenues and higher non-interest expenses contributed to the miss. Lack of improvement in the mortgage market remained a concern for the bank. Growth in loans and deposits were the positives for the quarter. Income from continuing operations available to common shareholders was $198 million in the quarter, down from $233 million reported in the year ago quarter.

Non-interest income was down to $448 million during the quarter from $526 million in fourth quarter of 2013 due to lower mortgage and capital markets income. However, credit metrics recorded a significant improvement during the quarter with non-performing assets as a percentage of loans, declining to 1.28% from 1.74% in the prior-year quarter.

Provision for loan losses was $8 million, down 89.9% year over year. The bank’s energy related exposure was 4.3% of total loans at the end of the quarter. If oil prices stay low, this portfolio may result in losses and require more provisioning.

Downward Revisions

Analysts have been cutting their estimates for the company after disappointing guidance. Zacks Consensus Estimates for the current and the next year are now $0.81 per share and $0.89 per share respectively, down from $0.86 per share and 0.94 per share, 30 days ago. Declining estimates sent the stock back to Zacks Rank # 5.

The Bottom Line

Continued low interest rate environment and flattening of yield curve is posing challenges for US banks. Further mortgage income has also declined for this bank. Investors looking for a better option among banks in the Southeast region could consider Customer Bancorp, which currently enjoys a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

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Interactive Brokers: Zacks’ Bull of the Day Play

Higher market volatility seen this year bodes well for investment brokers’ market making business.  Further Interactive Brokers has been witnessing strong growth in its brokerage business with its better-than-peer positioning and adoption of latest technology.

Headquartered in Greenwich, CT, Interactive Brokers Group Inc. (IBKR) is currently the largest electronic broker in the U.S., as measured by revenue trades. They provide electronic access to stocks, options, futures, forex, bonds, funds, ETFs and CFDs from a single IB Universal Account.

They started as a market maker in 1977 and launched their brokerage business in 1993. Currently brokerage accounts for about 97% of the group’s revenue. With a highly automated business model, they are able to provide access to more than 100 markets in 24 countries and generate about $1.2 million in revenue per employee. Their commissions and financing rates are among the lowest in the group of major brokers.

Excellent Fourth Quarter Earnings

The company reported its fourth quarter results on January 20. Overall operating metrics showed improvement across all major product types versus the previous year quarter. Average overall daily trade volume was 1.25 million trades per day, up 22% from the fourth quarter of 2013.

Electronic brokerage recorded solid increases in the number of customer accounts and customer equity. Total and cleared customer daily average revenue trades were both up from the year ago quarter and sequentially.

Adjusted earnings per share of $0.12 per share were much ahead of the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $0.05 per share, thanks to lower expenses. The results, which were 71% higher than the year-ago quarter, benefited from a substantial decline in operating expenses, partially offset by lower revenues.

The management believes that they will be able to attract more accounts in the aftermath of Swiss National Bank’s action as customers realize the importance of being with a well-capitalized broker. Their customers’ suffered losses (in excess of deposits) were about $120 million, or 2.3% of their total equity capital.

Positive Earnings Estimates Revisions  

After excellent results, analysts have raised their estimates for the company. Zacks Consensus Estimates for the current and next year are now $1.22 and $1.38 per share, up from $1.18 and $1.35 per share respectively, 60 days ago.

Rising estimates sent the stock back to Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) after the results.

Solid Industry Rank

Zacks industry rank for “Investment Brokers” is currently 40 out of 265 (top 15%).

The Bottom Line

With its strong e-brokerage, diversified revenue base and strong technology adoption, Interactive Brokers is well positioned for solid growth in the future. Further top Zacks Industry Rank also indicates strong chances of outperformance in the short- to- medium term.

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EOG Resources: Zacks’ Bear of the Day Play

While the bear market in crude oil has cut many Exploration & Production (E&P) stocks in half or more, one independent (non-integrated) name has been expected to hold up better than most: EOG Resources (EOGAnalyst Report).

Losing less than 30% since its June highs near $119, EOG shares have found good support in December and January near $83. But as strong as some investors and analysts might view the operational and financial strength of the energy company that was once a part of the infamous Enron, the fact remains that earnings estimates have been slashed recently.

Full year 2015 consensus EPS projections have fallen from $5.42 to $2.28 in the past 90 days, representing negative growth of -56% for this calendar year.

But They’re Hedged… Kinda

EOG no doubt has a great management team who has executed well these past few years during the fracking boom. They are even set to reap an energy hedging gain of $750 million for Q4 based on their crude and natural gas derivatives positions.

The trouble is, that feat won’t be very repeatable this year with the crude oil futures curve living down in the $40s, or possibly lower. That’s why estimates were cut so drastically as energy analysts have to model cash flow and earnings based on a reasonable assumption about commodity price ranges.

And that’s why EOG has dropped to a Zacks #5 Rank Strong Sell this month. It has nothing to do with their balance sheet or the fact they have over 2 billion barrels of proven reserves in key regions like the Eagle Ford, Bakken, and Permian basins, or even that they might have the lowest production costs of any other “frackers.”

The Zacks Rank doesn’t discriminate over any other factors. It simply crunches the analyst earnings estimate revisions (EER) and then throws over 4,000 companies into what I call a “bell curve cage match” to see who comes out on top — or bottom in this case.

EOG might be a great oil & gas company and a good investment. But right now, the Zacks Rank says “watch out.” Until the estimates stop going down and start turning back up, that’s good advice.

Kevin Cook is a Senior Stock Strategist for Zacks where he runs the Follow The Money Trader.

Apple: Zacks’ Bull of the Day Play

Apple (AAPLAnalyst Report) reports Tuesday after the market close and analysts have been busy this month revamping their iPhone sales projections and consequently raising their EPS estimates for the quarter. And that’s why it became a Zacks #1 Rank Strong Buy again last week.

Morgan Stanley technology analyst Katy Huberty issued a report last week in which she bumped her iPhone sales estimate for the holiday quarter from 62 million units to between 67 and 69 million.

As if those record-breaking sales weren’t enough, the average selling price (ASP) of the world’s most popular smartphone is expected to rise 5% to $667. This performance in a world of shrinking handset margins is due to two trends the analyst expects to continue this year: higher demand for the higher-priced iPhone 6 Plus and more customers picking devices with larger storage capacity.

Of course, Apple relies on more than iPhones for its massive revenues which are expected to bust through the $200 billion mark this year. From AppleInsider.com…

Some 5.8 million Macs are thought to have been sold in the just-completed quarter, which would mark a new record high for the recently-resurgent computer lineup. Folding in a predicted 22 million iPad sales on top of older product lines, such as the iPod, would bring revenue to nearly $69 billion on 38.7 percent gross margin for the firm.

Here Comes the Watch

UBS analysts meanwhile issued the results from a survey they conducted that showed that a large percentage of current Apple customers were likely to purchase the Apple Watch, which is set to be released this quarter. The firm reiterated its buy rating and $125 price target for AAPL shares.

According to AppleInsider.com, Huberty believes the “iWatch” is coming soon. She argues that Wall Street remains “too pessimistic” about the Apple Watch’s potential, and forecasts shipments of 3 million units adding $1.4 billion in revenue for the March quarter.

The Must-Have Ecosystem

Oppenheimer analysts recently raised their Q1 FY15 (first quarter calendar 2015) EPS estimate from $1.99 to $2.16 and their full-year revenue projection from $220.9 billion to $226.7 billion, at the high end of the Street range. They also reaffirmed their $130 price target. Here were two interesting summary notes in their January 20 report…

CES Impression: Our trip to CES 2015 confirmed our view that Apple Watch is unlikely to have competition from other wearable and smartwatch makers. We believe its combination of creative user interface and hardware design will pose multiple-year leadership over competition, in similar ways to the iPhone.

Spring Launches: We expect AAPL to release Apple Watch and an updated iPad of differentiated display size by March. We believe the enhanced product portfolio will effectively leverage Apple’s overwhelming ecosystem advantage and help the company to address a wider consumer and enterprise audience.

China Calling

Cantor Fitzgerald analysts, who have a $143 price target on AAPL, put out a note last week about the upgrade to 3G and 4G phones based on subscriber statistics for all three China-based carriers for the month of December. Total 3G/4G subs in the country grew by 45% in 2014. Here’s what they concluded…

As part of the 4G expansion, we believe Apple is well positioned to benefit from this shift with larger iPhones (i.e., iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus), and we expect China to be a more important part of the Apple story in 2015. We continue to believe that Apple represents one of the more attractive stories in large-cap tech, trading at just 11x (ex-cash) our CY:15 EPS projection.

This fits with the quarterly report from Skyworks Solutions (SWKSAnalyst Report) last week whose business is strong in multiple areas involving mobile communication and wireless connectivity. Their ability to serve competing customers like Apple and Samsung in China and meet the high demand for more radio frequencies and more complex technology solutions is expected to keep growing for several years.

While some analysts would like to “call the top” in iPhone sales, the must-have ecosystem might keep breaking sales records even after the stellar report we get this week.

Disclosure: I own AAPL and SWKS shares for the Zacks FTM Trader.

Kevin Cook is a Senior Stock Strategist for Zacks where he runs the Follow The Money Trader.