Is Justin Bieber Set to Become Silicon Valley’s Newest Titan?; Microsoft Has “Taxing” Scuffle With Chinese; Not Thankful for Jobless Claims Number

Smile and say Bieber!

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like Twitter is going shopping this holiday season. It also looks like Twitter CFO Anthony Noto could use a comprehensive tutorial on how his company’s platform works. The social media exec publicly tweeted about a potential acquisition, which judging by the context, was actually meant as a private message. Of course, the internet universe went into overdrive speculating which company was the subject of the accidental tweet. The mystery was solved when CNBC reported that the company in question is none other than Shots, a selfie app backed by Justin Bieber. How convenient for him. And while it may be difficult for some (many) to stomach that Justin Bieber stands to make a fortune from an industry dominated by geniuses, know that the app already has 3 million users, 2/3 of whom are women under the age of 24.

Taxed out…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Microsoft is in really big trouble. Like $150 million worth of trouble. According to a report by the Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency, Microsoft, while not specifically named, but rather referred to as “Corp. M”  has to pay $150 million in back taxes and interest. A source, who is not officially allowed to speak about it publicly, (but spoke about it anyways, presumably in private, to someone who then made it public) confirmed that Corp. M is indeed Microsoft. Along with car manufacturers, GlaxoSmithKline, other tech companies – the list goes on, that have had actions taken against them, Microsoft is being accused of tax evasion because its China subsidiary reported losses while other players in the field did not. Hmm. China says Microsoft was moving the profits offshore. Of course, Microsoft disputed all this and says the settlement actually has to do with a “bilateral advanced pricing agreement” and not back taxes. By the way, back in May China banned Windows 8 from being installed on public computers. Just saying.

Thanksgiving downer…

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Not that I’m trying to put a downer on your holiday weekend, but jobless claims are up. If you think that sucks, be thankful that you’re not among the jobless. And if you are, my apologies. The number of claims increased by 21,000 to 313,000 claims, according to the always-good-for-a-downer Labor Department. That’s the highest number in three months. Analysts actually predicted a drop to about 288,000 claims. The number of people, however, receiving jobless claims dropped by 17,000 to 2.32 million people. So it’s not all bad. Besides, there really is no need to freak out, just yet, anyways, since the holiday season has just begun and for some reason that means those gosh-darn numbers aren’t as ominous as they would be at other times during the year.

Can’t Cap the Apple; Let It Go, Barbie. There’s A New Disproportioned Blond In Town; Tiffany & Co.’s Luxe Earnings

In case you missed it…

Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Apple can breathe a sigh of relief now that it is officially king of the world. Sort of. The tech company has officially surpassed the $700 billion mark of its market capitalization meaning it is now the most valuable company in the world. Make that universe. ExxonMobil, on the other hand, is not-so-prominently perched at the number two spot.  What this all means is that Apple’s outstanding shares are worth way more than all of ExxonMobil’s outstanding shares – by $300 billion. To put it in perspective, a tech company whose gadgets many people do not even own, is more valuable than an energy company whose commodity is consumed constantly by nearly every single person on the planet. Sitting in third place is Microsoft, with Johnson & Johnson nipping at its heels in fourth.

Let It Go?

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Could it be? Is Barbie’s rock star status taking a hit? According to the National Retail Federation, the original, plastic, disproportioned blond has been unseated by “Frozen.” Anna, Elsa and company have become the number one go-to gift this holiday season putting Barbie in second place. The survey has been conducted for the last eleven years and this is the very first time in the survey’s history that Barbie is not  provocatively posed at the number one spot. The whole “Frozen” phenomenon has thus generated about $1.3 billion in sales, globally. Good news for Disney, bad new for Mattel, the company behind Barbie. What’s even worse news for Mattel is the fact that in 2016, Hasbro picks up the license for the “Frozen” dolls. If you happen to be  wondering what the number one toy boys will be getting, look no further than the Lego aisle.

Little blue boxes…

Image courtesy of MR LIGHTMAN/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of MR LIGHTMAN/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just as I chucked my Tiffany & Co. catalog into the recycling bin, the luxury retailer posted its third quarter earnings. Unlike myself, apparently, many of you are not only not chucking the catalog in the recycling bin, but you are actually going into the pricey retailer and plunking down major wads of money for its very expensive merchandise – just not so much for their cheaper silver lines, interestingly enough.  In fact, here in America, sales were up 10%. Which is especially good since Asia doesn’t seem to be sharing America’s enthusiasm for the luxe jeweler where sales there were down 12%. Revenue did rise 5.2% to $957 million and $0.76 per share. However, analysts were expecting the company to rake in $0.77 per share on $969 million. Maybe the holiday season will help add a little more brilliance to Tiffany & Co.’s fourth quarter.

Clydesdales No Longer On Tap at Budweiser; Citigroup’s Lack of Discipline Cost $15M; Saks Fifth Avenue Gets a Luxe New Mortgage

Put out to pasture…

Image courtesy of dan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The unemployment numbers may be going down lately but you can add the Budweiser Clydesdales to the list  of people – or in this case, animals – who need to brush up on their LinkedIn skills. The iconic horses, who have graced Budweiser holiday commercials since 1987 apparently haven’t been puling their weight to attract a hipper, younger beer-guzzling demographic. In fact, 44% of 21-27 year old beer drinkers/guzzlers have never even (gasp!) tried Budwesier. Can you even stand it? So the beer company will now trek out to college towns for food festivals and host parties to increase in order to woo that elusive younger, hipper crowd. As for any new ad campaigns, Budwesier will substitute Cydesdales for millenials who will stare back into the camera as they poignantly utter: “If you could grab a Bud with any of your friends these holidays, who would it be?” I’d say a Clydesdale.

Fined and fine…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Citigroup has to pay even more fines. Again. Except this time those fines have nothing to do with its dubious role in the housing collapse and fiscal nightmare of 2008. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or as the cool kids say, FINRA, has fined Citigroup $15 million because the bank didn’t do enough to prevent and deter its analysts from engaging in all kinds of questionable activities. Which all sounds way more provocative than it is. From January 2005 to February 2014 Citigroup issued about 100 warnings to analysts for doing things they were’t supposed to do. Issuing those warnings was clearly the responsible thing to do. Except that there was way too much between the warning until disciplinary action took place. But then, it seems, Citi was wee bit too soft in punishing the offenders, which is perhaps why the analysts kept repeating their dubious actions. In one instance, equity research analysts hosted a dinner for employees and clients (mind you, I was not invited) where the hosts/analysts discussed their stock picks. I’m sure the topic made for fabulous dinner conversation, however the discussed stock picks did not jive with all the research conducted by the hosts/analysts. That was, of course, just one of the many (many) examples of breaches for which Citi was fined. Naturally, the bank preferred not to offer any comments on the matter except to say ,”We are pleased to have resolved and put this matter behind us.” I’ll bet. And rest assured that $15 million will do nothing to thwart Citigroup’s holiday shopping.

Is a luxury refi an oxymoron?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Many people today refinance their mortgages and Saks Fifth Avenue is no different. Okay, it’s a lot different but I digress. Hudson Bay, the company that owns the luxury retailer, took out a 20 year mortgage for its flagship store conveniently located right on New York City’s Fifth Avenue to the whopping tune of $1.25 billion. Next year the store is getting a $250 million renovation.The building, however is valued at $3.7 billion. If that doesn’t scream prime real estate I don’t know what does. Did I mention that Hudson Bay paid $2.9 billion for the entire chain? How very lucky for them.

Best Buy Earnings Beat; Wal-Mart Gets Smart (Sort of); Home Sweet Pre-Existing Home;

Surprise surprise…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Score one for Best Buy which just posted its third quarter earnings much to the surprise and delight of everyone – well, except for Amazon. But we’ll get to that soon. The electronics retailer pulled in some nice earnings all thanks to higher-definition televisions – a perennial fave. Store sales were up over 2% which means people aren’t necessarily flocking to Amazon after browsing in Best Buy stores. Earnings for the retailer came in at $.32 per share and $107 million. Estimates were pegged at $.25 per share. A year ago Best Buy only raked in $54 million and $.16 per share. Revenue came in at $9.38 billion. Not much of a change from last year, but still, no loss. Naturally, all the good fuss caused shares of the stock to go up as well. How convenient. But to be fair, it was all part of Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly’s master plan to turn around the company. The surprisingly good numbers came at the expense of lots of cost-cutting, including jobs. For his second act, Joly has big plans to partner up with other companies like  “it” company, GoPro.

The jig is up…

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In the market for a $90 Playstation4? Good luck on that one. Wal-Mart has (finally?) caught up to some crafty internet scammers who industriously, albeit feloniously, created fake ads to present to Wal-Mart employees in order to capitalize on its price-match guarantee. But after updating, clarifying and re-vamping its policy, scammers are going to have a much harder time securing those “deals” especially for all those Xboxes and PS4s. Wal-Mart (very) recently posted this on its website: “We’ve updated our policy to clarify that we will match prices from Wal-Mart.com and 30 major online retailers, but we won’t honor prices from marketplace vendors, third-party sellers, auction sites, or sites requiring memberships.” And at the end of the day, the Store Manager gets the final word. Happy Holidays!

House party…

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

More good news about the economy. I know you can hardly stand the excitement as the National Association of Realtors announced that existing home sales rose 1.5% in October. While that may seem like a relatively small number its actually huge on so many levels. For one, the 1.5% rise is the fastest pace in over a year. It also means that 5.26 million homes were sold. A big shout out goes to low interest rates. It also  wouldn’t be right if we didn’t mention the merits of a strengthening job market. Because, hey, if you want to buy a house, a job is good thing to have to help pay the mortgage, no? Foreclosures and short sales aka “distressed sales” even dropped to 9% of the total versus the 14% of the total a year ago. Good news for the economy. Not so much for you, that is, if you were in the market for a discounted home that went for 15% below market value. It’s a give and take, my friend. The median price for existing homes is $208,300 which is actually a 5.5% increase over last year’s median price at this time. And wouldn’t you know it, those supremely intelligent analysts predicted a decline instead. Ha. Thinking of something more upscale? Homes that sold for above the magical million dollar mark jumped 16% from a year ago.

Hey God, Make Room for Über; Feeling the JetBlues; Target Is Spot On

Üps…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Über is finding itself in a bit of a tangle, gaffe, pickle (insert any number of words) after it got busted using the company’s “God View” tool to keep tabs on a customer’s vehicle location. Except it wasn’t just any customer, but a journalist. Über general manager Josh Mohrer, who is now apparently under internal investigation, said to the reporter as she arrived at Über headquarters, “There you are. I was tracking you.” A big no-no, at least according to Über’s freshly posted privacy policy. “God View” it seems, is intended to be accessed for “legitimate business purposes.” Tracking that reporter did not comply with those rules. Über’s affections towards journalists previously came to light when when its SVP of business, Emil Michael, suggested the company find a way to get unflattering personal information on them. Über doesn’t like criticism, from journalists, anyway, especially considering that the company is in the midst of trying to raise another $1 billion to get a $30 billion valuation. It’s a good thing for Über that Ashton Kutcher sympathizes with its plight. “What is so wrong about digging up dirt on shady journalist?” the dashing actor recently tweeted. Did I mention that Kutcher’s A-Grade Investments is invested in Über?

Not a classy move…

Image courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just when we thought JetBlue was the cool new kid on the airline playground, it went and did the unthinkable. It became a follower. A conformist. Just like the others. Blah. Take note when you book your next flight with JetBlue that baggage fees are now part of the JetBlue experience. That is, if you booked the cheapest class of ticket. The company is on a tear to generate $400 million in revenue to get better profits. Baggage fees are one of the odious tasks on that “to do” list of its master plan. But if you’re one of the privileged few who already spent the equivalent of a down-payment on a house for your ticket, then you can sit back and relax. Well, maybe scrap the part where you “sit back.” JetBlue is adding 15 seats to its A320 jets which means less legroom for you no matter what you paid. Happy flying!

Unstoppable?

Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Not only did mega-retailer Target beat expectations, but it even showed Wal-Mart a thing or two. Well maybe just one thing – and that is that its sales grew faster than Wal-Mart’s. (Yes it is a competition.)  Target pulled in an impressive $0.54 per share on $17.56 billion in revenue. Analysts had Target pegged at pulling in $0.47 per share. It’s impressive because the company is still recovering from its mega-gaffe/data breach which is coming up on its one year anniversary. And because the verdict is still out on Target’s adventurous and fiscally questionable Canadian foray, those earnings are like an early Christmans/Hanukah gift. However, we musn’t overlook the fact that those earnings per share were still two cents less than what they were exactly a year ago.

Bob Marley’s Smokin’ Legacy; Oil Prices Are Down So Why Aren’t Airline Fares?; Urban Outfitters Unhip Earnings

Toke on this…

Image courtesy of Paul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Paul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

He’s been gone a long time, smoking a big fat joint in the sky, but Reggae icon Bob Marley still managed to score a worldwide exclusive, 30 year licensing deal for the “world’s first cannabis brand” appropriately dubbed Marley Natural. With the help of a Seattle-based, cannabis-focused (how industrious!) venture capital firm, Privateer Holdings, Marley Natural will feature strains of heirloom Jamaican cannabis. Kind of like heirloom tomatoes, except I’d never put tomatoes into a batch of brownies. But it won’t just be cannabis that you can purchase under the Marley Natural brand. The brand will also be putting out other useful stuff like lotions and containers (in which to store your cannabis to optimize freshess). No doubt those items will certainly make nice gifts (but again, you can’t smoke ‘em). And bonus: the products will even have a “strong social conscience.” Expect to see the cannabis and other products in places where Federal law allows this sort of thing.

Up up and away…

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Image courtesy of federico stevanin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The joys of dropping oil prices will only carry you so far – by car anyways. Because even though airlines saved over a billion dollars in fuel costs last year, they seem to be pretending that they didn’t get the memo about dropping airfares prices. And why should they? After all, we’re still booking tickets at the prices the airlines set. Those prices are coming in at an average of over $370 per ticket, which by the way, does not include fees and taxes. Planes are still full – and often oversold. Airlines are posting great profits and would much prefer to order new planes and give their terminals face-lifts than pass those fiscal delights onto the very contingent that brought about those profits in the first place.

Time to move to the suburbs?

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Urban Outfitters is not looking as hip and cool as it used to be, at least according to its third quarter earnings. Sure the company posted growth, but mainly from its Anthropologie and Free People brands – not from its namesake. Which I suppose stings a bit in the portfolio. While the company beat its sales estimates by $1 million, coming in at $814 million, it was its earnings that provided the fiscal bummer. The company earned just over $47 million and $0.35 per share which might seem solid, but really Wall Street expected earnings of $0.41 per share. What made those earnings that much more fashion-backward was the fact that the same time a year ago the company pulled in $70 million and $0.47 per share. Some were wondering if maybe the company’s disappointing earnings had more than a little to do with some of its more offensive merchandising offerings, like the blood-spattered Kent State sweatshirt or the women’s “Eat Less” t-shirt. Even though the items were eventually pulled from the shelves, it still begs the question if they left an un-hip impression on the very consumers it tends to attract.

The Bitter End Might Have Just Arrived For Valeant Pharmaceuticals; Cocoa: Get it While You Still Can; It Seems Japan Is Not As Far As It Seems

Has their time finally come to an end?

Image courtesy of patpitchaya/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of patpitchaya/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Could it be that the Valeant/Allergan saga has finally come to an anti-climactic end? Just when things seemed to be getting juicy, in walks generic drug-maker Actavis with an offer of $219 per share, making Valeant’s impending hostile takeover nothing more than a bad memory for Allergan. If you recall, everyone’s favorite (and only) Botox-maker had been fighting off Valeant’s fiscal hostilities for months. And in one fell money-minded swoop, Actavis put in an offer for Allergan that not only values it at about $66 billion, but also makes it so that it doesn’t have to deal with Bill Ackman and his Pershing Square Capital Management, which by the way, has almost a 9.7% stake in Allergan. Neither Pershing Square nor Valeant had any comment on the new offer and why would they. Besides, they win either way. This new deal adds quite a few billion dollars to Pershing Square’s already plump portfolio. As for Valeant, well it has already begun to set its fiscal sights on animal care company Zoetis.

Start hoarding the Hersheys…

Image Courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It just might be that the world really is coming to an end. If a recent report by Bloomberg is correct (and seriously, it’s Bloomberg so I am sure it is), then the world will be in the throes of a chocolate shortage, with demand outpacing supply in the year 2020 by one million metric tons. If that’s not considered armageddon, then I don’t what is. Some of the factors to blame: Ebola. Yes that obnoxious, noxious deadly virus has given us ample reasons to hate it and here’s yet one more. West Africa supplies us with almost 75% of the world’s cocoa. The fact that the countries afflicted with Ebola are so close to the countries that supply cocoa are basically freaking people out on so many levels. Of course drought always manages to play a menacing role in crops and cocoa is no different. In fact the price of cocoa, whether you realized it or not (or simply just tried to feign ignorance) has gone up 60% since 2012. Combine that with pests and other plant diseases and that Hershey bar with almonds is becoming but a distant memory. So start stockpiling those candy bars. In a few years you might just be able to pay your mortgage with them.

So what’s the big deal?

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Japan is staring into the wrong end of a recession after reporting its second straight quarter of growth contraction. Never a good thing especially when we’re talking about the world’s second largest economy. So why should we, on this side of the planet, care? Well for one, its toying with our financial markets. Our markets don’t particularly like it when other markets in other parts of the world have fiscal issues and Japan’s are quite large. Then we must take into account that our European friends across the pond aren’t too thrilled, as are we,  with state of their financial markets, which have seem to have come to a slowdown/standstill. When that happens, the United States ends up having to support more than its fair share of the global economy which, naturally extends on over to us, the taxpayers. See how that all works out so unpleasantly?