Is There An iPhone 6+ in the House?; Jack Ma’s Very Good Day; Clorox Says “Adios” to Venezuela

Best. Ever…

Image courtesy of jannoon028/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jannoon028/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Apple had an awesome weekend selling more than 10 million new iPhones in what has turned out to be Apple’s best debut weekend for an iPhone. Ever. There were of course some major movie debuts, as well. But who cares because it seems everybody was standing on line waiting to grab their new iPhones instead. The big mystery, it seems, is which iPhone did people buy? Was it the $199 iPhone 6 or the $299 iPhone 6+ aka “the bigger one.” By September 26, 20 more countries will be afforded the opportunity to purchase the device. Which brings us to another big mystery – namely, that China, undoubtedly one of the largest smartphone markets will not be one of those countries.  In fact, it’s not known, if or when China will ever be launching the iconic devices on its shores because apparently…wait for it…the device still needs “government approval” from the Chinese government, that is.

Speaking of China…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s official. After all the hype and hoopla, Alibaba, the New York Stock Exchange’s newest “it” stock, did live up to all the chatter surrounding its debut.  The stock now holds the record for being the biggest IPO. Ever. In the world. Ever. Easily leaving Facebook’s IPO record in the dust. CEO Jack Ma, with minimal effort, raised $25 billion and the stock began trading on Friday at 35% higher than its $68 IPO price. Today, however, shares are down – below $90, still way way way above it’s IPO price. The ticker symbol, by the way, is BABA. Catchy, right? I thought so too.

Adios…

Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Venezuela is about to get a whole lot dirtier as Clorox pulls the plug on its operations over there. For the last three years, the price of Clorox products remained frozen, courtesy of the Venezuelan government. Not all of Clorox’s products had a price freeze -but 2/3s of them did, which made it pretty difficult not to operate at a regular staggering loss. But the price freeze alone wasn’t the only problem. Triple digit inflation led to higher prices for raw materials, packaging, wages, transportation, and other very important things necessary to run a company. Of course, the suits at Clorox graciously tried to explain the arithmetic to the Venezulan government officials but they just wouldn’t play ball. Sure they agreed to increase prices, but not enough. In fact, it was nowhere near enough. Wall Street clearly thought the decision to bail on Venezuela to be muy bien and sent shares of company north (no pun intended – okay, well maybe just a little).

Pier 1 Coming Up Short; Pizza Hut Getting Skinny or Skimpy?; Lincoln Logs Makes Its American Re-Debut

Down but not out…

Image courtesy of Keerati/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Keerati/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pier 1 Imports took a beating on its second quarter earnings. Not because it didn’t earn a profit, which it did. But because the profit just wasn’t good enough – make that high enough. Net income – or as the simple people like me say, profit, – came in at $9.2 million which amounted to $0.10 per share. That’s nice and all but earnings of $0.13 per share would have been a lot nicer according to those hard to please analysts. Especially since last year the company pulled in a $17.8 million profit. Revenue for the company was $418.6 million. But once again, that figure just wasn’t enough to please those Wall Street analysts who were looking to see numbers closer to $427 million. Shares of the Texas-based chain have been down 32% since the beginning of the year. Not exactly encroaching disastrous Radio Shack territory but still, the company is looking to close some of its 1000 plus stores. Though how many is still not clear. There will also be a little less coupon clipping for the store as those will now be yanked, although perhaps not entirely. The question remains, however: Where have all those shoppers gone who used to grace those stores with their presence and credit cards? Hmmm.

The new skinny…

Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pizza Hut has got big plans to make you skinny. Okay that’s a stretch but the chain is unveiling (which sounds so much more dramatic than it actually is) it’s latest plan to gain back some market share in the contentious food turf war that it has been losing as of late. Dubbed the “Skinny Slice,” Pizza Hut’s latest menu addition is, in fact, not sold by the slice. Also, it should be duly noted that this new slice also uses the same exact ingredients as in a regular slice – just less of them. Pizza Hut diners in Ohio and Florida will be among the first who get to sample the new fare. Pizza Hut is hoping to attract those finicky Millenials who seem to prefer chains like Chipotle and Panera bread that apparently serve up healthier, higher quality fare. Go figure.

Quit toying with me… 

Image courtesy of sattva/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of sattva/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Arguably a classic in the Canon of America toys (I made that up), Lincoln Logs, whose license is owned by another classic-in the making, K’NEX, makes its way back to the shores of the US all the way from China (where else?). Created almost a century ago by John Lloyd Wright, one of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s children, the toy will now, once again, be manufactured in the United States – well 80% of it anyways. Naturally, the other 20% will still be made in China (again, where else?). Pride Manufacturing, located in Burnham, Maine,  the company that will manufacture 80% of the Lincoln Logs, conveniently enough, already makes wooden toys. The new move will create between 5-10 jobs in the US.

 

FedEx-cellent Earnings; Santa’s Not So Little Helpers; New Home Confidence Booster

Can I get that overnight?

Image courtesy of tigger11th/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of tigger11th/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You may not use FedEx on a regular basis but other people sure do. The shipping company’s earnings toppled Wall Street predictions earning $2.10 per share in its first quarter compared with an expected $1.96 per share. Nothing like giving those predictions a smack down. Those hefty earnings were a 37% increase over the same time last year which took in just $1.53 per share. If you’re in the market for some shares of this very useful company, you’ll need to plunk over approximately $159…again, per share. Revenue for the company came in at $11.7 billion while analysts short changed FedEx for a paltry $11.44 billion. In fact, just between June and August the express shipping company earned a whopping $606 million, which happens to be a not-so-modest 24% increase over the same time last year. Graciously enough, FedEx will be waiting until after the holiday season to raise its rates by almost 5%.

Elves, elves everywhere…

Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Speaking of the holiday season (and FedEx, for that matter) which is in fact a lot closer than you may (choose to) realize, FedEx and UPS have big plans to add to their workforces. Following last year’s debacle when the shipping companies received more packages than they could physically handle, with some arriving after the holiday, UPS and FedEx decided they would increase the amount of workers they hired last year so that there will be no doubt – make that little doubt –  that your packages make it on time. FedEx plans to hire 50,000 seasonal employees, as opposed to last year’s 40,000. UPS is pulling out all the stops by bringing in 95,000  extra workers for what they predict will be an epic  – at least as far as shipping needs are concerned – holiday season. But it’s not just shipping companies that are hiring extra staff. Kohl’s just announced its plans to hire approximately 50 associates per store. Considering Kohl’s has over 1,160 stores in 49 states, you just might find yourself at the right end of some decent customer service come December. Expect other stores to follow suit.

Home sweet home…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Which brings us to homebuilders confidence. Well really it doesn’t, but whatever. According to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index (yeah, try saying that five times fast), the sentiment hit 59 in August. Analysts called for about a 55. So ha! Considering anything over a 50 is good news, this number deserves its own party. In fact, US home builder confidence for new single family homes (sorry, old homes)  hasn’t been this well…confident – and high – in nine years. All this seems to suggest sales for homes will rise – which is good, especially if you’re selling. It also helps that the job market is improving and interest rates are low. All things that make buying a new single family home (again, sorry old homes) that much more enticing.

Alibaba Raising the Roof on the Range; Olive Garden’s Breaking Breadsticks; United’s Flight Attendants’ Six-Figure Payout

Oh Ma gosh…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just when you thought China’s biggest e-commerce site couldn’t get any bigger, it keeps doing just that. While last weeks’ range for its highly anticipated initial public offering was hovering in the $60-$66 range, already an impressive feat, this week the range just grew that much larger. The price now looms in the $66-$68 range. There is just so much ridiculously insane demand for this IPO that CEO Jack Ma, a former school teacher and China’s richest man with a net worth of $21.9 billion, had no problem raising the money for the IPO on his roadshow. And no, this type of roadshow has nothing to do with nosebleed seats and bad beer. When a guy like Jack Ma goes on a roadshow he is trying to raise in interest and money for his company. Something which he had no trouble doing in the last couple of days. The company has raised $21.8 billion…so far.

Dude, lay off the breadsticks…

Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It seems Olive Garden needs to lay off the breadsticks and push the alcohol. At least according to Starboard Value LP, a firm that holds an 8.8% stake in Darden restaurants, Olive Garden’s parent company. Starboard is also taking issue with Olive Garden’s unlimited salad offerings. And don’t even get Starboard started on the pasta. “How does the largest Italian dining concept in the world not salt the water for pasta?” Starboard’s words, not mine. If you don’t believe what you’re reading then check out its just released 294 page turnaround plan. Darden rebutted with its own charming little 24 slide presentation challenging the report whose suggestions, Darden feels, are “not based on reality.” Though, to be fair, Darden has already been implementing many of the other suggestions. The question, however, is can you really blame Darden’s poor last quarter earnings on unlimited breadsticks?

Pay day…

Image courtesy of biosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of biosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It pays not to be a flight attendant on United Airlines. Literally. The company, which currently has over 23,000 employees, apparently has too many flight attendants. So the airline graciously and, in my humble opinion, generously, reached an agreement with the Association of Flight Attendants to offer up to 2,100 early buyout packages to flight attendants (assuming they meet certain requirements, of course). Some of those packages will be worth up to $100,000. Yes. $100,000 to quit your job. Incidentally, United Airlines was the only major airline to post a loss this past quarter.  Also incidentally, it’s cheaper to employ less experienced flight attendants. I’ve had a few flight attendants  – of varying degrees of experience – who I’d like to see take that package. Of course, I wouldn’t give them $1 much less $100,000. Unfortunately, all the money I’ve plunked down just to have the privilege of traveling on United Airlines doesn’t entitle me to an opinion on the matter.

Microsoft Gets “Craft”-y; Radio Smack; Marriott Hotels: The Envelope Please…

Mine-ful…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Look out Xbox. Microsoft put on its best game face as it picked up Mojang Ab, the maker of Minecraft, arguably one of the most awesomest games to hit the universe. Ever. Actually it hit the universe in 2009 and to date has raked in about $100 million in profit, not just from the game itself but from merchandising and licensing deals, as well. The game has sold over 50 million copies (and counting). For the privilege of owning this gaming masterpiece, Microsoft has to write out a hefty $2.5 billion check.  However, the interesting part of this not-so-little sale is that the founders and top executives (and shareholders)  – all three of them – will not be coming along for the ride. Rumor has it that Swedish Minecraft creator Markus Persson, and company, have big plans to focus on new endeavors. Though the super pricey acquisition is not really expected to bring in major bank for Microsoft,  it is expected to beef up the presence of Microsoft’s Windows based smart phones, now that Minecraft will be so handily available.

Resignedly…

Image courtesy of pat138241/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of pat138241/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As it sails towards the seas of bankruptcy, Radio Shack’s CFO, John Feray, decided to jump ship, resigning for “personal reasons” less than eight months after assuming his post. Tis’ a shame indeed for if he had just stayed through March 2015, he could have pocketed $275,000 as part of a retention agreement in his contract. I wouldn’t mind a few hundred thousand in my pocket just for staying put. But alas, consultant Holly Etlin will, for the second time, serve as interim CFO. Radio Shack CEO Joe Magnacca acknowledged Radio Shack is thisclose to riding the bankruptcy pony on its 5,000 stores while dexterously managing to avoid discussing the untimely departure of Mr. Feray. The electronic retailer has been trying to scale back by closing hundreds of stores but it would appear to be of no avail as it just can’t compete with all those online retailers offering up goodies at extremely competitive prices.

Cuz you’ve got hospitality…

Image courtesy of pigdevilphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of pigdevilphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tip the housekeeper! So says Maria Shriver, sometimes Kennedy and ex-wife of the Governator, who just launched a program called A Woman’s Nation, to promote the advancement of women in the workplace and to recognize the value of woman in all areas of life. Go Women! And you too, Maria Shriver! Because hotel guests rarely see the hotel room attendants, their hard work and efforts often get overlooked. But those days are sure to come to an end, at Marriott Hotels, anyway, as strategically placed and conveniently marked envelopes will be put out to remind guests to leave a tip of between $1-$5 a day – as opposed to leaving a tip only once a guest checks out. Incidentally, room attendants are the largest employee group of Marriott and work in over 160,000 rooms in over 4,000 properties all over the world. The company pulled in $13 billion in revenue in 2013.

 

Employment Numbers Crunch; Nothing Sour About Lululemon; Radio Shack Over and Out?

It was good while it lasted…

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The number of people picking up unemployment checks took an unwelcome climb to over 300,000 claims – 315,000 to be a bit more accurate. That number was about 11,000 higher than the previous week and it’s a bit of a bummer since numbers that high haven’t been seen since June. But the fact that unemployment filings were up for the week ending September 6, which included the holiday weekend suggests…well not much. Labor Day, ironically, tends to play tricks on those pesky unemployment numbers. Besides, those numbers are still well below pre-recession levels and on average down over 7% from where they were last year at this time. Now if they could just do something to plump up those wages faster than inflation then we’d be set.

 Who would’ve thunk it?

Image courtesy of lamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of lamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lululemon scored nicely this quarter, especially considering all the corporate and see-through-yoga-pants drama it experienced in the last year. And yes, the earnings were better than expected sending shares of the stock up 15%. The company, famous for its hip athletic apparel pulled in revenues of over $390 million earning $0.33 a share compared to the same time last year where it earned $344 million. Also, the chain has big plans to outfit men in yoga pants. With a stand alone men’s store already gracing its home country of Canada, New York City is about to debut a Lululemon men’s store to call its very own. If you were in the market for see-through yoga pants, though, look elsewhere. The company ironed out that kink ages ago.

No frequency radio…

Image courtesy of sippakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of sippakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like bankruptcy is on the horizon for embattled electronics retailer, Radio Shack. In fact, the company said that by the end of September their funds could run dry. It’s holding out hope that somewhere out there the financing gods will smile upon them and lift them up from that fiscal well of despair. Until then, Radio Shack is hoping that the services they offer in store will help them stay relevant in a marketplace that has seen brutal competition from the internet. It is also in the process of trying to close hundreds of stores out of the thousands it has, and cut costs in other areas. But it remains to be seen if these measures will be enough or if Radio Shack is a sinking ship. The company reported second quarter losses of over $137 million. Last year at this time it’s losses were just over $52 million.

The General Gets Hostile; Alibaba’s IP-Whoa!; No Sugar High for Krispy Kreme

Oh no you didn’t…

Image courtesy of lam nee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of lam nee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In the dollar store wars, things just got uglier as Dollar General went hostile on potential acquisition target, Family Dollar. If you recall, the powers that be over at Family Dollar dissed the two offers that Dollar General made – offers that were higher than Dollar Tree’s, Family Dollar’s other admirer. Dollar General is eager to bring Family Dollar into its fold, especially because Wal-Mart is getting a bit too cozy in the deep discount dollar store arena. Dollar General graciously offered to yank 1,500 of its stores to avoid antitrust issues. It even offered to pay a $500 million break-up fee if indeed antitrust issues killed the deal. Now Dollar General is going right to the shareholders to entice them with its very generous offer  CEO Howard Levine, who happens to be the largest Family Dollar shareholder, would probably be out of a job, if the deal goes through. However, he still stands to pocket as much as $750 million – which should tide him over for a little while.

Can I get in on that?

Image courtesy of cute image/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cute image/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wall Street is gearing up to welcome the newest addition to one of its indexes. Alibaba, whose IPO is expected to leave Facebook’s 2012 $16 billion record-breaking IPO in the dust, is looking to offer those shares for between $60-$66 per share. About 320 million of those shares will be eagerly offered up to retail and institutional investors. It’s likely the mega e-commerce site is going to raise around $20 billion. Alibaba, is a lot like Amazon. Except that it’s China-based. And ridiculously larger on so many levels. Good thing Yahoo owns a sizable chunk of it. The company’s value is expected to reach somewhere in the stratosphere of $160 billion, give or take a few billion.

Kreme’d…

Image courtesy of holohololand/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of holohololand/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Krispy Kreme released its earnings with mixed signals.  You see, the makers of arguably the most delectable donut on the planet experienced a 22% rise in profit, as it should. A proper reward for making such a delicious pastry. But alas, the company missed expectations, causing shares of Krispy Kreme to go down 6%. I know, it just isn’t right. Or fair. Net income was $5.75 million from $4.7 million a year ago gaining around $0.07 per share.  Revenue was up around 7%. The North Carolina-based company is currently in the process of bringing its delicacies abroad to bestow its sugary happiness on other parts of the world. This is expected to not only cause great joy and sugar highs, but a nice fiscal boost, as well.