To Hike or Not to Hike: That is the Fiscal Question; Doggone it, Home of the Whopper Gets Frank; Is Lumber Liquidators Finally in the Clear?

 

1,2,3 – Hike!

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The Fed will most likely not be lowering rates so don’t hold your breath. Not that you were planning on it. But the Fed is likely to do one of two things: raise rates according to its plan of “gradual adjustments” – meaning regularly raising those rates a smidgeon.  Or the Fed will choose to do nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. You might have thought that China is messing up our economy in unimaginable financial ways and therefore a rate reduction is justified. However, the Fed doesn’t feel that China is messing it up enough to warrant lowering rates. In fact, Janet Yellen and company also don’t feel that the rest of the world’s economic troubles are affecting the U.S. so much either. Instead, Yellen feels the U.S. economy will grow no matter what, oil gluts, falling global stocks, and all. None of it is our problem and we shouldn’t waste time worrying how it will all affect the U.S. economy. What is our problem is that the Dow fell 1,700 points since the Fed announced its first rate hike back in December. Even so, Ms. Yellen sees employment gains and wage growth, despite financial tightening conditions, and said that the U.S. financial sector has been resilient.” Be on the lookout for a potential rate hike (or not) next month when the Fed holds its next meeting March 15-16.

Hot diggety dog…

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It might be the home of the Whopper but Burger King’s new menu offering is taking on a whole different shape. Starting on February 23, Burger King will be serving up hot dogs at all of its 7,100 + locations in the U.S. Burger King brass are calling it “the most obvious product launch ever” and feel that hot dogs are a natural fit with the chain. Besides, the dogs were already tested in five markets bringing in sales increases that also apparently proved a natural fit for the company. It will make Burger King the biggest hot dog seller in the country and bonus: There will be no boiling or rolling involved in crafting these fine specimens. Instead, the dogs will be flame broiled and come in two variations: the $1.99 “classic” version and the $2.39 “chili cheese” version.  Burger King is partnering with Oscar Mayer to make a proprietary 100% beef delicacy. But the best part – to me anyway – Snoop Dogg and Charro (not sure how they came up with that combo) will be starring in training videos, hoping to make it more exciting for employees. Hey, whatever works.

Hold your breath…

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Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc. is almost out of the fiscal woods. Sort of. After testing conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the results are in and Lumber Liquidators’ suspect flooring has a very low risk of causing cancer. Phew. What is more likely to result from the toxic floor coverings are breathing problems and other irritations – besides the emotional irritations brought on by purchasing flooring that contains formaldehyde. Lumber Liquidators has already paid up $13.2 million in fines and forfeitures for its formaldehyde-laced floors produced in China between 2012 and 2014. If you recall, it was just almost a year ago when “60 Minutes” ran a very (financially) damaging piece exposing the company. But now, with any good news on Wall Street, shares have been rising steadily today, hovering at about 12.63. Its 52 week low was 10.53.

Google Exec’s Royal Pay Day; Why Chipotle Wouldn’t Serve Lunch Today; Yelping Early on Earnings

Does that include the corporate jet?

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Sundar Pichai may not just yet be a household name – something that strikes me as totally weird – but remember that name. He is, after all, one of the highest paid CEO’s of a publicly traded company, and he just scored a record $199 million Google (GOOG) stock award  – the highest ever…for a Google exec. This not-so-minor tidbit was revealed following a February 3 regulatory filing where Pichai disclosed that he received…wait for it…a whopping 273,328 class C shares of Google. Google, by the way, closed today at 682.74. You do the math. Those shares are set to vest quarterly – as long as Pichai manages to last at Google through 2019. And why wouldn’t he. With his last stock award worth about $250 million, Pichai’s Google stake stands at a staggering $650 million. Although, to be fair, tech stocks did take a hit today, with shares of Google parent company Alphabet falling – if only just by 2%. But I suspect Pichai will still come out on top. So perhaps you might want to check Google’s job board. Diane Greene, who heads Google’s cloud business, snagged $42.8 million, while Google CFO Ruth Porat will be taking home $38.3 million in equity.

Muy bien…

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You, like so very many others, probably didn’t get your Chipotle lunch fix today. And that’s not a bad thing. Stores were closed for the better part of the day as approximately 50,000 Chipotle employees gathered in 400 locations, ranging from movie theaters to conference centers, to discuss the Denver-based company’s food safety problems that have been plaguing sales at its 1,971 eateries. Chipotle CEO Monty Moran’s big plan for today’s gathering was to go over new procedures for food safety. That was probably a really great idea since an E. coli outbreak in October and a norovirus in December caused the company to temporarily shutter 43 locations, not to mention incur some brutal fiscal declines.To be fair, Chipotle’s 30% sales decrease are nothing compared to what happened to all those people who got sick. The fact that a Federal Grand jury issued a subpoena for a criminal investigation only adds insult to fiscal injury. But at least the CDC said that the outbreaks seem to be over. I’ll believe it when I hear that CDC employees themselves start ordering Chipotle’s legendary burritos. But if you don’t need those kind of assurances and are ready to chow down on a late lunch/early dinner of soft flour tacos, then bon appetite! Chipotle re-opened at 3:00 pm today.

Early reviews are in…

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Yelp’s earnings were released today –  a bit too early, mind you –  and brought with it the news that Yelp CFO Rob Krolik, who joined the company in 2011, will be stepping down. He will either stay on board until the company can find a suitable replacement or until December 15. Whichever comes first. Weird, I know. In any case, Yelp posted revenues of $153.7 million, handily beating estimates of $152.3 million, and also gained 11 cent per share even though analysts expected the company to report a loss of 3 cents per share. Shares of the company, incidentally, were down in the afternoon. Go figure. If you have yet to post an opinion/review to Yelp, rest assured that there were still 95 million other people who did it for you, letting you know the all the good, bad and ugly about our country’s countless dining establish, both fine and otherwise. Yelp’s been on a fierce mission to battle the competition out there by diversifying its restaurant bookings, offering event management and even doing payments. That’s in a addition to the company’s plans for expansion beyond the U.S. And Yelp has no time to waste as shares of its stock have been going down since March of 2014, when the company hits its high of $97.25.

 

 

Comcast: Streaming Video is so Last Year; Holy-Moly Guacamole, Chipotle is Losing Dinero; The Ultimate Biz Perks List

Who-lu?

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If online streaming video services are phasing out cable, you’d never know it judging by Comcast’s latest earnings. The company actually picked up 89,000 new subscribers – more than any other quarter in the last eight years. It was a particularly remarkable feat considering that last year at this time, the largest U.S. cable operator in the country only gained 6,000 subscribers. This means that for the year, Comcast only lost 36,000 subscribers. And yeah, that’s really good news. It’s really good because in 2014 Comcast lost over 194,000 subscribers. Time Warner Cable also announced it had picked up new subscribers. But Comcast did so well that it decided to raise it’s dividend by 10% to $1.10 – which was awfully generous of them. The nation’s leading high-speed internet operator managed to give a decent beating to analysts expectations earning $19.25 billion in revenue- an 8.5% increase over last year – instead of the projected $18.76 billion.  Comcast’s profits were up 5.2%, coming in at $2 billion, and adding 81 cents per share – just a teeny tiny penny below predictions. Oh well, maybe next time. Knowing that it’s future is/was on the line, Comcast has been trying to stay relevant in an age where streaming online video is all the rage. The company has been whipping out its fiscal A-game, offering better customer service, set-top box enhancements and smaller, more enticing bundles for current and prospective subscribers. Apparently it’s working.

The plot thickens…

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the fiscal Chipotle waters, along comes a subpoena, courtesy of a federal criminal probe stemming from a noro-virus outbreak in sunny California. Chipotle now needs to cough up documents going all the way back to January of 2013 and that’s not all. While Chipotle thought the worst was behind it, following the incredibly brutal E.Coli outbreak in some of its restaurants, the company announced that this year will be muy mal for investors. With huge marketing efforts in the wings, along with Herculean efforts to become the gold standard in food safety, Chipotle should be able to stay afloat. But it wont be pretty. The company’s fourth quarter earnings were pretty dismal with sales down more than a third and a whopping $10 billion shaved off its market cap. Apple and Alphabet  it is not. And with any bad news on Wall Street, particularly where there’s a subpoena involved, shares tumbled almost 3% and closed at 461.92.

Very perk-y…

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Glassdoor has served up yet another list to remind you just how badly you need to find a new place to work. This time, the company is ranking other companies according to how friggin’ awesome their employee perks are. For instance, does your current place of employment offer you “Yay Days”? Didn’t think so. But, if you score a position at REI, you get two of ’em – that’s two paid days off to spend on an outdoor activity. Does your boss currently give you $500 to use towards travel? Didn’t think so again. In which case, you ought to check Airbnb’s job board because that company gives you that much money towards travel every quarter so long as that cash is used on Airbnb accommodations (otherwise, no dice).  Burton, purveyor of fine snowboards and accompanying gear, gives its employees season passes to the local slopes. Then there’s software provider Epic Systems that generously gives its employees a four-week paid sabbatical every five years. If you want to feel even worse about where you work, visit Glassdoor for the rest of the list top ranking companies and the amazing perks they offer.

 

 

Apple/Google Fiscal Smackdown; Michael Kors Isn’t Down or Out!; Ya-Who is Suing Tech Giant?

Heel-nipping…

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It was bound to happen. Or was it? In any case, Google’s parent company Alphabet reigned supreme, albeit briefly, as the world’s most highly valued company, just edging out Apple. It happened when shares of Google’s parent company Alphabet jumped, giving it a market valuation of $533.4 billion. That figure narrowly pushed aside Apple’s market cap of $532.7 billion. But Alphabet still deserved that boost, if only for just a moment, seeing as how it nailed its earnings. Revenue for Alphabet jumped almost 20% to $17.3 billion while analysts didn’t even expect Alphabet to get past $16.9 billion. The company also took in a profit of $8.67, once again beating expectations of $8.08. Those earnings were fueled in large part by its mobile ad sales figures. It was news of those fabulous earnings that sent shares of Alphabet up 4.2%, and even hitting an all-time high of $784.77, which then caused its market cap to slip past Apple. And then, just like that, it was over, as shares of Alphabet dipped leaving Apple to once again reclaim its spot as the world’s most highly valued company.

S-Kors!

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Michael Kors had a very good holiday season (in a backhand sort of way) judging by its recently released earnings. So just how good were they? Well, the company’s drop in comparable sales was much smaller than expected. Got that? So yeah, there was still a drop, it’s just that the drop wasn’t that bad. Phew. Those sales, by the way dropped only .9% even though analysts predicted Michael Kors would drop 4.5%. What a way to boost investor confidence. Sort of. But it’s still good, even in that ironic kind of way, because investors were starting to wonder if Michael Kors had the capacity to grow any more, or did it already go as high as it could go way back when? Naturally, shares jumped a whopping 19% on the very exciting, very un-disappointing news and gave those shares their biggest one-day percentage gain in two years. Company revenue also picked up by 6.3% to $1.4 billion, beating predictions of $1.36 billion. Profit, however, fell to $294.6 million, from the $303.7 million it posted at the same time last year. The company  added $1.59 per share, but once again, analysts only expected $1.46 per share.

Ya-who?

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As if Yahoo didn’t have enough problems, now the tech company is facing a nasty lawsuit. The suit claims, among many other things, that Yahoo was biased against men – specifically, the company managers that govern the “Media Org.” The former employee also took issue with the company’s QPR – as in Quality Performance Review charging that the ratings system favored women. But wait – there’s more. The lawsuit then charges that Yahoo didn’t give adequate warning in the wake of mass lay-offs and violated the WARN Act. The WARN Act is a law requiring companies to give 60 days notice prior to mass lay-offs.  The lawsuit is being brought by ex-Yahoo employee Gregory Anderson. Anderson worked at Yahoo for four years and served as an editorial director. Apparently, he was part of a large group of people – 600 at that – who were laid off around the same time as him. So what’s Anderson hoping to get out of this, should he miraculously prevail against an immensely powerful and influential company? Well, the usual unspecified damages, back pay and benefits, plus $500 for every single day where he was entitled to receive warning about impending mass lay-offs. Hmmm, I wonder what the other 11,000 employees who were laid off between 2012 and 2015 will do if Anderson actually wins? Naturally Yahoo did not comment on the lawsuit. But you know what it will comment on? It’s earnings, which came out today and once again, more mass lay-offs are coming down the pike.

No Slowing Down Alibaba; Feeling Taxed: Google’s Italian Problem; Ads Abuzz for Super Bowl

What economic slowdown?

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China’s economy might be on the skids but apparently Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. didn’t get the memo. The company released its earnings and reported that its sales rose 32% to $5.3 billion, easily beating analysts estimates of $5.13 billion. Alibaba even scored a profit of $1.93 billion, picking up 99 cents per share and beating predictions of 89 cents per share. The reason for these positively fabulous numbers have a lot do with insane revenues posted from November’s Singles’ Day. Singles’ Day saw 115 million buyers scooping up $14 billion in purchases. Alibaba CEO Jack Ma is also on a fiscal quest to bring China’s rural countryside onto the mobile shopping bandwagon and it’s been paying off royally.  Of course, shares of the stock rose in pre-market trading, just as they should. Alibaba needed the boost as its shares have declined 14% so far this year after falling back in 2015.  But then shares fell this morning by 2% (as did Yahoo since it owns a sizable chunk of it). Go figure. Ma’s grand plans for the company extend far beyond China and he would really love it if at least half of Alibaba’s revenue started flowing in from outside of China. Good thing he’s already got plans in motion to make that happen.

Google that…

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Authorities in Italy have set their investigative sights on Google charging that the tech giant evaded an estimated 327 million euros in taxes between 2009 and 2013. Of course, a Google spokesperson graciously noted that Google always pays its taxes wherever it operates and even explained how it paid 2.2 million euros in taxes on 54.4 million revenues back in 2014. Problem is Italian authorities aren’t buying it and estimate that Google’s revenues were ten times higher than what it reported. Italian authorities say Google basically redirected revenue to its regional offices in Ireland where the corporate tax rate is much more hospitable to big companies. Last week Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. forked over $186 million to U.K. authorities for a different tax settlement. While that might seem a considerable sum, there was a huge outcry, particularly by those in Britain’s Labour Party, because they felt that the amount was way too small considering how much profit the company made. Incidentally, back in December, Apple had to settle with Italian tax authorities and ended up paying back 318 million euros.

Getting buzzed…

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With the Super Bowl just around the corner, some of the ads are already making for bigger stories than the game itself. Take for instance Death Wish Coffee. Never heard of it? You’re not the only one. The small business won a contest held by tech company, Intuit, and you’ll be able to catch the 30 second ad during the third quarter of Super Bowl 50. Death Wish Coffee began in 2012 by Mike Brown, who like so very many of us, was on the prowl for a very potent, caffeinated brew. As of now, Death Wish sells about 1,000 packages a day. But after the Super Bowl that number will likely skyrocket considering the 100 million-plus people expected to tune in to the big game. Death Wish Coffee will set you back about $20 a pound. But hey, that’s a small price to pay for the ultimate coffee fix, I suppose. And maybe by next year, Death Wish Coffee will actually able to afford the $5 million price tag for that coveted slot instead having to enter a contest to try and win it.

Jumping the Twitter Ship; Coffee, Tea or Nukes? Air Iran Might Be Headed Our Way; McD’s CEO Really Does Deserve a Break Today

And then there were six…

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Twitter just got a whole lot lighter – except not in a good way. Four top executives are jumping ship from the social networking site, in addition to a top member over at Twitter-owned Vine. The news was tweeted (naturally) last night when Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey posted that all five people had “chosen” to leave and “will be taking some well-deserved time off.” That’s awfully sweet but it still begs the question as to why those folks chose to leave in the first place – especially because those four executive departures constituted 40% of Twitter’s top brass. Don’t bother looking up any job postings for the newly vacated positions. Dorsey seems to have at least one of them filled, apparently by a high-profile executive in the media industry. No word yet on the other positions but rumor has it they’ve also been filled. Not that any of this is news to those at Twitter. When Jack Dorsey returned to the top spot he did, after all, say that the board will eventually have to be replaced. Incidentally, upon Dorsey’s return, shares of Twitter have fallen about 50%.  Shares are now hovering below the IPO price as the company continues to struggle to find ways to attract more users.

Blackout dates…

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Because nothing says romantic vacation getaway like hopping on a plane to Tehran, Iran is on a mission – not even a nuclear one! – to boost tourism and get back in the good graces of just about every country in the western hemisphere. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is in Europe this week and just might strike (no pun intended) a deal with Airbus to purchase some 500 aircraft so that you can book your next vacay to the radically ruled country. Rumor has it that Boeing might also supply Iran with some aircraft too, and it would mean that it’d be the first time in 36 years – ever since that pesky Islamic revolution – that travelers could hop on a direct flight to a country that’s hostile to United States citizens. Looks like British Airways is itching to be among the first of the commercial airlines to start taxiing on an Iranian tarmac. Apparently, some analysts are expecting a bona fide economic boom – I SAID ECONOMIC! – to occur in Iran now that sanctions have been lifted in exchange for shelving its nuke fantasies.  And because banking sanctions have also been lifted, Iran will even be able to pay for the aircraft. And so much more…

Comeback kid…

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Attention naysayers: McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook’s turnaround plan seems to actually be working. How ’bout that. McDonald’s served up some tasty earnings with a special boost from its all-day breakfast offerings.  A big show of gratitude also goes to China where, as it turns out, diners continued to opt for the Golden Arches’ fast-food fare despite the nasty food safety scandal that erupted during the summer of 2014. Same store sales took a 5.7% jump and wouldn’t you know it, shares jumped on the news, especially because, after two years of little to no growth, the company finally experienced that wonderful sensation, posting its best quarter in four years. McDonald’s pulled down a profit of $1.21 billion, an almost 10% increase, while adding $1.28 per share. That’s a nice little smack down to analysts’ estimates of just $1.23 per share. And while a strong dollar did send revenue a bit south to $6.34 billion, it was still above and beyond expectations of $6.22 billion. The only bummer in the earnings was in France, where terrorist attacks have kept too many would-be McDonald’s patrons from enjoying the cuisine.

Oil-Vey! Glut Messing with Global Economies; Apple Sets its Sights on India; Who Will Represent the “World’s Most Hated Man”?

Dow-n and out…

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The Dow took a nasty 400 point fall today fueled (a little pun intended) in large part because of the oil glut that’s got barrels of the not-as-hot commodity trading at about $27.50 a pop – a very low low price. The S&P also fell as stocks were trading much lower. In fact, more than 1,000 New York Stock Exchange stocks hit 52 week lows, while on the other side of the pond, European and Asian markets followed suit, performing just as badly on seeing oil hit thirteen year lows. Experts (I am not one of them) are thinking we’re on the threshold of bear market territory – a nasty fiscal phase where market index prices are falling so much that people just want to sell off what they’ve got. Considering that the MSCI All Country World Index (which is basically a global market index mash-up) fell 2.4%, that just might be the case. China’s flailing economy and the United States’ strong dollar aren’t helping matters. Even Royal Dutch Shell is expecting profits to tank 42% to around $1.6 billion – a brutal cry from the $3.3 billion it reported last year at this time. But box-office fave Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t crying for Shell, or any other oil producers for that matter. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the A-lister was receiving some award, he graciously lashed out at big oil and corporate greed calling them, “Those entities with a financial interest in preserving this destructive system…covered up the evidence of our changing climate.” Hey! Maybe he’ll use that in his Oscar acceptance speech…

An Apple a day…

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It took awhile but Apple is now working to bring its tech magic to India where the Cupertino, California-based company finally finally filed an application with the Indian government to set up shop there. No word yet on how many stores it plans on opening or even how big of an investment it’s going to be. Of course, Apple products are already available in the country that boasts the second largest telecom market in the world. But in order to buy those products, consumers purchase the merchandise through a network of Indian-owned distributors. There are some who feel that Apple had been willfully ignoring India since it took this long to make the leap there. But Apple argues otherwise saying that restrictions on foreign investment in the retail sector weren’t exactly winning them over. India typically requires a single brand  – in this case, Apple – to locally procure 30% of its goods sold in the country. But rumor has it Apple brass had a little conversation with the Indian authorities to ease up on things.  Also India, unfortunately, doesn’t have the boffo spending power of say, China, where people pounced on iPhones from day one. In India, cheaper alternatives dominate the smartphone market while Apple only has about a 2% market share on the devices.  Apple, however, had been trying to make its products more affordable by offering buyback programs, installment programs and giving discounts on older phones. And then something wonderful happened – Apple sales in India crossed the $1 billion mark back in March and the tech company presumably began to see things differently.  The fact that India has the fastest growing smartphone market and is poised to take over the number two spot from the United States (China is first, duh) in 2017 might also have something to do with the change of heart.

Dumb and dumber…

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Martin Shkreli aka “Pharma bro”is switching lawyers though, why exactly remains a mystery. Marcus A. Asner, an attorney at the soon-to-be-ex firm of Arnold & Porter did not give an explanation as to why the change was being requested but he was probably not broken up that he will no longer represent what many call the world’s most hated man. Shkreli, 32, by the way, takes exception to that moniker, as he mentioned in a recent interview. But considering he raised the price of a life-saving drug by 5000% – well, what else are you gonna call him?  Perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he needed the extra cash so that he could buy the only known copy of a Wu-Tang Clan Album for $2 million. Just kidding. He has multiple accounts at multiple brokerage firms. Shkreli says that the lawyer switcheroo has nothing to do with the interview he did with The New York Times and called the explanation  a “dumb theory.” But you know what’s really dumb? Raising the price of a single pill from  $13.50 to $750.00. Shkreli, who is charged with blowing investors’ cash on some bad trades and then taking money out of his pharmaceutical company to pay for those trades said “the government’s case is fictitious.” He has pleaded not guilty to securities fraud and conspiracy.