Choo On This: Luxury Shoe Brand Not in Step with Coffee; Jack Ma Isn’t Feeling the Automation Love; Supreme Court to GM: Too Bad For You

Well-heeled…

Jimmy Choo

Luxury shoe brand, Jimmy Choo, will be getting a new owner now that JAB Holding Co. has decided that the company, wants to focus on its more carb/caffeinated brands. And who can blame the billionaire Reimann family that controls Jab. In the last few years, the company spent billions picking up various other food and beverage entities in the form of Krispy Kreme and Panera Bread, and well, 125 millimeter stilettos don’t really go so well with the stuff that carb dreams are made of. But Jimmy Choo may prove to be a very tempting company to a lot of potential buyers. While a pair of Jimmy Choo’s, whose fashion stock soared thanks to Carrie Bradshaw and “Sex and the City”,  may not hold the same appeal as a fresh hot donut – well, to some anyway – the fact is that shares of the luxury goods company are up 44% since the company’s debut back in October of 2014. JAB had the good business sense to pick up the iconic shoe company for 500 million pounds back in 2011. Revenue for 2016 increased over 14% to $465 million with a 43% profit increase to $54.4 million. Wall Street also digs the idea of a sale as shares of Jimmy Choo, which are traded in London, rose over 10% today.

The Jetson’s it ain’t…

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In case you were in the mood for a downer, then turn your attention to Alibaba founder and chairman, Jack Ma. During a conference hosted by the China Entrepreneur Club, Ma suggested that the future will suck. Because of robots.  He’s convinced that in the next thirty years, “the world will see much more pain than happiness.” Ma expects our automated companions to take over the workplace which might mean fewer work days but also fewer positions that require actual human attention. And the watercolor talk will be decidedly less entertaining. In fact, Ma is convinced that within thirty years, a robot will eventually grace a Time Magazine cover for being the “best CEO.” So if you think your boss has no personality now, just wait. And before you go calling Ma overly-dramatic, consider that according to the World economic Forum, it is estimated that there will be a net loss of 5 million jobs across 15 major economies thanks to automation. Sure technology is great, as long as it’s not taking over your paycheck.

Well at least they tried…

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GM tried to get the Supreme Court to block hundreds of lawsuits over its faulty ignition switches that could end up costing the automobile company billions. But the Supreme Court said no dice and the lawsuits can proceed. The reason: The company’s 2009 bankruptcy. If you recall, those faulty ignition switches were responsible for 125 deaths and more than twice as many injuries. More than 2.5 million vehicles were recalled and $2.5 billion worth of settlements dished out. GM knew about the problem before the bankruptcy so technically, it’s on the hook, since it could have just as easily notified all the owners of the vehicles that had the problem. Of course, that decision did not sit well with GM and a spokesperson said as much saying the appeal “was not a decision on the merits…” Amazingly enough, the appeal denial didn’t even freak out Wall Street – this time anyway – as shares actually rose today, albeit slightly.

Panera Bread Shacks Up With Krispy Kreme Investor; Nothing Smooth About a Recent Nivea Campaign; Payless Out. Chapter 11 In.

Yummm…

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Krispy Kreme needs to scoot on over and make some room over at JAB, the investment firm that controls it. It’s latest roomie is moving in and its name is Panera Bread. Panera is expected to fit in quite nicely at JAB, at least that’s what all the analysts keep saying, as the firm’s other entities include Peet’s Coffee and Tea, Caribou Coffee and Keurig Green Mountain Coffee. JAB will take the sandwich chain private for a tasty $7.5 billion, which comes out to about $315 per share and more than a 20% premium. And why shouldn’t JAB pay all that money? After all, the chain boasts 2,000 locations and pulls down annual sales of $5 billion. Of course it makes cash like that because it offers healthier options than most other fast-food chains, not to mention readily available wifi. For a fast-casual restaurant chain, it happens to be very tech forward. And don’t even get me started on the restaurants online ordering. Just. Don’t. Talk about a draw. Apparently JAB wants Panera to continue doing exactly what it does so well (translation: no changes) because it’s keeping all the execs in their current roles, including founder and CEO Ron Shaich. Wall Street’s was totally digging the news as well sending shares up to around $312 a pop. Add that to the fact that Panera has beat estimates for the last year and half, and JAB has got itself a pretty nifty deal.

Racist deodorant?

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Racist may not be the first word that comes to mind when you think about deodorant. But then again, that might be because you hadn’t yet heard about Nivea’s slogan in its ad for “Invisible for Black and White Deodorant.” According to marketing geniuses at Nivea, “White is Purity. ” And that’s precisely the slogan that was used to promote the product. I. AM. NOT. KIDDING. The ad was originally unleashed on the company’s Middle East Facebook page and social media did not take it well, with one outraged Twitter user writing: “Your comments are FULL of society’s refuse. This cleared your marketing department? #prnightmare.” Beiersdorf, the German company that counts Nivea amongst its holdings, wisely deleted the ad. Just not before white supremacists weighed in with their thoughts on the slogan, including this one:  “We enthusiastically support this new direction your company is taking. I’m glad we can all agree that #WhiteIsPurity.” The way white supremacists feel about an ad campaign would make a fairly good barometer, in terms of marketing efficacy, don’t you think? As to how the ad got past quality control in the first place remains a mystery.

And there’s nothing Star Jones can do about it…

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Another one bites the fiscal dust and this time the dubious distinction of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy goes to Payless Shoes. Even the likes of Tyra Banks and Star Jones wasn’t enough to save the Kansas-based chain from having to shut down around 400 stores in the United States and Puerto Rico. But that’s what you gotta do when your revenue tanks 4% just in the last year, and Amazon and deep-discount stores keep eating into your business. However, all is not lost, as Payless still has around 4,000 other stores in over thirty countries. The company just needs to do a little fiscal restructuring. But then again, don’t we all?

It’s Equal Pay Day! Just Not For Everyone; JP Morgan Chase Chief Urges…Confidence; Wells Fargo Whistleblower Gets Last Laugh. Sort of.

100% Wrong!

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It might be 2017, but in a lot of ways it may as well be 1917. For some inexplicable reason a pay gap still exists between men, women and people of color. So weird, right? Hard to believe, but on average women still make 80 cents for every dollar a man gets. That’s assuming we’re taking about white, straight women. It all goes precipitously downhill from there. It’s a good thing women have an advocate in the form of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.  Her nonprofit LeanIn.org has just whipped out its latest campaign, with a little help from Funny or Die, called #20percentcounts.  Because it absolutely does. One of the more startling facts of data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows how closing that offensive 20% pay gap would actually lift over three million working women out of poverty. Out. Of. Poverty. In honor of Equal Pay Day, look for 20% discounts from several businesses to draw attention to this issue. For the full list, stop on by at LeanIn.Org.

Sauce-d…

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Well, if Jamie Dimon is saying it then it must be so. The JP Morgan Chase & Co. CEO just regaled us with his annual letter and started by saying just how friggin’ awesome the United States is and how it is “stronger than ever before.” But. It’s a big but. More like a BUT. He then goes on to discuss how “…something is wrong” with our country. He does, after all, sit on the President’s business forum, so I guess he would notice a few things that are…amiss.  For instance, he’s not digging the labor market, or rather there aren’t enough laborers in it. Of course, inner-city schools made a brief appearance in the letter, along with destructive anti-trade policies, infrastructure spending, corporate taxation, and those ever-pesky excessive regulatory rules. Dimon really took a lot of issue with all those banking regulations that are apparently marring the business landscape of the country. In all fairness, he would know a thing or two about that. Dimon feels the public should start showing a little more (un)conditional love towards our great big, fiscally-motivated financial institutions. The takeaway, according to Dimon’s letter? “Confidence is the ‘secret sauce’ that, without spending any money, helps the economy grow.” Got that? Confidence = Secret sauce=economic growth .Who knew?

Awkward…

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In all the talk about Wells Fargo’s illegal activities and all-around bad behavior, it seems a very important figure got lost – that being the very brave whistleblower who called out the bank over its fraudulent account opening activities. Said whistle-blower lost his job in 2010 after calling to complain to the bank’s very own ethics hotline, in addition to his supervisors,  about his suspicions that Wells Fargo was engaging in some problematic business practices. Now, not only was the bank ordered to hire him back, but it also has to pay him…wait for it…$5.4 million. Of course, that number pales in comparison to the $185 million worth of settlements that Wells Fargo has had to cough up already. But still, it’s gotta hurt for Wells Fargo. Well, cry me a river. Because after all, that $5.4 million is meant to cover back pay, damages, compensation and, of course, legal fees. This payout also has the dubious distinction of being the largest award ever ordered by OSHA. Naturally, Wells Fargo is not happy with the ruling and plans to fight it. As for the employee’s plans to return to Wells Fargo, well, that remains to be seen.

 

Tesla Takes On Ford; J. Crew Says Bye to Own Icon; Burberry Wants to Go Big

Race to the finish…

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Tesla’s market cap just left Ford Motor Co. in the eco-friendly dust today. It’s all because of a much anticipated, yet massive Model 3 rollout scheduled for later this year. Assuming everything goes smoothly with that massive rollout – and why wouldn’t it? – Tesla has pinned some very pricey hopes and dreams in the form of growth targets. Those growth targets sent the company’s stock up 5.7% and why shouldn’t they? After all, the luxury electric car company smacked down analysts estimates when it reported a shipment of 25,000 vehicles for its first quarter. In case you were wondering – because I know you were – that was almost a 70% increase from last year at this time. To be fair, however, the increase is not as impressive at second glance considering that Tesla experienced some production pains beginning in October. So the company was basically making up for the pains. In the meantime, as the second largest auto company in the United States, Ford delivered 6.7 million cars and trucks last year while Tesla delivered less than 80,000. Then, last year Ford hauled in a revenue of close to $152 billion while Tesla took in just $7 billion. Yet Tesla’s very magical market capitalization now comes in at $47.6 billion, compared to the much much older Ford Motor Co.’s $44.9 billion. Let that one sink in for a bit. And in case you were in the market for some Tesla shares, its stock is currently trading at around $293 a share.

Crew-cuts…

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J. Crew’s long-time creative director, Jenna Lyons, is out after just five years on that gig and over 20 years at the label. Which is just so cray cray since she is responsible for making so much of what made J. Crew…well, J. Crew. She is credited with turning the brand around a few years ago and making it super-popular and ultra-hip. In fact, she was so good at what she was doing that she became the face/icon of the prepster brand. But then there were a bunch of unfashionable issues, a 6.7% sales drop, following a more than 8% drop the year before.  The company, if you recall – and it’s okay if you don’t – was purchased for $3 billion back in 2011. Now the retailer is staring at the wrong end of $1.5 billion in debt. All that had company brass scratching its preppy head and wondering where did things go south and how could they be remedied. Apparently, part of that remedy involved saying goodbye to Lyons. Despite that, J. Crew is a retailer like any other, and we all know how darn ugly the fiscal landscape has been like as of late for all the players, big and small. But back to Lyons, rumor has it that her exit was a mutual decision.  Although, I’ve often wondered if the word mutual takes on a very different definition when describing people who find themselves leaving their high-level executive jobs.

Just so ya know…

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Pish-posh designer Burberry just signed a $225 million licensing deal with Coty. – as in the musk-maker. However, rest assured as there will be no trench coats involved. Instead, Coty will get exclusive global rights to Burberry’s make-up and fragrance brands – which might make zero sense to you but makes plenty of cents – and dollars for both Burberry and Coty. And here’s how it’s going to work: Burberry, which pulled down revenue of 203 million pounds last year (well, it is an English company) has got the creativity end covered because, well, it does. There is a reason, after all, why Burberry can charge so much money for its merchandise. But Coty is all about distribution, and in fact, the company is quite accomplished in that arena. Burberry was shrewd enough to recognize where it could use a little oomph. Or in this case, the English brand needed a lot of oomph. So the brand did some research and shopped around before it settled on a deal with Coty.  And Burberry will be in good company at Coty, as it will join other premium fragrances including Balenciaga, Gucci and Marc Jacobs, not to mention the Clairol and Rimmel brands.

VW Still Writing Checks for its Bad Behavior; Lululemon’s Sour Outlook; Economy Shows Some Impressive Muscle

Putting this baby to bed…

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Looks like Volkswagen will be handing over $157 million to ten U.S. states to settle environmental claims over the auto company’s notorious diesel emissions scandal. Among the lucky – if you can call it that – recipients of these funds are New York, which snagged $32.5 million, Connecticut which took in $20 million, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maine, Rhode Island, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, which all took in various amounts of the remaining settlement.  Incidentally, that $157 million was well below what the states originally sought. There was already a previous $603 million settlement with 44 other states, but this latest one is separate from that. In fact, the German car company has agreed to spend up to $25 billion to settle claims and make buyback offers. Just wondering if that means it will actually hit that figure or will the company try and do their best to come in as under as possible.  As part of this latest ten-state settlement, VW now has to offer three new electric vehicles in those states. Two of those vehicles need to be SUV’s. Which to me, looks like a bit of a win for VW, but hey, what do I know. In the meantime, as part of a $4.3 billion settlement with the Department of Justice, VW pleaded guilty to fraud, obstruction of justice and falsifying of documents in a district court in Detroit earlier this month. The company can also look forward to major audits, oversight and monitoring for the next three years. Sort of like what Wells Fargo has to go through as payback for its fraudulent account scandal. Am I seeing a pattern?

Soured…

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Fancy trendy yoga apparel maker Lululemon was upsetting Wall Street’s zen today after announcing that its first quarter sales marked a “slow start” to the year. Which is  really just CEO code for “Yikes! Our quarter sucked.” And with that news, shares of the company took a very ugly 23% plunge to $51 a pop, a stock price the company hasn’t seen since December of 2015. This news was especially weird because Lululemon did better in holiday sales than most other clothing retailers. Yet now, this quarter now becomes the very first one in seven years to see same store sales go down. The company took in almost $790 in revenue with a $136 million profit that added 99 cents per share, even though analysts were expecting that figure to be closer to $784 million with a $1.01 profit per share. Last year at this time the company made off with a $117 million profit that added 85 cents per share. Competition from Nike and Under Armour definitely turned up the heat on the super-pricey Lululemon, with their vast offerings and more affordable selections. But CEO Laurent Potdevin blamed the company’s neutral offerings instead, arguing that they lacked  “depth and color for spring” that consumers are apparently craving. That’s got to be it, right?

Yes, you need to know this…

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There was a lot of spending this quarter. A lot. In fact, consumer spending was so strong that it caused the economy’s GDP to grow at a 2.1% rate, more than what was thought in initial estimates. In the process, that impressive growth rate even made up for areas of the economy that didn’t perform up to snuff, like trade and business investing. In fact, for all of 2017, analysts are actually expecting to see a 2.3% rate of growth. Of course, the fact that the labor market is strong, with higher incomes and wages, helps with all that consumer spending as well. Naturally. That 2.1% rate is a major upward shift from last year at this time when that rate stood at 1.6% and had the dubious distinction of being the weakest period of growth in five years. This next bit may cause you to cringe, but one of the reasons for this anticipated impressive growth rate is President Trump. He’s got plans, in case you hadn’t heard, for tax cuts and spending. Say what you will, but moves like that help economies. And who doesn’t like a little economic boost.  However, if it makes you feel any better, Trump thinks he can get that rate up to 4%, and economists are laughing on the inside at him for even thinking he can pull off that feat.

Amazon Lands Itself in the Middle East; Price of New Skin Drug Will Make Your Skin Crawl; Spoiler Alert: Uber’s Not So Diverse

Just Souq it up…

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In case you were wondering what Amazon’s been up to lately, here’s a hint: It’s got nothing to do with drones. Sort of. Instead, the online marketplace just agreed to scoop up Souq.com, the Dubai-based Amazon of the Middle East, and apparently the largest online retailer in the region. While we don’t know the exact numbers involved in the deal, we do know that 1.) There was one other bid by a billionaire from Dubai and 2.) It’s apparently the biggest tech merger & acquisition in the Arab world. Ever. At least according to somebody at Goldman Sachs. But I guess Goldman Sachs would know something like that. Rumor has it that although the Dubai billionaire, Mohamed Alabbar, counter-offered $800 million for the company, Amazon will be paying even less. What’s super-interesting about that factoid is that last year Souq.com was valued at around a billion following a funding round.

What a bargain…

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The good news is that the FDA actually approved a new treatment for severe eczema. The bad news is that it costs $37,000 a year to get it. But for some it might be worth every penny considering that one-third to two-thirds of the patients who used the drug actually regained clear or almost-clear skin.  Manufactured by Frace’s Sanofi SA and New York’s Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, the just approved drug, called Dupixent, is actually injected under the skin every two weeks, unlike previous eczema treatments, which are typically topical and often involve steroids and antihistamines. The injection apparently contains an antibody that does something to basically scare off the skin condition condition. Sort of. In any case, while $37,000 seems like a ridiculous amount of money to pay – because it is – consider that it’s still lower than Humira and Enbrel, drugs that also treat skin ailments. However, Wall Street didn’t look at it that way and instead sent shares of Regeneron down upon news of the five-figure price tag.

 

Well, what did you expect?

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Uber finally finally released its very first diversity report following a slew of issues, a ton of criticism, not to mention claims of sexual discrimination. But the only surprising thing about the report is that there weren’t any.  Surprises, that is. Sure the company employees minority groups. Unfortunately, those groups aren’t as well-represented at the top. The ride-hailing app employs about 12,000 people globally, and about 64% of them are males. Of that 12,000 figure, 36% are women and 22% of those women hold higher-level positions, while 15% of them work in the company’s tech areas. In the U.S., however, the numbers are almost embarrassing as blacks hold just 2.3% of leadership roles, while Hispanics represent .8% of those positions  – just not on the technical side.  And just to be clear, those percentages are not exclusive to Uber, but rather are fairly representative of Silicon Valley tech companies. Except now Uber pledged to throw $3 million at the problem in order to find solutions to make those numbers...better.

Alaska Airlines Giving the Boot to Virgin America Brand; So Not Cool-atta: Frozen Drink Going Away; Disney Can’t Shake Iger. And it Doesn’t Seem to Want to

So long…

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If you’re anything you’re like me, then I bet you look forward to those fun safety videos played on Virgin America flights. But alas, come 2019, those videos might just become a sweet memory as Alaska Airlines plans to retire the Virgin America brand at that time. Apparently, extensive accounting research was done to arrive at this conclusion. That conclusion being that if Alaska Airlines wants to be successful on the West Coast after throwing down $2.6 million to merge/acquire Virgin America, then it would be prudent to stick with one name. And considering that Alaska Airlines is the one paying all that money, it’s only fair, I suppose, that it should get to stick with its own name. Alaska Airlines, however, has promised to keep the mood lighting, music and other features that made Virgin America more fun than other airlines. Virgin America will be joining the not-so-distinguished-anymore ranks of Continental Airlines and US Airways, whose names also used to grace airports all over the country. Once the merger is finalized, Alaska Airlines will have the dubious distinction of being the fifth largest airline in the country.

Just not good enough…

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After much soul-searching and presumably a lot of accounting research – Dunkin’ Donuts is ditching the Coolatta drink that refreshed so many parched palates over the years. The official word on why Dunkin’ Donuts is ditching the beverage is because it “…isn’t good enough.” It doesn’t get more scientific than that. But fear not Dunkin’-lovers, as the donut chain will not leave you empty-handed and un-caffeinated. Enter the “Frozen Dunkin’ Coffee.” Sure the name lacks the “cool” vibe of its predecessor, but its rumored to have a lot more coffee in it. In fact, part of the push for the new beverage has to do with the fact that special new brews are all the rage right now. And naturally Dunkin’ wants to cash in on that momentum. Also be on the lookout for the Dunkin’ Energy Punch and the Caramel Shaved Ice Espresso, among other new offerings. As for social media, plenty of Dunkin devotees didn’t take too kindly to the announcement with one disgruntled Coolatta drinker writing: “@DunkinDonuts getting rid of the coffee coolatta? Are you insane?” Nuff’ said.

So hard to say goodbye…

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Apparently Disney is super pleased with Bob Iger’s performance since the House of Mouse just extended the CEO’s contract until 2019 (when the Virgin America name will be retired. Coincidence? I think not. Really. I don’t) Actually it’s because Disney still hasn’t found a suitable replacement for Iger. The plan was for Iger to only stay on in his post until 2018. But since there’s no heir in the wings just yet, it was thought best to hold onto him until that could be determined. Former Disney COO Tom Staggs was rumored to be the one to fill that role, but then he left, leaving Disney to go back to the drawing board. This is the third time an extension was added to Iger’s contract. And who can blame Disney. Whoever replaces Iger is going to have some massive shoes to fill and will constantly find themselves being compared to a CEO whose leadership the board calls “outstanding.” In fact, under this outstanding leadership for the last ten years, Disney became the first movie studio to hit the $7 billion ceiling for global box office receipts. News of this latest extension sent the company stock up. Which makes perfect sense since during Iger’s tenure, investors took in a 448% return on Disney shares.