Ali-blah-blah Earnings; Hershey’s Beefing Up; No Stopping Facebook

Who would have thunk it?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Powerhouse stock Alibaba, with its record-breaking $25 billion IPO, took a nasty beating today as it announced earnings that were less than impressive. Revenue did rise for the e-commerce giant, but not as much as expected, indicating growth slowed. In numbers that were nothing short of disappointing, revenue came in at $4.22 billion when estimates called for $4.45 billion.  Its stock took an unwelcome drop to under $90 today – a major blow to a stock that had seen a high of $120 fairly recently and gets way more commerce action than both Amazon and eBay combined. Then there’s the Chinese government, who despite being fairly chummy (as rumor has it) with Alibaba, has been coming down hard on CEO Jack Ma and Co. for not doing their part, on behalf of consumer protection, to crack down on counterfeiters and false advertising. Government officials are even accusing Alibaba employees of taking bribes from some shifty merchants.  With 50,000 merchants signed up with Alibaba, there are bound to be some bad eggs in there. In the meantime, Yahoo has decided to spin off its remaining Alibaba shares into a separate, publicly traded independent registered investment company aptly named…are you ready for this one? SpinCo.

Would you like some filet mignon with that chocolate bar?

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hershey, as in my most favorite chocolate, that also happens to be my most favorite delectable migraine inducer, is adding some high-protein snack power to its confection arsenal. Krave Pure Foods, founded in 2009 by Jonathan Sebastiani, will now join Twizzlers and Almond Joy, among other brands, assuming its place in the Hershey family. Krave will be bringing with it a whole lotta beef jerky. No joke. Snack tastes are indeed shifting, my virtual friends. Those snacking tastes are shifting towards meatier, protein-infused foods and are proving to be quite a profitable industry – one that is growing at a double digit pace. Fiscal rumors have it that Krave pulled in $35 million in sales this past year. Other fiscal rumors report that Hershey paid between $200 – $300 million for Krave. So what better way for Hershey to boost its sagging sales then adding some new beefier selections that Krave just happens to offer up. Hershey net sales did go up by 2.7%, which is good. Just not good enough. Analysts expected $2.01 billion in sales, but Hershey only managed to come in at $2.01 billion. Happy snacking!

It just keeps getting better and better and…

Image courtesy of FrameAngel/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FrameAngel/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Social media giant Facebook had yet another stellar quarter, once again pummeling expectations. Some of that fourth quarter magic is due in large part because of Facebook’s focus shift into the mobile arena, and all the ad revenue its racking up there. In fact, 2/3 of the social media company’s ad revenue came from the wonderful world of ads sending revenue up 53% to $3.59 billion. And who doesn’t like revenue numbers like that? Facebook pulled in $701 million in profit and $0.25 a share when last year it pulled in $523 million and $0.20 per share – and yes, that was a good quarter last year too. The company even gained 13% more monthly active users and now stands at 1.4 billion people who soak up the joys of Facebook.

Apple’s iPhone Sales Bursting at the Screens; Social Media Bets on Real-Time Ads for Superbowl; Shake Shack IPO Just Keeps Getting Tastier

And the magic number is…

Image courtesy of SOMMAI/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of SOMMAI/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Apple’s first quarter earnings shocked everybody…that is, except for Apple. It was shocking because analysts didn’t come even remotely close to the numbers Apple posted. Besides its other products, including iPads, iPods, Macs, etc, Apple sold a whopping 74.5 million iPhones taking in about $74.6 billion with earnings of $3.06 per share. Analysts estimated that, Apple, the world’s most valuable company (valued at $178 billion, by the way) would only pull in a paltry $67.7 billion and $2.60 per share. Consumers are clearly digging the bigger screens of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Apple graciously waited until after the market closed yesterday to announce its earnings, following a fiscally dismal day that saw the Dow drop close to 300 points. Now keep an eye on Apple’s second quarter when it begins gracing the universe with its Apple Watch, which is rumored to be going for about $350.

It’s getting real-ly ad-dicting…

Image courtesy of sumetho/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of sumetho/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Facebook is looking to pull a “Twitter” during this year’s Superbowl with “real-time ads.” For real. Just know that whatever gets posted or discussed on feeds during the “big game,” Facebook will be picking up on keywords and start sending out ads according to those posts and discussions. With 155 million daily users in the US and Canada alone, companies are hoping that this tactic will bring in some major revenue from the sheer force of this advertising tactic. Twitter, which is already a pro when it comes to “real-time ads” is even setting up a “war room” (Twitter’s term, not mine) for 13 advertisers, among them the ever-reliable PepsiCo and Anheuser Busch, in an effort to crank out on-the-spot/fly tweets, ads and other assorted means of subtle yet highly effective and entertaining advertising. Considering that NBC is raking in $4.5 million for a thirty second spot during the Superbowl, all this effort going towards digital advertising is a relative bargain.

Shake Shack-ing things up…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As burger joint (with “joint” being a major understatement) Shake Shack gears up for its much anticipated IPO, the company just raised its IPO range to $17 – $19 per share, versus last week’s rage of $14 – $16 per share. Yes, the food is that good. The company’s valuation has now been raised to a staggering $675 million, with 63 stores worldwide and 31 in New York City alone. It’s incredibly hard to believe that restaurateur Danny Meyer started his shake and burger phenomenon out of a modest little hot dog cart in 2001, graduating to just a kiosk in 2004. But now, Shake Shack is grilling up burgers and serving up shakes in 9 countries and 34 cities. Its New York City restaurants, valued at over $10 million, are estimated to pull in over $7 million in annual sales. The other Shake Shack establishments scattered over the globe pull in closer to the $3 million range. 5.75 million shares of Shake Shack will be offered  – under the aptly named ticker SHAK, and are expected to pull in an additional $95 million.

Snapchat’s latest News it and Lose it Feature; American Airlines Earnings Soar; Dow’s Downer of Day

Snap to it…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Maybe Snapchat’s $10 billion valuation isn’t so crazy after all now that the disappearing messaging app has introduced its latest – and possibly greatest – feature, Discovery. This new feature is going to offer bite-sized bits of news giving the user  several options to get more on a story all with the convenient, effortless swipe of a finger. And then, true to Snapchat tradition (and technology), the stories will last for 24 hours before…you guessed it, they vanish into thin virtual air. A slew of media companies are already partnered with the app, including (but not limited to) CNN, ESPN and Yahoo News. The hope is that this little partnership will take that younger, hipper audience of 100 million monthly active users (and counting) and turn them into traditional news enthusiasts. Then there’s the ad revenue aspect. Gotta love those ads (and the revenue they hopefully bring in). Snapchats plans to post ads and then split the revenue with its media partners.

Things that make you go hmmm…

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

American Airlines had a very good year and I can assure you I had nothing to do with it. The company posted its fourth quarter earnings regaling us with the news that it scored $597 million in net income. That number was particularly impressive since last year at this time the company posted a $2 billion loss. To be fair, (and I hate it that I have to be fair to American Airlines) that loss was because of one-time costs from its merger with US Airways and from its bankruptcy case. American Airlines also hooked in $1.1 billion in earnings with $1.52 per share, beating Wall Street’s estimates by a single, solitary cent. American Airlines can thank dropping fuel prices for some of its impressive earnings and the company plans to take a chunk of its $2.9 billion profit to update its pre-historic fleet and raise salaries. But if you’re hoping for a drop in fares, don’t hold your breath. It’s not happening.

Dow and out…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s blizzard/storm had nothing on the Dow’s performance today which looked particularly disastrous with no thanks to some of the world’s biggest companies taking huge hits. Microsoft takes the number one spot with more than a 9% hit on its stock price today, despite the fact that it beat earnings estimates by 4%. Investors just didn’t see the growth, sales and transitioning that they expect from the once powerful and mighty software company. Oh well. Caterpillar takes the number two spot with a 7% hit on its shares. The company missed earnings expectations by $0.20. As prices for copper, coal and iron ore come down, there is less demand for mining equipment, which is precisely what Caterpillar does. The fact that the dollar is stronger than most other currencies is also putting a crimp in the Dow today. Procter & Gamble, is among those companies whose lousy earnings took a nasty 3.8% hit in its stock price, in part, because of this strong dollar of ours.  Other companies that have seen better days on the Dow include: Intel, Cisco, IBM, Nike. But alas, the list does not end there.

Bitcoin Makes its Stateside Debut; Bad Day for Barbie; Fruity Pebbles Gets Some Company

It’s a bit time…

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The first US regulated bitcoin exchange has made its US virtual debut. San Francisco-based Coinbase raised $106 million with some of that backing coming from Andreessen Horowitz and even the New York Stock Exchange. Which must mean that this whole crypto-currency thing is super legit, despite the fact that there is no government backed regulation for it, nor is it backed by the FDIC. But no worries as Coinbase, which already has 1.9 million users, 2.2 million accounts and 40,000 companies signed up with it, says it is insured against hacking, internal theft and accidental loss.  How very forward-thinking. Especially considering that earlier this month, European bitcoin exchange, Bitstamp, suffered a hack attack that cost it about $5.2 million. Of course, nobody will forget how Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox was forced to call it quits after getting brutally hacked…to bits. Coinbase is currently allowed to conduct business in 25 states and makes its money by taking 0.25% of Bitcoin transactions. How very industrious. But the exchange doesn’t take its cut for the first two months after opening an account because Coinbase very thoughtfully felt this would be a good gimmick to attract more business. Hey, sign me up. Now if I could just get myself some Bitcoins…

Just not that into you anymore…

Image courtesy of ratch0013/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ratch0013/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Big changes are taking place at Mattel, the toy company famous for the ever-evolving “Barbie Doll.” Barbie is, in part anyways, the reason for the major power shift at Mattel. It seems girls are just not that into her anymore. Sales of the doll worldwide have been falling for the past few years with this last quarter, which included the holiday shopping season, ending on a particularly dismal note. Barbie, her friends and that malleable Malibu Dream House just can’t compete anymore with Disney’s Frozen dolls. Barbie also can’t seem to compete with electronic devices (and really, what can?). Mattel earned close to $150 million and $0.44 a share, which seems decent, unless of course that is a 60% drop from what the company pulled in last year. Mattel also said that because the dollar was so strong against other currencies, it affected sales. Except the dollar’s strength against other currencies didn’t seem to affect sales of the aforementioned Disney Frozen dolls and electronic devices.  Hence, Bryan Stockton, who up until this morning was Mattel’s Chairman and CEO, will be replaced by Christopher Sinclair , who will become interim chairman and CEO.

Man that’s a lot of cereal…

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Post Holdings Inc., which is best known, in my most humble opinion anyways, for Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles, has decided to pick up MOM Brands to the crunchy tune of $1.15 billion. MOM Brands is best known, in my most humble opinion for Malt-O-Meal hot cereal – and perhaps, even better known for its seventies/eighties era commercial with that kid who asks for some more Malt-O-Meal, which was supposed to send our mothers into a tizzy to run out and buy boxes of the low-in-sugar breakfast (it should be duly noted that I didn’t fall for it). I wonder what became of him. In any case, MOM Brands is also known for ripping off other cereals and selling them for less, or as they say in the land of marketing, value brands. Laugh all you want, but those value brands brought in revenue of $760 million and $120 million in profit. This new crunchy company combo will take an 18% bite out of the market share for cereal, with General Mills and Kellogg’s still taking 30% of market share.

Target: Canada, We’re Out!; Let’s Be Franc; Caesar’s Busted House

You call that neutral?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Swiss National Bank did something today that had epic ramifications no matter how far away you are from the purifying air of the Swiss Alps, the amazing epicenter of fine chocolate and the home offices of Swatch. You see, up until today the Swiss had a cap on its currency, the franc. This cap was (is?) meant to keep the franc from going too high against the Euro. While it might seem like a good thing for a currency to be high, it’s actually problematic on so many levels. If you’d like to know all about it, then I suggest you Google the issue as it is a long megilla and I like to keep this blog on the short side. In any case, this cap was in place for three very peaceful fiscally pleasant years, since the European debt crisis back in 2011. And then POOF! The bank removed it just like that further weakening an already fickle Euro and sending Swiss stocks plummeting. Companies there who rely on exports are up in arms. Then there are those very justifiably upset folks in other parts of Europe who just discovered their mortgages got a whole lot pricier because they are in francs. In general, major market shake-ups, in any part of the world are not appreciated. Stability is much appreciated. Lack of stability and seismic shifts suggest people are about to – if they haven’t already – lose copious amounts of money, no matter where they reside on the planet.

Oh, goodbye, Canada…

Image courtesy of digitalart/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/freedigitalphotos.net

It just wasn’t meant to be between Target and Canada. Like several other US based retailers, including BestBuy and Big Lots Inc., Target is packing up and heading back south of the Canadian border. The Minneapolis-based company has already begun liquidating its 133 stores just four years after it announced plans to head on over to our very polite neighbors to the North. Signs that the expansion might be a miss became clear in 2013’s third quarter earnings when Target saw a huge 46% drop in company wide profit. Growth was much slower than what was expected and the numbers from this holiday season were just not as good as they could and should have been. The clincher came when CEO Brian Cornell had an analysis done which indicated, much to everyone’s fiscal horror, that it would take this very costly endeavor six years before it would turn a profit. Experts believe that unloading this Canadian project gone awry will eventually turn Target’s earnings back in the right (as in, up) direction. As to the fate of some 17,600 Canadian Target employees, the company has graciously asked to set up a $59 million contribution into an employee trust that would provide all those folks 16 weeks of compensation.

Oh craps!

Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Caesars Entertainment Corp, the largest US casino, and the one with the white Bengal tigers went bust. Oh the irony! The house goes bust. With $18.4 billion in debt, the casino is looking to dump $10 billion of it and so has decided to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy. Again, cue the irony sentiment. Not everybody agreed on the bankruptcy plan. Junior noteholders stand to make back less than 10% of the many many millions they are owed and have filed a petition to get Caesars to go into involuntary bankruptcy so that they’d get better terms. The casino said it has every bit of intention of continuing to pay its suppliers and the casino will still remain open so as to give gamblers ample opportunity to go bankrupt, themselves. No word on how the tigers feel about all this.

 

Doggy Doo Quarter at JPMorgan Chase; No December Retail Magic; Carnitas Crisis at Chipotle

Dog poo days…

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, the biggest bank by assets, is not having a very good day, it seems. Mr. Dimon said the bank will “try to avoid stepping in dogs**t.” A highly technical term coming from the mouth of one Wall Street’s most powerful (and presumably, potty-mouthed) bankers. I guess when you have had better fiscal quarters, “stepping in dogs***” seems an adequate description. Sure the bank pulled in $1.19 per share. So yeah, it made money. There are a ton of companies who would be thrilled to pull in earnings like that. But the bank missed expectations. When you’re JPMorgan Chase and analysts expect you to pull in $1.31, well then, missing analyst expectations is more than a bit of a drag. It also suggests that its competitors will fare similarly. JPMorgan Chase took  a 6.6% hit in its quarterly profit. A $1 billion plus legal bill, courtesy of Uncle Sam’s litany of investigations, is certainly partly responsible for putting a crimp in those earnings.  “Banks are under assault,” says Mr. Dimon when asked about all those legal fees. And I’m sure you’re hurting for him. But let’s face it, that $1 billion is nothing compared to that $13 billion settlement JPMorgan Chase ponied up back in 2013 over its less than desirable role in the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

Not so merry after all…

Image courtesy of ratch0013/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ratch0013/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The most wonderful time of the year was not the most wonderful, fiscally speaking. Far from it, in fact. The Commerce Department and the National Retail Federation regaled us with the lousy news that December showered us with bad tidings of a .9% drop in retail from the previous month. Sales hit $616 billion, which seems awfully jolly. It was even a 4% increase over the same period last year. But again, I reiterate – a .9% drop, month to month. Is it too late to say bah humbog? I think not. Interestingly enough, some of that drop in consumer spending was actually because not as much money was being spent on gas. Dropping oil prices made holiday driving a bit more fiscally festive, just not lucrative. Fun fact: About 10% of retail sales comes from gas purchases. But those steep discounts from retailers, as they desperately attempted to lure shoppers, actually proved to be a major downer for those retail numbers. Hence, there is no good fiscal cheer to be had. But we’re not supposed to get too worked up over this drop since it marks the first time since 2011 that holiday sales even increased by more than 4%. So carry on then.

Big problemo…

Image courtesy of KEKO64/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of KEKO64/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Chipotle has put the kibosh on its barbecued pork offerings at about 600 of its eateries after it was found that one of its major pork suppliers was not acting with integrity i.e. not complying with animal welfare standards. So uncool on so many levels.  Chipotle’s policy of serving “food with integrity” should do much to strengthen the beautiful bond between diners who appreciate the sentiment  and the restaurants that seek to uphold it . But alas, it’s not known if and how badly this carnitas crisis will affect Chipotle’s quarterly sales and profits.

GM is Looking to Outclass Tesla: Über is Finally Making Friends Again; Job Market is Looking Even Better Than Our Wildest Dreams – Sort of

Tesla? Tesla who?

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The US auto industry sold some 16.5 million vehicles this year. Yet only 120,000 of those were of the electric and hybrid ilk even though it seems like everyone and their mother drives one. Interestingly enough (or not), some 20 electric/hybrid models have made their presence felt in the automobile market. With oil prices dropping, the appeal of these anti-gas guzzlers are dropping too. So what better time than for GM to announce that Tesla needs to uh…step aside and make way for not one, but two electric/ hybrid vehicles it plans to officially churn out by 2017. But Tesla’s are so cool, what’s to worry? Well, for one, GM’s Chevy Bolt (such an adorable name I can’t stand it and it even rhymes with the Chevy Bolt) boasts a range of 200 miles on a single charge. If that’s not electrifying then I don’t what is. Oh wait, yes I do. The price tag will be $30,000, $5,000 less than Tesla’s Model 3 also due out in 2017. To be fair, no word on how options will affect those digits. By the way, if you find yourself cruising the streets of Palo Alto, you might just notice quite a bit more Chevy Volts tooling around than…dare I say it, Teslas. Just saying.

Wanna borrow my notes?

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Über is finally making headlines for not getting shut down. Well, almost. The ride-sharing app made a deal with Boston officials to share its “smart data” all in the name of goodwill. And maybe some good press, too. While protecting the privacy of its riders and drivers, Über and Boston officials hope to solve some of the city’s problems like easing traffic congestion and improving local infrastructure. Fills you with warm fuzzies, doesn’t it? It was seen as a particularly surprising move for two reasons: one, last month saw the arrest of a Boston area Über driver on assault charges. Two, Über didn’t hand over its “smart data” to officials in New York City even though they asked for it too. In fact, New York’s mighty and powerful Taxi & Limousine Commission managed to shut down all but one of Über’s operations for not coughing up the data. However, Über continues to operate pending the results of an appeal. Rumor has it that Über is in talks with New York City officials, much to the discontent of the TLC, who denies “talks” are even taking place with the competition. By the way, Über announced lower fares in 48 cities. New York City isn’t one of them. As a matter of fact, nor is Boston. Go figure.

Labor Market High…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Job openings in the US hit a 14 year high in November. When the job market posts such impressive digits, you know what that means, dontcha? It means that great numbers are expected for 2015. No seriously. It really does. November saw job openings increase by 2.9% to 4.97 million jobs. That’s a lot of benefits. Not since January 2001 has the job market been such a pleasant topic of conversation. All this hiring gets employers thinking that they’re going to need even more peeps to help churn out all those goods and services which we apparently need and cannot go without. So, provided that all this fabulous job hiring continues we might just be able to look forward to…dare I say it…wage increases. But that’s experts talking. Not me. Just saying. Then there are all those quitters. A good job market loves quitters. For real. Because when quitters quit it means they have moved onto better jobs/careers/life changes. So there.