Elon Musk’s Mighty Tweet-ful; Confident Are We? Yes We Are; Cable Companies Unite

Surprise!

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tesla shares continued its climb today all because of one itty bitty tweet Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted yesterday. It helped, by the way that he has close to two million followers and the tweet in questions was re-tweeted thousands upon thousands of times. The tweet went as follows: “Major new Tesla product line – not a car – will be unveiled at our Hawthorne Design Studio on Thurs 8pm, April 30.” Hmmm. Whatever could that be?, thought everybody on Wall Street, and beyond. The top guess is a battery for buildings that stores energy from a home’s solar cells. Definitely a useful item, provided it works. Incidentally/conveniently, Mr. Musk is chairman of Solar City. His tweet-timing was impeccable, as pre-suspense-filled tweet, shares of Tesla were hovering around $181.80, which might seem impressive, just not for Tesla. Shares of the company had been going south on news that competition is fierce and things in China aren’t going as smoothly as thought. Post-suspense-filled tweet, shares went upwards of $192.

In confidence…

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

More jobs. More money from those jobs. Americans are confident that these pleasant things are in store for the U.S. economy and if you don’t believe me you can just check out the latest reading from the Consumer Confidence Index. Americans aren’t just a little confident, either. They’re a lot confident. A lot more confident than they were last month and a lot more confident than the 96.4 predicted by analysts. A year ago, that reading was a paltry 83.9. Last month’s reading stood at a respectable 98.8, and analysts expected little if any change to these digits. Instead, the reading took a major jump to 101.3, the second largest reading since December 2007. Americans are sure that spending will improve and increase when and if the weather (ever) gets better. I did say if, mind you. According to the Commerce Department, spending didn’t change much in February but since it accounts for 70% of the economy, everything really will be awesome (thank you, Lego movie) if and when it goes up, according to our confident expectations.  Interestingly enough, when polled, a majority of consumers confidently said they were in the market for a car. Just not so much a house. Or a major appliance for the house. Or a even a vacation to get away from their house. Maybe next month they’ll feel differently.

Charter this…

Image courtesy of  ratch0013/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ratch0013/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So cable companies are finding themselves in a bit of a bind lately because non-cable entities are putting a huge damper on their sales. By non-cable entities, I do mean companies such as Netflix, Amazon’s version of television and other purveyors of finely produced, amply-entertaining, award-winning, nail-biting, binge-worthy fare. So what’s a cable company to do? Well lately, several of them have begun merging/buying/joining with each other in an effort to pick up subscribers and soften the blow to their sales figures. Today’s latest deal involves the fourth largest cable company in the U.S., Charter Communications. Charter is looking to pick up Bright House networks, the sixth largest cable company in the U.S, to the tune of $10.4 billion. For this lofty sum of money, Charter will pick up 2 million more subscribers and become the second largest cable company in all the land. Because Bright House has all these customers in Central Florida, Alabama, Michigan, Indiana and California, it’ll give Charter a nice big hold on those areas, provided the deal goes through, of course. News of the deal sent shares of Charter north. As for Bright House, well, it’s a privately held company.

Home Sweet Amazon-Serviced Home; Ben Bernanke Joins the Blogosphere; AG Settles Score With GNC

Is there anything it won’t sell?

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Amazon has come out with yet another way to take your money. This time it’s through its new Amazon Home Services with over 700 home improvement service providers services at your fingertip, with verified reviews for added peace of mind. Plumbing problems? Too tired to assemble that new gym equipment? Don’t feel like vacuuming? No problem. Just log on and Amazon will make sure it all gets taken care of. Services are paid for via your Amazon account only after the project is completed. So why is Amazon’s home service offerings different from all others, like Angie’s List, Yelp etc.?  Perhaps it the comprehensive vetting process it conducts, including making sure service professionals are licensed, insured and have had their backgrounds thoroughly checked. But Amazon also offers a money-back guarantee charmingly called a “happiness guarantee.” Apparently, consumers also trust Amazon, giving an added incentive to use the ever-powerful e-commerce giant. To be fair, however, I too, once trusted Amazon. But then last month one of its vendors sent me a completely different set of fairy wings than the ones I ordered. Just sayin’.

Payback…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The blogosphere just got a bit more crowded now that Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke joined the mix with his own blog for the Brookings Institute. He is, after all, its latest Distinguished Fellow in Residence of the Economic Studies Program. It’s very pish posh, indeed. The position, I mean. Not the blog. “Now that I’m a civilian again, I can once more comment on economic and financial issues without my words being put under the microscope by Fed watchers.” Which means he doesn’t have to be polite anymore and gets to say whatever he wants. For instance, Mr. Bernanke can use his blog for, among other purposes, striking back at the many critics he’s had over the years who took issue with his policies. Janet Yellen, who took over for him last year, does not get to have that kind of fun. At least for now. In today’s post, Mr. Bernanke graciously explains the reasons behind the low interest rates. By the way, he’d like you to know that it’s not necessarily because the Fed is keeping it that way – though there is some truth to that.

Whaddya mean there’s no ginseng in there? 

Image courtesy of Getideaka/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Getideaka/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This time it is not a bank that has reached a deal with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. GNC Holdings Inc. begrudgingly settled a lawsuit over its Herbal Plus products found at GNC, of course, but also at Target, Walmart and Walgreens. Apparently, it wasn’t at all clear that the ingredients listed on the outside of the bottles of the dietary supplements were actually present on the inside. Who would have thunk it? The presence of things like echinacea, ginkgo biloba, ginseng and St. John’s wort couldn’t be verified when the AG used DNA barcoding methods to test for them. That’s kind of a huge embarrassing problem in the $33 billion a year dietary supplement industry. Of course, GNC disagrees vehemently with the AG’s testing methods saying the “lawsuits are without merit.”  GNC, however, used its own internal test methods, in addition to third party independent test methods which, naturally yielded different results. Despite all that, the supplement company will now be using bar-coding methods –  just like the AG’s office –  beginning in the next 18 months, so that consumers will know for sure if there really is echinacea in that bottle they’re holding, conveniently labeled “echinacea.”

 

 

American Apparel Just Can’t Seem to Get it Together; Lululemon’s Un-zen-like Projections; Population Popularity

Overpaid…

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like American Apparel has some legal troubles, yet again. Only this time it’s not because of ex-CEO and founder, Dov Charney (sort of), who is apparently still trying to get his job back. The SEC launched an internal investigation into the apparel company over a very pricey review of the ousting of  Mr. Charney and all the unpleasant accusations against him, including several sexual misconduct allegations. However, to be fair, Mr. Charney’s lawyer called the allegations…don’t laugh now…”baseless.” So just how pricey was this review? Like $10.4 million pricey. Which seems expensive  considering the company’s stock was precipitously tanking, is hard up for $27.6 million with unpaid long-term loans, and has just about $8 million in cash. The price tag certainly got the SEC wondering if this major expense helped send the company into debt. The SEC wants to determine if any laws were broken during the review. But don’t hold your breath for any juicy details as the investigation is “non-public.”

Namaste…

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Things are looking sort of zen at Lululemon Athletica as it announced its earnings with some decent numbers reported. The fitness apparel company took in profits of $111 million at 78 cents per share when analysts only predicted 73 cents a share. Last year the yoga apparel maker took in $109.7 million and 75 cents a share. But here’s where things aren’t so zen: Lululemon’s profit projections for the year are $1.85 – $1.90 – much less impressive than what analysts would prefer to see: $2.07 per share. It is kind of odd that Lululemon’s projections would be so much lower than analysts’ predictions considering the retailer has all these big revamping and expansion plans. So, it kind of got Wall Street wondering how much growth can they really expect to see from Lululemon following its successful holiday season. Hence, shares went down over 3%.

Booms and bummers…

Image courtesy of Craftyjoe/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Craftyjoe/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Florida is where it’s at. At least according to the latest stats from the U.S. Census Bureau. Florida becomes the third most populous state, knocking New York off that perch. But a lot of that growth is coming from a place called The Village, Florida, ranked as the fastest growing city with a 5.4% population increase last year to 114,000 people. And with a name like that, of course tons of people are setting up house over there. Wish I was. But that was just one of the many cities experiencing major growth in the Sunshine State. Interestingly enough, and even a bit macabre, is the fact that these new residents helped offset the number of deaths of the many retirees who migrate to the state for their golden years, propelling Florida to a population of of 19.9 million people. New York only has 19.7 million. But California is the number one most populous state with 38.8 million folks.  Some of the other big winners, or rather gainers, were Williams County and Stark County, both in North Dakota, which earned the top spots for fastest growing counties. Of course, the booming oil industry and surplus of jobs can be thanked for that. A big loser? Wayne County, Michigan which took a population loss of about 11,000 people.

Kraft Ketch-es Up; Amazon Wants FAA to Start Droning Around; Lumber Liquidators’ Slight Rebound

Ketchin’ Up…

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

HJ Heinz, as in, ketchup is teaming up with Kraft foods, as in Mac & Cheese and Philadelphia Cream Cheese, to become the world’s fifth largest food and beverage company. And just who is behind this master plan for food domination? None other than everybody’s favorite (and only) Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet – well, Berkshire Hathaway really, and Brazilian Venture Capital firm 3G. The two entities are throwing $10 billion at the deal, which seems like a relative bargain since the merger is expected to generate $28 billion in annual revenue.  Of course, federal regulators still need to give their seal of approval, along with Kraft shareholders. But considering that the stock went up a whopping 32% on the news I’m guessing they won’t mind. Plus, if you are one of the lucky shareholders, then look out for a cash dividend of $16.50 per share, not to mention a 49% stake in the new venture.

 Droning on and on…

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Amazon is taking on the FAA, telling them they lack the “impetus” to develop drone policies in a timely manner – said in the nicest possible way, of course. The e-commerce giant wants the agency to move quicker on issuing permits for drone testing. Like a lot quicker. Like before the model drones Amazon plans to use for its Prime Air Delivery Service become obsolete. Oops. Too late. Even Senator Cory Booker agreed with Amazon saying that if the FAA had been around during the time of the Wright Brothers, then commercial flying would have literally never taken flight. Then there are all those restrictions associated with the testing. For instance, drones can’t fly higher than 400 feet, and in some cases 200 feet, and the drones must also always be in view of the pilot. Where’s the fun in that? Amazon, and several other companies are wondering why it takes so long for the U.S., on average, six months longer to issue these permits when in other countries it takes about 1-2 months?  The drone industry is also irritated by it all seeing as how drone delivery is apparently way more economical, faster and cheaper with the added bonus of less traffic and pollution? Who doesn’t like that? But to be fair, the FAA has some not-so-minor concerns about the potential for drones to collide with commercial carriers carrying passengers. Not to mention the potential loss of link between a drone pilot and the drone.

Lumbering on…

Image courtesy of  Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lumber Liquidators stock went up today by 8%, which actually came as somewhat of a surprise since the stock is down 59% for the year after a scathing “60 Minutes” report that found high levels of formaldehyde in its laminate flooring from China. The reason for its little upswing is presumably because the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has entered the fray by launching a federal investigation into the claims, also involving the EPA, CDC and Federal Trade Commission. Lumber Liquidators is said to be fully cooperating in the investigation. No kidding. But don’t bother holding your breath for results – they won’t be in for several months. Lumber Liquidators, by the way, says “60 Minutes” used a test that is considered unreliable, by Lumber Liquidators standards anyways. The company, which has 350 locations throughout the United States, has graciously offered to come test the flooring in your home. If high levels of formaldehyde are found to be present, then rest assured…Lumber Liquidators will do more testing. If those tests keep coming back positive then yeah, they’ll finally agree to replace the questionable, carcinogenic flooring.

H&M Goes Haute on Profits; Google-gratulations; Taco Bell Gets Biscuit-y

So trendy…

Image courtesy of sscreations/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of sscreations/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

H&M posted some particularly impressive digits with profits up 36% to about $423 million. Of course, since it’s a Swedish company, those numbers came out to 3.61 billion kronors. I’m guessing analysts don’t do a lot of shopping at the world’s second largest retailer because they only expected 3.32 billion kronors. H&M attributes a lot of that success to some major online and store expansion activity. Whatever it was, it worked.  But here’s where things got dicey. Shares of the company fell over 3% because of one not so teeny tiny problem: Revenue for the first three weeks of March slowed to 9% from February’s 15%. This put a damper on the profit surge news. However, one analyst graciously pointed out that it was the first time in 17 months that growth even slowed to under 10%. So no one’s too concerned. It wouldn’t be right not to blame some of that on a winter that has overstayed its welcome. However, that strong dollar of ours is also going to be messing with H&M too, as it’s going to get a lot pricier to purchase goods and services to put out all those fabulously trendy and cheap clothes. Then there’s the not so minor issue that so much of its merchandise is purchased in dollars even though its sold in Euros. That might put a fiscal crimp on things, as well. Strong dollar or weak euro, H&M still has plans to open 400 stores worldwide.

Googled it…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDgitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDgitalPhotos.net

Ruth Porat. Remember that name. That is, if you didn’t already, as she is regarded as one of the “most powerful women on Wall Street.” Except she’s ditching Wall Street for a new gig in Silicon Valley as Google’s new CFO. Just how big a deal is it? Well, Wall Street liked the appointment so much that Google’s stock went up almost 3% today because of it. Yeah, she’s that impressive. Ms. Porat has been at Morgan Stanley for 28 years but is no stranger to tech having worked on some major deals for both Amazon and eBay. During 2008’s nasty fiscal crisis, she advised the U.S. Department of Treasury on AIG, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.  She was even under consideration for the role of Deputy Treasury Secretary. Not too shabby. She’ll be replacing Patrick Pichette who said he’s retiring to spend more time with his family. So friggin’ sweet.  Ms. Porat gets to report to Google co-founder and CEO, Larry Page, who is presumably just as stoked about his new hire as Wall Street is.

Would you like that to go?

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Is it a taco? Or is it a biscuit. Excellent question and for Taco Bell, whatever you decide probably won’t matter as long as you buy the darn thing. The fast-food chain is heating up the breakfast wars, yet again, armed with its latest weaponry – the taco biscuit, a biscuit in the shape of a taco. Got that? Last year Taco Bell took an advertising swing at McDonald’s with a campaign featuring people whose names were actually Ronald McDonald, devouring a Taco Bell breakfast and loving it. While it’s no doubt that McDonald’s did not care for this little shtick, the fact is that breakfast at the Golden Arches still accounts for 25% of McDonald’s sales when Taco Bell only sees 6% of its sales going towards the most important meal of the day (so they say).  Since traffic has been going up at fast-food establishments for the last four years, does the Taco Biscuit have what it takes to propel Taco Bell and its 6,000 U.S. establishments to hit its goal of seeing 20% of sales coming from breakfast? Time will tell, o’ fearless breakfast diner.

Louisville Slugger is “Finnished”; eBay’s Big Changes; Housing Bummers

Take a swing at this…

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It seems like only yesterday when John Hillerich carved out the iconic wooden baseball bat that would eventually become the Louisville Slugger. Actually it was closer to 1884, but details, my friend. Since then, more then 100 million Louisville Sluggers have been sold and it is the official bat of Major League Baseball. It’s been used by 60% of the ball players including Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. Now,  Hillerich & Bradsby descendant, John A. Hillerich, announced he’s selling the company to Wilson, a company owned by a larger Finnish company, called Amer Sports. Not finish – as in , wood finish, mind you. That would make more sense. I wrote Finnish. As in Helsinki. As in, do they even have baseball in Finland? The reported cost for selling off this iconic brand to a company based nowhere near Kentucky, or the United States  for that matter, is about $7o million. Louisville Slugger, alone, raked in $75 million in revenue in a $2.4 billion global baseball and softball industry. The U.S. is responsible for $1.4 billion of that. The move will cost 52 employees their jobs.

Board to tears…

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Things are heating up at eBay as it gets set to bid adieu to PayPal later this year. If you recall, investor Carl Icahn wanted eBay and PayPal to do the splits. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen was not down with that idea at all. Considering that Carl Icahn is the largest shareholder in eBay, he managed to get his way. Thus, Andreessen said buh-bye back in October and a whole new crew is set to run the show. For now we only know a few of them. Devin Wenig will be the new eBay CEO while Dan Schulman takes the CEO spot at PayPal. So where does that leave current eBay CEO John Donahoe? Good question but one to which I have no answer. But the exciting news today is the announcement of two new board members added to eBay. GoPro president and former Skype exec Tony Bates joins the board along with American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern. McGovern becomes the third woman to join the board, by the way.

Housed…

Image courtesy of phanlop88/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of phanlop88/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As if we don’t have enough aggravation from this never-ending winter and unusually frigid March, leave it to the National Association of Realtors to disappoint us over sales of pre-existing homes. According to the NAR, February was less than spectacular. A lot less. While sales didn’t necessarily go down, they barely went up, by 1.2% to 4.88 million. That was especially annoying because January was no great shakes in terms of sales either. The median price of a home in February was $202,600, up from 2014’s $188,4000. So who’s to blame? Well, weather always plays its mean little part. But Mother Nature wasn’t the only factor toying with our fiscal emotions. Home values are going up way faster than paychecks are. That tends to put a damper on things. Also, there’s a lot less inventory out there. Part of that problem is that so many people owe more on their homes than their homes are actually worth. So, basically, they stand to lose by selling their homes. But luckily, there is still a chance to reverse the fiscal tide. The busiest time of the year for selling homes is just around the corner and with credit rules easing and an improving job market, there’s no need to fret. Yet.

 

Target-ing Pay;

You raise me up…

Image courtesy of nongpimmy/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of nongpimmy/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Target’s being a follower and that means only good things for some 350,000 of its employees. The retailer is raising its minimum wage from $8.83 to a whopping $9.00 an hour. Don’t laugh. The federal minimum wage is still only $7.25. Walmart already made that move several weeks back and TJX, which owns TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and Home Goods, is also set to follow suit. So what exactly is the downside of raising the minimum wage and why doesn’t everybody just do it already? Critics of raising the minimum wage feel that sometimes doing so might deter employers from hiring more people if they feel they have to shell out more money to do so. So yeah, it’s great if employers are paying more, just as long as you are able to get a job with them, to begin with.  Speaking of not having jobs, this minimum wage announcement comes on the heels of Target’s earlier announcement that it’s cutting about 3,000 jobs. Target’s going to need a few bucks to pay off that $10 million settlement over its 2013 security breach where 40 million cards were compromised and the personal financial information of well over a 110 million people was accessed. Victims could get up to $10,000 in damages but Target doesn’t plan on making it easy for them to collect. Alleged victims will have to bear the burden of proof and submit adequate documentation on losses they incurred.

Monopolize!

Image courtesy of James Barker/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of James Barker/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A big happy birthday shout out goes to Monopoly, the iconic board game who turns 80 today.  The game, owned by Hasbro, comes in 47 languages and is available in 114 countries. You could pick up the game for a whole $2, back in 1935, when Parker Brothers originally bought it up from Charles Darrow. But its roots go even deeper, back to 1903, when a woman named Elizabeth Magie came up with the original incarnation of the game, which was meant to highlight the unfairness of property ownership. Ironically, Monopoly has become the world’s best-selling board game. 275 million copies of the game have sold, with more than $30 billion worth of Monopoly money printed each year, and each game coming with $20,580. Rumor has it that Mr. Monopoly, himself, a.k.a Rich Uncle Pennybags is based on none other than J.P. Morgan.  To mark the momentous occasion, Monopoly has come out with its latest version dubbed “Here and Now.” Cities all over the world voted for their picks to make it onto newest board. In case you were wondering, Illinois Avenue, B&O Railroad and the “GO” space are the three most frequently “landed-on” spaces.  Now if only Atlantic City, whose street names can be found on Monopoly board games, can channel some of Monopoly’s success for itself, it might be able to pull itself up from all its recent economic struggles.

GDY mate…

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Chances are, if you have a domain name, you went through GoDaddy.com to buy it. The company, which also does web-hosting, wants to make its Wall Street IPO and is looking to raise $418 million with a valuation around $2.87 billion. Just three years ago GoDaddy.com was picked up by KKR and Silver Lake Management and now, here they are looking to offer up 22 million shares for about $17 – $19 a pop.  The company, which currently handles about 20% of the world’s domain names, has approximately 12.7 million customers and took in $1.39 billion for 2014. That was a hefty a 23% increase over 2013. Look for its ticker symbol one day: “GDY.” Catchy, huh?