Oprah’s Next Favorite Thing; The Force Does Not Awaken Hasbro’s “Girl” Toys; Amazon/New York Times Smackdown

Everything she touches turns to green…

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Media titan-ess and Forbes’ 211th richest American, Oprah Winfrey, just added to her portfolio by scooping up a 10% stake in Weight Watchers. At $6.79 a pop, Winfrey snagged 6.4 million shares for a $43.2 million purchase.”I believe in the program so much I decided to invest in the company and partner in its evolution.” Awww. Apparently, her own personal experience with the company’s program led her to some very desirable results and now investors are hoping to see if the “Oprah Effect” can help turn around the struggling diet company, which has been in a perpetual slump for the last few years. So far it seems to be working as the stock soared 92% on the news of Oprah Winfrey’s involvement with a seat on the board as well as becoming an adviser to the company. Maybe that surge will help offset the 92% loss the shares have suffered since 2011, when the stock hit its peak of $85.76. The company had been losing ground to the tech age as dieting has been steadily going digital. Now Weight Watchers has begun to shift its program to focus on living a healthier lifestyle as opposed to just dieting and is jumping on the digital bandwagon by offering tech services to attract new customers and keep existing ones, Oprah and all.

May the force be with your profits…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The force is apparently with Hasbro as the toy company’s earnings are up 15% mostly thanks to licensing deals with Jurassic World and Star Wars. The toymaker was able to strike down analysts forecasts with profits coming in at $207.6 million and a $1.64 per share when predictions were for $1.52 per share. Hasbro easily beat last year’s same-period digits of $180.5 million and $1.40 per share. But the dark force still looms large for the toymaker and not just from the $132 million that was affected because of the strong U.S. dollar. Shares from its girl division fell 28% for the fourth straight quarter. Is it even P.C. for Hasbro to have a boys and girls category? Just wondering.  But the young consumers, to whom these girl toys are presumably marketed, have been shifting their preferences towards gadgets and tablets instead of blond hair and magic ponies. Which is too bad since that female-focused category accounts for 50% of Hasbro’s total revenues and remained at a very flat $.147 billion.

Right back at ya!

Image courtesy of digital art/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digital art/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m guessing there will be no Amazon swag for the New York Times in the near (and distant) future. Still reeling from a scathing New York Times story from August, Amazon has finally fired back at the newspaper by calling into question its reporting capabilities.  Not that Amazon is the first entity to have to do this with the New York Times, but I digress. The story, published back in August, painted a very unattractive picture of the employee atmosphere at the e-commerce giant. Former White House Spokesman Jay Carney, who now serves as Amazon’s Senior Vice President for Global Corporate Affairs, strongly responded to the “newspaper of record” for blog Medium. Carney said it took two months to formulate its response to the New York Times because the tech giant was “hoping they might take action to correct the record. They haven’t, which is why we decided to write about it ourselves.” Among some of the pearls was the bit about former Amazon employee Bo Olsen who, when interviewed by the NYT, told reporters Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, that he saw many many employees crying at their desks.  Apparently he was making these observations while defrauding vendors and falsifying business records and subsequently resigned following an investigation. So much for the Pulitzer on that story.

Fall-Mart; Twitter Fires, Twitter Hires; Feeling Spent

Execu-llent…

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Even though Twitter announced yesterday that it is shedding 8% of its workforce, today the social media company announced that its adding someone new to that very same workforce. Enter Omid Kordestani who is jumping the Google ship in order to bring his fiscal talents over to embattled Twitter.  Omid will assume Jack Dorsey’s old title of executive chairman, which he dropped last week when he, once again, assumed the title of CEO. Omid Kordestani comes to Twitter from not-at-all embattled Google Inc. where he not only left the post of Chief Business Officer, but also $115 million in equity awards. That’s according to a regulatory finding, anyway. Omid, who was apparently employee number 11 at Google, and affectionately called Google’s “business founder” by Larry Page, left the company in 2009, but returned in 2014, only to head on off into the Twitter sunset.  Even though Omid Kordestani started his Twitter account back in 2012, his most recent tweet about his new post, was only his eleventh time using the platform. His lack of tweeting is, presumably, about to change.

Not “fine” by me…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wal-Mart might be the mother-of-all retailers but, as they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall, especially on Wall Street. And unfortunately, a big company like Wal-Mart has a nasty little way of taking the Dow Jones Industrial Average with it.  This particular fall was, unfortunately, rather epic. Wal-Mart took a $20 billion hit because it’s predicting a very disappointing forecast. The world’s largest retailer doesn’t expect to experience growth for fiscal 2016 (which ends in February, btw). Investors loathe bad forecasts. Well, who doesn’t? This bad forecast gave way to Wal-Mart’s biggest stock drop in 15 years and shaved 9% off the value of its shares. Of course, the strong dollar gets part of the blame as it’s hurting sales abroad. But then there’s the investment the company is putting into its e-commerce. Wal-Mart is looking to plunk down $900 million next year, and over a billion dollars the following year to beef its tech efforts. All that cash is going to gouge those much relished profits. Also eating into those profits are wage increases that the company is giving out to thousands of employees. But what really got Wall Street in a fit was when Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillion told CNBC interviewers that Wal-Mart will do “fine” during the holiday season. And that one word means anything but to investors.

Save it for later, will ya?

Image courtesy of  FrameAngel/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FrameAngel/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Retailers aren’t exactly giddy these days as more Americans decided to save up all that money from low gas costs instead of spending it. As a result, retail spending only experienced a .1% gain in September even though analysts predicted gains from .2% to .6%. Since consumer spending accounts for 70% of the economy, that .1% gain is nothing but brutal fiscal news. In fact, seven out of thirteen retail categories experienced declines. Ironically enough, gas stations took a 3.2% hit because…can you guess? Lower prices at the pump. Hence, they couldn’t pull in all that cash like they did in the past. What isn’t ironic, just annoying and mildly disconcerting, is that this .1% was the biggest drop since January and represented no change from August. So get out there and spend!

A Beer-y Big Merger is Brewing; Twitter’s Big Plans; Johnson & Johnson Needs a Band-Aid for its 3Q

99 million bottles of beer on the wall..

Image courtesy of Gualberto107/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Gualberto107/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It looks like we have a winner. Well, a winning bid, anyways, that has SABMiller finally finally saying yes to ABInBev’s offer to scoop ’em up. After five tries, ABInBev offered up $106 billion for its fellow mega brewer. Now regulatory approval in the United States, and even China, is all that stands between final completion of the merger. That, and also shareholder approval which still might get in the way of meaningful fiscal relationship. Assuming the merger is approved, it will go down as one of the top five mergers. Ever. The newly formed  company will control approximately a third of all the world’s beer (Heineken, the next biggest competitor, only controls 9% of the market) and puts Corona and Budweiser in the same corporate family as Miller and Grolsch.  The new combo will handle 18 of the top 40 beers in the world. It’s a match, some would say, made in beer heaven. The two companies put out 77 billion liters of drinks and 150 billion pints last year. Once they merge, sales are expected to come in at about $55 billion. If, however, the deal does not go through, AbInBev  has to hand over a $3 billion break-up fee. to SABMiller. Is that necessarily a bad thing?

Chirp chirp…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Twitter is about to get a lot less chipper. Well, 8% less chipper, to be more precise. Just one week after re-assuming his CEO role, co-founder Jack Dorsey announced that Twitter will be trimming its workforce, eliminating 336 positions out of the 4,100 at the social media company. Those positions will be mostly from the product and engineering areas whose departments were already bloated. No lay-offs are expected of any executives. Apparently, the company is not bloated with them. Dorsey is on a mission to turn Twitter into a kindler gentler platform. Just kidding. He just wants to make the system more accessible because, believe it or not, not everybody finds Twitter that user-friendly. Who would’ve thunk it? It seems many users have signed up only to unceremoniously part ways with the micro-blogging tool shortly thereafter.  In the process, Dorsey’s also hoping to make a lot of cash and do away with those bleak stagnant quarters that the company keeps churning out. Wall Street likes Jack Dorsey’s ideas so far and sent shares up almost 6%. Too bad the stock is down 30% for the year.  Dorsey added, “The world needs a strong Twitter, and this is another step to get there.” I couldn’t have made that up if I tried.

Band-Aids and Tylenol and hep C, oh my!

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Health care giant Johnson & Johnson has had better quarters. Especially much better than this past third quarter where the company saw a 29% drop in earnings and is now down 8% for the year. There is no band-aid big enough for that boo boo. As is the trend, the strong dollar gets part of the blame, or rather 8% of it. But at least the company is showing signs of recovery following a spate of recalls that go back to 2009, as its consumer health business posted some respectable digits. The company even plans to buy back $10 billion in common stock and increased its profit outlook by a nickel hoping to score between $6.15 – $6.20 per share for the year. Johnson & Johnson pulled in net income of $3.36 billion scoring $1.20 per share with over $17 billion in revenue. Unfortunately, analysts were looking for $17.41 billion in revenue and doesn’t even compare to last year’s net income of $4.75 billion figure that added $1.60 per share. Wall Street made sure to share its disappointment by sending shares down 71 cents a pop.  The company also took a 90% beating on its hepatitis C, Olysio, drug since newer drugs to treat that hit the market. And even though sales of Tylenol and Motrin fell worldwide by 7.7%, here in the states, sales on those products increased almost 9%. And for that you are welcome, Johnson & Johnson.

Where Has All the Farfegnugen Gone?; Amazon’s Getting Crafty With It; Lumber Liquidators Liquidating to DOJ

Have you driven a Ford lately?

Image courtesy of emptyglass/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of emptyglass/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Execs at GM must be having a very good day as the recent auto industry-related scandal has nothing to do with them. The same can’t be said of Volkswagen and its U.S. CEO, Michael Horn, who had the dubious distinction of testifying before Congress in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. His testimony was basically one big long apology over his company’s “emission’s scandal.” But he also said that he truly believes that American workers did not know a thing about it. Which seems kind of weird because would you now consider buying a car from a company whose workers didn’t know what was going on with the cars they presumably work on? Just wondering. But anyways, Horn said Volkwagen would fix the approximate 500,000 affected cars. So if you happen to have one of them, don’t expect a buyback. There’s no time-frame either so don’t hold your breath as the fix could take a couple of years. Horn did say that Volkswagen would take full responsibility and that responsibility could result in an $18 billion fine. And while that seems awfully steep, even for a car company, then consider that the affected cars were emitting pollutants at a rate that was 40 times more than the acceptable U.S. standards. So boo hoo for Volkwagen.

Craft cheese…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Because e-commerce dominance just isn’t enough, Amazon is even going after the little-er guys. This time the target is recent IPO’er, Etsy, who continues its rocky relationship with Wall Street. Today, Amazon unleashed Amazon Handmade a marketplace for artisans to peddle their wares. Translate: no factories allowed. And indeed, that is one of the reasons why it distinguishes itself from Etsy and might prove to be a big lure for those artisans irritated by fellow crafters who choose to outsource their manufacturing. Amazon thinks it has way more to offer the fiscally-driven yet crafty-inspired peddler than Etsy has. A much much bigger customer base, free phone and email support and a host of other tools are just some of the benefits of being an Amazon Handmade seller. But, first you have to qualify. Again: No factories! No major manufacturing. Check out Amazon’s site If you’re really curious to see if you’ve got what it takes (or what it doesn’t) to sell your crafty goods. But know this, fearless artisan, Amazon takes a 12% cut and, starting August 2016, a $40 monthly fee if you’re industrious enough to sell more than 40 items a month. If all that doesn’t scare you away, then come join the approximately 5,000 sellers, in 60 countries, who have already begun hawking their more than 80,000 items.

Unsettling…

Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lumber Liquidators has finally reached a $10 million settlement with the Department of Justice. Except, this settlement has nothing to do with the still ongoing investigations into Lumber Liquidators’ formaldehyde-laced laminate flooring scandal. That’s a whole other fairly recent mess. This settlement is from allegations stemming from 2013 where Lumber Liquidators was accused of violating the Lacey Act. This U.S. conservation law basically protects plants, fish and wildlife and forbids companies, corporations etc. from hogging more than their share of mother nature’s not-so-abundant resources. Lumber Liquidators did just that when it was busted importing more than the permitted amount of timber from foreign countries. As part of the settlement, Lumber Liquidators is on probation for 5 years and must make generous donations to conservation charities. If the company violates the terms of its probation, then its toast. Heck, the company’s already is toast. However, shares of the company went up a smidge today on the news of the settlement. Of course that increase does nothing to mask the fact that the stock is down 75% over the last year

A New Chapter for American Apparel; U.S. Scores a Perfect Triple “A”; Will Italy Say Bonjourno to Domino’s Pizza?

Bust…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While American Apparel brass continues to tussle with ousted founder Dov Charney, the company still found quality time to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Not that this bankruptcy announcement is surprising. The company was bleeding cash for a while now, with Mr. Charney’s questionable behavior and sexual misconduct allegations just one slice of the sloppy fiscal pie. But not to worry over that American Apparel tank top you’ve been meaning to get. The stores, over 200 of them worldwide, won’t be closing there doors anytime soon. Well, at least that’s not part of the plan. In 2014 those stores hauled in $600 million in net sales. So clearly, not everybody was so grossed out by Mr. Charney’s alleged exploits and ad campaigns. The company is hoping to reduce its debt from a staggering $300 million to about $135 million and pinning its hopes on some major cash infusions from creditors is just the start. From there, American Apparel hopes to swap out some of that debt in exchange for company stock. America Apparel also wants to amp up its e-commerce by hiring some talent who can pull off such a feat. Add to that some brand rebuilding and a new look, because, let’s face it, America Apparel hasn’t really changed since, well, ever. There’s also lots of talk about whether it’s in the company’s best interests to keep its manufacturing base in the United States, specifically, California. It’s not exactly cost effective and it’s the reason why almost every other American company sets up shop somewhere in Asia. But bankruptcy or not, American Apparel is adamant that its brand be American-made. Otherwise it might have to change it’s name to Asian Apparel. Duh. If you were thinking of scooping up some shares, don’t bother. Trading of the company’s stock has officially been suspended.

AAA is for awesome…

Image courtesy of fantasista/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of fantasista/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In yet another un-shocking story, Moody’s Investor Service announced that the United States really truly deeply deserves its AAA rating. Unshocking, if only because Moody has never changed that rating. But maybe one day, the ratings service warned. Potential threats could knock down one of those pristine A’s. The insane amount of spending that goes into social programs has Moody’s singing the ratings blues. The company doesn’t care for that habit and is hoping Uncle Sam will figure out soon how to curb that spending. Also, Moody’s wasn’t pleased about that government shut down that almost happened weeks ago. Stuff like that do not a triple “A” rating make. And if Moody’s should someday decide that, alas, a prestigious rating is no longer deserved, it wouldn’t (couldn’t? shouldn’t?) happen before 2020. But that’s a big IF. Because however menacing those threats might seem, it’ll still be difficult to diminish the awesomeness of the United States’ gross domestic product growth, (as in GDP). In fact, growth in the U.S. surpassed that of other triple “A” rated economies (yes, it’s hard to believe but there are other triple “A” rated economies). Awesomeness also abounds because U.S. dollars and treasuries are the global reserve currency and bond market benchmark.  And if that’s not triple “A” worthy, then I don’t know what is.

The ultimate litmus test…

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Domino’s Pizza, believe it or not, still has yet another market to crack: Italy. While to some, opening a Domino’s Pizza shop in Italy, is tantamount to bringing your own sandwich to a restaurant, this Domino’s franchise is aiming for some Italian authenticity. Franchise owner Alessandro Lazzaroni plans to use his own genuine Italian pizza recipe, replete with locally sourced wheat and other native Italian ingredients. A novel approach to pizza, no? After all, according to Domino’s research, Italians chow down on pizza approximately seven times a month and 70% of Italians prefer Margherita pizza (which is plain pizza, mind you). But the pizza company still has a long road ahead as no major American pizza brand has succeeded in the pizza motherland we call Italy. Just make sure that if you absolutely need to eat Domino’s Pizza – in Italy – you’ll have to be in Milan to do so. And how does Wall Street feel about Domino’s latest move? Well earnings are out tomorrow but the stock closed up at $108.03 per share.

Forbes/Trump Smackdown; Getting Chip-py With It; Ralph Lauren Preps New CEO

Donald Donald Donald…

Image courtesy of ponsulak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ponsulak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To take your mind off the fact that we have yet to find a cure for cancer and AIDs, or that people all over the world are living in abject poverty, we now turn our attentions to the Donald Trump vs. Forbes magazine smack down. The two entities are going head to head over Donald Trump’s estimated net worth, with Trump insisting that Forbes has its facts all wrong. “I’m a private company […] I like the people at Forbes but they don’t really know my assets very well,” the Donald said during an interview for CNBC. Forbes says that The Donald’s real estate fortune can be pegged at $4.5 billion, a figure that has the Republican presidential candidate in a snit because he is convinced that the magazine is trying to paint him “as poor as possible.” As if that were possible. Trump insists he’s worth more than $10 billion, questioning Forbes arithmetic skills. Common core, perhaps?  Forbes, in its calculations, doesn’t place a value on brand and that irritates the real estate mogul because the Trump brand, according to Trump, is very valuable and might have led Forbes to a far different fiscal outcome. Maybe. Donald Trump apparently does not take comfort in the fact that he was ranked as the 19th richest American, or that he is by far the wealthiest of the presidential candidates. He’s also miffed that Forbes had the nerve to say that he has a paltry cash stash of just $327 million (forget the research that went into computing that amount) “But I have a lot of cash,”  he insists in a CNBC interview, explaining away that his cash bank account is bursting from the $793 million sitting in it, all green and crispy.

Chipped off…

Image courtesy of sscreations/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of sscreations/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today marks the dawn of a new -and hopefully less fraudulent-riddled – era, as business owners large and small now become liable for fraudulent activities. If a consumer’s info gets swiped, the business from which the offense originated eats the cost and not the bank that issued the card. Consumers, many who are now armed with credit cards containing EMV chips –  as in Europay, MasterCard and Visa (what you thought it was going to stand for some obscure tech jargon?) will now be able to conspicuously consume using new terminals intended to reduce exposure to fraud. In order for the chip to be really secure, a pin number should be used with it. Otherwise, don’t come crying to EMV. I say reduce, because sadly, it does not completely obliterate the cold, callous felonious act. It’s estimated that about 32 million consumers had their credit card info swiped last year, nearly triple that of 2013. The chip creates a unique code for every transaction. But if you have yet to receive your chip card, rest assured that your magnetic stripe-outfitted cards can still be used. Sorry to say but the chip cards won’t be of much use for your cyber-shopping excursions. So make sure the site with which you transact is legit. American Express is getting their chip-action going on October 16 while gas stations get until 2017 to upgrade their terminals.  So far more than 200 million cards with chips in them have been sent out.

Movin’ on up-market…

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A new king has been crowned over at Ralph Lauren, as its namesake CEO, Ralph Lauren himself, “stepped up.” That is not a typo but rather a direct quote from the preppy American style icon, who also happens to be the largest shareholder and intends to maintain his creative input at the company. The new CEO is none other than Stefan Larsson, CEO extraordinaire to fast-fashion brands Old Navy and H&M. His resume actually had some haters doubting the dude who has a lack of luxury goods experience. But Wall Street doesn’t seem to mind as it sent shares of Ralph Lauren up a much needed 12% on Wednesday while also taking a 6% chunk off of shares of Gap Inc for losing its rock star executive. The haters apparently aren’t paying enough attention to the fact that under Larsson’s leadership, Old Navy saw three consecutive years of growth and was the only one of the Gap Inc. brands to show growth at all, 5% just this year. In the meantime, Ralph Lauren had some quarters that were anything but, shall we say, fashion-forward, and is down a dismal 37% for the year.