Fiat Gets Going with Google; April Showers Bring Great Car Sales; Building-A-Profitable-Bear

Behind the wheel…

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It might just have been a bit of good luck that car company Fiat gets to team up with Google to engineer some self-driving cars. The company will supply Google with 100 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans and it will mark the first time that Google shares its inside information with outside entities. If you’re thinking of saving up to buy one, don’t bother. They won’t be for sale. Besides, they’re minivans. Google has dealt with other car companies, like Toyota, except Google did the work on the cares rather than working together with Toyota. This collaboration is a sweet deal for Fiat, which has a lot of catching up to do in the way of technological advancements in their vehicles. Besides, the company is kind of low on cash and wouldn’t have had enough of it to make a meaningful investment towards tech upgrades. But with this new collaboration in the works, it doesn’t have to worry about raising money for that. How very convenient.

New car smell…

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Speaking of Fiat, global sales of the company sank around 2%, keeping up with the rest of the grim state of the global economy. But all was not lost as sales in the U.S. picked up 5%, selling 200,000 cars and trucks while dealing a minor blow to analysts’ estimates of a paltry 4.6% increase. Sales of Jeep also scored big compared to the same time last year as it increased 17%. But that’s minor compared to sales of Compass and Renegade automobiles which more than doubled. Sales of automobile in the U.S. in April were so good that it just might be coming off of the best April. Ever. Car sales are considered a fairly accurate barometer of consumer spending and last months’ numbers indicate that the economy, the U.S. economy, that is, is looking good and healthy. Individual sales of cars throughout the industry was up 3%, with a lot of help from SUV and pick-up truck sales. Unfortunately I did not contribute to any sales growth. The volume of cars sold told a very different and unpleasant story by dropping 3.5%. Some companies have also lopped off major chunks from their incentive programs seeing as how they tend to eat the bottom line. Not that this should come as any great shock but VW was down 9.7% as it continues its brutal journey back from its emissions scandal. Some analysts thinks the car industry is about to hit a peak. But apparently it’s just a cyclical issue and nothing that should cause you to lose sleep. Unless of course you’re in the business of selling cars.

Bear market…

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Build-A-Bear just released its earnings – yes, it is a publicly traded company – and the results didn’t exactly leave investors feeling…warm and fuzzy. Ya dig? The DIY stuffed animal biz that boasts some 400 stores picked up $3.53 million in profit, adding 22 cents per share. Too bad the company missed expectations of 37 cents per share and didn’t perform nearly as well as last year at this time when the company scored a profit of $6.82 million with 40 cents per share added. Revenue was up 1.7% to $95 million for the quarter compared to last year, but again, the workshops missed estimates of $96.6 million, fuzzy ears and all. To be fair, however, it will probably still get a fourth straight year of profitability, even if the numbers don’t wow investors. In the fiscal blame game, the company pointed the finger at some expenses tied to store remodeling, international expansion and the ever-pesky high tax rate. The board announced that it hired advisers to come up with “a full range of strategic alternatives.” Which is basically code for trying to figure out a bunch of ways to make more money. Investor J. Carlo Cannell, who happens to own an 8% stake in the company, feels that the board is the real problem and called them and their actions “financially unsophisticated, lacking in proper corporate governance and shareholder unfriendly.” Don’t hold back now, J. Carlo.

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Bit-drama; Sports Authority Strikes Out; Uber’s New Bosses

Bit-scam?

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An Australian man by the name of Craig Wright is claiming to be Bitcoin’s illustrious creator. But as much as he wants people to believe him and embrace him as creator-extraordinare of the crypto-cuurency, there’s plenty of reason not to bite. Insisting he’s Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonym behind the currency’s creator, Wright, a computer scientist, decided that it was time for him to reveal his true identity and correct all of the misinformation out there. Wright explained, “I didn’t take the decision lightly to make my identity public and I want to be clear that I’m doing this because I care so passionately about my work and also to dispel any negative myths and fears.” How…gallant. According to Wright, he substantiated his own claim by showing that he had access to blocks of bitcoin that could only have been created by the actual bona fide creator. How very convenient. But naysayers say he’s nothing more than a con man who used some blocks that had already been around and just copied them. Incidentally, Wright’s home was raided by police back in December as a result of a tax investigation conducted by the Australian Tax Office. Though Bitcoin launched in 2009, its creator, who is reported to hold about $450 million worth of bitcoin, fell off the virtual grid in 2011. There are a reported 15 million plus Bitcoins currently in circulation. Wright said he believes that Bitcoin can be used to make the world a better place and is set to release research on the massive potential of the crypto-currency. Awww! Can it cure cancer too?

Game over?

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Looks like it’s game over for Sports Authority, as the retailer will shutter its 463 stores after failing to reorganize itself following its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing back in March. Initially, the chain had big plans to shut down just 140 of its stores. But now the chain will liquidate and very unglamorously auction itself off. There’s a hearing scheduled for May 16 but in the meantime, the flailing company is hoping somebody shows a little fiscal mercy in the way of a generous offer. Problem is, the offers it already had wouldn’t even be enough to cover the $100 million worth of administration and liquidation costs. Of course, there’s also the whopping $1.1 billion that Sports Authority owes to its creditors. Apparently Dick’s Sporting goods was catering the thought of scooping up Sports Authority, but don’t bother checking to see if Dick’s would keep the old sign in place. Because it wouldn’t. It has no intention of bringing on any negative associations. Fact is, Sports Authority and Dick’s were rivals with Sports Authority having the upper hand. But then Dick’s brought its “A” game and began presenting its merchandise better while also offering way more in the tech arena. Hence, Dick’s is not in the downward spiral in which Sports Authority finds itself with one analyst even calling it the only game in town now. Ouch. Perennial brick-and-mortar killer Amazon and friends also had a passive hand in Sports Authority’s demise. But ironically enough, deeply discounted merchandise at Sports Authority, as a result of liquidation attempts, have been hurting sales at Dicks and other sporting goods chains. Lately, anyway. But that fiscal dent will be minor and short-lived, especially when you consider that shares of Dick’s surged a bit today on the news of Sports Authority’s losing uphill battle.

Riding it out…

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About 1,000 Uber drivers in New York are going all out by forming an association (read: union) to take on Uber management. Calling itself the Amalgamated Local of Livery Employees in Solidarity, or Alles for short, this new association is, ironically, forming just as Uber celebrates its fifth anniversary this week in the Big Apple, where there are some one million active Uber riders. Alles was formed to protect and provide security for its members against all sorts of entities including insurance firms and car companies, just like unions protect employees. Except that Uber drivers are not considered employees but rather contractors. This comes after the ride-sharing app agreed to a $100 million settlement over expense claims in Californian and Massachusetts. The money, if approved by a San Francisco Federal judge, will be divided according to how many miles each Uber driver drove for the company. And while the $100 million settlement is still waiting approval from a San Francisco fedeal judge, lawyers in Florida and Illinois have filed two more class-action lawsuits against Uber claiming that the ride-sharing app violated the Fair Labor Standard Act. That’s in addition to the numerous other lawsuits staring down Uber all over the country.