Kate Spade Shares Stylin’ on Latest Reports; Sears Has a Fiscal Guardian Angel; Amazon Dismisses Gravity With Latest Patent

I’m so fancy…

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Kate Spade wants to put itself up for grabs and that news sent its shares up 23%, giving Wall Street plenty of cause to celebrate. And the Street will take whatever it can get, especially since Kate Spade was down 9% just in the last six months. In fact, similar companies including Michael Kors and Coach have also experienced declines during the same time period. But the kicker is that both of those companies, along with four others, are being bandied about as potential buyers of Kate Spade. Talk of a potential sale is just what hedge fund Caerus Investors wants to hear. While the firm, which entered the picture back in 2009, hasn’t disclosed its exact stake in the company, it did send a letter to Kate Spade’s board back in November urging it to put itself on the auction block. And that’s exactly what’s planned for next month. With a market cap of $2.3 billion, Caerus thinks Kate Spade could get picked up for a nifty premium – between $21 to $23 per share -and naturally, Caerus stands to profit from that. But that wasn’t the only story to come out of Kate Spade today. Apparently, an options trader purchased 2,000 calls for Kate Spade shares just minutes before it was reported that it’s exploring a sale. A call, by the way, allows a buyer to score shares at a pre-agreed upon price. Not only was one very lucky buyer involved, but it also netted a very shrewd trader a cool $320,000 within minutes. Insider info? Hmmm. I’m sure the SEC would like to know. Because that would be so bad. Just ask Martha Stewart. As for Kate Spade, she hasn’t been part of the company since 2006.

On a another note…

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Even though its stock just went up 9% – the most in two months – Wall Street definitely does not feel the same amount of love for Sears as it does for Kate Spade. The stock closed at a 52 week low just yesterday and its planning to close 30 more Sears and Kmart stores in early 2017. But there is someone who seems to love the embattled retailer unconditionally: CEO Eddie Lampert, who said he’s going to get a $200 million letter of credit for the troubled company. In fact, he has so much faith in the company  – and apparently he’s the only one who does – that he thinks that letter of credit could grow to $500 million. This is not Lampert’s first “loan” to Sears. In the last two years he’s shelled out over $800 million to the company.  Talk about faith.  At least this loan comes with guarantees that if Sears goes bust, its suppliers will still get paid. I wonder if the rest of his hedge fund buds over at ESL Investments feel the same, even as the firm continues to back Sears? For some inexplicable reason, Lampert is devoted to Sears, despite the fact that its sales are constantly going down and it has already lost billions. Most investors think the time has come to throw in the retail towel.  But not Lampert, who in addition to being Sears’s CEO and biggest cheerleader for the last four years, also happens to be its biggest investor.  However, others only see red flags and are wondering why Lampert is the only one eager to throw money at a company which has been losing so much of it in so little time.  Sears’s last quarter lost $750 million, so much worse than last year at this time when it only lost $454 million. Revenue fell a whopping 13% to $5 billion. In fact, in the last eight years, Sears has lost around $9 billion. Also, with the seeming exception of Lampert, everyone is wondering why Sears would need money right after the holiday season, which is supposed to be the most lucrative quarter out of the whole year.

Yeah, they thought of that too…

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Because fulfillment centers weren’t enough, now the e-commerce giant is looking to do away with gravity – besides logistics companies – with its latest patent for an airborne fulfillment center (AFC). It’s exactly what it sounds like – a warehouse in the sky. Flying at a lofty 45,000 feet, drones would basically zoom into the warehouse, pick up items that were ordered and then deliver them.  The company’s ramped up its drone tech efforts and this latest project fits in nicely with that initiative.  Right now Amazon drone delivery requires that Amazon build warehouses in specific areas, on land, where drones can happily roam free and deliver items to customers. Some of the uses mentioned in the filing include fulfilling orders during football games. The AFC would be stocked ahead of time with certain game “essentials” that could be easily delivered as you cheer for your favorite team. Another idea would be to allow customers to order right from a giant ad board and have their items delivered “within minutes.” But before you start having nightmares of flying robotic insects whizzing all around you, Amazon is going to need to get major regulatory approval from aviation authorities before launching any airships.

Cyber-Attack on U.S. Law Firms Nets Big Illicit Gains for Chinese Hackers; Alexa Gave Amazon a Very Fiscal-Merry Christmas; Fred’s Whips Out the Poison

All hacked up…

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Some of New York’s finest, most prestigious law firms fell victim to a few Chinese hackers when they hacked into the firms’ computer systems and stole valuable information regarding mergers and acquisitions. That information was then used for insider trading which netted the cyber-attackers over $4 million in illegal profits. The attacks happened between April of 2014 – 2015 when the hackers installed malware on the computer networks of the law firms and then downloaded the information from email accounts. U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara said, “This case of cyber meets securities fraud should serve as a wake-up call for law firms around the world: you are and will be targets of cyber hacking, because you have information valuable to would-be criminals.” The 13 count indictment details how the suspects purchased shares from certain companies involved in mergers and acquisitions and then sold those shares for a massive profit once those mergers and acquisitions were announced.  In the meantime, the SEC has filed its own parallel civil suit against the alleged perps and has asked to have their assets frozen lest they try and cash out on their ill-gotten gains.

It’s all about Alexa…

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The results are in. Well, some of them, anyway. In this case, Amazon is claiming to be the big merry winner (cue the surprised facial expressions) of the retail game we call Christmas – and Hanukah too, of course. Amazon said it shipped more than one billion items through Prime and fulfillment services and, apparently, four of Amazon’s very own devices were the biggest sellers on the e-commerce giant’s site. Go figure. Those top sellers include the Echo Dot Smart Speaker, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick Media Streamer, the Fire Tablet and the regular (plain-old?) standard Echo Speaker.  Just don’t bother asking Amazon for specific sales figures. The company has a nasty habit of not divulging such useful information. Incidentally, the Fire Tablet and Fire TV Stick were also hot sellers last year. With the exception of the Amazon Echo Smart Speakers, the other three cost $5o or less and at those prices it’s easy to see why consumers scooped them up. In fact, sales for Echo devices were nine times higher than they were last year. All the devices, by the way, come with the Alexa voice assistant and Amazon saw a record number of orders for devices that come with Alexa. Only problem was those Echo speakers went too fast. Amazon sold out of them by the middle of December.

Going for the poison…

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Last week Fred’s was on top of the world, after agreeing to buy 865 RiteAid stores for $1 billion. The deal was a win-win. RiteAid needed to dump those stores in order to get regulatory approval to merge with Walgreens Boots Alliance. By purchasing those 865 stores, Fred’s basically doubled its size overnight, going from a market cap $450 million to $1.3 billion. It also experienced a massive stock increase and effectively became the third largest drugstore chain in the U.S. as well as the new darling of the retail pharmacy industry.  But then came activist investor Alden Global, which apparently picked up a 25% stake in Fred’s when no one was paying attention. When the Fred’s board noticed the unusual activity going on with its shares, it unanimously approved a nifty little tactic affectionately dubbed a “poison pill.” A poison pill is simply a shareholder rights plan that kicks into place in the event of a hostile takeover. The targeted company tries to make shares look less valuable and attractive, i.e. “poisonous” to a potential acquirer.  If control is taken, at least shareholders will then be compensated accordingly with a “poison pill” in place.  Fred’s poison pill is meant to take effect when an individual or a group scoops up 10% or more of the company shares. Alden thinks Fred’s shares are undervalued and see their acquisition as a great investment opportunity. Although, Fred’s did deny they threw together the poison pill plan because of a potential takeover bid.

Nike’s Sales Bruised By Yeezy; McDonald’s Gets Busted for Over-Valuing Value-Meal; Lookout! There’s A Lot More Walgreens/RiteAid Coming Your Way

Yeezy breezy…

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Nike’s quarterly profit might be up 7% thanks to strong demand in China and the United States, but that doesn’t mean everything is coming up roses at the athletic apparel company. Fierce competition from Under Armour and Adidas have been hammering away at Nike’s sales, partly because Adidas knocked it out of the park this year, thanks to Kanye West (it’s okay, I cringed too) and his Yeezy line, which saw sales go up 62%. Under Armour’s Stephan Curry’s shoe and apparel line definitely stole plenty of Nike’s mojo too. So Nike has been in quest mode to find all sort of ways to boost sales from, improving online sales features to cutting prices on some of its more popular offerings. One of Nike’s divisions that took a beating this quarter and fell short of expectations was its ever-important basketball division.  Apparently, consumers weren’t feeling the love for LeBron James and Kevin Durant sneakers when they were sporting a $200 price tag. Nike is banking that a $150 price tag will have people biting a little more. The company is also working on a faster supply chain dubbed “express lane” to bring products to market within weeks instead of months. In an effort to set itself apart from the competition, Nike’s come out with self-tying lace-up shoes. If you’re that lazy, they might actually be worth the $720 price tag. Profit from Nike came in at $842 million, with revenue of $8.18 billion and 50 cents added per share. That’s especially good since Nike’s stock has fallen 17% in the last year and Wall Street only expected $8.1 billion and 43 cents per share. Last year at this time the company posted $785 million  in profit and added 45 cents per share.

Un-happy meal…

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McDonald’s is staring at the wrong end of a lawsuit for 41 cents. 41 cents. Turns out the value meal is anything but since it would be 41 cents cheaper to buy the items individually than to buy the bundled package for $5.90 in certain locations. Enter plaintiff James Gertie who discovered this mathematical irregularity at two McDonald’s restaurants in the Chicago area.  The restaurants in question are operated by Karis Management and Gertie wants the suit to get class-action status for consumer fraud and deceptive practices. He says the lawsuit is about principle and is seeking a refund for any customer who purchased the meal at a McDonald’s restaurant operated by Karis. Those 41 cent refunds could add up to a lot of cash as Karis operates ten restaurants in and around Chicago. In the meantime, Karis has yet to comment on the case or the price discrepancy.  As for other McDonald’s all over the world, well, you’re just going to have to do your due diligence to see if their numbers add up or not.

Urge to merge…

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Walgreens Boots Alliance and RiteAid will finally get their way now that they sold off some 865 RiteAid stores to retail chain Fred’s. That’s what the two companies had to in order to appease the Federal Trade Commission so that it could go ahead with its $9.4 billion merger. Together, the new entity will still have over 12,000 locations from which to choose and will effectively become the largest drug store chain in the United States, effectively taking up 46% of the market. Fred’s currently has almost 650 discounted general merchandise stores and is looking to become the third largest drug store chain in the United States.  It’s also trying to reinvent itself by ditching its former name of Fred’s Super Dollar.  Fred’s had to borrow a whopping $1.65 billion in order to get those 865 stores, but it also had to pledge, as collateral, just about everything it has in the form of assets, and maybe even throw in a few bodily organs as well, to secure that loan.  The stores actually cost $950 million but other expenses, operating and otherwise, necessitated the full $1.65 billion. It should prove to be well worth it, however, as the deal will more than double Fred’s size.  Plus, the deal sent shares of Fred’s surging a mind-blowing 85% to $20.75. And who doesn’t like an 85% surge in shares, right?

Apple Bites Back at EU; IMF Chief Found Guilty But She’s Still Allright; Lands’ End Going for New Beginning with Latest CEO

An inconvenient target…

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The EU might be demanding a whopping $14 billion from Apple, but it’s not going to happen so quickly. Or easily. Or at all, if Apple has its way. Back in 2014, the EU accused Ireland of skirting international tax laws when it let Apple park tens of billions of dollars there in order to keep it from getting into the grubby hands of pesky tax collectors. Apparently, Apple only paid a corporate tax rate of 3.8% on $200 billion of overseas profits. In exchange for keeping its profits there, Apple kept jobs there, all safe and secure. The EU said the tax deal amounted to illegal state aid and Apple needs to cough up the record setting fine. Both Apple and Ireland deny that they did anything wrong and think the EU needs to get its stories straight.  Apple says it was singled out by the EU because of its massive success – “a convenient target” as its lawyer so eloquently put it, and that the EU commission conveniently blew off tax experts that were brought in special by authorities in Ireland.  In the meantime, Ireland says that other countries should close their own loopholes and is accusing the EU of overstepping its boundaries as it interferes in member states’ sovereign affairs.

Guilty but not…

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She may have been found guilty of negligence over a payout that happened back in 2008, but it’s not entirely clear if IMF Chief Christine Lagarde is actually guilty of anything.  The trouble started when Lagarde was France’s Finance Minister. Her boss was none other than President Nicholas Sarkozy (half-brother-in-law to Mary-Kate Olsen, fyi). President Sarkozy’s good buddy was this tycoon named Bernard Tapie who got really angry with the French government and then sued it. You see, Tapie sold his stake in athletic company, Adidas, to French bank Credit Lyonnais, which as luck would have it, was state owned. The bank then went ahead and sold that very same stake for a whole lot more money than what Tapie was paid. Tapie cried fraud on the government and became embroiled in a fifteen year legal battle. Enter Lagarde, who against official advice, recommended private arbitration in lieu of continuing to pursue the expensive legal battle. Tapie was awarded an outrageously high 400 million euros (roughly $417 million), and for this Lagarde was found guilty because she didn’t contest the award (which came from public funds, mind you). Incidentally, investigators suspected that the arbitration process was not kosher and was actually rigged in Tapie’s favor. He has since been ordered to pay the award back. In the meantime, Lagarde isn’t even facing any jail time, much less a fine. That’s because the state, according to its own opinion, had a weak case, while Lagarde has an excellent reputation and is in good international standing. Boom.

Canvas is so last year…

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Lands’ End is going luxe again. After dumping its posh CEO, Federica Marchionni – after less than two years –  the company just announced it hired Jerome Griffith, formerly of Tumi, who just this year wrapped up selling the company to Samsonite Luggage to the tune of $1.8 billion. Griffith also held posts at Gap Inc. and Tommy Hilfiger and has a solid reputation for turning companies around. It was only three months ago that the company booted Marchionni, who previously held posts at Dolce & Gabbana and Ferrari. But alas, she couldn’t make it past the two year mark, as her vision for making Lands’ End an upscale brand, via the Canvas line, did not resonate with a customer bas that wasn’t even looking for upscale. Hence, she went the way of acid wash and parachute pants. Her vision was, in fact, so at odds with the Lands’ End customer base that the company had to eat a $4.4 million loss from the line.  The company also didn’t care for the fact that she stayed put in New York while Lands’ End offices were already comfortably situated in Wisconsin. Geography won’t be an issue for Griffith who is gearing up to set up house and home in the in the state. Lands’s End is counting on Griffith’s business acumen. During his run at Tumi, he saw revenues increase from $196 million in 2009 to $547 million in 2015.  And Lands’ End needs all the help it can get after watching its sales take in a loss last year of close to $20 million.

Yahoo’s Got Major Un-security Issues; Big Pharma Slapped With Big Lawsuit; Super Bowl “Ads” Up to Big Bucks

Some heads are gonna roll…

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Today’s massive data breach is brought to us by Yahoo. Again. It’s estimated that a billion users had their personal data breached back in 2013, which is nearly twice as big as the last data breach Yahoo reported just a few months ago that happened in 2014. Now Yahoo has the dubious distinction of being the target of arguably the largest data breach. Ever. Incidentally, it wasn’t even Yahoo that discovered the breach but rather law enforcement officials. Law enforcement handed over files to the internet company that they received from a third party who said the info was stolen. Way to stay on top of things, Yahoo! Virginia Senator Mark Warner is now on a mission to investigate why Yahoo can’t seem to get its cyber-defense act together, while Yahoo is on its own mission to investigate who was responsible for the breach.  The Senator went to the SEC  back in September to ask them to investigate if Yahoo did what it was required to do by informing the public about the breach that occurred in 2014.  Warner would have preferred that Yahoo informed the public about the breach when it first happened – and NOT three years later. Sounds fair. In the meantime, there’s talk about whether Verizon still plans to acquire Yahoo’s core internet business for $4.83 billion. With Yahoo’s stock experiencing its biggest intraday drop in almost a year, that deal might go buh-bye as Verizon reviews “the impact of this new development.”  Or Verizon will just offer Yahoo a lower price to acquire it. Because, apparently it still makes strategic sense to purchase Yahoo even with two massive data breaches under its belt.

Suited up…

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Twenty states are going after big pharma via a massive lawsuit that probably wont be going away anytime soon. Mylan NV,Teva Pharmaceuticals and four other companies that manufacture generic medicines are now staring at the wrong end of a very big lawsuit. This lawsuit, by the way, is completely separate from the investigations being led by the Justice Department and other agencies. The companies are being sued for conspiring to fix drug pricing on two generic drugs: an antibiotic called doxycycline and a drug used to treat diabetes called glyburide. The suit charges that brass at the pharmaceutical companies jacked up the drug prices by setting them and also allocated markets, which they all knew was illegal. They made sure any incriminating correspondence was deleted or simply avoided written communication. When asked for a comment, one of the companies named in the suit, Heritage Pharmaceuticals Inc., conveniently blamed former executives who had since been fired.  Jeffrey Glazer, former CEO of Heritage Pharmaceuticals is actually expected to plead guilty next month. Mylan predictably denied the charges while Teva said it’s still reviewing the complaint. The others remained mum.

Ad-citing news…

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The Super Bowl is still a couple of months away but the advertisers are gearing up for their multi-million dollar thirty second spots come February 5. Rumor has it Fox is charging between $5 million – $5.5 million. GoDaddy, which skipped last year’s Super Bowl ad festivities, is coming back this year, along with Snickers, Skittles and – get this – Avocados from Mexico. Can’t wait to see how Donald Trump tweets about that one.  GoDaddy skipped last year’s festivities, apparently to focus on breaking into more international markets. That mission has presumably been accomplished as the domain services company is now available in 56 markets. Of course, it wouldn’t be the Super Bowl without beer ads and Anheuser Busch has got a whole bunch of spots lined up touting its refreshing assortment. In the meantime, regular advertisers, PepsiCo and FritoLay are sitting out this year. It’ll be the first time in ten years that viewers will not see a Doritos ad during the big game. But don’t get too choked up about Pepsico’s absence. The company will still figure prominently since its Pepsi Zero Sugar is the official sponsor of the half-time show starring Lady Gaga.

Trump Must Say Buh-bye to DC Namesake Hotel; Amazon’s Latest Tricks Up its Sleeve; The Urge to Merge: Alaska Airlines and Virgin America

Give it up…

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The official word out of Washington DC and, more importantly, the General Services Administration (GSA), is that Donald Trump has to give up his beloved hotel that is housed in the Old Post Office, just a few blocks from the White House. It’s the one that he opened back in September and has been the site for so very many Trump protests. That particular building is especially off limits to the President-elect because it is leased from the Federal government. The GSA, in case you were wondering, manages property owned by the Federal government. So it stands to reason that it has a say in what Donald Trump can and can’t do in this particular situation. Incidentally, Federal law does not exactly prohibit a president’s involvement in private business. However, members of Congress and lower ranked executive branch officials cannot. So weird, huh? As for a president’s assets, those have been typically put into blind trusts in an effort to avoid any appearance of impropriety – which seems logical. The owners of these blind trusts have no knowledge of how the assets are being managed and are typically managed by independent third parties. Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, has apparently been dealing with the GSA to resolve this particular issue. However, her involvement is sort of iffy, according to some, since she is an official member of Trump’s transition team.

Droning on and on…

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Amazon’s unleashing plenty of big news today while Jeff Bezos is kicking up his heels at Trump Tower, trying to make nice with the President-elect. First, the online retailer giant announced its first drone delivery, called Prime Air, which took place December 7 in the U.K. A Fire TV device, along with a bag of popcorn found its way to its buyer just thirteen minutes after the order was made. The drop was made in an area in Cambridge that has been authorized for drone testing. So far, two customers have access to this new delivery method. But in the coming months that number is expected to grow by leaps and bounds. The drones fly no higher than 400 feet, are guided by GPS and can carry up to five pounds of merchandise. But best of all, for Amazon anyway, is that drone delivery of small packages are an excellent way to keep delivery costs really low. How does a dollar a drop sound?  Then, Amazon also announced the launch of its very own live streaming video service available just about everywhere. Except China. That must warm Donald Trump’s heart a little.  In any case, the new service is giving Netflix   – which also has yet to conquer China – some very unwanted competition. By the way, Amazon’s launch was eerily reminiscent of Netflix’s global launch almost a year ago. Just saying. The new service, aptly called Prime Video, would get bundled with your average Amazon Prime subscription. The idea is to get people to sign up for Amazon Prime service and from watching all of Amazon’s amazing (it really is) programming, viewers will then have an insatiable urge to buy even more stuff on Amazon. It’s meant to be a win-win. Just not necessarily for your bank account. In Amazon’s defense, however, the company wants to make sure that you’re getting a lot of value from your annual Prime subscription. I can live with that.

Take wing…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Alaska Airlines/Virgin America merger is in effect with the official blessing from the U.S. Justice Department. But to be clear, Alaska Airlines is actually buying Virgin America – which has only been around since 2007 –  for about $2.6 billion. The total cost, after all is said and done, is expected to hit closer to $4 billion.  Alaska Airlines is currently the sixth biggest airline operator in the United States, while Virgin America holds steady at number eight. But once these two babies unite, they’ll become the fifth largest airline in the industry. The top four airlines, however, still control 80% of the country’s domestic market. At least the merger will allow for the new entity to become a major player in the highly competitive West Coast region. Combined, the two airlines have around 40 million customers and have so far this year generated $2.4 billion in revenue.

Oil-vey! Trump’s Secretary of State Pick Putin Us On; Trump vs. Silicon Valley; Rate Hike Sends Joy Throughout Wall Street

Energized…

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Trump’s latest pick, this time for Secretary of State, has naturally already ruffled more than a few political feathers. Enter Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson, a man who happens to be very very cushy with Russia and its fearless leader, Vladimir Putin. If you recall, Russia is very brazenly messing with Ukraine, to the point where the U.S. felt compelled to impose sanctions. Now, the CIA said the country also launched cyber attacks against the U.S. in an effort to influence the election results. But that very same country awarded Tillerson the Friendship Medal in 2013.  Tillerson, who has never held a public office, has been at Exxon, the world’s largest energy firm, for 40 years and during that time spent many many hours cultivating relationships and establishing major business deals with countless foreign countries and companies. But he’ll still need to be confirmed by the Senate. However, considering that former Secretaries of State Condoleeza Rice and James Baker are big fans, not to mention Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he shouldn’t have too much of an uphill battle. By the way, Condoleeza Rice also happens to be a consultant at Exxon Mobil, and Robert Gates was a consultant at one point too. Rumor has it that they all plan to vouch for the CEO.  Lindsay Graham and John McCain, however, are just not that into him, presumably because of his chummy relationship with Putin, of whom they are not particularly fond. Also not in Tillerson’s favor is the fact that Exxon currently has billions of dollars in deals with Russia, not to mention one valued at $500 billion that involves exploring and pumping for oil in Siberia. Those deals can only go forward if the U.S. decides to lift its sanctions against Russia and, fyi,  Tillerson was never much of a fan of the sanctions. And just so you know, according to a filing from a year ago, Tillerson owns $218 million in Exxon stock along with a $70 million pension plan. Shares of Exxon Mobil went up 2.2% on the news of Tillerson’s nomination.

 

Speaking of Trump…

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Tomorrow is a big day at Trump Towers as some of Silicon Valley’s top execs head over to the President-elect’s digs for a little quality time with Donald Trump. Expected to attend the power meeting are: Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Google’s Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt…to name but a few. While the agenda’s not public, there are some predictions about what might be discussed tomorrow. There’s the not-so-minor issue of antitrust enforcement and those pesky government demands for user data. But much higher on that list is Trump’s immigration policies and how they have the potential to put a very major damper on the inner workings at many of these Silicon Valley companies. The fact that these companies bring in a lot of employees on special visas, not to mention that they also send plenty of jobs overseas, doesn’t exactly jibe well with Trump’s vision of “Making America Great Again.”  To be fair, Apple did say it has 80,000 employees in the United States and is also responsible for creating another 2 million jobs from all the business opportunities Apple creates. However, Trump did say, in his very eloquent way, that he wants to “get Apple to build their damn computers and things” right here.  Donald Trump is all for establishing major tax reforms and is acutely aware that all these tech companies have a lot of cash offshore. Major reform will help bring that cash back to the States. So its in everyone’s best interests to work together towards that goal, whether they supported Trump’s presidential aspirations or not. And for the record, they did not.

Stocks, and bonds and hikes…Oh my!

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stocks all over the world rejoiced today by going up while the Dow Jones Industrial Average came thisclose to hitting the 20,000 mark following its 9% surge since Election Day. Actually, the index came within 50 points of the 20,000 mark which sent Wall Street into fits of fiscal joy. The S&P got in on the action by going up .8% to its very own all-time high. The reason for all this excitement is because the Federal Reserve is expected to officially and finally finally announce a rate hike tomorrow, marking the second time in ten years that we get to witness and take part in that elusive increase. Rate hikes are welcome since they signal that the economy is strong and steady in all the right ways. Low interest rates have this nifty little effect on stocks that makes them cost higher. Problem is low interest rates are just no good  for the savers among us who like high interest rates because of the income they get from bonds and bank accounts.  Even though borrowing costs are about to get that much higher, investors are still positively giddy at the prospect that the President-elect intends to usher in an era of potentially lower corporate tax rates, less regulation and lots more infrastructure spending.

 

Viacom Pulls Merger Plug; Trump’s Next Tweet Tackle Goes After Lockheed Martin; JetSmarter Channels Uber for Air Travel


On second thought…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today father-daughter Redstone team, Shari and Sumner, announced that they are no longer interested in a merger with sister company CBS. It was Shari Redstone who said as much in a letter from the family’s privately-held company National Amusements Inc.  She gets to do that sort of thing since, after all, she controls the voting shares of both Viacom and her dad, which altogether adds up to 80% of the voting stock. Wall Street wasn’t too happy about Viacom finding its own way sans CBS and not only sent the stock down 7%, it also took Viacom to a 52 week low. The two companies were actually merged once upon a time, but back in 2006 went into splitsville. Initially, the merger was meant to give Viacom a much needed boost. But the father-daughter duo decided to put the kibosh on the merger because they apparently developed renewed confidence in Viacom’s prospects under the leadership of its new CEO Bob Bakish. At least that’s how team Redstone spun it. However, rumor has it that it was because CBS chief Les Moonves wasn’t on board for a number of reasons. For one, Viacom was looking to get a premium on its shares and CBS wasn’t willing to pay for it. Also, Moonves wanted control of both companies along with increased equity and the Redstones weren’t too keen on giving him all that. Other sources say that Moonves wasn’t even interested in trying to fix Viacom. Had the merger gone through it would have resulted in a massive media giant.

F-35 you!

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President-elect Donald Trump’s latest Tweet target is Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program. Naturally, his Tweet dumping on Lockheed Martin sent the stock south along with several other defense contractors. Trump said that come January 20th, he plans to save billions of dollars on the aircraft that he described as being “not very good” according to his very expert opinion. Lockheed Martin said that it already spent millions to reduce costs on the 5th generation fighter aircraft by more than 60% and  I am pretty sure there is a joke somewhere in there.  But it’s not just Trump who thinks the program’s costs are bananas. A voice of reason who we know as John McCain, and who also serves as the Senate Armed Services Chairman is critical of the program. He wrote a letter to the Pentagon challenging the $1 billion cost overrun for the program. But Lockheed Martin said that it creates 146,000 jobs in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, besides the fact that analysts also feel the aircraft is necessary since Russia and China have highly advanced competitive fighter aircraft. We wouldn’t want to let them have the upper hand as far as our defense goes, now would we? There are six other countries who also use the jets and 3,000 planes are supposed to be built for the U.S. and other countries. The estimated cost of the program is about $400 billion and has the dubious distinction of being described as the most expensive weapons system in history. The fact that other countries participate in the program is supposed to help spread out the costs a little more. However, it’s not clear exactly how much their participation has helped the U.S.

Coffee, tea or Jay-Z?

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JetSmarter, a company that is basically Uber for flying privately can now count Jay-Z and the Saudi Royal family among its investors. The company has so far raised $157 million with $105 million raised just in its latest round.  JetSmarter founder and CEO Sergey Petrossov discovered a very lucrative opportunity when he realized that 35% of private planes have no passengers. With 50 routes in 30 cities around the world, JetSmarter wants to take its latest cash-infusion to expand into Asia, South America and Africa.  Plenty of other similar start-ups have failed so how come JetSMarter hasn’t? Apparently because seat prices on Jet Smarter change based on predictions about the popularity of certain routes and flight times. JetSmarter allows its members to buy empty plane seats from private jet companies and sell them through its app.  The company boasts 6,700 members and currently, a membership will set you back about $15,000 for the first year and $11,500 per year after that. But hey, that gets you an average of 12-15 flights per year. However, if you decide to create a charter flight or want to take a member created flight, that costs extra. And while the company does not own any of its own planes, it does have about 32,000 aircraft in its network with a $1.6 billion valuation.

Trump Getting Carrier’d Away with Employment Numbers; Get Ready to Rumble with Trump’s Latest Pick; Unemployment Lows Give Economists a High

Adios…

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Just when you thought he’d Tweeted it all…It’s Trump vs. the union boss in the next installment of the President-elect’s Tweet-drama. This time Trump took on union boss Chuck Jones, who serves as president of United Steelworkers 1999 over at Carrier.  Trump tweeted that Jones has “done a terrible job representing workers.” That’s just one of the many pearls that escaped Trump’s social media account. “Spend more time working-less time talking. Reduce dues,” was another gem he tweeted about his current dispute. Look for this exchange to come back and haunt him when it’s time for re-election. In any case, Jones said Trump was giving people false hope about the job situation at Carrier, and told the Washington Post, “…for whatever reason, he lied his a– off.” What Trump allegedly lied his a– off about was the 1,100 jobs he is taking credit for saving. He might have temporarily and theoretically – depending on whom you ask – sort of saved closer to 730 jobs and the problem with Trump’s math is that the 1,100 number might have included 300 jobs that weren’t even in danger of heading across the border. Come mid-2017 and another 600 Carrier jobs are gone as well, whether Trump is involved or not. And after all those lay-offs, Carrier will have a grand total of 800 manufacturing workers and another 300 engineers on its roster. Carrier was offered $7 million worth of tax incentives and credits to stay put. Jones said $23 million worth of concessions were offered up in order to entice Carrier not to head off to Mexico. But Carrier still stands to save $65 million by moving south and well…you see where this is headed. If Carrier decided to remain in the U.S., employees would have to agree to ditch benefits and earn $5 per hour below minimum wage.  Let’s see Trump fix that one.

Let’s get ready to rumble…

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In other Trump drama, the President-elect just picked WWE co-founder Linda McMahon to head the Small Business Administration. Which seems only fair considering she gave a whopping $6 million to a pro-Trump super PAC. Although, she did call Trump’s comments about women deplorable, so that’s something in her favor. The Senate still needs to approve the pick, but all signs point to her getting the gig. With offices in every state, the SBA helps small businesses and entrepreneurs get financing and training. McMahon, like Trump, supports a lower corporate tax rate and less government regulation. She founded WWE thirty years ago with her husband Vince McMahon. McMahon made two previous attempts to get into Washington DC when she ran for Senate seats twice in Connecticut. Both times she lost and the cost of the campaigns set her back about $100 million.  Not that it put much of a dent in her bank account. WWE is a publicly traded company with a market value of $1.5 billion. McMahon herself owns $84 million in company stock. And by the way, Trump is a member of the WWE Hall of Fame.

Nothing to do with Trump…

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The number of Americans filing for unemployment fell from its five month high last week.    That should leave you feeling positively giddy as it signals a very healthy strong labor market. With this bit of news you can expect the Federal Reserve to hike those rates next week. The number of people who filed for first time benefits dropped by 10,000 to 258,000 applicants. It also marks the 92nd straight week that claims fell below 300,000  – a fiscally remarkable feat which hasn’t been seen since 1970. And again, that points to another good sign of a healthy labor market. In case you were curious about what economists were predicting – and it’s okay if you weren’t – the numbers were as expected. With the labor market seen as near full-employment, the government also released data showing that unemployment hit a four year low of 4.6% back in November. And bonus: the number of Americans who receive unemployment benefits fell a glorious 79,000 to 2.01 million.

Starbucks Betting on $10 Coffee; Trump Ready to Dump on Pharmaceuticals; Trump’s June Stock Dump

Jolted…

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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is stepping down from his post in April with plans to build a Starbucks’ prestige brand where he will serve as its Executive Chairman. The idea is that by going upscale Starbucks will be able to raise its profile with those pesky millennials. Besides that, the company needs to compete with a number of other upscale rivals that keep rearing their gourmet heads all over the place. One thousand “Reserve” brand stores are slated to set up shop with another 30 large Reserve Roastery (expect to find that word added to a dictionary near you) and Tasting Rooms expected to open up all over the globe. In case you were wondering what one orders from this new prestige brand, you might consider purchasing a $10 cup of coffee that you can sip daintily from a glass siphon.  Or perhaps you’re up for paying $50 for an 8 oz. bag of an exotic, small-lot coffee? I’m sure you’ll find something worth depleting your funds.  In any case, Starbucks also announced plans to open another 12,000 stores –  that’s in addition to its already existing 25,000 stores –  in the next five years.  Five thousand stores are slated just for China. The company also plans to annually boost revenue by 10% while adding between 15% – 20% to its shares, and increase its focus on its food offerings since the coffee giant is convinced it can double its growth in that area.

What a pill…

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Donald Trump’s latest executive plans involve bringing down drug prices and the pharmaceutical companies that keep increasing them with seemingly reckless abandon. Which is kind of ironic since pharmaceutical stocks saw a huge surge following Trump’s election. And here they thought they had an ally. Hah! A Kaiser Family Foundation survey leading up to the election found that people felt drug prices were the number one healthcare issue for the next President. Well, I guess the President-elect is ready for it then. Sort of. Trump has yet to outline any concrete plans on how he is going to achieve this goal. But during his campaign, Trump did say that he is all in favor of consumers having their meds re-imported. He also wants Medicare for the elderly to renegotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical manufacturers. That should be fun to watch, especially because both the industry and many many Republicans are vehemently against that idea. Stay tuned for that drama. Just today, Pfizer Inc. and Flynn Pharmaceutical Ltd. were slapped with some massive record fines in the UK after raising drug prices by…wait for it…2,600%. Now, Pfizer will cough up about $106 million, while Flynn will fork over approximately $6.5 million. I guess they should be happy that they were busted in the U.K. and still have time to clean up their act in the United States before Trump-dom takes effect. In the meantime, Allergan Plc. CEO Brett Saunders is bracing himself for the new president’s impact and said Trump could end up being more “vicious” on pharmaceuticals and their drug pricing than Hillary Clinton might have been. But he also pledged to limit price increases to less than 10% per year. Or perhaps he did that lest Trump unleash his Twitter wrath on Allergan, just like he’s done to several other individual companies including Carrier Corp., Ford and Boeing.

Under-stocked…

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Yesterday, President-elect Donald Trump’s team announced, with no explicable reason as to the timing, that he sold off all of his stocks back in June. Don’t hold your breath for proof of that sell-off as none was provided. While being interviewed today on the “Today” show by host Matt Later after being named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year,” Trump explained that he decided to unload his stock holdings in order to avoid any conflicts of interest. How very gallant of Mr. Trump.  And even though the press was not made aware of it until yesterday, Donald Trump insisted that everybody already knew. We just don’t know who “everybody” is. Mr. Trump went on to say that he sold off his stocks since he knew he would win the election and would be making deals for the United States that could affect various companies in all sorts of different ways. That was indeed very thoughtful of him. He also said he didn’t even own that much stock.  Which is debatable at best since a recent filing from December of 2015 valued his holdings at $40 million. But in all fairness, his stock market holdings pale in comparison to his real estate holdings which apparently make up the bulk of his net worth.  Ethics experts, however, are suggesting those real-estate holdings might also be a conflict-of-interest as well. Just saying. It’s worth noting that since his sell-off, the S&P 500 went up over 10% while the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit some very impressive all-time highs. Since Trump’s victory, many stocks have also hit all-time highs and, of course, he’s taking credit for it.