Not in the Moody’s: China Gets a Downgrade; Tiffany & Co. Fails to Shine; Can’t Contain The Container Store’s Earnings

Awkward…

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Look like Moody’s wont be getting a warm reception from China in the near – and probably far – future. It took thirty years, but the investor service downgraded China’s sovereign credit rating. Moody’s is more than a bit skeptical that the country can get its debt issues under control while at the same time trying to maintain economic growth. Hence, it bumped China’s rating down a smidgen from a respectable A1 to a not-as-respectable Aa3.  On the bright side – though I highly doubt China sees it that way – Moody’s did upgrade its outlook for the country from negative to stable. That’s gotta count for something, right? Well, maybe not to the Chinese. In any case, even though China has enjoyed pretty fast growth rates that easily surpassed 6%, it is apparently due in large part to its mounting pile of debt, and Moody’s said that it expects that rate to soon come down closer to 5%. As for China, the Finance Ministry is, shall we say, unhappy about this downgrade and called the move “inappropriate”  and “absolutely groundless.” Oh well. So much for diplomacy.

Not so Gaga for Tiffany…

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All is not bling-y for Tiffany & Co. as the luxury jeweler took a nasty 4% hit on its comparable sales, even during the fiscal quarter that brings us Valentine’s Day. Of course, with that ugly bit of news came an even uglier hit to its stock, taking it down around 10%. Like with so many other brands, the company just can’t seem to get a hold on that finicky demographic we call millennials.  And that’s even after the luxury brand made Lady Gaga its poster gal while poaching Coach’s Creative Director, Reed Krackoff to add a little millennial-desirability to the the label.  Naturally, some blame also went to that pesky strong dollar of ours which seemed to put a crimp on tourist spending.  Net sales were up close to $900 million. Too bad expectations were for $914 million On the bright side, Tiffany & Co. added 74 cents to its shares, beating analyst estimates by four cents. Last year at this time, the company hauled in over $891 million in revenue with 69 cents added per share.

Can’t contain myself…

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Shares of The Container Store Group surged 37% after announcing it not only beat expectations, but it also has a restructuring plan in the works. If any company knows a thing or two about restructuring and organization, it’s gotta be The Container Store, right? At least when I walk into one of their stores, I always find myself feeling grossly inadequate and disorganized. In any case, the company took in sales of $221 million, easily blowing expectations of $213 million out of the water. The company also took in 17 cents per share which was 140% higher than last year at this time. Yes, you read that correctly. 140%. Analysts expected 11 cents per share. But mind you, the company’s stock had been down around 50% since it hit a one year-high back in December.  As for the restructuring plan, sadly, there will be layoffs. It’s an unfortunate result of trying to combat all the e-commerce competition that has dogged The Container Store and countless other businesses.

Ford Looks to Boost Profits With Layoffs; Twitter Sequel: The Return of Biz; Avocados Will Not Make You Rich!

Slash and burn…

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Today’s job-slashing news is brought to us by Ford Motors. The automotive company, which employs about 200,000 people worldwide, plans to cut about 10% of its salaried workforce. Apparently, the job cutting efforts are simply part of a $3 billion cost cutting program. What Ford is really hoping to accomplish is to keep its stock from from getting too close to a five-year low and boost profits at the same time. Ford released an official statement today and made sure to talk a lot about priorities, profit and growth. Curiously enough, however, no mention was made about job cuts. Wonder what that’s all about. If it’s any consolation, rumor has it that Ford is offering generous early retirement incentives to some of the aforementioned salaried workers. However what generous and incentives actually mean remains to be seen. In any case, CEO Mark Fields, who came on board back in July, wants people to know that the folks over at Ford “are as frustrated as you are by the stock price.” Fields in particular must be awfully frustrated considering that the stock has dropped over 35% since he took the CEO reins.

Let’s get Biz-y with it…

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Amidst a throng of high-level departures comes a potential bright spot for Twitter – the return of co-founder Biz Stone, six years after he left. In a Medium post he wrote that he’s returning to the embattled social media company for the purpose of “filling the ‘Biz-shaped hole.'” Yup. He said that. He went on to say, “You might even say the job description includes being Biz Stone.” Yup. He said that too. Biz wants to guide company culture, feeling and energy, and Twitter could definitely use help in all three of those categories. Besides, it’s not like Biz had anything else going on these days since he just sold his latest start-up to Pinterest for an undisclosed sum. You got that? An undisclosed sum. (I have no definitive idea of what that means.) As for Jack Dorsey, another co-founder and current Twitter CEO, Biz counts him as “his closest friend.” At Twitter anyway. Wall Street seems to be thrilled about Biz Stone’s return as well, sending the stock up over 2%. Twitter’s stock will take any boost it can get these days. And according to Stone, and presumably President Trump, “The world needs Twitter, and it’s here to stay.”

It’s the pits…

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Today is not a good day for the avocado industry. It seems Australian millionaire Tim Gurner said during an interview on Australia’s “60 Minutes” to ditch the avocados if you want to buy a house. It’s not that Gurner has anything against the green-fleshed delicacy. Only that Millennials should focus on saving their money towards purchasing a home and accumulating wealth instead of spending $19 on pricey avocado sandwiches. See the connection? Neither did plenty of Twitter users.  On Twitter @kalebhorton wrote: “Alright, I did the math. If I stopped eating avocado toast every day, I would be able to afford a bad house in Los Angeles in 642 years.” Foghorn Greghorn tweeted: “Avocado Toast $6.50 Data $150 House $650,000 Utility $150 someone who is good at the economy please help me budget this my family is dying.” But maybe Gurner’s onto something. After all, he is a real estate tycoon with an estimated $460 million. And I bet he owns lots of homes.

Lyft and Waymo = Carpool; Bud Spending $2 billion to Up Its Game; AIG Bets Big on Latest CEO

Self-less…

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In case you were having trouble envisioning a world with driverless cars, you might want to check out Alphabet Inc.’s company Waymo. Waymo, a self-driving car company,  has just teamed up with Lyft, and that should be enough to make Uber more than a little nervous. You might be wondering why a company owned by Google even needs a much smaller company like Lyft for a partnership. But believe it or not, there’s a little quid pro quo going on because since Lyft has the dubious distinction of being the second largest ride service company, it will allow Waymo’s technology to reach even more people than without it. Isn’t that just beautiful? Uber, on the other hand, is looking to develop driverless technology on its own. If you recall, Waymo sued Uber back in February, alleging that Uber stole Waymo’s self-driving technology to build its own fleet.  But with the way things are going for Uber lately, it might be more prudent for the embattled ride-sharing company to focus on its current crop of legal and publicity challenges instead of driverless cars. For the time being anyway.  By the way, Lyft’s deal with Waymo is not exclusive. Which is super important considering that GM is a big Lyft investor and already has its own partnership in place to develop self-driving cars. It’s like legit double-dipping and everybody wins. In fact, come 2018, Lyft and GM will be set to deploy and test thousands of self-driving cars. Yikes!

Competitive beer…

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It might be hard to believe but the King of Beers is not looked upon as the royalty it once was. And so, its parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev NV is plunking down $2 billion to try and fix that issue. The plan is to make a substantial, lucrative foray into new categories, while at the same time boosting its flagship brands which have been staring down the wrong end of increased competition.  The money will be spent over the next four years, using approximately $500 million per year. In case you were thinking that $2 billion seems like an awfully bloated  – no pun intended – number to spend on improving a beer brand, consider that beer is a more than $107 billion industry and no self-respecting beer company wants to lose ground in a market like that.  And make no mistake, beer has been losing ground lately with not as much of it being consumed like in years past. Hard to believe. I know, but various types of other alcoholic beverages have been flooding the market in recent years and consumers are digging them. Which leaves companies like Anheuser-Busch scrambling to reclaim its foamy territory.

No pressure or anything…

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Maybe the seventh time’s a charm for AIG, which just announced it’s coughing up $12 million – and then some – to pay its newest CEO, Brain Duperreault. By “then some” I refer to an additional 1.5 million stock options and a $16 million pay package all based on the hope that Duperreault will finally be the one to turn AIG around. Did you catch that? He’s getting all that and he hasn’t sat at his new desk yet. The last CEO, Peter Hancock, left in March because he wasn’t feeling the love, or rather investor support, including from the one and only Carl Icahn. But Brian Deperreault just might have what AIG’s been looking for all these years, well at least since 2005. He’s no stranger to AIG, having worked there as a deputy way back when. He’s coming over from Hamilton Insurance, and before that he was at Marsh & McClennan Cos. earning solid reputations at both firms. As for his first order of business: achieve stability in a company that has seen too many high-level departures, four straight quarters of losses and high claims costs. Good luck with that one, Mr. Duperreault. You’re gonna need it.

Coach Gets Quirky With Kate Spade; Warren Buffett’s Latest Thoughts; It’s Kumbaya for Comcast and Charter Communications

Luxury quirk…

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Coach is about to get a whole lot more accessorized now that it announced it will be buying Kate Spade. The $2.4 billion price tag on the deal means Coach will be plunking down $18.50 per share, which ends up being a 9% premium over Kate Spade’s Friday closing price. Analysts are digging the merger, thinking it’s a good fit and news of the deal set Wall Street tongues wagging, subsequently sending shares of both companies up.  In fact, ever since Kate Spade brass decided on a sale back in December, the stock has been on the rise. Which is weird because before that the stock was flagging over increased competition and decreased traffic and sales. Much of the enthusiasm over the sale is because people think Coach will have an opportunity to up its street cred with millennials. After all, Kate Spade’s quirky merchandise tends to resonate with that finicky demographic. And when something actually resonates with millennials, companies want in and are quick to figure out how to make a lot of money in that arena.  In fact, 60% of Kate Spade sales come from millennials while only 15% come from outside the U.S. Go figure.

It’s all about the tapeworm…

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It was that time of year again where one of the wealthiest men in the world imparted his financial wisdom onto his shareholders, and also regular people. Sort of. At the annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting held in Omaha this past weekend, Warren Buffett and his partner, Charlie Munger, shared their isights on several topics including Wells Fargo, Amazon and even the Republican healthcare bill.  On Wells Fargo, Buffett said there were three huge mistakes, but the biggest one was not acting on the problem when they first heard about it. On the Republican healthcare bill, he shared this pearl: “Medical costs are the tapeworm of economic competitiveness.” Got it? Tapeworm. Also,  he messed up royally by not ever owning shares of Amazon.  He admits he never anticipated Jeff Bezos going as far as he did. Apparently Buffett’s oracle skills failed him on that one. On a different note, he said that if he dies tonight, he’s convinced shares of Berkshire Hathaway would go up tomorrow. Warms the heart now, doesn’t it.

Well isn’t this precious…

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Comcast and Charter Communications are joining hands in the spirit of fighting against the dreaded and unflagging power of wireless carriers. Apparently when it comes to fighting wireless carriers, there is an inherent safety in numbers. So together the two companies will join hands and tackle such things as customer billing and device ordering systems. Also, they made a deal with each other that neither one would attempt to buy any other wireless companies and to consult one another before either one would make related deals,. They want to avoid increasing competition between the two companies. A move like this allows them to develop wireless services for their own companies without worrying over competition from each other. So its’s a little kumbaya and a little self-preservation.  And bonus: The two companies have said the plan could have the potential of lowering costs for its customers. However, that remains to be seen so don’t hold your breath.

 

Apple Throws Billions Towards U.S. Manufacturing; Ferrari Speeds into Double Digit Margins; Republicans Wage War on Dodd-Frank

iManufacture…

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China’s about to get some very unwelcome manufacturing competition from Apple. The tech giant just announced that it is starting a $1 billion fund promoting advanced manufacturing. Gosh, is the President going to take credit for this too? In fact, CNBC host Jim Cramer had the dubious distinction of being the first person to hear the news on his show “Mad Money.”  For those of you wondering what the difference is between manufacturing and “advanced manufacturing,” it means Apple will basically have to offer specialized skills and training for the latter and fill job gaps with these newly-trained, highly-skilled workers. In any case, Apple has thus far created some two million jobs in the U.S. and can hardly wait to create even more. But how does Apple plan on spending that $1 billion it’s setting aside for this latest project? Well, don’t get too excited just yet, because some of that cash is first going to a company that Apple has partnered with for this initiative. And the name of that lucky company has yet to be announced.

Magnifico!

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Ah Ferrari. What could be better than tooling around in a machine like that? How about its earnings, for one. The Italian automaker just released its first quarter earnings report and they were everything you’d expect from the maker of one of the world’s finest sports cars. Shares are up well over 6% today after the company announced a 36% earnings increase along with a 50% surge in deliveries. And by the way, those earnings were even better than expected, coming in at around $265 million  – which equals 242 million euros – in case you were curious. Estimates, mind you, were for 222 million euros. Revenues also impressed and elated investors, as they increased 22% to 821 million euros, easily beating expectations of 767 million euros.  Sure, those numbers are almost magical, but that’s not really what’s got Wall Street tongues wagging. It was Ferrari’s margins, which are now right up there with the aforementioned tech giant we call Apple. But I guess that’s to be expected when you’re selling cars whose ticket prices start well into the six-figures and can exceed $2 million. After all, we are talking about a company who sold out of a car, the Aperta convertible, before the car even made its official debut.

Let’s me be Dodd-Frank with you…

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Things are looking grim for Dodd-Frank, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Republican-led House Financial Services Committee argued that the law sucks for the economy since it slows it down, and today passed a bill that would overhaul and repeal parts of it. It certainly helps Republicans that President  Trump promised way back in his campaign to overhaul the law, which he says costs banks a fortune in compliance and limits lending way too much. Democrats argue the opposite and are convinced that the bill, if passed, will once again create the same conditions that led to the 2008 fiscal crisis. In case it wasn’t obvious, the law was initially passed under President Barack Obama. Naturally, Democrats voted against the bill and lost 34-26.

American Airlines Wants You to Fly the Cramped Skies; New York Times “Trumps” Estimates; Tesla’s Big Losses and Bigger Gains

Low-class…

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As if customers aren’t irritated enough, and because American Airlines maybe just doesn’t give a hoot, the airline just announced plans to make its flights even more cramped and unpleasant. In economy class, mind you. And this un-strategically timed announcement comes the day after airline execs took a truly deserved congressional beating over how poorly they treat those customers. American Airlines spokesman Joshua Freed said, “We believe we’re still providing a good product for customers.” Of course they do. So if you didn’t feel squeezed and claustrophobic enough before, you can now look forward to even 1-2 inches less of legroom. In fact, that will leave so little legroom, that it will almost put American Airlines in the same legroom class as low-cost carriers like Spirit Airlines and Frontier Alines. That’s classy, alright. What’s worse, is that if American Airlines ends up getting away with these new seating arrangements, then you can expect other major airlines to follow suit. Because that’s how these cats work.

Sign of the “Times”…

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The New York Times whipped out some impressive earnings this quarter and they can thank its very own Public Enemy Number One: President Donald Trump. Oh, the irony.  The Newspaper of Record took in 308,000 new digital subscribers, a 60% increase over last year that marked the company’s best-ever quarterly growth, and now brings its total digital viewership to 2.2 million subscribers. But then it gets even more interesting. Print ad revenue took an 18% dive since apparently a lot of companies just don’t see the value in placing ads in newspapers anymore. However, lo and behold, digital ad revenue was up 19%. See how well that worked out for the media company? Even its revenue grew 5% to almost $400 million, with the company picking up 11 cents per share, a whole penny more than last year at this time. Bonus: it beat estimates of 7 cents per share. Despite the President’s insistence that the company is failing, the fact – not an alternative one, mind you – is that it enjoyed its best quarterly revenue growth in six years. Naturally, shares rose 12% on the not fake news.

Solar-ious…

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Tesla whipped out some quarterly earnings that were not exactly electrifying, given that it had losses that were much much bigger than expected, but also not bad. At all. The company took a $1.33 hit on it earrings, when estimates were for a less severe 83 cents per share loss. That’s where the bad news ends. Revenue came in at $2.70 billion, more than double last year at this time, and nowhere near the expected $2.61 billion. But then we get to the part about vehicle deliveries. Tesla delivered a record breaking 25,000 cars, a number that sent shares of the company up up and away. It was that impressive of a number. Elon Musk made sure to rub that into the faces of traders who were shorting the stock by tweeting, “Stormy weather in Shortville…” That’s just trading humor on Wall Street. Anyway, the stock is up 46% in the last twelve months, so they must be doing something right over at Tesla. One can only hope…

UnFriendly Skies Take a Well-Deserved Beating; FY-Infosys – Americans Getting on Payrolls; Paid Internships vs. Actual Job

Turbulent…

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The day of reckoning has finally come for airlines and their awful and questionably lawful treatment of its passengers. If you recall, the impetus for this day stemmed from a recent United Airlines flight, where a passenger, David Dao, was forcibly dragged off a plane and left with a litany of injuries including a concussion and broken teeth. So over at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee there was a hearing where airline execs insisted that they’ve been working to improve the situations that have been responsible for all the recent bad press. United CEO Oscar Munoz apologized again at the hearing for the recent tussle that cost his airline a presumably hefty settlement.  Of course plenty of blame has been pointed at unruly passengers. But then again who can blame them? Flights have gotten more crowded, equipment and tech failures have been resulting in delays on a fairly regular basis and obnoxious fees keep cropping up like a bad fungus. And don’t even get me started on the practice of over-booking flights. Apparently, a few airlines are rethinking their policies on that issue.  In the meantime, lawmakers are warning they’ll slap on major legislation if things don’t improve and they promise it wont be pretty.

Trump’d…

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A company based in India, with 200,000 employees worldwide, is now on the line to hire 10,000 workers in the U.S. Enter Infosys, one of a number of companies who engage in outsourcing – a four letter word according to the President – because the practice takes jobs away from Americans. Now, the company announced plans to open four new centers in the United States in the next two years. In the past, Infosys and other similar companies have relied on work visas for its employees. But now President Trump has ordered a major review and overhaul of that program. That’s expected to lead to some very unpleasant changes for companies who are used to employing foreigners in the United States, instead of tapping into the talent pool already present in the country. As for Infosys’s CEO, Vishal Sikka, who happens to be based in Palo Alto (oh, the irony), he explained that “…bringing in local talent and mixing that with the best of global talent in the times we are living in and the times we’re entering is the right thing to do. It is independent of the regulations and the visas.” Of course it is.

How do you like your coffee?

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If you’re not having the easiest time finding a job, maybe getting a position as an intern might be the better way to go. And leave it to Glassdoor to unearth the 25 highest paying internships in the United States. You see, the median annual salary in the U.S. for a full time worker is $51,350 – or about $4,300 a month. An internship gig at Facebook – provided you can even get one  – is worth $8,000 a month. Plus, as a Facebook intern, you get room and board, free food, transportation…Does it get any better than that? Just good luck. You’ll need it. Actually, you’ll really need computer science skills. But that’s besides the point. Microsoft comes in second with a paycheck that is about a thousand dollars less a month than what you’d get at Facebook. But former interns can’t stop raving about the projects they got to work on. Rounding out the third spot is ExxonMobil. While it’s not tech-related, it is a company that is highly focused on professional development of its interns. And who couldn’t use some of that? Amazon and Apple take spots fifth and sixth, respectively, and they’ll both keep you in style for about $6,400 a month. While the tech companies seem to dominate much of the list, there are still plenty of opportunities to map out a career in banking. If you’re sure that’s your thing.