White House Tax Plan Causing Quite the Stir; Twitter’s Very Good Day/Quarter; Silicon Valley Start-Up Eats $1.6M for Discrimination

So taxing…

ID-100266470

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The White House whipped out its opening bid for what it’s calling the “biggest tax cut.” Well, in U.S. history anyway. So who’s supposedly getting a nice break? The middle class, for one, along with some businesses and, naturally, some wealthy individuals, among others.  While President Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin want corporations to pay a 15% tax rate, the plan also calls for a one-time tax payment on earnings that U.S. companies keep outside the U.S. Apparently this new tax cut is meant to be all about simplicity, giving a much-needed boost to the small-business sector while putting some cash back into pockets of the middle-class. Individual rates would change, with the top rate dropping from almost 40% to 35%, and instead of having seven brackets of rates, we’d have just three.  Those cuts sound great, in theory, however, questions remain as to who will be paying for these cuts and how will they be paying for them.

It did what?!

ID-100423570

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’ll start with the bad news. Twitter’s year-over-year revenue declined for the first time  ever to $548 million. But miracle of miracle – hey, we are talking about Twitter, after all – the social media company beat analysts expectations on everything else. TWITTER BEAT EXPECTATIONS. While last year’s revenue at this time was a much higher $595 million, it still wasn’t anywhere near dismal expectations of $512 million for this quarter. User growth has been a fiscal thorn in Twitter’s side. But perhaps the social media tide is turning because Twitter added 9 million more monthly active users bringing its grand total to 328 million users. 9 MILLION users added. You know what anaylyst expected? 2.3 million. Twitter effectively blew those estimates out of the water. As for the other numbers, the company earned 11 cents per share when expectations were for one single solitary cent. In other words, Twitter beat those estimates by a dime. Twitter explained that its impressive earnings were due in part to increased political interest – which sounds about right, especially given President Trump’s highly entertaining tendency to tweet before he thinks. Also, Twitter’s efforts to simplify use on the platform and putting greater focus on stamping out abuse seem to have helped matters…and figures.  Naturally, shares enjoyed a much appreciated increase today, soaring way past $16 a share.

Pony up…

ID-100221512

Image courtesy of pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Palantir Technologies may be valued at $20 billion, but it’s about to lose $1.6 million of it as part of a settlement with the U.S. Department Labor. Charges were brought against the data-analytics company that it discriminated against Asians. Besides the money the company has to cough up, which will go towards back pay and stock options to affected applicants, Palantir also has to hire eight people, who had previously applied to the company, for two different types of engineering roles. According to the government’s complaint, Asians were “routinely eliminated” on the basis of their resumes and telephone interviews. But apparently, Palantir should consider itself lucky that the case didn’t end up going to court. If it had and lost, the penalties would have been so much worse. That $1.6 million is chump change compared to what it might have been had the company been found guilty. And that would be in addition to being added to a list that bars certain companies from doing business in the government sector. Palantir has so far enjoyed hundreds of millions of dollars from such contracts. Of course, Palantir disagrees with the allegations, refuses to admit to any wrongdoing and claims that it only settled so that it could carry on business without further interruptions. Incidentally, Palantir’s co-founded is Peter Thiel, one of President’s Trump’s biggest Silicon Valley supporters and cheerleaders from the start.

Uh Oh Canada: Trump Starts Up With Our Neighbors to the North; Marissa Mayer Walks Away Golden; Nasdaq Yowza!

Good Tariffs don’t make good neighbors…

ID-100381587

Image courtesy of dan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As if things weren’t awkward enough between the President and Mexico, now it’s the U.S.’s relations with Canada that are getting the Trump treatment. This time it’s Canada’s lumber industry that’s getting caught up in the import debate as the President’s plan calls for a tariff of up to 24% on Canada’s lumber products. Canadian lumber companies are pretty ticked off and Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is itching to fight back. Just how remains to be seen. In case you didn’t know, Canada is the world’s largest soft-wood lumber exporter and the U.S. is its biggest customer, reportedly importing $6 billion worth of the resource just in 2016. But here’s where things get dicey, well for the U.S. anyway – shares of home-building companies took a very unwelcome dive on the soft-lumber dispute, as Wall Street realized raw materials could get a whole a lot pricier. That will likely end up leading to a very unpleasant domino effect on other related industries. If you’re looking to buy a home, take note that this Canada lumber is issue is sending home prices up as well. Incidentally, Canada is going to stop importing U.S. dairy products, as a sort of retaliatory action. Sort of. But basically, this means dairy farmers are getting screwed here too. And don’t you hate when that happens? On the flip side, U.S. lumber producers said that cheap lumber imports from Canada, which are they say are unfairly subsidized by the Canadian government, have put a major crimp in their business and these tariffs will give the domestic lumber industry a much needed reboot.

What color is your parachute?

ID-100120478

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yahoo might have gone bust but Marissa Mayer will be walking away from the entity with $186 million lining her pockets. That’s even after Verizon agreed to buy the  beleaguered company. She’s sitting on 4.5 million shares of the failed internet company and she’ll get that substantial wad of cash once she pays to exercise her options. That $186 million is based on Monday’s closing price, in case you were wondering, and while Mayer may not have had the best run at Yahoo, the stock still tripled during her five-year CEO stint there. And as Verizon plunks down $4.5 billion for Yahoo, Mayer will take in another $3 million as part of her golden parachute. That’s besides the fact that last year she lost out on her bonus following the massive data security breaches that affected one billion Yahoo accounts.

Making a break for it…

ID-100205391

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Nasdaq broke the 6000 mark with a lot of help from big corporate gains and, believe it or not, even President Donald Trump. That’s because the President has big “tax reform and reduction” plans which involve reducing the United States’ onerous corporate tax rate from a whopping 35% to a more corporation-friendly, and globally competitive, 15%. Plans like that could mean a big boost all-around on Wall Street. Companies including Apple, Microsoft and McDonald’s, to name a few, reported impressive gains, sending the Nasdaq all the way up to 6034.74. If you’re finding Trump’s contribution hard to swallow, consider that the result of France’s Presidential election also factored into that 6000 point breakthrough. French Presidential Candidate Emanuel Macron’s first-round victory helped matters, probably because of his centrist politics, which apparently Wall Street digs. It wasn’t since March 7, 2000, that the Nasdaq broke the 5,000 barrier. But alas, that remains nothing but a very distant memory.  The Nasdaq, incidentally, is up over 10% since the beginning of the year and up way over 20% in the last twelve months.

Choo On This: Luxury Shoe Brand Not in Step with Coffee; Jack Ma Isn’t Feeling the Automation Love; Supreme Court to GM: Too Bad For You

Well-heeled…

Jimmy Choo

Luxury shoe brand, Jimmy Choo, will be getting a new owner now that JAB Holding Co. has decided that the company, wants to focus on its more carb/caffeinated brands. And who can blame the billionaire Reimann family that controls Jab. In the last few years, the company spent billions picking up various other food and beverage entities in the form of Krispy Kreme and Panera Bread, and well, 125 millimeter stilettos don’t really go so well with the stuff that carb dreams are made of. But Jimmy Choo may prove to be a very tempting company to a lot of potential buyers. While a pair of Jimmy Choo’s, whose fashion stock soared thanks to Carrie Bradshaw and “Sex and the City”,  may not hold the same appeal as a fresh hot donut – well, to some anyway – the fact is that shares of the luxury goods company are up 44% since the company’s debut back in October of 2014. JAB had the good business sense to pick up the iconic shoe company for 500 million pounds back in 2011. Revenue for 2016 increased over 14% to $465 million with a 43% profit increase to $54.4 million. Wall Street also digs the idea of a sale as shares of Jimmy Choo, which are traded in London, rose over 10% today.

The Jetson’s it ain’t…

ID-100221961

Image courtesy of Simon Howden/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In case you were in the mood for a downer, then turn your attention to Alibaba founder and chairman, Jack Ma. During a conference hosted by the China Entrepreneur Club, Ma suggested that the future will suck. Because of robots.  He’s convinced that in the next thirty years, “the world will see much more pain than happiness.” Ma expects our automated companions to take over the workplace which might mean fewer work days but also fewer positions that require actual human attention. And the watercolor talk will be decidedly less entertaining. In fact, Ma is convinced that within thirty years, a robot will eventually grace a Time Magazine cover for being the “best CEO.” So if you think your boss has no personality now, just wait. And before you go calling Ma overly-dramatic, consider that according to the World economic Forum, it is estimated that there will be a net loss of 5 million jobs across 15 major economies thanks to automation. Sure technology is great, as long as it’s not taking over your paycheck.

Well at least they tried…

ID-100128578

Image courtesy of nirots/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

GM tried to get the Supreme Court to block hundreds of lawsuits over its faulty ignition switches that could end up costing the automobile company billions. But the Supreme Court said no dice and the lawsuits can proceed. The reason: The company’s 2009 bankruptcy. If you recall, those faulty ignition switches were responsible for 125 deaths and more than twice as many injuries. More than 2.5 million vehicles were recalled and $2.5 billion worth of settlements dished out. GM knew about the problem before the bankruptcy so technically, it’s on the hook, since it could have just as easily notified all the owners of the vehicles that had the problem. Of course, that decision did not sit well with GM and a spokesperson said as much saying the appeal “was not a decision on the merits…” Amazingly enough, the appeal denial didn’t even freak out Wall Street – this time anyway – as shares actually rose today, albeit slightly.

Panera Bread Shacks Up With Krispy Kreme Investor; Nothing Smooth About a Recent Nivea Campaign; Payless Out. Chapter 11 In.

Yummm…

ID-100459274

Image courtesy of KEKO64/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Krispy Kreme needs to scoot on over and make some room over at JAB, the investment firm that controls it. It’s latest roomie is moving in and its name is Panera Bread. Panera is expected to fit in quite nicely at JAB, at least that’s what all the analysts keep saying, as the firm’s other entities include Peet’s Coffee and Tea, Caribou Coffee and Keurig Green Mountain Coffee. JAB will take the sandwich chain private for a tasty $7.5 billion, which comes out to about $315 per share and more than a 20% premium. And why shouldn’t JAB pay all that money? After all, the chain boasts 2,000 locations and pulls down annual sales of $5 billion. Of course it makes cash like that because it offers healthier options than most other fast-food chains, not to mention readily available wifi. For a fast-casual restaurant chain, it happens to be very tech forward. And don’t even get me started on the restaurants online ordering. Just. Don’t. Talk about a draw. Apparently JAB wants Panera to continue doing exactly what it does so well (translation: no changes) because it’s keeping all the execs in their current roles, including founder and CEO Ron Shaich. Wall Street’s was totally digging the news as well sending shares up to around $312 a pop. Add that to the fact that Panera has beat estimates for the last year and half, and JAB has got itself a pretty nifty deal.

Racist deodorant?

ID-100256643

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Racist may not be the first word that comes to mind when you think about deodorant. But then again, that might be because you hadn’t yet heard about Nivea’s slogan in its ad for “Invisible for Black and White Deodorant.” According to marketing geniuses at Nivea, “White is Purity. ” And that’s precisely the slogan that was used to promote the product. I. AM. NOT. KIDDING. The ad was originally unleashed on the company’s Middle East Facebook page and social media did not take it well, with one outraged Twitter user writing: “Your comments are FULL of society’s refuse. This cleared your marketing department? #prnightmare.” Beiersdorf, the German company that counts Nivea amongst its holdings, wisely deleted the ad. Just not before white supremacists weighed in with their thoughts on the slogan, including this one:  “We enthusiastically support this new direction your company is taking. I’m glad we can all agree that #WhiteIsPurity.” The way white supremacists feel about an ad campaign would make a fairly good barometer, in terms of marketing efficacy, don’t you think? As to how the ad got past quality control in the first place remains a mystery.

And there’s nothing Star Jones can do about it…

ID-100336074

Image courtesy of holohololand/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Another one bites the fiscal dust and this time the dubious distinction of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy goes to Payless Shoes. Even the likes of Tyra Banks and Star Jones wasn’t enough to save the Kansas-based chain from having to shut down around 400 stores in the United States and Puerto Rico. But that’s what you gotta do when your revenue tanks 4% just in the last year, and Amazon and deep-discount stores keep eating into your business. However, all is not lost, as Payless still has around 4,000 other stores in over thirty countries. The company just needs to do a little fiscal restructuring. But then again, don’t we all?

It’s Equal Pay Day! Just Not For Everyone; JP Morgan Chase Chief Urges…Confidence; Wells Fargo Whistleblower Gets Last Laugh. Sort of.

100% Wrong!

ID-100513472

Image courtesy of Supertrooper/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It might be 2017, but in a lot of ways it may as well be 1917. For some inexplicable reason a pay gap still exists between men, women and people of color. So weird, right? Hard to believe, but on average women still make 80 cents for every dollar a man gets. That’s assuming we’re taking about white, straight women. It all goes precipitously downhill from there. It’s a good thing women have an advocate in the form of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.  Her nonprofit LeanIn.org has just whipped out its latest campaign, with a little help from Funny or Die, called #20percentcounts.  Because it absolutely does. One of the more startling facts of data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows how closing that offensive 20% pay gap would actually lift over three million working women out of poverty. Out. Of. Poverty. In honor of Equal Pay Day, look for 20% discounts from several businesses to draw attention to this issue. For the full list, stop on by at LeanIn.Org.

Sauce-d…

ID-100152200

Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Well, if Jamie Dimon is saying it then it must be so. The JP Morgan Chase & Co. CEO just regaled us with his annual letter and started by saying just how friggin’ awesome the United States is and how it is “stronger than ever before.” But. It’s a big but. More like a BUT. He then goes on to discuss how “…something is wrong” with our country. He does, after all, sit on the President’s business forum, so I guess he would notice a few things that are…amiss.  For instance, he’s not digging the labor market, or rather there aren’t enough laborers in it. Of course, inner-city schools made a brief appearance in the letter, along with destructive anti-trade policies, infrastructure spending, corporate taxation, and those ever-pesky excessive regulatory rules. Dimon really took a lot of issue with all those banking regulations that are apparently marring the business landscape of the country. In all fairness, he would know a thing or two about that. Dimon feels the public should start showing a little more (un)conditional love towards our great big, fiscally-motivated financial institutions. The takeaway, according to Dimon’s letter? “Confidence is the ‘secret sauce’ that, without spending any money, helps the economy grow.” Got that? Confidence = Secret sauce=economic growth .Who knew?

Awkward…

ID-100415144

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In all the talk about Wells Fargo’s illegal activities and all-around bad behavior, it seems a very important figure got lost – that being the very brave whistleblower who called out the bank over its fraudulent account opening activities. Said whistle-blower lost his job in 2010 after calling to complain to the bank’s very own ethics hotline, in addition to his supervisors,  about his suspicions that Wells Fargo was engaging in some problematic business practices. Now, not only was the bank ordered to hire him back, but it also has to pay him…wait for it…$5.4 million. Of course, that number pales in comparison to the $185 million worth of settlements that Wells Fargo has had to cough up already. But still, it’s gotta hurt for Wells Fargo. Well, cry me a river. Because after all, that $5.4 million is meant to cover back pay, damages, compensation and, of course, legal fees. This payout also has the dubious distinction of being the largest award ever ordered by OSHA. Naturally, Wells Fargo is not happy with the ruling and plans to fight it. As for the employee’s plans to return to Wells Fargo, well, that remains to be seen.

 

Tesla Takes On Ford; J. Crew Says Bye to Own Icon; Burberry Wants to Go Big

Race to the finish…

id-10050694

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tesla’s market cap just left Ford Motor Co. in the eco-friendly dust today. It’s all because of a much anticipated, yet massive Model 3 rollout scheduled for later this year. Assuming everything goes smoothly with that massive rollout – and why wouldn’t it? – Tesla has pinned some very pricey hopes and dreams in the form of growth targets. Those growth targets sent the company’s stock up 5.7% and why shouldn’t they? After all, the luxury electric car company smacked down analysts estimates when it reported a shipment of 25,000 vehicles for its first quarter. In case you were wondering – because I know you were – that was almost a 70% increase from last year at this time. To be fair, however, the increase is not as impressive at second glance considering that Tesla experienced some production pains beginning in October. So the company was basically making up for the pains. In the meantime, as the second largest auto company in the United States, Ford delivered 6.7 million cars and trucks last year while Tesla delivered less than 80,000. Then, last year Ford hauled in a revenue of close to $152 billion while Tesla took in just $7 billion. Yet Tesla’s very magical market capitalization now comes in at $47.6 billion, compared to the much much older Ford Motor Co.’s $44.9 billion. Let that one sink in for a bit. And in case you were in the market for some Tesla shares, its stock is currently trading at around $293 a share.

Crew-cuts…

id-100146553

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

J. Crew’s long-time creative director, Jenna Lyons, is out after just five years on that gig and over 20 years at the label. Which is just so cray cray since she is responsible for making so much of what made J. Crew…well, J. Crew. She is credited with turning the brand around a few years ago and making it super-popular and ultra-hip. In fact, she was so good at what she was doing that she became the face/icon of the prepster brand. But then there were a bunch of unfashionable issues, a 6.7% sales drop, following a more than 8% drop the year before.  The company, if you recall – and it’s okay if you don’t – was purchased for $3 billion back in 2011. Now the retailer is staring at the wrong end of $1.5 billion in debt. All that had company brass scratching its preppy head and wondering where did things go south and how could they be remedied. Apparently, part of that remedy involved saying goodbye to Lyons. Despite that, J. Crew is a retailer like any other, and we all know how darn ugly the fiscal landscape has been like as of late for all the players, big and small. But back to Lyons, rumor has it that her exit was a mutual decision.  Although, I’ve often wondered if the word mutual takes on a very different definition when describing people who find themselves leaving their high-level executive jobs.

Just so ya know…

ID-100206930

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pish-posh designer Burberry just signed a $225 million licensing deal with Coty. – as in the musk-maker. However, rest assured as there will be no trench coats involved. Instead, Coty will get exclusive global rights to Burberry’s make-up and fragrance brands – which might make zero sense to you but makes plenty of cents – and dollars for both Burberry and Coty. And here’s how it’s going to work: Burberry, which pulled down revenue of 203 million pounds last year (well, it is an English company) has got the creativity end covered because, well, it does. There is a reason, after all, why Burberry can charge so much money for its merchandise. But Coty is all about distribution, and in fact, the company is quite accomplished in that arena. Burberry was shrewd enough to recognize where it could use a little oomph. Or in this case, the English brand needed a lot of oomph. So the brand did some research and shopped around before it settled on a deal with Coty.  And Burberry will be in good company at Coty, as it will join other premium fragrances including Balenciaga, Gucci and Marc Jacobs, not to mention the Clairol and Rimmel brands.

VW Still Writing Checks for its Bad Behavior; Lululemon’s Sour Outlook; Economy Shows Some Impressive Muscle

Putting this baby to bed…

ID-100128578

Image courtesy of nirots/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like Volkswagen will be handing over $157 million to ten U.S. states to settle environmental claims over the auto company’s notorious diesel emissions scandal. Among the lucky – if you can call it that – recipients of these funds are New York, which snagged $32.5 million, Connecticut which took in $20 million, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maine, Rhode Island, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, which all took in various amounts of the remaining settlement.  Incidentally, that $157 million was well below what the states originally sought. There was already a previous $603 million settlement with 44 other states, but this latest one is separate from that. In fact, the German car company has agreed to spend up to $25 billion to settle claims and make buyback offers. Just wondering if that means it will actually hit that figure or will the company try and do their best to come in as under as possible.  As part of this latest ten-state settlement, VW now has to offer three new electric vehicles in those states. Two of those vehicles need to be SUV’s. Which to me, looks like a bit of a win for VW, but hey, what do I know. In the meantime, as part of a $4.3 billion settlement with the Department of Justice, VW pleaded guilty to fraud, obstruction of justice and falsifying of documents in a district court in Detroit earlier this month. The company can also look forward to major audits, oversight and monitoring for the next three years. Sort of like what Wells Fargo has to go through as payback for its fraudulent account scandal. Am I seeing a pattern?

Soured…

ID-100420194

Image courtesy of khumthong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fancy trendy yoga apparel maker Lululemon was upsetting Wall Street’s zen today after announcing that its first quarter sales marked a “slow start” to the year. Which is  really just CEO code for “Yikes! Our quarter sucked.” And with that news, shares of the company took a very ugly 23% plunge to $51 a pop, a stock price the company hasn’t seen since December of 2015. This news was especially weird because Lululemon did better in holiday sales than most other clothing retailers. Yet now, this quarter now becomes the very first one in seven years to see same store sales go down. The company took in almost $790 in revenue with a $136 million profit that added 99 cents per share, even though analysts were expecting that figure to be closer to $784 million with a $1.01 profit per share. Last year at this time the company made off with a $117 million profit that added 85 cents per share. Competition from Nike and Under Armour definitely turned up the heat on the super-pricey Lululemon, with their vast offerings and more affordable selections. But CEO Laurent Potdevin blamed the company’s neutral offerings instead, arguing that they lacked  “depth and color for spring” that consumers are apparently craving. That’s got to be it, right?

Yes, you need to know this…

ID-100328948

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There was a lot of spending this quarter. A lot. In fact, consumer spending was so strong that it caused the economy’s GDP to grow at a 2.1% rate, more than what was thought in initial estimates. In the process, that impressive growth rate even made up for areas of the economy that didn’t perform up to snuff, like trade and business investing. In fact, for all of 2017, analysts are actually expecting to see a 2.3% rate of growth. Of course, the fact that the labor market is strong, with higher incomes and wages, helps with all that consumer spending as well. Naturally. That 2.1% rate is a major upward shift from last year at this time when that rate stood at 1.6% and had the dubious distinction of being the weakest period of growth in five years. This next bit may cause you to cringe, but one of the reasons for this anticipated impressive growth rate is President Trump. He’s got plans, in case you hadn’t heard, for tax cuts and spending. Say what you will, but moves like that help economies. And who doesn’t like a little economic boost.  However, if it makes you feel any better, Trump thinks he can get that rate up to 4%, and economists are laughing on the inside at him for even thinking he can pull off that feat.