Wanna Be a Billionaire? Then Move to China; Rainbows and Unicorns!: Twitter Might Finally Churn Out a Profit; Nike’s Game Plan Leaves No Room for the “Undifferentiated​”

Something tells me we’re doing it wrong…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There’s a new report out published by UBS and PwC, called the Billionaires Insights report that tracked 1,542 billionaires all over the world and their combined $6 trillion. And while some might quickly assume that the United States might hold the top spot for the billionaires club, they would be wrong. As it turns out, Asia has the most billionaires, topping out at 637, whereas the United States can only boast 563 billionaire residents. In fact, every two days a new billionaire is minted in Asia, with China having the most.  But, to be fair, the wealth of the U.S. billionaires is much higher, coming in at $2.8 trillion, compared to Asia’s $2 trillion. So six in one, half dozen of the other, I suppose. Except not for long. The report also mentioned that the wealth of Asia and its billionaires will far surpass the U.S. in four years. One of the biggest “problems” listed for these poor billionaires face is how they intend to pass on their wealth. Rich people problems. But somehow they manage, whether they choose to pass it on to their heirs or leave it to charitable organizations. Decisions decisions. Of course, the more people the billionaires leave behind, the more complicated things get. But such is life when one is saddled with so much friggin’ cash.

Fairytales do come true…

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There’s a lovely rumor going around that maybe, possibly Twitter just might crank out its first-ever profit. We just need to wait until next quarter to see if that’s actually going to happen. But it’s not outside the realm of possibility since the social media company did make a major push to cut expenses while engaging in deals with other companies that don’t have them relying so heavily on advertising. Wall Street, at least is super stoked, causing shares of Twitter to soar 16% to over $20 per share.  And that company definitely needs all the share-soaring it can get. Twitter’s revenue was $590 million, a 4% dip from last year at this time but still decent since expectations were for $587 million. The other big news on the Twitter front is that the company made a very big mistake and is apparently trying to make amends for it. It seems that somehow an error was made in how user base was calculated for the last few years. But the company did revise the previous estimates, that had those numbers coming in a bit smaller than what was previously reported. Twitter insists that the difference amounted to less than one percent and that’s the story they’re sticking to. Their monthly active users, by the way, are up to 330 million and that number is supposed to be accurate, just disappointing since analysts expected that number to be 330.4 million. Oh well, Can’t win ’em all.

You’re out!

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Nike’s annoyed at under-performing retailers and has put them on notice. Which is definitely one way to make enemies. But hey, Nike is all about competing and if a struggling retailer is unable to “just do it,” then they’re out. Because Nike has a plan – a big one – that’s got them trying to hit $50 billion in sales by 2020. Nike wants to just do it, naturally. However, Wall Street is not so sure it can. I have yet to decide who my money’s on at this point in time. Apparently, 40% of Nike’s wholesale business comes from “differentiated” retailers and they want to up that to 80%.  Those retailers have a way of presenting the merchandise that gets customers wanting to spend their money at those establishments. According to Nike brass, “undifferentiated mediocre retail” just won’t cut the mustard and can expect a nasty goodbye within five years. Ouch. Nordstrom and Foot Locker apparently have nothing to worry about. For now. There were some obvious omissions, though, including Macy’s and JC Penney. Just saying. Whatever Nike has in store for those “undifferentiated” retailers doesn’t seem to bother Wall Street. Investors sent the stock up 3.5% today.

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American Airlines: Going for Great or Going for Racial Insensitivity?; Congress Lets Banks Off the Hook. For Now; Things Aren’t Looking Sunny at Tesla Lately

Something racially insensitive in the air…

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Some say there’s no such thing as bad publicity but I’m skeptical about that. Take for example American Airlines. The NAACP just issued an advisory cautioning African Americans about traveling on American Airlines because the organization found an alarming pattern of “disturbing incidents” by the airline where black passengers were removed from flights. And the NAACP might just be onto something since it listed four distinct incidents where African American passengers were either taken off flights or moved to other sections of the aircraft despite holding tickets for higher class cabins. The NAACP said that the incidents “suggest a corporate culture of racial insensitivity” which I am pretty certain counts as bad publicity no matter how you slice it. Of course, American Airlines is “disappointed” about the advisory, and not just because it looks sooooooo bad. However, it still plans to reach out to the NAACP and invite representatives to its corporate offices in Texas to discuss the situation. Of course, just like with any bad publicity, American Airlines shares are down over 2%. Rightfully so, I suppose.

Don’t bank on it…

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You might not remember when, during President Obama’s presidency, a regulation was passed that allowed consumers to file class-action suits against banks.  But Congress remembered and today duly killed the regulation from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was established back in July. Just. Like. That.  The rule went like so: If a consumer was unhappy with a financial product or service, think of Wells Fargo or Equifax, and wanted action and accountability from the institution, the said financial institutions could not force a consumer into mandatory arbitration. And if a consumer wanted to participate in a class-action lawsuit, they could. Financial institutions had to nix clauses in their contracts that effectively forced consumers into arbitration. Before that rule came about, consumers could not sue. Could. Not. Sue. There was no option to settle lawsuits. Dems are hopping mad because they wanted that rule to stay put arguing that it allowed consumers to hold banks and financial institutions accountable and that arbitration always seemed to go more in favor of the banks. Republicans argued that class-action suits do not benefit the consumers anyway and have the potential to greatly harm businesses that ultimately and adversely affect the economy. Consumers are no better off, they argued, whether they go through arbitration or are part of a class-action lawsuit. Republicans even cited information from a Treasury report supporting those claims.  Of course, the recent scandals at Wells Fargo and Equifax didn’t exactly help the Republicans argument. Yet miraculously, Congress still managed to put the kibosh on the rule. Consumer advocates are all over this and insist that the war is not over. Except that a key battle was just lost.

Rolling heads…

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While the ranks at Tesla continue to get smaller by the hundreds following an ugly recall of 11,000 Model X SUV’s, employees at Tesla-owned SolarCity are starting to smell the stench of unemployment too.  Over 200 employees were dismissed from their jobs at SolarCity with the dismissed being told that they lost their jobs for performance reasons, or lack thereof. However,  that proved to be an awfully strange excuse considering that several of the aforementioned employees said they hadn’t even received performance reviews since Tesla acquired SolarCity last November for $2.6 billion. Things that make you go hmmm.Tesla did announce it would be firing employees from SolarCity’s Roseville, California office. And it did. Except the carnage didn’t stop there. Apparently, SolarCity employees all over the country were also fired.  As for the Roseville office, some say the office will stay open with 50 employees while others insist that the whole office is being shut down.  In any case, I’m guessing the holidays are going to be awkward this year for Elon Musk and his family since SolarCity was founded by his cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive back in 2006. Critics of Musk’s plan to buy the solar company felt that it would distract the CEO from making great cars.  Maybe. Maybe not. But one thing is for sure: A lot of people are wondering how much longer it is going to be until Elon Musk finally rolls out the super-hyped but affordable Model 3.

 

Sears and Whirlpool: The Breakup; Mall Rats: Target vs. Amazon; 3M Earnings: It’s More Than Just Post-its

It’s not you. It’s me…

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Breaking up is hard to do. Especially if the numbers don’t add up. Which is precisely why Sears is dumping Whirlpool along with all of its other brands including Maytag, KitchenAid and JennAir. According to Sears, “Whirlpool has sought to use its dominant position in the marketplace to make demands that would have prohibited us from offering Whirlpool products to our members at a reasonable price.” Which I guess is Sears’s way of telling everyone that Whirlpool really just needed to get over itself because it felt people weren’t going to pay a lot of money for appliances that don’t say Wolf on them. If you know what I mean. And I think you do.  And just like that, a one-hundred-year-old relationship was brought to its knobby knees.  In case you were wondering if this breakup had anything to do with Sears’s own fiscal woes, you’d be mistaken.  After all, you can still walk into your local Sears and pick up a very fancy schmancy Bosch or LG appliance. And while Sears stock took a 3% hit today on the news, Whirlpool’s stock fared worse with investors sending the stock down over 10%.As for Whirlpool, while the company did report disappointing earnings, it can’t really point the finger at Sears, since the beleaguered retailer was only responsible for 3% of Whirlpool’s global sales.

Down with Amazon…

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Could it be that the unstoppable, unflappable Amazon is actually getting stopped and flapped? Apparently, that’s the case as it goes up against Target and other major big-box retailers, not in the online arena, but in the real estate realm. Of course Amazon’s A-game is in its e-commerce, but it’s the big box retailers that have the advantage when it comes to brick-and-mortars. Just ask Whole Foods, who can tell you a thing or two about trying to find a place to call home. You see, it all boils down to leases. Think of a co-op board, except the president of the board in this case tends to be big companies like Target, Best Buy and Bed Bath & Beyond, among others. Those guys get a lot of say in who moves into their malls. And because Target and friends are paying the biggest amount of money in leases, they get to make all sorts of demands, like who is and isn’t allowed to move into a particular mall and under what conditions they can move in. Now that Whole Foods calls Amazon its boss, it’s finding it challenging to get into new locations if there are already other big retailers installed that find themselves competing with Amazon. See how the tables have turned?

Post this!

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If you used a Post-It note today then you helped contribute to 3M’s third-quarter boffo earnings. All those office supplies and little pieces of paper may not look like much but they raked in $8.2 billion in sales with a profit of $1.43 billion that added $2.33 per share. That profit, by the way, was an 8% increase over last year’s profit at this time. But in all fairness, the company’s not just about it post-it notes and tape. The company also makes industrial coatings and ceramics and those items bring in big money. The stock itself is up over 30% in the last year and today’s news sent shares up the most in eight years. Crazy, I know. It also helps that two-thirds of 3M’s sales come from overseas. So even when there’s a strong dollar working against U.S.-based business, a company that earns a majority of its money outside the country is able to hold its own very well and can offset losses. The icing on the cake, for 3M anyway, is that the company beat Wall Street’s expectations. And who isn’t a sucker for a good Wall Street beat?

Hasbro’s Singing the Toys “R” Us Blues; It’s Good to Be Amazon; Target Goes on Holiday Offense With New Shopping Strategies

Don’t toy with me…

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Hasbro’s getting burned and it’s blaming Toys “R” Us. The toy company gave some abysmal holiday forecasts which sent shares down about 8%. Toys “R” Us owes creditors some $5 billion.  Among them is Hasbro which was left with a $60 million hole now that all those toys from the company aren’t headed to the toy store’s shelves.  It’s worth noting, however, that Hasbro only sold about 9% of its total inventory through Toys “R” Us.  But it isn’t just Hasbro that’s feeling the heat. Shares of Mattel also took a 4% hit today since a Toys “R” Us bankruptcy affects the entire toy industry, in some instances worse than others.  Incidentally, Hasbro’s third quarter profit went up 3% to $267 million and $2.09 per share, while its quaterly revenue increased 7% to $1.79 billion over the same time last year. Expectations were for $1.78 billion in revenue with just $1.94 per share. Hasbro has “The Last Jedi” to thank for some of this quarter’s gains, along with perennial favorites Monoply and My Little Pony.

Carrot dangling…

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Dignity be damned as 238 cities found themselves swooning and doing whatever they could to lure Amazon’s $5 billion HQ2 project to their part of the country. NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio had major New York City landmarks lit up in “Amazon orange” while Newark, New Jersey shrewdly offered the e-commerce giant $7 billion in tax breaks. Because after all, who more so than Amazon should be entitled to receive a $7 billion tax break? But hey, who can blame any of these cities or their savvy leaders for trying to woo Amazon to their neck of the woods. Just ask Seattle, a city that experienced a $38 billion boost to its economy because each dollar that Amazon invested into the city between 2010 to 2016 resulted in an additional $1.40 for the city. Not sure who figured out that formula but its easy to see why everyone wants in on that action. And while Newark’s offer must be awfully enticing, word on the street is that the current front runners are Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and Detroit.

Target acquired…

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Target’s got some new tricks up its sleeve this holiday season and is going with the “less is more approach.” What there will be less of are promotions. At least the constant bombardment of them. Apparently that tactic didn’t work so well for the retailer last year and only resulted in a 1.3% decline for the company.  But there’s no need to freak out that Target wont be offering any special deals. It’s just going for a more streamlined approach. Instead of constant deals and promotions, it plans to offer special weekend deals while remaining focused on pricing its merchandise correctly and competitively from the start. The company’s 1,800 stores will also offer a much bigger variety of gifts priced under $15. Expect to see around 1,700 offerings in that category. Perennial favorite, “free shipping  with no minimum” will once again resurface from November 1 – December 23 because, hey,  who doesn’t like free shipping. But perhaps Target’s most exciting new feature is the one dubbed “Gift Now.” Shoppers buy gifts and their (un)lucky recipients open them virtually via email. If  the recipient likes the gift, they enter their shipping address in order to receive the item. If not, they get to pick out something else for the same value. If that’s not novel, I don’t know what is.

Alphabet Takes on Some Heavy Lyfting; Crash and Burn: Black Monday Crash-iversary Turns 30; Blue Apron Puts Employees on the Chopping Block

 

Car-ma?

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Uber? What’s Uber? I can tell you what Uber isn’t. It isn’t $1 billion more valuable. But you know who is? Its rival Lyft, which just received a very hefty sum of money from Google’s parent company, Alphabet, following a very recent financing round that brings its total valuation to $11 billion. CapitalG, an Alphabet growth investment fund, will now get a seat on the board and an even cushier relationship with the ride-sharing company.  Incidentally, Alphabet is also connected to Uber. However, that relationship went south when Uber went ahead and started developing autonomous cars that compete directly with Alphabet’s Waymo autonomous-driving technology. Naturally, that didn’t sit well with Alphabet. If you recall, and it’s totes okay if you don’t, Alphabet then sued Uber, alleging the beleaguered ride-sharing company committed trade secret theft. Some analysts believe that this little infusion from Alphabet is the company’s way of hitting back at Uber. Seems legit.  In any case, it appears an IPO may be on the horizon for Lyft and if Alphabet’s throwing money at it, it might turn out to be a stock worth watching.

Unhappy anniversary…

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Today’s date marks an anniversary many would like to forget: The stock market crash of 1987, aka, Black Monday. It was exactly 30 years ago today that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) crashed 508 points to a smidge past 1700. The index tanked by 22% and the shockwaves rippled all over the world. It was an even bigger one day drop than the stock market crash of 1929.  But miraculously, the market recovered. Well, maybe not for everyone.  In any case, this week (of all weeks), that very same index just hit a new record, breaking the 23,000 mark. To put it in perspective, if the DJIA crashed by 22% today, it would need to lose almost 6,000 points – heaven forbid! Poo poo poo.  Some market experts warn that we could experience another disastrous drop. However, following the nightmare of Black Monday, certain safeguards, dubbed “circuit breakers,” were put into place that basically – and very conveniently – shut down the market after major drops. This prevents trading and sell-offs that could cause further damage. And basically, now if the S&P 500 falls either 7%, 13% or 20%, depending on certain factors, market trading is halted automatically. You are now free to breathe a sigh of relief.

Stick a fork in me…

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Nothing spells trouble like having to cut your workforce just four months after going public. Which brings us to Blue Apron, purveyor of fine meal-kits, which just found itself having to do just that. The fact is, there’s a lot of competition sprouting everywhere, from Amazon and its Whole Foods acquisition to Albertsons picking up the company Plated in order to sell their kits at the grocery chain’s 2000+ locations. For Blue Apron, it meant having to slash 6% of its workforce which amounts to about 300 employees. The stock is trading today at around $5.20 a share, down almost 50% from its IPO price back in June.

Is Twitter Finally Getting Something Right? Ford’s Got a Truckin’ Big Problem; Wall Street’s Got Beef with Chipotle’s Labor

I’ll tweet to that…

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Rumor has it that Twitter is finally, actually, seriously going to do something about sexual harassment and other hideous actions and behaviors that take place on the micro-blogging platform. The new policy changes are aimed at bullies and other highly offensive, odious excuses for human beings. But just what kind of consequences can offenders expect and how quickly can they expect them? Glad you asked. Accounts owned by the offenders will get shut down. Immediately. And forever. Posters of non-consensual nudity, including, “upskirt imagery, creep shots and hidden camera content” are out too.  Posters of “hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies violence” can also expect some new rules that they will definitely not like.  What’s also new and necessary is that Twitter wants to figure out how bystanders get to report abuses. Just don’t expect these changes to happen overnight. In fact, it could be weeks before those policy changes take effect. Besides, Twitter’s still busy being investigated by Congress and testifying about Russia’s Twitter role in the 2016 presidential election. It seems that the 201 profile names Twitter provided to the Senate last week just weren’t enough to convince Senator Warner that Twitter was being sincere in its efforts to cooperate. But perhaps its karma for the way the micro-blogging site suspended actress Rose McGowan after bravely calling out the nefarious actions of the monster we call Harvey Weinstein.

Have you driven a Ford lately?

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There’s nothing like a recall to completely mess with your most profitable line of trucks. Ford Motor Co. is now taking a brutal hit over its very popular, number one selling F Series trucks. In fact, the aforementioned truck is the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. Apparently the doors on some 1.3 million F-150’s and Super-Duty trucks are posing a $267 million problem because if they are not fully latched they may not open or seem closed. To be fair, no accidents or injuries related to this particular issue have been reported. Yet, anyway.  The recall was inconveniently announced just weeks after Ford’s newly installed CEO unveiled a plan to cut $14 billion worth of costs. Ford plans to officially notify its customers next month but has not yet mentioned when the parts necessary to repair the trucks would be available. But Ford presumably anticipated this particular challenge since it already has some unwanted experience in this dreaded arena, with this latest fiasco bringing its recall total to 5 million vehicles.

No perks?

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As the saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Which brings us to Chipotle, the beleaguered fast-food chain who apparently pays its employees too much – no, that is not a typo – and because of it is suffering Wall Street’s fiscal wrath. Don’t shoot the messenger here. Analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch just downgraded the restaurant chain from neutral to underperform because the amount of money spent on labor needs to be cut. Back in 2006, Chipotle’s average weekly hours were 34.6 for part-time and full-time employees. That was its high point. But in 2016 that number dropped significantly to 21.7. The company already did a lot of scaling back and needs to do more. However, according to analysts, there doesn’t seem to be any decent way to achieve this and still come out on top – and in the green. Shares naturally dropped by about 2% today and are down 12% for the year.

 

Schadenfraud Anyone? Forbes Unveils its Latest Top 400; Can’t Stop Netflix; Venmo’s the New Way to Go. At Least According to Paypal

That’s a whole lotta money…

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Forbes has unveiled its latest list. This time it’s the top 400 richest Americans for 2017 and there are very few surprises in store. Bill Gates and his $89 billion net worth takes the top spot, followed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and everyone’s favorite Omaha Oracle, Warren Buffett.  Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg sits pretty in fourth place. The first time we finally see a woman on the list is at spot number 13 and it’s occupied by Alice Walton of the illustrious Walmart clan. There are 22 newbies on the list and some of them are even self-made billionaires, including Netflix CEO Reed Hastings who comes in at number 359. He had a good year and his company had a great quarter. But we’ll get to that one in a bit. Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick comes in at number 115, despite being out of his CEO job, while beloved Star Wars creator George Lucas gets spot 118. As for President Trump, he did make the list, coming in at a less than impressive (for him) ranking of 248.  He shares the spot with 15 other people including Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel. Their fortunes are valued at $3.1 billion, a figure the President will probably dispute. It’s a steep drop for the President, whose 2016 ranking had him at the 156th spot. But I guess that’s what happens when your portfolio loses $600 million. I wonder who he’s going to blame for that one?

Wall Street ❤️ Netflix…

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The best way to bring Wall Street to its finicky knees is to crush its expectations. And Netflix did just that. First, the video streaming company laughed in the face of analysts’ projections for subscriber growth. For Netflix that was a 5.3 million increase, far from the modest forecast of 4.5 million new subscribers. A large percentage of those new subscribers came from outside the U.S. Netflix now boasts 109 million subscribers and I’m guessing you must be one of them, right? As for the next quarter, the company expects to add 6.3 million subscribers. Revenue for the company was $2.99 billion, again beating projections of $2.97 billion.  However, at first glance, Netflix’s profit was not so impressive. But that’s only because the company is throwing down serious cash for producing its own shows. And if you’ve ever seen “Orange is the New Black” or “House of Cards” then you’d probably agree that it’s money well spent.  So what does this all mean for you, the Netflix connoisseur/viewer, who obsessively waits for new seasons of your beloved shows to be unleashed? Well, you can probably expect an increase in your subscription plans but hey, that’s the price you gotta pay if you want to keep watching new seasons of “Stranger Things,” right?

Going half-sies…

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If you haven’t signed up for Venmo yet, now might be a good time to start. The company just announced that users can now use the app to make mobile online purchases from over 2 million retailers including Forever 21 and Foot Locker.  But what’s so darn cute about Venmo is a feature that gives you the option to split a purchase with a friend. Or even an acquaintance, I suppose. Which is so great when you go out for lunch and can’t be bothered to do the math at the table or when you just want to pay the rent down the middle. And, you can even share status updates about the purchase. How nifty. Especially if you’re a millennial. Did I mention that Paypal is Venmo’s parent company? Well, it is. And pretty much anywhere you’re able to use PayPal, you can now use Venmo there as well. Just think of all the Lululemon merchandise you can purchase with all your besties.