To Hike or Not to Hike: That is the Fiscal Question; Doggone it, Home of the Whopper Gets Frank; Is Lumber Liquidators Finally in the Clear?

 

1,2,3 – Hike!

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The Fed will most likely not be lowering rates so don’t hold your breath. Not that you were planning on it. But the Fed is likely to do one of two things: raise rates according to its plan of “gradual adjustments” – meaning regularly raising those rates a smidgeon.  Or the Fed will choose to do nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. You might have thought that China is messing up our economy in unimaginable financial ways and therefore a rate reduction is justified. However, the Fed doesn’t feel that China is messing it up enough to warrant lowering rates. In fact, Janet Yellen and company also don’t feel that the rest of the world’s economic troubles are affecting the U.S. so much either. Instead, Yellen feels the U.S. economy will grow no matter what, oil gluts, falling global stocks, and all. None of it is our problem and we shouldn’t waste time worrying how it will all affect the U.S. economy. What is our problem is that the Dow fell 1,700 points since the Fed announced its first rate hike back in December. Even so, Ms. Yellen sees employment gains and wage growth, despite financial tightening conditions, and said that the U.S. financial sector has been resilient.” Be on the lookout for a potential rate hike (or not) next month when the Fed holds its next meeting March 15-16.

Hot diggety dog…

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It might be the home of the Whopper but Burger King’s new menu offering is taking on a whole different shape. Starting on February 23, Burger King will be serving up hot dogs at all of its 7,100 + locations in the U.S. Burger King brass are calling it “the most obvious product launch ever” and feel that hot dogs are a natural fit with the chain. Besides, the dogs were already tested in five markets bringing in sales increases that also apparently proved a natural fit for the company. It will make Burger King the biggest hot dog seller in the country and bonus: There will be no boiling or rolling involved in crafting these fine specimens. Instead, the dogs will be flame broiled and come in two variations: the $1.99 “classic” version and the $2.39 “chili cheese” version.  Burger King is partnering with Oscar Mayer to make a proprietary 100% beef delicacy. But the best part – to me anyway – Snoop Dogg and Charro (not sure how they came up with that combo) will be starring in training videos, hoping to make it more exciting for employees. Hey, whatever works.

Hold your breath…

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Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc. is almost out of the fiscal woods. Sort of. After testing conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the results are in and Lumber Liquidators’ suspect flooring has a very low risk of causing cancer. Phew. What is more likely to result from the toxic floor coverings are breathing problems and other irritations – besides the emotional irritations brought on by purchasing flooring that contains formaldehyde. Lumber Liquidators has already paid up $13.2 million in fines and forfeitures for its formaldehyde-laced floors produced in China between 2012 and 2014. If you recall, it was just almost a year ago when “60 Minutes” ran a very (financially) damaging piece exposing the company. But now, with any good news on Wall Street, shares have been rising steadily today, hovering at about 12.63. Its 52 week low was 10.53.

Colt Arms Itself With Chapter 11 Protection; Target Teams Up With CVS; Another One Bites the Sawdust as Lumber Liquidator CMO Ousted

Out with a bang?

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Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The maker of everybody’s favorite M16 rifle, gunmaker Colt Defense, has filed for bankruptcy. Famous for perennial firepower darlings, the Colt .45 and the “Peacemaker” – aka the gun that won the West – Colt saw delays in orders from both the US and foreign militaries, not to mention less demand for the company’s sport rifles, that caused its numbers to go into the red. Filing for chapter 11 in Wilmington, Delaware, the arms company already hit up Morgan Stanley for a $70 million loan, back in November, just to make an interest payment. Colt currently has about $500 million in assets and Chief Restructuring Officer Keith Maib wants to assure the public that “Colt remains open for business” while it attempts to figure out how to redo its balance sheets. Incidentally, this is not the company’s first trip down bankruptcy road. Colt, which was started by Samuel Colt back in 1836, also hit the bankruptcy skids back in 1842. The company rebounded and Samuel Colt went on to become one the country’s wealthiest men.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em…

Image courtesy of dream designs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dream designs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Target’s ditching its pharmacy business in a $1.9 billion deal with CVS. The retailer came to some conclusions about the whole operation which basically had to do with money, and how much of it the pharmacy division wasn’t making. In fact, Target was actually losing money on it. Part of the problem is that the Affordable Care Act was just making everything so darn complicated and well, CVS is more equipped to handle the constantly changing landscape of healthcare while Target is best suited to sell stuff that consumers want and need but that don’t require prescriptions. So basically, Target is taking the pharmacies it already has housed in its locations and magically transforming them into CVS stores. Target expects that will bring in more traffic to its stores as CVS enthusiasts will flock to Target/CVS stores to get their prescriptions filled and then be compelled to step inside the store, filling up their red shopping carts with the kind of merchandise on which Target intends to place an increased focus to increase sales. Funny how that works, huh?

Saw it coming…

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Image courtesy of sattva/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The latest executive to bite the Lumber Liquidators’ sawdust is Chief Merchandising Officer William Shlegel. The executive was on the job for four years before that scathing “60 Minutes” report aired back in March accusing the company of using formaldehyde-laced laminate flooring form China. Shlegel will be replaced by Chief marketing Officer Marco Pescara, who will pull double duty as he stays in his post while assuming his soon-to-be-former colleague’s role as well. No statement or comment was offered by Lumber Liquidators as to why Shlegel was shown the door, nor were there any comments about what, if any, his role was in the formaldehyde-laced flooring disaster. Of course, this latest switcheroo doesn’t even begin to solve the company’s tsunami of problems as the Justice Department is still seeking criminal charges against Lumber Liquidators, while it faces more than 100 class-action lawsuits. Sales of all the toxic flooring from China has been halted at the 360 locations. In the meantime, Lumber liquidators founder Thomas Sullivan has been playing CEO since the previous one, Robert Lynch ungraciously bowed out last month. The stock, to the surprise of…no one, has lost over 70% of its value in the last twelve months.

Lumber Liquidated CEO; Best Buy’s Earnings Electrifying; Home Sweet Lack of Homes

Gee I wonder why…

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Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you find yourself up for a challenging career change, look no further than embattled Lumber Liquidators, who now has a job opening…for a new CEO. After months of scrutiny and criticism following a scathing “60 Minutes” report about its dangerously high-levels of formaldehyde-laced flooring, Lumber Liquidators CEO Robert Lynch threw in his corporate towel. He officially resigned from the company and stepped down from the board of directors. Shares of the company took a 16% hit before the market even opened following the news of Lynch’s resignation, adding to the slide that Lumber Liquidators has been taking for months now. In fact, its stock is down more than 60% for the year. However, in Lumber Liquidator’s defense, 97% of its products found in its flooring already installed in customers’ homes was found to be within protective guidelines. As for that other 3%…well, I suppose that explains why the company is under federal investigation.

Best ever?

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Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Best Buy managed to score some impressive earnings with a big fiscal shout out to big-screen tv’s and “iconic” smart-phones. In case it wasn’t obvious, CEO Hubert Joly deems the iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6 “iconic.” Other money-makers for the company were home appliances, which makes perfect sense since the housing market is easing up  (sort of, see below) making it easier for people to actually afford their homes, which they then need to fill with super convenient items like ovens and refrigerators. Just try living without them. Shares of the stock gleefully went up 7% before the market opened as the company announced it pulled in a profit of $129 million with 36 cents per share added, even though Wall Street only expected the electronics giant to post a 29 cent per share gain. A year ago the company pulled in a $461 million with $1.31 per share added, except that was all because of a tax change, so the year-over-year comparison is almost a moot point. The company saw revenues of $8.56 billion which was actually a slight drop from last year. But again, no one is too concerned because a.) analysts predicted revenues of only $8.46 billion b.) Best Buy is saying au revoir to 66 stores in Canada (yes, just like Target) so a loss of revenue was expected.  Oh, Canada. c.) the strong dollar has been messing with very company’s earnings and why should Best Buy be any different.

Is it? Or isn’t it?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Once again, leave it to the housing market to toy with our fiscal emotions.  April proved to be nothing short of a bummer as sales of existing homes dropped, according to the National Association of Realtors. The culprit, it seems, is the fact that there are not as many listing, and the prices for homes are higher. Supply and demand, I tell you. Arghh!!! Just a little over 5 million homes were sold in April representing a 3% drop. And nobody likes a drop. Part of the problem is that people aren’t listing their homes. Maybe they just like the ones in which they are currently living. Maybe they don’t see listings that they like. In any case, the median price for a home these days is hovering around $219,000, almost 9% more than a year ago.  Of course building more homes is a logical way to fix this housing inventory issue.  And builders are doing just that, as evidenced by the rise in new building applications recently reported. But the problem is that building a new home can take about a year and who wants to wait that long to see some housing recovery?

Kraft Ketch-es Up; Amazon Wants FAA to Start Droning Around; Lumber Liquidators’ Slight Rebound

Ketchin’ Up…

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Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

HJ Heinz, as in, ketchup is teaming up with Kraft foods, as in Mac & Cheese and Philadelphia Cream Cheese, to become the world’s fifth largest food and beverage company. And just who is behind this master plan for food domination? None other than everybody’s favorite (and only) Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet – well, Berkshire Hathaway really, and Brazilian Venture Capital firm 3G. The two entities are throwing $10 billion at the deal, which seems like a relative bargain since the merger is expected to generate $28 billion in annual revenue.  Of course, federal regulators still need to give their seal of approval, along with Kraft shareholders. But considering that the stock went up a whopping 32% on the news I’m guessing they won’t mind. Plus, if you are one of the lucky shareholders, then look out for a cash dividend of $16.50 per share, not to mention a 49% stake in the new venture.

 Droning on and on…

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Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Amazon is taking on the FAA, telling them they lack the “impetus” to develop drone policies in a timely manner – said in the nicest possible way, of course. The e-commerce giant wants the agency to move quicker on issuing permits for drone testing. Like a lot quicker. Like before the model drones Amazon plans to use for its Prime Air Delivery Service become obsolete. Oops. Too late. Even Senator Cory Booker agreed with Amazon saying that if the FAA had been around during the time of the Wright Brothers, then commercial flying would have literally never taken flight. Then there are all those restrictions associated with the testing. For instance, drones can’t fly higher than 400 feet, and in some cases 200 feet, and the drones must also always be in view of the pilot. Where’s the fun in that? Amazon, and several other companies are wondering why it takes so long for the U.S., on average, six months longer to issue these permits when in other countries it takes about 1-2 months?  The drone industry is also irritated by it all seeing as how drone delivery is apparently way more economical, faster and cheaper with the added bonus of less traffic and pollution? Who doesn’t like that? But to be fair, the FAA has some not-so-minor concerns about the potential for drones to collide with commercial carriers carrying passengers. Not to mention the potential loss of link between a drone pilot and the drone.

Lumbering on…

Image courtesy of  Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lumber Liquidators stock went up today by 8%, which actually came as somewhat of a surprise since the stock is down 59% for the year after a scathing “60 Minutes” report that found high levels of formaldehyde in its laminate flooring from China. The reason for its little upswing is presumably because the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has entered the fray by launching a federal investigation into the claims, also involving the EPA, CDC and Federal Trade Commission. Lumber Liquidators is said to be fully cooperating in the investigation. No kidding. But don’t bother holding your breath for results – they won’t be in for several months. Lumber Liquidators, by the way, says “60 Minutes” used a test that is considered unreliable, by Lumber Liquidators standards anyways. The company, which has 350 locations throughout the United States, has graciously offered to come test the flooring in your home. If high levels of formaldehyde are found to be present, then rest assured…Lumber Liquidators will do more testing. If those tests keep coming back positive then yeah, they’ll finally agree to replace the questionable, carcinogenic flooring.

Shake-y Shares for Shake Shack; Alibaba’s Snapchat-ty Investment; Lumber Liquidators Has Something to Prove

Shake Shack it off…

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Image courtesy of joephotostudio/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It was the food IPO to watch with 63 locations all over the world and growing. But just a few months later the enthusiasm for Shake Shack has lost some of its flavor. Fourth quarter revenue for the “fast casual” burger joint was up 51% to $34.8 million when analysts only expected $33 million – definitely nothing to balk at. Even same store sales went up 7.2% when analysts forecasted a much more modest 4% increase. So what exactly caused shares of the company to take an 8% dive in after hours trading yesterday? Hmmm. Could it be that bigger than expected net loss of $1.4 million and 5 cents per share? Analysts expected the company to take a loss for the big tax charge related to its auspicious IPO. Problem is, those same analysts figured the burger chain would only lose 2 -3 cents per share. But nobody on Wall Street or elsewhere seems too worried as Shake Shack has big expansion plans and anticipates it’ll pull in revenues for the year between $159 – $163 million.

Things that make you go hmmm…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The big news coming out of Alibaba is all about the big investment it just plunked down on Snapchat.  As in $200 million big.  The Chinese e-commerce giant, which generates more revenue than Amazon and eBay combined, just upped Snapchat’s valuation to $15 billion, all because of this latest cash infusion for the magically vanishing messaging app. This particular move has got everybody wondering exactly why Alibaba chose to do this, especially because Snapchat is banned in China. Yeah you read that right. Might it be a way for the Chinese company, who had the biggest-ever US IPO, tap into overseas markets? Some experts think that might be the case. Or perhaps it has something to do with Alibaba’s lack of success with a messaging app? After all, Snapchat boasts 100 million users that send out 700 million vanishing messages…a day. Incidentally, Tencent, Alibaba’s biggest rival in China, also invested in Snapchat back in 2013. But after all, what’s $200 million to Alibaba, a company that already sees annual revenues of $11 billion.

Who? Me?

Image courtesy of  Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lumber Liquidators stands by its products and adamantly rejects a recent “60 Minutes” report that its flooring contains high level of formaldehyde. To prove it, they’ll even pay to have questionable floors tested. Apparently the test kits are the same ones used by the Federal government, though what significance that has is something I cannot answer. Even though Lumber Liquidators calls the report “sensationalized” with  “little context,” when its products were tested by “60 Minutes,” some of the flooring did, in fact, not meet California’s standards of acceptable levels of formaldehyde. However, once again, Lumber Liquidators rejects that claim. Same store sales, by the way, plunged 13% in the nine days after the report aired. If a consumer purchased flooring that, when tested, indicates the presence of high levels of formaldehyde, Lumber Liquidators has allegedly offered to pay…for more testing. And if that further testing indicates, once again, high levels of formaldehyde, Lumber Liquidators has allegedly agreed to eat the cost for new flooring. Imagine that. Lumber Liquidators, interestingly enough, has plans in place to open about 30 new stores. These new stores will presumably not be stocked with formaldehyde-laced flooring. And while shares of the company are still down from what they were before the piece aired, they actually did rebound a bit in light of all its efforts to counter the report.

Is it Formally Formaldehyde From Lumber Liquidators; Adidas Who? Carrie Underwood Kicking the Right Game for Dick’s; Best Buy’s Electricfying Earnings

Wood you mind?

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Image courtesy of scottchan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just a day after a scathing “60 Minutes” report that accused Lumber Liquidators of selling products containing excessively high amounts of formaldehyde, the stock rallied today. Just not as much as the 25% hit it took yesterday. The company stands accused, by “60 Minutes” anyway, of selling Chinese-made flooring containing formaldehyde at much higher levels than what is acceptable and, for that matter, legal. The company, however, said the claims are “overblown” and went on to cast doubt on the “60 Minutes” report, pointing out that no victims were “highlighted,” no feedback was provided from regulators and the piece “relied on anonymous Chinese factory workers making accusatory statements.” Hence, analysts were able to send the stock rallying today. Lumber Liquidators has 318 stores in the U.S. and Canada. Incidentally (or not), the Department of Justice may also be filing criminal charges against the company for violating import laws.  Naturally, Lumber Liquidators said, “We stand by every single plank of wood and laminate we sell around the country.” Aw. Now if we could just know for sure if those planks are gonna kill us or not.

Losing your stripes…

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Image courtesy of woravit.w/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some big changes are in store for Dick’s Sporting Goods come Thursday and they’ve got Carrie Underwood’s name written all over them. Literally. The American Idol winner and country music superstar is launching her very own “athleisure” brand, “Calia by Carrie Underwood.” And yes, “athleisure” is a real thing. However, in order to give the athletic apparel line the attention it deserves, Dick’s will be chucking its Adidas and Reebok lines (remember that one? Adidas owns it). While sales of women’s athletic apparel has been outpacing men’s, Adidas’ sales have been taking a big hit in the United States for some time now. People just aren’t digging the brand’s traditional looks that it keeps churning out. So goodbye Adidas. Hello Carrie! Or Calia!

Take that Amazon!

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Image courtesy of patrisyu/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Best Buy had a rockin’ good quarter thanks to people shelling out tons of money for big screen televisions and mobile phones. The electronics retailer reported its overall fourth quarter revenue was up 1.3% to $14.2 billion. Analysts were actually expecting $14.34 billion but for that minor failing we look no further than the strong U.S. dollar and some store closures in Canada (almost makes you think of Target, doesnt it?).  So why exactly was it rockin’? The company picked up a 77%  profit increase at $1.47 per share when analysts only expected a $1.35 gain per share. Even better, shareholders get to rake in a 51 cent per share dividend some time in April.  In case you were wondering where that mysterious “installation” charge on your bill came from, well, just take a look at Best Buy’s 3.2% revenue increase in the U.S. alone, not to mention its $519 million profit and voila – your phone bill financed Best Buy’s impressive digits by spreading out your mobile payments. Clearly, Best Buy didn’t have this lucrative little plan in place last year as it only pulled in $293 million. But hey, at least you get an upgrade soon, right?