Wal-Mart’s New Change is Making a Dash for it; Glassdoor’s Latest List Might Just Have You Rethinking Your Workplace; Mega Merger Round Two

 

A dash of this… 

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Big news from Wal-mart today. Huge news, in fact. The retail giant is changing its name… to Walmart. Are you stumped? Okay. Here’s a hint: The company is ditching the dash in its name. Or hyphen. Or line.  Or whatever you want to call that thingy in the middle of its name that’s been there since the retailer was incorporated back in 1969. And not that Wal-mart has anything against dashes, hyphens or lines, mind you. It’s just that Walmart, or Wal-mart, depending on how much you care about the dash, feels that legally changing its name to omit the dash emphasizes the fact that it sells merchandise both online and off. Got it? Neither do I. But I’m guessing Wal-mart must have done some hefty research to arrive at this conclusion. This conclusion being that if you want to give Amazon a run for its money then hyphens be damned. Apparently they don’t exactly scream out e-commerce leader and thus the little unassuming line will be getting the boot come February 1. And if you happened to have grown attached to the name “Wal-mart Stores,” then I have bad news for you. The company will also legally be droppping the word “stores” from its official name. And presumably there is research to support this move as well. Go figure.

How’s that cubicle looking?

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It’s that time of year again where you get to be reminded that you, in fact, do not work for a great company and it’s time to get off your butt and do something about it. Glassdoor did a little research via anonymous employee reviews and came out with a list of the top companies, according to their employees. And wouldn’t you know it – a social media company that goes by the catchy name of Facebook tops the list for the third year in a row. And if you think employees like working there just for all the amazing cafeterias then you’d be partly right. It seems the company’s mission-driven culture and impact on the world really resonates with its employees. Over at Bain & Company it’s all about company culture and competitive compensation packages. Which explains why the consulting firm came in at number two. Other names you know on the list: In-N-Out Burger takes spot number 4. Besides the tasty milkshakes and Double-Double burgers and fries employees enjoy on daily basis, they also get paid vacation time and 401(k) plans, among many many other perks. Google comes in at number 5 and I’m guessing the massages and excellent parental leave plans have something to do with that impressive ranking. Even yoga apparel maker Lululemon lands on the list at the number 6 spot. How zen. A newcomer to the list is St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Given the company’s mission, to help heal sick children, the company culture of literally trying to save as many lives as possible makes this a place where people love to work.  To see if your company made the cut or you just want to do a little research on where you’ll be applying for your next job, check out Glassdoor’s Best Places to work list.

Da-merger…

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Today’s mega healthcare merger is brought to us by UnitedHealth and DaVita, as the battle for healthcare dominance continues to make Wall Street swoon with all the billions involved. Not to be outdone by the $69 billion CVS Health/Aetna deal announced earlier this week, UnitedHealth Group has plans all its own for its nifty not-so-little unit called Optum. Optum is plunking down close to $5 billion in cash for another nifty entity called DaVita Medical Group, which is a subsidiary of the aptly named DaVita Inc.  Now, what’s so special about DaVita Medical Group that’s got UnitedHealth throwing billions at it? The company has hundreds of urgent care centers, surgery centers and medical clinics across the country that, besides providing invaluable services, also, presumably, bring in tons of cash.  Apparently, these mega-mergers are meant to benefit consumers by offering a host of services and benefits at lower costs than what companies can offer on their own. While the verdict’s still out on that bit, plenty of healthcare professionals are also waiting with bated breath to see if and how it will impact them, either positively or not. Until then I would advise you to just stay healthy.

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It’s About to Go Down Between Aetna and the Dept. of Justice; Target in Need of Retail Therapy; Barnes and Noble Has a Job Opening. If You Dare.

Put up your dukes…

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And the gloves are off between the Department of Justice and Aetna. Aetna announced it would be reducing its role in the Obamacare exchange, stopping to sell individual insurance, and the Justice Department was apparently warned about such actions last month. You see, because ACA has been costing insurance companies so much money, Aetna wanted to scoop up rival Humana to help absorb costs. But the Justice Department was against the merger over concerns that it would increase prices for consumers and limit competition – your typical antitrust concerns. In a letter to the Justice Department dated July 5, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini made it abundantly clear that Aetna  would drop out of the Obamacare exchange if the merger did not go his way. It didn’t. And so here we are. Aetna crticics have cried extortion and threats. Aetna , however, calls it a strategic business decision after eating a $200 million loss in its second quarter. Insurers feel that mergers alleviate the enormous costs brought on by Obamacare. They argue that Obamacare has put a major dent in their economics and the government is not holding up its end of the bargain to help mitigate the situation.

Buyer’s remorse…

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Target has missed its target in what the company called a “difficult retail environment.” Well, for Target anyway. The sixth largest retailer cut its full-year fiscal profit after quarterly sales fell more than expected. One of the culprits was a smaller demand for its tech offerings, specifically Apple products. Of course, it’s to be expected that the company is constantly losing ground to Amazon. After all, who isn’t? The company has also been making a push to redo its grocery division by bringing in more organics, gourmet and healthful offerings. That endeavor hasn’t quite hits its stride. And that’s a problem since Target’s grocery division accounts for a fifth of the company’s revenue. Target did turn up a profit of $680 million. Too bad it was a 10% decrease over the same time last year. Sales were down 7.2% to $16.2 billion which was almost on par with estimates. CEO Brian Cornell griped that customer visits went down and now expects a profit range of $4.80 – $5.20, when before it was between $5.20 – $5.40.  It seems his turnaround plan is taking a bit longer to actually um,…turn. In other Target developments, to address its transgender-bathroom policy, the retailer is plunking down $20 million to install single stall bathrooms to its remaining stores that don’t already have them.

Buh-bye…

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Shelve this one under history as Barnes and Noble booted its CEO Ronald D. Boire. The bookseller felt the exec, who had the job for not quite a year, was “not a good fit.” However, to be fair, he did previously fit in at Brookstone, Best Buy, Sony and Sears Canada. Executive chairman  Leonard Riggio will take over until a more permanent replacement can be found and Riggio can finally begin his much-anticipated retirement.  The board said of Boire’s untimely departure that the decision was in “best interest of all parties for him to leave the company.” Ouch. In B&N’s most recent quarter – under Boire – the company took in $876.6 million. Impressive, right? Wrong. B&N took in $910 million the year before. It also lost $30.6 million, far more than the $19.6 million it lost during the same time last year. As efforts to trim costs and turn the company around have yet to yield any meaningful results, shares of the company have also managed to tank to its lowest price in eight months. While B&N has 640 stores dotting the planet, it is still losing ground to that animal we call Amazon. And once again, who isn’t?

 

Aetna Becomes Obamacare Dropout; Warren Buffet Takes a Big Bite Out of (the) Apple; TJX: Don’t Discount the Discounter

See ya!

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In case it wasn’t entirely clear how some big insurance companies feel about Obamacare, perhaps Aetna might shed some light for you. The healthcare insurer is dropping out of the exchange in 69% of its counties. It’s dropping out of 11 of 15 states after eating $200 million in pre-tax losses during its 2Q. Of the 838,000 Affordable Care Act policies it has, 20% will be adversely affected. Aetna, which is the nation’s third largest insurer, isn’t the first health insurance company to do this. United Healthcare Group already dropped out of Obamacare exchanges and as did Kaiser, with more expected to follow. Whichever side you fall on in terms of the Obamacare debate matters not. It’s arithmetic that’s at play here. Aetna argues that they were losing big money to make the Obamacare policies work. Not enough healthy people were signing up and too many unhealthy people were. The premiums that healthy folks pay were/are intended to offset the large cost of the the unhealthy. Unfortunatey, things didn’t work out that way. The Departement of Health and Human Services was supposed to figure out ways to fix that issue. While its says it did, insurers say it didn’t – or at least, not enough. If you’re really bent on having Aetna insure you and your state’s just been dropped by it, you might want to consider moving to Delaware, Iowa, Nebraska and Virginia. Those states will still be offering policies from Aetna in 2017. Well, at least for now they will be.

Well, if Warren Buffet’s Doing it…

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Berkshire Hathaway’s very own oracle is taking a much bigger chunk out of the not-so-proverbial apple – the one based in Cupertino, that is. Warren Buffet upped his stake in the tech company by a substantial 55%. That’s in direct contrast to his fellow billionaire’s recent actions. George Soros just chucked his Apple stake out the window over concerns in China, or rather concerns about China’s policies regarding the iPhone maker. However, there’s a chance he’ll re-invest down the road. Activist investor billionaire Carl Icahn also ditched his Apple shares back in June. When he did this, shares of Apple had taken a slight dip, at which point Warren Buffet swooped in and increased his stake. Now his total stake of 15. 2 million shares is valued at about $1.7 billion. Shares of Apple, by the way, are up 14% since June. Incidentally, Wal-Mart didn’t fare so well as far as Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio is concerned. The Oracle of Omaha cut Berkshire Hathaway’s stake in the world’s largest retailer by 27%, keeping it at just over 40.2 million shares. But Warren Buffet has had Wal-Mart in its portfolio a decade now and while his stake might be reduced, it’s probably still not going anywhere. For now. Curious what else Berkshire Hathaway has sitting in its very lucrative portfolio? Coca Cola, American Express, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Heinz, Wells Fargo…to name but a few.

Who you calling off-price?

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Macy’s and friends might be bemoaning the state of the retail landscape. But they won’t get much sympathy from discount retailers T.J. Maxx. Its parent company TJX Cos came out with its second quarter sales results that had the retailer beating predictions.  But all was not perfect from the company that also owns Marshall’s and HomeGoods. It put out a bit of a bleaker picture for its third quarter that caused shares to fall today, despite its stellar performance.  In all fairness, that depressing and most unimpressive outlook is primarily because TJX Cos is waging war against a strong dollar. Besides, the company is giving out wage increases, so its hard to be mad at a company whose fiscal prowess is taking a hit for a very noble cause. There is even a silver lining – the company is turning out to be a big draw, luring shoppers away from malls with its deeply discounted merchandise on major name brands. Profit for TJX Cos was $562.2 million with 84 cents added to shares, while analysts only predicted 80 cents per share.  A year ago at this time, the company picked up $549.3 million with 80 cents added to shares. The stock is up 17% since January.

 

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Brexit Problems; DOJ V. Health Insurance Industry: The First Round; No News is Not Good News at Yahoo

It’s all Brexit to me…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The bad Brexit news just keeps on coming with the IMF now sharing its unpleasant thoughts. The fund has cut the global forecast for the next two years, expecting global economic growth for 2016 to come in at 3.1% and 3.4% for 2017. And those figures are on the bright side since the IMF feels that there is “sizable increase in uncertainty” about how bad the Brexit damage will be. That forecast is riding the wave that the EU and British officials will graciously reach new trade agreements that won’t make trading conditions any more challenging than necessary. If officials can’t hash out the details then Britain just might be staring down the wrong end of a recession. All because of the Brexit vote. Perhaps the pro-Brexiters really didn’t expect investors would ditch Britain in favor of more fiscally welcoming euro areas. And who can blame the ditchers, seeing as how the pound has dropped an ugly 12% against the dollar since the ominous vote. The IMF, however, still anticipates actual growth for the UK, if only by a paltry 1.7%. By the way, this is the IMF’s fifth time cutting its forecast in just 15 months. In fact, had the Brexit vote gone the other way, the IMF was set to upgrade global projections. Way to go Britain! As for the impact in the U.S., the IMF thinks it will go relatively unscathed. How reassuring.

Put up your dukes…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like there won’t be any big health insurance company mergers. At least not if the Department of Justice has its way. Which it usually does. Anthem’s proposed $48 billion merger with Cigna and Aetna’s proposed $34 billion merger with Humana are on hold, and maybe permanently, as the Justice Department gets set to file antitrust lawsuits to block their ambitious plans. The Justice Department, which has been scrutinizing these deals for a year, is worried that these mergers would reduce competition and harm the little people a.k.a. the consumers with much higher prices. But the health insurance companies argue that they’ve endured some challenges with President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and would like to prove the Justice Department wrong by shedding assets to competitors which would help them achieve cost savings and better results. Anthem and Aetna argued that their proposed mergers would provide them with the right scale to create more savings. And who doesn’t like savings? But the Justice Department isn’t biting. A merger between Anthem and Cigna would give the  newly combined company 54 million members with $117 billion in yearly revenue. The health insurance industry would shrink to three humongous players from five massive ones. United Health Group would sit smack dab in the middle of them. Expect a fight. A very long and costly one. Investors apparently are as shares went down today at all four health insurance companies.

How much is that website in the window?

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What’s to talk about at Yahoo is that there is not much to talk about at Yahoo. Still no word on who will buy the site’s core internet assets, though today is the last day that bids will be accepted. Offers are expected to be between $3.5 billion and $5 billion. Rumors are swirling that Verizon will be the lucky/likely buyer. Not that that has been confirmed. What has been confirmed is that Yahoo managed to eke out earnings of nine cents per share. Too bad expectations were for ten cents.  To add insult to fiscal injury, last year at this time Yahoo took in 16 cents per share. Want to hear about Yahoo’s net loss? Of course you do. The company ate $448 million in net losses. Just to put that into perspective, last year at this time Yahoo only lost $22 million. Yahoo also found itself writing down the value of Tumblr. Again. The first time it did that this year it was for $230 million. Now it was for $382 million. Yahoo bought the internet site just three years ago for the whopping sum $1.1 billion. Oh well. It’s like paying full price for something that went to clearance shortly after. Yahoo also slashed its work-force, going from 11,00 employees to 8,800 employees. And just so you know, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said that the cost-cutting measures are working. It’s just not clear for whom.