Airbnb Apologizes for Slow Reaction to Site’s Racists; Wells Fargo Eats $185 Million for Ridiculous Sales Quotas; Apple’s Latest Bites Wall Street

Diss-crminate…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Airbnb said sorry. Not because of all the discrimination that occurs on its site but because Airbnb was on the slow side when it came to responding to complaints about racist hosts and all the horrible stories surrounding #AirbnbWhileBlack. So, like any major company hit with a scandalous fiasco, Airbnb, which has a valuation around $26 billion and hosts in more than 30,000 cities, has come up with a new set of policies it hopes will act as a deterrent to those who wish to practice discrimination. Now, if would-be hosts claim that their lodgings are unavailable for certain dates, Airbnb will not allow those users to re-list their lodgings at a later time for the same-exact dates. While the site plans to reduce the significance of profile photos, critics argue that there shouldn’t even be any photos of hosts and guests. That way host discriminators can’t claim their lodgings are “unavailable” based on the color of a guest’s skin and guests wouldn’t be able to choose accommodations based on a host’s race and/or ethinicity. Airbnb, however, disagrees and feels that photos are a security measure that allows hosts and guests to recognize each other. Just for good measure, former ACLU head Laura Murphy and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder were brought in to consult and institute the new company policies.

No credit to you…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fraud hurts. Just ask Wells Fargo, now that it will be choking down more than $185 million in the form of fines and penalties for pushing customers to open accounts that they didn’t want. According to the Consumer  Financial Protection Bureau, the largest U.S. bank opened some 2 million fee-generating accounts that were probably not authorized. Of those, 565,00 unwanted credit card accounts were opened. This was the largest fine ever imposed by this agency. Some employees took the liberty of opening accounts for unwilling customers and when that failed, made up fake accounts and even forged signatures. All in the name of sales quotas. The complaint was filed following an investigation that began back in 2013. The employees said they took those measures because of the intense pressure of meeting some very strict and unreasonable sales quotas. Wells Fargo has set aside $5 million to cover refunds to customers.  As part of the settlement, Wells Fargo doesn’t have to admit wrongdoing. I guess the $185 million says it anyway. But be sure to stop by your local Well Fargo. Employees there are eager to help you close up any accounts customers don’t want. Well, maybe eager is not the right word.

Overripe…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wall Street is not sweet on Apple today as the latest iPhone 7 failed to impress the masses and the analysts. The lackluster reception for the device put a drag on the Street sending the stock down 2.3% at one point. That was its biggest one day fall since June 24th’s Brexit vote, when investors scrambled to unload their Apple shares. Gone is the headphone jack, replaced by the aptly named AirBuds, which are sold separately for a cool $159. How very shrewd – or callous? – of Apple to take that route. The AirBuds innovation sheds a whole new light on Apple’s $3 billion deal to pick up Beats and their headphone technology. But, to be fair, the phone is water and dust-resistant and I’ll be the first to admit that the water-resistant feature speaks to me. Apple has a market value of around $680 billion, but brass at the company have no plans on sharing how many iPhones will have been sold by the weekend’s end. That’s presumably because of the gadget’s less than impressive…impression.

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Branson’s Bexit Woes; IKEA is the Latest Company to Issue Recall; Airbnb Takes on San Francisco

Pound it out…

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Image courtesy of supakitmod/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Add Sir Richard Branson to the ever-growing list of Brexit haters. And he’s right to be hating on it. Besides the fact that global stocks took a $3 trillion hit on Friday and Monday,  Branson estimates that his own company, the Virgin Group, already lost a third of its value. Branson went on to say that, “We are heading towards a disaster. I don’t believe the public realized what a mess their vote would cost.” And considering he’s worth close to $5 billion, he probably knows a thing or two about the downsides of the Brexit. He’s convinced Britain is on the fast lane to recession territory and thinks a second vote is in order as 4 million people have already signed a petition urging a new referendum. Ironically, the billionaire has no voting rights in Britain since he doesn’t actually live there but rather in the British Virgin Islands. However, his company employs 50,000 people in the United Kingdom, most of whom do have voting rights, presumably. I hope none of them were foolish enough to vote in favor of the Brexit. I’d hate to be “that guy.” In any case, Branson feels that the British public was not adequately informed about the potentially disastrous consequences. He warned that thousands of jobs would be lost and even had to put the kibosh on one of his own deals that was in the works.

 

No words…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There’s yet another recall in effect and this time it doesn’t even have to do with Volkswagen. Sadly, this recall comes courtesy of IKEA, which had to recall some 29 million dressers that caused the deaths of six children, all under the age of four.  Another 36 have been injured. The most recent tragedy occurred as recently as this past February. These dressers included six styles from the company’s MALM line, that cost between $70 and $200, and were manufactured between January 2002 and January 2016. The company will issue full refunds for the furniture in question but is also offering wall-anchoring repair kits and even free one-time installations upon request should consumers wish to keep their dressers. Just 30,000 repair kits have been issued which represents but 1% of the total amount of dressers that were sold and still require anchoring. Regulators had called the dressers unsafe. The recall affects about half of the dressers that IKEA sells in the US.

Home bitter home…

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Image courtesy of supakitmod/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s Airbnb v. the city of San Francisco, with the home-sharing site charging that the city is violating the “Communications Decency Act, a federal law that prevents the government from holding websites accountable for the content that is published by their users.” It all started when San Francisco lawmakers decided to impose tougher rules for Airbnb and friends, which stipulated that the site could only post listings from renters registered with the city. The problem is, according to Airbnb, home-sharers were often confused by the process, which continues to be mired in the usual mess we call bureaucracy, and takes months to complete – months that could be used earning additional incomes from their homes. San Francisco wants Airbnb to enforce its rules, that listers be removed from the site unless they are registered. If Airbnb does not comply, the company could face fines of up to $1000 per day and even jail time for some employees. Mind you, only 20% of listers who rent out their homes for less than thirty days are registered with the city. Lawmakers want Airbnb to do its dirty work for them and remove the remaining 80% of listers from the site. Airbnb operates in more than 200 countries and has a valuation of $25 billion, at least as of today.

Wal-Mart Brings it Home with Great Earnings; A New Pew Study is Out and the Results May Surprise You; SEC Takes a Swing at Golfer Phil Mickelson

Sweet…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wal-Mart showered us with the news of its higher than expected quarterly profits and that’s a good sign since Wal-Mart’s success is a barometer of the economy and how well it’s behaving. Wal-Mart, in case you weren’t aware, is considered to be less upscale than its rival, Target. Because Target did not do so well this quarter and Wal-Mart did, experts are quick to point out that those in a more modest income bracket are still spending, at Wal-Mart anyways, and that is always a welcome occurrence in a healthy economy. Wal-Mart can thank an increase in drug prices, which is not as bad as it sounds. Hey, people need their medicines. But that’s just one small reason for the impressive digits. Warm weather helped keep Wal-Mart’s utility costs lower, which also contributed to those welcome numbers. Don’t laugh. Any little bit helps, even if it does involve the thermostat. A profit is a profit and Wal-Mart’s was $.304 billion. That figure is actually less than last year’s $3.34 billion, but its because of investments to improve the retailer and not because of any negative reasons. The retailer shelled out $2.7 billion to increase entry level pay and that also helped out with some of that profit. The company added 98 cents per share when analysts expected only 88 cents per share. And who doesn’t like it when analysts get it wrong, right?   As a result of the fiscally delightful news, shares of Wal-Mart made a nice little jump today, which is especially good since shares had gone down over 20% in the last twelve months.

The gig is up…

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Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Pew Research Center just released the results of its latest study, this time tackling the ever-popular “sharing economy.” For whatever reason, the center wanted to know what 4,787 U.S. adults think about Uber and Lyft, Kickstarter and Airbnb, to name a few. Turns out that 72% of U.S. adults have used at one of 11 different shared/on-demand platforms.  73% responded that they’d never heard of the term “sharing economy.” But that’s nothing compared to the 89% who didn’t know what a “gig economy” is. Then things started to get dicey. 15% of the people surveyed said they’d used shared and on-demand services like Uber and Lyft, yet 30% said they’d never heard of those apps. Household income and age played a big role in who used the apps. 41% of U.S. adults with annual incomes of more than $100,000 had used at least four of the services, which was more than three times that of adults whose annual incomes were less than $30,000. 39% of college graduates used at least four of the services. Not nearly so much for those who don’t have higher degrees. For those in the 50+ range, 44% said they’ve used at least four of the services. But of the 65 and above set , only 5% used the services. While ride-sharing apps were – no great shock – used primarily by young adults in big cities, middle aged adults were the primary users of services offered by apps like Airbnb. And even though Kickstarter and other crowd-funding apps have only been around since 2009, 22% of U.S. adults apparently gave donations through them. Yet 61% of those who responded said they’d never heard of the term “crowd-funding.”

Inside out…

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Image courtesy of Gualberto107/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pro-golfer Phil Mickelson is under investigation and it has nothing to do with sports. The SEC has set its sights on the five time major winner for insider trading. Apparently, Mickelson scored almost a million bucks and the SEC wants him to pay it all back…with interest. To be fair, Mickelson is classified as a “relief defendant” which means he hasn’t been officially accused of…anything. He does, however, still have to pay back his insider trading profit of $931,738.12, not to mention another $105,291.09 in interest. But hey, it’s better than doing time, a possibility for the two men who supplied him with the non-publicizied information. And those two men happen to be well known sports gambler Billy Walters and former chairman of Dean Foods, Thomas Davis. It’s no mistake that the “ill-gotten gains” were from Dean Foods. Which explains why Walters and Davis are now both facing criminal charges, while Mickelson’s attorneys get to call their client, who currently ranks 17th in the world, an “innocent bystander.”

Comcast: Streaming Video is so Last Year; Holy-Moly Guacamole, Chipotle is Losing Dinero; The Ultimate Biz Perks List

Who-lu?

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Image courtesy of cool design/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If online streaming video services are phasing out cable, you’d never know it judging by Comcast’s latest earnings. The company actually picked up 89,000 new subscribers – more than any other quarter in the last eight years. It was a particularly remarkable feat considering that last year at this time, the largest U.S. cable operator in the country only gained 6,000 subscribers. This means that for the year, Comcast only lost 36,000 subscribers. And yeah, that’s really good news. It’s really good because in 2014 Comcast lost over 194,000 subscribers. Time Warner Cable also announced it had picked up new subscribers. But Comcast did so well that it decided to raise it’s dividend by 10% to $1.10 – which was awfully generous of them. The nation’s leading high-speed internet operator managed to give a decent beating to analysts expectations earning $19.25 billion in revenue- an 8.5% increase over last year – instead of the projected $18.76 billion.  Comcast’s profits were up 5.2%, coming in at $2 billion, and adding 81 cents per share – just a teeny tiny penny below predictions. Oh well, maybe next time. Knowing that it’s future is/was on the line, Comcast has been trying to stay relevant in an age where streaming online video is all the rage. The company has been whipping out its fiscal A-game, offering better customer service, set-top box enhancements and smaller, more enticing bundles for current and prospective subscribers. Apparently it’s working.

The plot thickens…

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Image courtesy of cool design/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the fiscal Chipotle waters, along comes a subpoena, courtesy of a federal criminal probe stemming from a noro-virus outbreak in sunny California. Chipotle now needs to cough up documents going all the way back to January of 2013 and that’s not all. While Chipotle thought the worst was behind it, following the incredibly brutal E.Coli outbreak in some of its restaurants, the company announced that this year will be muy mal for investors. With huge marketing efforts in the wings, along with Herculean efforts to become the gold standard in food safety, Chipotle should be able to stay afloat. But it wont be pretty. The company’s fourth quarter earnings were pretty dismal with sales down more than a third and a whopping $10 billion shaved off its market cap. Apple and Alphabet  it is not. And with any bad news on Wall Street, particularly where there’s a subpoena involved, shares tumbled almost 3% and closed at 461.92.

Very perk-y…

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Image courtesy of cool design/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Glassdoor has served up yet another list to remind you just how badly you need to find a new place to work. This time, the company is ranking other companies according to how friggin’ awesome their employee perks are. For instance, does your current place of employment offer you “Yay Days”? Didn’t think so. But, if you score a position at REI, you get two of ’em – that’s two paid days off to spend on an outdoor activity. Does your boss currently give you $500 to use towards travel? Didn’t think so again. In which case, you ought to check Airbnb’s job board because that company gives you that much money towards travel every quarter so long as that cash is used on Airbnb accommodations (otherwise, no dice).  Burton, purveyor of fine snowboards and accompanying gear, gives its employees season passes to the local slopes. Then there’s software provider Epic Systems that generously gives its employees a four-week paid sabbatical every five years. If you want to feel even worse about where you work, visit Glassdoor for the rest of the list top ranking companies and the amazing perks they offer.

 

 

SeaWorld Earnings Tank; Unstoppable Facebook; Expedia’s Vacation Plans

Nothing to Sea here folks…

Image courtesy of bandrat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of bandrat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Once again, the life aquatic seems to be taking a hit. SeaWorld is still having a hard time trying to convince the world, and PETA, that its Killer Whales are much happier at the theme parks than in the wild where they’d have to fend for themselves. “Blackfish,” a scathing documentary released in 2013, continues to paint SeaWorld as the bad guy and even though there’s technically no such thing as bad publicity, this situation might prove to be the exception. The company’s third quarter earnings were short of estimates with profit – yes, it still made one – of $98 million adding $1.14 per share. While forecasts were for $1.18, the $1.14 added per share was still better than last year’s take of $87 million in profit with $1 added per share. Revenue also disappointed since it increased by just .2%, coming in at $470 million, when analysts predictions were for over $508 million. Brass at SeaWorld blamed the weather and legal fees for those digits. Can’t mother nature catch a break? Attendance took a .4% hit, dropping to 8.37 million people. Former Dollywood CEO Joel Manby has taken over the reins at SeaWorld and its 11 theme parks. That should be fun to watch. Despite the dismal earnings, SeaWorld San Diego is looking to expand its Killer Whales tank. Except, they have to promise not to breed them there. But SeaWorld has no intention of making any such promises. So stay tuned…

Facebank’d…

Image courtesy of  basketman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of basketman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just when you thought Facebook couldn’t get any bigger, and I don’t know why you even thought that, the social networking company gave us some new and even more improved digits. For instance, Facebook’s new market cap is valued at $308 billion. More than Intel and Cisco, companies that produce actual tangible products.  From there Facebook continues its fiscal celebration by sharing that it sold $1 billion more in ads than it did a year ago. I did write billion. Facebook’s total ad revenue was up 45% and, mind you, 78% of Facebook’s ad revenue comes from mobile. Its revenue is also up 41% to $4.5 billion and is trading around $109 per share. By George, that’s three times more than its IPO price. The company also added 31 cent per share on $896 million in net income, just $90 million and one cent more than it did last year at this time. Of course, then there’s Facebook’s 1.545 billion total monthly active users. Just to clarify, Facebook gets over one billion visitors every single day.  Facebook is still blocked in China, yet it remains the company’s biggest advertising market. The ever industrious Mark Zuckerberg and his team of 12,000 are finding ways to get around the mainland. After all, the baby-faced CEO is determined to Facebook his way into one of the worlds biggest countries and is on a mission to bring the web to every single person on the planet. That could prove to be an impossible feat with out China in the mix.

Do not disturb…

Image courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Expedia went shopping today and picked up vacation home rental website HomeAway for the bargain price of $3.9 billion. Actually, I’m not sure how much of a bargain that was since Expedia is paying $38.31 per share, a 20% premium over Wednesday’s closing price. But no matter as this deal might just solidify Expedia’s status as an online travel superstar. Kind of like what Amazon is to e-commerce. Some, however, are a wee bit concerned that there might just be some antitrust issues involved since Expedia has been on a bit of a shopping spree having picked up Orbitz Worldwide – which also owns Cheaptickets.com –  for $1.38 billion, and Travelocity for $280 million. And while HomeAway boasts over one million vacation home rental listings in almost 200 countries, it’s not necessarily competition to Airbnb since Airbnb lists homes as opposed to vacation rentals. In any case, the alternative accommodation space industry is estimated to be worth about $100 billion so it’s probably safe to say that there is room for a little competition.

Turn the Street Around…; Best Buy’s Best Quarter?; Oui Oui Le Tax Pour Airbnb

Recovery?

Image courtesy of rattigon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of rattigon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s only right to call today “turnaround Tuesday” since the stock market seems to be sort of recovering from the fiscal slaughter of the last few days, including all those sell-offs and Monday’s 588 point Dow drop. Part of the turnaround is because of China’s decision to cut interest rates. For the fifth time. Since November.  And then there are all those juicy stock bargains. Traders up for a good bargain are on the prowl and take bargain shopping to a whole new level. You might think you know how to spot a great discount but you’ve got nothing on these traders. These deals have nothing on post-Christmas sales. But at least the Dow soared today, with tech stocks leading the charge. Except that the day ended down by 200 points.

Rolex who?

Image courtesy of Pixomar/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Pixomar/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Best Buy had a particularly impressive quarter but is it really all because of Apple and it’s highly coveted watch? Hmmm. Apparently, the Apple Watch has been quite a hit with the retailer and by the end of September you can stop into any one of Best Buy’s 1,000 plus locations and pick up the gadget. That much coveted watch also helped propel Best Buy’s online sales to a 17% increase, giving Amazon and Walmart a cyber run for their money. Of course, not all those sales were from Apple products, but still.  Apple doesn’t get all the credit since Best Buy also scored some impressive appliance sales.  And I’m pretty sure Apple doesn’t make refrigerators and dishwashers. Yet. The Apple thing really seems to be paying off for Best Buy so it seems logical that it will be increasing Apple’s presence in its stores and start to offer AppleCare and service in some extremely lucky locations. Best Buy earned a $164 million profit adding 46 cents per share. Analysts only expected 34 cents. Apparently those analysts don’t own an Apple Watch (nor do I, for that matter). A year earlier Best Buy raked in $146 million and 42 cents per share.

Let them eat cake…

Image courtesy of pixtawan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of pixtawan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’re traveling to Paris after October 1 (lucky you) and your accommodations come courtesy of Airbnb, be prepared to say au revoir to even more money than you might have planned. Your Parisian host will now be collecting a tourism tax from you in the amount of 83 euros per day, per person. In case you were wondering, because I know you were, 83 euros is equal to about 95 cents. Paris authorities made the request to Airbnb in an effort to encourage the home-sharing site to behave more like a hotel would. And, well, considering that Paris is the most visited city in the world, and Airbnb has over 50,000 listings there, it seems like the smart thing to do to comply with this request. Besides, that tourism tax helps generate local tax revenue and pays for all the extra infrastructure that results from tourism. Also, it gives Parisian hotels one less thing to complain about when it comes to the advantages of Airbnb and helps the site make nice with French authorities. Incidentally, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman has taken issue with the $25 billion company. Schneiderman said that 75% of New York City listings are, in fact, illegal, since the hosts are/were not present and the rental periods were for less than 30 days. According to New York State Law, these tenants owe Uncle Sam some $30 million.

Airbnb Books It For Cuba; Headed Out of Indiana; Walmart’s Beef With Discrimination Bill

Bienvenido…

Image courtesy of  taesmileland/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of taesmileland/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With the normalizing of relations between the United States and Cuba, you can be sure that businesses are on the hunt for the countless opportunities that can be found on the island nation. Netflix made its Cuban debut a few months back, along with a handful of other companies. Now its Airbnb’s turn. The online rental website for wallet-conscious travelers saw a 70% spike in searches for rentals on the island nation following President Obama’s announcement about the easing of restrictions there. The way Airbnb sees it, “We are actually plugging into an existing culture of micro-enterprise in Cuba. The hosts in Cuba have been doing for decades what we just started doing seven years ago.” So far the website has over a thousand rental listings. But the rentals can only be used by U.S travelers and travelers must have one of the required licenses to even travel there. Many feel that Cuba could become one of Latin America’s biggest markets, but some are skeptical that Airbnb is going to be able to take much advantage of that. With 15% of Airbnb’s fee being split between the renter and the owner, it seems likely that Cubans would rather forego Airbnb’s services and keep that extra cash for themselves. Then there’s the issues about the lack and slowness of internet access which just might impede some travel opportunities, not to mention profits, that are found online.

It’s only getting worse…

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff is socking it to Indiana and its very unpopular decision to sign the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The San Francisco-based global cloud computing company is offering relocation packages to employees who don’t feel comfortable in the Hoosier state as a result of the new law. Several employees have already taken advantage of the relocation offer. “One thing that you’re seeing is that there is a third [political] party emerging in this country, which is the party of CEOs.” In fact, more than 39 CEO’s signed a joint statement protesting the law and while Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said there would be “fixes” put into place that would offer protections for certain sexual orientation and gender identities, many remain unconvinced, and the economy in Indiana could suffer mightily. While Benioff wouldn’t mind totally ditching Indiana, he still has about 2,000 employees which makes that endeavor a little improbable. But he still has plans to significantly scale back operations there. “We want to invest in states where there is equality.” So basically, you can cross Indiana off the list.

Speaking of which…

Image courtesy of iosphere./FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere./FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Walmart has done something nobody expected it to do. Not a company known to embrace social issues, it helped shoot down a bill that was similar to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed in Indiana. Even though the retailer has been known to support many conservative causes, both fiscally and otherwise, this time it took to social media to protest this particular bill. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon wrote: “Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve.” To be fair, it would have been sheer fiscal stupidity not to protest the bill. It made perfect business sense. McMillon further added that the bill “…threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present through the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold.” He then went on to ask Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto the bill and wouldn’t ya’ know it? When the mighty Walmart talks, the Arkansas governor listens. Gov. Hutchinson amended the law.