Alaska Airlines Giving the Boot to Virgin America Brand; So Not Cool-atta: Frozen Drink Going Away; Disney Can’t Shake Iger. And it Doesn’t Seem to Want to

So long…

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If you’re anything you’re like me, then I bet you look forward to those fun safety videos played on Virgin America flights. But alas, come 2019, those videos might just become a sweet memory as Alaska Airlines plans to retire the Virgin America brand at that time. Apparently, extensive accounting research was done to arrive at this conclusion. That conclusion being that if Alaska Airlines wants to be successful on the West Coast after throwing down $2.6 million to merge/acquire Virgin America, then it would be prudent to stick with one name. And considering that Alaska Airlines is the one paying all that money, it’s only fair, I suppose, that it should get to stick with its own name. Alaska Airlines, however, has promised to keep the mood lighting, music and other features that made Virgin America more fun than other airlines. Virgin America will be joining the not-so-distinguished-anymore ranks of Continental Airlines and US Airways, whose names also used to grace airports all over the country. Once the merger is finalized, Alaska Airlines will have the dubious distinction of being the fifth largest airline in the country.

Just not good enough…

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After much soul-searching and presumably a lot of accounting research – Dunkin’ Donuts is ditching the Coolatta drink that refreshed so many parched palates over the years. The official word on why Dunkin’ Donuts is ditching the beverage is because it “…isn’t good enough.” It doesn’t get more scientific than that. But fear not Dunkin’-lovers, as the donut chain will not leave you empty-handed and un-caffeinated. Enter the “Frozen Dunkin’ Coffee.” Sure the name lacks the “cool” vibe of its predecessor, but its rumored to have a lot more coffee in it. In fact, part of the push for the new beverage has to do with the fact that special new brews are all the rage right now. And naturally Dunkin’ wants to cash in on that momentum. Also be on the lookout for the Dunkin’ Energy Punch and the Caramel Shaved Ice Espresso, among other new offerings. As for social media, plenty of Dunkin devotees didn’t take too kindly to the announcement with one disgruntled Coolatta drinker writing: “@DunkinDonuts getting rid of the coffee coolatta? Are you insane?” Nuff’ said.

So hard to say goodbye…

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Apparently Disney is super pleased with Bob Iger’s performance since the House of Mouse just extended the CEO’s contract until 2019 (when the Virgin America name will be retired. Coincidence? I think not. Really. I don’t) Actually it’s because Disney still hasn’t found a suitable replacement for Iger. The plan was for Iger to only stay on in his post until 2018. But since there’s no heir in the wings just yet, it was thought best to hold onto him until that could be determined. Former Disney COO Tom Staggs was rumored to be the one to fill that role, but then he left, leaving Disney to go back to the drawing board. This is the third time an extension was added to Iger’s contract. And who can blame Disney. Whoever replaces Iger is going to have some massive shoes to fill and will constantly find themselves being compared to a CEO whose leadership the board calls “outstanding.” In fact, under this outstanding leadership for the last ten years, Disney became the first movie studio to hit the $7 billion ceiling for global box office receipts. News of this latest extension sent the company stock up. Which makes perfect sense since during Iger’s tenure, investors took in a 448% return on Disney shares.

Trump Must Say Buh-bye to DC Namesake Hotel; Amazon’s Latest Tricks Up its Sleeve; The Urge to Merge: Alaska Airlines and Virgin America

Give it up…

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The official word out of Washington DC and, more importantly, the General Services Administration (GSA), is that Donald Trump has to give up his beloved hotel that is housed in the Old Post Office, just a few blocks from the White House. It’s the one that he opened back in September and has been the site for so very many Trump protests. That particular building is especially off limits to the President-elect because it is leased from the Federal government. The GSA, in case you were wondering, manages property owned by the Federal government. So it stands to reason that it has a say in what Donald Trump can and can’t do in this particular situation. Incidentally, Federal law does not exactly prohibit a president’s involvement in private business. However, members of Congress and lower ranked executive branch officials cannot. So weird, huh? As for a president’s assets, those have been typically put into blind trusts in an effort to avoid any appearance of impropriety – which seems logical. The owners of these blind trusts have no knowledge of how the assets are being managed and are typically managed by independent third parties. Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, has apparently been dealing with the GSA to resolve this particular issue. However, her involvement is sort of iffy, according to some, since she is an official member of Trump’s transition team.

Droning on and on…

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Image courtesy of planet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Amazon’s unleashing plenty of big news today while Jeff Bezos is kicking up his heels at Trump Tower, trying to make nice with the President-elect. First, the online retailer giant announced its first drone delivery, called Prime Air, which took place December 7 in the U.K. A Fire TV device, along with a bag of popcorn found its way to its buyer just thirteen minutes after the order was made. The drop was made in an area in Cambridge that has been authorized for drone testing. So far, two customers have access to this new delivery method. But in the coming months that number is expected to grow by leaps and bounds. The drones fly no higher than 400 feet, are guided by GPS and can carry up to five pounds of merchandise. But best of all, for Amazon anyway, is that drone delivery of small packages are an excellent way to keep delivery costs really low. How does a dollar a drop sound?  Then, Amazon also announced the launch of its very own live streaming video service available just about everywhere. Except China. That must warm Donald Trump’s heart a little.  In any case, the new service is giving Netflix   – which also has yet to conquer China – some very unwanted competition. By the way, Amazon’s launch was eerily reminiscent of Netflix’s global launch almost a year ago. Just saying. The new service, aptly called Prime Video, would get bundled with your average Amazon Prime subscription. The idea is to get people to sign up for Amazon Prime service and from watching all of Amazon’s amazing (it really is) programming, viewers will then have an insatiable urge to buy even more stuff on Amazon. It’s meant to be a win-win. Just not necessarily for your bank account. In Amazon’s defense, however, the company wants to make sure that you’re getting a lot of value from your annual Prime subscription. I can live with that.

Take wing…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Alaska Airlines/Virgin America merger is in effect with the official blessing from the U.S. Justice Department. But to be clear, Alaska Airlines is actually buying Virgin America – which has only been around since 2007 –  for about $2.6 billion. The total cost, after all is said and done, is expected to hit closer to $4 billion.  Alaska Airlines is currently the sixth biggest airline operator in the United States, while Virgin America holds steady at number eight. But once these two babies unite, they’ll become the fifth largest airline in the industry. The top four airlines, however, still control 80% of the country’s domestic market. At least the merger will allow for the new entity to become a major player in the highly competitive West Coast region. Combined, the two airlines have around 40 million customers and have so far this year generated $2.4 billion in revenue.

French Company Goes Organic for U.S. Acquisition; U.S. Airlines Gear Up for Cuba; U.S. Banks Bond Over Brexit

Let them eat organic cake!

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dannon Yogurt’s parent company, Danone (said with a French accent) is looking to pick up  a major U.S company that will effectively double its size. That’s assuming all goes according to plan. Danone wants to offer organic food provider, WhiteWave, purveyor of favorites like Silk Almond and Soy Milk, Horizon Milk and Earthbound Farms, $10.4 billion in cash for the fiscal pleasure of its company. That’s a 24% premium over WhiteWave’s thirty day average closing price and comes out to about to $56.25 per share. But for Danone, whose looking to make itself a bigger presence in the United States, it’s well worth it, since WhiteWave’s offerings tend to attract wealthier consumers. WhiteWave generates annual sales of about $4 billion and with this acquisition, Danone expects to see a $300 million boost in operating profit. Danone has also been struggling in other parts of the world and this acquisition would ease the burden of some of those lesser-performing markets. FYI, when companies offer to buy other companies, their offers tend be at least at a 30% premium. Because this offer was not, it theoretically means that the bidding door is still open to other offers from companies like Coca Cola, PepsiCo and Kellogg Co, to name but a few. In a regulatory filing, though, WhiteWave did graciously say that it wouldn’t solicit other offers. However, there are exceptions. Should WhiteWave go with another offer, Danone still wins because it will get a $310 million break-up fee.

Bienvenido…

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Believe it or not, Hillary Clinton wasn’t the only topic of conversation today coming out of Washington DC. President Obama announced a proposal to allow eight U.S. airlines to provide nonstop service between Cuba and ten U.S. cities, beginning this fall. This will mark the first time in 50 years that travel of this kind will be available. And all this just one year after diplomatic relations were re-established. The city and airline selections were made by the Department of Transportation and the lucky airline winners are: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and United Airlines. American Airlines is actually no stranger to the island nation, as it has been offering charter services there since 1991. Just last year the airline made over one thousand chartered flights to Cuba, while JetBlue made over 200 chartered trips. That’s awfully welcome news for an industry that took a fiscal beating lately. The cities that can look forward to the new service had to have have substantial Cuban-American populations already in place. Hence, Florida finds itself the recipient of 14 out of the 20 daily nonstop flights, since it boasts the largest Cuban-American population. The cities include: Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami,  Newark, New York City, Orlando and Tampa. According to Cuban officials, the number of American travelers to Cuba is up 84%, compared to last year, in just the first half of the year.  But there is still a trade embargo in place, which does include a travel ban. However, there are twelve convenient categories of reasons to fly to Cuba that you can check off should you decide to make your way to Havana any time soon.

Come together…

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It’s a fiscal kumbaya as four U.S. banks offered up their sincerest support for London following the Brexit vote. The gracious supporters include, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. The banks agreed to help British Finance Minister George Osborne find ways to ensure that the U.K. remains the prominent financial player that it always was, pre-Brexit. And of course they all will try and find new and exciting ways to lure and retain big banking to London so that the consequences of the Brexit don’t do the country in completely. While that sentiment no doubt warmed the hearts of investors all over the world, the investment banks could not offer up as much optimism as far as the jobs situation is concerned. After all, “no one in their right mind would currently invest in Britain.” Keeping those jobs there might might be the biggest challenge of all and no one wants to make any promises on that. Especially Jamie Dimon, who had previously mentioned that around 4,000 jobs could make their way out of London. In the meantime, the French wasted no time – I mean NONE! – in announcing to the world that it would make its tax regime as enticing as possible, in a not at all subtle attempt to grab some pricey banking business from London.

Banking Scandal or Ben Affleck Movie?; Airline Ranks and Tanks; Drones to the Rescue

Who gets the movie rights?

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The latest scandal to come out of the banking world has its very own name – “The Panama Papers.” It seems a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca helped a slew of politicians, celebrities, businessman etc. to create offshore accounts and shell companies for the last forty years. It’s estimated that 500 banks all over the world enlisted the help and resources of Mossack Fonseca to help them set up these shell companies since 1977. Fast forward to a year ago when an anonymous source leaked some 11 million documents to Germany’s biggest newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, which then enlisted the help of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The ICIJ shared information and hunted down leads for over a year in an effort to publicize “The Panama Papers” that contain information on some 214,000 offshore companies. The documents also have plenty of unflattering details about Russian President Vladimir Putin, FIFA officials and over 30 other people and companies that are blacklisted by the U.S. government. These include people indicted for corruption and have ties to drug trafficking and terrorism. Strangely enough, Mossack Fonseco only seems to know the true identities of just over 200 companies out of the over 14,000 that the firm managed to incorporate just in the Seychelles. Now banks across Europe find themselves under the microscope as regulators try to establish if and how those banks found ways to hide assets. The Kremlin, ironically, is calling the allegations “a series of fibs” and thinks its just an attempt to thwart Putins chances in upcoming elections, which are said to be rigged anyway. FIFA, another group that could use a lesson or two on business ethics, called the allegations “ridiculous.” To be fair, it’s not clear to certain people that any actual illegal activity occurred. Of course the banks denied any wrongdoing while Mossack Fonseca calls itself the victim of a data breach.

Bumpy landing…

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Results are in for the Airline Quality Rating and you might just be surprised. Or not. Virgin America took the top spot, even earning the best score in the baggage handling rate category. While Virgin America no doubt takes pride in getting the best ranking, Sir Richard Branson is not exactly celebrating considering Alaska Airlines is buying him out for $2.6 billion. Alaska Airlines, by the way, is paying $57 in cash per share, – a 47% premium over Virgin America’s closing price on Friday. Incidentally, Alaska Airlines came in fifth, though it was ranked highest when it came to fewest customer complaints. But it is anyone’s guess how this buyout will impact Virgin America’s rating next year. In any case, JetBlue came in at number two with Delta, shockingly enough, earning a very respectable third place ranking. Overall industry performance improved slightly. Really slightly. Six carriers actually improved, while another six did not. Spirit came in dead last, but in all fairness, Spirit is new to the list. Also in all fairness, Spirit ranked the highest in customer complaints, which makes sense considering that its culture is best described as “take it or leave it.” Amerian Airlines plunged three spots from last year to number 10. Which sounds about right. American, by the way, is the largest carrier in the world, just not on the United States. United is and yet it doesn’t exactly boast an enthusiastic following. Hawaiian Airlines ranked number one for on-time performance. And that’s really great. Especially if you’re going to Hawaii. Which unfortunately, I am not.

Start-up STAT…

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Bay Area start-up Zipline just scored $18 million in funding  – but not from just any investors.  Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Yahoo Founder Jerry Yang saw fit to plunk down tons of cash for the drone company but the question is: what makes this drone company different from all the other drone companies? At least for Paul Allen and Jerry Yang. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that Zipline founder Keller Rinaudo is using his drone technology not for delivering books and groceries, but rather to save lives in third-world countries. Zipline’s drones will be delivering blood and much-needed medical supplies to remote, hard-to-reach areas in Rwanda. Rinaudo, a Harvard-trained scientist said that there is “nothing more precious than blood and medicine” and plans on making those items much more accesible than they have ever been. He also wisely pointed out: “Getting medicine to remote places is both a huge market and a global challenge.” As of now places in Rwanada get resupplied a few times a year. But Rinaudo is planning for his drones to make up to 150 drops a day come July. The government of Rwanda is footing the bill to make that happen. And unlike many other types of drones that can’t operate properly in inclement weather, Zipline’s drones can, are able to carry up to 3.5 lbs. and fly within a 75 mile range. Considering that Rwanda is one of the poorest nations in the world, it will become the first country to employ commercial drone delivery, all while Amazon and other companies continue fighting regulatory battles and FAA hurdles.

 

Take That Tsipras! Greece Agrees to Terms. Well, Maybe; Big Retailer Black Friday Smackdown; The New Campaign to Get Young Americans Work

What would Plato do…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stocks all over the world went back up and all seems right in the universe once again now that the Greeks don’t have to bail on the euro anymore – well, for now anyways. $95 billion in even more aid is headed to the government in Athens. But boy are the Greeks in for it. In exchange for this, dare I say it,  bailout, major reforms are in the works for the country’s pension system. And then there all those taxes they’re going to have to pay. Well, you gotta pay that money back somehow right? Maybe some sort of debt relief will come in the form of reduction, extended payments or even – don’t let the Germans see this one – partial forgiveness. But all of this is still talk, despite some verbal agreements from Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, since Greece’s Parliament sill needs to give its official thumbs up. In any case, at least the country’s banking system isn’t expected to come crashing down anytime soon. So yay.

Beating the holiday rush…

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Image courtesy cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wal-Mart wants in on the Black Friday fun and is making sure Amazon’s Prime Day doesn’t get all the retail glory. The world’s largest retailer will also be slashing prices on thousands of items this week. Except Wal-Mart calls these discounts “rollbacks.” Just sayin’. Unlike Amazon, you don’t have to buy a special membership in order to get its great deals. “We just don’t believe you should pay a fee to get a better price,” Walmart’s Ravi Jariwala graciously explained. As if that wasn’t enough, free shipping comes with a just a $35.00 minimum, as opposed to the $50.00 minimum it usually requires. Wal-Mart has been losing a lot of ground to Amazon’s e-tail dominance in recent years and knows it has to up its “A” game. Which is all good news for consumers who get to reap the rewards here. Wal-Mart does have plans in the future to offer a similar membership program like Amazon’s Prime, but it will be half the price. As for the other big retailers gearing up for some Black Friday fun, Target and Best Buy will be joining in so get ready to whip out your plastic.

Percolating…

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Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Howard Schultz found a way to rebound from his last poorly received social campaign. But this time around, people will agree he got it right. Dubbed the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, the goal is to take 16-24 year olds from low-income areas, who are neither studying nor working, and give them gainful employment opportunities. In fact, there are about 3.5 million jobs up for grabs that don’t require a college degree and Starbucks, along with other more than a dozen other top U.S. companies, including Microsoft and Alaska Airlines, are eager to fill them. Like now. There are approximately 5.6 million young Americans who this initiative is targeting and who are eligible for these opportunities which range from full-time positions to internships and everything in between. Wall Street certainly digs Howard Schultz’s idea as well. Shares of Starbucks hit an all time high today.

Passengers Are Getting Bagged, The Loan Danger and The Not So Magical Magic of Macy’s

Bagging it…

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Image courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Results of the JD Power & Associates 2014 Airline Satisfaction study were just released. 11,370 travelers were surveyed. I was not among the surveyed. Out of a possible 1000 points, the industry as a whole scored 712, which is actually a 17 point increase over last year. Again, I was not one of the people surveyed. There were seven categories that were rated some of which include cost and fees, crew and aircraft. According to Rick Garlick, head of J.D. Power’s travel and hospitality practice, “It isn’t that passengers are satisfied with fees; it’s that they are simply less dissatisfied because they realize that fees have become a way of life with air travel.” Apparently 44% of travelers feel this way. I am of the 56%. Noticeably absent from the list was Virgin America. Sir Richard Branson’s airline does not yet qualify for the survey and the other airlines should be grateful for that. Alaska Airlines came in first for traditional airlines. Shockingly enough, American Airlines came in third (and not last!). Once again, I was not given the survey. Jet Blue ranked first in low-cost airlines. However, I find that Jet Blue tends to charge just as much as “traditional” airlines. US Airways came in last.

Student groans…

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Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just when you thought having to take out student loans was irritating enough, a new study, courtesy of the Pew Research Center, adds salt to the borrowers fiscal wounds. The study disconcertingly found that student borrowers don’t earn nearly as much as their debt-free peers. As if the socio-economic divide wasn’t enough to highlight the difference between the haves from the have-nots, the burden of having to pay back those education loans, which are exceeding the $1 trillion mark, are trumping the demand for home loans. Hence, the mortgage market is suffering some blows as well. All that money tied up in loans in the name of higher education are dragging down the US ecnomony even more than (gasp!) credit card debt. Because borrowers have a harder time building up assets, their debts tend to lead to more debt. The median net worth of a young household (young being under 40 years old) paying off student loans is $8,700 while a debt free young household has a median net worth of $64,700. But on the bright side – if you can call it that – college-educated households tend to earn twice as much income than a home sans college degrees.

Macy’s retail tale…

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Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Oh the magic of Macy’s, as the slogan goes. But it wasn’t that magical as their first quarter revenues fell 1.7% to $6.28 billion, which the 85 year old department store is attributing to the nasty winter that wreaked havoc on our lives and economy. However, first quarter net income rose 3% to $224 million, up $7 million from a year earlier thanks to lowered sales. It also beat analysts expectations which is always fun to watch when that happens. Its confidence in its ability to sell sell sell must be pretty intense since they increased their dividend. They’re also planning on putting big chunks of money into e-commerce.  Macy’s has about 840 stores nationwide.