That’s All Folks: Yahoo Rides Off Into the Sunset; Uber Drama; Trump’s Attempts at Flattery; It’s Raining Tacos and Cheesecake Today

And that’s a wrap…

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Sometimes goodbyes are hard and sometimes goodbyes are worth $23 million. At least that’s the case for Marissa Mayer, who will be collecting that much cash now that Verizon’s $4.5 billion acquisition of Yahoo is a done deal. Gosh, imagine what she’d be collecting if she were asked to stay on board. In any case, Yahoo will now melt into the AOL vortex and together they will morph in a new entity profoundly named Oath. However, once that happens, over 2,000 employees can expect to kiss their jobs goodbye. The last itty bitty remaining pieces of Yahoo will be named Altaba in homage to the fact that it is primarily a holding company for Yahoo’s sizable stake in the Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba.

Other highlights from today…

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  • It’s official: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick needs to compose his out-of-office reply. A management group will be established to run the show in his absence and when he returns he’ll be stripped of some of his duties. As for his return date, that is yet to be determined. It appears that he wont be missed that much. In the meantime, Uber now needs to come up with an effective system to tackle HR complaints. That might take awhile seeing as how the company is pretty much starting from scratch in that area.
  • In a meeting with Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, President Trump said to her that he thinks she’s a “low-interest person” like himself. Which is ironic since during his campaign he had plenty of criticism for the Fed because it kept those rates low. He also said he “likes her” and “respects her” which could mean anything and nothing when you’re President Donald Trump. Naturally, the Fed declined to comment, all while rumors swirl that it is expected to raise short-term interest rates for the fourth time in two years.
  • Go out and get yourself a free taco today. A Doritos Locos Taco, to be more specific. It’s on the house. At least at Taco Bell. The fast-food chain is being generous because the Golden State Warriors “stole” game 3 from the Cleveland Cavs. Naturally, it’s all part of a promotion, in this case the one that goes “Steal a Game, Steal a Taco.” Whatever. It’s free food.
  • Shares of Cheesecake Factory took a beating today because of Mother Nature. No, really. Apparently, because of some bad weather, customers near locations in the East and Midwest couldn’t enjoy enough “patio time” whilst eating copious amounts of cheesecake, thereby negatively affecting sales. And just like you, the analysts didn’t buy that excuse either.

Choo On This: Luxury Shoe Brand Not in Step with Coffee; Jack Ma Isn’t Feeling the Automation Love; Supreme Court to GM: Too Bad For You

Well-heeled…

Jimmy Choo

Luxury shoe brand, Jimmy Choo, will be getting a new owner now that JAB Holding Co. has decided that the company, wants to focus on its more carb/caffeinated brands. And who can blame the billionaire Reimann family that controls Jab. In the last few years, the company spent billions picking up various other food and beverage entities in the form of Krispy Kreme and Panera Bread, and well, 125 millimeter stilettos don’t really go so well with the stuff that carb dreams are made of. But Jimmy Choo may prove to be a very tempting company to a lot of potential buyers. While a pair of Jimmy Choo’s, whose fashion stock soared thanks to Carrie Bradshaw and “Sex and the City”,  may not hold the same appeal as a fresh hot donut – well, to some anyway – the fact is that shares of the luxury goods company are up 44% since the company’s debut back in October of 2014. JAB had the good business sense to pick up the iconic shoe company for 500 million pounds back in 2011. Revenue for 2016 increased over 14% to $465 million with a 43% profit increase to $54.4 million. Wall Street also digs the idea of a sale as shares of Jimmy Choo, which are traded in London, rose over 10% today.

The Jetson’s it ain’t…

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In case you were in the mood for a downer, then turn your attention to Alibaba founder and chairman, Jack Ma. During a conference hosted by the China Entrepreneur Club, Ma suggested that the future will suck. Because of robots.  He’s convinced that in the next thirty years, “the world will see much more pain than happiness.” Ma expects our automated companions to take over the workplace which might mean fewer work days but also fewer positions that require actual human attention. And the watercolor talk will be decidedly less entertaining. In fact, Ma is convinced that within thirty years, a robot will eventually grace a Time Magazine cover for being the “best CEO.” So if you think your boss has no personality now, just wait. And before you go calling Ma overly-dramatic, consider that according to the World economic Forum, it is estimated that there will be a net loss of 5 million jobs across 15 major economies thanks to automation. Sure technology is great, as long as it’s not taking over your paycheck.

Well at least they tried…

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GM tried to get the Supreme Court to block hundreds of lawsuits over its faulty ignition switches that could end up costing the automobile company billions. But the Supreme Court said no dice and the lawsuits can proceed. The reason: The company’s 2009 bankruptcy. If you recall, those faulty ignition switches were responsible for 125 deaths and more than twice as many injuries. More than 2.5 million vehicles were recalled and $2.5 billion worth of settlements dished out. GM knew about the problem before the bankruptcy so technically, it’s on the hook, since it could have just as easily notified all the owners of the vehicles that had the problem. Of course, that decision did not sit well with GM and a spokesperson said as much saying the appeal “was not a decision on the merits…” Amazingly enough, the appeal denial didn’t even freak out Wall Street – this time anyway – as shares actually rose today, albeit slightly.

Fed Chairwoman Shuts Down Congressman; Mattel Goes For Big With Alibaba; Apple Hits New High On iPhone Dreams

Sit back down…

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Almost everyone’s favorite Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen, was in the hot seat today. First she graciously explained in a letter to Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry that, in fact, the Fed possess the authority and has the responsibility to work and consult with foreign entities with regard to financial industry oversight and the development of international banking rules. McHenry, who is Vice Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, didn’t appreciate that the Fed had already engaged in international talks before President Trump had a chance to put his peeps into play to conduct their own reulatory review. But no dice for McHenry as Chairwoman Yellen explained that such efforts were to the benefit and in the best interests of the United States and its financial stability. In other news, Ms. Yellen was mum on whether the Fed would raise rates at its next meeting in March but said waiting too long wouldn’t be a good idea. Besides inflation and the labor market, Yellen and co. are looking to see what policy changes President Trump is going to make before making any major announcements from the Fed’s end. Which seems like a prudent plan, especially from someone who was appointed by President Obama, but is doing her best to keep from playing sides since she has still has a few years left on her term during the current administration. And also because Trump criticized her during the campaign when he said that she was deliberately keeping rates low in order to benefit President Obama. Yikes.

Ni-Hao Barbie…

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Mattel’s wound licking might just be on hold for now, despite losing some major Disney-Princess licensing mojo to Hasbro awhile back. The toy company has begun to forge a new path with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. Nothing like gaining a foothold in the $7 billion Chines toy marketplace to ease those Disney-licensing blues. By the way, the United States’ toy industry is estimated at over $20 billion. Just saying. The company that makes Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars is in a partnership with Alibaba to create and promote interactive and educational toys, in addition to producing entertainment content based on Mattel products. Because hey, who doesn’t love shows based on toys – and vice-versa? Mattel will be selling its new wares via Tmall.com, which is Alibaba’s business-to-consumer retail site. Incidentally, Mattel had already been selling on Tmall.com for about six years now and rumor has it that its selection of Fisher-Price toys have actually been the top-sellers for five years in a row on Alibaba’s November 11 Singles Day. Mattel’s new products for Alibaba will hit Alibaba’s virtual shelves by mid-2017.  Mattel could really use the boost, especially since sales of Barbies have not been doing as well as they have in the past, and despite throwing some more realistic features onto the doll. Also, the company reported an earnings miss February 1, taking in 52 cents per share on an 8% revenue decline to $1.83 billion, when analysts expected 71 cents per share. But with Alibaba boasting over 440 million active buyers, chances are Mattel has the ability to turn that last earnings report into a mere distant bad memory.

Apple of my i-Phone…

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For the first time in two years, Apple hit a new high of $134.90 and a market cap of $701 billion. And in case you don’t own any shares, that probably means a whole lot of nothing to you. The last time it hit a new high was back on April 28, 2015, when the stock hit $134.54. But that 36 cents means a whole lot to investors who are hoping, and probably betting, that Apple will release a new iPhone, dubbed the iPhone 8, or the iPhone X – if you dare –  that will magically lift blah sales for the tech giant. While the company reported impressive earnings in its last earnings report, its outlook was less so, and the fact that Apple’s revenue decreased by 8% for 2016 didn’t help the mood on Wall Street as of late, even if it is the most valuable company in the world.  Rumor has it, the new phone is going to be even more expensive than previous ones, which is always a good way to get Wall Street tongues wagging.

VW Has Some Arresting; Mars Inc. Has Gone to the Dogs; Alibaba Woos Trump

Arrested development…

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The FBI made its second arrest in the Volkswagen Emissions Scandal. Which is sort of reassuring considering that it seemed like the responsible parties were going to skate free. But there is no skating in the future for Volkswagen executive Oliver Schmidt, whose being charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. His job title, ironically, is “General Manager of the Engineering and Environmental Office for Volkswagen America.”  However, the environment was apparently the last thing on his mind when he allegedly involved himself in the plan to install secret software, known as “defeat devices,” into some 475,000 diesel cars in the United States. If you recall, this naughty software allowed VW automobiles to cheat exhaust emissions tests. The affected vehicles were emitting 40 times the legally allowable amount of pollution levels. VW has yet to comment on the arrests but did say that it was cooperating with the Department of Justice – which seems like a prudent move.  The automobile company is thisclose to settling some of those criminal and civil allegations that has cost it billions so far, not to mention a $15 billion settlement that involves repairing or buying back the compromised vehicles. As for the Detroit Auto show this week, VW executives will be noticeably absent, but presumably, not missed. The first person arrested in the scandal, Robert Liang, already pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government.

Out of this world…

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Mars Inc., maker of the beloved Snickers bar, just announced it’s buying animal hospital VCA Inc, adding 800 pet hospitals to its 900 animal clinics. But don’t go choking on your candy bar just yet if you think pet care and confections don’t mesh to your liking. You needn’t see the logic. Only the math. Last year, $13.7 billion worth of chocolate was sold which was barely more than the previous year. But pet food is projected to grow at an annual rate of 2.5% over the next five years. Mars Inc already had a big 18% chunk of the pet care industry as of 2015 and owns the brands Whiskas and Pedigree, besides the pet hospitals. People spent an estimated $63 billion on pet related goods and services this past  year – a number that has grown 60% over just a decade ago. So VCA fits right into Mars’s lucrative, yet diverse portfolio. Oh, and by the way, Nestle owns Purina. Mars picked up VCA for over $9 billion at approximately $93 per share – more than a 30% premium -and the new company will become Mars Petcare. How’s that Snickers tasting now?

“Big sticks” and stones…

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Everybody’s favorite Chinese e-commerce giant CEO, Jack Ma, had a very interesting meeting with President-elect Donald Trump today. The Chinese billionaire, would like very much to create a million jobs, right here in the United States, particularly in the Midwest. How very gallant of him, especially since there are all these icky growing tensions between China and the United States, courtesy of Donald Trump.  Ma is looking to grow trade so that small businesses and farmers in the U.S. can sell their goods and wares to Chinese consumers. A win-win for everyone, no? But of course there is that one big sticking point – Trump, or rather his plans to slap high tariffs on Chinese imports. An editorial in one of the China’s Communist Party’s newspapers read: “There are flowers around the gate of China’s Ministry of Commerce, but there are also big sticks hidden inside the door — they both await Americans.” I’m guessing China is stocking up on sticks here.

Tesla Banks a Profit. Finally; Twitter’s Getting Rid of Employees Despite a Beat; Latest IPO Fails to Wow Wall Street

Booyah!

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Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk is super-pleased with himself after his electric car company posted a quarterly profit for the second time since the company went public. The first time that happened was waaaaay back in 2013. And Musk is banking on the fact that he can pull it off again next quarter. The news was particularly welcome to Musk since he is eager to merge Tesla with his other company, SolarCity. Except investors aren’t as enthusiastic about the prospect or presumably the $2.6 billion cost of the merger. But come November 17 Musk is going to find out if shareholders will have a change of heart and are willing to embrace the move when a vote takes place. In any case, Tesla’s profit came in at a very lofty $21.9 million with a record $2.3 billion in revenue. That would be a 145% increase over last year’s same quarter revenue. Yes you read that right.  The company also scored 14 cents per share when analysts only expected 4 cents. Add that to the fact that last year the stock lost 58 cents per share and we’ve quite a nice comeback story. So what made this quarter different from all other quarters? Ramped up production of Tesla’s Models S sedans and Model X Crossovers. With Musk urging employees to move the vehicles with all their heart and soul, a 92% increase was seen on deliveries of 25,185 cars. But it wasn’t just the current crop of cars that contributed to Tesla’s winning quarter. Apparently, 373, 000 people already pre-ordered the $35,000 Model 3, which won’t even hit the streets until 2017.

Boohoo…

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Twitter announced its third quarter results and yet again, failed to impress anybody. One of the more significant highlights, or rather lowlights, is the company’s decision to lose about 9% of its workforce, or roughly three hundred employees, out of over 3,800 worldwide. That number could go higher but the ultimate goal is to help the company reorganize sales, partnerships and marketing efforts. And who doesn’t like to reorganize, right? The social media company did manage to pull down revenues of $616 million, beating estimates of $605.5 million. Some might consider that an impressive achievement. Except it’s not, since it marked Twitter’s ninth straight quarter of declining growth. And while the company also earned 13 cents per share, once again beating estimates of just 9 cents, growth of monthly active users stayed relatively flat, despite all kinds of exciting new changes.  In the meantime, both Disney and Salesforce.com have passed on potentially acquiring Twitter, as CEO Jack Dorsey said that he’s done talking about reports of possible acquisitions.

That’s NYSE…

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Chinese company ZTO Express made its big Wall Street debut today but failed to dazzle the Street. Unlike the Chinese IPO darling of 2014, Alibaba, ZTO dished out over 72 million shares for $19.50 a pop, only to open today for the first time on the New York Stock Exchange at $18.40. The stock later slid even lower to $17.70. But considering that the company’s original range fell between $16.50  – $18.50, its slide isn’t exactly tragic. Just disappointing. In any case, ZTO still managed to raise $1.4 billion and the company plans to use $720 million of that to purchase more trucks, land, facilities and equipment. In other words, big expansion plans are in the works. As a package delivery company, it handled close to 21 billion parcels just in 2015. It should come as no surprise, however, that ZTO’s main business deals with delivering shipments for Alibaba. In fact, Alibaba accounted for 75% of ZTO’s business in the first half of the year.  You might be wondering why Chinese companies like to list on stock exchanges in the United States. Well, for one, there are currently about 800 companies lined up in China who have filed applications to list on indexes on the country’s indexes.  It’s a considerably slower process and some feel it’s less reliable. Besides, given the volatility of the Chinese economy, raising money in U.S. dollars as opposed to a weaker Chinese currency only sweetens the pot for plenty of companies.

Macy’s Banks on Closures; Alibaba’s Boffo Quarter; Unvaliant Valeant

Winning…

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Shares of Macy’s soared today as investors gleefully cheered the retailer’s decision to close 15% of the company’s 728 stores. Presumably not as gleeful are the employees who work in those stores. While the locations of the closures have not been announced, many of those employees will be given a severance, provided they qualify, or be given the option to relocate. The stores to be shuttered have been costing an annual  $1 billion in annual sales. And in the face of online competition, that $1 billion could be put to better use like beefing up Macy’s e-commerce and finding bigger and better ways to further improve the better-performing stores. With Macy’s looking to invest in a “winning customer experience,” the company plans to bring in more brand shops and host a slew of in-store events that will hopefully drive traffic into the stores. Macy’s 2Q results saw sales fall about 4% to almost $6 billion in revenue with 54 cents added per share. To be fair, it did beat expectations of $5.8 billion in revenue with 45 cents added per share. But a strong dollar, off-price stores, bad-weather and less tourism didn’t help matters. Don’t knock the tourist angle; those visitors account for 5% of Macy’s annual sales.

More winning…

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China’s economy might be struggling but you’d never know it judging from Alibaba’s most recent earnings. The e-commerce giant posted its best revenue growth since its auspicious IPO back in 2014. Revenue grew a mind-blowing 59% from the same time last year to…wait for it…$4.8 billion. That impressive revenue figure was even more impressive if only because more money was made from mobile shopping than from PC’s. Talk about seismic shifts. Interestingly enough, the value of the goods it sells, aka gross merchandise value, only grew by about 24%. And like all good earnings reports, shares went up today on Wall Street. Profit for the e-commerce giant came in at $1.3 billion, a 71% increase over last year, with 74 cents added per share. Analysts only expected shares to increase by 63 cents. Monthly active users increased by 39% from the same time last year. It’s not just that the amount of monthly active users went up, but also that the average Alibaba user opens the app approximately seven times per day. Which probably explains why they account for 75% of the company’s sales.

There’s a fungus among us…

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There’s nothing like a criminal probe to completely throw your shares under the fiscal bus.  Today’s probe is brought to us by Valeant Pharmaceuticals, purveyor of everybody’s favorite toe-nail fungus treatment, Jublia. The burning question is whether Valeant had a very special relationship with a specialty pharmacy that helped inflate its drug prices. The specialty pharmacy at the heart of the probe is, or rather was, Pennsylvania-based Philidor Rx Services. Investigators suspect the mail-order pharmacy and Valeant were a little too close for comfort as far as insurance and wire fraud is concerned. It seems that Philidor wasn’t being entirely truthful to insurers about its relationship with Valeant so that it could sell lots of Valeant drugs at prices that seemed rather high. Distributors, in this case Philidor, are supposed to be completely neutral, yet Philidor seemed anything but, with almost all of its products that it sold coming from Valeant.  These days, however, Valeant (conveniently) says it didn’t condone Philidor’s practices. Valeant naturally neglected to mention the very large role it played in those practices. Incidentally, sales of Valeant dermatological products plunged since Philidor went the way of the dinosaur and now Valeant is staring in the face of $30 billion of long-term debt and a market value that plunged by 90% in the last twelve months. As criminal charges loom large, brass at Valeant have booted CEO Michael Pearson and overhauled the board of directors in a  seemingly desperate bid to restore investor confidence. Good luck with that one.

Lookout China! Here Comes Walmart. Again; To Brexit? Or Not to Brexit? That is the Question; Volkswagen’s Emission Impossible

Ni-hao, Walmart…

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Because Walmart isn’t big enough, the retailer has now teamed up with China’s number two e-commerce site to take on…China. Alibaba, in case you hand’t heard, holds the illustrious top spot. In any case, Walmart will be selling its commerce marketplace in China to JD.com and in return Walmart will gain about 5% of JD.com’s total shares, which comes out to about 145 million shares, give or take. Those shares are said be valued at about $3 billion, depending on whom you ask. By the way, in terms of revenue growth, JD.com has outpaced Alibaba for almost the last two years. Walmart currently has a marketplace platform in place in China called Yihaodian, but JD.com will be taking it over in hopes of finally achieving some solid retail love in China, which has eluded the mega-tailer, thus far. Walmart’s thinking positive thoughts that this deal will help increase its market-share in one of the biggest economies in the world. Walmart opened its first store in China back in 1996, yet it is a bit bummed because it only has about 430 stores there as expansion in China has been underwhelming.

Hail or not to the Brexit?

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June 23rd’s Brexit vote is just around the corner so it would be prudent to discuss why the U.S. should care about British politics, even if its politicians aren’t nearly as entertaining as ours. So, in case you hadn’t heard, at issue is whether Britain should exit from the EU. Hence, the term “Brexit.” Catchy, huh? Brexit advocates cherish their sovereignty and find that as a member of the EU, they don’t find themselves enjoying their sovereignty quite the way they’d like. While that is awfully patriotic, there are major MAJOR economic drawbacks to a Brexit. British Prime Minister David Cameron is worried that a Brexit will hurt wages and usher in an era of uncertain economic stability. Economists and other assorted experts on the matter are worried that the pound, Britain’s currency, will plunge in value, should Britain make a run for it. A plunge in value of a currency is never a good thing, especially for the country whose currency is sent plunging. Of course, tourists and others buying Bristish goods and services might not mind that so much since everything for sale there would become a relative bargain. It’s also important to consider the potential epic losses for Americans whose economic interests are heavily dependent on exports to the U.K. But there are also plenty of other Americans who might become inclined to ditch their investments and other economic opportunities in Britain as well. An exit from the EU would require all sorts of new trade agreements – for everyone  – and those things just take forever to draw up. Britain’s interests would almost certainly take a back seat to the bigger and more profitable interests of the loftier EU. As of now, there are no tariffs between the 27 members of the EU. A Brexit would change that for Britain and make tariffs a way of life, together with high tea and Harrod’s. So I guess it’s a good sign – just not for Brexit advocates – that polls show a Brexit isn’t likely.  The British sterling rose and one of its indexes, the FTSE  (rhymes with tootsie) also picked up some steam as a result of the anti-Brexit poll numbers.

Smelling a rat…

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Ex-Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn is under investigation, which probably shocks no one. He is under investigation because German prosecutors suspect that Winterkorn violated securities laws since he waited too long to disclose to investors the potential cost of the ugly emissions scandal that continues to plague the auto maker. If you recall, the EPA is more than a bit peeved that Volkswagen manipulated results of emissions tests on its vehicles, with more than 11 million diesel vehicles poisoning the air we breathe. Winterkorn apparently knew about the emissions problems for over a year before he made any comments on it. He should have said something well before September 22, 2015. But he didn’t. And herein lies the problem. Even if he did resign days later. Of course, blame games in major companies have become somewhat of a sport, or in this case, a veritable comedy. Executives at the company are pointing fingers at a handful of mid-level employees – I kid you not – and assume that the public is going to believe them when they say that top management were completely oblivious to emissions manipulations taking place right under their executive-polished noses. Incidentally, there is another executive who is also under investigation but his/her identity has yet to be revealed. What has been revealed is that it is not ex-Volkwagen CFO Hans Dieter Poetsch. Lucky him.  According to the investigation, 17 people are said to be involved. But in the meantime, hundreds of lawsuits continue to mount against Volkswagen, and the car company has plans to pony up a $10 billion settlement in the U.S. come June 28.

Jeff Bezos Hearts India; Lululemon’s Zen-tastic Earnings; Is Your CEO Listed? You Better Hope So

Next. Big. Thing…

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India is looking very flush these days as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos decided to throw $3 billion at it. That’s in addition to the $2 billion he gave the southeast Asian country back in 2014. He made this announcement at a meeting of business leaders in Washington DC that included Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The reason why Bezos is showing India a lot of fiscal love is that it is Amazon’s fastest growing region, boasting 21 fulfillment centers and 45,000 employees. In other words, the e-commerce giant is banking on the “huge potential in the Indian economy.” Interestingly enough, Amazon can only sell its wares from its website through a third party, as mandated by Indian law. But that hasn’t been much of a problem for the e-tailer, who ironically, never seemed to adapt as easily to the local Chinese marketplace, and continues to struggle there and against the giant we call Alibaba. It’s worth noting that Amazon is not the only game in town, facing fierce competition from local e-commerce businesses, Flipkart and Snapdeal. But Amazon’s not sweating it since according to Morgan Stanley, it is estimated that consumers in India bought $16 billion worth of goods last year, more than $10.3 billion from the previous year. So clearly, there’s plenty of room on the Indian e-commerce playing field.

Lemonade mouth…

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Lululemon beat estimates and even raised its 2016 revenue forecast. So why is its founder and largest shareholder, Chip Wilson, in a snit? He’s probably still licking his executive wounds after being booted from his post for making stupid comments, among other short-comings. In a letter to shareholders last week, the 14.2% stakeholder ripped into the current directors because he feels that they can’t keep up the pace against other athletic apparel companies like Nike and Under Armour, to name a few. Wilson would like it very much if there was an annual election that would make the board of directors accountable for earnings results and, presumably, get him reinstated as CEO. As it stands, the current leadership, helmed by Laurent Potdevin, would probably be delighted to be held accountable for Lululemon’s latest earnings considering how well it performed. Sure, the retailer missed profits by just a penny, falling 5% to $45.3 million, yet still earning 30 cents a share. But shares are still up 27% for the year and the company had strong sales this quarter. It also found a way to control its inventory levels and, in the process, saw its revenue rise 17% to $495.5 million when analysts only thought it would pull down $487.7. So perhaps it’s time for Wilson to keep his thoughts to himself and just enjoy his burgeoning majority stake.

In case you were wondering…

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Glassdoor came out with its latest annual list, this time regaling us with the highest rated CEO’s. Bain & Company’s Bob Becheck tops the list with a 99% approval rating. Employees seemed to appreciate the support they receive from their boss, not to mention the company’s focus on professional development. And who doesn’t mind professional encouragement? But while Becheck scored the number one spot, two other CEO’s also received 99% approval ratings. So congrats to Ultimate Software’s Scott Scherr and McKinsey and Company’s Dominic Barton. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg kept his number 4 ranking from last year, while LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner took fifth. Larry Page’s replacement at Google, Sundar Pichai, earned a 96% approval rating and the number seven spot, while Apple’s Tim Cook came in 8th, also with a 96% approval rating. Four women paved the way on this list, including Staffmark’s Lesa J. Francis, who took the 28th spot with a 94% approve rating, and Enterprise Holdings’ Pamela M. Nicholson, who graces the list at the number 31 spot, also with a 94% approval rating.

George Soros, Golden Boy; Home Run for Home Depot; Pandora’s Streaming Away From Profits

Just because George Soros is doing it…

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George Soros just put a whole lotta money in gold. Lucky for him. However, the non-George Soroses of the world are supposed to take note, because, after all, he is, “The Man Who Broke the Bank of England.” And also because, since his net worth according to Forbes is $25 billion, he knows a things or two. Or a billion. In any case, according to a very recent regulatory filing that folks like him have to file (it’s called a 13F, and you are welcome that I am sparing you the boring details), Mr. Soros has sold off about 37% of his stock holdings. He then whipped out $387 million to buy lots of gold, including picking up a hefty 19 million shares in Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold producer. It seems Mr. Soros is a more than a bit freaked out by the state of the global economy, and especially the slowdown in China. He feels the fiscal climate is reminiscent to him of 2007 – 2008 period just before the fiscal crash we are all still trying to forget. Not everyone agrees with Soros and his decision for his Soros Fund Management, but hey, he is the one who, back in 1992, bet against the British pound and made $1 billion off that bet – in a single day. I bet he’s real popular there. Anyway, it’s no secret that gold has always been a strong performer on Wall Street, as well as other places, mind you. The precious metal is up 21% for the year. But, just so ya’ know,  Soros still has plenty of other cash in plenty of other places. Like eBay and Apple. And Yahoo. And Gap…well, you see where I’m going with this. In fact, he’s got $80 million invested NOT in gold. In case you’re wondering what stocks he did ditch, some of those include Alibaba Group and Pfizer. Also, TripAdvisor and Expedia are out of his portfolio. Though, he did keep airline United Continental Holdings. Go figure.

Home improvement…

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As the warm weather brutalized plenty of retail outfits lately, (sorry, Macy’s, Nordstrom), Mother Nature knocked it out of the park for Home Depot. In turn, Home Depot warmed our hearts by boosting its sales and profit forecasts after regaling us with the news of its better-than-expected earnings, courtesy of Mother Nature. And as we all know, Wall Street loves nothing better than better-than-expected earnings. Except when investors feel that shares have hit their potential, for the moment anyway, which explains why shares of the home improvement chain were a wee bit down today. But no worries. A good housing market and fabulous weather added some $250 million in sales for Home Depot in the quarter, with February being the sweetest month, fiscally speaking. For the year, Home Depot is up about 20%, posting a profit of $1.8 billion a $1.44 per share. That was a 14% boost over last year, not to mention that it trumped analysts predictions of $1.36 per share. The company also saw $22.76 billion in sales, again stomping on predictions of $22.39 billion. The earnings also showed that consumers are actually spending their hard-earned cash, as opposed to hoarding it under mattresses (okay, banks too), unlike what was previously thought because of the generally poor performance in the retail sector. Spending money is good for the economy and now economists aren’t so worried anymore because they realize where all that hard-earned cash went. For the full year the retailer thinks it’ll pull down $6.27 per share for the year. And Spring has hardly sprung!

Closing the box…

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Pandora Media has had better years. Even better decades. Founded in 2000, the company had its IPO in 2011 and has about 80 million active users. While it was amongst the first crop of music streamers, the company’s stock is now down about 40% for the last twelve months, having never caught the same momentum as some of its competitors, including Apple and Spotify. Enter activist investor/Carl Icahn protégé Keith Meister, who feels that the time has come for Pandora to put itself on the market. Keith Meister’s Corvex Management has some very strong feelings about how much better – and profitable – Pandora can be and seeing as how he’s got 22.7 million shares, giving him an almost 10% stake in the company, he’s entitled to more than just his opinion on the matter. As the largest shareholder in the company, Meister wrote in a recent letter how he has “become increasingly concerned that the company may be pursuing a costly and uncertain business plan, without a thorough evaluation of all shareholder value-maximizing alternatives.” Basically, he’s wondering if the folks in charge, namely CEO and co-founder Tim Westergren, knows what they’re doing. Wall Street certainly seemed to be agreeing with Meister, as it sent the stock up today as much as 7% at one point.

No Slowing Down Alibaba; Feeling Taxed: Google’s Italian Problem; Ads Abuzz for Super Bowl

What economic slowdown?

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China’s economy might be on the skids but apparently Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. didn’t get the memo. The company released its earnings and reported that its sales rose 32% to $5.3 billion, easily beating analysts estimates of $5.13 billion. Alibaba even scored a profit of $1.93 billion, picking up 99 cents per share and beating predictions of 89 cents per share. The reason for these positively fabulous numbers have a lot do with insane revenues posted from November’s Singles’ Day. Singles’ Day saw 115 million buyers scooping up $14 billion in purchases. Alibaba CEO Jack Ma is also on a fiscal quest to bring China’s rural countryside onto the mobile shopping bandwagon and it’s been paying off royally.  Of course, shares of the stock rose in pre-market trading, just as they should. Alibaba needed the boost as its shares have declined 14% so far this year after falling back in 2015.  But then shares fell this morning by 2% (as did Yahoo since it owns a sizable chunk of it). Go figure. Ma’s grand plans for the company extend far beyond China and he would really love it if at least half of Alibaba’s revenue started flowing in from outside of China. Good thing he’s already got plans in motion to make that happen.

Google that…

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Authorities in Italy have set their investigative sights on Google charging that the tech giant evaded an estimated 327 million euros in taxes between 2009 and 2013. Of course, a Google spokesperson graciously noted that Google always pays its taxes wherever it operates and even explained how it paid 2.2 million euros in taxes on 54.4 million revenues back in 2014. Problem is Italian authorities aren’t buying it and estimate that Google’s revenues were ten times higher than what it reported. Italian authorities say Google basically redirected revenue to its regional offices in Ireland where the corporate tax rate is much more hospitable to big companies. Last week Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. forked over $186 million to U.K. authorities for a different tax settlement. While that might seem a considerable sum, there was a huge outcry, particularly by those in Britain’s Labour Party, because they felt that the amount was way too small considering how much profit the company made. Incidentally, back in December, Apple had to settle with Italian tax authorities and ended up paying back 318 million euros.

Getting buzzed…

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With the Super Bowl just around the corner, some of the ads are already making for bigger stories than the game itself. Take for instance Death Wish Coffee. Never heard of it? You’re not the only one. The small business won a contest held by tech company, Intuit, and you’ll be able to catch the 30 second ad during the third quarter of Super Bowl 50. Death Wish Coffee began in 2012 by Mike Brown, who like so very many of us, was on the prowl for a very potent, caffeinated brew. As of now, Death Wish sells about 1,000 packages a day. But after the Super Bowl that number will likely skyrocket considering the 100 million-plus people expected to tune in to the big game. Death Wish Coffee will set you back about $20 a pound. But hey, that’s a small price to pay for the ultimate coffee fix, I suppose. And maybe by next year, Death Wish Coffee will actually able to afford the $5 million price tag for that coveted slot instead having to enter a contest to try and win it.