Sears and Whirlpool: The Breakup; Mall Rats: Target vs. Amazon; 3M Earnings: It’s More Than Just Post-its

It’s not you. It’s me…

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Breaking up is hard to do. Especially if the numbers don’t add up. Which is precisely why Sears is dumping Whirlpool along with all of its other brands including Maytag, KitchenAid and JennAir. According to Sears, “Whirlpool has sought to use its dominant position in the marketplace to make demands that would have prohibited us from offering Whirlpool products to our members at a reasonable price.” Which I guess is Sears’s way of telling everyone that Whirlpool really just needed to get over itself because it felt people weren’t going to pay a lot of money for appliances that don’t say Wolf on them. If you know what I mean. And I think you do.  And just like that, a one-hundred-year-old relationship was brought to its knobby knees.  In case you were wondering if this breakup had anything to do with Sears’s own fiscal woes, you’d be mistaken.  After all, you can still walk into your local Sears and pick up a very fancy schmancy Bosch or LG appliance. And while Sears stock took a 3% hit today on the news, Whirlpool’s stock fared worse with investors sending the stock down over 10%.As for Whirlpool, while the company did report disappointing earnings, it can’t really point the finger at Sears, since the beleaguered retailer was only responsible for 3% of Whirlpool’s global sales.

Down with Amazon…

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Could it be that the unstoppable, unflappable Amazon is actually getting stopped and flapped? Apparently, that’s the case as it goes up against Target and other major big-box retailers, not in the online arena, but in the real estate realm. Of course Amazon’s A-game is in its e-commerce, but it’s the big box retailers that have the advantage when it comes to brick-and-mortars. Just ask Whole Foods, who can tell you a thing or two about trying to find a place to call home. You see, it all boils down to leases. Think of a co-op board, except the president of the board in this case tends to be big companies like Target, Best Buy and Bed Bath & Beyond, among others. Those guys get a lot of say in who moves into their malls. And because Target and friends are paying the biggest amount of money in leases, they get to make all sorts of demands, like who is and isn’t allowed to move into a particular mall and under what conditions they can move in. Now that Whole Foods calls Amazon its boss, it’s finding it challenging to get into new locations if there are already other big retailers installed that find themselves competing with Amazon. See how the tables have turned?

Post this!

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If you used a Post-It note today then you helped contribute to 3M’s third-quarter boffo earnings. All those office supplies and little pieces of paper may not look like much but they raked in $8.2 billion in sales with a profit of $1.43 billion that added $2.33 per share. That profit, by the way, was an 8% increase over last year’s profit at this time. But in all fairness, the company’s not just about it post-it notes and tape. The company also makes industrial coatings and ceramics and those items bring in big money. The stock itself is up over 30% in the last year and today’s news sent shares up the most in eight years. Crazy, I know. It also helps that two-thirds of 3M’s sales come from overseas. So even when there’s a strong dollar working against U.S.-based business, a company that earns a majority of its money outside the country is able to hold its own very well and can offset losses. The icing on the cake, for 3M anyway, is that the company beat Wall Street’s expectations. And who isn’t a sucker for a good Wall Street beat?

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Hasbro’s Singing the Toys “R” Us Blues; It’s Good to Be Amazon; Target Goes on Holiday Offense With New Shopping Strategies

Don’t toy with me…

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Hasbro’s getting burned and it’s blaming Toys “R” Us. The toy company gave some abysmal holiday forecasts which sent shares down about 8%. Toys “R” Us owes creditors some $5 billion.  Among them is Hasbro which was left with a $60 million hole now that all those toys from the company aren’t headed to the toy store’s shelves.  It’s worth noting, however, that Hasbro only sold about 9% of its total inventory through Toys “R” Us.  But it isn’t just Hasbro that’s feeling the heat. Shares of Mattel also took a 4% hit today since a Toys “R” Us bankruptcy affects the entire toy industry, in some instances worse than others.  Incidentally, Hasbro’s third quarter profit went up 3% to $267 million and $2.09 per share, while its quaterly revenue increased 7% to $1.79 billion over the same time last year. Expectations were for $1.78 billion in revenue with just $1.94 per share. Hasbro has “The Last Jedi” to thank for some of this quarter’s gains, along with perennial favorites Monoply and My Little Pony.

Carrot dangling…

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Dignity be damned as 238 cities found themselves swooning and doing whatever they could to lure Amazon’s $5 billion HQ2 project to their part of the country. NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio had major New York City landmarks lit up in “Amazon orange” while Newark, New Jersey shrewdly offered the e-commerce giant $7 billion in tax breaks. Because after all, who more so than Amazon should be entitled to receive a $7 billion tax break? But hey, who can blame any of these cities or their savvy leaders for trying to woo Amazon to their neck of the woods. Just ask Seattle, a city that experienced a $38 billion boost to its economy because each dollar that Amazon invested into the city between 2010 to 2016 resulted in an additional $1.40 for the city. Not sure who figured out that formula but its easy to see why everyone wants in on that action. And while Newark’s offer must be awfully enticing, word on the street is that the current front runners are Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and Detroit.

Target acquired…

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Target’s got some new tricks up its sleeve this holiday season and is going with the “less is more approach.” What there will be less of are promotions. At least the constant bombardment of them. Apparently that tactic didn’t work so well for the retailer last year and only resulted in a 1.3% decline for the company.  But there’s no need to freak out that Target wont be offering any special deals. It’s just going for a more streamlined approach. Instead of constant deals and promotions, it plans to offer special weekend deals while remaining focused on pricing its merchandise correctly and competitively from the start. The company’s 1,800 stores will also offer a much bigger variety of gifts priced under $15. Expect to see around 1,700 offerings in that category. Perennial favorite, “free shipping  with no minimum” will once again resurface from November 1 – December 23 because, hey,  who doesn’t like free shipping. But perhaps Target’s most exciting new feature is the one dubbed “Gift Now.” Shoppers buy gifts and their (un)lucky recipients open them virtually via email. If  the recipient likes the gift, they enter their shipping address in order to receive the item. If not, they get to pick out something else for the same value. If that’s not novel, I don’t know what is.

Alphabet Takes on Some Heavy Lyfting; Crash and Burn: Black Monday Crash-iversary Turns 30; Blue Apron Puts Employees on the Chopping Block

 

Car-ma?

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Uber? What’s Uber? I can tell you what Uber isn’t. It isn’t $1 billion more valuable. But you know who is? Its rival Lyft, which just received a very hefty sum of money from Google’s parent company, Alphabet, following a very recent financing round that brings its total valuation to $11 billion. CapitalG, an Alphabet growth investment fund, will now get a seat on the board and an even cushier relationship with the ride-sharing company.  Incidentally, Alphabet is also connected to Uber. However, that relationship went south when Uber went ahead and started developing autonomous cars that compete directly with Alphabet’s Waymo autonomous-driving technology. Naturally, that didn’t sit well with Alphabet. If you recall, and it’s totes okay if you don’t, Alphabet then sued Uber, alleging the beleaguered ride-sharing company committed trade secret theft. Some analysts believe that this little infusion from Alphabet is the company’s way of hitting back at Uber. Seems legit.  In any case, it appears an IPO may be on the horizon for Lyft and if Alphabet’s throwing money at it, it might turn out to be a stock worth watching.

Unhappy anniversary…

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Today’s date marks an anniversary many would like to forget: The stock market crash of 1987, aka, Black Monday. It was exactly 30 years ago today that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) crashed 508 points to a smidge past 1700. The index tanked by 22% and the shockwaves rippled all over the world. It was an even bigger one day drop than the stock market crash of 1929.  But miraculously, the market recovered. Well, maybe not for everyone.  In any case, this week (of all weeks), that very same index just hit a new record, breaking the 23,000 mark. To put it in perspective, if the DJIA crashed by 22% today, it would need to lose almost 6,000 points – heaven forbid! Poo poo poo.  Some market experts warn that we could experience another disastrous drop. However, following the nightmare of Black Monday, certain safeguards, dubbed “circuit breakers,” were put into place that basically – and very conveniently – shut down the market after major drops. This prevents trading and sell-offs that could cause further damage. And basically, now if the S&P 500 falls either 7%, 13% or 20%, depending on certain factors, market trading is halted automatically. You are now free to breathe a sigh of relief.

Stick a fork in me…

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Nothing spells trouble like having to cut your workforce just four months after going public. Which brings us to Blue Apron, purveyor of fine meal-kits, which just found itself having to do just that. The fact is, there’s a lot of competition sprouting everywhere, from Amazon and its Whole Foods acquisition to Albertsons picking up the company Plated in order to sell their kits at the grocery chain’s 2000+ locations. For Blue Apron, it meant having to slash 6% of its workforce which amounts to about 300 employees. The stock is trading today at around $5.20 a share, down almost 50% from its IPO price back in June.

Schadenfraud Anyone? Forbes Unveils its Latest Top 400; Can’t Stop Netflix; Venmo’s the New Way to Go. At Least According to Paypal

That’s a whole lotta money…

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Forbes has unveiled its latest list. This time it’s the top 400 richest Americans for 2017 and there are very few surprises in store. Bill Gates and his $89 billion net worth takes the top spot, followed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and everyone’s favorite Omaha Oracle, Warren Buffett.  Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg sits pretty in fourth place. The first time we finally see a woman on the list is at spot number 13 and it’s occupied by Alice Walton of the illustrious Walmart clan. There are 22 newbies on the list and some of them are even self-made billionaires, including Netflix CEO Reed Hastings who comes in at number 359. He had a good year and his company had a great quarter. But we’ll get to that one in a bit. Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick comes in at number 115, despite being out of his CEO job, while beloved Star Wars creator George Lucas gets spot 118. As for President Trump, he did make the list, coming in at a less than impressive (for him) ranking of 248.  He shares the spot with 15 other people including Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel. Their fortunes are valued at $3.1 billion, a figure the President will probably dispute. It’s a steep drop for the President, whose 2016 ranking had him at the 156th spot. But I guess that’s what happens when your portfolio loses $600 million. I wonder who he’s going to blame for that one?

Wall Street ❤️ Netflix…

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The best way to bring Wall Street to its finicky knees is to crush its expectations. And Netflix did just that. First, the video streaming company laughed in the face of analysts’ projections for subscriber growth. For Netflix that was a 5.3 million increase, far from the modest forecast of 4.5 million new subscribers. A large percentage of those new subscribers came from outside the U.S. Netflix now boasts 109 million subscribers and I’m guessing you must be one of them, right? As for the next quarter, the company expects to add 6.3 million subscribers. Revenue for the company was $2.99 billion, again beating projections of $2.97 billion.  However, at first glance, Netflix’s profit was not so impressive. But that’s only because the company is throwing down serious cash for producing its own shows. And if you’ve ever seen “Orange is the New Black” or “House of Cards” then you’d probably agree that it’s money well spent.  So what does this all mean for you, the Netflix connoisseur/viewer, who obsessively waits for new seasons of your beloved shows to be unleashed? Well, you can probably expect an increase in your subscription plans but hey, that’s the price you gotta pay if you want to keep watching new seasons of “Stranger Things,” right?

Going half-sies…

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If you haven’t signed up for Venmo yet, now might be a good time to start. The company just announced that users can now use the app to make mobile online purchases from over 2 million retailers including Forever 21 and Foot Locker.  But what’s so darn cute about Venmo is a feature that gives you the option to split a purchase with a friend. Or even an acquaintance, I suppose. Which is so great when you go out for lunch and can’t be bothered to do the math at the table or when you just want to pay the rent down the middle. And, you can even share status updates about the purchase. How nifty. Especially if you’re a millennial. Did I mention that Paypal is Venmo’s parent company? Well, it is. And pretty much anywhere you’re able to use PayPal, you can now use Venmo there as well. Just think of all the Lululemon merchandise you can purchase with all your besties.

 

 

 

​Big City Woos: It’s All About Amazon’s HQ2; Weinstein’s Ship Might Be Sinking But You Won’t Believe Who Might Come to its Rescue; Nords​trom’s Holding Out for a Santa Save

Pick me! Pick me!

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As a Thursday deadline looms, a heated race is on for cities across the United States (okay, and Canada too) as they toss away all their dignity in desperate attempts to woo Amazon and its latest project. The e-commerce giant announced about a month ago that it wants to set up a second headquarters, dubbed HQ2 and now there’s a mad dash from Atlanta to Grand Rapids and beyond to claim that glory, not to mention the $5 billion investment that comes with it. The fact that a project of this magnitude would also create around 50,000 jobs is the icing on this proverbial fiscal cake. Of course, Amazon’s got its own formula for picking the winning city and it’s got very little to do with Tucson delivering a 70 ft. saguaro cactus to Amazon’s Seattle door or Birmingham erecting giant replicas of Amazon boxes and strategically placing them around the city. For Amazon, it will probably boil down to which city will offer up the best tax incentives and breaks from local and state governments. In fact, the company has earned quite the reputation for being able to secure those tax breaks, whether through the promise of job creation or other financial packages that would have any major city’s mouth watering. Besides financial incentives for Amazon, any city that legitimately stands a snowball’s chance is also going to have to be in close proximity to a major airport,  possess the infrastructure to support the project, have easy access to mass transit and a population that boasts at least a million people to readily fill tens of thousands of jobs. That right there puts the kibosh on a bunch of contenders. But you know which cities analysts are expecting to see on the short list? Atlanta, Denver and Pittsburgh. As for Tucson and its aforementioned cactus, well you can visit the rejected botanical specimen at the Desert Museum.

It’s all a matter of perspective…or is it?

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The Weinstein Co. may be getting a much-needed cash-infusion to stay afloat in the wake of co-founder Harvey Weinstein’s ever-growing sexual harassment scandal. The cash-infusion could come from a private equity firm called Colony Capital, headed by an individual named Tom Barrack. If the name Tom Barrack rings a bell that’s because he served as chairman of President Trump’s Private Inaugural Committee and his name is being been bandied about as a pick for the White House Chief of Staff.  That’s right! Harvey Weinstein, an ardent Hillary Clinton supporter and staunch Democratic donor is probably getting a bailout from a Trump ally. But for Barrack, it’s all in a days work since he has a habit of picking up distressed companies in the entertainment realm, making all sorts of deals for the assets still in its clutches and making a mean mint in the process. Perhaps you can take comfort in the fact that there’s a good chance that this bailout will actually mean the Weinstein name disappears from the company, along with some of its honchos, because apparently, they knew about Harvey Weinstein’s sickening behavior for a long time. A sale could also mean that the Weinstein company, sans the name which is now synonymous with lechery, harassment, and abuse, could be restored to its former glory as a powerhouse of independent film and television production.

Let it snow let it snow let it snow…

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We may still have Halloween ahead of us but Nordstrom is already gearing up for Christmas. The retailer, which has seen its share of loss in the last few quarters – along with every other retailer in the U.S. – previously had plans for the founding namesake family to take the company private. There’s talk that the family, who controls a third of the shares, was trying to team up with private equity firm Leonard Green Partners to achieve this goal. However, now those plans are on hold to until after the holiday shopping season because rumor has it, the Nordstroms have been experiencing some issues borrowing cash at a respectable rate, whatever that means. Interestingly enough, while the company isn’t faring as well in terms of same-store sales, its e-commerce is alive, well and thriving quite nicely.  Still, Wall Street didn’t much care for the news and sent shares plummeting over 6%  Those shares, by the way, are over 30% lower than its 52-week high of $62.82.

Amazon Shatters Sales Records. Again.; Apple Plays Nice With China’s New Laws; U.S. Gov’t Says Nyet to Cybersecurity Company

Primed for purchase…

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If you haven’t heard by now, yesterday was Prime Day, which is basically Amazon’s answer to Black Friday deals in the middle of summer. Laugh and poke fun all you want. But if you do, the joke’s on you. Because according to preliminary figures from Amazon, not only were sales up 60% over last year’s Prime Day, but “Prime” sales for July 11 even blew past 2016’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In fact, Amazon called it it’s “biggest day ever.” To be fair, this year’s Prime Day was 30 hours long, compared with last year’s 24 hours. But it wasn’t just about the deals that has Amazon all giddy today. Prime Day also brought in a significant amount of brand-spanking new Prime members.  Because as everyone on Amazon already knows, if you want those super deals, you need to be a Prime member, and yesterday saw more Prime membership sign-ups than any other time in Amazon’s history. As for the most popular Prime purchase, that would be the Echo Dot for the ultra-bargain price of $34.99, which usually sells for around $50. The most popular non-Amazon item sold in the U.S. on Prime Day was an Instant Pot Pressure Cooker. I could not make that up if I tried.

Apple of China’s eye….

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Leave it to Apple to not let some vague, burdensome, newly enacted cyber-security legislation get in the way of setting up a data center in China. China’s new cyber-security laws require that any data collected on its citizens needs to be stored on servers in China. If companies want to transfer any of that information, they need to go through regulatory review and approval…in China. For Apple, complying with Chinese law means an opportunity to improve the speed and reliability of the company’s products and offerings. While other foreign firms are still busy complaining about these new regulations, calling them a burden and a threat to proprietary data, Apple gets to become the very first of those foreign companies to make the necessary changes and set up shop. The province of Guizhou will play host to the tech giant, and Apple is making down a $1 billion investment to hunker down in that region of China. However, in order for any company to do legit business in China, it needs to team up with a local entity.  So Apple will be partnering up with the Guizhou-Cloud Big Data Industry firm, where all kinds of personal information, belonging to people who own Apple devices, will be stored.

Nyet so fast…

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It seems like just yesterday when you would walk into your local big box electronics retailer and have salespeople urging you to get Kaspersky Labs security for your computer. The company already has some 400 million users worldwide and generated $374 million in sales in 2016 just from the U.S. and Western Europe. But it looks like those days are about to go buh-bye now that the U.S. government is moving to block federal agencies from buying the cyber-security software from the Russian-based company. It seems that Kaspersky may have enjoyed a much much cozier relationship with Russia’s intelligence agencies than it was letting on, and apparently even helped develop security technology for Russia’s spy agency, FSB. However, Kaspersky Labs is calling foul and said it is being unjustly accused. The company also voiced its complaint that there’s an inherent assumption that because it’s a Russian company, that it must be tied to the Russian government. Besides calling the claims “unfounded conspiracy theories” and “total BS,”  CEO Eugene Kaspersky also said “…as a global company, does anyone seriously think we could survive this long if we were a pawn of ANY government?”  But it seems that the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agent seriously do think that and said as much at an open Senate hearing.