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.

 

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Amazon’s Kindness Almost Knows No Bounds; Uber Cleans House; Crew-Cut: CEO Drexel Waves a Preppy Goodbye

Yep, they went there…

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It’s the American Dream. Well, for Amazon anyway. Rather than worry about disenfranchising an entire portion of the population that can’t comfortably afford Amazon’s Prime subscription service, the e-commerce giant is now offering this highly esteemed membership privilege for a 50% discount to those on government assistance. All it takes is a valid Electronic Benefits Transfer card. Because why should the fact that someone is receiving government assistance stand in the way of their Amazon shopping experience, right? It is incredibly thoughtful of Amazon to think of those less fortunate by reducing the cost of subscription for them. However, if it were not to Amazon’s fiscal advantage, then this latest initiative might not have been unveiled. That fiscal advantage comes in the form of a competitive edge over Walmart, whose low prices have attracted the very countless customers that Amazon is trying to woo with this new incentive. After all, studies have shown that once customers sign up for Prime status, they tend to beef up their orders. So, we’re talking a win-win for Amazon. And a lose for Walmart.

Job openings…

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Looks like karma may finally be catching up with some folks over at Uber, as the ride-sharing company just fired 20 employees over sexual harassment claims. Apparently 215 claims were leveled against these 20 individuals, which sort of begs the question: Was there anybody left at Uber who didn’t get sexually harassed? The investigation was conducted by law firm Perkins Coie and disturbingly enough, it found that no action was even taken in 100 of those claims. Oh, and there are still even more claims being investigated.  In addition to the 20 terminated fiends, seven other employees received written warnings, while 31 more employees need to get “special training” to teach them how not to harass people and behave like stupid, thoughtless destructive pieces of trash. CEO Travis Kalanick launched the investigation back in February after a former Uber employee named Susan Fowler wrote in a blog post about her personal experiences of sexual harassment and gender bias at the company. However, when asked about the issue back in May, Uber’s head of HR, Liane Hornsey, said it wasn’t an issue that had come up. Especially if you had your head firmly entrenched in the sand, of course.

And that’s a wrap…

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After 14 years, J. Crew’s Mickey Drexler is calling it quits and handing over the reins to West Elm CEO James Brett. While Drexler may be out as CEO, he’ll still stay on as Chairman. And why not? After all, he owns 10% of the preppy apparel company. Drexel decided to step down from his role after declining sales – 6% in just the last year – led to a whole bunch of other problems including restructuring, layoffs and the departure of its pseudo-celebrity, high-profile creative director, Jenna Lyons. Not that any of that was entirely Drexel’s fault. Only a bit of it, some might argue. Because apparently the problems and challenges he faced were industry wide for apparel companies in general, as so many of them continue to struggle to get a leg up on fast-fashion, affordable competitors like Zara and H&M.

 

Alphabet Soup: Google Parent Hits a Milestone; Premium Quality: Tesla Could Get Even Pricier; SEC Gets SCOTUS-Smacked

Whoa…

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Google’s parent company, Alphabet, broke the $1000 per share ceiling and yes, that is a vey impressive feat. Even for Google. What’s more impressive, is that this milestone happened on the very same day that shares of Apple, the world’s most expensive company, was downgraded. Not that Google would be experiencing any schadenfreude, or anything of the sort. In any case, Alphabet can pat itself on the back for becoming the third S&P 500 company to break the $1000 barrier, following in the illustrious footsteps of Amazon – who achieved that milestone just last week – and Priceline. Yes, Priceline. Remember them? To be fair, Google had, once upon a time, hit $1,200 a share but then the stock split. And then it became Alphabet, and the rest is S&P history.  Of course Berkshire Hathaway also trades above $1000. Way above $1000. In fact, if you’re inclined to spending $250,156.00, you could pick up a single solitary share of Warren Buffett’s company. But then again, what’re you gonna do with just one share?

Cry me a river…

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A new Tesla was sounding really good, at least up until the weekend when Automotive News reported that AAA is gearing up to raise its insurance rates on the super-shmancy electric automobiles. But that’s just AAA insurance. The verdict is still out on whether other insurers will follow suit. It’s all because of some very unflattering data detailing Tesla’s higher-than-usual and more expensive claims for both the Models S and Model X. In fact, those pricey claims could mean a 30% premium increase on Teslas, which makes you wonder if the fuel savings is even worth it. Tesla seems to be offended by the new data, calling it “severely flawed” and “not reflective of reality.” Apparently, the data had the audacity to compare a Tesla to a Volvo station wagon. I mean, c’mon? A Volvo station wagon? Not that I have anything against Volvo station wagons. Some of my best friends drive Volvos. And station wagons. It’s just that a station wagon is the last thing on my mind when fantasizing about being behind the wheel of a Tesla. Just saying.  In all fairness, however, Tesla boasts some of the most advanced safety features in their automobiles. Yet, none of that seems to help given the car’s expensive collision costs. In fact, claims for the Model S are 46% higher than other cars, and its losses come in at 315% higher. Yikes. Station wagons aside, those are some very un-sleek numbers. Ironically, Tesla’s medical payment claim frequency is below average while its personal injury protection losses are very low. So take that, Volvo!

Can’t touch this!

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Score one for Wall Street because it looks like the SEC won’t get to grab all those ill-gotten gains like it used to. At least according to the U.S. Supreme Court, which just ruled – in a 9-0 decision –  that the SEC’s use of “disgorgement” now has to face the wrong end of a five year statute-of-limitations. Disgorgment is the act of repaying money that was attained illegally, typically by people and firms in the financial industry.  For this latest Wall Street victory, the securities sector can thank Charles Kokesh, a New Mexico-based investment adviser. It all started back in 2009 when the SEC sued Kokesh for misappropriating funds from his investors. He may not be a saint, but he was ordered to pay $2.4 million in penalties plus another $35 million – which was for disgorgement purposes. The problem, Kokesh and his lawyers argued, was that much of that $35 million disgorgment figure had happened outside a five year statute of limitations. Instead of $35 million, the disgorgment should have been closer to $5 million, which is quite a substantial difference. As for the SEC, this new ruling is going to prove to be a real downer for the agency seeing as how it has since collected $3 billion for disgorgment claims.  Oh well. Maybe it’ll discover a new way around that minor, yet pesky obstacle.

 

Coach Gets Quirky With Kate Spade; Warren Buffett’s Latest Thoughts; It’s Kumbaya for Comcast and Charter Communications

Luxury quirk…

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Coach is about to get a whole lot more accessorized now that it announced it will be buying Kate Spade. The $2.4 billion price tag on the deal means Coach will be plunking down $18.50 per share, which ends up being a 9% premium over Kate Spade’s Friday closing price. Analysts are digging the merger, thinking it’s a good fit and news of the deal set Wall Street tongues wagging, subsequently sending shares of both companies up.  In fact, ever since Kate Spade brass decided on a sale back in December, the stock has been on the rise. Which is weird because before that the stock was flagging over increased competition and decreased traffic and sales. Much of the enthusiasm over the sale is because people think Coach will have an opportunity to up its street cred with millennials. After all, Kate Spade’s quirky merchandise tends to resonate with that finicky demographic. And when something actually resonates with millennials, companies want in and are quick to figure out how to make a lot of money in that arena.  In fact, 60% of Kate Spade sales come from millennials while only 15% come from outside the U.S. Go figure.

It’s all about the tapeworm…

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It was that time of year again where one of the wealthiest men in the world imparted his financial wisdom onto his shareholders, and also regular people. Sort of. At the annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting held in Omaha this past weekend, Warren Buffett and his partner, Charlie Munger, shared their isights on several topics including Wells Fargo, Amazon and even the Republican healthcare bill.  On Wells Fargo, Buffett said there were three huge mistakes, but the biggest one was not acting on the problem when they first heard about it. On the Republican healthcare bill, he shared this pearl: “Medical costs are the tapeworm of economic competitiveness.” Got it? Tapeworm. Also,  he messed up royally by not ever owning shares of Amazon.  He admits he never anticipated Jeff Bezos going as far as he did. Apparently Buffett’s oracle skills failed him on that one. On a different note, he said that if he dies tonight, he’s convinced shares of Berkshire Hathaway would go up tomorrow. Warms the heart now, doesn’t it.

Well isn’t this precious…

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Comcast and Charter Communications are joining hands in the spirit of fighting against the dreaded and unflagging power of wireless carriers. Apparently when it comes to fighting wireless carriers, there is an inherent safety in numbers. So together the two companies will join hands and tackle such things as customer billing and device ordering systems. Also, they made a deal with each other that neither one would attempt to buy any other wireless companies and to consult one another before either one would make related deals,. They want to avoid increasing competition between the two companies. A move like this allows them to develop wireless services for their own companies without worrying over competition from each other. So its’s a little kumbaya and a little self-preservation.  And bonus: The two companies have said the plan could have the potential of lowering costs for its customers. However, that remains to be seen so don’t hold your breath.

 

UnFriendly Skies Take a Well-Deserved Beating; FY-Infosys – Americans Getting on Payrolls; Paid Internships vs. Actual Job

Turbulent…

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The day of reckoning has finally come for airlines and their awful and questionably lawful treatment of its passengers. If you recall, the impetus for this day stemmed from a recent United Airlines flight, where a passenger, David Dao, was forcibly dragged off a plane and left with a litany of injuries including a concussion and broken teeth. So over at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee there was a hearing where airline execs insisted that they’ve been working to improve the situations that have been responsible for all the recent bad press. United CEO Oscar Munoz apologized again at the hearing for the recent tussle that cost his airline a presumably hefty settlement.  Of course plenty of blame has been pointed at unruly passengers. But then again who can blame them? Flights have gotten more crowded, equipment and tech failures have been resulting in delays on a fairly regular basis and obnoxious fees keep cropping up like a bad fungus. And don’t even get me started on the practice of over-booking flights. Apparently, a few airlines are rethinking their policies on that issue.  In the meantime, lawmakers are warning they’ll slap on major legislation if things don’t improve and they promise it wont be pretty.

Trump’d…

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A company based in India, with 200,000 employees worldwide, is now on the line to hire 10,000 workers in the U.S. Enter Infosys, one of a number of companies who engage in outsourcing – a four letter word according to the President – because the practice takes jobs away from Americans. Now, the company announced plans to open four new centers in the United States in the next two years. In the past, Infosys and other similar companies have relied on work visas for its employees. But now President Trump has ordered a major review and overhaul of that program. That’s expected to lead to some very unpleasant changes for companies who are used to employing foreigners in the United States, instead of tapping into the talent pool already present in the country. As for Infosys’s CEO, Vishal Sikka, who happens to be based in Palo Alto (oh, the irony), he explained that “…bringing in local talent and mixing that with the best of global talent in the times we are living in and the times we’re entering is the right thing to do. It is independent of the regulations and the visas.” Of course it is.

How do you like your coffee?

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If you’re not having the easiest time finding a job, maybe getting a position as an intern might be the better way to go. And leave it to Glassdoor to unearth the 25 highest paying internships in the United States. You see, the median annual salary in the U.S. for a full time worker is $51,350 – or about $4,300 a month. An internship gig at Facebook – provided you can even get one  – is worth $8,000 a month. Plus, as a Facebook intern, you get room and board, free food, transportation…Does it get any better than that? Just good luck. You’ll need it. Actually, you’ll really need computer science skills. But that’s besides the point. Microsoft comes in second with a paycheck that is about a thousand dollars less a month than what you’d get at Facebook. But former interns can’t stop raving about the projects they got to work on. Rounding out the third spot is ExxonMobil. While it’s not tech-related, it is a company that is highly focused on professional development of its interns. And who couldn’t use some of that? Amazon and Apple take spots fifth and sixth, respectively, and they’ll both keep you in style for about $6,400 a month. While the tech companies seem to dominate much of the list, there are still plenty of opportunities to map out a career in banking. If you’re sure that’s your thing.

Panera Bread Shacks Up With Krispy Kreme Investor; Nothing Smooth About a Recent Nivea Campaign; Payless Out. Chapter 11 In.

Yummm…

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Krispy Kreme needs to scoot on over and make some room over at JAB, the investment firm that controls it. It’s latest roomie is moving in and its name is Panera Bread. Panera is expected to fit in quite nicely at JAB, at least that’s what all the analysts keep saying, as the firm’s other entities include Peet’s Coffee and Tea, Caribou Coffee and Keurig Green Mountain Coffee. JAB will take the sandwich chain private for a tasty $7.5 billion, which comes out to about $315 per share and more than a 20% premium. And why shouldn’t JAB pay all that money? After all, the chain boasts 2,000 locations and pulls down annual sales of $5 billion. Of course it makes cash like that because it offers healthier options than most other fast-food chains, not to mention readily available wifi. For a fast-casual restaurant chain, it happens to be very tech forward. And don’t even get me started on the restaurants online ordering. Just. Don’t. Talk about a draw. Apparently JAB wants Panera to continue doing exactly what it does so well (translation: no changes) because it’s keeping all the execs in their current roles, including founder and CEO Ron Shaich. Wall Street’s was totally digging the news as well sending shares up to around $312 a pop. Add that to the fact that Panera has beat estimates for the last year and half, and JAB has got itself a pretty nifty deal.

Racist deodorant?

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Racist may not be the first word that comes to mind when you think about deodorant. But then again, that might be because you hadn’t yet heard about Nivea’s slogan in its ad for “Invisible for Black and White Deodorant.” According to marketing geniuses at Nivea, “White is Purity. ” And that’s precisely the slogan that was used to promote the product. I. AM. NOT. KIDDING. The ad was originally unleashed on the company’s Middle East Facebook page and social media did not take it well, with one outraged Twitter user writing: “Your comments are FULL of society’s refuse. This cleared your marketing department? #prnightmare.” Beiersdorf, the German company that counts Nivea amongst its holdings, wisely deleted the ad. Just not before white supremacists weighed in with their thoughts on the slogan, including this one:  “We enthusiastically support this new direction your company is taking. I’m glad we can all agree that #WhiteIsPurity.” The way white supremacists feel about an ad campaign would make a fairly good barometer, in terms of marketing efficacy, don’t you think? As to how the ad got past quality control in the first place remains a mystery.

And there’s nothing Star Jones can do about it…

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Another one bites the fiscal dust and this time the dubious distinction of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy goes to Payless Shoes. Even the likes of Tyra Banks and Star Jones wasn’t enough to save the Kansas-based chain from having to shut down around 400 stores in the United States and Puerto Rico. But that’s what you gotta do when your revenue tanks 4% just in the last year, and Amazon and deep-discount stores keep eating into your business. However, all is not lost, as Payless still has around 4,000 other stores in over thirty countries. The company just needs to do a little fiscal restructuring. But then again, don’t we all?