Lyft and Waymo = Carpool; Bud Spending $2 billion to Up Its Game; AIG Bets Big on Latest CEO

Self-less…

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Image courtesy of fantasista/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In case you were having trouble envisioning a world with driverless cars, you might want to check out Alphabet Inc.’s company Waymo. Waymo, a self-driving car company,  has just teamed up with Lyft, and that should be enough to make Uber more than a little nervous. You might be wondering why a company owned by Google even needs a much smaller company like Lyft for a partnership. But believe it or not, there’s a little quid pro quo going on because since Lyft has the dubious distinction of being the second largest ride service company, it will allow Waymo’s technology to reach even more people than without it. Isn’t that just beautiful? Uber, on the other hand, is looking to develop driverless technology on its own. If you recall, Waymo sued Uber back in February, alleging that Uber stole Waymo’s self-driving technology to build its own fleet.  But with the way things are going for Uber lately, it might be more prudent for the embattled ride-sharing company to focus on its current crop of legal and publicity challenges instead of driverless cars. For the time being anyway.  By the way, Lyft’s deal with Waymo is not exclusive. Which is super important considering that GM is a big Lyft investor and already has its own partnership in place to develop self-driving cars. It’s like legit double-dipping and everybody wins. In fact, come 2018, Lyft and GM will be set to deploy and test thousands of self-driving cars. Yikes!

Competitive beer…

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It might be hard to believe but the King of Beers is not looked upon as the royalty it once was. And so, its parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev NV is plunking down $2 billion to try and fix that issue. The plan is to make a substantial, lucrative foray into new categories, while at the same time boosting its flagship brands which have been staring down the wrong end of increased competition.  The money will be spent over the next four years, using approximately $500 million per year. In case you were thinking that $2 billion seems like an awfully bloated  – no pun intended – number to spend on improving a beer brand, consider that beer is a more than $107 billion industry and no self-respecting beer company wants to lose ground in a market like that.  And make no mistake, beer has been losing ground lately with not as much of it being consumed like in years past. Hard to believe. I know, but various types of other alcoholic beverages have been flooding the market in recent years and consumers are digging them. Which leaves companies like Anheuser-Busch scrambling to reclaim its foamy territory.

No pressure or anything…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Maybe the seventh time’s a charm for AIG, which just announced it’s coughing up $12 million – and then some – to pay its newest CEO, Brain Duperreault. By “then some” I refer to an additional 1.5 million stock options and a $16 million pay package all based on the hope that Duperreault will finally be the one to turn AIG around. Did you catch that? He’s getting all that and he hasn’t sat at his new desk yet. The last CEO, Peter Hancock, left in March because he wasn’t feeling the love, or rather investor support, including from the one and only Carl Icahn. But Brian Deperreault just might have what AIG’s been looking for all these years, well at least since 2005. He’s no stranger to AIG, having worked there as a deputy way back when. He’s coming over from Hamilton Insurance, and before that he was at Marsh & McClennan Cos. earning solid reputations at both firms. As for his first order of business: achieve stability in a company that has seen too many high-level departures, four straight quarters of losses and high claims costs. Good luck with that one, Mr. Duperreault. You’re gonna need it.

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Yahoo’s Got Major Un-security Issues; Big Pharma Slapped With Big Lawsuit; Super Bowl “Ads” Up to Big Bucks

Some heads are gonna roll…

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Today’s massive data breach is brought to us by Yahoo. Again. It’s estimated that a billion users had their personal data breached back in 2013, which is nearly twice as big as the last data breach Yahoo reported just a few months ago that happened in 2014. Now Yahoo has the dubious distinction of being the target of arguably the largest data breach. Ever. Incidentally, it wasn’t even Yahoo that discovered the breach but rather law enforcement officials. Law enforcement handed over files to the internet company that they received from a third party who said the info was stolen. Way to stay on top of things, Yahoo! Virginia Senator Mark Warner is now on a mission to investigate why Yahoo can’t seem to get its cyber-defense act together, while Yahoo is on its own mission to investigate who was responsible for the breach.  The Senator went to the SEC  back in September to ask them to investigate if Yahoo did what it was required to do by informing the public about the breach that occurred in 2014.  Warner would have preferred that Yahoo informed the public about the breach when it first happened – and NOT three years later. Sounds fair. In the meantime, there’s talk about whether Verizon still plans to acquire Yahoo’s core internet business for $4.83 billion. With Yahoo’s stock experiencing its biggest intraday drop in almost a year, that deal might go buh-bye as Verizon reviews “the impact of this new development.”  Or Verizon will just offer Yahoo a lower price to acquire it. Because, apparently it still makes strategic sense to purchase Yahoo even with two massive data breaches under its belt.

Suited up…

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Twenty states are going after big pharma via a massive lawsuit that probably wont be going away anytime soon. Mylan NV,Teva Pharmaceuticals and four other companies that manufacture generic medicines are now staring at the wrong end of a very big lawsuit. This lawsuit, by the way, is completely separate from the investigations being led by the Justice Department and other agencies. The companies are being sued for conspiring to fix drug pricing on two generic drugs: an antibiotic called doxycycline and a drug used to treat diabetes called glyburide. The suit charges that brass at the pharmaceutical companies jacked up the drug prices by setting them and also allocated markets, which they all knew was illegal. They made sure any incriminating correspondence was deleted or simply avoided written communication. When asked for a comment, one of the companies named in the suit, Heritage Pharmaceuticals Inc., conveniently blamed former executives who had since been fired.  Jeffrey Glazer, former CEO of Heritage Pharmaceuticals is actually expected to plead guilty next month. Mylan predictably denied the charges while Teva said it’s still reviewing the complaint. The others remained mum.

Ad-citing news…

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The Super Bowl is still a couple of months away but the advertisers are gearing up for their multi-million dollar thirty second spots come February 5. Rumor has it Fox is charging between $5 million – $5.5 million. GoDaddy, which skipped last year’s Super Bowl ad festivities, is coming back this year, along with Snickers, Skittles and – get this – Avocados from Mexico. Can’t wait to see how Donald Trump tweets about that one.  GoDaddy skipped last year’s festivities, apparently to focus on breaking into more international markets. That mission has presumably been accomplished as the domain services company is now available in 56 markets. Of course, it wouldn’t be the Super Bowl without beer ads and Anheuser Busch has got a whole bunch of spots lined up touting its refreshing assortment. In the meantime, regular advertisers, PepsiCo and FritoLay are sitting out this year. It’ll be the first time in ten years that viewers will not see a Doritos ad during the big game. But don’t get too choked up about Pepsico’s absence. The company will still figure prominently since its Pepsi Zero Sugar is the official sponsor of the half-time show starring Lady Gaga.

Google Spits in the Face of Online Payday Lenders; This Trump’s For You; Mega Merger Nixed

Well if Google’s doing it…

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Google has been able to do what politicians couldn’t. Which might mean that its up to Google to Make America Great Again. In any case, online payday lenders are officially getting the boot from Google.  Come July 13, companies that deal in online payday loans wont get their ads displayed above search results under Google’s AdWords program. If you think that’s awfully harsh, then consider that payday loans are often due in 60 days and carry annual interest rates of at least 36%. Other types of loans and lenders will still be able to keep their ads in place, though. For now. Facebook has been banning payday loan ads since last summer, while Yahoo has still yet to catch on. A payday lender trade group called Google’s new policy “discriminatory and a form of censorship.” However, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has its own thoughts about the online payday lending industry. The CFPB’s cold hard research highlights the numerous hidden risks, costly banking fees and account closures resulting from these loans. The industry also tends to disproportionately target minorities. The CFPB found that a staggering one third of borrowers had their accounts closed by their banks while half of the borrowers paid an average of $185 in back penalties. And that’s before you even get to the annual percentage rate of 391% that are placed on these types of loans

 

This America’s for you…

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Next time you reach for an icy cold brew, you might just be wondering why it looks a little different. Riding the fiscal wave of patriotism, Budweiser will be rebranding its cans “America.” Instead of the slogan “King of Beers,” beer drinkers will find the slogan “E Pluribus Unum” on the cans. And in case it matters, Donald Trump is taking the credit that companies are inspired by his “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. Really. During an interview on Fox News, Trump said, “They’re so impressed with what our country will become. They decided to do this before the fact.” Never mind that Budweiser’s parent company, Anheuser Busch InBev is Belgian. That’s just a minor detail. Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, along with Hershey’s, Coca Cola, Wal-Mart and even Carl’s Jr. are using patriotic marketing campaigns that are expected to last well past election season. To be fair, Hershey is utilizing this tactic because the company is an official sponsor of the Olympic U.S. team. For the first time in 122 years, the coloring on Hershey bars will be different , as red, white and blue will feature prominently on the confection’s wrappers. As for Wal-Mart, the gigantic retailer made a pledge back in 2013 to buy $250 billion worth of products that are “made in the U.S.A.” And let’s forget that minor hiccup when the chain was investigated by the FTC for mislabeling products that were, in fact, not made domestically.

Lay off my stapler!

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Shares of Staples and Office Depot took a nasty beating after a Federal judge ruled that the two companies cannot merge in fiscal blissful matrimony. The $6.3 billion merger was nixed since the judge felt that a huge merger between the two largest office supplies suppliers would be a horrible thing for consumers. The Federal Trade Commission thought the merger was as anti-competitive as it gets and couldn’t be more pleased with the judge’s ruling. Both the judge and the FTC felt competitive pricing, quality and service would be tossed aside as consumers would look on helplessly as they handed over their hard-earned cash. Office Depot said it won’t appeal the ruling. And why should it? It’s now going to get a $250 million break up fee from Staples. But that $250 million pales in comparison to the revenue it would have seen and the money it would have saved had the merger gone through. This was the second time, since 1997, that the two companies tried to merge. Shares of Staples fell 20% on the news at one point during the day, while Office Depot tanked about 40%. Staples and Office Depot continue to take massive hits from the other competition, Amazon. Amazon’s business to business division is but a year old, yet it already racked up more than a billion dollars in sales. And that’s while Staples and Office Depot were hit with massive losses.

Will Anyone Care if Indiana’s Economy Tanks?; It’s Go Time for GoDaddy; New Craft Beer Gets Crowned

The consequences of actions…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Indiana’s economy just might tank but…oh well. Ever since its Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act six days ago, basically giving businesses a “license to discriminate” against gays, lesbians etc…corporate CEO’s, businesses, politicians and celebrities have gotten involved, mostly to voice their anger and disgust with the action. Nine CEO’s wrote an open letter to Gov. Pence over their objections to the bill. Apple CEO Tim Cook called it a “very dangerous … wave of legislation.” Indiana literally ticked off Apple. Is there any state that would want to be on Apple’s bad side? Seriously. Angie’s list had plans for a $40 million expansion in Indianapolis. That’s on hold over this bill, as well. The NCAA is majorly “concerned” and analyzing the situation carefully, wondering what to do ahead of next week’s Final Four. Several mayors have already banned city-funded travel to Indiana and 49 governors nixed unnecessary travel to the state. Hashtag #BoycottIndiana has been making the rounds getting upwards of 200,000 hits. Seeing as how the backlash has only gotten precipitously worse, Gov. Pence said he wants a clarification and a fix. Just so we’re clear, that doesn’t mean he wants to get rid of the bill. Perhaps once the state’s economy is in the toilet, he might reconsider.

Who’s your GoDaddy?

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Image courtesy of mistermong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s time to welcome GoDaddy to the ranks of the New York Stock Exchange. The web-hosting, domain name registration company just came out with its IPO this morning to a much larger than expected debut. Under the ticker symbol “GDDY,” GoDaddy offered up 23 million shares at $20 a pop. But then, lo and behold, it opened over 30% higher at $26.15 per share. Not bad for a company that’s not profitable. Yes, I did just write that. GoDaddy took a net loss of $143.4 million in 2014 and also has about $1.5 million in debt. To be fair, however, the company’s revenue went up 23% to $1.39 billion. This is not the first time the eighteen year old company attempted an IPO. Back in 2006, Go Daddy was all set to make its big Wall Street debut, only to then decide otherwise, saying the market was in a bad place. However, there are those who think there were internal factors and management shake-ups that affected GoDaddy’s decision to go public. If you’re wondering who the next pretty face will be to grace the company’s campaigns, don’t bother. After stints with race car driver Danica Patrick and Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, the company is looking to revamp its image.

Foamy…

Image courtesy of Photo by Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Photo by Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Samuel Adams is out. Yuengling is in. The Brewers Association has crowned Pottsville, Pennsylvania’s Yuengling as this year’s number one craft beer, taking out the Boston Beer Co. who makes Samuel Adams. So how did America’s oldest brewery finally manage to nab top honors? Actually it had nothing to do with anything the beer companies did or didn’t do. Rather, the Brewers Association slightly altered the criteria for what can be considered a legit craft beer. It gets technical so I’ll leave the complicated stuff to a beer-savvy blogger. What I can tell you is that Yuengling was considered a non-traditional beer, because corn is one of the ingredients used to brew the beer, and therefore not eligible for the beer crown all these years. As for overall U.S. brewers, Anheuser-Busch, Miller-Coors and Pabst took the top spots. Yuengling and Boston Beer Co. rounded out the fourth and fifth place spots. Unlike regular beers, craft beers sales are up and have a 19% hold on the beer market. In 2014, $19.6 billion worth of craft beer was sold, up 14% from 2013.

Apple’s iPhone Sales Bursting at the Screens; Social Media Bets on Real-Time Ads for Superbowl; Shake Shack IPO Just Keeps Getting Tastier

And the magic number is…

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Image courtesy of SOMMAI/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Apple’s first quarter earnings shocked everybody…that is, except for Apple. It was shocking because analysts didn’t come even remotely close to the numbers Apple posted. Besides its other products, including iPads, iPods, Macs, etc, Apple sold a whopping 74.5 million iPhones taking in about $74.6 billion with earnings of $3.06 per share. Analysts estimated that, Apple, the world’s most valuable company (valued at $178 billion, by the way) would only pull in a paltry $67.7 billion and $2.60 per share. Consumers are clearly digging the bigger screens of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Apple graciously waited until after the market closed yesterday to announce its earnings, following a fiscally dismal day that saw the Dow drop close to 300 points. Now keep an eye on Apple’s second quarter when it begins gracing the universe with its Apple Watch, which is rumored to be going for about $350.

It’s getting real-ly ad-dicting…

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Image courtesy of sumetho/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Facebook is looking to pull a “Twitter” during this year’s Superbowl with “real-time ads.” For real. Just know that whatever gets posted or discussed on feeds during the “big game,” Facebook will be picking up on keywords and start sending out ads according to those posts and discussions. With 155 million daily users in the US and Canada alone, companies are hoping that this tactic will bring in some major revenue from the sheer force of this advertising tactic. Twitter, which is already a pro when it comes to “real-time ads” is even setting up a “war room” (Twitter’s term, not mine) for 13 advertisers, among them the ever-reliable PepsiCo and Anheuser Busch, in an effort to crank out on-the-spot/fly tweets, ads and other assorted means of subtle yet highly effective and entertaining advertising. Considering that NBC is raking in $4.5 million for a thirty second spot during the Superbowl, all this effort going towards digital advertising is a relative bargain.

Shake Shack-ing things up…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As burger joint (with “joint” being a major understatement) Shake Shack gears up for its much anticipated IPO, the company just raised its IPO range to $17 – $19 per share, versus last week’s rage of $14 – $16 per share. Yes, the food is that good. The company’s valuation has now been raised to a staggering $675 million, with 63 stores worldwide and 31 in New York City alone. It’s incredibly hard to believe that restaurateur Danny Meyer started his shake and burger phenomenon out of a modest little hot dog cart in 2001, graduating to just a kiosk in 2004. But now, Shake Shack is grilling up burgers and serving up shakes in 9 countries and 34 cities. Its New York City restaurants, valued at over $10 million, are estimated to pull in over $7 million in annual sales. The other Shake Shack establishments scattered over the globe pull in closer to the $3 million range. 5.75 million shares of Shake Shack will be offered  – under the aptly named ticker SHAK, and are expected to pull in an additional $95 million.