Apple Throws Billions Towards U.S. Manufacturing; Ferrari Speeds into Double Digit Margins; Republicans Wage War on Dodd-Frank

iManufacture…

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China’s about to get some very unwelcome manufacturing competition from Apple. The tech giant just announced that it is starting a $1 billion fund promoting advanced manufacturing. Gosh, is the President going to take credit for this too? In fact, CNBC host Jim Cramer had the dubious distinction of being the first person to hear the news on his show “Mad Money.”  For those of you wondering what the difference is between manufacturing and “advanced manufacturing,” it means Apple will basically have to offer specialized skills and training for the latter and fill job gaps with these newly-trained, highly-skilled workers. In any case, Apple has thus far created some two million jobs in the U.S. and can hardly wait to create even more. But how does Apple plan on spending that $1 billion it’s setting aside for this latest project? Well, don’t get too excited just yet, because some of that cash is first going to a company that Apple has partnered with for this initiative. And the name of that lucky company has yet to be announced.

Magnifico!

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Ah Ferrari. What could be better than tooling around in a machine like that? How about its earnings, for one. The Italian automaker just released its first quarter earnings report and they were everything you’d expect from the maker of one of the world’s finest sports cars. Shares are up well over 6% today after the company announced a 36% earnings increase along with a 50% surge in deliveries. And by the way, those earnings were even better than expected, coming in at around $265 million  – which equals 242 million euros – in case you were curious. Estimates, mind you, were for 222 million euros. Revenues also impressed and elated investors, as they increased 22% to 821 million euros, easily beating expectations of 767 million euros.  Sure, those numbers are almost magical, but that’s not really what’s got Wall Street tongues wagging. It was Ferrari’s margins, which are now right up there with the aforementioned tech giant we call Apple. But I guess that’s to be expected when you’re selling cars whose ticket prices start well into the six-figures and can exceed $2 million. After all, we are talking about a company who sold out of a car, the Aperta convertible, before the car even made its official debut.

Let’s me be Dodd-Frank with you…

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Things are looking grim for Dodd-Frank, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Republican-led House Financial Services Committee argued that the law sucks for the economy since it slows it down, and today passed a bill that would overhaul and repeal parts of it. It certainly helps Republicans that President  Trump promised way back in his campaign to overhaul the law, which he says costs banks a fortune in compliance and limits lending way too much. Democrats argue the opposite and are convinced that the bill, if passed, will once again create the same conditions that led to the 2008 fiscal crisis. In case it wasn’t obvious, the law was initially passed under President Barack Obama. Naturally, Democrats voted against the bill and lost 34-26.

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.

Uh Oh Canada: Trump Starts Up With Our Neighbors to the North; Marissa Mayer Walks Away Golden; Nasdaq Yowza!

Good Tariffs don’t make good neighbors…

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As if things weren’t awkward enough between the President and Mexico, now it’s the U.S.’s relations with Canada that are getting the Trump treatment. This time it’s Canada’s lumber industry that’s getting caught up in the import debate as the President’s plan calls for a tariff of up to 24% on Canada’s lumber products. Canadian lumber companies are pretty ticked off and Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is itching to fight back. Just how remains to be seen. In case you didn’t know, Canada is the world’s largest soft-wood lumber exporter and the U.S. is its biggest customer, reportedly importing $6 billion worth of the resource just in 2016. But here’s where things get dicey, well for the U.S. anyway – shares of home-building companies took a very unwelcome dive on the soft-lumber dispute, as Wall Street realized raw materials could get a whole a lot pricier. That will likely end up leading to a very unpleasant domino effect on other related industries. If you’re looking to buy a home, take note that this Canada lumber is issue is sending home prices up as well. Incidentally, Canada is going to stop importing U.S. dairy products, as a sort of retaliatory action. Sort of. But basically, this means dairy farmers are getting screwed here too. And don’t you hate when that happens? On the flip side, U.S. lumber producers said that cheap lumber imports from Canada, which are they say are unfairly subsidized by the Canadian government, have put a major crimp in their business and these tariffs will give the domestic lumber industry a much needed reboot.

What color is your parachute?

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Yahoo might have gone bust but Marissa Mayer will be walking away from the entity with $186 million lining her pockets. That’s even after Verizon agreed to buy the  beleaguered company. She’s sitting on 4.5 million shares of the failed internet company and she’ll get that substantial wad of cash once she pays to exercise her options. That $186 million is based on Monday’s closing price, in case you were wondering, and while Mayer may not have had the best run at Yahoo, the stock still tripled during her five-year CEO stint there. And as Verizon plunks down $4.5 billion for Yahoo, Mayer will take in another $3 million as part of her golden parachute. That’s besides the fact that last year she lost out on her bonus following the massive data security breaches that affected one billion Yahoo accounts.

Making a break for it…

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The Nasdaq broke the 6000 mark with a lot of help from big corporate gains and, believe it or not, even President Donald Trump. That’s because the President has big “tax reform and reduction” plans which involve reducing the United States’ onerous corporate tax rate from a whopping 35% to a more corporation-friendly, and globally competitive, 15%. Plans like that could mean a big boost all-around on Wall Street. Companies including Apple, Microsoft and McDonald’s, to name a few, reported impressive gains, sending the Nasdaq all the way up to 6034.74. If you’re finding Trump’s contribution hard to swallow, consider that the result of France’s Presidential election also factored into that 6000 point breakthrough. French Presidential Candidate Emanuel Macron’s first-round victory helped matters, probably because of his centrist politics, which apparently Wall Street digs. It wasn’t since March 7, 2000, that the Nasdaq broke the 5,000 barrier. But alas, that remains nothing but a very distant memory.  The Nasdaq, incidentally, is up over 10% since the beginning of the year and up way over 20% in the last twelve months.

Apples to Apples: Warren Buffett Increases Stake in Tech Giant; Groupon’s Earnings Show Everyone Loves a Deal; Trump Wine Makes Trouble

Well, if Warren Buffett’s doing it…

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It’s all about Apple and airplanes these days for Warren Buffett. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, again increased its position in the iPhone maker to 57.4 million shares back in December. This means the company now boasts a hefty $7.74 billion stake in the Cupertino-based company. The Oracle of Omaha also decided to scoop up more shares in the airline industry’s four biggest carriers in the United States: American Airlines Group, Delta Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Continental Holdings. This little purchase set Berkshire Hathaway back by about $9.3 billion. What’s a bit weird about Warren Buffett’s new-found affection for Apple, is that he has never been much of a fan of tech stocks only because – or so he would like us to think – that they are apparently outside his realm of understanding. I’m pretty sure there’s very little in this world that’s outside his scope of knowledge. Just saying. The airline investment was also a little surprising given Warren Buffett’s hands-off stance on the industry for the last twenty years. Now, however, he apparently sees some potential in airlines that he hadn’t seen in years. In any case, the timing of Berkshire Hathaway’s Apple purchase couldn’t have been better because shares of Apple closed at an all-time high yesterday, as I noted here in this blog.  In fact, shares of all the companies in which Berkshire Hathaway invested have gone up. Because if Warren Buffett puts his fiscal stamp of approval on a company, investors take that as a sign – albeit a not very scientific one –  and they all tend to follow suit.  As for his ten year old Walmart stake, the news was not as good. Berkshire Hathaway dumped almost all of its shares  – close to a billion dollars worth – and analysts are now wondering just how bad of an omen is that.

Get your Groupon, yo!

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Groupon, it seems, is not only beloved to bargain hunters, but to Wall Street as well, as the company just released its fourth quarter earnings, easily beating estimates all-around. For a company that’s all about posting discounts, it took in revenues of $935 million, when analysts only expected $913 million. While the company earned close to $370 million in profit, analysts were left a bit bummed, since last year’s number was higher, at almost $372 million. However, Groupon did add 7 cents per share, more than triple the expected 2 cents. Plenty of its success from the quarter is apparently due to its acquisition of website LivingSocial, which Groupon scooped up back in October.  Groupon’s customers increased by two million, one million of whom came from LivingSocial, and its total amount of customers purchased 11% more goods and services during the same period last year. Interestingly enough, the amount of purchases this past quarter was a smidgen lower, coming in at $1.70 billion, when last year at this time it was more like $1.71 billion. But hey, what do you expect from bargain-hunters, after all?

Cheers…

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In today’s installment of “Who’s Next to Face a Boycott for Carrying Trump Merchandise?”and the #GrabYourWallet campaign, we turn our attention to Wegmans Food Markets.  The offending merchandise in question is wine, or rather products from the Trump Winery, of which Eric Trump, President Trump’s son, is the President. While a group aptly named “Stop Trump Wine,” is calling upon Virginians to boycott businesses that carry the beverages because “Eric Trump shares the views of his father,” the local chapter of the National Organization for Women got 300 of its members to come up with ways to get Wegmans to put the kibosh on the products. But my question is, if the wine is really good, will the boycott be effective? Just wondering. Like all other retailers, Wegmans, with its 92 stores, explains that it only looks at how a product is performing. If the products in question are performing well, with people still buying them, and the boycotts aren’t necessarily having an effect, chances are, the wine stays put.

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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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

CEO Leaving Ralph Lauren Over “Difference of Opinion”; Apple Gets De-Throned; “Fake News” Scandal Leaves Facebook Unscathed

Ride the pony…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Shares of Ralph Lauren fell today, over 11% at one point, all because CEO Stefan Larsson announced he is stepping down after a little over a year on the job. It seems Larsson and the big kahuna himself, Ralph Lauren, just didn’t see eye to eye on how the company should evolve to attract more shoppers, and younger ones, to boot. Which roughly translates to: the two guys just didn’t get along.  Larsson, who used to be the global president of Old Navy,  will step down in three months while the company searches for a new CEO. In the meantime, Ralph Lauren will stay put, in his role as Executive Chairman and Chief Creative Officer while Chief Financial Officer Jane Nielsen will serve as interim CEO. The other thing staying put is a plan – that was already in the works – to enhance the Ralph Lauren brand.  Shares of Ralph Lauren had fallen 22% in the last twelve months and it has had to close several stores and eliminate several jobs. But apparently, and ironically, it’s all part of its growth plan. The news came down during the company’s quarterly report call, where the lifestyle brand reported earnings of $1.86 per share, with revenue down 12% to $1.71 billion. At least that last bit was forecasted. And it was welcome news since analysts expected the company to only pull down $1.64 per share. As for Larsson, he’ll be walking away with a nifty $10 million in severance, not to mention health benefits, for the next two years.

Taking a bite out of the apple…

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Move over Apple. There’s a new sheriff in town. Well, maybe “sheriff” isn’t quite the right word. But the tech giant has been dethroned, this year anyway, as the world’s most valuable brand, and now ranks as the second most valuable brand. Which is ironic, since yesterday it released its earnings report and brutally beat expectations adding  $3.36 per share on a record setting $78.4 billion in revenue. Analysts predicted earnings of $3.22 per share on $77.3 billon in revenues. But I digress. The company to earn the dubious distinction of being the world’s most valuable company for 2016, as determined by Brand Finance, is none other than Google. No great shock here. Brand Finance takes it upon itself to conduct this yearly study, identifying and ranking the 500 most valuable brands in the world. Google, by the way used to sit in the top spot. But it’s been years. Like five of them, to be precise, since it sat atop this illustrious throne. Apple’s brand value tanked 27% from last year’s $146 billion to this year’s $107 billion. As for Google, its brand is currently valued at $109.5 billion. Part of the problem, for Apple anyway, is that the Apple watch failed to become as fabulous as Apple thought it should be.  Then there’s the fact that the tech giant seems to have no new products on the horizon – that we know of – while battling all the  smart-phone competition. According to Brand Finance, “Apple has failed to maintain its technological advantage and has repeatedly disillusioned its advocates with tweaks when material changes were expected…” That’s gotta hurt. And in case you were wondering, because I know you were, Amazon ranks third with a brand value of $106.4 billion, AT&T comes in fourth at $82 billion, while Microsoft rounds out the fifth spot with a brand value of $76.3 billion. And no, I didn’t forget Walmart or Facebook. They rank eighth and ninth respectively.

That’s just beautiful…

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Speaking of Facebook, the social media giant just released its latest quarterly earnings and well, it would be really swell if all companies could have earnings as good as that. And with over one billion users, it’s no wonder the company posted better than expected earnings, to the tune of $2.57 billon with revenues of $8.8 billion and $1.24 added per share. Estimates had Facebook pulling down $1.11 per share and $8.5 billion in revenues while last year at this time Facebook raked in $5.84 billion. If you do the math, that’s a 51% increase over last year. In fact, this quarter marked Facebook’s sixth straight quarter in which it beat forecasts in both profit and revenue. A lot of that success can be attributed to Facebook’s mobile and live video. Its ever lucrative ad revenues also don’t seem to ever disappoint. Facebook is now planning on a hiring spree, especially because it’s looking to create even more community and groups. Its monthly active users are up 17% to 1.86 billion and mobile users were up 21% from last year to 1.74 billion. As for Facebook being enmeshed in the “fake news” controversy, well as you can see, the scandal failed to make a dent at the company. Well, fiscally anyway.

 

Apple Bites Back at EU; IMF Chief Found Guilty But She’s Still Allright; Lands’ End Going for New Beginning with Latest CEO

An inconvenient target…

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The EU might be demanding a whopping $14 billion from Apple, but it’s not going to happen so quickly. Or easily. Or at all, if Apple has its way. Back in 2014, the EU accused Ireland of skirting international tax laws when it let Apple park tens of billions of dollars there in order to keep it from getting into the grubby hands of pesky tax collectors. Apparently, Apple only paid a corporate tax rate of 3.8% on $200 billion of overseas profits. In exchange for keeping its profits there, Apple kept jobs there, all safe and secure. The EU said the tax deal amounted to illegal state aid and Apple needs to cough up the record setting fine. Both Apple and Ireland deny that they did anything wrong and think the EU needs to get its stories straight.  Apple says it was singled out by the EU because of its massive success – “a convenient target” as its lawyer so eloquently put it, and that the EU commission conveniently blew off tax experts that were brought in special by authorities in Ireland.  In the meantime, Ireland says that other countries should close their own loopholes and is accusing the EU of overstepping its boundaries as it interferes in member states’ sovereign affairs.

Guilty but not…

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She may have been found guilty of negligence over a payout that happened back in 2008, but it’s not entirely clear if IMF Chief Christine Lagarde is actually guilty of anything.  The trouble started when Lagarde was France’s Finance Minister. Her boss was none other than President Nicholas Sarkozy (half-brother-in-law to Mary-Kate Olsen, fyi). President Sarkozy’s good buddy was this tycoon named Bernard Tapie who got really angry with the French government and then sued it. You see, Tapie sold his stake in athletic company, Adidas, to French bank Credit Lyonnais, which as luck would have it, was state owned. The bank then went ahead and sold that very same stake for a whole lot more money than what Tapie was paid. Tapie cried fraud on the government and became embroiled in a fifteen year legal battle. Enter Lagarde, who against official advice, recommended private arbitration in lieu of continuing to pursue the expensive legal battle. Tapie was awarded an outrageously high 400 million euros (roughly $417 million), and for this Lagarde was found guilty because she didn’t contest the award (which came from public funds, mind you). Incidentally, investigators suspected that the arbitration process was not kosher and was actually rigged in Tapie’s favor. He has since been ordered to pay the award back. In the meantime, Lagarde isn’t even facing any jail time, much less a fine. That’s because the state, according to its own opinion, had a weak case, while Lagarde has an excellent reputation and is in good international standing. Boom.

Canvas is so last year…

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Lands’ End is going luxe again. After dumping its posh CEO, Federica Marchionni – after less than two years –  the company just announced it hired Jerome Griffith, formerly of Tumi, who just this year wrapped up selling the company to Samsonite Luggage to the tune of $1.8 billion. Griffith also held posts at Gap Inc. and Tommy Hilfiger and has a solid reputation for turning companies around. It was only three months ago that the company booted Marchionni, who previously held posts at Dolce & Gabbana and Ferrari. But alas, she couldn’t make it past the two year mark, as her vision for making Lands’ End an upscale brand, via the Canvas line, did not resonate with a customer bas that wasn’t even looking for upscale. Hence, she went the way of acid wash and parachute pants. Her vision was, in fact, so at odds with the Lands’ End customer base that the company had to eat a $4.4 million loss from the line.  The company also didn’t care for the fact that she stayed put in New York while Lands’ End offices were already comfortably situated in Wisconsin. Geography won’t be an issue for Griffith who is gearing up to set up house and home in the in the state. Lands’s End is counting on Griffith’s business acumen. During his run at Tumi, he saw revenues increase from $196 million in 2009 to $547 million in 2015.  And Lands’ End needs all the help it can get after watching its sales take in a loss last year of close to $20 million.