AT&T vs. U.S. Government. And President Trump; Turkeys: CBS and Dish Networks Can’t Work Things Out; Lowe’s and Behold! It’s Earnings Win

Trump’d up suit?

ID-100128578

Image courtesy of nirots/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dontcha just love a good fight? Today’s nasty dispute is brought to us by the U.S. government and AT&T. Not sure who my money’s on yet. You see, the government isn’t down with AT&T’s proposed $85 billion vertical merger with Time Warner. So it went ahead and did the most “American” thing possible: It sued AT&T to block the merger. Knowing that the U.S. government was going to be pesky about the merger, AT&T did what any smart company would do: It pre-emptively retained counsel. And AT&T went for the big guns hiring Dan Petrocelli. You remember him, dontcha? Or maybe you’re just trying to forget? He’s the dude that very shrewdly defended President Trump over lawsuits relating to the infamous Trump University real estate seminars. Oh, the irony. Trump hates the very thought of the merger and that may have something to do with his feud with CNN, which, incidentally, is owned by Time Warner. Petrocelli, who seems to have forgotten all about his Trump days, is arguing that not only does this lawsuit not pose a threat to industry competition, but the merger actually has the potential to lower cable bills. However, I have a hard time believing a cable carrier would willingly lower bills. As for investors, they seem to be on Team AT&T and believe the telecommunications giant will emerge victorious, especially because the last time the government was successful against a vertical merger, Nixon was president. Yikes!

Whose the turkey now?

ID-100542853

Image courtesy of chartmedia/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

OMG! It’s football season and Dish Networks did the unthinkable – to football fans, anyway – and dropped CBS in some markets. “Some markets” includes over 3 million customers in 18 cities who will be feeling the effects of tryptophan sans quality NFL time if a deal is not reached by kickoff time. As if blocking football games isn’t bad enough, some viewers will even be getting deprived of “The Big Bang Theory” which is just so not cool. The issue, of course, is fees. Because it always is. Dish isn’t happy about CBS’s demands for higher fees, especially since Dish viewership is down (note: Google streaming on-demand video). Dish also insists that viewers are watching less CBS and feels that CBS ought to show a little more restraint in its fee demands. CBS, on the other hand, is accusing Dish of punishing its viewers while Dish is calling foul on CBS for not extending its contract until negotiations end.  However why any of this matters is beyond me since, invariably, those fees, on which the two sides eventually agree, usually end up getting passed on to subscribers via their monthly bill anyway. Now subscribers have something to look forward to once those inconveniently-timed negotiations come to a close.

Hurricane win…

ID-100303812

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hurricanes suck. Except for home improvement retailers. Lowe’s would agree. The company just reported third-quarter earnings, much to the delight of Wall Street. As a result of Mother Nature’s very unappreciated wrath, sales at Lowe’s went up 5.7% to $16.8 billion, way more than the predicted 4.6% and $16.6 billion. $200 million of those sales came courtesy of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma that wreaked its proverbial havoc on a large swath of the country. But they helped the home improvement chain take in an $872 million profit that added $1.05 per share, which was three cents higher than analysts’ estimates.  That number was particularly impressive since last year at this time, Lowe’s took in $462 million, nearly half that amount.  But Lowe’s doesn’t owe all its quarterly success to natural disasters. The company also made a big push to cater to professional contractors. And with good reason. They spend more money. Sure DIY home improvement is Lowe’s theme, but the company was savvy enough to recognize an additional opportunity and the fact that the housing market is doing pretty awesome lately only sweetens the pot.  And even though Lowe’s shares dropped a smidge during trading this morning, it can’t be too distraught since the company’s shares are up about 15% for the year.

Advertisements

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

Ride the pony…

id-100399353

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…

id-10085725

Image courtesy of duron123/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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…

id-100400004

Image courtesy of bluebay/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

 

Ralph Lauren’s Man with a Plan; Voila! French Rogue Trader Gets Last Laugh…Almost;Ya-Who Will Get the Winning Bid?

 

Plan of attack…

ID-100356958

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ralph Lauren will bite the very preppy bullet and start cutting jobs, closing stores and cashing out on some real estate as the retailer tries to climb out of a dismal fiscal year. Out of its 15,000 full-time employees, 1,000 of them will soon be getting their walking papers so the company can restructure itself and go from nine management layers to six. Spearheading these new changes are CEO Stefan Larrson, who is the person responsible for lifting Gap Inc.’s Old Navy out of its own retail funk awhile back. And Larsson’s got his work cut out for him. The retailer posted sales losses for every quarter of fiscal 2016, resulting in a full year sales decline of 3% and a 30% decline in shares in the last twelve months. Part of Larsson’s plan to lift Ralph Lauren out of its misery is to speed things up. Literally. It currently takes well over a year for a design to hit shelves ,which accounts for improperly forecasting supply and demand. Instead, Larsson will shorten that turnaround, as he feels that nine months is a perfectly reasonable amount of time for designs to reach stores. Unfortunately, 50 of those stores will be closing. But at least there will be over 440 other stores from which to purchase those expedited designs. Phew. While this restructuring will cost Ralph Lauren a whopping $400 million, not to mention an additional $150 million in inventory reduction, this new plan will also help the retailer save $220 million a year and Ralph Lauren needs every million it can get.

Wait a minute…

ID-10078090

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Societe General Bank’s very own rogue trader, Jerome Kerviel, just got his day in court. Even though his poor trading skills cost the French bank billion in euros, and got him convicted of fraud and breach of trust in the process, the trader still managed to win a wrongful dismissal case against his former employer. What was, in fact, wrongful, was that SocGen waited too long between the time it discovered Kerviel’s misdeeds and the time it booted him from the firm. French labor code allows companies a grand total of two months to sanction those who have been found guilty of misconduct. Kerviel, however, was dismissed in 2008, many many months after the time, in 2007, when it was discovered that he went rogue and lost 4.9 billion euros. The Labor Court has now ordered SocGen to pay Kerviel 450,000 euros, which is roughly equivalent to $510,000. SocGen’s lawyer, Arnaud Chalut, called the ruling “scandalous,” presumably in French, and plans to appeal the decision. Kerviel, however, is not in the clear just yet and neither is his $510,000. France’s highest court already ruled that the three years of jail time to which Kerviel was sentenced was justified. But the court didn’t feel that he should be liable for the whole 4.9 billion euros. So the bank has brought a civil suit against Kerviel, which begins next week, to determine exactly how much he should pay back to SocGen.

Bid adieu…

ID-100206914

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Verizon is on the prowl for some internet business and it is honing in on Yahoo. The telecom giant is said to be bidding $3 billion for the privilege of owning Yahoo’s core internet biz, however, Verizon is not the only company looking to scoop up that entity. AT&T is said to be licking its chops at the opportunity, in addition to private equity firm TPG , Advent International and Vista Equity Partners, to name but a few. Experts were thinking that bids would come in between $4 billion and $8 billion. But then some bidders lost interest after Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made a presentation last month showing how Yahoo’s online ad biz is headed south, losing digital advertising ground to Facebook, Google and even Twitter. Yahoo, however, might just prove to be the perfect fit for Verizon, which already picked up AOL last year for $4.4 billion. Together with AOL, the two companies attract over one billion users every month. There is probably going to be one more bidding cycle before any deals are reached and it’s still anybody’s guess where Yahoo will land. But if I were a betting man…well, I’m not.

AmEx Wants to Know What Your Loyalty is Worth; How Do You Say Opel-ease in Russian?; FedEx’s Hit and Miss

Where’s your loyalty?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Maybe membership does still have its privileges. AmEx is trying to make a comeback following its breakup with powerhouse retailer, Costco, and rumors of an impending break-up with JetBlue. To soothe it’s broken fiscal heart, the company is making plans to offer a rewards program called “Plenti.” Catchy, huh? Joining forces with Macy’s, Exxon, RiteAid, AT&T and a few other companies, AmEx is offering a loyalty program where American consumers get to cash in points earned on their AmEx cards, and then redeem the points at these retailers. I say Americans, because AmEx already has loyalty programs in other parts of the world, including Germany and Italy. Fill up your car at Exxon and then run over to Macy’s and buy yourself a shirt. Or some vitamins at RiteAid. Or insurance. Yes, I did say insurance since Nationwide Insurers is one of the partners. As is Hulu. Cool, huh? . Noticeably absent from the list of participants is a national grocer and home improvement retailer. But fear not, oh faithful spender, as rumor has it those slots are just about to be filled. If you’re wondering how AmEx benefits, it’s simple: AmEx gets a fee from its partners-in-retail. Clever indeed.

No more vroom…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

GM is coming to a screeching halt in Russia after taking a 74% hit in sales there with an 86% hit on its Opel brand alone. Hence, GM has put the kibosh on Opel production altogether and will be drastically slowing down production on its Chevy lines, chalking it all up to a $600 million loss. The collapsed ruble and dropping oil prices have dealt a major blow to the Russian economy, with car sales especially down 38%. So GM decided to make a run for it. However, if you find yourself in Russia and jonesing for a Corvette, then no worries. Because Corvettes are imported, they will still be making their way into the country, together with Tahoes and Camaros. Can’t you just picture Putin cruising the Kremlin in a Camaro? Oddly enough, or not, the automobile company is still looking to up its Cadillac game in Russia. The luxury auto has yet to catch up to the popularity of European automobiles BMW and Audi. Tragically, only 72 of them have been sold in Russia in the first two months of the year.

Special delivery…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

FedEx released its earnings report, regaling Wall Street and the world with news of its prosperous third quarter. One of the fiscal highlights was the $11.7 billion in revenue the company took in. Not a major difference than what experts forecasted, and a modest 4% gain over last year, but the number did hit its target so nobody was necessarily complaining on that front. The big exciting numbers, though, came courtesy of FedEx’s impressive profits. At $580 million and $2.01 per share, the company’s net income was a whopping 63% higher than last year at this time. Analysts only predicted a profit of $1.88. It’s kind of nice when analysts are wrong. Just saying. And for that very impressive feat, FedEx can thank low fuel prices. Of course there were a few other reasons too, but fuel could definitely be crowned the star of this one. But then its shares took a bit of dip today on the news of its less than impressive outlook. The company expects to pull in between $8.80 – $8.95 per share for the year but analysts much prefer to see $8.98 per share. FedEx’s performance tends to hint to Wall Street what we can expect from our fickle economy. So if FedEx is feeling a bit too fiscally modest and only moderately ambitious, it makes The Street a little edgy.

The Urge to Merge, Targeting a Parachute and Cottage Cheese Sighs

Watch it where?

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Watching television on an actual…television? Ugh. That is like so last year. Well maybe not just yet but AT&T (T) and DirecTV (DTV) are banking on it. They are on a mission to deliver content to all of your devices and not jut that relic of a 96″ HD monitor you’ve been paying off  for the better part of the year. So much so that AT&T just picked up the satellite programming provider from the telecommunications giant for a staggering $48.5 billion. That’s $3.5 billion more than what Comcast (CMCSA) is shelling out for Time Warner Cable (TWC). The merger between AT&T and DirectTV puts their customer base at 26 million while Comcast/Time Warner Cable have slightly more at 30 million subscribers. However, all these companies do face regulatory issues from the FCC and the Department of Justice. But mergers like these are allegedly good for the consumer. Cheaper bundles are headed our way. Though to be fair I’m skeptical after spending my morning live chatting with one of the telecom giants just to switch my cable carrier.

They’re paying you what?!

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Target shareholders felt its recently ousted CEO, Gregg Steinhafel was getting a bit too much of payday. Especially considering he was at the helm of the company as its holiday shopping season hacking fiasco unfolded before his eyes. Steinhafel’s 2013 paycheck was slashed by 37%. Instead of making the $20.6 million he earned in 2012, he now only received $12.9 million. I know you feel for him. Steinhafel has to pay back $5.4 million in retirement benefits also. I know. I know. Your heart goes out to the guy. But not to worry. He can just wipe away his tears with all those $100 bills he’s going to have courtesy of his $54 million golden parachute.

Not so comforting food…

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While Campbell’s Soup (CPB) is good food, its earnings were definitely not. Despite marching out some new products this year, it just wasn’t enough to beat Wall Street’s expectations. The company behind Prego and the snack that smiles back, Goldfish, was not smiling back it its third quarter which saw its revenue pretty much flatline. Analysts pegged their earnings at $2 billion instead of the disappointing $1.97 billion it posted. It was hardly a dent into the $1.96 billion it pulled in last year at this time. On the dairy front, Kraft Foods (KRFT) must have been feeling a bit lactose intolerant today thanks to a cottage cheese recall. 1.2 million cases of the stuff was taken off the shelves. Some of their ingredients were not stored well and this may or may not result in stuff that would gross you out. But not as much as it’s going to gross out Kraft’s revenue.