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.

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GM Invests in US. Trump Takes All the Credit (Again); Tiffany & Co. Credits Trump for Quarterly Loss; No Trump-ing Mattel with New CEO

Pressure cooker…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

GM just announced that it is throwing a whopping $7 billion into several of its U.S. plants in order to bring back thousands of jobs, in addition to the 56,000 hourly workers it already employs here. Naturally, Trump is taking credit for these actions and it’s kind of weird that he would since GM said these plans were already in place for months. Who you choose to believe doesn’t matter because Trump already tweeted about it:”With all of the jobs I am bringing back into the U.S. (even before taking office), with all of the new auto plants coming back…I believe the people are seeing ‘big stuff.'” Nothing says POTUS quite like the term, “big stuff.” But just so you know, GM didn’t exactly deny that Trump didn’t have something to do with its newly announced plans either. Although, General Motors did mention something to the effect of “this was good timing.” Feel free to read into that however you want since it’s no secret that Trump was gunning for GM over its manufacturing of the Chevy Cruze south of the border, and then bringing it back into the country tax-free. Incidentally, GM CEO Mary Barra is part of a panel of CEOs who are advising Trump on economic policy. Also incidentally, Mary Barra is expected to attend the President-elect’s inauguration.

Good fences?

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Guess who else is not happy with Trump? Okay, I guess that list is kind of long so I’ll just tell you: Tiffany & Co. The jeweler, which happens to own a flagship store that is adjoined to Trump Tower, reported a 14% drop in sales at that very store on Fifth Avenue. To be fair, the iconic jeweler was expecting a drop thanks to Trump. Only this one was worse than expected, citing “post-election disruptions.” Roughly translated, that means that in addition to the many many anti-Trump protesters, potential shoppers also had to contend with heightened security, courtesy of the secret service and NYPD, not to mention journalists and hoards of tourists eager to see if they could catch a glimpse of the President-elect. So just how bad were Tiffany & Co.’s sales? Well, in the US, those numbers only came in at $483 million, with comparable store sales down 4%.  And the luxury retailer isn’t very hopeful about those numbers going up in 2017.  But because Trump isn’t everywhere, global sales of Tiffany & Co. came in at $966 million, which was just a tad bit higher than last year at this time.

Don’t toy with her…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Barbie is getting a new boss as Mattel gears up for its second CEO since 2015. Enter Margaret “Margo” Georgiadis, whose last gig, for the past six years, was over at Google. She was President of Google Americas and oversaw commercial operations and ad sales for the U.S., Canada and Latin America. So, it’s safe to say she’s (over?) qualified for the job. She is among just 27 top ranking female executives at Fortune 500 companies. Georgiadis, who also worked at Groupon and Discover Financial Services, begins her role at Mattel on February 8, where she will also sit on the board of the company. She’ll be tasked with coming up with new, and hopefully ingenious ways to boost sales in a climate that has kids hypnotized by mobile devices. Unfortunately, these nefarious electronic gadgets have been putting a dent into the sales of not only Mattel, but Hasbro and Lego as well. However,  given that Georgiadis has a reputation for successfully building brands, boosting sales of Fisher-Price, Hot Wheels and the American Girl line should be easy as pie. Well, hopefully.

Trump Tweets Out Boeing’s Air Force One; Lego’s Brick-By-Brick Expansion Plans; SeaWorld Sees Layoffs

Boeing going gone…

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President-elect Donald Trump was on Twitter. Again. This time he was telling Boeing to cancel the order for the new Air Force One that’s in the works.  In his usual eloquent manner he said that the cost to build the plane “is totally out of control.”  And just what exactly does “out of control” look like when you’re building a fleet of aircraft for the Commander-In-Chief? Well, it depends on who you ask but Trump has that figure pegged at $4 billion, though it’s not entirely clear where he got it. Another report has the Air Force budgeting the new planes at about $1.6 billion. However, it’s expected that the fleet of planes will cost $102 million this fiscal year, and another $3 billion over the next five years. So maybe Trump’s got his ducks in a row on this one. His tweets went on to say: “I think Boeing is doing a little bit of a number. We want Boeing to make a lot of money, but not that much money.” He probably would prefer if Boeing weren’t making that money off taxpayers’ backs. The Pentagon wants to replace the current fleet as it will have reached its 30 year service life in 2017. It has been around since 1990, has flown over one million miles and, in all fairness, could use  more than few upgrades – whether Trump’s on board or not. Which he won’t be because the aircraft is not scheduled to be ready for another ten years or so. Naturally, shares of Boeing fell on the news of Trump’s sentiments. In the meantime, 56% of Americans think Donald Trump uses Twitter way too much. Perhaps the time has come for his cabinet members and advisers to take away his phone.

Lego to stand on…

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Lego CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp is stepping down from his position and that’s actually good news. Knudstorp is leaving his post in order to move on to greener pastures as Chairman of  the Lego Brand Group. The toy company is on a mission to restructure itself to keep up with its growth momentum. By creating the Lego Brand Group, the company plans to explore new business ventures, opportunities and ideas that will help expand the brand in new, exciting and highly profitable ways. For the first half of the year the company posted an unwelcome surprise drop in profit of $499 million though its revenue still went up. The company blamed Americans, or rather, the fact that sales in the United States were flat. But, that’s probably the same thing. In any case, as part of his new gig, Knudstorp will be overseeing the family’s 75% stake in the company which is currently run by fourth generation Lego owner Thomas Kirk Kristiansen. Chief Operations Officer Bali Padda will take over for Knudstorp, officially becoming the first non-Dane to hold the post. The privately held company is headquartered in Denmark and employs over 18,000 people. Knudstorp, who said he plans to stay at Lego for the rest of his career, joined the company back in 2001, when the company was losing about $1 million a day. Lego just couldn’t compete with an exponentially-increasing digital toy industry. But it turns out it didn’t need to when it made Knudstorp CEO in 2004. Under his leadership, he made changes, booted people, brought in new folks and saw Lego’s revenue jump fivefold. Last year the company fiscally surpassed both Mattel and Hasbro, even with all their Barbie/ My Little Pony/Hot Wheels/electronic toys, to become the number one toy company in the world. No small feat considering that unlike Mattel and Hasbro, Lego pretty much makes just one product with assorted variations: a plastic brick.

Under water?

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With shrinking attendance, decreasing revenue and dwindling profits, SeaWorld announced plans to say a not so warm goodbye to 320 of its employees, both salaried and hourly. It was only back in 2014 that SeaWorld said goodbye to another unlucky 300 employees. The  soon-to-be-former employees will be receiving “enhanced severance benefits” which is fancy talk for some cash and maybe health insurance to tide them over for a little while. SeaWorld has even offered to help them find work elsewhere. How moving. The entertainment company is on a mission to restructure itself in any way possible to keep it from losing any more money than it already has. Of course, cost-cutting always factors in, along with examining how best to improve and streamline the rest of the business. Back in March SeaWorld made the decision to stop breeding Orca whales and also scrapped the shows in which the whales starred. SeaWorld is also blaming Disney and Universal for their disappointing digits, unable to woo away visitors from their PETA-friendlier attractions. Also, there seemed to be a drop in Brazilian visitors, presumably because they remained in Brazil for the Olympics, one might suspect, which apparently affected SeaWorld’s earnings.  Who knew SeaWorld relies on a Brazilian contingent to patronize its parks to help churn out a buck or two?

A Green Giant Farewell; Mobile-ads: Verizon Set to Unleash Service; Everything Is Fiscally Awesome at Lego

Yo ho ho…

Image courtesy of  Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s time for the Jolly Green Giant to pack his bags. Together with Le Sueur, the two brands are getting some new digs over at B&G Foods, home to favorites such as Cream of Wheat and snack sensation Pirate’s Booty (a personal fave). B&G is paying $765 million in cash for the joy of adding the oversized brand symbol to its coffers and is expecting the Giant and his 160 plus products to bring in net sales of over half a billion, adding 60 cents per share. Jolly Green Giant and Le Suer are currently under General Mills, however, the maker of  Cheerios has been noting a shift in consumer preferences and has decided now would be a good time to unload the two companies. Apparently, shoppers are preferring fresher selections, as opposed to the sauce laden and frozen offerings that Green Giant and Le Sueur crank out. General Mills, which also has Yoplait yogurt, will now focus its efforts – and of course, money – into cultivating its brands and geographical locations that have more potential. It will also put a bit more oomph into some edible health and wellness endeavors. Which basically means it will shift gears to whatever products and areas will bring in the most amounts of cash. Sounds fair.

You’ve got ad-sales…

Image courtesy of twobee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of twobee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

AOL (remember them?) also did a little shopping today picking up Maryland-based Millennial Media Inc. to the tune of $250 million to broaden its mobile-ad market share. At that price, the company was bought for $1.75 a share, a 31% premium to its closing price on Wednesday. Millenial took in almost $300 million in sales with an $83 million net loss last year. Verizon Communications Inc picked up AOL back in June for a trifle $4 billion, in an attempt to beef up its mobile ad technology, something at which AOL apparently excels. Verizon AOL now has big plans to challenge Facebook and Google (is that even possible?) who currently reign supreme over the mobile-ad market, and unleash its own mobile streaming video service called Go90.

Brick by brick…

Image courtesy of ArtJSan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ArtJSan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lego may not be a publicly traded company, but the company sure manages to pull in some boffo numbers, even surpassing Mattel as the world’s largest toymaker. Which is particularly insane since it only makes…well, Lego.  And while Mattel’s Barbie, Hot Wheel and Fisher-Price products still have sway, those toys, can’t seem to get a plastic leg up on Lego’s mesmerizing Ninjas and elves and…well, everything else. In fact, Mattel’s revenue fell almost 5% to $1.91 billion, with unwelcome help from Barbie and company. Lego, however, benefitted from foreign currency swings, not to mention a boost from The Lego Movie. The Danish company scored 3.55 billion Danish kroner, which translates to $537.5 million in the first half of the year and took in a 31% jump in profits. The company’s revenue also rose 23% to $14.14 billion. And there’s no reason to forecast that theses numbers won’t continue to rise. With a new Star wars movie coming out, which always does a fine job of boosting Lego sales, and a new video game, Lego Dimensions, due out late September, the toy company’s outlook is nothing but rosy.

Bitcoin Makes its Stateside Debut; Bad Day for Barbie; Fruity Pebbles Gets Some Company

It’s a bit time…

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The first US regulated bitcoin exchange has made its US virtual debut. San Francisco-based Coinbase raised $106 million with some of that backing coming from Andreessen Horowitz and even the New York Stock Exchange. Which must mean that this whole crypto-currency thing is super legit, despite the fact that there is no government backed regulation for it, nor is it backed by the FDIC. But no worries as Coinbase, which already has 1.9 million users, 2.2 million accounts and 40,000 companies signed up with it, says it is insured against hacking, internal theft and accidental loss.  How very forward-thinking. Especially considering that earlier this month, European bitcoin exchange, Bitstamp, suffered a hack attack that cost it about $5.2 million. Of course, nobody will forget how Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox was forced to call it quits after getting brutally hacked…to bits. Coinbase is currently allowed to conduct business in 25 states and makes its money by taking 0.25% of Bitcoin transactions. How very industrious. But the exchange doesn’t take its cut for the first two months after opening an account because Coinbase very thoughtfully felt this would be a good gimmick to attract more business. Hey, sign me up. Now if I could just get myself some Bitcoins…

Just not that into you anymore…

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Image courtesy of ratch0013/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Big changes are taking place at Mattel, the toy company famous for the ever-evolving “Barbie Doll.” Barbie is, in part anyways, the reason for the major power shift at Mattel. It seems girls are just not that into her anymore. Sales of the doll worldwide have been falling for the past few years with this last quarter, which included the holiday shopping season, ending on a particularly dismal note. Barbie, her friends and that malleable Malibu Dream House just can’t compete anymore with Disney’s Frozen dolls. Barbie also can’t seem to compete with electronic devices (and really, what can?). Mattel earned close to $150 million and $0.44 a share, which seems decent, unless of course that is a 60% drop from what the company pulled in last year. Mattel also said that because the dollar was so strong against other currencies, it affected sales. Except the dollar’s strength against other currencies didn’t seem to affect sales of the aforementioned Disney Frozen dolls and electronic devices.  Hence, Bryan Stockton, who up until this morning was Mattel’s Chairman and CEO, will be replaced by Christopher Sinclair , who will become interim chairman and CEO.

Man that’s a lot of cereal…

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Post Holdings Inc., which is best known, in my most humble opinion anyways, for Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles, has decided to pick up MOM Brands to the crunchy tune of $1.15 billion. MOM Brands is best known, in my most humble opinion for Malt-O-Meal hot cereal – and perhaps, even better known for its seventies/eighties era commercial with that kid who asks for some more Malt-O-Meal, which was supposed to send our mothers into a tizzy to run out and buy boxes of the low-in-sugar breakfast (it should be duly noted that I didn’t fall for it). I wonder what became of him. In any case, MOM Brands is also known for ripping off other cereals and selling them for less, or as they say in the land of marketing, value brands. Laugh all you want, but those value brands brought in revenue of $760 million and $120 million in profit. This new crunchy company combo will take an 18% bite out of the market share for cereal, with General Mills and Kellogg’s still taking 30% of market share.

Can’t Cap the Apple; Let It Go, Barbie. There’s A New Disproportioned Blond In Town; Tiffany & Co.’s Luxe Earnings

In case you missed it…

Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Apple can breathe a sigh of relief now that it is officially king of the world. Sort of. The tech company has officially surpassed the $700 billion mark of its market capitalization meaning it is now the most valuable company in the world. Make that universe. ExxonMobil, on the other hand, is not-so-prominently perched at the number two spot.  What this all means is that Apple’s outstanding shares are worth way more than all of ExxonMobil’s outstanding shares – by $300 billion. To put it in perspective, a tech company whose gadgets many people do not even own, is more valuable than an energy company whose commodity is consumed constantly by nearly every single person on the planet. Sitting in third place is Microsoft, with Johnson & Johnson nipping at its heels in fourth.

Let It Go?

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Could it be? Is Barbie’s rock star status taking a hit? According to the National Retail Federation, the original, plastic, disproportioned blond has been unseated by “Frozen.” Anna, Elsa and company have become the number one go-to gift this holiday season putting Barbie in second place. The survey has been conducted for the last eleven years and this is the very first time in the survey’s history that Barbie is not  provocatively posed at the number one spot. The whole “Frozen” phenomenon has thus generated about $1.3 billion in sales, globally. Good news for Disney, bad new for Mattel, the company behind Barbie. What’s even worse news for Mattel is the fact that in 2016, Hasbro picks up the license for the “Frozen” dolls. If you happen to be  wondering what the number one toy boys will be getting, look no further than the Lego aisle.

Little blue boxes…

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Image courtesy of MR LIGHTMAN/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just as I chucked my Tiffany & Co. catalog into the recycling bin, the luxury retailer posted its third quarter earnings. Unlike myself, apparently, many of you are not only not chucking the catalog in the recycling bin, but you are actually going into the pricey retailer and plunking down major wads of money for its very expensive merchandise – just not so much for their cheaper silver lines, interestingly enough.  In fact, here in America, sales were up 10%. Which is especially good since Asia doesn’t seem to be sharing America’s enthusiasm for the luxe jeweler where sales there were down 12%. Revenue did rise 5.2% to $957 million and $0.76 per share. However, analysts were expecting the company to rake in $0.77 per share on $969 million. Maybe the holiday season will help add a little more brilliance to Tiffany & Co.’s fourth quarter.

Heads Will Roll At Microsoft, Morgan Stanley Shows the Other Banks How It’s Done and, Barbie’s Not Looking Too Fabulous This Quarter

Giving the (pink) slip…

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Image courtesy of jscreationzs?FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Things are looking…well…not so good over at Microsoft, particularly for those working for the Nokia division which Microsoft bought back in April for the not-so-modest sum of $7.2 billion. Over 12,000 head are expected to roll. Another 6,000 Microsoft employees – give or take – will also get pink their slips. And while folks at Microsoft are not too happy, Wall Street actually celebrated the news by sending shares of the company up 3%. CEO Satya Nadella, in his post just five months, announced that the time has come (actually it came awhile ago) for Microsoft to step up its “A” game to compete with Google and Apple. So he wants to help shift things from its mostly software centered business to more online services, apps and devices. A respectable endeavor, no doubt. Nadella is Microsoft’s third CEO and this is the company’s largest round of lay-offs in its 39 year existence.

On top of the world…

Image courtesy of hywards/FreDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of hywards/FreDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like Morgan Stanley’s Chairman and CEO James Gorman doesn’t need to polish his resume. The last of the big banks to announce their earnings this week, Morgan Stanley reported boffo numbers for its second quarter with major props going out to its wealth management and investment banking divisions. Net income rose to $1.86 billion – a 131% increase over last years $803 million. Its clients’ assets exceeded $2 trillion (note the “t”). Its earnings gain was helped by a $609 million tax benefit amd its profit margins for the first time hit 21%. All while rivals Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America posted lower than expected profits. Boohoo.

Toy-ing with earnings…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like Barbie is not enjoying her fabulous fifties. The iconic buxom blond doll, which turned 55 this year, and its parent company, Mattel, are having a very bad second quarter with a 60% drop in revenue. It might have been worse were it not for Mattel’s Disney Frozen toys and its American Girl products. But Barbie, well she was down 15%. Apparently she’s not as relatable as her Monster High competitiors. Hot Wheels and Fisher-Price brands were also down. Net income for the toy company was $28.3 million – a far far cry from last year’s $73.3 million. But it wasn’t all Barbie’s fault. Mattel’s purchase of MEGA Brands, its attempt at competing with the Lego powerhouse, also put a dent in those figures.