Barclays Busted; Ford Ditches Mexico for China; UPS Gives Heads Up on Holiday Shipping

Cheerio…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like 2008 is not done haunting banks that allegedly played dirty back then. Today’s banking scandal, that includes charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, is brought to us by Barclays and four of its former executives. The trouble started in 2008 when Barclays reached out to Qatar for some substantial cash that the bank was going to use to avoid a major government bailout. Barclays was inclined to hit up Qatar investors for some big money instead of getting a governmental bailout because a governmental bailout comes with major governmental oversight. And for banks, governmental oversight is a four letter word. Of course, asking help from the Qataris wasn’t exactly the problem. While there were two rounds of fundraising from Qatari investors, with one involving a $3 billion loan for Barclays, the UK bank also paid the Qataris $406 million in “fees.” It seems that last bit might not have been honestly and properly disclosed to shareholders. And that got authorities wondering if Barclays was trying to cover up the the gist of the plan because it might not necessarily have been totally legit. Besides, anytime there is suspicion of toying with shareholders, you can expect that there will be hell to pay.  These charges mark the first time that any bank in Britain got busted for questionably lawful behavior during the 2008 fiscal crisis. So congrats, Barclays. You now hold that dubious distinction. If convicted, the bank faces a nasty fine and the former execs each face up to ten years in prison if found guilty. As for the Qatari’s, they’re off the hook. Completely.

Adios…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ford is ditching Mexico for China, at least as far as the Ford Focus is concerned.  Rumor has it that by ending all production of the vehicle in the U.S. and moving production to China instead of Mexico,  Ford will end up saving a whopping $1 billion. Which is especially weird since it is cheaper to build and import cars from Mexico as opposed to China. But here’s where the logic enters: Ford will now spend money to revamp just one factory in China instead of two in North America. Hence, billions of dollars in savings. While no U.S. jobs are expected to be affected, the United Auto Workers remained conspicuously silent regarding the news. This latest decision is the very first major one to come from Ford’s newly installed CEO Jim Hackett. However, what analysts are finding interesting is that this move shows how Ford is putting the focus – no pun intended – on SUV’s and trucks, as opposed to smaller, more fuel efficient cars, thanks to lower fuel costs. Besides, sales of the Ford Focus are down way over 20% since low gas prices are no longer standing in the way of those coveted SUV’s. The only question now is how is this move going to sit with President Trump and what will he tweet about it.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

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Start saving up. Christmas is just around the corner and UPS wants to let you know that it will be charging you extra to ship those holiday presents. Between November 19 and December 2, the package carrier will slap on a 27 cents surcharge and then again, from December 17 – 23. If you want your package delivered via next day air, then prepare to whip out 81 cents and 97 cents for two or three day ground delivery.  UPS typically delivers around 30 million packages a day during the holiday season and analysts are expecting that will rise even more. And who can blame UPS for charging more money to deliver your goods? After all, the holidays are the company’s peak season where not only can their internal systems become over-whelmed, but mother-nature can throw out a few unhelpful surprises as well.

 

It’s All About the Brexit; Gearing Up for Some Star Spangled Traveling; Chipotle Wants to Reward You

The British are leaving, the British are leaving…

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The Brexit vote continues to cause trouble and it probably will be awhile before it stops. Janet Yellen has canceled her appearance at a bank conference in Portugal that was organized by the European Central Bank. The Fed chief was supposed to speak on a panel with the Bank of England’s Governor Mark Carney and ECB president Mario Draghi. Carney now has more pressing matters to attend to, as does Draghi, who is now heading to Brussels for a summit with EU leaders to brief them on the impact of the Brexit vote and hash out a response to the U.K. referendum. The S&P yanked its AAA credit rating on the UK since the index feels that “this outcome is a seminal event, and will lead to a less predictable, stable, and effective policy framework in the U.K.” Ouch. On Friday, the pound plunged to its biggest one day drop EVER, as Barclays Plc and the Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc had their shares halted as a result of the plunge. Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew doesn’t get the feeling that there is a financial crisis brewing. Well, at least he said as much on CNBC recently. And if Jack Lew says it, then it’s good enough for me. I think. However, analysts aren’t as optimistic about the British economy and think the “Brexit” vote just might put the UK in a recession, besides dealing a major blow to European economic growth. Those analysts feel that the U.S. will also take a hit or two as well, but without any recession drama. And in case you were counting on a rate hike anytime soon, don’t. The Brexit vote put the kibosh on it and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Brake for it…

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Image courtesy of Chris Sharp/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

According to AAA, 43 million Americans are expected to travel this holiday weekend, beginning Thursday, June 30 thru Monday July fourth. That number is 5 million more than the amount of travelers on Memorial Day weekend and 1.2% more than the amount of travelers from last year’s holiday weekend. 84% of those traveling – 36.3 million, if you please – will be doing it by car, and if the the thought of heavy traffic congestion makes your skin crawl, then you can thank low gas prices for the increased congestion. The national average price for a gallon of gas is coming in at just $2.31, its lowest price since 2005 and 17% and 47 cents lower than it was last year at this time. But at least the traveling and the money being spent on those trips is good for economic growth. Americans saved a whopping $20 billion on gas spending this year so what better way to make up for it than by getting out on the road and commuting at least 50 miles from their homes. On a darker note, because of the increased traffic, the National Safety Council is expecting 450 auto-related deaths and 53,600 car-related injuries. But at least airfares will be lower and maybe even a safer way to travel this holiday weekend.

Muy caliente…

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Chipotle is biting the jalapeno-laced bullet and will now be offering up a rewards program. Yeah, that’s news. Before it’s food bore the makings of e. coli, salmonella and norovirus, Chipotle was a veritable rewards program snob, refusing to implement one. But I guess a slew of food-safety scandals and the fact that shares of the company have lost more than a third of their value since October gave the fast-food chain a fresh – no pun intended – perspective on its economics. Hence, we are now introduced to the Chiptopia Summer Rewards Program. It’s not clear if Wall Street feels this move is strategic as Chipotle does as the stock went down today almost 3%, closing at 388.78.The rewards program will begin July 1 and run until September. However, should the rewards program prove rewarding for Chipotle and actually help it reclaim any of the glory it lost last year as a result of its rash of food safety issues, then expect the rewards program to stay put. But diners beware as this loyalty program is not like other loyalty programs that require you to accrue points or spend a certain amount of money. Instead, Chiptopia rewards its customers by the amount of visits that they make in a given month. There are three levels customers can reach: mild, medium and hot. I will spare you the sordid and complicated details. However, in order to get those points customers will always need to purchase an entree with their order. Should they achieve the illustrious “hot,” status having visited Chipotle  eleven times – in one month -, then they get to enjoy three free burritos, which by the way, will count towards more rewards.

Microsoft Cuts Even More Jobs; Greece Banking on Another Bailout; Barclays Boots its Chie

NO-kia…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s not exactly a good day at Microsoft today  (or Greece, for that matter but we’ll get to that a bit later). The tech firm just announced that 7,800 more layoffs are coming down the pike, on top of the 18,000 layoffs the company announced last year. It seems the Windows maker just isn’t at the forefront of the latest tech era and its hitting the company in its portfolio. Microsoft had already sold off its online advertising business to AOL but a lot of their latest ills are courtesy of its $7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia. As luck would have it, that not-so-little purchase to make headway into the smartphone market wasn’t all that smart. Microsoft now has plans to write down $7.6 billion on the Nokia unit. The company just couldn’t seem to make strides against the reigning competition from Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android. Microsoft’s smartphone market share was just an abysmal 3% – a major letdown from a company who had so often dominated tech realms.

Here we go again…

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Image courtesy of africa/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Well, Greece finally whipped out its big grand plan which definitely loses points for lack of originality. Like a teenager who doesn’t seem to want to learn from his or her mistakes, the cash-strapped, debt-infused country has asked for yet another bailout. This time around, Greece asked for a three year bailout from the annoyed eurozone’s rescue funds. However, Greece is promising to implement pension and tax reforms. To be fair, no real details were actually given. Hmmm. Greek officials said they would map out a “comprehensive and specific reform agenda” by tomorrow. We’ll see about that. Now all those eurozone finance ministers have to decide if they’re going to give in to Greece. And while Greece’s Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, wants to reach a deal with creditors that needs to be fair on both sides, he also warned that his peeps need to be on board. Otherwise, no dice. What Tsipras and the fine people of Greece don’t dig are austerity measures. Any whiff of austerity and chances are no deal will be reached and more fiscal chaos will ensue. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew finally commented on the situation stressing that Europe ought to help Greece restructure its debt. Which would be super-great because maybe then stocks all over the world will finally cooperate and go up instead of taking bad financial cues from Greece.

The skills to pay the bills…

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Image courtesy of biosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Major drama coming out of Barclays today, where Chief Executive Antony Watkins received an unwelcome surprise – he got the boot. Fired. Shown the door. In a statement, Barclays, which has seen its share of scandal in the last few years, said “a new set of skills” was needed for the individual who will take the reins at the company. Ouch. Apparently, officials at the bank thought Watkins wasn’t doing enough to dig Barclays out of its scandal-laden pit. Board chairman, John McFarlane, will serve as interim chief until a more permanent replacement can be found –  one who presumably possesses that much desired skill-set. Barclays, Britain’s biggest bank, is currently staring down the wrong end of fines and investigations over its role and manipulation of London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) as well as its other un-flattering role in foreign exchange rate manipulation. Nice, huh?

Banks Behaving Badly Get Slapped with Billion Dollar Fines; Target’s Earnings Bullseye; Hormel Ears on All That Spam

Busted…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The fun is over for a group of foreign exchange traders who brazenly dubbed themselves “The Cartel” and went about manipulating the price euros and dollars to score some extra cash. Now, because of them, five major banks have to shell out over $5 billion in settlement fees. Citicorp, J.P. Morgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland all admitted their fiscal misdeeds that began in December of 2007. UBS pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and has to pay over half a billion dollars in fines. But the Swiss bank dodged some other penalties and gained conditional immunity for being the first to report on the criminal activities taking place. These forex traders would share confidential information about their clients’ orders and then plan out trades that would conveniently boost their own profits. Entrance into the group was by invitation only and one participant said at one point, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” Charming, huh? The resourceful plan proved quite profitable until January 2013 when investigators finally honed in on what was going on. Even though no criminal charges were brought, as per the settlement agreement, investigations into other foreign exchange issues are not going away any time soon.  And of course, plenty of traders were given their walking papers. As for the movie rights…well, I suppose you can expect to see this play out in theaters within a few years. No sense in Hollywood not profiting off this, right?

Hit it…

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Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Seems like only yesterday when Target was rocked by a data breach that cost the retailer tens of million of dollars. Then there was the fiasco, also known as “Target’s Canadian Expansion,” that saw the retailer pulling the plug on the 133 stores located there. But those not so minor hiccups seem to be water on the fiscal bridge as Target released its latest earnings that hit their mark and saw its third straight quarter of sales growth, especially in home goods and apparel. So how good were these earnings? How does a a 52% increase in profits sound? That’s right, Target scored $635 million in net income, up from $418 million just one year ago, gaining $1.10 per share. Analysts were only predicting $1.02 per share. Clearly, those analysts were not amongst the many consumers lined up at five in the morning hoping to score some limited edition Lilly Pulitzer merchandise. Revenue was also up 2.8% which had everybody on Wall Street marveling at the fact that Target’s great earnings put Wal-Mart’s not great earnings to shame. Especially because sales at Target were up 38%, which is about double what Wal-Mart pulled in.

Talking turkey…

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Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hormel, the original Spam maker, long before it was known for crowding our inboxes, just released its earnings and there’s good news. And bad news. The good news is that profit for the company increased 29% to $180.2 million with sales of $2.3 billion. The company pulled in 67 cents per share while analysts expected 62 cents per share. You may not be eating Spam, but somebody out there is. Besides, Hormel, being the largest meat processor in the United States, makes tons of other products including Roast Beef Hash and, I kid you not, Wholly Guacamole. In case you didn’t realize, Hormel’s got big business going in the refrigerated foods industry. The company also has a Jennie-O turkey store business, which brings us to the bad news: bird flu. There is a new bird-flu outbreak and if you want to sound sophisticated you can refer to it as avian influenza. Not only is this expected to take a big bite out of Hormel’s numbers, but it is also predicted that this outbreak is going to wreak havoc on the rest of the turkey industry as well. Forgive me if I just put an extremely early damper on your Thanksgiving.

Barnes & Noble Doing the Splits, The Mood Darkens at Barclays and Wall Street Not So Cuckoo For General Mills

Splitsville…

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Image courtesy of adamr/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While everyone loves a great love story, Wall Street is loving an impending break-up instead. Barnes & Noble just announced its earnings today which were less than spectacular. But it also announced its plans for the Nook – namely, that its future does not include the e-reader. Sales of the Nook have been dragging down the bookseller for awhile because it has been unable to compete with the likes of Apple and Amazon. The plan is either to make two separate companies where the Nook business would be its own public company and Barnes & Noble would keep its books, e-books and college bookstore division or the Nook business would perhaps get picked up in a private sale.Whatever the outcome, Wall Street cheered the news of the split by causing shares of Barnes & Noble to jump a little.

Dark matters…

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Image courtesy of Idea go/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like Barclays is the latest bank to get slapped with a lawsuit courtesy of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The issue at hand: Dark pools. Indeed a term like that is filled with suspense and intrigue but more importantly, questionably ethical high frequency traders (or HFT’s as the cool kids call it). As necessity is the mother of invention, dark pools were crafted for institutional investors to trade huge amounts of shares under the mysterious cloak of anonymity. HFT’s were allegedly given special access to Barclays dark pools and now the bank stands accused of helping to hide the dubious ways of these HFT’s. What is the harm of all this to you? Glad you asked, telepathically, of course. HFT’s benefit by putting other investors (perhaps yourself) at a disadvantage. Some argue that HFT’s provide a public service by inadvertently (or advertently?) reducing trading costs. The SEC and Department of Justice argue otherwise.

Crumb-y sales…

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Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

General Mills announced its earnings. Not that it made much difference as the company’s earnings came to resemble little more than a virtually flat line. So now the company, best known in my home for such classics as Coco Puffs and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, will embark on a “formal review” which is just corporate code for finding ways to cut costs and make a ton more money. But it wasn’t a complete flat line. After all the company did go down 7% in international sales. Here in the States sales fell 3% in categories including (but not limited to) frozen foods and yogurt. Cereal remained the same at $2.4 billion in sales. The CEO blamed some of the disappointing earnings on lots of promotional spending that fell flat – no pun intended. Well, maybe just a little.