Starbucks Betting on $10 Coffee; Trump Ready to Dump on Pharmaceuticals; Trump’s June Stock Dump

Jolted…

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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is stepping down from his post in April with plans to build a Starbucks’ prestige brand where he will serve as its Executive Chairman. The idea is that by going upscale Starbucks will be able to raise its profile with those pesky millennials. Besides that, the company needs to compete with a number of other upscale rivals that keep rearing their gourmet heads all over the place. One thousand “Reserve” brand stores are slated to set up shop with another 30 large Reserve Roastery (expect to find that word added to a dictionary near you) and Tasting Rooms expected to open up all over the globe. In case you were wondering what one orders from this new prestige brand, you might consider purchasing a $10 cup of coffee that you can sip daintily from a glass siphon.  Or perhaps you’re up for paying $50 for an 8 oz. bag of an exotic, small-lot coffee? I’m sure you’ll find something worth depleting your funds.  In any case, Starbucks also announced plans to open another 12,000 stores –  that’s in addition to its already existing 25,000 stores –  in the next five years.  Five thousand stores are slated just for China. The company also plans to annually boost revenue by 10% while adding between 15% – 20% to its shares, and increase its focus on its food offerings since the coffee giant is convinced it can double its growth in that area.

What a pill…

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Donald Trump’s latest executive plans involve bringing down drug prices and the pharmaceutical companies that keep increasing them with seemingly reckless abandon. Which is kind of ironic since pharmaceutical stocks saw a huge surge following Trump’s election. And here they thought they had an ally. Hah! A Kaiser Family Foundation survey leading up to the election found that people felt drug prices were the number one healthcare issue for the next President. Well, I guess the President-elect is ready for it then. Sort of. Trump has yet to outline any concrete plans on how he is going to achieve this goal. But during his campaign, Trump did say that he is all in favor of consumers having their meds re-imported. He also wants Medicare for the elderly to renegotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical manufacturers. That should be fun to watch, especially because both the industry and many many Republicans are vehemently against that idea. Stay tuned for that drama. Just today, Pfizer Inc. and Flynn Pharmaceutical Ltd. were slapped with some massive record fines in the UK after raising drug prices by…wait for it…2,600%. Now, Pfizer will cough up about $106 million, while Flynn will fork over approximately $6.5 million. I guess they should be happy that they were busted in the U.K. and still have time to clean up their act in the United States before Trump-dom takes effect. In the meantime, Allergan Plc. CEO Brett Saunders is bracing himself for the new president’s impact and said Trump could end up being more “vicious” on pharmaceuticals and their drug pricing than Hillary Clinton might have been. But he also pledged to limit price increases to less than 10% per year. Or perhaps he did that lest Trump unleash his Twitter wrath on Allergan, just like he’s done to several other individual companies including Carrier Corp., Ford and Boeing.

Under-stocked…

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Yesterday, President-elect Donald Trump’s team announced, with no explicable reason as to the timing, that he sold off all of his stocks back in June. Don’t hold your breath for proof of that sell-off as none was provided. While being interviewed today on the “Today” show by host Matt Later after being named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year,” Trump explained that he decided to unload his stock holdings in order to avoid any conflicts of interest. How very gallant of Mr. Trump.  And even though the press was not made aware of it until yesterday, Donald Trump insisted that everybody already knew. We just don’t know who “everybody” is. Mr. Trump went on to say that he sold off his stocks since he knew he would win the election and would be making deals for the United States that could affect various companies in all sorts of different ways. That was indeed very thoughtful of him. He also said he didn’t even own that much stock.  Which is debatable at best since a recent filing from December of 2015 valued his holdings at $40 million. But in all fairness, his stock market holdings pale in comparison to his real estate holdings which apparently make up the bulk of his net worth.  Ethics experts, however, are suggesting those real-estate holdings might also be a conflict-of-interest as well. Just saying. It’s worth noting that since his sell-off, the S&P 500 went up over 10% while the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit some very impressive all-time highs. Since Trump’s victory, many stocks have also hit all-time highs and, of course, he’s taking credit for it.

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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?

Boeing’s Next Big Thing. And You Might Not Like It; Upper Middle Class Marks its Territory; To Brexit or Not to Brexit, Part Two

Coffee, tea or uranium enrichment?

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Boeing reportedly just signed an agreement with Iran Air so that the official airline of the potentially rogue nation can buy about 100 commercial aircraft from the American company. Rumor has it that the deal is worth $25 billion but there are still plenty of details that need to be hammered out before you can plan your Tehran vacay. Iran is definitely hard up for some new aircraft because it has just 250 aircraft and only 162 of them can fly, if that. The rest need spare parts. But with sanctions that have been in place for decades, those spare parts have been impossible to come by. Apparently the U.S. government feels that Iran held up its end of the dubious nuclear accord, however, the U.S. treasury still needs to give its seal of approval, along with every other human being in DC and beyond. You may not like the idea of the U.S. doing business with Iran but Boeing factory workers feel otherwise, as do Boeing shareholders who are chomping at the bit to get in on the profitable action. The fact is, the country is seen – and not just by the U.S. – as a promising growth market and there is plenty of money to be made there. European aircraft companies, Airbus and ATR, already have their agreements lined up with the Islamic Republic. Unfortunately, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni is not so enthusiastic about buying aircraft from the United States and doesn’t see it an a priority. But then again, his state sponsors terrorism. So do we really care what his priorities are? Didn’t think so.

So classy!

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The upper middle class is thriving. At least that’s what the Urban Institute and economist Stephen Rose are saying. And just what makes a person upper middle class anyway? Glad you asked. If you find yourself in a three-person family that generates an annual income between $100,000 and $350,00, then you, my friend, are a thriving member of the upper middle class. Congratulations. I think. Stephen Rose argues that the true divide is not between the rich and poor, but rather it’s divided between the wealthy combined with the upper middle class, and everybody else. Warms the heart, no? The upper middle class was, once upon a time in 1979, 13% of the population. But in 2014, that class made up almost the 30% of the population. While the wealthy used to be just .1% of the population, that group is now 1.8% of the population. The middle class shrunk, presumably because some became wealthier and some…did not, and now makes up 32% of the population, compared to almost 39% back in 1979. The middle class, by the way, is defined as a family generating income between $50,000 to $100,000 annually. Just as there is an upper middle class, there is also a lower middle class which is defined as generating an annual income between $30,000 – $50,000. Generating an annual income anything less than that is probably not where you want to be. But on a high note, the standard of living has gone up for nearly all Americans, no matter what class they’re in.

 

Rate a moment…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Janet Yellen appeared before the Senate Banking Committee and among the many fiscal pearls she imparted, she said that the Central Bank would go forward cautiously on its plan to gradually increase rates. Even though many experts were sure a June rate increase was in the works, “considerable uncertainty” with regard to the  U.S. economic outlook, global economic issues, a hiring slowdown and the looming “Brexit” vote in Britain nixed any thought of an increase. Janet Yellen did stress that the U.S. is not taking sides on the Brexit issue but cautioned that there will likely be economic consequences to the U.S, which sounds awfully ominous. There is concern that a Brexit would increase the value of the dollar, and that is not always a good thing, as evidenced by the dozens of companies that have lost millions of dollars in revenue and profits this year because of the strong dollar overseas. Ms. Yellen would like to see, among other things, a rebound in hiring and some growth improvement in the economy. No major surprises from the Brits would be nice too. Also during the meeting, Sen. Elizabeth Warren commented on the lack of diversity among the members of the Central Bank. Ten out of the 12 members are men, not there is anything wrong with those gentlemen. But still. Anyways, Chairwoman Yellen graciously replied: “It’s important to have a diverse group of policy makers who can bring different perspectives to bear.”Amen!

Hamas Terrorists/Murderers Win Big Over the FAA, Boeing Not Up Up and Away and Facebook Sooo High Up

Yes, the terrorists have won…

Image courtesy of FrameAngel/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FrameAngel/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It looks like the murderous terrorist Hamas organization scored a major victory against the world, and the US commercial airline industry as it got the FAA to ban flights to Israel. All major carriers including Delta and United Airlines have canceled flights because they are concerned that bloodthirsty Hamas will bring down aircraft with its never-ending supply of missiles obtained with lots of assistance from its nuke-happy friends in Iran. It’s a curious ban since there isn’t one in place for Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen – which begs the question as to whether or not the ban was really born out of safety concerns or just blatant run-of-the-mill anti-Semitism and sympathy for terrorists. Hmmm. The ban is expected to reduce revenue for airlines by tens of millions of dollars –  if not more. A major coup for Hamas, no doubt. But at least former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who knows a things or two about money and politics, showed some major falafel balls by coming to Israel on an El Al flight to show solidarity for a country that is under constant attack by butchers whose sole purpose in life is to murder every single Jewish person on the planet.

Not exactly taking off?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Aerospace and defense company Boeing released its earnings today and all I can say is: Wow. “Wow” for two very distinct reasons. Reason number one is that the Chicago, Illinois-based company pulled in a profit of over 50% with a net income of close to $1.7 billion and $2.24 earnings per share. Boeing didn’t just beat the Street’s estimates it pummeled them. As for “wow” reason number two: The stock isn’t soaring, flying high or (insert any number of aviation-related analogies here) despite its amazing profits. That’s because Boeing’s $22.04 billion revenue was lower than Wall Street’s $22.3 billion estimate. Potatoes. Puhtatoes, I know, but still, when Wall Street has expectations, you best meet them. The company delivered 181 new aircraft this year – a 7% increase –  with over 780 more in the works. It’s all very promising but Wall Street wasn’t as smitten with the fact that the company got a one-time $524 million tax-cut that helped bring in that profit. It probably also didn’t help that Malaysia Airlines flights 370 and 17 were both Boeing jets.

“Like”

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Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

But guess who did soar? Facebook. Okay so that’s not exactly shocking news. Maybe just a little bit to the investors who were a tad bit skeptical over Facebook’s lack of mobile ad revenue. But it looks like this quarter cleared up those concerns as the social media giant is up over 60% propelled by those very ads and the cash they are bringing in – even as I write this. Analysts expected sales of $2.8 billion but hellooooo – this is Facebook we’re talking about and it pulled in more – $2.9 billion, naturally. Net income was up over $790 million and $.30 a share. That’s way more than double from a year ago. And with 1.5 million advertisers, and over 1.3 billion users, Facebook and its investors have a lot to “like.”