Airbnb Apologizes for Slow Reaction to Site’s Racists; Wells Fargo Eats $185 Million for Ridiculous Sales Quotas; Apple’s Latest Bites Wall Street

Diss-crminate…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Airbnb said sorry. Not because of all the discrimination that occurs on its site but because Airbnb was on the slow side when it came to responding to complaints about racist hosts and all the horrible stories surrounding #AirbnbWhileBlack. So, like any major company hit with a scandalous fiasco, Airbnb, which has a valuation around $26 billion and hosts in more than 30,000 cities, has come up with a new set of policies it hopes will act as a deterrent to those who wish to practice discrimination. Now, if would-be hosts claim that their lodgings are unavailable for certain dates, Airbnb will not allow those users to re-list their lodgings at a later time for the same-exact dates. While the site plans to reduce the significance of profile photos, critics argue that there shouldn’t even be any photos of hosts and guests. That way host discriminators can’t claim their lodgings are “unavailable” based on the color of a guest’s skin and guests wouldn’t be able to choose accommodations based on a host’s race and/or ethinicity. Airbnb, however, disagrees and feels that photos are a security measure that allows hosts and guests to recognize each other. Just for good measure, former ACLU head Laura Murphy and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder were brought in to consult and institute the new company policies.

No credit to you…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fraud hurts. Just ask Wells Fargo, now that it will be choking down more than $185 million in the form of fines and penalties for pushing customers to open accounts that they didn’t want. According to the Consumer  Financial Protection Bureau, the largest U.S. bank opened some 2 million fee-generating accounts that were probably not authorized. Of those, 565,00 unwanted credit card accounts were opened. This was the largest fine ever imposed by this agency. Some employees took the liberty of opening accounts for unwilling customers and when that failed, made up fake accounts and even forged signatures. All in the name of sales quotas. The complaint was filed following an investigation that began back in 2013. The employees said they took those measures because of the intense pressure of meeting some very strict and unreasonable sales quotas. Wells Fargo has set aside $5 million to cover refunds to customers.  As part of the settlement, Wells Fargo doesn’t have to admit wrongdoing. I guess the $185 million says it anyway. But be sure to stop by your local Well Fargo. Employees there are eager to help you close up any accounts customers don’t want. Well, maybe eager is not the right word.

Overripe…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wall Street is not sweet on Apple today as the latest iPhone 7 failed to impress the masses and the analysts. The lackluster reception for the device put a drag on the Street sending the stock down 2.3% at one point. That was its biggest one day fall since June 24th’s Brexit vote, when investors scrambled to unload their Apple shares. Gone is the headphone jack, replaced by the aptly named AirBuds, which are sold separately for a cool $159. How very shrewd – or callous? – of Apple to take that route. The AirBuds innovation sheds a whole new light on Apple’s $3 billion deal to pick up Beats and their headphone technology. But, to be fair, the phone is water and dust-resistant and I’ll be the first to admit that the water-resistant feature speaks to me. Apple has a market value of around $680 billion, but brass at the company have no plans on sharing how many iPhones will have been sold by the weekend’s end. That’s presumably because of the gadget’s less than impressive…impression.

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UnderArmour Gets a Chink; McDonald’s Deserves a Break Today; Rate a Minute! No Hike in Sight

Fit to be bit…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Under Armour seems to have suffered a chink in its earnings as its profits took a particularly brutal 57% dive. The primary culprit is Sports Authority, a company that is thisclose to becoming retail history, but was also one of Under Armour’s biggest retailers carrying tons of its merchandise. Hence, Under Armour took what’s called an impairment charge, and impairing it was, to the tune of $23 million. Last year at this time, the Maryland-based company hauled in an impressive $14.8 million profit. This year, however, that profit was a very disappointing $6.3 million. On the bright side, Under Armour is headed to Kohl’s 1,100 department stores next year. Apparently, it’s a way to connect with female consumers. Who knew. Under Armour brass think this new foray into Kohl’s will make women’s sales hit the $1 billion mark. Besides, since Nike, Under Armour’s biggest competitor, also happens to have a strong – very strong – presence in Kohl’s,  Under Armour hopes its new endeavor will take a big chunk out of the competition’s sales. But if Under Armour’s numbers still fail to impress next quarter, it might have to do with the exorbitant real estate it just leased in New York City – the renowned FAO Schwarz toy store. The rent on that baby ought to set the company back. But the athletic apparel company is banking heavily that the location location location will more than compensate by bringing in some boffo sales.

Mac-attacks need not apply…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Golden Arches seemed to have lost their luster this quarter with worse than expected earnings and profit falling over 9% to $1.1 billion. But how could that be if you and everyone you know was there all the time dining on its delectable all-day breakfast selections? And herein lies the problem. Well, part of it anyway. You see, McDonald’s breakfast offerings skew cheaper than the rest of its menu items. Apparently consumers really like having the option to eat breakfast for lunch…and dinner. And they did. A lot. Instead of the pricier items. Incidentally, Dunkin Brands Group Inc, Starbucks Corp and Wendy’s, to name a few, also reported unsavory earnings and shares of McDonald’s took a nasty tumble, bringing along the rest of the industry with it. It seems McDonald’s menu prices also had a negative impact on earnings. The cost of food went down in grocery stores and because of it, more would-be diners chose to eat at home. The curious thing is that the cost of food also went for McDonald’s, which ought to mean that its selections should have been cheaper, or at any rate, stayed the same price. Except that they didn’t because McDonald’s had to increase menu prices to compensate for increased labor costs.

Fed-up…

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In case you were holding your breath to see if the Fed is going to raise rates, you can let it out now. It won’t. At least not before September. Or maybe even December. Apparently the money experts want hard-core evidence of a pick-up in inflation before the Fed decides to make any changes. The Fed wants to see a 2% inflation rate, which might seem like an incredibly minuscule number, yet it’s one that carries incredible weight.  Then there’s the not-so-slight issue of the relatively healthy U.S. economy in the face of the not-as-healthy global economy. Even as the markets here reached new highs, with a labor market that saw an impressive 287,000 jobs added in June, experts – me not being one, mind you –  expect maybe one rate hike this year. From the Brexit to China and other assorted EU drama coming down the pike, the Fed’s not too eager to put in for any hikes until the rest of world cooperates they way it ought to, fiscally speaking anyway. After tomorrow, the Fed’s got three more meetings this year to decide its next move, so sit tight. Or don’t.

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Brexit Problems; DOJ V. Health Insurance Industry: The First Round; No News is Not Good News at Yahoo

It’s all Brexit to me…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The bad Brexit news just keeps on coming with the IMF now sharing its unpleasant thoughts. The fund has cut the global forecast for the next two years, expecting global economic growth for 2016 to come in at 3.1% and 3.4% for 2017. And those figures are on the bright side since the IMF feels that there is “sizable increase in uncertainty” about how bad the Brexit damage will be. That forecast is riding the wave that the EU and British officials will graciously reach new trade agreements that won’t make trading conditions any more challenging than necessary. If officials can’t hash out the details then Britain just might be staring down the wrong end of a recession. All because of the Brexit vote. Perhaps the pro-Brexiters really didn’t expect investors would ditch Britain in favor of more fiscally welcoming euro areas. And who can blame the ditchers, seeing as how the pound has dropped an ugly 12% against the dollar since the ominous vote. The IMF, however, still anticipates actual growth for the UK, if only by a paltry 1.7%. By the way, this is the IMF’s fifth time cutting its forecast in just 15 months. In fact, had the Brexit vote gone the other way, the IMF was set to upgrade global projections. Way to go Britain! As for the impact in the U.S., the IMF thinks it will go relatively unscathed. How reassuring.

Put up your dukes…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like there won’t be any big health insurance company mergers. At least not if the Department of Justice has its way. Which it usually does. Anthem’s proposed $48 billion merger with Cigna and Aetna’s proposed $34 billion merger with Humana are on hold, and maybe permanently, as the Justice Department gets set to file antitrust lawsuits to block their ambitious plans. The Justice Department, which has been scrutinizing these deals for a year, is worried that these mergers would reduce competition and harm the little people a.k.a. the consumers with much higher prices. But the health insurance companies argue that they’ve endured some challenges with President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and would like to prove the Justice Department wrong by shedding assets to competitors which would help them achieve cost savings and better results. Anthem and Aetna argued that their proposed mergers would provide them with the right scale to create more savings. And who doesn’t like savings? But the Justice Department isn’t biting. A merger between Anthem and Cigna would give the  newly combined company 54 million members with $117 billion in yearly revenue. The health insurance industry would shrink to three humongous players from five massive ones. United Health Group would sit smack dab in the middle of them. Expect a fight. A very long and costly one. Investors apparently are as shares went down today at all four health insurance companies.

How much is that website in the window?

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What’s to talk about at Yahoo is that there is not much to talk about at Yahoo. Still no word on who will buy the site’s core internet assets, though today is the last day that bids will be accepted. Offers are expected to be between $3.5 billion and $5 billion. Rumors are swirling that Verizon will be the lucky/likely buyer. Not that that has been confirmed. What has been confirmed is that Yahoo managed to eke out earnings of nine cents per share. Too bad expectations were for ten cents.  To add insult to fiscal injury, last year at this time Yahoo took in 16 cents per share. Want to hear about Yahoo’s net loss? Of course you do. The company ate $448 million in net losses. Just to put that into perspective, last year at this time Yahoo only lost $22 million. Yahoo also found itself writing down the value of Tumblr. Again. The first time it did that this year it was for $230 million. Now it was for $382 million. Yahoo bought the internet site just three years ago for the whopping sum $1.1 billion. Oh well. It’s like paying full price for something that went to clearance shortly after. Yahoo also slashed its work-force, going from 11,00 employees to 8,800 employees. And just so you know, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said that the cost-cutting measures are working. It’s just not clear for whom.

 

French Company Goes Organic for U.S. Acquisition; U.S. Airlines Gear Up for Cuba; U.S. Banks Bond Over Brexit

Let them eat organic cake!

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dannon Yogurt’s parent company, Danone (said with a French accent) is looking to pick up  a major U.S company that will effectively double its size. That’s assuming all goes according to plan. Danone wants to offer organic food provider, WhiteWave, purveyor of favorites like Silk Almond and Soy Milk, Horizon Milk and Earthbound Farms, $10.4 billion in cash for the fiscal pleasure of its company. That’s a 24% premium over WhiteWave’s thirty day average closing price and comes out to about to $56.25 per share. But for Danone, whose looking to make itself a bigger presence in the United States, it’s well worth it, since WhiteWave’s offerings tend to attract wealthier consumers. WhiteWave generates annual sales of about $4 billion and with this acquisition, Danone expects to see a $300 million boost in operating profit. Danone has also been struggling in other parts of the world and this acquisition would ease the burden of some of those lesser-performing markets. FYI, when companies offer to buy other companies, their offers tend be at least at a 30% premium. Because this offer was not, it theoretically means that the bidding door is still open to other offers from companies like Coca Cola, PepsiCo and Kellogg Co, to name but a few. In a regulatory filing, though, WhiteWave did graciously say that it wouldn’t solicit other offers. However, there are exceptions. Should WhiteWave go with another offer, Danone still wins because it will get a $310 million break-up fee.

Bienvenido…

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Image courtesy of Tuomas_Lehtinen/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Believe it or not, Hillary Clinton wasn’t the only topic of conversation today coming out of Washington DC. President Obama announced a proposal to allow eight U.S. airlines to provide nonstop service between Cuba and ten U.S. cities, beginning this fall. This will mark the first time in 50 years that travel of this kind will be available. And all this just one year after diplomatic relations were re-established. The city and airline selections were made by the Department of Transportation and the lucky airline winners are: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and United Airlines. American Airlines is actually no stranger to the island nation, as it has been offering charter services there since 1991. Just last year the airline made over one thousand chartered flights to Cuba, while JetBlue made over 200 chartered trips. That’s awfully welcome news for an industry that took a fiscal beating lately. The cities that can look forward to the new service had to have have substantial Cuban-American populations already in place. Hence, Florida finds itself the recipient of 14 out of the 20 daily nonstop flights, since it boasts the largest Cuban-American population. The cities include: Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami,  Newark, New York City, Orlando and Tampa. According to Cuban officials, the number of American travelers to Cuba is up 84%, compared to last year, in just the first half of the year.  But there is still a trade embargo in place, which does include a travel ban. However, there are twelve convenient categories of reasons to fly to Cuba that you can check off should you decide to make your way to Havana any time soon.

Come together…

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Image courtesy of digitalrt/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s a fiscal kumbaya as four U.S. banks offered up their sincerest support for London following the Brexit vote. The gracious supporters include, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. The banks agreed to help British Finance Minister George Osborne find ways to ensure that the U.K. remains the prominent financial player that it always was, pre-Brexit. And of course they all will try and find new and exciting ways to lure and retain big banking to London so that the consequences of the Brexit don’t do the country in completely. While that sentiment no doubt warmed the hearts of investors all over the world, the investment banks could not offer up as much optimism as far as the jobs situation is concerned. After all, “no one in their right mind would currently invest in Britain.” Keeping those jobs there might might be the biggest challenge of all and no one wants to make any promises on that. Especially Jamie Dimon, who had previously mentioned that around 4,000 jobs could make their way out of London. In the meantime, the French wasted no time – I mean NONE! – in announcing to the world that it would make its tax regime as enticing as possible, in a not at all subtle attempt to grab some pricey banking business from London.

Branson’s Bexit Woes; IKEA is the Latest Company to Issue Recall; Airbnb Takes on San Francisco

Pound it out…

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Add Sir Richard Branson to the ever-growing list of Brexit haters. And he’s right to be hating on it. Besides the fact that global stocks took a $3 trillion hit on Friday and Monday,  Branson estimates that his own company, the Virgin Group, already lost a third of its value. Branson went on to say that, “We are heading towards a disaster. I don’t believe the public realized what a mess their vote would cost.” And considering he’s worth close to $5 billion, he probably knows a thing or two about the downsides of the Brexit. He’s convinced Britain is on the fast lane to recession territory and thinks a second vote is in order as 4 million people have already signed a petition urging a new referendum. Ironically, the billionaire has no voting rights in Britain since he doesn’t actually live there but rather in the British Virgin Islands. However, his company employs 50,000 people in the United Kingdom, most of whom do have voting rights, presumably. I hope none of them were foolish enough to vote in favor of the Brexit. I’d hate to be “that guy.” In any case, Branson feels that the British public was not adequately informed about the potentially disastrous consequences. He warned that thousands of jobs would be lost and even had to put the kibosh on one of his own deals that was in the works.

 

No words…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There’s yet another recall in effect and this time it doesn’t even have to do with Volkswagen. Sadly, this recall comes courtesy of IKEA, which had to recall some 29 million dressers that caused the deaths of six children, all under the age of four.  Another 36 have been injured. The most recent tragedy occurred as recently as this past February. These dressers included six styles from the company’s MALM line, that cost between $70 and $200, and were manufactured between January 2002 and January 2016. The company will issue full refunds for the furniture in question but is also offering wall-anchoring repair kits and even free one-time installations upon request should consumers wish to keep their dressers. Just 30,000 repair kits have been issued which represents but 1% of the total amount of dressers that were sold and still require anchoring. Regulators had called the dressers unsafe. The recall affects about half of the dressers that IKEA sells in the US.

Home bitter home…

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Image courtesy of supakitmod/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s Airbnb v. the city of San Francisco, with the home-sharing site charging that the city is violating the “Communications Decency Act, a federal law that prevents the government from holding websites accountable for the content that is published by their users.” It all started when San Francisco lawmakers decided to impose tougher rules for Airbnb and friends, which stipulated that the site could only post listings from renters registered with the city. The problem is, according to Airbnb, home-sharers were often confused by the process, which continues to be mired in the usual mess we call bureaucracy, and takes months to complete – months that could be used earning additional incomes from their homes. San Francisco wants Airbnb to enforce its rules, that listers be removed from the site unless they are registered. If Airbnb does not comply, the company could face fines of up to $1000 per day and even jail time for some employees. Mind you, only 20% of listers who rent out their homes for less than thirty days are registered with the city. Lawmakers want Airbnb to do its dirty work for them and remove the remaining 80% of listers from the site. Airbnb operates in more than 200 countries and has a valuation of $25 billion, at least as of today.

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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Image courtesy of Chris Sharp/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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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Image courtesy of Piyachok Thawornmat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

Elon Musk Fails to Electrify Wall Street; H&M’s Untrendy Earnings; Dell’s List for Female Entrepreneurs

It’s electric…

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Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Shares of Tesla took a bit of a dive today as investors attempted to illustrate how they feel about Elon Musk’s idea of buying out his other big endeavor, SolarCity. Musk, who owns about 19% of Tesla, feels that a SolarCity buyout will cut costs for both companies and magically create wonderful new lucrative opportunities. He also believes customers will be inspired to buy up a threesome of his electric cars, home batteries and solar system. Did I mention, by the way, that Musk also own 22% of SolarCity? Just saying. Investors, however, think it’s a bad move for Tesla to take in SolarCity, which would add about $2.6 billion in debt to the electric car maker.  Besides, investors aren’t feeling the love over SolarCity’s growth prospects and the increasing competition that keeps popping up. Tesla has yet to turn out a profit and isn’t even expected to do so until 2020. Of course, Musk disagrees with this analysis and is convinced that this is his year to start making some cold hard cash. Plus, he thinks a SolarCity buyout would put Tesla’s valuation at $1 trillion, and I’m guessing he likes how that sounds. SolarCity’s stock, by the way, is down 50% so far this year.

Un-trendy…

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Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fast-fashion retailer H&M had a disappointing second quarter with profits falling a very un-trendy 17% to $847 million. At least sales went up, but only by 2%, to a decent $6.56 billion. But if that’s not bad enough, shares of H&M are down 17% so far this year. Naturally, the weather – the cold weather, this time – and the strong dollar took their share of the blame, as did tomorrow’s Brexit vote, I kid you not. Sales in the U.K., H&M’s third largest market, fell 7% and CEO Karl-Johan Persson thought it might have been because of the looming “Brexit” vote. Because, after all, aren’t most tweens and teens in Britain pondering that issue while they do their fast-fashion shopping at H&M? Persson, by the way, is not a “Brexit” fan. Incidentally, sales also fell in Portugal , France and Switzerland, yet there is no talk of any of those countries pulling out of the EU.

Woman up!

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Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There’s a new list out brought to us courtesy of Dell that ranks cities according to how good they are for female entrepreneurs. Called the Women Entrepreneur Cities Index, cities on this list are measured according to how well they attract and support female entrepreneurs of high potential who seek to grow and scale their business. In order for a city to even qualify, it first had to be categorized as a city that was already hospitable to entrepreneurs in general, regardless of sex or race. With that out of the way, the index took into account 71 different indicators – which I will not list, you’re welcome – and divided them into five different categories including, markets, talent, capital, culture and tech. The cities were given scores in these areas and the results may – or may not – surprise you. The Big Apple came in first with a score of 58.6 out of 100. The Bay Area followed second with a score of 58.3. Across the pond, London snagged the third place spot while Paris took ninth. Other U.S. cities that pulled in respectable scores included Washington DC in 7th place, Seattle, Washington in tenth place and Austin, Texas coming in twelfth. If you didn’t see your city listed then fear not as only 25 major global cities were taken into account for this particular list. And here’s a fun fact: A correlation was found between how much an area fosters and nurtures female entrepreneurs and that area’s general economic growth. They go hand in hand. How ’bout that.