Trump’s Treasury Trove; Things are (finally) Looking Up for Target; Neiman Marcus Bets on Rentals

 

Trump’s to treasure…

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Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Leave it to Carl Icahn to tweet that Donald Trump honed in on his choices for Treasury Secretary and Commerce Secretary. And, believe it or not, those choices may not be as bad as you think. Enter Steven Mnuchin, a veteran Wall Streeter and former Goldman Sachs partner who most recently served as Donald Trump’s campaign finance manager. Okay, that last bit may not be his best selling point. But if it makes you feel any better, controversial Trump White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon didn’t care for him and questioned Trump on whether he was “selling out to Wall Street.” Next we have Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor and major NAFTA critic who also served as part of Trump’s economic advisory team. Ross has a knack for restructuring failing companies and has done so successfully in the energy and textile industries. That’s a big resume plus for the Commerce Secretary post. However, if Ross is serious about the post, he’ll have to step down from the numerous boards on which he serves, besides selling off tons of investments or chucking them into a blind trust. As for Carl Icahn, he tweeted that “Both would be great choices” and that they are “two of the smartest people I know.” And, if Carl Icahn thinks that then it must be so. Right?

Target = hipster?

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Things are looking up for Target. At least according to its CEO, Brian Cornell who said today that he is “increasingly confident” about Target’s new plans and endeavors for its 1,800 plus stores. Part of those endeavors include its foray into small-format stores. Those are basically shops that are targeted – no pun intended – to meet the consumer wants and needs of a specific location. With several under its belt already, Target’s latest small-format shop is slated for a 45,000 square foot space in super hip NYC locale, Tribeca. But Cornell’s enthusiasm went way beyond just the new stores. Shares of the retailer went up almost 9% today in pre-market trading because its third quarter sales decline was smaller than expected. Translation: Target didn’t lose as much money as experts thought it would. Those sales were down almost 7% to $16.4 billion, but that was primarily due to Target selling its pharmacy biz to CVS. As for the company’s e-commerce department, those sales were up 26% over the same time last year, which was especially welcome news considering that e-commerce for Target’s second quarter was down.

All rent out of shape…

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Image courtesy of toonsteb/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Online clothes and jewelry rental companies are betting that if you’re not a customer now, you will be after you visit them at an actual showroom. And so begins a new journey for companies like Blue Nile and Rent the Runway, who have decided that it would be cheaper to install showrooms and hire staff than to find new ways of advertising that would attract new customers. Blue Nile already successfully tested out this timeless showroom concept with just 300 square feet at one lucky Nordstrom department store, while Rent the Runway is set to unveil a 3,000 square foot space at Neiman Marcus’ San Francisco store on Friday. However, many are skeptical that this is a prudent move for Neiman Marcus assuming that instead of buying Neiman Marcus inventory, customers will simply rent it from Rent the Runway. And is it wise for Neiman Marcus to be playing around with such a novel concept after losing $407 million in its last quarter? But the logic is that Rent the Runway has 6 million customers in an age demographic that Neiman Marcus would like to have. The luxury store is banking that the customers who come and pay to rent the high-end brands will end up being big ticket buyers of those very same high-end brands soon after. Plus, for an additional $30 – $75, Neiman Marcus will throw in styling services for Rent the Runway customers. Rent the Runway’s concept might seem cute but the money is definitely serious. A monthly subscription of $139 gets you up to three pieces at a time which you can keep for the month or send back in less than a day. The company so far raised $126 million in start-up venture capital and already exceeded its 2016 sales projections of $100 million.  So maybe Neiman Marcus is onto something because Rent the Runway sure is.

 

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It’s About to Go Down Between Aetna and the Dept. of Justice; Target in Need of Retail Therapy; Barnes and Noble Has a Job Opening. If You Dare.

Put up your dukes…

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Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

And the gloves are off between the Department of Justice and Aetna. Aetna announced it would be reducing its role in the Obamacare exchange, stopping to sell individual insurance, and the Justice Department was apparently warned about such actions last month. You see, because ACA has been costing insurance companies so much money, Aetna wanted to scoop up rival Humana to help absorb costs. But the Justice Department was against the merger over concerns that it would increase prices for consumers and limit competition – your typical antitrust concerns. In a letter to the Justice Department dated July 5, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini made it abundantly clear that Aetna  would drop out of the Obamacare exchange if the merger did not go his way. It didn’t. And so here we are. Aetna crticics have cried extortion and threats. Aetna , however, calls it a strategic business decision after eating a $200 million loss in its second quarter. Insurers feel that mergers alleviate the enormous costs brought on by Obamacare. They argue that Obamacare has put a major dent in their economics and the government is not holding up its end of the bargain to help mitigate the situation.

Buyer’s remorse…

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Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Target has missed its target in what the company called a “difficult retail environment.” Well, for Target anyway. The sixth largest retailer cut its full-year fiscal profit after quarterly sales fell more than expected. One of the culprits was a smaller demand for its tech offerings, specifically Apple products. Of course, it’s to be expected that the company is constantly losing ground to Amazon. After all, who isn’t? The company has also been making a push to redo its grocery division by bringing in more organics, gourmet and healthful offerings. That endeavor hasn’t quite hits its stride. And that’s a problem since Target’s grocery division accounts for a fifth of the company’s revenue. Target did turn up a profit of $680 million. Too bad it was a 10% decrease over the same time last year. Sales were down 7.2% to $16.2 billion which was almost on par with estimates. CEO Brian Cornell griped that customer visits went down and now expects a profit range of $4.80 – $5.20, when before it was between $5.20 – $5.40.  It seems his turnaround plan is taking a bit longer to actually um,…turn. In other Target developments, to address its transgender-bathroom policy, the retailer is plunking down $20 million to install single stall bathrooms to its remaining stores that don’t already have them.

Buh-bye…

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Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Shelve this one under history as Barnes and Noble booted its CEO Ronald D. Boire. The bookseller felt the exec, who had the job for not quite a year, was “not a good fit.” However, to be fair, he did previously fit in at Brookstone, Best Buy, Sony and Sears Canada. Executive chairman  Leonard Riggio will take over until a more permanent replacement can be found and Riggio can finally begin his much-anticipated retirement.  The board said of Boire’s untimely departure that the decision was in “best interest of all parties for him to leave the company.” Ouch. In B&N’s most recent quarter – under Boire – the company took in $876.6 million. Impressive, right? Wrong. B&N took in $910 million the year before. It also lost $30.6 million, far more than the $19.6 million it lost during the same time last year. As efforts to trim costs and turn the company around have yet to yield any meaningful results, shares of the company have also managed to tank to its lowest price in eight months. While B&N has 640 stores dotting the planet, it is still losing ground to that animal we call Amazon. And once again, who isn’t?

 

Target: Canada, We’re Out!; Let’s Be Franc; Caesar’s Busted House

You call that neutral?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Swiss National Bank did something today that had epic ramifications no matter how far away you are from the purifying air of the Swiss Alps, the amazing epicenter of fine chocolate and the home offices of Swatch. You see, up until today the Swiss had a cap on its currency, the franc. This cap was (is?) meant to keep the franc from going too high against the Euro. While it might seem like a good thing for a currency to be high, it’s actually problematic on so many levels. If you’d like to know all about it, then I suggest you Google the issue as it is a long megilla and I like to keep this blog on the short side. In any case, this cap was in place for three very peaceful fiscally pleasant years, since the European debt crisis back in 2011. And then POOF! The bank removed it just like that further weakening an already fickle Euro and sending Swiss stocks plummeting. Companies there who rely on exports are up in arms. Then there are those very justifiably upset folks in other parts of Europe who just discovered their mortgages got a whole lot pricier because they are in francs. In general, major market shake-ups, in any part of the world are not appreciated. Stability is much appreciated. Lack of stability and seismic shifts suggest people are about to – if they haven’t already – lose copious amounts of money, no matter where they reside on the planet.

Oh, goodbye, Canada…

Image courtesy of digitalart/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/freedigitalphotos.net

It just wasn’t meant to be between Target and Canada. Like several other US based retailers, including BestBuy and Big Lots Inc., Target is packing up and heading back south of the Canadian border. The Minneapolis-based company has already begun liquidating its 133 stores just four years after it announced plans to head on over to our very polite neighbors to the North. Signs that the expansion might be a miss became clear in 2013’s third quarter earnings when Target saw a huge 46% drop in company wide profit. Growth was much slower than what was expected and the numbers from this holiday season were just not as good as they could and should have been. The clincher came when CEO Brian Cornell had an analysis done which indicated, much to everyone’s fiscal horror, that it would take this very costly endeavor six years before it would turn a profit. Experts believe that unloading this Canadian project gone awry will eventually turn Target’s earnings back in the right (as in, up) direction. As to the fate of some 17,600 Canadian Target employees, the company has graciously asked to set up a $59 million contribution into an employee trust that would provide all those folks 16 weeks of compensation.

Oh craps!

Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Caesars Entertainment Corp, the largest US casino, and the one with the white Bengal tigers went bust. Oh the irony! The house goes bust. With $18.4 billion in debt, the casino is looking to dump $10 billion of it and so has decided to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy. Again, cue the irony sentiment. Not everybody agreed on the bankruptcy plan. Junior noteholders stand to make back less than 10% of the many many millions they are owed and have filed a petition to get Caesars to go into involuntary bankruptcy so that they’d get better terms. The casino said it has every bit of intention of continuing to pay its suppliers and the casino will still remain open so as to give gamblers ample opportunity to go bankrupt, themselves. No word on how the tigers feel about all this.

 

Russia is Not Kicking the Right Game for Adidas, Will Brian Cornell Hit His Target? And BofA’s Boffo Payout

From Russia with loss…

Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Adidas lowered its full year profit target thanks to Russia. And golf. But not Russian golf, it should be duly noted. Despite the fact that Russia is hosting the 2018 World Cup, the world’s second largest sporting goods maker and World Cup sponsor decided to shutter a bunch of stores and scrap plans to open a bunch more in that region. But hey, that’s what happens when your governmemt supports Ukranian rebels. The German-based company is weary of Russia and its ability to pull in the sales it has in the past because of all those sanctions coming courtesy of Europe and the US. Which is really too bad because sales in Russia for the brand were over 1 billion euros in 2013. Now Adidas expects net profit of 650 million euros when it previously expected those numbers to be between 830 million euros and 930 million euros. Go ahead and do the dollar conversion math. Just kidding. Adidas initially expected net profit between $1.1 billion and $1.2 billion but now it doesn’t even expect to go past $870 million. As for the company’s Taylor-Made golf division…well, it’s golf. And not soccer. And across the pond that means a lot.

Hit or miss?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Target’s making big news today. And no it’s not for any security breaches or lousy earnings. Well at least for now, anyway. The news out of the Minneapolis-based company is the appointment of its new CEO Brian Cornell, the first CEO in Target’s history to come from outside the company’s ranks. The 55 year old Cornell recently held a big gig over at Pepsi and some rumors said he was going to be the successor to the throne there. But instead he made his way to the embattled Target, which is currently experiencing declining same store sales, a troubled Canadian expansion (Oh, Canada) and continuing fall out from its holiday season security breach. So take a seat and let’s watch to see if the seasoned exec can pull the retail giant out of its slump and get that stock back on the upswing.

Another one bites the dust…

Image courtesy of hin255/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of hin255/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

And this time it’s Bank of America as a Manhattan judge ordered the bank to pay a $1.3 billion fine for mortgage fraud. Mind you this is not part of settlement talks that Bofa is currently having with the US Department of Justice. This latest penalty was from an actual lawsuit that BofA lost that and was connected to “The Hustle” program. As sexy as that sounds it is anything but as loans that were made at Countrywide Financial were rushed to “High Speed Swim Lanes (HSSL)” and sold to Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. Oh if only the actual dealings were as playful as the terms used to describe the dubious actions behind them. Bofa was found guilty of getting its employees to take bad loans off the books and put them right into the hands of unwitting investors. As for the DOJ settlement, the US wants BofA to pony up $17 billion while the bank was looking more toward the area of between $12 billion to $13 billion. The two sides continue to hash out the ugly details, even, I am sure, as I write this. The company released its second quarter earning weeks ago to the tune of a 43% drop thanks to its declining mortgage business and increasing legal fees.