Google Spits in the Face of Online Payday Lenders; This Trump’s For You; Mega Merger Nixed

Well if Google’s doing it…

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Google has been able to do what politicians couldn’t. Which might mean that its up to Google to Make America Great Again. In any case, online payday lenders are officially getting the boot from Google.  Come July 13, companies that deal in online payday loans wont get their ads displayed above search results under Google’s AdWords program. If you think that’s awfully harsh, then consider that payday loans are often due in 60 days and carry annual interest rates of at least 36%. Other types of loans and lenders will still be able to keep their ads in place, though. For now. Facebook has been banning payday loan ads since last summer, while Yahoo has still yet to catch on. A payday lender trade group called Google’s new policy “discriminatory and a form of censorship.” However, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has its own thoughts about the online payday lending industry. The CFPB’s cold hard research highlights the numerous hidden risks, costly banking fees and account closures resulting from these loans. The industry also tends to disproportionately target minorities. The CFPB found that a staggering one third of borrowers had their accounts closed by their banks while half of the borrowers paid an average of $185 in back penalties. And that’s before you even get to the annual percentage rate of 391% that are placed on these types of loans

 

This America’s for you…

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Next time you reach for an icy cold brew, you might just be wondering why it looks a little different. Riding the fiscal wave of patriotism, Budweiser will be rebranding its cans “America.” Instead of the slogan “King of Beers,” beer drinkers will find the slogan “E Pluribus Unum” on the cans. And in case it matters, Donald Trump is taking the credit that companies are inspired by his “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. Really. During an interview on Fox News, Trump said, “They’re so impressed with what our country will become. They decided to do this before the fact.” Never mind that Budweiser’s parent company, Anheuser Busch InBev is Belgian. That’s just a minor detail. Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, along with Hershey’s, Coca Cola, Wal-Mart and even Carl’s Jr. are using patriotic marketing campaigns that are expected to last well past election season. To be fair, Hershey is utilizing this tactic because the company is an official sponsor of the Olympic U.S. team. For the first time in 122 years, the coloring on Hershey bars will be different , as red, white and blue will feature prominently on the confection’s wrappers. As for Wal-Mart, the gigantic retailer made a pledge back in 2013 to buy $250 billion worth of products that are “made in the U.S.A.” And let’s forget that minor hiccup when the chain was investigated by the FTC for mislabeling products that were, in fact, not made domestically.

Lay off my stapler!

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Shares of Staples and Office Depot took a nasty beating after a Federal judge ruled that the two companies cannot merge in fiscal blissful matrimony. The $6.3 billion merger was nixed since the judge felt that a huge merger between the two largest office supplies suppliers would be a horrible thing for consumers. The Federal Trade Commission thought the merger was as anti-competitive as it gets and couldn’t be more pleased with the judge’s ruling. Both the judge and the FTC felt competitive pricing, quality and service would be tossed aside as consumers would look on helplessly as they handed over their hard-earned cash. Office Depot said it won’t appeal the ruling. And why should it? It’s now going to get a $250 million break up fee from Staples. But that $250 million pales in comparison to the revenue it would have seen and the money it would have saved had the merger gone through. This was the second time, since 1997, that the two companies tried to merge. Shares of Staples fell 20% on the news at one point during the day, while Office Depot tanked about 40%. Staples and Office Depot continue to take massive hits from the other competition, Amazon. Amazon’s business to business division is but a year old, yet it already racked up more than a billion dollars in sales. And that’s while Staples and Office Depot were hit with massive losses.

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Beer Companies Foam Up to Take Over the World; Colorado Ditch Day for Marijuana Tax; Poor Findings from U.S. Census Bureau

Sudsy…

Image courtesy of Danilin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Danilin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A frothy beer merger seems to be brewing for two of the biggest beer makers in the world. Rumor has it that ABInBev and SABMiller are throwing around the idea of possibly joining foamy forces to create the biggest beer company. Ever. The move could also result in forming one of the biggest food and beverage companies. Ever. If the merger goes through, the new company would control a mind-numbing half of the entire beer market’s total profits. The new entity will also become one of the top ten biggest companies in the world, with Procter & Gamble and Nestle SA trailing behind. How a beer company’s market cap could surpass that of companies which make toothpaste and chocolate is beyond me. But I digress. ABInBev owns a lot beers you know like perennial classics, Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois. But it also owns a lot that you may not have heard of like Antarctica, which is brewed…wait for it…in Brazil. Together with the malodorous Cass beer from South Korea, AbInBev owns over 40 different brews from all over the world. However it’s the market in Africa that has eluded this beer behemoth all this time. Hence, it’s looking to expand with SABMiller who already has quite the handle on that continent. Even though this is still all just talk, news of the potential merger sent shares of SABMiller up 23%.

On a high note…

Image courtesy of Paul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Paul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned accounting error to generate marijuana sales. Because of a glitch in Colorado State Tax laws an automatic suspension of new taxes was conveniently triggered. The marijuana tax was the lucky winner and was met with great enthusiasm by the state’s marijuana users who regularly shell out an extra 25% in taxes for the stuff. It all started because Colorado under-estimated tax collection from last year. When that happens…poof…25% in sales and excise taxes magically disappears for one special day. Today being that day. Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project said, “It’s crazy how much revenue our state used to flush down the drain by forcing marijuana sales into the underground market…It’s even crazier that so many states are still doing it…” Amen. Also interesting to note (well, to me anyway) is that sales of marijuana outpaced those of alcohol and tobacco. With marijuana raking in tax revenues of $70 million, alcohol only managed to eke out a paltry $42 million in tax revenue. Marijuana users spend approximately $1,800 a year on the stuff while consumers spend $450 on alcohol and just $315 a year on tobacco.

On a low note…

Image courtesy of  Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just when you think things are starting to look fiscally up, the U.S. Census Bureau steps in to to ruin the day. The bad news is that the median household income has been going down. As in, not up. In 2013, median income in the United States was $54,462. That number should have gotten bigger. But alas, 2014 brought with it a median income of $53,657. Which makes no sense since the economy seems to be recovering and employment is hovering at seven year lows (even though wages haven’t been picking up any speed). If that’s not bad enough, the poverty rate has also gone up from 14.5% in 2013 to 14.8% in 2014. Apparently, the poverty rate and the median income are not considered statistically significant, at least according to the Census Bureau researchers who presumably, make more than $53,657 a year. Just saying. And because it wouldn’t be any fun not to inject some politics into this discussion, the Democrats are rejoicing since the number of people roaming the streets without health insurance fell from 42 million people to 33 million. In an attempt to sap their mojo, however, Republican Paul Ryan, who chairs the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, advised Dems not to pat themselves on the back just yet, since clearly their efforts to fight poverty aren’t working.

Standard & Poor’s Overrated Ratings Settlement; Spirited Numbers for Whiskey and Bourbon; Who Will Radio in on RadioShack?

Poor ratings system…

Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s shaping up to be an expensive week for Standard and Poor’s, the ratings company owned by McGraw Hill Financial Inc. After two years of legal wrangling, where the Department of Justice accused the S&P of defrauding investors, S&P agreed to pay for $1.5 billion in a settlement. According to the lawsuit, S&P made sub-prime mortgages sound way better than they actually were, generously over-rating them during the height of that hard-to-forget financial crisis of 2008. One of the juicy little highlights from the lawsuit, as taken from an excerpt from an instant-messaging exchange between two of its analysts, goes a little something like this: “It could be structured by cows and we would rate it.” So what were they trying to say about our friends in the bovine community? Hmm. While S&P gets to avoid admitting actual wrongdoing, as per the terms of the settlement, it will be shelling out $687.5 million to the DOJ and another $687.5 million to 19 states and the District of Columbia. S&P said the DOJ was only coming down on them because it downgraded the US sovereign debt from AAA all the way down to AA+, but the DOJ says NOT! In a separate lawsuit, S&P  reached a settlement with pension fund, Calpers (California Public Employees Retirement System), also a victim of S&P’s too-generous sub-prime mortgage ratings system.

I’ll drink to that…

Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s been a very good year for bourbon and whiskey as exports of these spirited spirits topped the $1 billion mark. Even here in the US, sales for Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whiskey grew, with revenue for both rising 9.6% to $2.7 billion and 19.4 million cases of the stuff being scooped up. 19.4 million cases? Who are you people drinking all this? But it’s the premium selections that are really hitting it big with drinkers…er, consumers, as revenue in that category is up over 19%. All this while beer seems to be experiencing a decline on the whole by 4% in the last five years, with Budweiser losing 28% for that same time frame, despite those super Superbowl ads. Craft beer, however, tells a different story as that tasty category is experiencing an uptick. Some analysts are even thinking all these increasing numbers come courtesy of millennials, who seem to prefer high-quality spirit versus the stuff their parents enjoy. By the way, it should be duly  – and might I add, fondly – noted, that Kentucky produces 95% of the world’s bourbon supply. Go Kentucky!

Shacked out…

Image courtesy of cool design/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cool design/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rumors are swirling as to who will emerge and scoop up RadioShack as bankruptcy looms near for the company that was just never able to compete with the behemoth that is e-commerce. The New York Stock Exchange had suspended trading of the 94 year old company on Monday, with shares tanking down to $0.14 a share in after hours trading. So will it be Sprint who decides to take up some of RadioShack’s retail leases? The company has 4,300 stores in the US, alone. Or will Amazon add the chain to its arsenal and increase its brick-and-mortar presence in the world? Word on the street is that Jeff Bezos might do just that as a way to showcase some of the gazillions of products that Amazon has to offer, for the right price, of course.

Clydesdales No Longer On Tap at Budweiser; Citigroup’s Lack of Discipline Cost $15M; Saks Fifth Avenue Gets a Luxe New Mortgage

Put out to pasture…

Image courtesy of dan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The unemployment numbers may be going down lately but you can add the Budweiser Clydesdales to the list  of people – or in this case, animals – who need to brush up on their LinkedIn skills. The iconic horses, who have graced Budweiser holiday commercials since 1987 apparently haven’t been puling their weight to attract a hipper, younger beer-guzzling demographic. In fact, 44% of 21-27 year old beer drinkers/guzzlers have never even (gasp!) tried Budwesier. Can you even stand it? So the beer company will now trek out to college towns for food festivals and host parties to increase in order to woo that elusive younger, hipper crowd. As for any new ad campaigns, Budwesier will substitute Cydesdales for millenials who will stare back into the camera as they poignantly utter: “If you could grab a Bud with any of your friends these holidays, who would it be?” I’d say a Clydesdale.

Fined and fine…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Citigroup has to pay even more fines. Again. Except this time those fines have nothing to do with its dubious role in the housing collapse and fiscal nightmare of 2008. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or as the cool kids say, FINRA, has fined Citigroup $15 million because the bank didn’t do enough to prevent and deter its analysts from engaging in all kinds of questionable activities. Which all sounds way more provocative than it is. From January 2005 to February 2014 Citigroup issued about 100 warnings to analysts for doing things they were’t supposed to do. Issuing those warnings was clearly the responsible thing to do. Except that there was way too much between the warning until disciplinary action took place. But then, it seems, Citi was wee bit too soft in punishing the offenders, which is perhaps why the analysts kept repeating their dubious actions. In one instance, equity research analysts hosted a dinner for employees and clients (mind you, I was not invited) where the hosts/analysts discussed their stock picks. I’m sure the topic made for fabulous dinner conversation, however the discussed stock picks did not jive with all the research conducted by the hosts/analysts. That was, of course, just one of the many (many) examples of breaches for which Citi was fined. Naturally, the bank preferred not to offer any comments on the matter except to say ,”We are pleased to have resolved and put this matter behind us.” I’ll bet. And rest assured that $15 million will do nothing to thwart Citigroup’s holiday shopping.

Is a luxury refi an oxymoron?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Many people today refinance their mortgages and Saks Fifth Avenue is no different. Okay, it’s a lot different but I digress. Hudson Bay, the company that owns the luxury retailer, took out a 20 year mortgage for its flagship store conveniently located right on New York City’s Fifth Avenue to the whopping tune of $1.25 billion. Next year the store is getting a $250 million renovation.The building, however is valued at $3.7 billion. If that doesn’t scream prime real estate I don’t know what does. Did I mention that Hudson Bay paid $2.9 billion for the entire chain? How very lucky for them.