The Hits Keep on Coming for Wells Fargo; Janet Yellen Gets a Grilling; Perk Up! Thursday is National Coffee Day

Smacked…

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The hits just keep on coming for Wells Fargo as the great state of California gave the bank a major diss in the form of a year-long suspension of its business relationships. The bank is officially barred from underwriting debt and handling bank transactions for the Golden State. And if Wells Fargo still can’t get its act together, it can expect a “complete and permanent severance.” Yikes. I guess that’s what happens when you open up 2 million fraudulent accounts and according to State Treasurer John Chiang, promote “a culture which actively promotes wanton greed.” More yikes. Since Chiang oversees $2 trillion worth of banking transactions, besides managing a $75 billion investment pool, he’s probably a bit sensitive about the way banking institutions handle all that money. In the meantime, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf will kiss goodbye his $41 million in unvested stock awards.  Carrie Tolstedt, who oversaw the division that was responsible for green lighting the fraudulent accounts, loses all of her unvested awards and gets no further retirement benefits.  Other than the really good ones she already received.

Awkward…

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Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen took a beating today from Congressman Scott Garrett over Lael Brainard’s chummy relationship with Hillary Clinton. Brainard, in case you might not know, is the governor of the Fed and is rumored to be the top pic for Treasury Secretary. She also gave $2,700 to the Clinton campaign. Congressman Garrett doesn’t take too kindly to this appearance of impropriety and asked the Chairwoman if this doesn’t pose a conflict of interest for the Fed, seeing as how Brainard is in talks with the Clinton campaign. After all, the Fed is supposed to be non-partisan. Yellen, said she was’t aware that there was, in fact, a conflict while also maintaining that the Central Bank has no biases as far as politics are concerned. Of course, Donald Trump disagreed vehemently with that assessment during Monday night’s presidential debate when he insisted that the Fed is keeping rates low to make Obama look good.  Incidentally, Janet Yellen chaired President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. Besides all that, there apparently is no issue with Fed officials giving money to campaigns. Who knew.

Oh the perks…

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Consider this next bit a public service announcement:  Thursday September 29 marks National Coffee Day. Yes, that’s a real thing. And before you whip out your wallet, you might want to know which eating establishments wont be charging you for your java fix. If you happen to be near a Krispy Kreme store, then I urge you to step inside. Rumor has it you’ll score a free coffee and glazed donut just for showing up. But be sure to say thank you! Manners are key. If you’re a fan of Wawa coffee, then you’re in luck as that chain is also offering free cups of its brew. Particpating 7-Elevens are also giving out free coffee. Just make sure you have their smartphone app and register for its 7Rewards program. Dunkin’ Donuts will offer medium-sized cups of coffee for just 66 cents in honor of the company’s 66th birthday. As for Starbucks, don’t expect any freebies. Ever. However, the company is affording you the opportunity to be charitable. For every brewed cup of Mexico Chiapas Starbucks sells, the company will donate a coffee tree to Latin American growers whose crops have been destroyed by fungus.

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Sheryl Sandberg: Lean In Women of Corporate America!; Major Tech Company Needs Major Diversity Overhaul; It’s Claw and Order for Wells Fargo

Corporate America Blues…

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Sheryl Sandberg had some thoughts to share with world today in the Wall Street Journal. And when the founder of LeanIn.org and COO of Facebook has thoughts, it’s in everyone’s best interest to hear them loud and clear.  Sandberg wrote about the results of a 2016 study of Women in the Workplace, arguably the most comprehensive annual review of women in corporate America. With 132 companies and more than 4.6 million employees surveyed, the results might shock you, but will mostly disappoint. And here’s why: Women continue to face social pushback for daring to ask for what they deserve. Gasp! Apparently such actions are still viewed as “bossy” and “aggressive.” And that is so weird because men are not viewed that way at all for the same actions. Go figure. But then there’s also the fact that women are underrepresented at every single level and hold less than 30% of senior management roles. As if that’s not bad enough, women are also less likely to get promoted from entry level positions to managerial ones and lose ground the higher they climb up that golden corporate ladder.  The news only gets worse for women of color as they are the most under-repped group with the steepest drop-off as they get to middle and senior management. There is hope, though, as more women are asking and getting promotions and raises.  They are negotiating those items just as much as their male counterparts. Unfortunately, women are still less likely to get promoted.  Which is bananas since research has shown that gender diversity helps businesses get better results, revenue and profit.  Sandberg suggests companies set targets, openly discuss gender stereotypes and start helping businesses get better through gender diversity. Let’s hope 2017’s study shows some markedly different results.

Speaking of a lack of diversity…

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When you count the FBI and U.S. Army as your clients, showering you with hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts, it’s best to foster a diverse workplace that shuns the slightest hint of discrimination. And so we have Palantir Technologies, a data mining company founded by Peter Thiel that is rumored to be valued at about $20 billion. The Labor Department is suing Palantir Technologies over discrminination practices against Asian applicants. If the name Palantir Technologies sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because the company’s resources helped track down Osama Bin Laden. Osama Bin Laden aside, the Labor Department believes the company routinely discriminated against Asian applicants for software engineering jobs. In one example, out of an applicant pool of 130 for an intern position, where 73% of the applicants were Asian, only four Asians were actually hired along with 17 non-Asians.  Palantir charges that the Department of Labor was using “flawed statistical analysis,” yet the Labor Department contends that there is just a one in a billion chance that that selection happened by chance. At least Palantir will be in good company as Facebook and Twitter were also sued for discrimination…by Asian-American women.

And then there’s Wells Fargo…

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The Board of Directors at Wells Fargo might just be clawing back some of the lofty compensation awarded to CEO John Stumpf and former head of community banking Carrie Tolstedt. That decision will be made on Thursday when Mr. Stumpf gets to testify before the House Financial Services Committee to talk about the two million credit and debit cards that were opened without authorization – under the department that Tolstedt ran. Tolstedt conveniently retired in July, by the way. The big question remains as to how much will be clawed back from Stumpf and Tolstedt.  Stumpf took home about $160 million while Tolstedt walked away with around $90 million. Not too shabby considering the massive fraud that happened under their watch.  And as I mentioned in an earlier post, no top level employees were fired or penalized, yet many many low level employees were given their walking papers. Which is weird because lower-level employees usually just follow the orders they’re given. After all, acting unilaterally in a major banking institution is typically frowned upon. Meanwhile, as Wells Fargo continues to stay mum on the subject, the Department of Labor is launching an investigation into the bank’s questionable workplace practices.

 

Banks Behaving Badly; More Karma Headed Towards EpiPen Maker; Shamu Entertainer Ditches Dividend

D’oh!

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There are few things life more stupid than pissing off Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Yet Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf managed to do just that with his prepared, yet sometimes absurd remarks that were carefully crafted for his much deserved beating by the Senate.  That beating came after the bank had to cough up a $185 million fine because employees opened up more than two million unauthorized checking accounts and credit cards. Senator Warren said, among many other colorful things, that Stumpf demonstrated “gutless leadership” and called for him to be personally criminally investigated by both the Department of Justice and the SEC. Yowza. Stumpf did attempt to explain that Price Waterhouse Coopers was brought in to review the accounts in 2015. The problem is that Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH)  wondered very loudly why Wells Fargo didn’t do that immediately after a scathing L.A. Times article came out exposing the scandal way back in 2013.  In the meantime, Carrie Tolstedt, who headed the retail banking business that oversaw the fraudulent accounts, retired in July with $125 million from a previous stock compensation. Of course, the bank’s top executives attempted to point the finger at lower level employees who made between $35,000 – $60,000 a year. Wells Fargo fired 5,300 employees in the last few years for improper conduct tied to the fraudulent accounts. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) made sure to ask Mr. Stumpf how much he took home last year: $19.3 billion was the answer. John Stumpf is still very much gainfully employed and is apparently “deeply sorry.”

Give a shot…

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West Virginia joins the list of states gunning for Mylan ever since the company hiked the price of their life-saving EpiPen drug to $600 for a 2-pack. Mylan argues that it recoups less than half of that $600 Epipen price tag yet the drug accounts for 40% of the company’s operating profits. The state’s attorney general, Patrick Morrisey is going after the drug-maker, filing a petition to find out information that might just lead to some very unpleasant Medicaid fraud charges for Mylan. The subpoena could determine whether Mylan underpaid on rebates so that it could participate in the state’s Medicaid program. And while Mylan has yet to comment, its CEO Heather Bresch has a very unpleasant date planned for Wednesday with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. You might have heard that her father is Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.VA) Awkward. Also problematic, in terms of West Virginia’s Antitrust Act, is how Mylan sued Teva Pharmaceuticals for patent infringement when the latter wanted to make a considerably cheaper, generic version. The two companies settled but in the meantime, blame it on the FDA for not yet approving the generic version. This latest investigation, by the way, is completely separate from New Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s investigation.

Nothing to sea here folks….

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More rough waters for SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS) as the theme park company hit a new low today of $11.77. While it did rebound a bit, the company still plans to issue its last dividend – 10 cents a share – on October 7, which is down from the 21 cents it had previously issued. But after that, the dividend will be put on hold…indefinitely. Instead, SeaWorld will use that money to buy back shares as the company stares at a future without killer whales in captivity.  Starting next year, SeaWorld in San Diego will bid a salty farewell to its Orca shows, with San Antonio and Orlando following suit in 2019. The brutal publicity from the 2013 Orca documentary, Blackfish, has put a significant damper on earnings and attendance at the theme parks, with visitors down 8% to about 6 million for the year. Interestingly, SeaWorld thinks the drop in attendance has more to do with other factors like Tropical Storm Colin and a shift in holidays. Whatever the real reason is, the fact remains that revenue was down 5% to $371 million from last year’s $392 million for the same period.  Add to that a drop in profit of $5.8 million from $17.8 for the same quarter last year and you’ve got yourself a hot fiscal mess.