AT&T vs. U.S. Government. And President Trump; Turkeys: CBS and Dish Networks Can’t Work Things Out; Lowe’s and Behold! It’s Earnings Win

Trump’d up suit?

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Dontcha just love a good fight? Today’s nasty dispute is brought to us by the U.S. government and AT&T. Not sure who my money’s on yet. You see, the government isn’t down with AT&T’s proposed $85 billion vertical merger with Time Warner. So it went ahead and did the most “American” thing possible: It sued AT&T to block the merger. Knowing that the U.S. government was going to be pesky about the merger, AT&T did what any smart company would do: It pre-emptively retained counsel. And AT&T went for the big guns hiring Dan Petrocelli. You remember him, dontcha? Or maybe you’re just trying to forget? He’s the dude that very shrewdly defended President Trump over lawsuits relating to the infamous Trump University real estate seminars. Oh, the irony. Trump hates the very thought of the merger and that may have something to do with his feud with CNN, which, incidentally, is owned by Time Warner. Petrocelli, who seems to have forgotten all about his Trump days, is arguing that not only does this lawsuit not pose a threat to industry competition, but the merger actually has the potential to lower cable bills. However, I have a hard time believing a cable carrier would willingly lower bills. As for investors, they seem to be on Team AT&T and believe the telecommunications giant will emerge victorious, especially because the last time the government was successful against a vertical merger, Nixon was president. Yikes!

Whose the turkey now?

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OMG! It’s football season and Dish Networks did the unthinkable – to football fans, anyway – and dropped CBS in some markets. “Some markets” includes over 3 million customers in 18 cities who will be feeling the effects of tryptophan sans quality NFL time if a deal is not reached by kickoff time. As if blocking football games isn’t bad enough, some viewers will even be getting deprived of “The Big Bang Theory” which is just so not cool. The issue, of course, is fees. Because it always is. Dish isn’t happy about CBS’s demands for higher fees, especially since Dish viewership is down (note: Google streaming on-demand video). Dish also insists that viewers are watching less CBS and feels that CBS ought to show a little more restraint in its fee demands. CBS, on the other hand, is accusing Dish of punishing its viewers while Dish is calling foul on CBS for not extending its contract until negotiations end.  However why any of this matters is beyond me since, invariably, those fees, on which the two sides eventually agree, usually end up getting passed on to subscribers via their monthly bill anyway. Now subscribers have something to look forward to once those inconveniently-timed negotiations come to a close.

Hurricane win…

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Hurricanes suck. Except for home improvement retailers. Lowe’s would agree. The company just reported third-quarter earnings, much to the delight of Wall Street. As a result of Mother Nature’s very unappreciated wrath, sales at Lowe’s went up 5.7% to $16.8 billion, way more than the predicted 4.6% and $16.6 billion. $200 million of those sales came courtesy of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma that wreaked its proverbial havoc on a large swath of the country. But they helped the home improvement chain take in an $872 million profit that added $1.05 per share, which was three cents higher than analysts’ estimates.  That number was particularly impressive since last year at this time, Lowe’s took in $462 million, nearly half that amount.  But Lowe’s doesn’t owe all its quarterly success to natural disasters. The company also made a big push to cater to professional contractors. And with good reason. They spend more money. Sure DIY home improvement is Lowe’s theme, but the company was savvy enough to recognize an additional opportunity and the fact that the housing market is doing pretty awesome lately only sweetens the pot.  And even though Lowe’s shares dropped a smidge during trading this morning, it can’t be too distraught since the company’s shares are up about 15% for the year.

Viacom Pulls Merger Plug; Trump’s Next Tweet Tackle Goes After Lockheed Martin; JetSmarter Channels Uber for Air Travel


On second thought…

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Today father-daughter Redstone team, Shari and Sumner, announced that they are no longer interested in a merger with sister company CBS. It was Shari Redstone who said as much in a letter from the family’s privately-held company National Amusements Inc.  She gets to do that sort of thing since, after all, she controls the voting shares of both Viacom and her dad, which altogether adds up to 80% of the voting stock. Wall Street wasn’t too happy about Viacom finding its own way sans CBS and not only sent the stock down 7%, it also took Viacom to a 52 week low. The two companies were actually merged once upon a time, but back in 2006 went into splitsville. Initially, the merger was meant to give Viacom a much needed boost. But the father-daughter duo decided to put the kibosh on the merger because they apparently developed renewed confidence in Viacom’s prospects under the leadership of its new CEO Bob Bakish. At least that’s how team Redstone spun it. However, rumor has it that it was because CBS chief Les Moonves wasn’t on board for a number of reasons. For one, Viacom was looking to get a premium on its shares and CBS wasn’t willing to pay for it. Also, Moonves wanted control of both companies along with increased equity and the Redstones weren’t too keen on giving him all that. Other sources say that Moonves wasn’t even interested in trying to fix Viacom. Had the merger gone through it would have resulted in a massive media giant.

F-35 you!

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President-elect Donald Trump’s latest Tweet target is Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program. Naturally, his Tweet dumping on Lockheed Martin sent the stock south along with several other defense contractors. Trump said that come January 20th, he plans to save billions of dollars on the aircraft that he described as being “not very good” according to his very expert opinion. Lockheed Martin said that it already spent millions to reduce costs on the 5th generation fighter aircraft by more than 60% and  I am pretty sure there is a joke somewhere in there.  But it’s not just Trump who thinks the program’s costs are bananas. A voice of reason who we know as John McCain, and who also serves as the Senate Armed Services Chairman is critical of the program. He wrote a letter to the Pentagon challenging the $1 billion cost overrun for the program. But Lockheed Martin said that it creates 146,000 jobs in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, besides the fact that analysts also feel the aircraft is necessary since Russia and China have highly advanced competitive fighter aircraft. We wouldn’t want to let them have the upper hand as far as our defense goes, now would we? There are six other countries who also use the jets and 3,000 planes are supposed to be built for the U.S. and other countries. The estimated cost of the program is about $400 billion and has the dubious distinction of being described as the most expensive weapons system in history. The fact that other countries participate in the program is supposed to help spread out the costs a little more. However, it’s not clear exactly how much their participation has helped the U.S.

Coffee, tea or Jay-Z?

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JetSmarter, a company that is basically Uber for flying privately can now count Jay-Z and the Saudi Royal family among its investors. The company has so far raised $157 million with $105 million raised just in its latest round.  JetSmarter founder and CEO Sergey Petrossov discovered a very lucrative opportunity when he realized that 35% of private planes have no passengers. With 50 routes in 30 cities around the world, JetSmarter wants to take its latest cash-infusion to expand into Asia, South America and Africa.  Plenty of other similar start-ups have failed so how come JetSMarter hasn’t? Apparently because seat prices on Jet Smarter change based on predictions about the popularity of certain routes and flight times. JetSmarter allows its members to buy empty plane seats from private jet companies and sell them through its app.  The company boasts 6,700 members and currently, a membership will set you back about $15,000 for the first year and $11,500 per year after that. But hey, that gets you an average of 12-15 flights per year. However, if you decide to create a charter flight or want to take a member created flight, that costs extra. And while the company does not own any of its own planes, it does have about 32,000 aircraft in its network with a $1.6 billion valuation.