Is Twitter Finally Getting Something Right? Ford’s Got a Truckin’ Big Problem; Wall Street’s Got Beef with Chipotle’s Labor

I’ll tweet to that…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rumor has it that Twitter is finally, actually, seriously going to do something about sexual harassment and other hideous actions and behaviors that take place on the micro-blogging platform. The new policy changes are aimed at bullies and other highly offensive, odious excuses for human beings. But just what kind of consequences can offenders expect and how quickly can they expect them? Glad you asked. Accounts owned by the offenders will get shut down. Immediately. And forever. Posters of non-consensual nudity, including, “upskirt imagery, creep shots and hidden camera content” are out too.  Posters of “hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies violence” can also expect some new rules that they will definitely not like.  What’s also new and necessary is that Twitter wants to figure out how bystanders get to report abuses. Just don’t expect these changes to happen overnight. In fact, it could be weeks before those policy changes take effect. Besides, Twitter’s still busy being investigated by Congress and testifying about Russia’s Twitter role in the 2016 presidential election. It seems that the 201 profile names Twitter provided to the Senate last week just weren’t enough to convince Senator Warner that Twitter was being sincere in its efforts to cooperate. But perhaps its karma for the way the micro-blogging site suspended actress Rose McGowan after bravely calling out the nefarious actions of the monster we call Harvey Weinstein.

Have you driven a Ford lately?

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There’s nothing like a recall to completely mess with your most profitable line of trucks. Ford Motor Co. is now taking a brutal hit over its very popular, number one selling F Series trucks. In fact, the aforementioned truck is the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. Apparently the doors on some 1.3 million F-150’s and Super-Duty trucks are posing a $267 million problem because if they are not fully latched they may not open or seem closed. To be fair, no accidents or injuries related to this particular issue have been reported. Yet, anyway.  The recall was inconveniently announced just weeks after Ford’s newly installed CEO unveiled a plan to cut $14 billion worth of costs. Ford plans to officially notify its customers next month but has not yet mentioned when the parts necessary to repair the trucks would be available. But Ford presumably anticipated this particular challenge since it already has some unwanted experience in this dreaded arena, with this latest fiasco bringing its recall total to 5 million vehicles.

No perks?

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Image courtesy of KEKO64/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As the saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Which brings us to Chipotle, the beleaguered fast-food chain who apparently pays its employees too much – no, that is not a typo – and because of it is suffering Wall Street’s fiscal wrath. Don’t shoot the messenger here. Analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch just downgraded the restaurant chain from neutral to underperform because the amount of money spent on labor needs to be cut. Back in 2006, Chipotle’s average weekly hours were 34.6 for part-time and full-time employees. That was its high point. But in 2016 that number dropped significantly to 21.7. The company already did a lot of scaling back and needs to do more. However, according to analysts, there doesn’t seem to be any decent way to achieve this and still come out on top – and in the green. Shares naturally dropped by about 2% today and are down 12% for the year.

 

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Google’s Tax Troubles Continue in Madrid; Will Oreo Scoop Up Hershey?; Pier 1 Not Feeling the Outdoor Love

Mucho dinero…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It was just another day in the life of Google as authorities raided its offices, this time in Madrid, Spain. At issue, yet again, is the search engine giant’s corporate tax practices in Europe and the looming question as to whether or not Google, and other big corporations like it, are steering their profits legitimately, in order to score a reduced tax rate. Spanish authorities are investigating the search engine giant to see if it has been in engaging in the  dark art we know as tax evasion. Back in May, France investigated Google for “aggravated financial fraud” and “organized money laundering” which both sound awfully sinister. France is hoping to get $1 billion from its investigation. Even Italy’s authorities are in on the action and looking to see if Google underpaid its taxes there as well.  Google already forked over $175 million in back taxes to British authorities, whose politicians are still whining because they feel that the amount was too low. Expect more post-Brexit griping. Naturally, Google and its peers are calling out their innocence and are adamant that they comply fully with tax rules. But, at any rate, the investigations still seem far from over.

Yummm…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The mood is sweet on Wall Street with talk of a Hershey takeover from Oreo maker Mondelez International. Given that there’s a trend to cut back on the amount of sugar people have been consuming, the timing seemed opportune for a buyout of a company that makes the world’s most beloved -in my opinion, anyway – chocolate bar. Mondelez, which also makes Cadbury chocolates, is currently the second largest confection manufacturer in the world. If the buyout goes its way, it will become the number one sweets maker, as 90% of Hershey’s revenue comes from North America. Shares of Hershey shot up 22% on the tasty news, hitting a record high of $117.79. Shares of Mondelez also went up, just not as much. Hershey’s market value is about $21 billion, give or take. But in order for the buyout to go forward, the Hershey Trust would have to give its blessing. After all, it controls 81% of Hershey stock and voting rights. However if you’re looking for some hostile action, might I suggest you look elsewhere. Mondelez already pledged to not shed any jobs and to keep the illustrious Hershey name intact.

Missed it…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s looking like a long walk off a short Pier 1 as revenue for the home store chain came in at a disappointing $418.4 million. That number might seem impressive, except that it wasn’t to analysts, who were expecting revenue closer to $420 million. The company lost $6 million in profits and 7 cents a share when predictions were for a 5 cent per share loss. If those figures weren’t depressing enough, then consider that last year at this time, Pier 1 took in revenue of $436.9 million with a $7 million profit and an 8 cents per share gain. Shares of the company are now 50% less than what they were a year ago. The big area to disappoint was outdoor furniture. Darn you, outdoor furniture. That category was supposed to bring in some boffo results, but instead proved to be a real downer. The table top category did nicely. Just not nice enough. Taking a page from Chipotle, the company will now attempt to march out a rewards program and even add a gift registry. Which is weird, because I assumed the company already had a gift registry. I even went to check just now and wouldn’t you know it? It doesn’t. In any case, the company is forging ahead with plans to close 20 stores, while it already shuttered 8 this past quarter. Pier 1 did, however, open another three stores, presumably in more economically hospitable areas.

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.

Rate Hike? What Rate Hike?; Chipotle’s Rocky Road to Recovery; McCormick’s Spicy Good Earnings

Easy does it?

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Image courtesy of twobee/FreeDigitalPhots.net

Well, if you’re looking for the Fed to raise rates, don’t hold your breath. Despite the fact that the Fed’s next meeting is planned for April 26th and 27th, experts think a move like that probably wont happen before July. It was initially believed that there would be four rate hikes over the course of the year, after the Fed raised the rates for the first time in nine years back in December. But now it looks like there will be just two.  Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is still promising a gradual pace of rate increases, but even she admits that the economic climate just isn’t quite impressing these days. The Central Bank is paying very close attention to all the annoying economic issues going on in the world, like the global economic slump, the very very low oil prices and a relatively volatile stock market. Of course, it wouldn’t be right not to mention China’s own economic downturn.  Plus the Fed’s not too stoked about the rate of inflation, which has been holding steady at about 1% when its target is closer to a 2% rate. Add to that weak consumer spending and you’ve got a Fed that’s not looking to stir any fiscal trouble. Hence, the Fed has assured the country that it plans to “proceed cautiously” in its rate hike plans, which is awfully considerate, according to some people, anyway.

Burned burrito…

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Free burritos or not, Chiptole’s road to fiscal recovery is looking very far off.  Wedbush Securities analyst Nick Setyan came out with a new report that says he doesn’t expect the fast food chain to recover before 2018 – calling it “the best case-scenario” – and even lowered Chipotle’s price target from $450 – $400. Ouch. Before the food safety crisis, each Chipotle restaurant was pulling down $2.5 million in sales on average. But that’s not expected to happen again for quite some time, especially given the fact that Chipotle’s operating costs are only going to get higher and higher because of its more comprehensive and stringent food safety measures. And even though the company sent out coupons for nine million free burritos, with another 21 million free burrito vouchers en route, Chipotle will still eat a $62 million tab for that, as a burrito typically costs $7.10. But hey, whatever it takes to try and erase the ugliness of E. Coli and norovirus outbreaks, right? Even with all those vouchers being sent out, the company only expects that a quarter of them will actually get redeemed. Naturally, news of the report sent shares south when the stock is already down 37% since August. Shares of Chipotle closed today at 460.10.

Spice spice baby…

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Image courtesy of jk1991/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Of all the companies to report earnings lately, this one’s pretty…spicy. Yes. I had to go there. McCormick & Co. just released its first quarter results and considering that the company’s products aren’t items typically used in bulk, the $13 billion company pulled in some very impressive figures. In the process, McCormick & Co. even managed to raise its 2016 outlook, and unlike other major food producers that have been struggling to keep up with a health/organic revolution,  McCormick hasn’t faced quite the same challenges. In fact, its stock is up around 28% in the last twelve months with a little help from some recent acquisitions. The spice-maker was expecting to earn between $3.65 to $3.72 per share. But now it’s looking like it’ll pick up between $3.68 and $3.75 per share for the year. Incidentally, despite China’s economic downturn, the country still managed to give McCormick some boffo growth. Perhaps there’s a correlation between economic stress and and a desire for spicy food? Hmm. Will have to explore that one…In any case, McCormick picked up a profit of $93.4 million on $1.03 billion in revenue and adding 73 cents per share. Analysts only expected 69 cents on $1.03 billion in revenue while the year before the company took in a profit of $70.5 million on $1.01 billion in revenue with 55 cents added per share. And if that’s not enough, McCormick also scored a new 52 week high today of 99.90.

Economy Cools on Coal; Saving Chipotle One Burrito at a Time; Morgan Stanley Made a Mistake and Admits It!

Hot or coal?

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Image courtesy of SOMMAI/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Feel free to play it naughty this year as Santa may not be able to scrounge up some coal to put in your stocking anyway. That’s because Peabody Energy, the largest American coal miner, might just be going bust, joining a slew of other coal companies. The company announced that it will be delaying a $71 million interest payment that’s due this week – and that, my friends, often signals that a company could be on the brink of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Not that this would come as any great surprise since the stock lost over 95% of its value in the last twelve months and today tanked over 40%. Two years ago the company’s stock hit a high of $299.10. Now it’s barely hanging on as it closed at $2.20 today. The fact is that the global economy is slow enough to wreak havoc on major industries, in this case, coal. Only 33% of power came from coal in 2015. The coal industry has had to contend with stricter environmental standards that have put a major crimp in production. With natural gas being used more and more, seeing as how its cheaper and less polluting, several other coal companies have already gone under. And while nobody is crying over less pollution, it does mean that thousands of people will be out of jobs. Tens of thousands. As for Peabody Energy, the company has thirty days to make that $71 million or face default.

Burritos for all….

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Image courtesy of SOMMAI/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It appears all is not lost at Chipotle as the food joint managed to recoup about 30% of its sales with the help of some free food – burritos, in fact. There is a lot of irony at work here. According to Chipotle CFO Jack Hartung, “Free burritos—turns out it works. It brings people into the restaurants.” It’s a good thing something is bringing folks back into the restaurants after that ugly E.Coli outbreak that sent millions of customers scrambling as far away from the restaurants as possible. As part of the company’s turnaround plan, Chipotle sent out coupons for free burritos to about 7 million customers. Then it decided that maybe sending out 21 million more coupons might not be such a bad idea. It wasn’t since 5.3 million customers already downloaded the first coupon and then, 2.5 million actually walked into a Chipotle, picked up their free burrito and, presumably, purchased a couple of other items off the menu as well. Hey, once you get ’em in the door…In any case, this quarter marked the first time that Chipotle actually forecasted a quarterly loss. Ever. Naturally, the company is still reeling from the losses over the outbreak. However, it’s also expecting to incur some heavy expenses for marketing and, of course, free burritos.

Um, about that price target…

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Wall Street insiders made a mistake and they are actually admitting it. Analysts at Morgan Stanley used to just love LinkedIn and thought the world of the platform. But that love has waned and thus the brokerage has downgraded the stock, savagely slashing the price target from $190 to $125. After all, LinkedIn’s earnings didn’t impress. Far from it, in fact, and the stock has gone down a whopping 54% in just the last three months. Morgan Stanley analyst Brian Nowak eloquently said of LinkedIn, “With its current product offering, LinkedIn isn’t likely to be as big of a platform as we previously thought.” That was harsh, I tell you. And just like that, shares of the company went down on all because the brokerages had a fiscal change of heart.

Google Exec’s Royal Pay Day; Why Chipotle Wouldn’t Serve Lunch Today; Yelping Early on Earnings

Does that include the corporate jet?

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Image courtesy of boulemonademoon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sundar Pichai may not just yet be a household name – something that strikes me as totally weird – but remember that name. He is, after all, one of the highest paid CEO’s of a publicly traded company, and he just scored a record $199 million Google (GOOG) stock award  – the highest ever…for a Google exec. This not-so-minor tidbit was revealed following a February 3 regulatory filing where Pichai disclosed that he received…wait for it…a whopping 273,328 class C shares of Google. Google, by the way, closed today at 682.74. You do the math. Those shares are set to vest quarterly – as long as Pichai manages to last at Google through 2019. And why wouldn’t he. With his last stock award worth about $250 million, Pichai’s Google stake stands at a staggering $650 million. Although, to be fair, tech stocks did take a hit today, with shares of Google parent company Alphabet falling – if only just by 2%. But I suspect Pichai will still come out on top. So perhaps you might want to check Google’s job board. Diane Greene, who heads Google’s cloud business, snagged $42.8 million, while Google CFO Ruth Porat will be taking home $38.3 million in equity.

Muy bien…

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Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You, like so very many others, probably didn’t get your Chipotle lunch fix today. And that’s not a bad thing. Stores were closed for the better part of the day as approximately 50,000 Chipotle employees gathered in 400 locations, ranging from movie theaters to conference centers, to discuss the Denver-based company’s food safety problems that have been plaguing sales at its 1,971 eateries. Chipotle CEO Monty Moran’s big plan for today’s gathering was to go over new procedures for food safety. That was probably a really great idea since an E. coli outbreak in October and a norovirus in December caused the company to temporarily shutter 43 locations, not to mention incur some brutal fiscal declines.To be fair, Chipotle’s 30% sales decrease are nothing compared to what happened to all those people who got sick. The fact that a Federal Grand jury issued a subpoena for a criminal investigation only adds insult to fiscal injury. But at least the CDC said that the outbreaks seem to be over. I’ll believe it when I hear that CDC employees themselves start ordering Chipotle’s legendary burritos. But if you don’t need those kind of assurances and are ready to chow down on a late lunch/early dinner of soft flour tacos, then bon appetite! Chipotle re-opened at 3:00 pm today.

Early reviews are in…

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Yelp’s earnings were released today –  a bit too early, mind you –  and brought with it the news that Yelp CFO Rob Krolik, who joined the company in 2011, will be stepping down. He will either stay on board until the company can find a suitable replacement or until December 15. Whichever comes first. Weird, I know. In any case, Yelp posted revenues of $153.7 million, handily beating estimates of $152.3 million, and also gained 11 cent per share even though analysts expected the company to report a loss of 3 cents per share. Shares of the company, incidentally, were down in the afternoon. Go figure. If you have yet to post an opinion/review to Yelp, rest assured that there were still 95 million other people who did it for you, letting you know the all the good, bad and ugly about our country’s countless dining establish, both fine and otherwise. Yelp’s been on a fierce mission to battle the competition out there by diversifying its restaurant bookings, offering event management and even doing payments. That’s in a addition to the company’s plans for expansion beyond the U.S. And Yelp has no time to waste as shares of its stock have been going down since March of 2014, when the company hits its high of $97.25.

 

 

Comcast: Streaming Video is so Last Year; Holy-Moly Guacamole, Chipotle is Losing Dinero; The Ultimate Biz Perks List

Who-lu?

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Image courtesy of cool design/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If online streaming video services are phasing out cable, you’d never know it judging by Comcast’s latest earnings. The company actually picked up 89,000 new subscribers – more than any other quarter in the last eight years. It was a particularly remarkable feat considering that last year at this time, the largest U.S. cable operator in the country only gained 6,000 subscribers. This means that for the year, Comcast only lost 36,000 subscribers. And yeah, that’s really good news. It’s really good because in 2014 Comcast lost over 194,000 subscribers. Time Warner Cable also announced it had picked up new subscribers. But Comcast did so well that it decided to raise it’s dividend by 10% to $1.10 – which was awfully generous of them. The nation’s leading high-speed internet operator managed to give a decent beating to analysts expectations earning $19.25 billion in revenue- an 8.5% increase over last year – instead of the projected $18.76 billion.  Comcast’s profits were up 5.2%, coming in at $2 billion, and adding 81 cents per share – just a teeny tiny penny below predictions. Oh well, maybe next time. Knowing that it’s future is/was on the line, Comcast has been trying to stay relevant in an age where streaming online video is all the rage. The company has been whipping out its fiscal A-game, offering better customer service, set-top box enhancements and smaller, more enticing bundles for current and prospective subscribers. Apparently it’s working.

The plot thickens…

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Image courtesy of cool design/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the fiscal Chipotle waters, along comes a subpoena, courtesy of a federal criminal probe stemming from a noro-virus outbreak in sunny California. Chipotle now needs to cough up documents going all the way back to January of 2013 and that’s not all. While Chipotle thought the worst was behind it, following the incredibly brutal E.Coli outbreak in some of its restaurants, the company announced that this year will be muy mal for investors. With huge marketing efforts in the wings, along with Herculean efforts to become the gold standard in food safety, Chipotle should be able to stay afloat. But it wont be pretty. The company’s fourth quarter earnings were pretty dismal with sales down more than a third and a whopping $10 billion shaved off its market cap. Apple and Alphabet  it is not. And with any bad news on Wall Street, particularly where there’s a subpoena involved, shares tumbled almost 3% and closed at 461.92.

Very perk-y…

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Image courtesy of cool design/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Glassdoor has served up yet another list to remind you just how badly you need to find a new place to work. This time, the company is ranking other companies according to how friggin’ awesome their employee perks are. For instance, does your current place of employment offer you “Yay Days”? Didn’t think so. But, if you score a position at REI, you get two of ’em – that’s two paid days off to spend on an outdoor activity. Does your boss currently give you $500 to use towards travel? Didn’t think so again. In which case, you ought to check Airbnb’s job board because that company gives you that much money towards travel every quarter so long as that cash is used on Airbnb accommodations (otherwise, no dice).  Burton, purveyor of fine snowboards and accompanying gear, gives its employees season passes to the local slopes. Then there’s software provider Epic Systems that generously gives its employees a four-week paid sabbatical every five years. If you want to feel even worse about where you work, visit Glassdoor for the rest of the list top ranking companies and the amazing perks they offer.