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.

Snapchat-ting all the Way to the Bank; HSBC Is In Big Trouble, Yet Again; Virgin America’s Soarin Good Earnings

And just like that it disappears…

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hindsight is 20/20 but in Snapachat’s case it’s more like 19 – as in billions of dollars. The social media and messaging app, which very presciently declined Facebook’s offer to buy them for a paltry $3 billion back in 2013, is rumored to be adding an additional $500 million to its coffers. This will now peg the company at between $16-$19 billion and could make it the second most valuable privately held company behind Über technologies and Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi. Started in 2011 and helmed by CEO Evan Spiegel, the app allows users to post pictures and messages that disappear within a few seconds after being opened. Snapchat boasts 100 million users and it should come as no surprise that 57% of its users are under the age of 25. Of course, its disappearing act is not the app’s only trick as it now has deals with, among others, Yahoo, CNN, ESPN…the list goes on, tailoring content just for you. Even movie studios are getting in on the Snapchat action and before long you’ll see Snapchat’s very own superhero series. If that doesn’t scream street cred, then I don’t know what does.

Don’t bank on it…

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Image courtesy of scottchan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There’s nothing like a little money laundering investigation to put a downer on your week. Well in HSBC’s case it’s “aggravated money laundering” which sounds so much more sinister than just plain old “money laundering.” This latest criminal investigation comes a week after the revelation that it helped some of its super wealthy clients and their 1,100 bank accounts, evade taxes. HSBC is on a roll, I tell you. Investigators suspected that if HSBC was helping its clients avoid paying taxes, then what else might it be helping their clients do? Hence, we have the money-laundering investigation.  A Swiss public prosecutor launched a criminal probe into the matter and has since raided the picturesque offices of HSBC. Good thing that former HSBC IT employee, Herve Falciani, very thoughtfully collected all those files pointing investigators into launching an investigation. Too bad he tried to sell the information first, though. That kind of looked bad for him. But probably not as bas as how it’s looking for HSBC right now. Of course, HSBC is said to be cooperating. Whatever that means. Do banks ever not cooperate?  HSBC did, however, sort of acknowledge it messed up on the tax evasion end blaming the fact that stringent standards weren’t in place as they should have been. You don’t say.

Flyin’ high…

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Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’ve ever flown Virgin America, then it might come as no surprise (or maybe it will) that the airline just whipped Wall Street expectations with a little help from cheaper oil prices and fully booked planes. The airline only made its Wall Street IPO debut back in November but so far it has not disappointed as the airline took in $1.16 per share – a far cry from the 80 cents Wall Street expected it would earn. Revenue for the fourth quarter was $372.2 – a 3.4% increase over last year at this time, impressively taking down analyst estimates of $370.8 million. Started by billionaire Sir Richard Branson, the airline just announced big plans to give Southwest Airlines a very unwelcome run for its money by offering non-stop flights to Austin. Let’s just hope this little battle pays off for the passengers too.

Snapchat’s latest News it and Lose it Feature; American Airlines Earnings Soar; Dow’s Downer of Day

Snap to it…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Maybe Snapchat’s $10 billion valuation isn’t so crazy after all now that the disappearing messaging app has introduced its latest – and possibly greatest – feature, Discovery. This new feature is going to offer bite-sized bits of news giving the user  several options to get more on a story all with the convenient, effortless swipe of a finger. And then, true to Snapchat tradition (and technology), the stories will last for 24 hours before…you guessed it, they vanish into thin virtual air. A slew of media companies are already partnered with the app, including (but not limited to) CNN, ESPN and Yahoo News. The hope is that this little partnership will take that younger, hipper audience of 100 million monthly active users (and counting) and turn them into traditional news enthusiasts. Then there’s the ad revenue aspect. Gotta love those ads (and the revenue they hopefully bring in). Snapchats plans to post ads and then split the revenue with its media partners.

Things that make you go hmmm…

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

American Airlines had a very good year and I can assure you I had nothing to do with it. The company posted its fourth quarter earnings regaling us with the news that it scored $597 million in net income. That number was particularly impressive since last year at this time the company posted a $2 billion loss. To be fair, (and I hate it that I have to be fair to American Airlines) that loss was because of one-time costs from its merger with US Airways and from its bankruptcy case. American Airlines also hooked in $1.1 billion in earnings with $1.52 per share, beating Wall Street’s estimates by a single, solitary cent. American Airlines can thank dropping fuel prices for some of its impressive earnings and the company plans to take a chunk of its $2.9 billion profit to update its pre-historic fleet and raise salaries. But if you’re hoping for a drop in fares, don’t hold your breath. It’s not happening.

Dow and out…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s blizzard/storm had nothing on the Dow’s performance today which looked particularly disastrous with no thanks to some of the world’s biggest companies taking huge hits. Microsoft takes the number one spot with more than a 9% hit on its stock price today, despite the fact that it beat earnings estimates by 4%. Investors just didn’t see the growth, sales and transitioning that they expect from the once powerful and mighty software company. Oh well. Caterpillar takes the number two spot with a 7% hit on its shares. The company missed earnings expectations by $0.20. As prices for copper, coal and iron ore come down, there is less demand for mining equipment, which is precisely what Caterpillar does. The fact that the dollar is stronger than most other currencies is also putting a crimp in the Dow today. Procter & Gamble, is among those companies whose lousy earnings took a nasty 3.8% hit in its stock price, in part, because of this strong dollar of ours.  Other companies that have seen better days on the Dow include: Intel, Cisco, IBM, Nike. But alas, the list does not end there.

Marijuana Score With Venture Capital Firm; Global Economic Issues Make For Happier Borrowers; Is Yahoo CEO’s Head on the Chopping Block?

Gone to pot…

Image courtesy of Paul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Paul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It just keeps getting better and better for Marijuana. Privateer Holdings, a private equity firm whose focus happens to be on the cannabis industry, just got a major cash infusion from a venture capital firm. But this is not just any venture capital firm, either. The one and only Peter Thiel, billionaire, and partner at venture capital firm, Founders Fund, just handed Brendan Kennedy, CEO and co-founder of Privateer Holdings millions upon millions of dollars to be a part of the cannabis magic.  Privateer Holdings, if you recall (and it’s okay if you don’t) scored a huge 30 year licensing deal with the family of Bob Marley to manufacture Jamaican cannabis strains and hemp-infused products for the Marley Natural brand. It’s an epic move by Founders Fund, and an even better one for Privateer Holdings because it marks the first time a major institutional investor invests in the marijuana industry. Recognizing that this is a relatively new industry with countless untapped resources and opportunities, and marijuana legalization occurring in 23 states and counting, Founders Funds figures its a great strategic move. I suspect Founders Fund knows what they’re doing seeing as how it invested in a few other companies you might have heard about including Facebook, Airbnb and SpaceX.

 Mortgage sweet mortgage…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Not that it’s polite to rejoice at the expense of our overseas friends and their fiscal shortcomings  – a veritable global schadenfraude – but their fickle unreliable little Euro and falling oil prices are doing wonders for our mortgage rates over here. Indeed, mortgage rates are dropping because other parts of the world are experiencing economic issues, and those issues are making investors eager to cozy up to the relative warmth and fuzziness of US government bonds. When investors start cozying up to these bonds, mortgage rates keep falling and falling and…In any case, if you’re looking to take out a mortgage, this week you can get one at a rate of 3.73% on a 30 year fixed. That’s not only down from 3.87% the week before but it’s the lowest rate it’s been in over a year and a half. Looking for a 15 year instead? How does 3.05% sound. That figure is also down from last week’s 3.15%. Clearly a lot of potential homebuyer’s are getting the memo on these falling mortgage rates as loan applications were up by 11% last week.

Can’t you take a hint?

Image courtesy of digital art/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digital art/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In a not so subtle hint, Starboard Value Chief Jeff Smith told Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer in a letter that, “Should you instead choose to proceed down a different path … such actions would be a clear indication to us that significant leadership change is required at Yahoo.” The path to which Mr. Smith is referring is if Ms. Mayer decides to pick up CNN or another cable outlet instead of taking his suggestion of merging with AOL for the benefit of the “cost synergies” this merger would bring. By the way, Starboard owns 7.7 million shares of Yahoo. Also, by the way, Starboard owns shares of AOL, as well. Lastly, by the way, Starboard famously (notoriously?) chucked the board of Darden Restaurents, of Olive Garden fame, last year.

Dissing 21st Century Fox, BofA Not Feeling the Legal-ease and Hershey’s Not So Sweet News

Rejected…

Image courtesy of Ohmega1982/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ohmega1982/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like Time Warner has no love for Rupert Murdoch. The media tycoon, who reigns over 21st Century Fox, put out an offer last month to buy its rival for $80 billion, or about $85 a share in stock and cash. He even graciously offered to sell off CNN, to avoid any anti-trust and regulatory issues. But he was still denied since it was “not in the best interests of Time Warner.” Many feel, however, that Murdoch was unfettered by this rejection and will likely come at Time Warner with an even better offer , especially because Murdoch is such a big fan of HBO. I’m sure he likes the hit show Girls, but it’s probably more about HBO’s $20 billion value that really makes him a super fan. That, and the fact that a “merger” like this could pull in $65 billion a year in revenue. Wall Street also appreciated news of the rejection and sent Time Warner shares up over 15%.

Banking on lawyers…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Bank of America came out with its earnings today and yeah…they had profits. Too bad they were down over 40% from a year ago, which means there was nothing for them to brag about today. Unless it wanted to brag about how its legal bills went up from $471 million last year to $4 billion this year. BofA can thank its lawyers for its $2.3 billion profit which was down from $4 billion a year ago. The Charlotte-based bank gained $0.19 a share instead of analysts’ predictions of $0.29 a share. Mortgage revenue was also down  but man, it was those legal bills that really put a crimp in profits. Good thing (or not?) that it reached a $650 million settlement with AIG for some outstanding mortgage bonds. However, the bank’s legal bills are far from coming to a halt. If it could just hammer out a deal with the DOJ for all the damage it caused leading up to the financial crisis by selling bad mortgages…

 

Not so sweet on this…

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hershey’s is about to induce a migraine. With commodities like cocoa and dairy going up, the number one candy maker in the United States is hiking up its prices by 8%. It’s the first time in three years that they’re doing this and who can blame them (well, I can) since cocoa and its fellow chocolate making ingredients are almost at three year highs. You can expect other companies like Nestle SA and Kraft to follow (though maybe they wont, but they probably will). At least you’ll have some time to prepare as you won’t feel it in your wallets until next year, when the hikes are set to take effect.