No Churning Back: France Needs Your Butter!; The New “It” Couple; Americans Are Spending! Yay.


Très mal…

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Nothing screams “It’s time to panic!” quite like a butter shortage in France. Oui oui. The country is in the throes of a shortage of the stuff that dreams and croissants are made of, primarily because the cost of the creamy spread has gone up and the supermarkets aren’t forking over the euros to pay for it. So how exactly does an entire country find itself in the midst of such a supply shortage? First, France has been dealing with some bad weather which has somehow affected the supply of cow feed. Don’t ask me the mechanics here because I have no idea. Then we get to New Zealand. Yes, New Zealand. Did you know that New Zealand is a leading butter producer? Neither did I. New Zealand, with its own issues, has been decreasing its exports of the stuff, which in turn has contributed to France’s shortage and price increases.  However, the all-time proverbial buzz-killer/price-increaser is basically an overall global increase in demand for butter. When the whole world is eating more of the stuff, the price magically, and inconveniently goes up. In fact, butter went from $2,800 per ton in April 2016, to $8,000 per ton this past September. Crazy, right? And like Americans stockpiling batteries and water before major storms, the French have been stockpiling…butter. I dare you not to laugh. Out loud. In any case, if you don’t believe me, just check out Twitter for all sorts of French/butter humor. You won’t believe how many jokes this is churning out – sorry, had to do it.

Let’s get together…

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There are some things in life that are just meant to be. For instance, peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, and of course, beer and cannabis. Hence, Corona beer maker Constellation Brands just scooped up a 10%, $191 million-stake in Canopy Growth Corp, a Canadian company that makes cannabis and medical-marijuana products.  As for Constellation Brands, a company valued at $42 billion, it now has the dubious distinction of becoming the very first major company that specializes in wine, beer, and spirits to invest in this budding – no pun intended –  pseudo-legal industry.  The fact is, the issue of legalizing marijuana seems to be on the table in the U.S. and Canada, and not just for medical use. But Constellation really isn’t planning on doing anything major with its stake. Just yet, anyway. It plans on maybe just starting to produce some cannabis-infused drinks. Interestingly enough, the more marijuana gets legalized, the less alcohol gets consumed. For Constellation Brands, it was a pre-emptive move, positioning itself at the forefront of the industry, enabling it to take advantage of the all the opportunities that await once legalization, on the federal level, is securely in place. Nice little fun-fact: Canopy Growth Corp’s ticker symbol, which trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange is…wait for it…WEED. Catchy, huh?

You “auto” know…

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U.S. consumer spending went up quite impressively last month – a whopping 1% (yes, that is whopping) –  in large part because of the auto industry.  That’s especially important since consumer spending accounts for 2/3  of the U.S. economic output.  And who doesn’t love strong economic output, right? Yes, spending rose a lot, the most since August 2009, because there seemed to be a major increase in consumers buying cars. Sadly, that surge in car-buying was helped by the two recent major storms that ravaged a large swath of the United States and effectively destroyed a ton of vehicles. Incidentally, August 2009’s rise in spending was also attributed to the auto industry. At the time the government put out a program called “cash for clunkers” that fueled its own surge in pending.  Along with that nifty bump in consumer spending came a 0.4% increase in personal income. And bonus: wages increased by the same amount.

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VW Still Writing Checks for its Bad Behavior; Lululemon’s Sour Outlook; Economy Shows Some Impressive Muscle

Putting this baby to bed…

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Looks like Volkswagen will be handing over $157 million to ten U.S. states to settle environmental claims over the auto company’s notorious diesel emissions scandal. Among the lucky – if you can call it that – recipients of these funds are New York, which snagged $32.5 million, Connecticut which took in $20 million, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maine, Rhode Island, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, which all took in various amounts of the remaining settlement.  Incidentally, that $157 million was well below what the states originally sought. There was already a previous $603 million settlement with 44 other states, but this latest one is separate from that. In fact, the German car company has agreed to spend up to $25 billion to settle claims and make buyback offers. Just wondering if that means it will actually hit that figure or will the company try and do their best to come in as under as possible.  As part of this latest ten-state settlement, VW now has to offer three new electric vehicles in those states. Two of those vehicles need to be SUV’s. Which to me, looks like a bit of a win for VW, but hey, what do I know. In the meantime, as part of a $4.3 billion settlement with the Department of Justice, VW pleaded guilty to fraud, obstruction of justice and falsifying of documents in a district court in Detroit earlier this month. The company can also look forward to major audits, oversight and monitoring for the next three years. Sort of like what Wells Fargo has to go through as payback for its fraudulent account scandal. Am I seeing a pattern?

Soured…

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Fancy trendy yoga apparel maker Lululemon was upsetting Wall Street’s zen today after announcing that its first quarter sales marked a “slow start” to the year. Which is  really just CEO code for “Yikes! Our quarter sucked.” And with that news, shares of the company took a very ugly 23% plunge to $51 a pop, a stock price the company hasn’t seen since December of 2015. This news was especially weird because Lululemon did better in holiday sales than most other clothing retailers. Yet now, this quarter now becomes the very first one in seven years to see same store sales go down. The company took in almost $790 in revenue with a $136 million profit that added 99 cents per share, even though analysts were expecting that figure to be closer to $784 million with a $1.01 profit per share. Last year at this time the company made off with a $117 million profit that added 85 cents per share. Competition from Nike and Under Armour definitely turned up the heat on the super-pricey Lululemon, with their vast offerings and more affordable selections. But CEO Laurent Potdevin blamed the company’s neutral offerings instead, arguing that they lacked  “depth and color for spring” that consumers are apparently craving. That’s got to be it, right?

Yes, you need to know this…

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There was a lot of spending this quarter. A lot. In fact, consumer spending was so strong that it caused the economy’s GDP to grow at a 2.1% rate, more than what was thought in initial estimates. In the process, that impressive growth rate even made up for areas of the economy that didn’t perform up to snuff, like trade and business investing. In fact, for all of 2017, analysts are actually expecting to see a 2.3% rate of growth. Of course, the fact that the labor market is strong, with higher incomes and wages, helps with all that consumer spending as well. Naturally. That 2.1% rate is a major upward shift from last year at this time when that rate stood at 1.6% and had the dubious distinction of being the weakest period of growth in five years. This next bit may cause you to cringe, but one of the reasons for this anticipated impressive growth rate is President Trump. He’s got plans, in case you hadn’t heard, for tax cuts and spending. Say what you will, but moves like that help economies. And who doesn’t like a little economic boost.  However, if it makes you feel any better, Trump thinks he can get that rate up to 4%, and economists are laughing on the inside at him for even thinking he can pull off that feat.

Fall-Mart; Twitter Fires, Twitter Hires; Feeling Spent

Execu-llent…

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Even though Twitter announced yesterday that it is shedding 8% of its workforce, today the social media company announced that its adding someone new to that very same workforce. Enter Omid Kordestani who is jumping the Google ship in order to bring his fiscal talents over to embattled Twitter.  Omid will assume Jack Dorsey’s old title of executive chairman, which he dropped last week when he, once again, assumed the title of CEO. Omid Kordestani comes to Twitter from not-at-all embattled Google Inc. where he not only left the post of Chief Business Officer, but also $115 million in equity awards. That’s according to a regulatory finding, anyway. Omid, who was apparently employee number 11 at Google, and affectionately called Google’s “business founder” by Larry Page, left the company in 2009, but returned in 2014, only to head on off into the Twitter sunset.  Even though Omid Kordestani started his Twitter account back in 2012, his most recent tweet about his new post, was only his eleventh time using the platform. His lack of tweeting is, presumably, about to change.

Not “fine” by me…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wal-Mart might be the mother-of-all retailers but, as they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall, especially on Wall Street. And unfortunately, a big company like Wal-Mart has a nasty little way of taking the Dow Jones Industrial Average with it.  This particular fall was, unfortunately, rather epic. Wal-Mart took a $20 billion hit because it’s predicting a very disappointing forecast. The world’s largest retailer doesn’t expect to experience growth for fiscal 2016 (which ends in February, btw). Investors loathe bad forecasts. Well, who doesn’t? This bad forecast gave way to Wal-Mart’s biggest stock drop in 15 years and shaved 9% off the value of its shares. Of course, the strong dollar gets part of the blame as it’s hurting sales abroad. But then there’s the investment the company is putting into its e-commerce. Wal-Mart is looking to plunk down $900 million next year, and over a billion dollars the following year to beef its tech efforts. All that cash is going to gouge those much relished profits. Also eating into those profits are wage increases that the company is giving out to thousands of employees. But what really got Wall Street in a fit was when Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillion told CNBC interviewers that Wal-Mart will do “fine” during the holiday season. And that one word means anything but to investors.

Save it for later, will ya?

Image courtesy of  FrameAngel/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FrameAngel/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Retailers aren’t exactly giddy these days as more Americans decided to save up all that money from low gas costs instead of spending it. As a result, retail spending only experienced a .1% gain in September even though analysts predicted gains from .2% to .6%. Since consumer spending accounts for 70% of the economy, that .1% gain is nothing but brutal fiscal news. In fact, seven out of thirteen retail categories experienced declines. Ironically enough, gas stations took a 3.2% hit because…can you guess? Lower prices at the pump. Hence, they couldn’t pull in all that cash like they did in the past. What isn’t ironic, just annoying and mildly disconcerting, is that this .1% was the biggest drop since January and represented no change from August. So get out there and spend!

Intel’s Feeling “Chipper”; Hey Big Spender…Where Have You Gone?; BlackBerry: Buh-Bye Seacrest

Just because you don’t care, doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you…

Image courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There’s some big juicy merger news coming down the fiscal/tech pipeline. Intel announced it’s plunking down $16.7 billion for fellow chipmaker, Altera. In case you were wondering – because I know you were, that comes out to $54 per share. Last year Altera pulled down revenues of close to $2 billion. So it stands to reason that Intel knows what it’s doing. It should be duly noted, my dear reader, that these are not just any personal computer chips we’re talking about either, but rather, programmable chips that can be used in smart cars, clothes and other everyday use items. Pretty rad, huh? Of course, like any multi-gazillion dollar deal, regulatory approval is still needed and shareholders also need to give their thumbs up. But at least Wall Street seems to be showing its enthusiasm in its own special fiscal way.

Spendthrift?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

April was a wash and I am not talking showers here. According to the Commerce Department, there was no rise in spending for April. Nor was there any decrease  – which I guess is a positive too. Consumer spending flat-lined and gave us the worst showing in three months. Gee, thanks April. While personal income was up a whopping 0.4%, Americans are choosing to save save save all that cash that they didn’t have to shell out for gas lately, much to the chagrin of economists who were certain Americans would be whipping out their wallets and just buy buy buy. Wages also didn’t increase that much which definitely helped spoil some much-needed spending fun. In fact, the personal savings rate (yes, that is a real thing) jumped to 5.6%, the highest rate since December of 2012. Burned by that awful fiscal nightmare of 2008, would-be consumers are discovering the joys of saving, in addition to paying down the odious burden of debt. Economists are expecting – and very much hoping (because it would be embarrassing for them if they were wrong) – that spending will pick up in the coming months and put some much needed oomph back into the economy, since spending does account for 70% of it. Here’s hoping they get it right.

So random…

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Image courtesy of adamr/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Remember BlackBerry? Not the fruit but the device? Just admit it that you had one right before you unceremoniously ditched it for a first generation iPhone. Well the once-beloved device actually kicked the iPhone’s tush today. And Ryan Seacrest’s tush too. Sort of. The company, whose products are still quite the rage in other parts of the world, finally settled some “outstanding legal disputes” with a company called Typo Products, which happens to be backed by everyone’s favorite karaoke host, Ryan Seacrest. Typo was making iPhone cases with a QWERTY keyboard that bore a striking resemblance to a BlackBerry design. Talk about “F” for lack of creativity. In any (iPhone) case, Typo ponied up some settlement cash, tweaked the design and presumably found a way to, as they say on American Idol, make it their own.