French Company Goes Organic for U.S. Acquisition; U.S. Airlines Gear Up for Cuba; U.S. Banks Bond Over Brexit

Let them eat organic cake!

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Dannon Yogurt’s parent company, Danone (said with a French accent) is looking to pick up  a major U.S company that will effectively double its size. That’s assuming all goes according to plan. Danone wants to offer organic food provider, WhiteWave, purveyor of favorites like Silk Almond and Soy Milk, Horizon Milk and Earthbound Farms, $10.4 billion in cash for the fiscal pleasure of its company. That’s a 24% premium over WhiteWave’s thirty day average closing price and comes out to about to $56.25 per share. But for Danone, whose looking to make itself a bigger presence in the United States, it’s well worth it, since WhiteWave’s offerings tend to attract wealthier consumers. WhiteWave generates annual sales of about $4 billion and with this acquisition, Danone expects to see a $300 million boost in operating profit. Danone has also been struggling in other parts of the world and this acquisition would ease the burden of some of those lesser-performing markets. FYI, when companies offer to buy other companies, their offers tend be at least at a 30% premium. Because this offer was not, it theoretically means that the bidding door is still open to other offers from companies like Coca Cola, PepsiCo and Kellogg Co, to name but a few. In a regulatory filing, though, WhiteWave did graciously say that it wouldn’t solicit other offers. However, there are exceptions. Should WhiteWave go with another offer, Danone still wins because it will get a $310 million break-up fee.

Bienvenido…

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Believe it or not, Hillary Clinton wasn’t the only topic of conversation today coming out of Washington DC. President Obama announced a proposal to allow eight U.S. airlines to provide nonstop service between Cuba and ten U.S. cities, beginning this fall. This will mark the first time in 50 years that travel of this kind will be available. And all this just one year after diplomatic relations were re-established. The city and airline selections were made by the Department of Transportation and the lucky airline winners are: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and United Airlines. American Airlines is actually no stranger to the island nation, as it has been offering charter services there since 1991. Just last year the airline made over one thousand chartered flights to Cuba, while JetBlue made over 200 chartered trips. That’s awfully welcome news for an industry that took a fiscal beating lately. The cities that can look forward to the new service had to have have substantial Cuban-American populations already in place. Hence, Florida finds itself the recipient of 14 out of the 20 daily nonstop flights, since it boasts the largest Cuban-American population. The cities include: Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami,  Newark, New York City, Orlando and Tampa. According to Cuban officials, the number of American travelers to Cuba is up 84%, compared to last year, in just the first half of the year.  But there is still a trade embargo in place, which does include a travel ban. However, there are twelve convenient categories of reasons to fly to Cuba that you can check off should you decide to make your way to Havana any time soon.

Come together…

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It’s a fiscal kumbaya as four U.S. banks offered up their sincerest support for London following the Brexit vote. The gracious supporters include, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. The banks agreed to help British Finance Minister George Osborne find ways to ensure that the U.K. remains the prominent financial player that it always was, pre-Brexit. And of course they all will try and find new and exciting ways to lure and retain big banking to London so that the consequences of the Brexit don’t do the country in completely. While that sentiment no doubt warmed the hearts of investors all over the world, the investment banks could not offer up as much optimism as far as the jobs situation is concerned. After all, “no one in their right mind would currently invest in Britain.” Keeping those jobs there might might be the biggest challenge of all and no one wants to make any promises on that. Especially Jamie Dimon, who had previously mentioned that around 4,000 jobs could make their way out of London. In the meantime, the French wasted no time – I mean NONE! – in announcing to the world that it would make its tax regime as enticing as possible, in a not at all subtle attempt to grab some pricey banking business from London.

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Greece Needs a Man With a Plan; Cruisin’ to Cuba; Starbuck$-ing Your Coffee

Ode to a Grecian fiscal burn…

Image courtesy of  jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today is yet another day where the world gets to sit back and cry as stocks all over the globe continue to go south because the Greeks just can’t seem to get their debt crisis under control. The mood might have improved had Greek officials bothered to come up with some sort of plan to help ease the situation. But as more than one eurozone official put it, they have “no concrete proposals.”  However, Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has a plan…to address the European Parliament on Wednesday, much to the irritation of many a European official, who aren’t eager to bail out Greece, yet again. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande also have a meeting planned with Tsipras. But both leaders have very different ideas about how to handle Greece. The Germans do not want Chancellor Merkel to give in to the Greeks, once more, and would even like to see Greece out of the eurozone altogether. In fact, one German official would prefer if Merkel would just completely reject negotiations. France doesn’t see the benefits of these actions but doesn’t exactly want to pony up the cash either.

Bienvenido….

Image courtesy of Gualberto107/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Gualberto107/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You can now add Carnival Cruise Lines to the list of operators making their way down to Cuba. “All of our research suggests there is huge pent-up demand for the Cuba experience,” a company spokesman noted. As part of the line’s “fathom” brand, travelers eager to visit the island nation will now have the chance to book that dream trip for a mere $2,990 per person – plus taxes and port fees. However, don’t bother bringing extra cash for gambling or booking reservations for snorkeling expeditions. Passengers aboard the Adonia ship, which carries just 710 passengers, will be required to spend eight hours of each of their trip days immersed in Cuban cultural experiences instead. If that sort of trip doesn’t appeal to you, then take it up with the U.S. government as this is all part of its rules and regulations in order to travel to Cuba.  At least you’ll have plenty of time to pack as the ships don’t set sail for the island nation until May of 2016. The tourism industry in Cuba generates more than $2.6 billion and plays a significant role in the nation’s economy. With the U.S.’s entry into the fold, you can expect that role to get even bigger.

Buzz-worthy?

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Image courtesy of foto76/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Good news for Starbucks. But not for you. Coffee futures fell. A lot. But that cup of coffee you just picked up from the Seattle-based chain just got pricier as Starbucks started charging up to 20 cents more for its brew. The price per pound of coffee was over $221 back in October. But since then the price has fallen 44% to about $124.70 per pound. Overhead is the magic word here as Starbucks has a lot of it, from employee benefits, to rent to..well…coffee.  In fact, 88% of its costs come from goods sold – as in coffee . So, in keeping with corporate spirit, the coffee company has passed those price increases onto its customers. Funny how that works out. If you find yourself just a tad bit irritated by the price hike, then head on over to your local grocery store. and pick up some coffee products from J.M. Smucker. That company owns Folgers and has actually been cutting the cost of its coffee products since the price of coffee has been declining.

Airbnb Books It For Cuba; Headed Out of Indiana; Walmart’s Beef With Discrimination Bill

Bienvenido…

Image courtesy of  taesmileland/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of taesmileland/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With the normalizing of relations between the United States and Cuba, you can be sure that businesses are on the hunt for the countless opportunities that can be found on the island nation. Netflix made its Cuban debut a few months back, along with a handful of other companies. Now its Airbnb’s turn. The online rental website for wallet-conscious travelers saw a 70% spike in searches for rentals on the island nation following President Obama’s announcement about the easing of restrictions there. The way Airbnb sees it, “We are actually plugging into an existing culture of micro-enterprise in Cuba. The hosts in Cuba have been doing for decades what we just started doing seven years ago.” So far the website has over a thousand rental listings. But the rentals can only be used by U.S travelers and travelers must have one of the required licenses to even travel there. Many feel that Cuba could become one of Latin America’s biggest markets, but some are skeptical that Airbnb is going to be able to take much advantage of that. With 15% of Airbnb’s fee being split between the renter and the owner, it seems likely that Cubans would rather forego Airbnb’s services and keep that extra cash for themselves. Then there’s the issues about the lack and slowness of internet access which just might impede some travel opportunities, not to mention profits, that are found online.

It’s only getting worse…

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Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff is socking it to Indiana and its very unpopular decision to sign the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The San Francisco-based global cloud computing company is offering relocation packages to employees who don’t feel comfortable in the Hoosier state as a result of the new law. Several employees have already taken advantage of the relocation offer. “One thing that you’re seeing is that there is a third [political] party emerging in this country, which is the party of CEOs.” In fact, more than 39 CEO’s signed a joint statement protesting the law and while Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said there would be “fixes” put into place that would offer protections for certain sexual orientation and gender identities, many remain unconvinced, and the economy in Indiana could suffer mightily. While Benioff wouldn’t mind totally ditching Indiana, he still has about 2,000 employees which makes that endeavor a little improbable. But he still has plans to significantly scale back operations there. “We want to invest in states where there is equality.” So basically, you can cross Indiana off the list.

Speaking of which…

Image courtesy of iosphere./FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere./FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Walmart has done something nobody expected it to do. Not a company known to embrace social issues, it helped shoot down a bill that was similar to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed in Indiana. Even though the retailer has been known to support many conservative causes, both fiscally and otherwise, this time it took to social media to protest this particular bill. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon wrote: “Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve.” To be fair, it would have been sheer fiscal stupidity not to protest the bill. It made perfect business sense. McMillon further added that the bill “…threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present through the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold.” He then went on to ask Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto the bill and wouldn’t ya’ know it? When the mighty Walmart talks, the Arkansas governor listens. Gov. Hutchinson amended the law.

HSBC’s Bankers Were Not Being “Franc”; No Toying With Hasbro’s Earnings; Netflix Says ¡Hola! to Cuba

Oops! Did I do that?

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Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What do arms dealers and popstars have in common? They have bank accounts at HSBC. The British-based bank’s Swiss subsidiary now stands accused of the unthinkable: Helping some of its wealthy clients avoid paying taxes (cue audible gasp). So what’s HSBC’s excuse, because let’s face it, there’s always an excuse. HSBC blames it on the fact that even though the Swiss division was picked up by HSBC back in 1999, it hadn’t been fully integrated into the rest of the company and thus didn’t abide by the highest standards it could have. And by highest of standards I mean “significantly lower” standards. HSBC clients were able to walk out of the bank with “bricks” (their word) of cash – just like what you see criminals carrying in briefcases in the movies. Swiss bankers didn’t much care because those “bricks” were in foreign currency and not in francs . Also, bankers structured accounts in fiscally creative ways in order to help all these super-wealthy clients save tons of money by not paying all those irritating European taxes. See where I’m going with this? Talk about customer service.  And who must HSBC thank for all this embarrassing publicity? Enter Herve Falciani, a self-proclaimed whistle-blower and former HSBC IT employee, who graciously gathered all the juicy data and supplied it to officials, and of course, the media too – but that’s after he tried to first sell the information (a whole other blog entry). About 100,00 clients are on these lists with over $100 billion in assets swirling around. Names like Phil Collins, David Bowie, and Tina Turner turned up. John Malkovich’s name also made an appearance but he said he had no knowledge of the account and it may have been something done by Bernie Madoff who once handled some his assets.

Toy Score…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hasbro, the second largest toymaker, just posted its fourth quarter earnings much to the delight of well…everyone. The company topped analysts’ expectations with more than a little help from the forces of Nerf and Transformer toys. No joke. Sales of those products and other selections geared toward the junior male consumer increased 21% and there’s nothing Frozen about it. Strangely enough, sales of its girl-focused toys, including My Little Pony and Nerf Rebelle, didn’t fare as well. And by “well” I mean sales slid down 10%. But the company did score a profit that was up 31% to close to $170 million adding about $1.22 to each share. Sales were also up 1.3% to $1.3 billion (nifty how those numbers matched up). However, analysts expected revenue to be $1.33 billion and Hasbro was very quick to blame that strong dollar of ours against other foreign currencies. Stupid dollar! Just kidding.  And bonus: The Hasbro board is even upping its dividend to $0.46 per share, which shareholders get to cash in on May 15 – provided they have those shares on record by May 1.

Bienvenido….

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Image courtesy of Naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Nothing says diplomacy quite like Kevin Spacey.  Online video subscription service Netflix is seizing upon the easing of restrictions on Cuba to bring its premium entertainment to the shores of the Island Nation. Muy bien! Netflix has been in Latin America since 2011 and it already has 5 million subscribers there. While it’s still not clear just how involved the government will be in this new endeavor, with a little help from some broadband internet, international payment methods and a rate of $7.99 a month, “Orange Is the New Black” is set to make its way over to Cuba in no time – provided  subscribers are of the select 5% who have unfiltered access to the internet.