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.

Panama Paper Scandal Just Getting Started; Riding into the Pac Sun-set; How Victoria Secret Plans to Stay on Top

Paper fail…

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The Panama Papers continue their entertaining journey of embarrassing plenty of world leaders. For instance, British Prime Minister David Cameron has been haplessly defending himself after some documents in the Panama Papers unflatteringly revealed how he profited from his late father’s offshore investments, set up by scandalized Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca. His father’s investment fund, Blairmor, shrewdly avoided paying taxes in the United Kingdom by having company board meetings in Switzerland and the Bahamas. Four months before David Cameron became the Prime Minister, he had the good sense to sell his stake for a not-so-whopping $42,000. The Prime Minister called the revelations a ”private matter” but then went on to say that all of his assets are totally legit.  Except it was said eloquently and with a British accent, which always makes things sound even better. Chinese Communist Party Leader Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law, in addition to a few other party members, also owned a piece of a Mossack Fonseca created shell company. But it’s doubtful Jinping’s power and status will be affected. Especially because the (shell) companies in question were conveniently gone with the wind by the time he assumed his leadership role. Interestingly, only one American has been spotted, so far, amongst the 11.5 million documents. It belongs to that of Chicago-based author Marianna Olszewski. But like I said, there are millions of documents to sift through so it could take awhile before other misbehaving Americans are discovered. Or not. These documents were from one but one firm out of hundreds or thousands of firms, both American and foreign, that perform these types of services. Besides, the U.S. is itself a tax haven. Just look no further than Nevada and Delaware. In fact, the U.S. is ranked as the world’s third most popular tax haven. Panama is much less popular, ranking way down at number 13.

Not so gnarly…

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SoCal-based company PacSun is the latest retailer to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after posting a $10 million net loss in its fourth quarter. The retailer only managed to nail a profit in just one quarter out of the last six. Add to that increased competition and you’ve got a whole big fiscal mess. But fear not, if you’re a frequent PacSun shopper, as there will be “no immediate impact” on customers at any of the chains approximate 600 stores. As for the retailer’s 2000 employees, their jobs are safe…for now, anyway. Pac Sun, incidentally, also carries the Kendall and Kylie Jenner line, just in case you felt like handing over your hard-earned cash to the Kardashian/Jenner/Kanye clan. Private investment firm Golden Gate will be the lucky group to take PacSun back to being a privately-held company. The investment firm previously lent Pac Sun $60 million back in 2011 and will now magically turn 65% of the company’s debt into equity. Okay, so there’s no magic involved, but there’s definitely some creative math at work. After its bankruptcy reorganization, the company will secure a $100 million revolving line of credit from Wells Fargo. The skate/surf California retailer owes plenty of cash to creditors including $5.7 million to Nike and another $3.8 million to Simon Property Group Inc., the mall operator that is home to many a PacSun stores. Shares of the company plunged as much as 97% in the past 12 months and took another nasty dive today, losing over 40% of its value at one point, as it hit 5 cents. The retailer will join a long and less-than-illustrious list of retailers who also recently filed Chapter 11, including Quiksilver, American Apparel, Wet Seal, Delia’s, Sports Authority…well, you get the grim picture.

In on the secret…

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Victoria’s Secret (VS) is one retailer that is most definitely NOT filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company is actually at the top its fiscal game, posting a 3% sales gain over the previous year and record sales for 2015. But that isn’t stopping the insanely recognizable brand from making some pre-emptive changes, lest the retail climate fiscally change at some inconvenient point. Unfortunately, those changes involve some restructuring that will leave 200 employees without jobs in both the company’s New York and Ohio offices. Victoria’s Secret, whose parent company is L Brands, wants to streamline its operations by separating and concentrating on its top three units: lingerie, beauty and, of course, teen-centric brand, PINK. So what becomes of all the rest of Victoria’s Secret’s other categories of merchandise? They’re going buh-bye. VS, which also owns Bath & Body Works, plans to gradually shift gears away from its iconic catalog. Apparently, the internet managed to make the catalog, among other sales methods, a virtual relic – no pun intended.