New Start-Up That Makes Travel Affordable; One Down, More to Go: Wells Fargo’s John Stumpf Goes Buh-Bye; Delta Gets its Due for August Outage

Coffee, Tea or Affordable Travel?

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.neti

There’s a one year old tech start-up that wants to get you traveling. It’s called Airfordable, and it lets users pay for airline tickets through installments. But first you need to take a screenshot of your itinerary and upload it to the site. Then the company sends you a payment plan. If you want to make it yours, you need to shell out a third of the price for the initial deposit. But once your ticket is paid off, Airfordable will present you with an e-ticket and you’re well on your way. Co-founder and CEO Ama Marfa came upon the idea whilst in college and unable to afford the $2,000 airfare to fly home and see her family in Ghana. And she wasn’t the only one as several students, both domestic and international encountered similar challenges. So how does Airfordable make a buck? By simply adding a service fee of between 10% – 20% spread evenly across the payments. If a user defaults or needs to change plans, all the money that was paid, minus the initial deposit, gets put back into their Airfordable account, where users have up to a year to use the money towards a different flight.  As with any ambitious start-up, the company plans to branch out into vacation packages and hotels. Airfordable already has 27,000 users and scored a seed round of funding from Y Combinator. Not bad for a company that came into existence after America’s abysmal choices in the presidential primaries.

What are you going to do with all that free time?

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The drama continues at embattled Wells Fargo but at least John Stumpf has finally threw in the executive retirement towel yesterday. At first denying and then blaming 5,300 terminated  low-level employees, Stumpf managed to incur the wrath of investors, lawmakers and consumers. Oh my! His abysmal handling of the scandal that involved the opening of countless fraudulent accounts gained extra special attention from Senator Elizabeth Warren. And if for some inexplicable reason you feel sympathy for Mr. Stumpf, then don’t. He’s walking away with over $133 million – and that’s after a $41 million clawback in unvested options courtesy of Congress. That $130 million figure is not a typo. In case you’re wondering how on earth he will be walking away with more money than those 5,300 terminated employees probably made in the last ten years combined, he’s entitled to 2.4 million shares, $4.4 million from deferred compensation plus another $20 million from his pension account. But take heart that he received no severance. Isn’t that reassuring? But that’s not his only source of income. For now anyways. While Stumpf has been CEO at Wells Fargo since 2007, he also still sits on the boards of Target and Chevron and collects…wait for it…about $650,000 frrm those positions. Both Target and Chevron have yet to take an official position on whether Mr. Stumpf will continue his  roles at those organizations. But judging by how events have been unfolding, he might just end up with a lot more free than he anticipated.

Karma…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Delta Airlines took a profit hit for the third quarter. The airline lost $150 million from its massive tech outage that saw the cancellation of 2,300 flights over the course of three days back in August. Even though analysts expected that, Delta still earned $1.3 billion, a 4% drop over last year at this time, but still adding up to $1.70 added per share.  The company took in $10.5 billion in revenue, which is not as impressive as one might think considering that it was a 5.6% decrease and a $724 million drop from the same time last year. And yes, about $100 million of that was from the outage.  In any case, analysts wanted to see revenues of $10.55 billion. So no matter how you crunch those numbers, they disappoint. Part of the problem was that the airline had too many seats – a fact that was not lost on the number crunchers. Delta will scale back its seat offerings next year in an effort to boost prices. Something to look forward to. Because fuel prices are still a relative bargain, Delta got away with spending just $1.4 billion, 22% less than it did during the same time last year. But experts don’t expect that to happen again. Shares for the airline are down 23% for the year, which only adds to the weirdness surrounding the sudden departure of executive chairman Richard Anderson just two days ago.

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The Hostess with the Mostess is Baaaack; Airlines Take a Fiscal Hit, Yet Consumers Shed No Tears; Starbucks Set to Raise You Up

 

Sugar high…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

No need to get all sentimental here, but Hostess has arrived. Again. The Twinkie maker is set to go public in the fall, following a deal with Gores Holdings which picked up a huge stake in the company. It seems like only yesterday when Hostess rode a fiscal roller-coaster that almost had the sweets maker go bust four years ago. But those days are now far behind, as the Ding-Dongs proprietor boasts a $2.3 billion valuation. The folks who bought the company, Metropoulos & Co. together with Apollo Global Management LLC, were the same ones who restored Pabst to its original glory. They picked up Hostess for $185 million and borrowed another $500 million to basically rebuild the company from the ground up. They did just that, but smaller. Much smaller. Almost all union workers were ousted, equipment was upgraded and even robots were brought in for some labor. Just like “The Jetsons.” Sort of.  Before Twinkies disappeared from shelves for those dark seven months, the company employed 19,000 people, most of them union. Now there are closer to 1,200 employees – not including robots, and more than 95% of them are NOT union workers. Top brass also unloaded Wonder Bread and Nature’s Pride, got products into movies theaters and restaurants, launched a new marketing campaign with celebs, including the illustrious Will Ferrell and threw in a countdown clock in New York’s Times Square for New Year’s. Hostess also doubled the shelf life of its products to 65 days. You might not find that especially appetizing, but investors sure did. And in case you were skeptical about the Will Ferrell choice, then consider that Hostess’s market for sweet-baked goods is up over 16% and posted $650 million in revenue for 2015. The company is now poised to hit $772 million in revenue for 2016 and by 2017, profit is expected to grow to $101.8 million.  If you’re still not convinced that the Hostess tide is turning, then look out for frozen fried Twinkies, making their coronary debut in a few weeks. Then we’ll talk.

Karma, I tell you…

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Image courtesy of Iamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like the airlines have taken a hit and I suspect no one feels too sorry for the industry’s top players. Delta,  American Airlines, United Airlines and even Southwest posted declines between 12% and 31%. So sad, no? The demand just wasn’t enough for air travel and that, coupled with some other factors, made for some very unpleasant earnings and share declines. But cry me a river. These are, after all, airlines we are talking about. In my most humble opinion, it sometimes feel that they make a sport out of fleecing travelers. Just saying. Delta shares fell on the news that its revenue per each seat flown one mile dipped by 5%. Despite the wordiness of that calculation, it is how airlines measure their success. It also them helps determine just how much pricing power they have. And wouldn’t ya know it. They currently don’t have as much as they’d like. For now anyway. And that’s welcome news for travelers who aren’t too happy shelling out big bucks for uncomfortable seats. Delta, the second largest airline, actually had been expecting the decrease, but a smaller one of no more than 4.5%. The airline also ate a $450 million loss because they bet against fuel prices. Actually, Delta bet that fuel prices would jump and locked in some fuel purchase contracts called hedge contracts. Prices did, in fact, jump. Just not as much as Delta had hoped they so Delta ditched the contracts and ate a half billion dollars on them. So sad, no?

Nothing to buzz about…

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Image courtesy of zirconicusso/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s July, oh faithful Starbucks drinker and do you know what that means? It means that it’s time for the price of your caffeine fix to go up. After all, it’s tradition. Actually, the tradition is to raise the prices during the first week of July, yet here were are and no increase. But fear not because Starbucks already made a statement that a price increase is on the horizon. Besides, due to a pricing glitch, some loyal drinkers were already charged that increase. Oops. However, those unfortunate consumers could have only been overcharged by, at most, 30 cents. There’s no official word yet on which drinks will be getting pricier, but  the ones that do go up will only go up by as much as – you guessed it – 30 cents. There is one more caveat, though. The amount of money a drink increases varies by region. So perhaps a move might be in order. Just saying. The fact is coffee futures keep going higher and are up over 10% just this year. Even if you are annoyed that your coffee habit is about to eat a bigger chunk out of your bank account, Starbucks knows that you’re still gonna keep whipping out the cash for it. In any case, if you think you did get overcharged on your recent Starbucks purchase, you can call the customer service hotline at 1-800-782-7282 to request your refund.

Banking Scandal or Ben Affleck Movie?; Airline Ranks and Tanks; Drones to the Rescue

Who gets the movie rights?

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Image courtesy of cuteimage/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The latest scandal to come out of the banking world has its very own name – “The Panama Papers.” It seems a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca helped a slew of politicians, celebrities, businessman etc. to create offshore accounts and shell companies for the last forty years. It’s estimated that 500 banks all over the world enlisted the help and resources of Mossack Fonseca to help them set up these shell companies since 1977. Fast forward to a year ago when an anonymous source leaked some 11 million documents to Germany’s biggest newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, which then enlisted the help of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The ICIJ shared information and hunted down leads for over a year in an effort to publicize “The Panama Papers” that contain information on some 214,000 offshore companies. The documents also have plenty of unflattering details about Russian President Vladimir Putin, FIFA officials and over 30 other people and companies that are blacklisted by the U.S. government. These include people indicted for corruption and have ties to drug trafficking and terrorism. Strangely enough, Mossack Fonseco only seems to know the true identities of just over 200 companies out of the over 14,000 that the firm managed to incorporate just in the Seychelles. Now banks across Europe find themselves under the microscope as regulators try to establish if and how those banks found ways to hide assets. The Kremlin, ironically, is calling the allegations “a series of fibs” and thinks its just an attempt to thwart Putins chances in upcoming elections, which are said to be rigged anyway. FIFA, another group that could use a lesson or two on business ethics, called the allegations “ridiculous.” To be fair, it’s not clear to certain people that any actual illegal activity occurred. Of course the banks denied any wrongdoing while Mossack Fonseca calls itself the victim of a data breach.

Bumpy landing…

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Image courtesy of cuteimage/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Results are in for the Airline Quality Rating and you might just be surprised. Or not. Virgin America took the top spot, even earning the best score in the baggage handling rate category. While Virgin America no doubt takes pride in getting the best ranking, Sir Richard Branson is not exactly celebrating considering Alaska Airlines is buying him out for $2.6 billion. Alaska Airlines, by the way, is paying $57 in cash per share, – a 47% premium over Virgin America’s closing price on Friday. Incidentally, Alaska Airlines came in fifth, though it was ranked highest when it came to fewest customer complaints. But it is anyone’s guess how this buyout will impact Virgin America’s rating next year. In any case, JetBlue came in at number two with Delta, shockingly enough, earning a very respectable third place ranking. Overall industry performance improved slightly. Really slightly. Six carriers actually improved, while another six did not. Spirit came in dead last, but in all fairness, Spirit is new to the list. Also in all fairness, Spirit ranked the highest in customer complaints, which makes sense considering that its culture is best described as “take it or leave it.” Amerian Airlines plunged three spots from last year to number 10. Which sounds about right. American, by the way, is the largest carrier in the world, just not on the United States. United is and yet it doesn’t exactly boast an enthusiastic following. Hawaiian Airlines ranked number one for on-time performance. And that’s really great. Especially if you’re going to Hawaii. Which unfortunately, I am not.

Start-up STAT…

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Image courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Bay Area start-up Zipline just scored $18 million in funding  – but not from just any investors.  Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Yahoo Founder Jerry Yang saw fit to plunk down tons of cash for the drone company but the question is: what makes this drone company different from all the other drone companies? At least for Paul Allen and Jerry Yang. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that Zipline founder Keller Rinaudo is using his drone technology not for delivering books and groceries, but rather to save lives in third-world countries. Zipline’s drones will be delivering blood and much-needed medical supplies to remote, hard-to-reach areas in Rwanda. Rinaudo, a Harvard-trained scientist said that there is “nothing more precious than blood and medicine” and plans on making those items much more accesible than they have ever been. He also wisely pointed out: “Getting medicine to remote places is both a huge market and a global challenge.” As of now places in Rwanada get resupplied a few times a year. But Rinaudo is planning for his drones to make up to 150 drops a day come July. The government of Rwanda is footing the bill to make that happen. And unlike many other types of drones that can’t operate properly in inclement weather, Zipline’s drones can, are able to carry up to 3.5 lbs. and fly within a 75 mile range. Considering that Rwanda is one of the poorest nations in the world, it will become the first country to employ commercial drone delivery, all while Amazon and other companies continue fighting regulatory battles and FAA hurdles.

 

Michael Bolton: IRS = Anus of Our Country; NY AG Schneiderman Takes Issues With Shifty Shift Practices; Rank and File: Airlines Get Graded

How am I supposed to live without you?

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With tax day on Wednesday, John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight thoughtfully explained our national aversion to taxes and the IRS: namely, they involve “someone taking our money and math.” To further complicate things and strengthen our aversion, Congress has drastically cut funding to the IRS, causing activity at the agency to come to an almost virtual standstill. Mr. Oliver urged us to redirect our anger, rage and frustration at Congress and not the folks at the IRS who perform “a dangerously boring job.” So what better way to pay tribute to the IRS than to call it the “anus of our country” which is precisely what, crooner Michael Bolton did, on John Oliver’s show, when he sang a not-so-moving ballad that was sort of meant to be a show  “… of reluctant support for their appropriate funding.”  To help taxpayers truly grasp the anus/IRS comparison, Mr. Oliver articulately explained that we should, “Think of our government as a body. The IRS is the anus: It’s nobody’s favorite part, but you need that thing working properly or everything goes to s–t real quick.” Pure poetry.

Oh shift!

Image courtesy of  iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

More than a dozen retailers are getting probed for some shifty shift scheduling practices that are not only downright rude, but according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, might just be illegal, as well. The practice in question, dubbed”on-call shifts” basically lets hourly wage employees know if they will be working only hours before they need to show up for work. The practice is not cool for so many reasons. First, for many employees, the practice does not give them ample time to make care-giving arrangements for children and and elders in their care. “On-call shifts” also don’t allow for employees to make other arrangements for alternative sources of income.  If an employee reports for work for which they had been scheduled, then according to New York State law, that employee is entitled to be paid for four hours of work at basic minimum wage. Some of the big retailers who were sent letters about their shift scheduling practices include Target, The Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, J.C. Penney and J. Crew.

Would you like some pretzels with that?

Image courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The 25th annual Airline Quality Report is out and the least shocking observation on it is Virgin America taking the top spot for the third year in a row. If you’ve ever flown Virgin America, and also American Airlines, then you’ll clearly see why Virgin America gets the top spot while American – which merged with US Airways – doesn’t. However, American still managed to snag the number seven spot. A bit high, if you ask me. In fact, I am shocked that American isn’t in last place. Its regionally operated Envoy/American Eagle airline does place last, though. Yikes. The report, which measures airline performance quality, takes into account four major aspects – or as the pros say “core elements”: on-time performance, involuntary denied boardings, mishandled baggage and customer complaints. No doubt, if the AQR measured how travelers were treated, I am certain American/US Airways would have claimed the last spot. In any case, Hawaiian Airlines came in at number. Too bad it doesnt fly anywhere I need to go. Delta took the number three spot, the only large carrier to break into the top four, while some were left scratching their heads over JetBlue’s fourth place ranking, since the airline came in second last year.

 

Hamas Terrorists/Murderers Win Big Over the FAA, Boeing Not Up Up and Away and Facebook Sooo High Up

Yes, the terrorists have won…

Image courtesy of FrameAngel/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FrameAngel/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It looks like the murderous terrorist Hamas organization scored a major victory against the world, and the US commercial airline industry as it got the FAA to ban flights to Israel. All major carriers including Delta and United Airlines have canceled flights because they are concerned that bloodthirsty Hamas will bring down aircraft with its never-ending supply of missiles obtained with lots of assistance from its nuke-happy friends in Iran. It’s a curious ban since there isn’t one in place for Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen – which begs the question as to whether or not the ban was really born out of safety concerns or just blatant run-of-the-mill anti-Semitism and sympathy for terrorists. Hmmm. The ban is expected to reduce revenue for airlines by tens of millions of dollars –  if not more. A major coup for Hamas, no doubt. But at least former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who knows a things or two about money and politics, showed some major falafel balls by coming to Israel on an El Al flight to show solidarity for a country that is under constant attack by butchers whose sole purpose in life is to murder every single Jewish person on the planet.

Not exactly taking off?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Aerospace and defense company Boeing released its earnings today and all I can say is: Wow. “Wow” for two very distinct reasons. Reason number one is that the Chicago, Illinois-based company pulled in a profit of over 50% with a net income of close to $1.7 billion and $2.24 earnings per share. Boeing didn’t just beat the Street’s estimates it pummeled them. As for “wow” reason number two: The stock isn’t soaring, flying high or (insert any number of aviation-related analogies here) despite its amazing profits. That’s because Boeing’s $22.04 billion revenue was lower than Wall Street’s $22.3 billion estimate. Potatoes. Puhtatoes, I know, but still, when Wall Street has expectations, you best meet them. The company delivered 181 new aircraft this year – a 7% increase –  with over 780 more in the works. It’s all very promising but Wall Street wasn’t as smitten with the fact that the company got a one-time $524 million tax-cut that helped bring in that profit. It probably also didn’t help that Malaysia Airlines flights 370 and 17 were both Boeing jets.

“Like”

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

But guess who did soar? Facebook. Okay so that’s not exactly shocking news. Maybe just a little bit to the investors who were a tad bit skeptical over Facebook’s lack of mobile ad revenue. But it looks like this quarter cleared up those concerns as the social media giant is up over 60% propelled by those very ads and the cash they are bringing in – even as I write this. Analysts expected sales of $2.8 billion but hellooooo – this is Facebook we’re talking about and it pulled in more – $2.9 billion, naturally. Net income was up over $790 million and $.30 a share. That’s way more than double from a year ago. And with 1.5 million advertisers, and over 1.3 billion users, Facebook and its investors have a lot to “like.”

 

Flying the Pricey Skies, Tesla’s Going Ga Ga For Giga, and Swiss Diss

What’s your loyalty worth…

Photo courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“A new model for earning miles will increase rewards for those who spend more as well as differentiate the SkyMiles frequent-flier program for our premium travelers,” says Jeff Robertson, the Delta Vice President who oversees the airline’s loyalty operations.  But just how loyal are you going to feel towards Delta? If you spent a big chunk of time racking up frequent flier miles on Delta, you might want to start cashing them in.  In about ten months they’re making some big changes to their rewards program that you might not find so rewarding.  Delta’s not gonna care how much you’ve flown and how much time you’ve spent on their aircraft – only how much cash you shelled out to have the privilege of flying with them.  Yep.  Mileage reward based on actual miles traveled will be a thing of the past.  If you’re looking to get rewarded your gonna have to pony up. While they’re not the first company to that, they are the first of the bigger airlines to do it.

The excitement is electric…

Photo courtesy digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s good to be Elon Musk these days.  The Tesla Chief Executive is gearing up to build a gigafactory.  Now what on earth is a gigafactory, you ask?  You could say it’s a battery factory.  But that would be like saying a Tesla is just a car, which – let’s be real-  is so much more.  Because Morgan Stanley is just as stoked,Tesla’s market value went above $30 billion.   And if you were on the fence about acquiring the sweet battery-powered ride, know that it just became the first US car to receive  “best overall pick” in Consumer Reports magazine.

Yodel-ey-hee-boo-hoo…

Photo courtesy bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Doesn’t look like Credit Suisse will be yodeling a happy tune any time soon.  Switzerland’s second largest bank acknowledged misconduct by a small group of private bankers.  Well that’s a relief  – just not a tax relief. Credit Suisse Chief Brady Dougan  – who happens to be a US citizen  – deeply regrets “that some Credit Suisse bankers appear to have violated US law.”  Rest assured that the bank’s management had allegedly no knowledge that nearly 22,000 US customers were hiding $10-12 billion in assets with them.  But you really gotta wonder what that says about their management skills.