Alphabet Takes on Some Heavy Lyfting; Crash and Burn: Black Monday Crash-iversary Turns 30; Blue Apron Puts Employees on the Chopping Block

 

Car-ma?

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Uber? What’s Uber? I can tell you what Uber isn’t. It isn’t $1 billion more valuable. But you know who is? Its rival Lyft, which just received a very hefty sum of money from Google’s parent company, Alphabet, following a very recent financing round that brings its total valuation to $11 billion. CapitalG, an Alphabet growth investment fund, will now get a seat on the board and an even cushier relationship with the ride-sharing company.  Incidentally, Alphabet is also connected to Uber. However, that relationship went south when Uber went ahead and started developing autonomous cars that compete directly with Alphabet’s Waymo autonomous-driving technology. Naturally, that didn’t sit well with Alphabet. If you recall, and it’s totes okay if you don’t, Alphabet then sued Uber, alleging the beleaguered ride-sharing company committed trade secret theft. Some analysts believe that this little infusion from Alphabet is the company’s way of hitting back at Uber. Seems legit.  In any case, it appears an IPO may be on the horizon for Lyft and if Alphabet’s throwing money at it, it might turn out to be a stock worth watching.

Unhappy anniversary…

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Today’s date marks an anniversary many would like to forget: The stock market crash of 1987, aka, Black Monday. It was exactly 30 years ago today that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) crashed 508 points to a smidge past 1700. The index tanked by 22% and the shockwaves rippled all over the world. It was an even bigger one day drop than the stock market crash of 1929.  But miraculously, the market recovered. Well, maybe not for everyone.  In any case, this week (of all weeks), that very same index just hit a new record, breaking the 23,000 mark. To put it in perspective, if the DJIA crashed by 22% today, it would need to lose almost 6,000 points – heaven forbid! Poo poo poo.  Some market experts warn that we could experience another disastrous drop. However, following the nightmare of Black Monday, certain safeguards, dubbed “circuit breakers,” were put into place that basically – and very conveniently – shut down the market after major drops. This prevents trading and sell-offs that could cause further damage. And basically, now if the S&P 500 falls either 7%, 13% or 20%, depending on certain factors, market trading is halted automatically. You are now free to breathe a sigh of relief.

Stick a fork in me…

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Nothing spells trouble like having to cut your workforce just four months after going public. Which brings us to Blue Apron, purveyor of fine meal-kits, which just found itself having to do just that. The fact is, there’s a lot of competition sprouting everywhere, from Amazon and its Whole Foods acquisition to Albertsons picking up the company Plated in order to sell their kits at the grocery chain’s 2000+ locations. For Blue Apron, it meant having to slash 6% of its workforce which amounts to about 300 employees. The stock is trading today at around $5.20 a share, down almost 50% from its IPO price back in June.

Starbucks Betting on $10 Coffee; Trump Ready to Dump on Pharmaceuticals; Trump’s June Stock Dump

Jolted…

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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is stepping down from his post in April with plans to build a Starbucks’ prestige brand where he will serve as its Executive Chairman. The idea is that by going upscale Starbucks will be able to raise its profile with those pesky millennials. Besides that, the company needs to compete with a number of other upscale rivals that keep rearing their gourmet heads all over the place. One thousand “Reserve” brand stores are slated to set up shop with another 30 large Reserve Roastery (expect to find that word added to a dictionary near you) and Tasting Rooms expected to open up all over the globe. In case you were wondering what one orders from this new prestige brand, you might consider purchasing a $10 cup of coffee that you can sip daintily from a glass siphon.  Or perhaps you’re up for paying $50 for an 8 oz. bag of an exotic, small-lot coffee? I’m sure you’ll find something worth depleting your funds.  In any case, Starbucks also announced plans to open another 12,000 stores –  that’s in addition to its already existing 25,000 stores –  in the next five years.  Five thousand stores are slated just for China. The company also plans to annually boost revenue by 10% while adding between 15% – 20% to its shares, and increase its focus on its food offerings since the coffee giant is convinced it can double its growth in that area.

What a pill…

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Donald Trump’s latest executive plans involve bringing down drug prices and the pharmaceutical companies that keep increasing them with seemingly reckless abandon. Which is kind of ironic since pharmaceutical stocks saw a huge surge following Trump’s election. And here they thought they had an ally. Hah! A Kaiser Family Foundation survey leading up to the election found that people felt drug prices were the number one healthcare issue for the next President. Well, I guess the President-elect is ready for it then. Sort of. Trump has yet to outline any concrete plans on how he is going to achieve this goal. But during his campaign, Trump did say that he is all in favor of consumers having their meds re-imported. He also wants Medicare for the elderly to renegotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical manufacturers. That should be fun to watch, especially because both the industry and many many Republicans are vehemently against that idea. Stay tuned for that drama. Just today, Pfizer Inc. and Flynn Pharmaceutical Ltd. were slapped with some massive record fines in the UK after raising drug prices by…wait for it…2,600%. Now, Pfizer will cough up about $106 million, while Flynn will fork over approximately $6.5 million. I guess they should be happy that they were busted in the U.K. and still have time to clean up their act in the United States before Trump-dom takes effect. In the meantime, Allergan Plc. CEO Brett Saunders is bracing himself for the new president’s impact and said Trump could end up being more “vicious” on pharmaceuticals and their drug pricing than Hillary Clinton might have been. But he also pledged to limit price increases to less than 10% per year. Or perhaps he did that lest Trump unleash his Twitter wrath on Allergan, just like he’s done to several other individual companies including Carrier Corp., Ford and Boeing.

Under-stocked…

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Yesterday, President-elect Donald Trump’s team announced, with no explicable reason as to the timing, that he sold off all of his stocks back in June. Don’t hold your breath for proof of that sell-off as none was provided. While being interviewed today on the “Today” show by host Matt Later after being named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year,” Trump explained that he decided to unload his stock holdings in order to avoid any conflicts of interest. How very gallant of Mr. Trump.  And even though the press was not made aware of it until yesterday, Donald Trump insisted that everybody already knew. We just don’t know who “everybody” is. Mr. Trump went on to say that he sold off his stocks since he knew he would win the election and would be making deals for the United States that could affect various companies in all sorts of different ways. That was indeed very thoughtful of him. He also said he didn’t even own that much stock.  Which is debatable at best since a recent filing from December of 2015 valued his holdings at $40 million. But in all fairness, his stock market holdings pale in comparison to his real estate holdings which apparently make up the bulk of his net worth.  Ethics experts, however, are suggesting those real-estate holdings might also be a conflict-of-interest as well. Just saying. It’s worth noting that since his sell-off, the S&P 500 went up over 10% while the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit some very impressive all-time highs. Since Trump’s victory, many stocks have also hit all-time highs and, of course, he’s taking credit for it.

Global Markets Fight Back Terrorists; Lumber Liquidators Whacked with Another Settlement; Starbucks Feeds America’s Hungry

The terrorists have not won…

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Markets all over the world took a beating because of the cowardly terrorist attacks in Belgium that left dozens dead and many more wounded and forever haunted. Companies dealing in travel and hospitality industries suffered the most today with Royal Caribbean losing almost 4% and Carnival Cruise Lines taking its own 3% hit. Online booking site Priceline Group endured a 3% loss as airlines like Delta Airlines and American Airlines Group lost a couple of percentage points, as well. It’s no surprise, I suppose, that healthcare stocks actually saw increases, as did material stocks. But in a big f.u. to terrorism, the Dow Jones actually picked up a point as global markets rebounded later in the day, even those in Europe. Gold also rose, because well…gold always rise. Investors consider the precious metal as a perennially safe bet. Seems fair.

Tiiiiiiimmmmbbbberrrr…

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The settlements just keep coming in for Lumber Liquidators Holdings. Today’s award goes to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) – I laughed at the acronym too – in the amount of $2.5 million. The number seemed a bit low to me, especially since 40 of Lumber Liquidators 375 stores are in California, not to mention, the company’s flooring has the potential to cause cancer from the high levels of formaldehyde present in them.  Not exactly minor details, I feel. But the other reason I’m scratching my head is because there was no formal finding of any violation, nor was there any admission of wrongdoing by Lumber Liquidators. Just saying. This settlement, by the way, has nothing to do with Lumber Liquidator’s previous settlement with the DOJ that had the flooring company shelling out $10 million to the government agency. Naturally, shares of Lumber Liquidators are up by almost 16% and closed at $13.93. But considering that shares lost more than 70% of their value since that scathing “60 Minutes” report last March, and there are still plenty of class-action suits headed toward Lumber Liquidators, you probably don’t want to hold your breath waiting for the company to fully fiscally recover. In fact, if you ask Kase Capital’s Whitney Tilson,  who is a big fan of shorting Lumber Liquidators, he thinks the flooring company actually has a 50% chance of going bust.

Bon appétit…

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Don’t feel so bad skipping that sandwich you’ve been eyeing at Starbucks. If nobody buys it, you might just help feed someone who is considered “food insecure.” The plan came from baristas and now the coffee chain has made a pledge to donate 100% of its unsold food through FoodShare and Food Donation Connection (FDC). It’s all in an effort to feed the 48 million Americans who don’t have the luxury of knowing if or when their next meal is coming.  It is estimated that 15% of American households are considered “food insecure” while at the same time an estimated 70 billion of food waste is produced by Americans that are far more fortunate. Starbucks had already been donating pastries and other types of foods that had longer shelf lives since 2010. The challenge, however, was how best to preserve the highly perishable products like salads and sandwiches. But now the FDC will send refrigerated vans to all of Starbucks 7,600 plus U.S. locations, pick up all those unsold goodies and fill the bellies of those who could really use them. Starbucks plans to have given out 5 million meals by the end of 2016.

 

OMG-D-P!!!!; No Bling In Tiffany & Co. Earnings; McDiss Day

G.D.P-habulous…

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Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

China might be hogging center stage for its economic slowdown but the U.S. is stealing the spotlight now for the exact opposite reason. The exciting news off Wall Street today (okay, exciting is a stretch) is that the U.S. economy grew by a whopping (not a stretch) 3.7% instead of the initially estimated 2.3% growth rate. So let’s give a big shout out to the GDP for not repeating that awful first quarter growth rate of .6% which had everybody reeling and blaming a brutal winter and a slowdown at west coast ports. Business investments also saw a 4% increase even as low oil prices and a strong dollar continue to toy with our fiscal emotions. Shares went up across the indexes and the Dow Jones isn’t looking so scary right now, having gone up 1.4%. Consumer and government spending are up too. As if government spending ever goes down? So does this mean the Fed might once again forge ahead with its unwelcome plans to raise rates? Doubtful, for September anyway. But brace yourself because that hike is on the horizon.

You can forget breakfast…

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Image courtesy of MR LIGHTMAN/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tiffany may have some sweet bling to offer but its earnings were anything but. The luxury goods retailer saw a 15.4% decrease in profits to $105 million, raking in 86 cents per share, a nickel short of estimates. So what gives? A strong dollar has got tourists shying away from Tiffany & Co. since they wouldn’t have been getting enough bang for their good old American bucks. However, Tiffany also saw a 21% increase in sales from Japan. The jeweler is also betting big on China, despite that fact that everyone else seems freaked about by the country’s slowing economy. Sales there are up. So clearly more than a few folks in China are plunking down lots of cash for some fancy Tiffany merchandise. Which makes perfect sense since China is the number two luxury market in the world. In fact, Tiffany is going ahead with plans to open two more stores there, adding to the thirty others already in the country and its 304 total stores. But shares of Tiffany are down 20% for the year and are currently hovering at an 18 month low. Interestingly enough (at least I thought so), less prestigious bling company Signet Jewelers Ltd., parent to both Kay and Jared Jewelers, saw some especially good earnings. Signet beat estimates of $1.15 per share to come in at $1.28 per share. Does this mean a shift in consumer preferences? Hmmm.

Off with their chicken supply…

Image courtesy of  joephotostudio/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of joephotostudio/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

McDonald’s has cut ties with one of its chicken suppliers after some video was obtained from a Tennessee farm that supplies to Tyson, which in turn, supplies to McDonald’s. Unfortunately, these chicken farmers were allegedly using inhumane tactics on their farm – a big no-no if you wanna be in good with the Golden Arches. And while it was the right and noble thing to do to terminate their contact, McDonald’s still has not exactly landed in the good graces of Americans today. However, it has nothing to do with chicken. Only beef. As in a beef with Burger King. Perhaps you may have heard that today is National Burger Day. In a two page ad taken out in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, Burger King wanted to join forces with McDonald’s on this auspicious day, put aside its McDiffferences, and offer up a McWhopper. Instead of graciously accepting this show of good beef, McDonald’s very undiplomatically declined the opportunity with CEO Steve Easterbrook writing, “We commit to raise awareness worldwide, perhaps you’ll join us in a meaningful global effort?” Can you say McOuch?

Blame Portugal (Some More), Amazon’s Latest Legal Tangle and Wells Fargo Sets the Stage (Hopefully)

Busted…

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Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Amazon is getting busted by the FTC. The e-commerce site is being sued by the government agency for charging parents millions of dollars for unauthorized in-app purchases made by their tech-savvy children. Kids were (are?) able to purchase virtual goods using their parents very real money without very real permission. Not only does the FTC want Amazon to refund all that cash but it also wants the internet company to actually stop. Amazon’s policy on refunding in-app purchases is to NOT refund them. However, Amazon says it has already done otherwise and was “deeply disappointed” about the lawsuit. No kidding. In January, Apple had to refund over $32 million for the same reason while T-Mobile got sued last week for bogus billing charges.

Trouble in Portugal?

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Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There is even more reason to blame Portugal today now that country’s regulator suspended trading for Banco Espirito Santo since the price of its shares took a major nosedive. The bank  is part of the Espirito Santo International conglomerate that has been causing so much trouble lately. The problem for us here across the pond is that Wall Street isn’t taking to kindly to these banking problems and the Dow Jones took a .4% hit over these events. Wall Street, the rest of the world (and myself ) start to wonder if European banks are “healthy.” The index of European lenders, appropriately enough called STOXX, already fell to its lowest this year with no thanks to Austria and Bulgaria who contributed to these “wonderings” with their own banking issues. And while Banco Espirito Santo might seem like a minor player in the banking field, its very big problems spread to its neighbors in Greece, Italy and Spain. The Portugese Prime Minister said there is no reason to worry for depositors to worry and the country’s banking practices are a-ok. Isn’t that reassuring?

Now that’s healthy…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

On the flip side, Wells Fargo seems very healthy – especially compared to European banks. It was the first of the big banks to announce its second quarter earnings and kicked off the season with a 4% gain with much help, thanks, and a major debt of gratitude (no pun intended – well maybe just a little) to loans, especially commercial, and deposit growth. The company had a net income of $5.7 billion, up from $5.5 billion from a year ago and gained $1.01 per share. Revenue was over $21 billion which was actually down 1.5% from a year ago but shares are still up over 28% since October.