Oil-vey! Trump’s Secretary of State Pick Putin Us On; Trump vs. Silicon Valley; Rate Hike Sends Joy Throughout Wall Street

Energized…

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Trump’s latest pick, this time for Secretary of State, has naturally already ruffled more than a few political feathers. Enter Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson, a man who happens to be very very cushy with Russia and its fearless leader, Vladimir Putin. If you recall, Russia is very brazenly messing with Ukraine, to the point where the U.S. felt compelled to impose sanctions. Now, the CIA said the country also launched cyber attacks against the U.S. in an effort to influence the election results. But that very same country awarded Tillerson the Friendship Medal in 2013.  Tillerson, who has never held a public office, has been at Exxon, the world’s largest energy firm, for 40 years and during that time spent many many hours cultivating relationships and establishing major business deals with countless foreign countries and companies. But he’ll still need to be confirmed by the Senate. However, considering that former Secretaries of State Condoleeza Rice and James Baker are big fans, not to mention Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he shouldn’t have too much of an uphill battle. By the way, Condoleeza Rice also happens to be a consultant at Exxon Mobil, and Robert Gates was a consultant at one point too. Rumor has it that they all plan to vouch for the CEO.  Lindsay Graham and John McCain, however, are just not that into him, presumably because of his chummy relationship with Putin, of whom they are not particularly fond. Also not in Tillerson’s favor is the fact that Exxon currently has billions of dollars in deals with Russia, not to mention one valued at $500 billion that involves exploring and pumping for oil in Siberia. Those deals can only go forward if the U.S. decides to lift its sanctions against Russia and, fyi,  Tillerson was never much of a fan of the sanctions. And just so you know, according to a filing from a year ago, Tillerson owns $218 million in Exxon stock along with a $70 million pension plan. Shares of Exxon Mobil went up 2.2% on the news of Tillerson’s nomination.

 

Speaking of Trump…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tomorrow is a big day at Trump Towers as some of Silicon Valley’s top execs head over to the President-elect’s digs for a little quality time with Donald Trump. Expected to attend the power meeting are: Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Google’s Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt…to name but a few. While the agenda’s not public, there are some predictions about what might be discussed tomorrow. There’s the not-so-minor issue of antitrust enforcement and those pesky government demands for user data. But much higher on that list is Trump’s immigration policies and how they have the potential to put a very major damper on the inner workings at many of these Silicon Valley companies. The fact that these companies bring in a lot of employees on special visas, not to mention that they also send plenty of jobs overseas, doesn’t exactly jibe well with Trump’s vision of “Making America Great Again.”  To be fair, Apple did say it has 80,000 employees in the United States and is also responsible for creating another 2 million jobs from all the business opportunities Apple creates. However, Trump did say, in his very eloquent way, that he wants to “get Apple to build their damn computers and things” right here.  Donald Trump is all for establishing major tax reforms and is acutely aware that all these tech companies have a lot of cash offshore. Major reform will help bring that cash back to the States. So its in everyone’s best interests to work together towards that goal, whether they supported Trump’s presidential aspirations or not. And for the record, they did not.

Stocks, and bonds and hikes…Oh my!

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stocks all over the world rejoiced today by going up while the Dow Jones Industrial Average came thisclose to hitting the 20,000 mark following its 9% surge since Election Day. Actually, the index came within 50 points of the 20,000 mark which sent Wall Street into fits of fiscal joy. The S&P got in on the action by going up .8% to its very own all-time high. The reason for all this excitement is because the Federal Reserve is expected to officially and finally finally announce a rate hike tomorrow, marking the second time in ten years that we get to witness and take part in that elusive increase. Rate hikes are welcome since they signal that the economy is strong and steady in all the right ways. Low interest rates have this nifty little effect on stocks that makes them cost higher. Problem is low interest rates are just no good  for the savers among us who like high interest rates because of the income they get from bonds and bank accounts.  Even though borrowing costs are about to get that much higher, investors are still positively giddy at the prospect that the President-elect intends to usher in an era of potentially lower corporate tax rates, less regulation and lots more infrastructure spending.

 

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Trump’s Been Dealing it to Himself; Volkwagen Wants Your Love Back; Excuses, Excuses: Barnes & Nobles Whips One Out

Even more Trump’d up…

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President-elect Donald Trump’s foundation admitted it “self-dealt.” Self-dealing is when  leaders of non-profit organizations take money from the charities they lead, for themselves, their businesses and/or their families. It’s a big no-no and in case you were wondering where and why Donald Trump admitted such things, then look no further than his 2015 IRS tax filings, available on GuideStar, a website that tracks non-profits. But rest assured an investigation has been opened, brought to us by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who declined to comment due to the fact that the investigation is ongoing.  And in case you were wondering about this as well, Team Trump thinks Schneiderman’s investigation is politically motivated. In other Trump news, stocks were rallying and the Dow went above 19,000 points. Plenty of people on Wall Street are crediting Trump for all of this fiscally joyful news – whether they voted for him or not. After all, he did promise to slash taxes, ease regulations and go big on infrastructure spending. Experts see these initiatives as excellent means to boost the economy in a ways that have been lacking for years. Unfortunately, not every economic idea coming from Camp Trump is leaving investors and economists all warm and fuzzy. Take for instance NAFTA, which Trump refers to as “the worst trade deal in history.” Major havoc could be wreaked on the economy if Trump decides to scrap it. Millions of Americans rely on free trade with Mexico and slapping tariffs on it could spell fiscal doom.

You’re gonna love me, I just know it…

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Volkswagen, the Wells Fargo of the auto industry,  is betting – and hoping – that it can reclaim its former fahrvergnügen glory and make you love them all over again. Following its epic diesel-emissions scandal, Volkswagen chief Herbert Diess announced he wants to “fundamentally change Volkswagen” by focusing on on major tech advancements, developing battery operated vehicles and adding some some self-driving cars into the mix. Diess has got big eyes on the year 2025, by which time he hopes to sell a million electric cars. He wants to “massively step up” Volkswagen’s car tech and also introduce a greater variety of SUV’s to the North american market because, after all, Americans apparently love their SUV’s. But with those lofty goals comes a plan to eliminate 23,000 jobs in the more traditional areas of the auto-manufacturing industry. Instead, Volkswagen will take on 9,000 new employees to work on tech, while wisely offering those 23,000 employees the option of early retirement over a certain amount of time, perhaps in an attempt to soften the blow. In the meantime, Volkswagen already coughed up a hefty $15 billion settlement with both U.S. regulatory agencies and Volkswagen owners.

Uh, if you say so…

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Barnes & Noble reported yet another dismal quarter of declining revenue, except this time the bookseller is blaming the election for its poor fiscal performance. How convenient. Sales fell 3.2% and probably would have fallen even more were it not for sales of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” Barnes & Noble also reported that their online sales improved 12.5%, however, that figure might be a bit more convincing if it provided an actual dollar amount in its report. Nook devices, digital content and accessories were down close to 20%. But can all of that really be blamed on the election? Hmmm. On the bright side, operating losses for the Nook this quarter were only $8.2 million. Hey, don’t laugh. Last year at this time that figure was $30 million. All in all, Barnes & Noble still has cause to celebrate as it only lost just over $20 million and 29 cents a share when last year it lost $39 million and 52 cents per share. B&N is hoping the holiday season will help its reverse course and give it a fresh dose of fiscal mojo. CEO Leonard Riggio is hoping the company’s new $50 Nook device, debuting on Black Friday, will be a big hit. In the meantime, he’s banking on some concept stores, including one that just opened in Eastchester, New York, boasting a full-service restaurant.

 

Oil-Vey! Glut Messing with Global Economies; Apple Sets its Sights on India; Who Will Represent the “World’s Most Hated Man”?

Dow-n and out…

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The Dow took a nasty 400 point fall today fueled (a little pun intended) in large part because of the oil glut that’s got barrels of the not-as-hot commodity trading at about $27.50 a pop – a very low low price. The S&P also fell as stocks were trading much lower. In fact, more than 1,000 New York Stock Exchange stocks hit 52 week lows, while on the other side of the pond, European and Asian markets followed suit, performing just as badly on seeing oil hit thirteen year lows. Experts (I am not one of them) are thinking we’re on the threshold of bear market territory – a nasty fiscal phase where market index prices are falling so much that people just want to sell off what they’ve got. Considering that the MSCI All Country World Index (which is basically a global market index mash-up) fell 2.4%, that just might be the case. China’s flailing economy and the United States’ strong dollar aren’t helping matters. Even Royal Dutch Shell is expecting profits to tank 42% to around $1.6 billion – a brutal cry from the $3.3 billion it reported last year at this time. But box-office fave Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t crying for Shell, or any other oil producers for that matter. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the A-lister was receiving some award, he graciously lashed out at big oil and corporate greed calling them, “Those entities with a financial interest in preserving this destructive system…covered up the evidence of our changing climate.” Hey! Maybe he’ll use that in his Oscar acceptance speech…

An Apple a day…

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It took awhile but Apple is now working to bring its tech magic to India where the Cupertino, California-based company finally finally filed an application with the Indian government to set up shop there. No word yet on how many stores it plans on opening or even how big of an investment it’s going to be. Of course, Apple products are already available in the country that boasts the second largest telecom market in the world. But in order to buy those products, consumers purchase the merchandise through a network of Indian-owned distributors. There are some who feel that Apple had been willfully ignoring India since it took this long to make the leap there. But Apple argues otherwise saying that restrictions on foreign investment in the retail sector weren’t exactly winning them over. India typically requires a single brand  – in this case, Apple – to locally procure 30% of its goods sold in the country. But rumor has it Apple brass had a little conversation with the Indian authorities to ease up on things.  Also India, unfortunately, doesn’t have the boffo spending power of say, China, where people pounced on iPhones from day one. In India, cheaper alternatives dominate the smartphone market while Apple only has about a 2% market share on the devices.  Apple, however, had been trying to make its products more affordable by offering buyback programs, installment programs and giving discounts on older phones. And then something wonderful happened – Apple sales in India crossed the $1 billion mark back in March and the tech company presumably began to see things differently.  The fact that India has the fastest growing smartphone market and is poised to take over the number two spot from the United States (China is first, duh) in 2017 might also have something to do with the change of heart.

Dumb and dumber…

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Martin Shkreli aka “Pharma bro”is switching lawyers though, why exactly remains a mystery. Marcus A. Asner, an attorney at the soon-to-be-ex firm of Arnold & Porter did not give an explanation as to why the change was being requested but he was probably not broken up that he will no longer represent what many call the world’s most hated man. Shkreli, 32, by the way, takes exception to that moniker, as he mentioned in a recent interview. But considering he raised the price of a life-saving drug by 5000% – well, what else are you gonna call him?  Perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he needed the extra cash so that he could buy the only known copy of a Wu-Tang Clan Album for $2 million. Just kidding. He has multiple accounts at multiple brokerage firms. Shkreli says that the lawyer switcheroo has nothing to do with the interview he did with The New York Times and called the explanation  a “dumb theory.” But you know what’s really dumb? Raising the price of a single pill from  $13.50 to $750.00. Shkreli, who is charged with blowing investors’ cash on some bad trades and then taking money out of his pharmaceutical company to pay for those trades said “the government’s case is fictitious.” He has pleaded not guilty to securities fraud and conspiracy.

Turn the Street Around…; Best Buy’s Best Quarter?; Oui Oui Le Tax Pour Airbnb

Recovery?

Image courtesy of rattigon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of rattigon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s only right to call today “turnaround Tuesday” since the stock market seems to be sort of recovering from the fiscal slaughter of the last few days, including all those sell-offs and Monday’s 588 point Dow drop. Part of the turnaround is because of China’s decision to cut interest rates. For the fifth time. Since November.  And then there are all those juicy stock bargains. Traders up for a good bargain are on the prowl and take bargain shopping to a whole new level. You might think you know how to spot a great discount but you’ve got nothing on these traders. These deals have nothing on post-Christmas sales. But at least the Dow soared today, with tech stocks leading the charge. Except that the day ended down by 200 points.

Rolex who?

Image courtesy of Pixomar/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Pixomar/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Best Buy had a particularly impressive quarter but is it really all because of Apple and it’s highly coveted watch? Hmmm. Apparently, the Apple Watch has been quite a hit with the retailer and by the end of September you can stop into any one of Best Buy’s 1,000 plus locations and pick up the gadget. That much coveted watch also helped propel Best Buy’s online sales to a 17% increase, giving Amazon and Walmart a cyber run for their money. Of course, not all those sales were from Apple products, but still.  Apple doesn’t get all the credit since Best Buy also scored some impressive appliance sales.  And I’m pretty sure Apple doesn’t make refrigerators and dishwashers. Yet. The Apple thing really seems to be paying off for Best Buy so it seems logical that it will be increasing Apple’s presence in its stores and start to offer AppleCare and service in some extremely lucky locations. Best Buy earned a $164 million profit adding 46 cents per share. Analysts only expected 34 cents. Apparently those analysts don’t own an Apple Watch (nor do I, for that matter). A year earlier Best Buy raked in $146 million and 42 cents per share.

Let them eat cake…

Image courtesy of pixtawan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of pixtawan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’re traveling to Paris after October 1 (lucky you) and your accommodations come courtesy of Airbnb, be prepared to say au revoir to even more money than you might have planned. Your Parisian host will now be collecting a tourism tax from you in the amount of 83 euros per day, per person. In case you were wondering, because I know you were, 83 euros is equal to about 95 cents. Paris authorities made the request to Airbnb in an effort to encourage the home-sharing site to behave more like a hotel would. And, well, considering that Paris is the most visited city in the world, and Airbnb has over 50,000 listings there, it seems like the smart thing to do to comply with this request. Besides, that tourism tax helps generate local tax revenue and pays for all the extra infrastructure that results from tourism. Also, it gives Parisian hotels one less thing to complain about when it comes to the advantages of Airbnb and helps the site make nice with French authorities. Incidentally, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman has taken issue with the $25 billion company. Schneiderman said that 75% of New York City listings are, in fact, illegal, since the hosts are/were not present and the rental periods were for less than 30 days. According to New York State Law, these tenants owe Uncle Sam some $30 million.

A Dow-ner of a Day on Wall Street; On Rate Hikes and Coffee; Chipotle’s Latest Effort Is Calorie-Free

All fall down…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fewer things are uglier than a 1,089 point plunge on the dow. And that’s just how Monday started off, within the first few minutes of trading. By closing, however, the market was down only 588 points. Phew. Apparently the market is correcting itself, so the drops shouldn’t be too alarming. Also don’t look too much into last week’s 1,000 point drop. At least that’s what the experts are saying. The term “correction” is meant to reassure us. So are you reassured now? But correction or not, overnight there was a big sell-off in China that brought about a very unsightly 8.5% hit to the Shanghai Composite Index which the Chinese media is very unaffectionately calling “Black Monday.” Yes. It’s that bad. And worse since the repercussions of this hit are spreading through Europe, and yes, even our shores. Feel free to cringe now. The world’s second biggest economy is slowing a little too much for our liking. Countries that depend on China to buy its commodes and luxury goods companies that have enjoyed selling to the Chinese are  now freaking out and revising their outlooks. Although, Apple CEO Tim Cook graciously pointed out, much to the delight of Wall Street, that the Chinese are, in fact, still buying, albeit, at a slower pace and that Apple actually had a record few weeks in China. Well, lucky Apple.

As for that rate hike…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Whether you see it as a good thing or bad thing, plans for Janet Yellen and the Fed to hike rates in September just might have hit a wall thanks to the financial turmoil rocking the world as of late. Sell-offs, swings and losses (oh my!) just might have done the trick to put the kibosh on the Federal Reserve’s intention to raise rates next month, at least according to investors, who probably know a thing or two about that. In fact, that hike is now looking like it will take place around March. It’s all sort of ironic since the Fed seemed almost non-plussed about China’s fiscal comings and goings because the U.S. economy was the hogging the spotlight for the way it’s been picking up speed lately. Oh well. Guess that thinking caught up with the Fed. Incidentally, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, always at the forefront of the cause du jour, sent out an email advising employees to be sensitive to investors who seem a bit edgy, not from caffeine withdrawal, but rather from the volatile global market situation. He writes: “be very sensitive to the pressures our customers may be feeling, and do everything we can to individually and collectively exceed their expectations.” Can I get a kumbaya?

Scrumptious…

Image courts of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courts of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Chipotle’s got a plan. But this one has nothing to do with adding to its millennial-appealing menu. That part seems to be covered. It seems that a stronger economy, an increased demand for restaurant dining and a minimum wage increase across states and companies has put quite the crimp in the talent pool for Chipotle employees, resulting in fewer applicants and not enough workers to dish out the aforementioned millennial-appealing fare. To combat that, Chipotle is launching a “National Career Day” where on September 9, the Denver-based chain plans on hiring some 4,000 new employees. The company is hoping to attract talent with this latest initiative, throwing around terms like “six-figure salaries” for high-performers to earn (far) down the road. Chipotle’s already part of the the Starbuck’s led 100,000 Opportunities Initiative. Starbucks, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and a slew of other companies have all been offering up all kinds of new interesting perks to attract a greater talent pool, from college reimbursement to more paid vacation. Al things I can certainly appreciate. Chipotle already employs about 60,000 people and on September 9 the company will likely increase its workforce by 7%. All you have to do is register at http://www.nationalcareerday.com. All U.S. Chipotle restaurants will conduct interviews between 8 and 11 am and if you land a gig, look forward to making more than $10 per hour to start.

Google’d: Big Search Engine News; How Crude: Dow Gets a Pick-me Up From Oil and Omaha; Postally Spent

If you google alphabet…

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Image courtesy of blackzheep/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In case you missed it, there’s a new head honcho at Google. Okay, maybe not as head honcho-y as Sergey Brin and Larry Page, but Sundar Pichai just became the new CEO of Google and now holds the keys to that very magical kingdom. There is also a little bit of restructuring going on at the almighty tech company. Okay. A lot. You see, Google has now become a subsidiary of a new publicly traded company called Alphabet Inc. – which will soon be trading under that name. Brin and Page are at the top of that executive food chain and, no doubt, always will be. Pichai is no rookie, though. He’s been at Google for well over a decade and his last role was as head of Android. So he’ll probably settle into his new digs quite comfortably. Apparently, Wall Street likes the new arrangements too. Google’s stock surged 6% on the news.

Take a dow…

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Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A big shout out goes to Warren Buffet today, who together with rebounding oil prices, got the dow to shake off a fiscally ugly seven day slump. First, crude finally climbed 2% to a respectable $44.74 a barrel after falling below a very unflattering $44 a barrel on Friday. Then the Oracle of Omaha reminded the world why Berkshire Hathaway is, in fact, the happiest place on earth (sorry Mickey) when his company announced a $37 billion deal to buy Precision Castparts. The company was purchased at a 20% premium, but no doubt worth every…billion. Precision Castparts took in $10 billion in sales with a $1.5 billion profit in 2014.

Going postal…

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Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It used to be that postal workers were unstoppable in their pursuit of mail delivery. As the saying goes: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…” Noticeably absent from this list is Congress, which just might be the one thing that could put a crimp in those mail deliveries. You see, the United States Postal Service just announced its quarterly earnings. It lost $586 million. But, that was still a major improvement over last year at this time when the agency took a $1.5 billion hit. Ouch. April-June, however, typically sees lower revenues, so that figure wasn’t totally alarming. Part of the reason why USPS didn’t lose as much is because of how the interest rates that are tied into worker compensation expenses. Go interest rates! Now let’s get back to Congress. Strangely enough, even though the USPS doesn’t receive any tax dollars, the agency is still under congressional control. Under that congressional control we find the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. Say that five times fast. The “Act” stipulates that USPS must pay between $5.4 billion and $5.7 billion toward future retiree health benefit costs. Until 2016. Unfortunately for the USPS, there have been a lot of changes in the mail and package delivery industry and the agency is facing stiff competition, including from many start-ups. Congress has yet to acknowledge these shifting postal tides and draft new legislation that would tweak that multi-billion requirement to a more attainable fiscal goal. Until that happens…well, it’s Congress so don’t hold your breath.

Snapchat’s latest News it and Lose it Feature; American Airlines Earnings Soar; Dow’s Downer of Day

Snap to it…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Maybe Snapchat’s $10 billion valuation isn’t so crazy after all now that the disappearing messaging app has introduced its latest – and possibly greatest – feature, Discovery. This new feature is going to offer bite-sized bits of news giving the user  several options to get more on a story all with the convenient, effortless swipe of a finger. And then, true to Snapchat tradition (and technology), the stories will last for 24 hours before…you guessed it, they vanish into thin virtual air. A slew of media companies are already partnered with the app, including (but not limited to) CNN, ESPN and Yahoo News. The hope is that this little partnership will take that younger, hipper audience of 100 million monthly active users (and counting) and turn them into traditional news enthusiasts. Then there’s the ad revenue aspect. Gotta love those ads (and the revenue they hopefully bring in). Snapchats plans to post ads and then split the revenue with its media partners.

Things that make you go hmmm…

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Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

American Airlines had a very good year and I can assure you I had nothing to do with it. The company posted its fourth quarter earnings regaling us with the news that it scored $597 million in net income. That number was particularly impressive since last year at this time the company posted a $2 billion loss. To be fair, (and I hate it that I have to be fair to American Airlines) that loss was because of one-time costs from its merger with US Airways and from its bankruptcy case. American Airlines also hooked in $1.1 billion in earnings with $1.52 per share, beating Wall Street’s estimates by a single, solitary cent. American Airlines can thank dropping fuel prices for some of its impressive earnings and the company plans to take a chunk of its $2.9 billion profit to update its pre-historic fleet and raise salaries. But if you’re hoping for a drop in fares, don’t hold your breath. It’s not happening.

Dow and out…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s blizzard/storm had nothing on the Dow’s performance today which looked particularly disastrous with no thanks to some of the world’s biggest companies taking huge hits. Microsoft takes the number one spot with more than a 9% hit on its stock price today, despite the fact that it beat earnings estimates by 4%. Investors just didn’t see the growth, sales and transitioning that they expect from the once powerful and mighty software company. Oh well. Caterpillar takes the number two spot with a 7% hit on its shares. The company missed earnings expectations by $0.20. As prices for copper, coal and iron ore come down, there is less demand for mining equipment, which is precisely what Caterpillar does. The fact that the dollar is stronger than most other currencies is also putting a crimp in the Dow today. Procter & Gamble, is among those companies whose lousy earnings took a nasty 3.8% hit in its stock price, in part, because of this strong dollar of ours.  Other companies that have seen better days on the Dow include: Intel, Cisco, IBM, Nike. But alas, the list does not end there.