Russia Says Nyet to LinkedIn; No Regrets for Macy’s on Ditching President-Elect’s Line; Trump Making Plans

Linked Out…

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It’s Game on between LinkedIn and Russia as the social network gets banned by the Russian government. Back in 2015 Russia passed a new law requiring foreign websites to store personal data of Russian users on Russian servers. While LinkedIn counts six million registered users in the country, the social media giant said no thank you to the new law and now finds itself listed in a very unflattering registry of websites that are banned in the country. Russia’s leaders would like to put an end to its dependance on foreign tech and is even in the process of developing replacements for such services like WhatsApp. In case it wasn’t obvious, Russia has been stepping up its control over internet usage in the last few years. In the meantime Google, eBay and Uber have been looking for ways to comply with the new law lest their fate ends up similar to that of LinkedIn. However, all eyes are on Facebook to see if and how the social media giant intends to deal with this lofty piece of legislation .

Trump’d Up…

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Today, Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren said that he stands by his decision to boot Donald Trump’s clothing line from his stores back in the summer of 2015. Trump had tried to retaliate by getting people to boycott the department store. But after all, Trump did say that many Mexican immigrants were rapists and murderers and well, that’s just not cool. So needless to say, his calls to boycott weren’t all that successful. Well, maybe a little as Macy’s has been struggling to post some solid quarterly gains. In any case, the retailer has been trying to court more Hispanic shoppers and getting rid of a line of clothing from a man who has been nothing short of hostile and racist seems like a prudent move. To be fair, Lundgren says he would have had to get rid of Trump’s clothing line once he entered politics anyway, even if he hadn’t made his odious comments. Macy’s doesn’t do politics and Lundgren added that even if Hillary Clinton had her clothing own line – of pantsuits, presumably – that would have to go as well once she announced her political aspirations. Incidentally, Ivanka’s clothing line at Macy’s is alive and well, which seems only right considering she has yet to offend entire races of people. Also incidentally, Ivanka’s line is manufactured in China and the Donald just hates it when American businesses outsource manufacturing there. In fact, as part of his economic plans, he wants to impose harsh tariffs on imports in an effort to curb, or perhaps even obliterate the practice. Good luck with that one, Ivanka.

More Trump’d Up…

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In other Trump news, rumor has it that the President-Elect wants to install JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon as Treasury Secretary. FYI, Dimon is a life-long Democrat and Obama supporter, although the arrival of the Dodd-Frank laws made him a less enthusiastic one. What’s so very peculiar about Trump’s choice is that he once criticized Dimon for his decision to settle civil suits against the bank. Donald is not one to settle court cases. At least that’s what he said. In the meantime, there’s no word from Jamie Dimon about whether he plans to accept. However, other rumors are swirling that he won’t as he was rooting for Hillary Clinton to win the election. And you know who probably wont be asked to join Trump’s government? Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. As the owner of the Washington Post, Jeff Bezos didn’t care for Trump’s opinions on the mainstream media bias and said Trump was “eroding our democracy.” Incidentally, Amazon’s stock went down today over 4%. Experts say it’s because all tech stocks, including Apple, Google and Microsoft took a beating today since Trump’s economic plans don’t do much for that sector. But the experts with a better sense of humor – and serious undertones – think the drop is because it’s payback time for Bezos and company, who for the most part don’t care for the President-Elect and were pretty vocal about it during campaign season. The tech sector employs a large population of foreign engineers and, well you know how Trump feels about that. Experts also think that companies like Amazon can expect payback in the form of higher taxes and anti-trust litigation. At least Bezos had the good sense to tweet: “I for one give him my most open mind and wish him great success in his service to the country.” Maybe Bezos will get a pass this time. Wink wink, nod nod.

 

George Soros, Golden Boy; Home Run for Home Depot; Pandora’s Streaming Away From Profits

Just because George Soros is doing it…

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George Soros just put a whole lotta money in gold. Lucky for him. However, the non-George Soroses of the world are supposed to take note, because, after all, he is, “The Man Who Broke the Bank of England.” And also because, since his net worth according to Forbes is $25 billion, he knows a things or two. Or a billion. In any case, according to a very recent regulatory filing that folks like him have to file (it’s called a 13F, and you are welcome that I am sparing you the boring details), Mr. Soros has sold off about 37% of his stock holdings. He then whipped out $387 million to buy lots of gold, including picking up a hefty 19 million shares in Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold producer. It seems Mr. Soros is a more than a bit freaked out by the state of the global economy, and especially the slowdown in China. He feels the fiscal climate is reminiscent to him of 2007 – 2008 period just before the fiscal crash we are all still trying to forget. Not everyone agrees with Soros and his decision for his Soros Fund Management, but hey, he is the one who, back in 1992, bet against the British pound and made $1 billion off that bet – in a single day. I bet he’s real popular there. Anyway, it’s no secret that gold has always been a strong performer on Wall Street, as well as other places, mind you. The precious metal is up 21% for the year. But, just so ya’ know,  Soros still has plenty of other cash in plenty of other places. Like eBay and Apple. And Yahoo. And Gap…well, you see where I’m going with this. In fact, he’s got $80 million invested NOT in gold. In case you’re wondering what stocks he did ditch, some of those include Alibaba Group and Pfizer. Also, TripAdvisor and Expedia are out of his portfolio. Though, he did keep airline United Continental Holdings. Go figure.

Home improvement…

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Image courtesy of Kookkai_nak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As the warm weather brutalized plenty of retail outfits lately, (sorry, Macy’s, Nordstrom), Mother Nature knocked it out of the park for Home Depot. In turn, Home Depot warmed our hearts by boosting its sales and profit forecasts after regaling us with the news of its better-than-expected earnings, courtesy of Mother Nature. And as we all know, Wall Street loves nothing better than better-than-expected earnings. Except when investors feel that shares have hit their potential, for the moment anyway, which explains why shares of the home improvement chain were a wee bit down today. But no worries. A good housing market and fabulous weather added some $250 million in sales for Home Depot in the quarter, with February being the sweetest month, fiscally speaking. For the year, Home Depot is up about 20%, posting a profit of $1.8 billion a $1.44 per share. That was a 14% boost over last year, not to mention that it trumped analysts predictions of $1.36 per share. The company also saw $22.76 billion in sales, again stomping on predictions of $22.39 billion. The earnings also showed that consumers are actually spending their hard-earned cash, as opposed to hoarding it under mattresses (okay, banks too), unlike what was previously thought because of the generally poor performance in the retail sector. Spending money is good for the economy and now economists aren’t so worried anymore because they realize where all that hard-earned cash went. For the full year the retailer thinks it’ll pull down $6.27 per share for the year. And Spring has hardly sprung!

Closing the box…

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Pandora Media has had better years. Even better decades. Founded in 2000, the company had its IPO in 2011 and has about 80 million active users. While it was amongst the first crop of music streamers, the company’s stock is now down about 40% for the last twelve months, having never caught the same momentum as some of its competitors, including Apple and Spotify. Enter activist investor/Carl Icahn protégé Keith Meister, who feels that the time has come for Pandora to put itself on the market. Keith Meister’s Corvex Management has some very strong feelings about how much better – and profitable – Pandora can be and seeing as how he’s got 22.7 million shares, giving him an almost 10% stake in the company, he’s entitled to more than just his opinion on the matter. As the largest shareholder in the company, Meister wrote in a recent letter how he has “become increasingly concerned that the company may be pursuing a costly and uncertain business plan, without a thorough evaluation of all shareholder value-maximizing alternatives.” Basically, he’s wondering if the folks in charge, namely CEO and co-founder Tim Westergren, knows what they’re doing. Wall Street certainly seemed to be agreeing with Meister, as it sent the stock up today as much as 7% at one point.

Wall Street Sours on Lululemon; Goldman Sachs Goes for the Resell; Krispy Gets Kreme’d by Wall Street

Soured…

Image courtesy of  Suat Eman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Suat Eman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The mood is sour today at Lululemon Athletica as shares of the athletic apparel company tanked over 9%. Which is kind of weird since the company pulled in some rock-solid second quarter earnings. Revenue was up 16% to $453 million when analysts were only pulling for $446 million. Profits did fall to $47.7 million, earning 34 cents per share but it was still a beat, if even by just a penny. The problem was that Lulelemon’s outlook is not looking too hot, see-through yoga pants or not. For the current quarter, Wall Street had big hopes and dreams that the company would nail down earnings per share of around 43 cents. However, the number Lululemon has in mind is between 35 – 37 cents. And that’s got Wall Street thinking thoughts that are anything but…zen.  The problem is margins are shrinking because the company is spending all sorts of cash on things like its international expansion, building up its online presence and tackling its menswear. All this while Lululemon still attempts to recover from its see-through yoga pants debacle and some impolite comments from its founder, Chip Wilson.

Who wore it best?

Image courtesy of  Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Goldman Sachs just plunked down $81 million into six year-old San Francisco-based start-up thredUP. ThredUP, in case you were wondering, is an online website for buying and selling secondhand clothing and accessories for women and children. And it’s nothing like eBay. Because I know that’s what you were thinking. Instead thredUP sends sellers a pre-paid bag which they fill up with delicately used items they want to unload. If an item is priced south of $59.99, the seller gets paid upfront; if an item gets listed north of $60, then it qualifies for consignment. Sellers typically see 10%-40% of the anticipated selling price from their gently used items. While no actual sales numbers have been revealed, and thredUP has yet to churn out a profit, the company does process about a million items a month from about 25,000 brands. How much of that actually gets sold is still a mystery. Rumor has it, however, that secondhand clothing company Twice, which happens to be owned by eBay, isn’t doing so hot. Then there’s all the other secondhand competition from companies like Poshmark and The Real Real, to name but a few. ThredUP plans on using this funding infusion to expand by opening some new processing centers and hiring more employees. Who knew other people’s clothes was such a hot trend? Actually, I think eBay did. But anyways…

Kreme’d…

Image courtesy of artemisphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of artemisphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Krispy Kreme just released their earnings and they were anything but sweet. On revenues of $127.3 million, the company earned 15 cents per share, which seems pretty good except that Wall Street was counting on revenues of $132 million and 19 cents earned per share. That seems like an awful lot of pressure to put on a doughnut, no? The problem is that rival Dunkin’ Donuts actually gained 12%. Are Dunkin’s donuts any better? Hmmm. The problem, interestingly enough, lies not in the doughnut, but in the other products the company sells, outside of the doughnut shops. Pre-packaged Krispy Kreme products are not doing too hot in supermarkets and putting a crimp in the doughnut maker’s digits.  In fact, sales were down 12% and the stock is down 20% for the year.  So now, Krispy Kreme is going to focus on opening more stores, including international shops, and scaling back on promotions. There are even ten shops slated to open in Myanmar. That is not a joke. Myanmar. Who knew? One promotion that’s still going to happen is “Talk Like a Pirate Day” on September 19. Do your best pirate impersonation and you might just be the recipient of a free doughnut. If you decide to really channel Captain Jack Sparrow or one of his colleagues, expect to walk a way with a complimentary dozen, matey.

H&M Goes Haute on Profits; Google-gratulations; Taco Bell Gets Biscuit-y

So trendy…

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Image courtesy of sscreations/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

H&M posted some particularly impressive digits with profits up 36% to about $423 million. Of course, since it’s a Swedish company, those numbers came out to 3.61 billion kronors. I’m guessing analysts don’t do a lot of shopping at the world’s second largest retailer because they only expected 3.32 billion kronors. H&M attributes a lot of that success to some major online and store expansion activity. Whatever it was, it worked.  But here’s where things got dicey. Shares of the company fell over 3% because of one not so teeny tiny problem: Revenue for the first three weeks of March slowed to 9% from February’s 15%. This put a damper on the profit surge news. However, one analyst graciously pointed out that it was the first time in 17 months that growth even slowed to under 10%. So no one’s too concerned. It wouldn’t be right not to blame some of that on a winter that has overstayed its welcome. However, that strong dollar of ours is also going to be messing with H&M too, as it’s going to get a lot pricier to purchase goods and services to put out all those fabulously trendy and cheap clothes. Then there’s the not so minor issue that so much of its merchandise is purchased in dollars even though its sold in Euros. That might put a fiscal crimp on things, as well. Strong dollar or weak euro, H&M still has plans to open 400 stores worldwide.

Googled it…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDgitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDgitalPhotos.net

Ruth Porat. Remember that name. That is, if you didn’t already, as she is regarded as one of the “most powerful women on Wall Street.” Except she’s ditching Wall Street for a new gig in Silicon Valley as Google’s new CFO. Just how big a deal is it? Well, Wall Street liked the appointment so much that Google’s stock went up almost 3% today because of it. Yeah, she’s that impressive. Ms. Porat has been at Morgan Stanley for 28 years but is no stranger to tech having worked on some major deals for both Amazon and eBay. During 2008’s nasty fiscal crisis, she advised the U.S. Department of Treasury on AIG, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.  She was even under consideration for the role of Deputy Treasury Secretary. Not too shabby. She’ll be replacing Patrick Pichette who said he’s retiring to spend more time with his family. So friggin’ sweet.  Ms. Porat gets to report to Google co-founder and CEO, Larry Page, who is presumably just as stoked about his new hire as Wall Street is.

Would you like that to go?

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Is it a taco? Or is it a biscuit. Excellent question and for Taco Bell, whatever you decide probably won’t matter as long as you buy the darn thing. The fast-food chain is heating up the breakfast wars, yet again, armed with its latest weaponry – the taco biscuit, a biscuit in the shape of a taco. Got that? Last year Taco Bell took an advertising swing at McDonald’s with a campaign featuring people whose names were actually Ronald McDonald, devouring a Taco Bell breakfast and loving it. While it’s no doubt that McDonald’s did not care for this little shtick, the fact is that breakfast at the Golden Arches still accounts for 25% of McDonald’s sales when Taco Bell only sees 6% of its sales going towards the most important meal of the day (so they say).  Since traffic has been going up at fast-food establishments for the last four years, does the Taco Biscuit have what it takes to propel Taco Bell and its 6,000 U.S. establishments to hit its goal of seeing 20% of sales coming from breakfast? Time will tell, o’ fearless breakfast diner.

Louisville Slugger is “Finnished”; eBay’s Big Changes; Housing Bummers

Take a swing at this…

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Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It seems like only yesterday when John Hillerich carved out the iconic wooden baseball bat that would eventually become the Louisville Slugger. Actually it was closer to 1884, but details, my friend. Since then, more then 100 million Louisville Sluggers have been sold and it is the official bat of Major League Baseball. It’s been used by 60% of the ball players including Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. Now,  Hillerich & Bradsby descendant, John A. Hillerich, announced he’s selling the company to Wilson, a company owned by a larger Finnish company, called Amer Sports. Not finish – as in , wood finish, mind you. That would make more sense. I wrote Finnish. As in Helsinki. As in, do they even have baseball in Finland? The reported cost for selling off this iconic brand to a company based nowhere near Kentucky, or the United States  for that matter, is about $7o million. Louisville Slugger, alone, raked in $75 million in revenue in a $2.4 billion global baseball and softball industry. The U.S. is responsible for $1.4 billion of that. The move will cost 52 employees their jobs.

Board to tears…

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Things are heating up at eBay as it gets set to bid adieu to PayPal later this year. If you recall, investor Carl Icahn wanted eBay and PayPal to do the splits. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen was not down with that idea at all. Considering that Carl Icahn is the largest shareholder in eBay, he managed to get his way. Thus, Andreessen said buh-bye back in October and a whole new crew is set to run the show. For now we only know a few of them. Devin Wenig will be the new eBay CEO while Dan Schulman takes the CEO spot at PayPal. So where does that leave current eBay CEO John Donahoe? Good question but one to which I have no answer. But the exciting news today is the announcement of two new board members added to eBay. GoPro president and former Skype exec Tony Bates joins the board along with American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern. McGovern becomes the third woman to join the board, by the way.

Housed…

Image courtesy of phanlop88/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of phanlop88/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As if we don’t have enough aggravation from this never-ending winter and unusually frigid March, leave it to the National Association of Realtors to disappoint us over sales of pre-existing homes. According to the NAR, February was less than spectacular. A lot less. While sales didn’t necessarily go down, they barely went up, by 1.2% to 4.88 million. That was especially annoying because January was no great shakes in terms of sales either. The median price of a home in February was $202,600, up from 2014’s $188,4000. So who’s to blame? Well, weather always plays its mean little part. But Mother Nature wasn’t the only factor toying with our fiscal emotions. Home values are going up way faster than paychecks are. That tends to put a damper on things. Also, there’s a lot less inventory out there. Part of that problem is that so many people owe more on their homes than their homes are actually worth. So, basically, they stand to lose by selling their homes. But luckily, there is still a chance to reverse the fiscal tide. The busiest time of the year for selling homes is just around the corner and with credit rules easing and an improving job market, there’s no need to fret. Yet.

 

Shake-y Shares for Shake Shack; Alibaba’s Snapchat-ty Investment; Lumber Liquidators Has Something to Prove

Shake Shack it off…

Image courtesy of joephotostudio/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of joephotostudio/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It was the food IPO to watch with 63 locations all over the world and growing. But just a few months later the enthusiasm for Shake Shack has lost some of its flavor. Fourth quarter revenue for the “fast casual” burger joint was up 51% to $34.8 million when analysts only expected $33 million – definitely nothing to balk at. Even same store sales went up 7.2% when analysts forecasted a much more modest 4% increase. So what exactly caused shares of the company to take an 8% dive in after hours trading yesterday? Hmmm. Could it be that bigger than expected net loss of $1.4 million and 5 cents per share? Analysts expected the company to take a loss for the big tax charge related to its auspicious IPO. Problem is, those same analysts figured the burger chain would only lose 2 -3 cents per share. But nobody on Wall Street or elsewhere seems too worried as Shake Shack has big expansion plans and anticipates it’ll pull in revenues for the year between $159 – $163 million.

Things that make you go hmmm…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The big news coming out of Alibaba is all about the big investment it just plunked down on Snapchat.  As in $200 million big.  The Chinese e-commerce giant, which generates more revenue than Amazon and eBay combined, just upped Snapchat’s valuation to $15 billion, all because of this latest cash infusion for the magically vanishing messaging app. This particular move has got everybody wondering exactly why Alibaba chose to do this, especially because Snapchat is banned in China. Yeah you read that right. Might it be a way for the Chinese company, who had the biggest-ever US IPO, tap into overseas markets? Some experts think that might be the case. Or perhaps it has something to do with Alibaba’s lack of success with a messaging app? After all, Snapchat boasts 100 million users that send out 700 million vanishing messages…a day. Incidentally, Tencent, Alibaba’s biggest rival in China, also invested in Snapchat back in 2013. But after all, what’s $200 million to Alibaba, a company that already sees annual revenues of $11 billion.

Who? Me?

Image courtesy of  Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lumber Liquidators stands by its products and adamantly rejects a recent “60 Minutes” report that its flooring contains high level of formaldehyde. To prove it, they’ll even pay to have questionable floors tested. Apparently the test kits are the same ones used by the Federal government, though what significance that has is something I cannot answer. Even though Lumber Liquidators calls the report “sensationalized” with  “little context,” when its products were tested by “60 Minutes,” some of the flooring did, in fact, not meet California’s standards of acceptable levels of formaldehyde. However, once again, Lumber Liquidators rejects that claim. Same store sales, by the way, plunged 13% in the nine days after the report aired. If a consumer purchased flooring that, when tested, indicates the presence of high levels of formaldehyde, Lumber Liquidators has allegedly offered to pay…for more testing. And if that further testing indicates, once again, high levels of formaldehyde, Lumber Liquidators has allegedly agreed to eat the cost for new flooring. Imagine that. Lumber Liquidators, interestingly enough, has plans in place to open about 30 new stores. These new stores will presumably not be stocked with formaldehyde-laced flooring. And while shares of the company are still down from what they were before the piece aired, they actually did rebound a bit in light of all its efforts to counter the report.

Amazon: Deal With It; American Airlines Gets on Board (Finally); Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Ditch

Let’s make a deal…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Amazon has come up with yet another way to reinvent shopping – sort of. The e-commerce website added a new feature to its website dubbed the “Make an Offer” button. The ever-resourceful mega e-tailer surveyed a bunch of its sellers and wouldn’t you know it: Several sellers said that the ability to negotiate prices would help drive sales for them – and for Amazon, of course. 150,000 items will get that nifty little button added to their items’ options with hundreds of thousands more coming next year. Unlike eBay, there will be no bidding against others and negotiations are completely private.  A customer makes an offer and…voila! The seller gets to reject, counter or reply. If a seller counters, a customer has 72 hours to counter-counter (is that a thing?). Apparently it makes customers feel like they are getting the best possible price for whatever it is they are buying. In any case, if you’re into haggling over prices, you’ll have plenty what to choose from any number of fine art, sports and entertainment collectibles being offered up.

It’s about time…

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

American Airlines, which merged with US Airways last December, is reaping huge earnings, along with just about every other US carrier. To celebrate, it’s giving itself a $2 billion upgrade. Which is really great, because last time I flew the airline, on its vintage aircraft sporting drop down televisions with poor picture quality, American Airlines kept showing commercials for its new fleet of aircraft. The commercials made it sound like the improvements were just a few days away. That was over a year ago. In any case, look for redone lounges and better aircraft. Flying international first-class? You’re in luck. Well…you’re paying a mint for that luck, but anyways, you get lie-flat seats (which I’m pretty sure other airlines have been offering for years now). Need to get online while in-flight? No problem. Buy an international ticket to anywhere and American will provide you with satellite-based internet. Or, if you don’t even need to leave the country, you can just fly Virgin America, which has been offering in-flight internet…for years now. If you’re flying on the most economical ticket, which will still be exorbitantly expensive, well then, screw you. You’re lucky just to be sitting in the new airplane. Wondering if that $2 billion will help improve the attitudes of some of American Airlines’ more surly flight attendants? Well, screw you again.

And you’re out!

Image courtesy of  iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Who can the forget the days when Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Michael Jeffries not so charmingly said back in 2006, “We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” Well now, he doesn’t belong anymore after abruptly “retiring,” something a lot of folks wish he’d done a long time ago, including activist investor Engaged Capital which last year said the company’s lousy numbers  (Engaged Capital said it way more eloquently) “is a result of a failure of leadership.” Amen. Investors celebrated news of the “retirement” by sending shares of the stock up over 6%. The company, which has  834 stores in the United States with 166 stores in other parts of the globe, also owns Hollister and Gilly Hicks. Abercrombie & Fitch has been doing poorly for awhile now, unable to compete with the likes of H&M and Forever 21. Abercrombie & Fitch even tried ditching the logo on a bunch of its merchandise, which did little – if anything – to help boost its earnings.