Banks Behaving Badly; More Karma Headed Towards EpiPen Maker; Shamu Entertainer Ditches Dividend

D’oh!

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There are few things life more stupid than pissing off Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Yet Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf managed to do just that with his prepared, yet sometimes absurd remarks that were carefully crafted for his much deserved beating by the Senate.  That beating came after the bank had to cough up a $185 million fine because employees opened up more than two million unauthorized checking accounts and credit cards. Senator Warren said, among many other colorful things, that Stumpf demonstrated “gutless leadership” and called for him to be personally criminally investigated by both the Department of Justice and the SEC. Yowza. Stumpf did attempt to explain that Price Waterhouse Coopers was brought in to review the accounts in 2015. The problem is that Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH)  wondered very loudly why Wells Fargo didn’t do that immediately after a scathing L.A. Times article came out exposing the scandal way back in 2013.  In the meantime, Carrie Tolstedt, who headed the retail banking business that oversaw the fraudulent accounts, retired in July with $125 million from a previous stock compensation. Of course, the bank’s top executives attempted to point the finger at lower level employees who made between $35,000 – $60,000 a year. Wells Fargo fired 5,300 employees in the last few years for improper conduct tied to the fraudulent accounts. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) made sure to ask Mr. Stumpf how much he took home last year: $19.3 billion was the answer. John Stumpf is still very much gainfully employed and is apparently “deeply sorry.”

Give a shot…

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West Virginia joins the list of states gunning for Mylan ever since the company hiked the price of their life-saving EpiPen drug to $600 for a 2-pack. Mylan argues that it recoups less than half of that $600 Epipen price tag yet the drug accounts for 40% of the company’s operating profits. The state’s attorney general, Patrick Morrisey is going after the drug-maker, filing a petition to find out information that might just lead to some very unpleasant Medicaid fraud charges for Mylan. The subpoena could determine whether Mylan underpaid on rebates so that it could participate in the state’s Medicaid program. And while Mylan has yet to comment, its CEO Heather Bresch has a very unpleasant date planned for Wednesday with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. You might have heard that her father is Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.VA) Awkward. Also problematic, in terms of West Virginia’s Antitrust Act, is how Mylan sued Teva Pharmaceuticals for patent infringement when the latter wanted to make a considerably cheaper, generic version. The two companies settled but in the meantime, blame it on the FDA for not yet approving the generic version. This latest investigation, by the way, is completely separate from New Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s investigation.

Nothing to sea here folks….

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More rough waters for SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS) as the theme park company hit a new low today of $11.77. While it did rebound a bit, the company still plans to issue its last dividend – 10 cents a share – on October 7, which is down from the 21 cents it had previously issued. But after that, the dividend will be put on hold…indefinitely. Instead, SeaWorld will use that money to buy back shares as the company stares at a future without killer whales in captivity.  Starting next year, SeaWorld in San Diego will bid a salty farewell to its Orca shows, with San Antonio and Orlando following suit in 2019. The brutal publicity from the 2013 Orca documentary, Blackfish, has put a significant damper on earnings and attendance at the theme parks, with visitors down 8% to about 6 million for the year. Interestingly, SeaWorld thinks the drop in attendance has more to do with other factors like Tropical Storm Colin and a shift in holidays. Whatever the real reason is, the fact remains that revenue was down 5% to $371 million from last year’s $392 million for the same period.  Add to that a drop in profit of $5.8 million from $17.8 for the same quarter last year and you’ve got yourself a hot fiscal mess.

 

 

Boeing’s Next Big Thing. And You Might Not Like It; Upper Middle Class Marks its Territory; To Brexit or Not to Brexit, Part Two

Coffee, tea or uranium enrichment?

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Boeing reportedly just signed an agreement with Iran Air so that the official airline of the potentially rogue nation can buy about 100 commercial aircraft from the American company. Rumor has it that the deal is worth $25 billion but there are still plenty of details that need to be hammered out before you can plan your Tehran vacay. Iran is definitely hard up for some new aircraft because it has just 250 aircraft and only 162 of them can fly, if that. The rest need spare parts. But with sanctions that have been in place for decades, those spare parts have been impossible to come by. Apparently the U.S. government feels that Iran held up its end of the dubious nuclear accord, however, the U.S. treasury still needs to give its seal of approval, along with every other human being in DC and beyond. You may not like the idea of the U.S. doing business with Iran but Boeing factory workers feel otherwise, as do Boeing shareholders who are chomping at the bit to get in on the profitable action. The fact is, the country is seen – and not just by the U.S. – as a promising growth market and there is plenty of money to be made there. European aircraft companies, Airbus and ATR, already have their agreements lined up with the Islamic Republic. Unfortunately, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni is not so enthusiastic about buying aircraft from the United States and doesn’t see it an a priority. But then again, his state sponsors terrorism. So do we really care what his priorities are? Didn’t think so.

So classy!

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The upper middle class is thriving. At least that’s what the Urban Institute and economist Stephen Rose are saying. And just what makes a person upper middle class anyway? Glad you asked. If you find yourself in a three-person family that generates an annual income between $100,000 and $350,00, then you, my friend, are a thriving member of the upper middle class. Congratulations. I think. Stephen Rose argues that the true divide is not between the rich and poor, but rather it’s divided between the wealthy combined with the upper middle class, and everybody else. Warms the heart, no? The upper middle class was, once upon a time in 1979, 13% of the population. But in 2014, that class made up almost the 30% of the population. While the wealthy used to be just .1% of the population, that group is now 1.8% of the population. The middle class shrunk, presumably because some became wealthier and some…did not, and now makes up 32% of the population, compared to almost 39% back in 1979. The middle class, by the way, is defined as a family generating income between $50,000 to $100,000 annually. Just as there is an upper middle class, there is also a lower middle class which is defined as generating an annual income between $30,000 – $50,000. Generating an annual income anything less than that is probably not where you want to be. But on a high note, the standard of living has gone up for nearly all Americans, no matter what class they’re in.

 

Rate a moment…

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Janet Yellen appeared before the Senate Banking Committee and among the many fiscal pearls she imparted, she said that the Central Bank would go forward cautiously on its plan to gradually increase rates. Even though many experts were sure a June rate increase was in the works, “considerable uncertainty” with regard to the  U.S. economic outlook, global economic issues, a hiring slowdown and the looming “Brexit” vote in Britain nixed any thought of an increase. Janet Yellen did stress that the U.S. is not taking sides on the Brexit issue but cautioned that there will likely be economic consequences to the U.S, which sounds awfully ominous. There is concern that a Brexit would increase the value of the dollar, and that is not always a good thing, as evidenced by the dozens of companies that have lost millions of dollars in revenue and profits this year because of the strong dollar overseas. Ms. Yellen would like to see, among other things, a rebound in hiring and some growth improvement in the economy. No major surprises from the Brits would be nice too. Also during the meeting, Sen. Elizabeth Warren commented on the lack of diversity among the members of the Central Bank. Ten out of the 12 members are men, not there is anything wrong with those gentlemen. But still. Anyways, Chairwoman Yellen graciously replied: “It’s important to have a diverse group of policy makers who can bring different perspectives to bear.”Amen!

Are You There Shareholders? It’s Me, Warren (2015); Forbes’ Magazine Names the A-Listers; Costco: AmEx Out, Visa and Citi In

Best Regards, Warren…

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Image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Warren Buffet’s annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders arrived over the weekend, regaling us –  I meant them – with so many insights and wisdom about the economy and the ways of the investment Samurai. Among the many pearls, Mr. Buffet wanted to let folks know that “America’s best days lie ahead.” Things might have been a bit shaky the last few years, but darn be the naysayers  and things can and will only get better. Mr. Buffet also wished to remind people that “Market forecasters will fill your ear but will never fill your wallet.” Aw, Warren. There’s something very moving about the way the Oracle of Omaha advises people that all these financial experts surrounding us are good for nothing. He also offered some poetic words regarding his failed investment in British supermarket chain, Tesco: “In the world of business, bad news often surfaces serially: You see a cockroach in your kitchen; as the days go by, you meet his relatives.” The venture ultimately cost him a whopping $400 million and the Oracle attributes the loss, to among other things, not being decisive and fast enough about pulling out of the investment. Meanwhile, during an interview on CNBC, Warren Buffet said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) should be “less angry and demonizing” and should be more open to compromise. Ouch. I guess those two won’t be hanging out together anytime soon.

Speaking of Warren…

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Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Omaha’s most famous resident made it to the number 3 spot on Forbes’ list of billionaires. Microsoft’s Bill Gates claims the top spot – again –  with a net worth of $79.2 billion while Mexico’s Carlos Helu Slim comes in for second. There are 1,826 billionaires on the list who have a combined total net worth of $7.05 trillion. However, the average net worth of the billionaires is actually down by $60 million this year to $3.86 billion. I know, how sad.  Seventy-one of those billionaires are breaking onto the list of the very first time. Among those first-timers is basketball great Michael Jordan who makes his big billionaire list debut this year with a little help from having increased his ownership stake in the Charlotte Hornets. But his restaurants, deals with Nike, Gatorade, Hanes, etc…allow him to claim the 1,741st spot with a net worth of about $1 billion. Forty-six of the billionaires are under the age of 40 with Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel having the distinction of being the youngest billionaire on the list.

Well hello, pardner…

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Image courtesy of stock images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Club goers rejoice! Costco has officially entered into agreements with Citigroup and Visa to become the wholesaler’s partner in credit. In the meantime, the retailer is bidding a not-so-fond farewell to American Express, who for the last 16 years had an exclusive deal with the chain. Citigroup will be putting out a Costco/Citi credit card with perks and generous rewards aplenty, in keeping with the Costco spirit, of course. Unfortunately, Costco shoppers must wait until April of 2016 to whip out the new plastic. However, debit cards know no bounds – or labels – and those will continue to be warmly accepted regardless of the issuer, at Costco’s 674 warehouses worldwide. And while AmEx is expecting to take some type of beating on Wall Street for the next two years, shares of Visa hit an all-time high today over this very exciting fiscal news.