That’s All Folks: Yahoo Rides Off Into the Sunset; Uber Drama; Trump’s Attempts at Flattery; It’s Raining Tacos and Cheesecake Today

And that’s a wrap…

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Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sometimes goodbyes are hard and sometimes goodbyes are worth $23 million. At least that’s the case for Marissa Mayer, who will be collecting that much cash now that Verizon’s $4.5 billion acquisition of Yahoo is a done deal. Gosh, imagine what she’d be collecting if she were asked to stay on board. In any case, Yahoo will now melt into the AOL vortex and together they will morph in a new entity profoundly named Oath. However, once that happens, over 2,000 employees can expect to kiss their jobs goodbye. The last itty bitty remaining pieces of Yahoo will be named Altaba in homage to the fact that it is primarily a holding company for Yahoo’s sizable stake in the Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba.

Other highlights from today…

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Image courtesy of James Barker/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  • It’s official: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick needs to compose his out-of-office reply. A management group will be established to run the show in his absence and when he returns he’ll be stripped of some of his duties. As for his return date, that is yet to be determined. It appears that he wont be missed that much. In the meantime, Uber now needs to come up with an effective system to tackle HR complaints. That might take awhile seeing as how the company is pretty much starting from scratch in that area.
  • In a meeting with Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, President Trump said to her that he thinks she’s a “low-interest person” like himself. Which is ironic since during his campaign he had plenty of criticism for the Fed because it kept those rates low. He also said he “likes her” and “respects her” which could mean anything and nothing when you’re President Donald Trump. Naturally, the Fed declined to comment, all while rumors swirl that it is expected to raise short-term interest rates for the fourth time in two years.
  • Go out and get yourself a free taco today. A Doritos Locos Taco, to be more specific. It’s on the house. At least at Taco Bell. The fast-food chain is being generous because the Golden State Warriors “stole” game 3 from the Cleveland Cavs. Naturally, it’s all part of a promotion, in this case the one that goes “Steal a Game, Steal a Taco.” Whatever. It’s free food.
  • Shares of Cheesecake Factory took a beating today because of Mother Nature. No, really. Apparently, because of some bad weather, customers near locations in the East and Midwest couldn’t enjoy enough “patio time” whilst eating copious amounts of cheesecake, thereby negatively affecting sales. And just like you, the analysts didn’t buy that excuse either.

Fed Chairwoman Shuts Down Congressman; Mattel Goes For Big With Alibaba; Apple Hits New High On iPhone Dreams

Sit back down…

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Image courtesy of interphasesolution/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Almost everyone’s favorite Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen, was in the hot seat today. First she graciously explained in a letter to Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry that, in fact, the Fed possess the authority and has the responsibility to work and consult with foreign entities with regard to financial industry oversight and the development of international banking rules. McHenry, who is Vice Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, didn’t appreciate that the Fed had already engaged in international talks before President Trump had a chance to put his peeps into play to conduct their own reulatory review. But no dice for McHenry as Chairwoman Yellen explained that such efforts were to the benefit and in the best interests of the United States and its financial stability. In other news, Ms. Yellen was mum on whether the Fed would raise rates at its next meeting in March but said waiting too long wouldn’t be a good idea. Besides inflation and the labor market, Yellen and co. are looking to see what policy changes President Trump is going to make before making any major announcements from the Fed’s end. Which seems like a prudent plan, especially from someone who was appointed by President Obama, but is doing her best to keep from playing sides since she has still has a few years left on her term during the current administration. And also because Trump criticized her during the campaign when he said that she was deliberately keeping rates low in order to benefit President Obama. Yikes.

Ni-Hao Barbie…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mattel’s wound licking might just be on hold for now, despite losing some major Disney-Princess licensing mojo to Hasbro awhile back. The toy company has begun to forge a new path with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. Nothing like gaining a foothold in the $7 billion Chines toy marketplace to ease those Disney-licensing blues. By the way, the United States’ toy industry is estimated at over $20 billion. Just saying. The company that makes Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars is in a partnership with Alibaba to create and promote interactive and educational toys, in addition to producing entertainment content based on Mattel products. Because hey, who doesn’t love shows based on toys – and vice-versa? Mattel will be selling its new wares via Tmall.com, which is Alibaba’s business-to-consumer retail site. Incidentally, Mattel had already been selling on Tmall.com for about six years now and rumor has it that its selection of Fisher-Price toys have actually been the top-sellers for five years in a row on Alibaba’s November 11 Singles Day. Mattel’s new products for Alibaba will hit Alibaba’s virtual shelves by mid-2017.  Mattel could really use the boost, especially since sales of Barbies have not been doing as well as they have in the past, and despite throwing some more realistic features onto the doll. Also, the company reported an earnings miss February 1, taking in 52 cents per share on an 8% revenue decline to $1.83 billion, when analysts expected 71 cents per share. But with Alibaba boasting over 440 million active buyers, chances are Mattel has the ability to turn that last earnings report into a mere distant bad memory.

Apple of my i-Phone…

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Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For the first time in two years, Apple hit a new high of $134.90 and a market cap of $701 billion. And in case you don’t own any shares, that probably means a whole lot of nothing to you. The last time it hit a new high was back on April 28, 2015, when the stock hit $134.54. But that 36 cents means a whole lot to investors who are hoping, and probably betting, that Apple will release a new iPhone, dubbed the iPhone 8, or the iPhone X – if you dare –  that will magically lift blah sales for the tech giant. While the company reported impressive earnings in its last earnings report, its outlook was less so, and the fact that Apple’s revenue decreased by 8% for 2016 didn’t help the mood on Wall Street as of late, even if it is the most valuable company in the world.  Rumor has it, the new phone is going to be even more expensive than previous ones, which is always a good way to get Wall Street tongues wagging.

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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Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

 

Rate Hike? What Rate Hike?; Chipotle’s Rocky Road to Recovery; McCormick’s Spicy Good Earnings

Easy does it?

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Well, if you’re looking for the Fed to raise rates, don’t hold your breath. Despite the fact that the Fed’s next meeting is planned for April 26th and 27th, experts think a move like that probably wont happen before July. It was initially believed that there would be four rate hikes over the course of the year, after the Fed raised the rates for the first time in nine years back in December. But now it looks like there will be just two.  Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is still promising a gradual pace of rate increases, but even she admits that the economic climate just isn’t quite impressing these days. The Central Bank is paying very close attention to all the annoying economic issues going on in the world, like the global economic slump, the very very low oil prices and a relatively volatile stock market. Of course, it wouldn’t be right not to mention China’s own economic downturn.  Plus the Fed’s not too stoked about the rate of inflation, which has been holding steady at about 1% when its target is closer to a 2% rate. Add to that weak consumer spending and you’ve got a Fed that’s not looking to stir any fiscal trouble. Hence, the Fed has assured the country that it plans to “proceed cautiously” in its rate hike plans, which is awfully considerate, according to some people, anyway.

Burned burrito…

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Free burritos or not, Chiptole’s road to fiscal recovery is looking very far off.  Wedbush Securities analyst Nick Setyan came out with a new report that says he doesn’t expect the fast food chain to recover before 2018 – calling it “the best case-scenario” – and even lowered Chipotle’s price target from $450 – $400. Ouch. Before the food safety crisis, each Chipotle restaurant was pulling down $2.5 million in sales on average. But that’s not expected to happen again for quite some time, especially given the fact that Chipotle’s operating costs are only going to get higher and higher because of its more comprehensive and stringent food safety measures. And even though the company sent out coupons for nine million free burritos, with another 21 million free burrito vouchers en route, Chipotle will still eat a $62 million tab for that, as a burrito typically costs $7.10. But hey, whatever it takes to try and erase the ugliness of E. Coli and norovirus outbreaks, right? Even with all those vouchers being sent out, the company only expects that a quarter of them will actually get redeemed. Naturally, news of the report sent shares south when the stock is already down 37% since August. Shares of Chipotle closed today at 460.10.

Spice spice baby…

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Of all the companies to report earnings lately, this one’s pretty…spicy. Yes. I had to go there. McCormick & Co. just released its first quarter results and considering that the company’s products aren’t items typically used in bulk, the $13 billion company pulled in some very impressive figures. In the process, McCormick & Co. even managed to raise its 2016 outlook, and unlike other major food producers that have been struggling to keep up with a health/organic revolution,  McCormick hasn’t faced quite the same challenges. In fact, its stock is up around 28% in the last twelve months with a little help from some recent acquisitions. The spice-maker was expecting to earn between $3.65 to $3.72 per share. But now it’s looking like it’ll pick up between $3.68 and $3.75 per share for the year. Incidentally, despite China’s economic downturn, the country still managed to give McCormick some boffo growth. Perhaps there’s a correlation between economic stress and and a desire for spicy food? Hmm. Will have to explore that one…In any case, McCormick picked up a profit of $93.4 million on $1.03 billion in revenue and adding 73 cents per share. Analysts only expected 69 cents on $1.03 billion in revenue while the year before the company took in a profit of $70.5 million on $1.01 billion in revenue with 55 cents added per share. And if that’s not enough, McCormick also scored a new 52 week high today of 99.90.

Target-ing the Preppy; No Clowning Around, Cirque du Soleil Goes to Private Equity Firm; Former Fed Chief Wants Overhaul, But Does Anybody Care?

I guess that means it was a success…

Image courtesy of cuteimage/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cuteimage/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Things are looking up for Lilly Pulitizer (did they ever look down?) as the line of 250 pieces it made for Target  – from dresses to beach chairs – nearly sold out within hours, with many crowing the moment as “Preppy Black Friday.” Just darling. In fact, the line of merchandise was so successful that 16,000 of the line’s items even made it onto eBay, priced much much higher than Target’s prices. Target’s website nearly crashed because of the traffic caused by the hype for the Lilly Pulitzer merchandise. Good thing Target already learned its lesson the hard way back in 2011, when it launched a line with Missoni, which did, in fact, cause the site to crash. This time, however, Target just made the site inaccessible for 15 minutes to deal with the onslaught. Much to the annoyance and disappointment of many, Target has no plans to restock the line since that might make the 250 items not as precious. No doubt the opportunists selling the marked up merchandise on eBay aren’t too sad about this decision. You know who’s not disappointed, or even annoyed? Oxford Industries, that’s who. Parent company to Lilly Pulitzer, Oxford Industries’ stock surged 9% because of all the success and excitement surrounding the Lilly Pulitzer/Target merchandise.

Send in the clowns…

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Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There’s no clowning around at TPG, the private equity firm that just picked up a majority stake in the world-famous circus sensation, Cirque du Soleil. Its founder, Guy Laliberté, has decided to take on new creative challenges instead of grooming his five children to take over the family biz. TPG has already helped companies, including J. Crew, Neiman Marcus and Ducati. So it’s safe to assume they know a thing or two about how to grow a brand. Quebec pension fund manager the Caisse de depot, and Chinese investment firm, Fosum, will take on minority stakes in the entertainment company. While the price for the deal is being kept under wraps, some analysts have pegged the deal between $1.5 and $2 billion. Not bad for a guy who started a traveling show with a bunch of street performers back in 1984. Laliberté will stay on with the company and its 1,400 employees to continue to offer strategic and creative advice. It pays for him to do so as he’ll still be left with a 10% stake.  Cirque du Soleil sells 11 million tickets a year and has been seen by 160 million people in 330 cities and 48 countries.

I said Volcker! Not Vulcan!

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Image courtesy of sdmania/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Way harsh words from former Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker who slammed the current U.S financial regulatory system during a speech in Washington, D.C. The former chief and close financial advisor to President Obama said if we don’t revamp the current system, it will only “…make us more vulnerable to the next financial crisis.” Mr. Volcker wants a complete overhaul of a system he says was developed piecemeal over the last 150 years in response to fiscal emergencies. He says the Dodd-Frank financial reform act of 2010 is not enough to head off an even greater economic disaster and wants to see a smoother, streamlined regulatory system instead of the current one we have in place which he thinks is “…highly fragmented, outdated and ineffective.” Ouch. In his fiscal eden, banks and other select Wall Street firms would be centralized. Then he’d merge the SEC and CFTC into one big happy family. In case you haven’t guessed it by now, plenty of people on Wall Street don’t seem to care for what the former fed chief had to say.

Home Sweet Amazon-Serviced Home; Ben Bernanke Joins the Blogosphere; AG Settles Score With GNC

Is there anything it won’t sell?

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Amazon has come out with yet another way to take your money. This time it’s through its new Amazon Home Services with over 700 home improvement service providers services at your fingertip, with verified reviews for added peace of mind. Plumbing problems? Too tired to assemble that new gym equipment? Don’t feel like vacuuming? No problem. Just log on and Amazon will make sure it all gets taken care of. Services are paid for via your Amazon account only after the project is completed. So why is Amazon’s home service offerings different from all others, like Angie’s List, Yelp etc.?  Perhaps it the comprehensive vetting process it conducts, including making sure service professionals are licensed, insured and have had their backgrounds thoroughly checked. But Amazon also offers a money-back guarantee charmingly called a “happiness guarantee.” Apparently, consumers also trust Amazon, giving an added incentive to use the ever-powerful e-commerce giant. To be fair, however, I too, once trusted Amazon. But then last month one of its vendors sent me a completely different set of fairy wings than the ones I ordered. Just sayin’.

Payback…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The blogosphere just got a bit more crowded now that Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke joined the mix with his own blog for the Brookings Institute. He is, after all, its latest Distinguished Fellow in Residence of the Economic Studies Program. It’s very pish posh, indeed. The position, I mean. Not the blog. “Now that I’m a civilian again, I can once more comment on economic and financial issues without my words being put under the microscope by Fed watchers.” Which means he doesn’t have to be polite anymore and gets to say whatever he wants. For instance, Mr. Bernanke can use his blog for, among other purposes, striking back at the many critics he’s had over the years who took issue with his policies. Janet Yellen, who took over for him last year, does not get to have that kind of fun. At least for now. In today’s post, Mr. Bernanke graciously explains the reasons behind the low interest rates. By the way, he’d like you to know that it’s not necessarily because the Fed is keeping it that way – though there is some truth to that.

Whaddya mean there’s no ginseng in there? 

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Image courtesy of Getideaka/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This time it is not a bank that has reached a deal with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. GNC Holdings Inc. begrudgingly settled a lawsuit over its Herbal Plus products found at GNC, of course, but also at Target, Walmart and Walgreens. Apparently, it wasn’t at all clear that the ingredients listed on the outside of the bottles of the dietary supplements were actually present on the inside. Who would have thunk it? The presence of things like echinacea, ginkgo biloba, ginseng and St. John’s wort couldn’t be verified when the AG used DNA barcoding methods to test for them. That’s kind of a huge embarrassing problem in the $33 billion a year dietary supplement industry. Of course, GNC disagrees vehemently with the AG’s testing methods saying the “lawsuits are without merit.”  GNC, however, used its own internal test methods, in addition to third party independent test methods which, naturally yielded different results. Despite all that, the supplement company will now be using bar-coding methods –  just like the AG’s office –  beginning in the next 18 months, so that consumers will know for sure if there really is echinacea in that bottle they’re holding, conveniently labeled “echinacea.”

 

 

Inflation Elation; Home Sweet Home Loans; Feeling 1.7 % More Secure

Get your motors running…

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Image courtesy of kongsky/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief now that the numbers are telling us how stuff like inflation and the cost to live on this planet, at least our part of it, didn’t really change, as in go up, down etc. Well, it did. Slightly. But nothing that would require any action from those money experts at the Federal Reserve. This means interest rates get to stay nice and low.  For now, anyways. But it should be duly noted that the Feds would prefer to see inflation actually go up. A bit, anyways. Because apparently that would be healthier for the economy, according to people who qualify as experts. What has also become a rather pleasant occurrence is the price of gas these days, which has been going down to an average of $3.09 per gallon. Now who doesn’t love a drop in gas prices? Never a bad thing, in my most humble opinion.

The rates are falling! The rates are falling!

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Image courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Look out for new neighbors with mortgage rates falling down all over the place.  According to the very insightful index of the very insightful Mortgage Bankers Association, or MBA for those in the know, all these new nifty low borrowing costs have resulted in a major increase in mortgage applications. We’re talking an 11.6% increase in applications. Numbers that big haven’t been seen since January. The week before saw a 5.6% increase. Thinking of going for the plunge on a 30 year fixed loan? Well those rates went down to 4.1%. Or perhaps you are mulling over a 15 year fixed rate mortgage? The interest rates on those babies dropped to 3.28%.

Social security butterfly…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In case you will be wondering (and why wouldn’t you be?) what happened to over 6.2% of your paycheck towards the end of fiscal 2015, look no further than the Social Security tax. Around 10 million Americans will be shelling out over $7,300 towards that “fund” next year. The cap on that figure, by the way, is $118,500 for 2015. Fret not, taxpayer as that is but a mere 1.3% increase over 2014’s $117,000 cap. But wait, there’s more. The millions upon millions of retirees receiving social security benefits will receive  1.7% fatter checks in 2015 thanks to the Cost of Living Adjustment, or COLA , for those in the know (and not to be confused with any beverages, mind you). For the average retiree, that amounts to about $22 more per month on a monthly check of $1,328. If you think that number is, shall we say, unimpressive, then consider the fact that in 2010 and 2011 there was a 0% increase. Z-E-R-O.