AmEx Wants to Know What Your Loyalty is Worth; How Do You Say Opel-ease in Russian?; FedEx’s Hit and Miss

Where’s your loyalty?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Maybe membership does still have its privileges. AmEx is trying to make a comeback following its breakup with powerhouse retailer, Costco, and rumors of an impending break-up with JetBlue. To soothe it’s broken fiscal heart, the company is making plans to offer a rewards program called “Plenti.” Catchy, huh? Joining forces with Macy’s, Exxon, RiteAid, AT&T and a few other companies, AmEx is offering a loyalty program where American consumers get to cash in points earned on their AmEx cards, and then redeem the points at these retailers. I say Americans, because AmEx already has loyalty programs in other parts of the world, including Germany and Italy. Fill up your car at Exxon and then run over to Macy’s and buy yourself a shirt. Or some vitamins at RiteAid. Or insurance. Yes, I did say insurance since Nationwide Insurers is one of the partners. As is Hulu. Cool, huh? . Noticeably absent from the list of participants is a national grocer and home improvement retailer. But fear not, oh faithful spender, as rumor has it those slots are just about to be filled. If you’re wondering how AmEx benefits, it’s simple: AmEx gets a fee from its partners-in-retail. Clever indeed.

No more vroom…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

GM is coming to a screeching halt in Russia after taking a 74% hit in sales there with an 86% hit on its Opel brand alone. Hence, GM has put the kibosh on Opel production altogether and will be drastically slowing down production on its Chevy lines, chalking it all up to a $600 million loss. The collapsed ruble and dropping oil prices have dealt a major blow to the Russian economy, with car sales especially down 38%. So GM decided to make a run for it. However, if you find yourself in Russia and jonesing for a Corvette, then no worries. Because Corvettes are imported, they will still be making their way into the country, together with Tahoes and Camaros. Can’t you just picture Putin cruising the Kremlin in a Camaro? Oddly enough, or not, the automobile company is still looking to up its Cadillac game in Russia. The luxury auto has yet to catch up to the popularity of European automobiles BMW and Audi. Tragically, only 72 of them have been sold in Russia in the first two months of the year.

Special delivery…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

FedEx released its earnings report, regaling Wall Street and the world with news of its prosperous third quarter. One of the fiscal highlights was the $11.7 billion in revenue the company took in. Not a major difference than what experts forecasted, and a modest 4% gain over last year, but the number did hit its target so nobody was necessarily complaining on that front. The big exciting numbers, though, came courtesy of FedEx’s impressive profits. At $580 million and $2.01 per share, the company’s net income was a whopping 63% higher than last year at this time. Analysts only predicted a profit of $1.88. It’s kind of nice when analysts are wrong. Just saying. And for that very impressive feat, FedEx can thank low fuel prices. Of course there were a few other reasons too, but fuel could definitely be crowned the star of this one. But then its shares took a bit of dip today on the news of its less than impressive outlook. The company expects to pull in between $8.80 – $8.95 per share for the year but analysts much prefer to see $8.98 per share. FedEx’s performance tends to hint to Wall Street what we can expect from our fickle economy. So if FedEx is feeling a bit too fiscally modest and only moderately ambitious, it makes The Street a little edgy.

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American Apparel Battles; Not So FedEx-cellent Earnings; Cheerie-Woes

Gone but not forgotten…

Image courtesy of biosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of biosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dov Charney may be officially ousted from American Apparel but wouldn’t you know it…the former CEO, who was booted over a number of misconduct allegations,  still has more than a few friends left at the company he founded. Thirty American Apparel executives just can’t bear the thought of manufacturing retail with provocative ad campaigns without Mr. Charney’s particular skill set. They are a bit peeved that their feelings were not taken into consideration and, in a carefully penned letter, asked the board to reconsider its decision adding, “he makes this thing tick.” A beautiful sentiment for a man who had a slew of sexual harassment allegations against him. Incoming CEO Paula Schneider will become Charney’s official replacement and she gets to plod through the mammoth task of trying to reverse the $300 million in net losses the company racked up since July of 2010. Charney, though, won’t be totally on the outs seeing as how he remains the largest shareholder in the company with a 43% stake in it. He does, however, have to share those voting rights with a hedge fund, presumably to keep him from exercising those rights exclusively for his  questionable benefits.

Shipping dipping…

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

FedEx had a good quarter. Just not good enough for Wall Street. Earning’s for the shipping company were up a very merry 23% thanks in part to a drop in fuel prices. The company earned $616 million and $2.14 per share. That figure was up from $500 million and $1.57 per share the year before. Revenue was even up 5% to $11.94 billion. But the hardly-ever-content Wall Street analysts wanted to see $2.22 per share and revenues of $11.97 billion. Next quarter should be more telling as this is the company’s busiest time of year. Here’s hoping that FedEx won’t repeat last year’s shipping debacle when over 2 million packages failed to make it to their recipients by Christmas Eve – a gaffe that was attributed to some icy weather and an unforeseen rise in shipping demand. Which I suppose is the one of the reasons an additional 50,000 employees were added to its workforce this season.

Soggy…

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

General Mills, like many of its breakfast-oriented peers/competition, posted second quarter earnings that were nothing to crunch about. Profit for the maker of one the world’s most arguably famous cereals, Cheerios, dropped by a whopping 37%. With consumer tastes  changing, shoppers aren’t exactly spending as much time and money on cereals and other products from the company. But at least its Yoplait and snack divisions are up. A bit. General Mills earned $346 million and $0.80 per share. But Wall Street wanted to see $0.03 more on those shares. The company pulled in sales of $4.71 billion, which seems like a lot of Cheerios, except that Wall Street was gunning for $4.79 billion. Sales in the US alone came in at $2.86 billion but it was still a 4% drop.

 

FedEx-cellent Earnings; Santa’s Not So Little Helpers; New Home Confidence Booster

Can I get that overnight?

Image courtesy of tigger11th/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of tigger11th/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You may not use FedEx on a regular basis but other people sure do. The shipping company’s earnings toppled Wall Street predictions earning $2.10 per share in its first quarter compared with an expected $1.96 per share. Nothing like giving those predictions a smack down. Those hefty earnings were a 37% increase over the same time last year which took in just $1.53 per share. If you’re in the market for some shares of this very useful company, you’ll need to plunk over approximately $159…again, per share. Revenue for the company came in at $11.7 billion while analysts short changed FedEx for a paltry $11.44 billion. In fact, just between June and August the express shipping company earned a whopping $606 million, which happens to be a not-so-modest 24% increase over the same time last year. Graciously enough, FedEx will be waiting until after the holiday season to raise its rates by almost 5%.

Elves, elves everywhere…

Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Speaking of the holiday season (and FedEx, for that matter) which is in fact a lot closer than you may (choose to) realize, FedEx and UPS have big plans to add to their workforces. Following last year’s debacle when the shipping companies received more packages than they could physically handle, with some arriving after the holiday, UPS and FedEx decided they would increase the amount of workers they hired last year so that there will be no doubt – make that little doubt –  that your packages make it on time. FedEx plans to hire 50,000 seasonal employees, as opposed to last year’s 40,000. UPS is pulling out all the stops by bringing in 95,000  extra workers for what they predict will be an epic  – at least as far as shipping needs are concerned – holiday season. But it’s not just shipping companies that are hiring extra staff. Kohl’s just announced its plans to hire approximately 50 associates per store. Considering Kohl’s has over 1,160 stores in 49 states, you just might find yourself at the right end of some decent customer service come December. Expect other stores to follow suit.

Home sweet home…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Which brings us to homebuilders confidence. Well really it doesn’t, but whatever. According to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index (yeah, try saying that five times fast), the sentiment hit 59 in August. Analysts called for about a 55. So ha! Considering anything over a 50 is good news, this number deserves its own party. In fact, US home builder confidence for new single family homes (sorry, old homes)  hasn’t been this well…confident – and high – in nine years. All this seems to suggest sales for homes will rise – which is good, especially if you’re selling. It also helps that the job market is improving and interest rates are low. All things that make buying a new single family home (again, sorry old homes) that much more enticing.

Drug Company Ex-pat? Suspicious Packages and License to Bitcoin

Isn’t that a tax relief?

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Chicago-bsed drug giant AbbVie, maker of the very popular Humira,  is buying fellow company Shire Pharmaceuticals for close to $55 billion. Wall Street seems to be happy about the strategically financial move. Too bad the Obama administration and some members of Congress don’t share the joy. And why whouldn’ they? Tax inversion my friends.  Basically, it’s shifting the tax residence of the company abroad, in this case the UK. AbbVie will now have a much more manageable tax rate of 13% instead of an onerous 22% which will free up the company to do all sorts of new and exciting things, although its headquarters will still remain in Chicago. It’s the largest inversion deal. Ever. But Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew is particularly miffed and said, “We should not be providing support for corporations that seek to shift their profits overseas to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.” However, others argue the US government ought to make the tax laws more hospitable to these big companies.

Do I need to sign for that?

Image courtesy of posterize/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of posterize/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

FedEx isn’t having the best day. It probably has something to with that indictment on drug-trafficking charges. Hard to believe (or not) but the shipping company was indicted by a San Francisco grand jury for conspiracy to deliver prescription drugs for illegal internet pharamcies. Whoops. The indictment also says that FedEx knew about this for a decade and even took precautions to protect itself. To be fair, FedEx says it asked the US government on several occasions for a list of the illegal pharmacies but the government apparently never got around to it. So there. However, the DEA and FDA said FedEx was repeatedly warned. Couriers in Kentucky and Tennesee, among other places, feared for their lives as packages were delivered to empty parking lots, vacant homes and of course the occasional school. Because, after all, what alleged crime would be complete without involving the use of a school? FedEx delivers over 10 million packages a year and pulled in $44.3 billion in revenue for 2013. FedEx was charged with 15 counts of conspiracy but no officers have been charged. The company could face fines of over $800 million.

Bitcoin to go mainstream?

Image courtesy of cuteimage/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cuteimage/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The New York  Department of Financial Services is showing some bitcoin love by attempting to create a license for the crypto-currency. Sounds too good to be true, huh? But really it’s an attempt to make the virtual currency more mainstream. People engaged in criminal and other questionable activities tend to like bitcoin for its anonymous aspect. Who wouldn’t. But this new system might just make those shady transactions a little bit more challenging to complete. Policies and procedures would also be established to assist with the inenvitable consumer complaint and also to outline what happens in the case of a problem ala Mt. Gox and its hacker issue that caused the bitcoin trading exchange to go bust. Ben Lawsky, Superintendant of Financial Services said, “We have sought to strike an appropriate balance that helps protect consumers and root out illegal activity – without stifling beneficial innovation.” Sounds fair.