Bugging Out Over VW Settlement; Trump Thinks He Can Do It All; Time to Buy a Keurig?

Buggin’ out…

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VW is getting set to pony up some $4 billion in settlement money after agreeing to plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and obstruct a federal investigation. To break it down, the company will cough up $2.8 billion in criminal fines and another $1.5 billion in civil penalties. With that settlement, the company achieves the dubious distinction of having the largest penalty ever levied by the U.S. government against an automaker. Pretty classy for Europe’s largest car manufacturer. But I guess that’s what happens when you get busted for trying to cheat on emissions tests. VW had initially insisted that the scheme was the work of a few isolated employees. But now, lo and behold, six German execs are now facing charges, and the arrests probably won’t stop there. While Oliver Schmidt was already arrested in Florida this week, the others are still biding their time in Germany, with no guarantee that they’ll meet with justice courtesy of the United States judicial system. And even though VW swears it’s changed its naughty ways and is cooperating fully with authorities, it’ll still be watched for the next three years – just to be sure. Shares of the company rose as much as 4% today, it’s highest price since the scandal first erupted. But that doesn’t mean that this unfortunate episode has come to an end as there are still plenty of other countries that could also very well pursue action against Volkswagen.

Not so sure about this…

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Looks like Trump’s not going anywhere. Not even away from his business empire. The President-elect, in a news conference today, discussed that he will not be selling off his global empire and put his liquid assets in a blind trust. However, his assets will still be placed into a different type of trust that will keep him from making decisions that would personally benefit him.  According to Trump’s flack, a blind trust wasn’t even a realistic option for Trump anyway since real estate can’t just be sold off so easily as stocks and other assets can.  Instead, he will remove himself from all business dealings, resign from all his positions and hand-off control to his two sons. It’s just not clear when he’ll actually stick to that plan since just this weekend he turned down a $2 billion development deal in Dubai. Speaking of which, his company will not enter into any new business deals abroad until after his term ends. How gallant of him. Domestic deals, however, are a whole other story. They’ll be permitted as long as they are met with approval from an ethics adviser hired to work specifically for the Trump organization. See how that works out? Ethics watchdogs aren’t down with Trump’s plan since they feel it will do little – if nothing – to prevent conflicts of interest. But ethics or not, the fact is, a President is not required by law to even avoid conflicts of interest. Donald Trump also stated that he could run both the White House and his business except that he won’t because it doesn’t look nice. Ya think?

Are you ready for this jelly?

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Savor that cup of coffee now because it’s about to get a bit more expensive. Well, that’s assuming it’s packaged coffee. The biggest coffee roaster in the U.S., J.M. Smucker Co – yes, the one that makes jelly – decided to raise the prices on its packaged coffees, including its Folgers, Dunkin’ Donuts and Cafe Bustelo brands. I did say a bit because that increase, on average, will only be about 6%, since the costs involved in producing green coffee have gone up as well.  But don’t bother blaming the jelly company execs. Blame Arabica coffee futures. Or rather, Mother Nature, since coffee futures have gone up 30% in the last year due to drought conditions in several coffee-producing regions. In all fairness, J.M. Smucker Co. actually decreased the price of its coffee last May courtesy of a Brazil oversupply. So I suppose things are just kind of even-ing out. Incidentally, K-cup pods are excluded from the price increase. So if you haven’t bought one of those nifty machines yet, now might be a good time to scoop one up.

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France Says Non Vive La Uber; Smuckers Jells Up Some Tasty Earnings; Is Larry Page Channeling George Jetson?

Let them eat cake…

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Uber, the multi-billion dollar company that operates in 60 countries and can’t seem to stay out of legal trouble is making headlines, yet again. The ride-sharing app just got slapped with an almost million dollar fine – half of which was suspended – for running an illegal taxi service in France. But that fine is the least of Uber’s problems considering it just raised another $3.5 billion in funding. The French court took aim at Uber POP, an app that connects riders with nonprofessional drivers who use their own cars to transport passengers. Licensed taxi drivers in France took exception to the app and put pressure on French officials to bid adieu to Uber POP by getting the service suspended there last year. Last week, a German court also gave a big nein to Uber, upholding a previous ruling that banned Uber POP there for violating local transport laws. Besides Uber getting slapped with a big fine, two Uber execs also got hit to the tune of 50,000 euros, which is nothing compared to the five years of jail time and million dollar fine that they could have received. This case marks the first time that actual executives from the company had to stand trial. The employees were found guilty of deceptive commercial practices, acting as accomplices in operating an illegal transportation service and, just for good measure, violating privacy laws. That’s in addition to being held responsible for inciting others to break the law by employing them, causing riots and taxi strikes. However, this latest ruling is far from the company’s first legal tussle since it was founded in 2009. The company continues to grapple with numerous regulatory issues in Europe and Africa and there is a long road ahead. And in case you didn’t see it coming, Uber is appealing the French court’s ruling.

I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly…

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It’s just jelly to you but to its shareholders, it’s a profit of $191 million. I am talking about J.M. Smucker Co., whose latest earnings positively dazzled Wall Street, sending shares jumping 25% today, to a record high of $142.27. Of course, it wasn’t just an increased urge for PB&J’s, with Smucker’s Jif peanut butter, that sent those sales soaring. Dunkin’ Donuts Brand Coffee, Folgers Coffee and…wait for it…pet food figured prominently in Smucker’s epic 39% profit surge. Smucker’s coffee products account for the company’s biggest market and pulled down a 9% increase in the fourth quarter, while its pet foods, that include Meow Mix and Milk-Bone, accounted for a third of all sales. It helped that the company offered up plenty of promotions to drive demand for its K-cup offerings. The company’s acquisition of Big Heart Pet Brands last year also helped a lot to drive up the impressive earnings. Revenue surged 25% to $1.81 billion when analysts only expected $1.75 billion and Smucker’s added $1.44 to its shares when predictions were only for $1.20. Those earnings were especially welcome since last year at this time, the company posted a 41% profit loss.

Just because he can…

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Alphabet CEO, Larry Page is into cars. Especially if they can fly. These days, the Google co-founder is funding two companies that are currently building and tweaking prototypes of small, all electric planes that can take off and land similar to helicopters. Just like the flying saucers you saw on the Jetsons. Page has already plunked down $100 million into Zee.Aero, a start-up launched in 2010, that has been testing two prototypes in Hollister, California. But why fund just one company when you have the means to fund two? That’s why Larry Page has also poured money into Zee.Aero competitor, Kitty Hawk, led by Sebastian Thrun, the Google X founder who is also behind Google’s self-driving car program. Coincidence? I think not. But it’s sure to be a crowded race to the finish as there are at least a dozen other companies around the world that are hoping to churn out a similar prototype, well before Larry Page’s darlings.

 

Greece Needs a Man With a Plan; Cruisin’ to Cuba; Starbuck$-ing Your Coffee

Ode to a Grecian fiscal burn…

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Image courtesy of jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today is yet another day where the world gets to sit back and cry as stocks all over the globe continue to go south because the Greeks just can’t seem to get their debt crisis under control. The mood might have improved had Greek officials bothered to come up with some sort of plan to help ease the situation. But as more than one eurozone official put it, they have “no concrete proposals.”  However, Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has a plan…to address the European Parliament on Wednesday, much to the irritation of many a European official, who aren’t eager to bail out Greece, yet again. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande also have a meeting planned with Tsipras. But both leaders have very different ideas about how to handle Greece. The Germans do not want Chancellor Merkel to give in to the Greeks, once more, and would even like to see Greece out of the eurozone altogether. In fact, one German official would prefer if Merkel would just completely reject negotiations. France doesn’t see the benefits of these actions but doesn’t exactly want to pony up the cash either.

Bienvenido….

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Image courtesy of Gualberto107/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You can now add Carnival Cruise Lines to the list of operators making their way down to Cuba. “All of our research suggests there is huge pent-up demand for the Cuba experience,” a company spokesman noted. As part of the line’s “fathom” brand, travelers eager to visit the island nation will now have the chance to book that dream trip for a mere $2,990 per person – plus taxes and port fees. However, don’t bother bringing extra cash for gambling or booking reservations for snorkeling expeditions. Passengers aboard the Adonia ship, which carries just 710 passengers, will be required to spend eight hours of each of their trip days immersed in Cuban cultural experiences instead. If that sort of trip doesn’t appeal to you, then take it up with the U.S. government as this is all part of its rules and regulations in order to travel to Cuba.  At least you’ll have plenty of time to pack as the ships don’t set sail for the island nation until May of 2016. The tourism industry in Cuba generates more than $2.6 billion and plays a significant role in the nation’s economy. With the U.S.’s entry into the fold, you can expect that role to get even bigger.

Buzz-worthy?

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Image courtesy of foto76/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Good news for Starbucks. But not for you. Coffee futures fell. A lot. But that cup of coffee you just picked up from the Seattle-based chain just got pricier as Starbucks started charging up to 20 cents more for its brew. The price per pound of coffee was over $221 back in October. But since then the price has fallen 44% to about $124.70 per pound. Overhead is the magic word here as Starbucks has a lot of it, from employee benefits, to rent to..well…coffee.  In fact, 88% of its costs come from goods sold – as in coffee . So, in keeping with corporate spirit, the coffee company has passed those price increases onto its customers. Funny how that works out. If you find yourself just a tad bit irritated by the price hike, then head on over to your local grocery store. and pick up some coffee products from J.M. Smucker. That company owns Folgers and has actually been cutting the cost of its coffee products since the price of coffee has been declining.