Trump’s Commerce Sec’y Gets Delisted; Valeant Unvaliant with Female Viagra; Rainbows and Unicorns: Oprah’s Effect on Weight Watchers

Oops, I did it again…

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Looks like things are getting awkward for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Jr. Turns out Trump’s buddy has some Russian connections that might just put him in a bit of a pickle. It goes a little something like this: The Commerce Secretary has some investments in a shipping firm he used to run called Navigator Holdings. The problem here is that this particular shipping firm has ties to some people that are subject to U.S. sanctions. One of those ties is none other than Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law.  Mr. Ross knew that he was supposed to unload all kinds of holdings that could potentially be a conflict of interest once he took office. And he did. Mostly. Just not really with this one. To be fair, Mr. Ross has a lot of partnerships and it’s those partnerships that retain a significant stake in Navigator Holdings. But still. It’s a problem, even if there’s nothing necessarily illegal about his ties to this shipping firm since he didn’t disclose those ties in the first place. This new development, along with tons of other juicy information, came courtesy of the leaked documents known as the “Paradise Papers” from the Bermuda-based law firm, Appleby. As for Mr. Ross, that’s not the only reason he’s been making headlines today. Apparently, on those very disclosure forms, where Mr. Ross neglected to mention his dubious Russian ties, he also neglected to mention that he isn’t a billionaire. Not to say that he’s a pauper. Far from it. However, his estimated assets are less than $700 million, not the $2 billion he said he’s worth. Even worse, for Ross’s ego anyway, is that he’s getting dropped from Forbes 400 wealthiest list, because let’s face it, $700 million just doesn’t cut it.

Typical…

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Valeant is the big kahuna making good waves on Wall Street with an earnings beat that sent the stock up 15% today.  Much of that had to do with a 6% increase across its divisions not to mention the boost it got from unloading some of its debt. The company picked up $3.69 per share on a $1.3 billion profit. But that wasn’t the only reason for the boost. Remember Addyi? It’s the drug that was dubbed the “female viagra”  and Valeant bought it from Sprout Pharmaceuticals around two years ago for about $1 billion. Problem is, the deal had been bleeding money since the beginning. Now, two years later, Valeant actually gave Sprout shareholders $25 million just to take the drug back and put it back in business. But that was only after Sprout sued Valeant because it felt the drugmaker wasn’t marketing the drug well. In all fairness to Valeant however, plenty of medical experts just weren’t that into the drug. Because, besides saying that the drug wasn’t that effective, they also felt that potential users wouldn’t be inclined to taking Addyi given that there was a risk of fainting. Yes, fainting. In fact, the fainting would occur following alcohol consumption while taking the drug. I’m pretty sure anyone could see why that would be a problem.

Weight a minute…

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Oprah Winfrey seems to have the Midas touch, at least with Weight Watchers, as the stock rallied today way over 20% to 54.43, its highest price in four years. Revenue numbers were also ridiculously impressive, coming in at almost $324 million, a 15% increase over last year’s revenue during this period. But back to Oprah. The media titan bought a hefty chunk of the company two years ago and will once again grace Weight Watchers ads. Besides the Oprah effect, the weight-loss company put some major thought into both its digital operations and marketing campaign, which apparently paid off given the fact that the company increased its subscribers by 18% to 3.4 million. Here’s the fun part: Analysts thought the company would do pretty good anyway, bringing in 51 cents per share. But Weight Watchers did better than pretty good, adding 67 cents per share on a $45 million profit. That, by the way, was a $10 million increase from last year at this time. Which kind of has me starting to think about all the companies that good use Oprah on their boards. Twitter, maybe?  Oh, and did I mention that Weight Watchers also raised it full year earnings outlook? Indeed it did and now, instead of expecting to earn between $1.57 and $1.67, it now expects to make between $1.77 and $1.83.  And if that’s not impressive enough for you, consider that shares of Weight Watchers are up 360% just for 2017.

 

 

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Schadenfraud Anyone? Forbes Unveils its Latest Top 400; Can’t Stop Netflix; Venmo’s the New Way to Go. At Least According to Paypal

That’s a whole lotta money…

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Forbes has unveiled its latest list. This time it’s the top 400 richest Americans for 2017 and there are very few surprises in store. Bill Gates and his $89 billion net worth takes the top spot, followed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and everyone’s favorite Omaha Oracle, Warren Buffett.  Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg sits pretty in fourth place. The first time we finally see a woman on the list is at spot number 13 and it’s occupied by Alice Walton of the illustrious Walmart clan. There are 22 newbies on the list and some of them are even self-made billionaires, including Netflix CEO Reed Hastings who comes in at number 359. He had a good year and his company had a great quarter. But we’ll get to that one in a bit. Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick comes in at number 115, despite being out of his CEO job, while beloved Star Wars creator George Lucas gets spot 118. As for President Trump, he did make the list, coming in at a less than impressive (for him) ranking of 248.  He shares the spot with 15 other people including Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel. Their fortunes are valued at $3.1 billion, a figure the President will probably dispute. It’s a steep drop for the President, whose 2016 ranking had him at the 156th spot. But I guess that’s what happens when your portfolio loses $600 million. I wonder who he’s going to blame for that one?

Wall Street ❤️ Netflix…

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The best way to bring Wall Street to its finicky knees is to crush its expectations. And Netflix did just that. First, the video streaming company laughed in the face of analysts’ projections for subscriber growth. For Netflix that was a 5.3 million increase, far from the modest forecast of 4.5 million new subscribers. A large percentage of those new subscribers came from outside the U.S. Netflix now boasts 109 million subscribers and I’m guessing you must be one of them, right? As for the next quarter, the company expects to add 6.3 million subscribers. Revenue for the company was $2.99 billion, again beating projections of $2.97 billion.  However, at first glance, Netflix’s profit was not so impressive. But that’s only because the company is throwing down serious cash for producing its own shows. And if you’ve ever seen “Orange is the New Black” or “House of Cards” then you’d probably agree that it’s money well spent.  So what does this all mean for you, the Netflix connoisseur/viewer, who obsessively waits for new seasons of your beloved shows to be unleashed? Well, you can probably expect an increase in your subscription plans but hey, that’s the price you gotta pay if you want to keep watching new seasons of “Stranger Things,” right?

Going half-sies…

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If you haven’t signed up for Venmo yet, now might be a good time to start. The company just announced that users can now use the app to make mobile online purchases from over 2 million retailers including Forever 21 and Foot Locker.  But what’s so darn cute about Venmo is a feature that gives you the option to split a purchase with a friend. Or even an acquaintance, I suppose. Which is so great when you go out for lunch and can’t be bothered to do the math at the table or when you just want to pay the rent down the middle. And, you can even share status updates about the purchase. How nifty. Especially if you’re a millennial. Did I mention that Paypal is Venmo’s parent company? Well, it is. And pretty much anywhere you’re able to use PayPal, you can now use Venmo there as well. Just think of all the Lululemon merchandise you can purchase with all your besties.

 

 

 

Show Me the Money! Forbes Unveils Its Annual List of People With Money to Show; UK Shows Google What Happens When You Don’t Shut Down Haters; Twitter Did Something Impressive. Just Not With Its Earnings

Rich-y rich…

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It’s that time of year again. The one where Forbes reminds us just how much money we don’t have relative to the richest people in the world. And here goes. There are 13% more billionaires this year than last year and their combined net worth totals almost $7.7 trillion. Yes. Trillion.  The number one spot goes to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates who’s net with totals $86 billion. When Gates is not busy fixing the world and explaining to the President why his budget ideas are bad ideas, he runs the world’s largest charitable organization. Naturally, the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet, comes in a close second with a net worth of $75.6 billion, while Amazon’s Jeff Bezos makes his debut into the top three with a net worth of $72.8 billion. And even though we only finally see a woman on this list at the number 14 spot, there’s still some uplifting news. For instance, the number of women who ma∂e it onto the list has increased 170% since 2009. Also, there’s a record 56 women on the list who are self-made billionaires. If you’re curious to see who did and didn’t make the list, click here to find out. And spoiler alert: Perhaps President Donald Trump really ought to consult Bill Gates on any and all future budget concerns for the country, considering he lost a billion in the last year and ranks #544.

Dis-content…

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Just when you thought Google could do no wrong, the search engine giant finds itself in the midst of some major policy revamping after a bunch of big-name advertisers pulled their marketing  – and whole lot of money – because it was showing up on /sexist/hate-filled/offensive/anti-semitic/terrorist-promoting content. The trouble started when major brands, including the BBC and department store chain Marks & Spencer, noticed their ads being being placed alongside content promoting violent extremist groups. Last I heard, department stores were no great fans of terrorism. Now, part of the policy revamp includes broadening Google and YouTube’s definitions of hate speech, which is always a good thing since hate manages to always rear its ugly face no matter how subtly its presented. Also, content won’t be able discrimnate against groups based on their identity, socieo-economic class and country of origin. Such measures ought to make it a tad bit more difficult for the haters to get their odious messages out. In addition to some added controls and a few default settings, Google should end up creating a kinder, gentler platform. Hopefully…

Speaking of which…

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Even though Twitter doesn’t exactly have the fiscal luxury to delete accounts, to its credit, the social media company did just that and put the kibosh on close to 380,000 of them because of their links to terrorism. So lousy earnings aside I say “Kudos” to Twitter.  Those accounts were just the ones it took down between July and December of 2016.  Since August of 2015, over 635,000 accounts have been removed for the same reason. The information was disclosed in its latest transparency report and these actions are part of an effort to weed out extremist groups and other assorted haters. Interestingly enough, almost 75% of the accounts that were removed from Twitter were discovered by technology created just for this purpose for Twitter, while 2% of those accounts came down after governments made requests for the company to get rid of them.

 

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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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.

The List of all Lists; Kate Spade’s Numbers Need to Get Accessorized; GoPro Goes Big With Latest Acquisitions

A-listers…

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Forbes unleashed its latest list of the world’s richest people just in time to make you feel really bad about yourself. 1,810 billionaires made the list and their combined net worth is a mind-blowing $6.48 trillion. But don’t be too impressed since that figure is actually $580 billion less than it was last year. Hey, times are tough. There are 16 less billionaires this year and 540 of them are living large in the United States. The gender gap managed to rear its ugly face on this list as only 190 women made the cut, with 65 here in the United States. Unfortunately that figure was down from 197 last year. Heiress and L’Oreal businesswoman Lilliane Bettencourt is the highest ranked woman, taking the 11th spot with a net worth of $36.1 billion. For the third year in a row, Bill Gates is sitting pretty at the top with a net worth of $75 billion. However, to be fair, he is $4.2 billion poorer than he was last year. My heart aches for him, really. Like Zara clothing? Apparently most people do since its owner, Amancio Ortega, ranks in the number two spot. Warren Buffett, no surprise, takes third while Carlos Slim snags the fourth spot. Facebook’s 31 year old Mark Zuckerberg took the sixth spot with his $44.6 billion and becomes the youngest billionaire in the top ten. Lucky him. And whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump did make the list with an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion.

Accessorized…

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Kate Spade almost fell out of fashion on Wall Street today when the company reported that its fourth quarter sales fell short, coming in at $62 million and adding 32 cents per share. The company missed estimates by a penny and posted a 51% decline from last year  when the company saw $126 million with 49 cents added per share.  At least its revenue was up 7.6% to $429 million, although analysts did expect that number to ring in closer to $442 million. Oh well. Maybe next quarter. Yet, Kate Spade shares rose as high as 6.7% today. And why shouldn’t they? After all, the swaggy design house is expanding its merchandise into home decor and children’s apparel, prospects that have Wall Street tongues wagging, if ever so slightly. The company has had quite the quirky fiscal ride as it was down a staggering 42% for the last twelve months yet managed to creep up 12% since the beginning of the year. That was happening even while the almighty S&P was going down 5.5%.  Go figure.

Pro-active…

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What to do when your company takes a vicious downward spiral killing 70% of its value? You go shopping, of course. And that’s exactly what GoPro Inc. CEO Nicholas Woodman did. The action-camera exec announced he is plunking down $105 million to buy not one, but two video editing applications, in hopes of beefing up one of the company’s bigger problem areas.  Wall Street responded kindly by sending shares up and let’s face it, GoPro shares need all the help they can get. GoPro’s acquisitions are Replay and Splice, applications that will allow users the ability to easily cut and publish footage on their mobile phones. Given that Woodman himself called he GoPro editing experience an “inconvenience,” these acquisitions seem like a prudent move. Too bad, however, that this move comes on the heels of GoPro’s decision last month to cut 7% of its workforce after weak holiday sales and slashing the price of its newest camera by 50%. That’s what happens when you’re staring into a crowded market of action-cameras. But, taking a page from Warren Buffett, Woodman is optimistic that 2016 will be a record year for GoPro. Let’s hope so since 2015 saw GoPro’s stock hit an all-time low.

Apple vs. Feds Smackdown; Billionaire Country Breakdown; It’s Highs and Lowe’s for Home Improvement Sector

Rotten to the core…

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It’s game on between Apple and the FBI as the two entities tussle about unlocking an iPhone. The Feds feel this request falls under the Writs Act from 1789 that compels companies to assist in law enforcement. Apple is preparing to argue before a Federal court that software code should be protected by the First Amendment while terrorists the world over sit back and enjoy a good laugh at the the expense of the U.S and its constitutional rights. This is all because the Feds want Apple to unlock a phone belonging to San Berbardino shooter/terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook as authorities are convinced there is a lot of valuable intel contained on that one little device. In fact, since early October, Apple has received orders to unlock thirteen other devices, and an L.A. district court judge ruled that Apple should help the Feds bypass that pesky setting which wipes an iPhone clean after ten incorrect password guesses. Apple CEO Tim Cook is adamantly against this backdoor attempt to unlock an iPhone lest it fall into the wrong hands. Cook wants the issue decided by Congress and not the courts. Problem is, phones regularly fall into the wrong hands, as in this case, so what to do about a device that potentially holds vast amounts of life-saving information that could lead to the arrests and capture of more wrong hands?

 

All about the benjamins…

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After owning the title for so long, the city of New York no longer reigns supreme as home to the largest population of billionaires. The title of “Billionaire Capital of the World” now  belongs to Beijing, which is kind of weird since the Chinese economy has taken such a beating these last few months. These new findings come courtesy of the Hurun Report, a Shanghai-based firm that publishes monthly. And while Forbes’ compiles its own list of billionaires, the two publications tend to yield slightly different results, if only because they employ different calculation menthods. Incidentally, Hurun’s results did take into account January 15, the day when China’s economy hit the skids, tanking 40%.  But that still didn’t stop it from adding 32 new billionaires to the list, bringing its grand total identifiable billionaire population to 100. Beijing’s numero uno billionaire is Wang Jianlin, a real estate developer whose net worth is estimated to be $26 billion. Hurun chairman, Rupert Hoogewerf, says that these rankings don’t tell the whole story of China’s vast wealth, and estimates that only about 50% of China’s billionaires were identified. Plenty of the county’s other billionaires prefer to keep their wealth asecret so they don’t end up having to fork a chunk of it to authorities. New York still managed to welcome four more billionaires into its fold, giving the city a grand total of 95. Moscow took the third spot while Hong Kong and Shanghai scored spots four and five respectively.

Lowe’s and behold…

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Home Depot and Lowe’s regaled us with their earnings and it was good news, kind of. Both home improvement chains scored lofty gains in large part due to housing demand, low interest rates and job and wage growth – all super good things. Oh, and this time the warm weather actually helped sales too. But while Lowe’s quarterly sales gains were up 5.5%, Home Depot’s sales gains were way more impressive, gaining close to 9%, suggesting that Home Depot is benefitting way more from housing gains than Lowe’s. Which probably explains why shares of Lowe’s fell a bit today. Apparently Home Depot , according to experts anyway, has a stronger brand image and consumers see it as the go to store for their home improvement needs. Case in point, kitchen products are a big seller for Home Depot and that department killed it this quarter, while Lowe’s kitchen products department performed below average. Ouch. Home Depot also has 2,274 stores compared to Lowe’s 1,857 stores. In any case, Lowe’s is expecting to snag a 6% rise in sales, compared with analysts predictions of less than 5% and the company still added 59 cents per share with sales of $13.24 billion, smacking down predictions of $13.07 billion.

Forbes/Trump Smackdown; Getting Chip-py With It; Ralph Lauren Preps New CEO

Donald Donald Donald…

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Image courtesy of ponsulak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To take your mind off the fact that we have yet to find a cure for cancer and AIDs, or that people all over the world are living in abject poverty, we now turn our attentions to the Donald Trump vs. Forbes magazine smack down. The two entities are going head to head over Donald Trump’s estimated net worth, with Trump insisting that Forbes has its facts all wrong. “I’m a private company […] I like the people at Forbes but they don’t really know my assets very well,” the Donald said during an interview for CNBC. Forbes says that The Donald’s real estate fortune can be pegged at $4.5 billion, a figure that has the Republican presidential candidate in a snit because he is convinced that the magazine is trying to paint him “as poor as possible.” As if that were possible. Trump insists he’s worth more than $10 billion, questioning Forbes arithmetic skills. Common core, perhaps?  Forbes, in its calculations, doesn’t place a value on brand and that irritates the real estate mogul because the Trump brand, according to Trump, is very valuable and might have led Forbes to a far different fiscal outcome. Maybe. Donald Trump apparently does not take comfort in the fact that he was ranked as the 19th richest American, or that he is by far the wealthiest of the presidential candidates. He’s also miffed that Forbes had the nerve to say that he has a paltry cash stash of just $327 million (forget the research that went into computing that amount) “But I have a lot of cash,”  he insists in a CNBC interview, explaining away that his cash bank account is bursting from the $793 million sitting in it, all green and crispy.

Chipped off…

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Image courtesy of sscreations/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today marks the dawn of a new -and hopefully less fraudulent-riddled – era, as business owners large and small now become liable for fraudulent activities. If a consumer’s info gets swiped, the business from which the offense originated eats the cost and not the bank that issued the card. Consumers, many who are now armed with credit cards containing EMV chips –  as in Europay, MasterCard and Visa (what you thought it was going to stand for some obscure tech jargon?) will now be able to conspicuously consume using new terminals intended to reduce exposure to fraud. In order for the chip to be really secure, a pin number should be used with it. Otherwise, don’t come crying to EMV. I say reduce, because sadly, it does not completely obliterate the cold, callous felonious act. It’s estimated that about 32 million consumers had their credit card info swiped last year, nearly triple that of 2013. The chip creates a unique code for every transaction. But if you have yet to receive your chip card, rest assured that your magnetic stripe-outfitted cards can still be used. Sorry to say but the chip cards won’t be of much use for your cyber-shopping excursions. So make sure the site with which you transact is legit. American Express is getting their chip-action going on October 16 while gas stations get until 2017 to upgrade their terminals.  So far more than 200 million cards with chips in them have been sent out.

Movin’ on up-market…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A new king has been crowned over at Ralph Lauren, as its namesake CEO, Ralph Lauren himself, “stepped up.” That is not a typo but rather a direct quote from the preppy American style icon, who also happens to be the largest shareholder and intends to maintain his creative input at the company. The new CEO is none other than Stefan Larsson, CEO extraordinaire to fast-fashion brands Old Navy and H&M. His resume actually had some haters doubting the dude who has a lack of luxury goods experience. But Wall Street doesn’t seem to mind as it sent shares of Ralph Lauren up a much needed 12% on Wednesday while also taking a 6% chunk off of shares of Gap Inc for losing its rock star executive. The haters apparently aren’t paying enough attention to the fact that under Larsson’s leadership, Old Navy saw three consecutive years of growth and was the only one of the Gap Inc. brands to show growth at all, 5% just this year. In the meantime, Ralph Lauren had some quarters that were anything but, shall we say, fashion-forward, and is down a dismal 37% for the year.