Barclays Busted; Ford Ditches Mexico for China; UPS Gives Heads Up on Holiday Shipping

Cheerio…

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Looks like 2008 is not done haunting banks that allegedly played dirty back then. Today’s banking scandal, that includes charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, is brought to us by Barclays and four of its former executives. The trouble started in 2008 when Barclays reached out to Qatar for some substantial cash that the bank was going to use to avoid a major government bailout. Barclays was inclined to hit up Qatar investors for some big money instead of getting a governmental bailout because a governmental bailout comes with major governmental oversight. And for banks, governmental oversight is a four letter word. Of course, asking help from the Qataris wasn’t exactly the problem. While there were two rounds of fundraising from Qatari investors, with one involving a $3 billion loan for Barclays, the UK bank also paid the Qataris $406 million in “fees.” It seems that last bit might not have been honestly and properly disclosed to shareholders. And that got authorities wondering if Barclays was trying to cover up the the gist of the plan because it might not necessarily have been totally legit. Besides, anytime there is suspicion of toying with shareholders, you can expect that there will be hell to pay.  These charges mark the first time that any bank in Britain got busted for questionably lawful behavior during the 2008 fiscal crisis. So congrats, Barclays. You now hold that dubious distinction. If convicted, the bank faces a nasty fine and the former execs each face up to ten years in prison if found guilty. As for the Qatari’s, they’re off the hook. Completely.

Adios…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ford is ditching Mexico for China, at least as far as the Ford Focus is concerned.  Rumor has it that by ending all production of the vehicle in the U.S. and moving production to China instead of Mexico,  Ford will end up saving a whopping $1 billion. Which is especially weird since it is cheaper to build and import cars from Mexico as opposed to China. But here’s where the logic enters: Ford will now spend money to revamp just one factory in China instead of two in North America. Hence, billions of dollars in savings. While no U.S. jobs are expected to be affected, the United Auto Workers remained conspicuously silent regarding the news. This latest decision is the very first major one to come from Ford’s newly installed CEO Jim Hackett. However, what analysts are finding interesting is that this move shows how Ford is putting the focus – no pun intended – on SUV’s and trucks, as opposed to smaller, more fuel efficient cars, thanks to lower fuel costs. Besides, sales of the Ford Focus are down way over 20% since low gas prices are no longer standing in the way of those coveted SUV’s. The only question now is how is this move going to sit with President Trump and what will he tweet about it.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

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Start saving up. Christmas is just around the corner and UPS wants to let you know that it will be charging you extra to ship those holiday presents. Between November 19 and December 2, the package carrier will slap on a 27 cents surcharge and then again, from December 17 – 23. If you want your package delivered via next day air, then prepare to whip out 81 cents and 97 cents for two or three day ground delivery.  UPS typically delivers around 30 million packages a day during the holiday season and analysts are expecting that will rise even more. And who can blame UPS for charging more money to deliver your goods? After all, the holidays are the company’s peak season where not only can their internal systems become over-whelmed, but mother-nature can throw out a few unhelpful surprises as well.

 

Ford Looks to Boost Profits With Layoffs; Twitter Sequel: The Return of Biz; Avocados Will Not Make You Rich!

Slash and burn…

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Today’s job-slashing news is brought to us by Ford Motors. The automotive company, which employs about 200,000 people worldwide, plans to cut about 10% of its salaried workforce. Apparently, the job cutting efforts are simply part of a $3 billion cost cutting program. What Ford is really hoping to accomplish is to keep its stock from from getting too close to a five-year low and boost profits at the same time. Ford released an official statement today and made sure to talk a lot about priorities, profit and growth. Curiously enough, however, no mention was made about job cuts. Wonder what that’s all about. If it’s any consolation, rumor has it that Ford is offering generous early retirement incentives to some of the aforementioned salaried workers. However what generous and incentives actually mean remains to be seen. In any case, CEO Mark Fields, who came on board back in July, wants people to know that the folks over at Ford “are as frustrated as you are by the stock price.” Fields in particular must be awfully frustrated considering that the stock has dropped over 35% since he took the CEO reins.

Let’s get Biz-y with it…

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Amidst a throng of high-level departures comes a potential bright spot for Twitter – the return of co-founder Biz Stone, six years after he left. In a Medium post he wrote that he’s returning to the embattled social media company for the purpose of “filling the ‘Biz-shaped hole.'” Yup. He said that. He went on to say, “You might even say the job description includes being Biz Stone.” Yup. He said that too. Biz wants to guide company culture, feeling and energy, and Twitter could definitely use help in all three of those categories. Besides, it’s not like Biz had anything else going on these days since he just sold his latest start-up to Pinterest for an undisclosed sum. You got that? An undisclosed sum. (I have no definitive idea of what that means.) As for Jack Dorsey, another co-founder and current Twitter CEO, Biz counts him as “his closest friend.” At Twitter anyway. Wall Street seems to be thrilled about Biz Stone’s return as well, sending the stock up over 2%. Twitter’s stock will take any boost it can get these days. And according to Stone, and presumably President Trump, “The world needs Twitter, and it’s here to stay.”

It’s the pits…

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Today is not a good day for the avocado industry. It seems Australian millionaire Tim Gurner said during an interview on Australia’s “60 Minutes” to ditch the avocados if you want to buy a house. It’s not that Gurner has anything against the green-fleshed delicacy. Only that Millennials should focus on saving their money towards purchasing a home and accumulating wealth instead of spending $19 on pricey avocado sandwiches. See the connection? Neither did plenty of Twitter users.  On Twitter @kalebhorton wrote: “Alright, I did the math. If I stopped eating avocado toast every day, I would be able to afford a bad house in Los Angeles in 642 years.” Foghorn Greghorn tweeted: “Avocado Toast $6.50 Data $150 House $650,000 Utility $150 someone who is good at the economy please help me budget this my family is dying.” But maybe Gurner’s onto something. After all, he is a real estate tycoon with an estimated $460 million. And I bet he owns lots of homes.

Tesla Takes On Ford; J. Crew Says Bye to Own Icon; Burberry Wants to Go Big

Race to the finish…

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Tesla’s market cap just left Ford Motor Co. in the eco-friendly dust today. It’s all because of a much anticipated, yet massive Model 3 rollout scheduled for later this year. Assuming everything goes smoothly with that massive rollout – and why wouldn’t it? – Tesla has pinned some very pricey hopes and dreams in the form of growth targets. Those growth targets sent the company’s stock up 5.7% and why shouldn’t they? After all, the luxury electric car company smacked down analysts estimates when it reported a shipment of 25,000 vehicles for its first quarter. In case you were wondering – because I know you were – that was almost a 70% increase from last year at this time. To be fair, however, the increase is not as impressive at second glance considering that Tesla experienced some production pains beginning in October. So the company was basically making up for the pains. In the meantime, as the second largest auto company in the United States, Ford delivered 6.7 million cars and trucks last year while Tesla delivered less than 80,000. Then, last year Ford hauled in a revenue of close to $152 billion while Tesla took in just $7 billion. Yet Tesla’s very magical market capitalization now comes in at $47.6 billion, compared to the much much older Ford Motor Co.’s $44.9 billion. Let that one sink in for a bit. And in case you were in the market for some Tesla shares, its stock is currently trading at around $293 a share.

Crew-cuts…

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J. Crew’s long-time creative director, Jenna Lyons, is out after just five years on that gig and over 20 years at the label. Which is just so cray cray since she is responsible for making so much of what made J. Crew…well, J. Crew. She is credited with turning the brand around a few years ago and making it super-popular and ultra-hip. In fact, she was so good at what she was doing that she became the face/icon of the prepster brand. But then there were a bunch of unfashionable issues, a 6.7% sales drop, following a more than 8% drop the year before.  The company, if you recall – and it’s okay if you don’t – was purchased for $3 billion back in 2011. Now the retailer is staring at the wrong end of $1.5 billion in debt. All that had company brass scratching its preppy head and wondering where did things go south and how could they be remedied. Apparently, part of that remedy involved saying goodbye to Lyons. Despite that, J. Crew is a retailer like any other, and we all know how darn ugly the fiscal landscape has been like as of late for all the players, big and small. But back to Lyons, rumor has it that her exit was a mutual decision.  Although, I’ve often wondered if the word mutual takes on a very different definition when describing people who find themselves leaving their high-level executive jobs.

Just so ya know…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pish-posh designer Burberry just signed a $225 million licensing deal with Coty. – as in the musk-maker. However, rest assured as there will be no trench coats involved. Instead, Coty will get exclusive global rights to Burberry’s make-up and fragrance brands – which might make zero sense to you but makes plenty of cents – and dollars for both Burberry and Coty. And here’s how it’s going to work: Burberry, which pulled down revenue of 203 million pounds last year (well, it is an English company) has got the creativity end covered because, well, it does. There is a reason, after all, why Burberry can charge so much money for its merchandise. But Coty is all about distribution, and in fact, the company is quite accomplished in that arena. Burberry was shrewd enough to recognize where it could use a little oomph. Or in this case, the English brand needed a lot of oomph. So the brand did some research and shopped around before it settled on a deal with Coty.  And Burberry will be in good company at Coty, as it will join other premium fragrances including Balenciaga, Gucci and Marc Jacobs, not to mention the Clairol and Rimmel brands.

Trump Tweets Threats of Big Taxes to GM Over Small Cars; Ford Rearranges Plants Much to Trump’s Delight; Trump’s Trade Pick China’s Worst Nightmare?

Small-fry…

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Trump is tweeting again, this time going after General Motors. The President-elect wants to slap some big ugly taxes on the auto company because it imports Chevrolet Cruzes from Mexico instead of making them in the United States. But here’s where things get dicey: According to GM, only the hatchback version of the car is made in Mexico, and are meant for global distribution. The sedans, however, are made in Ohio. Ohio. In fact, of the 172,000 Cruzes sold last year, only 4,500 of them came from Mexico.  Even the United Auto Workers Union doesn’t care if GM does assemble those cars in Mexico since the Ohio factory isn’t equipped to make the hatchbacks. (Incidentally, over 1,000 employees at this plant are getting laid off soon.)  Besides, it’s alot of fuss to make about a car whose sales were down 18% in November.  The fact is, low gas prices are leading to higher sale of of SUV’s and trucks.  And the Chevrolet Cruze doesn’t figure in very nicely here.  Which all probably explains why this latest Trump tweet didn’t even harm the stock.  While it did lose some juice early on, it rebounded into positive territory very very quickly.

Adios…

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In the meantime, just hours after Trump used his social media account to lash out at GM, Ford announced that it is officially scrapping plans to build a $1.6 billion assembly plant in Mexico. But that doesn’t mean its ditching our neighbor to the south. Instead, Ford will continue making Ford Focus compact cars in an existing plant there while taking $700 million from that budget to upgrade a plant in Michigan for building electric cars. And bonus: 700 jobs would be added to the mix for that Michigan plant. It’s all part of a bigger $4.5 billion plan that Ford had in place to manufacture 13 new models of both electric and hybrid cars. A win-win, no?  There are plenty who think it’s just a win for Trump, who made it clear that he’s not into NAFTA and that manufacturing cars in Mexico only hurts the U.S. economy.  They also think Fields scrapped his original plans in an effort to make nice with the incoming President, not to mention, avoid tariffs. However, Fields said he was planning to make this move anyway, whether Trump was elected or not. Which doesn’t explain why construction on the new plant already started in May. But anyway, you needn’t cry for Mexico…just yet. The existing plant in Mexico will be adding 200 jobs there as well, so that country doesn’t come out a total loser either. While shares of Ford rose on the news today, can you guess what happened to the peso? It took a .9% hit against the dollar.  How do you say “ouch” in Spanish?

In other Trump business news…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The President-elect has set his sights on his pick for the U.S. Trade Representative post. Enter Robert Lighthizer, a Reagan administration alum, who has spent the last thirty years representing major companies in anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases. Presumably, he was incredibly successful in that aspect of his career, or else Trump might not have looked in his direction.  According to Trump,  Lighthizer has made some very effective deals that protected significant sectors and industries in the U.S. economy. Yowza. Trump’s banking that Lighthizer will do something about “failed trade policies which have robbed so many Americans of prosperity.” That’s a definite plus for working in the Trump administration. As Trump’s top trade negotiator, one of Lighthizer’s major duties will be to try and reduce that pesky trade deficit and apparently, he has a knack for making deals that do just that. Lighthizer doesn’t care for the trade policies we have in place for China, so be sure to watch the drama that unfolds as he goes after one of the world’s largest economies. You can expect some big changes in that arena and damned be the Word Trade Organization rules if it comes to that. Which it just might considering Lighthizer’s not that into the WTO.

Starbucks Betting on $10 Coffee; Trump Ready to Dump on Pharmaceuticals; Trump’s June Stock Dump

Jolted…

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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is stepping down from his post in April with plans to build a Starbucks’ prestige brand where he will serve as its Executive Chairman. The idea is that by going upscale Starbucks will be able to raise its profile with those pesky millennials. Besides that, the company needs to compete with a number of other upscale rivals that keep rearing their gourmet heads all over the place. One thousand “Reserve” brand stores are slated to set up shop with another 30 large Reserve Roastery (expect to find that word added to a dictionary near you) and Tasting Rooms expected to open up all over the globe. In case you were wondering what one orders from this new prestige brand, you might consider purchasing a $10 cup of coffee that you can sip daintily from a glass siphon.  Or perhaps you’re up for paying $50 for an 8 oz. bag of an exotic, small-lot coffee? I’m sure you’ll find something worth depleting your funds.  In any case, Starbucks also announced plans to open another 12,000 stores –  that’s in addition to its already existing 25,000 stores –  in the next five years.  Five thousand stores are slated just for China. The company also plans to annually boost revenue by 10% while adding between 15% – 20% to its shares, and increase its focus on its food offerings since the coffee giant is convinced it can double its growth in that area.

What a pill…

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Donald Trump’s latest executive plans involve bringing down drug prices and the pharmaceutical companies that keep increasing them with seemingly reckless abandon. Which is kind of ironic since pharmaceutical stocks saw a huge surge following Trump’s election. And here they thought they had an ally. Hah! A Kaiser Family Foundation survey leading up to the election found that people felt drug prices were the number one healthcare issue for the next President. Well, I guess the President-elect is ready for it then. Sort of. Trump has yet to outline any concrete plans on how he is going to achieve this goal. But during his campaign, Trump did say that he is all in favor of consumers having their meds re-imported. He also wants Medicare for the elderly to renegotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical manufacturers. That should be fun to watch, especially because both the industry and many many Republicans are vehemently against that idea. Stay tuned for that drama. Just today, Pfizer Inc. and Flynn Pharmaceutical Ltd. were slapped with some massive record fines in the UK after raising drug prices by…wait for it…2,600%. Now, Pfizer will cough up about $106 million, while Flynn will fork over approximately $6.5 million. I guess they should be happy that they were busted in the U.K. and still have time to clean up their act in the United States before Trump-dom takes effect. In the meantime, Allergan Plc. CEO Brett Saunders is bracing himself for the new president’s impact and said Trump could end up being more “vicious” on pharmaceuticals and their drug pricing than Hillary Clinton might have been. But he also pledged to limit price increases to less than 10% per year. Or perhaps he did that lest Trump unleash his Twitter wrath on Allergan, just like he’s done to several other individual companies including Carrier Corp., Ford and Boeing.

Under-stocked…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yesterday, President-elect Donald Trump’s team announced, with no explicable reason as to the timing, that he sold off all of his stocks back in June. Don’t hold your breath for proof of that sell-off as none was provided. While being interviewed today on the “Today” show by host Matt Later after being named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year,” Trump explained that he decided to unload his stock holdings in order to avoid any conflicts of interest. How very gallant of Mr. Trump.  And even though the press was not made aware of it until yesterday, Donald Trump insisted that everybody already knew. We just don’t know who “everybody” is. Mr. Trump went on to say that he sold off his stocks since he knew he would win the election and would be making deals for the United States that could affect various companies in all sorts of different ways. That was indeed very thoughtful of him. He also said he didn’t even own that much stock.  Which is debatable at best since a recent filing from December of 2015 valued his holdings at $40 million. But in all fairness, his stock market holdings pale in comparison to his real estate holdings which apparently make up the bulk of his net worth.  Ethics experts, however, are suggesting those real-estate holdings might also be a conflict-of-interest as well. Just saying. It’s worth noting that since his sell-off, the S&P 500 went up over 10% while the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit some very impressive all-time highs. Since Trump’s victory, many stocks have also hit all-time highs and, of course, he’s taking credit for it.

Smackdown: Google, Facebook vs. Fake News; Controversy Over New Balance Seems Unbalanced; Ford Revs Up Tariff Debate with Trump

Just faking it…

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As the Trump controversies keep on pouring in, Google and Facebook have now decided to crusade against fake news, as widely shared, yet wholly fabricated stories about the candidates may (or may not) have adversely influenced the presidential election. Part of the problem began when Google realized that the top results for search phrases such as “final election results” and “who won the popular vote” were directing users to a fake news site. By Monday, Google started pulling AdSense from several sites that “misrepresent, misstate or conceal information” and were profiting off such bogus political news stories. As for Facebook, it plans to put the kibosh on ad money from fake sites, but it’s not entirely clear how it will achieve this objective and identify these sites. However, it seems to be a prudent move considering that, according to a Pew study, 44% of Americans get their news from the social network giant. No matter how you slice it, the internet and social media figured prominently last Tuesday and now everyone’s looking to find out what went wrong – or right.

Unbalanced…

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Privately-held company New Balance has inadvertently, and presumably unwillingly, become the unofficial “official shoes of white people.” Unlike its much more enormous rival, Nike, the 110 year old Boston-based New Balance has always been committed to manufacturing its products in the U.S. across 14 factories where it employs over 1,400 people of various races, ethnicities, genders, religions etc. Hence, the company never cared much for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement that gives companies – like Nike – a very humongous edge because they can manufacture a greater quantity of goods abroad, for a lot lot less money than doing it here. The TPP basically jeopardizes companies who choose to domestically produce goods by making for a very un-level playing field. Because Trump is a huge fan of domestic manufacturing and job creation, his election was welcome news for New Balance. And when New Balance said as much, social media either skewered the company and called for boycotts and mass destruction of the sneakers or had white supremacists proclaiming it as their footwear of choice.  Incidentally, New Balance supported the trade policies of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders too.  A fact that both Trump haters and white supremacists seemed to have overlooked.

Have you manufactured a Ford lately?

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

After congratulating Donald Trump on his election last week, Ford Motors CEO Mark Fields shared some thoughts about Trump’s proposed 35% tariffs on imports – he thinks they’re a bad idea. After reporting a 12% decline in car sales for October earlier this month, Fields said in a speech given at the L.A. Auto show, that those tariffs will have a very big bad impact on the U.S economy and trusts (or hopes) that Trump will do what’s in the best interests of the United States. However, Trump, early on in his campaign spoke about how he didn’t appreciate the fact that Fields moved Ford’s small car production to Mexico, where wages are a whopping 80% less than what they are in the U.S. If you recall, Trump thinks NAFTA is “the single worst trade deal ever approved in this country” and he’s licking his chops to put the kibosh on it. Although, to counter that last tidbit, Fields did say that Ford added 25,000 jobs since 2011. In the meantime, experts have said that Trump’s tariffs, which are on this side of punitive, in fact, violate the rules of the World Trade Organization. So it’s anybody’s guess how far those tariffs will actually go.

Game on Oprah! John Oliver’s $15M Giveaway; Fortune 500 Companies’ Latest Surprises; Burberry Boss Paycheck Getting a Whole Lot Smaller

New queen of daytime…

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Move over Oprah. John Oliver just achieved god-status in the television talk show realm after buying nearly $15 million in medical debt and then forgiving it. Poof. Just like that. On his latest show “This Week Tonight with John Oliver,” the talk-show host took on the debt collecting/buying industry, which can be dubbed “shady” at best. Oliver said, “It is pretty clear by now (that) debt buying is a grimy business, and badly needs more oversight, because as it stands any idiot can get into it.” So John Oliver did “get into it,” and spent just $50 to start his very own debt collection company called Central Asset Recovery Professional aka CARP. It’s no coincidence, he pointed out, that the company is named after the bottom-feeding fish. Oliver’s company was almost immediately offered close to $15 million in medical debt from 9,000 Americans, social security numbers, names and addresses included, for just half a cent on the dollar. In case you were wondering, that came out to about $60,000. Then, with the simple push of a red button, John Oliver, forgave the debt, presumably with funds from his own bank account. But most importantly, Oliver easily trumped Oprah Winfrey’s 2004 television giveaway, when she gave out $8 million worth of cars to 276 audience members. And he didn’t even do it for ratings. Sort of.

Rank and file…

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Fortune Magazine’s annual list of the biggest 500 companies by revenue for fiscal 2015 is out and it was Netflix that was making big waves this year. The video streaming site, which launched in 130 new countries in January, and was the top fiscal performer for 2015, ticked up 95 spots to the 379th spot. However, while the climb was quite impressive, there are still 378 companies that rank higher than Netflix. Rounding out those top spots are Walmart, ExxonMobil, Apple and Berkshire Hathaway. No big surprises there. Apple, by the way, which moved up to two spots from last year’s fifth place, was the most profitable company on the list, earning $53 billion for fiscal 2015. Companies including GM, Ford and AT&T also cracked the top ten with Amazon landing at number 18 and Walgreens following close behind at number 19. Microsoft managed to crack the top 25 for the first time ever as Facebook climbed 85 spots this year to claim its 157th ranking. Interestingly enough, more than half of the companies on the list saw a drop in sales, with energy companies taking the biggest beating of all.

Pay raze…

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The CEO of Burberry Group PLC, Christopher Bailey, will now have to switch to generic brands when he goes grocery shopping. After failing miserably to post respectable earnings results, the dapper exec will watch as 75% his paycheck vanishes into thin air. The CEO, who also serves as the Chief Creative Officer – and herein, might lay the problem –  will earn a paltry $2.74 million this year, a far cry from the $10.8 million he scored last year. Shareholders are also withholding his bonus for missing profit targets. That might seem a bit harsh, but shareholders in hundreds of companies are getting fed up with massive executive salaries that are completely at odds with results. Bailey, however, is not the only executive at the company who will be experiencing the fiscal wrath of the Burberry shareholders. Executive directors at the fashion house will also be stripped of their bonuses this year, because after all, it’s not like Bailey was solely responsible for shares of Burberry taking a 35% hit in the last twelve months. Burberry has announced that it will implement a cost-cutting plan – that has little to do with Bailey’s pay cut – in addition to a share-buyback program. Prudent moves when a companies reports disappointing fiscal earnings. But the earnings may not be entirely Bailey’s fault. Consider that 40% of Burberry sales come from the Chinese, who are in the midst of their own fiscal woes.