Cyber-Attack on U.S. Law Firms Nets Big Illicit Gains for Chinese Hackers; Alexa Gave Amazon a Very Fiscal-Merry Christmas; Fred’s Whips Out the Poison

All hacked up…

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Some of New York’s finest, most prestigious law firms fell victim to a few Chinese hackers when they hacked into the firms’ computer systems and stole valuable information regarding mergers and acquisitions. That information was then used for insider trading which netted the cyber-attackers over $4 million in illegal profits. The attacks happened between April of 2014 – 2015 when the hackers installed malware on the computer networks of the law firms and then downloaded the information from email accounts. U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara said, “This case of cyber meets securities fraud should serve as a wake-up call for law firms around the world: you are and will be targets of cyber hacking, because you have information valuable to would-be criminals.” The 13 count indictment details how the suspects purchased shares from certain companies involved in mergers and acquisitions and then sold those shares for a massive profit once those mergers and acquisitions were announced.  In the meantime, the SEC has filed its own parallel civil suit against the alleged perps and has asked to have their assets frozen lest they try and cash out on their ill-gotten gains.

It’s all about Alexa…

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The results are in. Well, some of them, anyway. In this case, Amazon is claiming to be the big merry winner (cue the surprised facial expressions) of the retail game we call Christmas – and Hanukah too, of course. Amazon said it shipped more than one billion items through Prime and fulfillment services and, apparently, four of Amazon’s very own devices were the biggest sellers on the e-commerce giant’s site. Go figure. Those top sellers include the Echo Dot Smart Speaker, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick Media Streamer, the Fire Tablet and the regular (plain-old?) standard Echo Speaker.  Just don’t bother asking Amazon for specific sales figures. The company has a nasty habit of not divulging such useful information. Incidentally, the Fire Tablet and Fire TV Stick were also hot sellers last year. With the exception of the Amazon Echo Smart Speakers, the other three cost $5o or less and at those prices it’s easy to see why consumers scooped them up. In fact, sales for Echo devices were nine times higher than they were last year. All the devices, by the way, come with the Alexa voice assistant and Amazon saw a record number of orders for devices that come with Alexa. Only problem was those Echo speakers went too fast. Amazon sold out of them by the middle of December.

Going for the poison…

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Last week Fred’s was on top of the world, after agreeing to buy 865 RiteAid stores for $1 billion. The deal was a win-win. RiteAid needed to dump those stores in order to get regulatory approval to merge with Walgreens Boots Alliance. By purchasing those 865 stores, Fred’s basically doubled its size overnight, going from a market cap $450 million to $1.3 billion. It also experienced a massive stock increase and effectively became the third largest drugstore chain in the U.S. as well as the new darling of the retail pharmacy industry.  But then came activist investor Alden Global, which apparently picked up a 25% stake in Fred’s when no one was paying attention. When the Fred’s board noticed the unusual activity going on with its shares, it unanimously approved a nifty little tactic affectionately dubbed a “poison pill.” A poison pill is simply a shareholder rights plan that kicks into place in the event of a hostile takeover. The targeted company tries to make shares look less valuable and attractive, i.e. “poisonous” to a potential acquirer.  If control is taken, at least shareholders will then be compensated accordingly with a “poison pill” in place.  Fred’s poison pill is meant to take effect when an individual or a group scoops up 10% or more of the company shares. Alden thinks Fred’s shares are undervalued and see their acquisition as a great investment opportunity. Although, Fred’s did deny they threw together the poison pill plan because of a potential takeover bid.

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Nike’s Sales Bruised By Yeezy; McDonald’s Gets Busted for Over-Valuing Value-Meal; Lookout! There’s A Lot More Walgreens/RiteAid Coming Your Way

Yeezy breezy…

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Nike’s quarterly profit might be up 7% thanks to strong demand in China and the United States, but that doesn’t mean everything is coming up roses at the athletic apparel company. Fierce competition from Under Armour and Adidas have been hammering away at Nike’s sales, partly because Adidas knocked it out of the park this year, thanks to Kanye West (it’s okay, I cringed too) and his Yeezy line, which saw sales go up 62%. Under Armour’s Stephan Curry’s shoe and apparel line definitely stole plenty of Nike’s mojo too. So Nike has been in quest mode to find all sort of ways to boost sales from, improving online sales features to cutting prices on some of its more popular offerings. One of Nike’s divisions that took a beating this quarter and fell short of expectations was its ever-important basketball division.  Apparently, consumers weren’t feeling the love for LeBron James and Kevin Durant sneakers when they were sporting a $200 price tag. Nike is banking that a $150 price tag will have people biting a little more. The company is also working on a faster supply chain dubbed “express lane” to bring products to market within weeks instead of months. In an effort to set itself apart from the competition, Nike’s come out with self-tying lace-up shoes. If you’re that lazy, they might actually be worth the $720 price tag. Profit from Nike came in at $842 million, with revenue of $8.18 billion and 50 cents added per share. That’s especially good since Nike’s stock has fallen 17% in the last year and Wall Street only expected $8.1 billion and 43 cents per share. Last year at this time the company posted $785 million  in profit and added 45 cents per share.

Un-happy meal…

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McDonald’s is staring at the wrong end of a lawsuit for 41 cents. 41 cents. Turns out the value meal is anything but since it would be 41 cents cheaper to buy the items individually than to buy the bundled package for $5.90 in certain locations. Enter plaintiff James Gertie who discovered this mathematical irregularity at two McDonald’s restaurants in the Chicago area.  The restaurants in question are operated by Karis Management and Gertie wants the suit to get class-action status for consumer fraud and deceptive practices. He says the lawsuit is about principle and is seeking a refund for any customer who purchased the meal at a McDonald’s restaurant operated by Karis. Those 41 cent refunds could add up to a lot of cash as Karis operates ten restaurants in and around Chicago. In the meantime, Karis has yet to comment on the case or the price discrepancy.  As for other McDonald’s all over the world, well, you’re just going to have to do your due diligence to see if their numbers add up or not.

Urge to merge…

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Walgreens Boots Alliance and RiteAid will finally get their way now that they sold off some 865 RiteAid stores to retail chain Fred’s. That’s what the two companies had to in order to appease the Federal Trade Commission so that it could go ahead with its $9.4 billion merger. Together, the new entity will still have over 12,000 locations from which to choose and will effectively become the largest drug store chain in the United States, effectively taking up 46% of the market. Fred’s currently has almost 650 discounted general merchandise stores and is looking to become the third largest drug store chain in the United States.  It’s also trying to reinvent itself by ditching its former name of Fred’s Super Dollar.  Fred’s had to borrow a whopping $1.65 billion in order to get those 865 stores, but it also had to pledge, as collateral, just about everything it has in the form of assets, and maybe even throw in a few bodily organs as well, to secure that loan.  The stores actually cost $950 million but other expenses, operating and otherwise, necessitated the full $1.65 billion. It should prove to be well worth it, however, as the deal will more than double Fred’s size.  Plus, the deal sent shares of Fred’s surging a mind-blowing 85% to $20.75. And who doesn’t like an 85% surge in shares, right?