Google Spits in the Face of Online Payday Lenders; This Trump’s For You; Mega Merger Nixed

Well if Google’s doing it…

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Google has been able to do what politicians couldn’t. Which might mean that its up to Google to Make America Great Again. In any case, online payday lenders are officially getting the boot from Google.  Come July 13, companies that deal in online payday loans wont get their ads displayed above search results under Google’s AdWords program. If you think that’s awfully harsh, then consider that payday loans are often due in 60 days and carry annual interest rates of at least 36%. Other types of loans and lenders will still be able to keep their ads in place, though. For now. Facebook has been banning payday loan ads since last summer, while Yahoo has still yet to catch on. A payday lender trade group called Google’s new policy “discriminatory and a form of censorship.” However, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has its own thoughts about the online payday lending industry. The CFPB’s cold hard research highlights the numerous hidden risks, costly banking fees and account closures resulting from these loans. The industry also tends to disproportionately target minorities. The CFPB found that a staggering one third of borrowers had their accounts closed by their banks while half of the borrowers paid an average of $185 in back penalties. And that’s before you even get to the annual percentage rate of 391% that are placed on these types of loans

 

This America’s for you…

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Next time you reach for an icy cold brew, you might just be wondering why it looks a little different. Riding the fiscal wave of patriotism, Budweiser will be rebranding its cans “America.” Instead of the slogan “King of Beers,” beer drinkers will find the slogan “E Pluribus Unum” on the cans. And in case it matters, Donald Trump is taking the credit that companies are inspired by his “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. Really. During an interview on Fox News, Trump said, “They’re so impressed with what our country will become. They decided to do this before the fact.” Never mind that Budweiser’s parent company, Anheuser Busch InBev is Belgian. That’s just a minor detail. Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, along with Hershey’s, Coca Cola, Wal-Mart and even Carl’s Jr. are using patriotic marketing campaigns that are expected to last well past election season. To be fair, Hershey is utilizing this tactic because the company is an official sponsor of the Olympic U.S. team. For the first time in 122 years, the coloring on Hershey bars will be different , as red, white and blue will feature prominently on the confection’s wrappers. As for Wal-Mart, the gigantic retailer made a pledge back in 2013 to buy $250 billion worth of products that are “made in the U.S.A.” And let’s forget that minor hiccup when the chain was investigated by the FTC for mislabeling products that were, in fact, not made domestically.

Lay off my stapler!

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Shares of Staples and Office Depot took a nasty beating after a Federal judge ruled that the two companies cannot merge in fiscal blissful matrimony. The $6.3 billion merger was nixed since the judge felt that a huge merger between the two largest office supplies suppliers would be a horrible thing for consumers. The Federal Trade Commission thought the merger was as anti-competitive as it gets and couldn’t be more pleased with the judge’s ruling. Both the judge and the FTC felt competitive pricing, quality and service would be tossed aside as consumers would look on helplessly as they handed over their hard-earned cash. Office Depot said it won’t appeal the ruling. And why should it? It’s now going to get a $250 million break up fee from Staples. But that $250 million pales in comparison to the revenue it would have seen and the money it would have saved had the merger gone through. This was the second time, since 1997, that the two companies tried to merge. Shares of Staples fell 20% on the news at one point during the day, while Office Depot tanked about 40%. Staples and Office Depot continue to take massive hits from the other competition, Amazon. Amazon’s business to business division is but a year old, yet it already racked up more than a billion dollars in sales. And that’s while Staples and Office Depot were hit with massive losses.

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Staple’D: FTC Wants to Quash Merger; Keurig Coffee Wants Privacy; Chipotle Earnings Not Coming Up Fresh

Deja vu…

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Nothing like a pesky lawsuit to put a crimp in your $6.3 billion proposed takeover plans. Which is exactly what happened to Staples Inc. when the FTC voted unanimously, in a 4-0 vote, to try and put the kibosh on the office supply retailer’s’ attempted takeover of Office Depot by filing a suit to block the deal. The deal, which was expected to generate $39 billion in revenue, has the FTC concerned that the merger would create just one mammoth national office supply retailer that would yield too much power to raise prices, whether it be private consumers or commercial entities, many of which have big vendor contracts. This is not the first time that Staples has tried to pick up Office Depot. Back in 1997, the company attempted to do the same thing but was blocked from doing so even back then. Because the office supply marketplace has changed so much, given the availability of office supplies via e-commerce, Staples was certain this time there would be no issue. Besides, in 2012 the FTC approved a merger between Office Depot and Office Max merged on the basis that there was enough competition from Amazon, Wal-Mart and other outfits that allowed for a healthy amount of competition. Instead, of a merger today, however,  shares of Staples Inc. fell 14%, the most in 18 months, while shares of Office Depot fell 18% on news of the FTC lawsuit.

Perky…

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Big news in the single-serve coffee pod marketplace – yeah that’s a real thing: Keuring Green Mountain Inc. is going private to the tune of $13.9 billion and getting $92 per share. For real. In fact, that price is a 78% premium over Friday’s closing price. For real again. So what would make a company like that want to go private? Well it was an offer the coffee maker couldn’t refuse. That’s part of it anyway. The company posted some disappointing numbers and is down 60% just this year. Besides the ever-increasing competition in the single-serve pod market, Keuring also struck out with its KOLD product. Enter German company JAB who wants to be the numero uno North American coffee purveyor. And why not? It’s a $6.1 billion industry there alone and makes $15 billion globally. Did I mention that North America drinks up a big 40% of that global market share? JAB already picked up Peet’s Coffee and Tea and Caribou Coffee as it attempts to compete with Nestle. So far, JAB has the upper hand. By a lot. Indeed, news of the deal sent Keurig stock up 74%, which is especially good for Coca Cola since it owns 25.87 million shares, a 17.4% stake that adds up to about $2.4 billion. That’s even more good news for Coke since that’s how much it can expect to get from JAB for its shares. Of course, with any major deal, it is subject to shareholder approval. But assuming the deal’s approved, it will likely close by April.

No más

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Even millenials can’t help Chipotle with this one. The fresh-food restaurant chain saw its shares hit its lowest point in eighteen months, all the way down to $515 per share. Never mind that the stock is currently trading at around $543 a share. But I digress. Much of that slide can be blamed on the e. coli outbreak that had the chain closing a number of its locations since most of the 52 people who picked up the virus said they had eaten at Chipotle. The company is expecting a drop in same store sales between 8% – 11% for its fourth quarter. Chipotle also now expects earnings per share from $2.45 – $2.88. That’s especially brutal when you consider that analysts were expecting about $4.06 to be added, not to mention the fact that at this time last year the company pulled in $3.85 per share. The stock has been on a downward slide since news of the e. coli outbreak was first reported back in October. The stock has fallen 22% since then and is down 18% for the year.

Disney’s Magical Earnings; Staples looking to Buy $6.3 billion Worth of…More Staples; Ralph Lauren’s Earnings Not Looking Stylish

Let it surge…

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Shares of Walt Disney Co. hit a spell-binding all-time high to just under $100 a share after it came out with its first quarter earnings. While the magical company behind the even more magical kingdom didn’t give all the credit to “Frozen,”  executives did mention the movie of sisterly love a whopping 24 times during the company conference call. One might think, based on that call, that “Frozen” is Disney’s only franchise. But in fact, the company has 11 of them raking in over $1 billion a year. Perhaps you’ve heard of one that goes by the name “Star Wars”? Or how ’bout the folks who call themselves, “The Avengers”? Then there’s that dude in spandex, who anointed himself “Spiderman” as he shares a lot in common with the arachnid community. Oh and don’t forget Cinderella either. But yeah, the “Frozen” phenomenon and all its related merchandise did do a lot for Disney’s record quarterly sales which saw major action during the holiday season. Walt Disney Co. also has tons of other stuff things going on and making money like say, theme parks, ESPN, and all sorts of (expensive) entertainment of the non-franchise variety. The House of Mouse pulled in a profit of $2.18 billion and $1.27 per share. Clearly analysts have yet to see “Frozen” as they only expected Disney to come in at $1.07 per share.

Man, that’s a lot of staples…

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Image courtesy of anankkml/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Staples is looking to add to its arsenal of staples by buying Office Depot to the tune of $6.3 billion at roughly $11 per share. It’s their second go at it. In 1996, the two companies tried to merge but the FTC put the kibosh on the deal over antitrust concerns.  Something about giving the American people a choice, I suspect.  This impending merger is still subject to regulatory approval however, it’s not expected to be challenged this time for two very nifty reasons: 1.) The FTC already approved the Office Depot/OfficeMax merger, so it would be so unfair if it didn’t approve this one and 2.) The internet has changed things so the FTC isn’t so worried about Staples being the only office supply game in town. Besides, even if the FTC says no to the union, it’s still a win for Office Depot as Staples will pay $250 million to OfficeDepot as a break-up fee. Gotta love a break-up fee. The two companies have 4,000 stores between them, though Staples has been in the process of closing down over 200 stores to boost profits while Office Depot has been closing unnecessary stores after its OfficeMax merger.

So passé…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ralph Lauren’s clothes may be beautiful but its earnings sure aren’t. The famed iconic apparel company, which also owns Club Monaco and American Living, actually had to lower its full year revenue growth forecast. Again. Basically, the company is saying that it doesn’t expect to pull in as much money as its investors would like and they should brace themselves. Because it’s never the fault of the company when it posts bad earnings, Ralph Lauren is blaming that annoying strong dollar of ours and also the fact that people here aren’t buying the stuff. Except on Wall Street they say “weak consumer spending” like it’s our fault. Profit for the company was $215 million and $2.41 per share. Sounds decent except when you consider that last year, the  label pulled in $237 million and $2.57 per share. Meanwhile, revenue was up. A little. By 0.9%. To around $2.03 billion. Oh well.

Blame Portugal (Some More), Amazon’s Latest Legal Tangle and Wells Fargo Sets the Stage (Hopefully)

Busted…

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Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Amazon is getting busted by the FTC. The e-commerce site is being sued by the government agency for charging parents millions of dollars for unauthorized in-app purchases made by their tech-savvy children. Kids were (are?) able to purchase virtual goods using their parents very real money without very real permission. Not only does the FTC want Amazon to refund all that cash but it also wants the internet company to actually stop. Amazon’s policy on refunding in-app purchases is to NOT refund them. However, Amazon says it has already done otherwise and was “deeply disappointed” about the lawsuit. No kidding. In January, Apple had to refund over $32 million for the same reason while T-Mobile got sued last week for bogus billing charges.

Trouble in Portugal?

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There is even more reason to blame Portugal today now that country’s regulator suspended trading for Banco Espirito Santo since the price of its shares took a major nosedive. The bank  is part of the Espirito Santo International conglomerate that has been causing so much trouble lately. The problem for us here across the pond is that Wall Street isn’t taking to kindly to these banking problems and the Dow Jones took a .4% hit over these events. Wall Street, the rest of the world (and myself ) start to wonder if European banks are “healthy.” The index of European lenders, appropriately enough called STOXX, already fell to its lowest this year with no thanks to Austria and Bulgaria who contributed to these “wonderings” with their own banking issues. And while Banco Espirito Santo might seem like a minor player in the banking field, its very big problems spread to its neighbors in Greece, Italy and Spain. The Portugese Prime Minister said there is no reason to worry for depositors to worry and the country’s banking practices are a-ok. Isn’t that reassuring?

Now that’s healthy…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

On the flip side, Wells Fargo seems very healthy – especially compared to European banks. It was the first of the big banks to announce its second quarter earnings and kicked off the season with a 4% gain with much help, thanks, and a major debt of gratitude (no pun intended – well maybe just a little) to loans, especially commercial, and deposit growth. The company had a net income of $5.7 billion, up from $5.5 billion from a year ago and gained $1.01 per share. Revenue was over $21 billion which was actually down 1.5% from a year ago but shares are still up over 28% since October.