Ralph Lauren’s Man with a Plan; Voila! French Rogue Trader Gets Last Laugh…Almost;Ya-Who Will Get the Winning Bid?

 

Plan of attack…

ID-100356958

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ralph Lauren will bite the very preppy bullet and start cutting jobs, closing stores and cashing out on some real estate as the retailer tries to climb out of a dismal fiscal year. Out of its 15,000 full-time employees, 1,000 of them will soon be getting their walking papers so the company can restructure itself and go from nine management layers to six. Spearheading these new changes are CEO Stefan Larrson, who is the person responsible for lifting Gap Inc.’s Old Navy out of its own retail funk awhile back. And Larsson’s got his work cut out for him. The retailer posted sales losses for every quarter of fiscal 2016, resulting in a full year sales decline of 3% and a 30% decline in shares in the last twelve months. Part of Larsson’s plan to lift Ralph Lauren out of its misery is to speed things up. Literally. It currently takes well over a year for a design to hit shelves ,which accounts for improperly forecasting supply and demand. Instead, Larsson will shorten that turnaround, as he feels that nine months is a perfectly reasonable amount of time for designs to reach stores. Unfortunately, 50 of those stores will be closing. But at least there will be over 440 other stores from which to purchase those expedited designs. Phew. While this restructuring will cost Ralph Lauren a whopping $400 million, not to mention an additional $150 million in inventory reduction, this new plan will also help the retailer save $220 million a year and Ralph Lauren needs every million it can get.

Wait a minute…

ID-10078090

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Societe General Bank’s very own rogue trader, Jerome Kerviel, just got his day in court. Even though his poor trading skills cost the French bank billion in euros, and got him convicted of fraud and breach of trust in the process, the trader still managed to win a wrongful dismissal case against his former employer. What was, in fact, wrongful, was that SocGen waited too long between the time it discovered Kerviel’s misdeeds and the time it booted him from the firm. French labor code allows companies a grand total of two months to sanction those who have been found guilty of misconduct. Kerviel, however, was dismissed in 2008, many many months after the time, in 2007, when it was discovered that he went rogue and lost 4.9 billion euros. The Labor Court has now ordered SocGen to pay Kerviel 450,000 euros, which is roughly equivalent to $510,000. SocGen’s lawyer, Arnaud Chalut, called the ruling “scandalous,” presumably in French, and plans to appeal the decision. Kerviel, however, is not in the clear just yet and neither is his $510,000. France’s highest court already ruled that the three years of jail time to which Kerviel was sentenced was justified. But the court didn’t feel that he should be liable for the whole 4.9 billion euros. So the bank has brought a civil suit against Kerviel, which begins next week, to determine exactly how much he should pay back to SocGen.

Bid adieu…

ID-100206914

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Verizon is on the prowl for some internet business and it is honing in on Yahoo. The telecom giant is said to be bidding $3 billion for the privilege of owning Yahoo’s core internet biz, however, Verizon is not the only company looking to scoop up that entity. AT&T is said to be licking its chops at the opportunity, in addition to private equity firm TPG , Advent International and Vista Equity Partners, to name but a few. Experts were thinking that bids would come in between $4 billion and $8 billion. But then some bidders lost interest after Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made a presentation last month showing how Yahoo’s online ad biz is headed south, losing digital advertising ground to Facebook, Google and even Twitter. Yahoo, however, might just prove to be the perfect fit for Verizon, which already picked up AOL last year for $4.4 billion. Together with AOL, the two companies attract over one billion users every month. There is probably going to be one more bidding cycle before any deals are reached and it’s still anybody’s guess where Yahoo will land. But if I were a betting man…well, I’m not.

Advertisements

George Soros, Golden Boy; Home Run for Home Depot; Pandora’s Streaming Away From Profits

Just because George Soros is doing it…

ID-100342220

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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…

ID-10045074

Image courtesy of Kookkai_nak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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…

ID-100278591

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

Gap Tries to Bridge Its Sales Gap; Under Armour CEO Lofty Leadership Plans; Fitbit Not So Bitty Ticker Plans

Big Gap-ing hole…

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Gap Inc. finally realized that its brand just isn’t what it used to be and has decided to shutter about 175 of its 675 specialty stores. What once might have been considered the Generation X go to wardrobe supplier, has now become passé to the millennials, many of whom, ironically, are employed by the Gap. Millennials have been opting to shop at “fast” brands like Zara, H&M and Forever 21, leaving the Gap holding the empty shopping bag of fiscal anguish. And not to be a downer, but when I browsed through a Gap last week, I wasn’t exactly swooning over the merchandise which the store was practically giving away. Shoppers are doing a lot more of their shopping online so there was no great pay-off in having so many stores open anyways. About 250 employees over at Gap headquarters in San Francisco are also set to lose their jobs and all these cuts are expected to cost between $140 – $160 million.

So classy…

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank has big plans to lead the company he founded for many many years. Good thing he figured out way to do just that – by offering up more shares to investors. Of course, these aren’t your regular average shares. These shares do carry all the rights and privileges that come with owning a company stock – but with one itty bitty difference: the shares carry no voting power.  The company already has class A shares and class B shares. With class A shares, a shareholder gets one vote per share, while class B shares get ten votes per share owned. In case you haven’t figured it out, Kevin Plank holds most of those shares giving him lots of control. But, the board of directors had no problem with Kevin Plank’s class-y plan, unanimously passing it through. And why should the board take issue with it? Under Plank’s guidance, he led the company to a $17 billion valuation. The problem, however, that everybody seems to be wondering about, is what happens if Kevin Plank begins to under-perform?

Speaking of class-y shares…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fitbit is getting pumped up to make its big ticker debut on Thursday and gearing up to offer 34.5 million class A shares which are set to go for between $17 – $19 a pop. That’s a bit higher than the $14 – $16 range it was going for a few weeks back.  That means the company, famous for its wearable fitness tracker,  could end up with a potential valuation of almost $4 billion.  And while you may bemoan the thought of exercise, there are a lot you out there who are eager to get fit, as evidenced by the $745 million in revenue Fitbit pulled down last year, earning a $100 million profit with that. Of course there’s still a lot of competition out there when it comes to wearable fitness trackers which has investors pondering just how Fitbit is going to set itself apart from the pack. Then there’s that other slight problem where users decide to ditch their trackers after just a few months. But hey, it’s only money, right?

Morgan Stanley Finally Owns Up to All the Trouble It Caused; It’s a Darn Claim Unemployment Filings Are Up; Sears is Losing It

It was just a matter of time…

Image courtesy of  dream designs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dream designs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Morgan Stanley is taking a bit of a beating today on Wall Street now that it has finally finally settled with the Department of Justice over its shady little role leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. Morgan Stanley reached a deal with the DOJ  that’ll have the bank paying $2.6 billion to get Uncle Sam off its back.  Attorney General Eric Holder and the DOJ will graciously end their probe into whether Morgan Stanley duped investors by telling them how very great their home loans were when in fact, they were anything but. This settlement is sure to put a major dent in MorganStanley’s 2014 profits. By major, I mean it’ll eat up nearly 50% of what MorganStanley got to take home in 2014. It officially lands Morgan Stanley on that illustrious list of banks who also had to shell out billion dollar settlements to the DOJ for their smarmy actions leading up to and during the 2008 financial crisis, including  – but not limited to –  Bank of America who reigns the top spot with a $16.7 billion payout. It’s followed by JPMorgan Chase which holds the number two spot for its $13 billion settlement. Citigroup rounds out the group with a $7 billion settlement.

Don’t stake this claim… 

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The number of people filing jobless claims went up. Not down. But up. The number climbed to 313,000 people instead of a projected 290,000. While the news is a bit of drag, economists  – who presumably know a thing or two  – are telling us that we can’t work ourselves up into a collective panic over one month’s lousy numbers. At least for now, anyway. First, the number of people filing those claims is still relatively close to the 300,000 mark. If it were way past that number, then yeah, having a fiscal freak out might be considered almost acceptable. Two, the labor market’s rockin’, sort of, and hiring is strong, which brings us to reason number three. Because hiring is strong, wages are actually going up. Walmart, TJ Maxx, Gap…the list goes on as to how many retailers are raising its employees’ wages. All these factors allow us to almost ignore this fiscal hiccup. However, leave it to Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen to remind us that, “wage growth remains sluggish” and that there’s always room for improvement.  You don’t say.

Loser…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sears isn’t having a very good year. Actually it hasn’t had a good year in…well, many many years. It just reported its fourth straight year of losses with this quarter losing $159 million and $1.50 per share. Incidentally, that figure is not nearly as dismal as last year’s $358 million fourth quarter loss. So you see, there is a bright side. Sort of. Run by the The Hoffman Estates, which also runs Kmart, the company has tried just about everything to help the ailing retailer reverse its downward financial spiral. From store closures to slashing inventory, the retailer has tried countless ways to cut costs. The company closed over 230 stores in 2014 and today has over 1,700 stores, which sounds impressive. But you know what’s more impressive? The over 3,500 stores the company had five years ago. The latest plan is to spin off between 200-300 stores into a REIT, which stands for Real Estate investment trust, by the way. The idea is apparently going to allow the failing company to pick up some $2 billion and help turn the fiscal tide. But if you want to know how exactly that works you’re on your own.

Tesla’s Earnings Are Charged; Whole Foods Surprises; Posh Earnings for Kate Spade

It’s electric…

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tesla investors are squealing with energy efficient delight today as the electric car company released third quarter earnings that beat the Street. Perhaps you might have noticed a few more Model S cars tooling around your neighborhood? Well it’s no coincidence that Tesla set a delivery record for those fabulously, environmentally-friendly automobiles. Expect to see even more of them as CEO Elon Musk plans to ship out 50,000 Model S cars in 2015. In fact, just in this quarter alone, Tesla whisked off over 7,800 cars to new owners – over 41% more than last year at this time. Unfortunately, the company didn’t fare so well on its net loss – a whopping $75 million. However, the company blames stuff like the costs involved in opening stores in Asia, not to mention all those pesky fees for research on its upcoming SUV. Analysts predicted Tesla would lose a penny a share. But wouldn’t you know it – it raked in $0.02 per share instead. Analysts also predicted revenues of $892 million but were foiled once again as the company posted $932 million in revenue.

Whole-Y organic cow…

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It wasn’t the best quarter, or year, for that matter, for Whole Foods. After all, having to compete against mainstream supermarkets that offer up organic fare for so much less is…hard. But it looks like the grocery chain did okay, after all, seeing as how it reported a 5.8% profit increase in its quarterly report. Perhaps it’s those touching, poignant commercials that have caught your organic eye. Or maybe you enjoy the perks from the Whole Foods customer loyalty program (who wouldn’t?). The company also put the spotlight on value and its attempt to lower prices. That profit spike was also probably helped by its tech offerings like Instacart and the Apple Pay option. Whatever it was, the green green grocer managed to bag a $128 million, $0.35 per share profit from its 360+ stores. There was only one not-so-slight problem: Whole Foods had its lowest growth rate in four years.

Now that’s pretty…

Image courtesy of Sicha Pongjivanich/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sicha Pongjivanich/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Nothing says fashionable like a 30% rise in sales. Which must make Kate Spade & Co. very posh indeed. Especially because those surprisingly fashon-forward numbers came after the company said its margins would likely be an “issue.” The trendy label even saw shares climb 10% in pre-market trading today. All while fellow fashion companies and competitors Michael Kors and Coach have been seeing numbers that would make even the most durable fabrics want to shrivel up into nowhere. So what gives? Well for one thing, at Kate Spade promotions are out, for now anyways. What is in are theme-driven sales. You might not care for the lack of promotions not being offered but it’s certainly working for Kate Spade’s numbers. The company earned $0.02 per share  with net sales up 36% to over $250 million. To be fair though, analysts did expect $4 million more. But that might change now that it is teaming up with the Gap. The company has 98 stores and 57 outlets. Kate Spade is hoping it can double its sales by the end of 2016 to $2 billion (aren’t we all?).