Grocery Disrupt: Amazon’s Latest Venture Good Become a Store Near You; Tyson’s New Add-Venture; Trump’s Taxing Tariff Tweets

Move over, humans…

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Just when you to start to wonder what else Amazon could possibly do to disrupt and reinvent the retail shopping experience, along comes Amazon Go, an actual brick-and-mortar-store brought to you by the e-commerce giant. Talk about irony. The concept, which is still being tested by Amazon employees, allows shoppers to literally grab food and walk out. No lines. No cashiers. Customers just take their cellphones and tap them on a turnstile to get logged into the store’s network, which in turn connects to the Amazon Prime app, already conveniently installed on their phones. Customers pick items off the shelf and put them into their cart while, with the aid of sensors and artificial intelligence, the same items are also placed in virtual shopping cart. If a shopper decides that they don’t want an item, they simply place it back on the shelf and the item also disappears from the virtual cart. Like magic. Should you crave something a bit more immediate, the store also offers up fresh food, prepared on site. Once customers are done, they simply walk out while the app does all the work, which basically involves adding everything up and then charging respective Amazon accounts. The company has been on the hunt to gain a big presence in the food retail industry, an industry which still fiscally eludes it, and also happens to be one of the biggest retail industries. Ever.  Its fresh food delivery is nice and all, but Amazon’s set its sights on competing with the big grocery players like Wal-Mart, Krogers and Target. The food retailer index took a 1% dive on Amazon’s news while shares of Amazon went up. But established grocers can breathe a very brief sigh of relief easy as Amazon still has a few months before it opens up the store to the public. And humans, fear not. One tech investor said that people are still a very big, necessary component of the retail experience and to scrap the notion that jobs will be lost to machines. Phew.

Speaking of food…

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What to do when you’re a $20 billion company whose prime business is chicken, beef and pork, and you keep losing money to the alternative-meat and fresh-food industry? Why, you set up a venture capital firm, of course. And that’s just what Tyson Foods did in an attempt to compete with a burgeoning industry that is literally eating into its business model. Apparently, plant-based protein and food sustainability is where it’s at these days and if you can’t beat ’em then join ’em by investing in their start-ups. Hence we have Tyson New Ventures LLC, a $150 million venture capital firm that Tyson launched to tap into a market that favors more plant-based and fresh food. The venture capital firm will look to companies that are working on making food-related “breakthroughs” and new innovative technology and business models that relate to food. Tyson already announced its first investment a few months ago, when it bought a 5% stake in Beyond Meats, a company that makes meat-like products. Tyson has got nothing to lose either, considering its last earnings report was nothing short of dismal, and the news that its long-time CEO Donnie Smith was stepping down did nothing to instill confidence in investors. Tyson isn’t the only firm to try out this venture capital idea. Other companies like Campbells Soup, Coca Cola, General Mills and Kellogg’s have all established similar firms with pretty much the same objective: to continue to be a prominent player in a shifting market and industry landscape.  So far this year venture firms have already thrown $420 million into various food and agricultural companies. In 2015 that number approached $650 million.

A day without Trump?

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Over the weekend, President-elect Donald Trump mentioned, in a series of tweets of course, that he wants to get back at U.S. companies who dare shift jobs and production overseas. His preferred revenge tactic would be in the form of a 35% tariff and, strangely enough, his fellow Republicans don’t seem to be on board. The top House Republican, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, does not support Trump’s tariff idea and thinks that the best, most effective way to create and keep jobs in the U.S. is via major tax reform. There seem to be a whole bunch of issues at play with Trump’s (overly) ambitious tax-revenge plans, including the fact that such a move goes against the whole spirit of free trade and has the potential to spark trade wars. And nobody likes wars, whether they involve armed conflict or goods and services. Tax specialists and other assorted experts have also said that it’s fairly debatable as to whether or not Trump’s tactics are even legal.  Republicans are, however, partial to over-hauling the corporate tax code in an effort to keep U.S. companies from fleeing to more tax-hospitable countries. They’d like to cut that pesky corporate tax rate to 20% or less which would allow the U.S. to be more competitive globally. House Republicans are also in favor of imposing corporate taxes to all imported goods and services and scrapping them for exports. But leave it to the critics to argue that changes like that might be seen as violations of the World Trade Organization.  In any case,  it remains to be seen how exactly Trump will get his way, if he does. That’s because tariffs aren’t typically applied to specific companies but rather entire classes of goods. Besides, the president doesn’t get to make those kinds of decisions anyway. That’s for Congress to decide and Congress doesn’t seem, shall we say, receptive, to Trump’s tariff talk.

So Long and Goodbye to Twitter’s Dick Costolo; Where Have All the Cereal Eaters Gone for General Mills; Hillary Clinton’s Bringing Her Grassroots Game On

What a long strange social media trip it’s been…

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dick Costolo might just have some extra time on his hands tomorrow seeing as how today is the CEO’s last day at Twitter. Okay, maybe not so much time. He’s still going to remain on the board. Costolo has the dubious distinction of having been the longest serving CEO at Twitter and it was under his leadership that the company even went public, leaving it with a $23.5 billion valuation. But from an all-time high of $69 back in January of 2014, the stock seemed to have lost its mojo and well…apparently so did Costolo.  Dick Costolo had mentioned in an exit interview how he underestimated the pressures and short-term fiscal expectations of running a publicly traded company. The soon-to-be ex Twitter CEO took a lot of heat, and not just from investors who were underwhelmed by Twitter’s slow growth and disappointing revenues. Many critics also thought Costolo didn’t do enough to stop abuse and terrorist activity.  Then there were all these pesky geopolitical issues that came up. Like how people that it was odd, and even a bit hypocritical of Twitter, that Iranian authorities use the social media platform all the time to communicate their thoughts and evil decrees, yet the citizens of Iran are forbidden to use the micro-blogging site. Until Twitter finds a more permanent solution, Jack Dorsey, who conveniently enough, is one of Twitter’s co-founders, will serve as its interim CEO.

No love for the Cheerios…

Image courtesy of  bearvader/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of bearvader/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For some odd reason, sales of General Mills are down. Well, the reason, in fact, is not that odd. It seems the gluten-free food movement and high-protein diets have been biting into the Cheerio maker’s numbers sending sales and shares down for its fourth quarter. Let us also not forget to put some blame on the strong dollar of ours that affected sales for the company in other parts of the world. Then there’s the issue with its Green Giant brand. Yeah, they own that too. General Mills had to write down the value of the brand that sports the over-sized, leafy green dude for a whopping $263 million. It seems that, in addition to the gluten-free and high-protein trends, consumers also now prefer their veggies fresh as opposed to the frozen varieties that Green Giant does so well. However, it should be duly noted that Green Giant still does well and scores plenty of cash for the company. Just not as much as it used to. General Mills, which also owns Yoplait and Betty Crocker, pulled in about $187 million in profits with 71 cents per share added and revenues of $4.3 billion. Analysts expected revenues to come in closer to $4.5 billion and 75 cents added per share.

This means war…

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Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It really does’t matter how you feel about Hillary Clinton running for President. What does matter are her numbers.  As in, the number of dollars she already banked for her presidential primary war chest. That magical number has already hit $45 million, exceeding the $42 million President Obama raised for his  2011 primary bid. That magical number also managed to exceed Hilary Clinton’s previous 2008 $36 million presidential primary war chest. I dare you to say that one three times fast. And don’t think for a second that all that cash is coming from just a small handful of wealthy donors. Hillary Clinton has garnered some major grassroots support with over 91% of contributions coming in at $100 or less. Yeah, she’s that popular.

American Apparel Battles; Not So FedEx-cellent Earnings; Cheerie-Woes

Gone but not forgotten…

Image courtesy of biosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of biosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dov Charney may be officially ousted from American Apparel but wouldn’t you know it…the former CEO, who was booted over a number of misconduct allegations,  still has more than a few friends left at the company he founded. Thirty American Apparel executives just can’t bear the thought of manufacturing retail with provocative ad campaigns without Mr. Charney’s particular skill set. They are a bit peeved that their feelings were not taken into consideration and, in a carefully penned letter, asked the board to reconsider its decision adding, “he makes this thing tick.” A beautiful sentiment for a man who had a slew of sexual harassment allegations against him. Incoming CEO Paula Schneider will become Charney’s official replacement and she gets to plod through the mammoth task of trying to reverse the $300 million in net losses the company racked up since July of 2010. Charney, though, won’t be totally on the outs seeing as how he remains the largest shareholder in the company with a 43% stake in it. He does, however, have to share those voting rights with a hedge fund, presumably to keep him from exercising those rights exclusively for his  questionable benefits.

Shipping dipping…

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Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

FedEx had a good quarter. Just not good enough for Wall Street. Earning’s for the shipping company were up a very merry 23% thanks in part to a drop in fuel prices. The company earned $616 million and $2.14 per share. That figure was up from $500 million and $1.57 per share the year before. Revenue was even up 5% to $11.94 billion. But the hardly-ever-content Wall Street analysts wanted to see $2.22 per share and revenues of $11.97 billion. Next quarter should be more telling as this is the company’s busiest time of year. Here’s hoping that FedEx won’t repeat last year’s shipping debacle when over 2 million packages failed to make it to their recipients by Christmas Eve – a gaffe that was attributed to some icy weather and an unforeseen rise in shipping demand. Which I suppose is the one of the reasons an additional 50,000 employees were added to its workforce this season.

Soggy…

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

General Mills, like many of its breakfast-oriented peers/competition, posted second quarter earnings that were nothing to crunch about. Profit for the maker of one the world’s most arguably famous cereals, Cheerios, dropped by a whopping 37%. With consumer tastes  changing, shoppers aren’t exactly spending as much time and money on cereals and other products from the company. But at least its Yoplait and snack divisions are up. A bit. General Mills earned $346 million and $0.80 per share. But Wall Street wanted to see $0.03 more on those shares. The company pulled in sales of $4.71 billion, which seems like a lot of Cheerios, except that Wall Street was gunning for $4.79 billion. Sales in the US alone came in at $2.86 billion but it was still a 4% drop.

 

Delia*s Final Chapter;New Mortgage Nirvana Thanks to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; Frech Toast Crunch Epic-y Comeback

Down and out…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Delia*s is joining the ranks of the bankruptcy protected now that it has officially filed for Chapter 11. While several of Delia*s teen apparel cohorts, including Abercrombie & Fitch and Urban Outfitters, are merely posting very unfashionable earnings, Delia*s will be getting $20 million just to help liquidate and close down its stores. The retailer, to which bright-eyed teenagers once flocked, can no longer compete with the H&M’s and Forever 21’s of the world. And don’t even get me started on competing with the behemoth that is Amazon. The New York-based chain has 92 stores scattered in malls across the country. With $74 million in assets and over $32 million in debt, its no wonder that Delia*s CEO Tracy Gardner and COO Brian Lex Austin-Gemas resigned. It’s probably safe to say that no one is mourning their departure – well, except maybe for them.

It’s baaaaaaaack…

Image courtesy of foto76/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of foto76/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Justin Timberlake brought sexy back so its only fair that General Mills is bringing back French Toast Crunch. Yes, my fellow cereal aficionados, the dark days are behind us as the maker of Cheerios, Yoplait and Progresso Soups has finally found the wherewithal to bring us back our French Toast Crunch. The sister cereal to the ubiquitous and oft-loved Cinnamon Toast Crunch has been absent from grocery shelves in the United States for almost a decade – I shutter to think. With the invasion of Greek yogurt and fast-food wars breaking out, the cereal was unceremoniously discontinued as other alternatives shoved their way onto the breakfast scene. But consumer demand brought General Mills to its corporate knees, together with an online petition and a Facebook page dedicated to resurrecting the sweet, breakfast sesnation. Besides, General Mills figures those kids who group in the nineties downing French Toast Crunch are now at that age where they are paying for their own cereal now (at least they should be) and can buy it themselves (at least they should be).

3% down with that?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are some very lucky soon-to-be first-time homeowners milling about thanks to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. New terms established by the companies are allowing applicants to put up just 3% down payment to get them into a new home. That’s down from 5%, fyi. Fannie Mae is starting to offer that deal December 13. Looking to refinance? How does reducing your equity to 3% sound? If you haven’t owned a home in three years, guess what? You still qualify.  Starting in March, Freddie Mac will let lower-income first-time home-buyers hand over a 3% down payment provided they agree to housing counseling. Melvin Watt, head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the dude who oversees Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, wants to spur lending to minorities and young adults because the lenders have made more stringent standards following the crash, and the tens of billion of dollars they had to pay towards lawsuits for underwriting less than ideal loans. Republicans, however, are not digging the idea, finding the whole thing too risky and eerily reminiscent of the policies that led up to that awful crash – from which the country is still not fully recovered.

 

 

Home Depot Officicially Hacked; Facebook’s New High; Organic Lucky Charms?!

Hacked…

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Image courtesy of chanpipat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Home Depot officially confirmed what was already assumed to be fact as of last week: The home improvement chain was hacked at least as far back as April. Home Depot is definitely in the running for having suffered one of the worst hack attacks. Ever. Banks noticed an unusually high amount of suspicious and fraudulent activity on ATM withdrawals. Information stolen from Home Depot has been surfacing in online cyber-crime shops where criminals can conveniently purchase stolen information. Who knew? Of course, the chain apologized and will not hold consumers accountable for fraudulent activities. Duh. If you’re a frequent Home Depot patron, expect to be issued new cards with chips in them, making it that much more challenging for any would-be criminals to help themselves to a shopping spree on your dime. With 2,200 stores dotting the US and Canada, the cost of the breach has yet to be determined but it’ll likely be sharing the spotlight with Target, whose own data breach is still wreaking havoc. Given the similarities between the two hackings, sources suspect it’s the same group of hacker/cyber-crminals.

Ranked…

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s just another day in the fascinating cyber life of Facebook, whose stock hit yet another high of $77.89, putting the company’s value over the $200 billion mark. Speaking of Mark, Zuckerberg, that is, he himself is ranked as the 13th richest person, according to Forbes, with a net worth of $34.5 billion. That wealth comes primarily from his more than 61% ownership of Facebook. How convenient. Facebook now ranks as the 22nd largest company, comfortably sandwiched between Verizon and Toyota, companies that have been around much longer than the social media website (and Mark Zuckerberg). If you recall (and it’s okay if you don’t), Facebook’s IPO was a modest $38.00 per share. Oh, how hindsight is a bitter, teary 20/20.

Paying the price for organics…

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

General Mills is going to get a bit more organic now that it is picking up Annie’s, of the bunny-shaped mac and cheese fame, for the green green price of $820 million. Annie’s boasts over 150 products that are sold in over 35,000 locations and just last year the company hit over $200 million in sales. Not bad for a company that was founded in 1989. Okay, not as good as Facebook, but still not too shabby. While the company was doing okay, an increase in the price of commodities began shrinking its margins, making a sale to a bigger company a worthwhile and fiscally prudent decision. Annie’s now joins the illustrious ranks of Lucky Charms, Wheaties, and one of my personal favorites, Trix. Silly rabbit.

Barnes & Noble Doing the Splits, The Mood Darkens at Barclays and Wall Street Not So Cuckoo For General Mills

Splitsville…

Image courtesy of adamr/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of adamr/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While everyone loves a great love story, Wall Street is loving an impending break-up instead. Barnes & Noble just announced its earnings today which were less than spectacular. But it also announced its plans for the Nook – namely, that its future does not include the e-reader. Sales of the Nook have been dragging down the bookseller for awhile because it has been unable to compete with the likes of Apple and Amazon. The plan is either to make two separate companies where the Nook business would be its own public company and Barnes & Noble would keep its books, e-books and college bookstore division or the Nook business would perhaps get picked up in a private sale.Whatever the outcome, Wall Street cheered the news of the split by causing shares of Barnes & Noble to jump a little.

Dark matters…

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Image courtesy of Idea go/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like Barclays is the latest bank to get slapped with a lawsuit courtesy of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The issue at hand: Dark pools. Indeed a term like that is filled with suspense and intrigue but more importantly, questionably ethical high frequency traders (or HFT’s as the cool kids call it). As necessity is the mother of invention, dark pools were crafted for institutional investors to trade huge amounts of shares under the mysterious cloak of anonymity. HFT’s were allegedly given special access to Barclays dark pools and now the bank stands accused of helping to hide the dubious ways of these HFT’s. What is the harm of all this to you? Glad you asked, telepathically, of course. HFT’s benefit by putting other investors (perhaps yourself) at a disadvantage. Some argue that HFT’s provide a public service by inadvertently (or advertently?) reducing trading costs. The SEC and Department of Justice argue otherwise.

Crumb-y sales…

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

General Mills announced its earnings. Not that it made much difference as the company’s earnings came to resemble little more than a virtually flat line. So now the company, best known in my home for such classics as Coco Puffs and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, will embark on a “formal review” which is just corporate code for finding ways to cut costs and make a ton more money. But it wasn’t a complete flat line. After all the company did go down 7% in international sales. Here in the States sales fell 3% in categories including (but not limited to) frozen foods and yogurt. Cereal remained the same at $2.4 billion in sales. The CEO blamed some of the disappointing earnings on lots of promotional spending that fell flat – no pun intended. Well, maybe just a little.