Fiat Gets Going with Google; April Showers Bring Great Car Sales; Building-A-Profitable-Bear

Behind the wheel…

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It might just have been a bit of good luck that car company Fiat gets to team up with Google to engineer some self-driving cars. The company will supply Google with 100 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans and it will mark the first time that Google shares its inside information with outside entities. If you’re thinking of saving up to buy one, don’t bother. They won’t be for sale. Besides, they’re minivans. Google has dealt with other car companies, like Toyota, except Google did the work on the cares rather than working together with Toyota. This collaboration is a sweet deal for Fiat, which has a lot of catching up to do in the way of technological advancements in their vehicles. Besides, the company is kind of low on cash and wouldn’t have had enough of it to make a meaningful investment towards tech upgrades. But with this new collaboration in the works, it doesn’t have to worry about raising money for that. How very convenient.

New car smell…

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Image courtesy of atibodyphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Speaking of Fiat, global sales of the company sank around 2%, keeping up with the rest of the grim state of the global economy. But all was not lost as sales in the U.S. picked up 5%, selling 200,000 cars and trucks while dealing a minor blow to analysts’ estimates of a paltry 4.6% increase. Sales of Jeep also scored big compared to the same time last year as it increased 17%. But that’s minor compared to sales of Compass and Renegade automobiles which more than doubled. Sales of automobile in the U.S. in April were so good that it just might be coming off of the best April. Ever. Car sales are considered a fairly accurate barometer of consumer spending and last months’ numbers indicate that the economy, the U.S. economy, that is, is looking good and healthy. Individual sales of cars throughout the industry was up 3%, with a lot of help from SUV and pick-up truck sales. Unfortunately I did not contribute to any sales growth. The volume of cars sold told a very different and unpleasant story by dropping 3.5%. Some companies have also lopped off major chunks from their incentive programs seeing as how they tend to eat the bottom line. Not that this should come as any great shock but VW was down 9.7% as it continues its brutal journey back from its emissions scandal. Some analysts thinks the car industry is about to hit a peak. But apparently it’s just a cyclical issue and nothing that should cause you to lose sleep. Unless of course you’re in the business of selling cars.

Bear market…

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Build-A-Bear just released its earnings – yes, it is a publicly traded company – and the results didn’t exactly leave investors feeling…warm and fuzzy. Ya dig? The DIY stuffed animal biz that boasts some 400 stores picked up $3.53 million in profit, adding 22 cents per share. Too bad the company missed expectations of 37 cents per share and didn’t perform nearly as well as last year at this time when the company scored a profit of $6.82 million with 40 cents per share added. Revenue was up 1.7% to $95 million for the quarter compared to last year, but again, the workshops missed estimates of $96.6 million, fuzzy ears and all. To be fair, however, it will probably still get a fourth straight year of profitability, even if the numbers don’t wow investors. In the fiscal blame game, the company pointed the finger at some expenses tied to store remodeling, international expansion and the ever-pesky high tax rate. The board announced that it hired advisers to come up with “a full range of strategic alternatives.” Which is basically code for trying to figure out a bunch of ways to make more money. Investor J. Carlo Cannell, who happens to own an 8% stake in the company, feels that the board is the real problem and called them and their actions “financially unsophisticated, lacking in proper corporate governance and shareholder unfriendly.” Don’t hold back now, J. Carlo.

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GM’s Defect Debacle In Rearview Mirror; Overseas Deal Might Have Big Impact Here; Zen-tastic Quarter for Lululemon;

Emboldened or embattled?

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Score one for GM, the not-so-embattled-anymore auto company that just won a second lawsuit in a series of bellwether cases. In case you have been hanging out in another solar system for the last couple of years, tons of drivers are filing tons of lawsuits against GM because they got into accidents which they say can be blamed on GM’s faulty ignition switches. After a two week trial and a single day of deliberations, two Louisiana plaintiffs, who crashed their car back in 2014 during a freak ice storm, will not be awarded any damages despite their automobile’s defect. This win bodes well for GM and it’s a good thing because there are hundreds more waiting in the legal wings.This case is the second in a series of six cases that will be used to test strategies, with each side getting to choose three cases to argue. This case was GM’s selection and the next bellwether case is scheduled for May. GM already paid out a lofty $2 billion to resolve a slew of legal claims against it, in addition to recalling millions of vehicles. That includes a $900 million settlement to Uncle Sam so that the government would graciously agree to drop its criminal probe into GM. Another $575 million was paid out to settle close to 1,400 civil cases. Then GM set up a $95 million victims compensation fund. In the meantime, 15 people were fired over the defect debacle – that would have cost a buck to fix, by the way –   as GM CEO Mary Barra has been on a mission to change the company culture. Good luck with that one.

Deal or no deal…

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Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You might not be so familiar with a Taiwanese company called Foxconn but it’s more than likely you’re using its product. That is, if you happen to use a very popular mobile device known as an iPhone. Turns out Foxconn assembles those nifty little phones. But that’s not news. What is news is that the company is set to snap up Japanese company, Sharps Electronics for $3.5 billon. And if you can believe it, some analysts think it’s a bad move. And that’s even after Foxconn knocked a couple of billion off of their initial offer when it was discovered that Sharp has literally billions of dollars worth of problems. But, oh well. In any case, if and when the deal goes through, it will be the biggest acquisition by a foreign company in Japan. But that’s beside the point. Foxconn is unofficially hoping that this acquisition, however fiscally risky it may be, will help give it an edge, albeit a slight one, for its production contracts with Apple, especially considering that Apple uses Sharp screens. Foxconn is well aware that Apple has been giving out production contracts to other companies too, and competition like that can’t be all that good for Foxconn. Hence, besides assembling the phone, Foxconn would also own the company that supplies the screens and well, wouldn’t that put Foxconn in a nice, cozy, almost secure spot with Apple.

Make lemonade yoga pants!

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Lululemon doesn’t seem to be bothered by increased competition from Nike and Under Armour, as evidenced by its fourth quarter earnings which were nothing short of…zen. And by zen, I mean that the athleisure company beat the Street’s predictions. The athletic apparel company enjoyed a nice little holiday shopping season with increased sales that gave it a profit of $117.4 million with 85 cents added per share. Analysts predicted the company would pick up just 80 cents per share. Maybe those analysts need to pick up some new Lululemon yoga pants, no? Revenue kicked up to $704.3 million, up from last year’s $602.5 million, and again, analysts only expected $692.6 million this quarter. Last year the company only earned $111 million and 78 cents per share. Lululemon is expecting to whip out a fourth quarter that is sure to please investors by picking up earnings between $483 million to $488 million and adding 28 cents to 30 cents a share. However, the perennial buzzkiller we call Wall Street would rather see Lululemon rake in $486.1 million adding 37 cents per share. In what might seem like an awfully bold statement, the yoga apparel company plans on doubling its earnings by 2020. In the meantime, it expects its full fiscal 2016 year to gain between $2.05 and $2.15 a share and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Except that Wall Street is hoping for earnings that will look more like $2.16 per share. Lululemon is pulling out all the stops to improve its margins and part of that means switching over to ocean freight as opposed to air freight. Apparently, air freight is a gigantic margin-money eater. Who knew.

By Jetta! 800,000 More VW’s Offend; B(u)y Jeep-ers! U.S. Auto Sales Don’t Offend; Call of Duty About to Get a Whole Lot Sweeter

This thing just keeps growing and growing…

Image courtesy of  fantasista/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of fantasista/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just when you thought it was okay to start thinking about buying a Volkswagen, the company announced that yet another 800,000 vehicles are getting caught in the toxic wind of the company’s emissions probe. This revelation was the result of an internal probe and while those cars are currently out and about, Volkswagen wants to reassure the public that the cars are still safe to drive. Just don’t breathe around them. The auto company set aside close to $7 billion hoping that amount will be enough to cover the repairs and lawsuits. It won’t be. It’s estimated that there are 11 million Volkswagens worldwide that currently have the illegal software installed. Now it’s up to newly crowned CEO Matthias Mueller, who came over from Porsche, to help save the embattled car company, which already lost a third of its value and reported its first quarterly loss in 15 years.

Speaking of cars…

Image courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

But on this side of the pond, car companies are having a much better day than Volkswagen. In fact, GM and Fiat Chrysler are currently in the wonderful throes of their best two month stretch. Ever. Well, in 15 years anyway. Even if you weren’t one of the lucky ones to have purchased one of those vehicles, it’s still good news since increased automobile sales indicate that the U.S. economy is in fairly decent shape. Ford did okay and Nissan did a little better. But nothing like GM, whose sales were up a nice beefy 16%, even though analysts only thought its sales would increase 12%. The company did especially well with a little help from its pricey truck lines and SUV’s. Fiat Chrysler’s sales were up a very respectable 15%, selling over 195,500 cars just last month. However, the company had a humongous boost from its Jeep brand which saw a massive 33% increase. This makes it the 67th consecutive month of increased sales for Fiat Chrysler. But, what exactly, is the reason why all these people are running out and buying up cars? If you answered low gas prices, then score one for you. The national average gas price hit a new low of $2.20 a gallon, 85 cents less than last year at this time.  But low interest rates and a slew of manufacturer incentives in order to move out the 2015 inventory also helped matters. A lot.

Call of Candy Crush Duty…

Image courtesy of foto76/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of foto76/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What happens when you cross the “Call of Duty” with a bunch of confections? You get the biggest acquisition of a mobile-game. Ever. Even bigger than the much-hyped Microsoft acquisition of Mojang, maker of the very beloved “Minecraft.” That’s right, Activision Blizzard, video-game maker of perennial fave games, including “Call of Duty” and “Skylanders,” scooped up King Digital Entertainment, the force behind the highly addictive “Candy Crush,” for a whopping $5.9 billion. Activision Blizzard is getting the mobile confection game maker for $18 a share, a premium over its $17.84 closing price and $4.50 less than its $22.50 IPO.  But many are wondering if Activision’s purchase will pay off. On the one hand, this is a great way for Activation to get into the $20 billion mobile gaming industry. On the other hand, King Digital failed to impress with Candy Crush follow-ups, Farm Heroes Saga and Pet Rescue, leaving many to wonder if the company’s got anything left to show.  After all, its third quarter earnings weren’t exactly sweet and monthly active users came in at 474 million, down from last year’s 495 million.

Unfit IPO Debut for Planet Fitness; Lost That Lovin’ Feeling…For Shamu?; If it Looks Like an Engineer, and Quacks Like an Engineer…

Fit to be fried…

Image courtesy of marcolm/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of marcolm/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Planet Fitness made its New York Stock Exchange debut but it looked more like Planet Fizzle as the stock, which tried to open at the high end of its range, stumbled on its very first day of trading. The company, notable for its $10 gym membership fees, offered 13.5 million shares and managed to raise $216 million despite its less than impressive open. The company, however, tried to give a good showing on Wall Street today, cleverly handing out all sorts of yummy, unhealthy goodies while engaging the crowds with games like musical hand chairs. That was not a typo. Laugh all you want, but Planet Fitness has over 7 million members, 1 million of whom joined within the last twelve months. Its membership is up over 24% from last year. There are very few companies who pulled that off recently. By the way, the company has 33 straight quarters of growth under its svelte fiscal belt, and saw $280 million in revenue. Add that to its 976 stores in 47 states, Puerto Rico and Canada. and that 9% hit the stock took today doesn’t seem so bad after all.

Was it something I said…

Image courtesy of Liz Noffsinger/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Liz Noffsinger/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Things just keep getting fiscally uglier for Shamu and all his water-loving pals as Seaworld Entertainment cranks out yet another soggy quarter. Despite big promotions and a whale of a marketing campaign, attendance at the marine theme parks continued their downward slide. Brass at the company admitted they are continuing to deal with “brand challenges” which is basically code for the negative publicity the company suffered as a result of the very unflattering 2013 documentary “Blackfish.” And just how bad is attendance? Under 6.5 million people stopped by to hang out with the sea creatures, which was a 2% drop from the same time last year. Revenue, which was $391.6 million, is also down 3% from a year ago. But it’s the 85% plunge in profit, down to $5.8 million, that’s really got me questioning if people just don’t dig acrobatic dolphins and comedic sea lions.

If looks could kill…stereotypes…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So what exactly does an engineer look like? Just ask 22 year old Isis Wenger. She’s got big plans to show the world on a billboard in San Francisco after some very rapid, enthusiastic crowd-funding. It all started when some people naively felt Wenger didn’t look like a “traditional” engineer. She then started the buzz-worthy hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer only to discover that there was a whole universe of engineers who also…look like engineers. 75,000 tweets later, including one from engineer and GM CEO, Mary Barra, not to mention a slew of other high-ranking female engineers from some of the world’s top companies, Wenger, together with engineer Michelle Glauser, started an Indiegogo campaign to put up a billboard in San Francisco featuring the diverse engineering community and its stereotypical misconceptions. Hoping to raise $3,500, they instead raised over $7,800…in less than 24 hours.

McDonald’s Turnaround Plan Needs Salt; Warren Buffet Likes His Sugar; Chevy Volt Wants to Electrify

Would you like to supersize that?

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Image courtesy of pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook finally revealed to all who were maybe mildly interested about his big plan is to steer McDonald’s back towards fiscal awesomeness, all in the course of a 23 minute video. The world’s biggest burger chain wants to re-franchise 3,500 of its stores. Because franchising offers “stable and predictable cash flow” from collecting fees, it will supposedly save the company about $300 million a year.  And who doesn’t like saving $300 million. Then, Easterbrook wants to make the company’s corporate structure and bureaucracy less “cumbersome” by dividing the company up into four neat little parts. Well, maybe not little. But certainly neater.  The first part is all about U.S. stores. International markets like, Australia and the U.K make up part number two. The third part is labeled high growth markets  – think China and Russia. Then, all those other countries in the world make up the fourth group.  Of course, no master revival plan would be complete without incorporating a customer-focused approach and the ever-menacing prospect of…accountability. But hey whatever works. And something needs to after the company posted a 2.3% drop in sales and revenue that was way too short of its target. Despite detailing this new plan Mc Donald’s couldn’t get Wall Street excited enough to send shares up, even a little.

Enjoy a Coke with Warren Buffet…

Image courtesy of tiverylucky/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of tiverylucky/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In case you couldn’t make it to the the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting this weekend, also known as Woodstock for Capitalists, here are but a few of the pearls from that auspicious event. Wells Fargo, Coke, IBM and AmEx rock, at least according to the Oracle of Omaha. Mr. Buffet clearly knows a thing or two of what he speaks since his company has a market value of a staggering $350 billion. When he discussed Coca Cola and the $16 billion stake his company owns in it, the debate about the adverse health effects of sugar didn’t seem to concern him. He feels that people enjoy Coke and thus, it apparently makes them happy. Unlike Whole Foods, which he said, “I don’t see smiles on the faces of people at Whole Foods.” No doubt Whole Foods was not happy about that comment. He was also asked about his involvement with 3G Capital with whom he is now buying Kraft Foods. People have taken issue with 3G over its practice of buying companies and then laying off many of its employees. Mr. Buffet, however, said, “I don’t know of any company that has a policy that says we’re going to have a lot more people than they need.”  How charming. As for naming a successor, well, he didn’t.

Low-voltage…

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Even though gas prices are pretty low, making gas-guzzling SUV’s that much more appealing, that’s not stopping car companies, like GM, from parading out its latest eco-friendly models. The 2016 Chevy Volt model is making its debut and what is supposed to be so electrifying about it is that it’ll be around $1,500 less than the 2015 model. It’ll also get 30% more mileage from a single charge than the 2015 model. It’s a bit redesigned and there’s even a $7,500 federal income tax credit. But to be fair, it’s not a fully electric vehicle because if you find yourself coasting along  the highway – or any road, for that matter – and the battery juice runs out, the Volt becomes just another regular gas guzzler.  If that doesn’t bother you – and why should it – then consider that Chevy is offering 0% financing for 72 months for qualified buyers. Unqualified buyers should take the bus. California’s even offering a $1,500 rebate which pretty much means that GM doesn’t think there’s going to be a waiting list for this particular automobile. Because let’s face it, a Tesla it’s not.

GM Earnings Not So Revved Up; Wall Street Goes Dunkin’ DoNUTS ; Its Girl Scout Cookie Time – All the Time

Unstoppable?

Image courtesy of olovedog/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of olovedog/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

General Motors came out with its quarterly earnings and you’d hardly know all the fiscal trouble it was dealing with just a year ago. Except for the fact that it reported a glaring $1.7 billion drop in revenue, not to mention all those charges to compensate victims of the recall debacle. The auto company earned $945 million and 86 cents a share this quarter when a year ago GM was staring down the wrong end of a $1.2 billion recall and a paltry profit of just $125 million. GM, incidentally, missed expectations by 11 cents. Try not to get too worked up over that. The automaker did pretty well in the U.S. as fuel prices continued their downward trend sending subliminal messages to consumers that it’s okay to buy all those hunky trucks and SUV’s. But those numbers would have been much higher were it not for a pesky higher tax rate and a strong U.S. dollar. Of course, it wouldn’t be right not to mention Russia and all the fiscal problems it has been causing GM in that part of the world. So there, I mentioned it.

Sweet tooth…

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dunkin’ Donuts also released earnings which were positively scrumptious. Well, duh. Have you been in one of their stores lately. I have. This morning, as a matter of fact. And, as usual, I had to wait on a long line. So there. Anybody who patronizes their donuts shops could have told you those donuts were gonna pull off some impressive earnings. So what were those magical numbers, you might be wondering. Dunkin’ Donuts pulled in 40 cents per share, easily topping analysts’ estimates of 35 cents per share. Not bad for a company that sells donuts for a little over a dollar each. As for revenues, well those sugary confections pulled down close to $186 million, once again beating predictions of $180.65 million. Apparently, much of that success was attributed to the wildly caloric and ridiculously tasty croissant donuts.  Dunkin’ Donuts Chief Nigel Travis said the chain managed to pull off these impressive digits despite a nasty winter. But I suspect, in my most humble, unprofessional opinion, that perhaps, those numbers were because of it. Think about it: a hot beverage and a sweet treat. What better way to spend a wintery morning? Well, flying to Hawaii is one way, but I digress. If its earnings weren’t sweet enough for you, then how about the fact that the donut chain also raised its outlook on revenue growth from a previously estimated 5% – 7% to a revised 6% – 8%. Can we say sprinkles on top?

Sweeter tooth…

Image courtesy of  pupunkkop/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of pupunkkop/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

No need to wait anymore for one of your co-workers to hit you up to buy Girl Scout cookies from their daughters on the same day you start your diet. Now you can sabotage your diet goals all year round as the Girl Scout Organization has announced it will be offering a Do-It-Yourself version, easily accessible from your local Wal-Mart, Target or Toys R Us stores beginning this summer.  In fact, it’s so easy, 8 year olds can do it. By themselves. Literally. The Easy-Bake Oven it is not, as Hasbro has the licensing deal for that one. But this new toy is sure to give Hasbro a run for its money as the Girl Scouts of America teamed up with Wicked Cool Toys to offer the latest way for small children to learn the fine art of capitalism. And baking And just eating cookies. The oven toy will sell for about $60 a pop and and comes with one pack of cookies. But just how this new enterprise will affect the 200 million boxes of cookies sold each year remains to be seen.

AmEx Wants to Know What Your Loyalty is Worth; How Do You Say Opel-ease in Russian?; FedEx’s Hit and Miss

Where’s your loyalty?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Maybe membership does still have its privileges. AmEx is trying to make a comeback following its breakup with powerhouse retailer, Costco, and rumors of an impending break-up with JetBlue. To soothe it’s broken fiscal heart, the company is making plans to offer a rewards program called “Plenti.” Catchy, huh? Joining forces with Macy’s, Exxon, RiteAid, AT&T and a few other companies, AmEx is offering a loyalty program where American consumers get to cash in points earned on their AmEx cards, and then redeem the points at these retailers. I say Americans, because AmEx already has loyalty programs in other parts of the world, including Germany and Italy. Fill up your car at Exxon and then run over to Macy’s and buy yourself a shirt. Or some vitamins at RiteAid. Or insurance. Yes, I did say insurance since Nationwide Insurers is one of the partners. As is Hulu. Cool, huh? . Noticeably absent from the list of participants is a national grocer and home improvement retailer. But fear not, oh faithful spender, as rumor has it those slots are just about to be filled. If you’re wondering how AmEx benefits, it’s simple: AmEx gets a fee from its partners-in-retail. Clever indeed.

No more vroom…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

GM is coming to a screeching halt in Russia after taking a 74% hit in sales there with an 86% hit on its Opel brand alone. Hence, GM has put the kibosh on Opel production altogether and will be drastically slowing down production on its Chevy lines, chalking it all up to a $600 million loss. The collapsed ruble and dropping oil prices have dealt a major blow to the Russian economy, with car sales especially down 38%. So GM decided to make a run for it. However, if you find yourself in Russia and jonesing for a Corvette, then no worries. Because Corvettes are imported, they will still be making their way into the country, together with Tahoes and Camaros. Can’t you just picture Putin cruising the Kremlin in a Camaro? Oddly enough, or not, the automobile company is still looking to up its Cadillac game in Russia. The luxury auto has yet to catch up to the popularity of European automobiles BMW and Audi. Tragically, only 72 of them have been sold in Russia in the first two months of the year.

Special delivery…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

FedEx released its earnings report, regaling Wall Street and the world with news of its prosperous third quarter. One of the fiscal highlights was the $11.7 billion in revenue the company took in. Not a major difference than what experts forecasted, and a modest 4% gain over last year, but the number did hit its target so nobody was necessarily complaining on that front. The big exciting numbers, though, came courtesy of FedEx’s impressive profits. At $580 million and $2.01 per share, the company’s net income was a whopping 63% higher than last year at this time. Analysts only predicted a profit of $1.88. It’s kind of nice when analysts are wrong. Just saying. And for that very impressive feat, FedEx can thank low fuel prices. Of course there were a few other reasons too, but fuel could definitely be crowned the star of this one. But then its shares took a bit of dip today on the news of its less than impressive outlook. The company expects to pull in between $8.80 – $8.95 per share for the year but analysts much prefer to see $8.98 per share. FedEx’s performance tends to hint to Wall Street what we can expect from our fickle economy. So if FedEx is feeling a bit too fiscally modest and only moderately ambitious, it makes The Street a little edgy.