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

Just because George Soros is doing it…

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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…

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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…

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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.

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Apple vs. Feds Smackdown; Billionaire Country Breakdown; It’s Highs and Lowe’s for Home Improvement Sector

Rotten to the core…

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Image courtesy of Kittisak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s game on between Apple and the FBI as the two entities tussle about unlocking an iPhone. The Feds feel this request falls under the Writs Act from 1789 that compels companies to assist in law enforcement. Apple is preparing to argue before a Federal court that software code should be protected by the First Amendment while terrorists the world over sit back and enjoy a good laugh at the the expense of the U.S and its constitutional rights. This is all because the Feds want Apple to unlock a phone belonging to San Berbardino shooter/terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook as authorities are convinced there is a lot of valuable intel contained on that one little device. In fact, since early October, Apple has received orders to unlock thirteen other devices, and an L.A. district court judge ruled that Apple should help the Feds bypass that pesky setting which wipes an iPhone clean after ten incorrect password guesses. Apple CEO Tim Cook is adamantly against this backdoor attempt to unlock an iPhone lest it fall into the wrong hands. Cook wants the issue decided by Congress and not the courts. Problem is, phones regularly fall into the wrong hands, as in this case, so what to do about a device that potentially holds vast amounts of life-saving information that could lead to the arrests and capture of more wrong hands?

 

All about the benjamins…

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Image courtesy of Kittisak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

After owning the title for so long, the city of New York no longer reigns supreme as home to the largest population of billionaires. The title of “Billionaire Capital of the World” now  belongs to Beijing, which is kind of weird since the Chinese economy has taken such a beating these last few months. These new findings come courtesy of the Hurun Report, a Shanghai-based firm that publishes monthly. And while Forbes’ compiles its own list of billionaires, the two publications tend to yield slightly different results, if only because they employ different calculation menthods. Incidentally, Hurun’s results did take into account January 15, the day when China’s economy hit the skids, tanking 40%.  But that still didn’t stop it from adding 32 new billionaires to the list, bringing its grand total identifiable billionaire population to 100. Beijing’s numero uno billionaire is Wang Jianlin, a real estate developer whose net worth is estimated to be $26 billion. Hurun chairman, Rupert Hoogewerf, says that these rankings don’t tell the whole story of China’s vast wealth, and estimates that only about 50% of China’s billionaires were identified. Plenty of the county’s other billionaires prefer to keep their wealth asecret so they don’t end up having to fork a chunk of it to authorities. New York still managed to welcome four more billionaires into its fold, giving the city a grand total of 95. Moscow took the third spot while Hong Kong and Shanghai scored spots four and five respectively.

Lowe’s and behold…

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Image courtesy of Kittisak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Home Depot and Lowe’s regaled us with their earnings and it was good news, kind of. Both home improvement chains scored lofty gains in large part due to housing demand, low interest rates and job and wage growth – all super good things. Oh, and this time the warm weather actually helped sales too. But while Lowe’s quarterly sales gains were up 5.5%, Home Depot’s sales gains were way more impressive, gaining close to 9%, suggesting that Home Depot is benefitting way more from housing gains than Lowe’s. Which probably explains why shares of Lowe’s fell a bit today. Apparently Home Depot , according to experts anyway, has a stronger brand image and consumers see it as the go to store for their home improvement needs. Case in point, kitchen products are a big seller for Home Depot and that department killed it this quarter, while Lowe’s kitchen products department performed below average. Ouch. Home Depot also has 2,274 stores compared to Lowe’s 1,857 stores. In any case, Lowe’s is expecting to snag a 6% rise in sales, compared with analysts predictions of less than 5% and the company still added 59 cents per share with sales of $13.24 billion, smacking down predictions of $13.07 billion.

Angie’s List Swipes Left on IAC; Homerun Earnings for Home Depot; Dick’s Sporting Goods on a Losing Streak

Nobody puts Angie’s List in a corner…

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Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If boardroom walls could talk, I wonder what they would say about Angie’s List putting the kibosh on Barry Diller’s IAC proposal to buy the home services directory. IAC offered up $8.75 a share, totaling $512 million, to add Angie’s List to its growing portfolio of online companies. IAC argues that its offer – which was unsolicited, btw – is a 50% premium on Angie’s List share price. However, Angie’s List begs to differ and says that the  unsolicited proposal, was a paltry 10% premium on its share price. So what gives? Well, that depends on which day we are discussing, I suppose. One month before IAC’s unsolicited offer, shares of Angie’s List closed at $5.78. In which case the $512 million offer would indeed represent a 50% premium on the share price. However, shares of Angie’s List closed at $7.84 on November 10, which means that a $512 million offer would then represent a paltry 10% premium. In any case, the deal’s not going to happen for several reasons and one of them, as Angie’s List CEO Scott Durchlag explains, is because the benefits are one-sided. And not the side Angie’s List is on. His board of directors unanimously agreed with him. IAC already owns Angie’s List competitor Home Advisor and last week picked up Tinder, together with its parent company, Match Group.

If you build it, they will come…

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According to the National Association of Home Builders, sentiments are not just up, they are at record highs. Those sentiments are all part of the the joy we call a housing recovery which is extremely good news. Especially for Home Depot, who just announced its earnings much to the fiscal glee of investors. The company announced better than expected sales and even expects its full-year earnings to fall at the top end of its forecasts at around $15.36. Which is especially awesome since so many companies lately have been reducing their’s (see below). Not only did shares of the home improvement chain rise today, but its shares are up 15% for the year too. Sales at Home Depot rose 6.4% coming at $21.82 billion, missing predictions by a $10 million smidgeon. But does that really matter when profits rose 12%, hitting $1.73 billion and adding $1.36 per share? Well…it’s not my place to say. But still, analysts only expected $1.32. You see, it all evens out in the end. Sort of. Even online sales are up  25%, though they only account for 5% of all sales. But hey, money is money.  Apparently these great earnings are courtesy of builders and amateurs alike, who are scrambling to Home Depot stores lately given the rise in housing turnover, with prices of homes on the rise. That may not bode well if you’re in the market for a new place to rest your head, but if you’re selling, this could be your lucky quarter.

Striking out…

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Image courtesy of Idea go/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You know whose shares aren’t up? Dick’s Sporting Goods. In fact, its shares have hit a four year low and are down about 18% for the year. To make matter worse, the company has had to reduce its full-year earnings forecast. Nothing says fiscal disaster quite like reducing forecasts. Now, instead of hoping to add between  $3.13 – $3.21 per share, the company is hoping (and praying, no doubt) that it pulls down $2.85 – $3.00 per share. Even analysts had initially expected that company to earn $3.18 per share for the year. And what or whom, you might be wondering, is Dick’s Sporting Goods blaming – other than itself –  for their abysmal earnings? If you guessed mother nature and her unusually warm autumn , then you are absolutely correct. Apparently, Dick’s seasonal items didn’t fly of the shelves as hoped, just like at Macy’s and other retailers, since the weather was warmer and consumers didn’t feel compelled to get toasty. Incidentally, Dick’s clothing and shoes fared a bit better with sales creeping up 0.4%. Hey, Dick’s will take what it can get. But the company did admit to having too much inventory – 13% more than last year – and are looking to get rid of it. Good luck with that. Dick’s pulled down $1.64 billion in revenue  when analysts predicted numbers closer to $1.67 billion. The company also scored a profit of $4.72 million, adding 45 cent per share, which was a 4% drop over this time last year. Analysts, by the way, would have preferred to see another penny added to those shares. Oh well.

Waffle House: For All Your Shipping Needs; Home Deport Improves Earnings; Fed Chairwoman Ponders Millenials

Can you expedite that waffle?  

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What do you get when you cross a restaurant chain known for its waffles with a delivery app? Roadie, of course. Haven’t heard of it yet? That’s probably because it’s only been up and running for a few weeks. However, it’s already got $10 million worth of funding with some of that cash coming from Google’s Eric Schmidt. The app is also being touted as the “Über of shipping.” The idea, created by founder Marc Gorlin is so simple yet so genius. It matches up people who need to ship something with other people who are already driving to that location, often for much less than what the usual shipping companies charge. And just where do the waffles come in? Enter Waffle House and its 1,750 locations which will serve as the meeting points for shippers and insured drivers. The cost to ship an item  – and yes it has to be legal! – with a “Roadie” could range from $12 – $200. First time “Roadie” downloaders are eligible for a free waffle. Get a free beverage to take along with you every time you make a delivery.  While it’s only available in 25 states , primarily in the southeast, there’s no need to fret. With 7,500 downloads and counting all signs point to some major expansion plans sooner rather than later.

Where can I find nails?

Image courtesy of zole4/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of zole4/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Home Depot had a particularly fabulous fourth quarter pulling in a 36% profit. Net income came in at $1.38 billion at about a buck per share Analysts only predicted Home Depot would gain 89 cents per share. A year earlier the company gained 73 cents per share. So what gives?  It seems the retailer earned some major cash from its website and its big push to improve customer service has paid off quite nicely for the world’s largest home improvement retailer. If you are lucky enough to be one of Home Depot’s esteemed shareholders , then congrats to you as you just earned 12 cents per dividend, which is now up to 59 cents per share. The company even has big plans to buy back $18 billion in shares. In the market for some gainful employment?  You might want to check out Home Depot’s job board. The company is looking to fill 80,000 jobs for the spring, the store’s busiest season. Unfortunately, the retailer’s forecasts for the year are tinged with a bit of disappointment as it is convinced that the exchange rate and that especially robust dollar of ours is going to put a 6% ding in the stock this year.

Everyone likes a good mystery…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen is taking fiscal center stage today before the Senate Banking Committee.  The Fed Chairwoman gets to enjoy two days of back to back congressional testimony where she will be grilled on a loooong list of complaints, courtesy of the Republican controlled House and Senate. Among the questions with which she will be peppered is when exactly does the Fed plan on hiking those interest rates, an answer that has been eluding the American people and its elected officials for quite some time.  Not exactly the stuff that Oscar nominated movies are made of. But on Capitol Hill that testimony could give Game of Thrones a run for its money. Ms. Yellen also wondered aloud about that mysterious lot born in the eighties and nineties, a.k.a. Millenials. The Fed Chairwoman finds them to be a bit of a mystery and is unsure how the economy is going to affect them. If that’s what she’s wondering about them then I’m guessing she doesn’t get to Chipotle very often.

Smokin’ Earnings for CVS; Yelp Satisfies Craving by Scooping Up Eat24; Israelis Go Full Force On Corporate Cyber Attacks

Butt out…

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

CVS had some smokin’ good earnings even though it kicked the tobacco habit. As one of the largest pharmacies in all the land, CVS beat those fourth quarter estimates, and perhaps even shocked the tobacco industry, by earning a record $1.32 billion in profit and $1.21 a share. A year ago CVS pulled in $1.27 billion, tobacco and all. It was a big gamble, getting rid of cigarettes and its nicotine friends, since tobacco helped CVS pull in $2 billion annually. What may have contributed, however, to this quarter’s pleasing numbers was a super-combo of two very unique factors:  First, there are more insured Americans – who were previously uninsured – making up for lost times by getting all their prescriptions filled, and then some. Then there was that flu vaccine that proved less than useful against this season’s particularly nasty strain of the virus. Because the vaccine wasn’t as effective this time around, consumers were flocking to CVS to buy flu remedies causing a 13% increase in sales to $37.1 billion. Analysts only expected CVS to pull in $36 billion. So I guess, in some weird alternate universe, CVS can thank the flu. Sort of.

Can I get that to go?

Image courtesy of Iamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Iamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yelp is hoping to increase its presence in the food delivery arena by chowing down Eat24 to the very hearty price of $134 million. The two companies did some experimenting over a year ago and apparently it whet Yelp’s appetite to go full force on acquiring the online ordering engine. While Eat24 was only founded back in 2008, it already deals with 200,000 restaurants in 1,500 cities. Yelp will now compete with GrubHub –  who itself had a nifty little IPO debut back in April –  and is counting on its recent purchase to allow for a more streamlined approach to the online ordering experience. Sounds pretty tasty to me. Yelp currently has around 84,000 advertising accounts and, in case you were curious, it also has about a million restaurants listed with 135 million average monthly users dishing out their reviews, however unsavory they might be.

Bring it on…

Image courtesy of chanpipat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of chanpipat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Because Israel’s cyber-security is actually a matter of life and death for its citizens, it only make sense that it would lead the way in cyber-hacking defense. And since necessity is the mother of invention, it should come as no surprise that the latest defense mechanism to be used in the fight against corporate hacking – think Target, JPMorgan Chase, Home Depot, to name but a few –  is coming from Israel’s military. And hey, if you happen to make a few bucks on all the economic opportunities that come with protecting your peeps, then why not? Unit 8200, Israel’s elite intelligence division, has entered the cyber defense fray, launching its very own “cyber security” foundry called Team 8. With some help from investors like Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and Cisco, it’s safe to say (no pun intended, or maybe a little) that Team 8’s got some major street cred. Founded by former Unit 8200 member Nadav Zafrir, Team 8 bills itself as a “start-up for start-ups” (catchy, huh?).  No doubt Target, Home Depot and JPMorgan Chase are currently exploring their cyber-security options and licking their chops in anticipation of what Team 8 can do for them. Or not. Whatever the cost to implement the technology, it will still pale in comparison to the epic damage cyber hacks can cause. But I’m guessing if Eric Schmidt is throwing money at Team 8, then it’s probably worth it to have a go at the technology.

Up up and away….

Image courtesy of xedos4/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of xedos4/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We had another good month, at least according to the Labor Department anyways, which graciously just informed us that 214,000 jobs were added in October. But it gets even more exciting because the unemployment rate dropped. Yes you read that correctly, my fiscal minded friend. Instead of the unemployment rate hovering in the 5.9% range, that rate now hovers around (drum roll please) 5.8%. Yep that .1% drop actually means super huge things. Unfortunately those smug analysts estimated that about 16,000 more jobs would be added. But oh well, what’re you gonna do? The government happened to have added 5,000 of those jobs, by the way. And speaking of more labor, it would seem that the average amount of time Americans work per week has gone up as well. By ten minutes, that is, if my math is correct. So now we collectively work, on average, 34.6 hours per week. No matter how you personally feel about the amount of time you work. Just know that an increase like that is also a good sign. But if you prefer to work less, hey, far be it from me to stop you.

Gone phishing…

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It wasn’t enough that Home Depot now holds the dubious distinction of having suffered the LARGEST data breach. Ever. I’m sure Target’s pretty stoked not to be rocking that honor anymore. But now, it seems that in addition to the 56 million debit and credit cards that were compromised, 53 million email accounts were also stolen. So what do these hackers intend to do with all those email accounts? Well, phishing attacks are definitely on their to do list.  The unfortunately resourceful hackers entered Home Depot’s system through vendor accounts using usernames and passwords. The breach happened between April and September. Apparently, that was how Targets data breached was executed as well.

Fitched out…

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Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s no coincidence that you’ve been noticing a lot less of Abercrombie and Fitch logos flitting about. But maybe you never noticed them to begin with. In any case, the company just released its earnings and they were way untrendy. The company’s target demographic, teenagers, and by that I do mean that portion of the human population that changes its mind quicker than you can say…well anything…may be flocking to the mall but they’re not flocking to A&F. That goes even more so for its Hollister brand. Our tres tres trendy pals across the pond also have seem to moved on to other brands as well. In fact the retailer hit a two-year low. Analysts expected revenues over $982 million. But instead the retailer took a 12% hit getting just past the $911 million mark.  Last year at this time the company pulled in over a billion dollars.

 

Breach of Staples; McBummer Earnings; Coke’s Earnings Fizzing Out

You can’t take my stapler…

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Now let us welcome Staples into the not-so-exclusive-ranks of the breached – data breached, that is. The world’s largest office supply supplier becomes the latest corporate cyber-attack victim. The company is currently conducting an investigation after banks began noticing a strange pattern of fraudulent activity among a specific group of consumers, presumably ones who have swiped their plastic at Staples. Before Staples, Sears was making headlines for its data breach. But no word yet if this breach will be as epically huge as those that Home Depot and Target had to endure.

This meal’s not so happy…

Image courtesy of KEKO64/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of KEKO64/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Despite its best efforts to wage breakfast wars and valiant campaigns against pink-slime infested meat, McDonald’s third quarter earnings had no beef to stand on. Revenue, shares and all those fiscal details that make up a Big Mac were nothing short of dismal with earnings tanking 30%. The fast food chain pulled in a $1.07 billion profit which might seem nice, at first. But when you consider that McDonald’s earned $1.52 billion a year earlier then it’s easy to see why the earnings were particularly McLousy. CEO Don Thompson also blamed “unusual events” in Europe and Asia for the bummer quarter. Perhaps he was referring to that pesky “expired meat” issue in China. Or maybe all that stuff with Russia. But let’s not forget to also point the finger at those Millennials who have the nerve to prefer healthier, higher-quality alternatives like those being offered up at Panera and Chipotle (which, by the way, had a really great quarter).

Cola’s going flat…

Image courtesy of Naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Apparently not enough consumers are sharing a Coke as evidenced by Coa Cola’s just released earnings that seemed to have lost their bubbles. In fact, it’s lost the most in six years. Profits fizzed out 14% with net income down to $2.1 billion. A year ago people were still drinking Coca Cola to the net income tune of $2.4 billion. Revenue was but a mere $11.97 billion. Sounds like a lot, huh? Well, Wall Street would have preferred more. Like more than $2 billion.  So what gives? Apparently consumers are turning to healthier alternatives and Coca Cola is still in the midst of improving and expanding its healthier alternatives.