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.

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Greece’s Finances are Messing Everybody Up; Puerto Rico’s in a Debt “Death Spiral”; Housing Up and About

It’s all Greek to me…

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

They gave us philosophy and high-protein yogurt. But now Greece is giving us nothing but global fiscal chaos as its banks are on the verge of collapse while the country prepares to maybe give a big fat default on its loans tomorrow. That is assuming it doesn’t pony up a $1.8 billion re-payment. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras gave a very unwelcome surprise to Greece’s creditors on Friday when he called for a referendum to take place on July 5 on whether or not Greece should follow the plan that the creditors have in store – which is, basically, good old-fashioned austerity and some deep deep spending cuts. Greeks will have plenty of time to ponder all this as they wait on endless lines just to withdraw about $60 bucks. That is, if the ATM’s still even have cash in them, since hundreds are already empty. Too bad the banks will be closed for the next six days. As for the question surrounding the “Grexit,” as in, Greece’s potential ugly exit from the European Union…well that remains to be determined. But, I’m guessing those creditors really want Alexis Tsipras to think long and hard about that 240 billion in euros the country has been getting since 2010 and how much they would really appreciate getting it back. Actually, I’m guessing everyone wants Alexis Tsipras to do something, as the situation in Greece is messing with financial markets all over the world.

Speaking of debt-laden countries…

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Puerto Rico seems to be inadvertently channeling Greece’s debt problem as its Governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, said the island’s debt is “not payable” and even asked for help to be pulled from its fiscal “death spiral.” His words. Not mine. Puerto Rico’s debt is a lot less than Greece’s but no less daunting with its $72 billion price tag. One of the problems facing Puerto Rico is that because it’s not a state, it doesn’t even get to file for bankruptcy. This puts the territory in quite the pickle. So like any other borrower, Puerto Rico is going to attempt to restructure some of those loans and see about getting some deferments. Otherwise, fiscal disaster looms and it could be years before it climbs its way out of that menacing “death spiral.”

And not in Greece or Puerto Rico…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Housing recovery is…recovering. At least based on the number of pending sales from previously owned homes. But hey, we’ll take it. That figure, brought to us courtesy of the National Association of Realtors, is up .9% for May and up to 112.6. And bonus: that was the fifth straight gain. And more bonus: it’s at its highest point in nine years. And who doesn’t like straight gains and high points? Better employment, (slightly) increasing salaries and lower borrowing costs are all helping in this arduous recovery process. Interestingly enough, those higher sales came from the markets located in the Northeast and West part of our country. Not so much from points in the Midwest and South which actually took a bit of a hit. A teensy one. Well, teensy enough that it was over-shadowed by those impressive gains in other parts of the land. In case you were wondering, the median price for a home these day is $228,700, almost 8% higher than last year.