Kate Spade Shares Stylin’ on Latest Reports; Sears Has a Fiscal Guardian Angel; Amazon Dismisses Gravity With Latest Patent

I’m so fancy…

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Kate Spade wants to put itself up for grabs and that news sent its shares up 23%, giving Wall Street plenty of cause to celebrate. And the Street will take whatever it can get, especially since Kate Spade was down 9% just in the last six months. In fact, similar companies including Michael Kors and Coach have also experienced declines during the same time period. But the kicker is that both of those companies, along with four others, are being bandied about as potential buyers of Kate Spade. Talk of a potential sale is just what hedge fund Caerus Investors wants to hear. While the firm, which entered the picture back in 2009, hasn’t disclosed its exact stake in the company, it did send a letter to Kate Spade’s board back in November urging it to put itself on the auction block. And that’s exactly what’s planned for next month. With a market cap of $2.3 billion, Caerus thinks Kate Spade could get picked up for a nifty premium – between $21 to $23 per share -and naturally, Caerus stands to profit from that. But that wasn’t the only story to come out of Kate Spade today. Apparently, an options trader purchased 2,000 calls for Kate Spade shares just minutes before it was reported that it’s exploring a sale. A call, by the way, allows a buyer to score shares at a pre-agreed upon price. Not only was one very lucky buyer involved, but it also netted a very shrewd trader a cool $320,000 within minutes. Insider info? Hmmm. I’m sure the SEC would like to know. Because that would be so bad. Just ask Martha Stewart. As for Kate Spade, she hasn’t been part of the company since 2006.

On a another note…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Even though its stock just went up 9% – the most in two months – Wall Street definitely does not feel the same amount of love for Sears as it does for Kate Spade. The stock closed at a 52 week low just yesterday and its planning to close 30 more Sears and Kmart stores in early 2017. But there is someone who seems to love the embattled retailer unconditionally: CEO Eddie Lampert, who said he’s going to get a $200 million letter of credit for the troubled company. In fact, he has so much faith in the company  – and apparently he’s the only one who does – that he thinks that letter of credit could grow to $500 million. This is not Lampert’s first “loan” to Sears. In the last two years he’s shelled out over $800 million to the company.  Talk about faith.  At least this loan comes with guarantees that if Sears goes bust, its suppliers will still get paid. I wonder if the rest of his hedge fund buds over at ESL Investments feel the same, even as the firm continues to back Sears? For some inexplicable reason, Lampert is devoted to Sears, despite the fact that its sales are constantly going down and it has already lost billions. Most investors think the time has come to throw in the retail towel.  But not Lampert, who in addition to being Sears’s CEO and biggest cheerleader for the last four years, also happens to be its biggest investor.  However, others only see red flags and are wondering why Lampert is the only one eager to throw money at a company which has been losing so much of it in so little time.  Sears’s last quarter lost $750 million, so much worse than last year at this time when it only lost $454 million. Revenue fell a whopping 13% to $5 billion. In fact, in the last eight years, Sears has lost around $9 billion. Also, with the seeming exception of Lampert, everyone is wondering why Sears would need money right after the holiday season, which is supposed to be the most lucrative quarter out of the whole year.

Yeah, they thought of that too…

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Because fulfillment centers weren’t enough, now the e-commerce giant is looking to do away with gravity – besides logistics companies – with its latest patent for an airborne fulfillment center (AFC). It’s exactly what it sounds like – a warehouse in the sky. Flying at a lofty 45,000 feet, drones would basically zoom into the warehouse, pick up items that were ordered and then deliver them.  The company’s ramped up its drone tech efforts and this latest project fits in nicely with that initiative.  Right now Amazon drone delivery requires that Amazon build warehouses in specific areas, on land, where drones can happily roam free and deliver items to customers. Some of the uses mentioned in the filing include fulfilling orders during football games. The AFC would be stocked ahead of time with certain game “essentials” that could be easily delivered as you cheer for your favorite team. Another idea would be to allow customers to order right from a giant ad board and have their items delivered “within minutes.” But before you start having nightmares of flying robotic insects whizzing all around you, Amazon is going to need to get major regulatory approval from aviation authorities before launching any airships.

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Cyber-Attack on U.S. Law Firms Nets Big Illicit Gains for Chinese Hackers; Alexa Gave Amazon a Very Fiscal-Merry Christmas; Fred’s Whips Out the Poison

All hacked up…

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Some of New York’s finest, most prestigious law firms fell victim to a few Chinese hackers when they hacked into the firms’ computer systems and stole valuable information regarding mergers and acquisitions. That information was then used for insider trading which netted the cyber-attackers over $4 million in illegal profits. The attacks happened between April of 2014 – 2015 when the hackers installed malware on the computer networks of the law firms and then downloaded the information from email accounts. U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara said, “This case of cyber meets securities fraud should serve as a wake-up call for law firms around the world: you are and will be targets of cyber hacking, because you have information valuable to would-be criminals.” The 13 count indictment details how the suspects purchased shares from certain companies involved in mergers and acquisitions and then sold those shares for a massive profit once those mergers and acquisitions were announced.  In the meantime, the SEC has filed its own parallel civil suit against the alleged perps and has asked to have their assets frozen lest they try and cash out on their ill-gotten gains.

It’s all about Alexa…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The results are in. Well, some of them, anyway. In this case, Amazon is claiming to be the big merry winner (cue the surprised facial expressions) of the retail game we call Christmas – and Hanukah too, of course. Amazon said it shipped more than one billion items through Prime and fulfillment services and, apparently, four of Amazon’s very own devices were the biggest sellers on the e-commerce giant’s site. Go figure. Those top sellers include the Echo Dot Smart Speaker, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick Media Streamer, the Fire Tablet and the regular (plain-old?) standard Echo Speaker.  Just don’t bother asking Amazon for specific sales figures. The company has a nasty habit of not divulging such useful information. Incidentally, the Fire Tablet and Fire TV Stick were also hot sellers last year. With the exception of the Amazon Echo Smart Speakers, the other three cost $5o or less and at those prices it’s easy to see why consumers scooped them up. In fact, sales for Echo devices were nine times higher than they were last year. All the devices, by the way, come with the Alexa voice assistant and Amazon saw a record number of orders for devices that come with Alexa. Only problem was those Echo speakers went too fast. Amazon sold out of them by the middle of December.

Going for the poison…

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Last week Fred’s was on top of the world, after agreeing to buy 865 RiteAid stores for $1 billion. The deal was a win-win. RiteAid needed to dump those stores in order to get regulatory approval to merge with Walgreens Boots Alliance. By purchasing those 865 stores, Fred’s basically doubled its size overnight, going from a market cap $450 million to $1.3 billion. It also experienced a massive stock increase and effectively became the third largest drugstore chain in the U.S. as well as the new darling of the retail pharmacy industry.  But then came activist investor Alden Global, which apparently picked up a 25% stake in Fred’s when no one was paying attention. When the Fred’s board noticed the unusual activity going on with its shares, it unanimously approved a nifty little tactic affectionately dubbed a “poison pill.” A poison pill is simply a shareholder rights plan that kicks into place in the event of a hostile takeover. The targeted company tries to make shares look less valuable and attractive, i.e. “poisonous” to a potential acquirer.  If control is taken, at least shareholders will then be compensated accordingly with a “poison pill” in place.  Fred’s poison pill is meant to take effect when an individual or a group scoops up 10% or more of the company shares. Alden thinks Fred’s shares are undervalued and see their acquisition as a great investment opportunity. Although, Fred’s did deny they threw together the poison pill plan because of a potential takeover bid.

Wal-Mart Brings it Home with Great Earnings; A New Pew Study is Out and the Results May Surprise You; SEC Takes a Swing at Golfer Phil Mickelson

Sweet…

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Wal-Mart showered us with the news of its higher than expected quarterly profits and that’s a good sign since Wal-Mart’s success is a barometer of the economy and how well it’s behaving. Wal-Mart, in case you weren’t aware, is considered to be less upscale than its rival, Target. Because Target did not do so well this quarter and Wal-Mart did, experts are quick to point out that those in a more modest income bracket are still spending, at Wal-Mart anyways, and that is always a welcome occurrence in a healthy economy. Wal-Mart can thank an increase in drug prices, which is not as bad as it sounds. Hey, people need their medicines. But that’s just one small reason for the impressive digits. Warm weather helped keep Wal-Mart’s utility costs lower, which also contributed to those welcome numbers. Don’t laugh. Any little bit helps, even if it does involve the thermostat. A profit is a profit and Wal-Mart’s was $.304 billion. That figure is actually less than last year’s $3.34 billion, but its because of investments to improve the retailer and not because of any negative reasons. The retailer shelled out $2.7 billion to increase entry level pay and that also helped out with some of that profit. The company added 98 cents per share when analysts expected only 88 cents per share. And who doesn’t like it when analysts get it wrong, right?   As a result of the fiscally delightful news, shares of Wal-Mart made a nice little jump today, which is especially good since shares had gone down over 20% in the last twelve months.

The gig is up…

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The Pew Research Center just released the results of its latest study, this time tackling the ever-popular “sharing economy.” For whatever reason, the center wanted to know what 4,787 U.S. adults think about Uber and Lyft, Kickstarter and Airbnb, to name a few. Turns out that 72% of U.S. adults have used at one of 11 different shared/on-demand platforms.  73% responded that they’d never heard of the term “sharing economy.” But that’s nothing compared to the 89% who didn’t know what a “gig economy” is. Then things started to get dicey. 15% of the people surveyed said they’d used shared and on-demand services like Uber and Lyft, yet 30% said they’d never heard of those apps. Household income and age played a big role in who used the apps. 41% of U.S. adults with annual incomes of more than $100,000 had used at least four of the services, which was more than three times that of adults whose annual incomes were less than $30,000. 39% of college graduates used at least four of the services. Not nearly so much for those who don’t have higher degrees. For those in the 50+ range, 44% said they’ve used at least four of the services. But of the 65 and above set , only 5% used the services. While ride-sharing apps were – no great shock – used primarily by young adults in big cities, middle aged adults were the primary users of services offered by apps like Airbnb. And even though Kickstarter and other crowd-funding apps have only been around since 2009, 22% of U.S. adults apparently gave donations through them. Yet 61% of those who responded said they’d never heard of the term “crowd-funding.”

Inside out…

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Pro-golfer Phil Mickelson is under investigation and it has nothing to do with sports. The SEC has set its sights on the five time major winner for insider trading. Apparently, Mickelson scored almost a million bucks and the SEC wants him to pay it all back…with interest. To be fair, Mickelson is classified as a “relief defendant” which means he hasn’t been officially accused of…anything. He does, however, still have to pay back his insider trading profit of $931,738.12, not to mention another $105,291.09 in interest. But hey, it’s better than doing time, a possibility for the two men who supplied him with the non-publicizied information. And those two men happen to be well known sports gambler Billy Walters and former chairman of Dean Foods, Thomas Davis. It’s no mistake that the “ill-gotten gains” were from Dean Foods. Which explains why Walters and Davis are now both facing criminal charges, while Mickelson’s attorneys get to call their client, who currently ranks 17th in the world, an “innocent bystander.”