That’s All Folks: Yahoo Rides Off Into the Sunset; Uber Drama; Trump’s Attempts at Flattery; It’s Raining Tacos and Cheesecake Today

And that’s a wrap…

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Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sometimes goodbyes are hard and sometimes goodbyes are worth $23 million. At least that’s the case for Marissa Mayer, who will be collecting that much cash now that Verizon’s $4.5 billion acquisition of Yahoo is a done deal. Gosh, imagine what she’d be collecting if she were asked to stay on board. In any case, Yahoo will now melt into the AOL vortex and together they will morph in a new entity profoundly named Oath. However, once that happens, over 2,000 employees can expect to kiss their jobs goodbye. The last itty bitty remaining pieces of Yahoo will be named Altaba in homage to the fact that it is primarily a holding company for Yahoo’s sizable stake in the Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba.

Other highlights from today…

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  • It’s official: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick needs to compose his out-of-office reply. A management group will be established to run the show in his absence and when he returns he’ll be stripped of some of his duties. As for his return date, that is yet to be determined. It appears that he wont be missed that much. In the meantime, Uber now needs to come up with an effective system to tackle HR complaints. That might take awhile seeing as how the company is pretty much starting from scratch in that area.
  • In a meeting with Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, President Trump said to her that he thinks she’s a “low-interest person” like himself. Which is ironic since during his campaign he had plenty of criticism for the Fed because it kept those rates low. He also said he “likes her” and “respects her” which could mean anything and nothing when you’re President Donald Trump. Naturally, the Fed declined to comment, all while rumors swirl that it is expected to raise short-term interest rates for the fourth time in two years.
  • Go out and get yourself a free taco today. A Doritos Locos Taco, to be more specific. It’s on the house. At least at Taco Bell. The fast-food chain is being generous because the Golden State Warriors “stole” game 3 from the Cleveland Cavs. Naturally, it’s all part of a promotion, in this case the one that goes “Steal a Game, Steal a Taco.” Whatever. It’s free food.
  • Shares of Cheesecake Factory took a beating today because of Mother Nature. No, really. Apparently, because of some bad weather, customers near locations in the East and Midwest couldn’t enjoy enough “patio time” whilst eating copious amounts of cheesecake, thereby negatively affecting sales. And just like you, the analysts didn’t buy that excuse either.

Oil-vey! Trump’s Secretary of State Pick Putin Us On; Trump vs. Silicon Valley; Rate Hike Sends Joy Throughout Wall Street

Energized…

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Trump’s latest pick, this time for Secretary of State, has naturally already ruffled more than a few political feathers. Enter Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson, a man who happens to be very very cushy with Russia and its fearless leader, Vladimir Putin. If you recall, Russia is very brazenly messing with Ukraine, to the point where the U.S. felt compelled to impose sanctions. Now, the CIA said the country also launched cyber attacks against the U.S. in an effort to influence the election results. But that very same country awarded Tillerson the Friendship Medal in 2013.  Tillerson, who has never held a public office, has been at Exxon, the world’s largest energy firm, for 40 years and during that time spent many many hours cultivating relationships and establishing major business deals with countless foreign countries and companies. But he’ll still need to be confirmed by the Senate. However, considering that former Secretaries of State Condoleeza Rice and James Baker are big fans, not to mention Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he shouldn’t have too much of an uphill battle. By the way, Condoleeza Rice also happens to be a consultant at Exxon Mobil, and Robert Gates was a consultant at one point too. Rumor has it that they all plan to vouch for the CEO.  Lindsay Graham and John McCain, however, are just not that into him, presumably because of his chummy relationship with Putin, of whom they are not particularly fond. Also not in Tillerson’s favor is the fact that Exxon currently has billions of dollars in deals with Russia, not to mention one valued at $500 billion that involves exploring and pumping for oil in Siberia. Those deals can only go forward if the U.S. decides to lift its sanctions against Russia and, fyi,  Tillerson was never much of a fan of the sanctions. And just so you know, according to a filing from a year ago, Tillerson owns $218 million in Exxon stock along with a $70 million pension plan. Shares of Exxon Mobil went up 2.2% on the news of Tillerson’s nomination.

 

Speaking of Trump…

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Tomorrow is a big day at Trump Towers as some of Silicon Valley’s top execs head over to the President-elect’s digs for a little quality time with Donald Trump. Expected to attend the power meeting are: Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Google’s Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt…to name but a few. While the agenda’s not public, there are some predictions about what might be discussed tomorrow. There’s the not-so-minor issue of antitrust enforcement and those pesky government demands for user data. But much higher on that list is Trump’s immigration policies and how they have the potential to put a very major damper on the inner workings at many of these Silicon Valley companies. The fact that these companies bring in a lot of employees on special visas, not to mention that they also send plenty of jobs overseas, doesn’t exactly jibe well with Trump’s vision of “Making America Great Again.”  To be fair, Apple did say it has 80,000 employees in the United States and is also responsible for creating another 2 million jobs from all the business opportunities Apple creates. However, Trump did say, in his very eloquent way, that he wants to “get Apple to build their damn computers and things” right here.  Donald Trump is all for establishing major tax reforms and is acutely aware that all these tech companies have a lot of cash offshore. Major reform will help bring that cash back to the States. So its in everyone’s best interests to work together towards that goal, whether they supported Trump’s presidential aspirations or not. And for the record, they did not.

Stocks, and bonds and hikes…Oh my!

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stocks all over the world rejoiced today by going up while the Dow Jones Industrial Average came thisclose to hitting the 20,000 mark following its 9% surge since Election Day. Actually, the index came within 50 points of the 20,000 mark which sent Wall Street into fits of fiscal joy. The S&P got in on the action by going up .8% to its very own all-time high. The reason for all this excitement is because the Federal Reserve is expected to officially and finally finally announce a rate hike tomorrow, marking the second time in ten years that we get to witness and take part in that elusive increase. Rate hikes are welcome since they signal that the economy is strong and steady in all the right ways. Low interest rates have this nifty little effect on stocks that makes them cost higher. Problem is low interest rates are just no good  for the savers among us who like high interest rates because of the income they get from bonds and bank accounts.  Even though borrowing costs are about to get that much higher, investors are still positively giddy at the prospect that the President-elect intends to usher in an era of potentially lower corporate tax rates, less regulation and lots more infrastructure spending.

 

Turn the Street Around…; Best Buy’s Best Quarter?; Oui Oui Le Tax Pour Airbnb

Recovery?

Image courtesy of rattigon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of rattigon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s only right to call today “turnaround Tuesday” since the stock market seems to be sort of recovering from the fiscal slaughter of the last few days, including all those sell-offs and Monday’s 588 point Dow drop. Part of the turnaround is because of China’s decision to cut interest rates. For the fifth time. Since November.  And then there are all those juicy stock bargains. Traders up for a good bargain are on the prowl and take bargain shopping to a whole new level. You might think you know how to spot a great discount but you’ve got nothing on these traders. These deals have nothing on post-Christmas sales. But at least the Dow soared today, with tech stocks leading the charge. Except that the day ended down by 200 points.

Rolex who?

Image courtesy of Pixomar/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Pixomar/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Best Buy had a particularly impressive quarter but is it really all because of Apple and it’s highly coveted watch? Hmmm. Apparently, the Apple Watch has been quite a hit with the retailer and by the end of September you can stop into any one of Best Buy’s 1,000 plus locations and pick up the gadget. That much coveted watch also helped propel Best Buy’s online sales to a 17% increase, giving Amazon and Walmart a cyber run for their money. Of course, not all those sales were from Apple products, but still.  Apple doesn’t get all the credit since Best Buy also scored some impressive appliance sales.  And I’m pretty sure Apple doesn’t make refrigerators and dishwashers. Yet. The Apple thing really seems to be paying off for Best Buy so it seems logical that it will be increasing Apple’s presence in its stores and start to offer AppleCare and service in some extremely lucky locations. Best Buy earned a $164 million profit adding 46 cents per share. Analysts only expected 34 cents. Apparently those analysts don’t own an Apple Watch (nor do I, for that matter). A year earlier Best Buy raked in $146 million and 42 cents per share.

Let them eat cake…

Image courtesy of pixtawan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of pixtawan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’re traveling to Paris after October 1 (lucky you) and your accommodations come courtesy of Airbnb, be prepared to say au revoir to even more money than you might have planned. Your Parisian host will now be collecting a tourism tax from you in the amount of 83 euros per day, per person. In case you were wondering, because I know you were, 83 euros is equal to about 95 cents. Paris authorities made the request to Airbnb in an effort to encourage the home-sharing site to behave more like a hotel would. And, well, considering that Paris is the most visited city in the world, and Airbnb has over 50,000 listings there, it seems like the smart thing to do to comply with this request. Besides, that tourism tax helps generate local tax revenue and pays for all the extra infrastructure that results from tourism. Also, it gives Parisian hotels one less thing to complain about when it comes to the advantages of Airbnb and helps the site make nice with French authorities. Incidentally, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman has taken issue with the $25 billion company. Schneiderman said that 75% of New York City listings are, in fact, illegal, since the hosts are/were not present and the rental periods were for less than 30 days. According to New York State Law, these tenants owe Uncle Sam some $30 million.

Google’d: Big Search Engine News; How Crude: Dow Gets a Pick-me Up From Oil and Omaha; Postally Spent

If you google alphabet…

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Image courtesy of blackzheep/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In case you missed it, there’s a new head honcho at Google. Okay, maybe not as head honcho-y as Sergey Brin and Larry Page, but Sundar Pichai just became the new CEO of Google and now holds the keys to that very magical kingdom. There is also a little bit of restructuring going on at the almighty tech company. Okay. A lot. You see, Google has now become a subsidiary of a new publicly traded company called Alphabet Inc. – which will soon be trading under that name. Brin and Page are at the top of that executive food chain and, no doubt, always will be. Pichai is no rookie, though. He’s been at Google for well over a decade and his last role was as head of Android. So he’ll probably settle into his new digs quite comfortably. Apparently, Wall Street likes the new arrangements too. Google’s stock surged 6% on the news.

Take a dow…

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Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A big shout out goes to Warren Buffet today, who together with rebounding oil prices, got the dow to shake off a fiscally ugly seven day slump. First, crude finally climbed 2% to a respectable $44.74 a barrel after falling below a very unflattering $44 a barrel on Friday. Then the Oracle of Omaha reminded the world why Berkshire Hathaway is, in fact, the happiest place on earth (sorry Mickey) when his company announced a $37 billion deal to buy Precision Castparts. The company was purchased at a 20% premium, but no doubt worth every…billion. Precision Castparts took in $10 billion in sales with a $1.5 billion profit in 2014.

Going postal…

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Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It used to be that postal workers were unstoppable in their pursuit of mail delivery. As the saying goes: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…” Noticeably absent from this list is Congress, which just might be the one thing that could put a crimp in those mail deliveries. You see, the United States Postal Service just announced its quarterly earnings. It lost $586 million. But, that was still a major improvement over last year at this time when the agency took a $1.5 billion hit. Ouch. April-June, however, typically sees lower revenues, so that figure wasn’t totally alarming. Part of the reason why USPS didn’t lose as much is because of how the interest rates that are tied into worker compensation expenses. Go interest rates! Now let’s get back to Congress. Strangely enough, even though the USPS doesn’t receive any tax dollars, the agency is still under congressional control. Under that congressional control we find the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. Say that five times fast. The “Act” stipulates that USPS must pay between $5.4 billion and $5.7 billion toward future retiree health benefit costs. Until 2016. Unfortunately for the USPS, there have been a lot of changes in the mail and package delivery industry and the agency is facing stiff competition, including from many start-ups. Congress has yet to acknowledge these shifting postal tides and draft new legislation that would tweak that multi-billion requirement to a more attainable fiscal goal. Until that happens…well, it’s Congress so don’t hold your breath.

Home Sweet Amazon-Serviced Home; Ben Bernanke Joins the Blogosphere; AG Settles Score With GNC

Is there anything it won’t sell?

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Amazon has come out with yet another way to take your money. This time it’s through its new Amazon Home Services with over 700 home improvement service providers services at your fingertip, with verified reviews for added peace of mind. Plumbing problems? Too tired to assemble that new gym equipment? Don’t feel like vacuuming? No problem. Just log on and Amazon will make sure it all gets taken care of. Services are paid for via your Amazon account only after the project is completed. So why is Amazon’s home service offerings different from all others, like Angie’s List, Yelp etc.?  Perhaps it the comprehensive vetting process it conducts, including making sure service professionals are licensed, insured and have had their backgrounds thoroughly checked. But Amazon also offers a money-back guarantee charmingly called a “happiness guarantee.” Apparently, consumers also trust Amazon, giving an added incentive to use the ever-powerful e-commerce giant. To be fair, however, I too, once trusted Amazon. But then last month one of its vendors sent me a completely different set of fairy wings than the ones I ordered. Just sayin’.

Payback…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The blogosphere just got a bit more crowded now that Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke joined the mix with his own blog for the Brookings Institute. He is, after all, its latest Distinguished Fellow in Residence of the Economic Studies Program. It’s very pish posh, indeed. The position, I mean. Not the blog. “Now that I’m a civilian again, I can once more comment on economic and financial issues without my words being put under the microscope by Fed watchers.” Which means he doesn’t have to be polite anymore and gets to say whatever he wants. For instance, Mr. Bernanke can use his blog for, among other purposes, striking back at the many critics he’s had over the years who took issue with his policies. Janet Yellen, who took over for him last year, does not get to have that kind of fun. At least for now. In today’s post, Mr. Bernanke graciously explains the reasons behind the low interest rates. By the way, he’d like you to know that it’s not necessarily because the Fed is keeping it that way – though there is some truth to that.

Whaddya mean there’s no ginseng in there? 

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Image courtesy of Getideaka/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This time it is not a bank that has reached a deal with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. GNC Holdings Inc. begrudgingly settled a lawsuit over its Herbal Plus products found at GNC, of course, but also at Target, Walmart and Walgreens. Apparently, it wasn’t at all clear that the ingredients listed on the outside of the bottles of the dietary supplements were actually present on the inside. Who would have thunk it? The presence of things like echinacea, ginkgo biloba, ginseng and St. John’s wort couldn’t be verified when the AG used DNA barcoding methods to test for them. That’s kind of a huge embarrassing problem in the $33 billion a year dietary supplement industry. Of course, GNC disagrees vehemently with the AG’s testing methods saying the “lawsuits are without merit.”  GNC, however, used its own internal test methods, in addition to third party independent test methods which, naturally yielded different results. Despite all that, the supplement company will now be using bar-coding methods –  just like the AG’s office –  beginning in the next 18 months, so that consumers will know for sure if there really is echinacea in that bottle they’re holding, conveniently labeled “echinacea.”

 

 

Inflation Elation; Home Sweet Home Loans; Feeling 1.7 % More Secure

Get your motors running…

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Image courtesy of kongsky/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief now that the numbers are telling us how stuff like inflation and the cost to live on this planet, at least our part of it, didn’t really change, as in go up, down etc. Well, it did. Slightly. But nothing that would require any action from those money experts at the Federal Reserve. This means interest rates get to stay nice and low.  For now, anyways. But it should be duly noted that the Feds would prefer to see inflation actually go up. A bit, anyways. Because apparently that would be healthier for the economy, according to people who qualify as experts. What has also become a rather pleasant occurrence is the price of gas these days, which has been going down to an average of $3.09 per gallon. Now who doesn’t love a drop in gas prices? Never a bad thing, in my most humble opinion.

The rates are falling! The rates are falling!

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Image courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Look out for new neighbors with mortgage rates falling down all over the place.  According to the very insightful index of the very insightful Mortgage Bankers Association, or MBA for those in the know, all these new nifty low borrowing costs have resulted in a major increase in mortgage applications. We’re talking an 11.6% increase in applications. Numbers that big haven’t been seen since January. The week before saw a 5.6% increase. Thinking of going for the plunge on a 30 year fixed loan? Well those rates went down to 4.1%. Or perhaps you are mulling over a 15 year fixed rate mortgage? The interest rates on those babies dropped to 3.28%.

Social security butterfly…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In case you will be wondering (and why wouldn’t you be?) what happened to over 6.2% of your paycheck towards the end of fiscal 2015, look no further than the Social Security tax. Around 10 million Americans will be shelling out over $7,300 towards that “fund” next year. The cap on that figure, by the way, is $118,500 for 2015. Fret not, taxpayer as that is but a mere 1.3% increase over 2014’s $117,000 cap. But wait, there’s more. The millions upon millions of retirees receiving social security benefits will receive  1.7% fatter checks in 2015 thanks to the Cost of Living Adjustment, or COLA , for those in the know (and not to be confused with any beverages, mind you). For the average retiree, that amounts to about $22 more per month on a monthly check of $1,328. If you think that number is, shall we say, unimpressive, then consider the fact that in 2010 and 2011 there was a 0% increase. Z-E-R-O.