How Trump Is Dulling Tiffany & Co.’s Sparkle; Just Another Multi-billion Dollar Monday; Oil Vey! OPEC Squabbles Over Oil Cuts

Occupying 5th Ave…

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Despite occupying some of the the best real estate in the world, Tiffany & Co.’s New York flagship store is having some sales troubles no thanks to president-elect Donald Trump,  whose nearby police barricades, protests and secret service detail have taken a big chunk out of the store’s traffic. And that’s a huge problem, especially because the U.S. is Tiffany & Co.’s biggest market, and its Manhattan store accounts for 8% of the company’s sales. At least there’s China and Japan, whose currency fluctuations allowed consumers in those regions to take advantage of a strong yen that had them picking up all kinds of nifty goods from the iconic jeweler. Mainly because of that, the company posted a surprise 1.2% sales increase – the first sales rise in eight quarters. Same store sales didn’t fare as badly either, even though experts thought they would. Instead of declining an expected 2.8%, they fell just 2%. In the United States, presumably in locations where Trump does not reside, Tiffany & Co. experienced a smaller than expected drop, falling just 2% compared to last year at this time. The luxury jeweler scored a $95 million profit, pulling down 76 cents per share on sales of $949.3 million. Analysts only expected 67 cents to be added to shares with sales totaling $923.7 million.

Shattered…

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Move over $3.36 billion. Move over $3.39 billion. The original sales estimates for cyber-Monday proved no match for the actual numbers. Adobe Digital Insights whipped out the results for this year’s post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza, which blew estimates out of the water and came in at a whopping $3.45 billion – over a 12% increase from last year’s cyber-Monday purchases. But what’s super weird is that apparently there were less deals on cyber-Monday than on Black Friday. However, Black Friday’s numbers were looking awfully green as well, setting a record with a 22% increase over last year and coming in at just $110 million less than cyber-Monday. Some analysts were a bit concerned that the abundance of web sales on Thanksgiving would put a dent in cyber-Monday’s digits. But wouldn’t you know it? That didn’t happen. Purchases made using Wall-Mart’s app jumped 150% while Amazon is expecting to report its best cyber-Monday. Ever. But you’re just going to have to take their word for it. As for losers, look no further than Macy’s. Perhaps it was karma for opening its doors at 5:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day, but the company experienced outages on its website that kept a lot of shoppers from making a lot of purchases on the company’s site. The amount of money the retailer likely lost was probably not enough to offset the fact that it opened its doors on Thursday. Boohoo.

Why can’t we oil just get along?

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The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, also known as OPEC, is having a big fancy meeting in Vienna tomorrow. At issue is the problem that there is way too much oil floating around all over the world. This oil glut is making oil prices low which makes for really good prices at the pump. However, the countries that produce all this oil don’t like that one bit and are trying to agree on how to fix it so that prices go up again and they can start making cold hard cash. Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq are the biggest oil producers and the logical step would be for each country to cut their production. But none of them want to do that. There’s a lot of ego involved. It’s like color war, but with actual valuable commodities at stake, besides national pride. Saudi Arabia is proposing cuts of 1.2 million barrels per day. However, Iran’s not down for making any cuts because it feels it needs to make up for lost time from all those years of Western sanctions it faced – and totally deserved – and still does deserve. Iraq is using ISIS as a very convenient, if somewhat legit excuse since it is, after all, fighting a war against a psychopathic terrorist organization, and the money it gets from selling oil helps fund that lofty endeavor. Rumor has it that Iran and Iraq are coming around but no word on whether Saudi Arabia will play ball. So stay tuned to see if and when more OPEC drama plays out, and how this drama will affect your wallet and your green car aspirations.

 

Boeing’s Next Big Thing. And You Might Not Like It; Upper Middle Class Marks its Territory; To Brexit or Not to Brexit, Part Two

Coffee, tea or uranium enrichment?

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Boeing reportedly just signed an agreement with Iran Air so that the official airline of the potentially rogue nation can buy about 100 commercial aircraft from the American company. Rumor has it that the deal is worth $25 billion but there are still plenty of details that need to be hammered out before you can plan your Tehran vacay. Iran is definitely hard up for some new aircraft because it has just 250 aircraft and only 162 of them can fly, if that. The rest need spare parts. But with sanctions that have been in place for decades, those spare parts have been impossible to come by. Apparently the U.S. government feels that Iran held up its end of the dubious nuclear accord, however, the U.S. treasury still needs to give its seal of approval, along with every other human being in DC and beyond. You may not like the idea of the U.S. doing business with Iran but Boeing factory workers feel otherwise, as do Boeing shareholders who are chomping at the bit to get in on the profitable action. The fact is, the country is seen – and not just by the U.S. – as a promising growth market and there is plenty of money to be made there. European aircraft companies, Airbus and ATR, already have their agreements lined up with the Islamic Republic. Unfortunately, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni is not so enthusiastic about buying aircraft from the United States and doesn’t see it an a priority. But then again, his state sponsors terrorism. So do we really care what his priorities are? Didn’t think so.

So classy!

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The upper middle class is thriving. At least that’s what the Urban Institute and economist Stephen Rose are saying. And just what makes a person upper middle class anyway? Glad you asked. If you find yourself in a three-person family that generates an annual income between $100,000 and $350,00, then you, my friend, are a thriving member of the upper middle class. Congratulations. I think. Stephen Rose argues that the true divide is not between the rich and poor, but rather it’s divided between the wealthy combined with the upper middle class, and everybody else. Warms the heart, no? The upper middle class was, once upon a time in 1979, 13% of the population. But in 2014, that class made up almost the 30% of the population. While the wealthy used to be just .1% of the population, that group is now 1.8% of the population. The middle class shrunk, presumably because some became wealthier and some…did not, and now makes up 32% of the population, compared to almost 39% back in 1979. The middle class, by the way, is defined as a family generating income between $50,000 to $100,000 annually. Just as there is an upper middle class, there is also a lower middle class which is defined as generating an annual income between $30,000 – $50,000. Generating an annual income anything less than that is probably not where you want to be. But on a high note, the standard of living has gone up for nearly all Americans, no matter what class they’re in.

 

Rate a moment…

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Janet Yellen appeared before the Senate Banking Committee and among the many fiscal pearls she imparted, she said that the Central Bank would go forward cautiously on its plan to gradually increase rates. Even though many experts were sure a June rate increase was in the works, “considerable uncertainty” with regard to the  U.S. economic outlook, global economic issues, a hiring slowdown and the looming “Brexit” vote in Britain nixed any thought of an increase. Janet Yellen did stress that the U.S. is not taking sides on the Brexit issue but cautioned that there will likely be economic consequences to the U.S, which sounds awfully ominous. There is concern that a Brexit would increase the value of the dollar, and that is not always a good thing, as evidenced by the dozens of companies that have lost millions of dollars in revenue and profits this year because of the strong dollar overseas. Ms. Yellen would like to see, among other things, a rebound in hiring and some growth improvement in the economy. No major surprises from the Brits would be nice too. Also during the meeting, Sen. Elizabeth Warren commented on the lack of diversity among the members of the Central Bank. Ten out of the 12 members are men, not there is anything wrong with those gentlemen. But still. Anyways, Chairwoman Yellen graciously replied: “It’s important to have a diverse group of policy makers who can bring different perspectives to bear.”Amen!

Oil Vey 2: The Wrath of Iran; Virtual Company with Real Billions; Dr. Pepper’s Outlook Fizzing Out

Double double oil and trouble…

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Oil surged 6% today. Yay. It finally finally went above $30 a barrel today. Another yay.  But maybe you’re thinking that positively sucks as you notice that you have a quarter of a tank of gas left in your car. However, in the grand scheme of things, a very grand scheme which does not fit in this blog today, a gradual price increase in gas is a healthy economic indicator. Plenty of folks on Wall Street are attributing this healthy surge to some conversations that were held recently between OPEC and non-OPEC members. Namely, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Oh yeah, Qatar and Venzuela were also allowed to participate. The deal is that these oil producers will cap their crude production – just as long as other major producers follow suit. The last time an  OPEC/non-OPEC “deal” was made was 15 years ago. And like the one 15 years ago, this one is not expected to do much, except act as a starting point. How reassuring. Now, guess which country has NO plans to cap, curb or freeze oil production? Iran, of course.  Sure, the totalitarian-run country thinks it’s a bummer that oil prices are so low, but its leaders are so hell-bent on re-grabbing its market share after all those pesky international sanctions it had to endure for the last 30 years, that it has no intention of curbing production. By the way, conspicuously absent from any talks was Canada, a country that just happens to have the third largest oil reserves, and China, the world’s fourth largest oil producer. Hmmm. Wonder what we ought to take away from that?

All in a maze work…

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At least virtual reality doesn’t bite. Swiss-based company MindMaze, a neural virtual reality platform – which is just as cool as it sounds – now has a pretty amazing valuation. After scoring $100 million in its latest round of funding, the company upped its valuation to over $1 billion. The company’s technology uses virtual and augmented reality and sells electronic headsets to hospitals in order to help rehabilitate stroke patients. The company also has plans to use its rehabilitation features for other injuries, and even amputations. Of course, since we are talking virtual reality, or VR as the cool kids call it, other versions will be available for video gaming as well. In an effort to boost profitability, the company is toying with the idea of selling the hardware separate from the software. It is the fifth start-up company of its kind, and joins the ranks of Oculous VR and Magic Leap. Apparently, investors dig the technology too, seeing as how they have dumped around $4 billion into various VR companies since 2010.

I’m not a Pepper…

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Dr. Pepper Snapple Group posted their fourth quarter earnings and there’s good news…and not so good news. Of course, the good news is the company’s profit. The beverage company, which also makes Canada Dry and A&W Root Beer, among other products, scored a $185 million profit, adding a buck per share and shooting down analyst estimates of 98 cents per share. Last year at this time the company earned $150 million with 77 cents added per share. The Texas-based company also pulled down $1.55 billion in revenue, a nice little boost from 2015’s $1.51 billion. But when we turn to the company’s outlook, we then find the not so good news. Despite people’s thirst, Dr. Pepper’s outlook is weak, expecting just a 1% increase in net sales. Even in 2015, the company took in a 3% increase. The company is figuring it’ll earn somewhere between $4.20 to $4.30 per share for the full year, even though predictions were for $4.34. Dr. Pepper may not be blaming the oil glut on the weak outlook, but there is another culprit – the ever blame-worthy strong dollar, which even managed to sully the beverage industry’s numbers.

Jumping the Twitter Ship; Coffee, Tea or Nukes? Air Iran Might Be Headed Our Way; McD’s CEO Really Does Deserve a Break Today

And then there were six…

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Twitter just got a whole lot lighter – except not in a good way. Four top executives are jumping ship from the social networking site, in addition to a top member over at Twitter-owned Vine. The news was tweeted (naturally) last night when Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey posted that all five people had “chosen” to leave and “will be taking some well-deserved time off.” That’s awfully sweet but it still begs the question as to why those folks chose to leave in the first place – especially because those four executive departures constituted 40% of Twitter’s top brass. Don’t bother looking up any job postings for the newly vacated positions. Dorsey seems to have at least one of them filled, apparently by a high-profile executive in the media industry. No word yet on the other positions but rumor has it they’ve also been filled. Not that any of this is news to those at Twitter. When Jack Dorsey returned to the top spot he did, after all, say that the board will eventually have to be replaced. Incidentally, upon Dorsey’s return, shares of Twitter have fallen about 50%.  Shares are now hovering below the IPO price as the company continues to struggle to find ways to attract more users.

Blackout dates…

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Because nothing says romantic vacation getaway like hopping on a plane to Tehran, Iran is on a mission – not even a nuclear one! – to boost tourism and get back in the good graces of just about every country in the western hemisphere. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is in Europe this week and just might strike (no pun intended) a deal with Airbus to purchase some 500 aircraft so that you can book your next vacay to the radically ruled country. Rumor has it that Boeing might also supply Iran with some aircraft too, and it would mean that it’d be the first time in 36 years – ever since that pesky Islamic revolution – that travelers could hop on a direct flight to a country that’s hostile to United States citizens. Looks like British Airways is itching to be among the first of the commercial airlines to start taxiing on an Iranian tarmac. Apparently, some analysts are expecting a bona fide economic boom – I SAID ECONOMIC! – to occur in Iran now that sanctions have been lifted in exchange for shelving its nuke fantasies.  And because banking sanctions have also been lifted, Iran will even be able to pay for the aircraft. And so much more…

Comeback kid…

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Attention naysayers: McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook’s turnaround plan seems to actually be working. How ’bout that. McDonald’s served up some tasty earnings with a special boost from its all-day breakfast offerings.  A big show of gratitude also goes to China where, as it turns out, diners continued to opt for the Golden Arches’ fast-food fare despite the nasty food safety scandal that erupted during the summer of 2014. Same store sales took a 5.7% jump and wouldn’t you know it, shares jumped on the news, especially because, after two years of little to no growth, the company finally experienced that wonderful sensation, posting its best quarter in four years. McDonald’s pulled down a profit of $1.21 billion, an almost 10% increase, while adding $1.28 per share. That’s a nice little smack down to analysts’ estimates of just $1.23 per share. And while a strong dollar did send revenue a bit south to $6.34 billion, it was still above and beyond expectations of $6.22 billion. The only bummer in the earnings was in France, where terrorist attacks have kept too many would-be McDonald’s patrons from enjoying the cuisine.