Choo On This: Luxury Shoe Brand Not in Step with Coffee; Jack Ma Isn’t Feeling the Automation Love; Supreme Court to GM: Too Bad For You

Well-heeled…

Jimmy Choo

Luxury shoe brand, Jimmy Choo, will be getting a new owner now that JAB Holding Co. has decided that the company, wants to focus on its more carb/caffeinated brands. And who can blame the billionaire Reimann family that controls Jab. In the last few years, the company spent billions picking up various other food and beverage entities in the form of Krispy Kreme and Panera Bread, and well, 125 millimeter stilettos don’t really go so well with the stuff that carb dreams are made of. But Jimmy Choo may prove to be a very tempting company to a lot of potential buyers. While a pair of Jimmy Choo’s, whose fashion stock soared thanks to Carrie Bradshaw and “Sex and the City”,  may not hold the same appeal as a fresh hot donut – well, to some anyway – the fact is that shares of the luxury goods company are up 44% since the company’s debut back in October of 2014. JAB had the good business sense to pick up the iconic shoe company for 500 million pounds back in 2011. Revenue for 2016 increased over 14% to $465 million with a 43% profit increase to $54.4 million. Wall Street also digs the idea of a sale as shares of Jimmy Choo, which are traded in London, rose over 10% today.

The Jetson’s it ain’t…

ID-100221961

Image courtesy of Simon Howden/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In case you were in the mood for a downer, then turn your attention to Alibaba founder and chairman, Jack Ma. During a conference hosted by the China Entrepreneur Club, Ma suggested that the future will suck. Because of robots.  He’s convinced that in the next thirty years, “the world will see much more pain than happiness.” Ma expects our automated companions to take over the workplace which might mean fewer work days but also fewer positions that require actual human attention. And the watercolor talk will be decidedly less entertaining. In fact, Ma is convinced that within thirty years, a robot will eventually grace a Time Magazine cover for being the “best CEO.” So if you think your boss has no personality now, just wait. And before you go calling Ma overly-dramatic, consider that according to the World economic Forum, it is estimated that there will be a net loss of 5 million jobs across 15 major economies thanks to automation. Sure technology is great, as long as it’s not taking over your paycheck.

Well at least they tried…

ID-100128578

Image courtesy of nirots/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

GM tried to get the Supreme Court to block hundreds of lawsuits over its faulty ignition switches that could end up costing the automobile company billions. But the Supreme Court said no dice and the lawsuits can proceed. The reason: The company’s 2009 bankruptcy. If you recall, those faulty ignition switches were responsible for 125 deaths and more than twice as many injuries. More than 2.5 million vehicles were recalled and $2.5 billion worth of settlements dished out. GM knew about the problem before the bankruptcy so technically, it’s on the hook, since it could have just as easily notified all the owners of the vehicles that had the problem. Of course, that decision did not sit well with GM and a spokesperson said as much saying the appeal “was not a decision on the merits…” Amazingly enough, the appeal denial didn’t even freak out Wall Street – this time anyway – as shares actually rose today, albeit slightly.

Advertisements

VW Has Some Arresting; Mars Inc. Has Gone to the Dogs; Alibaba Woos Trump

Arrested development…

id-100230648

Image courtesy of patrisyu/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The FBI made its second arrest in the Volkswagen Emissions Scandal. Which is sort of reassuring considering that it seemed like the responsible parties were going to skate free. But there is no skating in the future for Volkswagen executive Oliver Schmidt, whose being charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. His job title, ironically, is “General Manager of the Engineering and Environmental Office for Volkswagen America.”  However, the environment was apparently the last thing on his mind when he allegedly involved himself in the plan to install secret software, known as “defeat devices,” into some 475,000 diesel cars in the United States. If you recall, this naughty software allowed VW automobiles to cheat exhaust emissions tests. The affected vehicles were emitting 40 times the legally allowable amount of pollution levels. VW has yet to comment on the arrests but did say that it was cooperating with the Department of Justice – which seems like a prudent move.  The automobile company is thisclose to settling some of those criminal and civil allegations that has cost it billions so far, not to mention a $15 billion settlement that involves repairing or buying back the compromised vehicles. As for the Detroit Auto show this week, VW executives will be noticeably absent, but presumably, not missed. The first person arrested in the scandal, Robert Liang, already pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government.

Out of this world…

id-100435050

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mars Inc., maker of the beloved Snickers bar, just announced it’s buying animal hospital VCA Inc, adding 800 pet hospitals to its 900 animal clinics. But don’t go choking on your candy bar just yet if you think pet care and confections don’t mesh to your liking. You needn’t see the logic. Only the math. Last year, $13.7 billion worth of chocolate was sold which was barely more than the previous year. But pet food is projected to grow at an annual rate of 2.5% over the next five years. Mars Inc already had a big 18% chunk of the pet care industry as of 2015 and owns the brands Whiskas and Pedigree, besides the pet hospitals. People spent an estimated $63 billion on pet related goods and services this past  year – a number that has grown 60% over just a decade ago. So VCA fits right into Mars’s lucrative, yet diverse portfolio. Oh, and by the way, Nestle owns Purina. Mars picked up VCA for over $9 billion at approximately $93 per share – more than a 30% premium -and the new company will become Mars Petcare. How’s that Snickers tasting now?

“Big sticks” and stones…

id-100240412

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Everybody’s favorite Chinese e-commerce giant CEO, Jack Ma, had a very interesting meeting with President-elect Donald Trump today. The Chinese billionaire, would like very much to create a million jobs, right here in the United States, particularly in the Midwest. How very gallant of him, especially since there are all these icky growing tensions between China and the United States, courtesy of Donald Trump.  Ma is looking to grow trade so that small businesses and farmers in the U.S. can sell their goods and wares to Chinese consumers. A win-win for everyone, no? But of course there is that one big sticking point – Trump, or rather his plans to slap high tariffs on Chinese imports. An editorial in one of the China’s Communist Party’s newspapers read: “There are flowers around the gate of China’s Ministry of Commerce, but there are also big sticks hidden inside the door — they both await Americans.” I’m guessing China is stocking up on sticks here.

No Slowing Down Alibaba; Feeling Taxed: Google’s Italian Problem; Ads Abuzz for Super Bowl

What economic slowdown?

ID-100364296

Image courtesy of anankkml/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

China’s economy might be on the skids but apparently Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. didn’t get the memo. The company released its earnings and reported that its sales rose 32% to $5.3 billion, easily beating analysts estimates of $5.13 billion. Alibaba even scored a profit of $1.93 billion, picking up 99 cents per share and beating predictions of 89 cents per share. The reason for these positively fabulous numbers have a lot do with insane revenues posted from November’s Singles’ Day. Singles’ Day saw 115 million buyers scooping up $14 billion in purchases. Alibaba CEO Jack Ma is also on a fiscal quest to bring China’s rural countryside onto the mobile shopping bandwagon and it’s been paying off royally.  Of course, shares of the stock rose in pre-market trading, just as they should. Alibaba needed the boost as its shares have declined 14% so far this year after falling back in 2015.  But then shares fell this morning by 2% (as did Yahoo since it owns a sizable chunk of it). Go figure. Ma’s grand plans for the company extend far beyond China and he would really love it if at least half of Alibaba’s revenue started flowing in from outside of China. Good thing he’s already got plans in motion to make that happen.

Google that…

ID-100261338

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Authorities in Italy have set their investigative sights on Google charging that the tech giant evaded an estimated 327 million euros in taxes between 2009 and 2013. Of course, a Google spokesperson graciously noted that Google always pays its taxes wherever it operates and even explained how it paid 2.2 million euros in taxes on 54.4 million revenues back in 2014. Problem is Italian authorities aren’t buying it and estimate that Google’s revenues were ten times higher than what it reported. Italian authorities say Google basically redirected revenue to its regional offices in Ireland where the corporate tax rate is much more hospitable to big companies. Last week Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. forked over $186 million to U.K. authorities for a different tax settlement. While that might seem a considerable sum, there was a huge outcry, particularly by those in Britain’s Labour Party, because they felt that the amount was way too small considering how much profit the company made. Incidentally, back in December, Apple had to settle with Italian tax authorities and ended up paying back 318 million euros.

Getting buzzed…

ID-100121067

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With the Super Bowl just around the corner, some of the ads are already making for bigger stories than the game itself. Take for instance Death Wish Coffee. Never heard of it? You’re not the only one. The small business won a contest held by tech company, Intuit, and you’ll be able to catch the 30 second ad during the third quarter of Super Bowl 50. Death Wish Coffee began in 2012 by Mike Brown, who like so very many of us, was on the prowl for a very potent, caffeinated brew. As of now, Death Wish sells about 1,000 packages a day. But after the Super Bowl that number will likely skyrocket considering the 100 million-plus people expected to tune in to the big game. Death Wish Coffee will set you back about $20 a pound. But hey, that’s a small price to pay for the ultimate coffee fix, I suppose. And maybe by next year, Death Wish Coffee will actually able to afford the $5 million price tag for that coveted slot instead having to enter a contest to try and win it.

Newspapers Gone Charitable; Not All is Golden in Europe for McDonald’s; Starbucks Not Letting an Itty Bitty Downturn Get in its Way

Read all about it…

ID-10070628

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Not-for-profit has been taking on a whole new meaning lately for some unlikely reasons: newspapers. The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com have gone tax-exempt. It’s probably not the first place you think of when you want to make a charitable contribution, but it’ll gladly take one now. Along with an additional $20 million donation, billionaire H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, who controlled these publications, took the Philadelphia Media Network, tweaked things around a bit and morphed the newspapers into a public benefit corporation (PBC) that will be called The Institute for Journalism in New Media.  A little wordy, maybe, but the entity itself is dedicated to “independent public service journalism and investigative reporting that positively impacts the community, while also creating innovative multimedia content.” Got that?  The paper will still be run as a “for-profit” biz while getting you a tax deduction in the process.  In case you didn’t know, Kickstarter is also a PBC. Just saying. It’s an interesting idea just not an original one for a newspaper as there are a few other newspapers in Florida and Connecticut that have taken this approach. It’s a way to try and make newspapers relevant and successful in a digital era, not to mention, a last-ditch attempt to try and keep a publication from going bust

Hamburglar?

ID-100261094

Image courtesy of tiverylucky/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So what are the Golden Arches accused of doing this time? Three Italian consumer organizations are charging that the fast-food chain is causing franchises in Italy to inflate the cost of menu items. You see, in order to snag a European franchise lease, a lessee must sign a twenty year contract – a contract that is twice as long as what other franchises require. But then, McDonald’s is also accused of licensing the premises for above market rates – by about ten times –  making it nothing short of a big pain in the but to switch competitors. So, in order to defray the costs of these above-market lease rates, European McDonald’s franchises jack up the prices on menu items with consumers bearing the brunt of the cost. At least that’s according to a survey cited by the coalition filing the complaint. Apparently, a whopping 68% – 97% of McDonald’s menu items in various Italian cities are more expensive in franchises than in company stores. Franchises make up 75% of McDonald’s European revenue and worldwide McDonald’s has made $9.27 billion in revenue from these franchises. But before the EU even considers launching a formal investigation into these alleged shifty practices, authorities will first send out a formal questionnaire. Depending on how well those questions are addressed will determine if there is sufficient cause to even open an investigation. Besides, those same EU authorities are already busy investigating McDonald’s in Luxembourg over allegations that it managed to evade paying $1 billion in taxes on its European operations.

Slowdown? What slowdown?

ID-100203675

Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There might be an economic downturn in China, but that’s not stopping Starbuck’s from expanding its empire there. Sure there are already 2,000 Starbucks stores caffeinating the world’s second largest economy. However, Starbucks feels that the country could use at least 1,400 more stores and plans to have them all serving up lattes by 2019. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz feels that China has the potential to become the company’s biggest market. And that’s not so crazy considering that China is already Starbucks’ second largest market and is the fastest growing one too. At a recent Starbucks event in China called the “Starbucks China Partner-Family Forum” (Alibaba’s Jack Ma was at the event so you know it was a big deal), Schultz wanted to reassure the Chinese that he totally gets their culture and has tremendous admiration for it. Hence, he made sure to acknowledge and give major props to the parents of its baristas. In fact, Starbucks wants so badly play nice with China and shower the country with oodles of corporate respect that he is offering to cover 50% of monthly housing expenses for Starbucks employees in China. For baristas there who so valiantly served up drinks for ten years, Starbucks is offering them a “career coffee break” – a year long paid sabbatical. Hěn hǎo!

 

Singular Sensation for Alibaba; Don’t Bet On It: Online Daily Fantasy Sports Gone in a New York Minute; In: Higher Minimum Wage. Out: Tipping

Singled out…

Image courtesy of  bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Did Alibaba just throw down the gauntlet to Black Friday? China’s biggest e-commerce site knocked it out of the fiscal park on November 11, aka Singles Day, shattering last year’s $9.3 billion record for the auspicious shopping event. In fact, just by midday the company had already hit $9 billion in sales. Some of the top sellers were Nikes and baby-related products. CEO Jack Ma kicked off the Singles Day shopping festivities by launching the event Tuesday evening with James Bond actor Daniel Craig and House of Cards Star Kevin Spacey. After all nothing says Chinese e-commerce like British and American actors, right? The earth-shatterting sales left many wondering what many are worried about a flagging Chinese economy and its October report that the country hit a particularly slow pace in the third quarter. What didn’t hit a slow pace i was mobile sales for Alibaba’s Singles Day, where 68% of the day’s transactions occurred.

You bet-or not…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman just might be the least popular person on the planet right now. The AG sent “cease and desist” letters to fantasy sports companies FanDuel and DraftKings, ordering them not to accept bets from New Yorkers anymore. The AG called the companies a “new version of online gambling” and said the contests are “neither harmless nor victimless” because they lure in people who are predisposed to gambling addiction. AG Schneiderman went on to say that the companies are basically perpetrating “a massive, multi-billion-dollar scheme intended to evade the law and fleece sports fans across the country.” Ouch. FanDuel and DraftKings, however, argue that what they offer is “a game of skill.” There are currently 34 lawsuits in 13 states pending against the daily fantasy sports companies accusing its proprietors of unfair and/or illegal activity. DraftKings and FanDuel actually stopped doing business in Nevada after the state’s attorney there ruled that the business models meet the state’s definition of gambling and would therefore have to pay for a license.  Both companies are valued at about $1 billion each. Major League Baseball has a stake in FanDuel while the NBA has its own stake in DraftKings. FanDuel also has big money ad deals in place with both the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Jets. At least the AG isn’ t looking to get back any proceeds from New Yorkers who placed bets and actually won. Well, for now anyway.

Not tipsy…

Image courtesy of maya picture/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of maya picture/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

No more bragging rights for big tippers at Joe’s Crab Shack. Well, at least in 18 of the chain’s 131 locales. Parent company Ignite Restaurant Group has decided to do away with the “tip” model and the idea behind it is quite simple: The restaurant scraps tipping and then increases the minimum wage of its employees to $14 per hour.  It means that for some servers, it makes up for lost tip wages. “I personally believe tipping is an antiquated model,” CEO Ray Blanchette said investors at a recent meeting. That’s lovely and all but he also believes it helps improve service and reduces employee turnover. Besides, servers will get paid the same whether they work a busy shift or a slow one with fewer diners. Of course, that tip model means menu prices are heading north from anywhere between 12% to 15%. But considering that most tippers tip around 18%, there’s no great loss there. While Joe’s Crab Shack is the first national restaurant chain to try this out, restaurateur Danny Meyers Union Hospitality Group also put this model into place in New York. Joe’s started doing this back in August and incidentally, or not, its restaurant that adopted this no tipping model the longest has gained the most traction. Which is good since overall sales for Joe’s Crab Shack in the third quarter went down 6.6%. Ironically, the National Restaurant Association does not care much for the model because the “median hourly earnings for servers range from $16 – $22.” Do the math and you realize that could actually mean a nasty pay cut for plenty of restaurant employees.

Ali-blah-blah Earnings; Hershey’s Beefing Up; No Stopping Facebook

Who would have thunk it?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Powerhouse stock Alibaba, with its record-breaking $25 billion IPO, took a nasty beating today as it announced earnings that were less than impressive. Revenue did rise for the e-commerce giant, but not as much as expected, indicating growth slowed. In numbers that were nothing short of disappointing, revenue came in at $4.22 billion when estimates called for $4.45 billion.  Its stock took an unwelcome drop to under $90 today – a major blow to a stock that had seen a high of $120 fairly recently and gets way more commerce action than both Amazon and eBay combined. Then there’s the Chinese government, who despite being fairly chummy (as rumor has it) with Alibaba, has been coming down hard on CEO Jack Ma and Co. for not doing their part, on behalf of consumer protection, to crack down on counterfeiters and false advertising. Government officials are even accusing Alibaba employees of taking bribes from some shifty merchants.  With 50,000 merchants signed up with Alibaba, there are bound to be some bad eggs in there. In the meantime, Yahoo has decided to spin off its remaining Alibaba shares into a separate, publicly traded independent registered investment company aptly named…are you ready for this one? SpinCo.

Would you like some filet mignon with that chocolate bar?

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hershey, as in my most favorite chocolate, that also happens to be my most favorite delectable migraine inducer, is adding some high-protein snack power to its confection arsenal. Krave Pure Foods, founded in 2009 by Jonathan Sebastiani, will now join Twizzlers and Almond Joy, among other brands, assuming its place in the Hershey family. Krave will be bringing with it a whole lotta beef jerky. No joke. Snack tastes are indeed shifting, my virtual friends. Those snacking tastes are shifting towards meatier, protein-infused foods and are proving to be quite a profitable industry – one that is growing at a double digit pace. Fiscal rumors have it that Krave pulled in $35 million in sales this past year. Other fiscal rumors report that Hershey paid between $200 – $300 million for Krave. So what better way for Hershey to boost its sagging sales then adding some new beefier selections that Krave just happens to offer up. Hershey net sales did go up by 2.7%, which is good. Just not good enough. Analysts expected $2.01 billion in sales, but Hershey only managed to come in at $2.01 billion. Happy snacking!

It just keeps getting better and better and…

Image courtesy of FrameAngel/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FrameAngel/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Social media giant Facebook had yet another stellar quarter, once again pummeling expectations. Some of that fourth quarter magic is due in large part because of Facebook’s focus shift into the mobile arena, and all the ad revenue its racking up there. In fact, 2/3 of the social media company’s ad revenue came from the wonderful world of ads sending revenue up 53% to $3.59 billion. And who doesn’t like revenue numbers like that? Facebook pulled in $701 million in profit and $0.25 a share when last year it pulled in $523 million and $0.20 per share – and yes, that was a good quarter last year too. The company even gained 13% more monthly active users and now stands at 1.4 billion people who soak up the joys of Facebook.

Jack Ma’s One Singular Sensation; Google Gets New Lease on…Space; Best Buy’s Gobble Gobble

You’re celebrating what?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you despise Valentine’s Day you might want to consider moving to China where November 11, as in 11/11, the holiday known as Singles day, was jubilantly and fiscally celebrated. Started in 1993 by group of Chinese students who decided to celebrate their singledom every year on 11/11, retailers savvily recognized a highly lucrative opportunity and now slash prices on this day in honor of “eligible” shoppers splurging on …themselves. It’s like Cyber-Monday and the opposite of Valentine’s Day all rolled into a neat little discounted package. E-commerce giant Alibaba and its CEO Jack Ma were certainly feeling the Singles Day love as his company hit a record-breaking $9.3 billion mark in sales. And even though Americans might not have been rejoicing in the retail festivities taking place in China, some American retailers, like Costco and Calvin Klein, still got to participate and reaped some good fortune.

The real estate in this town, I tell ya…

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Google subsidiary Planetary Ventures is dishing out over $1 billion for some real estate. That’s not to mention the $200 million more it will pay just to fix up the joint. But at  least it’s a sixty year lease, so that’ll give it plenty of time to make it feel like home…or work, I guess. The real estate in question is actually the famous Hangar One at Moffett Field in Silicon Valley (where else?), built in the early 1930’s by the Navy and later transferred to NASA. In case you were wondering what Google plans to do with a massive 350,000 hangar that comes with two runways and a golf course (yes, a golf course), then wonder no more. Google’s looking to broaden its horizons – and portfolio, no doubt – into robotics, drones, balloons and, of course, space. Naturally, there are detractors, like Consumer Watchdog, which feels Google will use the land as it pleases, and not necessarily for the good of mankind. But others, including Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, argue that it provides a great opportunity to restore famed Moffettt Field. Besides, now NASA doesn’t need to to pay over $6 million a year for all those irritating maintenance fees.

Another one bites the turkey dust…

Image courtesy of hin255/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of hin255/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In the lack-of-Thanksgiving-spirit, Best Buy becomes the latest relatailer to spoil family time and a tryptophan high by serving its Black Friday deals on Thursday as in, Thanksgiving. You can get going on your chaotic Black Friday shopping as early as 5pm, just as you begin to digest your poultry. How convenient. Then you waddle it iff as you meander through aisles and aisles of discounted electronic offerings, until 1 am. Surely with over 1000 stores in 47 states, you’ll able to score a bunch of merchandise at some great prices. But if you just don’t want to destroy the spirit of a national holiday devoted to sitting down at an actual meal with your loved ones and offering thanks for all that you have, Best Buy will still be offering discounts on the actual Friday for which “Black Friday” is aptly named.