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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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.

Fed Chairwoman Shuts Down Congressman; Mattel Goes For Big With Alibaba; Apple Hits New High On iPhone Dreams

Sit back down…

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Almost everyone’s favorite Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen, was in the hot seat today. First she graciously explained in a letter to Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry that, in fact, the Fed possess the authority and has the responsibility to work and consult with foreign entities with regard to financial industry oversight and the development of international banking rules. McHenry, who is Vice Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, didn’t appreciate that the Fed had already engaged in international talks before President Trump had a chance to put his peeps into play to conduct their own reulatory review. But no dice for McHenry as Chairwoman Yellen explained that such efforts were to the benefit and in the best interests of the United States and its financial stability. In other news, Ms. Yellen was mum on whether the Fed would raise rates at its next meeting in March but said waiting too long wouldn’t be a good idea. Besides inflation and the labor market, Yellen and co. are looking to see what policy changes President Trump is going to make before making any major announcements from the Fed’s end. Which seems like a prudent plan, especially from someone who was appointed by President Obama, but is doing her best to keep from playing sides since she has still has a few years left on her term during the current administration. And also because Trump criticized her during the campaign when he said that she was deliberately keeping rates low in order to benefit President Obama. Yikes.

Ni-Hao Barbie…

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Mattel’s wound licking might just be on hold for now, despite losing some major Disney-Princess licensing mojo to Hasbro awhile back. The toy company has begun to forge a new path with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. Nothing like gaining a foothold in the $7 billion Chines toy marketplace to ease those Disney-licensing blues. By the way, the United States’ toy industry is estimated at over $20 billion. Just saying. The company that makes Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars is in a partnership with Alibaba to create and promote interactive and educational toys, in addition to producing entertainment content based on Mattel products. Because hey, who doesn’t love shows based on toys – and vice-versa? Mattel will be selling its new wares via Tmall.com, which is Alibaba’s business-to-consumer retail site. Incidentally, Mattel had already been selling on Tmall.com for about six years now and rumor has it that its selection of Fisher-Price toys have actually been the top-sellers for five years in a row on Alibaba’s November 11 Singles Day. Mattel’s new products for Alibaba will hit Alibaba’s virtual shelves by mid-2017.  Mattel could really use the boost, especially since sales of Barbies have not been doing as well as they have in the past, and despite throwing some more realistic features onto the doll. Also, the company reported an earnings miss February 1, taking in 52 cents per share on an 8% revenue decline to $1.83 billion, when analysts expected 71 cents per share. But with Alibaba boasting over 440 million active buyers, chances are Mattel has the ability to turn that last earnings report into a mere distant bad memory.

Apple of my i-Phone…

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For the first time in two years, Apple hit a new high of $134.90 and a market cap of $701 billion. And in case you don’t own any shares, that probably means a whole lot of nothing to you. The last time it hit a new high was back on April 28, 2015, when the stock hit $134.54. But that 36 cents means a whole lot to investors who are hoping, and probably betting, that Apple will release a new iPhone, dubbed the iPhone 8, or the iPhone X – if you dare –  that will magically lift blah sales for the tech giant. While the company reported impressive earnings in its last earnings report, its outlook was less so, and the fact that Apple’s revenue decreased by 8% for 2016 didn’t help the mood on Wall Street as of late, even if it is the most valuable company in the world.  Rumor has it, the new phone is going to be even more expensive than previous ones, which is always a good way to get Wall Street tongues wagging.

Pharmaceutical Phraud; Yellen for a Hike; Wells Fargo-away

There’s a fungus among us…

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There’s another pharmaceutical company today that’s in big trouble today and this time it has nothing to do with EpiPens. Today’s alleged fraudulent crimes are brought to us by former Valeant Pharmaceutical Inc. executive Gary Tanner and defunct Philidor Pharmaceutical Services LLC chief executive Andrew Davenport. Tanner and Davenport allegedly participated in a fraud and kick-back scheme that netted the two tens of millions of dollars. Gosh who knew the pharmaceutical industry could be such a hot bed for illicit activity? The two execs apparently didn’t disclose to insurers that the two companies were connected. Valeant played the part of the big fancy drug company and Philidor played the supporting role of the mail-order pharmacy that conveniently helped boost sales of Valeant’s drug offerings by making sure they filled Valeant prescriptions. Philidor graciously assisted patients in getting insurance coverage for considerably pricier Valeant drugs instead of cheaper alternatives. In the meantime, Philidor would then request to be reimbursed by the insurance companies. Davenport apparently scored over $40 million from the scheme while Davenport only walked away with a paltry $10 million worth of kickbacks. Clearly he needs to hone his fraud “A” game. The scheme ran from December 2012 until September 2015 with the criminal complaint being filed in Manhattan Federal Court. Back in August of 2015, Valeant’s stock hit an all-time closing high of $262.52. But it should come as no surprise that the stock has since lost more than 80% of its value for a number of reasons, each worse than the next. The stock was trading under $18 today.

1-2-3 hike!

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Janet Yellen (thankfully) stole the Wall Street spotlight from Donald Trump today announcing that a rate hike “could well become appropriate relatively soon.” Loosely translated, it means it could and most likely will happen soon so feel free to hold your breath. The decision not to raise the rate at the last meeting was because the labor market still wasn’t quite where the Fed wanted to see it.  But now things are looking up…fiscally speaking, that is, and with steady job growth, wage gains and signs that point to firming inflation, that rate hike is looking like a done deal. But I guess we’ll have to wait until December 13-14, the date of the Fed’s next meeting, to see when that move might officially happen. As for Janet Yellen herself, she stayed mum on the presidential election but said she plans to stay on in her post until January of 2018, when her term officially ends. Many assumed that Yellen would resign once Trump was elected considering he’s not exactly a fan of her monetary policies.  But the Dove of Wall Street let ’em know that she’s staying put, Trump or not.

Cry me a river…

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Wells Fargo is getting some heavy doses of fiscal karma as it reported today that there were 44% fewer new account openings in October of 2016, compared to October 2015. That’s in addition to a 27% drop just from last month. As for credit card applications, those dropped by half to just 200,00 in October. There was a 3% increase in customer initiated closings over previous months as well. Because after all, why wouldn’t you choose to close an  account that you didn’t choose to open in the first place? However, Wells Fargo was at least savvy enough to make such predictions as October marked a full month since the lid was blown off the bank’s unauthorized accounts scandal as the settlement was disclosed on September 8 to the whopping tune of $185 million. But at least the bank finally and wisely decided to chuck sales goals for consumer bankers which were the primary culprit that ultimately led to the scandal. As for former CEO John Stumpf, he’s a free agent now, not that anyone’s going to be checking out his LinkedIn profile anytime soon.

The Hits Keep on Coming for Wells Fargo; Janet Yellen Gets a Grilling; Perk Up! Thursday is National Coffee Day

Smacked…

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The hits just keep on coming for Wells Fargo as the great state of California gave the bank a major diss in the form of a year-long suspension of its business relationships. The bank is officially barred from underwriting debt and handling bank transactions for the Golden State. And if Wells Fargo still can’t get its act together, it can expect a “complete and permanent severance.” Yikes. I guess that’s what happens when you open up 2 million fraudulent accounts and according to State Treasurer John Chiang, promote “a culture which actively promotes wanton greed.” More yikes. Since Chiang oversees $2 trillion worth of banking transactions, besides managing a $75 billion investment pool, he’s probably a bit sensitive about the way banking institutions handle all that money. In the meantime, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf will kiss goodbye his $41 million in unvested stock awards.  Carrie Tolstedt, who oversaw the division that was responsible for green lighting the fraudulent accounts, loses all of her unvested awards and gets no further retirement benefits.  Other than the really good ones she already received.

Awkward…

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Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen took a beating today from Congressman Scott Garrett over Lael Brainard’s chummy relationship with Hillary Clinton. Brainard, in case you might not know, is the governor of the Fed and is rumored to be the top pic for Treasury Secretary. She also gave $2,700 to the Clinton campaign. Congressman Garrett doesn’t take too kindly to this appearance of impropriety and asked the Chairwoman if this doesn’t pose a conflict of interest for the Fed, seeing as how Brainard is in talks with the Clinton campaign. After all, the Fed is supposed to be non-partisan. Yellen, said she was’t aware that there was, in fact, a conflict while also maintaining that the Central Bank has no biases as far as politics are concerned. Of course, Donald Trump disagreed vehemently with that assessment during Monday night’s presidential debate when he insisted that the Fed is keeping rates low to make Obama look good.  Incidentally, Janet Yellen chaired President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. Besides all that, there apparently is no issue with Fed officials giving money to campaigns. Who knew.

Oh the perks…

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Consider this next bit a public service announcement:  Thursday September 29 marks National Coffee Day. Yes, that’s a real thing. And before you whip out your wallet, you might want to know which eating establishments wont be charging you for your java fix. If you happen to be near a Krispy Kreme store, then I urge you to step inside. Rumor has it you’ll score a free coffee and glazed donut just for showing up. But be sure to say thank you! Manners are key. If you’re a fan of Wawa coffee, then you’re in luck as that chain is also offering free cups of its brew. Particpating 7-Elevens are also giving out free coffee. Just make sure you have their smartphone app and register for its 7Rewards program. Dunkin’ Donuts will offer medium-sized cups of coffee for just 66 cents in honor of the company’s 66th birthday. As for Starbucks, don’t expect any freebies. Ever. However, the company is affording you the opportunity to be charitable. For every brewed cup of Mexico Chiapas Starbucks sells, the company will donate a coffee tree to Latin American growers whose crops have been destroyed by fungus.

It’s All About the Brexit; Gearing Up for Some Star Spangled Traveling; Chipotle Wants to Reward You

The British are leaving, the British are leaving…

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The Brexit vote continues to cause trouble and it probably will be awhile before it stops. Janet Yellen has canceled her appearance at a bank conference in Portugal that was organized by the European Central Bank. The Fed chief was supposed to speak on a panel with the Bank of England’s Governor Mark Carney and ECB president Mario Draghi. Carney now has more pressing matters to attend to, as does Draghi, who is now heading to Brussels for a summit with EU leaders to brief them on the impact of the Brexit vote and hash out a response to the U.K. referendum. The S&P yanked its AAA credit rating on the UK since the index feels that “this outcome is a seminal event, and will lead to a less predictable, stable, and effective policy framework in the U.K.” Ouch. On Friday, the pound plunged to its biggest one day drop EVER, as Barclays Plc and the Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc had their shares halted as a result of the plunge. Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew doesn’t get the feeling that there is a financial crisis brewing. Well, at least he said as much on CNBC recently. And if Jack Lew says it, then it’s good enough for me. I think. However, analysts aren’t as optimistic about the British economy and think the “Brexit” vote just might put the UK in a recession, besides dealing a major blow to European economic growth. Those analysts feel that the U.S. will also take a hit or two as well, but without any recession drama. And in case you were counting on a rate hike anytime soon, don’t. The Brexit vote put the kibosh on it and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Brake for it…

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According to AAA, 43 million Americans are expected to travel this holiday weekend, beginning Thursday, June 30 thru Monday July fourth. That number is 5 million more than the amount of travelers on Memorial Day weekend and 1.2% more than the amount of travelers from last year’s holiday weekend. 84% of those traveling – 36.3 million, if you please – will be doing it by car, and if the the thought of heavy traffic congestion makes your skin crawl, then you can thank low gas prices for the increased congestion. The national average price for a gallon of gas is coming in at just $2.31, its lowest price since 2005 and 17% and 47 cents lower than it was last year at this time. But at least the traveling and the money being spent on those trips is good for economic growth. Americans saved a whopping $20 billion on gas spending this year so what better way to make up for it than by getting out on the road and commuting at least 50 miles from their homes. On a darker note, because of the increased traffic, the National Safety Council is expecting 450 auto-related deaths and 53,600 car-related injuries. But at least airfares will be lower and maybe even a safer way to travel this holiday weekend.

Muy caliente…

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Chipotle is biting the jalapeno-laced bullet and will now be offering up a rewards program. Yeah, that’s news. Before it’s food bore the makings of e. coli, salmonella and norovirus, Chipotle was a veritable rewards program snob, refusing to implement one. But I guess a slew of food-safety scandals and the fact that shares of the company have lost more than a third of their value since October gave the fast-food chain a fresh – no pun intended – perspective on its economics. Hence, we are now introduced to the Chiptopia Summer Rewards Program. It’s not clear if Wall Street feels this move is strategic as Chipotle does as the stock went down today almost 3%, closing at 388.78.The rewards program will begin July 1 and run until September. However, should the rewards program prove rewarding for Chipotle and actually help it reclaim any of the glory it lost last year as a result of its rash of food safety issues, then expect the rewards program to stay put. But diners beware as this loyalty program is not like other loyalty programs that require you to accrue points or spend a certain amount of money. Instead, Chiptopia rewards its customers by the amount of visits that they make in a given month. There are three levels customers can reach: mild, medium and hot. I will spare you the sordid and complicated details. However, in order to get those points customers will always need to purchase an entree with their order. Should they achieve the illustrious “hot,” status having visited Chipotle  eleven times – in one month -, then they get to enjoy three free burritos, which by the way, will count towards more rewards.

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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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

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!

The Middle’s Not Where It’s At; Unemployment Blame Game; The Fed’s Milky White Problem

Stuck in the middle…

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The middle class is shrinking and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Studies done by the Pew Research Center show that between 2000 and 2014, the middle class actually shrank in 9 out of ten U.S. cities. Of the 229 U.S. cities cited in the study, the amount of households classified as middle class dropped in 203 of those cities. Sure, some of those households left their socioeconomic perches because they graduated to the upper class. But that’s mostly not the case. In fact, the middle class now makes up less than half the population in the cities studied while the income inequality gap keeps growing. That could trigger some ugly economic consequences. The wider the gap gets, the more it is likely to inhibit economic growth. At least that’s what some experts think. What’s worse is that children raised in areas that are predominantly low-income, are less likely to reach the middle class. In case you were wondering, the middle class is defined as a household that earns an annual income between 2/3 to two times the median income. In 2014, a three-person household was considered middle class if its annual income was between $42,000 to $125,000. The largest middle class populations were found to be in the good old midwest. I’m sure there is irony in there somewhere. The largest low-income populations were found to be in the southwest, particularly near the Mexico border, while the highest populations of upper class were found to be in the northeast and the west coast. No matter where you stand on the issue, it’s one that is going to figure prominently in the November elections.

On the Verizon…

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Nothing like unemployment numbers to ruin an otherwise pleasant Thursday. The number of first time applicants rose by 20,000 to a grand total of 294,000 seeking jobless benefits. Unfortunately it marked the third straight week of increases of first-time applicants. But at least that number was still below the 300,00 mark  – for 62 weeks straight, mind you  – so the situation isn’t that alarming. Well, except maybe for those who find themselves out of work. Also, economists are actually pointing the finger at Verizon – or rather the 40,000 Verizon workers who went on strike back in April. They are likely the ones who have applied for jobless benefits while on strike.  Economists predicted that the number of applicants would fall to about 270,000, which makes perfect mathematical sense if you figure that the Verizon strike is apparently responsible for that unwelcome surge and without it the numbers would have dropped.

White as a sheet…

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The Fed’s been taking a lot of heat lately. And some of that heat has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it hasn’t raised rates, yet again. Instead, top lawmakers penned a letter to Janet Yellen and company calling out the lack of diversity at the Central Bank which is “disproportionately white and male.” Ha! Who would have thought the Central Bank and the Academy Awards have something in common? Signed by 116 members of the House and 11 senators, the letter expressed disappointment over the Fed’s failure to “represent the public” and would like it to consider a number of factors, including race, when filling posts in the future. The letter did, however, praise Yellen for her strong leadership. So props to her on that. So just how disproportionately white and male is the Fed? Well, of the five current Fed governors, all of them are white. However, to be fair, two of them are women, including Janet Yellen, who happens to be the first women to head the Central Bank in its 100 year history. If that’s not disproportionately white and male, then I don’t know what is. Since monetary policy strongly correlates with hard-working Americans of every ilk, it does seem odd that the Fed is primarily made up of mostly one ilk. Give or take. At least minorities make up 24% of regional Fed bank boards. While that’s not an ideal representation, it’s still a 16% increase from 2010.