Coach Gets Quirky With Kate Spade; Warren Buffett’s Latest Thoughts; It’s Kumbaya for Comcast and Charter Communications

Luxury quirk…

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Coach is about to get a whole lot more accessorized now that it announced it will be buying Kate Spade. The $2.4 billion price tag on the deal means Coach will be plunking down $18.50 per share, which ends up being a 9% premium over Kate Spade’s Friday closing price. Analysts are digging the merger, thinking it’s a good fit and news of the deal set Wall Street tongues wagging, subsequently sending shares of both companies up.  In fact, ever since Kate Spade brass decided on a sale back in December, the stock has been on the rise. Which is weird because before that the stock was flagging over increased competition and decreased traffic and sales. Much of the enthusiasm over the sale is because people think Coach will have an opportunity to up its street cred with millennials. After all, Kate Spade’s quirky merchandise tends to resonate with that finicky demographic. And when something actually resonates with millennials, companies want in and are quick to figure out how to make a lot of money in that arena.  In fact, 60% of Kate Spade sales come from millennials while only 15% come from outside the U.S. Go figure.

It’s all about the tapeworm…

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It was that time of year again where one of the wealthiest men in the world imparted his financial wisdom onto his shareholders, and also regular people. Sort of. At the annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting held in Omaha this past weekend, Warren Buffett and his partner, Charlie Munger, shared their isights on several topics including Wells Fargo, Amazon and even the Republican healthcare bill.  On Wells Fargo, Buffett said there were three huge mistakes, but the biggest one was not acting on the problem when they first heard about it. On the Republican healthcare bill, he shared this pearl: “Medical costs are the tapeworm of economic competitiveness.” Got it? Tapeworm. Also,  he messed up royally by not ever owning shares of Amazon.  He admits he never anticipated Jeff Bezos going as far as he did. Apparently Buffett’s oracle skills failed him on that one. On a different note, he said that if he dies tonight, he’s convinced shares of Berkshire Hathaway would go up tomorrow. Warms the heart now, doesn’t it.

Well isn’t this precious…

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Comcast and Charter Communications are joining hands in the spirit of fighting against the dreaded and unflagging power of wireless carriers. Apparently when it comes to fighting wireless carriers, there is an inherent safety in numbers. So together the two companies will join hands and tackle such things as customer billing and device ordering systems. Also, they made a deal with each other that neither one would attempt to buy any other wireless companies and to consult one another before either one would make related deals,. They want to avoid increasing competition between the two companies. A move like this allows them to develop wireless services for their own companies without worrying over competition from each other. So its’s a little kumbaya and a little self-preservation.  And bonus: The two companies have said the plan could have the potential of lowering costs for its customers. However, that remains to be seen so don’t hold your breath.

 

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Show Me the Money! Forbes Unveils Its Annual List of People With Money to Show; UK Shows Google What Happens When You Don’t Shut Down Haters; Twitter Did Something Impressive. Just Not With Its Earnings

Rich-y rich…

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It’s that time of year again. The one where Forbes reminds us just how much money we don’t have relative to the richest people in the world. And here goes. There are 13% more billionaires this year than last year and their combined net worth totals almost $7.7 trillion. Yes. Trillion.  The number one spot goes to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates who’s net with totals $86 billion. When Gates is not busy fixing the world and explaining to the President why his budget ideas are bad ideas, he runs the world’s largest charitable organization. Naturally, the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet, comes in a close second with a net worth of $75.6 billion, while Amazon’s Jeff Bezos makes his debut into the top three with a net worth of $72.8 billion. And even though we only finally see a woman on this list at the number 14 spot, there’s still some uplifting news. For instance, the number of women who ma∂e it onto the list has increased 170% since 2009. Also, there’s a record 56 women on the list who are self-made billionaires. If you’re curious to see who did and didn’t make the list, click here to find out. And spoiler alert: Perhaps President Donald Trump really ought to consult Bill Gates on any and all future budget concerns for the country, considering he lost a billion in the last year and ranks #544.

Dis-content…

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Just when you thought Google could do no wrong, the search engine giant finds itself in the midst of some major policy revamping after a bunch of big-name advertisers pulled their marketing  – and whole lot of money – because it was showing up on /sexist/hate-filled/offensive/anti-semitic/terrorist-promoting content. The trouble started when major brands, including the BBC and department store chain Marks & Spencer, noticed their ads being being placed alongside content promoting violent extremist groups. Last I heard, department stores were no great fans of terrorism. Now, part of the policy revamp includes broadening Google and YouTube’s definitions of hate speech, which is always a good thing since hate manages to always rear its ugly face no matter how subtly its presented. Also, content won’t be able discrimnate against groups based on their identity, socieo-economic class and country of origin. Such measures ought to make it a tad bit more difficult for the haters to get their odious messages out. In addition to some added controls and a few default settings, Google should end up creating a kinder, gentler platform. Hopefully…

Speaking of which…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Even though Twitter doesn’t exactly have the fiscal luxury to delete accounts, to its credit, the social media company did just that and put the kibosh on close to 380,000 of them because of their links to terrorism. So lousy earnings aside I say “Kudos” to Twitter.  Those accounts were just the ones it took down between July and December of 2016.  Since August of 2015, over 635,000 accounts have been removed for the same reason. The information was disclosed in its latest transparency report and these actions are part of an effort to weed out extremist groups and other assorted haters. Interestingly enough, almost 75% of the accounts that were removed from Twitter were discovered by technology created just for this purpose for Twitter, while 2% of those accounts came down after governments made requests for the company to get rid of them.

 

Trump Must Say Buh-bye to DC Namesake Hotel; Amazon’s Latest Tricks Up its Sleeve; The Urge to Merge: Alaska Airlines and Virgin America

Give it up…

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The official word out of Washington DC and, more importantly, the General Services Administration (GSA), is that Donald Trump has to give up his beloved hotel that is housed in the Old Post Office, just a few blocks from the White House. It’s the one that he opened back in September and has been the site for so very many Trump protests. That particular building is especially off limits to the President-elect because it is leased from the Federal government. The GSA, in case you were wondering, manages property owned by the Federal government. So it stands to reason that it has a say in what Donald Trump can and can’t do in this particular situation. Incidentally, Federal law does not exactly prohibit a president’s involvement in private business. However, members of Congress and lower ranked executive branch officials cannot. So weird, huh? As for a president’s assets, those have been typically put into blind trusts in an effort to avoid any appearance of impropriety – which seems logical. The owners of these blind trusts have no knowledge of how the assets are being managed and are typically managed by independent third parties. Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, has apparently been dealing with the GSA to resolve this particular issue. However, her involvement is sort of iffy, according to some, since she is an official member of Trump’s transition team.

Droning on and on…

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Amazon’s unleashing plenty of big news today while Jeff Bezos is kicking up his heels at Trump Tower, trying to make nice with the President-elect. First, the online retailer giant announced its first drone delivery, called Prime Air, which took place December 7 in the U.K. A Fire TV device, along with a bag of popcorn found its way to its buyer just thirteen minutes after the order was made. The drop was made in an area in Cambridge that has been authorized for drone testing. So far, two customers have access to this new delivery method. But in the coming months that number is expected to grow by leaps and bounds. The drones fly no higher than 400 feet, are guided by GPS and can carry up to five pounds of merchandise. But best of all, for Amazon anyway, is that drone delivery of small packages are an excellent way to keep delivery costs really low. How does a dollar a drop sound?  Then, Amazon also announced the launch of its very own live streaming video service available just about everywhere. Except China. That must warm Donald Trump’s heart a little.  In any case, the new service is giving Netflix   – which also has yet to conquer China – some very unwanted competition. By the way, Amazon’s launch was eerily reminiscent of Netflix’s global launch almost a year ago. Just saying. The new service, aptly called Prime Video, would get bundled with your average Amazon Prime subscription. The idea is to get people to sign up for Amazon Prime service and from watching all of Amazon’s amazing (it really is) programming, viewers will then have an insatiable urge to buy even more stuff on Amazon. It’s meant to be a win-win. Just not necessarily for your bank account. In Amazon’s defense, however, the company wants to make sure that you’re getting a lot of value from your annual Prime subscription. I can live with that.

Take wing…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Alaska Airlines/Virgin America merger is in effect with the official blessing from the U.S. Justice Department. But to be clear, Alaska Airlines is actually buying Virgin America – which has only been around since 2007 –  for about $2.6 billion. The total cost, after all is said and done, is expected to hit closer to $4 billion.  Alaska Airlines is currently the sixth biggest airline operator in the United States, while Virgin America holds steady at number eight. But once these two babies unite, they’ll become the fifth largest airline in the industry. The top four airlines, however, still control 80% of the country’s domestic market. At least the merger will allow for the new entity to become a major player in the highly competitive West Coast region. Combined, the two airlines have around 40 million customers and have so far this year generated $2.4 billion in revenue.

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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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

 

Russia Says Nyet to LinkedIn; No Regrets for Macy’s on Ditching President-Elect’s Line; Trump Making Plans

Linked Out…

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It’s Game on between LinkedIn and Russia as the social network gets banned by the Russian government. Back in 2015 Russia passed a new law requiring foreign websites to store personal data of Russian users on Russian servers. While LinkedIn counts six million registered users in the country, the social media giant said no thank you to the new law and now finds itself listed in a very unflattering registry of websites that are banned in the country. Russia’s leaders would like to put an end to its dependance on foreign tech and is even in the process of developing replacements for such services like WhatsApp. In case it wasn’t obvious, Russia has been stepping up its control over internet usage in the last few years. In the meantime Google, eBay and Uber have been looking for ways to comply with the new law lest their fate ends up similar to that of LinkedIn. However, all eyes are on Facebook to see if and how the social media giant intends to deal with this lofty piece of legislation .

Trump’d Up…

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Today, Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren said that he stands by his decision to boot Donald Trump’s clothing line from his stores back in the summer of 2015. Trump had tried to retaliate by getting people to boycott the department store. But after all, Trump did say that many Mexican immigrants were rapists and murderers and well, that’s just not cool. So needless to say, his calls to boycott weren’t all that successful. Well, maybe a little as Macy’s has been struggling to post some solid quarterly gains. In any case, the retailer has been trying to court more Hispanic shoppers and getting rid of a line of clothing from a man who has been nothing short of hostile and racist seems like a prudent move. To be fair, Lundgren says he would have had to get rid of Trump’s clothing line once he entered politics anyway, even if he hadn’t made his odious comments. Macy’s doesn’t do politics and Lundgren added that even if Hillary Clinton had her clothing own line – of pantsuits, presumably – that would have to go as well once she announced her political aspirations. Incidentally, Ivanka’s clothing line at Macy’s is alive and well, which seems only right considering she has yet to offend entire races of people. Also incidentally, Ivanka’s line is manufactured in China and the Donald just hates it when American businesses outsource manufacturing there. In fact, as part of his economic plans, he wants to impose harsh tariffs on imports in an effort to curb, or perhaps even obliterate the practice. Good luck with that one, Ivanka.

More Trump’d Up…

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In other Trump news, rumor has it that the President-Elect wants to install JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon as Treasury Secretary. FYI, Dimon is a life-long Democrat and Obama supporter, although the arrival of the Dodd-Frank laws made him a less enthusiastic one. What’s so very peculiar about Trump’s choice is that he once criticized Dimon for his decision to settle civil suits against the bank. Donald is not one to settle court cases. At least that’s what he said. In the meantime, there’s no word from Jamie Dimon about whether he plans to accept. However, other rumors are swirling that he won’t as he was rooting for Hillary Clinton to win the election. And you know who probably wont be asked to join Trump’s government? Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. As the owner of the Washington Post, Jeff Bezos didn’t care for Trump’s opinions on the mainstream media bias and said Trump was “eroding our democracy.” Incidentally, Amazon’s stock went down today over 4%. Experts say it’s because all tech stocks, including Apple, Google and Microsoft took a beating today since Trump’s economic plans don’t do much for that sector. But the experts with a better sense of humor – and serious undertones – think the drop is because it’s payback time for Bezos and company, who for the most part don’t care for the President-Elect and were pretty vocal about it during campaign season. The tech sector employs a large population of foreign engineers and, well you know how Trump feels about that. Experts also think that companies like Amazon can expect payback in the form of higher taxes and anti-trust litigation. At least Bezos had the good sense to tweet: “I for one give him my most open mind and wish him great success in his service to the country.” Maybe Bezos will get a pass this time. Wink wink, nod nod.

 

Jeff Bezos Hearts India; Lululemon’s Zen-tastic Earnings; Is Your CEO Listed? You Better Hope So

Next. Big. Thing…

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India is looking very flush these days as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos decided to throw $3 billion at it. That’s in addition to the $2 billion he gave the southeast Asian country back in 2014. He made this announcement at a meeting of business leaders in Washington DC that included Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The reason why Bezos is showing India a lot of fiscal love is that it is Amazon’s fastest growing region, boasting 21 fulfillment centers and 45,000 employees. In other words, the e-commerce giant is banking on the “huge potential in the Indian economy.” Interestingly enough, Amazon can only sell its wares from its website through a third party, as mandated by Indian law. But that hasn’t been much of a problem for the e-tailer, who ironically, never seemed to adapt as easily to the local Chinese marketplace, and continues to struggle there and against the giant we call Alibaba. It’s worth noting that Amazon is not the only game in town, facing fierce competition from local e-commerce businesses, Flipkart and Snapdeal. But Amazon’s not sweating it since according to Morgan Stanley, it is estimated that consumers in India bought $16 billion worth of goods last year, more than $10.3 billion from the previous year. So clearly, there’s plenty of room on the Indian e-commerce playing field.

Lemonade mouth…

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Lululemon beat estimates and even raised its 2016 revenue forecast. So why is its founder and largest shareholder, Chip Wilson, in a snit? He’s probably still licking his executive wounds after being booted from his post for making stupid comments, among other short-comings. In a letter to shareholders last week, the 14.2% stakeholder ripped into the current directors because he feels that they can’t keep up the pace against other athletic apparel companies like Nike and Under Armour, to name a few. Wilson would like it very much if there was an annual election that would make the board of directors accountable for earnings results and, presumably, get him reinstated as CEO. As it stands, the current leadership, helmed by Laurent Potdevin, would probably be delighted to be held accountable for Lululemon’s latest earnings considering how well it performed. Sure, the retailer missed profits by just a penny, falling 5% to $45.3 million, yet still earning 30 cents a share. But shares are still up 27% for the year and the company had strong sales this quarter. It also found a way to control its inventory levels and, in the process, saw its revenue rise 17% to $495.5 million when analysts only thought it would pull down $487.7. So perhaps it’s time for Wilson to keep his thoughts to himself and just enjoy his burgeoning majority stake.

In case you were wondering…

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Glassdoor came out with its latest annual list, this time regaling us with the highest rated CEO’s. Bain & Company’s Bob Becheck tops the list with a 99% approval rating. Employees seemed to appreciate the support they receive from their boss, not to mention the company’s focus on professional development. And who doesn’t mind professional encouragement? But while Becheck scored the number one spot, two other CEO’s also received 99% approval ratings. So congrats to Ultimate Software’s Scott Scherr and McKinsey and Company’s Dominic Barton. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg kept his number 4 ranking from last year, while LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner took fifth. Larry Page’s replacement at Google, Sundar Pichai, earned a 96% approval rating and the number seven spot, while Apple’s Tim Cook came in 8th, also with a 96% approval rating. Four women paved the way on this list, including Staffmark’s Lesa J. Francis, who took the 28th spot with a 94% approve rating, and Enterprise Holdings’ Pamela M. Nicholson, who graces the list at the number 31 spot, also with a 94% approval rating.

Standard & Poor’s Overrated Ratings Settlement; Spirited Numbers for Whiskey and Bourbon; Who Will Radio in on RadioShack?

Poor ratings system…

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Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s shaping up to be an expensive week for Standard and Poor’s, the ratings company owned by McGraw Hill Financial Inc. After two years of legal wrangling, where the Department of Justice accused the S&P of defrauding investors, S&P agreed to pay for $1.5 billion in a settlement. According to the lawsuit, S&P made sub-prime mortgages sound way better than they actually were, generously over-rating them during the height of that hard-to-forget financial crisis of 2008. One of the juicy little highlights from the lawsuit, as taken from an excerpt from an instant-messaging exchange between two of its analysts, goes a little something like this: “It could be structured by cows and we would rate it.” So what were they trying to say about our friends in the bovine community? Hmm. While S&P gets to avoid admitting actual wrongdoing, as per the terms of the settlement, it will be shelling out $687.5 million to the DOJ and another $687.5 million to 19 states and the District of Columbia. S&P said the DOJ was only coming down on them because it downgraded the US sovereign debt from AAA all the way down to AA+, but the DOJ says NOT! In a separate lawsuit, S&P  reached a settlement with pension fund, Calpers (California Public Employees Retirement System), also a victim of S&P’s too-generous sub-prime mortgage ratings system.

I’ll drink to that…

Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s been a very good year for bourbon and whiskey as exports of these spirited spirits topped the $1 billion mark. Even here in the US, sales for Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whiskey grew, with revenue for both rising 9.6% to $2.7 billion and 19.4 million cases of the stuff being scooped up. 19.4 million cases? Who are you people drinking all this? But it’s the premium selections that are really hitting it big with drinkers…er, consumers, as revenue in that category is up over 19%. All this while beer seems to be experiencing a decline on the whole by 4% in the last five years, with Budweiser losing 28% for that same time frame, despite those super Superbowl ads. Craft beer, however, tells a different story as that tasty category is experiencing an uptick. Some analysts are even thinking all these increasing numbers come courtesy of millennials, who seem to prefer high-quality spirit versus the stuff their parents enjoy. By the way, it should be duly  – and might I add, fondly – noted, that Kentucky produces 95% of the world’s bourbon supply. Go Kentucky!

Shacked out…

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Image courtesy of cool design/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rumors are swirling as to who will emerge and scoop up RadioShack as bankruptcy looms near for the company that was just never able to compete with the behemoth that is e-commerce. The New York Stock Exchange had suspended trading of the 94 year old company on Monday, with shares tanking down to $0.14 a share in after hours trading. So will it be Sprint who decides to take up some of RadioShack’s retail leases? The company has 4,300 stores in the US, alone. Or will Amazon add the chain to its arsenal and increase its brick-and-mortar presence in the world? Word on the street is that Jeff Bezos might do just that as a way to showcase some of the gazillions of products that Amazon has to offer, for the right price, of course.