Whole Foods is Getting a Whole Lot Sunnier; Nothing Like a Good Shareholder Fight; Urban Outfitter Pleasantly Surprises

Here comes the sun…

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Image courtesy of digitalart/FreedIgitalPhotos.net

Whole Foods is getting solar with a little help from Elon Musk’s Solar City and NRG Energy.  Of its 430-plus locations, up to 184 Whole Foods stores will get the solar treatment and with the stashes of money it is expected to save over the long run, maybe the organic grocer will start pricing their merchandise a little more cost-friendly. Whole Foods went with both companies so as not to be limited. Sounds fair. With a disappointing fourth quarter that saw a $432 million loss and a slower rate of growth, SolarCity’s stock needed this deal which gave its stock a solid 6.3% lift. Because oil prices have been so low, consumers haven’t exactly felt the fiscal pinch to get cost-effective solar installations and SolarCity’s been feeling that effect in its numbers. No word yet on which locations will get the solar experience but the move will put Whole Foods in the same company as Costco and Walmart for being among the top 25 corporate companies to go solar.

United they fall…

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United Airlines has had better…decades, as two investment funds, who together own a 7.1% stake in the airline, are gearing up to turn the airline’s board of directors on its head. PAR Capital Management Inc. and Altimeter Capital Management LP aren’t happy with the way things have been going at the airline, which happens to be ranked as the third largest carrier by traffic and boasts 85,000 employees. The firms have nominated 6 new directors for the United Continental Holding Inc. board in hopes of undoing the “poor performance and bad decisions over the last several years.” Ouch. Because they feel the board is ineffective, one of the board members they are looking to bring in is former CEO Gordon Bethune, who ran the ship from 1994 – 2004, and is credited with turning the airline around back then. Shareholders will vote on the issue at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in the spring. Judging by the company’s low-employees morale, poor customer service, spate of electronic glitches and its inability to improve its on-time performance, there’s probably a whole lot of ugly going on there. The fact is that most of the other big airlines are cranking out huge billion dollar profits, while United Continental is still figuring out how to play catch-up, even after its 2010 merger, which is still plagued by tons of kinks. This news comes just two days after CEO Oscar Munoz announced that he’d be returning to his post on March 14, after being on medical leave since his October heart attack. Oscar Munoz came on board back in September, on the heels of former CEO Jeff Smisek stepping down after it was disclosed that there was a federal investigation involving United Continental and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

So trendy…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Urban Outfitters’ stock rallied today close to 17% and for a few good reasons. First, the company took in a profit of $72.9 million, adding 61 cents per share. Even though last year the company took in $80.3 million and 60 cents a share, it was still a Wall Street beat since analysts predicted that this time around the retailer would only add 56 cents per share. Boom. The company flat-lined in terms of its net sales, posting $1.01 billion, but it was the improved margins that had Wall Street tongues wagging. There are few things that Wall Street loves more than improved margins and execs are expecting more improvement on the Urban Outfitter fiscal horizon. The trendy apparel company also scored big with customers by adding some new beauty products that it started selling both online and in 70 shops within the stores. In fact, that rollout proved to be such a success that 60 more stores will get to revel in that retail experience.  Investors were so wowed by Urban Outfitters results that over a dozen brokerages even raised their target prices for the company’s stock, with some brokerages predicting those shares could go as high as $38 a share.  Not every analyst was as generous, however, the stock did close today at 32.69.

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Divided They Fall at United; Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Plans Fall Short; Barnes & Noble is Singing the Fiscal Blues

Who me?

Image courtesy of  jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The airline United is anything but these days as honcho Jeff Smisek ducked out of the company he had been helming, along with two other executives. Apparently, it’s because of a Port Authority investigation that’s in full swing stemming from some events in 2011 that resulted in the “chairman’s flight.” The “chairman” refers to former Port Authority chairman David Samson, who managed to finagle United to offer twice weekly flights from Newark airport to Columbia, South Carolina. While I’m sure Columbia, South Caroline is a fabulous place, that particular flight route was initially deemed unprofitable. So what made the route become profitable all of a sudden? Coincidentally, David Samson’s weekend home is located there and that flight makes for an awfully convenient commute. See where I’m going with this? But the burning question is if those flights were a sort ahem bribe from the airline or a shakedown by Mr. Samson in exchange for some investment cash and other dispensations from the P.A. That all remains to be determined. David Samson already resigned in 2014 after a probe began over intentional lane closings on New York’s George Washington Bridge. Did I mention Samson was a close confidant of Chris Christie. Just saying. Days after stepping down, the Newark-Columbia route was shut down. I guess it wasn’t profitable anymore. As for Smisek, well he still walked away with $5 million and another $3.5 million in stock.

You debt-or believe it…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Puerto Rico thinks they finally have a plan to fix all that fiscally ails them. To address the territory’s $72 billion debt, a panel put out a five year plan to restructure $47 billion of it. With bondholders left to pick up the remainder, Puerto Rico will still be left with a $14 billion financing gap between 2016 – 2020. Lucky bondholders. Debt from the power, water and sewer companies is not included. The plan includes many reforms including a lot of cuts to education and teachers’ pensions. Why education is always the first to get spending cuts is weird since kids aren’t the ones responsible for creating debt. Know what I mean? Also, the plan calls for exploring public/private partnerships for hospitals, highway, building and transit authorities. The plan also wants to explore changes to the tax laws because, after all, why should the United States be the only place that needs to overhaul its tax code? As with any iffy fiscal plan, no timeline has been set which, in my most humble opinion, doesn’t bode well. Even then, the plan still needs approval from legislature and the governor.

What’s in store…

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Image courtesy of adamr/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Barnes & Noble, though it may be the largest book store chain on the planet, still took a big old $35 million hit on $939 million in sales – worse than the year before when it saw a loss of $28.4 million Hey, the bigger they are the harder their sales fall. But who knows? Maybe with new CEO Ron Boire taking the reigns – as of yesterday – maybe there’s still hope for the embattled bookseller. These new earnings reflect B&N’s spin-off of its college-division, 600 stores and the Nook, B&N’s shaky attempt at putting its electronic stamp on the e-reader industry. The bookseller just can’t seem to make strides against Amazon. Well, to be fair, most companies find Amazon to pose quite the challenge. In any case, B&N lost 68 cents a share when last year at this time it only lost 56 cents a share.  $17 million of B&N’s loss was from the Nook and this was B&N’s fifth straight quarter of losses, sending shares down today over 16% at one point today.  But B&N has a plan, so they say for a new store prototype. Those stores will be considerably smaller and carry a larger assortment of merchandise, including toys and games, which incidentally saw a 17.5% increase for the chain.