French Company Goes Organic for U.S. Acquisition; U.S. Airlines Gear Up for Cuba; U.S. Banks Bond Over Brexit

Let them eat organic cake!

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dannon Yogurt’s parent company, Danone (said with a French accent) is looking to pick up  a major U.S company that will effectively double its size. That’s assuming all goes according to plan. Danone wants to offer organic food provider, WhiteWave, purveyor of favorites like Silk Almond and Soy Milk, Horizon Milk and Earthbound Farms, $10.4 billion in cash for the fiscal pleasure of its company. That’s a 24% premium over WhiteWave’s thirty day average closing price and comes out to about to $56.25 per share. But for Danone, whose looking to make itself a bigger presence in the United States, it’s well worth it, since WhiteWave’s offerings tend to attract wealthier consumers. WhiteWave generates annual sales of about $4 billion and with this acquisition, Danone expects to see a $300 million boost in operating profit. Danone has also been struggling in other parts of the world and this acquisition would ease the burden of some of those lesser-performing markets. FYI, when companies offer to buy other companies, their offers tend be at least at a 30% premium. Because this offer was not, it theoretically means that the bidding door is still open to other offers from companies like Coca Cola, PepsiCo and Kellogg Co, to name but a few. In a regulatory filing, though, WhiteWave did graciously say that it wouldn’t solicit other offers. However, there are exceptions. Should WhiteWave go with another offer, Danone still wins because it will get a $310 million break-up fee.

Bienvenido…

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Image courtesy of Tuomas_Lehtinen/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Believe it or not, Hillary Clinton wasn’t the only topic of conversation today coming out of Washington DC. President Obama announced a proposal to allow eight U.S. airlines to provide nonstop service between Cuba and ten U.S. cities, beginning this fall. This will mark the first time in 50 years that travel of this kind will be available. And all this just one year after diplomatic relations were re-established. The city and airline selections were made by the Department of Transportation and the lucky airline winners are: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and United Airlines. American Airlines is actually no stranger to the island nation, as it has been offering charter services there since 1991. Just last year the airline made over one thousand chartered flights to Cuba, while JetBlue made over 200 chartered trips. That’s awfully welcome news for an industry that took a fiscal beating lately. The cities that can look forward to the new service had to have have substantial Cuban-American populations already in place. Hence, Florida finds itself the recipient of 14 out of the 20 daily nonstop flights, since it boasts the largest Cuban-American population. The cities include: Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami,  Newark, New York City, Orlando and Tampa. According to Cuban officials, the number of American travelers to Cuba is up 84%, compared to last year, in just the first half of the year.  But there is still a trade embargo in place, which does include a travel ban. However, there are twelve convenient categories of reasons to fly to Cuba that you can check off should you decide to make your way to Havana any time soon.

Come together…

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It’s a fiscal kumbaya as four U.S. banks offered up their sincerest support for London following the Brexit vote. The gracious supporters include, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. The banks agreed to help British Finance Minister George Osborne find ways to ensure that the U.K. remains the prominent financial player that it always was, pre-Brexit. And of course they all will try and find new and exciting ways to lure and retain big banking to London so that the consequences of the Brexit don’t do the country in completely. While that sentiment no doubt warmed the hearts of investors all over the world, the investment banks could not offer up as much optimism as far as the jobs situation is concerned. After all, “no one in their right mind would currently invest in Britain.” Keeping those jobs there might might be the biggest challenge of all and no one wants to make any promises on that. Especially Jamie Dimon, who had previously mentioned that around 4,000 jobs could make their way out of London. In the meantime, the French wasted no time – I mean NONE! – in announcing to the world that it would make its tax regime as enticing as possible, in a not at all subtle attempt to grab some pricey banking business from London.

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Banking Scandal or Ben Affleck Movie?; Airline Ranks and Tanks; Drones to the Rescue

Who gets the movie rights?

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The latest scandal to come out of the banking world has its very own name – “The Panama Papers.” It seems a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca helped a slew of politicians, celebrities, businessman etc. to create offshore accounts and shell companies for the last forty years. It’s estimated that 500 banks all over the world enlisted the help and resources of Mossack Fonseca to help them set up these shell companies since 1977. Fast forward to a year ago when an anonymous source leaked some 11 million documents to Germany’s biggest newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, which then enlisted the help of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The ICIJ shared information and hunted down leads for over a year in an effort to publicize “The Panama Papers” that contain information on some 214,000 offshore companies. The documents also have plenty of unflattering details about Russian President Vladimir Putin, FIFA officials and over 30 other people and companies that are blacklisted by the U.S. government. These include people indicted for corruption and have ties to drug trafficking and terrorism. Strangely enough, Mossack Fonseco only seems to know the true identities of just over 200 companies out of the over 14,000 that the firm managed to incorporate just in the Seychelles. Now banks across Europe find themselves under the microscope as regulators try to establish if and how those banks found ways to hide assets. The Kremlin, ironically, is calling the allegations “a series of fibs” and thinks its just an attempt to thwart Putins chances in upcoming elections, which are said to be rigged anyway. FIFA, another group that could use a lesson or two on business ethics, called the allegations “ridiculous.” To be fair, it’s not clear to certain people that any actual illegal activity occurred. Of course the banks denied any wrongdoing while Mossack Fonseca calls itself the victim of a data breach.

Bumpy landing…

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Results are in for the Airline Quality Rating and you might just be surprised. Or not. Virgin America took the top spot, even earning the best score in the baggage handling rate category. While Virgin America no doubt takes pride in getting the best ranking, Sir Richard Branson is not exactly celebrating considering Alaska Airlines is buying him out for $2.6 billion. Alaska Airlines, by the way, is paying $57 in cash per share, – a 47% premium over Virgin America’s closing price on Friday. Incidentally, Alaska Airlines came in fifth, though it was ranked highest when it came to fewest customer complaints. But it is anyone’s guess how this buyout will impact Virgin America’s rating next year. In any case, JetBlue came in at number two with Delta, shockingly enough, earning a very respectable third place ranking. Overall industry performance improved slightly. Really slightly. Six carriers actually improved, while another six did not. Spirit came in dead last, but in all fairness, Spirit is new to the list. Also in all fairness, Spirit ranked the highest in customer complaints, which makes sense considering that its culture is best described as “take it or leave it.” Amerian Airlines plunged three spots from last year to number 10. Which sounds about right. American, by the way, is the largest carrier in the world, just not on the United States. United is and yet it doesn’t exactly boast an enthusiastic following. Hawaiian Airlines ranked number one for on-time performance. And that’s really great. Especially if you’re going to Hawaii. Which unfortunately, I am not.

Start-up STAT…

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Bay Area start-up Zipline just scored $18 million in funding  – but not from just any investors.  Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Yahoo Founder Jerry Yang saw fit to plunk down tons of cash for the drone company but the question is: what makes this drone company different from all the other drone companies? At least for Paul Allen and Jerry Yang. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that Zipline founder Keller Rinaudo is using his drone technology not for delivering books and groceries, but rather to save lives in third-world countries. Zipline’s drones will be delivering blood and much-needed medical supplies to remote, hard-to-reach areas in Rwanda. Rinaudo, a Harvard-trained scientist said that there is “nothing more precious than blood and medicine” and plans on making those items much more accesible than they have ever been. He also wisely pointed out: “Getting medicine to remote places is both a huge market and a global challenge.” As of now places in Rwanada get resupplied a few times a year. But Rinaudo is planning for his drones to make up to 150 drops a day come July. The government of Rwanda is footing the bill to make that happen. And unlike many other types of drones that can’t operate properly in inclement weather, Zipline’s drones can, are able to carry up to 3.5 lbs. and fly within a 75 mile range. Considering that Rwanda is one of the poorest nations in the world, it will become the first country to employ commercial drone delivery, all while Amazon and other companies continue fighting regulatory battles and FAA hurdles.

 

Michael Bolton: IRS = Anus of Our Country; NY AG Schneiderman Takes Issues With Shifty Shift Practices; Rank and File: Airlines Get Graded

How am I supposed to live without you?

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With tax day on Wednesday, John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight thoughtfully explained our national aversion to taxes and the IRS: namely, they involve “someone taking our money and math.” To further complicate things and strengthen our aversion, Congress has drastically cut funding to the IRS, causing activity at the agency to come to an almost virtual standstill. Mr. Oliver urged us to redirect our anger, rage and frustration at Congress and not the folks at the IRS who perform “a dangerously boring job.” So what better way to pay tribute to the IRS than to call it the “anus of our country” which is precisely what, crooner Michael Bolton did, on John Oliver’s show, when he sang a not-so-moving ballad that was sort of meant to be a show  “… of reluctant support for their appropriate funding.”  To help taxpayers truly grasp the anus/IRS comparison, Mr. Oliver articulately explained that we should, “Think of our government as a body. The IRS is the anus: It’s nobody’s favorite part, but you need that thing working properly or everything goes to s–t real quick.” Pure poetry.

Oh shift!

Image courtesy of  iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

More than a dozen retailers are getting probed for some shifty shift scheduling practices that are not only downright rude, but according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, might just be illegal, as well. The practice in question, dubbed”on-call shifts” basically lets hourly wage employees know if they will be working only hours before they need to show up for work. The practice is not cool for so many reasons. First, for many employees, the practice does not give them ample time to make care-giving arrangements for children and and elders in their care. “On-call shifts” also don’t allow for employees to make other arrangements for alternative sources of income.  If an employee reports for work for which they had been scheduled, then according to New York State law, that employee is entitled to be paid for four hours of work at basic minimum wage. Some of the big retailers who were sent letters about their shift scheduling practices include Target, The Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, J.C. Penney and J. Crew.

Would you like some pretzels with that?

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Image courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The 25th annual Airline Quality Report is out and the least shocking observation on it is Virgin America taking the top spot for the third year in a row. If you’ve ever flown Virgin America, and also American Airlines, then you’ll clearly see why Virgin America gets the top spot while American – which merged with US Airways – doesn’t. However, American still managed to snag the number seven spot. A bit high, if you ask me. In fact, I am shocked that American isn’t in last place. Its regionally operated Envoy/American Eagle airline does place last, though. Yikes. The report, which measures airline performance quality, takes into account four major aspects – or as the pros say “core elements”: on-time performance, involuntary denied boardings, mishandled baggage and customer complaints. No doubt, if the AQR measured how travelers were treated, I am certain American/US Airways would have claimed the last spot. In any case, Hawaiian Airlines came in at number. Too bad it doesnt fly anywhere I need to go. Delta took the number three spot, the only large carrier to break into the top four, while some were left scratching their heads over JetBlue’s fourth place ranking, since the airline came in second last year.

 

AmEx Wants to Know What Your Loyalty is Worth; How Do You Say Opel-ease in Russian?; FedEx’s Hit and Miss

Where’s your loyalty?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Maybe membership does still have its privileges. AmEx is trying to make a comeback following its breakup with powerhouse retailer, Costco, and rumors of an impending break-up with JetBlue. To soothe it’s broken fiscal heart, the company is making plans to offer a rewards program called “Plenti.” Catchy, huh? Joining forces with Macy’s, Exxon, RiteAid, AT&T and a few other companies, AmEx is offering a loyalty program where American consumers get to cash in points earned on their AmEx cards, and then redeem the points at these retailers. I say Americans, because AmEx already has loyalty programs in other parts of the world, including Germany and Italy. Fill up your car at Exxon and then run over to Macy’s and buy yourself a shirt. Or some vitamins at RiteAid. Or insurance. Yes, I did say insurance since Nationwide Insurers is one of the partners. As is Hulu. Cool, huh? . Noticeably absent from the list of participants is a national grocer and home improvement retailer. But fear not, oh faithful spender, as rumor has it those slots are just about to be filled. If you’re wondering how AmEx benefits, it’s simple: AmEx gets a fee from its partners-in-retail. Clever indeed.

No more vroom…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

GM is coming to a screeching halt in Russia after taking a 74% hit in sales there with an 86% hit on its Opel brand alone. Hence, GM has put the kibosh on Opel production altogether and will be drastically slowing down production on its Chevy lines, chalking it all up to a $600 million loss. The collapsed ruble and dropping oil prices have dealt a major blow to the Russian economy, with car sales especially down 38%. So GM decided to make a run for it. However, if you find yourself in Russia and jonesing for a Corvette, then no worries. Because Corvettes are imported, they will still be making their way into the country, together with Tahoes and Camaros. Can’t you just picture Putin cruising the Kremlin in a Camaro? Oddly enough, or not, the automobile company is still looking to up its Cadillac game in Russia. The luxury auto has yet to catch up to the popularity of European automobiles BMW and Audi. Tragically, only 72 of them have been sold in Russia in the first two months of the year.

Special delivery…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

FedEx released its earnings report, regaling Wall Street and the world with news of its prosperous third quarter. One of the fiscal highlights was the $11.7 billion in revenue the company took in. Not a major difference than what experts forecasted, and a modest 4% gain over last year, but the number did hit its target so nobody was necessarily complaining on that front. The big exciting numbers, though, came courtesy of FedEx’s impressive profits. At $580 million and $2.01 per share, the company’s net income was a whopping 63% higher than last year at this time. Analysts only predicted a profit of $1.88. It’s kind of nice when analysts are wrong. Just saying. And for that very impressive feat, FedEx can thank low fuel prices. Of course there were a few other reasons too, but fuel could definitely be crowned the star of this one. But then its shares took a bit of dip today on the news of its less than impressive outlook. The company expects to pull in between $8.80 – $8.95 per share for the year but analysts much prefer to see $8.98 per share. FedEx’s performance tends to hint to Wall Street what we can expect from our fickle economy. So if FedEx is feeling a bit too fiscally modest and only moderately ambitious, it makes The Street a little edgy.

Hey God, Make Room for Über; Feeling the JetBlues; Target Is Spot On

Üps…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Über is finding itself in a bit of a tangle, gaffe, pickle (insert any number of words) after it got busted using the company’s “God View” tool to keep tabs on a customer’s vehicle location. Except it wasn’t just any customer, but a journalist. Über general manager Josh Mohrer, who is now apparently under internal investigation, said to the reporter as she arrived at Über headquarters, “There you are. I was tracking you.” A big no-no, at least according to Über’s freshly posted privacy policy. “God View” it seems, is intended to be accessed for “legitimate business purposes.” Tracking that reporter did not comply with those rules. Über’s affections towards journalists previously came to light when when its SVP of business, Emil Michael, suggested the company find a way to get unflattering personal information on them. Über doesn’t like criticism, from journalists, anyway, especially considering that the company is in the midst of trying to raise another $1 billion to get a $30 billion valuation. It’s a good thing for Über that Ashton Kutcher sympathizes with its plight. “What is so wrong about digging up dirt on shady journalist?” the dashing actor recently tweeted. Did I mention that Kutcher’s A-Grade Investments is invested in Über?

Not a classy move…

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Image courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just when we thought JetBlue was the cool new kid on the airline playground, it went and did the unthinkable. It became a follower. A conformist. Just like the others. Blah. Take note when you book your next flight with JetBlue that baggage fees are now part of the JetBlue experience. That is, if you booked the cheapest class of ticket. The company is on a tear to generate $400 million in revenue to get better profits. Baggage fees are one of the odious tasks on that “to do” list of its master plan. But if you’re one of the privileged few who already spent the equivalent of a down-payment on a house for your ticket, then you can sit back and relax. Well, maybe scrap the part where you “sit back.” JetBlue is adding 15 seats to its A320 jets which means less legroom for you no matter what you paid. Happy flying!

Unstoppable?

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Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Not only did mega-retailer Target beat expectations, but it even showed Wal-Mart a thing or two. Well maybe just one thing – and that is that its sales grew faster than Wal-Mart’s. (Yes it is a competition.)  Target pulled in an impressive $0.54 per share on $17.56 billion in revenue. Analysts had Target pegged at pulling in $0.47 per share. It’s impressive because the company is still recovering from its mega-gaffe/data breach which is coming up on its one year anniversary. And because the verdict is still out on Target’s adventurous and fiscally questionable Canadian foray, those earnings are like an early Christmans/Hanukah gift. However, we musn’t overlook the fact that those earnings per share were still two cents less than what they were exactly a year ago.

Swiss Market Offers Up Fascism With Coffee; GM Earnings Put the Brakes on Recall Issues; Airline Industry Earnings Show No Signs of Ebola

How do the Swiss say “Oops”?

Image courtesy of amenic181/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of amenic181/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Migros, a major Swiss supermarket, is having a bad, embarrassing week. All because of some coffee cream containers. Except they weren’t just any coffee cream containers, unless of course you’re used to seeing Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini gracing food packaging. “Usually the labels have pleasant images like trains, landscapes and dogs,” a spokesperson said. Yeah. Just not today. I guess someone’s getting fired. Migros called it an “unforgivable blunder” when customers began to complain about the portraits of murderous fascists glaring back at them faces as they poured cream into their coffee. Migros, however, is blaming a subsidiary that designed the series of 55 motifs that ended up in scores of restaurants, cafes and kiosks.

Recall debacle? What recall debacle?

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Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Despite its disastrous mess of a year, thanks to its ignition switch recall, auto company GM still managed to crank out some insanely impressive earnings. Apparently the U.S. and China are either very forgiving or willing to look past the all company’s scandals and recalls because strong sales in those regions helped GM rake in $1.38 billion or $0.81 per share. Those numbers are nearly double the $698 million $0.45 per share earnings the company hauled in last year at this time. Over 880,000 GM vehicle were sold in North America alone. Russia and Europe weren’t feeling the love for the US car company but no worries because worldwide the company sold close to 2.5 million vehicles. But it’s those trucks I tell you, that consumers are totally digging as GM carries a 24% market share of those babies.

You are free to roam about the cabin…

Image courtesy of luigi diamanti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of luigi diamanti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Their passengers may not always be healthy but their profits sure are. Indeed the airline industry as a whole has been seeing solid earnings across the board and it’s not their lucky stars they can thank but rather the price of fuel, which as I mentioned yesterday has been going down. JetBlue, Souhwest and United Airlines all rocked their earnings announcements. Even American Airlines added another record quarter of  $942 million, way over the $289 million it pulled in last year at this time. The airline also reported a staggering $11.1 billion in revenue. Considering my awful experiences on American Airlines, those numbers are nothing short of miraculous. As for Ebola scaring off travelers? Well, it’s not. ‘Nuff said.

 

GM’s Future Is Looking Green, Big Mac Selfie Time and the Airline Industry Is Full of Surprises

Unstoppable…

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

File this one under things that make you hmmm…Following a horrific year and quarter, GM and its CEO Mary Barra  came out…on top! Even after a massive recall fiasco that put a gaping $1.3 billion hole in General Motors financials, the automaker was still seeing green today. Profits for the company were down 85% yet it still beat the Street’s expectations by $0.02. Yes two cents, as in General Motors does in fact have two cents to rub together…and more. GM’s earnings were up by $0.06 cents a share when Wall Street only expected it to rise by $0.04. General Motors CEO Mary Barra, who has only been at the helm since January and took a brutal Congressional beating over GM’s disastrous recall debacle that cost several lives, was also just named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people.

Not just clowning around…

Image courtesy of Naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Selfies…here I come.” No that wasn’t Miley Cyrus! But guess who is finally joining the Twitterverse? None other than everyone’s favorite big-mac shilling red-headed clown, Ronald McDonald. The official face of the Golden Arches is also getting a stylish (I’m being generous here) new makeover – replete with cargo pants, a striped rugby shirt and banging new red blazer. If that doesn’t scream Abercrombie & Fitch model, I don’t know what does. The clown’s last makeover was nine years ago and many suspect this new look has a bit to do with Taco Bell and its new campaign to corner the fast-food breakfast arena. Incidentally (or not), Ronald McDonald’s new look was unveiled a day after McDonald’s announced lower than expected sales and profits. You can find Ronald McDonald invading social media at the #RonaldMcDonald hashtag and @McDonaldsCorp.

Wingin’ it…

Photo courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

American Airlines scored huge when they announced their first quarter earnings beating the Street by almost $0.20 a share. Wall Street predicted they’d come in with earnings of $0.46 a share but (audible gasp) they came in at $0.65 a share! And if you’ve flown with American Airlines recently then you know that is nothing short of miraculous. They posted first quarter revenue of $10 billion and net income of $480 million. Last time I flew American (August), they still hadn’t updated their aircraft fleet and if you wanted to watch television you had to do so on their antiquated drop down televisions with lousy picture quality. A Snickers bar on the flight cost almost as much as the flight itself. So I suppose the numbers  do add up. Delta also pleasantly surprised Wall Street with a nice first quarter profit even though it had to cancel a whopping 17,000 flights due to severe weather. JetBlue and UnitedContinental, despite having newer fleets and presumably better…everything (than American Airlines) didn’t fare as well.