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.

EpiPen Getting Dose of Competition; Gaping Gender Gap; Wells Fargo So Very Sorry Indeed

Shot to the heart…

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EpiPen, which currently controls 95% of the auto-injector epinephrine market, now has to scoot its greedy butt over to make way for a much-needed competitor. Privately-held Kaleo Pharma is bringing back Auvi-Q, the auto-injector device that was taken off the market back in 2015 because of dosage delivery problems. Apparently the problems have been fixed and you can expect to see Auvi-Q back on the shelves in the first half of 2017. However, before you breathe a sigh of relief, experts have said that the price for Auvi-Q might not be all that competitive. In fact, between 2013 – 2015, Kaleo’s price hikes matched Mylan’s and the cost for the auto-injector might go for $500, just $100 less than EpiPen’s highly-criticized $600 2-pack. Make no mistake. Kaleo’s no more an angel in the pharmaceutical industry than Mylan is. The company is also known for making Evzio injectors which use naloxone to treat opioid-overdoses. Once upon a very short time ago – like a few years – the devices cost $690. But not anymore, as the devices go for $4,500 per two-pack. Kaleo has promised that its Auvi-Q device will be affordable and expects insurance companies to help see that promise through. In the meantime, as Mylan’s generic version of its EpiPen is expected to go for $300, the FDA nixed Teva Pharmaceuticals application for a generic version of the EpiPen citing “major deficiencies.” Yikes.

Rock on, Rwanda!

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Just when you thought the gender pay gap couldn’t get any worse, along comes the World Economic Forum to tell us otherwise in its Global Gender Gap Report. The study examined 144 countries and took into account all kinds of factors like economic opportunities, political empowerment and education. The study disconcertingly found that if we wait 170 years, that pesky gender gap might actually close. But who wants to stick around until the year 2186? Sadly, last year’s projection had us holding our collective breath until 2133 but in all fairness, if we actually start to do things correctly, the gender gap could “could be reduced to parity within the next 10 years.” That’s got to be somewhat reassuring, right? One of the more unpleasant nuggets in the report illustrated that average female salaries were half those of men and disturbingly enough, education gains didn’t necessarily help women increase their salaries. Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Rwanda took the top five spots in that order. (Yes, Rwanda).  I’m thinking maybe it’s time to start poaching our political leaders from those countries. Just a thought. The United Kingdom ranked twentieth, even with a female Prime Minister. Go figure. And even though the U.S. ranked twenty-eighth last year, this year the Land of the Free fell to spot number 45, apparently due to a decline of women in the labor force. At least the U.S.’s ranking wasn’t as bad as Yemen, which ranked dead last. Saudi Arabia, Syria and Pakistan also claimed the loser spots which I suppose makes sense considering those countries tend to treat women as property instead of human beings.

 

It still hurts…

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After just 13 days into his tenure, Wells Fargo already has its latest CEO, Tim Sloan, apologizing. Of course, that apology is over the account scandal that already cost the bank $185 million in fines from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But what’s different about this apology is that Sloan was actually addressing the bank’s 260,000 employees. Which is a step up from last month when former Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf took to blaming 5,300 lower-level employees instead. However, karma is not done with the bank just yet as Wells Fargo could end up eating $8 billion in lost business in the next 12-18 months since approximately 14% of its current customers are looking to switch to more trust-worthy competitors.  As Sloan noted in his apology,“many felt we blamed our team members. That one still hurts, and I am committed to rectifying it.” And so the bank is hiring culture experts to fix the weaknesses that led to this ugly episode. Of course, cultural weaknesses aside, the bank can look forward to both criminal investigations and class-actions suits. Which is only fair considering that the wrongfully blamed lower-level employees – many whom made less than $15 per hour – were met with retaliation after they dared to call in to the bank’s internal ethics hotline.

New Start-Up That Makes Travel Affordable; One Down, More to Go: Wells Fargo’s John Stumpf Goes Buh-Bye; Delta Gets its Due for August Outage

Coffee, Tea or Affordable Travel?

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There’s a one year old tech start-up that wants to get you traveling. It’s called Airfordable, and it lets users pay for airline tickets through installments. But first you need to take a screenshot of your itinerary and upload it to the site. Then the company sends you a payment plan. If you want to make it yours, you need to shell out a third of the price for the initial deposit. But once your ticket is paid off, Airfordable will present you with an e-ticket and you’re well on your way. Co-founder and CEO Ama Marfa came upon the idea whilst in college and unable to afford the $2,000 airfare to fly home and see her family in Ghana. And she wasn’t the only one as several students, both domestic and international encountered similar challenges. So how does Airfordable make a buck? By simply adding a service fee of between 10% – 20% spread evenly across the payments. If a user defaults or needs to change plans, all the money that was paid, minus the initial deposit, gets put back into their Airfordable account, where users have up to a year to use the money towards a different flight.  As with any ambitious start-up, the company plans to branch out into vacation packages and hotels. Airfordable already has 27,000 users and scored a seed round of funding from Y Combinator. Not bad for a company that came into existence after America’s abysmal choices in the presidential primaries.

What are you going to do with all that free time?

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The drama continues at embattled Wells Fargo but at least John Stumpf has finally threw in the executive retirement towel yesterday. At first denying and then blaming 5,300 terminated  low-level employees, Stumpf managed to incur the wrath of investors, lawmakers and consumers. Oh my! His abysmal handling of the scandal that involved the opening of countless fraudulent accounts gained extra special attention from Senator Elizabeth Warren. And if for some inexplicable reason you feel sympathy for Mr. Stumpf, then don’t. He’s walking away with over $133 million – and that’s after a $41 million clawback in unvested options courtesy of Congress. That $130 million figure is not a typo. In case you’re wondering how on earth he will be walking away with more money than those 5,300 terminated employees probably made in the last ten years combined, he’s entitled to 2.4 million shares, $4.4 million from deferred compensation plus another $20 million from his pension account. But take heart that he received no severance. Isn’t that reassuring? But that’s not his only source of income. For now anyways. While Stumpf has been CEO at Wells Fargo since 2007, he also still sits on the boards of Target and Chevron and collects…wait for it…about $650,000 frrm those positions. Both Target and Chevron have yet to take an official position on whether Mr. Stumpf will continue his  roles at those organizations. But judging by how events have been unfolding, he might just end up with a lot more free than he anticipated.

Karma…

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Delta Airlines took a profit hit for the third quarter. The airline lost $150 million from its massive tech outage that saw the cancellation of 2,300 flights over the course of three days back in August. Even though analysts expected that, Delta still earned $1.3 billion, a 4% drop over last year at this time, but still adding up to $1.70 added per share.  The company took in $10.5 billion in revenue, which is not as impressive as one might think considering that it was a 5.6% decrease and a $724 million drop from the same time last year. And yes, about $100 million of that was from the outage.  In any case, analysts wanted to see revenues of $10.55 billion. So no matter how you crunch those numbers, they disappoint. Part of the problem was that the airline had too many seats – a fact that was not lost on the number crunchers. Delta will scale back its seat offerings next year in an effort to boost prices. Something to look forward to. Because fuel prices are still a relative bargain, Delta got away with spending just $1.4 billion, 22% less than it did during the same time last year. But experts don’t expect that to happen again. Shares for the airline are down 23% for the year, which only adds to the weirdness surrounding the sudden departure of executive chairman Richard Anderson just two days ago.

Add the Military to Wells Fargo’s List of Haters; Tesla’s Not Down With Discounts; Beverage CEO’s Earnings Lose Fizz

And the list of offenses just keeps growing…

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As Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf continued to get a much-deserved beating by Congress today, the bank now finds itself staring down the wrong end of a Justice Department sanction. The reason? It seems Wells Fargo improperly repossessed cars owned by…wait for it…members of the military. That’s right. Wells Fargo was screwing over the very folks who defend this country.  Is your stomach done churning yet?  The bank apparently violated the Service-members Civil Relief Act and both Federal prosecutors and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency have big plans for the bank that have nothing to do with stock options and hefty bonuses. It’s borderline-disturnbing that Wells Fargo proudly proclaims on its website that it has “a history of making banking easier for our servicemen and servicewomen.” If found guilty, Wells Fargo could end up forking over an estimated $20 million in penalties. That would be in addition to the $185 million that Wells Fargo was fined for opening up those two million fraudulent accounts.  Sadly, Wells Fargo isn’t even the first bank to repossess vehicles from service people who were delinquent on their loans. Banco Santander had to pony up $9 million last year for similar actions.

Blame it on Reddit…

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Looks like the discount days are over at Tesla where CEO Elon Musk sent out an email to his employees telling them to stop the practice. Apparently, Tesla has a “no negotiation no discount policy” that was in effect since day one, ten years ago when consumers could first start purchasing the battery-operated vehicles. Musk isn’t even into discounts for employees – which I think is a bit unfair. Just saying. No discounts even when the average vehicle discount in the U.S. is just under $4,000. Of course, discounts can still be applied to floor-model vehicles, test-drive vehicles and vehicles that were damaged during delivery. But for brand-spankin’ new Model S cars, which sell – or should anyway – for about $100,000, don’t even bother calculating their costs other than what the sticker price says. This whole hoopla came about because someone on Reddit posted a question about discounts for Tesla vehicles. The responses to the question did not sit well with Musk, or with analyst Brad Erickson of Pacific Crest Securities. In a research note, Erickson suggested that Tesla was getting loose with discounts in an effort to sell more cars for its third quarter – of which 22,000 were delivered. That figure, by the way, is a 90% increase over last year at this time.  But considering that Tesla has posted an operating loss for 14 consecutive quarters, I suppose there some logic at hand.

Fizzy logic…

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Nick Caporella, the CEO behind the fan favorite drink LaCroix, probably isn’t felling too bubbly right about now. Glaucus Research Group just released a very unflattering report about the Florida-based company, basically accusing it of cooking the books. The report also says Caporella used false invoices and other forms of creative accounting to inflate earnings when they weren’t quite where he wanted them to be. In all fairness, Glaucus has a short interest in the company, in the form of 2.26 million shares.  If National Beverage’s stock falls, Glaucus stands to gain a sizable chunk of cash. And that’s exactly what happened as National Beverage’s stock took an 8% hit today despite calling the report “false and defamatory.” It seems some of Glaucus’ research came from a failed 2012 lawsuit from a former associate.  In any case, shares of National Beverage were up 58% in the last twelve months  – that is, up until its recent drop. Interestingly, the soft drinks National beverages sells, including Faygo and Rip It energy drinks, sell for 40% less than Pepsico’s offerings, yet both companies have the same reported operating margin. Weird, right?  Another unusual tidbit is that despite National Beverages major increases in profit and revenue, its advertising and shipping costs remained flat, according to Glaucus’ report at least. Last month the company reported first quarter earnings where revenue was up 17% to $217 million and profit was up 69% to $29 million. Not bad for a company that basically sells fizzy flavored water and Shasta – remember that one? In the meantime the SEC is staying mum on the subject and the stock closed at $42.67.

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.

Sheryl Sandberg: Lean In Women of Corporate America!; Major Tech Company Needs Major Diversity Overhaul; It’s Claw and Order for Wells Fargo

Corporate America Blues…

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Sheryl Sandberg had some thoughts to share with world today in the Wall Street Journal. And when the founder of LeanIn.org and COO of Facebook has thoughts, it’s in everyone’s best interest to hear them loud and clear.  Sandberg wrote about the results of a 2016 study of Women in the Workplace, arguably the most comprehensive annual review of women in corporate America. With 132 companies and more than 4.6 million employees surveyed, the results might shock you, but will mostly disappoint. And here’s why: Women continue to face social pushback for daring to ask for what they deserve. Gasp! Apparently such actions are still viewed as “bossy” and “aggressive.” And that is so weird because men are not viewed that way at all for the same actions. Go figure. But then there’s also the fact that women are underrepresented at every single level and hold less than 30% of senior management roles. As if that’s not bad enough, women are also less likely to get promoted from entry level positions to managerial ones and lose ground the higher they climb up that golden corporate ladder.  The news only gets worse for women of color as they are the most under-repped group with the steepest drop-off as they get to middle and senior management. There is hope, though, as more women are asking and getting promotions and raises.  They are negotiating those items just as much as their male counterparts. Unfortunately, women are still less likely to get promoted.  Which is bananas since research has shown that gender diversity helps businesses get better results, revenue and profit.  Sandberg suggests companies set targets, openly discuss gender stereotypes and start helping businesses get better through gender diversity. Let’s hope 2017’s study shows some markedly different results.

Speaking of a lack of diversity…

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When you count the FBI and U.S. Army as your clients, showering you with hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts, it’s best to foster a diverse workplace that shuns the slightest hint of discrimination. And so we have Palantir Technologies, a data mining company founded by Peter Thiel that is rumored to be valued at about $20 billion. The Labor Department is suing Palantir Technologies over discrminination practices against Asian applicants. If the name Palantir Technologies sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because the company’s resources helped track down Osama Bin Laden. Osama Bin Laden aside, the Labor Department believes the company routinely discriminated against Asian applicants for software engineering jobs. In one example, out of an applicant pool of 130 for an intern position, where 73% of the applicants were Asian, only four Asians were actually hired along with 17 non-Asians.  Palantir charges that the Department of Labor was using “flawed statistical analysis,” yet the Labor Department contends that there is just a one in a billion chance that that selection happened by chance. At least Palantir will be in good company as Facebook and Twitter were also sued for discrimination…by Asian-American women.

And then there’s Wells Fargo…

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The Board of Directors at Wells Fargo might just be clawing back some of the lofty compensation awarded to CEO John Stumpf and former head of community banking Carrie Tolstedt. That decision will be made on Thursday when Mr. Stumpf gets to testify before the House Financial Services Committee to talk about the two million credit and debit cards that were opened without authorization – under the department that Tolstedt ran. Tolstedt conveniently retired in July, by the way. The big question remains as to how much will be clawed back from Stumpf and Tolstedt.  Stumpf took home about $160 million while Tolstedt walked away with around $90 million. Not too shabby considering the massive fraud that happened under their watch.  And as I mentioned in an earlier post, no top level employees were fired or penalized, yet many many low level employees were given their walking papers. Which is weird because lower-level employees usually just follow the orders they’re given. After all, acting unilaterally in a major banking institution is typically frowned upon. Meanwhile, as Wells Fargo continues to stay mum on the subject, the Department of Labor is launching an investigation into the bank’s questionable workplace practices.

 

Banks Behaving Badly; More Karma Headed Towards EpiPen Maker; Shamu Entertainer Ditches Dividend

D’oh!

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There are few things life more stupid than pissing off Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Yet Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf managed to do just that with his prepared, yet sometimes absurd remarks that were carefully crafted for his much deserved beating by the Senate.  That beating came after the bank had to cough up a $185 million fine because employees opened up more than two million unauthorized checking accounts and credit cards. Senator Warren said, among many other colorful things, that Stumpf demonstrated “gutless leadership” and called for him to be personally criminally investigated by both the Department of Justice and the SEC. Yowza. Stumpf did attempt to explain that Price Waterhouse Coopers was brought in to review the accounts in 2015. The problem is that Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH)  wondered very loudly why Wells Fargo didn’t do that immediately after a scathing L.A. Times article came out exposing the scandal way back in 2013.  In the meantime, Carrie Tolstedt, who headed the retail banking business that oversaw the fraudulent accounts, retired in July with $125 million from a previous stock compensation. Of course, the bank’s top executives attempted to point the finger at lower level employees who made between $35,000 – $60,000 a year. Wells Fargo fired 5,300 employees in the last few years for improper conduct tied to the fraudulent accounts. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) made sure to ask Mr. Stumpf how much he took home last year: $19.3 billion was the answer. John Stumpf is still very much gainfully employed and is apparently “deeply sorry.”

Give a shot…

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West Virginia joins the list of states gunning for Mylan ever since the company hiked the price of their life-saving EpiPen drug to $600 for a 2-pack. Mylan argues that it recoups less than half of that $600 Epipen price tag yet the drug accounts for 40% of the company’s operating profits. The state’s attorney general, Patrick Morrisey is going after the drug-maker, filing a petition to find out information that might just lead to some very unpleasant Medicaid fraud charges for Mylan. The subpoena could determine whether Mylan underpaid on rebates so that it could participate in the state’s Medicaid program. And while Mylan has yet to comment, its CEO Heather Bresch has a very unpleasant date planned for Wednesday with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. You might have heard that her father is Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.VA) Awkward. Also problematic, in terms of West Virginia’s Antitrust Act, is how Mylan sued Teva Pharmaceuticals for patent infringement when the latter wanted to make a considerably cheaper, generic version. The two companies settled but in the meantime, blame it on the FDA for not yet approving the generic version. This latest investigation, by the way, is completely separate from New Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s investigation.

Nothing to sea here folks….

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More rough waters for SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS) as the theme park company hit a new low today of $11.77. While it did rebound a bit, the company still plans to issue its last dividend – 10 cents a share – on October 7, which is down from the 21 cents it had previously issued. But after that, the dividend will be put on hold…indefinitely. Instead, SeaWorld will use that money to buy back shares as the company stares at a future without killer whales in captivity.  Starting next year, SeaWorld in San Diego will bid a salty farewell to its Orca shows, with San Antonio and Orlando following suit in 2019. The brutal publicity from the 2013 Orca documentary, Blackfish, has put a significant damper on earnings and attendance at the theme parks, with visitors down 8% to about 6 million for the year. Interestingly, SeaWorld thinks the drop in attendance has more to do with other factors like Tropical Storm Colin and a shift in holidays. Whatever the real reason is, the fact remains that revenue was down 5% to $371 million from last year’s $392 million for the same period.  Add to that a drop in profit of $5.8 million from $17.8 for the same quarter last year and you’ve got yourself a hot fiscal mess.