Yahoo’s Got Major Un-security Issues; Big Pharma Slapped With Big Lawsuit; Super Bowl “Ads” Up to Big Bucks

Some heads are gonna roll…

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Today’s massive data breach is brought to us by Yahoo. Again. It’s estimated that a billion users had their personal data breached back in 2013, which is nearly twice as big as the last data breach Yahoo reported just a few months ago that happened in 2014. Now Yahoo has the dubious distinction of being the target of arguably the largest data breach. Ever. Incidentally, it wasn’t even Yahoo that discovered the breach but rather law enforcement officials. Law enforcement handed over files to the internet company that they received from a third party who said the info was stolen. Way to stay on top of things, Yahoo! Virginia Senator Mark Warner is now on a mission to investigate why Yahoo can’t seem to get its cyber-defense act together, while Yahoo is on its own mission to investigate who was responsible for the breach.  The Senator went to the SEC  back in September to ask them to investigate if Yahoo did what it was required to do by informing the public about the breach that occurred in 2014.  Warner would have preferred that Yahoo informed the public about the breach when it first happened – and NOT three years later. Sounds fair. In the meantime, there’s talk about whether Verizon still plans to acquire Yahoo’s core internet business for $4.83 billion. With Yahoo’s stock experiencing its biggest intraday drop in almost a year, that deal might go buh-bye as Verizon reviews “the impact of this new development.”  Or Verizon will just offer Yahoo a lower price to acquire it. Because, apparently it still makes strategic sense to purchase Yahoo even with two massive data breaches under its belt.

Suited up…

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Twenty states are going after big pharma via a massive lawsuit that probably wont be going away anytime soon. Mylan NV,Teva Pharmaceuticals and four other companies that manufacture generic medicines are now staring at the wrong end of a very big lawsuit. This lawsuit, by the way, is completely separate from the investigations being led by the Justice Department and other agencies. The companies are being sued for conspiring to fix drug pricing on two generic drugs: an antibiotic called doxycycline and a drug used to treat diabetes called glyburide. The suit charges that brass at the pharmaceutical companies jacked up the drug prices by setting them and also allocated markets, which they all knew was illegal. They made sure any incriminating correspondence was deleted or simply avoided written communication. When asked for a comment, one of the companies named in the suit, Heritage Pharmaceuticals Inc., conveniently blamed former executives who had since been fired.  Jeffrey Glazer, former CEO of Heritage Pharmaceuticals is actually expected to plead guilty next month. Mylan predictably denied the charges while Teva said it’s still reviewing the complaint. The others remained mum.

Ad-citing news…

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The Super Bowl is still a couple of months away but the advertisers are gearing up for their multi-million dollar thirty second spots come February 5. Rumor has it Fox is charging between $5 million – $5.5 million. GoDaddy, which skipped last year’s Super Bowl ad festivities, is coming back this year, along with Snickers, Skittles and – get this – Avocados from Mexico. Can’t wait to see how Donald Trump tweets about that one.  GoDaddy skipped last year’s festivities, apparently to focus on breaking into more international markets. That mission has presumably been accomplished as the domain services company is now available in 56 markets. Of course, it wouldn’t be the Super Bowl without beer ads and Anheuser Busch has got a whole bunch of spots lined up touting its refreshing assortment. In the meantime, regular advertisers, PepsiCo and FritoLay are sitting out this year. It’ll be the first time in ten years that viewers will not see a Doritos ad during the big game. But don’t get too choked up about Pepsico’s absence. The company will still figure prominently since its Pepsi Zero Sugar is the official sponsor of the half-time show starring Lady Gaga.

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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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.

Costco’s Credit Chaos; Macy’s Switches it Up with New Chief; VW’s Writing Checks

Not to their credit…

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So much for a seamless transition of the Costco Anywhere Visa cards. The club-retailer started accepting the card this week, after ending its 16 year relationship with American Express, and there has been no shortage of chaos. While American Express enjoys a hearty laugh over this new credit card debacle,  Costco customers have been flocking to Facebook to rage against Coscto and its Citigroup credit card. Since Monday, Citigroup has been flooded with phone calls from 1.5 million disgruntled callers whose issues included problems activating accounts, lengthy wait times to speak to a living human breathing customer service representative and even difficulty trying to pay off existing balances. I mean seriously, when was the last time you had a hard time getting someone to take money from you. Costco has over 80 million members worldwide and eleven million of them applied for this new card. Those cards were supposed to have arrived back in May. Unfortunately many didn’t. The card offers a generous cash-back program and has no annual fee and, which was the bone of contention between Amex and Costco, that ultimately put the kibosh on the relationship. About 25% of Costco shoppers used Amex cards for their purchases and Amex took a 6% fee that cost the retailer $180 million. Citigroup is the biggest credit card lender in the world and analysts think the new partnership is a great idea to cut down on costs. Visa’s fees will be considerably smaller, costing Costco somewhere between $60 million and $150 million. Which is great news, as long as you’re not standing on line right now trying to make a purchase with the store’s new Visa card.

Miracle on 34th Street?

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Long-time Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren is getting set to bid a long and fond farewell to the department store he helmed for the last 14 years. While he still gets to remain chairman, succeeding him officially in 2017 will be Macy’s president and former Chief Merchandising Officer, Jeff Gennette. Lundgren might be a bit sad but Wall Street sure isn’t. Investors sent shares up on the news, which is especially reassuring since shares have gone down in value more than 50% in the last twelve months. To be fair, Lundgren’s contributions were nothing short of impressive. He made Macy’s the largest department store chain in the United States, among other shining achievements. But the time has come for a changing of the retail guard as Macy’s got hit with five straight quarters of same-store losses and its first quarter results were the worst they’ve ever been since 2008. That last bit caused a bit of panic in the retail sector as other big retailers worried that these results signaled an industry-wide problem. Some experts, me not being one of them, are convinced that Macy’s doesn’t have the chops, yet anyway, to compete with the likes of the Amazons, H&M’s and Zaras of the world. (Not that H&M’s recent results were all that impressive). With a strong dollar and falling sales, Macy’s had to close about 40 stores and cut thousands of jobs. As for Gennette, one source said, “He is going to make the radical changes” which sounds awfully ominous, but in fact, entails, at least in part, setting up an off-price store called Macy’s Backstage and making online shopping enhancements, which seem to be all the rage.

Farfegnugen…

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It’s official. Sort of. Volkswagen will cough up a settlement of about $10.3 billion to settle claims that it rigged emissions tests on some of its models. Part of the settlement includes offers to buy back about 500,000 odious vehicles which emit 40 times the allowable amount of nitrogen oxide into the air we breathe. By the way, VW is not expected, by the EPA anyway, to repair all of the offending vehicles. Some owners will receive as much as $7,000 in compensation. There’s a joke in there somewhere. Also, VW must set aside money for green energy projects besides establishing programs whose focus is to offset diesel pollution. Talk about karma. Both Volkswagen and the EPA declined to comment on the settlement, which I suppose is to be expected. This settlement is completely separate from other lawsuits suits filed by other U.S. states and is also separate from the Justice Department’s own criminal investigation into the matter. So it seems as though things are anything but settled for Volkswagen.

Spacing Out Thanks to the FAA, Will France Say Adieu to $10 Billion? True or False: $59 Fares

Cleared for liftoff…

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Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sir Richard Branson and his impending fantastic space voyage are good to go as far as the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is concerned. Virgin Galactic, co-owned by Branson and Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments mapped out an agreement with the FAA over how the intergalactic adventure will work with US airspace. It hopes to launch its first flight on SpaceShipTwo by the end of 2014. Hundreds of people have already signed up for a flight that only sets them back about $250,000 – and is, of course, payable via super-cool and super un-regulated bitcoins.

Au revoir, BNP?

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Image courtesy of 1shots/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

France’s biggest bank, BNP Paribas, is already in some tres hot water over violating US sanctions against unpleasant countries like Iran and Sudan. The Justice Department has been conducting its investigation for quite a while and feels the time has come for BNP Paribas to finally pay for its wrongdoings to the hefty sum of $10 billion. What’s so special about this figure, besides its enormity is that it would be the biggest fine ever imposed on a misbehaving bank –by fives times as much. BNP, however, feels it should only have to pay around $8 billion. But Attorney General Eric Holder has even bigger plans as he is eager to remind the banking industry that none of them are “too big to jail.” He wants to bar BNP from even trading assets ( or as it’s called on The Street, dollar clearing) besides throwing the responsible individuals into the less than illustrious ranks of the unemployed.

Southwest. Oops. They did it again. And Again…

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Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Southwest was in a whole heap of trouble yesterday and had to pay some embarrassing and avoidable fines (hey, just like BNP will likely do, almost). The trouble began when Southwest posted $59 fares on its website flying from Atlanta to LA, Chicago and New York. Of course those fares were too good to be true. Would be travelers were told that those fares were not available and were a mistake and never meant to be part of the sale even though they were heavily advertised. Hmmm. The US Department of Transportation didn’t care for this show of false advertising and let them know it. Lucky, for the airline it only had to pony up $300,000 which is probably what it earns in the time it takes you to read this paragraph. Despite its questionable sales tactics, shares of the airline have gone up over 40% this year. Another hmmm.

KY: Dude Where’s My Hemp? Hailing Uber

Seed project…

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Image courtesy of Paul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Kentucky’s state agricultural department has a 250 pound stash of hemp seed that they’re itching to plant for some pilot projects they’ve got planned. The problem is the DEA is keeping it at a UPS facility and is being very uncool about releasing it. A group of Veterans who would like to take up farming would like to utilize these seeds, which makes the fact that the DEA is holding them that much more rude  – and uncool. So state officials are doing what any red-blooded American would do in a situation like this: They are suing. US Attorney General Eric Holder, Customs, the DEA and the Justice Department are the defendants. A hearing is scheduled for today because those seeds really need to be planted by June 1 in time for the hemp growing season. I’d like to see the DEA try this in Colorado.

Pin this…

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Image courtesy of MR LIGHTMAN/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pinterest. You know it. You love it. You must be among its 30,000,000 active monthly users. The social media company just infused with some major cash –  $200 million, in case you were wondering – raising its valuation to $5 billion. If you haven’t noticed (though I’m sure you did) it now has “promoted pins” which means ads in Pinterest speak. And this next one is quite the biggie: Pinterest has apparently overtaken Twitter as the social destination for women. Which might partly explain a bit why Twitter hasn’t been living up to its hype. Some of that new money is going abroad, that is to help spread the Pinterest love all over the world, though it is already in 31 countries.

Headed in new directions….

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigital Photos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigital Photos.net

The Uber app, a ride sharing service that is ticking off the taxi industry, wants to raise several hundred million dollars and get a $10 billion valuation (just like Pinterest – only not). Even though Uber began just five years ago, the company has proven to be a massive success – doubling their reach in just six months – even as it deals with major regulatory problems courtesy of miffed taxi drivers. In fact, some Uber drives are even getting ticketed by police. But it’s going to take a lot more to thwart the app’s efforts as it is used in over 100 cities  – worldwide.  The Financial Times said the app could likely pull in a billion dollars just for 2014. Among Uber’s very prescient backers is Amazon’s very own Jeff Bezos (who seems to have sizable stakes in all the right tech companies). Right now India is their largest market now outside of the US. But as with so many other tech companies lately, people wonder if they are really worth all those billions.