Russia? What About Russia? Facebook Earnings Seem to Be So Much Bigger Than Russia; Major Chink in Under Armour; All Night Long: It’s Party Time at Walmart

It’s good to be Facebook…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s another quarter of rainbows and unicorns for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The social media mega-monster blew expectations out of the water with its daily active users growing to almost 1.4 billion, an increase of 50 million users. Revenue increased 47% and came in at over $10 billion. I won’t even bother boring you with what analysts expected. In the meantime, shares picked up an additional $1.59, which was a swift kick in the rear to predictions of $1.28 per share and a majorly impressive 77% increase over last year at this time. Apparently, all this talk about Russia using propaganda on Facebook to influence the presidential election seems to be having a nominal effect on the company.  Amid all this glorious earnings news, Facebook’s general counsel was hanging out in our nation’s capital, taking a beating because some folks in Congress just aren’t down with the way Facebook has this uncanny knack for effectively targeting digital ads to users simply based on their likes. I guess politicians are worried that those targeted ads might be – and have been – too effective in getting their opponents elected.  But Wall Street just laughed away sending shares all the way up to almost $183 per share.

Over Armour?

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Image courtesy of James Barker/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Under Armour released its quarterly profits and it seemed like there was carnage all around.  The big bad ugly issue, aside from the actual numbers, is that the company is slashing forecasts for 2017. If that’s not a fiscal kiss of death, I don’t know what is. As for revenue, it fell. A lot. To about $1.4 billion, an almost 5% drop year over year. However, if we’re just looking at what happened just in the U.S., Under Armour revenue fell a whopping 12%. That’s a huge problem because it was the first time that ever happened since the company made its super-hyped Wall Street debut. Of course, you can’t have bad news on Wall Street without shares of the company in question going south. Which is precisely what happened as shares of Under Armour tanked 24% today. Add that to the fact that since September of 2015, shares have fallen around 85%. The carnage, unfortunately, doesn’t end there. Profit was down to just over $54 million and 12 cents per share, which was about half of what it was last year at this time. To add insult to injury, expectations were for $75 million. Of course, some would say those dismal figures are partly the result of the company’s $85 million restructuring charge. But I guess that’s the kind of money you have to spend when you are trying to keep a multi-billion dollar company like Under Armour from hemorrhaging more money. And true to CEO fashion, Under Armour’s own Kevin Plank made sure to blame, among other factors, businesses that went bankrupt since those other businesses, like sporting good stores, sold Under Armour merchandise. The bad news seemed to be contagious as shares of both Nike and Adidas took a nasty dip as well.

Par-tay!!!!!

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Walmart wants to win the holidays. And it’s training hardcore for the finish. Sure, that means sales. And promos. And all the rest of the gimmicks and sales. But Walmart’s also throwing in some partying. I’m totes serious here.  Starting this Saturday, Walmart will hold 20,000 parties in its Super Centers with the first one being called, “Toys that Rock.” Not to be outdone by toys, the retailer will also have parties called “Gifts that Rock” and “Parties that Rock.” Are you sensing a theme here? Of course, no party is complete without a decent goody bag or giveaway, so for you, the shopper, that means a curated gift guide and catalog. See how nicely that works out for Walmart. And you, maybe. Sort of. Walmart is also adding lots more “holiday helpers” to help guide shoppers to cashiers, open more registers and grab things from all over the store…and beyond. And demos, We mustn’t forget the demos. Apparently, there will be 165,000 of them spread all through Walmart’s gazillion stores. Laugh all you want, but Wall Street’s digging Walmart’s latest initiatives and overall drive, sending shares of the company up today by almost 1%.

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Trump Tweet-Targets Nordstrom; Under Armour CEO Says It All Wrong; Wells Fargo Continues to Anger

Oh no you didn’t…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Just one week after pulling Ivanka Trump’s fashion line from its stores, Nordstrom has managed to incur some serious Presidential social-media wrath, via Twitter of course. The Tweeter-In-Chief wrote that his daughter was “treated so unfairly” by the department store and “She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” Nordstrom argued that the merchandise’s performance wasn’t up to snuff, and that it regularly evaluates the thousands of brands that it carries to decide which ones get the boot and which ones don’t. And Ivanka’s line got it, though the chain had been carrying the line since 2009. Back in November, Nordstrom co-president Pete Nordstrom sent out a company memo explaining that the turmoil surrounding the election is putting the retailer in a “tight spot.” It risks offending Trump-haters for keeping the line, but also risks alienating shoppers who support him. Nordstrom tried to explain that it makes a “sincere effort not to make business decisions based on politics but on performance and results,” but found itself “in a very difficult position.”  That difficult position probably had to do with calls for boycotts of the merchandise, and even the store.  And it’s not like Nordstrom was the only one who took this sort of action. Neiman Marcus Group also stopped selling her jewelry online and in one of its stores in the northeast. Shares of Nordstrom had dropped a smudge 1% following Trump’s tweet. But they quickly bounced back. So maybe the effect of Trump’s fury only goes so far.

That’s gonna come back to haunt you…

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Image courtesy of aechan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Speaking of which…Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank played nice with Trump so of course, it’s now going to cost him. Literally. During an interview on CNBC’s “Fast Money Halftime Report,” host Scott Wapner asked the athletic apparel chief executive about his involvement in Trump’s initiative to create manufacturing jobs in the United States. Some of the pearls that escaped Plank’s mouth included, “To have such a pro-business president is something that is a real asset for the country…People can really grab that opportunity.” [cue crickets chirping]. Naturally, Under Armour had to issue a statement to clarify Kevin Plank’s remarks – lest anyone think that he really meant what he said, which would lead to a boycott. Except that sort of already happened as “Boycott Under Armour” hashtag made its way into the Twitter-sphere in no time. In the meantime, UA insisted that it engages in “policy, not politics” and Plank’s statements had to do with job creation.  I shall spare you the details of official company statement – you’re welcome! – but rest assured it included all the usual themes about the beauty of unity, diversity, welcoming immigrants etc. The fact is, UA can’t afford any boycotts, whether Plank meant what he said or not. Its shares have been falling lately and in its most recent earnings report, the company missed expectations and forecasted slower growth for 2017.

And here’s one more reason to hate Wells Fargo…

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In case you weren’t incensed enough by Wells Fargo’s fraudulent account scandal, CEO Tim Sloan said that the bank is committed to helping the Dakota Pipeline project. While it would be nice to focus all rage on Wells Fargo, who loaned $120 million toward this project, the fact is the bank is just one of 17 that gave loans to help fund the $3.8 billion project. Obama had initially halted the project, but President Trump swiftly reversed that action and is looking forward to its completion. Come June, the pipeline is expected to ship half a million barrels of crude every day from North Dakota to Illinois. Unfortunately the 1,200 mile pipeline cuts through an Indian reservation with deep cultural significance, and it’s likely the pipeline will incur damage on the site. The pipeline also poses major environmental hazards where it crosses the Missouri River. The Standing Rock Sioux reservation is downstream from the crossing and the pipeline could end up polluting the Tribe’s drinking water. The Seattle Council is doing its part to combat Wells Fargo’s involvement by pulling about $3 billion in city funds.  Seattle has a contract with the bank that expires in 2018, and it most definitely will not be renewed. In the meantime, the council is on the hunt for a more “socially responsible bank.” Good luck with that one.

Under Armour’s Underwhelming Earnings; Trump Tackles Big Pharma Prices; No Easy Riding for Harley These Days

Chink in the armor…

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Under Armour released its quarterly earnings and they were pretty disappointing. Besides the company’s poor performance, it also bummed out Wall Street with a dimmer outlook. Growth for the company had regularly surpassed a 20% rate. But alas, that rate has come to a screeching halt and Under Armor warned us that a more modest growth rate of maybe 12%, with revenues of $5.4 billion, should be expected for 2017. Analysts had been holding their collective breath for a $6.8 billion revenue figure. Oh well. Maybe in 2018. Shares of the athletic apparel company had already taken a 39% beating in the last year. But after unveiling its latest figures, they dropped even more.  CEO Kevin Plank blamed the ever growing nuisance – for him, anyway – of competition. He also admitted that maybe the company should have focused on offering more high-fashion apparel – which seems to be all the rage at the moment – instead of relying on its basics which didn’t perform as hoped. Plank also blamed the slew of retail bankruptcies of brick-and-mortar stores that carried Under Armour merchandise. Unlike Nike and Adidas, who have a lot of their own stores, Under Armour does not and the inability to get merchandise onto shelves definitely took a nasty bite out of the company’s earnings, especially since 85% of Under Armour’s revenue comes from North America. So those closures really hurt. Last but not least, major promotions that took place too early in the holiday season put a crimp in Under Armour’s numbers as well. Profit dipped to $105 million, adding 23 cents per share, when last year it pulled down almost $106 million taking in 25 cents per share. Revenue may have been up 12% to $1.31 billion, but estimates were pegged for $1.41 billion. By the way, in case you weren’t aware, Plank was among the group of business leaders who met with Trump earlier in the month and pledged to bring more jobs to the U.S.

Pill-tastic news…

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Trump held a special meeting today in the Oval Office with eight lucky guests hailing from the big pharmaceutical companies and pharmaceutical industry lobbying firms.  Among the eight attendees were representatives from Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co. and Eli Lilly & Co, which happens to be based out of Vice President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana.  Trump urged them to move manufacturing stateside and promised to ease regulations for them if they do. Just like with the auto industry, Trump wants to redo trade policies for this industry as well so that foreign countries pony up their fair share of drugs manufactured in the U.S. In true Trump fashion, the President remarked how foreign countries are “freeloading” on the U.S. because they put price limits on what their citizens can be charged for drugs. He also wants to streamline the approval process, boost production and get prices drastically lowered on drugs.  Shares of most of the companies represented at the meeting rallied today. In the meantime, we’re still waiting on Trump’s announcement for his FDA pick. But he promises that it’s someone “fantastic.” Of course it is.

Fast lane to nowhere…

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If you’ve ever thought about purchasing a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, but haven’t quite got around to buying one, now might just be the time. A surplus of 2016 models has got the iconic bike maker placing big discounts on its inventory, hoping to sell them off in order to bring in the new and improved 2017 models. Profit for Harley-Davidson came in at $47.2 million, which was actually 12% higher than last year’s $42.2 million. Too bad it all goes down from there. Sales in the U.S. were down almost 4%, but at least the rest of the world helped offset a bigger loss with a 2.3% increase in international sales. As for 2017, the company is expecting things will stay the same, as in flat. In fact, the company plans on shipping about 20% less than bikes than last year. The motorcycle industry, as a whole, has been experiencing a decline since May. Part of that has to with the fact that Harley’s dedicated fans are getting older and younger riders aren’t cropping up to fill that void. Hence, Harley-Davidson has a plan intended to draw in more potential bikers, or as Harley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich calls it, “building riders.” With this initiative, he hopes he can attract a new, and highly diverse generation of Hog enthusiasts.

Gap Tries to Bridge Its Sales Gap; Under Armour CEO Lofty Leadership Plans; Fitbit Not So Bitty Ticker Plans

Big Gap-ing hole…

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Gap Inc. finally realized that its brand just isn’t what it used to be and has decided to shutter about 175 of its 675 specialty stores. What once might have been considered the Generation X go to wardrobe supplier, has now become passé to the millennials, many of whom, ironically, are employed by the Gap. Millennials have been opting to shop at “fast” brands like Zara, H&M and Forever 21, leaving the Gap holding the empty shopping bag of fiscal anguish. And not to be a downer, but when I browsed through a Gap last week, I wasn’t exactly swooning over the merchandise which the store was practically giving away. Shoppers are doing a lot more of their shopping online so there was no great pay-off in having so many stores open anyways. About 250 employees over at Gap headquarters in San Francisco are also set to lose their jobs and all these cuts are expected to cost between $140 – $160 million.

So classy…

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Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank has big plans to lead the company he founded for many many years. Good thing he figured out way to do just that – by offering up more shares to investors. Of course, these aren’t your regular average shares. These shares do carry all the rights and privileges that come with owning a company stock – but with one itty bitty difference: the shares carry no voting power.  The company already has class A shares and class B shares. With class A shares, a shareholder gets one vote per share, while class B shares get ten votes per share owned. In case you haven’t figured it out, Kevin Plank holds most of those shares giving him lots of control. But, the board of directors had no problem with Kevin Plank’s class-y plan, unanimously passing it through. And why should the board take issue with it? Under Plank’s guidance, he led the company to a $17 billion valuation. The problem, however, that everybody seems to be wondering about, is what happens if Kevin Plank begins to under-perform?

Speaking of class-y shares…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fitbit is getting pumped up to make its big ticker debut on Thursday and gearing up to offer 34.5 million class A shares which are set to go for between $17 – $19 a pop. That’s a bit higher than the $14 – $16 range it was going for a few weeks back.  That means the company, famous for its wearable fitness tracker,  could end up with a potential valuation of almost $4 billion.  And while you may bemoan the thought of exercise, there are a lot you out there who are eager to get fit, as evidenced by the $745 million in revenue Fitbit pulled down last year, earning a $100 million profit with that. Of course there’s still a lot of competition out there when it comes to wearable fitness trackers which has investors pondering just how Fitbit is going to set itself apart from the pack. Then there’s that other slight problem where users decide to ditch their trackers after just a few months. But hey, it’s only money, right?

Anthem Hits a Sour Note With Major Cyber Attack; Under Armour’s Over the Moon Ratings; Sony Executive Amy Pascal Down But Not Out

Cyber-sickening…

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Image courtesy of chanpipat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Anthem now joins the illustrious list of major companies to get cyber-hacked, although the health insurance company has yet to definitively say how many of its 80 million current and former customers are affected. It can definitively be said that all sorts of personal information was taken, including social security numbers, names, birthdays, employment data etc. – the kinds of details that can facilitate a very rude and inconvenient identity theft. Anthem says no credit card information was taken. Just everything else of significance. Customers can expect to be notified if they haven’t already been, and in keeping with corporate-cyber-attack tradition, affected customers will also get free credit monitoring and identity protection.  Anthem, which just happens to be the second largest health insurance company, with Anthem Blue Cross, Anthem Blue Shield, Amerigroup and Healthlink under its wings, just might earn itself the uncoveted distinction of having suffered the largest data breach in the health care industry. Ever. However, it’s still looking to sign up new customers for that pesky February 15 Obamacare deadline. Naturally the Feds are involved and if it’s suspected that information was stolen, the FBI has graciously established the Internet Crime Complaint Center website: www.ic3.gov. Anthem also wanted everyone to know that the data of its associates was also breached if that’s at all reassuring, though I don’t know why it would be. Now go and change your passwords!

Bringing it on…

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Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Don’t you just love a good athletic apparel smackdown? Today’s  smackdown is brought to you by Under Armour and its CEO Kevin Plank, who not so graciously told Nike and Adidas to get used to being number two during a CNBC interview. Charming, right? But after posting some boffo earnings that boasted 31% revenue growth to $895 million, I guess he earned the right to say that. Except that Under Armour is, in fact, currently the number two fitness apparel maker, behind Nike. Just saying. In any case, CEO Kevin Plank’s numbers were no accident. The company’s profits were up 37% to $88 million coming out to $0.40 per share. That, my virtual pals, was one cent more than what analysts predicted. Plank’s fiscal logic for Under Armour is pure fitness genius: The more people exercise, the more exercise apparel they’ll need. To add to its fitness arsenal, Under Armour picked up not one, but two calorie-counting, fitness-tracking apps: MyFitnessPal for the very robust price of $475 million and Denmark-based Endomondo, for a cool $85 million. MyFitnessPal currently has 80 million users with Endomondo coming in at 20 million users, mostly in Europe, and with those two acquisitions under its svelte belt, Under Armour hopes to become “the world’s largest digital health and fitness community.” How nifty.

Hack Attack Comeback…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sony Pictures Entertainment studio head Amy Pascal may be stepping down from her cushy spot at the top, but she’s not out of the picture. The executive, whose emails figured prominently in the Sony hack attack in December, if only because she made some racist comments about President Obama and called Angelina Jolie a spoiled brat (though she did say sorry), will now get a four year production deal with Sony.  While it’s safe to assume she won’t be working with Jolie, or Adam Sandler, or the President for that matter, she will get distribution rights to the the films she does. Not bad for someone who put her foot in her mouth, via email, subsequently earning herself some of the biggest A-list enemies imaginable. The movie “The Interview,” starring the cuddly duo of Seth Rogen and James Franco, was allegedly the source for all the hacking misery, as it poked fun at North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The scandal cost Sony $15 million which coincidentally is the same amount of money the “The Interview” made from 2 million digital downloads – in its first few days of its release.