Swooshed Out: Nike Losing Ground?; Starbucks Perks Up Hiring Goals; Is the End Near for Sears?

Just not doing it…

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Looks like consumers aren’t doing it for Nike as the athletic apparel company posted some pretty unimpressive numbers for its third quarter. To be clear, Nike didn’t lose money. It just didn’t make as much money as analysts wanted it to. For instance, even though Nike took in $8.43 billion in revenue, a 5% increase over last year, analysts were expecting $8.47 billion this time around. The collective disappointment on Wall Street sent shares down because investors are apparently wondering if the company behind the iconic swoosh can withstand some fierce competition from Under Armour and Adidas. But that wasn’t the only bad news sending shares down today. Nike also said that it expects future orders to be down 4%. Nike did score a profit of over $1.1 billion with 68 cents added to shares, a figure that easily beat analysts’ expectations of 53 cents per share. Last year at this time, Nike took in $950 million with 55 cents added per share, illustrating a very respectable increase. Unfortunately, the bit about the decline on future orders didn’t stop from putting a damper on the fiscal mood on Wall Street.

Well done…

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Starbucks is making headlines today after announcing that it not only hit its goal of hiring 10,000 army veterans and military spouses, but now plans to hire another 15,000. Starbucks had hoped it would achieve that milestone by 2018, but lo and behold, it hit its mark well ahead of schedule and the glowing news was announced during its annual shareholders meeting, much to the delight of…everyone. If you recall, back in February, CEO Howard Schultz – who is stepping down at the beginning of April – managed to annoy more than a few of his coffee drinkers when he announced plans to hire 10,000 refugees globally.  Apparently some folks thought those refugee hirings were in place of hiring veterans and thus began a social media campaign urging people to #BoycottStarbucks.  But alas, that was not exactly accurate and the coffee chain found itself explaining that it intended to hire employees from both groups. And that’s not all. The purveyor of premium coffee also plans on creating another 240,000 jobs worldwide by 2021. Because if you were worried that there weren’t enough Starbucks, the company is planning to open 3,400 new stores, just in the United States. So yeah, it’ll definitely need a few extra baristas.

Throwing in the towel?

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It might just be the end of an era as the 130 year old Sears announced in an SEC filing that “substantial doubts” exist with regard to its future. In other words, the department store is staring at the prospect of bankruptcy, and will end up bringing Kmart with it. What’s a little weird about that news though, is that the company’s fourth quarter results were actually better than expected, albeit, dismal. “Better than expected” here basically means that the retailer didn’t lose as much money in its fourth quarter as it was expected to, at least compared to last year’s fourth quarter. The fact remains, however, that according to eMarketer, of the top 250 retailers, Sears is dead last in terms of performance, as it just can’t compete with the offerings of online retailers. In fact, Sears ate over $5 billion in losses just in the last three years and has already been closing plenty of stores, selling off some of its brands and taken other measures just to stay afloat. Besides that, Sears is having too much trouble with its pension plan obligations which has been also eating up a lot of its cash – $4 billion just in the last twelve years. Add to that its more than $13 billion in liabilities and Sears’ future is looking positively grim.

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Sears Dives Into “Dump Trump” Fray; Allergan Goes From Face to Body-Contouring; Teva Beats Despite Turmoil

To dump Trump or not to dump Trump?

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Sears is the latest company caught up in the great retail debate over its decision to discontinue carrying Trump branded merchandise. It would seem that the merchandise of both President Donald Trump and his daughter, Ivanka, have been dropped from Sears and Kmart stores – which Sears owns. However, while Sears and Kmart have put the kibosh on 31 Trump Home items, there’s still plenty more Trump merchandise available online for sale via third-party vendors. Believe it or not, Sears goes by the numbers, at least the ones attached with a dollar sign, and has been putting great efforts into kicking up its online presence. So if items are profitable, they get to stay. If they are not? Well, you get it. This is in the wake of Nordstrom’s decision last week to ditch Ivanka’s line completely. Rumor has it that sales of her merchandise tanked more than 70% for most of October, compared with the same time period last year, when the would-be president still hadn’t yet managed to offend an almost an entire gender of the electorate. Since the Trump brand has been unpopular these days, plenty of customers have little desire to purchase many of its products.  But make no mistake, if the items in question had been selling, either at Sears or Nordstrom, don’t think for a second that the stores wouldn’t have kept the merchandise on its shelves, no matter what the President said – or tweeted.

Yoga, it ain’t…

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Allergan, the maker of everyone’s favorite wrinkle-fighter, Botox, is going to scoop up Zeltiq Aesthetics Inc. for about $2.5 billion, or about $56.40 per share. That’s more than a 14% premium from Friday’s closing price. Naturally shares of Zeltiq went up, because, hey, who would’t want to join the Botox family, right? But here’s the fun part, in case you have never heard of Zeltiq. The company makes a body-contouring product, called the CoolSculpting system, that will fit in nicely at Allergan. Your face and your butt get contoured and primed all from one company. If there’s a regulatory issue with that, then I don’t care. Zeltiq has already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and yes indeed, that kind of makes it more legit. CoolSculpting apparently reduces the appearance of fat by freezing it, however, I’m not sure that it actually gets rid of the junk in the trunk. Instead, it just shapes it into your body, like play-doh. Or something like that. Laugh all you want but there’s nothing funny about the 37% worth of revenue brought in by CoolSculpting systems products, which helped Zeltiq take in a net revenue of $374 million for 2016. Allergan CEO Brent Sanders must be onto something, since the body-contouring market is a whopping $4 billion industry and, according to him, is the fastest growing field in medical aesthetics.

Not the usual generic stuff…

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Not all pharmaceutical companies are having as much fun as Allergan. Last week, shares of Teva pharmaceuticals seemed to be in an ugly state of free fall, and matters didn’t help when its CEO Erez Vigodman suddenly left the company. The official word is that Erez Vigodman’s decision to leave Teva was part of a mutual agreement. At least that’s the story they’re sticking to. But even before that, the company was having fiscal issues in the way of delayed drug launches and major acquisitions that wreaked all sorts of ugly fiscal havoc on the company’s stock price. Then, lo and behold, the company reported an earnings beat this morning and all seems right in the world once again for the company.  Teva took in revenues of $6.5 billion, adding $1.38 per share when estimates were for $6.24 billion and $1.35 per share.  Also from the good news front, the company didn’t even see the need to adjust its forecast for the year, and still expects to score between $23.8 billion to $24.5 billion in revenues and adding between $4.90 to $5.30 to shares.  Interim CEO and President Yitzchak Peterburg took the call and said it was “a critical time for Teva, and we are here to fix what is not working.” Which basically means they are desperately trying to figure out how they can get the company to start pulling down some major cash, ditch  a lot of debt and improve its prospects.  Rumors are swirling that the company will split into two: one to focus on its generic offerings and the other for its branded products. According to some experts, a move like this could solve a ton of problems. Just maybe not all of them. Another possibility is to sell off its branded generic drugs biz in an effort to unload some its major debt. Time will tell.  Because I certainly can’t.

Kate Spade Shares Stylin’ on Latest Reports; Sears Has a Fiscal Guardian Angel; Amazon Dismisses Gravity With Latest Patent

I’m so fancy…

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Kate Spade wants to put itself up for grabs and that news sent its shares up 23%, giving Wall Street plenty of cause to celebrate. And the Street will take whatever it can get, especially since Kate Spade was down 9% just in the last six months. In fact, similar companies including Michael Kors and Coach have also experienced declines during the same time period. But the kicker is that both of those companies, along with four others, are being bandied about as potential buyers of Kate Spade. Talk of a potential sale is just what hedge fund Caerus Investors wants to hear. While the firm, which entered the picture back in 2009, hasn’t disclosed its exact stake in the company, it did send a letter to Kate Spade’s board back in November urging it to put itself on the auction block. And that’s exactly what’s planned for next month. With a market cap of $2.3 billion, Caerus thinks Kate Spade could get picked up for a nifty premium – between $21 to $23 per share -and naturally, Caerus stands to profit from that. But that wasn’t the only story to come out of Kate Spade today. Apparently, an options trader purchased 2,000 calls for Kate Spade shares just minutes before it was reported that it’s exploring a sale. A call, by the way, allows a buyer to score shares at a pre-agreed upon price. Not only was one very lucky buyer involved, but it also netted a very shrewd trader a cool $320,000 within minutes. Insider info? Hmmm. I’m sure the SEC would like to know. Because that would be so bad. Just ask Martha Stewart. As for Kate Spade, she hasn’t been part of the company since 2006.

On a another note…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Even though its stock just went up 9% – the most in two months – Wall Street definitely does not feel the same amount of love for Sears as it does for Kate Spade. The stock closed at a 52 week low just yesterday and its planning to close 30 more Sears and Kmart stores in early 2017. But there is someone who seems to love the embattled retailer unconditionally: CEO Eddie Lampert, who said he’s going to get a $200 million letter of credit for the troubled company. In fact, he has so much faith in the company  – and apparently he’s the only one who does – that he thinks that letter of credit could grow to $500 million. This is not Lampert’s first “loan” to Sears. In the last two years he’s shelled out over $800 million to the company.  Talk about faith.  At least this loan comes with guarantees that if Sears goes bust, its suppliers will still get paid. I wonder if the rest of his hedge fund buds over at ESL Investments feel the same, even as the firm continues to back Sears? For some inexplicable reason, Lampert is devoted to Sears, despite the fact that its sales are constantly going down and it has already lost billions. Most investors think the time has come to throw in the retail towel.  But not Lampert, who in addition to being Sears’s CEO and biggest cheerleader for the last four years, also happens to be its biggest investor.  However, others only see red flags and are wondering why Lampert is the only one eager to throw money at a company which has been losing so much of it in so little time.  Sears’s last quarter lost $750 million, so much worse than last year at this time when it only lost $454 million. Revenue fell a whopping 13% to $5 billion. In fact, in the last eight years, Sears has lost around $9 billion. Also, with the seeming exception of Lampert, everyone is wondering why Sears would need money right after the holiday season, which is supposed to be the most lucrative quarter out of the whole year.

Yeah, they thought of that too…

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Because fulfillment centers weren’t enough, now the e-commerce giant is looking to do away with gravity – besides logistics companies – with its latest patent for an airborne fulfillment center (AFC). It’s exactly what it sounds like – a warehouse in the sky. Flying at a lofty 45,000 feet, drones would basically zoom into the warehouse, pick up items that were ordered and then deliver them.  The company’s ramped up its drone tech efforts and this latest project fits in nicely with that initiative.  Right now Amazon drone delivery requires that Amazon build warehouses in specific areas, on land, where drones can happily roam free and deliver items to customers. Some of the uses mentioned in the filing include fulfilling orders during football games. The AFC would be stocked ahead of time with certain game “essentials” that could be easily delivered as you cheer for your favorite team. Another idea would be to allow customers to order right from a giant ad board and have their items delivered “within minutes.” But before you start having nightmares of flying robotic insects whizzing all around you, Amazon is going to need to get major regulatory approval from aviation authorities before launching any airships.

Morgan Stanley Finally Owns Up to All the Trouble It Caused; It’s a Darn Claim Unemployment Filings Are Up; Sears is Losing It

It was just a matter of time…

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Image courtesy of dream designs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Morgan Stanley is taking a bit of a beating today on Wall Street now that it has finally finally settled with the Department of Justice over its shady little role leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. Morgan Stanley reached a deal with the DOJ  that’ll have the bank paying $2.6 billion to get Uncle Sam off its back.  Attorney General Eric Holder and the DOJ will graciously end their probe into whether Morgan Stanley duped investors by telling them how very great their home loans were when in fact, they were anything but. This settlement is sure to put a major dent in MorganStanley’s 2014 profits. By major, I mean it’ll eat up nearly 50% of what MorganStanley got to take home in 2014. It officially lands Morgan Stanley on that illustrious list of banks who also had to shell out billion dollar settlements to the DOJ for their smarmy actions leading up to and during the 2008 financial crisis, including  – but not limited to –  Bank of America who reigns the top spot with a $16.7 billion payout. It’s followed by JPMorgan Chase which holds the number two spot for its $13 billion settlement. Citigroup rounds out the group with a $7 billion settlement.

Don’t stake this claim… 

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Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The number of people filing jobless claims went up. Not down. But up. The number climbed to 313,000 people instead of a projected 290,000. While the news is a bit of drag, economists  – who presumably know a thing or two  – are telling us that we can’t work ourselves up into a collective panic over one month’s lousy numbers. At least for now, anyway. First, the number of people filing those claims is still relatively close to the 300,000 mark. If it were way past that number, then yeah, having a fiscal freak out might be considered almost acceptable. Two, the labor market’s rockin’, sort of, and hiring is strong, which brings us to reason number three. Because hiring is strong, wages are actually going up. Walmart, TJ Maxx, Gap…the list goes on as to how many retailers are raising its employees’ wages. All these factors allow us to almost ignore this fiscal hiccup. However, leave it to Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen to remind us that, “wage growth remains sluggish” and that there’s always room for improvement.  You don’t say.

Loser…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sears isn’t having a very good year. Actually it hasn’t had a good year in…well, many many years. It just reported its fourth straight year of losses with this quarter losing $159 million and $1.50 per share. Incidentally, that figure is not nearly as dismal as last year’s $358 million fourth quarter loss. So you see, there is a bright side. Sort of. Run by the The Hoffman Estates, which also runs Kmart, the company has tried just about everything to help the ailing retailer reverse its downward financial spiral. From store closures to slashing inventory, the retailer has tried countless ways to cut costs. The company closed over 230 stores in 2014 and today has over 1,700 stores, which sounds impressive. But you know what’s more impressive? The over 3,500 stores the company had five years ago. The latest plan is to spin off between 200-300 stores into a REIT, which stands for Real Estate investment trust, by the way. The idea is apparently going to allow the failing company to pick up some $2 billion and help turn the fiscal tide. But if you want to know how exactly that works you’re on your own.

Keurig Issues a Very Un-Merry Recall; Walgreens’ Happy Fiscal New Year; Barnes & Noble Regifts Itself, Sort of, With Nook Buyback

Ahhhh Keurig!!!

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Image courtesy of lamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like the automotive industry doesn’t have the monopoly on recalls this year, after all. Enter Keurig, beloved brewer of coffee and other hot beverages for millions. Following over 90 reports of people literally getting burned by their machines, Keurig recalled 7.2 million Keurig Mini Plus machines because they can overheat (imagine that) and spray hot liquid on its discerning coffee drinkers. Oh the horror. Not sure if your precious Keurig is on the recall list? Well, there are an estimated 6.6 million brewers that were recalled in the United States, with the rest purchased in Canada. The machines were made between December 2009 and July 2014 and were likely purchased at Kmart, Kohl’s Target, or directly from the Green Mountain website. In any case, rest assured that Keurig will ship you a repair kit FOR FREE. Of course, can you guess what the company stock did today? Yes it took a bit of a pre-Christmas nosedive and that’s in addition to the 5% drop in sales the company saw in its fourth quarter.

Out with the WAG, in with the WBA…

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Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Nothing says jolly like beating analysts’ estimates and Walgreens did just that. The health retail giant pulled in some impressive numbers for its fiscal first quarter with earnings of $809 million and $.085 per share. Analysts forecasted a paltry $0.74 per share. Analysts also called for revenues of $19.43 billion. But Walgreens instead pulled in close to $19.6 billion in revenues. In fact, shares of the company have pleasantly creeped up 29% in the past year. And while we bid farewell to 2014, it’s also time to bid farewell to retiring Walgreens CEO Greg Wasson. Wasson, who will not soon be forgotten – whether some people like it or not – orchestrated plans to takeover Swiss health and beauty company Alliance Boots. Part of the original plan was to pull off an inversion-type deal which did not exactly pan out. But what did pan out was Walgreens’ long-awaited foothold onto the international pharmaceutical/health/beauty market by just taking over the Swiss company. So bienvenu Walgreens. Or whatever it is they say there. With this new deal we shall also bid farewell to Walgreens presence on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq under the ticker symbol WAG. Assuming the deal with Alliance Boots finalizes by December 31, Walgreens will now be traded only on Nasdaq, under the ticker symbol WBA, as part of the Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc holding company. Sniff, sniff. As for the company’s 8,200 plus stores, expect to see some changes as the company looks to cut costs and trick out appearances.

Nook’d out…

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Image courtesy of adamr/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s official. The Nook e-reader business is once again fully back in the arms of Barnes & Nobles. But don’t expect the reunion to last too long as Barnes & Nobles plans to spin it off on its own by August. The Nook, which turned out to be a big money loser and just couldn’t compete with Amazon and friends (and enemies), cost Microsoft $300 million back in 2012. Barnes & Noble graciously agreed at the beginning of the month to buy back the biz from the software giant for $125 million with Pearson Inc. still holding a stake in the company. But no more as Barnes & Noble paid $27.7 million in cash to the educational book publisher with $13.8 million in actual cash and 603,ooo shares of stock.  Wall Street liked the move as well and shares of the bookseller moved up a smidge.