GM Invests in US. Trump Takes All the Credit (Again); Tiffany & Co. Credits Trump for Quarterly Loss; No Trump-ing Mattel with New CEO

Pressure cooker…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

GM just announced that it is throwing a whopping $7 billion into several of its U.S. plants in order to bring back thousands of jobs, in addition to the 56,000 hourly workers it already employs here. Naturally, Trump is taking credit for these actions and it’s kind of weird that he would since GM said these plans were already in place for months. Who you choose to believe doesn’t matter because Trump already tweeted about it:”With all of the jobs I am bringing back into the U.S. (even before taking office), with all of the new auto plants coming back…I believe the people are seeing ‘big stuff.'” Nothing says POTUS quite like the term, “big stuff.” But just so you know, GM didn’t exactly deny that Trump didn’t have something to do with its newly announced plans either. Although, General Motors did mention something to the effect of “this was good timing.” Feel free to read into that however you want since it’s no secret that Trump was gunning for GM over its manufacturing of the Chevy Cruze south of the border, and then bringing it back into the country tax-free. Incidentally, GM CEO Mary Barra is part of a panel of CEOs who are advising Trump on economic policy. Also incidentally, Mary Barra is expected to attend the President-elect’s inauguration.

Good fences?

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Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Guess who else is not happy with Trump? Okay, I guess that list is kind of long so I’ll just tell you: Tiffany & Co. The jeweler, which happens to own a flagship store that is adjoined to Trump Tower, reported a 14% drop in sales at that very store on Fifth Avenue. To be fair, the iconic jeweler was expecting a drop thanks to Trump. Only this one was worse than expected, citing “post-election disruptions.” Roughly translated, that means that in addition to the many many anti-Trump protesters, potential shoppers also had to contend with heightened security, courtesy of the secret service and NYPD, not to mention journalists and hoards of tourists eager to see if they could catch a glimpse of the President-elect. So just how bad were Tiffany & Co.’s sales? Well, in the US, those numbers only came in at $483 million, with comparable store sales down 4%.  And the luxury retailer isn’t very hopeful about those numbers going up in 2017.  But because Trump isn’t everywhere, global sales of Tiffany & Co. came in at $966 million, which was just a tad bit higher than last year at this time.

Don’t toy with her…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Barbie is getting a new boss as Mattel gears up for its second CEO since 2015. Enter Margaret “Margo” Georgiadis, whose last gig, for the past six years, was over at Google. She was President of Google Americas and oversaw commercial operations and ad sales for the U.S., Canada and Latin America. So, it’s safe to say she’s (over?) qualified for the job. She is among just 27 top ranking female executives at Fortune 500 companies. Georgiadis, who also worked at Groupon and Discover Financial Services, begins her role at Mattel on February 8, where she will also sit on the board of the company. She’ll be tasked with coming up with new, and hopefully ingenious ways to boost sales in a climate that has kids hypnotized by mobile devices. Unfortunately, these nefarious electronic gadgets have been putting a dent into the sales of not only Mattel, but Hasbro and Lego as well. However,  given that Georgiadis has a reputation for successfully building brands, boosting sales of Fisher-Price, Hot Wheels and the American Girl line should be easy as pie. Well, hopefully.

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Trump Tweets Out Boeing’s Air Force One; Lego’s Brick-By-Brick Expansion Plans; SeaWorld Sees Layoffs

Boeing going gone…

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President-elect Donald Trump was on Twitter. Again. This time he was telling Boeing to cancel the order for the new Air Force One that’s in the works.  In his usual eloquent manner he said that the cost to build the plane “is totally out of control.”  And just what exactly does “out of control” look like when you’re building a fleet of aircraft for the Commander-In-Chief? Well, it depends on who you ask but Trump has that figure pegged at $4 billion, though it’s not entirely clear where he got it. Another report has the Air Force budgeting the new planes at about $1.6 billion. However, it’s expected that the fleet of planes will cost $102 million this fiscal year, and another $3 billion over the next five years. So maybe Trump’s got his ducks in a row on this one. His tweets went on to say: “I think Boeing is doing a little bit of a number. We want Boeing to make a lot of money, but not that much money.” He probably would prefer if Boeing weren’t making that money off taxpayers’ backs. The Pentagon wants to replace the current fleet as it will have reached its 30 year service life in 2017. It has been around since 1990, has flown over one million miles and, in all fairness, could use  more than few upgrades – whether Trump’s on board or not. Which he won’t be because the aircraft is not scheduled to be ready for another ten years or so. Naturally, shares of Boeing fell on the news of Trump’s sentiments. In the meantime, 56% of Americans think Donald Trump uses Twitter way too much. Perhaps the time has come for his cabinet members and advisers to take away his phone.

Lego to stand on…

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Image courtesy of Idea go/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lego CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp is stepping down from his position and that’s actually good news. Knudstorp is leaving his post in order to move on to greener pastures as Chairman of  the Lego Brand Group. The toy company is on a mission to restructure itself to keep up with its growth momentum. By creating the Lego Brand Group, the company plans to explore new business ventures, opportunities and ideas that will help expand the brand in new, exciting and highly profitable ways. For the first half of the year the company posted an unwelcome surprise drop in profit of $499 million though its revenue still went up. The company blamed Americans, or rather, the fact that sales in the United States were flat. But, that’s probably the same thing. In any case, as part of his new gig, Knudstorp will be overseeing the family’s 75% stake in the company which is currently run by fourth generation Lego owner Thomas Kirk Kristiansen. Chief Operations Officer Bali Padda will take over for Knudstorp, officially becoming the first non-Dane to hold the post. The privately held company is headquartered in Denmark and employs over 18,000 people. Knudstorp, who said he plans to stay at Lego for the rest of his career, joined the company back in 2001, when the company was losing about $1 million a day. Lego just couldn’t compete with an exponentially-increasing digital toy industry. But it turns out it didn’t need to when it made Knudstorp CEO in 2004. Under his leadership, he made changes, booted people, brought in new folks and saw Lego’s revenue jump fivefold. Last year the company fiscally surpassed both Mattel and Hasbro, even with all their Barbie/ My Little Pony/Hot Wheels/electronic toys, to become the number one toy company in the world. No small feat considering that unlike Mattel and Hasbro, Lego pretty much makes just one product with assorted variations: a plastic brick.

Under water?

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Image courtesy of TAW4/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With shrinking attendance, decreasing revenue and dwindling profits, SeaWorld announced plans to say a not so warm goodbye to 320 of its employees, both salaried and hourly. It was only back in 2014 that SeaWorld said goodbye to another unlucky 300 employees. The  soon-to-be-former employees will be receiving “enhanced severance benefits” which is fancy talk for some cash and maybe health insurance to tide them over for a little while. SeaWorld has even offered to help them find work elsewhere. How moving. The entertainment company is on a mission to restructure itself in any way possible to keep it from losing any more money than it already has. Of course, cost-cutting always factors in, along with examining how best to improve and streamline the rest of the business. Back in March SeaWorld made the decision to stop breeding Orca whales and also scrapped the shows in which the whales starred. SeaWorld is also blaming Disney and Universal for their disappointing digits, unable to woo away visitors from their PETA-friendlier attractions. Also, there seemed to be a drop in Brazilian visitors, presumably because they remained in Brazil for the Olympics, one might suspect, which apparently affected SeaWorld’s earnings.  Who knew SeaWorld relies on a Brazilian contingent to patronize its parks to help churn out a buck or two?

What Goes Around Comes Around for EpiPen Maker Mylan; Fox News Says Sorry With $20 million; About LEGO’s Brick Shortage

Karma anyone?

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There’s nothing like a ridiculous over the top price hike to get the US attorney general’s unwanted scrutiny. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is now taking a cold hard look at Mylan in the form of a very unflattering antitrust investigation. The AG would like to know if Mylan violated antitrust laws when it gave schools free devices while contractually barring them from purchasing products from other competitors for a whole year. Mylan unwittingly invited this unwelcome attention when it drastically increased the price of its life-saving devices from $100 in 2009 to $600 today. You reap what you sow, I suppose. Mylan’s EpiPen4Schools program has so far given 700,000 pens to 65,000 schools, and according to Mylan, it followed all the rules and had no purchase requirements for the devices. But according to the investigation, it seems that Mylan may have cheated schools by handily placing certain terms into the sales contracts which seem awfully anti-competitive. Well, at least the company is offering a generic version for $300. Isn’t that special?

Speaking of karma…

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Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Former Fox News broadcaster, Gretchen Carlson, is getting $20 million from Fox News to settle the sexual harassment lawsuit she filed back in August against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes. If you recall, Carlson filed suit because she said that her contract wasn’t renewed after she refused to sleep with Ailes. Ailes, of course, denied the allegations and said the lawsuit was just retaliation for when the network didn’t renew her contract. Strangely enough – or not – once she filed her lawsuit, many many other women at Fox News also started coming forward with even more sexual harassment claims, some of which have since been settled. Apparently, Roger Ailes had complaints against him going back to the 80s. Ailes has several supporters at Fox including Brit Hume, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Maria Bartiromo and Greta Van Susteren who, by the way, just announced that she’s now leaving the network. Some said her departure has to do with a financial disagreement, while others strongly believe it has to do with Ailes demise at the network he founded back in 1996. Fox, however, did publicly apologize to Gretchen Carlson and praised her work and career. And while Fox has been a veritable ratings juggernaut, this last incident spooked investors by exposing a weakness. Shares of 21st Century Fox, which owns Fox News took a dive, albeit a slight 1%. And if for some inexplicable reason you feel bad for Roger Ailes, don’t. He walked away with a $40 million severance package.

If you build it, they will buy…

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Image courtesy of Idea go/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lego, maker of everybody’s favorite plastic toy bricks, posted some positively unimpressive numbers that included flat sales in the U.S. All because there was simply not enough of the plastic bricks to go around. That’s right. After posting a record profit last year, the world’s largest toymaker – sorry, Mattel – didn’t have the resources to get out its shipments according to the demand. Net profit for the company slipped to about 3.49 billion Danish kroner from last years’ 3.55 billion Danish kroner. 3.49 billion kroner, by the way is equivalent to about $523 million. But revenue was still up 11% to 15.7 billion kroner which translates to $2.35 billion. So the company went ahead and took money that would have gone towards profits to make some investments to increase and improve its supply chain. That included adding 3,500 jobs, bringing the total amount of Lego employees to 18,500, and building up factories in Mexico and China, amongst other locations. At least Lego doesn’t have to answer to demanding shareholders seeing as how it’s a family-controlled company.

Where Have All the PC’s Gone?; Chipotle Ready for Big Return; Lego’s New Policy is Awesome

Click away…

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PC’s did not have a very merry Christmas. Or fiscal quarter for that matter. In fact, this marks the fifth consecutive quarter of disappointing PC sales. For the fourth quarter, those sales tanked by a very un-jolly 8.3%. We’re talking Lenovo, HP and Dell. But it was Acer that did the absolute worst with a 15% decline for all of 2015. Shipments of PC’s, for the first time since 2008, fell under 300 million to a very disappointing 276.2 million, more than a 10% decline since 2014. There’s just too much competition from tablet and smartphones that consumers don’t feel the need the rush to upgrade their machines. However, analysts seem to think that sales will pick up later in the year as Windows 10 gets commercialized. The one bright spot, according to the International Data Corporation, were “detachable” PC’s that seem to be all the rage right now. That segment of the industry posted some impressive growth. But then it gets weird. You see Apple, seen as a premium brand in the United States and Europe, actually saw growth – 3% for the quarter and 6% for the year – selling 20.7 million machines. It’s weird, if only because Lenovo, HP and Dell still sold more computers separately than Apple did. So it’s all a matter of perspective, I suppose.

All wrapped up?

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All is not lost for Chipotle after analysts decided that the chain has the potential to get its mojo back. Apparently, none of those analysts suffered from any food-borne illnesses from eating at Chipotle. That may or may not have had to do with why shares of the company rose the most today in more than 5 months. In fact, despite the fact that Chipotle is still slightly reeling from its relatively recent food safety crisis, the chain has plans to open up more than a couple of hundred new restaurants in the coming year. Execs say that the company is implementing new food safety protocols and believe it will make Chipotle an industry leader when it comes to food safety. Go Chipotle! The restaurant chain took a heady 15% sales hit in the fourth quarter following a multi-state E.Coli outbreak at several of its locations. As a result, the company expects to see negative sales posted until at least 2017.  However, shares today went up as high as $432.30 Bear in mind that the company experienced a major 40% slump from the high it hit back in August to the tune of $757. 77 and lost about $10 billion of its market value. There are currently several lawsuits against the chain over its past food-safety practices. But hey, good news: Chipotle execs say that the CDC is just about done with its own investigation into the food chain. Yay. Just don’t confuse that with the separate federal investigation of Chipotle following a norovirus outbreak in California.

Everything is awesome…

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Image courtesy of TAW4/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei will now get to play with all the Lego his political artwork requires. The fuss all started when Weiwei requested a large bulk order for some artwork. It was intended for an exhibition in Australia featuring 20 portraits of pro-freedom figures – to be done in Lego. But Lego wouldn’t allow him to order the amount of bricks needed for the “art” because, at the time, Lego’s policy stipulated that it did not endorse the use of its plastic bricks for projects that carry a “political agenda.” Never mind that my own father is convinced that The Lego Movie had a major political agenda subtly woven into the script. But we’ll leave it at that. In any case, when Ai Weiwei aired his grievance with the toymaker, supporters in several countries began sending in their own Lego stockpiles to the artist. Weiwei ended up using plastic bricks from a Chinese company that were similar to Legos and considerably cheaper too. Lego decided to change its policy and will officially forego asking details about such projects. However, artists must clearly display that Lego does not support or endorse the theme, message  or politics of the Lego artwork in question. Voila!

Golden Earnings for the Golden Arches; European Bitcoin Victory; Say It Ain’t So: Lego Brick Shortage

You deserve a break today…

Image courtesy of tiverylucky/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of tiverylucky/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook’s job looks pretty secure for the foreseeable future now that McDonald’s posted some awesome third quarter earnings. The numbers were so good that shares of the company jumped 8% and took the Dow Jones Industrial Average up more than 250 points as well. Sales in the U.S. brought a nice little surprise of a 1% increase. And even though wage raises and benefit improvements did take a big chunk out of the Golden Arches operating costs, the company still earned $1.31 billion and $1.40 per share. That was a 23% jump over last year’s $1.07 billion with $1.09 added to shares, and marked the first time in two years that McDonald’s saw improved sales.The much-hyped turnaround plan is actually working with thanks in part to McDonald’s All-Day Breakfast and the introduction of the Premium Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Deluxe Sandwich. Try saying that one five times fast. Or even three. Some franchises, however, are’t digging this all-day breakfast because, besides adding many more menu items, those breakfast items tend to be cheaper and negatively affect sales at some stores. Revenue fell to $6.62 billion, but it was only a 5% drop from last year’s $6.99 billion. And considering that Wall Street expected  McDonald’s to pull in only $6.41 billion and $1.27 per share, nobody’s too upset over that 5% dip.

VAT do you want already?

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Score one for Bitcoin as the virtual currency is considered tax-free. Well, in Europe, anyways. Just like plain old, regular, not-so-virtual cash. Europe’s highest court ruled that  Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are on par with real money and European citizens can scoop up as much of the virtual stuff as they want without having to pay VAT – a  tax that presumably taxes the nerves of anyone who has to pay it. This piece of Bitcoin drama began with Swedish Bitcoin operator David Hedqvist who felt that the currency should not be taxed. However, the Swedish tax authority, Skatteverket, disagreed vehemently and brought the issue to EU’s highest court. And while David Hedqvist is no doubt celebrating this recent victory, there is still one aspect about Bitcoin that has yet to be determined: is it legal tender? To be continued…

Everything is not Awesome…

Image courtesy of  nonicknamephoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of nonicknamephoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Scary news from the world’s largest toymaker, Lego. It seems the Danish plastic brick manufacturer might not have enough brick’s to go around. But rest assured, that here in the States, our plastic brick supply is safe. For now. With The Lego Movie, Star Wars and The Avengers all part of the Lego family, the company can’t seem to make enough toys to keep up with the demand. In just the first half of the year, sales for the toys were up a whopping 18%. To help alleviate some of the shortage, Lego will be expanding three factories in Mexico, Hungary and, of course, Lego’s hometown in Denmark. The company even has plans to expand in China. But everything may still not be awesome in certain parts of Europe, as they are likely to be affected by this very tragic plastic brick shortage.

A Green Giant Farewell; Mobile-ads: Verizon Set to Unleash Service; Everything Is Fiscally Awesome at Lego

Yo ho ho…

Image courtesy of  Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s time for the Jolly Green Giant to pack his bags. Together with Le Sueur, the two brands are getting some new digs over at B&G Foods, home to favorites such as Cream of Wheat and snack sensation Pirate’s Booty (a personal fave). B&G is paying $765 million in cash for the joy of adding the oversized brand symbol to its coffers and is expecting the Giant and his 160 plus products to bring in net sales of over half a billion, adding 60 cents per share. Jolly Green Giant and Le Suer are currently under General Mills, however, the maker of  Cheerios has been noting a shift in consumer preferences and has decided now would be a good time to unload the two companies. Apparently, shoppers are preferring fresher selections, as opposed to the sauce laden and frozen offerings that Green Giant and Le Sueur crank out. General Mills, which also has Yoplait yogurt, will now focus its efforts – and of course, money – into cultivating its brands and geographical locations that have more potential. It will also put a bit more oomph into some edible health and wellness endeavors. Which basically means it will shift gears to whatever products and areas will bring in the most amounts of cash. Sounds fair.

You’ve got ad-sales…

Image courtesy of twobee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of twobee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

AOL (remember them?) also did a little shopping today picking up Maryland-based Millennial Media Inc. to the tune of $250 million to broaden its mobile-ad market share. At that price, the company was bought for $1.75 a share, a 31% premium to its closing price on Wednesday. Millenial took in almost $300 million in sales with an $83 million net loss last year. Verizon Communications Inc picked up AOL back in June for a trifle $4 billion, in an attempt to beef up its mobile ad technology, something at which AOL apparently excels. Verizon AOL now has big plans to challenge Facebook and Google (is that even possible?) who currently reign supreme over the mobile-ad market, and unleash its own mobile streaming video service called Go90.

Brick by brick…

Image courtesy of ArtJSan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ArtJSan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lego may not be a publicly traded company, but the company sure manages to pull in some boffo numbers, even surpassing Mattel as the world’s largest toymaker. Which is particularly insane since it only makes…well, Lego.  And while Mattel’s Barbie, Hot Wheel and Fisher-Price products still have sway, those toys, can’t seem to get a plastic leg up on Lego’s mesmerizing Ninjas and elves and…well, everything else. In fact, Mattel’s revenue fell almost 5% to $1.91 billion, with unwelcome help from Barbie and company. Lego, however, benefitted from foreign currency swings, not to mention a boost from The Lego Movie. The Danish company scored 3.55 billion Danish kroner, which translates to $537.5 million in the first half of the year and took in a 31% jump in profits. The company’s revenue also rose 23% to $14.14 billion. And there’s no reason to forecast that theses numbers won’t continue to rise. With a new Star wars movie coming out, which always does a fine job of boosting Lego sales, and a new video game, Lego Dimensions, due out late September, the toy company’s outlook is nothing but rosy.

Everything Really Is Awesome for Lego; Southwest Gets Grounded; Target’s Earnings Hit and Miss;

Everything is awesome…

Image courtesy of ArtJSan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ArtJSan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Lego Movie movie might have been very rudely snubbed at this year’s Oscars but that didn’t stop Lego CEO Joergen Vig Knudstorp from belting out the hit tune “Everything Is Awesome” to reporters recently.  That’s because for him everything really is awesome. The privately held Danish company released its yearly earnings report and the consensus is that Lego is in demand. My basement, however, could have told you that. Demand in China, Russia, France, etc is only getting stronger and this year’s release of “The Lego Movie,” which earned a staggering $468 million, helped propel that awesome demand precipitously upward. Lego’s profits were 15% higher this year hitting about $1 billion. I can truly say I contributed considerably to that figure. Revenue for the company came in at $4.3 billion and move over Mattel because Lego has become the number one toy company in the world. There’s also a Lego Movie sequel in the works set to be directed by Rob Schrab with a 2018 release date. But if the Oscars snubs Lego again, it’ll have to answer to the forces of Ninjago, not to mention Batman,  whose Lego movies are set to be released in 2016 and 2017.

Yeah…that could be a problem…

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Everything is not awesome over at Southwest as the airline had to ground 20% of it’s fleet. In case you were wondering that is about 128 of its planes. Apparently Southwest missed inspections and immediately notified safety regulators, according to an airline spokesperson. How very diligent of them. Eighty flights bore the brunt of this gaffe but fear not intrepid traveler, as the FAA and Southwest have figured out a way to get those flights up into our friendly skies until all the aircraft can get properly inspected. How very reassuring.  In case you were still wondering, the part of the aircraft that requires immediate inspection on all these airplanes is the backup hydraulic system. It helps control the aircraft…in the event of a  main system failure. Awesome. The bulk of inspections ought to be completed by now and if you happen to be on one of the few remaining aircraft that have yet to be inspected? Well, then have a nice flight.

Oh Canada!

Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Target reported its earnings this week and the good news is that it lost $2.6 billion. That amounted to a loss of $4.10 per share. It’s good news because it’s a one-time loss from closing up shop, literally, on its disastrous foray into our neighbor to the north. But if you take into account that Canada is now officially off the Target grid, then you can calculate that the mega-retailer actually pulled in $1.50 a share. Which is really great news because analysts only thought that the retailer would gain about $1.46 per share. So you see, there is a bright side here. Somewhere. Sort of. Listen it’s not Canada’s fault. Canadians are really lovely people. Some of my best friends are Canadian. But they just didn’t appreciate all those empty shelves at their 133 stores, not to mention some annoying pricing discrepancies – among other issues, mind you. But back on our turf, Target’s sales increased to $21.8 billion – almost $2 billion more than last year, Canadian failure and all.