Wal-Mart’s New Change is Making a Dash for it; Glassdoor’s Latest List Might Just Have You Rethinking Your Workplace; Mega Merger Round Two

 

A dash of this… 

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Image courtesy of photostock/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Big news from Wal-mart today. Huge news, in fact. The retail giant is changing its name… to Walmart. Are you stumped? Okay. Here’s a hint: The company is ditching the dash in its name. Or hyphen. Or line.  Or whatever you want to call that thingy in the middle of its name that’s been there since the retailer was incorporated back in 1969. And not that Wal-mart has anything against dashes, hyphens or lines, mind you. It’s just that Walmart, or Wal-mart, depending on how much you care about the dash, feels that legally changing its name to omit the dash emphasizes the fact that it sells merchandise both online and off. Got it? Neither do I. But I’m guessing Wal-mart must have done some hefty research to arrive at this conclusion. This conclusion being that if you want to give Amazon a run for its money then hyphens be damned. Apparently they don’t exactly scream out e-commerce leader and thus the little unassuming line will be getting the boot come February 1. And if you happened to have grown attached to the name “Wal-mart Stores,” then I have bad news for you. The company will also legally be droppping the word “stores” from its official name. And presumably there is research to support this move as well. Go figure.

How’s that cubicle looking?

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Image courtesy of James Barker/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s that time of year again where you get to be reminded that you, in fact, do not work for a great company and it’s time to get off your butt and do something about it. Glassdoor did a little research via anonymous employee reviews and came out with a list of the top companies, according to their employees. And wouldn’t you know it – a social media company that goes by the catchy name of Facebook tops the list for the third year in a row. And if you think employees like working there just for all the amazing cafeterias then you’d be partly right. It seems the company’s mission-driven culture and impact on the world really resonates with its employees. Over at Bain & Company it’s all about company culture and competitive compensation packages. Which explains why the consulting firm came in at number two. Other names you know on the list: In-N-Out Burger takes spot number 4. Besides the tasty milkshakes and Double-Double burgers and fries employees enjoy on daily basis, they also get paid vacation time and 401(k) plans, among many many other perks. Google comes in at number 5 and I’m guessing the massages and excellent parental leave plans have something to do with that impressive ranking. Even yoga apparel maker Lululemon lands on the list at the number 6 spot. How zen. A newcomer to the list is St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Given the company’s mission, to help heal sick children, the company culture of literally trying to save as many lives as possible makes this a place where people love to work.  To see if your company made the cut or you just want to do a little research on where you’ll be applying for your next job, check out Glassdoor’s Best Places to work list.

Da-merger…

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Image courtesy of Tony Dowson/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s mega healthcare merger is brought to us by UnitedHealth and DaVita, as the battle for healthcare dominance continues to make Wall Street swoon with all the billions involved. Not to be outdone by the $69 billion CVS Health/Aetna deal announced earlier this week, UnitedHealth Group has plans all its own for its nifty not-so-little unit called Optum. Optum is plunking down close to $5 billion in cash for another nifty entity called DaVita Medical Group, which is a subsidiary of the aptly named DaVita Inc.  Now, what’s so special about DaVita Medical Group that’s got UnitedHealth throwing billions at it? The company has hundreds of urgent care centers, surgery centers and medical clinics across the country that, besides providing invaluable services, also, presumably, bring in tons of cash.  Apparently, these mega-mergers are meant to benefit consumers by offering a host of services and benefits at lower costs than what companies can offer on their own. While the verdict’s still out on that bit, plenty of healthcare professionals are also waiting with bated breath to see if and how it will impact them, either positively or not. Until then I would advise you to just stay healthy.

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Schadenfraud Anyone? Forbes Unveils its Latest Top 400; Can’t Stop Netflix; Venmo’s the New Way to Go. At Least According to Paypal

That’s a whole lotta money…

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Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Forbes has unveiled its latest list. This time it’s the top 400 richest Americans for 2017 and there are very few surprises in store. Bill Gates and his $89 billion net worth takes the top spot, followed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and everyone’s favorite Omaha Oracle, Warren Buffett.  Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg sits pretty in fourth place. The first time we finally see a woman on the list is at spot number 13 and it’s occupied by Alice Walton of the illustrious Walmart clan. There are 22 newbies on the list and some of them are even self-made billionaires, including Netflix CEO Reed Hastings who comes in at number 359. He had a good year and his company had a great quarter. But we’ll get to that one in a bit. Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick comes in at number 115, despite being out of his CEO job, while beloved Star Wars creator George Lucas gets spot 118. As for President Trump, he did make the list, coming in at a less than impressive (for him) ranking of 248.  He shares the spot with 15 other people including Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel. Their fortunes are valued at $3.1 billion, a figure the President will probably dispute. It’s a steep drop for the President, whose 2016 ranking had him at the 156th spot. But I guess that’s what happens when your portfolio loses $600 million. I wonder who he’s going to blame for that one?

Wall Street ❤️ Netflix…

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Image courtesy of Anusorn P nachol/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The best way to bring Wall Street to its finicky knees is to crush its expectations. And Netflix did just that. First, the video streaming company laughed in the face of analysts’ projections for subscriber growth. For Netflix that was a 5.3 million increase, far from the modest forecast of 4.5 million new subscribers. A large percentage of those new subscribers came from outside the U.S. Netflix now boasts 109 million subscribers and I’m guessing you must be one of them, right? As for the next quarter, the company expects to add 6.3 million subscribers. Revenue for the company was $2.99 billion, again beating projections of $2.97 billion.  However, at first glance, Netflix’s profit was not so impressive. But that’s only because the company is throwing down serious cash for producing its own shows. And if you’ve ever seen “Orange is the New Black” or “House of Cards” then you’d probably agree that it’s money well spent.  So what does this all mean for you, the Netflix connoisseur/viewer, who obsessively waits for new seasons of your beloved shows to be unleashed? Well, you can probably expect an increase in your subscription plans but hey, that’s the price you gotta pay if you want to keep watching new seasons of “Stranger Things,” right?

Going half-sies…

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Image courtesy of atibodyphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you haven’t signed up for Venmo yet, now might be a good time to start. The company just announced that users can now use the app to make mobile online purchases from over 2 million retailers including Forever 21 and Foot Locker.  But what’s so darn cute about Venmo is a feature that gives you the option to split a purchase with a friend. Or even an acquaintance, I suppose. Which is so great when you go out for lunch and can’t be bothered to do the math at the table or when you just want to pay the rent down the middle. And, you can even share status updates about the purchase. How nifty. Especially if you’re a millennial. Did I mention that Paypal is Venmo’s parent company? Well, it is. And pretty much anywhere you’re able to use PayPal, you can now use Venmo there as well. Just think of all the Lululemon merchandise you can purchase with all your besties.

 

 

 

VW Still Writing Checks for its Bad Behavior; Lululemon’s Sour Outlook; Economy Shows Some Impressive Muscle

Putting this baby to bed…

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Image courtesy of nirots/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like Volkswagen will be handing over $157 million to ten U.S. states to settle environmental claims over the auto company’s notorious diesel emissions scandal. Among the lucky – if you can call it that – recipients of these funds are New York, which snagged $32.5 million, Connecticut which took in $20 million, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maine, Rhode Island, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, which all took in various amounts of the remaining settlement.  Incidentally, that $157 million was well below what the states originally sought. There was already a previous $603 million settlement with 44 other states, but this latest one is separate from that. In fact, the German car company has agreed to spend up to $25 billion to settle claims and make buyback offers. Just wondering if that means it will actually hit that figure or will the company try and do their best to come in as under as possible.  As part of this latest ten-state settlement, VW now has to offer three new electric vehicles in those states. Two of those vehicles need to be SUV’s. Which to me, looks like a bit of a win for VW, but hey, what do I know. In the meantime, as part of a $4.3 billion settlement with the Department of Justice, VW pleaded guilty to fraud, obstruction of justice and falsifying of documents in a district court in Detroit earlier this month. The company can also look forward to major audits, oversight and monitoring for the next three years. Sort of like what Wells Fargo has to go through as payback for its fraudulent account scandal. Am I seeing a pattern?

Soured…

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Image courtesy of khumthong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fancy trendy yoga apparel maker Lululemon was upsetting Wall Street’s zen today after announcing that its first quarter sales marked a “slow start” to the year. Which is  really just CEO code for “Yikes! Our quarter sucked.” And with that news, shares of the company took a very ugly 23% plunge to $51 a pop, a stock price the company hasn’t seen since December of 2015. This news was especially weird because Lululemon did better in holiday sales than most other clothing retailers. Yet now, this quarter now becomes the very first one in seven years to see same store sales go down. The company took in almost $790 in revenue with a $136 million profit that added 99 cents per share, even though analysts were expecting that figure to be closer to $784 million with a $1.01 profit per share. Last year at this time the company made off with a $117 million profit that added 85 cents per share. Competition from Nike and Under Armour definitely turned up the heat on the super-pricey Lululemon, with their vast offerings and more affordable selections. But CEO Laurent Potdevin blamed the company’s neutral offerings instead, arguing that they lacked  “depth and color for spring” that consumers are apparently craving. That’s got to be it, right?

Yes, you need to know this…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There was a lot of spending this quarter. A lot. In fact, consumer spending was so strong that it caused the economy’s GDP to grow at a 2.1% rate, more than what was thought in initial estimates. In the process, that impressive growth rate even made up for areas of the economy that didn’t perform up to snuff, like trade and business investing. In fact, for all of 2017, analysts are actually expecting to see a 2.3% rate of growth. Of course, the fact that the labor market is strong, with higher incomes and wages, helps with all that consumer spending as well. Naturally. That 2.1% rate is a major upward shift from last year at this time when that rate stood at 1.6% and had the dubious distinction of being the weakest period of growth in five years. This next bit may cause you to cringe, but one of the reasons for this anticipated impressive growth rate is President Trump. He’s got plans, in case you hadn’t heard, for tax cuts and spending. Say what you will, but moves like that help economies. And who doesn’t like a little economic boost.  However, if it makes you feel any better, Trump thinks he can get that rate up to 4%, and economists are laughing on the inside at him for even thinking he can pull off that feat.

Jeff Bezos Hearts India; Lululemon’s Zen-tastic Earnings; Is Your CEO Listed? You Better Hope So

Next. Big. Thing…

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Image courtesy of domdeen/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

India is looking very flush these days as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos decided to throw $3 billion at it. That’s in addition to the $2 billion he gave the southeast Asian country back in 2014. He made this announcement at a meeting of business leaders in Washington DC that included Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The reason why Bezos is showing India a lot of fiscal love is that it is Amazon’s fastest growing region, boasting 21 fulfillment centers and 45,000 employees. In other words, the e-commerce giant is banking on the “huge potential in the Indian economy.” Interestingly enough, Amazon can only sell its wares from its website through a third party, as mandated by Indian law. But that hasn’t been much of a problem for the e-tailer, who ironically, never seemed to adapt as easily to the local Chinese marketplace, and continues to struggle there and against the giant we call Alibaba. It’s worth noting that Amazon is not the only game in town, facing fierce competition from local e-commerce businesses, Flipkart and Snapdeal. But Amazon’s not sweating it since according to Morgan Stanley, it is estimated that consumers in India bought $16 billion worth of goods last year, more than $10.3 billion from the previous year. So clearly, there’s plenty of room on the Indian e-commerce playing field.

Lemonade mouth…

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Image courtesy of khumthong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lululemon beat estimates and even raised its 2016 revenue forecast. So why is its founder and largest shareholder, Chip Wilson, in a snit? He’s probably still licking his executive wounds after being booted from his post for making stupid comments, among other short-comings. In a letter to shareholders last week, the 14.2% stakeholder ripped into the current directors because he feels that they can’t keep up the pace against other athletic apparel companies like Nike and Under Armour, to name a few. Wilson would like it very much if there was an annual election that would make the board of directors accountable for earnings results and, presumably, get him reinstated as CEO. As it stands, the current leadership, helmed by Laurent Potdevin, would probably be delighted to be held accountable for Lululemon’s latest earnings considering how well it performed. Sure, the retailer missed profits by just a penny, falling 5% to $45.3 million, yet still earning 30 cents a share. But shares are still up 27% for the year and the company had strong sales this quarter. It also found a way to control its inventory levels and, in the process, saw its revenue rise 17% to $495.5 million when analysts only thought it would pull down $487.7. So perhaps it’s time for Wilson to keep his thoughts to himself and just enjoy his burgeoning majority stake.

In case you were wondering…

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Glassdoor came out with its latest annual list, this time regaling us with the highest rated CEO’s. Bain & Company’s Bob Becheck tops the list with a 99% approval rating. Employees seemed to appreciate the support they receive from their boss, not to mention the company’s focus on professional development. And who doesn’t mind professional encouragement? But while Becheck scored the number one spot, two other CEO’s also received 99% approval ratings. So congrats to Ultimate Software’s Scott Scherr and McKinsey and Company’s Dominic Barton. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg kept his number 4 ranking from last year, while LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner took fifth. Larry Page’s replacement at Google, Sundar Pichai, earned a 96% approval rating and the number seven spot, while Apple’s Tim Cook came in 8th, also with a 96% approval rating. Four women paved the way on this list, including Staffmark’s Lesa J. Francis, who took the 28th spot with a 94% approve rating, and Enterprise Holdings’ Pamela M. Nicholson, who graces the list at the number 31 spot, also with a 94% approval rating.

GM’s Defect Debacle In Rearview Mirror; Overseas Deal Might Have Big Impact Here; Zen-tastic Quarter for Lululemon;

Emboldened or embattled?

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Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Score one for GM, the not-so-embattled-anymore auto company that just won a second lawsuit in a series of bellwether cases. In case you have been hanging out in another solar system for the last couple of years, tons of drivers are filing tons of lawsuits against GM because they got into accidents which they say can be blamed on GM’s faulty ignition switches. After a two week trial and a single day of deliberations, two Louisiana plaintiffs, who crashed their car back in 2014 during a freak ice storm, will not be awarded any damages despite their automobile’s defect. This win bodes well for GM and it’s a good thing because there are hundreds more waiting in the legal wings.This case is the second in a series of six cases that will be used to test strategies, with each side getting to choose three cases to argue. This case was GM’s selection and the next bellwether case is scheduled for May. GM already paid out a lofty $2 billion to resolve a slew of legal claims against it, in addition to recalling millions of vehicles. That includes a $900 million settlement to Uncle Sam so that the government would graciously agree to drop its criminal probe into GM. Another $575 million was paid out to settle close to 1,400 civil cases. Then GM set up a $95 million victims compensation fund. In the meantime, 15 people were fired over the defect debacle – that would have cost a buck to fix, by the way –   as GM CEO Mary Barra has been on a mission to change the company culture. Good luck with that one.

Deal or no deal…

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You might not be so familiar with a Taiwanese company called Foxconn but it’s more than likely you’re using its product. That is, if you happen to use a very popular mobile device known as an iPhone. Turns out Foxconn assembles those nifty little phones. But that’s not news. What is news is that the company is set to snap up Japanese company, Sharps Electronics for $3.5 billon. And if you can believe it, some analysts think it’s a bad move. And that’s even after Foxconn knocked a couple of billion off of their initial offer when it was discovered that Sharp has literally billions of dollars worth of problems. But, oh well. In any case, if and when the deal goes through, it will be the biggest acquisition by a foreign company in Japan. But that’s beside the point. Foxconn is unofficially hoping that this acquisition, however fiscally risky it may be, will help give it an edge, albeit a slight one, for its production contracts with Apple, especially considering that Apple uses Sharp screens. Foxconn is well aware that Apple has been giving out production contracts to other companies too, and competition like that can’t be all that good for Foxconn. Hence, besides assembling the phone, Foxconn would also own the company that supplies the screens and well, wouldn’t that put Foxconn in a nice, cozy, almost secure spot with Apple.

Make lemonade yoga pants!

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Image courtesy of Suat Eman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lululemon doesn’t seem to be bothered by increased competition from Nike and Under Armour, as evidenced by its fourth quarter earnings which were nothing short of…zen. And by zen, I mean that the athleisure company beat the Street’s predictions. The athletic apparel company enjoyed a nice little holiday shopping season with increased sales that gave it a profit of $117.4 million with 85 cents added per share. Analysts predicted the company would pick up just 80 cents per share. Maybe those analysts need to pick up some new Lululemon yoga pants, no? Revenue kicked up to $704.3 million, up from last year’s $602.5 million, and again, analysts only expected $692.6 million this quarter. Last year the company only earned $111 million and 78 cents per share. Lululemon is expecting to whip out a fourth quarter that is sure to please investors by picking up earnings between $483 million to $488 million and adding 28 cents to 30 cents a share. However, the perennial buzzkiller we call Wall Street would rather see Lululemon rake in $486.1 million adding 37 cents per share. In what might seem like an awfully bold statement, the yoga apparel company plans on doubling its earnings by 2020. In the meantime, it expects its full fiscal 2016 year to gain between $2.05 and $2.15 a share and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Except that Wall Street is hoping for earnings that will look more like $2.16 per share. Lululemon is pulling out all the stops to improve its margins and part of that means switching over to ocean freight as opposed to air freight. Apparently, air freight is a gigantic margin-money eater. Who knew.

Wall Street Sours on Lululemon; Goldman Sachs Goes for the Resell; Krispy Gets Kreme’d by Wall Street

Soured…

Image courtesy of  Suat Eman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Suat Eman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The mood is sour today at Lululemon Athletica as shares of the athletic apparel company tanked over 9%. Which is kind of weird since the company pulled in some rock-solid second quarter earnings. Revenue was up 16% to $453 million when analysts were only pulling for $446 million. Profits did fall to $47.7 million, earning 34 cents per share but it was still a beat, if even by just a penny. The problem was that Lulelemon’s outlook is not looking too hot, see-through yoga pants or not. For the current quarter, Wall Street had big hopes and dreams that the company would nail down earnings per share of around 43 cents. However, the number Lululemon has in mind is between 35 – 37 cents. And that’s got Wall Street thinking thoughts that are anything but…zen.  The problem is margins are shrinking because the company is spending all sorts of cash on things like its international expansion, building up its online presence and tackling its menswear. All this while Lululemon still attempts to recover from its see-through yoga pants debacle and some impolite comments from its founder, Chip Wilson.

Who wore it best?

Image courtesy of  Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Goldman Sachs just plunked down $81 million into six year-old San Francisco-based start-up thredUP. ThredUP, in case you were wondering, is an online website for buying and selling secondhand clothing and accessories for women and children. And it’s nothing like eBay. Because I know that’s what you were thinking. Instead thredUP sends sellers a pre-paid bag which they fill up with delicately used items they want to unload. If an item is priced south of $59.99, the seller gets paid upfront; if an item gets listed north of $60, then it qualifies for consignment. Sellers typically see 10%-40% of the anticipated selling price from their gently used items. While no actual sales numbers have been revealed, and thredUP has yet to churn out a profit, the company does process about a million items a month from about 25,000 brands. How much of that actually gets sold is still a mystery. Rumor has it, however, that secondhand clothing company Twice, which happens to be owned by eBay, isn’t doing so hot. Then there’s all the other secondhand competition from companies like Poshmark and The Real Real, to name but a few. ThredUP plans on using this funding infusion to expand by opening some new processing centers and hiring more employees. Who knew other people’s clothes was such a hot trend? Actually, I think eBay did. But anyways…

Kreme’d…

Image courtesy of artemisphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of artemisphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Krispy Kreme just released their earnings and they were anything but sweet. On revenues of $127.3 million, the company earned 15 cents per share, which seems pretty good except that Wall Street was counting on revenues of $132 million and 19 cents earned per share. That seems like an awful lot of pressure to put on a doughnut, no? The problem is that rival Dunkin’ Donuts actually gained 12%. Are Dunkin’s donuts any better? Hmmm. The problem, interestingly enough, lies not in the doughnut, but in the other products the company sells, outside of the doughnut shops. Pre-packaged Krispy Kreme products are not doing too hot in supermarkets and putting a crimp in the doughnut maker’s digits.  In fact, sales were down 12% and the stock is down 20% for the year.  So now, Krispy Kreme is going to focus on opening more stores, including international shops, and scaling back on promotions. There are even ten shops slated to open in Myanmar. That is not a joke. Myanmar. Who knew? One promotion that’s still going to happen is “Talk Like a Pirate Day” on September 19. Do your best pirate impersonation and you might just be the recipient of a free doughnut. If you decide to really channel Captain Jack Sparrow or one of his colleagues, expect to walk a way with a complimentary dozen, matey.

Whole Foods is Going 365; Chip Wilson Squeezes Out of Lululemon; Rupert Murdoch to Step Down But Not Out

Whole-y moley…

Image courtesy of  stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s going to be tough now to complain that Whole Foods is too expensive and that going organic is for those with tons of disposable income. The grocery chain is set to open up its new line of stores, “365 by Whole Foods Market,” cleverly named after its house brand. Of course, 365 will also have other brands, as it would seem a bit lofty to fill an entire store with just the one band. The chain is set to open next year and not a moment too soon. Bigger chains, like Target and Wal-Mart have figured out ways to compete with Whole Foods’ 400 stores by offering organics too, except at much lower prices. Naturally, that has been putting quite a damper on Whole Foods’ sales and that ever-elusive group of organic-minded millennials let the grocery chain know it by taking their paychecks to chains whose organic fare is considerably less expensive. But 365 is expected to bring more bang for the millennial buck – and everyone else’s.  And bonus: President of the “365” division, Jeff Turnas aims to make the shopping experience at the new store “fun and convenient.”

On a sour note…

Image courtesy of SOMMAI/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of SOMMAI/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like Lululemon founder and former CEO Chip Wilson wants to get some fiscal closure from the yoga-retailer by selling off his family’s entire 14.2% stake in the company. Considering the company posted better than expected earnings earlier in the week, it probably seems like a good time for Mr. Wilson to unload his 20.1 million shares, which are valued at about $1.2 billion. However, even with the best of companies, when an announcement is made that a considerable amount of shares are getting dumped, the stock goes south. And Lululemon was no exception, losing around 2% of its value at one point. But at least this brings a little more stability to the line as Chip Wilson’s last few quarters with Lululemon were anything but…zen.

The end of an era?

Image courtesy of pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Chairman and CEO of 21st Century Fox has left the building. Well, not quite but a reorganization proposal is in the works. The 84 year old mogul, Rupert Murdoch, has finally decided to hand over the reins to his son, James Murdoch, much to the surprise of…no one. James currently reigns semi-supreme as co-chief operating officer of the company. However, since the elder Mr. Murdoch still controls a majority of the shares, he’ll still be around a’plenty. So what’s to become of older Murdoch brother, Lachlan? He’s not going far either as he will step into the role of executive co-chairman, working alongside his little bro.  As for the current co-chairman, Chase Carey, who also serves as president of 21st Century Fox, the plan is for him to step down, graciously, of course, and take on an as yet unidentified role, as part of the reorganization plan. Awkward.