Lyft and Waymo = Carpool; Bud Spending $2 billion to Up Its Game; AIG Bets Big on Latest CEO

Self-less…

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In case you were having trouble envisioning a world with driverless cars, you might want to check out Alphabet Inc.’s company Waymo. Waymo, a self-driving car company,  has just teamed up with Lyft, and that should be enough to make Uber more than a little nervous. You might be wondering why a company owned by Google even needs a much smaller company like Lyft for a partnership. But believe it or not, there’s a little quid pro quo going on because since Lyft has the dubious distinction of being the second largest ride service company, it will allow Waymo’s technology to reach even more people than without it. Isn’t that just beautiful? Uber, on the other hand, is looking to develop driverless technology on its own. If you recall, Waymo sued Uber back in February, alleging that Uber stole Waymo’s self-driving technology to build its own fleet.  But with the way things are going for Uber lately, it might be more prudent for the embattled ride-sharing company to focus on its current crop of legal and publicity challenges instead of driverless cars. For the time being anyway.  By the way, Lyft’s deal with Waymo is not exclusive. Which is super important considering that GM is a big Lyft investor and already has its own partnership in place to develop self-driving cars. It’s like legit double-dipping and everybody wins. In fact, come 2018, Lyft and GM will be set to deploy and test thousands of self-driving cars. Yikes!

Competitive beer…

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It might be hard to believe but the King of Beers is not looked upon as the royalty it once was. And so, its parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev NV is plunking down $2 billion to try and fix that issue. The plan is to make a substantial, lucrative foray into new categories, while at the same time boosting its flagship brands which have been staring down the wrong end of increased competition.  The money will be spent over the next four years, using approximately $500 million per year. In case you were thinking that $2 billion seems like an awfully bloated  – no pun intended – number to spend on improving a beer brand, consider that beer is a more than $107 billion industry and no self-respecting beer company wants to lose ground in a market like that.  And make no mistake, beer has been losing ground lately with not as much of it being consumed like in years past. Hard to believe. I know, but various types of other alcoholic beverages have been flooding the market in recent years and consumers are digging them. Which leaves companies like Anheuser-Busch scrambling to reclaim its foamy territory.

No pressure or anything…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Maybe the seventh time’s a charm for AIG, which just announced it’s coughing up $12 million – and then some – to pay its newest CEO, Brain Duperreault. By “then some” I refer to an additional 1.5 million stock options and a $16 million pay package all based on the hope that Duperreault will finally be the one to turn AIG around. Did you catch that? He’s getting all that and he hasn’t sat at his new desk yet. The last CEO, Peter Hancock, left in March because he wasn’t feeling the love, or rather investor support, including from the one and only Carl Icahn. But Brian Deperreault just might have what AIG’s been looking for all these years, well at least since 2005. He’s no stranger to AIG, having worked there as a deputy way back when. He’s coming over from Hamilton Insurance, and before that he was at Marsh & McClennan Cos. earning solid reputations at both firms. As for his first order of business: achieve stability in a company that has seen too many high-level departures, four straight quarters of losses and high claims costs. Good luck with that one, Mr. Duperreault. You’re gonna need it.

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EU Wants to Take a Big Tax Bite Out of Apple; Google Takes On Uber. Sort of; Abercrombie & Fitch Teen Ditch

Bite me…

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The EU commission is coming down hard on Apple by slapping the world’s most valuable company with a $14.5 billion bill for back taxes. The EU felt Apple illegally received tax aid in the form of a sweetheart tax deal from Ireland. However, both Apple and Ireland deny that allegation and contend that everything they did was totally legit. More than 700 U.S. companies currently have some type of business set up in Ireland where they enjoy a reduced corporate tax rate compared to that of the U.S. The EU however says that rate is too reduced and says Apple pays much MUCH less than the 12.5% corporate tax rate in the country. Companies can set up tax structures that allow them to pay even less.  EU officials charge that Apple did just that and Apple paid only a .005% rate on its profits in 2014.  I’d love to meet Apple’s accountants who set that one up. Just saying. The U.S treasury isn’t happy about the situation either and feels U.S.firms are being unfairly targeted and that such investigations are unfair. Senator Chuck Schumer even called this latest judgement a “cheap money grab.” Don’t expect to bump into him on your next European vacay. According to the treasury, judgements of this type could undermine U.S. investments in Europe. Starbucks already got hit with a $33 million back-tax deal while Amazon and McDonald’s are currently staring at the wrong end of their own EU investigations. The government believes that U.S. taxpayers will likely bear the brunt of the EU’s very inconvenient decision because Apple would basically deduct the $14.5 billion from taxes that it owes to the U.S. government.

Anything you can do Google can do better…

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Search engine giant, Google, is now offering its own ride-sharing app to San Francisco residents. If you’re thinking Google’s encroaching on Uber and Lyft’s turf then…you might be right. Sort of. Google began a pilot program back in May that allows commuters to carpool at cheaper rates then Uber and Lyft. Much cheaper. In fact, the rates are so cheap – think 54 cents per mile – that there is no incentive to even become a taxi driver. What’s more is that Google doesn’t even take a cut. Yet. By using Waze, which Google acquired back in 2013, commuters connect with other commuters headed in the same direction. Uber, which is currently valued at around $68 billion might begin to take issue with Google’s latest plans, assuming they’ll expand. And they will. Ironically, Google invested $258 million into Uber back in 2013. The situation between the two companies has gotten quite dicey as Google exec David Drummond recently resigned from Uber’s board given all the conflicts that are rising from these latest developments.

Smells like twenty-something spirit…

 

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Abercrombie & Fitch, purveyor of trendy teen clothing, has officially posted its fourteenth straight quarter of losses. The company saw a decline of a 4%, which was more than what was expected. A&F posted a net loss of $13 million, which was a brutal change from last year’s same quarter loss of $810,000. Net sales fell to $783, a far cry from last year’s $818 million. Naturally, as with all bad earnings reports, a tumble in shares ensued, with shares of the trendy retailer taking a 20% hit. Besides a strong dollar, the chain can’t compete with the likes of H&M, Zara and a whole bunch of other clothing sellers. Back in May, the company had predicted an improvement. But that didn’t happen and now A&F isn’t even expecting one in the near future. Which might explain why the company will reshift its focus from teens to bona-fide money making twenty-somethngs who can afford the clothes A&F is selling. Considering that more than 50% of A&F’s customers are adults over the age of 20, this seems like a prudent move. So if you find yourself at one of A&F’s 744 locations – of which 60 of them will be closing –  you might not want to be so quick to walk away as the company attempts to rebrand itself as the “iconic American casual luxury brand.” I don’t know why that just made me think of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. But it did.  The clothing company will be selling clothes for actual grown-ups who once upon a time were the same teens who spent their parents’ hard-earned cash at this very establishment.

 

 

Wal-Mart Brings it Home with Great Earnings; A New Pew Study is Out and the Results May Surprise You; SEC Takes a Swing at Golfer Phil Mickelson

Sweet…

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Wal-Mart showered us with the news of its higher than expected quarterly profits and that’s a good sign since Wal-Mart’s success is a barometer of the economy and how well it’s behaving. Wal-Mart, in case you weren’t aware, is considered to be less upscale than its rival, Target. Because Target did not do so well this quarter and Wal-Mart did, experts are quick to point out that those in a more modest income bracket are still spending, at Wal-Mart anyways, and that is always a welcome occurrence in a healthy economy. Wal-Mart can thank an increase in drug prices, which is not as bad as it sounds. Hey, people need their medicines. But that’s just one small reason for the impressive digits. Warm weather helped keep Wal-Mart’s utility costs lower, which also contributed to those welcome numbers. Don’t laugh. Any little bit helps, even if it does involve the thermostat. A profit is a profit and Wal-Mart’s was $.304 billion. That figure is actually less than last year’s $3.34 billion, but its because of investments to improve the retailer and not because of any negative reasons. The retailer shelled out $2.7 billion to increase entry level pay and that also helped out with some of that profit. The company added 98 cents per share when analysts expected only 88 cents per share. And who doesn’t like it when analysts get it wrong, right?   As a result of the fiscally delightful news, shares of Wal-Mart made a nice little jump today, which is especially good since shares had gone down over 20% in the last twelve months.

The gig is up…

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The Pew Research Center just released the results of its latest study, this time tackling the ever-popular “sharing economy.” For whatever reason, the center wanted to know what 4,787 U.S. adults think about Uber and Lyft, Kickstarter and Airbnb, to name a few. Turns out that 72% of U.S. adults have used at one of 11 different shared/on-demand platforms.  73% responded that they’d never heard of the term “sharing economy.” But that’s nothing compared to the 89% who didn’t know what a “gig economy” is. Then things started to get dicey. 15% of the people surveyed said they’d used shared and on-demand services like Uber and Lyft, yet 30% said they’d never heard of those apps. Household income and age played a big role in who used the apps. 41% of U.S. adults with annual incomes of more than $100,000 had used at least four of the services, which was more than three times that of adults whose annual incomes were less than $30,000. 39% of college graduates used at least four of the services. Not nearly so much for those who don’t have higher degrees. For those in the 50+ range, 44% said they’ve used at least four of the services. But of the 65 and above set , only 5% used the services. While ride-sharing apps were – no great shock – used primarily by young adults in big cities, middle aged adults were the primary users of services offered by apps like Airbnb. And even though Kickstarter and other crowd-funding apps have only been around since 2009, 22% of U.S. adults apparently gave donations through them. Yet 61% of those who responded said they’d never heard of the term “crowd-funding.”

Inside out…

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Pro-golfer Phil Mickelson is under investigation and it has nothing to do with sports. The SEC has set its sights on the five time major winner for insider trading. Apparently, Mickelson scored almost a million bucks and the SEC wants him to pay it all back…with interest. To be fair, Mickelson is classified as a “relief defendant” which means he hasn’t been officially accused of…anything. He does, however, still have to pay back his insider trading profit of $931,738.12, not to mention another $105,291.09 in interest. But hey, it’s better than doing time, a possibility for the two men who supplied him with the non-publicizied information. And those two men happen to be well known sports gambler Billy Walters and former chairman of Dean Foods, Thomas Davis. It’s no mistake that the “ill-gotten gains” were from Dean Foods. Which explains why Walters and Davis are now both facing criminal charges, while Mickelson’s attorneys get to call their client, who currently ranks 17th in the world, an “innocent bystander.”

Not So Sweet Earnings, Uber-Lyfting and Not So Spade-tacular

Crushed by Wall Street…

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

King Digital Entertainment Plc., as you may have heard, is the maker of Candy Crush Saga, the game in which you have apparently lost interest, at least judging by its just released earnings. The mobile game maker missed expectations for its second quarter sales and its daily average users (you, me etc) took a major hit as this quarter saw about 138 million gamers while last quarter 143 million users were depleting their cellphone batteries playing games. The Dublin-based company has been watching its stock deflate by 19% since its much anticipated March debut of $22.50 a share. Net income rose to over $165 million from around $126 million a year earlier. Revenue for the company was over $593 million when $606 million was the number Wall Street wanted to see. And if you are amongst the chosen few, expect to see nice little “special” one time $150 million dividend. “Special” not because you are a high scorer on level 266, but special because you are among the directors, execs and investors. What? You’re not one of them?

Ride-Sharing Service smackdown…

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Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s Uber vs. Lyft in the ultimate ride-sharing smackdown. The two companies have been hard at work making thousands of  reservations and canceling them on each other. They have been even harder at work blaming one another. Uber’s got about 177 employees who are being accused of booking and canceling over 5000 rides on Lyft. But apparently Lyft upped the ante by booking 13,000 trips. Also at play is the allegation that Lyft’s investors are trying to get Uber to buy Lyft. Hmmm. Too much time on their hands, I wonder?

Un-trending?

Image courtesy of John Kasawa/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of John Kasawa/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Kate Spade, once dubbed the poor girl’s Prada has had an interesting Wall Street ride. The stock fell 23% on the very untrendy news that sales for the brand are slowing down. Oddly enough, revenue for the company was up a very healthy 49% to $266 million, easily topping Wall Street’s expectations of $243 million and easily trumping last year’s revenue of $178.9 million. And the stock lost only $4.4 million compared with last year when the brand ate over $43 million in losses. But on Wall Street, especially for a brand like Kate Spade, it’s all about the future and in this case it’s not as cheerful as the brand’s accessories.