American Airlines: Going for Great or Going for Racial Insensitivity?; Congress Lets Banks Off the Hook. For Now; Things Aren’t Looking Sunny at Tesla Lately

Something racially insensitive in the air…

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Some say there’s no such thing as bad publicity but I’m skeptical about that. Take for example American Airlines. The NAACP just issued an advisory cautioning African Americans about traveling on American Airlines because the organization found an alarming pattern of “disturbing incidents” by the airline where black passengers were removed from flights. And the NAACP might just be onto something since it listed four distinct incidents where African American passengers were either taken off flights or moved to other sections of the aircraft despite holding tickets for higher class cabins. The NAACP said that the incidents “suggest a corporate culture of racial insensitivity” which I am pretty certain counts as bad publicity no matter how you slice it. Of course, American Airlines is “disappointed” about the advisory, and not just because it looks sooooooo bad. However, it still plans to reach out to the NAACP and invite representatives to its corporate offices in Texas to discuss the situation. Of course, just like with any bad publicity, American Airlines shares are down over 2%. Rightfully so, I suppose.

Don’t bank on it…

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You might not remember when, during President Obama’s presidency, a regulation was passed that allowed consumers to file class-action suits against banks.  But Congress remembered and today duly killed the regulation from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was established back in July. Just. Like. That.  The rule went like so: If a consumer was unhappy with a financial product or service, think of Wells Fargo or Equifax, and wanted action and accountability from the institution, the said financial institutions could not force a consumer into mandatory arbitration. And if a consumer wanted to participate in a class-action lawsuit, they could. Financial institutions had to nix clauses in their contracts that effectively forced consumers into arbitration. Before that rule came about, consumers could not sue. Could. Not. Sue. There was no option to settle lawsuits. Dems are hopping mad because they wanted that rule to stay put arguing that it allowed consumers to hold banks and financial institutions accountable and that arbitration always seemed to go more in favor of the banks. Republicans argued that class-action suits do not benefit the consumers anyway and have the potential to greatly harm businesses that ultimately and adversely affect the economy. Consumers are no better off, they argued, whether they go through arbitration or are part of a class-action lawsuit. Republicans even cited information from a Treasury report supporting those claims.  Of course, the recent scandals at Wells Fargo and Equifax didn’t exactly help the Republicans argument. Yet miraculously, Congress still managed to put the kibosh on the rule. Consumer advocates are all over this and insist that the war is not over. Except that a key battle was just lost.

Rolling heads…

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While the ranks at Tesla continue to get smaller by the hundreds following an ugly recall of 11,000 Model X SUV’s, employees at Tesla-owned SolarCity are starting to smell the stench of unemployment too.  Over 200 employees were dismissed from their jobs at SolarCity with the dismissed being told that they lost their jobs for performance reasons, or lack thereof. However,  that proved to be an awfully strange excuse considering that several of the aforementioned employees said they hadn’t even received performance reviews since Tesla acquired SolarCity last November for $2.6 billion. Things that make you go hmmm.Tesla did announce it would be firing employees from SolarCity’s Roseville, California office. And it did. Except the carnage didn’t stop there. Apparently, SolarCity employees all over the country were also fired.  As for the Roseville office, some say the office will stay open with 50 employees while others insist that the whole office is being shut down.  In any case, I’m guessing the holidays are going to be awkward this year for Elon Musk and his family since SolarCity was founded by his cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive back in 2006. Critics of Musk’s plan to buy the solar company felt that it would distract the CEO from making great cars.  Maybe. Maybe not. But one thing is for sure: A lot of people are wondering how much longer it is going to be until Elon Musk finally rolls out the super-hyped but affordable Model 3.

 

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Tesla Takes On Ford; J. Crew Says Bye to Own Icon; Burberry Wants to Go Big

Race to the finish…

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Tesla’s market cap just left Ford Motor Co. in the eco-friendly dust today. It’s all because of a much anticipated, yet massive Model 3 rollout scheduled for later this year. Assuming everything goes smoothly with that massive rollout – and why wouldn’t it? – Tesla has pinned some very pricey hopes and dreams in the form of growth targets. Those growth targets sent the company’s stock up 5.7% and why shouldn’t they? After all, the luxury electric car company smacked down analysts estimates when it reported a shipment of 25,000 vehicles for its first quarter. In case you were wondering – because I know you were – that was almost a 70% increase from last year at this time. To be fair, however, the increase is not as impressive at second glance considering that Tesla experienced some production pains beginning in October. So the company was basically making up for the pains. In the meantime, as the second largest auto company in the United States, Ford delivered 6.7 million cars and trucks last year while Tesla delivered less than 80,000. Then, last year Ford hauled in a revenue of close to $152 billion while Tesla took in just $7 billion. Yet Tesla’s very magical market capitalization now comes in at $47.6 billion, compared to the much much older Ford Motor Co.’s $44.9 billion. Let that one sink in for a bit. And in case you were in the market for some Tesla shares, its stock is currently trading at around $293 a share.

Crew-cuts…

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J. Crew’s long-time creative director, Jenna Lyons, is out after just five years on that gig and over 20 years at the label. Which is just so cray cray since she is responsible for making so much of what made J. Crew…well, J. Crew. She is credited with turning the brand around a few years ago and making it super-popular and ultra-hip. In fact, she was so good at what she was doing that she became the face/icon of the prepster brand. But then there were a bunch of unfashionable issues, a 6.7% sales drop, following a more than 8% drop the year before.  The company, if you recall – and it’s okay if you don’t – was purchased for $3 billion back in 2011. Now the retailer is staring at the wrong end of $1.5 billion in debt. All that had company brass scratching its preppy head and wondering where did things go south and how could they be remedied. Apparently, part of that remedy involved saying goodbye to Lyons. Despite that, J. Crew is a retailer like any other, and we all know how darn ugly the fiscal landscape has been like as of late for all the players, big and small. But back to Lyons, rumor has it that her exit was a mutual decision.  Although, I’ve often wondered if the word mutual takes on a very different definition when describing people who find themselves leaving their high-level executive jobs.

Just so ya know…

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Pish-posh designer Burberry just signed a $225 million licensing deal with Coty. – as in the musk-maker. However, rest assured as there will be no trench coats involved. Instead, Coty will get exclusive global rights to Burberry’s make-up and fragrance brands – which might make zero sense to you but makes plenty of cents – and dollars for both Burberry and Coty. And here’s how it’s going to work: Burberry, which pulled down revenue of 203 million pounds last year (well, it is an English company) has got the creativity end covered because, well, it does. There is a reason, after all, why Burberry can charge so much money for its merchandise. But Coty is all about distribution, and in fact, the company is quite accomplished in that arena. Burberry was shrewd enough to recognize where it could use a little oomph. Or in this case, the English brand needed a lot of oomph. So the brand did some research and shopped around before it settled on a deal with Coty.  And Burberry will be in good company at Coty, as it will join other premium fragrances including Balenciaga, Gucci and Marc Jacobs, not to mention the Clairol and Rimmel brands.

Tesla Banks a Profit. Finally; Twitter’s Getting Rid of Employees Despite a Beat; Latest IPO Fails to Wow Wall Street

Booyah!

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Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk is super-pleased with himself after his electric car company posted a quarterly profit for the second time since the company went public. The first time that happened was waaaaay back in 2013. And Musk is banking on the fact that he can pull it off again next quarter. The news was particularly welcome to Musk since he is eager to merge Tesla with his other company, SolarCity. Except investors aren’t as enthusiastic about the prospect or presumably the $2.6 billion cost of the merger. But come November 17 Musk is going to find out if shareholders will have a change of heart and are willing to embrace the move when a vote takes place. In any case, Tesla’s profit came in at a very lofty $21.9 million with a record $2.3 billion in revenue. That would be a 145% increase over last year’s same quarter revenue. Yes you read that right.  The company also scored 14 cents per share when analysts only expected 4 cents. Add that to the fact that last year the stock lost 58 cents per share and we’ve quite a nice comeback story. So what made this quarter different from all other quarters? Ramped up production of Tesla’s Models S sedans and Model X Crossovers. With Musk urging employees to move the vehicles with all their heart and soul, a 92% increase was seen on deliveries of 25,185 cars. But it wasn’t just the current crop of cars that contributed to Tesla’s winning quarter. Apparently, 373, 000 people already pre-ordered the $35,000 Model 3, which won’t even hit the streets until 2017.

Boohoo…

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Twitter announced its third quarter results and yet again, failed to impress anybody. One of the more significant highlights, or rather lowlights, is the company’s decision to lose about 9% of its workforce, or roughly three hundred employees, out of over 3,800 worldwide. That number could go higher but the ultimate goal is to help the company reorganize sales, partnerships and marketing efforts. And who doesn’t like to reorganize, right? The social media company did manage to pull down revenues of $616 million, beating estimates of $605.5 million. Some might consider that an impressive achievement. Except it’s not, since it marked Twitter’s ninth straight quarter of declining growth. And while the company also earned 13 cents per share, once again beating estimates of just 9 cents, growth of monthly active users stayed relatively flat, despite all kinds of exciting new changes.  In the meantime, both Disney and Salesforce.com have passed on potentially acquiring Twitter, as CEO Jack Dorsey said that he’s done talking about reports of possible acquisitions.

That’s NYSE…

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Chinese company ZTO Express made its big Wall Street debut today but failed to dazzle the Street. Unlike the Chinese IPO darling of 2014, Alibaba, ZTO dished out over 72 million shares for $19.50 a pop, only to open today for the first time on the New York Stock Exchange at $18.40. The stock later slid even lower to $17.70. But considering that the company’s original range fell between $16.50  – $18.50, its slide isn’t exactly tragic. Just disappointing. In any case, ZTO still managed to raise $1.4 billion and the company plans to use $720 million of that to purchase more trucks, land, facilities and equipment. In other words, big expansion plans are in the works. As a package delivery company, it handled close to 21 billion parcels just in 2015. It should come as no surprise, however, that ZTO’s main business deals with delivering shipments for Alibaba. In fact, Alibaba accounted for 75% of ZTO’s business in the first half of the year.  You might be wondering why Chinese companies like to list on stock exchanges in the United States. Well, for one, there are currently about 800 companies lined up in China who have filed applications to list on indexes on the country’s indexes.  It’s a considerably slower process and some feel it’s less reliable. Besides, given the volatility of the Chinese economy, raising money in U.S. dollars as opposed to a weaker Chinese currency only sweetens the pot for plenty of companies.

Tesla Execs Make a “Break” For It; Aeropostale is Down and Out, Almost; Two Executives Are So Over Under Armour

Awkward…

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Two major executives at Tesla are making a break for it just as the car company is about to (finally) unveil its Model 3. Today’s departure announcements particularly unnerved Wall Street, sending Tesla’s stock down 4% on the news. One of the departing execs is Greg Reichow, the global VP of productions, who was also one of the highest paid executives in the company, taking home a package reportedly valued at $6.4 million. Reichow, who arrived at Tesla in 2011, will graciously stay on until his replacement is properly ensconced in his or her ergonomically designed executive desk chair. But what’s weird is that Reichow’s departure is being called a leave of absence, a classification that doesn’t typically necessitate successors. Also making a not-so-fond farewell is VP of manufacturing, John Ensign. Apparently the executive exits have to do with delays and other assorted hiccups that have been plaguing Tesla. But that’s not the official word coming out of the company. What is official is that a whopping five vice presidents have left Tesla just this year and mind you, it’s only May. In the meantime, Tesla’s Elon Musk is calling these exits a “well earned break.” Hmmm. Not the way I would have phrased it.

Market slap…

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Malls all over the United States and Canada are about to lose a neighbor. Aeropostale, purveyor of apparel that appealed primarily to teenagers, is closing over 100 of its stores for being not profitable. In fact, those stores were so not profitable that the company lost $17 million from them just in 2015. But at least the company expects to make $21 million in revenue from liquidation, which should last from six to eight weeks. No worries if you miss your Aeropostale location as there will still be over 600 left from which to shop. Just don’t bother shopping in Alaska, or Hawaii, or Times Square in New York, or…well, you might want to check before you head out to see if your preferred Aeropostale location is still standing. It may be hard to believe now, but once upon a time, Aeropostale’s market cap was worth $2.6 billion, with shares above $30. Those days, however, are long gone as its market cap might be scratching at $2 million and the stock has been delisted from the New York Stock Exchange after trading under 3 cents this week.

A chink in the armor…

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Under Armour has its own share of departures, bidding a (fond?) farewell to Chief Merchandising Officer, Henry Stafford, and Chief Digital Officer Robin Thurston. The company, who has endorsement deals with NBA’s Stephen Curry and golfer Jordan Spieth, generated $4 billion in sales last year, yet news of these departures spooked investors enough to send the stock down 6%. After all, a Chief Merchandising Officer’s role is integral to a brand that sells footwear and apparel considering their vision sets the look and feel. No minor details. Apparel, by the way, is Under Armour’s largest category. Just saying. Thurston had been with the company since 2013, when the company he co-founded, MapMyFitness, was acquired by Under Armour to the tune of $150 million. The company says that it’s just a coincidence that the two executives are making a break for it at the same time, at least that’s what a company memo said. But it’s a good thing that those two executives also have non-compete clauses in their contracts because it would be kind of awkward if they found themselves working for the competition. Well, awkward for Under Armour, I suppose.