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…

ID-100263187

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…

ID-10081213

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…

ID-100536658

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.

 

 

 

Trump Must Say Buh-bye to DC Namesake Hotel; Amazon’s Latest Tricks Up its Sleeve; The Urge to Merge: Alaska Airlines and Virgin America

Give it up…

id-10028302

Image courtesy of Graphics Mouse/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The official word out of Washington DC and, more importantly, the General Services Administration (GSA), is that Donald Trump has to give up his beloved hotel that is housed in the Old Post Office, just a few blocks from the White House. It’s the one that he opened back in September and has been the site for so very many Trump protests. That particular building is especially off limits to the President-elect because it is leased from the Federal government. The GSA, in case you were wondering, manages property owned by the Federal government. So it stands to reason that it has a say in what Donald Trump can and can’t do in this particular situation. Incidentally, Federal law does not exactly prohibit a president’s involvement in private business. However, members of Congress and lower ranked executive branch officials cannot. So weird, huh? As for a president’s assets, those have been typically put into blind trusts in an effort to avoid any appearance of impropriety – which seems logical. The owners of these blind trusts have no knowledge of how the assets are being managed and are typically managed by independent third parties. Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, has apparently been dealing with the GSA to resolve this particular issue. However, her involvement is sort of iffy, according to some, since she is an official member of Trump’s transition team.

Droning on and on…

id-100310127

Image courtesy of planet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Amazon’s unleashing plenty of big news today while Jeff Bezos is kicking up his heels at Trump Tower, trying to make nice with the President-elect. First, the online retailer giant announced its first drone delivery, called Prime Air, which took place December 7 in the U.K. A Fire TV device, along with a bag of popcorn found its way to its buyer just thirteen minutes after the order was made. The drop was made in an area in Cambridge that has been authorized for drone testing. So far, two customers have access to this new delivery method. But in the coming months that number is expected to grow by leaps and bounds. The drones fly no higher than 400 feet, are guided by GPS and can carry up to five pounds of merchandise. But best of all, for Amazon anyway, is that drone delivery of small packages are an excellent way to keep delivery costs really low. How does a dollar a drop sound?  Then, Amazon also announced the launch of its very own live streaming video service available just about everywhere. Except China. That must warm Donald Trump’s heart a little.  In any case, the new service is giving Netflix   – which also has yet to conquer China – some very unwanted competition. By the way, Amazon’s launch was eerily reminiscent of Netflix’s global launch almost a year ago. Just saying. The new service, aptly called Prime Video, would get bundled with your average Amazon Prime subscription. The idea is to get people to sign up for Amazon Prime service and from watching all of Amazon’s amazing (it really is) programming, viewers will then have an insatiable urge to buy even more stuff on Amazon. It’s meant to be a win-win. Just not necessarily for your bank account. In Amazon’s defense, however, the company wants to make sure that you’re getting a lot of value from your annual Prime subscription. I can live with that.

Take wing…

id-100460363

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Alaska Airlines/Virgin America merger is in effect with the official blessing from the U.S. Justice Department. But to be clear, Alaska Airlines is actually buying Virgin America – which has only been around since 2007 –  for about $2.6 billion. The total cost, after all is said and done, is expected to hit closer to $4 billion.  Alaska Airlines is currently the sixth biggest airline operator in the United States, while Virgin America holds steady at number eight. But once these two babies unite, they’ll become the fifth largest airline in the industry. The top four airlines, however, still control 80% of the country’s domestic market. At least the merger will allow for the new entity to become a major player in the highly competitive West Coast region. Combined, the two airlines have around 40 million customers and have so far this year generated $2.4 billion in revenue.

Game on Oprah! John Oliver’s $15M Giveaway; Fortune 500 Companies’ Latest Surprises; Burberry Boss Paycheck Getting a Whole Lot Smaller

New queen of daytime…

ID-10034353

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Move over Oprah. John Oliver just achieved god-status in the television talk show realm after buying nearly $15 million in medical debt and then forgiving it. Poof. Just like that. On his latest show “This Week Tonight with John Oliver,” the talk-show host took on the debt collecting/buying industry, which can be dubbed “shady” at best. Oliver said, “It is pretty clear by now (that) debt buying is a grimy business, and badly needs more oversight, because as it stands any idiot can get into it.” So John Oliver did “get into it,” and spent just $50 to start his very own debt collection company called Central Asset Recovery Professional aka CARP. It’s no coincidence, he pointed out, that the company is named after the bottom-feeding fish. Oliver’s company was almost immediately offered close to $15 million in medical debt from 9,000 Americans, social security numbers, names and addresses included, for just half a cent on the dollar. In case you were wondering, that came out to about $60,000. Then, with the simple push of a red button, John Oliver, forgave the debt, presumably with funds from his own bank account. But most importantly, Oliver easily trumped Oprah Winfrey’s 2004 television giveaway, when she gave out $8 million worth of cars to 276 audience members. And he didn’t even do it for ratings. Sort of.

Rank and file…

ID-100392967

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fortune Magazine’s annual list of the biggest 500 companies by revenue for fiscal 2015 is out and it was Netflix that was making big waves this year. The video streaming site, which launched in 130 new countries in January, and was the top fiscal performer for 2015, ticked up 95 spots to the 379th spot. However, while the climb was quite impressive, there are still 378 companies that rank higher than Netflix. Rounding out those top spots are Walmart, ExxonMobil, Apple and Berkshire Hathaway. No big surprises there. Apple, by the way, which moved up to two spots from last year’s fifth place, was the most profitable company on the list, earning $53 billion for fiscal 2015. Companies including GM, Ford and AT&T also cracked the top ten with Amazon landing at number 18 and Walgreens following close behind at number 19. Microsoft managed to crack the top 25 for the first time ever as Facebook climbed 85 spots this year to claim its 157th ranking. Interestingly enough, more than half of the companies on the list saw a drop in sales, with energy companies taking the biggest beating of all.

Pay raze…

ID-100423700

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The CEO of Burberry Group PLC, Christopher Bailey, will now have to switch to generic brands when he goes grocery shopping. After failing miserably to post respectable earnings results, the dapper exec will watch as 75% his paycheck vanishes into thin air. The CEO, who also serves as the Chief Creative Officer – and herein, might lay the problem –  will earn a paltry $2.74 million this year, a far cry from the $10.8 million he scored last year. Shareholders are also withholding his bonus for missing profit targets. That might seem a bit harsh, but shareholders in hundreds of companies are getting fed up with massive executive salaries that are completely at odds with results. Bailey, however, is not the only executive at the company who will be experiencing the fiscal wrath of the Burberry shareholders. Executive directors at the fashion house will also be stripped of their bonuses this year, because after all, it’s not like Bailey was solely responsible for shares of Burberry taking a 35% hit in the last twelve months. Burberry has announced that it will implement a cost-cutting plan – that has little to do with Bailey’s pay cut – in addition to a share-buyback program. Prudent moves when a companies reports disappointing fiscal earnings. But the earnings may not be entirely Bailey’s fault. Consider that 40% of Burberry sales come from the Chinese, who are in the midst of their own fiscal woes.

Chip Cards Get Moving; Netflix Growing Pains; Harley-Davidson Earnings Not Cruising

Feeling chipper…

ID-100215855

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are around 265 million Visa credit and debit chip cards floating around that have been providing some much needed security. Big merchants who upgraded their terminals for chip-enabled cards have noted an 18% decrease in fraudulent activity.  Five of the 25 biggest merchants who were not chip-enabled actually saw an 11% uptick in fraudulent activity. And while everyone is happy about the added security, both merchants and customers don’t care for the much longer transaction times. But now Visa finally finally made some improvements to its software with a “Quick Chip” upgrade. The new upgrade is expected to reduce wait times and shave off about 18 seconds from transactions times. Instead of dipping your card in the terminal and waiting a number of endless seconds until the terminal angrily beeps that you need to remove your card, you’ll dip it in and take it right out in two seconds. Wal-Mart also took cues from disgruntled customers and figured out a way to shave 11 seconds of their transaction times: by skipping the prompt that asks shoppers to confirm the transaction amount. Not sure how I feel about that one.  If you recall, merchants had to meet a deadline last October to upgrade their terminals. If fraudulent activity occurs, the merchant now has to pony up and banks are now OFF the hook.

Growing pains…

ID-10063866

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Netflix is in 190 countries and can be accessed from just about everywhere. The company gleefully announced that it picked up 6.74 million new subscribers in its latest earnings report and its total subscriber-ship is hovering at 81.5 million paying viewers. The streaming video service has even managed to produce more original content than HBO  and figures that by the end of the year, it will have 600 hours of original programming under its belt. But that’s where the fun ends because today the stock fell 11%, experiencing its biggest same day drop in eight months, falling to $95.84. Investors are super-curious and worried about Netflix’s growth plans after giving the disappointing news about the amount of new subscribers it expects to gain…and lose. That’s right. Netflix expect some people to drop out and dare I say it…not lay their eyes on another episode of Orange is the New Black once subscription prices go up. Oh well. You win some, you lose some. The company is thinking it’ll add only about 2.5 million subscribers next quarter, and expects just 500,000 of them to be in the U.S. Then of course there’s all that competition from Hulu and Amazon. Because, after all, its not enough for Amazon to dominate e-commerce. More than eight brokerages decided that maybe now is a good time to announce that their target price for Netflix stock is going to get somewhat smaller, with the average price target coming in at $123. However, with all that bad news, Netflix still has big plans to surpass 100 million subscribers…by next year.

Not-so-easy rider…

ID-100277744

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Harley-Davidson (HD) bikes might carry major street creed but its earnings tell a whole different story. The legendary motorcycle company just posted its earnings and well…they just weren’t as impressive as the product themselves. HD took in a $250.5 million profit, picking up $1.36 per share, but this time last year the company earned way more, topping out closer to $270 million and adding $1.27 per share. Analysts, by the way, only expected $1.29 per share to be added. That 7.2% year-over-year decrease had Wall Street scratching its head. At least revenue was up 4.8% to $1.75 billion from last year’s $1.67 billion. But while increased revenue is a good thing, HD’s .5% sales decrease in the United States is most definitely not. The company sold only 35,326 bikes in the United States and lost some market share to competitors, especially Polaris’ Indian Motorcycles. Apparently, Harleys have failed to attract younger consumers (read: milllenials). However, globally, Harley Davidson fared much better, selling 57,458 bikes, and expects to sell a total of between 269,000 and 274,000 bikes for the year – which is more than what was initially expected. Harley-Davidson graciously explained that “retail sales trends have significantly improved.” Which seems to be true, at least for Polaris, who has taken a big bite out of Harley-Davidson’s market share.

China’s Trading Halt Heard ‘Round the World; Planet Netflix; JC Penney’s for Dollars

Domino effect…

ID-10026593

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Another day, another trading halt in China where shares once again plunged 7% – this time in just 29 minutes. The yuan dropped to its lowest level since March 2011 and it marked the second time this week that one of the world’s biggest economies took a hit like this. Naturally, this triggered global markets to reluctantly follow suit and even here in the U.S., the Dow, S&P and Nasdaq also saw drops. Not that I am trying to freak anybody out, but the last time the Dow had a bad start to the New Year was back in 2008. Investors, however, are most definitely not panicked about that little parallel and expect the situation to improve…over time.  Besides, market indexes aren’t anywhere near lowish territories so experts don’t expect China’s fiscal woes to be a major issue.. well here anyway.

Gone global…

ID-10021534

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Apparently it’s Netflix’s world and we just live in it. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told a crowd at CES, “You are witnessing the birth of a global TV network,” as he announced that the streaming video service would now be expanding to 130 more countries. The service will be available in 21 different languages and be available in a total of 190 countries in this great big world. That way, a whole new massive international audience can get to experience the joy we call ,”Orange is the New Black.” Interestingly, Netflix will not be making customized services for particular countries. Rather, it will be just one single solitary internet-based television network – one that is expected to reel in millions upon millions of new subscribers.  That, my friends, is how you conquer the world, but more importantly, Wall Street, where yesterday, shares of Netflix went up 10% on the news (though today it closed down at 114.56). Unfortunately, folks in China still have to wait – maybe forever – for the service to reach its shores lest its citizens gain inspiration from entertainment that the Chinese government might deem objectionable, incendiary or just plain rude. Other countries that wont be catching up on past seasons of “House of Cards” any time soon include North Korea, Syria and Crimea.

Bah-humbug…

ID-100221070

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Macy’s did not have a very merry Christmas as evidenced by its disappointing sales during the most important spending season of the year. Two factors seem to have contributed to these results: unseasonably warm weather kept shoppers from loading up on cold-weather gear; and a strong dollar that kept overseas tourists’ wallets at bay. And when a retailer posts less than impressive earnings during the most critical time of the year, it usually means a forecast trimming is in the works – which is exactly what Macy’s did. To add insult to fiscal injury, the retailer will be laying off close to 5,000 employees and closing 40 stores. Oddly enough, embattled retailer JC Penney saw a sales surge this holiday season of close to 4%. A big shout out for this fiscally pleasant surprise goes to amped up online efforts which helped lift shares by 2.4%. Now, if JC Penney can recoup that 8% decline that it took over that past year…well, wouldn’t that be grand.

 

Disney’s ESPN Not the Happiest Place on Earth; SEC Looks to Salary-Shame; Netflix and Microsoft Maternity-Leave Shami

Squeak squeak…

Image courtesy of digitalrt/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalrt/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The House of Mouse took quite the beating today on Wall Street but no animated rodents are to blame for this one. Instead we look to Disney-owned ESPN whose third quarter performance wasn’t victorious. The cable channel lost plenty of subscribers as consumers look to “cord-shaving” and “cord-cutting” their ever expanding cable bills. The fact is, when cable subscribers look to save money on their monthly expenses, ESPN is usually the first item to be sacrificed as it eats up $6 a month. Just ask the 3.2 million consumers who already dropped ESPN from their channel lineup. Of course, the network still has some 90 million subscribers but it’s not exactly sparking investor confidence because it’s got those investors wondering how ESPN could grow – and make money. At least Disney Chairman Bob Iger has some confidence left for the sports network. Someone should. But it wouldn’t be fair to only blame ESPN for the disappointing earnings. The strong dollar and declines at theme parks also added to the fiscal misery. So you see, it’s not all ESPNs fault. What a relief. Third quarter revenue hit $13.1 billion with $1.45 added per share, much to the disappointment of analysts who expected $13.2 billion. Disney hasn’t had an earnings miss in two years. You know what didn’t disappoint at Disney? “Age of Ultron” and “Cinderella.” That’s what. Together with sales of licensed products, those areas saw double digit percentage increases.

And you get to fly on the company jet?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s not everyday the SEC and drama can be found in the same sentence. But now that day has come all because of a new SEC ruling that is stirring quite a bit of trouble. Under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, public companies now have to issue a “pay ratio disclosure” detailing the compensation of its CEO and the median compensation of the its average employee. Pay gap, anyone? With a 3-2 vote for the ruling, Republicans are against it saying that it will only serve to “name and shame” CEO’s and companies and has no use or relevance to investors. Democrats feel quite the opposite feeling it’ll help investors determine and vote on pay packages for CEO’s. Of course the groups out there that protest income inequality love the new ruling because it’ll highlight and bring all the right attention to their cause. Between 1978 and 2014, the average CEO pay went up almost 1000%. That, my cyber-friends, is what you call a surge. Problem is, according to the Economic Policy Institute, pay for average employees classified as “non-supervisory” only went up by less than 11%. Talk about discrepancies. Commissioner Daniel Gallagher, who voted against the ruling, argued it will wastefully cost approximately $1.3 billion just to implement the compliance and said, “To steal a line from (Supreme Court) Justice (Antonin) Scalia, this is pure applesauce.” How poetic.

Bundle of joy…

Image courtesy  of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Netflix and Microsoft are trying to one-up each other only this time it has very little to do with tech and sales and more to do with babies. Microsoft just announced its updated maternity/paternity policy which now gives parents 20 weeks of full paid leave plus two weeks before a due date for short-term disability. But it’s not as generous as Netflix’s latest policy, dubbed “unlimited” which gives parents a whole year to be with their newest arrivals, allowing them to come and go and go and…well you get it, right? Netflix brass feel that it’s more important to “focus on what people get done, not on how many days worked.” These generous parental leave policies aren’t exactly trendsetting in Silicon Valley. Only for the rest of the country where the United States ranks dead last among 38 countries in government supported parental leave. But Netflix goes one further with its “unlimited vacation” policy too. “Netflix leaders set good examples by taking big vacations and coming back inspired to find big ideas.”  Great. Sign me up.

Brad Pitt Thinks Costco is Setting a Bad Egg-sample; Summer Style Black Friday Results Are In.; Netflix Is Having the Best. Year. Ever.;

Hold the yolk…

Image courtesy of SOMMAI/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of SOMMAI/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s Brad Pitt and Bill Maher versus Costco as the A-listers take issue with the wholesaler’s egg selection. The two Hollywood celebs think Costco contributes to animal cruelty by selling eggs from caged hens. Brad Pitt sent a very polite, but strongly worded, letter to Costco CEO Craig Jelinek telling him why eggs from caged birds is such a bad idea, Bill Maher, however, took to the pages of The New York Times, penning a scathing editorial, as only he can, detailing the horrifying results from the practice. It should be duly noted that both Pitt and Maher also praised Costco for its efforts toward animal welfare. They just want to make sure that the chain makes good on its 2007 promise to only sell eggs from uncaged hens. Perhaps then will Brad Pitt and Bill Maher return to the hallowed aisles of Costco, where they will whip out their membership cards and load up their tricked out SUV’s with a year’s worth of toilet paper. And, of course, some eggs.

Was it all that and a bag of chips?

Image courtesy of  Iamnee/FreeDigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Iamnee/FreeDigitalphotos.net

The results are in. Kind of. Amazon’s Prime Day did manage to pull in some boffo sales and surpassed November’s Black Friday sales despite mounting criticism over the paltry selections on its  “Lightning Deals,” not to mention the not-so-deep discounts. Prime Day, which was established to honor the sanctity of the humble beginnings of Amazon just twenty years ago, pulled in 80% higher sales over this time last year. That was just for the US. In Europe, sales jumped 40% (though I suspect none of that came from Greece). With numbers like that, it seems not everybody took issue with the offerings. Take for instance the tens of thousands of people who purchased Amazon Fire Sticks. Or how about that Kate Spade bag that sold out in less than a minute. Shoppers also seemed to dig the “Lord of the Rings” blu-Ray set as Amazon sold 35,000 of them. But Wal-Mart’s not complaining either. In response to Prime Day, the world’s largest retailer offered up its own Black Friday deals, discounting some 2,000 items including an Apple iPad Air 2 for just $400. For Wal-Mart, these last three days have been some of its most successful online shopping days. Ever. Orders increased by triple digits over the same time period last year. So I guess Wal-Mart’s feeling pretty merry right about now.

No kidding…

Image courtesy of  David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Netflix whipped out their earnings to much fanfare but little surprise. The internet streaming service picked up a few more subscribers. Make that a few million more subscribers, even scoring some record-breaking gains this year. This should probably come as no surprise since Netflix currently reigns supreme as the S&P’s fave top stock. Yes. That is a thing. International markets seem to be jumping on the Netflix bandwagon, where the service bagged some 2.37 million new subscribers. As for new subscribers on this side of the pond, Netflix gained 900,000 new customers who now get to binge watch such classics like “Orange Is the New Black.” Naturally, news of its impressive earnings caused the stock to take a nice jump today. Netflix total subscriber-ship now comes to 65.6 million people, and yet, the company is still far from its goal of conquering the world. Japan, Spain, Italy and Portugal are set to be getting access to the popular platform later this year.