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

Putting this baby to bed…

ID-100128578

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…

ID-100420194

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…

ID-100328948

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.

Advertisements

Apple vs. Feds Smackdown; Billionaire Country Breakdown; It’s Highs and Lowe’s for Home Improvement Sector

Rotten to the core…

ID-10095619

Image courtesy of Kittisak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s game on between Apple and the FBI as the two entities tussle about unlocking an iPhone. The Feds feel this request falls under the Writs Act from 1789 that compels companies to assist in law enforcement. Apple is preparing to argue before a Federal court that software code should be protected by the First Amendment while terrorists the world over sit back and enjoy a good laugh at the the expense of the U.S and its constitutional rights. This is all because the Feds want Apple to unlock a phone belonging to San Berbardino shooter/terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook as authorities are convinced there is a lot of valuable intel contained on that one little device. In fact, since early October, Apple has received orders to unlock thirteen other devices, and an L.A. district court judge ruled that Apple should help the Feds bypass that pesky setting which wipes an iPhone clean after ten incorrect password guesses. Apple CEO Tim Cook is adamantly against this backdoor attempt to unlock an iPhone lest it fall into the wrong hands. Cook wants the issue decided by Congress and not the courts. Problem is, phones regularly fall into the wrong hands, as in this case, so what to do about a device that potentially holds vast amounts of life-saving information that could lead to the arrests and capture of more wrong hands?

 

All about the benjamins…

ID-100263187

Image courtesy of Kittisak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

After owning the title for so long, the city of New York no longer reigns supreme as home to the largest population of billionaires. The title of “Billionaire Capital of the World” now  belongs to Beijing, which is kind of weird since the Chinese economy has taken such a beating these last few months. These new findings come courtesy of the Hurun Report, a Shanghai-based firm that publishes monthly. And while Forbes’ compiles its own list of billionaires, the two publications tend to yield slightly different results, if only because they employ different calculation menthods. Incidentally, Hurun’s results did take into account January 15, the day when China’s economy hit the skids, tanking 40%.  But that still didn’t stop it from adding 32 new billionaires to the list, bringing its grand total identifiable billionaire population to 100. Beijing’s numero uno billionaire is Wang Jianlin, a real estate developer whose net worth is estimated to be $26 billion. Hurun chairman, Rupert Hoogewerf, says that these rankings don’t tell the whole story of China’s vast wealth, and estimates that only about 50% of China’s billionaires were identified. Plenty of the county’s other billionaires prefer to keep their wealth asecret so they don’t end up having to fork a chunk of it to authorities. New York still managed to welcome four more billionaires into its fold, giving the city a grand total of 95. Moscow took the third spot while Hong Kong and Shanghai scored spots four and five respectively.

Lowe’s and behold…

ID-10045074

Image courtesy of Kittisak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Home Depot and Lowe’s regaled us with their earnings and it was good news, kind of. Both home improvement chains scored lofty gains in large part due to housing demand, low interest rates and job and wage growth – all super good things. Oh, and this time the warm weather actually helped sales too. But while Lowe’s quarterly sales gains were up 5.5%, Home Depot’s sales gains were way more impressive, gaining close to 9%, suggesting that Home Depot is benefitting way more from housing gains than Lowe’s. Which probably explains why shares of Lowe’s fell a bit today. Apparently Home Depot , according to experts anyway, has a stronger brand image and consumers see it as the go to store for their home improvement needs. Case in point, kitchen products are a big seller for Home Depot and that department killed it this quarter, while Lowe’s kitchen products department performed below average. Ouch. Home Depot also has 2,274 stores compared to Lowe’s 1,857 stores. In any case, Lowe’s is expecting to snag a 6% rise in sales, compared with analysts predictions of less than 5% and the company still added 59 cents per share with sales of $13.24 billion, smacking down predictions of $13.07 billion.

Turn the Street Around…; Best Buy’s Best Quarter?; Oui Oui Le Tax Pour Airbnb

Recovery?

Image courtesy of rattigon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of rattigon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s only right to call today “turnaround Tuesday” since the stock market seems to be sort of recovering from the fiscal slaughter of the last few days, including all those sell-offs and Monday’s 588 point Dow drop. Part of the turnaround is because of China’s decision to cut interest rates. For the fifth time. Since November.  And then there are all those juicy stock bargains. Traders up for a good bargain are on the prowl and take bargain shopping to a whole new level. You might think you know how to spot a great discount but you’ve got nothing on these traders. These deals have nothing on post-Christmas sales. But at least the Dow soared today, with tech stocks leading the charge. Except that the day ended down by 200 points.

Rolex who?

Image courtesy of Pixomar/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Pixomar/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Best Buy had a particularly impressive quarter but is it really all because of Apple and it’s highly coveted watch? Hmmm. Apparently, the Apple Watch has been quite a hit with the retailer and by the end of September you can stop into any one of Best Buy’s 1,000 plus locations and pick up the gadget. That much coveted watch also helped propel Best Buy’s online sales to a 17% increase, giving Amazon and Walmart a cyber run for their money. Of course, not all those sales were from Apple products, but still.  Apple doesn’t get all the credit since Best Buy also scored some impressive appliance sales.  And I’m pretty sure Apple doesn’t make refrigerators and dishwashers. Yet. The Apple thing really seems to be paying off for Best Buy so it seems logical that it will be increasing Apple’s presence in its stores and start to offer AppleCare and service in some extremely lucky locations. Best Buy earned a $164 million profit adding 46 cents per share. Analysts only expected 34 cents. Apparently those analysts don’t own an Apple Watch (nor do I, for that matter). A year earlier Best Buy raked in $146 million and 42 cents per share.

Let them eat cake…

Image courtesy of pixtawan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of pixtawan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’re traveling to Paris after October 1 (lucky you) and your accommodations come courtesy of Airbnb, be prepared to say au revoir to even more money than you might have planned. Your Parisian host will now be collecting a tourism tax from you in the amount of 83 euros per day, per person. In case you were wondering, because I know you were, 83 euros is equal to about 95 cents. Paris authorities made the request to Airbnb in an effort to encourage the home-sharing site to behave more like a hotel would. And, well, considering that Paris is the most visited city in the world, and Airbnb has over 50,000 listings there, it seems like the smart thing to do to comply with this request. Besides, that tourism tax helps generate local tax revenue and pays for all the extra infrastructure that results from tourism. Also, it gives Parisian hotels one less thing to complain about when it comes to the advantages of Airbnb and helps the site make nice with French authorities. Incidentally, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman has taken issue with the $25 billion company. Schneiderman said that 75% of New York City listings are, in fact, illegal, since the hosts are/were not present and the rental periods were for less than 30 days. According to New York State Law, these tenants owe Uncle Sam some $30 million.

It’s All About the Bonus; Colorado’s State Budget Gone to Pot; Vera Bradley’s Headed Overseas

Fat cats…

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Good news, that is, if you work on Wall Street. According to new data from New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, bonuses are up 3% in broker-dealer firms. Those bonuses managed to increase even though profits at most Wall Street firms took major hits. Together, all those lucky bonus takers took home (or are expected to take home) a very grand total of $28.5 billion, with the average earner scoring $172,860. They might have even taken home more but all those legal settlements stemming from the firms’ pernicious little roles in the 2008 fiscal crisis managed to put a crimp in profits. The securities industry also added 2,300 jobs, presumably ones that come with bonuses too. Has your jaw hit the floor yet?  Even all those pesky new regulatory changes couldn’t stop those bonuses from rising. So why exactly might this information make the New York State comptroller so giddy? Because Wall Street accounts for 19% of New York State’s revenue and when the tide is high, all boats rise.

Speaking of bonuses…

Image courtesy of Paul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Paul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The amount of money that keeps pouring into Colorado’s state budget from marijuana sales just keeps getting…higher. No matter how you feel about legalizing recreational marijuana, there’s no denying its fiscal benefits. Sales of cannabis have helped the state rake in close to $9 million…just in the month of January. That was a whopping 163% increase over January of 2014. First, there is a a fee imposed on businesses that sell marijuana. All those businesses paid about $1 million in fees just for the privilege of selling the stuff. In sales tax receipts alone the state took in $3.5 million on a 10% sales tax for recreational pot. Colorado also puts a 15% excise tax on the stuff with funds from that going toward school improvement projects. There is a joke in there somewhere but I’ll stay away from it.

Just not that into you…

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Handbag and accessories maker Vera Bradley took a nasty 16% hit on its stock today as it announced its abysmal fourth quarter earnings. Revenue fell 3% from a year ago to $157 million. But its that 13% drop in its net income, falling to $17.3 million, that is leaving a nasty mark. Blaming it on the fact that Vera Bradley can’t seem to attract new customers, CEO Robert Wallstrom said “overall business trends remain difficult.” Well, for Vera Bradley, anyway.  Not only is the company closing up shop on its New Haven, Indiana plant where 250 people will be left without a job, but Vera Bradley will now take the necessarily evil step of manufacturing its products overseas, since it’s apparently 90% cheaper to do so.  The company, started in 1982, went public in 2010 at $16 a share. After hitting a high of close to $50, back in 2011, the stock has been taking a vicious little dive, hitting all-time lows. All this comes two weeks after Vera Bradley named Olympic gold medalist Meryl Davis as its celebrity ambassador.

GM Says Nyet to Russia Deliveries; Start Spreading the News: Gov Cuomo Bans Fracking; Kraft-y New CEO

Rubles the wrong way…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his annual hours long press conference where he discussed the plunging ruble. He said the economic recovery could take up to two years and, of course, he made sure to point his country’s finger (presumably the middle one) at the US and the EU because he says plunging oil prices and economic sanctions are to blame. Oh and also the central banks messed up too because they apparently didn’t respond fast enough to economic issues as they arose. Darn central banks! Then GM went ahead and suspended deliveries to Russia, becoming one of the latest western companies to do so. And who can blame them. After all, when currencies drop, the companies lose big bucks.  But considering GM only sold 170,000 vehicles in Russia so far this year  – it sells more than that in a single month over here – its sure not to put any major crimp in their business. Apple also shut down operations while other companies, like BMW, took the route of raising their prices to make up for the drop in the ruble rate. Why his love life came up during the press conference is a mystery, but at least now we know that Vladimir Putin is in love –  and somebody even loves him back –  according to him anyway.

Frack off…

Image courtesy of xedos4/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of xedos4/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has made it official: New York has become the first state to ban the ever-controversial fracking process, a decision that puts a major chink in the oil and gas industry. The process, which involves tapping into natural gas by using high-pressure water blasts and, of course, chemicals, has been under a moratorium in New York State since 2008 after it was felt that more research was needed to see just how bad the process is for the environment and our health. At a press conference, Governor Cuomo handed the reins over to health and environmental officials who said the issues are too great to allow it to happen and conveniently had several studies on hand to back up their claims. Now if they could just do something about those traffic jams…

Nothing cheesy about it…

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In a move that shocked analysts, who generally make it a habit of predicting things, Kraft CEO Tony Vernon, who is but 58 years young, announced that his retirement from the company will officially take place on December 27. Vernon has been at the post since October of 2012 and will stay on as an adviser until March. His replacement will be John Cahill, who already has Pepsico  gracing his resume. Kraft, the intrepid force behind Velveeta cheese and the ever-malleable Jell-O, said that it needs to make big changes quickly if it wants to keep up with the constantly changing needs of the food industry. Sounds fair, considering Kraft saw an 11% drop in its third quarter profits.