Russia? What About Russia? Facebook Earnings Seem to Be So Much Bigger Than Russia; Major Chink in Under Armour; All Night Long: It’s Party Time at Walmart

It’s good to be Facebook…

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It’s another quarter of rainbows and unicorns for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The social media mega-monster blew expectations out of the water with its daily active users growing to almost 1.4 billion, an increase of 50 million users. Revenue increased 47% and came in at over $10 billion. I won’t even bother boring you with what analysts expected. In the meantime, shares picked up an additional $1.59, which was a swift kick in the rear to predictions of $1.28 per share and a majorly impressive 77% increase over last year at this time. Apparently, all this talk about Russia using propaganda on Facebook to influence the presidential election seems to be having a nominal effect on the company.  Amid all this glorious earnings news, Facebook’s general counsel was hanging out in our nation’s capital, taking a beating because some folks in Congress just aren’t down with the way Facebook has this uncanny knack for effectively targeting digital ads to users simply based on their likes. I guess politicians are worried that those targeted ads might be – and have been – too effective in getting their opponents elected.  But Wall Street just laughed away sending shares all the way up to almost $183 per share.

Over Armour?

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Under Armour released its quarterly profits and it seemed like there was carnage all around.  The big bad ugly issue, aside from the actual numbers, is that the company is slashing forecasts for 2017. If that’s not a fiscal kiss of death, I don’t know what is. As for revenue, it fell. A lot. To about $1.4 billion, an almost 5% drop year over year. However, if we’re just looking at what happened just in the U.S., Under Armour revenue fell a whopping 12%. That’s a huge problem because it was the first time that ever happened since the company made its super-hyped Wall Street debut. Of course, you can’t have bad news on Wall Street without shares of the company in question going south. Which is precisely what happened as shares of Under Armour tanked 24% today. Add that to the fact that since September of 2015, shares have fallen around 85%. The carnage, unfortunately, doesn’t end there. Profit was down to just over $54 million and 12 cents per share, which was about half of what it was last year at this time. To add insult to injury, expectations were for $75 million. Of course, some would say those dismal figures are partly the result of the company’s $85 million restructuring charge. But I guess that’s the kind of money you have to spend when you are trying to keep a multi-billion dollar company like Under Armour from hemorrhaging more money. And true to CEO fashion, Under Armour’s own Kevin Plank made sure to blame, among other factors, businesses that went bankrupt since those other businesses, like sporting good stores, sold Under Armour merchandise. The bad news seemed to be contagious as shares of both Nike and Adidas took a nasty dip as well.

Par-tay!!!!!

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Walmart wants to win the holidays. And it’s training hardcore for the finish. Sure, that means sales. And promos. And all the rest of the gimmicks and sales. But Walmart’s also throwing in some partying. I’m totes serious here.  Starting this Saturday, Walmart will hold 20,000 parties in its Super Centers with the first one being called, “Toys that Rock.” Not to be outdone by toys, the retailer will also have parties called “Gifts that Rock” and “Parties that Rock.” Are you sensing a theme here? Of course, no party is complete without a decent goody bag or giveaway, so for you, the shopper, that means a curated gift guide and catalog. See how nicely that works out for Walmart. And you, maybe. Sort of. Walmart is also adding lots more “holiday helpers” to help guide shoppers to cashiers, open more registers and grab things from all over the store…and beyond. And demos, We mustn’t forget the demos. Apparently, there will be 165,000 of them spread all through Walmart’s gazillion stores. Laugh all you want, but Wall Street’s digging Walmart’s latest initiatives and overall drive, sending shares of the company up today by almost 1%.

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Wanna Be a Billionaire? Then Move to China; Rainbows and Unicorns!: Twitter Might Finally Churn Out a Profit; Nike’s Game Plan Leaves No Room for the “Undifferentiated​”

Something tells me we’re doing it wrong…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There’s a new report out published by UBS and PwC, called the Billionaires Insights report that tracked 1,542 billionaires all over the world and their combined $6 trillion. And while some might quickly assume that the United States might hold the top spot for the billionaires club, they would be wrong. As it turns out, Asia has the most billionaires, topping out at 637, whereas the United States can only boast 563 billionaire residents. In fact, every two days a new billionaire is minted in Asia, with China having the most.  But, to be fair, the wealth of the U.S. billionaires is much higher, coming in at $2.8 trillion, compared to Asia’s $2 trillion. So six in one, half dozen of the other, I suppose. Except not for long. The report also mentioned that the wealth of Asia and its billionaires will far surpass the U.S. in four years. One of the biggest “problems” listed for these poor billionaires face is how they intend to pass on their wealth. Rich people problems. But somehow they manage, whether they choose to pass it on to their heirs or leave it to charitable organizations. Decisions decisions. Of course, the more people the billionaires leave behind, the more complicated things get. But such is life when one is saddled with so much friggin’ cash.

Fairytales do come true…

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There’s a lovely rumor going around that maybe, possibly Twitter just might crank out its first-ever profit. We just need to wait until next quarter to see if that’s actually going to happen. But it’s not outside the realm of possibility since the social media company did make a major push to cut expenses while engaging in deals with other companies that don’t have them relying so heavily on advertising. Wall Street, at least is super stoked, causing shares of Twitter to soar 16% to over $20 per share.  And that company definitely needs all the share-soaring it can get. Twitter’s revenue was $590 million, a 4% dip from last year at this time but still decent since expectations were for $587 million. The other big news on the Twitter front is that the company made a very big mistake and is apparently trying to make amends for it. It seems that somehow an error was made in how user base was calculated for the last few years. But the company did revise the previous estimates, that had those numbers coming in a bit smaller than what was previously reported. Twitter insists that the difference amounted to less than one percent and that’s the story they’re sticking to. Their monthly active users, by the way, are up to 330 million and that number is supposed to be accurate, just disappointing since analysts expected that number to be 330.4 million. Oh well, Can’t win ’em all.

You’re out!

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Nike’s annoyed at under-performing retailers and has put them on notice. Which is definitely one way to make enemies. But hey, Nike is all about competing and if a struggling retailer is unable to “just do it,” then they’re out. Because Nike has a plan – a big one – that’s got them trying to hit $50 billion in sales by 2020. Nike wants to just do it, naturally. However, Wall Street is not so sure it can. I have yet to decide who my money’s on at this point in time. Apparently, 40% of Nike’s wholesale business comes from “differentiated” retailers and they want to up that to 80%.  Those retailers have a way of presenting the merchandise that gets customers wanting to spend their money at those establishments. According to Nike brass, “undifferentiated mediocre retail” just won’t cut the mustard and can expect a nasty goodbye within five years. Ouch. Nordstrom and Foot Locker apparently have nothing to worry about. For now. There were some obvious omissions, though, including Macy’s and JC Penney. Just saying. Whatever Nike has in store for those “undifferentiated” retailers doesn’t seem to bother Wall Street. Investors sent the stock up 3.5% today.

Swooshed Out: Nike Losing Ground?; Starbucks Perks Up Hiring Goals; Is the End Near for Sears?

Just not doing it…

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Looks like consumers aren’t doing it for Nike as the athletic apparel company posted some pretty unimpressive numbers for its third quarter. To be clear, Nike didn’t lose money. It just didn’t make as much money as analysts wanted it to. For instance, even though Nike took in $8.43 billion in revenue, a 5% increase over last year, analysts were expecting $8.47 billion this time around. The collective disappointment on Wall Street sent shares down because investors are apparently wondering if the company behind the iconic swoosh can withstand some fierce competition from Under Armour and Adidas. But that wasn’t the only bad news sending shares down today. Nike also said that it expects future orders to be down 4%. Nike did score a profit of over $1.1 billion with 68 cents added to shares, a figure that easily beat analysts’ expectations of 53 cents per share. Last year at this time, Nike took in $950 million with 55 cents added per share, illustrating a very respectable increase. Unfortunately, the bit about the decline on future orders didn’t stop from putting a damper on the fiscal mood on Wall Street.

Well done…

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Starbucks is making headlines today after announcing that it not only hit its goal of hiring 10,000 army veterans and military spouses, but now plans to hire another 15,000. Starbucks had hoped it would achieve that milestone by 2018, but lo and behold, it hit its mark well ahead of schedule and the glowing news was announced during its annual shareholders meeting, much to the delight of…everyone. If you recall, back in February, CEO Howard Schultz – who is stepping down at the beginning of April – managed to annoy more than a few of his coffee drinkers when he announced plans to hire 10,000 refugees globally.  Apparently some folks thought those refugee hirings were in place of hiring veterans and thus began a social media campaign urging people to #BoycottStarbucks.  But alas, that was not exactly accurate and the coffee chain found itself explaining that it intended to hire employees from both groups. And that’s not all. The purveyor of premium coffee also plans on creating another 240,000 jobs worldwide by 2021. Because if you were worried that there weren’t enough Starbucks, the company is planning to open 3,400 new stores, just in the United States. So yeah, it’ll definitely need a few extra baristas.

Throwing in the towel?

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It might just be the end of an era as the 130 year old Sears announced in an SEC filing that “substantial doubts” exist with regard to its future. In other words, the department store is staring at the prospect of bankruptcy, and will end up bringing Kmart with it. What’s a little weird about that news though, is that the company’s fourth quarter results were actually better than expected, albeit, dismal. “Better than expected” here basically means that the retailer didn’t lose as much money in its fourth quarter as it was expected to, at least compared to last year’s fourth quarter. The fact remains, however, that according to eMarketer, of the top 250 retailers, Sears is dead last in terms of performance, as it just can’t compete with the offerings of online retailers. In fact, Sears ate over $5 billion in losses just in the last three years and has already been closing plenty of stores, selling off some of its brands and taken other measures just to stay afloat. Besides that, Sears is having too much trouble with its pension plan obligations which has been also eating up a lot of its cash – $4 billion just in the last twelve years. Add to that its more than $13 billion in liabilities and Sears’ future is looking positively grim.

Smackdown: Google, Facebook vs. Fake News; Controversy Over New Balance Seems Unbalanced; Ford Revs Up Tariff Debate with Trump

Just faking it…

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As the Trump controversies keep on pouring in, Google and Facebook have now decided to crusade against fake news, as widely shared, yet wholly fabricated stories about the candidates may (or may not) have adversely influenced the presidential election. Part of the problem began when Google realized that the top results for search phrases such as “final election results” and “who won the popular vote” were directing users to a fake news site. By Monday, Google started pulling AdSense from several sites that “misrepresent, misstate or conceal information” and were profiting off such bogus political news stories. As for Facebook, it plans to put the kibosh on ad money from fake sites, but it’s not entirely clear how it will achieve this objective and identify these sites. However, it seems to be a prudent move considering that, according to a Pew study, 44% of Americans get their news from the social network giant. No matter how you slice it, the internet and social media figured prominently last Tuesday and now everyone’s looking to find out what went wrong – or right.

Unbalanced…

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Privately-held company New Balance has inadvertently, and presumably unwillingly, become the unofficial “official shoes of white people.” Unlike its much more enormous rival, Nike, the 110 year old Boston-based New Balance has always been committed to manufacturing its products in the U.S. across 14 factories where it employs over 1,400 people of various races, ethnicities, genders, religions etc. Hence, the company never cared much for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement that gives companies – like Nike – a very humongous edge because they can manufacture a greater quantity of goods abroad, for a lot lot less money than doing it here. The TPP basically jeopardizes companies who choose to domestically produce goods by making for a very un-level playing field. Because Trump is a huge fan of domestic manufacturing and job creation, his election was welcome news for New Balance. And when New Balance said as much, social media either skewered the company and called for boycotts and mass destruction of the sneakers or had white supremacists proclaiming it as their footwear of choice.  Incidentally, New Balance supported the trade policies of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders too.  A fact that both Trump haters and white supremacists seemed to have overlooked.

Have you manufactured a Ford lately?

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After congratulating Donald Trump on his election last week, Ford Motors CEO Mark Fields shared some thoughts about Trump’s proposed 35% tariffs on imports – he thinks they’re a bad idea. After reporting a 12% decline in car sales for October earlier this month, Fields said in a speech given at the L.A. Auto show, that those tariffs will have a very big bad impact on the U.S economy and trusts (or hopes) that Trump will do what’s in the best interests of the United States. However, Trump, early on in his campaign spoke about how he didn’t appreciate the fact that Fields moved Ford’s small car production to Mexico, where wages are a whopping 80% less than what they are in the U.S. If you recall, Trump thinks NAFTA is “the single worst trade deal ever approved in this country” and he’s licking his chops to put the kibosh on it. Although, to counter that last tidbit, Fields did say that Ford added 25,000 jobs since 2011. In the meantime, experts have said that Trump’s tariffs, which are on this side of punitive, in fact, violate the rules of the World Trade Organization. So it’s anybody’s guess how far those tariffs will actually go.

UnderArmour Gets a Chink; McDonald’s Deserves a Break Today; Rate a Minute! No Hike in Sight

Fit to be bit…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Under Armour seems to have suffered a chink in its earnings as its profits took a particularly brutal 57% dive. The primary culprit is Sports Authority, a company that is thisclose to becoming retail history, but was also one of Under Armour’s biggest retailers carrying tons of its merchandise. Hence, Under Armour took what’s called an impairment charge, and impairing it was, to the tune of $23 million. Last year at this time, the Maryland-based company hauled in an impressive $14.8 million profit. This year, however, that profit was a very disappointing $6.3 million. On the bright side, Under Armour is headed to Kohl’s 1,100 department stores next year. Apparently, it’s a way to connect with female consumers. Who knew. Under Armour brass think this new foray into Kohl’s will make women’s sales hit the $1 billion mark. Besides, since Nike, Under Armour’s biggest competitor, also happens to have a strong – very strong – presence in Kohl’s,  Under Armour hopes its new endeavor will take a big chunk out of the competition’s sales. But if Under Armour’s numbers still fail to impress next quarter, it might have to do with the exorbitant real estate it just leased in New York City – the renowned FAO Schwarz toy store. The rent on that baby ought to set the company back. But the athletic apparel company is banking heavily that the location location location will more than compensate by bringing in some boffo sales.

Mac-attacks need not apply…

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The Golden Arches seemed to have lost their luster this quarter with worse than expected earnings and profit falling over 9% to $1.1 billion. But how could that be if you and everyone you know was there all the time dining on its delectable all-day breakfast selections? And herein lies the problem. Well, part of it anyway. You see, McDonald’s breakfast offerings skew cheaper than the rest of its menu items. Apparently consumers really like having the option to eat breakfast for lunch…and dinner. And they did. A lot. Instead of the pricier items. Incidentally, Dunkin Brands Group Inc, Starbucks Corp and Wendy’s, to name a few, also reported unsavory earnings and shares of McDonald’s took a nasty tumble, bringing along the rest of the industry with it. It seems McDonald’s menu prices also had a negative impact on earnings. The cost of food went down in grocery stores and because of it, more would-be diners chose to eat at home. The curious thing is that the cost of food also went for McDonald’s, which ought to mean that its selections should have been cheaper, or at any rate, stayed the same price. Except that they didn’t because McDonald’s had to increase menu prices to compensate for increased labor costs.

Fed-up…

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In case you were holding your breath to see if the Fed is going to raise rates, you can let it out now. It won’t. At least not before September. Or maybe even December. Apparently the money experts want hard-core evidence of a pick-up in inflation before the Fed decides to make any changes. The Fed wants to see a 2% inflation rate, which might seem like an incredibly minuscule number, yet it’s one that carries incredible weight.  Then there’s the not-so-slight issue of the relatively healthy U.S. economy in the face of the not-as-healthy global economy. Even as the markets here reached new highs, with a labor market that saw an impressive 287,000 jobs added in June, experts – me not being one, mind you –  expect maybe one rate hike this year. From the Brexit to China and other assorted EU drama coming down the pike, the Fed’s not too eager to put in for any hikes until the rest of world cooperates they way it ought to, fiscally speaking anyway. After tomorrow, the Fed’s got three more meetings this year to decide its next move, so sit tight. Or don’t.

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

Next. Big. Thing…

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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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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.

How to Own a Piece of Ferrari; Unemployment’s Groovy Historic Lows; Under Armour Wants to Score with Basketball

Bellisimo…

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Image courtesy of sattva/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’re among the millions who fantasize about owning an Italian automotive masterpiece, you might just get your chance. Sort of. Ferrari just filed the paperwork for an IPO to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Even though 90% of the luxury car company has been owned by FiatChrysler (FCA) since 1988, the company plans to spin off Ferrari into its very own company, in an effort to raise about $5 billion and cut some debt. No actual figures were given as to how many shares are going to be offered, however 10% will be up for grabs by the public, with another 10% going to the Ferrari family and the rest of the 80% to be given to FCA shareholders.  You might have to wait a bit for the big Wall Street debut as it isn’t expected to happen until later in the year or even 2016. The spin-off, while making the business domicile in the Netherlands, will still remain headquartered in its home country of Italy. The company, which is currently valued at about $11 billion, pulled in $3 billion for 2014 on 7,255 cars. Go ahead and do the math on that one. Ferrari takes great pride in employing a “low volume production strategy” meaning the company doesn’t make too many machines because it likes that there’s a certain exclusivity to the automobile. That pretty much explains why people typically drool when they see one on the streets. Just maybe not so much in the Middle East, Europe and Africa from where 50% of Ferrari’s sales come.

How low can you go?

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Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The economy has been giving us a lot of interesting numbers in the last few months but this one takes the fiscal cake. It turns out that the number of American filing first-time unemployment claims has hit a 42 year low. Indeed, the rate of first-time applicants hasn’t been this low 1973, falling 26,000 to 255,000, when bell-bottoms were trending, and the word “trending” was decades off from even being coined. FYI, economists didn’t see this one coming. I mean, sure they forecasted a dip, but this would constitute more of a drop…off a cliff.  To put things in perspective, at the height of our most recent fiscal crisis, 600,000 people a week were filing jobless claims each week. Unemployment is also hovering at a seven year low of 5.3% and the economy added 3 million jobs in the last twelve months. And while we had a bit of an ugly unemployment claim number last week, that was primarily because of some auto plant shutdowns and therefore not accurate data. Now, I hate to be a downer but, part of the reason why that unemployment number is so darn low has to do with the fact that plenty of unemployed Americans have thrown up their hands in defeat and given up their job search.

A-Game?

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Image courtesy of phanlop88/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fitness clothing brand Under Armour is looking to score on the basketball court and hoping to unseat Nike in the process.  Analysts are totally digging the idea too. They figure if Under Armour can gain some major traction in that arena, it’ll give them a real sense of how far the brand can go. It certainly helps that NBA superstar Stephen Curry wore Under Armour kicks en route to the championships and now graces the Under Armour campaign together with his sneaks – the Curry One. But the challenge is great, seeing as how Nike’s got about 90% of the basketball shoe market. As for the athletic apparel makers earnings, Under Armour’s revenue jumped 29% to $783.6 million. Interestingly enough, profits took a 16% to just under $15 million all because of its purchases of some fitness apps earlier in the year.