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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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.


​Big City Woos: It’s All About Amazon’s HQ2; Weinstein’s Ship Might Be Sinking But You Won’t Believe Who Might Come to its Rescue; Nords​trom’s Holding Out for a Santa Save

Pick me! Pick me!


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As a Thursday deadline looms, a heated race is on for cities across the United States (okay, and Canada too) as they toss away all their dignity in desperate attempts to woo Amazon and its latest project. The e-commerce giant announced about a month ago that it wants to set up a second headquarters, dubbed HQ2 and now there’s a mad dash from Atlanta to Grand Rapids and beyond to claim that glory, not to mention the $5 billion investment that comes with it. The fact that a project of this magnitude would also create around 50,000 jobs is the icing on this proverbial fiscal cake. Of course, Amazon’s got its own formula for picking the winning city and it’s got very little to do with Tucson delivering a 70 ft. saguaro cactus to Amazon’s Seattle door or Birmingham erecting giant replicas of Amazon boxes and strategically placing them around the city. For Amazon, it will probably boil down to which city will offer up the best tax incentives and breaks from local and state governments. In fact, the company has earned quite the reputation for being able to secure those tax breaks, whether through the promise of job creation or other financial packages that would have any major city’s mouth watering. Besides financial incentives for Amazon, any city that legitimately stands a snowball’s chance is also going to have to be in close proximity to a major airport,  possess the infrastructure to support the project, have easy access to mass transit and a population that boasts at least a million people to readily fill tens of thousands of jobs. That right there puts the kibosh on a bunch of contenders. But you know which cities analysts are expecting to see on the short list? Atlanta, Denver and Pittsburgh. As for Tucson and its aforementioned cactus, well you can visit the rejected botanical specimen at the Desert Museum.

It’s all a matter of perspective…or is it?


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The Weinstein Co. may be getting a much-needed cash-infusion to stay afloat in the wake of co-founder Harvey Weinstein’s ever-growing sexual harassment scandal. The cash-infusion could come from a private equity firm called Colony Capital, headed by an individual named Tom Barrack. If the name Tom Barrack rings a bell that’s because he served as chairman of President Trump’s Private Inaugural Committee and his name is being been bandied about as a pick for the White House Chief of Staff.  That’s right! Harvey Weinstein, an ardent Hillary Clinton supporter and staunch Democratic donor is probably getting a bailout from a Trump ally. But for Barrack, it’s all in a days work since he has a habit of picking up distressed companies in the entertainment realm, making all sorts of deals for the assets still in its clutches and making a mean mint in the process. Perhaps you can take comfort in the fact that there’s a good chance that this bailout will actually mean the Weinstein name disappears from the company, along with some of its honchos, because apparently, they knew about Harvey Weinstein’s sickening behavior for a long time. A sale could also mean that the Weinstein company, sans the name which is now synonymous with lechery, harassment, and abuse, could be restored to its former glory as a powerhouse of independent film and television production.

Let it snow let it snow let it snow…


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We may still have Halloween ahead of us but Nordstrom is already gearing up for Christmas. The retailer, which has seen its share of loss in the last few quarters – along with every other retailer in the U.S. – previously had plans for the founding namesake family to take the company private. There’s talk that the family, who controls a third of the shares, was trying to team up with private equity firm Leonard Green Partners to achieve this goal. However, now those plans are on hold to until after the holiday shopping season because rumor has it, the Nordstroms have been experiencing some issues borrowing cash at a respectable rate, whatever that means. Interestingly enough, while the company isn’t faring as well in terms of same-store sales, its e-commerce is alive, well and thriving quite nicely.  Still, Wall Street didn’t much care for the news and sent shares plummeting over 6%  Those shares, by the way, are over 30% lower than its 52-week high of $62.82.

Trump Tweet-Targets Nordstrom; Under Armour CEO Says It All Wrong; Wells Fargo Continues to Anger

Oh no you didn’t…


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Just one week after pulling Ivanka Trump’s fashion line from its stores, Nordstrom has managed to incur some serious Presidential social-media wrath, via Twitter of course. The Tweeter-In-Chief wrote that his daughter was “treated so unfairly” by the department store and “She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” Nordstrom argued that the merchandise’s performance wasn’t up to snuff, and that it regularly evaluates the thousands of brands that it carries to decide which ones get the boot and which ones don’t. And Ivanka’s line got it, though the chain had been carrying the line since 2009. Back in November, Nordstrom co-president Pete Nordstrom sent out a company memo explaining that the turmoil surrounding the election is putting the retailer in a “tight spot.” It risks offending Trump-haters for keeping the line, but also risks alienating shoppers who support him. Nordstrom tried to explain that it makes a “sincere effort not to make business decisions based on politics but on performance and results,” but found itself “in a very difficult position.”  That difficult position probably had to do with calls for boycotts of the merchandise, and even the store.  And it’s not like Nordstrom was the only one who took this sort of action. Neiman Marcus Group also stopped selling her jewelry online and in one of its stores in the northeast. Shares of Nordstrom had dropped a smudge 1% following Trump’s tweet. But they quickly bounced back. So maybe the effect of Trump’s fury only goes so far.

That’s gonna come back to haunt you…


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Speaking of which…Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank played nice with Trump so of course, it’s now going to cost him. Literally. During an interview on CNBC’s “Fast Money Halftime Report,” host Scott Wapner asked the athletic apparel chief executive about his involvement in Trump’s initiative to create manufacturing jobs in the United States. Some of the pearls that escaped Plank’s mouth included, “To have such a pro-business president is something that is a real asset for the country…People can really grab that opportunity.” [cue crickets chirping]. Naturally, Under Armour had to issue a statement to clarify Kevin Plank’s remarks – lest anyone think that he really meant what he said, which would lead to a boycott. Except that sort of already happened as “Boycott Under Armour” hashtag made its way into the Twitter-sphere in no time. In the meantime, UA insisted that it engages in “policy, not politics” and Plank’s statements had to do with job creation.  I shall spare you the details of official company statement – you’re welcome! – but rest assured it included all the usual themes about the beauty of unity, diversity, welcoming immigrants etc. The fact is, UA can’t afford any boycotts, whether Plank meant what he said or not. Its shares have been falling lately and in its most recent earnings report, the company missed expectations and forecasted slower growth for 2017.

And here’s one more reason to hate Wells Fargo…


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In case you weren’t incensed enough by Wells Fargo’s fraudulent account scandal, CEO Tim Sloan said that the bank is committed to helping the Dakota Pipeline project. While it would be nice to focus all rage on Wells Fargo, who loaned $120 million toward this project, the fact is the bank is just one of 17 that gave loans to help fund the $3.8 billion project. Obama had initially halted the project, but President Trump swiftly reversed that action and is looking forward to its completion. Come June, the pipeline is expected to ship half a million barrels of crude every day from North Dakota to Illinois. Unfortunately the 1,200 mile pipeline cuts through an Indian reservation with deep cultural significance, and it’s likely the pipeline will incur damage on the site. The pipeline also poses major environmental hazards where it crosses the Missouri River. The Standing Rock Sioux reservation is downstream from the crossing and the pipeline could end up polluting the Tribe’s drinking water. The Seattle Council is doing its part to combat Wells Fargo’s involvement by pulling about $3 billion in city funds.  Seattle has a contract with the bank that expires in 2018, and it most definitely will not be renewed. In the meantime, the council is on the hunt for a more “socially responsible bank.” Good luck with that one.

George Soros, Golden Boy; Home Run for Home Depot; Pandora’s Streaming Away From Profits

Just because George Soros is doing it…


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George Soros just put a whole lotta money in gold. Lucky for him. However, the non-George Soroses of the world are supposed to take note, because, after all, he is, “The Man Who Broke the Bank of England.” And also because, since his net worth according to Forbes is $25 billion, he knows a things or two. Or a billion. In any case, according to a very recent regulatory filing that folks like him have to file (it’s called a 13F, and you are welcome that I am sparing you the boring details), Mr. Soros has sold off about 37% of his stock holdings. He then whipped out $387 million to buy lots of gold, including picking up a hefty 19 million shares in Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold producer. It seems Mr. Soros is a more than a bit freaked out by the state of the global economy, and especially the slowdown in China. He feels the fiscal climate is reminiscent to him of 2007 – 2008 period just before the fiscal crash we are all still trying to forget. Not everyone agrees with Soros and his decision for his Soros Fund Management, but hey, he is the one who, back in 1992, bet against the British pound and made $1 billion off that bet – in a single day. I bet he’s real popular there. Anyway, it’s no secret that gold has always been a strong performer on Wall Street, as well as other places, mind you. The precious metal is up 21% for the year. But, just so ya’ know,  Soros still has plenty of other cash in plenty of other places. Like eBay and Apple. And Yahoo. And Gap…well, you see where I’m going with this. In fact, he’s got $80 million invested NOT in gold. In case you’re wondering what stocks he did ditch, some of those include Alibaba Group and Pfizer. Also, TripAdvisor and Expedia are out of his portfolio. Though, he did keep airline United Continental Holdings. Go figure.

Home improvement…


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As the warm weather brutalized plenty of retail outfits lately, (sorry, Macy’s, Nordstrom), Mother Nature knocked it out of the park for Home Depot. In turn, Home Depot warmed our hearts by boosting its sales and profit forecasts after regaling us with the news of its better-than-expected earnings, courtesy of Mother Nature. And as we all know, Wall Street loves nothing better than better-than-expected earnings. Except when investors feel that shares have hit their potential, for the moment anyway, which explains why shares of the home improvement chain were a wee bit down today. But no worries. A good housing market and fabulous weather added some $250 million in sales for Home Depot in the quarter, with February being the sweetest month, fiscally speaking. For the year, Home Depot is up about 20%, posting a profit of $1.8 billion a $1.44 per share. That was a 14% boost over last year, not to mention that it trumped analysts predictions of $1.36 per share. The company also saw $22.76 billion in sales, again stomping on predictions of $22.39 billion. The earnings also showed that consumers are actually spending their hard-earned cash, as opposed to hoarding it under mattresses (okay, banks too), unlike what was previously thought because of the generally poor performance in the retail sector. Spending money is good for the economy and now economists aren’t so worried anymore because they realize where all that hard-earned cash went. For the full year the retailer thinks it’ll pull down $6.27 per share for the year. And Spring has hardly sprung!

Closing the box…


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Pandora Media has had better years. Even better decades. Founded in 2000, the company had its IPO in 2011 and has about 80 million active users. While it was amongst the first crop of music streamers, the company’s stock is now down about 40% for the last twelve months, having never caught the same momentum as some of its competitors, including Apple and Spotify. Enter activist investor/Carl Icahn protégé Keith Meister, who feels that the time has come for Pandora to put itself on the market. Keith Meister’s Corvex Management has some very strong feelings about how much better – and profitable – Pandora can be and seeing as how he’s got 22.7 million shares, giving him an almost 10% stake in the company, he’s entitled to more than just his opinion on the matter. As the largest shareholder in the company, Meister wrote in a recent letter how he has “become increasingly concerned that the company may be pursuing a costly and uncertain business plan, without a thorough evaluation of all shareholder value-maximizing alternatives.” Basically, he’s wondering if the folks in charge, namely CEO and co-founder Tim Westergren, knows what they’re doing. Wall Street certainly seemed to be agreeing with Meister, as it sent the stock up today as much as 7% at one point.

Using Wallets to Fight Terrorism; Marriott Hotels Gains More Hospitality; Urban Outfitters Now Satisfies Pizza Cravings

Insult to injury…

Image courtesy of basketman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of basketman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Because terrorists are pure evil on so many levels, they’ve likely calculated that besides causing devastating loss of life, they can also harm an economy as well. And thus, as the holiday season is upon us, while the French are still in the midst of mourning the tragedy that befell its people just days ago, they are likely to endure yet more damage and fallout as businesses, both big and small, see less traffic and sales in the days ahead. In fact, hospitality chains and airlines have been seeing little activity in major markets and indexes, and several shops, cafes and markets remain closed. American performers Papa Roach and Marilyn Manson had to cancel shows this week and artist Prince canceled performances scheduled for December. As the sixth largest economy in the world, and the second in the eurozone, these losses could have a ripple effect on several other economies as well. However, economists and investors all tend to agree that the economic fallout will be minor and brief. Already today, European indexes either remained flat or rebounded from the dips they took before the markets opened. Unfortunately, tourism might not be as fortunate. Back in 2013, France saw almost 85 million tourists who brought in 42 billion euros in revenue with them. With almost 8% of France’s gross domestic product coming from the tourism industry, it might be the one area to suffer most, as major tourist destinations like the Eiffel Tower and Louvre lost two days of business and other places, like EuroDisney, still have their doors closed.  But as President George W. Bush urged American following the September 11, 2001 attacks “go out shopping more.” And if that’s one way to defeat those terrorist, then I’m happy to travel to Paris to do so.

Do not disturb…

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The “Deal of the Day” award goes to Marriott International, as in the hotel chain that has over 5,500 properties and 1.1.million rooms, which just scooped up its rival, Starwood, to the handsome sum of $12.2 billion. The deal, in which Marriott will pay approximately $72.08 per share, means it becomes the world’s biggest hotel chain, leaving the second largest chain, Hilton Worldwide and its 4,500 properties, in the dust. This deal also gives Marriott some nice new brands, including the push-posh St. Regis. And who doesn’t like a little pish-posh? According to research firm STR, 67% of available hotel rooms were filled in the first nine months of the year by occupants who shelled out an average of $120.35 a night. However, there are many watching, from investors to travelers alike, to see how this merger is going to affect the various partnerships on both sides. Marriott has partnerships with Chase and United Airlines, while Starwood has deals with American Express, Delta and Über. Wall Street seems to think this is the start of a new trend of hotel chain mergers, as companies like Airbnb, have been eating up a chunk of the industry. Sit tight and you might just see another deal coming ’round the Wall Street bend.


Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Because nothing says trendy like tomatoes and cheese, Urban Outfitters is getting into the pizza business. I’m serious. The company, whose apparel tends to attract millennials, is plunking down an undisclosed sum to buy the Vetri Family Group of restaurants, which includes the Pizzeria Vetri chain. You’re not the only one who finds this acquisition…strange. Investors think so too and sent the stock down 10%. But it’s not like Urban Outfitters has anything to lose. The retail sector has been hitting the fiscal skids with companies like Nordstrom and Macy’s reporting sales that are nothing short of disappointing. It’s also got many wondering if the brick and mortar model is passé. Urban Outfitters has 240 locations, in addition to the Anthropologie and Free People brands (and more than a couple of them already have food establishments in them). And while other retail companies are looking to amp up their e-commerce and tweak their brands in an attempt to improve those sales, Urban Outfitters is taking an entirely different approach by acquiring a business in an industry that is making tons of money at the moment. Marc Vetri of the Vetri Family Group likes the deal and calls it “a perfect match.” It means his company gets to focus more on the food it serves, while Urban Outfitters has to figure out how to help those restaurants expand. Now if only Urban Outfitters can figure out how to grow and expand its own business instead of losing money…