Trump’s Commerce Sec’y Gets Delisted; Valeant Unvaliant with Female Viagra; Rainbows and Unicorns: Oprah’s Effect on Weight Watchers

Oops, I did it again…

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Looks like things are getting awkward for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Jr. Turns out Trump’s buddy has some Russian connections that might just put him in a bit of a pickle. It goes a little something like this: The Commerce Secretary has some investments in a shipping firm he used to run called Navigator Holdings. The problem here is that this particular shipping firm has ties to some people that are subject to U.S. sanctions. One of those ties is none other than Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law.  Mr. Ross knew that he was supposed to unload all kinds of holdings that could potentially be a conflict of interest once he took office. And he did. Mostly. Just not really with this one. To be fair, Mr. Ross has a lot of partnerships and it’s those partnerships that retain a significant stake in Navigator Holdings. But still. It’s a problem, even if there’s nothing necessarily illegal about his ties to this shipping firm since he didn’t disclose those ties in the first place. This new development, along with tons of other juicy information, came courtesy of the leaked documents known as the “Paradise Papers” from the Bermuda-based law firm, Appleby. As for Mr. Ross, that’s not the only reason he’s been making headlines today. Apparently, on those very disclosure forms, where Mr. Ross neglected to mention his dubious Russian ties, he also neglected to mention that he isn’t a billionaire. Not to say that he’s a pauper. Far from it. However, his estimated assets are less than $700 million, not the $2 billion he said he’s worth. Even worse, for Ross’s ego anyway, is that he’s getting dropped from Forbes 400 wealthiest list, because let’s face it, $700 million just doesn’t cut it.

Typical…

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Valeant is the big kahuna making good waves on Wall Street with an earnings beat that sent the stock up 15% today.  Much of that had to do with a 6% increase across its divisions not to mention the boost it got from unloading some of its debt. The company picked up $3.69 per share on a $1.3 billion profit. But that wasn’t the only reason for the boost. Remember Addyi? It’s the drug that was dubbed the “female viagra”  and Valeant bought it from Sprout Pharmaceuticals around two years ago for about $1 billion. Problem is, the deal had been bleeding money since the beginning. Now, two years later, Valeant actually gave Sprout shareholders $25 million just to take the drug back and put it back in business. But that was only after Sprout sued Valeant because it felt the drugmaker wasn’t marketing the drug well. In all fairness to Valeant however, plenty of medical experts just weren’t that into the drug. Because, besides saying that the drug wasn’t that effective, they also felt that potential users wouldn’t be inclined to taking Addyi given that there was a risk of fainting. Yes, fainting. In fact, the fainting would occur following alcohol consumption while taking the drug. I’m pretty sure anyone could see why that would be a problem.

Weight a minute…

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Oprah Winfrey seems to have the Midas touch, at least with Weight Watchers, as the stock rallied today way over 20% to 54.43, its highest price in four years. Revenue numbers were also ridiculously impressive, coming in at almost $324 million, a 15% increase over last year’s revenue during this period. But back to Oprah. The media titan bought a hefty chunk of the company two years ago and will once again grace Weight Watchers ads. Besides the Oprah effect, the weight-loss company put some major thought into both its digital operations and marketing campaign, which apparently paid off given the fact that the company increased its subscribers by 18% to 3.4 million. Here’s the fun part: Analysts thought the company would do pretty good anyway, bringing in 51 cents per share. But Weight Watchers did better than pretty good, adding 67 cents per share on a $45 million profit. That, by the way, was a $10 million increase from last year at this time. Which kind of has me starting to think about all the companies that good use Oprah on their boards. Twitter, maybe?  Oh, and did I mention that Weight Watchers also raised it full year earnings outlook? Indeed it did and now, instead of expecting to earn between $1.57 and $1.67, it now expects to make between $1.77 and $1.83.  And if that’s not impressive enough for you, consider that shares of Weight Watchers are up 360% just for 2017.

 

 

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…

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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…

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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…

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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.

Oprah’s Next Favorite Thing; The Force Does Not Awaken Hasbro’s “Girl” Toys; Amazon/New York Times Smackdown

Everything she touches turns to green…

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Media titan-ess and Forbes’ 211th richest American, Oprah Winfrey, just added to her portfolio by scooping up a 10% stake in Weight Watchers. At $6.79 a pop, Winfrey snagged 6.4 million shares for a $43.2 million purchase.”I believe in the program so much I decided to invest in the company and partner in its evolution.” Awww. Apparently, her own personal experience with the company’s program led her to some very desirable results and now investors are hoping to see if the “Oprah Effect” can help turn around the struggling diet company, which has been in a perpetual slump for the last few years. So far it seems to be working as the stock soared 92% on the news of Oprah Winfrey’s involvement with a seat on the board as well as becoming an adviser to the company. Maybe that surge will help offset the 92% loss the shares have suffered since 2011, when the stock hit its peak of $85.76. The company had been losing ground to the tech age as dieting has been steadily going digital. Now Weight Watchers has begun to shift its program to focus on living a healthier lifestyle as opposed to just dieting and is jumping on the digital bandwagon by offering tech services to attract new customers and keep existing ones, Oprah and all.

May the force be with your profits…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The force is apparently with Hasbro as the toy company’s earnings are up 15% mostly thanks to licensing deals with Jurassic World and Star Wars. The toymaker was able to strike down analysts forecasts with profits coming in at $207.6 million and a $1.64 per share when predictions were for $1.52 per share. Hasbro easily beat last year’s same-period digits of $180.5 million and $1.40 per share. But the dark force still looms large for the toymaker and not just from the $132 million that was affected because of the strong U.S. dollar. Shares from its girl division fell 28% for the fourth straight quarter. Is it even P.C. for Hasbro to have a boys and girls category? Just wondering.  But the young consumers, to whom these girl toys are presumably marketed, have been shifting their preferences towards gadgets and tablets instead of blond hair and magic ponies. Which is too bad since that female-focused category accounts for 50% of Hasbro’s total revenues and remained at a very flat $.147 billion.

Right back at ya!

Image courtesy of digital art/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digital art/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m guessing there will be no Amazon swag for the New York Times in the near (and distant) future. Still reeling from a scathing New York Times story from August, Amazon has finally fired back at the newspaper by calling into question its reporting capabilities.  Not that Amazon is the first entity to have to do this with the New York Times, but I digress. The story, published back in August, painted a very unattractive picture of the employee atmosphere at the e-commerce giant. Former White House Spokesman Jay Carney, who now serves as Amazon’s Senior Vice President for Global Corporate Affairs, strongly responded to the “newspaper of record” for blog Medium. Carney said it took two months to formulate its response to the New York Times because the tech giant was “hoping they might take action to correct the record. They haven’t, which is why we decided to write about it ourselves.” Among some of the pearls was the bit about former Amazon employee Bo Olsen who, when interviewed by the NYT, told reporters Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, that he saw many many employees crying at their desks.  Apparently he was making these observations while defrauding vendors and falsifying business records and subsequently resigned following an investigation. So much for the Pulitzer on that story.

Forbes-ulous 400; International (FREE) Coffee Day; Getting Fee’d On

Rank’d…

Image courtesy of biosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of biosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Forbes 33rd Annual Forbes 400 rankings of 2014 has at last descended upon us to rub our noses in it. The combined wealth of the lucky 400 who made the list totals a staggering $2.29 trillion (note the “t”). For his 21st straight year in a row, Bill Gates leads the pack with $81 billion in his bank account. Warren Buffet is nipping at his heels in the number two spot with only $67 billion. Facebook honcho Mark Zuckerberg fills in the #11 spot. As for the rookies, there’s WhatsApp’s Jan Koum rounding out the #62 spot and Uber Technologies very own Travis Kalanick who is comfortably perched at the #190 spot. At just thirty years old, Elizabeth Holmes is the youngest of the 47 women on the list at #110. She is the founder of a company called Theranos which apparently does something super complicated and impressive in blood testing. We’ll leave it at that. And in case you were wondering -and it’s okay of you weren’t – Oprah Winfrey comes in at the #190 spot. You can catch up on your billionaire rankings  at: http://www.forbes.com/forbes-400?

 Buzzzzzz…

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Image courtesy of amenic181/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today, September 29, marks International Coffee Day. And no I did not make that up. If you don’t believe me you can just walk in to your local Dunkin’ Donuts and pick up you FREE MEDIUM-sized cup of joe in honor of the momentous. Incidentally, Dunkin’ Donuts is eagerly touting its latest and greatest dark roast. If you’re feeling frisky, then whip out just a dollar and get yourself a mocha or latte. The idea behind International Coffee Day is to promote awareness for free-trade coffee and raise awareness about coffee growers around the world. Hey, works for me. McDonalds and Krispy Kreme, among others, are also offering some java gratis. But you might want to skip Starbucks today as it’s only offering samples – until 12:00. Whatever.

Fee’d…

Image courtesy of scottchan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of scottchan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just in case you weren’t paying attention, penalties for using ATM’s NOT associated with your bank have very rudely risen by 5% over this past year and more than 20% in the last five years. The average fee has stealthily climbed to $4.35 per transaction. There are actually two fees involved – one from your bank, punishing you for being so inconsiderate as to dare use another’s ATM. The other fee comes from the owner of the ATM from whose coffers you, once again, so inconsiderately, dared to withdraw funds. The average penalty for overdraft fees also increased to $32.75 per transaction. Following the 2008 financial crisis, banks had to follow a few new rules and regulations that put limits for what they could and could not penalize you. But, of course, they made up for it by making sure those penalties for which they could charge you went up. A lot. If these fees are really getting to you, check out credit unions, smaller local banks and online banks which tend to have less fees – and less (or no) strings attached.

Ballmer a Baller? The British Are Coming…To Make Bourbon! Costco Goes Hip But Still Misses a Couple of Cents

Clipped…

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Image courtesy of sippakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Steve Ballmer wants to become an official baller. Well sort of. The former Microsoft CEO just inked a deal to take over the LA Clippers to the tune of $2 billion. He outbid a few groups to earn the position of the team’s newest owner, wresting it from the hands of embattled owner/alleged racist Donald Sterling and his estranged wife, Shelly. It’s a record price paid for an NBA team which was originally purchased by Sterling back in 1981 for a little over $12.5 million. Oprah Winfrey and David Geffen were at one point also considering buying the Clippers but dropped out of the bidding. The league still needs to approve the sale. However, Sterling, who swears he’s not a racist despite the numerous racist comments he made during an audio recording, has plans to make the sale difficult.

Bourbon State….

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Ŷ Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The British are coming to Kentucky but I suspect the state will welcome this latest invasion. Diageo, the London-based liquor company whose brands include perennial favorites Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff and Ciroc has plans to build a 300 acre, 1.8 million proof gallon (yeah, I know you like the sound of that) distillery in Shelby County. The $115 million project will create thirty new jobs and lots and lots of bourbon. Fun fact: Bourbon is the fastest growing beverage in the spirits category. How very spirited! Kentucky is a very gracious home to the growing Bourbon industry. Naturally, local government officials will need to provide approval.  I’ll bet a bottle of bourbon that permission will be spiritedly granted.

A cooler, hipper Costco?

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Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Costco (COST), unfortunately, is not having as good a day as Kentucky. Or Steve Ballmer. Net income for the company was $473 million and revenue climbed over 7% to about $28 billion with a special thanks to higher sales and more membership fees. The warehouse wholesaler to the masses posted earnings of $1.07 per share but that just wasn’t enough for those fancy Wall Street analysts who were hoping for $1.09 per share. Those two cents really put a downer on things. The chain, which currently operates 655 warehouses worldwide, is trying to attract a younger demographic. It’s hoping a partnership with Google (GOOG) offering same day delivery and adding more hipper categories and products will achieve the desired effect. I just hope they crank out some more of their tiramisu cakes, which always seem to be in short supply at my local Costco.

 

Wall Street: Ugh! Rate Hikes, Reading Oprah Tea Leaves and Doggone Expensive

Not in our best interest?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Anxiously gnawing on its finely manicured fingernails, Wall Street not very patiently waited to see just how close newly appointed Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen would stick to the policies of her predecessor and mentor Ben Bernanke. Much to the chagrin of Wall Street, her remarks hinted at the possibility that she plans to raise interest rates sooner than expected. If you think you’re the only one who doesn’t appreciate this news, you’re not alone. Wall Street didn’t like the news either and let Ms. Yellen know it by taking a tumble. So there!

Ugh! Is there anything she can’t do?

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Image courtesy of Suat Eman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Reigning queen of media Oprah Winfrey has a new gig. She might not be the new barista at your local Starbucks but you sure can expect her presence behind the counter. At their annual shareholders meeting, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz sat with the iconic talk show host sipping tea as they unveiled Teavana Oprah Chai tea. Tea is a $90 billion market. For every Oprah Winfrey tea product, sold a donation will be made to the youth education charities. That can turn into a very large sum very quickly as tea is only second to water in terms of consumption. Winfrey said,”Starbucks is about nurturing the human spirit.” You can pay for that nurturing via the handy dandy Starbucks app (and tip your barista too).

You paid how much for that doggie in the window?!

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Look out Westminster Kennel Club, there’s a new mastiff in town, but not just any mastiff. A Tibetan Mastiff  just sold in China for close to $2 million. The breeder said the dog has lion’s blood. Whether or not that’s even remotely possible, the 200 pound long haired canine will now become the companion to an obviously very successful property developer. Tibetan mastiffs are considered a status symbol among China’s elite and are apparently compared to their “nationally treasured pandas.” Except, I’m guessing Tibetan mastiffs prefer steak to bamboo. Well for that price, I hope the dog is house-trained.