Apples to Apples: Warren Buffett Increases Stake in Tech Giant; Groupon’s Earnings Show Everyone Loves a Deal; Trump Wine Makes Trouble

Well, if Warren Buffett’s doing it…

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It’s all about Apple and airplanes these days for Warren Buffett. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, again increased its position in the iPhone maker to 57.4 million shares back in December. This means the company now boasts a hefty $7.74 billion stake in the Cupertino-based company. The Oracle of Omaha also decided to scoop up more shares in the airline industry’s four biggest carriers in the United States: American Airlines Group, Delta Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Continental Holdings. This little purchase set Berkshire Hathaway back by about $9.3 billion. What’s a bit weird about Warren Buffett’s new-found affection for Apple, is that he has never been much of a fan of tech stocks only because – or so he would like us to think – that they are apparently outside his realm of understanding. I’m pretty sure there’s very little in this world that’s outside his scope of knowledge. Just saying. The airline investment was also a little surprising given Warren Buffett’s hands-off stance on the industry for the last twenty years. Now, however, he apparently sees some potential in airlines that he hadn’t seen in years. In any case, the timing of Berkshire Hathaway’s Apple purchase couldn’t have been better because shares of Apple closed at an all-time high yesterday, as I noted here in this blog.  In fact, shares of all the companies in which Berkshire Hathaway invested have gone up. Because if Warren Buffett puts his fiscal stamp of approval on a company, investors take that as a sign – albeit a not very scientific one –  and they all tend to follow suit.  As for his ten year old Walmart stake, the news was not as good. Berkshire Hathaway dumped almost all of its shares  – close to a billion dollars worth – and analysts are now wondering just how bad of an omen is that.

Get your Groupon, yo!

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Groupon, it seems, is not only beloved to bargain hunters, but to Wall Street as well, as the company just released its fourth quarter earnings, easily beating estimates all-around. For a company that’s all about posting discounts, it took in revenues of $935 million, when analysts only expected $913 million. While the company earned close to $370 million in profit, analysts were left a bit bummed, since last year’s number was higher, at almost $372 million. However, Groupon did add 7 cents per share, more than triple the expected 2 cents. Plenty of its success from the quarter is apparently due to its acquisition of website LivingSocial, which Groupon scooped up back in October.  Groupon’s customers increased by two million, one million of whom came from LivingSocial, and its total amount of customers purchased 11% more goods and services during the same period last year. Interestingly enough, the amount of purchases this past quarter was a smidgen lower, coming in at $1.70 billion, when last year at this time it was more like $1.71 billion. But hey, what do you expect from bargain-hunters, after all?

Cheers…

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In today’s installment of “Who’s Next to Face a Boycott for Carrying Trump Merchandise?”and the #GrabYourWallet campaign, we turn our attention to Wegmans Food Markets.  The offending merchandise in question is wine, or rather products from the Trump Winery, of which Eric Trump, President Trump’s son, is the President. While a group aptly named “Stop Trump Wine,” is calling upon Virginians to boycott businesses that carry the beverages because “Eric Trump shares the views of his father,” the local chapter of the National Organization for Women got 300 of its members to come up with ways to get Wegmans to put the kibosh on the products. But my question is, if the wine is really good, will the boycott be effective? Just wondering. Like all other retailers, Wegmans, with its 92 stores, explains that it only looks at how a product is performing. If the products in question are performing well, with people still buying them, and the boycotts aren’t necessarily having an effect, chances are, the wine stays put.

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Toxic Times at Lumber Liquidators; Warren Buffett’s Rose-Colored Portfolio; Argentina Gets Back in Some Good Graces

End in sight?

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Not that this comes as any great shock but Lumber Liquidators took another hit on Wall Street today, this time posting a bigger drop than expected for its third straight quarter. Instead of sales falling an expected 12%, the embattled company ate a much harsher 17% loss. It’s almost hard to believe that it was just last year when the company pulled in a $17.3 million profit with shares gaining 64 cents. But that was just days before the scathing “60 Minutes” report that found that Lumber Liquidators’ wood flooring from China contained excessively high levels of cancer-causing formaldehyde. Today, the company reported that it lost $19.8 million and saw 73 cents shaved off of its shares. The company took in a net loss of $56.4 million, a major 180 from the $63.4 million it reported in 2014. Shares fell 10% today and hit a 7 year low as the company decided not to issue a financial forecast for 2016 – a prudent decision since the company’s not sure if they will be left with any customers. Then there are all those legal and regulatory issues still plaguing the company, the $29 million in legal expenses and a $13.2 million settlement stemming from an entirely unrelated investigation. But at least Lumber Liquidators finally named a new COO, former Lowes exec Dennis Knowles. If he can turn the company around he just might be eligible for a Nobel prize. That’s a big “if.” Lumber Liquidators currently has over 370 stores in the U.S. and Canada and on Sunday, in what seemed like an incredible act of desperation, took out full page ads in Sunday newspapers across the country attempting to reassure customers that its other products are of the highest quality and made using the highest safety standards. Just stay away from their flooring products made in China which are three times as likely to give you cancer.

Everything’s coming up roses…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Warren Buffett addressed his ever faithful shareholders over the weekend and shared with them his thoughts and wisdom gleaned from a storied and insanely successful lifetime in finance. The 85 year old Oracle of Omaha stressed the importance of optimism – an outlook, he feels, our current group of candidates lack since they “can’t stop speaking about our country’s problems (which, of course, only they can solve).” He took some time to share his thoughts on the role of a good effective leader which he feels involves the ability “to define reality and give hope.” Apparently he thinks Hillary Clinton is capable of doing this since that is the candidate he is rumored to be backing. Mr. Buffett’s optimism extends to the U.S. economy – its long-term prospects, anyway – which he feels is only going to get better, especially for the babies being born today whom he calls, “the luckiest crop in history.” And why shouldn’t the world’s third richest man express his optimism? His company, Berskshire Hathaway, was up 21% and took in a record full-year profit of $24.08 billion. Incidentally, Warren Buffett was also rather optimistic about IBM, even though the company has lost a whopping $2.6 billion since the major investment he plunked into it. Go figure. What Mr. Buffett wasn’t optimistic about is the climate change which he calls a major problem for the planet. I guess you would have to agree with him on that. Especially since Leonardo DiCaprio had similar sentiments in his Oscar acceptance speech last night.

You debt-or believe it…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It seems like only yesterday when hedge fund billionaire  Paul Singer sued Argentina – yes, the country – for full repayment of the biggest sovereign default. Ever. Actually, it was closer to thirteen years ago but at least the two sides settled. Finally. Besides the enormous legal fees that both sides ate, Argentina was often unable to dock its naval ships or fly its Presidential planes in certain cities, lest they get seized by Singer and company. But now the settlement frees up Argentina  to hit up other countries and financial entities for more cash to borrow. Which is probably not the kind of thing you want to hear about a country whose commodities-based economy is on the skids. Oh well. As for the terms of the settlement, Argentina will be forking over $4.65 billion in cash – 75% of the principal – to Singer’s Elliott Management, besides the three other largest remaining creditors, including Aurelius Capital Management, Davidson Kempner and Bracebridge Capital. The agreement still needs approval from the Congress of Argentina which will hopefully check its drama at the door.

Google’d: Big Search Engine News; How Crude: Dow Gets a Pick-me Up From Oil and Omaha; Postally Spent

If you google alphabet…

Image courtesy of  blackzheep/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of blackzheep/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In case you missed it, there’s a new head honcho at Google. Okay, maybe not as head honcho-y as Sergey Brin and Larry Page, but Sundar Pichai just became the new CEO of Google and now holds the keys to that very magical kingdom. There is also a little bit of restructuring going on at the almighty tech company. Okay. A lot. You see, Google has now become a subsidiary of a new publicly traded company called Alphabet Inc. – which will soon be trading under that name. Brin and Page are at the top of that executive food chain and, no doubt, always will be. Pichai is no rookie, though. He’s been at Google for well over a decade and his last role was as head of Android. So he’ll probably settle into his new digs quite comfortably. Apparently, Wall Street likes the new arrangements too. Google’s stock surged 6% on the news.

Take a dow…

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A big shout out goes to Warren Buffet today, who together with rebounding oil prices, got the dow to shake off a fiscally ugly seven day slump. First, crude finally climbed 2% to a respectable $44.74 a barrel after falling below a very unflattering $44 a barrel on Friday. Then the Oracle of Omaha reminded the world why Berkshire Hathaway is, in fact, the happiest place on earth (sorry Mickey) when his company announced a $37 billion deal to buy Precision Castparts. The company was purchased at a 20% premium, but no doubt worth every…billion. Precision Castparts took in $10 billion in sales with a $1.5 billion profit in 2014.

Going postal…

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Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It used to be that postal workers were unstoppable in their pursuit of mail delivery. As the saying goes: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…” Noticeably absent from this list is Congress, which just might be the one thing that could put a crimp in those mail deliveries. You see, the United States Postal Service just announced its quarterly earnings. It lost $586 million. But, that was still a major improvement over last year at this time when the agency took a $1.5 billion hit. Ouch. April-June, however, typically sees lower revenues, so that figure wasn’t totally alarming. Part of the reason why USPS didn’t lose as much is because of how the interest rates that are tied into worker compensation expenses. Go interest rates! Now let’s get back to Congress. Strangely enough, even though the USPS doesn’t receive any tax dollars, the agency is still under congressional control. Under that congressional control we find the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. Say that five times fast. The “Act” stipulates that USPS must pay between $5.4 billion and $5.7 billion toward future retiree health benefit costs. Until 2016. Unfortunately for the USPS, there have been a lot of changes in the mail and package delivery industry and the agency is facing stiff competition, including from many start-ups. Congress has yet to acknowledge these shifting postal tides and draft new legislation that would tweak that multi-billion requirement to a more attainable fiscal goal. Until that happens…well, it’s Congress so don’t hold your breath.

McDonald’s Turnaround Plan Needs Salt; Warren Buffet Likes His Sugar; Chevy Volt Wants to Electrify

Would you like to supersize that?

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Image courtesy of pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook finally revealed to all who were maybe mildly interested about his big plan is to steer McDonald’s back towards fiscal awesomeness, all in the course of a 23 minute video. The world’s biggest burger chain wants to re-franchise 3,500 of its stores. Because franchising offers “stable and predictable cash flow” from collecting fees, it will supposedly save the company about $300 million a year.  And who doesn’t like saving $300 million. Then, Easterbrook wants to make the company’s corporate structure and bureaucracy less “cumbersome” by dividing the company up into four neat little parts. Well, maybe not little. But certainly neater.  The first part is all about U.S. stores. International markets like, Australia and the U.K make up part number two. The third part is labeled high growth markets  – think China and Russia. Then, all those other countries in the world make up the fourth group.  Of course, no master revival plan would be complete without incorporating a customer-focused approach and the ever-menacing prospect of…accountability. But hey whatever works. And something needs to after the company posted a 2.3% drop in sales and revenue that was way too short of its target. Despite detailing this new plan Mc Donald’s couldn’t get Wall Street excited enough to send shares up, even a little.

Enjoy a Coke with Warren Buffet…

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Image courtesy of tiverylucky/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In case you couldn’t make it to the the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting this weekend, also known as Woodstock for Capitalists, here are but a few of the pearls from that auspicious event. Wells Fargo, Coke, IBM and AmEx rock, at least according to the Oracle of Omaha. Mr. Buffet clearly knows a thing or two of what he speaks since his company has a market value of a staggering $350 billion. When he discussed Coca Cola and the $16 billion stake his company owns in it, the debate about the adverse health effects of sugar didn’t seem to concern him. He feels that people enjoy Coke and thus, it apparently makes them happy. Unlike Whole Foods, which he said, “I don’t see smiles on the faces of people at Whole Foods.” No doubt Whole Foods was not happy about that comment. He was also asked about his involvement with 3G Capital with whom he is now buying Kraft Foods. People have taken issue with 3G over its practice of buying companies and then laying off many of its employees. Mr. Buffet, however, said, “I don’t know of any company that has a policy that says we’re going to have a lot more people than they need.”  How charming. As for naming a successor, well, he didn’t.

Low-voltage…

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Even though gas prices are pretty low, making gas-guzzling SUV’s that much more appealing, that’s not stopping car companies, like GM, from parading out its latest eco-friendly models. The 2016 Chevy Volt model is making its debut and what is supposed to be so electrifying about it is that it’ll be around $1,500 less than the 2015 model. It’ll also get 30% more mileage from a single charge than the 2015 model. It’s a bit redesigned and there’s even a $7,500 federal income tax credit. But to be fair, it’s not a fully electric vehicle because if you find yourself coasting along  the highway – or any road, for that matter – and the battery juice runs out, the Volt becomes just another regular gas guzzler.  If that doesn’t bother you – and why should it – then consider that Chevy is offering 0% financing for 72 months for qualified buyers. Unqualified buyers should take the bus. California’s even offering a $1,500 rebate which pretty much means that GM doesn’t think there’s going to be a waiting list for this particular automobile. Because let’s face it, a Tesla it’s not.

Are You There Shareholders? It’s Me, Warren (2015); Forbes’ Magazine Names the A-Listers; Costco: AmEx Out, Visa and Citi In

Best Regards, Warren…

Image courtesy of  Boians Cho Joo Young/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Warren Buffet’s annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders arrived over the weekend, regaling us –  I meant them – with so many insights and wisdom about the economy and the ways of the investment Samurai. Among the many pearls, Mr. Buffet wanted to let folks know that “America’s best days lie ahead.” Things might have been a bit shaky the last few years, but darn be the naysayers  and things can and will only get better. Mr. Buffet also wished to remind people that “Market forecasters will fill your ear but will never fill your wallet.” Aw, Warren. There’s something very moving about the way the Oracle of Omaha advises people that all these financial experts surrounding us are good for nothing. He also offered some poetic words regarding his failed investment in British supermarket chain, Tesco: “In the world of business, bad news often surfaces serially: You see a cockroach in your kitchen; as the days go by, you meet his relatives.” The venture ultimately cost him a whopping $400 million and the Oracle attributes the loss, to among other things, not being decisive and fast enough about pulling out of the investment. Meanwhile, during an interview on CNBC, Warren Buffet said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) should be “less angry and demonizing” and should be more open to compromise. Ouch. I guess those two won’t be hanging out together anytime soon.

Speaking of Warren…

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Omaha’s most famous resident made it to the number 3 spot on Forbes’ list of billionaires. Microsoft’s Bill Gates claims the top spot – again –  with a net worth of $79.2 billion while Mexico’s Carlos Helu Slim comes in for second. There are 1,826 billionaires on the list who have a combined total net worth of $7.05 trillion. However, the average net worth of the billionaires is actually down by $60 million this year to $3.86 billion. I know, how sad.  Seventy-one of those billionaires are breaking onto the list of the very first time. Among those first-timers is basketball great Michael Jordan who makes his big billionaire list debut this year with a little help from having increased his ownership stake in the Charlotte Hornets. But his restaurants, deals with Nike, Gatorade, Hanes, etc…allow him to claim the 1,741st spot with a net worth of about $1 billion. Forty-six of the billionaires are under the age of 40 with Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel having the distinction of being the youngest billionaire on the list.

Well hello, pardner…

Image courtesy of stock images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stock images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Club goers rejoice! Costco has officially entered into agreements with Citigroup and Visa to become the wholesaler’s partner in credit. In the meantime, the retailer is bidding a not-so-fond farewell to American Express, who for the last 16 years had an exclusive deal with the chain. Citigroup will be putting out a Costco/Citi credit card with perks and generous rewards aplenty, in keeping with the Costco spirit, of course. Unfortunately, Costco shoppers must wait until April of 2016 to whip out the new plastic. However, debit cards know no bounds – or labels – and those will continue to be warmly accepted regardless of the issuer, at Costco’s 674 warehouses worldwide. And while AmEx is expecting to take some type of beating on Wall Street for the next two years, shares of Visa hit an all-time high today over this very exciting fiscal news.

Twitter Gets Schooled at MIT; Warren Buffet, Car Salesman?!; Hooray for Shorter Lines at the Unemployment Office

Twi-gifted…

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Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

MIT got a nice little gift from Twitter recently. Well, maybe little isn’t the right word for the $10 million dollars that the social media company is giving to one of the world’s most important academic institutions. The money is to be used for the advancement of…wait for it…social network research. The Laboratory for Social Machines, or LSM for those in the know, housed at MIT’s Media Lab, will seek to explore how people use social media networks and figure out new beneficial ways to use these tools. The researchers will have access and get to slog through every single archived tweet and real-time tweets too. Lucky them. The research should take about five years and will be headed by Twitter’s very own media scientist, Deb Roy, who also conveniently happens to be an associate professor at this extremely distinguished media lab. Roy hopes to, among other things, find ways to “…act on pressing societal problems.” How very useful.

Vroom vroom…

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Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Oracle of Omaha has welcomed yet another new company into the exclusive and pricey Berkshire Hathaway fold. This time, the lucky seller is the Van Tuyl Group. In case you were wondering, because I know you were, the Van Tuyl group just happens to be the largest privately-owned auto-dealership in all the land, with 78 locations and revenues in the $8 billion range. No word yet on how much Warren Buffet paid for his latest acquisition. Naturally, shares of Berkshire Hathaway went up on the news (seriously, do they ever go down?) of the purchase. By the way, if you’d care to purchase some Berkshire Hathaway stock, it’ll only set you back about $206,000 – per share.

Stake your claim…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

And in keeping with the spirit of yesterday’s exciting and gripping news from ADP about all that job growth, the Labor Department came out with its latest report that the number of people filing for unemployment benefits dropped by 8,000. Which is just what I (and by “I,” I do mean those very intelligent economic experts) suspected would happen. Oh, wait a minute…our very intelligent experts actually predicted that the number of applicants for jobless claims would rise. Whoops. Whatever. The number of claims being filed haven’t been this low since June of 2006, way before that odious Great Recession began to wreak havoc on our fiscal sensibilities. By the way, expect President Obama to take some (maybe more) credit for those promising numbers (whether you agree with that assessment, or not).

GM Gets Buffet-ed, Great Earnings Are Beautiful and Missed Earnings = Score for Killer Whales

Warren Buffet auto know…

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There’s no denying GM had nothing short of a disastrous year. Not quite as disastrous as it was for the victims of their faulty ignition switches, of course. But as far as Wall Street was concerned their earnings were a fiscal nightmare (and deservedly so for not being on its safety “A” game). But despite GM’s lousy earnings and even lousier – make that non-existent profits – Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) holding company picked up 3 million shares of the embattled auto maker, according to an SEC regulatory filing. Laugh all you want but they don’t call him the Oracle of Omaha for nothing. The stock is at what you would call a “discount” and Warren Buffet loves himself a good discount. The man knows a thing or two about investing, seeing as how his company’s stock just hit  $200,00 a share. He also happens to think GM CEO Mary Barra is friggin’ awesome. Just don’t expect a quick turn-around as Mr. Buffet is known for holding onto stocks for the long-term. And in this case, that term might just be longer than usual.

Make-up retail wake-up….

Image courtesy of keakguru/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of keakguru/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Apparently the quest for beauty is well…priceless. Estée Lauder Companies Inc. released really good and very attractive earnings, especially considering lots of other retailers posted less than glamorous earnings and the US Department of Commerce reported that July retail sales were virtually flat, effectively spooking plenty on Wall Street. Estée Lauder Companies Inc. also owns MAC, Clinique and La Mer (famous as much for the cost of its products as it is for the products themselves). The $28 billion make-up company pulled in $2.73 billion in revenues. Wall Street clearly underestimated the love for make-up and had pegged estimates at $2.66 billion. As for net income – it more than doubled coming up to $257.7 million. The company’s guidance also expects some nice growth hopefully adding a little height to a very unsightly, flattened retail graph.

A whale of tale…

Image courtesy of bandrat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of bandrat/FreeDigitalsPhotos.net

Nothing like some bad earnings to get killer whales some new and much bigger digs. Following its really bad earnings the other day, with shares of SeaWorld falling 35%, the amusement park company is pledging $10 million for killer whale research and ocean health. Its CEO is also hoping that doubling the size of its Orca tanks will attract more people to its park and boost revenue. SeaWorld attributed some of its losses to the unflattering film “Blackfish” which SeaWorld called a “propaganda film. Two California lawmakers are hoping get a ban on killer whale performances. Of course PETA entered the fray telling whoever that a “bigger prison is still a prison.”