Schadenfraud Anyone? Forbes Unveils its Latest Top 400; Can’t Stop Netflix; Venmo’s the New Way to Go. At Least According to Paypal

That’s a whole lotta money…

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Forbes has unveiled its latest list. This time it’s the top 400 richest Americans for 2017 and there are very few surprises in store. Bill Gates and his $89 billion net worth takes the top spot, followed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and everyone’s favorite Omaha Oracle, Warren Buffett.  Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg sits pretty in fourth place. The first time we finally see a woman on the list is at spot number 13 and it’s occupied by Alice Walton of the illustrious Walmart clan. There are 22 newbies on the list and some of them are even self-made billionaires, including Netflix CEO Reed Hastings who comes in at number 359. He had a good year and his company had a great quarter. But we’ll get to that one in a bit. Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick comes in at number 115, despite being out of his CEO job, while beloved Star Wars creator George Lucas gets spot 118. As for President Trump, he did make the list, coming in at a less than impressive (for him) ranking of 248.  He shares the spot with 15 other people including Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel. Their fortunes are valued at $3.1 billion, a figure the President will probably dispute. It’s a steep drop for the President, whose 2016 ranking had him at the 156th spot. But I guess that’s what happens when your portfolio loses $600 million. I wonder who he’s going to blame for that one?

Wall Street ❤️ Netflix…

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The best way to bring Wall Street to its finicky knees is to crush its expectations. And Netflix did just that. First, the video streaming company laughed in the face of analysts’ projections for subscriber growth. For Netflix that was a 5.3 million increase, far from the modest forecast of 4.5 million new subscribers. A large percentage of those new subscribers came from outside the U.S. Netflix now boasts 109 million subscribers and I’m guessing you must be one of them, right? As for the next quarter, the company expects to add 6.3 million subscribers. Revenue for the company was $2.99 billion, again beating projections of $2.97 billion.  However, at first glance, Netflix’s profit was not so impressive. But that’s only because the company is throwing down serious cash for producing its own shows. And if you’ve ever seen “Orange is the New Black” or “House of Cards” then you’d probably agree that it’s money well spent.  So what does this all mean for you, the Netflix connoisseur/viewer, who obsessively waits for new seasons of your beloved shows to be unleashed? Well, you can probably expect an increase in your subscription plans but hey, that’s the price you gotta pay if you want to keep watching new seasons of “Stranger Things,” right?

Going half-sies…

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If you haven’t signed up for Venmo yet, now might be a good time to start. The company just announced that users can now use the app to make mobile online purchases from over 2 million retailers including Forever 21 and Foot Locker.  But what’s so darn cute about Venmo is a feature that gives you the option to split a purchase with a friend. Or even an acquaintance, I suppose. Which is so great when you go out for lunch and can’t be bothered to do the math at the table or when you just want to pay the rent down the middle. And, you can even share status updates about the purchase. How nifty. Especially if you’re a millennial. Did I mention that Paypal is Venmo’s parent company? Well, it is. And pretty much anywhere you’re able to use PayPal, you can now use Venmo there as well. Just think of all the Lululemon merchandise you can purchase with all your besties.

 

 

 

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Chip Cards Get Moving; Netflix Growing Pains; Harley-Davidson Earnings Not Cruising

Feeling chipper…

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There are around 265 million Visa credit and debit chip cards floating around that have been providing some much needed security. Big merchants who upgraded their terminals for chip-enabled cards have noted an 18% decrease in fraudulent activity.  Five of the 25 biggest merchants who were not chip-enabled actually saw an 11% uptick in fraudulent activity. And while everyone is happy about the added security, both merchants and customers don’t care for the much longer transaction times. But now Visa finally finally made some improvements to its software with a “Quick Chip” upgrade. The new upgrade is expected to reduce wait times and shave off about 18 seconds from transactions times. Instead of dipping your card in the terminal and waiting a number of endless seconds until the terminal angrily beeps that you need to remove your card, you’ll dip it in and take it right out in two seconds. Wal-Mart also took cues from disgruntled customers and figured out a way to shave 11 seconds of their transaction times: by skipping the prompt that asks shoppers to confirm the transaction amount. Not sure how I feel about that one.  If you recall, merchants had to meet a deadline last October to upgrade their terminals. If fraudulent activity occurs, the merchant now has to pony up and banks are now OFF the hook.

Growing pains…

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Netflix is in 190 countries and can be accessed from just about everywhere. The company gleefully announced that it picked up 6.74 million new subscribers in its latest earnings report and its total subscriber-ship is hovering at 81.5 million paying viewers. The streaming video service has even managed to produce more original content than HBO  and figures that by the end of the year, it will have 600 hours of original programming under its belt. But that’s where the fun ends because today the stock fell 11%, experiencing its biggest same day drop in eight months, falling to $95.84. Investors are super-curious and worried about Netflix’s growth plans after giving the disappointing news about the amount of new subscribers it expects to gain…and lose. That’s right. Netflix expect some people to drop out and dare I say it…not lay their eyes on another episode of Orange is the New Black once subscription prices go up. Oh well. You win some, you lose some. The company is thinking it’ll add only about 2.5 million subscribers next quarter, and expects just 500,000 of them to be in the U.S. Then of course there’s all that competition from Hulu and Amazon. Because, after all, its not enough for Amazon to dominate e-commerce. More than eight brokerages decided that maybe now is a good time to announce that their target price for Netflix stock is going to get somewhat smaller, with the average price target coming in at $123. However, with all that bad news, Netflix still has big plans to surpass 100 million subscribers…by next year.

Not-so-easy rider…

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Harley-Davidson (HD) bikes might carry major street creed but its earnings tell a whole different story. The legendary motorcycle company just posted its earnings and well…they just weren’t as impressive as the product themselves. HD took in a $250.5 million profit, picking up $1.36 per share, but this time last year the company earned way more, topping out closer to $270 million and adding $1.27 per share. Analysts, by the way, only expected $1.29 per share to be added. That 7.2% year-over-year decrease had Wall Street scratching its head. At least revenue was up 4.8% to $1.75 billion from last year’s $1.67 billion. But while increased revenue is a good thing, HD’s .5% sales decrease in the United States is most definitely not. The company sold only 35,326 bikes in the United States and lost some market share to competitors, especially Polaris’ Indian Motorcycles. Apparently, Harleys have failed to attract younger consumers (read: milllenials). However, globally, Harley Davidson fared much better, selling 57,458 bikes, and expects to sell a total of between 269,000 and 274,000 bikes for the year – which is more than what was initially expected. Harley-Davidson graciously explained that “retail sales trends have significantly improved.” Which seems to be true, at least for Polaris, who has taken a big bite out of Harley-Davidson’s market share.

China’s Trading Halt Heard ‘Round the World; Planet Netflix; JC Penney’s for Dollars

Domino effect…

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Another day, another trading halt in China where shares once again plunged 7% – this time in just 29 minutes. The yuan dropped to its lowest level since March 2011 and it marked the second time this week that one of the world’s biggest economies took a hit like this. Naturally, this triggered global markets to reluctantly follow suit and even here in the U.S., the Dow, S&P and Nasdaq also saw drops. Not that I am trying to freak anybody out, but the last time the Dow had a bad start to the New Year was back in 2008. Investors, however, are most definitely not panicked about that little parallel and expect the situation to improve…over time.  Besides, market indexes aren’t anywhere near lowish territories so experts don’t expect China’s fiscal woes to be a major issue.. well here anyway.

Gone global…

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Apparently it’s Netflix’s world and we just live in it. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told a crowd at CES, “You are witnessing the birth of a global TV network,” as he announced that the streaming video service would now be expanding to 130 more countries. The service will be available in 21 different languages and be available in a total of 190 countries in this great big world. That way, a whole new massive international audience can get to experience the joy we call ,”Orange is the New Black.” Interestingly, Netflix will not be making customized services for particular countries. Rather, it will be just one single solitary internet-based television network – one that is expected to reel in millions upon millions of new subscribers.  That, my friends, is how you conquer the world, but more importantly, Wall Street, where yesterday, shares of Netflix went up 10% on the news (though today it closed down at 114.56). Unfortunately, folks in China still have to wait – maybe forever – for the service to reach its shores lest its citizens gain inspiration from entertainment that the Chinese government might deem objectionable, incendiary or just plain rude. Other countries that wont be catching up on past seasons of “House of Cards” any time soon include North Korea, Syria and Crimea.

Bah-humbug…

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Macy’s did not have a very merry Christmas as evidenced by its disappointing sales during the most important spending season of the year. Two factors seem to have contributed to these results: unseasonably warm weather kept shoppers from loading up on cold-weather gear; and a strong dollar that kept overseas tourists’ wallets at bay. And when a retailer posts less than impressive earnings during the most critical time of the year, it usually means a forecast trimming is in the works – which is exactly what Macy’s did. To add insult to fiscal injury, the retailer will be laying off close to 5,000 employees and closing 40 stores. Oddly enough, embattled retailer JC Penney saw a sales surge this holiday season of close to 4%. A big shout out for this fiscally pleasant surprise goes to amped up online efforts which helped lift shares by 2.4%. Now, if JC Penney can recoup that 8% decline that it took over that past year…well, wouldn’t that be grand.

 

Is Netflix Saying Ni-Hao to China; Ann Taylor is Dressing Up for a Merger; Dear Apple…Love, Carl

How do you say “Orange is the New Black” in Chinese?

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Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like Netflix might soon be needing “House of Cards” translated as its been rumored that the video-streaming company has been in talks with a few Chinese companies about bringing their premium entertainment to that part of the world. It’s estimated that the online video market in China is close to $6 billion so, it’s probably a good idea if Netflix gets started on that venture sooner rather than later. It should be duly noted that Netflix hasn’t been chatting with just any Chinese companies either. Heard of Wasu Media Holding Co.? If that name doesn’t ring a bell, then what about the name Jack Ma? The mastermind billionaire behind Alibaba, China’s biggest e-commerce site, also backs Wasu. But rumor has it Netflix was also talking with another giant Chinese media company, BesTV New Media Co. A few months ago, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos initially said that there were no plans for the company to enter into any “joint” ventures,  whether Chinese or not. But the thing is, if any company, even Netflix, wants to do business in China, then teaming up with a big important Chinese company is a must. Especially if that company wants to have a pleasant and sustainable relationship with the Chinese government. While no contracts or agreements have been signed with regard to Kevin Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, going east, Netflix’s stock still went up on just the talk.

Stylin’…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ann Inc. was looking particularly stylish as it was just scooped up by Ascena Retail group for a very fashion-forward  $2.15 billion. Ascena, which also owns Lane Bryant and tween chain Justice, among others, picked up its latest apparel chain for a very cool $47 per share, which happened to be more than a 21% premium over its closing price on Friday. Wall Street liked the new joint venture and sent Ann Taylor’s stock up over 20%. Ascena’s stock also went up a bit, but then came back down to little, if no, fanfare. Several companies have gone the merging route lately. They do this when their sales have been less than impressive for an extended period of time. Ann Taylor and Ascena were no exceptions to this trend but its now expected that this new adventure between the two retail giants will rake in a combined revenue of $7.4 billion.

Very Truly Yours….

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Image courtesy of Iamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Activist investor Carl Icahn poured his fiscally minded heart out in an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook. In the letter he did nothing short of gush about how Apple’s stock is “dramatically undervalued” and that he sees its price target at $240 per share. That figure is a whopping 55% more than its closing price in Friday. The stock is currently hovering at around $130 per share, mind you. And while Mr. Icahn is profoundly moved by Apple’s decision to repurchase stocks, alas, he wants the tech company to repurchase even more. Some of his love and devotion stems from the fact that Apple, besides being the largest company in the world by market cap, is delving into the fiscally vibrant worlds of television (2016) and automobiles (2020).

HSBC’s Bankers Were Not Being “Franc”; No Toying With Hasbro’s Earnings; Netflix Says ¡Hola! to Cuba

Oops! Did I do that?

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Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What do arms dealers and popstars have in common? They have bank accounts at HSBC. The British-based bank’s Swiss subsidiary now stands accused of the unthinkable: Helping some of its wealthy clients avoid paying taxes (cue audible gasp). So what’s HSBC’s excuse, because let’s face it, there’s always an excuse. HSBC blames it on the fact that even though the Swiss division was picked up by HSBC back in 1999, it hadn’t been fully integrated into the rest of the company and thus didn’t abide by the highest standards it could have. And by highest of standards I mean “significantly lower” standards. HSBC clients were able to walk out of the bank with “bricks” (their word) of cash – just like what you see criminals carrying in briefcases in the movies. Swiss bankers didn’t much care because those “bricks” were in foreign currency and not in francs . Also, bankers structured accounts in fiscally creative ways in order to help all these super-wealthy clients save tons of money by not paying all those irritating European taxes. See where I’m going with this? Talk about customer service.  And who must HSBC thank for all this embarrassing publicity? Enter Herve Falciani, a self-proclaimed whistle-blower and former HSBC IT employee, who graciously gathered all the juicy data and supplied it to officials, and of course, the media too – but that’s after he tried to first sell the information (a whole other blog entry). About 100,00 clients are on these lists with over $100 billion in assets swirling around. Names like Phil Collins, David Bowie, and Tina Turner turned up. John Malkovich’s name also made an appearance but he said he had no knowledge of the account and it may have been something done by Bernie Madoff who once handled some his assets.

Toy Score…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hasbro, the second largest toymaker, just posted its fourth quarter earnings much to the delight of well…everyone. The company topped analysts’ expectations with more than a little help from the forces of Nerf and Transformer toys. No joke. Sales of those products and other selections geared toward the junior male consumer increased 21% and there’s nothing Frozen about it. Strangely enough, sales of its girl-focused toys, including My Little Pony and Nerf Rebelle, didn’t fare as well. And by “well” I mean sales slid down 10%. But the company did score a profit that was up 31% to close to $170 million adding about $1.22 to each share. Sales were also up 1.3% to $1.3 billion (nifty how those numbers matched up). However, analysts expected revenue to be $1.33 billion and Hasbro was very quick to blame that strong dollar of ours against other foreign currencies. Stupid dollar! Just kidding.  And bonus: The Hasbro board is even upping its dividend to $0.46 per share, which shareholders get to cash in on May 15 – provided they have those shares on record by May 1.

Bienvenido….

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Image courtesy of Naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Nothing says diplomacy quite like Kevin Spacey.  Online video subscription service Netflix is seizing upon the easing of restrictions on Cuba to bring its premium entertainment to the shores of the Island Nation. Muy bien! Netflix has been in Latin America since 2011 and it already has 5 million subscribers there. While it’s still not clear just how involved the government will be in this new endeavor, with a little help from some broadband internet, international payment methods and a rate of $7.99 a month, “Orange Is the New Black” is set to make its way over to Cuba in no time – provided  subscribers are of the select 5% who have unfiltered access to the internet.

 

At Netflix Green is the New Black, Mucho Verde at Chipotle and Harleys Not Hogging the Market

I’ll subscribe to that…

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Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As if the popularity behind Orange is the New Black and House of Cards weren’t good enough, things at Netflix just keep getting better. The video streaming company surpassed the 50 million subscriber mark and released second quarter earnings with revenues hitting $1.34 billion. That figure was in fact an almost 37% increase over last year’s number.  So whose watching Netflix? Sure Americans are but the California-based comoany has pretty much doubled its international streaming. Net income for the company was $71 million, which is more than double the $29 million in net income it pulled in a year ago. Earnings per share came in at $1.15. In case you’re wondering just how much higher Netflix can go, just watch when it invades a bunch of European countries including Germany, France and Switzerland.

Ole Chipotle…

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Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Things are looking mucho grande at Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) as the food chain just released its mucho bueno earnings. As you may have heard, the company sets out to use higher quality ingredients than some other fast-food chains.  As you also may have heard, those ingredients tend to cost a bit more – and they keep going up. So like any other company would explicably do, it raised its prices in April to offset the price increase of those higher quality ingredients. But, because millennials – and regular people too (but especially millennials) –  appreciate all the thought and effort that goes into preparing that higher quality food, they still preferred to dine at Chipotle, which helped the company beat analysts predictions hard core. Revenue was up 29% to $1.1 billion and the stock hit an all time high. Their catering division (yes they do that too) also brought in some nice cash thanks to May and June and the numerous events that take place during that time. Be on the lookout for more Chipotles to open their doors as close to 200 of them are in the works.

Dude, where’s my hog?

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Image courtesy of sritangphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Harley-Davidson – a name that evokes adventure, American ruggedness, and earnings too. Indeed, the biggest US producer of arguably the most iconic vehicle on two wheels regularly churns out a profit – $354 million this year with net income up 30%. Unfortunately the company’s profit has been declining for a couple of years now. And even though revenue was up 12%, the company will be putting out 9,000 fewer hogs this year. Apparently (potential) riders are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new Street models and have been not so eager to buy other models. That and a particularly nasty winter – yes, even those rugged Harley riders were not immune from Mother Nature’s wrath – have got the legendary company rethinking its numbers. So get out there and get yourself on a hog!