SeaWorld Earnings Tank; Unstoppable Facebook; Expedia’s Vacation Plans

Nothing to Sea here folks…

Image courtesy of bandrat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of bandrat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Once again, the life aquatic seems to be taking a hit. SeaWorld is still having a hard time trying to convince the world, and PETA, that its Killer Whales are much happier at the theme parks than in the wild where they’d have to fend for themselves. “Blackfish,” a scathing documentary released in 2013, continues to paint SeaWorld as the bad guy and even though there’s technically no such thing as bad publicity, this situation might prove to be the exception. The company’s third quarter earnings were short of estimates with profit – yes, it still made one – of $98 million adding $1.14 per share. While forecasts were for $1.18, the $1.14 added per share was still better than last year’s take of $87 million in profit with $1 added per share. Revenue also disappointed since it increased by just .2%, coming in at $470 million, when analysts predictions were for over $508 million. Brass at SeaWorld blamed the weather and legal fees for those digits. Can’t mother nature catch a break? Attendance took a .4% hit, dropping to 8.37 million people. Former Dollywood CEO Joel Manby has taken over the reins at SeaWorld and its 11 theme parks. That should be fun to watch. Despite the dismal earnings, SeaWorld San Diego is looking to expand its Killer Whales tank. Except, they have to promise not to breed them there. But SeaWorld has no intention of making any such promises. So stay tuned…

Facebank’d…

Image courtesy of  basketman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of basketman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just when you thought Facebook couldn’t get any bigger, and I don’t know why you even thought that, the social networking company gave us some new and even more improved digits. For instance, Facebook’s new market cap is valued at $308 billion. More than Intel and Cisco, companies that produce actual tangible products.  From there Facebook continues its fiscal celebration by sharing that it sold $1 billion more in ads than it did a year ago. I did write billion. Facebook’s total ad revenue was up 45% and, mind you, 78% of Facebook’s ad revenue comes from mobile. Its revenue is also up 41% to $4.5 billion and is trading around $109 per share. By George, that’s three times more than its IPO price. The company also added 31 cent per share on $896 million in net income, just $90 million and one cent more than it did last year at this time. Of course, then there’s Facebook’s 1.545 billion total monthly active users. Just to clarify, Facebook gets over one billion visitors every single day.  Facebook is still blocked in China, yet it remains the company’s biggest advertising market. The ever industrious Mark Zuckerberg and his team of 12,000 are finding ways to get around the mainland. After all, the baby-faced CEO is determined to Facebook his way into one of the worlds biggest countries and is on a mission to bring the web to every single person on the planet. That could prove to be an impossible feat with out China in the mix.

Do not disturb…

Image courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Expedia went shopping today and picked up vacation home rental website HomeAway for the bargain price of $3.9 billion. Actually, I’m not sure how much of a bargain that was since Expedia is paying $38.31 per share, a 20% premium over Wednesday’s closing price. But no matter as this deal might just solidify Expedia’s status as an online travel superstar. Kind of like what Amazon is to e-commerce. Some, however, are a wee bit concerned that there might just be some antitrust issues involved since Expedia has been on a bit of a shopping spree having picked up Orbitz Worldwide – which also owns Cheaptickets.com –  for $1.38 billion, and Travelocity for $280 million. And while HomeAway boasts over one million vacation home rental listings in almost 200 countries, it’s not necessarily competition to Airbnb since Airbnb lists homes as opposed to vacation rentals. In any case, the alternative accommodation space industry is estimated to be worth about $100 billion so it’s probably safe to say that there is room for a little competition.

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Raise Praise for Walmart ; Pinterest Tries to Double Up; Priceline’s Beamed Up Earnings

You raise me up…

Image courtesy of nongpimmy/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of             nongpimmy/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s a good day to be a Walmart employee. No, seriously. It is. The gargantuan retailer just announced it’ll be raising the salaries of some 500,000 of its hardworking employees raising to about $1.75 more than the Federal minimum wage. Full-time employees will go from an average of $12.85 an hour to about $13 per hour. Part-timers will see their paychecks go up to $10 per hour from the average $9.50 they make now. The pay-raise fun begins in April and CEO Doug McMillon says it’s all part of a master plan to improve customer service, employee morale, etc. Those are all nice and pleasant things, of course, but no doubt Walmart is really hoping it will also lead to higher sales and profit. Walmart figures higher pay will help attract and retain employees that know the value of good customer service. And if it improves its somewhat tarnished reputation for its lousy pay practices in the process then why not?  So how bad could their pay practices have been that the company is implementing this change? Well, a majority of its employees’ salaries were so low that, all together, they were eligible to receive millions – I repeat, millions – of dollars in public benefits.  This initiative will cost Walmart about $1 billion, but hey, you’re worth it.

 In the land of unicorns…

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The next social media darling that may be headed off to the wonderful, not-so-mystical land of Silicon Valley “unicorns” is Pinterest. By “unicorns,” I am referring to billion dollar startups, a term thoughtfully coined by Cowboy Ventures founder Aileen Lee. But apparently these “unicorns” are turning out to be a bit more ubiquitous than previously thought as Pinterest is but among a larger group of “unicorns” and “decacorns” and “super-unicorns”…but I digress. Founded by CEO Ben Silbermann, Pinterest graciously allows users to “pin” images of all kinds of stuff that appeals to them on their boards, thereby bringing light and joy to the world. And now Pinterest is said to be adding a “buy” button. That ought to bring even more light and joy. Adding e-commerce into the social media start-up picture tends to prove lucrative on so many levels. Pinterest is rumored to be raising funds to the tune of $500 million. Any takers? This new round of funding would put the company in the $11 billion valuation stratosphere, nearly doubling its $5 billion valuation it had back in May.

But what does this mean for Captain Kirk?

Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Priceline, the company shilled by the inimitable William Shatner, beat Wall Street estimates for its fourth quarter earnings taking in almost $452 million with adjusted earnings at $10.85 per share. Well beam me up on those numbers, Scottie, because analysts only expected Priceline to score $10.05 per share. Those impressive digits were helped by growth from hotel and car rental reservations. Revenues were $1.84 billion and, once again, those analysts predicted the online travel booking service would only rake in $1.8 billion. Naturally, shares of Priceline took a joyous upswing in the news and clearly sending the message to Wall Street that the Orbitz-Expedia deal didn’t seem to have any adverse affects on the company. Well, not yet, anyway. If you’re in the market for some shares of Priceline, it’ll only set you back about $1,200.00…per share.

Expedia Challenges Priceline With its Latest Acquisition; Retail Sector: Where Have All the Shoppers Gone? Costco Breaks Up With Amex

Book it…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Priceline look out! And you too, William Shatner. Expedia just announced its lofty plans to buy Orbitz Worldwide Inc.for $1.34 billion, which squares out to about $12 a share at a 25% premium. The folks at Expedia feel it’ll help them give Priceline Group Inc. a real run for its money – and reservations, I suppose. Orbitz already picked up Travelocity a while back for $280 million and now the online travel booking service also gets CheapTickets, and ebookers as part of this latest deal. As you may recall (and it’s perfectly fine if you don’t), Priceline itself made a few purchases itself last year when it scooped up a stake in ctrip.com International and OpenTable Inc. Apparently, mergers and acquisitions in the online booking arena are all the rage right now but let’s just see how it pans out fiscally for the consumers booking all those services.

Show me the money…

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Will the retail sector get it right already? January proved to be a colossal fiscal bummer as the Commerce Department announced that sales in the retail sector fell, yet again, to 0.8%. Economists forecasted it would only drop 0.4% and it’s the second straight month to drop after December’s dismal 0.9% plunge. So what gives? After all, gas prices are low, employment numbers are rockin’ and even wages are coming up…a smidge. Apparently, Americans have been more inclined to actually pay down some of their debt and even save up some cash for a rainy day. The nerve of those fiscally responsible Americans, I tell you. But economists, the same ones who predicted those retail numbers would only fall to 0.4% instead of the 0.8% it did fall, are predicting that those numbers should come right back up to a more respectable level, if we give it some…space. Let’s just hope they’re right this time.

While we’re on the topic of retail…

Image courtesy of photoraidz/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photoraidz/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Costco shoppers rejoice. Next year when you go shopping at the wholesale warehouse you needn’t bother whipping out your Amex card anymore. The world’s second largest retailer and the charge card company just couldn’t work things out and thus an exclusive relationship between Costco and American Express is coming to an end March 31, 2016. The exclusive agreement allowed for Costco to pay a much smaller rate than other companies but alas, all good things must come to an end. The rate was so low , in fact, that it explains why the deal even lasted as long as it did. And thus, a sixteen year relationship has thrown in its fiscal towel. Sniff sniff. In Canada, a similar deal also came to an unfortunate demise last year. Oh Canada!  On Wall Street shares of American Express, took a bit of a hit while Costco shares actually went up. Perhaps next year, as you find yourself stocking up on a year’s supply of toilet paper and deodorant, you might just get to use your Visa or Mastercard, two cards that have so long yearned to be a part of the Costco magic.

United Sues Resourceful Computer Whiz; Twitter Is Making A Follower Out of You; California’s Bagged Out

Hide and seek the city…

Image courtesy of anankkml/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of anankkml/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

United Airlines and Orbitz are suing a 22 year old computer whiz for doing something that isn’t necessarily illegal. The very resourceful and industrious Aktarer Zaman found a nifty little way to score some reasonably priced seats on airlines and runs a website called Skiplagged.com. Dubbed the “hidden city” strategy, you simply purchase a ticket that happens to have a layover in your destination city and then just skip the last leg of the flight. But you need to make sure it’s a one-way ticket and don’t check bags, since the bags will most definitely end up in the final destination even if you have no intention of ever going there. While others call the idea genius, United Airlines and Orbitz have, no doubt, other choice words for Zaman and are seeking $75,000 in lost revenue. (Even though airlines are reporting record profits, but I digress). Zaman, however, alleges he hasn’t made any profit from the website and argues that all he did was expose an “inefficiency.” United and Orbitz call it unfair competition and “strictly prohibited travel” (boohoo), even though the airlines are well aware of “hidden cities” which have been around for many years now.

I’m a leader, not a follower!

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Twitter started a new experiment by selling ad space on your timeline. But Will Shatner doesn’t like it. Not one single bit. All the hoopla began when the Star Trek legend noticed a MasterCard ad appearing on his “following” list.  This peeved the actor and Priceline sheller quite a bit, especially because he wasn’t following MasterCard’s account. Shatner then tweeted, “Why am I following MasterCard when I didn’t add them? I do not appreciate this.” Here here, Captain Kirk. Mr. Shatner, and presumably others, don’t like that it might be assumed that they are promoting and endorsing brands just because Twitter put those brands on their “following” lists. Shatner, it appears is not the only celebrity who seems to have brands appearing in their following lists.  Non-celebrities have this issue too, but who cares about them. While Twitter has been engaging in this practice since 2013, there is no word yet on how the micro-blogging website will proceed with Mr. Shatner’s complaints. And those of regular people, as well.

I’m bagging you to please stop…

Image courtesy of winnond/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of winnond/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like Californians weren’t digging the plastic bag ban, after all. Opponents of the plastic bag ban collected a whopping 800,000 plus signatures to force a referendum on the issue, an especially impressive feat since only 504,000 signatures were actually needed. The American Progressive Bag Alliance (I swear I could not make that up if I tried) which is made up of several business groups and plastic bag manufacturers said that Senate Bill 270, aka the plastic bag ban, has less to do with helping the environment than it does with money. The APBA said “SB270” was basically a “back room deal” since stores make money by getting consumers to purchase reusable bags from them. Californians Against Waste are hearing none of that, arguing that the culprit-y bags not only pollute the environment but then have the nerve not to bio-degrade on top of it. The group also says that plastic bag manufacturers profit by selling $200 million worth of bags so it’s in their best interest to keep those bags around. In any case, once the signatures are validated, the fate of the bags, reusable and otherwise, will rest in the hands of California voters.