Viacom Pulls Merger Plug; Trump’s Next Tweet Tackle Goes After Lockheed Martin; JetSmarter Channels Uber for Air Travel


On second thought…

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Today father-daughter Redstone team, Shari and Sumner, announced that they are no longer interested in a merger with sister company CBS. It was Shari Redstone who said as much in a letter from the family’s privately-held company National Amusements Inc.  She gets to do that sort of thing since, after all, she controls the voting shares of both Viacom and her dad, which altogether adds up to 80% of the voting stock. Wall Street wasn’t too happy about Viacom finding its own way sans CBS and not only sent the stock down 7%, it also took Viacom to a 52 week low. The two companies were actually merged once upon a time, but back in 2006 went into splitsville. Initially, the merger was meant to give Viacom a much needed boost. But the father-daughter duo decided to put the kibosh on the merger because they apparently developed renewed confidence in Viacom’s prospects under the leadership of its new CEO Bob Bakish. At least that’s how team Redstone spun it. However, rumor has it that it was because CBS chief Les Moonves wasn’t on board for a number of reasons. For one, Viacom was looking to get a premium on its shares and CBS wasn’t willing to pay for it. Also, Moonves wanted control of both companies along with increased equity and the Redstones weren’t too keen on giving him all that. Other sources say that Moonves wasn’t even interested in trying to fix Viacom. Had the merger gone through it would have resulted in a massive media giant.

F-35 you!

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

President-elect Donald Trump’s latest Tweet target is Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program. Naturally, his Tweet dumping on Lockheed Martin sent the stock south along with several other defense contractors. Trump said that come January 20th, he plans to save billions of dollars on the aircraft that he described as being “not very good” according to his very expert opinion. Lockheed Martin said that it already spent millions to reduce costs on the 5th generation fighter aircraft by more than 60% and  I am pretty sure there is a joke somewhere in there.  But it’s not just Trump who thinks the program’s costs are bananas. A voice of reason who we know as John McCain, and who also serves as the Senate Armed Services Chairman is critical of the program. He wrote a letter to the Pentagon challenging the $1 billion cost overrun for the program. But Lockheed Martin said that it creates 146,000 jobs in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, besides the fact that analysts also feel the aircraft is necessary since Russia and China have highly advanced competitive fighter aircraft. We wouldn’t want to let them have the upper hand as far as our defense goes, now would we? There are six other countries who also use the jets and 3,000 planes are supposed to be built for the U.S. and other countries. The estimated cost of the program is about $400 billion and has the dubious distinction of being described as the most expensive weapons system in history. The fact that other countries participate in the program is supposed to help spread out the costs a little more. However, it’s not clear exactly how much their participation has helped the U.S.

Coffee, tea or Jay-Z?

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JetSmarter, a company that is basically Uber for flying privately can now count Jay-Z and the Saudi Royal family among its investors. The company has so far raised $157 million with $105 million raised just in its latest round.  JetSmarter founder and CEO Sergey Petrossov discovered a very lucrative opportunity when he realized that 35% of private planes have no passengers. With 50 routes in 30 cities around the world, JetSmarter wants to take its latest cash-infusion to expand into Asia, South America and Africa.  Plenty of other similar start-ups have failed so how come JetSMarter hasn’t? Apparently because seat prices on Jet Smarter change based on predictions about the popularity of certain routes and flight times. JetSmarter allows its members to buy empty plane seats from private jet companies and sell them through its app.  The company boasts 6,700 members and currently, a membership will set you back about $15,000 for the first year and $11,500 per year after that. But hey, that gets you an average of 12-15 flights per year. However, if you decide to create a charter flight or want to take a member created flight, that costs extra. And while the company does not own any of its own planes, it does have about 32,000 aircraft in its network with a $1.6 billion valuation.

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Trump Tweets Out Boeing’s Air Force One; Lego’s Brick-By-Brick Expansion Plans; SeaWorld Sees Layoffs

Boeing going gone…

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President-elect Donald Trump was on Twitter. Again. This time he was telling Boeing to cancel the order for the new Air Force One that’s in the works.  In his usual eloquent manner he said that the cost to build the plane “is totally out of control.”  And just what exactly does “out of control” look like when you’re building a fleet of aircraft for the Commander-In-Chief? Well, it depends on who you ask but Trump has that figure pegged at $4 billion, though it’s not entirely clear where he got it. Another report has the Air Force budgeting the new planes at about $1.6 billion. However, it’s expected that the fleet of planes will cost $102 million this fiscal year, and another $3 billion over the next five years. So maybe Trump’s got his ducks in a row on this one. His tweets went on to say: “I think Boeing is doing a little bit of a number. We want Boeing to make a lot of money, but not that much money.” He probably would prefer if Boeing weren’t making that money off taxpayers’ backs. The Pentagon wants to replace the current fleet as it will have reached its 30 year service life in 2017. It has been around since 1990, has flown over one million miles and, in all fairness, could use  more than few upgrades – whether Trump’s on board or not. Which he won’t be because the aircraft is not scheduled to be ready for another ten years or so. Naturally, shares of Boeing fell on the news of Trump’s sentiments. In the meantime, 56% of Americans think Donald Trump uses Twitter way too much. Perhaps the time has come for his cabinet members and advisers to take away his phone.

Lego to stand on…

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Lego CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp is stepping down from his position and that’s actually good news. Knudstorp is leaving his post in order to move on to greener pastures as Chairman of  the Lego Brand Group. The toy company is on a mission to restructure itself to keep up with its growth momentum. By creating the Lego Brand Group, the company plans to explore new business ventures, opportunities and ideas that will help expand the brand in new, exciting and highly profitable ways. For the first half of the year the company posted an unwelcome surprise drop in profit of $499 million though its revenue still went up. The company blamed Americans, or rather, the fact that sales in the United States were flat. But, that’s probably the same thing. In any case, as part of his new gig, Knudstorp will be overseeing the family’s 75% stake in the company which is currently run by fourth generation Lego owner Thomas Kirk Kristiansen. Chief Operations Officer Bali Padda will take over for Knudstorp, officially becoming the first non-Dane to hold the post. The privately held company is headquartered in Denmark and employs over 18,000 people. Knudstorp, who said he plans to stay at Lego for the rest of his career, joined the company back in 2001, when the company was losing about $1 million a day. Lego just couldn’t compete with an exponentially-increasing digital toy industry. But it turns out it didn’t need to when it made Knudstorp CEO in 2004. Under his leadership, he made changes, booted people, brought in new folks and saw Lego’s revenue jump fivefold. Last year the company fiscally surpassed both Mattel and Hasbro, even with all their Barbie/ My Little Pony/Hot Wheels/electronic toys, to become the number one toy company in the world. No small feat considering that unlike Mattel and Hasbro, Lego pretty much makes just one product with assorted variations: a plastic brick.

Under water?

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With shrinking attendance, decreasing revenue and dwindling profits, SeaWorld announced plans to say a not so warm goodbye to 320 of its employees, both salaried and hourly. It was only back in 2014 that SeaWorld said goodbye to another unlucky 300 employees. The  soon-to-be-former employees will be receiving “enhanced severance benefits” which is fancy talk for some cash and maybe health insurance to tide them over for a little while. SeaWorld has even offered to help them find work elsewhere. How moving. The entertainment company is on a mission to restructure itself in any way possible to keep it from losing any more money than it already has. Of course, cost-cutting always factors in, along with examining how best to improve and streamline the rest of the business. Back in March SeaWorld made the decision to stop breeding Orca whales and also scrapped the shows in which the whales starred. SeaWorld is also blaming Disney and Universal for their disappointing digits, unable to woo away visitors from their PETA-friendlier attractions. Also, there seemed to be a drop in Brazilian visitors, presumably because they remained in Brazil for the Olympics, one might suspect, which apparently affected SeaWorld’s earnings.  Who knew SeaWorld relies on a Brazilian contingent to patronize its parks to help churn out a buck or two?