White House Tax Plan Causing Quite the Stir; Twitter’s Very Good Day/Quarter; Silicon Valley Start-Up Eats $1.6M for Discrimination

So taxing…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The White House whipped out its opening bid for what it’s calling the “biggest tax cut.” Well, in U.S. history anyway. So who’s supposedly getting a nice break? The middle class, for one, along with some businesses and, naturally, some wealthy individuals, among others.  While President Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin want corporations to pay a 15% tax rate, the plan also calls for a one-time tax payment on earnings that U.S. companies keep outside the U.S. Apparently this new tax cut is meant to be all about simplicity, giving a much-needed boost to the small-business sector while putting some cash back into pockets of the middle-class. Individual rates would change, with the top rate dropping from almost 40% to 35%, and instead of having seven brackets of rates, we’d have just three.  Those cuts sound great, in theory, however, questions remain as to who will be paying for these cuts and how will they be paying for them.

It did what?!

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’ll start with the bad news. Twitter’s year-over-year revenue declined for the first time  ever to $548 million. But miracle of miracle – hey, we are talking about Twitter, after all – the social media company beat analysts expectations on everything else. TWITTER BEAT EXPECTATIONS. While last year’s revenue at this time was a much higher $595 million, it still wasn’t anywhere near dismal expectations of $512 million for this quarter. User growth has been a fiscal thorn in Twitter’s side. But perhaps the social media tide is turning because Twitter added 9 million more monthly active users bringing its grand total to 328 million users. 9 MILLION users added. You know what anaylyst expected? 2.3 million. Twitter effectively blew those estimates out of the water. As for the other numbers, the company earned 11 cents per share when expectations were for one single solitary cent. In other words, Twitter beat those estimates by a dime. Twitter explained that its impressive earnings were due in part to increased political interest – which sounds about right, especially given President Trump’s highly entertaining tendency to tweet before he thinks. Also, Twitter’s efforts to simplify use on the platform and putting greater focus on stamping out abuse seem to have helped matters…and figures.  Naturally, shares enjoyed a much appreciated increase today, soaring way past $16 a share.

Pony up…

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Palantir Technologies may be valued at $20 billion, but it’s about to lose $1.6 million of it as part of a settlement with the U.S. Department Labor. Charges were brought against the data-analytics company that it discriminated against Asians. Besides the money the company has to cough up, which will go towards back pay and stock options to affected applicants, Palantir also has to hire eight people, who had previously applied to the company, for two different types of engineering roles. According to the government’s complaint, Asians were “routinely eliminated” on the basis of their resumes and telephone interviews. But apparently, Palantir should consider itself lucky that the case didn’t end up going to court. If it had and lost, the penalties would have been so much worse. That $1.6 million is chump change compared to what it might have been had the company been found guilty. And that would be in addition to being added to a list that bars certain companies from doing business in the government sector. Palantir has so far enjoyed hundreds of millions of dollars from such contracts. Of course, Palantir disagrees with the allegations, refuses to admit to any wrongdoing and claims that it only settled so that it could carry on business without further interruptions. Incidentally, Palantir’s co-founded is Peter Thiel, one of President’s Trump’s biggest Silicon Valley supporters and cheerleaders from the start.

Game Over for Gawker; Yelp-ing With Joy; Election Triggers Record Gun Sales

 

Over and done with…

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The invasion of privacy lawsuit that forced Gawker into bankruptcy has finally come to a close. Well, almost. All Gawker needs to do is write a check to Hulk Hogan for $31 million, which is actually small potatoes considering that the original judgement against Gawker was for $140 million. Hogan’s suit was helped by the fact that PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel secretly financed the suit. He’s no fan of Gawker founder Nick Denton ever since he outed Thiel back in 2007. Of Hogan’s lawsuit, Thiel said, “I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.” He makes a valid point. In any case, Gawker was forced to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy and the company’s assets were sold in a government auction to Univision for the bargain price of $135 million. But I guess that’s what you’d call payback.

Surprise!!!

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yelp had a nice surprise today in the form of a profit. And who doesn’t like a surprise like that?  However, with that profit came the news that the company would be saying goodbye to 175 employees – 4% of its workforce – since the company has been unsuccessful in its attempts to expand across the pond. Yelp, which reviews restaurants and other assorted businesses, makes its money through advertising, of course, and also through other services like online reservations. The company’s third quarter net income was $2.1 million, earning the site 22 cents per share, even though experts predicted a 3 cent per share loss. The company’s revenue rose by 30% to $186.2 million, again beating expectations of $183 million. That was a major change from Yelp’s year-over-year profit loss of $8.1 million and 11 cents per share. The company saw a 29% uptick in reviews which brought its total customers to 115 million users.

Oh shoot!

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Leave it to the presidential race to send gun sales soaring. Both Sturm-Ruger and Smith & Wesson have been reporting months of record gun sales. In the meantime, FBI background checks to purchase firearms rose 16% to 2.3 million this year from last year’s 2 million during the same period. And you can expect background checks to set a new record for 2016. How’s that for a correlation?  Anticipating new gun-control regulations, gun enthusiasts are stocking up as the second amendment figures prominently in this election. As a result, Sturm-Ruger not only experienced a sales surge back in the summer, but saw net sales in its third quarter jump 34% 10 $161.4 million as consumers loaded up on such favorites like concealed-carry pistols and AR-15 rifles.  Profits also went up for the company 66% to $20 million and $1.03 per share. Sturm-Ruger took all possible political outcomes into consideration both in the White House and the Senate.  While Hillary Clinton hopes to bring back the assault weapons ban, Donald Trump wants to tweak gun legislation and focus on healthcare for the mentally ill instead. The irony is that Sturm-Ruger sales went up following incidents involving gun violence that led to politicians demanding stricter gun-control laws. If gun enthusiasts feel that it will be more difficult to purchase guns in the future, they stock up now. During Sturm’s second quarter earnings call, the company implored its customers and “all freedom-loving Americans to take action in support of the Second Amendment.” Sturm-Ruger pledged $2 to the NRA for every gun it sold and offered to match all donations up to $5 million. Incidentally, despite record gun sales, shares of both Smith and Wesson and Sturm-Ruger had been down 11%. Look for Smith & Wesson’s earnings December 6.

 

Billionaire Gets Booed Over Trump Support; Pes -Oh No! Clinton Investigation Hurts Chances and Currency; Lumber Liquidators Low on Liquid

Are you sure about that?

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Tech billionaire Peter Thiel s taking a lot of heat for his support of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. People are enraged that Thiel, who happens to be a PayPal co-founder, had nothing better to do with his money than throw $1.25 million into Trump’s campaign coffers. In fact, there are some who would like to see Thiel ousted from his board positions at Facebook and Y Combinator. However, Mark Zuckerberg has already said he wouldn’t do that and while Y Combinator CEO Sam Altman can’t stomach Donald Trump, he also has no plans to boost Thiel despite his political leanings. “What Donald Trump represents isn’t crazy, and it’s not going away,” Thiel said during his speech at the National Press Club in Washington where he griped about all the problems that America continues to face. From not benefitting from free trade, to watching taxpayer money go down the toilet to fund overseas conflicts, to raging about America’s over-priced healthcare system, Thiel’s speech had all the makings for a Trump rally. Well, except for assaulting women and imposing bans on Muslims entering the U.S. At least Thiel does not agree with all of Trump’s statements and sentiments and he even finds Trump’s comments about grabbing women “clearly offensive and inappropriate.” And that is oddly reassuring.

Trump-ed Up Currency…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Speaking of the election…The peso, while maybe not the preferred currency for many, is actually a fairly reliable gauge of how the markets feel about our Presidential candidates. Today, the Mexican currency was down as the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails on Anthony Weiner’s computer continues to rear its ugly inconvenient head. The Peso favors Hillary and when she does well, it goes up. Following the debates, the peso experienced a nice boost, as it was not keen on Trump’s plans to build a wall along the Mexican border and renegotiate NAFTA with terms more favorable to the United States. Back in September, the peso hit a record low when Trump began making considerable gains in the election. But alas, it was news of this latest FBI investigations that sent the peso tumbling to its worst fall in seven weeks. On the bright side, if you can call it that, today the dollar rebounded signaling that the investigation isn’t affecting the U.S. currency. It also presumably means that the dollar would like to see Clinton installed in the White House.

No kidding…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Speaking of things that make you sick, we now shift our attentions to Lumber Liquidators and its ongoing saga over its formaldehyde-laced flooring.  Investors had hoped the stock would rebound right about now. But those hopes were dashed when the company reported its third quarter earnings with the stock taking a 14% hit. The company posted an $18.4 million net loss, losing 68 cents per share, which was way over the expected 21 cents per share loss. The worst part of that figure was that the loss was larger than expected as legal fees continue to plague the company and no timeline has been established for when the company will finally settle its litany of lawsuits.  Interestingly enough, sales were actually up and hit $244 million, beating expectations of $232 million. Who would have thunk it? In the meantime, the company saw half its value go down the proverbial toilet since the scandal broke out in March, courtesy of “60 Minutes” and its relentless investigative journalism.  At least the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission ended their investigation back in June, issuing no recall. Shares closed at $15.51.

Sheryl Sandberg: Lean In Women of Corporate America!; Major Tech Company Needs Major Diversity Overhaul; It’s Claw and Order for Wells Fargo

Corporate America Blues…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sheryl Sandberg had some thoughts to share with world today in the Wall Street Journal. And when the founder of LeanIn.org and COO of Facebook has thoughts, it’s in everyone’s best interest to hear them loud and clear.  Sandberg wrote about the results of a 2016 study of Women in the Workplace, arguably the most comprehensive annual review of women in corporate America. With 132 companies and more than 4.6 million employees surveyed, the results might shock you, but will mostly disappoint. And here’s why: Women continue to face social pushback for daring to ask for what they deserve. Gasp! Apparently such actions are still viewed as “bossy” and “aggressive.” And that is so weird because men are not viewed that way at all for the same actions. Go figure. But then there’s also the fact that women are underrepresented at every single level and hold less than 30% of senior management roles. As if that’s not bad enough, women are also less likely to get promoted from entry level positions to managerial ones and lose ground the higher they climb up that golden corporate ladder.  The news only gets worse for women of color as they are the most under-repped group with the steepest drop-off as they get to middle and senior management. There is hope, though, as more women are asking and getting promotions and raises.  They are negotiating those items just as much as their male counterparts. Unfortunately, women are still less likely to get promoted.  Which is bananas since research has shown that gender diversity helps businesses get better results, revenue and profit.  Sandberg suggests companies set targets, openly discuss gender stereotypes and start helping businesses get better through gender diversity. Let’s hope 2017’s study shows some markedly different results.

Speaking of a lack of diversity…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When you count the FBI and U.S. Army as your clients, showering you with hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts, it’s best to foster a diverse workplace that shuns the slightest hint of discrimination. And so we have Palantir Technologies, a data mining company founded by Peter Thiel that is rumored to be valued at about $20 billion. The Labor Department is suing Palantir Technologies over discrminination practices against Asian applicants. If the name Palantir Technologies sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because the company’s resources helped track down Osama Bin Laden. Osama Bin Laden aside, the Labor Department believes the company routinely discriminated against Asian applicants for software engineering jobs. In one example, out of an applicant pool of 130 for an intern position, where 73% of the applicants were Asian, only four Asians were actually hired along with 17 non-Asians.  Palantir charges that the Department of Labor was using “flawed statistical analysis,” yet the Labor Department contends that there is just a one in a billion chance that that selection happened by chance. At least Palantir will be in good company as Facebook and Twitter were also sued for discrimination…by Asian-American women.

And then there’s Wells Fargo…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Board of Directors at Wells Fargo might just be clawing back some of the lofty compensation awarded to CEO John Stumpf and former head of community banking Carrie Tolstedt. That decision will be made on Thursday when Mr. Stumpf gets to testify before the House Financial Services Committee to talk about the two million credit and debit cards that were opened without authorization – under the department that Tolstedt ran. Tolstedt conveniently retired in July, by the way. The big question remains as to how much will be clawed back from Stumpf and Tolstedt.  Stumpf took home about $160 million while Tolstedt walked away with around $90 million. Not too shabby considering the massive fraud that happened under their watch.  And as I mentioned in an earlier post, no top level employees were fired or penalized, yet many many low level employees were given their walking papers. Which is weird because lower-level employees usually just follow the orders they’re given. After all, acting unilaterally in a major banking institution is typically frowned upon. Meanwhile, as Wells Fargo continues to stay mum on the subject, the Department of Labor is launching an investigation into the bank’s questionable workplace practices.

 

Marijuana Score With Venture Capital Firm; Global Economic Issues Make For Happier Borrowers; Is Yahoo CEO’s Head on the Chopping Block?

Gone to pot…

Image courtesy of Paul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Paul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It just keeps getting better and better for Marijuana. Privateer Holdings, a private equity firm whose focus happens to be on the cannabis industry, just got a major cash infusion from a venture capital firm. But this is not just any venture capital firm, either. The one and only Peter Thiel, billionaire, and partner at venture capital firm, Founders Fund, just handed Brendan Kennedy, CEO and co-founder of Privateer Holdings millions upon millions of dollars to be a part of the cannabis magic.  Privateer Holdings, if you recall (and it’s okay if you don’t) scored a huge 30 year licensing deal with the family of Bob Marley to manufacture Jamaican cannabis strains and hemp-infused products for the Marley Natural brand. It’s an epic move by Founders Fund, and an even better one for Privateer Holdings because it marks the first time a major institutional investor invests in the marijuana industry. Recognizing that this is a relatively new industry with countless untapped resources and opportunities, and marijuana legalization occurring in 23 states and counting, Founders Funds figures its a great strategic move. I suspect Founders Fund knows what they’re doing seeing as how it invested in a few other companies you might have heard about including Facebook, Airbnb and SpaceX.

 Mortgage sweet mortgage…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Not that it’s polite to rejoice at the expense of our overseas friends and their fiscal shortcomings  – a veritable global schadenfraude – but their fickle unreliable little Euro and falling oil prices are doing wonders for our mortgage rates over here. Indeed, mortgage rates are dropping because other parts of the world are experiencing economic issues, and those issues are making investors eager to cozy up to the relative warmth and fuzziness of US government bonds. When investors start cozying up to these bonds, mortgage rates keep falling and falling and…In any case, if you’re looking to take out a mortgage, this week you can get one at a rate of 3.73% on a 30 year fixed. That’s not only down from 3.87% the week before but it’s the lowest rate it’s been in over a year and a half. Looking for a 15 year instead? How does 3.05% sound. That figure is also down from last week’s 3.15%. Clearly a lot of potential homebuyer’s are getting the memo on these falling mortgage rates as loan applications were up by 11% last week.

Can’t you take a hint?

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Image courtesy of digital art/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In a not so subtle hint, Starboard Value Chief Jeff Smith told Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer in a letter that, “Should you instead choose to proceed down a different path … such actions would be a clear indication to us that significant leadership change is required at Yahoo.” The path to which Mr. Smith is referring is if Ms. Mayer decides to pick up CNN or another cable outlet instead of taking his suggestion of merging with AOL for the benefit of the “cost synergies” this merger would bring. By the way, Starboard owns 7.7 million shares of Yahoo. Also, by the way, Starboard owns shares of AOL, as well. Lastly, by the way, Starboard famously (notoriously?) chucked the board of Darden Restaurents, of Olive Garden fame, last year.