Is Twitter Finally Getting Something Right? Ford’s Got a Truckin’ Big Problem; Wall Street’s Got Beef with Chipotle’s Labor

I’ll tweet to that…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rumor has it that Twitter is finally, actually, seriously going to do something about sexual harassment and other hideous actions and behaviors that take place on the micro-blogging platform. The new policy changes are aimed at bullies and other highly offensive, odious excuses for human beings. But just what kind of consequences can offenders expect and how quickly can they expect them? Glad you asked. Accounts owned by the offenders will get shut down. Immediately. And forever. Posters of non-consensual nudity, including, “upskirt imagery, creep shots and hidden camera content” are out too.  Posters of “hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies violence” can also expect some new rules that they will definitely not like.  What’s also new and necessary is that Twitter wants to figure out how bystanders get to report abuses. Just don’t expect these changes to happen overnight. In fact, it could be weeks before those policy changes take effect. Besides, Twitter’s still busy being investigated by Congress and testifying about Russia’s Twitter role in the 2016 presidential election. It seems that the 201 profile names Twitter provided to the Senate last week just weren’t enough to convince Senator Warner that Twitter was being sincere in its efforts to cooperate. But perhaps its karma for the way the micro-blogging site suspended actress Rose McGowan after bravely calling out the nefarious actions of the monster we call Harvey Weinstein.

Have you driven a Ford lately?

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There’s nothing like a recall to completely mess with your most profitable line of trucks. Ford Motor Co. is now taking a brutal hit over its very popular, number one selling F Series trucks. In fact, the aforementioned truck is the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. Apparently the doors on some 1.3 million F-150’s and Super-Duty trucks are posing a $267 million problem because if they are not fully latched they may not open or seem closed. To be fair, no accidents or injuries related to this particular issue have been reported. Yet, anyway.  The recall was inconveniently announced just weeks after Ford’s newly installed CEO unveiled a plan to cut $14 billion worth of costs. Ford plans to officially notify its customers next month but has not yet mentioned when the parts necessary to repair the trucks would be available. But Ford presumably anticipated this particular challenge since it already has some unwanted experience in this dreaded arena, with this latest fiasco bringing its recall total to 5 million vehicles.

No perks?

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As the saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Which brings us to Chipotle, the beleaguered fast-food chain who apparently pays its employees too much – no, that is not a typo – and because of it is suffering Wall Street’s fiscal wrath. Don’t shoot the messenger here. Analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch just downgraded the restaurant chain from neutral to underperform because the amount of money spent on labor needs to be cut. Back in 2006, Chipotle’s average weekly hours were 34.6 for part-time and full-time employees. That was its high point. But in 2016 that number dropped significantly to 21.7. The company already did a lot of scaling back and needs to do more. However, according to analysts, there doesn’t seem to be any decent way to achieve this and still come out on top – and in the green. Shares naturally dropped by about 2% today and are down 12% for the year.

 

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Japanese Airbag Maker Goes Bust; Pandora CEO Sings the Blues; ‘Pharma Bro’ Goes on Trial

Deflated…

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Japanese airbag maker, Takata Corp has filed for bankruptcy.  In the United States. Sure  companies file for bankruptcy almost everyday. But what makes this one unique is that Takata has the dubious distinction of issuing the largest auto-industry recall. Ever. With over 40 million vehicles in the U.S. possessing the potentially deadly airbags, some 125 million vehicles have been and will be recalled by 2019. It’s also the largest bankruptcy of a Japanese manufacturer, and one that finds itself staring down the wrong end of billions of dollars worth of losses over recalls that lasted the better part of a decade. From paying settlements to individuals who were harmed, to paying car makers, including Honda, BMW and Toyota – to name just a few – Takata’s fiscal trouble will take years to reverse. It seems that Takata’s faulty products were the cause for at least 16 deaths – that we know of. Fortunately a Chinese company had the good sense to swoop in and acquire Takata for a whopping $1.6 billion. Although, that is apparently a thorn in the side of the Japanese, since selling off to foreigners is something the country would rather like to avoid. Incidentally, the Chinese company that bought Takata is called Key Safety Systems and is based right here in the U.S. Go figure.

Cue the goodbye music…

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Looks like the music’s gone for Pandora CEO and Co-founder Tim Westergren. His departure may – or may not – have something to do with Sirius XM’x recent purchase of a $480 million, 16% stake in Pandora. But rumor has it that investors are bummed because they wanted Sirius to buy up the whole operation. If you recall, and it’s okay if you don’t, Howard Stern makes his radio home at Sirius. Not that this has anything to do with Westergren’s exit either. To add insult to injury, shares jumped a little on the news of Westergren’s impending departure, signaling that investors are stoked about his exit.  That itty bitty jump must have been especially welcome since Pandora’s stock has been down over 35% this year.  After all, Pandora is staring at some fierce competition from Spotify, Apple and JZ’s Tidal, to name just a few. As of yet, no replacement has been named so if you’re looking to throw your hat into the ring, now might be your chance.

What a pill…

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The time has come for everyone’s least favorite Pharma bro’ to head to court. And thus Monday begins with Martin Shkreli finding himself in a Brooklyn Fraud courthouse instead of a beach mansion in the Hamptons. But considering he raised the price of a life-saving drug by 5000%, he might very well go down as the least sympathetic defendant to ever sit in that courtroom. And just so ya’ know, being an a–hole isn’t crime and it’s not the reason why pharma-gazillionaire Shkreli is sitting in a courtroom on this fine summer day.  Rather ‘Pharma bro’ is on trial because prosecutors charged him with “widespread fraudulent conduct” and running a ponzi-like scheme that had him lying to investors while working at a hedge fund and his drug company.  Fun-fact: Shkreli was banned from Twitter back in January after harassing a female journalist who wrote an op-ed criticizing Donald Trump. Oh, the irony.

Branson’s Bexit Woes; IKEA is the Latest Company to Issue Recall; Airbnb Takes on San Francisco

Pound it out…

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Add Sir Richard Branson to the ever-growing list of Brexit haters. And he’s right to be hating on it. Besides the fact that global stocks took a $3 trillion hit on Friday and Monday,  Branson estimates that his own company, the Virgin Group, already lost a third of its value. Branson went on to say that, “We are heading towards a disaster. I don’t believe the public realized what a mess their vote would cost.” And considering he’s worth close to $5 billion, he probably knows a thing or two about the downsides of the Brexit. He’s convinced Britain is on the fast lane to recession territory and thinks a second vote is in order as 4 million people have already signed a petition urging a new referendum. Ironically, the billionaire has no voting rights in Britain since he doesn’t actually live there but rather in the British Virgin Islands. However, his company employs 50,000 people in the United Kingdom, most of whom do have voting rights, presumably. I hope none of them were foolish enough to vote in favor of the Brexit. I’d hate to be “that guy.” In any case, Branson feels that the British public was not adequately informed about the potentially disastrous consequences. He warned that thousands of jobs would be lost and even had to put the kibosh on one of his own deals that was in the works.

 

No words…

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There’s yet another recall in effect and this time it doesn’t even have to do with Volkswagen. Sadly, this recall comes courtesy of IKEA, which had to recall some 29 million dressers that caused the deaths of six children, all under the age of four.  Another 36 have been injured. The most recent tragedy occurred as recently as this past February. These dressers included six styles from the company’s MALM line, that cost between $70 and $200, and were manufactured between January 2002 and January 2016. The company will issue full refunds for the furniture in question but is also offering wall-anchoring repair kits and even free one-time installations upon request should consumers wish to keep their dressers. Just 30,000 repair kits have been issued which represents but 1% of the total amount of dressers that were sold and still require anchoring. Regulators had called the dressers unsafe. The recall affects about half of the dressers that IKEA sells in the US.

Home bitter home…

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It’s Airbnb v. the city of San Francisco, with the home-sharing site charging that the city is violating the “Communications Decency Act, a federal law that prevents the government from holding websites accountable for the content that is published by their users.” It all started when San Francisco lawmakers decided to impose tougher rules for Airbnb and friends, which stipulated that the site could only post listings from renters registered with the city. The problem is, according to Airbnb, home-sharers were often confused by the process, which continues to be mired in the usual mess we call bureaucracy, and takes months to complete – months that could be used earning additional incomes from their homes. San Francisco wants Airbnb to enforce its rules, that listers be removed from the site unless they are registered. If Airbnb does not comply, the company could face fines of up to $1000 per day and even jail time for some employees. Mind you, only 20% of listers who rent out their homes for less than thirty days are registered with the city. Lawmakers want Airbnb to do its dirty work for them and remove the remaining 80% of listers from the site. Airbnb operates in more than 200 countries and has a valuation of $25 billion, at least as of today.

GM’s Defect Debacle In Rearview Mirror; Overseas Deal Might Have Big Impact Here; Zen-tastic Quarter for Lululemon;

Emboldened or embattled?

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Score one for GM, the not-so-embattled-anymore auto company that just won a second lawsuit in a series of bellwether cases. In case you have been hanging out in another solar system for the last couple of years, tons of drivers are filing tons of lawsuits against GM because they got into accidents which they say can be blamed on GM’s faulty ignition switches. After a two week trial and a single day of deliberations, two Louisiana plaintiffs, who crashed their car back in 2014 during a freak ice storm, will not be awarded any damages despite their automobile’s defect. This win bodes well for GM and it’s a good thing because there are hundreds more waiting in the legal wings.This case is the second in a series of six cases that will be used to test strategies, with each side getting to choose three cases to argue. This case was GM’s selection and the next bellwether case is scheduled for May. GM already paid out a lofty $2 billion to resolve a slew of legal claims against it, in addition to recalling millions of vehicles. That includes a $900 million settlement to Uncle Sam so that the government would graciously agree to drop its criminal probe into GM. Another $575 million was paid out to settle close to 1,400 civil cases. Then GM set up a $95 million victims compensation fund. In the meantime, 15 people were fired over the defect debacle – that would have cost a buck to fix, by the way –   as GM CEO Mary Barra has been on a mission to change the company culture. Good luck with that one.

Deal or no deal…

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You might not be so familiar with a Taiwanese company called Foxconn but it’s more than likely you’re using its product. That is, if you happen to use a very popular mobile device known as an iPhone. Turns out Foxconn assembles those nifty little phones. But that’s not news. What is news is that the company is set to snap up Japanese company, Sharps Electronics for $3.5 billon. And if you can believe it, some analysts think it’s a bad move. And that’s even after Foxconn knocked a couple of billion off of their initial offer when it was discovered that Sharp has literally billions of dollars worth of problems. But, oh well. In any case, if and when the deal goes through, it will be the biggest acquisition by a foreign company in Japan. But that’s beside the point. Foxconn is unofficially hoping that this acquisition, however fiscally risky it may be, will help give it an edge, albeit a slight one, for its production contracts with Apple, especially considering that Apple uses Sharp screens. Foxconn is well aware that Apple has been giving out production contracts to other companies too, and competition like that can’t be all that good for Foxconn. Hence, besides assembling the phone, Foxconn would also own the company that supplies the screens and well, wouldn’t that put Foxconn in a nice, cozy, almost secure spot with Apple.

Make lemonade yoga pants!

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Lululemon doesn’t seem to be bothered by increased competition from Nike and Under Armour, as evidenced by its fourth quarter earnings which were nothing short of…zen. And by zen, I mean that the athleisure company beat the Street’s predictions. The athletic apparel company enjoyed a nice little holiday shopping season with increased sales that gave it a profit of $117.4 million with 85 cents added per share. Analysts predicted the company would pick up just 80 cents per share. Maybe those analysts need to pick up some new Lululemon yoga pants, no? Revenue kicked up to $704.3 million, up from last year’s $602.5 million, and again, analysts only expected $692.6 million this quarter. Last year the company only earned $111 million and 78 cents per share. Lululemon is expecting to whip out a fourth quarter that is sure to please investors by picking up earnings between $483 million to $488 million and adding 28 cents to 30 cents a share. However, the perennial buzzkiller we call Wall Street would rather see Lululemon rake in $486.1 million adding 37 cents per share. In what might seem like an awfully bold statement, the yoga apparel company plans on doubling its earnings by 2020. In the meantime, it expects its full fiscal 2016 year to gain between $2.05 and $2.15 a share and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Except that Wall Street is hoping for earnings that will look more like $2.16 per share. Lululemon is pulling out all the stops to improve its margins and part of that means switching over to ocean freight as opposed to air freight. Apparently, air freight is a gigantic margin-money eater. Who knew.