Everything Really Is Awesome for Lego; Southwest Gets Grounded; Target’s Earnings Hit and Miss;

Everything is awesome…

Image courtesy of ArtJSan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ArtJSan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Lego Movie movie might have been very rudely snubbed at this year’s Oscars but that didn’t stop Lego CEO Joergen Vig Knudstorp from belting out the hit tune “Everything Is Awesome” to reporters recently.  That’s because for him everything really is awesome. The privately held Danish company released its yearly earnings report and the consensus is that Lego is in demand. My basement, however, could have told you that. Demand in China, Russia, France, etc is only getting stronger and this year’s release of “The Lego Movie,” which earned a staggering $468 million, helped propel that awesome demand precipitously upward. Lego’s profits were 15% higher this year hitting about $1 billion. I can truly say I contributed considerably to that figure. Revenue for the company came in at $4.3 billion and move over Mattel because Lego has become the number one toy company in the world. There’s also a Lego Movie sequel in the works set to be directed by Rob Schrab with a 2018 release date. But if the Oscars snubs Lego again, it’ll have to answer to the forces of Ninjago, not to mention Batman,  whose Lego movies are set to be released in 2016 and 2017.

Yeah…that could be a problem…

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Everything is not awesome over at Southwest as the airline had to ground 20% of it’s fleet. In case you were wondering that is about 128 of its planes. Apparently Southwest missed inspections and immediately notified safety regulators, according to an airline spokesperson. How very diligent of them. Eighty flights bore the brunt of this gaffe but fear not intrepid traveler, as the FAA and Southwest have figured out a way to get those flights up into our friendly skies until all the aircraft can get properly inspected. How very reassuring.  In case you were still wondering, the part of the aircraft that requires immediate inspection on all these airplanes is the backup hydraulic system. It helps control the aircraft…in the event of a  main system failure. Awesome. The bulk of inspections ought to be completed by now and if you happen to be on one of the few remaining aircraft that have yet to be inspected? Well, then have a nice flight.

Oh Canada!

Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Target reported its earnings this week and the good news is that it lost $2.6 billion. That amounted to a loss of $4.10 per share. It’s good news because it’s a one-time loss from closing up shop, literally, on its disastrous foray into our neighbor to the north. But if you take into account that Canada is now officially off the Target grid, then you can calculate that the mega-retailer actually pulled in $1.50 a share. Which is really great news because analysts only thought that the retailer would gain about $1.46 per share. So you see, there is a bright side here. Somewhere. Sort of. Listen it’s not Canada’s fault. Canadians are really lovely people. Some of my best friends are Canadian. But they just didn’t appreciate all those empty shelves at their 133 stores, not to mention some annoying pricing discrepancies – among other issues, mind you. But back on our turf, Target’s sales increased to $21.8 billion – almost $2 billion more than last year, Canadian failure and all.

Is Xiaomi the Next Big Thing to Hit the Smartphone Scene?; Russia’s Ruble in the Rubble; Shake Shack Shaking Up Wall Street

Third’s the word…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here’s a riddle for you: If Samsung is the number one smartphone maker in the world, with Apple perched at the number two spot, then who has taken third? Hint: It’s not LG. Or Nokia. Or Motorola. Or… In fact, the number three smartphone maker in the world has yet to reach our shores, even though the company’s got a $45 billion valuation and is slated to become the most valuable IPO. Ever. In case you haven’t figured it out – and it’s okay if you didn’t –  I am talking about Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi. The company which, just pulled in another $1.1 billion in funding, is number one in the mammoth Chinese market. It also happens to be the fastest growing smartphone maker and the most valuable start-up in the world right now (yes, even more so than Über and Pinterest, if you can believe it). And by fast I mean the company’s sales are up 211% in the third quarter, having taken a 5% bite out of the market share. Xiaomi, whose Mi4 smartphone coincidentally, bears a striking – make that very striking – resemblance to the iPhone, actually makes most of its money from apps and add-ons, and not from the phone itself. It also apparently has some nifty marketing strategies, though I can’t weigh in on that one. Xiaomi is currently focusing on branching out into places like Indonesia, Russia and Mexico with no immediate plans to come to the US, which clearly hasn’t been a problem for it.

Is that a recession I smell…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Russia’s not having a very good week. News is out now that the economy there shrank for the first time in five years. The GDP fell by .5% with the Russian government saying that next year the GDP could go down by as much as 4%. How do you say “yikes” in Russian? The ruble is continuing its slide,  falling the most in two weeks, and is about 40% weaker than the dollar. It’s down by about 70% since the beginning of the year. Of course the international sanctions imposed on Russia by other countries who were not cool with its incursions into the Ukraine are being blamed. And, of course, Russia then decided to block imported food – a move that has not been good for anyone on either side of the issue. Then there’s the price of oil which keeps dropping and dropping and…well, it’s no fun to see oil numbers drop if you happen to be the largest energy exporter and well, that’s exactly what Russia is.

Yeah, it’s that good…

Image courtesy of KEKO64/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of KEKO64/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Apparently the Shake Shack is so good that Wall Street will get to partake of its delicacies in the form of a $100 million IPO that the company just filed today. Conceived by restaurateur Danny Meyer, the chain will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the aptly named ticker symbol SHAK. The company began as a single “shack” in New York City’s Madison Square Park and quickly grew to 63 locations…worldwide, with half of those operated by licensees. Shake Shack reported sales of $140 million in 2013, a scrumptious $81 million gain from the year before. Investors are awfully curious to see how Shake Shack will fare considering the mixed results the market has seen from food companies like perennial fave Chipotle to less than stellar performer Noodles & Co. If that’s not enough to whet your IPO appetite, then how about the fact that they pay an average hourly wage of $10.70 with health benefits and paid time off?

GM Says Nyet to Russia Deliveries; Start Spreading the News: Gov Cuomo Bans Fracking; Kraft-y New CEO

Rubles the wrong way…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his annual hours long press conference where he discussed the plunging ruble. He said the economic recovery could take up to two years and, of course, he made sure to point his country’s finger (presumably the middle one) at the US and the EU because he says plunging oil prices and economic sanctions are to blame. Oh and also the central banks messed up too because they apparently didn’t respond fast enough to economic issues as they arose. Darn central banks! Then GM went ahead and suspended deliveries to Russia, becoming one of the latest western companies to do so. And who can blame them. After all, when currencies drop, the companies lose big bucks.  But considering GM only sold 170,000 vehicles in Russia so far this year  – it sells more than that in a single month over here – its sure not to put any major crimp in their business. Apple also shut down operations while other companies, like BMW, took the route of raising their prices to make up for the drop in the ruble rate. Why his love life came up during the press conference is a mystery, but at least now we know that Vladimir Putin is in love –  and somebody even loves him back –  according to him anyway.

Frack off…

Image courtesy of xedos4/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of xedos4/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has made it official: New York has become the first state to ban the ever-controversial fracking process, a decision that puts a major chink in the oil and gas industry. The process, which involves tapping into natural gas by using high-pressure water blasts and, of course, chemicals, has been under a moratorium in New York State since 2008 after it was felt that more research was needed to see just how bad the process is for the environment and our health. At a press conference, Governor Cuomo handed the reins over to health and environmental officials who said the issues are too great to allow it to happen and conveniently had several studies on hand to back up their claims. Now if they could just do something about those traffic jams…

Nothing cheesy about it…

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In a move that shocked analysts, who generally make it a habit of predicting things, Kraft CEO Tony Vernon, who is but 58 years young, announced that his retirement from the company will officially take place on December 27. Vernon has been at the post since October of 2012 and will stay on as an adviser until March. His replacement will be John Cahill, who already has Pepsico  gracing his resume. Kraft, the intrepid force behind Velveeta cheese and the ever-malleable Jell-O, said that it needs to make big changes quickly if it wants to keep up with the constantly changing needs of the food industry. Sounds fair, considering Kraft saw an 11% drop in its third quarter profits.

 

Russian Cyber-vengeance?;Insta-gram-ification!; A&Fitch Logo Ditch

Cyber-score?

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Now that a massive cyber-attack on JPMorgan Chase and a few other banks has been linked to Russian hackers, the question looms large: Was the hack attack in response to US imposed sanctions? Things that make you go hmmm. And while major amounts of data loss fell into the hands of these hackers, curiously enough, there hasn’t been an unusually high amount of fraudulent activity noted. At least for now. Which kind of suggests – in a really big way  – that yeah, this cyber attack was politically motivated. Incidentally, back in April, JPMorgan blocked a money payment from a Russian embassy to a US sanctioned bank.  That didn’t go over well – probably more so for JPMorgan than the Russians involved. In any case, with global conflicts on the rise, expect to see a lot more cyber-threats, kind of like the ones Iran has been throwing our way for years. Probably because they’re annoyed with US imposed economic sanctions. The attacks on banks are particularly impressive, more so than say those on Target, since banks have security and firewalls that are way more hardcore than those used in the retail sector. But banks have and will continue to step up their cyber-security precautions. JPMorgan is hoping $250 million and 1000 employees will do the trick.

I want it now!

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Look out Veruca Salt! If you want it all and want it NOW then give a big shout out to Instagram for redefining the shopping experince. Now when you see something on Instagram that you absolutely have to have, like, immediately, you don’t just get to like the item on Instagram. You don’t just get to love it the product on Instagram. You actually get to buy the darn thing too! No more brooding over a an Instagram shot while you frantically search the retailer’s products page. A new “Like2Buy” button will take you exactly where you need to go/be. Shopper ecstasy.

Abercrombie & Switch…

Image courtesy of Simon Howden/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Simon Howden/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Shockingly…or not, depending on whom you ask, Abercrombie & Fitch had its tenth straight quarter of declining sales. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that retailers like Forever 21, Zara and H&M are offering much trendier clothing for much less. It probably doesn’t help that A&F is helmed by a loud-mouthed CEO, who was stripped of his chairman title for making such stupid, odious comments about how his company’s clothing is intended for cool, skinny and pretty people. But clearly the cool, skinnies don’t care as they have been clearly taking their business elsewhere. The company has now decided that, in the US anyway, it’s going to shed the logo that is so prominently featured on so much of its clothing. They’re hoping that a move like that will bring in more revenue since adding more larger sizes didn’t do the trick. Go figure! Same store sales fell 6% and news of the unimpressive earnings report sent shares south by 8%.

BofA Boffo Payout; Nyet to Big Macs; and HP’s Big Little Surprise

Would you like that in small bills?

Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Bank of America just set a new record but they probably wont be bragging about this particular accomplishment. The bank officially (as of tomorrow, anyways) holds the dubious distinction of having to pay the largest settlement ever to settle a number of allegations brought by Federal and state authorities over its sales of mortgage-backed securities leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. That magical number weighs in at a monstrous $17 billion easily surpassing the paltry $13 billion that JP Morgan Chase had to pay to settle similar allegations. The money will be divided with $7 billion going towards consumer relief and the rest going towards paying back Uncle Sam for all the misery it caused. But that’s not all. As part of the deal, BofA actually has to admit – ADMIT – wrongdoing. Countrywide Financial and Merrill Lynch will also be held to the task as the bulk of bad mortgages came courtesy of them when BofA acquired them in 2008. Of course no actual heads will roll. Or will they? One Los Angeles US attorney filed a civil suit against Countrywide co-founder Angelo Mozilo. While BofA must not have been too happy about the settlement, Wall Street sure was as shares of the bank took a little climb following the news.

No need to supersize that just yet…

Image courtesy of tiverylucky/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of tiverylucky/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You know Russia is royally ticked off at the US when McDonalds starts to suffer. Of course that wasn’t the official line coming out of the Kremlin, mind you. But it is true that four McDonald’s in Moscow were just shuttered for “sanitary reasons.”  One of the “temporarily” shuttered eateries happens to have been one of the most frequented McD’s in the world. In fact, Russia is one of the biggest markets for McDonalds. When asked if the closures had anything to do with the sanctions, officials referred to the “sanitary” statement without actually answering the question. Hmmm. However, there are still well over 430 McDonalds in Russia. For now, anyways.

Surprise surprise…

Image courtesy of jannoon028/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jannoon028/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

HP surprised everyone today, perhaps even itself, as it reported increased revenue in its earnings. While it was a modest 1% gain, it was nothing to scoff at. The increase was due in large part to its personal computer division which took in a plump 12% increase. The company is currently undergoing a major overhaul. Which is kind of ironic as my brand new HP laptop (I purchased it in February) is also undergoing a major overhaul at Geek Squad headquarters –  that is after already spending lots of quality phone time with several Geek Squad technicians over the last few months – but I digress. Profits came in at just under a billion which might seem impressive. But it’s not since last year at this time the HP reported $1.4 billion in profits.

 

 

Russia: Sanctions? Ha! I’ll Show You Sanctions! More Boffo Hits to BofA and Time Warner Not Feeling Foxy

Putin it out there…

Image courtesy of Simon Howden/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Simon Howden/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Russian president Vladimir Putin always has to have the last word, doesn’t he. He’s like one of those inflatable punch toys. No matter how you much you punch it, it just floats right back up. I am talking about sanctions, mind you. The ones that Russia is imposing on the West, including the United States. Russia majorly one-upped the entities imposing sanctions on it over tensions in the Ukraine by banning agricultural products from the US, the EU, Canada and even Japan. They plan to have this ban in effect for a year!  Apparently it’s a very very long list of items too. So yeah, if the West wants to send Putin a message it’s going to have to think way beyond that teeny tiny economic sanctions box. Of course food prices are sure to rise in Russia with a move like this. But make no mistake that there’s also a steep $1.3 billion price to pay in the US and the rest of the West. And that’s going to be awfully hard to swallow.

And it’s official…

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Bank of America is out almost $17 billion (it will be anyways) all because it misled investors over mortgage-backed securities. This settlement comes just weeks after a New York judge ordered the bank to pay out $1.27 billion for its less than virtuous Countrywide Financial “Hustle” program which is just as bad as it sounds. Some of the settlement cash will actually go towards helping struggling homeowners by reducing their mortgages. The rest is fees fees fees and a few billion in penalties to various federal, state and local entities. BofA CEO Brian Moynihan and US Attorney General Eric Holder have been hashing out the details as of late. BofA was trying to get away with paying just under $13 billion but fate, the justice system and AG Holder’s impending lawsuit had other plans. Now BofA holds the dubious distinction of holding the record for the largest settlement payout, knocking JP Morgan off its $13 billion podium. But Bofa still comes out a winner since no criminal charges will be filed for what could arguably be considered awfully criminal behavior.

Time Warner is running out?

Image courtesy of dream designs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dream designs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There was no shortage of love today on Wall Street for Rupert Murdoch and his 21st Century Fox empire now that his $80 billion bid for Time Warner has been scrapped. In fact, the media company’s stock surged while, ironically (or maybe not) Time Warner’s second quarter earnings took a hit. Sure its quarterly profits were up 10% with $6.8 billion in quarterly revenue. But the stock took an 11% dive thanks to Fox just because its interest in its rival came to a bittersweet end.

 

Russia is Not Kicking the Right Game for Adidas, Will Brian Cornell Hit His Target? And BofA’s Boffo Payout

From Russia with loss…

Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Adidas lowered its full year profit target thanks to Russia. And golf. But not Russian golf, it should be duly noted. Despite the fact that Russia is hosting the 2018 World Cup, the world’s second largest sporting goods maker and World Cup sponsor decided to shutter a bunch of stores and scrap plans to open a bunch more in that region. But hey, that’s what happens when your governmemt supports Ukranian rebels. The German-based company is weary of Russia and its ability to pull in the sales it has in the past because of all those sanctions coming courtesy of Europe and the US. Which is really too bad because sales in Russia for the brand were over 1 billion euros in 2013. Now Adidas expects net profit of 650 million euros when it previously expected those numbers to be between 830 million euros and 930 million euros. Go ahead and do the dollar conversion math. Just kidding. Adidas initially expected net profit between $1.1 billion and $1.2 billion but now it doesn’t even expect to go past $870 million. As for the company’s Taylor-Made golf division…well, it’s golf. And not soccer. And across the pond that means a lot.

Hit or miss?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Target’s making big news today. And no it’s not for any security breaches or lousy earnings. Well at least for now, anyway. The news out of the Minneapolis-based company is the appointment of its new CEO Brian Cornell, the first CEO in Target’s history to come from outside the company’s ranks. The 55 year old Cornell recently held a big gig over at Pepsi and some rumors said he was going to be the successor to the throne there. But instead he made his way to the embattled Target, which is currently experiencing declining same store sales, a troubled Canadian expansion (Oh, Canada) and continuing fall out from its holiday season security breach. So take a seat and let’s watch to see if the seasoned exec can pull the retail giant out of its slump and get that stock back on the upswing.

Another one bites the dust…

Image courtesy of hin255/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of hin255/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

And this time it’s Bank of America as a Manhattan judge ordered the bank to pay a $1.3 billion fine for mortgage fraud. Mind you this is not part of settlement talks that Bofa is currently having with the US Department of Justice. This latest penalty was from an actual lawsuit that BofA lost that and was connected to “The Hustle” program. As sexy as that sounds it is anything but as loans that were made at Countrywide Financial were rushed to “High Speed Swim Lanes (HSSL)” and sold to Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. Oh if only the actual dealings were as playful as the terms used to describe the dubious actions behind them. Bofa was found guilty of getting its employees to take bad loans off the books and put them right into the hands of unwitting investors. As for the DOJ settlement, the US wants BofA to pony up $17 billion while the bank was looking more toward the area of between $12 billion to $13 billion. The two sides continue to hash out the ugly details, even, I am sure, as I write this. The company released its second quarter earning weeks ago to the tune of a 43% drop thanks to its declining mortgage business and increasing legal fees.

 

A Big Slice of Heaven, Are You There Shareholders? It’s Me, Warren and Russia’s Closer Than You Think

I’m in the mood for pizza simply because…I’m watching Oscar goers eat some…

Image Courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It may not be a publicly traded company, but Big Mama’s & Papa’s Pizzeria can expect some big earnings in the near future.  TMZ expertly timed Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres’ pizza bit and estimated that the pizzeria got itself about $10 million worth of FREE AIR TIME. Other telecast sponsors pony up close to $2 million for a slice of the Oscar publicity pie. And what of the newly-minted celebrity pizza delivery guy, Edgar?  No word yet on how much of a tip he made on that run, but rumor has it Ellen collected a whopping $300 – most of which reportedly came from the illustrious wallet of Harvey Weinstein.

From the mouth of babes…er…billionaires…

Image Courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Oracle of Omaha has spoken…that is in his annual letter to his shareholders over at Berkshire Hathaway.  The billionaire believes (as many of you do) that the economy is growing.  And, if he says it then it must be true.  FYI, his company is continuing to buy stock in a company in the United Kingdom.  Just no word on which company that is.  He also said he likes to focus on a business’ prospects and not on the state of the economy or world events.  Feel free to disagree with that investing philosophy but clearly the man seems to know what he’s doing because he’s ranked number four in Forbes magazine’s latest billionaire rankings.  And in case you were wondering, Bill Gates took the top spot.

So far away yet so very very close…

Image Courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just because the Olympics In Russia are over doesn’t mean the drama coming out of there is.  Don’t kid yourself for even the teeniest tiniest second that the tensions between Russia and Ukraine can’t affect your wallet.  Next time you fill up your car with gas take a look at how much more it cost you.  Crude prices are rising about 1.5%.  You might want to think about making that Tesla dream more of a reality. Financial markets don’t like tension, especially when major world powers are involved.  There’s more than a few reasons we should give peace a chance.  And some of them are coming out of your bank account.