Russia Says Nyet to LinkedIn; No Regrets for Macy’s on Ditching President-Elect’s Line; Trump Making Plans

Linked Out…

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It’s Game on between LinkedIn and Russia as the social network gets banned by the Russian government. Back in 2015 Russia passed a new law requiring foreign websites to store personal data of Russian users on Russian servers. While LinkedIn counts six million registered users in the country, the social media giant said no thank you to the new law and now finds itself listed in a very unflattering registry of websites that are banned in the country. Russia’s leaders would like to put an end to its dependance on foreign tech and is even in the process of developing replacements for such services like WhatsApp. In case it wasn’t obvious, Russia has been stepping up its control over internet usage in the last few years. In the meantime Google, eBay and Uber have been looking for ways to comply with the new law lest their fate ends up similar to that of LinkedIn. However, all eyes are on Facebook to see if and how the social media giant intends to deal with this lofty piece of legislation .

Trump’d Up…

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Image courtesy of scottchan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today, Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren said that he stands by his decision to boot Donald Trump’s clothing line from his stores back in the summer of 2015. Trump had tried to retaliate by getting people to boycott the department store. But after all, Trump did say that many Mexican immigrants were rapists and murderers and well, that’s just not cool. So needless to say, his calls to boycott weren’t all that successful. Well, maybe a little as Macy’s has been struggling to post some solid quarterly gains. In any case, the retailer has been trying to court more Hispanic shoppers and getting rid of a line of clothing from a man who has been nothing short of hostile and racist seems like a prudent move. To be fair, Lundgren says he would have had to get rid of Trump’s clothing line once he entered politics anyway, even if he hadn’t made his odious comments. Macy’s doesn’t do politics and Lundgren added that even if Hillary Clinton had her clothing own line – of pantsuits, presumably – that would have to go as well once she announced her political aspirations. Incidentally, Ivanka’s clothing line at Macy’s is alive and well, which seems only right considering she has yet to offend entire races of people. Also incidentally, Ivanka’s line is manufactured in China and the Donald just hates it when American businesses outsource manufacturing there. In fact, as part of his economic plans, he wants to impose harsh tariffs on imports in an effort to curb, or perhaps even obliterate the practice. Good luck with that one, Ivanka.

More Trump’d Up…

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In other Trump news, rumor has it that the President-Elect wants to install JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon as Treasury Secretary. FYI, Dimon is a life-long Democrat and Obama supporter, although the arrival of the Dodd-Frank laws made him a less enthusiastic one. What’s so very peculiar about Trump’s choice is that he once criticized Dimon for his decision to settle civil suits against the bank. Donald is not one to settle court cases. At least that’s what he said. In the meantime, there’s no word from Jamie Dimon about whether he plans to accept. However, other rumors are swirling that he won’t as he was rooting for Hillary Clinton to win the election. And you know who probably wont be asked to join Trump’s government? Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. As the owner of the Washington Post, Jeff Bezos didn’t care for Trump’s opinions on the mainstream media bias and said Trump was “eroding our democracy.” Incidentally, Amazon’s stock went down today over 4%. Experts say it’s because all tech stocks, including Apple, Google and Microsoft took a beating today since Trump’s economic plans don’t do much for that sector. But the experts with a better sense of humor – and serious undertones – think the drop is because it’s payback time for Bezos and company, who for the most part don’t care for the President-Elect and were pretty vocal about it during campaign season. The tech sector employs a large population of foreign engineers and, well you know how Trump feels about that. Experts also think that companies like Amazon can expect payback in the form of higher taxes and anti-trust litigation. At least Bezos had the good sense to tweet: “I for one give him my most open mind and wish him great success in his service to the country.” Maybe Bezos will get a pass this time. Wink wink, nod nod.

 

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Oil Vey 2: The Wrath of Iran; Virtual Company with Real Billions; Dr. Pepper’s Outlook Fizzing Out

Double double oil and trouble…

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Oil surged 6% today. Yay. It finally finally went above $30 a barrel today. Another yay.  But maybe you’re thinking that positively sucks as you notice that you have a quarter of a tank of gas left in your car. However, in the grand scheme of things, a very grand scheme which does not fit in this blog today, a gradual price increase in gas is a healthy economic indicator. Plenty of folks on Wall Street are attributing this healthy surge to some conversations that were held recently between OPEC and non-OPEC members. Namely, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Oh yeah, Qatar and Venzuela were also allowed to participate. The deal is that these oil producers will cap their crude production – just as long as other major producers follow suit. The last time an  OPEC/non-OPEC “deal” was made was 15 years ago. And like the one 15 years ago, this one is not expected to do much, except act as a starting point. How reassuring. Now, guess which country has NO plans to cap, curb or freeze oil production? Iran, of course.  Sure, the totalitarian-run country thinks it’s a bummer that oil prices are so low, but its leaders are so hell-bent on re-grabbing its market share after all those pesky international sanctions it had to endure for the last 30 years, that it has no intention of curbing production. By the way, conspicuously absent from any talks was Canada, a country that just happens to have the third largest oil reserves, and China, the world’s fourth largest oil producer. Hmmm. Wonder what we ought to take away from that?

All in a maze work…

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Image courtesy of Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At least virtual reality doesn’t bite. Swiss-based company MindMaze, a neural virtual reality platform – which is just as cool as it sounds – now has a pretty amazing valuation. After scoring $100 million in its latest round of funding, the company upped its valuation to over $1 billion. The company’s technology uses virtual and augmented reality and sells electronic headsets to hospitals in order to help rehabilitate stroke patients. The company also has plans to use its rehabilitation features for other injuries, and even amputations. Of course, since we are talking virtual reality, or VR as the cool kids call it, other versions will be available for video gaming as well. In an effort to boost profitability, the company is toying with the idea of selling the hardware separate from the software. It is the fifth start-up company of its kind, and joins the ranks of Oculous VR and Magic Leap. Apparently, investors dig the technology too, seeing as how they have dumped around $4 billion into various VR companies since 2010.

I’m not a Pepper…

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Dr. Pepper Snapple Group posted their fourth quarter earnings and there’s good news…and not so good news. Of course, the good news is the company’s profit. The beverage company, which also makes Canada Dry and A&W Root Beer, among other products, scored a $185 million profit, adding a buck per share and shooting down analyst estimates of 98 cents per share. Last year at this time the company earned $150 million with 77 cents added per share. The Texas-based company also pulled down $1.55 billion in revenue, a nice little boost from 2015’s $1.51 billion. But when we turn to the company’s outlook, we then find the not so good news. Despite people’s thirst, Dr. Pepper’s outlook is weak, expecting just a 1% increase in net sales. Even in 2015, the company took in a 3% increase. The company is figuring it’ll earn somewhere between $4.20 to $4.30 per share for the full year, even though predictions were for $4.34. Dr. Pepper may not be blaming the oil glut on the weak outlook, but there is another culprit – the ever blame-worthy strong dollar, which even managed to sully the beverage industry’s numbers.

McDonald’s Turnaround Plan Needs Salt; Warren Buffet Likes His Sugar; Chevy Volt Wants to Electrify

Would you like to supersize that?

Image courtesy of pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook finally revealed to all who were maybe mildly interested about his big plan is to steer McDonald’s back towards fiscal awesomeness, all in the course of a 23 minute video. The world’s biggest burger chain wants to re-franchise 3,500 of its stores. Because franchising offers “stable and predictable cash flow” from collecting fees, it will supposedly save the company about $300 million a year.  And who doesn’t like saving $300 million. Then, Easterbrook wants to make the company’s corporate structure and bureaucracy less “cumbersome” by dividing the company up into four neat little parts. Well, maybe not little. But certainly neater.  The first part is all about U.S. stores. International markets like, Australia and the U.K make up part number two. The third part is labeled high growth markets  – think China and Russia. Then, all those other countries in the world make up the fourth group.  Of course, no master revival plan would be complete without incorporating a customer-focused approach and the ever-menacing prospect of…accountability. But hey whatever works. And something needs to after the company posted a 2.3% drop in sales and revenue that was way too short of its target. Despite detailing this new plan Mc Donald’s couldn’t get Wall Street excited enough to send shares up, even a little.

Enjoy a Coke with Warren Buffet…

Image courtesy of tiverylucky/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of tiverylucky/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In case you couldn’t make it to the the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting this weekend, also known as Woodstock for Capitalists, here are but a few of the pearls from that auspicious event. Wells Fargo, Coke, IBM and AmEx rock, at least according to the Oracle of Omaha. Mr. Buffet clearly knows a thing or two of what he speaks since his company has a market value of a staggering $350 billion. When he discussed Coca Cola and the $16 billion stake his company owns in it, the debate about the adverse health effects of sugar didn’t seem to concern him. He feels that people enjoy Coke and thus, it apparently makes them happy. Unlike Whole Foods, which he said, “I don’t see smiles on the faces of people at Whole Foods.” No doubt Whole Foods was not happy about that comment. He was also asked about his involvement with 3G Capital with whom he is now buying Kraft Foods. People have taken issue with 3G over its practice of buying companies and then laying off many of its employees. Mr. Buffet, however, said, “I don’t know of any company that has a policy that says we’re going to have a lot more people than they need.”  How charming. As for naming a successor, well, he didn’t.

Low-voltage…

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Even though gas prices are pretty low, making gas-guzzling SUV’s that much more appealing, that’s not stopping car companies, like GM, from parading out its latest eco-friendly models. The 2016 Chevy Volt model is making its debut and what is supposed to be so electrifying about it is that it’ll be around $1,500 less than the 2015 model. It’ll also get 30% more mileage from a single charge than the 2015 model. It’s a bit redesigned and there’s even a $7,500 federal income tax credit. But to be fair, it’s not a fully electric vehicle because if you find yourself coasting along  the highway – or any road, for that matter – and the battery juice runs out, the Volt becomes just another regular gas guzzler.  If that doesn’t bother you – and why should it – then consider that Chevy is offering 0% financing for 72 months for qualified buyers. Unqualified buyers should take the bus. California’s even offering a $1,500 rebate which pretty much means that GM doesn’t think there’s going to be a waiting list for this particular automobile. Because let’s face it, a Tesla it’s not.

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

Everything is awesome…

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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!

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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%.