How Trump Is Dulling Tiffany & Co.’s Sparkle; Just Another Multi-billion Dollar Monday; Oil Vey! OPEC Squabbles Over Oil Cuts

Occupying 5th Ave…

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Despite occupying some of the the best real estate in the world, Tiffany & Co.’s New York flagship store is having some sales troubles no thanks to president-elect Donald Trump,  whose nearby police barricades, protests and secret service detail have taken a big chunk out of the store’s traffic. And that’s a huge problem, especially because the U.S. is Tiffany & Co.’s biggest market, and its Manhattan store accounts for 8% of the company’s sales. At least there’s China and Japan, whose currency fluctuations allowed consumers in those regions to take advantage of a strong yen that had them picking up all kinds of nifty goods from the iconic jeweler. Mainly because of that, the company posted a surprise 1.2% sales increase – the first sales rise in eight quarters. Same store sales didn’t fare as badly either, even though experts thought they would. Instead of declining an expected 2.8%, they fell just 2%. In the United States, presumably in locations where Trump does not reside, Tiffany & Co. experienced a smaller than expected drop, falling just 2% compared to last year at this time. The luxury jeweler scored a $95 million profit, pulling down 76 cents per share on sales of $949.3 million. Analysts only expected 67 cents to be added to shares with sales totaling $923.7 million.

Shattered…

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Move over $3.36 billion. Move over $3.39 billion. The original sales estimates for cyber-Monday proved no match for the actual numbers. Adobe Digital Insights whipped out the results for this year’s post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza, which blew estimates out of the water and came in at a whopping $3.45 billion – over a 12% increase from last year’s cyber-Monday purchases. But what’s super weird is that apparently there were less deals on cyber-Monday than on Black Friday. However, Black Friday’s numbers were looking awfully green as well, setting a record with a 22% increase over last year and coming in at just $110 million less than cyber-Monday. Some analysts were a bit concerned that the abundance of web sales on Thanksgiving would put a dent in cyber-Monday’s digits. But wouldn’t you know it? That didn’t happen. Purchases made using Wall-Mart’s app jumped 150% while Amazon is expecting to report its best cyber-Monday. Ever. But you’re just going to have to take their word for it. As for losers, look no further than Macy’s. Perhaps it was karma for opening its doors at 5:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day, but the company experienced outages on its website that kept a lot of shoppers from making a lot of purchases on the company’s site. The amount of money the retailer likely lost was probably not enough to offset the fact that it opened its doors on Thursday. Boohoo.

Why can’t we oil just get along?

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The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, also known as OPEC, is having a big fancy meeting in Vienna tomorrow. At issue is the problem that there is way too much oil floating around all over the world. This oil glut is making oil prices low which makes for really good prices at the pump. However, the countries that produce all this oil don’t like that one bit and are trying to agree on how to fix it so that prices go up again and they can start making cold hard cash. Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq are the biggest oil producers and the logical step would be for each country to cut their production. But none of them want to do that. There’s a lot of ego involved. It’s like color war, but with actual valuable commodities at stake, besides national pride. Saudi Arabia is proposing cuts of 1.2 million barrels per day. However, Iran’s not down for making any cuts because it feels it needs to make up for lost time from all those years of Western sanctions it faced – and totally deserved – and still does deserve. Iraq is using ISIS as a very convenient, if somewhat legit excuse since it is, after all, fighting a war against a psychopathic terrorist organization, and the money it gets from selling oil helps fund that lofty endeavor. Rumor has it that Iran and Iraq are coming around but no word on whether Saudi Arabia will play ball. So stay tuned to see if and when more OPEC drama plays out, and how this drama will affect your wallet and your green car aspirations.

 

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EpiPen Getting Dose of Competition; Gaping Gender Gap; Wells Fargo So Very Sorry Indeed

Shot to the heart…

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EpiPen, which currently controls 95% of the auto-injector epinephrine market, now has to scoot its greedy butt over to make way for a much-needed competitor. Privately-held Kaleo Pharma is bringing back Auvi-Q, the auto-injector device that was taken off the market back in 2015 because of dosage delivery problems. Apparently the problems have been fixed and you can expect to see Auvi-Q back on the shelves in the first half of 2017. However, before you breathe a sigh of relief, experts have said that the price for Auvi-Q might not be all that competitive. In fact, between 2013 – 2015, Kaleo’s price hikes matched Mylan’s and the cost for the auto-injector might go for $500, just $100 less than EpiPen’s highly-criticized $600 2-pack. Make no mistake. Kaleo’s no more an angel in the pharmaceutical industry than Mylan is. The company is also known for making Evzio injectors which use naloxone to treat opioid-overdoses. Once upon a very short time ago – like a few years – the devices cost $690. But not anymore, as the devices go for $4,500 per two-pack. Kaleo has promised that its Auvi-Q device will be affordable and expects insurance companies to help see that promise through. In the meantime, as Mylan’s generic version of its EpiPen is expected to go for $300, the FDA nixed Teva Pharmaceuticals application for a generic version of the EpiPen citing “major deficiencies.” Yikes.

Rock on, Rwanda!

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Just when you thought the gender pay gap couldn’t get any worse, along comes the World Economic Forum to tell us otherwise in its Global Gender Gap Report. The study examined 144 countries and took into account all kinds of factors like economic opportunities, political empowerment and education. The study disconcertingly found that if we wait 170 years, that pesky gender gap might actually close. But who wants to stick around until the year 2186? Sadly, last year’s projection had us holding our collective breath until 2133 but in all fairness, if we actually start to do things correctly, the gender gap could “could be reduced to parity within the next 10 years.” That’s got to be somewhat reassuring, right? One of the more unpleasant nuggets in the report illustrated that average female salaries were half those of men and disturbingly enough, education gains didn’t necessarily help women increase their salaries. Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Rwanda took the top five spots in that order. (Yes, Rwanda).  I’m thinking maybe it’s time to start poaching our political leaders from those countries. Just a thought. The United Kingdom ranked twentieth, even with a female Prime Minister. Go figure. And even though the U.S. ranked twenty-eighth last year, this year the Land of the Free fell to spot number 45, apparently due to a decline of women in the labor force. At least the U.S.’s ranking wasn’t as bad as Yemen, which ranked dead last. Saudi Arabia, Syria and Pakistan also claimed the loser spots which I suppose makes sense considering those countries tend to treat women as property instead of human beings.

 

It still hurts…

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After just 13 days into his tenure, Wells Fargo already has its latest CEO, Tim Sloan, apologizing. Of course, that apology is over the account scandal that already cost the bank $185 million in fines from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But what’s different about this apology is that Sloan was actually addressing the bank’s 260,000 employees. Which is a step up from last month when former Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf took to blaming 5,300 lower-level employees instead. However, karma is not done with the bank just yet as Wells Fargo could end up eating $8 billion in lost business in the next 12-18 months since approximately 14% of its current customers are looking to switch to more trust-worthy competitors.  As Sloan noted in his apology,“many felt we blamed our team members. That one still hurts, and I am committed to rectifying it.” And so the bank is hiring culture experts to fix the weaknesses that led to this ugly episode. Of course, cultural weaknesses aside, the bank can look forward to both criminal investigations and class-actions suits. Which is only fair considering that the wrongfully blamed lower-level employees – many whom made less than $15 per hour – were met with retaliation after they dared to call in to the bank’s internal ethics hotline.

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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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 European Tax McMess; OPEC Member Smackdown; Unemployment Ups and Downs

Did the Hamburglar do it?

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Hold on to your McMuffins because the Golden Arches are under investigation by European regulators. Apparently McDonald’s neglected to pay taxes on its franchise profits earned in Europe and Russia since 2009. The EU says that 250 million euros made just in 2013 wasn’t  even taxed and McDonald’s had an unfair advantage over its competitors. Gasp. McDonald’s European franchise office is based in the teeny tiny country of Luxembourg. The trouble seems to have started when authorities in Luxembourg decided that McD’s was exempt from paying taxes on its profits because the U.S. was also taxing them on those profits.  McDonald’s, however, says the allegations are false and that it paid over $2 billion in corporate in taxes, besides other taxes, between 2010 and 2014. Starbucks, Fiat and Apple also faced similar investigations and Starbucks and Fiat ultimately found themselves forking over $34 million each in back taxes and penalties.

Can’t we all just get along?

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OPEC members just can’t seem to get along these days which is a bit unsettling considering they control a trillion dollar oil supply. Because of the oil glut and the fact that oil prices are so low –   a barrel closed at $42.49, the lowest price since 2009 – Venezuela is finding itself cash-strapped as oil is a big chunk of the country’s bread and butter. Together with a few other cash-strapped countries, including Ecuador and Algeria (don’t laugh), they want Saudi Arabia to cut back on its oil production output to help bring prices back up and make them less cash-strapped. Saudi Arabia doesn’t want to, but might consider doing so if Russia and Mexico do the same. Saudia Arabia, by the way, is the world’s largest oil exporter and is not cash-strapped so they don’t really feel the need to cut back. Saudi Arabia also said it would listen to what the other countries have to say. Which is nice and all. But it still intends to do what it wants. Like it always does. Russia also has no plans to cut back since it does not see a point in doing so. And besides, who tells Russia what to do? Iran wants OPEC to reduce output just so that it can make room for its re-entry into the wonderful lucrative world of petroleum production. But to be clear, Iran has no intention of capping its own output to help out with the current oil glut. Maybe, just maybe, Iran will agree to cap its oil production once it reaches its pre-sanction levels. After all, its gotta make up for lost times, you know?  OPEC pumped over 32 million barrels a day in November. Once Iran and Indonesia (yes, that country’s back, too) return, expect that number to be much much higher. While annual revenue for OPEC was $550 billion last year, in the five years prior, the organization was pulling down $1 trillion annually.

You say that’s a good thing?

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Applications for unemployment benefits rose to 269,000 applicants, gaining 9,000 newbies from last week and apparently that’s good news. Well, maybe not to the 269,000 applicants, but we won’t go there just yet. And even though that means that there are now approximately 2.16 million Americans right now collecting unemployment benefits – is that term an oxymoron? – unemployment is still considered to be at historically low levels. Believe it or not, this report actually points to a healthy job market. And why shouldn’t it? The number of unemployment benefit recipients is 9.3% less than it was a year ago. An average of 206,000 jobs have been added per month in the last year with a whopping 270,000 jobs added just in October. Even average hourly earnings are up 2.5% in the last twelve months. You can be sure the Fed will be considering this latest report as it mulls its decision to raise interest rates, which by the way, is more than likely to happen in about two weeks.