Fed Chairwoman Shuts Down Congressman; Mattel Goes For Big With Alibaba; Apple Hits New High On iPhone Dreams

Sit back down…

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Almost everyone’s favorite Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen, was in the hot seat today. First she graciously explained in a letter to Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry that, in fact, the Fed possess the authority and has the responsibility to work and consult with foreign entities with regard to financial industry oversight and the development of international banking rules. McHenry, who is Vice Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, didn’t appreciate that the Fed had already engaged in international talks before President Trump had a chance to put his peeps into play to conduct their own reulatory review. But no dice for McHenry as Chairwoman Yellen explained that such efforts were to the benefit and in the best interests of the United States and its financial stability. In other news, Ms. Yellen was mum on whether the Fed would raise rates at its next meeting in March but said waiting too long wouldn’t be a good idea. Besides inflation and the labor market, Yellen and co. are looking to see what policy changes President Trump is going to make before making any major announcements from the Fed’s end. Which seems like a prudent plan, especially from someone who was appointed by President Obama, but is doing her best to keep from playing sides since she has still has a few years left on her term during the current administration. And also because Trump criticized her during the campaign when he said that she was deliberately keeping rates low in order to benefit President Obama. Yikes.

Ni-Hao Barbie…

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Mattel’s wound licking might just be on hold for now, despite losing some major Disney-Princess licensing mojo to Hasbro awhile back. The toy company has begun to forge a new path with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. Nothing like gaining a foothold in the $7 billion Chines toy marketplace to ease those Disney-licensing blues. By the way, the United States’ toy industry is estimated at over $20 billion. Just saying. The company that makes Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars is in a partnership with Alibaba to create and promote interactive and educational toys, in addition to producing entertainment content based on Mattel products. Because hey, who doesn’t love shows based on toys – and vice-versa? Mattel will be selling its new wares via Tmall.com, which is Alibaba’s business-to-consumer retail site. Incidentally, Mattel had already been selling on Tmall.com for about six years now and rumor has it that its selection of Fisher-Price toys have actually been the top-sellers for five years in a row on Alibaba’s November 11 Singles Day. Mattel’s new products for Alibaba will hit Alibaba’s virtual shelves by mid-2017.  Mattel could really use the boost, especially since sales of Barbies have not been doing as well as they have in the past, and despite throwing some more realistic features onto the doll. Also, the company reported an earnings miss February 1, taking in 52 cents per share on an 8% revenue decline to $1.83 billion, when analysts expected 71 cents per share. But with Alibaba boasting over 440 million active buyers, chances are Mattel has the ability to turn that last earnings report into a mere distant bad memory.

Apple of my i-Phone…

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For the first time in two years, Apple hit a new high of $134.90 and a market cap of $701 billion. And in case you don’t own any shares, that probably means a whole lot of nothing to you. The last time it hit a new high was back on April 28, 2015, when the stock hit $134.54. But that 36 cents means a whole lot to investors who are hoping, and probably betting, that Apple will release a new iPhone, dubbed the iPhone 8, or the iPhone X – if you dare –  that will magically lift blah sales for the tech giant. While the company reported impressive earnings in its last earnings report, its outlook was less so, and the fact that Apple’s revenue decreased by 8% for 2016 didn’t help the mood on Wall Street as of late, even if it is the most valuable company in the world.  Rumor has it, the new phone is going to be even more expensive than previous ones, which is always a good way to get Wall Street tongues wagging.

No Slowing Down Alibaba; Feeling Taxed: Google’s Italian Problem; Ads Abuzz for Super Bowl

What economic slowdown?

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China’s economy might be on the skids but apparently Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. didn’t get the memo. The company released its earnings and reported that its sales rose 32% to $5.3 billion, easily beating analysts estimates of $5.13 billion. Alibaba even scored a profit of $1.93 billion, picking up 99 cents per share and beating predictions of 89 cents per share. The reason for these positively fabulous numbers have a lot do with insane revenues posted from November’s Singles’ Day. Singles’ Day saw 115 million buyers scooping up $14 billion in purchases. Alibaba CEO Jack Ma is also on a fiscal quest to bring China’s rural countryside onto the mobile shopping bandwagon and it’s been paying off royally.  Of course, shares of the stock rose in pre-market trading, just as they should. Alibaba needed the boost as its shares have declined 14% so far this year after falling back in 2015.  But then shares fell this morning by 2% (as did Yahoo since it owns a sizable chunk of it). Go figure. Ma’s grand plans for the company extend far beyond China and he would really love it if at least half of Alibaba’s revenue started flowing in from outside of China. Good thing he’s already got plans in motion to make that happen.

Google that…

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Authorities in Italy have set their investigative sights on Google charging that the tech giant evaded an estimated 327 million euros in taxes between 2009 and 2013. Of course, a Google spokesperson graciously noted that Google always pays its taxes wherever it operates and even explained how it paid 2.2 million euros in taxes on 54.4 million revenues back in 2014. Problem is Italian authorities aren’t buying it and estimate that Google’s revenues were ten times higher than what it reported. Italian authorities say Google basically redirected revenue to its regional offices in Ireland where the corporate tax rate is much more hospitable to big companies. Last week Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. forked over $186 million to U.K. authorities for a different tax settlement. While that might seem a considerable sum, there was a huge outcry, particularly by those in Britain’s Labour Party, because they felt that the amount was way too small considering how much profit the company made. Incidentally, back in December, Apple had to settle with Italian tax authorities and ended up paying back 318 million euros.

Getting buzzed…

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With the Super Bowl just around the corner, some of the ads are already making for bigger stories than the game itself. Take for instance Death Wish Coffee. Never heard of it? You’re not the only one. The small business won a contest held by tech company, Intuit, and you’ll be able to catch the 30 second ad during the third quarter of Super Bowl 50. Death Wish Coffee began in 2012 by Mike Brown, who like so very many of us, was on the prowl for a very potent, caffeinated brew. As of now, Death Wish sells about 1,000 packages a day. But after the Super Bowl that number will likely skyrocket considering the 100 million-plus people expected to tune in to the big game. Death Wish Coffee will set you back about $20 a pound. But hey, that’s a small price to pay for the ultimate coffee fix, I suppose. And maybe by next year, Death Wish Coffee will actually able to afford the $5 million price tag for that coveted slot instead having to enter a contest to try and win it.

Singular Sensation for Alibaba; Don’t Bet On It: Online Daily Fantasy Sports Gone in a New York Minute; In: Higher Minimum Wage. Out: Tipping

Singled out…

Image courtesy of  bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Did Alibaba just throw down the gauntlet to Black Friday? China’s biggest e-commerce site knocked it out of the fiscal park on November 11, aka Singles Day, shattering last year’s $9.3 billion record for the auspicious shopping event. In fact, just by midday the company had already hit $9 billion in sales. Some of the top sellers were Nikes and baby-related products. CEO Jack Ma kicked off the Singles Day shopping festivities by launching the event Tuesday evening with James Bond actor Daniel Craig and House of Cards Star Kevin Spacey. After all nothing says Chinese e-commerce like British and American actors, right? The earth-shatterting sales left many wondering what many are worried about a flagging Chinese economy and its October report that the country hit a particularly slow pace in the third quarter. What didn’t hit a slow pace i was mobile sales for Alibaba’s Singles Day, where 68% of the day’s transactions occurred.

You bet-or not…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman just might be the least popular person on the planet right now. The AG sent “cease and desist” letters to fantasy sports companies FanDuel and DraftKings, ordering them not to accept bets from New Yorkers anymore. The AG called the companies a “new version of online gambling” and said the contests are “neither harmless nor victimless” because they lure in people who are predisposed to gambling addiction. AG Schneiderman went on to say that the companies are basically perpetrating “a massive, multi-billion-dollar scheme intended to evade the law and fleece sports fans across the country.” Ouch. FanDuel and DraftKings, however, argue that what they offer is “a game of skill.” There are currently 34 lawsuits in 13 states pending against the daily fantasy sports companies accusing its proprietors of unfair and/or illegal activity. DraftKings and FanDuel actually stopped doing business in Nevada after the state’s attorney there ruled that the business models meet the state’s definition of gambling and would therefore have to pay for a license.  Both companies are valued at about $1 billion each. Major League Baseball has a stake in FanDuel while the NBA has its own stake in DraftKings. FanDuel also has big money ad deals in place with both the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Jets. At least the AG isn’ t looking to get back any proceeds from New Yorkers who placed bets and actually won. Well, for now anyway.

Not tipsy…

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Image courtesy of maya picture/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

No more bragging rights for big tippers at Joe’s Crab Shack. Well, at least in 18 of the chain’s 131 locales. Parent company Ignite Restaurant Group has decided to do away with the “tip” model and the idea behind it is quite simple: The restaurant scraps tipping and then increases the minimum wage of its employees to $14 per hour.  It means that for some servers, it makes up for lost tip wages. “I personally believe tipping is an antiquated model,” CEO Ray Blanchette said investors at a recent meeting. That’s lovely and all but he also believes it helps improve service and reduces employee turnover. Besides, servers will get paid the same whether they work a busy shift or a slow one with fewer diners. Of course, that tip model means menu prices are heading north from anywhere between 12% to 15%. But considering that most tippers tip around 18%, there’s no great loss there. While Joe’s Crab Shack is the first national restaurant chain to try this out, restaurateur Danny Meyers Union Hospitality Group also put this model into place in New York. Joe’s started doing this back in August and incidentally, or not, its restaurant that adopted this no tipping model the longest has gained the most traction. Which is good since overall sales for Joe’s Crab Shack in the third quarter went down 6.6%. Ironically, the National Restaurant Association does not care much for the model because the “median hourly earnings for servers range from $16 – $22.” Do the math and you realize that could actually mean a nasty pay cut for plenty of restaurant employees.

No Slowing Down Alibaba; REI VS. Black Friday; Rumor Has it Walgreens is Going Shopping

Slowdown? What slowdown?

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Image courtesy of jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There might be an economic slowdown in China, but judging by Alibaba’s recent earnings, you’d never know it. China’s largest e-commerce site easily topped Wall Street predictions, adding 57 cents per share on $3.5 billion in revenue. Forecasts were for 54 cents on $3.35 billion. The company saw a 32% increase with a lot of help from major growth in mobile revenue. Mobile revenue alone pulled in a staggering $1.66 billion, triple last year’s figures, and accounting for more than 60% of the company’s retail sales. And its monthly mobile active users only continue to grow, up 57% over the same last year, an easy feat for Alibaba, yet something hundreds of other companies wished they could do. Yahoo also came out a winner today, as well, since it owns a 15% stake in Alibaba.  The company also plunked down about a $1 billion for some cloud computing investments which could see some big returns. Now Alibaba is gearing up for Singles Day, as in November 11, as in 11/11, one of the countries biggest shopping days. Last year, the company hit a record $59 billion in sales on that day and chances are it might just break that record again this year. Now about that downturn..

Take it outside…

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Image courtesy of marcolm/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Don’t bother getting on line at 5 am on Black Friday outside of any one of REI’s 143 locations. Don’t bother looking for any Black Friday coupons, discounts or promotions from REI either. REI president and CEO, Jerry Stritzke, announced today that its stores will be CLOSED on what is considered one of the most important shopping days of the year. Stritzke is giving his 12,000 employees a paid day off “so they can do what they love most—be outside.”  The company, which brings in annual sales of $2.2 billion, is hoping that consumers will follow suit instead of spending the day spending money. The company has set up a special website, optoutside.rei.com, that among other things, recommends hiking trails, that will presumably remind you of all the gear you need to go and buy at REI once the stores re-open. That’s no joke. As far as PR goes, this is one tactic that is sure to help the company rake in more sales this holiday season than in year’s past. Considering that in 2014, sales from Black Friday weekend actually declined 11%, staying closed on Black Friday, doesn’t seem so insane after all, even though the day has always ranked as one of REI’s ten best sales days, And if you’re jonesing to spend some money online at REI on Black Friday, don’t hold your breath as your order won’t even get processed until Saturday.

Keeps growing and growing…

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Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Wall Street rumor mill is all abuzz with talk that Walgreens Boots Alliance is about to scoop up smaller competitor Rite Aid for upwards of $10 billion. That might be a very generous offer considering that even after shares of Rite Aid jumped 36% to $8.27, the company’s valuation was still only around $8.7 billion. But again, this is all just rumor. For now. Until today, shares of Rite Aid were down 29% since it announced last month that it was lowering its profit and revenue forecast. The move will up Walgreen’s game in the $ 263 billion drug distribution industry where it currently holds 31% of the market share to CVS’s 58%. Rite Aid’s share is but a paltry 10%.  Profits from this industry are a very lucrative $10.3 billion. So who can blame Walgreens for wanting to stake out a bigger share. Walgreens Boots Alliance CEO Stefano Pessina recognizes the United States’ government’s ever-growing role in the pharmaceutical industry all because of the Affordable Care act aka ObamaCare, and he thinks consolidating U.S. pharmacies could yield some massive returns. Of course, Walgreens and CVS still have to contend with competition from online, mail-order and wholesale pharmacies, but for now, they’ll satisfy themselves with bigger fry. Incidentally, Walgreens is supposed to report its fourth quarter results tomorrow.

Jack Ma’s One Singular Sensation; Google Gets New Lease on…Space; Best Buy’s Gobble Gobble

You’re celebrating what?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you despise Valentine’s Day you might want to consider moving to China where November 11, as in 11/11, the holiday known as Singles day, was jubilantly and fiscally celebrated. Started in 1993 by group of Chinese students who decided to celebrate their singledom every year on 11/11, retailers savvily recognized a highly lucrative opportunity and now slash prices on this day in honor of “eligible” shoppers splurging on …themselves. It’s like Cyber-Monday and the opposite of Valentine’s Day all rolled into a neat little discounted package. E-commerce giant Alibaba and its CEO Jack Ma were certainly feeling the Singles Day love as his company hit a record-breaking $9.3 billion mark in sales. And even though Americans might not have been rejoicing in the retail festivities taking place in China, some American retailers, like Costco and Calvin Klein, still got to participate and reaped some good fortune.

The real estate in this town, I tell ya…

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Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Google subsidiary Planetary Ventures is dishing out over $1 billion for some real estate. That’s not to mention the $200 million more it will pay just to fix up the joint. But at  least it’s a sixty year lease, so that’ll give it plenty of time to make it feel like home…or work, I guess. The real estate in question is actually the famous Hangar One at Moffett Field in Silicon Valley (where else?), built in the early 1930’s by the Navy and later transferred to NASA. In case you were wondering what Google plans to do with a massive 350,000 hangar that comes with two runways and a golf course (yes, a golf course), then wonder no more. Google’s looking to broaden its horizons – and portfolio, no doubt – into robotics, drones, balloons and, of course, space. Naturally, there are detractors, like Consumer Watchdog, which feels Google will use the land as it pleases, and not necessarily for the good of mankind. But others, including Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, argue that it provides a great opportunity to restore famed Moffettt Field. Besides, now NASA doesn’t need to to pay over $6 million a year for all those irritating maintenance fees.

Another one bites the turkey dust…

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Image courtesy of hin255/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In the lack-of-Thanksgiving-spirit, Best Buy becomes the latest relatailer to spoil family time and a tryptophan high by serving its Black Friday deals on Thursday as in, Thanksgiving. You can get going on your chaotic Black Friday shopping as early as 5pm, just as you begin to digest your poultry. How convenient. Then you waddle it iff as you meander through aisles and aisles of discounted electronic offerings, until 1 am. Surely with over 1000 stores in 47 states, you’ll able to score a bunch of merchandise at some great prices. But if you just don’t want to destroy the spirit of a national holiday devoted to sitting down at an actual meal with your loved ones and offering thanks for all that you have, Best Buy will still be offering discounts on the actual Friday for which “Black Friday” is aptly named.