VW Has Some Arresting; Mars Inc. Has Gone to the Dogs; Alibaba Woos Trump

Arrested development…

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The FBI made its second arrest in the Volkswagen Emissions Scandal. Which is sort of reassuring considering that it seemed like the responsible parties were going to skate free. But there is no skating in the future for Volkswagen executive Oliver Schmidt, whose being charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. His job title, ironically, is “General Manager of the Engineering and Environmental Office for Volkswagen America.”  However, the environment was apparently the last thing on his mind when he allegedly involved himself in the plan to install secret software, known as “defeat devices,” into some 475,000 diesel cars in the United States. If you recall, this naughty software allowed VW automobiles to cheat exhaust emissions tests. The affected vehicles were emitting 40 times the legally allowable amount of pollution levels. VW has yet to comment on the arrests but did say that it was cooperating with the Department of Justice – which seems like a prudent move.  The automobile company is thisclose to settling some of those criminal and civil allegations that has cost it billions so far, not to mention a $15 billion settlement that involves repairing or buying back the compromised vehicles. As for the Detroit Auto show this week, VW executives will be noticeably absent, but presumably, not missed. The first person arrested in the scandal, Robert Liang, already pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government.

Out of this world…

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Mars Inc., maker of the beloved Snickers bar, just announced it’s buying animal hospital VCA Inc, adding 800 pet hospitals to its 900 animal clinics. But don’t go choking on your candy bar just yet if you think pet care and confections don’t mesh to your liking. You needn’t see the logic. Only the math. Last year, $13.7 billion worth of chocolate was sold which was barely more than the previous year. But pet food is projected to grow at an annual rate of 2.5% over the next five years. Mars Inc already had a big 18% chunk of the pet care industry as of 2015 and owns the brands Whiskas and Pedigree, besides the pet hospitals. People spent an estimated $63 billion on pet related goods and services this past  year – a number that has grown 60% over just a decade ago. So VCA fits right into Mars’s lucrative, yet diverse portfolio. Oh, and by the way, Nestle owns Purina. Mars picked up VCA for over $9 billion at approximately $93 per share – more than a 30% premium -and the new company will become Mars Petcare. How’s that Snickers tasting now?

“Big sticks” and stones…

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Everybody’s favorite Chinese e-commerce giant CEO, Jack Ma, had a very interesting meeting with President-elect Donald Trump today. The Chinese billionaire, would like very much to create a million jobs, right here in the United States, particularly in the Midwest. How very gallant of him, especially since there are all these icky growing tensions between China and the United States, courtesy of Donald Trump.  Ma is looking to grow trade so that small businesses and farmers in the U.S. can sell their goods and wares to Chinese consumers. A win-win for everyone, no? But of course there is that one big sticking point – Trump, or rather his plans to slap high tariffs on Chinese imports. An editorial in one of the China’s Communist Party’s newspapers read: “There are flowers around the gate of China’s Ministry of Commerce, but there are also big sticks hidden inside the door — they both await Americans.” I’m guessing China is stocking up on sticks here.

Yahoo’s Got Major Un-security Issues; Big Pharma Slapped With Big Lawsuit; Super Bowl “Ads” Up to Big Bucks

Some heads are gonna roll…

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Today’s massive data breach is brought to us by Yahoo. Again. It’s estimated that a billion users had their personal data breached back in 2013, which is nearly twice as big as the last data breach Yahoo reported just a few months ago that happened in 2014. Now Yahoo has the dubious distinction of being the target of arguably the largest data breach. Ever. Incidentally, it wasn’t even Yahoo that discovered the breach but rather law enforcement officials. Law enforcement handed over files to the internet company that they received from a third party who said the info was stolen. Way to stay on top of things, Yahoo! Virginia Senator Mark Warner is now on a mission to investigate why Yahoo can’t seem to get its cyber-defense act together, while Yahoo is on its own mission to investigate who was responsible for the breach.  The Senator went to the SEC  back in September to ask them to investigate if Yahoo did what it was required to do by informing the public about the breach that occurred in 2014.  Warner would have preferred that Yahoo informed the public about the breach when it first happened – and NOT three years later. Sounds fair. In the meantime, there’s talk about whether Verizon still plans to acquire Yahoo’s core internet business for $4.83 billion. With Yahoo’s stock experiencing its biggest intraday drop in almost a year, that deal might go buh-bye as Verizon reviews “the impact of this new development.”  Or Verizon will just offer Yahoo a lower price to acquire it. Because, apparently it still makes strategic sense to purchase Yahoo even with two massive data breaches under its belt.

Suited up…

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Twenty states are going after big pharma via a massive lawsuit that probably wont be going away anytime soon. Mylan NV,Teva Pharmaceuticals and four other companies that manufacture generic medicines are now staring at the wrong end of a very big lawsuit. This lawsuit, by the way, is completely separate from the investigations being led by the Justice Department and other agencies. The companies are being sued for conspiring to fix drug pricing on two generic drugs: an antibiotic called doxycycline and a drug used to treat diabetes called glyburide. The suit charges that brass at the pharmaceutical companies jacked up the drug prices by setting them and also allocated markets, which they all knew was illegal. They made sure any incriminating correspondence was deleted or simply avoided written communication. When asked for a comment, one of the companies named in the suit, Heritage Pharmaceuticals Inc., conveniently blamed former executives who had since been fired.  Jeffrey Glazer, former CEO of Heritage Pharmaceuticals is actually expected to plead guilty next month. Mylan predictably denied the charges while Teva said it’s still reviewing the complaint. The others remained mum.

Ad-citing news…

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The Super Bowl is still a couple of months away but the advertisers are gearing up for their multi-million dollar thirty second spots come February 5. Rumor has it Fox is charging between $5 million – $5.5 million. GoDaddy, which skipped last year’s Super Bowl ad festivities, is coming back this year, along with Snickers, Skittles and – get this – Avocados from Mexico. Can’t wait to see how Donald Trump tweets about that one.  GoDaddy skipped last year’s festivities, apparently to focus on breaking into more international markets. That mission has presumably been accomplished as the domain services company is now available in 56 markets. Of course, it wouldn’t be the Super Bowl without beer ads and Anheuser Busch has got a whole bunch of spots lined up touting its refreshing assortment. In the meantime, regular advertisers, PepsiCo and FritoLay are sitting out this year. It’ll be the first time in ten years that viewers will not see a Doritos ad during the big game. But don’t get too choked up about Pepsico’s absence. The company will still figure prominently since its Pepsi Zero Sugar is the official sponsor of the half-time show starring Lady Gaga.