American Airlines: Going for Great or Going for Racial Insensitivity?; Congress Lets Banks Off the Hook. For Now; Things Aren’t Looking Sunny at Tesla Lately

Something racially insensitive in the air…

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Some say there’s no such thing as bad publicity but I’m skeptical about that. Take for example American Airlines. The NAACP just issued an advisory cautioning African Americans about traveling on American Airlines because the organization found an alarming pattern of “disturbing incidents” by the airline where black passengers were removed from flights. And the NAACP might just be onto something since it listed four distinct incidents where African American passengers were either taken off flights or moved to other sections of the aircraft despite holding tickets for higher class cabins. The NAACP said that the incidents “suggest a corporate culture of racial insensitivity” which I am pretty certain counts as bad publicity no matter how you slice it. Of course, American Airlines is “disappointed” about the advisory, and not just because it looks sooooooo bad. However, it still plans to reach out to the NAACP and invite representatives to its corporate offices in Texas to discuss the situation. Of course, just like with any bad publicity, American Airlines shares are down over 2%. Rightfully so, I suppose.

Don’t bank on it…

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You might not remember when, during President Obama’s presidency, a regulation was passed that allowed consumers to file class-action suits against banks.  But Congress remembered and today duly killed the regulation from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was established back in July. Just. Like. That.  The rule went like so: If a consumer was unhappy with a financial product or service, think of Wells Fargo or Equifax, and wanted action and accountability from the institution, the said financial institutions could not force a consumer into mandatory arbitration. And if a consumer wanted to participate in a class-action lawsuit, they could. Financial institutions had to nix clauses in their contracts that effectively forced consumers into arbitration. Before that rule came about, consumers could not sue. Could. Not. Sue. There was no option to settle lawsuits. Dems are hopping mad because they wanted that rule to stay put arguing that it allowed consumers to hold banks and financial institutions accountable and that arbitration always seemed to go more in favor of the banks. Republicans argued that class-action suits do not benefit the consumers anyway and have the potential to greatly harm businesses that ultimately and adversely affect the economy. Consumers are no better off, they argued, whether they go through arbitration or are part of a class-action lawsuit. Republicans even cited information from a Treasury report supporting those claims.  Of course, the recent scandals at Wells Fargo and Equifax didn’t exactly help the Republicans argument. Yet miraculously, Congress still managed to put the kibosh on the rule. Consumer advocates are all over this and insist that the war is not over. Except that a key battle was just lost.

Rolling heads…

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While the ranks at Tesla continue to get smaller by the hundreds following an ugly recall of 11,000 Model X SUV’s, employees at Tesla-owned SolarCity are starting to smell the stench of unemployment too.  Over 200 employees were dismissed from their jobs at SolarCity with the dismissed being told that they lost their jobs for performance reasons, or lack thereof. However,  that proved to be an awfully strange excuse considering that several of the aforementioned employees said they hadn’t even received performance reviews since Tesla acquired SolarCity last November for $2.6 billion. Things that make you go hmmm.Tesla did announce it would be firing employees from SolarCity’s Roseville, California office. And it did. Except the carnage didn’t stop there. Apparently, SolarCity employees all over the country were also fired.  As for the Roseville office, some say the office will stay open with 50 employees while others insist that the whole office is being shut down.  In any case, I’m guessing the holidays are going to be awkward this year for Elon Musk and his family since SolarCity was founded by his cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive back in 2006. Critics of Musk’s plan to buy the solar company felt that it would distract the CEO from making great cars.  Maybe. Maybe not. But one thing is for sure: A lot of people are wondering how much longer it is going to be until Elon Musk finally rolls out the super-hyped but affordable Model 3.

 

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Elon Musk Fails to Electrify Wall Street; H&M’s Untrendy Earnings; Dell’s List for Female Entrepreneurs

It’s electric…

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Shares of Tesla took a bit of a dive today as investors attempted to illustrate how they feel about Elon Musk’s idea of buying out his other big endeavor, SolarCity. Musk, who owns about 19% of Tesla, feels that a SolarCity buyout will cut costs for both companies and magically create wonderful new lucrative opportunities. He also believes customers will be inspired to buy up a threesome of his electric cars, home batteries and solar system. Did I mention, by the way, that Musk also own 22% of SolarCity? Just saying. Investors, however, think it’s a bad move for Tesla to take in SolarCity, which would add about $2.6 billion in debt to the electric car maker.  Besides, investors aren’t feeling the love over SolarCity’s growth prospects and the increasing competition that keeps popping up. Tesla has yet to turn out a profit and isn’t even expected to do so until 2020. Of course, Musk disagrees with this analysis and is convinced that this is his year to start making some cold hard cash. Plus, he thinks a SolarCity buyout would put Tesla’s valuation at $1 trillion, and I’m guessing he likes how that sounds. SolarCity’s stock, by the way, is down 50% so far this year.

Un-trendy…

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Fast-fashion retailer H&M had a disappointing second quarter with profits falling a very un-trendy 17% to $847 million. At least sales went up, but only by 2%, to a decent $6.56 billion. But if that’s not bad enough, shares of H&M are down 17% so far this year. Naturally, the weather – the cold weather, this time – and the strong dollar took their share of the blame, as did tomorrow’s Brexit vote, I kid you not. Sales in the U.K., H&M’s third largest market, fell 7% and CEO Karl-Johan Persson thought it might have been because of the looming “Brexit” vote. Because, after all, aren’t most tweens and teens in Britain pondering that issue while they do their fast-fashion shopping at H&M? Persson, by the way, is not a “Brexit” fan. Incidentally, sales also fell in Portugal , France and Switzerland, yet there is no talk of any of those countries pulling out of the EU.

Woman up!

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There’s a new list out brought to us courtesy of Dell that ranks cities according to how good they are for female entrepreneurs. Called the Women Entrepreneur Cities Index, cities on this list are measured according to how well they attract and support female entrepreneurs of high potential who seek to grow and scale their business. In order for a city to even qualify, it first had to be categorized as a city that was already hospitable to entrepreneurs in general, regardless of sex or race. With that out of the way, the index took into account 71 different indicators – which I will not list, you’re welcome – and divided them into five different categories including, markets, talent, capital, culture and tech. The cities were given scores in these areas and the results may – or may not – surprise you. The Big Apple came in first with a score of 58.6 out of 100. The Bay Area followed second with a score of 58.3. Across the pond, London snagged the third place spot while Paris took ninth. Other U.S. cities that pulled in respectable scores included Washington DC in 7th place, Seattle, Washington in tenth place and Austin, Texas coming in twelfth. If you didn’t see your city listed then fear not as only 25 major global cities were taken into account for this particular list. And here’s a fun fact: A correlation was found between how much an area fosters and nurtures female entrepreneurs and that area’s general economic growth. They go hand in hand. How ’bout that.

Whole Foods is Getting a Whole Lot Sunnier; Nothing Like a Good Shareholder Fight; Urban Outfitter Pleasantly Surprises

Here comes the sun…

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Whole Foods is getting solar with a little help from Elon Musk’s Solar City and NRG Energy.  Of its 430-plus locations, up to 184 Whole Foods stores will get the solar treatment and with the stashes of money it is expected to save over the long run, maybe the organic grocer will start pricing their merchandise a little more cost-friendly. Whole Foods went with both companies so as not to be limited. Sounds fair. With a disappointing fourth quarter that saw a $432 million loss and a slower rate of growth, SolarCity’s stock needed this deal which gave its stock a solid 6.3% lift. Because oil prices have been so low, consumers haven’t exactly felt the fiscal pinch to get cost-effective solar installations and SolarCity’s been feeling that effect in its numbers. No word yet on which locations will get the solar experience but the move will put Whole Foods in the same company as Costco and Walmart for being among the top 25 corporate companies to go solar.

United they fall…

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United Airlines has had better…decades, as two investment funds, who together own a 7.1% stake in the airline, are gearing up to turn the airline’s board of directors on its head. PAR Capital Management Inc. and Altimeter Capital Management LP aren’t happy with the way things have been going at the airline, which happens to be ranked as the third largest carrier by traffic and boasts 85,000 employees. The firms have nominated 6 new directors for the United Continental Holding Inc. board in hopes of undoing the “poor performance and bad decisions over the last several years.” Ouch. Because they feel the board is ineffective, one of the board members they are looking to bring in is former CEO Gordon Bethune, who ran the ship from 1994 – 2004, and is credited with turning the airline around back then. Shareholders will vote on the issue at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in the spring. Judging by the company’s low-employees morale, poor customer service, spate of electronic glitches and its inability to improve its on-time performance, there’s probably a whole lot of ugly going on there. The fact is that most of the other big airlines are cranking out huge billion dollar profits, while United Continental is still figuring out how to play catch-up, even after its 2010 merger, which is still plagued by tons of kinks. This news comes just two days after CEO Oscar Munoz announced that he’d be returning to his post on March 14, after being on medical leave since his October heart attack. Oscar Munoz came on board back in September, on the heels of former CEO Jeff Smisek stepping down after it was disclosed that there was a federal investigation involving United Continental and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

So trendy…

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Urban Outfitters’ stock rallied today close to 17% and for a few good reasons. First, the company took in a profit of $72.9 million, adding 61 cents per share. Even though last year the company took in $80.3 million and 60 cents a share, it was still a Wall Street beat since analysts predicted that this time around the retailer would only add 56 cents per share. Boom. The company flat-lined in terms of its net sales, posting $1.01 billion, but it was the improved margins that had Wall Street tongues wagging. There are few things that Wall Street loves more than improved margins and execs are expecting more improvement on the Urban Outfitter fiscal horizon. The trendy apparel company also scored big with customers by adding some new beauty products that it started selling both online and in 70 shops within the stores. In fact, that rollout proved to be such a success that 60 more stores will get to revel in that retail experience.  Investors were so wowed by Urban Outfitters results that over a dozen brokerages even raised their target prices for the company’s stock, with some brokerages predicting those shares could go as high as $38 a share.  Not every analyst was as generous, however, the stock did close today at 32.69.