Schadenfraud Anyone? Forbes Unveils its Latest Top 400; Can’t Stop Netflix; Venmo’s the New Way to Go. At Least According to Paypal

That’s a whole lotta money…

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Forbes has unveiled its latest list. This time it’s the top 400 richest Americans for 2017 and there are very few surprises in store. Bill Gates and his $89 billion net worth takes the top spot, followed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and everyone’s favorite Omaha Oracle, Warren Buffett.  Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg sits pretty in fourth place. The first time we finally see a woman on the list is at spot number 13 and it’s occupied by Alice Walton of the illustrious Walmart clan. There are 22 newbies on the list and some of them are even self-made billionaires, including Netflix CEO Reed Hastings who comes in at number 359. He had a good year and his company had a great quarter. But we’ll get to that one in a bit. Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick comes in at number 115, despite being out of his CEO job, while beloved Star Wars creator George Lucas gets spot 118. As for President Trump, he did make the list, coming in at a less than impressive (for him) ranking of 248.  He shares the spot with 15 other people including Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel. Their fortunes are valued at $3.1 billion, a figure the President will probably dispute. It’s a steep drop for the President, whose 2016 ranking had him at the 156th spot. But I guess that’s what happens when your portfolio loses $600 million. I wonder who he’s going to blame for that one?

Wall Street ❤️ Netflix…

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The best way to bring Wall Street to its finicky knees is to crush its expectations. And Netflix did just that. First, the video streaming company laughed in the face of analysts’ projections for subscriber growth. For Netflix that was a 5.3 million increase, far from the modest forecast of 4.5 million new subscribers. A large percentage of those new subscribers came from outside the U.S. Netflix now boasts 109 million subscribers and I’m guessing you must be one of them, right? As for the next quarter, the company expects to add 6.3 million subscribers. Revenue for the company was $2.99 billion, again beating projections of $2.97 billion.  However, at first glance, Netflix’s profit was not so impressive. But that’s only because the company is throwing down serious cash for producing its own shows. And if you’ve ever seen “Orange is the New Black” or “House of Cards” then you’d probably agree that it’s money well spent.  So what does this all mean for you, the Netflix connoisseur/viewer, who obsessively waits for new seasons of your beloved shows to be unleashed? Well, you can probably expect an increase in your subscription plans but hey, that’s the price you gotta pay if you want to keep watching new seasons of “Stranger Things,” right?

Going half-sies…

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If you haven’t signed up for Venmo yet, now might be a good time to start. The company just announced that users can now use the app to make mobile online purchases from over 2 million retailers including Forever 21 and Foot Locker.  But what’s so darn cute about Venmo is a feature that gives you the option to split a purchase with a friend. Or even an acquaintance, I suppose. Which is so great when you go out for lunch and can’t be bothered to do the math at the table or when you just want to pay the rent down the middle. And, you can even share status updates about the purchase. How nifty. Especially if you’re a millennial. Did I mention that Paypal is Venmo’s parent company? Well, it is. And pretty much anywhere you’re able to use PayPal, you can now use Venmo there as well. Just think of all the Lululemon merchandise you can purchase with all your besties.

 

 

 

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Walmart’s Feeling Very Merry; Walmart’s Also Getting Grinchy; Campbell’s: Carrot’s Not Good Food!

Drones, scooters, lip gloss trucks…oh my!

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Those are just some of the goodies that are on Walmart’s top 25 toys for the holiday season. Wait! WWWWhhhhaaat? We didn’t even feast at our Labor Day barbecues yet and already the largest U.S. retailer is already gearing up for Christmas? Well, who can blame Walmart, after all? It has to compete against Toys R Us, Target, but most importantly, Amazon. In all fairness, there are only 114 days left until Christmas.  The toy industry sees 70% of annual sales occurring in the last two months of the year. No reason why that percentage can’t be increased. So it makes sense that Walmart is pulling out all the stops to upset the competition. Starting tomorrow you can even begin putting your holiday shopping on layaway. Just as long as the item(s) are a minimum of $50. Since toys that are inspired by movies outperform other toys by A LOT, Walmart is betting big on Star Wars, Disney and those ever-industrious Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Input for the top 25 toys came from kids between the ages of 1.5 years old to twelve years old, whose faves included a Star Wars Electronic R2D2 and a Num Noms Lip Gloss Truck. Personally I could go for both. Six of the top 25 toys will be exclusive to Walmart, with another 400 more exclusives that didn’t break the top 25. Nothing like a little exclusivity to gain that retail edge, right?

In other Walmart news…

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On the heels of expanding its layaway program, the country’s largest private employer will be laying off 7,000 of its employees. Those employees will hail from the ranks of accounting and invoicing. But don’t be so quick to judge. There’ll be plenty of time for that later. By cutting those 7,000 jobs, Walmart can hire more employees to work in its stores in customer-facing positions. Hey, don’t knock it. It’s the one-thing Amazon can’t do as well given its online domination. And no doubt, if those 7,000 employees want customer-facing roles, its likely Walmart will find a place for them. I think. The irony just warms the heart, doesn’t it? This latest initiative began in the summer, when 500 stores eliminated three administrative positions. The test was to determine if the functions of those positions could be redistributed to other employees, with some even being replaced by machines. Unfortunately for those whose jobs were eliminated, the test worked. Walmart made a huge push shifting spending to employees who work in the stores stocking shelves and dealing with customers. Walmart already plunked down $2.7 billion for wage increases to boost the wages of those employees. There must be something to be said for that approach as the retailer reported 79 weeks of rising customer satisfaction, eight straight quarters of increased sales and improved traffic.

That darn carrot!

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The world’s largest soup maker, Campbell’s Soup, reported smaller than expected adjusted profit for its fourth quarter. But the real story is the culprit behind that disappointing profit…carrots. Yes. Carrots. After all, how can you trust a vegetable that looks prettier than it tastes? Four years ago Campbell’s Soup bought Bolthouse Farms for $1.55 billion in order to expand its fresh and organic offerings. But this year a drought in California put quite the damper on the season’s carrot crop that led to lower sales of carrots – because of their higher-than-normal prices – and carrot-based products. Then there was that pesky recall of its protein drinks that also took those earnings on a very unpleasant dive. Campbell’s reported an $81 million net loss. However, that was tied to a $141 million pre-tax impairment charge from writing down the value of Bolthouse Farms. But still. The loss was painful. If that weren’t bad enough, the company also forecast earnings that were not what analysts were hoping to see. Instead of raking an estimated $3.15 for the year, Campbell’s only expects to take in between $3.00 and $3.09. Wall Street is so not into earnings forecast reductions. But Campbell’s still felt confident enough to raise its quarterly dividend from 31.2 cents to 35 cents. So maybe soup is good food after all.

Oprah’s Next Favorite Thing; The Force Does Not Awaken Hasbro’s “Girl” Toys; Amazon/New York Times Smackdown

Everything she touches turns to green…

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Media titan-ess and Forbes’ 211th richest American, Oprah Winfrey, just added to her portfolio by scooping up a 10% stake in Weight Watchers. At $6.79 a pop, Winfrey snagged 6.4 million shares for a $43.2 million purchase.”I believe in the program so much I decided to invest in the company and partner in its evolution.” Awww. Apparently, her own personal experience with the company’s program led her to some very desirable results and now investors are hoping to see if the “Oprah Effect” can help turn around the struggling diet company, which has been in a perpetual slump for the last few years. So far it seems to be working as the stock soared 92% on the news of Oprah Winfrey’s involvement with a seat on the board as well as becoming an adviser to the company. Maybe that surge will help offset the 92% loss the shares have suffered since 2011, when the stock hit its peak of $85.76. The company had been losing ground to the tech age as dieting has been steadily going digital. Now Weight Watchers has begun to shift its program to focus on living a healthier lifestyle as opposed to just dieting and is jumping on the digital bandwagon by offering tech services to attract new customers and keep existing ones, Oprah and all.

May the force be with your profits…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The force is apparently with Hasbro as the toy company’s earnings are up 15% mostly thanks to licensing deals with Jurassic World and Star Wars. The toymaker was able to strike down analysts forecasts with profits coming in at $207.6 million and a $1.64 per share when predictions were for $1.52 per share. Hasbro easily beat last year’s same-period digits of $180.5 million and $1.40 per share. But the dark force still looms large for the toymaker and not just from the $132 million that was affected because of the strong U.S. dollar. Shares from its girl division fell 28% for the fourth straight quarter. Is it even P.C. for Hasbro to have a boys and girls category? Just wondering.  But the young consumers, to whom these girl toys are presumably marketed, have been shifting their preferences towards gadgets and tablets instead of blond hair and magic ponies. Which is too bad since that female-focused category accounts for 50% of Hasbro’s total revenues and remained at a very flat $.147 billion.

Right back at ya!

Image courtesy of digital art/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digital art/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m guessing there will be no Amazon swag for the New York Times in the near (and distant) future. Still reeling from a scathing New York Times story from August, Amazon has finally fired back at the newspaper by calling into question its reporting capabilities.  Not that Amazon is the first entity to have to do this with the New York Times, but I digress. The story, published back in August, painted a very unattractive picture of the employee atmosphere at the e-commerce giant. Former White House Spokesman Jay Carney, who now serves as Amazon’s Senior Vice President for Global Corporate Affairs, strongly responded to the “newspaper of record” for blog Medium. Carney said it took two months to formulate its response to the New York Times because the tech giant was “hoping they might take action to correct the record. They haven’t, which is why we decided to write about it ourselves.” Among some of the pearls was the bit about former Amazon employee Bo Olsen who, when interviewed by the NYT, told reporters Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, that he saw many many employees crying at their desks.  Apparently he was making these observations while defrauding vendors and falsifying business records and subsequently resigned following an investigation. So much for the Pulitzer on that story.

Greek Banks Open for Business Again. Sort of.; Avengers: Age of Ultron Beats the Street; Morgan Stanley Profit Beat

Bank on it…

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Image courtesy of patpitchaya/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

After one long, fiscally painful week where Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras begrudgingly agreed to terms for a bailout with Greece’s creditors, the country’s banks are finally back up and running. It only took three weeks to get to this point. But at least now both the IMF and ECB can look forward to getting some of their money back and Greece gets to stay in the euro. It’s a win-win. Sort of. And while here in the states, running to the bank can be nothing short of a tedious errand, in Greece, that one act is now reason enough to celebrate. Of course with the sales taxes in Greece increasing so dramatically  – from 13% to 23% –  celebrating such an event might become prohibitively expensive. But like I said, at least Greece gets to stay in the euro. As these austerity measures take effect, Greeks will now be able to make deposits, access their safety deposit boxes and above all else, make withdrawals. Only now, they aren’t limited to daily withdrawals of $65 per day anymore. Instead, Greeks can actually withdraw a whopping max of 420 euros ($455 bucks)  a week. As for transfers abroad…those are gonna have to wait.

Dinosaurs, Avengers and Star Wars – oh my!

Image courtesy of  Dr Joseph Valks/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Dr Joseph Valks/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s been a super-hero kind of a quarter for Hasbro whose earnings had a major boost from Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World and perennial classic, Star Wars. The toy company actually posted a smaller than expected decline. Yes, you read that right. But what’s really weird – in a good way – is that the toys typically favored by boys were the big winners/earners this quarter. Usually, its the female driven categories that hog the earnings glory. Only this time, that category that includes Nerf Rebelle and My Little Pony took a 22% hit in net revenue. But, the company’s revenue didn’t go down as much as analysts thought it would. And that’s why everyone seems to be so stoked about the $779 million in revenue Hasbro did bank. That’s a welcome difference from the estimated $773 million Hasbro was expected to take in. And because it’s the cool fiscal thing to do these days, the strong dollar/foreign exchange rates took some flack for the drop in the toy company’s revenue. Otherwise, profit was a cool $41 million adding 33 cents per share when Wall Street only expected a paltry 29 cents per share.

They got the beat…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Morgan Stanley’s profit fell by 8.5% over last year’s results. But no one’s too upset. I mean, don’t get me wrong. Nobody’s whipping out the champagne (that I know of) but the bank still managed to score some impressive gains in all three of its main businesses so hope isn’t exactly lost. With a little help from brokerage fees and increased trading, Morgan Stanley banked a $1.8 billion profit adding 79 cents per share – after a tax benefit. Analysts only expected the bank to earn 74 cents per share. However, not be a downer but last year at this time the company scored a profit of $1.9 billion with 92 cents per share. However,  Morgan Stanley does get bragging rights – for this quarter anyway – as it had the biggest revenue increase out of all six major U.S. banks,  pulling down a whopping $9.7 billion. Last year at this time that figure was closer to $8.6 billion.The question is, can they keep pulling that trick off?

Disney’s Magical Earnings; Staples looking to Buy $6.3 billion Worth of…More Staples; Ralph Lauren’s Earnings Not Looking Stylish

Let it surge…

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Shares of Walt Disney Co. hit a spell-binding all-time high to just under $100 a share after it came out with its first quarter earnings. While the magical company behind the even more magical kingdom didn’t give all the credit to “Frozen,”  executives did mention the movie of sisterly love a whopping 24 times during the company conference call. One might think, based on that call, that “Frozen” is Disney’s only franchise. But in fact, the company has 11 of them raking in over $1 billion a year. Perhaps you’ve heard of one that goes by the name “Star Wars”? Or how ’bout the folks who call themselves, “The Avengers”? Then there’s that dude in spandex, who anointed himself “Spiderman” as he shares a lot in common with the arachnid community. Oh and don’t forget Cinderella either. But yeah, the “Frozen” phenomenon and all its related merchandise did do a lot for Disney’s record quarterly sales which saw major action during the holiday season. Walt Disney Co. also has tons of other stuff things going on and making money like say, theme parks, ESPN, and all sorts of (expensive) entertainment of the non-franchise variety. The House of Mouse pulled in a profit of $2.18 billion and $1.27 per share. Clearly analysts have yet to see “Frozen” as they only expected Disney to come in at $1.07 per share.

Man, that’s a lot of staples…

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Image courtesy of anankkml/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Staples is looking to add to its arsenal of staples by buying Office Depot to the tune of $6.3 billion at roughly $11 per share. It’s their second go at it. In 1996, the two companies tried to merge but the FTC put the kibosh on the deal over antitrust concerns.  Something about giving the American people a choice, I suspect.  This impending merger is still subject to regulatory approval however, it’s not expected to be challenged this time for two very nifty reasons: 1.) The FTC already approved the Office Depot/OfficeMax merger, so it would be so unfair if it didn’t approve this one and 2.) The internet has changed things so the FTC isn’t so worried about Staples being the only office supply game in town. Besides, even if the FTC says no to the union, it’s still a win for Office Depot as Staples will pay $250 million to OfficeDepot as a break-up fee. Gotta love a break-up fee. The two companies have 4,000 stores between them, though Staples has been in the process of closing down over 200 stores to boost profits while Office Depot has been closing unnecessary stores after its OfficeMax merger.

So passé…

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Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ralph Lauren’s clothes may be beautiful but its earnings sure aren’t. The famed iconic apparel company, which also owns Club Monaco and American Living, actually had to lower its full year revenue growth forecast. Again. Basically, the company is saying that it doesn’t expect to pull in as much money as its investors would like and they should brace themselves. Because it’s never the fault of the company when it posts bad earnings, Ralph Lauren is blaming that annoying strong dollar of ours and also the fact that people here aren’t buying the stuff. Except on Wall Street they say “weak consumer spending” like it’s our fault. Profit for the company was $215 million and $2.41 per share. Sounds decent except when you consider that last year, the  label pulled in $237 million and $2.57 per share. Meanwhile, revenue was up. A little. By 0.9%. To around $2.03 billion. Oh well.