CEO Leaving Ralph Lauren Over “Difference of Opinion”; Apple Gets De-Throned; “Fake News” Scandal Leaves Facebook Unscathed

Ride the pony…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Shares of Ralph Lauren fell today, over 11% at one point, all because CEO Stefan Larsson announced he is stepping down after a little over a year on the job. It seems Larsson and the big kahuna himself, Ralph Lauren, just didn’t see eye to eye on how the company should evolve to attract more shoppers, and younger ones, to boot. Which roughly translates to: the two guys just didn’t get along.  Larsson, who used to be the global president of Old Navy,  will step down in three months while the company searches for a new CEO. In the meantime, Ralph Lauren will stay put, in his role as Executive Chairman and Chief Creative Officer while Chief Financial Officer Jane Nielsen will serve as interim CEO. The other thing staying put is a plan – that was already in the works – to enhance the Ralph Lauren brand.  Shares of Ralph Lauren had fallen 22% in the last twelve months and it has had to close several stores and eliminate several jobs. But apparently, and ironically, it’s all part of its growth plan. The news came down during the company’s quarterly report call, where the lifestyle brand reported earnings of $1.86 per share, with revenue down 12% to $1.71 billion. At least that last bit was forecasted. And it was welcome news since analysts expected the company to only pull down $1.64 per share. As for Larsson, he’ll be walking away with a nifty $10 million in severance, not to mention health benefits, for the next two years.

Taking a bite out of the apple…

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Move over Apple. There’s a new sheriff in town. Well, maybe “sheriff” isn’t quite the right word. But the tech giant has been dethroned, this year anyway, as the world’s most valuable brand, and now ranks as the second most valuable brand. Which is ironic, since yesterday it released its earnings report and brutally beat expectations adding  $3.36 per share on a record setting $78.4 billion in revenue. Analysts predicted earnings of $3.22 per share on $77.3 billon in revenues. But I digress. The company to earn the dubious distinction of being the world’s most valuable company for 2016, as determined by Brand Finance, is none other than Google. No great shock here. Brand Finance takes it upon itself to conduct this yearly study, identifying and ranking the 500 most valuable brands in the world. Google, by the way used to sit in the top spot. But it’s been years. Like five of them, to be precise, since it sat atop this illustrious throne. Apple’s brand value tanked 27% from last year’s $146 billion to this year’s $107 billion. As for Google, its brand is currently valued at $109.5 billion. Part of the problem, for Apple anyway, is that the Apple watch failed to become as fabulous as Apple thought it should be.  Then there’s the fact that the tech giant seems to have no new products on the horizon – that we know of – while battling all the  smart-phone competition. According to Brand Finance, “Apple has failed to maintain its technological advantage and has repeatedly disillusioned its advocates with tweaks when material changes were expected…” That’s gotta hurt. And in case you were wondering, because I know you were, Amazon ranks third with a brand value of $106.4 billion, AT&T comes in fourth at $82 billion, while Microsoft rounds out the fifth spot with a brand value of $76.3 billion. And no, I didn’t forget Walmart or Facebook. They rank eighth and ninth respectively.

That’s just beautiful…

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Speaking of Facebook, the social media giant just released its latest quarterly earnings and well, it would be really swell if all companies could have earnings as good as that. And with over one billion users, it’s no wonder the company posted better than expected earnings, to the tune of $2.57 billon with revenues of $8.8 billion and $1.24 added per share. Estimates had Facebook pulling down $1.11 per share and $8.5 billion in revenues while last year at this time Facebook raked in $5.84 billion. If you do the math, that’s a 51% increase over last year. In fact, this quarter marked Facebook’s sixth straight quarter in which it beat forecasts in both profit and revenue. A lot of that success can be attributed to Facebook’s mobile and live video. Its ever lucrative ad revenues also don’t seem to ever disappoint. Facebook is now planning on a hiring spree, especially because it’s looking to create even more community and groups. Its monthly active users are up 17% to 1.86 billion and mobile users were up 21% from last year to 1.74 billion. As for Facebook being enmeshed in the “fake news” controversy, well as you can see, the scandal failed to make a dent at the company. Well, fiscally anyway.

 

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Michael Kors Department Store Diss; Disney Swims to Great 3Q; Ralph Lauren Hits and Misses and Hits

More bag for your buck…

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Michael Kors is biting back at the hand that feeds it: department stores. The accessories company is blaming them for its recent losses, fed up with the constant discounts department stores are putting on Michael Kors merchandise. In case you haven’t noticed there is nary a moment when Michael Kors products are not discounted. I dare you to prove that one wrong. The fact that consumers can use coupons for Michael Kors products? Ugh. Don’t even get them started. In fact, CEO John Idol is putting the kibosh on them and also chucking those friends and family discounts. Michael Kors reported a 7% drop in its first quarter wholesale business and is planning on shipping less merchandise to the stores in an attempt to reclaim some much-needed pricing power. Michael Kors feels that consumers forgot the value of its products. Seems like a prudent move considering that Macy’s, in particular, brings in the largest chunk of wholesale revenue for Michael Kors.  In any case, it’s a strategy that Coach also is beginning to employ, except that Coach also plans to pull out of about 250 stores completely. Earnings came in at $147 million and 88 cents a share on $988 million in revenue. That was a slight change from last year’s $174 million and 87 cents on $986 million. The fact that mall traffic and tourism were down didn’t help matters. Even same stores sales took a 7.4% hit, which was especially brutal since analysts only predicted a 4.2% decline. Still, analysts expected 74 cents on $953 million in revenue, so the earnings weren’t all that bleak in the first place.

It’s Dory’s world after all…

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Disney posted impressive earnings throwing a big shout out to its studio division, who cranked out the incredibly endearing and ridiculously, lucratively marketable “Finding Dory.” Okay, so marine life wasn’t the only reason since “The Jungle Book “and “Captain America: Civil War “also contributed to that success. Just not as much. Not nearly as much. In any case,  Disney particularly relished those 3Q earnings considering that its 2Q earrings missed the mark while this quarter it took in $1.62 per share, beating estimates by one penny. But not everything was coming up roses and clown fish at Disney, all because of ESPN and a future for it that looks more bleak than bright. Taking a beating from “cord-cutting” consumers who are giving the heave-ho to cable subscriptions and bundles, ESPN is, not surprisingly, rapidly losing subscribers. The network signed a $1 billion deal with BAMTech to find a way for ESPN to bring “direct-to-consumer ESPN-branded, multi-sports subscription streaming service.” Two words, ESPN: blue tang.

No medals for you…

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Even Michael Phelps couldn’t help win this one. Of course  I am referring to Ralph Lauren’s recent earnings that had the luxury brand posting a 7% sales loss. Ralph Lauren reported a loss of $22 million with 27 cents per share. That’s a far cry form last year when the company took in a profit of $64 million and 73 cents added per share. Revenue, which came in at $1.55 billion, took a hit, but analysts expected that hit to be closer to $1.77 billion so complaining wasn’t necessary. Shares still went up today so clearly these losses have done little to spook investors. That’s because those losses were expected as part of a strategic comeback plan engineered by Ralph Lauren CEO Stefan Larsson, who took over back in November. His grand plan also includes reducing turnaround times from design to shelves and to focus on Ralph Lauren’s core brands – initiatives that he thinks will generate roughly $180 million to $220 million in annual savings. That and closing about 50 stores should have Ralph Lauren returning to its fiscal glory in no time.

 

Ralph Lauren’s Man with a Plan; Voila! French Rogue Trader Gets Last Laugh…Almost;Ya-Who Will Get the Winning Bid?

 

Plan of attack…

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Ralph Lauren will bite the very preppy bullet and start cutting jobs, closing stores and cashing out on some real estate as the retailer tries to climb out of a dismal fiscal year. Out of its 15,000 full-time employees, 1,000 of them will soon be getting their walking papers so the company can restructure itself and go from nine management layers to six. Spearheading these new changes are CEO Stefan Larrson, who is the person responsible for lifting Gap Inc.’s Old Navy out of its own retail funk awhile back. And Larsson’s got his work cut out for him. The retailer posted sales losses for every quarter of fiscal 2016, resulting in a full year sales decline of 3% and a 30% decline in shares in the last twelve months. Part of Larsson’s plan to lift Ralph Lauren out of its misery is to speed things up. Literally. It currently takes well over a year for a design to hit shelves ,which accounts for improperly forecasting supply and demand. Instead, Larsson will shorten that turnaround, as he feels that nine months is a perfectly reasonable amount of time for designs to reach stores. Unfortunately, 50 of those stores will be closing. But at least there will be over 440 other stores from which to purchase those expedited designs. Phew. While this restructuring will cost Ralph Lauren a whopping $400 million, not to mention an additional $150 million in inventory reduction, this new plan will also help the retailer save $220 million a year and Ralph Lauren needs every million it can get.

Wait a minute…

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Societe General Bank’s very own rogue trader, Jerome Kerviel, just got his day in court. Even though his poor trading skills cost the French bank billion in euros, and got him convicted of fraud and breach of trust in the process, the trader still managed to win a wrongful dismissal case against his former employer. What was, in fact, wrongful, was that SocGen waited too long between the time it discovered Kerviel’s misdeeds and the time it booted him from the firm. French labor code allows companies a grand total of two months to sanction those who have been found guilty of misconduct. Kerviel, however, was dismissed in 2008, many many months after the time, in 2007, when it was discovered that he went rogue and lost 4.9 billion euros. The Labor Court has now ordered SocGen to pay Kerviel 450,000 euros, which is roughly equivalent to $510,000. SocGen’s lawyer, Arnaud Chalut, called the ruling “scandalous,” presumably in French, and plans to appeal the decision. Kerviel, however, is not in the clear just yet and neither is his $510,000. France’s highest court already ruled that the three years of jail time to which Kerviel was sentenced was justified. But the court didn’t feel that he should be liable for the whole 4.9 billion euros. So the bank has brought a civil suit against Kerviel, which begins next week, to determine exactly how much he should pay back to SocGen.

Bid adieu…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Verizon is on the prowl for some internet business and it is honing in on Yahoo. The telecom giant is said to be bidding $3 billion for the privilege of owning Yahoo’s core internet biz, however, Verizon is not the only company looking to scoop up that entity. AT&T is said to be licking its chops at the opportunity, in addition to private equity firm TPG , Advent International and Vista Equity Partners, to name but a few. Experts were thinking that bids would come in between $4 billion and $8 billion. But then some bidders lost interest after Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made a presentation last month showing how Yahoo’s online ad biz is headed south, losing digital advertising ground to Facebook, Google and even Twitter. Yahoo, however, might just prove to be the perfect fit for Verizon, which already picked up AOL last year for $4.4 billion. Together with AOL, the two companies attract over one billion users every month. There is probably going to be one more bidding cycle before any deals are reached and it’s still anybody’s guess where Yahoo will land. But if I were a betting man…well, I’m not.

Forbes/Trump Smackdown; Getting Chip-py With It; Ralph Lauren Preps New CEO

Donald Donald Donald…

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Image courtesy of ponsulak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To take your mind off the fact that we have yet to find a cure for cancer and AIDs, or that people all over the world are living in abject poverty, we now turn our attentions to the Donald Trump vs. Forbes magazine smack down. The two entities are going head to head over Donald Trump’s estimated net worth, with Trump insisting that Forbes has its facts all wrong. “I’m a private company […] I like the people at Forbes but they don’t really know my assets very well,” the Donald said during an interview for CNBC. Forbes says that The Donald’s real estate fortune can be pegged at $4.5 billion, a figure that has the Republican presidential candidate in a snit because he is convinced that the magazine is trying to paint him “as poor as possible.” As if that were possible. Trump insists he’s worth more than $10 billion, questioning Forbes arithmetic skills. Common core, perhaps?  Forbes, in its calculations, doesn’t place a value on brand and that irritates the real estate mogul because the Trump brand, according to Trump, is very valuable and might have led Forbes to a far different fiscal outcome. Maybe. Donald Trump apparently does not take comfort in the fact that he was ranked as the 19th richest American, or that he is by far the wealthiest of the presidential candidates. He’s also miffed that Forbes had the nerve to say that he has a paltry cash stash of just $327 million (forget the research that went into computing that amount) “But I have a lot of cash,”  he insists in a CNBC interview, explaining away that his cash bank account is bursting from the $793 million sitting in it, all green and crispy.

Chipped off…

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Image courtesy of sscreations/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today marks the dawn of a new -and hopefully less fraudulent-riddled – era, as business owners large and small now become liable for fraudulent activities. If a consumer’s info gets swiped, the business from which the offense originated eats the cost and not the bank that issued the card. Consumers, many who are now armed with credit cards containing EMV chips –  as in Europay, MasterCard and Visa (what you thought it was going to stand for some obscure tech jargon?) will now be able to conspicuously consume using new terminals intended to reduce exposure to fraud. In order for the chip to be really secure, a pin number should be used with it. Otherwise, don’t come crying to EMV. I say reduce, because sadly, it does not completely obliterate the cold, callous felonious act. It’s estimated that about 32 million consumers had their credit card info swiped last year, nearly triple that of 2013. The chip creates a unique code for every transaction. But if you have yet to receive your chip card, rest assured that your magnetic stripe-outfitted cards can still be used. Sorry to say but the chip cards won’t be of much use for your cyber-shopping excursions. So make sure the site with which you transact is legit. American Express is getting their chip-action going on October 16 while gas stations get until 2017 to upgrade their terminals.  So far more than 200 million cards with chips in them have been sent out.

Movin’ on up-market…

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A new king has been crowned over at Ralph Lauren, as its namesake CEO, Ralph Lauren himself, “stepped up.” That is not a typo but rather a direct quote from the preppy American style icon, who also happens to be the largest shareholder and intends to maintain his creative input at the company. The new CEO is none other than Stefan Larsson, CEO extraordinaire to fast-fashion brands Old Navy and H&M. His resume actually had some haters doubting the dude who has a lack of luxury goods experience. But Wall Street doesn’t seem to mind as it sent shares of Ralph Lauren up a much needed 12% on Wednesday while also taking a 6% chunk off of shares of Gap Inc for losing its rock star executive. The haters apparently aren’t paying enough attention to the fact that under Larsson’s leadership, Old Navy saw three consecutive years of growth and was the only one of the Gap Inc. brands to show growth at all, 5% just this year. In the meantime, Ralph Lauren had some quarters that were anything but, shall we say, fashion-forward, and is down a dismal 37% for the year.