Sears and Whirlpool: The Breakup; Mall Rats: Target vs. Amazon; 3M Earnings: It’s More Than Just Post-its

It’s not you. It’s me…


Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/

Breaking up is hard to do. Especially if the numbers don’t add up. Which is precisely why Sears is dumping Whirlpool along with all of its other brands including Maytag, KitchenAid and JennAir. According to Sears, “Whirlpool has sought to use its dominant position in the marketplace to make demands that would have prohibited us from offering Whirlpool products to our members at a reasonable price.” Which I guess is Sears’s way of telling everyone that Whirlpool really just needed to get over itself because it felt people weren’t going to pay a lot of money for appliances that don’t say Wolf on them. If you know what I mean. And I think you do.  And just like that, a one-hundred-year-old relationship was brought to its knobby knees.  In case you were wondering if this breakup had anything to do with Sears’s own fiscal woes, you’d be mistaken.  After all, you can still walk into your local Sears and pick up a very fancy schmancy Bosch or LG appliance. And while Sears stock took a 3% hit today on the news, Whirlpool’s stock fared worse with investors sending the stock down over 10%.As for Whirlpool, while the company did report disappointing earnings, it can’t really point the finger at Sears, since the beleaguered retailer was only responsible for 3% of Whirlpool’s global sales.

Down with Amazon…


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Could it be that the unstoppable, unflappable Amazon is actually getting stopped and flapped? Apparently, that’s the case as it goes up against Target and other major big-box retailers, not in the online arena, but in the real estate realm. Of course Amazon’s A-game is in its e-commerce, but it’s the big box retailers that have the advantage when it comes to brick-and-mortars. Just ask Whole Foods, who can tell you a thing or two about trying to find a place to call home. You see, it all boils down to leases. Think of a co-op board, except the president of the board in this case tends to be big companies like Target, Best Buy and Bed Bath & Beyond, among others. Those guys get a lot of say in who moves into their malls. And because Target and friends are paying the biggest amount of money in leases, they get to make all sorts of demands, like who is and isn’t allowed to move into a particular mall and under what conditions they can move in. Now that Whole Foods calls Amazon its boss, it’s finding it challenging to get into new locations if there are already other big retailers installed that find themselves competing with Amazon. See how the tables have turned?

Post this!


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If you used a Post-It note today then you helped contribute to 3M’s third-quarter boffo earnings. All those office supplies and little pieces of paper may not look like much but they raked in $8.2 billion in sales with a profit of $1.43 billion that added $2.33 per share. That profit, by the way, was an 8% increase over last year’s profit at this time. But in all fairness, the company’s not just about it post-it notes and tape. The company also makes industrial coatings and ceramics and those items bring in big money. The stock itself is up over 30% in the last year and today’s news sent shares up the most in eight years. Crazy, I know. It also helps that two-thirds of 3M’s sales come from overseas. So even when there’s a strong dollar working against U.S.-based business, a company that earns a majority of its money outside the country is able to hold its own very well and can offset losses. The icing on the cake, for 3M anyway, is that the company beat Wall Street’s expectations. And who isn’t a sucker for a good Wall Street beat?


Hasbro’s Singing the Toys “R” Us Blues; It’s Good to Be Amazon; Target Goes on Holiday Offense With New Shopping Strategies

Don’t toy with me…


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Hasbro’s getting burned and it’s blaming Toys “R” Us. The toy company gave some abysmal holiday forecasts which sent shares down about 8%. Toys “R” Us owes creditors some $5 billion.  Among them is Hasbro which was left with a $60 million hole now that all those toys from the company aren’t headed to the toy store’s shelves.  It’s worth noting, however, that Hasbro only sold about 9% of its total inventory through Toys “R” Us.  But it isn’t just Hasbro that’s feeling the heat. Shares of Mattel also took a 4% hit today since a Toys “R” Us bankruptcy affects the entire toy industry, in some instances worse than others.  Incidentally, Hasbro’s third quarter profit went up 3% to $267 million and $2.09 per share, while its quaterly revenue increased 7% to $1.79 billion over the same time last year. Expectations were for $1.78 billion in revenue with just $1.94 per share. Hasbro has “The Last Jedi” to thank for some of this quarter’s gains, along with perennial favorites Monoply and My Little Pony.

Carrot dangling…


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Dignity be damned as 238 cities found themselves swooning and doing whatever they could to lure Amazon’s $5 billion HQ2 project to their part of the country. NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio had major New York City landmarks lit up in “Amazon orange” while Newark, New Jersey shrewdly offered the e-commerce giant $7 billion in tax breaks. Because after all, who more so than Amazon should be entitled to receive a $7 billion tax break? But hey, who can blame any of these cities or their savvy leaders for trying to woo Amazon to their neck of the woods. Just ask Seattle, a city that experienced a $38 billion boost to its economy because each dollar that Amazon invested into the city between 2010 to 2016 resulted in an additional $1.40 for the city. Not sure who figured out that formula but its easy to see why everyone wants in on that action. And while Newark’s offer must be awfully enticing, word on the street is that the current front runners are Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and Detroit.

Target acquired…


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Target’s got some new tricks up its sleeve this holiday season and is going with the “less is more approach.” What there will be less of are promotions. At least the constant bombardment of them. Apparently that tactic didn’t work so well for the retailer last year and only resulted in a 1.3% decline for the company.  But there’s no need to freak out that Target wont be offering any special deals. It’s just going for a more streamlined approach. Instead of constant deals and promotions, it plans to offer special weekend deals while remaining focused on pricing its merchandise correctly and competitively from the start. The company’s 1,800 stores will also offer a much bigger variety of gifts priced under $15. Expect to see around 1,700 offerings in that category. Perennial favorite, “free shipping  with no minimum” will once again resurface from November 1 – December 23 because, hey,  who doesn’t like free shipping. But perhaps Target’s most exciting new feature is the one dubbed “Gift Now.” Shoppers buy gifts and their (un)lucky recipients open them virtually via email. If  the recipient likes the gift, they enter their shipping address in order to receive the item. If not, they get to pick out something else for the same value. If that’s not novel, I don’t know what is.

Grocery Disrupt: Amazon’s Latest Venture Good Become a Store Near You; Tyson’s New Add-Venture; Trump’s Taxing Tariff Tweets

Move over, humans…


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Just when you to start to wonder what else Amazon could possibly do to disrupt and reinvent the retail shopping experience, along comes Amazon Go, an actual brick-and-mortar-store brought to you by the e-commerce giant. Talk about irony. The concept, which is still being tested by Amazon employees, allows shoppers to literally grab food and walk out. No lines. No cashiers. Customers just take their cellphones and tap them on a turnstile to get logged into the store’s network, which in turn connects to the Amazon Prime app, already conveniently installed on their phones. Customers pick items off the shelf and put them into their cart while, with the aid of sensors and artificial intelligence, the same items are also placed in virtual shopping cart. If a shopper decides that they don’t want an item, they simply place it back on the shelf and the item also disappears from the virtual cart. Like magic. Should you crave something a bit more immediate, the store also offers up fresh food, prepared on site. Once customers are done, they simply walk out while the app does all the work, which basically involves adding everything up and then charging respective Amazon accounts. The company has been on the hunt to gain a big presence in the food retail industry, an industry which still fiscally eludes it, and also happens to be one of the biggest retail industries. Ever.  Its fresh food delivery is nice and all, but Amazon’s set its sights on competing with the big grocery players like Wal-Mart, Krogers and Target. The food retailer index took a 1% dive on Amazon’s news while shares of Amazon went up. But established grocers can breathe a very brief sigh of relief easy as Amazon still has a few months before it opens up the store to the public. And humans, fear not. One tech investor said that people are still a very big, necessary component of the retail experience and to scrap the notion that jobs will be lost to machines. Phew.

Speaking of food…


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What to do when you’re a $20 billion company whose prime business is chicken, beef and pork, and you keep losing money to the alternative-meat and fresh-food industry? Why, you set up a venture capital firm, of course. And that’s just what Tyson Foods did in an attempt to compete with a burgeoning industry that is literally eating into its business model. Apparently, plant-based protein and food sustainability is where it’s at these days and if you can’t beat ’em then join ’em by investing in their start-ups. Hence we have Tyson New Ventures LLC, a $150 million venture capital firm that Tyson launched to tap into a market that favors more plant-based and fresh food. The venture capital firm will look to companies that are working on making food-related “breakthroughs” and new innovative technology and business models that relate to food. Tyson already announced its first investment a few months ago, when it bought a 5% stake in Beyond Meats, a company that makes meat-like products. Tyson has got nothing to lose either, considering its last earnings report was nothing short of dismal, and the news that its long-time CEO Donnie Smith was stepping down did nothing to instill confidence in investors. Tyson isn’t the only firm to try out this venture capital idea. Other companies like Campbells Soup, Coca Cola, General Mills and Kellogg’s have all established similar firms with pretty much the same objective: to continue to be a prominent player in a shifting market and industry landscape.  So far this year venture firms have already thrown $420 million into various food and agricultural companies. In 2015 that number approached $650 million.

A day without Trump?


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Over the weekend, President-elect Donald Trump mentioned, in a series of tweets of course, that he wants to get back at U.S. companies who dare shift jobs and production overseas. His preferred revenge tactic would be in the form of a 35% tariff and, strangely enough, his fellow Republicans don’t seem to be on board. The top House Republican, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, does not support Trump’s tariff idea and thinks that the best, most effective way to create and keep jobs in the U.S. is via major tax reform. There seem to be a whole bunch of issues at play with Trump’s (overly) ambitious tax-revenge plans, including the fact that such a move goes against the whole spirit of free trade and has the potential to spark trade wars. And nobody likes wars, whether they involve armed conflict or goods and services. Tax specialists and other assorted experts have also said that it’s fairly debatable as to whether or not Trump’s tactics are even legal.  Republicans are, however, partial to over-hauling the corporate tax code in an effort to keep U.S. companies from fleeing to more tax-hospitable countries. They’d like to cut that pesky corporate tax rate to 20% or less which would allow the U.S. to be more competitive globally. House Republicans are also in favor of imposing corporate taxes to all imported goods and services and scrapping them for exports. But leave it to the critics to argue that changes like that might be seen as violations of the World Trade Organization.  In any case,  it remains to be seen how exactly Trump will get his way, if he does. That’s because tariffs aren’t typically applied to specific companies but rather entire classes of goods. Besides, the president doesn’t get to make those kinds of decisions anyway. That’s for Congress to decide and Congress doesn’t seem, shall we say, receptive, to Trump’s tariff talk.


Trump’s Treasury Trove; Things are (finally) Looking Up for Target; Neiman Marcus Bets on Rentals


Trump’s to treasure…


Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/

Leave it to Carl Icahn to tweet that Donald Trump honed in on his choices for Treasury Secretary and Commerce Secretary. And, believe it or not, those choices may not be as bad as you think. Enter Steven Mnuchin, a veteran Wall Streeter and former Goldman Sachs partner who most recently served as Donald Trump’s campaign finance manager. Okay, that last bit may not be his best selling point. But if it makes you feel any better, controversial Trump White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon didn’t care for him and questioned Trump on whether he was “selling out to Wall Street.” Next we have Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor and major NAFTA critic who also served as part of Trump’s economic advisory team. Ross has a knack for restructuring failing companies and has done so successfully in the energy and textile industries. That’s a big resume plus for the Commerce Secretary post. However, if Ross is serious about the post, he’ll have to step down from the numerous boards on which he serves, besides selling off tons of investments or chucking them into a blind trust. As for Carl Icahn, he tweeted that “Both would be great choices” and that they are “two of the smartest people I know.” And, if Carl Icahn thinks that then it must be so. Right?

Target = hipster?


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Things are looking up for Target. At least according to its CEO, Brian Cornell who said today that he is “increasingly confident” about Target’s new plans and endeavors for its 1,800 plus stores. Part of those endeavors include its foray into small-format stores. Those are basically shops that are targeted – no pun intended – to meet the consumer wants and needs of a specific location. With several under its belt already, Target’s latest small-format shop is slated for a 45,000 square foot space in super hip NYC locale, Tribeca. But Cornell’s enthusiasm went way beyond just the new stores. Shares of the retailer went up almost 9% today in pre-market trading because its third quarter sales decline was smaller than expected. Translation: Target didn’t lose as much money as experts thought it would. Those sales were down almost 7% to $16.4 billion, but that was primarily due to Target selling its pharmacy biz to CVS. As for the company’s e-commerce department, those sales were up 26% over the same time last year, which was especially welcome news considering that e-commerce for Target’s second quarter was down.

All rent out of shape…


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Online clothes and jewelry rental companies are betting that if you’re not a customer now, you will be after you visit them at an actual showroom. And so begins a new journey for companies like Blue Nile and Rent the Runway, who have decided that it would be cheaper to install showrooms and hire staff than to find new ways of advertising that would attract new customers. Blue Nile already successfully tested out this timeless showroom concept with just 300 square feet at one lucky Nordstrom department store, while Rent the Runway is set to unveil a 3,000 square foot space at Neiman Marcus’ San Francisco store on Friday. However, many are skeptical that this is a prudent move for Neiman Marcus assuming that instead of buying Neiman Marcus inventory, customers will simply rent it from Rent the Runway. And is it wise for Neiman Marcus to be playing around with such a novel concept after losing $407 million in its last quarter? But the logic is that Rent the Runway has 6 million customers in an age demographic that Neiman Marcus would like to have. The luxury store is banking that the customers who come and pay to rent the high-end brands will end up being big ticket buyers of those very same high-end brands soon after. Plus, for an additional $30 – $75, Neiman Marcus will throw in styling services for Rent the Runway customers. Rent the Runway’s concept might seem cute but the money is definitely serious. A monthly subscription of $139 gets you up to three pieces at a time which you can keep for the month or send back in less than a day. The company so far raised $126 million in start-up venture capital and already exceeded its 2016 sales projections of $100 million.  So maybe Neiman Marcus is onto something because Rent the Runway sure is.



New Start-Up That Makes Travel Affordable; One Down, More to Go: Wells Fargo’s John Stumpf Goes Buh-Bye; Delta Gets its Due for August Outage

Coffee, Tea or Affordable Travel?


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.neti

There’s a one year old tech start-up that wants to get you traveling. It’s called Airfordable, and it lets users pay for airline tickets through installments. But first you need to take a screenshot of your itinerary and upload it to the site. Then the company sends you a payment plan. If you want to make it yours, you need to shell out a third of the price for the initial deposit. But once your ticket is paid off, Airfordable will present you with an e-ticket and you’re well on your way. Co-founder and CEO Ama Marfa came upon the idea whilst in college and unable to afford the $2,000 airfare to fly home and see her family in Ghana. And she wasn’t the only one as several students, both domestic and international encountered similar challenges. So how does Airfordable make a buck? By simply adding a service fee of between 10% – 20% spread evenly across the payments. If a user defaults or needs to change plans, all the money that was paid, minus the initial deposit, gets put back into their Airfordable account, where users have up to a year to use the money towards a different flight.  As with any ambitious start-up, the company plans to branch out into vacation packages and hotels. Airfordable already has 27,000 users and scored a seed round of funding from Y Combinator. Not bad for a company that came into existence after America’s abysmal choices in the presidential primaries.

What are you going to do with all that free time?


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

The drama continues at embattled Wells Fargo but at least John Stumpf has finally threw in the executive retirement towel yesterday. At first denying and then blaming 5,300 terminated  low-level employees, Stumpf managed to incur the wrath of investors, lawmakers and consumers. Oh my! His abysmal handling of the scandal that involved the opening of countless fraudulent accounts gained extra special attention from Senator Elizabeth Warren. And if for some inexplicable reason you feel sympathy for Mr. Stumpf, then don’t. He’s walking away with over $133 million – and that’s after a $41 million clawback in unvested options courtesy of Congress. That $130 million figure is not a typo. In case you’re wondering how on earth he will be walking away with more money than those 5,300 terminated employees probably made in the last ten years combined, he’s entitled to 2.4 million shares, $4.4 million from deferred compensation plus another $20 million from his pension account. But take heart that he received no severance. Isn’t that reassuring? But that’s not his only source of income. For now anyways. While Stumpf has been CEO at Wells Fargo since 2007, he also still sits on the boards of Target and Chevron and collects…wait for it…about $650,000 frrm those positions. Both Target and Chevron have yet to take an official position on whether Mr. Stumpf will continue his  roles at those organizations. But judging by how events have been unfolding, he might just end up with a lot more free than he anticipated.



Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Delta Airlines took a profit hit for the third quarter. The airline lost $150 million from its massive tech outage that saw the cancellation of 2,300 flights over the course of three days back in August. Even though analysts expected that, Delta still earned $1.3 billion, a 4% drop over last year at this time, but still adding up to $1.70 added per share.  The company took in $10.5 billion in revenue, which is not as impressive as one might think considering that it was a 5.6% decrease and a $724 million drop from the same time last year. And yes, about $100 million of that was from the outage.  In any case, analysts wanted to see revenues of $10.55 billion. So no matter how you crunch those numbers, they disappoint. Part of the problem was that the airline had too many seats – a fact that was not lost on the number crunchers. Delta will scale back its seat offerings next year in an effort to boost prices. Something to look forward to. Because fuel prices are still a relative bargain, Delta got away with spending just $1.4 billion, 22% less than it did during the same time last year. But experts don’t expect that to happen again. Shares for the airline are down 23% for the year, which only adds to the weirdness surrounding the sudden departure of executive chairman Richard Anderson just two days ago.


Ya-Oops! Internet Biz Breach; Tesla Calling Out Wolverine State; Budget Beauty Goes IPO Glam

Out of breach…


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As if things couldn’t get any dicier at Yahoo, the company is now facing the wrong end of a security breach with roughly 500 million Yahoo accounts caught in the fray of the company’s core internet business. And all this as Yahoo hopes to close a $4.8 billion deal with Verizon so the telecom giant can acquire those compromised core internet assets. It seems talk of a breach surfaced way back in August when a story broke out about a hacker, who goes by the name “Peace,” sold a ton of personal info that included birthdates, usernames, scrambled passwords etc. for the price of three bitcoins. In case you were wondering, because I know you were, that’s around $1,800. The question of the day is should Yahoo have come clean about the breach sooner and been a bit more proactive? After all, there are laws regarding breaches in 48 states that stipulate that companies must alert affected customers within a certain amount of time. But Yahoo might be in the clear since no social security numbers or other financial information was supposedly involved.  For those who have Yahoo accounts and want to take additional precautions, besides changing passwords, they can visit



Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Tesla’s not very happy with Michigan right now as evidenced by the lawsuit it filed against the state and its Governor Rick Snyder. Tesla is screaming foul, calling a 2014 Michigan law unconstitutional, because it seems to have been designed to protect auto titan and Michigan darling, General Motors. Apparently, the Great Lake state doesn’t take kindly to automakers selling their cars directly to (gasp!) consumers and refuses to issue a dealership license to the maker of the pish-posh battery-operated cars. Car salesmen find Tesla’s business model positively odious because it has the car company selling its motorized wares directly to the folks who will ultimately be driving them, thereby cutting out the middleman i.e. car salesmen. Tesla, which is also suing Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson – her department officially rejected Tesla’s license application – is hoping a judge strikes down the the law because it impedes commerce between states. Tesla is currently barred from selling and repairing its cars in Michigan, as well as not being licensed to sell them in Connecticut, Texas and Utah.

IPO glam…


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There’s a new darling on Wall Street and this time it’s one that has very little to do with tech. Enter e.l.f. beauty  – which stands for eyes, lips, face (duh!) – a cosmetics company with 9 stores in the New York area, two stores in the L.A. area and is also sold in 19,000 retail locations including Walmart and Target, of course. E.l.f., which trades on the NYSE exchange under the ticker symbol ELF, is positively fabulous if only because of its super-special price point: it’s considerably lower than other brands with most of its products selling for $6 or less. Backed by private equity firm TPG, the IPO was set to debut between $14-$16 a share, but was then later priced at $17 per share with 8.3 million shares up for grabs.  None of that seemed to matter when it opened this morning at $24 a share and then soared 59% to $27.09. That gave the company a value of over $1 billion which is not bad for a company that sells a bargain product in a very crowded $57 billion global cosmetics industry.