Supreme Smackdown to Apple; Wall Street Bonuses Shrink, But I’d Still Take One; Amazon Store: The San Diego Sequel

Un-appealing…

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Not everyone has the ability to say no to one of the world’s most valuable companies. But the Supreme Court did just that to Apple when it graciously told its lawyers that it was not interested in hearing its appeal on an earlier ruling from June of 2015. Now, the iPad maker has to pony up some $450 million for its role in conspiring with publishers to increase book prices that apparently violated Federal antitrust laws. Apple feels that this ruling will “chill innovation and risk taking.” Maybe. But consumers still didn’t appreciate the way that Apple caused e-book prices to go from $9.99 to $12.99 and $14.99. Except Apple didn’t act alone, bringing in Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Penguin, Simon & Schuster and MacMillan to help fleece e-readers everywhere. Basically, any publisher from whom you’ve ever read a book helped facilitate this antirust breach. Apple wanted to make sure the iPad got a nice little boost when it made its grand debut in 2010. So publishers got to set the price they wanted for e-books on Apple devices and in return Apple would enjoy a 30% cut of sales. This, my friend, is the nefarious practice known as “agency pricing.” Publsihers played along because they didn’t like that the price of e-books on Amazon was going down and this method provided a convenient way to recoup that cash. The publishers started charging Amazon the same prices that it charged Apple, forcing Amazon to raise its prices also. Apple will pay $400 million to e-book customers in the form of credits, in addition to $20 million to the thirty states that sued. Of course, that doesn’t include the $30 million in legal fees that Apple’s lawyers get to collect or the changes that Apple is being forced to make to its business practices.

Whose your daddy…

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Image courtesy of duron123/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released some pricey data for one of New York’s top industries: Securities. Not that this will have you shedding tears, but the average Wall Street bonus fell 9% for 2015, checking in at $146,200. And while most people don’t come close to making that kind of cash in a year, the average Wall Street-er scored that, in addition to his or her salary. While that salary might seem high, consider that in 2006, the average Wall Street bonus was $191,360. And even though a whopping $25 billion worth of bonuses were awarded in 2015, it was 6% less than the previous year, as profit from broker-dealer operations dropped $1.7 billion to $14.3 billion. Profits for the six biggest banks hit $93 billion, by the way, which is more than 35% higher than the previous year. If you can believe it, that figure is still not as high as it should be and signals that the economy is still having a hard time bouncing back from 2008’s fiscal crisis. If you’re thinking about a career in securities, that might not be such a bad idea as the average Wall Street salary rose 14% in 2015 to $404,800. Except that prospects for 2016 look a bit grim and are actually expected to drop. There are approximately 172,400 people employed in the securities industry and 4,500 jobs were added in 2015. That figure, however, is still 8% less than it was pre-2008 fiscal crisis. By the way, these figures, we are warned, are not accurate estimates since they don’t include stock options and other forms of deferred compensation. The numbers also don’t include those for securities employees outside of New York City.

Isn’t it ironic…

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Image courtesy of duron123/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mega e-commerce site, Amazon, arguably best known for being the largest online marketplace in the U.S. – not to mention some really great television –  is poised to open its second brick-and-mortar store where it will sell books, naturally, in addition to its own comprehensive line of tablets and devices. In fact, there will be nothing in the store that you wouldn’t be able to purchase on the company’s website. Rumors of the brick-and-mortar first surfaced when a big sign went up during the summer over the vacant space in a swanky San Diego mall. Then, last month, job postings for the 7,500 square foot store began appearing. Amazon’s store will be in good company as Tesla and Apple will be its mall neighbors. Meanwhile, the revenue expected from setting up an actual store isn’t expected to leave any meaningful dent in the company’s earnings. I guess it’s just a cute gesture for people who prefer to leave their homes to enjoy an actual physical shopping experience.

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It’s All About the Bonus; Colorado’s State Budget Gone to Pot; Vera Bradley’s Headed Overseas

Fat cats…

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Good news, that is, if you work on Wall Street. According to new data from New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, bonuses are up 3% in broker-dealer firms. Those bonuses managed to increase even though profits at most Wall Street firms took major hits. Together, all those lucky bonus takers took home (or are expected to take home) a very grand total of $28.5 billion, with the average earner scoring $172,860. They might have even taken home more but all those legal settlements stemming from the firms’ pernicious little roles in the 2008 fiscal crisis managed to put a crimp in profits. The securities industry also added 2,300 jobs, presumably ones that come with bonuses too. Has your jaw hit the floor yet?  Even all those pesky new regulatory changes couldn’t stop those bonuses from rising. So why exactly might this information make the New York State comptroller so giddy? Because Wall Street accounts for 19% of New York State’s revenue and when the tide is high, all boats rise.

Speaking of bonuses…

Image courtesy of Paul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Paul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The amount of money that keeps pouring into Colorado’s state budget from marijuana sales just keeps getting…higher. No matter how you feel about legalizing recreational marijuana, there’s no denying its fiscal benefits. Sales of cannabis have helped the state rake in close to $9 million…just in the month of January. That was a whopping 163% increase over January of 2014. First, there is a a fee imposed on businesses that sell marijuana. All those businesses paid about $1 million in fees just for the privilege of selling the stuff. In sales tax receipts alone the state took in $3.5 million on a 10% sales tax for recreational pot. Colorado also puts a 15% excise tax on the stuff with funds from that going toward school improvement projects. There is a joke in there somewhere but I’ll stay away from it.

Just not that into you…

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Handbag and accessories maker Vera Bradley took a nasty 16% hit on its stock today as it announced its abysmal fourth quarter earnings. Revenue fell 3% from a year ago to $157 million. But its that 13% drop in its net income, falling to $17.3 million, that is leaving a nasty mark. Blaming it on the fact that Vera Bradley can’t seem to attract new customers, CEO Robert Wallstrom said “overall business trends remain difficult.” Well, for Vera Bradley, anyway.  Not only is the company closing up shop on its New Haven, Indiana plant where 250 people will be left without a job, but Vera Bradley will now take the necessarily evil step of manufacturing its products overseas, since it’s apparently 90% cheaper to do so.  The company, started in 1982, went public in 2010 at $16 a share. After hitting a high of close to $50, back in 2011, the stock has been taking a vicious little dive, hitting all-time lows. All this comes two weeks after Vera Bradley named Olympic gold medalist Meryl Davis as its celebrity ambassador.