Travis Kalanick’s Not-So-Fond Farewell; It’s Bottoms Up for George Clooney; Glassdoor Drops Another List and You Better Hope Your Boss is on it

Goodbye and farewell…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like Travis Kalanick’s “leave of absence” is now a permanent one as he finally took the hint from investors and officially resigned as Uber’s CEO. But not before the aforementioned investors placed a lot of pressure on the embattled CEO to step down. And who can blame the investors. Scandal after ugly scandal emerged from the $68 billion, privately held company and it seemed as if Kalanick wasn’t up to snuff when it came to dealing with them.  In an email to employees, Kalanick talked about his love for Uber and decided to step down “so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight.” How very gallant of him. While Kalanick still remains on the board of Uber, the business is now being run by fourteen people who once upon a time reported to him. Talk about irony.

Aye tequila!

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Image courtesy of Juan Gnecco/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some guys have all the luck and George Clooney is one of them. If you think he’s just an actor with a pretty face then you are so very wrong. Turns out the Hollywood hunk also has his own tequila brand –  along with two other partners – called Casamigos, which was just bought for $1 billion by liquor company giant Diageo. The name Diageo might not ring a bell for you, but the name Smirnoff should, and that is just one of the many notable brands that belongs to the Diageo family. Curious who George’s other partners are? Mr. Cindy Crawford, aka Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman. Annoyingly enough, Clooney and Gerber were just trying to come up with their very own “house” tequila for the properties they own in Cabo San Lucas.  But a very lucrative opportunity knocked that had them expanding the brand beyond Cabo, and just last year 120,000 cases of the stuff was shipped out. This year the company expects that number to climb to 170,000. And with a price tag between $45 to $55 a bottle, Clooney and company get to live large without having to rely on other their other talents, including acting and such. As for Diageo, you can bet that this acquisition had less to do with Clooney’s movie star charm and more to do with the fact that tequila volume in the U.S. more than doubled from 2002 to 2015.

There’s a list for that too…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Glassdoor has regaled us with yet another list. This time it’s to let us know who the top CEO’s in the world are, according to employees And you can bet Travis Kalanick did not make the cut. The Clorox Company’s Benno Dorer takes the top spot. What? Were you expecting a tech CEO? Well too bad because Dorer earned a 99% approval rating from his employees.  Another name from the list you might recognize is Elon Musk who takes the eighth spot. Interestingly enough, his 98% employee approval rating came not from Tesla, but his other company, SpaceX. Wonder what that’s about. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg makes it onto the list at number ten, also with a 98% approval rating. But sadly that’s a sharp drop from his number four spot in 2016. Google’s Sundar Pichai grabs the 17th spot while LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner comes in at number 35. The biggest bummer on the list just might be Apple’s Tim Cook. Last year he held the number eight spot, but this year he drops to spot number 53. In all fairness, however, he still scored a 93% approval rating.

 

Oil-vey! Trump’s Secretary of State Pick Putin Us On; Trump vs. Silicon Valley; Rate Hike Sends Joy Throughout Wall Street

Energized…

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Trump’s latest pick, this time for Secretary of State, has naturally already ruffled more than a few political feathers. Enter Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson, a man who happens to be very very cushy with Russia and its fearless leader, Vladimir Putin. If you recall, Russia is very brazenly messing with Ukraine, to the point where the U.S. felt compelled to impose sanctions. Now, the CIA said the country also launched cyber attacks against the U.S. in an effort to influence the election results. But that very same country awarded Tillerson the Friendship Medal in 2013.  Tillerson, who has never held a public office, has been at Exxon, the world’s largest energy firm, for 40 years and during that time spent many many hours cultivating relationships and establishing major business deals with countless foreign countries and companies. But he’ll still need to be confirmed by the Senate. However, considering that former Secretaries of State Condoleeza Rice and James Baker are big fans, not to mention Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he shouldn’t have too much of an uphill battle. By the way, Condoleeza Rice also happens to be a consultant at Exxon Mobil, and Robert Gates was a consultant at one point too. Rumor has it that they all plan to vouch for the CEO.  Lindsay Graham and John McCain, however, are just not that into him, presumably because of his chummy relationship with Putin, of whom they are not particularly fond. Also not in Tillerson’s favor is the fact that Exxon currently has billions of dollars in deals with Russia, not to mention one valued at $500 billion that involves exploring and pumping for oil in Siberia. Those deals can only go forward if the U.S. decides to lift its sanctions against Russia and, fyi,  Tillerson was never much of a fan of the sanctions. And just so you know, according to a filing from a year ago, Tillerson owns $218 million in Exxon stock along with a $70 million pension plan. Shares of Exxon Mobil went up 2.2% on the news of Tillerson’s nomination.

 

Speaking of Trump…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tomorrow is a big day at Trump Towers as some of Silicon Valley’s top execs head over to the President-elect’s digs for a little quality time with Donald Trump. Expected to attend the power meeting are: Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Google’s Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt…to name but a few. While the agenda’s not public, there are some predictions about what might be discussed tomorrow. There’s the not-so-minor issue of antitrust enforcement and those pesky government demands for user data. But much higher on that list is Trump’s immigration policies and how they have the potential to put a very major damper on the inner workings at many of these Silicon Valley companies. The fact that these companies bring in a lot of employees on special visas, not to mention that they also send plenty of jobs overseas, doesn’t exactly jibe well with Trump’s vision of “Making America Great Again.”  To be fair, Apple did say it has 80,000 employees in the United States and is also responsible for creating another 2 million jobs from all the business opportunities Apple creates. However, Trump did say, in his very eloquent way, that he wants to “get Apple to build their damn computers and things” right here.  Donald Trump is all for establishing major tax reforms and is acutely aware that all these tech companies have a lot of cash offshore. Major reform will help bring that cash back to the States. So its in everyone’s best interests to work together towards that goal, whether they supported Trump’s presidential aspirations or not. And for the record, they did not.

Stocks, and bonds and hikes…Oh my!

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stocks all over the world rejoiced today by going up while the Dow Jones Industrial Average came thisclose to hitting the 20,000 mark following its 9% surge since Election Day. Actually, the index came within 50 points of the 20,000 mark which sent Wall Street into fits of fiscal joy. The S&P got in on the action by going up .8% to its very own all-time high. The reason for all this excitement is because the Federal Reserve is expected to officially and finally finally announce a rate hike tomorrow, marking the second time in ten years that we get to witness and take part in that elusive increase. Rate hikes are welcome since they signal that the economy is strong and steady in all the right ways. Low interest rates have this nifty little effect on stocks that makes them cost higher. Problem is low interest rates are just no good  for the savers among us who like high interest rates because of the income they get from bonds and bank accounts.  Even though borrowing costs are about to get that much higher, investors are still positively giddy at the prospect that the President-elect intends to usher in an era of potentially lower corporate tax rates, less regulation and lots more infrastructure spending.

 

Jeff Bezos Hearts India; Lululemon’s Zen-tastic Earnings; Is Your CEO Listed? You Better Hope So

Next. Big. Thing…

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India is looking very flush these days as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos decided to throw $3 billion at it. That’s in addition to the $2 billion he gave the southeast Asian country back in 2014. He made this announcement at a meeting of business leaders in Washington DC that included Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The reason why Bezos is showing India a lot of fiscal love is that it is Amazon’s fastest growing region, boasting 21 fulfillment centers and 45,000 employees. In other words, the e-commerce giant is banking on the “huge potential in the Indian economy.” Interestingly enough, Amazon can only sell its wares from its website through a third party, as mandated by Indian law. But that hasn’t been much of a problem for the e-tailer, who ironically, never seemed to adapt as easily to the local Chinese marketplace, and continues to struggle there and against the giant we call Alibaba. It’s worth noting that Amazon is not the only game in town, facing fierce competition from local e-commerce businesses, Flipkart and Snapdeal. But Amazon’s not sweating it since according to Morgan Stanley, it is estimated that consumers in India bought $16 billion worth of goods last year, more than $10.3 billion from the previous year. So clearly, there’s plenty of room on the Indian e-commerce playing field.

Lemonade mouth…

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Lululemon beat estimates and even raised its 2016 revenue forecast. So why is its founder and largest shareholder, Chip Wilson, in a snit? He’s probably still licking his executive wounds after being booted from his post for making stupid comments, among other short-comings. In a letter to shareholders last week, the 14.2% stakeholder ripped into the current directors because he feels that they can’t keep up the pace against other athletic apparel companies like Nike and Under Armour, to name a few. Wilson would like it very much if there was an annual election that would make the board of directors accountable for earnings results and, presumably, get him reinstated as CEO. As it stands, the current leadership, helmed by Laurent Potdevin, would probably be delighted to be held accountable for Lululemon’s latest earnings considering how well it performed. Sure, the retailer missed profits by just a penny, falling 5% to $45.3 million, yet still earning 30 cents a share. But shares are still up 27% for the year and the company had strong sales this quarter. It also found a way to control its inventory levels and, in the process, saw its revenue rise 17% to $495.5 million when analysts only thought it would pull down $487.7. So perhaps it’s time for Wilson to keep his thoughts to himself and just enjoy his burgeoning majority stake.

In case you were wondering…

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Image courtesy of domdeen/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Glassdoor came out with its latest annual list, this time regaling us with the highest rated CEO’s. Bain & Company’s Bob Becheck tops the list with a 99% approval rating. Employees seemed to appreciate the support they receive from their boss, not to mention the company’s focus on professional development. And who doesn’t mind professional encouragement? But while Becheck scored the number one spot, two other CEO’s also received 99% approval ratings. So congrats to Ultimate Software’s Scott Scherr and McKinsey and Company’s Dominic Barton. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg kept his number 4 ranking from last year, while LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner took fifth. Larry Page’s replacement at Google, Sundar Pichai, earned a 96% approval rating and the number seven spot, while Apple’s Tim Cook came in 8th, also with a 96% approval rating. Four women paved the way on this list, including Staffmark’s Lesa J. Francis, who took the 28th spot with a 94% approve rating, and Enterprise Holdings’ Pamela M. Nicholson, who graces the list at the number 31 spot, also with a 94% approval rating.

Apple vs. Feds Smackdown; Billionaire Country Breakdown; It’s Highs and Lowe’s for Home Improvement Sector

Rotten to the core…

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It’s game on between Apple and the FBI as the two entities tussle about unlocking an iPhone. The Feds feel this request falls under the Writs Act from 1789 that compels companies to assist in law enforcement. Apple is preparing to argue before a Federal court that software code should be protected by the First Amendment while terrorists the world over sit back and enjoy a good laugh at the the expense of the U.S and its constitutional rights. This is all because the Feds want Apple to unlock a phone belonging to San Berbardino shooter/terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook as authorities are convinced there is a lot of valuable intel contained on that one little device. In fact, since early October, Apple has received orders to unlock thirteen other devices, and an L.A. district court judge ruled that Apple should help the Feds bypass that pesky setting which wipes an iPhone clean after ten incorrect password guesses. Apple CEO Tim Cook is adamantly against this backdoor attempt to unlock an iPhone lest it fall into the wrong hands. Cook wants the issue decided by Congress and not the courts. Problem is, phones regularly fall into the wrong hands, as in this case, so what to do about a device that potentially holds vast amounts of life-saving information that could lead to the arrests and capture of more wrong hands?

 

All about the benjamins…

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After owning the title for so long, the city of New York no longer reigns supreme as home to the largest population of billionaires. The title of “Billionaire Capital of the World” now  belongs to Beijing, which is kind of weird since the Chinese economy has taken such a beating these last few months. These new findings come courtesy of the Hurun Report, a Shanghai-based firm that publishes monthly. And while Forbes’ compiles its own list of billionaires, the two publications tend to yield slightly different results, if only because they employ different calculation menthods. Incidentally, Hurun’s results did take into account January 15, the day when China’s economy hit the skids, tanking 40%.  But that still didn’t stop it from adding 32 new billionaires to the list, bringing its grand total identifiable billionaire population to 100. Beijing’s numero uno billionaire is Wang Jianlin, a real estate developer whose net worth is estimated to be $26 billion. Hurun chairman, Rupert Hoogewerf, says that these rankings don’t tell the whole story of China’s vast wealth, and estimates that only about 50% of China’s billionaires were identified. Plenty of the county’s other billionaires prefer to keep their wealth asecret so they don’t end up having to fork a chunk of it to authorities. New York still managed to welcome four more billionaires into its fold, giving the city a grand total of 95. Moscow took the third spot while Hong Kong and Shanghai scored spots four and five respectively.

Lowe’s and behold…

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Home Depot and Lowe’s regaled us with their earnings and it was good news, kind of. Both home improvement chains scored lofty gains in large part due to housing demand, low interest rates and job and wage growth – all super good things. Oh, and this time the warm weather actually helped sales too. But while Lowe’s quarterly sales gains were up 5.5%, Home Depot’s sales gains were way more impressive, gaining close to 9%, suggesting that Home Depot is benefitting way more from housing gains than Lowe’s. Which probably explains why shares of Lowe’s fell a bit today. Apparently Home Depot , according to experts anyway, has a stronger brand image and consumers see it as the go to store for their home improvement needs. Case in point, kitchen products are a big seller for Home Depot and that department killed it this quarter, while Lowe’s kitchen products department performed below average. Ouch. Home Depot also has 2,274 stores compared to Lowe’s 1,857 stores. In any case, Lowe’s is expecting to snag a 6% rise in sales, compared with analysts predictions of less than 5% and the company still added 59 cents per share with sales of $13.24 billion, smacking down predictions of $13.07 billion.

Is Netflix Saying Ni-Hao to China; Ann Taylor is Dressing Up for a Merger; Dear Apple…Love, Carl

How do you say “Orange is the New Black” in Chinese?

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like Netflix might soon be needing “House of Cards” translated as its been rumored that the video-streaming company has been in talks with a few Chinese companies about bringing their premium entertainment to that part of the world. It’s estimated that the online video market in China is close to $6 billion so, it’s probably a good idea if Netflix gets started on that venture sooner rather than later. It should be duly noted that Netflix hasn’t been chatting with just any Chinese companies either. Heard of Wasu Media Holding Co.? If that name doesn’t ring a bell, then what about the name Jack Ma? The mastermind billionaire behind Alibaba, China’s biggest e-commerce site, also backs Wasu. But rumor has it Netflix was also talking with another giant Chinese media company, BesTV New Media Co. A few months ago, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos initially said that there were no plans for the company to enter into any “joint” ventures,  whether Chinese or not. But the thing is, if any company, even Netflix, wants to do business in China, then teaming up with a big important Chinese company is a must. Especially if that company wants to have a pleasant and sustainable relationship with the Chinese government. While no contracts or agreements have been signed with regard to Kevin Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, going east, Netflix’s stock still went up on just the talk.

Stylin’…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ann Inc. was looking particularly stylish as it was just scooped up by Ascena Retail group for a very fashion-forward  $2.15 billion. Ascena, which also owns Lane Bryant and tween chain Justice, among others, picked up its latest apparel chain for a very cool $47 per share, which happened to be more than a 21% premium over its closing price on Friday. Wall Street liked the new joint venture and sent Ann Taylor’s stock up over 20%. Ascena’s stock also went up a bit, but then came back down to little, if no, fanfare. Several companies have gone the merging route lately. They do this when their sales have been less than impressive for an extended period of time. Ann Taylor and Ascena were no exceptions to this trend but its now expected that this new adventure between the two retail giants will rake in a combined revenue of $7.4 billion.

Very Truly Yours….

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Image courtesy of Iamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Activist investor Carl Icahn poured his fiscally minded heart out in an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook. In the letter he did nothing short of gush about how Apple’s stock is “dramatically undervalued” and that he sees its price target at $240 per share. That figure is a whopping 55% more than its closing price in Friday. The stock is currently hovering at around $130 per share, mind you. And while Mr. Icahn is profoundly moved by Apple’s decision to repurchase stocks, alas, he wants the tech company to repurchase even more. Some of his love and devotion stems from the fact that Apple, besides being the largest company in the world by market cap, is delving into the fiscally vibrant worlds of television (2016) and automobiles (2020).

Will Anyone Care if Indiana’s Economy Tanks?; It’s Go Time for GoDaddy; New Craft Beer Gets Crowned

The consequences of actions…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Indiana’s economy just might tank but…oh well. Ever since its Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act six days ago, basically giving businesses a “license to discriminate” against gays, lesbians etc…corporate CEO’s, businesses, politicians and celebrities have gotten involved, mostly to voice their anger and disgust with the action. Nine CEO’s wrote an open letter to Gov. Pence over their objections to the bill. Apple CEO Tim Cook called it a “very dangerous … wave of legislation.” Indiana literally ticked off Apple. Is there any state that would want to be on Apple’s bad side? Seriously. Angie’s list had plans for a $40 million expansion in Indianapolis. That’s on hold over this bill, as well. The NCAA is majorly “concerned” and analyzing the situation carefully, wondering what to do ahead of next week’s Final Four. Several mayors have already banned city-funded travel to Indiana and 49 governors nixed unnecessary travel to the state. Hashtag #BoycottIndiana has been making the rounds getting upwards of 200,000 hits. Seeing as how the backlash has only gotten precipitously worse, Gov. Pence said he wants a clarification and a fix. Just so we’re clear, that doesn’t mean he wants to get rid of the bill. Perhaps once the state’s economy is in the toilet, he might reconsider.

Who’s your GoDaddy?

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Image courtesy of mistermong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s time to welcome GoDaddy to the ranks of the New York Stock Exchange. The web-hosting, domain name registration company just came out with its IPO this morning to a much larger than expected debut. Under the ticker symbol “GDDY,” GoDaddy offered up 23 million shares at $20 a pop. But then, lo and behold, it opened over 30% higher at $26.15 per share. Not bad for a company that’s not profitable. Yes, I did just write that. GoDaddy took a net loss of $143.4 million in 2014 and also has about $1.5 million in debt. To be fair, however, the company’s revenue went up 23% to $1.39 billion. This is not the first time the eighteen year old company attempted an IPO. Back in 2006, Go Daddy was all set to make its big Wall Street debut, only to then decide otherwise, saying the market was in a bad place. However, there are those who think there were internal factors and management shake-ups that affected GoDaddy’s decision to go public. If you’re wondering who the next pretty face will be to grace the company’s campaigns, don’t bother. After stints with race car driver Danica Patrick and Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, the company is looking to revamp its image.

Foamy…

Image courtesy of Photo by Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Photo by Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Samuel Adams is out. Yuengling is in. The Brewers Association has crowned Pottsville, Pennsylvania’s Yuengling as this year’s number one craft beer, taking out the Boston Beer Co. who makes Samuel Adams. So how did America’s oldest brewery finally manage to nab top honors? Actually it had nothing to do with anything the beer companies did or didn’t do. Rather, the Brewers Association slightly altered the criteria for what can be considered a legit craft beer. It gets technical so I’ll leave the complicated stuff to a beer-savvy blogger. What I can tell you is that Yuengling was considered a non-traditional beer, because corn is one of the ingredients used to brew the beer, and therefore not eligible for the beer crown all these years. As for overall U.S. brewers, Anheuser-Busch, Miller-Coors and Pabst took the top spots. Yuengling and Boston Beer Co. rounded out the fourth and fifth place spots. Unlike regular beers, craft beers sales are up and have a 19% hold on the beer market. In 2014, $19.6 billion worth of craft beer was sold, up 14% from 2013.

Pier 1’s Costly Errors; Twitter CFO Gets Hacked; Apple’s Powering Up

Taking a long walk off of a short pier…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Heads rolled at Pier 1  – or rather one head – as earnings were released and stunned everyone – just not in a good way. The numbers were so unexpectedly bad that shares took a heady nosedive of about 33%. It seems the company was just a bit too generous when it came to forecasting sales for itself this past year. Following a bunch of storms that wreaked fiscal havoc on the home decor chain and its 1000+ stores, Pier 1 figured, though apparently not in a mathematical kind of way, that it would recoup all that and more. It didn’t. CFO Charles Turner also was unable to adequately explain some supply-chain expenses and why those expenses are expected to go on and on and…I’m sensing a LinkedIn workshop in Mr. Turner’s future as he was replaced by Laura Coffey who will become the interim CFO. The company originally forecasted that it would pull in between 95 -$1.05 for the fiscal year, but not anymore. As those numbers took a dip, Pier 1 is now looking to gain between 80 – 83 cents per share.

Be-twittered…

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’re amongst the Twitter followers of CFO Antony Noto – and no one is judging you if you are – you might have noticed some of the hundreds of tweets he sent out – within a span of about eight minutes –  trying to get unsuspecting followers to click on some dubious links. In fact, he was not trying to out-tweet the Kardashians. He’s got a way better excuse than that – his account was hacked. No word yet on whether he used the two-step verification process, though, he really ought to since his own company does offer it and the fact that his account was hacked shows he’s a regular person, just like you and I. But a Twitter spokesperson wouldn’t comment either way if he did use the verification option. Hmmm. That might be because if Mr. Noto did use the verification option and still got hacked, it’d mean there are holes in the option allowing for pesky hackers to get into not just Mr. Noto’s account but everyone else’s too. Or maybe it was just a bug, some say. Incidentally, this was not Mr. Noto’s first time with a Twitter issue. Back in November the CFO tweeted a message to a colleague that was presumably meant to be a private message about acquiring a company. It wasn’t private at all. Oops. This, by the way, comes on the heels of another hacking into Newsweek Magazine’s Twitter account.

Is there a coupon for that?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Apple is about to out-green even the greenest amongst us as it announced its plans to buy about $850 million worth of solar energy. In case you were wondering, that’s enough energy to power 60,000 homes. The tech giant is looking to supply its “spaceship” facility in Cupertino, which is still under construction, with all that energy. But that’s not all, folks. It will also be used to power all of Apple’s California retail locations, of which there are 52, by the way, its data center and its offices. First Solar is the lucky recipient of this 25 year contract and the ever-indutsrious Tim Cook said, “We are doing this because it’s right to do, but you may also be interested to know that it’s good financially to do it.” Warms the heart, no?