In: Charter Spectrum, Out: Time Warner Cable; So Over-time; Has the Fed Finally Made Up its Mind?

Thanks for the memories…

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Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As the Charter Communications $55.1 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable comes to a close, we can now bid a final adieu to the latter. And that’s no great loss since Time Warner Cable had the dubious distinction of earning the worst customer service score according to a survey done by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Yet, strangely enough, TWC still managed to pick up some 32,000 video subscribers and another million high-speed internet users in 2015. In any case, this acquisition joins Charter’s other recent acquisition of Bright House Networks LLC to the tune of $10.4 billion. Charter will scrap the Time Warner Cable name, which nobody is likely to miss, and the newly formed company will be named “Charter” while its products and services will be sold under the name “Spectrum.” Catchy, no?  With that, Charter Spectrum becomes the second largest cable operator in the country, picking up 27.5 million new customers and playing second to Comcast Corp. As for Time Warner Cable’s outgoing CEO, Rob Marcus, he can wipe away his tears with his $92 million severance package, while trying to polish up his LinkedIn profile.

Laboring on…

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The Labor Department’s got some new rules headed your way, but you might not want to try breaking these, particularly if you find yourself working plenty of overtime. Because if you earn less than $47,476 a year, then congrats…sort of. You will now qualify for overtime and a half if you work more than forty hours a week. That’s a far cry from the $23,660 that served as the previous threshold. The reason for nearly doubling that threshold, by the way, is that the Labor Department hadn’t changed the rules since 2004. So I guess it’s kind of making up for lost time.and now has plans to change the numbers up every three years. In any case,  4.2 million workers will be positively affected by these new changes, with a big chunk of that being the millennial demographic. The new rules, however, could have unintended negative consequences. For instance, employers might decide to limit the amount of hours employees can work in order to avoid having to pay them overtime. Employers also might wish to start giving out raises. That might, at first, seem like a very good thing. However, it would be so that they can pay employees more than the $47,476 in order to, once again, avoid paying overtime. But then there are the “highly compensated employees” who may become eligible for overtime as well. By highly compensated, I mean getting paid at least $134, 004. In order for these highly compensated employees to get their overtime paid,  they must pass a “minimal duties test.” Problem is the Labor Department isn’t entirely clear about that part and is leaving it to the discretion of the employers. And before you start slaving away on all those extra hours, know that these rules wont take effect until December 1.

To hike or not to hike…

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It’s official. Or not. The minutes of April’s Fed meeting were released and the would-be experts think there will indeed be a rate hike in June of .25%-.50%. Members of the Fed were pinning their hopes and dreams on finding some hard-core data that the economy is growing. It seems they got it. For one, inflation is headed in the right direction towards that 2% target rate the Fed has its sights on. And unlike George Soros, the Fed is not as freaked out by the prospects of an economic slowdown. Throw in a good labor market, respectable consumer spending and even more respectable manufacturing output numbers and you just might be witness to a June rate hike. News of the likely hike sent the dollar to a seven week high and had markets all over the place. But there is that little issue about April’s disappointing jobs data which came out so inconveniently after the Fed had its meeting. Despite the fact that the labor market is looking fairly decent, those April digits can spook even the most optimistic of economists. So it’s still entirely possible that a rate hike might also get nixed.

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Comcast: Streaming Video is so Last Year; Holy-Moly Guacamole, Chipotle is Losing Dinero; The Ultimate Biz Perks List

Who-lu?

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If online streaming video services are phasing out cable, you’d never know it judging by Comcast’s latest earnings. The company actually picked up 89,000 new subscribers – more than any other quarter in the last eight years. It was a particularly remarkable feat considering that last year at this time, the largest U.S. cable operator in the country only gained 6,000 subscribers. This means that for the year, Comcast only lost 36,000 subscribers. And yeah, that’s really good news. It’s really good because in 2014 Comcast lost over 194,000 subscribers. Time Warner Cable also announced it had picked up new subscribers. But Comcast did so well that it decided to raise it’s dividend by 10% to $1.10 – which was awfully generous of them. The nation’s leading high-speed internet operator managed to give a decent beating to analysts expectations earning $19.25 billion in revenue- an 8.5% increase over last year – instead of the projected $18.76 billion.  Comcast’s profits were up 5.2%, coming in at $2 billion, and adding 81 cents per share – just a teeny tiny penny below predictions. Oh well, maybe next time. Knowing that it’s future is/was on the line, Comcast has been trying to stay relevant in an age where streaming online video is all the rage. The company has been whipping out its fiscal A-game, offering better customer service, set-top box enhancements and smaller, more enticing bundles for current and prospective subscribers. Apparently it’s working.

The plot thickens…

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the fiscal Chipotle waters, along comes a subpoena, courtesy of a federal criminal probe stemming from a noro-virus outbreak in sunny California. Chipotle now needs to cough up documents going all the way back to January of 2013 and that’s not all. While Chipotle thought the worst was behind it, following the incredibly brutal E.Coli outbreak in some of its restaurants, the company announced that this year will be muy mal for investors. With huge marketing efforts in the wings, along with Herculean efforts to become the gold standard in food safety, Chipotle should be able to stay afloat. But it wont be pretty. The company’s fourth quarter earnings were pretty dismal with sales down more than a third and a whopping $10 billion shaved off its market cap. Apple and Alphabet  it is not. And with any bad news on Wall Street, particularly where there’s a subpoena involved, shares tumbled almost 3% and closed at 461.92.

Very perk-y…

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Glassdoor has served up yet another list to remind you just how badly you need to find a new place to work. This time, the company is ranking other companies according to how friggin’ awesome their employee perks are. For instance, does your current place of employment offer you “Yay Days”? Didn’t think so. But, if you score a position at REI, you get two of ’em – that’s two paid days off to spend on an outdoor activity. Does your boss currently give you $500 to use towards travel? Didn’t think so again. In which case, you ought to check Airbnb’s job board because that company gives you that much money towards travel every quarter so long as that cash is used on Airbnb accommodations (otherwise, no dice).  Burton, purveyor of fine snowboards and accompanying gear, gives its employees season passes to the local slopes. Then there’s software provider Epic Systems that generously gives its employees a four-week paid sabbatical every five years. If you want to feel even worse about where you work, visit Glassdoor for the rest of the list top ranking companies and the amazing perks they offer.

 

 

Home Short Supply Home; Fast-Food Chains are Losing Their Artificial Appetite; Cabling Up

Home-y don’t play that…

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There’s no place like home, that is, if you can actually get your hands on one. Homes in the U.S. seem to be in short supply, causing the ones that are already for sale to increase in value. Great news if you’re selling but bad news for buyers who are watching those prices rise because of that limited supply. The demand, however, is still there and people are continuing to buy up those homes as evidenced by the 5% increase in homes sales for the month of April. Experts thought that number would go up only 4.6%. Who can blame these eager buyers willing to shell out a few extra (thousand) bucks for a place to rest their heads. A decent job market and low interest rates are making this limited home supply that much more attractive. According to the ever informative Commerce Department, 517,000 homes were sold last month which was 6.8% more than last year at this time. Again, analysts only anticipated that 508,000 homes would find new owners. March saw only 484,000 new homes being sold. If you happen to be in the market for some new digs, take note that the median price for a house has gone up 8.3% over the last year to $297,300.

All the cool kids are doing it…

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Artificial out. Natural in. And so it begins for both Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, two chains that have decided to throw in the artificial towel and kick the offending ingredients to the curb. It’s actually quite a big undertaking as this will affect 95% of their menus. But don’t worry about feeling it in your wallets. As least that’s what the people in charge are saying. The chains, which both happen to be owned by the same parent company, Yum Brands, are losing the fun colors and preservatives that you’ve come to expect in your fast-food cuisine. Your nacho cheese may not look as yellow by the end of July as Taco Bell gets set to say adios to the ingredient dubbed “yellow number 6.” And prepare yourself, diners, as you get set to munch on actual black pepper in it, as opposed to black pepper flavoring. Imagine that. Real black pepper. Who would’ve thunk it? Perennial offenders high-fructose corn syrup and palm oil will also be making an exit from the menu as well, and something tells me they won’t be missed.

Un-Charter-ed territory…

Image courtesy of manostphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of manostphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You may not care about this next piece of merger news as it may not affect you at all, especially if Netflix is your main provider of quality entertainment (in which case, I totally get it). But in the not-so-glamourous world of mergers and acquisitions, the fact that Charter Communications is scooping up Time Warner Cable is quite epic. It’s big news because 1.) two huge companies are coming together 2.) it will make Charter Communications the second biggest television and internet provider in all the land (of the United States, that is) and 3. there’s a ton of money being exchanged – over $55 billion or roughly the equivalent of the GDP for like a dozen developing countries combined (I may have exaggerated that one a little – but only a little). Interestingly enough, Time Warner Cable is much bigger, but that’s not stopping Charter from offering to shell out $195.71 per share to take on the company and bring its total customer base to 24 million. Of course, it’ll be no Comcast Communications, who comes in first with 27.2 million customers, but for now, it’s still a big – make that huge – step up for Charter.

The Urge to Merge, Targeting a Parachute and Cottage Cheese Sighs

Watch it where?

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Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Watching television on an actual…television? Ugh. That is like so last year. Well maybe not just yet but AT&T (T) and DirecTV (DTV) are banking on it. They are on a mission to deliver content to all of your devices and not jut that relic of a 96″ HD monitor you’ve been paying off  for the better part of the year. So much so that AT&T just picked up the satellite programming provider from the telecommunications giant for a staggering $48.5 billion. That’s $3.5 billion more than what Comcast (CMCSA) is shelling out for Time Warner Cable (TWC). The merger between AT&T and DirectTV puts their customer base at 26 million while Comcast/Time Warner Cable have slightly more at 30 million subscribers. However, all these companies do face regulatory issues from the FCC and the Department of Justice. But mergers like these are allegedly good for the consumer. Cheaper bundles are headed our way. Though to be fair I’m skeptical after spending my morning live chatting with one of the telecom giants just to switch my cable carrier.

They’re paying you what?!

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Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Target shareholders felt its recently ousted CEO, Gregg Steinhafel was getting a bit too much of payday. Especially considering he was at the helm of the company as its holiday shopping season hacking fiasco unfolded before his eyes. Steinhafel’s 2013 paycheck was slashed by 37%. Instead of making the $20.6 million he earned in 2012, he now only received $12.9 million. I know you feel for him. Steinhafel has to pay back $5.4 million in retirement benefits also. I know. I know. Your heart goes out to the guy. But not to worry. He can just wipe away his tears with all those $100 bills he’s going to have courtesy of his $54 million golden parachute.

Not so comforting food…

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While Campbell’s Soup (CPB) is good food, its earnings were definitely not. Despite marching out some new products this year, it just wasn’t enough to beat Wall Street’s expectations. The company behind Prego and the snack that smiles back, Goldfish, was not smiling back it its third quarter which saw its revenue pretty much flatline. Analysts pegged their earnings at $2 billion instead of the disappointing $1.97 billion it posted. It was hardly a dent into the $1.96 billion it pulled in last year at this time. On the dairy front, Kraft Foods (KRFT) must have been feeling a bit lactose intolerant today thanks to a cottage cheese recall. 1.2 million cases of the stuff was taken off the shelves. Some of their ingredients were not stored well and this may or may not result in stuff that would gross you out. But not as much as it’s going to gross out Kraft’s revenue.