AT&T vs. U.S. Government. And President Trump; Turkeys: CBS and Dish Networks Can’t Work Things Out; Lowe’s and Behold! It’s Earnings Win

Trump’d up suit?

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Dontcha just love a good fight? Today’s nasty dispute is brought to us by the U.S. government and AT&T. Not sure who my money’s on yet. You see, the government isn’t down with AT&T’s proposed $85 billion vertical merger with Time Warner. So it went ahead and did the most “American” thing possible: It sued AT&T to block the merger. Knowing that the U.S. government was going to be pesky about the merger, AT&T did what any smart company would do: It pre-emptively retained counsel. And AT&T went for the big guns hiring Dan Petrocelli. You remember him, dontcha? Or maybe you’re just trying to forget? He’s the dude that very shrewdly defended President Trump over lawsuits relating to the infamous Trump University real estate seminars. Oh, the irony. Trump hates the very thought of the merger and that may have something to do with his feud with CNN, which, incidentally, is owned by Time Warner. Petrocelli, who seems to have forgotten all about his Trump days, is arguing that not only does this lawsuit not pose a threat to industry competition, but the merger actually has the potential to lower cable bills. However, I have a hard time believing a cable carrier would willingly lower bills. As for investors, they seem to be on Team AT&T and believe the telecommunications giant will emerge victorious, especially because the last time the government was successful against a vertical merger, Nixon was president. Yikes!

Whose the turkey now?

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OMG! It’s football season and Dish Networks did the unthinkable – to football fans, anyway – and dropped CBS in some markets. “Some markets” includes over 3 million customers in 18 cities who will be feeling the effects of tryptophan sans quality NFL time if a deal is not reached by kickoff time. As if blocking football games isn’t bad enough, some viewers will even be getting deprived of “The Big Bang Theory” which is just so not cool. The issue, of course, is fees. Because it always is. Dish isn’t happy about CBS’s demands for higher fees, especially since Dish viewership is down (note: Google streaming on-demand video). Dish also insists that viewers are watching less CBS and feels that CBS ought to show a little more restraint in its fee demands. CBS, on the other hand, is accusing Dish of punishing its viewers while Dish is calling foul on CBS for not extending its contract until negotiations end.  However why any of this matters is beyond me since, invariably, those fees, on which the two sides eventually agree, usually end up getting passed on to subscribers via their monthly bill anyway. Now subscribers have something to look forward to once those inconveniently-timed negotiations come to a close.

Hurricane win…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hurricanes suck. Except for home improvement retailers. Lowe’s would agree. The company just reported third-quarter earnings, much to the delight of Wall Street. As a result of Mother Nature’s very unappreciated wrath, sales at Lowe’s went up 5.7% to $16.8 billion, way more than the predicted 4.6% and $16.6 billion. $200 million of those sales came courtesy of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma that wreaked its proverbial havoc on a large swath of the country. But they helped the home improvement chain take in an $872 million profit that added $1.05 per share, which was three cents higher than analysts’ estimates.  That number was particularly impressive since last year at this time, Lowe’s took in $462 million, nearly half that amount.  But Lowe’s doesn’t owe all its quarterly success to natural disasters. The company also made a big push to cater to professional contractors. And with good reason. They spend more money. Sure DIY home improvement is Lowe’s theme, but the company was savvy enough to recognize an additional opportunity and the fact that the housing market is doing pretty awesome lately only sweetens the pot.  And even though Lowe’s shares dropped a smidge during trading this morning, it can’t be too distraught since the company’s shares are up about 15% for the year.

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Russia: Sanctions? Ha! I’ll Show You Sanctions! More Boffo Hits to BofA and Time Warner Not Feeling Foxy

Putin it out there…

Image courtesy of Simon Howden/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Simon Howden/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Russian president Vladimir Putin always has to have the last word, doesn’t he. He’s like one of those inflatable punch toys. No matter how you much you punch it, it just floats right back up. I am talking about sanctions, mind you. The ones that Russia is imposing on the West, including the United States. Russia majorly one-upped the entities imposing sanctions on it over tensions in the Ukraine by banning agricultural products from the US, the EU, Canada and even Japan. They plan to have this ban in effect for a year!  Apparently it’s a very very long list of items too. So yeah, if the West wants to send Putin a message it’s going to have to think way beyond that teeny tiny economic sanctions box. Of course food prices are sure to rise in Russia with a move like this. But make no mistake that there’s also a steep $1.3 billion price to pay in the US and the rest of the West. And that’s going to be awfully hard to swallow.

And it’s official…

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Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Bank of America is out almost $17 billion (it will be anyways) all because it misled investors over mortgage-backed securities. This settlement comes just weeks after a New York judge ordered the bank to pay out $1.27 billion for its less than virtuous Countrywide Financial “Hustle” program which is just as bad as it sounds. Some of the settlement cash will actually go towards helping struggling homeowners by reducing their mortgages. The rest is fees fees fees and a few billion in penalties to various federal, state and local entities. BofA CEO Brian Moynihan and US Attorney General Eric Holder have been hashing out the details as of late. BofA was trying to get away with paying just under $13 billion but fate, the justice system and AG Holder’s impending lawsuit had other plans. Now BofA holds the dubious distinction of holding the record for the largest settlement payout, knocking JP Morgan off its $13 billion podium. But Bofa still comes out a winner since no criminal charges will be filed for what could arguably be considered awfully criminal behavior.

Time Warner is running out?

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Image courtesy of dream designs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There was no shortage of love today on Wall Street for Rupert Murdoch and his 21st Century Fox empire now that his $80 billion bid for Time Warner has been scrapped. In fact, the media company’s stock surged while, ironically (or maybe not) Time Warner’s second quarter earnings took a hit. Sure its quarterly profits were up 10% with $6.8 billion in quarterly revenue. But the stock took an 11% dive thanks to Fox just because its interest in its rival came to a bittersweet end.

 

Dissing 21st Century Fox, BofA Not Feeling the Legal-ease and Hershey’s Not So Sweet News

Rejected…

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Image courtesy of Ohmega1982/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like Time Warner has no love for Rupert Murdoch. The media tycoon, who reigns over 21st Century Fox, put out an offer last month to buy its rival for $80 billion, or about $85 a share in stock and cash. He even graciously offered to sell off CNN, to avoid any anti-trust and regulatory issues. But he was still denied since it was “not in the best interests of Time Warner.” Many feel, however, that Murdoch was unfettered by this rejection and will likely come at Time Warner with an even better offer , especially because Murdoch is such a big fan of HBO. I’m sure he likes the hit show Girls, but it’s probably more about HBO’s $20 billion value that really makes him a super fan. That, and the fact that a “merger” like this could pull in $65 billion a year in revenue. Wall Street also appreciated news of the rejection and sent Time Warner shares up over 15%.

Banking on lawyers…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Bank of America came out with its earnings today and yeah…they had profits. Too bad they were down over 40% from a year ago, which means there was nothing for them to brag about today. Unless it wanted to brag about how its legal bills went up from $471 million last year to $4 billion this year. BofA can thank its lawyers for its $2.3 billion profit which was down from $4 billion a year ago. The Charlotte-based bank gained $0.19 a share instead of analysts’ predictions of $0.29 a share. Mortgage revenue was also down  but man, it was those legal bills that really put a crimp in profits. Good thing (or not?) that it reached a $650 million settlement with AIG for some outstanding mortgage bonds. However, the bank’s legal bills are far from coming to a halt. If it could just hammer out a deal with the DOJ for all the damage it caused leading up to the financial crisis by selling bad mortgages…

 

Not so sweet on this…

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hershey’s is about to induce a migraine. With commodities like cocoa and dairy going up, the number one candy maker in the United States is hiking up its prices by 8%. It’s the first time in three years that they’re doing this and who can blame them (well, I can) since cocoa and its fellow chocolate making ingredients are almost at three year highs. You can expect other companies like Nestle SA and Kraft to follow (though maybe they wont, but they probably will). At least you’ll have some time to prepare as you won’t feel it in your wallets until next year, when the hikes are set to take effect.