Look Out Tesla! Volvo Plans to Disrupt Electric Car Industry; Plus Tesla’s Major Q2 Miss; Losing My Religion: Denim Company Goes Bust

Tesla disrupt…

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With all the attention Tesla has been getting – and seeking – lately, a major company just threw down the automotive gauntlet in the electric car arena. Enter Volvo, the perennial boxy but safe, Swedish import, which just announced that come 2019, it will only sell hybrid or electric vehicles. That’s right. The ultra-reliable, ever dependable Volvo will likely be giving Tesla a serious run for its money. The fact that its got a solid, dependable reputation to back it up only sweetens the pot. Lucky for Volvo, its parent company Geely Automobile Holdings of China has already sold tons of electric vehicles and now Volvo gets to tap into all those tech resources. And it’s not just Tesla that should be worried. Toyota, Honda and BMW, to name a few, should also look to up their game now that Volvo has entered the field. This announcement is epic since it means that Volvo becomes the very first major automobile manufacture to make the decision to completely kick internal combustion engines to the curb. Interestingly enough, hybrids accounted for only about 2% of auto sales in the U.S. last year, in part because gas prices have fallen so much, that people don’t mind getting cars with traditional gas-guzzling engines.

Speaking of which…

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Shares of Tesla took a nasty little drop today after the company reported that its second quarter sales were flat as a pancake. To add insult to fiscal injury, the company also reported that it delivered just 22,000 vehicles. That seems like a good thing except for the fact that Tesla had built over 25,000 cars. Demand is good. Oversupply is not so good. At all. And the fact that consumers have stopped demanding the Model S sedans and the Model X utility cars leaves Wall Street feeling less than stoked about Tesla. Especially Goldman Sachs, which just released a report documenting its concern over Tesla’s slow growth. It’s never good when Goldman Sachs is concerned about you. Naturally, Tesla pointed its finger at the ever-reliable and handy excuse of “production issues” to explain the shortfall of deliveries. Too bad Wall Street didn’t seem to care what excuse Tesla used.

Another one bites the dust…

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Today’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing is brought to us by True Religion, purveyor of super-pricey denim. True Religion brass is pointing the finger at e-commerce and the shift in consumer spending habits, since customers are choosing to purchase their goods from their devices instead of heading into actual stores where True Religion merchandise is typically sold. Fortunately, the company was able to come up with a restructuring agreement with several of its lenders that should get rid of approximately $350 million of its debt, while its creditors would get paid in full, at least the ones critical to the company’s operations. In the meantime, with 140 stores still under its belt, the company is going to explore ways to “reinvigorate the brand.” In other words, it is going to try to figure out how to get people to spend hundred of dollars on True Religion’s pricy merchandise once again.

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Japanese Airbag Maker Goes Bust; Pandora CEO Sings the Blues; ‘Pharma Bro’ Goes on Trial

Deflated…

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Japanese airbag maker, Takata Corp has filed for bankruptcy.  In the United States. Sure  companies file for bankruptcy almost everyday. But what makes this one unique is that Takata has the dubious distinction of issuing the largest auto-industry recall. Ever. With over 40 million vehicles in the U.S. possessing the potentially deadly airbags, some 125 million vehicles have been and will be recalled by 2019. It’s also the largest bankruptcy of a Japanese manufacturer, and one that finds itself staring down the wrong end of billions of dollars worth of losses over recalls that lasted the better part of a decade. From paying settlements to individuals who were harmed, to paying car makers, including Honda, BMW and Toyota – to name just a few – Takata’s fiscal trouble will take years to reverse. It seems that Takata’s faulty products were the cause for at least 16 deaths – that we know of. Fortunately a Chinese company had the good sense to swoop in and acquire Takata for a whopping $1.6 billion. Although, that is apparently a thorn in the side of the Japanese, since selling off to foreigners is something the country would rather like to avoid. Incidentally, the Chinese company that bought Takata is called Key Safety Systems and is based right here in the U.S. Go figure.

Cue the goodbye music…

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Looks like the music’s gone for Pandora CEO and Co-founder Tim Westergren. His departure may – or may not – have something to do with Sirius XM’x recent purchase of a $480 million, 16% stake in Pandora. But rumor has it that investors are bummed because they wanted Sirius to buy up the whole operation. If you recall, and it’s okay if you don’t, Howard Stern makes his radio home at Sirius. Not that this has anything to do with Westergren’s exit either. To add insult to injury, shares jumped a little on the news of Westergren’s impending departure, signaling that investors are stoked about his exit.  That itty bitty jump must have been especially welcome since Pandora’s stock has been down over 35% this year.  After all, Pandora is staring at some fierce competition from Spotify, Apple and JZ’s Tidal, to name just a few. As of yet, no replacement has been named so if you’re looking to throw your hat into the ring, now might be your chance.

What a pill…

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The time has come for everyone’s least favorite Pharma bro’ to head to court. And thus Monday begins with Martin Shkreli finding himself in a Brooklyn Fraud courthouse instead of a beach mansion in the Hamptons. But considering he raised the price of a life-saving drug by 5000%, he might very well go down as the least sympathetic defendant to ever sit in that courtroom. And just so ya’ know, being an a–hole isn’t crime and it’s not the reason why pharma-gazillionaire Shkreli is sitting in a courtroom on this fine summer day.  Rather ‘Pharma bro’ is on trial because prosecutors charged him with “widespread fraudulent conduct” and running a ponzi-like scheme that had him lying to investors while working at a hedge fund and his drug company.  Fun-fact: Shkreli was banned from Twitter back in January after harassing a female journalist who wrote an op-ed criticizing Donald Trump. Oh, the irony.

VW’s China Redemption; Fitbit Numbers Way too Skinny; Deal Drama: Walgreens/RiteAid vs. Regulators

Emissions Scandal? What Emissions Scandal?

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Volkswagen is in the news yet again. And this time it has nothing to do with poisoning the air we breathe. I know. Hard to believe, right? VW is making headlines because it has been crowned the world’s largest automaker, easily besting Toyota, after reporting that it shipped 10.3 million cars in 2016, a 3.5% increase from the year before. Toyota only managed to sell about 10.2 million cars, giving it just a .2% boost over the previous year. T’was a brutal blow dealt to Toyota’s ego – not that it’ll never admit it – since the Japanese automaker held that top spot for seven out of the last eight years.  Toyota says it’s not concerned with being in in the number one spot as long as it’s making good cars.  Toyota definitely makes good cars but I doubt anybody would believe that it’s not itching to reclaim the top spot next year. So what part of this great big planet was scooping up all those VW’s that helped the German automaker earn this dubious distinction? It certainly could not have been in the United States, where the car company isn’t exactly popular following “diesel-gate” and the on-going saga we call the “emissions scandal.”  Well, look no further than China, which stands as the primary reason for VW’s fiscally historic achievement, despite the negative sentiment against it in the rest of the world. It’s not that China is a smog-loving country filled with emission worshippers. However, it must have helped that VW sold almost no diesel cars to the country. Which probably explains the country’s on-going enthusiasm for Volkswagen. The Chinese just really dig VW’s. And in case you were wondering, GM rounded out the third spot. In fact, GM used to regularly claim the top spot, but along came 2008 and burst that bubble when the US carmaker faced the wrong end of bankruptcy and a federal bailout.

Fit to be tied…

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Fitbit is looking anything but fit these days as the company released a preliminary earnings report, ahead of its February date, showing that the hype for its wearable devices is wearing…thin. For the full year Fitbit expects to pull down revenue for 2017 between $1.5 and $1.7 billion, and is expecting a reorganization to cost approximately $4 million. That reorganization, by the way, involves getting rid of about 110 jobs, or roughly 6% of its workforce. The company has been struggling to find ways to keep sales momentum for the wearable device. CEO James Park is hoping to turn Fitbit into a bona fide digital health company. And that’s a noble endeavor, indeed. However, that plan could literally take years that Fitbit may not have.  The company had slashed forecasts for the holiday season, but a move like that never ever bodes well. Competition from Apple, not to mention companies offering cheaper alternatives, have put a major damper on Fitbit’s sales, with 6.5 million devices sold during the fiscally critical holiday season. Apparently, that number just wasn’t good enough and the data only gets worse. Fitbit is reporting estimated revenue of between $572 million to $580 million. While that number might seem respectable, it’s actually disastrous, if only because the company had initially predicted that it would pull down as much as $750 million in revenue, with analysts forecasting $736 million. As for growth, Fitbit can now expect that figure to come in at around 17%, when initial expectations had been closer to 25%. As for shares, they didn’t just fall – they plummeted. They plummeted the most in three months, hitting its lowest intraday price. Ever.

Deal or no deal…

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A deal has finally been struck between RiteAid and Walgreens. Again. If you recall, and it’s okay if you don’t, this deal has been in the works for the better part of fifteen months. Apparently, RiteAid’s new price tag is now coming in at $2 billion cheaper than its previous $9.4 billion price tag, and the official deadline for the deal has been extended as well. The deal was supposed to have closed back in 2016. But, details, mostly those involving regulatory approval, still need to be hammered out. So now, the new official deadline is July 31. In order for the deal to go through, Walgreens needs to sell off stores in certain regions where competition issues might complicate matters. The company needs to dump between 1,000 and 1,200 stores, but at least it will now only have to shell out between $6.8 billion and $7.4 billion, or roughly $6.50 to $7.oo per share, depending on the amount of stores it ultimately sells.  Once those are sold off, regulatory approval should come swiftly. Naturally, shares of RiteAid took a nasty tumble once investors realized they were losing significant bang on their mega bucks.

Samsung Looks to Erase its Mistakes; A Not-So-New Chapter for American Apparel; Hedge Fund to Kate Spade: Sell off!

Exploding cell phones need not apply…

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There were no over-heating phones in sight as Samsung plunked down $8 billion to acquire Connecticut-based Harman International Industries. In case you have no idea who – or what – Harman is, it’s a company best-known for making premium audio systems for cars. But that’s not all. The company also makes plenty of other hardware for vehicles to connect, which makes it a very good fit for Samsung, as there will be very little overlap. Its products can be found in over 30 million vehicles, including BMW, Toyota and Volkswagen. This acquisition is an excellent opportunity for Samsung to break into the automotive industry where it barely exists. For now, anyway. It will also give the South Korean company a strong foothold in a rapidly growing industry that is expected to experience major growth in the next ten years. And who doesn’t like massive growth, right? By the way, this is the biggest overseas acquisition by a South Korean company. Ever. Samsung is paying roughly $112 per share, a 28% premium to Friday’s closing price.

The final chapter?

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American Apparel is filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Again. For the second time in a year. After just exiting that protection in February. To be cute, some people call it Chapter 22 because it’s the second time it happened. Get it? Hilarious. In any case, I’m pretty sure American Apparel did set some type of record for earning its second bankruptcy in twelve months. The apparel company will be picked up by Canadian company Gildan Activewear for the bargain price of $66 million. If you recall – and it’s okay if you don’t – American Apparel, arguably best known for its racy ads, first filed for bankruptcy protection back in October 2015, roughly a year after it ousted founder and CEO Dov Charney for a litany of sexual harrassment problems. Charney, who said that the company had been taken from him in a coup, did try to regain control of his company only to have a court put the kibosh on his attempts. Later on, CEO Paula Schneider left after failing to turn the company around. The company, which went from 230 stores down to 110, saw a 33% decline in year over year sales, has $215 million in debt, tons of legal bills courtesy of Dov Charney and took in only $497 million in net sales for 2015. American Apparel will continue to run its normal U.S. operations though, the stores will eventually be put on the auction block. In the meantime, its stores across the pond have already started to experience the trauma and drama of liquidation.

Bag it…

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Kate Spade is not feeling the love from hedge fund Caerus Investors, who whipped out a letter today asking, or rather urging, the lifestyle brand to sell itself. What Caerus neglected to mention in that letter was what it plans to do should such a sale occur. As for Caerus’ stake in Kate Spade, well, if you find out what it is, feel free to share that information as no one seems to know for sure. In any case, Caerus, according to its letter, has become “increasingly frustrated” with Kate Spade brass who have yet to make the company churn out a profit that would be on par with other companies like it.  Caerus doesn’t care for Kate Spade’s profit margins either, which are apparently lower than its peers, besides the fact that its stock also trades at a discount to other companies in the same category. There is something to be said for Caerus’s “frustration” seeing as how there was a whopping 63% decline since Kate Spade’s intraday high back in August of 2014.  Add that to the fact that Kate Spade’s third quarter revenue missed estimates and the stock is down 7% for the year and maybe you might be wondering if Caerus might be onto something. But then, lo and behold, Jana Partners announced that it owns a hefty .85% stake in Kate Spade, which conveniently sent shares up to $17.80 and gave it a very generous $2.28 billion valuation.  So maybe the answer to Caerus’ issues with Kate Spade lays in Jana Partners stake.

Debt Collectors Are on the Hook Now; Oracle Pays Big for NetSuite; VW’s Surprising Return to the Top of the Heap

Karma time…

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The tables are turning on debt collectors and after forty years it’s about time. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has got big plans that involve some major federal oversight for an industry that has plagued tens of millions of Americans for decades. In 2015, the CFPB received a mind-blowing 85,000 complaints against the industry. So you might just find it comforting to know that debt collection agencies had to pay $136 million to the CFPB and several states over debt collection issues and sales of credit card debt. Now, before debt collectors make their first, sometimes-harrassing, phone call, they are required to substantiate the debt and gather information so as not to try and collect anything that they are not entitled to collect. Speaking of harassment, the industry will need to put the kibosh on their “excessive and disruptive” debt collection tactics or face consequences. Consumers will now even be able to request that debt collectors not contact them at work or during certain hours. Debt collectors will also be required to wait thirty days before contacting family members of a deceased consumer from whom they wish to collect. Some of the 9,000 debt collection agencies are pleased with the new regulations because they feel they will clear up ambiguities. But these are, after all, debt collectors we are talking about, and they are primarily concerned with how their costs will go up for compliance. However, they can probably afford a few upgrades given that the industry sees $13.7 billion in annual revenue with about 70 million Americans in the throes of debt collection. You see, sometimes there are happy endings. Sort of.

Silver lining…

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Oracle is throwing down some major cash to pick up cloud computing business, NetSuite. Not that industry experts are particularly surprised. After all, Larry Ellison and his family already own about 40% of NetSuite shares. The deal is valued at $9.3 billion, which comes out to approximately $109 per share with a 20% premium on Wednesday’s closing price.  Larry Ellison will get about $3.5 billion out of it. So no doubt he’s celebrating. It’s one of Oracle’s biggest deals, with one just other ahead of it. NetSuite, which was founded in 1998,  supplies cloud-based business management services for about 30,000 companies in 100 countries. The company is touted as having paved the way for cloud-based computing and was the first company to offer business web-based applications. But the time now was ripe for some change and NetSuite apparently needed a little assistance from Oracle and its global reach to grow even greater. The official press release touted the companies as complementary to each other and that they will coexist in the marketplace forever. And that is just a beautiful and moving sentiment. Naturally, shares of both NetSuite and Oracle rose today, and why shouldn’t they. When the tide is high, all boats rise.

Winner winner…

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Diesel-gate be damned. Volkswagen is now the world’s largest automaker and there’s nothing you can do about it but scratch your head and drop your jaw. Even though sales in the U.S. continue to slump – though not as bad as you might think  – the German automaker sold more cars in the first six months of 2016 than Toyota, who is used to holding the title of world’s largest automaker. Volkswagen was poised to earn the title for the full year except the unfortunate emissions scandal put the kibosh on that goal. For four years in a row, Toyota was the world’s best-selling automaker through 2015. So it’s ego is probably feeling a bit bruised right about now. GM is in third place and experts don’t think it’ll ever win the top slot. Volkswagen sold 5.12 million cars to Toyota’s 4.99 million vehicles. Toyota’s sales were down by .6% over the same period last year while Volkswagen’s sales were miraculously up 1.5%.  To be fair, an earthquake in Japan damaged one of Toyota’s plants and that incident is being blamed for its shortfall in production. But apparently U.S. consumers seem to be more offended by the emissions rigging than the rest of the world with falling U.S. sales by 7%. However, the U.S. is a relatively small market for VW who counts Europe and China as its key markets. The question, though, remains if VW can keep it up and reclaim some glory.

 

 

Fiat Gets Going with Google; April Showers Bring Great Car Sales; Building-A-Profitable-Bear

Behind the wheel…

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It might just have been a bit of good luck that car company Fiat gets to team up with Google to engineer some self-driving cars. The company will supply Google with 100 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans and it will mark the first time that Google shares its inside information with outside entities. If you’re thinking of saving up to buy one, don’t bother. They won’t be for sale. Besides, they’re minivans. Google has dealt with other car companies, like Toyota, except Google did the work on the cares rather than working together with Toyota. This collaboration is a sweet deal for Fiat, which has a lot of catching up to do in the way of technological advancements in their vehicles. Besides, the company is kind of low on cash and wouldn’t have had enough of it to make a meaningful investment towards tech upgrades. But with this new collaboration in the works, it doesn’t have to worry about raising money for that. How very convenient.

New car smell…

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Speaking of Fiat, global sales of the company sank around 2%, keeping up with the rest of the grim state of the global economy. But all was not lost as sales in the U.S. picked up 5%, selling 200,000 cars and trucks while dealing a minor blow to analysts’ estimates of a paltry 4.6% increase. Sales of Jeep also scored big compared to the same time last year as it increased 17%. But that’s minor compared to sales of Compass and Renegade automobiles which more than doubled. Sales of automobile in the U.S. in April were so good that it just might be coming off of the best April. Ever. Car sales are considered a fairly accurate barometer of consumer spending and last months’ numbers indicate that the economy, the U.S. economy, that is, is looking good and healthy. Individual sales of cars throughout the industry was up 3%, with a lot of help from SUV and pick-up truck sales. Unfortunately I did not contribute to any sales growth. The volume of cars sold told a very different and unpleasant story by dropping 3.5%. Some companies have also lopped off major chunks from their incentive programs seeing as how they tend to eat the bottom line. Not that this should come as any great shock but VW was down 9.7% as it continues its brutal journey back from its emissions scandal. Some analysts thinks the car industry is about to hit a peak. But apparently it’s just a cyclical issue and nothing that should cause you to lose sleep. Unless of course you’re in the business of selling cars.

Bear market…

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Build-A-Bear just released its earnings – yes, it is a publicly traded company – and the results didn’t exactly leave investors feeling…warm and fuzzy. Ya dig? The DIY stuffed animal biz that boasts some 400 stores picked up $3.53 million in profit, adding 22 cents per share. Too bad the company missed expectations of 37 cents per share and didn’t perform nearly as well as last year at this time when the company scored a profit of $6.82 million with 40 cents per share added. Revenue was up 1.7% to $95 million for the quarter compared to last year, but again, the workshops missed estimates of $96.6 million, fuzzy ears and all. To be fair, however, it will probably still get a fourth straight year of profitability, even if the numbers don’t wow investors. In the fiscal blame game, the company pointed the finger at some expenses tied to store remodeling, international expansion and the ever-pesky high tax rate. The board announced that it hired advisers to come up with “a full range of strategic alternatives.” Which is basically code for trying to figure out a bunch of ways to make more money. Investor J. Carlo Cannell, who happens to own an 8% stake in the company, feels that the board is the real problem and called them and their actions “financially unsophisticated, lacking in proper corporate governance and shareholder unfriendly.” Don’t hold back now, J. Carlo.

Home Depot Officicially Hacked; Facebook’s New High; Organic Lucky Charms?!

Hacked…

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Image courtesy of chanpipat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Home Depot officially confirmed what was already assumed to be fact as of last week: The home improvement chain was hacked at least as far back as April. Home Depot is definitely in the running for having suffered one of the worst hack attacks. Ever. Banks noticed an unusually high amount of suspicious and fraudulent activity on ATM withdrawals. Information stolen from Home Depot has been surfacing in online cyber-crime shops where criminals can conveniently purchase stolen information. Who knew? Of course, the chain apologized and will not hold consumers accountable for fraudulent activities. Duh. If you’re a frequent Home Depot patron, expect to be issued new cards with chips in them, making it that much more challenging for any would-be criminals to help themselves to a shopping spree on your dime. With 2,200 stores dotting the US and Canada, the cost of the breach has yet to be determined but it’ll likely be sharing the spotlight with Target, whose own data breach is still wreaking havoc. Given the similarities between the two hackings, sources suspect it’s the same group of hacker/cyber-crminals.

Ranked…

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Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s just another day in the fascinating cyber life of Facebook, whose stock hit yet another high of $77.89, putting the company’s value over the $200 billion mark. Speaking of Mark, Zuckerberg, that is, he himself is ranked as the 13th richest person, according to Forbes, with a net worth of $34.5 billion. That wealth comes primarily from his more than 61% ownership of Facebook. How convenient. Facebook now ranks as the 22nd largest company, comfortably sandwiched between Verizon and Toyota, companies that have been around much longer than the social media website (and Mark Zuckerberg). If you recall (and it’s okay if you don’t), Facebook’s IPO was a modest $38.00 per share. Oh, how hindsight is a bitter, teary 20/20.

Paying the price for organics…

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Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

General Mills is going to get a bit more organic now that it is picking up Annie’s, of the bunny-shaped mac and cheese fame, for the green green price of $820 million. Annie’s boasts over 150 products that are sold in over 35,000 locations and just last year the company hit over $200 million in sales. Not bad for a company that was founded in 1989. Okay, not as good as Facebook, but still not too shabby. While the company was doing okay, an increase in the price of commodities began shrinking its margins, making a sale to a bigger company a worthwhile and fiscally prudent decision. Annie’s now joins the illustrious ranks of Lucky Charms, Wheaties, and one of my personal favorites, Trix. Silly rabbit.