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

Deflated…

ID-100223655

Image courtesy of scottchan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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…

ID-100415066

Image courtesy of zirconicusso/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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…

ID-100266021

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

Advertisements

Ford Looks to Boost Profits With Layoffs; Twitter Sequel: The Return of Biz; Avocados Will Not Make You Rich!

Slash and burn…

ID-10034580

Image courtesy of photostock/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s job-slashing news is brought to us by Ford Motors. The automotive company, which employs about 200,000 people worldwide, plans to cut about 10% of its salaried workforce. Apparently, the job cutting efforts are simply part of a $3 billion cost cutting program. What Ford is really hoping to accomplish is to keep its stock from from getting too close to a five-year low and boost profits at the same time. Ford released an official statement today and made sure to talk a lot about priorities, profit and growth. Curiously enough, however, no mention was made about job cuts. Wonder what that’s all about. If it’s any consolation, rumor has it that Ford is offering generous early retirement incentives to some of the aforementioned salaried workers. However what generous and incentives actually mean remains to be seen. In any case, CEO Mark Fields, who came on board back in July, wants people to know that the folks over at Ford “are as frustrated as you are by the stock price.” Fields in particular must be awfully frustrated considering that the stock has dropped over 35% since he took the CEO reins.

Let’s get Biz-y with it…

ID-100392990

Image courtesy of zirconicusso/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Amidst a throng of high-level departures comes a potential bright spot for Twitter – the return of co-founder Biz Stone, six years after he left. In a Medium post he wrote that he’s returning to the embattled social media company for the purpose of “filling the ‘Biz-shaped hole.'” Yup. He said that. He went on to say, “You might even say the job description includes being Biz Stone.” Yup. He said that too. Biz wants to guide company culture, feeling and energy, and Twitter could definitely use help in all three of those categories. Besides, it’s not like Biz had anything else going on these days since he just sold his latest start-up to Pinterest for an undisclosed sum. You got that? An undisclosed sum. (I have no definitive idea of what that means.) As for Jack Dorsey, another co-founder and current Twitter CEO, Biz counts him as “his closest friend.” At Twitter anyway. Wall Street seems to be thrilled about Biz Stone’s return as well, sending the stock up over 2%. Twitter’s stock will take any boost it can get these days. And according to Stone, and presumably President Trump, “The world needs Twitter, and it’s here to stay.”

It’s the pits…

ID-100419353

Image courtesy of khumthong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today is not a good day for the avocado industry. It seems Australian millionaire Tim Gurner said during an interview on Australia’s “60 Minutes” to ditch the avocados if you want to buy a house. It’s not that Gurner has anything against the green-fleshed delicacy. Only that Millennials should focus on saving their money towards purchasing a home and accumulating wealth instead of spending $19 on pricey avocado sandwiches. See the connection? Neither did plenty of Twitter users.  On Twitter @kalebhorton wrote: “Alright, I did the math. If I stopped eating avocado toast every day, I would be able to afford a bad house in Los Angeles in 642 years.” Foghorn Greghorn tweeted: “Avocado Toast $6.50 Data $150 House $650,000 Utility $150 someone who is good at the economy please help me budget this my family is dying.” But maybe Gurner’s onto something. After all, he is a real estate tycoon with an estimated $460 million. And I bet he owns lots of homes.

White House Tax Plan Causing Quite the Stir; Twitter’s Very Good Day/Quarter; Silicon Valley Start-Up Eats $1.6M for Discrimination

So taxing…

ID-100266470

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The White House whipped out its opening bid for what it’s calling the “biggest tax cut.” Well, in U.S. history anyway. So who’s supposedly getting a nice break? The middle class, for one, along with some businesses and, naturally, some wealthy individuals, among others.  While President Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin want corporations to pay a 15% tax rate, the plan also calls for a one-time tax payment on earnings that U.S. companies keep outside the U.S. Apparently this new tax cut is meant to be all about simplicity, giving a much-needed boost to the small-business sector while putting some cash back into pockets of the middle-class. Individual rates would change, with the top rate dropping from almost 40% to 35%, and instead of having seven brackets of rates, we’d have just three.  Those cuts sound great, in theory, however, questions remain as to who will be paying for these cuts and how will they be paying for them.

It did what?!

ID-100423570

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’ll start with the bad news. Twitter’s year-over-year revenue declined for the first time  ever to $548 million. But miracle of miracle – hey, we are talking about Twitter, after all – the social media company beat analysts expectations on everything else. TWITTER BEAT EXPECTATIONS. While last year’s revenue at this time was a much higher $595 million, it still wasn’t anywhere near dismal expectations of $512 million for this quarter. User growth has been a fiscal thorn in Twitter’s side. But perhaps the social media tide is turning because Twitter added 9 million more monthly active users bringing its grand total to 328 million users. 9 MILLION users added. You know what anaylyst expected? 2.3 million. Twitter effectively blew those estimates out of the water. As for the other numbers, the company earned 11 cents per share when expectations were for one single solitary cent. In other words, Twitter beat those estimates by a dime. Twitter explained that its impressive earnings were due in part to increased political interest – which sounds about right, especially given President Trump’s highly entertaining tendency to tweet before he thinks. Also, Twitter’s efforts to simplify use on the platform and putting greater focus on stamping out abuse seem to have helped matters…and figures.  Naturally, shares enjoyed a much appreciated increase today, soaring way past $16 a share.

Pony up…

ID-100221512

Image courtesy of pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Palantir Technologies may be valued at $20 billion, but it’s about to lose $1.6 million of it as part of a settlement with the U.S. Department Labor. Charges were brought against the data-analytics company that it discriminated against Asians. Besides the money the company has to cough up, which will go towards back pay and stock options to affected applicants, Palantir also has to hire eight people, who had previously applied to the company, for two different types of engineering roles. According to the government’s complaint, Asians were “routinely eliminated” on the basis of their resumes and telephone interviews. But apparently, Palantir should consider itself lucky that the case didn’t end up going to court. If it had and lost, the penalties would have been so much worse. That $1.6 million is chump change compared to what it might have been had the company been found guilty. And that would be in addition to being added to a list that bars certain companies from doing business in the government sector. Palantir has so far enjoyed hundreds of millions of dollars from such contracts. Of course, Palantir disagrees with the allegations, refuses to admit to any wrongdoing and claims that it only settled so that it could carry on business without further interruptions. Incidentally, Palantir’s co-founded is Peter Thiel, one of President’s Trump’s biggest Silicon Valley supporters and cheerleaders from the start.

Show Me the Money! Forbes Unveils Its Annual List of People With Money to Show; UK Shows Google What Happens When You Don’t Shut Down Haters; Twitter Did Something Impressive. Just Not With Its Earnings

Rich-y rich…

ID-100263187

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s that time of year again. The one where Forbes reminds us just how much money we don’t have relative to the richest people in the world. And here goes. There are 13% more billionaires this year than last year and their combined net worth totals almost $7.7 trillion. Yes. Trillion.  The number one spot goes to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates who’s net with totals $86 billion. When Gates is not busy fixing the world and explaining to the President why his budget ideas are bad ideas, he runs the world’s largest charitable organization. Naturally, the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet, comes in a close second with a net worth of $75.6 billion, while Amazon’s Jeff Bezos makes his debut into the top three with a net worth of $72.8 billion. And even though we only finally see a woman on this list at the number 14 spot, there’s still some uplifting news. For instance, the number of women who ma∂e it onto the list has increased 170% since 2009. Also, there’s a record 56 women on the list who are self-made billionaires. If you’re curious to see who did and didn’t make the list, click here to find out. And spoiler alert: Perhaps President Donald Trump really ought to consult Bill Gates on any and all future budget concerns for the country, considering he lost a billion in the last year and ranks #544.

Dis-content…

ID-100400989

Image courtesy of saphatthachat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just when you thought Google could do no wrong, the search engine giant finds itself in the midst of some major policy revamping after a bunch of big-name advertisers pulled their marketing  – and whole lot of money – because it was showing up on /sexist/hate-filled/offensive/anti-semitic/terrorist-promoting content. The trouble started when major brands, including the BBC and department store chain Marks & Spencer, noticed their ads being being placed alongside content promoting violent extremist groups. Last I heard, department stores were no great fans of terrorism. Now, part of the policy revamp includes broadening Google and YouTube’s definitions of hate speech, which is always a good thing since hate manages to always rear its ugly face no matter how subtly its presented. Also, content won’t be able discrimnate against groups based on their identity, socieo-economic class and country of origin. Such measures ought to make it a tad bit more difficult for the haters to get their odious messages out. In addition to some added controls and a few default settings, Google should end up creating a kinder, gentler platform. Hopefully…

Speaking of which…

ID-100179269

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Even though Twitter doesn’t exactly have the fiscal luxury to delete accounts, to its credit, the social media company did just that and put the kibosh on close to 380,000 of them because of their links to terrorism. So lousy earnings aside I say “Kudos” to Twitter.  Those accounts were just the ones it took down between July and December of 2016.  Since August of 2015, over 635,000 accounts have been removed for the same reason. The information was disclosed in its latest transparency report and these actions are part of an effort to weed out extremist groups and other assorted haters. Interestingly enough, almost 75% of the accounts that were removed from Twitter were discovered by technology created just for this purpose for Twitter, while 2% of those accounts came down after governments made requests for the company to get rid of them.

 

Trump-y’s Bumpy Budget Plans; McDonald’s Unknowingly Picks Fight with President; The Goose is Loose: Luxury Coats Hit Wall Street

Did you say…trillion?

ID-10045995

Image courtesy of jannoon028/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There’s nothing like a $1.1 trillion budget proposal to perk up a Thursday. The big winner in Trump’s plan is defense, which gets a $54 billion boost if the President gets his way. Losers of the $54 billion corresponding cuts include  – but are not limited to – the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency – which you had to have seen a mile away. The National Endowment for the Arts, legal aid for the poor and low-income heating assistance would also be history. Because why bother helping poor people pay for heat when you can spend $1.5 billion on a down payment to build a wall along the Mexican border. Wasn’t Mexico supposed to foot the bill for that one, by the way?  In any case, the outline was described as a “hard power budget” – if you have to laugh, then g’head – by Mike Mulvaney, the President’s director of the Office of Management and Budget. In case it wasn’t painfully obvious, it means that this plan caters to defense and building up the military, while foreign aid and diplomacy can go suck it. Sort of. Naturally, the Democrats are just not that into this budget and are wondering how smart it is to cut spending in areas that work with defense to facilitate diplomacy in more volatile parts of the world. On the bright side, the plan calls for slashing funds to the United Nations. If the President could find away to turn all that pricey UN real estate into affordable housing, then we’d really be onto something. But now it’s up to Paul Ryan to get that budget passed in Congress, which is not likely, though, since rumor has it that this plan is Dead On Arrival.

Speaking of greasy of food…

ID-100146482

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For some inexplicable reason, at 9:16 this morning,  McDonald’s official Twitter account unleashed this little gem:”@realDonaldTrump You are actually a disgusting excuse of a President and we would love to have @BarackObama back, also you have tiny hands.” Sure the message was deleted 25 minutes later but not before it was retweeted more than 600 times. Interestingly enough Trump is a mega fan of McDonald’s, and even starred in a commercial for the fast-food chain a few years ago. McDonald’s was initially mum on the incident but later said Twitter notified the company to say that its account had been compromised and the situation is currently being investigated. Incidentally, Barack Obama’s former press secretary and campaign adviser, Robert Gibbs, is McDonald’s head of communication. Not that that had anything to do with this particular tweet, mind you. However, my question is, if this Tweet boosts business, will they keep tweeting more insults to the President? Hmmm.

Warm and fuzzy…

ID-100391840

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Snapchat look out. There’s a new Wall Street darling today and its one that actually warms hearts. Literally. Luxury Canadian coat maker Canada Goose made its much anticipated New York stock market debut, with 20 million shares being unleashed to the tune of $18 a pop. Initially priced at closer to $12 a share, the apparel company came out swinging raising a very impressive $255 million and hitting a market valuation of $1.88 billion. And why shouldn’t that be the case? After all, the coat maker scored close to $300 million in revenue for 2016 with a $27 million profit, proving that people really do dig the Canadian brand. Of course, no party is complete without a few crashers and for Canada Goose it was PETA, who were there to protest Canada Goose’s use of coyote fur on some of its offerings. The animal-rights organization even purchased $4,000 worth of shares, which might seem completely at odds with its mission. However, that $4,000 investment affords PETA the opportunity to submit its own letter to shareholders and buys it admission to Canada Goose’s annual shareholder meeting, where, presumably, the organization plans to up its protest game.

 

 

Trump Does Nothing for Twitter; Take That Trump! Tequila Goes Public; Whole Foods Whole Lotta Trouble

(Sigh…)

id-100505567

Image courtesy of Phil_Bird/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The good news from Twitter’s latest earnings report is that its monthly active users increased by 2 million to 319 million accounts.  Although forecasts were for 319.6 million. Just saying.   Revenue also grew 10% to 717.2 million. However, that’s about all the good news there was, because the company missed estimates for revenues of $740.1 million, as ad revenues were lower, falling about .5% from last year’s $710 million to $638 million. In fact, Twitter experienced its slowest quarterly revenue growth since its IPO in 2013. To make matters infinitely worse, shares fell almost 12% on the news, and Twitter can’t afford to lose any more value from its shares. But CEO Jack Dorsey asked for patience, as the company he heads is making some investments into machine learning and figuring out exactly how to engage its advetisers. Seems like a prudent plan. But the bigger story is that President Trump’s tweeting did absolutely nothing for the company. Zero. Nil. Nada. Sure, the world got to see the kind of havoc that can be wreaked with just 140 characters. Unfortunately, that’s about all it did as his tweeting as Twitter reported that it actually experienced slower growth in the quarter that included the election.  According to Twitter’s Chief Operating Officer, Anthony Noto, you can’t expect a “single person to drive sustained growth.” Meaning, Trump had no effect, President or not. The one bright spot – if you can call it that – is that Twitter earned 16 cents a share when estimates for 12 cents.

 Mas tequila, por favor!

id-100502584

Image courtesy of Searick1/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mexico had its first IPO since President Trump won the election back in November. The lucky IPO was tequila maker Jose Cuervo. The world’s biggest tequila company raised $900 million, with shares priced toward the top of the range at 34 pesos. That translates to roughly $1.67 per share. It’s pesos. What did you expect? The IPO had actually been put on hold twice, thanks to Trump, because his anti-NAFTA ambitions and wall-building enthusiasm kept weakening the peso. Interestingly enough, unlike other products, demand for tequila is not based on price. However, its price could get higher if Trump gets his way by slapping some major tariffs on the lime-friendly beverage. A move like that could put a major dent into Jose Cuervo, which gets 64% of its’s $1.165 billion in sales from the United States and Canada. At least Jose Cuervo always had the luxury of enjoying strong dollar-base earnings. That’s got to count for something, right? Problem is that the new expected U.S. protectionist measures could end up hurting that $1.165 billion. But maybe not. Because, after all, this is tequila we’re talking about. So maybe Americans will be willing shell out a few extra dollars.

 

A Whole lotta nothing…

id-10014636

Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Whole Foods is looking anything but with its announcement that it will be closing nine stores. It’s the first time in almost a decade that the company had to resort to such measures as this quarter saw sales drop 2.4% when analysts only predicted a drop of 1.7%. Yikes. Whole Foods initially had a plan to open over 1,200 stores, but alas it was not meant to be as increasing competition and higher food prices led to the company’s sixth straight quarter of decreasing same store sales. The chain gained 39 cents per share which is was about what analysts expected, but as for its forecast, things aren’t exactly looking up. Whole Foods still operates 440 stores and believe it or not, six new stores are still expected to open, with another 80 stores in the planning stages.

Trump Tweet-Targets Nordstrom; Under Armour CEO Says It All Wrong; Wells Fargo Continues to Anger

Oh no you didn’t…

id-100146553

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Just one week after pulling Ivanka Trump’s fashion line from its stores, Nordstrom has managed to incur some serious Presidential social-media wrath, via Twitter of course. The Tweeter-In-Chief wrote that his daughter was “treated so unfairly” by the department store and “She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” Nordstrom argued that the merchandise’s performance wasn’t up to snuff, and that it regularly evaluates the thousands of brands that it carries to decide which ones get the boot and which ones don’t. And Ivanka’s line got it, though the chain had been carrying the line since 2009. Back in November, Nordstrom co-president Pete Nordstrom sent out a company memo explaining that the turmoil surrounding the election is putting the retailer in a “tight spot.” It risks offending Trump-haters for keeping the line, but also risks alienating shoppers who support him. Nordstrom tried to explain that it makes a “sincere effort not to make business decisions based on politics but on performance and results,” but found itself “in a very difficult position.”  That difficult position probably had to do with calls for boycotts of the merchandise, and even the store.  And it’s not like Nordstrom was the only one who took this sort of action. Neiman Marcus Group also stopped selling her jewelry online and in one of its stores in the northeast. Shares of Nordstrom had dropped a smudge 1% following Trump’s tweet. But they quickly bounced back. So maybe the effect of Trump’s fury only goes so far.

That’s gonna come back to haunt you…

id-100445331

Image courtesy of aechan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Speaking of which…Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank played nice with Trump so of course, it’s now going to cost him. Literally. During an interview on CNBC’s “Fast Money Halftime Report,” host Scott Wapner asked the athletic apparel chief executive about his involvement in Trump’s initiative to create manufacturing jobs in the United States. Some of the pearls that escaped Plank’s mouth included, “To have such a pro-business president is something that is a real asset for the country…People can really grab that opportunity.” [cue crickets chirping]. Naturally, Under Armour had to issue a statement to clarify Kevin Plank’s remarks – lest anyone think that he really meant what he said, which would lead to a boycott. Except that sort of already happened as “Boycott Under Armour” hashtag made its way into the Twitter-sphere in no time. In the meantime, UA insisted that it engages in “policy, not politics” and Plank’s statements had to do with job creation.  I shall spare you the details of official company statement – you’re welcome! – but rest assured it included all the usual themes about the beauty of unity, diversity, welcoming immigrants etc. The fact is, UA can’t afford any boycotts, whether Plank meant what he said or not. Its shares have been falling lately and in its most recent earnings report, the company missed expectations and forecasted slower growth for 2017.

And here’s one more reason to hate Wells Fargo…

id-100268140

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In case you weren’t incensed enough by Wells Fargo’s fraudulent account scandal, CEO Tim Sloan said that the bank is committed to helping the Dakota Pipeline project. While it would be nice to focus all rage on Wells Fargo, who loaned $120 million toward this project, the fact is the bank is just one of 17 that gave loans to help fund the $3.8 billion project. Obama had initially halted the project, but President Trump swiftly reversed that action and is looking forward to its completion. Come June, the pipeline is expected to ship half a million barrels of crude every day from North Dakota to Illinois. Unfortunately the 1,200 mile pipeline cuts through an Indian reservation with deep cultural significance, and it’s likely the pipeline will incur damage on the site. The pipeline also poses major environmental hazards where it crosses the Missouri River. The Standing Rock Sioux reservation is downstream from the crossing and the pipeline could end up polluting the Tribe’s drinking water. The Seattle Council is doing its part to combat Wells Fargo’s involvement by pulling about $3 billion in city funds.  Seattle has a contract with the bank that expires in 2018, and it most definitely will not be renewed. In the meantime, the council is on the hunt for a more “socially responsible bank.” Good luck with that one.