Alaska Airlines Giving the Boot to Virgin America Brand; So Not Cool-atta: Frozen Drink Going Away; Disney Can’t Shake Iger. And it Doesn’t Seem to Want to

So long…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’re anything you’re like me, then I bet you look forward to those fun safety videos played on Virgin America flights. But alas, come 2019, those videos might just become a sweet memory as Alaska Airlines plans to retire the Virgin America brand at that time. Apparently, extensive accounting research was done to arrive at this conclusion. That conclusion being that if Alaska Airlines wants to be successful on the West Coast after throwing down $2.6 million to merge/acquire Virgin America, then it would be prudent to stick with one name. And considering that Alaska Airlines is the one paying all that money, it’s only fair, I suppose, that it should get to stick with its own name. Alaska Airlines, however, has promised to keep the mood lighting, music and other features that made Virgin America more fun than other airlines. Virgin America will be joining the not-so-distinguished-anymore ranks of Continental Airlines and US Airways, whose names also used to grace airports all over the country. Once the merger is finalized, Alaska Airlines will have the dubious distinction of being the fifth largest airline in the country.

Just not good enough…

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Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

After much soul-searching and presumably a lot of accounting research – Dunkin’ Donuts is ditching the Coolatta drink that refreshed so many parched palates over the years. The official word on why Dunkin’ Donuts is ditching the beverage is because it “…isn’t good enough.” It doesn’t get more scientific than that. But fear not Dunkin’-lovers, as the donut chain will not leave you empty-handed and un-caffeinated. Enter the “Frozen Dunkin’ Coffee.” Sure the name lacks the “cool” vibe of its predecessor, but its rumored to have a lot more coffee in it. In fact, part of the push for the new beverage has to do with the fact that special new brews are all the rage right now. And naturally Dunkin’ wants to cash in on that momentum. Also be on the lookout for the Dunkin’ Energy Punch and the Caramel Shaved Ice Espresso, among other new offerings. As for social media, plenty of Dunkin devotees didn’t take too kindly to the announcement with one disgruntled Coolatta drinker writing: “@DunkinDonuts getting rid of the coffee coolatta? Are you insane?” Nuff’ said.

So hard to say goodbye…

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Image courtesy of dfrsce/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Apparently Disney is super pleased with Bob Iger’s performance since the House of Mouse just extended the CEO’s contract until 2019 (when the Virgin America name will be retired. Coincidence? I think not. Really. I don’t) Actually it’s because Disney still hasn’t found a suitable replacement for Iger. The plan was for Iger to only stay on in his post until 2018. But since there’s no heir in the wings just yet, it was thought best to hold onto him until that could be determined. Former Disney COO Tom Staggs was rumored to be the one to fill that role, but then he left, leaving Disney to go back to the drawing board. This is the third time an extension was added to Iger’s contract. And who can blame Disney. Whoever replaces Iger is going to have some massive shoes to fill and will constantly find themselves being compared to a CEO whose leadership the board calls “outstanding.” In fact, under this outstanding leadership for the last ten years, Disney became the first movie studio to hit the $7 billion ceiling for global box office receipts. News of this latest extension sent the company stock up. Which makes perfect sense since during Iger’s tenure, investors took in a 448% return on Disney shares.

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Michael Bolton: IRS = Anus of Our Country; NY AG Schneiderman Takes Issues With Shifty Shift Practices; Rank and File: Airlines Get Graded

How am I supposed to live without you?

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With tax day on Wednesday, John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight thoughtfully explained our national aversion to taxes and the IRS: namely, they involve “someone taking our money and math.” To further complicate things and strengthen our aversion, Congress has drastically cut funding to the IRS, causing activity at the agency to come to an almost virtual standstill. Mr. Oliver urged us to redirect our anger, rage and frustration at Congress and not the folks at the IRS who perform “a dangerously boring job.” So what better way to pay tribute to the IRS than to call it the “anus of our country” which is precisely what, crooner Michael Bolton did, on John Oliver’s show, when he sang a not-so-moving ballad that was sort of meant to be a show  “… of reluctant support for their appropriate funding.”  To help taxpayers truly grasp the anus/IRS comparison, Mr. Oliver articulately explained that we should, “Think of our government as a body. The IRS is the anus: It’s nobody’s favorite part, but you need that thing working properly or everything goes to s–t real quick.” Pure poetry.

Oh shift!

Image courtesy of  iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

More than a dozen retailers are getting probed for some shifty shift scheduling practices that are not only downright rude, but according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, might just be illegal, as well. The practice in question, dubbed”on-call shifts” basically lets hourly wage employees know if they will be working only hours before they need to show up for work. The practice is not cool for so many reasons. First, for many employees, the practice does not give them ample time to make care-giving arrangements for children and and elders in their care. “On-call shifts” also don’t allow for employees to make other arrangements for alternative sources of income.  If an employee reports for work for which they had been scheduled, then according to New York State law, that employee is entitled to be paid for four hours of work at basic minimum wage. Some of the big retailers who were sent letters about their shift scheduling practices include Target, The Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, J.C. Penney and J. Crew.

Would you like some pretzels with that?

Image courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The 25th annual Airline Quality Report is out and the least shocking observation on it is Virgin America taking the top spot for the third year in a row. If you’ve ever flown Virgin America, and also American Airlines, then you’ll clearly see why Virgin America gets the top spot while American – which merged with US Airways – doesn’t. However, American still managed to snag the number seven spot. A bit high, if you ask me. In fact, I am shocked that American isn’t in last place. Its regionally operated Envoy/American Eagle airline does place last, though. Yikes. The report, which measures airline performance quality, takes into account four major aspects – or as the pros say “core elements”: on-time performance, involuntary denied boardings, mishandled baggage and customer complaints. No doubt, if the AQR measured how travelers were treated, I am certain American/US Airways would have claimed the last spot. In any case, Hawaiian Airlines came in at number. Too bad it doesnt fly anywhere I need to go. Delta took the number three spot, the only large carrier to break into the top four, while some were left scratching their heads over JetBlue’s fourth place ranking, since the airline came in second last year.

 

Snapchat’s latest News it and Lose it Feature; American Airlines Earnings Soar; Dow’s Downer of Day

Snap to it…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Maybe Snapchat’s $10 billion valuation isn’t so crazy after all now that the disappearing messaging app has introduced its latest – and possibly greatest – feature, Discovery. This new feature is going to offer bite-sized bits of news giving the user  several options to get more on a story all with the convenient, effortless swipe of a finger. And then, true to Snapchat tradition (and technology), the stories will last for 24 hours before…you guessed it, they vanish into thin virtual air. A slew of media companies are already partnered with the app, including (but not limited to) CNN, ESPN and Yahoo News. The hope is that this little partnership will take that younger, hipper audience of 100 million monthly active users (and counting) and turn them into traditional news enthusiasts. Then there’s the ad revenue aspect. Gotta love those ads (and the revenue they hopefully bring in). Snapchats plans to post ads and then split the revenue with its media partners.

Things that make you go hmmm…

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

American Airlines had a very good year and I can assure you I had nothing to do with it. The company posted its fourth quarter earnings regaling us with the news that it scored $597 million in net income. That number was particularly impressive since last year at this time the company posted a $2 billion loss. To be fair, (and I hate it that I have to be fair to American Airlines) that loss was because of one-time costs from its merger with US Airways and from its bankruptcy case. American Airlines also hooked in $1.1 billion in earnings with $1.52 per share, beating Wall Street’s estimates by a single, solitary cent. American Airlines can thank dropping fuel prices for some of its impressive earnings and the company plans to take a chunk of its $2.9 billion profit to update its pre-historic fleet and raise salaries. But if you’re hoping for a drop in fares, don’t hold your breath. It’s not happening.

Dow and out…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s blizzard/storm had nothing on the Dow’s performance today which looked particularly disastrous with no thanks to some of the world’s biggest companies taking huge hits. Microsoft takes the number one spot with more than a 9% hit on its stock price today, despite the fact that it beat earnings estimates by 4%. Investors just didn’t see the growth, sales and transitioning that they expect from the once powerful and mighty software company. Oh well. Caterpillar takes the number two spot with a 7% hit on its shares. The company missed earnings expectations by $0.20. As prices for copper, coal and iron ore come down, there is less demand for mining equipment, which is precisely what Caterpillar does. The fact that the dollar is stronger than most other currencies is also putting a crimp in the Dow today. Procter & Gamble, is among those companies whose lousy earnings took a nasty 3.8% hit in its stock price, in part, because of this strong dollar of ours.  Other companies that have seen better days on the Dow include: Intel, Cisco, IBM, Nike. But alas, the list does not end there.

Amazon: Deal With It; American Airlines Gets on Board (Finally); Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Ditch

Let’s make a deal…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Amazon has come up with yet another way to reinvent shopping – sort of. The e-commerce website added a new feature to its website dubbed the “Make an Offer” button. The ever-resourceful mega e-tailer surveyed a bunch of its sellers and wouldn’t you know it: Several sellers said that the ability to negotiate prices would help drive sales for them – and for Amazon, of course. 150,000 items will get that nifty little button added to their items’ options with hundreds of thousands more coming next year. Unlike eBay, there will be no bidding against others and negotiations are completely private.  A customer makes an offer and…voila! The seller gets to reject, counter or reply. If a seller counters, a customer has 72 hours to counter-counter (is that a thing?). Apparently it makes customers feel like they are getting the best possible price for whatever it is they are buying. In any case, if you’re into haggling over prices, you’ll have plenty what to choose from any number of fine art, sports and entertainment collectibles being offered up.

It’s about time…

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

American Airlines, which merged with US Airways last December, is reaping huge earnings, along with just about every other US carrier. To celebrate, it’s giving itself a $2 billion upgrade. Which is really great, because last time I flew the airline, on its vintage aircraft sporting drop down televisions with poor picture quality, American Airlines kept showing commercials for its new fleet of aircraft. The commercials made it sound like the improvements were just a few days away. That was over a year ago. In any case, look for redone lounges and better aircraft. Flying international first-class? You’re in luck. Well…you’re paying a mint for that luck, but anyways, you get lie-flat seats (which I’m pretty sure other airlines have been offering for years now). Need to get online while in-flight? No problem. Buy an international ticket to anywhere and American will provide you with satellite-based internet. Or, if you don’t even need to leave the country, you can just fly Virgin America, which has been offering in-flight internet…for years now. If you’re flying on the most economical ticket, which will still be exorbitantly expensive, well then, screw you. You’re lucky just to be sitting in the new airplane. Wondering if that $2 billion will help improve the attitudes of some of American Airlines’ more surly flight attendants? Well, screw you again.

And you’re out!

Image courtesy of  iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Who can the forget the days when Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Michael Jeffries not so charmingly said back in 2006, “We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” Well now, he doesn’t belong anymore after abruptly “retiring,” something a lot of folks wish he’d done a long time ago, including activist investor Engaged Capital which last year said the company’s lousy numbers  (Engaged Capital said it way more eloquently) “is a result of a failure of leadership.” Amen. Investors celebrated news of the “retirement” by sending shares of the stock up over 6%. The company, which has  834 stores in the United States with 166 stores in other parts of the globe, also owns Hollister and Gilly Hicks. Abercrombie & Fitch has been doing poorly for awhile now, unable to compete with the likes of H&M and Forever 21. Abercrombie & Fitch even tried ditching the logo on a bunch of its merchandise, which did little – if anything – to help boost its earnings.

 

 

Passengers Are Getting Bagged, The Loan Danger and The Not So Magical Magic of Macy’s

Bagging it…

Image courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Results of the JD Power & Associates 2014 Airline Satisfaction study were just released. 11,370 travelers were surveyed. I was not among the surveyed. Out of a possible 1000 points, the industry as a whole scored 712, which is actually a 17 point increase over last year. Again, I was not one of the people surveyed. There were seven categories that were rated some of which include cost and fees, crew and aircraft. According to Rick Garlick, head of J.D. Power’s travel and hospitality practice, “It isn’t that passengers are satisfied with fees; it’s that they are simply less dissatisfied because they realize that fees have become a way of life with air travel.” Apparently 44% of travelers feel this way. I am of the 56%. Noticeably absent from the list was Virgin America. Sir Richard Branson’s airline does not yet qualify for the survey and the other airlines should be grateful for that. Alaska Airlines came in first for traditional airlines. Shockingly enough, American Airlines came in third (and not last!). Once again, I was not given the survey. Jet Blue ranked first in low-cost airlines. However, I find that Jet Blue tends to charge just as much as “traditional” airlines. US Airways came in last.

Student groans…

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just when you thought having to take out student loans was irritating enough, a new study, courtesy of the Pew Research Center, adds salt to the borrowers fiscal wounds. The study disconcertingly found that student borrowers don’t earn nearly as much as their debt-free peers. As if the socio-economic divide wasn’t enough to highlight the difference between the haves from the have-nots, the burden of having to pay back those education loans, which are exceeding the $1 trillion mark, are trumping the demand for home loans. Hence, the mortgage market is suffering some blows as well. All that money tied up in loans in the name of higher education are dragging down the US ecnomony even more than (gasp!) credit card debt. Because borrowers have a harder time building up assets, their debts tend to lead to more debt. The median net worth of a young household (young being under 40 years old) paying off student loans is $8,700 while a debt free young household has a median net worth of $64,700. But on the bright side – if you can call it that – college-educated households tend to earn twice as much income than a home sans college degrees.

Macy’s retail tale…

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Oh the magic of Macy’s, as the slogan goes. But it wasn’t that magical as their first quarter revenues fell 1.7% to $6.28 billion, which the 85 year old department store is attributing to the nasty winter that wreaked havoc on our lives and economy. However, first quarter net income rose 3% to $224 million, up $7 million from a year earlier thanks to lowered sales. It also beat analysts expectations which is always fun to watch when that happens. Its confidence in its ability to sell sell sell must be pretty intense since they increased their dividend. They’re also planning on putting big chunks of money into e-commerce.  Macy’s has about 840 stores nationwide.